Family Pride

“What do you mean, we look good. You look good.” Jackson pointed to his mental imprint projected across the table. “I wasn’t sure you or Galactic Phoenix survived when CANUS was overrun. I barely escaped, but I kept the GP schedule on the calendar just in case. When Sezuia told me my ‘brother’ had reserved the Shigematsu room, I hoped it was you.”

“We had to keep to the original schedule. The starship’s program is hardwired to update in sixty-eight years.” Jackson’s imprint smiled. “That’s how long it will take my program to catch up with it. The update window’s only open for three days; that’s to keep it from begin hacked.” The imprint cocked its head. “I’ve been training for this for ten years and it still sounds crazy.

“You must be ready to leave,” Jackson said.

“I’ll transmit in ninety minutes.”

“How’d the training go?”

“Great. I can repair tech gear and restore any antique from the last century.”

“Mom and Dad would be proud,” Jackson said.

“It’s strange. Remember how we’d hide whenever Dad needed help with the plumbing or gamma shields?” Jackson nodded. “Never thought that’d be my ticket to the stars. A lot of physicists like me applied, but when they reviewed the flight roster they decided what they really needed was a handyman. That’s how I made the final cut. When I arrive at Galactic Phoenix, I’ll have two years to get the old starship online, fix whatever needs fixing, and keep it running until we land on Skolni. By then GP will be over two hundred years old.” He looked at Jackson. “Unless we discover some sort of FTL drive, this’ll be the last time I see you.”

“If we do, my son’ll meet you on Skolni.”

“We have a son?” The imprint’s face twisted. “Does that make me a father … or an uncle?”

“Not yet, but there’s still time. I’m young and Janet’s young,” Jackson insisted. “Do you miss having a body?”

“Not as much as I thought. I still think about our old cravings: food, gin, women … okay, just Janet. But my ego needs have certainly changed, or maybe the engineers deleted that from my imprint program,” he shrugged. “Fear too, all gone. That’s probably part of not having a biological body.” He looked up. “Speaking of bodies, when we land I will get a robotic humanoid body. That’s another advantage to being the GP’s handyman. The other two scientists’ll have to make do with farming and construction equipment until we can build more humanoid chassis.”

“Sounds like you’re still excited about the mission,” Jackson said.

His imprint locked onto his gaze. “It’s everything to me. All I can think about is getting my family safely to Skolni. I feel like every one of those eight billion embryos and seeds are my children. I love them, all of them, every toad, dog, worm, fish, spider, bird, goat, reptile, all the plants, too,” he rolled both hands out, “and all the humans, of course.”

“Do you know whose genes they selected? That data hasn’t come out.”

“It doesn’t exist anymore,” the imprint said, looking down at the table. “Galactic Phoenix was classified. When we evacuated CANUS, all the records were lost or destroyed.” The imprint glanced down at the table’s embedded clock. “Since human survival demands genetic diversity, we think they sent a cross section of the Oslo Gene Bank.”

“Time to leave?” Jackson asked.

“Almost. I’m happy to be going, but I know I’ll miss everything here on Earth. Send regular updates, particularly about my yet-to-be-conceived son.” He frowned. “I won’t get anything until I reach the starship, but then they’ll keep coming for as long as you send them.

“Will do. I’ll send movies and pictures, too,” Jackson said, tearing up. “Thanks for doing this for us. It’s been our dream since we were boys.”

“Send things for the children, too. Anything you can think of. I’ll have about a million kids to raise, and they’ll all want to know about their Uncle Jackson.” His imprint waved and faded. “Take care of Janet for us.”

Advertisements

The Starflower

Many readers of Strange Things Done are also writers of speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and/or horror—and are writing or have written novels. My posted stories, what I call bagatelles, are offhand pieces that I use to clear my thoughts while working on my own novel, The Starflower. I’ve only mentioned this in my profile, but it has been my primary writing effort.

Before final revision, I’m taking Ursula K. Le Guin’s advice to authors and giving Starflower a three-month rest. That said, I meet an agent next month and need a pitch … something one might see on a dust jacket.

Let me know what you think … too much, too little? I’m interested in all thoughts particularly from those with this sort of experience. Encouragement is also appreciated. Thanks, Keith

A possible dust jacket intro:

Twelve years into the Aldrakin War, on the eve of what will be the last battle, Gayle Zimmon, the commander of Five Squadron stands on the bridge of the Star Cruiser Lasalle in orbit around the engineered planet Bai-Yota. Disillusioned by the war and at odds with her commander, Star Lord Abramyan, Zim has almost lost hope for the future. Her combat team is all she has, and for their sake, she continues to wear the cold mask of command.

An allied squadron arrives with her old friend, the Tak-Yaki mantid named Tock, and together they win an improbable victory that ends the war. Zim’s dreams resurface. But when she is recalled to the capital planet Corydon, she finds it in turmoil. Creatives, genetically enhanced humans, are taking over the major planets, and Unders, those not worthy of enhancement, are being cleared.

Though an Under herself, Zim wants no part in this. Her war is over and she wants a real life. But the resistance has taken her military call sign, the Starflower, as its symbol, and the insurgents expect her to lead them. Abramyan and the sinister Star Council cannot risk her intrusion in the takeover, particularly in its last critical phase.

As the story develops, Zim returns to combat, faces assassins, reconnects with her lost love, discovers an alien prophecy, gets marooned, forms a compact with a pan-dimensional entity, and encounters aliens, soul-traders, artificial sentients, pirates, and robots.

The Starflower is a space opera on the scale and tradition of Dune, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Like those foundational epics, it creates a universe of alien cultures, technologies, and characters to live on in sequels and spin offs.

Tech Support

“Number – nine — the – iDoc – will – see – you – in – the – lab – now — be – sure – to – have – your – tech – support – chip – out – for – scanning.”

“I’m still covered by the Bureau Medical Plan, so I’ll use my BMP card,” Dana Scully said, as she walked in through the door.

The robot nurse gave an adjusting shudder. “Special Agent Scully?” Its voice shifted from an uninflected monotone to a feminine alto. “I wasn’t aware any humans were still active.” Its scanners blinked from red laser points to warm brown irises.

“Active? Don’t you mean alive? This room?” Scully asked, pointing into a room with a wire-and-plug bedizened lab table and console.

a21f5c1b8485d0caae0968e696c3d297
Don’t you mean alive?

“Of course, we know some of you are still alive,” the iNurse’s metallic face exaggerated a thin deep-crescent smile. “No, that’s for tech support. You’ll be down the hall. We’re required to keep one examining room fully operational for humans as long as any are left.”

“Good to hear that,” Scully said and headed down the hall. The room was well equipped: a tanning-bed-like anatomy scanner, a hologram projector, two armless plastic chairs, and a pharmaceutical cabinet filled with chemical, biological, and nano-mech catalysts. Scully picked the plastic chair nearest the door.

“I don’t seem to be able to find your file, Agent Scully,” the iNurse said, looking into the room.

“Check The ‘X-Files’,” Scully said. “I’m sure it’s there. I think I remember this episode.” The iNurse disappeared then returned a minute later.

“Here it is, just as you said. I’m sorry for the confusion, Agent Scully. The usual iNurse is getting her upgrade and I’m sitting in for the day. I’m not even programmed for humans.” It flipped through a virtual screen projected in the air. “Biologicals really are more interesting than Automatons. Ooo, you’ve had some adventures. Here I see you were treated for—“

Scully interrupted. “I think those episodes of the X-Files actually were ‘X’ rated. They were never released. Aren’t they stamped ‘Private’?”

“Private? Oh, yes, I see, right at the top. Very strange. What does private mean? Is that a human thing?”

“Yes, it means we don’t talk about it — OR WE GET SENT TO THE SCRAP HEAP WITH NO TECH SUPPORT. GOT THAT?”

maxresdefault
The iDoc will be free to see you in a minute.

“No need to shout. Oh, the iDoc is here.” The iNurse stepped back and the iDoc rolled in on its uni-ball.

“How are you feeling, Agent Scully?” The iDoc said cheerfully, flashing wide blue eyes under a shock of shiny black hair.

“I’ve been feeling a lot of stress.”

“Agent Mulder?” the iDoc asked, leaning forward and aligning its head-mounted scanner with her pupils.

“Yes, I’m concerned about him. I don’t think he’s well.”

“I’m sure he’s not, but he’s not my patient today. Sit back and relax.” Saying that the iDoc raised its four needle-sprouting arms. “Lean your head forward please. I need to feel your pain.”

The Cherry Sourball

“We’re on the air in…” Marsha Mellow checked her watch, “ninety-eight minutes. So let’s rehearse the questions. Then you can both go back to makeup.”

“Thank you, Marsha,” Senator Toggle said, his gray hair perfectly coiffed. “Before we start, I want to say—”

“We only have a few minutes, Senator, so let’s get right to Dr. Setback’s discovery.” She turned to the crew arranging the set. “How’s the lighting?” The cameraman looked out from his camera and waved. “Sound, Geoff?” The straggle-haired soundman gave a thumbs-up and propped his sandaled feet on the mixing console.

Mellow began, “Doctor Setback and his team have perfected a Smart Pill. Have I said that correctly?” She looked at the scientist.

“It’s not a pill precisely, not in the medical sense. Actually,” he projected a stack of schematics and formulas, “it’s a precisely ordered sequence of APMs, atomically precise machines, that act as catalysts to restructure neural—”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” Mellow interrupted, “our audience has a secondary-school understanding of science. Can you give them the lollypop version?” Setback looked chastised.

“My Smart Pill optimizes every human faculty,” he started again. “Saliva and sucking action in the mouth dissolves the pill to release nano, I mean, very tiny agents. From the mouth, these agents migrate to the brainstem then up to the brain. The affect is almost immediate.” Setback smiled. “We even made it cherry flavored to encourage sucking.”

Mellow leaned toward the scientist, her eyes dramatically wide. “How soon before I can expect to have encyclopedic knowledge, perfect memory, hyper-normal focus, and an expert golf swing?”

“You will have all those things and more, but pill production will be slow. My team took sixteen years to assemble this first—“

“Do you have it to show us, Doctor?” Mellow interrupted.

“It’s in the jacket I left in the car.”

“Okay, get it before we go on. For now, pretend you’re showing it to me.”

“This little pill has sixteen million agents,” he pointed to the hollow of his open hand, “each built atom by atom, and each designed specifically for one task.”

“Who gets this one?” Mellow asked, cheerily pointing to Setback’s open hand.

“Senator Toggle.” He gestured past Mellow who pivoted in her seat.

Toggle cleared his throat. “The Committee On Human Enhancement, which I chair, considers Dr. Setback’s Smart Pill to be a momentous breakthrough, perhaps the greatest in human history. Certainly it would be immoral to profit from this invention or to regulate its availability. So selecting the first recipient is a very serious responsibility. We must consider the humanitarian implications and those underserved in our community. I and my party—“

“Thank you, Senator Toggle,” Mellow said, “I think we’re ready to go.” She looked around. “Everyone take a break and get back in…” she checked her watch, “twenty-three minutes.” She looked at Setback. “Doctor, before makeup, could you bring in the pill—so we have it ready on set.”

Toggle left for the makeup room and Setback for the parking lot. Soundman Geoff gestured to the cameraman, pinching his thumb and forefinger to his pursed lips and pointing to the smoking deck. He took the sourball from his mouth and placed it on the mixer console before heading to the back door.

First to return to the set, Senator Toggle spotted Geoff’s sourball on the console. No one was around. He examined the red candy, holding it up to the light before poking it into his mouth.

“Ah, yes,” he murmured, “I knew I was the one. Everything’s so clear now. I was right all along.” He looked up savoring the cherry flavor and spreading his arms wide. “I’m the one,” he shouted and headed out the front door.

Doctor Setback walked in next with a wide-checked jacket over his arm.

“No, no, that won’t do,” Marsha Mellow said, coming in behind him. “We’ll get you another jacket. Just leave it here and go back to makeup.”

Setback removed a baggy with the red Smart Pill from the jacket, set them both on the mixing console, and followed Mellow to makeup.

At that moment, Geoff stumbled in, fell into his seat, and looked around. “Hey, Marsh’, you take my sourball? Ahh, I see it. Okay, thanks for putting it in a baggy.” He plopped the pill into his mouth. It was smaller than he remembered, but he decided not to accuse Mellow of sucking on it.

“Ready on set,” Marsha called, rushing out with Setback as the lights came up. “Now where’s Toggle?”

“I saw him running in the lot as I came in,” Geoff said, sucking vigorously.

“And where’s my Smart Pill,” Setback said, lifting the empty baggy. Geoff relaxed as he felt the pill take effect.

“I thought it was my cherry sourball,” he said. Setback’s knees buckled, and he grabbed the back of Geoff’s chair to stay upright.

“On the air,” the director said, “in eight, seven …”

“Quick, get over here,” Mellow pulled Geoff and Setback onto the set and pushed them into the seats. “Geoffrey Goodman,” she said, “you’re the first to try Doctor Setback’s Smart Pill. What do you have to say?” Her face wore a tight smile.

Slide1Geoff lifted his sandaled feet onto the coffee table. “It’s overwhelming, Marsha. Looking out from where I sit, I see it all clearly. Everyone has a special mission, a purpose, but we’re all consumed by our default settings. We treat our egos like a matter of life and death. The first thing we need to …”

From his living room recliner, Jeremy lifted the remote as he shouted to his girlfriend. “I thought Mellow had Senator Toggle scheduled for tonight.”

“Did we miss him?” Ashley called back. “I love hearing him. He really cares about us.”

Jeremy started flipping through the channels.

Decision on Bunco-I

“Scotty, prepare the transporter for Mr. Spock and me to beam down to the surface.”

“I dinna think that’soo a good idea, Captain … nae wi’ the Klingon battle fleet bearin’ down.”

“I must agree, Captain, our business can wait.”

“I have an important meeting with the Bunco ambassador, one that cannot be postponed.” Kirk checked his profile on the hologram projector and tightened his girdle. “Need I remind you, Mr. Spock, that the Bunco ambassador serves Altairan brandy.”

11182_1Spock raised an eyebrow. “In that case, Captain, it is imperative that I accompany you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Spock, for once we agree.”

“This is madness, Kirk,” Doctor McCoy joined the discussion, “Bunco is a pleasure planet. The ambassador is an exotic dancer.”

Kirk tilted his head at his image and pinched his cheeks. “I must go where no man has gone before.”

“I must point out, Captain, that the ambassador has had many partners.”

“But no human partners, Mr. Spock,” Kirk shook his finger, “I would be the first human.” He shrugged rolling his hands out.

“Damn it, Kirk,” said McCoy, “what is it with you anyway? Your diplomatic missions have exhausted our stores of anti-exotics. Last time I had to quarantine you for eight days.”

“Bones, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the few.”

“It is logical,” Spock said, hefting his cupped hands, “the ambassador’s attributes are indeed quite extraordinary.”

Kirk gave his chief engineer a sour look. “Scotty, to take care of Bones’s issues, could you set the transporter to delete whatever we pick up?”

“Aye, I can strip the pesties oot, but I kin nae guarantee it woon’t delete your membrum virile.”

“That won’t do. I still have two years to spread galactic tranquility.” He widened his eyes at Scotty. “Two to beam down, NOW.”

Kirk and Spock stepped onto lighted disks on the low transporter platform. Scotty set the coordinates and hit ‘transport’. Sparkling light cylinders formed around the two officers, and their images faded. Turning away, Scotty dragged a finger across the console scrambling the designator.

“Mr. Scott,” McCoy gasped, “half of their bodies will be scattered in space.” He found himself staring at a wide-grinning Scotsman.

“Kin yee nae be a happy man? From noo on we’ll hae nae problems.”

McCoy returned Scotty’s smile and flashed a Vulcan split-finger salute. “Live long and prosper, Mr. Scott.”

 

Stardate 952117, Captain’s Log USS Enterprise, Chief Engineer Scott commanding.

We lost Captain James T. Kirk and First Science Officer Spock due to a magnetic anomaly during their transport to Bunco-I. We held a memorial service immediately afterward. So bereaved was the crew, they required buckets of Romulan Ale to drown their grief.

With the Klingon battle fleet approaching, we delayed our departure to Rura Pente only long enough to beam aboard a few dozen Bunco-I entertainers. These we plan to trade with Rura Pente’s rich dilithium miners.

Aliens Among Us

Have you seen recent TV shows, movies, or magazine articles about animal intelligence? What you think about this probably depends on your point of view. Hardline Humanists might begrudge any intelligence—human or animal—that fails their hubristic standards. Perhaps they see themselves as separate from nature, beings apart, “noble in reason … infinite in faculty!” (Hamlet Act II, Scene 2) If dogs were as hubristic as humans, there would be ‘Dogists’. They’d see Hamlet as frivolous and look down their snouts at our poor scent tracking ability.

I’m not a Humanist. My God-created universe is filled with creatures with talents and missions different from mine—all animals, not just the cuddly, wide-eyed, furry ones or the ones that sing pretty songs. My wife, Carole, has caught me talking to worms, spiders, and snakes, and I confess to attempting conversations with many others. I don’t expect them to understand or talk back, but one never knows. Maybe animals understand us better than we understand ourselves.

st-francis-blessing-of-the-animals
St. Francis blessing the animals.

THE SQUIRREL: It was a hot afternoon in July. While uncoiling the hose to water our parched garden, I saw something move in the boxwood beside the house. I backed into the yard, and the creature, a small squirrel, stumbled out after me. I’d heard warnings about rabid animals behaving strangely, but I had another thought.

I kicked over a Frisbee, toed it toward the squirrel, and filled it with water. The squirrel buried its face in the plastic pool. After drinking, it watched me water the garden then hopped beside me to the front door.

“Want to go in?” It nosed closer to the door, so I let it in. I went to my reading chair while the squirrel checked out the place.

When it returned to the center of the room, I said, “Well, come here,” and tapped my leg.” It jumped into my lap. I didn’t think it was someone’s pet; it was too young, half the size of a grown squirrel, and had probably lost its mother before learning to fear humans.

The squirrel lived free in and near my back yard for the next two years, stopped by often for lunch, and raised at least two broods of squirrels in that time.

I noticed her protruding belly and rows of prominent teats for her first pregnancy, so I wasn’t surprised when she disappeared for a couple weeks.

Outside one afternoon, I heard her chittering to me from our cherry tree. On a low branch beside her sat two small squirrels.

I waved for her and she came. When her little ones followed, she stopped them, escorted them back to the branch and ‘told’ them to stay, I don’t know how, but they stayed still and were quiet. I offered some peanuts, and she took them back to share with her pups. The next couple weeks, she returned with them several times, but she never let them approach me. When the pups finally left, my squirrel and I went back to our regular routine. I thought she showed good parenting teaching her young not to trust humans or depend on handouts.

THE ELEPHANT: Early in my professional training, I had classes on Connecticut Avenue, across the street from the entrance to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. I brought my own food for lunch and strolled through the park. My route took me past the elephant compound, and I’d fill my jacket pocket with peanuts. One elephant always waited for me and raised her trunk when she saw me coming. I’d wave back and shake her trunk when I got to the compound. She soon discovered which pocket I kept peanuts in and reached for them soon after our initial greetings. That continued for two months until I graduated and went out of town.

Ten years later, I was back for a seminar in the same building where I’d done my initial training. For lunch I took a walk in the park. When I got to the elephants, they were all at the far side of the compound, perhaps a hundred yards away. Second- or third-grade children crowded the wall pointing across. One of the escorting teachers explained that they’d visit elephants on another day.

“One of these elephants is my friend,” I said, not sure why I butted in. “I’ll call her over.” The teacher bit her lip, trying not to laugh.

I waved and got a trunk wave back from the elephant I recognized by the dark splotch on her side. She turned from the herd and trotted across the compound by herself, waving as she came. I shook her trunk then introduced her to each of the children who did the same. Amenities taken care of, the elephant locked onto my gaze and, without further ado, reached into my jacket pocket for peanuts. I’d brought an entire bag, so her trunk made several trips. When we said goodbye, she watched me all the way out of the park. Elephants never forget.

THE BEES: Early spring was beautiful in our backyard in Alexandria. A large cherry tree hung over the deck and over our dining table. When the tree bloomed its pink blossoms rivaled anything in D.C.’s cherry blossom festival. We shared this beautiful tree with our neighbors, thousands of them—bumblebees buzzing so loud we had to raise our voices.

During our first year together, Carole asked if we’d be safe eating outdoors with all the bees. I answered, yes, that bees have their missions and we have ours. That said, the bees didn’t like intruders and often checked on us while we ate, hovering in for close looks.

One afternoon, I came home with bags of groceries in both arms. A sentinel bee hovered above the landing below our front door. Seeing my approach, it rushed up to hover a foot in front of my face. It centered on my eyes, aligned with the bridge of my nose, and shifted to maintain that position if I moved. I’d gone through enough security checkpoints to know when I was being scanned. A couple seconds later, the bee shifted laterally to let me pass then returned to its original position. The rest of the week, I got waved through without delay.

 

These Earth-bound aliens have a basis to communicate with humans—we have parallel missions. Space aliens may not. Perhaps they’ll communicate through electrical impulses or scent trails. If they send us mathematical formulae to test our intelligence, might we mistake them for cilantro?

A Comet Tale

Sol Monitor. Not the challenging career step Khss was promised. The only action was on the third planet, where terrapods had spent the last sixty char perfecting self-degradation. But today’s news on the revelator puckered Khss’s gas bag.

It could mean reassignment.

In southern Virginia’s James River State Park, Kim Kenny set up his presentation for theLoaction of M-4 Crewe Astronomy Club. This was a public viewing, so he expected visitors in addition to club members. The sky was cloudless with a late rising moon, perfect for the night’s agenda: three planets—Jupiter, Mars and Saturn—and the globular cluster M4 in the constellation Scorpius.

Kim had observed M4 several times already this month and had saved a time exposure on his laptop. But tonight something had changed. Comparing the current image with the exposure from two days before, he saw that one of the stars had moved away from the cluster.

M4 is the closest known star cluster to Earth, yet still 7000 light years away. The movement was a nearer object, much nearer. Since he found nothing in the registry, he thought perhaps he’d found a new comet.

Comet Tale JPG
M4 Globular Cluster showing comet movement June 16 – 18 — Image courtesy of Kim Kenny

Kim sent the celestial coordinates to NASA’s Asteroid and Comet Watch and to the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. They forwarded the data to astronomers around the world. The Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii confirmed their worst fears and sent out the press release:

“An object, classified as a comet, will strike the Earth next Tuesday, shortly after noon Eastern Standard Time, near Lagos, Nigeria. Twelve kilometers in diameter, the comet is expected to hit with a force of 6.2×1023 joules, half again as great as the impact that struck the Yucatan 66 million years ago and killed the last of the dinosaurs. Scientists expect only primitive life forms and those deep in the ocean to survive.”

Khss stirred the revelator for third planet reactions:

Wall Street Journal: Stock Market To Close Early Tuesday In Anticipation of Comet Strike; All Major Indices Decline.

New York Times: Asteroid Strike To Destroy All Life, Minorities, Women Most Affected; Climate Model Predicts Comet Impact Will Increase Global Temperatures.

Washington Post: ACLU Blocks Religious Gatherings In Public Spaces; Harvard Professor Fired Over Comet Comment.

USA Today: European Leaders To Meet In Paris To Discuss Comet; Protesters Question Sources Of Astronomers’ Funding.

Khss’s assistant fluoresced, “Shall we redirect the comet?”

“Why?”