Archive for the 'The WiFiles' category

The Large Trade Collider By Matthew Harrison

Jul 23 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Securities investigator Joe Kormak knew that he had to crack the case, the Attorney General was waiting. But how? He couldn’t understand the thing, let alone solve it. And having such young assistants didn’t help either

He went through it again with the two young people. “You say that guy Sheridan entered a ten billion dollar hedging trade – and forgot he did it?”

“That’s right,” said Annie brightly.

“And his machine’s forgotten too,” said Luke. “No record of the order, firm-wide.”

The two youngsters – bespectacled, pale from long hours at computer screens, and uncannily keyed in to each other’s thoughts – seemed like aliens to Joe. Was it just a generational thing?

“Look again,” he growled. “There must be a deletion log. The order couldn’t have come from nowhere.”

Joe trudged back to his office. This wasn’t just another flash crash. There was public outcry, and with an election coming the AG wanted blood. But who to prosecute? It was a perpetrator-less crime.

#

“I can’t keep up with today’s markets,” Joe confessed to his wife Mabel when he returned home. “Everything’s so fast now.”

“That’s what you’ve got those young people for,” Mabel said. “Your Annie has sharp eyes.”

“It’s way beyond eyes,” Joe insisted. “In fact it’s beyond physics. Do you know that electrons…? Anyway, trading’s so fast nowadays that it’s all down to cable length.”

“A longer cable is further to go,” Mabel retorted. “Electrons have to work, just like everyone else.”

She had one last word before bed. “If it’s physics you’re worried about, I thought that Luke was a physicist. Why don’t you ask him?”

#

Joe set out for the office meaning to ask Luke. But when he saw the pale expressionless face, he baulked at learning from his own assistant. So he browbeat Annie instead. Had she found the deletion log?

Anne hadn’t. And she had feelings about the case as well. She couldn’t believe Sheridan had done the trade because he was so upset.

Joe snorted.

“Something that size is completely outside his limits,” Annie insisted. “It would never have got through the risk gateway.”

“So where did the trade come from?” Joe demanded.

“I don’t think it was a human trade.”

“We know that!” Joe said, exasperatedly. “Nothing’s human in the markets nowadays, it’s all algo.” Didn’t his assistant know that!?

“Algos begin with human design,” Annie said. “It’s like gaming – you know it’s a machine you’re playing against, but it still feels human. This doesn’t feel like that.”

“For God’s sake, what does it feel like?” Joe was beginning to crack. “Aliens, or what?”

#

After a fruitless morning, Joe recalled Mabel’s advice. Reluctantly, he went to find Luke.

The young man was chewing gum, and on seeing Joe hastily scooped it into his cheek. Joe started to speak – but how could he ask advice from someone chewing gum? So he kept back the question he had been intending to ask.

Instead, he got Luke to take him through his charts of the day’s trading. The market was normal until 15:59, just before the close. Then at 15:59:21 there was a spike in order flow.

“That’s some spike!” Joe whistled. “Can you blow it up?”

Luke had a second chart showing the individual orders as vertical lines. The middle of the chart was a forest of black.

“The biggie?” Joe asked.

“Yep.” Luke shifted the gum to the other side of his mouth. “This just shows when the orders hit the exchange server. Actually, with so many orders, the message bus would have backed them up. So we don’t know when they were sent.”

“There’s no time stamp?”

Luke shook his head. The server’s clock recorded only to the millisecond. You couldn’t establish absolute time.

He pointed at the chart again. “Look at this.”

Joe peered. Some of the lines looked strange. Luke resolved the bunched area. When the enlarged image flashed up, Joe saw what he meant. At the centre of the burst, not all the lines were vertical. One curved to the right; another spiralled away off screen.

But what help was that? They were no nearer finding the culprit. Joe told Luke to put the charts away.

#

It was after midnight when Joe got home. No, he said to Mabel as they went to bed, they still hadn’t found who initiated the gigantic trade.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “Ten billion doesn’t just come out of nowhere. What can I tell the AG? He wants to string up Sheridan, but there’s no evidence.”

“Maybe the computers did it themselves,” Mabel said sleepily. “They’re clever enough.”

Joe lay awake for a while. And thought.

Finally, he rang Luke, who would still be up. “You’re a physicist, right?” A grunt came down the line. “Particles?” Another grunt.

Joe swallowed his pride. “Do you think that somehow we’re in a kind of laboratory here – atom-smashers at Cern, that sort of thing?”

His assistant’s voice came back excitedly, “Like, I’ve been trying to tell you, man! – I mean, Joe, sir…”

#

Joe and Luke were in the AG’s office to present the findings of the investigation. The great man sat at his desk. He did not invite them to sit down.

Feeling as if he had already been fired, Joe began.

“You have to understand, sir, that in our markets today, we have created conditions under which vast numbers of transactions collide in tiny fractions of a second, literally at the speed of light. And these conditions form a laboratory, in which entirely new phenomena can be seen.”

The AG looked grim. “This had better be good, Kormak.”

“Let me draw an analogy, sir,” Joe continued. “You may recall that in another kind of laboratory, deep underground, scientists smashed particles together at extremely high energies and were able to observe–”

“The God particle,” Luke broke in.

The AG looked confused. “This trade was an Act of God?”

“No, sir,” said Joe.

“What was it, then?”

Joe recalled Luke’s words, and repeated them carefully. “‘An emergent phenomenon generated by the extreme forces of modern markets.’”

The AG thought this over. Finally, he said, “You mean, no one is responsible?”

“No one.”

“Christ! That’s what I tell the public?”

Joe raised his hand. “Your honour–”

“Well?”

“History has been made, sir – the advance of science. A public announcement should be made, world media invited…”

The AG smiled. “Now you’re talking!”

 

–End–

 

Bio

Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong.
www.matthewharrison.hk

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Cost by Kilmo

Jul 16 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Tins clanked as empty food wrappers rustled in the corner. Jewboy’s head came up fast.

‘Hear that?’

It felt like they’d been in the stores for weeks, the air was so stale it felt like you needed teeth just to breathe it.

‘We’re going to die in here aren’t we?’

It was the most Dr. Sever had said since the wet sound of meat being torn to pieces had ended the begging from the door’s far side. At least she’d spoken, Jewboy had been beginning to worry the woman wedged into the rooms far corner had been struck dumb. The food by her side had stayed where he’d left it as she stared at the splinters round it’s edges like she could hammer them back with her eyes.

‘Maybe, they sound weaker now; it could be wearing off. When was the last time you heard anyone scream? A week?’

‘I can’t remember. If we’d have gotten further…haven’t been myself, I expect.’

‘No shit.’

He was surprised she’d admitted that much. He’d never seen her admit to weakness in all the days since the program started. Then again he hadn’t been either, and he hadn’t seen what they’d done to the rest of her team. Sever put a finger between her teeth and spat it out, frustrated by the lack of fingernail.

Jewboy thought of his kids. He’d taken the placement for them, ‘Volunteering’ they’d called it. A fast track to freedom. Judging by what he could see through the room’s safety glass he might as well have not bothered. They’d be as dead as the rest of the town, and that was if they been lucky.

‘What was it your Dad said? You know, about the operatives eating?’

‘Nothing useful. Just the same right wing propaganda, farmers are all the same round here.’

In fact, he’d talked about pretty much nothing else at breakfast for months before it happened. They deserved it; they had a debt to pay to society, they needed to learn their lesson. But Jewboy hadn’t been able to stop himself thinking it doesn’t matter if they ‘volunteered,’ or what meds you feed them. What was the old saying? ‘Civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism?’ It hadn’t been long before they’d found bones in the fields.

It was the closure’s that had sparked the riots as the unregulated began to be laid off. No one had really thought about what would happen when the corporations dismembered the smaller farms; the ones that had said no to the program from the start. Since then the problem had spread until it had been at the institute’s gates. The early harvest that had burst from the rows of parched corn had changed that.

When the pods had opened. Jewboy brought his eyes down from the window and the clouds of smoke just visible outside. It was hard to scrub from your eyes no matter how hard you tried. He’d never seen insects like that, even if the sight had vanished quick as they began to burrow.

‘What are we going to do Jewboy?’

‘I don’t know. Whatever it is it’ll have to be soon; we’ve no more food.’

He looked at the corner they’d been using as a garbage can. You couldn’t really call it that anymore; cess pit would be a better word.

‘Can you drive?’

‘Only an automatic.’

Neither could he, not really. The blow that had opened the gash on the side of his face had healed, but his legs still felt weak. One was probably broken. He’d certainly screamed enough at the start. There was a car outside close enough to spit on, but he hadn’t been able to hobble across the storeroom without wanting to yell bloody murder. If you counted the drop, there was no guarantee he’d make it without passing out.

‘That jeep might start.’ He made sure Sever could see what he meant. ‘If we’re lucky they’ll have left.’

‘What if they haven’t?’

‘Sever, we stay here much longer we’ll never leave. I can move now. You got a family doesn’t you?’

It was a low blow, but at least it was only her expression that crumpled.

‘Of course.’

Then we’re driving out of here. After that; I don’t know.’

‘We’re three stories up, and that’s not a window; it’s a cat flap. That’s why I chose this place.’
‘Lucky, you’ve got me here then. It’s quietened down enough now; see that?’

Jewboy points at the fire escape bolted to the institute’s side. ‘We’re going out on it. I’ll pull the wires off the alarm. Trust me; I’ve got the experience.’

He pointed at the patch stuck to his overalls and ignored her frown.

‘We were supposed to have burnt that out by now.’

‘Your program needs work Doctor, but it’ll take a lot more than what’s left out there now to rebuild it.’

He envied the other inmates; at least they hadn’t known what would happen to them if they were caught. The fury outside had died down, but not before they’d gotten a good idea of what happened to those they dragged away.

‘I hate them.’

For a minute Jewboy’s confused, the harvest that had sprung from the fields, or the inmates on the program? Sever’s fingers beat a tattoo on the linoleum.

‘They’ve gone and mucked it all up. All those lives lost, some of those scientists were my friends. The subjects should have run when they had the chance if they hated the treatment so much. They volunteered.’

Jewboy decided not to mention that they hadn’t had much choice, incarceration in the collapsing prison system hadn’t been much fun even before the food crisis. He looked outside again; Whitewater’s streets had been bad enough before, now they looked a whole lot worse. He’s impressed it had taken the budget of an operation like the CDC to make the shit hole into a hell hole.

‘Come on, let’s just get it over with shall we? One way or another we’ll know where we stand soon.’

He makes sure he sounds confident. It looks like she needs it, and he doesn’t want any problems when they hit the street.

The window cracks open without a sound although the relief doesn’t last long. It’s worse than he’d thought; bodies lie twisted around each other like worms, and they’re lit by dozens of fires. He supposes he shouldn’t be surprised; there were enough combustibles in the institute to keep it burning for a week.

‘You hear that?’

He keeps his voice low, as something rustles in the shadows, and there’s that sound again, the one that had made his skin crawl as they’d hid in the store room’s depths. It sounds like the ocean sighing. Sever points at the vehicle, and tries not to break his arm.

‘Look.’

Jewboy follows her finger. The jeep better work, because the shapes emerging from the streets around them look a lot worse than dead. The spray’s burnt holes in them so deep he can see bone. Something slips from one cavity to another faster than his eyes can follow.

‘Poor bastards they’d have been better off if their hearts had stopped.’

Sever looks like she’s watching an animal perform tricks, ‘What’s wrong with them do you think? We should take one with us.’

She should know, it was her that designed the program. Jewboy’s not shy of reminding her.

‘Crashing, they won’t last long without another dose, and we’re not taking anyone anywhere. They’ll be in a lot of pain.’

His father had told him about that. He’d been one of the specialists, part of the corps assigned to look after the labor pools. It was a well-known family secret what that entailed. You kept the workers at their posts anyway you could, medication did the trick just fine.

‘Are they going to hurt us?’

‘Depends how desperate they’ve got. We were lucky they’d already been through the stores. They’ll be itching inside by now.’

He thought how that would feel; to know what was crawling through you while you could still think, and fought the urge to stick his fingers down his throat. He’d been lucky; the research hadn’t progressed far when Sever had taken pity on him. He’d been lucky she’d recognized him at all. They weren’t going to be kind if they caught up with her; they certainly hadn’t been with the rest.

The murmur from the torn throats rustling in the breeze redoubles, and a woman’s tonsils rattle. He watches as something like fleas crawl over its surface; fascinated by the life that keeps it moving.

‘Run…. now.’

Jewboy grabs Sever’s hand as more appear behind her, and pulls her with him until they make the car. He slams his foot against the window, but it barely cracks the glass. He’s winding up for a second go when the brick flies past his head.

‘You needed help.’

Sever shrugs her shoulders.

‘Don’t run,’ It’s the woman he’d spotted a minute ago, he’s amazed she can speak at all. There’s so many holes in her face it looks like it should slip off.

‘We’re not going to hurt you.’

He’d have preferred threats, but it’s not the hosts he’s really worried about it’s what’s inside them.

‘…just want to talk….’
‘Yes…’

It looks like they’ve chosen her as spokeswoman; there’s more meat left on her throat than the rest, although the others aren’t shy of adding encouragement. Jewboy tries the direct approach.

‘Leave us alone, or I’ll make you feel worse than you do already.’
‘Can’t do that…’
‘No.’
‘See they’re hungry.’
‘All of them, and we’ve run out.’
‘…don’t have the goods…’
‘Not anymore.’
‘What? Who? Look we don’t have anything, just leave us alone.’

Jewboy shoves Sever behind him as he finishes smashing the glass out of the window, and tries to work out if they can make it without the car if it doesn’t start.

‘All the little uns…Mary… Ryan…Scott.’
‘Don’t forget mine.’
‘Yours as well yes…’
‘They had it…we had to.’
‘We did…but you have more. They can feel it.’

The woman’s fingers tear at her throat chasing the shapes burrowing there, and Jewboy sees a tear leak from the corner of one bloodshot eye.

‘Stay away; there’s nothing we can do to help you.’

The rest of the crowd’s heads come up like water in the wake of a boat, and their eyes focus on the escapees. But, Jewboys already under the dash. Sever hasn’t said a word since she broke the window, and he daren’t look up to see why. He’s not sure he’d be able to start again. Stars erupt behind his eyes as the engine catches and he hits the wheel with his head.

‘Get in; we’re out of here.’

They’re close; a hundred, maybe two, stubbornly warm bodies pack the street.

‘Sever….?’

His voice jolts her into motion.

‘Adios muchachos.’

She gives them the finger and the engine roars as they wheel spin down the street. Another minute and they’d have been driving through a wall of bodies. There’s a bump as someone goes under the wheels; then another, and they’re bouncing down the nearest one way.

‘What have they done?’

Severs voice is low like she doesn’t want to say the words as they reach the suburbs and rise into the hills. What’s left of the town spreads out below them. They can trace the damage that’s gnawed through it like teeth tearing at an apple. There’s not a soul moving down there now even the slow ebb of people creeping their way in pursuit like blind men shuffling toward the light has vanished. Jewboy swerves, muttering under his breath as he passes another barricade.

‘Where are we going?’
‘I just wanted out of there.’ Jewboy shifts down a gear as the incline gets worse, ‘You’re the brains of the operation.’
‘What about our families?’

Happier times flash across his mind, but he’s having none of it.

‘There’s no one down there Sever, no one alive at any rate. ‘

He shrugged and kept his eyes on the road, but it gets hard to see when he thinks of the kids. Something soft brushes his cheek, and he moves his head in time to see Sever sitting back. It’s all he can do to keep the car heading straight.

‘Why’d you do that?’
‘It was only a peck; you wanted me too, didn’t you? And you’re doing your best to save us.’
‘I don’t know if it’s going to be good enough,’ Jewboy’s silent for a moment, ‘If we go by your driveway will that be enough?’
‘It’ll do.’
‘Be quick.’

When it’s done, they sit in silence. Driving the massive automobile any further doesn’t feel worth it anymore.

‘Do you think they…?’
‘Maybe, I shouldn’t have taken you, I’m sorry.’

They hadn’t found them, not breathing at any rate. They hadn’t even found much of their homes either, just smoking ruins and bits of their loved ones scattered over the grass. All of town had been connected to the institute one way, or another, and the operatives had made sure they shared their vengeance equally. Jewboy’s the one finding it hardest to deal with; it’s the first time he’s run from a fight in his life, and the result’s strewn all over his front lawn. The Doctor’s yet to shed a tear. He thinks its shock, but it’s hard to tell. She looks like she’s watching things unreel in a place that has nothing to do with the remnants of the town they’d both grown up in. Sever speaks first, ‘It was my fault. When you’re rested, we’ll leave. I know a place.’
‘Where?’
‘There’s a lake. We used to go fishing there. It’ll be alright you’ll see.’
‘That’s what you said before; I don’t know if I believe you anymore.’
‘Why wouldn’t you?’

Her fingers feel cool; like glass as she lifts them to his chin. He’s grateful for their touch; they stop the images of Mum and Dad unreeling through his head.

‘It’s easiest if I show you.’

This time she kisses him properly, on the lips; it’s like crushing butterfly wings.

The first thing Jewboy thinks when he’s able to is there’s been a car crash. Someone must have hit them, and she’d got him back to the institute, although there’s none of the damage there’d been when they left. He tries asking what’s going on, but if anything comes out of his mouth, he can’t hear it. A woman with metal gray hair, and a Doctors uniform is towering over a female operative that’s just been given their meds. She has the type of beauty Jewboy’s shy of looking at for fear of spoiling it; even curled up on the floor. It takes him a moment to work out it’s a younger version of Sever. When the older woman moves closer, still she moves so fast he can’t follow her. There’s too much blood as the scene bursts apart like someone’s disturbed a wasp’s nest.

Jewboy gets the feeling he’s been spared, and when he can see again she’s in another room, and she’s much younger. It’s dark, and lockers march away further than he can see. There’s a movement in the shadows and a man dressed in sports clothes approaches. Sever looks brittle as though the journey to get to here has abraded her somehow, and the gear she’s wearing looks worn and tatty. He lifts a hand to her face, and for a moment it looks like it’s trying to crawl away. It’s an old game and not a pleasant one, that much is obvious. Jewboy doesn’t want to see any more.

He doesn’t have a choice.

When the man is done he feels cold, and a lot older than twenty. The sports hall fades to be replaced by a child’s bedroom, and there’s plenty of noise now. Shouting thumps through the dusty carpet, and there are footfalls on the steps outside. It looks like a tornado has ripped through it. Jewboy can tell this is the worst of the bunch. This man’s face stays in the shadows where the light from the one up ended lamp doesn’t reach. His hands are huge and broken knuckled, and when he finally enters the light Jewboy can see the family resemblance.

Fresh air rushes over Jewboy. He gasps, and for a moment he wonders if he can stop. He wants that cold, clean air to fill his lungs and wash away what he’s seen. But, it’s over, at least it is for him. He can feel the car seat sticking to his skin. The sun’s leaving the city for the night. They’ve been waiting he can see that much as explosions dot the horizon, and Sever looks at him with eyes so dark he can’t see anything in their depths.

‘Had enough?’

It’s the same voice as well. The one he fell in love with a long while back

‘No.’
‘Good, that’s what I didn’t tell you when we started working together.’ She pauses looking down the hillside as explosions crawl into the sky. ‘That’s why I made them eat their kids.’

END

Bio

Kilmo

Centum Press – Sept 2016 ‘100 Voices’ (Anth)

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Daughter of Jupiter by Linda M. Crate

Jul 09 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Rochelle Laurent was the epitome of ordinary. She had skin that was lightly tanned and dotted with freckles on her arms, legs, and a few splashes upon her cheeks and nose. She had long auburn hair that went half-way to her back and dark brown eyes that sometimes looked black when she was angry.

She was an intelligent and an athletic girl with an average frame and lots of friends.

However, Rochelle was always nice to everyone in her new school for while she was popular at Hickory High at her old school of Rochester’s Administration she had been bullied and picked on constantly. She knew what it was like to never think you were good enough and to suffer the sharp tongue of fellow classmates. It’s why she never wanted to treat anyone that way because she hated the idea of anyone suffering the way she had before.

Her mother was a nurse at a hospital who had found out a few months ago that she was dying of cancer.

Rochelle’s grades had suffered a little bit under this news, but not so badly that anyone was concerned. She was usually averaging all A’s in her classes, but now she found there were a few B’s intermingled with the A’s.

It was hard for her to focus sometimes when she thought of the idea of her mother suffering. It infuriated her to think about it because her mother was a kind person and one that was undeserving of pain.

Her mother was an only child and her father had never been part of the picture. She didn’t know what would happen to her when her mother passed, and she didn’t want to think of that awful day coming. Her mother would beat this. She had to!

Rochelle walked home from school that night as she always did seeing as her house was only a five minute walk from the school. She bade her friends goodbye as she always did, and then cut across the grass pathway of Mrs. Anderson’s yard as fast as she could so the grumpy old woman couldn’t yell at her for not taking five minutes more on the sidewalk. The direct path was easier and saved her some time.

It wasn’t as if Rochelle took any steps near the cranky old woman’s precious flowers.

Little did she know, her life would change that night.

Rochelle opened the door when she came home from school, surprised to see that her mother’s bag was at the door. She was supposed to be at work. She then found her mother on the ground and unresponsive. The fourteen year old girl shook her mother. “Mom? MOM! WAKE UP!” There was no reply.

Feeling sick, Rochelle called 9-1-1. When she got the operator her voice shook when she told them what she had found and gave them the address. They seemed intent on getting the whole picture and asked her questions which vexed her and made her more exasperated. “I think my mother is dead or dying! You need to get here now!” she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Ten minutes later an ambulance arrived taking Rochelle and her mother to the hospital.

Her mother’s best friend Bee found her waiting in the hall. The black woman smiled at the young woman sadly, shaking her head.

“No, Bee!” she protested.

“I know, sweetheart, I know,” Bee soothed, stroking Rochelle’s auburn hair. The woman brushed strands of her dark curly hair from her eyes. “You’re going to stay with me, okay?”

“Okay, Bee,” Rochelle murmured softly.

“Your mother didn’t have any family, so we have to become one,” she insisted.

Rochelle smiled sadly. “I appreciate it, Bee, I’m just…”

“Overwhelmed?” Bee suggested.

Rochelle nodded.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get through this, together.”

Rochelle nodded again.

This felt as if it were going to be the longest day of her life.

Three days later at the funeral, Rochelle was gazing at her mother’s lifeless body as if it weren’t even real. None of this felt as if it could be real. She glanced at her mother’s brown hair and intense blue eyes gazing upward at the heavens. “Mommy, how could you leave me? This wasn’t fair!” she protested, tears spilling from her eyes upon her mother’s shirt.

Bee turned away, unable to watch. She knew that this had to kill Rochelle because she was a grown woman and she could barely stand this. It didn’t seem right that someone as kind as Doris should have to die when there were people that got off on murdering and hurting people in other ways. She shook her head sadly. Rochelle was only fourteen and already without her mother. It made Bee sad because she knew what it was like. Her mother had died when she was twelve of cancer, and her father had died shortly afterward. Neither of her parents were there on her wedding day. It had been hard.

Rochelle screamed as she felt someone grab her from behind and saw a man she didn’t recognize standing there.

“Excuse me, sir, what do you think you’re doing?” Bee demanded.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle anyone. I’m Rochelle’s father, Bernard. Doris and I made an agreement that we wouldn’t see each other when things went sour, but I thought that Rochelle should come with me now that her mother unfortunately died too young. She’s but a young girl.”

“Oh, so now you think you can just walk into this girl’s life and take her away? She wasn’t good enough for you when she was a kid or a baby. But now that she’s nearly grown, you going to take responsibility? You a real man. That’s for sure,” Bee snapped. “Until you can prove to me that you’re Rochelle’s father, you’re not taking her anywhere.”

“Do we really have to do this?”

“Yes we do. Doris was my best friend, and she mentioned you by name only once. I want proof that you’re this girl’s father before I let her go anywhere with you. Did you really just think you were going to walk out of here with her? She’s grieving her mother, and now the shock that she actually has a father walks into her life? Don’t you think that’s a bit overwhelming for a fourteen year old girl?”

“I suppose you’re right. I apologize. If you take us to the hospital we can find that out, can’t we…?”

“Bee. And yes, we can. Let’s go, Rochelle.”

Rochelle eyed the stranger uneasily. He had long red hair that was tied back in a ponytail and dark brown eyes. He felt familiar even if she didn’t know him. She was a little afraid that what he said was the truth because she didn’t know how she was supposed to feel if this man were her father.

However, they soon arrived at the hospital and she couldn’t tell him or Bee no.

As they waited for the test results she paced the halls. The halls that used to be filled with good memories of her mother’s laughter, Bee and her mother being silly, Bee surprising her mother with birthday cake and Rochelle after school one day. It just wasn’t fair that any of this had happened, and as much as she wanted to get away, she wasn’t so sure she wanted to leave with this stranger. She would rather stay with Bee.

“Test confirms it, he is her father. As much as you may not like it, Bee, you have to let her go with him.”

“I’ll give you a couple of days to say your goodbyes,” the man said. “I know this must be hard on you both. I’m sorry I scared you,” he said to Rochelle. “Thank you for taking care of her, Bee.”

Rochelle didn’t realize that she may have wanted to say better goodbyes after those couple days had passed. She was dressed and ready to go with suitcase by the door, but she didn’t want to go. She wanted to sit here cross legged on the floor in these jeans petting Bee’s chocolate lab Cookie forever. She wanted this moment to never end.

The days blew by so quickly she was beginning to lose track of them and that scared her. Would she one day forget her mother, too? The mother whom she loved so much. She sincerely hoped not.

Too soon there was a knock on the door. Bee opened it and the red haired stranger from before was standing there.

Rochelle had an uneasy feeling in her heart. She didn’t want to go.

She slowly moved forward as if her legs were made of heavy marble or rock that one would find difficult to extricate. She didn’t want this. She didn’t want any of this. It seemed like some horrible nightmare that she needed to snap herself out of, but she couldn’t wake from this bad dream no matter how much she wished to.

Bee hugged her so tightly.

They were both crying when they let go of their embrace. “Bee, I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too. You take care of yourself, kiddo. And, you, Bernard, if you ever hurt you so help me God I will hunt you down and destroy you and everything you love.”

“Don’t worry, Bee, I would never hurt her.”

“We’ll see,” Bee scoffed.

Rochelle glanced at Bernard. She didn’t know how she felt about him. It was easy to see she had his eyes and the red in her hair must have come from him, too. She noticed that he had pale skin, but had freckles the same shade as hers. So she had gotten his freckles, too, even if she weren’t complected in that pasty white he was.

His skin almost seemed ghostly or vampiric it was so white. She wondered what her mother had seen in this guy. He was cute, but he wasn’t handsome. Her mother deserved someone who was handsome.

“Your mother was a beautiful woman, wasn’t she? But that’s not a very nice thought, Rochelle.”

“Never realized there was a thought police or that anyone could hear my thoughts,” she growled at him, glaring ferociously.

He only laughed.

“It’s not funny,” she protested.

“I’m sorry. Of course, it’s not,” he said. “Hold onto my hand,” he instructed. “We’re going home.”

“I figured…”

“Hold onto my hand,” he interjected. “And I know you’re upset, but I don’t appreciate the attitude.”

She glared, holding onto his hand just barely. She felt his fingers wrap tightly around hers as if he were afraid he were going to lose her. That’s when it happened, she was wrenched through time and space in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. She turned to Bernard, but he didn’t seem too bothered by it. “What the hell is this? Are you a time traveller or something?”

“Or something,” he grinned. “Don’t worry. It won’t hurt you. We’ll be home soon.”

“Where is home, exactly?”

“Jupiter.”

“That can’t be. The force of it would crush you.”

“That’s a front we put up so people from Earth never visit. We don’t really wish to crush any of them, but we will to preserve our resources. Earth is very, very stingy with it’s resources and very greedy always seeking to overtake other countries from one another. We’ve watched and we’ve decided we’re not going to be as friendly as Mars who ought to be more cautious. If they’re not careful they’ll send Earthlings among the Martians and they’ll terrorize them for resources. I wouldn’t be so trusting of those people.”

“Not everyone on Earth is bad.”

“No, and neither are they all good,” Bernard shrugged. “We can’t take chances.”

“I’m never going to be able to go back again am I?”

“Sadly, no. I am sorry.”

“You should have left me with Bee. At least I was happy there.”

He looked hurt by this, but he said nothing.

Rochelle didn’t know how to feel about this. She felt as if she ought to apologize, but then reminded herself that he was the one dragging her to a new world and a new planet. He was the one that had never reached out to her in fourteen years. He was the one that was taking her away from Bee and Hickory High and everything that she had come to love in life. He was taking her away from Earth and plunging her into the throes of some planet that might kill her for all she knew.

They landed suddenly. Rochelle’s suitcase flew through the air and landed several feet from them, her father still clutched her hand rather forcefully.

“Rochelle, stay here,” he insisted, as he walked over to grab her bag. He then pulled her towards a building.

“What is this?”

“Customs.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You came from Earth, they need to make sure you aren’t bringing any diseases into our planet that could potentially hurt you or them.”

“Okay, where is this one from, Bernard?”

“Earth.”

“An Earthling? But we despise Earthlings!”

“She’s my daughter.”

“Oh, so you fell in love with an Earth girl once. You never mentioned that.” The man grinned nastily. He slicked back black hair and owlish yellow eyes. “The things you learn about your supposed best friends, eh? Come on, girl.”

Rochelle took an immediate dislike to him, but followed after him, wanting to get this over and done with. After a couple of hours of testing, the man was looking at the papers nodding.

“She’s clean, Bernard. No worries.”

“Good, let’s go, Rochelle.”

“Rochelle? What a weird name.”

“I don’t like him.”

“I don’t much like him, either, but he’s my bosses son so I put up with him.”

“He said you were best friends.”

“He exaggerates. A lot.”

Rochelle snorted. “I remember there was a boy like that at school. Once he said he had a lizard up his nose, but the lizard’s tail barely touched his nose.”

“That sounds painful. I don’t know why anyone would brag about that,” Bernard laughed.

“Me, either. Once he said that his mother gained forty pounds, but it turns out she only gained four. Still, she was embarrassed he told everyone that.”

“I bet, that wasn’t very nice.”

“No, he wasn’t a very nice kid. He liked to bully people. I punched him in the nose once, but I didn’t get in trouble because he was bullying my friend. I don’t like bullies.”

“Me, either,” Bernard agreed.

“Will I have a school to go to here?” she asked.

“Certainly.”

“Does everyone here have weird yellow eyes?”

“No,” Bernard laughed. “Just some people. But just so you know, brown eyes are rare here. So they’ll probably stare.”

“Oh, great,” Rochelle grimaced.

Bernard smiled gently. “I’m sorry. I was hoping that you would get her eyes,” he said. “But blue is recessive, isn’t it?”

“It is, but so is red, and I still have red in my hair.”

“I guess some of my genes were persistent,” he laughed.

Rochelle nodded.

Once she was enrolled in school, the principal took her to class. She was a tall woman whose hair fell to her waist in a torrent of naturally pink curls. Her eyes were the same color. She walked Rochelle to class, and pulled the teacher over.

“Hello, Rochelle,” a woman with naturally green hair smiled at her. Her hair was kept short, and she had a pair of chunky square framed glasses. Her eyes were a blue-green. “Welcome to Jupiter, and to our classroom. Okay, class this is Rochelle Laurent. She comes all the way from Earth.”

“Earth? I thought we were against the daughters and sons of Earth because of how greedy they were with their resources,” one of the students piped up.

“Ordinarily, yes. But this girl happens to be the daughter of Bernard Laurent. So let’s be kind, no? Without his help, this world would be a mess.”

It made Rochelle wonder what her father’s occupation was, but she wasn’t about to ask the teacher or her classmates outright for fear of being laughed at. She could already tell that today was going to be a long day. As her father warned brown eyes were something rare, and people were staring at her all day and taunting her about it relentlessly.

All except a mousy looking girl with long brown hair that fell slightly past her shoulders who had brown eyes herself. “They’re rather immature. Just ignore them.”

“Thank you. I’m Rochelle. What’s your name?”

“I am Cornelia.”

A girl with white-hair and blue eyes looked at them with sympathy. “We’re not all idiots who discriminate against people because of the color of their eyes. My name is Metera.”

“Nice to meet you, Metera.”

It was nice that Rochelle was able to befriend anyone, she thought. She had imagined she would be by her lonesome quite often. But Metera and Cornelia were nice and very curious of Earth so they asked her a lot of questions.

This made Rochelle feel a bit better about things. If she had to be here, at least, she could have some fun.

As the bell rang and school ended for the afternoon she headed towards the exit. She found that her father was waiting for her at the door. Before she could tell him how her day went or ask him about his job or say anything at all, he had grabbed her arm.

“I apologize, Rochelle, but I have a summons from the queen. You’re going to have to come with me for a few hours at my office.”

“Where do you work?” she asked.

“I’m one of the bounty hunters on the safety committee for the king and queen.”

“You’ve put a lot of people out of business?”

“Aye. Have to keep this planet safe. There are a lot of people who want to use up all of our resources from this planet alone, and we can’t allow that to happen. Just stay quiet and hidden, all right? She isn’t aware that you’re going to be with me.”

“Okay, got it.”

They walked in relative silence all the way there. Her father glanced at her apologetically. “I’m sorry, Rochelle, I’m rather anxious about this meeting. I’m being terribly rude to you. How was your day, not too bad, I hope?”

“It was all right. I made a couple of friends.”

“Oh?”

“Metera and Cornelia. Cornelia has brown eyes, too, and Metera’s just nice. She thinks they’re stupid for discriminating against brown eyes.”

“I’m glad that you’re adjusting well. I know the transition must be hard for you, but I think, in time, you’ll grow to love this place.”

Rochelle shrugged. Only time would tell, wouldn’t it?

She wasn’t so sure she’d ever get used to the fact that Jupiter was really habitable. She half-expected to pull herself out of this daydream and find that everything was completely normal and she was just dreaming at Hickory High. Yet a part of her knew that even her imagination wasn’t this good.

Rochelle walked into the building that her father walked in, rather curious. She would love the chance to look around for the building was in a shape of a triangle and made of dark glass that was so dark that one could not see through it. Yet while inside the building, the glass appeared to be various shades of blue and purple that one could not see whilst outside it.

Her father made her hide beneath a desk as he nervously paced the floor to his office. She wondered how much time he actually spent here. The carpet was barely worn and the desk looked almost in mint condition. It seemed that this building was really a front which it very well may be if he were a bounty hunter like he said he was. That or he was always out on a job which could be another possibility.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door and her father answered it immediately.

“Announcing her highness, The Queen Alaria.”

Two men stepped inside followed by a tall woman with long white blonde hair and blue eyes who was wearing a pair of high heeled silver boots and a long flowing silvery dress embellished with the designs of crescent moons and ravens in gold and black. Some of her hair was braided back from her eyes, but the majority of it hung loose and down. She was very beautiful, Rochelle noted, but she also seemed very dangerous.

“Ah, Bernard, darling. You’ve been doing good work as usual. But I crave a little something more from you.” She grabbed him roughly by the shoulders, slamming him into a wall.

“Alaria, you’re married. That would be wrong to both you and your husband.”

“Bernard, I simply don’t care. I had to watch you with that awful Venusian woman…it would be a pity if something happened to your son.”

“Don’t you dare hurt him.”

Alaria smirked. Rochelle couldn’t see her father’s expression, but she was sure it was indignant.

“Such fire in those eyes. Reminds me of a comet. I know you were hiding his parentage to spare his life from people like me, but it is my job to collect information.”

“I’ve never liked bullies, Alaria.”

“I am a queen, and a beautiful one at that; would you really deny me what I want? I already killed your Venusian wife and I gave that awful Doris woman cancer so that you could turn your gaze away from that idiot.”

“You killed Doris?”

“Of course, I did. You’re meant to be mine. She didn’t appreciate you or love you in the way that you ought to be loved. But I?” Alaria asked, running her tongue across Bernard’s neck. “I would carry your child and love you with honor.”

“Alaria, I said no.”

“All these things I’ve done for you, and you’d tell me no?” Alaria cackled. She threw Bernard so hard that he slammed into a desk right next to Rochelle.

“You killed Descina and Doris for me? No, more like for you,” he ground out, feeling furious. “Doris was only doing what she thought was right for her child. There’s nothing wrong with a mother’s love.”

“So there’s something wrong with a father’s?” Alaria scoffed, scornfully.

“I never said that.”

Rochelle’s eyes (which were already large and doe-like) became even larger in both shock and fear. Who was this woman that she was so strong that she could throw men around like mere toys?!

It then hit her like an ocean. This woman not only knew who her mother was, but she gave her cancer, too. Her mother who had been the kindest person she knew.

“I’ve left your children alone, Bernard, but I will hurt them, too; if I must. When will you get it through your head that you’re meant to be mine?”

Her mother had to die because of this horrible woman’s jealousy? Rochelle felt fury burn in her like white hot knives, but she knew that she had to wait until the perfect moment to act.

“If I were meant to be yours, you wouldn’t have to beg,” Bernard retorted, stabbing her in the stomach.

She laughed darkly. “Looking for my spleen?” she asked. “I’m not Venusian like your wife was. I’m actually from Mars. It would be here,” she said, pointing at a spot just lower than where her father had stabbed. “Such a fool you are to die for love,” she sneered, snapping Bernard’s neck easily as if he were nothing more than a rag doll.

Rochelle acted swiftly, running at the woman, removing the blade that her father had shoved into the woman and severing her spleen. She had been foolish to say where it was because now Rochelle knew, but she didn’t stop there. She shoved the blade at whatever inch of this woman she could reach.

Alaria seemed amused by all of her rage. “Who are you, little girl? And why do you hate me so much?” she demanded, as she became weaker from blood loss. She knew that she was dying, but she wanted to know at the hands of whom.

“You killed my mother and you killed my father, and that’s something I cannot forgive because I hate bullies.”

“Bernard hated bullies, too,” she laughed darkly, her blue eyes gazing lifelessly at the heavens. Her long white blonde hair still looked beautiful even as it laid lifeless and limp beneath the woman’s body.

“You killed the King’s Wife! You must be finished.”

“No,” came the voice of the yellow-eyed man she had seen in customs. “You will not harm my sister.”

“Your sister?”

“Dad didn’t want me to blow your cover or his when he brought you in, but since these bastards already know that I’m Bernard’s son…there’s no use in hiding it.”

“This is a pardon for the Queen’s death signed by the King himself. My father wasn’t to die, but trust you idiots to get it wrong.”

“But why would our queen be wanted dead?”

“Her husband knew of her infidelity, of course. Not to mention, I’m sure you’re aware of it, as well, judging from those blonde hairs on your clothes. I would shower and change before seeing the king. Also, he knew of her lies and the alliance she was planning on making with Earth’s corrupt king. Fortunately, that meeting was permenantely cancelled.”

“We are sorry, Veras.”

“Yes, you certainly are. You best get yourselves to the king and see what he has to say of you.”

Veras grabbed Rochelle’s arm. “You’ll probably be hated by some people of this country now, but…others will hail you as a hero. Welcome home, Jupiter’s daughter. I know father was always remorseful that your mother would not join him or let you see him, but that was their agreement. He loved you very much even if he wasn’t able to express it. I’m sorry that you had to endure all this.”

“Will I live with you now?” she asked softly, confused.

“Of course. I’m your big brother.” He ruffled her hair.

“Did your mother have yellow eyes?”

“She did. She came from Venus.”

“Venus? Father had a thing for foreign women, didn’t he?”

Venas burst out laughing. “Yes, yes, he did.”

“Do we have any more siblings?”

“No. Mother and he were married, but when she died, he was very depressed and lonely. He found your mother a very interesting person and left to Earth before we could stop him. When he told your mother the truth, she got pretty mad and she was already pregnant…she made him promise to stay away. He stopped looking for love, after that, thinking maybe he was supposed to be alone for whatever reason.”

“I see,” Rochelle said, as she glanced around her at the beautiful starry sky surrounding them. “You can’t blame her. It’s a bit overwhelming. Even for a daughter of Jupiter.”

Venas smiled. “I’m sure, but you’ll get used to it.”

Rochelle nodded. On Earth she always felt like there was somewhere else she ought to be. She now knew she was always meant to be on Jupiter, and she wouldn’t try to fight that anymore. She was finally home.

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Paranoid by Rick McQuiston

Jul 02 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

The little beast attacked him.

Danny cuddled his hand to his chest. He tried to ignore the dull, throbbing pain, but when blood began to seep into his shirt, he found it difficult to do so.

He looked down at his hand. As he had feared, there was an ugly gash stretching from the side of his wrist all the way up to his pinky finger. Dark red blood filled the painful fissure, threatening to spill out.

He hated the sight of blood, especially his own, and he found himself wondering what scared him more: his angry-looking wound or what had caused it.

He decided that it was what had caused it.

Danny thought about the gun next to his bed. It was an old 9 mm, a gift from his late father. If he could reach it maybe, just maybe he’d be able to blow his attacker away. A well-placed bullet would do the trick, right between the…

Right between the…

Right between the what? It didn’t have eyes, or a head, or arms, or legs. It was a vacuum cleaner, a beat-up old thing that he’d used (sparingly he had to admit,) for the better part of ten years.

Now, however, it was a living thing, a breathing organism that was obviously intent on his destruction.

Man killed by vacuum cleaner.

He could practically read the headlines now.

Danny could hear the soft hum of the machine. He couldn’t see it though; it stood in a dark crevice.

Anger started to fester in him. The fact that he, a grown man, was in effect held hostage by a household cleaning item frustrated him to no end.

Standing up, Danny kept his eyes glued to the dark crevice where the vacuum sat humming along. Ten feet was all that separated him from the impossible. Ten feet. A mere stroll across the room and he’d be face-to-face with something that shouldn’t be but was.

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wrapped it around his bleeding hand, and took a step forward, all the while tightening his fists in preparation for a fight. He heard a growl above the hum of the vacuum, but continued advancing.

“This is ridiculous,” he mumbled to himself. “It’s a freaking vacuum cleaner.”

With unwavering resolve, he walked toward the darkened crevice.

A thunderbolt of pain seared the side of Danny’s head. Instinctively, he swung a hand to the point of impact, brushed it with his fingers, and looked at them.

They were smeared with blood.

The vacuum cleaner rolled out of the shadows. Its tough plastic covering, scuffed from years of use, pulsed with a wet rhythm that suggested life. Two beat-red eyes blinked furiously from their inset sockets near the top of the bag compartment, and the cord slithered like a tail behind the thing, occasionally swinging out in front or to the side like a blind snake.

Danny glared at his unlikely adversary, trying to gauge its behavior.

Would it attack him again?

A sharp pain slammed into his back then, forcing him to the floor. He rolled over to get away, but only succeeded in moving a few feet, hardly far enough to ensure his safety.

The vacuum cleaner cord swung through the air with lightning speed, lashing out again and again and its cowering prey. It drew blood with each stroke of its fury, etching away at both the life and sanity of the person before it.

Despite the pain Danny bolted to his feet and squared off against his assailant. He stared the thing and its wavering cord. He watched it roll forward in agitated fashion, only to move back again as if gearing up for a final confrontation.

And then it attacked.

The vacuum cleaner lunged at Danny, slamming into him with a powerful impact far beyond its size and weight. It bulldozed him over and rolled on top. A slit extended

down the length of its bag and opened, exposing hundreds of green-tinged teeth that gnashed within the slobbering crevice.

Danny used every ounce of strength he had, and in one Herculean effort pushed the vacuum off. It fell to the wayside and immediately stood itself upright. A thick clear substance trickled from its sides, along where the bag was located, and sizzled when it made contact with air.

Without waiting for it to attack again, Danny went on the offensive and lowered his head. He barreled into the machine head-first, smashing into the body of it with destructive power. Then he continued plowing into it without hesitation, not stopping until the vacuum cleaner was nothing more than a broken hunk of plastic and metal.

Standing up, Danny regained his breath from the onslaught.

“That’ll show you who’s boss,” he panted.

The vacuum cleaner didn’t respond.

But now he had another problem: he had no way to vacuum the house.

He glanced around, noting how filthy his place was. There was dust covering everything, with tufts of fuzzies littering the floor.

He knew he had to find a way to clean it up.

“I know!” he cried. “The broom! I’ll use the broom! It’ll do as good a job as the vacuum.”

He strutted over to where the broom hung in the pantry and yanked it off the hook on the wall.

Instantly, it sprouted sinewy arms that wrapped around his wrists, effectively stopping him from releasing it. Then the bristles slipped off the block and crawled like worms up his legs.

Danny crashed to the floor, taking the broom with him. It smothered him in its strong embrace, not relinquishing its death hold until it had suffocated him.

The broom then slithered back to the pantry and leaned against the wall.

*                      *                      *                      *

The policemen pushed their way through the door. Wood splintered in the frame, creating a mess in the foyer and letting cool evening air into the house.

“This is the police,” Larry Mettde, the senior officer, stated in a no-nonsense voice. “Is anyone here?”

The younger policeman, Seth Rotorde, had only been on the force a little over six months. He stepped up behind his fellow officer. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s here,” he said. “You want me to call it in?”

“Not yet. The guy who lives here has a history of mental illness. He has a friend who’s worried about him. Says he hasn’t answered his phone in days. We need to check the whole place first.”

Seth stepped into the living room and looked at the chaos in the room. He saw upturned furniture, smashed lamps, and a vacuum cleaner that looked as if someone had run over it with a truck. His hand rested on the butt of his gun, ready to pull it out in a moment’s notice.

“It doesn’t look like anyone’s here.”

Larry ignored him. He had ventured into the kitchen and was standing next to Danny’s corpse. His gun was drawn.

“We have a body here,” he called out to his partner. He leaned over the corpse. “Doesn’t look like foul play.”  He noticed a bottle of prescription pills on the floor. “There’s pills nearby. Maybe he overdosed.”

Seth came into the room. He pulled out a pen and bent down, using it to roll the bottle over until he could see the label.

“Pimavanserin, 200 mg, twice a day. Strong stuff. I’d say he wasn’t taking his medication.” He stood back up and shook his head. “Sad. I had a friend who battled personal demons. He was taking pills like these.”

Larry nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I guess so. I’ll call it in.” He stood and was about to talk into his receiver when he saw something move in his peripheral vision. He spun around but didn’t notice anything.

“You all right?” Seth asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“It’s nothing. Just my nerves. Sometimes this job gets to me.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Larry walked over to the pantry and pulled out his flashlight. He clicked it on and waved the beam of light over the inside of the space.

“Something in there?” Seth asked.

“No, nothing but boxes of food and some cleaning supplies.” He aimed the light on an area to his left. “And a broom that looks like somebody used it to kill someone.”

Seth shook his head. “Now you’re just being paranoid.”

 

Bio:

I’m a forty-nine year old father of two who loves anything horror-related. I’ve had nearly 400 publications so far, and written five novels, ten anthologies, one book of novellas, and edited an anthology of Michigan authors. I’m also a guest author each year at Memphis Junior High School.  Currently, I’m working on my sixth novel.

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THE STEEL DRIVING MAN by Eugene L. Morgulis

Jun 25 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

I was born with a hammer in my hand, and I’ve been driving steel ever since.

It’s not hard work. I just plant my feet, hold the steel bit steady, and drive my hammer down on it. When it’s deep enough, I step back, and a man comes to blast out tunnels and clear the road.

Professor Spector said I was the best and fastest steel driver he’d ever seen. “Ain’t no man alive can drive steel like you!” he’d say.

The Professor took me all over to different road crews, showing me off and putting the working men to shame. Sometimes I did the work of a whole crew, and Professor Spector would collect their pay and laugh. I didn’t mind that he kept the money, since he took care of me, and what did I need money for anyhow? I just liked driving steel.

But everything changed when the Professor took me down to Big Bend.

The crew and road captain there eyed me suspiciously, which was normal. I ignored them and stepped up to the mountainside like always, tapped the stone and gauged the environs. It was hard rock, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

I was getting ready to strike when a man stepped right in front of me. He was a big fellow with a hammer almost as big as my own. He held it like it was a part of him, so I figured he liked driving steel as much as I did, in which case we were alike.

“Hey Captain,” the big man called to the company chief.  “What’s this contraption here?”

“That’s one of them newfangled steam drillers, John,” said the road captain.

“Oh yeah?” said the big man, scratching his head.  “What’s it do?”

I said nothing, because he didn’t ask me.  But Professor Spector marched right up to that big man and stuck a finger in his wide chest.

“Now you listen here, boy. That there’s a mechanical man what can drive steel a hundred times faster’n you can.  So step aside before you disturb the delicate machinery.”

I waited while the men argued, not understanding why.  My logic gears are simple. I can follow orders. I can size up land and rock. I can choose the right steel bit and correct angle to hammer. When I drive steel, my purpose is fulfilled. I let Professor Spector take care of everything else.

Professor Spector clapped his hands and waved me over.

“Think you can tunnel through that chunk’a mountain?”

I analyzed the rock. “Yes.”

“Think you can do it faster than that hotshot over there?”

I analyzed the big man. “Probably.”

We set to it side by side. I took the right tunnel and the big man took the left. It took the big man four, sometimes five swings of his hammer to drive that steel deep enough. I could do it in one or two.

But here’s the thing. While I stopped from time to time so that Professor Spector could feed me coal or oil my joints, the big man never stopped. He took no food and no water. The big man just kept driving steel, grunting from exertion and coughing from the coal dust, pouring sweat like a mountain stream. Sometimes he’d sing.

After 15 hours of driving steel, I was bound to overheat. So I had to stop for a little bit. But the big man kept going. He cleared the tunnel before me, which sent the whole company whooping and hollering with delight.  Professor Spector smacked me with his hat and cussed something awful.

The crew was still celebrating when the big man started coughing and grabbing his chest. Then he just sat down, closed his eyes, and never opened them again. Before the men put his body in the ground, the road captain told them to take away his hammer, saying it was company property. It took two of them to lift it. I guess it wasn’t attached to the big man after all.

The captain, whose name was Mr. Fosset, argued with Professor Spector and threatened to wire a lawyer. The Professor made a deal to sell me on the spot, and the men spat and shook on it.  He took his money and left without saying goodbye.

It was years before I saw him again.  In that time, I traveled with Mr. Fosset’s company up and down Appalachia and on into the West, where I drove steel into mountains as big as the sky.

The men kept me running in the sense that they filled my belly with coal when it got low. They never polished my skin, like Professor Spector did. They never scrapped off the rust or oiled my joints, except when the creaking got so loud you couldn’t even hear the dynamite. I wondered if they were sore at me, on account of the big man who beat me and died. They never said anything about it, but sometimes they threw rocks at me and laughed.  But none of that mattered to me – I just liked driving steel.

The day Professor Spector came back, he brought with him another machine. Like me, but not like me either. It was bigger, had wheels instead of legs, and a great metal chimney rose from its drum of a body. I approached it and saw in its smooth shiny side my reflection – a rusted, dented, clumsy thing, with shaky legs and chipped hammer.

The men all gathered ’round to hear Professor Spector describe the “mechanical wonder,” which didn’t look so great to me.

“She faster than your old hunk’a junk?” asked Mr. Fosset.

Professor Spector smiled and pushed a few buttons on the machine’s side.

The machine sprang to life and rolled over to the side of the mountain I’d been driving through for the past several days. I understood then what it was, and what it was doing here. I analyzed its 80-pound hammer and its massive coal burner, and figured that it could probably drive steel better and faster than I. Probably.

But what was Probably? The big man taught me that Probably didn’t mean a thing. Probably could as easily be Probably Not. I was going to show them that, the Professor and Fosset and all the men in the crew. And that dumb beast of a contraption. I was going to show them that I could drive steel better than anyone or anything on this earth.

So I set myself beside the machine – it on the right of the tunnel, and I on the left. It did not look at me, since it had no eyes to see, but I would show it anyway.

I gauged the rock and planted my feet, knowing in my gears that I would either beat it or break trying. Or both, like the big man. I raised my hammer.

“Jee-zus!” yelled the captain.  “What in the hell’s that thing doin’?”

The men ran over to me and pushed me away from the mountain before I could even take my first swing. I wanted more than anything to beat that new machine.  But they didn’t even let me try. And I stood there as it hammered through the mountain like it was made of dust.

Mr. Fosset laughed, and Professor Spector said something about spare parts.

Then they came after me.

So I ran.

It was dark when I fell into the coal mine. And darker still in the deep ground where the only light came from my dying burner. I knocked a few chunks of coal from the wall with my hammer and fed my fire to keep from dying.  It was just like driving steel. So I did it again. And again.  And again.

And here I’ve been ever since, driving steel to feed myself and feeding myself to drive steel. I don’t know anymore how deep I am. Maybe one day I’ll hit the heart of the Earth. Or maybe the coal will run out. But whatever happens, I’ll die with this hammer in my hand.

Bio: My short fiction has been published by McSweeney’s, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Cirsova Magazine, Metaphorosis, and in the Adventures of Pirates Anthology.

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Circles by Daevid Glass

Jun 18 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Southend was in the hands of the food pedlars. Garish lighting and clubby music called the drunks forth like moths, putting them in the path of culinary odours. Trunks of donor meat mesmerised with their languorous pirouettes, chopped vegetables in salad trays awaited indiscriminate scooping, bedded dangerously near uncooked meat amid decorative herbs. Polystyrene trays snapped open to be filled with food and stabbed by plastic forks. Day-Glo sauces were squeezed in excessive spirals.

The man in the metallic blue bomber jacket didn’t need to check his watch to know the time was around 2.30. That would give enough time for the clubbers from Lucy Road to make it this far, their routes hindered by zig-zagged diversions, emotionally unsound interactions and hiatuses to interfere with bins and shopping trolleys. He was sober though–he drank, but not to get drunk, enjoying the mellow edge but stopping before–this.

Edging round a puddle of fresh vomit, he approached the High Street, passing the flashpoint scrum of the taxi rank. As he turned the corner, a tense conversation caught his ear.

“I’ve fuckin’ had enough of this shit, I don’t care if she’s a girl.”

“Just leave it man,” said the boy’s companion. “We’ve all had a few beers, we all get annoyed by the odd bitch, just leave it.”

“Yeah, whatever. I’ve had enough. I’m sick of people trying to walk all over me like that. Not any more.”

“Mate, come on–the taxi rank’s filling up. Let’s go, we can have a smoke at mine, come on.”

“Bollocks.” He charged the wrong way up the street.

“Come on man, drop it,” his friend shouted, taking chase.

“Excuse me,” shouted the man in the jacket, holding out a piece of paper. “I think you forgot something.”

“You what?” yelled the boy, turning back. “What did I forget?”

“Your sense of perspective. You can have this tenner, on one condition. You go now and get yourself a pizza.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” his mate said. “Free pizza.”

The guy looked at him incredulously but took the note. As he did, the benefactor touched a discreet gold badge on the arm of his bomber jacket, taking a picture of the boy’s face.

“Thanks,” the lad said with an arched eyebrow, then duly headed to Ali Baba’s Kebab & Pizza.

These hot nights bring the devil out, thought the man in the jacket as he resumed his journey. And the legs, he mentally added, seeing a group of short-skirted girls heading towards the taxi rank. He corrected himself though; the girls here would dress like this in the Klondike if there were alcopops and house DJs to lure them out among the ice.

“Nah, I ain’t takin’ this,” said a corkscrew-haired girl residing at the top of one of the pairs of legs.

“Come on, Chel, don’t get stressed,” said a teenage boy in chinos.

“Don’t treat me like I’m a pisshead,” she screeched, “he fucking pushed me flying.” Her freckles grew so angry it seemed they might jump off her face in protest. “I’m gonna find ‘im.”

She marched towards the kebab shop, as effectively as one can in five-inch heels. “Oi!”, she shouted, her war-cry ricocheting between WH Smith and Barclays Bank.

“Ginger bitch!” the boy with the tenner shouted from afar, who by rights should have a deep pan pizza in his face by now.

The man in the bomber jacket intercepted Chel’s momentum.

“Drop it maybe?” he smiled.

“Who the fuck are you?” she scowled.

“Someone who wants you to wake up tomorrow without a black eye.”

“Fuck the black eye, he needs a slap.”

“I don’t like people waking up with a heavy heart.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s not your problem is it?”

“No,” Jacket said, and grinned as if the fact was irrelevant.

“You don’t know this situation,” she said.

“I know all situations,” he said, and touched his badge.

Chel, and only Chel, saw a picture of the boy she was chasing, appearing in some kind of hologram between her face and this man’s jacket. The boy looked flustered, with the mistrust of a drunk who had just been offered a free pizza by a stranger.

The man let go of his badge and the image dissipated.

“OK, maybe you do know this situation,” Chel said, heading back to her friends. She paused halfway and turned. “I wonder what else you know,” she said.

#

8.30 in the morning. The milkman was tired. He hadn’t slept all night. He wasn’t used to this. He wasn’t a milkman. He rang the doorbell, looked up at the thin terraced house. Leaves blew in unseasonable eddies.

The door creaked open and a sleepy freckled woman appeared in her nightie.

“Morning,” said the man in the bomber jacket, putting down a wire carrier full of bottles. “Shane’s on holiday so I’m covering his round.”

“OK,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “I’ll get the money.”

She walked down the hallway to the kitchen. The milkman crept inside and quietly shut the door.

She saw him, in her house, and gasped in fear.

“She loves you a lot you know,” said the milkman.

The woman tried to speak.

“I don’t think she thinks much of herself,” the man continued.

“Maybe you told her she was stupid too many times.”

“Who–,” the woman began.

“Chelsea only drinks to make herself feel good.”

“I hate it when she drinks,” the woman said. “No daughter of mine behaves like a slut.”

“I understand,” the milkman murmured and touched his badge.

His host received a private vision; an image of a man hitting a small child. A small child with freckles.

“Dad,” she whispered, her face haunted.

“If you could start over with Chelsea, would you do it differently?” he asked.

“Yes,” whispered the mother, then, finding her voice, “she’s not stupid.”

“Got my money?” he asked, looking down at her hand.

She looked in her palm. Amid the change were 5p coins the size they used to be. From the kitchen radio, a pop song, Karma Chameleon, played for the first time. Upstairs, a baby cried.

“I’ll let myself out,” the man said.

#

Eventually the pub opened. The tired man in the bomber jacket got up from the park bench and headed towards it, stopping when he heard a crunch under his feet. He looked at the ground to see large fragments of tinted glass on the pavement. The largest shard was the neck of a Peroni bottle. He crouched. Was that blood? He carefully took it and held it by the badge, sighing out the woes of the world at what he learnt.

#

A pensioner supped a pint of mild in his local, grimacing at the overfamiliar surroundings. Hardly anyone else was here yet, but now a man in a bomber jacket had entered. The man ordered a coke and looked around, as if searching. He wandered over to the old man’s table, and wordlessly took a seat.

The regular scowled. Hushed words were exchanged. His new acquaintance gently touched his badge and the old man saw images of a war which never left him. The man in the jacket left the pub, with his drink barely touched.

The landlord was amazed to see the crabby old man wipe away a tear.

#

The man in the jacket was waiting outside the house.

“Decided?” he asked.

“I’ll go,” the old man said, unlocking his front door. “What do I do?”

“Just sit,” Jacket said, following him into the living room. He sat too, the strangers close on the faded brown settee. “What’s that?” he asked, nodding towards the framed medal mounted above the oak-finish TV set.

“The Burma Star,” the old man said. “What I get for being sniped at by Japs.”

Jacket nodded and left open an inviting silence.

“I don’t regret fighting,” the veteran said. “But I didn’t have to do all the things I did.”

“You don’t have to do all the things you could,” Jacket corrected.

“Who are you?” the old man asked, not for the first time.

“I’m a tired man who needs his bed,” the man in the jacket answered, “but first I’ve got to stop off at yesterday.”

“But I get my second chance first?” the young man asked, his thick black hair side-parted and set in Brylcreem.

Jacket approached the gramophone and put on Moonlight Serenade. “Don’t waste it,” he said. No medal hung on the wall.

“I won’t lift a hand to her,” he said. “Thank you.”

The man in the jacket let himself out. “Excuse me,” he said, to the pregnant young woman coming in with the shopping.

#

“You,” Jacket said to the muscle-bound geezer in the pub garden, waiting for his mate to bring the next round.

“What do you mean ‘you’?” the man said, rising to his feet.

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“That,” the man in the jacket said, nodding towards the bottle of Peroni in the thug’s hand.

“What you on about?” said the aggrieved drinker, his face close to Jacket’s.

“I saw it,” he explained. “I saw that broken bottle after you smashed it over a Kosovar’s head. I saw the blood. I saw the pain, the hate. I saw the tears, and I’m telling you. Don’t.”

“I haven’t smashed anything you nutjob.”

“Yet,” said Jacket. “One day he’s a normal teenager living with his family, next day he comes home and his house has burnt down. Doesn’t know if they’re dead or alive. Red Cross can’t find ‘em. He has to leave, he picks England. We arrest him, but eventually he’s allowed to settle. He lives on a fiver a day cos he can’t work. Gets a pair of fake trainers from Pitsea Market and you’re jealous. And you. Let’s look at you.”

Jacket touched his badge and the drinker saw, in perfect clarity, the forces that shaped his life, the suffering that made him violent, and at last, the compassion of another human being, who could see all he was, but still gave him a second chance.

The meathead looked pensive for a few seconds, but his face soon stiffened with resolve.

“They can all get glassed for all I care,” he sniffed. “Just wish they’d fuck off ‘ome.”

The man in the bomber jacket broke the thug’s jaw.

#

“Nah, I ain’t takin’ this,” said a corkscrew-haired girl in a slim pair of jeans.

“Come on, Chel, don’t get stressed,” said a teenage boy in chinos.

“He fucking pushed me flying, course I’m stressed!” she shouted. “Wanker!” she added.

She stood staring after her assailant, her hand on her hips. “Let’s go home,” she said. “I’ve had enough.”

The man in the jacket smiled at her. She didn’t recognise him so just gave him a look.

“There he is!” someone shouted.

Jacket turned as a burly group gathered around him, armed with bottles and Stanley knives. Behind them, the man with the broken jaw stood and watched.

“You’re right,” Jacket said, “I shouldn’t have done it.”

“Shouldn’t have done what?” asked one of the blokes, pushing him backwards.

“Hit your mate. I should have known better. These things always loop round.”

It was too late to do anything about it. He’d probably die here. The man pushed him again. Another of the group had crouched behind him. He fell backwards onto the floor and a heavy boot kicked him in the ribs.

“Oi, leave it out,” the girl shouted.

“Go ‘ome love,” one of the men answered.

“It’s hardly a fair fight is it?”

“Come on Chelsea, leave it,” said her friend.

She faded into the background. More kicks came. A skinhead with Borstal teardrops tattooed onto his face crouched down and punched the man in the jacket on the nose. He felt warm blood gather on his upper lip. The guy pulled his fist back for another go, when a familiar voice interrupted them.

“Excuse me lads.”

Jacket looked up to see himself–an unbloodied doppelgänger crouching over him.

“What?” said the skinhead, looking from one Jacket to the other.

“I shouldn’t have broken his jaw,” the prone man confessed to his alternate self.

“If you could go back in time, would you change things?”

The injured Jacket nodded.

The crouching Jacket smiled. “All right. You probably deserve a break.” He touched his badge.

 

BIO: Daevid reverse-engineers morsels of reality and extracts their meaning, injecting this concentrate into carefully assembled words and hoping for a positive outcome. This process began when, as a child in Essex, England, a school teacher asked him to write a poem about a rocket launch. He hasn’t stopped writing since. He lives in Oxfordshire on the isle of Albion and is working on his novel, Resuscitating God.

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How Bernie Won by Steve Slavin

Jun 11 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Do you want to hear how Bernie really won the election? Some insiders say the story goes back to the New York primary, and that’s certainly plausible. Because, looking back, Bernie’s big win in that state was the beginning of the end for Hillary. But I’m going to give you the real inside story. And that goes back to the 1950s, when Bernie was a student at James Madison High School in Brooklyn.

Now don’t tell me you never heard of our school. Let me drop a few names on you besides Bernie Sanders. Here’s just a few you might have heard of – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who, believe it or not, was a cheerleader at Madison. And you know who Senator Chuck Schumer is – besides being the cousin of Amy Schumer. No doubt you’ve heard of Carole King and Judge Judy? And Chris Rock went to Madison for a couple of years. Oh yeah, we even have four Nobel Prize winners. Not bad for a neighborhood school.

A whole lot of really smart kids went to our school. No one can say who was smartest, but when Bernie went to Madison, everyone agreed it was Shelly (short for Rochelle). Sometimes she was called “Shelly the fixer,” but the nickname never really stuck.

Before we talk about how Shelly got involved in Bernie’s presidential campaign, I want to tell you about a few things Shelly did was when she was a kid – just so you’ll have some idea of who we’re dealing with.

One day Shelly, who was about ten, her younger sister, Bonnie, Bonnie’s friend, Susie, and the sisters’ dog, Teddy, went for a walk. Teddy, a brown and white cocker spaniel, grew increasingly tired. The girls, realizing that they were miles from home, agreed that they would have to get home by bus.

But there was a big problem. No dogs allowed. What could they do? Shelly told Bonnie and Susie to get on the bus and walk to the back to find seats. But whatever they did she warned them, “Don’t look back!”

So Bonnie and Susie did as they were told. After all, Shelly was a couple of years older, and she was very wise. As they approached some empty seats, they heard people murmuring, and making tsk tsk sounds. One woman sadly noted that it was “Such a shame!” To which a man added, “And so young!”

Bonnie and Susie noticed that the bus wasn’t moving. They just had to see what was going on. Shelly was slowly making her way to the back of the bus, holding Teddy’s leash with one hand, and her other arm held out straight in front of her. Her eyes were open but she was staring straight ahead. Teddy was sniffing along, his nose almost dragging on the floor. After Bonnie and Susie helped Shelly into a seat, the driver started the bus.

OK, maybe you’re not convinced from this one incident that Shelly was a genius. So if I told you that she won almost $50,000 on a children’s quiz show, you’d probably think that maybe she was just lucky – or that the show was fixed.

Shelly and I happened to be in the same math honors class, and she would call out the answers before the teacher could even begin asking the questions. He finally worked out a deal with her. She would cease and desist if he got all the teachers in the math department to refer their failing students to her for tutoring.

What did a sixteen-year-old do with all that money? She played the stock market. Before she graduated, Shelly was worth several million dollars. Not bad for a kid from the projects.

Madison was very overcrowded. So we had to wait in long lines to get into school, get into the cafeteria, pick up our textbooks, and turn them in. If Bernie had a list of “issues” back then, the long lines we were forced to wait on might have topped that list. I can still picture Bernie in his graduation gown, just seething as the hour-long procession filed into the Loews Kings, a huge movie theater that was rented for the occasion. I laughed when I heard Shelly asking him if had had brought along anything to read.

No one knew what happened to Shelly after high school. In fact, even her closest friends were clueless. And then, two weeks before the New York primary, Bernie got a note from her.

He called her immediately, and within a couple of days, the campaign put her plan into action. Now you can probably figure out what her plan was, because of how radically altered his campaign was. But just in case you were on another planet for the last few months, I am going to spell out everything for you.

Shelly met with Bernie, his wife, Jane, and four of his other most trusted advisors. Shelly began by pointing out that Bernie drew huge crowds wherever he went. Was this because of his movie star looks? His friendly disposition?

They kind of chuckled. “OK,” she went on. Everyone was there to hear Bernie’s message. “The rich are getting richer…. The poor are getting poorer… The middle class is disappearing. Blah, blah, blah.”

“So you think we should change the message?”

NO!!!!!” she screamed.

Everyone looked at everyone else and kind of shrugged. Shelly waited. And then she really surprised them. “Bernie, they loooove your message!”

They waited.

“They love your message so much, they’ve memorized it. You’ve memorized it! Watching you give a speech is like watching the Rocky Horror Show. The audience recites the lines along with the actors. ‘The rigged economy!’ ‘Enough is enough!’ ‘The top one tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent.’”

“So what you’re saying is that they can’t get enough of Bernie delivering the same speech.”

Bingo!”

“Yeah, it’s terrible! Sometimes people have to wait five or six hours just to get through security.”

“OK, now Bernie, I want you to think back to when we were at Madison. Remember all those lines they made us wait in?”

Bernie just smiled, nodding his head.

“You didn’t like those lines.”

“Like? LIKE? I hated them!”

“So what about the lines that you make all your supporters stand in for hours?”

“It’s not our fault!” said one of the managers. “It’s the fuckin’ security check points that the Secret Service set up.”

“Right! It’s not your job.”

Shirley noticed Bernie turning beet red, but she just plunged ahead.

“These are your supporters forced to stand out there for hours like complete schmucks waiting to hear the golden words of their great hero.”

Bernie opened his mouth, but before he could get out a word, Shelly shouted, “Here comes the old bullshit!”

All of them were stunned. How many times had they heard this outburst, word-for-word? Soon they were all laughing – even Bernie.

“Yeah, Shelly,” said Jane, “You can take the boy out of Brooklyn….”

Then Shelly went on. “So Bernie, do you see where I’m going with this?”

“You’re one hundred percent correct, Shelly! I’m responsible for exactly the same thing that I used to bitch about.”

“Shelly,” one of the others said, “We all feel like complete shit for making these long lines of supporters go through all this security crap. But what can we do?”

“OK,” said Shelly, “we all agree that the quality of life of Bernie’s supporters would be greatly enhanced if they didn’t have to wait on those fuckin’ lines.”

There were a few more complaints about the long lines. Shelly waited until everyone had a chance to comment. Then they all looked at her expectantly. She knew that this was the moment when she would actually change the course of history. She made eye contact person-by-person. Then she cleared her throat.

Here’s our problem:  There’s only one Bernie Sanders. And there are millions of people who would love to hear him speak. But most of them never will. If Bernie went out there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he still would reach just a tiny fraction of the people who want to hear him give that speech.”

She waited. No one had a clue where she was going with this. She just stared at them. And when they began to think she would just leave them hanging there, she said the two magic words.

“Larry David.”

               Brilliant!

They looked at her, anticipating what she would say next. But instead, she said, “But not Larry David.”

What was she talking about? Was that some kind of Zen bullshit? Was she nuts or what? After all, there’s not a whole lot of real estate between genius and insanity. Still, maybe there was something that she saw that they didn’t.

“OK, let’s just say that we did get Larry David to give one speech. Bernie, you could lend him those long yellow legal sheets you’ve always dragging around with you.”

Bernie laughed. “Yeah, he could probably do a better job than I do.”

“Yeah, Bernie, he kind of does have you down.”

They waited for Shelly to go on. Again, she cleared her throat. She knew that they were primed to make the leap of logic.

“So suppose we don’t get Larry David. Suppose we hire ten actors – men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians. Maybe we give them Bernie’s hair and glasses. But all these folks are actors. They give the speech. Maybe they even give it in Brooklynese.”

They were hooked. They looked at each other and nodded. Now all she needed to do was reel them in, close, and have them sign on the dotted line.

“OK, we hire ten – or, who knows, maybe twenty — of these actors. They learn the speech. We schedule hundreds of rallies a day all over the state.”

Yes!!!!!

“No more waiting on long lines to go through security!”

“Amen!!!!”

                  “No more Secret Service!”

Preach it sister!!!!!!”

                 “Bernie, your public wants you 24/7. They can have you 24/7!”

Bernie and Jane, followed by everyone else, got up and hugged Shelly. They all knew at that very instant that they had changed the course of history.

And indeed they did. Bernie impersonators, many of them quite comic, fanned out all over New York State. For the next two weeks no town or village was too small for a rally, complete with “the speech.” His supporters continued to be full participants, mouthing the words along with the Bernie impersonators.

The last poll, just two days before the primary, had Hillary still ahead by three percentage points. But that was down from twelve just ten days ago. Clearly she no longer had the home field advantage.

On Primary day there were reports of over 100,000 voters in Brooklyn whose names had been mysteriously removed from the voting rolls. Although there were just two candidates, the New York City Board of Elections managed to create a paper ballot that even the election workers were unable to explain to voters.

It looked as though the Board of Elections might be trying to steal the primary. Weren’t they part of the Democratic machine, which everyone knew was in Hillary’s pocket?

“Don’t worry,” said Shelly. “These guys are far too stupid to steal the election. She was right. Bernie won by five percentage points. And poor Hillary began to channel Yankee baseball great, Yogi Berra. It was indeed déjà vu all over again. She didn’t win another primary, and quietly dropped out of the race before the convention.

In January, when Bernie took the oath of office, there wasn’t that big a crowd. Why schlep all the way to Washington when you could go to the oath-taking in your own city or town? Millions of Americans will remember the stirring words that would become the rallying cry of our nation: “Enough is enough!”

 

Bio: A recovering economics professor, Steve Slavin earns a living writing math and economics books.

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Controlling the Storm by Jamie Lackey

Jun 04 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Harmony’s watch beeped just as the first dark clouds gathered on the horizon. The storm was right on schedule. The protesters outside were about to get very wet.

“God controls the weather! You’re not God!” they chanted, clutching their signs.

Thunder rumbled overhead, and they glanced up at the sky. Moments later, they scattered to their cars as the clouds opened.

“Raining out the protesters isn’t going to convince them that you don’t think you’re God,” Toni said.

Harmony shrugged. “I don’t believe in God. But if he is real, he either doesn’t care to control the weather, or he’s bad at it.”

Toni winced. “And that’s why we don’t let you talk to the media.”

“The rain looks good. Nice and steady,” Harmony said. They stood and watched it streak down the glass. After a few minutes, Harmony’s watch beeped again, and the rain slowed to a stop. “I’d call that a successful test,” she said. “I’m going to call it a night. I think we’ll be ready for the meeting tomorrow.”

“Want to go for a drink? A few of us are gonna hit happy hour.”

“No, thanks. I want to take a long bath and get to bed early.”

“Come on. You’ve been spending too much time alone since–well, you know.”

“Since Meg died.”

“Yeah.”

Alone was easier. Friendships were messy, unpredictable. Vulnerable. “Thanks, but no. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay.”
#

Meg’s father sat on Harmony’s doorstep, completely soaked, and Harmony suddenly wished she’d gone to happy hour. “Hey, Jack.”

He stood, loomed over her. “I can’t believe that you’re going forward with it.”

“It’s what she would have wanted. Controlling the weather was her life’s work.”

“Till it killed her.”

“Our work didn’t kill her. Someone sabotaged it, and she died trying to fix it.”

We’d programmed the rain to last for fifteen minutes. It had been three days before it let up enough for us to recover her body.

“Dead is dead.”

“You think I don’t know that? You lost your daughter, and that’s hard and I’m sorry. But I lost my wife. And I’m going to finish her work, because it is what she would have wanted. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go inside.”

“Please, I’m begging you. Stop this.”

Harmony stepped around him and went inside.
#

She woke to the smell of smoke. She reached for Meg, and only found a cold pillow. Panic surged through her for an instant before she remembered. She blinked back tears, scrambled out of the bed, and snagged her watch from the bedside table.

She placed her hand flat against her bedroom door. It was hot, and wisps of smoke curled in from under the door. She felt like she was in a nightmare, the familiar one where water surged around her and slowed her movements.

She walked to the window and fumbled with the latch on the fire safety box she’d insisted they install.

The best way to avoid tragedy is to prepare for it, after all.

She hooked the rope ladder onto the windowsill and scrambled down it. She’d insisted that they test the kit, that they practice getting out of the house. It was easy.
The grass was wet with dew and cold against her bare feet. Flames engulfed her house. Their house.

Her wedding dress was in the attic. The cedar chest that Meg’s grandmother had given them in the guest room.

The origami swans that Meg had made for her when they started dating were tucked in a box under the couch.

The distant, dreamlike feeling shattered. Harmony ran toward the flames, tears drying on her face as soon as she shed them.

Then something hit the back of her head, and there was darkness.
#
She woke tied to a kitchen chair. Her head ached and her hands and feet were numb. She turned to try to see her wrists, but couldn’t.

“Not so high and mighty now, are you?”

A middle aged woman with dark hair with gray roots glared down at her.

“I recognize you,” Harmony said. “You’re one of the protestors.” The fact that she wasn’t wearing a mask was terrifying. Did they plan to kill her? But why kidnap her, if killing her was the plan? She wished she could tell if they’d taken her watch.

“And you’re the mad scientist.”

“I’m not the kidnapper here.”

“Well, I never expected that you’d have a fricking rope ladder installed in your bedroom.”

“The best way to avoid tragedy is to prepare for it,” Harmony said.

“Shut up.”

“You wanted to kill me with the fire. And when that failed, you didn’t have the stomach to murder me, so you knocked me out and dragged me here.”

The woman just glared.

“What are you going to do with me now?”

“Don’t you just want to know?”

“I want to know, too,” Jack said, stepping out of the shadows. “Why in the world did you bring her here?”

Harmony gaped at her father-in-law for a moment, then all of the pieces clicked together. “You killed Meg,” she whispered. “It was you. You sabotaged the program.” Too many emotions to deal with ricocheted around inside of her. She felt like a tornado.

She hated tornadoes.

“She wasn’t supposed to be there. It was supposed to be you.”

“Why?”

“Because humanity isn’t meant to control the weather! You’re overstepping our bounds, Harmony!”

“Do you know how many people tornadoes kill every year?” Harmony asked. “Or hurricanes? Or floods? Or fires caused by drought?”

“That’s not something you can change,” the woman spat.

“Yes, it is. I can change it. And even if you kill me, you won’t kill my work. It’s too important. Too much good can come from it.”

“Your lab and your fancy machines are burning even as we speak,” Jack said.

Harmony blinked back tears. She could refreeze the polar ice caps or change the direction of the breeze, but she’d never change these people’s minds. Jack had killed his daughter, and it hadn’t stopped him.

If she was still wearing her watch, the police could use the GPS to find her, the heart monitor to see that she was still alive. If they even knew to be looking, with the fire.

Her watch was gold, with an analog face and a leather band. It had been Meg’s last present to her, because she didn’t like the look of smartwatches. The woman might have left it.

Harmony rocked back and forth in the chair. Maybe it she knocked it over, something would come loose and she could run. Or at least see if she was still wearing her watch.

Jack grabbed the chair and leaned on it, pinning her in place. “Meg hated how you always needed to control everything. Did you know that?” he asked. “She complained about it all the time.”

“She loved you very much,” Harmony said. “But she complained about you, sometimes, too.”

“The project needs you,” he said. “It will fall apart without you.”

“Maybe for a little while. But California needs rain.”

“And who decides who gets the weather they want?” the woman asked. “And how much will they have to pay for it? How long till your weather machines are used as weapons to cow people into submission? How long till someone else builds one? What happens to the planet if the weather becomes schizophrenic because it has multiple masters? How is that going to fix anything?”

Harmony blinked at her, honestly surprised. “Those are valid concerns.”

“I’m not an idiot,” the woman snapped.

Red and blue lights flashed outside the window, and loudspeaker-enhanced voice boomed through the room. “We have you surrounded. Come out with your hands up.”

“How did they find us?” Jack asked.

“I have no idea! She’s not carrying her phone.” The woman opened a drawer, pulled out a gun, and held it out to Jack. “Here, there’s still time to finish this.”

“Why don’t you do it?” he asked.

“I can’t. I tried. But I can’t.”

“What makes you think I can?”

“You killed your daughter.”

“That was an accident,” Jack said.

“We’ve come this far,” she said.

Jack took the gun. “I’m sorry, Harmony. I told you to back off.”

Harmony squeezed her eyes shut. She’d worked so hard to plan for every possible contingency, to maintain control at all times. It was time to let go.

Maybe they were right, and she’d see Meg again.

The gunshot rang out, and she flinched, waiting for the end. A moment passed. Had he missed?

She opened her eyes, and Jack was crumpled on the floor with a hole between his eyes.

The woman cowered in the corner, crying. A moment later, police officers rushed in. They untied her, and Harmony could finally see her watch, still safely on her wrist.
#
Harmony’s office had not been burned down, but her kidnapper’s words haunted her. She’d spent so much time focusing on controlling the weather that she’d never considered what other people might do with that control.

It could be a terrifying weapon.

But it could also save thousands of lives and stabilize the environment.

She wouldn’t be able to control what happened, once the technology was out there.

“You ready for this?” Toni asked. “They would understand if you wanted to postpone, after last night.”

She was meeting with people from the department of agriculture. Not the department of defense or homeland security or some private corporation.

She’d just have to let go and trust that everything would be okay. Could she do that, after being kidnapped and nearly murdered? Could she trust humanity to do the right thing, knowing that Jack had killed Meg? She rubbed her leather watchband and looked out at the rain.

Meg would have wanted her to try.

“I want to move forward,” Harmony said.

“If you say so. Will you be okay?” Toni asked.

“I–I will be, I think,” Harmony said. “Do you want to grab a drink after work and talk about it?”

#

Bio:
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has over 120 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death…. She’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, and her science fiction novella, Moving Forward, are available on Amazon.com. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods is available from Hadley Rille Books. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at www.jamielackey.com.

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A Crime of Fiction by D. A. D’Amico

May 28 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

“What’s this, grandpa?” The flat triangular object in Mike Picardo’s hand seemed to smother the dim hospital lighting against its dark surface, charging small golden symbols beneath. It appeared out of place among the worn clothing and faded trinkets the old man had begun to pack.

His grandfather glanced up from the edge of the bed, watery blue eyes moist and rimmed with red. He looked lifeless and ancient, a shell of the retired spacer who’d spun tales of the early days of galactic exploration, thrilling his grandchildren with adventures around other stars.

“What do you have there?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Picardo held the obsidian shard closer to the jaundiced overhead lights. “It looks almost alien.”

An unsteady hand grasped for the object. “It is alien. It’s Unuai.”

“The Unuai vanished about the time humans entered the galaxy, Gramps. There are no Unuai artifacts. Nothing exists of them except ruins.”

“Give it here.”

Reluctantly, Mike complied. His grandfather’s wrinkled hands caressed the shard’s dark center. A holographic image appeared, leathery masses of bruise-colored flesh slithering around a cone-like base. Three large eye sacs bulged from the top, and a gaping beak ground soundlessly back and forth.

That’s a Unuai.”

Mike gasped. “Where’d you get this?”

“It’s mine!” The old man jerked the artifact, and the holograph vanished like a magician’s prop. “But I’d give it back if I could.”

His words trailed off, a sullen grumble Mike couldn’t quite understand. Surely his grandfather couldn’t have gotten the object legally. It’d be priceless. “How’d you find this?”

“I traded a Unuai for it.”

“That can’t be true.” Mike sat beside him, placing a hand on the old man’s shoulder. His grandfather’s skin felt like cardboard, bones jutting like the struts of an umbrella beneath.

“Are you calling me a liar, boy?” The old man’s voice rose.

“I’m not saying that, Gramps.” Mike rushed to calm him, hoping the noise wouldn’t alarm the nurse. “But you must be mistaken. There are no Unuai.”

“Not anymore.” The old man slumped, his thin shoulders sagging, head lowered. He looked as though he’d been folded for storage. “Not anymore… because of me.”

“I don’t understand?”

“I commanded a mapping vessel in the early days. It had no name, just a number, and a three man crew of scientists. We were looking for life, intelligence, someone to tell us we weren’t alone in the universe.”

He stood and busied himself with a flat felt-covered tray holding a collection of military medals. Mike recognized one or two, but was embarrassed he didn’t know more of his grandfather’s rich personal history.

He thought the old man had forgotten about him, but after a while his grandfather turned and continued speaking as if he’d never paused. “And we found them. On an expedition to investigate a promising and newly discovered moon orbiting Iota Horologii.”

“Found who?” Mike didn’t like where this was going.

“Found the Unuai, of course. They didn’t live there either. They were exploring.” The old man sighed, confusion playing briefly over his wrinkled features as if he’d just remembered something he’d forgotten for a very long time. “They don’t dream, you know.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“They don’t have notions of “what if”, only of what is or isn’t. Civilization, society, technology, spaceflight–it all came as part of a natural progression to them, the next logical step in their search for resources. They never glanced at the stars in awe and wonder the way we do.”

“Wait. Back up. You really met a live Unuai?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” His grandfather picked up the artifact and moved it back into its box. “Our ship met one of theirs around that star. It was a one in a million chance, and the worst thing that could’ve happened.”

Mike sat heavily on the edge of the bed, his thoughts spinning. None of this could be true.

“We taught each other, learning to communicate. They were friendly, but naive. They didn’t understand lying. They had no concept for fiction. We didn’t realize what we’d done until it was too late. They were just too different.”

“What did you do?” Mike’s skin grew cold. He had visions of murder, his grandfather involved in some secret galactic war. But it couldn’t be true. The old man was just spinning a tale, the way he used to when Mike was a boy.

“We didn’t know they’d treat it the way they did.” The red around the old man’s eyes had darkened. His lips trembled. “I thought they’d study it, use it to understand the differences between us and them.”

“What did you do, grandpa?”

“I don’t think it was the things themselves, but our ability to conceive them.”

“Grandpa…”

“Remember the time I took you to the circus? You were seven or eight.”

Mike nodded. “I remember. Where’s this going?”

“They had a smartiebot there, one of those games where you’d challenge the robot and see if you could stump it. You’d just learned Algebra, and you were feeling smug, like you knew everything.” He put his hand over Mike’s. His skin felt cool and dry, like an old glove. “But the smartie displayed things you’d never seen before, equations that made stellar navigation look easy.”

“I’d cried.” Picardo whispered, reliving the old shame.

“You tried to tell me the smartie was making it up, but you knew. An insurmountable chasm had opened between what you understood, and what was understandable. You were crushed. It was worse for the Unuai. At least you could grasp what you were missing. Imagine suddenly realizing there’s an infinite universe of experiences forever beyond your reach. How would you feel?”

“And you did this to the Unuai? How?” Picardo could hardly breathe. He clenched his hands into tight balls, knuckles white with tension.

“I thought they’d understand us better if they could see how we illustrated our experiences through fiction. So I gave them my reader and my science fiction collection.”

“You gave them books? So what?” Picardo felt he’d missed something.

“Time travel, galactic war, death stars… We don’t really believe this stuff, but we’re able to suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy the tale.” The old man’s voice faded. “The Unuai had no choice. They couldn’t disbelieve. Like that day at the circus, a gulf opened they could never cross.”

“Geez, grandpa.” Mike glanced out the small window, squinting as if he could see armadas of Unuai ships fleeing from the galaxy, their people terrified by the inconceivable imaginations of man.

He was starting to believe in spite of himself. “This is huge. Is anyone working on it? Are they even looking for the Unuai?”

“Oh, we’ve got people out there all right. If the Unuai are still in the galaxy, we’ll find them eventually.” The old man fingered a colorfully painted model. The spherical toy was a miniature of the very ship he’d crewed so many years ago.

“What do we do when we find them?” Mike asked breathlessly.

The old man sighed.

“We try to convince them it was all some bizarre misunderstanding, a translation error. We do what we’re good at, what we’ve always done. We lie.” He stared at me, his eyes suddenly bright. “We tell them a story they’ll believe this time.”

Bio
My writing credits include:

Daily Science Fiction
L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future, Volume 27
Crossed Genres
Shock Totem

Member: SFWA, HWA

http://www.dadamico.com/

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St CATHERINE’S SHORELINE By Sean Mulroy

May 21 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

St Catherine, Great Barrier Reef

  18th December, 11:45 PM

 

On the island shore of Lady Gilford colourful fireworks were being set ablaze. The smoke created by their explosions slunk across the ocean, weaving along it like a thoughtless traveller. A large white cruise liner could be seen slinking through the vapourish substance with various multi-coloured lights flashing aboard.

This was close, within eyesight, yet felt far away from where Angus was on the hard sand of St Catherine’s shoreline. As Dr Angus Goodwin sat on the tropical beach, alone and sober, with no light besides the moon and only a few bent palms to keep him company, he felt the heavy burden of his work more than usual.

All the tourist commotion beside Lady Gilford could have been on his laptop-linkup and still have been no more real.

A decent sized firework went off and startled the lone researcher. He looked up and saw debris evaporate, then glanced below those dying lights to that dark patch of water he had come down to the beach to see.

It was where the bank receded and the deep water began.

This whole coast was studded with rock pools and underground caves, making it a choice hunting and breeding ground for octopi. Less than a month ago Angus took his last dive into the depths of the dark water; not liking what was found.

Rising from the ground, not even bothering to brush sand from his pants, Angus felt it time to retrieve his phone and turn it on. He stared at the screen with glee; there were no missed calls or messages. No one wanted him.

 

The scientist’s home was the only structure on the small island; two old caravans joined together made the sleeping and eating quarter, next to these was a large corroded steel panelled cistern, a discarded remnant from the 1940’s, which was currently being used as a lab. As Angus approached faint fireworks could still be heard, voices also.

The cruise ship must be passing this way.

Opening the hatch to the tank he walked in; inside were a few computers and monitors, a couple of graphs and charts and one long wooden bench strutting the length of the enclosure. On top of the bench were five fish tanks, one of them very large. Four were empty, still having sand, coral polyps and other dead crustacean looking substances in them; but no water. The place reeked of the sea and sea-life.

The largest tank was filled with clear water and fresh algae and red rushes that all twirled in a water tornado as the creature inhabiting the tank swirled around dragging its tentacles along the cylindrical walls of its prison.

Turning the generator on, four fluorescent lights buzzed bright along the roof, the creature stopped swimming. A wooden stool with three legs was in front of the large tank. Angus stood on it. Clicking a panel connected to the tank bubbles inside, which had been running steadily, calmed down to a slow heartbeat.

Unlocking the lid and screwing it in a counter-clockwise fashion the tank opened. Two black protruding eyes on a bulbous head half submerged above the brim of the water. The weary man stared down and smiled.

“It will be dinner time soon Wanda,” he said.

Rolling up wet sleeves and placing a hand in the tank Angus stroked the jutting cartilage between those protruding eyes of the coleoid cephalopod then ran grimy fingers down the front of the gelatinous creature. After tickling the octopus he held his hand out flat on top of the water. A collection of tentacles slithered over the hand claiming it as their stronghold.

Angus gripped tight as if shaking hands, Wanda flexed back.

 

Queensland, Australia

 21st December, 09:15 AM

 

Dr Livingston sat forward. He had that silly grin he always carried around; it was more noticeable today though, probably because everything about today was as fake as it. “…High time you returned back to the world and re-joined the living. You’ve been couped up on that island for four years now. A fresh start would be good, maybe take up teaching…”

“Paul the place is a global tourist Mecca,” said Angus impatiently. “Believe me its impossible to go crazy there, I’m never really alone.”

The boardroom was too large, as usual; one rectangular vacuum of empty space. All necessary mod-cons were in abundance; the latest 100inch LCD monitor, panel controlled air-conditioning as well as dimmer lights, a built in electronic projector along with bored under-worked overpaid department staffers whose only delight in coming to the meeting, which could have been done just as easily over the phone, was the fact they’d get a chance to use the new coffee franchise downstairs.

“I know, I know,” said Dr Livingston. “But this isn’t 2012; you’re going to have to come up with more than this if you want the CSIRO to continue funding.”

Angus stood up, he wasn’t familiar with the strange male and two female executives on the other side of the table but he had worked with Dr Livingston and knew him. “I realise my work is slow, but that is only because so much of it is to do with breeding and mating cycles. It’s a one man show out there. I only need money for equipment and the lease on the land. Just give me till November next year; that would be enough.”

“Angus…”

“Just look at this,” Angus went over to the end of the table and stood by the large tank, inside Wanda gently moved about on the bottom. He picked up a plastic white and black chessboard he had brought with him. “Watch,” Angus lifted the chessboard to the side of the tank and held it there. Wanda swam up beside it and using her tentacle suckers stuck herself to the chamber wall opposite the chessboard. Her greyish brown skin was watched by government viewers as it went from its natural hue to the same monochrome colours of the chessboard. The white and black squares appeared on Wanda’s skin, exactly corresponding to their place on the board.

“Controlled bioluminescence,” said Angus. “The amount of abstract mental-functioning required must be immense. Now watch this…”

“Yes, it is impressive even after repeated viewings…” interrupted Dr Livingston, stroking the thin stubble on his chin while trying to appear stern. “…But we need to see progression. Listen we’re tight for money, and you know that…”

“Of Wanda’s litter one or two has survived, I have them electronically tagged…”

“Dr Goodwin,” said the female exec directly opposite Angus. “You must understand that even though your work in teuthology is of interest to some in the scientific community it has none commercially. Out on the reef it’s all about eco-tourism, management and the zoning plans, permits; we must put our resources into tackling these. Octopus psychology is…”

“Intelligence,” reiterated Angus. “Cephalopod intelligence is my field. In particular language…”

All the board-members chuckled at that.

“…These creatures use light and flashing colours to communicate complex thoughts. Such patterns may be deciphered with…”

“Yes,” interrupted the woman again. “Well anyway, as I was saying, all secondary.”

Angus took the chessboard away. Wanda sank to the bottom of the tank and curled up there. Her skin began to pulse a light red.

“Yes Angus, something for you to think about,” reinforced Dr Livingston. “A plane will be ready around two-thirty this afternoon to take you and your pet off the mainland and back to St Catherine. You will hear before the weeks out what is to be done. However I would start getting your affairs in order, heh.”

Angus found he could do nothing but concede.

“Oh c’mon, it’s not the end of the world mate,” laughed Dr Livingston. “A break will do you good. How about visiting one of these tropical holiday destinations you’ve been living right next door too? Seriously though, we need people with your skills here on the mainland. We’ll talk about it more when you’re ready to come back, anyway…” Dr Livingston patted his lap and looked up slowly at everyone with that schoolboy grin; he was happy with what had been achieved. “I think that just about wraps it up ladies and gentlemen; this meeting is over, thankyou Angus for coming. And thanks to you Miss Fu and Mrs Chandler and Greg I know your busy, thanks again.”

Angus shook every ones hand; he didn’t harbour any ill feelings towards the bureaucrats. Even so he was glum and later on in the day could not remember if he had actually managed to manifest a fake smile while farewelling his jury.

Dr Livingston remained seated. This was a signal and both men waited for the other members to leave; watching impatiently, waiting for them to throw their empty Styrofoam coffee cups in the bin and go. When all had Dr Livingston pulled his old student aside.

“For Christ’s sake try and get a report finished. We and others are interested in your work, although personally, I do not believe you deserve that attention. If you don’t get something down in writing about what the hell it is you’ve been spending taxpayers’ money on out there, and soon, you can kiss your career as a research scientist goodbye… I can’t believe you asked for even more money,” the good doctor took a break to rub his chin then continued. “I’ll see you in a coup’la weeks or sooner, preferably. And remember don’t forget that plane, two thirty sharp…”

Angus glanced over at Wanda. She was still in a foetal position curled up on the bottom of the tank but her body was now entirely a deep stable purple.

 

Tinmura Airstrip is an open spacious stretch of land. Grass and heavy shrub litter the wide-lane. A small two-room shack near the head of the runway marks the only standing structure on site. The rest of the airfield being made up of overgrown grass and the damaged rusted parts of abandoned cars that lay in it. The airport has not been used regularly since the Second World War but is still government owned and operated. Every few weeks a lorry of Cessna’s or other light aircraft can be heard taking off and landing on the asphalt.

It was ten past three now and there was still no sign of any plane or a pilot. Angus sat on the old veranda out front of the broken-down station building. Wanda in her tank was next to him. She was slowly becoming agitated, swimming around fast. Angus had no more feed for her. The afternoon was very hot and humid even though grey storm clouds were heavy in the sky. Part of the Great Barrier Reef could be seen. An out-of-focus snake, its rough skin jutting out of the water creating endless islands until where the skin receded to hide under the surface then return again as a ring of sandy peninsulas.

Angus looked at his phone, no messages. Ringing Dr Livingston ten minutes ago had been met with an answering machine where he’d left a message.

Pointless to get angry and ring again.

It started raining.

“Great.”

The rain hit Wanda’s tank, she seemed startled; it gradually grew heavier.

“Well Wanda I don’t think we’ll be going back home to Catherine tonight.”

Picking up the heavy tank he moved it closer to the wall of the station, seeking cover from the rain.

“Unfortunately this will have to do. Gotta leave you here girl, sorry. I’m gonna run up to the highway and across to the local and wait there until I get some news.” He tapped the tank. “I don’t know how long you’ll have to wait out here but I promise you’ll be back with your babies in no time.”

Angus put up his right hand and moved it from side to side. “Bye, bye,” he said.

At first Wanda appeared disinterested; all her tentacles just swayed lightly like a long coral garden shaken by the undertow of strong waves. Then an individual tentacle struck out and repeated the action Angus made.

With that Angus darted through the rain and away from the runway. His form was soon swallowed by it and could no longer be seen. The rain pelted down, striking Wanda’s cage ever stronger. Rivets of fast moving water slithered over the glass of her sky and just kept coming until they covered everything.

 

St Catherine, Great Barrier Reef

  23rd December, 07:40 AM

 

Twelve years as a marine biologist, a lifetime of study, devotion, interest; these thoughts weighed on Dr Goodwin as he grappled with his fear of swimming and diving alone. The dinghy tugged over water, lapping each wave, helped on by the four-stroke outboard engine. Within moments of the boat being unmoored it was over the dark patch.

7:49 am

Dropping anchor the scientist watched it hit the ocean hard then fall into its arms and descend slowly until out of sight. The sun was emerging from behind clouds, by the time Angus returned to his boat the sky would be empty of them. For the last time he opened the cage he had built for his test subject. He threw the plastic lid recklessly far out to sea and then just left the tank open.

It was hard to have to stop something when you hadn’t finished, when you were so involved and so close. Today destiny would have to wait or whimper and die.

Zipping up his full body wetsuit, flippers being pulled on, goggles also, oxygen pack clipped in; he was ready but still he waited. With one movement the engine was turned off, it idled slightly, choked and coughed, then died.

The lone figure’s un-gloved hands reached into Wanda’s tank and grabbed hold of the creature; both hands hardly fit over her bulbous head – she was then gently put into the sea.

Flexing out her body to the full so that she looked like a psychedelic star, now a free citizen of the sea again, Wanda gently propelled herself downward into the deep blue with a few heavy thrusts. Angus quickly squinted at the sun then kicked himself into the water back-first. The oxygen pack gave him weight and he gained a steady descent. Wanda was next to him, moving into that part of the glade where she’d been caught. Angus followed her.

Checking his tracker Dr Goodwin knew where the two surviving cephalopods were located and by his guides direction so did she. This physiographic province that only ten years past seemed untameable was now virtually nonexistent. Most of the life that once flourished here had left. It was possible for a pod of octopi to survive but strange to see happen.

The two offspring that still lived had developed a strange mode of existence. They would stay in the rock gulley of section R12 of the glade then at around two-thirty every afternoon would leave and quickly feast on some of the copepods or larval crabs then just as quickly return to the labyrinthine rocks of section R12 and stay there till the next day. They did not move on to choicer regions of the reef but stayed where Wanda had been departed from them.

This strange eating and hiding pattern of survival would very soon doom them, just as soon as a predator got wind of it.

Electronic trackers will last another week or two at most, thought Angus. Then wear off, stop working or more likely the creatures themselves through some method will dislodge them. He sighed.

Wanda darted and swooped into a fissure in the rock. Dr Goodwin swam over to the opening. He looked inside. The tracking-device showed the young were in this vicinity and through the tunnel in the rock he could see a weak blue light flashing softly.

The coleid light always pulsed that colour when the cephalopods were in company with each other. Dr Goodwin’s brain raced, but he stilled his nerves, reminding himself that, for now, he would have to forget his ambition. Wanda raced out of the tunnel quite suddenly, brushing slickly against the side of her releasers stubbly face.

She swam into the openness of the glade, stretched out fully, dark blue buds flashed and moved in many straight lines along her tentacles. They emanated in concentric circles through her fat main body as she swam up to where the sun shone strongest into the underwater glade. Wanda just hovered there, then levelled herself vertically and stretched wide out like a pulsating star. The dark blue buds rushed through her, she turned slowly, peacefully, with the currents of the ocean until her eyes and Angus’ met. Then the blue buds ceased and Wanda’s eyes became Angus’ eyes. It was like Dr Goodwin was looking into a mirror. The image Wanda copied was clear, geometrically near perfect. Then Wanda showed the lab, the five fish tanks, the long bench, the chessboard; finally Wanda showed St Catherine and her briny shoreline then something else. Something from her home? Lights in fathomless darkness, beautiful colours lost in the inky deep.

Is that what you see out there Wanda? wondered Angus and knew he’d never get an answer; almost accepted he wouldn’t either.

The rich blue buds returned and the images were gone.

A very small fluorescent gelatine head protruded from a fissure deeper down and then burrowed back into the comfort of the hard rock.

Wanda kept swimming till she was roughly halfway between the glades silt mattress and the ocean surface then she stopped. Like an electric charge her skin pulsed in quick successive blue colours. The soft gelatine head below Angus protruded again and with a swift movement sprung forth from the rock racing to the centre of light that its mother now was. Another gelatinous head poked out of the same rock gulley and much more cautiously swam to its sibling and mother. As it ambled awkwardly through the water buds of a weak blue colour rapidly moved through its form; travelling the length of it.

The scientist watched as the two charged atoms circled the nucleus. Wanda then started to slowly move away from the glade with her children following. They continued past the glade reaching the end of St Catherine’s shore and started travelling out deeper. Angus decided not to follow. He looked up to the sun shining through the oceans surface. It would be around eight-thirty he thought; they’d just be starting to open all bars and attractions on Lady Gilford.

Scanning along the meeting place of carbon and liquid; he found the shadowy substance of his boat. Flexing out as much as possible, giving into the unseen strength of the current he then allowed it to pull him swiftly upward and back into the world.

BIO: Sean Mulroy lives in Newcastle, Australia. His fiction has previously appeared in Perihelion Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction and Oblong Magazine among other publications.

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