Archive for: June, 2015

Writers’ Bloc by John F Keane

Jun 28 2015 Published by under The WiFiles

Rudric Bing’s Glyph vibrated as he floated between Jupiter’s moons in his Gorasphere. The message flashed through his synapses:

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Meeting!
Please engage your Glyph, Storagon or body to attend.
Location: The Apollo Lounge, Broadway, New York.
Date: November 25, 2371.
Time: Now!

With a thought, Rudric engaged his Glyph. The starry vacuum faded, and he found himself in a convention hall full of ‘people’. Most were Glyph projections, like himself – living members far from the Big Apple or even the Earth. A few were Storagons, projections of people long since dead.
One of these approached the newcomer with silent footsteps.
“Rudric!”
“Isaac – so good to see you.”
Isaac Asimov grinned his crooked grin and adjusted his spectral spectacles.
“And I you. This is quite a turnout. Nothing like an emergency to bring the troops running.”
Rudric Bing smiled.
“So I see,” he said. Every living member was present, in Glyph or physical form. Gerg Tarm waved in their direction. Rudric waved back. Gerg had won the Nebula five years running, an unprecedented feat.
Glad to see so many old friends, Rudric mingled. Hard to believe his body drifted between Ganymede and Callisto in deep space.
A summons pulsed and, eager to begin, the Sci Fi Writers of America took their seats.
Isaac’s digital spectre occupied the lectern. Rudric marvelled at how someone so long dead could be reconstructed with such ease. But there he was. Such wonders were typical of the Twenty-Fourth Century.
“We are suffering,” said Isaac, “from writer’s block. A massive dose of it. But the fault isn’t ours. It’s the age we live in.”
Rudric Bing sighed with agreement. However hard he wracked his brain to come up with original sci fi ideas, all had been realized.
“How many of us,” continued Isaac, “have written a science fiction story we thought was centuries ahead of modern science, only to find it wasn’t? Hands up?”
Most hands in the hall – dead, Glyph and living – went up. Isaac studied the hands and nodded.
“As I thought. Back in my day, we seldom had that problem. While the core concepts of modern science were in place, their application was still woefully primitive. For us sci fi writers, life was easy. Most things we could imagine were ‘fiction’, and would remain so for a very long time. Robots, for instance.”
Nostalgic chuckles filled the hall.
Yes, robots. And teleportation. Not to mention interstellar flight and virtual worlds. Time travel, too. Back in those days the raw materials of science fiction were still fiction. Now, anything that could be conceived had been realized, or could be.
“Yes,” said Isaac, “we have run out of future. Or rather, the future has dispensed with our services. Imagination offers nothing that science cannot create. Science has rendered science fiction redundant.”
A Storagon’s hand went up.
“Yes, Mr Niven?”
“With respect sir, imagination will always transcend science. Science is only where imagination leads. For example, I’ve just finished a novel about a novel about a fellow who models adjacent time streams on a computer, from the Cambrian period to – ”
“Already done,” said Isaac. “A man at the Martian Institute of Extra-terrestrial Biology ran similar models years ago. Someone else bio-formed the resultant organisms last month. She’s studying them as we speak.”
All the colour drained from Larry Niven’s long dead features. Another hand went up – a living one, this time.
“Mr Asimov,” said Gerg Tarm, “your analysis is flawless, as always. Yes, the state of science determines the state of science fiction. Because scientific knowledge was so limited in, say, the Nineteenth Century, any new idea that a writer cooked up was breaking new ground.”
“I take your point,” said Isaac, adjusting his spectacles. “That century was a particularly fecund era for science fiction.”
“Sure” said Tarm, warming to the topic. “Mark Twain described the Internet in 1898, almost a century before science created it. He wrote a novel called From the London Times of 1904 describing a world wide web called ‘the Telectroscope’. Or consider the credit card – invented by Edward Bellamy in his 1888 novel Looting Backwards. And then of course we have Jules Verne describing the aqualung in 20, 000 Leagues under the Sea: an ‘Iron reservoir of air’ attached to a diver’s back.”
Most of the audience, living and dead, whistled between their teeth. The conversation was going somewhere, at last. Gerg smiled, pleased by his positive reception.
“In the Twentieth Century,” he said, “when science transformed all areas of life, the predictive power of science fiction began to wane. Sure, Ray Bradbury got earphones in Fahrenheit 451. And then we had mobile phones in the first Star Trek series. And tanning beds in The Jetsons. Still, no one can doubt that Sci Fi began losing ground in that century. That’s why it began to study the human mind and delve into religion and politics. In short, to become like real literature.”
The dreaded ‘L’ word! Most of the audience blanched.
“Sure,” said Roger Zelazny, standing with a crooked smile. “It seemed so right, writing about politics and religion back then. Books like Lord of Light weren’t trying to pre-empt scientific discoveries – for one thing, most sci fi writers no longer understood science. Not at any serious level, I mean. Scientists were beginning to speak a foreign language, even to educated laypeople.”
“Yes,” said Isaac. “That’s when these problems started. When scientific discourse began to surpass mainstream understanding, around the mid-Twentieth Century. That’s also when fantasy became the dominant form of speculative literature. No coincidence, I feel.”
Frank Herbert’s Storagon bristled.
“What’s wrong with fantasy?” he asked, his tone pugnacious. “More to the point – what’s wrong with science fiction that addresses social and political issues? Why should it be restricted to technological and scientific speculation? Isn’t that the wonder of our genre – the boundless freedom it confers?”
Murmurs of approval filled the hall. The loudest voices belonged to the New Wave writers of the early 1960s: Thomas Disch, Ursula LeGuin and Philip K. Dick. Writers thin on science but popular with literary critics.
Rudric Bing flickered. Yes, flickered.
“You’re flickering,” said E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Storagon, with a frown of concern.
“I guess I am.”
With a thought, Rudric found himself back in his body, back in his Gorasphere, out in deep space. He sniffed the processed air and caught the choking, acrid smell of burning circuitry. His heart skipped a beat. Something was terribly wrong.
“Report, Lucinda. Report to me now.”
The screen before him crackled and flickered, as if seeking a memory. Then it went dark as the void between worlds.
“Godohgodohgod,” said Rudric Bing, sweat misting his brow. A tight spot, indeed. No onboard computer meant no coordinates, no communication, not even purposeful movement. He was up the proverbial creek.
Rudric unstrapped himself and peered out through curved plexiglass. He gulped. A litter of white plastic slivers and lifeless circuits floated in the void. Something must have hit the Gorasphere, perhaps a small meteorite or chunk of space debris.
“Godohgodohgod,” he said again.
Could things get any worse?
He sat back in his control chair, trying to think. Jupiter’s vast, mottled orb loomed beyond the plexiglass shell. Lord of planets and king of gods, its pale visage had acquired a terrible aspect. That was when Rudric noticed the crack. His heart began to trot, then sprint. A crack in the plexiglass! A hairline fissure but still potentially lethal, if it got any worse.
He took a deep, long breath. Even if his body perished, his personality would live on as a Storagon, like everyone else who died in 2371. But so what? While a Glyph projection contained the owner’s real identity, a Storagon merely replicated it. So death was still death, even in the Twenty-Fourth Century. Besides, Rudric loved his body. He had spent considerable sums on cybernetic implants and epigenetic upgrades for it. Above all, he did not want a horrible, drawn-out passing in this desolate void. For if a blowout did not get him, starvation or asphyxiation surely would.
Rudric shuddered, icy fingers stirring through his guts. If only he had a super-smart person to advise him, to think him out of this fix…
Of course, the writers! Rudric Bing was not alone. He had some of history’s most brilliant minds at his disposal. He need not sit here waiting for his body to die, like a rat in a trap. With but a thought, he could project himself back to the meeting in New York, on distant Earth. The greatest science fiction authors of all time could save him, if anyone could!
Couldn’t they?
Rudric swallowed and clenched his fists tight. He closed his eyes and fired forth his digitized ego. The Apollo Lounge dawned around him.
“You’re back,” said Doc Smith, with a quick smile. “All fixed?”
“If only.”
“What d’you mean?”
Rudric stammered out the sorry tale. Doc listened with kind patience, nodding every now and then. Meanwhile the meeting continued. Carl Sagan’s Storagon, urbane and scholarly, held the floor.
“We are gathered here,” he said, “because science has pre-empted all our ideas and visions. Anything we can conceive either exists or can be realized. Indeed, it could be questioned whether science fiction even exists any more.
“Look at these guys from the 1930s,” he said, waving a virtual anthology of Golden Age novellas. “Reality never challenged anything they wrote. Why not? Because no one knew anything back then. As our learned friends have explained, it was easy to make an impact.”
Sagan’s words met reluctant applause.
“There is now nothing science cannot create, cannot achieve,” he said. “Our visionary role is ended. We need a new role – ”
“And what would that role be?” asked Isaac.
“Excuse me,” said Doc, raising his venerable hand. “There’s a boy dying here.”
“Dying? Please explain.”
“It’s best he does that himself. I don’t pretend to understand the working of Goraspears.”
“Goraspheres,” said Rudric, against his better judgement.
“Is this the young man of which you speak?”
Doc nodded and sat down. Rudric rose to his Glyph–feet, uncomfortable with all this attention. Isaac sketched a square in the air with his finger. A diagram of the trans-planetary Gorasphere with all its technical specifications appeared within.
“Yes?” he asked. “What is the problem?”
“Well my Gorasphere’s taken a bad hit out in deep space with my body aboard. The onboard computer’s down, the plexiglass shell’s got a crack and if you guys can’t cook something up, I’m doomed.”
A ripple ran through the auditorium.
“Can’t you just teleport out?”
“Not without a functioning onboard computer, no.”
“Can’t the nearest safety station teleport you out?”
“Not without an onboard computer to project my precise coordinates.”
Silence fell. Wearing his wryest smile, Roger Zelazny stood up.
“I’m no scientist,” he said, “but surely we need a more imaginative approach? If there were a simplistic technical solution, this young man would not be in his present predicament.”
“Agreed,” said Frank Herbert, with an expansive gesture. “And a room full of sci fi’s best men and women should be able to provide it. We need a solution beautiful in its simplicity but dynamic in its outcome… a solution that demonstrates the boundless power of human imagination. I recall, Isaac, an idea you developed in Destination Brain. Since sub-atomic particles flit about all over the universe, would shrinking this Gorasphere to sub-atomic size solve the problem?”
“It could be done, if we had the Gorapshere’s spatial coordinates. Unfortunately, we don’t. Besides, it might reappear anywhere. I’m not sure Mr Bing wants to end up in a Black Hole, Red Giant or worse.”
. “I still think Roger’s on the right track,” said Herbert. “We need a novel approach. A solution that negates the problems of distance and location.”
Let’s go quantum,” said Isaac, with an air of finality. “That should neutralize both issues.”
A murmur of approval rippled through the Apollo Lounge. Directed by shimmering Glyphs and Storagons, the meeting’s few physical attendees set to work.
The booking office contained a Conceptual Printer, like all Twenty-Fourth Century offices. In no time, their equipment was ready. Willing hands began assembling the various components on the podium. Despite this committed effort, Robert Heinlein approached Isaac with a frown.
“What did you conceptualize?” he asked.
“A version of Schrodinger’s experiment. These Storagons and Glyphs are the locus of our volitional cognition, right?”
Heinlein’s frown deepened.
“They are for us who have… passed on.”
“The same is true for living persons. When they project their Glyph, their cognitive locus departs their physical bodies. Back in his Gorasphere, Mr Bing is a docile slab of meat.”
Heinlein shrugged.
“What’s this got to do with saving him?”
Isaac shot his colleague a triumphant glance.
“Everything. We’re going to ‘kill’ his Glyph many times over, each ‘death’ triggered by a quantum event. Since Glyphs are invulnerable yet contain an individual’s cognitive locus, one of two things should happen. If Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation of the paradox is true, Mr Bing’s Glyph will be pushed into a branch of reality where he is invulnerable. If it isn’t, his Glyph will still accrue a vast store of ‘improbable good fortune’. Either outcome should make him temporarily invulnerable on return to his physical body. And either way, he ought to survive.”
“I thought you were a scientist,” drawled Heinlein, shaking his head.
“Any better ideas?” asked Frank Herbert, assembling a laser.
“Not right now.”
“Then help us out. We need an engineer.”
In less than two minutes, Asimov’s apparatus stood gleaming on the podium. A spatter of polite applause echoed through the auditorium. Isaac raised his hand for silence.
“Mr Bing,” he called, “would you mind stepping up here?”
Rudric swallowed. What choice did he have?
“Just stand there,” said Isaac. “That’s right, in front of the laser.”
Rudric took up his position.
“Now,” said Asimov, abeam with optimism, “when we start firing our obliteration ray, you should become temporarily impervious to misfortune.”
“What a load of horse-puckey,” muttered Heinlein.
Asimov shook his head.
“His Glyph permits the paradox. Because it contains his consciousness, yet cannot be destroyed, successive attempts at its destruction will shift his ego’s probability of death to zero. When his Glyph returns to his physical body, a split-second of this ‘residual immortality’ should intervene to spare him from disaster.”
“That’s a lot of ifs,” said Heinlein, stroking his moustache. This was not the venerable Heinlein who wore a bath-robe and shaved his head. His Storagon showed the author’s younger self, slim and libertarian.
“Science is full of ifs, buts and maybes.”
“Maybe it is.”
Sheer panic compelled Rudric to interject.
“Gentlemen,” he quavered. “Please – I’m dying here!”
“Sorry, said Isaac, fiddling the controls of his Quantum Luck Machine. The ray’s nozzle turned poker-red and started to emit an ominous drone.
Click. The first quantum event had no effect.
Vroom – a sheet of energy bathed Rudric’s Glyph in blinding light. Death number one.
Click. Click.
The Event Counter began to accelerate. The ‘deaths’ started clocking up. Ten. Fifty. A hundred. When Rudric’s ego had died a thousand times, Asimov fiddled with the console and said: “He must be completely safe, now, at least for a short time. Goodbye, Mr Bing – goodbye and good luck!”
“He’ll have plenty of that,” said Zelazny, who knew something about everything.
Bing found himself back in his ailing Gorasphere. Beyond the curved plexiglass winked a billion stars. Between them lurked freezing vacuum. Still, his ego had just died a thousand times and surely, surely he must have a little luck to play with.
But how could luck intervene in this desolate void, light years from anywhere? That crack could break at any moment, sucking him out into space. And without an onboard computer to supply his needs, he would soon starve or asphyxiate anyway.
“I’ve had it,” he said aloud.
Then something improbable occurred. At a stroke, it restored Rudric’s faith in the human imagination. A passing sliver of meteorite collided with one of the circuits drifting around the Gorasphere. A beam of blue light shot from the thing, fusing the crack like a welder’s beam. Bing gasped with shock as well as wonder. His precarious bio-space remained intact, at least for the moment.
A second plug of meteorite hit the same piece of debris in stark, awesome silence. Rudric chewed his bottom lip. Would his luck hold? To his amazement, another beam split the void. This raked the Gorasphere’s exposed circuits, re-seating components and re-forming snapped connections. With a drone, his onboard computer console flashed back into life.

Hello, Mr Bing, she purred. Shall I Activate Emergency Safety Procedures?

“Yes, Lucinda. Do it now!”
The curved plexiglass frosted.
“Of course, Mr Bing. Suspended Animation initiated.”
Just as he drifted off into Safe Sleep, Bing felt the Gorasphere’s retro-thrusters blast him towards the nearest Safety Station. Even at near light-speed, the seal on the crack held. Rudric sighed. With luck he would awaken between warm sheets to a steaming cup of synthi-caff served by an attentive robo-nurse. With luck… he smiled. Then like a warm, comforting blanket, sleep enfolded him.

***

Five years later, Rudric attended the SFWA reception in New York. As before, Isaac Asimov greeted him at the door.
“Mr Bing! How have you been?”
“I’m alive, as you can see. Took me four years to reach the Safety Station, six months nano-reconstruction in their Med Facility but less than a nanosecond to teleport here.”
“Wonderful, wonderful. There have been some changes to the event, though.”
“Changes? What kind of changes?”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
With hammering heart, Rudric entered the conference hall. His eyes widened at the sight of dozens of oval tables occupying the space normally reserved for an audience. The people around these tables were even more astonishing. Not just the familiar authors, but individuals with earnest faces and smart clothes. Definitely not sci fi writers, if Rudric was any judge.
Isaac joined him.
“What is all this?” asked Rudric. “Who are these people?”
“Scientists,” said the Storagon, adjusting his spectacles. “Scientists, engineers and government officials. They have come to learn how new technologies might be applied in novel and creative ways.”
Rudric gazed up at the banner behind the stage. Instead of ‘Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’, it read, in big red letters:

2386: First Praxiphorical Congress of the US Creative Consortium

Rudric gaped.
“Praxiphorical congress?” he asked. “What does that mean?”
“The systemized application of metaphor to practical ends,” said Isaac proudly. “Our 2385 meeting was our last as the SFWA. We finally realized that Sci fi – fiction based on scientific and technological projection – was finished. Killed, ironically enough, by scientific progress. We needed new purpose, a new direction.
“You gave us that when your Gorasphere broke. That timely episode shifted our creative focus away from literary fiction. And here we are.”
The Apollo Lounge buzzed with activity. Roger Zelazny’s shimmering Storagon approached, wearing his trademark grin.
“Don’t look so worried,” he said. “Man created logic and because of that, was superior to it. Creativeness is the Fire of the Gods, a priceless commodity. Though science might map all things, its application can only advance through the Promethean gift of Imagination.”
Rudric pinched himself, so glad of his own flesh.

 

 

I have published some essays in Vector magazine, the British Science Fiction Association journal. I have also had some work published in Analog, the ‘bible’ of American speculative fiction. In addition, I have also published several academic papers exploring the corporate modeling potentials of science fiction. These appeared in such prestigious management journals as Emergence and the International Journal of Advertising.

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Depletion Depression by Luke Schamer

Jun 21 2015 Published by under The WiFiles

Felix was awoken by simulated sunrays beaming through his artificial skylight. His implantation device, inserted into his neck at birth, recognized activity and began the live stream through his cornea.

He grasped for a pillow, covering his face. The continuous flow of visuals and coinciding audio left him paralyzed:

Good waking, chosen America! It is day 223 of year 2051. Earth’s surface temperature remains at a high of 170 degrees. The ultraviolet radiation index remains at a 15 out of 15. Today’s ozone depletion rate is eighty-nine percent, a one percent increase from day 217. Expect minor delays on the high-speed rails, as construction for our new underground transportation system continues. And remember: if you’re not living underground, well, you’re not living! Now, a quick message from our sponsors.

Felix rubbed his palms over his eyelids, the morning bulletin piercing his vision and hearing.

Drone acquired images of earth’s surface were projected into Felix’s implantation device. A desolate wasteland, a far cry from the surface he once knew.

The reporter’s voice was too calm, too perfect.

Even if Felix closed his eyes, he couldn’t escape the ensuing thirty-five minutes of advertisements: emerging solar power companies, injections to increase work production and new light simulators.

Felix finally swung his legs over the cot, reaching for a glass on his nightstand. He gargled water and grabbed his vitamin-D supplement. Inspecting the yellow capsule, Felix dropped it back into the government-issued bottle. He then scribbled on his bedside notepad:

83 days – no vit. D.

Before rising, he emptied the remaining water into his potted plant. Dried leaves clung to wiry stems. A memento.

Stepping into his wardrobe, Felix followed prompts on the holographic screen and selected his light-reflecting work uniform. Jumpsuit, boots and a hardhat equipped with a headlight. The attire was ghost white.

Looking at his reflection, Felix’s eyes began to swell with tears. The incessant babbling of advertisers muffled his deep, sporadic breaths.

As Felix wiped his forearm across his eyes, he placed his plant on his cot. He sighed, removing a marble vase from his nightstand. Felix ran his fingers across the names etched into the marble: Miri & Jason Reslin. He laid the vase next to his plant.

“This is all I have left, Miri. I’m sorry.” Felix stepped away. “See you soon, sunshine.”

Felix opened his reinforced steel door. High-speed rails he had helped build snaked through the underground caverns. Trains sped across these rails, shuttling the chosen across the dark expanse.

Felix stepped from his doorstep onto the boarding platform. To his left was a group of construction workers waiting for a work shuttle. To his right was an emergency ladder, stretching to the bottom of the caverns.

Felix turned on his headlight and climbed down the emergency ladder. He maneuvered the tunnels with ease, remembering the construction layouts. It had been four years since he took the job and descended into earth. Although he was a lower class wage worker, Felix knew construction. He was useful. He was lucky.

The hardhat headlight was a pinprick in the tunnel’s darkness. Every couple minutes, a train would blaze past Felix, shaking the foundation. He wondered if the passengers saw him. It was either a train full of suits or hardhats.

Felix glanced upward to see a boarding platform overlooking shopping hubs. The same shopping hubs he had helped build. He imagined the elite placing orders on holographic screens, waiting for a drone to arrive with their merchandise. Felix realized he had never actually seen manufacturing centers for all the useless things those people consumed. He shook his head and continued onward.

Miri always enjoyed shopping, buying gifts for the family with no special occasion. Felix remembered taking her to a real life mall, one of the few left in 2043. That was before everything began to burn. Before the American government began building underground. Before they asked Felix to descend, and promised his wife and child would follow.

Felix hadn’t even been with his family when the radiation escalated and the temperatures skyrocketed. Then they sealed the entrances. All he knew of the surface were the images projected into his implantation device each morning.

A news bulletin flashed into vision, along with the reporter’s unsettling voice:

Chosen America, this is a reminder to ingest your vitamin-D supplement daily. With surface conditions absolutely uninhabitable, and sun exposure impossible, studies have shown increased depression, hallucinations, decreased productivity…

Felix tried his best to ignore the annoyance.

As he strode beneath the rail lines, Felix noticed a light ahead. It was the light he was looking for. According to the timestamp in his implantation device, he had been walking for almost an hour. He was late to his assigned work site, and he imagined police were searching his living space at that very moment.

The sunrays shone down from the high ceiling of the caverns and illuminated the rocky terrain below. Dozens of construction workers and their assistive bots were on the scene. Felix jogged toward the shouting and drilling, smiling at the sight.

“Sir, excuse me.” Felix tapped the shoulder of an older man in a construction uniform, his belly hanging over his belt.

“Talk to my bot, kid.” The rotund man stared forward, analyzing data in his implantation device.

Felix glanced at the man’s assistive bot. “I don’t need a bot.”

“Shouldn’t you get back to work? Productivity has been down for several days, and now we got this damned sun leak.” The man pointed to the light penetrating the cavern ceiling, continuing to stare into the abyss.

“I’m a site inspector!” Felix shouted over the mechanical buzz.

The man jumped, facing Felix. “You don’t look like no site inspector to me. Where’s your bot?”

“I’m a site inspector from the other side. Heard about the sun leak yesterday. They assigned me to give a report. Where’s the site manager?”

“On break, in the decompression zone.” The man shook his head. “You’ll have to wait for him to get back.”

Just as Felix planned. “You complain about productivity, and then make me wait for the site manager to get back from a zero gravity bar?”

The man looked away, waiting for his assistive bot to respond.

“I’ll be thirty minutes,” Felix said. “Just have to take the lift to the source of the leak and check the dimensions.”

“You got proper protection? Last month I heard about a guy whose skin burnt right off. Goin’ to the source is like a suicide mission nowadays.”

“I’m protected,” Felix responded. “I’ll need a lift with tools, might need to chip off some rock for my report. See why we’re leaking.”

The man waddled toward a lift on the cavern walls. “Over here.”

Felix couldn’t believe it was happening. Just yesterday he was lying on his cot, the cavern soot covering his face, struggling to breathe. It was in that moment he realized a sun leak was his chance.

“You can take this one.” The man showed Felix to a propulsion lift system floating just above the ground. “Those blasters on the bottom are serious, so hang on. You’ll be up there in no time.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Felix said, checking the lift’s tool kit for the appropriate drill. “You ever get tired of this work?”

“What’re you talkin’ about?” The man was staring again, eyes fixed to the left of Felix’s lift. His gaze was lifeless.

“Forget it.”

“Be careful, buddy. You’ve gotten this far. Don’t wanna ruin an opportunity like site inspector.”

Felix stepped onto the hovering lift. He aligned his feet with the weight sensors, beginning his ascent.

The construction workers below became ant-sized creatures, their assistive bots silver dots in the darkness. Towering above the workers, trains sped by on the high-speed rails. Felix could almost see the passengers. He imagined them sipping lattes, marketed as all-organic coffee bean but engineered in an underground laboratory.

But Felix was above the rails now. He was above the construction workers. He was above the elite.

Tears again.

Felix had reached the sun leak. The sunlight emerged from a small imperfection in the surface. Well, an imperfection in the eyes of those workers, of the elite. He readied the drill from the lift’s tool kit, making sure to avoid sun beams in the process. He wanted to climb to the surface first, and see the sun as he remembered it. One last time.

Felix sat down on the lift. He activated his implantation device and browsed the “memory” function. Pictures of the surface, his old home, his child. Video footage of his wedding, just nine years earlier.

Suddenly, another news bulletin scrambled the memories:

Dear Americans, we have an ozone depletion rate update…

            Felix stood and shouldered the drill. The tip of the power tool began spinning, its vibrations moving through Felix’s torso. Felix thrust the spinning drill toward the sun leak, breaking off large chunks of rock and dirt.

Shouts from below echoed up to Felix’s position. He could hear bots taking flight, closing in with speed.

Once the sun leak was large enough, Felix engaged the “voice log” function of his implantation device. He spoke fast.

 

BEGIN – Voice Log of Felix Reslin – Recovered from Implantation Device #3247311 – Extracted Day 224 of year 2051:

I am Felix Reslin. This is day 223 of year 2051. I can’t stop thinking about the surface. I haven’t seen sunlight in four years. I wasn’t sent underground; it was my choice. But what choice did you give me? A construction worker. I chose to descend because I wanted to live. But this isn’t living. This isn’t living.

I can’t stop thinking about Miri and Jason. You promised me my family. And I have nothing left. I have nothing left to give.

Bots are coming. I’m climbing out.

*PAUSE IN TRANSMISSION – 15 SECONDS*

I see plants. There are plants…

*PAUSE IN TRANSMISSION – 22 SECONDS*

I’m not burning, and I’m breathing. I could be dead.

*PAUSE IN TRANSMISSION – 11 SECONDS*

Are you military?

They said there was no one. How are we here?

Yes, I climbed. I work in construction.

How are we not burning? The depletion rate is almost ninety percent. How ar–

*INAUDIBLE*

 

 

Luke Schamer is a writer and student at the University of Dayton in Ohio. For work, he owns and operates a music studio. Luke has a serious passion for fiction, and recently began writing in the winter of 2014. Luke seeks to tell innovative stories that address the depths of the human condition in unexplored ways.

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Funeral by T. Mike McCurley

Jun 14 2015 Published by under The WiFiles

We buried Thunderbolt in secret, just like we had Strongarm and all the others before him. It was a quiet ceremony, with only a few of us in attendance. As expected – as requested – it was raining. Cold droplets, like tiny bullets, whipped in on a brisk wind to scour exposed flesh and leave us chilled through to the bone. Geist sang Amazing Grace in that clear, vibrant voice of hers, and beneath our masks, we wept.

We are all buried in the same way: Secretly. The public sees a coffin; sees an accessible grave. That place soon becomes a kind of memorial, with mourners and curious alike coming from all corners to view the final resting place of Captain Such-And-Such or Mister Whatever. Their tears are welcomed there, as are their conversations and idle questions, their donated trinkets and handwritten cards. We as a community see the necessity for this. We do not begrudge or belittle the need to mourn. We simply do not bury our fallen where the press reports. Those caskets are empty of reality. Made-up dolls of latex and plastic, filled with sand, occupy the spaces beneath the stones at which citizens gather. To be sure, we attend, but the emotions are not the same.

The true funerals are reserved for those of us who actually knew the fallen. Gathered clandestinely in some place special to the dead, we inter them in our own way. Druidess wanted a clearing within a grove of oak, and we found one. Icepick had requested the Arctic Circle. We made that happen, too, despite some pretty impressive logistical issues. Thunderbolt? Top of a high hill during a storm. His element raged around us as we all said our silent farewells. It was fitting.

Following the burial, we adjourned to a cabin that Dyre owns, no more than a few dozen miles from the grave site. Some flew, some ran, others took cars. As it has always been, it was of no consequence how you got there, just that you arrived. Inside, it took all of three seconds for Blazer to have a fire roaring in the stone fireplace. It would have taken less time than that had he not been trying to control his output to prevent melting of the stones. The warmth penetrated each of us as soon as we entered, burning away the cold and damp that had worked their way into seemingly every joint.

We milled around the cabin for a few minutes, making – as standard at any such gathering – inane small talk, until the last of us had arrived. Once everyone was assembled, we gathered around the dining room table. Dyre had already poured the glasses for each of us. The first round was a light shot of Bushmill’s, Thunderbolt’s favorite, and we raised the glasses slowly toward the sky.

“Thunderbolt.”

The word was spoken by all present, in a semblance of unity. Everyone drained their glass and lowered it slowly to the table. None of the cliched slamming onto the tabletop shown in movies. The glasses were lowered in much the same glacial slowness that one sees a flag lowered at a funeral. Respectfully. Regretfully. Silence fell.

“I remember,” Dyre said. The crossed swords emblem on his azure-suited chest rose and fell as he took in a deep breath. As host, it was his right to speak first. “I remember Thunderbolt standing on the bow of that yacht when we took on Tempest. The water under us just churning while Tempest tried to flip us. He’s just up there, like a statue or something. Feet braced, arms raised, lightning just pouring out of his hands and into the ocean. Tempest manifested. Came at us like a tornado across the water. Thunderbolt never flinched. Met him head-on, like he always did. I watched the two of them go at it for an hour.”

Though present, Dyre had been unable to assist in the waterborne battle. His close combat skills had no place in the environment in which the skirmish occurred, and he had regretted not being able to aid his partner. Even given that regret, that was his most precious memory of the hero. It said a lot about him as well as Thunderbolt. He followed his statement by pouring another Bushmill’s and raising it.

“To Thunderbolt.”

Next at the table was Geist. She lowered her head for a moment before speaking. It was strange sometimes, the dichotomy she presented. Outside, in the world where she dealt with so many, she was strong and fearless, standing tall and proud. Away from the crowds, she was another person entirely: shy and soft-spoken, her voice barely able to carry across the room. She rarely meets your gaze, and when she does, there is a hinted smile that tells you she would rather not be doing so at all.

“I remember him standing up in court. That broad stance he had, you know? Where he would put his feet out wide and turn his body to face you? Standing just like that, in a courtroom, with his arm out straight…pointing like the hand of God right at Louie Malletti.”

The picture had been front-page news the next morning, as his testimony had put away one of the mob’s most notorious hitmen. It had also put him on their radar for years, and he had spent a great deal of resources and energy fighting back against the various costumes they sent his way. Some of us had also been on the receiving end of a few of those attacks.

Geist poured another drink – water, this time – and toasted Thunderbolt as well.

“He dragged me out of a burning house,” Cortex murmured. The psion rarely spoke aloud, disdaining speech as being beneath him and choosing to communicate telepathically. It was a measure of respect that he voiced his words now. “Two years ago, during the Heldan Riots. I was cornered inside the building, my legs having been pierced by arrows shot from Nightstalker’s bow.”

Many of us had faced that bow at one time or another. Titanium, steel, and raw power. Arrows of carbon steel tipped with tungsten. It was capable of punching through armor plate if Nightstalker wished, and he had absolutely zero qualms about using it on living flesh. Overdrive was still in the hospital because of that damned thing, with a ventilator making up for his triply-punctured left lung.

“While I was unable to pursue him, Nightstalker set the house ablaze around me. Had Thunderbolt not arrived when he did, I am certain that you would have gathered around a table to salute me, instead.”

“Nobody said we’d salute you, Cortex,” Lady Mist said with a chuckle. A ripple of laughter spread around the table for a moment. She winked and stuck out her tongue to lighten any sting the remark may have made.

“Touche,” he said, grinning a bit. He lifted his newly-refilled glass. To Thunderbolt, he transmitted.

Delta was next to Cortex, and he took his cue from the silence to speak. His voice was raspy and mechanical, a result of a replaced larynx following a disastrous fight against The Eradicators some years back. The voice box was not the only replacement part. Delta could set off metal detectors from the next room. “He brought my mother flowers in the hospital when the cancer got her. Sat by her bed for a full day. He was there when she finally went.”

Carefully gripping his glass in a cybernetically-enhanced grasp, he hoisted it overhead. “To a man who I call Brother.”

Lady Mist raised a hand, waving it slightly in the air before her. A thick fog coalesced into being, taking the shape of Thunderbolt when he stood against the Ka’ar. The aliens had nearly killed him then, and almost everyone present had been a part of that war. Most of us had seen Thunderbolt as he stood, the majority of his costume shredded and blood coursing down his skin. We had seen the damage they had inflicted as he fought to repel them. We had been present when he had gone into the hospital and when he had emerged, triumphantly holding aloft his scarlet-gloved fist.

“I remember a man who stood tall no matter the odds. A man who fought and bled for the rights of others. I remember a true hero,” she ended, raising her glass. She didn’t bother with his name. It was not required. Everyone toasted in their own way, just as every drink after the first was the choice of the drinker. It was only the first call and first toast that belonged to the dead. Beyond that, as with all funerals, we were here for the feelings and needs of the still-living.

“He made me who I am today,” Blazer said, his voice soft and gentle, a direct counterpoint to his usual boisterous nature. “I was nobody back then, just a kid that burned shi…stuff,” he said, catching himself before uttering the imprecation. He had indeed been a child of the streets last year, and his language was only one part of it. He was making an attempt to clean up his act, though, and none of us held the occasional slip against him. Several of the group had been prepared to write Blazer off as hopeless; as an enthusiastic but unskilled rookie to the game. Thunderbolt, though, had taken the youth under his wing – as he had so many of us at one time.

“Taught me how to channel it, how to make the fire work for me instead of the other way around. Showed me there was more to living than just surviving.”

A smoking tear trailed down his cheek as he raised his glass. “To my friend.”

I looked at the table for a minute as everyone turned their gazes to me. Inhaling slowly, I let the breath out in a deep sigh. “I’ve seen him fight, you know? I’ve seen him fight and I’ve seen him relax. Seen him at his best and worst. Through it all, believe it or not, I still see him in the kitchen,” I said, fighting to keep my voice from cracking. “Down on Third and Elm? Saint Joan’s. I can remember him doling out food. No complaints, no feeling that he was better than anyone and just doing some charity work to keep his name good, just another normal guy helping out where he could.”

I left out the part about the scruffy alley rat that had come in for a handout when the Dumpsters came up dry. The one who had yet to discover his own metahuman abilities. The one who would one day stand at the head of this particular table, looking at the grain in the wood because he was embarrassed by his own past. The one who even now felt hot tears welling up in his eyes as he lifted a glass into the air.

“To the best of us all,” I said. “To Thunderbolt.”

“To Thunderbolt!” the others echoed, their voices filled with joy and sorrow at the same time.

Following the toast, we moved to the great room of the cabin and let our memories guide us through the next few hours. Each of us told their favorite Thunderbolt stories, whether good, bad, or indifferent. We spent the afternoon and evening thinking of the man and the sacrifice he had made, and honoring his memory. No one brought up the topic of Arsenal and how he had been responsible for bringing us to this place; none among us would spoil these moments with thoughts of revenge. This was Thunderbolt’s time.

Blazer was the first to leave – late as usual for one appearance or another on the ever-full agenda of the teen hero. Cortex followed soon after, and then it was generally acknowledged by those remaining that we had completed the ritual of mourning for our fallen partner. We helped Dyre clean up and then, one after another, filtered out the door and fled from thinking of the fate which we knew awaited us all. One day, every one of us would end up in a grave, with others left behind to toast our memory.

I had to land three times on the way home to wipe the tears from my eyes. I lied to myself at first; told myself it was the rain. I knew better, and soon I gave up trying to convince myself that it was anything other than the grief that it was. In my heart, I really had seen Thunderbolt as the best of us – as though somehow immortal, untouchable, above it all. It should have been one of us in that grave instead of him. Cortex, or Dyre. Any of a host of others, not only from our group but from costumes all over the planet. Anyone but Thunderbolt. Christ, even me! The world could do without me, but taking him?

I bit back on a fresh crying jag and touched down just outside the doors of Saint Joan’s. I thought about going inside and volunteering for the kitchen staff out of respect for his memory, but knew that would be little more than a sham on my part. Acting a part to assuage my guilt was no real homage to him. Had I half of his devotion I would have been there anyway.

Where do you go after you bury the man who taught you what it means to be strong? Not just ‘I can lift a truck’ strong, but that indomitable kind of spirit that lets you stand tall in the face of the worst that comes at you. I just stood beside a grave and watched as rain and mud covered the casket of the only person I truly believed was above me. The thought made me gag.

I stepped into the alley off Third, pausing beneath a fire escape that blocked the worst of the rain, and leaned my head against the side of a building. Even through my mask, the brick was cool. I let the tears come, rolling hot and thick down my face to blend with the rain. I squatted there, in the alley, as the emotions overtook me, and I held my head in my gloved hands.

Is this what it’s gonna be like, I wondered. I’m gonna die and they’ll have my funeral, and they’ll drink a toast to me and then just go home? Is this all there is? What’s the point?

A cat in the alley hissed and I looked up, realizing that I had been squatting there crying for several minutes with absolutely no knowledge of my surroundings. Hell, Arsenal could have been standing there and I would have missed him until the machine guns started up. I scanned the area. No eight-foot mechanical monstrosities. Always a plus, in the grand scheme of things.

There never seems to be anything to do on the day when you bury your best friend, either. Nothing to take your mind off what just happened. No petty crime you can stop, no autograph sessions – well, I suppose Blazer is an exception – and no places worth going to. Everything serves to make you think more and more about what you’ve just done. You just stood in the rain and shoveled dirt onto your friend. Someone you’ll never see again. You’ll never laugh with them or see them throw darts, or drink a beer with them, or loan them your screwdriver when they need to fix that stupid refrigerator yet again, or sit and talk with them when your wife leaves you because you never seem to be able to make the relationship work since you’re constantly unavailable. You won’t ever get to show them the new sculpture you finally finished, even though they were going to get to see it first before the gallery put it on display. You won’t get to congratulate them on that three-year smoke-free anniversary next month.

I wanted another drink. Something hard and painful, to burn away the thoughts. I knew it was irrational thinking, but there was that part of me screaming for anything to take my mind off the sound of wet dirt slapping down onto the lid of that coffin. That thick, gelatinous sound, like oatmeal dropped onto a floor. It was ringing in my ears and whiskey might well take it away.

Where was I going to go? It wasn’t as if I’d be inconspicuous strolling into a bar in a wet white costume. Folks in liquor stores aren’t prone to simply having a costume step in and snag a bottle of Jameson’s. Not likely that they’d just nod and say, “Evening, Whitechapel. You see the Sanford and Son marathon on Channel 54? That Fred, man. He cracks me up.”

Nowhere to go. Nothing to do but think. That’s what happens when you bury a friend.

I took off again, unwilling to just hang around the alley until I came up with a better idea than simply, ‘get a drink’. The air was cold on my face, but I flew on, going faster and higher. I didn’t consciously think about where I was going, but I knew where I would end up before I ever left the ground. It was the only place I could land. The only place that mattered.

The rain had turned the area surrounding the grave into a sodden mess, and the musty, sweet-smelling dirt that had been piled atop the hole was running off in reddish-gray rivulets that threatened to stain the pure white that was my costume. I didn’t care. Tomorrow I would start to track down Arsenal and bring him to justice. Today, I sat on the ground beside the grave of my friend and just let the rain fall on me. It felt good, cleansing, like somehow it was taking all my anger, all my doubts, all my fears with it, sending them all cascading down to merge with all the days that Thunderbolt didn’t have left.

END

Author Bio:
T. Mike McCurley lives in a small city in Oklahoma, where indeed, “the wind comes sweeping” and all that. He began writing superhero prose on a whim one day, and found it enjoyable enough to continue. His short stories soon formed the backbone of what became known as the world of The Emergence, describing events and players in a world of metahumanity that began in 1963 and has continued to grow since. From there came the stories of the metahuman cop known as Firedrake, which has now filled three books, with a fourth in the works. He is a founding member of the Pen and Cape Society, an online cabal of authors of superhero prose, and his Emergence setting will soon be featured in Lester Smith’s D6xD6 roleplaying game.

In another (non-writing) life he has been a radiological monitor, an emergency medical technician, a private investigator, a videographer, a certified GLOCK armorer, and a dozen other things too varied and goofy to list in one space together.

His works can be found linked at www.tmikemccurley.com and at the Pen and Cape Society, www.penandcapesociety.com .

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The Binding Agent by Douglas J. Ogurek

Jun 07 2015 Published by under The WiFiles

“But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” – Luke 22:51

 

A gowgrack stunner, unoccupied at the base of a Dovenan mountain, disrupted Preater Clogavris’s journey to the woorg factory. Gowgrack dragons never descended from the mountaintops, and never hurt people. Unless provoked. Clogavris slipped a card into the machine. “Please stop exploiting gowgracks. They need their horns to survive.”

He picked up his architectural drawings, and then resumed his journey. A sculpture swelled and glimmered ahead. It was cast in woorg, and likely designed by Glave, the long-missing creator of the vaporism school of design.

What new woorg colors would Meegard Alphang have at the factory to which Glogavris was headed? An explosion behind Clogavris. He screamed and fell.

The gowgrack stunner was in rubbles, and from the smoke emerged a man whose hands moved like butterflies. “There’s my good deed for the day.”

“You nearly killed me. You nearly killed a legend.”

“Trick is, if I didn’t stop those horn hunters, the billop may have killed ‘em.” The man was a lunatic: the billop was a mythical creature.

Clogavris rose, then lit his clawft.

The lunatic’s fingers wiggled before Clogavris’s flumeblade medallion. “Swords to bowls! You’ve studied under Glyde Rivulus?”

“The student shall surpass the master.”

“Flumeblade plants. They have their healing extracts, and what’s in ya. But those leaves are sharp, and I’ve been cut.” The lunatic, swaying, unrolled a sketch of a castle. A solid design, but rather dull. Clearly stone. Nothing like woorg.

Clogavris blew a blade of light blue smoke, and then adorned it with red slashes. He resumed his journey.

The lunatic followed. “I’m Francis Sheatherton. What name do you go by?”

“Genius.”

“May I see your drawing?”

“Its vaporistic beauty may kill you.”

Sheatherton made a sound that resembled a stream. “The billop has a portal in its lair. That’s the live truth. A portal to other lands where it protects others of its kind.”

Symphonically the sculpture ahead blended the streams and the clouds. A rock smashed into the sculpture. Its woorg clanged.

Sheatherton’s hands fluttered. “Glave. The fool with the flute.”

That stoneclinger had the audacity to insult the musician-architect Glave, who could mimic the birds with his flute, and the sunsets with his structures?

The smoke from Clogavris’s clawft tasted brilliant, and eccentric. “Woorg trounces stone.”

“I tell you the live truth: woorg says it like it isn’t.”

 

Clogavris exhaled sails of teal and violet, and then wrapped them in black barbs. “I cast tranquility in woorg.”

***

Branches, lolling beneath a tolerant sky, crinkle within their casings of ice and snow.

An air horn blasts, and there is the smell of burnt hair. Snow-laden vegetation screens three snowmobiles.

A young man stares over his glasses and shakes a bottle. He monotones on a cell phone. “No. No. Mom…no. Whatever.”

Another man—he has a red Mohawk—growls up phlegm. He taps an air horn against a shield-shaped belt buckle. “Hey Dodo. Quit jerking off over there.”

Dodo pockets the phone, twitches. He shakes the bottle, then pulls one of his arms into his jacket. “I’m Mr. Rivers, right? One-arm Rivers?” He twists and the jacket arm flaps.

A third young man plows into Dodo. Dodo drops the bottle and his glasses fall off. The two of them thump into the snow. The tackler imitates a crowd. “Haaaa. Look at that.” He stands. “Haaaa. Let me hear yaaaa.”

Dodo groans, twitches.

The tackler looks at his watch. “Ten seconds, haaaa. Stay down. Ralph, Ralph, how’s that? Stay down. Twenty-five seconds. Stay down bitch.”

Ralph pockets the horn, then snaps off a branch. Dodo rolls onto his back.

“Forty seconds. Haaaaow’s that Ralph? You stay down bitch.”

Ralph whips Dodo with the branch. “Get up ya fucking retard.”

“Fifty-four, fifty-five aaaand…”

Dodo throws snow. “You’re a glarch dick, Ward, you glarch dick.”

“Sixty.” Ward makes the cheering sound and clasps his hands over his head. “Sixty seconds, glarch. In high school man? Pops would’ve given me ten bucks for that hit. Ten bucks for each minute down. Let me hear ya, Ralph.”

Dodo stands, then retrieves his bottle and his glasses.

Ward points at the sky. “Look it that shit. That’s like an Easter egg or something.”

Ralph holds a can of mace before Ward’s face. “Glarch, I invented that word glarch.”

“Ralph…Ralph, sor-jeez. It’s just the sky. It looks cool.”

Ralph blows the air horn by Ward’s ear.

Dodo makes electric guitar sounds and twists the cap off his bottle, decorated with pink, orange, and blue swirls, and clouds.

Ralph growls, spits. “Give that here.” He taps the bottle against his buckle. “Passion Fruit Seren…whatever the fuck.” He hurls the bottle at a tree. The glass falls on a dog tied to the tree. One of its ears is torn off. It paws at its eyes, and bone pokes out of a contorted rear leg.

Ralph uses the branch to whip the dog’s face. Then it whines as Ralph ties a rope around its front legs and Ward ties a rope around its back legs. Dodo watches them over his glasses and pretends to play guitar.

Ralph and Ward tie the other ends of the ropes to their snowmobiles. Red jaws snarl on Ralph’s helmet. A similar symbol, drawn amateurishly, is on Ward’s helmet.

The snowmobiles start. Dodo gets on his hands and knees by the dog. “Stay down, stay down bitch.”

The snowmobiles advance in opposite directions.

***

The woorg makers looking up at Preater Clogavris and Meegard Alphang ignored the loud sound at the back of the factory. It sounded, Clogavris thought, triumphant.

Absurdly a gowgrack dragon horn jutted from Alphang’s head. He pretended to point a crossbow down at the workers as he addressed them. “Cower beneath his brilliance. Grovel for his inspiration. Curse your creative endeavors at the sight of his work.” Alphang bowed—the horn nearly stabbed Clogavris—and the workers bowed. Alphang continued. “Here prevails the designer of Shorelance Castle. Here prevails the future designer of the Splendor in the Sculpture Vale. Here prevails Preater Clogavris.” Blow your flute at that, Glave.

When the cheers abated, Clogavris pulled out his clawft, then tapped his lips. “Get me smoking leaves. Pink, light blue, silver.”

Woorg sculptures and other vaporistic artwork, likely Glavian, swelled among the machinery on the factory floor. Alphang feigned swordplay. “I’m expecting another designer, the Azure Inferno. Do you know him?”

“Obscure Inferno.”

“Azure…oh…Obscure.” Alphang laughed, dexterously.

“He hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting me yet.”

Alphang guided the observation gallery to the peak of a tall aggregate pile, and then grabbed a handful. “Woorg starts with this, and ends there.” He pointed his horn across the factory, toward a gate that proclaimed its vaporistic superiority with shimmering swells of woorg.

Alphang zigzagged his imaginary sword before Clogavris. “Fool am I to question you, but what do you suppose lies beyond that gate?”

As Clogavris contemplated the response to best sustain his reputation, his clawft streaked ash across Alphang’s uniform.

Alphang stared at it, and his horn glimmered. That laugh lunged again. “A true honor. A signature from Preater Clogavris, whose clawft exhalations make mine look paltry.”

“I am vapor.” The peal from across the factory again. It sounded much like the trumpets that resounded on the day that Shorelance Castle was completed.

“Past that gate, we gather the binding agent. It allows us to bind one one surge of woorg to another, while permitting the flexibility that you so deftly achieve with your buildings.”

A shout: “To arms, to arms.” The machinery stopped. The warning came from a worker stationed at an upper-level window.

Alphang grasped a crossbow, shouted at the workers. “Arms arms prepare.” He guided the gallery toward the window. “Gouges. A sceptern. He may have seen a sceptern flying by.”

First a billop, now a sceptern? Had reason completely fled Dovena? The workers hurried. They had crossbows and swords. When they reached the entry, they stopped. They peered up at the gallery, which continued toward the window.

Clogavris clutched his flumeblade medallion. How to show his indifference? His higher-level aesthetic concerns? He turned his back to them, and admired the vaporistic flourishes on the ceiling.

Alphang’s horn scraped against something. The gallery stopped. They had reached the window. Alphang analyzed the treetops. “We’ve used bowseeds and hailberries to lure them. I shall wear the neck of a sceptern.” First, the scepterns had died out years ago. Second, when they lived, their necks were longer than a man’s arm.

Clogavris raised his medallion. “When the Splendor in the Sculpture Vale is complete, the sun shall worship it.”

“I shall wrap its neck around my neck, and, by gashes, its sumptuous feathers shall adorn me.”

Below them, the workers waited at the entry.

But what finally appeared in the tree was a common canerock. “Gouges.” Alphang growled, and fired the crossbow. The bird tumbled to the ground. Alphang screamed at the workers. “Get back, or get gored. Get back to your posts.”

When Glyde Rivulus bequeathed to Clogavris the flumeblade medallion, he said, “Heed life.”

The peal from beyond the gate returned. The trumpet sounded that day, and the whole of Dovena gathered beneath Shorelance Castle’s swells of woorg to praise Clogavris’s design.

A worker ascended to the gallery, then presented the smoking leaves that Clogavris had requested. Alphang threw aggregate in the worker’s face. “He said silver. Those leaves smoke light green.”

The worker rocked pitiably and stared at the floor. “Sorry I’m very sorry. I’ll pick these up and, sorry, I’ll get another. I’ll get the silver.” A drop of his sweat fell on the floor. “Oh, oh, here…I—for this, I am sorry.” He rubbed it with his finger, and it left a tiny smudge.

Alphang glared at the smudge. His head quivered, and his gowgrack horn glistened. He

pulled out his knife. “Silver. This is silver. See?” He thrust it into the worker’s eye, then pushed him off the gallery. The worker fell a hundred feet before he hit the floor.

The trumpet-like peal intensified as Alphang guided the gallery closer to the gate. He talked about woorg, and about some of the art pieces. Most of the sculptures down there were designed by Glave. Alphang stopped the gallery above a huge vat filled with slush. The slush was black, and brutal. It looked nothing like the final product.

On another gallery, a worker escorted someone toward them. The figure’s hands were in the front pocket of a brown cowl, and he wore a brown mask. His belt clanked when he stepped onto their gallery. Sword handles dangled from his belt. The worker introduced him as the Azure Inferno.

Alphang whirled his invisible sword. “By gashes, there’s nothing azure about you, Azure Inferno.”

The sword handle belt clinked, and the black slush below hissed.

Alphang ridiculed. “Where are you from, Azure Inferno? The level hills?”

The Azure Inferno started to remove his hands from the cowl, but then stopped. “Donow.”

“Pierces. You don’t know?”

“DohNOW.” Donow Village. Glyde Rivulus had designed many of its small stone structures. Nothing remotely vaporistic.

The slush grumbled, and Alphang tapped his gowgrack horn. Its point came within two feet of Clogavris’s head. “Cower, Obscure Inferno. You stand before a great designer.” The Azure Inferno bowed, only slightly, toward Clogavris.

Clogavris exhaled pink and light blue ribbons, then sliced through them with silver from the leaves he’d finally received. “Woorg up?”

“Gouges.” Alphang pointed at the belt. “What good is a handle without a blade?”

From beneath the Azure Inferno’s mask came a strange sound, much like the stream sound that stoneclinger Sheatherton had made.

As the tour continued, Clogavris smoked his clawft, Alphang intermittently interrupted his woorg discourses to discuss the sceptern, and the Azure Inferno clinked. They drew closer to the gate, and the peal grew louder.

The last stop before the gate was a massive block from which the workers retrieved dazzling swells of woorg. But the gate and the sound behind it were what most impressed Clogavris.

Alphang brought the gallery to the floor. His pretend sword prodded the gate. He shouted over the peal. “Brace yourselves. The binding agent bids us.”

Clogavris touched the gate’s woorg. Its surface, slightly sticky, felt confident, everlasting.

The peal grew louder, and the Azure Inferno’s hands hatched from his cowl. The brown mask drew close to Clogavris. “He says it like it isn’t.” And those hands flapped and wiggled and twirled. They moved…azurely. Surely it was Sheatherton. Sheatherton, who hated woorg.

The gate began to open.

***

Consolingly the vestiges of a jet’s bellow settle on the forest.

Ralph urinates into a beer can in the snow. “The fuck is that retard?”

Ward takes off his helmet, looks into the trees. “Look it that.”

“Maybe the glarch went to go jerk off and listen to those long-hair fags.”

“Yeah, Ralph. Yes-ha.” Ward twitches, inverts one foot, mumbles. “Fucking Bazooka Compromise. Death metal, man. They’re the shit, man.”

Ralph grumbles up phlegm, picks up the can.

“How’s this, Ralph? See that black squirrel there? The black one? My dad said the other ones got to watch out for them black ones. Them black ones’ll steal all the others’ nuts. How’s that? The black ones.”

Ralph taps his shield buckle. “I’ll bash your brains in with this, ya twiggy bastard.”

Ward points at his ear. “Hear those branches man? Creaking and shit? How’s that? My mom, she’d probably paint this here. All this shit, with the branches? And this fucked up sky?”

Ralph blows the air horn six inches from Ward’s face.

Ward puts his hands on his knees and groans. “Shit, ah shit Ralph. What did you, what’s the troublem?”

“I’ll snap that twig of a bitch in half.” Ralph yanks off a branch. “Shit, I need me some whiskey, boy.”

“How’s this, boy? We’re gonna get fucked up at Dodo’s tonight. Where is that glarch-tard? His parents got this anniversary shit and they’re gone till Friday.” Ward clasps his hands over his head. “We’ll get fucked up, boy.”

Snowflakes dissolve in Ralph’s red Mohawk. Three times he flicks the beer can. The urine splashes in Ward’s face.

Ward spits. “Awph glarch we’ll get…where is that glarch? Where’s that fucking glarch-tard Dodo?”

“Hey…bam. What’s that? Bam. What is it?”

“I don’t know. What’s that?”

“The sound when your dad shot himself. Bam.”

***

Like giant jeweled claws, woorg sculptures stretched over the three of them. They were in a courtyard.

A butterfly flitted before Clogavris. How weak its reddish-browns and tans looked compared to the woorg’s celestial colors.

The sword handle belt clinked, and the Azure Inferno made that strange stream sound. It had to be Sheatherton. The butterfly landed on his brown cowl. The creature’s colors resembled the stone of Donowan structures.

Alphang bowed, pretended to rest his head on a sword’s handle. “Behold: my sculpture garden. Glave designed most of these…”

The sound that swept over Alphang’s words contained not just the celebratory blast of the trumpet, but the cheers of thousands of Dovenans, and across one gap deep in the garden stretched thick bars.

The peal continued, and the butterfly took flight. Alphang rose, glowered at the butterfly. The worker’s blood still stained his knife.

The sound stopped. Alphang growled, closed in on the defenseless creature. Clogavris remembered the worker screaming, clutching his bleeding face. Alphang swatted at the butterfly, missed it.

Magisterially the sculptures flickered and swelled and rippled and grappled. The woorg prevailed.

Clogavris veiled himself in clouds of pink and light blue, hooked with silver. Alphang’s grunts penetrated the smoke.

A clang resounded.

Clogavris stepped out of the clawft cloud. Alphang, his gowgrack horn askew, huddled in the fold of a sculpture. His horn had rammed into it.

The butterfly fluttered out of sight. There was something in the stone that Glyde Rivulus had used. Something in its course surfaces and earthen tones that Clogavris’s teacher admired. But Rivulus hadn’t been progressive enough to use woorg.

Alphang adjusted his horn, and then used his knife to tap a trough. One end of it entered the factory wall. The other rose into the sculpture garden. “Behold, my binding agent. By gouges, it is beautiful. No binding agent, no woorg. No woorg, no vaporistic structures.” Through the trough and into the factory flowed a thick liquid that gleamed viciously.

Again the sound overtook the garden, and something swept through that same gap with the bars. Something colorful and bright and sail-like, and in that sound, there was a desperation not in the trumpet’s peal. That worker convulsed in a pool of his blood after Alphang pushed him off the gallery.

The sail swept by again. Red yellow green blue.

Alphang drove down his imaginary sword. “Go into my garden. Strike out at the wonder at its core.”

A worker swept by the gap. He held a long pole, and looked up.

The peal again—there was a gurgling in it—and the Azure Inferno was gone.

Clogavris clutched his clawft. “That sound is…” He exhaled blades of silver.

Alphang bowed. “You will see its source when you step over there.” His horn pointed at a sculpture that rose higher and stood more gallantly than any of the others.

That sculpture gloated as Clogavris approached it. Its shape thumped and its colors chanted. Clogavris rounded the sculpture, and its illustrious texture merged with the peal.

A large gap at the garden’s core revealed not a sail, but the wing of a caged creature. Long tubes connected to the underside of its wings, and its neck, glistening with brilliant colors, rose column-straight between sculptures. A huge woorg swell obstructed Clogavris’s view of where a thick pipe met the creature’s head.

Alphang’s voice chopped behind Clogavris. “Behold, the billop, the great guardian of beasts.”

“Where… a myth.”

“Tremble at the truth.” The billop was reputed to discharge a scent—it smelled like cinnamon—that immobilized its victims. Then it clamped them in its spiked wings. The spikes injected a toxin that caused unimaginable pain and eventually, death.

A worker used the sharp pole to prod the creature. The billop released its gurgling howl. Clogavris stuffed more leaves into his clawft.

Alphang tipped back his head, held the knife’s tip just above his lips. “That pipe pumps precious metals and gems into its stomach so it can’t release the scent. Then we agitate it. What do you suppose happens then?”

The multicolored wing banged against the cage. Clogavris nearly dropped his clawft.

“By gashes, it makes the binding agent. It drips from its spikes, and we collect it.” Alphang shouted at the creature, then pretended to shoot it with a crossbow.

From beyond the garden’s walls glided a birdsong that merged the strength of kings with the beauty of…what?

Alphang ran. His horn crashed into one of the sculptures, then he fell. “Pierces. Did you hear that?”

The clinking of the sword handle belt. The Azure Inferno, his hands aflutter, ran to them. “I just saw a sceptern. Outside the garden. It flew toward the woods.”

Alphang rose, shouted, “Arms arms, take arms, by gouges. Take arms.”

Clattering from the center of the garden. Alphang adjusted his horn. “A sceptern, a sceptern. I shall have a sceptern.” Shouting and grasping the horn, he ran tipsily out of the garden. The workers followed.

Clogavris and the Azure Inferno were alone. The latter removed his mask. It was Sheatherton. “You need to release the billop. The trick is you must work quickly.” The creature howled. Sheatherton’s hands thrashed and he yelled. “It’s suffering, suffering greatly, and that’s the live truth.” He’d known the billop was there. “Release the latches and you will free it.”

Clogavris had struggled to solidify his reputation as a meticulous designer, and a meticulous designer could not be rushed. “Get me smoking leaves. Something in a mauve.”

“There’s no time for that. You have to release it, while I keep them occupied.” Sheatherton fumbled under his cowl, removed a flute. His fingers twiddled over the instrument. “Sounds a lot like a sceptern, no?”

“You made that birdcall?”

“I did.” Sheatherton’s hands flailed towards the sculptures. “And I made these.”

The bizarre figure standing before Clogavris was the Azure Inferno, and Francis Sheatherton. And he was Glave, the long ago-vanished inventor of vaporism. Glave, who mimicked the birds with his flute, and the sunsets with his structures.

“These sculptures, Shorelance Castle, any woorg structure. They say it like it isn’t. Your master Rivulus was right; I was wrong. Release the latches. Set the billop free.”

Clogavris tapped his clawft against a sculpture and it chimed. “It will kill me.” And it would kill all the structures he was destined to design.

“Nafh. It’s only after those who knowingly harm others of its kind.”

Clogavris kept tapping, and the chime paid homage to his distinctiveness.

Francis Sheatherton/the Azure Inferno/Glave put the flute beneath his cowl. “Every structure that we’ve cast in woorg is born of these creatures’ suffering. Release it. It’s in ya to release it.” With hands fluttering and sword handle belt clinking, he retreated.

The creature’s wing, vibrant as one of Clogavris’s clawft clouds, slapped against the cage. The latches clattered.

Clogavris tapped, and the woorg chimed.

Then the billop wailed.

Clogavris stayed his clawft, clutched his flumeblade medallion. “The flumeblade plant can scar,” his teacher had said. “And it can heal. Listen to its leaves.”

Clogavris hurled his clawft over the garden’s wall.

***

A chirp swabs at the winter-battered woodland and summons spring.

A blare overtakes the chirp.

Ralph, wearing his helmet and red-lensed goggles, taps the air horn against his shield belt buckle. He stretches his neck, yells into the forest. “Ward, ya dumb fuck. Ward.”

The sky is pink and orange. Ralph mumbles, “The fuck is that twiggy bastard?”

The branches crinkle, and Ralph removes his belt. He repeatedly whips a tree with the buckle.

The chirp resumes. Ralph sounds the air horn until its blare fades. The chirp continues. He presses the button, but the horn makes no sound.

“Shut up, bitch. I’ll snap you in two, you bitch. I’ll snap…” He hurls the horn into the trees.

He stretches his neck, and his arms. He removes a flask from a compartment on his snowmobile. A light blue feather trembles by his boot. He depresses one nostril, expels mucous. It misses the feather.

Water drops cover the red jaws on his helmet. He opens the flask, shouts, “You glarch bastards. I got the fucking whiskey. It’s right here.”

Before the flask gets to his mouth, his arm pauses. His body remains motionless for seconds, minutes, and there is an aroma. Cinnamon.

 

 

Bio
Douglas J. Ogurek’s fiction appears in the British Fantasy Society Journal, The Literary Review, Gone Lawn, Morpheus Tales, Wilderness House Literary Review, and several anthologies. Ogurek founded the literary subgenre known as unsplatterpunk, which uses splatterpunk conventions (e.g., extreme violence, gore, taboo subject matter) to deliver a Christian message. He is the communications manager of a Chicago-based architecture firm, where he has written over one hundred articles about facility planning and design. Ogurek also reviews films at Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. More at www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com.

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