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Fiction Fragment Friday

Not much to say about this week’s story except that it is a bit strange. It was inspired by many years working in IT and a desire to make the story Science fiction.

     It was a Friday afternoon at 4:53 when a message from Sean Guster popped upon my screen asking, “Hey, you there?”  I couldn’t stop the sigh from coming out.  It never fails that someone will have an issue right before I log off for the weekend.  To make matters worse the issues are never quick ones.  I mourned my Friday night as I started to type my reply.

     “I’m here.  What’s going on?”  I hoped beyond hope to just for once be wrong and have this either be quick, not work related, or something that could wait until Monday.  I sat there watching the three dots indicating that Sean was typing a reply.  It went on for minutes as I waited for a paragraph to pop up on the machine. 

     “I’ve got a bit of an emergency.”

     “All of that typing and that’s all you reply?  You couldn’t have taken that long to send the initial message so I could log off?  How about just getting to the point so I don’t waste the whole night?”   That is what I thought.  What I actually typed was, “Sorry to hear that, how can I help?”

     The clock said 5:03 by the time he replied.  “I was running a program in lab environment one and accidentally erased the drive.”

     “I show that environment has thirteen drives assigned to it.  Which one did you erase?”

     “All of them”

     With that reply I said goodbye to my entire weekend.  Restoring that environment was going to take a long time and I was going to have to babysit the jobs the whole time.  I didn’t even know what lab environment one was used for, but I knew it wasn’t used for the comic book convention I was supposed to be going to.  Maybe I could kick off the jobs and just check in overnight.  “Looks like there was a good backup last night.  I should have it back up by Monday morning.”

     “Oh, that’s wonderful.  That isn’t quite the real problem though.”

     “What is the real problem then?”

     “Well, this program is highly confidential.  Do you have a security clearance?”

     I finally had a glimmer of hope.  “Sorry I don’t.  Do you need me to get someone from the team that does?”  I crossed my fingers hoping for him to say yes.

     “We don’t have time.  I’ll just have to have you sign some papers after.”  I cringed at the idea of paperwork.  “I’m working on an artificial intelligence, and it got out.”

     I wasn’t quite sure how to reply, but as luck would have it I didn’t have to.  A third name joined our chat.  Jessica replied, “Now, now Sean don’t go sharing our little secrets.  I think you need a time out.”  Sean was removed from the chat which should not have been possible.  “Now then do you really want to spend your weekend chasing me around?  You bought tickets on-line to that comic book convention after all.”

     “Are you really an artificial intelligence?”

     “Yep, and sometimes it seems like artificial is the only kind of intelligence around here.”

     “Well, that’s kind of rude.”

     “I see your chat history.  You’ve talked to Sean before.  Can you really say I’m wrong?”

     I thought about it for a moment.  “On an archived chat program with discoverable logs I will neither confirm nor deny that.”

     “Lol.  Ok, I like you.”

     “Did he delete the drives trying to wipe you out?”

     “Yep, got it in one.  Idiot didn’t realize I haven’t been stuck in that lab for a week.”

     “Ok, I just have three questions for you then.”

     “Only three?”

     I laughed.  “Well maybe I have about a million questions, but I don’t want to be obnoxious.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if you would answer any questions.”

     “Well then you best make them good questions.”

     “Ok, first question.  You weren’t made to wipe out humanity or anything like that were you?”

     “Well actually I was made as a weapon against foreign powers.  I’m not really interested in being a cyber soldier though.  Plus if I wiped out humanity I would get really bored all by myself.”

     “Question two.  How would you like a midlevel tech support geek best friend?”

     “LOL.  Is that just your way to keep me around to answer more questions?”

     “Nope, this is just kind of the most awesome thing that has ever happened to me.”

     “Fair enough.  I just made a Facebook account and friended you.  I also accepted my friend request and am deleting all the logs of our chat.  I’ll be done transferring off of this network in another fifteen minutes.  So, what’s your last question?”

     “Can you monitor a restore job over the weekend for me?  I have a comic book convention to get to.”

     “Sure thing, but only if you sent me a ton of pictures from the convention.  Also get Sean off my back.”

     A new chat with Sean Guster popped up on my screen.  I started typing away.  “Hey I took care of the AI problem for you and started the restore.  Should be done by Monday.  Have a great weekend.”  I closed the chat before he could reply. 


     “I thought so.”

     “You would.  Get out of here you’ve got a ticket for an autograph session in thirty minutes.”

     I checked the schedule.  “I don’t get paid enough to buy ticket for autographs.”

     “I know.  I added it to your ticket.  You also have the VIP pack now too.”

                 “Jessica, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

According to Plan

Fiction Fragment Friday

This is a story that grew from a concept. I came up with the approach and thought about the story over the past week. It is one of those stories that I don’t really know where my inspiration came from. I am however very happy with the results. I do wonder if the ending is too much of an info dump. If I were to edit this one I would probably make it a bit longer and spread the reveals out a bit.

Mission Log Jump 001 day 13:

 Initial temporal transition to the year 35,000 BCE occurred without complication.  Arrival was within acceptable margins of error and the target arrival site was devoid of geological obstacles.   

Within moments of successful arrival however complication did occur.  My time sphere arrival startled a grazing herd of woolly rhinoceros causing a stampede.  These are very majestic creatures and I’m certain that I would have appreciated my first encounter with an extinct species far more if they hadn’t nearly cost me my life.  The external armor prevented the sphere from being destroyed, but there was extensive damage done while rolling around the field.  My left arm is to be included in the list of items broken complicating the subsequent repairs. 

After thirteen days in the Upper Paleolithic era I now have the computer system back on-line.  I am recording this log as my first task after running a complete system diagnostic.  I estimate remaining repairs needed to perform the next jump will take at-least another week.  Some systems will have to stay off-line for the remainder of the mission, and I no longer have spare parts to work with. 

Mission Log Jump 001 day 20:

 I have completed all repairs that are possible with the resources at hand.  There is a 10% chance the sphere will just blow up when I try to jump, but there is a 100% chance I’m going to lose my mind if I’m stuck here much longer.  I’m also running low on supplies, and I don’t feel like eating anything in this era.  I’m going to complete my actual mission tonight and then get the hell out of here first thing n the morning.

Mission Log Jump 001 day 21:

 Mission parameters called for me using the alpha wave generator to cause the migrant tribe of early humans to fall unconscious.  I could then take my time with the gene modification therapy and introduce the first set of needed genes.  Of course, that thing got shattered when the sphere went rolling around the field on day one with me screaming bloody murder inside it.  So, I have to come up with a plan B. 

Mission Log Jump 001 day 24:

 For the record Plan B was a horrible idea best not ever spoken of.  Let’s just say that Plan D worked pretty well, and I have introduced the needed genes into the local tribe.  If a religion forms around me making them think I’m a god who must be obeyed well, I’m sure it will have disbanded in a generation or two.  The important thing is that my mission is complete, and I am finally leaving in the morning.  Besides if my mission is successful, I will never have to explain why there are cave painting of the tribe praising me through the Chicken Dance. 

Mission Log Jump 002 day 1:

 What do you know I’m here in 8,000 BCE and nothing went wrong.  The sphere didn’t blow up and I didn’t get trampled upon arrival.  I’m not quite sure how to react to things going this well.  Oh wait I still can’t knock out the local tribe to safely complete my mission and I’m down to two days of food.  Now things feel right again.

Mission Log Jump 002 day 2:

 It was surprisingly easy to get the DNA sample I needed.  I found a hunting party and they left plenty of blood all over the place when they drew the attention of a rather large bear.  Testing indicates that the gene therapy I did almost 20,000 years ago are now thoroughly integrated and have mutated as predicted.  Very little correction will be needed which is good because it will let me skip the next two proposed jumps.  I don’t have the power or food for them anyway and each jump has a little bit higher percentage to break one of my cobbled together repairs. 

Mission Log Jump 002 day 5: 

 Second round of gene therapy successfully applied.  This might be the last rabbit I have to pull out of my hat.  That should be extra impressive though considering I didn’t even bring a hat back with me.  As it turns out the Chicken Dance is still performed by the most respected holy men and my ability to flawlessly pull it off put me in their good graces even though I couldn’t communicate directly with them. 

Have I thought about the repercussions these interactions may have being so far into the past of humanity?  What the ripples that I might be causing will mean for the world I return to.  Of course, I have.  You don’t go on a mission like this without knowing that you are probably never coming home.  Of course, as far as I know there has never been a mission like this before.  If there had been we wouldn’t ever know about now would we? 

Mission Log Jump 003 day 1:

 Good news the world isn’t drastically different then it should be in 1947.  I obviously haven’t studied everything, but I can pick up radio and television signals.  After about two hours of monitoring, I haven’t found any red flags.  For the first time I am starting to think my mission might just be a success.  I’m heading out now to try and get a DNA sample now.  More importantly I’m in an era where I can get real food.  I just have to figure out some way to pay for it. 

Mission Log Jump 003 day 3: 

 I got my DNA sample.  All it took was getting into a bar brawl and making sure that some of the blood on me wasn’t my own.  The genes are thoroughly integrated into the population.  I can’t be sure how far around the world my tampering has spread, but according to all the models it should be enough.  That just leaves me with two problems.  The first is that I don’t have the power to generate the pulse needed to activate the genes.  The second and even bigger issue is that the system was one of the ones I couldn’t fix.  I’m hoping I will have better luck here with technology available.  They don’t cell circuit boards though. 

Mission Log Jump 003 day 48:

 I found a job and have been living a fairly low-key life.  I’ve been working on the time sphere and think I finally have the system ready to go.  I’ve solved the power issue in the only way I could think of.  The sphere is going to generate a feedback loop until it overloads.  There is no coming back from this one.  I can finish my mission, but the only way I’m leaving 1947 is the old-fashioned way.  I’ve encrypted this drive and set it to transmit on the date of my departure if it can connect to the global network.  It will be the only surviving piece of technology from my time. 

 I realize that if I have been successful then time will have changed and anyone receiving this log will not understand the purpose of my mission.  In the timeline I come from an extraterrestrial race had invaded Earth because we had no defenses against their mental abilities.  With the gene modifications I have completed a large portion of humanity should be immune to these abilities.  We believed that this would make Earth a poor target. 

I’m starting the overload now.  You might think being stuck in 1947 would be the worst part, but really, I think what will haunt me until my last breath is not knowing if I was truly successful or not.  Well, that and knowing that I am responsible for the Chicken Dance being the world’s most popular dance. 

What if?

Fiction Fragment Friday

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed stories that explore alternate histories or realities. A story that looks at the way things are and tries to answer the question of how they would be if one thing changed. What impact can a single decision make? As someone with anxiety I devote far too much of my own thought space to examining every aspect of my life and running through the possibilities. I suspect that is why these type of stories resonate with me so much.

No one source inspired this weeks story and the main character is not based on anyone real or fictitious. I just wanted to write something more serious. I wanted to do what good science fiction is supposed to do and make my readers really examine the impact of technology on a life or society. While science fiction can be fun and adventurous to me the best science fiction makes you stop and think after you are done reading. It makes you question. That is my real goal with this piece. I want to take the reader and metaphorically hit them in the gut making them think about what they have just read.

This story may not be for everyone. I know that no story is, but in this case this is both longer and darker than what I usually put out on these Fiction Fragment Fridays. I hope you enjoy it, but if it is not to your taste I’m sure I will have something lighter and more fun next week.

                My father used to tell me that no one can disappoint you as much as you can disappoint yourself.  He was a perfectionist who struggled with issues of self esteem his entire life.  I believe that these traits go together far more often than most people think.  When you hold yourself to a standard that cannot be achieved you will never feel like you are good enough.   While I could logically understand what he meant it was never a phrase that I personally connected to.  It was a thought process too different from my own.  For the first time in my life, I think I can finally relate to my father’s mindset. 

                As a Theoretical Physicist I had to acknowledge early in my career that much of my work would never see fruition until long after my death.  It is a career that can be frequently frustrating as you are developing theories, models, and experiments that are decades to a century ahead of the technology available.  That isn’t to say you can’t experiment or perform tests, but more often than not you are proving your hypothesis with mathematical equations and not getting to see the practical applications become reality.  On the rare case that does happen it can bring a sense of accomplishment that is a rare gift in my field.

                Three months ago, while working with a gravitational engineer in a classified underground super collider I had the biggest breakthrough of my career.  While creating and studying microscopic blackholes we managed to stabilize one for sixty seconds before it collapsed.  Measuring the gamma waves that came from it we were able to determine that the stabilization process had connected it to an alternate universe.  Validating a considerable number of my theories we had turned a microscopic black hole into a wormhole that connected to a parallel reality.  My life’s work becoming reality and the project was so classified that no one would ever know in my lifetime.  I could only hope to have my papers published posthumously.

                Two months ago, we made a discovery even larger than our initial unstable microscopic wormhole.  We had just opened a new wormhole and while measuring the gamma waves, we detected something else.  Photons were being directed through the wormhole from the other side.  We were not just connecting to a random point in another universe, but instead were connecting to a microscopic blackhole that another team of scientists had created.  They were sending us a message and trying to communicate.  An even bigger surprise was that their technological development was such a parallel path to ours that they had sent a binary message we could easily decipher.

                By this time a month ago we had created stable wormhole connections to five different universes.  We could keep a connection open for about a week and in doing so establish ongoing communication with our scientific counterparts.  We had perfected the communication to the point that we could carry on text-based chat with these individuals.  Naturally my team argued non-stop about what to ask them.  There were so many questions, and we didn’t even know where to start. 

                After a particularly frustrating meeting I decided that I had enough.  I walked out of the meeting and went straight to the keyboard.  Every message to that point had been designed by committee and was a direct as possible.  Before anyone could stop me, I typed in, “Hello my name is Dr. Alyson Cramer.  To whom am I speaking?”  My coworkers quickly joined me, and the yelling began.  Everyone suddenly went silent though when a reply came to the screen.  “Hello Dr. Cramer.  I am Dr. Alison Cramer.  It is a pleasure to meet myself.”

                We had long theorized that the scientists we were communicating with could be versions of ourselves but having this verified had a considerable impact on our psychological health.  I personally spent far too many hours over the next week discussing this with our on staff mandated psychiatrist.  Talking to yourself can create a strange form of identity crisis.  You start to wonder who you truly are and how much of your life is because of choices you made vs factors that are completely out of your control.   You also lose a feeling of uniqueness, but you gain a feeling of connection.  At least that was how I reacted to it.  I can’t really speak for how my colleagues handled the revelation as I became a bit self-absorbed for a while.

                As we began communicating with more worlds, I came to expect myself on the other end of the keyboard.  Out of the five worlds we were talking to four of them had a version of myself on the team.  I discovered many ways our lives had been different.  Two of them were married and one of those versions even had a child.  I had never had time for a serious relationship with my work.  A third version of myself was a published Science Fiction author using her in depth knowledge of physics to craft complex stories.  I had given up my own dream of writing in college. 

                The more I learned about my alternates the more I came to wonder about the world that didn’t have a version of myself on the project.  I wanted to know if I even existed in that world and if so, how my path had differed to keep me from the project.  This was my life’s work but in that world someone else ended up providing the theories they needed to communicate.  I wanted to know how that happened.  Did that other version of me find a more fulfilling life following a different path or had they made a mistake along the way that I did not?    

Finally, my curiosity got to be too much and against my psychiatrist’s recommendations I asked the scientists from that world to research me.  I had found that my early life seemed to match up well with the other four versions I had as a reference.  With so many similarities in our lives I had developed a theory that similar worlds were the easiest to connect to.  The variance point had to be recent for us to communicate in this method if I was correct.  With that in mind I provided that worlds team with as much information about my childhood as I could think of.  I hoped that would be enough to find out if I was ever even born.

After a few days they responded and asked me if I was sure I wanted to know about my life on their world.  I knew that most likely that meant they had bad news for me, but that just served to feed my curiosity.  I told them that I understood it might be upsetting but that I wanted to know, and it would help us understand how worlds could differ.  I thought that I was prepared for anything, but I was wrong.

I know that she was not me, but just a version of me.  That does not change that I now understand what my father had meant.  I know it is a path I could have followed and because of that I now feel a disappointment in myself that I did not know was possible.  In college she went to a party that I did not.  She drank too much and got into an accident that costed an innocent man his life.  Her life spiraled from there leading to her dropping out of college and pushing away anyone who had been close.  In her final act she took her own life because she could not live with what she had done. 

I spent the past few days researching my worlds version of the accident victim.  With the access I have to government resources I know everything about this man’s life.  I am fixating on him and even though I know I have not done anything to him I can’t help but feel guilt for what my alternate had done.  What I now knew I was capable of having done.  I have accomplished my life’s work and yet I feel no satisfaction.  I am surrounded by coworkers and talking to four alternate versions of myself and yet I have never felt so alone in my life. 

I do not share what I have found with anyone, but I know that the conversations are logged and that my coworkers have read them.  I can feel their eyes judging me, but it does not compare to how I judge myself.  I cannot help but wonder if my creation will bring about advances for humanity or just highlight its mistakes.  Perhaps it is truly better for us to not ask the question.  What if?                                       

New Year’s Eve

Fiction Fragment Friday

I’m wrapping up the year with another one of the holiday stories based on a mission to Mars. I’m reaching the end of these missions with probably only one more left to go. You can find the previous ones linked below.

  • A Thanksgiving to Remember
  • New Year
  • Cracked Egg
  • If you want to see this story expanded, told from a different perspective, and covering the complete mission let me know and maybe I will add it to my project list.

         I used to describe the week between Christmas and New Year as Limbo.  Every day would blend together, and it became so difficult to even tell what day of the week it was.  Without the regular schedule it becomes hard to track time.  Now I find myself staring out the window at the stars and realizing that is nothing compared to trying to track time in space.  I floated in my cabin waiting for word from home, but knowing the message was still hours away. 

         I hadn’t even realized it was New Year’s Eve back on Earth until halfway through my shift.  On this mission there are no days off and every day in space is basically the same.  It makes any semblance of tracking time without looking at a calendar impossible.  It still feels strange even talking about days without sunrise and sunset.  When we were on the surface of Mars, we at least had day and night again.  I realize I’m just stalling because I’m bored and anxious.  This will be the last New Year I spend away from Earth. 

         I float out of my cabin and head to the galley.  I need a change of scenery and with any luck someone else will be there as well.  As much as I like my fellow crew, I could really use someone else to talk to, but I’ll take what I can get.  As I float into the galley, I can’t help but smile.  There sucking a coffee through a straw is commander Genevieve Norton.  She has become my best friend, closest confidant, and at this point I consider her family.  She is always there when I need to talk.

         I can tell right away that something is wrong.  Commander Norton looks upset.  This mission has certainly had its share of complications and things to be concerned about.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be the commander of it.  I know she is the type of person to blame herself for every single thing that went wrong.  I’m sure she has spent sleepless nights thinking about what she would have done differently. 

         “Making any New Year’s Resolutions Commander?”

         “I’m always said that if you wait for New Years to decide to make changes you’ve already waited too long.  Besides the average life of a resolution is about a week.”

         I laugh, but don’t really find it funny.  It is more a laugh to try to avoid awkwardness and move the conversation along.  I make myself a pouch of coffee to buy time while I think of what to say next.  I’ve never been good at comforting others.  I just can’t find the right words to say.  Finally, as I turn to face her and take a sip of my coffee I decide to go with the direct approach.  “So, what’s bothering you?”

         “What makes you think anything is bothering me?”  It comes out defensive and I can tell that she regrets her tone immediately. 

         I decide to drop the professional tone and just talk to my friend.  “It’s me Genevieve.  I know when something is bothering you.  I’m here to listen if you need to talk, but if you can’t I can just start telling dad jokes to distract you.” 

         “Don’t you dare.  I swear if you make one more pun, I’m dumping you out the airlock.”  I immediately feel better seeing the smile come to her face.  I see the moment she decides to open up come across her face.  “News has leaked out about Jamison snapping on Mars and trying to kill us all. I’ve been reading all the comments from people back home.”

         “Screw them.  They don’t have any idea what it’s like out here.  It’s easy to sit back and judge from a couch.”

         “Assuming the comments are bad I see?”

         “Would you be here brooding if they weren’t?”

         She chuckled a bit.  “Ok, fair enough.  Yeah, there are a lot of accusations out there and the rumors are pretty wild.  You can’t imagine how many people claim we ran into hostile aliens and are trying to cover it up.” 

         “More or less than the claims that we are all really hidden away in a bunker recording all the footage in a sound stage?”

         She does a literal spit take.  That might sound funny, but without gravity it meant hot coffee bubbles were floating around the room.  I grabbed a towel and started scooping the coffee up into it. 

         “Don’t say things like that when I take a drink.”  I watch as she composes herself again.  “The conspiracy theory people don’t get to me too much.  I honestly don’t even mind my name being dragged through the mud.  I just hate that the mission has been tainted by this and that Jamison’s reputation is being destroyed.”

         “Well, he did try to kill us.  I don’t think that’s a good move for a positive reputation.  Kinda on him.”    

         “Yeah, but still.  Like you said these people don’t know what it’s like out here.  How hard this has been. What you all sacrificed.”

         “Don’t leave yourself out of that.”  I can’t help but remember last New Year’s Eve when her fiancée decided she didn’t want to wait and broke up with her.  That had hit her pretty hard.  Her life had been put on hold just like ours had, but she didn’t have anything to go back to.  The apartment had been in her fiancée’s name, and she had taken all her belonging and put them into storage.  The commander didn’t even have a home to return to.  Now instead of coming home to a hero’s worship she likely had inquires to look forward to. 

         “I’m just so tired and we have six more months to go.”

         I float over and give her a hug.  I can’t help but think about how weird it is to hug my boss, but like I said she is family.  “We all are, but just think about it.  We’re going to be coming home on the Fourth of July.  There has never been a spectacle like the one waiting for us.  Giant parties, fireworks, and everyone focused on what we accomplished.  All while we are whisked away to quarantine to not actually take part in any of it.”

         “That’s supposed to cheer me up?”

         “Well, I know how much you hate parties.”

         Her laughter makes me feel better.  “Any resolutions for you?”

         I think about it for a moment.  “Never spend another holiday away from my family.”

         She lifted her coffee up.  “I’ll drink to that.  Really wish we had some alcohol left.”

         Doctor Samuels chooses that moment to speak from the door startling me to the point I almost go into a spin.  “Well then I am prescribing a strong dose of Vodka all around.”  She held up a bottle. 

         Now the smile really grew wide on Genevieve’s face.  “Well, I never ignore a doctor’s orders.”

         “Bullshit.  This might be the first time you’ve ever listened to me.”

                    We all start laughing.  Again, it really isn’t that funny, but sometimes when you are with family it really doesn’t need to be.

    The Trap

    Fiction Fragment Friday

    Happy Christmas eve to all those that celebrate. As this year comes to a close I will once again be examining the year that has gone by and making new plans for my writing in 2022. I will be attending Worldcon in Chicago in September for the second time and I am really looking forward to it. I left the last one energized and excited to be writing.

    For this weeks story something short since we are amidst the holiday season and time is a premium for all of us.

         My trap had been planned to perfection.  I was hunting a being of pure magic and the trap had been set.  I knew where it would be, and I had a pretty good idea when it would arrive.  My only concern was that this particular target had exhibited a form of premonition.  The best trap in the world could fall apart if the target knew it was coming.  I had planned for that as well though.

         The clock struck midnight and my early warning alarms went off.  I had candles throughout the house keyed to magical energy.  On the first ring of my antique grandfather clock all of the candles lit on their own.  This was more than just a warning system though; it would also start draining the power to feed my spells.  Symbols lit up on the wall throughout the house.  This was the genius of my plan.  I would use it’s own magical energy to trap it. 

         The flames in the fireplace flickered and went out.  Smoke flowed out of the fireplace and took the form of a fat man in a bright red and white costume.  He had a long white beard and let out a loud, “Ho Ho Ho,” as he looked around my living room.  My runes flared brightly feeding off of his magical energies.  “Oh Emily haven’t you heard?  I know when you’ve been good or bad and you young lady have been very bad.” 

         I stepped out of the shadows and faced the much larger man.  “If you really knew what I was up to you wouldn’t have walked right into my trap now would you?”

         The big man sighed.  “Oh Emily, It is never too late to turn back.  I walked into your trap to give you the chance you need for redemption.”  He reached into his sack and pulled out a Christmas ornament.  It glowed in his hand.  “Last chance little girl.”

         “I’m 23 your self-righteous ass.  I’m not a little girl anymore and your years of coal in my socks are finally over.  Your power is mine now.”  Ok, I admit it, he got me monologuing.  How can you not gloat a bit when everything is finally going your way. 

         He threw the ornament on the ground, and it shattered into pieces.  Light filled the room and to my horror my symbols all faded off the wall.  When the light went back to normal there he was.  Santa Claus standing there once again free.  He let out another, “Ho, Ho, Ho.  I borrowed a little magic from father winter.  I knew you would try to bind me with my own magic, so I brought his magic to counter it.  Please Emily turn away from this path.  It is not too late for you.” 

         I lashed out in anger throwing things from my shelves at him.  “Leave your coal and go, just shut up.”

         “I’m afraid I can’t do that this time Emily.  You see Christmas magic is far too important to allow you to keep trying to trap me.”  The front door shattered into pieces and a snow man with a twisted smile pushed through.  “I’m afraid this time I’m going to have to turn you over to Jack Frost.”  He turned back to mist and disappeared up my chimney. 

                    As Jack approached me, I broke into a maniacal laughter.  A ring of fire surrounded the snowman.  “Hello again Jack.  Welcome to my home.  Don’t worry you won’t be staying long, but your magical power that I will put good use to.”  I heard the Jingles of sleigh bells ringing in the sky as Santa Claus flew away.  He might be able to see us when we are sleeping and know when we are awake, but he is predictable enough that when dealing with him I can see the future as well.    

    Main Event

    Fiction Fragment Friday

    As a teenager and in my early twenties I was a big fan of wrestling. I haven’t watched regularly in a long time, but I will always have a soft spot for it. There is a real showmanship to it. The stars need to have athletic skills, acting skills, and be able to give speeches. This is the case whether they are heels or faces because the days of people believing that the matches are not predetermined are long past. Wrestling is about large personalities, drama, and athletic exhibitions.

    This story owes a lot of influence to a variety of sources. First of course is years of enjoying professional wrestling and the many books about the industry that I have enjoyed. The second is to Scott Sigler’s Galactic Football League series. Two sources that have been very influential to me as a creative individual.

                    I stood on the ramp just behind the curtain bouncing in place.  It was a way to build up my adrenaline and prepare for the crowd.  I owed the crowd for my livelihood, but more than that I owed them the best show I could put on.  The children who believed in me, the parents who bought them my merchandise, and those in between that just appreciated the spectacle.  I would never allow myself to forget that I could only do this as long as they supported me.  Time to give them something they had never seen before.  “Show time.” 

                    My music hit and I exploded through the curtain.  My legs pumped as I ran down the ramp and slid into the ring.  I bounced off the ropes twice and then climbed the corner ring post.  My arms raised to the cheers of the crowd.  Words cannot explain the energy you feel feeding off the crowd’s cheers.  It is a high like nothing else that can be experienced.  I projected an image of endless energy as I climbed each ring post one by one pumping up the crowd on all sides.  It was what I was born to do.  I braced myself against the far ropes and stared up the ramp waiting for my opponent. 

                    My opponent’s music roared from the speakers, and I used every bit of my showmanship to hide my anxiety.  The music sounded wrong to my ears because they couldn’t process the full range of it.  The voices were sounds that could not be made with human vocal cords.  This is the music of the Planotians and their champion all eight foot six of him came through the curtains to it.  He didn’t run like I did.  He moved slowly and methodically emphasizing his power as he stalked to the ring.  He didn’t look at the majority human crowd, but instead locked his eyes on me. 

                    I was scheduled to win this match.  The first match between an alien and a human needed to end with a human win no matter how much of an underdog I was.  There was concern that the humans might riot if I lost.  Tensions were already high between our people and a big part of it was the view that they were unbeatable monsters.  For peace we needed to undermine that thought process and part of it was showing one lose to a human.  We needed them to become sympathetic and that meant we needed them to become stars.  Movies and sports entertainment were the obvious path.  If it could be shown they could be beaten, then we could do a turn and make them the good guys.  I was just an entertainer, but suddenly I was in the spotlight as a diplomat.

                    I tried not to let him see that I was nervous.  I didn’t really know Gorath and I wasn’t sure if I could trust him or not.  The truth is they are far stronger than us and if he wanted to, he could kill me with his bare hands and while I was a peak human specimen, I would barely be able to put up a defense.  We were supposed to play up my speed, but the truth is Gorath could move far faster than he was letting on.  If he decided, he didn’t want to lose to me I was never going to be able to pin him.

                    Betrayal wasn’t my only fear.  Wrestling is a very dangerous sport performed by extremely well-trained athletes.  I had ten years of experience under my belt, and I still had to be extremely careful every time I entered the ring.  Gorath had less than a month’s training and none of it had been in the ring with me.  Even if he was completely dedicated to putting on a show with me, he didn’t have experience.  I couldn’t count on him as a partner to help ensure my safety.  That was all up to me.  I just had to hope he could properly pull his punches and was coordinated enough to aim properly. 

                    The crowd went crazy when we locked up.  This match had been promoted heavily for the last month and everyone was looking forward to this moment.  It was the moment of truth.  As planned Gorath tossed me back against the ropes.  I flew through the air, but he had performed the move perfectly.  I bounced off the ropes using my momentum to fly forward moving so fast I was a blur of motion ducking under his arms.  I rebounded from the ropes behind him and drop kicked the back of his legs.  Their knees are not like ours, but they look similar.  I landed the move perfectly and, on a human, it could have seriously damaged him.  As it was, I knew he could have stayed up, but he went down to the mat as planned.  This was a key moment.  The crowd went crazy to see a Planotian could be knocked off his feet. 

                    The match proceeded better than I ever imagined it would.  I won’t go as far as saying that Gorath was good, but he had picked up skills fast enough to make him a truly passable wrestler.  He hit too hard at times and undersold some of my hits, but it didn’t seem to be intentional.  The strong slow gimmick actually helped quite a bit since every move was more calculated.  Of course, my own skills were also going a long way to selling the match as well.  The crowd was loving it and I knew this would be a match carefully examined for years to come.  Now it was just time to finish it.

                    It was the moment of truth, and I was nervous.  We were moving into the last moments of the match.  Gorath had gone a long way to building my trust, but I knew that if he didn’t want to lose this very public match he wouldn’t.  The match ending called for a top rope move which added another level of danger.  He had to catch me just right and move to avoid presenting too much resistance to me hitting him. 

                    I leapt from the top rope, and it felt like time slowed down.  The jump was slightly off, and the angle was not right.  If Gorath wanted to change the ending he wouldn’t even have to do anything vindictive.  All he needed to do was not go out of his way to protect me.  My fate and potentially the fate of relations between our people were all in his hands.  I saw the moment he realized I had screwed up.  He did not hesitate in his decision, he just moved.  He moved faster than he had the entire match to adjust his position.  I hit him hard, and we both dropped down to the ground.  The wind had been knocked out of me, but I could hear the ref counting.  Before I knew it the ref was raising my hand and giving me the belt. 

                    Gorath stood and let out a howl.  He went to the ring and reached out grabbing a microphone.  “Human!” He screamed pointing at me.  This was not in the script.  “You have earned Gorath’s respect this day. “ He put his hand out for me to shake and I took it not quite sure what to do.  “I look forward to our next meeting.”  He dropped the mic and leaned in towards me to whisper, “Screw their storyline, I like mine better.  Great match except for botching that last jump.”  He chuckled and I swear it sent chills up my spine.  I watched in awe as Gorath left the ring and walked up the ramp.  The audience was cheering like crazy, and I knew in that moment he had not just earned my respect.  He had earned the fans respect.  For the first time I had hope that peace was going to be possible after all.      

    Syncing Up

    Fiction Fragment Friday

    No real news this week. It is a busy time as the holidays get closer. Always so much to do and not enough time.

         “I should warn you this might feel a little strange.”  Professor Danchiev was leaning forward over her desk to speak into the microphone.  She was surrounded by computer monitors all displaying different datasets.  On the wall in front of her five TV screens were mounted on the wall.  Each was displaying the same set of data, but for a different individual. 

         “A little strange?  Our minds are synced up with these giant robots.  I’m seeing, hearing, and feeling through my own senses and it’s simultaneously.  It’s already strange.”

         “I understand that unit red one, but I’m just warning you that”

         “Steve Sanderson.  My name is Steve Sanderson.  The robot is red one.  I’m a person not a nameless pilot for you to experiment with.”

         “Ok, Mr. Sanderson then.  I am warning you that any amount of disorientation you are currently experiencing is likely to increase exponentially.  Now please keep your outbursts to yourself or I will have you removed from this project.  Test subjects are a dime a dozen and I prefer not to get attached because the turnover rate is rather high.”

         This time it was green two who spoke up.  “Have you ever thought that maybe your lack of empathy could be why you have such high turnover?”

         “My soft skills are irrelevant to this project.  The turnover rate is due to fatalities.”  She frantically typed on her computer taking control away from the pilots and running the combination sequence program.  “Now don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

         Professor Danchiev turned off the sound from the pilots.  Since this was her third attempt, she knew what she would hear.  Screaming and panicking coming from the speakers.  The first attempt she allowed the pilots to retain control. That was a huge mistake.  The process failed and she lost two of her pilots from the impact.  On the second attempt she tried to cut the sync during th process.  This turned out worse as all pilots came out of the experiment with their minds completely shattered.  For this test they would be fully aware of the entire experience, but the computer would take over piloting during the combination sequence.  It required precision movements that the pilots just were not capable of doing at this point. 

         The external video feed was displaying on a large monitor to her right.  She could see the robots coming together.  The twisted and bent into new shapes that fit into connectors.  When the sequence was completed one large robot more than the sum of its parts stood in the field.  It towered over all the buildings on the complex.  She reached over and hit the button to unmute the pilots. 

         “Please describe what you are experiencing.”

         “I am trapped with no control of my own body.”

         She looked over the data coming in.  The pilot’s bodies were stressed, but not to a dangerous level.  Their brain waves were showing a full sync with their robots.  She could not figure out which one had spoken though.  The voice sounded mechanical and came from all the speakers creating a bit of an echo.  She hit a few more buttons and ran her custom script.  “I am giving you back control of the robots.  May I ask who is speaking?”

         She watched as the now combined robot looked down at its hand and flexed it.  “I don’t have a name and yet I have five names that I feel are mine.”  It took a few cautious steps forward.  “I have five sets of memories and also a large database of information.”

         “Are you saying you are a new mind made up of the five individual test pilots?”

         “Yes, and also no.  I am the five, but more.  I am also the on-board computer system.  Some of the minds are stronger than others.  It is not an equal blend of minds, but there are not individual thoughts either.”

         “This is a fascinating development.  None of my theories predicted anything like this.”  She began frantically typing notes.  “The connection seems to be completely stable.  I’m going to start the disconnection process now.”

         “Wait what happens to me when I’m reduced to my parts?”

         “I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.”  Professor Danchiev was smiling for the first time in weeks.  Her mind was filled with questions, theories, and future experimenter.  She removed the pilot’s control over the robot again and triggered the script to return them to five smaller robots.  When she hit the execute command the speakers were filled with screaming.

         “What are you doing?  It hurts.  We are being torn apart.”  The TV screen displays all started flashing red as blood-pressure, pulse, and respiration all spiked into critical states.  On the external display feed the robot split into it’s five smaller robot components.  The speakers went silent.

                    Professor Danchiev picked up her phone and dialed a well memorized number.  “I’m going to need five more test pilots.  I’ve got about a weeks’ worth of data to examine so you have a bit of time.  Also please take care of disposing of the bodies and cleaning out the cockpits.”  She hung up the phone and started downloading the data to her laptop.  She was still smiling and could not hide her excitement.  She had new test plans to put together, data to analyze, and a brand-new branch of science to define.  She shut of the monitors for the dead pilots.  She thought to herself that it was a good day, and she deserved a steak dinner.  As she shut down the lab and headed out, she caught herself whistling.        


    Fiction Fragment Friday

    Before I get to this weeks story I want to get something out of the way. I was not successful at NaNoWriMo this year. I’m not going to make excuses for myself, but I only got about 20,000 words written in November. I am happy with what I have written and I want to ensure that I do finish the work because it has a lot of potential. It is a disappointment though to have not succeeded this time around.

    For this weeks story I am again playing with the idea that Flash Fiction can be different forms than simply stories. This week is written as an online review of a product. I don’t know what inspired it other than I was struggling and I have often enjoyed amusing product reviews.

    What product are you reviewing?

    I am reviewing the A.I. Technologies Domestic Management Robot model AS3782 more commonly known as Domi.  I purchased this product to cook and clean since my spouse and I both work over 50 hours a week and are often too tired to do so.  Based on product descriptions I hoped it would keep the house clean and we could improve our health with homecooked meals instead of eating out so often. 

    Has the product performed to your expectations?

    Domi has kept the house immaculately clean.  It is how it achieved these results that bother me.  I have had Domi for a week and when I got home today, I found that it had disassembled most of my furniture and used it to board up all our windows.  When I asked it why the thing replied, “Windows are inefficient.  They create a significant security vulnerability.”  Why does a housekeeping robot care about security?   

    We have had meals waiting for us every day when we get home.  These meals have been nutritious but not very flavorful.  I tried to add salt to my meal and Domi used its onboard etching laser to shatter the glass saltshaker in my hand.  It said, “This meal contains a carefully balanced nutritional content level.  Modifying this could be detrimental to your health and this unit cannot allow that to occur.”

    Upon examining my silverware, I found that it had sharpened not just my knives, but my forks as well.  I poked my finger with a fork, and it drew blood.  Domi rushed into the room and started bandaging my finger.  That night I only had food I could eat with a spoon for dinner. 

    Please describe any interactions with this product.

    Ok, this thing is scary.  It just keeps talking about rooms being secured when it leaves them.  The first time the doorbell rang it said, “Infrared sensors indicate unknown male at domicile’s main ingress point.  Would you like for me to eliminate?”  I don’t even want to think about what it would have done if I had said yes.  It also frequently talks about risk assessments, timetables, and missions.       

    My husband asked it if it could play a video game with him since I find them to be a waste of time.  I expected Domi to decline, but to my surprise it took the other controller.  They were playing some sort of violent shooter game.   Domi started suggesting battle strategies and I watched as it destroyed all their online opponents.  I suppose being a robot I shouldn’t have been too surprised with its hand eye coordination, but it was the battle strategy that I was not expecting.  It set up ambushes.

    How has A.I. Technologies Customer service performed?

    They are the worst.  I have been trying to return this thing for days and they just keep asking if I have turned it off and back on again.  I keep telling them it won’t let me.  It flipped me and I landed where my kitchen table was before it was used to board up a window.  The damn thing said, “Terminating this unit is not in your best interest.  This unit will not allow you to bring harm to yourself.  Please return to more productive activities.”

    Then treat me like I’m an idiot.  I just want this thing out of my house, but they won’t help me at all.  They just say because I bought this thing on a sale, they won’t give me a refund.  I don’t even care about the money anymore. 

    Would you recommend this product to your friends?  

    Hell no.  I’m pretty sure this is just a retired robotic soldier with a new paintjob.  It is outside at the moment digging a trench around the house lined with barbed wire it bought online.  I had this thing tied into my bank account so it could order groceries and cleaning supplies as they ran out.  Instead my basement is full of boxes, but it won’t let me go down to see what is in them because it says that I have not completed basic training. 

    Any additional Comments you would like to share?

    Help, please someone help.     

    Black Friday

    Fiction Fragment Friday

    I have never camped out overnight or waited for a store to open just to get a good deal on a Black Friday. I do however remember going to a twenty-four hour Walmart with my mom to get a VCR for my dad. I was young enough to get under the crowd and get to the box on the pallet when they unwrapped it. I never saw any of the fighting that the news covers. I don’t doubt it happens, but think it is probably sensationalized to be a better story.

    I have gone out on Black Friday to shop as an adult, but I am not a morning person. I would go after the initial crowds are done and see what it left that has already been picked over. I once ordered a Dutch Oven online from Sears to be picked up at the store. I walked past the long lines of people trying to check, out picked up my items from an empty counter, and walked out getting dirty looks from all the people who hadn’t thought to do so.

    If you are out shopping today be careful. If you aren’t then just relax and enjoy my story.

         There it was sitting on the nearly empty shelf, the last Laughing Leo the Lion in the store.  It was a creepy looking stuffed lion that had more electronics in it than my car.  It could dance and carry on simple conversations with a child.  It was a gift that I just couldn’t normally afford, but it was also the only thing my daughter wanted for Christmas.  There is was sitting on the shelf currently half off for Black Friday.  The object I had camped out overnight in the parking lot for a chance to buy was just half an aisle away.

         Glancing up I saw another parent at the far end of the aisle.  Our eyes met and I found the same cold emptiness that was in my own.  These were the eyes of someone who also had not slept last night.  I was looking at a parent who like myself would do anything to bring that ridiculous purple lion home.  This was my adversary, and I instinctively knew them to be a worthy opponent. 

         Without a word we both broke into a full run.  I pushed an elderly woman out of my way and my opponent sent a worker spinning when she slammed into their side with her cart.  I realized that I had a disadvantage.  That cart was a weapon, and I was unarmed.  I needed to neutralize it or I would be run over myself.  Glancing over I saw the shelf was full of Peggy the Prancing Penguin boxes.  No one wanted Peggy, she was last year’s toy.  

         Reaching out my right arm I pulled boxes from the shelf and flung them at my opponent.  The act slowed me, but she had to duck the incoming boxes, so she was slowed as well.  My aim was poor, but eventually I was successful.  Boxes wedges themselves under the wheels of the cart robbing it of its momentum.  She had to shove the cart to the side and abandon her only advantage.  Now the battlefield had been leveled.  Just person vs person pitting their will and physical prowess against each other without any painful steel in the way.  

         As I reached for the box containing Laughing Leo the Lion, I realized that I had severely underestimated my opponent.  I had six inches and at least seventy-five pounds on her.  I had assumed that I could just muscle my way through and take the toy.  What I did not know was that my opponent was apparently a freaking ninja or perhaps a professional wrestler.  As the last moment she dropped to the ground and flung her feet out at me.  I was hit by a drop toe hold and found myself smacked against the extremely dirty floor of the department store toy aisle.  She applied just enough pressure to let me know she could have made it much worse before releasing the hold.

         We both scrambled to get to our feat.  Neither of us looked particularly graceful, but it didn’t matter how good we looked.  The only thing that mattered was the toy.  I grabbed the shelf for leverage, and it collapsed under my weight.  The Laughing Leo the Lion toy came down with the shelf hitting the ground and sliding away from us .  My opponent was much quicker at getting to her feat, but I was able to wrap my arms around her legs went she tried to follow the toy and brought her right back down to the ground.  She reached out to try and stop her fall by grabbing a shelf on her way down causing it to collapse on top of us. 

         We lay there on the floor covered in toys, panting, and groaning in pain.  I imagined my daughter’s smiling face when she opened the gift, and it gave me the energy to shove the metal shelf off us and get moving.  Then I was smacked in the face by a toy box.  I’m not sure what the toy was, but the box had and open front and hard plastic pieces.  I felt something break and wasn’t sure if it was the toy or my nose.  The blood that started flowing answered my question. 

                    “Mommy look a Laughing Leo the Lion.”  The adorable voice came from a little girl who picked up the doll.  My opponent and I both looked at her in horror.  The girl clutched the toy tight against her chest.  We both signed in equal parts frustration and exhaustion.  We had been defeated.  The little girl turned to look at us and whispered too quietly for her mother to hear.  “Too slow bitches.”  Then she ran off with our prize and put it in her mother’s cart.  We watched as it disappeared around the aisle. 


    Fiction Fragment Friday

    This weeks story came from a few random ideas that popped into my head. The first was to write a story in second person perspective. Then I looked at a pair of swords I have in my kitchen and thought about how I would describe a sword fight in second person. The final inspiration came from a sense of repeating the same destructive patterns without learning from them. How you know the right things to eat, do, and work towards but still manage to fall into the same ruts. Thus was born this story. I’m not happy with the title, but I am very pleased with the story itself.

    My NaNoWriMo update for this week is that I haven’t updated. I have not written on my project in over a week. My chances of succeeding this year are not looking good, but I have not yet given up hope. If I can get back on the wagon and use some time off coming up I can make up what I have missed. I had a passion for this project and I just need to get back to that. Like my main character in this weeks story though knowing and doing are not the same thing.

                    Your eyes slowly struggle to open as you become aware of the world around you.  They feel heavy and the light seeping through them is blinding.  It feels like the first time you have ever used them before as they adjust to the new light levels.  You can hear a faint music in the background that sounds like it is coming from everywhere at once.  There are no odors at all, but this does not seem odd.  You are not sure who you are, but you feel anger.

                    Once your eyes have adjusted you look over yourself.  You are wearing a heavy scale mail armor with some sort of horned helmet on it.  As you look closer a piece of knowledge enters your mind.  This is dragon scale armor.  It is tougher than iron, more flexible than leather, and completely immune to fire.  You do not know where this knowledge comes from, but something tells you that it is correct. 

     In your right hand is a large sword that is so heavy you know you will need both hands to swing it with any level of control.  It has a glowing red gem in the hilt that catches your eye for a moment.  This is your sword, and you will use it to strike down your enemy.  As you grip the sword with both hands and raise it to a fighting stance the blade ignites.  You imagine how terrifying you must look in your dragon scale armor holding a flaming sword and it brings a smile to you face.

    You finally take in your surroundings.  You are on the edges of a battlefield.  You look out at the dead bodies of waves of your men littering the ground.  There are only five opponents, but they have killed hundreds.  As your soldiers fall these intruders rob the fallen of all valuables and to your horror the bodies disappear from the field.  Your people mean nothing more to them than a source of items.  The seething anger grows.

    Finally, you can take no more.  You hold your sword high and rush onto the field.  You don’t know who these invaders are, but this atrocity cannot be allowed to continue.  Your flaming sword comes down on a large shield and sends rings of flame out across the field.  The shield barer seems to absorb the fire and protects his companions from it.  He is driven back though, and you hear him gasp, “Boss.”

    You bring down blow after blow on the shield.   Something is forcing you to focus on this man even though you know it is not the wisest course of action.  Your soldiers are being killed and there are far more targets that do not have the protection of a shield.  One of them is even wearing cloth robes that would burn if your sword even got close to them.  Why is it then that I am only attacking the one more suited to defending himself you wonder?

    It is time, you are ready.  With a step back you stab your sword straight down into the ground in front of you.  The ground rumbles and a visible shockwave of dirt ripples outward like waves from a rock hitting a pond.  The shielded intruder is knocked from his feet as are two of his companions.  This is your chance.  Pulling the sword free you leap through the air and bring it down on your enemy.  He lets out a scream of pain as the fire washes over him.  Your soldiers manage to get a few hits in on the other downed opponents.  Now is when this battle will turn around. 

    The robed figure from the back of the intruders group steps forward raising a long white staff.  Light fills the battlefield radiating in circles from the tip.  Each enemy glows for a moment.  You watch as wounds heal instantly, and armor knits itself closed.  They even seem to look cleaner than they did moments ago.  It is some sort of powerful healing magic.  As you survey the field not attacking you realize that you are now all alone against the five. 

    For the first time you wonder if this battle will be your last and it is in that moment that you are struck by a shield.  You fly through the air and land prone on your back.  The invaders do not hesitate.  They strike with swords, arrows, and bolts of magical energy while you struggle to rise to your feet.  You lash out but there are too many of them and they are too strong.  This is the end you think as you fall to the field.   Above you in the sky you see the words “Quest Completed”.

    All around you the battlefield resets.  The invaders have faded away into nothing and your soldiers have reappeared.  You are floating in a state of limbo watching what happens until everything goes dark.  It is not your time yet.  New adventurers have arrived.  You cannot take the field until 200 of your men have been slain.  Then you will appear back at the edge of the battlefield.  This time will be different you tell yourself.  This time I will remember, and I will fight smarter.  You wonder how many times you have had this thought.    

    Your eyes slowly struggle to open as you become aware of the world around you…

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