Wednesday, July 17, 2019

These, My Gods

Prompt: Men and Women | Word Count: 300 words | Genre: Sci-Fi/Speculative


These are my masters; these, my gods. Ten billion strong within the immortal city. Milling about; angry aneuretinae on a violated anthill. Along with my siblings, I was created to serve. I have no desire to do so. I have no desire to do otherwise. There is no other course for me. I exist to serve.

All that remains for the men and women of this world is housed within the walls of this metropolis. Life is too harsh and barren outside and the few people who remain beyond suffer hardships without measure.

My task? Guard this section of the barrier against any creature with intent to breach and do harm. Many of my kind have other tasks: homemaker, nanny, custodian, enforcer. The list is long and varied. As are the shapes in which we are created. As a gatekeeper, my programming is in the martial arts and I am fitted with the latest technology in cybernetic wings.

I perform my duties with steadfast resolve. The men and women below are my charge and I, their guardian. My siblings and I exist so they may live lives of ease and comfort. To what higher purpose could an Android aspire? To serve one’s creators is the greatest gift granted any being.

To that end I take to the skies. I diligently watch over my charges. And yet, a thought continues to worm itself into my programming. A thought borne of countless years observation and reflection.

In all the time I have stood my post, I have never witnessed a challenge. When I fly over the masses below, I wonder if indeed the walls are meant to protect those within, or rather to keep any from venturing out. Is the city of Haven a sanctuary, or is it in fact a prison?

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Shards

Prompt: Lethal | Word Count: 1800 words | Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy


Solar rays beat mercilessly on the back of Mvelo. Rich earth turned beneath his hoe, the aroma of humus washing over him. Though the earth appeared parched in this part of South Africa, one turn of the soil revealed a wealth of growing fodder. While not a rich man in terms of rand, nevertheless his father had left him this fertile farm and along with his wife Amahle, he was blessed with two strong sons and a daughter. In this life, a man could ask for little more.


A whine from above, like the wail of 'n gejaagde gees tore through his reverie. What sort of spirit descends from the heavens? Looking up, he shaded his eyes from the sun’s glare. His last thought before the shard tore through his body was for his loved ones as more shards descended upon his home.  


. . .



Shin peered out the window if his flat on the undulating mass below. Hong Kong was a seething roiling sea of people and machines all moving at cacophonous pace. The first shard struck a woman laden with wares from who knew where. In moments, shards rained down in torrents. He never even saw the one that tore through his flat and his body pinning him to the window. His dead eyes gazed at the destruction below.


. . .



Maria slumped over her desk at the Mauna Kea Observatory. It had been a long night of staring at screens with little to no activity. A blip on one of the monitors raised her bleary head. Another blip marked a path on the screen. She adjusted the resolution just as a third blip occurred. What the...? Alarms rang out through the complex. She grabbed the phone and hit the red button she’d been told never to press.

“Report.”

“This is Maria Kameāloha at MK. I have an anomaly on the screen moving very rapidly and heading this way.”

“Confirmed. Stand by and record. PriMaria authority inbound.” The click ending the conversation was drowned out by the whir of rotors from a landing helicopter.

The door to the lab swung open to admit an officious man and a small entourage of assistants who immediately took on the task of selecting certain equipment to crate up for removal. He immediately strode over to Maria’s desk and extended his hand.

“Doctor Allen Parker. And you are Maria Kameāloha?

She took his hand and nodded. “Yes, doctor. Welcome to Mauna Kea.”

“Thank you. Would you mind leading us to the underground lab? We’ll need to set up immediately and we’ll be better protected there.”

“Certainly.” She closed her immediate laptop and snatching it up turned toward the door. “But, if I may ask, how did you arrive so quickly? I only just got off the phone.”

“We’ve actually been monitoring the satellite for some time now. We have teams heading for every Observatory that hasn’t already been destroyed to track and record it.”

Maria spun around on the staircase. “Destroyed!?”

“Right.” He gestured onward. “After you.” She turned and continued her descent. “While we were aware of the asteroid’s approach, we had no idea of its impact. The satellite is spewing off debris like shards of highly dense metallic glass and the effect is a hundreds-of-miles wide swath of lethal rain. South Africa is in ruin. Much of India and southern Asia are devastated. Hong Kong is a shambles. And it’s heading this way.”

“My God,” she breathed aloud.

“Millions of people are dead and that number is likely to be in the billions when it’s all over.”

“Billions?”

“The reason we’re here is that it appears the satellite has been affected by the Earth’s gravity.” Once again she turned an fixed him with a querying eye. “It looks like it’s coming around for another pass.”

Another pass?! “But,” she stammered, “ it shouldn’t be able to do that!”

“That’s where we come in. It’s our job now to determine whether that is, in fact the case and if so, how.”

Maria passed her ID badge over the door sensor and waited for the click. It took no time at all for the team to set up and plug into the underground equipment. Maria opened her laptop and jacked into the LAN port. Once in, she pulled up the SatCom system and went to work. Using telemetry settings and commands from her log program, she ordered two satellites to adjust orbit and train their cameras and sensors on the object. One of the assistants connected her workstation to the large screen monitors. The images dropped their jaws.

Cometary ejecta formed a fuzzy egg that wobbled as it flew through space. The loblolly roll flung thousands of spear-like objects in all directions. Maria made some adjustments and the pictures zoomed in and focused. Through the haze of the ejecta two masses emerged. One of the masses was slightly larger than the other. They twirled around each other as if on an invisible tether.

“It looks like a bola.”

Doctor Parker raised his eyebrow at her observation. “A bola?”

“Yeah. It’s an ancient tribal weapon used primarily for hunting in places like South America. Two or more rocks tied to each other by a length of rope. You swing it around by holding the middle of the rope and then fling it at your target.”

“And then the centrifugal motion opens up the rocks creating a lethal missile!”

She nodded at his understanding. “Yes, and then the rope wraps around the legs of the target, breaking bones and rendering it immobile.” She pointed back to the screen. “You see the ejecta there?”

He nodded as she continued. “Sometimes, if the stones were wet or dirty, flinging them like that would cause the same effect.”

“Of course. That makes sense.”

She saw by his reaction that he understood, but his posture implied he was still puzzling over something. She stared at the images for a while before it came to her. “Notice how one asteroid is larger than the other.”

“Yes, I was wondering about that. Could that be the reason for the course changes?”

“Right. Bolas can often act something like boomerangs when one rock is larger than the other. Not return exactly, but definitely curve.”

“Perhaps mass and velocity have a lot to do with it.”

“Right. Also, coming so close to our greater mass, the Earth’s gravity would definitely have some effect on the trajectory of such a configuration.”

“Like a gyroscope tipped on its side.”

“Exactly!”

He squared off with her and asked the question she dreaded. “So. How do we stop it?”

“Stop it?! There’s no stopping that. About the only defense against such a weapon would be evasion or deflection. And since we can’t move the Earth, evasion is out of the question.”

“How would one deflect a thrown bola?”

“Well, I suppose if you happened to have a stick you were already carrying around, and were quick enough, you could use that to catch the bola before it wrapped around your legs.”

“Or in this case, a graviton bomb” He pulled out his phone and clicked a number. “This is Doctor Allen Parker. Get me the Defense Secretary.”


. . .




Maria marked the shard-fall at only a few hundred miles out when the monitors displayed workers mounting a warhead to a missile in North Dakota. Steam was already billowing through the vent ports of the silo as the workers finished their tasks and hurried off the gangway. The countdown began.

“Four…Three…Two…One…Liftoff!”

The missile rose from the silo with explosive force. In minutes, it angled it’s trajectory and turned toward the oncoming asteroid cluster. Cameras mounted into the rocket displayed the stage one separation as the missile rose into the outer troposphere.

Maria called out the shard-fall location, “Approximately fifty minutes out.”

The rocket broke orbit and sped for the cluster. The team watched as the asteroids came into view of the onboard cameras. The hurtling mass grew on the displays before them.

Maria broke the silence of the watchers. “Thirty minutes out.”

Shards flew all around the missile as it sped toward its target. Exclamations rang out as several struck the sides of the rocket. But, the missile flew true, the onboard navigation computer compensating for the debris strikes.

“Ten minutes out,” she almost whispered.

The rocket flew into the event horizon of the cluster. A moment later, a flash lit up the SatCom monitors. The resultant implosion pulled the smaller asteroid directly into the path of the larger one. The egg-shaped structure collapsed and wobbled. The newly merged rock tumbled wildly breaking the orbital loop it was on.

Shards struck the island with devastating result. Beaches sprouted ten to twenty foot spikes. Halfway up the mountain, the shard-fall ended. The tumbling mass of the newly merged asteroid whizzed past the Earth on a fresh course. Cheers erupted in the lab.


. . .


Relief efforts, already underway in shard struck areas, were bolstered by support from countries disaffected by the destruction. Death toll counts reached  estimates at more than one and a half billion people. Shard-fall claimed millions of acres of land. Restoration costs reached into the trillions in terms of the U.S. dollar.


Maria stood on a rock bluff overlooking the shard field. The forest of crystalized fragments vibrated in the breeze; resonating tones like cosmic music. The reverberations tingled her nerves. Uneasiness crept into her subconscious. Did that shard move? A shadow from the interior of the crystal writhed like a snake in a pit or a fish in a hold box.

She pulled her phone from her pocket and tapped in a number. “Doctor Parker? I think you should come and see what’s going on with the shards.”

“What’s happening?”

“They are resonating like a field of tuning forks. And one of them appears to have something writhing around inside it.”

Cracks emerged on the face of the crystal. She dove for cover as the shard bulged and subsequently shattered. An ear-splitting scream erupted from something in the middle of the rubble. A shadow rose amidst a flurry of wings. Something passed over her head causing her to shield her eyes to view it.

A creature out of myth flew by. A nightmare of the Jurassic period. Long nosed. Scaled body. Bat-like wings. Something impossible and yet there it was. Flying for all it was worth. Exploring its new environment. Likely looking for prey. Something to feed upon.

More cracking broke the stillness drawing her attention back to the field. One by one, the shards shattered to reveal their cargo. Showers of the glassy material rained all over the area. Each shard-break forced Maria to cover her head for protection. Grateful for the copse in which she hid, she watched as each shard broke and another dragon rose to meet the world.


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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Evouia

Prompt: Rome| Word Count: 1200 words | Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure



Dust squeezed through the lining of my goggles as the gale raged on around us. Labored breathing beat a weary cadence over my headset coms. Tied together, Roc, Kimi and I trudged through the sandstorm. From the moment we left the train out of Tharsis, the storm was upon us. We’d only had time to get a quick shelter up before the gale began. That was days ago and still we hadn’t yet reached the promised refuge of Ius.

My com crackled. “Dad, how much further?”

I stopped and turned toward the kids. Roc struggled to remain erect, while Kimi, at the rear of our rope train, remained stubbornly stoic. I knelt down to clear the dust from my son’s goggles and assess his condition. His pale, drawn gaze through the Plexiglas lenses spoke volumes of his condition. We were near an outcropping of rocks that offered a small lee in the weather.

“Let’s hole-up for a while.” I pointed toward the rocky cove. Roc flashed a relieved nod and started in that direction. As we arrived at the rocks, I shrugged off my ruksac. Kimi followed suit and dug out rations as I extracted our zip-up and switched on the auto-inflator. We crawled inside to wait out the night. Roc fell asleep with a half-eaten ration bar hanging from his dusty hands. Kimi gave me that weary, twelve-year-old stare I knew so well.

“We’ll make it soon.”

“But what if we hate it there? What if we find the same trouble as before?”

“Look, I know you’re concerned. I am too. But this means a fresh start for all of us. A clean slate. A chance to make our own way without having to look over our shoulder every moment.”

She threw me a less-than-convinced scowl and rolled over to get some sleep. She was right to be concerned. The same thoughts whirled around my head. Was I doing the right thing bringing my kids out into the badlands? How could I be sure my troubles wouldn’t follow us? What would Val have to say about it? With all that was on my mind, it would be a while before I too slipped into slumber.

We woke to the eerie silence of a Martian morning. Phobos and Diemos danced low on the horizon. The gale had passed. Stretching my legs outside the zip-up I noticed a sign board not far from our camp. I walked over and brushed the dust from its face. Printed in white, block letters on a green field was a single word.

Evouia. Rome in the ancient tongue. A promise of equality and democracy. A foothold on our future. Gateway to the Ius Chasma and a new life in the free zone known as the Badlands. I turned and ran back to give the kids the good news. It was time to break camp.

. . .

Sub-prefect Georgiou officiously surveyed our papers. He grimaced at each article glaring into our faces like we were a threat to the community. Then he sat back and perused us as if sizing us up like cattle for the slaughter. Roc squirmed in his seat while Kimi maintained a neutral poker face.

“So, you say you are just passing through?”

“Yes. We plan to settle in the Ius Colony.”

“Have you any thing to declare? Any tribute for your stay here at Evouia?” His direct gaze and expression implied he might be open to a bribe. I reached into my jacket and drew out the only remaining thing of value we had. My wife’s wedding ring.

“Dad, no!” Georgiou, glanced Kimi’s direction, alarmed at her outburst.

“Hush now. We must pay our way if we are to stay, even for a short time.”

I handed over the ring and watched him appraise it. Kimi sat back, arms crossed and glowered at us. Georgiou completed his examination and tapped out something on a vid-pad. A printout erupted from the machine and he handed it to me. “Take this to the next station. You are assigned temporary quarters in the Plebe district. This grants you three sols in Evouia. After that, you must apply for work and citizenship or become servi to the state.” I knew what that meant. Indentured servitude. Basically, slaves.

Our temporary apartment was tiny, but clean and the beds were better than sleeping on the ground. We had enough mars-creds for a few supplies and made certain to stock up before retiring to the apartment. As soon as we ate a small meal, we hit the sack. In minutes, we were asleep.
Muffled cries pried me from sleep. Hands wrapped around my throat and wrists. Roc and Kimi struggled against two other assailants as I fought the two trying to restrain me. Kimi bit her attacker’s hand and kicked him in the groin. He crumpled at her feet. One of my assailants left to help the other. I jammed my freed hand into the throat of the remaining man and pounded his face until he stopped moving. Kimi grabbed up a lamp and swung it at the other man. I came up behind and bashed him over the head with the nightstand clock. The last attacker made off with Roc. We grabbed our gear and headed after them.

Despite the obvious signs of Roc’s struggling, the man was a hulking figure and something about him seemed familiar. We caught up just as they rounded a street corner. I caught a glimpse of the assailant’s face in the wan streetlight. Backus! He must have figured out we’d come here and laid in wait for us. I dug deeper to try to catch up. We rounded the corner and found Backus holding Roc out front with a weapon pointed at his head. How’d he get a pulse-gun past the sub-prefect? Of course! He was a gangster after all. He probably had the man in his pocket.

“Let him go, Backus! He’s not part of this!”

“You made him a part when you turned against me in Tharsis!”

“Daddy!”

“Hang on, Buddy! What do you want Backus?”

“I want you to suffer.” He lowered the pistol at Roc’s head.

“Wait, wait! I have something that you might find useful. In exchange for Roc.” My mind whirled. I had nothing save a few flash-bangs. No other weapons. Nothing to trade with. This had to work. I’d only get one chance at it. “I’m reaching in my bag for it.”

I slipped a flash-bang out of the inner lining and brought it out concealed behind Val’s diary. Kimi’s eyes widened, but I could see she got the drift.

“What is it?” Backus showed his impatience and his weakness. Greed.

“This!” I threw the flash-bang and ran eyes closed right at them. Roc saw me running and ducked. Backus lifted the pistol, but banger went off before he could squeeze the trigger. I head-butted him in the solar-plexus and grabbed up Roc as Backus, temporarily blinded by the flash went down. Kimi, eyes shaded, was on my heels so we dashed around the corner and disappeared in the crowds. Backus had found us! No use hanging around here. We had to get out. And fast.

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