New Flash Fic: Where the Food Goes

Posted: September 10, 2017 by Bill Maxwell in Personal
Xanhur sighed. “I couldn’t get past the first conclusion.”
“I thought the report was clear.” Squipsep was hyperventilating with the stress.
“Go through it one more time.”
“Well, they push food through their breathe-holes.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that? Are you sure that’s a breathe-hole? What about the slits above it?”
“Those are scent collectors. We’re sure of that.”
“But why would the scent collectors be right above the breathe-hole? That defeats the whole purpose; you’re going to lose what, 50.. 75% of fidelity unless the scent is right in your face!”
“To be fair, that’s true. Some of them wear scents as decoration that…” Squipsep tried not to retch with the overpowering memory.
“Let’s back back to the breathe-hole question. Answer that.”
“Well, first they have these bone extensions that can crush up the food.”
“That at least makes an iota of sense. Having those inside the breathe-hole doesn’t, but at least it’s effective.”
“And there’s this chemical bath… that they exude. It softens some foods, makes them more liquid.”
“In their -breathe-hole-?! How do they not drown?”
“I don’t know. Honestly. These liquids are always on and they feel discomfort if they don’t make it.”
“What happens then?”
“They use muscles to push them down a fleshy tube.”
“The same tube they breathe in?”
“There’s a flap that closes.”
“What happens if it malfunctions.”
“Well… they die.”
“Wonderful. Who designed these things?” Xanhur’s sarcasm wasn’t lost on Squipsep. “I suppose next it goes to the bacteriological sac.”
“They don’t have one. I mean… they have a sac but it’s filled with, um… acid.”
“Acid? Weak acid, yes? Like the Xnth1n?”
Squipsep almost wept in depression. “No.”
“Why would they have -acid- in their sac? How?”
“They secret this thick substance from their sac to protect themselves from the acid. And… and if it fails, the acid burns holes in them.”
Xanhur exhibited horror. “I’m grateful to be done with this examination.”
“We’re not done.”
“How could we not be done?”
“The food is pushed out of the sac and into this long tube, where they ferment it.”
“Ferment it? How long is this tube?!”
“So long.” shuddered Squipsep. “So very, very long. And when they are done, they… they…” Squipsep almost couldn’t form the words. “They leave the remains. On the ground. Or sometimes in water.” Squipsep stopped talking.
“I’m closing this file now.” Xanhur said. “And we are never speaking of this again.”
Squipsep agreed.
Some mysteries of the universe were not worth uncovering.

New Flashfic: Cross the Line

Posted: June 5, 2017 by Bill Maxwell in Flash Fiction, Intersections, Personal
Tags: ,

There is an argument that video games can cause violence. I know for a fact that for many people, it brings solace. It brings relief. And there are circumstances where violence is sadly necessary.
Ω

Simply put, when drink and the night took him, that’s when she came alive.

Phosphor colored dots on a desktop screen; in that digital world she wielded great powers and a blade she found so long ago, when the dragon overtook the High Reaches and she had been sent on a quest by a desperate villager who was willing to part with the town treasure and even promise to help her learn the secrets of the fighting warrior monks of the Lost Valley who left their scrolls of martial techniques in a jar in the local tavern when they ascended to a higher plane.

She had to wipe blood off with the back of her hand. It had been a bad night.

It was hard to look out of one eye. She hadn’t checked it in a mirror, yet. She didn’t want to. Occipital fracture. That was what her face was screaming. But she didn’t know.

He said she was so stupid.

She could hear the music; she rode it to the stars in a ship that had a name like Bravery or Freedom or Star’s Reach and in that moment when the hyperspace engine hit and the universe blurred into motion, she knew there would be worlds ahead with monsters and alien artifacts and mysteries for her to crack, as pirates would come at her and rebels for her to fight or maybe join and she would level her blaster at them and demand to meet their leader.

She didn’t dare turn the volume actually up, in case he found her and took even that small mercy.

Her hands were cramping up something fierce. She tried to remember what she did about them last time. That was when she’d overcooked the pasta. He’d slammed the pot down on her hands. She was grateful it had cooled down some.

She was fairly certain she’d soaked them in milk. She’d have to do that soon.

She could smell the jungle, feel its heat, even the heat of the two guns in her hands, barely cooling down as she cut down wild animals and smugglers searching for that lost treasure because it was actually the key to an ancient civilization that had been destroyed because its power had grown too great and its ability to change the fabric of reality itself had threatened the gods so they had sunk the lands of those powerful people and relegated the whole thing to history.

Why couldn’t she stop crying?

It wasn’t so bad a life. The rent was paid on time. There was enough for food. Sometimes, it was tough to get the bills off. She had a hard time thinging. Thinking. Words could get hard. He knew she was slow.

He didn’t drink every night. He wasn’t angry every time.

The invaders were on the march again and her army was the only thing standing between them and their conquest of the kingdom and she’d been saving her mechanical legions for last, towering things of steel and steam that would lumber above the field and slaughter wide swaths of the enemy but it was sometimes hard to stop them and they’d stumble off the map and into villages and towns allied to her and when she wasn’t concentrating on leading her troops she could imagine virtual screaming of virtual children and women and innocent people.

In the end it was all her fault.

She was too dumb and too fat. Too ugly. Too tired. Too clumsy. She’d only had a couple of years at college. He’d have four. Her friends had even less education. That’s why he didn’t want her seeing them anymore. Their faces remained a thumbprint on her memories, blurred with time, connected to random names like Nancy or Jolene or Bobby.

She was lonely but it wasn’t safe for her to be alone. That’s why he was there for her.

There was a gun in her hand and she looked at it and she held it out and she blew away the driver’s face and she jumped into his car and drove away; the cops came racing after but there was another car, another driver she could take down and that led to the chase on the bridge where she got a hold of a cop car leaving the cop bleeding on the road but the best was when she got herself a tank.

He had a gun.

It was by the side of the bed, in a drawer. He’d never taken it out but he would look at the drawer sometimes. If he was truly angry. There was a phrase he’d use. “Insurance.” Against criminals. Or enemies. Or stupidity. Or clumsiness. Her best behavior would be rewarded. That was always his promise.

He let her know she was never at her best. At least around him.

The oldest game, so simple; two lines maybe an inch long, white and pure, on each side of the screen with a dashed line in the center and simple bright scores on top and a square ‘ball’ that would bounce back and forth and you’d have to concentrate, hard, not to lose it as the ball went faster and faster between the two lines, and even when she had to squint between the tears, in the end she’d always find a way to win.

She pulled the gun out.

She stood over him and she checked if it was loaded. It was. She took the gun and pointed it at his head, an inch away. The distance of a line of phosphor on a tiny screen. Her finger trembled on the trigger. She put the gun in her mouth. There was this horrible metal taste, oil like the backfire of a car. Her hand trembled with restraint. She closed her eyes. She pulled the gun out of her mouth, pointed it, put it back in, out again. It all blurred together; her, him. A single shot.

It was louder than she could imagine.

New Flashfic: Trooper

Posted: June 5, 2017 by Bill Maxwell in Flash Fiction, Intersections
Tags: , ,

How do you feel if you’re on the losing side of history? A trooper from a familiar franchise comes to the only conclusion he can.

Petrichor.

VX-2068 (Vex, to his squad mates) heard that term when he was off-duty, drinking at a bar off of Kessel. The Tarkin doctrine stated that it was the rule of force (and its corollary, fear) that kept the peace. That required troopers to be aloof, separate. Not Vex’s personal belief, but what could you do about it? Rules were rules. Of course, sometimes, you just had to blow off some steam. You couldn’t help yourself. Sneak off the base, armor off, drink a little, get a little action. In Vex’s experience, for the most part, the brass looked the other way, as long as people weren’t taking too much advantage of the locals. Well… no more than the government allowed, so it kind of varied from post to post.

Petrichor was supposed to be the smell of wet soil after rain.

It’s not that he’d never done rain duty before. It’s just that most of the time it was under armor. There was this time, in this swamp, knee-deep in muck searching for some sort of insurgent leader that had been chased into hiding. Nothing came of it. Last he’d heard, the insurgent leader had been caught back on Coruscant. Or maybe had just died. He wasn’t sure. There was something about it on the news. Big celebrations.

Now… everything was different.

Head on the ground. Helmet cracked from a blow that should have killed him. An improvised local trap—a low-tech stupid indigenous improvised trap—had taken him down. Air flooding in. Dirt in his mouth. Smell of the soil after rain. Petrichor.

His blood tasted coppery and he wondered about that. There were some differences in trooper blood and others. He knew that. Did their blood taste different? Stupid thought. Sitting up was painful. Helmet came off easily and he looked up. The trees surrounding him were, by any aesthetic standard, overwhelmingly beautiful. That wasn’t why he was crying. It was the dull, intermittent booms in the sky, where debris hit the atmosphere and burned. It was the halo of an explosion in the sky, the size of a small moon.

It was seeing all hope die.

Vex was having a hard time wrapping his head around it. The galaxy had been dying 40 years ago. The dream of unity, always a distant hope at best, was breaking apart at the seams. Corporations were inflicting their will on less powerful planets and war was endemic. The Republic served as the galaxy’s policeman, not their savior. It had to reforge itself into a image more fitting for the issues at hand. For the time at hand! It had to come under sterner rule, as the rule of law and the very fabric of Republican society was coming undone.

Vex spit on the ground, dropped the helmet. Listened to the shout of victory echoing across the Valley. Locals. He hated them. He’d seen good men die, friends die, at their hands. And even as he thought that, he knew, deep down, a truth. He wasn’t going to make it off this world. He wasn’t going to make it home.

Home. What was that going to be like? Rule back in the hand of the locals? How were they fit to run anything? Vex understood that they’d evolved there, immigrated there, assimilated there, long before the Republic. But they had no idea how to deal with intergalactic affairs.

That’s what a Senate was for.

Clouds were forming, the result of the particulates from the explosion seeding the sky above. Helmet in hand, Vex headed towards the drop point. Perhaps there was a shuttle there. Perhaps not. But it would get him far enough to be out of immediate danger. Maybe there’d be others who’d made it as well. Maybe they could band together in some remote corner, make a community, live out their lives isolated from this madness. GN-4279 had been interested in gardening. JB-0037 had been studying clean water reclamation from some water farmers. Maybe over time, they could build back a semblance of order, of civilization. Reclaim their place in the universe.

Vex looked down at his helmet, angrily threw it against a tree. It wasn’t fair! It’s not like he’d lived a good life. A fancy life like the senators or governors or even the upper brass. Most people didn’t know that for every 4 soldiers who were on duty, twice that amount were working janitorial services.  A life spent hip-deep in crap or shooting at people he didn’t have a particular problem with. That’s what so many of the locals just didn’t get. It was just a job. Why couldn’t they see that?

Vex wasn’t an idiot. No, not all of the laws were just. Not everyone got fair treatment. But that was simply life. No one guaranteed it would be fair. The locals whining about how the Republicans—and later the Empire—got all of the best perks, like they would have done anything different had they held the reins of power.

Come to think of it, some of those locals did hold spots of power. Just a few of them, sure, but enough of them that Vex had seen them on Senate broadcasts. Wasn’t that proof that anyone could make it if they tried? All of that was well past his pay grade, though, so no matter who bitched about it, his life wouldn’t be any different. Just a trooper, working for a government, that was now seeing his world fall apart.

It just wasn’t fair!

The armor was pressing in on him. He was tired and it was heavy. He’d been in it all of his life.

What would he be without it?

What the hell would he be if he was no longer white?

No shuttle ahead. Others though. Not sure on what side. Not really certain if it mattered anymore.

Slowly, bit by bit, Vex started removing his armor and went to join them.

Every culture on the planet has an origin story, a way they describe how things came from not-being to being. In this, they often have a mythic narrative that also discusses how the first man and woman came into existence. Equally as often these progenitors are presumed to be just like us. If you were to transport the First Ones through time, they might be surprised by the use of modern tools or new cultural taboos but they would still fundamentally be recognizable to us and even, over time, become acceptable (even revered!) in our modern culture.
For almost 1,800 years, the dominant narrative has been of only two people—an Adam and an Eve—instead of a first tribe or a pair of couples or a set of hermaphrodites separated by the gods. This formed a very distinct starting point. Before Adam & Eve, there was nothing like them and after them, nothing different was ever conceived (at least by the gods).

A mere two-hundred years ago, Charles Darwin was wandering the world and observing things (and just as often meddling with them). In contrast to the prevailing thought at the time (”God made everything. Deal with it”), he discovered that life exists as a series of discrete relationships that can change slowly over time. It wasn’t the first time folks had noticed it, but its presentation was well-timed and shook up the world at the time.

Much to Darwin’s horror, a number of people (including members of his family), choose to focus on the ‘discrete’ instead of the ‘relationship’ part of his theory. From this particularly loathsome attention came the fields of eugenics and genetic determinism. Now, people had a ‘scientific’ way to justify prejudices. Poor people? Poor genes. Criminal tendencies? Must have passed from father to son. The god-blessed positions of royalty and their sycophants? Now blessed by Reason.

The absolute experts on this became the German Reich scientists, who produced outstanding work on the different genetic branches of mankind. Time and time again, they came up with clear definitions of how the blue-eyed, blond-haired ubermen of their homeland were definitely the end-result of Darwin’s evolutionary claims. All of their work was mad nonsense, of course; the results of overwhelming confirmation bias thanks to a horrific political climate and pressure to succeed under ridiculous circumstances.

Their work, idiotic and as cleverly worded as it was, leaked into modern day. A drive for which ‘race’ started where, for where the origin of ‘humanity’ came from. Scientists, in all seriousness, argued that their findings marked the humble beginnings of the species as here or there and that this was some sort of discovery or achievement.

In essence, the scientists were looking for a myth. So wrapped up in Christian theology, they were searching for an Adam and an Eve.

Do you remember how Darwin was studying discrete relationships? Once you start focusing on the relationships part instead of the discrete, a far more realistic pattern emerges. An astonishing ‘bush’ of life instead of a tree. Species that may appear different can successfully mate if they have the chance, or not. Time and distance do change things, sometimes on the surface, sometimes underneath. The ‘missing link’ that was ‘never to be found’ a mere century has been found over and over again. Suddenly, there are dozens of different types of Genus Homo, some of which we know, definitively, that we have bred with. Those branches that vanished didn’t just vanish; they just sexed their way into what was up and around at the time. What was new based on the environmental conditions that favored them.

You might think this is avoiding the question — where did humans come from? The answer, of course, is another question. What is a human? Is it when we started walking on two legs? Fire? Tools? That was all millions of years ago. Gathering in small tribal units (still millions)? Art? A million or so. Hunting? Gathering? Funerals?

We tend to think that Genus Homo from about 3/4 – 1/2 million years ago looked pretty much like us. But like us does not mean us. Were they still having sex with Homo Neanderthalis at that time? Or the Denisovans? Or something we haven’t found yet? Culture as we like to recognize it can into play around 250-50 thousand years ago but that just means there was a lot of it shared out there. Civilizations came in about 12-10 thousand years ago. Was that ‘human’?

Let’s take a step back. We know humans succeeded because they were persistence hunters, which is basically running down animals to death. To be a successful persistence hunter you have to have a strong sense of curiosity and time. You have to be able to assemble stories. This plus this plus this means that the deer ran through here.

What does it mean to be human?

Not our genetics, not our form. If this was our sole measure of success then we would have died out in places where persistence hunting failed. Instead, our success comes from being a storied people. Instead of a genetic shift over time, a storied people relies on memetic changes and the epigenetic changes that result from those memetics.

Epigenetics, which is a relatively new field, hypothesizes that a chunk of DNA is expressed only in relation to an environmental stress or benefit. Epigenetics speaks to the physical changes that occur that allow humans to adapt to an environment, causing variation in their appearance, though they are fundamentally the same. The same… well… the same kind of being that can choose to mate with their neighbors, to build relationships and nurture them.

What does it mean to be a storied people? A people who use culture to alter themselves?

It means there is no such thing as a human race. It means there is no such thing as an “Adam” and an “Eve”. A case in point, sometime before we ‘matured’ into homo sapiens sapiens, we started hanging out with wolves. Any biologist can point out the sudden shift in ‘human’ attitude and ‘wolf’ attitude that resulted in a co-evolutionary path. The two species couldn’t mate genetically, but epigenetically and memetically, they were on-fire.

Homo lupus gave way to tribes. Tribes gave birth to an impossible variety of humans. Homo Lakota. Homo Cymmru, Homo Taino, Homo Gunwinggu. Ultimately, the cancer that is Homo Civis. It’s that which is our strength. It’s also why the ‘origin of the species’ will consistently be wrong. It’s chasing after a myth which has never been the reality of our species.

We are all Adams and Eves.

On the anniversary of Zombie Patient Zero

Posted: April 17, 2017 by Bill Maxwell in Personal

I want to offer the following suggestions:

1) If you see a zombie (patient zero), immediately and publicly declare it as risen / a messiah / a deity / a demigod.
2) Encourage people to immediately worship and/or investigate it immediately. This puts a wall of flesh between you and Zombie Patient Zero.
3) While these people serve as your living shield, take the time to isolate them all. Large walls are best but temporary fencing will do. Remember, they are more interested with what’s going on at the center of this mess and less likely to recognize what’s going on behind them. It is advisable that you have stocked up on several hundred yards worth of fence before this.
4) Light the whole thing on fire. DO NOT BOMB IT. Bombs are messy and might spread around parts that could cause secondary infections. Stay with cleansing fire.
5) Congratulations! You have successfully and safely dealt with a potential zombie epidemic. In addition, you have taken out the too-gullible or too-curious that would likely endanger you in an end-time situation.