Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Touch Will Come Second


Door, Entry, Hospital, Passage, Red, HandleAlistair Van der Berg opens what he thinks are his eyes and looks up into blinding white lights. Into his field of vision swim three dark blurs in silhouette that resolve, like hardening acrylic, into androgynous shapes.

“Mr. Van der Berg?” says one of the shapes.

“Yes?” Alistair’s voice comes out stronger than he expects.

“Please hold still. We have to check a few things.”

Alistair turns his head and glances down toward his body, concealed under a grey sheet. Lumps and points in all the right places, but he can’t feel any of it. The sheet shifts and moves like a sackful of kittens, but his arms and legs are restrained. “What’s happening?”

“Alistair,” says another of the shapes. “Calm down.”

Alistair looks around the room in a panic. By the door, a sign. Synthetics testing.

It’s happened, he realizes. I died. I’m back. I’m alive again. My brain in a plastic body. “What year is it?”

The shapes have resolved into murky faces that exchange glances with one another. “What year do you think it is?”

“How did I die?”

“One thing at a time, Mr. Van der Berg.”

“Don’t give me that. I’m back from the dead, and I want to know what’s –” He stops as his eyes drift sideways and catch the mirror against the far wall. Not a mirror. One-way glass. Instinctively he points toward it, but his arm only rattles in a restraint he can’t see or feel. “Who’s in there? Is it my children? My grandchildren?”

“Easy, Mr. V –”

“NO!” He reaches out for the voice, and this time, there’s a squealing, shearing sound as the restraint gives way and he swats the androgynous figure aside with a fleshy thwack. He stares at his hand; pale and perfectly manicured, manacled at the wrist. A torn hinge dangles lamely down his arm. He jerks his other arm free of its restraint, then yanks his legs toward him with an awful tearing noise, and he’s free.

There are sounds of squabbling behind him as the other attendants rush to the one he’s injured. Alistair ignores them and goes to the mirror — or tries to. As he swings his legs out of the bed, they tangle in the hospital gown he can’t feel, scrabble for purchase on the cold tile floor, buckle, bend and collapse. He goes down in a heap of pain and confusion.

A voice crackles from above. “What’s wrong with it?The voice is familiar, but he can’t say why.

An androgynous one replies: “Touch receptors aren’t working. He won’t be able to walk or move effectively yet. Photo and audio receptors are online for this primary test, along with speech protocols. Touch will come second.”

The lights go on behind the mirror, and suddenly Alistair is looking past the crumpled wreck of his body at himself standing behind the glass. An older version of himself. Stern. Thoughtful. But alive. And unpitying.

The voice he now recognizes as his own crackles through the speaker again. “Shut it down.”

A tiny electro-dart buries itself in Alistair’s neck, but he doesn’t feel it. His processors drone off into silence and his servos go limp.

**********************

Chuck’s challenge this week was a random title. Mine? The Touch Will Come Second. For artistic reasons I dropped the “the,” and not only because I wanted a reason to say “the the” in my explanation.

 

 

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The Sisters’ Snack


Man, Face, Fear, Risk, Grunge, Art, Eyes, Waste, Dirt

It happened early this morning. Neighbors heard what they described as a “loud, tearing sound” and came running to their windows. In the darkness, they couldn’t see who or what was responsible, but there are several reports of an enormous shadow moving away down the street. You can see here the shell of the house, sort of like a seed pod that folded open. It appears to have been torn apart, almost as if from the inside. The owner of the house, thirty-three year old Kaitlyn Ziller, is nowhere to be found. We’ll be following this story as it develops.

#

We’re confirmed reports now of a similar occurrence in the neighboring community of Riverside belonging to Mrs. Ziller’s sister, Kim Smithers. Mrs. Smithers’s husband, Ron, joins us now. Ron, can you describe what you experienced?

“Well, I was asleep, with Kim next to me. It’s been a long day at work, and I have an early shift tomorrow morning. Kim gets up at four to run — she and her sister are getting into fitness, you see, doing this crazy juice thing — so I heard her get up but didn’t think anything about it. Next thing I know the house is getting blown to pieces, like a damned tornado blowing through. Ground shaking like an earthquake, and I heard this pounding, like footsteps. I wound up on the front lawn in my boxer shorts and ran back in to see if Kim was all right, but I couldn’t find her anywhere.”

You say you can’t find your wife?

“She’s long gone. I figure whatever tore the house to pieces took her with it.”

Mr. Smithers, let me clarify. You said “it.” You feel some … thing … destroyed your house and took your wife?

“Damn right. It was dark, but I saw two enormous legs walking off East, toward Roanoke.”

#

We now have confirmed reports of similar events taking place in numerous towns all up and down the seaboard — Tampa, Raleigh, Richmond, just to name a few, though there are over a dozen. In all of these cases, the same circumstances: houses torn apart, women missing, sounds of destruction. The sun will be up soon, and we hope that will shed more light on the matter.

#

This story is getting harder and harder to believe, Jen. As you can see from the photographs we’re sending you, it appears that all of the missing women bear striking similarities. All of them are in their early thirties, all have naturally dark hair and green eyes. In fact, we’ve had some trouble organizing the graphics you’re seeing now because it’s so easy to mistake one for another. In our local case, Kaitlyn and Kimberly were known to be identical twins. Some have theorized that all of the missing women might be related, but we cannot confirm that at this time.

#

This is remarkable, Jen. The rising sun led to our first eyewitness accounts. Kaitlyn Ziller was spotted in a wildlife reserve by motorists, and my team and I got here as quickly as we could. We have caught up with Kaitlyn, and as you can see, she’s … well … she’s over a hundred feet tall. We’ve tried, and local police have tried, to make contact with her, but she’s either unable or unwilling to respond, and she very nearly stepped on the Channel 6 News Van during the attempt. We’ll follow Kaitlyn from a safe distance to give you up-to-the-minute coverage.

#

We can now confirm that all of the missing women have grown in size as Kaitlyn Ziller has. That means that there are more than twenty women over a hundred feet high spread across the Eastern United States. We’ve put together a map showing the known paths of these women, and as you can see, they seem to be converging on a point somewhere in rural Virginia. We don’t know if the women are intentionally going to the same place or if it’s just a coincidence; nobody has yet been able to communicate with them. What is sure is that they are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Many of them are cutting paths through woodlands and other uninhabited areas and are only destroying trees, but some are moving through rural areas, smashing cars and buildings as they pass. Andrea Danvers, of Fredericksburg, has at least been polite about it: she was heard to shout apologies to motorists as she made her way down I-95. Unfortunately, her booming voice was loud enough to shatter glass and peel the roofs off a few nearby apartment buildings.

#

Joining us now is a man identifying himself only as Jones. He claims to work at a hidden military facility in the woods that the giant women are moving towards. Sir, what can you tell us?

“The women — we call them the Sisters — are part of a cloning project we initiated thirty-three years ago with great success. It appears, however, that ingestion of some radioactive material — possibly the bananas in the smoothies that the Sisters outside of Elmington have been drinking lately — has caused a quantum reaction which has rippled out to all of their shared DNA.”

And why are they all heading to the woods of Virginia?

“In addition to their obvious size, we theorize that the radiation has altered their DNA to produce at least a psychic connection between the Sisters, if not full-blown telepathy. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they would converge to puzzle out what’s happened to them.”

But why Virginia?

“Oh. That’s where we created them.”

And what will they do when they get there?

“Hell if I know. We’re going to nuke them into orbit before they get close.”

#

Jen, the scene here is pandemonium. We are unable to confirm the identity of Jones, who we spoke with earlier, but at least some of his information appears to be true. Nuclear weapons were deployed just moments ago, and the results were devastating. The target — our own Kaitlyn Ziller — instead of being destroyed in the blast, has grown exponentially. From ground level, here, many miles away, we appear to be safe, but … well, this is hard to describe. Only her feet and legs are visible at this point, her torsos disappearing above the cloud of the nuclear fallout. Kaitlyn Ziller now towers into the lower atmosphere. The earth itself appears to be collapsing under her weight, and great fissures in the ground are opening up behind her as she continues toward the woods. Her movements are stirring up tornadoes all around her. Just a few minutes ago, she appeared to sneeze, and the resulting squall tossed a 747 from the sky a full eleven miles away.

Military personnel are fleeing the area in droves, not stopping for comment. It’s unclear how long we will be able to remain here.

#

Much of the smoke has cleared, and we can more clearly see what the Sisters are doing. Several of the others have arrived on site by now as well; there appear to be seven or eight of them, milling around, engaging in whispered conversation. The one who was struck with nuclear projectiles — Kaitlyn Ziller, who now towers into the lower atmosphere — has seated herself to better converse with the others. Nothing else has happened for several minutes, until —

Wait.

Ziller has moved into a kneeling position. Even so, she towers high above the rest. She’s —

Christ! Hold on there, steady. Are you all right? Jesus. Did we get any of that?

Sorry, Jen. Ziller has just thrust her hand and arm deep into the earth, causing what felt like a major earthquake. She appears to be reaching, searching — she’s got something. She’s pulling something up from the ground.

It looks like a concrete slab. It’s impossible to tell at this scale, but it might be the size of a football field. No, it’s not a slab; it’s a bunker. There are people falling out of it. My god. She’s shaking it like a can of peanuts.

There! She reaches down and cups one figure as it falls. I can’t see if it’s a man or a woman. She holds this figure down so that the others can see and speak to him.

“That’s Ernst Felding.”

It’s Jones. Get him in the shot. What can you tell us?

“Felding. I worked with him for over a decade. He’s the architect of the Sisters project. They’re talking to him. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes right about now.”

What are they saying?

“Hard to say, but it can’t be good. How would you feel if you found out that your whole life was a lie, and it’s all because of this guy? And now, you’re five hundred times his size?”

Jen, I’m not sure if you can see this. Felding is on his knees in Ziller’s palm, with his hands above his head … he’s holding something. Can you zoom in on that? It looks like … a gun?

“The bioserum rapid injector.”

What’s that?

“An emergency protocol. A bioserum to shut down the cloned genes if they should ever behave erratically. Maybe it’ll work.”

Ziller is holding Felding up to the other women, where he appears to be delivering injections into their shoulders. And — my god, it’s working! They’re shrinking! Jen, you can see clearly now, the Sisters are shrinking — it looks as if they’ll be back to normal in just a few moments. In a dramatic turn of events, we appear to have been saved from certain destruction by —

Wait a moment. Ernst has just injected Ziller’s palm, and she’s beginning to shrink, though she’s still gargantuan. She lifts him to look into his face. The other women, shrinking by the second, nod at her. He looks as if he’s pleading for his life. Now Ziller is — oh, god. She’s swallowed him.

“Um … I’m gonna go. Forget you saw me.”

Jen, the man known as Jones has run into the trees, leaving us only with his story. The Sisters, as they will no doubt be known, are rapidly approaching normal size. Today’s events will be talked about for years to come, but the lives of the women involved have been forever changed, and the man responsible has paid a terrible price for what many would consider crimes against these women.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to buy my wife some flowers before I get home.

********

This week’s flash fiction comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s X meets Y pop-culture mashup. My x meets y: Godzilla meets Orphan Black.

I started with great ideas for this one, but it seemed like too much story for the space allotted, and I had to wrap it up quicker than I would have liked. That, and I have to get back to the real project: the novel. This one was threatening to suck up too much time this week.

Anyway. Be good to the women in your life.


The Apocalypse Ticket


An illustration of an asteroid on its way to Earth. See more space dust images.

The Crimson Fist streaks around the corner in a blur of aerodynamic fins and chrome, scattering a crowd of shoppers clustered around a street vendor.

Stomping the accelerator, the Fist grits his teeth and steals a glance toward the sky.

Less than thirty minutes til impact. The oncoming asteroid — a small planet, really — hangs in the sky like an anvil, eerily unmoving despite hurtling toward the earth at interstellar speed.

He’s been waiting for this. He hasn’t hit anything in months, and he’s itching to strike with the energy of a dozen neutron bombs.

The Fist swerves past the traffic bumbling through the intersection, clips a pickup and sends it spinning up onto the sidewalk. Frustration rises: he makes to smack the dash but stays his hand. Calm. Focus. Don’t waste it. He grunts and checks his rear view. The damage is minor, and he zooms ahead. Then: the flashing of lights from behind. The chirp of a siren. He bites his lip. Wouldn’t be the first time some newbie on the force tried to pull him over. Then it’s memos. Depositions. Fruit baskets delivered to the injured officer’s house. A two-week anger management course. A tractor trailer parked in the middle of the road ahead.

“Damn!”

Crimson Fist stands up on the brakes. Pedestrians cluster on the sidewalk behind the semi, a three-car pileup sits in front. No way out. He yanks the emergency brake and whips the car around, but before he can gun it back up a side street, the police cruiser slides up in front of him and nudges his front bumper.

The PA boops and then booms: “Step out of the vehicle.”

Grinding his teeth, Fist hops out of the vehicle and flings a finger at the sky. “Do you see that? I have to go.”

But Officer Krups is in no hurry. He hooks his thumbs in his belt and saunters over. “Know how fast you were going, back there?”

“You can’t be serious. Hello? The world is about to end!”

Fist’s reflection wobbles in Krups’ aviator sunglasses as he shakes his head. “World’s always about to end, ain’t it? What with you superheroes and villains always feuding about this thing or that. Day always gets saved in the end though, don’t it?” He unclips his citation pad, deliberately licks the end of a pencil.

By me!” Fist fumes. “save the day. I have to –”

Krups holds up a finger. Writes. Slowly. “Running a red light.” He flips the page. “Fleeing the scene of an accident.”

Serenity. Breathe. “Come on. Look, write the ticket, but can you at least hurry up?”

Krups lowers his head, stares at him over the tops of his shades. “Speeding.”

A sudden shadow falls on the street. A hundred heads rotate skyward; the asteroid, taking up a lot more of the sky now, has drifted in front of the sun. The Crimson Fist mashes the knuckles of his right hand into the palm of his left, showering the pavement with sparks.

“Officer.” Fist speaks through grinding teeth. Consider the Other. “I’m sincerely sorry for the danger I’ve caused to these civilians. But if I don’t get to the rocket and get to that asteroid in the next –” he checks his watch “– seven minutes, you, and me, and everybody else on Earth is going to die.”

Weasel eyes narrow behind his aviators as Krups curls his mustached lip into a smirk. “There. Was a simple apology so hard?” He tears the tickets off his pad — rip, rip, rip — and presents them to the Fist, who snatches them away and stalks back toward his vehicle. “Hold on a minute, son.”

The Fist whirls, heat energy distorting the air around his hands, two tiny suns burning in his eyes.

“Wanna tell me about that expired tag?”

Krups explodes backwards and goes sailing through the front window of a coffee joint, scattering hipsters and overpriced coffee before cartwheeling over the counter and coming to rest on a couple of very startled baristas. The Fist is almost back in his car when he hears Krups calling weakly from the ruined shop, “Assaulting an officer!”

The door deforms as he slams it, and the Fist guns it across town. In minutes, he’s strapped into the space suit, and the one-man rocket blasts off into low orbit with thirty seconds to spare.

The asteroid looms like an inverted, rocky earth as he clears the stratosphere. He ejects from the ship and sails toward the rocky mass, like falling toward a mountaintop out of an airplane, except upside-down. His knuckles glow.

The craggy, pitted peaks drift closer. The Fist draws back his hand. The wispy atmosphere around his fingertips churns and ignites.

He lets fly.

His fist strikes the asteroid with the force of a dying star going supernova. An explosion of light and a deafening crack and he’s falling to earth again …

But something’s wrong. It wasn’t enough.

Only pulverized dust should remain, but the asteroid has sheared and fragmented and become many, hurtling toward Earth with deadly inevitability. As he falls, with the doom of the planet swirling all around him, the Fist can only think of one thing.

Krups.

Down below, Krups has hauled himself out into the street. He regards his upended police cruiser and the oncoming shower of meteors with the same sour scowl.

“Knew he was a fraud,” Krups mumbles, as the first of the meteorites pepper the street.

 

**********

This week’s Flash Fiction is brought to you by Chuck Wendig’s random title challenge.


Unexpected Response


Chuck’s challenge this week: a horror story in three sentences. And since I’m still on a sci-fi bent, why not sci-fi horror?

Three sentences almost doesn’t merit a post here, but it’s a thing I wrote, so here it is. In fact, I might do a few more. These are fun.

Unexpected Response

When we first aimed our dishes at the sky, we feared we might not find anybody. Then we found somebody, and we feared they might not understand us.

Now they’re here, and there is not enough firepower in the world to save us.


Terrible Reviews: The Martian


I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly, I was so excited to see this movie. I’m not a particularly big Matt Damon fan, though I like him well enough. I tend not to love “realistic” Sci-Fi — that is, science fiction stories that burden themselves overmuch with being “scientifically accurate”. (Give me The Matrix, give me Star Wars.) I was also a little dubious about the prospect of a film which was essentially Cast Away in space.

Still, I was pumped to see it. I heard good things, and there’s just SOMETHING ABOUT MARS this year; between the recent discovery of water (or water-like substances), the discussion of Mars One, and the recent announcements of NASA actually going for a Mars mission, I bought into the hype like your jerk of a brother buying up all the red spaces on Monopoly.

And man, oh man, does it deliver. The film is funny, intense, heartbreaking, funny, clever, sad, funny, and also, believe it or not in a science fiction movie, funny. The main character is an astronaut/botanist with a sardonic streak as wide and deep as the Marianas trench, and Matt Damon plays that up in hilarious deadpan to keep what could be a tedious or ultimately depressing movie … not exactly light and fluffy, but … let’s put it this way. The tension in this film is sharp enough to slice through steel. Yet, throughout much of the movie, I found myself smiling thanks to the levity provided by the main character.

Okay, let’s get into it…

The Good.

Pretty much everything.

No, seriously. The set design is brilliant: the surface of the alien planet is every bit as stark and hopeless as you could imagine; the living quarters on said planet as utilitarian and cramped as they would almost certainly have to be. The acting is superb: Matt Damon’s performance is of course top-notch, and I found myself swinging wildly between elation and despair right with him. There’s a particularly powerful moment when (no spoilers) he experiences a brutal setback, calmly approaches the terminal to log what has happened, utters a single syllable, and then the entire facade cracks and he flies into a paroxysm of rage and panic. An instant later, he recovers himself and gets back to work. It’s all believable and utterly sympathetic. Even the token unlikable bossman pulling the strings of the operation (Jeff Daniels, and what a turn he’s made from his Dumb and Dumber days, by the way) becomes sympathetic along the way, despite being at odds with most of his team for most of the film.

Also, for a sci-fi movie, the film does a remarkably good job of steering away from the science. You know, obviously, that a tremendous amount of science is happening offscreen, but you never feel inundated with it or hamstrung by your inability to comprehend it (I’m looking at you, Apollo 13, with your 02 stirrers and your gimbals and your other such witch science). It’s almost as if the science is a pleasant rose garden in front of a mansion — you can stop and appreciate it if you like, but the real action is the house itself.

And finally, the moment (SERIOUS spoilers here, jump ahead if you’re in doubt) when Watney blasts off from the alien surface to rendezvous with the passing rescue ship… I’ve been invested in stories and characters before, but it has been a long time since my heart has pounded like that during the climax of a film. There are too many things to count which could go wrong, and each try-fail cycle dovetails with the next like the tightening of the screws on a torture victim. There’s a perilous launch, which Watney might not survive. He does, but he blacks out. He escapes the planet’s gravity, but is nowhere near high enough for the rescue ship to catch him. They manage to lower their altitude, but only at the expense of blowing up part of their ship. And on and on and on. Masterful.

The Bad.

Um… maybe… science?

Okay, so there are some scientific faux pas present in the film. Making it not 100% scientifically accurate. The (SPOILERS OMG LOOK AWAY) dust storm on the planet’s surface, for example, wouldn’t happen, at least not with the effects that it has in the film. There’s the problem of cosmic radiation frying anybody who’s exposed for any significant period of time. There’s the frankly laughable (SPOILER HELP) plastic tarp covering the hole in the side of the habitation unit on Mars after the explosion.

But these are, with the exception of the tarp, easy to overlook. Without the dust storm, and without a magical nonexistent solution for the radiation, you don’t have a movie. The tarp … well. I guess every good film gets a pass on one or two ridiculous contrivances. The truth is, I’m having a hard time finding anything bad to say about this movie.

The Head-Scratch Worthy.

Maybe this is just me, but from the halfway point of the film onward, there’s a real head-scratcher. A previously unknown character basically comes up with the day-saving maneuver that sends the Martian astronauts back out to collect Watney, and this he concocts in a half-asleep daze while receiving a brief from one of his superiors. He goes in, pitches it to the head of NASA, and suddenly he’s like the lead mathematician on the project.

It’s not a bad device, but it feels like a stretch. We’re supposed to believe that despite the (presumably) well-staffed teams of experts at NASA working overtime trying to find ways to bring Watney home, none of them had this kid’s idea first? And, given the crew’s decision to basically mutiny toward the end of the film, why not let one of them come up with the idea? Again, maybe it’s me overthinking the elements of story, but it felt like a somewhat hollow method to drum up another character.

That said, at least they didn’t get another white guy to play this part. Yay for diversity!

The Verdict.

The truth is, I only wrote a couple of paragraphs for the other two categories because I could have gone on and on and on about what was good in this movie, and I wanted to give the illusion of parity. The fact is, this movie was fantastic. Think Apollo 13 meets Cast Away but without all the technical jargon of the former and without the knocking-your-own-rotted-tooth-out-with-an-ice-skate squickiness of the latter, not that either of those two things kept either of those two films from being excellent movies. This movie is awesome if you’re a science aficionado like myself, and it was good enough for my wife, who hates sci-fi, to enjoy as well.

The only thing that remains to be seen is how prophetic it is, which might — might! — happen in my lifetime.

If you haven’t seen it, go see it.

You will never look at poop or potatoes the same way again.

All images are obviously not my property. To the best of my knowledge, they are owned by 20th Century Fox.


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