Lonely Books

I took a train this holiday season.

I know nobody really takes the train anymore unless you live in a major city East of the Mississippi (in America at least). I quite like trains though, and so when the option came up as an alternative to driving to my destination over New Years Eve, I thought “Why not?”

I was waiting for this train, sitting on the benches in the station, enjoying the brief respite from the -5°F weather outside (not counting the wind chill), when I saw one of those rotating racks for pamphlets, maps, and brochures. It was mostly empty. Comically so. Either literally everyone who walked through this station had taken a pamphlet, or the rack had been basically abandoned by whoever was supposed to be stocking it.

The only thing left, wasn’t a pamphlet, map, or brochure, but a book. A slightly worn copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn.

I had my cheap laugh right away. Seeing a book nigh universally acknowledged as terrible to be the last thing on this forlorn rack was more than a little bit funny.

But I couldn’t help but wonder why it was there. It didn’t look like the station had any stores or sold anything aside from the row of vending machines.

It must have been left behind by someone.

Deliberately; either out of some visceral hatred of the book which left them completely unwilling to bring this thing with them on the train, or because they wanted someone else to come across it and experience the joys they had while reading it.

That second one seemed unlikely.

It could have been an accident, left behind by mistake and put up on the rack by someone who had no idea what to do with this thing.

Or it could have been none of those things.

There are probably many many other reasons the book could have been left behind, but these are the ones that ran through my head, sitting on the bench in the train station.

Looking over at it, I felt a sudden wave of sadness wash over me. It really did look pretty pathetic over they, scuffed up at the edges, all alone in a place it didn’t belong.

It occurs to me now that somebody must have loved the book at some point, right?

Either someone bought it for themselves, or for somebody else as a gift. It had been purchased with every intention that it would be read by somebody presumably.

And here it was, abandoned in a train station.

I have never actually read the Twilight Saga. I know it by reputation, and I forced myself to watch two of the movies out of a sense of obligation to give something a chance, but I’ve never actually read it.

I almost picked that book up.

I almost regret not doing it still.

I used to work at a used book store, filled with row upon row of books that had been loved, and would be loved again if I had any say in it. To me, in that moment, an abandoned book just seemed like the saddest thing I could imagine, and I wanted to pick it up and say “It’s ok. I’ll read you once, then see if I can’t find some place to donate you.”

But I didn’t pick it up.

I had things to do that day and couldn’t be asked to haul the extra weight of a book around.

More’s the pity.

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Jane’s War (part 3)

The extraction took seven hours.

Much quicker than Jane had expected.

Accessing military implants was no easy task. Any wrong move could set off the sensors meant to detect tampering and slag the implant, which usually made the extraction a 12 hour process.

Koya’s mutations and cellular degradation had necessitated relocating the implants from their standard locations, which might have made for an even longer extraction.

Fortunately, in more ways than one, many of Koya’s implants had been destroyed, making recovery impossible. Jane would have audibly sighed if she wasn’t being watched.

A few slaves had come in to take Koya’s body away as she peeled off gloves soaked in putrid blood and pus. The slaves, tall natives to the local region of this Earth, were clearly uncomfortable with the smell, which Jane supposed was the natural and healthy response. It was impossible to ignore the smells of death entirely, but Jane had worked for Julians long enough that she could endure them better than most.

The slaves and the soldier turned again to let her change, and when she was finished, the slaves left with Koya and the soiled surgical clothes. Both were bound for the incinerator. The soldier, who had spent the last 5 hours seated against the most comfortable bit of wall they could find, packed up the small terminal.

“Are you ready to go?” they’d asked in that soldier’s-growl.

“Yes,” she said

“Finally,” the soldier sighed.

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Living Outside the Kingdom

Imagine, if you will, that you could build a human from scratch.

Molecule by molecule, assembling each cell individually.

Imagine if you could do this, and when the process was done, you had a viable human.

A living breathing human being, built from the ground up.

No parents, no siblings, no relations whatsoever in the entirety of the human race.

Is this creature still evolved from an ape-like ancestor?

They have no relations. The were not born. Any DNA similarities to any existing human are coincidental or manufactured. The only thing this person has inherited from the rest of humanity is the idea what a human is in your mind when you started building them.

Indeed, is this creature even a human person, or merely a creature very much like a human. They might have been a human, but by virtue of their artificiality, are they not?

Consider for a moment the implications of your answer.

Not just for this hypothetical human, but for the prospects of thinking machines.

Bare with me for a moment.

When we think of intelligent machines of the future, many will argue that there will eventually come a point, when machines are complex enough, that they will have to be recognized as sentient “living” creatures deserving of the same respect we accord to humanity.

You may have seen this on an episode of Star Trek once or thrice.

The benchmark for this transition from tool to living thing is, of course, hypothetical and ill defined, but when we consider it, we often consider this new, mechanical life to be inherently separate from ourselves, the Animal Kingdom, and indeed the Tree of Life as we understand it.

Now consider our constructed human once again. If this creature, built from scratch, is still a human after all, regardless of whether they born or made, then isn’t this intelligent machine our evolutionary descendant?

Or, if our constructed mammal is not a human, not really, then is it kin to our intelligent machines in their loneliness; two creatures living outside the Animal Kingdom.

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One Star Soup Kitchen

I saw a one star review of a soup kitchen.

The existence of such a review says so much before I even read the content.

I didn’t question why the review existed, because of course it did. It is everything late capitalism promises in a nutshell. If everything is dialog between provider and consumer then naturally you can leave a review of a place like a soup kitchen.

My coworker, reading over my shoulder, chuckled and scoffed, “Can you believe that?”

I knew at once that he wasn’t laughing at the absurdity that you can leave a review of a soup kitchen, because (again) of course you can. He wasn’t remarking at the rating service, rather his incredulity was at the one star rating.

More capitalist thinking at play.

In context, the logic even seems sound. They’re poor, therefore they have nothing. They are availing themselves of social program, therefore my taxes are paying for it. They are eating on my dime, therefore they should be grateful for what they get.

My kneejerk reaction was to agree. Afterall, if you are in need of a soup kitchen to feed yourself or your family, surely it is better than the alternative by default.

This too is rooted in a capitalist line of thought.

If you can’t afford quality, you don’t deserve it.

The whole thing, from service to rating to my reaction, was within this tiny cross space in the Venn diagram of late stage capitalist thinking.

The modern American worldview in microcosm: a one star review of a soup kitchen.

I clicked on the review.

“My whole family got food poisoning. Go someplace else.”

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Jane’s War (part 2)

Jane examined her tools. They were hers, not just whatever was in surplus. Somebody had gone up to the dormitories and taken her tools from her belongings.

Jane had to remind herself that it was a breach of her privacy.

It was so easy to forget that maybe her things shouldn’t be so accessible. A lifetime of servitude left you with low standards of personal space.

She took a moment to feel righteously indignant.

“Is there a problem?” the soldier at the door asked through the helmet’s voice modulator.

Jane used that to help keep her smile. The voice the soldiers spoke in was a modulation the Julians had determined would exemplify the ferocity and intimidation they wanted their forces to project to primitive societies. It might be dark and menacing now, but Jane knew it had gone through round after round of development and focus testing, all so that short mutants could sound like demons. The thought of that process, of fifteen Julians poking at settings in a sound editing program to get the voice juuuust terrifying enough, was amusing to Jane. She wasn’t sure why.

As if the radiation and toxin ravaged bodies of the mutants they employed wouldn’t terrify their conquered slaves enough. But then, the Julians preferred to keep their soldiers in their face-concealing helmets. That way, those beneath them could never know if they were speaking to some mutant, a native collaborator, a Julian, or even a Jane.

Not that they would ever give a Jane a gun. Even back in the Homeland, only Johns could carry guns, never Janes.

That would be against the rules.

“Not at all, soldier. I am merely inspecting my tools,” Jane smiled over at the soldier. This one was terribly thin, and too tall to be from Koya’s world. The poisons that permeated that world rarely allowed for such stature.

“Well hurry it up,” the soldier growled, “I’d like to incinerate this traitor’s corpse sooner rather than later.”

Jane raised an eyebrow at the soldier.

“Have you seen a data extraction before, soldier?” she asked.

“No,” the soldier said, the helmet making it sound like a bark.

Jane turned to face them, “These procedures can take some time, soldier. Days even. There are several factors involved that…”

“The Director General wants this data as soon as possible,” the soldier insisted.

“I will work as fast as possible. It may still be several days,” Jane picked up one of her slim probes, pulling free the cable at the back.

She looked at her forearms, still covered by satin gloves.

She turned to the soldier, holding up her hands as if presenting evidence, “I will need to change.”

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XXV)

Beth let the air flow out of her chest as she brought her elbows up to her knees. She lowered her shoulders to the floor, then brought them back up, touching her elbows  to her knees again.

She had so much time and nothing to do in these quarters. She’d been allowed a short list of personal effects when she’d come aboard, but she hadn’t actually anticipated much downtime. She had thought at this point that she would be prepping for the attack in Zadar, or wherever they were going to end up.

Vic would change the target again since Beth’s confession.

It was the smart move.

Beth would have done the same.

She kept up the crunches, wondering who would be replacing her as First Lieutenant and where Vic would change the target to.

She thought Colonel Khan was an obvious choice, as he was technically the second highest ranking officer on board. He was a Marine, not Airborne Division proper, but then neither was Beth. Laymen found it silly but flyer and jetpack pilots were considered their own fiefdom within the Airborne Division. They even had a separate ranking system.

“Dragoons,” she’d heard the Admiral call them. “Mounted, maybe, but still infantry. Still hand to hand fighters at heart.”

There was certainly some truth to that.

Marines, however, were an entirely different animal. Airborne marines were the last line of defense an airship had. Their primary duty was to repel boarders, and if the ship was taken, then it was only over the dead body of every marine aboard. Khan was a good marine, and he may as well have been cast from adamantine steel. The marines he’d brought on board were built to match. No flexibility; not exactly Vic’s usual speed, but good to have in an emergency.

Somebody else then.

Whoever it was, their first order of business would still be to change target. Beth knew about Zadar, and she’d just admitted to handing over information to the enemy. Or an enemy. Maybe not even an enemy?

Beth momentarily entertained the notion that perhaps this was all some double-bluff by the Admiral.

No. Too many things had piled on, too many spanners in the works. Somebody was definitely trying to get the mission to fail.

Oh well. There was nothing more Beth could do about that. Not from here in her bunk.

At least Beth had come clean when she did. Now Vic knew to watch her back. She’d suspected of course, she’d told Beth as much at the party over the Alps, but now she knew.

That was something at least.

Whether they ended up in Zadar or Atlantis though, Barrington and Anavior would have to take over her part of the mission. She hoped they were up to the task.

Those two were pretty good. Not as good as her of course, but there was nothing to be done about that. They’d just have to take…

She stopped mid crunch.

They’d probably fly her plane.

She shook her head and kept going.

They’d fly her plane and hit the machine-man garrisons with…

She stopped again.

They would have to fly her plane.

She gritted her teeth and returned to the crunches.

They would be flying her plane.

She grunted and sped up, trying to push the thought away.

They were going to fly her plane in Zadar.

She fell back to the floor and threw her fist out, slamming it against the deck so hard she felt something break.

She wasn’t sure if it was in the deck or her hand.

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Jane’s War (part 1)

Jane (23.2.120.3) flexed her new fingers.

It wasn’t her first artificial limb, she already had a replacement leg from the knee down. But she never thought much about the responsiveness or flexibility of her leg. It simply wasn’t something she thought about. This was different; she used her fingers all the time.

She made a fist, then stretched out the fingers, then twisted them up a bit.

The fingers seemed slow to respond at first, but once they got the message they seemed to move in double time to catch up. She felt like she was constantly overcompensating.

It would take some getting used to.

The elbow and shoulder were better, but still it would take some time to move with full proficiency again.

Jane Doe (23.2.78.1) stood over her, gesturing to dismiss some part of her personal display.

“How does it feel?” 78.1 asked.

“Fine,” Jane said, putting on a smile. You had to smile. Jane’s all smiled. That was one of the rules.

“Please take the time to rate your service,” 78.1 said, gathering up her tools.

Jane kept flexing her fingers as 78.1 left, leaning back on examination table, letting her mind wander. The new arm might make her job a lot easier actually. Her old augments were good, but the fully synthetic arm would hold more and better augments than her original. So that was something to look forward too.

One of her sisters was transferring to this planet, and it would be good to see her if she could. She couldn’t be too obvious about trying to see Jane (23.1.102.2), or they’d both be taken away. Probably shipped back to the Homeland, to be reeducated or killed. She didn’t think she could handle losing another friend so soon after Koya.

Poor Koya.

At least he hadn’t been captured.

The Julians could have made him talk. Jane knew this. She’d carried out the procedure herself.

She realized she’d been in the workshop too long. If she stayed much longer, she would be accused of laziness or failure to acclimate to her new parts. Both of those were against the rules.

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News!

So the site was down for about two weeks, but we’re back now.

Took the time to get some more writing done and think about where I’m going with this site, my writing, and other things.

New story will be up on Monday, and in the coming weeks there will be some announcements on some other projects I’m working on here. Hopefully, you folks will enjoy some it them.

Good to be back 🙂

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Elder of the Conclave

(a short little scene I wrote while brainstorming a science fiction setting)

The Gorgon Fleet was making another run at the warp gate.

This would be their third run within the last year.

“We have firing solutions locked in on all hostiles,” called the primary fire control officer.

Balur nodded, watching the tracking data on his display, scratching the fur at his neck. His heart was racing. He wasn’t nervous exactly, that would be the wrong word. He wasn’t sure what he was. The Gorgon Fleet was small, and they’d spent too much of their strength on the last two runs at the gate. The local guard fleet was more than enough to take on the human vagrants even at their peak a year ago. They were at barely more than half that strength now. At this point, the first salvo was likely to sink or cripple half of the oncoming ships. After that, it would just be a matter of rounding up and boarding what little remained of the Gorgon Fleet.

This would be their last run at the gate.

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XXIV)

Sand.

It was everywhere. Kicked up by boots, in the air, in his clothes, in his mouth.

Sand and dead grass, all around him. Sand and grass and the burning sun beating down.

People were yelling at him. He could hear them shouting but couldn’t hear any words.

He turned to see Valerie. Colonel Valerie Corbin of the 25th, shouting at him. He tried to shout back, tried to warn her. She couldn’t hear him. He reached out, trying to pull her down.

Bullets ripped through his CO, and she fell apart, vanishing into the sand.

He heard another shout, and turned to see little Jimmy Wilkens, the 25th’s youngest soldier.

He shut his eyes just as the bullets hit Jimmy.

He collapsed to the burning sand, throwing his hands over his ears and squeezing his eyes shut as, one after another, his regiment screamed, and was torn apart.

He could hear it all in the background, as if the carnage was unfolding on the far side of a heavy door.

He knew what was next, and he begged and pleaded with his own mind.

“Not her. Please not her. Not this time, please,” he whispered to the sand swirling around him.

He didn’t want to open his eyes, but he couldn’t help himself.

There she was, lying beside him in the sand.

Her scalp was shaved, he shoulders wide, her dress was a kaleidoscope of shape and color against her ebony skin. Her hands were limp, his mother’s ring still on her finger.

She was laid out on the sand. Left for the vultures.

He wanted to apologize to her. He wanted to curse her. He wanted to kiss her.

It wasn’t real. He knew it.

He’d never seen her body.

She’d been dead for a week by the time he caught up to Sinclair.

He couldn’t help but look though.

Real or not, she was his wife.

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