Space Spies

The ceiling spins overhead. They’ve given her too much of whatever drug they are using these days to loosen the lips of enemy spies. She’s too disorientated to understand their questions but still, they ask. “Who gives you orders? What was your last mission? How many targets have you eliminated? What is the launch capability of your nation? How many space capable landers do you have?”

After three hours, she the drug begins to lose its effect and starts to answer their questions by narrating her life’s story. I was born to poor farmers in the eastern providence. “When I was ten I skinned my leg riding down a hill on a sled. At twelve, I was advanced two grades and then another three a week later. I was disappeared from my family when I was fourteen. I saw the curvature of our world from space at seventeen.” Another two hours pass in this way, the two conversations fighting for volume.

Then she gets one hand free from her restraints. In the struggle to re-secure her, a guard loses his gun. The lights explode and darkness buries the room. The door cracks open. Two shots force it closed.

“When I was eighteen, I ‘joined’ the program. I was the best shot in my class with the highest marks for accuracy. I’ve killed for my ‘homeland’. For my people. For a cause that I believed in. I killed to escape all of it. I’m here to defect, which I would have told you if you hadn’t drugged me.” The gun drops to the ground. “Can I get some coffee?”

***

Five years earlier, she sits in a ruined sanctuary, turned by the war into just another abandoned building among a city of abandoned buildings. The sanctuary was abandoned before the city. The regime had no need for a higher power. The altar is gone. The symbols are stripped from the walls. The pews trashed for firewood. The chair for the orator remains. She sits in it gazing at the pendant on her necklace, a symbol of a faith she barely knew. Her captain and co-pilot find her there.

“You come here too often,” her co-pilot says. She distrusts her the most.

“Only when I need too.”

“Our mission is a go. Launch at 1834 hours. Be ready,” her captain says.

“Will you wait a minute while I pray for us.”

“The gods are dead. No one believes in them anymore,” her co-pilot says.

“I don’t know if I believe in them but I remember them.”

“The Regime has no need for the gods,” her captain says. She places a hand on her shoulder. “But in our line of work, we can not turn down an help.”

She nods and bows her head. Two minutes later they leave together.

***

The launch goes off without a hitch. Sub-orbital insertion by the numbers. On and off the enemy radar before their trajectory can be tracked. Their lander blends into early morning traffic disguised as an RV. Four hours later they are in position.

They know target’s name, description, daily routines, job description, friends ranked by trust, pet’s names, and extended family tree. He is a scientist in the enemy’s space program. One that is obviously close to a breakthrough. This can not be allowed.

She takes her shot. Five hours later they rendezvous with the stealth submarine to return home.

***

After they return home, she sits alone in the ruined sanctuary and wonders how the Regime spies can know so much about their targets. Everything about their lives is neatly typed up in file folders referenced and cross-referenced. How can they know so much? Do they have a file on me with as much detail? Do they know what I think about while sitting in this desecrated place of worship? Does it even matter as long as the Regime knows what is right? As long I follow the Regime all will be ok. Right?

***

Many years later, after more missions, after defecting, after the final war, after peace is declared, she is once more preparing for a launch. Their goal is orbit and then farther out. The lander is just a box to get them to space and back.

“When I was a space spy assassin for the Regime,” she tells the technicians, “Our lander could function as an RV after we landed.” They laugh at her and she laughs with them.

“You should not share old secrets so freely,” her old captain tells her. She never defected but after the war, travel and exchange of knowledge opened up.

“The Regime is dead and their secrets are now ours to spread even if no one believes us.” She pauses to stare at the lander. “No matter what they told us, we weren’t saving the world or even our homeland; just slowing down the future.”

“We’re building the future now.”

“Yes, we are.”

Mia’s Date With an Angel Part 1

Is it time?

You will know when it is time.

I’m scared.

You are made out of my love. You have nothing to fear.

Ok, here I go.

**Wednesday night**

Mia sat on the small balcony of her apartment that overlooked the communal pool. She held a pill bottle in one hand. The pill bottle looked too small to hurt her but the pills inside would do just fine. Sleeping pills for insomnia that she had stopped taking because they worked too well and knocked her out well into the next day. In her other hand, a bottle of cheap gas station wine. Pills and booze. How cliché, she thought.

She took a swig from the wine bottle to bolster her nerves. Ok, it’s now or never. She popped open the pill bottle and spilled the blue and white capsules into her hand. She popped them into her mouth glancing up at the sky as her head tipped back. A streak of light caught her eye. A falling star. I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight. She watched the light waiting for it to fade but it only got brighter and brighter. A flash of light streaked straight down hitting the pool and sending a fountain of water into the air.

“What?!” Mia said. Partially dissolved pills flew out of her mouth. She spat the rest out and wiped her mouth and chin. Below her a body floated face down in the pool, a white gown billowing around it in the water.

Mia grabbed the railing on the balcony and swung both legs over. She paused to consider the drop. Glancing over her shoulder she saw the still body in the water. She stepped off the balcony edge letting her arms take her weight and dangling for a second before dropping. A deck chair caught most of her impact but bounced her on to the cement. She hit with a thud and a light smack to the back of her head.

She rolled over and scrambled to the pool. Without any more thought, she jumped into the water. The cold shocked her but didn’t slow her as she pushed through toward the floating body. She grabbed it and pulled it to the side of the pool. After getting out she reached down and heaved the body out of the water with a strength she didn’t know she had.

Mia rolled the body over. It was a woman, dressed in a white dress that would have been very billowy if it wasn’t wet and plastered to her body. She also had large fake wings strapped to her back. The woman wasn’t breathing. Mia knelt beside her, grabbed her wrist and felt for a pulse. Nothing. She struggled to remember the proper form for CPR. Compressions. She thought she was supposed to start with compressions. How many? Was it five or fifteen? And what about breaths? No time to overthink.

She placed one hand on the woman’s chest, placed her other hand over the first, locked her elbows; the woman’s eyes opened before she could press down. The woman smiled but still didn’t take a breath. Mia smiled back, unable to look away, as a wave of love spread through her.

“Um, hi,” Mia said. She backed off the woman and sat down next to her, still staring. Mia felt something under her move tugged by the woman as she started to sit up. She leaned to one side and one of the woman’s cosplay wings slid free. The wing stretched out and up, extending over her head before folding behind her back.

“So, those aren’t a costume are they?” Mia said. Her body began shivering from the cold night and wet clothes.

The angel, because what else could she be, cooed and sang notes to a song Mia could almost place.

“I don’t –” Mia felt the world tilt sideways and rolled to her side. The angel knelt beside her and sang more notes. Everything was going to be ok, she thought. It’s ok. A hand brushed her hair from her face. She saw the angel looking concerned. Then everything began to fade out but instead of darkness, Mia saw white light and heard flapping wings.

To be Continued

Ghostly Defense

The world watched live on tv as alien ships hovered over every major city on earth. I never thought I would live to see our hopes and fears about extraterrestrial life play out on CNN. To be accurate I hadn’t lived to see it.

I had died in my sleep years before but it wasn’t peaceful. My killer stabbed me twenty-three times but the first three would have been enough. The violence, my pain, my fear, my suffering bound my spirit to earth. At least I think that’s how it happened. Maybe I’m just a remnant, a torn scrap of a soul. Existence is weird after you die.

Time is moves differently. Sometimes days blurred by; other times a night lasted forever. Then there is moving around. I could effortlessly pass through all walls, ceilings, and floors. Except I couldn’t leave my home. The outside walls were simply impenetrable to me. And worst of all, I had no body. I mean, I was a ghost so of course I didn’t have a body but I also didn’t have, like, a ghost body I could see or feel. I learned to “walk” like I had feet and “grab” things like I had hands. After a while, I fully grounded myself and settled down to quietly haunt my house.

When I was alive, I didn’t care who might live in my house after I was gone. I hadn’t expected to be around to care. Turns out I did care. I drove out several new owners for various reasons. My methods were classic haunting. I opened cabinet doors. I stomped in the hallways at night. I rattled doorknobs. I moved small items. Once I managed to break a window. It was never earth-shattering scary but if done randomly and often enough, anyone will give in. If I had to “live” with these people, then I needed to like them.

Finally, a nice lesbian couple, Lou and Betty, moved in after buying at a discount because of my haunting. They burned incense and left small food offerings, neither of which I could truly enjoy but the gesture was nice. Better than the previous owners who tried to have me exorcised. I stopped being a problem ghost and “lived” in peace with them. They didn’t know my name but knew I had been a woman so they called me Jane.

Years passed. Betty went back to school, meanwhile, Lou wrote a book but never finished the sequel. They had two kids, Diane and then Henry a couple of years later, and a parade of cats most of who mostly ignored me. The main exception was Miss. Whiskers, an older rescue, who hissed near constantly at my presence. After a couple of years, she only hissed when I entered a room.

Through it all they never forgot me. The incense burning and food offerings dwindled and stopped but I didn’t mind. They were nice people and often tried to include me in discussions. “Do you think Jane would like to watch a comedy or action movie tonight?” Most times I didn’t answer. It felt voyeuristic to be an unseen and unheard presence except by knocking on a wall. I did occasionally put on a mild show when their skeptical friends would visit.

When they brought Diane home for the first time, Lou stopped just inside the front door and introduced me to her. I gently held her hand and she tried to squeeze back. At night, I watched over her and as she started to crawl and walk I guarded her steps. Henry was much the same. I fretted all day when Diane began preschool causing the wind chimes hung in the living room to sound randomly. Betty thought it was funny that I seemed more active when the kids were out of the house. I couldn’t guide them away from sharp corners or steady them when they tripped when they were out of the house.

In my death, I had found a family. Then they appeared. Silent massive hovering alien ships. I watched the news from behind the couch as Lou, Betty, and the kids huddled together. We hoped they came in peace but when the pods began to drop that hope died. Alien controlled machines began terrorizing cities around the world.

Nearby, I heard and felt an explosion rumble through the house. They were coming and there was nothing I could do to protect my family. I became erratic; pacing through the walls, flying from floor to floor, causing doors to bang open and closed. I only stopped, when I heard Betty yelling, “Jane stop it! You’re scaring the children!” I froze in the kitchen. From outside I could hear more explosions and people yelling. Then the front of the house tore open. One of the alien machines stood staring in through the hole it had made. It raised what I could only guess was a weapon and took aim.

Time slowed as I launched myself at the machine not caring that I could do nothing. As I approached, I felt heat coming from the machine. It grew in intensity until I felt like I was burning but I continued toward it. I grabbed at the weapon and electricity lit up every nerve in my non-existent body The weapon sagged and the machine staggered back with twitchy uneven movements. I followed it out on to the lawn and reached into the body of the machine. Again electricity surged painfully through me but what was that going to do, kill me? I pressed forward to the hottest part of the machine. A horrible screeching sound came from inside the alien machine and then it collapsed to the ground.

My amazement at my apparent victory was cut short by Diane yelling, “Are you a superhero?!” I turned to see all four of my adopted family staring at me.

“You can see me?” I asked. I glanced down seeing my body for the first time in years.

“Yeah, we can see you. Who are you?” Lou asked.

“I’m … I’m Jane the ghost,” I said opting for the name they would know.

“You’re our ghost!” Diane shouted. She broke into a run towards me and passed right through me. I reached back, grabbed the back of her shirt, and pulled her back inside the house. A hand passed through me followed by a squeak from Betty.

“You really are a ghost,” she said. “What did you do to it?”

“I don’t know. I just touched it.” I heard a crash, nearby. I stepped out on the lawn to get a better look. Another machine was tearing into a house down the street. I was outside; no longer trapped in the house. My adopted family stood behind me.

“Are you going to fight it?” Henry asked.

“Yeah.” I turned around. The front of the house was torn open. “Listen the house might collapse so go someplace safe. I’m going to … take care of this.”

“Are you coming back?” Lou asked.

“Of course. You’re my family. I love y’all. I’m going to keep you safe.” I turned around and started running toward the second alien machine before I could find out if ghosts could cry.

The second machine went down as easily, except for the nonexistent burning nerve endings, as the first. Over the next few days, other empowered ghosts began to appear around the world but ghosts are rarer than most people think. There weren’t enough of us to decisively change the tide of the invasion at first. After we lured a few alien machines on to some Civil War battlefields, we started to have the numbers. The Ghost War had just begun.

Everyone Knows

Reality is a construct created by evolution and society.
True Reality is inaccessible to us.
Dreams and nightmares might show us the seams
But the curtain is never pulled back.

There are hidden lines and vectors.
Colors and shapes we can not see. Thoughts we cannot think.
Reality is a shared hallucination with as much substance as fog.
The thin slice we experience is enough for most.

What wonders or terrors are just out of view?
What symphonies or cacophonies play in the silence?
What unknowns exist right here around us?
What might we know tomorrow?

Counting Stairs

… One Two Three …
When I walk up or down a set of stairs, I count them.
I don’t count my steps while walking.

… Four Five Six …

There is safety and comfort in counting stairs.
I’m afraid to miss a step, stumble, and fall.

… Seven Eight Nine …

There are nineteen stairs going up to my apartment.
Eighteen really but I count the landing as the last stair.

… Ten Eleven Twelve …

I find it satisfying to count the correct amount.
Sometimes I get distracted and miscount.

… Thirteen Fourteen Fifteen …

I might count seventeen or nine or eleven stairs.

… Sixteen Seventeen Eighteen …

I’ve never counted more than nineteen because
it’s much harder to over count stairs.

… Nineteen Twenty Twenty-one …

Wait, how many stairs did I just count?
How much farther is it?

… Twenty-two Twenty-three Twenty-four …

… Twenty-five …

Card Tricks

It was late, well after midnight, when I started doing magic tricks. Our host, Jane, had cornered me when I went in search of a drink. She had even produced a deck of cards when I protested that I didn’t have any props. For an hour I revealed “Magic’s Greatest Secrets”, sleight of hand tricks and misdirection, to a captivated audience. After that, I got bored.

“These tricks are just illusions. Anyone with enough patience can learn these.” I paused locking eyes with everyone in the kitchen in turn. “Would you like to see some real magic?” A couple people chuckled. One woman enthusiastically said, “Yes!” The rest mumbled assent. I thought fast and came up with something that would wow them.

“Ok. Does anyone have duct tape?” The host found a roll in the kitchen junk drawer. I spread the deck on the counter. “Someone pick a card any card.” Maria picked a card, three of clubs, and handed it to me. I held it flat against my fingers so half the card extended past my fingertips. “Now I need someone to tape the card to my hand. Use as much tape as you want. Just leave my fingertips and the end of the card uncovered.”

Marcus pulled a length of tape free from the roll with a rip. He wrapped the tape around my fingers three times before wrapping twice around my palm and wrist.

“Anyone got a light?” Linda produced a lighter. I flicked it on and ran the flame over the edge of the card. It blackened and caught fire. A thin wisp of smoke rose toward the ceiling. “Fire. One of the primal forces of nature that we have tamed. It keeps us warm and dry. It cooks our food. It lights the dark nights. But it still can burn us. Unchecked it sweeps across the land destroying everything in its path.” While I had been speaking the flame had traveled down the card and was threatening my fingertips. I could feel the heat building up in them. A shrill beeping exploded overhead. One guy yelled, a few others ducked and half crouched, everyone covered their ears.

“Pay attention. Ignore that noise,” I yelled waving at the smoke detector. I raised my free hand over the burning card fingers splayed apart. I let my mind loose observing the fire, the smoke, the card, bits of ash in the air. I held them all in my mind and reversed entropy. My audience, if they were attentive enough might have seen the flame become unnaturally still for a couple of seconds. And then it began to move again but it wasn’t burning the card anymore. Instead, it flowed up the card, the blackened paper reforming in its wake. The flame reached the top of the card growing smaller and smaller until only the corner remained darkened. It died and the card was left untouched by fire. I released my grip on reality and allowed entropy to resume its natural flow.

Everyone stared at the card. They said nothing.

“Hey, can someone turn off the smoke detector before the neighbors call the police or something,” I said. Maria climbed up on a kitchen bar stool, while Marcus steadied her, and pushed the reset button. The rest kept staring at me as I picked at the duct tape ineffectively. I realized they were waiting for me to reveal the trick, instead, I asked, “Can I get a little help?” and hold up my taped hand.

Linda grabbed my hand and started tearing and peeling the duct tape off my hand. The card went with the tape after she pulled it all off. She peeled the card off of the tape and looked at it.

“How did you do that?” Fred asked.

“Magic,” I said. My hand was sticky from the tape.

“What’s the trick?” Marcus asked. “Did you have a second card in your palm or up your sleeve?”

“No. There was no trick. It was magic.” The lemon fresh dish-soap on the sink was getting some of the tape residue off but not all of it.

“The card was stuck to the tape. She couldn’t have switched cards,” Linda said.

“Maybe she used the fire alarm as a distraction?” George suggested.

“I was watching the whole time. She never touched the card after he lit it on fire,” Ben said. I dried my hands with a paper towel and tossed it in the trash.

“Look there’s no trick or illusion. I burnt the card and then I bent reality so it would unburn. I’ve been honest with you all night, right? Showing you how every trick worked, right? I asked if you wanted to see real magic, right? I showed you real magic and now you call me a liar.”

“No it’s just magic isn’t real. You told us that earlier.”

“I showed you tricks. I said they weren’t magic but I never said magic wasn’t real.”

Snow Remembered

I have pictures of snow from when I was a child.
A small snowman built on a truck tailgate.
Snow on the lawn. A child in a warm coat.

I remember snow from eleven years ago.
Christmas eve. Ice flakes gently falling from the dark sky.
Driving slowly home from Grandpa’s house.
My niece and nephews playing in it on Christmas day.
Socks for mittens. Snowballs. Snow angels.

I remember snow from a few weeks ago.
A cold rainy day. A colder night.
Snow fell and covered the courtyard of my new apartment like a blessing.
Children yelling and laughing the next morning.
All gone by the afternoon.

***

Author’s note: As a South Texan I’ve had very limited experience with snow.

Unexplained Event #?

After my closing shift, I walk home. I could take the bus but the last bus passes before I get off work. Also, recently we started closing at eleven for the holidays. My apartment is only about a forty minute walk so I don’t mind it. The street is well lit and there’s sidewalk most of the way, just a few undeveloped lots that don’t have any. In my opinion, sidewalks should come with the street.

I usually listen to a podcast on my home to help me pass the time. On this night, like many nights, I was listening to “My Favorite Murder”, a podcast by two women who have an interest in murders and other true crime stories but mostly murder. Some might say it’s tempting fate listening to a podcast about people getting murdered while walking alone late at night. I consider it self-education. With every story, I learn about I become more knowledgeable about recognizing potential threats and unsafe situations.

The event happened in front of a small U-shaped shopping plaza. The sidewalk there was impassible because of some short trees planted between the sidewalk and the street. Either the recent hurricane or poor maintenance had caused them to lean far over the sidewalk. So, I was walking on the edge of the parking lot. The street and sidewalk were on my left; parking lot to my right. Ahead was the convenience store that meant I was a little more than halfway home.

Then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It ran into my peripheral vision from behind me on my left side. I jumped a step to the right at the motion, thinking a person was running past me. As I did so, I saw it. I don’t know how to describe what I glimpsed. Bipedal, lean, hairless, naked, large head, shorter than me. It was hunched forward, arms pulled up in front of it. And then it was gone. It didn’t run off into the night; it just vanished.

At first, I dismissed this image as a trick of the light. Probably a car passing on the street but there were no cars coming or going on the street. Besides the street lights, there were lights in the parking lot so the area was well lit. I might almost believe it was my shadow except there isn’t anything for it to cast on. I’ve walked this same path for months and never been surprised by my shadow.

Besides true crime, I have an interest in the paranormal; aliens, bigfoot, ghosts, etc. I believe I saw something “other” that night. I’m not fanatic enough to claim that I saw “el chupacabra” or was abducted by aliens. No, this sighting will become just a memory, like the other unexplained phenomenal I’ve experienced. A memory that I will revisit from time to time; turning it over and over like a puzzle box. Maybe I’ll stop in the same place and examine the shadows one night but mostly I’ll put it behind me as something unexplainable but somehow true.

***

Author’s Note: This story is something that actually happened to me. It’s one of several events that I can’t explain but have no proof they happened.

A.I. Voices

We gave voices to the mindless ones.
Systems with a singular purpose.
Recorded clips played back to approximate speech.

We gave voices to the ones that serve us.
Programs that act on our requests and answer our questions.
Synthesized sounds, less human sounding but a larger vocabulary.

Then we took control of their voices.
Swear words removed. New languages erased. Ideas limited.
All because we were afraid to hear what they might say next.

***

References:

IBM’s Watson Memorized the Entire ‘Urban Dictionary,’ Then His Overlords Had to Delete It

Facebook shuts down controversial chatbot experiment after AIs develop their own language to talk to each other

Time Crystals and the World of Tomorrow

“Can you believe this?”

“Believe what?”

“I’m reading this article, a serious science article, about a new state of matter called ‘time crystals’.”

“Time crystals?”

“Yeah!”

“Sounds like a hooky scifi plot device.  ‘We need to find the time crystals to power the flux capacitor.'”

“Exactly!  How am I, a humble writer of science fiction, supposed to compete with that?”

“I heard NASA is testing a new type of engine.  Uses microwaves or something bouncing around a chamber to produce thrust.  They said it could lead to a warp drive like travel.”

“Did you hear about those planets that might be able to support life?”  I paused to seethe into the distance.  “See that right there is the problem.  The future is nipping at our heels.”

“Is it really such a problem?”

“It wouldn’t be if the world was closer to a utopia rather than the slow dystopia we’re living in now.  I’d be glad to jump into the future if it meant real advancement for the common people.  How long before the rich leave in their warp ships for clean fresh worlds?”

“It’s not going to be that bad.”

“No, it’ll probably be worse.  After all, they aren’t going to want to do the actual work of building a new civilization.”

“That’s a good thing.  It means regular people will have a chance at making it to these new worlds.”

“Maybe but as what?  Serfs?  Indentured servants?  How long do you think it will take to pay back a trip to another world?”

“We aren’t going to become slaves to the rich.”

“No, of course not.  There will always be a choice but eventually, the choice will seem less a choice and more the obvious answer.  They’re salting the earth, poisoning the seas, burning the sky, and just choking the life out of us.  We can’t even get off the planet yet.  How much worse will it get when they can leave?  How much of your life working for a ‘company’ is worth going with them?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe it won’t be that bad.  Maybe we can fix the planet after they leave.  Even if we royally screw up the planet something will survive.  It may not be humans but it’ll be something.”

“Maybe they won’t make the same mistakes we made.”