2 lives != 2 selves

Two lives left in Super Mario Bros. Copyright Nintendo Co., Ltd.

Two lives left in Super Mario Bros. Copyright Nintendo Co., Ltd.

Every day and every night the words flow. Sometimes like autumn leaves in the wind, sometimes like summer stones in a pond, but always, absolutely always, they flow.

Microsoft calls. The truth-seeker, the engineer, he answers that call. And those words? Those beautiful, erratic words, often crafted with heart and stitched from a soul… They stop.


We writers, we aspiring writers, lead two lives: The bread-maker, the one who commutes somewhere then comes home to a precious child; and the story teller, whose mind wanders when tickled by words, an image, a person, even sound.

I live two lives, but I am one mind. One soul and one heart, furiously coursing through flesh, sometimes dozing calmly in thought.

Between code reviews, a colleague recounts her dragon boat race (yes, fellow dwellers of the third planet from the Sun: that’s a thing). After a gruesome architecture review, another complains about the term ‘oracle’ when describing a map file. I participate, I am enthralled. I love, love, love the discussion, but the hero under the helmet begins to wander. The embers of imagination ignite. Hysteria’s drums collide, and bang, and trill, and hiss. The engineer dozes off and the story maker… The story maker thirsts war.

What am I to do but collapse the self?

My intern Julia, newest engineer joining the clan, started five weeks ago. The infamous intro. mail taunts me from the drafts folder; old and dusty, and forgotten. My fingertips find both Shift and Delete. I press to the sound of a satisfying clack, toss the bread and re-write Julia’s call to adventure.

And my Microsoft brethren?

They love it (except Joe).

‘The most dramatic intern introduction in the history of intern introductions,’ according to one particularly cool cat (much cooler than Joe).

Dare to dream awake while engineering away. Dare to mix reality and play. Julia and I hope you like it too.

MIXED REALITY


“Rooooooooow!” Captain Kari’s voice boomed over the crashing waves of an angry ocean. She was a commanding woman, athletic and fit, but blessed with generous, compassionate eyes. “As one, my Vikings; like we trained at the Englishmen’s river Charles!” Toned arms swayed a shield made of hide. Eighteen ashen-colored oars followed, cutting into sea foam with a trance-like rhythm.

“Easy for heeer… to say. Standing hiiiiigh and mighty while weee-eah… do all the work,” said Torben to the empty seat beside him. The clan’s fleet had suffered many losses during the Wihotum War. Most dragon boats lost men, but on the Winklef, men had lost… something more.

“I see it! I see it up ahead,” the captain said, tumbling closer to the warship’s bow. Her head always hung low when walking, as if weighed down by an invisible helmet, or forever hiding from enemy’s arrow. “Row faster! Become one with the water like Ægir himself!” Captain Kari’s sword, forged over the molten rock rivers of Gatawoth, pointed to a horizon painted red with twilight. Underneath the sky, an island pierced the clouds with its rocky peaks: five to be exact.

Kari licked her lips in anticipation. Her mind drifted back to those childhood memories falling asleep by the fire, listening to Grandmother Jorunn’s Norse tales. Her favorite story spoke of a child oracle more powerful than the demigod Kustoh, capable of answering unimaginable questions, yet locked away on a secret island. An island believed adorned with exactly five peaks.

The legend had said the god of mischief, Loki, jealous of his niece, planted rotten, deranged copies of the child in four of the five peaks. The captain knew the odds of finding the Oracle were against them, but she would risk everything to help her clan survive the war…

The crunch of wood on wet sand jolted her to the present. Her men disembarked. Tall, crème-colored tents rose into the air. The symbol of a flag divided into four identical squares decorated the chieftain’s quarters, now her quarters. Kari hurried to meet her chiefs but lingered outside, taking one last look at the Winklef. The thick, burgundy sails fell loosely over the blackened wood as if waving goodbye. Kari gifted the dragon boat a half-smile and thundered inside.

“It’s like you predicted, captain,” said a thin, battle-scarred Viking named Jerrik.

“‘Five peaks tower the skies.

 The crimson light makes the Oracle cry.'”

Kari knew the epic’s rhymes by heart.

“How do you suppose an Oracle sounds when it cries?” Jerrik said behind a smirk.

Kari threw back her long, wavy, fiery hair. “The Oracle is a little girl; her appearance no different than a young lass. Be on the lookout for child-like weeping, high-pitched wailing, sobbing, cursing… any human emotion!”

The Viking thought of his own daughter, face sobering with worry. “And Loki’s clones?”

“Captain Kari!” Two Vikings rushed into the scene. One lowered her head in reverence. The other merely stooped to catch his breath. The female, another red-head clad in leather armor, took off her helmet and continued. “Torben and I patrolled the perimeter all the way to the mountain base and-”

Torben straightened his back with a loud groan. Kari gave him a reprimanding look and the hairless, pale Viking scoffed.

“Please continue, Aslaug,” said Jerrik.

“We found these tablets, metal tablets, written in the gods’ language.” Two older men walked inside, carrying thin, cobalt-colored rectangular slabs. They were dressed in long, brown robes fashioned more for temple than war.

“Did you secure all five?”

Aslaug looked perplexed. “Y-yes. Five.”

“And?” Kari said, eying the closest apparatus’ smooth, reflective surface, eyes glinting with thought.

“We cannot decipher them, captain,” mumbled one of the men behind a generous beard darker than night.

“Aren’t you a man of the faith?” Jerrik said, taking a defying step towards Bushy-Beard. “The gods’ scripture is the most basic of your arts.”

“The words we can read, but their meaning… their meaning escapes our wits. Terms like ‘University’, ‘Computer’, ‘Desktop’ and ‘Microsoft’ – they are the baubles of a madman!”

“Kati… errrm… Captain Kari,” Torben said, his voice composed and calm.

Kari opened her eyes wide. She knew these words, yet she could not explain their presence.

Why here?

Why now?

A lone drop of sweat travelled her chin and kissed the ground as she sauntered to the wiseman’s apprentice.

“Milady?” He said, confused as she reached for the tablet and pressed her finger across the cold glass.

“Read it,” said Torben in a demanding tone disrespectful enough Jerrik reached for the hilt of his sword.

Kari Guillhouf, Captain of the Winklef, heir to the Viking clan of Nard, child-prodigy prophesied to stop the Wihotum War, cleared her throat and read:

‘Hi! My name is Julia Kollin and I am from New Jersey. I am a rising senior at the University of Michigan and I am studying Computer Science Engineering.

I was an Explorer Intern last summer for the Remote Desktop team in Redmond and I am looking forward to another amazing summer at Microsoft.

I love to travel (I spent four months living in Copenhagen), try new food, and hang out with friends! I am new to Cambridge/Boston so if anyone has any recommendations of fun places to go or good restaurants, please reach out!’

The device slipped Kari’s sweaty hands and landed with a muted thud as the rest of the rhyme echoed inside her head:

Five peaks tower the skies.

The crimson light makes the Oracle cry.

Hidden behind a treacherous smile;

The mark of the Explorer lies.

The young captain looked from the sand, to the other four tablets, then directly into Torben’s eyes.

He tapped the side of his head twice and mouthed the word ‘Loki’.

“Jerrik,” Kari said, pure fire in her eyes. “Arm the men for war.”

The Viking swallowed, bowed and dashed out, leaving behind a cold wind.

A writer is never alone.

Bionic Commando. Copyright Capcom Co., Ltd.

Bionic Commando. Copyright Capcom Co., Ltd.

Stories, verses and prose decorate all rooms inside the House of Words. Today, we abandon the library for a tale forged over the workshop’s tepid fires. A fable inspired by true events and forever laser-etched behind my blue eyes…


A hot November morning after a humid evening of passing hurricane rain, we gather for English Lit. in one of the academy’s open-air classrooms.

“Come in. Good morning,” Mr. Torres says behind dark-rimmed glasses. “I have a surprise test for you today.”

Forty grumpy teenagers groan. Spanish, both proper and the street’s, travels the green concrete and blasts the aluminum windows.

The girls wear thick, burgundy, two-fingers-below-the-knee-long skirts and matching vests. The boys dress in brown, baggy jeans and white, emblazoned polo shirts. ‘Academia Santa María,’ the embroidery reads.

“Sit down, sit down.” Mr. Torres hurries us along as we drag our feet and exchange concerned glances. “I told you Friday there’d be a test this week.” He taps the forsaken paper stack and gestures to the first chair of each of five rows of creaky, metal desks. “Take one and pass the rest.”

I receive the document and a lone drop of salty dew finds its way underneath my shirt. Ranked #2 in the class, but still human; an impromptu eight-page exam is enough to jingle anyone’s medals.

I look up.

Our teacher, and tormentor, wears his customary blue polo in contrast to the blackboard, still chalked with hieroglyphics from yesterday’s algebra. He nods and offers me a mischievous grin.

“Don’t forget to read the test before you begin.”

I bite off the ballpoint pen’s cap and plaster true or false as fast as my pale, fat fingers allow it. Five minutes in, I turn to Viviana, one of the smarter students, on my left. The tanned girl with wet, curly hair sits cross-legged, paper down, and a half-smile on her face.

“Huh?”

Her brown eyes enlarge just the tiniest when she finds mine. The smile widens. I sweat again, then devour the next six pages so fast I almost start a fire:

‘Describe the theme.’

‘Discuss the protagonist’s conflict.’

‘What is at stake?’

One last swipe and the wretched words beam. Mr. T’s closing statement explains his grin:

‘Write your name, today’s date and place your test face down. I will come to your desk and grade you 100%.

Thank you for following instructions.

Enjoy your day – E. Torres.’

“Maldición,” I say, damning all, and break the pen.

Mr. Torres taught me a life-long lesson that day. And it’s not about following instructions. His advice later solved complex Calculus with me in college. Joined me for many insightful shower thoughts. And debugged crazy-difficult software glitches over a Microsoft desk.

‘You are not alone inside that head.’

The subconscious is a powerful tool. We don’t control the wonderful beast, yet there it is, gifting knowledge, perspective and wondrous creativity. Your brain quietly analyzes all you read and hear and see. Visualizing math problems iterates over memorized equations. Breaking for coffee from buggy code dreams up new threads to follow.

The subconscious even assists with programming interviews. Next time you schedule a field trip to the accursed whiteboard, bring a cup of something, anything. When the interviewer barks, lift the blessed holder of refreshment to your lips and sip. Every conscious micro-moment equals two laps around the Sun of behind-the-scenes computation.

The rule reigns true in creative writing as well. It is the reason many editors, literary agents, writers both published or starving – and published and starving – recommend we ‘Put down the manuscript for a few hours,’ ‘Read another’s book,’ or ‘Let the query letter breathe a week before re-reading the draft.’

Efficient proofreading and editing require perspective. Polishing manuscripts into art requires ruthless perspective. Dean Gloster shares this meaningful quote: “Write without fear; edit without mercy.” Separating ourselves from newborn prose gains us the mythical perspective writers valiantly seek.

Mr. Torres and I never crossed paths again. He was a wise one, that man and his mischievous grin. He was kind too; kind enough to gift me another blank sheet before the other kids discovered his shenanigans. With Viviana’s tip and a teacher’s clemency, little Alvin scored 100%.

Next time your fingertips crawl, or the muse huffs and spits out sand, don’t be hasty. Your brain already read the test. It wrote the damn thing.

Walk away. Try it. Walk away and let the subconscious fill your cup. Then drink and advance with caution, impartial and refreshed, as one with the monster inside your head.


Enjoyed this literary snack and the tropical wisdom in its words? You might also like It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this!

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Simon’s Quest, Horror Story, Chapter 1

Night falls over Europe, Castlevania II. Copyright Konami Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd.

Night falls over Europe, Castlevania II. Copyright Konami Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd.


You find yourself alone inside the House of Words. The cold leather of an old Victorian sofa reminds your thighs they are sore. The stark grey of early morning penetrates the stained glass windows, but someone pulled the library’s thick, crimson drapes shut. Only a lone, flickering candle guides your eyes, its light the color blue.

You stand and walk the chamber, patting away the dust from your backpack and khakis. On the desk rests a rusted metal-bound journal and a quill, still wet with midnight prose.

‘To Anne Rice,’ reads the cover.

‘Thank you for inking my twenty-four-year-old mind with your lively fantasies and spirit-bending words.

This is one of five.

Wishing you also kindness – Alvin.’

“Oh, Alvin,” you say and slump over the plain, wooden chair. “What a perfect day to have a curse.”

You bite your chapped lips, ignore the thirst and open the book.

Simon’s Quest, Chapter 1


A field full of color, full of rain. The aroma of endless earth and grass overpowered everything across that New England summer’s day – not her.

I first saw her across a sea of tulips, orange and yellow, perfect companions to her crimson hair. Her face smelled of perfume and the ocean, and the smell carried down to her neck…

My father had said, “Simon, you must find a mate. You must carry the line.” The matters of the heart never captivated my interest. The rush of the hunt, and the art of death; those were the thrills for me. And yet, as I lay on the cold hospital floor, locked inside that dark room behind our hastily constructed barricade, my thoughts swooned to the overflowing life of her face, and the exquisite beauty of her neck.

The halogen flickered on and off. Something clawed behind the bathroom door. The din of nail on brushed metal penetrated my ears far more deeply than my human body remembered. I rose to my feet and turned to the stretcher. The labored rise and fall of her breast underneath the soaked, red velvet nightshirt – she still breathed.

I crossed the room, limping, but careful not to trip over the bodies festering on the once white and sterile floor. The stench of rotten blood overpowered my nostrils. I exhaled full of concern, balled my trembling hands into fists and kneeled next to her.

“Victoria…” the whisper of her name escaped my lips in a far more melancholic tone than intended. She lifted her powerful gaze, hidden behind hazel, glistening eyes; trying, but failing, to draw a smile on her gaunt face.

“P-promise me… luz de mis ojos,” she said in her country’s native tongue. More sweat trickled down her forehead. “Promise me you’ll live… both of you.” Her voice still carried the same sweet timbre I remembered from the night of our first union. I pressed a hand to my neck, trying to contain the red liquid. The wretched parasite’s heat had begun its course.

“I promise,” I said.

I lied.

A loud bang, like a semi-truck had kissed the walls, interrupted my introspection and whisked away any remaining guilt. Dust floated down the ceiling, flirting with the faint light of night peering through our four-story window.

“A yellow moon,” I said. “Not much longer now.”

Victoria raised a frail, lanky arm to my face, pushing away my long dark hair, once soft and tempting, but now smeared with the grease of the fight. I peered at the pool of blood gushing out her womb, then at the white-coated cadaver lying next to her bed, silver instrument of surgery still clutched in his hand.

Victoria’s eyes opened wide like a fish’s, both reddened and enlarged. How befitting, maybe even poetic I thought as I bent down to pry the device off the doctor’s stiff grasp, considering how Shakespearian it would be, even for my murderous hands, to gut my own wife. There are no more happy endings left to write.

“Y-you know… what you have t-to do…” she said. I lifted the disinfected tool, forcing my gaze upon her abdomen and inspected the puss-infested gash.

I failed to make the first cut.

Leave it to the future mother of my child to gift me one last selfless act before forever abandoning me, and this world. Victoria dragged her hands to her open wound and grabbed both sides of her flailing skin. Then she stretched. And pulled, and stretched some more, rupturing both flesh and blood vessels like a savage from the dark ages.

She let out one gasp: The final gasp.

My face filled with horror, and then rewrote itself in hunger as the smell of rust permeated the air.

Clang.

My fingers involuntarily unclenched the scalpel. The liquid spewed out the belly of my wife like a Roman fountain. For a moment, I lost myself inside the red sea of her entrails; yearning, dreaming… but then-

A cry, and sweet melody to my new ears! My son wailed, beckoning for his first breath of life. I jolted awake from the stupor of dehydration. My human blood fought back against the disease’s pestilence. The tears poured down my cheeks and mouth, as the fatherly love common to all God’s creatures overpowered my new instincts.

Was I still one of His?

Before I realized it, my hands were rummaging inside Victoria’s womb, groping over viscera and mutilated flesh. Her arms fell to her sides, lifeless and limp, as if the Creator had designed this new boy to only ever be loved one parent at a time.

I lifted him, both freeing him from the fleshy prison, and myself, ever so slowly, from the garden of humanity.

Jacob was pale white, or more of a rosy gold, doused with a full head of black hair and covered in blood.

Covered in blood.

My mouth moistened.

I held him tight, with trembling lips, trying to say his name, but ashamed to utter the words. Instead I wept and howled, as the heaving of grief took over my shoulders and chest, shaking me to my bones. I had lost my wife, and one ever true love. Now, I would lose my firstborn.

A commanding blast resonated across the room. Two ghastly immortals stood behind me. I turned my head just enough to take in their form. These weren’t your typical infected hominids. I recognized the breed: forged with the stone dust of a gargoyle statue, and gifted of life from the Beast. Their wings, when stretched, expanded over a meter wide. Flight offered no advantage inside the closed quarters of that chamber. I knew this. They knew this, thus they coiled the ebony flaps around their chests, providing additional armor to their already near unbreakable skin.

“Soldiers of Ra,” I said, cursing under my breath. “Does the Devil never tire of the same tricks?”

They didn’t move, or say a word, barely acknowledging my presence. The insubordination didn’t offend me, but their eyes, their eyes infuriated me the most: no lids, no corneas, only two deep and hollowed-out graves, swallowed in shadow. And in their silence, the rage boiling, roasting me from afar.

How I wished for my satchel: Mother’s sketch of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man embroidered on its flap and the weapons of my own devise overflowing to the brim.

My family’s craft, while designed for situations like these, wouldn’t exactly even out the odds. It would have to do. Just like it did the grunts. The ones whose remains pestered the floor, careless, void of armor and mostly irrational beings.

Not Soldiers.

I had never faced a Soldier by myself, let alone two. The obsidian helmets and masks of iron black covered everything except their eyes and mouth. I always preferred to go in through the mouth. Not because it offered advantage, but because I wanted them to watch; to witness the glorious moment when I banished their penitent souls to the land of Hell’s Lords.

I looked at Jacob and tried to force a smile. I’d have to do the deed with my bloodline’s archaic tools. I removed my shirt and bundled him nice and tight. The Kevlar threads of Aunt V.’s chain mail would provide adequate protection.

“The Greymont line ends tonight,” the creature on the right spoke to me in a voice I always thought sounds like a slab of metal against a stone grinder, grinding from inside a hollowed-out tree.

I ignored him, carefully inserting Jacob into Victoria’s leather-wrapped messenger bag. “When will you filthy beasts learn? You can’t kill Simon Greymont.”

“Simon Greymont is dead,” the gargoyle-man closest to the window said, his bird-like muzzle twisting into a grin with the words. “We come for the boy.”

Crack.

My broken leg had fully healed.

“Show me the power of the Greymont line.”

The accursed demon’s whispers visited my mind for the first time that night; he who had gifted the disease to the low-life who bit me. I knew then the metamorphosis would soon complete, and I, become a part of him.

I flung Jacob’s first Earth-side crib around my shoulders, let my black hair fall over my face and bare chest, and said: “If I were dead, would I dare do this?”

The tail of my father’s whip unfastened from my battle-worn belt and hit the floor with the finite snap of its wyvern scale tip.

“You wouldn’t dare, hunter,” one of them said. “Even the beasts of the underworld know the Red Fire of the Morning Star consumes everything unholy.”

The other brute scoffed. “You’ll destroy yourself before the first swing.”

I smiled, for the first time that night, tightening my grip over the leather handle. “Guess we’ll find out where exactly the Big Guy draws the line.”

I took a deep breath, thought of grass, tulips and dreams, and swung.

Then the air before me exploded into a black sun.


Enjoyed this literary snack? You might also like Star Map. Leave a comment or share with others. Feedback, thoughts and speculation are welcome too.

8-bit dreams of strawberries and alkaline.

Dr. Wily's Lair, Mega Man 2, Copyright Capcom Co., Ltd.

Dr. Wily’s Lair, Mega Man 2. Copyright Capcom Co., Ltd.

Imagine the House of Words built like the ultimate supervillain lair:

Black concrete drapes the eastern mountainside of a remote, volcanic island. Henchmen dressed in scaly armor push iron carts uphill, spilling horror novels and stolen teenage diaries over the tracks. Serpent women, wearing long, crimson trench coats sewn with Pacific islander skin, drag beakers filled to the brim with inspiration brewed from humanity’s smiles and dreams and nightmares. Rivers of magma flow inside, through halls and torture rooms decorated like medieval dungeons, but engineered with plentiful technology to harness the Earth’s thermal energy… and your screams.

I’m not a bad person. Truthfully, I’m not. My family knows it. My colleagues know it. Even I know it.

I’m a loving, caring, legit ray of sunshine in real life. Sometimes funny, witty, and according to some: oddly charming. I listen, share knowledge, donate to the cause, and care deeply about our world. But whenever I lunge the literary knife, the dark master takes control.

Blame nurture, not nature.

Growing up, my brother got He-man and Battle Cat. Little-Alvin gazed into Skeletor’s hollow eyes and Evil-Lyn’s… yellow cleavage! Big brother played out heroic scenes inside Castle Grayskull. I practiced evil laughters with Snake Mountain’s built-in mic. When G.I. Joe came out? Jinx and Flint vs. Destro and Serpentor. And Transformers! Oh Transformers… Actually, I got Bumblebee that time, and with it: My sanity.

The following story sprouted in the lair’s secret lab, far from my minions and their obsessive exploration of the tortured soul. I created it to practice the ever-so-popular first person point of view, dream up some science fiction and exercise a new, cheery, adventurous – dare I say comedic – Alvin-voice.

The result? The beginning of a space odyssey filled with–

Radio static…

WIPE THE STARDUST OFF YOUR HUDS. TURN ON YOUR NAVIGATION BOTS. DON’T LEAVE THAT TORTURED OTHER-WORLDLY BAGGAGE UNATTENDED. SNEAKING THROUGH THE PORTHOLE, GREASY FINGERS ON THE GLASS. BEHIND THE EMPTY CAPTAIN’S CHAIR, THE DARKNESS HIDES ITS PROSE.

And please: Don’t forget your complementary

Star Map


Tick… Tock.

Tick… Tock.

“Wake up, John,” her voice reignited my dormant consciousness with her unearthly tone. She sounded familiar, yet similar to nothing I had heard before. The roar of a jet engine, but one simmered in kindness, I thought.

“W-where… am I?” I said, using my vocal chords in what seemed like the first time in a hundred years.

“He’s confused, Miss Map,” said another voice, also female, but childish, like an eight-year-old infant enunciates the word ‘mommy’. “It is to be expected; rebooting after all this time.”

Tick…

Tock.

“What’s that noise?” I asked, suffering through every damn tick and tock 100 decibels louder than it should. “Am I… am I inside a clock?” I tried to lift myself from the magnesium-alloy sarcophagus holding me captive, but my muscles disobeyed and I slipped back, hitting my head on the cold, gelatinous slab.

I opened my eyes and saw an angel.

And the angel dressed itself in human flesh infected with steel.

“Clock?” the angel said, biting her lip, and raising one thin eyebrow.

I couldn’t believe those eyes. Crystal blue, shimmering blue, as if two diamonds had been covered with ink and filled with xenon light.

“A machine designed for measuring time,” said the girlish voice.

“A time… machine?” The angel bent her head to the left, then to the right, watching me with what I interpreted to be fascination.

“In his case, more time capsule than time machine, Miss Map.”

The angel smiled.

My bony legs gave out again, and I slumped back into the cradle.

Her smile must be hot enough to melt Neptune’s oceans.

“Hello fellow human, I’m Star Map,” she said, jamming her face in front of mine. Her breath tickled my eyes. It smelled oddly like strawberries and alkaline. Bright orange hair draped her face, leading me to notice the strips of metal for the first time: two thin lines outlining her skin to the sides of the mouth, then lifting all the way to the hairline. “You can call me Star.”

I willed myself to speak, trying not to sound like an idiot.

“What kind of a name is Star Map?” I said, sounding not like an idiot, but a pompous idiot. She pulled back, still smiling, and those weird electric blue eyes made her pale skin glow. The rest of the room was dark.

“Glad you asked! Dad was a starship. Mom thought it’d be cool to name me ‘Star’.”

A starship?

“My grandfather’s last name was ‘Map’,” she continued, making a quirky gesture, followed by another ten, reminding me of the Spanish-dubbed Japanese cartoons my brother and I watched Saturday mornings when we were kids.

“O-ok, little, er… girl,” I said, shaking my head and also the fogginess from my mind. “I suppose Grandpa was Google Maps?”

Her face lit up.

“Well, not the Google Maps. That code could hardly be considered sentient. But the Cartographer bots, long after they stopped calling themselves by their human-given names? Those were Grandpa’s tribes: the Neo Tracers, the Borg Plotting Company, the Voltron Equation… bots were big on twentieth century American fiction back then.”

I opened my mouth… then closed it.

Star pressed a finger to her lips, as if organizing her thoughts. “You seem smart, John. I didn’t expect smart,” she said, turning to her companion. “How intelligent do you think he is, Doc?”

“Purebred homo sapiens reached levels between 80 and 90 INT.”

Doc spoke matter-of-factly, her girlish voice filtered through what sounded like a 1950s intercom. She was a bulky, tall thing built like an aircraft carrier – I estimated 8 feet. My brain struggled pinning the infantile tone to that hunk of an Amazonian woman. She wore her black hair tied in a knot and her mouth hid behind a metal mask which trembled when she spoke.

“Some recorded cases declare as high as the low hundreds.”

I looked at her trying to parse, or categorize – at least make sense of her attire. The fabric’s texture reminded me of killer whale skin or perhaps rubber: dark grey, hardened rubber. It puffed in the shape of an umbrella around her hips and then cascaded over her legs. It was the futurist spandex version of an eighteen-century European dress, designed not for fashion but for function.

“You speak about me like I’m not here,” I blurted out. “It’s not polite, you know.”

Doc’s gaze intensified, swallowing me up and down with those red bicycle reflector eyes. I felt cold and alone, and incredibly hungry. My arms instinctively hugged my body, scratching against the unkempt, time-worn brown overalls.

How thin I had become!

“I estimate this one in the low sixties, Miss Map,” Doc said, tapping a device on her arm with gloved fingers. A whir and a beep interrupted the dark chamber’s silence, and the flicker of halogen found asylum around us, allowing me to absorb the scene.

Dozens of pods similar to mine lay across the open floor plan, organized in rows depicted with different colored consoles. The room was like a hangar, rafters and hanging walkways and all; no ships though. I squinted to better see.

My stomach churned.

Coffins… not pods,” the words escaped my lips.

The stains of blood and other human viscera smeared these death beds; the floor too. Bits of decaying flesh stuck to broken glass and metal, dried up like beef jerky – or in this case: human jerky.

Star seemed to take a long breath, tightening the white plastic covering her ample bosom – a man always notices these things – and then let out one prolonged and somber sigh.

“The others… your crew,” came that sweet voice I suddenly realized I already missed. “They had… passed before we docked.” Star lowered her face. “All twelve except you. You are number 13, John.” She looked at me with lonesome kindness in her eyes. “And number 13 is alive!”

It all came back to me then: Nasa’s plans for the Ark, the journey to the other end of the Solar System, the launch of the Children of Science and our pact. Then, the explosions and sabotage… the visage of the saboteur, her murderous hands, and the decision to go to sleep.

How long had I been asleep?

“What year is it!?” I said, bolting to my feet. This time, my bones and muscles decided to comply. I felt the rush of blood pump out of my chest and rediscover every nook and cranny of my 32-year-old flesh.

“It is the year 2143 CET,” said Star.

Doc saw right into the confusion in my eyes. “Classic Earth Time,” she said, taking a few carefully placed steps in my direction. Her feet stomped on the ground with a resounding clang, as if weighing a ton of metal each.

“Human, do you remember your name?” Doc said, pointing at me the transparent headpiece of a gadget she pulled from the puffy, bendy, metal-looking skirt.

I nodded, cursing the green flashlight blinding me.

“The vitals are stable, Miss Map. There’s also no contamination.”

“Contamination?” I said, wondering why learning one hundred and thirteen years had passed, or more specifically, the word ‘contamination’, hadn’t given me a heart attack.

Star turned to me and grabbed my hands.

The chances of heart attack in today’s weather forecast increased 50%.

“I don’t have the time to explain, but John…” She bit her lip, and not in a cute way – the whole lower lip disappeared inside her mouth – exhaled and said, “Our women are dying. Something, or someone, is eradicating them. Purebred homo sapiens women, like my mom.” One of her hands was cold and metallic; the other was warm and sculpted with the softest skin I had ever touched.

My body reminded me I was conceived a man and my ears turned red. I supposed waking from 100 years of sleep would gift any man the boner of the century. I took a step back, releasing her and retreating against the open pod to hide my indecency.

“What about the men?” I said, clearing my throat. “Are they, are they not affected too?” The United Nations didn’t assign me to the Children of Science for my expertise in the field of Biology, let alone Virology. They hired John Santos a lowly aeronautical engineer, but every bit had to help, right? I did get straight A’s in college. Never enrolled in Biology though. The Humanities Department housed the best-looking girls.

“No more men,” Doc said. “All the men are dead.”

Goodbye morning wood, old friend.

The finality of Doc’s words, and the lack of emotion behind them, pierced my sanity like a million screaming children locked inside my head. I sensed my eyes open bigger than my oval shaped head, and fear’s cold claw tickle behind my heart with its yellow nails.

“Always the tactful one, aren’t you Doc?” Star gave her companion a reproachful look.

“Listen to me John. What I am about to tell you is important. I want you to listen.” Star planted her feet more firmly, flexing her legs into a fighting stance. I couldn’t help but notice how the hard plastic uniform accentuated her athletic figure. “Are you ready to listen, John?” I wanted to press her tight into my arms and kiss her. How could I be thinking of companionship at a time like this? Freud, you bastard, I can hear your cackling all the way from the grave!

I nodded.

“The Cybrid Council suspects the epidemic isn’t natural.”

“Cybrid… Council? Epidemic?” I said, repeating Star’s urgent and intellectual-sounding phrases like a simian imitating its superior human caretakers.

“It’s a biological weapon, John. A weapon for which you may be the shield. Council scientists theorize your blood could help us synthesize a cure – or at least slow the spread of disease.” Star grabbed my hands again. “I always believed the Children of Science a fairy tale, passed from mother to daughter above the stars. An ark containing the last men to leave Earth I?”

“Lies to keep young girls dreaming,” said Doc.

“But we found you, John!” said Star, tightening her grip.

Fire in my ears. Fire in chest…

I cleared my throat again.

“And you two are a part of this… Cybrid Council?” I asked.

“We’re definitely Cybrid, second generation Cybrid to be precise, but no, not Council. Unconfirmed evidence suggests the perpetrator, mastermind to this new genocide, lurks inside.” She released me from her impossibly seductive grip – Mom always said I was a bit dramatic – and stepped back. “We are bounty hunters, John. Let’s say, the Council’s strong arm. The cloak and daggers division, for when matters need to be kept from the public eye.”

Bounty hunters, I thought, turning to my deceased companions from a century long forgotten. Our lifelong dream of conquering the Solar System, scrapped and pilfered through bounty hunter hands?

God must be a funny man – or woman – because all the men are dead.

All,

the,

men,

are–

“The bounty is you, John.” Star bent over me again, smiled and tapped my nose with the index finger of her bionic hand.

Dead…

An alarm blared in the distance.

“Miss Map, they are here,” said Doc. “I detect one ship entering orbit.”

“How close?”

“They are moon-shooting around Europa now. Two minutes.”

“Hostiles?” I said, remembering my military training: All 12 weeks of basic training. I hadn’t fired a rifle since I was 19… well, unless you count playing Halo.

Star looked at Doc.

“Yes, Miss Map: Lord Nukes.”

My heart sank.

“He is a nuke as in – ahem – nuclear warhead?”

He is a she, and she is a hothead,” said Star.

I scrambled to my feet, running to the weapons locker nearest me. Good thing we moved the pods to the hangar bay. Not many weapons to find in a medical bay, but the hangar bay – I threw the metal cage open, almost pulling it out of its hinges – the hangar bay was always fully stock–

“It’s empty!” I turned to Star, who had somehow sneaked up behind me.

Something bumped, not so gently, into the Children of Science, shaking the entire room, and sending cracked human pods, as well as cracked humans, flying all around us. I fell on my knees and hit my nose on Star’s behind.

Pain.

“W-what the hell are you made of!?” I cursed, loudly, then cursed again.

“Dad gave me the ships, but mom gave me the hips!” she said, slapping herself right on the curves.

Not the time, I told myself, but man, Star left me breathless.

Doc bolted over to our location, or more like rolled over with her fat, metallic ass. She turned her magical wheel of gadgets and pulled out a cannon: a red, lustrous, menacing cannon, about the size of an arm.

Star screwed off her right hand – I gasped – proceeded to bolt on the rocket-looking thing, and a hum like someone had turned on a gigantic microwave filled the air. The cylindrical weapon pulsed, brimming with energy and overflowing crimson light.

The hair behind my neck lifted to the air, offering the Lord a hallelujah. I didn’t mind offering one myself. “Hallelu–“

A loud blast invaded the room, creating a vacuum sucking everything in sight. Star grabbed me, or hugged me, but definitely pulled me tight and whispered in breath tainted with jet fuel. “Get ready for the ride of your life.”

“RIDE!?” I screamed over the chaos, fearing my antiquated life would soon be slurped out into the abyss. “DO WE EVEN HAVE A SHIP!?”

She looked back with those beautiful crystal blues and winked.

“I am the ship.”


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Take any one you want.

The Legend of Zelda, copyright Nintendo Co., Ltd.

The Legend of Zelda, copyright Nintendo Co., Ltd.

Let’s peek inside the House of Words.

The following short discovered its prose after a riveting, frightening chat with a woman; an ambitious, elegant, won’t-allow-me-a-single-word-in-the-conversation spunky señora. I did not obtain what I sought – at least not right away – but the discussion did gift a seed.

I planted the fat, furry nut beneath the keyboard and let my fingertips reap the story. A story an estranged wife appropriated in THE CHROME TRIALS, BOOK 2 of my young adult dark fantasy series CONCEPTION, to craft a letter to her husband:

The tale of her great-grandmother, Joy.


Joy lived in mid-twentieth century Japan. My great-great-grandfather raised her alone: His ‘skinny, awkward girl, beautiful in her own goofy way’. They followed a peaceful, frugal life, sustained by his modest earnings in the radio repair business. It would be ironically over a broken military radio, sixteen-year-old Joy first loved.

He was a soldier no more than seventeen. He came into their wooden electronics shop on orders from his captain, searching for replacement parts for a Type 94-6 transceiver. Joy tended to the counter that humid afternoon. He said “konnichi wa,” and smiled. She said “irasshaimase,” and melted. They conversed alone for fifteen minutes, a short time to fall in love, except in the teenage world, where fifteen lasts a lifetime.

The boy’s departure left Joy drained, saddened, and thirsty. Her days passed wistfully looking out the translucent paper windows, hoping to one day meet the nameless boy again; smile softly at his vivid stories and look into his eyes whenever he looked at hers.

While the boy never returned, his correspondence greeted her one evening. Imagine Joy’s surprise: Military life didn’t allow free time in excess, even less for pen and paper, and in his limited supply, Hiroki had chosen to write her!

In the letter, he spoke to her respectfully, yet with the passion of a man. He talked about teaching her the art of kirigami. About taking long walks across the city’s gardens and napping under the shade of the giant cherry blossom. Joy studied his calligraphy, obsessing over kanji characters, brush strokes and often pausing to inhale the remaining essence of ink and sweat. The girl read that letter over a hundred times a day until her spirit succumbed to the need.

Armed with his name, military address and a water canteen, Joy stole her father’s bicycle and ventured to the city. Forty kilometers separated her rural village from the densely-populated destination, and while the Empire had paved plentiful roads, the majority offered only dirt. Joy didn’t care. She was exultant, energized, and her young body committed every ounce of strength.

Upon arriving at the military outpost, she found a metal bus parked outside the gates. Excitement seized the scene as a dozen families disembarked, bags of rice and chocolate boxes in tow. Joy stopped and smiled. One day, this would be her: Wife to Hiroki; mother of his children. They would conceive twice: Hiroki Jr. and Hiro, both boys named after their father. Together, they would celebrate elaborate picnics in the city’s gardens; lay on the grass and try to guess the curious shapes sculpted in the stratosphere. Their bumbling sons would later sneak away and play while she and Hiroki held hands. Every now and then, he would look at her and smile, then she would smile, and their hands would embrace more firmly.

So vast was her elation when Hiroki walked through the gate that seeing the red-haired woman and child run into his arms threw Joy off her bike.

“Kore wa… nan desu ka?” She asked, confused, as the woman pressed her lips to her man and the little boy climbed his uniformed pants. “Kuso… kuso!” she said cursing, sobbing, hating an energetic Hiroki shower his wife and child with kisses. Joy felt the earth disappear. She tried to stand, shaking, but fell. She tried again, harder, and with a foggy head managed to escape. She mounted the bike and looked back once.

Then, she rode.

She rode on the dirt. She rode on the pavement. She rode over grass, in heat and in rain. For hours she pedaled until the oxygen impaled her chest, numbing the pain.

When the race came to its end, the girl had travelled over eighty kilometers. She bent over, delirious, and heaved, expunging the yellow disease from her stomach. She turned around, realizing she didn’t recognize the landscape, so she dragged her bicycle to the top of a nearby hill covered in hay.

A blinding flash lit the sky. An angry wind buffeted her face. Joy dropped to the ground as the loud rumble of crumbling concrete deafened her ears. Dust and smoke engulfed everything in darkness. The girl scrambled to her knees and crawled to the edge, empty of breath.

The city of Hiroshima burned, and behind a greasy veil of black hair, so did Great-Grandmother’s laughter, empty as well.


When Zelda’s wise man in a cave asks you to ‘Take any one you want’: Pause. Remember Joy and her courage to flee from love. Remember how in that single moment of lucid madness, she saved herself and the lives of her unborn children… so one could fill a bookshelf in my House of Words.