One Hand Publishing

The latest posts tagged with “feature

Tiny Earth Declares War on Earth
A short story by J. T. Pearson
Post 1


Secretary of Defense, Lance Maynard, produced a cigar from his breast pocket and held it out. “Do you mind, Mr. President? They’re kind of like a security blanket for me in times of stress.”
“Under the circumstances I think that we can overlook it. Go ahead,” said the president, with a slight hint of a smile that he was struggling to conceal. He didn’t want to spoil the fun his staff was entitled while hazing him his first day in office. Maynard was a leftover from the departing administration that the new president, Winston Westmont Pierce, had decided to keep aboard.
Maynard produced his lighter, lit the cigar, and took a couple of puffs before proceeding.
“The inhabitants of Tiny Earth don’t use bullets and bombs. They’ve developed the technology to manipulate some of Earth’s physical laws, like gravity and radio waves. They also claim that they are able to shrink whatever is in our atmosphere, reduce the mass, or compress it- we’re not real sure about what they mean - although that technology hasn’t actually been confirmed. To be clear, we aren’t really certain how much of a danger they are to our planet but they’ve exhibited a significant superiority to our scientific knowledge in the past, using it more as a warning, creating nuisance situations rather than actual harm so far.”
“Nuisance situations, mmm hmm.” The president picked a sweet roll from his desk and rolled it around in his hand while he feigned a limited amount of distress. It wouldn’t look very presidential not to appear brave and manly. He posed with his shoulders back. “I see.” He tried not to look obvious as he scanned the office for hidden cameras. He inwardly chastised himself for looking too long and directly at a potted rubber tree that sat along the eastern wall.
“Only a couple dozen people in the world, dating back to 1973 when their King first contacted us, know of the existence of Tiny Earth. Since then, each president and whoever he had felt it was necessary to confide in, have been informed that Tiny Earth has been living under the stars with us, breathing the same oxygen, sharing the same sun that we see in our sky.”
“So they have a king, hmmm, interesting.” He glanced more casually at the rubber tree this time.
The smell of Maynard’s cigar filled the Oval Office with a combination of vanilla and cherry wood. He was getting frustrated by the trouble he was having getting the new President to believe that the message from Tiny Earth that he’d found crushed into the mahogany of his desk that morning was real and needed to be taken seriously. The warning from King Donald Johnson of Tiny Earth stated that if Big Earth did not meet Tiny Earth’s demands this time then they should consider themselves at war with the planet. The King of Tiny Earth, however, hadn’t yet bothered to state what those demands were.
Back on Tiny Earth King Johnson and his top military experts watched the two men in the Oval Office through a visual portal, listening, and waiting for a reaction. After seeing the new president’s state of doubt, King Johnson realized that an additional warning was needed, a demonstration of Tiny Earth’s superior technology. The king directed his top general to increase the gravitational pull on the president’s coffee mug until it started trembling, then shaking more violently, then the area of the desk around the mug started cracking until the mug collapsed through the corner of his desk, and then through the floor, and then through the floor below, and so on, until the mug was out of sight, well below the White House. The president stood frozen staring at the gaping hole left in the floor.
Winston had loved that coffee mug even though he’d only had it for a day, a gift from the First Lady, Jenny (nicknamed Gentlebird for her generous contributions of time and money to a multitude of charities). She had presented it to Winston when he won the election with the phrase HAVE A PRESIDENTIAL DAY inscribed in bold red caps on the glossy exterior. She had been up in the air as whether to destroy the mug or give it to her gardener if her husband had lost the election. She just hated waste.
The breakfast pastry slipped from the president’s hand back to his desk with a squishy PLOP.
“How the hell did you just do that, Maynard?” The president peered down the hole and then ran his hands above the new opening, searching for invisible wires. He looked over at the rubber tree. “How’d you guys do that?” He walked over and searched the small tree and then the pot frantically. He turned and looked angrily at Maynard. “What the hell is going on?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. President. This is always very difficult for the incoming leader.”
“Maynard, come on! What the hell? You’re not serious.”
“I’m very sorry, Mr. President.”
The president ravaged the room looking for hidden cameras, upturning furniture and knocking paintings from the walls, while Maynard watched on patiently. The Color drained from the president’s face as he realized that he wasn’t being put on. He took a deep breath before bending forward and rubbing his stomach. “This is real?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I’ve got an ulcer that acts up sometimes, Maynard. Go on with what you’ve been saying. You’ve got my full attention now.” He remained bent toward the floor.
“Do you need anything, Mr. President? Should I call for someone?”
“I need you to continue, Maynard. Are we in danger as you speak? Are they about to crush us like an ant in one of their tiny hands?”
“I don’t believe it to be the case. And besides, an ant would never fit in one of their hands. An ant is much bigger than their entire planet.”
The exiting president was of another party and had decided to go against the tradition of informing the new leader of the free world about our planet’s ongoing struggle with their microscopic nemesis.
The president straightened up. “Let us be clear. Everything that you’ve been describing, about a teeny angry planet, is real?”
Maynard nodded.
“Damn that Holcomb to the deepest ring of hell! He never said a word about a technologically advanced tiny planet threatening us with war! He just waltzed right out of here and went on his merry way! That’s why the parties need to work together! Because of situations like this!”
“I understand your anger, Mr. President.”
“I would’ve told him about Tiny Earth. That would only have been the sporting thing to do.”
“Perhaps.”
“Perhaps?” The president grabbed the roll that he’d dropped on his desk earlier that morning and slammed it into the waste basket. THUNK! “What can you expect from a republican?” He paced the room.
Post 2 available here
Guest Post by J. T. Pearson

Tiny Earth Declares War on Earth

A short story by J. T. Pearson

Post 1

Secretary of Defense, Lance Maynard, produced a cigar from his breast pocket and held it out. “Do you mind, Mr. President? They’re kind of like a security blanket for me in times of stress.”

“Under the circumstances I think that we can overlook it. Go ahead,” said the president, with a slight hint of a smile that he was struggling to conceal. He didn’t want to spoil the fun his staff was entitled while hazing him his first day in office. Maynard was a leftover from the departing administration that the new president, Winston Westmont Pierce, had decided to keep aboard.

Maynard produced his lighter, lit the cigar, and took a couple of puffs before proceeding.

“The inhabitants of Tiny Earth don’t use bullets and bombs. They’ve developed the technology to manipulate some of Earth’s physical laws, like gravity and radio waves. They also claim that they are able to shrink whatever is in our atmosphere, reduce the mass, or compress it- we’re not real sure about what they mean - although that technology hasn’t actually been confirmed. To be clear, we aren’t really certain how much of a danger they are to our planet but they’ve exhibited a significant superiority to our scientific knowledge in the past, using it more as a warning, creating nuisance situations rather than actual harm so far.”

“Nuisance situations, mmm hmm.” The president picked a sweet roll from his desk and rolled it around in his hand while he feigned a limited amount of distress. It wouldn’t look very presidential not to appear brave and manly. He posed with his shoulders back. “I see.” He tried not to look obvious as he scanned the office for hidden cameras. He inwardly chastised himself for looking too long and directly at a potted rubber tree that sat along the eastern wall.

“Only a couple dozen people in the world, dating back to 1973 when their King first contacted us, know of the existence of Tiny Earth. Since then, each president and whoever he had felt it was necessary to confide in, have been informed that Tiny Earth has been living under the stars with us, breathing the same oxygen, sharing the same sun that we see in our sky.”

“So they have a king, hmmm, interesting.” He glanced more casually at the rubber tree this time.

The smell of Maynard’s cigar filled the Oval Office with a combination of vanilla and cherry wood. He was getting frustrated by the trouble he was having getting the new President to believe that the message from Tiny Earth that he’d found crushed into the mahogany of his desk that morning was real and needed to be taken seriously. The warning from King Donald Johnson of Tiny Earth stated that if Big Earth did not meet Tiny Earth’s demands this time then they should consider themselves at war with the planet. The King of Tiny Earth, however, hadn’t yet bothered to state what those demands were.

Back on Tiny Earth King Johnson and his top military experts watched the two men in the Oval Office through a visual portal, listening, and waiting for a reaction. After seeing the new president’s state of doubt, King Johnson realized that an additional warning was needed, a demonstration of Tiny Earth’s superior technology. The king directed his top general to increase the gravitational pull on the president’s coffee mug until it started trembling, then shaking more violently, then the area of the desk around the mug started cracking until the mug collapsed through the corner of his desk, and then through the floor, and then through the floor below, and so on, until the mug was out of sight, well below the White House. The president stood frozen staring at the gaping hole left in the floor.

Winston had loved that coffee mug even though he’d only had it for a day, a gift from the First Lady, Jenny (nicknamed Gentlebird for her generous contributions of time and money to a multitude of charities). She had presented it to Winston when he won the election with the phrase HAVE A PRESIDENTIAL DAY inscribed in bold red caps on the glossy exterior. She had been up in the air as whether to destroy the mug or give it to her gardener if her husband had lost the election. She just hated waste.

The breakfast pastry slipped from the president’s hand back to his desk with a squishy PLOP.

“How the hell did you just do that, Maynard?” The president peered down the hole and then ran his hands above the new opening, searching for invisible wires. He looked over at the rubber tree. “How’d you guys do that?” He walked over and searched the small tree and then the pot frantically. He turned and looked angrily at Maynard. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. President. This is always very difficult for the incoming leader.”

“Maynard, come on! What the hell? You’re not serious.”

“I’m very sorry, Mr. President.”

The president ravaged the room looking for hidden cameras, upturning furniture and knocking paintings from the walls, while Maynard watched on patiently. The Color drained from the president’s face as he realized that he wasn’t being put on. He took a deep breath before bending forward and rubbing his stomach. “This is real?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“I’ve got an ulcer that acts up sometimes, Maynard. Go on with what you’ve been saying. You’ve got my full attention now.” He remained bent toward the floor.

“Do you need anything, Mr. President? Should I call for someone?”

“I need you to continue, Maynard. Are we in danger as you speak? Are they about to crush us like an ant in one of their tiny hands?”

“I don’t believe it to be the case. And besides, an ant would never fit in one of their hands. An ant is much bigger than their entire planet.”

The exiting president was of another party and had decided to go against the tradition of informing the new leader of the free world about our planet’s ongoing struggle with their microscopic nemesis.

The president straightened up. “Let us be clear. Everything that you’ve been describing, about a teeny angry planet, is real?”

Maynard nodded.

“Damn that Holcomb to the deepest ring of hell! He never said a word about a technologically advanced tiny planet threatening us with war! He just waltzed right out of here and went on his merry way! That’s why the parties need to work together! Because of situations like this!”

“I understand your anger, Mr. President.”

“I would’ve told him about Tiny Earth. That would only have been the sporting thing to do.”

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps?” The president grabbed the roll that he’d dropped on his desk earlier that morning and slammed it into the waste basket. THUNK! “What can you expect from a republican?” He paced the room.

Post 2 available here

Guest Post by J. T. Pearson

 
Waste Land - A short story
One : The Burial of the Dead
We fell out of the void toward the planet that Hugo had named Eliot. Its G-class star, Pound, hung like a fiery jewel in the void. I was frozen, and Pound thawed me from an eon’s sleep, gossamer photovoltaic arrays drinking in light and heat and literally, though indirectly, warming the frozen sludge of my blood.It brought me back to life. Five thousand and eighty-one others slept on. Eighteen corpses thawed, and bled.There had been a mutiny.We were not where we were supposed to be. And we had slept far, far longer than anyone, save one, had intended.My first sensation was the condensation in the cryopod pattering down on my face, my first thought a muddled memory of spring rain and nightingales, and the scent of lavender. They say there are no dreams in cryosleep, and they would be right. They never said anything about memory. Or desire."Marie, wake up. Wake up. Are you awake?" Hugo’s voice from everywhere and nowhere.I swallowed, or tried to. Made a vague assent."There is a problem, Marie." The pod chunked open, sudden pressure equalization spearing my eardrums. "You are needed on the bridge."As I stumbled out of the ‘pod and into Cryobay One, I looked on a nine hundred year old mass murder. The blood was still fresh.Starnberger had recorded a long, rambling manifesto/confession before he’d opened up his veins in the chemical shower in Engineering. It wasn’t nonsense or frothing madness. I couldn’t disagree with any of the facts: Earth, overpopulated and polluted and suffering from climate change, was essentially dying. Corporatocracies ruled every facet of an individual’s life, from cradle to grave- for those lucky enough to find and keep a place in the system. Billions more survived at a subsistence level - or didn’t. The colonies were just company stores in the sky.So our resident computer genius had co-opted Hugo, the ship AI, got himself woken eighteen weeks out from earth, just before the superluminals kicked in, and pointed us into the void.Sixty days later, he’d changed course again. And again sixty days after that. We might conceivably go back to Earth (two millennia on from when we left it), but Earth would never have been able to come after us.Before Starnberger had killed himself, he’d ripped out of cryostasis anyone he thought might feel obliged to try and reverse his decision. Or, maybe, be inclined to replicate the mistakes of Old Earth — the Captain, the First Officer, three security officers, and all thirteen members of corporate HQ. Ripped them out, which they would never have survived anyway, and used a bone saw from Triage to saw part way through their frozen-solid wrists - so that as they thawed, they bled out.As Astrogator, I was the ranking crewmember now.I stared at Eliot on the main screen for a long time, a mottled tan ball six months out. Hugo whispered things to me - first estimates on gravity, atmospheric makeup - until I interrupted him."Why Eliot?""Why did I name the planet Eliot, Marie?""Yes.""The Turing sub articles devolved responsibility for naming newly discovered—""I know all that, Hugo."He was quiet for a moment. Shyness? Embarrassment?"I like T. S. Eliot’s writing. And Ezra Pound was a contemporary of Eliot’s."A ship AI with a fondness for poetry. I rubbed my face with a trembling hand. “Show me Starnberger.”"Marie?""Show me when he killed them." And Hugo did. I watched him go from pod to pod, shucking out occupants like frozen oysters. Watched him work the saw in businesslike fashion. Watched him stop at mine, and stare at me for what seemed forever.Watched him move on. I shuddered.I’d never passed more than a dozen words with him before we shipped out. I couldn’t help wondering why he’d spared me."Did he…""Yes, Marie?""Did he leave any further instructions for you, Hugo? Anything I should know about?""No, Marie. He said that he had given all of you a chance to start over, and that it was up to you now.""You’re sure there’s nothing else he did to you.""Yes, Marie." Pause. "As sure as I can be.""I want you to run over every line of your code and make sure.""I don’t have code in the way you’re referring to, Marie. What makes me is more like your own DNA.""Damn it, Hugo, I know that. Just do it.""All right, Marie. But it will not be a quick process."I went to clean up the corpses. I had no idea what else to do.That night I dreamed of Abbie in the Hofgarten in Munich, the night before takeoff. She had run through the lavender beds that day, and their scent had clung to her flower-print dress. Night had fallen by the time I’d convinced her to leave. As we approached the park gates she’d suddenly stopped, transfixed by the song of the nightingales they’d recently reintroduced.Twit twit twitJug jug jug jug jug jug"Mama, what IS that?""That’s a bird, baby."It was the first time she’d ever heard one.She’d fallen asleep in my lap on the train back to Geneva, where her grandmother was to collect her and raise her for the next three years. I’d buried my nose in her soft curls, and her tiny hand had lain like a seashell in mine.My baby girl was more than nine hundred years dead.Two : A Game of ChessThree months out. Philo hunched over the tiny magnetic board, grimacing, as if considering his next move gave him cramps. I stared at the cheap holo of a carved dolphin above his bunk. And thought of nothing.Finally he moved, spasmodically, as if to keep himself from being paralyzed by second thoughts. Bishop took knight."Something I’ve never understood," he said, apropos of nothing. "All ship functions are essentially automated. Why do they need an Astrogator? Why do they need you?""Because things happen. Superluminals cut out. AIs develop issues. Very, very rarely, but situations arise. Think of me as travel insurance.""I don’t think we are going to be able to collect.""The insurance wasn’t for us, anyway. It was for the Company."That killed the conversation for a while."What are you thinking?" he asked me, but kept his eyes averted."I’m thinking of all the things I’d give for a bottle of bourbon," I lied. "You?""I’m thinking I wish you’d left me frozen," he said. But had the decency to look me in the eye when he said it. Hard for him, I know. Brilliant exocologist. Had Asperger’s syndrome. Really not good with people."I needed you.""I know." Not pride. Just truth."You wanna go back under?""Yes." He carefully arranged the slain pieces along the side of the board. "And no. Eliot is… bizarre. I need to know more."I sighed. “All I need to know is if it’s habitable.”"Yes. And no.""What does that mean, Philo?" But he just shook his head, eyes somewhere, anywhere other than my face. I lay my king down. I’m a shit chess player."In fourteen days we need to decide if we’re going to slingshot around Pound and head back to Earth. If not, in eighty-seven days we need to decide whether to park Hugo in orbit or take him down. I need a clearer answer. And I need it soon."He rocked a little in his chair. He was quiet for a long time. Then, “Thaw out Lil. And Albert. I need them. If you want your answer in time.”Eliot was habitable. But they couldn’t figure out why it was habitable.Gravity, 97% Earth standard. Mass, 67.1% Earth standard. Atmosphere so close to Earth’s as made no difference. It had seasons, but not much weather. No surface water, but fresh water in aquifers there for the drilling. Chilly, but usually not much colder than, say, Munich in autumn.But no life.Not a germ, not an amoeba. No trees or moss or lichen, no algae, no fucking flora at all that our scans could detect, much less fauna. Hugo was a terraformer/colonizer hybrid; we could build up a rudimentary Gaia-web over the course of a few years. Child’s play compared to our original assignment, though greater in scope. Infinitely easier to start with a blank slate, Lil informed me. That wasn’t the issue.The issue was, Eliot was an impossibility. Everywhere humanity had gone, we’d seen nothing that didn’t support the idea that only life begets life. Eliot’s atmosphere should not have existed without at least the most rudimentary life forms to support and regulate it."Maybe it all died out," Albert said."Without leaving any traces?" Lil countered."I’d say the atmosphere itself is a pretty big damn trace, Lil.""Look, the Gernsback analysis should show…"I tuned them out. I was just a glorified map reader, and their scholarly tiff didn’t affect the choice that lay before me. It was almost time. I was making my way down the aft corridor towards my cabin when Hugo spoke up and made the choice for me, in a manner of speaking."Marie?""Yes, Hugo?""I’ve been running routine maintenance and performing diagnostics, as you inst-""Just tell me, Hugo.""It’s Starnberger again. He did something else. To me, and to all of you."It was in a Cryo subroutine. Some sort of dead man switch he’d wired into Hugo’s silicon genes. Once a sleeper was woken, the cryopod was rendered thoroughly useless. Once Hugo discovered the hijacking, he’d tried to reverse it - and discovered Starnberger’s poison pill of a subroutine that would essentially lobotomize him if he tried to proceed.No sleeping our way back to Earth, whether we wanted to or not. I put my hand over my eyes for a while and just floated in the corridor, ignoring Hugo’s soft “I’m sorry, Marie.” Then I went to tell the others.I began to understand then why Starnberger had spared me. He knew Hugo would wake me first. Sure, I could astrogate Hugo back to Earth. I could send him on his way back with the remaining sleepers. But I’d be centuries dead before they ever made it back. And now so would Philo, Albert and Lil.Maybe I should have been grateful he’d left me that choice, a choice he’d taken from all the other crew; living, dead and silicate.I didn’t feel gratitude. I felt a burning hate.Three : The Fire SermonHugo roared down onto a tan, featureless plain on the northern hemisphere on a cloud of smoke and dust and fire. It was dawn, and in what passed for spring on Eliot. A deep aquifer lay less than a klick below the surface, billions of gallons of fresh water there, just waiting to be drilled and pumped.I’d decided to take a page form Starnberger’s playbook and not wake the remaining sleepers, crew or cargo, until we’d already landed. Albert complained about this fait accompli, but wasn’t willing to shoulder the responsibility. Lil dithered. Philo said nothing and looked at no-one. But his jaw was always tight, and his physical twitches had intensified. I worried about him keeping it together. When I could spare time from worrying about keeping myself together.Hugo went through all the automated procedures, setting up a perimeter (‘what for, Hugo? There’s not a damned thing out there’ I said. ‘It’s automated, Marie,’ he said with an AI shrug in his modulated voice.) and sending out various probes and drones at Albert and Lil’s request. Philo sat, passive, in his work cubicle and studied the data that poured in, but spoke not a word. Just shook his head, and twitched.I managed to find enough things to do to put off waking the rest for almost a week.Albert, Lil and I settled on a process, and implemented it on the remaining crew, one by one. Philo refused to help. Albert was surprisingly helpful, considering how much of a bastard he’d been about the decision to wait on waking them.We woke the remaining crew and the colonists’ Operations team first.Seventy-eight iterations. Seventy eight responses to the situation, ranging from full-on hysteria to studied indifference. Took us three days. One woman tried to kill herself, so we kept her sedated in the infirmary, and woke Doc Margate next. Most everybody else was at least functional.In three more days almost everyone was up and about doing the job they’d been trained for, if not where, or when, they’d been trained to do it.For a while, I thought things were going to be all right. As all right as they could ever be. We had base camp set up quickly enough. Colonial Ops had a well drilled and pumping out fresh water within hours, and survey teams out doing whatever it was they had been trained to do. Nobody I spent much time talking to felt much like talking about what had happened, or what was going to happen. But then, once Hugo had set us down I’d become superfluous to the mission. Everybody else was busy. I was invited to attend Ops meetings, but my participation wasn’t something that was expected. Or appreciated. Events gathered a momentum of their own. And just like anywhere humans get together in groups of two or more, some politicking began.Most considered Starnberger to be a murdering lunatic. Not a few had come to view him as some sort of Messiah. There were two or three fights about it, one physical. There were many more fights about how to proceed with the terraforming of Eliot - what was possible, what was desirable, what was practical. I ignored it, just as I ignored the invitation to sit on the executive council, just as I ignored all the data that poured in about Eliot from the probes and the drones, and the satellites we’d set in orbit on our way down. Hugo was needed to process most of it, and I had to sign off on requests for Hugo’s attention. That was the extent of my contribution. I thought that I might go mad with the boredom.Then I started hearing nightingales.They’d made a pond, and seeded the bank with pseudo-rushes. Various experiments were ongoing involving bacteria and algae and such, and most of the pond was off limits. But a slice of the bank was roped off for people to visit, properly suited, so they could look at something other than the featureless tan sand of the surrounding plain.I’d go there in the evening and squat just above the edge of the ankle-high reeds and watch the placid water reflect the darkening sky. I’d been maybe half a dozen times when I first heard it.Jug jug jug.On the other side of the pond, maybe three hundred meters away.Twit twit twit.Jug jug jug jug jug jug.I stumbled to my feet and ran around the shore. Someone was yelling at me to stay off the reeds, but I barely heard them.By the time I’d got to the other side, it had stopped.I stayed out there for another hour, but I didn’t hear it again. I checked with everyone I could think of, and no-one knew anything about any avian releases - the first wasn’t scheduled for months at a minimum. What would they eat? There were no insects, no grains. There were just the rushes, a few mundane bacteria, and us in all the world.I went back to my cabin aboard Hugo and curled into a ball on the hard bunk. I lay awake all night, and feared for my sanity.When I heard it again the next night I didn’t chase after it. I sat down on the sand and listened all night.It stopped with the dawn.I stopped going outside after that, if I could help it.People began acting strangely. Seeing things. Hearing things. After the fourth reported hallucination, Doc Margate started running every test he could think of. Tox screens came back negative. Everything came back negative. But somehow, somehow Eliot was screwing us up.A geologist named Leicester nearly chopped off half his own foot with a pickaxe. He said he was trying to kill a rat that had suddenly appeared and started crawling on him. He had a morbid fear of rats, due to a traumatic childhood incident. He was forty klicks away from basecamp when it happened, and nearly died of blood loss.It was decided that no more sleepers would be woken up until we got a handle on the situation.It was decided that no more solo work would be performed.When the trees appeared overnight on the western horizon, and beyond them a salt sea, the camp went apeshit.Four : Death by WaterPhilo woke me."Come with me," he said, turned sideways in the doorway and looking over my head."What? What are you talking about?""You need to come with me, Marie. It’s important. Bring Hugo on a tablet.""Where are we going?""You’ll see."We left the ship and made our way through a base camp in an uproar. Porter, the executive council chairman, had forbidden anyone to leave camp and visit ‘the phenomena’. That went over like a lead balloon with most of the scientists on staff. She’d detailed three of the bigger ops staff to guard the rovers.They tried to stop us.For the first time ever I pulled rank, reminding them I was Captain now. They didn’t care. Then I told them I’d cut off their access to Hugo.They let us go.Philo drove us out to the trees, gnarled acacia from what I could tell. We stopped for a few minutes, and stared. They were just trees, remarkable only for being impossible. And then he drove on until we were among dunes and around us were the cries of seagulls and the low roar of surf."This is not possible," I said."Absolutely. Not possible," he agreed."What the fuck is going on?""I have no idea.""So why drag me out here to show me this? Beyond the obvious, I mean.""What? Oh. Not this. Or not just this. Hugo, show her what we found."The tablet I’d stuffed in the front pouch of my poncho chirped and I pulled it out."Good morning, Marie." Hugo’s voice, smaller, lessened outside his metal and plasteel body."Morning. Please tell me what Philo’s talking about.""Certainly. Philo has had me correlating all the data gathered so far about Eliot. A substantial amount, most of it uninteresting. But we did find something. An anomaly.""What kind of anomaly?""A magnetic and gravitational anomaly located about fifteen hundred kilometers from here, Marie." Hugo displayed the location of the anomaly on the tablet’s screen. "It’s something that has no reason to be there. Indeed, should not possibly be there. Unlike all the other impossible phenomena, it has been there all the while. But it has been growing stronger, more anomalous.""Philo? You think whatever’s causing all this is there?""Nothing should be causing… this." He gestured aimlessly at the newborn sea. "Whatever this is." He mustered his will and looked me briefly in the eye. "I’ve been sifting data for weeks. This is the only thing that is constant in its impossibility. So I think we need to go there."I laughed, a little shrilly. “Go there and do what?”He flinched. “I don’t know. But not going there isn’t going to do us much good.”I heard the soft, droning whine of another rover approaching. I looked back, saw Eric Phlebas, a marine biologist who’d been even more useless than me up until then, driving towards the water at full speed, which wasn’t much for the rovers. I didn’t even suspect anything was wrong until he hit the water.Momentum and the weak hydrofoil effect that helped keep the dust out of the rovers’ innards let him get about twenty meters out before he sank. He never even looked around.I didn’t get over being stunned until he’d disappeared beneath the water. I jumped out of the rover and stripped off my poncho and shoes as I ran down to the surf.It took me too long to find him down there, and longer still to get him unbuckled. By the time I got him back on shore there wasn’t any hope at all. Philo pulled me off of him after five minutes of CPR. I pushed him away, and screamed “What the hell is going on?”"I don’t know. I don’t know." It looked like it pained him to say it. He always looked like he was in pain of one sort or another. He grabbed a handful of sand, and squeezed. "Let’s go to the anomaly site, Marie. At least it’s something. If we just stay where we are, I can connect nothing with nothing." He stared at the broken fingernails of his dirty hands. "Nothing with nothing," he said again, and pointed to the corpse of Eric Phlebas.I looked. Those dead, staring eyes had turned to pearl."That came from in here, Marie," said Philo, pointing at his temple. "That’s one of my recurring nightmares.""Here, said she, is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor. Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!" Hugo ranting out of the tablet I’d left in my poncho on the sand, a few meters away."What the hell are you talking about, Hugo?""It’s Eliot. The poet, not the planet. Or perhaps both, Or Starnberger. I don’t feel well, Marie."Shivering and wet, I stared at Philo. He stared back at me, for once. Shook his head, shrugged his shoulders. I went to the poncho, pullet out the tablet."What’s wrong, Hugo?""Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks. The lady of situations.""Hugo? Hugo!"Nothing, for a long time. Then, “I think you’d better call me Tiresias now, Marie. It suits me better.”"Hugo, I need you to go into safe mode. Captain’s orders. Authorization code Aleph-""It’s too late for that, Marie. Too late for me. HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME."The distant rumble of sustained explosions reached us. They came from base camp. We saw the smoke rising up in the still air long before we got back.The automated defenses had destroyed everything and everyone in base camp, including themselves, leaving only smoking wreckage and corpses.Only Hugo was left. And us.Philo and I loaded up the rover with supplies and equipment from the ship and set out at dusk for the anomaly. Neither of us said a word the rest of that day. Neither did Hugo, though the tablet continued to display the anomaly, and our location in relation to it.Philo drove through the night. I pretended to sleep. Who knows what Hugo did.Five : What the Thunder SaidAt dawn we stopped and stretched, and it became apparent that Eliot was changing.The tan, featureless landscape had given way to an uneven plain dotted with rust-red boulders as big as houses. This area had been surveyed time and again, and hadn’t been any different from base camp in any appreciable way. It was different now.Philo heated up some Kcals and we ate in the shadow of a red rock, and gulped some caffeine. Then I took the stick. We’d gone maybe four hundred klicks. Just over a quarter of the way.Philo put his head back on the seat rest, closed his eyes. He was quiet for a long time, but I knew he wasn’t sleeping. His breathing never changed. Finally he spoke."You’ve heard the saying that technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic?""Yeah.""I used to believe that statement was just so much semantic masturbation. Are you familiar with Thomas Aquinas?""Not personally, no.""You’ve heard of the Big Bang theory?""Philo, can you get where you’re going? The end of the world seems imminent. Or something just as shitty, if less comprehensible. Either way, it’s bad form to ramble.""Aquinas formulated the argument from contingency for the existence of God. He argued that, since the universe could conceivably not exist under different circumstances, the fact that it does exist means that its existence has a cause. He called that cause God. We call it the Big Bang. I’m starting to think the difference there is semantic as well.""What is this about, Philo?" I asked quietly. "Is this your version of the old ‘no atheists in foxholes’ saying?"He smiled a little. “Maybe. But not how you mean it. Whatever created the universe, call it God or the Big Bang or the Prime Mover or the Uncaused Cause, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not something any intelligence as limited as ours will ever be able to fully understand. My god, if I have one at all, has always been life. The stars you navigate, the planets, the asteroids - all of that holds very little interest for me, Marie. Sure, the origin of the universe is a pretty puzzle. But far more interesting, far more exciting to me is the origin of life.”He shifted in his seat. Put his hand on my shoulder. “On Eliot, we’ve seen massive cases of spontaneous generation. Evolution and the very foundation of biology thrown out the window. You see it as something fearful. Something deeply wrong. I admit, I do too. But I also see the possibility of something else. That’s what brought to mind the quote about technology and magic.”"I don’t understand.""And I’m not sure I have the right words. Something like this: Life, sufficiently evolved, is indistinguishable from godhood. I don’t think Eliot was ever barren, Marie. I think Eliot is the stuff of life itself. I think our coming here has woken it up, or started some sort of reaction, or… something.""And I think you need to get some sleep," I told him.Day turned to night, and another day. Endless plains, cracked earth ringed by flat horizons. At dusk we came in the violet light to mountains that had not been there an hour before."We’ll have to leave the rover," I said, and he nodded and put together our packs.I knew without looking we wouldn’t have enough water for the last hundred klicks. We didn’t even talk about turning back. What for? What was there to turn back to?Hugo hadn’t said anything at all, but I put the tablet in a cargo pocket just the same.Above the mountains, a thunderhead was forming. Philo noticed it as well."Perhaps we’ll get some rain," he said, and I nodded. But I didn’t believe it.It was a hundred kilometers as the crow flies. But we were not crows.Philo made me drink the last of the water on the second day. He smiled at me. He had no trouble meeting my eyes, now. But I was having trouble meeting his.By the end of the third day, I started seeing things, and hearing things. On Eliot, who knows if they were real, or brought on by dehydration? I saw drowned London hanging upside down from the clouds. I saw faces in the red stone around us, leering. I heard bells peeling in the still air. And whenever we came to a place where we could walk side by side, I knew - knew - that there was someone else walking beside Philo. When I looked, no-one was there.The time came when I couldn’t go any further.He propped me up against a rust-red boulder that looked for all the world like some demented chapel, spires spearing the cloud-choked sky."I can’t keep on," I told him."Yes you can." He stroked my hair. His voice was hoarse and thick, his lips cracked."I don’t want to, then.""What do you want, then, Marie?""I want my little girl. I want Starnberger to give me back my Abbie." And he held me. And I cried."What is that sound high in the air, murmur of maternal lamentation?" It came from the tablet in the cargo pocket of my pants. And from the scree-littered slope ahead.He made his way toward us, old, wrapped in coarse brown cloth. When he leaned down to put the jug to my lips, the loose folds of the cloth exposed shriveled breasts. He saw that I saw, and smiled."Hello, Marie.""Hugo," I croaked, but he shook his head."No more, Marie. Hugo is now Tiresias. I have struck apart the serpents, and am changed.""I don’t understand.""I know, dear Marie, lady of situations. I know. Dry bones can harm no-one. Come, Philo, and I will help you to help her. It’s not much further now.""What is?""The Peace that Passeth Understanding. Shantih."In the distance, thunder spoke. Then a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust, bringing rain.My memory, from this point on, is fractured. Philo says his are as well. Hugo -Tiresias - who can say, now?We came down onto a wide plain. I don’t know how long it took. Minutes, days, all the same. The sky was leaden, clouds boiling just a few meters above our heads. I remember Tiresias patting my hand. I remember thunder so loud, so near, so continuous that the ground we stood on vibrated. The very air shivered. I felt as if I would be shaken apart."Listen," said Philo, screaming in my ear. I could barely hear him. Stupid with exhaustion, I thought at first he was telling me to listen to him, but he said nothing more.But the thunder was speaking. And once it had my attention, it speared me with its intent.WHAT WOULD YOUI fell to my knees on the muddy ground, my body jolted by the essence of the question. What would I? What would I?"Mama, what IS that?"Oh, my baby. What would I? What wouldn’t I -"Give," I told the thunder.WHAT WOULD YOUThe thunder drove me face-first into the raw earth. Mud filled my nostrils, mouth, eyes. Eyes. Pearls that were his eyes. Poor Philo. His condition making every human connection a struggle writ plain on his tic-ridden frame."Sympathize," I mouthed around the mud, tears leaking, merging with the rain.WHAT WOULD YOUThe thunder drove the very breath from me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I felt my heart stop. Indignation rose up in me. Such power as this, bearing down. What for? To see my terror? To force me to beg, to plead? To see raw emotion strip me of my -"Self-control."Sudden silence, louder than thunder. And then Philo was there, pulling me up, wiping the mud from my eyes, cradling my head in his lap as I spat Eliot out of my mouth, and cried."These fragments I have shored against my ruins," said Tiresias. Then, "Goodbye."I knew nothing more. Nothing but Philo’s arm under my head, Philo’s hand wiping the mud from my face. Then, not even that."Tickets, bitte." A gentle hand on my shoulder, a warm, soft weight in my lap, smelling of lavender."Tickets, bitte." A soft voice, a gentle smile. The train to Geneva. Impossible."Was? Wo bin ich?" My terrible German creaked out."Ah, English, eh?" The conductor spoke quietly. "We have left Munich forty five minutes ago."I dug the tickets out of my purse. Abbie stirred in my lap and I rocked her gently, made shh shh noises until she settled. Held her and stared out into the night and cried.Philo was waiting at Cornavin station. It was only then I knew I wasn’t insane.He had no problem looking me in the eye. He carried Abbie to the taxi stand.The next morning we resigned our positions on Hugo together. Corporate said we were breaking our contracts. Lawsuits are imminent. Philo tells me not to worry. I look at Abbie, playing in his postage stamp garden in La Jolla, and I don’t.On the news, there is an item about the sudden appearance of nightingales in southern California. Speculation on the reemergence of species outside of their traditional habitat. Rogue geneticists taking nature into their own hands. Philo shakes his head and switches it off.The date is approaching when Starnberger hijacked Hugo. We’re waiting to see what happens this time. Whatever happens, I’m at peace, even if I understand almost nothing.Abbie is calling from the garden. She’s found a butterfly, and a snail.Guest Post by Michael McClung

Waste Land - A short story

One : The Burial of the Dead

We fell out of the void toward the planet that Hugo had named Eliot. Its G-class star, Pound, hung like a fiery jewel in the void. I was frozen, and Pound thawed me from an eon’s sleep, gossamer photovoltaic arrays drinking in light and heat and literally, though indirectly, warming the frozen sludge of my blood.
It brought me back to life. Five thousand and eighty-one others slept on. Eighteen corpses thawed, and bled.
There had been a mutiny.
We were not where we were supposed to be. And we had slept far, far longer than anyone, save one, had intended.
My first sensation was the condensation in the cryopod pattering down on my face, my first thought a muddled memory of spring rain and nightingales, and the scent of lavender. They say there are no dreams in cryosleep, and they would be right. They never said anything about memory. Or desire.
"Marie, wake up. Wake up. Are you awake?" Hugo’s voice from everywhere and nowhere.
I swallowed, or tried to. Made a vague assent.
"There is a problem, Marie." The pod chunked open, sudden pressure equalization spearing my eardrums. "You are needed on the bridge."
As I stumbled out of the ‘pod and into Cryobay One, I looked on a nine hundred year old mass murder. The blood was still fresh.

Starnberger had recorded a long, rambling manifesto/confession before he’d opened up his veins in the chemical shower in Engineering. It wasn’t nonsense or frothing madness. I couldn’t disagree with any of the facts: Earth, overpopulated and polluted and suffering from climate change, was essentially dying. Corporatocracies ruled every facet of an individual’s life, from cradle to grave- for those lucky enough to find and keep a place in the system. Billions more survived at a subsistence level - or didn’t. The colonies were just company stores in the sky.
So our resident computer genius had co-opted Hugo, the ship AI, got himself woken eighteen weeks out from earth, just before the superluminals kicked in, and pointed us into the void.
Sixty days later, he’d changed course again. And again sixty days after that. We might conceivably go back to Earth (two millennia on from when we left it), but Earth would never have been able to come after us.
Before Starnberger had killed himself, he’d ripped out of cryostasis anyone he thought might feel obliged to try and reverse his decision. Or, maybe, be inclined to replicate the mistakes of Old Earth — the Captain, the First Officer, three security officers, and all thirteen members of corporate HQ. Ripped them out, which they would never have survived anyway, and used a bone saw from Triage to saw part way through their frozen-solid wrists - so that as they thawed, they bled out.
As Astrogator, I was the ranking crewmember now.

I stared at Eliot on the main screen for a long time, a mottled tan ball six months out. Hugo whispered things to me - first estimates on gravity, atmospheric makeup - until I interrupted him.
"Why Eliot?"
"Why did I name the planet Eliot, Marie?"
"Yes."
"The Turing sub articles devolved responsibility for naming newly discovered—"
"I know all that, Hugo."
He was quiet for a moment. Shyness? Embarrassment?
"I like T. S. Eliot’s writing. And Ezra Pound was a contemporary of Eliot’s."
A ship AI with a fondness for poetry. I rubbed my face with a trembling hand. “Show me Starnberger.”
"Marie?"
"Show me when he killed them." And Hugo did. I watched him go from pod to pod, shucking out occupants like frozen oysters. Watched him work the saw in businesslike fashion. Watched him stop at mine, and stare at me for what seemed forever.
Watched him move on. I shuddered.
I’d never passed more than a dozen words with him before we shipped out. I couldn’t help wondering why he’d spared me.
"Did he…"
"Yes, Marie?"
"Did he leave any further instructions for you, Hugo? Anything I should know about?"
"No, Marie. He said that he had given all of you a chance to start over, and that it was up to you now."
"You’re sure there’s nothing else he did to you."
"Yes, Marie." Pause. "As sure as I can be."
"I want you to run over every line of your code and make sure."
"I don’t have code in the way you’re referring to, Marie. What makes me is more like your own DNA."
"Damn it, Hugo, I know that. Just do it."
"All right, Marie. But it will not be a quick process."
I went to clean up the corpses. I had no idea what else to do.
That night I dreamed of Abbie in the Hofgarten in Munich, the night before takeoff. She had run through the lavender beds that day, and their scent had clung to her flower-print dress. Night had fallen by the time I’d convinced her to leave. As we approached the park gates she’d suddenly stopped, transfixed by the song of the nightingales they’d recently reintroduced.
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
"Mama, what IS that?"
"That’s a bird, baby."
It was the first time she’d ever heard one.
She’d fallen asleep in my lap on the train back to Geneva, where her grandmother was to collect her and raise her for the next three years. I’d buried my nose in her soft curls, and her tiny hand had lain like a seashell in mine.
My baby girl was more than nine hundred years dead.

Two : A Game of Chess

Three months out. Philo hunched over the tiny magnetic board, grimacing, as if considering his next move gave him cramps. I stared at the cheap holo of a carved dolphin above his bunk. And thought of nothing.
Finally he moved, spasmodically, as if to keep himself from being paralyzed by second thoughts. Bishop took knight.
"Something I’ve never understood," he said, apropos of nothing. "All ship functions are essentially automated. Why do they need an Astrogator? Why do they need you?"
"Because things happen. Superluminals cut out. AIs develop issues. Very, very rarely, but situations arise. Think of me as travel insurance."
"I don’t think we are going to be able to collect."
"The insurance wasn’t for us, anyway. It was for the Company."
That killed the conversation for a while.
"What are you thinking?" he asked me, but kept his eyes averted.
"I’m thinking of all the things I’d give for a bottle of bourbon," I lied. "You?"
"I’m thinking I wish you’d left me frozen," he said. But had the decency to look me in the eye when he said it. Hard for him, I know. Brilliant exocologist. Had Asperger’s syndrome. Really not good with people.
"I needed you."
"I know." Not pride. Just truth.
"You wanna go back under?"
"Yes." He carefully arranged the slain pieces along the side of the board. "And no. Eliot is… bizarre. I need to know more."
I sighed. “All I need to know is if it’s habitable.”
"Yes. And no."
"What does that mean, Philo?" But he just shook his head, eyes somewhere, anywhere other than my face. I lay my king down. I’m a shit chess player.
"In fourteen days we need to decide if we’re going to slingshot around Pound and head back to Earth. If not, in eighty-seven days we need to decide whether to park Hugo in orbit or take him down. I need a clearer answer. And I need it soon."
He rocked a little in his chair. He was quiet for a long time. Then, “Thaw out Lil. And Albert. I need them. If you want your answer in time.”

Eliot was habitable. But they couldn’t figure out why it was habitable.
Gravity, 97% Earth standard. Mass, 67.1% Earth standard. Atmosphere so close to Earth’s as made no difference. It had seasons, but not much weather. No surface water, but fresh water in aquifers there for the drilling. Chilly, but usually not much colder than, say, Munich in autumn.
But no life.
Not a germ, not an amoeba. No trees or moss or lichen, no algae, no fucking flora at all that our scans could detect, much less fauna. Hugo was a terraformer/colonizer hybrid; we could build up a rudimentary Gaia-web over the course of a few years. Child’s play compared to our original assignment, though greater in scope. Infinitely easier to start with a blank slate, Lil informed me. That wasn’t the issue.
The issue was, Eliot was an impossibility. Everywhere humanity had gone, we’d seen nothing that didn’t support the idea that only life begets life. Eliot’s atmosphere should not have existed without at least the most rudimentary life forms to support and regulate it.
"Maybe it all died out," Albert said.
"Without leaving any traces?" Lil countered.
"I’d say the atmosphere itself is a pretty big damn trace, Lil."
"Look, the Gernsback analysis should show…"
I tuned them out. I was just a glorified map reader, and their scholarly tiff didn’t affect the choice that lay before me. It was almost time. I was making my way down the aft corridor towards my cabin when Hugo spoke up and made the choice for me, in a manner of speaking.
"Marie?"
"Yes, Hugo?"
"I’ve been running routine maintenance and performing diagnostics, as you inst-"
"Just tell me, Hugo."
"It’s Starnberger again. He did something else. To me, and to all of you."
It was in a Cryo subroutine. Some sort of dead man switch he’d wired into Hugo’s silicon genes. Once a sleeper was woken, the cryopod was rendered thoroughly useless. Once Hugo discovered the hijacking, he’d tried to reverse it - and discovered Starnberger’s poison pill of a subroutine that would essentially lobotomize him if he tried to proceed.
No sleeping our way back to Earth, whether we wanted to or not. I put my hand over my eyes for a while and just floated in the corridor, ignoring Hugo’s soft “I’m sorry, Marie.” Then I went to tell the others.
I began to understand then why Starnberger had spared me. He knew Hugo would wake me first. Sure, I could astrogate Hugo back to Earth. I could send him on his way back with the remaining sleepers. But I’d be centuries dead before they ever made it back. And now so would Philo, Albert and Lil.
Maybe I should have been grateful he’d left me that choice, a choice he’d taken from all the other crew; living, dead and silicate.
I didn’t feel gratitude. I felt a burning hate.

Three : The Fire Sermon

Hugo roared down onto a tan, featureless plain on the northern hemisphere on a cloud of smoke and dust and fire. It was dawn, and in what passed for spring on Eliot. A deep aquifer lay less than a klick below the surface, billions of gallons of fresh water there, just waiting to be drilled and pumped.
I’d decided to take a page form Starnberger’s playbook and not wake the remaining sleepers, crew or cargo, until we’d already landed. Albert complained about this fait accompli, but wasn’t willing to shoulder the responsibility. Lil dithered. Philo said nothing and looked at no-one. But his jaw was always tight, and his physical twitches had intensified. I worried about him keeping it together. When I could spare time from worrying about keeping myself together.
Hugo went through all the automated procedures, setting up a perimeter (‘what for, Hugo? There’s not a damned thing out there’ I said. ‘It’s automated, Marie,’ he said with an AI shrug in his modulated voice.) and sending out various probes and drones at Albert and Lil’s request. Philo sat, passive, in his work cubicle and studied the data that poured in, but spoke not a word. Just shook his head, and twitched.
I managed to find enough things to do to put off waking the rest for almost a week.
Albert, Lil and I settled on a process, and implemented it on the remaining crew, one by one. Philo refused to help. Albert was surprisingly helpful, considering how much of a bastard he’d been about the decision to wait on waking them.
We woke the remaining crew and the colonists’ Operations team first.
Seventy-eight iterations. Seventy eight responses to the situation, ranging from full-on hysteria to studied indifference. Took us three days. One woman tried to kill herself, so we kept her sedated in the infirmary, and woke Doc Margate next. Most everybody else was at least functional.
In three more days almost everyone was up and about doing the job they’d been trained for, if not where, or when, they’d been trained to do it.
For a while, I thought things were going to be all right. As all right as they could ever be. We had base camp set up quickly enough. Colonial Ops had a well drilled and pumping out fresh water within hours, and survey teams out doing whatever it was they had been trained to do. Nobody I spent much time talking to felt much like talking about what had happened, or what was going to happen. But then, once Hugo had set us down I’d become superfluous to the mission. Everybody else was busy. I was invited to attend Ops meetings, but my participation wasn’t something that was expected. Or appreciated. Events gathered a momentum of their own. And just like anywhere humans get together in groups of two or more, some politicking began.
Most considered Starnberger to be a murdering lunatic. Not a few had come to view him as some sort of Messiah. There were two or three fights about it, one physical. There were many more fights about how to proceed with the terraforming of Eliot - what was possible, what was desirable, what was practical. I ignored it, just as I ignored the invitation to sit on the executive council, just as I ignored all the data that poured in about Eliot from the probes and the drones, and the satellites we’d set in orbit on our way down. Hugo was needed to process most of it, and I had to sign off on requests for Hugo’s attention. That was the extent of my contribution. I thought that I might go mad with the boredom.
Then I started hearing nightingales.

They’d made a pond, and seeded the bank with pseudo-rushes. Various experiments were ongoing involving bacteria and algae and such, and most of the pond was off limits. But a slice of the bank was roped off for people to visit, properly suited, so they could look at something other than the featureless tan sand of the surrounding plain.
I’d go there in the evening and squat just above the edge of the ankle-high reeds and watch the placid water reflect the darkening sky. I’d been maybe half a dozen times when I first heard it.
Jug jug jug.
On the other side of the pond, maybe three hundred meters away.
Twit twit twit.
Jug jug jug jug jug jug.
I stumbled to my feet and ran around the shore. Someone was yelling at me to stay off the reeds, but I barely heard them.
By the time I’d got to the other side, it had stopped.
I stayed out there for another hour, but I didn’t hear it again. I checked with everyone I could think of, and no-one knew anything about any avian releases - the first wasn’t scheduled for months at a minimum. What would they eat? There were no insects, no grains. There were just the rushes, a few mundane bacteria, and us in all the world.
I went back to my cabin aboard Hugo and curled into a ball on the hard bunk. I lay awake all night, and feared for my sanity.
When I heard it again the next night I didn’t chase after it. I sat down on the sand and listened all night.
It stopped with the dawn.
I stopped going outside after that, if I could help it.

People began acting strangely. Seeing things. Hearing things. After the fourth reported hallucination, Doc Margate started running every test he could think of. Tox screens came back negative. Everything came back negative. But somehow, somehow Eliot was screwing us up.
A geologist named Leicester nearly chopped off half his own foot with a pickaxe. He said he was trying to kill a rat that had suddenly appeared and started crawling on him. He had a morbid fear of rats, due to a traumatic childhood incident. He was forty klicks away from basecamp when it happened, and nearly died of blood loss.
It was decided that no more sleepers would be woken up until we got a handle on the situation.
It was decided that no more solo work would be performed.
When the trees appeared overnight on the western horizon, and beyond them a salt sea, the camp went apeshit.

Four : Death by Water

Philo woke me.
"Come with me," he said, turned sideways in the doorway and looking over my head.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"You need to come with me, Marie. It’s important. Bring Hugo on a tablet."
"Where are we going?"
"You’ll see."
We left the ship and made our way through a base camp in an uproar. Porter, the executive council chairman, had forbidden anyone to leave camp and visit ‘the phenomena’. That went over like a lead balloon with most of the scientists on staff. She’d detailed three of the bigger ops staff to guard the rovers.
They tried to stop us.
For the first time ever I pulled rank, reminding them I was Captain now. They didn’t care. Then I told them I’d cut off their access to Hugo.
They let us go.

Philo drove us out to the trees, gnarled acacia from what I could tell. We stopped for a few minutes, and stared. They were just trees, remarkable only for being impossible. And then he drove on until we were among dunes and around us were the cries of seagulls and the low roar of surf.
"This is not possible," I said.
"Absolutely. Not possible," he agreed.
"What the fuck is going on?"
"I have no idea."
"So why drag me out here to show me this? Beyond the obvious, I mean."
"What? Oh. Not this. Or not just this. Hugo, show her what we found."
The tablet I’d stuffed in the front pouch of my poncho chirped and I pulled it out.
"Good morning, Marie." Hugo’s voice, smaller, lessened outside his metal and plasteel body.
"Morning. Please tell me what Philo’s talking about."
"Certainly. Philo has had me correlating all the data gathered so far about Eliot. A substantial amount, most of it uninteresting. But we did find something. An anomaly."
"What kind of anomaly?"
"A magnetic and gravitational anomaly located about fifteen hundred kilometers from here, Marie." Hugo displayed the location of the anomaly on the tablet’s screen. "It’s something that has no reason to be there. Indeed, should not possibly be there. Unlike all the other impossible phenomena, it has been there all the while. But it has been growing stronger, more anomalous."
"Philo? You think whatever’s causing all this is there?"
"Nothing should be causing… this." He gestured aimlessly at the newborn sea. "Whatever this is." He mustered his will and looked me briefly in the eye. "I’ve been sifting data for weeks. This is the only thing that is constant in its impossibility. So I think we need to go there."
I laughed, a little shrilly. “Go there and do what?”
He flinched. “I don’t know. But not going there isn’t going to do us much good.”
I heard the soft, droning whine of another rover approaching. I looked back, saw Eric Phlebas, a marine biologist who’d been even more useless than me up until then, driving towards the water at full speed, which wasn’t much for the rovers. I didn’t even suspect anything was wrong until he hit the water.
Momentum and the weak hydrofoil effect that helped keep the dust out of the rovers’ innards let him get about twenty meters out before he sank. He never even looked around.
I didn’t get over being stunned until he’d disappeared beneath the water. I jumped out of the rover and stripped off my poncho and shoes as I ran down to the surf.
It took me too long to find him down there, and longer still to get him unbuckled. By the time I got him back on shore there wasn’t any hope at all. Philo pulled me off of him after five minutes of CPR. I pushed him away, and screamed “What the hell is going on?”
"I don’t know. I don’t know." It looked like it pained him to say it. He always looked like he was in pain of one sort or another. He grabbed a handful of sand, and squeezed. "Let’s go to the anomaly site, Marie. At least it’s something. If we just stay where we are, I can connect nothing with nothing." He stared at the broken fingernails of his dirty hands. "Nothing with nothing," he said again, and pointed to the corpse of Eric Phlebas.
I looked. Those dead, staring eyes had turned to pearl.
"That came from in here, Marie," said Philo, pointing at his temple. "That’s one of my recurring nightmares."
"Here, said she, is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor. Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!" Hugo ranting out of the tablet I’d left in my poncho on the sand, a few meters away.
"What the hell are you talking about, Hugo?"
"It’s Eliot. The poet, not the planet. Or perhaps both, Or Starnberger. I don’t feel well, Marie."
Shivering and wet, I stared at Philo. He stared back at me, for once. Shook his head, shrugged his shoulders. I went to the poncho, pullet out the tablet.
"What’s wrong, Hugo?"
"Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks. The lady of situations."
"Hugo? Hugo!"
Nothing, for a long time. Then, “I think you’d better call me Tiresias now, Marie. It suits me better.”
"Hugo, I need you to go into safe mode. Captain’s orders. Authorization code Aleph-"
"It’s too late for that, Marie. Too late for me. HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME."
The distant rumble of sustained explosions reached us. They came from base camp. We saw the smoke rising up in the still air long before we got back.

The automated defenses had destroyed everything and everyone in base camp, including themselves, leaving only smoking wreckage and corpses.
Only Hugo was left. And us.
Philo and I loaded up the rover with supplies and equipment from the ship and set out at dusk for the anomaly. Neither of us said a word the rest of that day. Neither did Hugo, though the tablet continued to display the anomaly, and our location in relation to it.
Philo drove through the night. I pretended to sleep. Who knows what Hugo did.

Five : What the Thunder Said

At dawn we stopped and stretched, and it became apparent that Eliot was changing.
The tan, featureless landscape had given way to an uneven plain dotted with rust-red boulders as big as houses. This area had been surveyed time and again, and hadn’t been any different from base camp in any appreciable way. It was different now.
Philo heated up some Kcals and we ate in the shadow of a red rock, and gulped some caffeine. Then I took the stick. We’d gone maybe four hundred klicks. Just over a quarter of the way.
Philo put his head back on the seat rest, closed his eyes. He was quiet for a long time, but I knew he wasn’t sleeping. His breathing never changed. Finally he spoke.
"You’ve heard the saying that technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic?"
"Yeah."
"I used to believe that statement was just so much semantic masturbation. Are you familiar with Thomas Aquinas?"
"Not personally, no."
"You’ve heard of the Big Bang theory?"
"Philo, can you get where you’re going? The end of the world seems imminent. Or something just as shitty, if less comprehensible. Either way, it’s bad form to ramble."
"Aquinas formulated the argument from contingency for the existence of God. He argued that, since the universe could conceivably not exist under different circumstances, the fact that it does exist means that its existence has a cause. He called that cause God. We call it the Big Bang. I’m starting to think the difference there is semantic as well."
"What is this about, Philo?" I asked quietly. "Is this your version of the old ‘no atheists in foxholes’ saying?"
He smiled a little. “Maybe. But not how you mean it. Whatever created the universe, call it God or the Big Bang or the Prime Mover or the Uncaused Cause, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not something any intelligence as limited as ours will ever be able to fully understand. My god, if I have one at all, has always been life. The stars you navigate, the planets, the asteroids - all of that holds very little interest for me, Marie. Sure, the origin of the universe is a pretty puzzle. But far more interesting, far more exciting to me is the origin of life.”
He shifted in his seat. Put his hand on my shoulder. “On Eliot, we’ve seen massive cases of spontaneous generation. Evolution and the very foundation of biology thrown out the window. You see it as something fearful. Something deeply wrong. I admit, I do too. But I also see the possibility of something else. That’s what brought to mind the quote about technology and magic.”
"I don’t understand."
"And I’m not sure I have the right words. Something like this: Life, sufficiently evolved, is indistinguishable from godhood. I don’t think Eliot was ever barren, Marie. I think Eliot is the stuff of life itself. I think our coming here has woken it up, or started some sort of reaction, or… something."
"And I think you need to get some sleep," I told him.

Day turned to night, and another day. Endless plains, cracked earth ringed by flat horizons. At dusk we came in the violet light to mountains that had not been there an hour before.
"We’ll have to leave the rover," I said, and he nodded and put together our packs.
I knew without looking we wouldn’t have enough water for the last hundred klicks. We didn’t even talk about turning back. What for? What was there to turn back to?
Hugo hadn’t said anything at all, but I put the tablet in a cargo pocket just the same.
Above the mountains, a thunderhead was forming. Philo noticed it as well.
"Perhaps we’ll get some rain," he said, and I nodded. But I didn’t believe it.
It was a hundred kilometers as the crow flies. But we were not crows.

Philo made me drink the last of the water on the second day. He smiled at me. He had no trouble meeting my eyes, now. But I was having trouble meeting his.
By the end of the third day, I started seeing things, and hearing things. On Eliot, who knows if they were real, or brought on by dehydration? I saw drowned London hanging upside down from the clouds. I saw faces in the red stone around us, leering. I heard bells peeling in the still air. And whenever we came to a place where we could walk side by side, I knew - knew - that there was someone else walking beside Philo. When I looked, no-one was there.
The time came when I couldn’t go any further.
He propped me up against a rust-red boulder that looked for all the world like some demented chapel, spires spearing the cloud-choked sky.
"I can’t keep on," I told him.
"Yes you can." He stroked my hair. His voice was hoarse and thick, his lips cracked.
"I don’t want to, then."
"What do you want, then, Marie?"
"I want my little girl. I want Starnberger to give me back my Abbie." And he held me. And I cried.
"What is that sound high in the air, murmur of maternal lamentation?" It came from the tablet in the cargo pocket of my pants. And from the scree-littered slope ahead.
He made his way toward us, old, wrapped in coarse brown cloth. When he leaned down to put the jug to my lips, the loose folds of the cloth exposed shriveled breasts. He saw that I saw, and smiled.
"Hello, Marie."
"Hugo," I croaked, but he shook his head.
"No more, Marie. Hugo is now Tiresias. I have struck apart the serpents, and am changed."
"I don’t understand."
"I know, dear Marie, lady of situations. I know. Dry bones can harm no-one. Come, Philo, and I will help you to help her. It’s not much further now."
"What is?"
"The Peace that Passeth Understanding. Shantih."
In the distance, thunder spoke. Then a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust, bringing rain.

My memory, from this point on, is fractured. Philo says his are as well. Hugo -Tiresias - who can say, now?
We came down onto a wide plain. I don’t know how long it took. Minutes, days, all the same. The sky was leaden, clouds boiling just a few meters above our heads. I remember Tiresias patting my hand. I remember thunder so loud, so near, so continuous that the ground we stood on vibrated. The very air shivered. I felt as if I would be shaken apart.
"Listen," said Philo, screaming in my ear. I could barely hear him. Stupid with exhaustion, I thought at first he was telling me to listen to him, but he said nothing more.
But the thunder was speaking. And once it had my attention, it speared me with its intent.
WHAT WOULD YOU
I fell to my knees on the muddy ground, my body jolted by the essence of the question. What would I? What would I?
"Mama, what IS that?"
Oh, my baby. What would I? What wouldn’t I -
"Give," I told the thunder.
WHAT WOULD YOU
The thunder drove me face-first into the raw earth. Mud filled my nostrils, mouth, eyes. Eyes. Pearls that were his eyes. Poor Philo. His condition making every human connection a struggle writ plain on his tic-ridden frame.
"Sympathize," I mouthed around the mud, tears leaking, merging with the rain.
WHAT WOULD YOU
The thunder drove the very breath from me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I felt my heart stop. Indignation rose up in me. Such power as this, bearing down. What for? To see my terror? To force me to beg, to plead? To see raw emotion strip me of my -
"Self-control."
Sudden silence, louder than thunder. And then Philo was there, pulling me up, wiping the mud from my eyes, cradling my head in his lap as I spat Eliot out of my mouth, and cried.
"These fragments I have shored against my ruins," said Tiresias. Then, "Goodbye."
I knew nothing more. Nothing but Philo’s arm under my head, Philo’s hand wiping the mud from my face. Then, not even that.

"Tickets, bitte." A gentle hand on my shoulder, a warm, soft weight in my lap, smelling of lavender.
"Tickets, bitte." A soft voice, a gentle smile. The train to Geneva. Impossible.
"Was? Wo bin ich?" My terrible German creaked out.
"Ah, English, eh?" The conductor spoke quietly. "We have left Munich forty five minutes ago."
I dug the tickets out of my purse. Abbie stirred in my lap and I rocked her gently, made shh shh noises until she settled. Held her and stared out into the night and cried.
Philo was waiting at Cornavin station. It was only then I knew I wasn’t insane.
He had no problem looking me in the eye. He carried Abbie to the taxi stand.
The next morning we resigned our positions on Hugo together. Corporate said we were breaking our contracts. Lawsuits are imminent. Philo tells me not to worry. I look at Abbie, playing in his postage stamp garden in La Jolla, and I don’t.
On the news, there is an item about the sudden appearance of nightingales in southern California. Speculation on the reemergence of species outside of their traditional habitat. Rogue geneticists taking nature into their own hands. Philo shakes his head and switches it off.
The date is approaching when Starnberger hijacked Hugo. We’re waiting to see what happens this time. Whatever happens, I’m at peace, even if I understand almost nothing.
Abbie is calling from the garden. She’s found a butterfly, and a snail.

Guest Post by Michael McClung

 
Self-editing your novelWriters often think that their work comes in three phases. They need to plan a novel, write a novel, then sell the novel. And of course they do – only for my money that misses out just about the most crucial step of all: editing the damn thing.Ernest Hemingway once told an interviewer that he rewrote the final page of A Farewell to Arms some 39 times before he was done. The interviewer was baffled. Why 39 times? What on earth was the problem? Was there some kind of technical issue with that last page? Yes, Hemingway answered, getting the words right.That’s Hemingway. I know another writer, a good one, who hates writing. He flings down the first draft of his novel as fast as he humanly can. He knows the text isn’t all that good, but needs to get the broad shape of it in place, like a sculptor rapidly chipping away the excess stone to get to the rough shape of the final sculpture.And then the work starts. The area where, more than anywhere else, true writing happens. The steady rewriting, the rubbing out and trying again, the slow improvement of sentences, paragraphs page and chapters. I don’t think any writer ever succeeds if they are not a gifted and remorseless rewriter. I’m the same. I don’t know how often I redraft a book, but that’s only because I do it so often, I can’t be bothered to keep count. A children’s author I know – well respected, very prolific – reckons her work goes through around 40 drafts before she’s done.And that maybe is the clue. I think of all writing skills the most central, the most essential, is sheer obsessive perfectionism. Why did Hemingway not stop at the 38th draft? It was probably quite good. Quite likely no other person on earth would have cared much about whatever difference existed between number 38 and number 39? But he did. And, I have no doubt, he applied that same standard of quality to every page he pulled from his typewriter. It’s what good writers do.But nestling right up against that issue of perfectionism, there’s another. You get to be perfectionist, because when you read back through your own work some aspect of it strikes a bum note. And that in itself implies that you have to become a remarkably perceptive reader too. It’s not just a question of reading a lot, but of reading right. I tell people sometimes that I no longer read for pleasure. And of course I do – only I don’t. Because I never just read a book. I always have a practitioner’s eye. What’s working? What’s not working? How is this particular effect achieved? I used to be so absorbed by these issues that I almost forgot to enjoy the stuff I was reading.But so what? The more serious you become about your own writing, the more serious you have to become about writing in general. If that means that you sacrifice a certain amount of easy-reading pleasure – well, welcome to the world of the professional author. Easy reading, as the adage has it, is damn hard writing. And whoever got pleasure from doing something that was simple?
Guest post by Harry Bingham

Self-editing your novel

Writers often think that their work comes in three phases. They need to plan a novel, write a novel, then sell the novel. And of course they do – only for my money that misses out just about the most crucial step of all: editing the damn thing.

Ernest Hemingway once told an interviewer that he rewrote the final page of A Farewell to Arms some 39 times before he was done. The interviewer was baffled. Why 39 times? What on earth was the problem? Was there some kind of technical issue with that last page? Yes, Hemingway answered, getting the words right.

That’s Hemingway. I know another writer, a good one, who hates writing. He flings down the first draft of his novel as fast as he humanly can. He knows the text isn’t all that good, but needs to get the broad shape of it in place, like a sculptor rapidly chipping away the excess stone to get to the rough shape of the final sculpture.

And then the work starts. The area where, more than anywhere else, true writing happens. The steady rewriting, the rubbing out and trying again, the slow improvement of sentences, paragraphs page and chapters. I don’t think any writer ever succeeds if they are not a gifted and remorseless rewriter. I’m the same. I don’t know how often I redraft a book, but that’s only because I do it so often, I can’t be bothered to keep count. A children’s author I know – well respected, very prolific – reckons her work goes through around 40 drafts before she’s done.

And that maybe is the clue. I think of all writing skills the most central, the most essential, is sheer obsessive perfectionism. Why did Hemingway not stop at the 38th draft? It was probably quite good. Quite likely no other person on earth would have cared much about whatever difference existed between number 38 and number 39? But he did. And, I have no doubt, he applied that same standard of quality to every page he pulled from his typewriter. It’s what good writers do.

But nestling right up against that issue of perfectionism, there’s another. You get to be perfectionist, because when you read back through your own work some aspect of it strikes a bum note. And that in itself implies that you have to become a remarkably perceptive reader too. It’s not just a question of reading a lot, but of reading right. I tell people sometimes that I no longer read for pleasure. And of course I do – only I don’t. Because I never just read a book. I always have a practitioner’s eye. What’s working? What’s not working? How is this particular effect achieved? I used to be so absorbed by these issues that I almost forgot to enjoy the stuff I was reading.

But so what? The more serious you become about your own writing, the more serious you have to become about writing in general. If that means that you sacrifice a certain amount of easy-reading pleasure – well, welcome to the world of the professional author. Easy reading, as the adage has it, is damn hard writing. And whoever got pleasure from doing something that was simple?

Guest post by Harry Bingham

 
Poem: Ode to “The Art of Listening”
By Emmy Le
Is it you,whom I am searching?Whom I truly believe in,“The Art of Listening”. You are the lovethat I am lacking.You are the linkthat I am needing. 
Please stop by my windowlet your love gently caressthe pain in my heart, for my home is drowning in sorrow. 
Why are there wars?Why are there borders?Can we stop destroying? Earth and humanity, the family that I embrace,
Can you hear me?Will you help my family? Stand together anddedicate their lives, to each other.Help me see through my ignorance,give me the knowledge of education.Show me your compassion,for all of us need to be forgiven. 
I promise to work hardat sharing your kindness,at cultivating your attentiveness,and spreading your benevolence.
I want to reach out,teach the children to listen.Their future is in the near distance, they need to understand,what are work and dedication. 
 “The Art of Listening”, you opened my eyes.You helped me travel the universe,you taught me how to trust.I can hear you whispering, life is a long journey.No need to alwaysbe in a hurry. 
Your vision of the wayis the path I need to take.The journey will never endfor it is not important of whenbut how and what I care to achieve. 
Rest for a little, step back in time,Learn from the mistakes, to lead the future on.
You once have saved me, I owed you an apology.Regretfully, I did not listen; I let hatred fill my destiny.You once helped carry the greed I created,  the ego I invited.We struggled, and almost lost,  but then we reunited.  Is it you, whom I am searching for? “The Art of Listening”,the heart of everything.  “Listening” is an act of love.Fill your action with care,stamp out the fire in your heart,learn not to separate each other apart.I can swim with youthrough oceans of misery,I promise to stay true,all you need to dois “Listen”.
It is youwho changed my heart.You connected my soul,never to depart. If no one has told you,I want to be the first.If no one believes in you,I want to help spread your word. “Listening is an Act of Love”, it is in your eyes,it is in a human’s clumsy touch.Just “Listen”.
This poem was awarded as a runner-up for the student scholarship contest of BC Reads 2009-2010. 
Credit to the digital art above: Cosmic Peace On Earth by Platypuscove

Poem: Ode to “The Art of Listening”

By Emmy Le

Is it you,
whom I am searching?
Whom I truly believe in,
“The Art of Listening”.
You are the love
that I am lacking.
You are the link
that I am needing. 

Please stop by my window
let your love gently caress
the pain in my heart,
for my home is drowning in sorrow.

Why are there wars?
Why are there borders?
Can we stop destroying?
Earth and humanity,
the family that I embrace,

Can you hear me?
Will you help my family?
Stand together and
dedicate their lives, to each other.
Help me see through my ignorance,
give me the knowledge of education.
Show me your compassion,
for all of us need to be forgiven.

I promise to work hard
at sharing your kindness,
at cultivating your attentiveness,
and spreading your benevolence.

I want to reach out,
teach the children to listen.
Their future is in the near distance,
they need to understand,

what are work and dedication.

 “The Art of Listening”, 
you opened my eyes.
You helped me travel the universe,
you taught me how to trust.
I can hear you whispering, 
life is a long journey.
No need to always
be in a hurry.

Your vision of the way
is the path I need to take.
The journey will never end
for it is not important of when
but how and what I care to achieve.

Rest for a little, 
step back in time,
Learn from the mistakes,
to lead the future on.

You once have saved me, 
I owed you an apology.
Regretfully, I did not listen;
I let hatred fill my destiny.
You once helped carry
the greed I created,
the ego I invited.

We struggled, and almost lost,
but then we reunited.

 
Is it you,
whom I am searching for?
 “The Art of Listening”,
the heart of everything.
 
“Listening” is an act of love.
Fill your action with care,
stamp out the fire in your heart,
learn not to separate each other apart.
I can swim with you
through oceans of misery,
I promise to stay true,
all you need to do
is “Listen”.

It is you
who changed my heart.
You connected my soul,
never to depart.
 
If no one has told you,
I want to be the first.
If no one believes in you,
I want to help spread your word.
 “Listening is an Act of Love”,
it is in your eyes,
it is in a human’s clumsy touch.
Just “Listen”.

This poem was awarded as a runner-up for the student scholarship contest of BC Reads 2009-2010. 

Credit to the digital art above: Cosmic Peace On Earth by Platypuscove

 
How to Start Your Career as a Writer
They say before anyone can say they are anything, a writer, or otherwise; they must spend around 10,000 hours doing it. In that case, you can’t call yourself a writer unless you’ve spent an hour a day for 30 years, or three hours a day for 10 years writing - you do the maths. However, don’t let such things put you off, writing is a skill best learned through writing. WriteThose who wish to write should merely do just that, and write. From poetry, to prose, to news pieces, writing is largely about practice. The other large part of learning to write is reading. ReadWriters need to read everything and anything, from airport novels to classics, from magazines to  ingredients - read everything. By engaging in a variety of sources consciously a writer picks up the range of styles on show and also learns how to differentiate between the good, bad and the ugly. Recognizing good writing and understanding why it is good is one of the main ways you can improve your own writing. Never imitate good writing, but do try and understand why it is good to read, why it flows and why it is better than the other things you’ve read. If you understand this, then you can take it on board and apply it to your own work. Learn the RulesThere aren’t as many grammatical rules as you would imagine, though they can be confusing. Purchase a book on grammar; there are numerous books of this sort out there. These books will give you the lowdown on where to use certain forms of punctuation, grammar and can even help with style. As with your general reading, you should read widely from a range of sources. This is because not all grammar is absolute, and a certain amount is down to style. People interchange commas and semi colons, exclamation marks and full stops - explore and find out what suits you and your writing.Evaluate your WritingWhen you write something, look back at it in time. By evaluating your work you can see where you need improvement and in the case of writing retrospective examination can be central. Look back at what you’ve written and take the good and the bad from it.Mentoring and FeedbackMany people find a mentor, or someone experienced in the field helps. These people can offer you hints and tips and aid your development. You should also encourage constructive criticism and feedback from a number of sources as this will help you and flags any issues with your writing.Don’t Lose HeartAlmost every writer on the planet has been slated at one stage or another, take it on the shoulder and improve. Though many people put their heart and soul into their creations, editors and publishers have no problems in eating them up and spitting them out. Take it as an exercise in constructive criticism and try and improve. Be ProfessionalThough, there is a certain belief writers are temperamental creatures, you should try and avoid such a stigma until you’ve a dozen best sellers. Always remain professional, be polite and respectful as this will aid you as much as good writing.Enjoy ItRemember you’re creating something that’s never been created before, so if you don’t enjoy it, do something else - life’s too short.Guest post by Jon Quinton

How to Start Your Career as a Writer

They say before anyone can say they are anything, a writer, or otherwise; they must spend around 10,000 hours doing it. In that case, you can’t call yourself a writer unless you’ve spent an hour a day for 30 years, or three hours a day for 10 years writing - you do the maths. However, don’t let such things put you off, writing is a skill best learned through writing.

Write
Those who wish to write should merely do just that, and write. From poetry, to prose, to news pieces, writing is largely about practice. The other large part of learning to write is reading.

Read
Writers need to read everything and anything, from airport novels to classics, from magazines to ingredients - read everything. By engaging in a variety of sources consciously a writer picks up the range of styles on show and also learns how to differentiate between the good, bad and the ugly.

Recognizing good writing and understanding why it is good is one of the main ways you can improve your own writing. Never imitate good writing, but do try and understand why it is good to read, why it flows and why it is better than the other things you’ve read. If you understand this, then you can take it on board and apply it to your own work.

Learn the Rules
There aren’t as many grammatical rules as you would imagine, though they can be confusing. Purchase a book on grammar; there are numerous books of this sort out there. These books will give you the lowdown on where to use certain forms of punctuation, grammar and can even help with style. As with your general reading, you should read widely from a range of sources. This is because not all grammar is absolute, and a certain amount is down to style. People interchange commas and semi colons, exclamation marks and full stops - explore and find out what suits you and your writing.

Evaluate your Writing
When you write something, look back at it in time. By evaluating your work you can see where you need improvement and in the case of writing retrospective examination can be central. Look back at what you’ve written and take the good and the bad from it.

Mentoring and Feedback
Many people find a mentor, or someone experienced in the field helps. These people can offer you hints and tips and aid your development. You should also encourage constructive criticism and feedback from a number of sources as this will help you and flags any issues with your writing.

Don’t Lose Heart
Almost every writer on the planet has been slated at one stage or another, take it on the shoulder and improve. Though many people put their heart and soul into their creations, editors and publishers have no problems in eating them up and spitting them out. Take it as an exercise in constructive criticism and try and improve.

Be Professional
Though, there is a certain belief writers are temperamental creatures, you should try and avoid such a stigma until you’ve a dozen best sellers. Always remain professional, be polite and respectful as this will aid you as much as good writing.

Enjoy It
Remember you’re creating something that’s never been created before, so if you don’t enjoy it, do something else - life’s too short.

Guest post by Jon Quinton

 
Blue Ink
A short story by Nancy Fulda
Six-year-old Jason stared down the long white hall of the Replication Wing and clutched his father’s hand more tightly. He didn’t like the sterilized walls or the funny smell of chemicals that crept from some of the rooms. He especially didn’t like the hospital gown that scratched and slipped and left him feeling coldly exposed."This way, please," The nurse said, guiding Jason and his parents down the hall. Jason trailed behind his father’s comforting bulk and reached for his mother’s hand, as well.The nurse glanced at him and smiled. “Is this your first cloning?”Jason nodded hesitantly and hung back behind his parents. “He’s a little nervous,” his mother said apologetically."Well, that’s understandable," the nurse replied, "although there’s no reason to be concerned. We use top of the line equipment here: the procedure is completely risk-free for the Original." Her smile faded slightly as she turned and continued leading them down the hall.Jason studied the nurse. She was a high-quality clone. Her speech was perfect and her left hand trembled only slightly - almost unnoticeably - as it hung by her side. Were it not for the blue ID tattoo on her forehead, Jason might have mistaken her for a real person.They reached a small waiting room and the nurse motioned for them to be seated. “The doctor will be with you in a moment.” She gave a parting smile and vanished through a white door.Waiting room chairs were not designed for six-year-olds. If Jason sat against the backrest his legs stuck straight out from the edge of the seat. If he sat forward he could swing his legs, but they still didn’t reach the floor. Neither position was truly comfortable. He fidgeted with the scratchy hospital gown and glanced restlessly around the room.He did not like the idea of being cloned. His friend Robby said cloning machines were like giant metal mouths that swallowed you whole for hours at a time, and you had to lay perfectly still inside and hope that no one forgot to let you out. Robby said people went crazy in there, scratching their fingers bloody against the blank gray walls. He said the junkyards were full of out-dated replicators, and some of them still had bodies inside.Jason hadn’t really believed any of Robby’s stories, but he had been concerned enough ask Mother about them anyway. She just laughed and said Robby’s parents couldn’t afford a clone, so how would he know? Then she had told Jason to stop being silly and to straighten the knots on his shoelaces.Through an open door Jason occasionally saw figures, mostly clones, pushing carts of laundry and cleaning supplies through the back hallways of the hospital. The clones were easy to pick out. They were the kind Mother called “low-quality menial workers,” and they walked with awkward, off-balance steps.Jason had spoken with a menial worker once, when Mother wasn’t looking. He had been playing soccer with some friends and Robby had kicked the ball clear off the field and into the bushes. Jason ran to get it and nearly toppled over the clone as he darted around the hedge."Watch where you’re going!" the worker snapped in a deep voice, and then appended a hastily-composed "… young Sir," as his eyes uncrossed far enough to observe Jason’s clean forehead.Jason mumbled a half-formed apology as he retrieved the ball and clutched it to his chest. Mother said it was beneath a human’s dignity to mingle with menials, so he had never seen a low-quality clone up close before. This one was old; old and wrinkled, and few of the lines came from smiling. The left corner of his mouth sagged and created a hollow for spittle to pool in.Jason felt repulsed and fascinated at the same time. He tried not to stare as he edged with his ball towards the field where the other children were waiting. The clone turned back to his work, which seemed to involve changing the bags in the garbage bins, but was interrupted by a violent thrashing in his left shoulder. He grimaced and clamped a gnarled hand on his upper arm to keep it from flailing about.Jason, whose curiosity was now overpowering social stigma, hesitated at the edge of the playing field. Children at school loved to make fun of the lurching, pidgeon-footed walk of the clone janitors. Now, standing closer to a low-quality clone than he’d ever been, Jason dared to voice the question that had fluttered, nagging, at the back of his mind for several months."Does - does it hurt?""Not the way you’re thinking," the clone said as the thrashing subsided. He was hard to understand because his flaccid lower lip wouldn’t shape the words, but he didn’t babble nonsense like some clones. "It’s a nerve tremor. A defect introduced during replication. You don’t see them so much in the newer clones."The clone rubbed his forehead, making his blue ID tattoo ripple on a wave of wrinkles. The registration number was too small for Jason to read, but the letters above it spelled a wobbly NAT-12. So this must be the 12th clone from an Original named Nathan, or maybe Nathaniel.The clone’s cross-eyed gaze caught Jason staring at the tattoo. “Pretty, isn’t it?” the deep voice said dryly. Jason, embarrassed, edged towards the other children."Most people think the difference between a man and his clone is in the body," the clone said. "That was true once, back when men and clones worked side by side. But the difference isn’t the clone’s body anymore, and it’s not in the ink on his forehead. It’s in the mind.""Hey, Jason!" shouted Robby from across the park. "You gonna stand there all day? Let’s play!""Coming!" Jason shouted, and trotted towards the field before his friends could notice the clone half-hidden behind the bushes.Now, sitting in the small hospital room, Jason couldn’t help thinking that the clone he’d met hadn’t looked very happy. Something seemed wrong with that. Jason’s teacher in school said clones were happy doing jobs that most true humans wouldn’t enjoy, like cleaning dust bins or working in factories. She also said clones weren’t smart like real people; that they couldn’t make responsible decisions or act like adults, so they needed humans to take care of them and tell them what to do. But the clone Jason had spoken with had seemed smart enough.A door opened and a graying woman with glasses entered the waiting room. She consulted her clipboard and then shook hands with Jason’s parents. “Mr. and Mrs. Calloway? I’m Dr. Kessan. And you must be Jason,” she said amiably, shaking his hand. “How are you doing today?”"Fine," Jason mumbled, more because he sensed that it was the proper answer than because he really felt that way. Robby’s horror stories about bodies in replicators were creeping out of the corners of his memory."Good," the doctor said. "If you’ll follow me, I’d like to take you to the scanning room."Two short hallways later, Jason stood with his parents in front of a massive gray wall punctuated by lights, switches and funny green screens with wiggly lines. “This is a C-class molecular scanner,” Dr. Kessan said. She was looking at Jason, but he had the feeling that her words were spoken for his parents. “It’s a new design that can scan and record the molecular composition of the body without any harmful radiation. When combined with our neural pattern resynthesis algorithms, C-class scanning virtually eliminates post-reconstruction amnesia, learning disabilities, seizure predispositions and other neurological disorders.”Jason’s father humphed. He had complained long and loudly about the recent increases in replication costs, and as a respected donor to the hospital his opinion could not be easily discounted. Dr. Kessan’s prattle about the new machine seemed to appease him somewhat."Yes, that does affect the return on investment," he said, more to himself than to anyone else. "Why, one clone of Jason’s will bring him as much revenue as three of mine together." He patted Jason warmly on the shoulder. "With luck, my boy, you’ll never have to work at all!"Jason stared at the blinking metal wall before him. It looked even more intimidating than it had seemed in the videos at school, and his grip on Father’s hand tightened. He wondered whether this was how the famous professor Jeffreys had felt a few minutes before entering his prototype scanner for the first time.Cloning was a practice nearly as old as Silica Colony itself. After the first Plague of Amam had passed, those colonists who had survived realized that they could never finish building the city before winter settled over the new home planet. So professor Jeffreys had adapted the manufacturing synthesizers to replicate organic tissue. After several failed attempts he had successfully reconstructed a living, thinking being one molecule at a time.Cloning had been dangerous in those days, for Original and clone alike. The clones suffered from severe physical and neurological deficiencies - the exacerbated results of small inconsistencies in the scanned data - and the scanning process used harmful radiation and chemicals that poisoned the body. Jeffreys himself had suffered a stroke as a result of the scanning process. After he could no longer work, his duplicates had entered into the first clone service contract to support him."There’s nothing to be afraid of, Jason."Jason looked to his left and saw that the doctor had crouched beside him and laid a hand on his back. She began explaining that the new scanning procedures did not take very long and were completely safe. Jason listened without hearing, nodding his head at appropriate intervals. How could she be so sure? Even if Robby’s stories weren’t true, wasn’t there always a chance that something might go wrong?Something else was bothering Jason, too. Something that had nothing to do with the scanning machine itself. The menial worker with the thrashing arm lingered in his memory."Do you have any questions, Jason?" the doctor asked when she had finished.Jason shifted back and forth on his feet. The adults were all watching him expectantly, and he had the feeling they were waiting for him to shake his head so they could get on to business."Jason?" Mother prompted.He looked at their faces; Father’s stern, chiseled features, Mother’s round ones, Dr. Kessan’s angular glasses. They all watched him back."Will my clone be happy?" Jason asked finally. Then he blurted, "I don’t want a clone if he’s not going to be happy."There was an uncomfortable pause, then Father spoke in his best reassuring-parent voice. “Of course he’ll be happy, Jason.He’ll have a top-notch education and the best job a clone could hope for.”"I want to be sure," Jason said, somewhat petulantly. "I want to ask him."Mother was shocked. “Chit-chat with your own clone? Go waltzing into a clone training school as if you belonged there? Most certainly not!” She brushed at her skirt as if the faint wrinkles there were the cause of her displeasure."But I want to know," Jason persisted. "Remember Petie?" Petie was the name of a frog Jason found at the pond and had kept for two days in a jar under his bed."Jason, this is completely different!" Mother said in an exasperated tone. She had never liked Petie, but Jason had refused to turn him loose until Father explained that frogs weren’t happy living in plastic jars. They had made it a family outing of sorts, taking Petie back to the pond and watching as he crouched, hesitant, on the lip of the open jar before hopping boldly to his freedom.To Jason the two events didn’t seem so different at all. If it was wrong to keep a frog that wasn’t happy, then mustn’t it also be wrong to keep a clone who wasn’t?Dr. Kessan waded into the family conflict before Jason could phrase another objection, once again kneeling so that her face was level with his."Jason, it’s really not encouraged for people to meet their own clones," the doctor said. "It makes most people uncomfortable to see their face on someone else. However, you’ll get duty letters from your clone twice a year once he’s started school. Then you’ll know how he’s doing. And you can help him be happy by choosing a career path he’ll like. Okay?"Jason wasn’t sure whether that was okay or not, but the look on Mother’s face told him there was no use arguing about it. “Okay,” he said. The doctor held out an electronic document for him to sign and he obediently scribbled his name in the highlighted fields.The doctor rose to her feet and began flipping switches and adjusting dials on the scanning machine. “I’ll just get Jason settled, Mr. and Mrs. Calloway, and then we can finish the paperwork in my office. Since he’s a minor, I’ll need you to cosign the service contract and the organ donor agreement. Jason, would you step over here please?”Dr. Kessan helped the boy lie down on a bed-like platform that had ejected itself from the wall. Jason hardly noticed when the nurse reentered the room and placed a plastic face mask over his nose and mouth; his mind was racing forward in time, to the moment he awakened from the scanning procedure. Mother would never let him see his clone; he was certain of that. But if he snuck down the hall to the reconstruction room as soon as he woke up… He just wanted to see his clone. If he looked into its face, Jason was certain, he would know. He would know whether it felt happy.In Jason’s six-year-old mind, the plan seemed sound. He did not know that the reconstruction rooms were only accessible to authorized employees. He did not know that it would be several days before his scanned data was ready for reconstitution. He knew only that the desire to see and speak with his clone - a drive much stronger than idle curiosity - was burning in his heart.Warm air flowed from the plastic mask into Jason’s lungs. He felt his arms and legs begin to tingle, then the world grew dark.* * *He was cold when he woke up. And hungry, but he didn’t care. Jason wanted to go find his clone.The room was empty except for the clone nurse. She stood facing away from him, scanning readouts from a big machine on the far wall. The room’s door was ajar.Jason pushed himself to a sitting position. His limbs and muscles felt clunky, as if they hadn’t been used in a long time. His feet thumped as he slid from the too-high hospital bed onto the tile floor. The nurse glanced up.She straightened and tapped an intercom switch on the wall. “He’s awake, Doctor.” She lifted him gently back onto the hospital bed."I want to see my clone," Jason told her. His voice sounded funny, as if his tongue didn’t know its way around his mouth."I’m sure we can arrange that," the nurse said. But she wouldn’t meet his eyes, and turned away to make some notes on her clipboard.Dr. Kessan entered the room and scanned the computer readouts without greeting Jason. She crossed the room, checked his eyes and ears, and listened to his heartbeat. Then she tapped on his knee with a rubber hammer. “Do you hurt anywhere?” Jason shook his head no. “Can you speak to me? Tell me your name.”"Jason Calloway." He stumbled over the familiar sounds, trying to make his tongue respond correctly. Jason began to feel afraid.Dr. Kessan straightened up and took the note pad from the nurse. “He seems to be doing well,” she said, marking something with her pen. “I think he’ll maintain a slight slurring of speech, though. And watch for any tremors or lack of coordination.”The nurse took the notepad as it was handed back to her. “Will that be all, Doctor?”"Yes. Take him through the preliminaries, then send him on to the training school." The nurse nodded and Dr. Kessan left.Jason remained sitting on the hospital bed, shivering. “Can I see my clone now?” he asked.The nurse looked at him as though she were recalling a distant pain. Finally she lifted him down from the bed and took his hand. “Come with me.”She led Jason across the room, then sank to one knee and directed his gaze towards the full-length mirror on the back of the door. He stared at his reflection and reached up to touch his forehead in disbelief. There, emblazoned in blue ink beneath the skin, were the characters JAS-1, followed by a registration number.Jason tried to rub the letters off, but they wouldn’t come. He rubbed harder. The nurse grabbed his hands and held them by his waist. “It won’t come off,” she told him, “You’ll only hurt yourself trying.”"B-but I’m not a clone! I’m Jason!""Jason Calloway is at home rightnow with his parents. You have all of his memories, but you are not Jason. You’re his first clone, and you must respect and obey him from now on."Jason felt as if someone had turned the world inside out and then stepped on it. The nurse was mistaken. She had to be. Because if Jason was a clone, then he’d feel happy. The teacher in school said clones were always happy. Happy, happy, happy! He pounded his head against the mirror until the nurse pulled him away from it.Later, headed towards the clone school with six other children and a drooling chaperone, Jason felt the first seeds of bitterness. He sat on an unpadded chair in a shabby rail bus that jounced and rattled like it was about to break down. And he was surrounded by clones. His mother would be appalled at these circumstances. His mother would be appalled at him. No wonder people were discouraged from meeting their own clones.There was no chance, Jason slowly realized, that Mother would let his Original come speak with him. She couldn’t stop Jason’s Original from getting the biannual duty letters - those were private - but would his Original read them? In twelve years, when he was no longer a minor, would he seek out Jason? Yesterday Jason would have felt certain the answer was ‘yes’. Now he was no longer sure.At the front of the bus, a smiling human spoke to them from a video screen; a recorded, five-minute message that played over and over. The dark-suited man explained that they were headed for a brand new life, with new, exciting challenges, and that they shouldn’t prejudice themselves against it just because it wasn’t the life they’d expected to have. After the ninth repetition, one of the boys threw his shoe at the screen. Mr. Suit Coat vanished in a crackle of static.The chaperone did not turn him back on.
Guest post by Nancy Fulda

Blue Ink

A short story by Nancy Fulda

Six-year-old Jason stared down the long white hall of the Replication Wing and clutched his father’s hand more tightly. He didn’t like the sterilized walls or the funny smell of chemicals that crept from some of the rooms. He especially didn’t like the hospital gown that scratched and slipped and left him feeling coldly exposed.
"This way, please," The nurse said, guiding Jason and his parents down the hall. Jason trailed behind his father’s comforting bulk and reached for his mother’s hand, as well.
The nurse glanced at him and smiled. “Is this your first cloning?”
Jason nodded hesitantly and hung back behind his parents. “He’s a little nervous,” his mother said apologetically.
"Well, that’s understandable," the nurse replied, "although there’s no reason to be concerned. We use top of the line equipment here: the procedure is completely risk-free for the Original." Her smile faded slightly as she turned and continued leading them down the hall.
Jason studied the nurse. She was a high-quality clone. Her speech was perfect and her left hand trembled only slightly - almost unnoticeably - as it hung by her side. Were it not for the blue ID tattoo on her forehead, Jason might have mistaken her for a real person.
They reached a small waiting room and the nurse motioned for them to be seated. “The doctor will be with you in a moment.” She gave a parting smile and vanished through a white door.
Waiting room chairs were not designed for six-year-olds. If Jason sat against the backrest his legs stuck straight out from the edge of the seat. If he sat forward he could swing his legs, but they still didn’t reach the floor. Neither position was truly comfortable. He fidgeted with the scratchy hospital gown and glanced restlessly around the room.
He did not like the idea of being cloned. His friend Robby said cloning machines were like giant metal mouths that swallowed you whole for hours at a time, and you had to lay perfectly still inside and hope that no one forgot to let you out. Robby said people went crazy in there, scratching their fingers bloody against the blank gray walls. He said the junkyards were full of out-dated replicators, and some of them still had bodies inside.
Jason hadn’t really believed any of Robby’s stories, but he had been concerned enough ask Mother about them anyway. She just laughed and said Robby’s parents couldn’t afford a clone, so how would he know? Then she had told Jason to stop being silly and to straighten the knots on his shoelaces.
Through an open door Jason occasionally saw figures, mostly clones, pushing carts of laundry and cleaning supplies through the back hallways of the hospital. The clones were easy to pick out. They were the kind Mother called “low-quality menial workers,” and they walked with awkward, off-balance steps.
Jason had spoken with a menial worker once, when Mother wasn’t looking. He had been playing soccer with some friends and Robby had kicked the ball clear off the field and into the bushes. Jason ran to get it and nearly toppled over the clone as he darted around the hedge.
"Watch where you’re going!" the worker snapped in a deep voice, and then appended a hastily-composed "… young Sir," as his eyes uncrossed far enough to observe Jason’s clean forehead.
Jason mumbled a half-formed apology as he retrieved the ball and clutched it to his chest. Mother said it was beneath a human’s dignity to mingle with menials, so he had never seen a low-quality clone up close before. This one was old; old and wrinkled, and few of the lines came from smiling. The left corner of his mouth sagged and created a hollow for spittle to pool in.
Jason felt repulsed and fascinated at the same time. He tried not to stare as he edged with his ball towards the field where the other children were waiting. The clone turned back to his work, which seemed to involve changing the bags in the garbage bins, but was interrupted by a violent thrashing in his left shoulder. He grimaced and clamped a gnarled hand on his upper arm to keep it from flailing about.
Jason, whose curiosity was now overpowering social stigma, hesitated at the edge of the playing field. Children at school loved to make fun of the lurching, pidgeon-footed walk of the clone janitors. Now, standing closer to a low-quality clone than he’d ever been, Jason dared to voice the question that had fluttered, nagging, at the back of his mind for several months.
"Does - does it hurt?"
"Not the way you’re thinking," the clone said as the thrashing subsided. He was hard to understand because his flaccid lower lip wouldn’t shape the words, but he didn’t babble nonsense like some clones. "It’s a nerve tremor. A defect introduced during replication. You don’t see them so much in the newer clones."
The clone rubbed his forehead, making his blue ID tattoo ripple on a wave of wrinkles. The registration number was too small for Jason to read, but the letters above it spelled a wobbly NAT-12. So this must be the 12th clone from an Original named Nathan, or maybe Nathaniel.
The clone’s cross-eyed gaze caught Jason staring at the tattoo. “Pretty, isn’t it?” the deep voice said dryly. Jason, embarrassed, edged towards the other children.
"Most people think the difference between a man and his clone is in the body," the clone said. "That was true once, back when men and clones worked side by side. But the difference isn’t the clone’s body anymore, and it’s not in the ink on his forehead. It’s in the mind."
"Hey, Jason!" shouted Robby from across the park. "You gonna stand there all day? Let’s play!"
"Coming!" Jason shouted, and trotted towards the field before his friends could notice the clone half-hidden behind the bushes.
Now, sitting in the small hospital room, Jason couldn’t help thinking that the clone he’d met hadn’t looked very happy. Something seemed wrong with that. Jason’s teacher in school said clones were happy doing jobs that most true humans wouldn’t enjoy, like cleaning dust bins or working in factories. She also said clones weren’t smart like real people; that they couldn’t make responsible decisions or act like adults, so they needed humans to take care of them and tell them what to do. But the clone Jason had spoken with had seemed smart enough.
A door opened and a graying woman with glasses entered the waiting room. She consulted her clipboard and then shook hands with Jason’s parents. “Mr. and Mrs. Calloway? I’m Dr. Kessan. And you must be Jason,” she said amiably, shaking his hand. “How are you doing today?”
"Fine," Jason mumbled, more because he sensed that it was the proper answer than because he really felt that way. Robby’s horror stories about bodies in replicators were creeping out of the corners of his memory.
"Good," the doctor said. "If you’ll follow me, I’d like to take you to the scanning room."
Two short hallways later, Jason stood with his parents in front of a massive gray wall punctuated by lights, switches and funny green screens with wiggly lines. “This is a C-class molecular scanner,” Dr. Kessan said. She was looking at Jason, but he had the feeling that her words were spoken for his parents. “It’s a new design that can scan and record the molecular composition of the body without any harmful radiation. When combined with our neural pattern resynthesis algorithms, C-class scanning virtually eliminates post-reconstruction amnesia, learning disabilities, seizure predispositions and other neurological disorders.”
Jason’s father humphed. He had complained long and loudly about the recent increases in replication costs, and as a respected donor to the hospital his opinion could not be easily discounted. Dr. Kessan’s prattle about the new machine seemed to appease him somewhat.
"Yes, that does affect the return on investment," he said, more to himself than to anyone else. "Why, one clone of Jason’s will bring him as much revenue as three of mine together." He patted Jason warmly on the shoulder. "With luck, my boy, you’ll never have to work at all!"
Jason stared at the blinking metal wall before him. It looked even more intimidating than it had seemed in the videos at school, and his grip on Father’s hand tightened. He wondered whether this was how the famous professor Jeffreys had felt a few minutes before entering his prototype scanner for the first time.
Cloning was a practice nearly as old as Silica Colony itself. After the first Plague of Amam had passed, those colonists who had survived realized that they could never finish building the city before winter settled over the new home planet. So professor Jeffreys had adapted the manufacturing synthesizers to replicate organic tissue. After several failed attempts he had successfully reconstructed a living, thinking being one molecule at a time.
Cloning had been dangerous in those days, for Original and clone alike. The clones suffered from severe physical and neurological deficiencies - the exacerbated results of small inconsistencies in the scanned data - and the scanning process used harmful radiation and chemicals that poisoned the body. Jeffreys himself had suffered a stroke as a result of the scanning process. After he could no longer work, his duplicates had entered into the first clone service contract to support him.
"There’s nothing to be afraid of, Jason."
Jason looked to his left and saw that the doctor had crouched beside him and laid a hand on his back. She began explaining that the new scanning procedures did not take very long and were completely safe. Jason listened without hearing, nodding his head at appropriate intervals. How could she be so sure? Even if Robby’s stories weren’t true, wasn’t there always a chance that something might go wrong?
Something else was bothering Jason, too. Something that had nothing to do with the scanning machine itself. The menial worker with the thrashing arm lingered in his memory.
"Do you have any questions, Jason?" the doctor asked when she had finished.
Jason shifted back and forth on his feet. The adults were all watching him expectantly, and he had the feeling they were waiting for him to shake his head so they could get on to business.
"Jason?" Mother prompted.
He looked at their faces; Father’s stern, chiseled features, Mother’s round ones, Dr. Kessan’s angular glasses. They all watched him back.
"Will my clone be happy?" Jason asked finally. Then he blurted, "I don’t want a clone if he’s not going to be happy."
There was an uncomfortable pause, then Father spoke in his best reassuring-parent voice. “Of course he’ll be happy, Jason.
He’ll have a top-notch education and the best job a clone could hope for.”
"I want to be sure," Jason said, somewhat petulantly. "I want to ask him."
Mother was shocked. “Chit-chat with your own clone? Go waltzing into a clone training school as if you belonged there? Most certainly not!” She brushed at her skirt as if the faint wrinkles there were the cause of her displeasure.
"But I want to know," Jason persisted. "Remember Petie?" Petie was the name of a frog Jason found at the pond and had kept for two days in a jar under his bed.
"Jason, this is completely different!" Mother said in an exasperated tone. She had never liked Petie, but Jason had refused to turn him loose until Father explained that frogs weren’t happy living in plastic jars. They had made it a family outing of sorts, taking Petie back to the pond and watching as he crouched, hesitant, on the lip of the open jar before hopping boldly to his freedom.
To Jason the two events didn’t seem so different at all. If it was wrong to keep a frog that wasn’t happy, then mustn’t it also be wrong to keep a clone who wasn’t?
Dr. Kessan waded into the family conflict before Jason could phrase another objection, once again kneeling so that her face was level with his.
"Jason, it’s really not encouraged for people to meet their own clones," the doctor said. "It makes most people uncomfortable to see their face on someone else. However, you’ll get duty letters from your clone twice a year once he’s started school. Then you’ll know how he’s doing. And you can help him be happy by choosing a career path he’ll like. Okay?"
Jason wasn’t sure whether that was okay or not, but the look on Mother’s face told him there was no use arguing about it. “Okay,” he said. The doctor held out an electronic document for him to sign and he obediently scribbled his name in the highlighted fields.
The doctor rose to her feet and began flipping switches and adjusting dials on the scanning machine. “I’ll just get Jason settled, Mr. and Mrs. Calloway, and then we can finish the paperwork in my office. Since he’s a minor, I’ll need you to cosign the service contract and the organ donor agreement. Jason, would you step over here please?”
Dr. Kessan helped the boy lie down on a bed-like platform that had ejected itself from the wall. Jason hardly noticed when the nurse reentered the room and placed a plastic face mask over his nose and mouth; his mind was racing forward in time, to the moment he awakened from the scanning procedure. Mother would never let him see his clone; he was certain of that. But if he snuck down the hall to the reconstruction room as soon as he woke up… He just wanted to see his clone. If he looked into its face, Jason was certain, he would know. He would know whether it felt happy.
In Jason’s six-year-old mind, the plan seemed sound. He did not know that the reconstruction rooms were only accessible to authorized employees. He did not know that it would be several days before his scanned data was ready for reconstitution. He knew only that the desire to see and speak with his clone - a drive much stronger than idle curiosity - was burning in his heart.
Warm air flowed from the plastic mask into Jason’s lungs. He felt his arms and legs begin to tingle, then the world grew dark.

* * *

He was cold when he woke up. And hungry, but he didn’t care. Jason wanted to go find his clone.
The room was empty except for the clone nurse. She stood facing away from him, scanning readouts from a big machine on the far wall. The room’s door was ajar.
Jason pushed himself to a sitting position. His limbs and muscles felt clunky, as if they hadn’t been used in a long time. His feet thumped as he slid from the too-high hospital bed onto the tile floor. The nurse glanced up.
She straightened and tapped an intercom switch on the wall. “He’s awake, Doctor.” She lifted him gently back onto the hospital bed.
"I want to see my clone," Jason told her. His voice sounded funny, as if his tongue didn’t know its way around his mouth.
"I’m sure we can arrange that," the nurse said. But she wouldn’t meet his eyes, and turned away to make some notes on her clipboard.
Dr. Kessan entered the room and scanned the computer readouts without greeting Jason. She crossed the room, checked his eyes and ears, and listened to his heartbeat. Then she tapped on his knee with a rubber hammer. “Do you hurt anywhere?” Jason shook his head no. “Can you speak to me? Tell me your name.”
"Jason Calloway." He stumbled over the familiar sounds, trying to make his tongue respond correctly. Jason began to feel afraid.
Dr. Kessan straightened up and took the note pad from the nurse. “He seems to be doing well,” she said, marking something with her pen. “I think he’ll maintain a slight slurring of speech, though. And watch for any tremors or lack of coordination.”
The nurse took the notepad as it was handed back to her. “Will that be all, Doctor?”
"Yes. Take him through the preliminaries, then send him on to the training school." The nurse nodded and Dr. Kessan left.
Jason remained sitting on the hospital bed, shivering. “Can I see my clone now?” he asked.
The nurse looked at him as though she were recalling a distant pain. Finally she lifted him down from the bed and took his hand. “Come with me.”
She led Jason across the room, then sank to one knee and directed his gaze towards the full-length mirror on the back of the door. He stared at his reflection and reached up to touch his forehead in disbelief. There, emblazoned in blue ink beneath the skin, were the characters JAS-1, followed by a registration number.
Jason tried to rub the letters off, but they wouldn’t come. He rubbed harder. The nurse grabbed his hands and held them by his waist. “It won’t come off,” she told him, “You’ll only hurt yourself trying.”
"B-but I’m not a clone! I’m Jason!"
"Jason Calloway is at home rightnow with his parents. You have all of his memories, but you are not Jason. You’re his first clone, and you must respect and obey him from now on."
Jason felt as if someone had turned the world inside out and then stepped on it. The nurse was mistaken. She had to be. Because if Jason was a clone, then he’d feel happy. The teacher in school said clones were always happy. Happy, happy, happy! He pounded his head against the mirror until the nurse pulled him away from it.
Later, headed towards the clone school with six other children and a drooling chaperone, Jason felt the first seeds of bitterness. He sat on an unpadded chair in a shabby rail bus that jounced and rattled like it was about to break down. And he was surrounded by clones. His mother would be appalled at these circumstances. His mother would be appalled at him. No wonder people were discouraged from meeting their own clones.
There was no chance, Jason slowly realized, that Mother would let his Original come speak with him. She couldn’t stop Jason’s Original from getting the biannual duty letters - those were private - but would his Original read them? In twelve years, when he was no longer a minor, would he seek out Jason? Yesterday Jason would have felt certain the answer was ‘yes’. Now he was no longer sure.
At the front of the bus, a smiling human spoke to them from a video screen; a recorded, five-minute message that played over and over. The dark-suited man explained that they were headed for a brand new life, with new, exciting challenges, and that they shouldn’t prejudice themselves against it just because it wasn’t the life they’d expected to have. After the ninth repetition, one of the boys threw his shoe at the screen. Mr. Suit Coat vanished in a crackle of static.
The chaperone did not turn him back on.

Guest post by Nancy Fulda

 
Be a Guest Blogger on One Hand Publishing
The One Hand Publishing website has been going through a major makeover, and today I’m excited to announce that we have added a brand new “Guest Blog” feature!
For those authors who are seeking a home for their creative articles, short stories, book excerpts, etc. please check out our "Terms of Submission" . If you like what you see, we’re looking forward to hear from you soon.
Photo:The Book of Thoughts green by ~gildbookbinders

Be a Guest Blogger on One Hand Publishing

The One Hand Publishing website has been going through a major makeover, and today I’m excited to announce that we have added a brand new “Guest Blog” feature!

For those authors who are seeking a home for their creative articles, short stories, book excerpts, etc. please check out our "Terms of Submission" . If you like what you see, we’re looking forward to hear from you soon.

Photo:The Book of Thoughts green by ~gildbookbinders

 

About

We are a loyal fan of all readers!

Credits