Sci-Fi

“To Boldly Go” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 32

flash-fiction-badge1Howdy folks. Here I am, back again with another entry in the ever awesome Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The prompt?

A celebrity of your choice (alive or dead) applies for a job and gets an interview.

This week’s entry is a strange one for me – I’ll explain after the story, as I don’t want to spoil it for you. Stick around after.

“So tell me, Ryb’neor, what makes you think you are qualified for this assignment?”

Ryb’neor smiled as they orbited slowly over the surface of the planet that glimmered the same blue as his eyes.

“Supreme Commander, I’ve made the study of primitive life forms my life’s work. This is the first chance we have to truly study and understand an alien culture on the cusp of star travel. I’ve studied this species extensively, analyzed their media, absorbed their understanding of the universe. It’s my hope that perhaps I can guide them. Help them understand their own condition, before they reach out to the stars.”

The Commander furrowed his eyestalks, one turned towards the blue orb below and the other staring intently at Ryb’neor.

“You know the Law. You are not to directly interfere with their progress. You are not to directly change the path of their civilization. I know you’ve grown fond of these…children…and I fear you will be unable to resist the temptation to sway them with knowledge they are not ready to have.”

“Your concerns are noted, Commander. I know the consequences of breaking the Law, and fond as I am, truly, of these people, I would not risk breaking the Grand Treaty to push them where they are not ready to go.”

“Even if they are a danger to themselves? To their very existence? Can you let them go that path, if it the path they choose leads to their own destruction?”

Ryb’neor fell silent. He knew that what his superior suggested was a possibility. For all their wonder, their exuberance, their joy, they were still a violent, chaotic, mad species. In truth, it was that madness that sang to him, drew him, inspired him. His race had long since evolved past the passions that drove this species, but the spark of passion burned within him. He hid it well, but perhaps there, on that polished blue orb, he could find himself. Could he, then, let them destroy themselves?

“If it is their path, it is their path…but perhaps I can sway them, discreetly.”

“How?”

“Laughter. Tears. Anger. Sadness. Hope.”

“Emotions? Primitive things…”

“Perhaps…but are they not a primitive people?”

The Supreme Commander sat quietly for a while. Finally, he nodded.

“Understand, if I give you this, it will be permanent. You will not be reassigned, you will not be allowed to leave. The surgery will be…extensive. Painful. Are you truly ready to go through all that, for a species that may kill itself off before it ever reaches the stars?”

Ryb’neor nodded.

“Very well. Assignment granted, Ryb’neor.”

***

Ryb’neor smiled. It took getting used to in this funny new body. Waiting in this room, he could not help but remember the last interview with his commander. And here he was, about to embark on a new adventure, on his new home.

The door opened.

“Mr. Williams? Are you ready for your audition?”

Ryb’neor…no, it was Robin, now…smiled broader.

“Nanu-nanu,” he whispered, and his eyes twinkled blue.

I started this story last week, after struggling with deciding what kind of story I wanted to tell.  I ended up choosing Robin Williams because I thought it would be fun to imagine a world where he really *was* Mork, essentially. Mork and Mindy was a favorite of mine as a child, and is something that, believe it or not, I think about all the time. It’s kind of hard not to when your name is Mark and your wife is named Myndee. And yes, she’s named after the show.

So here it has been, sitting in my drafts, waiting to be edited down from the 630 word story I started with to the 500 word limit of the challenge…when yesterday happened. I will be honest, I thought long and hard about deleting my draft and not posting the story. I didn’t want to seem as if I were jumping on some band wagon or taking advantage of the death of one of the few celebrities I have ever genuinely admired.

But in the end, I decided I’d publish it anyway. RIP, Mr. Robin Williams. I hate that sadness overtook you.

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“Super Sexy” – Turn-A-Trope #7, #WOEGTTT

I know, I know, deadlines, right? Better late than never! Here is my entry to this last week’s Turn-a-Trope Tuesday, “Good People Have Good Sex.”  Sometimes, it just isn’t so…

“Silver Fox, you vixen, you!” cried out the Scarlet Saber with delight, “Don’t think I haven’t heard!”

The Fox blushed, and on her silvered skin, it glowed a deep, dark crimson befitting her BFF’s nom-de-vigilance.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Scarlet.”

“Please, sweetie. I have super senses, remember? I heard your door close three miles away, and the voice, thanking you for a wonderful night…at breakfast? If that wasn’t Captain Amazing, then I will hang up my bloody saber right now and never fight crime again!”

The Fox sighed. Well, if one couldn’t be honest with her besty…

“You’re right…it *was* Captain Amazing. He…uh…well…he came over for dinner…”

“And stayed for breakfast?” Scarlet interrupted with a wink. Silver Fox nodded shyly.

“Oh, you have to do better than that, love,” Scarlet prodded, “This is Captain Amazing we’re talking about! So tall, so broad shouldered, so perfectly chiseled, so impeccably dressed…such a large…codpiece…”

A glimmer of something crossed the Fox’s face, and Scarlet, her senses being super, after all, caught it immediately.

“By my sword,” she gasped, “Don’t tell me…Captain Amazing isn’t….”

She held up her fingers about an inch apart. Fox couldn’t help it. She broke into a laugh, which Scarlet joined. A few moments later, she wiped a tear from her cheek.

“No, no…It’s not that. He’s perfectly adequately, um….equipped. Not too big, not too small, just…”

“Spill it, sister,” Scarlett urged. The Fox swallowed, hard.

“Well, let’s just say that, romantically? He’s not so awesome.”

“Do tell! Is he too aggressive? I do love an aggressive man. If he is and you don’t want him…”

“No, it’s not that either. He is definitely sure of himself, and likes to take the lead, but…”

The Silver Fox paused. Was she really going to get into this? She sighed again. May as well.

“Let’s just say…maybe he and the Minuteman should change names,” she admitted, blushing.

Scarlet roared. At first, it irritated Fox, but soon she found herself rolling with laughter as well.
“That’s ok sweetie. Minuteman would be better off as ‘The Living Plank’, anyway. He’s dreadfully boring in the sack.”

“What? Scarlet, don’t tell me…”

Scarlet nodded.

“Remember the Kxylyntll Invasion? Right after that. It was terrible…for someone so passionate about patriotism, he sure is mechanical in bed.”

Fox laughed.

“But I thought you were with the Pimpernel then!”

“Ha! The pimp part is right…I caught him cheating on me with that floozy, the Silk Psychic!”

“No! The one that looks like…”

“…Charlie Sheen in drag!” the pair said in unison, before falling into more laughter.

“Maybe you should have gone after the Mighty Hammer instead,” Fox suggested.

“Gay,” Scarlet sighed.

“Nightshift?”

“Prude.”

“Cardinal Justice?”

“Way, WAY too kinky.”

“Scarlet! Now you’re just being silly…is there anyone in the super community that you haven’t bedded and rejected?”

“What can I say, sweetie, a girl has needs. And it’s a limited dating pool when you have a supernaturally strengthened libido! I was going to aim for Captain Awesome, but now…”

Fox grinned, her blush still evident.

“Surely, there has to be someone out there who has met up to your needs…”

It was Scarlet’s turn to blush, and Fox jumped on that eagerly.

“There is! Oh, you have to tell me who!”

“Only if you promise to never whisper a word about this to anyone! And not to judge me!”

Fox crossed her heart. Scarlet nodded.

“Darkstar,” she said, barely above a whisper. Fox’s mouth fell open, her eyes widened in shock.

“Darkstar?! The villain???”

Scar frowned, looked away, but Fox touched her shoulder and turned her.

“Do tell..I promise I won’t judge.”

Scarlet sighed.

“I didn’t know it was Darkstar at the time. Nor he that I was the Scarlet Saber. We met in our mundanes…he was Derrick Devlin and I was Samantha Smythe. We met on one of those dating sites…I was trying to, you know, scratch the itch without dipping back into the pool of Super Disappointment. But…oh, Fox…”

Tears fell from Scarlet’s face, and Fox took her in a comforting embrace.

“It’s just…he was so gentle, Fox. Sweet. Tender. Caring. And by the stars, so very, very talented in bed.”

Fox was flabbergasted.

“Are we talking about the same Darkstar? The one who wants to rule with an iron fist? The one who tried to conquer at least three different nations just last week?”

Scarlet nodded.

“He isn’t all bad, you know. He just can’t stand chaos, conflict…so he tries to solve it by taking over. But on the inside…he’s so much different. And alas, in prison now. Again.”

“I’m sorry, Scarlet.”

“It’s ok, sweetie. I’ll…”

An explosion rocked in the distance, interrupting the two heroines. In a flash, they were up, and on their way to the scene. Moments later, they stood outside the Metro City Maximum Security Prison. The Mighty Hammer and Captain Amazing were already there, talking to the guards.

“What happened?” Fox asked.

“Breakout!” the Mighty Hammer said, his eyes gazing longingly at Captain Amazing’s tights. Captain Amazing turned, and approached the trio.

“Fear not, ladies…me and the Hammer can handle this one. Darkstar is loose…but we can take him.”

“We’ll pound his ass into the ground,” the Mighty Hammer exclaimed, high-fiving Captain Amazing, “and have him back behind bars in less than a minute!”

Fox and Scarlet burst into laughter.

They couldn’t help it.

“Be Careful What You Wish For” – Turn-A-Trope #6, #WOEGTTT

After a hell of a week, I have finally gotten a chance to write something. I tell ya, it’s a huge relief. I had not realized how much I’ve come to enjoy venting a little fiction into the blogosphere, and how much it would aggravate me when I miss getting to do it. Hopefully, this story, my late entry for last week’s Turn-A-Trope Tuesday challenge, Make A Wish, will get me back on track.

Be careful what you wish for.

I use to find myself wishing for something more. Something bigger, something better, something different than who I am. A real life Walter Mitty, I guess, lost in day dreams about what might have been had I been fitter, sexier, richer. Or born in another era, where my prodigious talents would have been truly appreciated for what they were. Or where I could show off my knowledge of ancient skills and histories and brilliant intelligence and have those things impress instead of finding scorn.

I would wish every night, upon the same star in the sky. Of course, it probably wasn’t a star. It was probably Venus, or hell, something even less sexy. A satellite. Star light, star bright, first star I see at night, probably a Sputnik in low orbit flight. Still, every night, I’d go up to the roof and lay on my back and stare at the cosmos above and just wish, more than anything, to be something different. And every day, I’d awake, the same, old, boring me. And most of all, alone.

It was the loneliness, I think, that made me look for the first time at the space between those sparkling points of light. That emptiness, that black and unchanging void that screamed as much in its solitude as did my soul in its own loneliness. When all was sparkling and bright around it, it was empty. Black. Wanting. I wanted, too. I stared into that void, and wished. No light, just night, nothing sparkling clean and bright, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish…I suddenly felt very foolish. I think may actually have blushed at that moment, embarrassed by my own silliness. I sighed, hard, and for a moment had to fight back a welling wetness from within my eyes.

Fuck wishes. I think I said that aloud too. But seriously, fuck them. I’ve wished a million, billion things and never once have they come true. And the insidious thing about wishing is that the very act seems to drain you of ambition. I’d make a wish, and the part of me that wanted it was somehow a little more satisfied that at least I’d done something, right? And then I’d do nothing. Because I’d wished. Look at that star, or Venus, or Sputnik, and say “I wish I were in better shape” instead of just getting off my ass and going to the gym. And in my head, that part of me that was tired of being doughy and soft would smile at my effort, and the yearning would fade. I’d never get to the gym. I didn’t need to. I had wishes.

I swallowed the sadness that had lumped in my throat, wiped away the tears in my eyes. I got up off that dusty old roof, brushed my pants off, and started to walk back to the dormer window that brought me out to my nightly wishing spot. As I reached the window, I looked back, realizing that it was over. I was not ever going to do this again. I was done with wishes.

Almost.

I looked to that spot, that void, and I made my final wish.

“I will not wish ever again,” I said, low but heavy with shame and anger, “I will not ever ask another thing, so these are my last. I wish, how I wish, that this wasn’t my life, that I were someone, anyone else, somewhere, anywhere else. I wish that wishing stars weren’t absolute bullshit, and that tomorrow I could wake up and be anyone but me. I wish…”

I paused, fighting back the tears, the lump in my throat, the wetness coming again to my eyes.
“I wish I wasn’t alone.”

And then…I swear, the patch had been empty, black. But I saw a twinkle there. Bright, dancing, sparkling in the night. I laughed, hollowly. My void had been nothing more than a cloud obscuring a star. A star just like all the other junk in space. Brilliant and wishless. I went inside, locked the window, and found my way to bed. Sleep came to me, heavy and burdened. Fitful. I tossed and turned all night, struggling with my self-conscious that didn’t want to accept a world without wishes.

And then I woke.

And I was not in my bed. I was not in my home. I was not in my clothes. All around me, a world of strange and alien sights, strange and alien smells, sounds. I leapt up to my feet, pinched myself. I looked to the sky, and saw darkness filled with points of light, all in patterns I’d never seen. Elation washed over me! My wish! Oh could it be? Had I gotten my wish?

And then, shock. Realization. Numbness, as I began to fully understand.

I was not smart, here. My talents were nothing, here. My knowledge, useless, here. It was like I was someone else entirely. Chills washed down my spine. God, what was I going to do?

And then…oh god, then. I heard it. Out there, far, but getting closer. A horrifying, shrieking sound that reminded my of the last part of my wish.

Because it’d come true. All of it. I wasn’t me here – the me of my world was gone. My world was gone. The stars weren’t bullshit. I had awaken someplace else, someone else.

The shriek was closer now, angry, hungry sounding.

I was not alone.

And the stars above me twinkled and laughed.

“What the Heart Seeks” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Doing The Subgenre Twist, Once Again

Another week, another interesting challenge form the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!  This week, we had to choose two story genres at random, and mix them together into a single story of subgenre-melty-goodness in 2000 words or less. As usual, I used the random number generator/recorder at Invisible Castle to keep myself honest, and came up with an 18 and a 2 – a Noir Dystopia. Shiny!

I came two words shy of the goal with the following piece, “What the Heart Seeks.”  It was harder than I thought, inserting dystopian elements into a noir world. I ended up adding a touch of sci-fi to the mix, and shook it real hard. I hope the results tickle your tastebuds.

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in the door. Her hair was long, loose, dark, falling over her shoulders like an avalanche of black curls. Her eyes, green as a piece of fine jade. Her lips, shockingly red and shockingly full. Her skin, lightly tanned, as if the sun had kissed her ever so gently. Her clothes so tight, I’d have sworn she was shaken up and poured into them. Every bit of her, head to toe, was a violation of the Morality Code. And frankly, I didn’t give a damn. I tossed out the garnish of taboo and drank her in like a drunk at an open bar.

“Mr. Monroe?”

I must have been staring too long, because her eyebrow raised, and she cocked a hand on one of those impossibly curvy hips. I went to speak, found my jaw was hanging slack, closed it. Rolled my head and shrugged.

“What’s it to you?” I said, trying to play disinterested, though I was sure I’d blown that hand already.

“I hear you’re a Seeker, Mr. Monroe. A good one.”

I put a toothpick into my mouth, gnawed on it. I wanted a cigarette, bad, but I was out of cards for them and though they were plentiful on the black market, getting caught sucking down on one without a ration stamp was more trouble than I wanted to get in. And no matter how tempting she looked, I didn’t know this dame. Best to play it safe.

“I have been known to find things, sure. For a price.”

“What kind of things?” she asked, sauntering closer.

“Things,” I shot back. I don’t like being interrogated.

“You ever find…people?”

I paused. My chewing stopped. I reached up and pulled the toothpick from my mouth, and spun it in my fingers. I knew what she was asking, and it could get me in a lot of trouble. Unlicensed use of meta-human abilities was punishable by…well, anything they damned well wanted to do. Still, there was something about her. I gave in.

“People are tough. Not like objects. They change too much, nothing solid to focus on. Besides, most the time, someone goes missing, it’s because they crossed the Greycoats.”

Outside, a shrill whistle sounded, followed by the sound of running, cries. Punctuated my point perfectly.

“Tough,” she said, almost a whisper as she leaned in real close, “but not impossible.”

I couldn’t help but get a whiff of her, of that sweet, unidentifiable but completely irresistible perfume. I can’t deny, it had an effect. Down below, I felt myself stir in ways both immoral and illegal. Damn…this dame was trouble. Why, oh why do I like trouble so much? Still, long as it had been, much as I may be driven by those illegal, animal desires…I don’t work for free.

“No. Not impossible, Miss…”

I paused. I hadn’t even thought to get her name. It’s like she pushed every single one of my buttons, just right. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks.

“Neris. Neris Molpe, Mr. Monroe,” she said, with a smile that could melt even the black heart of a stalwart Greycoat.

“Uh, you can call me Sam.”

“Alright…Sam. So…will you take the job?”

I almost said yes. Hell, if she had asked right then, I might of walked right up to a Grey Inquisitor and pissed on his boots. But there’s one thing that drives me more than even the most primal lust.

“First, there’s a matter of cost. Seeking’s risky business, and battin’ those eyes won’t pay the rent. Or the taxman. Or bribe the Inquisitors. I need to know what you’ve got to offer before I can say one way or the other.”

Her demeanor cooled slightly.

“Of course,” she said, and the chill from her lips could have frosted over glass. Oh well. So much for that fantasy. She reached into her bag, a nice, colorful thing that would have gotten her arrested in a less questionable part of town. Color incites passion, passion incited immorality. That’s what the loudspeakers said, anyway, wasn’t it? Her hand slid in, slid out, now carrying…

My jaw dropped. My heart pounded wildly beneath my wrinkled shirt and battered overcoat. I literally had to rub my eyes, to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even thought about pinching myself.

“Are those…”

“Reproduction licenses, Mr. Monroe. Two of them.”

She may well have said she held the contents of the Imperial treasury in her hands. Reproduction was highly, strictly regulated. It could take a couple a dozen years or more to get a license for a single child. Many who got them found that years of chemical libido inhibition also killed their ability to have children, but by some strange lack of oversight, the licenses were open. They weren’t bound to a particular name or couple. They were transferable. And very, very pricey.

I licked my lips. Didn’t want to seem to eager but I really couldn’t deny that I was. I rubbed my jaw, felt the stubble that had grown there.
“Alright, Ms. Molpe…”

“Neris, please.”

“Yeah. Alright Neris. You have yourself a Seeker.”

***

It’d been a long night. Miss Molpe…Neris…was hesitant on the details. Couldn’t blame her for that, though. These days, anyone could be a Greycoat. Even me.

We’d evaded three patrols so far, running through dark alleys and abandoned service tunnels, following the distinctive pull my mind felt towards the object of her desire. Every once in a while, the trail would start to dim, and I’d have to ask her for another detail to freshen the imprint. Like I’d said, humans are tough. Changing. Moods shift, and something that defined a person one moment might change the next.

It’s easier, of course, if the person in question has some sort of unchanging feature; a significant scar, a great hairy blemish, a tattoo…well, a tattoo would work if they hadn’t been outlawed by Imperial edict. Even then, though, the way a person views their own attributes can sway how well they can be Sought. Where I might see an angry red scar, the bearer might see a proud badge of heroism. The devil is in the details, they say.

And the devil was poking me, hard. I fingered the stiletto hidden in the sleeve of my trench coat, then sighed.

“I need something more,” I said, sucking on my teeth as I tried to pinpoint the fleeting tug of my Seeking. Neris leaned against the alley wall, trying to catch her breath. I guess we’d been moving a bit faster than she was prepared to go; hard to say. When I start Seeking, I tend to loose myself in the pursuit. She held up a hand. I nodded.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. It was clear that she was trying to find just the right detail out, that wouldn’t expose too much information but give me enough to give her a lead. A tingle of paranoia crept up my spine like a spider up a drainpipe, but with a shiver, I dismissed it. Paranoia was the norm these days, ever since the emperor dissolved the senate and handed power directly to the Inquisitors. As much as I might distrust her, she surely distrusted me.

“Can we rest a moment more?” she asked, opening her astonishingly jade eyes and batting her lashes. Those things had to be a mile long. I grunted, gave a nod. But something was nagging me, and I had to ask.

“Who are we tracking, Neris? Boyfriend? Relative?”

Her cheeks flushed the color of a cheap wine.

“No…nothing like that. He’s just…someone who…has something of mine.”

“A thief?”

She shrugged, looking away from my eyes. My jaw tightened, eyes narrowed.

And then she looked up at me again. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, gazed at me like she was drilling a hole in my soul and looking to strike gold. And damn if she didn’t.

“Please, Mr. Monroe…I can’t. I can’t talk about it more than that. Is it enough that he has something of mine? Can we work with that for now?”

I concentrated, felt the return of that familiar tug. Yes…that would work. I nodded, and we were off again, chasing the ghost of her little thief. Whoever he was.

***

We hunted most the night, when we finally came upon the end of the line. The tugging within me, the feeling I’d followed all night, released. Tension fled from me like water from a sieve. I felt my muscles loosen, relax.

“He’s here,” I told her, nodding towards the abandoned storage buildings across from us. “He’s inside one of them – sorry I can’t be more accurate, but this is as close as I can get with people.”

Neris nodded, and started to walk briskly towards the buildings, when that wave of paranoia hit me again. I reached out, stopped her.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.”

My eyes narrowed, searching, not Seeking. It was quiet. Too quiet. No sounds of whistles, no barking dogs. No signs that an Imperial patrol had been through here, no sign that they were coming. And where there are no signs of Imperials, there are almost always signs of crime. This place was clean. I pulled Neris back behind me, reached into my jacket, pulled my unlicensed revolver.

“It’s a trap,” I growled.

“I know,” she said, and I felt the cold, round touch of a barrel against the back of my neck. Every bit of me cringed. I’d been had. Hard.

“Your gun. Drop it.”

I considered, briefly, resisting. I’m no slouch when it comes to using a gat, and my impression thus far was that this dame wasn’t used to getting her hands dirty. Not this way at least. And then, the Greycoats came. A whole squad, swarming out from the storage buildings. I may have been able to take her, but my gun was at least a dozen rounds shy of taking the rest.

“Excellent work, Mrs. Molpe,” the lead Greycoat said. “We’ve been after this Seeker for some time now, but he has always proven too slippery a fish.”

Mrs. Molpe? Fuck me.

“Stop, Donovan,” she said, her voice cracking in what almost sounded like sorrow.

He slapped her, hard.

“That’s Captain Donovan, you dirty little Enticer.”

An Enticer? They sent an Enticer? It all began to make sense. The loose details, the feelings of paranoia, the way I set aside my usual distrust so easily. I looked at Donovan. Shit. He was the one I was Seeking the entire time.

I looked over my shoulder at the apparently married Neris Molpe, and sneered.

“Don’t,” she pleaded, “Don’t hate me, Sam. They have my husband. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice, Neris.”

“Not true,” Donovan said pointing his gun at me menacingly, “You are out of them, Mr. Monroe.”

I smirked. Couldn’t help it. I  had a choice.

I lunged, and as I did, pulled the stiletto from my coat sleeve. Donovan’s eyes widened; guess he’d never had anyone resist before. He tried to bring his gun to bear, but I was on him to quick. I buried my blade in his throat. He gurgled, gasped, fell backwards.

I felt the first shot that hit me, but I didn’t feel the rest. My body became suddenly heavy, and I slipped to the ground. I heard Neris scream, and a moment later, felt her arms wrap around me, cradling my head.

“Sam! Oh, Sam…I’m sorry Sam!” she said, sobs wracking her body. I tried to move, couldn’t. Hurt.

“S’ok, dame. I made my choice.”

Coldness swept over me. My sight began to fail. I looked at her, at those impossibly green eyes, and smiled. Imagine that. Me, in the arms of a beautiful dame, her eyes heavy with tears for a cagey old Seeker. I tried to laugh, coughed blood instead.

There were worse ways to go.

“Rider from the Storm” – Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge: The Phoenix

It’s that time again folks, from the talented and ever terrible mind of Chuck Wendig comes another weekly challenge. I decided that this time I would continue the story from last week’s attempt, as I like the world I was building there and this prompt gave me a perfect excuse to revisit it.  Hope you enjoy another slice of Li Drevin’s life…

“Li Drevin?”

I ignored the woman asking my identity and continued loading the limited storage space on Harley, my warp-bike. I spared a glance her direction, saw the uniform, and thanked the ancestors I’d chosen not to respond. It didn’t matter. She saw my glance, and her face took on a hard glare.

“It’s no use ignoring me. I was confirming your identity as a matter of civility, Mr. Drevin, but I know it already. I’ve come to bring you back to the Congress. They weren’t done with their questions.”

“What’s more to ask, Lieutenant…”

I glanced briefly at her chest. Strictly professionally, I assure you.

“…Anders? I’ve told them what I came to tell them. I’ve warned them of what’s coming, and how quick it’s doing so. Now I am going to jump on my bike, hit the black, and get my way to the other side of the galaxy, quick as I can. I don’t have time for political bullshit.”

None of us do, I thought.

“And what then?” she asked, crossing her arms, “If these things – what did you call them? Phoenix? Phoenixes? Phoeni? What is the plural for them?”

I hadn’t named them. I was just hired help, out on the galactic rim, that happened to be on the planet where they were found and knew the scientist who named them. Gracie Wu. Poor girl. She’d called them Phoenix when she’d found their ancient, long-buried ship during a geological survey. Their bodies, desiccated and lifeless, revived with exposure to the light of that system’s star. As they revived, they emitted brilliant flashes of bioluminescence.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, Gracie had said.

That was just over three cycles ago. Gracie was dead, now, along with nearly everyone else on that world.

“Phoenix,” I grumbled, “The plural is just Phoenix, like fish and deer. As for what I’ll do then…”

I sighed. What would I do then? The Phoenix, at first, seemed benign. Almost plantlike in their forms, their limbs like tendrils, roots, off shoots of pulpy, vegetative bodies. Then they began to move. To walk, or writhe, or slither, or whatever the fuck it is one does on tendrils.

Then they began to fly.

That was the first sign that something was wrong. When the first one took to the air, hovering, much to the misplaced delight of the people watching. Then it struck. Fast as lighting. A tendril drilled deep into the heart of the lady who’d brought it back to life. It consumed her from the inside out, shriveling her flesh till it looked like the things she’d pulled from the ground. And then…then her flesh began to writhe, to wiggle in the sun. To reform, to expand, to move on its own power. Hot light burst from her, and she stood. Not Gracie. The thing that wore her body, her face, but not Gracie.

The planet was overwhelmed in hours.

I’m fast, damned fast. Not just on a warp bike, but on foot. Always have been. I still don’t know quite how I’d gotten away but I had, and I wasn’t going to give them a second shot at me. So I’d go, far. Other side of the galaxy, and from there? A sleeper ship maybe? I know they were launching some outwards to the distant arms of another conglomeration of stars. I didn’t know.

All I did know was that a storm was coming. And I planned to ride ahead of it for as long as I could.

“Mr. Drevin, please come back to the Congress. I don’t want to have to use force.”

I turned back towards the young lieutenant, and saw the stun-rod in her hand.

Like I said, I’m fast. Damned fast. Her arm was already in motion, but I was a blur, stepping underneath and pushing her arm, helping momentum carry her swing too far and off balancing her. I placed one leg slightly behind her, and pushed, toppling her to the ground and snatching the stun-rod from her hand. She looked up at me in shock, her eyes focusing on the tags that hung from my neck, with their distinctive black and gold stripes. Her mouth hung agape.

“Drevin…you – you were at Lisborn?”

I felt the color drain from my face.

The Battle of Lisborn. The last great battle in a war of greed and power-grabbing. And attempt by a bunch of wealthy, power hungry fucks to break apart the Republic. It was at Lisborn that they’d used their ace card, the device they thought would make even the might of the Republic tremble. The Star Crusher. Tens of millions lost in a moment. A blink of an eye, the collapse of a star. Everyone in the system dead. Everyone but one.

I’m damned fast.

The only good thing that came out of Lisborn, myself included, was a sudden, crushing defeat of the separatists. They hadn’t counted on the Republic doing that, and the Star Crusher? They only had the one. Their bluff got called, and they folded faster than the star that Lisborn orbited.

The mood shifted. I reached out, helped Anders up, handed her back her stun-rod. I noted her face, as pale now as mine had been at the mention of Lisborn.

“Ancestors be merciful,” she breathed, her eyes welling with tears, “You aren’t lying. They’re coming.”

I nodded.

“What should we do? What can we do?”

I shrugged.

“Head for the far side of the galaxy,” I said, “Maybe catch a sleeper ship. Try to stay ahead of the storm.”

I paused just long enough to throw a leg over Harley. Anders didn’t do a thing to try and stop me.

“Stay ahead of the storm, and hope to the thousand hells that they can’t cross deep space.”

I pulled on my helmet, touched off the bike’s engines. I left her there, staring off into the black. Staring in the direction of the Phoenix, and the coming storm of fire.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 23 – “Answered Prayers”

Coming right in at the 500 word limit is this week’s entry into the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge, Week 23! This was a tough one for me, for while I enjoy science fiction, I tend to write the kind set in a more fantastical universe. Writing something “closer to home” was a real challenge, but one I enjoyed thoroughly.

So here we are, with “Answered Prayers”

“Mission Control, are you seeing this?”

Major Aaron Fields and Colonel Sandra Walken listened as their transmitters broadcast back a hiss of static, but their attention was divided. ARES-1 was as they had left it, save for its visitor.

“Mission Control, do you copy?” Sandra repeated.

“I’m getting nothing,” Aaron said, “Jim, are you in there?”

The radio crackled. No response.

“It’s got to be our transmitters,” Sandra said, “It’s not like Jim has anywhere to go. Let’s just make sure we get this on camera.”

Aaron nodded, focusing back on the lander, the ladder leading to the entrance hatch, and on the strange creature perched upon it. It was alien, but beautiful. Ten spindly legs telescoped off a tiny thorax. Its head was almost comically too large, with small mandibles, and a double pair of antennae.  A large, swollen abdomen hung behind it. Last, two large, mantis-like limbs twitched in the reddish haze of the Martian atmosphere. Most amazing, though, was its color, a shifting iridescence that like a rainbow made solid and formed into a living being.

“What are you?” Sandra whispered, approaching slowly.

“Protocol, Sandy,” Aaron warned.

“What protocol? We didn’t come here prepared for anything like this. Any equipment we have for studying this little guy is in the ship…and he’s between us and it. We have to do something. I’ve been praying for this all my life – I’m hoping I can gently shoo it away while you get a larger sample container from inside and raise Mission Control.”

Aaron grunted. He didn’t like half-assed plans, but he didn’t see an alternative. The insect twitched curiously.

“And you? What will you be doing?”

“Watching,” Sandy said almost breathlessly, “If you think I’m letting this fella out of my sight for even a heartbeat, you’re crazy.”

***

Sandra’s plan worked. Aaron had to give her that. She managed to get the glimmering beast to abandon the lander for a nearby rock formation, and followed it there. He climbed the ladder to ARES-1, and entered the code to open the air lock. A rush of air fled the craft, and Aaron frowned. That wasn’t a good sign.

He had barely stuck his head through the port when he was felt something stabbing deep into his neck. Darkness came shortly thereafter.

***

Sandra tottered over towards Aaron, and Jim descended from the landing craft to join them. How clumsy it was to walk on two legs instead of ten! She/it suppressed a chuckle as she saw her hive mates struggling as she had.

“How long has it been?” Jim asked, wobbling.

“Centuries? Eons?” Aaron replied, his voice comically melodious as he adjusted to the newness of vocal cords and the clumsy, crude language of his new host’s mind.

“It does not matter,” Sandra said, smiling. “The promised vessels have come. Soon, all of our young will have hosts. Millions await. Praise be to the Goddess. We are delivered.”

“Praise be,” the others echoed, as they began loading the craft with eggs.

“Starship Rider” – Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge: Random Title!

It’s time again, dear readers, for a challenge from the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!

This week’s assignment? A story title generated at random from two lists of words. A story written to match that title. 1000 words or less.  I came in right on the nose with this one, and am awfully pleased with the results.

And in the interest of fairness, here is proof of my random rolls for the words I got.

Here’s “Starship Rider”:

“And there she is, Mr. Drevin. The Starlance-005. Fastest warp bike ever made.”

I whistled as my hands found her cold, smooth surface. I caressed her as if she were a new lover, tenderly but eagerly, exploring every curve and surface. I was in a hurry, but you didn’t rush this kind of thing. I bent low, my eyes gazing across her gleaming, stainless surface, my breath fogging the duranium plates that made up her exterior. Flawless.

“Frankly, I think you’re a little nuts. But then, I think all you rocket jockeys are.”

I smiled and turned towards the sales rep.

“Nuts, huh? Can’t say that’d be the first time I was accused of that,” I said, then chuckled. “Don’t imagine that’s a real great sales tactic, though.”

The rep, Cho, I think his name was, laughed.

“Buddy, I know your type. Twelve hells, I could probably tell you that riding that thing would cause a plague on three random core worlds and simultaneously cause your mother to sprout horrible, life-altering warts, and you’d still swing your leg over that crotch-rocket and ride. No…I don’t have to sell these, friend. You do that for me.”

I laughed too, sincerely, despite my hurry. Because he was right.

“May I?” I asked, gesturing towards the lady. Cho gave a nod, and I swung my leg over, settling down into the saddle.

A little nuts was probably right. Warp bikes were insanely dangerous vehicles, and they barely qualified as that. They were little more than a warp drive fitted with handlebars, a saddle, a few control pedals and panels, and an ionic force-field generator. Support systems were as minimal as possible. Magloks to hold your atmo-suit. Molecularly-compressed oxy tanks to keep you from suffocating. A micro-fusion reactor to power the beast. Handlebars to steer it. There was no shortage of people who thought anyone stupid enough to magnetically attach a nuclear-powered rocket between their legs deserved the likely very short life they got.

Especially when there were comfortable transports around. Reliable star barges, shuttling to every populated planet in the galactic system. Nice. Safe. Slow. It was that last word that killed it for me, though. Can’t have slow. Even if that term is extraordinarily relative. Even the slowest transport traveled several times faster than light through warp space, but for a guy like me, that still wasn’t fast enough. A warp bike, though, was a starship of a different color. They were the fastest man-made objects in space. Nothing could out accelerate one, not even the top of the line dart fighters employed by the Republic peace keepers.

Granted, a bike had no weapons, no amenities, no place to rest, eat, or shit. All it had was a whole lot of speed. You couldn’t go far on one. Short jumps between systems, with regular refueling. Ancestors help you if you ran out of juice and fell out of warp somewhere off the shipping radar. There was also the need to find a place to do things like resting, eating, and so forth. Even with all that, though, even with having to stop and sleep and lose that travel time, they were still magnitudes faster than any other ship known.

And that was exactly what I needed.

I spared a glance to the skies. Clear, getting dark. It wouldn’t be long now. Cho and I wrestled verbally over the price for a short while. The final price was still ludicrously high. Starfighter high, maybe a bit more. I could have gotten him lower, but I knew I was running out of time as it was. My appreciation of that fine hunk of machinery had been a waste of time I probably couldn’t afford, but I let my baser instincts get the better of me. Besides, it’s not like they were going to be around long enough to collect on my debt.

The paperwork took too damned long, and I was beginning to get antsy. I thank the ancestors that Cho read that as eagerness to get starborne, but twelve hells, I wished he would hurry it up. Finally, he had a contract in hand and a smile on his face. I signed it, rapidly, my scrawl taking up a quarter of the page. No time for neatness. Cho escorted me to the sales lounge, helped me suit up into an acceptable atmo-suit.

Outside, the sky was dark. Any time now.

Cho ran out with me as I rushed over to the bike, opening one of the tiny storage bays and stuffing what few belongings I had into them. The sales rep beamed like a proud new father, and for a moment, I felt kind of bad for him.

Or would, if he’d let me leave already!

“Hold up, Li!” he cried. We’d taken to using first names by this point. “You’re forgetting something!”

“What?” I asked in exhasperation.

“A christening!” he laughed, pulling a small bottle of terrible champagne from his pocket. “You know it’s bad luck to fly without a name! What will you call her?”

I hopped on to the bike, my legs locking into the magloks as the atmo-tubes clicked into the air tanks. I looked to the sky.

“Harley,” I decided. “Her name is Harley.”

Cho smiled, and brought the bottle back in an overly dramatic swing.

The sky filled with flashes of light.

Fuck!

Too late – I thought about warning Cho but it was too late. And a warp bike was a one person ride.

They descended planet-side quicker than anything I’d ever seen. A thousand stars, tens of thousands of planets, and we’d never found another sentient race.

Until three cycles ago.

I’d burned out my last bike getting here. I’d barely escaped then.

“Sorry, Cho,” I said, kicking the warp drive into gear. Entering warp in atmo is dangerous. Ludicrously so. I had no choice. They were here. I had to get to the core. Warn the Republic.

I hoped I could ride fast enough.