Friday, March 25, 2011

Bedtime Stories for Weird Kids: Asteroid no. 5 (part two)

This week's Bedtime Story is my 80th so far. It's also a special three-parter. If you haven't read part one yet, read that first and stay tuned for next week's conclusion!

“Hold on a sec,” James said. He turned around and attached a micro-filament line to the airlock door. “The map of this place isn’t worth the paper it wasn’t printed on.”

We pushed off and shined our lights into the dark.

Six kilometers in, we reached a cavern bigger than most stadiums. James and I pitoned our suits to the cavern wall and pushed off.

The miners left behind several tons of equipment behind. Much of it probably still worked, but the corps did an audit about twenty years back and discovered salvaging and shipping equipment often cost more than making new stuff.

They should have sold the salvage rights to Mom & Pop’s, but they said the taxes would kill them. I call Bolshevik Shippers, but I needed to focus. Cavities like that one are perilous to the inattentive traveller.

The suit sensors would pick up some stuff, but a stray piece of equipment might still get by and smack your helmet. Even if it didn’t breech, a concussion could ruin your month.

My wrist buzzed. I looked down. “Damn! James!”

He looked back. “What?”

“Radiation is spiking.”

He looked at his wrist and fiddled with the controls. Guess he’d forgotten to turn it on. He pointed the sensor around the cavern and picked out the red zone.

James engaged his jets for a microsecond.

“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled after him. Yelling over a comm is kind of mean since it’s not necessary.

I followed after him. The suits had to protect us from decently high radiation anyway.

Patches of dark obscured my vision. I couldn’t quite make them out. For a moment, I thought I was blacking out.

We neared the radiation spike. I expected to see a TRZ9 core, but I didn’t really see anything but patches of nothing. The floor around the core looked like starless space. It couldn’t be, but it looked like it.

James’s light lit up the whole area so my hand wandered a bit. I glimpsed movement out of the corner of my eye and looked at it. A patch of dark grew under my light’s beam.

I tapped James’s shoulder and pointed at it. He tapped his thrusters and floated to my light.

“I just scanned it,” he said. “I got nothing. Like literally nothing. Get over here, would you?”

It took a steady hand (not to mention a clever maneuver to keep our lines from tangling), but I kept the light shined on the spot and floated over.

The spot of nothing shrunk to the size of the beam. Minute tendrils slunk past the edges. I felt sick.

James nodded at it and reached down. The creature ignored his touch. He grabbed one edge and I picked it up from the other side. It felt like flowing rock. No matter how hard we gripped it, it only flexed if it felt like it.

We hooked our lines to our suit winches and engaged the return.

The trip back took maybe an hour. The creature followed us contentedly so long as we kept a light shined on it. I tried not to look at it too closely when it passed between me and James.

It looked for all the world like a hole had opened up through him and bare space. Then the sickening tendrils flicked, it creeped me out less.

James fingered the airlock open and we stepped in. Air whooshed in. It felt a few degrees colder than usual. I thought it was all in my head.



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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bedtime Stories for Weird Kids: Asteroid no. 5 (part one)

This week's Bedtime Story is my 80th so far. It's also a special three-parter. Enjoy!

I remember the first time they became too much to ignore.

The food locker I liked to keep food in had run a bit low on pastries. I’d gone a few days without but, after the third farm came in 10% above quota, I felt I’d deserved a treat.

I flipped the low switch on the grav and pushed down the hall. It’s nearly a kilometer to the next locker so I had to kick off a few more times to reach it. I’ve cleared the major obstacles from this run already, but my heart still thuds in my ears every time I make the trip through the dark.

We’re not supposed to read up on the mental ailments afflicting people in solitude. I have though. Vague shapes on the corner of reality … surely a sign I should be spending more time at the socials.

I held my breath and held my arms out to stop myself on the locker. I looked around. Nothing. I breathed a sigh of relief and unloaded the snacks from the locker.

“—tation five, station five, come in, station five,” James’s voice crackled across the divide.

I swore. I’d forgotten to carry a comm and all the section went unpowered when not connected to the interchange. He’d be worried sick.

My time back was two minutes faster than my best record.

I clicked on the set and broadcast, “Station two, station two, this is station five, come back. Come back.”

The sound of cosmic radiation filtered through the set for a moment. “Hey, Scrumpy.”

“Hey James. What’s up?”

James invited me to an impromptu social. His station was running above quota on two farms—7% total—and he felt like celebrating. Probably also curbing the loneliness. Given my periphery, it seemed like a good idea for me too.

I suited up, aimed the magne-grapple at his station, and fired. Two minutes later, the cable pulled taught. The zip light flashed red twice and turned green. I latched myself to the zip and sped across the dusty vacuum.

When you first start pulling these deep space duties, you plan conversation topics for the next time you breath the same air as another human.

I’d given that up five years prior.

James had come on three years ago from another asteroid cluster. We’d met dozens of times and never got to the subject of how many years

I skipped the small talk. Twenty minutes of discussion-free munching and I broached the subject. “You ever get space madness, James?”

He pondered. “Like just anxious over nothing?”

“No. Like seeing things that aren’t there.”

“Maybe. I been seeing a few things lately.”

“Like what?”

He hesitated.

“You know I’m not going to tattle and I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t have a reason,” I put a hand on his shoulder.

“Scrumpy … I’ve been seeing critters.”

“Bigger than rats?”

“Bigger than foxes.”

I whistled. “They might be real.”

“Scrumpy, you been holding out on me?”

“No. I thought I was going loopy until today.”

“I been seeing ‘em for practically weeks.”

“Damn. Sorry, James.”

“You think we should go look at ‘em?”

I put my helmet back on as answer and made my hand into a cocked gun.

He took the hint and lead me to the armory.

While he put on his suit, I picked through the supply of 90-year-old salvaged weaponry and decided on a few with cells made in my life time.

I tossed James a ShockEE and a ray gun and kept a heat knife and another ray gun for myself.

James led into a disused back wall airlock. All these stations used to be mining platforms before their asteroids were picked clean of the easy-to-mine material. The old airlocks mostly don’t work and who wants to climb in an unlighted space mine?

I think all of us space farmers have done a bit of prospecting here and there though.

James and I stepped through the lock. He turned his helmet overhead on. With no atmo and deep darkness just in front of me, I felt a crushing paranoia similar to looking on bare space on a walk outside.



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Friday, March 11, 2011

Bedtime Stories for Weird Kids: Thunder Bunnies

“Are you coming to see the thunder bunnies?”

“I think I’ve heard of them. What kind of music do they play?”

If Jack hadn’t been so cool, he would have known they weren’t a band. Being oblivious to pop culture was very in just then and he was just that way anyway. He didn’t know when the cool came. He wouldn’t miss it when it left.

Coolness had been uninvited. It confused him. A puzzle, but not one worth solving.

“God, you are just too much,” Micky said, irritation and awe measured equal.

His unaffected obliviousness, anxiety about odd things, and cool all stuck around.

Coincidentally, so did the thunder bunnies.

So, ten years later, Martha McCool (not her real name) invited him. “Hey, Jack. You wanna come see the thunder bunnies?”

“They’re still around? No one ever did tell me what they were. Except not a band.”

“They defy simple explanation. Like you.”

Jack hated things like him. Especially and specifically himself.

He rolled over and she attacked his naked back with skritches and kisses.

“So you’ll go?”

Of course he’d go. In his own way, he loved Martha. A dozen yuppie houses so similar you couldn’t tell them apart, but there was something about her and all the other people he’d loved over the years.

In the stands at the San Quentin stadium, Jack and Martha awaited the event. Jack caught admiring glances. He thought they might be staring at Martha until she went to the restroom and the stares continued.

It reminded him of Micky. Why had a man like Micky loved Jack? A man who could think of his lovers as identical houses with something almost unnoticeablely special to them.

Martha returned.

The pre-show bored Jack. Some of the music was alright, but the magic show disappointed them both. Jack grew anxious, worried he wouldn’t feel obligated to even fake amusement for Martha’s sake when the time came.

A hush washed across the audience.

He felt the anticipation leak off the audience like razor-lined kite wire. The stadium lights dimmed and the PA played an ominous throb of bass. The only light in the place came from a few people turning of their mobiles.

The main lights flicked on and the bass cut out. The stadium barely bore the silence.

Jack wondered what they meant him to see. The whole place stood motionless. He could just barely see the wind whip little dust balls on the dry clay dirt.

The little dust clouds grew. They chased one another across the stadium floor, crackling in the quiet.

Soon, the clouds grew large, but they maintained the perilous speed. The crackling grew deep and penetrating.

A cloud chased through the seats opposite Jack and Martha’s. The audience on that side ducked low and screeched.

Jack fought the urge to ask Martha what was going on. A murmur bubbled out of him, but even he couldn’t tell what he’d said. The clouds shrunk a little, but oscillated more rapidly and loudly. Jack could feel their vibration through his lungs and all the dust, smoke, and pollen of thirty years was shook loose and drifted toward his diaphragm.

The bunnies purred and chased all over. Jack’s intestines growled when they passed. It felt like dying and everyone joined in the sweet tantalizing misery.

“Well, what did you think?” Martha asked.

“I don’t really know yet.”

“I figured you’d say that.”

But he had a pretty good idea of what he thought about it. People loved the thunder bunnies for the same reason they liked him. They felt something. It didn’t have to be pleasant, and it wasn’t. It’s just you could feel it.


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Friday, March 4, 2011

Delayed Bedtime Story

Hey, y'all. I'm going to be late on a Bedtime Story this week. I got so caught up in my other projects that I forgot I hadn't yet written the next story in the Zedula series. I may skip this week depending on how the projects go.

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