Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXII: James Ward

James spent the next several weeks much as he had his whole professional life, in meetings, and he was always aware of the irony. He was more invested in the goal this time, but he couldn't rouse himself from the stupor that had taken over him after those few words whispered into his ear. In fact, when he wasn't in meetings, James was much like anyone else, he was glued to the news. He watched and read every scrap of it, and had people monitoring it for him while he was in those meetings. The only reason he didn't have feeds wired directly into the conference rooms was because he wanted some semblance of focus.

He thought about the empire he'd made for himself, how it was basically meaningless now, except for the last practical measures he could derive from it, how all of it came down to basic survival, exactly what he had always told himself he was far beyond, that he was shaping the future, creating a world that no one had ever seen or even dreamt of before, a vision that had once been so clear. Now there was virtually nothing, and he found himself thinking instead of what lay ahead, after all of it was finally gone, when not just the earth but the whole empire no longer existed. There would be so few people, and though he planned on spending the time in the fleet of humanity among his fellow luminaries, what did that ultimately mean? That one wasn't even his idea. James found it absurd, even, the thought that those he had once casually considered his kind were somehow better off removed from the rest of the survivors. Those people, who would now outnumber them by an even greater margin, would have their first taste of life not just after the planet, but outside all that influence. They would realize the same thing James had, that it changed nothing, and everything.

So when the time came and he boarded his frigate, and set off into space, watching the hundred ships of the fleet around him, he finally let off a laugh. It was the least he could do. Then someone started singing, and he lost the train of thought.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XXI: This is the Way the World Ends

He was in a meeting when he first heard the news. It wasn't all that uncommon, the circumstances. James Ward was always in meetings. He oversaw a vast economic empire. It would have been foolish for him to spend his days otherwise. Of course, in later days, he couldn't for the life of him remember what that particular meeting had been about, and usually he could remember the most obscure things with perfect clarity. It was his memory that had helped James reach so far into the affairs of the world.

Someone came in, James couldn't remember who, either, and whispered into his ear, and for a moment, he sat there, a whole ring of individuals staring at him, waiting for him to say something, and he wasn't even looking at any of them anymore. He wasn't looking at anything. He tried to clear his throat, but found that it was perfectly dry, so he reached for the glass of water in front of him, and almost knocked it over, but finally brought it to his lips. He did remember thinking, Is this the last time I'll ever do that? He tried to smile, tried to reassure those who only moments earlier had been trying to please him, but, and he could only imagine, it must have come off as something of a scowl.

"The, uh, the meeting is over," he finally said. "Thank you all for coming. I'm afraid there are more important things going on now."

This statement must have startled them, since they had become accustomed to believing the particulars of meetings with James Ward were the most important things happening in those moments. He didn't offer any more of an explanation. He just dismissed them, and still he could hardly look at them. He immediately called for an assistant to gather a new team to come to the conference room, all the most brilliant scientific minds available to him. He didn't think anything could be done, except to move forward with the last line of defense, the survival line, against the single threat that only death itself could possibly hold against humanity. He called friends around the globe, to offer his thoughts, assuming that they already knew, and if they didn't, that it didn't matter, that he would do everything in his power to set things in motion. All his power had come to this moment, and it was all he could fall back on. James had no family. He considered himself an orphan, and he had never married, had no friends. He had only had his work. He kept telling himself, There is so much time. Well, now there wasn't any at all. He wouldn't even have gotten onboard one of his own frigates if someone hadn't physically walk him onto it, guiding him the whole way, straight into his seat. And when he looked around, he didn't see faces. James Ward no longer saw faces. And he no longer saw the future.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XX: Gabriel Martinez

Gabriel had always spent most of his time listening to the needs of the universe. It sounds pretentious when you say it like that, but what it really means is, he didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out what he wanted to do, but rather what seemed like the right thing to do at the time. And this in turn is not meant to imply that he was impulsive, but that he let the simple act of inspiration guide him.

For example: when he was growing up, like every other kid Gabriel enjoyed recess most of all while he was attending grade school, but he was often lost inside his own head, rather playing some pickup sport or other with the other kids. It wasn't because he was an oddball misfit, except of course his behavior certainly made him one, but rather because he was busy following his inner voice. His family, as his brother could attest in later years, was somewhat gifted in the intellectual sense, and so Gabriel normally had a few dozen more thoughts running through his head than most other kids. While it seemed like fun to most other kids, spending his free time playing kickball wasted more opportunities for mental exploration than it created. He could only be hit by a ball so often when he was thinking to lose the traditional sense of "fun."

What was he thinking about? It could have been one of a thousand different things. When he was trying to get some sleep onboard the frigate, Gabriel couldn't stop thinking about what they might be doing rather than waiting for some idea of salvation to save them. He was the first to switch on the datastream from the satellite, and he was the first to figure out how to make it useful, by hotwiring a direct connection to his terminal. He did in fact talk to a woman named Tabitha Thrasher, but what he neglected to tell the others was that he also spoke with a man who identified himself as James Ward. Gabriel had the sense that he knew the name. Or at least, his brother had.

Part of the reason he didn't inform Ray (whom he generally regarded as "in charge") about Ward was because of the concluding phrase he'd used in their brief conversation, before Thrasher had interrupted them:

"You might say I owned the world."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XIX: Reasonable Chaos

Naturally, Ray, Kim, and Jim looked at Gabriel a tad incredulously, though more with surprise than anything. Ray quickly moved to meet the newest visitor to his cockpit, saying as he went, "You're something of a miracle, Mr. Martinez."

"Don't thank me, just get this chick off my hands," Gabriel very graciously responded. "On second thought, I think we need someone else to talk with her. No offense, but you three aren't much for a party, and that's all she seems to want. We need Clive Lockwood on this. Don't give me those looks. I know more than you think I do."

Ray decided to head off in the direction of the passengers, where Clive waited, oblivious, and no doubt still asleep. He muttered as he went, "Might as well..."

"You do that, Chief, and we're going to continue this little confab in the meantime," Gabriel smiled. "Now, who's up for waffles? Anyone? Doubt we have any anyway. No problem. We can improvise. Sweetcheeks, how about some coffee?"

Kim seemed to cooperate if only to be anywhere else. That left only Jim, who was the most amiable of them. He thought for a moment before asking the obvious: "You play a lot more rough than you really are, don't you?"

"It has a way of motivating people," Gabriel said. "I've found that people, even if they don't act like it, respond really well. It's good to have a little attention on yourself. It gets the job done. So Jimbo, how's about we have us a real chat? Enough with the bullshit. I figure we have upwards to a thousand people onboard, between all the compartments. Most of them are cool as a cucumber, but then there's a few ornery ones like us. You might play sweet, but you wouldn't be here right now if you didn't have something of a hotstreak. I read people better than they do themselves. So relax with whatever protest you might have cooked up. I like you. That's a good thing.

"While you were busy poking around, messing around, I was busy getting the real work done. I acted when you reacted, is all. Don't sweat it. I work best under pressure. A few hours ago, people needed to release some tension, get some positive energy going, and so that's what I provided. You get the good vibes from the bad ones. And that's what I want to talk to you about, because I figure you'll understand, better than the rest of them. I want to talk about reasonable chaos.

"We just lost Earth, and we got separated from the rest of the fleet. There's a thousand of us, and only a small handful who are of any immediate worth. The word for all that is chaos. Most people associate 'chaos' with a negative experience. Me, I like to embrace it. But in a controlled way. Like I said, 'reasonable chaos.' That's what you get when you try to make sense of a sticky situation, one that doesn't make a lot of sense, that only seems to be screwing with you. That's been my whole life, and I can guess that you might understand why. But that's also the way the world works. That's the nature of reality. Reasonable chaos. Everything has a reason, Jimbo, even if we can't immediately see it. I expect this situation to work itself out. I've got faith. Strange to hear myself say that. Reasonable chaos says that I shouldn't sweat it, and that's what I want to say to you, because you seem to be someone who'll understand."

Gabriel slapped Jim on the back, and walked away, just as abruptly as he'd come.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XVIII: Kim Jones

The people who had come together at this point would not have considered themselves to be young. Jim Brewer and Clive Lockwood were both in their sixties. Ray Patch was in his thirties, as was Gabriel Martinez. Kim Jones was in her forties. They had seen enough of life as it had been until recently where they were able to say they knew what it was like to adapt, because in one form or another they had been doing it for decades, through the expected changes growing older was supposed to bring, and the ones that weren't as predictable. No one would have said it, but they might even begin to view the destruction of the planet humanity had known as home from its birth was not as different, except by scale, from any other natural disaster.

Kim had lived through disasters of that kind. In her family's past, there had been floods and tornadoes and earthquakes, each of which caused significant damage, and the tales of these experiences had been sewn into the very fabric of its identity. Kim herself had volunteered for relief effort in the aftermaths of hurricanes and wildfires, almost out of a sense of obligation.

It was this sense, the more she enabled herself to draw from it, that gave Kim the strength to overcome her initial reactions to being placed in the very circumstances she had dreaded. What had been worse wasn't the loss of Earth, but her own sense of identity, which had been so important to her throughout her life. But the more time passed aboard that frigate, the more comfortable Kim became. These passengers didn't care who or what she was. Her training was more of an asset than anything, allowing her privileges few others seemed to have considered. She was a real authority for the first time in her life.

As Jim Brewer had been doing, and as apparently Gabriel Martinez as well, Kim had found herself passing some of the time playing around with the instruments, trying to calm what remained of her nerves, not because she expected anything to come of it, but if anyone ought to be investigating what the frigate itself could tell them, could do for them, Kim of all people should be on top of it, not just because she was in effect the only other person besides Ray Patch who could claim special privileges aboard it, but because she was feeling new conviction, determination. She had come this far and she wasn't about to sit idly while they floated toward nowhere.

She knew enough to identify when the satellites had picked something up, and that was all she needed. She fully intended that they would finally get back on track. She hadn't been thinking clearly before. She wasn't pleased that they were having trouble at all, and now she wanted desperately to make sure it didn't happen again.

But of all people to help make that happen, Gabriel Martinez?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XVII: The Sound and the Fury

It was a confluence of ideas that seemed to bring themselves together this time. Kim Jones went to Ray Patch, and they both had the same thought, which was exactly what Jim Brewer had been on his way to suggest. Ray had seen exactly what Jim had, that their satellites had picked up a signal, and by chance, Kim had been monitoring from the flight attendant's station, too. Jim had only so much confidence in his abilities, and Kim had been thinking they would need a little additional help, too. She had been talking with Ray about a possible survey of the passengers, to find out a little more about who they were, what they might bring to the table. Jim wanted to mention that he wished Clive Lockwood were here, too, but he kept silent. It wasn't necessary for everyone that he himself currently trusted to be here for this.

Kim pulled up the manifest, which gave selections of biographical details for everyone onboard, and while Jim did what he could to analyze the data they were receiving from the signal, she and Ray reviewed the information, hoping for a little more help. "Damn," was all Ray had to say for Jim to look around and notice the foul look on Kim's face.

"It's the Martinez man, isn't it?" Jim wished he was wrong, but it wasn't likely. For better or worse, they all knew exactly who they needed to know already, and the only one besides Clive who wasn't there who'd made a mark so far was Gabriel Martinez.

"He's got the goods," Ray frowned. "Or rather, his brother did. Died in some of the last moments. We got Gabriel instead. They both trained in the same fields, but the brother was more gifted, or at least, less of a wild card. Gabriel seems to have led pretty much a wasted life. Let's hope we can turn that around."

There was a knock on the cabin door, and Kim instinctively went to see who it was. "You'll never guess," she deadpanned. "I don't know if the man's psychic, but we won't have to go far to find out how much he wants to cooperate."

She had just opened the hatch when Gabriel came bursting in. "Listen, I don't know what kind of powwow you've got going on here, but I've got some chick named Tabitha Thrasher on the other end of this call, and I ain't paying."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XVI: Jim Brewer

When he was a younger man, before he was ever married, or had ever even thought about it, Jim Brewer had been a lot like how he pictured Clive Lockwood. He kept mostly to himself. When he did meet his wife and he did start a family, it was as if he took them into himself, treated them as if they were extensions of that favored, private life that he kept locked away from the rest of the world. But the difference was his personality. He was one of the most amiable people you could ever meet.

To watch not just the world but Jim's entire world crumble around him would have been heartbreaking, to witness every detail of those final days. This is what had been occupying his every waking moment since the frigate took off, trying to ignore and forget everything that threatened to unmake the man he had always known himself to be. And yet, that was what had motivated him to distraction, to look at clocks and see how he could be useful, because he couldn't face what remained when everything else was (and had been) taken away.

Everyone around him had some level of a sad story, because that was what humanity itself had, not just some of it, but all of it, all of humanity. He struggled to think, to grasp, the magnitude of the whole planet all of mankind throughout history had called home, in so many languages, so many different times, no longer being there. He tried to count in his mind the number of ships that had been part of the fleet, the one he was now separated from. No matter how many there were, how big that fleet was, many, many people had died. He had no business feeling the slightest bit of gratitude for being spared, for being one of the survivors. There were so many more people dead than there were alive, a population of billions...He tried to guess how many there were now. He had no doubt humanity would survive, even if he wouldn't, if all his best efforts, and those around him, brought the fleet back together, made it whole again. But he wondered if humanity now numbered only in the thousands. Perhaps a million.

He had looked about in wonder, too distracted to take in every nuance, but marveled at all the efforts displayed on monitors throughout the launch site. There were ships for every nation, or every region, as far as he could tell, from the United Kingdom, from China, from Russia, from all the obvious places, and many he found himself surprised to see represented. He had lost track of the developments in the space program over the years. It had been too long since anyone seemed to care, too long since there had been a reason. Yet when it really seemed to count, money had no longer been an issue, not when it was literally the difference between life and death. He wondered only briefly in those moments how many species would be lost forever, if someone hadn't thought to fill some ship like Noah's ark, two of every animal...

Every moment for the past week at least Jim's mind had been racing with a million thoughts, and it had never slowed down, even when everything seemed to be going right. That's what made him look at clocks, and that's what motivated him to seek the pilot out one more time.

As it turned out, Kim Jones, the flight attendant, must have been having the same thoughts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thomas Hardy and the Dreamscape of Time Travel

Time travel, so far as conventional wisdom goes, doesn't exist, otherwise we would have spotted time travelers by now. I'm here to tell you that we handle it with a little more sophistication than you might have been led to believe.

Just picture it: a society that has made time travel a reality probably has a little more going for it than you are generally capable of conceiving at the moment. Time travel itself is viewed in my time with a little less romantic underpinnings than you yourself no doubt currently consider. Think of it like traveling to another country. Who but the very rich or very determined or very busy even begin to consider it lightly? There are countless things to consider, just in trying to reach another place in your own time. There are languages, inoculations, plans that need to be accounted for. To travel to another time is to take all that and plus many more things in mind. For one thing, anything that has happened has already happened. You can't change time. You can only create a parallel, separate reality. If you attempt to alter the past, you will only succeed in branching off into irrelevance. No one travels to alternate realities. That's the stuff of fiction. You quickly learn that any change is simply a novelty, and that there are a great many other things worth doing with your time.

So, those who commit the act of time travel must really be determined. There is nothing to gain from it, since access to the future is impossible, and access to the past is only informational. I offer my own experiences in testament.

I had for a number of years become enamored of the writer Thomas Hardy, having grown a deep personal connection and identification with the alienation he wrote about in books such as Jude the Obscure. I considered it worthy of my time to visit with Hardy himself, to compare reality with my fantasy. I made all the necessary preparations, and after five years was finally able to make the trip. I found myself in a coffeehouse, and to my astonishment, the man I found seated at the adjacent table was none other than Thomas Hardy himself. I shouldn't say "astonishing," because that was exactly as it had been planned, but to actually see the man was beyond anything I had imagined.

For one thing, he was old. I hadn't really considered that. You never really picture someone in history as old, unless you have been exposed repeatedly to pictures of that person only in old age. You generally think of someone, regardless of context, more or less as you think of yourself. You expect them, especially if you identify with them, to be almost a mirror image, though certainly not with your face, but familiar enough so that you might as well known them all your life.

That was not as I then saw Hardy. I saw an old man, and not a particularly miserable one, but all the same, an old man. In my mind's eye, I tried to keep the young man I had expected to find alive. This man was nearer to his death, a vaguely disappointed but still satisfied and generally lively gentleman. I considered what I might say to him. I had trained for this moment for five years, and now here it was, exactly the fulfillment of my wildest dream, and I couldn't bring myself to even speak!

I immediately rushed out of the coffeehouse, not even bothering to glance over my shoulder to see if he'd noticed. How couldn't he? But why would he bother? I meant nothing to him, and Hardy, who had meant the world to me, now seemed to mean nothing to me as well. I was petrified, embarrassed.

I kept blinking back the illusion of the young Hardy. I couldn't look anywhere without seeing him, the young Hardy, not the old man whom I'd just unceremoniously left. I also struck up a conversation with this illusion, just as if it were real, as if this phantom were Thomas Hardy, and not the specter in the coffeehouse.

I lingered for a brief time, in the past, in the future of the man I had come to see. I had been caught in my own ignorance, my inability to grasp what had been inevitable. The man who had written Jude the Obscure was that old man, and not the young one I couldn't escape.

Next time I will be more careful.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XV: The Signal

One of the few pieces of normalcy that remained for this particular remnant of humanity was the concept of time, which was vividly represented for each passenger on the monitors that faced each of them, mounted on the backs of the seats, just as had been common in some commercial airliners, for those who still remembered such things. There was the time, in perfect synchronicity with what everyone had been familiar with back on Earth, the day split into A.M. and P.M. There was also the option of viewing anything from the limited archive stored in the ship's database, but few seemed to have taken advantage of that. Jim Brewer, however, kept finding himself checking the time, so that it barely seemed to advance at all, and that was a kind of comfort. The less time there was, the more predictable life might be considered, even now.

He switched through the options on his monitor, what was currently available to him, anyway. He was supposed to be able to track the ship's position, its progress through space, but that had been knocked out, just as the pilot's own navigation system had been hit, by whatever event or glitch had put them in this predicament. He supposed he was the only one to have even bothered to check. He noticed that he had tangential access to the satellites he had helped set up, which intrigued him. He wondered if even the pilot knew what was blinking across his screen now. The satellites had worked. At least, that was as far as Jim could tell. His knowledge of these things only went so far. He wondered if he should flag down the flight attendant, or maybe just go to the cockpit directly, having established something of credentials for such behavior, such access.

He looked around, just to see what other people were doing, but by Earth time, it was well into night, when even the worst procrastinators would have turned in for the day, regardless of how that day was defined. No one else was stirring. Jim himself hadn't been able to sleep for about the past week, since he'd first heard the corroborated reports of the planet's final prognosis. Even Clive was fast asleep again. This was a good sign, Jim figured.

At any rate, he didn't see the flight attendant anywhere. He stretched in his seat a little, experimentally, to see if his body felt the same way his mind did. Everything moved exactly as it should. He slipped past Clive and made his way up the aisle, brushing past a number of dangling limbs, felt a few of them stir. He kept checking the time on the monitors he passed, just to keep a pattern in place, for reassurance.

He was about to knock on the cockpit's hatch when it opened on its own.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XIV: Clive Lockwood

Clive fell asleep. It happened so suddenly, he wasn't able to appreciate that it was the first time he'd done so in more than forty-eight hours. When he woke again, he realized what'd happened, and it jostled his memory, back to another night, maybe twenty years earlier, to a dream he'd all but forgotten.

In hindsight, it was almost like a prediction, because the dream was about the end of the world, and everything that happened then, in the restfulness of sleep, had played out exactly the same in the grim reality of the waking world. Clive had never been prone to interpret his worst dreams as nightmares. While he experienced them, and he could always remember the tone rather than the texture of a dream when he woke, they felt almost exactly like real life, perhaps with an added dose of anxiety, just something his mind was working through. He could never and in fact never did try to explain what he experienced, and so that dream in particular had just been one in many others. He'd gone to his church early that morning, and sat in quiet prayer, even though he had nothing much to pray for. Clive never asked much of anyone, much less of any divine being. It simply wasn't in his nature.

But now in the reality where his dream had come true, he couldn't help but wonder what it meant. Why had he dreamed of the destruction of the Earth? Had others, and they, too, hadn't realized it? Was that the basis for every doomsday prediction, a half-remembered interpretation of a real dream, a real vision of events they couldn't understand, let alone grasp? He didn't have a Bible anywhere with him. He had in his youth memorized much of it, and he always had one when he was a priest, but not personally. He relied on his memory, his thoughts and ideas, and whatever was prompted of him. He had long ago thought to have left the actual book behind. He wished he had one now. What form of comfort might he have found? He almost thought to ask if any of the other passengers had one, and again struck on the thought that it would be Gabriel who would turn out to be provide the answer. Except this Gabriel was no angel. As far as Clive could tell, far from it.

He tried to think of his dream again. How much did it really match up to the events that had recently concluded? How much was just his imagination connecting invisible dots? He simply couldn't concentrate long enough. A little of the dreaming anxiety had necessarily slipped into the waking world. Jim Brewer, beside him, nudged him. "You were falling asleep again."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XIII: Space

In the grand scheme of things, one little ship, and one little species, only served to make the cosmos its backdrop, a tiny dot in a sea of stars. How many more worlds, how many more peoples, existed? This didn't cross anyone's mind onboard this particular frigate.

With the satellites in place, and everyone informed about the situation and the means by which it would be remedied, a gentle calm returned to the passengers, and Clive Lockwood had a chance to sit and chat with Jim Brewer perhaps for the first time. He was interested in what Jim might have to say about how exactly the satellites were supposed to work, if Jim was going to be able to interpret whatever signal they might get back. Whatever had happened to the ship's systems to separate it from the rest of the fleet had apparently affected whatever ordinary communications systems had existed or been planned. Clive was a little unsettled, because aside from that one idea, he felt maybe more powerless than even that man who'd sparked the riot, Gabriel...Gabriel something or other. He didn't feel like talking about him, much less with him. Jim was far more safe.

But Jim didn't have many more answers than Clive did. He in fact suggested that they take a poll of the general mechanical abilities of the passengers. Clive was afraid that it would turn out to be Gabriel who would provide the next steps in this chain of efforts. Periodically, the pilot, Ray Patch, announced updates as far as he himself had, and there was always a round of murmuring, and Clive could hear Gabriel whatshisname among the voices, always one of the loudest, mostly with snarky remarks.

It was bad enough to be in a precarious situation. He missed the regularity, the predictability, of the life he had come to know. But that really was all over now, wasn't it?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hans Gluben and the Meaning of Life

In the future, maybe very long from now, there was a mechanical man who gave himself the name Hans Gluben. It was a play on the name of an author whose books he had once come across, perhaps in a home he had once served, or perhaps in the factory where he was created. He couldn't remember, exactly, or more precisely, he had chosen long ago not to remember everything, so that he could better fit in with the rest of society. That was also why he had chosen a name.

Hans wanted to better understand the human condition, and so that's why he did things like name himself and choose not to remember everything. There were many other things he did, so that, in many ways, he was almost indistinguishable from a person, though of course he was not. The thing that most intrigued him was the idea of happiness. As a mechanical man, everything that he was had either been programmed by someone or was the result of the decisions he was able to make. He had no real need for happiness, and yet, the more he studied people, the more he came to realize how important happiness was to them. It became one of the most important ways Hans knew to investigate so that he could better understand people.

He began by reading all that there was to be found about happiness, what all the great philosophers and sociologists had to say on it, from the whole history of mankind, and everything that was being written in his own day. It didn't phase him that there was so much, because Hans didn't think that way (which he would change if he thought about it). He wasn't satisfied, and so he began a series of interviews, first with the people he knew personally, and then strangers he happened to come across during the course of an average day. Eventually, he was able to set up some official discussions and then sessions where people would talk to him about happiness because that's what everyone knew they were going to do, and he found a great many of the things he'd read repeated back to him. At some point, he began to anonymously track what people might say when they were just talking with each other, not in a way that infringed on their right to privacy, but in a variety of social settings, so that Hans himself did not have to participate, but still benefit from learning what people thought.

He was still not satisfied. He began to wonder if he didn't understand happiness because he did not understand unhappiness. Hans was a direct product of a series of decisions, and he himself was a part of those decisions, and all he understood about his own life was that it was a series of decisions, which were neither happy nor unhappy, except that Hans himself was happy that he existed. That in fact was the first instance where Hans realized he was happy about something. He was happy that he existed. What then did that mean?

He began to analyze the decisions that constituted his life, and whether or not he was happy with those as well. He could find no real fault in most of them, but sometimes he would realize that sometimes a particular resulting might be considered frustrating, since it had not produced immediate results. He considered the idea of patience in relation to happiness, how it might be a stumbling block, whether or not someone was able to be happy waiting, or whether they wanted instant gratification. He even considered that his quest to understand happiness might be considered unhappy by some, since he had still not learned anything concrete about it. If Hans himself had been driven by emotions...

He had another chance, he realized, to interpret his quest. Was it emotions that dictated happiness? Was it the strict mental reaction to a given situation that defined what was and wasn't happy? Then he considered patience again, another way it might be interpreted, how an instant reaction could become something else entirely, in time, when someone had given it some thought. Could the same thing that had been so frustrating before but now seemed reasonable now be considered happiness or the lack of it?

He thought maybe if he made it more difficult still to pursue this quest if he might not understand it better. Hans switched off a few systems, his ability to communicate, and then his ability to move on his own. All he could do now was observe, and become, presumably, frustrated by his lack of results. The people who had at first been understanding of his quest soon grew puzzled and then annoyed, since his intention was still clear, but Hans was now unable to express himself, and so he only seemed to be a nuisance. The more people rejected him, the more Hans found that his reaction might be considered annoyance. He switched his communication functions back on so he could express himself to that effect, and that only made things worse.

In his quest to find happiness, Hans only grew more unhappy, because the more he thought about it, the less he understood it. Nothing had helped, not the ancient and recent teachings, not the religions and words of advice, and none of his interactions with the world itself. How could this be? Was happiness itself not really possible? Hans continued to exist either way, and was by no means affected by his success or failure, which only made his life more difficult, the more he tried to understand it, to become something that he wished to be, but wasn't. This is not to say that Hans could not simulate and in almost every way become a person, and not simply a mechanical man, but that he was capable of whatever he set his mind to, and in fact had succeeded in every regard except one: he couldn't explain happiness.

What did this mean? Perhaps that happiness was an illusion, and that the more aware Hans became of what life was really like, the more he understood the human condition, the more human he became. He determined that happiness, if not an illusion, was not what life was all about, but rather a means to an end, like anything else, like the ability to communicate, or move, or have a name, or make decisions. His life had been a series of decisions, and this was just another.

The irony was, the less he believed in happiness, the more people came to him asking him about it, because he had done so much work in studying it. He became what he had assumed must be out there, but could never find, an expert in the matter...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Man Made of Fire

Curtis Pike once led an ordinary life. That is to say he was not always made of fire. But the circumstances that saw this glorious transformation occur are beyond the purposes of this tale. Suffice it to say, but something of a miracle happened, and from that day forward, Curtis was the Man Made of Fire.

He found it impossible to maintain his privacy. Wherever he went, if he had not been followed, then he quickly drew the attention of those near him, even if it was in a very remote part of the world. Where there is fire, there is also smoke, and even if he were as careful as possible, some evidence would reveal itself, and someone would come to investigate. That was how it was in the beginning, when he tried to hide from those awful, glorious circumstances that had transformed him.

Even later, when he thought he could leave the whole world behind, he found himself dogged by reporters, who told him that angry protesters believed he was destroying the delicate balance of the environment, trying to hide in snow. How could he expect the cold to reverse what was irreversible? Cold did not affect this heat. he just kept burning. If he had been given a chance, he would have tried to defend himself. He never meant to melt an iceberg, for instance. Once he left, the same conditions that had existed before his arrival would resume, as if he were never there.

But more reporters came, and told him scientists had concluded his presence produced irreversible results, that he was unquestionably altering the world around him, just by his very nature, or whatever might be said to be natural about him. Many times he was blamed for being the Man Made of Fire, and many times, until he could no longer stand it, he had tried to say he could not help it. It was simply who and what he was. Even the suggestions of death meant nothing to him. Who was to say he would stop burning even then? He couldn't explain why he burned while he lived. There was simply no guarantee about anything anymore.

So Curtis kept burning, and he gradually grew insensitive to the reactions of others, and he kept moving about, if not to escape, then simply to try and find a place where he might feel comfortable, if there might exist someplace in the world that explained his condition, that might feel like home. He considered a volcano, he considered the desert, he even considered living in the middle of the ocean, where new water always came. It would not help him feel better, but at least his burning would not hurt his surrounding anymore.

One day Curtis was visited by a brave man, a shaman, someone representing some native tribe, from where Curtis could not say. He had forgotten much of what he had known when he was simply a man. The shaman offered solice, and did not promise anything, but instead told Curtis that he understood him, that Curtis reminded him of ancient myths, of what the world was like many years ago, of what beings once walked the earth, just as Curtis did now. He could not stay very long, and that was all he could do, but to Curtis, that was enough. He had never considered that there had ever been others like him. From that time on, it was a favorite preoccupation, thinking about those people.

Eventually, more scientists came to him, and told him that they had developed a rocket with which they hoped to send him to the Sun, the only other place anyone knew where everything was constantly burning. Curtis agreed, not out of remorse or resentment, but because he saw nothing wrong with the idea. He had learned that, aside from the shaman, he really didn't need other people anymore, and the Sun would either welcome him as a brother, or consume him, at last, whole. The day came when he was told to board the rocket, and soon he watched as the world drifted away into nothingness, a speck that the Sun would never have noticed in a thousand revolutions. The Sun grew larger, until it was all he could see. Soon it was so bright that Curtis could no longer even see the rocket that surrounded him. It might as well have not even been there. He felt the Sun, like a brother, long before he reached it.

And Curtis Pike smiled.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Dance

This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with a whimper.

At the end of everything, not jst one planet or species or life, but of all existence, there will be three entities observing. One will watch with some amount of sorrow, for he was responsible for all of it in the first place. The other will watch with some amount of pity, for he found a great deal that he recognized in all of it. The third will watch with a kind of regret, for he will no longer have anyone to accompany him while he sings.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XII: Ray Patch

The whole world was allowed to obsess over it for exactly three weeks. That's how early scientists were able to predict that the Earth's core would no longer hold itself together. It wasn't a matter of environmental disaster, as so many had predicted over the years, or the sun winking out, or some horrific new weapon. It would take far longer than those three weeks to determine why exactly the core had finally failed.

During those weeks, however, there was a great amount of denial to be sorted out, and so preparations for evacuation were only sporadically attended. For an event that included the entire population, every country, every sex, every ethnic variety, Ray might have thought there'd be a little more unity. But same as it always was...Fortunately, he'd been contacted fairly early on, and so knew exactly what to expect for most of that period. As panic worked its way through every level of the population, Ray sat and watched, essentially, focused almost exclusively on what lay ahead, after all of that was finally over. He saw many of his friends, his co-workers, die needlessly, and many versions of the plan had to be scrapped and rethought, until, as someone very early in the process had noted, "You're basically going to have to improvise, fall back on your instincts."

He had been part of such an extensive collection of pilots at the beginning, he almost thought he wouldn't have to fly at all, that he could become just another passenger. When it came out that several of the frigates had been sabotaged, that the whole of the fleet would no longer be able to carry what would soon be dubbed "the survivors of Earth," long before the planet was actually lost, he panicked a little, and saw the numbers dwindle so much as to assure he would be needed in the full official capacity in which he was qualified, necessary. He thought to himself, What are we saving here, anyway? So many people apparently felt it perfectly acceptable to continue acting in exactly the petty ways that had made it a difficult prospect even in the first scenario. He had never been an astronaut, but that had never stopped him from wondering why it would take decades to continue exploration of space, when so much had already been proven about its viability. Only arrogance and pride, and dumb stupidity, he thought bluntly, and sadly, during those weeks.

When the fleet was finally about to launch, he realized he really would have to fall back on his wits. All his colleagues were either assigned elsewhere or gone, lost before even the planet. He decided that he would let the rest fall to fate. He would be boarding the frigate, he would be flying it. That much was now certain. And then everything else would just have to happen...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part XI: Survival Line

"We need to make something clear. We've just been through a terrible event, and we're not in the clearing yet. We survived the destruction of Earth, but we still need to find some new kind of permanent safety. We aren't going to survive on ships forever. Now, as some of you know, there has been an additional complication. Our frigate has lost contact with the rest of the fleet. We've already taken measures to remedy this situation, and I'd like to personally and publicly thank Clive Lockwood and Jim Brewer for their assistance in this matter. This represents, however, just one of the many hurdles we still have ahead of us. We still don't know why it happened, and to be honest, that's completely beside the point. We will need to work together, put all our petty differences and irritations behind us. There's a lot more trouble out there than we really need to create ourselves. I can't make you become better people, but I can ask that you at least try and make life tolerable for everyone, because that's the first best step to ensuring we can make it to the next step, the point where we're safe and secure again, wherever that may be."

Normally, Ray Patch wasn't much for making speeches, and the only way he made it through that one was by starting it as soon as he entered the cabin, and refusing to even think about stopping. It was incredible, it really was, that he'd made it the whole way through, with the same confident air he hoped his passengers were generous enough to believe in.

For a few moments, it seemed as if everyone were just too stunned to have more of a reaction than stare at him, and he was grateful that he was done speaking, because he wouldn't have been able to continue now if he tried. The flight attendant, Kim Jones, was standing by his side, and he saw Clive and Jim shake themselves free from the man who had presumably begun the commotion Kim had come to warn him about.

"You're talkin' about a survival line," the man said, who was of course the only one who was going to speak at all. "Okay. That's good enough. Now get your ass back into that cockpit. Makes me nervous seeing the pilot stand back here with the rest of us. I'm not too good at the stick myself. Wouldn't want to press my luck."

There were a few nervous smiles. "Gabriel Martinez," Kim whispered to Ray.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part X: Gabriel Martinez

It was the day he would never forget. The spring festival had just concluded, and Gabriel Martinez had had the time of his life, taking advantage of every opportunity, every last sucker visiting town falling for all the oldest tricks in the book. But that was nothing compared to the news waiting for him when he got back home. He'd just been fired.

Now, news like that is never an easy thing to handle, but it's far worse when it's your day off and you feel like the king of the world, and the thanks the world gives you is to yank the carpet from under your feet. The festival was supposed to cushion his plans, not make up the bulk of his funds. He needed that job in order for everything to fall into place. Gabriel wasn't much for believing in karma, at least he hadn't been, and even then, he might have been okay. Just a minor setback. Then he got another call, from his brother, the one who had always been so much more successful, bragging about yet another big promotion, something to do with a government contract and a fleet of ships. Gabriel was about to hang up when he asked why the ships were necessary. "Don't you follow the news?"

Well, and then there was the whole end-of-the-world thing. It was almost enough to take the edge off of losing his job. "What do you mean? The world's fine, dipshit."

"Not from the latest reports, little brother."

"If I had a nickel for every time someone said the world was going to end, I'd be a rich man."

"And if you'd actually pursued that scam, you'd be better off, now wouldn't you?"

"Screw you."

"Well, that's kind of the point. We all are."

Some of us, anyway, Gabriel thought. Then he really did hang up the phone and switched on the news. Only this town could hold an entire festival in the midst of the biggest story to ever break. "Thank god I was fired," he said to himself.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Monkey Palm

They were comfortably seated in the back of the bus, making the long trip to Denver, when Sam finally noticed that Morrison had been reading something peculiar for the past ten minutes.

“So, what’ve you got there?”

“Oh, it’s just one of those electronic readers,” Morrison replied evasively.

“Really? Because it looks…a little different from the ones I’m familiar with,” Sam said.

“No, it’s just the same as the rest of them,” Morrison insisted.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Sam said. “Let me see it.”

“All the same, no.”

“You’re holding a perfectly normal thing and you’ve got a problem with me looking at it?” Sam tested.

“I’m trying to read.”

“And you’re holding a conversation with me,” Sam noted.

“Not because I want to.”

“Because I’m such a great guy,” Sam said. “No really, just let me look. I promise I won’t break it. I’ll only take a moment.”

“All the same, no.”

“Come on! Now you’re just making it seem like it really is something special,” Sam protested. “Morrison! Stop being so difficult!”

“It’s a Monkey Palm. It’s just like any other e-reader,” Morrison relented. “It’s really no big deal.”

“I’ve never heard of…Monkey Palm? There are some pretty big, established names out there right now, but this one, come on, there has to be something special about it,” Sam insisted. “You’ve got to tell me!”

“You’re being kind of needy right now,” Morrison pointed out.

“It’s better than being secretive! What are you, some kind of spy?”

“Yes, I am a spy and I’m using my super secret surveillance Monkey Palm out in the open,” Morrison said, with not a little sarcasm in his voice. “But don’t tell anyone else. Just in case they didn’t hear.”

Sam sat quietly for a moment, not as if he were thinking about it or sulking, but biding his time. He was calculating. He was used to this kind of behavior from his friend, but usually it didn’t last this long. Also, usually Sam wasn’t this intrigued.

“Okay fine,” he said finally, “You can keep your secret Monkey Palm to yourself.”

“Listen, it’s just, the Monkey Palm is pretty unique,” Morrison said. “I just didn’t want to get you all excited.”

“Well, good job with that one.”

“When I said it was just like any e-reader, I really meant it,” Morrison continued. “There’s just one difference. It doesn’t carry…ordinary titles.”

“Oh, I get it! ‘Monkey Palm.’ Not very subtle,” Sam laughed. “Not very subtle. The world’s first sex-reader.”

“Ha. Right, you got me,” Morrison said, staring mordantly at his friend. “You idiot. That’s not what I meant at all. The titles aren’t ordinary because technically they don’t exist.”

“So you’re saying I haven’t heard of the Monkey Palm because it’s some kind of black market device,” Sam suggested. “That’s rich. Underground e-readers for underground literature. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”

“Wrong again, friend-o,” Morrison said.

“I told you that was creepy,” Sam reminded him. “Never reference a creepy character with someone who’s actually your friend. It’s like nominating your biggest enemy as your running mate. It just doesn’t make sense, Morrison. Anyway, stop changing the subject! How is this Monkey Palm so different?”

“It carries material that does not technically exist.”

“You already said that.”

“I know. Clearly I’m reluctant about this,” Morrison said.

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“Okay. So the stories the Monkey Palm carries haven’t been written yet. Some of them are from alternate realities, too, I think.”

“You’re a horrible liar, Morrison.”

“Because if I were to show it to you right now and you were to confirm for yourself that you knew none of these stories, none of these writers, you’d assume I was just showing you a bunch of obscure works,” Morrison said. “Do you begin to understand my reluctance now? There are so many reasons. You come up with your own.”

“You’re crazy, Morrison.”

“Seriously, that’s exactly what you’d assume,” Morrison said. “You’d take one look at my library and you’d assume you’d just never heard of any of it, and you’d be pretty comfortable with that belief, because on the surface, it’s pretty plausible, and all you’d take away from it is that it’s me being me. But you wanted more than that, and that’s what I’ve given you. But I’m not lying to you now. When I say this stuff does not technically exist, that’s the god’s honest truth.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Think about it, even if I weren’t telling you the truth, you really wouldn’t know any better, and it wouldn’t make any difference. That’s the kind of stuff I’d be reading anyway, right? Stuff most people weren’t reading. That’s Morrison. Gotta be unique. Not because I’m trying to be, but because that’s just the way it usually works out. Well, most of the time. It just so happens that I came across this Monkey Palm, and it’s given me access to material that takes my usual interests to the next level. It’s the kind of thing everyone’s always looking for. You’re just jealous. That’s what you’ve really been thinking, just below the surface of your grimy self.”

“Now you’ve got to add personal insults,” Sam groaned. “Thanks a lot, pal. I honestly don’t know why I’m friends with you.”

“Hey, I never figured that one out, either. I figured you knew.”

“I wish I knew. It was your fault,” Sam complained.

“It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. But as long as you wanted to know about the Monkey Palm, I’ve got to continue punishing you. That’s the kind of guy I am. Really, I’m surprised you would be surprised by any of this at this point. You’ve really got to start thinking outside of the box a little. In all this time, that’s all I’ve been trying to express to you. That’s what Morrison’s all about.”

“Ah, I was going to say, ‘Tell me about it,’ but I thought better of it,” Sam realized out loud.

“As always, too late,” Morrison said. “The Monkey Palm is just like anything else I read, only taken to the next level. I guess I realized at some point since I was so obviously different in my inclinations from most people, there was really no longer much of a point of pretending otherwise. What better way to make the distinction than using a device that literally allows me to read things no one else will be reading, at least in the immediate future? Sometimes, I really just amuse myself by trying to figure out whether the story is from the future or was written in some other version of the present. The Monkey Palm strangely doesn’t make much of a distinction.”

“Okay wise guy, how do you know the stuff is really what it was billed to be?”

“I searched it on the Web. I searched every single story for the first couple of months, and never came up with a single hit,” Morrison said. “Not even close. I came up with the kind of results you wish these search engines would be able to strain out at this point, the odd combination of words that aren’t anything more than coincidence. The Monkey Palm is completely legit. I never doubted it, but idle curiosity, of course, had to enter the equation. I knew at some point someone would ask me about it. Honestly, I don’t know what took you so long. I figured you had to have noticed a lot sooner.”

“Because I need to know everything you’re up to, the moment you’re…up to it,” Sam snorted.

“You’re a curious little man, Sam, but just apparently not in that way,” Morrison noted. “That’s what I’ve noticed through all of this. Except today. I congratulate you, sir.”

“So the Monkey Palm gives you secret access to a bunch of stuff no one else is reading,” Sam summarized, with some of his own sarcasm slipping in. “You’re a wild one, Morrison.”

“You say that now, but there’d be some real practical applications to this,” Morrison said. “Think of the possibilities. I could predict…”

“All the things that will hardly sell even when they’re actually real,” Sam suggested. “Big change from what you’ve been doing with the rest of your life.”

“You’re such a cynic,” Morrison said. “Anyway, I was just trying to make it sound more appealing for you. Clearly I overestimated you yet again. Yay me.”

“I don’t even want to ask.”

“What am I reading right now? You want to know,” Morrison insisted. “You really want to know. The more you think about the Monkey Palm, the more it’s going to entice you. You just wait and see. You want to know what literature is going to be like in the future. Yes, it’s still going to have words and sentences, but just from what I’ve experienced to this point, I can tell you, I think it only gets better. I don’t know, maybe the Monkey Palm only gives me access to the kind of stuff that would interest me anyway, but it just seems as if there’s more consistency, more innovation in this material. I can’t even begin to tell you about it, about the things I’ve been reading. I think the best thing about it is I really don’t have to worry about what other people have said about it, that I can really just depend on my own thoughts. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Good literature, without the peanut gallery. The Monkey Palm has rescued books from the classroom.”

“That’s your version of the hard sell?”

“See? That’s why I never outright told you about it,” Morrison sniffed. “Sam being Sam.”

“Sam being like the rest of the freaking world.”

“You’re such a good friend.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“You’re awesome, Sam. Now, if you really don’t mind, I am going to get back to my reading.”

“Don’t let me stop you. Always a pleasure talking to you, Morrison. Never end up regretting it at all.”

The bus continued on its way to Denver, and Sam eventually took a nap. Morrison fell asleep, too, but he wasn’t concerned that the Monkey Palm wouldn’t be there when he woke up. The future would always be waiting for him.

The Insomniac's Dream

Sleep is the enemy. I did not come to this conclusion lightly, but rather from years of experience, of hardship, of painfully learning how much I lost from sleep. I used to fall asleep easily, too easily, when I least wanted to. It robbed me of so much, made me look like a fool.

So eventually, I stopped doing it. I tried all the common stimulants. I started with coffee, naturally, but turned to more desperate means quickly enough. The drugs, I can’t even begin to talk about them now. They were more unpleasant than sleep, we’ll say. I tried worse things. One was a kind of shock treatment. I attached a device to my arm, which at first, when I realized sleep was imminent, I would trigger, and the device would send a jolt into my system. But even that wasn’t enough. I didn’t trust myself. I began setting the device to administer the shock on its own, at the first sign of sleep.

I couldn’t allow myself to sleep. Sleep was the enemy. I couldn’t let it win. I reached the point where I succeeded, and it was the most pleasant period of my life, strangely…restful.

But it didn’t last long.

One evening, during an eternally long summer’s day, I accidentally dozed off. I don’t know how it happened. As I said, I thought I had won. And yet, all the same, I had dozed off. I had no idea how long I had been asleep, but when I looked at the clock, I immediately panicked. It read 7:56. I knew that I was late, as I understood it, looking at that clock, bright sunlight showing through the curtains, always drawn, over my window.

7:56. I couldn’t believe it! Sleep had done it again. It was insidious. The worst part was that I truly had no concept of how long I’d been asleep. It was exactly the thing I had been fighting all those years, endured all that self-inflicted torment, which to me seemed so much better than sleep.

I set about the only activities that made sense. I tried to call in, knowing I was already late, and would be later still, by the time I was ready and could make the trip, but my mobile device wasn’t functioning. A defective device, like the one I had tried to cure my sleep with. I cursed sleep and devices, and daylight.

I could only stare at the clock. Late, and later still, and what could I say for myself? I couldn’t account for the lost time, for this indefensible lapse. I saw daylight, and assumed that I had passed many hours, in sleep.

I took another look at the clock, and then more devices. I realized that although it was indeed 7:56 when I had awoken, and bright daylight, it was still evening. It was the long summer’s day. I wasn’t late after all. Half my panic escaped me. I kept confirming, kept watch, kept confirming for myself. I didn’t know what to trust, if I should be trusting anything.

When I finally trusted what reality was telling me, when it finally grew dark, when the summer’s day turned into night, I turned back to my enemy. It hadn’t taken away as much as I’d believed, but it had still stolen more precious time from me, and I still couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe myself, of course, that I had allowed it to happen, but more importantly, that sleep, that treacherous sleep that I had just experienced, I still could not properly account for it. It didn’t seem right. I could count back in minutes and hours, how much I had actually lost, but it felt like more. I had woken up as if it truly had been a whole night. That’s why I had been so panicked, because what the clock told me, what I had convinced myself of, it seemed completely plausible.

And yet, it hadn’t been true. And yet, I still felt as if I had lost more time than I now knew to be true. I began considering possibilities again, how I might resolve this conundrum, what possibly might have happened. It wasn’t simply a matter of sleep. It had been, regardless of my confusions, a considerable amount of sleep, and yet I remembered no dreams. I know it’s common to forget dreams when you wake. I knew that even then, after a long period of having deprived myself of my enemy. And yet, even then, I knew, as I know now, that dreams, even when you don’t remember them, still leave a lingering impression, like a piece of knowledge just at the tip of your tongue.

There had been no dreaming. I knew this was no coincidence.

I correct myself, actually. There had been a dream, but it had been stolen from me, the insomniac’s dream.

For weeks, for months, I obsessed over this, as I had obsessed over conquering sleep, something I had been quite successful about, at least until that long summer’s day. I had no idea what someone might want with my dreams. Perhaps there was some conspiracy, a global concern, a mining operation that depended on sleep, a process I had subverted, and this was some kind of revenge.

They say those who don’t sleep become paranoid. I know that’s what you’re thinking, but that’s not what was happening to me. I knew unquestionably that my dream had been stolen from me. It was the only thing that made sense, that could explain what had happened.

I had no way to confirm any of it, of course, only that I had set about a campaign of eradicating my own need for sleep. If I attempted to explain this to anyone, there could be no doubt what everyone would assume. I would be viewed as worse than paranoid. But there are worse things than paranoia. There may even be things worse than sleep.

That’s what I began to dread when I realized my dream had been stolen.

What kind of technology could do this, assuming it was something a man had done? I did not discount the possibility of extraterrestrial interference. With no firm evidence of what alien life would look or behave like, how could I? My dream might even now, might be fueling someone else’s life, here or someplace else, in the stars. It might even be fueling a spaceship. Don’t laugh. It’s not so absurd.

When you eliminate the threat of sleep, anything is possible.

I hate it more than ever now, my enemy. Sleep. Can’t you begin to understand now, how dangerous it is? Without sleep, my dream could never have been stolen. I conceived of devices that could, or so it seemed at the time, of ending sleep’s tyranny. Is it so outrageous to assume that someone, perhaps working in insidious parallel with my own activities, developed devices capable of stealing dreams? I think not.

It’s all about thought, isn’t it? It was for me. Sleep is the opposite of thought, and the only thing within sleep that resembles thought is dreaming. Is it so crazy to think someone stole my dream for that reason, to balance some cosmic, existential scale?

That’s what I’m thinking right now. It’s bright out again. I don’t know how that happened.

Bound by Blood

For a long time, I couldn’t pin what exactly was wrong with my life.

As far as I could tell, I had no problems that would it seem like anything less than ordinary. I really had no complaints.

Yet something was wrong. Something was off. As best I could, despite this nagging feeling that bore down in the back of my mind and distracted me in everything I did, I tried to carry on just as if I was like everyone else.

But I knew I wasn’t. That’s what bothered me. I knew I wasn’t.

I just couldn’t say how. Ask anyone I knew, and they’d say I wasn’t all that different. And yet I knew that I was. The problem is, unless you can prove it, the world will always tell you that you’re not important, not significant. You don’t stand out in a crowd.

Then again, lots of people do their best work in the shadows. They don’t want to be known, and they take great pains to keep it that way. I didn’t think I was some kind of secret agent. I think it would have been hard to forget something like that. But clearly I had forgotten something, or had been induced to forget something…important.

I was incomplete, and I didn’t know how.

The more I tried to remember, the more things didn’t add up. Memories, I had memories, and I seemed to be able to remember my life, but it was all in bits and snatches. It wasn’t long before I started to wonder why, how I could remember my life, but it suddenly didn’t seem real, as if something was missing.

I did some investigating, reacquainting with old friends, well past the family I knew would be able to corroborate all the things that didn’t really matter, all the formative things, the stuff you do before you truly become yourself, all the things built on the foundation. There were periods that still could not be accounted for.

There were also faces I couldn’t put a name to, and there wasn’t anyone who could help. I began hitting a lot of dead-ends, people who would stop answering my questions. It was undeniable that they recognized me, but they refused to say how. I am not a threatening type, but I could swear they were frightened of me. People I barely knew, they didn’t want anything to do with me. I’m not that kind of person. Anyone I get close to, it’s because I want them in my life at that point.

Who would I have met, and under what circumstances, that would have altered this code? How did I know them? I realized these people, I couldn’t answer these questions. I couldn’t remember how I knew them, only that I had. I had no connections, no more than when I had started the search.

So I dug deeper. I realized the only way to solve this was to stop going after the familiar faces themselves and instead start investigating their lives, not mine. Only by association, only by deduction, could I figure this out.

I learned some startling things. The more I learned, the more I was shocked to have ever known these people. Their interests, their business, was like nothing I had ever thought to be interested in. Depraved, unnatural things. I don’t want to get into it, even now.

But the implicating were undeniable. Things I had only thought of as fiction became a reality. I was no closer to my missing pieces, but the shape of things was forming.

Finally, I hit what appeared to be the last piece of a puzzle, a grave, unmarked, worn by at least ten years worth of rot. What was inside had decomposed even more. The decision to dig up the body was beside the point. I knew what I had to do.

By this point, I had made some connections, and in that way, I identified the corpse. The name meant nothing to me.

Then I looked into its own story, and found myself stooped in further occult matters. The man, whose name I can still not and will not utter, even type, it was claimed that he had been a vampire.

His story led to the grave, and the individual responsible for that was famous enough, even though the rest of the world hardly gave them any credit. They will not be identified here, either, by gender or name. I don’t want others to suffer as I have.

I wish I had never started asking questions. I think that’s the end result of any quest.

I discovered in this process that I had been tangled in the web of the vampire. I had become a vampire myself. It was in the death of the original that I became a man again, and lost all memories of my time as the undead.

I don’t want to remember, but in the process of uncovering the truth of my life, I think I had uncovered the memories. They haunt me, they lurk around corners. I look at a park bench, and I see the color red. All visions, and they come frequently, are covered in blood.

I don’t want to know more, and yet I fear I am not at the end, but the beginning.

And I fear, I didn’t learn that I had once been a vampire, but that I one still.

The past is ever the present, the specter of the future.

I am bound by time.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part IX: The Conversation

"We need to talk," Kim said without fanfare. She'd let herself into the cockpit, and found that the pilot was staring blankly at his console. "We need to talk now."

He seemed to snap out of his revelry, and swiveled around to greet her. "Ray Patch," he said. "I don't think we've been formally introduced.

"Your name could be Constance Everheart and I wouldn't much care right now," she replied, not even a whiff of sarcasm in her voice. Usually she could be considered droll, and that's how she liked to present herself, but at the moment, Kim was as deadly serious as she she had ever been. "This situation is spiralling out of control, and I'm out of the loop, and I don't like that. You need to tell me everything, right now."

He took a moment, as if he were composing his thoughts, which Kim chose to interpret, while she waited, as a way of patronizing her. "You're right." She was a little surprised, but didn't show it. "I should never have allowed things to develop that poorly. But, things have been a little difficult as a whole. You may have heard."

She wanted to slap him, but restrained herself. "Kim Jones," she said coolly. "From this moment forward, I expect to be included in whatever it is you're attempting to do. Flying this thing would be nice."

"Believe me, that's all I wish I were doing," he said. "Fate interrupted those plans, among many others. I've been forced into a terrible leadership. You're not the first to assume that it's my responsibility, all of this."

"From where I'm standing, it's an easy assumption," she said, but inwardly wanted to add, one I'm now rethinking. She'd allowed herself to be carried away by the hysteria, which she'd only now remembered. "You should be aware that there's a problem with our passengers. They want answers, too, and they're not being as polite as I am about it."

"I've got a solution for that," he said. "We're going to both go out there and widen this discussion a little. This thing's not going anywhere until we figure out where we're going. Sit tight, Kim. This ride's about to get interesting."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lost Convoy, Part VIII: Kim Jones

Having been adopted at an early age, Kim Jones never knew her birth parents, and so all the heritage she ever knew was what she grew up with. Losing the entire planet meant, in essence, that she could finally consider her life a blank slate. That wasn't what she was upset about.

What she hated was that the world ended and she was able to book one of the last flights of humanity off the planet, but she would have to do it as a flight attendant, a career she had always despised. She might have been okay processing the news that she hadn't qualified in any other regard to board the frigate, because it would have been entirely likely that the world finished up its destruction before she could decry her fate too loudly, but to be forced into that horrid role one more time, and have basically all of humanity see her only that way, it was more than an insult, it was literally the other worst thing that could possibly happen to her.

Still, she'd survived, she'd made it. No more planet, and very few survivors, but Kim Jones had made it. She could grin and bear it, with that much to be happy about, couldn't she? Except, that attitude only lasted about as long as it took to launch the fleet. The passengers started bitching as soon as they were in orbit, apparently oblivious to the fact that they, too, should have some kind of gratitude occupying them. And who had to deal with that nonsense? Why, Kim, of course...

As if that weren't bad enough, she'd been on plenty of flights in the past to have developed an instinct for when things were going wrong, not simply turbulence, but real problems, long before anything was announced, long before she got the inevitable call to the cockpit. Except this time, the pilot, when he finally bothered to say anything at all, had simply requested for some consultation. He'd completely ignored her. It was almost just as well, because Kim still hadn't officially met Ray Patch. Things had been a little hectic earlier.

She began sensing trouble again soon after, long before the riot broke out. She'd been trying to maintain her composure (and as usual failing miserably) for so long, she lost it the moment the man who would later identify himself as Gabriel Martinez finally let loose, grabbing an entire seat (not his) and tossing it down the aisle. Another man ran past her, one of the people who had responded to the pilot, and attempted to rescue the other one, the other man privileged enough to speak with the pilot, from the grasp of Gabriel Martinez. It was enough to rouse Kim herself. But she left the cabin behind entirely. She was finally going to have a word with Ray Patch.