Saturday, October 1, 2016

My Favorite Thing, Part 2

For several years, but what seemed like many more, the girl, who had once been a princess, in another lifetime, existed on the frozen planet that as far as she knew never even had an official designation.  It was at the farthest reach of the galaxy, and so she'd taken to calling it Galaxy's End.  Astrid's only companion in all that time was an android, Etienne, who seemed to have lost his mind.  Constantly, he babbled.  She thought he was stuck in some nervous condition.  He always seemed to be trying to process some unknown algorithm in the circuits that made up his brain. 

Once, they stumbled upon an old man named Ledger, whom Astrid immediately recognized as the mentor of her arch-nemesis, Mogor, whose pursuit of her had led Astrid to the bleak landscape of Galaxy's End.  Etienne claimed not to know him, but the old man's behavior betrayed otherwise.  Ledger explained that he had been banished there for practicing the dark arts, and Astrid knew that he was telling the truth, at least to a certain extent.  The truth was that he and Mogor had had a falling out.  She considered them within the same breath, and as soon as possible, she left his makeshift workshop, and journeyed with Etienne back to her crashed ship.

Ledger's workshop, it should be noted, had been modified from the remains of another ship, probably his own.  Astrid had not failed to observe this.  She had also noticed the prototype androids tucked away in dark corners.  She began to suspect the truth of Etienne's existence, even if the android himself remained oblivious, chattering away about utter nonsense.  Most people would have found him very difficult to take seriously.  Astrid was in a unique position.  He was her only company, and in the beginning, that had been enough.

There was no way Ledger could know who she was, how she had run afoul of Mogor's dictatorial grip on Brinier, a world that had once been a vibrant utopia, or at least as her contemporaries now viewed it, in comparison.  This was where Ledger had learned his arts, presumably at the behest of Mogor, who was otherwise powerless, dependent on the large retinue of experts who surrounded him.  If Ledger had agreed to cooperate with Mogor, that would surely have been the end of them all. 

In a way, Astrid's defiance had been much the same.  She was the last of the royal family that had preceded Mogor's reign of terror.  She had known Ledger in earlier days.  He had served in her mother's court, until the day his son died, a youth named Aldan.  After that he completely fell apart, and turned his interests in new and perilous directions, in the hopes of resurrecting him.

Here on Galaxy's End, he seemed to have succeeded.  He had no doubt been here before.  Etienne remembered, the one lucid thought he continuously returned to, Ledger's second landing, which her own had so vividly echoed in his addled mind.  He had always claimed to remember a time when his circuits processed things more clearly, but never well enough to identify his own origins.  Clearly that had been a deliberate move.  In the end, Ledger couldn't bring himself to confront what had happened after all, much less meet his son all over again. 

Somewhere in Etienne's circuits were the memories of Ledger's son, Aldan.  Astrid's arrival had forced their resurfacing, and then a short circuit.

She'd puzzled out all of this over time.  Time was all she had, after all.  Etienne helped her survive, not the least because of the company he provided, but because he helped repair her ship, as much as possible, over time.  The problem that loomed over them all was the prospect of Mogor discovering they all still existed, here on Galaxy's End. 

Astrid decided that this was a possibility entirely out of her control.  She instead chose to reunite father and son.  Returning to Ledger's workshop was the most difficult thing she ever did, no doubt because of certain charms he'd put in place, as it didn't appear to be in the same place she and Etienne had originally found it.  With Etienne's help, naturally, they succeeded. 

Ledger was livid.  This time he offered no pretense of ignorance, and instantly Astrid knew she'd been right.  "How dare you," he shouted, not at her, as she might have expected, but Etienne.  He had come to blame his son after all.  It was a simple coping mechanism.  Or he'd simply gone crazy after all these years.

Astrid refused to give up.  "He deserves better than that and you know it," she said.

Ledger stared at them for an interminable amount of time.  Etienne remained oblivious.  "Excuse me," he said, "but I believe we have come quite a considerable distance.  It would only be fair to treat us better than that, as a host."

Completely clueless, as always.  "What my friend means to say is," Astrid found herself interjecting, "we just want to say how much we appreciate what you've been doing."

"Excuse me?" Ledger replied, incredulous.

"The charms," Astrid said.  "I just realized it isn't just your workshop you've been shielding, but this entire planet.  Whatever else you may be thinking, we appreciate that.  All of us."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Ledger said.

"The man I knew would have been dead decades ago," Astrid continued, ignoring the old man's protests.  "You were already old when I last saw you.  Frail.  You know who I am.  Let's just put everything on the table.  I'm not asking for anything more.  I'm not asking you to forgive anyone, least of all yourself.  You know what you've done, what you could've done.  All of it.  You owe Etienne better than you've given him, and you know it."

For a moment, after silence once again consumed the workshop, Astrid thought she had pushed things too far.  Then Ledger pushed her aside, and grabbed Etienne in an embrace.  He began to cry.  "My favorite thing," he muttered.  "My very favorite thing."

Then he seemed to have pressed a button, because Etienne jerked a little, and then went limp.  Ledger had turned the android off.

"It's for the best," the old man said.  Astrid thought for a moment, and then she decided she agreed.  "I'll try again," Ledger continued.  "Some day.  Not tomorrow."

The android collapsed into a heap.  Astrid thought she'd be horrified, seeing Etienne like that, but it actually came as a kind of relief.  Somehow she knew it would end like this.  Some day, he would be switched back on, but his mind would be different.  In another body, probably.  But he would be the same, wouldn't he? 

That's what she chose to believe, as she made her way back across the frost, to her ship, the one Etienne had repaired long ago, made it flightworthy again, and blasted off, gone from Galaxy's End at last. 

Ledger's charm wouldn't be broken that easily.  She was free to go anywhere.  Mogor's reign would end, and maybe she would play a part in that.  All things seemed possible.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Many Lives of Oliver Row (Monster/Frankenstein) Chapter 3

The one consistent element of the books that somehow changed their content every time he read them, Henry realized in the dead of night, when he had been struggling to find sleep, tossing for hours (it seemed to little avail), was the presence of the name Oliver Row.  This was impossible, or at the least highly improbable, because Henry happened to know a man named Oliver Row, and as a quick Google search confirmed, Oliver Row is not a common name now, and so to have found another man called that, two hundred years ago, at the time Victor Frankenstein was writing these elusive journals...

He poured over the books again, at random, just to be sure, so that it couldn't be dismissed as the trick of an overly tired mind.  And yet there he was, in a thousand references, sometimes in a kind of conspiratorial role, sometimes offhand, sometimes as the main thrust of whole paragraphs, as if he'd stolen the focus of someone else's narrative.  He was always there, and his presence alone wasn't the sole continuing element, but how it was represented, again and again, shifting from book to book, to be sure, so that passages were the same but found in different places.  It was deeply unsettling, to say the least.  Everything else changed, even the general thrust of what Frankenstein was trying to say, to accomplish, the experiments he wished to perform.

He was forced to consider something truly outrageous, that the man he knew was the same man his ancestor wrote about, and if he was going to get to the bottom of this, Oliver Row was going to have to tell him personally.  Henry couldn't bring himself to breach the topic with Sabin, whom he rarely saw these days, occupying the same spectral aspect his employer had occupied in the days before they finally met.

Of course, there was a problem with this conclusion as well: Henry hadn't actually seen Oliver in more than a decade.  In fact, he couldn't even be sure they were still friends.  Oliver was the kind of man who lost and gained friends easily, as if it were a sport.  When Henry first met him, Oliver complained about losing his previous circle of friends, feeling incredibly isolated, and yet the one thing Henry knew best about him was that Oliver was so desperate that he made it incredibly easy to alienate those around him, a classic vicious circle if there ever was one.  In these days of social media, it would be easier than ever before to reconnect with Oliver, but the trick of social media is that it makes friendships more superficial than ever.  Even if he were successful, it would be incredibly unlikely for Oliver to be particularly forthcoming about anything, much less dark secrets of the past.

Still, Henry made the effort.  He was what he still considered a relatively young man, in his thirties, an age when people are still capable, or so he hoped, of establishing themselves with the prospect of many productive years ahead.  He was innocent and naïve, obviously.  He waited around for minutes and then hours and then days, and finally Oliver replied with a flippant response, something designed to evoke their past relationship but brook no further conversation, nothing meaningful, at least.  So Henry became desperate.  He went to Sabin and told him what he'd discovered.

At first, the large man, whose features seemed to have been borrowed from someone else's body, only frowned at Henry.  Then he let loose a belly laugh, the first time Henry had seen any form of merriment from him.  It reminded Henry that everyone called Sabin the Monster.  Everyone seemed to have a different reason.  Henry's was beginning to be that Sabin never took the human element into account, which is to say he lacked any visible form of empathy, which is common enough among people, but not to the extent Henry had observed in Sabin. 

"You have no idea, even now," Sabin finally said, after regaining control of himself.  "You don't know what you've gotten yourself into.  You still haven't guessed.  Very well.  Oliver Row is not a single person but many persons.  There have been many people who answered to the name over the years.  The reasons are no longer important.  The man you call your friend is no doubt the current incarnation, assuming he hasn't already been replaced.  It's a dangerous occupation, being Oliver Row."

This didn't really clarify anything for Henry.  He said as much.  Sabin scoffed at him, and then said, "You poor miserable idiot.  Finish your genealogy.  Then try mine."

With that, he walked away, not even bothering to exchange pleasantries, which for him was perfectly normal.  Henry wondered if there would be an end to this. 

At this point, you'll no doubt have guessed that in this strange world where Victor Frankenstein was a real person and not a fictional character, where a man named Henry Grenoville was his descendant and still had no idea what the doctor had accomplished two hundred years earlier...Sabin was the Monster.  Pop culture has forgotten, because of the classic horror movies, that the Monster was not only intelligent, but exceptionally so.  His unnatural life put him in a curious position, which he chose to exploit near the fringes of society, in the most mundane way possible: at a university, where he gained tenure long outside the memories, as I've said, of the current faculty. 

What Henry doesn't know is that Sabin is about to lose his tenure, because his department is being eliminated.  What he's about to find out is that his friend Oliver Row, who has indeed been replaced since he last saw him, who in fact is Olivia Row now, has been hunting the Monster for two hundred years, at the behest of Victor Frankenstein himself.  How they put the charm on Frankenstein's books is a story for another time. 

When Henry returned to his research, trying to find something he'd overlooked, Olivia became alerted to his work.  The irony about Olivia Row is that she's dying, a tumor choking the life out of her brain a little bit at a time.  To know her is to have experienced her seizures, at which time she is totally incapacitated, but otherwise she's perfectly formidable, thank you.  Her wits work perfectly well, while they still exist, while she still exists.

Henry believes no one knows what he's been doing, but that isn't the case.  He thinks he shouldn't be paranoid, but he should.  Olivia is about to set a trap for him: the honey trap.  It's the best con in history, the one that caught Victor Frankenstein, too (history is always repeating itself).  Olivia should know.  She was there, after a fashion, right?

Friday, August 12, 2016

St. John Talbot Meets Sybok's Brother, Spock

“It’s been a long time,” St. John Talbot says.  He grins as he says this, for reasons his visitor can’t possibly appreciate.  In fact it’s only been a few weeks since they last saw each other.  St. John has been trying to pick up the pieces here in Paradise City, getting the replacement delegates up to speed, and himself at the same time.  Moztar, the Klingon representative, is here only for the short-term, and he’s made sure everyone knows that.  His Romulan counterpart, Tavol, hasn’t exactly been forthcoming, but in St. John’s experience, that’s perfectly typical for Romulans, and so he’s okay with that, for now.

“I admit, I am intrigued,” says Mr. Spock.  “I was curious about the nature of Nimbus III.  I had not had the opportunity to speak with my father about it before I came here.  As I understand it, he was involved in the original negotiations that made it possible.”
“Sarek has been involved in all the negotiations I have ever been a part of,” St. John says.  “Can I offer you a drink?  I’m afraid the bar hasn’t reopened yet.”
“No, thank you,” says Mr. Spock.  “My father has indeed kept himself busy over the years.  I hope his presence has not caused you discomfort.  I know it is the human predilection to receive credit for your efforts; that is, for those who have not been canonized.  I assume it may be different with you.  I offer my apologies if I have offended you.”
“Not at all,” says St. John.  “The truth is, I never got the handle of being a saint.  Until me, none had ever lived to be christened in their lifetime.  Such are the times.  I always appreciated Sarek’s presence.  You could say he was my inspiration.  What is a good Catholic but a poor Vulcan?”
“I offer no thoughts on the matter,” says Mr. Spock.  “As I indicated earlier, I do not wish to offend.”
“You couldn’t possibly, my friend,” says St. John.  “I asked you here because the matter with your late brother still troubles me.  It keeps me up at night.  Sybok had a curious way of breaching insecurities.  He claimed he was only trying to strengthen people, but his were predatory motives.  I never met a Vulcan like him.  I never even thought the like existed.  The whole thing baffles me.”
“Indeed, as it does for a great many others,” says Mr. Spock.  “Federal scholars will be fielding these events for some time to come.  I knew my brother from when we were young men, and I still fail to comprehend him.  His was always the questioning mind.  It is often a mistake among outsiders to believe all Vulcans analyze the whole world around them.  Yet with the discipline of logic comes a need for focus, and so we are taught at an early age to limit ourselves, for the benefit of the whole, so that the few will always count for something, because the many are made up of the few.  I understand that this may be confusing.  It was the very principal humans embraced when they conceived of the Federation, perhaps the first concept they found in common with us.”
“That’s the idea behind this planet as well,” says St. John.  “The unique challenge is, we try to reconcile active differences rather than passive similarities.  That’s the only way someone like Sybok could have so easily manipulated our citizens…including me.  We’re lost souls.  Damaged.  We’re here because we’re looking for answers.  Someone comes here and claims God spoke to him, we tend to listen.  Personally, I have always had an affinity for the divine, something bigger than comprehension.  It’s what made me an ideal candidate for the diplomatic corps, negotiations with Klingons when everyone thought it was a waste of time…But it also makes me vulnerable.”
“My brother merely exploited weakness,” says Mr. Spock.  “Everyone has limitations.  It’s the very flower of our yearning.  It’s not something to be ashamed of.  I, too, was swayed by him, for a time.  As a child of two cultures, I have often been torn between impulses.  So, too, was my father.  It has made him the ambassador he is today, and it has also compromised his role as a father.  It is always harder to be objective at home.”
“That may be the weakness of this concept,” says St. John.  “Perhaps we were always asking too much.”
“I would not give up on Paradise City too quickly,” says Mr. Spock.  “There is a time for everything, but not all things are appropriate for their time.  Your work here is important, no matter how difficult it may be for others to appreciate it.  Mistakes are a part of every process.”
“I appreciate your faith in me,” says St. John.
“Was that a joke?” says Mr. Spock.
“Not that I’m aware of,” says St. John.  He can’t help but grin again.  “Say hello to Jim for me.”
“That I will do,” says Mr. Spock.
“And Dr. McCoy,” says St. John.  “I always thought he and I could have some interesting conversations.”
“That is most likely a certainty,” says Mr. Spock.  “I will endeavor to prevent such calamities from occurring.”
“Now that was a joke,” says St. John.
“Was it?” says Mr. Spock, raising an eyebrow.
“Live long and prosper,” says St. John.
“You as well,” says Mr. Spock.
When his visitor departs, St. John has himself a good laugh.  It feels good.  There was a time he took himself too seriously, but he decided that he could let others worry about such things, and he could simply go about his business.  Wasn’t that what Cochrane decided, all those years ago?  He even heard Archer could get that way sometimes.  Great men, those were.  He thinks about how easily Kirk defeated Sybok’s plans, how he had been so powerless to do anything himself, and he wonders, was it a mistake, what the church elders declared him?  But what was that old saying?  It’s easy to be a saint in paradise.  Well, maybe.  Duplicitous, uncooperative, reluctant…these are the kind of people he has to work with, as always.  It could be worse.  Life can be difficult in the final frontier, but then, what would ideals be for if not to be confronted with such things?  He finds himself grinning again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Trudy sat stunned as she watched Earth explode outside the port she crouched against in a spaceship she was still uncertain as to how she’d boarded.  Certainly it was through no conscious effort on her part.  Until this very moment she had never even believed in UFOs, much less known anyone who had ever claimed to be abducted, or particularly care for the science fiction genre in general.  She preferred stories with dragons, thank you very much.

She wondered, absently, if she should have a towel.  Somewhere in the recesses of her mind was a vague reference, possibly something her eternally odd friend Barry (or, she guessed, now to be considered the late Barry) had said to her once, in which context she didn’t have the vaguest of clues, and wasn’t about to begin trying to remember now.

It was dark, wherever it was she’d found herself in the ship, so even if she wanted to guess about that, she didn’t want to try.  Trudy tended to guess poorly.  In high school she’d had a particularly sadistic science teacher come up with a mock game show, and she’d been a poor contestant.  For some reason she kept coming up with the same obviously (obviously!, she still screamed inside her head, even now) wrong answer, and saying it in different ways just as if that would make a difference (although to be fair, Trudy’s British accent is top notch, which she wondered might come in handy now, all considered), which of course it didn’t.

Strange, the things you’ll think about in times of crisis, which Trudy assumed this must be, just as she had to believe that whoever it was that had inexplicably kidnapped her at a time like this had not done so to any expansive degree.  Which was to say, she was likely the sole survivor of the planet, the last human.

That was when she started to cry, in horror of all the things her imagination told her would be different about the aliens anatomically.

Sheer panic was the only thing that prevented anything worse from occurring to her, in the immediate sense.  Later, Trudy would experience all the emotions and thoughts that are no doubt, and in fact have been, occurring to you as you’ve attempted to keep up with this gibberish. 

When the door, or whatever variety of such a thing it happened to be, for brevity’s sake, opened the very next moment, Trudy caught herself in the midst of preparing a wild retort, since after all she wasn’t sure whether or not to be grateful, if indeed there was anyone on the other side.  Except there wasn’t, and so she determined to go in search of someone to address, if not for answers then for something to eat.

Because, just before the world ended, Trudy had been enduring intense negotiations with what she would soon find out to be the responsible party.  It was then she regretted having run for office in the first place.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Zuri

On the day Xander murdered my apprentice Yvette, my whole world ended.  I don't know what else to say, but I guess I'll have to try.

The whole thing spiraled out of control so spectacularly, I never had a chance to think about what I was doing.  One minute the whole universe made sense, certainly in its uniquely mad way, but there was an order to it, not because of the Sapo Order, which is something I guess I always understood but very few others did, but Sapo certainly didn't hurt.  I mean, that was the whole point.

One of the few others who understood this was Quentin.  He was like a father to me, never mind master.  He was the one who made it clear to me, very early on, that some things are more important than any one person's life.  It was not a matter of sacrifice to him.  Sacrifice, he said, was what one did when there were no longer any options.  He insisted that there were always options, regardless of whether or not anyone else would ever understand them.  The hardest thing, he said, was letting go of what other people thought, what they said, basically of other people in general.

I guess, in the end, I failed him in that regard.  Because I couldn't let go of Yvette.

The way it happened was this: one day the slayers of Reeve descended on us, and very nearly wiped us all out.  There were survivors.  There are always survivors.  (It would do the universe well to remember this.  There is a remnant of everything that ever existed.  It doesn't matter if no one recognizes it for what it is, because hardly anyone ever truly understands anything.  Basic principles of science tell us that nothing is ever truly lost.  Just let that sink in.  Let it be a solace for you, too.)  The survivors did what they could, which wasn't enough.  I did something radical.  I ensured that my story would be told, because as it was, I was cast as the villain.  When the dust settled, it no longer matters what people believe, because that's just life, life had to resume.  It always does.  And it always seeks the most convenient way forward.  That's only natural.

I survived because I defeated the slayer assigned to me.  I took advantage of my unique opportunity, because until his fall, Reeve had created a monopoly over these robots, keeping them out of general circulation, so that the rest of us had to make due, if we were interested at all, with inferior machines.  These were true masterpieces, not the flimsy models you might be thinking of, but so intricate that the Order was easily defeated by them because they had been designed to defeat it.  The Order fell because we let it fall. 

So I took the slayer and modified it.  Among the arcane arts mastered by Sapo was a truly ancient one, in which the mind of a person could be rescued from the body's extinction.  I had always fancied myself to be Yvette's mother.  I couldn't bear to lose her.  I knew it was wrong, but in this type of relationship, I had been mentored by Quentin.  It had previously been forbidden by the Order, precisely because it clouded one's thoughts, caused them to lose focus, objectivity.  That was the party line, anyway.  In the end, the Order fell because it had become too detached, too distant from those they were supposed to protect.  What you do not understand becomes meaningless to you.

I transferred Yvette's consciousness into the slayer.  I was there when she died, when Xander...murdered her in cold blood.  Of course she wasn't ready to face him.  But I couldn't stop her.  Her impetuousness had given her strength, but at the cost of overconfidence.  Or perhaps she cared too much about me, too.  I guess I'll never know.

The moment Yvette passed into the slayer, I shut it down.  I erased its memory.  And programmed it with a compulsion to learn the truth for itself. 

Somewhere buried deeply, or so I convinced myself, Yvette lived on, and would live again.  What I couldn't stand was to face Yvette myself.  I couldn't.  I couldn't face my greatest failure.  When she died, I died, too.  Well, first I made sure Xander died, too, but he took me with him.  It was a hellacious fight.  The truth, all of it, died with us.  It was the only way it could end.

Some day, she would awaken.  I named this new being Kindly.  The remnant that survived the end (because something always survives) may very well be what awaits her still.  But that is another story.   Not for me. And, I hope, desperately, not for her.  But it is no longer in my hands. 

I consider this a good thing.  Some good came of it.  This story belongs to others now.  It will be told.  Sapo knows, it will be.  All our stories will be told.  The awful tapestry of life demands it.  One way or another, it will all come out. 

I hope she forgives me.


"This is the story," says Kindly.  "And now I can rest.  I think I'll tell her.  Because I love her, too."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Xander

As they say on Earth, pride goeth before the fall.

Yes, it was pride, wretched pride.  I couldn't let my life, what I had dedicated it to since before I can remember, fall apart without falling apart, too.  Perhaps I went a little mad.  Not that that is nearly enough excuse.

It was all her fault.  Zuri's.  It sounds weak to say so, but there it is.  If she hadn't existed, hadn't exposed me so appallingly, perhaps things would be different.  No, I'm sure they would be different.  The biggest difference?  I could stand to live with myself.  Even in death.  The worst suffering the dead experience is regret, and the greatest regret imaginable, at least for me, is knowing how profoundly they screwed up in life.

She existed there, mocking my existing, for so long, it became a habit for me to hate her, not so much for anything she did, not for a long time, but for what she represented.  Everything came so easily to her.  She understood, right from the start, how Reeve manipulated everyone, and even though I was in the best position to believe her, of course I didn't.  Quentin was my brother.  I should have believed him, trusted him, but I didn't.  I couldn't.  I suppose that was jealousy, too.  Too often we let such delicate sin corrupt us. 

So when the Order started to crumble, when we began to turn on each other, in that horrible vacuum created by our greatest victory, in the hands of another, the other, I turned on her.  It was so easy.  I felt it was my right.  No one else would admit it.  I knew what had happened.  Master Greer, best of all exemplified what happened.  It was all his fault, I'd like to say.  He started it. 

The arguments of the schoolyard, from the mind of someone who should have known better.

But I finished it.  I made sure the logical conclusion was reached.  I gave the order that destroyed the Order.  It began with the apprentices.  No, it began with the masters.  A systematic slaughter, enacted by the last dregs of Reeve's lieutenants, agents of a different order, dispassionate, disconnected from all.  Robots.  I was repulsed by their very existence, and yet I used them.  Cool, efficient.  A perfect solution.  The one thing Sapo could not manipulate.  That's what our reality was.  A poor one, I now realize. Easy, so very easy, to corrupt.  To annihilate.

Zuri herself was easy to blame, as I said.  So I did what Reeve had done before me, manipulated the situation, made her the enemy.  And personally eliminated her.  And that was that. 

To my everlasting, eternal shame.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Witt

I'm the one who convinced Vaughn to take Kindly seriously.  He's going to overlook that fact for eternity.  I just know it.  And it only figures.  That's life for you.

I should know.  I've been dealing with this sort of thing for decades, ever since I was an apprentice of the Sapo Order.  Perhaps the most important one ever.  If I hadn't made the decision to turn on Xander, then Zuri would have been lost, and with her, the whole galaxy.  Big stakes, those.  Not that I'm taking all of the credit.  In truth, I'm as much to blame as anyone else.  As much a coward as anyone else.

Actually, to my ever-lasting shame, I further told Vaughn he should keep the whole thing buried.  Let history forget it.  Legend becomes myth.  Myth becomes just a story.  No one believes myths anymore.  Why would they?

Like I said, I'm a coward. 

There was a time I would have argued anything but.  I was just as cocky as anyone else, a time when I knew Xander and Zuri merely as demanding masters in the Order, when I dueled Yvette in the training arena, blissfully unaware of the conflict the masters were hashing out, the gravity of the situation.  I had never questioned Xander, never even dreamed of it.  When he spoke, I took it as the gospel truth, and why shouldn't I have?  His thinking was pure Sapo orthodoxy.  It was Zuri who was the heretic, who sympathized with Quentin, her old master, who had defected to the side of the tyrant Reeve.  What else was I supposed to think? 

It was in the aftermath of Reeve's fall that everything fell apart.  Suddenly no one knew who to trust anymore.  At first I blamed Zuri.  Why wouldn't I?  It seemed only natural.  She became a pariah to the whole Order, before even it fell, victim of a greater betrayal than could possibly have been imagined before, even Quentin's, even Reeve's.  Well, sure, I knew the stories that circulated about Reeve.  Any good apprentice would. 

I assumed the villain was Zuri, but it was Xander.  My own master.  What other choice did I have?  In the end, of course, it didn't matter.  It came down to Xander and Zuri, and then nothing mattered at all.  It was all over.  The Order was gone, and with it any semblance of order.  No one knew how important Sapo was until it was gone.

Most of all, me.  I grew old.  Yeah, somehow I survived.  I guess I wasn't important enough, or was too big a coward.  Didn't do nearly enough.  Like everyone else. 

So what can I say?  Except, I'm sorry.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Vaughn

Machines.  Hah.

When I first came across the machine that changed my life, I first had to reconcile with machines in general.  Pardon my Ceridian, but machines were a pain in my Makin.  Supposedly, technology inherently gets easier to use the longer civilization has it.  Well, maybe for some people.  I mean, it's not as if I can't use it, but I'm better at breaking it.  And I'm virtually hopeless at fixing it.  Know what I mean?

So I didn't much care for it, no matter how many machines I used in my daily life, no matter how much I depended on technology.  It was a necessary evil.  Until I met Kindly. 

To this day I can't really explain Kindly except to say that Kindly changed my life forever.  I hate to use a gender distinction for Kindly, so I will probably be saying Kindly a lot.  Pardon me for that, but as far as I'm concerned, it can't be helped.

It happened by accident.  These things always do, but if the circumstances are right, it doesn't matter.  They end up calling it fate.  As I understand it, Kindly had been traveling the stars for years before I came along.  Idly, I'd call it.  Just kind of existing.  No one knew what to do with Kindly, so Kindly just drifted.  I knew from the start.  I knew because I listened.  I'm pretty sure I was the first person to ever listen to Kindly.  Maybe you know the type.  Some people spend their whole lives just waiting for anyone to listen.  Because everyone has a story.  But there are very few people out there willing to listen.

Kindly told me a remarkable story.  Not only did I listen, but I believed Kindly.  There's no reason to tell stories like that unless they're true.  That was how I first heard about the legend of Ulysses.  Yeah, I'm the one who named him Ulysses.  Student of history, right here.  I named him Ulysses because tales had been coming out of his home planet for years, and I gobbled them up.  It seemed appropriate. 

As Kindly explained it, Ulysses was single-handedly responsible for the state of the universe as I found it, and I found it disappointing, and so I was all the more interested.  Kindly told me about what had happened on Zala.  From that moment, I made it my life's goal to confirm it.  I found the book, and then I made the most radical decision anyone ever made.  I went to Earth.  I met Ulysses himself.

And you know what?  It's all true.  Again, pardon my Ceridian, but tusen machines!  And bless them.  From now on, I'm a believer.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Ulysses

Oh, you wanted to know?  So would everyone.  So would everyone...

The great Ulysses finally speaks!  First of all, you should know that Ulysses isn't my name.  It's actually Karl.  As I understand it, after someone started calling me Ulysses, it kind of stuck, especially with the billions of people who had never heard of me until the legends began.  And as they say, the truth isn't good enough, so go ahead and print the legend.  So that's what's happened to me, my legacy, and my name.  I guess it kind of figures.

A long time ago, I really was just plain, simple Karl, a boy who grew up with his mind in the stars, reading, and watching, every piece of science fiction he could get his hands on.  I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid, believe it or not, but it was an ambition that didn't last past elementary school.  I guess I forgot about it.  Things happen.  I got lost in my own thoughts. 

Then, of course, one day it happened.  I had already built a life for myself, become, reluctantly, an adult, started a family, and so it was incredibly poor timing, but all the same, it happened.  A flash of light, I blacked out, and suddenly I was on an alien planet.  The first person I met was a woman named Marta Goulding, who had been conducting an experiment for the tyrant Reeve.  As I understand it, she was later executed.  Never even had a chance to explain herself, and as far as I know, the experiment was abandoned, forgotten about, except by me.  I got home when I figured out what she'd done.  But that wouldn't be for more than ten years.

In the meantime, I had to keep living.  I escaped mostly because Goulding at first successfully lied about what had happened.  She was an elderly woman, which even given the differences in our anatomies was obvious enough to me.  She was frail, and probably not long for death anyway.  I could tell she was in pain.  For all I know, she was attempting to preserve her own life.  I miss her dearly, but her death, what I mean to say, was probably a relief to her, regardless of how it came.  I have no doubt that she only reluctantly served Reeve's regime, as did the rest of Zala.  Of course, there are few true innocents in life.  We're all guilty.  We're all complacent.  That's the single thing I took away from my experiences.  I certainly never considered myself a hero.

Yet that's what I became.  As soon as the Sapo Order learned of my existence, it sent its finest agents to, for all intents and purposes, kidnap me.  Alexus had heard of my existence first.  She had better spies than anyone.  I know exactly what she felt about me.  Far from an exotic pet, which is how everyone around her viewed me, and assumed she herself thought, too, she was...fascinated by me.  It was with reluctance and relief that I left her.  Let's just leave it at that.

The Order immediately assigned me to Master Lark, who informed me in no uncertain terms exactly what was at stake, what had happened, and what the Order hoped would happen next.  Lark took responsibility for me mostly because Master Greer thought I was a joke.  Let's be clear about that.  My unique perspective on everything allows me to see things as they really are.  Or so I've certainly told myself, many times, over the years.  Regardless, Lark taught me the arcane arts of the Order, which he said I was uniquely capable of comprehending.  I took that to mean that everything that made me superfluous on Earth, easily dismissed, somehow made me unique and much-coveted on Zala.

So I became a Sapo warrior, and was assigned the one task for which the whole Order had dedicated its existence since the rise of the tyrant Reeve.  Namely, Reeve's destruction.  I thought it was ridiculous.  On that score, I absolutely agree with Greer, and with everyone else, a whole world, that thought it was a joke.  Lark insisted that not only Zala, but the whole universe depended on what I did next, so naturally I took up the challenge, and discovered how weak Reeve really was, and how weak, in turn, the Order itself was, or at least had become.  It's my understanding that this was hardly the high point of civilization, but more like the climax of it.  Doomed for a fall.  Turns out they pinned it on me, because once Reeve was eliminated, everything else collapsed.  Total anarchy.  End of the Order.

So much for the hero.  They did a good job of scrubbing me from history.  The only thing they overlooked was the legend.  But by that time, I was back home, and so none of it mattered to me anymore.  Or so I thought.  Then one day, I had some visitors.  It was much later.  I, too, was old now, just as Goulding had been before me.

They came back.  And suddenly, everything made sense, for the first time in my life.  My family believed in me.  I was a hero.  I was whole again.  I'm not going to lie to you.  I have not had an easy life, and I haven't helped make it any easier (you know what I mean).  But I'm starting to feel as if it was all worth it.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Turner

It was a crime of opportunity, plain and simple. 

The day I met Ulysses, I presented myself as his first and best friend on Zala.  I told him everything he wanted to hear.  He was disoriented, that was clear enough, suddenly found himself lost on an alien world.  It was easy pickings.

The truth was that Reeve had paid me to befriend him.  Before anyone else, as with everything else, how he ended up in control of Zala to begin with, Reeve knew exactly who Ulysses was from the very start.  The fly in the ointment, as it were.  The only thing he didn't see was what I saw in Ulysses' eyes from the start.  Incredulity.  He didn't believe me for a minute.

Oh, he let me believe he did, but he didn't.  He was a clever little human, all right.  I'd never been to Earth.  I don't even know what I got wrong.  Of course he did.  I've been to hundreds of worlds.  Most of them are mind-numbingly similar.  You start to see the patterns the minute you disembark.  Or maybe I just got cocky.  I grew up on one of the worst worlds imaginable, the wretched Lessing.  No advantages at all, in the greater scheme.  Except I was the son of royalty, discarded easily but treasured by all those who knew, who only wanted to curry favor, in the glorious days ahead.  And wouldn't you know it?  Dear old dad was Reeve.  If I'd only known how pathetic his story was.  But you never do.  You never bother with the details of backstory until too late.  You never bother to find out.

Until you do.  The thing Ulysses had that nobody else did was that he did care.  Whatever his story is, he always seemed to know.  And so of course he saw right through me, because he knew, he saw through the cracks, no matter how large or small.  He was my opposite number.  Imagine that.  Only one half over truly understands such relationships.  Figures.  And it wasn't me.

So my crime was that I blundered into introducing Ulysses to everything he would need to undo everything Reeve had accomplished, everything I thought I had accomplished.  But of course it amounted to nothing, so much nonsense that I'd been telling myself, as it turns out.

Well, I feel like an idiot.  Fortunately everything fell apart for him, too.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Stacia

Life is just unfair.  Let's not beat around the bush.  It just isn't.  We find ourselves in constant competition with those who should be our friends.  We grow bitter, and everyone loses because of it.

Let me tell you about Naya, about Iris, about June.  Except, I'd love to, but life isn't fair, so relationships that should have been, never were.  We re all proud women.  Actually, maybe that's the problem.

Zuri was my mother.  This gives me all too much insight into what happened, why it happened, and how no one knows, despite it being the most important thing that ever happened.  History just forgot.  Life gets in the way.  Petty nonsense like the space pirate Drexel, who only sees women as potential lovers.  I don't know how I let it happen, but it did.  And so I hate June, despite that being only detrimental to my cause, because as the daughter of Queen Alexus, she knows, as well as I do, but she can't tell anyone.  Neither can Naya.  Neither can Iris. 

At least Iris has a book.  Oh, I know about the book.  Who do you think gave her the information?  Not me directly, you understand, but...No, that would be telling.  What happened, what my mother did, after what happened, that's something I must take to my grave.  I will never tell anyone.  Not even Drexel.  He's just using me, like he uses everyone else.  I doubt he ever took a woman seriously in his life. 

Some secrets are like that, I've learned to accept.  Selfish.  So I can be selfish, too.  I'm proud of my mother, more proud than you could ever understand.  Why should I explain that to you?  As far as I'm concerned, you're no better than Drexel.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Reeve

Order.  And power.  These are the things I craved, and I found both on Zala, everything I ever wanted.

Then, of course, it all ended.  I still struggle to understand how.  One moment I had it all, and then the next, a stranger had come, from out of nowhere of course, and knocked me aside just as if I had gained nothing at all from all my years of plotting.

How old I am I care not to say.  As old as Greer.  That was the start of it, basic, perfectly fallible jealousy.  His admittance into the Order, and the Order's subsequent rejection of me, led me down alternative paths.  They say everything is for the taking for those bold enough to take it.  That is my tale in summation.  I learned, and I took.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I thought I did.  I convinced everyone around me I did, at any rate, but it was a lie spread too thin, and the result was inevitable.  Introduce one person, one anomaly, one variable into the equation, and the whole thing falls apart.  It was all just numbers.  Numbers are meaningless.  It's what you do with them, the calculations themselves, that have any weight.  The old story of the journey being better than the destination.  The oldest, saddest story in the book.

That's what I became, a joke.  The joke.  That's what the universe is all about.  Nature abhors a vacuum, but it doesn't necessarily welcome those who attempt to fill it.  Funny how that works.  I saw an opportunity, and I took it.  I was ruthless, completely committed to the cause, once I identified it, once I saw my opening, my motivation, the forbidden fruit, as it were.  That's exactly what it was.  On Earth, the home world of that putrid animal Ulysses, I'm told it's biblical.

Now I have all the time in the world to ponder such things.  I was defeated so easily, as if I represented no threat at all, meant nothing, just a means to an end.  I saw the whole thing collapse around me.  I mean, everything.  And the sad part is, I thought that this was exactly what I wanted, but now I see, far too late, that it wasn't, that maybe I should have done something different, everything different, right from the start.

Because it was a mistake.  But I can't take it back.  In the cruelest irony of all, my last mistake is what killed me, ended me, the servant I called Xander, who avenged my defeat at the hands of Ulysses, but who himself fell, in ignominy, as we attempted, once and for all, to finish what I'd begun.  He murdered me, and still fell.  At her hands.  And that's how it all ended.  And no one will ever know.  Truly, a tragedy.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Quinten

I once had a conversation with Zuri.  I told her exactly what I thought about the Order, and why I had to resign from it.  It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.  I could stand the reproach of Greer, of Lark, of the whole Order, but not Zuri.  I needed to know she still believed in me.  I was at a crossroads in my life.  The galaxy no longer made sense to me.  I saw the Order as decadent, as no longer serving its original purpose, of serving no purpose at all except to prop up a way of life, and that was not the Order had represented, in its glorious, exultant past, the past I believed in, the past I joined the Order to maintain.  Not what it became.  Not the soulless, custodial entity it became. 

I knew it would be difficult for her.  How difficult, I confess now, I sadly underestimated.  I did not join the side of Reeve to support him, but as a misguided protest.  I saw that only too late.  Reeve represented everything I hated, what the Order was meant to guard against, its opposite number, in many respects.  A child of the same lineage, but distorted, abhorrent. 

I did not foresee a regrettable great many things.  I did not know what Xander would do.  I tell myself this as a way to exonerate me from the further abominations that sprang from my actions.  I died, by the way, at the hands of Ulysses, but it was too small a payment, and I do not feel as if I can ever pay enough.  How could I?  In my misguided attempt to save the Order I destroyed it.  Me alone.  I carry this burden in death as if the sins of all time, across a thousand worlds, rest on my shoulders.  In a way they do.

If I could speak with Zuri again, what would I tell her?  Everything.  I would tell her everything.  I realize now that I didn't tell her anything at all.  I forced her into an impossible situation.  She alone would face the Order, and she wasn't prepared for that, anymore than the Order itself.  That's why it happened.  That's what I tell myself, anyway.

I came from a privileged few.  I learned too late just how privileged.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Paisley

I grew up with Ulysses, I know him better than anyone else.  There's no one who knows him better, understands him better, can forgive more of his nonsense, or can tell when my brother is trying to hide something.  I know his moods.  God, do I know them.  Anyone can see them etched across his face.  But few people can get him to talk about whatever it is he's mulling over like I can.  It's just the relationship we've always had.  Survivors instinct.  We both made it out of childhood together, somehow.

So when I say I believe him, I hope that means something, because I do believe him, no matter how crazy his stories sound, because I've heard his nonsense, heard it all my life, and this is different.  It's not something he's somehow convinced himself of, or some incredibly fantastic delusion.  I mean, I know he has his problems with the rest of the world, always trying to find his place in it, but he's not someone who would do it at the expense of his sanity.  He's far too stubborn for something like that. 

So I believe him when he says that he went to outer space, saved a whole world, and somehow returned home to try and resume his life.  I know it hasn't been easy.  I'm the only person, as usual, he has to turn to.  He's told me more about it than anyone else, and why shouldn't he?  And maybe that's the problem.  Maybe that's always been his problem.  Sometimes relationships are too important.  I know how that sounds, but I absolutely believe it, just like I believe him.  I feel sorry for him, too, because he came back and made the ultimate sacrifice, because he lost everything.  The only thing I question is whether he had a choice at all to return, and if he's been regretting that choice ever since.  I wouldn't blame him if he did.

I worry about him, I really do.  I don't know what it took for him to do it in the first place, I mean become a hero and everything, because let me tell you, that's not what I would have expected from him in a million years.  He was about as awkward as you can get, growing up.  He certainly wasn't a star athlete or anything, and he didn't join the military out of high school.  He went to college, and eventually graduated, but what he was like in college, I wouldn't know.  We drifted apart for the only time in our lives at that point.  So maybe there's an explanation there.  I don't know.  Sounds about as plausible as anything else.

What do I do for him now?  Anything I can.  He's always been there for me, and I've always been there for him.  What can I say?  It's the least I can do. 

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Ophelia

I believe him.  Despite everything, I believe my father.  I believe everything he says about what he experienced while he was missing from my life, while I was growing up, without a father, with a mother who held out hope, with a brother who grew more and more cynical, and a world that was actually pretty indifferent to the whole thing.

I guess that's what's been most difficult for me, figuring that out.  To me, he's everything.  I don't want to suggest my mother means nothing, or that I don't appreciate everything she's done for me, but, and maybe it's because I never knew him, my father somehow means so much more.  The more I've gotten to know him, the more I believe him.  Again, maybe it's just because I want to, but I can't help it.  As far as I'm concerned, it takes a lot of guts to do what he did, and I'm not talking about becoming a hero on some other planet, but in how he came back, knowing no one would believe him, believe in him, or think he's much of a hero.

I don't know.  My mother talked about him all the time.  Sometimes she was sad.  I mean, really said.  She felt abandoned.  She says she never stopped believing in him, but she really did.  The man who came back wasn't the man she had married, and they've never figured out their relationship since then.  They're not even married anymore.  He's never lived with us.  And so all of that has made it that much harder for me to get to know him, to try and figure out for myself who he is.

But I've been trying.  I figure I owe him that much.  Here I've been, all my life, waiting, just like the rest of the family, steadily absorbing what everyone else has said about him, including Uncle Miller, who I think likes my mother but would never admit it, and I think that colors what he thinks, but whenever I try to talk to him about it, he just laughs it off.  It makes me feel about two years old, but I'm not.  I'm not a kid anymore.  I don't talk about what I think because I'm pretty sure no one will take me seriously, but I'll never stop believing.  I love him.  I love my father.  I love him for the man I've gotten to know, and for everything he's never told me, but I can sort of figure out from what he has.  I can't help it. 

Does any of that make sense to you, or am I just coming off as naïve, dumb and young an' gullible as they come?  I hope not.  Maybe I haven't explained it well enough.  Well. 

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Naya

I am Witt's daughter.  I'm proud she was willing to turn on Xander. 

There.  I said it.  Someone had to.  Someone had to take Zuri's side.  Someone had to be something other than a coward. 

But I've done something I'm not proud of.  I stole from an old woman.  I think she was blind or something.  I stole myself into her good graces.  She probably never even suspected who I was.  I visited her, one stormy evening, called myself her biggest fan, asked why she had stopped writing so many years ago...and begged for a new story.  She told me one, all right.

Her words were rambling.  I'm sorry, I should tell you her name.  Iris.  Her name was Iris.  Iris was obviously in poor health, as I was saying.  I think she was dying.  Well, like I said, I'm not proud of what I did.  I took advantage of her.  She was just looking for someone to take pity on her, someone to share her pain.  Just like anyone else. 

It's not as if I lied to her.  I really didn't.  I can rightly say I was her biggest fan, read everything she ever wrote, cherished every word, and I really did want a new story from her.  The last one.  The most important one she ever wrote.  What I have since called the Book of Iris, because it's so important.

I left her in the quiet hours of the morning.  It had finally stopped raining, and she had fallen asleep in her armchair.  She looked peaceful.  I'd like to think so, anyway.  If she's still alive, I wonder if she even remembers I was there.  I told her my name was Vaughn.  Of course it isn't.  Vaughn's the sorry fool I did it for.  He has me nearly convinced he wants the truth.  Him and his stupid robot.  Maybe it's wrong to disparage artificial intelligence, but it's ingrained in primitive organic minds like mine to fear such things.  It's a mortal fear, something they know nothing about.

Maybe that's the point.  Maybe it's a good thing.  Maybe I'll let them have the book.  Then someone will know.  Finally, they'll know...

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Miller

My best friend is insane.  I thought you'd like to know that.

He went missing a while back, left his poor wife scared, his children fatherless, and the rest of us wondering if we'd ever see him again, ever find out what happened.  The investigation dragged out so long the media lost interest.  It became the fodder for conspiracy theories, myth...Fiction.

And then he came back.  I was the happiest man in the world.  He was a childhood friend, you understand, someone I grew up with, knew everything about me, just like I knew everything about him.  Used to.  Until he started telling us his stories. 

Listen, I know what he was like before.  Like everyone I know, he would've dismissed that kind of talk, laughed it off, assumed if any of us talked like that, it was just a joke.  But he wasn't joking.  He really believed it. 

He lost a decade of his life.  That's as much as I can say for certain.  Maybe he was in a coma somewhere, and someday I'll meet the people who cared for him, and thank them.  But only just.  Because they didn't do him any favors, for all I care now.  He's just not the same man anymore.  He scares me.

Maybe one day...I don't know.  I just don't know.  I love the guy, I really do.  Maybe I'm just not being fair to him.  I owe him better than what I've done for him since he's returned.  I mean, he deserves better, right?  He deserves support.  Well, maybe in another lifetime, Ulysses...

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Lark

Although I was one of the greatest warriors of the Sapo Order, my name did not resonate through the worlds the same as Master Greer's.  Surely, others within the Order, and the circles immediately around me, knew of my existence, but for all intents and purposes, I am an unknown quantity.

That being said, I was a great warrior and one of the greatest assets of the Sapo Order, until the day Reeve murdered me.  I was the last line of defense against his ascendency on Zala.  I was also Ulysses' mentor, and so it might be said that I found redemption.  At least that's what I like to think.

The truth is, I was done in by hubris.  It was pride, pure and simple.  I trusted, perhaps more than Greer himself, in the solidity of the Order, in our ability to counteract every threat, not just on Zala but throughout the galaxy.  We had stood so long unopposed...

I see now where we went wrong.  We had become benevolent despots.  That is to say, our time had come.  This was an ending that would have come inevitably to us, as all things end.  We were caught by surprise, was all, me most of all, I think.  Greer was wise.  He was perhaps cynical.  He knew how to survive this, better than me, anyway.  I always knew he was better, it was just a matter of learning just how much, and how I was to learn it.  Painfully, at the end of a blade, as it turned out.

I take solace, in having been the champion of Ulysses, whom Greer did not believe in, who molded him into the warrior Zala so desperately needed, what the Order could no longer provide on its own.  I wonder now, if I still failed Ulysses, failed Zala, failed the Order, knowing what happened after.  Had I lived...Had it been me instead of Greer who survived...I know Greer's reputation remains untarnished, and that even the suggestion of a weakness on his part would be shocking to his continuing legions of supporters...But did I, in  the end, painfully, earn what he lacked?  Could I have done something more, prevented what happened next?

I wish I knew...Now I am a ghost.  I haunt.  I advise.  I warn.  But I cannot teach.  There are limits to everything.  Perhaps there is a wisdom in that.  Perhaps a solace...

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Kindly

Ah.  Good day.  I see I now have your undivided attention, and that it has taken some time to do so.  You're probably anxious to learn more about me.  That, I'm afraid, I won't be able to do for you.  That will be someone else's story.

For you, today, I have a different story, one about a man named Marty.  Marty lived hundreds of years ago.  He had a story, too, one he didn't know what to do with.  For some time he had attempted to tell it, but no one listened to him.  Even those who humored him ignored him.  Marty became despondent.  He gave up.  History forgot him.  I remember him.

That's it.  That's the story.  Is it an allegory?  Assuredly.  If you have been following along to this point, it should be obvious enough.  I'm sorry, I don't mean to offend you, it's just that there are some stories that require this sort of subterfuge, for they contain dangerous truths.  You would think that truth that stands to edify cannot be dangerous, but a truth that truly edifies is truly dangerous, and thus is subject to the worst burial possible.  Even if it is widely distributed it will never be understood, and that is the worst fate of a story imaginable, even one that continues to be spread, because it continues to be ignored.  A story is not a story merely to amuse.  If it is, then it is worthless.  And a story misunderstood is a wasted story indeed.

So, I bid you good day, again.  I promise, if you stick with this story, you will not have wasted your time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - June

He's my father.

I've told myself all my life, he's my father.  I have to believe it.  I have to.  My mother, that's what she told me, and I believe her.  I have to.  My mother, the great Queen Alexus.  And my father, Ulysses.

I know it's crazy.  I know what they say about him, about his great devotion to his human wife, who for all intents and purposes was as much fiction to us here on Zala as anything I believe about myself, something he told himself, the way I do it, too.  So, in a way, I do share something meaningful with him.  Right?

I know, it's crazy.  I try not to think about it, I really do.  It's not healthy.  I've been trying to distance myself from my mother for years.  It's not easy.  It's not easy for anyone, but just try it when your mother isn't just famous, but the queen of the world.  It's virtually impossible.  But I'm trying.

A few years back, I kicked my rebellion into overdrive.  Rebellion becomes a form of life for someone like me, an instinct, a survival instinct.  I hopped off-planet with the first transport I could find.  That's how I met Drexel.  A few years back, he came across a robot that claimed it knew the truth about Ulysses.  I was terrified.  I told him to get rid of it.  He did.  He wanted nothing more than to follow that mystery to its end, but I convinced him otherwise. 

Am I being selfish?  Or am I surviving?  What else can I do?  I just don't know.  But Drexel loves me.  I know he does.  We'll make it.  We have to.  What other choice do we have?  What other choice does a crazy mixed-up universe like this give us?  We have to take what we can get.  It's the only way.  The only thing we can tell ourselves, to...make the pain go away.  Because the truth really does hurt.  Sometimes even worse than the fictions we have to tell ourselves...just to survive...

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Iris

A writer's life is a lonely one.  I suppose that goes for artists in general, but for a writer, for a writer, whose work is far harder to interpret, to appreciate...

Let's talk about art for a moment, shall we?  I watched an ancient piece of video entertainment, something called The Agony and the Ecstasy, about an artist named Michelangelo, commissioned to paint the ceiling of a building called the Sistine Chapel.  Now, if it had been as simple as that, and all you needed to know, you'd think it was just an art job someone did, and leave it at that.  Except I remind you what the video entertainment was called.  It seems Michelangelo's patron was something of a tyrant.  History even now remembers Michelangelo as one of the great artists.  There are reproductions of his Sistine Chapel on countless worlds.  Art lovers know great art.  What they don't think about, what you don't think about, is the intense labor involved in creating it.  It's just assumed that a genius artist like Michelangelo shows up, does the work, and walks away.  In that sense, Michelangelo scarcely needs to be real at all, does he?

Except he was real.  And the work involved was real work.  It nearly destroyed him.  There are plenty of cultures where working on art is not relevant to the culture at all, because they can't afford it.  This is not to say that the work isn't still done, but that the artist can't make a living out of it, no one ever learns it was even made, and so for all intents and purposes, it wasn't, history scarcely remembers that culture at all, and life as we know it is diminished.  Nature is art.  Nature produces it by the bucketful.  The only way intelligent life can be considered intelligent at all is if it can add to the tapestry of what nature creates as a matter of course.  Thus, artists are essential, the only elements of society contributing anything of real worth to the culture.  Yet we can hardly be bothered acknowledge them.  We're really good at noticing the ones a lot of other people have, but that's the same as saying we've all noticed that the world has a lot of nature around us.  Art is about discovery, is the basis of everything else we know.

Yet our artists suffer.  Michelangelo suffered.  It seems irrational to think, that a man of such genius was hounded the entire time he was producing a masterpiece.  But that's the way it always is.  I'm not asking you for sympathy, but that's the kind of life I lead, too.  What can I say?  I'm a writer.

I've dedicated my life to producing work that reveals truths about life that I see unrecorded elsewhere.  It seems incredible that such a thing is possible, with there having been so many people before and concurrent with me, and yet I have, time and time again, come to the unmistakable conclusion that this is absolutely the case.  I live in a vacuum.  I am alone.  I am not isolated merely by choice, but because that is my curse, the reward for having a perspective that finds no friends, no peers.  Sympathizers?  Acquaintances?  Oh, yes.  I've had my share.  But they are not enough.  Never enough.  Enough for madness, certainly.  For life?  For love?  My companions have always resided in books.

I wrote a book.  I wrote a book about a woman named Zuri.  I alone realized what the truth of her story was.  No one would believe me. So I consigned what I knew to the pages of a book, a book no one read.  They say people read, but I have never been convinced of that.  They collect stories the way they collect friends.  To pass the time.  They waste my time.  Liars. 

I have grown old.  Recently, I was visited by a pair of strange individuals.  One of them was a robot, and the other a curious young man named Vaughn.  I gave them my book.  I hope...I hope they can make use of it. 

That's all a writer ever dreams of.  That's why they write.  If they tell you otherwise, they're lying.  That's why a writer is so lonely.  Their only solace is in the pages of book.  Otherwise, they are forsaken.  That's the sad truth.  I believe in that woman.  That woman was me.  No, not literally.  But she might as well have been.  How could I betray her?  I don't believe I did.  I believe I set her free.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Harlow

I had everything.  I had the whole world in my hands.  Everyone else was just waiting to catch up.

All that sounds presumptuous, but I think it's a waste of time to be modest.  I learned that the hard way.  When I was young, I learned my abilities were far beyond the average, yet I didn't want to stand out.  My brother looked up to me, and I didn't want to betray his trust.  "Ephraim," I'd reassure him, "you can trust me."  I said this so many times even I got tired of hearing it.  Maybe he doesn't even remember, now.  I didn't want to scare him.  The problem was, I scared myself.

The worst thing imaginable, at least as far as I'm concerned, is expectations.  When people find out about what you can do, they instantly develop expectations.  It's far easier to avoid such things, or so I imagine.  Maybe it's actually more difficult.  I don't know.  I spend too much of my time in torment as it is. 

Worst of all are my own expectations.  As I grew older, I couldn't help it.  We all develop goals.  We all want to succeed, to be understood, to be accepted.  When you're capable of great things, you expect to achieve great things.  The problem is, people don't like other people achieving great things.  They develop expectations so that you'll fail.  And you develop expectations knowing you will.  To be someone who is clearly above the average abilities of others is a curse.  It is, truly, an excruciating torment.  It never leaves you alone.

Somewhere along the way, I alienated my brother.  I couldn't even begin to guess, now, how I did it, but I know it happened, because, or at least it seemed to me, we drifted apart, so that we became strangers to each other.  The more I attempted, at any rate, the more I achieved, and the more people expected things from me.  It was, at first, a wonderful position to be in. 

Then it became hard.  Then it became a matter of the impossible.  A situation developed, globally, and the pressure became so intense I could hardly stand it.  The older I got, you see, the harder it was to hide.  I tried, oh I tried.  But I couldn't.  The more exposed I got, the more impossible it became.  Then the truly incredible occurred.  Someone else entered the picture, solved the problem, saved the day.  The weight was lifted from me just like that.

Yet it was still there.  I couldn't escape it, certainly not anymore, despite circumstances changing.  Like anyone else of extraordinary ability, I had developed a kind of following, of sycophants who wouldn't leave me alone.  Yet more...expectations.  They demanded of me a response.  It became known to me that they weren't happy, that I would have to do something about this usurper, that I didn't have a choice in the matter.

"Of course there's always a choice," you say.  You can say that, because you don't have the responsibility.  You can afford to be modest.  I can't.  I don't get to play a passive role.  Sooner or later, my role was going to be the aggressor, the agitator.  The villain.

Fortunately, my brother didn't wait to see how things would play out.  If I had seen him even one more time, I would have repeated, "Ephraim, you can trust me."  But now it was too late.  The great Ulysses beat down my door.  Now I was nothing but a threat.

In a way, I feel honored to have played this role.  In the absence of another threat, someone had to fill the void.  It had to be me.  Of course it did.  Finally, the rest of the world, the rest of the galaxy, caught up with me.  I had nowhere to go but down, to fall, to meet my fate at last.  Not exactly, granted, what I expected, but there you go.  Expectations are always wrong.  Always.  It's best that you don't bother with them.  If you take away nothing else from my sorry life, please heed that lesson.  One day, it could save you a lot of trouble...

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Greer

I have seen much of this galaxy.  I know most of its secrets.  But there is one thing I'll never understand, and that's how everything I know collapsed around me.

The Sapo Order was one of the few things older than me.  It's true, I am very old.  I count my days in centuries.  The Sapo were guardians of order. They ministered to the needs of a thousand worlds, and were the most respected institution anyone knew.  Then one day, Reeve defected from the Order, and set himself up as tyrant of Zala.  After that day, the road to ruin was assured.

On another day, Ulysses appeared.  He was an outsider, who didn't belong in the Sapo Order, and yet he was admitted into our number despite my objections.  At first, he seemed to be the greatest of us, or at least had the potential to be.  It's true that he defeated Reeve, ended what appeared to be the most grave threat our galaxy had ever known, but then things spiraled out of control.  The Order began to disintegrate, and with it, the order of the galaxy itself, so that we descended into anarchy.  We lost the great gift of civilization, or the semblance of it that some of us had spent all our lives cultivating.

Perhaps all this is a matter of my own hubris.  I could very well be imposing an interpretation of these events favorable to my ego.  I lost what was most precious to me, and so I retreated away from galactic affairs.  That I can't dispute, that is the very least anyone could say about me, now, in my exile.  For all anyone knows, I am dead.  I might as well be.  I weep for what was lost, even as I struggle to define what it was.  My worldview?  My delusions?  Or perhaps, the best thing the galaxy ever had.

I could very well be the galaxy's biggest fool.  I think I was meant to die with my secrets...

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Flynn

My dad isn't like other dads. 

He tells us lots of stories.  Ophelia believes them, but I think that's because she's too young to know better.  They're supposed to be about his personal experiences, but I know they're impossible.  He says he spent time in space, fighting monsters and defeating alien despots.  I'm not even sure I know what a despot is, but that's besides the point.  Clearly he didn't do any of those things.  Clearly he's just another guy.  Well, not just another guy.  I think he's crazy.  What other explanation can there be?

Mom says we should be patient with him.  She says she was patient for years, and there's no reason we can't be, too.  He disappeared before Ophelia was born.  For most of my life, he wasn't even here, and when he came back, he was a complete stranger to me.  Mom had to assure me over and over again that the man who knelt down in front of me and kissed me on the forehead was the same guy in all the framed pictures around the house.  He didn't even look the same.  I don't know how to describe it.  I know that people age, obviously, that Mom used to be my age at some point (I have no idea how old she is, so don't ask), but getting older doesn't explain why he looks different.  I know, because even Mom was taken aback when she first saw him again.  She couldn't hide it.  We were having a picnic in the backyard, and Ophelia and me both saw her reaction.  He just strolled into the yard, from where I don't even want to guess, and acted so happy to see us.  Mom was happy.  Ophelia was happy.  I was...

So that's why I call my dad Ulysses. I know it's common in some families to use your parents' real names when you talk to them, or talk to other people about them, like other kids at school.  In my family?  Not even a chance.  I call Mom, Mom, and...I call Dad, Dad, or I used to, when we'd talk about him, when he was missing, when we spent so much time waiting for him to return.

Which I guess was a mistake.  "Be careful what you wish for."  I think that's a phrase people use for that sort of thing.  I learned it in school.  It's weird.  For the first time in my life, I actually think of school as the normal piece of my life.  I used to hate it.  Now I don't.

I don't tell any of my friends about him.  I don't want them to think I'm weird, because I know what I think of him, and it's extremely unlikely that any of them would think differently, even Teddy, who reads the weirdest stuff I've ever seen.  But he doesn't believe any of that science fiction nonsense.  Who would?

But my dad keeps telling us his stories.  I have to pretend I don't hate him, because that would be mean, but I think he still understands, and I guess it probably hurts him, but I can't help it.  I don't believe him, and I don't understand why he would tell us such ridiculous lies.  When I get older...hopefully it'll be easier to put it all behind me.  I don't see any other way.

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Ephraim

It was the greatest day in Zala's history, and it was all thanks to an alien named Ulysses.  I don't know if anyone ever even came up with an adequate reason for how he ended up here in the first place, but the fact is he did, and he defeated the tyrant Reeve, and the whole world celebrated.  I bet you could hear us all the way in the citadel of Wasp.

But there was at least one unhappy person on Zala, and that was Harlow.  My brother.  To understand why requires a little explanation.

Harlow grew up as the golden boy of my family.  I don't know how much jealousy had to do with my telling Ulysses about him, when I finally had the chance, but even if it was that, I can't say I'm ashamed.  Whatever gifts he possessed, my brother let them go to his head.  And it was jealousy that consumed him.  He viewed himself as the one who should have been Zala's savior.  For all intents and purposes, if Ulysses hadn't swooped in, he very well could have been.  We'll never know.  What's not in dispute is that Reeve ran the world with an iron grip for years, and not because he was completely unopposed.  It's just, none of us were good enough to stop him.  That's just fact.

I talked to Harlow about this, many times.  Perhaps too many times.  Eventually, he stopped listening.  He shut himself off, surrounded himself with those who believed everything he said, never questioned him.  And as a result, threatened to become a new kind of tyrant, or at the very least a new threat to Zala.  He saw what Ulysses had done, and his response was hatred.  He felt as if the whole world had, in fact, betrayed him, repudiated him, turned their backs on him.  He didn't even see what Ulysses had done as a good thing, despite the fact that he had dedicated his whole life to the same goal.

So he plotted his revenge, and I couldn't let him do it.  To describe my relationship with Harlow now is more complicated than it ever was.  We started out life as close as brothers can get.  Then, I don't know what happened.  Maybe he let his early successes go to his head.  Maybe, because he was a few years older, he just got sick of hanging out with his kid brother, wanted someone more mature, to spend his time with, which is to say, I guess he began to see me as a waste of his time.  I did notice, by the way.  I carry that like a scar with me.  No doubt it affected the course of my life.  Yet I know I did the right thing, in the end, not because he hurt me, but because I didn't want him to hurt anyone else. 

Do I consider my brother evil?  No.  But evil takes many forms.  Maybe I'm not even the one to be talking to about this.  I'm too close.  I'm not objective.  I grieve for him, for the brother I lost long ago, and the one I lost again, the one who betrayed me.  And the one I betrayed.

I'm sorry, I don't want to continue talking about this.  The fact is, on the happiest day in Zala's history, there were actually two unhappy people.  My brother, and me.  I waited all day for my chance to personally congratulate the great Ulysses, after the long line of well-wishers had shaken his hand, posed for pictures, all the trivial things I couldn't even think about in that moment.  I used it as my chance to warn Ulysses.  That was the day my brother's future ended.  What else can I say?  I spent so much time in the shadow of that future, I don't know anything else.  What do I do now? 

"But this is not the story," says Kindly. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Drexel

Deep-space salvage is a thankless calling, but someone has to do it, otherwise there would be junk floating everywhere.

Every now and again, you make a startling discovery, and that's exactly what happened to me when I found the android, about halfway to Antares if you're approaching from Plague.  (I try to never make the Plague run, but sometimes it can't be avoided.)  It seemed like scrap metal, switched off and never likely to operate again, but I have my contacts, and eventually, the android came to life again.

I'm still wondering if that was a blessing or curse.

But undoubtedly, Kindly was a revelation, a piece of living history that could very well explain some of the deepest secrets of recent history, such as what exactly happened to Ulysses and how the entire Sapo Order came to an end. 

Ulysses, you'll understand, was never officially a member of the Order, more like an honorary one (although the more people you ask, the more likely you'll hear that it was the Order's honor to have him, even among the likes of Greer and Lark).  Yet the tales of his exploits are legion, impossible to escape (just ask my good buddy Crew).

Still, Kindly is unsettling, and the more time I spend with him, the less I want to hear what he has to say.  He speaks of Zuri as if...No, I don't even want to think about it.  Better to take up Vaughn on his offer, and let him take Kindly off my hands.  It'd be better for everyone involved.  I didn't ask for trouble.  I was just doing my job.  But this deal's getting worse and worse all the time...

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A to Z Lies in Space - Crew

Drexel says I'm the best crew he ever had, but that I've got a lot to learn.

He says that with alarming frequency.  He doesn't seem to respect me, either, says "Crew" was a stupid name to choose for myself.  I've never had the nerve to explain to him why I did.  You see, the story of Ulysses inspired me.  Until I heard of him, I'd never even known humans existed.  I understand now that this was pretty common, when the legends first started to circulate.

On my world, we have a dearth of great stories.  Yet I grew up in a home that gathered them like precious stone.  I'm not even sure my parents understood what they had, but as a child I devoured these stories greedily, reading them over and over again.  When I was young they were my best friends, and as I grew older, I didn't stop to think how peculiar this made me.  Yet I suppose I've been peculiar, because of it, all my life.

So to hear Drexel talk to me like that isn't so strange.  He's the best friend I've ever had, regardless.

As I grew, I came to realize just how few stories there really were on my world.  I'm not talking good ones and bad ones, but the sum total of them.  I don't know if it was a tradition that died too early, r was simply beyond the ken of my kind.  When I began to learn the stories of other worlds, when I stowed away on my first alien freighter, I discovered there were such things as bad stories.  I guess it was both blessing and curse that my people had grown so limited.  The stories I'd known, for the record, remain among the best I've ever known.

The thing is, the legends of Ulysses were better.  They were intoxicating.  I learned them at the same time they were spreading throughout the galaxy, soon after the events themselves had unfolded, or so they say.  I don't know, and frankly, I don't care.  I will never meet Ulysses.  I don't have that kind of luck, and as far as I know, he's dead now anyway.  The newer legends are more fanciful, more refined.  Which is to say, they have no basis in reality.

But they still led me onward.  I learned all about Earth, and began feasting on its literary bounty immediately.  I say, have you heard of the writer named Albert Drexel?  Secretly, I think that's how Drexel got his name.  But he'd never admit it.

The thing is, it wasn't just the literature that consumed me, but the culture.  I learned to speak English without the benefit of a translator patch.  Every word of it I speak drives Drexel crazy.  I particularly liked the sound of "crew," and how it pertained to the skills I acquired over the years, so I adopted it as my new name.  The old one, as they say, is mostly unpronounceable by outsiders.

Drexel is a fair captain, and it's an honor to serve alongside him on his salvage runs.  The Republic is a decent ship, besides, but I'm not taking kindly to, well, that lunatic robot Drexel took aboard a few weeks back.  These days I'm feeling uncomfortably superfluous.  But I guess time will tell?

"But this is not the story," says Kindly.