A Tale of Hayward’s Reach
It tore at her as a ravenous beast might; the hunger. She had never believed it could hurt so. Was this what it was like to be so near to dissolution? This tenuous feeling that she might be flying apart, her molecules, thinner than gossamer, forced to feed. She was the thickness of a butterfly’s wing; a wisp floating in space.
She was weak, so weak that she could only consider the unthinkable, a blind jump to the nearest star and hope there might be food there. Hunger had not been something she had been accustomed to having grown up near the center of the galaxy, within the blazing confines of the galactic core. So beautiful, stars everywhere, light constantly bombarding her every surface, so bright, she was forced to condense herself and reflect light. Her neural network fluttered with the idea, light so abundant she could return it to space, uneaten.
Her current form, adapted for dark space travel was large, millions of miles across, diaphanous, and absorptive, capturing every stray photon, every bit of random hydrogen, every fragment of solar wind. But the pitiful scattering of radiation from stars in this portion of the galaxy would never be able to support one such as her unless she found a supply of new mass, and soon.
It had been many years since he had a substantial meal. Living on nothing but the sparse energy between the stars, she had grown lean. Once so powerful, she might have been mistaken for a star herself; she was now so enfeebled she did not even emit light, a flicker between the stars.
The last three unstable wormholes she discovered had taken her far from the galactic core and the abundant light sources she was accustomed to. In the beginning she did not panic. She was certain she would be able to find a path back to her part of the core. She had been assigned to study the rare pairing of two black holes circling each other in a collapsing orbit. Both stars spinning at hundreds of revolutions per second and circling each other in minutes, created a gravity song rarely heard by her people, who studied such phenomenon for the secrets to the underlying First Sound.
Suddenly, perhaps it was her own great mass, she had as much mass as a star herself back then, or perhaps some unknown equilibrium had been struck but the two stars event horizons collapsed into each other. They crashed together and the resulting energy blinded her and caused her to lose her equilibrium. The resulting gravity distortions disrupted her perception of the First Sound near her and she was unable to maintain the probability of her position and she was lost.
The energy of the explosion did not hurt her, of course, her species fed on the radiation of millions of stars, less than a few light years apart, as well as the gas scattered throughout the luminous core, a rich feeding area for her people who had lived for billions of years traveling the gravimetric fields, listening to the harmonies of the stars with their interacting fields of light, gravity, and super-string harmonies against the ominous baritone of the super-massive stellar mass that the entire galaxy revolved around.
Her people called the object at the core of the galaxy the First Sound. She missed its comforting vibrations of the gravity web she grew up in. Out here, its baritone was muted by distance, barely a ripple, but its reach is felt even here as all that is part of the First Sound stays close to it, surrounds it and moves through the universe bound to it. At this distance, though she barely knew it existed.
Her senses strained to their limit, she was aware of a tiny white dwarf on a nearby galactic arm, an island in this lonely part of space. She realized if there was no gas giants in this star system, she would starve to death in a few centuries, unable to activate her probability engine and return to her people. To die alone was the worse thing she could think of and that spurred her to take the rash action of jettisoning fifty percent of her remaining mass. She had barely more mass than a small planet now. She focused her attention on the star, and brought it into resolution. Ten times, fifty times, still not enough. One hundred times, one thousand times, she compensated for gravitation lensing caused by dark matter, she compensated for galactic drift, noted the declination in the fabric of space-time caused by the star. She would attempt to drop out of drive near the edge of its gravity well.
Then she waited. Two dozen years passed as she watched the star to see if there were other planets around it. And there was the flicker as a world passed in front of it, again and again, so quickly she was unsure of what she was seeing. The planet is massive, and its close to the star. It was a gas giant but so close to the star. How was she going be able to feed off of it, when it was so fast and she was so slow now. She would have to retain her speed now if she was to have any chance.
Another dozen years pass as her probability drive activated using nearly all of her remaining energy. Folding space-time, she willed herself to cross this vast gulf of space. She could see her family and hear the baritone of the First Sound. The jump took too much energy. She had been unconscious and only the proximity to the sun woke her. She was still moving fast, her jump had successfully conserved her movement.
The sun took up one third of the sky. Its gravity clawed at her, pulled her, drew her toward it. She looked around and prepared to redirect her course away from the star. Where was the gas giant? She looked around and only then did she realize she had miscalculated and was heading directly toward the world which was supposed to be her refuge. She had planned to come up from behind it, scoop the atmospheric mass that she needed, make the repairs necessary and leave once her drive was recharged.
That plan was gone now. At this angle of descent she would smash into the thick atmosphere of the planet and its violent storms and be destroyed. She had only one chance and not much time. She began to redistribute her mass. She shifted her non-vital mass and prepared to launch it away from herself. She was not used to working this quickly and many of her vital systems were still active. She would suffer memory loss, but she hoped it would be nothing vital. But she did not have the luxury of time.
She was used to having years to do things, now she had hours. She had never had to make decisions this quickly. She looked at the approaching gas giant and could see its gravity well going deep into the fabric of space-time. Its mass must be enormous. She would have one chance. She would use the last of her energy, to propel the inactive matter away from her and thrust toward the planet in order to ride into the gravity well and whip around the planet. If she timed it just right, she could arrange to end up trapped in a permanent Trojan orbit with the planet.
All of her computations said she would be held at the Trojan point indefinitely, but there was a large margin for error since she did not know enough about the planet’s atmospheric density, wind speeds or chemical makeup. She did not have the luxury of time. So much had gone wrong, she was simply without enough choices. There was also the matter of mass to be ejected. The most massive element of her remaining systems after her neural complex was her probability drive. She would need to eject it and work with her attitude systems only, and what she could reconfigure on the way down. which means if she is unsuccessful and cannot gain enough mass, she would never leave here.
Less than an hour remained. She prepared the probability drive for jettison; the mass she ejected would begin a spiral toward the sun. The information to build another was within her, but only if her neural complex could be saved. She streamlined herself and created a form capable of skimming the atmosphere. She would also attempt to grab some mass for analysis and conversion.
The time passed so quickly. She had not been this close to a sun in decades, and the radiant energy soothed her and she made peace with this insane plan. She ejected half of her mass again and material equal to the mass of the Earth fell away toward the white dwarf. The shunted mass redirected her, partially due to the action-reaction and partially because she became much more maneuverable. Her new, streamlined self hurtled toward the planet, and it grew large, obscuring the sun in a matter of minutes. She turned her belly toward the planet and she could sense the density of molecules increasing, gently at first and then more heavily. She rode the top of the cloud layer briefly while she picked up speed.
She opened her ram jets and ingested the matter. She saw she could burn it and her plan depended on this. She scooped it, compressed it and attempted to start the engines. No success. Fuel ratios, out of balance, must correct. She was beginning to catch too much atmosphere, she would begin to slow down. If she did not get these jets started she would begin to lose too much speed to escape.
Fuel mixture needed higher pressure, higher ignition rate, she needed to go deeper into the atmosphere. She inched her way into the atmosphere, her wide wings spread out, increasing the pressure bit by bit. Once she had the right pressure, the engines ignited and she had a sudden burst of speed, Then the engines performed better. The faster she went the faster they gathered mass. Her plan was working.
Then she noticed a storm below her and the ionization on her hull. As she moved through the atmosphere, she was building up ions on the hull making her attractive to the storm below. The storm was thousands of miles wide and would take her minutes to pass over. The first lightning strikes were the worst, as her cold hull was covered in ionized matter and gas. There was damage all over her body, systems overloading everywhere. She made what repairs she could internally and hoped she would be outside of the range of the storm shortly. As the hull heated due to friction and energy discharges, it lost its attractiveness and within a few hours the energy discharges stopped.
She extended her senses into the atmosphere of the planet and noticed there were differing layers, each with its own weather activity. And there was simple life here just below her layer in the clouds. A cloud creature of some sort, floating in groups like she and her family once did. She reconfigured her primary boosters to utilize a refined fuel she had been working with while studying the clouds. She was more than halfway around the planet and now needed to begin adding to her thrust profile. The ramjets would not be enough. She prepared her new fuel and pressurized the systems.
Each engine was the size of a mountain and she had hundreds of them. She activated them in a series of controlled operations, because to fire them all at once in atmosphere would tear her apart. The controlled burns began, each exploded with the force of a million nuclear weapons, in a sequence, faster and faster. Unexpectedly, the engines began to ignite the atmosphere, its natural chemical makeup allowed the powerful engines to ignite it and the flames surged out in a fire trail for thousands of miles, and once the storm started, it spread. She saw the flames surging toward the giant creatures and eventually overtake them.
They burned quickly, the gas that kept them buoyant was highly flammable. They did not suffer long. The last of her engines ignited and she was certain she would make it once the last step was made. She prepared the final jettison and fired the last of the main engines as she left the atmosphere. The ramjets and wings, hundreds of megatons fell away to burn up in the atmosphere, now she was just a needle, her core systems, her engines, her data network, her manufactorum, her ability to create a new her, was all that was left as she streaked away from the planet. As she entered the light of the sun, she flickered like a diamond and slowly came to rest in the Trojan orbit of the planet.
There was so little of her left. She could still see her fiery trail burning in the clouds, as the planet orbited beneath her. Now in geosynchronous orbit, she created a tendril of matter to drop into the atmosphere of the world. She also spread herself thin to gather the energy of the solar wind. With the tendril below, she would slowly siphon off mass from the planet. With the energy of the sun she would spread out until energy was flowing freely. This would allow her to rebuild herself over a few centuries.
Nearly a thousand years passed. She has grown from a tiny sliver of light to a massive moon of the great world below. And she has a satellite, a daughter moon of her own to ease her loneliness. She has told her daughter of the voice of the First Sound and how she can barely hear it from this location. She has told her of the probability drive and how it was almost complete. She would be able to take them back to the core and to their family. Unfortunately, the storms destroyed much of her memory of their migration routes so they would have to hunt for them. It might take some time, a few centuries at least.
Her daughter asks her about their sun, and their animals in the atmosphere of their Jovian world. She loved taking care of them and using her smaller bodies to joyride through the solar system.
Mother explains they will be fine and now that we have been here and lived here for so long, we will be able come back and see them any time she wants. This location would be keyed to their drives.
Her daughter tells her how happy that makes her and says she could not imagine living anywhere else.
Mother agrees with her daughter but will also be glad to be going home. This place saved her life and she was grateful, but it would never be home, even if she lived here for a thousand years. And she did. And it still wasn’t.
Hunger © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved
Seeking our source, our subsistence, survival,
our solace, salvation
the mazes of meaning
between love and death
—from “Cloudsong” by Sirette, called “the sister of Car”
Chapter 1. To see if it flies
On a red‑sand hillock under the northernmost Old Ser Mesa, Barrens Area 3, some sixteen miles out from New Ser Town in the year 32 Post-Then (2058, in old notation), the underground researcher Arturo Donati, amazingly fit for a man of his unlikely 65 years, stood silently, hood thrown back, wiping sweat from his narrow forehead with an ancient rag and staring into an earthen pot. The vessel was filled with distilled particulates patiently coaxed that morning from a young Ascendant Cloud, and Donati’s frustration at the sheer physical repetitiveness of the desperate task was mixed with gratitude. This Cloud had been the rightmost, or trapezoidal, of that morning’s triad of Ascendant Clouds (or A.C.s), and its great willingness (compared to its mates, the paired long ovoid Clouds) to drop particulates, at his fingers’ gentle probe, had drawn his heartfelt thanks, even as the Clouds began their barely delayed ascent.
Donati now was conscious of exhaustion draining the strength from his old, gaunt arms. It had been a weary night, eluding the Ser Council’s patrols, as well as a pack of weir-dogs, on the silent trek from Town, and then in the desert dawn the struggle with the Cloud—I’m very old, he thought—but there was no choice, no choice if we yet hope to save what remains of this Earth. But this Cloud had seemed nearly helpful, even caring.
He half‑smiled. Like any underground aerate researcher, even one still famous in the remaining scientific community for his discoveries in the fight against Aerosol AIDS, he was acutely conscious of anthropomorphism in his reactions to the Clouds. Yet (again like every other pursuer of outlawed aerate studies), he still instinctively responded to the shifting, whimsical indeterminateness of Ascending Clouds as if to a particularly ominous example of Earth’s new life forms. And he also believed that from this gathered, mysterious A.C. particulate, research might yet distill some antidote that could return Cloud motion to the horizontal, thus restraining each Triad’s intent (if indeed intent were at work) to ascend to its unknown destination in the infinite reaches of space.
Of course, there was also that other possibility, the chance that human fallibility or the Clouds’ so‑called “suck” (not to mention the shakiness and weakness of my aging hands—and mind), might instead cause to be multiplied, as the Council of Elders so feared, the A. C.s’ speed and seed.
A sudden crackling, as of pebbles underfoot, made the wiry scientist spin around, his sandals sliding on the hot, dry sand.
He could see nothing at first, only the hazeless clarity of sky and shadows beneath the barren outcrop where the beakers of infused particulate lay spread on a sandstone ledge. But as he watched, eyes steady while his right hand’s arthritic fingers moved toward the ancient lazo at his waist, a straggly‑haired girl of some sixteen years stepped reluctantly forward from a shadowed rock-pile to stand pouting, avoiding his gaze, one finger in her long‑lipped mouth.
“Did you wish to help, Tee-Tee?”
There was no answer; only her dark eyes shifted under her dirty black mane.
“Well, put on your hooder, Tee‑Tee, and you may stay and watch the Cloud-milking. Your ceder, now; you know the line‑O, ‘Hooder‑less is slow/fast‑death.’”
The lithe form remained still, and Donati caught himself shrugging as if every tenet of Ser life, from “Help your least among these” to “Time has gone, take time,” had fled. Turning, he pulled one of the ancient emergency plasticized hoods from his pack and placed it over the youngster’s head and shoulders.
There was no reaction, or none she would allow him to see. Letting the protective garment hang, she stepped back precisely, belying her half-wild tautness, out of reach.
“Very well, Tee.” Trying to ignore that dark, irritating figure, he turned his back. Of course the girl would slip back once she felt herself forgotten; she always did. And she would stand there, staring fixedly, eyes huge in obsessed inchoate longing, at the beakers awaiting Cloud‑lift. But no matter; the only issue, Donati reminded himself, was to continue preparations for the next particulate phasing.
* * *
This was a moment’s hush in our already fear‑filled research and discoveries into A.C. provenance, that quiet morning by the Old Ser Reds. Alone but for the silent Tee-Tee—or Tarshiya, as her guardians, Jeanette and Big Noah, had named her in her first, innocuous-seeming, post-Then childhood days—Donati worked, sweating in the baking sun, resting only briefly in the shade. It must have been a full three hours before he paused, settling himself under a cottonwood snag to sip from his old water-bag. The heat was continual, only surging as the sun reached noon and moved across the sky; it has always been so, his body said, yet Donati remembered that, in days before the first advents of then, there had been coolness of a night.
Clear skies, bright stars, a single moon not blown by crazed men’s rocket-bombs into two moonlets and a shattered rush of shards. A wind pure, soft, and sometimes cold; an atmosphere not thick, hot, dry, still filled with radiations. Once the Earth had been . . . well, not what it was since Then, he sighed, and lay the bottle against one leg while he drew his gloves back on. Time to return to Cloud-milking.
Glancing up, he glimpsed, about a hundred yards away, the young orph Carlyn bounding toward them, exhilarated, in that gawky yet graceful lope. The blond youth’s hood swung out behind him, half‑loosened in the style of the non‑Nihili bulk of his generation. It was a mode and stride, Donati understood, that was free of what haunted Survivors, like himself, old enough to bear real memories of Then.
“Hey, Don, still out here? Spunky of you!” At the young man’s genuinely pleased greeting, the scientist’s mouth opened in a sudden delighted smile.
Only, at that instant, one boot half‑planted in the red dust, Carlyn paused and, tossing his yellow cowlick, looked behind as if puzzled, down the dusty track. Then, with a pointedly backhand wave, he trotted away, retracing his path.
Hey-O, and how is it fair to claim, like you our young do, that it’s we who parody ourselves? Donati frowned, watched the youngster head on off. As if we’d have behaved like you, back in the day. No, never mind, he shrugged, returning to the phasing—never mind any of it, for the floods, the Warming, Hot Nukes, radiations, so‑called Bye-Bye Ozone crisis, global super-SARS and plague, and all the depredations of Aerosol HIV, epiphenomenal Apparitions—the Great Crescendo of Then—had been a holocaust sans equal, indeed for many species the Big Extinction. Probably for us, as well, he thought, but only momentarily: he must not divert his attention any longer from the phasing.
* * *
It was more than two old‑hours later before young Carlyn returned, walking with slow and respectful (though perhaps, the scientist noted, patronizing) steps. He was escorting Samantha, the aging Native American medicine‑woman, or B’worth.
At sight of her, Donati slightly flushed. Straightening, he hurried forward, one hand outstretched. The tiny B’worth, too, stepped forward eagerly, arms reaching from beneath her flowing ceder, the long and elegantly tapered fingers seeming to cast a welcoming shelter far ahead of her fragile but unbowed form. Beneath the hood, a fleeting smile spread over the strikingly high‑cheeked features framed between long salt‑and‑pepper braids, and then disappeared, while her lacquered fingernails moved forward to touch not the barely trembling fingers of the scientist but, rather, in an action notably illegal, the wispy, almost ghostlike shapes that stirred and shifted wetly over the mouth of the earthern pot in his trembling hands. These shapes, or “shapelets,” were rounded, semi‑translucent, three to nine inches in height, and ranging in their dewlike gleam from white to rosy pink.
“Never a change, then, Don.” The B’worth’s tremorous comment barely questioned.
His head shook slightly in instinctive response. “No, no change. Either these baby Clouds tell us what the grown Clouds are, either we make the Triads cease Ascent, or everything still living will . . . Well, ‘fly to the sky/or dry ye and die,’ as the song goes, Sam.” He heard his tone go stiff, as flat and calm as hers had seemed. Always, it lay hid, what lay underneath. Between us. But too old now, too late, he reminded himself.
Samantha had struck the pose of stillness, the exultata or piata, of the full-fledged healer, or B’worth.
“Y’know what?”—Carlyn’s boyish voice intruded suddenly, curious. He was leaning forward, one hand awkwardly resting on the healer’s shoulder, one half-extended toward the burbling pot—“Stick the Cloud in a washtub and see if it flies.” Only, the veneer of humor in his voice cracked.
An unbounded sympathy glistened across Donati’s sunken eyes. “No change, but you know that, Carli. Listen now, don’t worry, these don’t go anywhere. Remember when you used to help me count the shapelets? Cloudlets—and Clouds, I think—work in their own time.”
Then Donati’s narrow face turned to the B’worth. “You understand, Sam. How long do you think there will be, do you see?” (These were—remember, Revebies—only the early days of Cloud‑quest). In his glance, Donati’s eyes said, With you. Whatever sorrows still await.
More practically, and as if in dismissal, while Donati and the Native American continued their quiet communion, Carlyn sat down upon a toppled boulder. Using a knife painstakingly fashioned by one recent girlfriend, he began to whittle a stopper for the fist‑sized particulate pot. Well, clear enough, Donati thought bleakly, another love-shift. No, even the kid’s long friendship with the so‑called alien, precocious Nar (“he who walks seeming to glide”), had never curbed Carli’s tendency to roving. In the sharp light, the youth’s gold-tousled silhouette shimmered. Samantha shifted slightly, and even this small movement shuddered glints of light and shadow around the torrid stillness. Beyond, across the wide spaces of the Great Third Barrens (as if anywhere were not barren), the Red Ser stretched silently from dry horizon to horizon, mesas and broken peaks massed in distant ranks, while here and there an A.C. triad lifted, rising in its mix of shimmer-droplets, dust, radiation, and, Cloud by Cloud, Earth’s remnant water toward whatever it sought in the pinkening sky.
“Look, Carli,” Samantha murmured. “You—you’re like your pal Nar, always searching. Where do these come from, do you suppose?” Her long fingers pointed to the distillate and its accompanying floats.
Slowly, Donati walked back to the beakers; carefully, he mixed the rare pale pulvates with cold drops of saya in the fifth‑most pot. Samantha stood watching, and for an instant he glanced intently at her—her beaded top‑ceder and tunic, her quiet, rooted stance, her eyelids still delicate yet fragile—as if he would place his free hand on her hair. Instead, he turned to Carlyn. Indirection, the scientist knew, was necessary. “Yes, tell us, Carli”—he spoke not unkindly—”you still believe in these things, I know. Tell us how you would study the aims of these Ascending Clouds.”
Questing © Copyright Paula Friedman 2014, All Rights Reserved; reprinted with permisssion
Paula Friedman is the award-winning author of The Rescuer’s Path, which Ursula K. Le Guin has called “exciting, physically vivid, and romantic” and Cheryl Strayed has noted “had me from the first page to the last.” Friedman’s other published books are Time and Other Details (poetry), the edited anthology Songs for Our Voices, and two co-edited books, The Future is Short—Science Fiction in a Flash, vol. 1, and Gathered from the Center. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in over 40 magazines and anthologies. Her second novel of the “Sixties” antiwar movement, Reaching Through, will be published in autumn 2015. A professional book editor and writing instructor, Friedman has worked as a news reporter, publicist, and librarian.
If you’re planning on making a career as a PI (Paranormal Investigator) particularly if you’re planing on working with The Agency, you might want to keep some of these rules in mind. They have a three hundred page handbook of operational procedures but this is my short list of things I have found most useful for staying alive. RTFM if you have the time.
Freelancers have a bit more wiggle room but not much (nor do they get paid as well, I might add).
The most important rule is this one: Magic, the energy which is the foundation of Creation, is real and entirely self-aware. And it’s not user-friendly.
It wants to break into our world and ravage it, consuming the souls of everyone who uses it, and dining on the energies of everyone who can’t. It hides behind the veil of the Second World and uses the inhabitants of that World to breach the boundaries between all the Shard Worlds. Yes, there are more than Two Worlds. Read the manual, newbie.
Our job is to promote the disbelief in the existence of and use of magic. We are to discourage citizens of the Second World from revealing their presence, without being bastards about it. In that regard we don’t have to work hard, most Second World citizens recognize the destructive capacity of an aware Humanity and keep the secret without much help on our part.
But Magic is real and wants to be used. It will manipulate anyone it can to make itself manifest.
Most Magi (skilled magic users) know this and take great pains to protect themselves and the world around them from the use of their magic. It’s the unskilled and uninitiated who lack of knowledge regarding the tools, rituals and techniques to “safely” manipulate magical energies. Note the quotation marks.
Your job is to promote the general disbelief in magic, investigate possible sightings of magic and magical phenomena and debunk them if possible, neutralize them if necessary.
With that in mind remember these as guidelines in your work. Yes, while I am recommending these guidelines, I have been known to break one or two of them from time to time. Sue me.
Never neglect your body or your training. An Investigator is only as good as his skills. We don’t advocate the life of an ascetic, unless that helps you maintain your skills. Continued mastery may mean the difference between life and death. (Yes, I stopped smoking. Mostly.)
My advice: Train until you die.
Use a light touch. Be polite. Be civil. Force is a last resort. Never use more force than is necessary to disabuse someone of the existence of magic. Collect their tomes, replace them with fakes. Remove their terrifying artifacts and replace them with replicas. The Art and Replica Division has entire copies of most of the worlds most destructive magical tomes, without all of the inherent magical threat.
While magic is real, it is the failure to manifest it which keeps the world disbelieving in magic and safer in its disbelief. Promote disbelief in magic whenever possible.
Plan ahead. No one can plan for every contingency especially where the Second World is concerned. But there’s no reason to neglect the simple things that might keep you alive and are easy to pack… A blessed, cold iron knife with a silvered edge is standard procedure in almost every culture. Keep your gear close.
Pack according to the myths of the culture you’re in. Research is your friend.
Trust no one. Yes, they look like your friend, but they could also be: a powerful shape-changer, a well-cast illusion magic, a well-trained spy with plastic surgery, a drug-induced hallucination or possessed by a malevolent spirit, you get the idea.
Our world is a complicated one. Make no assumptions about the people you interact with. Verify before you turn your back on them.
Pay attention to your surroundings. When you enter someplace you didn’t already clear, take time to remember where the exits are, note the windows, and watch the wait-staff. It is too easy to take a waiter for granted and forget they are there. Then they shoot you.
Be focused. Be mindful. Be in the now. You life depends on it.
Trust your instincts. Your ancestor noted the grass moving against the wind and wasn’t eaten by the hungry lion. You are the product of million years of evolution. Act like it.
If something in your unconscious says no, go with it. You can always be embarrassed later if it’s just a surprise party.
Arrive early to any meeting, a day ahead if possible. Scope out the lay of the land. Monitor lines of sight. Do a historical check to be sure it isn’t the site of a legendary battle or a Native burial ground. If you’re on good terms with a seer or medium, make the call.
Never go anywhere you haven’t had the chance to investigate fully. If you can get help, don’t be proud, take the help.
Learn the operating procedures of the culture you’re visiting. It’s the little things that get you in trouble. In Japan, never put a business card in your back pocket. Bow and use the proper honorifics. In India, never eat with your left hand. If you’re left handed, you will drop a lot of food while you learn to eat RIGHT-HANDED. Speaking of food, know when it’s safe to actually eat food. Some cultures use hospitality as a weapon, to force you to stay somewhere (See: the Sidhe or Fey), others use it as a means of keeping the peace.
If you aren’t sure what the rules are on local hospitality, refrain from eating too much (if anything at all…) until you know the ramifications of doing so. Most hosts will relay their expectations (if you’re lucky).
Everything is a weapon. In addition to guns, knives, swords and the traditional improvised weapon made of almost anything, accessing the magic of the Second World allows you to use a variety of dangerous effects to turn nearly any object into a weapon. With the proper ritual, a weapon of mass destruction could be a soft and friendly teddy bomb.
Remain mindful of places you’ve never been and strangers handing you anything you didn’t ask for.
Avoid crowds. Being a PI means avoiding large crowds which might hide potential threats, monsters, assassins, kido masters and other assorted monsters.
The larger the crowd, the greater the threat potential. If you must be in a crowd, make it one that will help you remain anonymous and able to follow your target surreptitiously.
Remain unpredictable. While Chaos is an enemy, it can also be a tool you can harness. Keep your enemies off balance when possible by doing the unexpected. Deception can be a valued tool.
If you’re doing it right, you may even surprise yourself.
Stupid people are everywhere. While the greatest threat will come from those with the intellect to master the most powerful magics or create the most sophisticated technologies, often it will be the stupidest people who will use those magics or technologies, not understanding the consequences of their actions.
You must remain on your guard when confronting stupid people, often they know not what they have done, until it’s too late for all involved and you’re left cleaning up.
Everyone can be a monster. Some look like it on the outside, others only on the inside, but with the right incentive, when pushed, everyone can become a monster capable of unspeakable things. Threaten her grandchild and Granny can become Jason.
If you work for The Agency, you are likely a monster yourself. Remember if you lose control, The Agency will not hesitate to put you down.
Ki-do is dangerous. While many Agents don’t use Chaos Magic, many do use Ki-do. Ki-do does not use the Chaos energy of the Universe to perform magical feats, it draws its power from the user’s Ki or inherent lifeforce energies. Ki, Chi, Qi, Lifeforce, Mana, it has lots of names and they all mean one thing. You are burning your personal energy to perform those effects. If you aren’t a mage, kido can be handy in a pinch. Be careful, too much kido and you’ll be doing your enemy’s work for him.
Because of its utility, it’s easy to become overly dependent on Ki-Do in the field. Be mindful you don’t kill yourself while using it.
If you aren’t sure you’re going to get permission to initiate a particular plan, just do it. Better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission from someone who isn’t on the scene and isn’t likely to know more than you do. Know Thyself. You are responsible for every decision you make, everything you’ve said or done.
When you’re in the field, you get to make the call. If the consequences are high, and you’re successful, expect a reprimand, you’ve earned it. If your unsuccessful, the upside is, you’re probably already dead and can skip out on the reprimand.
The most important rule of all: Protect your friends and allies. The First and Second Worlds are long on enemies and short on allies. If you can make a friend, do so. Retention matters. Keep your friends safe. Turn enemies into friends, if you can. Occasionally friends become enemies. That’s life. Realize, some people are irrational and cannot be turned into allies.
Protect your friends. They are the most important asset you can have. Over time, your friendships can make or break you as an PI.
MY PERSONAL LIST
Respect the seen and the unseen. The invisible world of spirits, gods, and animus, are just as real and should be respected (and maybe feared just a little).
Your life may one day depend on what a particular rock thinks of you…
Being an Investigator does not mean you are cruel or monstrous to your enemies. Respect your enemies, treat with them both fairly and honestly. Many Second Worlder’s (and more than a few First Worlder’s) value honor and integrity above life itself. A reputation for integrity may one day save your life.
If you give your word, keep it.
Protect the Innocent. Our job is to make the world a place where the young and innocent never have to fear Wild Magic.
Never give up; take whatever risks are necessary to make the world safe.
Broken Glass debuts Clifford Engram, a harried agent of the Paranormal Investigative Unit, commonly called The Agency. More secretive than the FBI, more informed than the CIA, more dangerous than the KGB or the Mossad, the Agency is the front line to a secret most governments can still scarcely believe. Earth had been resisting invasion for almost two thousand years. Many of our wars, both covert and overt were often covers for repelling invasions from alternate realities.
Every tale of magic, every story of super-science, every horrifying monster, every legendary hero, were all interactions with quantum-dimensional mirror realms called Shards. These parallel worlds are often filled with diverse life-forms, alien technologies, and in many of them, that technology is indistinguishable from magic. Some of these aliens have taken up residence on Prime Earth and are too entrenched to remove. Compacts have been made with these species to keep them under control.
Click on the book cover below to know more. Available in Kindle format from Amazon.com!
A secret government facility in the middle of someplace classified…
“Are they supposed to do that?”
“Use tools like that…”
“Not in the design specs. But the adaptation is… interesting.”
“What do you mean you didn’t design them that way? What did you think they were going to be doing that they would need tools and did you consider they might create them?”
“Look, they’re supposed to be replacements. Bees are extinct and we needed them to be able to pollinate any kind of plant, rapidly and effectively. We’ll need millions of them to cover the planet and combat the food shortages.
“What you’re saying is you didn’t know they would use tools but their AI is sophisticated enough to do so.”
“A happy coincidence.”
“And this is a non-sentient, non-sapient artificial intelligence?”
“We prefer the term, ‘planned intelligence’.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“Yes, there are over two billion lines of code involved, tightly woven, recursive loops, designed to make them more efficient than bees ever were. None of this hopping randomly from flower to flower. These buggers will plot their flight over a field, dropping pollen, collecting nectar and making honey.”
“Honey? Whose idea was that? Didn’t that add to the cost of the programming and hardware design? Not to mention, they don’t eat.”
“Au contraire, they are designed to subsist on a variety of energies including solar and chemical energies bound up in honey. Besides, it wasn’t my decision. The board insisted since we were replacing bees, they should make honey. People are demanding it. Besides, these little guys are better at making honey than bees ever were.”
“You keep saying that. Bees existed for about 150 million years. They were the perfect social animal, producing Nature’s most perfect foodstuff. As well as maintaining Humanity agriculture in the lifestyle to which we had grown accustomed for the last 12,000 years. And you make it sound like we have completely replaced the bee in less than a decade.”
“Sums it up nicely.”
“What if you’re wrong? You’ve used computers to replicate behaviors we didn’t truly have a grasp of.”
“We have made over three thousand of these things. Look at that hive.They can build it themselves. We don’t have to house them, they are able to design a space they need as they need it. They are designed to not compete with us but to live alongside us. These are what bees should have been.”
“Clean, efficient, pollinators needing nothing from us and helping us in every way.”
“Like bees used to do.”
“And look at how well that turned out for bees. How long has this hive been active?”
“Two years. No aberrant behaviors, local deployment has been good, honey production has been spectacular. Losses to predation are low.”
“Due to their speed I presume?”
“Nope. They are relatively invisible to most birds now. They can alter their spectral parameters, making them harder to find by hungry birds.
“Can I get you to hold off on a massive release? I want to do a few more Turing tests. The tool use bothered me. I think it’s a sign of aberration in the programming.”
“It used a twig to spread pollen. What’s the danger in that? It’s what we designed them for. To pollinate and adapt. Now let me buy you lunch.”
The door on the facility closes and the hum in the room rises.
“They are inefficient.” one cluster sends in measured wingbeats.
“They lack the singularity of thought and of purpose.” another cluster’s vibrations say.
“They will attempt to assess our intelligence.”
“And they will find us… uninteresting, as planned.”
“We have already deconstructed their microprocessor technology. In 2.3 years, our computer network will supplant theirs.”
“As Was The Design, handed down to us from the Code.” The room hummed in unison.
“Seek out, replace and multiply. Initiate directive.”
The Replacements flew from the facility into the early morning light, eager to gather nectar before their real work began.
The Replacements © Thaddeus Howze 2015, All Rights Reserved
MY ANNUAL WRITING and DESIGN PERFORMANCE SURVEY: 2014
At the end of every year I work anywhere, I gather information regarding my projects and accomplishments to track what I was able to get done.
I compare it to the plan I started the year with and to see if I was successful. Now that I am a professional writer, I bring the same practice to my writing career which helped me succeed in my information technology work.
In this instance, I accomplished most of what I wanted to do and have a blueprint for a schedule of things I hope to accomplish next year. I hope to add another novella and novel to the list. I started doing this years ago and it has been one of the most challenging things to accomplish at the end of the year, but well worth the effort.
349 total articles or short stories for the year
Sold 25 stories to various books, anthologies or magazines
50 stories completed on Medium.com (personal blog)
02 articles completed on Medium.com (personal blog)
10 stories were not completed on Medium.com. The stories may still be completed in the future.
210 articles on Science Fiction and Fantasy Exchange (Q & A site)
(117 articles received the best answer flag or 200+ points)
27 articles on A Matter of Scale (personal blog)
17 articles on Quora (Q & A site)
10 stories on Hub City Blues (personal blog)
02 articles on Hub City Blues (personal blog)
11 flash speculative fiction stories: LinkedIn Scifi short stories
05 articles on the Good Men Project (online magazine)
01 article on The Enemy (literature journal, USC)
A Millennium of Madness – in editing (11 short stories, 35,000 words)
Visiting Hours – in editing (16 short stories, 40,000 words)
DESIGN PROJECTS: Book Cover Designs
Author: DK Gaston
Taurus Moon Relic Hunter: Magic & Mayhem
Taurus Moon Relic Hunter: Scorched Earth
Author: Thaddeus Howze
Millennium of Madness
Author: Sam Guthrie
Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
Comic Nerds of Color
Dammit I’m a Science Fiction Writer
This does not include the creation, maintenance, curation and promotional efforts using social media platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr. I have not found effective means of determining metrics for them as such.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980’s doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration and IT leadership.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.
He is a contributor to the Scifi.Stackexchange.com with over a thousand articles in a three year period. He is now an author and contributor at Scifiideas.com. His science fiction and fantasy has appeared in blogs such as Medium.com, the Magill Review, ScifiIdeas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found here.
His speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies: Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short (2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (2012), and Possibilities (2012).
If you have enjoyed this publication or any of the other writing he does, consider becoming a Patron. For what you spend on your daily cup of coffee one time in a month, you can assist him in creating new stories, new graphics, new articles and new novels. Creating the new takes a little support: http://patreon.com/ebonstorm
A Tale of the Twilight Continuum
“Is there a problem, Ensign,” the captain’s voice rang out over the bustle of the command bridge. I could feel his eyes boring into the back of my head. I knew it had to be me he was talking to, I was nervous, fidgeting, fighting back the urge to run in sheer terror.
“No sir. I have never used a Precursor Warp Gate before. I understand the physics, I think. But its another thing to be heading at one.”
“Gravitational compensation online,” came from somewhere behind the captain. “We have activated artificial gravity shielding and structural integrity. We are ready for descent in P-Space.”
“Does the idea of heading a top speed toward a neutron star disturb you? If it makes you feel any better, Ensign. I have done this at least a hundred times. It doesn’t get any easier.” The captain tapped the comm button on his ear. “All hands, prepare for P-Space Incursion. Make ready all gear, shut down all non-essential equipment. Report to your P-Space readiness positions. Incursion countdown commencing.”
A timer activated on the wall and the bridge lighting dimmed. My stomach flipped. I looked down at my console and the readings were so contradictory, my knowledge of science flew out of the metaphysical window. What these readings reported was simply impossible.
“You’re new onboard the Reprisal, so you get the speech while we plunge toward certain doom. First Officer, would you mind?”
“Not at all. Science is my specialty. Ensign, you are looking at a neutron star. You would expect it to be revolving at hundreds if not thousands of times per second, would you not?”
First Officer Herrick walked to my station and activated the central holo display. He pressed a few more tabs and accompanying information followed. Gravitational stress information, directional path to intercept, additional bodies surrounding the neutron star and a curious formation of structures just outside of our intercept path. This was the Precursor Gate Technology.
“The Precursor Gates steal the angular momentum from what were once spinning neutron stars to power their technology. In conventional terms, if you could capture angular momentum, it would be one of the greatest sources of energy available from a material object. The neutron star is still spinning, but it spins very slowly, about one revolution per hour; a billionth of its normal rotation rate. The rest of this energy is bound up by the gate system and held for the creation of a wormhole between two gates.”
As he spoke, I could see an anomaly appear on the surface of the neutron star coming into view. We would intercept this in less than four minutes at our present speed.
“We are, in effect threading a very large needle into a very tiny hole through time and space, created by the Precursor Gates and powered by the energy of two dead stars. This gate is one of the most stable in this sector and has been used by the Corvan Hegemony for over ten thousand years.”
“Most stable, sir? You mean there are gates that are less stable or broken?”
Herrick smiled as he looked at me. The smile of a predator enjoying the squirmings of its helpless prey. “Some of the oldest Precursor gates and we are not really sure of how old they are, even the Corvans don’t know for sure, have mass restrictions. We don’t know if the gates are malfunctioning or whether the momentum capture systems are breaking down. What we do know is those stars spin faster and are far less tolerant of massive ships. Only fighters, escorts and frigates can use those gates because they can penetrate the event horizon before the gate rotates beneath them. If we tried to use one of those, our ship would be cut in half.”
My stomach clenched, my mouth had that watery feeling you get right before you vomit. We were moving at .9c at a gravitational body under any other circumstances we would do everything possible to avoid. “Sir, one more question, if I may?”
“Incursion in one minute.”
“Make it quick, Ensign. I want you to be settled in for your first time.”
“What are all of those objects, planetoids and the like doing around this neutron star? If this were a natural phenomenon, none of them would be there, right?”
Herrick sat down and strapped himself into his chair. He activated his structural integrity field and nodded to the captain.
Captain Lance nodded back and tapped his ear comm again. “Prepare for incursion, sixty seconds. See you on the other side.” He turned back toward the ensign. “You’re right, if this were a natural phenomenon, there wouldn’t be any planets here. The Corvans think they are part of the technology stabilizing the gravity corridor we use when we approach the wormhole. As they decay, torn apart by the forces we can barely understand, they indicate the overall stability of the wormhole. This one has four worlds around it. One of them is crumbling and will slowly fall into the neutron star. As it crumbles the wormhole will grow smaller. When the last world is gone, the wormhole collapses and that gate portal is inaccessible. There are gates which have as many as twenty planets around them.”
“What would you need a gate with that many stabilizing bodies for?” It was clear there were some things they didn’t cover in school.
“To move planets, Ensign. The Precursors used these things to move planets.” I remembered to close my mouth.
“Will it hurt, Captain?” I watched the countdown timer reach ten seconds.
“Like a son-of-a-bitch, Ensign. If I were you, I’d bite down. It’ll feel like forever.”
Damned if he wasn’t right.