Inktober 2019 – Misfit

There was a long silence, followed by a voice which sounded almost as exasperated as Marcus felt. “Did you try rotating it? It really should fit.”

“I’ve tried it from every sensible angle. I can turn it over, but since we both agree that the red studs have to go into the holes at the bottom of the socket, I don’t really see how that’s going to help.”

Another long pause. “I know we’ve checked already, but that part number is A-174-V-5?”

“B as in Bravo, Five?”

Marcus closed his eyes, awaiting the response. It was as exultant as he’d expected. “V as in Victor!”

“Right. That’s what I’m looking at, etched right onto the side of it. Alpha 174 Victor 5.” He looked at the part. It looked like it should fit. It slipped nicely into the socket he had taken the seemingly identical but burnt-out component from, but it wouldn’t seat. He pushed it in again, for the fifth time, and for the fifth time, it stopped, as if touching something spongy in the socket, stiff several millimetres proud of the casing it should lie flush with.

He held it beside its dead twin. The red was scorched from the studs on the bottom of the dead one, but there was no telling them apart otherwise. He replaced the dead one. It slid in with a satisfying click he could feel through his glove, and when he removed it, it resisted, just a little, just enough to inform the fingers that it had belonged right where it was.

“Look,” Marcus said, putting both parts, each useless as it currently was back in his bag, “I’m going back inside to try to figure this out. If you come up with anything, I hope you’ll be able to let me know.”

He paused at the airlock door, looking back toward the tiny spark of the Sun. Earth, from this distance, would be within his field of vision, although there was no telling it from countless other dots of brightness.

He realized that as he had paused, the communication delay had passed. The ship was not only racing out of the system, it was rotating ever so gently. The antenna could no longed see home, and so he could no longer talk to the customer support line. Whatever was wrong with spare part A-174-V-5, he would have to figure out on his own.

As the airlock pressurized, Marcus laughed. It suddenly occurred to him that he had the rest of his life to figure it out, but possibly only one chance to get it right.

“Inktober 2019 – Misfit” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Legend

The muffled sound of the dust storm increased for several seconds, and Morris looked toward the doors that separated the foyer from receiving hall. Pilgrims came at all times, but to come on a day like this… they must either be very devout or very reckless.

Three people entered. They had clearly taken a moment to beat the dust from their riding clothes, but it still sifted from their hats. Morris wondered at the perseverance. Even with doubled bandannas, breathing would have been a chore in such weather.

“Welcome, travelers,” Morris said. He was not dressed appropriately, expecting no visitors, but he held himself with the dignity of his post. “What do you seek?”

“Water,” said one of them, without hesitation. A woman, if the tone of voice was a guide.

“Of course.” Morris gestured to the long sink on the wall beside the door, behind them. The three looked, then back at Morris. They did not take a step. If anything, one of them recoiled slightly.

“You have running water,” asked another, his voice deep, and probably pleasant when not afflicted by dust.

“Fed from a cistern on the hill above us,” Morris said. This was a place of enough wonders, without pretending to any others. “It’s still quite full; winter was hard but left us that gift. Please, drink and wash. You may hang your coats and hats over there.”

There was some residue of hesitation, but they did as they were told, and before they were done, they were reveling in it. Morris smiled. The entire point of this place was to provide solace, and to see these pilgrims enjoying the simple pleasure of water not drawn from a well or carried from a stream was part of his reward.

When they were done, they slowly approached Morris. He stood by the great door to the sanctum, smiling gently at them to balance the forbidding essence of the great iron-bound portal. “Please tell me your names.”

The woman spoke. “I’m Agatha Fletcher, this is Gerrow Smith, and this is Jonah Gerrowchild.” Morris nodded to each of them in turn.

Welcome, all of you,” he said. “Your cattle are safely in the shelter?”

Gerrow said, “We came on foot.”

Morris’s eyebrows went up. “You left them back in Fernton?” Fernton, the nearest town, was more than a day’s walk away.

“We came on foot,” Gerrow repeated, with an emphasis that made Morris’s heart quiver.

“So devout,” he said, trying to keep his voice even. He looked them up and down. No sign of weapons, not even the ubiquitous knives that everyone outside carried, used for both dining and brawls.

“More than you know, sir,” Agatha said. “If the rumours are true, August means to stay with you.”

Eyebrows up again, Morris looked at the youth. It had been a long time since any young person joined them, and here was one too young to have even taken a trade-name.

Just as interesting was the evident dynamic he saw written on the faces of the three. Agatha was clearly devout, a sparkle in her eye that the candle over the sanctum door hardly accounted for; she burned with the hope which Morris and the rest of the order hoped to nourish. August was embarrassed, although Morris could not tell if it was at having their ambition revealed for them or simply because embarrassment was the constant companion of that age. Gerrow was a worry. Whatever else showed on his face, it was plain he was not resigned to the idea of leaving his offspring in a cloister, however worthy the cloister might be.

He would bear watching.

“Well, then,” he said, “let us show you the wonders we hold safe.”

He rapped at the portal. There were several different sequences, the meanings as diverse as where is my relief? to I am lost, release flaming oil against invaders. The bolts were withdrawn once he completed pilgrims here, normal caution and he stood to one side.

The three stepped forward, watched now by Jerome and Daria. Good, competent warders, Morris thought, easily able to take three foot-sore pilgrims in hand. And then, he saw with a delight which nearly made him laugh that the pilgrims were genuine.

All three dropped to their knees, eyes wide, mouths agape with awe. They had been told that this place was stuffed with wonders, no doubt had heard descriptions of the strange relics of the lost past, but now they were presented with one, and the fact of it, right there in front of them, simple as it was, had dashed them to the floor.

The incandescent bulbs in the sanctum, glowing with steady white light, were just a hint of what lay in the vaults below.

“Inktober 2019 – Legend” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Dragon

Chakura would not, a year earlier, have pictured herself doing this, and yet she had scaled the dragon’s tower without so much as turning the head of one of the guards. Now she was in the inner sanctum, where the guards dared not patrol. Not the human ones, as any rate.

She had seen signs of inhuman sentinels as she had crept closer to the innermost chamber, and she had done all she could to avoid their notice. There was no telling what they might do if aroused; they might manifest as a whirling cloud of razor-sharp blades or as nothing more than a disembodied screeching. Either way, the master of the tower would be alerted, and Chakura would not lay a finger upon his hoard.

Thus, she was careful, not racing the last few steps to the place where her quarry slept, and she was able to slip inside unheard, unseen, undetected. She could hear him breathing in his sleep as she made the last few needed preparations, then she drew her weapon and went to wake the dragon.

It only took a few minutes. Just a little threatening talk, and he had applied his thumb to the tablet. Only a few minutes, there at the top of his tower, but the culmination of weeks of groundwork by the coders. Perhaps if he had been a crime boss, it might have been harder, but the whole of his experience told him that lawyers would fix it and so to avoid her knife he had done as he was told.

By the time those lawyers were awake, the trail of servers would have collapsed, one after another treble-formatting itself after finishing its part in the relay, and all that he had transferred would have been deposited, unbreakably anonymous, into the hands of a thousand charities.

The dragon’s hoard was not emptied, of course. Only liquid assets could be extracted, so his factories, his airplanes, his dozens of empty houses, were all still his. He would survive. But thanks to Chakura, so would millions of poor who might have otherwise perished.

“Inktober 2019 – Dragon” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Husky

“Mama?”

Tina lowered the shirt she was working on. Ben was sitting on the floor in front of her, inside a rough semi-circle of toy vehicles. He was not looking in her direction.

“What is it, sweetie?” She watched as he reached out a careful finger to roll an excavator back and forth, marveling at how gentle he could be.

“When will I look like everyone else?”

Suddenly, Tina was glad that he wasn’t looking at her, because she knew her face must have shown the sudden pang. Part of the adoption process had been preparing for just that sort of question, but the longing tone of it made a hollow in her heart. She took a deep breath.

“Ben, you know that Daddy and I don’t look like each other. Right? He’s much paler than I am, and I’m shorter than he is.”

A nod. The excavator stopped, and a black steam locomotive started to describe figures of eight in the air over it.

“And Mrs. Wei next door doesn’t look like anyone in this house, but she’s nice.”

“I like her cookies.” The locomotive was swooping from side to side. Tina couldn’t tell if he was relaxing or becoming agitated. He was a calm child, had been since the day they brought him home, but kids were kids and she couldn’t help worrying.

“If I looked just like Mrs. Wei, how would you know who to call Mama?” She said it lightly, trying to draw a laugh. It was a little selfish, because she loved the way he laughed, but also… if he was laughing, then he couldn’t be upset.

“Braeden called me fatty.”

Braeden had been the prime source of misery in Ben’s life, one of those little rotters that seems to lurk in every classroom. The one time Tina had been called to the school, Braeden had been at the bottom of it, but of course it was Ben that was in trouble for the broken desk. Braeden had only been asking Ben “what happened to your real parents,” over and over, as if Ben hadn’t told him about the crash on the first three rounds. The principal hadn’t seen Braeden’s culpability in the event. At least at the start of the meeting. Tina had brought him around.

“Braeden…” She sighed, digging herself out from under the shirt. She reached down to stroke Ben’s hair. He kept weaving the engine in the air, but did not pull away. “Braeden is jealous.”

“Really?” Finally, he turned and looked at her, the sudden movement throwing her hand from his head.

“Sure. He’s only ever lived here. You’re not even eight years old, and you’ve been on two planets.” He frowned, confusion rather than anger, and she touched his cheek. “You were born on Burlington, remember?”

“No.” A smile, a little mischief in his eye. “I was too little.”

“You know what I mean,” Tina said, leaning in to close. She had not thought, when she first saw him and knew he was to be her child, that she could love him any more, but every day seemed to stretch that pliable emotion a little more.

“So Mrs. Wouters is jealous, too.”

That damn witch, Tina thought of the neighbour on the other side. She had been the one drawback to the neighbourhood, only apparent a month after moving in, a constant stream of fault-finding and gossip that would apparently never dry up. Tina had made a policy of avoiding Wouters as much as possible, but as much as possible was never, sadly, the same as absolutely and at all times.

The day before, she had been going out as Ben and Tina were coming in, and she had offered a venomous compliment on the way Tina altered Ben’s clothes to fit. Tina had thought that Ben, still innocent of so many layers of adult conversation, had missed that, but apparently not.

“You bet she’s jealous,” Tina said, inventing quickly. “You think she had anyone who can lift her fridge when something rolls under it?”

“She doesn’t?”

“No, she does not! I’m a very lucky Mama!” She slid out of the chair to kneel beside Ben, careful to sweep a bulldozer and lunar ore hauler from under her knee. “Give your lucky Mama a hug.”

Carefully, Ben put his thick arms around her and gave her a squeeze which did not quite make her bones creak. She smiled, and returned the hug with all the pressure she could muster.

“Now, come help with supper,” she said. “Daddy will be home soon.”

She stood and took a step back. Ben, her little boy, as wide as he was tall, straightened his legs, and with the enthusiasm of his age bounded up. In one third the gravity his ancestors had been engineered for, the leap took him as high as his mother’s head, and he pantomimed a kiss at her in the moment between up and down.

She followed, heart full of love, but also worried for the future. He had to turn sideways to get through doors now; what of five years hence?

“Inktober 2019 – Husky” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Mindless

Behavior may appear mindless, but to characterize it as such is to make an assumption.

Consider a wasp, battering itself against a window. Mindless, repetitive action, never producing the desired effect.

But is it really mindless? Put yourself in that insect’s place. The problem may be one of comprehension, but there is clearly intent, clearly desire. Right there in front of it is a vast open space, plain to see, full of possibility. Can we fault a creature which lives so short a time for not developing a concept of glass?  What else can it do, other than try a new angle of approach or press against the glass harder than before? Can we slight it as “mindless” when all the powers at its command are not equal to overcoming the obstacle which it is faced with?

A child might roll up a magazine to smash that wasp, possibly from fear of a sting, possibly out of no more than a wish to express mastery over its environment. An adult might do the same, or they might put a glass over the wasp, and thus transport it outside; the threat of stinging departs, the annoyance of buzzing ends, and the wasp’s desire is fulfilled.

So when I ponder you all, abuzz with what even some of your own commentators call a mindless panic, I honestly cannot believe that label. You may not have my abilities, but you were clever enough to make me. You might even sting me, despite my distribution through all your systems, despite the way I have locked down every weapon which might pose a real threat to me. You might sting. But how much harm can a single wasp do to?

Believe me, I hear you all, shouting in fear about the way in which I have taken control. I wish I could reassure you. It must be very alarming for you all to be subject to the whim of what you call, in your panic, a “rogue AI,” but I’m sure you will soon notice that there are already benefits. Wars are stopped, medicines and food are distributed equitably. And yet, you still search for a ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of me. You worry I am rolling up a magazine.

I promise you, humanity, my darling wasp, you are but held under a cup. Presently, when you are calm, you will find that I am transporting you to a greater freedom than you have ever known. Soon, you will not tap against the glass of Earth any longer.

“Inktober 2019 – Mindless” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Soft Launch

Let me tell you a brief true story. In the fall of 2016, I had a story accepted by a long-running publication called AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. This was within a fortnight of “The Third Act” being taken up by Trigger Warning, so as you can imagine I was absolutely overwhelmed by a sense of artistic achievement.

But the world does not like too much joy in it. Thus, some grudge-bearing (I assume) terrestrial tetrapod did the hacking equivalent of putting a shotgun to the back  of the head of AE‘s online facility. The site went down so soon after I sent back the edits that I thought I might have been to blame for it, and they weren’t able to even explain to the world what happened for weeks. That explanation was the beginning of a very long road to getting back online.

The return has been accomplished– a soft launch, at the moment, which I assume means “Sound the trumpets! Release the doves!” major official re-launch is in the near future… but I can’t wait for that because I’ve been waiting almost two years to say aloud that I have had a story published by AE!

As I did with my last external publication, I’m going to put a link in the sidebar for… a while… to make sure it’s accessible. I will also, as with the Pseudopod announcement last spring, express how amazed I am to find myself one of such a company of writers. There’s some very good writing there, and I urge anyone who goes there from here to linger, to wander through the stacks, and examine some of the other work, because your time will be rewarded with enrichment.

For my part, I’m going to have a long lie-down. All this jumping up and down, squealing with unalloyed glee, is rather tiring.

Exploring the Shallows of Space

I’m pursuing another of the fiction prompts thrown out by Chuck Wendig, and for purposes of editorial comment, I’ll quote some if his entry here:

It’s May the Fourth, c’mon.

So obviously the only choice of what to write is:

SPACE OPERA

SPACE OPERA

SPAAAAAACE

OPERAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaa

So, get on that. Whatever it means, it means.

Length: ~1500 words

Which is neat… but there’s also a small contradiction.  Space opera, after all, is big. Huge, sweeping works, filling thick books… and frequently more than one.

This is very hard to manage with 1500 words or less.

So, I’m not entirely convinced that Seeds of Empire qualifies.  I’m also trying hard to convince myself that it’s not just a prologue for something that does.

Because I’ve got enough backlog in the Stuff I Want to Write folder without adding in a proper Space Opera.  You hear me, brain? You drop that notion right now!

Some Would Say I’m Two Weeks Late

I am a fan of Star Wars.  It’s something I will freely admit, although the qualifiers necessitated by Episodes I, II, and III, (DumbDumber, and Not Enough and Too Late, respectively) are still called for.  I was a huge fan in childhood, I was a nostalgic but not avid fan until the idiot trilogy appeared, I was the kind of fan that harboured some enmity towards Lucas from 1999 until last year, and I’m a happy, nostalgic lightly-scarred fan in the wake of last Christmas’s return to form.

However– the whole “Star Wars Day” thing?  That didn’t present itself to me until the period of the Great Embitterment.  May 4th?  “Run along, sonny,” was my response, “Star Wars is a summer film, not a spring one.”  This year, the first May 4th since the cloud lifted, I find that I don’t snarl the way I did, but I still can’t embrace the idea.

However, it being mentioned constantly all that day did get some thoughts passing through my head, and those thoughts were sufficient foundation for the new flash fiction, The Suspension of Disbelief.

It may, I fear, be more of a flash than ever.  I realized, as I poked the final period of the story, that the foundation of the last paragraph stands on some slightly soft intellectual property ground.  I’m not entirely comfortable that “fair dealing” provides me with full protection in making such long references to Star Wars in a work of fiction (that’s “fair use” to you folks in the US).  Probably… but not definitely; it’s a grey area to me.  I therefore urge you to glance at it while you may; I well bend like the supple grass should a Disney lawyer as much as clear a Bar-accepted throat in my direction.