Sunday, February 27, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 20) Naked Apocalyptic Orlando

Flash Fiction Friday: Prompt: ANYTHING GOES – Battle Royale with your favorite villians, monsters and myths.

The bus driver was speeding along the decrepit Florida interstate trying to avoid the genetically engineered mega-pythons that stalked anyone unfortunate enough to break down and have to pull over when I saw the banner hanging across the road.  It read, “The Living Are Friends, Not Food!” reminding me that the annual Vegetarian Zombies Association convention was in town and that it would be a bitch to find a motel room. Given the increased radiation levels and toxic fallout drifting up from the Dick Cheney Memorial Waste Dump located where the Everglades use to be all the good rooms were sure to be long taken. A tough break, but in my two-thousand years of living few of my professions have offered more in the way of getting to really know people than the occupation of private detective that I currently practiced.   

Still I chuckled; somewhere underneath the Disneyworld castle, I figured the frost burned body of old Walt was spinning in his frozen capsule. The living dead were obliviously stealing something from one of his movies and his incestuous domain that his acolytes protected so feverishly. Barely a hundred years before I remember Spielberg made a movie parodying the rat’s empire. The resulting court battles lasted decades but the famous director’s brain still ended up integrated into the rat's corporate mainframe. They also implanted a basic control chip into his empty skull and his body even now can be found eternally cleaning restrooms at the parks.     

It did occur to me that the zombies were a lot more powerful that the formerly famous director, since the Fourth World War they made up a huge and powerful minority with the last three presidents coming from their group. The most prominent having the world famous waste dump down in south Florida named after him. So, if Walt’s disciples wanted to challenge the zombies they would have to gear up for decades of lawsuits. Happily, it was not my fight and I soon saw the bus approaching my destination.

We pulled into the bus station with an ease that seemed bizarre for the pretty and young maniac that had piloted this contraption that was probably held together just with good intentions, duct tape, and maybe some sticky slime if the condition of the bus floor was any example. She collected her jacket then adjusted her miniskirt that had ridden further up her thigh exposing a tattoo of some cute teddy bear eating the remains of a small child, the symbol of an old death rock band whose music now was now standard on the oldies and easy listening stations these days.

I felt the old stirrings of youth and lust just under the surface of my ancient and stoic exterior, so much so that I focused my Chinese-made artificial eyes ever closer on the near busting cleavage her blouse barely contained. My mind began wandering and for someone like me that is always a mistake. My memories carried me back to the small farm I was raised just outside the walls of Rome. Born Flavius Augustine Octavius I had seen many empires, nations, and people fall and turn to dust but humanity's current situation was just damn bizarre.   

“So how about asking me about Dagon?” I heard her say which brought me back quickly to this particular reality. I looked up refocusing my eyes to see her standing right in front of me, her face cold and so lovely inhuman with her black hair flowing off the side of one shoulder.

“Excuse me miss?” I coughed out startled and embarrassed.

“If you want to do more than just look at the goods you have to come to our seminar. Dagon will not only show you the path to eternal glory and power but we have timeshares on the coast that frankly only foolish mortals would pass up.”

The vision before me now seemed tainted and spoiled. Dagon was nothing but a minor real estate cybernetic deity hawking cheap condos and low financing, such a waste. After disengaging myself from her the best I could, I made my way off the bus careful not to forget the small leather bag I was carrying and began walking through the bus station looking for the entity who was waiting for its delivery.

The whole scope of living, living dead, undead, deadish, possessed, phantoms, and spirits mingled in the dirty environment of Orlando’s main bus station. While scanning most of the electromagnetic spectrum for any possible threats  I caught sight of some poor zombie, apparently here for the convention and on his cell phone trying to explain to his wife how he fell off the wagon and ate some living person. The sadness I saw in his eyes was awful, even the one hanging out the socket dangling by the crusty remains of his optic nerve. 

However, sitting off away from all the rest was some very pale fellow dressed in nice black slacks, white oxford shirt, black jacket and shoes holding a sign that said “Winford Picklesworth,” the entity I was suppose to meet.

Walking up to him I quickly realized that Winford was a vampire. We exchanged greetings with me careful not to expose my neck and tempt the undead creature with my old but still valuable blood.

“Not to worry Mr. Octavius,” he politely said. “I’m just here to get my package from you.” Instantly I felt at ease with this creature of the night and did not know why. While for mortal appearances he looked around his late twenties to early thirties my experienced guess suggested he had to be closer to three hundred.

“Well young man,” taking into account what I thought his true age was, “here you go. “I must say that while professionally I shouldn’t ask I’m curious to why so much would be spent to pay for an in person delivery?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I figured the good undead man would go all vampire and do something like rip my head off.

“I’m so glad you asked.” Winford said as he took possession of the leather bag and opened it. “Because when I get a chance to praise the Lord to the unsaved I feel it is my duty to spread his word.”

In shock I recoiled to see him pull out a specially crafted cross and bible from the bag. It was then I realized that I had run across the strangest thing in at least three parallel universes. He was a member of “Vampires for Jesus” and the cross and bible I brought for him and been specially blessed by none other than big dude in Rome. Needless to say, I got the hell out of there claiming that my artificial eyes were about to die out. As I walked away, I could not help but wonder where in the world freaks like him came from.

Anyway, I had my own issues; my next mission was to ascertain if my new employer’s wife was having an affair with her boss, an enhanced cephalopod with a British passport. An intercepted email the intelligent squid sent to her said to meet him in the flooded city of London for a week of passion. With the packaged safely delivered to the vampire my bank account had plenty of credits allowing me to buy a first class ticket on the next luxury Pan Terra dirigible to where they would rendezvous.

A couple of hours later I was on the other side of Orlando inside the enclosed aerodrome sipping cocktails. While waiting for the call to board I fingered the old plasma blaster I kept for protection trying to decide what I would do when I found them. My boss had left their fate in my hands with his only request that I be “creative.” I had plenty of time to figure that out how I would accomplish that, until then I would indulge my darker side and dine on pan-fried calamari.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The unanswered question

The United States of the early 1960's for many my age and younger could almost be considered ancient history. I dimly remember certain aspects of the latter part of that decade like the debates over school integration, the continuing fight for civil rights, Vietnam, and the Apollo missions but overall the scope of social change and technical advancement since then has altered America in ways that would be considered science fiction to someone of that era suddenly brought to 2011.

It’s understandable that opinions differ greatly on the benefits and disadvantages these changes and advancements have brought but on average, I'd have to say they have been more of a blessing. While still very imperfect, we are a far more open and accepting society now and the progress in medical technology alone allows many to overcome conditions and have normal lives that in the 1960's would have been an automatic death sentence.

However, in some ways we have declined since then, we are a far more self-centered and bickering bunch devoted to our own agendas and more than ready to condemn anyone in this country and around the world not holding our exact viewpoint. Maybe this is the price every world power has to pay after years of near global dominance, a slow decent into madness concealed behind a thin veneer of pride and arrogance. It would be a mistake to believe that the United States was ever in reality "that shining city on the hill", our history is replete with examples of tyranny and oppression but for most of that time we have endeavored to move closer to that ideal.

Ignoring certain moral lapses and mistakes John Kennedy was a great president that energized the nation for the challenges it faced in the latter half of the 20th century. His youth, energy, and ideals called to our better side paving the way for much of the advancements we see now. Despite his faults Kennedy was a man of words who could see beyond the limits of the here and now pushing us to be something more and better. My favorite quote of his calling for Americans to pull together rings true even now: "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Unfortunately, I see little evidence of that spirit in our society and if there ever was a time every American needed to rally together it is the sad age we live now.

Decades of overindulgence in government, corporate, and private circles have eaten away at the financial foundation of the country. This problem has been known for many years but the financial wizards in charge of managing the life blood of capital to our economy and checking its health have instead been playing destructive games with other people’s money. For the corporate masters it’s been better for the bottom line to export manufacturing jobs and import cheap goods that the cattle-like American people sell their souls for by maxing out their credit cards.

Politicians secure near perfect job security by promising everything to everyone all at the same time, all they have to do keep the bread and circuses going so only a few notice how bad things are falling apart. Instead of showing leadership they fall over each other gnashing their teeth about deficit spending but easily vote trillion dollar tax cuts for billionaires then joyously slap each other on the back for cutting home heating oil assistance to poor folks proclaiming their fiscal responsibility.

It’s sad when golden ages end and that’s where we find ourselves now folks, the party is over, the bills are coming due, and if this was the nation that Kennedy called us to be so long ago we would rally together and endure the needed sacrifices to insure our children’s future. Many Americans are ready to pull together and do what is right for the sake of the country.

They are the poor who want nothing but a chance for a decent job to make things better for their families and the working class who grimly face the prospect of never being able to retire, even after years of hard work and doing everything right. Even the relatively secure middle class now faces the hard choice of bearing the cost of caring for their aging parents or being able to send their kids to college. They are all being asked to sacrifice and in large part they are ready and willing. In my opinion that leaves only one general holdout.

It is wrong to say the entire group of corporate masters and financial wizards in our society are not ready to do what is right but I see damn little evidence of it. They whine about oppressive taxes and stifling regulations to the sycophant business journalists but without a second thought will send good paying American jobs overseas to take advantage of near slave labor while reveling in the glory of free market globalism. Here in America many of those masters of the capitalistic universe scheme to bust unions, slash worker benefits, and cut pay all the while their corporations make record profits and award each other outrageous bonuses that would embarrass Midas.

With all the calls for sacrifice from the poor, working, and middle class I have wondered several times to myself what are the rich elites willing to sacrifice for the sake of the future wellbeing of the United States?  However, it is a question none of the national pundits, journalists or other highly paid media types have ever asked to my knowledge, until now.

Say what you will about the MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough and his co-host Mika Brzezinski but of the morning news shows I am able to see they are a relative bastion of lively debate. The others such as Fox Noise have the three moronic morning stooges, Fox Business has Zombie Imus and his long-time toadies, and poor CNN whose morning show couldn’t produce a decent debate to save their lives.

Earlier this week as the Morning Joe group debated the battle of wills between Wisconsin public workers and their governor it was Mika who brought up the question about when and what were the rich willing to sacrifice for the greater good. The question only hung in the air for a few seconds before someone, Joe I think, went off on another tirade about the country being broke and how super-duper cool the governor of New Jersey is for being such a financial hard ass.

I am not naïve, the country is in danger from decades of financial overindulgence in all sectors of life, growing entitlements, and the basic interest we have to pay to the likes of China who watches gleefully on the sidelines as we carry out a slow motion suicide. It is also a given that despite how some want to paint it, there is no real black and white in this predicament. Many in the middle, working class, and poor put themselves in their disastrous economic situations along with some union leaders that instead of protecting the workers sought only power and to cushion excessively their own lives. Moreover, there are some honest and decent corporate executives and bankers who know a healthy America requires a prosperous and growing middle class.

Still, the basic question of when and how much the elites will sacrifice for the good of the country needs to be answered. We poorer folks do not have a choice, the undeniable math will force us to make hard choices to the point our children will have far more difficult lives with far less opportunities than us.

The rich who got us in so much trouble desperately need to ask what they can do for America, not whine about what it should do for them, but so far their silence is deafening.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 19) Desert morning surprise

(Author's note: Flash Fiction Friday again and this time the assigned genre was romance with the option of constructing a story around unrequited love or composing a "Dear John" letter. As usual I probably screwed something up but this is as best as I could do.)

Lying in the bed Emily Garret shared with her husband she looked out the large picture window facing east watching the morning sun just begin to rise above the Brazos Mountains of New Mexico. The sky above the peaks glowed copper as the night slowly retreated forcing the stars to fade from view. Emily shuddered in pleasure at the sight reveling in the contentment of the comfortable king sized bed she had slept in that night.

She looked across to the far side at her husband, Bill, who had stayed up very late and was still deep asleep. Knowing how heavily he slept she was able to get up without waking him. Emily still tiptoed across the room to the dresser retrieving her pocket book that contained her cell phone and then stepped out the room softly closing the door behind her.

The ranch-style mansion was like a tomb, the rest of her husband’s family had left the day before leaving only the smell of the countless flower arrangements brought to mark the passing of Bill’s father. Emily sniffed instinctively with contempt at the thought of the numerous cousins and other distant family members that had tried to curry favor with Bill since his father and him had reconciled over a year before with Bill now standing to inherit his father’s massive estate.

It had taken a lot to get Bill and his father back together; she had first met her husband in college with him studying contemporary art and her biding time studying anything that she could pass looking for just the right man. Bill had fallen head over heels for her right from the beginning sending countless bundles of roses and performing every sloppy romantic thing in the book to win her affections. It had gotten so bad Emily had contemplated reporting him as a stalker or sending her boyfriend at that time after him. While Bill’s puppy dog level of infatuation and romantic antics appealed to her on several levels his sloppy artist persona made him look like a homeless person walking around the campus instead of the son of a rich oil man.

An offhand statement overheard in her dorm about Bill’s true financial situation changed everything with Emily quickly breaking up with her preppy boyfriend and then latching onto Bill and riding him through college. It wasn’t easy, Bill’s father hated Emily and his son’s artistic tendencies to the point he disowned the boy after they were married. She had seriously considered divorcing him after his father gave him the boot  but stayed because his art quickly developed a following and there was always the hope of the long-term payoff.

Being a practical girl, Emily did everything she could to hedge her bets in the mean time by first getting pregnant by Bill and giving him a daughter. Afterwards with Bill caught up in his paintings, sculptures and being a father Emily had plenty of time for a long series of lovers.

After walking by the room where the Mexican nanny, Carmen, was taking care of her daughter, Emily passed through the living room and stepped out on the deck overlooking the mountains enjoying the morning sun. While she hated the southwestern cowboy décor of her late father-in-law’s house the miles of desert terrain that stretched before her without any sign of other people appealed to her greatly.

Almost trembling with anticipation Emily pulled out her cell and activated the phone, with all the relatives around and her needing to act like the supportive wife several days had passed since she had a single moment alone. Now with the house empty and Bill up to his neck in paperwork dealing with his father’s passing the time was right for her to slip away.

The screen on the phone glowed showing two missed calls from the day before along with the same amount of voicemail messages . The callers were listed as unknown but she instantly knew it to be her latest lover and attorney who would handle the coming divorce making sure she would walk away from the marriage with most of her late father-in-law’s wealth.

“Hey sexy,” Simon whispered after Emily entered her secret number into the phone to play the messages. “I will be waiting at the cottage as you instructed. I can’t wait to have my way with you again.”

After Bill and his father reconciled and they moved into the mansion Emily’s relationship was still strained with her father-in-law. To ease things he built a cottage out in the desert for Bill to have a place to paint and her to have some alone time. It was so far out in the desert that its source of electricity came from an on-site propane-powered generator. Emily encouraged her husband and his father to grow closer, which was so successful that Bill moved his paintings into an unused section of the mansion leaving the cottage to her alone.

Eager to fill the touch of her lover only minutes passed before she rushed back to the bedroom, changed, and was out driving toward the cottage. A small kiss on Bill’s cheek and whisper of where she was going was all the explanation she needed to give him. 

Fantasies of what awaited Emily preoccupied her to the point the long drive went by in a flash. Sure enough as she approached the cottage she saw her lovers’ rental SUV parked partially out of sight. Yet as she rushed inside only silence greeted her, the cottage was dark and cool with the curtains closed but her lover was nowhere to be seen.  Turning on the lights and opening the curtains she discovered an envelope addressed to her on the kitchen counter. Knowing something was very wrong she ripped the envelope open and was shocked to recognize her husband’s hand writing. With a sinking feeling she sat down at the kitchen table to read it.

My Dearest,
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to write that our marriage is over. My love for you was the purest from the day I first saw you in college and in many ways I still care deeply. I still consider the day you agreed to marry me the happiest day of my life, only the birth of our child comes close to rivaling it. For years afterward I did my best to move heaven and earth to make you happy, even to the point of telling my father to go to hell.

However, as much as this might surprise you I am not a fool and at some point I did realize you never loved me. It was your persistent efforts to push my father and me back together that forced me to accept that our marriage could not go on. Over the years while you were very careful hiding your affairs you still slipped on a few occasions and they all have been well documented. I must admit though I eventually slipped myself, at some point Carmen and I fell in love, just know she will be a fine mother to our daughter.

I do have one last surprise for you, put down this letter and go open the door to the storage room. It will have to serve as my divorce settlement.
With deepest sorrow, your husband

Shaking in both rage and fear Emily walked down the small hallway to the storage room, the doorknob was stiff forcing her to twist harder but it eventually opened and as it did she heard a heavy mechanical click. The lights came on automatically and in horror she saw her lover lying on the floor. His hands, arms, and legs were bound together with rope and he had duct tape across his mouth, his only means of communication were his eyes showing utter terror.

A small television sitting on the shelf where canned goods was suppose to be came to life with Bill’s smiling face on the screen. “Emily,” her husband said, “excuse this impersonal prerecorded message but there is one more thing you should know. My father understood you right from the beginning, so much that when he and I reconciled he actually built this cottage with you in mind. Dad made his money in oil but was an electrical engineer by training and when building the cottage rigged an electrical fault in the generator that will detonate the propane tank in about ten seconds; of course, it will look like some unfortunate accident.”

For Emily time slowed to a crawl as she tried to turn and run but her body refused to move.  Bill’s last words hung in the air as she spent her final seconds on earth. “Honey, you know my dad was very happy in the end with how you changed me into what he wanted all along, Goodbye.”

Back at the mansion, Bill held his new love Carmen close as the sound of the explosion reached him.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

God bless America, because we sure could use it

In what I am sure will earn another segment on The Daily Show, South Carolina lawmakers are debating a resolution that calls for a constitutional convention to consider an amendment allowing states to repeal any federal law that disturbs their sensibilities. In what would be a sick joke in saner times the phrase "states' rights" is once again being used complete with strange little gleams in the eyes of good old Southern boys eager to protect their wives, daughters, and property from some federal phantom bogeyman.

That this sounds so much like so many previous attempts to cloak neo-Antebellum mindsets in modern clothing leaves many with some commonsense numb with despair. Its not like South Carolina lawmakers have nothing better to do, many of our schools are educational wastelands, the unemployment rate is 10.7%, and huge segments of the state infrastructure could be used as movie sets for war torn third-world countries. But no, aside from a few exceptions South Carolina had never really entered the twentieth century and like the country itself is completely lost in dealing with the problems of the twenty-first.

So like petulant children, we rehash futile old crusades that we were on the wrong side of history to begin with making us a laughing stock. There is one consolation in all this, seventeen other states are considering similar resolutions so all the ridicule cannot be directed at us. But I'm sure that in some Chinese think tank the highly educate types whose job it is to make their country number one in the world are rolling in floor laughing wondering if the Americans will just tear themselves apart.

Nullification lives again.
States' rights vs. federal rule took center stage Wednesday as South Carolina House lawmakers battled over a resolution to give states veto-like power over federal rules and regulations.
Ultimately, House members approved the resolution – backed by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston – and the Republican majority, by a 72-44 vote.
The measure asks Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow states to repeal any federal law if two-thirds of state legislatures disagree with it.
“This would give the state's a veto right that would not be the same as but would be similar to a presidential veto,” said state Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, who led the charge for the bill.
Saying they are concerned about the erosion of states' rights and a federal government that they see as overreaching, 17 states are considering the proposal, Lucas said. South Carolina is the second state where the idea, which still must win Senate approval, has been voted on.
Democrats said the measure is a distraction from the state's more pressing problems, including its 10.7 percent jobless rate -- one of the highest in the nation -- and the need to create jobs. They called the measure a misguided reaction to Democratic-led federal initiatives, including health-care reform and a threat to minorities, women and others not in power.
“It was the federal government that took care of all aspects of civil rights legislation,” said state Rep. David Mack, D-Charleston, a African-American lawmaker who grew up in the civil rights era. “South Carolina had to be dragged screaming and kicking because they didn't want to do it because (S.C. lawmakers said) the federal government was encroaching and overstepping its grounds.”
Republicans said the resolution's intent is not to disenfranchise minorities or women. Instead, they said the resolution is non-partisan effort that Democrats should join Republicans in supporting to preserve states' rights.
“This would have to be (a federal bill) so egregious that (state legislatures controlled by) Democrats and Republicans would have to jump up and say, 'We're not going to take it anymore,’ ” Lucas said.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tideland Treasures by Todd Ballantine

A Carolina Parrothead Book Review

One of my major pet peeves is how various individuals can be so willfully ignorant of the world and how it works. Keeping my mouth shut most of the time is problematic; for several reasons I am just not in a position to correct those who make such huge efforts to keep their heads buried in the sand. A convenient example that makes me doubt the long-term survival of humanity involved a discussion with a person on how hospital campuses like to expand to the point that often geographic restrictions are the only thing that stops them from growing.

It was an amicable conversation until I mistakenly mentioned how the hospital in my hometown was constructed close to a salt-water marsh and now after years of growth it sat on the edge with no room for further development. This goofball laughed cynically brimming in self righteousness and then said that in the good old days you could have easily filled in the marsh but now the evil tree huggers prevent such things.

This person has a relative position of power over me so I wisely kept my mouth shut and did not rise to what was more than likely bait to start an argument, despite of the fact I wanted to slap him upside the head.  Now if the dude had been the rational type open to actual knowledgeable debate I would have informed him that filling in the marsh would be unwise since it’s a natural filter for water running off into the ocean, a nursery for wildlife, and provides a buffer from hurricanes stealing much of their energy as they come ashore.  Since he lives in a strange world full of God endorsed “Right-wing” certainties such nuances would have completely escaped him, and I would have been on his shit list for a month.  

Before anyone starts rolling their eyes assuming I believe myself to be an expert in anything, let me quickly add that I freely admit that I am woefully ignorant of many things, even stuff that I should know something about. Even though I was raised in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and both the marsh and ocean are as much a part of me as my eyes and ears, several times my own ignorance of my home almost cost me severe injury.

The worst time occurred in August of 1991’s while my cousin Travis and I were surfing on the south end of Pawleys Island, South Carolina. I had just returned to the water after talking with a very attractive girl named Amanda who was extraordinary concerned how sea turtles were dying after ingesting plastic trash humans had carelessly tossed away. Several dead Loggerheads turtles had washed ashore that summer after mistaking floating plastic shopping bags as jellyfish, a favorite on their seafood menu.  Amanda had seen the pitiful news reports and was walking the south end in her blue bikini picking up trash to prevent it from happening as much as she personally could.

While I was lying on my surfboard waiting for the next set of waves to come rolling in I spotted what looked to be a discarded plastic bag floating in the water about a hundred yards away. Wanting to both save an endangered Loggerhead turtle from snacking on the bag and score some points with Amanda I started paddling over to the floating trash so I could properly dispose of it. 

The surfboard I was using was an ancient nine-foot Hobie longboard made in the 1960’s complete with a balsa wood core. As I approached the piece of trash, it wasn’t until I was almost on top of the thing that I realized the “bag” had a dense network of long tentacles underneath.  By that time, I had built up a large amount of inertia making my attempt to back paddle and stop before I was entangled in the stinging tentacles look like a severe seizure. I barely evaded being stung.

After finally reversing course, I paddled back over to my cousin who upon hearing what almost happened fell off his surfboard from laughter. As he splashed around enjoying my near pain and injury I was still puzzled, I was fully aware of jellyfish but that one I almost came to know biblically was nothing like the usual species who regularly visited the waters around Pawleys Island.  The head part was too small to be a Portuguese man-of-war, which is rare in those parts, but the tentacles were far longer than the non-stinging Mushroom Jelly or Moon Jelly I have seen for years. Despite my curiosity, the episode was soon forgotten, especially since things didn’t work out with Amanda.

It was not until, years later, that by chance I discovered “Tideland Treasures” by Todd Ballantine and learned who the mysterious jelly intruder was.  Quickly thumbing through the book on a whim I found out that the jellyfish was a Sea Nettle, and it would have been a serious world of pain for me had its tentacles and I intermingled. 

Looking further through the book after buying it, I discovered it to be an amazing reference guide on the seashore environment. Using more than 400 examples of hand-drawn art and fine lettering, it explains how the ocean, tides, waves, currents, plant, and animal species all combine into a complex biosphere.  For someone who thought he understood the basics of a salt marsh I was very surprised to learn I really had no idea how it worked much less the fact its complexity and importance cannot be overstated. Since I was a child, I understood that the marshlands were the foundation of the ocean food chain but I truly had no idea to the degree earth and life interacts. 

Though centered on the Hilton Head Island region of South Carolina “Tideland Treasures” can be used as a guide encompassing the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Florida.  Each section of the book provides detailed but easily read descriptions that will satisfy both the professional biologist and the casual layman.  Trying to prevent more episodes of my ignorance, I always take the book with me each time I visit the coast and regularly use it to learn more about such an important and vital place.  Even with it, the most important fact I have learned is that I have only begun to scratch the surface and I will spend a lifetime learning more.

For anyone who lives on the coast, plans to visit, or has a simple curiosity about the world we live on and does not want to settle for bogus right-wing certainties I highly recommend Tideland Treasures.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction (Cycle 17) Along the watchtower

(Author's note: Throwing my two-cents in for the Friday Flash Fiction effort. Had to grab the nearest book and go to the 56 page and use the fifth sentence as the starter. My wife's copy of "Wolf Hall" was nearby so I used it. Once again excuse the typos, hey I do this from the seat of my pants when time and family allows.)

"They sent messages ahead, but has anything been done?" Major Curtis Ballantine asked while walking beside the young lieutenant looking around at the mounds of debris and trash piled up in unused sections of the firebase in the middle of occupied Iran. On the landing pad behind Ballantine the spinning rotor blades of the drone helicopter that delivered him to his new command increased their tempo in preparation to return to division headquarters throwing a stinging spray of fine sand in all directions.

"Yes Major," Lieutenant Banner said crisply ignoring the sand hitting his exposed neck even though Ballantine was forced to jump behind a pile of empty ammo containers to escape the painful shower. "It’s just things have not been running as smoothly since the death of Lieutenant Colonel Stevens. Combat operations take priority and with the start of the offensive last month pushing deeper into the Karkas mountains, we had no time. The entire battalion is still preoccupied with either directing the remote combat operations of the hunters and terminators or maintaining them when they come back for resupply and repair. Making matters worse, the Iranian guerillas often get close enough to harass the firebase perimeter forcing personnel out of remote operations and into real time combat."

The cargo helicopter now up in the air and heading westward back into Iraqi territory the artificial sandstorm it caused abated allowing Ballantine to come from behind the empty containers. He absentmindedly dusted off his new uniform only to look up and see the young lieutenant giving him a strange look. It was then that he noticed the young officer’s uniform that while clean was heavily worn to the point it should have been replaced. "What's the supply situation here Banner? Does division and corp headquarters give us what we need or do we have to fight for everything?"

The lieutenant seemed in pain for several seconds trying to say something. His expression was strained but it suddenly lifted and he closed his eyes and raised his right hand to touch the neural interface located on his right temple. Ballantine could see the lieutenant’s rapid eye movements as he apparently received information from the firebase battle computer. "Records suggest that we receive everything we require for maximum efficiency." Banner said rather mechanically after opening his eyes.

Ballantine was strangely unsettled with the look on Banner's face and started walking towards what he thought was the entrance to the underground battalion headquarters without him. For the first time he started to look closely at base personnel as he heard Banner move quickly to catch up.

On the surface everything looked normal, maintenance personnel could be seen repairing the large six-wheeled hunters along with the smaller spider-like drones that were nicknamed terminators. Cooks, medics, and other support personnel could be seen going about obviously normal duties except that none seemed aware of their surroundings, they went on almost as mindless as the support drones that was suppose to make their jobs easier. There was nothing that suggested humans worked on this base, no music, talking, laughing, or anything else soldiers did to relieve the stress of living in a combat environment. Hell, not even minor bitching or bellyaching, which was a soldier’s only real God-given right.

"Lieutenant," Ballantine said, " find the sergeant major and the battalion executive officer, I want them both in my office in one hour. I don't care if they are about to find Khomeini's tomb or the lost treasure of the Persian Empire, something isn't right here." Ballantine didn't want to think about the strange rumors that made the rounds back in the civilized world.

His office was easy enough to find in the warren of underground rooms that served as battalion headquarters. While sitting behind his new desk waiting for both his sergeant major and XO, he reviewed the history of the unit he was about to command on the large office wall screen.

The 666th Infantry Battalion had been one of the first units into Iran fifty years before just months after the Iranian government had launched their nuclear missiles in 2016 destroying six American cities and forcing a fundamental change in the structure of the United States.

The initial campaign had gone well with the Iranian Army, Navy, Air Force, and Revolutionary Guard quickly going down into flames. But the occupation bogged down almost as fast into an horrific quagmire with robotic combat drones coming online just in time to prevent utter defeat. Still after fifty years of pacification and reeducation efforts Iran was a dangerous place with American and allied Iranian government forces never moving much beyond the safety of secured areas.

"Reporting as ordered," the fit but more than middle-aged woman said offering a perfect salute. "Major Catherine Sullivan, I'm your XO, sorry I wasn't there to greet you upon arrival but we just found an active weapons factory in the ruins of Teheran."

Ballantine was speechless at seeing the age of his second-in-command figuring, that even under martial law and wartime conditions, she should have been retired years before. Looking at her Ballantine realized the conspiratorial rumors joked about back in the world were not so slowly unfolding in front of him.

“Well major,” Sullivan began trying to suppress a smile, “before I congratulate on your new command I have to ask, whose corn flakes did you piss in back at New Pentagon?”

Coming suddenly through the office door unannounced was the sergeant major who plopped himself in one of the comfortable office chairs ignoring all military decorum. All hope left Ballantine as the senior noncommissioned officer smiled back at him. Just looking at the sergeant major Ballantine figured he would be stretching plausibility if he guessed the man was a day under seventy years-old.

“There has to be some mistake,” Ballantine exclaimed at both his XO and sergeant major, “neither of you should be wearing the uniform much less be stationed in the middle of a combat zone.”

“Major,” the old man said enjoying Ballantine’s obvious discomfort, “did you ever hear of an old song called Hotel California? That’s why in the early…”

Sullivan stepped up and touched the sergeant major on his shoulder. “Major Ballantine, she said, “I hate to break it to you but this posting is permanent for anyone stationed here. The only way to leave this place is to be killed in action or by old age, like Lieutenant Colonel Stevens."

“How does the troops deal with the separation, the abandonment?” Ballantine asked knowing he had already figured everything out reaching up instinctively to touch his own neural interface mounted on his own right temple.

“The base battle computer,” Sullivan said, “has an override program that takes the pain and memories away. The average troops gets about two hours a day of restored mental function. Hell, some even go for complete wipes with only enough function to eat, shit, and fight. It’s quite the solution the brass and the politicians came up with to solve PTSD and recruitment.”

The sergeant major was now casually stroking Sullivan’s hand suggesting years of intimate familiarity. “Before Cathy interrupted me I started to say that back in the early days of the war when it became apparent that the restructured United States had a need to keep certain elements out of the public spotlight I named this place Firebase California on a whim. We were all insane after the attacks so even as the nation changed beyond recognition when the brass came to us soldiers and said these neural implants would aid in the war effort we all agreed without hesitation. I had no idea that my name for this place would ever come so completely true"

"You actually had some idea about this?" Sullivan said looking at the expression on Ballantine's face. "And you still walked straight into this Hell, now that is funny."

“We are programmed to receive. You can checkout any time you like, But you can never leave!” The old man sang before he started crying with the XO bending down to hold him tightly.

Flashing through Ballantine’s mind were his wife and kids and it was then the base battle computer activated his neural link removing all his cares and memories allowing him to take command.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Out of the mouth of an angry baby

 Age does not become me, instead of becoming more accepting of people faults and ignorance I find myself increasingly irritated at the putrid verbal emissions that amounts as intelligent conversation these days. This feeling is not a new thing for me, as I have regularly stated I work around a fine collection of idiot savants that can do one thing well but whose general knowledge of the world and its people borders on the moronic.  The fact that such absurdity is all too common where I live makes things even worse.  

The details are unimportant and would take far too long to explain but I found myself this morning sitting in a small waiting area amongst a group of people all watching the “Today Show.”  Now it is no secret the “Today Show” makes great efforts to be uncontroversial during the mornings leaving most heavy stories for MSNBC or the Brian Williams’ news show early in the evening.  Even with that, several people seating in the waiting area with me turned every story and segment into the downfall of Western Civilization and the beginnings of a new Dark Age.  As much as I tried to make myself invisible and to be left out of the conversation, a couple of people would make the mistake of asking my opinion.

While discretion in many cases is the better part of valor I avoided confrontation strictly for the reason that trying to argue with a fool only brings you down to his level. See, I'm not liked very much around these parts and I frankly like it that way but I see no sense and poking the hornet's nest if you get my meaning.

Matters were made worse that I had forgotten to bring a book or my laptop leaving me without a mental escape. Luckily, my time stuck waiting was made tolerable by the most unlikely of sources, as the second hour of my torture began, a mother entered the waiting area pushing a baby carriage with an alert and obviously intelligent baby propped up inside.

By the time the mom and baby had settled in the three primary idiots were again discussing the events in Egypt and how it was surely controlled by people out to harm America. At that point, the baby began loudly babbling interrupting their conversation.  It was hilarious, every time the alpha male idiot stopped speaking the baby would go quiet and when he began to speak again the baby would in effect shout him down once more.

The baby babble so bothered the alpha idiot that it eventually forced him and his cohorts to move out of the waiting area. The baby’s mother seemed purposelessly oblivious to this having pulled a magazine out of the diaper bag and left her child to, in my opinion, be the hero of the day. This only proved the point that I have mentioned many times, that I would rather hear the meaningless jibber of a baby all day than listen to an hour of what passes as adult conversation. 

I have added the following video just for giggles. Thanks to Mr. Charleston over at "Termites of Sin" for alerting me to it. Its a pretty good match for what the baby said this morning, just not as angry.