Sunday, October 26, 2014

Star Trek-Myriad Universes: Infinity's Prism (A Book Review)

Book reviews are a rarity for me, I only do them when a novel really hits home in some way. What makes the review you are about to read odder is that I am going to recommend a book that consists of three novellas set in the Star Trek universe. Well, let me qualify that statement, yes this collection of stories has characters from all five of the Star Trek television series but the events that take place are in alternate timelines where something went wrong.

While I have attended one Star Trek convention years ago and still watch the shows on Netflix, I don’t consider myself one of the fanatical “Trekkies.” Generally speaking, I never got so involved with Trek that I bought a Starfleet uniform, kept toy models of phasers, or debated the finer technical points of starship design. Star Trek novels are a different matter though, despite the fact that most of them in my experience have turned out to be huge disappointments.

There were exceptions like First Frontier by Diane Carey and James Kirkland and Star Trek: Federation by Judith Reeves-Stevens but I found most others, at best, poorly executed examples of grade school level writing. In actuality, I felt some were so bad that they in fact gave me hope that some of my own crappy stories could one day be published.

I discovered Infinity’s Prism during one afternoon while cruising around Amazon. Already being on an alternate universe/timeline reading and writing kick, I found the synopsis for the three novellas intriguing.

The first Novella is “A Less Perfect Union” by William Leisner and takes place in a universe where twenty-second century Earth never joined the nascent interstellar alliance that Captain Jonathan Archer of the Star Trek: Enterprise series worked so hard to establish. In this story, taking place just at the end of the ST: Enterprise series, Earth is overtaken by an isolationist movement and severs most relations with the other species that would make up the United Federation of Planets. Seeing the benefits of unity and cooperation, the Vulcans, Andorians, and several other species go ahead and form a Coalition of Planets without Earth. In the following years, a Cold War develops between the two, largely aided by several unfortunate incidents on both sides.

It takes a full century for the government of Earth to realize that going it alone in a hostile galaxy without any allies is next to impossible unless they want to abandon all their progressive principles.  At this point, Earth has become something akin to the old European colonial powers forcing treaties on underdeveloped alien planets and maintaining military ground forces on human colony worlds wanting independence.

In an effort to show goodwill the government of Earth sends the new starship Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, to the Coalition of Planets headquarters to petition for membership. The main thrust of the story involves the first officer of the Enterprise, Commander James T, Kirk, who harbors outright hate for the Vulcans. This alternate Kirk’s hate originates from an incident where is wife and infant son are killed when the small starship they were on was accidental destroyed by a Vulcan patrol ship as it entered Coalition space to take part in an interstellar conference.    

What really drew me into this story was how it relates to the xenophobia we see all over the world today, and especially here in the United States when it comes to the insane reaction many “upstanding Christian citizens” showed towards refugee children from Central America. Those kids are running from rampant poverty and viscous drug gangs and many on the conservative side of American politics have likened them to an invading army out to destroy the country.

Another aspect of this story that had elements from real life was how many intelligent people cannot shake simple prejudice. The best example I can give is the never-ending conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. Frankly, the worst enemy the Palestinian people have had to face is their own government but the Israelis are not far behind. Each side is caught up in their own hate and rage that neither sees the other as human. Both sides, and their various allies around the world, eagerly parade around pictures and stories of dead children completely ignoring the fact that their own actions kill kids on the other side.

“A Less Perfect Union” delves deeply into the idea that once such hate is sown that it take monumental efforts by scores of good people to even begin to fix the damage. The sad truth though is that even with people doing their best to end the hate and mistrust all it takes is a few to rekindle the rage and destruction.     

The second novella, “Places of Exile” by Christopher L. Bennett, is centered on the series Star Trek: Voyager. Set in the twenty-forth century the ship and crew of the U.S.S. Voyager are thrown clear across the galaxy to the Delta Quadrant by an enormously powerful entity. The starship Voyager itself was not designed for such a long journey, so the crew must struggle to survive in a very hostile environment while slowly making their way home. Where the alternate history comes in is that Captain Kathryn Janeway makes a different choice during a critical situation that she did in one of the television episodes. This alternate decision ends up killing several of the main character and nearly damages Voyager to the point the crew has to abandon any hope of returning home.

I must admit there is not as strong as a moral component in this story except that by killing off several series main characters it forced the survivors into new directions and choices they never would have considered. I once had an extremely low opinion of Voyager, one episode that had them finding a 1940’s Chevy truck floating in space that they brought into the shuttle bay and promptly started as if it had been sitting in some driveway. Making matters worse, in that episode they also soon find Amelia Earhart in suspended animation on one of the planets in the Delta Quadrant. However, since I started occasionally watching Voyager on Netflix I have found many of the episodes to be quite good.

The final novella completely blew me away! “Seeds of Dissent” by James Swallow takes place in a universe where Khan Noonien Singh conquered Earth at the end of the Eugenics Wars changing human destiny forever. For those who do not know, the character of Khan made his first appearance in the original series on the episode entitled “Space Seed” back in 1967.

Khan is a genetically enhanced human with greatly augmented physical and mental strengths including ruthless ambition and the desire to control everything. Khan and other augments like him launched the Eugenics Wars in an effort to conquer the planet. After their defeat by an alliance of nations, Khan and about ninety others escaped Earth in an experimental nuclear powered space ship and disappeared into the void. In the “Space Seed” episode, Kirk and his Enterprise stumble upon Khan’s ship adrift in space. Not knowing Khan and other augments are aboard Kirk awakens them from suspended animation where they promptly take over the Enterprise. Kirk and his crew find a way to defeat Khan and his people and take back the ship. At the end of the episode, Kirk shows mercy to Khan by exiling them all on a barely habitable planet.

In the story “Seeds of Dissent” Khan is victorious and it is a group of normal humans that leave Earth as refugees on the experimental space ship. These alternate refugees are found four hundred years later by the starship Defiance, which is a ship in the fleet serving the direct descendant of Khan. These descendants of Khan are just as warlike and vicious and have conquered a good chunk of the galaxy enslaving hundreds of different species.

There is a resistance though, made up of the conquered species, it is small and weak, but it has at least seeded agents all through Khan’s interstellar empire. Moreover, it is one of these resistance agents on the starship Defiance that sees the normal human refugees as a way to hurt Khan’s empire.  
The curious thing about this story for me though, was the flashbacks to what amounts to our era. Despite it being wholly self-destructive, it looks like Khan and the other augments had fanatically followers who were normal humans. I could not help but think of insane Westerners who are even now fighting alongside the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

“Seeds of Dissent” also hints that Khan Noonien Singh is a very charismatic individual and that during the Eugenic Wars convinced quite a few normal humans he is an enlightened person and a great leader with a grand vision. I admit this is a bit of stretch, but after reading those parts all I could think of is how several Republicans and a few washed up movie stars have rallied around Russian president Vlad Putin calling him a great leader. A person who has quashed just about every free institution in Russia along with jailing most prominent individuals that speaks against him. At the same time, these delusional Americans badmouth the democratically elected president of the United States.

All three novellas in Infinity’s Prism is extremely well thought out and frankly, I came away wanting more from each of them. There are at least two more books in the series and at some point I plan on ordering them. One piece of advice, I bought this book used off Amazon, the price buying it new or for the Kindle was a little excessive in my opinion. Whatever the case, I highly recommend it for everyone, even those not fans of the Star Trek series.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don't Hold It Against Me

Back in January of 2011 I am sitting at a totally awesome beach-side bar on Grand Cayman island sipping a rather expensive beer enjoying both the tropical atmosphere and the eclectic bunch of people around me. The bar was Calico Jacks located on Seven Mile Beach and the group sharing this exotic local represented a good chunk of Humanity.

There was a Japanese couple, nice people who I suspect were academics of some sort. Don't ask me why I believe that, its just listening to them talk it was clear they were brilliant people. There was a British guy with a fantastic sense of humor who in my opinion was the social lubricant of our small and temporary group. His name was Michael, I believe, and he had a clear talent at breaking the awkward silence that often reigns when total strangers are in close proximity. Michael described his profession back home in Birmingham as an office bound instigator and reluctant mediator, not exactly sure what he meant but he made my time at that bar especially enjoyable. Directly across from me was an attractive lady from Canada, don't remember her name but from the looks she was giving Michael I suspect the dude was going to get exceptionally lucky sometime later that day. Rounding out my bar mates was another couple from Germany, a guy from Brazil, and a muscular Russian fellow who while never admitting a damn thing screamed Spentsnaz in his demeanor and bearing.

During this all too short enjoyable time Michael livened up everything enough, much like an emcee hosting a party, to get us all to say where we lived. Given my seating position at the bar I was last but when I said South Carolina the entire bar busted out in uproarious laughter.

It was immediately clear to me that South Carolina's reputation as an arrogant and ignorant backwater had gone worldwide. Making matters worse the good governor Mark Sanford had relatively recently gotten caught with his proverbial pants down. See this upstanding and moral individual, who was being looked at by the Republican party as a possible presidential nominee sometime in the future, had in 2009 supposedly gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail but somehow got lost and ended up in Argentina in the arms of his mistress. Now I admit, a politician having an affair is nothing new, but old Mark put a new spin on things by leaving the freaking United States without telling anyone in the statehouse. Yes, also means he didn't leave anyone else in charge should some type of an emergency occur needing immediate action.

Please my friends,” I said after finishing off my beer, “don't hold my home state against me, I'm really a nice guy.” My protest didn't exactly end the laughter but I was cool about the whole thing. What sort of made me laugh in return was the realization that most from South Carolina would have stormed off upset. Truth be told, South Carolina has worked hard to be perceived around the world as something between an American version of a banana republic and a collection of hopeless rednecks forever lamenting the defeat of the Confederacy.

Alas, not only has nothing changed since then but there is evidence that the situation has only gotten worse. Case in point, the one genuine redeeming jewel of this state, the glorious city of Charleston, somehow votes the world traveling adulterer Mark Sanford back into the United States Congress. On a side note, Sanford recently broke off his relationship with his Argentine “soul mate” by sending a message over Facebook, a truly classy way of doing things.

His replacement as governor, Nikki Haley, is also doing her best to keep South Carolina a bastion of the ridiculous while groveling like a twenty-dollar hooker to corporate CEO's at the expense of a large segment of the population. Ignoring her statement saying she would turn away businesses that wanted to bring unionized jobs to South Carolina she seemed to think CEO's have some special position above the people in this state. 


Yeah, I know Republicans are all about sheltering the mythical job creators from the evils of socialism, but come on governor, this is akin to having a tramp stamp tattooed just above your butt. 

While I firmly believe the Confederate flag needs to be removed from the statehouse ground, truth be told I don't know if a majority of the people here would vote for it. The big delusion the whites folks believe about the Civil War being some noble cause is still very powerful here, as far as the slavery angle is concerned they tend to mouth off some platitudes then do their best to forget about the whole thing. Such is life here in the Palmetto State, still too large to be an asylum but still much too small to be a republic.

I have decided one very important thing though for the next time I travel, when asked where I am from I will say North Carolina.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Semi-Coherent Observations on Religion, Stupidity and Fear

One of my wife's standing criticisms of how I spend my meager mental energies is when I ponder about the nature of human behavior. Don't get me wrong, I don't obsessively pace the floor like the fictional Sheldon Cooper fixated on some aspect of daily life that is totally alien and beyond his more abstract level of comprehension. Now I do yell and scream when the daily parade of human stupidity gets to much and I have to vent leading me to ponder the nature of human behavior. Which of course instinctively provokes my wife to point out her wish that I use some of that energy to clean up the yard or do some internal home upkeep.

My usual solution to circumvent the entire issue is to just to not watch or listen to real news –BBC America, PBS, NPR, John Oliver, John Stewart-- anymore and restrict myself to the lighter level of American journalism like that of NBC's Brian Williams evening news. It is there I receive just enough information to stay partially abreast of the dark human comedy. The last thing anyone sane has to worry about while watching Brian, or any of the other broadcast evening news personalities, getting very deep into a significant subject. Yeah, time constraints inherent to the thirty-minute shows are a large part of the problem but Brian, and his backup Lester Holt, have devoted large segments to such trivial things as George Clooney's wedding, a blatant book promotion for a washed up sitcom actress, and even Burger King's new french fry recipe. I generally attribute such “stories” to the network bigwigs not wanting to bum out the viewing public before the prime time shows start. Corporate America ain't going to sale a lot of crap with a public outraged over injustice, greed, or the other human sins.

Unfortunately, there are a multitude of other avenues besides modern television journalism for utter stupidity that regularly raise my blood pressure as I ponder just how long Homo sapiens have to survive on this planet.

The meat of this tangent begins several days ago when I discovered at work what seemed to be a print out of an historical event. History is one of my great interests and I instantly grabbed the collection of papers after reading the title and short opening paragraph. The article was a recounting of the naval Battle of Lepanto which took place near the Gulf of Corinth on 7 October 1571. Boiling it all down to the bare facts a coalition of Catholic maritime states decisively defeated the naval fleet of the Ottoman Empire preventing its further expansion along the European side of the Mediterranean.

On the surface the article appeared to a legitimate essay on military history, which I found fascinating. Then it took a turn towards the religious:

Many Christian knights, soldiers, and sailors have died defending Christendom against the onslaughts of Islam down through the centuries. Today, the borders of many European countries, Canada, and the United States are practically wide open, and the old enemy is invited to come in and make himself at home. And many 'Christians' in the West are just too busy enjoying their material prosperity to be bothered with unpleasant history. But the enemy has not forgotten history. He remembers it all too well, and he is still deadly serious about his religion. His goal over the years has not changed in the slightest, and he is very patient. The enemy within is now smiling, just biding his time. And long dead Christian knights, our ancestors in the Faith, are probably turning over in their graves right about now, trying desperately to shout out a warning. The final chapter, it seems, has yet to be written...

If there is one thing that will quickly turn my stomach sour is for someone, anyone really, to add religion to some conflict as if the battle still rages today. More to the point this article written by Robert McCullen turns conspiratorial by saying the “enemy has not forgotten history.” My first thought was of some comical secret society composed of neo-Ottomans who do nothing but plot evil plans for reviving their empire. On a side note, the fact that there are true comical neo-Confederates here in America dreaming of resurrecting the Confederate States of America does not escape me in the least.

Of course, Mr. McCullen is probably talking about Islam in general and I have to admit there are some evil groups running around today proclaiming themselves to be the guardians of that faith. But, and it's a big one, it is ridiculously easy to find Christian groups who would be doing similar terrorist actions if the forces of secular Western civilization would not hold them to account.

Truthfully this article is just another reason I find religion, all of them, less about following the tenets of some god and more about the timeless pursuit by immoral men seeking to secure power, wealth, and control. Ancient history maybe a little too far for me to go back but I do feel comfortable in suggesting the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity had less to do with his miraculous vision and more with securing his power and what remained of the failing Roman Empire.

I would be wrong to write that religious types holds an monopoly on being manipulative a-holes but over the centuries they have honed its implementation down to an art. McCullen's article does its best to suggest that Christianity is the only true religion and that everyone else, specifically the Muslims, are infidels and a danger to all true God-fearing people. Personally, while officially agnostic I generally hold the view of the fictional Amy Farrah Fowler in that I don't object to the idea of a supreme deity but am baffled by the notion he would take attendance or give a damn about arcane human rituals.

Despite being agnostic and more concerned with seeking a decent Mexican restaurant in my area than worrying about the Rapture or who is God's favorite ethnic group on Earth, I do have a spiritual side. Call me a neo-hippie, but my spiritual side is blown away by the incredible fact that every lifeform on this planet is related and can be traced back to a single ancestor. For anyone not raised in an area where the Bible is taken literally you cannot imagine the load of shit I have caught over the years for holding that view.

I guess this insane tendency for humans to try and guess the mind of God all boils down to fear of the unknown or outsider. This dread isn't restricted to religion but crosses other lines like ethnic origin and skin color. Way back in 2008 many Americans were caught up in the novelty of Barrack Obama, an African-American, being the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States. Truthfully, I was part of that group but what bothered me was the general idea floating around that the United States had turned a corner on its prejudice past and become a “post-racial society.” Never was really sure what that term meant but it seemed to imply that we had left racism behind, such sentiment it turned out was down right idiotic.

A few weeks before the November election I was driving home and listening to National Public Radio. A panel of “typical Americans” had been assembled to discuss the implications if in fact Obama won the election, which at that point seemed a near certainty. The spectrum of opinion mostly ranged from the absolutely positive at one end to the “whatever” at the other. But there was one woman, Caucasian, who expressed a dire fear that Obama's election would cause what amounted to a national riot by African-Americans seeking violent retribution from centuries of slavery and discrimination.

In my opinion I believe that ignorant woman's belief is at the core of most of the viscous hate aimed at the president since then. In fact it has manifested itself in hundreds of sickly creative ways since then.

I guess the original intent of this post, which long ago lost any real coherency and was reduced to a flatulent stream of consciousness is that it will be very difficult for the human race to push forward when we have some many people living in the past. It doesn't matter whether it is fanatical adherence to Iron Age religions in a time of genetic engineering and computers or the irrational belief that the level of melanin in an individual's skin makes them a better or worse person. What hope I have is with the young kids, my one regret is that I won't live to see what I believe will be a real turning point where all this ancient crap is finally let go. Okay, no one needs to be a buzz kill and write that in all likelihood humans will just create new and novel ways to mistreat each other.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Part Three--When Johnny Comes Marching Home

  (Author's Note: This is fan fiction, crappy and full of typos but my effort to find closure in a nightmare scenario created by the supremely talented S.M. Stirling. I truly meant to end my take on his creation with this segment but just couldn't find a way. You can find part one here and part two here.)   

From the recovered journal of Captain Richard Douglas
United States Aerospace Force
Original timeline

Two weeks had slipped by since that awful day when my fighter had a massive and fatal engine malfunction forcing me to eject only to hit the ground and immediately have to kill a genetically engineered ghoul so I would not become its lunch. Adding insult to injury, before the damn hybrid abomination of baboon and dog was even cold, its post-human Homo drakensis owner appears and beats the living shit out of me. It was only the arrival of the pararescue troopers who blew a huge hole in the chest of the drakensis that saved me from death, or something far worse.

The days that slipped by once I was dropped off at the base infirmary in a semiconscious state were jumbled nightmares from hearing half understood conversations between the hospital staff of how bad things were going. The information gaps were inadvertently filled in by my wife who would stop by for visits when her duties allowed. I would often wake up just enough to see her sitting by my bed in an uncomfortable chair starring off into space. Her haggard facial expressions were silent testaments of the fear and despair she was battling.

Despite my extensive injuries the blessing of stolen Drakan medical technology allowed me to recover enough during those two weeks that I was almost completely healed when two Aerospace Force security police wheeled me into an unused office. The base commander. General Thomas Howard, was standing at the window looking out towards the flight line. It was a crowded nightmare of various aircraft, some damaged and being stripped for parts while others were in obvious preparation for a mission. Further off in the distance I caught sight of one of the air defense lasers firing up into the sky telling me that the Draka were edging ever closer. The most unsettling thing though was General Howard, a prim and dapper man who loved the more formal class-A uniform, wearing Aerospace camouflage fatigues.

Sitting at the desk through was a four-star army general I didn't recognize. He was African-American and displayed a cool and detached demeanor that I instantly found completely alien given our present dire global and national circumstances.

Hello Captain Douglas,” the army general said, “I hope you don't mind being brought to this office but with our continuing deteriorating situation I'm afraid certain unusual security measures are required.”

What General Powell is saying Douglas,” General Howard interrupted, “is that we're losing the war and might have traitors in our midst, willing to trade information for more lenient treatment from the Draka.”

Powell briefly turned and glanced over at Howard showing more than a little irritation. “I'm afraid General Howard is correct, there have been several incidents in the last couple of months that have hurt us badly. Truth be told captain, we have already lost the war, when the Draka hit us with their biological weapon killing or incapacitating the vast majority of the Alliance and American leadership they gained enough time to spring back from both the computer plague we hit them with and the nuclear attacks.”

Sitting there in the wheelchair I was frankly puzzled, why were these two generals talking with me, especially if the war was already a lost cause. “Excuse me sirs,” I said, “with all due respect what does this have to do with me. I'm just an average fighter jock.”

What it has to do with you Douglas,” Howard said turning towards me, “is that Powell here is part off Black Project Command and he has an insane plan that could save all our sorry asses.”

Black Project Command was the one agency of the American government that everyone knew about but never mentioned. Since the beginning of what the Draka liked to call the “Protracted Conflict” with the Alliance for Democracy billions of dollars and numerous scientists had disappeared into the shadows attempting to develop some radical type of technology that would change the balance of power. Occasionally, a bit of news about some crazy project would somehow leak out to the public resulting in politicians whining about taxpayer money going to waste. But in truth, only those in the organization itself knew which of those stories were real and what just disinformation meant to confuse the Draka.

What my friend General Howard has said is true,” Powell said looking quite forlorn. “We have lost the war and there is nothing conventional we can do to change that fact. Our best calculations say all organized resistance to the Draka invasion of the United States will be defeated in a little over two months.” Powell reached across the desk and grabbed a computer keyboard and brought up a tactical map of the entire United States on the wall mounted screen. From Alaska in the northwest to the state of Panama in the south the areas occupied by the Draka had grown considerably since the day I crashed. I stared at the map for several minutes lost in a world of despair.

The situation in the other Alliance member states are even worse,” Powell said watching my reaction. “We haven't heard shit from Great Britain, Grand Colombia, or the Indochina Federation in weeks. The Empire of Brazil is still in the game but the Draka captured the imperial Crown Prince while you were recovering and reports from Australia have become undependable.”

This is bullshit Carter,” Thomas Howard said disdainfully to other general, “we haven't lost yet.”

General Powell closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Thomas, I outrank you in this circumstance, if you cannot keep your mouth shut please leave now.” General Howard turned back around to stare out the window, I didn't have to read minds to know his silence meant that he knew the war was indeed lost.

What do you have in mind sir?” I say to General Powell.

Good, I'll call for you in a couple a days, we're still ironing out the details,” he says.


Two days later I am outside and walking around on my own feet after receiving several more doses of bootleg Draka stem cell treatments. I wonder what all the anti-genetic engineering Luddites in the occupied areas of the Alliance are thinking now that their passionate desire to keep the moral and religious high ground has earned them nothing but the Draka lash and slavery for their children. From the moment the Eurasian War ended Alliance and American scientists screamed as loud as possible saying that if the Draka had one ace up their sleeve it was the biological sciences. Even after the Draka proudly presented both their dog-baboon hybrids and later, the post-human Homo drakensis abominations the Luddites refused to read the handwriting on the wall. The result was the biological attack that devastated our leadership. It's all I can do to stifle my rage at basic human stupidity.

Everyone on the base is in overdrive getting ready for the big bug out. General Howard has given the order to abandon the facility and fall back to the redoubts in the Rocky Mountains. This is in part to cover General Powell's plan but it's also a realization by Howard that war is truly lost. Still though, the whole idea of the redoubts bug the hell out of me but who am I to second guess decades old decisions.

Sometime in the 1970's some bright boy or girl in the Alliance command structure came up with the idea that if the world went to total shit with the Draka winning it all, the freedom loving peoples could carry on the fight guerrilla style. Secret bases inside mountains and down in deep caverns were built all over the Alliance, big enough to house significant populations for a struggle that would last generations. General Howard was taking everyone on the base, including all the civilian refuges that would leave to these scattered outposts. A good number of civilians wanted to stay behind and fight with those military personnel that would cover our retreat. I didn't know which of the groups were the smarter, those that wished to die quickly or the ones who wanted hide in some rat hole and prolong the ordeal.

I reach the annex where Powell and his team are essentially hiding. An Army trooper carefully examines my face and even finds time to pull out a portable retina scanner. Paranoia was always a job requirement even in the best of times for those working with Black Projects.

Inside, I am escorted to a large window-less room where I see General Powell and another man dressed in an absurdly bright Hawaiian shirt, old-style army pants, and sandals. As I come closer, I see this strange man is also wearing yellow tinted sunglasses and smoking a cigarette affixed to a thin extension. Powell is listening intently as he gestures at several old fashioned blackboards filled with complex mathematical equations.

Carter,” the strange mans says after noticing me, “this must be our savior, or pointless human sacrifice depending on how you look at this project.”

Ah yes,” General Powell said, “Captain Douglas come down here and meet Doctor Bernard Randal Lewis.”

A few moments later I am seated and listening to Powell introduce Doctor Lewis to me. I didn't say anything but even with Western Civilization on the verge of falling I didn't interrupt to tell Powell that I had heard about Lewis several years before. He was a theoretical physicist working at one of the universities in the Canadian states when one of his students, the daughter of an United States Senator, accused him of rape. I was stationed at an aerospace force fighter base in Alberta when the television news began reporting that the good professor had assaulted the deputy sheriff taking him to jail, stole a car, and then disappeared. News reports went on forever with people saying the guy was a certified flake and that they were surprised he hadn't done something similar far sooner. A massive snowstorm slams the search area a few nights later forcing the police to call off the hunt. A week later Lewis is declared dead and is soon forgotten.

I stifle a laugh realizing that Black Projects Command must have thought a lot of his research to go to such lengths to make the Draka think he was both a nut and dead. After hearing about their plan, I had to reconsider the possibility that not only was Lewis insane after all, but that General Powell was himself unbalanced.

What we're going to do,” Doctor Lewis explained in his supremely quirky manner often referring to his equations on the blackboards, “is create a point of extreme dislocation in both time and space.” He paused for several seconds hoping to see my eyes brighten with both understanding and appreciation of his genius.

A point of extreme dislocation?” I respond wondering more and more if I should just walk out.

Doctor Lewis throws up his hands and walks away disgusted with what he considers my incompetence. It is General Powell who takes over to explain.

What we're going to do Douglas is create what in theoretical physics is called a molehole at our research station. A shortcut through both time and space with the other end located at a different place and time.”

Where will the other end of this tunnel be located?” I asked totally out of my league to the point I was wondering if this was all just a bad dream.

Let me put it to you this way Douglas,” Powell said, “what was your major in college before you joined the aerospace force?”

Early American history from the founding of the colonies to the enactment of the United States Constitution.” I say starting to get some idea what was going on.

That includes the decision by American loyalists at the end of the Revolution to leave North America and settle in southern Africa?”

Yeah,” I say not really believing what Powell was implying.

So captain,” Powell said, “you understand that what we intend to do is send you back to the year 1783 to kill the leaders of the American loyalists faction that talked their people into going to southern Africa and establish what came o be called the Draka Crown Colony which evolved to become the Domination.”

Doctor Lewis then comes to back to continue explain that the original idea was to send teams back in time to hamper the development of the Draka in such a way to make them less powerful without completely destroying our own timeline. But, according to Lewis, the Alliance leadership got scared and decided to pursue the computer plague as a way to eventually destroy the Draka. With the start of the war, and the clear defeat of the Alliance, there was only one option, wipe the Draka from existence and just hope something of what we call the United States of America survives.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Almost Flash Fiction: Two For The Zoo

  (Author note: Ran across a website called "Story" and liked one of their prompts which was to write a story taking place in a zoo. Didn't actually submit this one because of the slightly mature theme and a few words I used, that's why its almost flash fiction. They want to keep things family friendly.)  

Michael pulled into the zoo parking lot twenty minutes before the place actually opened. Largely empty, he slowly cruised around a couple of times making sure none of the few cars that were already parked looked familiar or had anyone just hanging out inside. It only took a few minutes for Michael to determine, with a high level of certainty, that there were no nasty surprises waiting for him.

All things considered, it took longer to figure out where to park his own car. If he parked close to the main entrance there was a good chance that someone he might know might recognize his car. If he parked far away, that in itself would draw attention as visitors arrived. Feeling a little foolish for over thinking the situation Michael picked a spot sort of between the extremes figuring that if there was no risk there could be no reward.

With the car parked silence overwhelmed Michael for a moment, he could feel the anticipation coursing through his body like electricity. What was about to happen had taken many months of tedious planning. First, of course, was just finding a lady, named Sara, in the cheaters online chat room. After several casual online conversations they then proceeded to a series of flirtatious emails. This culminated in an exchange of pictures, nothing weird, just normal snapshots of them generally doing mundane things at work. Sara picked a picture of her at the dental practice she worked. Michael sent one of him throwing a football at a company picnic.

The next step took both them closer to doing something wrong, but by this time the two were feeling like teenagers. In a way it was innocent enough, the two agreed to casually meet while walking through a nearby J. C. Penney. The plan was to exchange a few words in the section of the store that sold washing machines, then go their separate ways.

Michael arrived first and began reading the operator's manual on a new front loading washing machine. Immediately he was accosted by three of the salespeople sure his rapped attention to the manual meant he was serious about purchasing one. Only after assuring them he was just doing research for a possible purchase in the near future did they leave him alone.

“This sure is a nice model,” he heard someone say behind him. For about a second Michael figured it was another salesperson but turned and was happily surprised to see Sara.

“Yeah,” he said grinning like a fool but realizing he needed to control himself so not to make a scene, “the factories sure make they with all the bells and whistles these days.”

As if on cue, Sara giggled like a small girl then walked off without saying another word to disappear into the crowd. That night the two, more dedicated than ever to the affair, spent an hour instant messaging each other planning their next move. The respective spouses of Michael and Sara, consumed in their in own interests, paid no attention to what they were doing.

The two potential lovebirds went headlong into planning on how they would consummate their relationship. It was decided they needed a longer meeting to talk things out, preferably someplace offering a little privacy but not enough to draw attention to themselves. The city zoo on a weekday offered the perfect conditions with both acknowledging that a nearby travel motel would be the place they would go if they decided to take things to the next level. It took a couple of more weeks to carefully alter their respective schedules without drawing any attention from their spouses or coworkers.

Sitting in his car Michael watched the minutes tick down on his watch waiting for the zoo to open. It was during these quiet, closing minutes that he began blaming his wife for him pursuing someone outside of their marriage. She had become engrossed in various community services and charity work, and in a fit of self-righteousness, Michael felt uncomfortable with what he consider was a deep infatuation she was showing towards the director of the meals-on-wheels charity. Truth be told, while Michael did feel gravely under appreciated in his marriage, deep down part of his mind was playing the same game he saw his father and uncle do their wives.

For Sara, her husband, never the deeply physical type to begin with, had become a certified workaholic. Sex with him was now both extremely rare and mechanical when he did feel in the mood. Adding insult to injury he had become an avid fisherman and was now spending most of his time on the lake when not in the office.

The second the zoo opened Michael rushes to the ticket counter. He even beats a group of daycare age children being carefully lead inside by five already weary adult watchers.

“Taking a day off from work and going to the zoo I see,” the middle aged woman at the ticket counter says to Michael with a smile that could mean anything. “We don't see many single guys on a Tuesday.” she finishes still sporting an almost knowing smile.

“Yeah,” Michael says unsure how to handle her statement, “some days you just have to get away from the daily routine.” The ticket lady just nods as Michael rushes inside.

Being early in the workweek once the zoo opened the few people waiting to enter soon scattered all over making the place seem deserted of visitors. The only people visible were the occasional animal keeper and maintenance type taking care of their normal duties.

The plan was for Sara to arrive about thirty minutes after opening with them meeting in the newly constructed gorilla observation building. The inside featured a huge picture window looking out over the gorilla outside habitat and a small window on the far wall showing their living area. The best part about the building was the comfortable seats and the fact Michael and Sara could stay there for a considerable time and talk without drawing any undo interest. Another factor was because the observation building was on the far end of the zoo almost hidden by tropical-style vegetation. Michael felt it was certain Sara and he would have a long time to talk before heading over to the motel.

Feeling slightly nervous though, Michael decided to stroll around for a few minutes to clear his head before heading over in that direction. At the alligator exhibit he stopped for a moment figuring everything was finally coming together, the zoo was nearly empty, Sara and him were clearly a perfect match, and both of their spouses were totally oblivious to what was going on. Figuring it was time to go, he quickly began walking towards the building.

The zoo had gone all out on the observation building and had installed glass doors that were heavily tinted making it impossible to see through. So much that to Michael's surprise when he stepped inside he saw several other people hanging around giving every appearance they too were waiting for someone to arrive. What Michael clearly realized after only a minute of standing around was that the four men and three women were all by themselves and trying their level best to not only seem invisible but ignore all the other people.

Making matters worse, it was also clear everyone was looking at their watches or cell phones taking careful note of the time. The guilt hanging in the air was so think it was almost visible like a London fog. A lady suddenly rushes inside and stops dead in her tracks upon seeing everyone else, “Son of a bitch,” she exclaims before making eye contact with the man she was apparently hoping to meet. They quickly rush out together huddled close looking as if the paparazzi might descend on them any second.

It was then that Michael realized one of the gorillas was sitting just on the other side of the main window looking at them all. Michael could not believe his eyes, but the gorilla clearly seemed to have an expression of quiet mirth on his face. As if this was just some silly human game put on for his enjoyment.

Michael made a quick look at his watch and saw that he still had ten minutes before Sara was supposed to arrive. During that time a few more people arrived, found the person they were there to meet, and immediately left. For one guy and lady it was clear the people they were waiting for had changed their mind. Both walked out of the observation building looking obviously dejected.

With two minutes to spare the observation room was empty except for Michael. He silently rejoiced in this turn of events figuring everything would work out after all. Just then both of the tinted glass doors flew open from a flood of small children entering. It was total chaos with the children running around and screaming at the top of their small lungs as three adults tried to keep them under control. Much to Michael's horror he realized that the adults were wearing t-shirts identifying themselves as workers for one of the very charities his wife helped out with several times a month.

When Sara arrived a few moments later she immediately panicked after seeing all the children and ran back out without seeing Michael. He attempted to follow but was grabbed by one of the ladies watching the wild children. “Well Michael Harris,” she said, “what are you doing here this time of the day?”

Michael was an intelligent adult and had an answer to that question that didn't make him look completely guilty of something, but it took a full twenty minutes before he could reasonably break away from one of his wife's charity coworkers. During that time he caught glimpses of the gorilla looking straight at him seemingly about to laugh his ass off.

(Final note: The origins of this story are slightly complicated. A while back my wife and daughter decided to go shopping one Saturday afternoon. Not something I would usually volunteer to join except that my wife said that if I drove lunch would be at our favorite Italian restaurant. While they were inside the Kohls department store I sat in the car listening to NPR. Now this particular Kohls is in the Harbison section of Columbia and has a rather strangely placed parking lot that essentially hides it from view of anyone driving the main road.

While innocently sitting in my car another pulled up almost perpendicular to mine. In this other car was a couple who spent several minutes doing some seriously old fashioned making out before the lady jumped out and got in her own car. The guy had driven off the second the lady closed the door to his car but as the she backed out to leave herself she finally noticed me. She gave me a strange look of what I could only call acknowledgement then left herself. Okay, I'm an adult and have seen things and know how the world works but since I was totally minding my own business it took me several seconds to realize what I had just saw.)