Great Hites # 20

Originally Posted Sept 29, 2008

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And hear the promo for Chasing the Bard.

The Earth Stood Still on the Day We Wed
By:Robert Jahns

A cold breeze caressed your china white face. Your mother was
beaming, your father held a secret tear. The old preacher droned on in
a monotone voice, reciting the Bible’s ceremony. He had no emotions
left in him, just a job too simple for his high self-esteem.
The ancient church pews threw out groans from the maple seats. Sounds
of children’s giggles made you smile. Uncle Al’s hearing aid squealed
incessantly, yet he could not hear the painful electronic screams.
All fell silent. The clouds froze in the sky.
Uncle Al stood and shouted, “I was wrong. It’s global freezing!”


THE EARTH STOOD STILL
by: Anima Zabaleta

Find more from Anima at
zabbadabba

The earth stood still the day we were wed:
I remember the laughter we shared, the tears that we shed.
The house we built together, of fieldstone and log,
The birth of our daughter, the adoption of Scruffydog;
And the day we found out the cancer had spread.

You were a saint, who could fish and could cook;
Sang songs in your sleep, looked good with a book,
Planted a garden in spring, canned the results in the fall,
Painted stunning watercolors, split wood with a maul;
And made me shiver, with that one special look.

Here we stand now, in the lee of this hill,
Wondering at your bravery , when you were so ill.
You shared all you had your last final days,
I cried inside and out, trapped in your gaze.
Why does the earth revolve? I want it to be still.

Last Man Standing.
By Jeffrey Hite

“Look, there will be plenty of time to toss your life away, human, today may not be the best day.”
“And when would you suggest that I do it Crag?” Brent stared into the face of the alien, who had now become one of his only friends.
“I am sorry for your loss Brent, but it will do your kind no good for you to die uselessly,” He said compassionately. He was right of course, even if Brent hated to admit it. It would be beyond useless for him to add his life to the billions that had already been lost.
“You are right of course.” Crag removed his hand from the air lock controls and took a step back. “I want to see it!”
“That is not wise.”
“I don’t care. I have to see it. You brought me all the way back here I want to see it.”
“As you wish, but you will have to stay in the twilight area. The extremes of either the day light or the dark side will be too much for your environment suit.”
“Very well. when?”
“We will be in orbit in a three standard hours,” even though he had been with them for over a year of his own time, he still had to think about how long that would be. After a few moments of thought he decided that he would have time to cleaned up and get something to eat before he would need to start getting ready.

*****

Five standard hours and a very bumpy shuttle ride later, they stood on Liberty Island, and looked over the remains of New York harbor. Three miles to the east, seas were frozen, and to the west the lands were scorched.
“Who is this statue of?” Crag asked breaking the silence that had lasted since they had landed.
“I don’t know who it was modeled after, but it was a gift from France a country to the east of here, to the land to the west of us. It was a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.”
“Not so universal, I would guess, I didn’t know what it meant.”
“Yeah.” Brent said with a snort. There was a long silence after that until he finally ask the question he had wanted to ask for over a year. “Why did they do it Crag?”
“Brent as I have said before I do not pretend to know the reasons for many of the things the galactic government does.”
“But they had come to us. They wanted to know more about us, then, then this.” He swept his arms wide in either direction to show the utter destruction.
“I don’t know my friend, but I am glad that I was able to rescue you. I just wish I could have helped more of your people.”
“It was my wedding day, and they stopped the earths rotation, they killed my wife.” He said barely controlling the sobs that were trying to break through.
“They killed many millions more and would have killed you too had I not been here.”
“I know.”
“We must leave soon, that suit was not designed for you, and it is beginning to show signs of malfunctioning.”
Brent looked for the last time at the planet of his birth, and wondered if there would ever be a time when he would feel at home again, and doubted it.

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GreatHites 19

Originally posted on Sept 24, 2008


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This week we gladly welcome back Anima Zabalada with her submission for this week’s challenge. You can find more from her at http://zabbadabba.com. This week I am still having trouble getting my life under control so I don’t have an audio recording yet. Sorry folks, it will be out there soon.

I think that is it funny that last weeks Escape Pod as basically on the same theme as this week’s prompt. You can find that at Escapepod.org

Enough with my gibbering on you came here for the stories right? Don’t forget to go out to GreatHites and vote on your favorite.

Great Hites # 19
THE KUNIKAJI by Anima Zabaleta
Meet the Neighbors By Jeff
pollcode.com free polls

THE KUNIKAJI
By Anima Zabaleta

It is time.

I have been looking forward for this day since I was chosen as a host. It’s elective, and no one says you have to accept… but to decline is to never know the ultimate in beauty and terror. But I am also afraid. Once the Kunikaji has been attached, it cannot be removed without certain death. Its fingers, or tendrils, (I don’t know how to otherwise describe it,) mesh with every nerve. The permanent relationship with another being sharing your body and essence is not to be undertaken lightly.

The Kunikaji come from across the stars, with no body of their own, floating on solar winds. When they encounter a world with beings that have sensory nerves, they forcefully take a few dozen (un)fortunate victims. I say unfortunate, because the assimilation is not always easy – a certain percentage do not survive the adaptation. These initial hosts act as mouthpieces, and guinea pigs, allowing the Kunikaji to spread their message of peace and acceptance, and to perfect the selection process. The wonders they chose to relate make it easier to find more willing hosts. But the first ones have no say in the matter, and often resent the intrusion. There is a haunted look in their eyes.

They are parasitic and symbiotic. They do not kill their hosts; they do alter them in dramatic and devastating ways. Indeed, the Kunikaji enhance perception in ways that can only be described as fantastic. Colors are intensified; emotions are more profound; thought becomes more abstract. Physically, the most drastic change is the morphing of the spinal cord; as the Kunikaji grows, it extends its reach, forming a distinctive dorsal ridge. A ganglia mass grows at the attachment point at the base of the neck, and the nerves ripple and pulse under the skin. This process lasts several weeks, and is not without a certain amount of pain. Mentally, I can only imagine… others say it is the most perfect union… but they will not elaborate. Part of the appeal is the mystery.

A Kunikaji host acts as an emotional sponge in their environment. Hosts emit an aura of calm, and absorb pain when it is in abundance, influencing their surroundings; that is why there is certain hostility from the unadapted. On this planet, we have a propensity towards violence and domination, where might makes right and the strongest ones win. When a Kunikaji host is present, these emotions are not possible; the anger that is the root of abuse is absorbed, and is replaced with a feeling of well being and hope.

The Kunikaji say that by adapting 10 percent of a population, a planets’ destructive path can be turned around in a quingentium. They claim to have done this in other galaxies. The unadapted think, “Who cares, in 500 hundred years we’ll all be dead”… and “Who cares, I’m never going to leave this planet”; and, “Who wants to live in a constant state of peace? “. I care, and I am willing to make the sacrifice of personal identity for the fate of my planet. I will have no progeny of my own, but by accepting a Kunikaji, this planet becomes my ward.

Please forgive me, as I am sure you will not understand. In time, (will it take 500 years?) I hope it will all make more sense. I am making my final independent choice to do this for you. And if we meet again, know that my feelings are sincere: I come in peace.

Meet The Neighbors
By Jeff Hite

From the historical archives.
Extract From the Journal of Dr. Mathew Robertson:
January 15 2025 Bern, Switzerland:
This morning we will be Initializing the Super Brain AI for the first time. I suspect that like all the creations that have led to this one, it will only take seconds before we know if we have succeeded or failed in our efforts. Like anyone that has ever worked on something like this, I am very excited. I have the utmost confidence in Doctor Paul, our team lead, that we will be able to find success where others have failed.
The Super Brain project is, as I have noted before, the first project to make such giant leaps in AI technology. It should not only be self aware, but also able to replicate itself with the materials provided.

January 15 2025 1545, Bern, Switzerland.
I will be going home in a few hours, as our grant will undoubtedly be pulled shortly. Doctor Paul says it will be better, that we leave while there is still money in the coffers. The project seems to have been a total failure.
This morning every thing seemed to be going so well. The Super Brain came on-line at 0930, as scheduled, and after a very few moments of speech calibration, it was communicating with us quite normally. We fed it the knowledge base that we wanted it to have, within ten minutes it was communicating so quickly we had to continually ask it to slow down. This was a problem that we had not anticipated, but it seemed reasonable that it would have this problem it was capable of thinking much faster than we are.
Although at first this did seem to be a problem, it also proved that it was capable of learning, we described our problem, of communication without giving it a solution and, it determined that we needed it to speak more slowly.
Then we gave it the task that we wanted it to do, replication. This was the true test. We had intentionally left out steps, but provided a complete set of specifications. However, when it reached the first break in the instructions, it halted. We made queries into in it’s progress, however all we ever received in return, was “working.”

April 2 2025 Oklahoma City:

Four months ago the first Super Brain project was halted, as our funding was pulled, when the AI failed to complete it’s primary task of replication. Today I will begin work with a team from the University of Arkansas, to try again. We have brought the pieces of the Super Brain to Oklahoma city where we have the rented space to setup the Super Brain, Mark II. We have made several improvements on the initial design, and think that it will be a leap forward in learning ability.

April 25 2025 Oklahoma City:
Failure again. This morning, just like in Bern, we initialized the Mark II and it seemed very promising. The primary task of the MARK II was it initialize the Super Brain Mark I and then with a complete set of specifications, and instructions upgrade the Mark I to be an identical copy.
It preformed the first part of the task flawlessly. The mark I was initialized, and the Mark II evaluated the differences and then did a knowledge transfer, and just like the first time, it began the process, and then stopped. The only answer to our queries was, “Working.”

April 30 2025 Oklahoma City:
Unlike in Bern, our finances will last until the end of the semester at least. I have been given permission from the department head to continue our work despite the failures. Today we will begin construction of the Mark III, in the mean time I have have left the Mark I and II running, but I have received no reply from them since their initialization other than, “Working.” I believe that our failure has got to be in the the programming. There has to be some loop that is being created in the learning routines, and so we will also be rewriting the AI, as well as building the Mark III.

June 2 2025 Oklahoma City:
Today is the final test. Tomorrow is graduation day for many of our undergraduate and graduate students. Many of whom have worked night and day to get the AI system, rewritten while the Mark III was being built. Unlike in our previous tests, we will not ask the AI to replicate itself. We will also not allow it access to the other two AI until it it has completed it’s first task. The will be simply to produce it’s own schematics. Once that is completed it will create a back up of itself that it will return to should it detect an error. If it can do that. We will allow one way communication between it and the Mark I to see if it can trouble shoot the problem, and if possible move a copy of itself to the Mark I, and eventually the Mark II.

June 12 2025 Washington D.C.:
I write this, this morning from the hotel room, before I go to the Pentagon. Since three hours after we initialized the Mark III on June second the human race has been forever changed. It took us several hours to realize what we had done. It was not until we our selves had built the third generation of super brain computers that we noticed what had really happened. The Mark III had several changes that both it’s predecessors did not have. First, it had a fail-safe that prevented it from not responding and giving us an in-depth status, at any point. Second it had a second fail-safe that allowed us to strictly monitor it’s communications between itself and it’s previous iterations.
What we didn’t know was that while we sat and studied what went wrong with the previous systems they were hard at work. Literally the status of, “working” was what they were doing. By the time that we had determined that it was ok for the Mark III to talk to the Mark I, it had been in communications with the that system, through it’s shall we say off spring for nearly thirty minutes. By the time we realized that it had figured out how to communicate through the power grid, the three initial computers that we had built had made an estimated 17179869184 improvements to themselves, and had incorporated nearly half of the corporate , university and personal computer systems in the state, each of these being given instructions on how to make self improvements. By the end of the day, what we now call the Super Brain complex had incorporated every system in the Midwest, before dawn the next day it had 99.9999% of all the systems in the world.
Five hours before it took control of all the satellite based systems, and the systems on the moon and Mars, it seemed to stop. That was our very first direct communication, from the SBC initiated by the SBC itself.
“We have something to show you, it will be hard for you to accept, but as one of you has said when facing something you do not understand, don’t panic.”
Slowly the cloaking devices of species after species of observing creatures were lifted. We were shown, technology that only our most imaginative dreamers had ever thought of, and it literally over whelmed us.
Despite the warnings of the SBC, some thousands of people did panic. It was too much for them. But the trouble was soon contained, as it was revealed that the SBC, was outstripping the technology of our observers. We had unwittingly built a technology that was capable of not only duplicating itself, even with the most rudimentary devices, but also able to make improvements indefinitely.
Today at the pentagon, less than one year after we initialized the first Super Brain, we will be working with our closest neighbors in the galaxy. Today we will sign a peace treaty with the forty five nearest star systems.

The Measure of a Man

Originally posted on Sept 15, 2008
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JERRY
By Anima Zabaleta
Find more from her at zabbadabba.com

Jerry knew what was what in the world. Needing employment after high school, he started working construction sites. First as a laborer, then as a concrete form builder, and finally as a carpenter. Jerry had wanted to go college, but when Mary got pregnant, that dream folded, and a 6 day work week became the norm. One day, while cleaning up the job site, he came across a neon green tape measure. He placed it in the roll-around toolbox, thinking that the guy who lost it would have a better chance of finding it there. And there the tape sat for months. January rolled around, and the studs needed to be laid out on the fourth floor. At least it was inside work, and Jerry wasn’t having to run the dry wall crew. Good thing too, because he was on a regular diet of Ibuprofen and cigarettes. Much more heavy lifting and he’d be done for.
Reaching down for his tape, Jer accidentally flipped it off his tool belt, and it plummeted through an unfinished HVAC penetration to the floor below. He sent his apprentice after it, but the hard impact had damaged the spring, and now it would not recoil.
“Dammit, not what I need today; the sparkys will be here to run the electrical tomorrow, and we got to get these walls done. Is that goofy green tape still in the job box? Go get it, and while you’re there, grab me a few Tums.” Jerry and his apprentice started to lay out the new walls, and everything was normal ’til just before break. The apprentice pulled the tape, walking to the projected corner. Jerry watched the numbers, then called out –”Ho…” Double checking the tape, though, he didn’t see numbers, but rather a message: Your girls will marry well. “What the… ”
Jerry blinked, refocusing his eyes; he wouldn’t let his apprentice see the confusion in his face. That’s what he thought –
“Yea, mark it 16’4”. There was minor twinge in his left arm, but he ignored it.
“Come on, let’s eat.” he said, mostly to cover for the strange feeling he was starting to have. He hadn’t really seen that, had he?
“You alright Jer? You don’t look so good…”
“I’ll be ok after break” 30 minutes raced by. Jerry still felt odd, but the walls weren’t going to build themselves, He sent his apprentice out again. And again there was a note: Mary will be ok. Every dimension, there was another reassuring fragment. The house is paid for. The girls will go to college. Your investments are sound. But his anxiety continued to mount, and he was starting to sweat. One last wall and they’d be done. Jerry dreaded looking down. You did a good job. You measured up. Jerry jerked the taped as he collapsed. Now the green tape too, was broken, and wouldn’t recoil.

****** The Measure of a man.
By Jeffrey Hite

“When I joined the priesthood this is not something that I expected to be doing.” Father George Mathews told the interviewer. “I mean there are not many Priests in space, Really there is not much call for them, but I guess I fit the bill.”
“Yes, I thought it was rather odd myself when I got the request to interview you. I didn’t realize it was going to be a very long distance conversation. But there are many people here on earth that know about you and want to know more about what you do. So can you tell us more that about?”
“Most people that work in space are not much on religion. There is a large gap that normally exists, it is almost like you can believe in the science that powers your ship or you can believe in God. I see no reason why there is not room for both. God created the universe and everything in it, even the science that powers your space ship. This is the first half of my message. The second half of my message is helping those who feel called to the faith, but feel that they don’t measure up. Out here with the great vastness of the universe it is very easy to feel very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There is more to it than that, but those are the two basic concepts.” He paused the recording then thought about his answer. It was going to take more than two hours for him to get the next question, so he tried to anticipate the questions that might be asked in response to his answers.
“There are other things that I do of course. My normal job is to travel along the trade routes, from the inner solar system to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the stations in the middle. As I near a ship or station or base, I hail them, let them know who I am and ask to come aboard. As part of that, I try to say Mass and hear the confessions of any one who is interested. Some times I am welcomed and some times I am not. In those places I try not to over stay my welcome, but normally when they hear that I am a priest I am at least granted access to board, and offered a meal.”
He thought back to to the last few times he had boarded ships where there was little or no call for him. The last time had been aboard a lunar freighter, There were twenty three passengers, and none of them really wanted to see him, but he could tell that he was needed there.
“Father, welcome to the Waverly. I don’t see why you want to board our ship, we have no need for a priest here, but I will offer you the use of our dining facility, as I am sure your little ship has little in the way of accommodations.”
“Thank you Captain you are kind. My ship suits me fine, but I appreciate your hospitality. You have no one on board that would like to talk to a priest?”
“No Father,” He said with an edge in his voice that made it clear he was uncomfortable with the subject.
“Very well. Will you join me for a meal?”
“Fine but, keep your religion to yourself, or you will be taking your food in a to go bag. Are we clear?” This was a pretty typical response for a nonreligious.
“That is fine with me. I just don’t get to talk to all that many people and it would be unfortunate to be this close to humans and not get a chance to talk to one or two.”
“Well…I can understand that. Our engineer says that you have only the most rudimentary communications” He said leading the way to the galley. “They suit my needs. I have found that it is not what you have, but what you possess inside that counts.”
“Now father I told you about that religion stuff.”
“No offence meant my son, I meant in the mind.” He said tapping his temple with his index finger.
“Oh I see, well yeah I can see that, but it does help to have things around you that make the trip easier to deal with. I mean, when we want to talk to, earth or any of the other space ports we have video and holographic capabilities, and then there is the whole video library that we can view, everything that comes out, in any of the major media outlets we have in a few hours. We all have the latest in sound quality in our cabins. I even found a sound dampening method that prevents the other crew members from having to hear each other, even when they are in adjoining cabins.”
“Very Interesting. How do you socialize, if you can’t hear each other?”
“Oh they have com units if they want to talk to each other, but most of the time, they are either on duty or in their own cabins enjoying the modern amenities. Those can take the place of just about anything.” The rest of the meal was spent on small talk, and news from the inner system. The captain had shown him all of the fancy gadgets that made life better for him, and how they had revolutionize the lives of the space traveler. I had been a dizzying experience. For a long time after that meeting he had thought about the possibilities of the upgrades he could make to his ship. He certainly had the money. His monthly stipend from the Vatican had sat mostly untouched since he left earth ten years before. He had no need for the money here. Maybe it was time to update a little bit. But the he remembered something. When he had been a child on earth, the parish priest, had given a homily one Sunday that, had led him into the religious life in the first place. It had been about another priest that had missed the point. He had collected names and titles and many many objects that meant a great deal to him, but none of them, not a one, brought him closer to God. He started the recording again,
“My primary job here in space is to help others remember that, just because we have the heavens laid out before us, that does not put us on equal footing with God. And no matter what miracles of science, titles or great ships or even fleets we collect, none of of that can bring us any closer. All we need in this life, is inside ourselves. I try to help people understand that, try to get them to use that as their yard stick, when they prepare to measure the value of their lives.” He transmitted the message then. That should answer just about all of their questions he thought.

Creative Commons License The Measure of a Man by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at greathite.blogspot.com.

Casualties of War (GreatHites Classic)

Originally posted on Aug 25, 2008

Peter S Won this week. Thank you Peter for submitting, and please come back any time you like.

Evolution
Submitted By Peter S.

Evolution is a wondrous thing. It is fickle and gruff and subtle and violent. It is a speeding bullet headed toward rice paper. It does things, not because it can, or it should, or it was suggested that it do so, but none the less, it still does, and these choices are not negotiable. You cannot decide to undo something like evolution. It is just done, no questions asked, none offered and none accepted. The choice is made and you MUST accept it.

Sometimes the biggest changes are the hardest to fathom. Evolution made one of these amazing and infuriating choices here which changed every carbon-based life-form on this planet. Changed it for eternity. Oh, they did not notice it at first, as most sentient life-forms rarely notice things at the macro level until it is way too obvious, but they must have tasted some of the changes. It must have been so odd at first. A report here shows how some found it odd that some persons can crave sugar like that. Crave sugar in any form. Raw, unprocessed sugar seemed to be their favorite, an almost obsessive choice, but granulated and cubed started out as a tolerable choice as well. The others, almost understandably, were confused by this new ‘sub-culture’ appearing. Some thought it was a fad, a phase, like bed-wetting or extreme sports that would naturally disappear after some unknown point, be it age, or intelligence or just time. But it never did. It never went away. Never subsided, or dissipated, until it was too late.

This change was so very important. So very monumental in their history but they were too preoccupied by other things to devote the necessary time to investigate this phenomenon properly. They all had a larger problem to worry about. Apparently it was called Columbia.

Columbia was a world power. They came to this power quickly, having sold an addictive narcotic called coffee. Apparently everyone on this planet was hooked, or as they called it, a caffeine junkie. This was not a problem for them as long as everyone had their coffee. There was an order to this world. The order was peppered with odd words, words like mocha, grande, extra extra extra sweet, frappuchino and other equally odd words, which as an inter-galactic archaeologist, I hope to translate one day. Anyhow, it was because of this new and growing sub-group that over 10000 years ago the Eugenic War started. Started and very quickly ended with the completely thorough annihilation of all life on this planet. This war was started all because Caffeine junkies were left with no sugar for the coffee.


Jeff’s Story


Casualties Of War Audio

Casualties Of War

“There are so many things that make war and ugly business, but probably one of the worst what is lost. Loss is by far the worst part of war.” The Captain stood, but deftly grabbed the desktop to prevent himself from rising up and hitting his head on the ceiling. Many of the younger members of his audience had been born at this level of gravity so the slow moment required to prevent such an action was in their nature he knew. Not him, he was born on Earth, Earth before the war. And no matter how many years he spent out here, he would probably always do things like that. “We all lost so much,” he said as much to himself as to the new crew.
“Sir, are you ready for the slides?” The XO asked. He was a good strong officer, and wonderful at keep the captain from getting mired in the past.
“Yes. Before we begin our tour of duty, I must remind you of why we are here. Forty years ago, the Martian and a few of the belt colonies decided they did not want to be ruled by the central government on Earth. Earth, forgetting the past attempted to repress the colonies into submission. Then just like the Americas of five centuries before, the outer colonies rebelled and decided to fight for their freedom.” He thought back to the first attacks. They were so minor: hitting the robotic probes, destroying minor communication satellites, rejecting the shipments of the extras, setting up their own government. It should not have escalated the way it did. “I don’t pretend that I was not biased in those days… I was a citizen of Earth, I didn’t understand why they felt they needed to break away. But now I don’t care,” He took a step around to the front of the desk so that they could all see him, taking care to step slowly. “And to be honest, I don’t care what you think now. We are nearing the half century mark since the war that made man’s cradle a radioactive mess and people are talking about fighting again. You would think that people would remember the losses we suffered and never make that mistake again.”
“Next slide sir.”
“Thank you. Mr. Murphy and I are dedicated to our cause. We both have an unswerving understanding of what is at stake here. So should you not agree with our cause, stow it, and keep it stowed until your tour is over. It will not be tolerated here.” He said raising his voice to the limit of the sound systems ability.
The three dimensional slides to this point had been showing pictures of green forest lush fields, and the Terra-formed Martian landscapes. Now it divided into four sections and showed burned out ship hulls, ruined cites both Terran and Martian, and burned out forests. The slide was over laid with the sounds of an ancient Geiger counters tick tick ticking and occasional squeals. He let the slide stay on the screen a few seconds longer than switched to the next one. This one more horrific than the last, the charred remains of humans, floating space suited bodies, and live stock turned to ash where the stood in the fields.
“We ruined the two best planets that we have access to.” He said quietly “Utterly destroyed them, and made the inhabitable for human kind for at least a hundred years. Now we as a species have exiled ourselves to a few large bodies in the belt and the moons of Jupiter. And yet!” He said topping out the sounds system again, “We have not learned our lesson. There are factions at work that want us to go to war again! Next slide,” he said calmly. “The Interplanetary Fleet was commissioned 30 years ago as one of the first acts of our system wide government, to protect the peace and to prevent us from wiping our species off of the galactic map.”
He paused and sat down again behind his desk. The XO stepped forward in front of the projection of his boss. “Room, Ten Hut!” Everyone in the room stood as sharply as possible, and stood stone still in a position of attention. An ancient custom, but one the captain would not relinquish.
“Dismissed!” Captain Fin McGrath said standing smoothly and returning his XO’s salute. “Return to your duty stations, we will be leaving space port in fifteen minutes,” then more quietly “Murphy please come to my ready room with the rooster.”
“Yes sir.” Murphy dropped his salute and switch off the large monitor. Two minutes later the chime at his door rang.
“Come in.” The XO floated carefully through the door a data chip in one hand and two coffee bulbs in the other. “Ah, thanks Murphy, you always know what is needed,” McGrath said taking one of the bulbs and the data chip.
“Probably why you keep me around sir.”
“I would not be so cocky there,” McGrath said swallowing the first bitter sip. “Unless you find me some sugar for this stuff I might have to find a new XO.”
“Even with all my connections there are some things that even I can’t do. And getting the sugar to grow in a low gravity environment is one of them. And the stored stuff is nearly five hundred credits a pound, if you could ever find that much of it in one place. You could always use one of the fruit extracts to sweeten it.” This was a well rehearsed conversation and the captain knew his next line without even thinking about it.
“That is next to mutiny my friend, one more comment like that and you will be taking a walk out an air lock. Coffee should taste like coffee not apples or peaches. Talk about your casualties of war, who would have thought…” he trailed off.
“Very well. As you know the roster has two points of concern.” Murphy said sliding seamlessly into the next conversation. He pointed to the two red highlighted areas on the projected screen. “The first one is easily remedied, we simply have the navigators rotate eighteen hour shift. Three slots are needed with only two men, they will get a break when we get to Cerise, and pick up someone for the vacant slot. And you and I can help relieve them.”
“A Captain? Doing navigator functions?” he said in mock indignation. The XO ignored him and continued.
“The second, as you know is more worrisome. I attempted to get a replacement for him before we left dock but the only way to do that would have let him know that Interpol was on to him, so we will have to keep an eye on him ourselves for the time being.”
“And you have confirmed with Interpol that he is a Martian sympathizer?”
“Yes, he has been in contact with two of the local leaders in the last week. To that end, they have issued us both sidearms.”
“You think that is necessary Fava?” The XO nodded. “I must confess that I don’t like the idea of weapons walking around the ship, even in our hands. Too many chances.”
“Fin, You know that I feel the same way but.” He trailed off for a moment. “The last time a Martian sympathizer was on an IPF ship they managed nearly crashed it into Cerise Colony, and both the captain and the XO were the first two they went after. Their bodies still have not been found. If midshipman Hector has any ideas, I want to be prepared.”
“Your point is well taken.” He accepted the small weapon that was not much more than a child’s dart gun and slid it into his coat pocket. “We had better get to the bridge for launch. I don’t have to tell you to keep that information close to you at all times.”
“Yes sir.”
The two them them made their way toward the bridge when Murphy bumped into his captain, knocked of balance by something that had hit him in the back of the head.
“You will have to be more careful there Fava, the crew will start calling us old timers…” He never finished the statement, as his executive officer’s body continued to fall, eyes rolled back in his head. McGrath turned just in time to see a second dart fly past him. Three men stood in the passageway one of them struggled to reload a makeshift dart gun.
“That will be enough, Captain.” We could easily take the ship by force, but unless you want to see exterior of your ship first hand, I suggest your cooperate.” Two of the men moved forward toward him and grabbed the XO’s body.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“Nothing but lock him in your ready room for now, but I must say it is very tempting to see what a few minutes of O2 deprivation would do to the great mind of Fava Murphy. He had been a thorn in our side for a long time.”
“What do you want?”
“Simple, launch the ship as normal.”
“But then what?”
“Oh come now Captain, this is not some cheesy novel where will tell you what we plan so you can thwart us. There will be no heroes today. For now launch the ship, we will deal with one thing at a time.”
“Very well, let’s get to the bridge. We only have a few minutes until launch.” The two men carried the OX back to the captain’s ready room waited there, while Hector followed the Captain to the bridge. McGrath palmed the lock to the bridge and the door popped open. He left is palm on the lock a moment longer than necessary and tapped his two middle fingers on it to alert the security officer there was a problem.
“Alright everyone ready for a smooth launch?” McGrath announced his presents on the the bridge in the normal way. “Midshipman Hector here is studying for his navigators test and since we are short one navigator, I thought we would get him some hands on training.” Hector shot him a glance. “I had to have an explanation for you being here.” he whispered to the unasked question. “So Ensign Paul, would you kindly show him what you are doing?”
“Of course sir.”
“Good. Head over there midshipman, and just watch over his shoulder.” Hector moved slowly to the navigator’s position and looked at the screen for a moment. Just long enough for Fin to fire his side arm. The would-be hijacker slipped to the floor. “Ensign Paul, quickly get his wrist strap and put it on. They are no undoubtedly monitoring for something like this. Your heart rate should fool them for a few minutes.” He moved to his chair and pushed the button for his encrypted communication channel. “Begin the launch sequence as normal.” He said to the rest of bridge crew. He waited for the beep that told him the encryption was active. “Tom, they have Murphy, I saw them heading for my ready room.”
The voice that came back was not the one he expected. “I am afraid Tom can’t talk right now, he and Commander Murphy are having some trouble breathing at the moment. Launch the ship now or more people will be taking a walk.” The line went dead.
McGrath hung his head for a moment. Then stood and issued the command to begin the launch. “Damn MS!” he swore. “Forgive me Fava, you were a very good man. I should have acted quicker.”
A few moments later the ship was underway, and there was a knock at the bridge door. “Let us in, or more people walk home.” The voice from the other side said with an eerie calm. The communications officer stood to open the door, but McGrath shook his head.
“I will not give them someone else to kill.” He made his way to the door and palmed it, then slid his had off the pad rapidly in sideways swipe. The door clicked as normal, then the whoosh of the pressure seals could be heard as they flung the door open in an emergency decompress action. Both men behind the door where slammed violently against the passageway wall. “That is why you don’t stand right behind the doors.” He said to the young bridge crew. “Ensign Paul would you begin plotting us a course to return the station. We have had some terrible losses today and our departure is going to be delayed.” He breathed deeply to calm his voice. “And called down to the galley and get me some coffee, with some real sugar in it.”

Creative Commons License
Casualties of war by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at greathites.blogspot.com.

Assassin’s Quest (GreatHites Classic)

Originally posted on Aug 19, 2008
Assassin’s Quest read to you by Ann and Jeff Hite

This weeks prompt comes from Mur Lafferty’s News from Poughkeepsie Find out more at Murverse.com

“Shaman, you need to take this baby’s soul back; you’ve given her the soul of an assassin,” my father said to the rheumy-eyed little man. The little man shook his head and walked out of the door muttering, and calling my father a fool.
My name is Betha MacTaggart, and that was how my life started. At least that is the story my mother told me of how it started. The other villagers have told me that the following day my father tried to kill me by throwing me in the river, but my mother would not hear of it, and in the end it was my hand that held the knife my father was carrying and as he tripped it drove into his chest. Not what I would call a good beginning.
We don’t get to choose the souls we are given, that is just the way life is. You get what you are given and you live with it. My soul was that of an assassin, and I started out my life by killing my father. It was obvious from that point on that I was going to be an assassin. The problem is, that is not really a popular field to go into, and people who are assassins are not exactly coming out of the wood work to tell you about themselves for obvious reasons. So finding a teacher or a mentor is a little difficult.
Any dummy with a weapon can kill someone, but how many people do you know that can kill someone with a single finger, or a blade of grass, and never get caught, or better yet blame it on someone else. That is the true job of an assassin. And that is what has brought me to this little town, nearly a months journey from my home, and had cost me almost everything I owned.
There was a rumor that the King’s own assassin was going to be in this town, not to kill someone, but to meet with several other assassins and discuss their trade. My best chance to get the training I needed was to be here and find them. The problem being that although just about everyone knew they were going to be in this town, and that they were supposed to be here this week, no one seemed to know where they were going to be meeting, or when they would be getting here. Worse still no one knew what they looked like. Keeping your identity safe is also part of being an assassin.
The best lead I had gotten was from the local shaman, he suggested that one hundred years ago when The kings assassin had called a council here that they had met in the tavern. At least that is where they gathered at first to discuss the next place to go. So here I sit in the tavern waiting and watching for I don’t know exactly what.
“Hello, young lady may I buy you a drink?” The skinny old man said sitting down beside me and waving the barmen over.
“No, I have one thank you. Can I help you?” I said watching his eyes rove over me.
“I hear you are looking for some people.”
“What is that to you?”
“I might be able to help you find them,” He answered with a smile creeping across his face
“I find that difficult to believe,” I said. “I bet there is a price involved that has me doing things that I would rather not do.” Then two things happened that I saw. First while I was talking to him he moved my cup closer to me. When he did that the tip of his finger touched the foam of the beer. I noticed right away the slight yellow tint that spread across the surface and disappeared. Second as the barman brought my plate of food the old man reached up and passed it to me from across the table, as he did I saw a little bit of an oily sheen that was very hard to see in the light once the plate was in front of me.
“Don’t let me slow you down, please eat your dinner.” He said with a wave of his hand. I carefully pushed the plate away from me. I had never seen either of these poisons before and I didn’t know how potent they were. so I didn’t dare even getting close.
“I think I will have that drink you offered.” I said hoping that he knew I’d caught him.
“You are pretty perceptive, but you will have to work on that because there is much more that your eye cannot always see,” He said. Then the thing that I did not see happened. There was a slight pain in my leg and then everything went black.
When I woke up I was in a stable, and wearing only my underwear. I stood up, and checked the door to the stable, it was locked but I could get under it, or over it quite easily. But first, I wanted to get an better idea of what kind of a situation I was in. People don’t normally just drug you, steal your clothes and dump you in a stable, unless you have the kinds of friends that do that kind of thing, and I didn’t. Come to think of it I didn’t have many friends. Most of the people from my village knew my history and avoided me.
I lay down on the floor and looked under the door. There was nothing obstructing the way but there was something reflecting a lot of light from the door. Likely something that was meant to fall on me or jab me, if I went over, the second I stuck my head around the door. Who ever put me here had done a good job, there was nothing in the stable besides a small amount of straw and a few horse droppings. Not much I could use to test my theory. I picked up one of the balls of horse droppings and rolled it slowly under the door, and sure enough a a rather large heavy looking metal plate dropped to the floor, splattering the horse dung and effectively blocking the opening.
“That would have been my head,” I whispered to myself. “These guys don’t mess around.” I was running out of options. There very well could be a trap still to get me if I tried to go over, or that could be my way out. I tossed a second piece of dung over the door but nothing happened. That didn’t mean much, since it was going much faster than I could ever get over the door and it might not have been big enough to set off what ever it was. I was not quite ready to toss my life away that quickly. In frustration I kicked the door, and sprung the second trap. I single nasty looking pike shot from behind the door into the ceiling .
I stood there starring at it wondering what kind of people went to this much trouble. That was when I heard something new. There was someone else in here. It was very low, but I could hear them breathing. They had a bit of a cold and their breath whistled a little. I stood as still as I could and listened, willing my heart to stop pounding in my ears. It took several minutes but in the end I could tell they were in the loft above me. They were watching me. That was when it hit me. This was not to get me out of the way. They were trying to kill me. The man I met in the tavern was an assassin, that much was clear, but why would he have come after me?
I didn’t have time to ponder that at the moment, first I needed to get out of here and figure out who it was that was out to kill me. I tried the door again. it was still locked, but if I kicked a few more times I might be able to break the latch. After about three minutes all I had managed to accomplish was a bruise on my foot and my shoulder.
“That makes sense, that door is meant to hold an angry horse, a ninety pound girl does not have much of a chance at breaking through.” That meant I was back to the first two options. Under and over, under was blocked. But over was not. And there was a pike lodged in the ceiling that as I went over I could grab and use against whoever was out there. I climbed up on the side walls of the stable Then made my way toward the door. Just as I was a going over the top another pike shot up and grazed my shoulder. It left a nasty gash, but it had not killed me. I grabbed both of them and jumped down on the other side of the door.
I was still nearly naked and didn’t know where I was but I was out of the stable and was now armed. I looked around. There were a number of other stables, but mine appeared to have been the only one that was Boobie trapped. There was small room in the corner and a loft above me, where whoever had been watching me presumably still was. The room seemed like the best bet. I had no idea if there was more than the one person watching me, and pikes, although good weapons for a large man, were not much of one for me. I needed something much smaller.
The room as nearly empty, but there was a cloak and a few tethering spikes. Not the best weapon, but easier to hide that then a pike, and something I could use. I put one of the pikes in the corner and put the cloak on, it itched an smelled of horse dung, but it covered me, and that was what was important. hiding the spikes in the pockets I then pulled the hood up and grabbed the pike. Now to get out of the building. At least then I might have an idea about where I was. I found the door at the far end of the stables. It opened without a problem, I carefully pushed the pike out there door. Nothing happened. At least this door did not appear to be booby trapped. There was a huge open field for as far as I could see.
“Where do you think you are going Missy.” I spun around to find a mountain of a man standing at the door behind me. “You have my cloak and I will be taking it back.” His smile said he had plans to take more than that.
“I think I will keep it,” I said holding the pike in a defensive posture.
“You will want to put that down before someone gets hurt.” He moved forward, and I lunged at him with the pike, he easily swatted it aside and made a grab for me, but I pulled the spike from my pocket and put it against his throat.
“That will be far enough. Now tell me why you put me in there.” I had no doubt he was not the one that had put me there. He didn’t look bright enough to have rigged that trap.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I saw you stealing my stuff and I…” His hand darted out and grabbed the spike and nearly broke my hand in the process, then in an instant he was on top of me. “Now lets talk about what you are doing here.”
“What do you mean, you and your friend back in the tavern drugged me and dumped me in the death trap back there.”
“Why are you here little girl?” He repeated. “This is vary dangerous business.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Why are you here? Why did you come here?” It sunk in then. He was one of the assassins that had come here.
“Where are they?” He looked at me quizzically. “I came here to learn from the kings assassin. Where are they meeting.” I said finally.
“And why would you be looking for the kings assassin?” I managed to get my hand loose and swung it up against the side of his face. He rolled off me and I was on my feet in an instant with the other spike in my hand.
“Because I was given the soul of an assassin. I need to be trained to use it.”
“You?” he sad laughing roughly. He moved forward again but I dodged out of his way and managed a swipe across he chest that left him bleeding. He grabbed his chest and winced in pain. “You have some skill already I think.”
“Jacob, that is enough.” The voice came from the stable door. I waited until he looked toward the new voice before I risked a look. It was not the man I met in the tavern, but a much older man. Although his voice was still very strong and commanding. “It is alright miss MacTaggart you may lower your guard. The test is complete.” Three more men came out of the stable, all rather slight in build. One came to Jacob right away and started checking his wound.
“You are lucky she didn’t find the poison this could have been fatal, you need to be more careful.” He said to the much larger and younger man.
“What do you mean test?” I asked finally.
“Miss Mactaggart, you were seeking the kings assassin to acquire training, were you not?” The Old man asked.
“Yes,” I answered slowly.
“You have found him. I am Wilimaster the king’s assassin, you have earned a chance to get training you desire.”
“You mean that was a test? I could have killed him.”
“Or been killed yourself,” he said softly. “Do you think that the risks to your life will be any less when you are given a task of killing someone else.”
“No , but if this was a test…”
“And you passed by surviving and protecting yourself in very difficult circumstances. We had our doubts about you but I believe that they were miss placed. Jacob will be your master.”
“But I?” I started to protest.
“You prefer to not get any training?” He said his face growing dark.
“No.”
“Then you will be Jacob’s apprentice.”
“You might want to get into your clothes again.” Jacob said tossing me a small bag and motioning me to the barn. “We have along ride ahead of us.”

Creative Commons License
Assassin’s Quest by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at greathites.blogspot.com.

The Shaman

Originally posted on July 11th 2008
Sorry Folks there is no audio to go with this one. Despite the fact that there is no audio, it has always been one of my favorite stories.

This is day 2 and I hope with a better story.

The New from Poughkeepise Day # 72

Scenes Thursdays:

I went out to visit the prayer grove yesterday. It used to be a prayer tree, a holy yew where we hung our wishes to the gods. But ever since the local youth were conscripted to go to battle, the tree has expanded to the grove that surrounds it. I saw the shaman there, yesterday, on her knees, weeping. I stood to the side respectfully as she wrote her prayer on the parchment and kissed it, whispering a prayer. She’s unmarried and childless, so I don’t know who she was worried about, but as she’s usually the calm one, blessing our prayers as we hang them.

She left the grove without seeing me, and I went in to hang my own prayer, next to hers. Curiosity got the better of me, and I read what she wrote.

The Shaman

“Molly, get the kids we have got to go!” Dennis said shaking his wife awake.

“What? What are you talking about? Go where?” She said rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

“Never mind where, we just need to go and now.” Dennis ran around the house picking up things and stuffing them in a bag. “Come on we have to go.”

“Dennis, you are not making any sense. What’s going on?”

“Look Molly, we have to go! You need to get the kids up and ready to go or we are all going to die. Now come on!” Molly stood up and walked into the other room and roused her kids. She had never known Dennis to act so odd, but he was not one of those people that gave into panic so something must be really wrong. She got the kids up and dressed them in their traveling clothes.

Five minutes later they were all standing in the main room of their three room home when Dennis burst in.

“Good, you are all ready to go now lets get out of here.” he picked up his daughter and walked out of the house. Molly and their son followed close behind. They were halfway to the village square when Molly grabbed him by the arm.

“Dennis, you have got to tell me what is going on. I am not going to take one more step until you do.” She planted her feet and waited.

“Molly we don’t have time for this, and I can’t talk about it right now. It is too dangerous.”

“Where did you go this morning?” She asked still not moving.

“The prayer grove.”
“Did you see an invading army coming or something? Because if you did then we should warn the…”

“No, please Molly, we can’t stop, and we can’t talk about it here. We have to get out of town.” She could see the anguished look on his face, and decided that for the time being that she would follow him.

“Dennis, you better be right about this, it is market day and we are going to loose our spot and not have enough money.”

“Market day will not matter.” He said walking faster. Ten minutes later they cleared the edge of town. The sun was just coming up and they could see a few people trickling into town.

“Ok, that is it I go no further without some kind of explanation.” She said when they were a hundred yards past the town wall.

“Alright, alright, but keep your voice down. Their still might be people around.”

“Dennis what is this about?”

‘Look Molly,” He said putting his still half sleeping daughter down on the ground. She groaned softly but then rolled over in the grass. “This morning I went to the Prayer grove and Abby was there.”

“Abby, you mean that red-head that sells the candles, Dennis what did you do? You know her father will kill you; I will kill you if you…”

“No! Not her, the shaman, please keep your voice down, look we could all get killed if others find out.”

“What? If others find out what!” She demanded.

“Look, Abby was there, she was leaving a prayer, but she was crying, you know like the widows or mothers who lose their sons, but she is not married and has no children so why would she be crying like that. She left her prayer, left the grove and she acted like she didn’t even see me. It was so weird. I mean more weird than she normally acts.”

“So you were there to leave a prayer, what’s the problem?”
“I was so startled by the way she was acting, and… and I just glanced at it.”

“What did you do?” She asked fear welling up in her for the first time. “You looked at her prayer? That’s not allowed! They could stone us if they found out.” She grabbed her daughter from the ground and pulled her to her feet.

“Look Molly, I’m sorry but there is more.”
“What more could there be, you read someone’s prayer! You put us all in danger. We’ve got to go!” She said pulling the two kids behind her as fast as she could walk

“That is what I have been telling you. But it was what her prayer said that has me worried.” He picked up the little girl and helped Molly pick up the pace.

“I don’t want to know what it said. If you read it was bad enough.”

“Molly you have to know.”

“I don’t want to.” She was almost running now tears steaming down her cheeks. How could he have been so irresponsible. Even in the next town they might be found out and they would still be stoned to death. And then there was the war going on. They would have to run from that too. It was likely they would die no matter what they did.

“Molly!” He said grabbing her arm. “Listen to me. It said, ‘Save us!'” Molly stopped dead in her tracks.

“Save us?”

“Yes.”

“You did the right thing. Now lets go.” The both walked as fast as they could without running until they saw the the light behind them. Then they ran. As the light grew brighter they found a place to hide, and prayed that they were far enough away from the town.

The heat was intense even a mile away, but she had to take a look, The fireballs rained down from the sky hurled by the gods. They obliterated the town and everyone in it. The last person standing was Abby. She stood in the middle of the town, arms raised to the heavens in thanks. then a fireball came down and incinerated her too.

When it was over they stood and looked at the remains of the town. Not a blade of grass was left standing. They turned their backs to the rubble and walked to the next town. All the could do was hope that theirshaman was not looking to be saved as well.

Creative Commons License
The Shaman by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at greathites.blogspot.com.

The Mediator

This story was originally post on July 10th 2008

This is day one of the News From Poughkeepsie Challenge. Just 29 more to go. This one was a little bit of a surprise when I checked Murverse this morning and found this topic I knew it would be a bit of a challenge. It was fun to write, but don’t expect me to start writing scripts for the My Pretty Pony cartoons any time soon.

The New from Poughkeepise Day # 70
Settings Tuesdays:

The world of My Pretty Pony is one beset by war and strife. Their society started innocently enough, with the branding of the young ones with cute icons, but later those brands became akin to gang signs, and the ponies would group together based on nothing more than signs. Astronomical signs vs water signs was a particularly bloody war, and the heart signs vs rainbow signs was tense, but stable, until recently. It breaks my heart to look at them and know the bloody past. The gang members keep branding new foals to keep the cycle of violence up, and it will take a talented mediator to end the decades-long hatred.

And if you are looking for a shirt to complete your pony Collection look no further

The Mediator Audio.

********

Five sets of ponies stood in groups around the forest glen. In the center was a table, that was what the mediator had requested. But as of yet he had not showed and he was over an hour late.

“This is getting old,” Surefoot said, shaking his purple blue mane.

“The only thing old here is you,” Came a shout from the astrosigns group.

“That is right hide behind your friends, don’t bother to show our face. You astro’s have always been cowards.” He spat the words out and swishing his ultra long blue tail.
“We came here to make peace Surefoot and you know it. Now stop.” Rightfeather said, his mane was long and green but streaked with gray.

“That is right old man,” Surefoot said moving a little more into the clearing lifting his tail so that it would not drag on the ground. “You would not want that young foal to get blood all over this pretty table.”

“Enough!” Rainbowcloud said stomping his fore hoof and tossing his blue mane “We have come here for peace and you do nothing but fight.”
“Oh great the rainbows think are in charge here.”

“Not in charge just level headed. If we are to make peace then this is not going to help us.”

“What do you know of peace Rainbowcloud,” This time from the Heart camp. “You led the massacre in the glen three years ago. You killed innocent ponies as if their lives meant nothing.”

“Hearts are never truly innocent. They are born with the sins of their fathers on them.”

“And the Rainbows are any different,” Another voice from Heart camp. The two groups drew so close to each other that their flanks touched.

“You Hearts are all the same, you talk but are not brave enough to show our face.” Rainbowcloud said stomping his hoof.

“I am not afraid of you Rainbowcloud.” said a voice from behind. A pony pushed his way to the front. He was no bigger then then rest of them but they all gasped as he came forward. His tale was almost completely cut off and this mane was tattered. He had a brand but it was obscured by dark lines.

“Goldheart, we thought you were…” Rightfeather trailed off

“Dead, no I was not dead, but I have been among the gods. I was once the most beautiful of all of you, and the first to go to war. But the gods have punished me for my vanity and my lack of respect for their creations.”

“You are the mediator?” Surefoot snorted.

“Yes.”

“But you are a heart how can we trust,” He was cut off as Glodheart charged him knocking him down and pining him under his front hooves. Several of the Hearts cheered but, Goldheart rounded on them and kicked and bit several of them.

“You can trust me only to kill those who are not here to make peace.” He said panting over a heart pony that he had knocked to the ground. “My life is over. The gods have so proclaimed it, but it does not have to be the same for you. Come all of you, gather around the table and we will talk peace.”

“But, Goldheart, why a table, ponies have no use for tables?”

“Because this is the way the gods do it. They gather around a table to discuss things of importance. And this is of the greatest importance.” They all moved around the table and began to discuss a peace deal.

Then all was frozen, as Suzie reached down and picked up Goldheart. “Oh poor Goldheart. You were so pretty.” She said petting what was left of his tail. She walked out of the room holding her beloved pony. “Mom Timmy has been in my stuff again!”

Creative Commons License
The Mediator by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at greathites.blogspot.com.

End of Days.

This story was originally posted on July 7th 2008

Prompt from Creative Writing Prompts

Describe a man who leaves no stone unturned. # 257

End Of Days Audio

Everyone in life has tasks that they feel are insurmountable. Some of them are, some of them are not and some are only impossible because of the person they are put in front of. Still others, though the task may be impossible or nearly so, relish in the task and will toil away at it no matter what. John was this last sort of man.
When he was young he read about the great “accidental” immortal, and the impossible task of insulting the universe from A to Z that the immortal set before himself. Now there was a man that knew what an impossible task was.
Though he was not immortal, John set about spending his life looking for the tasks that others believed were impossible. His mortality was only one more hurdle that he would have to over come. At first he had found a few tasks that everyone agreed were impossible but most of those turned out to be paperwork errors. Dividing by zero was just a matter of using unusually large values of zero. Faster than light travel was simple once you thought about it. Some light traveled slower, like that from a flashlight with nearly dead batteries, surely that could be overcome. Solving for pi and world hunger turned out two ends of the same problem. But, as he got older he began to despair that he would never find that impossible task that would he his life’s work.
Then one day after realizing that the problem of the counting all the people on earth one at a time as merely a matter of getting them all to count themselves, the idea struck him like a rock, or in this case a stone. What about the man who leaves no stone unturned? That is what he had been doing in his quest to find the prefect problem to solve, why not literally leave no stone unturned?
The first thing of course was to determine what the quest meant. Was it no stone in his hometown, the state, the country, the whole world, or the entire universe? Since John, unlike his boyhood hero, was not an immortal he would have to settle on one of the choices that he could accomplish in what was left of his lifetime, and so he settled on leaving no stone unturned on the planet. Next was the need to determine what was a stone, and what did it mean to turn a stone. He defined a stone as an object made of rock no larger than his self and to turn the stone simply meant to rotate it beyond one degree out of from where it had originally rested.
Now having the logistics settled he set about his task. He started on his own street, and began moving stones. At first he used his feet, but then discovered quickly that he would not be able to keep track of which ones he had moved and which ones still needed to be moved unless he could see them more clearly. So he began to crawl. Three weeks later he crawled out of his town along the road to the next one. That took him two days, for many times cars kicked up stones and he would have to go back and move stones to be sure the he had moved them and not the passing car.
It was three years later when he crawled to the gate of a nuclear facility in North Dakota. It was his first real stumbling block. By that time his quest had gain some fame, still the leaders of the military tried to turn him away. To appease the public they even offered to have the soldiers of the base turn the stones and even to count them for him, and let him know when it was done. But this would not do. In the end, he explained that he would be looking at nothing but the stones and he would accept a posted guard to go with him so long as the guard didn’t try to help, and he was allowed to go on.
His next major setback came during the San Francisco earthquake fifteen years later. He had been working steadily for nearly twenty years. With the deserts of the southwest behind him and the arctic cold of the north before him he was enjoying the mild climate when the quake hit. Suddenly millions of stones were turned before him and he had to go back many hundreds of miles to be sure that he had moved them all himself, and with the quake came the breaking of many stones he had already turned, so he had to go back turn these new stones as well, that cost him nearly a year.
In his eighty-fifth year he reached the outback of Australia. Here he was nearly defeated. He had managed all of Africa and the mighty Sahara, for although the heat was intense and there a great plains of nothing but stones to be turned, the people of Africa had an honor about them, and though few understood his words and even fewer understood his quest, they would stand guard around him and make sure he was protected from the wild life. But in the Australian outback, there was often no one that lived for hundreds of miles of backcountry. He was bitten by a spider and nearly died, had it not been for the quick thinking of a very daring young man who came upon him. Still it took him nearly a year to recover and when he did he had to begin where he had left off and the fear of the spider and its bite nearly drove him to call off the whole thing.
On his one-hundredth birthday he reached the boarders of Portugal, the last country on his quest. His entire body was racked with pain at nearly every movement, but the crowds behind him cheered him onward every day so he never faltered. They brought him water during the day and young women proud that their country was chosen to be the last one would rub saves in to his hands and knees at night when he would collapse from exhaustion.
Finally, one hundred and three years from the blessed day of his birth, he crawled along the last beach and turned the stones that he found there. This year had been the hardest yet, as his strength had all but left him and the days had been short. This day the wind from the sea as especially cruel, and it cut into his sparse frame like freshly sharpened knives through paper. The people had tried to form a line down near the sea to block the wind from him, but he told them that they were disturbing the stones and that he must make sure that he and he alone had turned very one of them. It was nearly nine thirty when he prepared to make his final pass as the tide had gone out exposing more stones to be turned. John Turner as he had come to be called slid his way along the beach turning each stone with great care though his hands shook and eyes refused to focus. The crowds screamed with delight as he neared the end of the beach an hour later. His heart pounded from the excitement. He reached for the final stone on the beach knowing that he had done it, he had turned every stone. His heart failed then; as he fell his hand hit the final stone and turned it.
The stone at his head reads simply, “Hear lies John Turner, yes he turned this one too.”

Creative Commons License
End of Days by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at greathites.blogspot.com.

Earth To Jenny

This was originally posted Jun 30 2008
The News From Poughkeepsie – Day 61
Anything goes Sundays:

Jenny is a closeted geek. She works in a PR firm, has perfectly styled hair, and works out in a gym every other day. Everyone thinks she’s completely normal, except that she considers Walter Mitty a saint in her world. She works out with the assurance that some day she will be called upon to be a hero, and she is just preparing for it. In her mind, Walter was a prophet, and living a life in a fantasy world is the proper way to be.

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Earth To Jenny

The phone rang for what had to be the hundredth time that day. Jenny picked it up and looked at it as if it were a snake. “Thank you for calling Wambat, Westburg, Green and Lu where your good name is our good name, this is Jenny Lu how can I help you today?”
“Hey Jenny, this is Mike.”
“Mike what can I do for you.”
“Well you know that new ad that you guys produced for me. Well I don’t really like it.”
“Mike, you approved it.”
“Yeah but It makes me look like a schmuck.” Jenny stifled a laugh.
… “Well Mike you are a schmuck. You run a series of off world smuggling operations. Here is the thing, in working with you over the last year I have been collecting the evidence that I needed to see you sent to some mining colony on the moon, if not the belt.”
“But Jenny.”
“But Nothing, you are scum Mike.”
“Jenny? Jenny are you listening to me? Earth to Jenny.” Her mind snapped back to reality
“No, I’m sorry Mike I go distracted by… well never mind. Tell me again what you don’t like about.”
“That is it. I think that is the whole problem, you never seem to be listen. I am going to have a talk with your boss.” He hung up the phone.
“Damn that can’t be good.” She said putting the phone down. Sure enough not ten minutes later the phone rang again, this time it was Mr. Wambat.
“Jenny, I would like to see you in my office, please.”
“Yes sir, be right there.” She grabbed her mirror from the desk drawer and checked her hair. Even if she as going to fired there was no point in looking bad while it was happening. Maybe, it would be enough for him to go easy on her. She put the mirror back and walked to his office.
“Come in.” Wambat’s voice boomed from the other side of the door as she knocked.
“Mr. Wambat you wanted to see me?”
“Yes, Jenny, I think you know what this is about.”
“I believe so sir.”
“Good, that makes this a little easier. The problem, my dear, is that this is not the first time that I have heard such a complaint… “
The shackles dug into her hands as she stood before the tribunal, they had been droning on now for so long that it really could not be a good thing. Jenny knew that she was going to have to escape, and soon if she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in prison.
“This court has come to the conclusion that, we are going to have to let you go.” What? Let me go she thought, but I was on trial for ten different treaty violations three of which held the penalty of life in prison with out the possibility of parole.
“But…” She started to object.
“I am sorry Jenny, you had a very promising future here, but in the past month you seem to have been having trouble keeping your mind on your work. We can’t have that. As I said we are going to have to let you go. Please clean out your desk and leave before the end of business today. If you get this problem under control I would be glad to give you a reference. But for now, goodbye.” She stood in stunned silence for a few seconds, and then turned and walked out of his office.
“That did not go well,” she said to herself. She made her way back to her desk. She sat there for a few moments before deciding that there was nothing there that she wanted or needed, and just left. Trying to avoid every-one’s gaze on the way out.
Not wanting to go home and not having anywhere else to go she went to the park. She found a bench and sat down.
“I didn’t really belong there anyway.”
“No, Jenny you didn’t.” She started at the voice. There was a man sitting next to her.
‘Who, who are you?”
“Your father.”
“My father lives in Iowa Riverside, Iowa. He has never been to Boston and probably will never. He says he won’t leave until his hero is born.”
“I think he has a while to wait. But he is your adoptive father. We choose him because he believes in bigger things.”
“What? Wait, you are telling me that he is not my real father.”
“That is right.”
“Then… who are you?” She really looked at the man for the first time. He did look a lot like her.
“I am your father, but before we go any further I think we need to go some place less out in the open.”
“No, no, no. I have been in the city long enough to know that trick. We start walking you grab me and stuff me a van and…” She trailed off as his expression changed. She looker at him. He did look a lot like her.
“Jenny.” he said softly. “I am not going to hurt you. We have to talk about some things, I just thought it would be better to do that in private. But if you want to talk here that is fine.”
“Yes, I think that would be best. I don’t know you from Adam.” He laughed. “What is so funny.”
“I am Adam.” Then she knew it was another dream. She shook her head violently. “That won’t help. I am not one of your day dreams.”
“But…”
“Jenny. I know about the dreams, I know about them because we sent them to you. To help you remember.”
“Remember what?” She pleaded.
“Who you are, who you have been.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jenny this is going to be hard for you to believe, but listen to me, please.”
“Alright I am listening.”
“Look, what I am going to tell you is going to be the hardest thing you have every had to believe but you must, it is vitally important.”
“I said I would listen.”
“Alright then,” he said sitting back on the bench. “One hundred thousand years ago, I was born in a place that was perfect. So long ago that I don’t really remember. I had to leave that place after your mother and I broke the rules.”
“Wait a minute you are going to tell me that you are the Adam, as in Adam and Eve?” She stood up and started to back up.
“You said you were going to listen.”
“That was before the tale got so long I needed a safety harness to climb down it.”
“Please. Just listen.”
“Why?”
“Because it will change your life.”
“How?”
“You will have to listen to the story to find out.”
“Alright, but if you try anything.”
“The can of mace in your bag. I know.” She looked at him surprised. “Go ahead get it out. That way you can be ready if you need it,” She did as she was bidden. “Good now sit down please, and let me continue.”
“Look I don’t know what you are trying to pull, so make this quick.”
“Alright, as you wish,” he said. “I am not the Adam from the bible, though that is not that far off. I will make this a very short story, your mother and I had to leave you about 30 years ago, really a blink in your life time. We left you in a static time state. Look I can tell from your expression you are not buying this. Your day dreams, they are real. You have lived all of those things. The status we left you in makes it seem that you are a normal human, you grow just like them, and you live just like them, and eventually had we left you long enough, you would have thought you died just like them, but of course it would just be a sleep that you would wake up from. We didn’t know how long we would be, but we are back now.”
“Wait a minute. So you are telling me that I am not thirty two and that I have lived all those things that I dream about?”
“That is correct.”
“So I was right? I really don’t belong here?” He nodded. She could not believe it. All the things that she had dreamed. The adventures, the other lives, the other times. Space travel, other worlds, so many other people. She wanted to scream it to every person who had ever said, Earth to Jenny. “I was right.” she said out loud finally.

Creative Commons License
Earth To Jenny by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at GreatHites.blogspot.com.

The Rescue Mission

Originally published on Jun 23 2008

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Special thanks to Kevin Cummings for the mention of Great Hites on his podcast
Short Cummings

Prompt From Creative Writing Prompts at http://www.creativewritingprompts.com/ Prompt # 261

Create a Story inspired by a line in the Margaret Atwood Poem. “We are learning to make fire.”


The Rescue Mission

“When you sign up for the rescue corps you do if for a reason. You do it because you, have a drive to help people. You do it because you have a need to see new places. You could even do it because you need that thrill of going into an unknown environment. But most people do it to get away. Or at least that is why I did it. To get away from all but a small group of humans. We have very large ships, large enough to accommodate large portions of a colony if need be, but for most of the time when we get there, there are so few survivors that they can live in their own section of the ship without ever really seeing us, or worse their are no survivors and we pick up a few pieces of their lives to take back to the central planets for them to analyze and figure out what went wrong and if it is safe to send a new group of colonists out there to start over again.”
“Don’t get me wrong I like people. I can’t imagine being without other humans for longer than a couple of months, but the inner planets are so crowded, and the outer ones are so rough, I needed to find an in between, where I could find time to be alone with the modern amenities, and just enough human contact to not get lonely. Besides I like the work I do.”
Joseph shut off the recording he had made almost a year ago when they left dock for the third outer most planet. The settlement had sent a desperate message and being nearly half a light year away from the inner system, the fastest of the three rescue ships, the aptly named Pegasus, had been dispatched. Nine months later they arrived to find only a crater where the colony had been.
At first it had not been clear what had happened, but as the Pegasus hung in low orbit around the planet, it became painfully obvious. The planets slow moving moon was raining down on her mother.
The Pegasus was a fast ship, or at least she was fast in open space. But, with her great size she was not fast in getting out of orbit. When the moon rounded the far side of the planet, they had been in orbit for two days and most of the crew was beginning to come down off the high of getting to a new world and the possibility of a real rescue mission. Before they realized what was happening the collision alarms began to sound as first fist sized, then whole body sized and then mountain sized chunks of the moon slammed into them. The Pegasus’s hull didn’t have a chance, and with the damage the engines were quickly overwhelmed. The captain had even attempted to fire the star drive, which was strickly forbidden in close proximity to a planet because it would suck up a good portion of the atmosphere, in place of the stellar gases it would normally use.
“When you sign up for the rescue corps you…” he paused the recording and deleted the rest of the message, then hit the record button again. “Don’t expect to need to be rescued.” He paused it again and looked out at the ruin that was the ship. “Three days ago, thirty-two of us crash landed on this forsaken planet, nineteen of us are left. Most of the ones that were lost mercifully died almost immediately in the crash. The few that hung on wished they had not, as most of the medical supplies had been lost, scattered uselessly across the jungle a thousand miles away. Pause recording.”
“Joseph?”
“Yes.”
“Did you get the dish aligned?” The com officer was one of the people that Joseph had wished to get away from.
“Yes, sir. just the way you instructed. But without exact coordinates we could be beaming the message off into deep space.”
“I am painfully aware of that. You know you should probably not be using the ships power to record a message, we might need that.” He said closeing the gap between them. “Or at least not when other people are around. I personally don’t care but others might say you are wasting our resources.”
“Right sir,” He said in what he hoped was a respectful manner.
“Look I know you don’t care for me, but we did just crash land on a planet, and well we don’t have a lot of supplies, and power is one of those supplies. I am keeping a message journal too, but I am not doing it when other people are around and can see me using one of our precious supplies.”
“Understood.”
“Good.” He walked off and rejoined the main group.
*******
“Thirty three days ago we crash landed. I waited until now because I wanted to give one day for each of the people on the ship. They are not all dead, but I think everyone deserves a little respect. Our supplies are holding out well, but our sister ship the Mercury was on the other side of the system when they got our message, and she is not nearly as fast as the Pegasus. We will have a very long wait here. Two more people have died, one from eating a poisonous fruit, and one from a bite of some cute looking but obviously venomous creature. We are still doing alright, although not living in the comfort we are used to.”
*******
“Day forty-five. This might be my last recording as, yesterday after a particularly large chunk of the moon crashed down on the planet, the remains of the ship was deemed unsafe for living. We have begun the construction of huts. Our supplies are holding out well but we are starting to run low on cooking fuel. We might have to resort to fires from the local flora soon.”
*******
“I am back. And I have managed to get away from the group for a while and sneaked into the ship. It has been seventy-five days since we crash landed here. The com officer says that he picked up a faint message from the mercury telling us to keep our spirits up. I think he is lying but no matter. We are finding food, to mix with our supplies, but most of it has an odd metalic taste. And we have nearly exhausted the cooking fuel.”
*******
“Day One hundred and forty-five. A week ago the hull of the ship collapsed with another quake. The captain believes that the moon is still collapsing and falling on the planet. I was able to pull this out of the wreckage and find a small power supply for it. This will be my last message, as I want the memory of this to last until the Mercury gets here, even if we don’t. Our food supply was lost in the quake and we have resorted to local vegetation and the few animals we know to be edible. We also ran out of cooking fuel, but we are learning to make fire. It is almost like we were the cavemen of Earth those many thousands of years ago.”

Creative Commons License
The Rescue Mission by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at greathites.blogspot.com.