ewhightower

Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

Fong’s Part X

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 19, 2015 at 11:45 am

They’d been about halfway across the bay when one of Rivard’s men had shouted a warning and – out of nowhere – a larger vessel had appeared in the fog, drawing alongside and grappling them. The hooks gouging into the fine wood paneling of the yacht had Rivard bellowing in incoherent rage.

“What’s this, then? Pigfucking son of a whore has a fancy tub now?” The voice came from the other vessel; it was young, its owner as yet unseen.

Penny peered across, but aside from the men pointing rifles at them from the port bow, the other figures were indistinct. The fog was, if anything, thicker in this part of the bay. A small, quiet, safe part of Penny wondered for a moment that a place so still and calm could hold such darkness. Had Fong known, when he sent Krauty to escort her to the docks that morning, that she would be assaulted by strange men not three hours later? She would have liked to return to this spot in the fog on a day when she wasn’t in danger. She couldn’t remember when that had been.

“Show yourself, boy! The only pig I’ll fuck is your face, with my handy blade!” Rivard said.

“Rivard, Rivard, Rivard … still confusing humans and barn animals? I think this tells us more about your upbringing than every gaudy waistcoat you’ve ever worn.” The brazen charm of that voice – this boy didn’t fear Rivard at all. Penny felt her heart relax the tiniest amount.

“You want a pissing contest, boy? Come out where I can see you. We’ll soon learn whose cock is biggest,” Rivard waggled his head as he said this, turning to smile at his men as though he was the wittiest man alive. It was ridiculous, and Penny laughed aloud, then clamped a hand over her mouth.

Rivard wheeled, glaring at Penny. She caught the gleam of steel in his sleeve.

Advertisements

Fong’s Part IX

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 18, 2015 at 11:45 am

“What’s your sister’s name,” someone said. Fong, Heifitz and Knucklebrow were all looking at her. Penny didn’t realize she had spoken. The steam of the coffee shifted to purple as Fong sprinkled a pinch of brown powder over it, and Knucklebrow Twosie gave a half-hiccup, involuntary gasp.

“Penelopye,” he said. It came out Peenellopyeh, but its similarity to Penny’s own name was enough to earn a rare lift of the eyebrow from Fong.

“That’s an uncommon pronunciation,” Fong said. “Where is your family from, Knucklebrow?”

“Ruritania,” Knucklebrow said, “Originally. Then Pennsylvania.”

“Penelopye and Peter of Pennsylvania …” Fong said. His voice was quiet, but each word caused a cascade of twitches across Knucklebrow’s face. It was like watching a mountainside rearrange itself.

From the steam of the coffee came a brief, faint trumpet fanfare, a snippet of a sturdy national anthem as a single word formed above the cup: Strelsau.

“He speaks the truth. Catch him!” Fong said, as Knucklebrow’s eyes rolled up into his head and he tipped backward. Penny reached for him as Heifitz sprang diagonally over the bar, landing to Knucklebrow’s left – but it was too late: Knucklebrow hit the floor with a crash that rattled the cups on every table, the other patrons knocking over chairs in their haste to avoid injury.

Fong scooped a tiny amount of the coffee from the still-steaming cup with a spoon smaller than his thumb, leaning down to pour it over Knucklebrow’s lips.

“That a good idea, boss?” Heifitz said.

“I have no way of knowing. But it seems as good as anything else at the moment,” Fong said.

The coffee cup began to bubble, rattling on the bar and sloshing. More coffee than could fill the cup was pouring out, a tiny splash landing on Penny’s hand, scalding hot. Penny, Fong and Heifitz all turned to stare at it.

The cup exploded.

Knucklebrow shot to his feet, dashing out the door, bellowing, “She’s near the docks!”

“Quickly, Penny – after him! In his state he’s uncontrollable. We’ve no time to lose – Heifitz! Call Jack!” Fong grabbed Penny’s hand and whisked her toward the entrance.

“Jack who?” Heifitz was reaching for the stereoptiphone.

“Who do you think?” Fong threw this last over his shoulder as he and Penny were out the door, the figure of Knucklebrow fading into the night ahead of them. Penny knew which Jack it was, and felt a thrill in her heart of hearts.

Her hero, her savior, her secret love: Pirate Jack, the terror of the Bay.

Fong’s Part VIII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 17, 2015 at 11:45 am

Vomit burning her throat, Penny watched as two underlings materialized – variations on the dirty brute who pinned her arms to her sides, grinding himself against her. She knew what he was doing but ignored him, remembering the words of her grandmother: wolves only chase the girl who runs. Penny wished she’d remembered that sooner, wondering if she could have used it to chart a safer course to Saint Raymond.

One of the brutes was removing the pimp’s jacket as the other one whisked the contents of Penny’s stomach out of Rivard’s hair; Rivard was watching Penny. He said, “You think this is bad? You’re wishing you were somewhere else? This is a Sunday picnic compared to what awaits you across the bay, my sweet. You’re going to meet the cream of society, and they’re going to do to you what they can’t get away with doing to their own daughters and neices.”

Vasquez was still alive, gasping, bleeding, begging. While Rivard was speaking, the brute holding his jacket had removed everything of value from its pockets. Now he tossed the jacket on Vasquez, doused him with kerosene and flicked a lit match at him with the bored nonchalance of long practice.

“Even that useless shit serves a purpose now, sweet little firecrotch,” Rivard said. “My reputation in Oak Landing is strengthened by the burning of a man who, ten years ago, was Mayor of this shitpile. His own son works these very docks, but hasn’t the balls to confront me. I owe you a good turn, firecrotch. So I won’t cut your face. Yet.”

Penny was dragged, stunned, to a small private yacht loaded with a variety of goods. She was certain of her impending death. She could still hear Vasquez screaming, she could smell his burning hair and shit. Over the next horrible weeks, she never slept more than a few minutes before those memories yanked her awake, trembling, too terrified to cry.

Fong’s Part VII

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on June 16, 2015 at 11:45 am

A hunchbacked Mexican stood to Rivard’s left; he had one glaring, empty eye socket and a poorly healed broken jaw. He held the pimp’s spotless hat with the fixed obedience of a beaten dog. Penny nodded as best she could, struggling to breathe.

“Good. Let me explain something to you. I love my hats. I don’t like them to get dirty or messy. That’s Vasquez. He was supposed to be guarding the room where you woke up. That door was supposed to be locked.” So saying, Rivard stepped to Vasquez, dragging Penny, still choking her. Her field of vision was narrowing.

“Señor – ” Vasquez said, but was cut off by his intestines spilling to the dry dust at his feet, the speed of Rivard’s knife impossible to follow. Penny didn’t see where it came from or where it went, only Rivard’s arm in a gesture of curt censure. She would have vomited if her throat hadn’t been nearly crushed shut. Vasquez stumbled back, falling to his knees in his own entrails, dropping Rivard’s hat in that mess.

Rivard let her go and she was grabbed and held by the scraggly-bearded man, who reeked of sweat and shit and rotten teeth. His smell and Vasquez’s intestines brought up what Rivard had been preventing, and Penny disgorged an astounding jet of vomit.

Stooping to retrieve his hat, Rivard took the full brunt of Penny’s puke on the right side of his head and face, down his right arm. He stood. Calm. Where activity had bustled in studious ignorance of Rivard’s endeavors there in the dusty yard of the Oak Landing coach office, now all was silence. Penny heard distant sounds with complete clarity: ships’ bells. Gulls. Buoys. A child crying in the distance. A dog barking.

She knew that her life was over.

Fong’s Part VI

In Fantasy, Fiction, Fong's, Sci-Fi, Writing on May 31, 2015 at 11:45 am

Penny Onehole was struck by those words, remembering for the first time in years how, once her feet had healed and her fever cleared, Fong had bought her new clothes and given her money to take a ferry across the bay. “Go and find your father,” he had said. “This is no place for you.”

With money for travel to Saint Raymond, she’d crossed the fog-wracked water on a day that she discovered, upon arrival at the other side, was warm and breezy. Breathing deep her freedom, she made her way from the docks at Oak Landing to the stagecoach office, sitting prim in the shade, watching the fresh horses being harnessed to the very coach that would take her to safety. At least the Mormons had been clean. When she had first arrived in Saint Raymond, with everyone so polite and smiling in that weird Mormon way, she had never expected to long to return to that place.

A voice spoke from behind her, saying, “Sweet thing like you, hard to forget,” and Penny turned to see a scraggly-bearded man leering at her through an open window. His face was familiar, and just as the memory surfaced – this was the man she’d knocked down on her flight from the flophouse where she’d awakened weeks before – she was yanked to her feet and came face-to-face with a well-dressed, short, pale man who smelled very good. His hair was slicked back, his thin moustache stuck out to the side in points like two long, thick rat whiskers. Penny had seen him before, watching him through peep holes at Fong’s as he’d threatened her protector on repeated visits, the threats diminishing in strength as the opium took hold.

“Rivard,” she breathed.

“I paid good money for your fiery little cunt,” he purred, caressing her face. She could feel that nobody was watching them. Rivard’s reputation was as pervasive as the fog that choked the city across the bay. His hand closed over her throat. “So lucky for me, the one day I step across the bay, to find you. I haven’t been here for years. Do you see that man holding my hat?”

With Rivard’s hand crushing her throat, Penny could only glance in that direction.

Skyfire Part V

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Skyfire on May 25, 2015 at 6:45 pm

That first year, most of you remember, we didn’t venture far. When we found the connection to the mines, we didn’t know what to make of it. Was it luck? Probably. I don’t know. Was it Maxwell, leading us to safety? I like to think so. Ten years later, you all know how I feel about him. He was a member of our family, even if only for a time. We, all of us in camp, were his pack. He could never replace Tony, but he made that loss easier to bear. Some of you joke that Maxwell is my Totem animal. That may be.

But what matters now, is us. Standing here and looking out over the Central Valley, I can tell you that I believe we’ll make it. In spite of the fireballs, the storms, in spite of those people with the glowsticks around their necks, I believe we’ll all make it. You can stay here in the mines if you want. Our parents set everything up nicely. We’re pretty safe, and we could thrive. For a time. But I think that it will be safer across the valley, in the mountains. It’s more than the text from Mr. Amberson, it’s more than Maxwell.

I know you’re scared. So am I. But we have to try.

We owe it to Anselm, we owe it to our parents. We owe it to Tony.

I don’t know if we’ll ever find Maxwell again.

But I have hope.

I do.

Because there’s something I found, today, that I want to read to you. I found it here, under this rock, near the entrance. You can see that it’s got some reflective plastic ribbon taped to it. I don’t think I would have found it if I’d been here at any other time. Seeing sunlight in the mine is what brought me here, and the angle of the sunrise hit the ribbon just so. I’m not saying it’s significant. I’m saying it’s lucky. Anyway, it’s dated October 4, 2012, and here’s what it says:

“Dear Veronica,

You’re standing at a crossroads, not merely in time, but also in reality. The fissure in this mountainside leads into a place very much like that from which we come, but slightly altered. If you find this note, stay here. I’ve left a cache of supplies that should keep you comfortable for quite some time. They’re outside the fissure, in an oil can buried next to the coyote bush to the left. Ration carefully, please.

There are two reasons you should stay here. The first is that there is a group of kids coming through the mines. They’re coming from that other place, and they’ve been living in the mines for at least a decade. It’s imperative that they reach a specific set of lakes in the Sierras. They will need a strong guide when they reach this point in their journey. If you’ve reached this spot, I believe you are the ideal candidate. They need your help, and you need people to nurture. We both know this about you.

The second reason you should stay is because he will get here before they do. I know you lost him after the battle at the dairy farm. Slippages in time have sent him on several different paths. I’ve almost caught up to him three times, but that motherfucker Reinblatt with his damned rhyming notes is determined to keep us apart. Maxwell, however, is touched by myth: he has your scent, you saw what he did to Mayberry. And he misses his Mommy.

I dream of him, sometimes, when I can sleep in this place. In my dreams, he is calling to you. He is telling you, ‘Mommy Good Boy Stay, I am Max, I am coming to you. I love you. I love you. I am Max. I keep you safe. I love you. Stay.’

Max and I feel the same way. But I hear my pursuers and I have to divert them so that they do not find this spot. They’ve been altering my notes and moving them, helping Reinblatt obscure the way.

Wait for Max. Wait for the kids. Go to the mountains. With luck, we’ll meet again.

Much love,

Edward”

Okay, so I don’t know who these people are. But they know Maxwell. And outside the fissure, near that coyote bush he mentions, there’s a campsite. It’s been abandoned for a while. The oil can is there, and it’s still got a few useful things in it. I don’t know what he means, all this alternate reality and time stuff. But he knew we were coming. And, look: there, outside the fissure. See them? Those look like Maxwell’s prints. I think he was here. Recently.

There’s a handwritten addition to the note, and in different writing than Edward’s signature. I’ll read it to you before I pass it around. It says, “Hey — I’ve been here for a month. Something large is prowling around my campsite at night. I’ve got friends who can help us, so I’m headed out to get them. I don’t feel safe here, alone. No sign of Maxwell yet. I’d like to wait for him, but if I don’t Good Boy Bounce, I think I might end up Good Boy Dead. If I’m not back in a week, go without me. Give Maxwell kisses when you see him, and tell him I love him.”

It’s signed, Veronica. And the date is May 25, 2015. I think that something happened in their world, maybe on a different timeline from ours, and I think it was pretty big. Like the fireballs, but different. Because look, out there — there’s something weird about the valley: see that shimmering? I don’t think that’s a heat mirage.

I think it’s water. I don’t see an end to it to the north or south. It looks to me like the Central Valley is flooded. Completely.

I’m headed to the Sierras, where we all would have gone if I’d remembered to give my mom Mr. Amberson’s message. We’ve got what we need to make it, and we can follow Maxwell’s tracks. Might be as easy as finding a boat, but I doubt it. So. You can stay if you want to. I’m not going to force anyone to come along. This is my path, and there’s only one thing I know for certain:

It’s time to Good Boy Go.

Skyfire Part IV

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Skyfire, Writing on May 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm

It’s weird how things happen at the same time. It makes them seem significant. I don’t know if it means anything, but I got the idea to try the number on Maxwell’s tag again, with our area code, 415, as we were running back to camp. I thought we should tell the owner that we had lost him. So while Anselm was telling his mom and dad about the cave, I took my Mom’s cell phone from the solar charger in the main camper and dialed the number I had memorized over those summer months.

Most of you know I tried the number. What I’m going to tell you now is something I only ever told one person: Anselm, after his slip last year, before he died. I told him because I wanted him to live. And I’m telling you now for the same reasons.

I didn’t get an out-of-service message, like I told you guys back then. Someone answered the phone. A … male. On the third ring.

He said, “Hello Marie. I love you. The cave is good. Be in the cave. Sniff out the cave. Stay. Stay. Marie Good Boy Stay.”

I said, “Who is this?”

What I heard was a snuffling, sniffing noise. It sounded like laughter. Then he said, “I love you. I am Good Boy Go. I go. You stay. I love you. I love you. Be safe. Stay.”

You guys remember what it was like when Anselm told them about the cave. The camp was erupting with excitement and discussion, people were running around grabbing things. I didn’t understand – none of us kids understood then – how much danger we were in. There I was, in the middle of all of that movement, frozen to the spot. Because I knew. Sure as I knew the smell of the top of his head, sure as I knew the sound of his snores in our tent at night.

“Maxwell?” I said.

“Marie Good Boy Stay. Be safe.” he said.

“Maxwell, where are you? I’m scared and I want you here,” I said. “Please come back.”

“I love you. I love you. I love you,” he said.

That’s when the line went dead.

A text came in, the last text any of our parents ever received. I stood there with my mom’s phone in my hands, staring at that message. I thought it was from Maxwell, at first. But it was from George Amberson. Our neighbor. The first to leave. It read, simply, “Safe. Come soon. We have room. Use the cave.”

That’s when I remembered, months too late, what I was supposed to tell my mom.

She was nice, she hugged me and thanked me and went to tell the other parents.

It was only later, when she thought I was asleep, that I heard her breathing funny and realized she was sobbing.

[Author’s note: this post was originally the end of Part III, but I moved it to stand alone. Apologies if this skews your experience, but I had to re-structure slightly. Thanks for reading, and I welcome your comments.]

Skyfire Part III

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Skyfire, Writing on May 23, 2015 at 4:26 am

We found the cave by accident.

So many people on the freeways, the streets, so many accidents from people watching the fireballs instead of the road. Mom had given up calling the FBI to find what had happened to Tony. She said we had to get out, and she would call once we got settled. Something in her eyes told me I’d better not ask more questions just then. She packed us up like we were going camping, making room for Maxwell next to me in the back seat, heading toward Tesla Pass to get to Tracy and beyond. This seemed to be in alignment with what Mr. Amberson had told me, and I assumed he had texted my mom. I thought we were on the right path.

We weren’t the only people trying to avoid the gridlock on the freeways, though. We got stuck in traffic on Tesla before we ever got to the pass. Mom turned onto Mines Road out of frustration, saying there was another way to the Central Valley. A military roadblock stopped us from reaching the alternate route, so we just headed up to Lake Del Valle, thinking we’d wait it out. It was packed — the main parking lots looked like a flea market — but Mom knew a fire road that went back behind some stables. Text messages still worked, then. She let a couple friends know about it. Pretty soon, we had three extended families sharing our camp. All of the adults were people with knowledge: engineers, physicists, architects. Mom was very selective. We’re pretty lucky she made that choice, I think.

I had taken it upon myself to ‘train’ Maxwell, and I was overjoyed to be able to explore what I thought of as wilderness with him. I would make him sit down all the time, telling him, “I love you. Be safe. Stay.” Positive reinforcement, you see.

Meanwhile, what we thought would be a few days became weeks, then months. And being in camp was so much fun. It felt like a long, nervous Memorial Day Weekend, in the beginning. While I played with Maxwell and my friends, our parents were making forays out onto the various fire roads to find another way around the roadblock that prevented us from getting out. They learned that there were roadblocks on every road leading out of the Bay Area; it was rumored that these fireballs were only hitting this region, but there was no way to make certain. The media were unreliable. But our parents filtered as much of this as they could. It was a vacation.

Maxwell wanted to play all the time. He loved everyone. Back on the day of the first fireball, we had called the number on his tag, but the operator said there was no 925 area code. Not here, in the Bay Area. Not anywhere else in the world. So we had kept him with us and posted fliers in the days before the agents took my brother. No one ever called, no one ever came for him. Maxwell became my dog. He might be the best thing that ever happened to us. To me, at least.

It was while we were playing hide and seek with Maxwell, beyond the confines of our secret camp at the far southern end of Lake Del Valle, that we found the cave.

It went like this: we would make him lie down and we would sneak away. Once we were all hidden, he would follow our scents and find us one by one. He loved this game, and he kissed us all every time he found us. Stinky breath dog kisses. Then he would lead us back to camp and we would play again until our moms made us do chores or something. One day, though, Maxwell nosed and herded us in camp until we all sat down in a circle. Then he barked at us once and walked toward the edge of camp.

He stopped and looked back. At us.

At me.

I got that pain in my forehead again, that dizzy feeling. And I knew. “He wants us to count to one hundred,” I said.

The other kids played along.

When we followed, we saw him walking far ahead, following a cow path that lead up over a distant hillside, farther than we’d ever explored. We ran after him.

He stopped and looked back, in the same posture he’d used at the edge of camp. He barked once, then ran. We chased, laughing, but when we caught up to where he had been there was no sign of him. We searched for hours, but he was nowhere to be found. We started to get scared, and Anselm wasn’t looking where he was going. He tripped, falling into some wild sage. When he didn’t get up right away, I asked him what he was doing. He said, “The air is cold here.”

In some mud near the entrance to the cave was one paw print. Maxwell had been there.

Skyfire Part II

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Writing on May 22, 2015 at 10:45 am

Local Weathermen were saying that the fireballs were all just debris from a recent meteor shower.

NASA scientists confirmed it: natural phenomena.

Tony’s WeTube video got a million hits in the first day alone, with a lot of people laughing about my mom saying I’d peed my pants, and a lot of other people saying his ‘cinematography’ was too slick, that it looked like Hollywoodland production values. But Tony was an amateur filmmaker, and a brilliant photographer. All anyone had to do was look at his other work, right there on his channel, and they would see how good he was. I got so mad when I read those comments that I stopped feeling embarrassed about peeing my pants. Now I see how funny it was, the way my mom’s voice trailed off.

When a fireball hit the Labs and destroyed a bunch of administrative buildings, everything changed. My mom worked there, her friends worked there. A lot of people died that day. There was a guy who started posting comments on Tony’s page, that day, right after the fireball hit. The comments said that Tony was part of the attack, that the ‘fireballs’ were actually debris of alien spacecraft shot down by the International Space Station. It also said that all of the recent push to colonize Mars was the White House backpedaling as they tried to keep the lid on what was, “ … an all-out alien invasion.”

I think it was those comments that brought the FBI to talk to Tony.

When the neighbors saw the agents coming to our house, they panicked. It was smart panic, quiet panic, but it was panic. Just like those dreams I used to have about an earthquake up 680 into the Bay, flooding all the way down to Dublinton and Altamont, people began packing and leaving.

The Ambersons did it first, and I think they might have actually gotten out before the quarantine. Mr. Amberson was a geologist at the Lab. He was standing there, watering his lawn when the car pulled up. He smiled and waved at the agents, watching them until my mom let them into the house. When the door was closed, he waved me over, and knelt down to talk to me, pointing at a dandelion on the edge of his lawn.

“Marie, honey, do you know those men?” he said.

“Nope, but I heard them say FBI to my mom. They asked for Tony,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “I think it’s time for a family vacation. You want to come with us, Marie.”

“I have a dance recital,” I said. Ballet was really important to me back then. I was determined not to piss my tutu for a third time.

“I know that, honey, but you should tell you mom, as soon as those men leave, that we’re headed up to the Lakes, in the mountains. She knows the way. Tell her I said, just like we talked about. Can you do that, honey? Say, George says, ‘Just like you talked about.’

George says, ‘Just like you talked about.

“Good. And if they ask, I was telling you about dandelions. And how they spread on the wind. To take root far, far away.”

Mr. Amberson got his family together like they were going on a picnic. In under twenty minutes.

He drove away slow, waving and smiling, but his eyes were serious.

Mrs. Amberson was staring straight ahead, tears streaming down her face.

I forgot to tell my mom.

Skyfire

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Writing on May 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm

The day we saw the fireballs I was seven.

We had found a black dog wandering down the street, and my brother Tony went inside to get his phone to call the number on the dog’s tag. “Hold him, Marie,” he said. I knelt next to the dog and petted him. He kissed me, and he had very stinky breath. The dog was named Maxwell, and he was looking around like he was worried or late. That’s what it seemed like to me. I said, “It’s okay Maxwell, we’ll get you home.”

He turned and looked at me, looking directly into my eyes, and it felt for all the world like he’d heard me. Not just heard, but understood. I had the feeling he was saying something. It’s not like I heard words in my mind. It just seemed like he was saying, I love you, but you will not get me home. I am from this place, but other. I need to get back to the this place that I am from.

I had the image of two identical dogs leaving two identical dog houses, only one of them stepped through a hole in space and the other did not. It was clear, and weird, and made me a little dizzy. There was a pain in the left side of my forehead.

Tony was trying to dial the number on the gold colored tag on Maxwell’s collar when there was a flash in the sky. We looked up, and there was another flash, brighter than the sun. Out of a clear blue sky a fireball was falling toward earth.

Tony said, “Holy shit,” and started taking video with his phone.

I was scared, I remember that very clearly. I had to pee when we saw Maxwell, but now I forgot that I had to pee. Because I peed my pants, and I didn’t even notice.

Our mom came outside to see what we were doing, and she noticed the puddle under my sandals. I don’t know why I used to pee myself when I was little. She said, “Marie, honey, you … you peed …” By then she was staring at the fireball as well.

She was there when the second one came into view.

Its flames were purple.