Science Fiction? Fantasy? Does it matter?

They should have sent a poet...
They should have sent a poet…

May 13, 2013

I just finished a major project: a fantasy novel. Now, I’m seriously considering a new venture for next year: a science fiction novel. Anyone who’s known me for more than five years should know that science fiction was my first great literary love. It’s what pushed me to become a writer. It’s the genre I read and saw and instantly thought, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

It’s also why some people wondered why I would possibly write a fantasy work.

I never really considered the genre when writing Charcoal Streets. In fact, given some tweaks, I could see it adapted as a science fiction story instead. I recall once reading about a version of The Hobbit that was rewritten as a space opera. The methods of getting the fantastic into the “real world” or introducing strange concepts really just depend on window dressing. Maybe telekinesis is due to mutations or maybe it’s due to magic. Science fiction has robots and fantasy has golems and animated statues. What’s the difference?

That being the case, I’ve realized I write fantasy or science fiction specifically based on the kind of story I want to tell. I write fantasy to show something about people. I write science fiction to show something about the world. I’ll admit it’s not always the case, but it seems to be a general pattern.

Fantasy allows me to introduce something strange into a person’s life. It’s not so much how it happened, but rather just that it happened. Does it really matter, for example, if the monster in the closet is the boogeyman or a mutant escaped from a lab? Maybe. Maybe not. In the grand picture, the important thing should be the story. Am I trying to say something about the nature of science and the world? Science fiction is probably the best way to go. If I’m trying to analyze culture, fantasy is probably the best option.

In the end, really, I’m just trying to show something about the world. I just have to pick the best vehicle for that message.

And now, let’s enjoy some science fiction becoming science fact. You are about to watch a man on a space station record a song and transmit it to your mind using light processed through a silicone chip.

Writing Up a Cliff

writing up a hill

May 9, 2013

I’m a professional writer.

That means that I make my living through my knowledge of the writing process, my own writing, and my paycheck hinges on my ability to communicate through little symbols on paper.

Not everyone is a professional writer. And I know this.

Most of my students learn as much writing as is needed to write reports, essays, or applications. That’s fine. I do, however, expect them to try and learn basics like sentence structure and critical thinking skills. Over the years, I’ve had students who learned barely enough to do this. They complained, year after year, that writing was hard, but they never made the effort to change that.

Recently, though, I helped a new student.

While she’s an English Language Learner, she’s from South America, meaning she doesn’t have the tether other ELL students have by having Mexico so close. As such, she had to deal not only with a new language, but also with cultural adaptation. Her first essays months ago were choppy, barely-legible series of sentences. She wasn’t dumb. Far from it. She could speak well enough, though it took some translation to get her ideas across. As she continued to visit us, though, and as I tutored her a few more times, I noticed a definite improvement in her writing.

Her last session with me was her reflective essay on how she’s improved as a writer. It was actually a well-written essay and had a line that I’ll never forget.

“I still think of writing as climbing up a hill, but at least I get a great view when I finish.”

That right there is the sentiment I wish EVERY student held close.

The writing process, like I’ve written before, is HARD. I’m not sure many writers actually enjoy the process, but we all love the final product. It also highlights the kind of attitude I wish more people would foster.

Yes, the ride may be rough. Yes, you’re not going to have a blast pouring over notes. Yes, the headaches and lost free time suck.

But guess what? You’re better for it at the end. I hear so many students complaining about this or that being hard. They don’t have enough time. They have too much to study and it piles on later.

Wake up earlier. Learn to make quick meals. Make a schedule.

None of these things are particularly fun, but I’d rather have a little annoyance spread out over my day than one HUGE problem later. Good grades, or whatever the goal may be, don’t just arrive at your doorstep. They wait for you. I didn’t decide to wait to just meet some publisher who would give me a huge advance so I could sit and calmly write my book. I’m working part time and taking odd teaching jobs so I could write it as I saw fit. And that’s what she and other students have done. They’ve taken the initiative.

Few things in life get handed to you. The things you really want? You have to go after them yourself.

Learning How to Spell: Post Writing Stress

It makes sense if you write.
It makes sense if you write.

May 6, 2013

With Charcoal Streets undergoing final editing, I finally have a little bit of time to get back to writing these articles, reading, and not stressing about the book.

Of course, I just spent the last week not writing as much because I was stressing about the book.

It’s not the first book I’ve written. Back in high school, I wrote a science fiction novel I hope to polish up and publish someday. I’ve ghostwritten a book and a half. Each and every time, though, I end up feeling like I just got back from some jungle war zone. I notice the little things more. I feel twitchy when I don’t type, but I feel like I should still be working on said novel.

I have Post Writing Stress Disorder.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but the writing process is hard. Really hard. Anyone who says writing is easy has never really done it, and it only gets harder the better you get at it. I remember writing a lot more when I was younger, but that was before I knew how to really do it. Now, I may write less, but that’s because I take the time to draft, check, edit, proofread, rewrite, and check my work like I was looking into a specific grain of sand on a beach.


Hopeless by ~tasteofomi on deviantART

Now that the warzone is behind me (mostly), I have to try and move on to another project. I’m still going to keep writing here and I’m putting videos out on the YouTube channel. I’m also thinking of what the next big project will be. Maybe I’ll keep writing Charcoal Streets stories for the next collection. Or maybe a full novel?

What about “The Divine Anomaly?” Should I expand that into the full novella and put back the subplots I cut out for length requirements? Or maybe I’ll get the other stories I’ve been tossing around in that universe and the next anthology will be science fiction.

Once the initial brain-drain is over, it’s always important to get right back to work. I’ve found that if I spend more than a week not doing serious writing, I tend to just not do it for weeks at a time, and I really want to avoid that. Writing, I’ve found, is a lot like working out. It’s fine to start steady, but go hard and push yourself. After you give yourself time to rest to make sure you don’t burn out or hurt yourself, jump right back in and go even harder.

Time to  get back to work on lift those linguistic dumbbells.


The Mind by *SavvyShark on deviantART

The Final Randomology Post

I GIVE UP!
I GIVE UP!

April 1, 2013

After a long week of soul-searching, I’ve realized that I’ve made a terrible mistake. This entire website has been an exercise in futility and I’m going to pack it in.

I’ve realized that it truly is impossible to fight against the forces of conservatism and ignorance. They are just too strong. They have talk radio and major news outlets and they can scream really loudly. And that scares me. I don’t want people to think I’m a baby-killing pagan communist anymore.

To that end, I will do the only rational thing. I will shut up. For good.

This website will stand as a monument to my stupidity and hubris. How could I have thought for a second that I could make a difference?!

I should apologize to Glenn Beck for years of mocking him and thinking he was insane for thinking there was some vast conspiracy at work. There has to be. It makes perfect sense that he alone would have the vision to put together this web of lies that are ruling our lives.

I should also apologize to Fox News. I know I’ve said they’re the spawn of evil and deception in the world, but they’re not. I mean, they say everything so loudly and repeat it over and over again. It has to be true, right?

I’d like to apologize to the American Right Wing. I know you guys just want to make sure others can’t worship or lives their lives as they see fit, so I think you should just go ahead and do that. It’s exhausting hearing you.

But most of all, I want to apologize to my students and everyone who thought that writing, and critical thinking and expression could make a dent in the world. This is a cold, hard reality and it needs equally cold and hard people. Compassion, understanding, and curiosity have no place in it.

So, there you have it. Randomology is dead. And it failed. I’ll see you…

Well, I won’t. Just…

Bye. I’ll be leaving on a bus later today and heading to Alaska so that I may sit at the feet of Sarah Palin and learn a thing or two.

The Divine Anomaly (FULL TEXT)

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men! Wait, that one's taken...
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men!
Wait, that one’s taken…

This story was rejected for publication within 24 hours, which sucks, but hey, things like this happen. On the other hand, this means YOU, my dear readers, win in the end since I get to publish the full text for your enjoyment. 

Who knows? After Charcoal Streets gets published, I might continue this science fiction train of thought. 

            Cheers washed over the congregation, and as the preacher continued for the next thirty minutes about the evils of everything from pornography to hyperspace, Sumiko felt the crowd’s energy rise. Soon, the people forgot about the humidity and dust clinging to every part of the decrepit building and their bodies. By the sermon’s end, Sumiko was the only one still seated.

The preacher ignored the sweat pouring into his eyes as he said, “Science will never explain the truth about the human soul. And it will never explain the mysteries out there, in space. We tear through the universe, violate the fundamental nature, the laws of God, and we think ‘He will not strike us down’? We will see a reaping, brothers and sisters. We will see a reaping!”

As everyone shouted, clapped, shot their hands into the air and prayed as though the heavens were swallowing everything that very moment, Sumiko slipped outside and dialed her link.

The receiver in her ear chirped until Keri finally answered. Sumiko said, before Keri could say anything, “I’m coming home early. I don’t think Ulrich is going to be a lot of help.”

Keri’s excited voice buzzed in her ear, “You found him? How?”

“I have my ways, munchkin.”

“Sumiko, what did you do?”

As the crowd walked out of the chapel and ignored the sun hitting their faces from the east, Sumiko said, “Nothing unladylike, I assure you. I’m just out one watch and half my checking account. Listen, I have to go. I’ll call you from the port.”

Rows of corn surrounded the chapel. Though the highway was just down the dirt road through a handful of abandoned buildings in what was the edge of some town long ago, Sumiko couldn’t hear any cars except those leaving the chapel. It was Sunday, but the complete absence of any civilization made the expansive sky feel more open. There wasn’t any AR, no digital information for her chromed eyes to superimpose on the world. The only signals her oculars picked up were wayward satellite signals telling her the time and her coordinates on the planet. She looked up and wondered about the effectiveness of the relatively thin layer of air and gases protecting her from hard vacuum and cosmic rays. Someone cleared his throat behind her. She turned and saw the preacher, his face now wiped clean of the sweat that accumulated over the course of his sermon. His shirt and tie remained as neat as the moment he started the service, and he smiled and extended one large hand to Sumiko’s.

“I don’t think we’ve met, Miss…”

“Wright,” she said. “Sumiko Wright.” She took his hand and said, “I’d never been to an Axiom service. Interesting sermon.”

His tanned, slightly wrinkled skin showed every ounce of pride flowing through him as he said, “We’re a new movement. New ideas for a new time.”

“Yes, I can see that. If you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment and I’m going to be late.”

She turned to leave as the minister said, “Would that be the one-thirty out of Indianapolis for Houston Station, Miss Wright?”

Most of the congregation was gone down the dirt road. Sumiko breathed in the smell of ethanol fumes and dry plants. She turned and said, “Not bad for someone who demonizes space travel.”

“Space travel is a key element of our faith, much like sin and redemption. And you’re not from around here. You have the body of a spacer, but not the skin. Not yet. You fly amongst the angels, Miss Wright, but man is not ready for those heights.”

“There are no angels, Mister Ulrich.”

The preacher smiled, but Sumiko saw the hint of fear in his eyes as he looked away. He said, “My name is Anderson, Miss Wright. Noah Anderson.”

Sumiko stepped closer. The wind brought more smells of pigeons in the rafters, corn, and the sound of a plane in the distance.

“Noah?” she asked. “The man who saved humanity from God’s wrath. Anderson? Son of man. Nice allusion. It’s Ulrich. Or at least it was when you disappeared eight years ago, before you got all those synthetics replaced with real vat-grown limbs and eyes. Tell me, why don’t we belong in space?”

“For the same reason that we were never meant to split or fuse the atom. That which God has put together, let no man tear asunder. And that which God has created, let no man violate with his machines.”

“You’re talking about hyperdrive, I assume. That wasn’t always the case, was it? I don’t get it. You have some of the most advanced training on Earth when it comes to FTL physics. That’s why you were chosen for the Michio Kaku expedition.”

He smiled, but his eyes betrayed the anxiety inside. Sumiko saw the small twitch in the corner of his eyes as he said, “Even Paul was a sinner in the eyes of God before his conversion. Like him, I saw the light.”

“Is that what you saw? You’ve never told anyone what you saw in Pegasus.”

“Of course I have. I tell it every day, and to an audience of several dozen on Sunday.”

Sumiko looked to the worn and beaten cross on top of the chapel. The pitted wood had something carved on it long ago, but now it looked as frail as the corn stalks in the distance. She looked to the sky, to the small flashes appearing and disappearing near the horizon. The hyperspace jumps were dimmer than the stars in morning twilight, but they were ever-present. She said, “How much does God care about your past? Or your future? If I remember, Saint Paul was beheaded.”

“Paul helped make our faith what it is today. I’m just taking it to its next logical step. Look at those flashes,” he said, pointing south to the flashes of transports and massive ships jumping into hyperspace, “and tell me that we’re doing something good.”

“We’re spreading humanity. We’re spreading ideas, commerce, culture–”

“We’re spreading a disease,” Ulrich snapped. He grabbed Sumiko and dragged her back inside the chapel. Ulrich easily pulled her to the center of the room. Dusty light hit her. The sun had filtered through the open stained-glass windows, creating splotches of color around them as Ulrich waved his arms and said, “Earth is our home, Miss Wright, and to violate the universe, to rip creation apart to spread the sex, lies, and sin of our kind to other parts of his holiest of works is an abomination of the worst kind. But it will all change. And you and your kind will be the first to fall.”

Sumiko pushed him aside. As he lost his balance, she ran. She never stopped as he continued yelling, “We will change it all, Miss Wright! His will be done!”


Concrete Church by *Matthias-Haker on deviantART

The ride back to Houston Station couldn’t have gone slower for Sumiko. The smells of planetary life were still fresh. She could feel sunlight on her skin. As her shuttle docked, she caught a glimpse of Riley’s Promise docked in the station’s outermost arms. It was small compared to the cargo haulers around it, but even with half her hull off for the retrofit, she was a thing of beauty: sleek, packed with sensor clusters, and with new defense systems. The massive engine section tapered into the central shaft and the rotating habitat rings. The hangar bays and cargo pods and hangar bay at the front of the ship ended in more clusters of specialized sensors. Sumiko smiled at the engineering marvel and pushed Ulrich’s sermon out of her mind.

Her quarters were far more spacious than those onboard the ship. She had an actual kitchen and put a cup of coffee to brew before she went to her bedroom. She made sure to put the small gold cross around her neck back into the redwood jewelry box on the dresser before using the real water shower she was lucky enough to have gotten.

She had just finished putting on her gray coveralls when the door trilled.

Sumiko opened it, and Keri waved and beamed a smile. She was a full head shorter than Sumiko and looked like she was still a teenager. Her shoulder-length hair instantly set her apart from the other spacers on the station. She said, “Welcome back, Boss.”

Keri sighed and let her in, saying, “You are way too chipper, kid.”

“Well, just trying to offset your general moodiness, Boss. I wanted to let you know that Captain Jameson says they’re ready to install the weapon systems and the ship’s life-support is ready. We can start moving the crew in whenever we want.”

Keri walked to her kitchenette and poured a cup of coffee. The AR in the room notified her it was almost time to restock a few food items. She offered Keri a cup and said, “I just wish we’d been able to find a bigger crew. Half of the applicants left when they heard where we were going.”

“With all due respect, Boss,” Keri said, “I’m scared too.”


Crucifix on the Bible by ~sunset-drive on deviantART

Captain Jameson’s quarters were only slightly larger than Sumiko’s, and he had small chests full of spices and teas from a dozen worlds that made the room smell like a Moroccan restaurant. The old spacer had oculars, the same as the rest of the crew, but his were a dull gray, more natural-looking yet obviously artificial. His hair had grayed in a few areas but was also slightly longer than the rest of the crew’s. He sat at his desk while Sumiko and the others used the pull-out chairs on the walls. Aguilar, the ship’s doctor, nursed a cup of chamomile tea in her artificial hands. They looked real enough, but the skin tone was just a shade off. Seres sat near the captain and drank from a small bottle of ship whiskey Sumiko was sure the old spacer had made himself. His eyes, like Jameson’s, had old-style oculars, but he kept his head shaved to show off the constellation tattoos over his scalp. Sumiko and Keri drank coffee Jameson made for them and claimed was real. From the pungent smell, Sumiko was sure it had actually been in the ground at some point.

The captain raised his glass of whiskey and said, “To the mission.”

Everyone raised his or her glass to toast. Sumiko took in the chocolate and earthiness of her coffee and said, “Thank you, all of you, for agreeing to this mission. I don’t think I could have gotten the funding and the crew without you onboard, and I’m sure the coffee was probably not easy to find.”

Jameson raised his glass and chuckled.

Aguilar put her cup down and said, “It’s our pleasure, Doctor. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous, but, God willing, everything will be fine.”

Sumiko drank a tentative sip of her coffee and smiled politely. Seres took another swig of his bottle and said, “This ship’s a real jumper, Doc, and you’ve got a good crew. We’ll follow Captain Jameson to hell and back and smile the whole way.”

Keri chocked a little bit on her coffee. Sumiko patted her on the back and said, “I just hope we won’t be going literally.”

“It’s just an old spacer trying to show off,” said Jameson. He clinked his cup to Seres’s bottle and said, “Honestly, though, Doctor, this mission will be the eighth time a ship tries to breach Pegasus. Two of them had military escort. I’d feel better if we were packing something a little bigger.”

“The chaplain’s already blessed the ship, Captain,” Seres said, smiling. “No devils on this flight.”

Aguilar said, “Captain, you were on the recovery team for the Michio Kaku, weren’t you?”

“I was,” he said, then finished the last of his drink.

“What do you think happened? I mean, what really happened?”

Seres grinned. Sumiko caught the tension in Jameson’s neck as he poured himself another glass of whiskey. He took a few deep breaths and said, “Ulrich saw something. That much I believe. He’s a smart man, one of the best in his field until Dr. Wright here came along. I’ve gone over his preliminary reports a dozen times. The Michio Kaku was going to be the first to explore Pegasus, so I understand why he and the others were nervous. Communication cut out and every probe that went in never came back out, so the Michio Kaku was going to go in to run experiments. After she launched, the rest of the team and I waited for them at Horizon Outpost and monitored their transmissions. The ship jumped a few AU outside the system and left behind a hyperdrive-equipped signal probe, just in case. The ship was supposed to launch probes towards us every two days to update us, but we never received any. That’s when Ulrich’s escape pod came out. Poor bastard transmitted to the probe, it launched, and two days later, we found him. He kept babbling about seeing angels, that he was unworthy, that God was going to come for him. I do believe he saw something. I don’t think it was God, but Ulrich sure believed it.”

Sumiko said, “That’s why we’re packing bigger guns this time.”

“And a tachyon array,” Seres said. “I still can’t believe you got one, Doc.”

Jameson nodded. He said, “Must have cost half the budget, didn’t it, Doctor?”

Sumiko smiled. Keri nudged her and said, “If there’s one thing Dr. Wright prides herself on, it’s attention to detail.”

Aguilar sipped her tea, then said, “What’s so special about this array?”

Before Seres could speak, Sumiko said, “Faster-than-light communication usually uses a Q-burst, an energetic but extremely low bit-rate transmission. In the last ten years, though, we’ve discovered how to use tachyons. We can send exotic particles through the space-time foam and bypass the lightspeed limit, see matter without actually interacting with it on our traditional four dimensions. The array is similar to a hyperdrive core, but more controlled, like a cutting torch instead of a warhead. It would have been cheaper to strap a private island with a gold-plated castle to the front of the ship, but it will be worth it. The Michio Kaku had a first generation array. It nearly crippled the budget, but we wanted every edge we could get.”

Keri laughed, but Aguilar just chuckled politely. Jameson said, “I’m just glad we have enough left over for a decent defense grid, Doctor. And missiles.”

“Well,” Sumiko said, “we’re going to the edge of the map, Captain. It’s where the monsters live.”


Wormhole by ~Xolarix on deviantART

Riley’s Promise rode the streams of wormholes and quantum fluctuations of hyperspace at thousands of times the speed of light as starlight twisted into a tunnel of azure light around it. Sumiko could see the wormhole through the monitors on the bridge. Jameson walked around the central display console as his oculars fed him data. Seres sat in his interface couch behind the display and felt everything the ship felt. He lazily moved his head side to side, but Sumiko knew he was more conscious than anyone onboard. Around them, a ring of consoles and stations gave the sparse crew all the information they needed. Most of them were young, Sumiko knew, but all of them had one or two modifications. Everyone had oculars and Sumiko had rarely seen the same shade twice. A few had synthetic hands or even whole arms.

“Coming up on navpoint twelve,” Seres said through the bridge’s speakers. He mouthed the words but didn’t actually speak, and his eyes moved as though he were dreaming.

Sumiko grabbed the central display and braced herself. The other spacers didn’t flinch when the ship jumped out of hyperspace with a slight shudder. Colors drained from Sumiko’s vision. Outside, the ship appeared in a blast of Easter-blue Cherenkov radiation and exotic matter as gravity rippled like a disturbed pond.

Jameson walked to her and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Everything green, Doctor? Or just your face?” he asked.

She smiled and held back the lunch she suddenly felt rise into her throat before coming back down. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but no matter how much I know about space-time knots and gravity eddies, it doesn’t make the jumps any easier.”

Seres said, “We’re at the edge of the Pegasus system, Captain. Speed five kay relative, bearing trip-zero. All systems green.”

“Thanks, Seres,” said Jameson. He squeezed Sumiko’s shoulder and said to the crew, “Eyes and Ears on full. Let’s see what’s out there.”

Sumiko switched to the external cameras and saw a single point of red light in the distance. The star was unbelievably old. Sol was a diffuse cloud of hydrogen when this star was in its main sequence, and Pegasus had long ago flared into a red giant. In a short time, in stellar terms, it would swallow the rest of its planets, thought Sumiko…

“Anything?” she said.

Jameson said, “Nothing. Eyes and Ears get background noise and our own emissions. Tachyon array is scanning and picking up some static. Eyes say it might be interference from our jump, though. Compensating. Getting ready to launch the birds.”

She grinned and said, “Let’s see what ten million a probe buys.”

Jameson smiled and gave the signal to launch. Outside, a hatch opened and eight probes launched like missiles.  They spread into a cone ahead of the ship and moved at hundreds of kilometers per second, their engines cutting out after burning brighter than the sun. Another probe launched aft and headed away from the star system. Sumiko studied every bit of data. She saw nothing she hadn’t seen through the ship’s own sensors. When the probes reached a few million kilometers, the transmission flickered and died for an instant.

“Seres,” she said, “anything strange out there? Gravity waves? Dark matter? Giant sea serpent?”

“Not even a mermaid,” he said over the speakers. “So far, it’s the same as every other probe and ship. This is where most of them lost comms. The tachyon array is letting me see and the probes are transmitting, but data is dropping out much faster than it should be. Another few hours and I’ll lose the signal.”

“What about the ninth probe? Is our lifeline in place?”

“Slow-light is yellow going on red. I’m barely getting anything from…”

A look of pain shot across Seres’ face. A moment later, the lights flickered.

Every screen flashed red before dying.

The ship lurched.

Sumiko fell against the central display and her forearm cracked. Her oculars fed her information as quickly as possible and her link broadcasted a medical distress signal. She tuned out the AR notifications for emergency procedures and tried to get information on the ship, but she couldn’t get a signal. She saw Jameson coordinating with the other spacers. They spoke in jargon, slang, a few abbreviations she didn’t understand. The lights turned back on in sections and the alarms died one by one. Sumiko held her arm as the pain became too intense, but she forced herself to stand up.

Jameson approached her with a first aid kit and waved one hand over the injury. The rest of the bridge crew opened panels and went to work without being given further orders.

“It’s broken,” he said as his oculars lit up.

Sumiko sat at one of the empty stations and said, “Nice spider glove.”

He flexed his very human hand in front of her and said, “Pups show off. Vets know what we’re good at.” He waved the hand over her arm a few more times and said, “You need to get to medbay, Doctor.”

“Yeah, in a minute. Just… What did we lose?” she said, trying to ignore the pain. Jameson rolled her sleeve up and placed a patch on her forearm. The pain subsided. She felt a bit weightless as he said, “Something exploded in engineering. Eyes and Ears are down, but it looks like a cascade. We’re not sure, but we may have lost sublight, too.” He sighed and said, “We’re ballistic and heading straight for Pegasus.”

“What about… what about getting a signal to Horizon Outpost?”

The world turned slightly. Sumiko felt herself rise from the chair as Jameson continued, “Everything’s red. We lost the tachyon array at the same time and we can’t raise the signal probe.” He turned to one of the stations and said, “Crewman, check your station. It smells like something’s burning in there.”

Sumiko fought against the anesthesia filling her veins and said, “How? We… we’ve got quadruple redundancy on everything.”

Jameson laid her against a console and said, “Doctor, I know. Let us do what you’re paying us to do and I promise I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I know something.”

The lights bloomed into rainbows and flowers. Sumiko felt the last of the gravity vanish and everything went black.


Somewhere Out There by ~ex-astris1701 on deviantART

Spicy cinnamon filled the air.

Something that felt like winter sun pierced the clouds and shone in pale rays on the city. Sumiko saw a child wander the streets. Soot and grime covered her face. Her eyes were real, Sumiko saw, and her right hand had a long, wide cut cross the top. The girl walked the empty street, past craters and smoke and bodies. The little girl never cried. Her face was blank, still, peaceful.

She turned and looked directly at Sumiko. A rocket screamed through the air and hit the building next to them.

Everything turned orange and bright and the little girl never said anything.


Cinnamon by ~Anything-Goes on deviantART

Sumiko smelled antiseptics and sterilized plastic. She awoke in a medbed and instantly felt the sting of a regen module over her arm. Any semblance of anesthetic was gone as she felt the bone in her arm snap into position and knit itself inside of the heavy metal sleeve. The white, sterile walls of the recovery room almost blinded her before her oculars adjusted. Dr. Aguilar stood by her side and ran a trilling spider glove over her while Aguilar’s oculars glittered. She finally removed the regen module and checked her work. Sumiko looked down to see a bad bruise over her forearm, but aside from a tingling sensation, it didn’t hurt.

“Not bad,” Aguilar said. “You can go, Doctor. We need the bed.”

Sumiko started to say something, then looked down the medical bay and saw every bed taken. The staff treated the minor injuries in the hallway outside. A few beds already had sheets over them. Her throat tightened. Sumiko stood and said, “How many?”

Aguilar kept her eyes on the tablet in her hand and said, “Thirty-eight dead, seven unaccounted for.” She looked up, her silver eyes glistening, and said, “I’m sorry, but we’re not equipped to handle something like this. We’ve already gone through most of our synthetic blood and I’ve been getting donations from the survivors until we can make more, and I’ve asked Captain Jameson if we can draw some from the catatonics.”

“Catatonics?”

Aguilar moved closer and whispered, “We have twenty-one crew members who were found screaming or catatonic. A few tried to space themselves, one almost killed the rest of his team when he tried to vent the atmosphere in the shuttle bay. Now, all of them are just… not there. It’s not radiation, there are negligible injuries… I don’t know.”

Though her legs felt stiff, Sumiko stood and said, “Do what you can with what you have, Doctor.” She walked out of the medbay as a trauma team brought in another technician. Sumiko just barely averted her eyes to avoid the sight of burned flesh, but she could do nothing about the smell. She managed to get around the corner before she threw up water and the remains of a protein bar.

She smelled cardamom. Dirt hit her eyes. She felt sunlight, heavy and strong, on the back of her neck. A little girl ran in front of her as gunfire exploded in the distance.

Sumiko blinked and the bulkhead returned. She smelled only plastic and blood and felt the dull hum of the emergency generators.


Insanity by =kimberly-castello on deviantART

She walked back to the bridge while holding her bruised arm. She found Jameson and Keri standing around the center display while a holograph of Riley’s Promise floated about them. The aft sections and forward arrays glowed red while the center remained forest green. Seres stood by, his couch now empty, and held a bottle of water. Sumiko noted the heat pad on his head. Keri heard Sumiko enter and ran to her, nearly tackling the older woman with a hug.

Sumiko put her arms around Keri and said, “Missed you too, munchkin.” She let go and went back to the table. Seres took a pair of pills from a bottle and finished his water. Keri eyed him and said, “The headache any better?”

The spacer smiled and said, “You try feeling like your nerves just exploded, kid. I’ll be fine.”

Sumiko folded her arms and said, “So where are we?”

Jameson said, “DC teams confirm the cascade but can’t identify the cause. Hyperdrive is out of the question. Emergency systems kicked in before the core blew, but the blast took out our main fuel tank and knocked the sublights out. We think we can fix them, but it’ll take a few days. There’s also something blocking slow-light transmissions. Tachyons are cutting out fast, too. We keep increasing power to try and get a signal, but it’s not going anywhere. It’s like we keep throwing fuel on a fire that never grows.”

The anesthetic haze returned for a moment. Sumiko tried to process everything and finally said, “Can we at least slow down? We’re still headed to the main star, aren’t we?”

Seres said, “We can slow down, Doc, but it’ll burn the last of our propellant. I think we can slingshot off Pegasus itself, maybe a few asteroids on our way, but it’ll take at least two weeks to skim her and another two weeks before we’re out of the system, back where we came in, and can hail Horizon Outpost.”

Keri said, “We have supplies to last six more months.”

“It won’t work,” said Jameson. “Doc, whatever’s happening to the crew is spreading. A third of the crew is either wounded, dead, or incapacitated, and as far as Dr. Aguilar can tell, the catatonic ones are going to outnumber the conscious. In two days, there won’t be enough people left to pilot the ship, let alone care for the sick. We need to figure out what’s blocking our comms and shutting the crew down before–”

The center display minimized the holograph of the ship and activated an alarm. Seres rolled his eyes and crawled back into his station. He interfaced and said through the speakers, “We’ve got something on long-range. We’re getting a tachyon signal.”

Sumiko moved around the display and said, “Not a lot of resolution left… Seres, do you see anything?”

The spacer blinked and looked around. He wasn’t seeing the bridge, but rather the space around them. He disconnected and said, “Captain, you owe me a week’s pay. We just picked up the Michio Kaku, eighteen million kay. ETA one hour.”


Holographic Chaos by ~noistromo on deviantART

Riley’s Promise was a converted transport. It was large, but it was barely the size of the Michio Kaku’s engine section. The larger ship was a similar design, engine block followed by rotational sections and a hangar and cargo bay, but it was easily three times longer. The wreck spun lazily at an odd angle, its rotational section half missing. The hangar bay and forward array were completely gone and nothing but a half-melted stub remained.

Sumiko and Keri watched the feed on the center display as they approached at five thousand kilometers per second. With each breath, the scans became clearer. Keri said, “What the hell did this?”

Jameson looked at the displays and said, “Unknown. There are hull breeches over much of the engineering section. Looks like something also rammed the habitat ring.”

“Captain,” said Seres, “I think I found it.”

The holographs minimized and a view of the engineering deck appeared. The hull was buckled, but Sumiko could make out a shape half-embedded into the hull. The wrecked engine and the bent and twisted retractable wings told her everything she needed to know.

“Someone rammed a shuttle through the ring?” she said.

“Looks like,” said Seres. “Maybe more than one. I’ve got fields, probably from a reactor explosion. I think someone suicide-wired a shuttle and decided to take out the crew quarters.”

Sumiko moved the image around and said, “Captain, the Michio Kaku had nuclear munitions. Does it look like that’s what took out the hangar bay?”

Jameson looked through the data and said, “They had five-hundred kiloton warheads. If one was rigged inside the launchers, it could do this. Seres, any transmissions yet?”

Back in his couch, Seres looked around, turned his head as if hearing something in the distance, and said, “Nothing, Captain. I’m picking up a lot of FTL static, though. It’s getting worse the more we drift into the system, and I think it’s even heavier around the Michio Kaku. Their array is still transmitting, I think. Nothing but noise.”

Sumiko chuckled and said, “Not bad. I knew they built those emergency cells to last, but eight years? It’s amazing that…” Something lit up in her mind. She ran equations through her oculars and said, “We should stop at the Michio Kaku.”

Seres, Jameson, and the few remaining crew member stared at her. Jameson finally said, “With all due respect, Doctor, no.”

“Captain, look at these scans. There are hull breaches, but it looks like the internals are fine. They ejected their hyperdrive core, the same as us, but we should still find parts, maybe even fuel. We might even get the black box records.”

“And if it turns out the interior is nuked, too? I’m sorry, Doctor, but I can’t authorize something like that.”

Sumiko rubbed her hands over her face. She wanted to sleep, curl up, and forget the last day. She finally said, “I am still in charge of this mission, Captain. Right now, we have no idea what’s going on and we need help. That ship is the best chance we have and if we don’t start slowing down right now, we’re going to overshoot it.”

“I disagree. Seres, maintain course and–”

A scream filled the bridge. The crewmember manning the sensors fell over and scratched at his eyes. Jameson and two others grabbed him and held him back. Sumiko rushed over with a medkit and slapped two patches on his arm. As the anesthetic took hold and the man finally passed out, Jameson stood and said, “Med team to the bridge. Seres, begin emergency deceleration. And get the defense grid up. Just in case.”


Space Wreckage Red by ~MK01 on deviantART

Keri walked through the crew quarters and saw a group of spacers entering one of the crew-made chapels. Incense wafted through the hall. Prayers to God, Allah, and Saint Jonas filled the hallway. She cracked her neck and resolved to try and sleep at least two hours. When she entered her quarters, she started to remove her coveralls when something raced up her spine. Her door was closed. The room was barely big enough for a bed. She looked around and reached for the hand scanner on her belt. It fed information to her oculars. The room’s temperature was nominal. Mild power fluctuations raced through the grid.

She was alone.

The room filled with the smell of seawater. She tasted blood.

Something grabbed her hand.

Keri drew her gun from the desk and aimed at the walls. Her legs itched to move, but the cold shard racing down her spine stopped her. Her back tensed.

“Keri to Sumiko,” she said.

Static.

“Boss, please respond.”

A hand wrapped around her head and she was sure she screamed.


Monster by *DecemberComes on deviantART

“We found her with the gun still in her hand, mag empty, half the walls shot to hell,” Aguilar said. Sumiko did her best to not pace around Aguilar’s office. Outside, she could see Keri strapped to the bed. The door was closed and Sumiko couldn’t hear anything, but she could tell Keri was still screaming. She flayed like she was on fire, like every cell in her body was exploding.

Aguilar continued, “I’ve been running every test I can, but as far as I can tell, she’s physically fine. Scans are coming up with some increased brain activity, but I can’t rule out that it’s just hysteria. She’s the same as the others.”

Sumiko said, “Let me know when you know anything, Doctor.”

Keri thrashed against her restrains. She seemed to look past Sumiko and mouthed something. Sumiko moved closer and took her hand.

“I’m here, kid,” she said. “We’re going to fix you right up.”

“My back…” Keri whispered. Her eyes rolled back as she finally passed out.

Sumiko slowly let go of Keri’s hand and said, “Doctor? Doctor!”

Aguilar rushed to the bed and looked at Keri. Sumiko said, “She was saying something about her back.”

“There’s nothing indicating Keri’s in pain,” Aguilar said while running her spider-glove over Keri. She added, “Didn’t she have an accident a few years ago? I remember something in her records.”

“We were setting up a research lab on Europa. One of the blast doors failed and water rushed a compartment. She took a pretty hard blow and cracked several vertebrae, but she was lucky.”

Aguilar nodded and said, “I’ll check her records again. Maybe her nerves are reacting to something we can cross-reference. Thanks.”

Sumiko walked out of the medical bay just as another medical team arrived with three more people in screaming fits. A fourth patient was brought in a catatonic state. Sumiko tried to remember the last time she’d slept.


Insomnia by ~deviant-freshness on deviantART

The circles around Jameson’s eyes had grown much darker in the last few hours. Even Seres looked like he’d been awake for days. The bridge smelled like synthcaf, artificial and flavorless, but Sumiko knew it was much stronger than real coffee. She took a cup from an unattended station and drank it in one go. Most of the stations were empty. She approached the center display and said, “I just heard twelve more people reported to medbay with symptoms.”

Seres slammed his cup down and said, “Symptoms? They’re so bent they can’t tell up from their own ass, Doc! What the hell’s going on?”

She backed away, but Jameson put his hand on Seres’ shoulder and said, “Look, we don’t know what’s happening. Not yet. Dr. Wright, we need to get our situation in order. You know the Pegasus missions better than anyone. Has there ever been anything like this on any of them?”

Sumiko sighed and said, “No, nothing. Every probe reported increased static when nearing the system. Eventually, the comms just went out. We have a tachyon array that should have cut through any realspace static. When we get to the Michio Kaku, we should know more–”

A shadow moved behind the consoles. Jameson drew his pistol while Sumiko fumbled for hers. Everyone else noted the Captain and drew their firearms and looked around. The lights dimmed slightly. Jameson said, “Doctor, have you ever had that feeling that you’re being watched?”

Sumiko finally clicked the safety on her gun and said, “Since we entered this God damn system, Captain.”

“Okay,” he said, keeping his eyes trained on the corner of the room. “Just wanted to make sure it wasn’t me.”

“You haven’t been smelling cinnamon by any chance, have you?”

“Burnt plastic, actually.”

A dozen guns pointed in a dozen different directions. Sumiko did her best to remain calm and said, “Captain, there’s something in here with us.”

Jameson and Seres both waved their hands at every corner of the bridge. Sumiko grabbed a hand scanner and did the same. She patched into everyone’s feed and monitored the results through her oculars. Nothing. Seres holstered his weapon and kicked a console. It rang throughout the bridge as the crew recoiled.

“God damn it!” he yelled.

Jameson said, “Come on, buddy, keep it together.”

“Captain, there is something in here!”

Jameson grabbed his collar and pulled him close, saying, “Stow it. We just have to hold it together until we figure this out. One thing at a time. Now,” he turned and looked at the remaining bridge crew and said, “I know everyone is on edge. But we have a job to do. Let’s get to the Michio Kaku and–”

Power cut out again.

Emergency lights kicked in almost instantly, but the corners of the bridge remained pitch black. Sumiko heard the crew scramble to try and get power back to their stations, and soon enough, the light of holographic displays shone from most of the bridge. The center display flickered to life. She breathed more easily.

Something the size of a panther dashed across the back of the room.

Every spacer opened fire and maneuvered to both get out of the way and seek cover. Sumiko dropped behind the center display. Seres shot at something in the corner as Jameson and others started to reload. He yelled, “Fall back!”

The spacers moved with purpose and training. The room cleared out as one group fell back and provided covering fire. Jameson and Sumiko were the last ones out. Jameson shut the door and pulled out the control panel outside. He fired two rounds into it.

“That should hold… whatever that was,” he said. He reloaded and said, “Everyone to the secondary bridge.” He blinked and Sumiko heard an all-ship alert ring in her link. Jameson said through the speakers, “This is the Captain. Intruder alert, caution all decks.”

He escorted Sumiko through the halls. In the distance, they heard gun fire. People screamed out orders. Sumiko called up a map of the area that showed the location of every crew member. Some were huddled together. Others ran through the decks. As she watched, three of them transmitted med-alerts. Another’s life signs terminated.

A shadow cut across the hallway in front of them.

Jameson opened fire. The shadow vanished. Sumiko smelled cinnamon and cardamom again. Cold spikes gripped her head. She turned in time to see something move towards her. It was dark, a shadow, but as soon as it was close enough to her face, it exploded with light.

Jameson screamed something. Sumiko fired one shot. Everything went dark.


Insomnia by ~deviant-freshness on deviantART

Cinnamon.

Sumiko sat on a rock, a piece of a building, and looked down the cobblestone street. Bodies and bits of bodies littered the sidewalks. The crater-like bullet holes on the walls still smoked. The missing pieces of the buildings still had the acrid smell of high explosives all over them. Despite the bright sun and lack of clouds, Sumiko could see her own breath. The scar on her hand hurt.

A little girl stood on the other side of the street. Sumiko recognized her.

“This is a dream, isn’t it?” she said. She wanted to sweat and scream but felt everything inside her turn to concrete.

The little girl slowly nodded and pointed down the street to the city center. Sumiko recognized the shattered skyline. The troop transports landing near the park opened fire on the remaining buildings to clear out snipers and insurgents.

Sumiko stood and said, “Why are you showing me this?”

A wave of silver light flashed across the little girl’s face. She said, “Because this is where you always return.”

Her voice sounded like a knife in Sumiko’s ear. Sumiko was sure she wasn’t hearing the voice so much as feeling it. She said, “I remember this street. This is where I lost them. I wandered by myself for hours before the peacekeepers found me again, but–”

“This place is how you define yourself. Explain.”

Sumiko wanted to run, but she managed to kneel in front of the girl and said, “This isn’t real… You’re not real.”

“Why do you keep thinking about this place? It brings you so much pain, but you’re like the others. You hold on to the things that hurt. We don’t understand how the whole functions.”

Another flash of silver light moved across the girl’s face. Her eyes turned into white light as Sumiko said, “What are you?”

“We are.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“The parts do not understand the whole. You can’t tell us why you are here. You’re the second element that hasn’t been compromised by seeing images like this. We want to understand.”

The ground rippled like water. The sky shimmered like hyperspace. Sumiko said, “You’re talking about Ulrich. What did he see?”

The little girl said, “He saw what he held on to most, the same as all the parts. And once we showed him what we held dearest to us, he, like you, hid away in his own mind. All of you have memories that define you, but when confronted with them, your minds close.”

“Is that what you’ve been doing? Why?”

“It is the best way to communicate. If we are to know each other, we cannot hide anything, so we need to know what makes each of you unique, your own collective of memory and sensations. So far, we are puzzled. None of you have even hinted why you insist on hurting us.”

The sky turned into a wormhole, an endless tunnel of light and gravity ripples. Sumiko had the momentary image of herself not on the ground but instead on some huge ceiling over the chasm. She said, “How are we hurting you? We didn’t even know you were here!”

The girl said, “You are star matter and thoughts, but you scream and call to us so loudly that it hurts us. We want to understand.”

Gravity disappeared. The street floated, rock by rock, into the sky. Her body felt like it was vanishing, turning weightless. Her mind raced with light, symbols, emotions somewhere between hatred and curiosity, happiness and pain. The world vanished again. She tried to scream but had no mouth. Soon, she couldn’t even feel herself breathing. She felt a thousand, a million eyes looking at her. No, not eyes. She just saw them as eyes. Curious creatures…

A thought moved through her, or what remained of her body. It wasn’t language. It was a sensation. It was thought in its purest form.

“How are you awake?”


Hyperspace by ~korborak on deviantART

Jameson reloaded again. The shadow was gone. Sumiko convulsed on the floor and screamed for a few seconds before she stopped and stared at the ceiling. He lifted her over his shoulders and carried her to the end of the hall as more gunfire filled the corridors. Seres loaded his last magazine and said, “What’s the plan?”

“Save your ammo,” Jameson said, “and try to get to the secondary bridge.”

They continued as quickly as possible. The halls were littered with unconscious bodies. Bullet dents covered every wall. Even the emergency lights flickered. Jameson ignored the overpowering smell of burning plastic and meat.

Sumiko gasped and thrashed on his shoulders. She nearly fell before Jameson put her down against the bulkhead. She could barely stand. He put his gun away as Seres watched the hallway.

“Doctor,” Jameson said, “can you hear me?” He grabbed her, tried to get her to meet his eyes.

Sumiko’s oculars pulsed as they seemed to reset. She looked back and forth as though following some insect flying through the corridor. She finally said, “They’re trying to learn… They can’t… I, uhm… I think I…”

“Doctor? Sumiko! Come on, what are you talking about? How are you awake?”

Her eyes flashed with life. Sumiko said, “Captain?”

Jameson managed a weak smile and said, “Doc, whatever’s going on, we need to get out of here.”

“No,” she whispered. “Not out. We need to go through them. Captain,” she said as her voice grew stronger, more assertive, “we need to destroy the Michio Kaku.”

“Are you out of your mind? We’re almost there, Doc,” Seres said. He turned back to the corridor and fired. The shadows moved on their own.

Sumiko grabbed her head. A drop of blood inched out of her nose. She clenched her teeth and said, “Captain, we’re hurting them. Destroy the Michio Kaku and shut… shut down our tachyon array.”

Jameson held her up and said, “If I destroy the Michio Kaku, we lose our one chance to make it out of here.”

Another blood vessel burst in her nose. Blood dripped into her mouth as she said, “Captain, I’m begging you… We will make it out if you just trust me.”

Seres said, “No offense, Captain, but a stupid idea is better than no idea.”

Jameson blinked and an alert beamed through the ship’s AR as he said, “This is the Captain. Any gunnery crews remaining, TAC missiles on the Michio Kaku, time on target. And don’t stop until it’s vapor.”


Renegade X Nuclear Missile by ~Richbk on deviantART

Riley’s Promise faced away from the star as it decelerated, but the ship turned, painfully slow, and ports along the central spine opened so rows of gun placements could swivel and aim. They fired dozens of rounds per second at the approaching Michio Kaku, first denting the hull, then punching through and opening gaps as bullets shredded the hull.

Six hatches on the front module on Riley’s Promise opened to reveal vertical launching systems packed with dozens of missiles. They fired in sequence, the sides of the ship lightly scorched as the missiles’ engines flared and sent them out. The first salvo formed a wall and accelerated ahead of the already-ballistic Riley’s Promise. A few seconds later, they met the remains of the Michio Kaku and entered through the gaps in the hull as the guns stopped firing.

A miniature sun briefly outshone Pegasus.

Gunnery crews on Riley’s Promise saw a bloom of X-rays and plasma, a cloud of rapidly expanding debris, then a diffusing cloud of molten and atomized metal. The second salvo detonated in front of the cloud and turned the few remaining bits of solid matter into a rain of liquid metal.

The radioactive rain was of little consequence to Riley’s Promise as it flew past the wreck at a fraction of its former speed.

Inside, Sumiko felt the shadows move away. Her legs gave out and she hit the deck again.


Travel to a dream by =realityDream on deviantART

Sumiko woke up in her own quarters. The AR told her it was Tuesday, less than a day since she passed out. The room smelled like synthcaff and scented oil. She finally recognized Keri sitting at the desk and reading a book. The younger woman jumped out of her seat and hugged Sumiko.

“Not so hard, kid,” she said.

Keri let go and let Sumiko breathe. She gathered her thoughts and saw the bruise on her arm was almost non-existent. She said, “Where are we?”

“About three weeks from the edge of the system,” Keri said. “Doctor Aguilar said you needed rest.”

Sumiko looked around the room at her broken coffee maker. She shot Keri a look and the younger woman said, “Not my fault. Stray bullet.”

“How the hell did we get back to speed? I thought we burned most of it trying to get to the Michio Kaku.”

“Some… creative piloting on Seres’ part. He slingshot us around a few planetoids in our path. It’s going to take a while, but we’ll get out and hail Horizon Outpost for a pick-up.”

“And the crew?”

Keri shifted in her chair and said, “Captain Jameson wants to talk to you about that.”


Coma by ^arctoa on deviantART

The crew had long since patched most of the bullet holes on the walls and consoles. Jameson poured himself the last of the coffee in the cracked ceramic pot as Sumiko walked into the bridge. Seres sat by his couch and made repairs to the shot-up relays and connections. Everywhere, the smell of ozone and disinfectants filled the ship.

Jameson watched her as she approached the center display. He pulled up a map of the system showing their progress so far and a projected course as a dashed, blinking line. A cloud of virtual fog hung over the area, but a near-perfect circle of nothingness formed around the ship. He said, “Eyes and Ears noticed something strange, so they’ve been running scan filters all morning. We’re picking up this fog now. I don’t know how we missed it the first time.”

“Because we were screaming,” Sumiko said.

He pulled out a new report, a list of names, and said, “Doctor, I have one hundred and five dead crew members. Another fifty-three are suffering from severe neurological and mental trauma. The rest are healing but jittery. Would you please explain to me what the hell happened and why we’re suddenly flying a milk-run?”

Sumiko swallowed hard. She wanted a cup of coffee, but just said, “They never meant any harm. In fact, I’m sure they didn’t even know they were hurting us.”

“Who the hell are ‘they’ and how did they do all that?”

“Captain, I have no idea, but I figured it out when they said our screams were hurting them, and that we were somehow different. It was the tachyons. We were burying energetic particles through space-time. We never figured there was anything alive out there that would be hurt by it. Baryons are not opaque to tachyons since they interact with the world on an eleven-dimensional–”

“Doctor,” Jameson said, raising his hand to stop her, “just because I command a ship with a hyperdrive doesn’t mean I understand hyperspatial physics. That’s why I have techs to run the gear.”

Sumiko thought for a moment and said, “Imagine you and your world were made out of glass. EM scanners are like sonar. You can see because of the echo. The tachyons? Bullets. That’s how these things see the universe. The reason the signals kept cutting out was because this entire star system is full of… I don’t even know what they are, but FTL signals must have been painful for them like gamma rays are to us. It’s probably why they took out the hyperdrive. It’s what was messing the regular slow-light signals. The core’s superheavy and volatile compared to other forms of matter. They could probably interact with it much more easily than normal matter. They were trying to save themselves. All that static was us destroying them.”

“Why wouldn’t they think to stop or try and talk to us? I mean, they had to have known what they were doing.”

“They knew, but I don’t think they understood. Could you feel for the separation anxiety of a fingernail cut from the hand? I got the impression that life is different for them, and while they feel infinitely more analytical, they still can’t comprehend our emotions and what we would consider mental trauma. I don’t even think they understand the concept of individuals.”

“So they shake hands by sticking their fingers in your brain?”

“I guess. We’re strange to them. Emotions, memories… they must have been as alien to them as hive consciousness seems to us. They finally understand, though, at least enough for a truce. We stopped screaming. They’re letting us out, but they’re watching us. I think this is as polite as they’re going to make it.”

Jameson shook his head and said, “No chance of us coming back and trying to make proper first contact?”

Sumiko smiled. She felt cold and said, “Maybe. Some day. When we can handle them.”

She patched into the external cameras. Pegasus receded from view. In a few more days, it would be a pinprick red star behind them. Sumiko wondered if she would ever be in its light again. She also wondered about the cloud of beings following them. The ship must look so strange: a barely-visible shell of metal around a hyperdrive core, a tachyon array that lit up their star system like a nuclear explosion, and the little beings of carbon and water who walked around the interior of that metal shell and shut down at the first instance of “hello.”

The Writing Demon

Frankly, a razor would be less painful sometimes.
Frankly, a razor would be less painful sometimes.

March 25, 2012

I just sent off “The Divine Anomaly” to see if it will get accepted for publication. Like I wrote on Facebook earlier today, there’s a sense of peace that comes from finally saying, “It’s done.” I can focus on other things and switch to other modes of thought. I have a big item scratched off my to-do-list.

And it reminds me of why I write.

Students will often tell me they’re done with a work after about the second or third draft. That may be fine for a quick assignment, but for me, five or even six drafts are not enough. I have to make sure everything is just right. Of course, this has to balance out with my need to get the writing out. Eventually, one side has to shut up and the story must be declared “done.” That’s why deadlines, while annoying, are so necessary, even if they’re self-imposed. The entire thing is gut-wrenching and stressful and, let’s face, doesn’t pay well unless you make it big.

So why do I do this?

I could become a teacher. The pay’s better, and I’ve done it before. I can handle a room full of kids, middle school or high school or college. I could hire myself out as a copyeditor. That’s another job I’ve done, too. Article writing for publishers who need bulk material? Done that too. All of them pay much better.

And yet I stay with one part-time job that lets me get by while I work on these tales.

You’d be right to think I’m crazy.

But maybe crazy isn’t the word. How many people out there have stories to tell? I think I have one or two. Maybe more. Like George Orwell said, there is some demon within writers, something that pushes them to these self-destructive places where everything vanishes and only the writing, the story, exists.

I’ve grappled with my own demon for years. I’ve tried to make time. Once, I shunned the world and everything in it for the sake of getting the demon out. Then, I realized I needed people, I needed contact, to stay sane. Now, I balance my home life, work, and this website while also trying to finish Charcoal Streets. The stories and themes have been bouncing around my head since 2005 and now I’m finally in a position to get them down and finish them the way I want to tell them.

It’s difficult to explain the need to create to non-artists. Yes, it would be easy to sputter articles out. It would be a simple to take up a teaching position to pay the bills. I could copyedit.

But I need to create.

Maybe this makes me crazy. Fine. It makes me crazy. But I enjoy it.

Now, let’s enjoy some well-deserved laughs. See you soon!

The Divine Anomaly (SAMPLE)

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men! Wait, that one's taken...
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men!
Wait, that one’s taken…

This is a sample of the story I’m sending out to hopefully get into an anthology. It’s a WORK IN PROGRESS, but I thought I might as well get some feedback. Enjoy, and leave your comments below. 

Cheers washed over the congregation, and as the preacher continued for the next thirty minutes about the evils of everything from pornography to hyperspace, Sumiko felt the crowd’s energy rise. Soon, they forgot about the humidity and dust clinging to every part of the building and their bodies. By the sermon’s end, Sumiko was the only one still seated.

The preacher ignored the sweat pouring into his eyes as he said, “Science will never explain the truth about the human soul. And it will never explain the mysteries out there, in space. We tear through the universe, violate the fundamental nature, the laws of God, and we think He will not strike us down? We will see a reaping, brothers and sisters. We will see a reaping!”

As everyone shouted, clapped, shot their hands into the air and prayed as though the heavens were swallowing everything that very moment, Sumiko slipped outside and dialed her link.

The receiver in her ear chirped until Keri finally answered. Sumiko said, before Keri could say anything, “I’m coming home early. I don’t think Ulrich is going to be a lot of help.”

Keri’s excited voice buzzed in her ear, “You found him? How?”

“I have my ways, munchkin.”

“Sumiko, what did you do?”

As the crowd walked out of the chapel and ignored the sun hitting their faces from the east, Sumiko said, “Nothing unladylike, I assure you. I’m just out one watch and half my checking account. Listen, I have to go. I’ll call you from the port.”

Rows of corn surrounded the chapel. Though the highway was just down the dirt road through a handful of abandoned buildings in what was the edge of some town long ago, Sumiko couldn’t hear any cars except those leaving. It was Sunday, but the complete absence of any civilization made the expansive sky feel more open. There wasn’t any AR, no digital information for her chromed eyes, nothing. She looked up and wondered about the effectiveness of the relatively thin layer of air and gases protecting her from hard vacuum and cosmic rays. Someone cleared his throat behind her. She turned and saw the preacher, his face now wiped clean of the sweat that accumulated over the course of his sermon. His shirt and tie remained as neat as the moment he started the service, and he smiled and extended one large hand to Sumiko’s.

“I don’t think we’ve met, Miss…”

“Wright,” she said. “Sumiko Wright.” She took his hand and said, “I’d never been to an Axiom service. Interesting sermon.”

His tanned, slightly wrinkled skin showed every ounce of pride flowing through him as he said, “We’re a new movement. New ideas for a new time.”

“Yes, I can see that. If you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment and I’m going to be late.”

She turned to leave as the minister said, “Would that be the one-thirty out of Indianapolis for Houston Station, Miss Wright?”

Most of the congregation was gone down the dirt road. Sumiko breathed in the smell of ethanol fumes and dry plants. She turned and said, “Not bad for someone who demonizes space travel.”

“Space travel is a key element of our faith, much like sin and redemption. And you’re not from around here. You have the body of a spacer, but not the skin. Not yet. You fly amongst the angels, Miss Wright, but man is not ready for those heights.”

“There are no angels, Mister Ulrich.”

The preacher smiled, but Sumiko saw the hint of fear in his eyes as he looked away. He said, “My name is Anderson, Miss Wright. Noah Anderson.”

Sumiko stepped closer. The wind brought more smells of pigeons in the rafters, corn, and the sound of a plane in the distance.

“Noah?” she asked. “The man who saved humanity from God’s wrath. Anderson? Son of man. Nice allusion. It’s Ulrich. Or at least it was when you disappeared eight years ago, before you got all those synthetics replaced with real vat-grown limbs and eyes. Tell me, why don’t we belong in space?”

“For the same reason that we were never meant to split or fuse the atom. That which God has put together, let no man tear asunder. And that which God has created, let no man violate with his machines.”

“You’re talking about hyperdrive, I assume. From your file, that wasn’t always the case, was it? In fact, you have some of the most advanced training on Earth when it comes to FTL physics. That’s why you were chosen for the Michio Kaku.”

He smiled, but his eyes betrayed the anxiety inside. Sumiko saw the small twitch in the corner of his eyes as he said, “Even Paul was a sinner in the eyes of God before his conversion. Like him, I saw the light.”

“Is that what you saw? You’ve never told anyone what you saw in Pegasus.”

“Of course I have. I tell it every day, and to an audience of several dozen on Sunday.”

Sumiko looked to the worn and beaten cross on top of the chapel. The pitted wood had something carved on it long ago, but now it looked as frail as the corn stalks in the distance. She looked to the sky, to the small flashes appearing and disappearing near the horizon. The hyperspace jumps were dimmer than the stars in morning twilight, but they were ever-present. She said, “How much does God care about your past? Or your future? If I remember, Saint Paul was beheaded.”

“Paul helped make our faith what it is today. I’m just taking it to its next logical step. Look at those flashes,” he said, pointing south, to the horizon, to the flashes of transports and massive ships jumping into hyperspace, “and tell me that we’re doing something good.”

“We’re spreading humanity. We’re spreading ideas, commerce, culture-”

“We’re spreading a disease,” Ulrich snapped. He grabbed Sumiko and dragged her back inside the chapel. Ulrich easily pulled her to the center of the chapel. Dusty light hit her. The sun had filtered through the open stained-glass windows, creating splotches of color around them as Ulrich waved his arms and said, “Earth is our home, Miss Wright, and to violate the universe, to rip creation apart to spread the sex, lies, and sin of our kind to other parts of his holiest of works is an abomination of the worst kind. But it will all change. And you and your kind will be the first to fall.”

Sumiko pushed him aside. As he lost his balance, she ran. She never stopped as he continued yelling, “We will change it all, Miss Wright! His will be done!”


Concrete Church by *Matthias-Haker on deviantART

The ride back to Houston Station couldn’t have gone faster for Sumiko. The smells of planetary life were still fresh. She could feel sunlight on her skin. As her shuttle docked, she caught a glimpse of Riley’s Promise docked in the station’s outermost arms. It was small compared to the cargo haulers around it, but even with half her hull off for the retrofit, she was a thing of beauty: sleek, packed with sensor clusters, and with new defense systems. The massive engine section tapered into the central shaft and the rotating habitat rings. The hangar bays and cargo pods and hangar bay at the front of the ship ended in more clusters of specialized sensors. Sumiko smiled at the engineering marvel and pushed Ulrich’s sermon out of her mind.

Her quarters were far more spacious than those onboard the ship. She had an actual kitchen and put a cup of coffee to brew before she went to her bedroom. She made sure to put the small gold cross around her neck back into the redwood jewelry box on the dresser before using the real water shower she was lucky enough to have gotten.

She had just finished putting on her gray coveralls when the door trilled.

Sumiko opened it and Keri waved and beamed a smile. She was a full head shorter than Sumiko and looked like she was still a teenager. Her shoulder-length blond hair instantly set her apart from the other spacers on the station. She said, “Welcome back, Boss.”

Keri sighed and let her in, saying, “You are way too chipper, kid.”

“Well, just trying to offset your general moodiness, Boss. I wanted to let you know that Captain Jameson says they’re ready to install the weapon systems and the ship’s life-support ready. We can start moving the crew in whenever we want.”

Keri walked to her kitchenette and poured a cup of coffee. The AR in the room notified her it was almost time to restock a few food items. She offered Keri a cup and said, “I just wish we’d been able to find a bigger crew. Half of the applicants left when they heard where we were going.”

“With all due respect, Boss,” Keri said, “I’m scared too.”


Crucifix on the Bible by ~sunset-drive on deviantART

Captain Jameson’s quarters were only slightly larger than Sumiko’s, and he had small chests full of spices and teas from a dozen worlds that made the room smell like a Moroccan restaurant. The old spacer had oculars, the same as the rest of the crew, but his were a dull gray, more natural-looking yet obviously artificial. His hair had grayed in a few areas but was also slightly longer than the rest of the crew’s. He sat at his desk while Sumiko and the others used the pull-out chairs on the walls. Aguilar, the ship’s doctor, nursed a cup of chamomile tea in her artificial hands. They looked real enough, but the skin tone was just a shade off. Seres sat near the captain and drank from a small bottle of ship whiskey Sumiko was sure the old spacer had made himself. His eyes, like Jameson’s, had old-style oculars, but he kept his head shaved to show off the constellation tattoos over his scalp. Sumiko and Keri drank coffee Jameson made for them and claimed was real. From the pungent smell, Sumiko was sure it had actually been in the ground at some point.

The captain raised his glass of whiskey and said, “To the mission.”

Everyone raised his or her glass to toast. Sumiko took in the chocolate and earthiness of her coffee and said, “Thank you, all of you, for agreeing to this mission. I don’t think I could have gotten the funding and the crew without you onboard, and I’m sure the coffee was probably not easy to find.”

Aguilar put her cup down and said, “It’s our pleasure, Doctor. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous, but, God willing, everything will be fine.”

Sumiko drank a tentative sip of her coffee and smiled politely. Seres took another swig of his bottle and said, “This ship’s a real jumper, Doc, and you’ve got a good crew. We’ll follow Captain Jameson to hell and back and smile the whole way.”

Keri chocked a little bit on her coffee. Sumiko patted her on the back and said, “I just hope we won’t be going literally.”

“It’s just an old spacer trying to show off,” said Jameson. He clinked his cup to Seres’s bottle and said, “Honestly, though, Doctor, this mission will be the eighth time a ship tries to breach Pegasus. Two of them had military escort. I’d feel better if we were packing something a little bigger.”

“The chaplain’s already blessed the ship, Captain,” Seres said, smiling. “No devils on this flight.”

Aguilar said, “Captain, you were on the recovery team for the Michio Kaku, weren’t you?”

“I was,” he said, then finished the last of his drink.

“What do you think happened? I mean, what really happened?”

Seres grinned. Sumiko caught the tension in Jameson’s neck as he poured himself another glass. He took a few deep breaths and said, “Ulrich saw something. That much I believe. He’s a smart man, one of the best in his field until Doctor Wright here came along. I’ve gone over his reports a dozen times. The Michio Kaku was going to be the first to explore Pegasus, so I understand he and the others were nervous. Communication cut out and every probe that went in never came back out. There was never any sign of violence, so the Michio Kaku was going to go in to run experiments. After she launched, the rest of the team and I waited for them at Horizon Outpost and monitored their transmissions. The ship jumped a few AU outside the system, dropped a buoy, and went in. And then… nothing. We didn’t hear anything for a week. The ship was supposed to launch more buoys every six hours, but we never picked up a transmission. That’s when Ulrich’s escape pod came out.  He kept babbling about seeing angels, that he was unworthy, that God was going to come for him. I do believe he saw something. I don’t think it was God, but Ulrich sure believed it.”

Sumiko said, “That’s why we’re packing bigger guns this time.”

“And a tachyon array,” Seres said. “I still can’t believe you got one, Doc.”

Jameson nodded. He said, “Must have cost half the budget, didn’t it, Doctor?”

Sumiko smiled. Keri nudged her and said, “If there’s one thing Doctor Wright prides herself on, it’s attention to detail.”

Aguilar sipped her tea, then said, “What’s so special about this array?”

Before Seres could speak, Sumiko said, “Faster-than-light communication usually uses a Q-burst, an energetic but extremely low bit-rate transmission that uses the same wormholes as hyperdrive. In the last few years, though, we’ve discovered how to use tachyons. We can send exotic particles through the space-time foam, through the tiny imperfections in space, and bypass the lightspeed limit. Basically, we’re pumping energy into the fabric of reality. It’s similar to a hyperdrive core, but more controlled, like a cutting torch is to a block of explosives. It would have been cheaper to strap a private island with a gold-plated castle to the front of the ship, but it will be worth it. The Michio Kaku had a first generation array. It nearly crippled the budget, but we felt it was worth it.”

Keri laughed, but Aguilar just chuckled politely. Jameson said, “I’m just glad we have enough left over for a decent defense grid, Doctor. And missiles.”

“Well,” Sumiko said, “we’re going to the edge of the map, Captain. It’s where the monsters live.”


Wormhole by ~Xolarix on deviantART

Riley’s Promise rode the streams of wormholes and quantum fluctuations of hyperspace at thousands of times the speed of light as starlight twisted into a tunnel of azure light. Sumiko could see the wormhole through the monitors. Jameson walked around the central display console in the bridge as his oculars fed him data. Seres sat in his interface console behind the display and felt everything the ship felt. He lazily moved his head side to side, but Sumiko knew he was more conscious than anyone onboard. Around them, a ring of consoles and stations gave the sparse crew all the information they needed.

“Coming up on navpoint twelve,” Seres said through the bridge’s speakers. He mouthed the words but didn’t actually speak, and his eyes moved as though he were dreaming.

Sumiko grabbed the central display and braced herself. The other spacers didn’t flinch when the ship jumped out of hyperspace with a slight shudder. Colors drained from Sumiko’s vision. Outside, the ship appeared in a blast of Easter-blue Cherenkov radiation and exotic matter as gravity rippled like a disturbed pond.

Jameson walked to her and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Everything green, Doctor?” he asked.

She smiled and held back the lunch she suddenly felt rise into her throat before coming back down. Seres said, “We’re at the edge of the Pegasus system, Captain. Speed five kay relative, bearing trip-zero. All systems green.”

“Thanks, Seres,” said Jameson. “Eyes and Ears on full. Let’s see what’s out there.”

Sumiko switched to the external cameras and saw a single point of red light in the distance. The star was unbelievably old. Sol was a diffuse cloud of hydrogen when this star was in its main sequence, and Pegasus had long ago flared into a red giant. In a short time, in stellar terms, it would swallow up the rest of its planets, thought Sumiko…

“Anything?” she said.

Jameson said, “Nothing. Eyes and Ears get background noise and our own emissions. Tachyon array is on and scanning. So far, normal. Getting ready to launch the birds.”

She grinned and said, “Let’s see what ten million a probe buys.”

Jameson smiled and gave the signal to launch. Outside, a hatch opened and eight probes launched like missiles.  They spread into a cone ahead of the ship and moved at hundreds of kilometers per second, their engines cutting out after burning brighter than the sun. Another probe launched aft and headed away from the system. Sumiko studied every bit of data. She saw nothing she hadn’t seen through the ship’s own sensors. When the probes reached a few million kilometers, the transmission flickered and died for an instant.

“Seres,” she said, “anything strange out there? Gravity waves? Dark matter? Giant sea serpent?”

“Not even a mermaid,” he said over the speakers. “So far, it’s the same as every other probe and ship. This is where most of them lost comms. The tachyon array is letting me see and the probes are transmitting, but data is dropping out much faster than it should be. Another few hours and I’ll lose the signal.”

“What about the ninth probe? Can it get a signal to Horizon Outpost?”

“I’m getting FTL signals, but slow-light is yellow going on red. I’m barely getting anything from…”

A look of pain shot across Seres’ face. A moment later, the lights flickered.

Every screen flashed red before dying.

The ship lurched.

Sumiko fell against the central display and her forearm cracked. Her oculars fed her information as quickly as possible and her link broadcast a medical distress signal. She tuned out the notifications for emergency procedures and tried to get information on the ship, but she couldn’t get a signal. She saw Jameson coordinating with the other spacers. They spoke in jargon, slang, a few abbreviations she didn’t understand. The lights turned back on in sections and the alarms died one by one. Sumiko held her arm as the pain became too intense, but she forced herself to stand up.

Jameson approached her with a first aid kit and waved one hand over the injury. The rest of the bridge crew opened panels and went to work without being given further orders.

“It’s broken,” he said as his oculars lit up.

Sumiko sat at one of the empty stations and said, “Nice spider glove.”

He flexed his very human hand in front of her and said, “Pups show off. Vets know what we’re good at.” He waved the hand over her arm a few more times and said, “You need to get to medbay, Doctor.”

“Yeah, in a minute. Just… What did we lose?” she said, trying to ignore the pain. Jameson rolled her sleeve up and placed a patch on her forearm. The pain subsided and she felt a bit weightless as he said, “Something exploded in engineering. Eyes and Ears are down for now, but it looks like a cascade. We’re not sure, but we may have lost sublight, too.” He sighed and said, “We’re ballistic and heading straight for Pegasus.”

“What about… what about hailing Horizon Outpost?”

The world turned slightly. Sumiko felt herself rise from the chair as Jameson continued, “We lost the tachyon array at the same time. Everything’s red.” He turned to one of the stations and said, “Crewman, check your station. It smells like something’s burning in there.”

Sumiko fought against the anesthesia filling her veins and said, “How? We… we’ve got quadruple redundancy on everything.”

Jameson laid her against a console and said, “Doctor, I know. Let us do what you’re paying us to do and I promise I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I know something, but right now, you need to get to medbay.”

The lights bloomed into rainbows and flowers. Sumiko felt the last of the gravity vanish and everything went black.


Somewhere Out There by ~ex-astris1701 on deviantART

Raising the Bar Hurts Students?

Raising the bar

February 27, 2013

As I get ready for another SAT class this weekend, I look around Facebook at friends who are also teaching and I come across many familiar sentiments. Some teachers want to grade hard but are afraid. Others are not sure if incompetence qualifies for plagiarism. It’s fine. No teacher has all the answers, but one old friend recently put up the following:

Student complained after seeing her grade on blackboard that I am ‘too harsh’ of a grader when it comes to papers.
My response?
“Despite what you might think, it is actually perhaps of greater importance in science than in any other field that you be able to effectively, clearly, and accurately communicate your findings in writing. I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m trying to help you improve.”
I offered to meet with the student during office hours, gave her the location of the writing center and linked two good science-writing websites for tips. Hopefully that helps!

People sometimes accuse me of being a grammar Nazi, of being too harsh, and of expecting far too much from my students. They’re only in high school, they say. They’re not AP and magnet program, they say. It’s onl;y their first year in college, others say. These are average, every day students.

Well then what the FRAK is wrong with wanting to raise the average?!


Writing. by ~Frost-Wolf17 on deviantART

Look, I understand that not every student will finish high school and go on to college. I understand not every college student will pursue a Masters. I understand that even at the graduate level, most people probably won’t be reading stories and analyzing literature.

But could we please, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, please agree that making sure we can all communicate clearly, and maybe even sneak some critical thinking into what we’re doing, is a GOOD thing? I’m not going to push them so far that the whole class fails, but I don’t want to make it so easy they don’t learn anything new. And if a few of them have to think harder to get it, I’m more than happy to sit with them and explain the concepts to them.

Take my SAT students. They come from private schools and public schools. Some are getting ready to apply for college. Some are a year ahead. I’m treating all of them like potential college students, and I work with college students, so I’m VERY much aware that the current crop, and even the graduate level, is woefully unprepared for the rigors of higher education when it comes to writing.


Padlocks with writing by =angela6331 on deviantART

I went out of my way to learn this all the way back in middle school. I majored in it. I have a degree and career based on it. Fine. I get it. I don’t expect my students to put together sonnets in fifteen minutes or even an entire seven hundred word essay in under an hour. But I would like them to at least have the proper foundation to make themselves heard and understood.

It’s not just English classes. Like my friend said above, science requires very precise language, but as I’ve seen, scientists are also very fond of clutter. Better to cut it off at the source, don’t you think?

Not every person is a writer. I know that. But I’m not a NASCAR driver, yet I know how to signal, avoid danger on the road, and do basic car maintenance if needed. Why shouldn’t everyone know how to write clearly and communicate properly?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for a podcast in two hours. Hello, wine!

In the meantime, let’s enjoy a good little set of jump scares with the trailer for The Conjuring.

Death of the Horror Movie Part 3

Strange noises and disappeared teens... Let's explore!
Strange noises and disappeared teens… Let’s explore!

February 22, 2013

Do we really need to change the horror movie?

I just spent the last two articles talking about all the things that need to happen in order for horror movies to be fun and scary again, but do we really need all this?

The point of going to any movie is to be entertained. Do bad, cliché-ridden horror movies still provide that? Yes, in a way. Riffing and watching with a large group can still be highly enjoyable experiences. In fact, riffing the film is the best part of a bad movie. There’s certainly appeal to laughing at the misfortune of dumb kids getting hacked like Thanksgiving dinner or the general mistakes of someone who just didn’t care to make a movie the right way…

I guess this is where we start to veer into the difference between “great film” and “good movie.”

Wit was a great film. Trick ‘r Treat was a great film. The Dark Knight was a great film.

Feast, The Last Lovecraft, and Dredd were good movies.


Horror House by ~tobisagt on deviantART

What’s the difference? A great film stands the test of time. It can reach a wide audience and has layers upon layers of meaning that only get better with each successive viewing.

A good movie is fun. You may not necessarily watch it again, but it did its job.

I want great horror films again. I want the kinds of movies that get the crowd so quiet that you can hear your own heartbeat. I want real terror, not the endless gore of a slow death with no sympathy for the victim. I want to actually care about the victims so that I can feel something. I want horror with layers of meaning.

…But I also love movies that are good just on their own. For example, one of my favorite horror films, Feast, is a straight-up closed circle monster movie where the characters don’t even have names. It’s gory and so over the top it loops around and comes back to “plausible.”

And it has fun with it.


HORROR by ~LabrenzInk on deviantART

Maybe I’ve been going about this all wrong. Not every movie can be The Shining, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Some of my favorite memories watching movies involved movies that weren’t all that great but were obviously having a good laugh at themselves while we, the audience, laughed too.

Bad movies serve a purpose much like bad writing. They serve as examples. Eventually, the market gets so saturated with the bad that the good comes out. It’s strange. That’s not to say every movie on Netflix Instant should be a must-see, but it does mean that we get more examples of what doesn’t work. It’s like I said regarding drawing with charcoal. When you make enough mistakes and wipe the slate clean, eventually, you get something much better than the original work.

You know what? I changed my mind.

Bad movies can keep coming. They have a purpose. Good movies? Take note and learn from their mistakes.

And now, in celebration of this revelation, let’s bask in the glory of cheese that will be Spiders 3D.

Death of the Horror Movie Part 2

Smooth, dark, and he just hid eighteen bodies without being caught.
Smooth, dark, and he just hid eighteen bodies without being caught. Original image by http://anyman82.deviantart.com/art/DarkTest-1-307972635

February 13, 2012

Make the bad guy smart.

This is probably the biggest stumbling block to getting good fiction going. If the threat isn’t credible or real, then the plot falls apart.

The problem, however, is that it’s difficult to think of a character that is smarter than you. This usually leads to a lot of horror movies having a villain of average intelligence coming up against foes who can best be described as being dumber than soup. It’s not really the writer’s fault, of course. Whenever I try to come up with a serious villain for our Dungeons and Dragons games, for example, it’s easier to come up with a POWERFUL enemy, but a super-smart one that can predict what my players would do? That’s asking too much.

Sometimes, I think my players get their logic and tactics advice from monkeys hoped up on PCP.


Hannibal Lecter by *sullen-skrewt on deviantART

This, however, goes to the heart of the problem with many horror movies. The villains just aren’t exciting. They can be powerful, yes, but that’s not the same thing. You can’t kill Michael Meyers of Freddie Krueger. Death is inescapable in Final Destination. In fact, I would argue most deaths in horror movies stem from the fact that the people in horror movies have never seen a horror movie. Scream, of course, played with this years ago, but it’s something that’s been forgotten.

Through sheer pop culture osmosis and years of constant bombardment with action movies and clichés from every corner of the globe, you have to assume that at least one person in a horror movie will be familiar with tropes and conventions. They may not know they’re in a horror movie, and I would argue against it since then you get all meta and self-referential, but you’d think someone would have a semblance of survival instincts.

Writing a character smarter than you is not difficult, though, if you remember that there are real-life people who are smarter than you. We need to look back at old stories, old movies, and see what those people did. If we can’t innovate, let’s imitate, at least at first.

Remember: learn the rules, bend the rules, break the rules.


To talk face to face by *Madboy-Art on deviantART

After all, if the writer is familiar with the obvious or tried-and-true, then the villain will be well-versed in these things as well. Some movies have actually touched on this. Behind the Mask was a wonderful examination of what a “real” movie serial killer needed to do in order to make things work. It involves a lot of preparation and research, setting up traps, and otherwise thinking three steps ahead. Think of the wonderful dynamic between Clarisse and Hannibal Lecter, both professionals yet one clearly more mentally capable than the other.

One of my favorite gaming stories involves a party using a standard ten-foot pole to trigger traps while safely out of the blast radius of many spells. When they came across a huge twenty-foot-tall door with a trap built in, they again used the pole. The trap? The heavy door fell on them.

Mindless killers and monsters work when they exist in a vacuum or when the heroes honestly can’t run anywhere else. Let’s not only put our stories in the modern world, complete with all the trappings, but with villains that know how to get around and can actually outsmart the heroes.

Then again… do we really need all this just for a good story?

Continued in Part 3

While we wait for Part, might I indulge you in the eternal battle between man and woman?