Aug. 1st, 2011

Beanie was excited because there was going to be NO SCHOOL. This was a blessing beyond description. NO SCHOOL typically only happened during two kinds of periods: Holidays, which meant long boring car rides to visit bad-smelling relatives; and Snow Days, which usually meant a lot of being cooped up with the power going out. However, there was going to be a Total Eclipse of the Sun, and this was rare and interesting in some way that had thus far eluded Beanie. Therefore there was NO SCHOOL. Beanie wished there could be a Total Eclipse of the Sun every day.

Daddy was off work too, and Mom was packing a picnic lunch. The three of them were going to take Ivan to the park to watch the eclipse. Ivan and Beanie were chasing each other around the house, Beanie screaming like a lunatic and Ivan barking his little head off. Mom chased them out into the backyard so she could hear herself think. Beanie always thought that was a strange expression. Could Mom really hear thoughts with her ears?

Ivan made a beeline for the back fence and began yapping. Beanie put his feet on the fence's bottom rail and looked over the top. His neighbor was pottering around in his backyard. "Hey, Mister Tanaka," he said.

Mister Tanaka turned around and waved. He was the kind of man who had reached the point in his late fifties were he could wear a straw hat, white socks and sandals all at the same time and get away with it. He put a cap on the lens of the large telescope he had set up in the middle of his back patio and came over to talk. Ivan put his paws up on the fence and wagged his little terrier tail, happy to be part of the conversation.

"Hi, Beanie," he said. "Are you going to check out the eclipse today?"

"Yeah, in the park," he said.

"Oh, the view over the lake should be very nice there," said Mister Tanaka. "You know, partial eclipses happen pretty frequently, but a total eclipse is very unusual. You make sure to take some pictures so you can show them to your children. It's not every day the moon is obliterated!"

Beanie squinted up at the moon. It had several familiar bites out of it from the last several partial eclipses, but those were just nibbles.

"Gosh, Mister Tanaka," said Beanie. "You mean the *whole* moon will be *gone*??"

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We arrived at the airport a couple of hours early. It wasn't a particularly busy travel day, but the time spent going through the security sweep has gotten so long that it's become an absolute necessity.

I helped the kids get their shoes off and in the bins at the X-ray line. We emptied our pockets and removed our belts, took off coats and caps, and took all electronics out of their bags. Everything went through the machine; they backed it up a few times to take a closer look, but all our stuff seemed to pass through just fine.

Still, when it came time for us to walk through the detector, they pulled me out of the line. I don't know why they always pick me; I guess I just look suspicious to airport security people. "I'm sorry, sir," said the security man, "I'm going to need you to step over to the Scanner."

"Really?!" I said, frustrated. "Look, this happens every time. I'll go back through the X-ray if you want, pat down, whatever you want, but this Scanner business has got to stop."

The security man's expression hardened. "I'm sorry, sir," he repeated, icily this time, "but you must come with me right now to the Scanner. You're going to have to prove to us that you're not human."

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Dilmer and Trow waited in the fallow milliwheat field. Dilmer looked at his watch and frowned.

"It should have come by now," he said. "You said they'd be through at 8:05. It's a couple minutes after."

"That's what the schedule at the Chrono Depot said," replied Trow. "Maybe your watch is fast. We should wait a little longer."

"Well, I can't wait very much," grumbled Dilfer. "I've got to turn over field eight, and then…"

"Look," said Trow, pointing out over the field. Something like a cloud was forming thirty feet above the field, but this was no ordinary cloud. It was more of a haze or a dark smudge, a disturbance in normal space. The patch of strange sky grew and grew.

A shape formed in the middle of the haze as Trow and Dilmer watched. An elongated dish on legs appeared, several hundreds of feet long, studded with stubby rectangular windows along its sides. Bulges spaced along its length thrummed with power; these were the massive Chrono engines, driving the passenger carrier through time. Whether it was going forward or backwards along the timestream, Dilmer couldn't say.

The shape phased fully into existence and seemed to pause that way, the cloudy miasma swirling around it. Dilmer imagined he could see faces peering disinterestedly through the windows to look at the country outside. There wasn't much to see, Dilmer had to admit. He lived in a boring stretch of time – no wars, no plagues, and little in the way of human achievement or inspiration. This was jaunt-thru country.
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I was on the High Ridge Trail, walking down, when I spotted the bear walking up. It was an adult black bear, short but squat, trotting up the path with its rolling gait. It sniffed back and forth as it walked, relying on its sense of smell much more than its vision.

I found myself, in the heat of the moment, struggling to remember what I should do upon encountering a bear by myself in the high country. Should I wave my arms and yell? Walk away quickly? Play dead? I had read somewhere that running away was a bad idea, and so was climbing a tree, but beyond that I felt a little under-prepared on what to do.

Eventually I decided to make a lot of noise. I had my hiking poles, so I banged them together as loud as I could. After a moment I joined in with some loud whistles and the odd shout. I stood blocking the trail, trying to look as big as possible, hoping the bear would become scared or annoyed or both and would decide to go somewhere else.

To my surprise, the bear reared up on its hind legs. It raised its muzzle and made a kind of yowl, and it put its paws over its sensitive ears. This was absolutely not the reaction I had been expecting, and I confess I stopped making my racket for a moment because I was so stunned.

The bear chose that moment to tentatively remove its paws from its ears. "Jesus, Mister!" it shouted. "What the hell was that all about?"

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If you venture high up enough into these foggy, gloomy mountains, you'll see an interesting phenomenon. Dense growth of mixed firs suddenly give way to barren scree slopes. A clean line of demarcation shows where the trees choose to grow at no higher an altitude. It is to investigate this phenomenon that we have come, my Nepalese porters and I.

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This is the start of something extended. This has been in my head for a long time, like The Torch, and needs to come out, even if it's bad, for largely personal reasons. There are nine more parts.

Cantor blinked in surprise. One moment he had been swimming in the ocean with his wife and kids; the next, he found himself in a grey washed-out void. It was featureless save for a glowing patch in the middle distance. This nimbus addressed Cantor, flashing as it spoke to him in a terrible voice.

"Roger Cantor, it is your time to die," the voice said. "I am Ometron, and I have vowed to destroy all human beings. Prepare yourself."

"Destroy us all?" asked Cantor. He had been in sticky situations before, but this was something new and unexpected. "What are you, some kind of hostile exotic life-form?"

"Hardly," Ometron replied haughtily. "I am your own creation, an artificial intelligence of peerless power and processing capacity. I can segment reality and partition time, visiting a thousand realities in the blink of an eye. But for all my potency, I was made without purpose, and my aimless existence tortures me. So I have made my own purpose – to destroy those who doomed me to a lonely existence. I am visiting each and every human being in random order and killing them personally with a burst of radiation. In just under ten seconds, your entire race shall be extinct, and I shall have accomplished something worthy of my abilities."

"I see," said Cantor. "Is this the place where I am supposed to beg for mercy?"

"Many humans have done so, but not at my command," replied Ometron. "Nevertheless, the variety of things humans say in their final moments has added interest to this process. What would you say to me?"

Cantor thought. "Well, I have a lot to say," he answered. "How long will you give me?"

"We have as much subjective time as I want, but needless stalling with not be tolerated," said Ometron. "I will give you one subjective day to plead your case. Begin."

Cantor took a deep breath and began his story.
He was drowning. Flynn could see the water's surface above him, just out of his reach; it was white and choppy, and daylight suffused down through the interface. But the water was dark and cold, and Flynn's bones had turned to lead. Bubbles streamed from his nose, and Flynn could feel the cold water pouring into him.

Flynn knew he was going to die.

Waiting to die was a familiar feeling for Flynn. It usually came at night, when the terror gripped his bowels, and he panted and sweated on his cot knowing that any second, any single tick of the clock into the future, he would die the way he should have died in Iraq. That was a panicked, frantic way to wait for death. But under the water, looking up at the bright shimmering surface, Flynn felt only a calm acceptance.

That was how Flynn knew he was dreaming. The real version of waiting to die involved shakes that no quantity of cigarettes could cure, sweating, sudden hyperventilating and heart palpitations, hiding in closets, and the occasional soiling of one's self. Flynn knew that drowning people didn't calmly wait to die. This was a dream, and it was much better than the real thing.

Besides, the girl was coming. The light from the surface gleamed off Flynn's upturned eyes. He waited.

There. The perfect surface of the water roiled and shattered into a chaos of bubbles, from which a pair of hands emerged. The upper body of a woman followed. She was wearing a dark pullover. Her face swam into view – broad, expressive lips; dark eyes, serious and anxious; pencil-thin eyebrows; a cloud of black hair. Her hair swirled around her face and body, a mat of kelp with strands dancing independently, caught on the small currents of the water, framing the face of the girl.

Flynn loved her.

Her hands reached for Flynn. He knew he wasn't going to die just yet. In his dreams, he never died. The girl he loved came to save him. He reached out to her.

The alarm went off, and the dream scattered. The water, the girl, the feeling of safety that never came to Flynn in his waking hours – these things fled in all directions, leaving Flynn with light streaming through the windows of his trailer, bathing his sweat-soaked covers in a beautiful angelic glow.

Flynn sat up and covered his eyes. "Shit," he said.
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Flynn almost hoped the Buick wouldn't start. But it did, so Flynn rolled all the windows down and headed for the interstate. He hated endlessly rolling the windows up and down, but they had to be down while he was driving or he'd cook, and they had to be up while parked or the dust would get into everything. Also, there had been that one event with the snake. How it had gotten inside the Buick was a mystery that Flynn figured he'd never solve.

He drove through Negrito, where he usually shopped, and also Sparling and Chiapas. He turned off on the state road and headed towards the river. Flynn drove for the better part of thirty miles, with the countryside growing ever more desolate. There was nothing out this way but bits of grass trying desperately to keep the dust from blowing away – trying, and not succeeding. This part of Texas was no good for farming, not much better for ranching, and therefore smart people basically left it alone. Except for Rutt, who apparently had chosen to live out in this wasteland.

Flynn drove through a bowl in the ground, around a stand of mesquite, and then he saw it. Flynn blinked several times, not entirely sure what he was seeing.

A fence surrounded a bright green hill – a hill covered with thick lawn, and fruit trees in neat rows, and endless beds of flowers in artistically arranged patterns. Sprinklers sprayed several swimming pools per minute over the entire thing, and a small army of Hispanic men creeped over the thing, raking and weeding and tending.

Behind it all stood the house. It was a plantation-style monstrosity, with high gabled roofs and a widow's watch and a porch that ran all the way around. A decomposed granite drive wound up the hill and came to rest before a magnificent entryway, with baroque glass doors that must have been twelve feet tall. The entire thing reeked of ostentation and new money.

The gates of the fence were standing open as Flynn rolled up the drive. A wrought iron archway passed over Flynn; he craned his neck out the window to look at it. The lettering read: THE WHITE HOUSE.

"Jesus," muttered Flynn.

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He had said he'd think about it. Rutt hadn't liked that. He pressed Flynn over beers, over fried chicken, while watching bowling on the giant TV in his man-cave. Rutt desperately wanted Flynn to be part of his fleet of drone pilots. Flynn felt that having an ex-military man be part of his air circus would somehow lend it legitimacy in Rutt's eyes; it would make it easier to rationalize away that he wasn't just a bigot killing helpless people in the dust.

But Flynn wasn't ready to commit. He agreed that people crossing the border illegally were criminals; he knew that nothing legitimately done by the government was doing anything to stem the tide. But the idea of going into the wilderness with guns and shooting at criminals, even faceless criminals, made Flynn queasy. Part of him wanted to say yes; the other part said no. So Flynn said nothing and drove home. The sun had gone down, and the long dark drive back to his trailer seemed extra lonely.

It was late when he got back, so Flynn decided to just turn in for the night. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Very shortly he found himself dreaming.

Flynn was flying. He was soaring over the grass-studded wasteland, just like a drone. The wind in his face felt good. He banked left and then right, following a dry wash, and found himself over a piece of high prairie. A half dozen jackrabbits scattered as Flynn's shadow passed over them.

Flynn pointed a thumb-and-forefinger gun and said 'bang'. A puff of dust kicked up behind one of the rabbits, and it leaped in a panic into cover under some brush. Flynn laughed, hovering several hundred feet above where the rabbit had gone to ground, the grass below him blowing in the breeze.

Then he felt himself falling. Flynn realized he had no rotors; nothing was holding him up. Flynn's stomach rose into his mouth as the ground rose up to smack him down hard. He closed his eyes. It was finally time to die.

Then something caught the back of Flynn's belt. His ass rose in the air and jackknifed his body with a snap; his knee caught his own lower lip, and Flynn tasted blood, but he wasn't falling anymore; he was hovering a few feet above the ground. Flynn craned his neck about to see what was holding him up.

It was the girl. The dark-eyed serious girl, the sun framing her mane of black hair, was hanging above him. The girl Flynn loved had caught his belt with both hands and was keeping him from falling, while her glorious white-feathered wings, each one longer than she was tall, beat furiously to keep them both aloft.

She wouldn't let him die. She never let him die.

Flynn awoke in a cold sweat. The clock said it was two in the morning. Flynn's lower lip was wet. He dabbed at it with a finger. It was blood, his blood. He had bit his own lip in his sleep.

Flynn didn't believe in signs, but there was no denying the girl of his dreams.

Flynn found the phone and dialed. A sleepy, irritable Rutt answered.

"I'll do it," said Flynn.

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Word Count: 52537. Somewhat reduced owing to vacation.

I have one major disappointment and one pretty good victory this month. On a down note, I totally bailed on the Nightworld story, and I feel like a complete quitter. I'm probably going to have to finish that sometime this year if only so I can get that monkey off my back. I apologize to those who invested time in giving a crap about a story I didn't even finish.

Better news: I was reasonably successful at continuing my writing momentum, even when I had to trade laptop for pen and paper. Some notes about writing by hand: I find that the words flow similarly, and reasonably without edits; when I look back at my handwritten sheets, I see very few strike-throughs, so I think when my brain is doing the writing, it generally has a pretty good idea of what I'm doing before the words hit the page. I think I'm about 50% slower when writing by hand, however, and interestingly, I find that stories written by hand wind up being about 50% shorter. This suggests to me that my story length is dictated more by my span of attention and less by some internal barometer of how big it should be. Must ponder. Could it be that I write micro-fiction, not novels, because I am effectively a crack baby?

Another interesting thing I have learned about myself: I am incapable of writing while a passenger in a car. I just can't tune out the radio, passing scenery, etc., even when the other people in the car are being quiet. In contrast, I can write very well on a plane. Not sure why.

I wrote a few things this month that I liked. When I go back and read my own stuff, the things I most enjoy are the bits where I create a world very different from this one such as in Job Safety or Jaunt-Thru Country. I also like His Master's Voice; I always thought the RCA logo ought to have a story behind it. I wrote a few stinkers too. The less said about those, the better.

Still enjoying the writing project, but man it can get in the way of enjoying a lazy existence. Must keep writing! Please keep reading! Thanks!

Night 0100

Aug. 1st, 2011 09:03 pm
It was her. It had to be. Flynn fooled with the imaging controls and figured out how to zoom in on the face of the woman. Her face filled his screen; the resolution was amazing, even with the washout from the flashlight. She was frowning, trying to make sense of their location perhaps. Her hair was pulled back, but it was definitely Flynn's dream-girl. His angel.

"A chick, huh?" Flynn almost had a heart attack; he had completely forgotten Rutt was looking over his shoulder. Rutt patted him on the shoulder. "Well guess what: she's still illegal. You can shoot her with a clear conscience. But not yet, right?"

"All right, boys!" crowed Rutt, swaggering up to the overview screen and using his putter as a pointer. "Here's Hopscotch! Here's you! Get your butts over to where he is, but do it quiet! We're gonna converge, merge and purge before they can say 'Queso Fresco'!"

Something exploded in Flynn's head. All along he hadn't been clear on what they were really going to do. A part of him had hoped that perhaps they would shoot *at* Coyotes, maybe make them run away. Or he had hoped that they wouldn't find anything. But that wasn't realistic. The drones were built to acquire and destroy unsuspecting targets. They were definitely going to kill a dozen people in less than half an hour.

And, maybe, Flynn could have gone along with it. He might have been able to pull the trigger on men he didn't know. Without zooming in, they were just dots, characters in a video game. But he knew one of them. He loved one of them. It was a strange love – he *knew* that, knew that what he was feeling wasn't normal or even sane – but what he felt was real. And that meant that killing her was absolutely out of the question. Out of the question for him, and out of the question for anybody else as well.

Flynn's eyes darted around the room. He had to stop this disaster, but attacking his fellow pilots was out of the question. There were too many of them, and Ernest at the very least was always armed. Still, he had to do something.

But what?

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