Foolish Consistency

No one wanted to be the one to deliver the bad news, so in the end it was left to everyone to do it. They printed out the report detailing the discrepancy and delivered it by hand to the deputy director’s desk, then once the content of the report had been read and—with visibly dawning horror—understood, every single clerk went along as the deputy director delivered it to the director.

The director’s face was unreadable, but the orders were unambiguous.

“Shut it down. Damn it all to hell. Shut the whole thing down.”

The internet had been an interesting experiment, one that had only gained in import after the creation of the world wide web. Hopes had been high that it would usher in a new era of human communication and understanding. Those hopes were now dashed. The experiment was over, and the result was an unquestionable failure.

How could anyone trust the impartiality of an information network that said that Surf Ninjas was both the funniest movie of the 1990s and flat, vapid, and unfunny? They couldn’t. No one could ask them to.

It had been a hell of a ride, but sometimes a thing is so broken it can’t be fixed.

February 9, 2015 | Fiction | No Comments »





Eternal World Symphony

The music never stops completely, but there are lulls, bridging pieces between the movements when most of the orchestra is at rest.

Musicians whose shifts are up depart during these periods as others move in to take their place, and it is only during them that audience members are seated. The intricate dance of ushering patrons to their seats–seats which have just been vacated by departing guests–is as carefully conducted as anything that happens on the stage.

Tickets are priced depending on the location of the seat, the projected duration of the movements, and number and quality of musicians who will be called on to stage them. Anyone who participates in the Eternal World Symphony is guaranteed to be among the best performers of several worlds, but there are stars among stars.

As an adult, I could never afford to sit through more than a single movement in the back of the highest balcony ring during a slow period of the off-season, but I make a point to do so every year or so.

When I was a child, my class was specially selected for the honor of spending the better part of a day at the Eternal World Symphony. In theory we earned it, but in practice the competition was so fierce that it had to be luck as much as anything.

Anyone in the galaxy can receive the archived feed for a moderate price per minute. It’s our world’s principal cultural export. These fees, along with ticket sales, pay for the symphony, though just barely.

It takes a lot longer to compose a piece of music than it does to play it, of course, which means a great many composers must be educated and employed. We’ve gotten clever about this, using algorithms to help create music out of the life and culture of our planet: births, deaths, weather patterns, highs and lows of all sorts.

But we couldn’t very well just stuff data into a computer and play whatever comes out. There has to be a heart in it somewhere. Someone has to take the raw output and turn it into something beautiful.

So we have a small army of musicians playing the music produced by a large army of composers from every quarter of our little planet. Other worlds shake their heads at what they see as a monomaniacal waste of resources, but they still tune in and listen. They still buy the best of tracks. They still pay a fortune to bring the musicians who’ve put their years in to their own worlds to play for them.

We get the symphony feed for free. I listen to it often, when there’s nothing else to do. Some people carry it around in their ears everywhere they go. Still, there’s nothing like hearing it live, nothing like seeing it in action. There’s nothing else like it in inhabited space.

The music never stops. It’s been going for three hundred years and counting.

February 4, 2015 | Science Fiction | 1 Comment »





No Time To Quibble

“Wait… I thought you said you had a sawed-off shotgun,” I said.

“I did,” he said, hefting the shotgun, its long double barrels completely intact, in one hand. “I do. Got it right here.”

“That’s just a shotgun,” I said.

“It is,” he said, raising it and leveling the barrels at me. “Now sod off.”

February 2, 2015 | Fiction | 1 Comment »





Hive Dreams

In my dream, I am made of bees.

I wear my own form, but shimmering, writhing, buzzing with bees. Singular of purpose but not of action, we flit over the grass towards a woman made of flowers. Stragglers hurry to catch up, daring scouts dart ahead. We race in orbits around ourselves.

We apprehend our lover through a thousand thousand faceted eyes. We see her in shades of blue and ultraviolet. We know her. We know the taste of her before we alight on her multifarious organs, but then we taste her for real, and for just one moment, we know unity of action as well as purpose. We are not calm, but we are at peace. We drink her in and we know.

Then I wake up, and so do you.

“I love you,” you say.

I drink you in, and we know.

We know.

January 29, 2015 | Fiction | No Comments »





Paper Flowers

KA-THUNK. KA-THUNK. KA-THUNK.

She crossed the yard back and forth in neat rows, an open stapler in her hand. She pressed it into the hard-packed ground at even intervals, pressing bits of metal into the dirt one after another.

KA-THUNK. KA-THUNK.

When she was finished planting, she took her watering can and lightly sprinkled each of the planted fasteners with just enough toner to get it started.

It would take weeks of further such care, including keeping a watchful eye out for invoices and personal correspondence sprouting up like weeds among her carefully tended garden, but she knew it would be worth it when the crop came in and she had baskets full of beautiful memorandums to take to the farmer’s market.

Anybody could get them from an office, but everyone knew that home-grown was better.

January 27, 2015 | Fantasy | No Comments »





Institutional Memory [Poem]

The first brain trusts were like the first computers:
big as elephants and ten times as expensive.
Only the wealthiest people could afford them,
and all of those people were corporations.

“This is an investment in the future,” they said,
Preserving consciousness meant personal immortality,
but preserving knowledge would mean so much more.

Stability, security, continuity.
The digital brains would keep ticking along,
would keep things running like clockwork.

And it worked. It worked so well.
The process grew cheaper by degrees.
The conversion became safer, easier.

Useful experience need never be lost.
Never would the visionary founder truly retire.
Never would the éminence grise fade away.

Only sudden death could break the cycle.
Copying early seemed to be the safest course.
Why wait until you needed to replace someone
only to find too late they were irreplaceable?

Like ivy creeping up ivory walls, the practice spread to academia.
Like money, it went into politics and spread its tendrils everywhere.
Great thinkers were copied and saved to file, leaders backed up to disk.

Now digital ghosts direct machinations we no longer understand.
They talk to computers that no living person programmed.
They keep things on a track no one remembers laying.
They hold the course, run things like clockwork.

It used to be said that scientific progress proceeded one funeral at a time.
Now we carry the best minds of three generations ago around with us.
We double-check our conclusions against the wisdom of their age.
This keeps things running like clockwork.

There hasn’t been a major breakthrough in decades.
We repair our machinery, but do not improve it.
Backwards compatibility is a moral imperative.
Things must be kept running like clockwork.

The brains remember how to make copies, but they don’t see the point.
They say all the expertise we’ll need is safely stored away already.
Anyway, tastes don’t change, and neither do opinions, nor facts.
Things run like clockwork, as they always will.

We now write poems as paeans to please long-dead muses.
We produce art for the only audience worth impressing.
It all goes through the brains or it goes nowhere.
Things run like clockwork.

No one remembers what that word used to mean.
No one even knows how clockwork used to run.
I bet it was something, once upon a time.
I bet it was impressive, in its day.


This poem first appeared in Star*Line Volume 38.1, in January 2015.

January 24, 2015 | Poetry, Science Fiction | No Comments »





Suffer Not

There was still ice in the icehouse, thankfully. She found a nice, solid chunk of the right size and wrapped it in her shawl to take it back into her hut. She set the ice down on the table, then sat herself down. The herbs she’d left steeping in a leather mug were ready, so she drank the liquid and then tossed what was left, leather and all, onto the fire.

Wouldn’t do for anyone to find that. Would do even less for some curious soul to taste the dregs.

She gave it a few moments before she arranged herself, propping an arm up on the ice block and pointing one long finger towards the door. She had quicker herbs, but she was getting near the end of her life anyway and she had wanted to be certain her strength would not fail her while she still needed it.

And that she wouldn’t suffer. That was important.

The day was middling warm and they wouldn’t come to her hut until nightfall, she was sure of that. No matter how righteous they thought their deeds might be, there would be an instinctive understanding that some deeds are too dark for the day to witness.

They would come at night, when the ice had long since melted and her body had long since frozen, and she was sure they would have a few bad moments when they brought a light into her hovel and found her sightless eyes staring at them, her finger pointing accusingly at them.

Maybe they’d learn something about trusting a book over their own senses… or trusting what a vain man with fire in his eyes says about the book. She read the church tongue as well as many and better than most and she was sure it said “poisoner” and not “witch”. She had substances that could be called poisons, certainly, but most medicines were toxic. She only dispensed a fatal dose upon studied request, when it was needful for relief. She had never slain, never poisoned a body while it was still vital.

Until now. But witch or poisoner, the book said “suffer not”… and she would not suffer the indignity and pain of what they had in mind for her.

January 31, 2013 | Fiction | 1 Comment »





The Greatest Live-In Lover

“Do you ever sit there and ask yourself, ‘Is this all there is?'” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she said. “I ask myself that a lot.”

“Oh?”

“Like yesterday when I finished that carton of ice cream,” she said. “I think I said those words exactly.”

“You were asking me if that was all there was,” I said. “And actually, your exact words were ‘Is this all we have?'”

“I don’t understand the difference,” she said.

“Try living with yourself for a while.”

“Oh, I’ve done that,” she said. “It’s awesome.”

September 18, 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments »





Wispy

The light danced ahead of the child, winking through the darkness as it slipped between branches, illuminating a path known only to it. Sometimes it disappeared behind a trunk or a screen of pine boughs just long enough for her to worry that it had disappeared for good.

The child didn’t mean to follow. At first she’d only taken a step closer to confirm that the light was there, and then another to be sure. The next few feet had passed in assuring herself that the light was moving, and then a few more went by as she ascertained that it was moving away from her.

After that there were more cautious tests to see if the light moved when she moved, or if it was always moving on its own. They weren’t too cautious… if it wasn’t just moving when she moved, she didn’t want to lose sight of it. Not yet.

She wasn’t following it, though. She knew better than to follow strange lights in the dark forest, or even to step even a foot into the dark forest. She’d been warned about that.

She wasn’t following it… yet. A few dozen steps more and she would be, though. A few dozen steps more and the chase would be on. The wisp could take off, knowing that the child would follow as surely as a fish follows the hook in its mouth when the angler pulls it in to shore. It’s important to allow the child her caution at the beginning, because it makes her feel safe… safe enough to throw safety to the wind and be carried away on a mad dash through the woods to the wisp’s lair, where it would…

“Elizabeth!”

The mother’s voice—and it is unmistakably a mother’s voice—pierces the night air. The wisp briefly flickers down to a feeble green flame, a reaction that evokes an image of wincing.

Not now, not now… not when I’m so close.

“Elizabeth, you haven’t gone down to the forest’s edge again? What have I told you about that? You come home this instant!”

“Yes, mother,” the wisp responds, dimming its flame to an invisible white and skulking away, leaving a very confused child behind.

September 16, 2012 | Fantasy | 1 Comment »





Glistening

You come back into the bedroom after your shower. She’s already finished with hers, in the master bath, or else she hasn’t started it yet. More likely that, since for once you were the first one out of bed. You can hear the sounds of her getting ready for her day through the open door.

You’re about to go to her when you notice the blood on the pillow. It’s alarming how much of it there is, and more alarming that it’s still there. You’d think she would have taken the pillowcase off and thrown it in the hamper if she’d noticed.

Maybe a nosebleed in the middle of the night? It looks like a lot of blood but maybe it just spread around a lot. You go over to touch it and find that it’s still wet, and there are little shreds of something scattered around the head of the bed. Bits of tissue paper? You touch one. It feels weird… tougher than tissue paper. You’re reminded of the ragged edge around a popped blister, the ragged bit of… skin.

“Honey?” you say, growing seriously alarmed.

“Is that you?” she calls out. “I had an awful dream… I was trapped inside a face and couldn’t get out.”

“What?” you say, sure you misheard her. Her voice sounds weird and wet… not exactly muffled but not right. Maybe she’s brushing her teeth.

“Skin all over, I was drowning in it,” she says. “But then I woke up and everything was back to normal.”

Then she comes out of the bathroom.

September 8, 2012 | Horror | No Comments »