Taking Her Sweet Time

She hadn’t meant to get old.

The years just kept passing without her permission, without any notice. They dropped little hints like holidays as often as they pleased, but they never stopped to tell her, “Oh, by the way, that’s another of us gone that you won’t be seeing again.” They never stopped at all.

The calendar of her mind was an endless progression of tomorrows stretching out into infinity, and it was full of appointments she’d made for some day, but the days slipped through her hands like water. One by one all the things she’d meant to do closed down, dried up, or moved away. She felt the loss of each one acutely, but never learned the skill of thinking of things as temporary additions to the universe.

Everything was permanent and eternal to her.

It was just that they all refused to stay.

She never learned to take things one day a time, but with a little effort, she learned not to take them personally.

August 8, 2012 | Fiction | 1 Comment »


The handcuffs snapped around his wrists, but one of the metal bracelets began to melt away into beads of silvery liquid on contact with his skin. The other fell right through his wrist, disturbing his flesh as much as a conjurer’s hand does a wisp of smoke, and that only momentarily.

“Terribly sorry, officers,” he said, brushing a stray bit of metal off his sleeve. “But as you can see, when I said I have immunity, I meant it… no laws you’ve heard about apply to me.”

August 6, 2012 | Fantasy | 2 Comments »

A New Leaf

The season turns. The leaves dry out and begin to fall, one by one at first and then in great sheafs. The monks come by daily… more often if the weather is wet… and carefully collect them by hand. To use a rake would be unthinkable. They collect them and carefully smooth them out, then begin the painstaking work of matching them up and ordering them.

Few of the pages are numbered.

Some are in languages that are unknown and untranslatable.

The monks regard these alien texts with no less reverence than the ones which contain useful knowledge in a readily accessible form, and though they can only guess at relationships among the pages from contexts, the make an earnest effort to order and bind them correctly all the same.

That they occasionally reap some practical benefits from the annual harvest of books is a secondary concern. The beauty of the illuminated pages impresses itself also upon the minds of the monks, but that is not what drives them, either. In drier years, the pages often lack color or ornamentation entirely, yet they are collected and curatedwith the same or more care than in more fruitful ages.

Collating and binding the pages is a duty. It is a sacred trust. Even the books they cannot use themselves are preserved with care against a future need they are sure will arise.

Where there is a book, the monks believe, there must be a reader.

August 2, 2012 | Fantasy | 1 Comment »


The hand of God reached down and plucked the die from the stone table. The two chief angels watched. They did not breathe in the conventional sense, but if they did neither one would have dared. After all the arguing, the rebellion, the war… it had come down to this. The question would be settled once for all. Neither side was happy with the method of settlement, but they had no alternative. God had decreed that if either one questioned or complained once more on this issue, it would be decided in the other’s favor.

One chance. One die roll. They both knew the terms. If it came up odd, then humanity would be created with free will and would control their own fates, according to their means. If it came up even, then even the living corners of the cosmos would remain ordered solely according to God’s will, with every apparent choice nothing more than one more effect spiraling out from the ultimate cause.

God cupped the die in one almighty hand.

Absolute silence reigned as it was cast. It hit the table with a plunk, the only sound in the heavens at the moment. It rolled across the table and landed up against the Book of Life.

It had landed on its edge.

Perhaps a more discerning eye could detect some slight favor to the tilt, but to the angels’ eyes it was perfectly balanced exactly between two numbers.

God nodded, and behind the great screen, noted down a result.

“Well, that settles that,” God said. “I trust we can now move on to more important matters.”

July 30, 2012 | Fantasy | 1 Comment »

Disk Error

He walks down the street with one hand in the pocket of his jacket, feeling the two little metal disks he carries there. They aren’t coins, though they’re each about the size and thickness of a quarter. One of them is blank and smooth, the other lined with whorls that make it look like a little hedge-maze or a thumbprint.

He found them when he was a child, almost fourteen years ago.

The plain one was in a box of Cracker Jacks… it was loose, and in addition to the little plastic-wrapped temporary tattoo that was there as the actual prize. His mother thought it had probably come off a machine at the packing plant and instructed him to throw the whole thing away, fearing contamination. He threw out the package and snack, but kept the disk. It didn’t feel like an accident to him. It felt… purposeful, though what that purpose might be he couldn’t guess until its scarred twin showed up in a box of Corn Pops six months later.

When the disks are touching each other, he feels calm and secure, utterly unflappable. When they’re apart but in his possession he feels confident and strong, almost invincible. The effect lasts as long as they’re in close proximity to his person, though it’s strongest when he touches them to his skin.

Over the years he’s tried to subtly test if anyone else can feel the effects of the disks, but the results have been inconclusive. He’s been afraid to spell out the reaction that he’s looking for, both out of a sense that this would taint the results and a fear of looking foolish. His worst fear, though, is that someday he will tell someone about the disks and be believed, and then lose them to a thief.

Twice now he’s had dreams where a figure bathed in light tried to tell him the word that will unlock the disks’ full capabilities, whatever they may be. Each time he’s not quite been able to make out the word, but he believes the second time he came a little bit closer to hearing it properly.

He isn’t dependent on the disks, exactly.

He could get through the day without them, he’s pretty sure.

He just gets through things a little more easily with them.

May 15, 2012 | Fiction | 2 Comments »

In Other News

The newsreader put on a serious expression and turned to look at the camera.

“We at channel 6 would like to apologize for the previous story,” he said. “Whether it was an innocent mix-up or a prank, obviously there is no such place as ‘The Bleak, Black Pits of Desolation’ and no ambassadors have been recalled from it.”

“Maybe someone’s a little too excited about the new Hobbit movie, huh, Steve?” his co-anchor said. “It sounds like something straight out of Middle-Earth.”

“I guess you’re right, Susan,” he said. “We turn our attention to the weather, where Scott has the latest on that cold front that’s sweeping in from the frozen maw of… is that… that’s not right, is it? They’re doing it again. Well, here’s Scott with… no?”

Behind the camera, the producer was waving frantically to cut talk of the weather. Steve glanced over to the weather desk, where the reference monitor showed an elaborately painted map of an unfamiliar landscape with names of towns and kingdoms written on in calligraphy superimposed over the blue screen behind a hapless Scott.

The producer held up a hastily-scrawled cue card that had the words “tech. diff.” and “c/2 remote” on it. Susan gave a barely perceptible nod and glanced down at the top sheet on her desk.

“Ladies and gentleman, we appear to be having some technical difficulties here in the studio, but while we sort that out, let’s go to our own Katie Sedgewick and the channel 6 newsvan. It seems there’s a new arrival at the zoo, and it shows that sometimes… nine heads… are better than… one?”

They only showed a few seconds of the live feed before it was cut off, but it was more than enough.

“Oh my God!” Steve said. “What the hell was that?”

“It just… it tore right…” Susan said as the producer lost her lunch off-camera.

That was the last thing that any viewers at home saw on the television before it cut to the 21st century equivalent of a test pattern, the brief station identification clip where the reassuring voice of none other than Channel 6’s own Steve Windsor announced that Channel 6 was there for you, and all the viewers like you.

“What the hell kind of crazy ratings stunt was that?” one such viewer said aloud. He changed the channel with an angry stab at the remote, but Channel 8 was broadcasting nothing but blackness. He grunted and switched to a cable channel that was airing sitcom re-runs. “How the hell are we supposed to trust the news if they’re going to pull crap like that? I mean, did you see that?”

“Edgar?” his wife said from over by the big bay windows.

“I said, did you see that?”

“The sky?”

“The thing on the TV,” he said. He froze as he said it. What did she mean, had he seen the sky?

“I think you should come take a look at it,” she said.

Slowly, he got to his feet.

February 15, 2012 | Horror | 1 Comment »

Hands Across The Void

The sleek dark ship prowls through the void. Its skin absorbs the rays of distant and feeble stars, converting every bit of heat and radiation it can grab into energy it can use. It isn’t much, but it doesn’t have to be. There are no life support systems on the ship. Nothing that cannot be turned off and on at need. Nothing that would damage the ship if it went inert.

The original fuel core had decayed long ago, but the power it had imparted had been sufficient to carry the vessel far beyond its system of origin and left it traveling at a velocity few artificial objects could ever achieve.

The power gleaned from each absorbed transmission is sufficient to record information about that transmission, which will be reviewed when the accumulated stellar radiation is sufficient for the ship’s main computer system to reactivate itself. These systems are rudimentary in the way a machine meant to last forever must be — the simplest and most basic technologies available made out of the most durable materials possible. There are few moving parts and multiple redundancies. Its builders knew what they were doing. Nothing on board has failed except the fuel core, and that was inevitable and planned for.

Lacking any store of propellant, the ship steers itself by way of propulsion via a stream of ejected molecules of cosmic debris. It is a slow, slow process, but space is big and mostly empty. The chance of it needing to make a sudden turn is remote compared to the chance of a system failure. The craft passed through two asteroid belts on its journey from its planet of origin to the edge of its system and did not need to steer around an obstacle once.

The ship carries no cargo. It has no preserved remnants of a culture and no great secret wisdom for the universe. It was designed to find another world, any world, with intelligent life. It looks for patterns in the radiation it absorbs. When it finds what it’s looking for, it will point itself in the proper direction and begin the long, slow process of deceleration. It can survive re-entry, at the right angle. It can store enough power to transmit a mathematical pattern of beeps to attract attention as it approaches. Nothing more reliable than the prayers of its creators exists to make sure it lands in a place where it may be observed and recovered, but it can let the natives know it’s coming.

The chances of success are tiny. Space is big and mostly empty, and as well as the craft was built all things must eventually end.

Its builders know that success is possible, though, however unlikely it may be. They copied the basic design of the craft from one that fell to their world.

It sparked first panic and then a deep debate as to its purpose. There were no weapons. It had no means of sending a signal back to its point of origin, and it was clearly old enough to make any such signal pointless. It bore no inscription or attempt at conveying any message, save for those which could be gleaned from the existence of the ship itself.

The motivations of the original ship-builders — or even if they were the originators of the idea — couldn’t possibly be known, but to the people of that world the ship came to be known as The Sign. It told them that they were not alone in the universe, that they could build a thing that would outlast everything else, and that it was possible to reach out and touch the infinite.

For a period of about one and a half lifetimes, there was a mania on that planet for building ships. It was likened to putting a message in the bottle. Some people included personal messages, copies of important historical documents or works of art. Some went so far as to include genetic material, preserved or encoded somehow.

Most of the ships, though, were as the first one: blank, black ciphers that proclaimed nothing more than themselves. Those who invested the most resources in the great work of slinging ships out in the void understood the wisdom of the ancient people who’d sent the sign to them. Nothing they could send out into eternity would necessarily hold any meaning to the people who found it. Nothing they could say would make sense. Their symbols of peace and gestures of understanding might very well convey the opposite meaning to the recipients.

Before the changing tides of public fashion and fancy shifted to characterize the act of ship-building as one of pointless vanity, tens of thousands of them were sent out. Most of them are still going. None have yet discovered a destination, much less reached it. Some of them will. And some of the planets they reach will be inspired to do the same.

All across the galaxy, dozens or even hundreds of races will end up shouting into the darkness, knowing they will never hear a reply but that sometimes it’s enough to be heard.

February 12, 2012 | Science Fiction | 5 Comments »

One More Spin

The carousel goes around again. The horses move up and down. The music plays. There are no children on it. The operator watches, his hand on the lever and ready to stop it in case anybody in the sparse crowd is drawn to the sound and motion and comes to ride. He had thought that maybe when the deflating bounce castle was finally taken away some of the kids might look his way, but so far he’s largely been disappointed.

A fairground without a fair on it is little more than an empty lot. This one was more so than most. It’s hard to tell if it’s a gravel lot with weeds growing in or a grassy one that’s overgrown and full of rocks. There’s only so much magic that the aging rides and fading canvas-sided booths can do to transform it into a land of wonderment and whimsy.

The sky is gray and oppressively low, and the day is hot and sticky. It hasn’t been a good day. It hasn’t been a good year for carnivals and this has never been a particularly good carnival.

A little girl, or pre-school age or just after, bounces towards him with the sticky remnants of a snowcone dribbling out of a crushed paper cone in her hands. The girl’s mother follows after, fanning herself with a program.

“Ponies!” she cries. The man brings the ride to a stop. She’s too small to sit on one of the horses, but there are sleighs and swan boats in between them.

The mother grabs the girl’s hand.

“Come on, April,” she says, pulling her away. “None of these rides look very safe. Let’s go see if the house of mirrors has air conditioning.”

Down the midway, a barker calls the few passersby to step right up and try their luck on the wheel of fortune.

The operator pulls the lever.

The carousel goes around again.

February 9, 2012 | Fiction | 2 Comments »


Both women reached the door at about the same time. Having been so fixated on their mutual objective, neither one had noticed the other until their hands almost collided reaching for the handle.

“Excuse me, but what do you think you’re doing?” a woman dressed in something resembling a Victorian dress and a leather aviator’s cap.

“Excuse me, but I’m Nicole Tesla and this is my lab,” the other woman, who was wearing a top hat and tuxedo with tails, tailored for her feminine frame.

“It’s Nicola Tesla, actually… or I’m Nicola Tesla, I should say, and this is my lab,” the first one said.

“Well, I think I know my own name, thank you very much, and I also know my lab when I see it,” the second Tesla said.

“Excuse me, ladies,” a third woman, wearing something like cowboy gear, said. “But I am Tessa Coil and you are both trespassing on private property.”

“Is you who is trespassing on secret underground hideout of glorious Nikolai Tesla,” a man with a bushy beard said.

“What? It isn’t even underground!”

“And it’s hardly a secret with all you impostors standing around gawking.”

“I say, who are all you people and what are you doing outside the lab of myself, the late, great Sir Nicholas Tessler?” asked a man dressed like a clockwork Don Quixote. “Er, not late. Anymore. I mean, yet.”

There was a great loud click sound that was exactly like that of a massive switch being thrown, and with barely more than a spark passing between them all the men and women who would be Tesla went rigid and fell to the ground.

Watching from the window, Nikola Tesla could do little more than shake his head sadly. He broke the circuit, then turned to regard the recently completed device in the corner. He had tested the temporal conveyor with short jaunts, but otherwise deemed it too dangerous to use. It seemed as though future generations were much more casual about such things.

“Do I dare destroy it?” he thought aloud. “The energies it contains…”

But then he considered. The fools who had collided outside his door were those who’d traveled back to the very earliest opportunity, moments after the conveyor began operation. They had clearly done so on little more than a lark and without the forethought to research the subject of their destination or realize that the real Tesla would necessarily be present at the moment of the device’s genesis.

Those who arrived later might be better prepared and more difficult to subdue.

Yes. He would make the necessary calculations to minimize destruction and then destroy the device at the earliest opportunity, that very night. History would not record June 29th, 1908 as the date that time travel became possible.

February 6, 2012 | Science Fiction | 7 Comments »

Speeding Bullets

The thing about moving at superspeed is that from your point of view everything else has slowed down and you’re moving at normal speed. So, yes, I can run back and forth across the country in way less time than it would take a commercial jet, but when it’s not an emergency I still fly.

Do you know why? Because relative to my point of view, I’m running at about twenty miles per hour. That’s fast for a human, but slow for a cross-country vehicle. It means that when I go from coast to coast, I’m spending two months doing nothing but running. I don’t get tired. I don’t get hungry. I’m not aging any faster than normally, relative to objective time… though the first few years of using my powers, that was always something I worried about.

But I do get bored.

Two months of seeing the country unfold a bit at a time, with nothing but your own thoughts. No sounds. Not even the wind in your hair. The interphase field that moves molecules around to keep me from destroying myself or everything else in my wake prevents that.

I’ve always been a solitary person. I don’t mind having some time to myself. I’ll take a hundred mile run sometimes just to get some hours to spend clearing my head or thinking through a project. Trying to make a living and be a superhero, it’s nice to be able to steal some moments out of thin air here and there to do the brain work. After all, I can push up the speed a little when I’m sitting in front of a computer, but only so much.

So short trips are fine. Longer ones are for emergencies only. If I were going to run across the country for fun, I’d have to stop every few hundred miles and spend some time moving around in real time just so I didn’t go crazy.

Still, you asked me what the worst thing about my powers are, and honestly, as bad as that can get, that’s not it. The absolute worst thing is when I get there too late. I can all but stop time, but I can’t make it go backwards.

Bullets travel thousands of feet in a second. That’s nothing compared to me, but it’s fast enough. They’re faster than the speed of sound. If I hear a gunshot, the bullet has already hit its target before the sound hits my ear.

Imagine arriving at the scene of a shooting that’s already in progress. Someone’s just been shot. Now imagine you’re seeing it slow motion. No sound. Just visuals, slower and sharper and realer than anything you’ve ever seen in the movies.

A moment not quite frozen in time, not quite suspended in front of you… and you could step out of that moment, you could speed it up, but there are still bullets flying and people in their paths and you can’t let go and step back into the normal flow of time until you’ve saved everybody else.

Do you have any idea how small a thing a bullet can be? How hard it is to spot in mid-air even when it’s barely moving? How big an area a burst of gunfire can cover by the time I know about it? Most of those bullets will probably bury themselves in walls or trees or the ground, but not all. Any one that I miss could end or change a life.

You see it like this: there’s a blur and suddenly I’m standing there with everyone’s weapons at my feet and a hand full of lead. What you don’t see is how many times I go back and forth, how meticulously I search the area, how wide a zone around the action I comb, how far I stretch time from my point of view in order to be sure… and when I come back down, it’s never because I am sure. It’s because I’ve given up. Because I’ve realized that I’m making myself crazy.

I can’t stop all the bullets. I can’t be everywhere at once. No one can, of course, but I have a power that lets me feel like I should be able to.

I wouldn’t give it up, of course. Not for anything.

But you asked me what the worst thing about my power is, so I told you. It’s not something I’ve ever told anyone before, but then, that’s not the sort of question most people ask.

It makes me wonder what the downside to yours is.

February 3, 2012 | Fantasy | 6 Comments »