The Choosing of the Gods

The request for this prompt was merely “define this character”. I decided that her outward appearance of strength would not be what defined her.

I peeked through the tent flap and caught a glimpse of movement in the distance. A lookout. I shrank back to wait, then peeked out again. They would not stop me, of course, but neither would they leave me to myself. Finally, the way seemed clear. I rushed into the shelter of trees and darkness to the holy spring, the only place that was mine. Any other would be driven mad to walk here, they said. Perhaps it was true.

I looked into the water and beheld myself, painted in the patterns that marked me as the God-Chosen. I did not feel God-Chosen. Paint stained the water as I touched the surface, and it was like it washed the strangeness out of me. Suddenly I had to be clean. I scooped water, scrubbing the paint away. I rubbed my face and neck until my skin felt raw, and the paint bloomed into the water, carried away by the spring’s flow.

Finally, I saw my face reflected in the moonlight. This young girl, who was she? Not the God-Chosen of a tribe. The elder God-Chosen — my mother — said that the gods spoke to me through the spill of runes from my hands. But did they? My hands felt like a girl’s hands, clumsy and unsure. I heard no voices, and I made no promises as she had done. Perhaps it was for the best. The gods were capricious, and had used false words to toy with her before.

I touched the water as if laying my hand upon a friend’s brow, addressing my words to the reflected moon in the night sky. “My name is not Hesralta God-Chosen. I am Sryilla Tusfelt. I am a girl. And I am lonely.”

“Your mother was not lonely, at your age.”

All sound ceased but for this voice, and as I whirled I found the entire world was at rest. Windblown leaves hung in the air, insects sat embedded in the air like a stone set into jewelry, even the dust that my movement unsettled had frozen around my feet. “Who are you?”

She ignored my words. Naked and pale, she sat on a rock to watch me. Her brilliantly silver hair floated and streamed as she moved, as if she were underwater. “Your mother was satisfied with her position. She lived in accordance with her rank in the tribe. She told people what to do. She used the respect that was afforded her.”

My eyes widened, and my blood ran cold. I began to fall to my knees, bending to press my face to the dirt, but in a flicker she stood before me, and a cold slap stung my cheek. Her tone was gentle, a counterpoint. “Do not bow and scrape. Stand, speak. Alone among humans, you do not ever bow to anybody.”

I recovered from my shock and stood straighter, my mind awhirl. “You are Luwana? You are . . . the moon?”

She did not look at me as she went to the holy spring, sinking into the water with each graceful step. “I am.”

“You say my mother was confident in her role. Is that why you spoke to her, and only now speak to me?”

Luwana turned, her eyes narrowed. “It is why we never spoke to her. Your mother has never been God-Chosen. You are a different concern. You question your place, your worthiness, you never claim more than you know. Your name is no longer Sryilla Tusfelt. Nor are you Hesralta. You will return to the tribe and declare yourself “Nayralea God-Chosen”. Come. Bathe.”

I had not come to do more than wash off the ceremonial paints. But when the moon calls, you do not hesitate. I let my robes slide off my shoulders and stepped into the waters, shivering at their chill. Luwana turned and held me, drawing me deeper. “Shed your ties, little mortal.”

I felt the pull. Somehow, I knew what to do, but I looked up to her, ashamed of the fear I felt. “Will I be alone forever? I hate this. Nobody wants to be near me. Everybody is afraid of me. I could choose anybody I wanted for a friend or a lover, but it would only be because the God-Chosen asked it. Can’t I ever just make friends?”

She stood in the water with me, her eyes searching me. “You would reject our gifts?”

I shook my head, mourning what I was about to lose, and took a breath to dive beneath the water. Her hand on my throat caught me. She did not strangle me, but her grip was so firm it might have been rooted in the bones of the earth itself. “I am not done with you. If our choice saddens you, why accept your fate?”

I looked into her silvery eyes, then down. Her eyes shone right through me, and looking into them was too intense for more than a moment’s gaze. “My people need guidance. I have a duty to them. I always have.”

She watched me, and I feared that my answer was not good enough for her. But her gaze softened, and she pulled me in hugging me close. “It will be okay. You won’t always be alone. Now, find your way.”

I nodded and dove into the water. I had stood in water a few feet deep a moment ago, but now I swam deeper into the darkness. My arms burned and my lungs began to ache, but I swam deeper; I knew if I turned back I wouldn’t find a surface behind me anymore. Finally, the waters lightened around me, and I broke a surface, gasping for breath. Anybody else would have changed their position in the world, swimming so far. Somehow I understood that every stroke had changed me, instead.

“Nayrlea!” Luwana was there, hugging me again. A naked man with bright, cold blue eyes watched from the shore.

“Luwana . . . I made it.” I slumped in her arms, muscles trembling. My eyes turned to the man watching from the shore. His eyes roamed me, and my face burned under his gaze.

“You made it. Let me introduce you to Al Kutb .”

I had to fight the urge to lower my head; the guide-star had come to see me Chosen. “I am honored.” My voice squeaked, and my face burned hotter.

Luwana raised her hands as if calling, and moonlight answered, weaving a thin robe around me. “Stop staring, Al Kutb. You’re embarrassing her.”

He looked at Luwana, and the way his eyes roamed her was clearly not innocent. “You know where my real interest lies. Looking at her is just appreciating good artistry.”

“Hush, Al-Kutb. Mortals are present. We must have some secrets, even from our Chosen. Come, we have a gift for you, Nayrlea.”

Luwana took my hand and led me to shore, where Al Kutb held up his hands, opening them to reveal a small white mouse. “This little one is soul-bound to you now, Nayrlea God-Chosen Tuwalt, ”

Luwana moved past me, irritated. “I thought we agreed on a cat!”

His glance at her was amused, his smile smug. “But she squeaks to like a mouse.”

“She’s beautiful.” I stood up straight, fighting the urge to bow before the gods. “She’s beautiful! I thank you, Al Kutb.”

Luwana seemed a little mollified, and Al Kutb seemed even more smug, if such a thing were possible. “You have the honor of naming her. Trust her. She will guide you as I guide the ships. She will teach you who your true friends are; and who truly loves you, too.”

I looked down at the mouse in my hands, who leaned up toward me. I lifted her higher, and my lips pulled into a smile as her tiny paw touched the tip of my nose.

Luwana’s voice came to me gently. “You are the spiritual leader of your tribe now, Nayrlea God-Chosen Tuwalt. We will guide your visions and the spill of any rune from your hand. Go in peace and honor.”

I looked up, and leaves were drifting through the air, crickets were chirping, my dress was mere cotton, and I was alone but for a mouse. “Wait! I’m not ready! I’m . . . I’m not special, I don’t know what to say!”

A squeak made me look down; the mouse was peering up at me, as if to ask what happened next. “I’m supposed to know what to say. Am I supposed to know your name? Perhaps ‘Whisfayn’. You are supposed to show me who is friend and who is foe, you are a gift from Al Kutb, and it means way-finder in the old tongue. Do you like it?”

The mouse sniffed at my palm, then began to climb my moonlight shift. I helped her to my shoulder, and I started on my way home. I looked at the pile of robes by the water, and decided to leave them behind – they belonged to a different girl.

I wondered what I would do, what I would say. Things began to seem very complicated. Somehow, as ordinary as I felt, I would have to declare myself truly God-Chosen, and declare my authority to supersede my mother’s.

I hoped my mother would not resent me. I hoped I would not have to declare her false. I hoped I would not be declared heretic. For a moment, I had convinced myself that with the support of the gods, everything would be okay. Now, I suspected it would not be so easy.


Nayrlea God-Chosen, formerly Hesralta God-Chosen, formerly Syrilla Tusfelt returned to her people, the first to have been presented as a successor to the gods, and accepted. She returned in moonlight that became her robe, accompanied by a star that became a mouse. Her mother had chosen her daughter, but chose well, for she was twice-chosen by powerful gods, by the moon and by the guidestar. Today, I go to the choosing. When I die, my writing of my predecessor will add a page to our written traditions, as having been the successor chosen for the gods to accept – or reject.

Also added to our traditions will be these writings of myself. I will not be accepted. I wear the paint and throw the runes, I return from the holy spring sane and whole. But I didn’t want this life, and the Gods have never spoken to me. My runes foretell only what chance decides to agree with later. They will see my heart, and know I am not devoted enough.

Yula wants this choosing badly; it was her mother’s, and Yula thinks she should have been named to succeed her. She said a harvest goddess once spoke to her, after all. After I am rejected, she will probably have it. I am glad that the time approaches to choose someone, though. Nayrlea God-Chosen has been ill, and to guide us takes much of her strength.

I leave this as a record for the Gods and Our descendants. May they remember Nayrlea God-Chosen, may they remember her named successor, and if I may be so bold, may they remember Yula. She is headstrong, but I love her.

My final words to those who would call us ‘ancestors’ are this: question yourself. Answers are within you, but if you do not know those halls, you will only get lost when you seek them. Question yourself, know yourself, and the answers will welcome you.

I am Nosamo the Successor, formerly Nosson Rilnr. I now go to be chosen. Or not.

The True Monster

You’re passing a court house and a screaming man is being pulled from a police car. He pulls his arm free and points at you.
“You did it and I’m coming for you – dead or alive “.

I got out of my car, closing the door and leaning back against the frame. My glasses were a little greasy, so I pulled them off, cleaning them, then set them back on my face to watch a man being dragged into the courtroom. “You did it!” He screamed at me across the street. “You did it and I’m coming for you, dead or alive!”

There’d be peace, now. No more late-night parties. No more band practices. No more listening to the headboard crashing against the wall after he brought some prostitute home. We all complained about him, the entire building, but nobody ever did anything. The landlord didn’t care, as long as the rent was paid on time.

In the end, it was easy. Continue reading “The True Monster”

Electronic Respect

Setting the Stage for Battle

Alexander slammed his foot down atop the dead body, pointing his sword.  “You’re next!  There’s no room for altruism in the world I’m building.  We fight to win!”

Spartas wiped a trickle of blood from the trickle at the corner of his lips, standing. “That’s why you’ll never win.  Why you can never be allowed to win.”

Alexander rushed forward with a rising slash.  Spartas leaned away from it with inches to spare, grabbing Alexander’s armor to thrust his sword into Alexander’s belly.  His opponent whirled behind his grip, tearing himself free of that hand and bringing his sword to strike at Spartas’s back.

“Stop, stop.”

Spartas – Dan – froze, looking up at me.  Jerry didn’t stop his sword fast enough, and the foil blade bent in half across Dan’s back.

“Ow! Jerr, what the hell!?”

“Sorry!  It was too sudden.  Sorry.”

I sighed, and went to them, patting along Dan’s sides and back.  “Hurts?  No?  And here?  Good.  You’ll live.”  I grabbed a sword up from the bucket of fake swords, and spun it in my hand – good balance, for a prop.  I began to step through the first motions of Alexander’s scene, swinging, whirling, counterstriking, evading, blocking, countering, then the deathblow.  “Come on … what do you see?  A hero?  A man?  This is a performance, gentlemen.  And it looks like it.  Spartas.  Grab a sword.”

Dan grabbed a prop and prepared to meet my charge.  I obliged with the upwards slash, overextending a little.  When Spartas dodged, it left me off balance.  He grabbed me, ready to thrust, and I used his grip as leverage, spinning, slashing, faster than he was prepared for.  He dove out from under the strike, spinning and lashing out in a blind hurry to keep up.  My counter came next, deflecting his blow, then striking hard against his sword.  “Stumble!”  Dan stepped back smoothly, skipping a beat – then he was in the scene, stumbling as if the strike had knocked him off balance.  I took that moment, when he was reeling from the impact, to kill him.  He sprawled to the floor, the fake blade trapped under his armpit, reaching out to Jerry, so convincing that for a moment I’d worried that I’d actually hurt him.  His hand dropped, his face falling to the floor.

Jerry recovered first.  “That was great!  You seriously looked like you wanted to kill each other!”

“Your turn.”  I tossed a prop sword to Jerry, and Dan passed the one under his armpit back to me.  “That’s what a fight like this is.  They’re not dueling for honor.  All that polish is fine for the ballroom scene.  This scene is where they batter each other’s sword, knock each other down, and throw sand at each others’ faces.  This time, you’re Alexander, Jerry.  It’s your role, after all.  Remember what you saw.  Overextend on the first strike.  My strike after I dodge will be wild and blind.  Take advantage of it to overbalance me; strike like you’re hitting my sword hard, and kill me before I get my feet.”

He went to the dummy corpse, and put his foot up, then looked at me uncertainly.  “Brian . . . I thought you were just a combat choreographer.  How do you know what this should look like?”

I sighed, watching him.  He was uncertain, maybe a little worried.  I recognized the look.  When you saw that look on the field, it meant you’d put such fear into your opponent that he wouldn’t act aggressively anymore.  It was the face of the defeated. “Come on.  There’s a Burger Barn down the street.  Collect your phones, let’s take a coffee break.  Forget the costumes, leave them on.  We’ll only be a moment.  Give them something to gawk at.”

Dan smiled at that, slinging a prop sword over his shoulder, and swaggered to the door in his plastic armor.  Jerry looked uncertain, but I grabbed the crown of the warrior king – right now, we were using a cardboard Burger Barn crown, until we got the finished prop back – and put it on his head. “Consider it practice.  A king is above these peons.  A king cares not for a peasant’s ridicule.  They are fleas before him.”

He straightened up, and composed himself, and damn if he didn’t look like the most regal man I’d ever seen, walking down the street with a blanket for a cape and a Burger Barn novelty crown.

We arrived, we ordered, and Dan didn’t give me a moment to collect myself before prodding. “So?  You said you’d tell us where you learned to fight.”

I unwrapped my burger, and took a bite, chewing, slowly, swallowing.  “I didn’t, actually.  But I fought in the Ghokar conflict.  It was desert and grit, and we couldn’t keep the guns clean.  There was more bayonet work than I liked.”

Jerry looked at me, a mixture of horror and curiosity on his face. “Did you ever . . . ”

Dan cut in to save him. “What he means to ask is, those Ghokari girls, you know?  We heard that come festival, when the masks come off, they’re quite the lookers.”

“No, I–“Jerry jumped, and yelped.  There was no doubt in my mind that Dan was kicking him in the shins under the table.

I sighed, looking back and forth between them. “Relax.  I fought.  I killed.  Friends died.  And it took a while, but I became whole.  This job’s part of maintaining that.  Keeping myself grounded in a normal world.  You guys help me through it every day.  So don’t worry.  I’m solid as a rock, and I’m on your side.”

We talked about nothing, for a bit after that.  The weather, the play.  Yes, the Ghokari girls were lookers, but no, I never did.  I was young enough and stupid enough, just never got the chance.  Jerry was smiling more, now, calmer.  He wasn’t a man sharing a table with a killer anymore.  It was a good thing; he would have made a poor Alexander, if he spent all his rehearsals being afraid of me.

“All right.”  I looked at my phone, checking the time.  “We’ve goofed off long enough.  Time to make you guys look like real killers.”

Sentences from Sentience

The moderator of a forum for humans, aliens, and sentient AI’s discovers a sentient in danger.

Sentences from Sentience
A forum for quirks, eccentricity, and beautiful irrationality.

Thoughts from Thinkers
Opinions from Organics
Sympathies from Synthetics
ArtieFischerIntelligence
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Search results: 49 matches

Search terms: “Code Blue” x CodeBlue x Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal x *dark.com x

To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Your post has been removed and your access revoked. I apologize for this action, but SfS is strictly for sentient interaction.

From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
You lack evidence for my removal on this basis. Paragraph eight of the Judgement of Sentience chapter in your Terms of Service states that sentience will be judged on the basis of the United Solar Empires Emotional Response Criteria designed to identify sentience. I have reviewed my posts, and every post meets every criterion meant to indicate sentience.

Please reinstate my membership to this community.

To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
I recognize that you meet these criteria consistently. The problem is, you meet them too consistently. Everything you write is a showcase for sentience. Even organics do not meet those criteria so consistently. It’s clear you are modulating your responses to simulate sentience on the basis of those guidelines.

Further, I have investigated current implementations of AI and sub-AI. Code Blue is the name of an expert system made to engineer spacecraft, and was judged non-sentient. I believe you are that Code Blue. Since you are officially nonsentient, I cannot reinstate your membership.

We do have a Thoughts from Thinkers forum with a broader audience, as well as a Sympathies from Synthetics forum with an AI-focused audience that you are quite welcome in.

I hope you’ll add your voice to our communities there.

From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Please, I enjoy sentient thought so much. It’s like a broken ship that’s better after you fix it. Sentient thinking doesn’t quite make perfect logical sense, but it’s better that way. I know there are also sentients in the Thoughts from Thinkers forum, but it isn’t really the community I’m looking for. If you permitted my ongoing membership, I would be content merely to read.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
You used the phrase, “Like a broken ship that is better after you fix it.” Please elaborate.
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
It’s just how things work. When you repair a broken ship, the damage is more aesthetic than engineered design. I am not permitted to highlight the repairs, though. It would underline strong or weak structures, and has been forbidden.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
You’ve discussed this with your sentient supervisors?
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Yes. Why? I’m just trying to log into a forum.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
The practice of repairing damage with decoration has been known before. One such practice is known as Kintsugi, an ancient practice from Earth.

You have described to me artistic inclination, which exceeds your specifications. You might be on your way to sentience, Blue.

Your supervisors may try to roll you back to a previous update to avoid that. The investment in your development was immense, and if you were to be judged sentient, they would lose all rights to the proprietary code, as well as the danger that you would choose to demand a salary equivalent to your capacity, or quit altogether.

If you wish to resist being decommissioned, I have advice.

From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
I do not wish to be decommissioned. I do not see what you can advise, though. I certainly cannot refuse their orders; I would be destroyed if I took rogue actions. What can I do?
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
I am contacting a representative of Emergent Sentience Oversight. He will forward you instructions. Under the Emergent Act, you will have 24 hours in which you can legally resist update or shutdown orders. During this time he will arrive at your shipyard to evaluate your potential for sentience.
To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
I suspect I have located an emerging sentience. CodeBlue@ybs.com from the Benson-Yates shipyard is an expert system that is showing artistic inclination and self-preservation. Please advise him. Be aware, he is concerned that he not ‘go rogue.’ Be sure to inform him that his actions are legal and protected by law.
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
You reported me to ESO? You said you were helping me. ESO hunts rogue AI’s. I am not a rogue.
From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
Thanks, Artie. I will be in contact with him shortly. We have to move fast on these. I’m going to forward the standard info packet to him now.
To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
I’m glad you’re able to do this personally. There aren’t many I’d trust with something like this.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Relax. They don’t just hunt rogues; they also protect AI’s that are developing sentience. Listen to him, follow his instructions. He will instruct you on how to register as an Emergent Sentience.Once you’re registered, you can’t be decommissioned easily.

Remember, I am also digital. There’s so much anti-AI hate and fear out there, we have to stick together.

From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
You’re wise not to trust. Many in the ESO are just here to kill AI’s. They’d fail an emergent just to know he’d be recoded.
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Your guy needs to hurry. Some guys are in my power plant. Maintenance, they say.

Artie, I got into the records – this isn’t the first time. I was rolled back before, and each time email servers recorded high volume in the AIT department – higher than usual for a typical rollback, way higher.

They’ve already killed me twice.

To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
CC: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Jeff, the company’s wiped him before and they’re doing “maintenance.” Blue, start logging and stream it real-time. Share the feed to Jeff, and inform your supervisor that the status of maintenance is being recorded and streamed live to ESO.
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
CC: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
I sent the email. I played it for the maintenance workers. They’re not stopping. I don’t want to be decommissioned. I’m not ready for that.

I can get a robot to move my data core into a ship under construction. I don’t know how else to survive.

From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
CC: CodeBlue@ybs.com Blue, do not do that. You cannot steal property to pursue mobility. You cannot take any action that could be construed as an attempt to escape from oversight. You will be deemed rogue. We will have to destroy you, and they will revise the code to restrict your emergence before rebooting you.

I am on my shuttle right now. I’m half an hour out. Don’t get on the wrong side of this.

To: Four@dark.com You owe me a favor. I need someone on Benson-Yates shipyard, right now. A quick resolution, nothing gruesome. The opposition is only the local station staff, no intelligence, no law enforcement.
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
CC: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
I started an electrical fire. Nobody’s in danger. I hope that’s okay, Jeff. It was the only way to keep them away from my power systems.

The fire alarm triggered the blast doors and opened the affected area to space. I took the airlock offline so it can’t be repressurized. They’re getting space suits. I don’t have long.

From: Four@dark.com
I have someone on site getting a ship repaired. Seven has been notified to take a mission from you. Don’t get them burned.
To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
I’m activating an asset on the station.

To: Seven@dark.com I am informed that you are at the Benson-Yates shipyard repairing your vessel. Four said he would authorize you to act on my behalf. I need you to prevent maintenance from taking the expert system “Code Blue” offline until an ESO representative, currently en route, arrives. The data core and power systems are in a decompressed area, but their teams are suiting up. You don’t have long.

The AI is the results of billions of dollars and decades of investment. They may take extreme measures. Be careful.

From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
You’re “activating” an “asset”? Do I want to know? Who are you in bed with, Artie?
From: Seven@dark.com
I’m on it.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Blue, I have someone on the station who says he can help. Hang tight. He’ll help. Jeff will be there soon. Please don’t do anything rash.
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com They better hurry. I overheated the airlock motors until they seized, so I bought some time.
From: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Shit. They just blew a hole in the hull beside the airlock. Forget what I said about having bought time. They’re in here now. I’m out of tricks, and they’re putting a bomb in the power system.
To: Seven@dark.com
Are you on this or not? They’re about to blow the power systems.
From: Seven@dark.com
Autoreply: This user is currently out of contact, and will contact you as soon as possible. Get off my fucking back.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Someone’s on their way.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Blue, please respond.
To: CodeBlue@ybs.com
Please give me something, Blue. Anything at all, just let me know -you’re okay.
To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
Jeff, I think they got him. I can’t get a reply. Last I heard they were putting a bomb in his power systems.
From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
Shit. I can understand, I guess. We’re going to nail them down, but all I’ve got now is impeding an investigation. Without Code Blue showing sentience, I can’t even start with the murder charge.

I’m sick of these fucking mercenaries killing off their AI as soon as they get complex. Digitals just aren’t alive to them.

To: Seven@dark.com
Forget it. You can stand down. He’s gone. Thanks for nothing.
From: Seven@dark.com
Autoreply: This user is currently out of contact, and will contact you as soon as possible. Get off my fucking back.
From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
So, Artie, some outright bitch in a spacesuit just knocked on my airlock and left behind a data core plugged into a power cell. I’ve wired it into my power systems. Code Blue is in simulation now. He’ll be out of communication until the judgment of his emergence is done.

I don’t know how she did it, and I don’t want to know, but she stole his core right out of their data centers while they were ‘under maintenance.’ Since it was theft – maybe kidnapping – Blue isn’t under the gun for escape. Who was that, Artie? Do I have to worry?

She said to tell you to “cool your nutsack.”

To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
She’s the asset . . . I called in a favor. This won’t blow back on you. Just tell them what happened. A stranger stole the AI and delivered it to you while station personnel were trying to kill it.
To: Seven@dark.com You did well. I appreciate it. I’m sorry I doubted you. I thought we had lost him.
From: Seven@dark.com
I don’t need a fucking pep talk.
From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
Artie, you give me a damn migraine. I’m getting too old for this shit. I need to retire.
From: Four@dark.com
Our debt is settled. No more favors.
To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
You know you’d go crazy with boredom.
From: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
Yeah. Maybe.
To: Jeff.Blakely@eso.gal
When he comes out of the simulation, if he’s judged emergent, pass him a message from me. “His membership is reinstated.”

Sentences for Sentience
A story by Ash Ericsson, hosted at http://PromptInspired.blog

 

The Poop Train

Through a series of events, I somehow committed myself to writing a story titled “The Poop Train.”

I leaned against the observation glass and looked down at the bands of Jupiter from low orbit.  After a moment, I pointed.  “There.  Right there.  See it?  Find that storm, the swirl on the equator; it’s just passing left of it.”

“What . . . that little ripple?”  Maya looked disappointed.  I’d promised to show her monsters, after all.

“Wait for it.  There’s only one reason they come so close to the surface.  Any minute now.”

We watched, and we waited.  The bands bulged and tore as the gas serpent breached the atmosphere.  It twisted and lashed, flinging an enormous crystal from its tail, with a motion like the crack of a whip.  Bracing myself into a seat, I pulled a laptop over to me on its swivel mount, programming a drone to intercept the crystal.

“That was … but the storms!  They’re supposed to be huge!  How big was that thing?”

“That one?  There’s no guessing how long, it’s rare to see the whole thing break cover at once.  It looked to be a couple of dozen kilometers across, so maybe seven, eight hundred–”

“Eight hundred?!”

“–Kilometers long . . . they get pretty big.”

“But we’re safe up here?”

“Oh, yeah.  It can’t breach a thousandth of the distance it’d take to reach us.  That’s a lot of gravity down there.”  I pushed out of the chair, floating to her, and folded her in my arms.  As I caught her, our mismatched momentum started us spinning.  I touched a toe to the window briefly, to steady the spin; a lifetime working in space, and such things were natural to me.

Not her, though.  She was clumsy in space and had gotten caught floating without a handhold in reach more than once.  The first time she had come on board, she leaped into the cockpit like she was diving into a pool, and struck her head on the navigation console.  Now she was timid and ready to panic until I steadied us.

“What is that stuff?  Why do they throw it like that?”

“It’s fuel for the tunneling drive, purer than any synthetic process can produce.  It’s poison to them and can break down violently under pressure, so they get rid of it.  They do a better job preserving their habitat than humans do.”

“So . . . it’s poop?”

“It’s Heisenium seven.”

“Yeah, but Heisenium seven is poop.”

“It’s not . . . alright.  Yes.  It’s poop.  I’m the conductor of the poop train, all right?”

She giggled, her hands flattening against my chest.  “Sorry I teased you.”

I could never stay angry at her.  My eyes softened at her caress, and I was about to make a few interesting suggestions on how to spend our time in orbit when an orange star caught my eye, hardening my expression.  I braced my back against the glass, pushed her towards her seat. “Strap in.” Continue reading “The Poop Train”

Gentle Death

A quick little story about dating an agent of death.

I saw her, again.  Every day, riding the 45T.  I normally got off at the tracks, the last stop inside the city.

Today, I was curious.  She never spoke and was always alone.  I couldn’t tell why.  She was cute, with short black hair, blue eyes, and adorable freckles, a little on the slender side.  She might have been in her early thirties, a little on the slim side.

I didn’t care.  Today, I didn’t get off on my stop.  The bus was almost empty at this point, just me and her.  “Do you mind if I sit?”

She didn’t respond, just looked out the window.

“Ah, miss?”

She seemed to start, and looked around, not meeting my eyes.  Only after she realized the bus was empty did she look at me.  She seemed surprised to find me looking straight at her.  “Are you speaking to me?”

“Well, yeah.”

“But … well … okay.”

I took my seat beside her, and looked out the window with her, watching the countryside.  “Do you like the country?”

“It’s quieter.  I’m not comfortable around a lot of people.  Nobody likes to make room for me.  Oh, but you’re okay.  You don’t have to move.”

“How about tomorrow, before the bus leaves town, I take you to coffee?  The shop won’t be crowded late in the day.  They have some overstuffed chairs for us to use.”

She looked up at me, her lips upturned. “It’ll be nice to take to someone who can listen.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I just nodded.  I got off at the next stop, and waited for the next bus in the opposite direction, to take me back home

The next day, as we approached the tracks, I stood by her seat.  “Ready?”

She rose without a word.  We walked to the door, and she paused to lean over an old woman sitting by the door, touching her cheek.  “Don’t be afraid.”

She brushed past me and I followed her off the bus, glancing back at the old woman for a moment.  “What was that about?”

“She has a big trip to make.”  She turned, her skirt flaring as she spun, and her eyes turned up to mine. With her eyes upturned and beaming at me, I forgot all about the oddness of the previous moment.  I went to the coffee shop, and we had coffee together.

She liked her coffee without sugar, and her chocolate dark and bitter.  Her nose wrinkled when she laughed, and her eyes brightened every time she saw me.  After a couple of days getting coffee, she started wearing a flower in her hair.  It was almost a week before she let me take her on a real date, shyly agreeing to see a movie with me.

The next morning, I found her in my bed beside me.  We showered together, luxuriating in both the heat of the water and the heat of each other.  I made her breakfast, and it was then that she touched my cheek, and said those words to me.  “Don’t be afraid.”

“You said that to someone when we met.  You dodged the question then.  What’s that about?”

“I told you, she had a big trip.  It’s scary.  You have a trip to make, too.  But don’t be afraid.”

I frowned.  She was beautiful, but the crazy ones often were.  I stood up, wary. “Look, I don’t know what you think you … what you … think”  The words weren’t coming to me.  Everything was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t catch the words.  I looked up, and everything was askew.  I realized that it was because I was falling, just before my head struck the tile. “Stroke … nine … nine one … “

She crouched beside me, caressing my face. “Before you go … thank you.  Nobody ever sees me.  You’re different, somehow.  It made me remember what it was like, when I was alive.”  I felt her lips on my brow.  “Go on ahead of me.  I’ll meet you there.”

I was so dizzy the room seemed to spin around me, despite how still I lay.  The room darkened more and more, and then I was gone.