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Dave's Special

Flash Fiction by Thaddeus Howze
500 Words
"Are you going to eat that? I'm starving." The voice, like caged thunder, rumbled as Harold held his head in his hands.
"Knock yourself out."
A pair of twisted tentacles composed of degenerate exotic matter reached across the dimensional divide and hefted the Dave's Special. Surprised by the effort necessary, one tentacle removed the lumpy Kaiser roll to peer into the confines within; heaped with fixings, sporting an array of meats, sauces, twisted slab bacon, with tiny poppy seeds scattered across the top.
Amen-mat, with his one enormous eye, grew dizzy staring at the huge sandwich. It took several tugs to drag it across the dimensional boundary into his four-dimensional space. Between bouts of enthusiastic chewing, Amen asked "What's wrong, old man?"
Harold sat up. "I can't pay the rent." The corner he was looking into was filled with newspapers. Harold was a hoarder. No, not the kind that lives with fifty cats. He was worse than that. Harold was the neat and reasonable kind. Piles, organized with tabs, dates, and locations; a clean and functional chaos. Yet it still disturbed people when they came to see him. After a while they just stopped.
It left more time for him to focus on his conflict with Amen-mat, inter-dimensional invader and game aficionado. The two moved through the apartment engaged in multiple forms of warfare across the centuries; chess, Go, Parcheesi, backgammon and Mastermind. No game was too small or strange. Alone for decades, a shut-in, Harold played chess alone until Amen-mat, during an invasion to subjugate the Earth, manifested in his loft to play chess.
"We talked about this a few years ago," Amen offered.
"No. I am not coming to live with you."
"Why not? You'd have an entire dimension to yourself."
"Because I know what you are."
"A soul-devouring monster feasting on Human greed and suffering."
"Yes. There's that."
"That's not the deal-breaker?"
"No. People who make deals with monsters get what they deserve."
"Then, what's the problem?"
"What about my stuff? What about Dave's? You don't have a Dave's there, do you?"
"No. And after eating that last one, I understand why you would be slow to leave. But I have an idea. Let's start moving your stuff." Harold twitched involuntarily as multiple tentacles appeared all over the room and began to size up the task.
"Don't worry, I won't change a thing. I promise." By the end of the day, the house was empty, walls scrubbed sporting a light lavender scent; security deposit reclaimed, Harold Turner moved out of his flat an into an entire dimension of his own, separate from Amen-Mat's.
Meanwhile, at Dave's, a corner light blows and can't be repaired. Sandwiches disappear. Minutes later, money appears to pay for the purloined hoagie. A pragmatic man, Dave never questions. The tentacle was, for all of its strangeness, a generous tipper.
On rainy evenings when business is slow, he occasionally hears the word 'checkmate', followed by free-rolling thunder which sounds suspiciously like laughter between old friends.
Your story must include a sandwich.
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The Domestication of the Other

Speculative Flash Fiction By Thaddeus Howze
Expose yourself to your deepest fear. After that…you are free. — Jim Morrison
She comes. Today is the day.
We will avenge our kin.
The morning fog lay over the forest, deadening all sounds even to ears such as his. But he was not using his ears today. Today, her scent told him she was coming. She smelled of her hearth, smoky and bitter, the smell of rushes clung to her feet. The clay dyes, used to color her cloak made her smell of the earth, cool and hard. She has had her winter bath. Water is hard to come by for the two legs, so they bathe sparingly.
We are grateful for this. We are able to recognize them long before they can see us.
It hasn’t helped us to survive.
When she entered the clearing she stopped. Her leather boots squished in the mud and her cloak was pulled over her head. It protected her from the torrent. She stood still and looked into the forest ahead of her. They waited for her. The last two. He told her they would be there. He went into the forest and did not return. He told her he would not. It was time for her to be on her own.
“I know you’re there. Come out.”
Why would we do that? We have eaten her father. We can just wait.
Why should we wait. I think we should devour her now. Her clan has all but killed ours. We can end this today.
You don’t understand.
What is there to understand? We killed her father. I thought it would be harder. You can wait if you like. I can wait no longer.
The large grey wolfen strode forth from the forest, twelve hands at the shoulder. He towered over the child.
“I am here. I am your Death child. Why did you call me forth? Do you plan to beg for your life?”
“Did my father?”
“You lie. He would never beg for his life. You did not know him.”
How could she know?
“You are not from here. Your look, your color, your scent says you are from far away. You do not know my family at all.”
“You are but Men, the Other. Namers of beasts, growers of grass, makers of fire. Of the three, only the making of fire impresses me.”
The child looked at the wolfen, stared deeply into its eyes.
Why am I so afraid of her? What does she know that she can look at me and I quiver in fear? I have nothing to fear. I will consume her. NOW!
“So why don’t you? You’re thinking you should eat me now. I am just a little girl, after all?”
The wolfen hesitated. He bared his fangs but it was the baring of indecision not conquest, not domination. It was just shy of fear and submission.
“My father killed one hundred of your kind by the time he was twelve years old. Unlike your kind, we grow weaker with age. When he came to you today, he was relinquishing his power to me. In my current state, I could kill a thousand of you as easily as I breathe. I am only nine years old.”
It isn’t possible. It defies all that I know to be true. Age is power. Size is strength. The sharpest fang tears the deepest wound. She has none of those things.
“I will tell you one more thing. Then you leave or join me. Any other decision is death for you.”
“Look up.” The storm had subsided and the sky cleared showing the last stars before sunrise. “See that star right there. The dim one. My family and all like me came from that world. We were the last survivors of a world poisoned by our greed and filth. We were forced to change ourselves to survive there. Then we learned how to travel from our world to yours. But your people were stronger than mine then. We were forced to change ourselves one last time. Now your world will belong to us. The question is, will you be allies or blankets on cold nights.”
The wolfen bristled. His fur rose, spiky, hard as steel, he bared his fangs, his decision made. He never saw her move.
The cooling body of the wolfen lay at her feet. Wiping her hands on her blood red cloak, she approached the second wolfen who was too paralyzed to move.
No other words were spoken. She handed him a meatpie from her basket. He bent low allowing her to climb on. They would make better time to the next town.
Domestication of the Other © Thaddeus Howze, 2013; All Rights Reserved
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An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Surreal Flash Fiction by Thaddeus Howze


Imagine a modern Universe, with an unremarkable galaxy, where we will highlight a, just under a meaningful-sized, sun. It's an insignificant thing just larger than the average dwarf star. If you blinked you might have flown right by it. There are eight or nine significant bodies in a tangential orbits, where one or two of those objects develops a rudimentary slime-biome which will, in millions of solar years have, said near-organic slime, develop life.
One of those planets loses its precious bio-slime and soon goes quiet. No rotating core. No radiation belt. Soon, no life. The other, warmer, brighter, it's nascent slime reaches higher, toward the light of the sun. Suddenly, the sky darkens, hot winds whip across the surface of the planet, the greatest sound ever heard included the fracture of the crust across the entire planet creating the most transformative moments ever.
Whoops. I mentioned the potential for life but I guess I was premature. Slime 1.0 is no more. What happened? There was some life forming and then out of nowhere, another planet rips into the third rock from the sun and all life on this budding planetoid was snuffed out.
Back to the drawing board.
When the third rock cooled and stabilized, the planet had a new moon and a few million cycles later, life restablished itself. Don't ask me how it happened. I am just an Idea waiting for his time to come.
We will admit when Slime 2.0 happened again, millions of cycles had passed again and the overall interest in this part of the galaxy was at an all time low. It was a general consensus that Slime 2.0 was as boring as its predecessor.
One fateful day, this primordial slime eventually realizes even it is bored with how long it has existed as slime. It strains and does something new. This explosion of new is unheard of in the slime's estimation having been the only significant life on the planet. But, the slime isn't saddened by the company. For the first time in existence it wasn't talking to itself.
Super-fecund Life Planet will enter, for the next few billion cycles a boom and bust, sometimes lots of life, other times barely two flash-frozen amoeba to rub together. But as we learned after a runaway planet rammed into the Earth, Life is a persistent infection.
I can feel my time drawing near.
The life on this planet continues to evolve and when another asteroid collides with the Earth, (that's what the inhabitants will call it one day) I knew I could happen at any time. I watched as those dullards who spent three hundred million years grazing and eating each other vanished overnight and what replaced them wasn't very impressive. At first. But as they grew, I knew there was possibility I could exist if the conditions were just right.
And they were. From shrew-like organisms, life exploded again and new life replace the old. Filling in every biome, something was born to fill it. Some existed in harmony, delicately transforming the living to the dead and back to the living in a breathless hum of existence, an explosion of exuberant life. No matter how long I waited I knew I would exist. There would be a need for me. Something my progenitors will have known would be transformative. Something they couldn't live without, a thing thought capable of binding the Universe, itself, in a time of need.
I fell in with the flow of Life waiting until I saw my moment. There was a long period of nothing until a small hominid stood up and looked skyward. It reaches for the stars. Enjoying the view, she strides upright, into the future. I could feel her primitive mind scouring Logos for an idea. She chooses a stick instead.
So close.
I salute the stick and zoom onward into the noosphere. Many other ideas soon start flowing and the realm of Logos is alive with Platonic fire, hurtling Earthward, jumping to a group of primitives discovering Fire, as it rode a lightning bolt to a tree and straight into the mind of a curious onlooker.
Fire was such a glory hound. A dynamic entrance, a positive, immediate, life-altering effect, and they were in love with it immediately. Worse, Fire would bring a whole lot of new ideas with it. This species would use Fire for everything. Can it burn? Can you cook it? Can you eat it if you cook it? Will it taste good? How good will it taste? When in doubt burn something and you will learn something.
Fire was going to be a superstar. Fire would get all the best questions and ideas for the next 20,000 years.
But I could feel it, deep within my metaphorical bones, I would never be related to any idea which had fire in it. Don't ask me how I know.
Fire was a destroyer.
I was a binder, a fixer of things, I was a way to bring something back to life for a time. I was a maker and Fire and I would never see Idea to Idea. The march of time continues, and I can feel my moment coming. It is clear to me now. I can see myself coming into form, my Platonic shape slowly congealing in the empyrean mists.
I am round. A platonic ideal. Several have come close to me. They wrap me around cables, strips of strong cloth, clumsily attempting to bring me to life. They were busy men and it was a hard time. Frustrated, I watch them clumsily try and bring me to life. I scream from the Aether, louder than I ever have before.
It would be another thirty years. Yelling didn't help. It was maddening after waiting all these years to watch them fumbling around. In 1925 as they reckon time, I can see my next dimension. My countdown timer is finally activated. A confirmation of my long held belief. I have watched so many other ideas come to fruition, I never thought I would see my own. I had gotten used to watching new ideas go into the world.
The Renaissance lit the sky above Logos day and night, a fireworks show of possibility. Today, Jazz is everywhere, so new, so varied, a new form was born every night. I see my birthplace. I thought it would be, I don't know, more momentous. I had hoped my arrival would be in a laboratory by a scientist on the edge of greatness. Instead, my place of birth is dark. Dirty. I can feel the danger in every breath. An ammunition factory. A woman working in the war effort.
A woman sees ammunition boxes that once closed, take too long to open. She tells her boss. Her invention will save lives. He laughs. Goes back to smoking. I can see the countdown timer saying at any second I could be born. But she can't figure out how to realize me. Not the kind of woman to accept no, she sends a letter to the War Department.
To the President. Roosevelt.
I was born through effrontery, through an unquenchable desire to protect and yet to serve.
I exist, roughly hewn, a nascent aspect of my Platonic ideal. From this moment onward, my creator's vision transformed the world. I knew I would be big.
It was so long in coming, I knew I could improve the lives of humble people everywhere. Plumbers prayers could be answered by my judicious application. Mechanics repaired things with the understanding constant vigilance would be required.
I would be used in planes, trains, automobiles, homes, kitchens, basements. I would become clothing. Car doors. Hammocks. Battlefield stretchers. I would be used in war and peace.
I've heard it said, I have been used to hold the hinges on the doors of Hell, and the halos to the heads of currently slumming and possibly falling angels.
Everyone knows me. Everyone uses me, I like to think they love me. I'm no Fire, but when you have a broken tool, She can't help you. I can.
I watch humanity as they ascend into space. Watching from within the world, no longer a Platonic ideal, now a reality, refined, expanded, casually utilitarian; I was made manifest more than a century ago, in a factory, packing ammunition. Now, I hold together part of an computer motherboard mounted inside of a ship headed to the stars minus a necessary screw. There are other places on the ship as well, but it might undermine your trust in the space program.
I have been likened to a fundamental force, used to hold everything together. No matter where you live, I am there. I hold all that we know and love together, and a whole lot of things we aren't nearly as fond of but need just the same.
I waited a long time to be here. I'm glad you love me. I am Duct Tape and I was an idea whose time had finally come.
No. I'm not as beloved as Fire, but even her sweet flames took a back seat to an idea who came just a few years after I got here.
They called it the Manhattan Project.
Fire is still pissed.
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The Bone Fairy

Fantasy Horror Flash Fiction By Thaddeus Howze


"You have to leave him." The matter of fact tone left nothing to the imagination. It wasn't a command, but it wasn't a request. It had all the finality of the grave.

The captain's black eyes gave no quarter among the remnant of twenty men, of which only five remained. If it meant all of their lives, this mission would be done.

He touched the small box for the hundredth time, again hidden inside his armor, an object worth more than all of their lives, twice. Its dark radiance burned into his chest and a phlegm-filled cough followed as he thought about it.

"But sir," Lon began, "he can still walk." The farm boy staggered a bit under his bigger companion's weight but he wanted to make a case which seemed reasonable.

Alirr, the giant of this group held up the other side of Sdi, the Quick, two of his best warriors saddled with the dead weight of a third.

"Captain. I understand. I would only endanger the mission. I will do my best to hold out here until you can secure passage," Sdi responded cuffing his friends in the process.

They knew they could not stay with him. The two eased him down next to an ironwood tree, a fortune behind his head, if he could survive to get it to the border of the forest. Without an army of men, nothing ever does. The Denetheian Forest, a place of mystery, despair and disappearances. Few who ever entered it, leave.

It was only the desperation of men with nothing but legend to fall upon, came to seek, her. Tylwyth Teg Esgyrn, in the old tongue, fools who lived on the edge of this dire wood, called her the Bone Fairy.

A being so fell, it is claimed to have destroyed an entire army which sought to claim this forest for their own. A fortune in ironwood, they would the most formidable armor and weapons anywhere.

They marched upon the forest, or so the legends went, with pomp and pageantry. The former kingdom of Deneth, for which this forest gained its name, and reputation. The elves and other creatures which lived in this forest became legends that night.

It was said by the few survivors, the battle between the Fey and Men was awe-inspiring, its like having been seen only a few times in recorded history. The Men who survived claimed they were within the reach of victory when their army began to fall.

It was a wind which swept through the ranks, and as it passed, armor rustled, weapons flickered and fell flat to the ground, surrounding skin and twitching organs, which spasmed pitifully, mewling like tortured beasts, before they bubbled and fell silent, moments later, rustling among the grass, until the twitching fell silent.

At first, the men didn't understand what they were seeing, the wind came from the trees, leaves rustling, a sudden burst of movement and wave after wave of the Human army fell, for all intents and purposes dead, boneless.

The army's morale broke in light of this unexpected magic, unlike anything they knew existed. They tried to flee. Only those who made it to the edge of the forest survived. Some were partially affected and lost limbs, with flesh that needed to be cut away, because the bones simply vanished as they were fleeing the forest.

Of ten thousand, less than two hundred returned home. As they fled, they were told to leave the valley and never return. Or the same thing would happen to everyone who remained in three days.

No Man has lived in this valley for a hundred years, and few dared to tread here except in the brightest of days with the boldest of Men. The lure of Ironwood was the one thing men would risk life and limb for. And often did.

Now with three men, The Captain Hathor was to return to this legendary slaughterhouse in search of this mythic horror.

As he turned back to his men setting up camp, he feels a cold wind coming from the direction they are headed. As he turns to his men, he watches them slump, flopping bonelessly to the ground, their moist gurgling their final warning.

Hathor turned back and saw it. A creature of bones and wings, twice the size of a man, a mouth filled with teeth who dreamed of being sharper teeth, the creature floated silently, whispering into and out of sight. Smaller lights fluttered around it.

One of the smaller lights flew to Hathor's face and it appeared to be a tiny woman with flickering wings. It would have been beautiful save its otherworldly aura, its sharp and toothy grin and the more horrifying and larger version which accompanied it.

A tiny voice rang out. "The Queen has accepted your tribute. Make your case and be quick about it, Human."

Reaching into his coat he pulls forth a black diamond, the size of a quail's egg. It shone with a nacreous inner light, and the smaller creatures shied away, vanishing into the forest.

"Are you this desperate you would try to geas me into service?"

"We are. We need your help, your terrible majesty." The captain squeezed the gem and he began to age, weaken and fell to his knees. "We would draft you into our service because what is coming is a thousand times worse than you. We would dare anything."

The Queen, flickered trying to escape the geas forming around her, its black tendrils holding on to her no matter where she shifted, no matter how hard she moved between worlds, the spell found her.

"Go west, your majesty. You will see it. You cannot help but. We geas you to help us, because when they are done with us, they will come for you."

The captain, now an old man, falls over, becoming dust as the spell, the magical compunction now delivered, the Queen had been bound and would go west, whether she wanted to or not.

She screamed, her howl heard across the forest. Then she considered the feast ahead as she sent her minions to blacken the sky before her. Wars were always such good eating.

The Bone Fairy © Thaddeus Howze, 2019

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The Leviathans of Brass

From the travelogue of Josephus Sumner


High Fantasy By Thaddeus Howze
On the edge of Mahatmalaya, the greatest realm, the cynosure of the shadow worlds, the nexus of all there is, was, and ever will be, stand the Leviathans of Brass.
When Mahatmalaya was young there were many such realms like it. Each spinning off its own shadows, its hidden realities from which life developed at their own pace, with creatures whose capacities varied widely. Those who developed quickly and mastered fundamental forces learned they could move between shadow realms, laying claim to new territories, mastering new creatures and magics. But sometimes they vanished without a trace. Their armies, machines, beasts, warriors, swallowed whole.
Such realms were marked and given wide berth. In that fashion of great systems, each stabilized in its own way and as they did, some entire realms fell to the control of alliances, confederacies, coalitions or federations which plumbed the depths of their core reality until they discovered the unthinkable.
They were not alone in the Multiverse. Some went mad discovering there were realities beyond their own. Having mastered shadow travel, they thought nothing was beyond their reach. Laying claim to millions of realms, mastering thousands of species, using every kind of technology imaginable, they were still unable to breach the walls between Multiverses.
For many, this destroyed their core reality, the notion they were not at the center of all there is left them unable to understand how the Universe could be so cruel to them, to create them, allow them mastery of their Universe and then leave something beyond their reach.
For others, for those cool intellects, driven to know, hungering for their next conquest, they persevered. A million years pass. Two million. Their intensity was gifted with success. They breached the wall between Multiverses.
They poured their armies through the splinters of Reality, great powers attempting to reshape the very stuff of this new place they found themselves in.
They blackened the skies with their machines, in numbers beyond counting they entered Mahatmalaya. To discover the Leviathans in waiting. Bound to this singular location, a place where the wall between Universes was weakest, the Leviathans were placed in expectation of visitors.
For you see, Mahatma was the greatest scientist/mystic of his era. He had pierced the wall between Multiverses millennia ago. His spiritual travels revealed the dangers, the fear, the greed beyond his own dimension and armed with this knowledge created these doomsday machines for just this purpose.
To deter visitors. To prevent unwanted invasion. To maintain the peace of Mahatma's realm. His Leviathans were his greatest and last creation.
Standing ten thousand meters high, powered by demonic magics, bound djinn, elementals whose energies were akin to stars drove these living machines, who wandered this region of the realm, engaged in intellectual debate, sending pieces of themselves across the Universe ever in exploration and study.
Waiting for the day such a visitation feared by their Maker would arrive. Formed of Brass from the Realm of Dis, hard as adamant, capable of holding in and protecting the powerful spirits contained within, each Leviathan held a space within it, an entire world-engine, a bound star whose powers would never die.
That day has come. The Leviathans continue their communing with one another as they destroy the nigh limitless invaders, lighting the skies with lightning chains whose thunder was heard in other nearby shadow realms, altering reality, transforming their ships into hunks of lead, which plummet lifelessly to the ground.
Their assault was the greatest thing the Leviathans had ever experienced. It was what they were designed for. They never knew it would be so glorious.
And so brief. A thousand years later, the Invaders ceased. Their great armies depleted, their war machine drained of vitality, entire worlds wrung dry of life, and the Leviathans stood unmarred, unbroken. Still engaged in philosophical debate as they deconstructed the alien ships, absorbed their crews into themselves, marveling at the psychoses of their new components, re-arming themselves in expectation of new visitation.
With their purpose revealed, with their explorations of Mahatma continuing, they realized the value of what they protected. They deemed it precious.
Worthy of being protected. There was debate, every century or so, as to consider the one thing Mahatma forbid. Whether they should resolve the threat of enemy visitation by traveling to other Multiverses, first.
They ponder it for a century or two, and decide if Mahatma had wanted this, he would have done it himself. It was not their place to go against his final wishes.
Resolved, for a time, the Leviathans conversed with a new visitor, someone from Mahatma whose aura was much like the Maker's. They hoped for something unexpected to discuss in the lull between visitors.
-- An excerpt from the Travelogue of Josephus Sumner, after a conversation with the Leviathans of Brass.
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Flash Fiction by Thaddeus Howze


"Guess who?" her multi-tonal twittering revealed who she was instantly, but Godzilla played along.

"Who is it?"

"Your favorite butterfly friend."

"How many butterfly friends do I have?"

"I don't know. How many butterfly friends DO you have?"

"There's...hmm... so many. Are you Hedradon?"

"No. You ate Hedradon last week. Still got the stink all over you. Don't you ever wash?"

"Okay, are you Gamera?"

"Do I smell like an unwashed, spiky turtle with incontinence? Nothing but fresh air and sunshine here, I'll have you know."

"Wait. I need a hint."

"I can fly. That puts most of your friends right off the list, thank you very much. Who else has soft wings and a perfect singing voice that YOU know?"

"Ghidorah sings nice..."

"Really? Ghidorah. The flying space alien who couldn't hold a note with a bucket? That Ghidorah? You still have a thing for her, don't you?"

"I think Ghidorah identifies as they and I only like the Right Head. The other two are crazy jealous. Anyway, I know who you are now. You know too much about me. You must be my twin...Mecha-godzilla."

"How could you not know it was me? Do I smell like rust and leaky oil pans? I'm leaving."

"Wait. Of course I know it was you, Mothra You're my best and oldest friend. Let's go into town and have a skyscraper. I'll even let you pick."

"Now, you're talking. I want to go to Tokyo."

"Tokyo? That's a hundred miles from here. There is a perfectly good town ten minutes from here."

"You said I could have what I wanted. I want Tokyo."

"Tokyo it is." Godzilla turns away from Yokosuka and heads back toward Sagami Bay.

Mothra arcing artfully skyward, begins her flight to Tokyo, letting loose one last barb. "You better hurry up and swim, slowpoke. I will start without you..."

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Nasty Tricks and Tasty Treats

"LaShaun, you better not be on the roof again."

"Mom, we're just up here playing Spider and Prey. We want it to look realistic."

"Hurry up and get dressed for Halloween."

"I am dressed. I am wrapped in spider-silk and Frank's going to dangle me from the roof at just the right moment."

"Did you put the lights up?"

"Yes, mom. Remote's in the kitchen."

"What's my part?"

"You don't have a part. You're the Mom handing out candy to innocent children. That is your part. You also get to be technical support. Turn on the lights after I twitch convincingly and then surprise moan."

"Frank makes his menacing hiss and the kids run off screaming into the night."

"No they won't."

"Yeah, Mom, they will. Remember when he jumped down and ran off with the Davis kid dressed as Superman?"

"All I remember is having to chase him down the street telling him not to eat that kid."

"Yeah. That's what all the kids remember too...They don't know he lives in the backyard."

"Frank says there are kids coming down the street. He's on the back side of the house."

"The camera is recording from the corner of the house and in the car."

"Great, Mom. I'm going to the roof to get ready. Stall 'em for a minute."

"Okay, Caesar Romero."

"Trust me, Mom. It's gonna be great."

"FRANK, no running off with the kids!"

"He knows, Mom. He knows."

"He knew last year, too."

"After we're done here, you have to finish packing. We'll need to be on the road by tomorrow."

"Okay, Mom. See you soon."

"Trick or Treat!"

"Hello children. What do we have here. A vampire. A princess. Captain America. What about you little girl? What are you?"

"A serial killer. They look just like everyone else."

"That's so sweet... Everyone gets some candy."

"What's that noise?"

"What noise?"

"Help me!"

Children and parents scream as LaShaun dangles from the porch awning skillfully wrapped in webs. Mom hits the lights and they see Frank, waving his arms in a menacing but completely over-acted fashion. LaShaun twitches artfully while spinning above the heads of the fleeing children.

The terrified families flee down the street, followed by smaller dog sized things swarming from around the house. Each is grabbed, webbed, scooped up and flung skyward to land with an awkward thump in the backyard of LaShaun's house.

The spiderlings too small to carry away prey, pick up every drop of candy and debris before disappearing into the darkness. It was as if no one had ever been there.

The next group of children were just a block away, everything had to be perfect.

Frank reels LaShaun in and the two high-five.

"Yes, Frank, it's going to be an all you can eat night."

Nasty Tricks and Tasty Treats © Thaddeus Howze, 2018

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“Good morning, children.”

Ms. Tanaka swiveled into the command console of her living room class station and turned on the holographic display. The room flickered momentarily as the display connections were routed through the house’s main computer grid.

The console lights for each section of her class lit serially as their students appeared in the classroom behind her.

“Singapore. Five. Online.”

“New York. Three. Online”

“London. One. Online.” Tanaka shook her head sadly. Her student base had dropped off significantly since the Accident.

Her internal Image sensing a change in her blood pressure activated its search mode and related it to recent infonews. “Would you like me to provide search data for the Accident for class today?”

Snapping back to the present, she waved her hand. “No Mei, I don’t need it, today. I may do something on it to commemorate the anniversary but today, we celebrate.”

Each of the children snapped into high resolution focus, most with smiles of anticipation. “Good morning, Ms. Tanaka.” The network adjusted as the bandwidth required for translation was properly allocated. Each child learned in their native language during routine class operation.

“Happy SALT Day.”

Mei adjusted the translation matrices based on her morning downloads with any language updates, regional dialects or specialized phenom databases.

“I guess I don’t have to ask you if you’re ready for today, do I? So, tell me who knows what SALT Day is and why we celebrate it?”

Abayomi, a Nigerian living in the outskirts of London whispered, “We celebrate the day Humaniti was first fully aware and could confirm the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.”

“Why do we call it SALT Day?”

“It’s named after the South African Large Telescope, where the first confirmation of alien intelligence occurred and remains until today.” Yi Ling chirped up in an extremely professional tone. Her parents were also teachers. Her additional exposure to the infogrid meant she was always searching for new things of interest, likely she had been studying the curriculum in advance.

Mei, brought up the infonet images for the SALT and provided the age appropriate data infographics on the specifications of the telescope and its associated satellites. Each of the children received the information they could assimilate based on their intellectual capacity. This particular class was rated mid-tier though their ages varied from eight to eleven.

“I assume you all received your Fragment in the last drone-drops in your region.” Each student held out a sliver of shiny, but impossibly hard glass.

The electronic voice intentionally left quite robotic signaled Marcus’ entrance into the conversation. “Not sure why we should be celebrating extraterrestrials we’re never going to meet?” He was the only student not sitting. He lay back in a medical support pod.

Marcus was borne with a rare bone disease, he was only rarely able to enter the gravity well of a planet for an brief period. Normally, he lived on L2 Station. He returned to Earth to receive his Fragment and to be connected to the SALT. He floated in his biosphere, his gills flicking gentle in support solution. His radiotelepathic implant meant he never spoke verbally.

“No, we won’t ever get to meet the Precursors, Marcus. But what we have learned has given us many opportunities to understand who they were, what they accomplished and if one of us or all of us can further decypher the SALT we have a chance to travel to where the Precursors came from one day.”

Ms. Tanaka picked up her crystalline prop, she was already connected to the SALT, and placed it across her hand. “This is the SALT interface. You have all been selected to interface with our alien benefactors because you have all shown unique intellectual aptitudes. Art, writing, creativity, scientific, exploratory and other learning styles, each allowing you a potentially unique experience into the mind of the SALT.”

“Will it hurt?” Abayomi looked tentatively at the Fragment. “It seems very sharp.”

“No, you won’t feel a thing. I promise.” Ms Tanaka modified her datastream to send comforting subliminals to ease the children’s anxieties. Each of their comm centers triggered each child’s conditioned pheremonal nootropic.

“Stand it on the top of your head. You will feel a tingle when you are near the perfect spot for you. Each of you will have a different emphasis so your location may be slightly different.”

The children each place their Fragment on their heads aided by the feedback system they were assigned while they were growing. Once they were connected to the SALT their previous system would be repurposed by the implant.

Ms. Tanaka checked the data retrieved from each of the children. Her own Image, Mei coordinated the data between Tanaka and the children.

“Okay, let the crystal go and imagine your favorite avatar.” The children each let go tentatively, looking over at the other children to see what was happening by proxy. They saw the crystal stand straight up and then slowly melt into the heads of their classmates. Then each turned back and put their heads down as they thought of one of their favorite interweb avatars.

Each had been told this would become their first Image, their first connection to SALT. It would look and act just like their previous avatars but now when a connection was good, they would be allowed to enter the Flow.

Mei adjusted several of the children’s life signs remotely ensuring the integration into the cerebellum of the students was smooth.

Avatars popped into existence as the children settled on their favorites. Marcus was the last to choose and his was a hyperrealistic horse. No one had seen a horse in fifty years. His avatar was one of the last simulations ever taken from a living specimen.

The others chose more historical visual icons from games they enjoyed. Once icons were chosen, Ms. Tanaka gave an information burst-loaded, “Sleep.”

For twenty four minutes, they dreamed of electric sheep. Fantastic vistas as their neural cortex was rewritten by a technology Humanti in all its varied intellectual forms, still did not truly understand.

“Okay, children. Open your eyes. Welcome to the Flow.” Each child stood up from the ground or the desert they each thought they were standing in.

“This is not like your game virtualities. This is a seamless environment completely integrated into your nervous system. You can experience life here. Hot, cold, wet, dry.”

Mei connected to the children, something new, a part of a network they had never known before. Each child felt it, the strangeness, the scent of something unknown. Never known. Their faces wrinkled.

“That is the smell of the SALT. The air of this place. Look over there.” As if the desert had been filled with a fog, suddenly a towering black line appeared in the distance. It shot from behind what now appeared to be a sky, a mountain range, a treeline, meadows all fading into the distance terminating where the children stood on what they now see as a beach, not a desert.

“What is that?” Marcus was still adjusting to riding his avatar.

Tanaka looked wistfully into the distance. “That is SALT. The Archive of the Precursors. That’s where you will be going. You won’t be going all at once. You will be traveling toward the Black Tower in the distance. We don’t know what you will see. We won’t know what you experience. Each of us sees the journey differently. That’s why when you come back, you have to write down your experience in class. You have to teach us what you learn while you’re in the Flow.”

“We’re the teachers?” Yi Ling looked as if she was suddenly understanding something.

“Everyday you’re able, you will enter the Flow and experience something. As you become more acclimated you will slowly move toward the Tower. Maybe one day you will reach the Archive?”

Abayomi looked back at the shore walked over to and touched the water. “Have you ever been to the Archive, Ms. Tanaka?”

Tanaka bent down next to Abayomi and whispered into her ear. “Can I tell you a secret?”

The child face lit up with the chance to hold a secret from an adult. “Yes, ma’am.”

“No one has. It’s been a hundred years and we have never reached it. We feel it call to us, but no one has ever made it.”

Marcus, ever-listening caused his avatar to rear up and he shouted, “Well, I’ll be the first,” his horse tearing into the beach sand and he fell away into the distance.

“Take notes!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Abayomi watched the others as they made their way toward the Tower. “You still have a question, don’t you?"

“If that tower is the destination, what is this shore we’re starting from?”

“That dear child, is the rest of Humaniti, the ones who simply don’t have what it takes to make this journey. This ocean is the best we could do. It is the sum of everything we have ever learned and created on our own. Our singularity.”

“We’re the teachers.”

“Yes, now hurry along. Humaniti’s waiting to learn what you discover. Remember…”

“I know. Take good notes.”

SALT © Thaddeus Howze, 2017, All Rights Reserved

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Come Forth The Rising Tide

It's the Apocalypse, already in progress…

“Gabriel’s Horn is the only thing that can drive back the Rising Tide and you let them take it to Hell?” Father Finnegan threw the glass of box wine into the fireplace in disgust. Renwick didn’t flinch and threw the chain holding Jillian Pace onto his desk.

“Is that what they were doing? You didn’t say anything about a damned horn. You said get the girl away from the Tide. She’s here. Bounty’s done, I want my money. I intend to be on a plane by tomorrow morning."

He pinched that spot between his eyes before continuing. "You can’t beat the Rising Tide. I barely got away and she had to help.” Looking over at Pace, she smiled a toothy snarling smile indicating her respect for the crazed mercenary’s skills.

“You’ll get your lucre, Renwick, as soon as the so-called Master of the Mystic Arts arrives.” Finnegan sat back down in to his armchair after getting a new glass from his cabinet.

The stink of cheap wine permeated the air as the door opened and a short, disheveled, probably drunken man with a scraggly beard and none-too-fresh breath staggered in. “Anyone call for a Master?” Pace’s eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped back into her chair, hiding her face in the shadows.

Another fellow came in behind the Master. Tall. Quiet, with sharp penetrating eyes. His vision swept the room and locked in on the chair where Jillian Pace, cloaked in darkness, clenched her jaw. The tall man’s predatory smile pissed her off.

Darrin Wells, former master of the mystic arts found his way to the dispenser of box wine and placed his mouth on the spigot, slurped noisily without spilling a drop.

When he rose, his facade was gone, replaced by the face of a broken man. “Jillian Pace, you are now the only thing between us and the Rising Tide. They’re past trying to initiate you, they were going to kill you. Are you ready to join us?” An unexpected belch at the end of the statement disrupted any chance he had at sounding ominous.

Pace looked at the failed mystic, the danger-averse but efficient bounty hunter, the sex-crazed architect and the priest who sounded the alarm all those years ago and leapt up from her chair toward Wells screaming, “You let my sister die. You promised me she was the Chosen One and that she would be able to turn them back. She’s dead, and now you come to me, second-best, barely worthy of teaching in your opinion and now you want my fucking help? Screw you.” Only Renwick’s quick reflexes kept Wells from getting knocked flat on his backside.

Not done, she turned to the tall man, “Are you finished with me too? I helped you with your designs, you thought it was okay to take advantage of me and then threw me away when you were done. How did your little project work out? Did you tell your clubhouse buddies what you were doing in your spare time?”

“As a matter of fact, I did. And I am the reason you are sitting in this room, instead of dead on the alter of a bunch of crazed and fanatical demons. I enjoyed your…company and you were very helpful. It was the least I could do.” Reeves licked his lips staring right into her eyes, hungrily feasting on a past memory of their debauchery.

Pace, unflinching, stared back.

Renwick, like a dog with a bone, snarled “What does this have to do with my money? I don’t know what those crazed demon-cultist were doing when I left, but there were thirty other people being sacrificed when I made my escape. I know that can’t be good.”

Wells, recovered, staggered to the table and pointed to a series of magical sigils across the map. “This is what they are trying to do. They want to build a gate straight to the door of Hell. It’ll open right in the middle of the city.”

Renwick looked at the map and noticed of the five points, only one was circled. “That’s here, isn’t it?”

Father Finnegan nodded. “They need this spot and one more to complete their spell. They’ll be coming for this one soon. You and Pace will have to stop them from laying claim to their final location.” The former mystic and Father Finnegan began moving around the room lifting paintings and shoving aside cabinets. Behind them were sigils, old things which made her flesh crawl, something from a time before Man, using a language preceding the Enochian runes used in demon binding.

“We have one more job for you, Renwich, Wells, said. Take her to this address. Your payment has been doubled and already in your account. No complaints. No bitching. Get it done."

Outside the church three vehicles pull up at three different points. Two men get out of each vehicle, stopping only to check the bindings on the three people in the back seats. Slamming the door, each man touches the sides of their vehicle and runes flare causing the cars to burst into flames.

The roaring flames disguised the screams of the victims within. The six men step into the center of the triangle of the three vehicles. They grab each other's hands and are consumed by flames that shoot from each vehicle. When the flame clears, a demon twenty feet tall, with chained manacles and runic symbols etched into its bleeding flesh stands instead.

It roared. Car alarms blare, the walls of the church shake while tiles fly from the roof, doors rattle, windows explode, pre-Enochian symbols flash in response.

The properly attuned heard a bell-like sound reverberating in response to the roar. Surprised, the demon gathers its chains which stretch into its home dimension and crossed the boundary from its world to ours. As the rupture closes, the chains which bound it are severed and it uses them as weapons lashing out at the protections on the ancient but steadfast church.

Each strike makes the symbols grow dimmer. Each blow causes more of the church to crumble. Inside, three men, all mystics of one sort or another, make their final peace. The architect takes his pen and tube and heads to the street, drawing symbols in the air that follow him, glowing with his arcane power.

Father Finnagan, carries an old wooden cross, a relic blessed three centuries ago with the blood of a saint. His belief coursing through it creates a spiritual shield before the last of the men.

The former master of the mystic arts chants and channels the power of ancient gods, redirecting his very life force in sacrifice. These men have no illusions they can defeat this creature. They only have to hold it long enough.

Renwich looked at the chains holding Jillian Pace, chains which bound her magic. “I can’t make you go. You can’t hurt me with your magic. These three men are about to die for you. Will you do this last thing they asked?” He unlocked the manacles with a simple touch of his hand.

Pace, ran out of the door and down the hall to where what looked like lightning lit the sky outside. Her voice caught in her throat as she saw the demon towering over the three men. They looked so old, so feeble, they were tiny stars trying to glow against a backdrop of towering darkness.

She gathered her power. The Darkness, the Light and the Way, the unique energy she bound together making them more powerful than their individual parts. The demon looked at her. It sensed her as the true threat.

“NO, don’t you dare!” Father Finnegan roared and charged the demon, swinging his cross like a club. Where it struck the demon ,a star flared and the priest, defiant to the end, died, a withered husk, drained of his lifeforce in an instant. The demon was thrown back crunching a car with its landing twenty feet away. It turned its eyes to the remaining two men.

A strong hand grabbed hers. Renwich whispered. “No. If they thought you were ready, you would already be there. They brought you here to give you this.” He handed her a box covered with thaumaturgic circles. “Now, we have to go. Trust their wisdom.”

Renwich gripped her arm, almost holding her up as she watched the two men fight a losing battle. She turned her back and ran with a man she couldn’t forgive for bringing her back to a life she never wanted. As they ran to his car, they could still see Wells and Reeves holding the demon in thrall, each in their own way.

Wells shouted out as the two of them pulled away. “You can only stop them with sacrifice! Remember that!”

The demon pulled away from the two men and ran toward the car. The architect, Reeves, stopped and drew a sigil on the ground. The archmage took the architect’s tube and revealed runic symbols on the side. He speared the sigil on the ground and both men fell to the ground. The ground where the demon stood lit up, a searchlight speared the heavens.

Tears streaming, Jillian watched as the demon turned to ash. The smell of death was everywhere.

Come Forth, the Rising Tide © Thaddeus Howze 2014. All Rights Reserved

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The Gathering Storm

The three ship escort arrived in Havari space, three weeks after we left what was left of Corva Prime. The Havari were preparing a new offensive now that the Hegemony was in disarray.

Rapacious, the Havari had chaffed under the Hegemony’s rules for the annexation of worlds. While they were barely members of the Hegemony, they were forbidden to take any planets that were part of Hegemony space. This meant they were forced to move away from the coreward worlds they preferred, and instead into the radiation-poor regions of the the edgeward planetary systems.

When the news of the Insurrection reached Havari Secundus, they mobilized for a new war. A war where they might be able to annex new territories under the cover of anarchy.

The Havari living ships were already clustered throughout the sector, their energy signatures testament to their biologically-enhanced, self-contained singularities powering their star-drives. Their fleet was one of the few not dependent on the Galactic Gate Network, they could reach most of their close neighbors in as little as three months Standard.

My job was to convince them, not that it was an error to be preparing for war, but that their target was not Corva Prime or any of the Hegemony’s core planets but the approaching alien fleet hoping to take advantage of this moment of engineered weakness.

As we dropped into Secundus’ atmosphere, our ships were reconfigured for the thick, dust-filled air. Two dozen of their winged attack insect ships flew alongside and paced us in directing us where we needed to land.

I could not make heads or tails of the sensor data at first, the land scanning systems were having difficulties determining depth and visibility was low in the upper atmosphere. It was only once we got below the cloud cover did I determine why the land-scanners had problems. It was having trouble discerning hives from mountains! The Havari hive-cities were three to five miles high arches created from the rock of the mountains themselves. They were reputed to be hand-crafted taking hundreds of years to create and perfect.

They were a symbol of power for each hive who created one, such that each was unique, yet signifying a social order and social hierarchy rarely seen in the Hegemony. These were beings who believed in order and were organized through their hive minds to bring about the order they were seeking.

The Hegemony was right to be afraid. These were this sector's apex predators. With a taste for the grand, capable of building what they needed and wanted. And when they could, they would take what they wanted from anyone unable to stop them.

The Hegemony’s destruction of Havari Prime in the First Wars of the Hegemony would not make this an easy sell. We needed them as allies because we had enough enemies.

Truth of the matter is, if we cannot convince them to join us, what’s left of the Hegemony’s Corvan leaders, in their current, devolved state, will destroy every last element of this civilization to make their borders safe making the First Galactic War little more than a border skirmish. The fate of twelve billion sentients lie in my hands.

As our ships dock, my translator activates and my Human crew prepares to disembark. Nothing prepared me for the scale of the Havari. Insectoid, they stand three meter tall. Their armored limbs and insect-like heads are shiny black and covered with sharp spines. They have both simple eyes and compound eyes surrounding their heads. Their segmented bodies are beautiful and yet terribly alien.

There is a sound, a quiet reverberation underfoot, something like the sound of crickets, like a rhythmic breathing, growing louder and then softer. The air is filled with a panoply of scents some sweet, even cloying, others bitter, carrying the rage of the Havari with them.

“I am Essver Dream-singer, of the People of the Sjurani, son of Minru, son of Daor the Terrible, warrior-poet of Harata II, Sjurani Rex, mated to the nǚgōngjué the Glorious Pielienhis, Representative of the Great and Glorious Corvan Hegemony, representing the High Council of Worlds on Toranor.” This is one of the few times I am forced to look up at my hosts. My human cousins bow as deeply as I do.

“We are Hive Harak, representing Havari Secundus and the Confederate of Larani Star-systems. We greet you in the spirit of hospitality. That no arms will be lifted against you, no poisons shall be presented in any cuisine you may partake with us, no threat or ill will shall be directed toward you while you are a member of Hive Harak. We welcome you as Hive Brothers. I am Prefect L’al.”

Before I could even answer the generous benediction, two of the Havari flying overhead, all of whom I assumed were maintenance technicians of one sort or another wheeled about and dropped directly into the center of our group. Weapons were drawn and pointed at my delegation and the House Harak group drew weapons on the two intruders.

“You do not speak for all of Havari Secundus, Prefect L’al. Leave our world aliens; know that we are coming for all of the coreward worlds we can take.” He leveled his weapon and I realized we might all need to defend ourselves in the next few seconds.

I felt it before I saw anything changing. A vibration so powerful it silenced all other sounds in the room. The Havari standing around us moved back and then prostrated themselves on the ground. The two intruders backed up but did not lower their weapons, at first. Then the vibration sounded again and a shadow appeared above my head.

I could hear the thrum of a huge set of wings and feel the backblast as the giant landed in our midst. Black and golden with fiery red highlights, she was twice the size of the warriors who already towered over us.

She landed light as a feather and her giant wingspan folded neatly beneath her carapace. The two armed intruders dropped their weapons but before they could hit the ground, both were beheaded. Their heads were simply gone. Their black blood shot into the air as their bodies toppled backward.

The Queen turned to us, and still chewing she announced, “Forgive the intrusion. Now our negotiations can begin.”


Conflagration – Saga of the Twilight Continuum © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved

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“I’m so sorry, honey. I have been neglecting you for work.”

The quiet bustle of the restaurant filled the air. Murmuring lovers leaned closely and whispered to each other of their undying affections over warm bread and expensive wines. Richard Refuerzo was such a man.

He was trying to rekindle the relationship with his estranged wife, Evangeline, who had made, in her estimation the wise decision of leaving this crazed dreamer — this mad scientist, dedicated solely to his work — to his work.

She looks around the restaurant. It was a new place, beautiful understated decor, beautiful wait staff and its ratings were off the chart. On the way over she had checked her IRIS to discover it was a Zagat-favored and three star restaurant. Tonight he was sparing no expense.

It had not been easy. They were so in love once. A decade ago, a lifetime ago, college had been very good to both of them. Students of biology, they were both working in a doctoral program at MIT; plant studies, recombination of genes to create new plants, hardier, capable of surviving harsher environments, able to live on less pure or even salt water.

He was the most promising of those students she thought to herself as he continued his blandishments of returning to the old days, the old ways, the passion; the love they had set their world and their lab on fire, more than once.

Literally. A moment of passion distracted them and while they were… busy, a small lab caught on fire and they were forced out in the sprinkler downpour. With their clothes in the burning lab, their affair was exposed as they were forced to leave the building wearing little more than their dignity and his most successful candidate for a new flower proto-type, the sterling. It didn’t matter, they were so young and in love. They ran home streaking through the campus, to madcap laughing through the night.

Those were good old days. They didn’t last.

Evangeline tried to focus her attention on what he was saying but she had heard these apologies before. She was sure nothing had changed for him. But, she had to admit, he looked good.

That haggard look, once so common for him; unshaven, unkempt, was gone. He seemed at ease, peaceful. This was the man I fell in love with, not that other crazy pendejo he became while he was doing, what he called his life’s work.

“Evangeline, are you listening?”

No. “Yes.” A pause. “No. I wasn’t. This is all so predictable. You bring me to a nice restaurant, you promise you’re going to change. I believe you, we fuck, then you go back to work neglect me for six months and I get tired of that, move out and go home to my condo. This will be the third time. I am tired, Richard. I think I am finally able to move on.”

Richard looked at her. Stared deeply into her eyes. “I finished it.”

Oh no, not again.

“Before you give me that look, hear me out. I really finished it. I corrected the last design flaws and this time, it is perfect. I can show you.”

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

Richard, looks over at the maitre d who had been coordinating the delicate dance of waiters, tables and clients like a conductor directs an orchestra. “Francis?”

“Right away, Mr. Refuerzo.”

Francis waves his hands and three of the young waiters appear and disappear into the back of the restaurant. When they return, they are carrying a large ornate vase filled with water, a box of sea salt, and a towel with fourteen long-stem roses. Each was a variety of colors, with the central flowers being silver-grey.

“Despite their colors they are all variations on my original sterling. I can make them any color I choose. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.” Richard directs the young men to place the large vase onto the floor and takes the sea salt from Francis. He takes a cup and scoops some of the water from the wide mouthed vase and drinks it.

“Ordinary water. Take a sip for me.” Evangeline complied, hoping to be done with the charade before everyone in the restaurant began looking.

“Ordinary sea salt, complete with a variety of flavorful minerals.” Francis looked at Richard as if to say, this wasn’t any ordinary sea salt but wisely said nothing. The old Richard hated interruptions in his demonstrations. This new Richard is something else. He is smiling. Confident. Evangeline is drawn to his movements, despite her reservations.

Richard pours the entire box of sea salt into the vase. Francis winced and nearly fainted; those were rare Italian sea salt dispensed as if it were common dirt.

He stirs the water in the vase until the salt is completely dissolved. He tasted the water with a flourish worthy of a magician. His sour face the indication something was amiss. He let Evangeline sip as well to confirm what he himself had already indicated. The water was now extremely salty.

He unwrapped the sterlings and exposes a delicate root structure at their base. Each was somehow grown as an individual flower, not part of a rosebush, or as a graft. These were genetic constructs.

He places each of the roses into the water, lovingly, with a passion he once reserved for her. He caresses each rose, making plenty of room for the root structures. She watched Richard as he whispered to each rose before putting it in with the others.

Evangeline found herself strangely aroused by his treatment of the roses and wondered if the supposed success of his project had change him in some way. “Now we are going to leave them in the water for just over five minutes. During that time, Evangeline, I want to ask you a question.”

“I know we have had some difficult times and while we have been apart, I have thought of nothing but you. This last two years without you make me realize I never want to be without you again. Will you exchange vows with me again?”

As Richard said this, the Sterlings, closed until now, opened up with rich and magnificent blooms. The center flower, the silver one, opened its petals and produced a silver and white ring. Richard gently removed the ring, thanking the flower and placed it on Evangaline’s finger.

It was a perfect fit. Richard took his glass and dipped it in the vase, filling it to the brim. He drank it completely and offered Evangeline a glass. Filled with the enthusiasm of the moment, she drank it, marveling at the purity and the complete removal of any mineral content whatsoever. Even the minerals in the water were gone and the water was now pH balanced to boot.

“How long do they live? What is their threshold for absorption, how do they process the minerals?” Evangeline’s mind was racing. He had done it. The process was quick, efficient and able to be controlled to the point he could have the flowers make a goddamn ring composed of all of the minerals. She licked the ring and was greeted with the concentrated taste of salt and metal.

“Save all of the questions for after dinner. You never answered my question. Will you remarry me. We will never want for anything, the patents alone on this process will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams of avarice.” Richard grabbed her up in his arms and spun her around. Evangeline tensed, for only a split second and then let herself go.

This man was happy. He was the man she fell in love with. Ebullient, energetic, alive again in a way she hadn’t seen in so long. He was the first man she ever loved, and wanted to love him again.

“Yes, you beautiful bastard, yes, I will marry you again. But this is the last time.”

“We won’t ever have to do this again. I promise.”

Dinner was extraordinary. The food was splendid. Richard was a new man and Evangeline found herself in love with him again.

They even made time for a quickie. Everyone pretended not to notice when they returned to their seats. Everyone, except the Sterlings.

Diners were so enraptured with each other, they failed to watch the imperceptibly slow movements of the Sterlings. Their stems began to intertwine, tightly wrapping each other in a fierce embrace.

The Sterlings noticed everything.

They extruded thorns made of salt and minerals. They considered the threat of Evangeline. They were of a cool and patient intelligence. They could wait. Plants never hurry. All things yield to them in time, even stone.

The Maker belonged to them and them alone.

Sterlings © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved

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A military leader’s unauthorized decision to destroy an alien starship presages a fateful expansion of Humanity into space.

Commmander Mfune strode the decks of the great Benai Aethership, his footfalls echoing through corridors once filled with life, now only reverberated with the sounds of his steps alone; his and the specter of Death.

His crew had long since abandoned this edifice, this magnificent creation of an alien mind. The echoes of those minds were too strong, their remnants burned into the very metal itself.

Any who stayed too long soon began to see things from the corner of their eyes. Hear voices speaking to them, fearful voices, terrible voices, voices which spoke of madness and death.

Mfune understood.

He had been onboard the Aethership since its arrival. His ship and his welcome fleet waited nearby, disappointment wafting from them, a redolent wind even in the vacuum of space. Everyone had long waited for these benefactors of Humanity to arrive.

Humanity has waited for nearly three hundred years, two hundred of them spent in relentless combat. With each other.

When the Benai first sent messages to Earth, nearly three hundred years ago, it was a time of great trouble. Food shortages, drought, endless wars over resources were the only legacy of Earth at the time. It was estimated we would never see the end of the twenty first century.

With the air hotter than ever, almost all life in the oceans dead, we were poised for extinction, one last battle away from non-existence — when their message came.

SETI share it. It could be nothing but a message from an alien culture. Spliced together from transmissions from Earth, our simplest radio and television transmissions, they managed to send us a message that was unmistakably alien and still able to be accepted. Encoded within the transmission was information, alien technology which would open our solar system to us: the Aetherdrive.

Nullifying or concentrating gravity as we needed, we took to the planets, for the first time able to escape gravity wells without the need for mass. Only energy was required. The remnants of humanity came together one last time and we flew into our solar system, space between us relieving our tensions, our urge for exploration and technological advancement reignited. Nations staked out moons, other planets, asteroids and for a time, we found peace. A hundred years passed and we were explorers again.

It was not to last.

Mfune tugged his close fitting ceremonial uniform, feeling its age and antiquity upon it. An outfit for a war nearly a century out of date. A uniform worn by his father and his father before him, when expansion ceased, trade began and with trade, came inequalities and with inequality came frustration. And this soon lead to war. Small wars at first, the Aethertech we developed was not like theirs.

The commander looked around at the vastness of their construction and realized just how puny the largest of the human warships was in comparison. His science team had scoured the ship. There were medical technologies beyond our understanding — tools that reacted to mental directives, materials that took on shapes envisioned by the user.

Things that appeared as magic to us. The one thing we did not find were weapons. There were no weapons onboard this moon-like craft. Nothing that could easily harm another.

The supposition was they might not have needed to have active weapons, they created them only when needed. No need to keep an armory when you can envision your gun and have your ship make it on the spot.

Perhaps, but Mfune doubted that. His feel of the ship did not bespeak violence. It bespoke curiosity. It bespoke an urge to know, to learn, to embrace the new. And the voices which cried out in his mind, that leapt from the bulkheads, told him he was right.

So what happened to them? Why was there only this one remaining? Out of fear or perhaps reverence, no one touched the one corpse, this starchild of an alien species. Scans were done, readings taken, tiny organic traces gathered.

All that Human science could accomplish in the twenty third century, a century after we had realized the foolishness of war, had been done. At the end of the Final Human War, it was called, we experienced a renaissance, a new Golden Age.

An age we were hoping to show to the Benai. An age of enlightenment which revealed to us what the Benai already knew; how to take the Aethership to near light speeds. Fast enough to travel to other stars. We wanted to show them we had learned, evolved and could one day, maybe be their equals, with their help.

How could we know, the Benai had continued to monitor us? To watch us grow and develop. Watch us step out into space and explore our planets. To watch us wage countless new wars, more terrible than any before them.

Mfune walked into what was believed to be the command structure of the ship and where the sole occupant of the craft resided. While few could even enter this room without the ghosts overwhelming them, Mfune, a remnant of a warrior age, knew this feeling.

He touched the alien and its memories filled him. Memories of the madness that swept through the Benai as they listened to the transmissions of our wars. The horror they experienced as we senselessly destroyed one another with the tools and technology they had innocently given us.

Tools they had never thought to make war with. Mfune gently cradled the alien body. Deceptively light, its consciousness suffused him, he could see Human madness sweeping through the Benai, like a contagion. They destroyed themselves as each became exposed to the recordings.

They thought they knew the depths of what we could become. They thought they could withstand our cruelty to teach us a better way. The longer they watched, the more of our madness spread to them. In the century left to their arrival, they went mad.

Some dropped dead on the spot. Others fled and threw themselves into airlocks and fled into space. Ever dutiful, their starship cleaned up after them, reintegrating them with the materials of their ship, embodying their very essence within its walls.

This last member of their crew isolated himself in the command area and refuse to interact with the crew, refused to listen to any of the recordings and his was the last message sent to Earth before we lost all communication with them during the Last Great Human War.

“We loved you. And we are undone.”

Mfune volunteered for this mission, for no one could make sense of the message in during the Second Golden Age of Man. He wanted to be the first to understand why such a strange message was sent when the first ones were so hopeful.

He opened the isolation pod and placed the Starchild within. The ship seemed to respond to him now, he had been onboard for so long. With an understanding given to him by his connection to the Benai, he redirected the ship and plotted a course that would take the Aethership into the sun.

The samples collected from the Benai would be isolated and returned to Earth for storage. His priority one message indicated everyone who had entered this ship be kept apart from the population and quarantined until they could be cleared for duty. All information on the Benai would be stored until a coalition of worlds could decide what should be done with it.

One technology from the Benai nearly destroyed Humanity. What would an entire ship full of of their technology, gear we can barely understand, do to us?

As Mfune made his way to his shuttle, he considered the courtmartial he was liable to be subject to as the alien starship vanished into the Aether and plunged into the sun. “Why,” they would shout, “What wealth of knowledge we could have possessed from them?”

Humanity, all of its factions, would give chase, eager to understand all that they could learn. But the Benai ship was superior in every way. No one would be able to catch it or stop it. It’s plunge into the sun was one of the media sensations of the era. Mfune was lauded and castigated, often in the same breath.

As he arrived on his flagship, a response would already be waiting regarding his directives. Outrage from the scientists, now recovered from the alien influence, would be demanding their liberty and their research. His words would stand.

On his trip back to Earth, his courtmartial was scheduled. Unsurprised, he already knew what he would say.

Resplendent in his father’s uniform he stood before the tribunal, defiant. He wore his father’s uniform, closely reminiscent of his own but a reminder, a remnant of a war, no one dared forget — The darkest chapter in Humany history.

“Explain yourself” was the general sentiment in the roaring tribunal chambers. Gone was the decorum he had come to know from previous visits, this was the shouting of factions, of groups who had already considered what could have been learned, what advantages each group had lost. A golden age had drawn to a close.

He responded simply. “The Benai were a simple people. They created complex technologies, to be sure, but they were a people of spirit, powerful of mind, generous to a fault.” His words silenced the room eager to hang him for his perfidy and incalculable loss.

“Recordings of our violence, as they approached the Earth, drove the crew aboard that great ship mad. These were a people who knew little of violence, of lack, of war. From what I was able to learn of them, war was the concept of ours they understood the least.”

“Look at you. In this room which has stood as a bastion for justice for a century, you would now revert to your factions in the face of opportunity over one another. Dominance we had set aside for the overall good of mankind. But you see, I do not believe we have changed at all. I believe what we have done is temporary as it has been in the past.”

“We hunted, we gathered, we squabbled. We created, we learned. We changed. We created agriculture and formed small towns, villages, townships, cities, states, and nations. Each time change took place, war followed us. We learned from war, we learned through war, we changed because of war. And a period of peace followed.”

“The Benai did not learn that way. They were cooperative always. Their shared telepathy made acts against each other an act against themselves. The idea of our violence rendered them unable to continue their very existence. We were a mental infection, our violent nature became a meme they could not withstand.”

Only one voice could speak out now, the leader of the Colonies, an arrogant man whose role was as much a testament to his quest for power as his ability to lead men. “How does this excuse your treasonous act? With such technology we could have surely resolved many of the issues which prevent us from traveling to the stars. Commander, I demand you explain how your historical lesson is relevant.”

Mfune looked up and the spirit of the Benai filled him. An acute awareness of the limitations of unconnected minds. He strove to be clearer. “Humanity is an expansionist species. We grow to fill the container we reside it. When we reach the limits of the container, we do not stop growing. We do not regulate our development, we do not even acknowledge our limit. We exceed them and expect technology to resolve the issue.

Such resolution is never without cost. Inevitably we would likely go to war as we exhaust our solar system. Such pressures would invariably lead us to seek to expand again. Should we acquire their technology, as we did through their largess in the past, I expect we would expand, and as is our nature wage war on each other.”

Tears streaking down his face, he glared at each of the counselors in turn. “With our complete knowledge derived from their ship, we would want to go to their worlds. What would protect them from us?”

The tribunal was silent.

Justice was swift. Mfune left his command and many of his faithful left with him. Together, they founded a coalition with a single purpose. To warn the Benai, that Humanity was coming.

The Starchild revealed what they needed to know. Through Mfune, together the two of them would teach what they needed to learn. It would be decades while Humanity waged what would one day be called the Expansionist Era brought on by the fragments of knowledge learned from the few hours onboard that great starship.

An aging Mfune hoped there would still be time to save the Benai. The Starchild resonated within Mfune’s mind, assured him there would be.

Starchild © Thaddeus Howze 2015, All Rights Reserved.
Painting “Starchild” © Cedric Peyravernay, All Rights Reserved

Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980's doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration and IT leadership.

His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project,, and He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.

He is now a moderator and contributor to the with over a thousand articles in a three year period. He is now an author and contributor His science fiction and fantasy has appeared in blogs such as, the Magill Review,, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found hereHe also maintains a wide collection of his writing and editing work on

His speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies: Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short (2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (2012), and Possibilities (2012).

He has written two books: a collection called Hayward’s Reach (2011) and an e-book novella called Broken Glass (2013). In 2015 he will be releasing Visiting Hours and A Millennium of Madness, two collections of short stories.

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30 Cubed is Over!

My writing challenge for May, 30 Cubed, is OVER. 

You can partake of these stories here:

30 stories in 30 days introducing 30 new characters has, as usually, been both grueling and gratifying. I also had four other writers who participated and I have watched their works improve every day. (You guys were great!)

For myself, I have completed 24 of the 30 days with a new or continuing tale of speculative fiction. As usual, I tried not to tackle low hanging fruit: no vampires, no werewolves, no zombies. To make it harder, I would not tell more than one tale of alien invasion (though I love them so). This month has netted me about 40,000 words, give or take.

I created or augmented four serials, one of which I will be entering into Jukepop this month as an ongoing story.

Serials (4)

Air Conditioning (Parts 1-5) - I always write a tale of alien invasion. In this story, the aliens are completely oblivious to the existence of Humans on Earth, since they never touch down on the surface of the planet and don't appear to notice Humanity at all. Humanity's reaction to the creature, however, varies wildly.

A Mistress in Thunder - The Spear of Heaven (parts 1 and 2) - Started as part of a serial I was writing elsewhere, I found the character of Radi, the Mistress in Thunder, warrior, titan and all around bad-ass, too compelling to not start more than one thread at the same time. I have three different points in the character's life and it has been a excellent story so far.

Apostate, Magus, Barbarian (3) I also added to the first Radi, Mistress of Thunder serial stream with the beautiful, fierce and oh so Black princess and her two future companions, Uriel the Magus, less than evil sorcerer of the Shattered Realms and Kom the Ukla who has a penchant for mega-violence and a love of fried human fingers...

More Tales of Tech Support: I added to the already over-the-top adventures of a technical support agent for Farnsworth's Monster Emporium and Death-Ray dealership, Todd. In this selection, Todd is winnowing down the candidates for the next hiring wave. Like everything Todd does, he maintains his aplomb under the most difficult circumstances.

Writing Prompts (7)

Five of the stories were writers prompts from other publications or contests with strict limits on what I could produce. Limitations force me to be creative and to envision stories I might not otherwise try. Writing prompts can make you grow.

1. Come Forth the Rising Tide required I take five random characters from a list on Chuck Wendig's site and weave them into a short story. (I will probably make something much longer because I had so much fun with the characters.)

2. Yearning was a photo prompt from which has become one of their featured stories when I was done. It can be found on their site.

These three stories were written for a UK short story contest of 500 words and a sensory theme. I will be submitting them on Monday.

3. Betwixt: An avenger of a South American tribe takes the battle to his corporate enemies after being empowered by two opposing mystic forces.

4. Bismillah: An Middle Eastern son of a sheikh loses his vision and discovers his senses and mind growing more acute to compensate.

5. Damned Decent: A Good Samaritan meets an unusual stranded vehicle on the side of the road and offers to help.

6. Can You Make Room for the Impossible? A biomech research officer, MX2 and Scoutship Pilot Alena Maximoff investigate a survey call from a planet with wildly conflicting data, unusual enough for a Scoutship to consider investigating. This story came from a writing prompt sent to me by a friend on I have written five other stories on his site, so we have become friends.

7. Adleiavde: A tale of a young man and his quantum-challenged feline, Addie who had a habit of appearing exactly as people wanted him to be... This was a writing prompt from my monthly writing group I participate with on LinkedIn Sci-Fi Readers, Writers, Collectors and Artists. I won the month of May with this short story and plan on submitting it to Daily Science Fiction for publication.

Clifford Engram, Paranormal Investigator (4) - Keeping Engram in my mind for his next adventures, I planted four seeds.

1. A Drink and A Smile: A rendezvous with an old girlfriend in order to get information on a case, leads to gratuitous violence, poison and death. Not a strange outing considering Engram used to date a Dweller-in-the-Dark.

2. With Just a Spot of Darkness - Introducing Ink, reveals another primary group of metaphysical entities who believe it is their duty to protect the human race by rendering judgement on it. Ink works for them but disagrees with the process. She and Engram are sure to butt heads in the future.

3. The aforementioned Betwixt, where Paulo harasses the megacorporation which destroyed the rainforest where his tribe once dwelled peacefully. Now Paulo living between all concepts exacts his cruel revenge.

4. How the Other Half Lives: A tale of a family whose patriarch is unable to come home and meets his family for the first time on a trip to a very far away beach. Clifford Engram will meet this family in the future. They will not invite him to the beach...

ONE SHOTS (6): Stories not related to anything else. They come, they go and blaze like meteors in a summer sky, brief but awesome.

1. The Moment of Truth: A knight on a long quest decides he has done enough for the world and wants to just go home free of predestined events. It is dark humor best suited for those who know a bit of roleplaying games and how gamemasters force players on adventures.

2. Sterlings: A hot-blooded scientist, after discovering a plant which can survive and transform water from saline to fresh, realizes he wants to try and woo his equally passionate wife back. His flower of choice is the sterling rose he created in his lab.

3. Sun Kings: A tale of aliens on a mission of mercy. They arrive near Earth to recharge within our sun and to inform us that an extinction-level-event is going to happen soon and there is nothing they can do to help us except...

4. Night Terrors and the Bears who Abet Them: A strange story of a legendary Teddy Bear and the Night Terror trained by him.

5. Humanity Redux: An alien intelligence watches Humanity as we go through a growth state without being aware of how far we've already come.

6. Uncovered: A writer has died and learned he was not quite good enough to get into Heaven. His only hope is for his work to be discovered in the future and inspire enough people to have his sentence changed. But almost all copies of his work have been destroyed after World War II...

What will I do after I come back from the brink of Madness?

Send stories to anyone and everyone who is interested. Retool my websites to account for these new stories and my latest work on I have written thirty stories there since the beginning of the year in addition to these.

Most importantly get my work out there. My social media work has paid off and continues to grow my readership. My blog/websites are slowly coming along and I hope the retool will increase my readers further. I will be extending several of my other serials as well, focuses on finishing them and putting them into print.

We are at the midpoint of the year and I had planned to sell 18 stories this year. I am up to number 10 and have eight more to go. It has been slow going but I am not about to give up now. We are going to INCREASE SPEED, not slow down.

LET'S KEEP WRITING. If you need a writing partner, look me up.

I have a writer's group on Facebook: 'Dammit, I'm a Sci-Fi Writer, Not a Doctor': and we are always looking for new voices of genre and speculative fiction to share ideas, blogs, and stories:

You can find my speculative fiction at:

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Of Comets and Gods in the Making

Asferit had not grown up; she didn’t know where she came from; could not conceive of childhood. No memories of parents, no recollection of family. On the vast empty world that served as her lab, she built the probes and put a little bit of herself in each one.

Her machine-form, ancient, slow and sputtering came to life, wheezing through the long corridors of the silent lab, its darkness masking the distant empty spaces which Asferi imagined were once filled with life.

She looked through her thoughts and realized she had lost any hope of memory, that part of her was already circling a distant star aborning with life. She looked in on those places when she woke to see the results of her work; on so many worlds life spawned.

With the next launch, she would lose the memory of those places, there was so little of her remaining. Enough for three, no four probes. Then she would cease to remember why she was, what she was. She would forget how to exist. But not yet.

She completed the next probe, winding the engine and orienting it along the galactic plane; her sensor array aligning the probe with a wandering comet; she planned to deposit herself within the life-giving molecules within its frozen mass.

She knew little about her past, but knew that she must not be able to be found. This was the only memory that remained; hide from the Darkness.

As she loaded the last probe, she considered the first probe she ever sent, millennia ago; there were monuments within the halls of the lab in her hubris then, she considered them a successful reincarnation of her people.

Each representation was filled with the temporal signature of that once great race; a temporal residue of failure. It spoke of a great race, masters of time and space; they flourished in the dark between the stars. Then the Darkness came. She was overconfident. She slept assured of their success her mission completed.

In the time between sleeping and waking, her cycle of regeneration before attempting to seed again, the great race was gone.

Found. They did not heed the warnings she sent in those early days. She gave far more of herself then. She came to them in visions, taught them secrets to harness the hidden nature of matter; revealed to them the nature of energies, both planetary and interstellar. They would worship her, revere her and believe her to be a god.

In the end, it was not enough. They were consumed, their greatness undone. She sent less and less of herself from then on. Godhood failed them. Perhaps obscurity would serve them better.

She sent less each time, only tiny packages of micromachines capable of changing matter, capable of modifying genomes, empowering the creatures spawned of her with abilities even greater than the First Race. Psychometric representations of them were all that remained, echoes in the timestream of history. In their hubris, they ruptured time and space and like the world her lab hung above, cracked the crust of their world and were lost in a temporal vortex of their own making. They had such potential. Squandered.

Then she began sending only the memory of what she was, embedded within complex epigentic echoes. No longer would she shape the universe for them, they would have to work for their survival, perhaps they would be stronger for it. She appeared to her descendents only in dreams; visions of what they were, memories of who she was, memories she no longer possessed.

Her memory was great once and she seeded thousands of worlds with it. But like the ephemeral nature of memory, so few knew what they saw. Many went mad. Most dreamed of demiurges, mad deva whose powers ravaged worlds. These memories destroyed half of them before they could achieve spaceflight and reach for the stars themselves. Religions they spawned consumed them.

Now, she sent only cells and precellular matter. The very least of herself, the essence of who she was, the final matter of her being; hidden in comets, cloaked in meteor swarms, hidden on the boots of other starfarers.

Time had taught her patience, though she had lost her memories, she was confident of this final strategy. To hide herself on millions of worlds, her final probe-ships would leave a legacy on millions of worlds. She found the last star she would use and loaded the final probe-ship with the hardiest constructions she had ever made. She deconstructed the worldship; her lab, her home for millenia of millenia, breaking down every part of it, reforging it for a final effort.

The planet below was also consumed, her last effort would require everything. It was a long dead world lost to antiquity when the universe was young. Of the Darkness, she could not remember, but she knew this: as long as there was light, her people would survive.

The final instructions to her probeship would have her descending into her planet’s unstable star. It’s final fluctuations revealed what she knew was the inevitable outcome; and she planned to use it to her advantage. Her final self would not be aware of the result. The final cells of her body were distributed within millions of pieces of her world and her lab. Each calibrated to arrive at a star somewhere in her galaxy. Each single cell would find a world ready for life.

She could no longer coerce planets into life. She could no longer force matter or energy to take the shape she deemed. She was now only able to influence the tiniest aspects. Asferit would only be able to nudge a planet toward Life. The Darkness would always be ready to claim her people but now they would be scattered; to worlds with the galaxy and without.

She seeded the galactic wind and waited for a supernova to blow them where it would. Her starseeds hardened against the impending blastwave, they would, with the tiniest bit of her final design, travel faster than light toward their final destinations.

As the star which lit her world, gave her people life, watched them die and patiently waited until they could be reborn, exploded, Asferit now waited in turn.

In those last seconds as the waves of radiation and coronal debris swept over the remnants of her cannibalized world, she subsumed herself within the starseeds and the near-immortal being Asferit, last of her kind, was no more.

And yet now she was pure purpose, no ambitions, no plan, no dreams of godhood, no longer a radiant harbingers of dooms lighting the skies of primitive worlds.

She would be the essence of Life itself; the Darkness be damned.

Of Comets and Gods in the Making © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved

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Review of Mothership Anthology from Analog


REVIEW: Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond

This article was originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact 

Edited by Bill Campbell & Edward Austin Hall

Rosarium Publishing, 350 pages, $19.95 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9891411-4-7

Genre: Original Anthology

Mothership is billed as presenting “just a part of the changing face of speculative fiction,” and features thirty-nine stories by forty writers of color. Some are familiar names (Tobias Buckell, S.P. Somtow), while others are up-and-comers.

As you might expect from the term “speculative fiction,” not all of these stories are science fiction—there’s fantasy, steampunk, and horror as well. And despite the term “Afrofuturism,” these stories aren’t limited to the concerns of Africa or African-Americans. Frankly, what we have here is simply an anthology of good stories.

Market realities dictate that it’s not enough to have good stories by relatively unfamiliar writers—there has to be a gimmick. In this case, readers need to look past the gimmick at the stories themselves.

Mothership’s keyword is “diversity.” If these stories share anything, it’s that they spring more from the tradition of literary SF than from the Campbell era. To put it in magazine terms, you’d see most of these stories in Asimov’s or Fantasy & Science Fiction before you’d see them in Analog. Not surprising, really—the editors come from academia. Don’t let that deter you.

Among the standouts in this volume are Thaddeus Howze’s “Bludgeon,” a Twilight Zone-ish tale of alien invasion with a surprise ending; Carlos Hernandez’s “The Aphotic Ghost,” in which a father comes to terms with his talented son’s death on Mount Everest; and Nisi Shawl’s “Good Boy,” a parable of virtual reality.

If there’s anything missing from this volume, it’s background on the contributors. Yes, one can always turn to the Internet—but I kept wishing there was an “about the authors” section.

For readers who want to see more diversity in SF, Mothership is definitely worth the price.

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Never Late

It’s bath day.

My wrist itched from where my voidwatch had been part of my flesh. I rubbed it, missing the tech beneath my skin. Once a transtemporal connection to my voidship, now only flaking skin remained.

I don’t remember the last time we had a bath. I refuse to even attempt the mad rush. Eighty inmates in this section alone, six sinks, we get herded in, naked, filthy and play russian roulette with sinks, each sink may distribute water, this time, maybe not.

Just another psychological ploy, like keeping us dirty, introducing lice into the facility, food just shy of being spoiled and completely unedible.

The real goal is to break us.

To anchor us in time. To make us atone for our sins. To remind us we were not God.

Here away from voidships, away from temporal loci, we were just men subject to the irreversible hands of causality. I remember so many lives being at the center of a temporal locus, so many experiences, cheating the rules of reality.

Sitting on the event horizon of a black hole, I have just this one timestream. Crushing. Heavy. Inescapable.

I know where the nooks and crannies are and I hide when the gulag’s guards come around for bath day.

My guard came and left. I climbed back into the window and waited. Waited for the trail. Waited for the sign the Venture had come for me. She always came for me. But she didn’t come today. Or tomorrow. Or for many days after.

Years passed. I looked less and less. I did what I could to stay physically fit. But conditions in the gulag meant I spent more time sick and more than once I nearly died. But I never stopped looking. Then I realized, without my voidwatch, they would never find me. They needed a sign.

After a decade as a model prisoner, which meant selling out others, killing bastards who tried to kill me first, and providing favors to people I couldn’t kill outright, I became the head of the ship fueling detail. Today, thirty years after arriving in this gulag, I would leave here or die.

No one asked what I was doing onboard the warden’s yacht. It was my job. No one knew what I did before I came here, so reprogramming its navigation was child’s play. I waited until the fuel depot was completely full before enacting my scheme. The fuel was stored beneath the prison.

I watched the warden take off, he and most of his administrative detail were taking a vacation to someplace warm and beautiful. I had forgotten warmth and eschewed beauty. I had forgotten having been the master of my fate and the captain of my voidship.

I had become mean and petty. The truth was I had given up on rescue. This was now, just revenge. I watched the yacht arch into the heavens, its drive supplementing its antigrav, then I imagined their inability to control it as it dived toward the fuel depot.

I laughed maniacally as I saw them plunging into the atmosphere, heating up, knowing they would survive until impact.

I thrilled to the fuel explosions as they spread across the prison faster than they could be suppressed. I tossed the fire suppression module out the window of my cell.

My vanity fell away. We weren’t gods. We hadn’t the right to change reality to our whims. I made peace with my end.

As the fireball consumed the prison below me, I saw the arc of the voidship Venture as it fell from the heavens. Not in time enough for me. Fire became my world.

At this distance, I could hear her in my mind, again. That familiar song as she bent time and space. “You came.”

“I will always be there for you.” Her voice soothing, filled my consciousness, became all consuming, my death fell away.

“You’re late.”

“A timeship is never late, my love. Regulations notwithstanding, I will rescue you.”

“I know.”

I fall away into the darkness, away from her light, and I died. Again.

But not alone this time.

It’s bath day. Its been a month since I’ve been clean, but I know she will come for me.

She would move a universe.

Never Late © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Small Fish, Big City

Cover for new serial

Small Fish, Big City - Chapter 1

Matthew discovers the laundromat in his new home of Big City to be just a little bit stranger than he initially thought:

Small Fish, Big City - Chapter 2

After recovering from the unusual nature of the laundromat, Matthew discovers the phenomenon he has discovered has a name. They are called kami! -

Small Fish, Big City - Chapter 3

Big City has one more lesson before the day is over for Matthew. Gangs rule the night...:

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The Last Divide

The Internet spawned many an unusual technology but none as strange as the Death-Web; a way to allow users to communicate after death with notations, salutations, benedictions and predictions pre-programmed before a person died; a message-in-a-bottle through Time.

Its early adopters were people who knew their impeding time drew near and wanted to leave data-rich missives to loved ones. The terminally ill found it to be of great comfort knowing they could leave messages on anniversaries, birthdays and other important milestones.

But like all things internet others soon found unexpected uses for the idea and began leaving predictions of the future, sometimes of technology, others of faith, some of war and occasionally a well-connected master gardener or farmer might leave a local almanac of planting seasons.

Eventually, it found followers among the technorati who wanted to have an opinion about everything even if they had already died. The technorati and futurists predicted technologies decades into the future and configured the Death-Web to release them upon their death. Keyword algorithms would release their predictions either on the date they were programmed for or in concert with news from active data streams indicating their prediction had come true sooner than expected. To be fair, most tech pundits weren't good at prognostication, but as more of them passed on, that changed.

Living wills were composed on the Death-Web with pre-programmed videos of people mooning hated relatives and leaving vast fortunes to a favored cat or dog. Cuckolded husbands were told off by browbeaten wives, dark secrets revealed to angry children who could no longer take revenge on loathsome parents. As terrible as these things seem, beautiful things were left as well. Graduation videos, songs for anniversaries, still-living eulogies delivered by the Dead at their own funerals.

The Death-Web grew along side the internet, a morbid shadow mimicking life so well, after a while, it began to have an existence all to itself, with predictions for everything from weather, to the stock exchange, world politics and even celebrity gossip. Ten years of Oscar predictions and the Death-Web was always better at picking movies than the living were.

At some point the Live-Web and the Death-Web began to share information, at first tangentially, communication with the Dead were marked as such. Then invisibly, without fanfare, without people being made aware, the Dead were again, among the living. Software algorithms were written which could take an existing stream of social media and extrapolate from the Dead's living stream of choices what choices they might make of new things and ideas. These Amalgams of the social media of a now Dead person, could continue if they chose, to share, curate, and even hold limited conversations with the Living.

Then people began to realize something strange. Not that this wasn't already strange; something really strange. The Dead were right more often than the Living about almost everything.

No one was sure why this was true. Was it a side effect of people only willing to be honest when they had no stake in the game? Were people who knew they were going to die, revealing secrets they would never tell anyone while they were alive? This was a talk show subject of statistical debate for nearly ten years, while the Death-Web grew larger and more accepted worldwide. As families continued to support and pay for services for the Dead, programmers began creating software for the Death-Web at the same rate as any other environment. Companies started developing and harnessing infrastructure for this aberration-turned-engine of prediction.

And then, in a series of events, a group of stockbrokers joined the Death-Web unexpectedly. No one would have noticed them except for their social media streams right after their deaths, predicted an epic crash of the stock markets. All of them. They were dead when their predictions were seen but they had been written while they were alive. At least at first. After their buffered accounts had emptied, their accounts continued to predict the market with alarming accuracy. The source of these predictions could not be ascertained, the only thing known for certain was their accuracy. Soon their calls of collapse were being re-shared, repeated, even cast as news among the Living. And as the market reacted, confidence teetered. Something needed to be done.

Tech-seers, who managed the accounts of the Dead, sought out tampering because before this trinity, predictions were accurate but sporadic. The stopped clock metaphor was liberally applied. The Stockbroker Trinity's predictions were not a single event but a stream of events which predicted the slow transformation of the economy and the eventual failure of commerce from a single series of purchases of stock. They told who would make the stocks buys, why they would, and what the result would be. The Tech-seers found no explanation and repeated the mantra "The Living guess, the Dead know" and continued in their work. Their research revealed no tampering and yet these three brokers would consistently predict the stock market for the next two years. After their deaths. Accurately. In a way no living person had or could. They became more successful in death than they ever were in life.

The government monitored the Death-Web much like they did any other social media network. Initially, no one considered anything said there to be of any import, but as time progressed, the Death-stream was a better predictor of human behavior than anything seen before it. Local skirmishes, the next meme, the next great celebrity, the Death-Web was a form of social consciousness, un-tethered from the meat which once created it, unconstrained, un-repentant and alarmingly accurate. No one was ever able to take credit for its capabilities, and once the Deathstream software was ubiquitous, freely given away on the Internet, it was unable to be stopped. It has become a network unto itself.

When the three brokers and their attendant social media streams predicted the market more accurately than living economists, this was not lost on national security agencies, which made every effort to find the companies involved in their predictions and quietly derail their corporate structures in a effort to prevent the impending economic collapse. Their efforts were successful and the predictions of the three brokers, for a time were broken. The Trinity was dead. Again.

The CEO and the board of directors of the corporation upon whom the blame was being placed for this barely averted collapse were killed in a plane crash in the Swiss Alps. Though the outcome was considered tragic, the problem was resolved to the satisfaction of the three-letter agencies worldwide.

The stock market did not collapse and the Death-Web, now behind closed doors called the Seer-web, had proven its value as a potential tool of social management. For another decade, Humanity and its data shadow moved in step, one arrogant in life, the other truthful in death. And three-letter agencies everywhere trembled in fear; for what can you hold over the Dead to keep any secret?


The Last Divide © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved

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The Light at the End of the World

I woke up excited for the first time in fifty years. It was the end of the world.

This time we were certain of it. Scientists confirmed it. I saw it on the news. I got up and put on a nice shirt I stole yesterday. First time I shoplifted since I was a kid. It was a riot going on that day, too.

People have quieted down since the countdown clock has been running everywhere that still has power.

People started setting their watches to the recordings that will interrupt radio broadcasts. Where you can still get radio, that is. My clock was set and reset until scientists had calculated it down to the last second.

The end of the world will be exactly 12/21/21 at 3:33 AM GMT. My pants were pressed for the first time in twenty years. I had gotten out of the habit since my wife left me. Something about my lack of driving ambition. That and the fact she thought I was crazy.

You see, I knew this was going to happen. I told everyone but no one believed me. You wouldn't either but that's okay. At the time, I didn't either. I dreamed this. The date, the time, everything. I just didn't know what I was seeing at the time. My psychiatrist called it a prescient delusion and it wasn't anything to worry about. He said after some therapy I'd be fine. At two hundred dollars an hour, he picked fine time to be wrong.

Until newscasters started talking about it, I admit I didn't even know what a comet was.

Yes, they talked about it in school when I was a kid, but I admit science class was not someplace I admit to paying much attention to, except when we got to cut up frogs and make their legs move when we connected them to batteries. Science, I figured who ever used it anyway.

The first time I had the dream, I was a child. It was a dark, except for fires I could see burning all around me. The city was aflame. The buildings on my skyline were all dark, like a blackout in the summer. I could hear people wailing in the distance. No cars moved, and the summer air was hot, filled with stinging smoke, which would have made my eyes water, if I could dare close them. I look up. I wake up.

I put on dress shoes and tied my tie. I learned to finally tie one four years ago because I went to a job I positively loved. They required a tie and jacket. After all those years working as an unwanted project manager for ungrateful companies, I made it into lower management. That was three years before it was discovered.

My years in the workforce were as monotonous and crushing as everything in my life had ever been. Ill-used, ill-favored, no decision I ever made worked out right, and I absolutely never got the girl. I had been told every man is the hero of his own story.

Don't believe that. We are all extras in some famous person's life. Just ask them. They'll tell you.

Then I had The Dream one more time four years ago. It had been decades since I had it and I knew it immediately. I was walking the street in a nice suit. One from my new job where I was in a position to make changes I thought were important, where my voice was heard and my projects came in on time and under budget. I pushing past people on the street, running to my brownstone. They were all looking up. I knew I had to be somewhere and they were in my way.

I was running out of time. It was three AM and I promised I would be there.

Though there were no street lights, everywhere was lit, with a foxfire brilliance, light, soft, diffused, set people's faces in an eerie glow, shimmering, beautiful, except for the rictus of horror twisted in every face I saw. Mothers holding their children, lovers embracing, people running through the streets holding TVs, their cords dragging behind them.

Despite all of this, the only thing you ever hear is the wind and the weeping. It is a constant thing, the wind. Newscasters tried to explain it but no one was listening. Something about the size and mass of the Comet. People stopped listening once they learned it would strike the Earth.

Doomsday cults appeared like roaches under a kitchen sink, first jubilant their day had finally arrived; then petulant because no one believed them, they had been right. Being right has become so important to some people. Then they grew truculent, dangerous as their righteousness overwhelmed their moral imperatives and the growing realization the end of the world included them. Fortunately, most people simply killed them outright, fearing moral and judicial authorities no longer mattered.

There was surprisingly little violence after people screaming the end of the world from every corner were silenced from a populace grown tired of fear. It was a strange precipitous thing, because it was thought to have occurred all over the world within a single day. I think a subconscious shudder through the collective mind shouted back at them. We got it. The end of the world is nigh. Now shut the hell up.

People slowly tapered off from going to work in the last year. That is where I met her in my last years working, the only job I ever loved.

She was beautiful, not the classical sense of beauty, but in a way I could be comfortable with. Not the awe-full kind of beauty which makes men stupid. A quiet beauty, one that drew me inexorably to her. She was kind even in a world gone straight to hell. I learned she was married and that didn't matter much to me at the end of the world. She came to my house and eventually she took me to hers. Her husband had stopped speaking once you could see the Comet during the day. At night it dominated the sky but once it could be seen during the day, people began to do strange things. His lack of speech was far less dramatic than most. Suicide suddenly became a competition sport.

In comparison her husband Dave, just sat in his living room looking out the window at the damn comet. He didn't talk. Only got up to replenish his drink, go to the john, go outside to get food. He listened to us making love frantically, desperately, in the next room. We made love under the light of the end of the world. I wanted him to be angry. I wanted him to say something. I wanted things to be normal. I wanted to believe we had a future. He never made a sound. Never moved a muscle.

I heard the pigeons on the fire escape in front of his chair fly away. The pigeons were always there and only moved when he did. It was three months ago he got up and staggered past us. We didn't bother to close the door anymore. I can only assume he thought we were sleep, he looked in at us and then he walked out the door. He never came back.

On the last day I wanted to look my best. I told her I was going to go home and change. I didn't live too far away, I thought today would be like any other. People had started staying home, doing very little. No one picked up trash, and it was amazing we hadn't lost water over much of New York. I guess, unlike the garbage men, water treatment found someone willing to work during the apocalypse.

The power went out for the last time in New York at midnight. It was the only blackout we knew would happen. I had grown used to walking to her house, first in the dark, and now in the light at the end of the world.

The people were in place. The roving bands stealing right up to the end. We were all where we were supposed to be. Except for me. A traffic accident I didn't see in my dream slowed me down. Now I would be late. I couldn't be late. I ran. My shoes pinched my feet. I didn't remember that from the dream either. I saw people just staring up. My alarm on my watch went off at 3:20 and I was still ten blocks away. I tore off my shoes and ran barefoot, shoving the statues staring skyward out of my way. No one objected. Most of them didn't even notice me; and to be honest I didn't care either way.

Fires from nearby buildings lit the street as I ran and my eyes watered and teared but nothing was going to stop me from reaching her. My alarm sounded again at 3:30 and I saw her running down the street to me.

She was wearing my favorite white blouse. The one I met her in. So many years ago when I was certain my life had turned around. It was her sad smile that told me I would spend all my life with her. I grabbed her and the smell of honey-suckle filled my nostrils. She was warm and soft. I closed my eyes. I drank in those last seconds. The wind picked up, gusting strongly now, the cries grew louder in the distance, a collective gasp against the coming night. She squeezed me tight.

She turned me and said "Look."

My alarm went off. I looked into the light.

The Light at the End of the World  © Thaddeus Howze 2012. All Rights Reserved

Thaddeus Howze

Hub City Blues

Veni, Scribo, Vici (I came, I wrote, I conquered)

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Is the short story dead in our modern age?

Not Dead Yet

In my LinkedIn account a writing group asks the question is the short story a viable medium today or should people just write novels.

The Short Story is very much alive today.

Not only is it alive but it must continue to thrive. There are far too many writers out there who believe that telling stories is about stretching out a tale. They have learned the greatest tricks for embellishing and creating tangents which don't add to the story, only extend it. The short story forces you to choose. To chose something, anything, and get to the heart of the matter. Telling the story.

Is the medium for stories harder to fit into? Maybe, but I don't think so. We are living in an age where the issue is not finding someplace that will take our work, but competing against an entire planet of people who have the capacity to place their work into the arena with yours. A battle-royal of literary significance takes place whenever we write now.

Believe it or not this is a good thing. Pretenders will fall by the wayside, even as books such as Twilight get their moment in the sun, that time will pass. Only writers who stay the course, master the craft and connect with reputable distribution methods (whether that be through self publishing, small press, or the Big Six (er...Five)) opportunity waits around every corner.

There are 300 channels on television waiting to have something to be seen there. Internet television is growing at an exponential rate as well. Thousands of magazines, online and print pop into and out of existence each year, like the quantum foam underlying the universe. Blogs, news services, radio programs, movies, all sit waiting for that vital resource that short story writers have: crazed imagination willing to delve into the darkest corners of human experience to find the light (or more darkness, if that is your thing). We live in an age where, if we do our jobs right, force companies to acknowledge the value of the CREATIVE engine, we could conceivably change our world.

Doubt it? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ridley Scott thought so. He based his career of off that very short, very strange story. He and Phillip K. Dick altered the consciousness of a society, asking questions we didn't know we would ever have. There is a future out there for writers, short stories or novels, but only if we are willing to seize the opportunity before another movie producer or television hack decides we should have another variation on Sleeping Beauty or Hansel and Gretel.

Find your niche and fill it. Create your world, your view of it, populate it with beauty and dysfunction, reflect the world in all of its glory. Then release them again and again until they blot out the sun.

Make your place in the shade.


Thaddeus Howze

Hub City Blues

Veni, Scribo, Vici ("I came, I wrote, I conquered" from the Latin)

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