Category Archives: fiction

A Meditative Journey into the Cave of Fear

This story uses the prompt “Cave” and was written for the October “blog battle” at rachaelritchey.com,    https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/stories-cave/

Short Story by Sha’Tara

It began as a deliberate entry into a gaping opening in the side of a low mountain. I could hear water dripping from wet walls and feel the clinging cold dampness of the place. The question I had to face was whether to proceed into this cave. Of course I could not know the end of it without the experience of it, so I decided to enter.

There was a kind of track sloping down, made of natural crushed shale and slippery under my hiking shoes. After finding my balance, down I went, surrounded by a growing opaque darkness. I had no fire or flashlight, just my senses to guide me and my unquenchable curiosity to push me onward.

As I walked deeper into the cave, it became pitch black and I had to give up trying to use my eyes.  Without any light to define the surrounding darkness, there was nothing to see.  But wait, that’s when I “saw” a new kind of light, surreal, somewhat as depicted in Kirlian photographs.  I could see without seeing!  I could now step forward and down with greater confidence.  The water still dripped from the black walls and I could see it glistening on the ceiling.

There was a warm dankness about the place and I smelled an unpleasant odor. At this point the eerie lighting showed me a small tunnel branching off on the right. I walked to its entrance and saw a dry surface leading upward.  It had an easy walking surface, no loose rocks or shale, just flat grey rock.

Choice.  Should I take this inviting tunnel, or keep on the downward journey of the other one?  Something within me reasoned this drier tunnel would be a dead end, or take me back up and out the other side of the mountain.  I chose to continue down the original cave, ever deeper under the mountain.  That’s when I realized I had passed my first test.

I continued to question the purpose of this weird quest and who had carved these tunnels, and why?  Where was the King under the Mountain?  Where was the sound of hammers as Dwarves carved out the hard black rock to find their precious stones, their silver and gold?

“What will I find in the tunnel?” asks Luke Skywalker of Yoda.  “Fear” he replied.  “Your greatest fear.  Do not take your weapons down there, they will only contribute to your downfall.”  But the young, the rash, the foolish seldom listen to the voice of experience and wisdom.  He went fully armed into the tunnel to be  confronted by his arch-enemy, Darth Vader.  They fought.  Luke won and cut Vader’s head off.  When he looked into the terrible mask, his own face stared back at him.  Fear gives birth to anger, anger to hate and hate to death.  There is no escape. The undisciplined, un-empowered overconfident self is always our own worst enemy.

My fear of what lay ahead became palpable. I sensed a ‘Something’ not alive as we understand the concept and I knew it was lurking further down. It had eyes that could see the minutest details in the dark; that could see into the heart and find every weakness, every frailty, every shadow, every dark, hidden corner where residues of resentment, shame and guilt are stored.  That is what it wanted to feast upon.  It was starving for an orgy on human sin.

I knew then it would never let me leave this place, even if I turned and tried to run back up the way I’d come.  This was its world or perhaps better put, an underworld.  There were hidden passages I sensed as flow of air coming from the sides of the cave. It used these as shortcuts to waylay any creature that wandered this far.

If we intend to walk the darkness of the underworld we must not carry darkness within our mind-heart.  Only the pure of heart can pass unmolested to enter the sacred place of sacrifice.  Yes, that’s what had drawn me down this corridor of non-time.  I remembered what came at the end of this place: sacrifice and redemption.  I understood fully why the beast or beasts, for I now sensed many,  waylaid me.  If I passed, I would have a clear conscience and they would be defeated, left starving.  Thus I would be permitted to offer myself as a sacrifice upon the altar of fire at the end of this journey and in doing so I could call upon the great forces of spirit to grant my one wish. If I passed.

They knew.  And they came upon me to find my darkness; to feed on my fear, for fear is darkness.  I am so close to being devoured here.  I have no weapon with which to ward these starving demons.  I have no protection.  There is no place to turn, not even against a wall – they are all around me, salivating, snarling, growling.  “Give in to your fear… give in and hate me with all the passion that is within you.  Anticipate the pain you are going to endure when my poisoned fangs sink into your flesh, and scream your rage!”

This is when I found some of my power. “Peace!” I said to myself, I came to this place, to confront my fear and not to give in to it.  To test my resolve since that day long ago when I had made a decision and chosen my own name. Shalom Tara! I closed my eyes and slowly sank upon the rough floor.  Beings of light completed this vision then, approaching and taking my hands, helping me to stand and leading me through the rest of the way.

So did I pass my second test. The third has yet to come.

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Little Beaver

A short story, by Sha’Tara
(Part 2 – with last paragraph from part 1 to make the link)

They followed her until she came to the edge of a small lake. She made several signs in the water with her fingers, then stood facing the sun, not moving a muscle for a long time. It was as if she was asleep they said later. They approached stealthily, as trained hunters can do, two from one side, two from another and one from behind. When the one behind her was close enough to grab her, he stretched out his arm to put his hand around her throat. As he did so, she turned and let out a blood-curdling screech. Her right arm shot out and at the end, what seemed like huge talons, locked around the man’s neck and snapped it as if it was a dry twig. Still screeching, she unfolded huge wings and flew away to the west, over the trees.

The four men brought back the body of their dead comrade to the village and told their story.

At first no one believed them, but they saw the marks on the dead man’s neck and the story became more and more believable. I was confused. I thought I knew your mother quite well. I knew she was strong, but she was not a beast. I also knew she was a healer, not a killer. Your mother would not have killed the man, just beat him down and made sport of him, taunting him for being weaker than a mere woman. Then she would have challenged the other four men to try their skills against hers. She would have beaten them, as easily as an eagle takes a rabbit. I know this about your mother.

My son, sometimes people think they know the truth. Sometimes they believe that they saw what they say was there. I believe that there are others, like your mother, out there. Some are not like her in spirit. Perhaps these young fools thought they followed your mother, but I know she was a master at disappearing from any stalker. In fact that is the only time anyone was ever able to claim to have crept up on her unnoticed. I believe, to this day, that the creature they encountered was another one, perhaps a spirit which resembled her. I know it wasn’t your mother.

When she returned to the village after three suns she was smiling and happy. She showed unbelief when she heard the story, and would speak to no one. It was as if she was hurt by their willingness to believe such things of her. The story became a part of her legacy, nevertheless. She became restless again. You were three summers when she exuded that strange scent again, and I went with her to a hut in the forest. We made your sister that time. I will tell you about your sister, but for now, let me finish this part. I decided to return to the place where she had made the hut, after two suns had passed. There was no hut, not a single sign that anyone had ever been there. I know it was the right place. I had broken a twig to mark the place, and scuffed the earth in one spot. The broken twig was there, and the mark of my moccasin in the earth, but nothing else. No scent and no flowers. I was saddened and apprehensive.

When your mother began to show signs of being pregnant, I rejoiced. She had told me it was a girl child this time. It didn’t matter to me. You were so beautiful already, and slightly different than the other young children. You were already taller than all the others, and your eyes were of a yellow hue. Your hair, though thinner than mine, was longer and had the same strange waves in it. I knew by observing you that you would become a great hunter and chief in your time. I dreamt also of having a daughter who would be as strong and intelligent as your mother; a true Shaman, who would belong to the tribe, and not to the wilderness. We are too small a village to hire and keep our own Shaman. We need one born among us, one with the great powers of your mother, so the people from the other villages will respect us and come to us in their time of need. You see, as long as She-ya-neh, your mother, lived among us, we had no disease and we were never attacked or raided.

About four moons after we had been in the hut, your mother came to me at dusk. It was a beautiful evening after a sunset filled with the fire of the Great Spirit. It meant well for the fishing…

The man stopped here. He reached down and poked the embers of their small fire. The boy ran into the bushes then came back and wrapped a warm beaded blanket around his slim figure.

“Please continue, Father. When I am chief, I will need to know all about my mother, so I won’t have to listen to stories made up to make her look bad and discredit my place among the elders.”

“You are wise, my son, far beyond your summers. Your mother did not take her gifts away when she left. I believe that soon, you will find within your hands, great powers, my son. You will be the Shaman we have been asking for. Chief and Shaman. No one has had such honour among us before. Yet I know this is to be…

“So that evening, your mother knelt before me in our house. In her large eyes, I saw tears. She seldom showed tears. Her face was sad, yet I felt a deep excitement in her. She spoke into my mind as she always did when she expressed deep feelings.

“I am going away tonight. I will not be returning, ever. Our son is well. Nothing will happen to him now. Our daughter will be with me, and well taken care of. Some day, you will meet her. I cannot say more. Now let me go, and do not come after me, or even look at me as I go. Put your love in our son, and when I am gone, find him a suitable mother and wife to cook for you and to comfort you at night when it is cold. I must return to the place where I come from. Here, take this talisman I wore in my hair all these years, and when our son is old enough, put it on his head. It is a living thing, a gift of the Great Spirit for the great travelers. Do not forget. Yo nah la! Aheya noha!”

With these strange words, she crossed her arms in front of her face, closed her fingers gently then turned and walked away. I heard her footsteps for a short time, then nothing. I stepped outside our house, holding you in my arms. The night suddenly became very still. The coyotes quieted down and the owls stopped hooting. Even the frogs became still, and the breeze died down. After some time, I saw a great fire in the forest. It lit up the sky, even the underside of the clouds. Then I heard a great waterfall roaring, after which the fire rose up and soon there was just a thin trail in the sky, above the village. Then, like the shooting stars, it was gone. I never saw your mother again.

My son, look up there. See that small star village? Often your mother pointed there and sighed. She said she felt something being sent to her from those stars. She also said that the spirits who travel the trails of the stars must obey their own seasons. Stars wander all over, and sometimes they are close enough to each other to send visitors there. The visitor must then wait until the star returns at that same place to return to his own village. Your mother’s people travel the paths of the stars, my son. They come once, then are gone. Sometimes, they can return, and sometimes not. It takes much power to follow the paths of the stars, and you must also be a true friend of the Great Spirit if you do not want to lose yourself in that great blackness between the star villages.

Listen to me, my son, if one day a tall grey-eyed woman appears to you, or wanders into your village, or meets you on the shore of a far-away lake, do not look upon her as a man looks upon a woman. That woman will be your sister. Remember that. When you marry, you shall marry one of our kind, one born in a village within this valley. That is how it must be.”

“Thank you father.” The boy yawned and leaned against the man. Overhead, it seemed to the man that one star twinkled brighter and faster than any other. He pointed at it with his finger but the son had fallen asleep on his lap. The man rolled himself off the log and wrapped in their warm blankets, they both slept peacefully as the moon was hid by a bank of black clouds rolling in slowly from the far mountains.

Armageddon: of Plots and Counter-plots

[a short story by Sha’Tara ]

“Mr. Chairman, there is one item remaining on this year’s agenda which I think should be considered before we adjourn for another century.”

The heavy-set, red-robed man at the head of the table nods imperceptibly and looks over the table with an undisguised bored expression.

“Very well, get on with it then.”

“Gentlemen, we are in the business of publishing best sellers on contract and I have here the contract for Yahu regarding the Earthian trilogy. It appears he hasn’t written a best seller in over 2000 years of his Earth time. We’ve made several inquiries about his intentions lately but without results. I have taken the liberty of having him present himself here today to explain why he has failed to fulfil his end of the agreement with this House and what he intends to do about it.”

The portly red-robed chairman nods in agreement. “Send him in, send him in.” He waves at the massive door in the side of the meeting chamber.

The door opens and a gnomish gray-robed shifty-eyed character with long white hair and beard enters and smiles at the gathering. No one greets him but the secretary who ushers him to a chair.

“Are you the same Yahu who claimed in his book to be the God of Earth?”

“That I most certainly am,” replies the wizened character with a quavering voice. “I Am that I Am.”

“Yeah well, so you say. Some 5000 Earth years ago you entered into a contract with us to write a trilogy about the creation, fall and termination of some world in your sector. We gave you the advance in power to manifest the ingredients required of your books. You delivered a very lengthy and repetitive but fortunately very violent Part One that contained enough murder, greed, sexual perversion, racism, slavery, misogyny and genocidal mania to easily rise to the top of our best seller list for over a thousand years.

Then you sent us a stultified Part Two in a very abridged and staid format that would have gotten nowhere had our editors not insisted it be tied to and weaved into Part One.

For Part Three you gave us a brief synopsis entitled “Revelation” but we are still waiting for that denouement. No action and no revelation. You are in breach of contract with this great Galactic Publishing house. Have you given thought as to how you are going to fulfil your agreements with us or do we need to bring legal action to recoup our losses?”

The wizened character stands up and wipes his brow with his over-sized sleeve. His voice quavers even more now.

“Please, don’t be so hasty!  Yes, I realize I made you all wait a bit long for the third part but it’s been very tough making this ending plausible. I mean, it was easy enough imaging the critters, evil spirit dudes and violent multitudes I mentioned in my blurb. Also you should know that I was rather busy at the time and I had a trainee write that part. I should have read it before it was sent to you but I was too absorbed observing (and abetting) some spectacular developments in an old empire of the time. I had several contracts to complete lesser books on that affair, which do not legally enter this discussion.

“To make a long story short – I don’t want to bore our illustrious chairman – I’ve taken steps to activate that Part Three on Earth. I’m sure that with our current developments of weapons of mass destruction, the fears around new diseases, global warming, overpopulation, wars over depleted resources and the utter, almost incredible, ignorance and overt incompetence of most of that world’s leadership, that a plausible scenario can be set in motion to satisfy the requirements my agents signed with your firm. Not only will there be a book but all of the action will be on video and made available to publish as a mini-series which shall appropriately be entitled “Armageddon.” I can assure this august assembly that our work won’t fail to entertain even the most blasé of your readers. It is guaranteed to be a box-office winner. You’ll be able to buy entire planets with your profits, gentlemen, you have my Word on that.

“What exactly are we talking about here, you’re wondering? Imagine: the total destruction of an entire world, its satellite and its “heaven” in real time. Imagine this: global war, famines, infectious diseases. Rampaging armies of mercenaries raping, looting, burning and killing unarmed innocents by the millions, year in, year out for as long as there remains life to destroy. Religious bigotry running rampant. Total lawlessness, or as they put it there, the law of the jungle in spades. Billions dead and dying of causes yet unknown. A sun going super-nova and a moon melting down upon a planet. My guarantee to you gentlemen is this: there will be no special effects. Everything the videos and accompanying best seller depict will be exactly as it unfolds. You will see it in real time, exactly as it happens. That, gentlemen, is the script I and my trusty group of shadow-writers, technicians and engineers, have been working on for 2000 Earthian years. You will find it was well worth the costs and the wait.

“How can you be so certain of the denouement, Yehu? That’s a mighty big set-up, even for one like yourself. Intelligent creatures possess a mind of their own.”

“Gentlemen, do not, ever, make the mistake of ignoring the Earthian mind’s predictability. I programmed them, remember? They will respond on cue, make no mistake. I repeat, make no mistake about that. They will believe, they will kill and they will die, heroes and martyrs in their own minds even while committing the most atrocious of crimes. We have already begun to trigger their atavism in that respect and the results exceed expectations. This is win-win.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to stir the pot some more. I must return to a current political seat of power called “The White House” where the ignoramus’s in charge actually believe they worship me. I need to get their sensibilities inflamed to expand that war in the Middle East (don’t worry about these locations, they mean nothing to the actual story, just collateral damage to help us set the scene) and bring the Powers of the West ever closer to a final confrontation with the Powers of the East. You want a Revelation? I’ll give you the mother of all Revelations! I’m bringing you Armageddon!”

He departs with a flourish. He knows his Earthian humans and there is not a doubt in his mind at that point that he will create his masterpiece from the destruction of Earth. It had always been his plan to complete his trilogy thus but he had been stymied by those who claimed he was plagiarizing them and forced to put the work on hold time and again. But those who stood in his way, he had finally triumphed over: the Communists; the Socialists; the Anarchists; Atheists and Pagans and assorted others. Hardly anyone published them or read them any more. Even the new high priests of Science were beginning to “see his hand” in the movement of sub-atomic particles even if they didn’t use his name… yet. And now with his ironclad under the table agreement with his once avowed enemy, Mammon, (Capitalism for the uninitiated) the timing couldn’t be better.

The scales had tipped once more. The people clamoured for his kind of entertainment, even if it meant he’d be using their blood to write the grand finale. The sweet irony! Oh, how he hated the stinking, short-lived whining creatures. Prayers! Prayers for parking spaces and hangnails! Prayers for sick dogs, dead budgies and weeds in the lawn. Prayers for deliverance and salvation: well that last part was his own fault, he’d unintentionally, in a fit of anger, brought that on himself with a promise which he had then used to write Part Two of his trilogy. Live and learn hey, unlike the creatures he was about to annihilate in long, drawn-out bloodshed! They won’t learn, not ever, he’d made sure of that.

“Kill them all: God will know those who are his!”

“Damn, I just LOVE that line!” He says under his breath with his best sardonic smile as he settles back in his containment field for his trip to Earth, all but rubbing his hands in anticipation and glee.

The Move

a sci-fi short story,   by Sha’Tara

“They’ll never know.”  Voice intoned.  “They must never know.”

“Some suspect…” 

“Hypothesis; conjecture — we’ve always encouraged that.  We’ve also encouraged the opposite: belief that physical proof is necessary to acceptance.  They’ll follow the pattern.  Those who do not, who “see” will be disparaged and disbelieved.”

Council dissolves.

In their private chambers, Orthon and Agria discuss the matter. 

“We are manipulating their minds, Orthon.  This goes against the Teaching.”

“This is a very primitive race, Agria.  We must prevent global panic at all cost.”

“The move will create great disruptions, as the Council has been made aware.  The tips of the spirals will overheat and some of the smaller worlds will be burned up.”

“The Generators are working on the psi shields, are they not?”

“They won’t be ready in time, and there is no way to test their resilience to such a move.”

“Erthe is a minuscule entity.  Surely we can produce a powerful enough effect to shield it while it is being moved?”

“We… ahh, hope.  Why is the Council so concerned about Erthe?  Why not let it burn?  The Biologons from Elgir scanned it and found nothing remarkable, except for two unalterable facts:  one, it contains the greatest diversity of life forms anywhere and two, the Erthes are destroying their own living space on it.  Why would the Council want that world spared, particularly?”

“It has deep reasons, Agria.”

“Convince me, Orthon.  Impress this truth upon me.”

“You have my trust, Agria.  I will share with you.”

And as Agria opened herself to his mind probe, she began to sense why the Council would be duly concerned by Erthe’s fate.  Deep under one of her oceans the Biologons had recorded the existence of  an Anomaly.  The recordings described an intelligence unlike any other on Erthe,  expressing from within the magma.  The Council had attempted to have the expression analyzed but every available transponder/decoder had failed to translate the anomalous expression.  It remained the only unreadable expression emanating from any of the known Universes.  Even the great Lotharias Logos could not make any sense of it.  In fact, when the recorded expression entered its logic fields, the Logos temporarily froze.

But the times had come.  The Galaxy had to be moved to a new location or it would fall prey to the black hole caused by an imploded star know as Sol Dallin.  Already there were signs of great instability among the larger systems. The ripple effects were spreading as more and more matter-beings were sucked into its giant maw, destroying balance.  Soon the entire Galaxy would be beyond saving.  But if it could be removed from the vicinity, the danger of a Universal melt-down to anti-matter posed by the black hole could possibly be averted.  There were no alternate options in the mind of Council.

“Ah… my dear Orthon, I thank you.  We stand to lose much if we do not act swiftly.  So, Council would first move Erthe to Galaxy Eleven, then move Galaxy 58 to Sector P19?  There is more to the Anomaly than you have shared with me then?”  

“The Logos believes the Anomaly may be the Source of All Life.  It fears the implosion of Sol Dallin was caused by the Anomaly in a move to destroy itself.”

“But why would the Source seek to do such?”

“The Logos suspects a malfunction within the mind of the Anomaly triggering a self-destruct sequence.  It believes the All Life desires to terminate.  The Logos cross-referenced all its available data and concluded the activities on Erthe were the trigger.”

“Tell me more, Orthon.  Why, for example, would All Life be located in Erthe, particularly — or why did the Logos reach this conclusion?”

“Facts about Erthe herself, my dear.  Well-known facts.  For example, diversity of life, despite Draconian attempts to control, has continued to expand and mutate exponentially on its surface and in its atmosphere and oceans.  The resultant complexity has apparently caused overloading in Source Mind.  Such otherwise unknowns clashing with each other – fear, hate, violence causing physical terminations on scales unimaginable; these juxtaposed by passionate explosions of love and protection.  Predators met with ever-adaptive means of evasion and defense.  Violent rejection, violent attraction.  Wars between Erthes themselves.  Life birthed in blood and pain, sustained by death, giving way to laughter,  turning to dust.  A maelstrom of organic dysfunction.”

“It frightens you to look into these things, friend.” 

“Yes, it does.  And do you see?  Fear was never a part of our psyche Agria.  This fear we now feel, it was generated from our brief, accidental contact with the Anomaly.  As to its location, logic dictates that wherever the All Life is located such a place would become endowed with more life than any other.  Erthe, if truly the heart of creation, would pulse with an over-abundance of creative energy.”

“Yes my dear.  But the All Life chose Blessed Rest after the Completion.  Is that not the Teaching?”

“It is.  But the Logos believes the All Life was Binary.  When the One chose rest, the Other was forced to enter the process continuation.  It was inevitable.  Life demands continuous involvement, change, expansion.  The Other tried to limit its input and involvement, withdrawing, hiding within the core of Erthe but even this was too much.  Life’s needs increased over the billennia.  The Other served life with compassion, all the while accepting the need for the destruction to prevent over-building and collapse.”

“What will happen if the All Life located in Erthe’s core is destroyed, then?”

“Entropy, Agria.  The Logos believes this will apply to all known worlds.”

“And what will happen to us?”

“We will experience termination.  Without fresh input the extant will fall into stasis and cease.”

“Well my dear, let us continue with our plans to build our psi shields.  I do not think they will suffice but it will keep us focused while we contact the One who chose Blessed Rest and re-unite the All Life Binary.”

“My dear Agria, there is no Teaching even hinting that the One could be brought out of retirement and reunited with the Other.  If such was possible, would they not have done so?”

“As below, so above Orthon.  What the Teaching does not say is “why” the One chose Blessed Rest, leaving the Other to carry the burden of All Life.  But we, the female energies of Om, know intuitively what happened.  Simply put my friend, there was disagreement in the Binary, resulting in the Split. 

If I can approach the Anomaly and am allowed to enter her Mind it may be she will share her fear, anger and feelings of rejection with us .  She may yet choose to live, Orthon.  She may have learned the lesson that all of life has yet to learn: that no part of life is greater than any other, not even the All Life, and that any part can be friend with any other part.”

“Well said, friend, but where would you begin to search for the One?”

“Not necessary.  If I can make her aware her loneliness and desolation are caused by her separation from the Twin, it may be she will allow us to contact the Blessed Rest and speak to the One on her behalf.”

“Have we come so far that life would have the wisdom to speak for the All Life?  That we, the created, could bring peace within the realm of the All Life, thus bringing peace within all of life?”

“They made us in their own image, Orthon.  It is time we made use of this awareness.”

“Ah, Agria, please consider this before you proceed: the Logos predicted our conversation to Council.  It asked:

{What will you do if the All Life, instead of coming out of retirement or ending the self-destruct process, confers its powers upon you?  What does Agria-Orthon choose if offered the power of All Life?} 

“What do we choose, Agria?”

“Life, Orthon.  Always life, whatever it entails.”

Report to Galactic Headquarters

(a short sci-fi story… from Sha’Tara)

For: Leon Battera, Receiver

From: Apia-Di Loro III, Observation ship, OmaTe

Date: Cycle 286-87-1902 per Pleiadian Time Accounting.

Begin:

I have discovered an ancient world sparsely populated by intelligent sentience. Per my orders, I am orbiting this world on six different parameters taking soundings and recordings.

The sentience speaks as-yet unrecorded languages and I have instructed my translator to begin working on it. However, due to the vast confusion of spoken languages, this may take some time.

The world has much water on it but much appears to be non-potable and what should be potable appears to carry unusual amounts of radiation and trace pollutants inimical to the local flora and fauna. Samplings of air quality also reveal high levels of radiation and an unnatural dearth of oxygen.

I have run my findings through my analyzer. This world will require personal investigation as it is obvious it experienced a terrible catastrophe as recently as five to ten thousand years ago. As per my orders I must ascertain whether this unnatural catastrophe was caused by an invasion, or by the locals themselves although at first scan, these people have no technology, certainly nothing capable of such devastation indicated by my scans.

There is evidence of very large cities having once existed, now nothing but ruins. There are no roads. The people, it seems, live in small villages of huts made from mud and grasses; in some places, from twigs or bones.  I have noted smoke rising from the mouth of caves also.

What happened here? My mind is burning with questions. I am leaving my AI in command and taking my lander down to the planet.

Apia-Di Loro: AI, have I taken all necessary precautions and availed myself of proper protection?

AI: All is optimum. Ready for launch.

I am landed in a hidden depression on a broad plain covered in coarse grass. First analysis: radiation poisoning but dwindling. There is a village of sorts some ways from my hidden lander. I am making for it. It is difficult to separate the bipedal humanoid sentients from many other sentients so proceeding with care.

Of important note: I come upon an inscription of sorts on a plaque. The plaque material appears to be some metal alloy and is very old. I set the translator to transcribe what can be seen of the inscription and while it is doing so I wander around, careful to retain my cloaking. I hear an animal bleat and over a small rise comes a young woman leading a dozen animals which my portable unit refers to as “goats”.

Another animal follows the young woman, or girl rather. The animal circles the “goats” and keeps them walking in a specific direction. It is called a “dog”. The woman/girl is known as a shepherdess according to my portable translator. Meaning: she has charge of the animals and the “dog” animal helps her.

I’m in need of some verbal communication to talk to her so I return to my translator by the ancient plaque. This is what the translator shows me:

My name is Do-ald Trum-. I am the Presid–t of the mightiest nat— on e-rth. I have the p-wer to –nihil-te any nation or allian–s of na–on- that chall-nge my -ill. My fing-r is -lways -n th- butt-n. Be afraid, be v-ry -fr-id. -istory wil- r-memb– me as t– gre–est, mos- power-ul man who ever lived- – am mak-ng Amer-c- gr–t agai-

It was enough to formulate a rudimentary understanding of the language. The computer had no problem filling in the missing letters. Accompanied by the translator I return to the shepherdess and her animals. Before I uncloak myself I study her. She is very thin to the point of emaciation and her hair is sparse and dull. Her limbs are obviously deformed, a mutation from the radiation. Her right leg is shorter than the other and that foot has no toes. Her left arm terminates with a few knobs that were meant to be fingers, approximately where the elbow should be. Her clothing is inadequate, little more than patched rags. I feel a great pang of empathetic sadness knowing this would be the case for most of her people.

I try to imagine hundreds of millions of such mutants surviving in the most primitive and terrible of conditions, prone to disease and sudden temperature changes, always hungry, and the worst of it: not knowing why they are thus being “punished”. 

Having some verbal communication ability via the translator, I uncloak myself slowly and pretend I’d been walking towards her, a stranger crossing the prairie. Upon seeing me, she stands abruptly and raises her stick. The dog gives a half-dozen perfunctory warning barks. Fortunately my female form takes some of her fear of me away and she waits, though ready to run. I signal I am unarmed and try a greeting through the translator. She remains mute, obviously uncomprehending. I try other words and I see that she is listening intently but not understanding.

Finally, I point to the plaque and ask who this Donald Trump is, or was. She looks at the plaque as if she never noticed it before and shrugs and shakes her head to indicate she doesn’t know. I realize then that her language has nothing to do with what is on the plaque and in any case she cannot read. I conclude then that these are survivor remnants of some terrible war, for war it had to be as I can easily infer from the contents of the plaque. These people have no history and what language they possess has only immediate survival value.

The girl is still standing, rigid and uncertain, ready to bolt. To help her relax I slowly turn away to disappear in the tall grasses. Ironically the dog creature circles me and coming to the plaque, relieves itself upon it. I think it a very fitting gesture even if the creature does not realize the symbolism of its act.

My dear Leon, I will give you a much more thorough report when I return to the OmaTe. Meanwhile, I need not tell you this is a terrible heart-breaker of a world. Let me know as soon as you can if I should remain in orbit here and if it is necessary for me to make other landings. More importantly advise me, please, on what Galactic Planetary Health Consortium plans to do about this discovery; if it will intervene on behalf of these people. They desperately need our help Leon.

More details to follow soon. I remain, your Apia-Di.

A Touch of Home

[a short story –  by Sha’Tara

“Beautiful day, huh?” The slim brunette in the sleeveless black pantsuit doesn’t even look at Steven as she pours the coffee into the ornate, obviously home-made mug and hands it to him, taking his “toonie”[*] and two quarters for payment. He waves the change and walks to the window, to the only small table left unoccupied. He sips the hot dark roast and scans through his paper.

As many experts at reading the once bulky commercial dailies will tell you, there’s a certain art to this, one I’ve never bothered learning. You don’t actually read news or stories. You go through it page by page taking mental notes of relevant items to get into later. You skip the fashion, cars and trucks, and entertainment or sports sections if these are not your thing. Later, during your next break or back at home, you attack the pieces you hope will hold your interest long enough to provide a “shift” or a time of forgetting.

“Mind if I sit here?” A tall man in a grey suit points at the only seat left in the entire Java Hut coffee house.

“Not at all.” Steven points to the empty rattan chair. “I don’t own the place although at the prices they charge here I should have shares in it by now.”

The tall man sits down, puts his paper cup down. “If you don’t like these prices why don’t you go to Tim Horton’s down the street?”

“And do line-ups? I value my time. Beside I like to be able to taste coffee, not just hot water and sugar.”

“Ah, the very reason I frequent this establishment. Interesting mug you have there. Your own, obviously?”

“You’re either a lawyer or an investigator, sir!”

The grey suit laughs. “I do a bit of both actually; lawyering and sleuthing that is. I have a traffic case at 11:00 today as a matter of fact. Can’t really discuss it, you understand. But that mug is fascinating. It has a story: I can almost hear it speak.”

“A touch of home, sir, uh, ah?”

“Sorry. Al. My name is Albert Delisle, attorney at law and at large.” He laughs again and extends a strong tanned hand, impeccably manicured. Steven extends his and the handshake is firm, almost too eager; the grip of a professional golfer.

Steven continues, “I’ve had this mug for twelve years now as of yesterday. My daughter Katherine made it in a pottery class she was taking as an extra-curricular activity in her last year of school…” Steven stops talking and holds the fading white odd-shaped mug with both hands, hands of a man old before his time. Tears begin to flow from his eyes and the lawyer touches his arm.

“Sorry to stir up painful memories my friend, uh… no, don’t tell me your name. You must be Steven Baillie.”

Steven appears shaken and startled by the mention of his name from someone he’s never met. “That’s right. That’s my name. How did you know…?”

The lawyer stops him. “Sorry to startle you as well as upset you. If you tell me the story of this mug I’ll explain how I know your name.”

“Ah, yes. Twelve years ago my wife Jean went to pick up our daughter Susan at school to take her shopping for a grad dress. On their way home after shopping a drunk driver ploughed into the mini van. His vehicle, an old Ford 4×4 was totaled but he was thrown clear and didn’t get a scratch. My wife, they said, died on impact. Susan lived for one month of pure agony afterwards but the burns were too deep… The only thing that survived from the wreck and the inferno of the mini van was this mug. She was bringing it home for me after cleaning out her locker.”

“I’m so terribly sorry sir,” says the lawyer. “The driver of the other vehicle, his name was Gerry Felton?”

“Yes. That was his name. But how can you know this, or remember these details after such a long time?”

“Research. The man I’m defending today is that same driver. He’s charged with running over an old woman crossing the street in the dark, killing her instantly. He was driving while under the influence of alcohol and a mixture of prescription drugs. These details are in your paper.”

“I know. That’s an article I’ve been reading every day for twelve years.”

[Note: a “toonie” is a Canadian $2 coin]

Believe what you will but let me believe what I will

[pure off the cuff, spur of the moment fiction, by ~burning woman~ ]

“No, no!” I said. “Stop beating me up with it, I thought we had agreed we were not going to discuss this. I know what you believe and it doesn’t bother me, it’s your choice. By the same token, you know what I believe and it’s my choice.”

We were sitting at the table in the dining nook, me at the window facing west, he across from me. I had a glass of white wine, he his strong, dark beer. It was already late, of a Summer Sunday evening, and I just wanted to enjoy the darkening skies and the fading colour from the clouds hovering near the horizon.

This is how it started:

“I am going to watch for meteors,” I said. “Make a wish, you know?”

“That’s pure superstition,” he replied, looking up from his book and taking another sip of beer, “when are you going to give up that childish nonsense? It’s embarrassing.” He looked at me with his mouth turned down, making it obvious how displeased he was with me at that moment.

Only he wasn’t talking about my wishing upon a shooting star, he was talking about my belief in the spirit world and particularly in my insistence that I was fully aware of past and future lives.

We had agreed, before we decided to live together that our differences in those areas we would accept from each other and only broach the subject philosophically, in a “what if” sort of way. It wasn’t supposed to become another patriarchal relationship in which he, the man, decided the correct way we, meaning me, the woman, should believe, or think for that matter.

When it came to beliefs, as far as I was concerned, there never had been and never would be a “we” in the equation. I didn’t care what he believed or believed in. He was (still is!) handsome, kind in his own way, supportive most of the time, great in the sex department, an important aspect of the relationship to me, and I must admit that I loved him, well, sort of. Is it love when there is no passion in it, just an easy comfort?

But does that mean I have to give him my mind so he can fill it with his own ideas while excluding mine? Not on your life. I’m not made to take things that way; to be taken for granted, or thought of as the little trophy woman who bats her eyelashes and exclaims, ‘Oh, but you’re always so right, dear!’ No, he’s not right, not when his “right” needs to supersede, or cancel my “right” as it does when I express myself in what he calls a superstitious way.

This isn’t about who’s right, who’s not. This is about who is free, who is not. I didn’t sign up to have my ideas replaced by someone else’s. Not that I signed anything to get into this relationship mind, but you know what I mean.

So I countered: “When you buy a lotto ticket, what do you call that feeling it gives you? You don’t buy a ticket without some hope that you could win, even win the jackpot. What do you call that hope, if not a form of superstition? Logically it’s patently ridiculous for anyone to buy a lottery ticket because the odds are so against you. So in that moment you override your logical thinking and allow yourself a wild moment of magical thinking. You allow yourself to be pulled into that shameful realm of illogic.”

“It’s not the same thing,” he replies. “I don’t believe in the lottery as if it was some spirit force, some divine being, an angel or the Great Pumpkin. It’s just a game.” He did enjoy mocking me with that reference to the Charlie Brown cartoon super being of Linus’ he called the Great Pumpkin.

“But it’s a game of chance!”

“So?”

“It’s a game of luck!”

“And?”

I could feel myself becoming frustrated and upset. “It’s superstition, honey. The other morning, when you came storming back in the apartment and said, ‘God, I went and locked my keys in the truck last night,’ were you subconsciously praying to some superbeing you say you do not believe in because you were in a tight spot, in a hurry and didn’t remember where you kept you spare set of keys? Instead of invoking some deity neither of us believes in you could have said, ‘Karin, do you know where my spare set of keys is?’ and I would have told you. I told you anyways but you didn’t ask me. You addressed the problem through a kind of superstition of your own which you justify with excuses and that hurts. Do you think I’m so stupid I don’t notice these things?

“It’s late, I’m going to bed and I’m sleeping in the spare room. We’re both working tomorrow, I’ve got a pile of reports to check over before my first class so I’ll be off early. I’ll eat on the way, you make your own breakfast, or not. Tomorrow evening I want you to apologize to me and reaffirm our agreement to enjoy each other and leave our beliefs as sacred and private to each other. If you cannot do that, and do it sincerely, I’ll be leaving by next weekend.”

“Where will you go?”

“That’s a really stupid question. Since we’ve been together I’ve been propositioned at least a dozen times, the last one was just a week ago. I travel light as you know and there are a lot of lonely beds out there whose sheets will eagerly part to let me slip in. Don’t self-blind Rico or think I need you because no one else will have me!”

I was getting angry and hated the feeling.

“You’ll miss me.”

“Of course I’ll miss you, you don’t have to state the obvious. But that too shall pass because I choose intellectual integrity over a great fuck.”

“Is that all I am to you, a great fuck?”

“That doesn’t please you?”

“Well, yeah, but isn’t there more for you?”

“Of course there is, or there could be but not when you try to emasculate my choices. My feelings for you cool very fast then.”

“So I’m wrong then?”

“I’m tired and I’m not going around this mulberry bush with you Rico. Good night.”

That was a year ago, probably why I remembered it today. He didn’t apologize, he said he couldn’t see that there was anything to apologize for so I left him that weekend, I could tell he was going to try to talk his way around the problem but I was having none of it. I’ve seen him a couple of times since; he bought me a drink the last time. How are you doing? Fine, you? Oh, OK, I’ve got a girlfriend, Nina, she’s Italian. Good for you. Our team lost again. Yeah, too bad. I had her change the drapes in the bedroom; they reminded me too much of us. Good idea, no point dwelling on the past. That was about it. I suppose it never was what you’d call a deep relationship, more of a convenience.

It’s not the way I prefer them but it’s the only way to keep my options open. I’m sort of living with a guy too but I saw no point in mentioning that, he’d already assume I was or he’d already know that through his male gossip circle. I know the pub where the circle meets and what is talked about there.

You know what? I need to find another direction for my life, I feel I’m on treadmill if not on a dead-end street. I don’t like myself much these days and I used to feel so sure and so proud of what I’d accomplished for myself. I feel that the more I insist on my independence, or perhaps the way I go about it, it’s making me increasingly self-centered and selfish. That never used to be me and I’m certainly not blaming the men in my life for this quandary of mine. If this was another girl’s story I’d end it with: “Get a life, woman!”