The problem with no longer having to hide every day is that you forget you do need to hide every day. Or at the very least not stay in the quarters that the security chief has assigned to you. I’m almost at them when a door slides open into the hallway behind me. I spin, snapping an impact staff into my hand and it is yanked out of my grip almost before I have time to register it, a hand driving into my chest and shoving me hard against the wall.
I feel energy behind the blow, technology in the arm I can ruin with a single thought. Some people have genetic traits to be beautiful, to win wars, to heal wounds: I disrupt energy: I can shut down signals to almost any system, which includes the human brain, and definitely synthetic limbs. I almost flex the talent out of my body without thinking but the other person has already stepped back and is handing the impact staff to me. And I know them.
I blink, take a few deep breaths and hold the field inside. My control isn’t good. I’d disrupt every system on the floor, which includes both life support and gravity. I can survive longer without life support than some, but I do need it. One reason Dar has been trying to get me to focus it, to understand how the field works. To make a weapon like me more and less dangerous at the same time.
I’ve only met Orien a few times. He lives with Dar, a medic with a good chunk of his body as synthetic limbs after some explosion on a battlefield. That much I knew, but he moves faster than any medic I’ve ever heard of and doesn’t seem at all worried that I might fry his systems here and now.
“You’re not shielded against me. Not like Dar is.”
“I know.” Nothing else.
I take my weapon back, put it away. “I could have fried you.”
“Dar said he’d been training you; I trusted that.” The medic smiles, and it would be disarming except for the speed at which he’d disarmed me.
“So this was a test?”
Orien shrugs. “If you like. I was curious. I also have some advice for you.”
I draw myself up and glare at him, which seems to have no effect at all. “Advice.”
“Everyone needs some, sometimes. You gave Dar some good advice about us.” I say nothing to that; I have no idea what relationship they have, how a human and transfer get on. He’s human, Dar is a human mind in another body, a chunk of technology on treads. I’ve made it three weeks into knowing him without thinking about how they do anything, and I aim to keep doing that.
“So I thought I’d repay that,” he says with a small smile that seems to imply he knows exactly what I’m thinking. “Dar has a very high security clearance, but everyone has blind spots. He knows you had one parental unit, and that they died. He hasn’t looked into it. I did.”
I say nothing to that. I had expected Security to do this, if anyone did. Not some medic on their own.
“I asked security to let me handle this,” he says as if my mind is an open book. “They knew you were a danger – everyone knew that – but no one had done the math. And Dar, well, people talk about transfers and how alien and horrible it must be, how so few survive. But those that do survive need little, and don’t think about money like the rest of us. He knows a splice like your parental unit made is expensive. It’s not a common trait, but it’s cheap enough to splice because it is far, far too dangerous to splice into someone more than once.
“Because you disrupt yourself every time you use it. The basic use: doors, small gateways, is entirely normal. The splice was folded into you over a dozen times, with other splices allowing you to survive use of it, to survive situations using the trait would put you in,” he says, ticking points off on his fingers. “Your body produces the disruption field, can even absorb other energies and convert them, and the disruption ripples out. So you needed to be able to survive floating in vacuum for an indefinite period of time, to say nothing of moving through it unaided if you effectively murdered an entire starship.”
“Splices mature with the body.” It’s not much, but it’s the only thing I can think to say.
“I know. You’re not at that potential yet. If you were, nothing Dar or I could do would have stopped the security chief from having you killed.” Orien smiles then, thin and strange. “I don’t know what that’s like, living as you do. But Dar does, in ways large and small. There aren’t many medics with my particular skillsets around.”
“Dar tends to be drawn to people – or draw them to him – if they are unusual. He’s never had normal friends – some would argue that the mechanics he’s worked with count, but I know mechanics so I wouldn’t – and that colours his view of normal, Brin. To him, you’re no different than probably a dozen other people he’s met who were turned into weapons. But if you break his trust in you, he will walk away. He hasn’t pushed you, because that’s not his way, and he hasn’t worked out just how much money was spent to create you simply because it would never occur to him.”
I say nothing to that.
“You can tell me. You are going to have to tell him.”
“I murdered my parental unit.”
He snorts at that. “No kidding. You are here on your own, a living weapon without a handler.”
I focus the field, let a fraction of it out. Enough to cause the power to blip, enough to make him wary. It’s small and cheap, but I need something. “I’m not telling you their name. Or who they worked for. I want that to die and be forgot.” It sounds silly, but I push on: “I killed an entire starcruiser in the Ashel quadrant because – because it was that or be used to do far worse things. I don’t know how I made it to the Duli systems. I ended up planet-side. Somehow. Snuck onto a supply ship, ended up here.” I’m hugging myself and I didn’t mean to and I can’t stop it. “The starcruiser I cut power to fell into a sun, all lives lost on board. There were no other starships around.”
“Ask Dar to check into it if you want,” Orien says, soft. Not moving closer, not moving away. “What did they want you to do in the Ashel system?”
I shake my head, say nothing. Some things I’m not sharing, not with a medic. People think of a disruption field and they think technology, and artificial gravity. No one thinks of real gravity, of moons. And planets below them.
He just gives me a long look, then turns and walks away. “Whoever taught you how to defend yourself did so poorly. We can talk about that later, if you talk to Dar first.”
I just enter my quarters and close the door by way of reply. Better silence than the truth, however long it can last.
There are many thoughts and emotions
distant from me today. There is a
profundity that seems caged, in where
they should soar from the depths of
There are many things I released
yesterday, but fragments of these
people still linger in me. A part of
me has them trapped. Though I
no longer want them.
Why does all of me wish to release
in earnest? Why does this small
part of me hold on, when there
is nothing to hold onto?
Today I am grateful that you read this — no, really: you could have been reading far better things, more edifying things, works of literature or even of lol and yet you read this long sentence (which will not include a metaphor for prison or a joke about meeting a four) when you could have been doing so many other things with your time and in the interests of making this post even longer I am going to now list all 10,234 other things you could have been doing.
Or perhaps not.
In the quiet space
of your absence,
I find myself
to little deaths.
I’m not sure
it is my eyes
the mating dance
life ending in a day.
Who is it
in front of the dead bird
beneath the plate glass window?
Earth is not a grave.
You are not gone.
© Jude Dippold, 2014
I speak to you in a hundred tongues
And in each I’ve forgot your name
Dear followers: this blog has become, over the past couple of weeks, largely prose. I’d like to blame garnetportrait for his prompts but they were listed as prose or poetry. I had options, damn it. And with one exception [so far, there will be another poem up in a few days] I’ve done short stories. Often more than 1,000 word affairs. Going on 17 days in a row now. Many of them have been set in an new sci-fi setting. Tonight, I posted two different stories on the same prompt (that of faith), each set in a different series.
So: I’d like to thank everyone who is reading and commenting on all the stories. Especially nights like tonight where the prompt went overkill in my head. I doubt the darverse ones will outlast the prompts — I have an ending in mind I’m heading toward — but they have been great fun to do and it helps me realize that I need to give serious thought to more serialized-story style writing as I enjoy making them far too much.
But I won’t subject people to that for some time. Hopefully. With luck.
Again, thanks for taking the time to read them.
The furniture store is all high-end antiques, with enough alarms and security to make banks reconsider their own security systems. It does not matter to me: I am a magician, the oldest one in all the world, and I walk through a world that feels almost wholly false to my reality. Other magicians are real, and few things realer than that. What magic I hold has long since fallen inside me, become a fulcrum and balance both. I can no longer tell where it ends and I begin: I have not known this for some time. All other magicians spread their magic into the world; I can no longer do this. And yet I persist, for reasons so old even I do not know most of them.
I was the first wandering magician, so very long ago. I am not sure I had a human form then, but that could be fancy more than truth. I pay attention to those who wander even now, trying to see if any others will become what I am. How they will avoid it. If they can do so. The wandering magician of this era has wandered for ten years. I am not sure he can stop, even if he wants to. But he has allies, friends. Companions, which is rare for any magician to acquire. Magic demands much and leaves room for little else in its wake.
He has stepped through a mirror in the store, moved beyond the world and into the places that dwell behind mirrors. Because creatures from Outside the universe that seek entrance to our worlds do not always use simple means, do not always hide in places where it is easy to find them. The mirror he used is unremarkable to look at, but so is the boy who sits cross-legged in front of it sucking on his right thumb.
He is pale and thin, and passes for younger than ten when sucking on his thumb. Even to my eyes, to my magic, to everything I am, he is human. I know he is not, and from far Outside the universe, but Jay hides his nature with a skill that worries even me. Not being noticed by security guards or alarms is a minor thing for him. He sits, studies the mirror, and waits for the magician to return. They are bound together by promises and magic, but I have never seen him sucking his thumb like a small child would. And so I wonder. And so I act.
“Boy.” Jay turns, blinks and stares up at me. If he is surprised at my being here it doesn’t show at all. “I see you are afraid.”
He follows my gesture and starts, pulling his thumb from his mouth and just glares up at me. “Not of you, Mary-Lee,” he snaps, sharp and defiant.
“You think you could stop me from breaking this mirror?”
The boy stands, faster than anything human can move. “He’d thtill return and find me,” he says firmly.
“Because you are bound together, yes. You think it is beyond my power to hide that?”
Jay grins, and the grin is huge and happy. “I can hide any bindingth,” he says proudly. “And he would thtill find me becauthe we are friendth!”
“Such faith, and in a magician at that. And yet your body betrays you.”
The boy just stares at me blankly.
“You were afraid.”
“I’m alwayth afraid,” Jay says, stating it as a simple fact. “And I’m thcared he might be hurt or take a long time to make it back because he hath before and I don’t know how to go help him if he ith hurt and that’th all. Tho you can go away now.”
I pause. The boy – creature – does not move. “You seem more comfortable with your lisp than when last we met.”
He flushes a little but doesn’t move. “And you haven’t changed at all.”
“How clever of you to notice that.”
He just grins proudly, my sarcasm missing him entirely.
“And if I break this mirror?”
Jay’s grin vanishes. “I’d try and thtop you,” he says, and there is nothing not serious in his voice. “And we’d fight and people would notithe me and I don’t want that and you don’t need to to thith. Pleathe?”
I pretend to consider options and his thumb slips back into his mouth. Jay sucks on it nervously, waiting. And there is nothing beyond it but that: a nervous habit, no doubt something the magician has caused.
I reach out and pull his thumb free, the boy flushing bright with shame despite trying not to. “I have no desire to fight a child who sucks their thumb.”
“Tho go away,” he snaps, yanking his hand free and shoving his thumb defiantly back into his mouth.
“The wandering magician did this to you. Damaged you.” Nothing, but the boy goes still a moment. “Do you not wonder what damage may happen next if he draws on your potential again?”
“Yeth, but I trutht him,” Jay says, and there is no faith to his words but hard certainty I am not sure even the magician could break if he wanted to.
“So you do.” And the game seems small next to his desperate bravery, to his willingness to fight me and be noticed no matter what it might cost him. I nod, and turn, and walk away, leaving him to sit back down and wait.
No one has waited for me in a long time. Not in the way the boy waits.
Some days I think no one ever has.
The shuttle left an hour ago. I have yet to move. I should be moving. I accepted a job in maintenance – as a change and to help a stowaway – and there is never a shortage of repairs needed on a Docking Station. The list of items docketed for me to work on with Brin has been growing steadily for a couple of hours. I should be moving. I continue to stare where the shuttle was. I don’t have my projection up. I should. It would be polite. But I can’t bring myself to care that people are staring at me.
I am pretty sure at least one person I know says hello. I don’t notice, they don’t press it. Being a transfer has advantages: when you don’t have a projection up over your body of a normal, human-you, they see you for who you really are. In my case it’s a cylindrical shape on treads with a viewscreen on the top: 360 degree vision, when I want it, my ‘face’ visible in it to whoever I am talking to. Right now it is turned off, and I have all my limbs inside my chassis. The shuttle that left the Docking Station will return in 6 local days, 4 hours and 21 minutes now.
An impact staff poking me in the side gets my attention 12 minutes later.
“Hello? Station to Dar? Anyone home?” Brin says, offering up another poke. All hesitant, keeping herself a few steps away from me. She’s in her late teens, victim of a parental unit who decided to get creative in making their progeny into a weapon: her body can produce a disruption field capable of shutting down most any system it comes into contact with, if only for a short while. It doesn’t work on me, mostly because I’m very well shielded – you would be too if a basic EMP could murder you, and a disruption field was far beyond that – but she still keeps a few steps away in case it goes off without her controlling it.
“You didn’t turn it on.”
She snaps the staff closed and pockets it. “I was about to. You are late for work. I know I’ve only known you for a week, but you don’t do late without telling people. And apologizing. And working overtime after it. And probably feeling guilty for days. So?”
I head toward the elevator that leads to the lower levels faster than I need to.
Brin keeps up, saying nothing until we get into antigrav lift. “Look, I know I’m not good at any of this yet. I can help see when something is breaking, but you’re doing all the work fixing it and –.”
“It’s not about that.”
“If you’re not mad at me, why is your viewscreen off? I’ve never seen you do that.”
I flick it on, look at her. She looks back, waits. “Orien headed off to a course. Medics have to do those every so often: real autopsies of various traits, splices like you have. Learning what new and weird things people have. All of that.”
“So?” I say nothing, teeth digging into lower lips in the viewscreen, feeling my face flush. It gives too much away. “He’s gone on a trip and that happens, right?” she presses.
“He might not come back. He could – stay away. Change. People do that. I used to work on vehicles. Now I’m doing maintenance. Change happens.”
“That –.” Brin snaps her jaw shut and stares at me as we exit the lift. “You’re one of the first transfers. I’ve looked you up on the infoweb and you’re old and you’re worried he’s going to leave you?”
I head down the hallway. I don’t turn the viewscreen off, as much as part of me wants to.
“Dar.” I stop. Brin comes slowly around to stand in front of me. “We’ve passed one docket we should have looked at already.”
I check the infoweb, move back down the hallway and extend two limbs up to a ceiling panel. The lighting systems are always failing but the Station can’t get high-end ones or people take them apart and scavenge them for parts. The docking bays proper run on modern tech, the station itself sometimes ten years behind, with apps and linkages filled with enough errors that it must keep the head of maintenance awake at night wondering if someday the entire Station will just split in half or something.
I jiggle connections, snap it back into place, note data on the docket. Brin is in front of me, not moving.
She snaps a hand out to a doorway to the side; it opens to reveal an unused living space someone has been using to store a few old power cells. “In here. Now. Please.”
I enter, she follows and snaps the door shut behind us.
“I don’t know you. You don’t know me and I’m not old and I’ve never been properly in love because people run away when they find out what I can do. And have done.” Brin licks her lips. “I dated two years ago, for almost a month with a regular human. No splices, synthlimbs, no weird traits. From one of those ‘get back to Earth’ groups who thought I was norm-human too. It went beyond kissing, I lost control of – of me. Disrupted his brain. A brain is a system, is signals, is energy.” She doesn’t look away, trembling. “I don’t know what it did to him. I ran away. You think he’s going to do that?”
“No. Orien isn’t –.” I fall silent for a few moments, trying to find words. People say transfers aren’t human at all, but we can still fail words, fail language. Fail ourselves. “He’s not the kind to run away. He was a soldier before he became a medic. I’ve been with transfers before. Other transfers, for a time. But no regular human who wanted to be with me, not really. I keep waiting for him to realize it’s not going to work. For people to ask if he’s with anyone, him to explain it to them. To realize what they know.”
“Do you want him to go?” she says softly.
I shake my head in the viewscreen, but it’s not enough. “No.”
“But you’re the one who said, ‘Brin, if you think you’re a weapon that’s all you’ll be.’ If you think what you have with him is going to fail, then isn’t that the same thing?”
“It – I don’t know,” I say finally. And I don’t.
“Why don’t you want him to go?” she says, softer still.
“Because he’s my friend, because I care for him, because – because I would have waited there for his return, if you hadn’t come and got me. I care about Orien more than I do work, and I haven’t felt like that about anyone in a long time.” I gulp audibly through my vocal interface. “I’m terrified he’s going to wake up one day and go ‘what am I doing?’ and leave and it’s going to hurt so much but I can’t bear to do it first, to let him go, to-to-to…” I break off.
“What if he doesn’t? I’ve asked that, about Raoul. What if he’d been able to accept that my zapping his brain was an accident? What if he’d wanted to stay with me anyway? I ran away so I’ll never know at all. You love him, then?”
“Yes.” She doesn’t hear me until I say it a second time.
“Does he know?”
Brin blinks, then bursts out laughing at that and I can’t help but join in a moment later. “I think – I think everyone has to be told that, or they forget. Because everyone is worried, about who they’re with. About the other person waking up sane when love isn’t sane at all? You have to tell him you love him. Again. And again.” She almost pokes me in the viewscreen, pulls her finger back. “And have faith in him, that he’s as – as conflicted inside as you are – and thinks that is all worth it anyway. That what you are together is worth it.”
“You’ve thought about this a lot, then.”
She nods. I don’t point out she could probably find this Raoul easily through the infoweb, or I could do that if she couldn’t. I send a command to the door, which snaps open, head back into the hallway.
“What’s the next docket?”
She tells me, and I pretend not to notice how grateful she is I didn’t ask questions. I trust Orien. I’m trusting Brin a little. And they’re trusting me and it’s all a kind of faith and I can only hope it will be worth it. I send a message to Orien. Three words. No more. And then focus on work again.
And there is Bess, half-homeless and all hard choices, a blade sharpened by the world and not yet dulled by friendship or trust. Where Boy fled his life, she walked away from hers. She did not run, and that is her strength, but she hates herself so for not cutting ties entirely, for not being able to break free of family. She is anger and angry and there is no power to that but she is not enough yet to know this. She lashes out at a world that will not break, for not being what it promised, what all the TV and stories ever promised and her mom drowns the world in pills, her father in business meetings and affairs conducted with the same emptiness as each meeting. Their lives are voids Bess cannot fill, and resentment runs between them all like dead electricity. Their names are Jason and Samantha and Bess will never call them anything else.
No one’s ever good enough for Jasmine. Every boy she dates leaves her in tears, breaks another piece off of her heart. I know her passwords – a good father can never be too careful – I read her emails. I know what they say, I know the pain she tries to hide from us.
I do what I can. I find them, and I explain. So they will never hurt anyone else again.
I am running out of room in the garden.
I have plagiarized a poem of yours
Desperately seeking famed attention;
Dig through my archives now to find
The wreckage of your mighty dreams.
“It was here or IHOP,” the boy whispered
in the Waffle House, soft despite the din.
The other boy shifted in his seat despite
the table bolted between. “Thank you,”
then, to silence words: “You texted me?”
The first boy licked his lips, held out
a trembling hand. “Are we dating?
We’ve done everything but kiss.
Spoken every word but speech.”
“I don’t –.” The second boy bit hard
his lip, but words escaped them:
“There is Jenny. We are dating.”
And there were no contractions to
break the power of those words.
The first boy smiled strange pain.
“Then what’re we doing?” asked,
still whispered, but his eyes –
his eyes whispered nothing.
“It – don’t do this,” the other boy
said. “Don’t make it like this.”
The first boy stood, eyes tight.
“I ordered the waffles for you,”
he said, whisper become a hiss.
“You seem to like waffling.”
The second boy sat alone but ate
the order of waffles when they came.
Ahhhh, I love reading these. Nice.
Thanks. It’s fun to switch genres and tell odder stories as a result. Also fun when people decide to give them a try :) Just edited the ending to add a line. This entry took over 3 days to write, unlike everything else so far where each first draft was less than an hour. Brin’s age altered three times, what she was and did at least twice along with the nature of the lower decks and just how grungy I wanted it to seem. The end result needed over 400 words cut from it. This is the challenge for jewels (#16); I did two for 17 (faith) and began writing #22 on the bus on the way home tonight.
At least I got some novel writing in this morning, but these stories just won’t leave my head :P
…. I think this all means I really shouldn’t do month-long prompts again.