Tag Archives: science fiction

Miracle Cherries: The Level 3 Dilemma

This is the third and final part of this story. You can read the other stories in the links below, but here is the synopsis for those who did not read them.

  1. The Era of Miracle Cherries
  2. Miracle Cherries, Level 2

Synopsis: A year before, a mysterious product that is nicknamed miracle cherries begins to be sold online for $150 for ten. People quickly find that they cure any disease and give a person superpowers. Then a woman calling herself Rachel comes on all TVs in the world to say she is the one selling them and that these are the first of three levels. She also creates a huge tower in the middle of the Atlantic and declares herself the ruler of the world.  Level 2 miracle cherries go on sale for $150 million for ten.

The narrator is chosen by his company to take the first Level 2 miracle cherry while the world watches. He finds himself in another world where Rachel tells him that his whole universe was created by her civilization in order to do research and harvest cultural properties. He goes back and does not remember anything about it, although he starts having vivid dreams about Rachel. He decides to go to her tower in the Atlantic to try to find answers.

Rachel’s Tower was located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, about 300 miles southwest of the Azores. She had not built it for ease of access, but in the era of miracle cherries, that was not a problem. I took a miracle cherry and teleported to within sight of the five-mile-high tower and then took another one to fly the rest of the way there.

In the two weeks since Rachel had appeared on TV to show herself to the world and simultaneously build her tower, a floating village of ships had formed around the base of the tower, which rose straight out of the water with no door or platform of any kind at its base. People had flown all around it and had tried everything in their power to get inside, but the tower did not seem to be affected by any power that a Level 1 miracle cherry could imbue. Despite declaring on TV that she had decided to rule the world, there had not been much more said about that. Either she was still preparing or she would be a very laissez-faire world ruler.

I went there with little hope of getting in, but after several nights of ultra-vivid dreams about Rachel, including some with her asking me to get in touch with her, I had to at least try. That happening right after I had taken a Level 2 miracle cherry gave me some hope that I could find answers.

As I approached, I saw a group of people clustered around one spot on the tower about twenty feet above the water. All of them were hovering in mid-air. I knew from the news that this was the Triangle, a raised 3-sided panel on the tower’s side about two feet wide. It was the only part of the tower’s exterior that was different, so everyone naturally concluded that this must be an access panel of some sort.

A woman with a bag of multi-colored rods was directly in front of the panel, tapping it in various places and in different combinations, occasionally switching out one rod for another. No one said anything to me.

As I watched, an enormous sense of déjà vu came over me. I had never been here before, but suddenly I knew what to do, as if peering momentarily through a window into a past life. I moved forward, pushing past the woman and ignoring her shout of protest. Grasping the two lower corners of the triangles with my hands, I touched my forehead to the top corner.

With speed greater than what I had come to think of as “normal” teleportation, I was inside the tower. To my amazement, from the inside, the entire thing was transparent and hollow. It rose above me like an unending column of glass. I saw the woman outside desperately holding the bottom of the triangle as I had done and banging her head against the top. It did not work for her.

I turned and in the middle of the tower was a small table with a box. I went over and opened it to find a single miracle cherry inside. Its dark pink color told me it was a Level 2. Without hesitation, I picked it up and put it in my mouth.

I was back in the small red room. Rachel was there, sitting in the only chair. She smiled when she saw me.

“Well, you made it back, I see,” she said.

“Yes, I can’t believe I actually remembered what to do,” I said. Now that I was back here, I remembered her instructions on how to come back, how I was supposed to go to the tower and touch the Triangle on all sides.

“Was that all just a test then?” I asked.

She nodded. “About 40% of humans have the capability to retain the memories of this place subconsciously. That is important for what might come next. Of course, it was also a test to see if you would actually go to the tower and follow through.”

“Did anyone else take the Level 2 miracle cherries?

“A few,” she said. “They came here just like you did and I talked to them and told them the same thing. But you’re the first to come back, so I guess you win.”

“Win what?” I asked.

Rachel stood up quickly. “Two things,” she said. “You win the answers to your questions last time and you win a choice.”

“What do Level 3 miracle cherries do?” I asked immediately.

“The miracle cherry. There is only one.” She held out her hand. A purple miracle cherry encased in a transparent sphere lay in her palm. “You have to take it out here, in this world. If you wish.”

“What does it do?” I asked.

“It will let you live out here, like me,” she said. “You will take over for me and can move back and forth from your universe to here whenever you want. I’ll basically give you your part of the universe. You can rule the world or just let it keep going on its own. You can continue to sell the Level 1 miracle cherries or stop. That would all be up to you.”

“And if I decide not to?”

“Then we would put your universe back in time to before the miracle cherries went on sale. Life would continue as it had before. We cannot jump back and forth in time, but it possible with machines to force your universe backwards a certain period of time.”

She handed me the purple orb encased in its sparkling case. I had no idea what I was going to do, I realized.

“Why?” I asked. “Why give me the choice at all?”

She motioned me to the chair. “I really should have put two chairs in here,” she said with a small laugh. She waited until I sat down. “Your civilization has already considered the possibility of a super-reality outside of yours: where your whole world is nothing but a simulation, or a game board, or a research project. Any sufficiently developed civilization will eventually consider that idea. However, for us, who have our own universes that we plant and tend, the idea is much more pressing because we know it is possible.”

“You are worried that this is all inside a greater reality,” I said. “That you yourselves are pawns inside someone else’s game.”

“We have some reason to think that we are,” Rachel said. “But we want to find out. If you choose to, we could use your insights as a member of another universe. You have experiences and perspectives that no one here could possibly have.”

I thought about my family and friends. I could still go see them, although possibly becoming ruler of the world might change our relationship somewhat.

“When do I need to decide?”

She looked up at the wall. “You have 21 minutes. Then you’ll be back in the tower with no memory of all this and no way to get back here. It’s your choice.”

I pushed on the transparent case in my hands and under the pressure of my fingers, it disappeared, leaving the purple Level 3 miracle cherry in my hands.

“Am I the first one?” I asked. “How many other people have stood here with this same choice and how many times have you pushed time back?”

“A few,” she said.

“What did they do?”

“The fact you are standing here should tell you what they did,” Rachel said. “All of them decided to go back and rewind the world. It’s the safe choice, to be sure.”

I weighed the small orb in my hand for a second, then put it in my mouth. Rachel’s face broke into a grin as I swallowed. “Welcome!” she said, reaching out and pulling me up out of my chair. The walls of the room disappeared and I saw we were on a floating platform surrounded on all sides by thousands, if not millions of other people in the largest stadium imaginable.

“Meet the rest of the research team,” Rachel said as a roar went up from the assembled crowd, as if I’d just scored the winning goal in the largest World Cup game ever.

“What will you do about the world you left?” Rachel asked above the noise. “Should we leave it as it is now or would you like to rule for a while? Anytime you do will help with our research. Or we could rewind time anyway and none of them will know anything about this.”

“I don’t know,” I said. I gazed around at the uncountable crowd around me, unable to comprehend what had just happened. “Maybe I’ll go back and ask them.”


The Era of Miracle Cherries

They come in a hundred different varieties now, but I remember when they first came out, bundles of little pink orbs with a stalk coming off them. They clearly weren’t cherries. Everyone knew it at the time, but they had that look of a classical cherry with a stem and so the name stuck. Plus, no one knew what else to call them. No one even knew where they came from.

Adapted from “Cherries” by amandabhslater is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

They appeared online at first, of course. Ads began popping up for the super domain miracles891$$ and soon the sheer amount of ads drove the buzz. What people found was a simple storefront site selling one thing: boxes of ten of these pink balls simply labeled miracles. They were $150 per box.

I kind of wonder now who the first person was to buy them, that first brave or foolish early-adopter who went to a random website and paid $150 for a box of miracles. I can imagine them unboxing it in their living room, rolling the little balls between their fingers, holding one up to their nose to see if the smell betrayed what they really were. I can imagine the first person taking that first, tentative bite, wondering if this really was something miraculous or just a scam. Maybe they were hoping it was drugs. It was much better than drugs.

I cannot say if the first person realized what the miracle cherries were, but someone that first day must have. The word “miracle” leads the mind on a certain path. Peter Jirand was the first one that made the news though. He had Stage 4 esophageal cancer and was in hospice when the small box of miracle cherries arrived at his door. He was cancer-free within two days. He ran the New York marathon six months later. After that, sales of miracle cherries went atmospheric.

Still, it took another five months before people caught on to the fact that they were more than just health supplements, however amazingly effective they were at that. Within five months, the medical industry has cratered. For $15 a dose, miracle cherries could cure literally anything. Almost overnight, diseases were practically eradicated.

Of course, the medical industry fought back. They pointed to the fact that no government could certify that the miracle cherries were safe and did not have long-term side effects, mostly because no one could figure out how they were made. They tried to ban them, but no one knew where they were coming from or even who was benefiting. Billions of dollars poured into the miracles891$$ super domain, but no one credible ever came forward as owning it and the money never reappeared. The boxes were mailed from thousands of different places but when the police broke into one of them, they only found an empty room.

Five months after the first miracle cherries appeared, a video went viral of a man flying over Rio de Janiero. Then it was like a light bulb went on over the collective heads of the human race. Miracles cherries were genuinely miracles, it turned out. They would only affect the person who took them, but that still included a lot.

It was the age of superheroes, and supervillains as well. Now anyone who wanted to could fly, turn invisible, become immortal, even transport instantly to another place. The world economy reeled and staggered, as whole industries rose and feel over the span of days or weeks.

Then the day came when a young woman with short hair and glasses appeared on TV. Every TV. “Hello,” she said. “My name is Rachel and I am the owner of miracles891$$ and the maker of what are known as miracle cherries. There are three levels of miracle cherries. You have all been taking the first and lowest level. The second level will go on sale today for 150 million dollars per box of ten.”

She paused to adjust her glasses as the world let this sink in. “As of today, I have 1.563 trillion dollars,” she said, “although I don’t really need it. I have decided that I would like to rule the world. As I have been speaking, I created a headquarters for myself in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I will meet world leaders there and we can discuss how things will move forward. Thank you.” The young woman identified only as Rachel snapped her fingers and disappeared.

This is an odd story, to be sure. I wrote it a little over a year ago and never posted it then. It’s also an open-ended story, meaning it doesn’t have a sequel. Instead, you can think about what happens next. What would level 2 and 3 miracle cherries look like? I like this kind of story, although I realize not everyone does. Maybe if anyone cares enough, I’ll write a second part to it.


I Came for the Sugar

I Came for the Sugar

“What the…?” The waitress was staring at Nise’s sleeve. Panic exploded in my mind.

Nise’s laugh sounded natural as he pulled the worm out. “This is my pet, Mirai.” Nise sprinkled sugar on the table. “He loves this stuff.”

The waitress looked ready to vomit.

I rushed home and let Nise collapse on the couch. I crawled out of his pocket, exhausted from controlling the huge body.

That was too close. I had to get out of this Neanderthal era and back to my own civilized time.

I manned the chrono-communicator. Again. “Mirai to anyone. Get me out of here.”


Quantum Parking

I always thought it was impossible to destroy the fabric of the universe while working at a parking garage. It was one of those comforting truths that I clung to when times got hard, one of those sentences you stick ‘at least’ on the front of, like: “at least rats can’t wield guns” or “at least I’ll never be eaten by a dinosaur.” Finding out these things are wrong is what I think is called life experience.

Cosmic Orb Weaver

Terrible, horrible life experience

Bruno Brax was a friend of mine, in the same way a black hole and a passing star are friends. He had a sly, Tom Sawyer-esque way of making you think he was doing you a favor when it was really the other way around. I’m still not sure what he did for a living, but if I had to guess, it was to be friends with people like me.

“Hey Jimmy,” Bruno said, calling me up one day while I was puzzling over my doctoral dissertation. “I found you a job.”

“I’m not looking for a job.”

“Not anymore. Cuz I found you one. It’s a valet job at La Fesse D’or. It’s a swanky place. The guy who worked there before made like, eight bills a night.”

“8000 dollars a night?” I asked, skeptical.

“Not eight grand, idiot, 800. What, that’s not enough?”

“How do you make that much parking cars?”

“Tips, of course. It’s high class. Anyway, I’m always happy to help. I’ll text you the address. See you in an hour.” He hung up.

I went to meet him. I was stuck on my dissertation anyway.

La Fesse D’or stuck up like a crystal needle in the middle of the restaurant district, poised to lance the boil of the heavens. It was so narrow that there was only one table per floor but the restaurant went up thirty stories into the air, like a space-age middle finger to anyone who couldn’t afford to eat there, which was pretty much everyone. I drove but had to park four blocks away. Bruno was waiting outside, looking impatient.

“You’re late. I wanted to train you but your shift starts in fifteen minutes, so there’s not much time.”

“What—?”

“Come on, I even got your size uniform. Hurry up and change.”

There is a certain point, just like with black holes, when you pass the event horizon and struggling becomes pointless. Bruno had this weird gravity about him that sucked you in and compelled you see his point of view. And his point of view was invariably that you should do what he said.

“Okay, so this is all there is to it,” he said once I had changed into a uniform two sizes too small and was standing out front with him. “The customer drives up and gives you the keys. Then you drive it around the corner and onto the receiving pad. Then you go into the control booth and push the green button and the car disappears. Simple as that.”

“Where does it go?”

“It goes forward in time,” Bruno said, as if this was obvious. “A guy I know set it up since the owner’s a friend of mine.”

“You send them forward in time,” I repeated. I thought the collar might be cutting off my oxygen.

“To the year 5400, I think. Trust me, it was cheaper to do it this way than rent parking space in this neighborhood. Now, it’s important to send the cars at least four hours apart, or they might appear on top of one another. That’s bad. The world is a blasted wasteland at that time, so there’s no problem with future people messing with the cars. To get them back, select them on the list in the computer and hit the red button. Got it?”

I don’t absorb new information well so for the next quarter hour, my brain was curled up in the fetal position in the corner of my skull. Bruno took my frozen expression as a good sign and left me with a hearty “Good Luck!” and a slap on the back. “Oh, by the way,” he said, poking his head back in the door. “Never let the customers know about this, okay? For all they know it’s a normal parking garage. Got it?”

I got it eventually and after the shock wore off, I started to get excited. An hour before, I had been mired in an ill-conceived sociology dissertation and now I was sending cars forward in time. I went into the control booth.

There was dried blood on the floor. I called Bruno.

“Oh, that’s from the last guy, Charley. He fell asleep and spun the dial to send the car back into the distant past. A small dinosaur came back with the car and bit his leg off. He died.”

“The dinosaur or Charley?”

“Charley. I don’t know what happened to the dinosaur. Listen, you’re not allowed to bring a gun to work, but it might be a good idea to bring a large knife when you come tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Bruno had already hung up.

Someone honked outside and from just the tone and duration, I could tell he was a jerk. It turned out to be a she, a very well-dressed she in a Hummer. She dropped the keys into my hand and walked off without a word. A moment later, the Hummer was on the receiving pad. I wiped the sweat off my palm and pressed the green button.

Bruno wasn’t kidding. The Hummer just popped out of existence, no flaming tire tracks or anything.

Just then, the phone rang and I picked it up. “Hey, buddy, there’s a woman here who says you just parked her Hummer. She said her brother is asleep in the back seat, so just tell him to come in when he wakes up.”

Click.

Crap.

Crap crap crap.

Crapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrap.

I had to call Bruno.

Ether Generator - InvertedTo be continued tomorrow…


Beating Swords into Saxophones – Friday Fictioneers

Beating Swords into Saxophones

The Earth was snoozing peacefully—the sunny Sunday afternoon of history—when the aliens came to prod through what remained of human civilization, oohing and ahhing in incomprehension over our ruined cities and quaintly antique technology.

They found our weapon caches delightful. The casing of a Minuteman made a pleasant booming when hit with the butt of an M-16 and .50 bullets strung up on trip wire cable laughed and sang as they tinkled together in the wind.

Then one poked at a landmine, with explosive results. “Save that for the concert,” the leader said. “That’ll be the grand finale.”


Foggy Bottom Brain Surgery – Friday Fictioneers

Hi everyone, did you think I would miss Friday Fictioneers this week? I’m over 24 hours late from when I usually post this, but I wasn’t feeling inspired. The problem with doing these every week for so long is that I don’t want to write just any story and if I don’t get an idea I really like, I just keeping thinking and thinking. I don’t know if this is exactly a good story, but it’s unapologetically bizarre, and that’s okay in my books.

copyright Erin Leary

copyright Erin Leary

Foggy Bottom Brain Surgery

Dr. Singh was sweating like . . . there was no better analogy than what he was at that moment: a doctor performing brain surgery on the king of the Bhligli, whose cognitive organ was in their buttocks. The Blighli never thought sitting down.

The tumor was an active thing, dodging the scalpel and hiding in the forest of alien ganglia.

“More suction, the whole thing is filling up with fog.”

Slurp. A greenish appendage disappeared up the vacuum tube. The nurse cringed under his wrathful look. “Do you think that was important?”

“For the sake of the human race, I hope not.”


The Strangemans (Part 2)

This is an Aftermath story. In the previous part of the story, Damian and his friend Nikolai find shelter in a ruined house in the post-apocalyptic wasteland outside Ipswich. They meet a deformed woman who gives them food and shelter.

wasteland

“Do you live here by yourself?” Damian asked.

“No, there are several of us, but they will not show themselves yet,” she said. “We are the Strangemans.”

“The Strangemen?” Nikolai asked.

“Strangemans,” she corrected, smiling with yellowed fangs. “For changed people like us, even the language must change. We are men no longer, or women. But where are you coming from, and where are you going?”

“We came from Ipswich,” Damian said. “I—I don’t know where we are going though.”

“You are not the first to run away from that place, although most who flee thoughtlessly out here die quickly. It was fortunate you came across our house. I will give you a choice. If you wish, you may become one of us. You will have food and shelter, and more importantly, allies. Or you may leave. We will give you some food to take with you if you choose.

“How many of you are there?” Damian asked.

“Several,” she said again. “The witchers—raiders from Ipswich—hunt us if they find us, so we never tell our number or faces to outsiders. I’m am an ambassador of sorts. You may think about it, if you wish.”

“I will join you,” Damian said immediately.

“Me too,” Nikolai said. He eyed the empty bowl in front of him.

“Are you sure?” she said. “There is a sort of test to join us, but it is quick.”

“I’m sure,” Damian said, looking up into her eyes. He trusted her eyes.

“Very well.” She took his left hand, caressed it and then brought it to her mouth as if to kiss it. The next moment she bit down hard at the first joint of his pinky finger.

Damian screamed and jerked his hand back, but it was done. The woman pulled the tip of his finger out of her mouth, dirty nail and all, and placed it in his trembling right hand.

“Why? Why—” His voice shook from physical and mental shock.

“In a moment,” she said. “We must stop the bleeding.” She bandaged his finger with the care of a mother and then kissed it, as if in benediction.

“There is one more step,” she said. “Now throw it into the fire over there and you will be one of us.” Damian looked down at the tiny bit of bloodied flesh in his hand. Apart from him, it was nothing but a foreign object. He threw it in the fire.

“Now you have given part of yourself to us forever,” the woman said. “And we will protect you with our lives as well.” She held up her left hand and Damian saw the tip of her last finger was missing as well. “Welcome to the Strangemans.”

She turned to Nikolai, but the other boy had backed against the wall, his whole body shaking. “You are next, if you would like,” the woman said.

“No, no! I can’t,” he said. The tears were pouring down his face. “There has to be another way.”

“There is no other way,” she said. “Life out here is no game. If you cannot give of yourself, we cannot give ourselves to you. It is quickly done and the benefits are for a lifetime.”

“Damian! Damian, help me!” Nikolai cried. There was desperation in his voice and Damian understood the crushing dilemma he was in, wanting to belong, but not daring to go through with it. And Damian could not save him, not like he had from the butcher of Ipswich. Only Nikolai could decide. Damian wondered what he would have done if he had known what was coming and how unfair it was for Nikolai to know.

“Be at peace,” the woman said. “You may stay here another day or two at most, unless you decide to join us before then. For right now though, you must stay here.” She turned to Damian. “As for you, newest Strangeman, come meet your brothers and sisters.”


The Strangemans

This is an Aftermath story. In the previous story, the Butcher of Ipswich, Damian rescues his friend Nikolai from a butcher who is about to kill him. Due to stress and fear, Damian enters an altered state where he moves faster and is much stronger, but also totally deaf. He escapes the post-apocalyptic city of Ipswich and runs off into the dark, nighttime wasteland.

wasteland

The dark, putrid wasteland echoed with screams and weird cries but Damian heard none of them as he ran, carrying his friend Nikolai in his arms. He had no destination and no plan, except to get as far away as he could from the depraved city of Ipswich. It seemed like almost no time had passed when the sun rose behind him and his shadow—a dark, sickly skeleton—leaped out in front of him. It was only a moment or two before he could feel the sun’s terrible rays burning into his skin, sending up tiny blisters. It didn’t hurt, but some part of his brain beneath the preternatural fog that covered his mind knew he had to get out of the sun immediately.

He was in a narrow lane with ruined houses on both sides. He ducked into the closest house on the left, the only one with an intact roof and dropped Nikolai to the dusty kitchen floor. Damian was still deaf—whatever power had seized him in Ipswich when he had snatched Nikolai from the terrible butcher’s table and fled had also plunged him into a silent world of his own. He would be worried later; for now the lack of screams and cries of pain that had filled every day of his life were absent and he walked in a sort of aural Nirvana.

Nikolai was still unconscious. Damian looked at him and then, in a sudden decision, lay down next to him and went instantly to sleep.

He woke and found himself gazing up into the kindly face of a monster. It was, or had been, a woman, but now her face was swollen and tumorous and her teeth were yellow and sharp. But her eyes were kind and she when she mouthed unheard words to him, he felt strangely reassured. She held a cup up for him to drink and then gave him some food. It was plain stuff but far better than he was used to. After a few minutes, he fell asleep again.

When he awoke again, it was dark and the first thing he noticed was the crackle of a fire. It was indistinct, but his hearing was returning. Nikolai was up as well and eating. “Hello,” he said, when he saw Damian. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know,” Damian said. He would have thought it was all a dream, except they were definitely not in Ipswich anymore.

“What is your name?” the monstrous woman asked, coming over to Damian. She held out a bowl of food for him, which he eagerly accepted.

“Damian,” he said. “I could not hear you before. My ears— but it’s okay now.” Despite his upbringing as a fugitive and her hideous appearance, he found himself trusting the woman. “Do you live here by yourself?”

“No, there are several of us, but they will not show themselves yet,” she said. “We are the Strangemans.”

(To be continued tomorrow. Don’t miss it!)


The Butcher of Ipswich

After a long, long time, Aftermath is back! For those who don’t know what it is, Aftermath is a post-apocalyptic world set in England. The original stories were centered around a character name Edward “the Squid” Morrison, who was a pretty bad guy but who was on a quest to find music and other artifacts from the former world. On his journey he found an unconscious boy whom he named Sean. Even when the boy awoke, he didn’t speak, although in the last story that I wrote, he found out that the boy’s name was Damian. This is Damian’s backstory.

Aftermath

The city of Ipswich was dark and it stank. The whole world stank now, but the city had a concentrated stench of years of piled and rotting waste. During the summer days, the unforgiving sun baked the waste to a hard crust that only the fat, evil flies could find any nourishment from, but still it reeked. Damian was used to it all by now. He had been born into that den of villains and pirates and raised on its merciless streets. He knew where to hide during the day and where to find food each night, away from the slavers and pimps and meatmen.

He was sitting in his nest of rags and scraps between the two steam pipes. Nikolai had not returned yet. Nikolai was his—friend? What that the right word? They didn’t talk or hunt for food together, but they didn’t fight either. They spend the long days together, sleeping with their backs pressed together, but then, when the blistering orb of fire sunk below the horizon, they went their separates ways and hunted their own food. Maybe that meant they were friends.

The night had been productive. He had grabbed a handful of b-meat off a truck and ducked down into a drain before the driver could chase him. All meat was separated into three categories. A-meat, the kind that came from cows and pigs and other legendary animals, was unheard of these days. If there were still such animals left in the world, they could not live in the blighted wasteland around Ipswich. B-meat was mostly seafood, with some bird thrown in when someone got lucky. C-meat was the rest: rats, snakes, irradiated mutants from the darkness beyond the city, and worse. It was sold ground up and mixed together so the customer never knew what, or who, it came from. There was high demand for all types of meat, but Damian never touched c-meat. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, but thieves who were good at their trade could be as selective as they wished.

Damian heard running footsteps approaching. He peered into the darkness, trying to pick out if it was Nikolai. Suddenly, Nikolai’s running form was backlit by a powerful spotlight. He was almost to the entrance to the steampipes when something like a metallic whip wrapped around him and dragged him away, screaming. Damian pulled himself back into the shadows behind the pipes. There were many groups that routinely hunted down street children, and the difference between them was only like the varying levels of Hell.

The spotlight was gone now, Nikolai’s screams were muffled and then suddenly cut off. He was dead, probably, beyond Damian’s help or anyone else’s but still, Damian found himself creeping out of his hole and tiptoeing to the head of the alley. It was still hours until dawn but from the dim lights of neighboring buildings, Damian could see a handcart being pulled away by two men. He followed silently. There was nowhere good they could be going but still, his heart sank when they turned into the reeking, fetid alley behind the meat market.

Just go back, his mind screamed at him. Nikolai was dead anyway, or soon would be. But he was a friend, or the closest Damian had ever had to one.
The cart stopped outside a shop and he saw the men carry Nikolai through the door and then leave. A pair of men wearing blood-stained aprons and swinging cleavers walked past and Damian shrank down into the shadows. When they had passed, he went to the door. It was bolted with a latch on the inside, but he slipped his homemade knife through the crack in the door and a moment later it opened.

There was Nikolai, lying motionless on a table. There was no one else around, but he could hear voices coming from an adjacent room. He stepped inside. Nikolai was still breathing but blood was coming from a gash on the side of his head. The blood was warm and sticky and seeped through Damian’s fingers as he pressed his hand to his friend’s head. Nikolai moaned a little and his eyes flickered open. “Come on, we gotta scurry,” Damian whispered. “Can you stand?” He put his hands behind Nikolai’s back and helped him sit up.

“Put him back, boy.” Damian looked up to see a tall man wearing a butcher’s apron standing in the inner door. “Put him back and I’ll let you go, but I already paid for him.”

“He’s my friend,” Damian said. There was no way out. Nikolai’s eyes had closed again as he sat. “I’ll get you someone else.”

The butcher sighed. “It’s not worth it to me, plus I don’t believe you.”

“I’ll find you a hundred more. Please, please.”

“I’ll give you five seconds to get out of here before I take you too.” The butcher picked up a cleaver to punctuate his words.

Damian could feel the rage and the fear coursing through him, urging him to act. It was a feeling he had felt before in dangerous situations and the raw, wild feel of it had always scared him and he froze. The butcher gave a little shrug and moved towards him. The feeling building in Damian reached a fever-pitch and suddenly pain exploded in his head, so severe that he cried out. It felt like his head was going to burst. And then, just as suddenly, it ended and the world descended into silence. The butcher continued towards him in slow motion. Damian took a step towards him and hit him in the chest and the huge man flew back and crashed silently through the wall.

It was like a dream. Damian picked up Nikolai and walked outside. He started running, still carrying his unconscious friend. He weaved his way between people, all of whom seemed to be moving in molasses. Now he was just running, with no thought to where he was going. He saw the outer gate of the city, open to its normal night traffic. Two guards stepped into his path, but they went flying as he barreled effortlessly through them. Then he was outside the city, where he had never been before, running heedlessly into the cursed wasteland. Behind him, there may have been shouts or sirens or sounds of pursuit, but he did not hear them and he did not care.


The Birth of History – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

 

The Birth of History

Hector’s breath hissed through the ventilator and he surveyed the delivery room through the windows of his mask. All outside sounds were muffled, including the wail of his newborn son, lying in its mother’s arms.

“The doctor says all is well,” she said. “He can breathe normally.”

Hector nodded. “I wish I could touch him.”

“At home. The atmosphere is optimized for all three of us there.”

“Do you think he will be alright?”

His wife took his gloved hand. “He will be celebrated. The first offspring between a Terran and a Venusian is a cause for joy, not shame.”


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