According to the United Earth Space Force, Frank Devine owns two black-jumpers. And there is shit he can do about it. He would normally be expected to alternate them daily. When one is post wash and drying under the UV light over the toilet, the other he’d wear under his Surface-Mobility-Unit as he endlessly cleans the glass dome covering Pacman Station.
But he only got issued one.
Mars, can you believe it? I got stationed on Mars!
His words, exclaimed as if he were given a gift by the United Earth government on the day he graduated advance training and got his permanent duty assignment.
Then every day since, struggle. Especially for the ones in the black-jumpers like him. The workers, the ones with mops, and the brooms, and the window squeegees. But today is proving extra hard, especially because he wasn’t able to wash his jumpsuit last night. He was too tired. Visiting VIPs from Earth make the bosses push even harder in an already impossible situation. Things need to shine, got to show the suits things are going well.
Otherwise known as lying.
Frank has learned the hard way, making things shine on a planet covered in red dust is next to impossible.
Keeping a single uniform clean day in and day out is also.
Fuck, is how he addressed the problem waking and discovering the uniform from the previous day’s efforts was still rumpled-wet on the floor of his living unit.
I forgot, fucking shoot me, but he knows in space one can never forget, and survive.
Already his fuck up has given him two choices for his shift:
Wear the one he was never issued, or force his feet into the one that’s still wet and stinky with the funk his body expelled yesterday while wrapped in work.
And that’s really the only thing on Frank Devine’s mind, wishing he had never left Earth, or had a second uniform, as a small pebble burns through the Martian atmosphere and pops his SMU, ending all of his problems for good.
“We gots the gun and a broken camera. I call it open and shut. She killed herself. Junky got tired, happens all the time.”
The voice is like a bunch of rocks in a drier and thumps around with the rotgut eating at the detective’s concentration. It wasn’t any different of a late-night than usual, more a continuation of a bender he would be hard-pressed to remember when started.
He got the call on the body, and here he was, standing over a dead girl under a sheet. Same age as his daughter. Same everything, right down to seeing her ID and disbelieving it was someone else.
Someone’s little girl.
He shakes the thought away because it doesn’t help and looks for the owner of the voice. Not to stop him, more to capture his face so he can add him to the ever-growing list of names filled with cops who will one day be used in the detective’s own game if the need ever arose. The stupidest man in the Brownsville precinct is the uniform talking to a fucking reporter from channel one, the smoke show with the legs. Ratings booster. Every hard-on in the tristate will pay attention for the thirty seconds she is on camera.
Obviously, the boot was sanctioned by someone in management to talk out of turn like this, and stopping the conversation would be career suicide. The detective would consider it if career suicide didn’t include a trip upstate to Sing-Sing.
Regardless though, the vic was a prostitute. Ya sure. Did she deserve it? Make wrong-headed choices? Put herself in harm’s way? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and more. Lots of ladies don’t become streetwalkers, but this one did. And he finds himself hoping someone else types up the paperwork so he can sign it and go find the bottle he left in a drawer.
And the news media, taking a quote from the world’s dumbest cop, asks, “what about the pooch-tech, any chance we will see it used today?”
Pooch tech, what a fucking joke. Especially for an open and shut case. A girl got killed because she was a moron. He wants to scream this all out, spew it from his system before it can give him cancer, but can’t as the uniform says, “sure,” and presses the little puppy icon on his belt.
Out pops a fully functional robot Doberman.
“Bark. Initiating. Bark.”
Then the robot dog begins sniffing around the junkyard. The uniform and the reporter and the cameraman follow.
As lead investigator, through the haze of alcohol-induced brain damage, and the idea his tomorrow matters as little as his today, the detective does as well.
It doesn’t take long before the robot dog whimpers and bounds away with the clatter of metal paws on muddy cement.
The detective immediately wishes again this case had fallen onto some else’s desk, especially as the metal-dog finds the murder weapon. A cop’s weapon. A weapon issued to someone who gets first crack at new toys. And this toy? Still clutched in that someone’s hand as it dangles out of the giant car crusher as if still attached to a living being.
“Men are moved by two levers: fear and self-interest,” Bonaparte says and as if the words were a match the crowd erupts into curses and threats.
“This is not what was promised.”
“Fuck you, and your dreams.”
But the speech dwindles though when the emperor turns, and with only a quiet murmur following, leaves the hall. He puts them out of his mind because they, and their petty concerns, are no longer his.
It’s a quick walk to the cosmodrome, over the grounds and gardens he’ll leave behind. There’s no use being darling about it, however. His destination is a steaming rocket, then space, and then Mars. He would rule everything, not just simply Europe.
He boards his space-bound craft, straps himself in, and with a manic chuckle hits the red button.
The machine folds light and sweeps along its wave to the moment that has been indicated. It is beautiful, this journey. The spectrum of colors sweeping by outside the hatch, amazing enough to affect dreams for a lifetime. Not that the pilot would know, though, for the engineers who designed this machine chose not to include windows.
“Windows were not important to time traveling.”
The fuck they aren’t, the original pilot argued, but for naught, and now he needs to wait to see. But as all things must, the machine stops, and when it completes its measurements the door opens with a hiss.
Outside is a pine-needle carpeted forest and the smells and sounds of the ocean.
“So, this is the past?”
The high-pitched voice startles the pilot, and he looks over at the occupant of the crafts second command chair. He doesn’t recognize the blond man with shoulder-length ratty looking hair, and a thick brow line that would make head butting quite effective. He wore rough-looking leathers and smelled like wiping was not an option.
“No, it’s really more our present. It might have been the past, but we corrupted it and stole it when we got here.”
The pilot finds himself concerned with that answer and how he was able to conjure it.
“What about the future?”
“There is none until we go there, but once we do, it will also become the present.”
“So wait, are you saying we can write history.”
The pilot thinks about it for a second and decides, “time isn’t a line where moments can be picked.”
“Time is certainly not a line.”
The pilot nods in agreement and says. “Time is like consciousness mixed with light, but once light touches something and it becomes visible, then it is no longer theoretical but functional.” And he stops, realizing the man in the other chair had just stopped talking also.
“Did we just—” the pilot begins but is interrupted.
“What about if we go out there and meet a man? What happens to him?”
“He is both alive, now because we are here, and dead once we leave.”
“What if we go back further in time.”
“Then there is a possibility he will never even be born, or for that matter that the Earth even exists at our point in history at all.”
“How likely is that?”
“We came here in a time machine. Imagine if it were discovered. Humanity would advance almost instantly. But only technologically. We’d still struggle with morality, as in our time. Primitives adjusting to limitless potential and all that.”
“Do you take the savage off his pristine island homeland and make him be a part of society, or do you leave him alone for fear that if you give him too much tech, he would either go crazy or die?”
“Exactly what?” The pilot is confused. He is both asking and answering his own questions.
“This is exactly what happened.”
“The Savage went crazy.”
The words hit him, and it’s painful. He remembers now climbing into the machine and the doors closing, and then what?
“You became an infinite version of yourself, knowing everything that can be learned and knowing nothing at the same time.”
“So I am Schrödinger’s Time traveler?”
“No, you are a fool who ruptured time.”
As if his words made it so, beyond the carpet of pine needles, what would be sky, fades into a black. The black then encroaches on everything, seeming to eat the ground as it comes.
“Nothing is happening.”
“No look, that! That is not nothing!”
“No, that is vacuity. That’s the rupture, and what it leaves behind is null, where there was always a sum.”
The words leave the pilot’s mouth also just as he decides to take action, orientate, and punch in his own birthdate.
“That’s not going to work.”
“Because you don’t exist anymore.”
But the pilot hits the red button anyway because red buttons always mark the end, and that’s exactly what happens.
“Stupid Caterpillar,” the wizard whispers, his voice echoing into the cavern as if the darkness were hungry for something to eat besides silence. He follows the utterance up with a stomp of his slipper. In the small sphere of blue light cast from the top of the wizard’s white-oak staff, the dwarf can see the smooshed little corpse.
“Why did you do that?” The debate was finally over, he no longer had to play mister nice dwarf. As an excuse, they have been lost for days and out of food since the last of the hardtack was eaten, who knows when. Time is meaningless as they wander, looking for a way out. He wonders if he can even find an exit. They could very well be lost forever. Are they lost forever? If so, it may just be his fault, his being the wizard who hired him in first place as a guide.
“I will tell you a tale of small things that eat big things.”
“Please don’t.” Endless prattle was all the wizard had been good for so far, and maybe if he lived a better life, forged a better reputation, so to speak, he wouldn’t have had to seek the gold the old fool was offering a guide. Take me into the mountain. As a hill dwarf, he lied and said he could do what was required, and now here they were, beyond lost.
Too obtuse to hear the dwarf’s plea, the wizard pushes on, “A worm to some. A sliver of life that, if consumed, ravages the insides of its victim. Victim? Maybe, but that is really not fair. Its victims are attempted murderers after all. Maybe one might consider it karma even.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“It starts slowly at first, with this tiny string of nothing taking over blood vessels and airways and eventually even thought. It Breaks down systems that took hundreds of millions of years to perfect. That still are works in progress. Which makes me wonder, maybe it’s the apex predator we human’s like to think we are.”
“Well, maybe some dwarfs too, I guess.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I fed you one, already.”
“Did I neglect to warn you? Yes, you see, I’m hoping once it takes over, I can finally have the guide I paid for.”
Unaware of irony, the oddity wakes in the Dreamlands and holds the shape of a nameless sponge diver.
It forgot and fell asleep like this, and now it wakes to find itself thinking of owning a personalized existence.
The brain in the diver’s head that the oddity now holds in his hands. This tool allowed the creature to breach the barrier, a barrier that should never have been crossed. Nameless soul, destined to fill the belly of an Old One, eventually. Like us all, he had little hope for anything more. The Old Ones, who will also die when time stops, never considered that the Oddity might gain sentience. It was just not an option. Because nothing matters. Nothing collects, and it becomes more nothing eventually. In fact, everything will be eaten by the void that kills time when that moment comes. Even me, even the Universe.
And nobody beats destiny.
Does it know this?
The murderer of hopes and dreams, the monster that comes and never stops?
It doesn’t, even as this and other thoughts race through the mind in its hands, a mind usually empty.
An empty mind might just be a better mind.
Maybe that’s whats needed, in the grand scheme of things, less thought- because thinking almost always causes problems.
Such a waste of opportunity, though.
The connections and synapses of the marvelous tool in the oddity’s hands, fire. Even so far from Einstein’s brain, broken as it were, floating through the many millions of realities, it finds itself connected to infinite potential.
Gates and connections.
Connections to what? Gates to where? The Universe? Me? A conduit to knowledge and existence? The Old Ones themselves?
It becomes too much, so I demand, “Will you stop?”
Confused, the oddity almost drops his treasure forcing a tentacle from his delusion to slither up and point at itself.
“Yes, you, the joke with a brain. A thing made to hunt and kill by instinct alone, holding the most technological perfect thing ever spawned by the joining of chaos and the cosmos.
“Er der, human?”
“Don’t take it personally, my man. You aren’t meant to know the joys of knowledge, only hunger. But you’ve ruined that, haven’t you? Now that you are more, and the question asserts itself, what will we do about that?”
When human launches into space, they will undergo the type of violence normally reserved for death.
And Commander Barry Golds thought he was going to die.
So, situation normal.
But he didn’t, and after a career trying to get here, he is aware the bit of engineering wrapped around himself helped, but that help was fading fast.
His head hurts, but he doesn’t mention it, instead using crew downtime in route to Moonbase Artemis as an excuse to argue with himself.
The answer he keeps coming back to is he has no right to be here.
NASA makes pains to ensure chaos stays off missions and doesn’t rear its ugly head. And this is one of the reasons why. Also, coincidentally, why there are no former Defensive linemen in space. To much chance of a hidden head injury and no telling what that particular condition could do to a person during space travel. It was unknown if the CTE injury might suddenly appear in aggression or, worse, hemorrhage.
So they try avoid issues by wrapping up every mission appointment process with enough redundancy to fill months with busy work.
It was hard to slip through.
But astronauts have gotten through with jealous psychosis, criminality, bad eyesight, and now, worse.
NASA was government, and government was foolish.
The newest addition to NASA failings is that Ben Golds has a head injury. Not from tackling fools on the gridiron type CTE, just the kind caused by the beginning phase of dementia. And he knew it and tricked the NASA tests because it was his turn to go to space and nothing was going to stop him. He tricked legions of doctors whose only goal was to get him into admitting he was experiencing problems.
“Look, Commander Golds, we are here for you and the safety of your crew. If you are experiencing any symptoms, please, let us know.”
But Golds smiled and said, “look at me doc, I am in the best shape of my life.
Which was a lie. He was in better shape ten years previous when he could remember for certain if he had worked out or not.
That was the first sign, doing things because he wasn’t sure if it had happened today or yesterday or a month ago.
“Barry, how many times are you going to work out today?” his wife asked, coming into their home gym just as he set the bar back on the bench. The set hurt too bad for her to be wrong.
“Just this once,” he lied, knowing it but not knowing how he couldn’t remember working out earlier in the day.
He worked his mind too hard, memorized too much stuff, he theorized.
And she stared at him, sad, “Barry, you’ve done been in here three times already. It’s not safe to work out this much.”
But life is far from safe, and he deserved at least one mission before he retired and made to fly hops to Hong Kong for the rest of his life.
And then the reason why he shouldn’t be in space comes into view again.
He almost doesn’t look down at the only reason to go to space, to begin with, the vision of Earth floating further and further away as they made their way to the moon.
But a hopeful flutter makes him do so anyway.
Maybe this time, reality will return.
He looks and again finds the spot on the world where Australia should be, but still blank.
He hears the heart monitor he is hooked up to, spike. It goes so high he gets a call from Houston.
“Golds, heart rate is spiking like crazy. What’s going on. Eden? Get a visual on Golds.”
Eden pipes back, “Shit Golds, are you okay? Guys– ah fuck he just popped.”
Puke rolls out of Golds mouth. Every single crumb he crammed into after being told he could eat, and he did because they make them go up hungry. He is more okay with throwing up in space and floating through his own sick-up then he thought he’d be, because, at the end of it all, he Gets to die in space. Something no one in NASA had quite figured out yet.
It’s the whisper in the clouds. The swift turning and movement of frozen water.
“Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” she whispers, wishing she could take back wanting to impress him.
Luke pulls the ripcord on the power-glider, and the small gas engine chugs into life. With an obvious fake-smile, he turns back and shushes her, “Don’t worry, I have a plan.”
And as if it matters, he shows off the evil-looking spear as he grabs his cords and sprints air born.
With a sigh, she follows his lead and is air born also. Soon enough, she falls into an easy formation with him, and all she hears is her own revving engine and the roaring wind as they approach the unaware creature.
Then the signal and Luke begins a dive that takes a chunk out of its flank, just enough to wound and draw attention, as the shark grabs her school mates chute and shakes.
Fool, she screams, following the boy is he falls through the clouds. She knows her words are eaten by the wind, but curses again, hoping he had time to pop his reserve.
Cloud sharks be damned, she decides, setting her sights. The old lore was right, when the ancient hunters made the North West safe for flight hundreds of years ago, this is what they did, tapped into their brutality, and killed. She thinks of her dad and all the pilots back in Seattle, all in danger. Their way of life, fishing the clouds, at risk. As she approaches the huge fish, she clenches her own spear ready for what’s to come.
A fight to the death.
Hungry, he pulls the oars again, and Domenicos Theotokopoulos, Dom to most, allows the little rowboat to drift to a stop. Certainly not the world’s ugliest man, though it was a close contest, he decides, here is good enough.
Dom is work-a-day ugly, the kind where his days are separated by a hangover, a bottle, and an empty bed. But on this moonless night, regardless of the rumors and bodies washing up on the beaches each morning, he didn’t have money for rotgut, or food, or anything, so he rowed out into the gulf to make some. He guesses the distance gone, brushing sweaty, oily hair from his pockmarked face and by the lights thrown by Tarpon Springs, judges the reef must be close enough to start work, so does.
He has to trust his instinct because the water lays under him like inky black glass, and all he sees is his fist-abused mug peering back. Thick humid air is still and nearly unbreathable under a sky covered in swirling white clouds mixed with flashes of blue heat-lightning. The only sound is the briny-water slapping the side of his little wooden-boat and the fear echoing in his heartbeat. He fights an urge to go home, but instead calls himself a sloppy deilós and decides he would rather eat tomorrow and continues the preparations to go under. Last, he equips his dive helmet, checks his hose for kinks, and with none, climbs over the side of the little boat.
He submerges in a hail of bubbles and, weighted to do so, falls fifty feet to upset the sandy bottom below. Soon it clears, and he moves to where he thinks the reef might be. With each step, he is freshly blinded by a storm of sand and is forced to move slow and deliberate.
And as the sand clears one last time, he almost dismisses the face of a woman staring back at him. He corrects himself, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen stares back at him, skin flecking iridescent, lips black and glossy, glossy like her deep soulless-eyes.
She fans her tail over a bare chest and smiles a mouth filled with vicious fangs. Compelled, Dom decides, oh well, and removes his helmet in anticipation of her hungry embrace.