Flash Forward Is Done!

FlashForward_2After many months on the back burner, I finally took a big step while house-sitting for my family this weekend and completed Flash Forward. For those who don’t know, this book is an anthology of short sci-fi stories I did back in April of 2013, with a few additions from both before and after. All told, it works out to 19 short stories, 140 pages, and just over 51,000 words.

For some time, I had been wanting to do some fiction that explored the world of emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, autonomous machines, space exploration and the coming Technological Singularity. And a project involving a short story a day for 26 days was just the excuse I needed. After collecting the resulting stories together, I grouped them into three parts based on common time period and theme.

transhumanismPart I: Transitions deals with the near future, where climate change, militarized borders, and explosive growth in portables, social media, and synthetic foods will have a major effect on life. Part II: Convergence deals with the ensuing decades, where space exploration, artificial intelligence, digital sentience, and extropianism will become the norm and fundamentally alter what it is to live, work, and be human.

And Part III: Infinitum finishes things off, looking to the distant future where the seed of humanity is planted amongst the distant stars and our species passes the existential singularity. It was fun to write, but what I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time is the chance to hold a physical copy. Somehow, that’s always the best moment of the whole creative process for me. Seeing the book in print, as a real, physical thing you can touch and leaf through.

hyperspace4And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to edit, a million and one ideas for critical revision to consider, and a whole heap of what Aldous Huxley referred to as “Chronic Remorse” to deal with. Writing, huh? There’s a reason not everybody does it!

Zodiac

????????????

Zodiacal light, the kind that takes millions of years to come

What revelations will it share, which are already so old?

The edge of the universe, the boundary of creation

Pulsing with the same power that once beget it all.

How can it be, when a billion are swirled into one,

And a billion more circle each other ad infinitum,

That I can think myself the paragon of creation?

But a billion billion voices still seem to cry out with one voice,

To letting me know how small and insignificant I truly am

And at the same time, so very rare and precious.

But more than this, how very much I am not alone.

Xeno

fractal_dyson_sphere_by_eburacum45-d2yum16The size and shape of the deep space field resolved itself into a million piercing points of light. From a mottled mass of brilliance, it slowly transitioned into the blue spectrum, then white, keeping pace with the Relativistic Engines that powered their vessel. As soon as they finished powering down, the instruments starting humming, beeping, and generally carrying out their functions. And all hands aboard her bridge began to listen very carefully for the desired sounds of contact.

For several minutes, sensor returns came back negative. The far-flung planet in the system, its many moons, and the thin trail of asteroids that constituted all stellar mass this far out were about the only things they were picking up. In time, the Captain began to wonder if they were even in the right place.

“We’re sure about these coordinates?” said Mikka, addressing Thoreau at the nav terminal. His hands waved above his touchscreen, absorbing information through contact and assimilating it at near-instantaneous speed. His eyes cleared as he looked up to see her, momentarily breaking from his sensory link.

“The shippers said they found it at the edge of the space lanes. They said it interfered with their nav console, but they made a note of it after they returned to port.”

“I read the report,” Mikka said. “Not very encouraging stuff.”

A few heads turned towards her. Not every member of her crew was privy to the details and she was sure not to say anything more. Hearing about a strange, floating shape in space, one which had given a hauler some serious lumps and its crew nightmares was not something that would go over well with them.

Taking her seat, the Captain accessed the memory file and ran the briefing notes through her mind again. The particulars were a bore, but the holographic representation, reconstructed from what scanner data could be retrieved from the haulers records, were quite interesting. And naturally, the Chairman’s voice droned on in the background, providing the relevant details…

[“…from the basic outline, it appears that what the ship detected has structure to it. It’s roughly spherical in shape… and though it’s dimensions are unclear, our technicians believe that it should measure the size of a small meteoroid.]

Structure, Mikka thought. A buzzword the xeno-types loved to use, employed whenever they found something they thought conformed to their expectations. Chairman Bukhari continued…

[“what is less mysterious is the effect it had on the commercial ship that made the approach. As soon as they got within a single AU of the object, they detected some high-energy gravimetric field. But instead of being pulled in, the ship was essentially pushed away. The crew tried to engage their engines to fight against the force of it, but that only made things worse. By the time they stopped spinning backwards and regained control of their vessel, they hightailed it back to Lagos station and filed a report.”]

And Explorations decided to send us out, the good old guinea pigs, she thought.

[“Luckily, our astrophysicists have a theory. We believe an approach will be possible if done by a ship that does not have significant mass and is simultaneously running in on minimal power. I don’t pretend to understand the physics, but I’m counting on you and your crew to get it done. Getting within close proximity is key, since we plan…]

“Captain,” said Thoreau, interrupting her Recall. “Sensor returns are coming back and it looks like we have something.”

“Something,” said Mikka. “Care to elaborate?”

Thoreau chuckled, his eyes staring at something far off that on one else could see. “It’s got a gravimetric signature, which is why its coming up at all. But from the looks of it, its not much bigger that a commsat.”

“Helmsman,” she said, calling out to the man in the pilot’s chair. “Plot an intercept course and bring us to within five AUs.”

“Yes, Captain,” said Joshan, relaying the coordinates provided by Thoreau and bringing the sublights on line. The ship slowly began to move forward, her hull shuttering slightly as the engines fired off a burst of ionic propulsion.

The sensors pinged loudly, each chime getting more pronounced the closer they got. Outside the bridge window, the starfield shifted as the ship tilted and groaned as Joshan altered their course periodically. Every course change brought them closer, dodging between major stellar objects and avoiding their gravitational influences.

The chimes reached a crescendo. Thoreau looked up with a start when something new entered into his augmented perceptions.

“Captain, I’ve got the object on my screens. Shall I bring up a visual?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And turn off that damn noise, we all know we’re in the ballpark.”

In the center of the bridge, an image formed as billions of targeted photons came together to form the shape of a red sphere. The surface was mottled and opaque, indicating that they were too far out to get an accurate reading on its features. It appeared the reports had been semi-accurate. At this distance, their sensors should have been able to map out every nook and cranny on its surfaces. Only a powerful gravity well, concentrated in such a small object.

However, they had been off in one respect. Bukhari had said in his briefing that it was “roughly spherical” in shape. But even through an incomplete visual construct, Mikka could tell its shape was anything but rough. In fact, she was willing to bet good money, perhaps even her entire commission from this find, that it was a perfect sphere, right down to its microscopic dimensions.

One had to assume there was something especially significant about that. Perhaps the xeno-freaks would finally have something to pour over after all…

“Coming up on five astronomical units, Captain. Firing reverse-thrusters now.”

There was a quick burst of white light as the stopping thrusters fired, the ionic trails showing up just outside the bridge window. When they came to a total stop, the ship issued one last groan as the structure flexed to absorb the change in inertia. 

“We’ve reached pre-specified distance, Captain. Retro thrusters firing to maintain position and attitude.”

“Very good, pilot,” she said. “Maintain our position and prep a shuttle. We’re going in for a retrieval.”

Joshan and everyone else on the bridge turned to look at her. Everyone except Thoreau, who’s senses were too inundated with sensor data to look at her directly. However, he still leered over his shoulder.

“Captain, are you sure about this?”

“Company order,” she said, standing up from her chair. “Whatever this thing is, its need to be brought back.”

“But Captain…” said Thoreau. “How are we going to get close to this thing? The last people who tried we sent back home with their tails tucked between their legs.”

“A theory,” she said. “One which we’re forced to carry out.”

_____

The bay doors slid open to admit the man himself. For those watching, the techs and security personnel called in to guard the object, the sudden presence of the boss was the perfect reason to straighten up and either look busy or vigilant. Of course, none of them could fail to notice the presence of the woman walking beside him. Not exactly prim or proper, and from her flight jacket and slacks to the small protrusions on her face that indicated sub-dermal implants, she looked every bit the spacer.

No one could say why the boss would have a grunt in tow with him, but then again, the day staff didn’t ask questions. They simply tended to “the artifact” – the spherical object that sat within a series of restraints in the center of the room – and kept their speculations to themselves.

Only those who had entered together really knew what was going on and who stood to benefit. And only they were talking on this particular morning as they stepped into the containment area.

“I imagine this is not quite as exciting as seeing it for the first time, no?” said Bukhari to Mikka.

“Well… it’s hard to recreate the thrill of first contact. But this was still very kind of you.”

“Nonsense,” said Bhukari with a wave of the hand. “We all owe its capture to you, so I thought it only fitting you get another look at it before its shipped off to an undisclosed facility, to be poured over by legions of specialists and xenologists.”

She chuckled. “Yeah, we did suspect it would disappear the moment we brought it back to port. Good to see it didn’t.”

“And yet, I imagine when it does move on, we won’t learn a thing. Even I can expect the findings to be classified beyond my level of clearance. Pity.”

She knew exactly what he meant. Seeing it again, she could recall with perfect clarity just how awestruck she was when she first saw it. Hell, she didn’t even need to go through Recall to experience it again, playing the memory back courtesy of the digital backup she had archived. It had been that memorable that she only needed to see it again to remember exactly how small and insignificant it made her feel.

Considering the that sphere was less than a meter across, that was no small feet. But the size was not the issue. It was the intricate patterns it had all over the surface. These consisted of winding lines that seemed to delineate grid spaces, each of which was etched with symbols and grooves off different sizes, lengths, and depths. And at what had been designated the center of the thing, three circles were placed, tiny indentations in a small triangle formation. Nobody in Explorations had been able to make heads or tails of it all. She wondered if anybody back in the Colonies would fare any better…

It was strange, but she felt the oddest feeling again, looking at it. Somehow, the spacing and placement of those three indentations made her think about an interface terminal. Could it be that the species that had created this, whoever they were, possessed this idiosyncrasy as well? Simply place your hand to a touchscreen or finger sized portal, and be able to transmit or receive information?

Looking to her right, she noticed that Bukhari was busy speaking to the head of the security detail. She couldn’t hear what they were saying at the moment, and really didn’t care much. The technicians appeared to be on the other side of the sphere, and the remaining security guards all seemed blissfully unaware of what was going on. No doubt, they were deliberately attempting to not notice the presence of the Chairman and the strange woman he had arrived with.

It was a standard underling thing, she knew. Standing still and doing nothing when the boss was around reduced the chance of making a mistake, and hence being reprimanded.

Looking to the sphere again, she carefully stepped towards it, obsessively checking over her shoulder to make sure no one was looking. She eyed the three holes, once again appraising them to be perfectly spaced apart for her purpose. Three holes, three fingers, making direct contact, achieving a union that would –

“Captain!” The shout rang out just as her fingers landed. Not in time to stop her. She felt a curious sensation, like a big thump or some kind of tremor. No pain, but the sensation of a force strong enough to break her contact with the waking world…

_____

The sounds of hands clapping and a bright light were what she remembered next. She couldn’t tell how long she had been under, whether it had been seconds or days. But she was aware of the fact that she was lying on the deck, and Bukhari and the rest were all standing over her.

“Captain… are you alright?” he asked.

She let out a loud utterance, then drew a deep breath. She could faintly recall something dark and terrible, hanging on her mind and pushing her downward. That darkness seemed to last for some time, stretching on from the last moment she had had before. She looked up again and saw the sphere… and remembered.

Yes, she had reached out to it. Everything after that point was shrouded and black, but she could feel something terrible lurking beneath. And that point in her mind stretched onwards for some time. And now she was back in the light. It was piercing and the sounds around her quite intense, but she could feel her body and mind adjusting. Something was demanding she come back and do something… say something…

After taking several breaths, Bukhari and one of the guards sat her up.

“Why did you do that? Why did you touch the artifact?”

“Artifact?” she said. The word didn’t seem to fit somehow. “What are you talking about?”

“The artifact. You touched it,” he said, pointing. “Why did you do that? No one has touched it since it was procured without protection. You know that!”

She could feel something else rising up from the depths. Slowly, the sense of purpose she had felt a moment ago was taking shape. The word artifact made even less sense to her now, and she was even beginning to understand why…

“Captain, are you sure you’re alright? We have a med tech coming, but I need you tell me, why would you expose yourself like that to the artifact like that?”

“It’s not an artifact!” she said finally. “It’s a message…”

There was a moment of silence. Those around her looked at each other incredulously. “What do you mean, a message?”

“That’s what it contains,” she added, placing her fingers to her temples. The dark space in her mind was becoming perfectly clear now. The transmission, the way it had overwhelmed her when it passed into her body. Never before had anything been so clear, even through Recall.

Slowly, she found the strength to get to her feet and share with the rest of them the terrible knowledge that had come into possession of.

“This thing is some kind of emissary. It contains a message in it, and I made contact when I touched it.”

Bukhari drew a deep breath and stepped closer to her, his eyes now fixed on the sphere with a sudden, reverential fear. “What was the message?”

“The people that built this,” she said, with a slight pause. “They just demanded our unconditional surrender. It says they have an armada heading towards us as we speak, and asks that we lay down our weapons and welcome them.”

“And if we don’t?” asked Bukhari, though unnecessarily. For the tremble in his voice, it was clear he knew the answer.

“Or else, we all die.” Mikka nodded, her face grim and white. “We just made contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence, sir. And they saw fit to give us an ultimatum…”

“An ultimatum,” Bukhari echoed, his voice barely more than a whisper.

And for what felt like an eternity, every face in the room remained fixed on the sphere that hung before them. Whatever trace of awe and wonder they had once felt for it were now gone, replaced instead with a horrid understanding, and plenty of dread!

Quicken

zombie-girlShe sits and watches, the little girl lying there on the floor, curled up in a ball with her hands drawn to her mouth. Her skin is still warm, her flesh pale but pink, and her eyes are now fully shut. The puddle of gore that envelopes her is the life draining out of her, the warmth of life spreading about her and slowly growing cold.

Pulling her own knees to her stomach, Sandra watches and cries. The gun lays at her feet, every chamber empty and smelling of freshly burnt cordite. Small patches of fetid biomass cling to the walls where the bullets landed, once they tore through their intended targets. Their crumbled bodies lay below, their milky white eyes open and staring, but otherwise dead to the world.

No longer an issue, she looks solely at the little one and rocks back and forth, moaning softly.

The girl was so young, so fresh and innocent. That didn’t stop the monsters from tearing her to pieces. They did her in, and Sandra could only stand by and watch. It was only after they were through with her, once they had done irreparable harm, that Sandra had found the will to empty her gun and kill them.

And the worst part of it is, they were her parents. The ones who gave her life, who reared her and protected from the monsters. They turned, and became the very thing she needed to fear the most. Had they been someone else, she might have run. Instead, she stood and cried as the lifeless faces of the people that used to Mom and Dad lumbered towards her and overtook her.

No… that’s not the worst part, thinks Sandra. The worst part is, in a few moments, she will awaken, and be just like them. And she will have no bullets to fend her off.

She knows she could run. She could leave this place and seek shelter elsewhere. Part of her wants to, to try another house, look for more survivors, and seek out anyone who might help her.

But another part of her wants to stay. She’s seen what it’s like out there. The people who still live, they feed too. They feed on the innocent and the weak, those who cannot defend what they have left. They take and kill without a second thought, believing that they are justified in doing so. She knows that she, unarmed and a woman, would have everything to fear…

That’s one thing the monsters do not possess. They do not care whom they kill, and take nothing from the dead save their lives. They prey on the guilty and innocent alike, murdering indiscriminately as they spread their filth. They are the great equalizer, a plague that is indifferent to sin, vice and virtue.

And when it comes right down to it, isn’t it better to simply die? Isn’t that all that remains? What purpose in running and hiding, fighting the inevitable for another day, only to face another full of running and hiding? What kind of life is that?

On the floor, the little one stirs. A faint cry escapes her lips, low and rumbling. Sandra looks to the door one last time. She looks around for anything she could use to defend herself. She spots the poker to her right which was knocked clear of the firepit during the commotion. Its sharp point looks inviting, notably effective against one of their kind…

And yet, she cannot move to retrieve it. She cannot find reason to fight, to defend herself or flee. As the girl’s body reanimates and her eyes open again, admitting opal-white pupils to the world, Sandra sits and waits. It’s not long before she looks up and sees that she has company. A lean lady, a fine meal sitting before her…

“You’re name was Suzy, wasn’t it?” she asks. “Your mother and father let me in a few days ago. They were very kind. They didn’t deserve what happened to them.”

Suzy pulls herself forward, the slippery pool of her blood helping her slide along. Her broken legs will not allow her to stand up, but she doesn’t need to. Her would-be meal is sitting right before her. She’s going nowhere.

“You were a kind little girl. I remember you were very scared. You didn’t deserve this either little girl. I’m sorry…”

Suzy is mere feet away now. She pauses and looks up at her, her eyes wide and wanting. Her mouth falls open to reveal her blood marked teeth and emit a small roar.

“I’m sorry I didn’t act in time. I’m sorry I let them do that to you.”

Sandra closes her eyes as hot tears fill them and blind her to the world. She feels Suzy’s fingers touch the skin of her foot and clamp on, using it to pull herself closer.

“I’m sorry for this-“

Sandra’s arms are a blur. Reaching out in one swift motion, she grabs the poker and brings it down on Suzy’s head with a loud crunch. The sharp end perforated her skull and delivers instant death. Quickly, her body subsides and her clawing fingers become limp against the floor. Her growls become a quiet rattle and all movement ceases shortly thereafter.

Maybe its not worth it, she thinks. But it’s not negotiable. Standing up, she grabs hold of the poker and holds it close to her chest. No matter what’s become of things out there, she knows she has to face it. At some point, it stopped being about a choice and became a necessity. And when that runs out…

Then I become one of them. She opens the door and runs into the maelstrom, never to return.

Nocturnal

nocturnalThe ground was flattened in places, leaves, mud and the telltale traces of blood ground up and stamped together. The small dots of plasma glowed bright green through the frames in his headset, alerting him of the path of his quarry. He smiled, taking off at a runner’s pace and following it to its source…

He didn’t bother to step carefully. A full out sprint and all the noise he was making as brushes slammed into him was entirely safe now. His last shot had struck home, one of them at any rate. The tiny trail of star-like dots would lead him to it, weakened and helpless from the wound. And then, nothing more to do but finish it off with a quick, merciful shot. Or perhaps he would draw his sabre and let its torment linger. It was entirely up to him.

A successful hunt, and the best small fortune he had spent in years!

Coming to a clearing, he spotted the trail veer off to the right. The splotches of glowing plasma enlarged and became nebulas in his visual field and his auditory enhancers detected the faint sounds of rustling. Clear of the foliage, he looked to his right and spotted a rock outcropping. A vague blur of greenish, grey mass toiled away on it, surrounded by a large pool of glowing matter.

Grinning, he tapped the glasses to switch frequencies, calling up the thermal imaging. The green-grey mass became a blazing field of red, yellow, orange and white, the pool beneath accented in shades of yellow that was darkening at the corners. He stepped slowly forward, brandishing his weapon in both hands.

Coming up on the felled beast, he switched the glasses one last time to image intensification. For this last bit, he wanted to see his quarry’s face. Nothing beat the site of a finished animal, its eyes twisted into the horrid realization that it had been caught, its life brought to a sudden and painful end.

It’s eyes glowed brightly in the night, augmented pupils catching just enough ambient light to shine on their own, but appearing like blazing orbs through his glasses. He wondered if they would wink out when he delivered the coup de grace, or would they simply keep on shining, well into the night and until the vultures and maggots came to strip it’s body clean? Who knew? Point was, he would be looking into them when it died.

“Hello friend,” he said coolly. “You led me on quite the chase, but you had to know it would end.”

The beast struggled and bared its teeth. The almost human-like appendages struggled against the rock beneath it; it was fighting just to move a few more inches away. How quaint, the instinct to distance itself from its wound-be hunter. One had to admire that about it, the commitment to primal instinct in the face of all of its enhancement.

“I don’t suppose you have any last words to share do you?”

The beast bore its teeth again and growled loudly. He laughed. Apparently, it was choosing to die as an animal, ignoring its other genetic predispositions. A man always talked before the end, pleading, asking, wanting – anything to lengthen his last moments just a little bit longer. Or so he had been told…

“You know,” he said, kneeling. “If you were to beg me for your life, I might just let you die here… peacefully against this rock.”

The beast winced, its wounded leg scraping against the rock. It stopped moving for a second, began breathing heavily. It had accepted its fate and stopped trying to futilely pull away. And yet, he was determined to see it would say something before the end. He needed to know… would it behave like a man did? The experience of hunting a knowing, thinking prey was part of what he was paying for, after all. What harm did it do to get his money’s worth?

“What do you say? How about you beg for your life?”

The beast took a loud breath through its nose and turned to him. Its wide mouth stretched into some terrible, crooked line, almost as if it was smiling. The auditory units he had shoved in his ear canals suddenly picked up a new sound. Crunching, slow and low…

“Funny…” said the beast. “I was about to ask you the same thing!”

The frames in the glasses went dark. All light went out as he heard a terrible scream, the sounds of bone, sinew and flesh all crunching and grinding deep inside his ears…

_____

“Fantastic… The attention to detail is superb…”

Itzli smiled as Mr. Charleston, his latest prospective client admired the contraption in his hands. Many times, he turned it over, examining the metal, faux-wood and ceramic inlays. Though not the most sophisticated weapon by any stretch the imagination, those who paid for his services were known to appreciate classics, or at least-approximations thereof.

Charleston opened the breach next and sighted down the long tube, no doubt thinking he looked every bit the seasoned hunter.

“Single-shot, long range spreadgun,” he said, slapping it shut again. “Pump action at the rear and the option for holographic sites.”

“Just in case people feel like merging the traditional and the modern,” replied Itzli. Charleston laughed and put the gun back in the rack. He gazed around at the other various weapons that were on display. From the automags and flechette pistols in the hand gun section, to the high-powered assault rifles by his left arm.

Across the room, he spotted the cases which held the self-loading crossbows, knives, machetes, and other weapons that were even more traditional in nature. Everywhere he peered, the same look burned intently in his eyes. A man overwhelmed by choice, a veritable kid in a candy store…

His eyes settled on one section in the far corner, a case with several canister-like objects inside.

“Grenades?” he said, pointing in their direction.

“Oh yes,” Itzli said, leading him over to where they resided behind reinforced glass. “Our hunters do enjoy flushing out their game. But no high-explosives or frags. Only flashbangs, stun grenades, and caustic gas.” He punched in a code on a small wall terminal, opened the case and fetched a combination grenade. “Our hunters do not enjoy kills they cannot take home with them. And I think you’ll agree. Explosive grenades are messy and somewhat of a liability.”

He passed the device to Charleston, who took it between two slightly trembling hands. “And you say the animals can think, reason, even talk?”

“Why yes,” Itzli responded happily. “All are augmented to ensure the most thrilling and challenging hunt. After all, what good is prey that only obeys its instincts and is entirely predictable? And with all the best wild game now extinct, with the safari now on the verge of becoming a distant memory, men of sport like ourselves have had to get creative, haven’t we?”

Charleston chuckled loudly. “We certainly have. Bu I must commend you specifically for your ingenuity.” He waves his arms around vaguely, referring to the entire compound that existed around them.

Iztli waved his hand dismissively. “Nothing special, my friend. Had I not done it, someone else surely would have.”

“But you, and you alone, had the fortitude to find an island nation that knows how to do business, keep the foreign authorities and animal-rights trouble makers out. No doubt that cost you quite the pretty penny.”

“My greatest expense,” Iztli acknowledged. “But I don’t need to tell you how important discretion is. Which is why all clients must sign a confidentiality agreement and take a private shuttle to get here. Mustn’t allow for a digital trail, after all.”

“I agree,” said Charletson, nodding approvingly. “Criminal the lengths those left-wing freaks make us go to just have some fun isn’t it?

“But well worth it, when you consider the sheer enjoyment this place provides.”

Iztli and Charleston smiled at each for a few seconds, a comfortable silence between two men who seemed to understand each other perfectly. And then, a chime in Iztli’s ear caught his attention. He depressed it and replied:

“Hello… yes? Oh dear… where is he now?”

Charleston waited, his face twisting into a slight frown as he waited for an explanation. Itzli looked back to him the moment his conversation was complete.

“My apologies, I have been summoned to the field. It seems one of our hunters has concluded his safari prematurely.”

“Oh dear,” said Charleston, suddenly concerned for himself. “Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Nothing at all. Mr. Celik simply made the mistake of filling out his information incorrectly. I try to tell these novices, if you request a basic hunt, that is what you’ll get. All too often, sporting men assume they are not ready for a challenge, and then express disappointment when their prey dies too soon.”

Charleston laughed and winked at him. “I assure you, I will not make that mistake.”

Iztli brightened and extended his hand. “Then I assume we have an agreement? A solo hunt for the sporting man from the Deep South?”

Charletson took his hand unhesitatingly and shook it firmly. “Indeed we do. And I look forward to it.”

“Excellent. I shall return forthwith and we can speak to booking, find you the perfect weekend to fly down and conduct a safari of your choosing. Remember, the class of animal, weapons used, duration of the hunt, and any incidentals are entirely up to you. In the meantime, feel free to have a look around. I’ll meet you in our lounge after.”

Charleston shook his hand again. “Good to know there are still men out there who appreciate a good hunt.”

Iztli chuckled and issued him a slight bow. Leaving him in the Armory, he quickly made his way to the bottom floor, to a set of large doors opening onto the main hunting grounds. He depressed the piece in his ear again and began speaking hurriedly to Mara in the Monitoring Booth.

“Where is he?”

“In the South Asia stretch. He cornered Tigris on the rocky bluff, and that’s where his signal began to go faint.”

“Dammit!” Itzli considered the possibly implications. His anger momentarily subsided, replaced by general concern. “Was Tigris injured?”

“Yes,” said Mara. “I’ve dispatched a medres to his location though. He should be fine.”

Itzli sighed and nodded to himself. “Alright, I’m en route to that area now. Tell Tigris to stay put!”

_____

He found Tigris leaning against a slight crop of shale. The medres bot was next to him, its long, poking appendages fishing around in his leg for bullet fragments as a second set of arms administered anti-coagulants and wiped obscuring traces of blood away. Standing next to him, Hubris stood, his clawed hands ruddy with gore. Despite the obvious pain, Tigris appeared to be laughing, no doubt reminiscing with Hubris about their opponents last moments on this Earth.

Bringing the cart to stop, Itzli jumped out and proceeded to them. Both looked suddenly subdued as they saw him coming, sensing that Pappa Bear was ornery and looking to kick some butts. It was a fortunate thing for Tigris that he was. Had his injuries been worse, he wouldn’t have the time or inclination to be mad right now.

“What the hell happened out here?” he demanded. Hubris looked down at his paws and cleared his throat.

“Uh… well, Pappa, we uh… we kind of had to accelerate things a bit.”

“Accelerate? What are you talking about? Tigris! What is he talking about?”

“You’re client,” uttered Tigris, grunting amidst the pain of his medical treatment, “proved to be a better shot than we expected. He caught me in the leg with a lucky round. Fortunately, it fragmented on impact.”

“Of course it did! That’s what your sub-dermal inlays are for! How did that lead you to call in our quick-clawed friend here?”

Tigris looked to Hubris, who was still keeping his head low.

“Well… it still hurt! And I was losing blood. I tried to make it over the bluff and keep things going but…”

“But what?”

Tigris once again looked at Hubris, who finally sighed and chimed in. “He tripped before he could make it over. Twisted his hind leg pretty good too.”

Iztli palmed his face and tried not to shout out how disappointed he was. Such skilled hunters, perfect specimens of evolution and augmentation. And they were to be foiled by a simple accident? Had they no pride in their work anymore? What was worse, they seemed to be getting a kick out of it, the way they were both laughing now.

“I-told-you… never conclude a hunt when I’m with client! It raises suspicions! If I tell one of those butchers that another client died, they will run away with their tales tucked between their legs! If I lie and say they won too soon, they’ll assume the hunt is too easy and look elsewhere! Do you want them hunting your kin for sport and winning? Do you?!”

Hubris cleared his throat again and shook his head. Tigris joined him.

“No, Pappa. No we don’t.”

“Good!” he replied, and looked at Tigris injured leg. His message delivered, his anger spent, he felt some pangs of sympathy and inquired about it finally. “How is it? Any pain?”

“Nothing so bad this machine of yours can’t make it worse,” said Tigris through bared fangs. The machine dug deep for a final fragment, causing him to growl loudly. Iztli smiled.

“Good. Now where’s our friends body?”

“Over there,” said Hubris, pointing with a single claw, bathed as it was in indigo. Itzli followed the finger to a mass on the ground, a twisted wreck of a man who’s terror-stricken eyes looked up at the moon. The pale orbs looked horribly bug-eyed, as it the lids themselves had been ripped free. The horrible expression seemed to scream of lament, a man crying to the heavens demanding to know why he had been forsaken.

He could see several traces of bite and scratch marks, where Hubris and Tigris had both torn into him. All were concentrated on his center mass, avoiding the jugular and other major arteries as much as possible. He understood now why the expression was so fixed on his features. His two furry friends had enjoyed themselves, stretching his last few minutes into an inexorable oblivion. He was sure the expression would remain painted on for as long as his body remained there. Until the vultures and maggots came to pick it clean…

How horrible… and yet beautiful.

“Alright. Get fixed up and get back home. I want you healed and rested. We have another client coming in the near future.”

Hubris purred aggressively. “Anyone special?”

Iztli smiled. “A Southern gentleman gentleman with many kills to his credit. And it just so happens, he enjoys hunting jungle cats.” That seemed to get both Hubris and Tigris’ motors running. Both emitted low growls of contempt and anger, interspersed with happy purrs. The thought of putting such a soul away no doubt appealed to them greatly…

“I love the taste of Southern gentleman,” said Tigris, licking the gore from his lips.

Killer Bee

HIV_beevenom

A little bird has confided in me

That in your small carapace lies the key

And teaming masses yearning to live safely

Cry out as one for a demonstration

The good people at Caltech do their best

And make nanoparticles that will pass the test

To kill the viral cells, but leave the rest

Alive and without harmful depletion

And now, we think we’ve won the war at last

And so put an end to a harmful past

Killed the plague that infects the host so fast

And sentences death upon mutation

Alas, my friend, the good news comes too late

Such stories and demos, they will not slate

Our growing demands, or prevent the fate

That foretells of your gory extinction

Note: For those following the A to Z challenge, I apologize for the late posting of my entry for April 11th (or J day). Which is why I’ve posted both J and K today. And just in case you’re wondering what today’s entry is all about, it’s a tragic ode to the Bee, since it is now known that Bee venom is capable of killing HIV, but which comes at a time when the global Bee population is being depleted due to urban sprawl, pollution and loss of natural habitats.

And in keeping with my sci-fi roots, I wrote this poem as if it were dedicated from the near future, where the Bee population had become extinct and the chance for a cure for HIV effectively lost. It’s also written in iambic pentameter and has a rhyme scheme of AAAB, CCCB, DDDB, EEEEB. Hope you enjoyed it and were suitably depressed!