Recursions

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for September 8, 2019— two hundred words inspired by this image–

l.l.jones-selfie_49
Photo courtesy of LL Jones

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“Amanda…”

“Just a little further, Peter.”

“Amanda, no!  The displacement operator device can take only so many recursions.”

“And we’re already past your theoretical limit.”

“I’m serious, stop!  We don’t know what the consequences will be….”

“I’m head of the project,” Amanda said.  She didn’t the take her eyes off the growing chain of glowing reproductions of her own face.  “I will take responsibility.”

Peter turned from her to the pale-faced assistant standing by.  “Evacuate the building.  Get everybody out.”  The assistant ran from the lab.

“If you’re afraid, Peter,” Amanda said, “then you leave, too.”

Peter shook his head.  “We started this together.  I’m sticking with you.”

Amanda hardly heard him.  She still watched the ever-growing recursions.  They kept expanding out and out, deeper and deeper, unhindered, unstoppable.

“I can see it!” Amanda cried.  “I can see it!  Oh, my God!”

“It can’t be!” Peter shouted over the wind that suddenly filled the room.  Behind the wind came light—white light, purer than any light humans had ever seen.

When the light faded, the other scientists cautiously re-entered the lab.  They found nothing but the displacement device, lying on the floor, and a faint, lingering scent of roses.

The Cavalry– Flash Fiction for Sunday, May 5, 2019

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for May 5, 2019— two hundred words related to this image–

192-02-february-19th-2017
© A Mixed Bag

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“That’s silly,” Pamela said.

“It’s what Gran told us.”  At ten I was stubborn.

“Gran was a little off,” Pamela said.  “Remember when she thought the vacuum cleaner was Cousin Frank?”

“Well,” I told her, “there is a family resemblance.”

“Har, har.  You’re so funny.”

“Look,” I told my sister, “kidding aside, we need help.  They’re going to break through soon.  You can hear them, Pam.  Aren’t you willing to even try?”

“We need something more practical than rattling some old toy and mumbling some words.  Like the 82nd Airborne.”

“Well, they’re not here,” I said.

“Why don’t you do it?”

“Gran said the eldest of the family has to do it.  That’s you, I’m sorry to say.”

“Watch your mouth, kid,” Pamela said.  Sighing, she seized the horizontal stick and manipulated the little toy up and down three times, so that its wooden wings flapped.

“Drake, fire and claw,” she said, “drake, fire and claw.  To your own in need now return.  Drake, fire and claw.”

She let go of the toy, made a face at me.  “See?  Nothi….”

Her words were interrupted by a massive roar, and the sound of a great, armored body landing on our roof.

FLASH FICTION– “A MATTER OF DISCRETION”

My response to a flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, to write 1500 words of space opera in honor of May the Fourth.  It so happens I love space opera, although I’ve seen very few good examples of the genre lately (I have been dodging The Last Jedi like a healthy man dodges plague victims).  My little piece below is based on an (as yet) unpublished space opera universe I’ve had rolling around in my head for decades.  If I ever get the Divine Lotus series finished (and that is a long, sad tale) I might just turn to the universe of the Consortium, Shareholders, and the Perimeter.

Copyright 2018 Douglas Daniel

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“Damn Shareholder,” Rong muttered.  He leaned against a tree trunk and wiped sweat from his face.  

“Shut your mouth,” Teal told him.  He was drenched in sweat, as well; this world reminded him strongly of Novo Brasil.  “He hired us, he gets to set the agenda.”

“Indeed, Citizen Xiang,” the Shareholder said, from twenty meters away.  He spoke without turning around or looking up from the ruined wall he was examining with a sensordoc.  “I beg your patience—this will not take long.”

Teal gave Rong a sidelong glance.  “Enhanced genetics, tooler. Don’t forget it.”  Rong glowered, but clamped his lips tight.

Maria appeared over the rise beyond the wall, pushing aside vines and creepers.  “Shareholder Mann, there’s more ruins on the other side.”

“No matter,” Mann said.  He snapped the sensordoc shut.  “I’m picking up no ipinsotic traces at all.  Nothing. This location’s a waste of time.”

Teal resisted the urge to calculate the cost of the fuel they had burned getting here.  “Your orders, sir?”

“We go on to Mackason IV,” Mann said at once, with asperity.  “The reports can’t all be wrong.”  He seemed as if he were about to say more, but he stopped himself.  “I want to lift as quickly as possible.”

“We’ll be in the air five minutes after we close the hatches, Shareholder,” Teal said.

 

It wasn’t until they were well on trajectory for the jump radius that Mann sought Teal out.  They were alone in the Pleasant Virgin’s cockpit, with holographic readouts flickering around them.  Mann settled himself into the chair at the astrogator’s station and regarded Teal.  “All in order, Captain Xiang?” he said.

“We’re fifteen hours to jump,” Teal said, “and the ship is operating normally.”

“Good,” Mann said.  His regard of Teal sharpened.  “But not all of your crew appear to be happy.”

“Well, Shareholder,” Teal said, “with all due respect, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about human nature.  We’ve hit eighteen worlds in fifteen systems in the last month, and so far every one of them has been a dry hole.  For whatever it is you’re looking for. Frustration’s bound to show itself in this sort of situation.”

Mann said nothing for a moment.  “You knew that the exact nature of this mission would remain confidential, captain.”

“Indeed, Shareholder, it was made very clear to me,” Teal said.

“And we Purcells hired you and your crew precisely because you have a reputation for keeping secrets.”

“It’s a point of pride with us,” Teal said.

“Well, then, captain, I would appreciate it if you had a word with your people,” Mann said.  “The House of Purcell needs your discretion, and your very fast ship, to complete a task of some urgency.  To help us complete that task, we are paying you a handsome sum. Surely enough to quell any ennui you and your people may feel.”

“Yes, Shareholder,” Teal said.  “I will speak to them.”

 

“Pilkin’ bastard,” Maria said, running a hand over Teal’s bare chest.  “Never was a Shareholder worth the skin holding ‘em together.”

“That may be,” Teal said.  He enjoyed her touch; their lovemaking always put him into drowsy contentment.  “But he is paying the bills, and without this job we might be scratching for a commission.  Things are hard at the moment.”

“In this quadrant,” Maria said.  “T’other side of the Volume, there’s plenty of opportunities.”

“I’ve heard it all already, pretty puss,” Teal said.  “And maybe once our coffers are full, we’ll head that way.  But we have to finish this job first.”

Maria raised herself up on her hands, looked down on Teal.  “D’you have any idea what he’s looking for?”

“No,” Teal said, fim, “and I don’t want to know.  It is not our business. We were hired to haul him about and keep our mouths shut.  As long as I’m captain, that’s what we’ll do.”

Maria stared at him, solemn.  “So be it, then,” she said.  

 

Mackason IV, from a descent trajectory, looked much like many another Earth-type world—ocean blues overlayed with white clouds, green-brown landmasses here and there.  A cyclonic storm occupied a quadrant of the main ocean, but it was too far away to affect their chosen landing site. Teal took the Virgin in fast, not caring if they left a prominent re-entry trail.

They landed on a rocky plain, in a level area between jagged hills.  Even coming in they could see the ruins that covered the land between the high ground; as they landed Teal saw broad roads and the bases of broken towers.  Mann, leaning over his shoulder to stare at the displays, gave off a palpable air of excitement. “This is more extensive than anything I have ever seen before,” he said, transfixed.

They all hit dirt, Rong, Maria, Chris, Mann and Teal.  Mann had his sensordoc out at once. Even from several feet away, Teal could tell the readout was exploding with data.  

“This is incredible!” Mann exclaimed.  “The readings are off the scale! This is what we’ve been looking for!”

“Rong, Maria, fetch the containment vessel,” Teal said.  The two of them hurried back into the ship.

Mann led Chris and Teal through a broken archway, and down a flight of steps.  At the bottom was a sort of small amphitheater; scattered in the dust that coated the amphitheater’s floor were scattered lumps and shapes, most of which were hard to make out.

At the foot of one pillar, however, something glowed ochre.  Mann approached it; it glowed more brightly, while the sensordoc’s readout became even more fevered.

“There!” Mann cried, pointing.  “An active device! It’s what I’ve been looking for.”

“Doesn’t seem much,” Chris said.  The femman knelt down, extend a hand.

“Don’t!” Mann yelled.  

The warning came too late.  Chris touch the device. There was a flash of light, and then a scream.  Teal, squinting past a hand raised against the light, glimpsed Chris afire, screaming.  In the next instant, the femman was simply gone.

“The fool!” Mann cried.  “The utter fool!”   

 

They got the device in the containment vessel using hand-grav tools.  They sealed the vessel; then, with a smug Mann leading the way, they secured it in the Virgin’s front cargo bay.  “We are all rich now,” Mann told them.

They lifted ship at once, with Mann in the crew mess preparing a report to his superiors.  Teal was happy to retreat to the cockpit to put the Virgin on a trajectory for the jump radius.  He still didn’t know what they had found, and he wanted to know even less than before.   

He had just finished setting the jump coordinates when he heard a muffled thump.  The sound was strange to him.  Then the security display popped up a flashing alert, weapon discharge- crew mess.

“What the hell?” Teal said.  He climbed over the seats and slid down the ladder to the crew level.

He burst into the mess and was confronted by a scene of blood.  Mann lay on his back on the middle deck, his eyes staring sightlessly at the overhead.  Rong stood over him, a slug-thrower in his hand.

“Had to do it!” he yelled at Teal.  “The Sheffields– they’re offering a million!  A whole million! The Purcells are nothing compared to the Sheffields.”

Teal yelled in rage and threw himself at Rong.  The man had no time to bring his weapon to bear on Teal before the captain was on him.  He fired another shot, but it missed Teal and caroomed off one of the bulkheads.

Old training kicked in for Teal; without thinking he batted the gun out of Rong’s hand, then drove punches into the man that first stole his wind, and then his life.  Rong’s body fell over Mann’s and lay still.

Teal, panting, sensed rather than saw Maria in the mess’ open hatch.  “He’s ruined us!” he said, his hands clenched in unspent fury. “Ruined us!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Maria said, “it probably depends on your point of view.”

Something slammed into Teal.  It threw him into the bulkhead.  He slid down, slumped against the compartment wall.  He couldn’t move; the stink of burnt flesh rose up into his nostrils.

“What…?” he gasped.

Maria came amd loomed over him, the quantifier in her hands crackling with residual heat.  “The Sheffields– what a joke. The Voronovs will pay far more. And it will all be mine.” Maria lifted the quantifier.

 

Maria reset the jump destination.  It would take a week to reach the Voronov base where she was to meet her contact– a long ride in an empty ship.  To top it off, she found she was actually sorry that Teal would not have understood why she had to do this. It would have been better with the two of them.

However, three million Consortiums bought a lot of consolation.  

Maria sat back in the command chair, contemplating her future.  She smiled. It was indeed time to examine opportunities on the far side of the Volume.   

An immediate reaction to “Avengers: Infinity War”– assuming I can form complete sentences….

This is not a review of Avengers: Infinity Warwhich I just saw on an early showing.  It is more of a quick and emotionally-laden reaction, with just a few observations on a few points in the movie.  Above all, in opposition to my usual habit, I am going to avoid any spoilers, as it would almost certainly make me the subject of mob violence.

Okay, here  we go–

Holy shit.

Holy wild-jungle-spawned bouncing off the wall pull the eject cord and tumble end-over-end through an exploding volcano shit.  With sprinkles on top.

Character deaths.  In the first five minutes.  Before the freaking opening credits.  OMG….

Lots of repartee, much of which goes by really fast, which demands a second viewing, assuming I can find a spare ticket for this movie over the weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.  Frankly, not quite all of it worked– a couple of scenes between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor (that’s no spoiler, their meeting was in the trailers) were a little weak, in my opinion.  But those were minor blips in this tsunami of a movie.

Speaking of trailers, be aware that there was a lot of stuff in the trailers that was not in the movie, and some of the stuff that was didn’t play out quite the same way.  It’s all part of Marvel’s master-plan to keep the fans guessing.

Note:  there is no mid-credits scene, but there is a comparatively long one at the end, and you want to wait for it.  Definitely.  For sure.  I’m not joking.

Huge cliffhanger at the end.  Freaking huge.  If the cliffhanger at the end of The Empire Strikes Back was Mount St. Helens, then this one is fracking Mount Tambora, the reason 1816 was known as the “year without a summer”.  You are warned.

Precisely because of that cliffhanger, they cannot get the next Avengers movie into theaters soon enough.  All we know at the moment is that it is due to be released sometime next year.  We don’t even know the title.  Marvel and Disney, you cruel bastards, make the next movie a Christmas release.  You can do it….

I don’t think there was a weak performance by anyone in this picture, although some of the mid-rank characters go by pretty quick.  Somehow the filmmakers pretty much pulled off the feat of giving all the main characters enough to do so that none of them are slighted, which was something I was seriously worried about.  It’s doubly impressive that the action takes place in several locations at once, and even more impressive that they still found time give Thanos some depth and feeling– not like another super-villain I could name from a certain recent movie.  Yech.  Really, there is no comparison.

Be prepared for a movie that moves really fast, and bounces between a lot of different locales.  Personally I didn’t find the pace too hard to keep up with, but you definitely don’t want to go out for popcorn during the middle of the picture.  Very bad idea.

See this movie, but hold on tight and brace yourself for that cliffhanger.  Anybody who expects this movie to end tied up with a neat little ribbon is delusional.  But it is a tremendous setup for the next film.

Christmas, you guys!!

 

A Sno-Globe Considered as an extrusion of seventh-dimensional space

A response to the Sunday Photo flash fiction challenge for December 17th, 2017– 200 words inspired by this image–

220-12-december-17th-2017 (1)

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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I have to get out.

They trapped me here, in this weak little form.  It was revenge, as well imprisonment.  I can see and hear, but do nothing.

We lost the battle in the seventh dimension.  The T’soka were too many.  All we could do was shut down the portal, so that their infiltration took years, instead of bursting in on the Earth in a day.  We still could not stop them.

They forced me through a chrono-gravimetric inversion loop and left me imprisoned.  A knick-knack.  We never suspected they had a sense of humor.  Like Nazis writing jokes on the skin of death-camp victims.

Seventy years I’ve sat on Mrs. Lois Haskills’ mantel.  I’ve watched three generations of the Haskills be born and grow up, and I don’t want them to die, screaming, as the T’soka tear their souls apart.

If there’s hope, it’s Sid.  Nine years old, with ADHD.  You don’t listen to your grandmother when she tells you to leave me alone– you still fiddle with me.

If I could just get out, I might yet be able to do something.  My strength has returned.

Come on, Sid.  Find your inner klutz.  Drop me.

A father’s confession

To Kate:

I cannot tell the sun

to stop for you,

nor the moon to

wait upon your convenience.

I cannot tell the sea

to stand back so you

can gather sea-shells and starfish.

I cannot command the stars to come down

to garland your neck with glory

and light your path in the darkness.

I cannot rebuke the wind

so that it gives you only

the kiss of soft breezes.

I cannot do even these

little things for you.

I can only tell you

I love you

always, always, always.

 

 

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – August 13th 2017- Memento

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction flash challenge for August 13th 2017– 200 words based on this image–

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Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“He needs to grow up,” Jason’s step-father said, finishing off his eggs.

“It’s only been six months, William,” Jason’s mother said.

“And he keeps carrying that stupid toy around, Amanda,” William said.

“His father gave it to him,” Amanda said.

“Still, sooner or later he needs to man-up.”  William said.  He stood, draped his suit jacket over his arm and picked up his briefcase.  “Shareholder briefing today, don’t wait dinner for me.”

“All right.”

Jason heard the front-door close behind William.  Neither of them had seen him.  He was getting good at not being seen.

He went upstairs.  September sunshine shone in his room—school would start soon.  He lay down on his bed.

He opened his hand and stared at the little blue TARDIS in his palm.  He remembered—a crisply cold winter’s night, the Milky Way an arch of diamonds stretching across the sky above them.

“There, son, there’s Pleiades, and next to it is Taurus the Bull—see the two horns?—and there, see those three stars in a row?  That’s the belt of Orion the Hunter.  Find Orion’s belt and you can find your way around the whole sky.”

Jason closed his hand on the TARDIS.

Sunday Photo Fiction – August 6th 2017- Shortcut

The Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for August 6th 2017— two hundred words based on this image–

12-j-hardy-carroll-06-august-2017
© J Hardy Carroll

Copyright 2017 Douglas A. Daniel

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“It’s temporary,” the cop said, standing in front of the sign.  “A technical difficulty in the lab.  Please cross to the other side of the street.”

“Damn it,” Underwood said.  “The office is just over there.”

“Still, we’d better listen,” Hancock said.  “Situations like this, cops don’t mess around….”

“It’s just some construction hold up,” Underwood said.  “The lab’s not even finished, and they have a technical problem?”

“Come on,” Hancock said.

He started across the street.  Underwood turned as if to follow, then dashed behind the cop and up the sidewalk.

“Jim!” Hancock said.

“Hey, you!” yelled the cop.

Underwood grinned over his shoulder, and walked on.  He’d be in the office before slow-coach Hancock got to the door.

Midway up the block he reached the lab’s delivery entrance.  Without thinking he glanced to his left.

Over the building shimmered a silver disk of light.  Underwood stared; it was as if he could glimpse a different sky through it.

The cop yelled again from behind him.  The disk of light pulsed; brilliance surrounded him.

He had time to take in a shocked breath of warm, moist air before he caught sight of the Tyrannosaurus Rex bearing down on him.

A little perspective…..

As Inauguration Day arrives, I find myself in a strange mental state.  At the most basic level, it is still a matter of incredulity to me that Trump is going to take the oath of office and become President of the United States.  If I stop to think about it I start rehearsing in my mind the utter absurdity of it.  Teeth get gritted and steering wheels death-gripped.  It’s like the universe has played a practical joke on humanity (because who POTUS is at any given moment affects most if not all of the people on the planet) and we’re just waiting for the sumbitch to bust out laughing and tell us it was all a joke.

At another level, I am trying to think what I can do.  Writing, for sure– this is one time I wish I had the gift of satire, because, by all the evidence, a good satire gets right under Donald’s skin in a way that really highlights his narcissism and self-centered ways.  Contributing to progressive causes and groups and being the best citizen I can possibly be are other things I can do.  Oh, and if the Clown-in-Chief actually implements a Muslim registry, I intend to register as a Muslim, which will at least tell El Bozo that his little plan to scapegoat a religion isn’t going to slip by unnoticed and unremarked.

At the same time it is strange how  everyday life still makes its demands on you.

I still need a job.  I still need to lose weight (not helped by all the comfort eating I’ve been doing in the last two months).  I am in the midst of figuring out how to end a very long relationship.  I’m worried about my blood-pressure and diabetes and trying to remember to take my medication for both.  I am adjusting to the consequences of a long-distance relocation, some of which I anticipated and some I didn’t.  I worry about my daughter, from whom I am now physically separated but still as close as a text.

I still have to brush my teeth and shower and (at least once or twice a week) shave my face.  I still have to do laundry (note to self: today is probably a good day for that).  I have books to read and items to pick up at the store.

I am still trying to write fiction– I’m attempting to serialize The Horseman on this blog, and Princess of Stars, about which I haven’t talked a great deal in the last few months, is still an active project, at least hypothetically.  Part of me wonders if fiction isn’t a frivolous distraction right now, but then I remember that fiction can be a powerful vessel for truth.  It’s an open question whether I have the talent to make my writing as effective as it could be, but I am still possessed of the impulse to write stories, even as the house burns down around me.

And then I find myself, just for a moment, wild with happy excitement at a new Logan trailer (careful, it’s got splashing gore in it, but then, it’s Logan, waddaya expect)–

At one level, you might expect this to be far off my radar, but on the other hand, I suspect in the next year or so we’re all going to need moments of down-time, of allowing ourselves to be distracted from whatever disaster is unfolding.  Logan is not the only movie I’m looking forward to this year, and then there’s Season 7 of Game of Thrones.

This is an important point– for all our fear and uncertainty, and despite the necessity of resistance, we will still need to tend to our ordinary, workaday lives.  It’s essential we take care of ourselves and our loved ones, to make the lunches for the kids to take to school and to get the car lubed when needed.  If we don’t we won’t be able to sustain our effort to speak truth to power, to stand up for the helpless, and to preserve the Republic.

So, take a deep breath, everybody.  Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.  Do what you can, and stay together.  And we will get through this.

Later.

I want to turn it all off, but I can’t- Frontline’s Divided States of America

I just finished watching the two part Frontline documentary Divided States of America (Part One is here), which recapitulates the history of the Obama administration and the rise of populist rage in this country.  It’s enlightening and difficult at the same time, especially as it is unsparing in its recounting of Obama’s naivete and missteps during his two terms.  On the whole it is balanced and sober.  It is also sobering– it ends on the note that Obama came into office with the idea of bridging divides, and he leaves office with the country more divided than ever.

In the documentary there are talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum, and some of those on the right are quick to blame the president for the divisions.   That is both unfair and typical of the right.  The divisions were there before Obama became president; his presidency, however, laid them bare in ways we did not anticipate when he took office in 2009.

The documentary is very good about outlining the rise of populist anger in this country in the last eight years. What exploded at first as the Tea Party and then the candidacy of Donald Trump has deep roots.  The documentary ties the current populism to that which emerged during the 2008 Republican campaign and which found its focus in Sarah Palin, but of course it goes back decades, to the civil rights era and the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties and the drastic changes in our society and the technology it employs for work and communication.  The absolute (and to progressives, irrational) rage of conservatives who think their country is being stolen by blacks and immigrants, and that Obama was a Muslim socialist bent on destroying white America, is outlined in detail.  The documentary describes the divide in the country as being so profound that it almost amounts to there being two antithetically opposed Americas at war with each other.

That observation resonated with me.  Over the last three decades I have watched this country grow more and more polarized, to the point that we hardly consider those on the other side of the divide from us to be true Americans.  That polarization is what really frightens me, far more than even Trump, because I don’t know how to heal it, and because it is absolutely destructive to our political unity.  I fear this country has gone past some limit without realizing it.  Once this sort of rhetoric gets past a certain point, and people begin to accept it as normal, then there comes a time when your opponents don’t just disagree with you, they are evils that have to fought, in the streets and house-by-house.  In other words, the logical end of this sort of rhetoric is civil war and social dissolution.

And when Trump inevitably spins out of control and crashes, the rage of Trump supporters will not go away.  He did not create it; it created him.  When he’s gone– and I will be surprised if he lasts as much as two years– his supporters will have to find another figurehead to encapsulate their anger.  And what new monstrosity will they create the next time?

I am tired of it all.  I wish I could turn it all off.  But I can’t.  I am not optimistic about America’s chances, but I can’t join a rush to the lifeboats.  Weary and weak as I am, I have to stay and try to do what I can.  I hope you do, too.

But we don’t have to watch the inauguration.  That much, at least, is a relief.

I recommend the Frontline documentary to anyone who wants a good summary of how we got here.

Later.

 

Pray and Write

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