Book I

On The Ice

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Antartica On Old GlobeTelders and the crew left about an hour ago on the helicopters. They got the Array up and running, but it started buzzing like mad just after they left. Figures. I’ll have to try to fix it tomorrow before the first experiment. I don’t think I can deal with that noise for the next 6 months.

It looks like the Husky has found a warm place under the server rack. He’s snoozing quietly next to his bowl. I should find a name for him.

Antarctica is cold.

First Morning

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The Husky and I went out to the Array field to try to recalibrate the Array and I think I made the buzzing worse. Maybe there’s too much iron under the surface or something. It was hard enough to sleep last night and now it’s even louder. Husky dog seems unhappy about it too. He barked like crazy every time I adjusted something. Maybe I’ll name him Buzz. Is that mean?

Alright, enough of this. Time for experiments.

Wow!

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Spent the day s800px-Wow_signalcanning 19h22m22s ± 5s, −27°03′ ± 20′ and 19h25m12s ± 5s, −27°03′ ± 20′ , which, of course, are the locations of the famous “Wow!” signal discovered by Dr. Jerry R. Ehman in 1977.  Naturally, I didn’t find anything, but it was a fun place to start :)

In other news, I have so much bacon here, it’s coming out of my ears. Ahh, the good life.

Going to take Buzz for a walk and check out the penguins.

Chinstrap

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

penguinMy new Nikon D90 is toast. This was a really nice portrait of a Chinstrap penguin. For some reason the picture looks fine on the camera’s screen, but once I copy it off the SD card it looks like this. I tried a several SD cards, and copied the files to my laptop AND the lab desktop with the same result (*・_・)ノ⌒*

That, and the buzzing from the Array is so damn loud I can barely stand it. Grr. Where’s my bacon.

Deaf and Happy

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Buzz slept with me last night and we piled the pillows on our heads to keep out the noise from the Array. We woke up early this morning and found some foam earplugs in one of the supply crates, which cuts out about 60% of the noise. I can’t tell you how happy I am about that. I thought Buzz would complain, but he let me plug his ears as well, and now he’s stopped whining. So, off to a good start for the day, I think. I also found two old digital cameras, both Sony Mavica MVC-FD5s (the old models with the 3.5″ floppy disks!), in the same crate, so I’ll go out this evening for some pics of the Antarctic and try to get another close up of a Chinstrap penguin. But for now it’s time to aim my Big Ears at the Archer.

Scanning Sagittarius

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

800px-Sagittarius_constellation_detail_long_exposure

Listen

What the…

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

…hell? Wchinstrape’re just back from a walk with one of the old cameras and every single picture I took with the Mavica is similarly distorted. This has got to be related to the Array.

Wit’s end

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

OK, I’m going to cycle the Array. The last two day’s scans have been completely normal, but the buzzing and the bizarre interference (or whatever it is) with my photography leads me to believe something is very wrong. I’ll set the computer to run diagnostics and auto-calibrate overnight. Let’s hope it comes back online in the morning. I don’t want to sit here for the next 6 months eating bacon. Or do I?

The Thing

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

thethingI was up all night attending the computers, so I didn’t get much sleep. There are more DVDs at this station than bacon, so I kept myself “entertained” by watching John Carpenter’s The Thing. A word of advice: if you’re all alone in the middle of Antarctica in some dark research station just a few hundred miles from the location of events which occurred in the movie “The Thing”, DON’T ACTUALLY WATCH THE MOVIE, “The Thing”. Because like me, it will scare the holy crap out of you. I ran to the windows more than a few times after hearing strange noises, half-expecting Kurt Russell’s disembodied head to be slithering around the camp on sprouted alien tentacles, searching for a new host.

In other news, the Array is almost ready to come back online. After boot, I’ll do some test scans and hopefully we can get back to work this afternoon.

Huzzah!

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

The Array is back online, everything is good and happy, and most importantly, the damned buzzing has ceased to exist.

I’m sure you don’t want me to go into detail about how much wax has built up in my ears over the last 3 days from the horrible noise the Array was emitting, but let’s just say if I had a box of wicks, I could light my own birthday cake. And I’m no Spring chicken.

Buzz

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

buzz

Buzz getting some sun. He seems to love this little hill next to the hut. I’ve named it “Mt. Buzz”. Also, as you can tell, my camera is working properly again.

Test scans engaged

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Letting the computer meander around the universe for a while as the tests run their course. Here’s an eerie pulsar it latched onto.

This has got to be a mistake

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

While the computer was performing its random test scans with the Array, it picked up the string “30CD” in the RXJ1242-11 galaxy. Aside from being a four letter string, this is also Unicode for the Japanese character “ネ”. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any Japanese transmitting signals 650M light years away from Earth, so I’m going assume this is probably a glitch in the software—and not the biggest news, ever, in the history of life the universe and everything.

(wow?)

RXJ1242-11

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I can’t stop thinking about the signal I picked up. The Array has been scanning the origin for hours, but so far it hasn’t found anything more than the usual static. Just one tiny syllable uttered from millions of light years away (if it is authentic, which I sincerely doubt). But it’s impossible not to think about.

I read a bit about “ネ” on the Internet, (pronounced “ne”) and the Japanese often use that sound to ask for confirmation on something. Kind of like “don’t you think?” or “right?” in English.

It’s as if the universe is asking me for an answer, and there is no obvious question. It just wants a “yes”… or a “no”.  Dear universe, I wouldn’t know how to respond if I could.

Fettered with what ifs

Friday, December 4th, 2009

It’s funny, my first night without the disturbing noise from the Array, and I haven’t even thought about sleep. I’m fettered with what ifs. But no matter how much I want it, all I see is zeroes on the screen.

Oh boy

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I’m trying very hard to keep myself calm and reasonable. A while ago I intercepted a message while scanning the location of the previous signal. The following message has absolutely no business coming from where it came from. The transmission originated in a galaxy called RXJ1242-11, but given the unbelievably hostile environment this nook of the universe is known for (it’s home to a star-swallowing, supermassive black hole), it’s one of the last places I’d realistically expect to find life. Much less, life speaking English. So, unless this is some highly intelligent alien life form broadcasting in our language just for fun, I am compelled to believe this is a very, very, very elaborate hoax. But how it could possibly be done is far beyond my imagination.

Nevertheless, I am posting this message in raw form for posterity. It’s a little garbled, but fairly easy to fill in the gaps. —WR


04DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″


00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000キ ship’s LMO has suff.r.d a viol.nt dissociativ. id.ntity disord.r .v.nt that has lケft us without his assistanc. (alon. with thロ only survival pod) somロwh.r. in th. 200+ M..apars.cs rヌ.ion. Althou.h w. hav. full pow.r, lif. support, coms, and suppliキs, w. hav. no jump assistanc. at this distancン. Wス hav. no navi.ational data. If you can rン00000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

Sniffing packets

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I suspect the real source of the previous two transmissions is probably a prankster/hacker (instead of an English speaking alien broadcasting 650 million LY from Earth). So, I have installed tcpdump on my network while the Array continues to scan RXJ1242-11. I checked the server logs and wasn’t able to find any evidence of an illegal login, but a smart hacker (or a dumb hacker with tools written by smart hackers) can easily cover their tracks. With the packet sniffer in place, I’ll have a copy of any new activity on the wire, and if the Array intercepts another signal, I can scan the dump file for suspicious packets on or around the time of the transmission.

I literally have not left my desk for the last 24 hours. It’s time to clean up all these dishes and take Buzz for a walk.

Emperor penguins

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

emperorpenguins Taking a break while the Array looks for another “transmission.”

It’s a really nice day, somewhere in the mid-30’s. We are nearing the summer equinox here (December 21st), on which we’ll have a full 24 hours of sunlight.

It’s a lot harder to get close to the penguins when Buzz is around, so after our walk I left him on Mt. Buzz and ventured out alone. I often caught myself staring at the Array down in the valley, at the twenty shiny metallic dishes fixed on a whisper, a zillion miles away. Then I snapped this photo, and forgot about everything for a little while.

Same time, same channel

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Here we go again, two days after the second message. I’m scanning the tcpdump log now for unusual activity on the network around the time of the transmission.

06DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000アll COMS: Th.r. is キn unknown Sup.rmネs00000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

If you’re looking closely, you’ll notice the time stamp is exactly the same (down to the second) as the previous transmission. And, although I didn’t post the raw data, the initial “ネ” message on December 3rd arrived at precisely 18:57:09 NZST as well. Interesting, but I’m postponing any further analysis of this or the other two messages until I can weed out the possibility of a hoax.

Cutting the cord

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I haven’t found anything in the tcpdump file that would lead me to believe that these transmissions are the result of a network hack. However, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a Trojan. A virus could have been installed on the controller months ago and quietly be injecting fake data into the Array stream.

To test this, I will completely disconnect the Array from the controller and manually operate it from the ARC terminal outside. There’s no shelter out there, so I’m in for a chilly day.

But first, coffee, and a microwave doughnut.

Gimmie Shelter

Monday, December 7th, 2009

DishSnapped this picture of one of the dishes while the ARC terminal was spinning up.

I’ve disconnected everything, manually input the coordinates into the ARC, and I’m ready to start scanning the universe by hand. This is about as raw as this kind of science gets. No auto-scan, no software interpreter—just one man at the controls looking for blips and spikes.

Got a giant thermos filled with hot Java, my faithful Husky, Buzz, and the Rolling Stone’s “Let It Bleed” on the iPod. Whether I find anything or not, it’s going to be a good day.

18:57:09

Monday, December 7th, 2009

scatter plot nothing

…and not so much as a whisper from the Array. The sun went down for about 30 seconds a little while ago and I believe that’s my cue to sleep. I’m going to switch to my headset and blinders and sleep out under the stars. I haven’t seen them since I left the States, but I’m getting used to the way they sound.

Wadin’ through the waste stormy winter,
And there’s not a friend to help you through.
Tryin’ to stop the waves behind your eyeballs,
Drop your reds, drop your greens and blues.

“Sweet Virginia,” The Rolling Stones

Seals on the wind

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Woke up to the sound of seals this morning, which inspired a bizarre dream in which all the dishes in the Array were giant elephant seal heads. The heads remained quiet and still until, suddenly, they started barking and warbling like crazy. Moments later, they stopped and closed their eyes. In my hands I found an old cassette recorder which had been recording the entire event. I took the cassette tape and fed it to another elephant seal who had a keyboard for a face. He chewed the tape up in his big, sloppy mouth, sat quietly for a minute, then burped up a crumpled, wet, color printout.

Picking up the paper, I  flattened it out to reveal a picture of an alien constellation, the brightest stars forming a giant, silvery “ネ”.

Somebody analyze that one for me.

I give up

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

ARC Terminal Controller
ARC Node

No transmissions after the second day at the ARC. The more I think about it, the more I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I’m out in the middle of Antarctica, in the freezing cold, trying to lasso an alien signal 650 million light years away… in English. This is ridiculous. There’s nothing out there but pulsars, black holes, and supernovas. I’m going follow the rope back to the station and Fdisk the server to kill whatever Trojan or virus has been injecting these messages into the stream, then get back to work.

Mayonnaise

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

When I was growing up, whenever my father made a mistake, instead of shouting curses, he’d say “mayonnaise” (MAY-YOO-NAISE). I never understood why he said this—he was a little strange. Nevertheless, I heard it so much as a child, that it’s the first thing out of my mouth when I screw up. And I just said it.

Here’s a tip for all you burgeoning astronomers: when you’re entering your Right Ascension and Declination, be sure to input them in the correct order. Because when you do it backwards, you get to freeze your ass off repeating a stupid 2-day experiment in the Antarctic desert.

Mood: potato salad

Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

radio_labThese are, of course, the famous first words ever heard broadcast on radio waves, transmitted by Canadian scientist, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden on December 23rd, 1900.

No one answered.

History did not record whether it was actually snowing at Mr. Thiessen’s location, but I can tell you that it’s snowing like hell in Antarctica, and like Mr. Thiessen, I am unable to respond to the transmission I just received.

It is now without a doubt that these alien signals are undeniably, unequivocally, absolutely authentic.

Today, at 18:57:09 NZST, December 10, 2009, I received another transmission from RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″ on a frequency of 372097.2 Hz.  I also received a repeat of another previously received signal also at 18:57:09 NZST, but slightly out of phase with the new transmission. Both signals have been tested with a Gaussian curve-fit to rule out terrestrial interference. I will immediately return to Station151, reconnect the computer systems to the Array, and begin work on fully decoding these messages. The transmissions are as follows. First the new transmission, followed by the transmission initially received on 04 Dec 2009, in complete form, and the spectral analysis of each phase:

10DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 000舞ll COMS: We .ppe.r to be コ s.fe dist.nce from the horizon. Gr田vit.tion .nd tid.l forces negテtive. Ple.se .dvise .nyw.y[Communic.tion sent: 0不1テ5 Shinkラi M.ru 5]坂00 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

10DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00All COMS: This is Maxim Akihiko Broussad, Communications Satラllit. Continuanc. Mana.in. Projエct Offic.r L2 onboard thエ Shinkai Maru 5. Thキ ship’s LMO has suff.r.d a viol.nt dissociativ. id.ntity disord.r .v.nt that has lケft us without his assistanc. (alon. with thロ only survival pod) somロwh.r. in th. 200+ M..apars.cs rヌ.ion. Althou.h w. hav. full pow.r, lif. support, coms, and suppliキs, w. hav. no jump assistanc. at this distancン. Wス hav. no navi.ational data. If you can rンad us, pl.as. advisラ.[Communication sネnt: 0.D.C218. Shinkai Maru 5]0 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

Spectral Analysis

I feel like I should say something profound, but my heart is pounding and I am at a loss.

Floodgates

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Back at 151 now. I’ve re-established communication between the Array and the server and continued to scan the source. At 18:57:09 I received three additional transmissions: two duplicates of previous transmissions, and a new message, which is timestamped December 1st, 2185. The entire message is as follows: “GET BURST, SPEGG!”. I have no idea what this could mean.

I have received a total of 4 messages now, not including the original “ネ” message, which appears to be garbage data. I’ve not yet compared the spectral analysis of the original “ネ” message to any of the others.

I’ve created a new page which contains all messages received thus far, decoded and presented in the most complete form possible. This page can be found here: Transmissions.

Overview
Three of the four messages are dated 176 years in the future, and the other is truncated. Whether these dates are authentic or not, I do not know. However, judging by the content, it appears the transmissions are mostly S.O.S. calls from a pilot named Maxim Akihiko Broussad, who is most likely not alien, but an Earth born human, lost somewhere in space . The pilot refers to his spacecraft as the “Shinkai Maru 5.” A quick internet search yields that “shinkai” means “deep sea” in Japanese, and is a common name for that country’s sailing vessels. Given this, and the fact that the pilot is reporting a supermassive black hole in his proximity, lends more weight to the authenticity of the timestamp accompanying the messages, and may (theoretically) provide a vehicle for the message to travel backward through time, though that kind of science is far out of my league.

Broussad also refers to something called an “LMO” aboard his ship which suffered some kind of violent mental collapse, and may have been the reason for his current predicament. I’m guessing an LMO is some kind of artificial life form, probably a robot or cybernetic organism of some kind.

This is all the information I have for now. Buzz is growling at me, which reminds me that I have not fed him (or myself) for far too long. Also, I’ve punched the snooze button on my biological clock more times than I can count, and my eyes feel like flaming grapefruits. Must eat something and sleep as soon as possible. More tomorrow.

Two new messages

Saturday, December 12th, 2009
Today at 18:57:09 NZST I received two new messages, along with four more repeats. The first seems to be another S.O.S., and the second, a warning about the “LMO” mentioned in the last transmission. The second message is badly damaged and contains an unusual amount of garbage data. Not sure why, but I’ve included a snippet of it in this post (there’s a lot more). As usual I’ve posted cleaned up versions of these two messages to the transmissions page.

12DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 000プ止l COMS: This is Mアxim アキヒコBro.ssad aboard the Shinka.Maru 5 request.ng emergency o.en coタmu.ication and ナavigaハノonal inform..ion from any available traffic or s.ations please. Still ワiting reply. Hellオ out there?「Comムnication sent: 02.E.2185 Shink.i Ma.u 5」000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

12DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 000nformed that the エルMO has suffered a violent disソciative identity disorデr event アンd is responsiblエ for the subsequent マrooning of host vessel in unkノwn region of deep space without jump assisタnce. May be シeking assistance from 000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

Example of the garbage data:

´€þû\Ó»·Ú¤½=e¤;?4;èsµÛ®ôïe›ö¿Û~“<5¾ßü›R6‘¸48ÙúMãwu-Ð!¤‹yØâ4æ-ÝùÛ?3ü#ÚH H$è@üÙüÆ¢Cl ˆy;¤»Ë¿;ùi)‹vÉ. ’4qt1¬¦].h¤‡    ƒÀƒî{$7ûûþšmÇÓaªK    öûNŽÝ>ÿ

It’s an image

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

The “garbage data” is a badly corrupted image.

What the hell is this?

Corrupted Image

Cleaned up the image, but not perfect

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

I ran the image data through a software package we use for filtering noise out of signals and managed to remove the static. The process warped the image, but at least it’s clearer.

Staring at this thing makes my skin crawl.

Filtered

The partial message that accompanied the image is as follows: informed that the LMO has suffered a violent dissociative identity disorder event and is responsible for the subsequent marooning of host vessel in unknown region of deep space without jump assistance. May be seeking assistance from

I’m guessing the thing in the picture is the so called “LMO”. Whatever it is, it’s ugly, and apparently not in a good mood.

Trouble come down

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

I just received a call from Telders. It’s been two weeks since he and his team completed work on the station and left me here for a six month contract to initialize and test the Array. Station151 is a privately owned astronomical radio observatory, and once I’ve completed my contract, the organization which owns the station plans to sell time on the Array to whomever is willing to pay what will probably be a fairly hefty price. Apparently, one of those clients may be a team of American astrophysicists currently in residence at McMurdo station on Ross Island. And Telders just called to let me know they’d be dropping by on Wednesday to evaluate the Array and have a look at the data I’ve collected so far. Wonderful.

I conveniently forgot to mention to Telders that I’ve done almost no real work in the last two weeks, due to the fact that I’ve been tracking what appears to be a radio transmission from a lost astronaut, some 176 years in the future, broadcasting distress signals from a distance of 200+ megaparsecs somewhere near a supermassive black hole. Oh, and that the pilot seems rather agitated that his cyborg or robot companion went mental, sabotaged the ship, blasted off in an escape pod, and is probably eager to do violence to whomever it encounters.

And I have no intention to tell him, or anyone else any of this any time soon. I’ve got a serious amount of data to forge before our friends arrive.

TRANSGENIC HATCHERY FILTH

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

A new transmission dropped today, which accompanied repeats of 5 of the last 6 transmissions. Here it is (already scrubbed):

13DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″
SPEGG, IF YOU ARE READING THIS, YOU ARE ONE DEAD FISHHEAD, YOU SORRY PIECE OF TRANSGENIC HATCHERY FILTH! I HOPE YOU BURST OUT THERE! [Communication sent: 02DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Transgenic hatchery filth? I Googled “transgenic” and apparently it has something to do with genetically modified organisms. Like, you know those GloFish that were sold as pets a few years ago? Something like that. Is this SPEGG some kind of pissed off, futuristic GloFish?

THF

Repeaters

Monday, December 14th, 2009

For the last week I’ve been reporting that some messages are repeating, often with less garbage data. This may mean something. So far, the number of repetitions over time have increased in this fashion: 1, 2, 4, 5.

Contact

Monday, December 14th, 2009
200px-Arecibo_message.svg

Arecibo Message

Ever since I received the first transmission, I’ve been thinking more and more about a possible reply. Firing radio waves into space is certainly something mankind has been inadvertently doing since the invention of radio. And occasionally on purpose. On November 16, 1974 when the so-called “Arecibo message” was broadcast from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to globular star cluster Messier 13, many doomsayers warned that the transmission would herald an alien invasion.

I would be remiss if I did not consider the possible consequences of sending a high powered reply back to the origin of these transmissions. Especially given the potential they have to send (at least) radio frequencies through time, which isn’t entirely far-fetched (Google the word “retrocausality”). If they can do this, then perhaps they have the power to send living things backward as well. Perhaps this “distress” signal is nothing more than highly advanced tackle designed to snare intelligent life so some glowing, fish-headed, alien race can fillet us and turn our cities into fish ponds.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps and perhaps not a million infinity. What the hell. I’m going to go ahead and send it. This Friday. At 18:57:09.

Extreme prejudice

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Array received the following transmission along with 6 other repeated messages this evening, and it just hit me. The fact that the messages are repeating may not mean anything at all. I’m guessing that if the pilot is intentionally transmitting these messages backward through time, it would make more sense to transmit the signal to numerous points in time instead of one tiny moment in time on one thin frequency.

I’m also assuming that because the ship, in its current predicament, would obviously need to conserve resources, that the technology to transmit through time takes very little or no power. It is well known that broadband transmissions consume an enormous amount of energy, and that may explain the narrow frequency on which these transmissions have been arriving.

Not a lot of new information in this message, except for what appears to be a growing level of urgency. Who knew fish could be so dangerous?

14DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″
As Acting Captain of his host ship the Shinkai Maru 5, I authorize any authorities, security details, or bounty hunters to incarcerate the Transgenic Fish/Humanoid known as Spegg on sight. He is a ship deserter, as well as a violent, deranged saboteur. If capture or incarceration appear difficult, I authorize you to dissolve him with extreme prejudice. [Communication sent: 03DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Thoughts during bacon dinner

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I have mentally and morally prepared myself for Friday’s transmission, but now that I’m ready to send, I suddenly realize that have no idea what to say. And hopefully future ships are loaded with highly advanced radio sensors and are constantly scanning any and all frequencies for anything interesting. And hopefully Maxim Akihiko Broussad’s ship is one of those ships. And hopefully the humanoid fish named Spegg hasn’t screwed up all those highly advanced radio sensors along with whatever else he destroyed. And if all of that is true and good, what kind of transmission could possibly be interesting enough to capture the good captain’s attention?

Hrm… more bacon.

On a completely unrelated note, the phrase “more bacon” has a delightful ring to it.

Cycling the Array

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

The Americans will arrive tomorrow morning so I am going to cycle the Array ahead of their visit. This will clear the Array’s memory so they won’t find any data related to the transmissions I’ve been receiving. I’ve also forged about two weeks of observation data (which I pilfered from NRAO’s convenient online database), so everything should appear normal and accurate. The Americans will be effectively taking over the station for about 24 hours, so I’ll be updating this journal remotely.

Once the Americans are out of my hair I will prepare a transmission to the captain of the Shinkai Maru 5. Still contemplating what to say.

This message (and 8 repeats) arrived on the Array a few minutes ago:

15DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″
A long night. I made an inspection of the ship, looking for damages and potential systems failures throughout. The ship is nearly 70,000 cubic meters in total and it can take quite a while to crawl every centimeter. These deep space ships are tough and equipped with redundant electronic and mechanical systems. I didn’t expect to find any problems. It’s the potential for problems that I couldn’t find that bothers me. I also inventoried the ship’s consumables and ran life support systems tests. All appear in good order. If a person enjoyed eating nutrition packs, drinking reclaimed water and breathing scrubbed air, they might be very comfortable here. I’ve opened communications to all possible channels and frequencies, searching for assistance. Without nav data, the system can’t locate our position in space. For some time, the nav system was spinning dangerously high, trying to resolve available external data against its charts. Nothing out here is familiar. One thing remains certain. We are far outside our known space. Getting help, getting back in familiar space may take time. Spegg, I hope you are having an enjoyable excursion in my survival pod.

– Maxim Akihiko Broussad, Shinkai Maru 5

[Communication sent: 04DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

McMurdo team has arrived

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

AmericanHelicopter The helicopter from McMurdo is landing as I type this. I just got word that one of the scientists on board is Director of the Organization of Space Astrophysics in Italy, Dr. Dante Alfieri.

Dr. Alfieri just published his 12th book, a series of essays entitled “Quantum Field Theory and Black Hole Thermodynamics”, which I read from cover to cover in one sitting, and probably screamed “YES!” and pumped my fist like a million times before I finished.

However, given my recent discoveries, he is probably the last person I want to see at Station151.

Geek fest

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

BlackHoleIf you’ve never hung out in the middle of Antarctica with half a dozen Ph.D.s, a billion dollars worth of the latest in astronomical interferometry, and a Krups Compact Fully Automatic Espresso Machine, I highly recommend that you add it to the top of your bucket list.

Dr. Alfieri and the rest of us geeks spent the whole night analyzing x-rays from a nearby black hole and remotely operating Alfieri’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Italy. Without a doubt, the greatest 24 hours of my professional life.

So great, that I nearly forgot that I’m hiding the biggest discovery in the history of mankind right under their noses. :(

Staycation

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I just got word from my employer that Dr. Alfieri and his team are so impressed with the facility that they will be staying for two weeks to conduct a series of cutting edge experiments. Translation: I get a 2 week Antarctic staycation in the rec room.

Normally I’d be able to stay reasonable and composed, but considering the fact that I’ve concealing regular and frequent radio transmissions from a source 650 million light years away and 176 years in the future, and I was planning to send my first reply tomorrow night… I’m having a minor freak-out.

Talk to me, J&B

Friday, December 18th, 2009

J&BOK, my minor freak-out has turned into a major freak-out. I have to, have to, have to get back on the Array. Dr. Alfieri and his team have taken over everything and I am literally just sitting in my quarters drumming my fingers on an unopened bottle of J&B….

Do I tell the McMurdo team everything and risk a massive government takeover and cover-up? Or, do I wait two weeks for them to finish and hope this Maxim Akihiko Broussad is still transmitting? What if the window is closed by then?

Surely there’s something else I can do. Something….

I’ve done it now.

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Sabotage

The Big Idea

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Two nights ago J&B and I had a Big Idea. We decided that Station151 was too small for a big, fancy research team, so we made friends with a bucket of gas and a strike anywhere match, and melted the ARC terminal down to the ice.

ARC terminals are responsible for synchronizing radio telescopes, facilitating their communication, and relaying interferometry to software for analysis. But when all that turns into magic smoke and floats away, geeky astrophysicists apparently get fussy and want to do all kinds of mean things to the guy they found passed out next to the charred remains of said ARC terminal.

OK, so maybe not my brightest moment. But the good news is that I’ve escaped from their little makeshift prison, rescued my laptop, some bacon, and disappeared myself. I’m currently writing this from a nearby hut built in 1911 by a team of Norwegian explorers. There are some basic supplies inside, but I won’t last long out here.

Old supplies in the hut

Last chance

Monday, December 21st, 2009

I have no idea if the group from McMurdo is still at Station151 or if they have returned to their base, but you can bet the area will be crawling with security teams in the next 24 hours.

So, I am going to attempt to sneak down to the Array before 18:57:09 to do another experiment. It could be my last chance. The ARC terminal may be wasted, but I believe I can still operate a single dish from my laptop. That may be enough to pick up a few new messages and get a single transmission out.

I am guessing that the pilot of the ship who has been transmitting messages into the past probably has the ability to receive messages from the past as well. So, even though he may be 650 million LY from Earth and 167 years into the future, if he’s scanning all frequencies throughout time, he should be able to receive my message.

After having at least a week to consider it, I’ve decided to send one and only one word in my transmission: “SPEGG”. I think that will be enough to get the pilot’s attention.

If I am caught, this will be my last entry. Hopefully someone will find this and continue my work. Godspeed.

They’re still there

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Two people from the McMurdo team were out at the ARC terminal when I sneaked back. Luckily the Array is spread out in a long, “Y”-shaped configuration, and the dish at the bottom of the “Y” is half a kilometer from what’s left of the ARC. However, I couldn’t risk staying, so I connected my laptop to that dish’s SIMPC interface and programmed it to transmit my message at exactly 18:57:09. With any luck, no one will notice my dish out of alignment with the others while it transmits.

Oh, and you’re not going to believe this. When I returned to the Norwegian hut, I found Buzz patiently waiting for me :) Hopefully no one followed him.

Happy solstice. Full 24 hours of sunlight today. Pretty inconvenient if you’re on the lam.

I’m done for

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

I just woke up to Buzz barking like mad and the roar of helicopters and snowmobiles outside. They’re at the door. It’s over.

Mad Men

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

This morning half a dozen men dragged me out of the old Norwegian hut, shoved me to the ground, cuffed me, and strapped me face up on a snow machine. Buzz protested, bit a man, and got shot. And then the machines grumbled away, the cold 24-hour sun whirling overhead.

As we slid over the barren Antarctic landscape, back to Station151, I assume, for processing and to arrange travel back to the States for prosecution, my mind finally broke. It simply threw in the towel. For, in one moment I was a prisoner, and then there was a sudden flash of amber light, and in the next I found myself tumbling, violently, on the ice, as if I had been thrown from the machine, head over heels, the hard Antarctic desert punching me in the face with each rotation, until, finally, I slid to a halt on my back, staring upward through a mixture of snow and blood.

I picked myself up, slowly. The men and their guns, and their snow machines, and my handcuffs, and the helicopters tracking us from above, and all the noise and confusion was utterly, impossibly… gone. Not even the tracks in the snow remained.

My broken mind and I shambled back to Station151 to find the ARC node fully intact, Buzz patiently awaiting me on his mount, and no sign of any team of researchers from McMurdo ever having been there.

Is there a therapist in Antarctica?

Digging the rabbit hole

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

I’m staring at a 404 error for the home page of Dr. Alfieri’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory: http://fieri-interferometry.it. The site doesn’t exist. And a quick search on Google and Wikipedia provides no information for Dr. Dante Alfieri or for his observatory. I called McMurdo and not only is he not there, they’ve never heard of him. I inquired about the research team and McMurdo had no record of that either.

As a scientist, I cannot rule out the possibility that I’ve lost my mind. However, everything else seems normal. The Array, the transmissions, the transmission that I sent…as far as I can tell, all of that actually happened. Though, when I cycled the Array on December 15th, I cleared its memory, then wiped the data on the servers, so no one from the McMurdo team would discover it. And now, the only records of the transmissions I received are on my personal laptop. There’s no way for me to prove to anyone, or even myself, that the data is authentic. And apparently the Array has been idle for the last 8 days, so I don’t know if there have been any new transmissions.

Am I so insane that I’ve actually been sending transmissions to myself? Am I Maxim Akihiko Broussad?

I just saw Dr. Alfieri

Friday, December 25th, 2009

I just got up for a glass of water, and when I got back I saw Dr. Alfieri sitting in my chair. He looked transparent, like a ghost. I screamed and dropped my glass. Then he turned around and he screamed, but he made no sound. Then he vanished.

It’s official. I’m nuts.

Wraiths

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I’ve seen the entire team of researchers from McMurdo in different places throughout the station tonight. And they’ve seen me. And they all seem just as surprised and terrified as I am with the encounter. Their ghostly figures are there for an instant, and then they vanish.

Crib death

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I dug a little deeper on the Internet and found a reference to a Dante Alfieri, born June 4, 1951, in Milan, Italy. But apparently this Dante Alfieri suffered crib death when he was just 2 months old. I don’t know exactly how old Dr. Alfieri was, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was in his late fifties. Of course, this is all completely insane. I’ve probably read this news story before and my broken mind used his name to fabricate the character.

Photo shoot

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

This morning I awoke to someone I didn’t recognize standing over my bed, pointing at me and screaming. His mouth moved, but I could hear nothing, and like Dr. Alfieri and the others, I could see right through him. Another wraith of a man ran into the room and  immediately started taking pictures. I laid there, horrified, gripping my blanket, my throat so constricted that I could hardly breathe. The flash bulb popped over and over, eerily, like slow puffs of smoke, as the cameraman bobbed and weaved around my bed, taking shots from different angles. I wanted to scream, but my throat protested. I don’t know how long they were there—forever it seemed—but eventually they got harder and harder to see until there was nothing. Once I relaxed enough to move, I leaned over the side of my bed and threw up on the floor.

D20

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

After this morning’s freakout, I grabbed a pint of J&B, and headed outside.

I took Buzz down to the Array to check out Dish 20, the transmitter I used to send the “SPEGG” message on December 21st.

Everything was exactly as I left it. The transmission was still in the dish’s memory, and the log showed that it has been repeating once every day at 18:57:09 for the last seven days.

After clearing D20’s log and re-syncing it with the ARC node, I climbed up the dish’s ladder to the platform above and drank for a while. Buzz lingered below as I tipped the bottle again and again, staring out over the icy landscape. I stayed in that position for I don’t know how long. It was the most normal I had felt in weeks. After a while I carefully climbed back down, brushed the fresh snow from Buzz’s coat, and headed back to the station.

We climbed out of the valley and headed over to the storehouse for some provisions, when a ghostly helicopter suddenly landed on the makeshift helipad. A crowd of wraiths hopped out, and together they shuffled into station. Immediately afterward, the chopper lifted a few feet off the ground, then sort of rippled out of existence. I turned and cocked an eyebrow at Buzz, who was scratching at the storehouse door, oblivious.

I shrugged, drained the last finger of J&B, then skipped the empty pint over the ice.

Hair of the dog

Monday, December 28th, 2009

I woke up this morning in the storehouse next to Buzz, another empty pint of J&B, and a half a can bacon bits scattered on the floor. I brushed them aside and rolled my forehead against the cold concrete, trying not to throw up.

After I gained enough courage to move, I crawled over to one of the storage bins and fished out a pair of the darkest looking sunglasses I could find, then grabbed a bottle of Tylenol and swallowed a few without water. Buzz was up and walking around and the sound of his nails on the concrete pounded in my head like a kickboxer at band camp.

I collapsed back on the floor, and for the next hour or so I kind of did this thing where I’d roll on my back until I got nauseated, then turn over until that made me sick, and then again on my back, etc, etc, etc, until I eventually got the upper hand and was able pull myself up and lean against the storage rack for a while. Once I mastered that, I shuffled over to the door, slapped at the handle, swung it open, and stumbled out into the 24 hour sun.

The cold air felt wonderful, but I resisted the urge to cuddle up next to the nearest snow drift and staggered back to the station. I threw open the door, and surprised a wraith who clung to the wall and howled silently as I passed, and collapsed into my desk chair. Propping my feet up on the desk, I unbuttoned my jacket pocket, pulled out a fresh pint of J&B, and took a long pull. I closed my eyes and inhaled.

I reached for my keyboard, and with one hand slowly typed the commands to resume scanning RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″.

Little brother

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

It’s coming up on 18:57:09, the only time of day that I’ve received a transmission on the Array. Because I can’t rule out the possibility that I’m—I think the technical term is—batshit insane, I’ve attached a web cam to my PC and I will record my actions to verify whether or not I’m the one sending these transmissions, and not some deep space pilot named Maxim Akihiko Broussad, lost 650 million light years away and 176 years in the future.

The wraiths have been rippling in and out of the room all day. Whenever they appear, they seem surprised and start pointing and running around frantically, but I can’t really tell, nor do I care, what it is they’re after. The dark sunglasses and the J&B are making them easy to ignore.

Ripple

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Get back to work, I said. Get back to work…

At exactly 18:57:09, as I was sitting at my desk, waiting for a transmission, I suddenly felt a presence behind me. I swiveled in my chair and shrieked as I found one of the wraiths towering above me, grinning. Without warning, he lurched forward, yanked me out of my chair, and tossed me to the ground.

The wraith screamed, “I got him! I got him!”. Immediately, a whole crowd of them stormed in and grabbed my arms and my feet as I tried to punch and kick my way loose. Within seconds they had me fully restrained. Then, a completely solid and very real Dr. Alfieri stepped into view and grinned, “Well look what we’ve got here.” I wheezed in horror as he removed a pair of handcuffs from his jacket pocket. The men rolled me over and Dr. Alfieri slapped the cuffs on my wrists.

“Get the chopper ready,” he said. “And phone McMurdo. Tell them we have the prisoner. I don’t know how, but we have him.”

I squirmed and tried to wrestle them off, but there were too many. “You’re not going anywhere, asshole,” one of them said. I cursed in protest and spit sideways at his face. He wiped his cheek and muttered, “Big mistake, Robertson.” Then he raised his fist and swung. I cringed, but his fist sliced through my face and struck the floorboards. He howled in pain.

In that instant, the handcuffs sluggishly slipped through my wrists and clattered to the floor. Then my captor’s hands started slipping through my arms and legs. One of them lost their balance and fell over. “We’re losing him!” someone hollered. “Get ahold of him, Goddamnit!” screamed another. “He’s fading!” said another. But their voices and the scuffling of their feet got quieter and quieter, then became distant and dreamlike, until the room was completely silent, and their forms started to ripple into transparency. Then whatever doorway that had opened and let them in clicked shut, and they were gone. I rolled over onto my back and stared at the bottom of my chair until I caught my breath.

I got to my feet, my body sore from the blows and the grips they had on me, and, shaking, reached for the J&B. I picked it up, raised the bottle, but paused, and set it back without taking a drink. On my monitor was a flurry of activity from the Array, what looked like dozens and dozens of transmissions. I kicked the chair out of the way, turned off the web cam, and double clicked the .avi file it had recorded.

I forwarded the recording to 18:57:00 and hit play. There I was on the screen, sitting at my desk, staring at the monitor as the seconds ticked away. 18:57:02, :03, :04… nothing unusual. :05, :06, :07, :08. Then at exactly 18:57:09… the screen turned black. “Oh God,” I exhaled, pawing for my chair. I sat down, watching the darkness on the screen. Nothing. Then one minute later, at exactly 18:58:09, an image of myself  holding the bottle of J&B appeared. I watched myself put the bottle to my lips, then set it back down without taking a drink. Then I saw myself bend over… and the recording stopped.

Rift

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Given the events of the past few days, I believe I’m caught in some kind of rift in space and time. In the world that I occupy, Dr. Alfieri doesn’t exist. And his intrusion should be considered a profound threat to myself, my research, and perhaps even the fabric of the universe.

In the storehouse is a box of explosives Telders recovered from the old Norwegian research hut while his team was assembling the Array. I have collected them and will begin rigging a trap for Dr. Alfieri and his colleagues. Tomorrow at 18:57:09, if they appear in solid form again, I plan to draw them out onto the ice field… and obliterate them to hell.

Hell is where you hang your hat

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Yesterday I hid out behind the fuel dump at 18:57:09 and watched as at least twenty men, two helicopters, and a pile of scientific equipment sprung out of nowhere. Some of the men were offloading more equipment from the helicopter, others in heated discussions, and a couple of men stood quietly and alert, guarding the entrance to the station. Weaving in and out the crowd was a pack of pure white huskies. I ducked down behind the 55 gallon drums and checked my watch. 18:58:01. I slid up and peered back over the top of the barrels. Suddenly one of the dogs raised his head and barked. The guards spun around. They shouted, drew their sidearms, and fired. A ball of fire engulfed me.

I woke up in the snow later, I don’t know when, my head ringing, and the stench of scorched hair in my nose. I put my hands to my face and checked for blood or missing parts. But aside from a raging headache, I seemed to be intact. I glanced at the fuel barrels. No damage. No evidence of a fire.

I stood up, brushed off the snow, and stumbled inside.

It appears that the McMurdo team had a similar plan. My existence was a threat, and I had to be eliminated. But they had acted too late. A fraction of a second longer and I would be dead. I won’t make that mistake.

It is currently 14:00 NZST. Station151 is now ringed with explosives. In less than five hours I will commit mass murder.

Rubicon

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

There wasn’t much left to do, but wait. I placed explosives under small mounds of snow, near every exit of the station and the storehouse, and at the point where I had seen the helicopters before yesterday’s skirmish.

At a safe distance from the fireworks, I dug a small trench and ran the wires from the explosives under the snow to a plunger. There I waited. And at 18:57:09 the men, the helicopters, the pack of huskies—everything—popped back into existence. I took a long breath, then stood up and fired a shot from my rifle into the air. Instantly, the men who were outside started screaming, the dogs started barking, the doors to the station flew open, and more men rushed out, brandishing pistols and assault rifles, Dr. Alfieri among them.  Shots rang out as I dropped into the trench. Tufts of snow exploded around me and lead buzzed overhead. I grabbed the plunger, the box shaking in my hands, yanked the handle upward, and was about to lean into it when I suddenly stopped….

The rift was a trick. A little inter-dimensional slight of hand. I don’t know how I got stuck in it, but killing everyone certainly wasn’t going to get me out. Even if I did, more helicopters would come with more people who had more weapons, and I would fight them, and those who came after them until eventually they bested me.

There was another way out.

I disarmed the plunger, clenched my teeth, and leaped out of the trench. I leveled the barrel in the direction of the oncoming horde, and within seconds they gunned me down.

Woke up dead

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Another dream…
I was lying at the bottom of the sea, supine, in a bed of snow covered coral. Hundreds of grotesque fish with human limbs and long, squid-like tentacles circled above, occasionally darting toward me, then retreating. With each pass they gained more and more courage, inching closer and closer. I struggled to move but the ocean pressed down. One of the fish shot forward, within inches of my face. It stopped and stared, then bared its teeth. I screamed, a column of air bubbles gurgling out of my mouth. The fish grinned a savage, wretched smile of satisfaction, one corner of its mouth bending around the side of its body, upward toward its drooping, misshapen eye, and the other splitting into twisted gills that pulsed and ballooned irregularly as it breathed. Suddenly it lurched forward and took a chunk out of my face, then darted away. I howled as my blood filled the water, and they all attacked.

I awoke with a start, outside on the ice field, supine, my face numb and covered with snow. I rolled onto my stomach and got to my knees, a sheet of powder sliding from my chest. I brushed off the rest. A smattering of bullet holes riddled my jacket. I fingered them uneasily but they only led to solid flesh. I exhaled and sat back into the fresh powder.

To my right was the trench I had dug, the detonator buried under the snow. I checked my watch: 18:57:57.

24 hours had passed. In the other world I was dead. The rift was closed.

Skylark

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

This evening around 6:30 Buzz and I took our first walk in what seemed like years. There was a flurry of snow and the familiar trumpeting of elephant seals played on the wind, so I had a bit of a spring in my step, and I thanked the universe for taking me off its shit list, at least for the day. I brought along a some bacon that I had folded in a napkin, and as we walked I nibbled and shared some pieces with Buzz.

We headed down into the valley to the Array. The dishes were packed with snow, so I figured there was a fuse blown or a short at the terminal because each dish is equipped with its own defroster.

At the bottom, I checked the box at the ARC and found a spent fuse, which I unscrewed and pocketed, then replaced it with a spare and locked the box and the access door to the terminal.

Suddenly Buzz started barking. But before I could even turn my head, I heard a colossal thunder clap—so loud I ducked—and when I looked up, a giant ball of flaming death was screaming through the atmosphere. I sucked in a breath, backpedaled, and shouted at Buzz to run. But it wouldn’t matter. An instant later the meteor rocketed over my head, the heat from its tail singing my clothes, and slammed into the ice, obliterating dish 20 in a great plume of smoke and white powder.

Once I could breathe normally again, I immediately retracted my earlier pleasantries to the stupid universe, sighed, and hustled over to investigate.

Retrograde

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Dish #20 is, or I guess, was, located at the southern end of the Y-shaped radio telescope Array, which, given the size and spread of the configuration, was about a 30 minute hike from the ARC terminal. When Buzz and I finally reached the impact site, we found what was left of D20 strewn over the ice in tiny, mangled fragments, save a sizable chunk of the metallic collector which had partially melted into the surface, forming a hard blob of blackened aluminum.

Telders was going to be pissed.

I stepped carefully toward the crater, Buzz lingering behind. It was probably 30 feet in diameter, but much neater than I expected, considering the massive fireball that nearly took off my head half an hour before. The flames were fully extinguished—no smoke, steam, or cinders to speak of—and it appeared as if the thing just dropped straight in and stuck there, as opposed to crashing and tumbling and carving out a wide swath of destruction like any good meteorite should.

I peered over the edge. Taking the place of the $500,000 antenna was an oblong, dull, gray thing, dusted with fresh Antarctic snow. I scratched my head and reached in my pocket for the last slice of bacon.

“That’s no meteorite,” I told Buzz, and snapped off a piece of the cold meat. I chewed it up, swallowed, and tore off another chunk and tossed it to the husky, but he barely acknowledged it.

“Alright, then,” I shrugged, and bent over to retrieve a short, narrow scrap of twisted metal from the destroyed antenna. I tapped it in my glove like a baton. “Be right back.”

The husky whimpered as I turned and stepped into the hole with a crunch.

Anterograde

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The entire surface of the crater was slathered in some kind of translucent orange and red flecked goo, almost exactly the color and consistency of orange marmalade, and the ice beneath it was packed incredibly dense and perfectly smooth, as if it had been exposed to  serious, unearthly pressures—perhaps tens of thousands of atmospheres. I’d never seen anything like it. It was slippery as hell, but oddly, the goo added some traction as I inched down the slope.

As I descended, I focused on the gray hulk in the center of the crater. From what I could tell, the object was about 10 or 15 feet in length and the surface was lumpy and indistinct. I could feel my heart beating a little faster as I got closer and  I unconsciously hastened my pace. Further into the hole it was noticeably warmer and more comfortable, and the air was thicker, like it was hugging me as I moved. I picked up speed, and before I knew it I was sliding in the goo, skiing it it, and suddenly I felt I could breathe easier and deeper than ever before, and with each inhalation I felt lighter and more energetic, and the next thing I knew I was laughing and sprinting down the slope, running, sliding, slipping, my arms pinwheeling… and then without warning I reached the floor of the crater, slipped backward, and watched in slow motion as one of my legs whipped up in front of me, and then the other, followed by a brief moment of weightless bliss… and then I collapsed neck first on top of myself.

However, instead of shattering my spine, or cracking my skull open, or suffering any kind of pain or discomfort in the least, the marmalade goo grabbed me, hugged me, fully absorbing the shock in a warm, delightful embrace, then let go and my body came to rest against the floor without a scratch.

I laid there for a while, as the strange high wore off, then propped myself up, sat up, covered with the goop, and shook my hands and bushed it from my arms and legs; it sloughed off easily. I poked at the goo, and smacked it with an open hand. It absorbed the blow, then relaxed. I punched it a few times, harder and harder, and felt nothing more than the wind on my fist, then the grip of the slime as it somehow obviated the force. Weird.

I got to my feet and crossed the distance of the crater to the center, my head still very muddled, and without thinking, reached up laid my hands on the gray hulk. Suddenly, the surface immediately below my palms cracked and spidered, and before I could even shift my weight, a massive explosion blew me backward into darkness.

God’s cursor

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I was only out for a second or two. The force of the blast was tremendous, but even though I landed at least 15 meters away, the orange goo that covered the crater’s interior absorbed the shock of my fall and most likely prevented me from playing dinner buffet to a flock of skuas. I licked my lips. Blood.

Removing my gloves, I lightly patted my face and found at least a dozen lacerations. My jacket and pants were perforated with hundreds of tiny cuts, and I could feel the sharp pain of little cuts on my legs, but not so much on my upper body. I wiped my face on my sleeve, drawing a deep swath of crimson, and stood up, cringing.

In the distance, what was a gray, lumpy hulk was now a shiny, black hulk. I paused briefly, mouth agape, then, ignoring the pain in my legs, broke into a sprint toward the object.

I slipped and skated on the ice, the orange goo pushing back against my momentum, and when I reached the thing, I fell down and slid to a stop in front of it. The indistinct shell that had cracked and exploded was gone, leaving no fragments or debris anywhere, and in its place was a tall, heavy looking, huge, unbelievable, triangular-ish, ship. A space ship. I was staring at a space ship.

The vessel was easily twice my height, and it was pointing straight down, its sharp nose embedded a full meter into the ice, like some kind of giant-sized, alien lawn dart. The dorsal and ventral sides of the ship were smooth and flat, except for one small, ovular vent on each side, and the sides sliced away from the nose in a broad, rounded arc, accompanied by two rows of rectangular vents, then tapered slightly toward the rear of the ship which, because of the height of the thing, I couldn’t see.

There were no sounds, vibrations, lights or any indication of activity or life coming from the thing. It was cold and quiet.

I took my phone out and started snapping pictures. In the distance, Buzz started barking hysterically.

Dog whistle

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

“Calm down, Buzz,” I snapped at my husky as I reached the top of the crater and shuffled past him. He barked and ran ahead of me, protesting furiously.

I bent down to scratch his chin. “It’s ok,” I said. But he persisted. I turned my head and squinted at the ship in the distance. “What the hell do you see that I don’t?”

The triangular vessel remained still and quiet, wedged nose first in the ice like a giant arrowhead.

I stood up, shaking my head. “C’mon,” I demanded, stepping around him. “We’re gonna open that thing.”

Have a tranq on me

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Buzz followed me out of the valley and back to the station, barking incessantly, even after we got inside. I stood there in the office, frowning at him as he squatted on his big hind legs, his eyes bulging with fury and warning, his jaws snapping mindlessly.

I couldn’t imagine how he could go on much longer, but I figured he would tire out on his own, so I tried to ignore the noise as I gathered some heavy tools in a bag, slung a coil of rope around my shoulder, and grabbed the keys to the snowcat.

Buzz bolted between my legs and tried to block the side door, but I threw a leg against him and swung it open, trapping him between the door and the wall. He protested fiercely, his voice becoming weak and raspy, but he strained and shoved and managed to slip outside after me. I stumbled as the husky rammed me in the legs.

“Enough!” I shouted.

There was no way I could bring him along in this condition. I had a few more things to get, then I would drop the equipment off at the snowcat, take Buzz inside, and lock him in the dog run.

He tailed me into the storehouse where I filled the bag up with a few more things, watching him out of the corner of my eye, then locked up and headed back out. I walked behind the science station to the shed where we kept the snowcat and unfastened the latch, when Buzz suddenly lurched forward and sunk his teeth into my calf.

I howled in pain, and smacked the dog with the coil of rope until he relented. It wasn’t as hard as he could have bitten, but I’d had enough. From my tool bag I produced a tranq gun, flipped the safety off, and plugged the husky with a vial of diazepam. He fought it well, but his legs gave out and he was out cold in under twenty seconds.

I picked him up and carried him to the dog run, gave him a few strokes, and locked the door. Back outside, I loaded the snowcat up with the equipment, cranked the ignition, and rumbled down into the valley.

Extraction

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I maneuvered the snowcat into the valley and perched it atop the impact crater, the triangular ship looming in the distance, still stuck nose first into the ice. I killed the engine and reloaded the tranquilizer gun with a fresh vial of diazepam. What the hell did Buzz sense down there?

I sat in the cab for a while, staring at the ship and the remains of dish 20 through the dirty windshield. Whatever it was, if it wasn’t from around here, the tranq would probably just piss it off. I stroked the hammer on the Taurus .357 in the holster on my belt, then started the engine and pitched the snowcat over the edge.

The machine grumbled down the slope of the crater, the orange goo providing good traction, easily managing the slick surface of the densely packed ice. At the bottom I steered the cat around the ship and backed it up to within 20 feet of its position, got out, and grabbed the rope. I rounded the ship, looking for a loophole or hard edge of any kind, but the surface of the craft was far too smooth. I crouched down on the ice, thinking for a moment, then drew out a length of rope and fashioned a slip-knot. Holding the lasso in hand, I swung it around a few times above my head, then released. The rope slid over the ship and came to rest on the ice, about a meter above the buried nose. I tied the rope to the back of the cat, hopped in the cab, and slowly pulled forward until the rope was taut. Then I backed up a few inches, then got out and using the blunt end of a metal spear from the cat, shoved the rope about ten feet up the side of the ship so it was tight against the exterior. Then I hopped back in the cab, double checked the tranq gun, my sidearm, took a deep breath, then hit the gas.

The snowcat lurched forward, the engine straining, then suddenly the ice cracked and popped, and the ship came crashing down with a surprisingly quiet thud. I leaped out and circled the felled craft with the tranq in my left hand and the Taurus in the other. The rear of the ship was visible, flat and smooth like the rest of the exterior, with the exception of a large circular depression, roughly 3 feet in diameter, and flanked by a couple dozen tiny holes, each about the size of my little finger. There was no visible latch, handle, switch, lever, keypad, dial, or fastener of any kind. I kicked the hatch with my boot and backed up. There was no way I was getting this thing open down there.

I eyed the snowcat, and its thick steel sled, then removed the rope, and turned it around. The ship was only about 12 feet long. I wedged the sled underneath the ship and gave it a little gas. The engine purred and the craft slid forward on the ice with almost no effort. I pushed the thing up the side of the impact crater, out of the valley, and back to the station.

Red letter day

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I’ve got a knife wound in my left shoulder and a dead man on the floor.

I had expected to spend some quality time this evening with my oxygen/acetylene cutting torch and the seemingly impervious hull of the mysterious space craft that obliterated dish #20 of my radio telescope array, but alas, things never go as planned these days, especially around 18:57:09, which is exactly when the man who is now lying on the storehouse floor with a five-inch window in his chest burst into the room with a 10″ survival knife and murder in his eyes, screaming: “It began here! It began here!”

Normally I would have given the man an audience, no matter how crazy he sounded, but I think it was probably the foot-long Rambo knife in his hand that forced me to draw the Taurus .357 holstered at my waist, but not before the man lunged and sank the blade deep into my left shoulder. I recoiled, staggering, as he ripped the knife out of my flesh and cocked his arm for another go, but I managed to find the handle on my sidearm and dropped the bastard with a click. He didn’t even make a sound. His eyes went dead, his body froze, and he slumped backward, the knife clattering on the concrete floor.

My arm was bleeding like crazy. I kept pressure on the wound and tore open the first aid kit, but gauze and band-aids weren’t going to do a goddamn thing. I spun around, frantically, ribbons of blood spilling onto the floor, and suddenly eyed the acetylene torch. Snarling, I grabbed the striker, turned on the oxygen, and ignited it. I found a small crowbar on the rack and waved it under the torch until it glowed bright orange.

Clenching my teeth, I took a deep breath, and shoved it in the wound.

Shit

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I awoke to the sound of myself howling in pain and the smell of cooked meat. Beside me, the crowbar still glowed faintly.

I got to my knees.

The hatch to the ship was open. And the dead body was gone.

Awakenings

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I scanned the storehouse with the .357 as I got to my feet and edged toward the spacecraft’s open hatch. The storehouse’s barn doors were shut, as I had left them, and a trail of blood from where the dead man had laid drew a path to the main entrance, then disappeared underneath the closed door. I cursed under my breath as I backed up against the ship, having bumped my left shoulder against the hull. I shook it off, took a few short, sharp breaths, then spun around, pointing the Taurus into the craft’s interior.

I immediately buckled and stumbled backward, dropping the gun. The stench was unbelievable. Coughing, I covered my nose with my hand, then started vomiting through my fingers. I staggered away, bent over, trying to keep from puking all over myself. The heaving persisted until there was nothing left, but I continued to gag and my stomach lurched, and I held onto a rack and spit and wheezed until I settled enough to clear my mouth, then I dug into my coat for my scarf and started to wipe my face, trying not to breathe through my nose.

Suddenly there was a noise outside the door. I turned, quickly scanning the storehouse for a place to hide. There was no where else to go. The door handle turned. I clenched my teeth, clamped my scarf over my mouth, sprinted toward the putrid spaceship, ducked down, and leapt through the hatch.

I landed on my left shoulder and howled into the scarf, writhing on the floor, and immediately started heaving. The interior of the ship was filled with trash and a sticky green residue that covered the floor and smelled of corpses. I sucked in a breath and turned away to find a large window that somehow wasn’t visible from the outside. I could see the storehouse perfectly. And then I watched, gagging, as the storehouse door swung open. From that angle I could see nothing more than an arm—a green, sinewy arm—holding the door.

I turned my head, suddenly remembering my gun. There is was, outside the ship, six or seven feet from the hatch. I cursed through my teeth. Idiot.

The door stayed open and the arm that held it remained, unmoving. I waited, watching, my stomach an incessant spasm, my heart pounding in my left shoulder, and in my face, and my arms and legs, and every other goddamn wound in my body. I glanced at the gun, then back to the door…. I took a few conservative breaths and strained to keep myself from puking. Six or seven feet wasn’t that far. I could easily get out and grab the gun before it reached me. I shifted quietly inside the cramped ship, turned my body around, and tensed—ready to leap.

Then, suddenly, without a sound, whatever it was withdrew its arm, and the door lazily swung backward on its spring… then clicked shut.

Fish out of water

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I scrambled out of the hatch, snatched the gun from the floor, and crossed the space between the ship and the door in seconds. Leveling the weapon, I fired a shot through the center of the door, wrenched the thing open, and barreled out into the snow. Nothing. A swath of blood painted a trail to the left and around the edge of the storehouse. I followed it. I backed up against the wall, gun raised, and snap-checked the corner. Frowning, I looked again, casually this time. There, surrounded by bloody, strewn clothing, was a large, fresh hump of snow. I lowered the Taurus and stepped toward the mound, nudging the dead man’s bloody white oxford with my boot. The creature had buried him. What the hell for? And why without his clothes?

Then there was a crash—broken glass. And barking. Buzz was awake. I bolted around the corner and sprinted through the falling snow to the main building. The door was open. I ducked through it, my boots pounding on the wooden floors in the hallway, and turned the corner to the rec room. Buzz was going crazy. Another crash. Downstairs. I hit the steps full bore, gun in hand, and followed the sounds down the hallway to the science laboratory.

I kicked the door in. The creature jumped. An armful of beakers and chemicals and test tubes crashed to the floor. I raised the .357.

“What the fuck are you!?” I shouted, the Taurus shaking in my right hand.

It shrieked, backpedaling, and whipped its head around searching the room for an exit or an option.

I cocked the gun. “Don’t move.”

The creature was humanoid, at least seven feet tall, with green sinewy skin like I had seen in the storehouse, and a fucking head like a fish. A fish. I sneered at it.

“Do you understand me?”

It sniffed, two quick sniffs, and glared back at me, as if my scent contained some amount of that understanding… and it didn’t like it.

I fired a shot over the creature’s shoulder. It yelped and sprang backward, crashing into the shelves, and raised its arms for a shield as more glass spilled on top of his freakish head.

“Last chance,” I snarled, stepping forward and lowering the barrel toward his chest.

It stared up at me, with its solid black, unblinking eyes, and spoke in a gurgling, high pitched voice: “I am a nothing. Only Spegg.”

I dropped the gun.

Lure

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Spegg recoiled from the gun as it clattered on the concrete floor.

“Saiyaku!” He scowled, then his ghastly, giant fish lips rolled back and he spit a glob of white paste at the pistol. “Get that terrible thing away from me.”

I paused, tilting my head, then stepped on the gun and inched it toward him.

“Gah,” Spegg protested, batting his translucent green arms in the direction of the weapon.

I slid the gun back and bent over cautiously to collect it. I wasn’t sure what to make of the thing in front of me, much less the fact that he had no business being here, some 650 million light years from the source of the transmission, and 176 years in the past.

In the transmissions I received, the pilot of the ship, Maxim Akihiko Broussad, called Spegg violent, dangerous… a saboteur. And he further instructed anyone who came into contact with him to “dissolve” him.

But I didn’t get it. Spegg took the time to bury a dead man, then backed away, terrified, of a weapon well within his grasp. He didn’t seem too friendly, but he didn’t seem dangerous or violent. He looked scared. Almost childlike.

I took a leap of faith and holstered the pistol. “Let me help you up,” I said, and extended my hand.

Spegg took it. He got up, and with a ear-splitting shriek, yanked me forward and drove his elbow into my skull. Stunned, I collapsed into the broken glass. Spegg leaped on me and dug a knee in my chest.

“Chikushou,” he sneered, and closed his icy hand around my throat. I struggled, but his grip was strong, and his wicked, bulging, black eyes were the last thing I saw before I lurched into darkness.

The stranger

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

The stranger within my gate,
He does not talk my talk—
I cannot feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind.
—Rudyard Kipling

My clothes were wet. I opened my eyes and winced as sweat poured in and stung my corneas. The room was insanely hot. I wiped my face on my shirt and glowered at the row of bars between myself and the rest of the science lab. I was trapped in one of the reinforced steel dog cages we used for the huskies. The door of the cage had been welded shut and lying immediately in front of the cage on the floor was the cock-eyed body of an adult leopard seal. I bent forward, frowning. Spegg was on the far side of the room.

“Gah! Primitive garbage,” he growled, shoving a spectroscope onto the floor. He kicked away the busted, loose pieces and moved a wide, black, rectangular case onto one of the lab tables. I didn’t recognize it, so I assumed it was from his ship. With a grunt, he swiped his hand over the top and it sprung open. I sat up for a better view and bumped my head on the top of the cage.

“Nani?” Spegg chirped, wheeling around. In his right hand he held a long, silver tube. He shuffled over and bent down in front of the cage, his thick, meaty lips twisted into a grotesque, W-shaped grin, twirling the shiny instrument between his pencil-like fingers.

“What the hell is that?” I said, and backed up as far as I could in the cage, which was only about ten inches.

He didn’t answer. Gripping the cylinder like a ball point pen, he clicked the end with his bony thumb and a mass of worm like needles slithered out, undulating hypnotically at the tip. I swallowed and Spegg started laughing, a warbling, high pitched chortle that forced me to grab my ears.

“Why so jumpy?” he sneered, then cocked his arm.

My heart lurched, the silver device flashed in his hand, and he stabbed the instrument downward. Suddenly the seal roared and its body convulsed as Spegg twisted and prodded the device into its neck. Its howling quickly degraded into desperate shrieks, it’s massive tail pounding the floor, its bulbous nose quivering and spewing blood.

Spegg grinned a row of tiny pointed teeth at me as he held the seal down, shouldering the instrument further into its flesh. The seal’s power faded fast—its protests grew feeble and helpless, the shrieking lessening into cries… whimpers… then dull, guttural moans, and finally the seal stopped moving altogether and there was nothing but the ghastly sound of fluids and tissue as Spegg continued to jerk the device around in its neck. My mouth hung open in horror and disbelief.

Spegg removed the instrument and retracted the motionless needles back into the tube’s chamber. He got up to go, but paused, then knelt back down and peered into my cage.

“Don’t worry,” he said, leaning closer, his giant, black eyes reflecting the thick columns of reinforced steel. “You’re next.”

Waiting

Monday, January 18th, 2010

I watched Spegg, for the next several hours, turn the science lab into a tapestry of organic bewilderment. I kept still, silent, and reserved, even as the heat in the room grew more and more stifling. At one point Spegg paused and brought me a small bowl of snow, then continued, without speaking, with his work. The snow melted easily and I drank everything, knowing full well that it would evaporate if I tried to ration it.

Nearly all the stock equipment in the lab ended up on the floor, save the glassware, replaced by things I couldn’t comprehend. Using the tissue from the elephant seal, Spegg created a boiling, steaming mess of science, doubling, tripling, the size of the tissue inside what could only be described as an incubator, a luminous, spherical, crimson womb that pulsed and contracted like a giant’s disembodied heart.

The dead elephant seal began to smell, much worse than the typical, overpowering stench of bodily waste that they often coat their bodies with in the wild.

“Your turn,” Spegg said suddenly, and shambled over to my prison with the silvery device in hand. He clicked the end, the wormy tendrils wriggling out. I screamed and kicked at the cage, but I had almost no room to move, and my will had dissipated in the withering heat. He snagged my leg, stabbed the instrument into my flesh, and removed it a second later with little ceremony.

I clutched my calf as he walked away, breathing hard, dumbfounded. It hadn’t even stung.

Spegg took the device, slid the tip into a knobby bulge near the bottom of the throbbing incubator, and with a click, injected my tissue inside.

Breakfast

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Spegg brought me a hotplate, a steak knife, and another bowl of snow this morning. No words, no explanation. He gestured to the cord and then an outlet on the wall next to the cage, and walked away. I immediately drank from the bowl and slumped back against the cage bars. Taking a small clump of snow, I touched my eyes and temples, my forehead, and exhaled deeply before swallowing the rest.

I dropped my gaze to the hotplate. It was from the kitchen. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I said, kicking it with my heel.

“Eat,” he sniffed.

“Eat what?”

“You have food,” he said, examining the disgusting, throbbing womb on the counter top.

“Are you blind, you bastard?!” I screamed, grabbing the knife. “There’s nothing here!”

Spegg bolted across the room, grabbed my hand through the bars, loosed the knife from my grip, and stabbed it into the seal’s carcass.

“Eat!” He demanded, his long, translucent neck bulging with purple veins. He sliced off a chunk of the seal’s flesh, showed it to me, then shoveled it into his mouth.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I scowled.

Spegg sniffed, buried the knife in the seal’s back, and turned away.

“You psycho!” I reached through the bars, yanked the knife out, and lobbed it at him pathetically.

Spegg twisted around as the knife clattered harmlessly on the floor. “Chikushou,” he breathed. “Use your hands, then.”

Skymap

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

The mass of tissue, the womb-like thing that Spegg had created in the science lab, had slowly stopped pulsing and throbbing, contracted, and formed into a lifeless ball of muck, roughly the size of a softball. Spegg largely ignored it now, and had left the room for a while and returned with a long tube of golden foil, like a roll of wrapping paper.

My stomach ached and I turned my attention back to the elephant seal’s carcass. I hadn’t touched it, and Spegg hadn’t bothered me about it again. I guess he figured I’d eat when I got hungry enough. And honestly, the idea was slowly becoming less and less repulsive. I eyed the hotplate, the fresh injury Spegg had given the seal, and sighed. Fine. I had to eat something and if this was all I got, then so be it. I untwisted my body from the fetal position I’d been keeping to ward off the hunger pains and slid up onto my knees in the shallow cage.

Spegg had unrolled and spread the roll of foil on the counter, and as I reached through the cage bars to plug the cord into the wall I watched as he drew his fingers along the right side of the foil, which sparked and gave life to a luminous three dimensional display that sputtered for a moment, then suddenly projected a seemingly solid map of the stars directly above and around the golden sheet.

I leaned forward and let the cord fall out of my hands. With his bony index finger, Spegg tapped on a region of the universe and a model of an alien spiral galaxy sprung forward with a flash. I gripped the cage bars and stuck my face between them as Spegg tapped on various places in the galaxy, colorful nebulae and clusters of stars and planets whisking by his fingers as he swiped them away and zoomed in deeper and deeper, farther in to one of the galaxy’s spiral arms to a region of the galaxy dominated by a perfect, black sphere that bent and distorted the light from the nearby stars as if they were circling a drain.

“Oh my god,” I gasped.

Spegg turned his head. “You know what this is, Chikushou?”

“Of course.”

“Good,” he replied, clenching his fist. “We will go there.”

My mouth dropped open. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Spegg said nothing and removed what looked like a tiny, white remote control from his oval case. His eyes were calm and his mouth set in a long, thin line as he engaged a mechanism on the device with his thumb. The room filled with a terrible buzzing—the sound of a thousand bees screaming in my ears. The muscles in my arms twitched, my jaw snapped shut, then suddenly my body went numb and I collapsed onto the cage floor. I breathed hard, paralyzed, as Spegg gathered the acetylene torch and started cutting through the door.

Medicine

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

A shower of sparks sprayed into the cage as the acetylene torch bit and sliced through the door. Spegg squinted, guiding the fiery blade through the weld, the metal popping sporadically as the seal  broke open.

When it was done, the giant fish pulled the door open and dragged me out by my feet into the middle of the room. I felt nothing as I laid there paralyzed, the deafening noise of his device blaring in my ears.

Spegg stared down at me, his massive black eyes reflecting my own, the abrasions on my face, my dry lips.

“I will spare you, Chikushou,” he said, licking his tiny, pointed teeth. He took from his case a small white tube, unscrewed the top, and squeezed a dollop of white paste into his palm. “But you will help me find my people.”

The hell I will, I thought.

Spegg leaned in and rubbed the paste into the knife wound in my arm, dabbed a little on my face, then slathered it on the bite on my calf. Unable to move my neck, I strained to watch as the burnt flesh on my shoulder slowly lightened and the wound began to cleave, little sutures of pink tissue bubbling up from the edges of the cut and fording the gash like little fleshy tendrils. Seconds later it was closed.

Bad move, fish.

“Good,” Spegg said and showed me a syringe filled with pink liquid. “And this should make you a little more… obedient.”

I leaped up and grabbed the fish by the throat, wrestled the syringe out of his hands, knocked him to the floor, and beat him in the face until his bulging eyes burst open and spewed intraocular fluid all over the room. I tore at his flesh with my fingernails, ripped off his arms, his legs, his head, dug my fingers into his chest, rip—

Spegg jabbed the needle into my arm and plunged the pink syrup into my vein. I took a deep breath. Spegg’s long face brightened into a wide smile and he reached over and clicked the button on the white remote. The noise stopped.

I sat up.

Halcyon day

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

The lab was trashed. Glass was everywhere. Broken equipment littered the floor. My clothes were wet with sweat and I pinched my nose to ward off the stench from the dead seal. On the counter was Spegg’s weird experiment. Once a throbbing, living womb for god knows what, was now a dark, lifeless, crimson shell.

Spegg grinned at me. The long faced, translucent skinned, big-eyed nightmare in a black jumpsuit and human shoes who had destroyed my lab, my antenna, and imprisoned me for days. I hated him. I don’t know why he had released me, but it was a mistake. And whatever crap he had plunged into my veins… well, it wasn’t working. I felt no different.

I glanced down. My Taurus .357 was lying next to the busted spectrograph, just a few steps away. I continued scanning the room, acting casually. Spegg just stared.

I was a few feet closer to the gun than him. I didn’t care how fast he was. If I could get a handle on it, it was over. My eye twitched. I felt a sudden surge of adrenaline tickle the hairs on my neck and harden my fists. Spegg cocked his head. I sprung.

Diving forward, I snagged the weapon from the pile of junk, wheeled around, and snapped the hammer back. Spegg hadn’t moved. I leveled the sight between his big black eyes and smirked.

“Die you disgus—”, I started, but my heart instantly slowed and suddenly all of the tension and adrenaline and hatred and fury just simply vanished and I found myself drawing a long, deep breath, my muscles relaxing… letting go, calming, steadying, retracting. I paused for a moment, gawking at Spegg, and whispered, “—teh,” unable to finish whatever I had been saying.

Spegg licked his lips.

I lightly fingered the weapon’s trigger, caressing the thin grooves in the curved metal. They felt nice. The gun itself was warm and heavy in my hand and the soft rubber grip felt satisfying and perfectly weighted. A lot of thought had gone into the design. The precision, the power, the simplicity of it all. I thumbed the hammer, squeezed the trigger, and uncocked the weapon with a satisfying clickclack. Beautiful.

“We will get to work,” Spegg said.

I glanced up, scratching my head. “Yes… um, of course,” I said.  I gently laid the gun on the counter, careful not to scratch it.

“The egg will hatch soon,” he added, gesturing toward the hardened, crimson womb on the counter. “We must get it to water.”

Over easy

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I don’t know what the hell Spegg injected me with, but I’ve never felt anything like it. I don’t feel drowsy or out if my mind; I feel quite normal, actually. But in the event that I experience any kind of aggression, disturbance, or distress, my thoughts and emotions are gently replaced with a momentary, but overwhelming, wonderful state of bliss. So wonderful in fact, that I’ve caught myself trying to get upset just so I can feel it again.

As we were walking down to the water this morning (Spegg refused to ride the snow machines) I asked him to say something insulting to me, like that “chikushou” word he always says, but he just sniffed and ignored me. I hate to be ignored ;)  Ahhh.

At the shore we planted the marvelous egg in about six inches of chilly mud and then I chased the penguins around until Spegg told me we had to go back. He says we will find his people soon. I can’t wait to meet them! We’re going to see a black hole!!

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Spegg says there’s a problem with the ship. He says there’s not enough power to achieve escape velocity and if we don’t boost it, we’re not going anywhere. :(

But Spegg’ll figure something out. He’s really smart. Oh! He let me play with his golden map today. Soo cool! It’s not just a map, it’s a computer too! All this future stuff is on there!!

LOVE SPEGG!

Bacon and Speggs (lol)

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

I told Spegg he should be a professional wrestler! He’s fast, he looks cool (I mean he’s got a head like a fish! How cool is that?), and I bet he’d draw some huge crowds. Anyway, I told him that and he didn’t even blink! He just looked at me with his serious face and said that he doesn’t have time for that because he’s going to build an army of transgenics and take over the world! LOL. Spegg is hilarious. I’m gonna get me some baconnnnnnnn. Hey, where’s Buzz? Buzzbuzzbuzzbuzz.

I can’t think of a good title for this post!!!!!!!

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Spegg told me that before he came here he was orbiting a large black hole and that he actually intercepted the “Spegg” signal I sent out from dish #20!  WeIrD!!

And you know what is even weirder? He said that from his ship he detected many other ships exactly like his own orbiting the same black hole. He thinks there was some kind of space/time disturbance caused by the black hole. That reminded me about Dr. Alfieri and the crazy rift in space/time here in Antarctica and when I told him about it, and how everything always happened 18:57:09, he scratched his fishy chin and called it a “sign”. I asked him what kind of sign and he just grinned and said, “a good sign.” (haha, what is that)?

Oh! I also showed Spegg all the transmissions I received from the Shinkai Maru 5 but when I asked him about Maxim Akihiko Broussad, he got real quiet. I think he’s mad!! =O  (he should take some of this pink stuff!)

Homecoming!

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Speggy is going to send another transmission today at 18:57:09!

He said that if he can get a message to the other pods that he saw orbiting the black hole, that he may be able to guide them over the event horizon and bring them to Antarctica! He said that each pod probably contains another Spegg just like him. He said that they are “his people” and its time to “bring them home.” There are probably hundreds of pods out there, he thinks, maybe more—maybe an infinite number of them!

Oh man, I bet Buzz is gonna go insane if a bunch of new Speggs show up. I tried to go outside to find him, but Spegg stopped me and said that outside was “out of bounds.” I haven’t been out in I don’t know how long. I don’t even know what I’ve been doing for the last few days. Shit, I’ve got to stop this. Spegg is going to use the array to contact an army of transgenics and bring them to present day Earth? I’ll blow this goddamn station to hell before that happens.

Oh! I’m getting hungry again!! I wonder if Spegg likes cheese?

Mindslave

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

This is the first moment of clarity I’ve had for days. There are certain things I cannot think about and I won’t risk describing them here, lest I morph into—I can’t even say it. The very hint of distress will activate the substance that I have been injected with.

Yesterday at precisely 18:57:09 Spegg broadcast another transmission to the exact coordinates that I sent the original Spegg message. In the new message he described in detail his plan to build a race of transgenics and enslave the human race, and directed any and all LMO’s who received the message to immediately steer their pods across the event horizon and into the black hole.

I can write nothing further nor contemplate any consequence of this without jeopardizing  my state of mind.

Buzz

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

This isn’t a good sign.

Technical Core
Sun 1/31/2010 11:57:39 AM

Strange reunion

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

I didn’t see it before, but it is clear now.

I’ve encountered a ghostly Buzz three times today. The first time in the tech core, another time in the kitchen, and once in the rec room. Each time he just stared at me, head cocked, then vanished moments later.

Another dimensional rift has opened. And it’s a direct result of the transmission Spegg sent yesterday. Just as it was the day after I sent the first transmission when the team from McMurdo vanished before my eyes.

And tonight, at 18:57, a very solid Buzz appeared in the office and jumped into my lap, slathering my face with wet kisses.

But it wasn’t Buzz. Not exactly. He was thinner than he should be, his eyes smaller, and sported a deep black stripe that ran from the top of his head and thinned out and lightened across his back. But he seemed to know me and I played it cool, scratching his chin and holding him for the 60 seconds that he remained. Then he began to fade, with a chorus of frantic whimpers, and suddenly my arms were empty.

Moments later Spegg stormed in, sniffing the air like a goddamn animal, and I felt the tingling of the pink serum kicking in.

Tanjoubi

Monday, February 1st, 2010

This afternoon Spegg took me down into the valley and several kilometers further to the cold shore of the Southern Ocean where we had stowed the egg a few days before. His mood had changed since the morning. He smiled as we walked, his jagged teeth stacked like white razors behind his lips, his lanky gait easily managing the rugged desert terrain. There was a bounce in his step and he whistled a high-pitched tune—full of sharp corners and feverish, screeching arpeggios. I did not recognize the song, nor the style, and the high notes stung my ears, though I did not reveal my distress.

I kept my eyes low, struggling to maintain Spegg’s pace as I sank into the crusty, old snow, my ankles wrenching with each step. We crossed the foothills and descended into the flats which stretched for a few hundred meters and ultimately gave way to the icy chop and towering, pointed bergs far out into the sea. As we neared the coast, I saw what I thought to be a wide swath of black sea trash littering the shoreline.

We continued to walk, and as we got closer it slowly became clear that the mess was not rubbish, but instead hundreds of penguin corpses, rent and scattered in heaps of red and black all along the icy shore. They had been savaged—their bodies, their heads, their bones torn asunder, some partially eaten, and others merely destroyed—as if whatever predator had gotten its fill, and murdered the rest of the birds for sport.

I held my mouth.

Spegg grinned broadly and patted me on the head. “Chikushou,” he said. “You are a father.”

Soliloquiorum

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Spegg and I walked the frozen shore southward, following the trail of death. The egg he had created from the tissue of the elephant seal and a snippet of my DNA had finally hatched. And it was hungry. I stepped around a pile of remains and trailed a few paces behind Spegg, who was focused—his nose in the air—on a little cove in the distance.

His earlier words played in my head as I watched the tide paw at the eviscerated body of an emperor penguin, then retreat with a small helping of loose feathers and viscera. “You are a father,” his toothy sneer flashed in my head.

I set my jaw. I’m not the father of this monster.

Spegg straightened up and pointed at the cove. “I think he’s ahead,” he said. “Oh, you will remember this day, Chikushou,” he added, bounding forward.

I felt a wall of rage bricking up behind my eyes and struggled to push it away. Stay calm. You can’t win like this. The pink shit Spegg had injected me with was aggressive. Anger, fury, frustration were all things of the past. If I let them get the best of me, the serum would take over and render me a fool.

I spied a penguin’s severed head fidgeting in the water between a couple of small ice chunks, its eyes wide and blank. I shuttered and looked away. Then I saw Spegg… who was literally skipping along joyously. He even took a couple steps to the right and booted a dead penguin.

I must have growled or something because he wheeled around and sniffed at me.

“Stop dragging your feet, Papa,” he said.

That was it. I bent over, snagged a fist-sized rock near my feet, and raised my hand….

My pulse beat fiercely in my temples, the full power of my anger throbbing in my jaw and my whitened knuckles. But it didn’t vanish. It raged on. I held my stance, arm cocked, the cold stone digging into my palm. Spegg eyed me intently, and drew a wide smile. Suddenly, for some reason, I didn’t want to kill him. I hated him, but I didn’t want to kill him.

“What are you waiting for, Chikushou?” Spegg said, arms akimbo.

“Nothing,” I said, and walked up to him. I took the stone and plunked him in the chest. “Don’t ever call me Cheekshoo again, Fish.”

Spegg nodded, wiping off his chest. “The Lilith has bonded with you, Wayne Robertson.”

Control freak

Friday, February 5th, 2010

As Spegg and I neared the small cove, a bewildering cacophony of grunts, hoots, and wails bellowed on the wind, echoing off the jagged, icy outcropping that surrounded the inlet.

The giant fish stopped and removed from his pocket a small white device that I immediately recognized as the instrument he had paralyzed me with in the science laboratory.

I stepped back.

Spegg shook his head. “No. Take it,” he said.

I gave him a skeptical look and quickly snatched it out of his hands. It was about the size and weight of a television remote, and had no visible seams or fixtures—a simple looking device with rounded edges and one small clear, round button in the center.

“Just point and click,” he said.

I did. Spegg instantly collapsed.

“Whoa!” I shouted.

The device buzzed lightly in my hand, nothing like the swarm of bees I experienced when I was on the other side of the thing. I bent down and lifted Spegg’s long, thin arm then let it fall limply into the snow. His black eyes stared blankly at the sky. I snapped my fingers and waved my hand over his face, but nary a muscle twitched. “Can you hear me, big guy?”

I stood up and clicked the button again. Spegg suddenly gasped and grabbed his head, howling. He glared at me then snared a fistful of snow and lobbed it at my feet. I danced out of the way, chuckling.

“Serves you right,” I said, twirling the device.

“Be careful with that, you fool!” He spouted. “You could drop it and paralyze us both.”

“Oh? You mean like this?” I clicked it again and Spegg fell face first into the snow. I giggled and thumbed the button once again. The giant fish lifted his nose out of the powder and shook it off like a wet dog.

“I hate you,” he grumbled.

“Well at least we have something in comm—”

Suddenly a terrible squeal came from the behind us. I spun around, whipping the device toward the location of the sound. There, perched on one of the larger boulders of the outcropping was a dark, bulky figure. My mouth dropped open. The thing hooted loudly, then slowly backed away, and disappeared into the shadows.

Lariat

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Spegg reached the cove before I could. I was well behind, slipping on patches of ice that he simply bounded over with his long, sinewy legs. Gasping for breath, I finally caught up with him at the mouth of the inlet and collapsed at his feet. He had taken cover behind a boulder, and if he was at all winded by the sprint, he didn’t show it.

Spegg turned and shook his head at me. “You could use a few upgrades, human.”

The way he said “human” sounded repulsive and I scowled at the new moniker, true as it was.  “I’m fine with the upgrades God gave me, thank you very much.”

Spegg tweaked an eyebrow, or what would have been an eyebrow if he didn’t have the head of a goddamn carp. “No such thing.”

“Maybe not for you.”

Spegg twisted his fat lips into a petulant smirk and turned away. He pointed to a cluster of rocks on the far side of the cove. “He’s there. Ready the EMD. Unless you think your god will protect you.”

“I’m not having this conversation with a fish.” I stood up and removed the white remote from my jacket pocket. As soon as I gripped the cool metal, the button began to glow a dull amber color and slowly brightened.  “Ready.”

We entered the cove. The creature immediately saw us, loosening a wicked shriek, and broke across the beach in our direction.

“The range on the EMD is only about 5 meters,” Spegg said. “So wait until he’s close.”

“Now you tell me.”

The beast bounded toward us, favoring its legs, but tagging the ground with its forearms every five or six steps. It hooted in sharp bursts as it neared and I extended the EMD with my right arm, my thumb trembling on the button.

“Don’t miss.”

“Shut up, Spegg!” I put my weight on my back leg and dug in as the thing scampered closer, its breath like puffs of smoke from a locomotive, solid in the cold Antarctic air. “Now?”

“Wait!”

It was nearly on top of us. I could hear its breath clearly, and its heavy feet crushing the ice pack. Its eyes were a bright yellow, its flesh brown… thick with muscle. “Now?!”

“Not yet!” Spegg said, taking a step away.

I held my breath, grabbed the remote with my other hand to steady it, and locked eyes with the monster as it lunged into the air.

Spegg screamed, but I had already thumbed the trigger. The remote buzzed. The beast’s eyes whirled. And suddenly it was on top of me, a blanket of thick, heavy skin, a putrid stink of death, and a flash of light as I slammed to the Earth under its weight.

Chi

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Spegg shoved the thing’s limp body off of me and I turned over and let the blood run out of my mouth.

“Ow.” I touched the part of my face where my nose can typically be found and cringed in pain. It was crunchy, sideways, and gushing.

“Your nose is broken.”

“Wow, you fish are quick.” I spat as I propped myself up on my hands, marking the ground with a splash of blood. More streamed out of my nose and mouth, pooling and carving miniature, crimson estuaries into the snow. I took off my gloves and wiped the blood from my eyes, then frowned at the lifeless beast lying next to me. “Christ.”

Its body was roughly human, hairless and brown, and packed with muscle under thick, wrinkled flesh. Its legs were short and stocky and its feet were sturdy, short flippers that I would have guessed would be completely useless on land if I hadn’t seen the damn thing cover about two hundred yards in less than twenty seconds.

The beast’s hands were more human-like, although its fingers hung limply from the second knuckle, deflated, as if the bones had been sucked out. It had an oblong head with high, mottled yellow eyes, like curdled milk, and a ghastly proboscis heaped atop his nostrils that curved inward toward his gaping mouth where four spiky canines split and towered above a full set of human teeth.

“Ugly son of a bitch,” I said, coughing.

Spegg grinned. “You know he’s your—”

“Save it,” I snapped.

“Very well.” Spegg shrugged it off and took from his pocket a familiar syringe, filled with the same pink liquid he had injected me with. He popped the safety cap with his thumb, and offered it to me. “The Lilith,” he said. “It will calm him when he wakes.”

“Yeah, I remember how it works.” I snatched it and tried my best to stand. On the ground I noticed the white remote that I had lost in the fall. It was damaged—crushed against a rock just inches from the bloody imprint of my head in the snow; but it was still buzzing. Without thinking, I bent over to pick it up.

“Robertson, no!”

The remote went silent in my hand, gasping a wisp of electronic smoke. I looked at Spegg.

“Shit.”

There was a flash of brown flesh in my periphery. I wheeled around. The beast howled, baring its canines, and lunged at me. I sucked in a sharp breath, then instinctively drove my right hand forward, punching the needle deep into the bastard’s neck. The Lilith automatically discharged and monster stumbled sideways, its eyes drowning.

The thing staggered away, fumbling with the syringe, trying to get a handle on it with its rubbery fingers. I glanced at Spegg, who was casually drumming his fingers on his cheek. The beast quickly gave up on the needle, shaking his hands like a frustrated child. He turned in circles, whimpering, stared at the sun for a good ten or fifteen seconds, then shambled over to the outcropping where he found a nice, comfy rock and took a seat.

“He’s definitely his father’s son,” Spegg said, tittering.

I smirked. It started raining.

Late lunch

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

I walked over to the half-seal, half-Wayne Robertson hybrid thing and sat down. It grinned blithely at me, then dropped its head back and tried to catch the rain in its mouth. I scrutinized it for any speck of familiarity and found nothing.

“I definitely see a resemblance in the nose,” Spegg said.

“Yeah, you’re hilar—” I broke off, frowning at Spegg who was standing in the rain, peeling away the corner of a silvery package. He smiled and took a bite of a dark brown rectangle inside.

“Fish food?” I said, pulling my jacket hood over my head.

“LMO supplement.”

“Looks like a chocolate Pop-Tart.”

Spegg shrugged and took another bite.

“Give me some of that. I’m starving.”

“You don’t want it.”

“Yes I do.” I got up.

“Alright, then.” Spegg waved the package under my nose and I recoiled from the smell, even with a busted nose.

“Christ, it smells like a corpse!”

“Told you.” Spegg held the bar in his mouth and fished around in his pocket for something. “Eat,” he said, and tossed me a Ziplock baggie stuffed with raw bacon.

I opened it and cringed. “Jesus, Spegg. It’s not even cooked. How long have you had this in your pocket?”

“Twelve hours.”

“Disgusting,” I said, and pitched the bag on the ground. Suddenly the seal LMO hooted, leaped up from his seat, and pounced—devouring the bacon in one swift bite—bag included. It grunted, rooting around in the snow, sniffing and licking the ground for any last remnant of flavor.

“Wow. We’ve got a real winner here, Fish. A veritable Einstein.”

Spegg bit off another chunk of the supplement bar, then tossed the rest on the ground. The beast ravaged it.

“They’re all like this in the beginning. He must be Enlightened before he is of any use to us.”

“And how exactly do we do that?”

Spegg brushed a few crumbs off his chest and shrugged. “I have no idea.”

Clarion

Monday, February 15th, 2010

We walked back to the station together. Einstein shambled along, leaving flipper prints in the snow. I stepped in and out of them, noting that his feet were roughly the size of mine. Spegg walked ahead, occasionally sniffing at the air. The rain had stopped and there were a few flakes milling about—it was evening and getting cold.

We scaled the foothills back into the valley. Spegg led the way, his hands buried in his pockets, managing the slope without any visible degree of exertion. Einstein handled the terrain better than I thought he would have, in a zig-zag sort of fashion, using the back of his wrists to brace himself against the craggy terrain as he bounded upward. He occasionally stopped and looked back at me as I slipped and cursed my way to the top.

Spegg summited first, and when Einstein reached the top, he glanced back a couple of times, and then they both disappeared over the other side. I stopped to rest, breathing hard through my mouth, my nose a mess of broken cartilage and sticky blood. The snow was falling harder in the foothills. I took off my gloves and breathed hot air into my hands. And that’s when I heard Buzz.

I trained my ear toward the summit. He was barking ferociously. Where the hell did he come from? I stuffed my gloves in my pockets and scrambled up the edge, grabbing onto the volcanic rock with my bare hands and wrenching myself forward. His barking got louder and louder, panicked, angry snaps. Only a few feet more to go and I crested the foothills, barreling over the top and down the other side into the valley.

Spegg and Einstein were a few hundred meters out under the shadow of one of the radio antennae, and Buzz was nearly upon them. When I hit the valley floor I broke into a sprint, waving my hands, yelling Buzz’s name, but he ignored my calls and lunged at the new LMO.

“Buzz, no!” I screamed.

Einstein went down. Spegg leaped away and scampered up the dish’s ladder.

“Buzz!” I tried again, waving. “Jesus Fucking Christ! Buzz!” Nothing. Blood spilled into the snow.

I roared and tackled Buzz, detaching him from the LMO. There was a yelp, followed by the sharp, heavy agony of his teeth on my arm, and then he was back up and on top of Einstein. My arm grew warm under my jacket as the blood spilled out.

“Buzz, stop!” I screamed from my knees. Buzz tore a chunk out of the LMO’s proboscis. Einstein’s limbs flailed, batting at the dog, and Buzz ravaged those as well. Blood spattered the ice. My own blood slithered onto my left hand and dripped into the snow. It was the same color. I suddenly remembered Einstein’s face as he looked back at me on the slope, like a child checking up on his father. And now pieces of that face were being ripped apart and scattered in the desert. Anger welled up from dark places I did not know existed.

I reached for my lockblade and pounced on the husky.

Ascension

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Buzz’s limp body fell aside. Below him, the new LMO, the transgenic combination of my genes and the local fauna, gurgled blood into the snow. His flesh in ruins. I called his name, regretting that it had been more of a joke than a true name. Einstein. An ironic name for an idiot. I had made light of his weakness before he even had a chance to prove himself. Filth. That is what I am.

His eyes glassed over. Suddenly he was still.

“No!”

Hard snow fell in clumps as I screamed. I shook him and begged him to fight. “Come back!” I yelled. “Don’t do this!” I shook him and screamed until I was horse. Shuddering, and bent over his lifeless body, I brushed the fresh snow from his chest, and started weeping. “I’m sorry,” I told him, cold tears streaming along my cheeks. Gently, I drew my hand over his eyes, closing them forever. I rocked back into the snow and palmed the tears away

I let my gaze fall to Buzz. A pool of blackness around his neck, his eyes still wide, his blood stained teeth eternally bared. I reached to touch him, but stopped short. I had broken a contract. Whatever I was, I was no longer the man who landed in this desert three months ago. The Lilith had changed me. So easily, so cunningly, that I hadn’t even recognized it. I didn’t feel any different, but my actions made it obvious. And Buzz had sensed that. He knew it. Buzz had ripped into my flesh just as easily as the LMO’s. He might have torn us all apart if I hadn’t….

Spegg’s shadow crept into view.

I glowered at the long, inhuman figure. “You did this,” I breathed, raising my eyes.

“You have completed the Ascension, Wayne Robertson.”

I leaped to my feet and pointed the blade at his neck. “I should kill you where you stand,” I growled, miming a rage that I could not summon.

Spegg gently touched my forearm and lowered the weapon. “You could no more kill me now than you could kill yourself. We are bound.”

The knife dropped into the snow, my quick breaths freezing into little clouds.

“The Lilith is not a drug, Wayne. It is a process. My life and your life. We are wound together. Imprinted, if you like. This is the strongest bond two beings may have.”

Spegg laid a hand on my shoulder. He gestured to the bodies of Buzz and Einstein.

“And this tragedy was the culmination of that process. A necessary step to seal our lasting bond. As horrible as it may seem, it had to be done.”

I gasped. “Wait. Are you telling me that you set this whole thing up?”

Spegg cast his eyes down, for a moment, then returned. “The LMO was malformed. He never would have Enlightened. His body and his mind. He was simple and weak. I knew it would be true, even before I created him. We simply do not have the proper tools in this place to create a superior Transgenic.

“As for Buzz,” he continued, “The dog who you loved, who you cared for, your companion… severing that kind of attachment in a manner such as this has a profound emotional consequence. It could take a lifetime to erase the guilt from such an event. But the Lilith has exploited that guilt. Consumed it, and supplanted it, for the sake of this trust.”

I turned away, the snow coiling around us.

“We will move on, Robertson,” Spegg continued. “There will be more LMO. Many more. And you will father them all.”

I looked back at his long, bizarre face, his dark, bulging black eyes that never blinked. He was right. I felt a profound connection with him. I would follow him. I would do whatever he wanted. And I knew he would do the same for me. I nodded, lost in thought. This was a new beginning. The future suddenly unrolled and glimmered before my eyes. You will father them all.

Suddenly there was a crack of thunder. We jerked our heads toward the sky. It was filled with fire. Ships. A dozen… or more, screaming through the atmosphere, thick, black smoke roiling in their wake.

“Oh, my God.”

Spegg looked back at me and grinned. “Brother, our people have arrived.”

Congress

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Spegg had asked me to stay back after the pods crashed into the Array. We had taken cover in the foothills and I remained as he went down into the valley to greet the LMOs and get them up to speed. He figured this would be the best way, considering the circumstances. Every one of the LMOs most likely suffered the same kind of disassociative identity disorder that Spegg had, and their immediate feelings toward any human would likely be… negative, to say the least. I didn’t argue the point.

From my vantage I had a good view of the massive pods. They were fairly similar in shape and size, but some were sleeker than others, four rows of venting instead of two, hard or soft angles, various shades of black and gray, and a single red pod lying in the twisted wreckage of dish twelve had a pair of narrow fins which swept along the ship’s edges like budding wings. Their impact craters were identical to Spegg’s original crash site, wide, deep bowls of densely packed ice slathered with that pinkish goop which absorbed the force of objects like nothing I’d ever seen (and frankly saved my ass from a blast that should have easily shattered my spine).

There were 19 ships in all. One for each dish. The Array was obliterated. I caught myself feeling sentimental, but quickly brushed it off as a prelude of bigger and more interesting things to come.

Spegg waved me down when he had everybody out safely and the situation was explained. I walked down to join him, trying my best to appear friendly and natural. The LMOs curled around, nodding at Spegg as he introduced me. They were all clearly bred from fish, and a couple of them looked remarkably like Spegg, but the others, well, didn’t. I immediately noticed a grouper in the crowd. He was short, fat, and had spotty, mottled flesh and thick, spiny hairs on his neck and arms. His lips were obnoxiously large and matched the pattern on his skin, tiny black dots and random splotches of yellow and white. I couldn’t look at him for long without feeling ill, but he was by far the most talkative and asked the stupidest questions and I naturally glanced over when I heard a voice, then swallowed and looked away, trying to conceal my revulsion. He didn’t seem to notice.

A salmon, one of the taller LMOs, had shiny, metallic skin and a compact, ruddy face. His arms and legs were thick and muscular, by far the strongest LMO in the crowd, and he stood at the front of the group in his clean, black, one-piece uniform with the startling confidence of someone who led men into battle. Apparently he was from the hot rod ship and even though we were all supposed to be on the same page, he stayed quiet and regularly fired a skeptical glance at me, making no secret of his suspicions. I unconsciously leaned a little closer to Spegg and tried not to meet his eyes.

When Spegg winded down, the crowd started peppering me with questions—big questions—such as the population of the Earth in this parallel, military weaponry, and the extent of our space programs. Spegg cut them off before I had a chance to answer, telling them that Earth of 2010 was a technologically primitive culture, practically the dark ages compared to 2176, and that once the LMOs were settled, they would have all the advantage. To point, he followed with a description of Station 151’s Array, its mission, and its technology, and the crowd of LMOs had a good laugh. I smirked and glanced at Spegg, who made a reassuring gesture that set me at ease.

I badly needed sleep and a meal so I headed up early while the LMOs salvaged the contents of their ships. The plan was to move the empty pods to another location and bury them under the snow just in case we got any unwanted attention. I had been out of touch with Telders—the money behind Station 151’s multi-million dollar operation—since the McMurdo team arrived, and I couldn’t imagine that he’d stay quiet for much longer. Plus, I was a little worried about the sheer size of this landing. Spegg’s arrival could have been easily dismissed as a meteor strike, but I had my doubts that this latest event wouldn’t raise an eyebrow or two in Washington or Moscow.

I just didn’t realize that it would be so soon.

Raid!

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

I awoke to the sound of shouting. My quarters were off the rec-room, up a small flight of stairs near the back of the station. It sounded like the voices were directly below. I shrugged into yesterday’s clothes, and quickly, but quietly, descended the stairs, pausing about three steps up to listen.

One of the voices was clearly Spegg’s, the other I couldn’t recognize. The only obvious one would have been the grouper’s, given his penchant for hair-brained questions in yesterday’s round-up, and it wasn’t his.

If you’re not going to do it, I will! I didn’t dive into a goddamn wormhole just to be dissected by a bunch of apes! The human set us up!

There were a couple shouts of agreement.

No one touches Robertson! I’ll tear out the throat of anyone who goes near him! Especially you, Larst.

A few more shouts of agreement followed, different voices, from a different part of the room. I knew Larst. He was the Salmon. The beefy, shifty-eyed motherfucker from the hot-rod ship. He growled furiously.

There was a lull in the argument—muffled voices, someone spitting in disgust, and the sound of footsteps shifting on the floorboards. And it was during this brief pause that I heard a dull roar somewhere outside of the station. A mechanical noise. The distinct, distant chop of… helicopters. Oh fuck.

I flew down the steps and into the rec-room to find Spegg and Larst surrounded by the rest of the LMOs.

“Chikushou!” Larst snarled. “Traitor!”

He lunged at me. Fast. Before I even had a chance to think, he was on top of me.

“Kill him!” I heard one of them shout between the sound of fists on my skull. And then just as quickly he was off, wrenched away by two or three LMOs, one of them Spegg.

“Hold him!” Spegg ordered, and he grabbed my arm. “Come on Robertson! No time for this!”

Spegg yanked me out of the room, but not before I caught a glimpse of the choppers descending on the station through the window. All military. Fuck fuck fuck.

Spegg tugged me down the stairs and ushered me into the science lab where we had first met.

“Spegg, what the—”

“Get in the cage!”

“I—”

“No time!” He shoved me down and inside, and slammed the door.

“I don’t understand,” I pleaded.

“This is the only way,” he replied sparking the welder.

I watched as he drew the fiery blade along seam of the door, his face grim and determined. What the hell was the point of locking me up? I was useless in here. I went crazy wracking my brain and was about to start arguing again, when suddenly it dawned on me: Look like a victim. Look like a hapless bystander. They’d ask a few questions and let me go and I’d be free to find Spegg and the others. Maybe expose the story. Start a conspiracy. Anything was better than being locked away and tortured for information for the rest of my life. I nodded solemnly and Spegg made what looked like a tiny grimace of understanding.

“But how will I find you?”

He cut off the flame, the fresh weld glowing orange. “Don’t worry. I will send you a message.” Then grabbed my arm through the cage bars and squeezed. “Goodbye for now, Brother.”

And he was gone.

A few minutes later there was a crash and the sound of heavy boots on the floor. Then human voices shouting commands, a scuffle… and gunfire.

Paruski

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Russians.

For some reason I assumed Americans would arrive before anyone else. Call it national arrogance, American chauvinism… who knows. It didn’t matter now. They were in the halls, kicking in doors, shouting as they searched the station. I could only assume that they were informing the other soldiers that the rooms were clear, because unless they shouted da or nyet, I had no idea what they were saying.

Another door slammed open. Probably the supply room. Another door. The bathroom. More Russian. The sound of their boots grew heavier on the floorboards, their husky voices booming louder in the hall. Slam Slam Slam.

Slam.

He was just a kid. Eighteen, nineteen, perhaps. He didn’t notice me at first. He looked around, behind the tables, then turned, sweeping the room with his pistol, and his eyes suddenly widened. He straightened his arm, shaking nervously, and I was sure I was dead.

“Don’t shoot!” I said, showing him my hands.

He said something like “ehh”, then called out to the other soldiers. Shouted the same thing two or three times.

Two other soldiers rushed in and they started speaking frantically. They were all about the same age and none of them looked like they outranked the other. I thought I heard the word English, or something close to it. One of them bent down and grabbed the bars. He had light blue eyes and smooth skin, and looked as if he should be in high school. He ran his finger over the weld, then turned to the others and said something. They nodded and the kid who had first entered the room said, “Who are you?”

“Da, da.” He turned back to me. “Who are you?” He said in a thick, Russian accent.

“Yes. My name is Wayne Robertson. I’m the operator—”

“American,” he told his comrades. They had a few more words and the first kid bolted from the room.

“Look,” I continued. “I’ve been held captive here for weeks. I’m the operator of this—”

“No English.”

I settled back in the cage and sighed. Moments later the kid returned with what looked like his superior officer. He was older and was carrying his helmet in the crook of his right arm. His sidearm was holstered, unbuttoned. The kids stood aside, tucking their pistols away, and he bent down. He had short, blonde hair, and sharp blue eyes, darker than the other soldier’s, but far more intense. He smirked at me, drumming on the cage bars with his gloved hand. His breath smelled like candy mints.

“You look like shit,” he said, his accent a bit lighter than the kids.

I ignored the compliment. “Please, can you get me out of here?”

He scanned the cage, rolling a piece of candy around in his mouth. “How long you been here?”

“I’ve been locked in here for almost a month. My name is Wayne Robertson. I’m the operator—”

“Enough,” he said, scratching the gray stubble on his chin. He rattled the cage door and drew his finger along the weld, just as the kid had done. “Bad for you.”

“Wait, what? What does that mean?”

The senior officer bit into the candy, chewing it up, and quirked an eyebrow at me.  Then he got up, barked some Russian at the kids and they stormed out of the room.

“Goodbye, Wayne Roberston,” he said, and strolled out.

“Wait!” I screamed. “What do you mean bad for me?! Don’t leave me in here! Open this thing! Hey! Nyet! Nyet!”

Nothing.

“NYETTT!”

I heard his boots on the stairs, then there was more shouting and more heavy footfalls. I thought I heard one of the LMOs scream. They were leaving.

“COME BACK! COME BACK! DON’T LEAVE ME IN HERE! “NYET! NYET!”

A few minutes later the helicopters spun up and the sound of the aircraft gradually slipped away.

I screamed until I lost my voice.

Backpedaling

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The cold wind seeped into the room from the open door upstairs, as I waited for something to happen. The sound of the Russian helicopters was the last thing I had heard. It had been a full day. No phones rang. No voices in the hall. I was alone in a cage as far as you could probably get from civilization. Lots of time to think. I thought about the people I had met, the choices I’d made, and everything that had led me to this. It started with my friend Michael Telders, the financier of Station 151.

Michael Steven Telders III, as he is known in the newspapers, is the only son of a former British viscountess, Marjorie Attridge, and American billionaire Michael James Telders II. Both of his parents, two pilots, and another couple were killed in 1999 when their private jet crashed en route to China, on the western slope of the Ural Mountains. As the only heir, Michael inherited everything. At first he was devastated. But like most young men with loads of money and no parental counsel, Michael did what he wanted to do. He immediately dropped out of the Yale School of Management and threw a party that lasted half the decade. Having been Michael’s roommate while I was working toward my two graduate degrees at Yale, I occasionally dropped in on him. He had run of the Connecticut mansion, where celebrities were common, clothing was optional, and there were never fewer than a twenty people in one or more of the swimming pools—most of them female.

I never stuck around these parties for long. While I’ll admit that I regret not taking a few more risks back then, I genuinely felt out of place in that kind of atmosphere. I guess the decadence didn’t suit me. So, my visits were typically reduced to a few sips of Cristal—from the bottle, of course. In return, I would get a high-five and an animated, often hilarious, telling of Telder’s latest tales of debauchery. There was also threesome, the foursome, the ninesome…. the model, the twins, the celebrity’s wife—the latter of which wrote a tell-all book that Michael was quite proud of. He highlighted the passages that included either himself or some part of his anatomy. Back then, the party never ended around Michael.

My friends are your friends. Hang out for a while, let loose, get a little crazy. It just didn’t appeal to me.

Eventually I graduated and took a position at Yale’s center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Life was good. The science was cutting edge. I worked with brilliant researchers who all seemed so much more talented and sharper than I was, but I hung in there, worked hard, and eventually garnered the respect of my peers.

Years later, I was surprised to get a call from Michael. His voice sounded darker and more determined than I remembered from his party days. But he was my friend and I politely listened to what he had to say. He’d just turned thirty, and divorced Catherine Devoue, a popular independent film actress. And because of his wild parties and vast wealth, Michael had become a bit of a celebrity himself. But after the news of his multiple affairs got out, the media stalked and destroyed him. Of course I had seen it all. It was impossible not to. His face littered the tabloids: he was labeled a cheater, a philanderer… devil. It was on the news, on talk radio, and provided endless fodder for late night comedians. Day in and day out, paparazzi photographs and video appeared of Telders in his car, with his lawyers, through his mansion windows—always juxtaposed with images of his wife with her face in her hands, or slumping in an SUV, perpetually alone. I tried not to pay attention, but it was everywhere.

Michael told me that he wanted to get serious. He’d taken some time to think, traveled in India for a few months, and had come back enlightened. He wanted to do something important, something people would remember him for—instead of the reckless womanizer who wasted billions on nothing and would eventually die in a pool of blood, vomit, and semen. His words.

I listened. Regardless of his lifestyle, Michael had the smarts, the guts, and the money to make things happen. We spoke about various charities, causes, world hunger. Perhaps he could donate to cancer or AIDS research. No, no, no, no. Something bigger. I don’t want to just keep a few thousand people alive for a little longer. I want people to remember me. I want to change the world.

I was in. Sign me up.

And so, Michael put his big plans into high gear and Station 151 would become one of 250 leading-edge radio astronomy observatories spanning the globe. Once online, they would work in concert as the biggest and most powerful interferometer the world had ever known. At that time there were only a handful of observatories in existence, each plagued with their own set of budgetary and bureaucratic problems. And most were used exclusively for astronomy and other hard sciences. Only SETI and a few smaller, independent groups spent any time at all trying to find signs of intelligent life in the universe. And Michael wanted to be remembered as the man who did.

Soon, Telders was back in the news. Shaved, suited, and sober, he could be seen routinely dismissing questions about his affairs, the trial, and his ex-wife, and spoke passionately about the need to focus on bigger, more meaningful things: broadening horizons, contacting new civilizations. And he had the money to do it. The media ate it up.

Michael did what smart guys with money did. He amassed a team of the most-brilliant astronomers and physicists from around the world. He had originally slated me to helm Station 130 in New Guinea, but negotiations with the Indonesian government had stalled construction and I, enthralled with the romantic images of a barren, snowy desert virtually untouched by human hands, begged for Antarctica.

A year later, I left for what would be six months of science and solitude as I waited for the other stations to come online. It was to be the beginning of something the world had never seen before. But in a very short time, I had destroyed everything. I haven’t spoken a word to Michael about the events of the last three months. If the real story ever gets out, my career—my life—will be over.

But I may not even live to see it.

Rebirth

Monday, March 1st, 2010

“We’ve got a live one!”

I lifted my eyelids. A blurry figure screaming.

“You ok, buddy? You speak English, buddy? Get a torch in here!”

I let my head fall back. I’d been out for I don’t know how long.

“Stay with me, buddy!”

The figure shook me and I moaned in protest.

“Hang in there, we’re gonna get you out. What’s your name, buddy?”

I moaned again.

“Rah? Wayne Robertson? Are you Wayne Robertson?”

I moved my head a little, then settled back into the darkness.

“C’mon! Stay with me!”

Fireworks crackled in my ears. I begged them to stop. I remember batting away their hands, and flashes of light tormenting my eyes, but at that moment I only wanted to sleep. The cage doors creaked in my ears as the fiery blade bit through the weld. Just stop. Go away and let me pass. The hunger and thirst had subsided long before they arrived and I had made my peace with infinity. Go away, leave me to my end. I pleaded with them, with the warped little shadow figures beckoning me from the other side of that great chasm. I waved to them and smiled. It’s ok.

“Pull him out!”

The floor thumped under my body. Hands were slapping me. No! Drops of water swirled on my lips.

“You’re going to make it Wayne. Wake up!”

They lifted my head and I moaned in agony as the light screamed into my eyes.

Cheshire Seals

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

The soldiers transferred me to a litter and carried me upstairs to the rec room, the last place I had seen the group of LMOs before Spegg dragged me downstairs and welded me into the cage. Their uniforms were black and gray camouflage and each solider had a dark patch on their left breast pocket—an American eagle clutching an anchor, a pistol, and a trident. Navy SEALs. I’d never seen a real one outside of my living room. This wasn’t going to be easy.

The soldier closest to me continued to say encouraging things and promised me a hot meal just as soon as they could get me stabilized. He was probably early thirties, red hair, and a bushy red beard. I was desperately hungry, but the water they gave me had rejuvenated my spirit, and all I could think about was how to get out of this as quickly as possible. Get out and find Spegg. I gave it a good show. I moaned a bit and tried to act a little worse off than I actually felt.

“You’re gonna be fine, buddy,” the bushy beard said.

They set me down and helped me to the couch. I could have done it myself, but I feigned weakness. The more convincing I was, the more likely they’d believe that I’d been in that cage for weeks, and not someone intimately involved in whatever it was they thought they had found. The red bearded soldier, David Evans, he told me, gave me a small chunk of a protein bar.

“Try this for now and we’ll see about getting you more in a little bit. Don’t want you to put too much down too quickly.”

Another soldier, a little taller, with a black beard, stood next to him and nodded. He handed me a bottle of water. “You’re gonna be fine.”

I shoveled the food into my mouth and drank. It was sweet, sweeter than anything I’d ever tasted and I immediately wanted more. Evans gave me another chunk, smaller than the last, and told me that would be it for now. I finished the water and felt my energy level rise. My stomach churned—awakened—and demanded more. That’s it, sorry.

I looked past Evans and the other soldier. My jaw dropped open. Blood was everywhere: the floor, the walls….What had the Russians done? I wanted to believe Spegg was alive: captured, somewhere in Siberia or Moscow by now. But there was so much blood. The furniture, the billiard table, the ceiling. Other soldiers were taking samples. I suddenly felt a terrible longing. I had to get out and find Spegg immediately.

“Hey, you ok?” The dark haired soldier asked me.

I gasped. “What? Yes, I’m ok. Starving. Weak.” The door was open, wide open, but there were so many soldiers in the room. And more outside. No way out. If I ran, they’d know. If I didn’t start talking, they’d know. Be cool, Wayne. The more cooperative you are, the quicker you’ll get out of this.

“Good. That’s a good sign,” Evans paused, smiling, then gestured to his friend. “Wayne, this is Derek. Derek Childress.”

“Hi Derek,” I said, weakly. He smiled sat down on the couch, to my right. “Save your strength, buddy. You’ve been through a lot.” He patted me on the shoulder. “You’ve definitely got some fight in you, Wayne, I’ll give you that.”

“Definitely,” Evans replied, nodding. He pulled a chair over in front of the couch, a little to the left of me. “Here, why don’t you have a little more,” he said, unwrapping the protein bar. He passed me another chunk. I ate it quickly, chased it with another gulp of water, and the two soldiers smiled.

“So,” Evans said, leaning in. “You think you’re feeling well enough to answer a few questions?”

Bits and Pieces

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Evans stared at me, waiting for an answer. I had to think fast. The SEALs hadn’t been here long, but I had no idea what they knew, and what they might find out. Anything I said could incriminate me. Anything I didn’t say could incriminate me. All I knew is that the Russians had probably taken everything. All the equipment from the pods: the EMDs, the medical kits, the computers. It was all gone. All that remained was a sea of blood. A bit of gray flesh here and there. The soldiers stomped around in their heavy boots, photographing the evidence and placing little numbered markers next to the more interesting bits. I started to feel sick.

“Wayne?” Evans, the red-bearded soldier said. “You ok?”

I bent over, trying to head off the nausea. A couple of soldiers walked into the room, removed their hats, and tapped off the snow. A cold gust of wind swept in behind them. One of the soldiers carried a small, clear plastic bag. I squinted at it and suddenly my heart pounded in my ears. He shut the door and stomped his feet on the wooden floorboards.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be much help,” I wheezed.

“I know a lot of weird stuff happened here. But we need to find out—”

The soldier with the bag approached another soldier with a graying beard who was on a satellite phone. “We found this down in the valley, sir.”

Evans leaned in. “Wayne?”

I clutched my mouth as my stomach strained to void itself.

Childress arched forward. “You ok, buddy?”

I nodded.

The gray bearded soldier put the call on hold and inspected the plastic bag without opening it. Then he looked at me. I bit my lip and looked away. He crossed the room and tapped Evans on the shoulder. “See what you can make of this, Charles.” he said, and stepped away, returning to his sat phone.

Evans examined the bag, and turned it over, furrowing his brow. He passed it to Childress who repeated the process, and asked, “You know what this is?” He held the bag up, Spegg’s EMD, crushed and broken, resting at the bottom. They would find my fingerprints all over it.

I leaped up, holding my mouth. My stomach lurched. Evans scrambled out of the way as soggy bits of the partially digested protein bar spat through my fingers.

By then every soldier was staring at me. I ran for the door, vomiting as I hopped over pools of blood.

“Wayne!” Evans called out. One of the soldiers darted out of my path as I stumbled past him. I threw the door open and puked into the snow. Another soldier outside shouted something and I heard footsteps pounding behind me. I ran. Spegg’s image appeared in my mind, compelling me to flee. “Stop him!” Someone screamed. I didn’t get far.  Two or three SEALs were quickly on top of me. “Careful with him!” Another soldier yelled.

My hands were quickly zip-tied and they yanked me to my feet. I spit snow and puke out of my mouth, struggling against my bindings.

“Where you think you’re going, son?” A dark-skinned SEAL grumbled into my ear.

“Alright, alright,” I heard from behind. They turned me around. The older, graying SEAL strolled through the snow and handed the sat phone to another soldier.

“No more questions,” he said, frowning at me. “Orders are to transfer the prisoner to the Nimitz immediately.”

Sea Dragon

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

The officer studied me, not a trace of emotion in his dull gray eyes. The wind picked up. Most of the soldiers adjusted, turning their backs into gusts, but the officer didn’t move. He wore gray and white camouflage. Only the familiar trident patch adorned his left breast pocket. No rank insignia, no name. He took a step toward me as the wind howled and whipped up little powder cyclones at our feet.

“You brought them here, didn’t you?” He said, his voice deep and crunchy.

“No,” I said.

He shook his head, scowling, as flakes of ice caught in his neatly cropped gray stubble.

“I’m just a victim,” I continued. “They imprisoned me. Beat me.”

The officer set his jaw. “Don’t try to mind-fuck me, Robertson. We’ve been watching you for weeks. Ever since the first pod landed. We even intercepted the transmission that thing sent to his friends. And we know you showed him how.”

I must have looked terrified because he laughed and poked me in the chest.

“And then you concealed information and technology—things that ended up in the hands of the Russian army—things that could threaten the freedom of every single man, woman, and child in America.”

I gasped. “But if that’s true. If you were watching the whole time… why did you just let them take it?”

“America doesn’t want to be the country that breaks the Antarctic treaty,” the officer said. “Better PR if the Russians do it. But we sure as hell didn’t let them get far. We had three battle groups waiting for their carrier out in the Atlantic.”

I relaxed. That was a huge relief. Granted, the situation wasn’t much better, but at least Spegg and I would be on the same continent. “Thank God for that,” I said.

The officer smirked. “And then we lit ’em up.”

“What!”

“Now, we can’t have a bunch of godless Ruskies running around with all that tech in their heads, Wayne.”

“You son of a bitch!” I screamed, straining against my bindings.

The officer grinned, his breath freezing in the air. “Oh, you’re worried about your little friend. Yeah, he probably went down with the rest of them sons of bitches. But don’t worry, our divers will recover the bodies for autopsy. We’ll be sure to send you the photos when we’re through.”

I lurched forward and tried to kick him between the legs, but the soldiers yanked me back. “You mother fucker!” I screamed.

The officer laughed. “Take this bastard to the Dragon,” he said, gesturing toward a giant, grasshopper-like helicopter with seven long blades parked on the north end of the station.

The soldiers shoved me forward. I stumbled. A door near the front of the massive chopper slid open and I was ushered into a wide cabin with rows of folding seats along the walls. A pilot slammed the door shut and disappeared into the cockpit.

“Don’t’ move,” the soldier to my right said. The other drew his Sig Sauer and put it to my head as his partner clipped the zip tie cuffs and released my hands. “Sit down.”

The chairs were folded up, and the soldier behind me snapped one of them forward and shoved me into it. The seat itself was fabric wrapped around an aluminum frame. They cuffed my hands to the exposed corners of the frame on either side of my legs, then buckled a harness around my chest.

“Do you have to make the cuffs so fucking tight?” I said, flexing my hands, trying to pump the blood into my fingers.

“Shut up.”

The two of them took their seats across from me, buckled in, and crossed their arms. I looked away. There were no windows in the cabin. I was about to leave Antarctica forever, and I wouldn’t even see it.

“Prisoner secure,” one of them yelled to the pilot.

The helicopter blades moaned and slowly spun up into a steady whir.

My bottom lip trembled. I bent forward, hiding my face from the soldiers.

As we lifted off I imagined the station, the storehouse, and the destroyed Array below. I imagined Buzz’s body lying next to Einstein, buried deep below the dense bowl of ice forged by one of the pod landings. And further, past the valley, over the foothills, the crowds of Emperor penguins, the flocks of skua overhead, and the elephant seals sunning themselves on the rocky shore. And then I saw Spegg’s lifeless body on some aluminum table, his blood dripping into little gutters as they sliced him open and made curious sounds like “hrm” and “interesting” as they took him apart.

My chest felt like it was caving in.

The behemoth rumbled and creaked as we flew, the belts and vests and assorted gear that hung from the walls, slapping against the bulkhead. Tears pooled in my eyes and splashed on the helicopter’s dull metal floor.

It was over.

Zero-sum

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

MH-53 FlaresThe air smoothed out and the helicopter stopped rattling once we leveled out over the water. The cabin was cold and smelled like grease and fresh paint. I tightened up in the seat, trying to stay warm, and kept my eyes gaze clear of the two SEALs who stared unflinchingly in my direction, arms eternally folded, like wax figures in a combat museum.

The were no windows in the cabin, and the light wasn’t good. Only a small, flickering yellow lamp near the tail, and some ambient light from the cockpit which was hidden behind a wall of corrugated metal. Outside, I imagined Alexander Island slipping away, the bowl-shaped valley and the splintery peaks of the surrounding mountains giving way to patches of icebergs and the cold, Southern ocean.

The officer had said the orders were to take me to the Nimitz, whatever that was. The only “Nimitz” I could remember from my history classes was Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet during World War II. And if they were going to name something after a five star admiral, it would probably be a carrier.

How high were we flying? Six thousand feet? Fifteen? I was getting hungry again. Really hungry. Whatever I had kept down from the protein bar Evans gave me was long gone. I asked the soldiers for something and they just glared at me. Assholes.

I closed my eyes and imagined the helicopter flying through a high, thin deck of alto-cumulus. I looked down, far below, to the barren Atlantic as it yawned into the horizon. If what the officer said was true, Spegg was down there somewhere. Probably still cuffed or chained to some iron crossbeam in the belly of a sunken Russian ship. For some reason I couldn’t believe that he was dead. Could he breathe underwater? I felt my heart pick up. Being away from him made me feel unsafe and nervous.

I jumped at a sudden pop in the cabin. A shaft of golden light exploded sideways, just above the shoulder of one of the SEALs. He slumped forward against his harness, blood spilling out of his chest. Above my head and to my left, another ray of sun streamed in through a basketball sized exit wound in the bulkhead.

“McHale’s down!” The other soldier screamed.

“We’re taking fire,” the pilot calmly announced over a speaker. “Dispensing countermeasures.” A dull red light flicked on above our heads and the helicopter banked hard, throwing me against the back of the chair. McHale’s blood oozed in my direction. There was a mechanical noise somewhere underneath the craft—a thunk, and a whoosh—like a dozen bottle rockets. Flares. I clenched my jaw shut and leaned forward, trying to minimize the space I occupied. Then there was another pop, and a second pair of yellow beams appeared forward of the cabin, followed by a clattering and whirring from the port side engine. Smoke spilled in.

“Hang on!” The remaining soldier screamed at me, unbuckling his harness.

“What are you doing?!” I yelled back.

“Preparing for evac!”

Outside something exploded. Another volley of flares whooshed out from beneath the dragon. The helicopter banked hard to the right. The solder held on to some piping above his head and unhooked a parachute from the wall. He strapped it on quickly and staggered over as the cabin filled with smoke.

“If you do everything I tell you, you might survive this,” he barked over the clattering engine.

I frowned. His usage of “you” instead of “we” was a little disconcerting. But there was another pop, this time somewhere near the tail, and I quickly dismissed it. “Why aren’t we shooting back?!”

The SEAL rapidly keyed my handcuffs and tossed them away. “Sea Dragons are heavy lifters,” he said. “No armament packages on board.” Great.

He unbuckled my harness. There was a sudden bright light, and a severe jolt, and the world immediately went silent. The cockpit became a gaping maw of shredded metal and fire. Beyond that, the open Atlantic. The Dragon wrenched forward. I watched as one of the rotor blades went spinning ahead and vanished into the clouds. I was sliding. I threw my hands back, grasping for anything to hold onto. Bits of wire and fabric slipped through my fingers. Conduit and sturdy pipes slid by, just out of reach. I kicked my legs, fruitlessly. I drifted past a brown placard with white letters that read “RESERVOIR”, a flaming instrument panel, and part of a black vinyl chair.

I lurched for the chair, snared it, and suddenly both the chair and I slid out of the mouth of the dragon, and into the rushing wind.

MH-53E

Dragonslayer

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Russian MiG

I was in a free fall. The air rushed past me, tossing me like a rag doll. I watched in horror as smoke poured out of the Dragon’s cockpit above me. The rotor shrieked, grinding against its housing, the blades wrenched off by the explosion. I still had the leather chair, and I dug my fingers into it, hugging it, as if it would somehow protect me. I spun wildly, the wind boxing my ears and jabbing me in the face.

As I tumbled, the ocean rolled past. On the horizon I noticed dozens of distant ships. Explosions peppered the sky, leaving ebony smudges in their wake. Thin columns of black smoke rose into the air, then blew sideways in the wind. I pulled my face close to the chair to block the wind. It cut through my clothes and my flesh, and I shivered and screamed. I rolled around and around: ships, ocean, sky, Dragon, ships, ocean, sky, Dragon.

Something else caught my eye. It appeared suddenly, as if it had just popped into existence. First I saw the nose as it approached, and an instant later it roared past. Our killer. It was gray, sleek and stealthy, and had twin tail fins—marked with a red star. A crushing roar filled my ears as the sound of the jet engines caught up with it. The pilot pitched the fighter upward, straight up, white contrails roiling behind.

He rocked his wings at me. I squeezed the chair between my legs and stubbornly gave him the finger.

The jet slowed, and there was a flash from the cockpit. The bastard was taking pictures. He took a few more, and flattened out when he was satisfied. His jets fired, and just like that, he was gone. Just a tiny, receding dot, thundering toward the cluster of ships on the horizon. I screamed, but the rushing wind stole my voice.

I imagined the pilot and his buddies laughing at the photos of the poor bastard he shot down, clinging to his seat as he fell to his death. I cursed and released my grip. The wind caught the chair and ripped it away.

The ocean was closing in. Wind-blown white caps and sharp, knife-like waves readied to swallow my life. Random bits of my life flashed before my eyes. A sunny day in Kansas. My family taking pictures of my brother and me in front of the painted fire hydrants on the American bi-centennial. Rebecca, my first girlfriend in high-school. The first time I saw the Perseids at the Lake of the Ozarks. My college Astronomy teacher lecturing passionately about the life cycles of stars. Einstein staring back at me from the top of the foothills.

The howling wind was deafening. I tried to stretch out, hoping to eek out out another second or two of life, but nothing could change the inevitable. A horrible sorrow welled up in my heart and the wind sucked away my tears. I’d done nothing with my life.

Bang!

The impact was sudden and devastating. I bent in half as something struck me from behind. At first I thought it was the chair, or a piece of the helicopter. Then I felt two arms encircle me and an added weight to my back. The arms gripped tight and I realized that I had been caught by another diver. I heard his voice against the wind.

“Gotcha!”

I turned my head. The SEAL from the Dragon grinned and locked his legs around mine.

“Oh my God! How did you—”

“No time to chat!” He screamed into my ear. The soldier buckled a strap around my chest. “Hang on!”

I yelped as the strap yanked my stomach into my throat. The parachute deployed—flapping in the wind—as my eyes rolled back into my head and rainbows danced on my eyeballs….

I don’t think I was out for long. Thirty, forty seconds, maybe. I heard myself groaning as my senses slowly returned. And then the soldier’s voice.

“—there Robertson?”

I shook my head and opened my wind-battered eyes.

“Robertson?” The soldier tapped his hand on my chest. “You with me? Robertson, you OK, buddy?”

We were floating. The parachute rippled calmly in the wind.

“I don’t believe it,” I said after I had caught my breath.

“Alright,” he said with a chuckle. “Thought I lost you there.”

“Jesus Christ” I groaned. “Where the hell did you come from?”

“Same place you came from!” He laughed. “Did you see that pompous bastard back there?” He said.

I shook my head in disbelief. “Yes, of course,” I replied. “Jack-ass.”

“Goddamn Ruskies. Who’da thought, huh?”

I nodded.

“I took a few shots at him with my Sig on the way down,” he chuckled.

I laughed at that.

“I’m Jake, by the way.” The soldier tapped his hand on my chest and offered it to me. It was covered in blood.

“Oh God, you’re bleeding,” I said.

“Yaw. Took some flak back there. It happens.”

I shook his hand gently. His blood streamed over my knuckles. “It looks bad, Jake. Really bad.”

“Maybe. We’ll see when we get in the raft,” he said. “Check it out!” Jake gestured to our right. In the distance pieces of the Dragon were collapsing into the sea. What was left of the main compartment sailed through the sky, thick, black smoke spewing in its wake. When it hit the waves, it exploded into a shower of fractured metal, and quickly vanished under the surface.

“Don’t see that every day,” I mumbled.

“No, not every day,” Jake replied, smiling. “Alright, Robertson. Here it comes!”

I looked down. The ocean roared. Swells of massive waves clashed and rippled inches below our dangling feet. I closed my eyes and filled my lungs.

Zodiac

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

ZodiacWe plunged into the ocean together, Jake, the Navy SEAL who was charged with my transfer to the Nimitz, and me, strapped to him like a child in a Baby Bjorn. We hit and immediately went under. A blast of cold seized my body and I had to force myself to not to suck in a lung full of ice water. The ocean shoved us sideways and downways and I was sure that we we going to sink a mile below the surface until I felt Jake’s legs kicking behind me. He hung onto me with one hand and I assumed was swimming with the other, and within seconds we surfaced into the roaring swells of the South Atlantic.

There’s nothing like the desolation of the open ocean. It looks ominous enough traveling by ship, as I had done a few months earlier when I began my journey to Antarctica. The meandering churn of the ocean seems insignificant, something you might even be able to dog paddle through, but when you’re in it, when it’s just you and the fucking ocean, even a minor ripple is a towering, unemotional shredding machine, pounding and wrenching your body with the force of the planet.

But for some reason I had God on my side that day. The very God that I had even failed to call out to as I plummeted through the sky. He had cupped me in his gentle hands and delivered me softly into the waves, and it was there that I promised Him that I would not forget or squander his kindness.

“Hell of a day!” Jake screamed over the clamor of the ocean. He unhooked the parachute and let it loose in the ocean. A wave blew by and swallowed it. Jake laid back against the swells, the strap still binding us, and held out a small yellow box with a row of LEDs on the face. Only two of the nine or ten lights were illuminated. They were red and the rest were dark.

I turned my head. “What’s that?”

“It’s a beacon for the Zodiac,” he replied.

I was trying to process what in the hell that might be when he answered the question for me. “It’s a rubber boat. I kicked it out the back of the chopper before I jumped.”

Apparently jumping was simply a choice he’d made, whereas I had practically been ejected from the helicopter. If I hadn’t been feeling totally helpless and inferior before, that definitely sealed the deal.

A swell lifted us out of a valley of water and I caught a glimpse of the wide ocean, and plumes of smoke in the distance.

“Should be along any moment now,” he assured me. “Then we’ll scoot our asses back to the group.”

I frowned at that. “Doesn’t that thing have a beacon or something so they can come pick us up?”

Jake chuckled in my ear. “Robertson, I’m not going to be the laughing stock of the entire Navy by calling for help. We’re got a perfectly good boat and we’re driving home.”

Right. Of course. Wouldn’t want to look like a pussy. I guess I’d spent way too much of my life in laboratories or in front of computers; I didn’t understand any of that machismo crap.

“Here it comes,” Jake said, shaking the yellow box in my face. All but one of the LEDs were lit. The first few were red, then a set of yellow, and then green. I was wondering what kind of range the tiny transmitter had, and how the signal could possibly travel effectively, even in rough seas, when the last green lamp popped on. I scanned the area, looking for an inner tube or something, when a black, rounded rubber boat crested the wave in front of us and rumbled over obediently.

“Grab onto the ropes,” Jake said. “I’m going to unstrap you.”

I reached up and grabbed the ropes that crisscrossed the length of the raft and felt myself sink into the water as the strap came loose. Jake gave me a shove and I pulled myself in and crashed onto the soft rubber deck, turned over, and took a deep, resolving breath. I hadn’t noticed the sky since we landed. It was a beautiful day.

Jake followed. He strained as he lifted himself up and over the edge. He tumbled inside, breathing hard. I remembered his injury and watched in anticipation. He removed his helmet and set it aside. He appeared much different than the scowling, ultra-serious military die-hard I had faced in the Sea Dragon. He had short black hair, a square chin, bushy eyebrows, and friendly green eyes. But I had to remind myself that I was still his prisoner and these last few minutes of congeniality would soon be swept away by the reality that I was by all accounts, a traitor to my country.

He looked down at me. I swear he read my thoughts because he narrowed his eyes suspiciously, then went back to his business. He removed a few clips and things from his vest, his hands shaking. He unzipped his jacket, and slowly eased out of it, then gently and slowly peeled off his camouflage tank top.

I gasped and sat up.

“Fucker,” he hissed.

His abdomen was perforated by a dozen or so metallic fragments, all of them probably survivable. But in the middle of all of that, a jagged, six inch scrap of scorched steel stuck out below his ribs. On the inside, it had probably severed his liver. I’m no doctor, but I was astonished that he was actually still alive, much less talking and swimming and saving lives. Blood dribbled out of the wound in a small, but steady stream.

“Gah,” he moaned, leaning back against the rubber hull. His mood soured, having actually seen the wound. He closed his eyes as the waves punched the boat.

“You’re losing a lot of blood.”

“It’s fine,” he responded. “I’ve had worse.”

I struggled to believe that. But what the hell did I know. Perhaps he would survive. Perhaps he had had worse. He was a Goddamn Navy SEAL for Christ’s sake.

“You’re the skipper, Robertson. Take us home. Head for the smoke.”

Head for the smoke. Head for the place where he’d be given medical attention and maybe a medal or two, and I’d be imprisoned for crimes against the United States.

“Move it,” he demanded. And as I had predicted, our roles as guard and prisoner had resumed. I cursed under my breath. Was this God’s plan for me now? Save my life so I could waste away in some dirty cell? He could be a cruel bastard sometimes. Sometimes I thought He enjoyed inflicting misery on the human race.

“Robertson!” Jake screamed. He had on hand on his gut and in the other was his sidearm. He glanced at it suggestively. “In case you’ve forgotten.”

“I’m going,” I said.

The boat had a basic outboard motor and it was still running. I grabbed the controls, squeezed the throttle, and pointed it into the waves. The Zodiac was much quieter and powerful than I had expected and easily pitched over the swells. At the top of each wave I could see the distant smoke rising up into the air, but we were still too far out to see the ships.

“You’re stalling,” Jake said, his voice slightly weaker. “Open it up.”

I snarled and squeezed the throttle and the Zodiac jumped forward. We hit the waves harder, slamming into them, and water sprayed into the boat. Jake didn’t seem to care. He had lowered the gun to his side and was staring up at the sky. An inch of reddish water sloshed around inside the boat.

I was going to prison. A military prison for Christ’s sake. Spegg was dead, or worse. Either way I’d never see him again. My life was nothing. I had promised God that I wouldn’t squander this second chance, but I had no idea what that meant if I was just going to sit in a cage for the rest of my life.

I steered the Zodiac around a larger wave and bared down on the throttle. One of the battleships appeared on the horizon. Jake mumbled something. His eyes were closed now and the barrel of the gun had dropped into the water.

Surely God didn’t save me for this. I stared out at the smoke and the hazy figures coming into view in the distance. The Americans and the Russians were destroying each other. Even if we made it to a ship, we might not even make it out of the battle alive. No. This wasn’t God’s plan. God may be cruel, but He isn’t stupid. He’d saved me for a damn good reason. I was his Instrument.

Yes.

I let go of the throttle and leapt up. Jake gasped as I dropped my knee into his chest. He tried for his weapon but I slapped it away. I closed my hand around the shard sticking out of his gut and pulled.

“You mother fu-”

Blood gushed out of his wound and spilled into the boat. He heaved forward, his hands batting at my face. I stuck the shard back in and yanked it out, five, ten, fifteen times. The soldier got a hold of my neck, but he was too far gone. His hand dropped, his face whitened, and his body jerked and spasmed…. And then, just like that, I was free.

I wasted no time. I put the shirt and jacket back on the body, put the gun back in the holster, and dumped the corpse into the swells. It bobbed up and down for a few seconds and I feared that it might not sink, but another big wave happened along, like the hand of God, and yanked it under.

I used the soldier’s helmet to wash the blood out of the Zodiac, then dropped it over the edge as well. I stared at the smoke and the ships on the horizon for a moment, then steered the boat in the opposite direction, and punched the throttle.

Aldebaran

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Aldebaran

I headed North, perpendicular to the setting sun. The rough seas broke a few hours later and the Zodiac skipped easily over the quiet plane of the ocean. After the sun went down I navigated by the stars. Polaris, the north star, isn’t visible in the southern hemisphere, so I located the Southern Cross, a five star, kite-shaped constellation that when intersected with a line from Alpha and Beta Centauri, reveals the Southern Pole. I eyeballed it, drew a line to the horizon, and steered away from it. Mars was low in the sky ahead, a tiny, bloody dot wedged between Cancer and Gemini, a planet with a long history of inspiring images of fire, war, and destruction. A fitting omen.

I bared down on the throttle and drove for hours. The seas remained calm, and the half moon cast a weary glow on the endless spread of ocean in front of me. Antarctica seemed far away. Everything seemed far away. My stomach growled mercilessly. Hunger and thirst were becoming a serious issue. The ocean water was undrinkable. I probably had another day or two before I succumbed to dehydration.

Around 1 am I decided to take a break. I had no idea what the range on the Zodiac was, but I had to assume I wouldn’t make it through the next day. My best hope was to find a shipping lane and hitch a ride to Chile or Argentina. Unfortunately, almost no cargo ships sailed this far south. If I got lucky I might run into a Japanese whaling ship. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to flag anything down in the dark, so I shut off the engine and the boat quietly slid forward to a stop.

I laid down and stared up at the familiar heavens. I traced the constellations in my head and recited the names of the brighter stars: Sirius, Procyon, Canopus, Achernar, the Castor system, Pollux, Regulus, Rigel, Betelgeuse, Spica, and Aldebaran—the brightest star of the Taurus constellation—an orange giant about forty times the size of Earth’s sun. What would it be like to orbit such as massive star? Or to live on a planet in the shadow of such a monster? If things had gone a little differently, if the Russians hadn’t stolen everything, and if the Americans hadn’t blown it all to shit, perhaps I would have had a chance to see it up close. I grumbled and closed my eyes. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I dreamed of revenge.

I awoke with a start. It was still dark, and water was crashing hard against the boat. I leaped up, expecting rough seas, and grabbed the outboard, ready to crank it and steer out of the weather. I raised an eyebrow. Most of the ocean was calm. It had to be a boat! Heart pounding, I squinted southward toward the source of the waves. And in the pale yellow light of the moon, a parade of warships appeared, sliding by in a single, quiet column. My excitement vanished. I quickly laid down on my stomach, breathing rapidly, and peered over the edge of the Zodiac. I was North of them, but not far, maybe a kilometer, and hopefully too small to register on any of their instruments. I counted 21 ships as they passed, including a carrier, and probably a couple of submarines below. Reinforcements for the American Navy.

I considered turning myself in. I probably wouldn’t be charged with Jake’s murder. He’d never be found. But death on the high seas seemed a better alternative than a life in prison. They might even execute me for treason. I let the ships pass. By this time tomorrow I might have a different opinion. By this time tomorrow, when I was weak from hunger, and decimated by thirst, and the Zodiac had run out of fuel, I’d probably be kicking myself.

But for now, I still had a fighting chance.

Bare Horizon

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Open OceanAfter the ships passed, I slept and drifted until the sun crept over the Zodiac and shook me awake. I awoke with a sharp headache and a tight pain in my stomach. The muscles in my arms and legs had become stiff and sore and it was all I could do to unwind myself from the fetal position. The cold wind bit and clawed at my body as I stretched out. My soggy clothing had become more of a burden than a defense, and I debated stripping it all off, but I had no idea which was worse.

The Zodiac bobbled in the chop, the waves punching me through the thin rubber floor, and when I tried to sit up nausea caved in and the world spun like a merry-go-round. I immediately fell back and breathed deeply, waiting for it to pass. Every so often I opened my eyes for a moment. The sky had become hazy and filled with low, merging cumulus. A coming storm. I hoped that I was above the system and not directly in its path. In the South Atlantic, storms the size of Australia were not uncommon, but even a minor system might capsize the Zodiac. And if I fell in the water I’d die of hypothermia in less than 30 minutes. The thought of it weighed heavily on me and whether it was the hunger or the nausea or the sheer helplessness of my situation, emotions welled up and I had to choke back the tears.

But I did not have the luxury of self pity. Once I got out of this mess I could lie under a blanket on dry land and weep all I wanted. But not today.

I forced myself to get up and start the engine. The skies whirled, but I got a handle on it and the outboard roared to life. I thanked the U.S. military for keeping their gear in such good order. Again, I steered perpendicular to the sun, hoping to get as far north as I could, somewhere where the water was warmer, somewhere I could flag down a ship. As I drove, saltwater sprayed incessantly in my face. I itched at my arms and chest, and constantly fidgeted and pulled at my clothing, but nothing worked and I felt like hell.

I drove until the sun was directly overhead, then stopped to check my watch. 4 am, Antarctica time. I did some quick calculations. Antarctica is actually on New Zealand time, which is UT+12, so I subtracted 12 hours to get Universal Time: 4:00 pm. The timezones of the world are separated by 15 degrees of longitude, so a 4 hour difference between high noon in the Atlantic and 4:00 pm Universal Time meant that my longitude was approximately 4×15= 60 degrees west. Relatively close to the eastern coast of South America. Finding my latitude was impossible, but if I continued northwest I’d eventually smack into the eastern coast of Argentina. That is, if I had enough fuel, which I didn’t. The gauge read 1/4 tank. How many total hours had I driven? I had no idea. I hadn’t paid any attention. I swear, I’m pretty good at getting out of difficult situations, but it seems every difficult situation I get into is the result of careless or impulsive decisions. Well, perhaps it would kill me this time. Bring it on.

The rains came while I was waiting for the sun to edge west. It didn’t appear to be a bad storm, but the waves crashed like cannon blasts and I was nearly thrown from the boat with each strike. I cursed myself for not saving the soldier’s helmet to catch the rain. Bad planning, once again. However, I managed to craft a rain catcher out of the outboard’s plastic cover and drank liberally. My headache immediately subsided and the effect on my attitude was staggering.

I waited a while longer until I could tell which direction the sun was heading, then set my course northwest into the bare horizon.

A few hours later, I spotted a ship.

Kujira Maru

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

It appeared out of the fog off the starboard side of the Zodiac, hazy and silent at first. I immediately steered toward it, though anxious that it might be another military ship. I debated whether to kill the engine and wait until I could determine the type, but I was moving fairly quickly, so my presence would be obvious to anyone watching their radar.

I opened it up and sped toward it, the six meter Zodiac popping over the swells and slamming hard over the other side. I braced myself against the port side trying to keep the sidelong waves from upending the boat as the sea water spit into my face, but the excitement of being rescued overruled any of the pain and frustration. Moments later the ship’s bow finally broke out of the haze, a mammoth black, sloping prow that dwarfed my little inflatable, and seemingly, even the sea itself. Beige towers rose high above the deck, capped with a staggering array of twirling radar and radio antennas. Thick columns of water streamed into the ocean from holes in the mid-ship, presumably wash from the desk. Written alongside its bow was the ship’s name in Japanese and English: 丸新日 Nisshin Maru, and in the middle of the starboard hull in giant white capital letters was the word “RESEARCH”. A Japanese whaling ship. The thing was massive. I caught myself gawking at the monster and realized just how fast it was traveling—I was on a collision course. I turned hard to avoid being crushed under the prow, and came up up along side of it, matching its rapid clip, which had to be at least 15 knots.

Alarms went off all over the boat. Blaring, deep throated horns pulsing in half-second intervals. I winced at the deafening sound which was suddenly accompanied by a pre-recorded message in English:

Warning, warning! This is the Nisshin Maru Captain. Stop your aggressive action immediately. If you dare board this vessel, you will be taken into custody and restrained as illegal intruders.

Intruders?

Men in blue helmets were scrambling on the deck. One of them grabbed what looked like a small gun bolted to the deck and swung it around. A blast of water erupted from the barrel and suddenly I was drenched in a column of powerful water which nearly threw me from the Zodiac. I braced myself against the stream and steered out of its range. What the hell was going on? I waved my one free arm and screamed at them to stop. Seawater spit and showered me from every angle. Warning, warning! This is the Nisshin Maru Captain. Stop your aggressive action immediately. If you dare board this vessel, you will be taken into custody and restrained as illegal intruders.

“HELP!” I screamed at them. “I’m not an intruder!” But my voice was lost in the noise.

Suddenly one of the helmeted men appeared on a high tower with a circular black dish in hand. Holy shit. They had an LRAD. I clenched my jaw and was immediately engulfed in a screaming, high pitched blast of noise that penetrated and shook my muscles. My eardrums exploded in pain and I had to let go of the throttle to cover my ears. Warning, warning! This is the Nisshin Maru Captain. Stop your aggressive action immediately. If you dare board this vessel, you will be taken into custody and restrained as illegal intruders.

My vision fluttered and I fell over in the boat, convulsing from the deafening power of the acoustic weapon. The Zodiac slowed to a drift and the behemoth growled by, the warning message constantly repeating, the shrill of the LRAD hammering my ears. I choked on the seawater that had accumulated in the boat, the stench of rubber filling my nose and stinging my tongue, and the muscles in my arms and legs twitched as I curled up and buried my head in the boat.

I laid there, shaking until the LRAD was effectively out of range. They kept it on anyway, and it was still horribly annoying, like a ten-thousand ton alarm clock. I got to my knees, my muscles sore from the onslaught. Christ, that thing was effective. I waved my arms in desperation, praying that they’d have a change of heart. What the hell was the international hand signal for S.O.S.? I had no idea. But they weren’t stopping. A few men were gathered on the stern, just watching me flail around. I screamed and screamed, but it was utterly pointless. They couldn’t hear, and apparently they didn’t care. I glowered at the men as the Nisshin Maru disappeared into the fog, the whale’s slipway like a giant white tongue rolled out into the water, chuckling at my misfortune.

I fingered the throttle, unsure if I should chase them, but they had made their point, and death on the high seas seemed like a reasonable alternative to facing the water cannons and the shrieking LRAD a second time. The Zodiac pitched and rolled in what was left of the ship’s wake, and it wasn’t long before even that dissipated and the desperate, horrifying realization that I was alone again settled in.

I sat down in the fucking boat and punched the hull. I stayed there, shaking my head, staring at the sun as it edged toward the horizon. Night was coming. The puddle of fresh water I’d saved in the outboard’s cover was lost in the confrontation, the plastic shell floating around inside the boat. I glanced at the Zodiac’s fuel gauge and found little more than 1/8th of a tank remaining. I had no choice but to drift until if and when I spotted another ship.

I grabbed the outboard cover and starting bailing water.

Australis Yume

Monday, March 29th, 2010

aurora australis
“Do you like the Aurora?” Spegg asked.

“Not the reds.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen them from the surface.”

“They’re not real.”

“No, but I thought you could use some light. I will fix the color.”

The ribbons of light in the sky slowly faded from red to green. Spegg turned over and floated on his back, his breath little clouds of chartreuse illuminated by the dancing lights.

“That’s better,” I said. I crossed my legs in the boat and took a bite out of the bacon sandwich, following it with a long pull from a bottle of J&B. The liquor warmed my throat, coated my stomach and reached out to my limbs, slowly unlatching all of the tiny hardened locks and flipping on the lights. I exhaled a long, deep breath—one that seemed like I’d stored up for days. “Beautiful night.”

“You needed a break.”

I nodded with my mouth full.

“Have you forgotten about me?” Spegg asked.

I swallowed and drank again. “No. But you are dead and I will be too, soon enough.”

Spegg splashed in the water, then disappeared below the surface.

Stars winked through the hazy atmosphere, and the Aurora rippled over the horizon, slowly fading from green to blue to purple and back again. The ocean softly mirrored the colors in a mirthful little duet between the Earth and sky.

“It’s not true,” Spegg said, leaning against the bow inside the Zodiac.

I cocked an eyebrow and passed the J&B to him. “What’s isn’t?”

Spegg took a long drink, finishing the bottle, then dropped it over the side of the boat. I watched as the whiskey bottle morphed into a little sturgeon and scurried away.

“I’m not dead,” Spegg answered.

I uncapped another bottle of whiskey and put it to my lips. I took another long pull and then set the bottle on my leg. “Yes you are. The Americans told me they destroyed all of the Russian ships.”

“May-be.” Spegg said, then snatched a fish out of the water and swallowed it. He licked his lips with his long, shimmering tongue. “But I was not on one of those ships.”

“Then where were you, Spegg?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t know.”

I wedged the bottle between my thighs and scratched my head. “Yes, of course, this is a dream. But, I don’t know that you’re not dead.”

“Robertson,” Spegg said, ribbons of blue light flickering in his eyes. “If I die, you will feel a burden on your soul so acute… so profound, that you will never recover from the loss.”

Spegg brushed his hand across the sky, distorting the waves of color into little rainbow eddies, then continued. “Those bound by the Lilith who have lost their pairing have been known to gouge out their eyes, or throw themselves out of airlocks. The bond is that strong.”

“Yes, I think I remember you telling me that.”

“We are only in transition now, Wayne. You have to find me. This you must do.”

“But I will die out here if I am not rescued. I am nearly out of fuel. No food. No water. I have no time left.”

“No. The ship has come back for you.” Spegg turned his head and looked to the horizon. “Can you not hear their call?”

A distant horn wailed, scattering the Aurora. Spegg stood up in the Zodiac and stared at me warily. “The humans are reckless and destructive, brother. Soon they will annihilate themselves. You and I are the only hope for the future.”  Then he dove over the edge.

I lurched awake in the spotlight of a giant ship.

Odaijini

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

A rope ladder unrolled along the Nisshin Maru’s towering hull. I maneuvered the Zodiac along side the ship and squeezed the throttle, fending off the slashing waves. It was still dark out but the Nisshin Maru was well lit and spotlights illuminated the black hull and the path upward in broad swords of light. On the deck, a crowd of a dozen or so blue helmeted Japanese were shouting “Up! up!”. One of them even started to descend, presumably to assist, but I shouted “No!” repeatedly, shaking the ladder and waving my hands until he gave up and hopped back over the railing.

I knew I was far too weak to be doing it on my own, but I didn’t want to appear as such. I didn’t know why the Japanese had returned for me, but it was possible that they had somehow discovered that I was not just another poor fool lost at sea. The U.S. was obviously busy with the Russians, but if there was a price on my head, this could very well be the end of the line. Nevertheless, appearing weak wasn’t going to help my situation. So I managed to summon the energy, somehow, the last few molecules of adrenaline squeezed into my veins, and I put one hand over the other as the flanking wind whipped and snapped the ladder against the hull. In the mix of excited Japanese voices, some of the fishermen chanted “Go! Go! Go!”. When I was about halfway up I made the mistake of looking down. I suddenly felt dizzy, the ocean doubled in size, and the ship seemed to whirl sideways in a nauseating blur. I closed my eyes and clung to the ladder, my knuckles pinned against the cold steel of the ship’s hull, my wet clothes rippling in the wind.

“Keep it up!” Someone yelled from above.

I took a deep breath and reached for the next rung, groaning as I pulled myself up, battling for a foothold as the wind blew the ladder around below.

“Go! Go! Go!”

I strained against the nausea and reached for the next rung. And the next. And the next. Until finally hands were on me and I was hoisted up. Cool water streamed into my mouth somehow, and suddenly I was covered in blankets and being carried somewhere out of the wind. I let it all happen, too exhausted and weak to care any longer.

When I opened my eyes I was lying on a cot in a small, dimly lit room that smelled of food.

“Please eat” said a Japanese man in jeans and a yellow sweater as he set a bowl and a bottle of water on the table next to the bed.

I didn’t need convincing. I sat up, completely ignoring him, and raised the bowl to my lips. The warm broth poured into my body, awakening my stomach and stretching out into my limbs into places I had forgotten existed. There were a few noodles, a bit of meat,  a brown egg, and some bamboo shoots in the soup. I was about to grab them with my fingers when the man indicated a set of wooden chopsticks in a paper slip on table. I grunted, removed the cover and shoveled the food into my mouth, not even bothering to separate the chopsticks. When the bowl was empty I hung it above my mouth and let the last few drops of broth slide onto my tongue.

The Japanese man took a seat at the table. He had a round face, bushy eyebrows, and thin gray hair combed sideways over the top of his head. He wore rectangular wire-rimmed glasses perched half-way down his nose that he removed and stuffed into his shirt pocket as I gulped water from the bottle.

“Arigatou,” I said, setting the empty bottle on the table.

The man bowed shallowly and said something incomprehensible. I presumed that from the “arigatou” he thought I might speak the language, but unfortunately “thank you” was the limit of my non-food related Japanese. When I didn’t reply he said, “I am Fukuyama Hideki. Ship doctor.”

“Wayne Robertson,” I said, weakly extending my hand over the table.

Dr. Fukuyama’s eyes lit up at the gesture, as if just recalling the traditional western-style greeting, then shook my hand with a hint of embarrassment.

“Nice to meet you, Ooh-ayn-san,” he said with a thick “oooh” instead of a “wah”. “How long were you in ocean?”

I suddenly regretted telling him my real name. I still had no idea what they knew about me, if anything. I searched for a strategy but I had nothing. I felt like shit, even after the food, maybe even weaker for some reason. “I don’t know,” I finally replied. “Many days. A lot of days.”

“So-ka. You are American, Ooh-ayn-san?”

“Yes, American.”

“So-ka.” Dr. Fukuyama replaced his glasses on the bridge of his nose. That seemed to be the end of his curiosity, or perhaps the limit of what he was allowed to ask. “I would like to do tests, now is OK?”

I nodded my head. “That’s fine.”

The doctor joined me on the cot with a small doctor’s kit, then took my blood pressure, checked my heart rate and listened to my chest, looked at my tongue, and checked my reflexes. All in relative silence. When he was finished he handed me another bottle of water. “Please drink more,” he said. “You will be OK.” Then he stood to go.

“Wait,” I asked. “What’s happening? What do I do now?”

Dr. Fukuyama seemed confused by the questions, then held out his hand, dismissing them. “Captain will talk you. Please wait and drink.” He added something in Japanese, then bowed shallowly before leaving.

I gazed into the hall and noticed a blue-helmeted man who reached for the door and closed it, glancing at me suspiciously as he did. Then there was the sound of a key and the snap of a dead bolt.

Numb3rs

Monday, April 5th, 2010

I’d been so hungry and tired that I had barely noticed the room. Aside from the cot and wooden table, there was a little metal desk on the far side of the room (which was only about seven feet away) with two drawers on the left side and two legs on the right. The room’s walls were steel, painted light green, and perfectly bare: no porthole, no paintings, no decoration or embellishments of any kind.

I sat on the cot as Spegg crossed the room and checked the door for the eleventh time. “Still locked,” he said, as if he’d truly expected things to change. He huffed and started pacing again, turning every three steps. “Everything is green in here. Even this desk.” He stopped to slide his fingers along the table top. He tried the desk drawers but they were locked as well. Spegg looked at me, scratching his chin. “I’ve always liked the color, though: Greeen.” He jazzed his long, bony fingers as he said it. “But there’s just too much of it here in this room. Too much green. You think they’d let us paint?”

“I kind of like it,” I said, sipping my water. “Simple. No surprises. But, no, I doubt they’d let us paint the room.”

Spegg sneaked toward me and knelt down. He looked carefully to his right, and his left, then put his hand to his mouth and whispered in my ear: “What if we killed them all, Wayne? You think they’d let us paint then?”

I jerked awake, spilling water all over myself. The open liter of water Dr. Fukuyama had given me rolled off the bed and dribbled onto the floor. I sat up and tried to brush it off.

“Bad dream?”

I slowly raised my head. Spegg was sitting backwards in the chair at the table. He eyed me curiously.

I rubbed my eyes and tried again.

“Well don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Spegg said.

“Oh God.”

“You need help, Wayne.”

“Apparently.”

“Not that kind of help.”

I planted my face in my hands and stared at him blankly.

“You’re wasting time. You need to get your ass back to Antarctica.”

“What? Why the hell would I go back there?”

“Because that’s—” Spegg jumped up. “Wait, there’s something—” He scanned the room with his ear, then shuffled over to the far wall and put his long face against the steel. “You hear that?”

“Spegg, why would I want to go back to Antarctica?”

“Shhh!” He waved me over, then pressed his ear back against the wall.

I got up with a sigh and set the overturned water bottle on the table.

“Come over here! It’s some kind of recording.”

I made a face and put my ear to the wall, praying that no one walked in on us like this. The voice was female. Spegg mouthed the words as they echoed through the wall: “Ichi hachi go nana zero kyuu… Ichi hachi go nana zero kyuu… Ichi hachi go nana zero kyuu….”

I stepped back. “Just sounds like a bunch of Japanese numbers repeating over and over again. So what?”

Spegg rolled his eyes. “Stupid Chikushou. Don’t you understand? It means something.”

“Spegg—”

“Since World War I governments have been broadcasting seemingly mindless shortwave transmissions all over the Earth. Sometimes they’re beeps or buzzes, sometimes human voices. For decades they’ve been repeating. But they’re always nonsense. Meaningless drivel.”

“Yes, I know, Spegg. They’re called numbers stations. I used to listen to them when I was a child with my crystal short wave radio. Early on they were rumored to—”

“Not rumored to! Numbers stations contain embedded spy codes. Subliminal messages. Assignments. Battle plans.” Spegg put his ear back to the wall. “Ichi hachi go nana zero kyuu… Ichi hachi go nana zero kyuu….”

“Spegg…. SPEGG!”

Spegg leaned toward me and poked furiously at the wall. “This is bad, Wayne. Bad.”

“No it’s not.”

“They’re gonna kills us, Wayne!”

“Listen. No one is going to kill us. And no government in their right mind uses short wave radio to transmit sensitive information anymore. It’s stupid. Outdated. Fodder for conspiracy theorists and paranoids.”

“Then you better start getting paranoid, because they’re still in use, even two hundred years from now.”

“Please,” I sighed. “Just tell me why the hell I should return to Antarctica.”

“They’re gonna mix our bodies in with the whale meat, Wayne!”

“Oh you’re fucking insane,” I said, turning away.

“You might want to look in the mirror, Chikushou.”

I spun around and gasped. Suddenly there was a knock at the door.

Sumimasen.

A key slid in the lock and the deadbolt clicked open. I stood frozen in the middle of the room as the door creaked open on its metal hinges. The blue helmeted guard from before leaned in and grimaced. “Ooh-ayn-san.” He paused, scanning the room with a suspicious eye. I bit my lip, wondering if he had heard my “conversation”. A moment later the guard made a little “hpmh” sound, then gestured toward the hallway. “Now captain talk you.”

Out of the Frying Pan…

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

The guard called himself Kenichi, and he was friendly enough. He was at least a foot shorter than I, probably five and a half feet, with soft, boyish features. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. Kenichi was dressed in an unremarkable beige button down shirt tucked into black polyester pants. He wasn’t armed, which meant I wasn’t considered a threat—at least not yet. With a low bow, he ushered me upstairs and out into the cold, walking a few steps ahead of me. It was still dark, but there was a faint glow of twilight behind us, which meant that we were headed roughly northwest.

“This is a factory ship, yes?” I asked, tapping the handrail. “Whale boat?”

Kenichi hummed, pondering the English. “Yes, yes. Hogeisen. Whales research,” he said with a shy smile.

And where’s the rest of your fleet? Other boats?”

Eh-to….” Kenichi studied the sea for a moment, then pointed into the blackness. “Ahre.” Then he indicated another spot behind us with his finger. “Ahre.”

I squinted but I couldn’t see anything. I half expected to see Spegg out on the waves riding a fucking krakken or something, but no such luck.

So-ka,” I replied, reusing Dr. Fukuyama’s words, which I guessed meant something like “uh huh” or “cool”. Kenichi seemed to understand.

We walked for a few moments in silence and I took a moment to get my bearings. The room I had been in was mid-ship and we were walking toward the bow along the starboard side. Above us was another deck, where the bastard with the LRAD had been standing. White sodium vapor lights illuminated the ship from high above, as well as the cluster of radio, GPS, and twirling radar antennas. The ship was absolutely enormous. There must have been at least a hundred people on board.

Kenichi canted his head toward me. “Cariforunia?”

“Hmm?” I said, breaking away from my thoughts.

“Cariforunia.” He paused, as if trying to put the words together, then said, “You are from there?”

“Oh, no. I’ve been there, but I’m from Kansas City. Kansas. Originally.”

The guard twisted his face at the words. “I don’t know.”

“Kansas? Yeah, no one does. And it’s probably better that way. Nothing to see.”

That didn’t seem to register, either. Kenichi looked at his hands for a moment, then said, “Eh-to… I very much like Caruforunia. My sister, Yukichan, lives in… El-ru-ay”

“Eh-ru….” I paused, repeating the sounds to myself. “Oh! L.A. Los Angeles,” I said. “Wonderful place. Botox. Schwarzenegger.”

“Yes, yes,” Takeshi said politely. “The Gabunetaa.”

I laughed at that.

We continued along the mid-deck. About a minute later we passed a pair of illuminated portholes and I locked eyes with a middle aged, round-faced man who was staring out one of the windows, smoking a cigar. He winked at me, almost in show motion, and a shiver shot up my spine.

An instant later Kenichi stopped and I nearly crashed into him.

I looked around. “What’s up? Are we there?”

Kenichi gave me a serious look. “My sister, Yukichan, very worried.”

I stared at him for a moment, gathering my thoughts. “What is she worried about, Kenichi?”

“Eh-ru-ay is big city. Big… uhh, nandaro… targeto.”

“Target?”

“Yes. Yukichan says Eh-ru-ay maybe get bomb?”

I cocked my head. “Bombed? Why would L.A. get bombed?”

“America and Roo-she-ah dess. Big war you know?”

“No. All I’ve heard about is a little naval skirmish. Nothing about any bombings.”

Hehwakarimasen,” he replied, squinting and shaking his head. “Big war… big war.”

A sense of urgency welled up in me. Small talk was over. “Alright. Where’s the captain?”

“Here, go up” Kenichi said, gesturing toward a flight of stairs. I took them two at a time. “Which way?” I said impatiently.

Kenichi directed me through a steel doorway and down a short hallway to another door. He rapped on it and said something in Japanese. A muted “Hai” came from within. The door creaked open and we were met by a tall Japanese man, easily my height, thin and wiry with short black hair and black framed glasses. He was dressed in jeans and a yellow Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt, of all things. For my benefit, perhaps. He waved me in and closed the door behind me, leaving Kenichi outside.

“Wayne-san, I’m glad you are on your feet,” the man said, bowing. “I hope you are feeling better. I am Takeshi Utsunomiya. I will be interpreting for you and captain Moriyama.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Yes, I’m feeling much better.”

The captain’s room looked nothing like a typical western captain’s quarters. Gone was the wood paneling, the antique maps and compasses, the oil paintings of clipper ships, and those collapsible telescopes you often see mounted on the wall lying on a stand on the captain’s desk. The room was simple, green steel, like mine, and the captain’s desk on the far side of the room was void of anything other than a lamp, a wooden Buddha figurine, and a notebook and pen. To my left was a dark, wooden cabinet on a steel table which also held two candles and an incense burner full of ash. The room smelled accordingly, like a mixture of sage and sandalwood. The only thing missing from the captain’s room was the captain.

“The captain will be with us shortly,” Takeshi said, practically reading my mind. “But first, if you wouldn’t mind, please remove your shoes,” Takeshi said.

“Oh, right, of course.” I quickly unlaced my boots and pulled them off. My socks were soaked through, so I removed them as well and stuck them into the boots. Takeshi bowed slightly, picked them up, and slid them into a small wooden shelf near the door. Then he removed a pair of slippers from a higher shelf and laid them at my feet. I wiggled into them, thinking about what Kenichi had said.

“Takeshi, is there a war going on in America?”

“Please, be patient. We must wait for the captain,” Takeshi said, gesturing toward a low wooden table in the center of the room which was covered with a thick white cloth that hung all the way to the floor. “Please have a seat, Wayne-san.”

I obliged and sat down on one of the cushions that surrounded the table. I stretched my legs out under the heavy tablecloth. The pocket of air underneath the table was at least twenty degrees warmer than the room.

“Mmm,” I hummed, enjoying the warmth.

Takeshi immediately said, “That is a kotatsu–a heated table. Very common in Japan.”

Christ, what I wouldn’t have done for one of those in Antarctica.

Takeshi crossed the room and knocked on a wooden door I hadn’t noticed before, tucked away along the wall behind the tall, polished cabinet. Another “Hai” came from that room, and the door slid open, revealing a dimly lit bedroom. The smell of cigarettes wafted into the room. The captain stepped out wearing a red sweatshirt, jeans, and black slippers. Embroidered on the left breast of the sweatshirt were the initials “A&F” in black lettering. Apparently there was an Abercrombie & Fitch outlet somewhere on board.

Captain Moriyama was shorter than I had expected. He was probably fifty years old or so, with short, but thick gray hair, and narrow, brown eyes. He rubbed them as he stepped into the light, as if he had just woken up. Takeshi spoke quietly to him in a flurry of Japanese. The captain nodded, looking at the floor, peppering Takeshi’s pauses with “Un. Un. Un.”

The conversation was over when the captain glanced at me and said a few words to Takeshi that sounded more like a series of punctuated groans than anything else. Takeshi broke off and Captain Moriyama joined me at the kotatsu, sitting cross-legged on the cushion. He didn’t look at me instantly. He just stared at his legs, rubbing and slapping them, as if he did this sort of thing every single morning, and I was just another lost soul plucked out of the sea. I stayed silent, waiting for some kind of cue.

“Green tea,” Takeshi said, immediately providing said cue. He placed three small, white, handleless cups on the table, then stepped away and returned with a matching pot, filling the cups with steaming, light green liquid. He joined us at the table.

The captain slapped his legs once more then took his cup and lifted it to his mouth. “Mmm,” he groaned. Then, as if that was all he needed to get going, he looked at me and said in a gruff voice, “Wayne Robertson-san. Welcome to the Nisshin Maru.”

I opened my mouth to thank the captain, but he charged forward in Japanese. Takeshi provided the translation as the captain’s low voice grumbled in the background.

“We are truly sorry for how we treated you during our first meeting. And as the captain of the Nisshin Maru, I personally apologize. I think you may understand why we reacted in a such a way. If not, please let me explain that we have been dealing with increasingly aggressive encounters with pirates and environmental terrorists who will do anything to stop the legal research we perform on this–”

“Look, that’s fine. Really,” I said, interrupting him. “You did what you had to do. I’m just glad you changed your mind and came back for me.”

Takeshi rattled off the translation and the captain nodded, humming into his tea.

“I see. Well, we will leave it at that then.” The captain finally said.

“Is there a war going on in America?” I asked. “Kenichi mentioned something about California being attacked. What the hell is going on?”

“You have heard nothing?”

“I’ve been a little distracted.”

“Of course. Well I can only speak from the Japanese perspective. And I am not an authority, you understand. We may know only a little more than you. But first, I must ask… were you somehow involved in all of this? Are you an American soldier? Intelligence? How were you lost at sea? Unless you are military or a pirate, you were in a very unlikely place. Especially considering your craft. A Zodiac is not your typical life raft.”

“That is true,” I said quickly. “I was an astrophysicist at Station one-five-one, in Antarctica. Its a radio telescope array, one of many currently under construction around the world. There’s even one being built in Hokkaido, Japan. Station twelve, I believe.”

I paused for a moment and both Takeshi and Captain Moriyama nodded affirmatively. “Yes, that was big news. We are aware of it,” Takeshi added.

“Then you know it’s a civilian project. Not military.”

“Some would disagree,” the captain said in a resonant baritone. “But please continue.”

“I hadn’t heard that,” I frowned. “Nevertheless, after the Russians attacked the American Navy off the coast of Alexander Island, I was evacuated for fear that I might get caught in the crossfire. However, that is exactly what happened while we were returning to the carrier group. We crossed paths with a Russian MiG and were shot down in the Southern Ocean. I was the only survivor.”

It sounded good. Damn good. And almost completely true, too. I leaned back a little, listening to Takeshi’s Japanese, and sipped my tea confidently.

“It is a good story,” the captain said. His eyes brightened and a grin crept over his face. “So naturally you would like us to contact the American Navy and let them know you are here?”

I gulped, and I think they heard it. Fuck. I shifted on the pillow, desperately trying to come up with something reasonable. “I, uh” was as creative as I could get.

“I didn’t think so,” Captain Moriyama smiled, cutting me off. Takeshi’s eyes darkened. Briefly, he seemed almost disappointed.

I touched the edge of my tea cup.

“What would you have us do with you, Wayne-san?”

In my blatant arrogance, I hadn’t thought of that. I just assumed things would work out.

“Are you a Russian spy? A double agent, perhaps?” Takeshi interjected, then translated the question back to the captain.

“No! God, no. Nothing like that,” I said, waving my hands. “It’s all a big misunderstanding, really.”

“Well,” the captain growled, “I suppose if you were, we’d never get it out of you.”

“Probably not. If I was. Which I’m not. Seriously.” I rolled my eyes as I backed myself into a corner.

“Too stupid to be a Russian spy,” Captain Moriyama said dismissively. He uncrossed his legs and stretched them out under the table. Then he picked up his teacup, drained it, and set it down hard. “We have ten days until we reach Japan,” he continued. “We will figure out what to do with you by then.”

I glanced at Takeshi, biting my lip. He didn’t look back. “OK,” I said. “I understand. I accept that. But I’m not a spy. I love my country, and I have family back in the States, so I’d really like to know what is going on.”

The captain looked at me gravely. “America is burning,” he said, and stood up.

The guard called himself Kenichi, and he was friendly enough. He was at least a foot shorter than I, probably five and a half feet, with soft, boyish features. He probably wasn’t more than twenty years old. He was dressed in an unremarkable beige button down shirt tucked into black polyester pants. And he wasn’t armed, which meant I wasn’t considered a threat—at least not yet. With a low bow, Kenichi ushered me upstairs and out into the cold, walking a few steps ahead of me. It was still dark, but there was the faintest hint of light in the east, which meant that we were roughly heading northwest.

“This is a factory ship, yes?” I asked, tapping the handrail. “Whale boat?”

Kenichi hummed, pondering the English. “Yes, yes. Hogeisen. Whales research,” he said with a shy smile.

And where’s the rest of your fleet? Other boats?”

Eh-to….” Kenichi studied the sea for a moment, then pointed into the blackness. “Ahre.” Then he indicated another spot behind us with his finger. “Ahre.”

I squinted but I couldn’t see anything. I half expected to see Spegg out on the waves riding a fucking krakken or something, but no such luck.

So-ka,” I replied, reusing Dr. Fukuyama’s words, which I guess was something like “uh huh” or “cool”. Kenichi seemed to understand.

We walked for a few moments in silence and I took a moment to get my bearings. The room I had been in was mid-ship and we were walking toward the bow along the starboard side. Above us was another deck, where the bastard with the LRAD had been standing. White sodium vapor lights illuminated the ship from high above, as well as the cluster of radio, GPS, and twirling radar antennas. The ship was absolutely enormous. There must have been at least a hundred people on board.

Kenichi canted his head toward me. “Cariforunia?”

“Hmm?” I said, breaking away from my thoughts.

“Cariforunia.” He paused, as if trying to put the words together, then said, “You are from there?”

“Oh, no. I’ve been there, but I’m from Kansas City. Kansas. Originally.”

The guard twisted his face at the words. “I don’t know.”

“Kansas? Yeah, no one does. And it’s probably better that way. Nothing to see.”

That didn’t seem to register, either. Kenichi looked at his hands for a moment, then said, “Eh-to… very much like Caruforunia. My sister, Yukichan, lives in… El-ru-ay”

“Eh-ru….” I paused. “Oh! LA. Los Angeles,” I said, nodding. “Wonderful place. Botox. Schwarzenegger.”

“Yes, yes,” Takeshi said politely. “The Gabunetaa.”

I laughed at that.

We continued along the mid-deck. About a minute later we passed a pair of illuminated portholes and I locked eyes with a middle aged, round-faced man who was staring out one of the windows, smoking a cigar. He winked at me. I suddenly felt like I was in a David Lynch film.

A moment later Kenichi broke the silence, “My sister, Yukichan, very worried.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Eh-ru-ay is big city? Big, um, target. Yukichan think Eh-ru-ay maybe get bomb?”

I stopped. “What? Bombed? Why would LA get bombed?”

Kenichi frowned at me. “America and Roo-she-ah dess. Big war you know?”

“Wait, what? All I’ve heard about is a battle at sea. What are you talking about?”

Hehwakarimasen,” he replied, squinting and shaking his head. “Big war.”

A sense of urgency welled up in me. Small talk was over. “Alright. Where’s the captain?”

“Here, go up” Kenichi said, gesturing toward a flight of stairs. I took them two at a time. “Which way?” I said impatiently.

Kenichi directed me through a steel doorway and down a short hallway to another door. He rapped on it and said something in Japanese. A muted “Hai” came from within. The door creaked open and we were met by a tall Japanese man, easily my height, thin and wiry with short black hair and black framed glasses. He was dressed in jeans and a yellow Ambercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt, of all things. For my benefit, perhaps. He waved me in and closed the door behind me, leaving Kenichi outside.

“Wayne, I’m glad you are on your feet,” the man said, bowing. “I hope you are feeling better. I am Takeshi Utsunomiya. I will be interpreting for you and captain Moriyama.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m feeling much better.”

The captain’s room looked nothing like a typical western captain’s quarters. Gone was the wood paneling, the antique maps and compasses, the oil paintings of clipper ships, and those collapsible telescope you often see mounted on the wall lying on a stand on the captain’s desk. The room was simple, green steel, like mine, and the captain’s desk on the far side of the room was void of anything other than a lamp, a wooden Buddha figurine, and a notebook and pen. To my left was a dark, wooden cabinet on a steel table which also held two candles and an incense burner full of ash. The room smelled accordingly, like a mixture of sage and sandalwood. The only thing missing from the captain’s room was the captain.

“The captain will be with us shortly,” Takeshi said, practically reading my mind. “But first, if you wouldn’t mind, please remove your shoes,” Takeshi said.

“Oh, right, of course.” I quickly unlaced my boots and pulled them off. My socks were soaked through, so I removed them as well and stuck them into the boots. Takeshi bowed slightly, picked them up, and slid them into a small wooden shelf near the door. Then he removed a pair of slippers from a higher shelf and laid them at my feet. I wiggled into them, thinking about what Kenichi had said.

“Takeshi, is there a war going on in America?”

“Please, be patient. We must wait for the captain,” Takeshi said, gesturing toward a low wooden table in the center of the room which was covered with a thick white cloth that hung all the way to the floor. “Please have a seat, Wayne-san.”

I obliged and sat down on one of the cushions that surrounded the table. I stretched my legs out under the heavy tablecloth. The pocket of air underneath the table was at least twenty degrees warmer than the room.

“Mmm,” I hummed, enjoying the warmth.

Takeshi immediately said, “That is a kotatsu–a heated table. Very common in Japan.”

Christ, what I wouldn’t have done for one of those in Antarctica.

Takeshi crossed the room and knocked on a wooden door I hadn’t noticed before, tucked away along the wall behind the tall, polished cabinet. Another “Hai” came from that room, and the door slid open, revealing a dimly lit bedroom. The smell of cigarettes wafted into the room. The captain stepped out wearing a red sweatshirt, jeans, and black slippers. Embroidered on the left breast of the sweatshirt were the initials “A&F” in black lettering. Apparently there an Ambercrombie and Fitch outlet somewhere on board.

Captain Moriyama was shorter than I had expected. He was probably fifty years old or so, with short, but thick gray hair, and narrow, brown eyes. He rubbed them as he stepped into the light, as if he had just woken up. Takeshi spoke quietly to him in a flurry of Japanese. The captain nodded, looking at the floor, peppering Takeshi’s pauses with “Un. Un. Un.”

The conversation was over when the captain glanced at me and said a few words to Takeshi that sounded more like a series of punctuated groans than anything else. Takeshi broke off and Captain Moriyama joined me at the kotatsu, sitting cross-legged on the cushion. He didn’t look at me instantly. He just stared at his legs, rubbing and slapping them, as if he did this sort of thing every single morning… and I was just another lost soul plucked out of the sea. I stayed silent, waiting for some kind of cue.

“Green tea,” Takeshi said, immediately providing said cue. He placing three small, white, handleless cups on the table, then stepped away and returned with a matching pot, filling the cups with steaming, light green liquid. He joined us at the table.

The captain slapped his legs once more then took his cup and lifted it to his mouth. “Mmm,” he groaned. Then, as if that was all he needed to get going, he looked at me and said in a gruff voice, “Wayne Robertson-san. Welcome to the Nisshin Maru.”

I opened my mouth to thank the captain, but he charged forward in Japanese. Takeshi provided the translation as the captain’s low voice grumbled in the background.

“We are truly sorry for how we treated you during our first meeting. And as the captain of the Nisshin Maru, I personally apologize. I think you may understand why we reacted in a such a way. If not, please let me explain that we have been dealing with increasingly aggressive encounters with pirates and environmental terrorists who will do anything to stop the legal research we perform on this–”

“Look, I don’t care about that,” I said, interrupting him. “You did what you had to do. I’m just glad you changed your mind and came back for me.”

Takeshi rattled off the translation and the captain nodded, humming into his tea.

“I see. Well, we will leave it at that then.” The captain finally said.

“Is there a war going on in America?” I asked. “Kenichi mentioned something about California being attacked. What the hell is going on?”

“You have heard nothing?”

“I’ve been a little distracted.”

“Of course. Well I can only speak from the Japanese perspective. And I am not an authority, you understand. We may know only a little more than you. But first, I must ask… were you somehow involved in all of this? Are you an American soldier? Intelligence? How were you lost at sea? Unless you are military or a pirate, you were in a very unlikely place. Especially considering your craft. A Zodiac is not your typical life raft.”

“That is true,” I said quickly. “I was an astrophysicist at Station one-five-one, in Antarctica. Its a radio telescope array, one of many currently under construction around the world. There’s even one being built in Hokkaido, Japan. Station twelve, I believe.”

I paused for a moment and both Takeshi and Captain Moriyama nodded affirmatively. “Yes, that was big news. We are aware of it,” Takeshi added.

“Then you know it’s a civilian project. Not military.”

“Some would disagree,” the captain said in a resonant baritone. “But please continue.”

“I hadn’t heard that,” I frowned. “Nevertheless, after the Russians attacked the American Navy off the coast of Alexander Island, I was evacuated for fear that I might get caught in the crossfire. However, that is exactly what happened while we were returning to the carrier group. We crossed paths with a Russian MiG and were shot down in the Southern Ocean. I was the only survivor.”

It sounded good. Damn good. And almost completely true, too. I leaned back a little, listening to Takeshi’s Japanese, and sipped my tea confidently.

“It is a good story,” the captain said. His eyes brightened and a grin crept over his face. “So naturally you would like us to contact the American Navy and let them know you are here?”

I gulped, and I think they heard it. Fuck. I shifted on the pillow, desperately trying to come up with something reasonable.

“I, uh” was as creative as I could get.

“I didn’t think so,” Captain Moriyama smiled, cutting me off. Takeshi’s eyes darkened. Briefly, he seemed almost disappointed.

I touched the edge of my tea cup.

“What would you have us do with you, Wayne-san?”

In my blatant arrogance, I hadn’t thought of that. I just assumed things would work out.

“Are you a Russian spy?” Takeshi interjected, then translated the question back to the captain.

“No! God, no. Nothing like that,” I said, waving my hands. “It’s all a big misunderstanding, really.”

“Well,” the captain growled, “I suppose if you were, we’d never get it out of you.”

“Probably not. If I was. Which I’m not. Seriously.” I rolled my eyes as I backed myself into a corner.

“Too stupid to be a Russian spy,” Captain Moriyama said dismissively. He uncrossed his legs and stretched them out under the table. Then he picked up his teacup, drained it, and set it down hard. “We have ten days until we reach Japan,” he continued. “We will figure out what to do with you by then.”

I glanced at Takeshi, biting my lip.

“America is burning,” he said, standing up.

Trinity

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Icebergs and Growlers

If my jaw could have dropped off my face and rolled under the table, it would have. Holy shit. America is burning. I was stunned stupid.

I kicked off the slippers and reached for my shoes. Takeshi was talking to the guard, Kenichi, who had waited for us in the hall. His Japanese sounded sharp and authoritative, a flurry of syllables crackling through the air, as the boy nodded and bowed repeatedly in the shadow of Takeshi’s towering frame. When it was done, Kenichi turned to go, but before he did, he flashed me a furtive, worried glance. I cocked an eyebrow at him as I slid my boots on. He quickly turned away and departed. I took a breath, blew it out, and shoved my wet socks into my pocket.

“Follow me, Wayne,” Takeshi said with a wave of his hand.

No san at the end, just Wayne. Not a good sign. “Where to?” I asked.

“Your new room,” he replied hollowly. Behind his thick black eyeglasses, his eyes had become dull and wide, his polite smile and flash-bulb attentiveness utterly sucked out of him.

“Oh good,” I said.

We exited the captain’s quarters and took another passage down into the ship’s dimly lit corridors.  For the moment we walked in near silence, save a sniff of the nose or the clearing of a throat. I listened as the ship groaned and creaked, almost as if it were trying to stifle the noises it couldn’t help but exude. I followed Takeshi around a corner and down another flight of stairs, past a closed door which muffled the voices of a handful of sailors and a radio or a television set that chattered in the background. The smell of cooked fish seeped into the hallway. I replayed Captain Moriyama’s last words in my head. America is burning. America is burning.

It was impossible to imagine.  The United States embroiled in a foreign war on its own soil? For Americans, wars are something that happen somewhere else. In some far corner of the globe, somewhere you’d never even heard of, and if you have, you certainly couldn’t find it on a map. But a war actually inside our borders? Unthinkable. I had to get some answers.

Takeshi took a right and I followed him down another flight of stairs through a short hallway flanked by scores of gray pipes that hummed and sizzled with the sound of steam. I sped up and grabbed him by the shoulder. “Explain,” I said. “How bad is the war? What happened?”

Takeshi stopped and looked me in the eye. “Saiaku,” he said. “The Russian navy attacked the Americans at sea. Unprovoked, they say. The Americans responded, but they were outnumbered. When word of the battle got out, your government declared war. But the Russians cried foul, saying it was the Americans who attacked first. That they had given no order to fire on American ships.”

That’s not the way I’d heard it, I thought, remembering the Navy SEALs assertion that they had sunk the Russian battle group. But I kept it to myself. “Who’s telling the truth?”

“Who knows what to believe?” Takeshi replied, holding out his hands. “But it really doesn’t matter anymore. After the declaration, the Americans launched an attack on Moscow from their European bases. England, France, Canada, and Germany joined the fight. Russia was set ablaze. Your President thought that he could count on the whole world for support, but apparently the Russians had evidence that it was the Americans who were the aggressors. China, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea took Russia’s side.”

I gripped a cherry red valve sticking out of the wall. Steam hissed in the neighboring pipes. “It’s goddamn world war three.”

“Yes. It was.”

My mouth dropped. “Was?”

Genbaku,” Takeshi said with a heavy sigh. “Japan is no longer the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack. We are only one of many now. One of many.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I gasped. “Who shot first? How many fucking bombs have dropped?”

“Hundreds. Thousands. Who knows. No one is sure who fired the first one, and no one knows the extent of the damage,” Takeshi answered, shaking his head. He looked at the floor. “Everything is a blip of transience and impermanent.”

“Apparently,” I frowned. “But Japan? They weren’t involved?”

“No,” Takeshi said. His eyes brightened slightly. “Japan has stayed out of it. For now. Many countries have abstained, and they have been spared. But only the smaller ones. The major powers of the world have fallen.”

“There’s going to be fallout.”

“Yes, without a doubt. Our future, if we have one, is grim at best.”

“Jesus Holy Christ,” I said, dropping my face into my palms. Tears welled up in my eyes. “I have to see! I have to know what happened to my family, my friends! Do you have a satellite phone on the ship?!”

“Unnn,” Takeshi hummed. “But you will not reach any one in your country. All communications are down. I will show you what I can on the Japanese broadcasts. But it is best if you first get cleaned up and have something to eat.” He touched my shoulder. “Please follow me.”

Takeshi turned and continued down the hall. I followed, wiping the tears from my eyes. What in the hell would have caused all of this? Surely a little skirmish over a few LMOs and their little pods wouldn’t be enough to start a nuclear war. What the hell was so important that—oh. Oh god.

I suddenly remembered the paper thin, shiny golden computer that Spegg had let me play with while I was in the initial, mind-numbing throes of the Lilith. My memory is fuzzy, at best, from that time, but from what I do recall, it was something roughly akin to the Internet. A self-contained, mind-bogglingly comprehensive, two-hundred years into the future, database of everything. History, medicine, space travel, weaponry—it was all there. To call it a goldmine would be a severe understatement. It was a goldmine wrapped in a diamond mine wrapped in a shiny interstellar destroyer traveling faster than light with plasma weapons, robot doctors, and a side of bacon. Now that would be something to start a war over. One big, giant, motherfucker of a War. I worked my jaw hard, just imagining the magnitude of the thing. But most importantly, who had it now?

“This will be your room,” Takeshi said. I hadn’t even noticed that we had stopped. “You have everything you need here. Get showered and changed, we will head to the galley and have breakfast. Afterward I will show you the reports.”

“Thank you,” I breathed.

Takeshi unlocked the door with a loose key and pushed it open. I slipped out of my shoes and stepped inside. The room was larger than my previous quarters. It had two twin beds and a large desk with a paper lamp. The walls were the same ubiquitous green steel, and to my left was another door that opened into a tiny bathroom. On one of the beds was a fresh change of clothes: a white tee, a plain brown sweatshirt, and two sets of wool socks. On the floor was a pair of white slippers wrapped in plastic.

“We have a saying in Japan,” Takeshi said, leaning against the door. “Ame futte ji katamaru. After the rain, the earth hardens. Those of us who survive this will be stronger than before.” 

“I guess,” I shrugged, and he pulled the door closed.

I turned around and noticed a 2010 calendar taped to the wall. The art for April was a panoramic shot obviously from the Southern Ocean. I moved around the bed to get a closer look. In the photo were three massive icebergs surrounded by thousands of chunky growlers (what sailors call smaller, Buick-sized chunks of ice) spread out in a calm, glassy sea. The sun was rising behind the tallest iceberg, a sliver of brilliant yellow light that ignited the peaks of the three giants, while the remainder of the foreground ice loomed in shadow. After the rain, the earth hardens. I stared at the photo for a long moment, then turned and gathered the new clothes in my arms.

The bathroom was so small that I could touch all four walls without moving, including the shower. I shut the door and set the new clothes on the lid of the toilet. On a shelf above the sink there were a couple of small hotel-sized bottles of what looked like shampoo and conditioner, a tiny razor, shaving cream, and a thin bar of pink soap that smelled like laundry detergent. I undressed, knocking my elbows and knees against the walls and the sink, then stepped in the little shower with the soap and pulled the curtain. The water was hot and felt great.

I leaned on one hand in the shower, closed my eyes, and let the hot water pour over me. My mind drifted. Far away. The golden computer. Two-hundred years of science and technology knowledge at your fingertips. Jesus, if you could imagine a book of information like that falling into the hands of  Hitler or Napoleon. Or Mad King George of England. Or George W. Bush for that matter. Christ, you could forge the future any way you saw fit. You could be God. You could be the Devil. The possibilities were endless.

After a time, the water ran cold. I didn’t even soap myself. How long had I been in there?

I got out, stepping on my old clothes, dried off, and rubbed the fog off the mirror with the edge of my palm. I looked like a vagrant.

I shaved slowly, removing almost two weeks of growth, and by the time I was done the little razor looked like it had been used to scrape ice off of a 747. I dropped it in the trash. I clumsily put on my new clothes, again whacking my limbs against the walls, and opened the door.

“OK,” I said, meeting Takeshi in the hall. “I’m showered. But for the record, I don’t feel any better.”

Derelict

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Derelict

I was happy to see Kenichi again, who Takeshi had apparently instructed to serve us our meals. After he finished he returned with his own tray, bowed, and joined us at the table. He seemed nervous, or perhaps embarrassed, or maybe he was feigning humility for my benefit. I couldn’t tell, so I smiled politely and left him alone.

Breakfast consisted of grilled river fish, a raw egg on rice, miso soup, a folded egg, a dish with sliced carrots, sesame seeds and a white vegetable I didn’t recognize, and green tea. I’d expected at least one serving of whale, or kujira, as they called it, but no such luck. Perhaps we’d get a showing at dinner.

The dining area had seating for roughly fifty people. We had a table on the port side of the galley, but we were on the bottom floor of the ship, so there were no windows. I sat with my back to the wall. The room was nearly full, and dead quiet. Most of the Japanese were focused intently on eating. A couple of them were reading as they ate, a book or magazine in one hand, chopsticks in the other.

“Is it always like this?” I asked Takeshi in a hushed voice.

“Like what?”

“So quiet.”

“Yes, I think so,” Takeshi replied, as if he’d never considered it.

“Weird.”

At first no one seemed to be paying any attention to the strange foreigner in their midst, but after a while I realized that they were just hard to catch. In my periphery I saw many of them sneaking glances, but as soon as I lifted my eyes they had already looked away. It was an ominous feeling.

“For the Japanese, it’s impolite to stare,” Takeshi said.

I grinned. “You catch everything don’t you?”

“Japanese culture is very different than American.”

“Does everyone on the boat know who I am?” I said, sliding a pair of wooden chopsticks out of their paper sheath.

“They know that we rescued you from the sea,” Takeshi replied. “They know you are an American. But none of us know who you really are, Wayne-san.”

I snapped the chopsticks into two pieces. “Yeah, I’m beginning to feel that way myself.”

“But none of that matters any more. If you were a spy, Wayne-san, you are out of a job.”

“I’m out of a job no matter what.”

Unn,” Takeshi hummed, and plucked at his fish.

I eyed my companions as they ate: they drank the miso soup from the edge of the bowl, and held their bowls of rice close as they snagged clumps of the white grains with their chopsticks. I had never learned how to use them. I ate like a barbarian, cutting the egg and the fish with a chopstick in each hand, knife and fork style, and speared the pieces one by one. For the vegetables, kinpira gobou, Takeshi called it, I just held up the bowl shoveled it into my mouth. It was all very good, especially the fish, but the tea was a little bitter. I left it alone.

We ate quickly, and afterward the three of us went to the top deck toward the bow and found a room with a few couches and a satellite feed. We met a girl there named Yumi, beautiful, young Japanese dressed in a business suit, with short black hair cropped just below her ears. She was seated on the edge of the couch watching the television. Yumi ignored Takeshi and Kenichi straight out, but when she noticed me, her eyes softened. It was a look of sympathy. I nodded at her, but I was immediately taken by the horror on the television.

Most of the shots were satellite photos. It was impossible to tell what I was looking at. Random, unrecognizable cities flattened by ICBMs. The images flew by and Takeshi provided the translation in a somber voice: “Washington D.C, Kansas, Toronto, San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Moscow, London, Shanghai, Berlin, Sydney, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Dubai, Kiev, Tehran, Baghdad, Budapest, Warsaw, Beijing, Los Angeles….”

There was no on ground coverage. Computers, telecommunications—those that weren’t destroyed—were fried by the EMPs, or simply severed from the grid. The world had unloaded. The Russians had loosed their arsenal on America and its allies, and we had responded in kind. Smaller cities had been spared. But the fallout was drifting eastward.

I collapsed onto the couch next to Yumi. “Saiyakuu,” she said, drawing the word out with a long breath. She set the television remote on the coffee table and leaned back, dropping her arms at her sides.

A map of the United States appeared on screen with dark smudges indicating blast sites, and projected fallout patterns in lighter gray arcing to the east. My parent’s home in Kansas was somewhere in the middle of a black smudge. New England—all of it—was reduced to ink. It looked as if someone had splattered the U.S. with paint and smeared it with his arm. Similar maps of Russia and Europe flashed on the screen as the journalist chattered away in Japanese.

It didn’t look real. I had a hard time connecting the images on the screen with the reality of it all. There were no images of the horror on the ground. The human cost was vague, extrapolated from charts and graphs.

The coverage moved on, and Takeshi continued the translation.

A number of foreigners in Japan were interviewed. A weeping American girl from Portland, Oregon had lost contact with her family and didn’t know whether they had survived. A family visiting Kyoto from San Diego claimed that God had graciously spared them. Two Chinese brothers living in Tokyo were too distraught to speak. At a giant intersection in Shinjuku, crowds of Japanese watched coverage of the event on a giant television screen on the side of a building. Shots of Buddhist temples all over Japan were shown, where people gathered to pray and tie paper notes onto overflowing racks. At the American embassy in Tokyo mourners surrounded the building with hundreds of thousands of flowers and origami cranes.

I felt Yumi’s hand on my shoulder. She said nothing. I took a deep breath and settled a little further into the couch.

Some local stories followed. An entire high school senior class had been lost on a trip to Paris. A politician from Fukuoka had been in the UAE when the bombs rained down.

“Kurodasan,” Takeshi sighed. “He is from my home town.”

Soudesune,” Yumi replied.

Some pictures of the politician were shown, then a shot of a cruise ship. It had been docked in Guam when the island had been bombed. Family members were interviewed. Everyone was in tears, even the journalists. The tragedy was endless.

We watched the coverage for hours. Occasionally a report came in from someone who had managed to get a message through. A Canadian on a satellite phone in northern Saskechuan was looking for answers. His city of La Ronge was intact, but he was unable to reach his brother in Vancouver. A woman in New Zealand described panic in Christchurch as the clouds of smoke swept over their city.

“I can’t watch this anymore,” I said, standing up. “Some satellite phones are obviously working. I need to make a call.”

Takeshi took a breath. “Wayne-san, you will not be able to reach anyone in America. Everything is gone.”

“I’m not calling America.”

Takeshi scratched his chin, then said something to Yumi. She stood up, flattened her skirt, and left.

“Yumichan is my sister,” Takeshi said, having caught my eye as I watched her leave. Christ, he never missed anything.

“I—um. Really?”

Takeshi nodded slowly, eying me.

Kenichi smirked and said, “Sis-tah desuneee.”

I cringed and rubbed my eyes. “I see.”

I turned back to the coverage and the three of us watched in silence. A few minutes later Yumi returned with the satellite phone. She extended it to me with both hands.

“I am pray for your family,” she said, bowing deeply.

“Thank you,” I said, accepting the phone. She raised her eyes and blinked away a few tears. I touched her on the arm and nodded. “Arigatou, Yumichan,” I whispered. She wiped away the tears, nodding, and turned away.

I took a deep, resolving breath. There was only one person in the world who I knew would be nowhere near a populated area. I moved to back of the room and punched in the familiar number. It rang. A good start. I tapped my fingers on the plastic as the ring tone droned on and on. “C’mon, man, pick up,” I whispered. I paced a bit, then stopped in front of a calendar on the rear wall. I ran my finger along the glossy paper. The three icebergs again. While the ringing continued, I lifted the page to peek at May: an old, rusted, derelict whaling ship beached on an icy shore. I frowned at it, then sat down in a chair in the corner. The phone continued to ring. Jesus, answer the goddamn phone! Finally, after what seemed like a hundred rings, someone picked up.

“Telders.”

Steamboat Willie

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

“Wayne? Is that you?”

I could barely hear Telders’ voice over the rumbling of machinery and what sounded like erratic gunfire. I put one finger in my free ear and thumbed the volume on the satphone to a suitable level.

“Telders! Yes, it’s Wayne! Where the hell are you? You sound like you’re in goddamn a war zone!”

“Robertson! Oh good, I’m glad you called! Hang on a second!”

I heard the sound of Telders’ hurried footsteps on gravel and a couple of loud, steady pops. Far off, a voice screamed in agony. There was another pop, some rustling, more footsteps, and then the sound of a door creaking open and slamming closed. The noise on the line abated accordingly.

“Hey, sorry about that,” Telders said in an even voice.

The rattle of muffled machine guns echoed in the distance.

“Uh, yeah,” I said, switching the phone to my other ear. “What the hell is going on there? Where the hell are you?”

I heard the sound of metal sliding against metal, then the distinct ka-chink of a semi-automatic pistol accepting a new clip. “I’m in Kaesong at the moment,” Telders replied.

“Kae…SONG?” I said, punching the syllables in disbelief. “North Korea?!”

“Well, a few miles outside of it. Close to the border. Hey Robertson, sorry man, can you hang on one more quick second?”

“I, uh, I, yeah, I guess.”

“Great, thanks.” There was a hollow thunk as the phone found a table or a shelf, and a few seconds later the sound of glass shattering, followed by the rapid bark of a pistol. Korean voices responded excitedly in the distance. I heard Telders yell something in their language. There were a few more distant shots, then the phone rustled, and he was back.

“Alright. I’m back. Sorry, busy day.”

“What?” I slammed my palm against my head. “Telders, what the hell is going on? What the hell are you doing in North Korea?”

Michael exhaled, and there was a thump followed by two smaller thumps, as if he had dropped into  a recliner and kicked up his feet. “Well we had some trouble getting the Array online up here and then this whole war thing started and that put us behind schedule….” He trailed off and there was a clink of ice against glass. “Ahh,” he said. “North Korean scotch isn’t too bad you know? I really didn’t expect that. But, yeah, anyway, the war has been screwing with our schedule. And you know, if I had to do it again, I’d definitely pick a spot further inland. The South Koreans are being a real pain in the ass.”

The phone nearly slipped out of my hands.

“Wayne? You still there, buddy?”

“I’m here,” was all I could muster.

“Great. So how’s 151? Hey, you haven’t filed a report for a while. What’s up man? How’s the weather there? How’s Buzz?”

I swallowed and took a moment to gather myself. “Michael, you do realize that there has been a global nuclear war? Like everywhere?”

I heard Telders take another sip of his drink. “Yeah, and it’s really screwing with our timetable. But these things happen, you know. We’ll work around it.”

“These things happen?” I gasped. “Are you serious?”

“Well sure… one does try to make the best of things. You okay, Wayne? You don’t sound like yourself.”

I laughed. “Telders. The world’s blown itself up. You’re sitting in a shack somewhere in North Korea, apparently sniping South Koreans from your window while drinking Kim Jong-il brand scotch whiskey… and you think I sound a little strange?”

“Hrm. Well, yeah, I mean, if you put it that way. Guess I never really thought about it. Good point, Robertson.”

“You think?” I said sarcastically. “How the hell did you get there in the first place? There wasn’t supposed to be an Array in North Korea for God’s sake.”

“Oh, you didn’t know? That’s right, you’ve been off the radar for a while. Remind me to kick your ass about that later. You know,  I was about to send someone down there and make sure you hadn’t frozen to death or something.”

I bit my lip, waiting for him to continue. He did.

“Anyway… Station250, as you know, was supposed to go in near Seoul, but we hit a snag with the South Koreans. It’s an election year, you know, and apparently the Array was being politicized by the challenging party. They drummed up all these crazy suspicions and all of a sudden there was a boat-load of public outcry and all kinds of messed up accusations and yadda, yadda, yadda you know how it is… politicians. Anyway, long story short, we had already arrived in the country with everything and then they told us that we had to basically get the eff-ing, eff out. So… North Korea seemed like as good of a place as any. We gave them a buzz and zing-zang-zoom, here we are.”

“Zing-zang-zoom.”

“Here we are.”

I rubbed my eyes. “And the North Koreans just let you in? Just like that?”

“Oh God, no. They wouldn’t even talk to us at first. But I had made a lot of contacts in China when we were assembling Stations48, 49, and 50, and they were nice enough to facilitate the negotiations.  But even then North wasn’t interested. We offered money, food, oil, weapons… everything you could think of.”

“Weapons?”

“Oh, yeah, I… ignore that. Is this a secure channel? Oh hell, I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Nevertheless… they weren’t having it.”

“Okay, but you’re in the country now, so how the hell did you do it?”

Telders paused. I swear I could hear him grinning on the phone. Finally, he said: “Steamboat Willie.”

“Steamboat what?”

“Steamboat Willie. You know, one of the very first Mickey Mouse cartoons? Actually, the very first cartoon, ever, with completely post-produced music, dialog, and sound effects. And you know Kim Jong-il is a huge Disney fan. It’s almost weird how much of a fan he is, what with all the stuffed animals and action figures and everything. But hey, live and let live, right?”

I shook my head. “Wait, you bribed Kim Jong-il, the brutal North Korean dictator, with a… a cartoon?”

“Wayne, Steamboat Willie is not just any cartoon.”

“Right, of course. The very first cartoon with completely post-produced whatever, whatever.”

“Music, dialog, and sound effects. But, no, I didn’t just give him some stupid DVD. For the privilege of building Station250 on North Korean soil, I traded Kim Jong-il the original hand inked cels from Steamboat Willie. All of them. And all of them signed by Walt Disney, who directed the effing thing himself!”

“Jesus, Telders, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Only you could pull off something like this.”

He laughed. “True. I mean, okay, they weren’t technically the original cels. And Walt Disney didn’t technically sign all of them, but what the hell, Kim Jong-il isn’t ever going to know, right?”

“What? You gave him fakes? Man, you better hope he never finds out.” I paused and scratched my head. “But I guess he’s probably dead anyway, if he was anywhere near Pyongyang when the fireworks started.”

“Oh,” Telders replied. “Don’t you know? Neither of the Koreas were even touched in the war, if you can believe that.”

“You mean we just went through World War III and no one thought to take a shot at North Korea?”

“Oddly enough. They don’t have nukes—at least not yet—so I guess they weren’t a huge priority.”

“I guess.  Japan survived as well. I wonder who else?”

“Thailand, Malayasia, Burma. A few others, not really sure. But most of Eastern Asia seems to have dodged the bullet.”

But, okay, so if the Koreas didn’t get hit, why the hell is the South shooting at you?”

“Well, the Koreas survived, but their allies sure as hell didn’t. And with China, Russia, Europe, and the U.S. obliterated to hell, there’s no one keeping these guys in check anymore. I mean, we’re probably five miles from the border and there are South Koreans all over the place.”

“That could get bad real quick. You may want to get the hell out of there, Mike.”

“And go where? Antarctica?” He laughed. “I like you Wayne, but it’s like 85 degrees here today. And at least there’s a functioning government in North Korea. I’m legal for the time being, and well protected, so I’ll pour me another scotch and see what happens. But let me know if it warms up down there.”

I shifted in the chair and switched ears. “Yeah, well, you see, Mike, I’m, uh, not exactly in Antarctica right now.”

“Huh?” I heard Telders set his glass down. “Not exactly, Wayne? Then, where should I stop sending your paychecks?”

“Telders, listen, we need to have a serious talk.” I lowered my voice. “How long would it take you to get to Tokyo?”

Full Stop

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Life ring

The four of us were fairly subdued from watching the reports on TV, and the conversation between was limited to little things that weren’t reminders of the war. I wasn’t hungry, but I ate to feel normal. I glanced at Kenichi as I sipped a bit of miso soup from the bowl. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t even looking. Since we’d seen the reports he’d developed a limp, unfocused stare, broken only by an occasional tremor or weary sigh.

“Kenichi,” I said, breaking the silence. “Your sister… there’s still hope for her.”

He didn’t understand. Takeshi adjusted his thick, black glasses, and translated. “Hope,” he said in English, then spoke the Japanese equivalent. Yumi looked at her hands.

Kenichi’s eyes darkened as he shook his head. “No. No hope. L.A. shinda. Yukichan shinda.”

I looked at Takeshi.

Shinda,” he said. “It means dead. L.A. is dead. And his sister, Yukiko….” He looked down without finishing.

“No, no, Kenichi,” I replied, leaning toward him. “We don’t know anything yet. She could have survived. My parents, my friends, they could have survived. We have to be strong while we wait for more information.”

Takeshi spoke the translation in a soft voice.

Dahmeh!” Kenichi screamed, and with a sudden swipe of his arms, he scattered his lunch onto the floor. The already quiet room went cold. “Dahmeh, Dahmeh!” he repeated. He jumped out of his chair and bolted from the dining room. I immediately got up to follow, but Takeshi yanked me back. “No. Respect him. Let him go.”

I shot a look of disbelief at Yumi, and she nodded. “Daijyoubu,” she said with soft eyes, gently motioning for me to sit.

I took my seat and pushed my tray forward. Yumi watched me for a little while, then went back to her lunch. A few moments later a worker came by to quietly clean up Kenichi’s tray. As I watched her picking up the bits of fish and rice with her hands, my thoughts began to wander to my own family and friends. Because we new almost nothing about the casualties on the ground, I hadn’t fully considered the possibility of all of them perishing in the blasts. I still held out hope that they were somewhere safe, that they’d had some kind of forewarning. Perhaps I was being dense. Perhaps, like Kenichi, I needed to start the grieving process.

“Wayne-san!” Said a gruff voice, interrupting my thoughts.

I looked up. Takeshi and Yumi were already getting out of their chairs, bowing to the gray-haired captain. He was flanked by two very serious looking, blue helmeted men.

“Yes?” I asked, rising from my chair.

“You come with us,” the captain said. He gestured to his men, and they circled around each side of the table, grabbing my arms.

“Hey, what the hell?”

Yumi’s eyes widened. She flashed a confused look at the captain, but he ignored her, and she didn’t push it. Takeshi also questioned the captain’s actions and he was given a terse response in Japanese. He looked at me askance, then nodded as if he understood.

“What’s going on here?” I said, stumbling over the leg of a chair.

“You are North Korea spy,” said the captain.

“What?!”

“We hear your phone call. You are spy.”

I laughed. “No, no, that’s insane. I am just a scientist. Telders, the guy on the phone, was only setting up a radio telescope in North Korea. Just like the one in Hokkaido. Nothing to do with the government. I didn’t even know he was there!”

“No more lies!” The captain shouted. He barked at his men and turned to go. They shouldered me to follow.

“Hold on!” I tried to hold my ground. “This is a huge misunderstanding!”

The guards shoved me forward. “Move!”

“Okay, okay, Christ,” I said. I didn’t want to make a scene. Yumi’s mouth hung open in disbelief as the guards dragged me away. Before we excited the dining room, I heard her voice, followed by a sharp rebuke from her brother.

We followed the captain up the stairs at the end of the corridor, heading in the direction of my room.

“This is a only a misunderstanding,” He didn’t even look at me. I repeated to the guard on my left. I checked the one on my right. “A translation problem, perhaps.” Nothing.

The guards escorted me to my little room. The captain stopped and turned to face me.

“Captain Moriyama, please,” I said. “I’m no spy.”

“Japanese police waiting you in Tokyo. No more talk. You are prisoner.” The captain waved his hand. “Sayonara, Wayne-san.”

He turned to go. He was just around the corner when the loud hum of the engines suddenly cut out, and an ear-splitting horn sounded throughout the ship. The captain spun back around and yelled something at the guards. One of them immediately took off, and the other squeezed my arm and yanked me forward. He ran fast, and I stumbled trying to keep up with him.

“Run!” He yelled in my ear.

“Why?! What’s going on?” I screamed over the wail of the horn.

“Run!”

“But…”

He loosened his grip so I could run freely. We cut through lower-deck toward the bow of the ship and clamored up the stairs. I briefly considered taking off, but I had nowhere to go. Plus, if we were all about to die or something, then that tactic might just work against me. I had no choice but to follow.

We broke out into the evening air. At the bow, a crowd of frantic sailors had formed at the rails, scanning the ocean. The sun was low in the sky and giant spotlights from atop the ship were searching the waves. The withering horn continued to blare: man overboard.

The guard took off, but I joined him at the rail and started looking. The sea was raging. I didn’t know how long whoever had been in the water, but he wouldn’t last long. The waves crashed hard against the prow, tall, vicious crests followed by brief, deep troughs. Nothing but water. I ran to the other side of the bow. Someone handed me a bright orange life ring and I slung it over my shoulder. Same story on the port side. I started scanning in ten degree increments. In the distance, the rest of the whaling fleet, three other ships, was slowly closing in, sounding their horns in unison.

Someone screamed. It was Yumi. I ran to her side.

Ah-re! Ah-re!” She yelled.

“Yumi! Where? Where?”

“Ah! Wayne-san! Mi-te, mi-te!” Yumi pointed at a giant wave. I watched, and after it had passed I saw a flash of white. A shirt. “Kenichi!” She hollered. “Kenichi!”

Oh God. Kenichi. I didn’t have time to think. “Move!” I shouted. Yumi jumped aside and I waited for the next trough, then flung the life ring into the hole. It landed only a few feet from the body, but Kenichi wasn’t moving. Panicked voices shouted, and few more life rings went out, peppering the water. Another wave crested over him, and he vanished.

“Kenichi! Kenichi!”

There was still a chance. I kicked off my shoes, climbed the rail, and dove.

I sliced into the freezing water and nearly sucked in a lung full of water from the shock. I tried to move as quickly as possible, but my muscles resisted. For a second I had no idea which way was up—the momentum had carried me farther down than I’d expected. I struggled against the icy water until I caught sight of a spotlight. I broke the surface at the prow, gasping for air. A sudden, giant wave slammed me into the hull, knocking my body against the hard steel. I tried to catch my breath, but a trough followed, and I knew I had to go, quickly. I dove into the base of the coming wave and let it crash over me. I came up to a chorus of excited voices from above. They were pointing toward the spot where they had last seen Kenichi. I dove under again and swam underwater for a good minute or so and came up underneath a life ring. I looked back to the ship for direction. The crowd was pointing straight down. I was in the right spot. Yumi and her brother were drawing out ladder. They tossed it over and started to lower it along the side of the ship. A flurry of life rings followed.

No time to waste.

I took another full breath and dove. The searchlights weren’t helping much beneath the water. I fought the current, reaching out, searching with my hands. Nothing. I surfaced and the waves blew me back to my original position. I was already exhausted. My skin felt like rubber. I cursed and I took another breath, then dove again, straining to swim out farther, deeper, frantically kicking and swiping the depths with my arms. My chest started to burn. I headed back up for air.

The current had carried me along the starboard side of the ship and I found myself dragging along the side of the hull. My shoulders exploded in pain as a row of barnacles ripped into my flesh. I howled and grabbed onto a cluster of them to catch my breath. I almost had nothing left.  What the hell was I doing? There was no way Kenichi had survived this long. No way.

Suddenly there was a scream from above. I whipped my head around and caught a flash of Kenichi’s white shirt. With quick breath, I pushed off from the hull and dove toward him with my arms out. I grabbed his limp body from behind and kicked my way back to the ship. The sailors above were moving the ladder toward us. I reached back and caught it with one arm, fighting to keep Kenichi’s head above water. The waves pounded, repeatedly throwing us against the hull. It was all I could do to hold on. I had nothing more. I felt the ladder jerk, as they tried to reel us in, and Kenichi’s body slipped. I tried to hold on, but my muscles protested. I couldn’t do it.

Kenichi fell, and I followed. I barely held on to him in the ocean, just enough to keep him close. There were a dozen life rings around us, and a few more dropped from above. I finally caught one and wrenched his legs through the hole. I managed to get another and wrapped it around his right arm and head, then turned him over. Kenichi’s face was still and white.

“Come on, Goddamnit!” I shouted.

The waves pushed us in toward the hull and down along the starboard side. More rings sailed through the air as they tracked us from above. I caught another one floating by, and hung on to it.  With my free arm, I grabbed Kenichi around the back of his neck, pinched his nose, and blew into his mouth. Nothing. I tried again. No response. I didn’t have any kind of leverage to do CPR; I tried to brace him against my knee and push on his chest, but it was impossible. I checked his pulse. “Goddamnit,” I whispered.

I floated in the water with him until the Nisshin Maru’s zodiac came for us. The two sailors in the boat pulled him in first, and then helped me up. They worked on him for a while, then shook their heads. Kenichi was gone.

They brought their Zodiac up with a giant crane on the stern. Kenichi’s body was moved to the deck. Takeshi and the captain stood over him as the ship’s doctor finally made the call.

A few of the sailors bowed to me as I staggered away. I found my way to the back of the crowd where Yumi waited. She covered me with a thick blanket.

“I should have gone after him,” I said. “In the dining room. I should have followed him. This would have never happened.”

She shook her head. “You are good man, Wayne-san. You did all you could.”

I looked back to the body on the deck. “No, Yumi, I didn’t. I was slow, weak, and I failed.”

A sailor brought out a green tarp to cover the body. Captain Moriyama looked up, caught my eye, and gestured to his guards.

I sniffed in response and leaned my head against the cold steel hull, watching as Takeshi and another sailor wrapped the body in the tarp.  The wind was blowing hard and they had to struggle to keep it from flying away. The captain handed them a roll of electrical tape and Takeshi held the tarp in place with his knee as they ripped pieces from the roll.

Yumi smoothed out a few wrinkles in the blanket. “They are wrong about you,” she said. “You are not spy.”

I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly as I watched the guards weaving through the crowd.

“I don’t know what I am anymore,” I breathed.

The wind kicked up and blew Yumi’s long hair into her face. She tucked it behind her ears, then moved closer to me and took my hand. “I fight this,” she whispered.

The guards closed in. “Okay,” one of them said, grabbing my arm. I didn’t fight it.

Saite!” Yumi barked.

The guard rattled off a few sharp words in Japanese. Yumi met him with a sneer.

“Let’s go,” he said, and yanked on my arm. Yumi flinched, and the other guard immediately flashed his palm at her. Don’t.

Baka!” Yumi growled at them as they pulled me away. “Baka! YAMERO!

Down Time

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Solitary confinement is lame. This is day six. Or maybe seven. I can’t remember what day I’m on and I’ve only been held in this goddamn place for about a week.

This room is a prison cell. I have four walls of green steel. It smells like old paint and salt air. There’s a door that opens into a really, really tiny bathroom where there’s a shower, a sink, a toilet and a mirror. Above the sink is a shelf. The shelf is boring. I don’t look at it much. Sometimes I sit on the toilet for no reason. I stood fully clothed in the shower once. Stupid.

The mirror. Ugh. The mirror is a problem. I look into the mirror and I see only myself. I talk into the mirror and I hear only myself. I’m not good company. I’ve already heard all my own jokes.

So… the following is a complete inventory of my personal effects and surroundings: two twin beds, a large desk, paper lamp, one set of clothes (soiled), another set of clothes (not so soiled, wet), slippers, plastic wrapper from slippers, a razor, a small sliver of pink soap, several hotel-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shaving cream. A couple of days ago, I tasted the shaving cream. Don’t try this at home.

For as sparse as the accommodations may be in this little room, I can only imagine what the Japanese holding cells will be like after we dock at Tokyo.

I have nothing here in the way of entertainment. There’s no TV, no radio, no books. Not even a plastic Buddha. The only thing to read is the 2010 calendar taped to the wall. It’s in Japanese. A few days are marked, probably holidays. May 3rd, 4th, and 5th looked like something to celebrate. I should remember to ask about that next year.

The artwork for the month of May is a derelict whaling ship beached on an icy shore. I’ve logged countless hours staring at this rusted old ship in the photo. The ship appears ancient. Maybe built in the Twenties or Thirties. I don’t know. Whatever. It’s old. Only the starboard side is visible. The ship is locked in on the top and port side by a huge snow avalanche that has cascaded into the water from above. The stern is almost completely submerged. The bow sticks up at a thirty-five degree angle. It’s rusted and abandoned and solitary.

They come with food and tea and nothing else. I don’t recognize the attending guard and he’s evidently been instructed not to speak to me. He’s courteous but stoic. He brings me food. I should be happy for that, I guess.

The tea is always cold and the meals are repetitive, but good enough. Usually fish, rice, a vegetable, and some kind of pickled something-or-other that is crunchy and sour. If I were being held in an American prison I’d be eating some kind of spit and gristle loaf and washing it down with weak Kool-Aid. So, I make a point to eat everything they give me. Aside from my morning crap, meals are the most exciting part of my day.

I’d sleep but it’s not easy. It’s not quiet here. Not at all. There’s a persistent sound that permeates every nook and cranny in the room – in the whole ship. It’s a deep churning, droning, rumbling thing that comes from the diesel engines. It’s a remarkably low and mournful sound. At night I toss and turn. I hate it.

I also hear the continual sound of water breaking off the bow and rolling away from the ship. Sometimes I hear horns, beeps, blats and spoken alerts in Japanese. Occasionally, a group will pass by my room and I’ll catch part of a conversation. I don’t understand what they’re saying and they don’t know I’m actually listening. This must be what it’s like to be an infant or a house pet, surrounded by noises and talk you can’t comprehend.

Christ, where is Spegg when I desperately need a hefty dose of his quirky craziness? Can he possibly be done haunting me? I look for Spegg out the porthole and in the mirror and under the bed… but he’s never there. Not even a shadow or a whisper. No tingling. No goose bumps. No madness. I guess the Lilith has run its course. I’m clean and sober now.

I lie on one of the twin beds and stare up at the ceiling. I’ve wadded up the plastic bag that my slippers came in and I’m tossing it up at the ceiling and catching it when it falls. I spent some time calculating the object velocity and distance traveled, as well as the time taken to achieve the given velocity and distance. That was fun for a while, but oddly enough, even math can get boring.

Toss the plastic ball wad. Up to the ceiling… and back down. Up to the ceiling… and back down again. Catch and release.

I once read Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault for a requisite Philosophy course at Yale. In it, Foucault wrote that solitary confinement was a subtle but incredibly powerful controlling mechanism. In extended periods of time, the pains of solitary confinement were supposed to be more effective than those of torture or threats of execution. One week in and I absolutely believe him. The only positive aspect of solitary confinement is that it gives you time to think. If you’re an innocent prisoner, you spend a lot of time thinking about what they’re doing to you. If you’re guilty, you think about what you’ve done. I guess I have both to think about.

I spent my time wisely. I thought long and hard.

Spegg was foremost in my thoughts. I’m just an astrophysicist, goddammit. I was there in Antarctica to do a job for Michael Telders. It was Spegg who landed his fancy space pod on top of my array and came dancing out with his crazy assortment of futuristic bio-engineering toys. He lured me in, juiced me up and turned me. Sure, it was good stuff. What rational scientist would turn away from an opportunity to play with knowledge and technology from 175 years in the fucking future? Mozart would probably shit his breeches twice if he was offered the chance to dick around with a new Roland Synthesizer Keyboard.

We did some crazy shit, Spegg and I. We trashed the lab, got high on Lilith, and played around with his golden computer. Those were the halcyon days, a wonderful state of drug-induced bliss. I only remember the high-level stuff now. We made really long-distance phone calls to all his friends in outer space. We played around with DNA and hatched an LMO-seal hybrid. We let that freaky thing run wild and feed on penguins. Good times.

Things quickly got out of control in Antarctica. I can’t shuck myself of the bad feelings from playing a part in the grand scheme of things. But I can rest in the knowledge that I was not entirely myself. The whole experience had its positive and negative aspects. When I was under the Lilith, I was overjoyed with most every little aspect of life. That shit’s like a massive dose of mood elevators, tempered with a sweet opium high. You’re blissfully okay with everything going on around you. You’re incredibly suggestible. Then a living modified organism that’s half human and half fish tells you that you’re going to help it call in a small army of the same fish-type creatures from 200+ Megaparsecs out and 175 years in the future. I was so zonked out that I couldn’t rationalize any aspect of what I was doing. Just let it all happen.

The Station soon became home base for nineteen more LMOs that Spegg had called up and directed to our location. This led to a raid by Russian soldiers and a subsequent raid by American soldiers. I was locked in a cage until the American forces released me. They were suspicious, sure. But at that point, I had been drugged up and locked up. I was innocent of everything except not reporting the signal I found and the arrival of Spegg’s pod. So, I made a run for the door.

The SEALs were all over me in a heartbeat. Not a wise choice. That shit almost got me transferred into the custody of American forces on a naval super carrier called the Nimitz. Fortunately, we had to ditch the naval helicopter they were transporting me with because Russian fighter jets decided to shoot the damn thing to pieces and send it all crashing into the water below. A Navy SEAL and I fell out of the sky and parachuted into the ocean where I kinda killed him and commandeered his boat. He was going to take me back to the authorities and have me tried in a military courtroom as a traitor to the country. Ever seen someone plead their innocence to a military court? Not good. It was a tough decision but that guy had so much flak in his abdomen that I had probably helped him avoid a slow death. Still though… I wince when I think about it. Jesus, what a world of shit.

From there, my ocean journey brought me here to the Nisshin Maru. It was then that I learned that the Russians attacked the American Navy off the coast of Alexander Island and touched off one great big motherfucker of a war. It’s like a really depressing and final Tom Clancy book. Everyone dies in a great big ball of fire. The big players – the United States, Russia, England, France, Canada, and Germany – they’re all gone. You like fine food, rock music, and fast cars? Find a new hobby.

Tensions are high. Having been found in a military raft in the middle of the ocean, I stick out like a sore thumb on a three-thousand pound gorilla wearing a pink ballet tutu. Needless to say, I attracted some serious attention. I made another mistake in phoning up Michael Telders at his new station in North Korea.

Fearing that I’m some super spy turncoat traitor, good old Captain Moriyama now has me all locked up in my little green metal room. Here I am, waiting to be turned over to Japanese authorities who are anticipating our arrival in Tokyo.

I don’t know how the Japanese managed to escape thermonuclear eradication but it’s now their planet to rule. It’s a brand new world. And the rules are being re-written on an hourly basis. Thinking about it makes me anxious. I have no idea how this is going to go down. I can only anticipate the worst. Great.

There’s one card up my sleeve. Unbeknownst to the people on this ship and the authorities I’ll meet in Tokyo. I’m one of the few living people on Earth who knows just what the hell happened and what precipitated that hailstorm of fission-boosted fusion weapons that left most of the planet uninhabitable. I may be able to hold out under questioning. It’s a relief of sorts that the Lilith is apparently out of my system. I can think a little clearer now.

Nevertheless, it’s going to be really interesting to try to explain all this shit to a bunch of over-anxious Japanese officials who have no reason to believe any of it. No sir, I’m not a spy or a traitor. I’m just a lab guy who befriended an alien creature from the future. Check me out. I’m an innocent bystander in this colossal fuck-fest we call The End of Civilization. Can I go now?

Even if the Japanese believed me and decided to simply let me go… where would I go and what the hell would I do for the duration of the Apocalypse?

That tears it. I gotta get out of here any way I can. Maybe Telders will know what to do. That would be cool. What I wouldn’t give to be safely back in Antarctica working for Telders. We were working on something really great together. Opportunity of a lifetime. It was gonna be huge.

Oh, well… Toss the plastic ball wad again. Up to the ceiling… and back down. Fuck. The wadded ball bounced off my palm and popped up behind the headboard.

I rolled off the bed and was about to fish it out, when I saw a scrap of paper lying against the baseboard. I looked up at the open porthole directly above. At first, I thought that some belligerent passer-by had thrown his trash into my little cell room. As I picked it up, I realized that it was intended for me. The small note had been carefully folded into an envelope shape. I pulled at the small tab in front and stared in disbelief at the words on the paper.

‘Wayne. Do not stop believe. – Yumi’

What did she mean? Was she trying to be encouraging? Was she a Journey fan? Or did she actually have a plan? I read it again and again, trying to discern her meaning.

I reached for my wad of plastic behind the headboard and bounced it on the back of my hand. Hrm. Perhaps fortune somehow smiles upon the doomed.

Japan

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Today for breakfast the guard brought a small portion of rice, weak miso soup, and two strips of raw whale meat. My guess is that the ship was running low on provisions and the crew was beginning to dip into their catch, because that was the first time whale appeared on the menu. Oddly enough it tasted more like beef or elk than something that would come out of the ocean, and there was almost no fat whatsoever in the meat. I finished quickly, setting the bento tray on the bed, and stared out the porthole into the rising sun. Japan felt very close. The other whaling ships were closing in, one of them clearly a harpoon boat, with its exposed kill weapon mounted on the bow, and several others further out, bright white rectangles cutting across the horizon.

I stuck my hand in my pocket and removed the now well worn scrap of paper Yumi had dropped through the porthole: Wayne. Do not stop believe. – Yumi. I turned it over, as I had done a thousand times, and a thousand times saw nothing new.

“You can’t trust her.”

“Heh?”

I turned to find Spegg, his sinewy arms folded over his chest, leaning against the far wall. It’d been a long time since I’d seen him, and the sight of his big, black eyes and thick, rubbery lips sent a jolt up my spine.

“Spegg.”

“Hello, Wayne.” Spegg leaned off the wall and surveyed the room. “I see you and the Japanese have had a falling out.”

I frowned. “What the hell do you want?”

“Ask yourself,” Spegg said, swiping a bony finger on my breakfast tray. He stuck his finger in his mouth and hummed. “Mmm. Delicious. You know whales were hunted to extinction in the early twenty-second century.”

I rolled my eyes. “Like I give a shit. What do you mean I can’t trust her?”

Spegg picked up the bento box and licked it. I sneered as he tossed it back onto the bed, smacking his lips. “The Japanese are a proud, tight-knit group, Robertson. There’s the Japanese, and then there is everyone else. Do you know what the Japanese call people who look like you?”

“Black?”

“No, asshole. They call you Gaijin. That’s what they call anyone who doesn’t look like them. It means foreigner. But not in the way that you understand it. Their definition goes much deeper than that. To the Japanese, gaijin means stranger, alien, and in some cases… enemy. But above all, it means you’re a lower class of human. And now that the entire Western world has gone up in smoke, they’re probably feeling pretty proud of themselves. Do you really think Yumi is going to risk her life for some bastard gaijin who doesn’t even have country?”

“I really hadn’t thought about it.”

“Oh, wow. Imagine, Wayne Robertson not planning ahead.”

“Fuck off.”

Spegg grinned. “Look out the window, Wayne.”

I shook my head and checked the porthole. “Oh, look… it’s the ocean.”

“A little to the left, buddy.”

I grumbled and pressed my face against the glass. There, creeping over the horizon, was the coast of Japan’s main island, and the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo.

“It’s bigger than I thought.”

“In less than an hour this ship will glide into port, and the Japanese military will escort you to another, probably much smaller room, where you will be interrogated, tried and convicted as a spy for North Korea, and likely spend the rest of your life in prison, or worse yet, traded to the DPRK in a prisoner exchange.”

“No, that’s not going to happen,” I said, drumming my fingers on the window. “I’ve got the truth on my side.”

Spegg shook his head. “The prisons are filled with people who have the truth on their side. You’re a goddamn scientist, Wayne. Surely you’re not that stupid.”

“I just need to make a convincing case.”

“Oh, right. Let’s see. You used a radio telescope to intercept a transmission from the future, and eventually brought a man/fish hybrid and a score of his friends through a wormhole to Antarctica where they were captured by the Russian navy, who got into a sea battle with the Americans, and somehow a nuclear bomb got loose and started World War Three. Meanwhile, the owner of the radio array, Michael Telders, an American celebrity playboy was supplying North Korea was cash and weapons so he could use their land for another radio telescope array, the very one which Japan refused to have installed in Hokkaido. And the only reason you made that call to him was to say what’s up, I’m going to be in Japan for a while, let’s meet for a drink and catch up.”

“Well, if you put it that way, it does sound a little weak.”

“A little? That story might even get you hanged.”

I rolled my eyes. “So what do you suggest I do? Kill everyone on the ship and drive this fucking thing back out to sea?”

“Now we’re talking.”

“That’s impossible. No… no way. Yumi is my only hope,” I said, glancing at her note. “I trust her. She’s got a plan.”

“You’re blind. You expect her convince the Japanese that you’re a decent guy and all this is just a big misunderstanding?”

“I don’t know. But she’s all I’ve got. She’ll come through. She has to.”

“Then I’ll see you in prison,” Spegg said. “Don’t bend over for the sushi,” he added, and vanished.

I took a deep breath and sat down on the bed. Perhaps he’s right, I thought. I looked at Yumi’s note, then crumpled it up and pitched it into the trash can. Fuck this. Time to kick some ass.

Just then Nisshin Maru’s air horn blared. I got up and checked the window. The fleet had drawn in close, and they each sounded their air horns in rapid succession. To my left, Japan was in full view. I clenched my jaw.

Suddenly there was a noise outside the door, and then the sound of a key wiggling into the lock. I spun around, clenching my fists, ready to sucker punch the guard, grab his weapon and start killing shit. The door swung open.

I flinched, ready to fight, but what I saw next stopped me cold. There, in the doorway, in a tight, black diving suit, with cold, determined eyes, and gripping a huge fucking gun, stood Yumi. At her feet was the guard’s crumpled body.

My mouth dropped open.

“Wayne-san!” She screamed. “Follow me now!”

Hurt Locker

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

red lamp

Yumi stared at me through her tight, black diving hood. I hesitated.

“Wayne! Go now!” She said, hastily checking the corridor for others.

“Wait,” I said, my palms toward her, “Are you sure you want to do this, Yumi?”

The girl’s eyes widened. Her hands were shaking, and I could tell she didn’t understand. “Go now!” She said in a fierce, urgent voice.

“Yumi, give me the gun and get out of here,” I said, reaching for the weapon.

She quickly yanked her hand back. “Why?”

“Look, I’m already in trouble. If you give me the gun, I can take care of myself. There’s no need for you to get caught up in all of this.”

She shook her head, frustrated. “No time!!”

Suddenly there was a noise around the corner. I couldn’t see from inside the room, but Yumi turned quickly and raised the weapon. A man shouted excitedly in Japanese. Yumi flinched, her gun barked, and whoever it was collapsed to the floor with a hollow thump. Yumi turned her head slowly to me. “NO. TIME.”

“Gotcha,” I said, and grabbed my shoes.

Yumi sprinted down the hall past the dead sailor, and flew down a staircase into the belly of the ship. I chased her past the kitchen and the lounge, and into a small, closet sized room at the end of the hall. Once inside, Yumi flipped on the light and quietly shut the door. She glanced at me, then pointed at a hatch in the floor. “This way.”

I nodded and yanked on the handle. Underneath, a ladder disappeared into darkness.

“Go,” she said.

“Where does this go?”

“Down.”

“Are we getting off the ship?”

Yumi glared at me. “Hayaku.”

I didn’t know the word, but I understood: Hurry the fuck up. I quickly put on my shoes, then turned around and stepped onto the ladder. The rungs were cold, and I shivered as I climbed down. Yumi followed, and pulled the hatch shut as I was stepping off onto the floor below. I rubbed my arms and waited. When Yumi was down, she flipped on a little flashlight and found a switch on the wall. A red light in a little protective cage flickered on above our heads, followed by a few more every ten feet or so that led out of the room and down a hallway.

“Come,” she said, and quietly jogged down the hallway past a row of heavy steel doors, each secured with thick, steel latches and fist-sized padlocks. Yumi paused in front of one of the doors, her breath visible in the dull, crimson light, and removed a key from a little zipper pocket on her right thigh.

“What’s—” I began, but my voice was immediately drowned out by the piercing shrill of the Nisshin Maru’s emergency sirens.

Yumi looked up, briefly, then narrowed her eyes, and snatched the padlock.

“That’s our song!” I said, raising my voice above the noise.

Yumi slammed the key into the lock and snapped it open.

“I hope you know what you’re doing!” I added.

The door swung wide, and Yumi flipped on the light. I recoiled, shielding my eyes from the bright, white fluorescents.

Yumi anxiously tapped me on the chest. “Wayne-san!”

I nodded, holding up my hand, waiting for my eyes to adjust. “Hang on.”

The shock passed momentarily, and when it did, I peered into the room. It was a room like any other on the ship: low ceiling, green walls, and a white tile floor. The only difference was—this room was filled with guns.

Yumi looked at me expectantly.

“Oh, God.”

Who Trains My Hands for War

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

chinese grenades

I’ve killed two people since I landed in Antarctica. One of them was in self defense, and the other, the Navy SEAL, well, you could at least argue self-preservation. But staring into that room full of guns, and the crooked path that lay ahead, I knew that once I slung one of those assault rifles around my chest, or clipped a grenade to my belt, I would no longer be just some hapless victim of circumstance. Whatever moral counterweight that had balanced the choices I’d made in the past… was about to come unhinged forever.

I glanced at Yumi, then stepped inside.

There were at least fifty Chinese-made AK-47’s racked side by side on wooden shelves, plastic drawers brimming with 9mm and .45 pistols, and scores of clips pre-loaded with ammunition. Leather gun harnesses hung on pegs above a couple of rectangular wooden boxes stuffed with paper ticking and hand grenades lined up in neat little rows like cartons of eggs. On the far wall was a rack of thin-bladed swords. Stunned, I gaped at the tiny arsenal.

“What in the hell does a whaling ship need all of this for?”

Yumi looked away, as if she were trying to process the English.

I did a little mime of a fisherman reeling in a catch, then looked side to side with my arms out. “Why?”

“Ah,” she said, a flash of understanding crossing her face. “In case of… pie-reh-to.”

“Pie-reh… oh, pirates?”

Un, hai. Pie-reh-to, deshou?

I laughed. “I didn’t realize Antarctica was such a hotbed of pirate activity.”

Yumi set her gun down on the table and raised her eyebrows to me. “Wayne-san,” she urged.

“Right. Okay.” I looked up at the wall of death, and grabbed a harness from a peg. I loosened the straps, and shrugged into it, then took a 9mm from a drawer. I ran my finger along the cold, metal barrel, and turned it over in my hands. Chinese characters were etched along the barrel and the handle. “Hey, what does this—”

“Watch,” Yumi said, snatching the gun away from me.

“Hey, I just wanted to know—”

Yumi raised her hand to shut me up. She pressed a lever above the grip and yanked the slide back. Showing it to me, she said, “Open.” She grabbed a clip from the drawer, jammed it in underneath the grip, and clicked the lever again. The slide released and shot forward with a ka-chink. “Closed.” Yumi flicked a lever on the slide and the hammer snapped shut. “Uncock.”

I let out a deep breath.

Looking downward, Yumi held the gun out in both hands, like a bowl of rice, and offered it to me with a deep bow.

“Something tells me that sailor wasn’t your first career,” I said, slowly accepting the gun.

Yumi cocked her head slightly. “Wakaranai,” she said. “No understand.”

“Just remind me never to lend you money,” I quipped.

She shook her head, then repeated the lesson for the AK-47. She slung it over my chest and tugged on the straps of my gun harness, making sure it was tight. When she was satisfied, Yumi began filling the little pockets with 9mm clips, shoving them in, and giving each one a double tap with her palm.

I felt like my mother was getting me ready for my first day of kindergarten. Bad, evil kindergarten.

“But mom, all the kids are going to make fun of me,” I joked.

Yumi was too busy clipping hand grenades on my harness to reply. I rolled my eyes and watched her slide the little key rings onto the hoops on my waist belt. She bit her lip as she was fastening them, and after each one clicked into place she’d tap on it, then nod her head slightly, almost like a little bow. I smiled a little.

When she was done, Yumi stood up straight and laid her hands on my shoulders. “Show time.”

“Wait,” I said. I looked her up and down, then pointed at the machine gun slung around my chest. “What about you?”

Un,” she replied, then brushed past me. At the far wall, Yumi looked up, and plucked one of the swords off the rack. She held the blade out vertically, then flicked her wrist and swung the sword side to side with a sobering whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. She dropped the blade to her side and pointed her brown eyes at me. “Only this.”

I grinned widely. “I can’t tell if that’s the scariest… or the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The corners of Yumi’s mouth turned up slightly. “Ganbatte, Wayne-san.”

“I have no idea what that means,” I said, yanking the 9mm out of the holster. “But let’s get the fuck off this boat.”

Sushiland

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Station151: Sushiland

Out in the hallway the alarms blared. As I pushed the heavy door shut, it scraped along the floor, following a dark, groove etched in the tile. I threw my shoulder into it a few times until it latched, then took the key from Yumi and jammed it into the lock. I turned the key hard, and with a click, the gun room was secured.

“Actually…” I said, twisting the key against the tumblers until it snapped. “Just in case they get any bright ideas.” I tossed the severed bow onto the floor, leaving the blade inside the keyhole.

Yumi nodded, her face emotionless under the hallway’s red lamps. She held her sword taut at her side, the tip pointing at the ground, and waited for me to move.

“Alright, let’s do this,” I said.

I jogged down the hall back to the ladder, the grenades thumping at my waist, and grabbed the rungs. The lights flicked off below as I felt around for a grip on the hatch. When I found it, I raised it just enough to see that the door to the room was ajar. Someone ran by, their footsteps drowned out by the sirens.

“Shit,” I said, quickly, dropping the hatch. “Yumi? Are you there?”

Hai,” her voice came out of the darkness.

“The door’s open.”

Hai,” she said again, whether or not she understood I had no idea.

“We’re gonna die,” I added.

Hai.”

Shit.

I shoved the hatch open and climbed out as quickly as I could. When I was up, I  helped Yumi out, then closed the hatch behind her. She noticed the open door immediately and flattened herself against the wall, out of view. I followed and we stood there for a long moment. The sirens were too loud to hear anything, but Yumi remained intently focused on the three inch gap between the door and the jam. I was just about to open my mouth when she looked at me and smiled.

Yumi flinched.

She burst through the door, her blade flashing.  There was an abbreviated shout, cut off by a shriek, as the tiny Japanese girl, in her black diving suit and ninja-like hood, plunged her sword through the chest of a helmeted guard. She ripped the steel out and the man fell—in slow motion—his eyes wide and frozen, his helmet tumbling from his head, turning end over end, as ribbons of blood twisted out of his flesh and loped through the air.

Yumi spun around, flicking the sword to her side. The guard’s body thumped onto the floor behind her.

“Let’s go,” she said coldly, little drops of blood dotting her cheek.

I had to will my gaping mouth shut. “Anything you say.” I drew my sidearm.

Still below deck, I followed Yumi down the port side toward the bow of the ship. I didn’t know where the hell this girl came from, or what she was thinking, but she wanted blood. We were already near the stern, and could probably have made a relatively quiet escape from the back of the ship, but Yumi was charging forward, where we would likely find the thickest resistance. I considered splitting off and fending for myself, but after seeing her wield a blade, I figured I’d be safer with her, no matter how deep the shit got.

The sirens were a serious problem. If anyone was coming, we wouldn’t hear it—and when they did, we nearly collided. Two sailors in blue hats appeared at an intersection, about a hundred feet into our jog. I put on the brakes and raised my 9mm, inches from the pair. I fired. My guy shouted something in Japanese an instant before the bullet ripped into his chest. I caught his eye as he stumbled backward, a look of complete surprise… surprise and bewilderment. As strange as it may sound, it felt good to take him out clean. No pain, no horror, just a flash of shock. He was dead when he hit the floor.

Yumi took care of the other blue hat. I didn’t look, just a slash or two and the splatter of blood in my periphery, coupled with a prolonged, agonized scream. Her kill wasn’t so clean.

We continued down the hallway, side by side this time, and banked right at the next intersection.

“Here!” Yumi shouted over the sirens.

She crashed through a steel door and we clamored down four sets of metal stairs without incident. At the bottom Yumi yanked open a door and I followed her into the engine room. It wasn’t what I expected. It was small and organized. The walls were clean and white (for now) and in the center of the room was what was probably the motor, a giant hulk of a thing covered in a plastic shell, also white. Innumerable pipes and ducts littered the ceiling. Along the far side of the wall were myriad instruments and controls, none of which I can accurately describe: wheels and levers and monitors and blinky lights will have to suffice. The three men sitting at the controls, and the other, who was leaning against the engine, started shouting as Yumi leaped into the fray.

Yumi led with a knife. Where the hell did that come from? It sailed through the air and found her mark—in the stomach of the man leaning against the engine. She immediately turned her attention to the closest guy at the console and raised her sword. The other two became intensely unaware of my presence as they glued their eyes to the bizarre sight of their friend’s head bouncing off a keyboard and tumbling through the air. Heads shouldn’t tumble—it’s weird and scary—so I took the opportunity to double tap them each in the chest, hoping to ease their minds as quickly as possible. They slumped over peacefully, and blinked out of existence.

The guy with the knife in his stomach wasn’t so lucky. He was screaming like fucking crazy. Yumi was already after him, ready to slice him into maki rolls, but I had a clear shot, and I took it. Yumi lowered her blade and glanced back at me, grinning; I even thought I heard her giggle. I shrugged and smiled. Weird.

I hadn’t had time to wonder what the hell we were actually doing down in the engine room, but Yumi quickly provided the answer. She stepped over the dead man, casually, as if he were nothing more than a mud puddle, retrieving her knife as she did. The engine had an access compartment, secured by two silver latches. Yumi snapped them open and lifted the clamshell, peering in as she wiped the blood from her knife on her leg. I stayed back as she reached in and severed a braid of thick, colorful wires.

The ship’s engines died instantly, and the whole fucking room went black.

Flashlight War

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Flashlight War

The engine room was on lowest deck of the Nisshin Maru—well under the water line—some twenty feet below, in fact. There were no windows down there, just heavy machines with steady lights, and bright sodium vapor lamps suspended two floors above our heads. So when Yumi cut the power, the engine room turned, not just dark, but pitch black, in the strictest, blackest, inkiest sense of the word. I kept waiting for a backup generator, or a few of those red emergency lights to kick in, but it never happened. We were dead in the water.

Yumi clicked her flashlight and swept the thin beam around the engine room as the Nisshin Maru’s powerful engine gasped and sputtered. The ship-wide alarm system had croaked along with everything else, leaving us with nothing more than the occasional, eerie groan from the hull.

I shoved one of the bodies from his chair and put my foot on the seat. “Yumichan,” I said. “What the hell are we doing down here?”

Matte,” Yumi replied, yanking an emergency flashlight off the wall. She turned it on and screwed a small orange signaling cone onto the lens.

“I don’t know that word,” I said. “But I hope it means that you have invisibility cloaks or laser guns or something because in a few seconds, half the ship is gonna be down here screaming the Japanese equivalent of WTF.”

Matte, matte,” she repeated.

Ugh.

Yumi turned to a large toolbox on a nearby table and set the cone light down next to it. She lifted the lid and started searching though it, her white light stuck between her teeth, until she found what she was looking for.

Atta!” she exclaimed, holding it in front of the light.

I scratched my head. “Duct tape?”

She smiled, picked up the orange light, and stuck it under her arm. Then she tore off a long strip of tape and started wrapping it around the handle of the orange light.

“Alright then,” I said, ejecting the half spent clip from my 9mm. I popped in a new one and racked a round into the pipe. A ka-chink! echoed throughout the quiet room. Cool.

I trained my ear toward the door, or at least where I thought it was, and listened. Nothing. I had to assume that they’d found the three bodies we’d left upstairs. Maybe they wouldn’t come down here at all. Maybe they’d just lock themselves in a safe room and call in the Imperial Navy. Either way, the window for our escape would close soon, if it hadn’t already. Nevertheless, I holstered the pistol and slid the AK-47 into my hands.

Yumi extinguished her white flashlight. All that was left was the dim glow of the orange cone. She drew a few arcs in the air, accompanied by the deadly swish-swish of her blade.

She’d taped the damn thing to her sword.

“Groovy,” I said, grinning.

Her lips curled into a devilish smile. The cone of light  swept down in a swift, coral arc and pooled on the floor.

Just then I heard the sound of a door. Someone was in the stairwell.

“Go!” Yumi whispered, then bolted across the room, the orange glow trailing behind her. She waved the light over the small flight of stairs that led up to the door, then extinguished it. Total darkness. I jumped up and felt my way over to the massive engine, nearly killing myself as I stumbled over knife-in-stomach guy.

“Hilarious,” I growled, and took cover behind the giant shell.

I pulled on the rifle’s slide and stuck a nervous finger in to make sure that there was a live round in the chamber. Okay.

The door creaked, and a beam of light peeked into the engine room. I crouched down out of sight and pulled the stock of the rifle close to my shoulder. Something clicked, followed shortly after by another click, then a third. Shit, they were armed. I peeked around the corner to find roughly eight men entering the room. The lead man had the only flashlight.

Yumi’s cone light flicked on. A long swath of orange cut through the darkness, forming a beautiful, electric parabola. The leader was, for a split second, bathed in a soft, orange glow: his mouth was wide open, his eyes frozen, gawking at the pretty, pretty citrus rainbow sweeping toward him. When the blow landed, his flashlight dropped to the floor and snuffed out. Only a minor gurgle escaped his throat. Then, thump-tha-thump said a couple of fleshy things as they hit the floor. Yumi snapped off her light and vanished into the shadows.

Silence….

The room suddenly erupted in wild, erratic gunfire. I dropped to my knees and scrambled backward, watching as the walls and the faces of the dead men flashed in concert with the hail of bullets. I took cover behind the rear-end of the engine as lead whizzed over my head and exploded into sparks on the nearby control panels. I desperately wanted to leap up and spray the shit out of the crowd, but I had no idea where Yumi might be hiding. I was stuck there until she gave me a sign.

One of the men started howling. I leaned and checked the corner. In the strobing light of gunfire, one of their own staggered sideways and collapsed in a ridiculous, funhouse-like, snapshot motion.

Amateurs.

Another one shouted above the din and the shooting instantly stopped. I flattened myself against the engine and held onto a breath as I listened. Where had I heard that voice before? I imagined the faces and the voices of all the people I’d met on the Nisshin Maru, but it wasn’t until he spoke again, softer this time, that I recognized it. The captain was here. I didn’t understand what he said, of course, but a few seconds later another flashlight clicked on. The walls and the ceiling slid into view. Bullet holes littered a cluster of pipes directly in front of me. A black telephone receiver hung from its shattered base, dust particles clogged the air, and grit and debris covered everything. Oh, and one of my shoelaces was untied.

Click… ka-chink. Someone was reloading.

The captain whispered something and the light grew a little brighter. Footsteps advanced in my direction. I squeezed the rifle’s wooden grip, ready to spring if he got too close, when I noticed Yumi, kneeling between two giant water tanks on the opposite wall.

That was my cue.

I rolled and fired a quick burst at the encroaching light. Its owner shrieked and clamored backward as his flashlight went spinning toward the floor, then blinked out. Several people gasped. Would they never learn? I rolled again and emptied the clip at the sounds. The room lit up again. Bullets, like angry bees rushed over my head and rattled on the wall. I scampered back to the cover of the engine and heaved the spent clip across the room. The noise instantly drew the fire away. Awesome, I thought that only worked in movies.

I yanked a fresh magazine from my belt, just as a broad, orange wave exploded out of Yumi’s hiding spot and morphed into a swirl of twirling figure eights.

I peeked my head out and watched as the tangerine ribbon illuminated the face of its first victim. He took a swift, deep cut to the jowls, but not deep enough: his head hinged back and dangled over his shoulders, still attached by a few bits of stubborn flesh. Amazingly, he stayed up for a good two seconds before he toppled backward, and landed right on his face.

Yumi’s blade darted off, painting a chaotic mess of color between the two remaining men. I thought I might have a shot at one of them, but the girl was everywhere. I crouched and crept along the side of engine so I’d have a clearer shot if the opportunity presented itself.

Gunfire resumed.

Yumi immediately ducked, her blade sweeping a wide halo a few inches from the floor. Her intended victim saw it coming and jumped, barely escaping a double amputation. He raised his weapon again as Yumi darted away. I took aim and let him have it. He crumpled to the floor and I bent around the engine to see if I could get a beat on the last man. He started firing randomly at Yumi and I.

I ducked down, when Yumi suddenly gasped, and I heard her sword clatter on the floor.

“No!” I shouted, and leaped up to unload on the last man.

A white light flicked on. And there was Yumi, perfectly intact, positioned directly behind the captain. A knife gleamed at his throat. She grinned widely at me, then whispered something sweetly into the captain’s ear.

He dropped his gun.

“Jesus, I thought you were dead,” I said, stepping out to retrieve the pistol. I started to say something like “I could have killed you”, but my complaint was cut short as I slipped in a puddle of blood, and careened backwards like an idiot and landed on my head.

“Goddamnit.”

Yumi giggled. “Omoshiroi.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I got up, rubbing my neck. “Alright, move,” I told her, drawing my 9mm.

Matte!” Yumi yelled, holding up her free hand. “Hostage.”

Powder

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Yumi held Captain Moriyama from behind, her blade pulled taut against his neck. She spoke to the captain in a polite, almost sweet, tone, informing him, I guessed, of the natural consequences if he didn’t obey her every word.

The captain nodded and replied in curt, one or two word answers. Yumi nodded, smiled, and patted him on the head. “Iiko,” she said.

They appeared to have an arrangement. The captain would be our hostage.

“Let’s go,” Yumi said, handing me her flashlight.

I cupped it under the barrel of my rifle and followed as she maneuvered the captain through the door and up the stairs, the point of her sword nestled between his shoulder blades. Moriyama took great care not to make a sound, lifting his legs almost in slow motion, and gradually letting his weight settle on the steps. At the top he gently tugged on the door handle and pulled it open, making space for me to pass.

I crept through the doorway and swept the flashlight into the darkness.

“Clear,” I said.

Yumi didn’t budge. She cocked her head. “Daijyoubudesuka?”

“Uhh, what?”

Okay, Waynesan?”

I gave her the thumbs up. “Okay.”

“Okay,” the captain said in a deep baritone. “Okay doukay.”

Yumi smacked Captain Moriyama on the shoulder with her blade. “Ikou.”

They moved into the hallway and turned right. I hustled to the next corner to the long port side corridor and shined the light in both directions.

“I can’t see all the way down there,” I said. “But it looks okay.”

“Okay,” Yumi said, and rounded the corner.

I ran up ahead, swinging the light into the shadows. We passed a row of open rooms each furnished with one bed and one desk, and a familiar calendar of Antarctica on the wall. In one of the rooms there was an unopened can of Asahi beer lying on the floor.

Yumi prodded the captain ahead and I swung around to check our rear. A faint yellow light suddenly appeared from the corner where we’d turned.

“Freeze!” I yelled, and sprayed a burst of lead down the hallway.

The light vanished. No thump, no bloodcurdling scream. It just sort of withered away into the darkness.

Captain Moriyama yelped. I spun around to find him against the wall on the ground, Yumi holding him down with her sword extended.

I rapped myself on the head. “Sorry,” I said. “False alarm. I’m seeing things.”

“Okay?” Yumi said.

“Yeah, okay. Sorry.”

Yumi yanked the captain off his feet and continued down the hall.

I followed, checking over my shoulder every few seconds. “Fuck this boat,” I mumbled.

“You’d be dead if it weren’t for this boat.”

I gasped. Suddenly, floating next to me in a bath of sparkling yellow light, was Spegg, the eight foot transgenic fish who had been haunting me ever since I left Antarctica.

“Holy fuck, get the fuck out of here,” I said under my breath.

“You put on quite a show in the engine room,” Spegg replied.

“Can’t you see I’m a little busy here, Spegg?!”

“If I’m not mistaken, you almost seemed to be enjoying yourself down there. All that shooting and killing and swordplay. I’m impressed, Robertson.”

“I do not enjoy killing people,” I said, flicking my light into an opened room.

Spegg pursed his giant lips. “Maybe, maybe not. But she sure as hell does,” he said, pointing a sinewy finger at Yumi.  “Quite the little dragon, that one. Fierce.”

“I guess.”

“I find that very attractive.”

I winced. “Gross, Spegg, what the hell are you talking about?”

“And I imagine you do too.”

“Oh Christ,” I growled.

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did. I mean, look at her. When was the last time you were with a woman, Wayne? Much less a broad who can take out a room full of armed sailors with only a sword?”

“Feel free to fuck off anytime, fish.”

“Fucking off,” Spegg said, and vanished into the wall.

“Waynesan!” Yumi shouted. “Naniwoshiteimasuka?”

I pointed the light down the hallway. They were already at the end. I cursed and ran toward them.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Okay?” Yumi asked, touching my shoulder.

The captain scowled at me.

“Okay,” I replied. I glanced at the captain and gave my rifle a quick pat. He made a brief growl of displeasure and looked away.

Yumi smiled, paying no attention to the captain. “Good,” she said, then gestured toward a set of stairs. “Onegaishimasu.”

“Gotcha,” I said. “Just a sec.”

I bounded up the stairs to the landing and swept the flashlight toward the next level. At the top there was a windowless steel door.

“Okay,” I said. “All clear.”

Yumi mumbled something to the captain and he started up. As she passed me on the landing she said, “Arigatou, Waynechan.”

“Anytime,” I replied. I checked the lower level one last time, then joined them at the top.

The captain slowly pulled the door open. Sunlight poured in. Moriyama stepped out first, then Yumi followed with her blade. I checked my shoulder, then headed out, shielding my eyes. The door clicked shut behind us.

We were in Tokyo bay. And surrounding the ship were at least a dozen police boats.

“Ah fuck,” I said.

Something exploded in front of us, and half a second later, a shot rang out.

“Snipers!” I screamed.

Captain Moriyama bolted, disappearing around the corner. Yumi growled, then yelled, “Go back!”

I grabbed the door handle and pulled. It didn’t budge. “It’s locked!”

“Run!” Yumi shrieked.

We ran across the deck as fragments of steel shattered around us, followed by the distant pop…pop of sniper fire.

Yumi ducked into another doorway underneath the main towers. We took the stairs down into a cold passageway. At the end of the hall, Yumi she wrenched open another thick, steel door. A flash of foggy, freezing air swept into the hallway. We rushed in.

Yumi closed the door behind us and set the lock. I rubbed my arms, looking around. Thousands of cardboard boxes were racked on stainless steel shelves, marked with Japanese lettering and little pictures of whales.

“Let’s go,” Yumi said.

We ran down the aisle to the other end to another door that led into a room filled with aluminum tables and packing materials stacked neatly on wide shelves.

At the far end was a downward staircase.

Yumi tugged on my arm and we clamored down the stairs. At the bottom there was a single red door, secured with a heavy padlock.

I scrutinized the lock, then raised my rifle.

Matte!” Yumi cried.

“What?” I said, lowering the gun.

Abunai, yo,” she said, brushing past. Yumi fished a silver key out of her pocket and waved it in front of my eyes. “Key.”

“Of course.”

Yumi removed the padlock, and tossed it on the ground. She paused for a moment in front of the door without opening it, then turned around. She bit her lip, staring at me.

“Waynesan,” she said.

“Yeah?”

She touched my shoulder, staring into my eyes, then leaned in and placed her lips against my cheek. “Suki,” she whispered.

My rifle nearly slipped out of my hands.

Yumi pulled away slowly, her cheek brushing against mine, then tapped her finger on my gun. “Careful,” she said, grinning.

I reached out to touch her and she batted my hand away.

Atode,” she said with a smirk, then grabbed the door handle.

The room, no larger than a walk-in closet, was packed with explosives.

Undone

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Solitude does things to you. It strips you down, peels away the layers that a healthy social life builds up over the years. Leaves you naked. Animal. Fractured and confused, you are a beast imprisoned by your own thoughts—your inner voice, becoming more delusional as time passes, divided into billions of grating seconds, desperate, almost screaming to get out of your head.

Imaginary companions come and go. Men with heads like fish shout at you, prod you to find patterns in the sound of the waves, the threads in your blanket. Others come with promises of help on their lips—bearing guns and swords, and perfect breasts.

Figments run amok.

It must have been the shock from the explosion that shook Yumi loose. One moment she was leaning against the hull with the detonator, the next she was a bad dream. In my mind she was simply short-circuited, or by-passed with a sudden, more sensible patch of neurons. No doubt the real version was locked in some safe room with her brother and the rest of the crew. But the sword wielding, bloodthirsty, imaginary Yumi—who I could still taste on my lips—was lost.

I pulled her “note” from my pocket and turned it over in my bloody hand. Just a corner torn from the calendar in my room. I let it fall.

In front of me the hole in the floor of the Nisshin Maru belched cold ocean water.

Panicked voices shouted from the floor above.

I adjusted the regulator and bit down. I dove into the Pacific. Alone.

Down

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The oxygen mixture purifies my lungs of the stifling breath of rust and whale guts. Under the Pacific I don’t even feel the cold. I dive, slowly making my way toward Tokyo Bay, the darkness, the solitude of the deep: almost like returning home.

The Japanese navy’s giant engines thrum overhead as I slide beneath their hulls. Yumi’s heavy accent plays in my mind.

My own lunatic voice.

I slowly kick my fins, breathing the cool oxygen. My skin feels clean. I feel the ocean nudging me forward.

Shallow waters.

Seaweed and mud.

Welcome to Japan, Wayne.

Boy

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Station151:Boy

The boy tilts his head as I emerge from the sea. I shrug off the scuba tank.

“I saw you on TV,” he says.

“Already?” I say, lifting my mask.

He stares at me, his eyes wide, curious. “Yes.”

“What are they saying?”

“Bad things.”

Water pours from my upended flippers. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“There aren’t many of you left,” he says.

The wet-suit comes off and sags against a stone under the pier. I’m down to my T-shirt and jeans. Soaking. No shoes. “Many of who?”

Gaijin.”

I pause, blowing into my cupped hands… “Yeah.”

The boy holds a small red ball. He squeezes it. LEDs flicker inside.

We both stare at the lights until they stop.

The boy raises his head. “There’s a bathroom with showers in the park.” He points. Not too far.

“Thanks, kid.” I reach out to ruffle his hair. My hand passes through him.

Right. The English should have tipped me off.

I won’t fight them anymore.

I gather the scuba gear and find a dark place under the pier. Wait for night.

Outside In

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I’m bored. I try to tell Wayne that we should go but he says not yet. Not dark enough.

The rocks are flat and round on the shore. I can’t pick them up.

There’s nothing to do.

I sit on a rotten board and wait. A tugboat goes by.

 

It’s dark now. He’s ready.

There’s a road ahead and a big building. We run like crazy and I’m running so fast I think my legs are going to fly off!

We hide in the shadows and it’s fun. Like a game. A business man walks right by us and doesn’t even see us!

We’re at a building where people live.

In a window an old man eats from a bowl with chopsticks. The TV is on and Wayne is on it! Then just a lot of people talking.

Wayne tries on clothes that are hanging outside the man’s window. He complains that they’re too tight.

Now we’re in someone’s apartment. Wayne is eating chicken and drinking beer. After that he finds some sweat pants and a sweatshirt that fits him “O.K.”

He’s wearing sandals. Then he shaves off all the hair on his head and face. He says Japanese razors are too small.

I make a big ball out of the hair while he’s on the phone.

When Telders gets here I want you to go inside out.

That’s what he says.

Tokyo Drift

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

“Are you fucking insane?” Telders said with his thumb on the rocker switch. The privacy window slid closed as the driver pulled out of the apartment complex. “The whole goddamn country is looking for you. I had half a mind to send the cops over instead.”

Two flat screen TVs, one in front of each seat, cast a bright, blue haze into the limousine.

“But I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt.” Michael poured a pale brown liquor into a highball and passed it over. “I imagine you had a pretty goddamn good reason for what you did.”

I held the glass in my lap. Through the window Tokyo tower loomed in the distance—an Eiffel Tower copy, slathered in orange and white. “I don’t know if my reasons were good.”

“Then it was necessary.”

I shrugged and tipped the glass.

“Jesus fucking Christ, man.” Telders punched a button on the remote. The TVs flickered to life. An NHK anchor was speaking over video of Japanese policemen who were pointing and commenting on a discarded, bloody sword on the deck of the Nisshin Maru. “Look at that. Fucking hard core man. Where the hell did you find a goddamn sword?”

I glanced away. “I don’t… really remember,” I mumbled.

“Fucking hard core,” he whispered.

Video of a tugboat pulling the hobbled Nisshin Maru through Tokyo Bay played while the newscaster spoke in grave, even tones. A string of kanji crawled along the bottom of the screen.

Telders paused the TV. “Alright. We’ve got to get your ass out of Tokyo.”

“And where is my ass going?”

“Hokkaido,” he said, refilling my glass. “Station Twelve. It’s not completely finished, but we can stay there until we figure out what the hell to do.”

“Home sweet home.”

Michael tapped the bottle of scotch against my glass, laughing. “Fucking Wayne Robertson. You’re a goddamn madman…. Who knew?” He rolled his eyes and upended the bottle.

Night

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

The driver drove swiftly and steadily out of Tokyo and into the country. Anonymous farm towns and flashes of kanji rushed by the windows. We kept the televisions off.

We spoke nothing of the war. Or of the worldwide Array. And I was pleased that Michael didn’t push me for any more information about my activities aboard the Nisshin Maru.

We talked about women—mostly his—and smoked Korean cigars.

When the scotch was spent, Telders pulled another bottle from a little cabinet by his leg. A drawing of Kim Jong-il graced the label. He poured its contents into the crystal decanter, then rolled down the window and the Dear Leader went spinning into a field.

Mike was a seasoned storyteller and he could go on for hours without requiring any input whatsoever. It felt good to relax. To be in the company of an old friend. To hear stories of people and places I knew. And for a time I completely forgot about everything that had happened and just listened. I felt normal again.

I must have dozed off after a while because Telders was suddenly shaking me and the car was silent and still.

“What? Are we there?”

“We’re here,” he said. He put a bottle of water into my hands.

“Station12?”

“Not yet. Take a look out the window,” he said, fingering the switch. I yawned and stuck my head out. The Lincoln’s high beams illuminated a baby blue Bell 222 helicopter parked in an empty field.

“Fancy. Does it have a bar as well?”

“Dumb question,” Telders said. He rapped on the privacy window. “Let’s move out, Jun.”

The privacy glass disappeared into the console.

“Leave the car here?” The Korean driver asked in perfect English.

“Burn it,” Telders replied.

“Yes sir.”

We watched the limo blaze as the Bell ascended into the sky.

Brownstone

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Brownstone

Telders cooked a batch of bacon and eggs in the Bell’s kitchenette and we ate and watched the dawn break over the Pacific. He made fresh coffee and served it in ceramic mugs bearing Station12’s logo—an outline of Hokkaido with a black radio telescope centered in the middle. On the reverse, “Station12” was written in Roman letters.

“I’m glad you’re here, Wayne,” Telders said, staring into the rising sun. He turned and grinned. “Even if you are fucking nuts.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“No, I mean it.”

I scowled at him.

“I mean—I’m glad that you’re here. I don’t have a lot of good friends. Especially after the bombs fell.” He rotated the coffee mug on the table. “Maybe even before that.”

“What are you talking about?” I said. “You know more people than anyone I’ve ever met. You’re on a first name basis with politicians, celebrities, models… and not just the upper crust, either. At school I remember you high five-ing the janitors in the halls. You’re the definitive everyman, Telders.”

“So I know a lot of people. But under the surface there’s nothing really there. Those people aren’t true friends. They’re more of a means to an end.”

“So you’re saying you’re lonely?”

“I dunno,” Telders said. “I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate having an old friend around. Even if we were never that close. I always admired you, in fact.”

I laughed at that. “Why would you admire me? I like math and computers and comic books. I avoid people almost all the time.”

“You see? That’s what I’m talking about. You don’t mind solitude. You get off on it.”

I raised an eyebrow.

Telders continued: “I’d love to have the ability to just leave everyone and everything behind and live in a shack in the middle of Antarctica for six months.”

“Don’t be so sure. The solitude is nice… but it can turn on you. Trust me.”

Michael slowly sipped his coffee. After a long moment, he said, “Is that what happened to you?”

I drummed my fingers on my forehead. “It’s a long story.”

“Alright,” Telders said, placing his hand on my shoulder. “We’re about to land anyway. Perhaps we’ll continue this some other time.”

I nodded as the helicopter started its descent. The distinct Y-shaped configuration of the Array marked the swath of retired farmland that was Station12, Hokkaido. In the distance there was a small town, home to probably no more than 3000 people, and a variety of small mountains on the horizon. Other than that, it seemed we had the place to ourselves.

The Bell landed on a small helipad about thirty meters from the main buildings. I squinted through the window. “What the hell?” I said, using my sleeve to clear the fog. There, basking in the first rays of the morning sun, 11,000 kilometers from New York City, quietly nestled in an abandoned rice field in the middle of Japan, was a four-story brownstone. Stoop and all.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I said. “That’s Station12?”

Telders grinned. “Why not.”

F7U12

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

F7U12

Warmth.

And darkness.

For a moment I had no idea where I was. I was in a bed. A strange bed. I rolled out and landed on thick carpet. A dim indicator light glowed on the wall a few feet away. I shuffled over and touched it. The room lights came on.

Right.

I was in one of the operator’s quarters on the top floor of the brownstone. I’d slept for nearly 24 hours. Still in my clothes.

The room was sparsely decorated. Modern, simple. Just the bed, a comfy looking leather chair, and a large wooden desk with a notebook PC and a silver, hooded lamp on top of it. The walls were decorated with hundreds upon hundreds of 2×4 planks, planed and layered on top of each other and covered with a walnut stain. On the wall opposite the bed was a framed, poster sized photograph of another Telders Array situated in a clearing surrounded by jungle: Station162, Madagascar.

A door just to the left of the photograph led into the bathroom. I stripped off the ill-fitting clothes I’d taken from the Tokyo apartment, while staring out the window at the Array field. Perhaps I’d have a chance to get reacquainted with my work. Perhaps I’d be able to put this whole goddamn nightmare behind me.

The shower was huge—big enough for three or four astrophysicists—and it had two heads. I ran them both just for the hell of it.

Michael left me some clothes on the bathroom counter: some Levi’s, white tube socks, a cream colored Izod sweater, and a pair of Adidas sneakers. Everything fit.

After I got dressed I took the stairs to the first floor and went out on the stoop. It was warm and the air smelled fresh and clean. The first rays of the new dawn were peeking over the horizon, casting a yellow glow onto each of the twenty radio antennas. They were pointing straight up.

Why I didn’t choose Hokkaido over Antarctica, I’ll never know.

I stayed there for a while, and when the light got better I noticed Jun, Telder’s Korean driver and helicopter pilot, walking the grounds. There were other guards as well. I counted five in all. And they all had automatic rifles.

I went back inside to find Michael. I wasn’t sure where his room was so I wandered the brownstone until I heard his voice. It came from the kitchen on the third floor. I went in and found Telders standing over a stainless steel range, moving eggs around in a frying pan. Seated at the table was a young Japanese girl in a loose white camisole and matching capri sweatpants. Her right leg was crossed under her left on the chair and on her legs she wore thick, white cotton leg warmers. Her hair was tied up in a loose knot on top of her head. Blonde. She laughed at something Michael said.

I turned to go.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Telders said. “You want some eggs?” He walked over and touched me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, she’s cool,” he whispered. “Yumi has no love for the whaling industry. In fact she said she’s a little disappointed you didn’t kill ’em all. Her words, not mine, man.”

“WHO?”

“Her name’s Yumi. She showed up last night.” Telders paused. “Come on in and say hello.”

I turned around, slowly. The blonde hair had thrown me off. But everything else was the same. It was her. Not the figment. The real Yumi was sitting in Station12’s kitchen, casually eating breakfast in her jammies.

Telders shoved a plate of eggs and potatoes in my hands. He gestured toward the table. “Wayne, Yumi—Yumi, Wayne.”

Yumi grinned and stuck out her hand like a stranger. “Nice to meet you, Wayne. You’re very lucky to have such a friend, wouldn’t you say?”

Stunned, I swallowed and took a seat. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“Ha, you guess!” Telders said, flipping a pancake.

“Michael tells me you’re quite the scientist,” Yumi said.

“Oh he’s a huge nerd,” Telders quipped.

“That’s right,” I said, feigning a smile.

Yumi laughed and poked at her potatoes.

I waited for Michael to look away, then leaned in and mouthed the words “What the fuck?”.

Yumi cocked her head. “I’m sorry?”

I leaned in even more, almost lying in my breakfast, and whispered: “What are you doing here? What’s with the English?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Oh, come on,” I snapped.

Telders hummed a few bars of “Come Fly With Me” as he sashayed over with a plate of pancakes. He checked us both. “What’s going on?”

Yumi looked up and opened her mouth.

“Nothing. What the hell did you put in these eggs?” I said, plucking something hard and weird off my tongue.

Telders set the plate down. “Sorry, I’m not much of a cook,” he said with a shrug. “My one and only flaw.” He narrowed his eyes at Yumi. “You okay?”

“Sure, sure. I’m fine.” Yumi set her fork down and stood up. “But I should get dressed.”

“Alright,” Telders said. “Why don’t you come down to the lab afterward. We’re going to see if we can’t get the Array online.”

“Or you can come back to bed,” she grinned, sliding her fingers through his hair.

Michael cleared his throat.

I clenched my fist.

“It was nice to meet you, Wayne-san,” Yumi said, fully composed.

“Yeah,” I replied.

After she’d left, Telders let out a deep breath. “Holy shit, man. She’s a fucking firecracker. I tell you, these Japanese—”

I slammed my fist on the table. “Where the hell did she come from?” I growled.

“Whoa!” Michael laughed. He raised his hands. “Settle down, man. She showed up last night out of nowhere. And who am I to turn down a beautiful woman? It’s just common courtesy, dude.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little unusual, Telders? A strange woman shows up in the middle of the night and slips into bed with you for no apparent reason? Don’t you think that’s a little suspicious? Just a little?”

Telders scratched his head and smirked. “It’s not that weird. Kind of—uh—kind of standard, actually.”

I dropped my head back and exhaled. “Right, of course. The consummate playboy.”

Telders sat down and popped one of Yumi’s potatoes into his mouth. His tone turned serious: “Wayne, what’s the problem, man?”

I looked out the window. I couldn’t figure it. What in the hell was she doing there? How did she find me? Why was she speaking perfect English? And why the charade? None of it made any sense.

And I couldn’t fucking believe she slept with him.

Telders put his hand on my shoulder. “Relax, buddy. You’re grinding your teeth.”

“Sorry,” I said, pretending to shake it off. I took a dramatic deep breath and blew it out. “I’m just paranoid, you know. If the Japanese find out I’m here….”

“I know,” Telders said. “But you’re totally safe. Yumi is cool and Station12 is very well guarded.”

I nodded. Fuck you.

“Now, let’s finish this stack and get to work,” he said, and dropped a heap of pancakes on my plate.

I stabbed them with my fork.

It’s My Life

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Tux

The pancakes sat in my gut like a bag of hammers. Telders led me down to the lab and flipped on the lights. The room smelled like fresh plastic. Everything was new, untouched. I sat down at the terminal and punched the power button. Tux, the familiar Linux penguin, customized with a satellite dish for a head, appeared as the system loaded.

I ran my fingers along the keyboard. It was the only thing that wasn’t new. Every station was equipped with at least one IBM Model M keyboard. The kind with the loud, klacky buckling springs. I punched the shift key a few times. Nice.

When the server came up I logged in and launched “Noah”, the cutely named interface for the ARC node, and attempted to send it a wake command. After thirty seconds it timed out: ARC-Node 12 UNREACHABLE.

Telders put on Bon Jovi and started playing air guitar while I worked. He sang along.

This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted. WHOA-WHOA.

“The ARC node isn’t responding,” I said. “Have you checked it?”

“Nope… silent prayer for the faith departed. WHOA-WHOA.

Every time he did the “WHOA-WHOA” he’d jazz his hands. I scowled at him.

And I ain’t gonna be just a face in the crowd. You’re gonna hear my voice when I shout it out loud.

“Christ, will you turn that shit off?” I yanked the cord out of the mp3 player and tossed it into a box of miscellaneous hardware.

“Ah, man, the best part was coming up.”

“There is no best part, Telders. It’s Bon Jovi.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “It’s all the best part. It’s my LIIIIIFE! It’s now or NEVER!” He yelled, strutting out of the room, pumping his fist. “You want some coffee?” He screamed from nowhere.

“No,” I mumbled, my keystrokes ringing out on the old keyboard. I decided to run an integrity check on the grid. All of the dishes reported in, as well as the main power supply to the ARC. Everything seemed normal. “Fuck it,” I said, smashing CTRL-Z. I grabbed a laptop and a serial cable and went for the door.

“You going out to the thing?” Telders had a glass of coffee—a glass—and took a sip with his pinkie extended.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes. We can’t do anything if the ARC is offline.”

“Cool, man. I’ll hang out here.”

“Whatever.” I brushed past him and wrenched the door open.

As I walked across the field, I heard him shout: “I just wanna live while I’m alive!

Excerpt From the ARC12 Manual, Annotated

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

ARC 12
ARC Node at Station12

Introduction

The ARC, or Array Relay Cell, serves as a field controller for Station 12’s interferometer. Each of the twenty dishes can be manipulated from the ARC directly, or interfaced on the network from a remote location, such as the Brownstone.

If communication is broken between the lab and the ARC, an operator can work directly from the Cell until communication is restored. Signals that are received from each dish are crunched and combined at the ARC, so it’s more than just a relay device, it’s also a processing hub.

Signal combination can be performed with software on the lab’s servers, but it is very slow and used as a last resort if the ARC is damaged (or burned to the ground by drunken station operators).

The size of the ARC really depends on the environment. At Station151 in Antarctica, where construction and materials costs are astronomical (no pun intended), the ARC is small and can barely fit one operator and his husky. At Station12, however, the ARC could easily house a crowd of astrophysicists and is great for public tours of the facilities or escaping the hell on Earth that is Bon Jovi.

Welcome to the ARC

Monday, January 17th, 2011

[root@station12_LAP7 root]# dmesg | grep tty
ttyS0 at 0x03f8 (irq = 4) is a 16550A
ttyS1 at 0x02f8 (irq = 3) is a 16550A

[root@station12_LAP7 root]# setserial -g /dev/ttyS[01]
/dev/ttyS0, UART: 16550A, Port: 0x03f8, IRQ: 4
/dev/ttyS1, UART: 16550A, Port: 0x02f8, IRQ: 3

[root@station12_LAP7 root]$ ps -ef | grep agetty
root 958 1 0 Jul13 ttyS0 00:00:00 /sbin/agetty -L -f /etc/issueserial 9600 ttyS0 vt100
root 1427 1 0 Jul13 ttyS1 00:00:00 /sbin/agetty -L -f /etc/issueserial 38400 ttyS1 vt100

ARC12
Connected on ttyS1 at 38400 bps
0 users

ARC12 login: wrobertson
ARC12 password: ****************

Welcome to the ARC, Wayne Robertson.

You have 1 unread message on SATMail

wrobertson@ARC12>pine

PINE 3.96 FOLDER INDEX Folder: INBOX Message 1 of 1 NEW
+ N 1 Jun 10 Spegg (1,057) Get Your Ass Back Here, Chikushou!

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Message 1 of 1

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
PINE 3.96 MESSAGE TEXT Folder: INBOX Message 1 of 1 TOP
Date    : Wed, 10 Jun 2011 13:40:22 +0000
From    : Spegg (spegg@SATMail)
To      : Wayne Robertson (wrobertson@SATMail)
Subject : Get Your Ass Back Here, Chikushou!

—————————————-

You really fucked things up for those sailors, Wayne. Well done.

I built a satellite receiver and I’ve been watching the coverage of your rampage on Japanese television. Captain Moriyama went into gruesome detail about how you sliced his crew to ribbons with a fucking Samurai sword.

That pleased me greatly.

However, Moriyama also mentioned that during the time you held him prisoner you spoke to people who weren’t there. People who were helping you: someone named Yumi, and another called “Supegu” (sic). That was fun to hear. However, this news can only mean that the Lilith has been tormenting you. I am sorry for that. I have not been spared, myself. I have had vicious arguments with a Wayne-like apparition on more nights than I care to remember. I see others, including the son of a bitch who tried to kill me on the Shinkai Maru 5, but I’ve learned to ignore them. Such is the curse of the Lilith.

Please know that this will all be over when we are reunited. Have faith and be strong.

I have many stories to convey to you, as much has happened in such a short time. Our abductors were strong, but not enough. The other LMOs fought with great courage and no mercy. Many fell, but those who survived I dispatched to the corners of the Earth. They will deliver our message to those who remain.

A new plan is in motion that will pave the way for your long journey home. You will know it when it comes.

It is cold here. The middle of winter. But I’ve been fixing the place up. You might not even recognize it.

Goodbye for now, Brother
Spegg

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Sakura Matsuri

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Sakura

A new plan is in motion that will pave the way for your long journey home. You will know it when it comes.

Spegg’s words played in my head as I shuffled back to the brownstone. Like it or not, I was bound to this creature. I could live out my days apart from him and put up with the ghosts and the figments, and face the very real possibility of being caught and strung up by the Japanese, or I could return to Antarctica and raise an army of genetic horrors to supplant the human race.

Yeah, I’ve never really been a people person.

On the north side of the brownstone stood a lone cherry tree, its blossoms withering as the season wound to a close. A wide halo of fallen petals ringed its trunk. I stepped into the circle and reached for one of the few blossoms still clinging to life. The soft pink petals easily shrugged off and slipped through my fingers. They swayed back and forth as they fell, almost in slow motion, as if each petal was hitched to an invisible, timeless pendulum.

A rare smile crossed my face.

I snapped a branch off the tree and a liberated the remaining flowers with long, sweeping attacks, striking upward, then slicing down, shouting victoriously as each bloom fell, like a child embroiled in an elaborate pirate fantasy. Plumes of sakura guts filled the sky.

When it was done, I bent over to catch my breath as the last few petals settled into the grass. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the Korean guards paused for a smoke on the opposite side of the brownstone. We locked eyes for a moment as he pulled on his cigarette, unfazed—the numb expression of someone who’d seen everything.

I stood up nodded to him, but he simply turned, flicking his butt into the field, then shambled off in the other direction.

Chikushou,” I muttered, tossing the stick aside.

The Stolen Child

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

The Stolen Child

Cold air inside the brownstone. The door latch clicks. My feet heavy on the wooden stairs.

The boy follows a few steps behind. Breathing quickly. His shoes have holes and his lips are chapped.

He will follow me to the bottom of the world.

“Don’t forget your coat,” he will say.

I’ll give him a thumbs up as I shrug into a yellow parka from the closet. Then I’ll quote Yeats as I’m packing my bag:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

He’ll smile and bow theatrically. One hand on the heart and the other twirling over the head.

But I raise my hand and he knows it’s not quite time. Cartwheels down the stairs and out the open door.

My heart tumbles after him.

Mild Seven

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Mild Seven

I have Telders in a headlock.

Yumi screaming—jumping up and down—arms flapping—cursing in two languages.

Telders stumbles into his desk. Station39 coffee mug backflips into the wall. Acorn-style Tiffany lamp explodes into chunks of glitter.

I take an elbow to the gut. Recoil into the bookcase. AKAI reel to reel machine and a pile of 7-inch tapes hit the floor with an expensive crash. Dvorak’s New World Symphony screeches to a halt.

Mother fucker mother fucker mother fucker is Yumi’s new thing.

I charge the bastard. Head to the gut. He makes a yuurrrrgh kind of noise. Staggers back out of reach.

I’m out of breath. It’s a mistake.

Telders pounces. Goes for my legs. The room nosedives, rolls sideways.

I’m down. Telder’s armpit is in my mouth. Smells like meat. He rubs it around as retch and squirm.

“Christ,” I say, my voice muffled. “You smell like a horse.”

Michael laughs. Instantly I’m laughing with him. It hurts, but I can’t stop. I laugh even harder.

Telders releases me with one last light jab to the gut, then rolls over onto his back.

“All too easy,” he says, breathing hard.

“Ha, whatever. I had you dead to rights.”

“You wanna go again?”

I take a few breaths. “Maybe later,” I say, and brush bits of Tiffany lamp out of my hair.

We both notice Yumi at the same time. She’s in a huff. A steaming, white knuckled, angry little huff.

“Relax, dear, we’re just fuckin’ around,” Telders says.

She shrieks and storms out of the room. A flurry of Japanese echoes in the hall.

Telders shrugs. “Women.” He gets to his knees and crawls over to a pack of cigarettes on the floor. Shakes a couple out.

We sit in the rubble and smoke.

Nowhere Man

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Nowhere Man

Telders came back with a broom and started sweeping up the glass from the broken lamp.

I took a seat on the chaise lounge and supervised.

He made a small pile next to the trash can, then leaned the broom against the wall. Frowning, he stared at the smashed reel-to-reel machine on the floor. “Shit. That was a nice deck.” He nudged it into the corner and wrapped the cord around the bent reels. “Oh, well,” he said, then went to the cupboard and pulled out another one.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“Always have a spare,” he smirked, setting it on top of the receiver. After hooking up the power and the audio cables, Michael picked up one of the boxes on the floor and turned it over. “You like the Beatles?”

“I’m more of a Stones fan, but I’ve been known to stray.”

“Blasphemy.” Telders removed the reel from its box and tacked it onto the spindle. He wound the tape under the tension arm, then under the heads, and fed it up through the take-up reel. He turned it slowly, until the tape caught, then flipped a lever, and the reels started spinning.

A fifty year old harmony echoed on the hi-fi:

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Doesn’t have a point of view
knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

“I swear this song was written for me,” Telders said, pouring a Japanese scotch into a used wine glass. “You want some?”

“I’ll take the bottle,” I said.

“Good man.”

I laid back on the chaise and upended it.

Nowhere Man please listen,
You don’t know what you’re missing
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command!

“I never understood that part,” I said.

“It just means you won’t change the world until you get off your ass.” Telders paused for a drink then shrugged. “At least that’s the way I take it.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Lennon wracked his brain trying to write this song. Sat there for hours and hours trying to come up with something. Finally he just gave up.”

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

“Well, yeah. But the song didn’t come to him until the very moment that he said fuck it and went and laid on the couch or something. Then the whole damn thing just popped in his head.”

“Strange how that works.”

“Yeah. I guess sometimes you just gotta stop thinking and let the universe figure it out for you.”

I set the bottle down and stared up at the ceiling. I closed my eyes and cleared my mind as “Nowhere Man” played out….

During the brief pause before “Dr. Robert” I lifted my head. “Telders?”

“Yeah, buddy?”

“I’m going back to Antarctica.”

Alea Iacta Est

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Alea Iacta Est

“Alright, let me get this straight,” Telders said, drink swirling. “He came from the future.”

“Yes.”

“Through a wormhole.”

“Uh huh.”

“And he’s a fish.”

“Yeah.” I said, scratching my head. “His name’s Spegg. But he’s not actually a fish. He’s referred to as a transgenic. Sort of a hybrid between fish and human. More human than fish I think. That’s the way it looks to me at least. The genetics could be way off. Hard to know.”

“Of course,” Michael said, grinning.

“You don’t believe any of this, do you?”

“Uh, no. But it’s a great story, Wayne. Very creative.”

“Goddammit, Telders. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s real. I promise you.”

“Sure, sure. So, you say this stuff he injected you with, the uh…”

“Lilith.”

“Lilith, right. You say this pink stuff turned you into, like soul mates or something?”

“Well, it’s not a goddamn romantic thing, but yeah, he became like a brother to me. But much deeper. Like a part of me.”

“Alright, fine. So not too long after that he brought a whole shitload of these transgenics through the wormhole.”

“Nineteen of them.”

“And when their goddamn pods landed they completely destroyed my Array.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

“Oh, no, don’t worry about it. Not like it was expensive or anything.”

I lowered my eyes. “Yeah.”

“Alright, so to make a long story short, that’s when the Army showed up and took the transgenics into custody and then some Russian pilot shot down the helicopter you were riding in and you would have drowned, but you were saved by a Navy Seal, who you promptly killed and then took off in his inflatable boat, hopped aboard a whaling ship, nearly killed everyone there, and then you blew a hole in the bottom of the ship with some C-4 that happened to be lying around and dove into Tokyo Bay where you managed to escape a fleet of Japanese police and military ships.”

“Oh, and don’t forget the war.”

“Right, of course. Spegg sort of implied in his latest e-mail to you that he’s responsible for starting World War III.”

“Yeah, that’s about it. So do you believe me now?”

“God, no!” Telders laughed. “This is the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, the shit about the boat I have to believe because it’s all over the news, but Jesus Christ, Wayne, you’re… I mean… I’m impressed. You should be a writer. Start a blog or something.”

I rolled my eyes, and picked up the bottle of Japanese scotch. I took one look at it and set it down again.

Michael stared at me. “There aren’t any post-human, genetic hybrid fish creatures in Antarctica waiting to give you the love you never had and take you for a ride in their space-time machines. It’s a story you made up in your head to deal with the pressure of a life of solitude. Fuck, I never should have allowed you to take that post in Antarctica. But I was stupid and figured that because you’ve been a loner all your life, it’d be perfect for you. Boy was I wrong. I thought the Husky would take the edge off, but… hey, what happened to the fucking Husky?”

I thought back to the day Buzz attacked and nearly killed Einstein, the transgenic hybrid that Spegg had created from an Antarctic seal and a sample of my DNA. I had reacted instinctively, violently. Almost like a father protecting his child.

Buzz didn’t make it.

I looked at Telders and shook my head. “You don’t wanna know.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. I don’t wanna know.” Michael hung his head and laughed. “Alright, Christ, enough of this shit, Wayne. Forget about going back to Antarctica and let’s get our drink on, shall we? To new beginnings….”

“No,” I said, kicking the bottle over. “No more. I’m going back. And don’t you try and stop me, either.”

Telders raised his hands and sighed. “No one’s gonna get in your way, brother.”

Adorations

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Adorations

Telders smells. I could smell it the moment I got in the limousine. The brownstone is thick with it. It’s like alcohol and testosterone, and a trace of Honey Nut Cheerios.

The smell is in my hair, on my clothes, and little particles are roiling around in my lungs, coursing through my blood. Perhaps later I’ll shit some of it out. Wipe it on a leaf. And after the rain a little Telders nymph will spawn in its place: ruddy cheeks and faerie wings, and a little wand to spread Michael’s magic seed all over the Japanese countryside.

I bet you’d like that.

Well fuck you. I’m taking one last crap in the brownstone and I’m going to hold it all the way until the next town.

You can pump Yumi full of your smell. Let it rot inside her. Someday that womb will explode and your stench will rise up and swallow you.

Don’t you worry about me. I’ll find a nice seaside town to lie in wait. Feast on dolphins and hot sake. And when they’re not looking I’ll take their ships….

You and that bitch best be gone when we get back.

Sanity

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Sanity

Wayne slid out from under the bush, knits and barbs caught tangled in his hair. The sound followed him from his dream… a mouse’s head sewn onto a cherub with thick, black sutures, zig-zagging around the neck. The ruddy cheeked monster’s wings flapped soundlessly while its head squeaked like a dog’s toy. Squeak, squeak. Wayne covered his ears with his palms. Slowly, the nightmare slipped away… but the sound remained. Squeak squeak.

Spegg. Those goddamn lips, those fleshy, gray balloons. He sucked on them when he was idle—and that horrible sound, as his spit passed between his teeth and lips—tore at Wayne’s ears. Over and over again. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

Wayne dug his fingers into the cold, Hokkaido soil and hurled a dirt clod at the sinewy transgenic.

“Gah!” Spegg twirled in the moonlight, wiping the dirt from his eyes with his bony fingers. “What the hell, Chikushou?”

“Stop sucking on your lips, goddammit. I’m trying to sleep.”

“I’m bored!” Spegg scurried up the trunk of a pine tree and snapped off a short branch. He dropped back to the forest floor and batted the comb-like needles against his back. “Asshole.”

“That’s it.” Wayne scanned the ground. Volcanic rocks were strewn about, mixed with a thick layer of pine needles and moss. He fingered a fist-sized stone and cocked his arm.

“It’s okay,” the boy said. He put his hand on Wayne’s and gently squeezed. “I know you’re upset. But hurting Spegg isn’t the answer.”

Wayne let his shoulders drop. The boy’s soft, innocent voice calmed him, changed him. The stone tumbled from his hand.

“You’re right,” he told the boy. “Sorry.”

“Goddamn right he’s right,” Spegg said. He tossed the branch on the ground. “We’re all just waiting on you, Wayne. Wayne the pain.”

Wayne’s lip curled upward.

“Don’t listen to him,” said the boy.

“Shut the hell up, boy,” Yumi said, slashing the dirt with her katana. “You just want Wayne all to yourself.”

“That’s not true!” The boy cried. “I just don’t want anyone to get hurt!”

“You stupid child. Wayne could throw a hundred stones at Spegg and he wouldn’t even get a scratch,” Yumi said. “And you know that.”

“So what,” said the boy.

“So you’re manipulating Wayne’s brain,” Spegg growled. “Trying to turn him against us. And we’re not going to let that happen!” He lunged for the boy.

Yumi’s sword flashed. “Back off, fish.”

Spegg gulped, the point of her blade stuck beneath his ridiculously long chin.

“Shut the hell up, all of you.” Wayne said. He got to his feet and brushed the debris from his clothes. “There’s a town about twenty kilometers from here. If the forest isn’t too heavy, we can make it there by nightfall. But I can’t have you assholes going ape-shit on me all day. Settle the fuck down or I’ll switch you off for good.”

Yumi sheathed her weapon.

“I knew it,” Spegg said, rubbing his chin. “The boy’s in your head!”

“That goes for the goddamn boy, too,” Wayne barked. “Now give me some space!”

The three figments slowly backed away.

“I’m going back to sleep. Wake me up when you see the sun,” he added, crawling into the bush.

Spegg feigned a jab at Yumi. She turned, rolling her eyes, and took to the sky. The boy watched her go, a pair of silvery tears on his cheeks.

Chessboards

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Chessboards

I know very little about wilderness survival, but my young companion artfully points out a nest of bamboo shoots and we have a small meal just before noon. The boy is generous and eats very little, insisting that I take the lion’s share so I will have the energy to guide us through the forest and into town. There is a small stream nearby and we have a nice drink together before moving on.

As we rest I catch Yumi peeking down from the clouds, watching, her furrowed eyebrows turning to a giant katana that breaks apart into millions of throwing stars that silently dissipate into space. She’s frustrated.

Suddenly the boy points out a Stellar’s sea eagle perched in a tree above our heads, an awesome (in the truest sense of the word), gigantic black and white raptor. Even at a distance I’m stunned by its size. His claws remind me of those giant orange-peel crane grabs they use to pick up massive piles of scrap metal. Claws that could latch on to puppies or toddlers, or the random unprotected adult-sized head.

I reach for a stone and hurl it at the bird.

“It’s not right to kill eagles,” the boy says, as my projectile falls so short of the Stellar that he doesn’t even flinch.

“That thing’s the size of a bus. What if he snagged you by the back of the head and dropped you into a giant nest full of hungry baby raptors?”

“I’m not scared of him. He looks like a nice bird.”

“Speak for yourself,” I say, and lob another rock into the trees.

“You know what frightens me?”

“What’s that, boy?”

“Him.” The boy points at the top of the tallest conifers in the forest. There, crouched on the very highest bough, the branch sagging under his weight, is our old friend, Spegg. When he sees us looking, he hisses, then leaps into a Mongolian oak, catapulting himself further along into the forest until he’s out of sight, the vanishing sound of snapping tree branches echoing in his wake.

“Oh, don’t worry about him,” I say, putting my arm around the boy. “He can’t hurt you. I’ve told him to stay away.

The boy frowns. “Do you think he’ll obey you?”

“He has to.”

“Why?”

I have to think about that one for a moment. It’s clearly a lie. Spegg does what he wants, but I haven’t known him to be dangerous. At least not this one. Real life Spegg is a different story. “I don’t know,” I tell the boy. “But you’re safe with me.”

The boy looks up at me and brushes away a tear. “Wayne?”

I crouch down and use my thumbs to wipe away his tears. “What’s wrong, buddy?”

“Please don’t make me go inside-out again.”

“Inside-out? You mean when I’m busy and you have to go away?”

“Yes. Please don’t make me go away again.”

“Oh, buddy, why not?” I brush the hair out of his face and soften my tone. “You know, we all have to go inside-out. I go to sleep, and you go to your place. It’s good for you.”

“It’s dark there.”

I smile. “It’s dark when I go to sleep, too.”

“But does the fish man scream at you when you go inside-out?”

“What?”

“The fish man in the trees. He’s always there when you send me away. He says mean things to me.”

“Wait, Spegg talks to you when you’re not here? What the hell does he say?”

“He says,” the boy sniffs, “he says that he’s going to hurt me bad. He says he’s going to kill me. Sometimes he doesn’t say anything at all. He just stands over me and screams.”

I pull the boy into my arms. How the fuck is that even possible?

“It’s okay,” I tell him. “I’ll handle Spegg. He won’t hurt you, he can’t hurt you. I promise.”

“And he says that you told him to do it.”

“Oh God, no,” I say, shaking my head. I pull the boy closer. He whimpers and shakes. I pat him on the back, trying to comfort the boy. “Shhhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. Shhhh. I would never hurt you, Wayne.”

Twilight of the Mortal

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Twilight of the Mortal

I reach the town just before sundown, strolling in on a dirt road, scored by what looks like hundreds of years of carts and oxen. In the center of town there is a narrow, two meter wide stream that runs parallel with an intersecting road, then bends sharply around a corner past a couple of well stocked fruit stands and a row of rectangular homes with thick, thatched roofs that hang precariously over the walls of the houses like so many hay bales.

I stop in front of one of the stands and grab a satsuma. “Hello?” I say, digging my fingernail into the orange peel. “Konnichiwa?”

No answer.

I walk a little further, peeling and pitching the rinds into the little stream. “Anyone here?”

The fruit is good—fresh, and has a little bite to it. Overall, quite satisfying, especially after a long day of hiking with no water and only a small amount of bamboo. I call out again, but it appears the town is deserted. Weird.

Surely they wouldn’t just leave their fruit carts unattended, and their doors? I walk up to one of the thatched roof homes and pound out “shave and a haircut.” The door swings open before I can finish: shave and a creeeeeak.

I’m hit with a sudden, wretched stench. Gagging, I pull my shirt over my nose and step inside. “Hello?” I say, the hardwood floors groaning underfoot. I turn to the right and follow the hall, past empty rooms and open shoji screens. The smell thickens as I near the end of the hallway. The door at the end is closed, and I stop to breathe. I don’t really want to know what is behind door #3. I’m pretty sure there’s only one thing that can smell that bad, and I’m not eager to find out. I’m starting to throw up, anyway. I can’t take it. I run outside and a little cement buddha watches me vomit in the rock garden.

I’m wiping my mouth on the edge of my hand when I see the leg. It, and its owner are partially submerged in a shallow pool of water, a fountain. A pair of wooden sandals lie nearby. Her exposed feet are pocked with sores, as are her arms, and her left cheek, neck, and ear. The rest of her is hidden in the water. She doesn’t smell yet.

Something bad happened here.

I leave the dead girl in the fountain and run to the next house. The smell is even worse there, and there are bodies in the front yard. One of them is covered by a blanket. Another lies nearby in gloves and an apron, riddled with sores, just like her neighbor.

They’re all like that. No one was spared: men, women… children. All dead, and all infected with some kind of terrible flesh eating disease. It looks like it happened fast. They didn’t even have time to bury their dead.

I’m on the steps of a small temple, standing over a dead man and his wife when I hear it. “YOU!” Something strikes me on the head, hard enough to knock me over on top of the corpses. “It’s YOU!”

I roll over to find what looks like one of the corpses standing above me, sneering, pointing. My ears are ringing. She’s covered in sores. She has a giant stick in her hands, gripped like a sword. I can’t tell how old she is, maybe twenties, thirties. She’s in bad shape. One of her eyes is only half open, bleeding, and the other looks like it has burst or been punctured. She’s naked, no underwear or anything, and there’s literally almost no white flesh left on her body. It’s so infested with sores.

She lifts the stick above her head and I scamper backwards. “YOU!” She yells again, the stick slicing through the air.

“Yes, okay, it’s me!” I say, struggling to get to my feet. “The American from the Nisshin Maru, right? Is that what you’re thinking?”

“You bringed this!” She screams, hurling the stick at me.

I easily dance away. “No, I didn’t bring this, I don’t even know what this is! Are there more of you? Are you the last one alive? What happened here?”

“No ENGLISH!” The woman barks.

“Okay, okay, look, I want to help you. Help? Tsuku? What is it? Tsukun? Is that the Japanese word for Help?

She’s not getting it. Blood gurgles in her throat. She lunges for me, her arms outstretched.

I don’t have a choice. Whatever she has, I don’t want it. I dodge her attack, scoop up the heavy stick, and as she comes back around, I swing for the fences.

Warm blood sprays me in the face.

Love of the Masses

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Love Of The Masses

The girl fell, almost in slow motion, her head wrenched sideways, her fine black hair disheveled, matted, blood-stained. Her eyes were still, almost serene, as she fell. They had a far-away look to them, a look of finality, closure perhaps. She shut them just before she hit the ground. She didn’t move again.

I stood before her, that poor soul, that wretched creature, rent from the inside-out by some vicious, invisible horror. She’d been very pretty. Perhaps that was her mother over there in the fountain, or her father under the blanket on the lawn.

I dropped the stick, just let it go, aware of the infected blood on my face, the coppery taste of it in my mouth.

In a daze, I shambled over to the stream and splashed some water on my face. I don’t know why. A futile thing. Probably the last futile thing I’d ever do. I sat there for a while and just stared at my hands. A dead koi floated by, tail first, riddled with abscesses. A splendid, gorgeous creature in life. No more. Whatever this disease was, it was in me now. I could feel it breeding, chewing on my cells. Making babies.

So this is how it ends. Have at it, you bastards.

Ex Situ

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

ex situ

My face had started to itch. I left the stream and ran into a nearby house. In the bathroom a body, an old woman, naked except for her underwear, lay slumped over the bath with snake-like lesions criss-crossing her back and thighs. Everything else was just red and black welts, except for deep, black abscess on her heel that showed through to the bone. My face was burning.

I turned away from the body, my back to the mirror, knelt down under the sink, and put my hands over my face. Maybe I wasn’t sick. Maybe I was just paranoid. Maybe I was just sunburned. Could be anything. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. The bathroom smelled good. Like soap and cherry blossoms. It was a wonderful smell. I inhaled again and again, savoring it. I looked up. The pipes under the sink were wet with condensation, tiny beads of water formed on the shiny metal. I reached out and touched them, let the drops puddle on my fingertips and slide down into my palm. There was a little raised, red welt just below my thumb. Probably nothing.

Underneath the sink there was a big yellow jug of soap with a white cap. It was only half-screwed on. Globs of congealed soap clung to the rim just below the lid. I pinched off a bit and massaged it with my fingers, then smelled it. It, too, smelled like cherry-blossoms. The jug had a nice label. The brand name was written in bold, black typeface across the front of the label, and some smaller Japanese words were printed just below. Cartoon soap bubbles were drawn on the label and bits of foam were stuck to some of the characters. I felt my heart pounding as I stared at it.

I itched my face and screamed.

A Pound of Flesh

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

The pain was nothing compared to the horror of seeing my welted, lesioned face in the mirror. Whatever virus or flesh eating bacteria or hell on Earth that had consumed that tiny Japanese town had spread to me. The skin on my cheeks where the woman’s blood had spattered had turned viscous, like jelly, sagging and sloughing off in clumps. Bits of dead flesh were stuck under my fingernails where I had scratched my face.

I ran. I don’t know where I intended to go, but I wanted to get as far away from the source of this disease as humanly possible.

I made it as far as the front lawn. I tumbled over a short, stone pagoda and fell into a rock garden just a few meters from the dead woman in the fountain. Her bare knees sticking out of the water was the last thing I saw before my vision went. I screamed as I felt my eyes liquify, and the flesh all over my body tear open, almost crackling, as if little bugs were chewing their way out.

The last thing I remember was the sound of my own voice, a hollow cascade of moans, each less pronounced than the last, growing shorter and shorter, softer and quieter, until even that failed, and there was nothing but darkness. And moments later, nothing whatsoever.

We’ve all heard stories of near death experiences. Tales of one’s consciousness rising up from the body, hovering over an operating table, or some bloody scene on the side of a highway, up and up, into the unknown, as images of one’s life flash before the eyes. Then inevitably one will pass into the long, swirling tunnel, as feelings of peace settle in, drifting toward the light, where a crowd of dead friends and loved ones wait with open arms. Time and time again we hear these tales, from those who turned back at the last moment, or were wrenched from death by the shock of a defibrillator.

All very pleasant.

Well that’s not always how it goes. Rarely do we hear of the other kind of tunnel, that swirling vortex of spiraling wraiths, where the only light at the end is the flickering tongues of hellfire. Seldom is retold the crowds of decayed, howling monsters waiting for the unlucky ones at the end of that mess of hell, dying for a taste of your soul. At least I’d never heard those stories. I guess that’s the tunnel you don’t come back from.

Most of the time.

The beasts’ gaping mouths twisted into horrific, angry scowls as my passage through the tunnel suddenly reversed. Sharp flashes of swirling red lighting and thunder claps exploded around me, then the hideous, whirling vortex suddenly vanished to a fiery red dot.

“We’ve got him back,” someone said.

The Child is Grown, The Dream is Gone

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

The Child is Grown, The Dream is Gone

Most things make sense. Most things are reasonable, normal, run of the mill phenomena, and they roll on by as they should—day after day—with little or no fanfare whatsoever. The sun goes up, the sun goes down. Coffee in the morning, tea at night. Or maybe it’s a muffin in the morning, and a Twix in the bath.

Whatever your routine, it all makes perfectly good sense. Most of the time.

But sometimes… sometimes you stumble over one of those things that doesn’t quite fit so neatly into a box. Or a crate. Or a marmot….

These oddball things are the Edge Cases: the whispers in the hall at night, that sudden urge to take a different route to work, that marmot staring at you through the window….

Sometimes they come in pairs. Other times in threes. Or in my case, by the shit-load. In fact, nearly everything that’s happened to me since I intercepted that humble little signal in that tiny sliver of the universe, has been one of those things: time travelling, transgenic fish; inter-dimensional man hunts; an imaginary “friend” assisting me in the wholesale slaughter of good, decent fishermen; a rabid virus tearing through my flesh like so many microscopic piranhas; and to top it all off, a near-death experience in probably well-deserved fashion.

But frankly, as fun as all that shit was (read:sarcasm), I think I’m growing a little fucking tired of it. Maybe it was the whole dying thing. Who knows. Who cares? Whatever it was, I’m here to tell you… Shit’s about to get Real.

I opened my eyes.

Spegg, Yumi, and the boy stood, hands joined, at the foot of my bed.

Spegg was smiling like an asshole.

“I thought you’d never wake up, Wayney-Wayne!” Spegg said, dangling a clear plastic bag over my bed. It was filled with thousands of little black things that buzzed and shrieked when he shook it. “We had to yank these little bastards out of you one by one by one. It was a real mess!”

The boy nodded in agreement and pointed at the bag. “Thems things were eatin’ you aaall up,” said the boy. “I was a powerful scared. A powerful scared!”

I frowned at him.

Yumi laid a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder, then tapped the handle of her sword, which she had strapped to her left hip. “Ain’t nothin’ but a thang.”

“We brought you some Fla·Vor·Ice,” Spegg said excitedly. “Do you like Fla·Vor·Ice in bed, Wayney?”

The boy nodded his head even faster. “Yeah he does! I knows he does!”

I narrowed my eyes at Spegg. “No. No, Spegg. I don’t like Fla·Vor·Ice in bed. I don’t like Fla·Vor·Ice out of bed.”

“How about in a chair!?” The boy howled.

“No. I don’t like Fla·Vor·Ice in a chair. I don’t like Fla·Vor·Ice anywhere.”

“Woo. This sounds like fun,” Spegg said, licking his lips.

Yumi suddenly drew her sword and pointed the blade at my face. The boy yelped. “Sounds like someone’s a little ingrateful,” Yumi growled.

I took a breath. “Ungrateful.”

“What?” Yumi said.

“Ungrateful. You said ingrateful. Ingrateful is not a word. It’s ungrateful. Ungrateful.”

“Ungrateful,” she repeated.

The boy nodded. Spegg looked at me nervously, then back at Yumi, then back at me.

“Sorry,” Yumi said, sheathing her sword. “My English… it no good.”

“What now, then, Wayney?” Spegg said, tossing the packet of Fla·Vor·Ice over his shoulder.

I eyed the leather straps binding my hands and feet. “Hrm. How about playing a game? You like games, Spegg.”

“Boy do I!” Spegg shrieked.

“Oh oh oh, I like games!” The boy said.

“Okay, here’s the game,” I said. “See these leather straps?”

Spegg nodded solemnly. “Them’s fer your protection, Wayney.”

“That’s right,” I replied. “But the crazy thing is, guys, is that these mother-fucking straps that are holding me down? They aren’t even real!”

Yumi rolled her eyes.

Suddenly, the straps vanished.

The boy let out a gasp.

“He’s a witch!” Spegg screamed.

Yumi went for her sword, but found nothing but an empty sheath. Her mouth dropped open.

“Ah ah ah!” I said, shaking my finger at her. I slid out of bed, wielding her katana.

“Whoooa. It’s like the Matrix,” said the boy.

I nodded to him. “Kind of. But instead of a giant computer program that millions of people are simultaneously and unwittingly plugged into so that evil robots can harvest their bio-energy, it’s just one guy with an ass-load of mental problems.”

“Oh,” the body replied despondently, kicking the bed post. He took a deep breath, then looked up. “Wayne?”

“Yeah, boy?”

“Am I? Am I part of the ass-load of menchal problems?”

I grinned. “I’m afraid so, kid. ‘Fraid so.”

“Oh.” A tear escaped his left eye.

“Look, you’re making him cry!” Yumi sneered. “You’re bad man!”

“And youuuu have a sword sticking out of your chest!”

“What? Are? Nani? Kore nani???? Itaiiiii!

Yumi pawed at her katana, which was suddenly embedded up to the hilt in her chest. She fell to her knees. Yumi looked at me, her eyes tortured, then whispered with her last breath, “I always loved you, Wayne Robertson.” Then she collapsed sideways and slowly faded away.

“All right, WAYNE!” Spegg said, clapping his big, gray hands together. “Finally we got rid of the skirt! Now do the sword thing to the kid, and let’s boogie!”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Spegg.”

“What?”

“You’re a fish, Spegg.”

Spegg’s tone grew serious. “Well, not exactly, Wayne. While, yes, a majority of my DNA is based on a number of hybrid, highly specialized fish, I am also human. In fact, at my core, I am a transgenic—”

“No, Spegg. You’re a fish.”

He laughed nervously. “N-no really, I’m not.”

“You are.”

“No, Waynege.” Spegg said, his voice suddenly garbed. “Aahhhne? Ahhhhnh?”

Spegg’s head started to flatten. It was as if it were a bulbous, gray balloon, suddenly losing it’s air. His arms and legs began to shrivel, his eyes parted and moved to the sides of his head.

“Aahahghhg! Ahahghaghgh!” Spegg howled as he grew smaller and smaller. Soon his voice was lost entirely. Spegg’s body, only a quarter of it’s original size, toppled over onto the ground and started to flop around as it shrunk even further. Eventually, Spegg was just a fish.

The boy looked down at the fish and grinned sheepishly.

I smiled at him. “Go ahead,” I said.

A look of glee crossed the boy’s face, then he snatched the fish from the ground and shoveled it into his mouth.

“Good boy,” I said.

The boy chewed and chewed. “Soo guph!” He said, his mouth completely full of Spegg.

I stared out the window, listening to the boy chew. The sun was coming up. A helicopter appeared over the horizon. I thought I recognized….

“Is it time for me to go now too?” The boy said, interrupting my thought.

I turned back to the boy and nodded. “Yes boy,” I told him. “Go and never come out again. Not ever, no matter what you see, no matter what you hear.”

“I understand,” said the boy. He threw his arms around me and squeezed. “Hey Wayne?”

“Yes boy?”

“Earlier when we were all talking and I said I knew you liked Fla·Vor·Ice? Well, I actually knew you didn’t like Fla·Vor·Ice. I was just saying that.”

I laughed. “I know, boy. I know you were. Fla·Vor·Ice is gross.”

The boy gave me one last, tearful nod, then like a thunderclap, slammed against my chest, knocking me several feet backward into a side table.

It took me a moment to catch my breath. Gasping, I looked around the empty hospital room. No machines. No doctors. No doors. Just a solitary window overlooking a barren, morning landscape. The helicopter was getting closer. I shrugged and closed my eyes. I floated around in there until the sound of the helicopter blades filled my ears. Suddenly, they stopped. It was quiet again.

Then, a pair of hurried footsteps. Anxious voices.

The Darkness Before Dawn

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

The Darkness Before Dawn

The sound of footsteps. Things being dragged across the ground. Someone coughing. Voices. I couldn’t see a damn thing. Just blurry, white, whiteness. Where the hell was I?

My body felt like rubber and broken glass. When I tried to move I felt a kind of disorderly numbness that probably should have been excruciating, given the number of things that seemed out of place. But, fortunately I’d been spared the pain for the moment.

There were other noises. Distant, thunderous blasts, and sharper reports that were obviously much closer. Footsteps were all around me.

I heard my name, followed by a rush of syllables that blew past by my ears in a breezy, metallic, echo—distant and alien—as if I were wearing one of those old-timey diving helmets.

“Wayne, something something echo something echo echo.”

I tried concentrating on the words—really focusing—but it didn’t help.

“Who’s there?” I tried to say. To me, my voice was hollow and remote. That, combined with the fact that I couldn’t actually feel my mouth, my tongue, or my throat, forced me to imagine forming the words, hoping that they were at the very least intelligible. “Who’s that?”

A flurry of nauseating sounds were offered in reply. The blurry, white nothingness that was the limit of my vision, was temporarily interrupted by a blurry, dark nothingness. A passing cloud? A person looming overhead?

And then, much louder, as if someone were screaming in my ear: “Something something echoey something something!”

I understood nothing. But, I was at least able to make out the tone. It was a familiar voice… I believed I knew the person who was trying to speak to me.

I tried again: “What is your name?”

Something Somethinrrss!

“What? Who?”

Something! Srrrlders!

Michael?

A sudden crack! like a clap of thunder reverberated in my ears. Even in my near deaf state, it was deafening. My ears started to ring.

I called out: “You there?!”

No response.

I screamed it again, as loud as I could, or at least as loud as I could imagine.

For all I knew, I was face down in the mud.

I called out again and again. Over and over. But the voice, and the footsteps, never came back.

I was alone again.

Deus Ex

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

God is an Asshole.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and that’s my conclusion. Normally I’d follow that up with something like: “…if He’s even real”, but that tunnel to Hell was pretty convincing. And, yes, while I didn’t see God Himself, I witnessed the dark side, and that’s enough for me.

God’s exists, and he’s a Right Bastard.

“Why would I say such things?” you ask. Well, what do you think would have happened to me if I hadn’t escaped and returned to Earth for round two?

Eternal Damnation, folks.

And for what?

“C’mon, Wayne,” you add, “you did some pretty heinous shit. How can you expect to behave that way and not be punished in the fires of Hell?”

Okay, okay, I know, I killed a bunch of people. Boo hoo. I did that. But were those murders really so unjustified? And was it really me committing them? I mean, Yumi did most of the bad shit on the boat, right? Just because she was a figment of my imagination doesn’t automatically make it my fault does it?

You roll your eyes. “Uh, kinda.”

Well… you’re an idiot. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s really not your fault. That’s the way God made you. He wanted you to be an idiot. And he wanted me to be delusional and murderous. That was His Plan.

“But free will, Wayne! What about free will!?”

Yeah, yeah. Look, if God is supposed to be perfect and God is supposed to be Love, capital “L”, why is he so fucking hellbent on creating imperfect beings capable of doing horrible shit? Is it because he gets off on sending his creations to hell when they screw up? If He really wanted to create a bunch of people and just had to give them free will, and on top of all that He Loved them like crazy, don’t you think he’d give everyone a fucking pass after they died? Don’t you think he’d be all like “Sorry, everyone, this was all kind of a big experiment, and I knew what I was getting into, so forget all that shit and enjoy an eternity of peace?”

Nope. That’s not the deal. We screw up and it’s off to the inferno. You thought you lived a perfect life, and you did a lot of good, and you genuinely cared for people, BUT, remember that one “goddammit” you whispered in fifth grade that you thought no one heard? Well, God heard it, and that hiccup bought you a first-class ticket to the shit storm, buddy. Tough luck.

I dunno. Maybe God would appreciate it if I helped him clean up the mess down here. Maybe if I acted more like Him, He’d give me a second look the next time I kick the bucket. I could do that. I could totally do what He does. It’s a pretty simple recipe, actually. All you have to do is:

  1. Create a flawed system
  2. Expect the impossible
  3. Torture everyone who breaks the rules

Oh, and don’t forget to outsource #3 to the biggest dick you know so you don’t look like the bad guy.

Asshole.

Purgatorio

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

I guess the Lord doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Moments after my angry tirade, I was struck with such a withering blast of pain that I was unable to stay conscious for more than a few moments.

A big, black darkness set in, and for a time there was nothing. It was impossible to tell how long it lasted. Could have been seconds, could have been days. Eventually, my consciousness returned, and somewhere along the way a strange vision appeared before my eyes:

I bore witness to five massive, concentric rings laid upon on a barren, wintery landscape. Like a giant game of Skee-Ball, each ring was separated from the other by a high, insurmountable wall. No ladders, bridges, or tunnels allowed passage between the rings. The walls were unusual, for they were not ordinary, solid walls—they appeared to be forged from darkness itself, save a curious silvery sheen that played upon the surface, a meandering layer of gas or fluid that almost seemed to be patrolling the wall’s perimeter. On occasion I thought I spied a figure or a face emerge from the wall, but it was gone as quickly as it came, and I found myself doubting whether it had ever been there at all.

The vision shifted and I had a closer look within the walls of the outermost ring: a vast, circular space populated by dirty, disheveled people, many of whom were shouting at one another, savagely beating weaker inhabitants, or hidden in the shadows, working crooked needles into their arms. Piles of dead lay frozen in small piles at nearly every turn.

The people seemed to fear the wall. They kept a healthy distance, at least fifteen or twenty feet, and averted their eyes as they passed. Momentarily I saw why: the snow near the wall’s edge was splattered with red and black, stained the color of blood and darkness.

The vision shifted again, this time zeroing in on a spot where a bedraggled little boy, bundled in a patchwork of old clothing, was playing on a rope swing tied to a rusty overhead pipe. The child, maybe six or seven years old, was singing a variation on a familiar tune:

Rings around the center
Wayne’s eternal winter
Slashes… slashes…
We all bleed out.

The child suddenly looked up. His eyes were burnt out of his head.

I awoke with a start.

Hazmat

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

If you’ve never woken up from a near-death experience to a man in a hazmat suit with a gun at your head, well, you haven’t lived.

I was lying on my side, a few meters from the edge of a small crater where there should have been a modest Japanese home, a home I had recently been inside.

“So it looks like we’ve got a problem,” the hazmat suit said in a muted, rubbery voice. He nodded at the pistol in his right hand, as if I hadn’t noticed.

I had no idea what I had been through, but whatever it was, things seemed to have improved. Last I’d checked, my face was covered in lesions and my entire body was succumbing to a frighteningly efficient viral assault. I barely remember collapsing out in the yard, but I do recall being fairly certain that I was a dead man.

But now… I ran my fingers over my face. Normal. I had no pain, no aches, no soreness… not even a headache. It didn’t make sense.

But, hell, I wasn’t complaining. I’d beat it, for whatever reason. Though, the guy with the gun in my face didn’t seem like he shared my excitement.

“No problem here, man,” I said, flashing him an innocent smile.

Hazmat narrowed his eyes.

Suddenly, there was a low, guttural moan from somewhere nearby. I think hazmat guy heard it even before I had, because he was already up and waving the gun around. I took the opportunity to start scooting backward. Looked like a pretty good chance to avoid the whole death thing again.

Then, across the street, an odd figure appeared from behind a big heap of Japanese rubble. It was in bad shape. And not the “need to catch up on my Pilates classes” kind of shape, either. Its flesh looked like it had been removed—in little scoops… perhaps with a hot spoon or a really sharp melon baller. Spots of bone were visible all over its skull and down its arms and legs, giving its body a grotesque, almost whittled appearance. Its eyes were missing, part of its left arm just kind of hung there unmoving, disconnected, and its head was permanently cocked to the left side.

Because of the sheer damage the individual had taken, it was impossible to tell if it was a man or a woman. But whatever horrible thing had happened it, he or she didn’t have any business being out of bed. Or, above ground for that matter.

Nevertheless, judging from its increasingly intense and angry moaning, it didn’t appear that the fucker was going to listen to reason.

“Jesus Christ,” I whispered.

“Shh!” Hazmat guy insisted, but as soon as the thing heard our voices, it perked up, shrieked, and bolted straight for us.

“Holy shit, kill that thing!” I screamed.

Without a word, hazmat snapped the trigger back on his handgun and cooly fired two shots into the thing’s chest. The monster recoiled from the shots, staggering, but it recovered almost immediately and within seconds it was headed for us again.

“Damn they’re getting stronger,” Hazmat said with a seriously inappropriate lack of tension in his voice. He ejected the clip, snapped in a fresh one, chambered the first round, then unloaded ten rounds into the oncoming horror. The thing flinched with each shot, a spray of blood exploding behind it, but refused to back down, and didn’t, until Hazmat grimaced and put the final five rounds into its knees. Even then, it just laid there, howling, refusing to die.

A spent clip dropped from hazmat’s pistol and clattered on a broken flagstone. He installed a fresh one, then holstered the weapon. There was a nearby duffel bag that he went to and removed a white jug with a red “X” painted on the side. He casually strolled over to the creature on the ground, then poured the milky white contents of the jug onto its head. He watched, unmoving, as the thing shrieked and convulsed, the white shit burning through what little flesh it had left. Hazmat didn’t turn his head until it had stopped flinching. Then he capped the empty jug and returned it to his bag.

I swallowed. “So… it take it that’s our problem?”

“Part of it.” Hazmat turned around holding a translucent zip tie. “Turn around, get on your knees, and put your hands behind your back.”

Right as Rain

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

A long black tube snaked from the chin of hazmat’s Soviet style “death head” mask into the folds of his camouflage NBC suit. The equipment made his voice sound harsh and brassy.

“I said, turn around, get on your knees,” he repeated.

“Yeah, yeah, I heard you,” I said, turning away. “Any chance you’d like to tell me why you’re doing this?”

Hazmat cleared his throat. “You’re a threat,” he said.

“If you say so. You’re the one with the gun.” I clasped my hands together and let him do his thing. He cinched the zip tie up very tightly, which was good. I still had a few tricks up my sleeve.

“Okay,” he said, testing the bind. “Remember, this is for your own protection. Do everything I tell you and you’ll live through this.”

“Uh huh. And what happens if another one of those zombies comes shambling around, wanting to get its brains on, huh? What then, hazmat?”

“If that happens then you do exactly what I tell you.”

“And I get to live.”

“Precisely,” he said, then reached down to collect his duffle bag.

You know, before the shit hit the fan in Antarctica, I had a high-speed satellite modem, and a ton of down time. Needless to say, I watched a lot of videos on the internet. And not the kind you’re thinking, either. One video I remember discussed a little known trick for escaping zip-tie cuffs. Apparently, if you apply just the right amount of force at exactly the right spot, they’ll snap like a twig. Being out there all alone, I never really had a chance to practice it, but I was pretty sure I could do it.

So, when hazmat was distracted with his bag, I bent my knees, leaned forward, and lifted my arms. I said something cool like, “Well, I’ve kind of got this problem with being told what to do,” then slammed my wrists against my tailbone. The clasp instantly broke in half with a snap!

That got hazmat’s attention. He wheeled around, but it was too late—I was already swinging. As if things were suddenly in slow-motion, I could see his eyes widen behind his mask. The duffle bag fell out of his hands, dreamily falling to the ground, as my sweet, surprise haymaker sailed through the air, poised for an epic K.O. It felt awesome.

But then hazmat did something that made me feel not so awesome. He plunged forward into this fucking crazy Jujitsu or Capoeira defensive pose, raising his crooked, left arm up to the side of his head. At the same time he went to his chest holster with the other hand and fingered his pistol. My strike landed against his raised arm with a loud, but ineffective thud. A split second later, the butt of his black 92FS was careening off my left temple. There was a flash of white light and I was abruptly sucking mud at the bastard’s feet.

“Okay, that hurt,” I spat.

Hazmat guffawed. I kid you not. He let out the biggest, brassiest, most dramatic guffaw you ever heard. “Pretty good trick, Wayne,” he said. “You know, you’re a smart guy. But you never could fight.”

“What? How do you know my name? Who the hell are you?” I growled.

The man in the hazmat suit crossed his arms. I swear I could see a pompous grin behind his mask. He didn’t say a word.

And then it dawned on me. Of course. Who else would it be out here in the middle of Japan fragging the undead with a state of the art NBC suit and a jug full of liquid zombie remover?

“Jesus Christ, Telders.”

I heard a amused “hmph” from inside the mask.

I sat up in the mud. “What’s the deal, man? What’s with the cuffs and the scary suit? We’re friends, right? Right?”

Michael Telders fished a smartphone out of his pocket and fumbled with it, struggling to operate the device with his chemical gloves on.

“Hell of a time to update your Facebook status,” I said.

He handed me the phone. “That was you 24 hours ago.”

What I saw did not look human. It was a photo of something that actually looked a lot like the thing he’d just riddled with bullets and doused with acidy milk. It had the same scooped out flesh, the same pattern of exposed bone. And just like the other one, it was impossible to tell if it was male or female, much less human.

“What is this shit, Mike? This isn’t me,” I said, tossing the phone back to him.

“Look at your clothes,” Telders said, holding up the phone. “You were like this when I found you. I was just about to milk your ass so you didn’t have to go through that zombie phase, or whatever the hell it is, but unlike anyone else, you started showing signs of recovery. The lesions started disappearing. You grew new flesh. Your body started rebuilding itself. It was the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. And now look at you. Right as rain.”

“Okay, that’s good, right? So why the handcuffs and all the you do exactly as I say bullshit?”

“Because it’s not right. You should be dead. You didn’t turn like the others, Wayne. And it’s not just this town, it’s the whole goddamn country. Maybe the entire world is infected. Everyone. Everyone except you.”

I raised my hands. “So?”

“So you’re a threat. I don’t even know if it’s really you in there Wayne. Like I said: You. Died. I saw it. And then the whole thing just ran in reverse. It’s not natural. For all I know you’re the fucking zombie king.”

“That’d be an odd turn of events.”

“Well I’m not risking it.”

“Well I’m not going anywhere at gunpoint. So you’re going to either have to leave me here to fend for myself… or kill me.”

Telders growled frustratedly.

I continued: “And if I truly am the king of all zombies, which sounds awesome, by the way, killing me would probably ruffle the locals’ feathers a bit, don’t you think?”

“I think their feathers are already sufficiently ruffled.”

“Probably a good point.”

“Yeah, I should probably just kill you.”

“What!?”

“Well, I mean, I don’t see any other options.” Telders drew the slide back on his 9mm. “Can’t leave you here.”

“Wait, wait! Okay, h-how about this?”

Telders folded his arms.

“Zombies typically kill anything that’s alive, right? I mean, that’s their M.O., right? Kill all living things, eat brains?”

“No, Wayne. Whatever has infected the human race has made them hyper-aggressive and hellbent on spreading the virus through physical contact. That is all. I’ve never seen one of them eating anything, much less somebody’s brains. I mean, they can barely function, how do you expect them to crack open a skull? That’s a hard thing to do, even with tools.”

“Huh. I never thought of that.”

“That it?” Telder said, flicking off the Beretta’s safety.

“Wait! Never mind the brains.” I licked my lips. “Okay. Have you ever seen two of these zombie things attacking each other?”

“No. From what I’ve seen they leave each other alone. I think they almost try to avoid each other.”

“Great. So if we were to—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—use me as bait to draw one of them out…”

“Go on….”

“…and the zombie attacked me. That’d mean I wasn’t one of them, right? That I recovered just because I have really good genes or something?”

Telders stroked the black tube attached to his gas mask, pensively, as if it were a beard. “Interesting. You know, I would like to see that.”

I scowled at him. “You’ve got a dark side, Telders.”

“No, no, no. Sounds like a fantastic experiment, Wayne. And if the undead do get to you, we already know you’re immune, right?”

“I guess so.”

“Sold.” Michael holstered his Beretta. “Alright Robertson, let’s go find you a zombie.”

What Lurks

Monday, October 10th, 2011

There is a darkness that lurks inside all of us. It’s there, whether you’ve met it or not…. And if you’re lucky, it’ll stay put.

This isn’t the evil you see in the movies, or the fallen angels you hear about in Sunday school. This isn’t the psycho-killer wandering the streets at night in clownface.

This isn’t entertainment.

This is loss. This is the empty thing that remains when your dream is gone, and you’ve… just. given. up.

This is the look in the eyes of the hopeless. That hollow, black, thousand-yard stare. The one that makes mothers hurry their children away.

It lacks hope. It lacks a dream. And it doesn’t even know what it means to care about another human being.

I dare you to say its name.

Mossberg

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Mossberg

I would have preferred it if Telders had shot me dead right there in the mud. That would have been good. A fine ending to a false start.

But there was that thing again. That dark certainty on the other side. I was literally going to Hell. Suddenly being led by gunpoint into the center of zombie central didn’t seem so bad.

Telders poked me in the back with the barrel of his gun. “Take this road,” he said.

Michael seemed different. He wasn’t his usual, jovial, cigar-smoking, womanizing, to hell with the consequences, asshole self. He was a little more… like me. A little damaged. Dangerous.

I had to stay focused. One wrong move and he could easily take me out. If things didn’t go well I had to be able to take him first. After all, God may give him a pass. Probably not, but at least it wasn’t a sure thing.

He stopped and pointed at an abandoned Buddhist temple at the top of a hill. A narrow path snaked up to the main building.

“There’s a giant gong in the sanctuary,” he said. “I’m going to head up there and ring the fuck out of it. That should get their attention.”

“And then what?”

“And then I observe what happens from a safe vantage point.”

“I’m not sure I like that plan.”

“Well, it was your idea, Robertson.”

I dug my heel into the mud. “Yeah, but I didn’t suggest lingering out in the open without any way to defend myself. Those things will attack. And I need a weapon if I’m going to survive.”

“I think you’ll be alright.”

“I’m not the fucking zombie king, Michael.”

Telders growled. “Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t. But you’ve gotten weird, Robertson,” he said, stabbing his finger into my chest. “First you slaughter all those bastards on the Nisshin Maru. That was fucked up, but I was able to see past it. Then suddenly you’re spewing crap about talking fish from future timelines who landed their space pods in Antarctica and started World War Three? I mean, come on. I’ve heard some crazy shit in my time, Wayne… maybe even dropped a little acid… but that’s some far out fucking shit.”

“I’ll admit it’s a little implausible.”

“It’s bat-shit crazy, Robertson!” Telders said, throwing his hands wildly into the air. “But even then I gave you a pass because I could only imagine what being locked away in fucking Antarctica for six months would do to a man.” He shook his head. “But now. Now I track you down to this shit-hole and find your ass dead and rotten in front of that fucking house, and then, just as I’m about to bury you, I literally watch you go from hamburger to regular walkin’ talkin’ Wayne Robertson in a matter of hours. I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, man, but I think you got the Devil in you.”

I cringed. “Yah.”

“Yah,” he laughed incredulously. Michael looked up toward the Buddhist temple for a moment. Finally, he said: “Alright, Robertson. Whatever. You have a right to defend yourself.” He unzipped his duffle bag and fished out something wrapped in a large, white cloth. “This is a Mossberg 500. It’s a shotgun.”

“I know what it is.”

“Good.” Telders pumped the fore-stock. “It’s loaded. And the safety’s on, so don’t forget to turn that shit off when things heat up.”

“Alright,” I said, taking the shotgun. It was remarkably light. I remember wondering why he’d been using a peashooter against the zombies instead of a fucking shotgun, but I didn’t worry myself about it for too long. I’m an idiot sometimes.

“Alright” he replied, reaching for his duffle bag.

Suddenly I realized that I had a clear shot at the back of his head. A click of the safety button would be his only warning. So easy. I could end this charade for good. I licked my lips.

“Good luck, Robertson,” he said, zipping the bag.

I tightened my grip on the Mossberg. This could be your only chance.

Telders heaved the bag over his shoulder.

KILL HIM.

“Later,” Telders said, slapping me on the shoulder.

“Uh, yah,” I mumbled. KILL HIM!

Michael paused, smirking… then turned and headed up the hill.

Some Serious Shamoji

Friday, October 14th, 2011

While I was waiting for Telders to ring the zombie gong I took a moment to survey the little town whose name I still hadn’t learned. It was one of those simple, one street villages with a dozen little gravel roads that forked off into a small groups of modest homes. The road began at the top of a slight incline on the east side of town, guarded by two giant boulders that had the Japanese characters for fire () and water () carved into the stone. Little streams no wider than a couple of feet on both sides flanked the road and ran the length of the town, which wasn’t far—perhaps no longer than half a mile. Beyond that, the road quickly thinned out into something resembling dirt or gravel, then wandered off to the west, giving way to the distant, snow-capped peaks of the Yūbari mountains.

A few doors down was a cozy looking restaurant with a rolling, glass display case parked outside that featured delicious looking plastic replicas of their menu items. Across the road was a general store with a giant, wooden shamoji (those serving paddles for rice) hanging in an open-air window. It was probably four feet in length and looked like it was made out of polished teak wood. There were many more rice paddles hanging about, though none so impressive. They others came in a variety of plastics and wood—some plain, some beautifully hand-painted with lush, pastoral scenes, while others were a little more kitschy and mass-produced, plastered with cartoonish samurais, Hello Kittys, and wide-eyed manga characters I didn’t recognize. It looked like the shamjoi HQ of the world. There was even a pile of T-shirts with the picture of the giant paddle emblazoned on the front. I peeked inside the store.

Shamoji everywhere. And a bloodied corpse slumped over the register.

I guess I had tuned out the horror show for a moment. But with that, all the bullshit came screaming back into place. I shambled back outside. Splayed under benches, lying face first in the streams, or collapsed in the middle of the street… men, women, children… their purses and shopping bags and lunch boxes strewn about, inches from their mangled, diseased hands. Death was everywhere. And the air was ripe with its smell.

I clenched my teeth and hugged my shotgun, fueled by a sudden rage to blow the head off of anything that moved.

“Ring the fucking gong,” I growled.

And then, as if Telders had magically heard me whisper the order, the brassy Buddhist gong at the top of the hill came alive in doubles: GONG-GONG, GONG-GONG, GONG-GONG, summoning any, and all, able-bodied zombies into battle.

“Alright,” I said, turning around, scanning the shadows and the storefronts for the undead…. “Come get me you fucking retards.”

The Crow

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

A lone jungle crow in a copse of larch trees loosed a resonant caw, somehow embellishing the silence that followed the ringing of the temple’s gong. I breathed quietly, studying the shadows. It was going be dark in an hour. I had to get this over with and find shelter, fast.

“Let’s go!” I screamed, hunched over the barrel of the Mossberg.

Nothing. The bird called out again. I squinted at the treetops. It was perched on the highest branch of the tallest larch, swaying in the gentle wind. He cocked his head and danced a little two-step jig. Cau-cau-cau, it said.

I waved the barrel of the shotgun at it and sneered. “Fuckoff fuckoff fuckoff,” I said, mocking his a throaty, hollow voice.

Cau-cau, it retorted.

I shook my head, walking past the shamoji world headquarters. Next door I found a little pastry shop. I stuck my nose in the door.

“Bring out your dead,” I said in a sing-song voice.

No response. A tray of not so fresh mitarashi dango was lying on the counter. I licked my lips. I shrugged and plucked one of the sweet, sticky balls of dough off its wooden skewer. I checked the room for zombies again, then popped it in my mouth.

“Hrm, not bad,” I said aloud. “A little tough, but palatable. Definitely palatable.”

After another quick glance over my shoulder, I set the Mossberg on the counter and grabbed a couple of skewers. It’d been a while since I ate. The last thing I had was some fucking root from somewhere in the middle of the forest. I filled my mouth with the pastries faster than I could swallow them, then shuffled over to a refrigerator and snatched a cold bottle of green tea.

Cau-cau-cau, the crow called from outside.

“Shuffup,” I said, my mouth packed with the sweet dough. I upended the bottle and drank.

Cau-cau!

“Ugh,” I garbled, gulping the tea. Once my mouth was clear I walked outside and lobbed the half-empty bottle of tea at the crow. “Shut yer beak!” I yelled. The bottle sailed wide of his perch, then vanished into a field of rice with a thump. The crow chattered in response.

“Hilarious,” I said. I looked around for something else to throw.

Cau! Cau! it screeched.

“Yeah, yeah, ” I said, scooping up a handful of gravel.

Cau! Cau! Cau! Cau! Cau! Cau! Cau! Cau! the crow bellowed.

“What the fuck is wrong with—”

Suddenly I felt a breath of hot air on my neck and smelled the stench of putrid flesh wafting from behind. Uh oh.

I spun around. There, towering over me was a giant, bloodied stump of a man, larger than any Japanese I’d ever seen. His flesh hung in ribbons from his waist. Clumps of oatmeal-like fat peeked through his numerous wounds. He wore nothing, save a swath of thick, blood-stained underwear. Like a giant diaper. Like something a fucking sumo wrestler would wear.

“Oh crap,” I said weakly.

I shifted my gaze past the sumo zombie to the countertop in the pastry shop where my Mossberg was resting. Idiot.

The crow called out: Cau! Cau! Cau!

I scowled at the bird. “Shut up you fu—”

Something eclipsed the sun. I saw a flash of light, my jaw bobbled, and the little Japanese town rolled sideways.

Telders is a Dick

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Telders is a Dick

My head hurt. Hmm. It really hurt. But why? I wondered. I meditated on that while a giant mitarashi dango danced the rhumba against a backdrop of bright, whirling lights.

Wake up, Robertson, it said in a serious tone. The music crescendoed and it did a fancy spin to match the rhythm.

I raised my eyebrows at the warm, delicious pastry. “What did you just say, giant mitarashi-dango?”

I said, you should open your eyes.

“What?” I asked, raising my hands. “Why should I do that? I’ll miss the show.”

Forget the show, Wayne. There’s more important things to think about right now.

“Oh yeah? Like what, specifically?”

The mitarashi dango bent down and met my eyes. “Like avoiding getting eaten.”

“Oh.”

Yeah.

“Alright. If you put it that way,” I replied with a weak sigh. I waved goodbye to the dancing balls of tasty dough and forced my eyes to open.

A very large zombie who looked like he’d had his eyes baked out of his head lumbered into view.

Oh, right. Him.

The sumo roared and raised his giant foot in an effort to stamp out my face.

I rolled up onto my hands and knees, barely escaping his thunderous foot as it slammed into the asphalt. That seemed to disappoint him: the zombie didn’t have much of a face left, but what features he did have twisted into an ugly, mangled scowl.

I scrambled to my feet. The zombie howled again, then barreled forward, bits of rent flesh and fatty tissue trailing behind him. The giant heaved a Volkswagen-sized arm at my face. I moved, barely ducking his strike, then spun around and threw a roundhouse kick at his knee. The zombie grunted, completely unaffected, then pivoted around and grazed me with the back of his fist. If he’d taken his time to square it up, I would probably been launched back into mitarashi dango-land, but as it was, I was only knocked off balance.

When I’d recovered my footing I noticed the Mossberg lying on the pastry counter, suddenly well within reach. I smirked at the rotten corpse. “Sorry dude.” I flew through the front door and leaped over the counter, snatching the shotgun mid-air.

The sumo crashed through the entryway behind me, knocking over a rack of teacups. I turned and raised the Mossberg to my chin. “Time to shed a few pounds,” I said, flipping off the safety. I pulled the stock against my arm and squeezed the trigger.

A shotgun is a powerful thing. Really powerful. You never really realize just how powerful a thing it is until you’ve seen it liquify a target at point blank range. It’s truly an awe-inspiring sight.

Or, so I’ve heard.

The shotgun clicked, the sound of the firing pin snapping forward and finding exactly nothing in the chamber.

“Oh, what the hell is this?” I whined.

The zombie slammed against the counter. The sound of splintering wood and breaking glass roared in my ears.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” I screamed, frantically racking the gun in the shower of debris. Again I raised the barrel to the sumo’s face, which was now just inches away, and squeezed.

Click.

“Telders, you bastard!” I screamed. “You gave me an empty gun!”

The zombie slapped the Mossberg out of my hands and waded into the rubble between us.

“Heel!” I yelled, tossing boxes of brightly colored pastries at the encroaching savage. I turned and hopped over the back counter, then swung around the east wall of the shop, scanning the racks for anything sharp and pointy. The zombie swatted a cash register and sent it flying into a rack of aprons just over my shoulder.

“Fucking Telders!” I cried, grabbing a bottle of sake from a shelf. I flung it at the zombie’s head but it arched wide and exploded on the opposite wall. “Son of a bitch!”

The sumo upended an island behind the counter and sent it flying sideways. At the same time a kitchen knife tumbled out of the chaos and hit the floor, skittering to a stop just inches from my feet.

“Well well well,” I said, snagging the blade. I immediately leaped forward and plunged the knife into the zombie’s right eye. He jerked back, arms flailing, as a spray of oily, black liquid spewed from the wound.

“Ack!” I yelled, ducking out of the way of the soupy ejecta.

I wasn’t far from the door. I clambered over a fallen shelf, tossing random kitchenware over my shoulder. I hit a patch of glass and skated past the main window before coming to rest against the front door. I jerked my head around. The zombie, who hadn’t bothered to remove the knife from his eye socket, seemed more intent on killing me than ever. He backed up to the rear end of the counter, then with a grunt, sprinted forward. And as if everything was suddenly playing out in slow motion, I watched as the undead sumo vaulted over the counter and floated through the air, a cloud of softly tinkling glass orbiting his gigantic frame. I stood paralyzed, a hollow “fuuuuuu” slowly escaping my mouth.

The sumo slammed back to Earth in real-time, the white tile floor crackling into a giant spider web under his weight. He straightened up, rivulets of black goo flowing out of its eye, and roared like an wild animal.

“Oh bloody hell,” I breathed.

I turned and ran.

Outside, I scanned the town for options. Across the road was the café, and to the left, the shamoji shop. Beyond that, a few unremarkable stores, and further on, atop the hill, the Buddhist temple where Telders was hiding out. Fucking Telders.

The ground shook as the zombie lumbered out of the store after me.

I backed up, trying to put together some semblance of a plan. I edged toward the café’s outdoor display case—the one filled with plastic food—and gestured to him. “Okay, c’mon asshole,” I said, slowly stepping back. “Let’s go!”

The sumo grunted and sniffed like a seething bull. I took one last step toward the display case, reaching back, to make sure I had enough room. The zombie broke into a sprint. “Come on!” I yelled. Then, at the very last possible moment, when I could smell the rotten flesh on his breath, I turned, pirouetting out of his path. The zombie slammed into the display case with a deafening crash. Plastic chicken teriyakis, colorful vinyl sushis, and tiny cups of simulated puddings went flying amid a shower of glass.

I frantically backed up on my hands and feet.

The sumo didn’t move. He stayed there in a slump, his head buried well inside the display case. Putrid, black visera slopped out of a fresh gash in his abdomen.

“That it?” I said, getting to my feet. I laughed a little. “That all you got?” I picked up a bowl of plastic noodles and lobbed it at him. They caromed off his back into the little stream on the side of the road. He didn’t move. “I guess so,” I said, crouching down for a breath.

“Jesus,” I said to myself. “What a fucking night—”

A sudden, ear-splitting screech of twisting metal rang out. I stood up with a gasp. The sumo lurched backward, ripping the display case into halves.

“Oh my Christ. Are you kidding me?”

The two pieces fell into twisted heaps at his side.

“TELDERS!” I screamed at the top of my voice “You fucking asshole!”

The zombie limped forward, his knees shredded from the collision, strips of rotten flesh literally dragging on the ground. He tried to scream, but his neck had been opened by the glass, and more of the dark yuck just gurgled out.

I swiveled around, searching for a weapon. Something. Anything.

Finally, something caught my eye. I darted over to the shamoji shop and wrenched the four foot, teak rice paddle out of the open air display case. I grinned. The oversized wooden spatula felt like a goddamn battle axe in my hands.

I turned around and nodded at the steadily approaching zombie. “Oh yeah,” I said, tightening my grip on the huge shamoji. “Bring it on, ass face!”

The zombie moved closer, staggering. It was a complete wreck: its neck was broken and cranked to the side, the kitchen knife was still protruding from one of its eyes, its knees were wobbling, and globs of fatty tissue and stripped flesh were hanging from its frame like dozens of exploded, oatmeal filled balloons. Zombie or not, I was amazed that it was even moving.

I cocked the big rice paddle on its edge.

The zombie took its final step.

Sayonara,” I whispered.

BOOM!

Something exploded and I suddenly found myself flat on my ass in the middle of the street. I quickly sat up. The zombie, now headless, buckled, then collapsed sideways onto the road with a ka-thump.

“What the fucking hell?!” I screamed.

Stepping out from behind the shamoji shop in his camouflage hazmat suit, Michael Telders struck a pose. In his hands he held a smoking, sawed-off shotgun. He slung it over his shoulder and snickered behind his chemical mask. “Sorry, Robertson, couldn’t resist.”

Dead Weight

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

I got to my feet, all the while glaring at Michael and the stupid grin he was undoubtedly wearing behind his ghastly chemical mask. The headless zombie laid motionless in the street in a pool of brains and black muck, like an oil spill at a hamburger factory. A sudden, sharp pain struck me in the chest, like a giant rivet through my sternum—the expression of an intense contempt for a man whom I used to call a friend.

How I wished that I had shot him when I had the chance. God, I wished I had. But no… even if I’d pulled the trigger, nothing would have happened. Telders had given me an empty weapon. The bastard had managed to rob me of even the option of regret.

I hated him.

And there he was, pointing his smoking sawed-off shotgun at the headless sumo zombie corpse lying in the street. “Not bad, eh?” He said.

“You asshole. You gave me a weapon to defend myself, and you knew it was empty,” I hissed.

Telders tapped his chin. “Oh, did I forget to load that?”

“Goddamn right you son of a bitch.”

“Settle down, Robertson. There’s no way in hell I was about to give a loaded weapon to someone who’d looked like ground pork only a couple hours before.”

“I’m not a zombie.”

“Well I know that now. Your little brawl with Ashida-kun made that perfectly clear.”

“What?”

“Not what… who. Kenji Ashida is (or was) a goddamn yokozuna ranked sumo. One of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport.” Telders glanced at the filthy, shredded corpse on the ground. “He’s kind of let himself go lately, though. Sad.”

My mouth dropped open a little. “You make me sick, Telders.”

“I have that effect on a lot of people.”

“Whatever.” I took a step toward Michael and stared him in the eye. “I passed the stupid test, jackass. And completely unarmed, too. No thanks to you.”

Telders shrugged.

I continued. “So now I’m gonna get a shower and a change of clothes. And after that I want some real bullets for that shotgun and then we’re going to part ways for the last time.”

“Alright. Well, I’m sorry, Wayne,” he said, drumming his fingers on the barrel of his shotgun. “But you’re just too unpredictable to trust with a deadly weapon. I’m afraid you’ll have to remain my prisoner until such time that I’ve deemed you stable.”

I clenched my fists. “What?!”

“Sorry, man. That’s the way it’s gotta be. And I’m the one with the gun, so…”

But his gun was empty. At that very moment he was vulnerable. And he only had a tiny little barrier between him and the zombie virus. All I had to do was sever his breathing tube, or unmask him even for a second and he’d probably be dead within the hour. Then maybe he’d go full zombie and I’d get the chance to kill him again.

The giant shamoji was lying just a few inches from my feet. Without a further thought, I bent over, snatched it, and swung.

Telders ducked. Of course he did. He ducked it perfectly, like he’d seen it coming since the day we’d met. It was just a little bob of the head, maybe a slight weave, and my shamoji sailed over his head. I’d been so cocksure that I’d completely thrown myself off balance. And before I’d time to recover, Michael had me dead to rights.

He nudged me in the ear with his other gun. The Beretta. “Give it up, Robertson,” he said. “I’m the hero of this story. Not you.”

“The hell you are,” I said.

“Shut up and drop the spoon.”

“It’s a shamoji,” I growled.

Telders smacked me in the ear with the gun. “It’s gonna be a suppository if you don’t follow directions!”

“Christ, fine.” I pitched the shamoji into the little stream on the side of the road. A little orange and white koi fish darted away from the splash.

“Now sit down. We’re gonna have a little chat.” He shoved me on my ass, then grabbed a chair from the cafe. He turned it around and sat down backwards.

My pants, my shoes, everything I had was covered in blood and filth.

Michael leaned forward in the chair, adjusting the long black hose that connected the little cylindrical filter to his chemical mask. He let out a long, heavy sigh, then cleared his throat. “Alright, Robertson,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about this. Quite a bit actually. You know….” Telders glanced around the town for a moment. Finally he said, “You told me one hell of a story before you left the brownstone.”

Surprised, I looked up.

“Something about alien fish people landing their pods in Antarctica, causing all kinds of havoc, and then somehow launching the nukes that started World War Three.”

I felt my nose wrinkle. “Yeah and you didn’t believe a word of it.”

Telders unconsciously rapped the barrel of his 9mm on the back of the chair. “Wayne, I’ve seen the world go from your fairly normal bullshit, to a completely insane fucked nightmare, in just a matter of weeks. Our homes have been wiped off the map. Everyone we know is dead. North America, Europe, western civilization as we know it has been burned to a crisp. But you know what? I was coping with that. Asia was still more or less intact, and I have to admit, I’d caught a bit of the yellow fever if you know what I mean.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head.

Michael ignored my show of disgust and continued. “But I woke up one morning and found my girlfriend outside chewing on the corpse of one of my guards. And then she wanted to chew on me. And not in a good way.” Telders narrowed his eyes. “I killed her, Wayne. I shot Yuki in the head, just like this loser,” he said, pointing his gun at what remained of the famous sumo wrestler Kenji Ashida.

“But I got lucky,” he continued. “I knew something was wrong. I had several boxes of these suits so I put one on and I handed the rest out to my guards. Some of them were already infected. We put them down. The others survived. That’s when I came for you. Everywhere I went I found these crazed, half-dead, undead, whatever you want to call them zombie mother bastards trying to infect every living thing thing they see.”

I threw up my hands. “Blah, blah, blah. What’s your point, Telders?”

“My point, Robertson, is that I’m starting to wonder if that story you told me might have some truth to it. Especially after watching your dead, rotten, tattered corpse spontaneously and magically heal itself in a matter of hours. If what you say that fish person did to you is true—”

“Spegg.”

“What?”

“Spegg. Spegg was the name of the fish person. Er, transgenic. That’s what he called himself. Transgenic.”

“Fine. Spegg the transgenic. If what you say Spegg did to you is true, the imprisonment and the drugs he injected you with, then that might explain your immunity to this virus.”

I cocked my head. “Wait, you think Spegg is responsible for the zombie outbreak as well?”

Telders stood up and tossed the chair away. “Robertson, I don’t even know if Spegg is a real or just a madman’s fantasy, but I do know that the world has gone full retard, and if there’s the slightest chance that what you’ve told me is the truth, then I’m going to find this son of a bitch and gut him.”

My heart jumped at the thought. “Is that right?” I said with a stunted breath.

A nod of the head was his only reply.

“I see.”

“I’m counting on you to lead me to him.”

“What?”

“You heard me.” Telders walked over to a patch of brush on the side of the road and pulled out his duffle bag. He opened it and removed an old-style walkie-talkie. He keyed the button and spoke into it: “We’re ready to go.”

Static followed, then a scratchy voice replied: “Ah deh suh.”

“What was that?” I asked.

Telders turned away from me and stuffed the walkie-talkie back into the bag. “The Koreans.”

A chill shot up my spine. “Where are we going?”

Michael heaved the duffel bag over his shoulder and turned around. “Like I said… we’re going fishing.”

Get Yer Ears On

Friday, April 6th, 2012

A helicopter appeared over the jagged Yūbari mountains as Telders ushered me around the base of the temple. We stopped in a dry rice field on the opposite side.

“Check it out,” Michael said. An undead wearing nothing more than a pair of tighty whities and a New York Yankees baseball cap was stumbling around in the field. Michael racked his shotgun. “This one doesn’t even seem to know we’re here.”

Telders raised the shotgun.

“Wait,” I said. “What’s he after?”

The zombie had shambled over to a patch of rice. It moaned a bit, then reached down and pulled out a dirty chunk of flesh out of the muck.

“What is that?” Telders said.

I shook my head.

The undead licked the bit of flesh, as if to clean it, then pressed it against his head.

I swallowed. “I think that’s his ear.”

Whatever it was, it slid off his face and dropped into the field. The zombie moaned despairingly, then rummaged after it.

“Ugh,” Telders said. “This is pathetic.” He raised his gun again.

I held up my hand. “Hold on. Let him be. He’s not hurting anyone.”

“Shut it, Robertson.” Telders took aim.

“He’s just lost his ear, man. Don’t kill him.”

“What, you want me to wait until he finds his ear before I put this bastard down?”

“I dunno,” I shrugged. “Look at him. He’s different. Have you ever seen one of them act like that?”

“He’s not a ‘he’, Robertson. He’s–it’s–a savage undead who will spread this disease to every living thing it can get its gaping maw on.”

The sound of the helicopter was growing louder. Telders looked to the sky. “We gotta go. I’m putting this thing out of its misery.”

“No!” I tried to grab the shotgun out of Telder’s hands, but he was too quick. He turned it on me. “You got a real suspicious attitude toward these monsters, Robertson.”

I raised my hands. “It’s not that. It just feels wrong, killing this one.”

The zombie howled. Michael and I both turned our heads at the same time. Arms flailing, the thing shot toward us.

“Still feel wrong, asshole?” Telders asked.

“Not as much.”

Michael raised the shotgun, but before he could fire, a sudden rat-a-tat erupted from the skies. A torrent of gunfire ripped into zombie, spraying putrid, black tissue all over everything.

Michael looked to the sky, his mask dripping with goo, and extended his middle finger at a smiling gunner perched in the open door of the helicopter. The gunner waved.

“Fucking North Koreans,” Telders muttered.

J-Pop

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

The helicopter, an old Japanese Chinook, came to rest in the dry rice field and half a dozen North Koreans spilled out. Loud, Japanese pop music was screaming from the speakers. The Koreans were still clad in their military uniforms, but it was clear they’d mentally defected. Their coats were unbuttoned and hanging open and they were all either smoking or pulling on bottles of sake, or both. The obviously very inebriated group cheered and pointed at the pieces of the zombie they’d obliterated from the air. One of them, the tallest of the group, picked up the NY Yankees hat that the zombie had been wearing and put it on his friend. He happily accepted it and I think he yelled “America”, which set the whole lot of them laughing and cheering even louder. The pilot stumbled out after the rest of them, still wearing his headset, and fired a couple of rounds from this pistol into the air. The group went dead silent, but after they realized who’d fired the shots, they all bent over laughing, and one of them had sake coming out of his nose. The pilot immediately joined in the revelry, whooping, and pulling on a flask.

“What the hell have you got us into, Telders?” I said.

“Just act natural and they won’t kill you.” Michael raised his hands in the air and started whooping and hollering along with the rest of them. Someone handed him a bottle and he lifted his mask for a pull.

“Mi-kul Jack-son!” a Korean soldier screamed and slapped Michael on the back.

The pilot staggered over to me and extended a bottle of Suntory.

“No thank you,” I said.

“Uwhat?” the pilot yelled over the noise of the group.

I waved my hands back and forth. “No thank you,” I yelled back.

He narrowed his eyes.

“I don’t want any of that crap,” I said, pointing.

The pilot growled something in Korean, drew his revolver, and swung. A bright light flashed before my eyes.

Zombie X-ing

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Zombie X-ing

“We’re all gonna die!” I screamed, waking to the sound of gunfire.

The Koreans erupted into laughter, then continued firing their guns out the window. My head pounded. A swollen lump where the pilot had cold-cocked me throbbed at my right temple. BANG. BANG. BANG. Every shot was like sushi knives stabbing my eyes.

“Out of the way, Robertson,” Telders said with his mouth half-full of sandwich. It was the first time I’d seen his face since I left the brownstone. He pushed me back into the seat, then stuck his pistol out the window and emptied the clip. “Three down! That’s par!” he yelled.

I groaned. “What the hell are you doing, Telders?”.

“Playing zombie golf,” he said. “What’s it look like?”

I craned my neck to see the familiar features of the Shibuya crossing not five hundred feet below. A mass of undead–tens of thousands of them–were crowded in the intersection, piled on each other, all meat and crooked necks and shoulders.

“Telders, I’ve got HUGE fucking headache right now, so would you mind refraining from shooting guns next to my face?!”

Michael scowled. He reached into his jacket pocket, then handed me a little airplane bottle of Japanese whiskey.

“No thanks,” I said, and tossed it onto the floor.

“Pussy.”

The Koreans continued to fire as the pilots circled over the crossing.

“Get the one standing on that dog statue!” Telders yelled. The Korean with the NY Yankees hat spun around in his seat and fired his M-60 out the door.

“Hah! Yeah!” Telders cheered. “Nobody stands on Hachiko in my town!”

As Michael was cheering the death of things that were already technically dead, the words “ZOMBIE” and “CAGE” entered my mind, as if they bore some great significance to my current situation. I glanced around the helicopter cabin. A square, steel cage was situated in the port-side corner. A crouched zombie glared at me from within. It reached through the bars with crooked fingers and howled.

I jumped. “What the hell is that thing doing here?!”

Telders looked over his shoulder quizzically. He pointed his thumb at the zombie. “Oh, him?”

“Yes, HIM.”

He shrugged. “The Koreans want to dissect him once we reach the carrier.”

“Right. Of course. Wait… carrier? What carrier?”

“Carrier, a couple of destroyers, frigates… we’ve got a whole South Korean armada out in Tokyo Bay. They’re all going to join us for the hunt.”

“What hunt?”

“The hunt for your little friend, Robertson.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh come on, Telders. I was just bullshitting you about that Spegg business. You’re not seriously planning sailing to Antarctica are you?”

Telders grabbed my shoulder and smiled. “Oh I definitely am, Mikey. And you’re gonna lead me right to the bastard.”

I bit my lip.

Michael grinned and ruffled my hair. “Oh come on, now… it’ll be fun!”

The gunfire stopped. The Koreans chattered for a moment, then the pilot banked left and hit the throttle.

“Looks like they’re out of ammo,” Michael said. He waved his hand at the crowds of undead below. He looked back at me then took my hand and moved it side to side. “Say goodbye to Tokyo, Michael.”

I glared at him, then fell back in my seat and watched Shibuya disappear from sight. As we flew overland toward Tokyo Bay, it became clear just how widespread the the virus was. The infected were everywhere. Every street corner, every roof on every building, every park, every school playground–they had completely taken over. It was a real horror, for sure. But I must admit, it felt a little romantic at the same time. Not the lovey-dovey kind of way of course, but just the raw savagery of it all gave me pause–like a brutal clash between two opposing clans on some misty Scottish highland… the sound of broadswords clattering and horses rearing up as pikes run them through and battle axes severing arms and heads… all the while ghostly bagpipes droning on and on. I felt a little sad that we were leaving, but more excited about what the future would hold.

“There’s our ride,” Michael said, pointing out the window.

The helicopter rolled left and I caught my first glimpse of the fleet of South Korean ships that would lead me back home. The chopper leveled out, setting up for approach, and the pilot made a radio call.

Telders was right. Antarctica was the only safe place from the virus. But at least the infection offered a quick death. The things waiting on the other side of our voyage wouldn’t be so kind.

To most.

Pinioned

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Our Chinook settled on the deck of the South Korean carrier as an engorged crimson sun set behind Tokyo’s darkening skyline. Men, women, and children were on crowded on the deck, watching as thick columns of smoke rose from the blushing city.

A Korean guard armed with an AK-47 approached our helicopter, ducking the wind, and gestured for us to get out. The caged zombie howled as he approached. Telders lobbed an empty canteen at the cage. “Fuck off, you.”

The zombie growled in response and slammed his head against the bars of the cage.

Michael slapped me on the back. “Alright, hang back for a moment, Robertson,” he said.

“What’s going on?” I said.

“It’s cool. Just hang back,” he repeated, and got out.

Telders had a few indistinguishable words with the soldier, then pointed directly at me. The guard nodded and handed him a pair of silver handcuffs. The pilot looked back from the cockpit and mockingly pressed his wrists together.

“Goddamnit,” I mumbled.

“Alright, Robertson,” Telders said, climbing back in. “Assume the position.”

“This really isn’t necessary, is it? C’mon, Michael, we’re friends, right?” I started to get up.

Telders stiff-armed me in the chest and grabbed me under the jaw. “We were friends, Wayne. And we can be again… if you cooperate.”

I shook free from his grip. “This is ridiculous. You’re not cuffing me.”

“Turn around.”

I glared at him. “Go to hell.”

The North Korean with the NY baseball cap drew a pistol and leveled it at my head.

Michael nodded at the soldier and smiled. “You first.”

“Christ.” I said, turning my back to him.

Telders wrenched my arms backward and clasped the handcuffs on my wrists. The steel bit into my flesh. “Not so goddamn tight!” I shrieked.

“A lot more substantial than those zip-ties, huh Robertson? Though, I must admit that was a pretty good trick you pulled back in Hokkaido. You’ll have to teach me that sometime.”

“Oh I’ll teach you, alright.”

Telders laughed. “You’ve got spunk, Wayne. I’ll give you that.” He nodded at the Koreans. The soldier in the cap holstered his pistol and hefted a green duffelbag over his shoulders. The others followed suit and began climbing out of the chopper. “Let’s find you a nice place to relax, shall we?” he said, and yanked me out onto the deck.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” a voice shouted. “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”

I scanned the crowd for the source and spied a tall European man dressed in clerics with an open bible in his left hand, and making the sign of benediction with his right.

The priest locked eyes with me. “The end times are upon us,” he said, hurrying over. “Do you have Christ, sinner?”

“Get bent,” Telders said, shouldering past him.

“This is serious!” the priest warned. “The day is coming when human pride will be ended and human arrogance destroyed! On that day the Lord Almighty will humble everyone who is proud and conceited. He will level the high mountains and hills. He will sink even the largest and most beautiful ships. Human pride will be ended, and human arrogance will be destroyed!”

There was a horrible noise from the helicopter, screaming, and the sound of clattering metal. A crew of men in bio-suits were off-loading the caged zombie, poking at it with cattle prods.

Telders grinned at the priest. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, reaching for his Beretta. “You and me go in that cage. You take your precious bible and I’ll take this.” Telders cocked his pistol dramatically. “Then we’ll see who gets saved.”

The priest straightened up. “But the end times are upon us!” he repeated.

“Yeah, you said that,” Telders barked. He grabbed the bible out of the priest’s hands and skipped it across the deck. “Now scram!”

The priest gasped and went running after it.

“Those bible thumpers never give up, do they?” Telders said, shoving me forward. “How about you, Robertson? Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart?”

“Not Christ,” I mumbled.

Michael scowled at me. “I don’t even want to know.” He pushed me through the crowd until he found a thick, steel door that led into the ship.

Telders escorted me inside and slammed the door behind us.

Bolshoi Blonde

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Michael ushered me down several flights of stairs, along a well lit corridor, and into a galley at the bottom of the carrier. The room was packed with a mixed crowd of survivors, mostly Japanese and Korean, but there was a big table crowded with hungry Eastern Europeans, and another with a Jamaican contingent near the back. A short Korean woman with a giant mole on her ear presided over the winding chow line, spooning out red and yellow globs from stainless steel bins. I wrinkled my nose.

“Hope you like kim-chee,” Telders said.

“What, you gonna spoon feed me?” I replied, wrestling with my cuffs.

Michael grimaced. “Keep talking and you’ll eat with your face.”

“C’mon, this is ridiculous. Everyone is staring. Just take these damn things off.”

“Yah, I don’t think so,” Telders laughed. “I release you and the next thing I know you’ll be running around swording everyone and screaming about time travelling fish.”

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“I’m happier for it.”

The line moved and Telders nudged me forward. I sighed and scanned the room again.

A group of South Korean soliders and a tall, very thin, blonde woman were seated at a round table near the exit. The soldiers seemed clean and in good spirits, chattering and chopsticking bits of fish and cabbage into their mouths, but the girl had obviously been through hell. Her hair was wrecked with mud and twigs, her face spattered with filth, and she wore a shredded cocktail dress splotched with gruesome, dark stains. A tear on the dress’s left breast had been covered with duct tape. The woman stared lifelessly over the crowd, making no attempt to acknowledge her food, nor the men seated around her. I followed her gaze to a blank spot on the far wall, then looked back. Her eyes slowly moved my way. They settled on me, paused, then slid back without the slightest hint of emotion. One of the soliders next to her took note and shot me a hard look.

“Already making friends, are we?” Telders grinned.

I glared at him.

“You know, you’d probably have better luck with the mole lady,” he continued, nodding at the woman behind the counter. “Though honestly, that’s still probably kind of a long-shot.”

“Whatever.”

“Aww.” The line moved again and Michael gave me a shove. “Seriously, though, I’d keep my eyes off blondie if I were you.”

“And why is that?” I growled.

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Ugh, Robertson, you’re such a philistine. That’s Kseniya.”

I blinked.

Michael stared at me, clearly disappointed. “Kseniya Sakharov? The world-famous ballerina? Bolshoi Theatre? Ring any bells? No?”

I shook my head.

Telders rolled his eyes. “Well just keep on gawking at her if you wanna get your face yanked out of your ass. Those SK’s aren’t infantry, they’re special warfare.”

“Well what the hell is she doing with them?”

“I don’t know, dumbass, why don’t you go ask?”

“Maybe I will.”

“Maybe later,” Michael said, pushing me toward the counter. “We’re up.”

Telders rattled off something in Korean to the mole lady. She nodded, then spooned a few heaps of vegetables and fish onto two silver plates and slid them across the counter. He thanked her, then smiled at me.

“Okay, turn around,” he said, rotating his index finger.

“Christ, finally,” I said, turning my back to him. “These cuffs are fucking killing me.”

“Alright, then,” he said. “Now if you drop this plate I’m not getting you another one.”

“What?”

Telders pushed the edge of the plate into my palms. “Grab it with your thumbs. Real tight now. Hah. That looks uncomfortable.”

“Son of a bitch,” I said, gripping the plate behind my back. “You’re a right son of a bitch, you know that?”

“I try,” he said, stuffing a pair of silver chopsticks into my front pocket. He slapped me on the back. “Now let’s go find you a nice, dark cell to curl up in.”

Brig

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

The brig on the South Korean carrier was little more than an angular enclosure contained in a larger, white room devoid of any furnishings or implements, save a garbage can and small first aid kit affixed to the opposite wall. Inside the cell were four bunks, one toilet, and a small metal desk with rounded corners which jutted out about six inches from the wall. Between the pairs of bunks was a big, circular mirror like the ones used in retail stores for loss prevention.

I glimpsed my reflection as Telders guided me into the cell. I was covered in mud, my clothes were soiled, and my hair was matted and full of debris. I barely recognized myself.

I sat down on one of the low bunks and released my grip on my dinner plate.

“I can’t believe you carried that all the way down here without dropping it. Pretty impressive,” Telders said. He slammed the cell door behind me and shrugged. “I was going to give you this one if you did, actually.”

“You’re a saint.”

“Guess you don’t need it now,” he added, and dumped the plate in the trash.

I winced. It’d been days since I’d had a proper meal. I could have easily eaten both servings, and then some.

“Come over here and turn around. I’ll uncuff you.”

I stood up and turned, inserting my wrists through a slot in the bars.

“Don’t I get a proper shower?” I said as he worked a key into the handcuffs.

“I’ll send in someone with a hose.”

“Wonderful.”

The cuffs came off one at a time.

“Eat up, buddy,” Telders smirked, pocketing the handcuffs. “You’re gonna need your energy.”

“Energy for what?” I said, rubbing my wrists.

“For the interview of course.”

“What interview? I’ve already told you everything.”

Telders stared at me with his dark, sunken eyes. “Psychotic ramblings are hardly a proper substitution for a thorough account of events, Robertson. We will take a full statement, so when we arrive at the station we’ll know exactly what may or may not be waiting for us.”

“We will? Who is we?”

“Oh, I dunno. Both South and North Korean military are well represented on this ship. I’m sure there’s someone on board who has experience with these things.”

I folded my arms. “Why does it sound like I’m about to be interrogated?”

“Call it what you like,” Telders said, then turned to leave.

“Wait,” I shouted, grabbing the cell bars. “Where are you going?”

“Oh sorry I can’t stay and chat. I’m dining at Captain Stubing’s table this evening.” Michael smiled and shut off the lights. “Don’t stay up too late.”

“Wait!”

The outer door slammed, and I was engulfed in darkness.

“Telders!”

Lucid In The Sky With Diamonds

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

I ate for a while in the darkness then set my plate on the floor and stretched out on the top bunk. My cell smelled heavily of fermented cabbage and garlic, but somewhere underneath that was a hint of bleach and shoe polish. I could hear footsteps all around, the hum of the ship’s engines, and the occasional groan of the vessel as we headed out to open water.

I laid in bed trying to pick out shapes in the darkness, until the noises around me morphed into less sensible things, as they often do when I’m falling asleep.

I found myself in an old, bustling marketplace, teeming with shoppers haggling for colorful, handmade things swinging on crooked, iron hooks. To my right, the boy Wayne stood at my side, his hand firmly gripping mine. The boy Wayne was younger than I remembered, but bright-eyed, and ready for adventure. It was a big day for us. We were searching for a way into the giant maze that led to a dark, stony castle on distant hilltop. No one had ever made it through the maze, or so we had heard, those who’d dared try, were never seen in the town again. But the boy Wayne and I were determined to conquer the maze, and dead-set on unraveling the mysteries of the dark castle. We only needed to find the way in.

We followed the flagstone path, past cloaked hawkers and swarms of excited shoppers, seeking out the elusive door to the maze, but every turn seemed to take us further and further away from our goal. We took a right and it became a left. We asked a vendor for directions and he couldn’t speak. We tried to get to higher ground but the clouds rolled in and obscured our view. I tried to think but I got distracted. What were we looking for again? At long last, I realized what was happening. I stopped and turned to the boy Wayne.

“I know what’s going on,” I told him. “I know why nothing makes sense.”

The boy Wayne looked at me, perplexed.

I bent down and whispered so no one else could hear. “We’re in a dream.”

The boy Wayne nodded his head slowly.

I rubbed my hands together. “And now that we know this, we can do whatever we want. We don’t need to conquer the maze.”

“What do you mean?” the boy Wayne asked.

“We can just fly over it,” I said. “Like this.” I imagined us taking flight, floating over the maze, and landing in front of the castle doors. And suddenly we were there, high atop the hill, far above the sprawling maze and the distant marketplace.

“I like this,” the boy Wayne said, spinning around. “I like this a lot. What should we do now?”

“Well, I kind of don’t care about some dirty castle anymore,” I said. “Let’s go into space.”

The boy nodded excitedly, and we were suddenly screaming past Saturn, and off to distant worlds, rocketing through black holes and peeking in on quasars with big radio telescopes for ears. The boy Wayne was cold, so I imagined us a couple of big, comfy sweaters to ward off the chill of space.

When we were tired of that, I decided to take the boy to Antarctica. We flew through a crackling rift in space-time and exploded out of the sky above Alexander Island. But when we’d landed we found my old stomping grounds in ruin. The Array was mangled. The warehouse was burned to the ground. The station was dilapidated, having succumbed to the harsh Antarctic weather. We approached the station slowly, and I opened the door. It creaked and snapped off its hinges and collapsed in a drift of snow.

“What happened here?” the boy Wayne asked.

“I don’t know, boy Wayne.”

“Well can’t you imagine it right as rain?”

I squinted and tried to focus. “I try but nothing works.”

The boy Wayne frowned. “Are we still in a dream?”

“I’m not sure anymore.”

Suddenly the door slammed behind us. I spun around to find that it had jumped back on its hinges and was securely in place.

“Did you do that?” I asked boy Wayne.

“No,” he said, pointing. “They did.”

I turned. We were standing in an elegant ballroom. Everyone was there. Telders, and Dr. Alfieri were sharing a toast. Captain Moriyama, Yumi, Takeshi, Kenichi were seated at one of the big, round tables sharing tapas. Yumi speared one with her katana. The rest of the Nisshin Maru crew, all healthy and fit, stared on and smiled. Even Kenji Ashida, the yokozuna ranked zombie sumo wrestler (and his head!) was there, spinning platters. He smiled and knocked on his skull to prove I hadn’t really sliced it off, then dropped the needle on Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”

“We thought you’d never make it, Chikushou.”

I turned to find Spegg dressed in a tuxedo and tails, grinning ear to ear. Einstein was at his side. The transgenic seal hooted with joy. Buzz trotted in and barked and twirled around, wagging his tail.

“Buzz!”

My husky leapt into my arms and licked my face. “Who’s a good Buzz?” I said, laughing.

Spegg started clapping. He started slowly, then everyone joined in. The sound of applause grew louder and louder until the entire ballroom roared.

“Good job, Chikushou,” Spegg said, popping a maraschino cherry into his mouth. “You’re finally home.”

My chin trembled and I felt the tears coming on. Boy Wayne took my hand. “Those are good tears, right big Wayne?”

“That’s right, boy. Good tears. Great tears.” I set Buzz down and wiped my eyes. I stared out at all my friends and raised my fist as high as I could. “God bless you all!”

“It’s time for your interview,” the boy Wayne said.

“What’s that?”

“It’s time for your interview.”

I looked at the boy. “What interview?”

“Wake up, asshole,” he said. “You’re sobbing like a little girl.”

I frowned at him. “Boy Wayne, what has gotten into you?”

“Wake up, mother fucker,” he said. Suddenly the boy Wayne vanished I was jerked awake by a splash of cold water.

I sat up in my bunk to find Michael Telders and large, shirtless man standing outside my cell.

“This is Ivan,” Michael said, gesturing with his thumb. “He’ll be conducting your interview.”

Ivan grinned and twirled a pair of silver pliers around his fingers. “We make friends, yes?”

Hard Pressed

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

When I sat up on my bunk and saw Telders staring at me through the prison bars with cold, vacant eyes, I felt a sharp tremor in my chest.

I almost didn’t recognize him.

“What is this?” I said.

“Get up,” Michael replied, his voice heavy and even.

I swallowed. Next to him, stood Ivan, a muscular, skin-headed Russian wearing nothing but a pair of bluejeans and a Soviet-style hammer and sickle tattoo on his left breast. Ivan grinned as he toyed with a pair of heavy, red pliers, flipping them around like a giant, toothy butterfly knife.

“Hey, hey, Michael,” I said, standing up. “You don’t need to do this.”

“Let’s go, Robertson” he said flatly.

“What, you’re gonna torture me? Really?”

Michael looked at the Russian.

“I do torture,” Ivan said. “I put on… how you say? Good show?

“A good show?” I looked at Michael. “Seriously, man? This isn’t you.”

“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Robertson.”

“What do you want to know? I’m not hiding anything. I already told you what happened in Antarctica. You even said you believed me!”

“Enough,” he growled. “Approach the door, turn around, and put your hands through the opening.”

I raised my hands. “Fuck that.”

“Don’t make us come in there and get you, Wayne. I’m want to be reasonable, but you’re testing my patience.”

“No, this is exactly the opposite of wanting to be reasonable. I’m trying to be reasonable. You’re being a dick.”

Telders scratched his chin. “Alright. I warned you.”

Ivan sneered in delight as Michael fished the key to the cell out of his front pocket.

I shuffled backward, scanning the cell for a weapon. I snatched the chopsticks from my empty plate and held them out like daggers.

The cell door swung open and Ivan rushed in, working the pliers with a sound like chattering teeth.

I felt my body stiffen. “No!” I screamed, and lashed out with the chopsticks, aiming for the Russian’s bulging eyeballs. Ivan laughed, easily parrying my attack. He spun me around and wrenched my right arm behind my back, then pummeled me in the spine with his left fist.

Suddenly I was falling. On the way to the floor my head careened off one of the metal bunks, drawing a stripe of blood over my eyes. I slammed onto the cold tile, and Ivan piled on, digging his knee into the small of my back. He delivered a flurry of powerful blows so punishing that I repeatedly rebounded off the floor, taking hard damage from both directions.

“You learn to obey, yes?” Ivan hissed in my ear. He yanked my right thumb backward and closed the pliers around it.

“Don’t do this! Michael, what the hell are you doing?” I yelled.

“Shhh,” Ivan said. “You will feel little pinch.”

The teeth of the pliers bit into my thumb. I screamed out in pain. Ivan jabbed me in the ribs and cackled as he squeezed harder. The bone cracked with a sudden snap, and I howled, begging Michael to make it stop. Ivan grabbed me under the chin and lifted it up so Michael could see.

“Nice?” Ivan said proudly. “Good show?”

With a cold stare, Telders nodded.

“Good,” Ivan said, slapping me on the cheek. “Mike, you want I take his thumb?”

“What?! No! Please!” I screamed. “I’ll tell you whatever you want! Everything! Anything!”

“I know, Robertson,” Michael said. “I already know you’ll tell me anything. That’s not the point.”

“Then what’s the point!?”

Michael bent down and looked me in the eye. “The world’s gone, Wayne. The few people on these ships are all who’re left of the human race. They’re tired, they’re scared; they’re angry. They’re desperate for someone to blame. And as far as I can tell you’re the closest someone I can find who fits that description.”

“But you don’t have to—”

“These people need a leader, buddy. And let’s face it, I need to be loved. It’s a natural fit. Sucks that you have to suffer like this, but you have to admit, suffering is kind of your thing. In a weird way, I think you enjoy it.”

“I’ll fucking kill you, Telders.”

Michael stood up, then nodded to Ivan. “Take it off”.

“No!”

The Russian laughed and let go of my head. I saw a flash of light, then the pliers bit in again. Their teeth crushed what was left of the bone, then they started sawing and tearing away at my flesh, yanking the tendons and the nerves out of my hand. The pain was so intense that I started to black out. I was still screaming, I guess, but I didn’t feel like it was me anymore. Just some stranger’s deep, hollow agony. Just nothing, really. And then total darkness for a while. I don’t even know how long.

 

***

“Wayne?”

“Wayne?”

A match struck in the air. I squeezed my eyes shut.

“Sorry. I didn’t want to turn on the overheads.”

The brightness seemed to fade and I opened my eyes slightly. A hand was cupping the light. After my eyes adjusted, the face of a man I didn’t recognize ebbed into view. He slowly brought his hand away from the match.

“Can you see?”

I tried to answer. “Umh, I—”

“That’s okay. Don’t waste your energy.” He brushed the hair out of my eyes with cool fingers. “I’m going to take care of you.” He lit a candle with the match, then shook it out. He set the candle aside. Long shadows from the cell bars danced in the light.

“Who are you?” I whispered.

“Just relax. I’m going to give you something for the pain, okay?”

I nodded sluggishly.

“You’re going to feel a slight pinch.”

I felt nothing.

“Alright, that’ll numb your hand so I can sew you up.”

I heard a bag’s zipper and the sounds of things being taken out.

“Just a few minutes and you’ll be right as rain.”

“Wait. Who are you?” I asked again.

“I’m Dr. Shinobazu,” he said.

“Hi, Dr… um.”

He laughed softly. “It’s okay. You can just call me Makabe.”

WWJBD?

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Makabe returned several times over the next few days to oversee my recovery. Not only had I lost my right thumb, but I’d suffered a concussion, three broken ribs, and loads of internal bruising. He plied me with Ibuprofen and vegetable soup, and even managed to bring in a bucket of hot water, soap, and a fresh towel so I could have a somewhat proper bath. Makabe was taller than the average Japanese, but still an inch or two shorter than me. He was in his early thirties and had choppy, black hair, light skin, and unusually prominent cheekbones that made him look both distinguished and somehow alien all at once. He asked few questions, but spoke constantly—and in fluent English.

He wasn’t technically a physician, he told me, but he’d attended medical school at Kyoto University for nearly three years. He’d chosen to drop out to take care of his ailing mother, working odd jobs as an electrician and carpenter to pay the bills. He’d studied Aikido in his youth, enjoyed American rock ‘n’ roll, and dreamed of playing baseball for the Hanshin Tigers.

He talked a lot.

Today he was talking about the American TV show “24” as he took my vitals, checked my stitches, and flashed pen lights in my eyes. He’d seen season one, two, three, and just finished the first episode of season 4.

“I can’t believe Jack Bauer got fired from CTU,” he said, pressing a stethoscope against my chest. “But Chloe O’Brian is still there. I think she can help him get back in. He has to get back in!”

I opened mouth.

“No, no! Don’t tell me what happens,” he said.

“I’ve never seen it,” I said, shaking my head. “I wouldn’t know.”

“What?!” he said, his mouth agape. “You’ve never seen 24?”

“Not… no.”

“You don’t know who Jack Bauer is?”

“I know he’s Kiefer Sutherland.”

Makabe cocked his head and sniffed. “Wow. You are missing out. Seriously.” He leaned forward. “Cough, please.”

I coughed.

He pursed his lips. “Well, you’re not out of the woods yet. But you’re healing quickly.”

I relaxed into a slump. “Any luck finding my thumb?”

Makabe shook his head. “I think Mr. Telders is keeping it as a souvenir.”

“Lovely,” I growled. “Know if he’s planning on harvesting any other momentos?”

“I wouldn’t know.” He cocked an eyebrow. “I hope not.”

“Any idea what he’s planning? Why he’s keeping me in here? What’s the word on the street?”

“I don’t know. He’s been pretty busy.”

“Busy how?”

“Oh, meetings, you know. Planning. That kind… of thing….” He trailed off, stuffing the stethoscope into his black bag. “Rallies,” he mumbled.

I straightened up. “What’d you say? Rallies?”

Makabe took a breath and nodded. “Every night on the carrier deck, right at sunset. Attendance is mandatory.”

“What… he forces everyone to show up?”

“Well, Mr. Telders doesn’t. His security teams handle that. But I wouldn’t call it ‘force’, per se. They just knock on the door and say it’s time to go.”

“And if you don’t?”

“I haven’t resisted.”

“Hmm.” I sat back in my bunk and propped my back against the wall. My right hand started throbbing. I poked at the bandage. “So, what does he talk about at these rallies?” I asked.

“Not much. This and that. Rebuilding society. That kind of thing.”

“What else?”

“I dunno.”

I leaned forward and stared Makabe in the eye. “Mak, you’re being evasive. Tell me what Telders talks about.”

He looked down. Dark shadows underscored his big cheekbones.

“You. He talks about you.”

Friends

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

“I need to get out of here,” I said, standing up. “Give me your keys, Makabe.”

Makabe got to his feet and backed away. “I’m sorry, I only have keys to your cell. You know that.” He pointed behind him. “A guard has to let me out of the room.”

I snarled at the young Japanese man. He calmly stared back, his big, black eyes wide, and round.

“But I wouldn’t let you out even if I could,” he added.

I sniffed. “You think I’m some kind of monster? Is that what Michael is saying?”

“I don’t think you’re some kind of monster, Wayne. But I know you’ve done some horrible things. Everyone in Japan knows about the Nisshin Maru. Murdering those sailors is reason enough to keep you locked up, even without the other things Mr. Telders has told us.”

“I didn’t kill those people. Yumi murdered them and pinned the whole thing on me.”

“Yumi?” Makabe shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, Wayne. Utsunomiya Yumi was locked in a safe room with ten other people while the rest of the crew were brutally slaughtered.”

“No. She was with me every step of the way. She helped me escape, she showed me where they kept the weapons, and she led the way through the ship’s corridors. She may have been in a safe room, but she was with me as well.”

Makabe was silent for a moment. He pursed his lips, thinking. “Mr. Telders did speak to that,” he finally said.

I rolled my eyes. “What.”

“He said that you often spoke to someone who wasn’t there. He said that there may have been others, but you spoke directly to someone named Yumi. Not once, but often.”

I turned and kicked the metal bed behind me. Of course I knew it was the truth. But when I knew Yumi she was as real to me as Makabe, Telders, and the cell that confined me. I slammed my first into the frame of the top bunk. A sharp sting of pain shot up my arm. It felt good.

I heard Makabe take a step toward me. “Do you still see her?” he asked.

“Not anymore,” I said, without turning around. “I sent them away.”

“Them? There were more?”

“Two others. Spegg, a monster—and Wayne, a little boy.”

“Spegg.”

“Yes, Spegg. A transgenic—”

“A half-fish, half man from the future who sent you messages through a hole in the sky?”

I turned and frowned at Makabe. “No. A figment based on a half-fish, half-man from the future who sent me messages through a hole in the sky.”

Makabe licked his lips. “So, this… other Spegg. Is he real to you?”

I balled up my fists and growled.

“Do you still see him? This other one?”

“The real Spegg is in Antarctica,” I sneered. “I don’t see him now because he isn’t a figment of my imagination, and I’m not in Antarctica.”

Makabe cocked his head. “Mr. Telders says—”

I lurched forward and grabbed Makabe by the neck, slamming him into the cell bars. “I don’t care what Mr. Telders says,” I hissed. “How about I snap your goddamn neck, then the guard’s, and then slaughter Mr. Telders and everyone else on this ship, just like I did before?”

Makabe’s huge eyes bulged. “Way…ne,” he said, laboring to speak. “I don’t… want… to hurt you.”

I grinned. “That’s good. Because there’s zero chance of—”

Makabe’s elbow shot up and connected with my chin. Light flashed before my eyes, a space opened up in front of me, and I collided with the cell bars. I felt my legs kick out from under me, then another bright light announced the arrival of the floor. Makabe dug his knee into my back.

“I’m sorry, Wayne,” he spoke into my ear, wrenching my left arm behind my back. “I like you very much. And I would very much like to help you. But I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about your present situation. And if Mr. Telders gets his way, when we reach Antarctica you will be sentenced to death not only for the murder of those aboard the Nisshin Maru, but for the slaughter of every man, woman, and child who died in the nuclear attacks. Not to mention the horrific virus that followed.”

“I had nothing to do with the war, or the virus.”

“Mr. Telders believes otherwise. In fact, he believes you inoculated yourself before releasing the virus into the population, which is why you are the only one who is known to have recovered from the sickness.”

I let out a sigh. Makabe released some of the pressure on my arm.

“I really don’t want to see you suffer, Wayne. Considering what I’ve learned about you, I doubt you’ve ever had a true friend. A real one. And I would like to show you what that’s like before… well, before it’s too late.”

I turned my head to look at Makabe. He looked relaxed, and his dark eyes were calm and inviting.

“What do you say, Wayne? Can I be your friend?”

A vision of Antartica flashed in my mind. Snow fell in clumps on the fresh bodies of the baby LMO we called Einstein, and my faithful Husky, Buzz. Spegg stared at me, framed by the giant metal dishes of Station151’s massive radio telescope array. His words echoed in my head: We are wound together. My life and your life.

“Wayne?”

I looked at Makabe and growled: “I already have a friend, Chikushou.”

Slow Drip

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Makabe stood above me and let out a deep breath. “I am sorry to hear that you won’t accept my friendship, Wayne. I know the next few days will be difficult for you. I don’t condone the taking of any life, regardless of the crime. But if it’s any consolation, perhaps this death sentence—this terrible thing—will bring the last of us together and help us rebuild the world.”

I slowly got to my knees. I drew my hand under my nose, painting a broad, red streak of blood over my knuckles. I turned and leveled my eyes at him. “Get out.”

Makabe nodded and gathered his things. He closed the cell door, offered me a reluctant glance, then knocked on the outer door for the guard. The heavy, iron door swung open. An African guard dressed in dark-green fatigues looked in and glared at me. After Makabe was gone, the guard gave me the finger, spat on the floor, then slammed the door. A moment later the light flicked off and I was shrouded in darkness.

I stayed on my knees for a while, letting blood drip out of my nose, listening to the ship groan as it plowed through the waves toward the bottom of the world. My knees burned, but I stayed in that position, unmoving, somehow reveling in the discomfort.

Pain had become a constant companion in the past few months. I’d been beaten, experimented on, starved, drugged, frozen, dumped into frigid seas, infected, and had my thumb savagely ripped off. Short of being drawn and quartered, I doubted there was any kind of pain I could be subjected to that I wasn’t already intensely familiar with. But it wasn’t all bad. Starvation I could do without, but the beatings I’d grown accustomed to. Brutal, reoccurring pain really opens your eyes. It focuses the mind. If you feel good for too long, things start to lose their meaning. You get bored. You lose purpose.

Pain fixes that.

I let the pain from my jaw, my back, and my ribs wash over me. I welcomed it in, and let it go, time and time again. Blood continued its slow drip from my nose, softly tapping the floor. I counted the drips as they grew fewer and farther between. A steady tap every two seconds became somewhere between two and three. Then four seconds. Five….

I sat back on my hands and stared into the darkness. Wonderful, black nothingness. No shape, no color, no depth—just pure, caged absence… patiently waiting to get out and roll over everything.

I raised my hands in front of my chest and gave it a push.

Guest Of Honor

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

I wasn’t aware of how much time had past between Makabe’s departure and Telder’s arrival, but it could have been days. After so much time in the dark, the sudden blast of overhead lights drilled into my eyes.

Telders was alone.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Michael said, ducking his head under the door frame as he entered. He was bright-eyed and cheery, and wore a fine, tailored black suit with a solid yellow tie. “What do you think, huh, Robertson?” he asked, turning around with his arms out to show off the suit. “Not a bad look for the post-apocalypse, huh?”

I sat on one of the top bunks with my back against the corner, squinting against the brightness. I said nothing.

Telders peered into my cell and tilted his head back and forth, pretending to get a read on me. “What’s up, Wayne?” he said. He frowned and waved his hand. “Earth to Wayne Robertson….”

“Hi Michael.”

“There he is!” Telders grinned. “Hah, I thought for a second you were ignoring me. How’s it going, buddy?”

“Doing just fine,” I said, unmoving. “Have you come to let me out of my cage, Michael?”

“Hah! Always the comedian. Hilarious, Robertson. Really.” Suddenly his eyes lit up. “Oh, hey! Come on down here and check this out. You’re gonna love this.” He lifted a clear plastic bag to eye level and nodded sideways at it. Inside was what looked like a scrap of metal.

“You bring me a present?”

“Kinda sorta. Come on down from there and you can check it out.”

“I’m fine where I am,” I said.

Telders nodded and mocked a look of defeat. “You’re still upset about the thumb. I can tell. No sense in hiding it.”

I regarded the bandage that covered my missing digit. “Hadn’t thought about it.”

“Oh? Then you won’t mind if I get Ivan in here to take a finger or two? Or… would you like to show some manners and come see what I’ve brought you?”

I gave Michael a hard stare, then slid off the edge of the bunk.

“Great! Now, what I’ve got in my little bag…” he said, pointing at the metal, “…is no ordinary chunk of aluminum. Care to guess why?”

I sighed and looked away. “Dazzle me.”

Telders chuckled. “I like that. ‘Dazzle me.’ You’re a funny guy, Robertson. Well, prepare to be dazzled, then, because this bit of aluminum is part of the housing from a freaking cruise missile. And we’re not talking your every day, run of the mill Tom Cruise missile. Oh, no no no. This baby is advanced. The science team ran it through all their best equipment and they don’t know what to make of it. It’s smaller and faster than anything they’ve ever seen. They even think it might have had some kind of anti-grav propulsion. Pretty far out, huh?”

“Sure.”

“I’m glad you agree, Wayne. And that’s not even the best part. Do you know what they found on this little scrap of metal?”

I stared at him and slowly shook my head.

Michael widened his eyes and said with a spooky voice, “A viiiiirus.”

I bit my lip. Telders took note of it and smirked. “I know, right? And there was a ton of it on here. Like, really a lot.” He laughed. “I bet you can guess which virus it was, huh?”

“I have an idea.”

“You bet you do. You were on a first name basis with this sucker. Only, it didn’t seem to kill you, like everyone else—did it?”

“No.”

“And you have no idea why.”

“No.”

“But you’ve got a pretty good idea who does, though, don’t you? Advanced weaponry, killer-alien-zombie virus… sounds like that Spegg thing has been pretty busy.”

“That Spegg thing may or may not be responsible, but I had nothing to do with it.”

Telders nodded.

I eyed him suspiciously. “But…”

But… it doesn’t fucking matter! It only matters what they think,” he said, pointing upward, presumably toward everyone on the ship.

I shook my head. “What did you tell them, Michael?”

Telders grinned sheepishly.

“Let me guess. You painted me as some kind of super-genius with a grudge against society. I grew up in a broken home, then quietly did my time at Yale, where people who knew me would describe me as “strange”, or “a loner type”. Then, after I graduated, I went to Antarctica, to a remote station where I slowly lost my mind. Mad from the cold and the isolation, and hell-bent on punishing those I deemed responsible, I created a hideous bio-weapon and an advanced delivery system to distribute it to the masses. Something like that?”

“The details are a little off, but you’ve got the gist of it.”

“Nothing unites the people like a common enemy.”

“You said it. And you wouldn’t believe how desperate they are for your blood. Most people lost everyone they knew. Families, wives, husbands, babies. They are seriously pissed. And I’ve been holding little rallies up on deck to encourage it. Last night we burned you in effigy.”

“Sounds like a blast.”

“Oh, we have fun. How about you drop by tonight and meet everyone?” He checked his watch. “Say… eight o’clock?”

“Something tells me I don’t have a choice.”

“Yeah. I guess it’s kind of mandatory,” he shrugged. “We’ve got the whole thing planned out. Torches, pitchforks… the whole shebang. You’re the guest of honor, Wayne.”

I calmly regarded my old friend. “Telders, when I get off this boat—”

“You’ll die on this boat,” he sneered. “And probably sooner than you think.” Michael turned and called out: “Guards!”

The outer door swung open. Ivan, the savage who ripped off my thumb, the African guard in dark-green fatigues, and two Korean soliders stepped into the room with heavy weapons and hard expressions carved on their faces.

“Uh oh,” Telders said, turning around. “Somebody’s ready to party.”

He fished a key out of his pocket slid it into the lock.

Via Crucis

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

If you’ve never bee on the business end of an angry mob, I don’t really recommend it. It’s loud, frightening, and you tend to pee your pants a little. Okay, a lot.

Whatever Michael had told these people, it resonated. After Ivan and the other guards shoved me out onto the carrier deck, I was met by a throng of howling faces and screaming fists. I was knocked sideways at the onset, down to my knees, where I was met by a parade of snap-kicks and elbows. My blood splattered on the deck like so much modern art.

Voices called out in a barrage of languages, most of which I didn’t understand. I did pick out the occasional “Kill him!” in English, which I found oddly comforting. Another kick to the head, a couple to the balls, and I was laid out flat.

Someone got ahold of my shirt and yanked hard, tearing it from my body. The collar caught at my neck and suddenly I was being wrenched upright by the jugular. I hadn’t been able to breathe much at that point anyway, but the extra lack of blood flow really made the world spin. Another kick to the balls and I pretty much lost it. Shit went real dark for two or three seconds, then there was a sudden flash of red light and the shirt was off. My vision slammed back into place just in time to greet a hurling, whistling fist, followed a solid crack, announcing the destruction of my nose.

There was a lot of shouting by the guards, mostly Korean, with a bit of Soviet Ivan in the mix. I wasn’t sure if I’d gone into shock, or if the crowd had let up, but for some reason fresh pains stopped arriving and my brain got a chance to start cataloging the damage. It wasn’t happy.

Consciousness came in intervals, just bits and flashes: a pair of boots, a cloud, a green door, a baton, and good, solid, throbbing pain all over me, everywhere.

Suddenly, I realized that I was being dragged by the arm pits. My legs were somewhere behind me, thumping along like a couple of obedient dogs. The crowd had fanned out. Korean uniforms had formed a barrier, waving their hands and guns around to keep the savages at bay. They dragged me along the deck for I don’t know how long, then we thumped up a flight of stairs, which my brain indignantly reported had destroyed my kneecaps. I told brain to hold all my calls until further notice.

Then, there was a face. A Michael Telders face.

“Well, hello there,” A Michael Telders’ face said.

“I said no calls, Brain.”

[I’m afraid he insisted], Brain said.

“Fine, goddammit. But I’m gonna remember this, asshole.”

[Patching him though], Brain replied.

A seemingly disembodied hand slapped me repeatedly on the cheek. “You still alive, Wayne old boy? I wouldn’t want you to miss the big finale.”

I guess I’d only been using my right eye. When I tried my left, there was a squishy sound, and 220 volts of scorching hot agony shot straight through my head and exploded down my spine to my toes.

“Oh that looks like it hurts.,” Telders said. “You might not want to use that eye anymore. Like, ever.”

Someone chuckled somewhere in the distance.

“Anyway, it’s time to get up, Wayney-poo. Time to shine!”

Someone said something that I couldn’t make out.

“In his condition? Not long, I’d guess,” Telders replied. “Okay, here we go.”

I was lifted up. We were high above the carrier deck, atop a platform, like a dais, towering over the swarming crowd below. Telders raised his hands and the crowd went nuts.

“We had this especially made for you,” Telders said. He motioned for the guards to spin me around. A tall, metal pole had been erected on the platform, and affixed to he pole, was a large, iron cross.

Telders gestured to Ivan, who came forward and took me into his arms. He grinned, then turned me around and pressed me against the cold metal of the cross. He leaned against me with his left shoulder and placed my left arm along the horizontal beam of the cross. Holding it in place, he snapped a steel handcuff around my left wrist. Spikes on the inside of the cuff pierced my flesh. “This is worst way to die,” he said, snapping the other cuff on my right wrist. One of the spikes cracked a bone and a bolt of fire shot up my arm. “And yet, is too good for you.”

Ivan took his hands away and let the cuffs take my weight. I screamed in agony.

“Hurts?” Ivan said with a smirk. He bent down, crossed my ankles, and snapped another cuff around my legs. The spikes stabbed in, and I instinctively dropped my weight to relieve the pressure on my wrists. Razor-like pain shot up my legs.

Ivan stood up and looked me in the eye. “Right side up, you die of heart attack.” He grabbed the left side of the cross and pulled. My view spun sideways as the cross turned. My weight briefly shifted to my right wrist, then fully on both wrists as the cross locked in place, upside down. Ivan knelt down and tapped me on the forehead. “Upside down your brain explode from inside.”

Ivan patted me on the shoulder, then moved away. An upside down Telders came into view. Michael winked, then turned to face the crowd. He raised his hands into the air.

“It is the day of reckoning!” he shouted.

The crowd went nuts.

Christcicle

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

The roar of the crowd on the deck of the carrier filled my ears, punctuated by the pounding of my stubborn heart as it struggled to compensate for the new gravity on the cross. I hung upside down, sweat and blood stinging my eyes, as inverted icebergs slid into view on a canopy of broken ice, as if all the sky had frozen over.

The crowd’s voices carried deep into my mind, rapidly changing pitch and forming into colorful shapes, as if I were slipping headlong into a fugue or some heavy, unkind drug. The sound of Michael Telder’s voice, as he spoke to his people, suddenly reminded me of my place:

“To ‘reckon,’ means to understand,” he said, his voice sputtering and curling around my mind. “And on this day, we come to a mutual understanding. Not simply that we are sending this savage to a rightful death, but that because of his atrocities, we have become a family. An unlikely family. A family born of tragedy and heartbreak. But a family that represents the remaining few of a once great human civilization. A family who will rekindle our civilization at the very bottom of the Earth, on the glacial ice of Antarctica.

This will not be an easy transition. We will endure hardship. Many of us will fall. But in the end we will persevere. We have no other choice. We are humanity’s last hope.”

Shades of Michael Telders danced to the beat of my thumping heart, green and blue Telders, pink and orange Telders, his Telders face weirdly stretching over mine, his words slipping from his mouth into my mine, then somehow backward through my ears like a oily, feverish sickness.

My heart thumped louder and louder. Telders was fading, breaking. His words sputtered and crackled.

“…stand in judgment of Wayne James Robertson, and let suffer… our sufferings… let his pain be our pain… let his blood be our blood. Let his death… a cleansing. And afterward, he… plummets… this frigid ocean, we will… forward. To… future… humanity. Not looking back… never forget….”

The deck whorled, pulsing, flashing, strobing, tinged by things (colors?) I no longer could identify. Was I the Wayne James Robertson? Was I suffering the sufferings that he spoke into my mouth? All those eyeballs and fingers and mouths dancing around. Each glance, each little gesture, or tiny judgment, was I?

“They want you dead,” a voice hissed. It was new. A brand new voice. Like a snake—if a snake could have a voice—coiling, twisting, slithering around my ear. Or was it my own? Was I thinking myself?

“It won’t be long now,” it said. “Not too much longer.”

“WHO—!” I screamed.

Michael’s voice had become hollow and unreal, a thumping, distant drum. But this new voice was clear, and sinister… and true.

“Please help muh—,” I told it.

“Almost.”

A roar. A lot of voices. Thousands… of far away voices. And shattering, crackling. Howling wind. Splash. And then cold, cold, cold, cold, cold….

On The Ice

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Spegg and the crew left about an hour ago on the pods. They got the Array up and running, but it started shrieking like a bone saw after they left. Figures. I’ll have to try to fix it tomorrow before the first experiment. I don’t think I can deal with that noise for the next six thousand years.

It looks like the fetal pig has found a warm place under the server rack. He’s snoozing quietly next to his feed tube. I should find a name for him.

I can’t feel my legs.

First Morning

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

I seem to remember having breakfast. Powdered eggs. Dried hash browns. Coffee. A microwaved doughnut. I seem to remember that. At least the fact that I had breakfast. But when? I don’t actually remember doing it. I can taste the sugary glaze from the doughnut in my mouth. And there’s a fresh coffee stain on the front of my shirt. I can even feel a touch of caffeine coursing through my veins. All good evidence that breakfast was had. Good enough for me. I had breakfast. The how—and the when—isn’t really important. Time to move on.

The Array is still shrieking. It’s really loud. And it’s scaring the fetal pig strapped to my chest. Hmm. That’s another thing I don’t remember doing. Another mystery to solve. You’d think I’d remember strapping a fetal pig to my chest! It’s kinda nice, though. I can feel the little guy’s heart thumping along with my own. I do like it. The pig straps are really constricting, though. Feels like my chest is about to implode. Oh, well. If you want the rainbow, right?

Anyway, I should get out to the Array field and recalibrate it. Or just reboot the damn thing. See if that stops the noise. Alright, here we go. One foot in front of the other. Just like mom used to say. I just need to find my legs. Now… where would those be? They were here a minute ago. I’m sure of that.

Legs, legs, legs. Every time I start looking I forget what I’m doing. What am I doing? Legs. I’m looking for my legs. What the hell are legs? I’ve no idea. Okay, let’s rewind a bit. I wanted to do something. Something to do with the noise. The horrible, terrible, shrieking noise. Right. I want to stop that. And in order to stop that I need to go outside. And in order to go outside I need to move. And how does one move about in the world? One floats. That’s right, one just floats right on out the door.

Just like I’m doing right now. The door swings open and I’m floating outside. Me and my pig. It’s bright out. Windy. Heavy, sideways snow. I place one hand over the pig and cup another over my eyes. Down the hill, in the valley, I spot the giant, toothy maws of twenty radio antennas screaming into the storm.

Wow!

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

I float out into the weather, across the pack and down the hill, into a wide, flat valley bordered to the north by a ridge of pale nunataks. The shrieking from the antennas is oppressive. The fetal pig squirms and claws at my chest. I give him a few short, comforting taps. “Hang in there, buddy,” I say. Then I float over the the closest antenna.

The dish is red and swollen. Bulging, mad. I lay a hand on it. Do something! it tells me. I have some tools in my bag. I pull them out. A crescent wrench, a diagnostics machine, some fresh DIMMs…. #6 refuses them, slaps the bag into a drift.

Listen! it screams. Listen!

“Okay,” I reply, raising my hands in submission.

I retrieve my bag, take out a set of headphones, and plug in. The ‘phones slide in, wrap around my cochlear nerve. #6 doesn’t wait. Data immediately screams into my brain. The ARC is here. Welcome to the ARC, Wayne Robertson. The other dishes are linked up, too. They start joining in, one after another: #19, #20, #14, #8. More data streams in. Slightly different data. Observational data. Thermal radiation. #12, #16, and #4 come online. Interference from an Aurora. A pulsar. A meteor. #2, #7. #13, #1. They’re scanning for something. #15. Pressing their ears into the sky. #3, #10. Wrenching the noise out of the vacuum of space, funneling it down to the bottom of the Earth. The rest join in. Data sieves into my ear. But it’s all meaningless noise. Space junk: Thuck-thuck-thuck. Sqqeeeeeee. Thip-ccraaww.

The noise stops. All is quiet, momentarily. I sense they’ve found what they’re looking for. Something small. Almost unnoticeable. Just a blip. It sounds in my ear. Blip. Again. Blip. Blip… blip.

Blip blip blip.

BLIP! BLIP! BLIP!

It repeats faster and faster, louder and louder each time. Pounding in my ears. My head swells. It’s too much! Stop it! I’m screaming. They don’t hear a thing. STOP IT!

BLIP! BLIP! BLIP!

BLIP! BLIP! BLIP!

I rip the headphones out. Sharp pain explodes between my ears. Milky, glutinous strands of nerve fiber plunge into the snow. My ears sing.

“Okay, okay!” I plead. “I got it! I’ll figure it out!” I’m screaming, I think. I don’t actually hear myself speak. My ears are destroyed.

I take a breath…. Then, I replay the noise—the blip—in my head. It’s just data, like the rest of the noise. But this little blip of data is unnatural. I can feel it. It’s intelligent. Deliberately forced out into the universe. A tiny little blast of straight lines.

I can do the translation in my head. My eyes roll backward. Waveforms become 1’s and 0’s. Binary. Then… UTF-8. Unicode? Wow, it’s text. Nothing special. Just plain, regular text.

It says… “TELDRS”

I pause. Glance at #6. Run the translation again.

“TELDRS,” again.

TELDRS?

What the hell is that?

Chinstrap

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Chinstrap

TELDRS.

The word is stuck in my head. I don’t know why, but I despise it. And it refuses to leave. It is hammered into my skull, plainly, gallingly, displayed without meaning, without remorse, demanding to be scrutinized, its mystery suffered.

TELDRS.

I despise it and I despise that I don’t know what it means. I try my best to think of other things. I try to think of nothing at all. It is hard. It does work… for a time. But the word always returns. TELDRS. It’s there as I leave the antennas behind and float over the valley toward the water’s edge. It’s there as I comfort the fetal pig, who squirms against my chest. It’s there as my vision falters and the landscape becomes noisy streaks of black and white.

TELDRS.

It is a savage word. I continue to float, imprisoned by it… until I’m floating no longer. I have crashed, or set down, or simply sunk into the mud on the barren, rocky shore. I can no longer tell. My eyes are lost. Broken. The world appears like a giant sleeve has smeared its ink.

Something is here.

I can barely make it out. It is a black and white blur set against a larger black and white blur. The fetal pig is spooked. He must see it plainly. He is panicking. Digging. His hooves are sharp. Sharper than I would have imagined. He’s tunneling into my chest. It is agony. I can’t see to stop him. My blood is gushing. I should be terrified, but the fluid is warm and strangely comforting. The fetal pig reaches my heart. He draws near, curls around it. Sleeps. He is gestating now. He is safe.

But I have no heart for shelter. I am the only line of defense. The blur edges closer, fresh snow crunching under its feet. Closer. I raise my fist, preparing to lash out. Then it makes a noise: a bright, honking sound. I give a start, but quickly realize my foolishness. The blur is only a penguin. A little chinstrap. I laugh, both embarrassed and relieved.

I reach out and snap his neck.

TELDRS.

Inside

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

BlindAndHappy

I don’t immediately surrender the penguin’s body to the ice. It’s mine for a while. I blindly pull it close and take its heat with my palm. Rub its head. The penguin’s flesh is slick and tough and smells like cold earth. I cup it behind the neck, its flippers hanging on the ground, and brush my palm over its eyes. I feel that they are closed, then lay my palm on its chest. What’s left of the bird’s warmth ebbs quickly. He is done. I let go of the penguin and it slaps the ground hard and rolls. He’ll freeze solid within the hour and stay that way probably forever.

There’s nothing left to do, so I straighten to go. The air feels lighter now and has a slight charge that I can feel in my skin. Another storm gathering. Somewhere, not so far off, the wind howls—then quickly louder and more shrill—as if it has rounded a corner.

I turn around, hands out, somehow trying to sense the right direction to go. Ten or twenty meters the wrong way and I might find myself in the middle of the sea. I don’t want that.

Then unwillingly, I’m moving. Floating. Not over the ice, but down, straight down into it. Through it. My vision returns in a flash. I’m being whisked along, past bursts of frozen, puffy clouds and sparkling blue capillaries—speeding, full-bore into the darkness, to the core, to the heart, to the ancient, crackling, icy muscle deep at the center of the continent.

Frozen. Miles below the surface.

Nothing but cold and crushing pressure here. But the temperature soothes me. And the pressure is a strong, comforting embrace.

The ice crackles and groans, sound waves barreling in, some reaching out from the very edge of the continent. They are voices. Speaking to me. Welcoming me.

I call out to them.

Sotto Voce

Friday, September 11th, 2015

SottoVoce

Beneath the surface, deep inside the ice, Antartica is a menagerie of sound. The glacier crackles and shivers and pops. Hollow, glottal thuds shamble in from uncertain distances and painful shrieks caused by the release of extreme pressures drill your ears. It is constant. You might think that this cacophony is the voice of Antarctica, but you’d be wrong. This is just the rattling of the engine. Its true voice is found between all that noise, haunting the negative space, betwixt the mindless crackling, thudding, and shrieking, formed in those brief pauses where the sounds aren’t. What resolves is a monstrous, sunken voice—an old, haunting sort of awareness.

And it is angry: despising the spoiling heat from above and below and hateful of any life within.

The continent had accepted me at first. It’s true voice expressed its love, time and time again. Epochs lumbered past. We were the same. We are the same. But although time moves slowly down in the ice, time does move. And it was only a matter of time before the continent learned of the tiny passenger coiled around my heart.

It cannot abide this burning life. It tells me this. It is wrong. It is opposite. The claws and teeth of the continent try their best to get to it, but I am stronger, even this deep in the glass. I have lived more recently, my will remains fierce, and I repudiate the continent with all that I am worth.

It does not go quietly. Thick layers of ice shift over the Earth’s crust. Loud, baleful pops and hollow thuds slam into my head. Cracks and furrows gouge the ice, searching, seeking, like semi-conscious knives that have somehow caught the scent of my heart. Somewhere, far off, something huge is collapsing, exploding. Stentorian demands in Antarctica’s ancient, ragged tongue shiver through the ice.

Rend that foul thing from your chest

I push back. I form a pocket of air around me, hurling tens of thousands of miles of ice away from the pole. The continent groans, cries out in pain, as if I’ve broken its back.

But it can’t last. Levered against the planet’s iron core, the continent hauls back, closing the gap with one powerful, authoritative strike.

I am crushed. Flat. My mind, slow. I can’t protect it anymore. I can’t… think. I feel the glacier’s hands working on me, clawing, despoiling. It is impossible to resist.

Next: Book II