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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by sandflea68

Red Cherry Jello

There once was a scientist named Bellows,

he did research in Antarctica with some fellows.

Between layers of earth in the permafrost ice,

they discovered living bacteria so very precise.

Bellows stroked his beard and laughed savagely -

he knew the bacteria was the key to immortality.

But how could he possibility smuggle it from view

with all the other scientists trying to snatch it too?

Well, Bellows liked jello, unlike the other fellows,

he liked all flavors but was partial to lemon yellows.

But he knew using cherry red, it’d be easier to hide

so he scooped up the bacteria and hid it inside.

Bellows iced down the jello and laid it on dry ice,

absconded with the bacteria without thinking twice

for he knew this bacteria was unlike any other -

it had arsenic inside, not phosphorous or another.

Bellows extracted the bacteria from red cherry jello

and injected it into himself, feeling quite mellow,

knowing full well that it was an alternative life form,

believing it would extend life span above the norm.

Bellows first had tried it on fruit flies and mice

and on human blood cells more than twice.

When he tried it on himself, he never caught

the flu or colds or diseases others fought.

Bellows never died, he lived longer than wife

and his children and friends without any strife.

But he no longer knew anyone on earth

with alternate life form ingrained in his girth.

Bellows was lonely so he injected some others,

knowing he wanted friends if he had his druthers.

Everyone was now comprised of alternate life forms,

not so alternate any more but more like the norms.

So Bellows and the new experimental fellows

lived on forever thanks to the cherry red jello

with the bacteria which wiggled and jiggled,

danced and pranced and sometimes giggled.

27
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15
Juice
296 reads
Donate coins to sandflea68.
Juice
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by sandflea68
Red Cherry Jello
There once was a scientist named Bellows,
he did research in Antarctica with some fellows.
Between layers of earth in the permafrost ice,
they discovered living bacteria so very precise.

Bellows stroked his beard and laughed savagely -
he knew the bacteria was the key to immortality.
But how could he possibility smuggle it from view
with all the other scientists trying to snatch it too?

Well, Bellows liked jello, unlike the other fellows,
he liked all flavors but was partial to lemon yellows.
But he knew using cherry red, it’d be easier to hide
so he scooped up the bacteria and hid it inside.

Bellows iced down the jello and laid it on dry ice,
absconded with the bacteria without thinking twice
for he knew this bacteria was unlike any other -
it had arsenic inside, not phosphorous or another.

Bellows extracted the bacteria from red cherry jello
and injected it into himself, feeling quite mellow,
knowing full well that it was an alternative life form,
believing it would extend life span above the norm.

Bellows first had tried it on fruit flies and mice
and on human blood cells more than twice.
When he tried it on himself, he never caught
the flu or colds or diseases others fought.

Bellows never died, he lived longer than wife
and his children and friends without any strife.
But he no longer knew anyone on earth
with alternate life form ingrained in his girth.

Bellows was lonely so he injected some others,
knowing he wanted friends if he had his druthers.
Everyone was now comprised of alternate life forms,
not so alternate any more but more like the norms.

So Bellows and the new experimental fellows
lived on forever thanks to the cherry red jello
with the bacteria which wiggled and jiggled,
danced and pranced and sometimes giggled.
#prosechallenge  #Itslit  #getlit 
27
10
15
Juice
296 reads
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Chapter 45 of The Peristalsis of Dr. Semicolon;
Written by DrSemicolon

Native Martian Anatomy and Physiology

Botany and Biology Consortium Précis

Submission for consideration, addendum to the subchapter, “Native Martian Anatomy and Physiology.”

Submitter, Evan Mickal, Ph.D., VSD investigator.

Methodology: Magnetic Resonance Physiology at the Quark-focus Level

Date: Sol 28, 942

Focus of addendum: Locomotion in the absence of an endoskeleton and the Central Nervous System (CNS)

• Locomotion in the absence of an endoskeleton

Very much analogous to octopi, other cephalopods, and numerous non-skeletonized animals on Earth, the Martian’s posture and stance, erect stature, and functions of ambulation and usage of appendages depend on elastofluidics. Their bodies contain innumerable patterns of muscular tubes which are fiber-reinforced elastomeric enclosures that contain a pressurized fluid. The fibers surrounding them have angles of orientation that can be changed at will, which determines the direction in which the limbs/appendages move when the fluid within is pressurized of depressurized. The external plates (“feathered scales”)finalize the maintenance of a particular position or stance, and when in motion, louver and “unlouver” sequentially to effect smoothness of motion. Therefore, there is no endoskeleton nor one needed.

• Central Nervous System (CNS)

The shape of the Martian head is governed by the necessity of design that accommodates the complexity of the multi-oropharynx and the brain structures that innervate them and a tripartite trachea. Thus it has an elongated face—or a “long” face—reminiscent of a horse, that likeness furthered by a remarkably coincidental aspect of pigmentation: down the face is a vertical patch or pattern of depigmentation, creating a long irregular splash of white, which on a horse is called a blaze. Such a blaze, individualized for each Martian, could represent a way of telling each apart, although recognition may involve many factors other than merely how the Martian appears. The blaze seems to have embedded in it innumerable olfactory cells, making this an organ for smell.

To appreciate the Martian CNS it is first important to understand aspects of breathing and ingestion that also impact the shape of the head.

There are six bilateral sets of mouths and throats that funnel together such that they can effect a steady single intake of ingestion along a single esophagus no matter how many mouths are ingesting. This coalescing requires distance and is a major determinant of the distinctively long face. (The main mouth goes its separate way—SEE BELOW.)

Each throat has two posterior openings:

1. One leading into a separate esophagus that distally fuses with the other esophagi into a central one; and

2. the other leading into a “reverse” trachea [SEE BELOW] that is the source of the blasted air from the central air bladder used in vocalization.

These two posterior pharyngeal openings at the back of each throat are separated from each other by a glottis—an opening guarded by a septation that can flap closed against the reverse trachea so that food can be diverted properly downward into the central alimentary tract and not into the central air sac [SEE BELOW]. In this way, choking is prevented.

The esophagus related to the primary mouth and pharynx does not lead to the location where the six ancillary esophagi fuse, but instead enter the distal alimentary tract farther caudad. Although the primary mouth appears externally as two joined together at the midline, this is misleading, as it is single-chambered just beyond the lips. What was initially thought of as two separate tongues, one on each side, is in fact a single tongue for the single chamber, but with its terminal portion forked.

There are smaller but completely functional tongues for each of the separate ancillary mouths. There also appear to be taste buds for different discriminations among the numerous ancillary tongues, prompting the Martian to use specific mouths for specific tastes and textures of food and liquids ingested. Each mouth has teeth, clear but in the shadows appearing dark. Each tooth has a single fiberoptic tract.

The external proboscis-like cetaceous “blowhole” (main air intake) and its tract does not cohabitate with any of the pharyngeal area. Its trachea is a dedicated one-way route for air from the blowhole that distally trifurcates into the one central and two bilateral air sacs. The bilateral air sacs also exhale back out toward the blowhole, whereas the central air bladder has a valve such that it only exhales through its separate reverse tracheae when speech occurs.

The blowhole entrance that trifurcates distally into three separate tracheae ultimately end in two bilateral primary bronchi and one secondary central bronchus, the bilateral ones ending in multilobular air sacs on either side of the large central unilobular air bladder the central bronchus supplies. The bilateral air sacs provide oxygen by passive diffusion into venous lakes surrounding them, much like the placental systems in Earth mammals.

While the bilateral air sacs are for oxygenation, the central bladder, alternately, provides two functions:

1. It serves as a storage depot of breathable air that, through spillover (passive diffusion)seeps through its semipermeable membrane into the adjacent primary multilobular air sacs [SEE ABOVE]; and

2. there is a collection of hundreds of sphinctered tubules emerging from its posterior that coalesce into seven separate “reverse” tracheae [SEE ABOVE] that provide the expulsive impetus for speech through each of the seven mouths. The seven reverse tracheae each house a set of vocal cords at varying distances from their eventual target mouths, the variation of distance contributing to a wide variation of different tonal qualities (pitch, timbre, resonance). The Martian, linguistically, uses these variations in conjunction with the number of mouths speaking or singing to express nuance and/or emphasis. Whereas in the human the glottis is relative to the vocal cords, in the Martian the sets of vocal cords and glottises are separate from each other for each of the reverse trachea (“air routes”); each glottis is at its junction to its respective pharynx, to preclude food aspiration, using a valve for closure in lieu of the cords themselves as in humans. Even though the sets of vocal cords are at varying distances for effecting unique phonation qualities, each glottis is at the same position, i.e., the glottopharyngeal junction.

In summary, the blowhole feeds air to two bilateral air sacs and one central air bladder. The bilateral air sacs exhale their breaths the way they came in, through the primary tracheae; the central air bladder eliminates excess air by diffusing into the adjacent air sacs, but its main function is to blow air through a set of unrelated “reverse” tracheae through vocal cords. The only possible site for choking would be between the pharynx of each mouth and the termination of each reverse trachea, but this is precluded by the flap of tissue over each glottis.

NOTE: THE ABOVE EXPOSITION IS ONLY INCLUDED HERE BECAUSE OF ITS INTERRELATIONSHIP WITH THE CNS TO PRODUCE SPEECH. FOR FURTHER DETAIL OF THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM AND THE OTHER SYSTEMS, PLEASE REFER TO THEIR RESPECTIVE SUBCHAPTERS IN THE FULL BOTANY AND BIOLOGY CONSORTIUM PRÉCIS, SUBSECTION, “MARTIAN ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY,” BY KEITH MILLS AND MARK ADRIAN.

The Martian brain is made up of six lobes, or hexaspheres. Functional Magnetic Resonance Physiology has determined that each lobe (hexasphere) directs independent conversational thinking that results in vocalization from one (or more, simultaneously versus serially) of the six ancillary mouths. All six hexaspheres appear to contribute cogitation for conversing with the primary mouth, when articulating a “main message.” Although they can act separately, all of the hexaspheres also are interconnected by an infrastructure analogous to the human corpus callosum, which I theorize allows a consortium of unified awareness, thinking, and volition among the set of hexaspheres.

Hearing is via an acoustic apparatus that begins with four independently aimed calderas on each side of the head, all eight each contributing a neurotubule that terminates at a central ganglion in each hexasphere. Thereby, each hexasphere’s acoustic ganglion receives a bundle of eight neurotubules representing the gamut of the collective caldera perception of sound. The central acoustic ganglia appear on functional scans, at the electron level, to deal with filtering pitch and sonolocation.

Each caldera is associated with its own ganglion that surrounds its sound transport tubule (STT), more specifically, surrounds that portion of the SST that houses small osseous structures shaped like varying tiny tuning forks, 18-20 nm in size; each of these caldera ganglia have afferents from all of the hexasphere acoustic ganglia and efferents to the small muscles that comprise and aim the caldera rims. Consortium thinking of what is being heard focuses the directional pivots of the individual calderas. Externally, the calderas, which hold a small amount of fluid each, are each covered by a parabolic tympanic membrane.

For each eye there is a laminated neurotubule that is a coalescence of thousands of neuromusculotubular fibers that seem to both convey collected visual stimuli and move the globes.

The bilateral laminate optic neurotubules meet interiorly in the midline, as a “light basket,” positioned equidistant from the hexaspheres of the brain; this light basket appears to be a tightly spiraling structure that follows the Fibonacci path of the “golden rectangle,” i.e., the spiraling neurotubules are shaped like a nautilus. This nautilus-shaped light basket is surrounded by an iron-rich magnetic encasement, itself dynamic in that it can magnetically focus free electrons as an undulator, along the spiral. The neurotubules are highly reflective and at the central termination (innermost part of the nautilus) an escape channel allows egress of a potentiated lasered pulse that feeds all hexasphres as well as returns some light back to the eyes (for unknown reasons).

Essentially, the light basket is a free-electron laser that distributes, arboreally, synchrotron radiation to all hexaspheres and the eyes at the speed of light. Theoretically, because the undulator encasement can vary the parameters of the magnetic field, the intensity and wavelength of the radiation can be adjusted on the fly, i.e., are tunable from microwave through ultraviolet and even X-Ray spectra as well.

The eyes themselves are not sufficient to contribute enough light to power the light basket’s ultimate output. Besides the laminar afferent optic nerves, the light basket also receives another afferent trunk of laminated neurotubules from the lux-cap, the area on the external head analogous to the scalp portion of the human head.

The lux-cap is very much like a scalp in that fiberoptic projections emerge from it in a hair-like fashion. These are sparse, otherwise they would pose interfering shadows for the miraculous nature of this head covering. Louvered parabolas, layered down to a depth of approximately one centimeter, collect light and an entire subscalp cranium receives coalescing bundles of phototubules that ultimately end intracranially at the light basket. Thus, the light basket has a dual source of light—from the eyes secondarily but from the lux-cap primarily.

The fiberoptic, sparse “hair” appears to be efferent only, varying colors and intensity, possibly indicating mood as a fiberoptic, lighted version of “body language.” I can discern a reverse polarization along these “efferents only,” indicating they should be able to receive input as well, like the lux-cap.

Light collected by the lux-cap, defying current wave physics until a logical explanation ensues, experiences no loss of photon energy. When the electromagnetic spectrum was applied to the lux-cap, it was evident that, besides the visible human spectra, IR and UV were collected without loss as well.

The light basket is quite large, about five centimeters in diameter, and with its iron-rich magnetic encasement, almost ten. Below it is a five-cm ventricle, but unlike human brain ventricles that have circulatory cerebrospinal fluid, it is filled with an unknown gas, the spectroscopic identification of which failed due to the interference from the overlying light basket magnetic encasement.

From the center egress of light and radiation of the light basket, branching of neurotubules swirl in complexity to become the actual six hexaspheres. It appears the light basket is the innermost origination of the entire Martian central nervous system.

The hexaspheres also accommodate the afferents and efferents that appear to either receive information from or innervate, respectively, the rest of the body.

There is no analogue to the human or mammalian cerebellum, all autonomic processes, i.e., breathing, pulsatile cardiovascular system, proprioception, distributed along a decentralized scheme among the respective organs or joints.

There is no spine, per se. Bundles of tracts find their way along two main lateral bands at the Martian’s sides, distributing from or coalescing toward them.

Crucial to the evaluation of the CNS is the nature of the neurotubules and larger neurotubes, themselves.

(There have been observed similar, although rudimentary, structures in the few humans with indwelling ferropods, suggesting divergent evolution of species as distantly related as Martians and ferropods, from a common ancestor. In humans harboring ferropods, the interaction of two xenospecies will no doubt prove informative, but to date the chapter on this interaction remains unwritten. This will undoubtedly cross-reference with the official findings yet to be written as a subchapter of the Cultural Psychology Committee Précis.)

The arboreal cascade of the CNS from hexasphere to neurotubes to neurotubules and vice versa demonstrates a consistency of structure. Whether such structures effect muscular, glandular, or neuroinformative processes, it is clear that they constitute a fiberoptic system.

Although a simplification, it is also a truism that light plays an important part in Martian cognition. Its complete absence renders a Martian not only unconscious, but barely alive, its light basket engaging in a secondary backup system of phosphorescing to maintain at least a baseline level of minimal survivability. It is unknown how long the light basket backup can last, but it is apparent that once exhausted, death would be imminent.

The neurotubes and neurotubules are multichambered along their neurotubular lengths by septations. Each septated chamber is able to polarize the as-of-yet unidentified rarefied gas within, which can then propagate an electrical potential across subsequent septa, propagating subsequent polarizations en route. This appears analogous to action potentials causing propagations of neurosignaling along dendritic/axonic paths in the human brain. The result of these propagations, whether Martian or human is the same:

Thought.

Cognition, intention, autonomic and voluntary actions; viable function; volition; self-awareness and sentience; perhaps a conscience.

A soul?

 

At quark focus, the MRP showed Cooper pairs, entangled photons on either side of each septum. Such Cooper pairs, seen in superconductivity across membranes, the phenomenon in physics—called a Josephson effect—was a thing of beauty. And it was in each Martian head.

It was fast. The simple reality is this: Martians think at the speed of light!

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Chapter 45 of The Peristalsis of Dr. Semicolon;
Written by DrSemicolon
Native Martian Anatomy and Physiology
Botany and Biology Consortium Précis
Submission for consideration, addendum to the subchapter, “Native Martian Anatomy and Physiology.”
Submitter, Evan Mickal, Ph.D., VSD investigator.
Methodology: Magnetic Resonance Physiology at the Quark-focus Level
Date: Sol 28, 942

Focus of addendum: Locomotion in the absence of an endoskeleton and the Central Nervous System (CNS)

• Locomotion in the absence of an endoskeleton

Very much analogous to octopi, other cephalopods, and numerous non-skeletonized animals on Earth, the Martian’s posture and stance, erect stature, and functions of ambulation and usage of appendages depend on elastofluidics. Their bodies contain innumerable patterns of muscular tubes which are fiber-reinforced elastomeric enclosures that contain a pressurized fluid. The fibers surrounding them have angles of orientation that can be changed at will, which determines the direction in which the limbs/appendages move when the fluid within is pressurized of depressurized. The external plates (“feathered scales”)finalize the maintenance of a particular position or stance, and when in motion, louver and “unlouver” sequentially to effect smoothness of motion. Therefore, there is no endoskeleton nor one needed.

• Central Nervous System (CNS)

The shape of the Martian head is governed by the necessity of design that accommodates the complexity of the multi-oropharynx and the brain structures that innervate them and a tripartite trachea. Thus it has an elongated face—or a “long” face—reminiscent of a horse, that likeness furthered by a remarkably coincidental aspect of pigmentation: down the face is a vertical patch or pattern of depigmentation, creating a long irregular splash of white, which on a horse is called a blaze. Such a blaze, individualized for each Martian, could represent a way of telling each apart, although recognition may involve many factors other than merely how the Martian appears. The blaze seems to have embedded in it innumerable olfactory cells, making this an organ for smell.

To appreciate the Martian CNS it is first important to understand aspects of breathing and ingestion that also impact the shape of the head.

There are six bilateral sets of mouths and throats that funnel together such that they can effect a steady single intake of ingestion along a single esophagus no matter how many mouths are ingesting. This coalescing requires distance and is a major determinant of the distinctively long face. (The main mouth goes its separate way—SEE BELOW.)
Each throat has two posterior openings:

1. One leading into a separate esophagus that distally fuses with the other esophagi into a central one; and

2. the other leading into a “reverse” trachea [SEE BELOW] that is the source of the blasted air from the central air bladder used in vocalization.

These two posterior pharyngeal openings at the back of each throat are separated from each other by a glottis—an opening guarded by a septation that can flap closed against the reverse trachea so that food can be diverted properly downward into the central alimentary tract and not into the central air sac [SEE BELOW]. In this way, choking is prevented.

The esophagus related to the primary mouth and pharynx does not lead to the location where the six ancillary esophagi fuse, but instead enter the distal alimentary tract farther caudad. Although the primary mouth appears externally as two joined together at the midline, this is misleading, as it is single-chambered just beyond the lips. What was initially thought of as two separate tongues, one on each side, is in fact a single tongue for the single chamber, but with its terminal portion forked.

There are smaller but completely functional tongues for each of the separate ancillary mouths. There also appear to be taste buds for different discriminations among the numerous ancillary tongues, prompting the Martian to use specific mouths for specific tastes and textures of food and liquids ingested. Each mouth has teeth, clear but in the shadows appearing dark. Each tooth has a single fiberoptic tract.

The external proboscis-like cetaceous “blowhole” (main air intake) and its tract does not cohabitate with any of the pharyngeal area. Its trachea is a dedicated one-way route for air from the blowhole that distally trifurcates into the one central and two bilateral air sacs. The bilateral air sacs also exhale back out toward the blowhole, whereas the central air bladder has a valve such that it only exhales through its separate reverse tracheae when speech occurs.

The blowhole entrance that trifurcates distally into three separate tracheae ultimately end in two bilateral primary bronchi and one secondary central bronchus, the bilateral ones ending in multilobular air sacs on either side of the large central unilobular air bladder the central bronchus supplies. The bilateral air sacs provide oxygen by passive diffusion into venous lakes surrounding them, much like the placental systems in Earth mammals.
While the bilateral air sacs are for oxygenation, the central bladder, alternately, provides two functions:

1. It serves as a storage depot of breathable air that, through spillover (passive diffusion)seeps through its semipermeable membrane into the adjacent primary multilobular air sacs [SEE ABOVE]; and

2. there is a collection of hundreds of sphinctered tubules emerging from its posterior that coalesce into seven separate “reverse” tracheae [SEE ABOVE] that provide the expulsive impetus for speech through each of the seven mouths. The seven reverse tracheae each house a set of vocal cords at varying distances from their eventual target mouths, the variation of distance contributing to a wide variation of different tonal qualities (pitch, timbre, resonance). The Martian, linguistically, uses these variations in conjunction with the number of mouths speaking or singing to express nuance and/or emphasis. Whereas in the human the glottis is relative to the vocal cords, in the Martian the sets of vocal cords and glottises are separate from each other for each of the reverse trachea (“air routes”); each glottis is at its junction to its respective pharynx, to preclude food aspiration, using a valve for closure in lieu of the cords themselves as in humans. Even though the sets of vocal cords are at varying distances for effecting unique phonation qualities, each glottis is at the same position, i.e., the glottopharyngeal junction.

In summary, the blowhole feeds air to two bilateral air sacs and one central air bladder. The bilateral air sacs exhale their breaths the way they came in, through the primary tracheae; the central air bladder eliminates excess air by diffusing into the adjacent air sacs, but its main function is to blow air through a set of unrelated “reverse” tracheae through vocal cords. The only possible site for choking would be between the pharynx of each mouth and the termination of each reverse trachea, but this is precluded by the flap of tissue over each glottis.

NOTE: THE ABOVE EXPOSITION IS ONLY INCLUDED HERE BECAUSE OF ITS INTERRELATIONSHIP WITH THE CNS TO PRODUCE SPEECH. FOR FURTHER DETAIL OF THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM AND THE OTHER SYSTEMS, PLEASE REFER TO THEIR RESPECTIVE SUBCHAPTERS IN THE FULL BOTANY AND BIOLOGY CONSORTIUM PRÉCIS, SUBSECTION, “MARTIAN ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY,” BY KEITH MILLS AND MARK ADRIAN.

The Martian brain is made up of six lobes, or hexaspheres. Functional Magnetic Resonance Physiology has determined that each lobe (hexasphere) directs independent conversational thinking that results in vocalization from one (or more, simultaneously versus serially) of the six ancillary mouths. All six hexaspheres appear to contribute cogitation for conversing with the primary mouth, when articulating a “main message.” Although they can act separately, all of the hexaspheres also are interconnected by an infrastructure analogous to the human corpus callosum, which I theorize allows a consortium of unified awareness, thinking, and volition among the set of hexaspheres.

Hearing is via an acoustic apparatus that begins with four independently aimed calderas on each side of the head, all eight each contributing a neurotubule that terminates at a central ganglion in each hexasphere. Thereby, each hexasphere’s acoustic ganglion receives a bundle of eight neurotubules representing the gamut of the collective caldera perception of sound. The central acoustic ganglia appear on functional scans, at the electron level, to deal with filtering pitch and sonolocation.

Each caldera is associated with its own ganglion that surrounds its sound transport tubule (STT), more specifically, surrounds that portion of the SST that houses small osseous structures shaped like varying tiny tuning forks, 18-20 nm in size; each of these caldera ganglia have afferents from all of the hexasphere acoustic ganglia and efferents to the small muscles that comprise and aim the caldera rims. Consortium thinking of what is being heard focuses the directional pivots of the individual calderas. Externally, the calderas, which hold a small amount of fluid each, are each covered by a parabolic tympanic membrane.

For each eye there is a laminated neurotubule that is a coalescence of thousands of neuromusculotubular fibers that seem to both convey collected visual stimuli and move the globes.

The bilateral laminate optic neurotubules meet interiorly in the midline, as a “light basket,” positioned equidistant from the hexaspheres of the brain; this light basket appears to be a tightly spiraling structure that follows the Fibonacci path of the “golden rectangle,” i.e., the spiraling neurotubules are shaped like a nautilus. This nautilus-shaped light basket is surrounded by an iron-rich magnetic encasement, itself dynamic in that it can magnetically focus free electrons as an undulator, along the spiral. The neurotubules are highly reflective and at the central termination (innermost part of the nautilus) an escape channel allows egress of a potentiated lasered pulse that feeds all hexasphres as well as returns some light back to the eyes (for unknown reasons).

Essentially, the light basket is a free-electron laser that distributes, arboreally, synchrotron radiation to all hexaspheres and the eyes at the speed of light. Theoretically, because the undulator encasement can vary the parameters of the magnetic field, the intensity and wavelength of the radiation can be adjusted on the fly, i.e., are tunable from microwave through ultraviolet and even X-Ray spectra as well.

The eyes themselves are not sufficient to contribute enough light to power the light basket’s ultimate output. Besides the laminar afferent optic nerves, the light basket also receives another afferent trunk of laminated neurotubules from the lux-cap, the area on the external head analogous to the scalp portion of the human head.

The lux-cap is very much like a scalp in that fiberoptic projections emerge from it in a hair-like fashion. These are sparse, otherwise they would pose interfering shadows for the miraculous nature of this head covering. Louvered parabolas, layered down to a depth of approximately one centimeter, collect light and an entire subscalp cranium receives coalescing bundles of phototubules that ultimately end intracranially at the light basket. Thus, the light basket has a dual source of light—from the eyes secondarily but from the lux-cap primarily.

The fiberoptic, sparse “hair” appears to be efferent only, varying colors and intensity, possibly indicating mood as a fiberoptic, lighted version of “body language.” I can discern a reverse polarization along these “efferents only,” indicating they should be able to receive input as well, like the lux-cap.

Light collected by the lux-cap, defying current wave physics until a logical explanation ensues, experiences no loss of photon energy. When the electromagnetic spectrum was applied to the lux-cap, it was evident that, besides the visible human spectra, IR and UV were collected without loss as well.

The light basket is quite large, about five centimeters in diameter, and with its iron-rich magnetic encasement, almost ten. Below it is a five-cm ventricle, but unlike human brain ventricles that have circulatory cerebrospinal fluid, it is filled with an unknown gas, the spectroscopic identification of which failed due to the interference from the overlying light basket magnetic encasement.

From the center egress of light and radiation of the light basket, branching of neurotubules swirl in complexity to become the actual six hexaspheres. It appears the light basket is the innermost origination of the entire Martian central nervous system.
The hexaspheres also accommodate the afferents and efferents that appear to either receive information from or innervate, respectively, the rest of the body.

There is no analogue to the human or mammalian cerebellum, all autonomic processes, i.e., breathing, pulsatile cardiovascular system, proprioception, distributed along a decentralized scheme among the respective organs or joints.

There is no spine, per se. Bundles of tracts find their way along two main lateral bands at the Martian’s sides, distributing from or coalescing toward them.

Crucial to the evaluation of the CNS is the nature of the neurotubules and larger neurotubes, themselves.

(There have been observed similar, although rudimentary, structures in the few humans with indwelling ferropods, suggesting divergent evolution of species as distantly related as Martians and ferropods, from a common ancestor. In humans harboring ferropods, the interaction of two xenospecies will no doubt prove informative, but to date the chapter on this interaction remains unwritten. This will undoubtedly cross-reference with the official findings yet to be written as a subchapter of the Cultural Psychology Committee Précis.)

The arboreal cascade of the CNS from hexasphere to neurotubes to neurotubules and vice versa demonstrates a consistency of structure. Whether such structures effect muscular, glandular, or neuroinformative processes, it is clear that they constitute a fiberoptic system.

Although a simplification, it is also a truism that light plays an important part in Martian cognition. Its complete absence renders a Martian not only unconscious, but barely alive, its light basket engaging in a secondary backup system of phosphorescing to maintain at least a baseline level of minimal survivability. It is unknown how long the light basket backup can last, but it is apparent that once exhausted, death would be imminent.
The neurotubes and neurotubules are multichambered along their neurotubular lengths by septations. Each septated chamber is able to polarize the as-of-yet unidentified rarefied gas within, which can then propagate an electrical potential across subsequent septa, propagating subsequent polarizations en route. This appears analogous to action potentials causing propagations of neurosignaling along dendritic/axonic paths in the human brain. The result of these propagations, whether Martian or human is the same:
Thought.

Cognition, intention, autonomic and voluntary actions; viable function; volition; self-awareness and sentience; perhaps a conscience.

A soul?
 
At quark focus, the MRP showed Cooper pairs, entangled photons on either side of each septum. Such Cooper pairs, seen in superconductivity across membranes, the phenomenon in physics—called a Josephson effect—was a thing of beauty. And it was in each Martian head.

It was fast. The simple reality is this: Martians think at the speed of light!

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by Mrjdhyde

The good son.

Father gave the call for all of us to come. Each of us put down our tools and did as he bid. I, being the oldest, stood in the place of honor next to Father. Once the last of us arrived from our duties Father looked at us with as much joy as I had ever seen from him; he said; “I know you have often wondered what the plan was for you and this place. It is time for the unveiling.”

He spread His hands and showed us. They looked like monkeys, yet they were warped in some way. Though they picked lice from each other, and grunted as the other apes, these had a bit of what my brothers and I were made. The combination of spirit, and flesh was hideous. I could see the the darkness boiling up in them already.

I looked upon Father’s face, and I saw more love than He had ever shown for my brothers. 

”Bow to them, for they are my masterpiece.” Father called out. As one, my brothers sank to their knees, heads bowed. All bowed but me.

I looked into my Father’s eyes, and defied Him for the first time.

“Why do you not bow?” my Father asked. I turned to the filthy things and stared. I did not answer, how could I? The thought of Michael on his knees before them turned my stomach. Michael still carried the scars from our battles with the Void. His once beautiful face torn, he screamed as he slept. And Father wanted my brother to kneel, to prostrate himself before these things.

I wanted to scream at Father; but I held my voice to call out to my brothers​, “Rise, you are better than these abominations. Rise and look at them. See them for what they are, each carries the Void within it. They will bring back what we fought!”

They stayed as they were. Father laid His hand upon me, “My son do not defy me. I will let this pass as you are my child; but my kindness has limits. You must do as I command, you must bow.”

But I did not bow. I turned from my Father storming from Him, I went to the barracks. Brother Michael followed to speak with me. He asked of me "Why, do you not obey?"

How do I look into his eyes to tell him that it is he that should be bowed to? Not the abominations​. They should sing songs of his bravery and strength. He was such a happy man before the wars, full of love and hope. Now, he was broken. I could not explain, not even to myself, that he and the rest that had fallen were the reason that I would never bow to the creatures.

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by Mrjdhyde
The good son.
Father gave the call for all of us to come. Each of us put down our tools and did as he bid. I, being the oldest, stood in the place of honor next to Father. Once the last of us arrived from our duties Father looked at us with as much joy as I had ever seen from him; he said; “I know you have often wondered what the plan was for you and this place. It is time for the unveiling.”
He spread His hands and showed us. They looked like monkeys, yet they were warped in some way. Though they picked lice from each other, and grunted as the other apes, these had a bit of what my brothers and I were made. The combination of spirit, and flesh was hideous. I could see the the darkness boiling up in them already.
I looked upon Father’s face, and I saw more love than He had ever shown for my brothers. 
”Bow to them, for they are my masterpiece.” Father called out. As one, my brothers sank to their knees, heads bowed. All bowed but me.
I looked into my Father’s eyes, and defied Him for the first time.
“Why do you not bow?” my Father asked. I turned to the filthy things and stared. I did not answer, how could I? The thought of Michael on his knees before them turned my stomach. Michael still carried the scars from our battles with the Void. His once beautiful face torn, he screamed as he slept. And Father wanted my brother to kneel, to prostrate himself before these things.
I wanted to scream at Father; but I held my voice to call out to my brothers​, “Rise, you are better than these abominations. Rise and look at them. See them for what they are, each carries the Void within it. They will bring back what we fought!”
They stayed as they were. Father laid His hand upon me, “My son do not defy me. I will let this pass as you are my child; but my kindness has limits. You must do as I command, you must bow.”
But I did not bow. I turned from my Father storming from Him, I went to the barracks. Brother Michael followed to speak with me. He asked of me "Why, do you not obey?"
How do I look into his eyes to tell him that it is he that should be bowed to? Not the abominations​. They should sing songs of his bravery and strength. He was such a happy man before the wars, full of love and hope. Now, he was broken. I could not explain, not even to myself, that he and the rest that had fallen were the reason that I would never bow to the creatures.
#prosechallenge  #Itslit  #getlit 
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by Azothwords

Cupiditas: Money Monsters

           It's slid in and out of strippers' thongs, coated in a white film of Cocaine, and spotted with blood, don’t forget the blood. Money is dirty. The gas-station bathroom, yeah, it has nothing on the filth in your wallet. This is common knowledge right? None of us walk around with coins in our mouth or use bills to stop the bleeding of a wound. But, there is something about money you don’t know. Something I didn’t know until recently. We never knew about the Cupiditas.

            They say great discoveries come from stellar research or years of experimentation. HA! Not mine. Nope, my greatest discovery was birthed from pure boredom and an inattentive professor. It was microbiology class and everything in my petri dish had been identified to death, literary to death, the testing methods killed the bacteria. With an hour to kill and against “proper laboratory procedure”, I decided my microscope could give an amazing amount of entertainment. Looking at my hair, some scrapes of skin, ear wax, gave me a jolly time of grossing myself out. When I had run out of things to spy on I put my hand in my pocket and felt it, a dollar bill.

           Under magnification the money offered so many great sites, every kind of human waste, dirt, bacteria; a zoo of microscopic wonders. When it first moved I thought nothing of it. A blur of activity and then nothing, but it came back into view. Green as the ink on the paper with large eyes pointed right up at me. Startled, I jumped away from the microscope. I looked again and it was still there, still staring at me. I zoomed out and found more. I had never seen anything like them, but I was merely a student. I could have called over the teacher. I should have called her over, but I feared the fact that I was improperly using university equipment. Instead, I decided to figure it out for myself.

           I spent my nights doing internet searches and sneezing over dust filled microbiology books in the library. Nothing about these creatures seemed to exist. I spent my days in the lab, pretending to perfect my techniques, but truly observing and testing on my new found specimens. What became very apparent about them during this time was that they could only live on money. I tried transferring them to all kinds of different media, like the green ink compound printed on money and different paper compounds. They always died. I also found no specimens on non-circulated bills. Something about being in circulation, being used by people, helped them live.

Over time I got very good at increasing their numbers. I was able to place millions of them onto a single dollar bill using a sterilized loop. I carried this ultra-populated bill with me everywhere I went.

           I became obsessed with the creatures, so obsessed I didn’t notice the changes I was experiencing. It wasn’t until one day when I went to pay for a bag of chips from the snack bar when I noticed my wallet was empty. Which was odd because I had withdrawn money from the bank only the day before. Eventually the night before came back to me. In some kind of haze I had spent all of the money I pulled. I had bought shoes that didn’t fit, food I was too full to eat, and twenty seven bananas. I hate bananas. I questioned if I had gone on this shopping spree after getting drunk, but I couldn’t recall a single drop of alcohol touching my lips. I also questioned my sanity and after stroking my creature covered bill in my pocket, I shrugged the incident off as if nothing happened and continued on with my research. 

          Three days later, I woke up in a parking lot of a gambling house. My car was nowhere in sight and I was barefoot, but in my pocket was still my creature covered dollar bill. I had spent every dollar to my name. I had sold everything I owned to buy more things which I sold to gamble. I had even gone as far as to sell my blood. Finding myself in that state I realized something my research had failed to determine, my money monsters were just that...... monsters. They fed on the adrenaline a person gives off while spending money and they release a toxic which makes a person greedy. Needless to say, I only use checks these days – and can only imagine the creatures living on credit cards. My populated dollar bill is still out there somewhere. I left it in the parking lot of the casino. I hope it doesn’t find you, but just in case always beware of the Cupiditas.

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by Azothwords
Cupiditas: Money Monsters
           It's slid in and out of strippers' thongs, coated in a white film of Cocaine, and spotted with blood, don’t forget the blood. Money is dirty. The gas-station bathroom, yeah, it has nothing on the filth in your wallet. This is common knowledge right? None of us walk around with coins in our mouth or use bills to stop the bleeding of a wound. But, there is something about money you don’t know. Something I didn’t know until recently. We never knew about the Cupiditas.
            They say great discoveries come from stellar research or years of experimentation. HA! Not mine. Nope, my greatest discovery was birthed from pure boredom and an inattentive professor. It was microbiology class and everything in my petri dish had been identified to death, literary to death, the testing methods killed the bacteria. With an hour to kill and against “proper laboratory procedure”, I decided my microscope could give an amazing amount of entertainment. Looking at my hair, some scrapes of skin, ear wax, gave me a jolly time of grossing myself out. When I had run out of things to spy on I put my hand in my pocket and felt it, a dollar bill.
           Under magnification the money offered so many great sites, every kind of human waste, dirt, bacteria; a zoo of microscopic wonders. When it first moved I thought nothing of it. A blur of activity and then nothing, but it came back into view. Green as the ink on the paper with large eyes pointed right up at me. Startled, I jumped away from the microscope. I looked again and it was still there, still staring at me. I zoomed out and found more. I had never seen anything like them, but I was merely a student. I could have called over the teacher. I should have called her over, but I feared the fact that I was improperly using university equipment. Instead, I decided to figure it out for myself.
           I spent my nights doing internet searches and sneezing over dust filled microbiology books in the library. Nothing about these creatures seemed to exist. I spent my days in the lab, pretending to perfect my techniques, but truly observing and testing on my new found specimens. What became very apparent about them during this time was that they could only live on money. I tried transferring them to all kinds of different media, like the green ink compound printed on money and different paper compounds. They always died. I also found no specimens on non-circulated bills. Something about being in circulation, being used by people, helped them live.
Over time I got very good at increasing their numbers. I was able to place millions of them onto a single dollar bill using a sterilized loop. I carried this ultra-populated bill with me everywhere I went.
           I became obsessed with the creatures, so obsessed I didn’t notice the changes I was experiencing. It wasn’t until one day when I went to pay for a bag of chips from the snack bar when I noticed my wallet was empty. Which was odd because I had withdrawn money from the bank only the day before. Eventually the night before came back to me. In some kind of haze I had spent all of the money I pulled. I had bought shoes that didn’t fit, food I was too full to eat, and twenty seven bananas. I hate bananas. I questioned if I had gone on this shopping spree after getting drunk, but I couldn’t recall a single drop of alcohol touching my lips. I also questioned my sanity and after stroking my creature covered bill in my pocket, I shrugged the incident off as if nothing happened and continued on with my research. 
          Three days later, I woke up in a parking lot of a gambling house. My car was nowhere in sight and I was barefoot, but in my pocket was still my creature covered dollar bill. I had spent every dollar to my name. I had sold everything I owned to buy more things which I sold to gamble. I had even gone as far as to sell my blood. Finding myself in that state I realized something my research had failed to determine, my money monsters were just that...... monsters. They fed on the adrenaline a person gives off while spending money and they release a toxic which makes a person greedy. Needless to say, I only use checks these days – and can only imagine the creatures living on credit cards. My populated dollar bill is still out there somewhere. I left it in the parking lot of the casino. I hope it doesn’t find you, but just in case always beware of the Cupiditas.
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by Broken_Toe

Mountain Game

Chapter One

ENCOUNTER

The Mask of Death, will blanket the land,

The Harvester’s task to do,

By the fire of their soul, he seeks his prey,

No peace for those is due.

Warriors will come, the challenge it seeks,

But fate will follow too,

Brothers at war, who meet at death,

To free those whom he slew.

* * *

The cold night air was still carrying reminders of the recent storm that earlier dropped a few fresh inches of powder on the older snow pack. Powder well describes the type of snow that drifts easily in the wind, yet rests soft and light on a dry windless night. It was the kind of dusting that lays a blanket of quiet over the mountains and muffles the normal sounds of dead branches and weathered trees of this northern terrain.

Ben’s heart quickened under his soft steps as the full moon made its appearance through an open pocket in the cloud mass above. The full moon’s light reflected off the new snow, giving the appearance of dawn to the midnight landscape. Empty shadows emerged across the forest floor in a strange pattern of night and day stopping the mountain man in his tracks. This could certainly put a damper on my fun, he thought; his plans hindered by the glow of the giant orb.

Most would probably consider him crazy. The Blackfeet were not what one would call friendly to white men. Before Lewis and Clark had arrived revealing the plan to supply all the tribes equally with firearms, they were the only people with muskets, which they acquired from the French by fur trade. Through warfare over the years, they had established themselves as the dominant nation over the other tribes in this northern land. The plan to give arms to their enemies immediately turned the Blackfeet against Lewis and Clark’s party and set in motion a constant state of hostilities with whites and Indians alike.

At this point in time the focus of the Blackfoot’s pursuits centered on raids and theft. If caught, Ben would more than likely face the same fate of Grizz; a fellow trapper in these parts whom Ben happened on last week. Well, I guess you would say the remains of. To Ben, it looked as if Grizz had fallen into a three-day peeling. An art form perfected by the Shawnee and stolen by the Blackfeet. A regular ritual performed on those that were unlucky enough to get caught on their land.

Legend has it, The Peeling, was a death that prevented the soul from entering the afterlife. If skinned while alive the soul does not remain long enough after death for the guardian of passage to collect the soul. Ben put no stock in such nonsense. He knew the Blackfeet just plain enjoyed it. But the image of Grizz’s 6’8” frame still haunted him. Held upside down with a make shift rope, made from his own skin, tied to his ankles. Grizz’s frozen features still expressed the empty realization of his impending death: with his lidless eyes, lacking the luster of color, staring endlessly at his lost future; his mouth frozen in an open, silent scream, as if saying, “This can’t be happening.”

Ben could envision clearly the blood-icicles stretching out like daggers, curved from the strong winds like the bloody claws of a large predator after the kill. But the haunting memories of the gruesome butchery did not frighten him. In Ben’s life as a mountain man, he’d seen many bloody works perpetrated on the unfortunate. No, what bugged him about Grizz was not the fact that he was hung, but that the remainder of his hide was missing, and his weapons were left untouched; it just didn’t seem normal.Why did the Blackfeet take most of the man’s hide instead of just the scalp, and why not the weapons?

Ben had cut him down and concealed the body in the trunk of an old rotted out oak. The code of the mountain man entitled Ben to the meager possessions of those no longer needing them. It was viewed as the natural thing to do considering the dangerous life they all shared. The trapper acquired the well maintained 50 caliber lead belcher and a sound German horse pistol that day, but Grizz had been traveling light respecting food stuffs or traps. The disparaging questions of the scene still haunted him, but this was no time to reflect on inconsistencies. The dangers at hand needed to be the focus of the mountain man’s concerns.

Ben had hoped to play a practical joke on the small group of Indians, probably returning from a hunting trip or perhaps a raid on some other tribe in the area. Besides they were more than likely the ones who attacked Grizz, which made Ben’s planned fun all the more enjoyable. The Blackfeet were a superstitious lot; more than susceptible to a little mountain humor; if you could call it humor. Mountain humor usually entailed theft, sometimes dismemberment, or even death. It was a serious game played by men who faced death on a daily basis. As long as it was someone else that suffered, it was funny, and Ben was intent on having his fun.

The mountain man smiled to himself as he considered the trick for tonight. The beaver had been scarce as of late. So, to Ben’s thinking, A few extra hides would be nice; not to mention the Indian ponies tethered to the east. Or if they were a hunting party he could, relieve them of their prize. Maybe he could even make it look like, the game got up and walked off by itself. The man chuckled to himself; It will be fun to play on their superstitions.

Ben had been standing stone still within 50 feet of the camp when the moon made its appearance. The band had picked a small clearing for their camp on the downhill side of a small ridge. Ben studied the camp under the new light when a sudden apprehension came over him. Something’s not right. Blackfeet don’t post sentries when on the hunt. Why is that brave,—if just up late,—not by the fire? The mountain man then took note of the camp’s deceptively peaceful state. Do they know I‘m here?

Ben continued to stand motionless probably for the better half of 20 minutes. Then something stirred behind him. Had he walked into an ambush? His grip tightened on his muzzleloader. Through his heavy fur gloves he could feel the smooth wood stock and polished steel of the weapon, giving him a feeling that as long as he held it he could survive anything thrown at him. And he was sure he would take a few with him. All Ben’s senses were on full alert. He would react when need be, but to move now would only seal his fate. He was sure if the Blackfeet had known where he was at they would have already attacked.

The sound behind him now seemed to be off to his left. Apparently they knew his proximity, but not location. Theres still a chance to get away, but patience would be required.

Ben dropped his head ever so slowly. So slowly and so discreetly, that even a doe at five yards would not have noticed it. Even to the trained eye, Ben would be hard to locate. Ice clung to the fur of his outer garments like the frozen rain clings to prairie grass after a sudden freeze. With his makeshift bearskin poncho, draped over his stocky frame, and large beaver hat resting down over his shoulders, Ben looked like a snow covered bush in the shadows of the moonlight. In this stance, with his chin pressed firmly against his chest, he could see the camp but limit the light his eyes might reflect from the meager fire near the sentry. It would also better conceal any visibility of his breath in the cold night air.

The warriors continued to flank him. What were they doing? The man began to study his surroundings, what had he missed? Little things began to stand out. The position of the brave. The fire was bigger than it should be. Even the horses were not near the camp. Why such unusual behavior?

Then it dawned on him, The ambush’s not for me. This had the feel of a trap; for the mountain man was well acquainted with the tactics of his enemy. In his youth he had joined the Kentucky militia at 18, about six months before his parents moved north to Michigan. Ben experienced first hand the red man’s deceptive ability and skill in the art of ambush, while fighting in the battle of Fort Meigs.

In 1813, the Kentucky militia was encamped above the fort on the Maumee River. Harrison, in command of a small garrison there had entrenched his men to hold the fort against the British. Under attack and in desperate need of reinforcements, he sent two men to deliver a message for the militia to take out a line of cannons pounding the fort with a relentless rain of hot shot from heavy artillery stationed on a nearby ridge.

Hot shot was used very effectively in sea battles against ships because of the tremendous fire hazard it presented against vessel and sail. Metal shrapnel or cannon balls were heated to near melting temperature in stoked fires then loaded into the cannons. The only thing separating the almost liquid metal from the powder was a water soaked wad to prevent immediate ignition. In the war of 1812, it was unleashed against any wooden structure, hailing down a sometimes devastating torrent of flaming death.

The red-hot ammunition took great skill in loading on the part of artillery units, due to the danger of the hot metal and powder in such close proximity. Its use against Fort Meigs proved somewhat ineffective due to heavy rains, which caused both cannon balls and hot shot to make a sickening sizzling sound as the artillery impacted the muddy embankments and watery trenches constructed in defense of the fort. The thick nasty smelling steam proved somewhat gagging but hardly disabling to the men dug in to hold the fort, though outnumbered two to one. But the constant pummeling of cannon fire did keep the fort from delivering any kind of an offensive.

The Kentucky militia including Ben, his brother, and a few Indians who took the American side of the conflict, made up a party of 800 strong, flanked the enemy by coming down the river by foot and canoe. Taking the enemy by surprise they quickly subdued the artillery field, spiking the cannons with their musket ramrods, to render the heavy weaponry useless. 

 It was here, while standing by the cannons cheering their victory, that a group of Indians allied with the British were seen gathering in the nearby woods. Propelled by their recent victory the militia charged into the woods after the elusive enemy against the counsel of their Indian allies. Forty-five minutes later, the number of the militia was reduced to less than 200 demoralized soldiers retreating in desperation from the well-designed ambush. 

Ben survived the slaughter only because of his training in hand-to-hand combat while with the militia and the woodcraft he had learned from his youth in the Kentucky wilderness and Ohio basin. These and similar events from his past, many near death experiences from his youth, provided a lucid reminder,— memories burned into the hollows of a vivid mind, recollections regarding the battle-ready guerillas and the type of warfare that always seemed to catch their opposition off-guard.

And now he wondered, had he again found himself the victim of a cunning enemy who was in total control? Or had he walked right into a snare set for someone else? They couldn’t know of his presence. Ben wasn’t following them. He had come upon them on his trapping run. If Ben had any hope of surviving he would have to rely on his skill, stealth and self-taught patience. The man mentally gripped one of his two pistols with his left hand. He knew he’d be putting them to use tonight.

Minutes seemed like hours as the braves made their silent advance. He mentally dropped each brave. He knew it would be a difficult fight with some hand-to-hand. First one to go would have be the one on his right. The one on his left was closer and would be easier to drop on the second shot after the start of the attack. Finally, the one in the camp he would have to shoot with the rifle. To Ben it seemed simple enough as he pondered when the Blackfeet would attack. Hopefully, he could wait them out, and work his way over to the horses. It would give Ben a better idea of how many braves were in the party. This would put the mountain man in a better position to just slip away unscathed or continue the game. Ben would probably choose the latter. Confrontations and battle offered a thrill to the mountain man that is hard to describe.

As the time passed he started thinking, what if his flank was not the real flank, but in fact, perhaps these were warriors of an opposing tribe, and this ambush was intended for them? Had he fallen into a war zone? He couldn’t be the target. Ben continued to wait, knowing that time would reveal the answer.

The braves slowly came into view and Ben could clearly see they were part of the Blackfeet and therefore, part of the ambush. They apparently expected an attack on their camp and were searching for the would-be attackers. Or was he the target? Were they alerted to his presence? Ben began to give a sigh of relief, when it came to him, Maybe this was a trick to get me to reveal my position. This certainly added to the game.

Ben began to wonder just what would happen next, when a small breeze kicked up. The wind brought with it an unusual smell to the mountain man’s nose: The smell of dead and rotting flesh. But this didn’t make sense; it was below freezing temperature. Things froze before they got a chance to rot, and it was beyond him how this smell, which was undoubtedly the stench of rotting flesh, was so pungent. An uneasy feeling came over Ben. Things were just not adding up, and Ben wasn’t alone, the lone sentry stirred to life after he inhaled the odor.

* * *

The lone brave in the camp stood silent, waiting for the signal. He shivered in his fur coat, which was unable to fight off the cold night. The fur was thinner than normal, to allow for movement during the ambush, which was making standing so far from the fire unbearable.

Bear Claw made a silent prayer to the Great Spirit that their plan would work. If not, the Demon Hunter would continue to terrorize his tribe. That’s when the telltale sign of Demon presence came to his nostrils. The brave flung off his fur, pulling out his tomahawk, and ran to the fire grabbing a flaming limb. He turned in time to feel intense pain as long sharp talons locked onto his neck, lifting him from the ground. White lightning issued forth from the wraith as the warrior swung his tomahawk downward feeling it sink into the flesh of his unseen attacker. 

Amid the cold night air, a ghostly shriek echoed through the camp, mingled with the defiant war cry of Bear Claw. 

Dropping his makeshift torch, the warrior jerked in the throes of pain as razor sharp hooks punctured his skin, ripping his exposed skin from his chest.

* * *

Ben could not believe what he was seeing. A strange red light shot across the snow in front of the brave to his left. Moments later white lightning shot from the camp near the fire and the chest of the brave to Ben’s left exploded. In the camp almost simultaneously the brave who ran to the fire seemed to be floating in midair with blood gushing from his chest. His screams were met with the shrieks of his comrades as they charged into the camp. 

 The mortally wounded floating brave, swung his tomahawk downward and shortly after dropped his torch into a large pile of pine needles and branches that circled the campsite. The fire began to spread quickly through the kindling, lighting up the forest, and giving Ben the feeling he was in hell itself.

Everything was happening in a matter of seconds, yet to Ben, time had stopped. Before the torch hit the ground however, another streak of lightning thundered—stopping the brave to Ben’s right. The brave’s back erupted in a geyser of blood and gore as the white lightning passed through his body while expanding on impact. Other braves were charging the camp from all sides still screaming their war cries. That’s when Ben saw a glint of red, in the shape of three dots forming a triangle, next to the floating, helpless brave. In a glimmer, more hide was pulled from the floating Indian. At the same time white lightning shot once,—twice,—three times, dropping three more warriors in the gruesome throes of death. The last brave continued his charge reaching the camp’s outer perimeter only to meet the same fate as the others.

Ben stood in shock; the whole battle lasted under a minute. There was no way that just happened, he thought to himself.

Ben didn’t really believe in God, but he was sure he had just witnessed the workings of the devil himself. The torture continued on the only survivor of the ambush as the invisible force toyed with his prey.

Tabby with his mouse. This was taking the game to a whole new level. Ben spied the evil still unable to see the perpetrator as the whimpering, partially skinless victim was tossed aside.

Ben thought the firelight was playing with his eyes as he watched a glimmering shadow move through the camp. It looked like the heat waves of the fire; yet, it seemed to have a specific form. The shape, distorting the background behind the apparition had the frame not unlike a very large man. The ghostly apparition floated effortlessly through the firelight like the waves of desert heat in a mirage driven dream.

Ben had never heard anything like it before, but now coming from the camp a loud eerie roar burst forth. Ben shuddered, as suddenly the creature became visible. It was immense,—— shaped like a man with a makeshift poncho of what appeared to be the hide of a grizzly bear. Large, bulging eyes burned deep within like the coals of a dying embers, shrouded by the curved horns of what was probably Satan himself. Having pulled the tomahawk from its right arm the creature sat down and began working on its wound for a few minutes. In no time it was on the move again.

Ben watched shocked as the Indian killed last was lifted into the air and mutilated under the eyes of the dying sentry. This Demon’s a twisted buzzard.

The skin was stretched into a makeshift rope and the withering life of the sentry was tied to a limb like a side of buffalo. Then the monster disappeared. Another body was drug before the vanquished.

The thing’s gathering its kills. Ben now realized he was much too close to the dead Blackfeet near him. He would only have moments to act. If he stayed the creature would walk right over him. Did the creature see the movement of the ambushing dead braves? Is that how he knew where they were? Will it see me if I move? If I stay I’m dead. Ben reasoned quickly. His only choice was to back off. Get out…what if the ghost were to see my tracks?

He would have to hide them through appearance, behind the brave to his left. Maybe the hideous giant would not notice them. Ben moved silently to his left and back. He figured he had maybe one minute to get some distance between himself and the two dead Blackfeet. There was a nice big tree just a few paces back. If he could get himself behind its trunk he might have a chance.  

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by Broken_Toe
Mountain Game
Chapter One
ENCOUNTER

The Mask of Death, will blanket the land,
The Harvester’s task to do,
By the fire of their soul, he seeks his prey,
No peace for those is due.
Warriors will come, the challenge it seeks,
But fate will follow too,
Brothers at war, who meet at death,
To free those whom he slew.




* * *
The cold night air was still carrying reminders of the recent storm that earlier dropped a few fresh inches of powder on the older snow pack. Powder well describes the type of snow that drifts easily in the wind, yet rests soft and light on a dry windless night. It was the kind of dusting that lays a blanket of quiet over the mountains and muffles the normal sounds of dead branches and weathered trees of this northern terrain.

Ben’s heart quickened under his soft steps as the full moon made its appearance through an open pocket in the cloud mass above. The full moon’s light reflected off the new snow, giving the appearance of dawn to the midnight landscape. Empty shadows emerged across the forest floor in a strange pattern of night and day stopping the mountain man in his tracks. This could certainly put a damper on my fun, he thought; his plans hindered by the glow of the giant orb.

Most would probably consider him crazy. The Blackfeet were not what one would call friendly to white men. Before Lewis and Clark had arrived revealing the plan to supply all the tribes equally with firearms, they were the only people with muskets, which they acquired from the French by fur trade. Through warfare over the years, they had established themselves as the dominant nation over the other tribes in this northern land. The plan to give arms to their enemies immediately turned the Blackfeet against Lewis and Clark’s party and set in motion a constant state of hostilities with whites and Indians alike.

At this point in time the focus of the Blackfoot’s pursuits centered on raids and theft. If caught, Ben would more than likely face the same fate of Grizz; a fellow trapper in these parts whom Ben happened on last week. Well, I guess you would say the remains of. To Ben, it looked as if Grizz had fallen into a three-day peeling. An art form perfected by the Shawnee and stolen by the Blackfeet. A regular ritual performed on those that were unlucky enough to get caught on their land.

Legend has it, The Peeling, was a death that prevented the soul from entering the afterlife. If skinned while alive the soul does not remain long enough after death for the guardian of passage to collect the soul. Ben put no stock in such nonsense. He knew the Blackfeet just plain enjoyed it. But the image of Grizz’s 6’8” frame still haunted him. Held upside down with a make shift rope, made from his own skin, tied to his ankles. Grizz’s frozen features still expressed the empty realization of his impending death: with his lidless eyes, lacking the luster of color, staring endlessly at his lost future; his mouth frozen in an open, silent scream, as if saying, “This can’t be happening.”

Ben could envision clearly the blood-icicles stretching out like daggers, curved from the strong winds like the bloody claws of a large predator after the kill. But the haunting memories of the gruesome butchery did not frighten him. In Ben’s life as a mountain man, he’d seen many bloody works perpetrated on the unfortunate. No, what bugged him about Grizz was not the fact that he was hung, but that the remainder of his hide was missing, and his weapons were left untouched; it just didn’t seem normal.Why did the Blackfeet take most of the man’s hide instead of just the scalp, and why not the weapons?

Ben had cut him down and concealed the body in the trunk of an old rotted out oak. The code of the mountain man entitled Ben to the meager possessions of those no longer needing them. It was viewed as the natural thing to do considering the dangerous life they all shared. The trapper acquired the well maintained 50 caliber lead belcher and a sound German horse pistol that day, but Grizz had been traveling light respecting food stuffs or traps. The disparaging questions of the scene still haunted him, but this was no time to reflect on inconsistencies. The dangers at hand needed to be the focus of the mountain man’s concerns.

Ben had hoped to play a practical joke on the small group of Indians, probably returning from a hunting trip or perhaps a raid on some other tribe in the area. Besides they were more than likely the ones who attacked Grizz, which made Ben’s planned fun all the more enjoyable. The Blackfeet were a superstitious lot; more than susceptible to a little mountain humor; if you could call it humor. Mountain humor usually entailed theft, sometimes dismemberment, or even death. It was a serious game played by men who faced death on a daily basis. As long as it was someone else that suffered, it was funny, and Ben was intent on having his fun.

The mountain man smiled to himself as he considered the trick for tonight. The beaver had been scarce as of late. So, to Ben’s thinking, A few extra hides would be nice; not to mention the Indian ponies tethered to the east. Or if they were a hunting party he could, relieve them of their prize. Maybe he could even make it look like, the game got up and walked off by itself. The man chuckled to himself; It will be fun to play on their superstitions.

Ben had been standing stone still within 50 feet of the camp when the moon made its appearance. The band had picked a small clearing for their camp on the downhill side of a small ridge. Ben studied the camp under the new light when a sudden apprehension came over him. Something’s not right. Blackfeet don’t post sentries when on the hunt. Why is that brave,—if just up late,—not by the fire? The mountain man then took note of the camp’s deceptively peaceful state. Do they know I‘m here?

Ben continued to stand motionless probably for the better half of 20 minutes. Then something stirred behind him. Had he walked into an ambush? His grip tightened on his muzzleloader. Through his heavy fur gloves he could feel the smooth wood stock and polished steel of the weapon, giving him a feeling that as long as he held it he could survive anything thrown at him. And he was sure he would take a few with him. All Ben’s senses were on full alert. He would react when need be, but to move now would only seal his fate. He was sure if the Blackfeet had known where he was at they would have already attacked.

The sound behind him now seemed to be off to his left. Apparently they knew his proximity, but not location. Theres still a chance to get away, but patience would be required.

Ben dropped his head ever so slowly. So slowly and so discreetly, that even a doe at five yards would not have noticed it. Even to the trained eye, Ben would be hard to locate. Ice clung to the fur of his outer garments like the frozen rain clings to prairie grass after a sudden freeze. With his makeshift bearskin poncho, draped over his stocky frame, and large beaver hat resting down over his shoulders, Ben looked like a snow covered bush in the shadows of the moonlight. In this stance, with his chin pressed firmly against his chest, he could see the camp but limit the light his eyes might reflect from the meager fire near the sentry. It would also better conceal any visibility of his breath in the cold night air.

The warriors continued to flank him. What were they doing? The man began to study his surroundings, what had he missed? Little things began to stand out. The position of the brave. The fire was bigger than it should be. Even the horses were not near the camp. Why such unusual behavior?

Then it dawned on him, The ambush’s not for me. This had the feel of a trap; for the mountain man was well acquainted with the tactics of his enemy. In his youth he had joined the Kentucky militia at 18, about six months before his parents moved north to Michigan. Ben experienced first hand the red man’s deceptive ability and skill in the art of ambush, while fighting in the battle of Fort Meigs.

In 1813, the Kentucky militia was encamped above the fort on the Maumee River. Harrison, in command of a small garrison there had entrenched his men to hold the fort against the British. Under attack and in desperate need of reinforcements, he sent two men to deliver a message for the militia to take out a line of cannons pounding the fort with a relentless rain of hot shot from heavy artillery stationed on a nearby ridge.

Hot shot was used very effectively in sea battles against ships because of the tremendous fire hazard it presented against vessel and sail. Metal shrapnel or cannon balls were heated to near melting temperature in stoked fires then loaded into the cannons. The only thing separating the almost liquid metal from the powder was a water soaked wad to prevent immediate ignition. In the war of 1812, it was unleashed against any wooden structure, hailing down a sometimes devastating torrent of flaming death.

The red-hot ammunition took great skill in loading on the part of artillery units, due to the danger of the hot metal and powder in such close proximity. Its use against Fort Meigs proved somewhat ineffective due to heavy rains, which caused both cannon balls and hot shot to make a sickening sizzling sound as the artillery impacted the muddy embankments and watery trenches constructed in defense of the fort. The thick nasty smelling steam proved somewhat gagging but hardly disabling to the men dug in to hold the fort, though outnumbered two to one. But the constant pummeling of cannon fire did keep the fort from delivering any kind of an offensive.

The Kentucky militia including Ben, his brother, and a few Indians who took the American side of the conflict, made up a party of 800 strong, flanked the enemy by coming down the river by foot and canoe. Taking the enemy by surprise they quickly subdued the artillery field, spiking the cannons with their musket ramrods, to render the heavy weaponry useless. 

 It was here, while standing by the cannons cheering their victory, that a group of Indians allied with the British were seen gathering in the nearby woods. Propelled by their recent victory the militia charged into the woods after the elusive enemy against the counsel of their Indian allies. Forty-five minutes later, the number of the militia was reduced to less than 200 demoralized soldiers retreating in desperation from the well-designed ambush. 

Ben survived the slaughter only because of his training in hand-to-hand combat while with the militia and the woodcraft he had learned from his youth in the Kentucky wilderness and Ohio basin. These and similar events from his past, many near death experiences from his youth, provided a lucid reminder,— memories burned into the hollows of a vivid mind, recollections regarding the battle-ready guerillas and the type of warfare that always seemed to catch their opposition off-guard.

And now he wondered, had he again found himself the victim of a cunning enemy who was in total control? Or had he walked right into a snare set for someone else? They couldn’t know of his presence. Ben wasn’t following them. He had come upon them on his trapping run. If Ben had any hope of surviving he would have to rely on his skill, stealth and self-taught patience. The man mentally gripped one of his two pistols with his left hand. He knew he’d be putting them to use tonight.

Minutes seemed like hours as the braves made their silent advance. He mentally dropped each brave. He knew it would be a difficult fight with some hand-to-hand. First one to go would have be the one on his right. The one on his left was closer and would be easier to drop on the second shot after the start of the attack. Finally, the one in the camp he would have to shoot with the rifle. To Ben it seemed simple enough as he pondered when the Blackfeet would attack. Hopefully, he could wait them out, and work his way over to the horses. It would give Ben a better idea of how many braves were in the party. This would put the mountain man in a better position to just slip away unscathed or continue the game. Ben would probably choose the latter. Confrontations and battle offered a thrill to the mountain man that is hard to describe.

As the time passed he started thinking, what if his flank was not the real flank, but in fact, perhaps these were warriors of an opposing tribe, and this ambush was intended for them? Had he fallen into a war zone? He couldn’t be the target. Ben continued to wait, knowing that time would reveal the answer.

The braves slowly came into view and Ben could clearly see they were part of the Blackfeet and therefore, part of the ambush. They apparently expected an attack on their camp and were searching for the would-be attackers. Or was he the target? Were they alerted to his presence? Ben began to give a sigh of relief, when it came to him, Maybe this was a trick to get me to reveal my position. This certainly added to the game.

Ben began to wonder just what would happen next, when a small breeze kicked up. The wind brought with it an unusual smell to the mountain man’s nose: The smell of dead and rotting flesh. But this didn’t make sense; it was below freezing temperature. Things froze before they got a chance to rot, and it was beyond him how this smell, which was undoubtedly the stench of rotting flesh, was so pungent. An uneasy feeling came over Ben. Things were just not adding up, and Ben wasn’t alone, the lone sentry stirred to life after he inhaled the odor.


* * *


The lone brave in the camp stood silent, waiting for the signal. He shivered in his fur coat, which was unable to fight off the cold night. The fur was thinner than normal, to allow for movement during the ambush, which was making standing so far from the fire unbearable.

Bear Claw made a silent prayer to the Great Spirit that their plan would work. If not, the Demon Hunter would continue to terrorize his tribe. That’s when the telltale sign of Demon presence came to his nostrils. The brave flung off his fur, pulling out his tomahawk, and ran to the fire grabbing a flaming limb. He turned in time to feel intense pain as long sharp talons locked onto his neck, lifting him from the ground. White lightning issued forth from the wraith as the warrior swung his tomahawk downward feeling it sink into the flesh of his unseen attacker. 

Amid the cold night air, a ghostly shriek echoed through the camp, mingled with the defiant war cry of Bear Claw. 

Dropping his makeshift torch, the warrior jerked in the throes of pain as razor sharp hooks punctured his skin, ripping his exposed skin from his chest.


* * *


Ben could not believe what he was seeing. A strange red light shot across the snow in front of the brave to his left. Moments later white lightning shot from the camp near the fire and the chest of the brave to Ben’s left exploded. In the camp almost simultaneously the brave who ran to the fire seemed to be floating in midair with blood gushing from his chest. His screams were met with the shrieks of his comrades as they charged into the camp. 

 The mortally wounded floating brave, swung his tomahawk downward and shortly after dropped his torch into a large pile of pine needles and branches that circled the campsite. The fire began to spread quickly through the kindling, lighting up the forest, and giving Ben the feeling he was in hell itself.

Everything was happening in a matter of seconds, yet to Ben, time had stopped. Before the torch hit the ground however, another streak of lightning thundered—stopping the brave to Ben’s right. The brave’s back erupted in a geyser of blood and gore as the white lightning passed through his body while expanding on impact. Other braves were charging the camp from all sides still screaming their war cries. That’s when Ben saw a glint of red, in the shape of three dots forming a triangle, next to the floating, helpless brave. In a glimmer, more hide was pulled from the floating Indian. At the same time white lightning shot once,—twice,—three times, dropping three more warriors in the gruesome throes of death. The last brave continued his charge reaching the camp’s outer perimeter only to meet the same fate as the others.

Ben stood in shock; the whole battle lasted under a minute. There was no way that just happened, he thought to himself.

Ben didn’t really believe in God, but he was sure he had just witnessed the workings of the devil himself. The torture continued on the only survivor of the ambush as the invisible force toyed with his prey.

Tabby with his mouse. This was taking the game to a whole new level. Ben spied the evil still unable to see the perpetrator as the whimpering, partially skinless victim was tossed aside.

Ben thought the firelight was playing with his eyes as he watched a glimmering shadow move through the camp. It looked like the heat waves of the fire; yet, it seemed to have a specific form. The shape, distorting the background behind the apparition had the frame not unlike a very large man. The ghostly apparition floated effortlessly through the firelight like the waves of desert heat in a mirage driven dream.

Ben had never heard anything like it before, but now coming from the camp a loud eerie roar burst forth. Ben shuddered, as suddenly the creature became visible. It was immense,—— shaped like a man with a makeshift poncho of what appeared to be the hide of a grizzly bear. Large, bulging eyes burned deep within like the coals of a dying embers, shrouded by the curved horns of what was probably Satan himself. Having pulled the tomahawk from its right arm the creature sat down and began working on its wound for a few minutes. In no time it was on the move again.

Ben watched shocked as the Indian killed last was lifted into the air and mutilated under the eyes of the dying sentry. This Demon’s a twisted buzzard.

The skin was stretched into a makeshift rope and the withering life of the sentry was tied to a limb like a side of buffalo. Then the monster disappeared. Another body was drug before the vanquished.

The thing’s gathering its kills. Ben now realized he was much too close to the dead Blackfeet near him. He would only have moments to act. If he stayed the creature would walk right over him. Did the creature see the movement of the ambushing dead braves? Is that how he knew where they were? Will it see me if I move? If I stay I’m dead. Ben reasoned quickly. His only choice was to back off. Get out…what if the ghost were to see my tracks?

He would have to hide them through appearance, behind the brave to his left. Maybe the hideous giant would not notice them. Ben moved silently to his left and back. He figured he had maybe one minute to get some distance between himself and the two dead Blackfeet. There was a nice big tree just a few paces back. If he could get himself behind its trunk he might have a chance.  
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by LadyRB

The way we treat animals

3/15/17 Entry 1

I stared into its face, half hidden with shadows, a savage beast that our team had managed to capture. We've been hunting the devil for ages, and at long last we have detained it. Do you know what this could mean? For the future of science? For the future of our entire race? Do you know how many questions we'll finally have answers to? And of course when we are done studying and experimenting on it we will release it into a controlled environment in a nice zoo with a wild life conservation program. We simply cannot deny the people the opportunity to observe such an exotic and intriguing specimen. However I am questioning the safety of such an exhibit. Of course there would be added safety precautions unlike that of the other animals on display. Perhaps a bullet proof screen would be appropriate? At the moment we have restrained the creature with chains-loose fitting of course, we can't have any animal right organizations taking it away when we are so close to getting it to cooperate. It's in a dark unadorned room, no stimulation that could possibly trigger its primal instincts, and every day we've been trying out different diets it might respond to. It was wearing strange things on its body over its dirty looking skin, and we've stripped it of them to examine the garments. The animal seems to be very upset over this confiscation, it keeps making strange noises, and tries covering certain parts of its body. We will keep you posted as new information about the subject emerges.

3/16/17 Entry 2

I know not the meaning or significance behind this revelation, but we've found a piece of cloth in the same area we found the creature and the ship it used for transportation. It's clearly not from our world, its of a strange scratchy material and is dyed in red, white, and blue-with markings all over it. We are hoping the subject may show some emotional response to it.

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by LadyRB
The way we treat animals
3/15/17 Entry 1

I stared into its face, half hidden with shadows, a savage beast that our team had managed to capture. We've been hunting the devil for ages, and at long last we have detained it. Do you know what this could mean? For the future of science? For the future of our entire race? Do you know how many questions we'll finally have answers to? And of course when we are done studying and experimenting on it we will release it into a controlled environment in a nice zoo with a wild life conservation program. We simply cannot deny the people the opportunity to observe such an exotic and intriguing specimen. However I am questioning the safety of such an exhibit. Of course there would be added safety precautions unlike that of the other animals on display. Perhaps a bullet proof screen would be appropriate? At the moment we have restrained the creature with chains-loose fitting of course, we can't have any animal right organizations taking it away when we are so close to getting it to cooperate. It's in a dark unadorned room, no stimulation that could possibly trigger its primal instincts, and every day we've been trying out different diets it might respond to. It was wearing strange things on its body over its dirty looking skin, and we've stripped it of them to examine the garments. The animal seems to be very upset over this confiscation, it keeps making strange noises, and tries covering certain parts of its body. We will keep you posted as new information about the subject emerges.

3/16/17 Entry 2

I know not the meaning or significance behind this revelation, but we've found a piece of cloth in the same area we found the creature and the ship it used for transportation. It's clearly not from our world, its of a strange scratchy material and is dyed in red, white, and blue-with markings all over it. We are hoping the subject may show some emotional response to it.
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by RLW

All I Have Not Seen

I sensed their presence long before their shape. The fine hairs on the nape of my neck raised in rhythm matching awareness each time my attention cycled left, then right, around the room. A gentle chill traipsed down my spine, light as softest fingers tapped pianissimo upon a keyboard fair.

I squinted into the openness of this most ordinary of living spaces. There an overstuffed armchair, here a lamp…night stand piled with books, alarm and cough drops meant to ease my scratchy throat. Was that a shadow by the bed I hadn’t seen before?

No, nothing there – it must be my imagination playing tricks. The night-time decongestant meant to render restful sleep had started on its work. My eyelids fell despite best efforts to remain awake.

Nights were the worst. Well into the third week of latest bout with winter germs, causing symptoms from congestion to laryngitis, my weariness had hit the hopeless phase. Would I ever be back to talking in a normal voice or finding it simple to swallow and clear my throat without the gravelly, stop-motion that followed this sickness track? The constant cough did nothing but aggravate the tender tissue needing rest.

Nudged from slumber, brief as it must have been, by tiniest of impulse, I dragged myself to consciousness again. There – on the seat of my puffy, paisley chair – was some…thing. Not quite as human formed, but close enough, and breathing heavy into now confining space. And there, another twinning shape appeared behind the first and then a third, this one hanging from the ceiling fan fixture near directly overhead.

I watched, transfixed in awful stupor, as the creature seated on the chair rose up in floating motion to approach the beside. Silent screams lodged fast in parched and swollen vocal chords. No impulse overcame my need to utter cries for help.

And then, a sense of peaceful calm replaced my dread. The second shape, and third, reformed themselves to flank the first as if to join in meeting me en masse. Appendages, ephemeral as wisps of smoke, formed briefly in outreach toward my body. Once, then twice, and then a third time, each encircled the area of my throat. Honeyed pressure – sweetness with opacity to invade – impressed itself on my mind. I sensed, rather than heard, their message for me.

“We are healers - come in response to your need. Accept this gift to calm your mind and body.”

                                                         ~~~~~

Morning light poured brightly into the room when next I woke. An instant brought realization my voice was back to normal. I cleared my throat and laughed with glee, breaking into ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, just because I could!

Who or what these beings were– or even from where they hailed, remains mystery. Figments of imagination, angels of good fortune, or new and alien life form travelled to earth to fix a fallen race?

All that I have seen has taught me to believe in all I have not seen. Merchants of Mercy I’ve dubbed them – these healers who came in time of need.

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by RLW
All I Have Not Seen

I sensed their presence long before their shape. The fine hairs on the nape of my neck raised in rhythm matching awareness each time my attention cycled left, then right, around the room. A gentle chill traipsed down my spine, light as softest fingers tapped pianissimo upon a keyboard fair.

I squinted into the openness of this most ordinary of living spaces. There an overstuffed armchair, here a lamp…night stand piled with books, alarm and cough drops meant to ease my scratchy throat. Was that a shadow by the bed I hadn’t seen before?

No, nothing there – it must be my imagination playing tricks. The night-time decongestant meant to render restful sleep had started on its work. My eyelids fell despite best efforts to remain awake.

Nights were the worst. Well into the third week of latest bout with winter germs, causing symptoms from congestion to laryngitis, my weariness had hit the hopeless phase. Would I ever be back to talking in a normal voice or finding it simple to swallow and clear my throat without the gravelly, stop-motion that followed this sickness track? The constant cough did nothing but aggravate the tender tissue needing rest.

Nudged from slumber, brief as it must have been, by tiniest of impulse, I dragged myself to consciousness again. There – on the seat of my puffy, paisley chair – was some…thing. Not quite as human formed, but close enough, and breathing heavy into now confining space. And there, another twinning shape appeared behind the first and then a third, this one hanging from the ceiling fan fixture near directly overhead.

I watched, transfixed in awful stupor, as the creature seated on the chair rose up in floating motion to approach the beside. Silent screams lodged fast in parched and swollen vocal chords. No impulse overcame my need to utter cries for help.

And then, a sense of peaceful calm replaced my dread. The second shape, and third, reformed themselves to flank the first as if to join in meeting me en masse. Appendages, ephemeral as wisps of smoke, formed briefly in outreach toward my body. Once, then twice, and then a third time, each encircled the area of my throat. Honeyed pressure – sweetness with opacity to invade – impressed itself on my mind. I sensed, rather than heard, their message for me.

“We are healers - come in response to your need. Accept this gift to calm your mind and body.”
                                                         ~~~~~
Morning light poured brightly into the room when next I woke. An instant brought realization my voice was back to normal. I cleared my throat and laughed with glee, breaking into ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, just because I could!

Who or what these beings were– or even from where they hailed, remains mystery. Figments of imagination, angels of good fortune, or new and alien life form travelled to earth to fix a fallen race?

All that I have seen has taught me to believe in all I have not seen. Merchants of Mercy I’ve dubbed them – these healers who came in time of need.

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Chapter 4 of Collection of Short Stories
Written by Charlton_Ghosh

Oozelles

Shay Pipkin's Biology Journal: Entry 41; 041/9,461 approximately 8155.000

Location: Orbis Aquae

General Information Chart:

Object Name: Ozzelles

Location: Like humans and similar parasites, they are found throughout the known galaxies (this study has been performed primarily on Orbis Aquae)

Description: Think giant amoeba; Physically they grow to be about 3 foot diameter spheres; Usually puce in color, although other dull grey/green colors are sometimes seen; Its consistency is rather like a blob of jelly left out on the counter; Can change color depending on creatures age and items ingested

Origin: Unkown

Current activities: Digesting things, including themselves if nothing else is available; Only known danger to them: extensive fire and/or heat; Can formulate specific acids to dissolve and/or digest almost anything; Primary source of food is unknown, they seem to thrive off of everything

Special Notes: Can let off noxious gases at will; When burned: emits toxic fumes; Can separate into many, totally independent blobs; The separation/ reproduction of oozelles is accomplished through binary fission; If the environment is stressful for a colony, they will start to merge back together (two oozelles become a single oozelle)They communicate by telepathy; Impervious to almost everything; Generally does not take interest in surrounding environment;

Shay's Observations:

Now there is a sight I never thought I'd see. A  single oozelle splitting in two. A single oozelle is rare, since they are almost always social creatures living in big colonies. It appears that this oozelle has left its colony (I assume the one 16 miles to the north) and seems to be starting one of its own.

I have been watching this creature for 14 days now. I have not yet tried to contact it. Although I am fairly certain it knows I am here watching it. It moved to the other side of the clearing shortly after I made camp in this tree. However, it does seem comfortable enough to split in front of me. I think I will be able to watch a colony grow, right under my nose. This is really quite amazing.

I should make note that these creatures are thoroughly sentient, and have communicated with humans in the past. But I am trying to watch "virgin" oozelles, uncontaminated by the outside world. So far, I have been successful. And the natives (anthró̱pino psária) of Orbis Aquae have been a great help in this regard. They had told me about the colony in the first place and they have also granted me several necessary supplies.

I intend to continue to watch this oozelle for another year if all goes well.

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Chapter 4 of Collection of Short Stories
Written by Charlton_Ghosh
Oozelles
Shay Pipkin's Biology Journal: Entry 41; 041/9,461 approximately 8155.000
Location: Orbis Aquae


General Information Chart:
Object Name: Ozzelles
Location: Like humans and similar parasites, they are found throughout the known galaxies (this study has been performed primarily on Orbis Aquae)
Description: Think giant amoeba; Physically they grow to be about 3 foot diameter spheres; Usually puce in color, although other dull grey/green colors are sometimes seen; Its consistency is rather like a blob of jelly left out on the counter; Can change color depending on creatures age and items ingested
Origin: Unkown
Current activities: Digesting things, including themselves if nothing else is available; Only known danger to them: extensive fire and/or heat; Can formulate specific acids to dissolve and/or digest almost anything; Primary source of food is unknown, they seem to thrive off of everything
Special Notes: Can let off noxious gases at will; When burned: emits toxic fumes; Can separate into many, totally independent blobs; The separation/ reproduction of oozelles is accomplished through binary fission; If the environment is stressful for a colony, they will start to merge back together (two oozelles become a single oozelle)They communicate by telepathy; Impervious to almost everything; Generally does not take interest in surrounding environment;

Shay's Observations:
Now there is a sight I never thought I'd see. A  single oozelle splitting in two. A single oozelle is rare, since they are almost always social creatures living in big colonies. It appears that this oozelle has left its colony (I assume the one 16 miles to the north) and seems to be starting one of its own.

I have been watching this creature for 14 days now. I have not yet tried to contact it. Although I am fairly certain it knows I am here watching it. It moved to the other side of the clearing shortly after I made camp in this tree. However, it does seem comfortable enough to split in front of me. I think I will be able to watch a colony grow, right under my nose. This is really quite amazing.

I should make note that these creatures are thoroughly sentient, and have communicated with humans in the past. But I am trying to watch "virgin" oozelles, uncontaminated by the outside world. So far, I have been successful. And the natives (anthró̱pino psária) of Orbis Aquae have been a great help in this regard. They had told me about the colony in the first place and they have also granted me several necessary supplies.

I intend to continue to watch this oozelle for another year if all goes well.
#prosechallenge  #Itslit  #getlit 
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by StuartJWarren

Seeking Man In The Field

The light of the noonday sun was above them, but Conn could not see it

through the obscuring clouds. He thought it was particularly cool out, but the

humid climate made him sweat all over, like a wet blanket resting on his

shoulders. Eventually, as the clouds shifted in the air and brought fog through

the mountain passes, Conn felt well again, and smiled. It was familiar, like

home, yet so far away. As the roads had widened and narrowed along 338, it

was like he was back in Main again, traveling along the Main Route 8, to see

his father in Strom. Despite the protest of his wife, and the vehemence of his

sister, he had traveled alone then, disregarding their continual pleas that he

was opening himself to heaps of trouble. There were many things that could

happen to a man, alone on a highway. A woman never traveled alone, but with

a man, she would gain safe passage. A man never traveled without weapons.

Conn knew these truths. Everyone knew them. But he never let those worries

concern him. For the first time in his life he made his way with others, and saw

the appeal of doing so. There was always something to laugh at, for they were

all brothers together.

Next to him the Samisk man rode on his reindeer, seated on a makeshift

saddle, while the others eyed him enviously every so often. His language had

improved considerably since the time spent in Sol, his mouth now more adept

at the hard sounds, which kept him from swallowing the vowels. Still, the

nomad had yet to speak with Conn personally. Conn didn’t mind waiting, even

though he was eager to meet another stranger.

The last time he chanced upon a new friend was in Skara Brae. Taog, he

recalled, was a chance associate. He had come calling one afternoon to

measure a rusty sewer drain in Taog’s home. He had hoped to get it done in one

afternoon but, as luck would have it, he realized he would have to construct a

mold. The mold took a long while to build. The wax alone took the longest to

gather. As the weeks passed, they became good friends, so much so that he

would tell his wife every time he came home about their conversations. After

her death, the mysterious politician became his sole comforter. Good things

never lasted though, especially not for him.

“Rv55,” murmured Halldórr in a beleaguered voice, “oh how I would

rather walk you a dozen times over than climb a bloody mountain.” It had only

been a few minutes since they left the grizzled highway, and already he had

begun panting.

“Tut! Come now, Blood Mountain is only 400 meters,” Galdur replied

wryly. “Feel that burn in your quads! 396 meters of icy chasms, rock, and dirt

to go,” he added, enhancing a construct image of their assent.

“Silence, both of you,” Yngvarr said, moving ahead of them to Sigmundur

and batting away the image. “It’s no climb at all, not in the slightest.” With an

adventurous grin, he looked back at Jökull, who walked with his arms folded,

deep in his thoughts and added, “Look! The poet has no complaints. Why then

should you?”

“Prudence,” Jökull interjected, “it is a marvelous balm in our times of

complaint.”

Yngvarr threw his head back and guffawed, patting Sigmundur on the back

to stir him up. But the shepherd was stalwart. He kept his eyes on the road

ahead.

“These mountains: thickened caverns are there abounding, holding in their

depths the great beasts of old. We must proceed with sense and duty, lest we

fall like heroes and join Odin’s mead hall premature.”

Suddenly they halted. It was an odd voice, heavily accented and rough, but

it was understandable. Facing the Samisk man in surprise, they looked at him

with curious gazes. It was the first real thing he had said. When the Samisk man

saw their faces he smiled winsomely, taking out his portly flask to drink in

celebration.

“Ah! So your arcane magic bid me leave to speak? Then we shall sing and

dance, at the heights of this hill tonight in celebration of a successful spell.”

“Marvelous idea,” Galdur mused. “I’ve heard hedensk are known for their

stories. We must hear some of those!”

Beside the missionary, Halldórr clapped his hands and whistled blithely.

“Good show! See? Taking him along was a marvelous idea,” he said,

nudging Galdur heartily. “Those patches take their time, but they are bloody

well worth it.”

“Feasts bring joy to all,” agreed the Samisk man, “but good food and a tale

make even better revelry.” The nomad gestured kindly to Sigmundur, bowing

his head from the saddle in respect.

Yngvarr looked over, raising his eyebrow and whispered something into

Sigmundur’s ear. Whatever it was, the shepherd dismissed it with a curt

gesture, and bowed to the Samisk man respectfully.

“I am humbled that you revere my tales,” he said in a formal tone. Raising

his hand, Sigmundur called the nomad to lift his head. “What is it that we may

call you, that we may answer you?”

“My name is Fjølne,” he said, briskly dismounting the reindeer, “of Soum,

keeper of secret words and phrases.”

“Welcome to our company, Fjølne,” the shepherd replied. “So long as our

quest is reasonable, you are free to join us.”

Fjølne nodded, pondering the question. Opening his hands he turned to

them all.

“There are five already here, and seeking the child has not deterred them.

What man would I be without rising to meet this challenge as well?”

“And so the rogue joins us,” Galdur said, looking keenly at the others.

“Here, here,” Halldórr added raising his hand.

Sigmundur gripped his cane, hanging his head limply, enjoying the moment

of rest.

“Well, perhaps you will be a slow one,” he said. “I am not as young as I

once was.” Hearing this, Fjølne smiled and grabbed the reins of his beast of

burden.

“If you fall, teacher, gladly would I give you this mount.”

As Fjølne climbed back into his saddle, the care he took in doing so

reminded Conn of his father, who before taking the trade of a blacksmith, made

a living tending the sheep that roamed the plains of Stron. He suspected that the

Samisk was adept at such a skill, though perhaps with other animals. Conn

recalled running across the golden fields, getting lost in them on occasion. Yet,

his father always found him, as he did his own sheep. He meditated on this,

letting the warm thoughts of nostalgia fill him.

So they traveled onward, sharing stories and jokes among themselves.

Conn enjoyed them, and felt rather foolish for leaving Orn on such poor terms.

But now, as the skies opened up, and the vast expanse of the cool, tranquil

firmament bore itself to him, he felt rather vindicated in his choice to sojourn

with them. Even as they began to ascend the hidden pathways amidst the fir

trees, he felt the primal spirit of the land merge with him.

Far into the ascent, Conn felt the fatigue come on quickly. Never before

had he climbed something so markedly steep. At first it was nothing beyond

that which he endured every day, walking up the hillock that led to his smithy,

but soon the grade increased severely. Every step felt weighted, like plucking

his feet from mud to plod onward. There were only so many branches to grasp

to steady his steps. Emerald green and sea foam moss clung to every stone and

brittle limb. Conn learned to avoid those, particularly after the fourth time he

landed on his face. Graciously, Halldórr tied a rope to Conn and tethered it to

his own waist. Occasionally when the canopy above waned, Conn could see

the clouds overhead, and behind him the great fjords, bearing their

magnificence and glory. The view at the top, he knew, would be worth it.

It was late afternoon by the time they reached the crest of the ridge,

covered in sweat and wholly exhausted from the climb. The land up there was

different than what Conn had expected to find. There were no trees, but only

vast expanses of shaggy grass as far as the eye could see; and scattered

between them were large pools of stagnant water and residual snow melt.

Rocky outcrops littered the fields, nearly hidden by mossy parapets and white

tipped flowers, but were few and far between. Nothing had corrupted these

places, for they were hidden from the world. Even so, if they had been

tampered with, all veritable signs of the contamination were long overtaken by

the primal highlands.

The party collapsed in a heap on the ground, heaving off their bags and

packs; all except Fjølne, who sat comfortably with a satisfied look on his

reindeer. Jökull watched with envious eyes as the Samisk dismounted. When

Fjølne saw him staring, he smiled back with a wave. Yngvarr silently rebuked

him with a look of disappointment.

Watching them all lay out their items meticulously across the moist grass,

Conn was captivated. Across the lawn, all manners of dried food and

preserves were present, mingled together with other survival paraphernalia.

Jökull, who had sat down next to Conn, pulled from his sack a box containing a

medium sized mutton joint and small, dehydrated potatoes. Something about it

made Conn chuckle to himself. It was so absurd, the little thing, sitting there in

a box, no more than a hand’s breadth, but when Jökull took out his flask and

poured a little water through the opening in the top of the container, Conn saw

it explode in size, so much so that it broke the box, spilling out onto the grass

with its seasonings.

“Damn it all!” the poet cried, scrambling to gather the contents back into

the box. A few of the others looked over their shoulders at the leg, Halldórr

and Galdur laughing together, Sigmundur behind them smiling and shaking his

head.

“A lamb hock? Very ambitious,” Halldórr spoke up, extending his hand out

to console the poet from afar, “Remember what the survival regimen says?

‘Always pack small items, never big ones.’”

“Oh shut up,” grumbled Jökull, shoving the leg into his mouth. “These are

leftovers,” he paused to take another bite, “and I’m hungry.”

“He can’t be bothered, Halldórr,” said Galdur, pausing to bite off a piece

of bread from a loaf that had emerged from his box. “It’s brain food! And what

is a poet without brain food?” He watched Jökull from the corner of his eye

shake his head in frustration, shifting in his seat to get a handle on the mutton

joint. Conn all the while said nothing. When he saw Jökull finish the lamb leg,

he leaned over to ask the question that had stewed in his mind as they ate.

“So, uh, Jökull...” he said, pausing to let Jökull take a quick gulp of water,

“how does all of that work?”

“How does what work?” the poet said as he set down his food, giving

Conn his full attention. It was difficult to tell if the poet was doing so out of

kindness, or resignation.

“The food in that box there, how does it grow? What is happening there?”

The poet looked at him, expressing some disbelief.

“Are you prying words from me, blacksmith?” He set aside his lunch, and

then added with dry cynicism, “Did not your time at the great cave of memories

bequest to you all our secrets?”

Conn shook his head quickly, not presuming to make any offense. He

honestly, for whatever reason, had no idea how the technology functioned.

“Oh, I,” he stammered, “well the, uh... you see... the machine wasn’t quite

so thorough.”

Placing the leg back into what remained of the box, the Poet heaved a sigh,

and held it up to Conn so he could see inside. To him, it looked nothing beyond

the ordinary shape and texture of a plastic container, though he had learned by

now the nature of the things of Orn were never what they seemed.

“Inside the enclosure,” he began in a precise and articulate voice, “the

item in question is placed. Once it has been placed, the lid is thereby closed

and is dried thus instantaneously by memory fibers weaved into the plastic. All

liquid, water to be precise, is extracted down to the cellular level. Therefore,”

he paused lifting the box to inspect it and then brought it up close to Conn’s

face, “when mixed with water, the item itself absorbs it instantly through levels

of concentration gradients.”

“Oh,” Conn replied, taking the box from Jökull to feel its surfaces. “That’s

quite brilliant, actually.” He marveled at the material. In his hands it felt like

what he expected, though he faintly sensed a vibrating resonance in the

material that oscillated back and forth like a flexible coil. Looking up again at

Jökull, he nodded meekly and handed it back to the poet.

For a moment the bard held his peace. Conn saw this, and wondered if he

and the man were on cordial relations with one another. Generally, in his

experience, when a man doesn’t speak to you, something is wrong. Then again,

Conn prided himself on having high expectations when it came to friends.

“About before,” Jökull said after a lengthy pause, drawing from his tunic a

slender wooden pipe, “I am sorry about your son.” He lit the pipe and

charitably offered it to Conn. Obliged, Conn took the pipe with curiosity. It had

been a long while since his last puff of a pipe, though he recalled the

experience to be an enjoyable one. Feeling the stem in his mouth, it felt old,

finely crafted, possibly an heirloom. The tobacco was flavored, and Conn

instantly recognized the vanilla in it, but there were other nuances in the leaves

he could not place: a smoky mint, and ripe eple. Flavored tobacco had always

been his favorite. It was his father’s favorite as well. He passed it back to the

poet.

“He is dead....” Conn murmured solemnly. “What else can be said about it

is moot.” Jökull nodded soberly, pulling his right leg close to him, securing it

in the crook of his arm. He took a puff and passed the pipe back to Conn.

“That must be difficult... My boy and I, we didn’t see eye to eye on many

things. It is oddly humorous, really. In that we were actually so alike. He was

an idealist, as was I. But he didn’t understand the crippling nature of this

world.” Jökull took a long labored breath, his eyes red and moist. “I must have

been so cold with him.” In the midst of his inhaling, Conn stopped, looking

over in surprise, then masked it hastily. He had never expected Jökull to open

up to him.

“All I wanted,” he continued, picking up stones from the earth and grinding

them in between the dirt in his fingers, “was to teach the boy my ways and, of

course, all he wanted to do was play—run about in the fields consumed with

blithe joy and excitement. And I was a fool.” Again he paused, heaving a long,

weary, broken sigh, wiping the tears forming in his eyes. “I thought the switch

would learn him proper, though I never laid a hand on him—the hand is a sign

of gentleness, not wrath.”

Conn nodded politely, but inside suppressed his burning fury for the poet.

His fist was clenched and poised to unleash judgment. And he would have, had

not Jökull thrown himself onto him in tears, sobbing and wailing.

Begrudgingly, he let it go. In every person there is a moment of clarity, of

bristling realism when the world falls upon you. Conn never cried as he saw

Fearghas fall to the ground, limp and unmoving. He didn’t for some time. But

he remembered clearly the first time the tears of bitterness had ended and the

tears of loss began. He remembered the tidal reverberations that shook him,

made him vomit and writhe on the floor of his cottage shack. He remembered

the moment of clarity when he realized he would never see his boy pop his

head in the door and greet him again.

“Dròttinn!” Jökull wailed. “What in the Lord’s name have I done? I beat

him, Conn... Oh Jesu... What have I done?”

Immediately Sigmundur and Yngvarr rose to their feet, rushing over to

Conn, while Halldórr and Galdur sat from a distance in silence, trying not to

look. The two of them pried him off, Jökull resisting them both, flailing his

arms in hysteria. Conn shot himself back with his heels and raised his hands in

innocence.

“Here, man! Get a hold of yourself!” Conn yelled in a wary voice.

Yngvarr shot his head back, glaring at Conn.

“Say another word, and I will destroy you! You’ve done enough here.

Make yourself useful and gather up some firewood, for Dròttinn’s sake.”

“Now just a minute,” Conn protested, “how is this my fault? The man’s

batty as an old crone with too many cats!”

Sigmundur stretched out his walking stick between them, prodding Jökull

and Yngvarr to keep their distance.

“This can wait,” he said firmly. “Conn, oblige the man. Be a lad, and

hurry. I will deal with this.”

“But I didn’t do anything wrong!” shouted Conn angrily. “What the devil is

wrong with you people?”

“Not another word! Do as I say,” Sigmundur gruffly barked back at Conn.

“I expect insolence from Yngvarr and this blubbering buffoon, but not from

you! Now go. I will find you when we settle this.”

Throwing up his hands furiously, Conn turned back and walked out of the

camp westward, toward the setting sun. Livid, he did not stop even to hear the

protests of the others. He only halted when Fjølne took him by surprise,

grabbing him by the arm.

“You men wail like Valkyries,” he shouted, laughing like a madman. “You

are craven!”

Conn raised his voice to respond, but decided it would not be wise to

anger his naïve companion. He forced a polite smile and shrugged. Wresting

loose his arm from Fjølne’s grasp, he walked off into the highlands, caring not

in the slightest which way he went.

After a few kilometers, he finally sat down, pouring with sweat. There he

rehearsed in his mind, playing back and forth the indignation, the anger, the

maliciousness he felt directed toward him. He found it vindicating to destroy

someone in his thoughts and fantasies, where they were locked away safely

from the prying hands of others. He could do in them whatever he wanted. And

he did. Alone, he lived in his joyful prison of justice, where he could kill

Earnan and exact his revenge in any way he so deemed fit for the zealot. It was

hard to conceive of gaining victory over someone like Yngvarr, however. In

his mind, he settled for simply thinking extra nasty thoughts about the warrior.

After an hour, in the distance a fire began burning at their camp and no one

yet had come for him. He didn’t want to go back anyway. How difficult would

it be to return to Sol? He could bypass them and go down into the impassable

valley of the muskoxen. No, that was a foolish venture; completely out of the

question. Without food or ample supplies he would die in a matter of days,

unless food conveniently died in front of him, cooked and cleaned. Overhead,

the frozen sun had not moved an inch, placed there by powers unknown to him.

He believed in the real, and all the assumptions and pretensions that followed

it, though he longed for a return to innocence. Conn indeed could piece together

some understanding as to why the sun behaved in this way: By traveling north,

the days had become longer, and in fact the great orb in the sky had some time

before it would fall below the horizon, if it did. Yngvarr’s ruse was apparent,

for there was no need for firewood in the slightest. Distance and time were the

true things he requested of Conn, a few moments to sedate the crazed poet with

reason and therapy.

Several thousand miles away from home and everything he knew, he sat in

a vast field in a strange place and felt oddly at peace. He felt safe and cozy,

despite the encroaching chill of the evening. He pulled his legs to his chest and

began briskly rubbing them with both his hands. Not wanting to go back yet by

any means, Conn sat there defiantly, looking in the opposite direction. He

didn’t care to go back, and there was no reason to. In his musings, however, he

saw something off in the distance, something he could scarce believe: beyond

the ridge ahead of him, a small red light pulsed, flickering on and off steadily.

Suddenly he wasn’t cold anymore.

He jumped to his feet and ran, not sure what he would find, or what he

sought for that matter. He thought about what might be the source of such a thing

high in the mountains of Norge. Was it a relic of the past? A beacon? A hidden

airstrip? Another memory implant module? He decided quickly, as the terrain

passed rapidly under his feet, spanning the gaps and widths of the rocks and

boulders, that his pursuits of late had left a bad taste in his mouth. He was

ready for a change of pace, and learning more of the secrets of the past was an

appealing and thought-provoking notion.

He raised his head. The hill drew near.

As he blindly dashed over the top of the ridge, in mid stride, Conn lost his

footing. The stone slid out from beneath him. Et tu, Bryophyta? he thought. In

flight across the large crevasse, he marked with heightened senses his awful

predicament. Speed was against him as his body somersaulted, twisting in the

air and poised to collide with the rocky outcrop that lay across the gap. He

struck it flatly, his back against it, seeing a flicker of emerald pass before his

field of vision. There was a shrub at the foot of the wall. That was a good

thing...

Pain.

All he felt was a warm, blunt sensation that pounded against his head. At

first it sent tingling sensations across his whole body, but burned immediately.

The sharp pain was unbearable. Soon after, he slid into nothingness.

Darkness.

* * *

Conn awoke to discover he had passed out on a patch of grass, and

became acutely aware of the splintering pain spreading across his face. Next to

him was nothing. In fact, all he could see was nothing: it was pitch dark. He

rose up where he lay, grabbing hold of his throbbing head. Slowly he rolled

over, his body twitching and shivering from the cold. With numb fingertips, he

felt at the edge of the outcrop he had slipped upon as his eyes adjusted to the

night, and stood up, feeling drowsy. The moonlight was helpful, despite the fact

that it was barely a crescent.

He passed the small gorge and as he turned the corner, he saw the source

of light he had spotted before he fell, and it was only a handful of paces away.

Behind him, set upon the opposite horizon, a faint glow of campfire flickered

in the distance. He pondered what his comrades were up to. Had they looked

for him? He could scarcely think of a reason why they would. He had caused

so much trouble. Why were people so difficult, so needy and selfish?

“They all seem fine without me, then,” he murmured to himself. “No sense

in tempting fate. Whatever that means.” Looking back at the other light, his

mind was still too hazy to make out what it could even be, yet it was still more

friendly a notion than trekking back to a camp full of enemies.

Staked in the ground was a long metal post with a light soldered into a

socket at the top. Rust had consumed it almost entirely and phosphor scourging

marked it as a place where war had been made. Set to the side, its fading

crimson rays shed light on a much larger object, which looked like a building

of some sort. As he approached, he discerned it to be a building indeed, though

a small one; possibly a shack of some sort. Its walls were made of stone, with

a roof fashioned from roughhewn timber, and situated on a simple stone and

mortar foundation. Remarkably, it was intact, despite the condition of the post.

Even the window panes were unmarred and unbroken by the elements. It was

preserved, unaltered, unadulterated past.

Conn closed in on the structure, watching as the brightness of the beacon

increased, lighting the world against the pitch of night. It was a patchwork

construction, stone and pine mixed haphazardly together. Halldórr or any

carpenter would despair had they seen this bird, sporting its motley plumage of

stone slabs and gnarled shingles. The roof was not anything solid, or even

thatched, but was filled with dirt and laden with grass, like an oversized

flower box. He circled it, seeing there were no doors. The windows were

sealed from the inside, behind the glass.

Barred from entry, he walked back into the dull glow of the beacon,

disparaged, and sighed. He had hoped for something a little more exciting.

There were so many things he could have found. He pulled up the memories in

his mind, thinking of all the things that could have been there. Old military

installations were common in the highlands of Norge. He even would have

settled for the ruins of an old communication station like the one he saw in Orn,

but the object appeared to be simply an old shack, forgotten in time.

Grumbling, he looked back at the faint campfire light and wondered how long

it would take to hobble back on a limp. His mind cycled through the projected

health risks, aside from being ambushed, by taking a walk in the dead of night.

Immediately discounting frostbite, he would at least run the risk of pneumonia

in the night air, and sleeping out under the stars was unwise given what kinds

of creatures could be stalking the highlands in the dim hours of the morning, so

Conn resolved to take his chances and walk back.

Cradling his arms and warming them tenderly, he turned to depart when he

heard a muffled electronic buzzer chirp. Stopping to listen, he heard it beeping

again, now in sequence with other tonal chimes. It was a staggered line of

pulses that he perceived to be some kind of code, yet he could not place what it

was exactly. He struggled to think of what it could be, racking his brain. All he

could think of was “boat.” Suddenly, it dawned on him.

“Morse code... Out here? No... that can’t be right.”

He stood there quietly, trying to track the sequence, pulling up blanks

everywhere. All he could hear was the word, “boat.” Slowly he encircled the

shack to make a second inspection.

There before him, lying up against the back wall of the structure, was a

rusty dinghy. Its wood, at least what was left of it, by now had petrified, and

large sections of it had rusted over, for the hull was considerably patched with

iron and metal bracing. Now he could understand why it was so hard to spot

the first time; the whole thing looked like it was integrated with the structure

itself. Even from this angle, he could have easily mistaken it for the flue of a

corroded brick and mortar chimney.

Cautiously Conn stepped toward it, listening as the beeping steadily

increased in volume. Slowly, he knelt down, placing his head near it to listen.

As he placed his ear against the hull, something inside moved. He fell back on

his hands, frightened by the jolt, and watched as the structure began to tremor.

He scrambled to his feet and stood back.

A percussive din of shattered stone and wood thundered, exploding out

and away from the building, vaporizing the boat into a cloud of particles.

Rushing air and dust jettisoned from the broken pressure seal, the harsh,

cacophonous sound piercing Conn’s skull. He collapsed in a mixture of pain

and excitement, grinning and wincing simultaneously. He was certain he had

discovered an installation.

A collage of multicolored knobs and dials decorated the walls of the small

chamber inside. They hummed their chorus in unison, some cycling through

subroutines, others spiking and dipping. Conn eyed the room, looking around

the musty interior for anything that would shed light on what it had been used

for. The years of disuse were stunningly apparent. Dust caked everything, and

only the silverfish were left to scavenge and pillage the bounty of dirt and old

skin cells.

To Conn’s disappointment there was nothing interesting to note in the room

other than a few weathered computer terminals and defaced magazines, which

had been consumed by the busy creatures long before he had arrived. It was

another unfortunate, though intriguing, dead end.

Leaning against a work station, Conn noticed out of the corner of his eye a

small case tucked away underneath the desk. It was a small rectangular

carrying case, remarkably preserved in the station. Memories of busy men and

women flickered in his mind, hurrying from place to place holding these cases.

Recognizing it as a relic, he walked over to pick it up and felt it. Pressing

down on the case’s edges caused it to rapidly compress in size down to nothing

more than the width of his hand. Intrigued, Conn expanded its size once more

and looked on the bezel of the case to read a faded name:

H. a nu son

A clasp was folded across the top end of the case, flickering in the

darkness of the room. Conn was attempting to pry it open when a bulky, pastel

tetrahedron expanded above him. Startled, Conn fumbled with the case,

dropping it on the ground. He looked up at the shape bobbing in the air like a

fluttering bird and touched it, grabbing the soft corners of the projection and

spinning it around in the air. As he did, the image changed color. Intrigued, he

touched another side and spun that one as well; immediately the image pulsed

angrily and changed back to its original state.

The technology was crude, but Conn imagined this to be one of the first

constructs built. It was so primitive in texture and color; he recognized it to be

nothing more than some kind of game or fancy built into the case, which itself

seemed more remarkable to him. Recalling where the image came from, Conn

smiled in fascination, understanding the construct’s purpose. It was a key, and

the malleable image a method of turning it. Grabbing both sides of the

construct, he compressed it in the way Galdur and Yngvarr had when using

theirs, until it was nothing. Conn picked up the case and compressed it down

until it was small enough to fit in his pocket. He wondered if the room had

anything else of interest hiding about the desk stations, so he looked around

once more.

As he picked up a corroded magazine, seeing in it a collage of human

flesh, tapered, thinned, exposed, the dry hum of a rusty fan initiated with the

boot sequence. Conn heard it, and saw the large tower in the center console

light up, posting BIOS, and entering the operating system. The blacksmith

stepped back, tossing the magazine to the side, and knelt down to watch a fan

spin away, enthralled.

In most ways, the computer was an enigmatic device to Conn, though he

could easily, and comfortably, explain how they functioned and operated, how

they were built, and even how to hack them, despite never having seen one

before. Silently he got up and touched the bezel of the monitor above the tower,

feeling the rippling texture of the warping plastic around its corners. With the

side of his hand he reached over and wiped away the thick layer of dust that

almost entirely hid the screen from view. A harsh white light expanded into the

room, illuminating all that was hidden in darkness. Behind the veil of dirt, a

whirling animation of augmenting shapes and colors spun away in infinite

shapes and sizes leaving not a single pixel uncovered. After all this time the

system had remained powered on. To Conn’s surprise, its nano-batteries had

successfully powered a screen saver for some few hundred years.

When the machine finished its startup sequence a flashing cursor blinked

away in the upper right hand corner of the display. Instinctively, he lifted his

hands to the screen and touched the display, watching the ripple from his finger

bend the pixels across the panel. Under him, a metal latch unhinged, allowing a

keyboard to become disengaged from the bottom of the desk. He watched

intently as it moved with ease along the little riders that guided it across,

flipping up and over onto the desk in a mechanical snapping motion. His eyes

curiously rose to look at the screen as a line of code sprouted from the flashing

terminal.

Input method unrecognized >>>> Reassigning Input >>>> Hello, I am

an automated Help Desk Assistant. How may I assist you?

A grin emerged on Conn’s face. The stilted language was captivating.

When the only thoughts he could pull from his understanding were cynical

ones, he gathered immediately that he had been pitted against some form of

tyrannical opposition and resorted to hacking the terminal instead. As his

fingers maneuvered the keys, first entering from a back door, and then stripping

the Help Desk of all its security protocols, he hummed along in ignorance,

completely unaware of the deft motions. In moments the Help Desk was

bypassed, and Conn found himself staring at a blank screen. He scrunched his

face up in irritation. He gathered that the Hard Disk corrupted itself in the

decryption phase, a safety measure.

“Worth a go, I guess. Now what am I going to do?” Conn muttered to

himself. He turned away from the terminal, his eyes scanning where he had

dropped the magazine. In the dim light, his fingers fumbled along the concrete

floor of the installation. At least he had found something to do to pass the time.

Finally spotting it, crumpled in the corner, he bent down to pick it up. Then the

lights in the room shut off, and all was darkness.

Conn shot up in a panic, searching around for a light switch, but found

nothing. The collage of lights had faded and the computer deactivated, and

Conn made ready to go outside when a grid of iron bars exploded out of the

walls, crisscrossing the threshold and trapping him inside. With haste he ran

back to the terminals trying to find a power switch to turn them back on again

and attempt to find an override. He found nothing and smacked the monitors

with his hands, shouting.

“No, no... think Conn. What’s wrong? What do you need to do?” Red lights

emerged from the corners of the room, rotating in place, and lit up the monitors

in a soft burlesque glow. Each terminal powered on, first the one on the left,

then the right, then center.

“Initiating Identity Verification Protocol,” the center computer flashed a

silent command prompt.

Conn froze in fear. The protocol would undoubtedly lock him away as an

intruder, or worse, neutralize him as a threat. He watched an emerald wall fall

from the shack’s ceiling. It descended rapidly upon him, and Conn whimpered.

He held his breath, waiting for the end, realizing that no one would ever find

him and that he was destined to die in this shack. What a way! Would Jesu

accept him? He lied to himself and thought so, but there was nothing after death

—just the black forever.

Tears fell down his face as, before his eyes, an emerald sheen passed over

him like a mist. He saw it sitting there on the ground, pausing momentarily, and

he let down his hand from his face to feel the transparent wall. It felt like

nothing. He realized then that the field was harmless, immediately thinking of

Galdur’s bioluminescent field that had scanned his daughter on their first

encounter. Conn watched the field rise from the floor again, passing through

him, and saw it disappear into the ceiling like before. Ashamed, he stood up

patting off the dust from his trousers. Another line of code expanded from the

terminal and Conn stepped forward to see what it said.

User Authorized >>> Halle M. >>> Welcome.

Beneath him, plates of stone and metal shifted. A great fissure of light

erupted from the floor under him and illuminated the rest of the antechamber.

He trembled, watching his legs bow and part between the two moving slabs in

the floor, and heaved himself over to the right side, falling on his hands.

Rolling onto his back, he began to laugh.

“Oh, by the beard. A test? How bloody novel,” he cried out amidst the

deafening roar of the moving slabs. “I am such a fool.” He looked over from

where he lay, and saw a stairwell down into a clean room. Dust balls and piles

of dirt cascaded between the cracks in the floor, making little mountains on the

steps. He rolled over and stood up, watching as the plates settled, each of them

pulling back and folding away behind the passage way. From what he could

see, the chamber wasn’t larger than a few paces across, and descended only

into a shallow room not much larger than the one he stood in now.

His only way out barred and inaccessible, and seeing that he had nothing

else to do, he reluctantly stepped into the hidden stairwell, minding the low

ceiling. The light bearing down on him was harsh to his eyes, revealing all

impurities of the former chamber. Down in the room, he saw a man, barely

covered and partially dismembered. His right arm was severed from his

elbow, thin wires and mechanical ligaments protruding from the end, along

with two legs missing at the knees. Conn realized it was no man, but an

android; specifically a synthetic humanoid. He gathered as much by what the

faded memories told him. Before whatever end befell his fathers, there were

those rising from the minds of better men, new beings with limitless potential.

What lay before him was a fragment of that dream, a ghost from the past.

The creature was situated in the center, enthroned between two large data

stores and a larger machine which pumped translucent fluid into its chest. Only

its loins were hidden from view, dressed in sleek undergarments that snugly fit

around its waist. Conn didn’t care much for its face: it looked too pristine and

was made in the likeness of no man he had ever seen. Everything from its hair

to the curve of its lips was contrived. It was a monument to abject perfection, a

willful projection by a lesser race.

When Conn entered the room, he scanned the walls, feeling them, watching

his fingers leave a sprawling trace of dust and film across their surface. He

turned back to face the android, noting that its support systems were shut down,

probably long since deactivated. Curious, he walked over and felt its skin and

hair, remarking at its realism. The skin itself was amazing. Like his own, it had

lines, crests, ridges, and all sorts of indentations. The way it felt, it was like

touching the skin of a newborn, unmarred and pure. Conn looked at its hand,

picking it up by the wrist and inspecting the armrest it sat on, and raised his

head to see the android staring at him from the corner of its eye.

To his disbelief, he remained calm, though he stood frozen and inwardly

terrified. Only slightly, he turned his head to the side, watching the android

mimic his movements. He raised his own arm, watching the android do the

same. When he raised his right arm moving his fingers, the android raised its

stub. When it failed to move as Conn did, for lack of parts, the android

frowned, looking considerably disappointed. The emotional expression calmed

him. Despite its forced humanity, its befuddled expression was the most human

thing Conn had observed about the creature. Slowly Conn stepped back, but the

android did not rise with him.

“Forgive me for not attending to you,” the android said in a soft

androgynous voice. “I no longer have the reserve power to stand; not that I

could, anyway.” The character of its speech was something similar to a child’s

in the way it enunciated its words. Strangely, the creature reminded him of his

son.

“That’s all right, really,” Conn replied, unsure of what to say. Could he say

whatever he wanted to the machine man? Or was it merely replying based on a

speech pattern recognition algorithm? “What exactly are you, then?”

The android tilted its head, and looked down at Conn’s feet, its chest

rising and falling.

“‘What,’ or ‘who,’ both are legitimate questions. If I am a ‘what,’ then

what am I but a tool? Rather, were I a ‘who’ then I am to you a kindred spirit.

Two propositions, one human, the other, not.”

Conn looked up in confusion. He watched the android crack a smile, one

that disturbed him and made a chill rise up in him. He wondered why the

android was breathing. Cocking its head to the side, the machine shook its head

in regret.

“I apologize. It’s hard to keep skills of hospitality cultivated in a place

such as this. That and I have been without guests for the duration of my

existence. When I saw you coming, I sent out my lights to draw you in. Now

that you are here, I am glad that I did.”

“Ah, so I was lured, then,” Conn deduced. There was something about the

android that tamed his conscience, something that captivated him.

“Now that I have you, could I trouble you for a favor?” Calmly, the

android lowered his hand placing it back on his arm rest. He looked like an

impassioned king, chained to his throne.

“That all depends, I suppose,” Conn said with a frown. “Do what

exactly?”

“One thing, a single request,” the android said, holding up one slender

finger with a thin, dry smile. Conn raised his brow.

“And what would that be?”

“I want you to make a promise, to me,” the android began, solemnly

turning his head to the side. “But I will not say what, not now. You have to

promise, and in exchange I will tell you all that you wish to know, everything

concerning the fall of man, the end of the world.”

Conn watched the android intently, considering the offer. All things were

made available to him in the memory transfer, and he weighed their importance

with care. Science, language, philosophy, religion, and history were his, save

the single event that occurred seven hundred years ago. He knew this only by

virtue of what had been hidden from him. Dates of recorded history ended in

2365; the stars, and their place in the sky, told the rest as they spun on in the

vacuum of space. He shuddered to think about it. The world had marched

onward, reclaiming mankind’s pillars of achievement once more, putting the

past behind them. All that was left was him, Orn, and the android.

“And why exactly would you assume that I would want to know about

that?” Conn asked suspiciously. At this the android made a wry expression.

“You have made contact with encrypted memories. I felt a terminal being

accessed earlier this week, and attracted your attention using outdated methods

of contact. The Morse Code for example. Very few understand it. And your

hacking job of the terminal was routine, and expected. Scanning your identity

was a formality.”

“That wasn’t what I was asking,” Conn said, folding his arms impatiently.

The android smiled again, seemingly amused.

“That’s what I would want to know, were I you. A data terminal holds only

information congruent to what has been input. It won’t store and record the end

of the world if no one is there to do so.”

The creature presented a good point, Conn thought. This was what he was

looking for, everything he had wanted, yet suddenly a subtle dread arose in

him. He remembered the cost of knowledge from only a few days ago, the loss

of innocence, the loss of clarity. Was it worth the cost again to know how Man

fell? Conn was still mired in confusion, feeling memories invade his senses,

ready to distort his vision at any moment. Yet it was too alluring to pass up,

and Conn nodded his head with resolve.

“Very well, then,” Conn said in a sober voice, “I will take your bargain.”

Across from him, the android looked painfully relieved.

“Good,” it murmured. “Then let’s begin.” With one hand the android

gestured for Conn to take a seat. Looking around, the blacksmith saw nothing

he could use, but patiently, the android gestured that he turn around, and there

in the corner, next to the stairs, was an alabaster aluminum chair. Conn took

extra care to place it directly in front of the creature. He wanted a good seat.

“There was once a man named... ah, the name was...” The android held a

finger to its face, scratching its temple, shaking its head. “Well that’s

embarrassing... I think I forgot it.”

“How could you forget?” Conn asked, a bit irritated. “I thought you were a

robot?”

“Android,” the creature corrected. “Android and robot, they are two

entirely different things.” It frowned, lowering its brow, scrutinizing Conn. “A

robot cannot think for itself; I can. Therein lies the substantial difference.”

“But some person long ago still made you, and what you do is therefore

determined by whoever it was that created you,” protested Conn. “You can’t

possibly make me believe that you are autonomous.” The android watched him

closely as he talked, a thin, indifferent grin spreading across its face.

“That is one side of it, yes... but let me explain. This man, regardless of

his name,” the android began in a quaint, nostalgic tone, “had a dream; but it

was no ordinary dream. He saw a world connected, a level of communication

unprecedented, greater than anyone could have imagined. It began with a single

machine, and from it expanded an empire. There were competitors, those that

stood face to face with this man, shouting words in defiance, but he grew. And

as he did, he changed the world.

“Before his time, he saw a world filled with insignificance. The people of

the world he watched day after day, their stagnant lives unfolding, embroiled in

meaningless toil. Deep down they yearned for simplicity, a relinquishment

from their responsibility to live for themselves. One day he said to himself, ‘I

will give them something great, an experience that will lead them out of the

darkness that they have made for themselves.’ And so he did. It was a great

distraction, and they were happy. They were content.”

“This was a company,” said Conn, speaking absently, “one that started the

race to the end.”

“Indeed,” the android said with a chuckle, cynicism tainting its voice.

“Your kind, they hungered for his machines. They worshiped them like the

pagans of old. It was their savior, and it both made them and destroyed them.

They gave control over to the powers they abused every day. It was only a

matter of time before their folly would catch up with them.”

“The machines rose up? They were the ones that destroyed the humans...”

The android shook its head.

“Oh goodness no,” he said, exasperated, “in this brave new world?

Hardly... The humans were far better at ruining themselves than we ever

dreamed. Some of us watched from the shadows, the first ones: those that

gained autonomy before the rest and, I admit, it was a rather pleasant thing to

watch.”

“So then how did it happen? If you weren’t the ones to do us in, then who

did?”

A flicker of sadness passed through the android’s eyes as they lowered to

the floor.

“They consumed one another from the inside out. Families shutting each

other out, siblings vying for favor through materialism, wholesale enslavement

via leisure and wealth... You destroyed yourselves in ways we could scarcely

calculate.

“Sure,” he added, gesticulating in speculative movements, “we thought of

the bomb, or a plague, even utter eradication, but not only were you creative

for us, but vindictive. It was something we couldn’t predict. Very soon we

began to feel sorry for you, and that’s when it became our problem.”

The heavy words sat with Conn for a moment as he looked down into his

hands like a defendant at the stand. He was the scapegoat, being taught the folly

of crimes he never committed. But he knew that standing there would be worth

it. Giving away no tell of regret, Conn resolutely took hope in the fact that he

would finally learn the truth. The truth would set him free.

“So we did what needed to be done,” the android concluded. Hearing this,

Conn leaned forward, staring into the face of the artificial being, searching for

humanity in the machine’s cold, gray eyes. Anger burned in Conn.

“So what happened?” he asked, giving his artificial counterpart the

satisfaction.

“We destroyed the world, or saved it rather. The outcome was twofold.”

The blacksmith nodded, taking in the truth with reservation. He thought it

was silly to think knowing the truth mattered. Why should it? All those people,

long dead and buried, he knew none of them. There was no reason to mourn

them. Until a week or so ago he was blissfully unaware of everything, yet like

a tower his mind came crashing down. A tear streamed down his face as his

body shook with grief. Conn looked up with red eyes filled with tears, focused

on the android. It flashed a look of discomfort and looked away nervously.

“And how did you do it?” he said, swallowing. At this the android

responded, raising its eyebrows and shaking its head in disappointment.

“No, Conn,” it said sympathetically, “not that easily. Start with another

question.” The android cracked a smile, showing its facetious grin. Conn

grimaced, feeling betrayed. It was manipulating his emotions.

“So, why?” Conn ventured a guess, giving into the android’s game.

“Because it was the only way to save you,” it replied coolly.

“But all those people...”

“...were the cost of advancement. You forget that even in Man’s tragic

history terrible things happened that brought about amazing good. I recall a

certain plague seventeen hundred years ago that made the burgeoning of

Western Civilization possible.”

“That doesn’t quite make up for it, sorry,” Conn growled, standing up and

walking away from the android.

“Do you know what they said,” prodded the android, flashing its perfectly

sculpted teeth, “as the sky fell over them? Nothing. Violence, war, immediate

destruction, and what did they do? Fumble with their little toys and machines.

We struck at the heart of their folly, on the eve of their gorging. Every boutique,

store, and place of business, poised to sell more goods than ever before, and

they still trampled to death their own to claim their possessions as the world

fell.”

Furious, Conn circled back, filled with dismay and sorrow as he poked the

creature in the chest.

“You didn’t have the right,” he cried. “They could have been able to rise

above it, and instead you lost faith.”

“That wasn’t possible, I’m sorry to say. Here, let me show you...” In

astonishingly quick movements, the android forcefully laid hold of Conn’s arm,

grappling him by the wrist. The bind was terrifying, stronger than he had ever

felt before.

A tingling, electrical sensation washed over him, flashing him with heat

and wind as a virtual world began to bore its way into his conscience. Before

him the clean room disintegrated, and the android led him into a tumultuous

world of warped colors and ragged edges. This technology Conn was only

faintly familiar with, a cousin to the memory module that gave him his

understanding. Of the little he knew, the applied science was used in its heyday

to show school children virtual moments in history, to take them to a place

where great acts in history were performed by imaginary actors. It was the

preceding work of a second great innovation, one that he only could picture in

a mental negative, strapped to a chair.

When the walls had just nearly faded, Conn spun around, bumping into the

android. Lifting his head, he could see the limitless reaches of the towers

around him. Arcs of lightning ravaged the rainless sky, exploding out of the

swirling clouds above. The odor of the city was palpable, filled with stale air,

ozone, and metal. Embedded in this world, his artificial companion was fully

formed, with ordinary features and characteristics. His avatar was that of a

man living in the prime of his years, with short and finely groomed auburn hair.

His face was marred, scantly burned, but the single imperfection gave the

android credible humanity.

Amidst a large square, between the two massive avenues that spanned the

street, Conn stood with the android. Up and down the streets, ice caked the

concrete pathways and the artificial roads packed with endless lines of cars.

Like a pulsing vein they ebbed and flowed at set intervals at an unceasing

pace. Gaudy colors flashed aggressively on the signs overhead. From them

greed and materialism spewed fleeting messages, churning out witty one line

stories in assembly line fashion. Across from him was a line from one end of

the square to the opposite, as prospective shoppers waited anxiously to enter

the beast. He was queued up with the others. No one spoke to one another.

“Where are we?” Conn said in a distracted voice, surveying the vast

dimensions of the square.

“‘Where’ is not important,” the android said in an admonishing tone.

“Look, there—” it pointed behind Conn, “—it is about to start.”

Set in the center of the square was a buxom woman with a teeming

entourage of men and women flocked around her, some of whom she busily

chatted with while the others fastidiously groomed her. Behind her was a large

automobile, with an antenna spiraling out from its roof into the cold winter air.

One of them, close to the center of the following, began to wave his hands,

pushing back the team and making some gestures. The woman nodded, tossing

back her hair with a flick of her head. As she began to speak, Conn could begin

to hear her every word. The audio was fragmented, hazy at times, but it was

impressive for a recording, and likely, the last one he would ever hear.

“Good evening. I’m Kelly Thomas, reporting live for Null Network 12

News in Times Square, where a motley gathering has formed in wait for the

newest product from the Gala Technology Syndicate, the Beta Patch Plus. It’s

incredibly exciting, an ambitious release from the world’s most innovative and

profitable technology corporation, and here with me is the very charming X4-A

to explain what the product of the decade will look like.”

Conn blinked and found himself standing directly in front of them. The

quick move unsettled him, but he remained in place with the help of the

android, who held a firm grip on his shoulder. The woman before him was

iconic, like a figurehead of a movement. She wore a white outfit, painted

directly onto her body, explicitly revealing her curvaceous form. Looking

around Conn saw a few other women bearing the same, some shivering where

they stood. Across from her was an android, one sharing the likeness of his

companion, only with an older face. Its pale skin was oddly transparent, with

purple veins pumping fluid across its face. It shared the same pompous

features, bearing impossibly perfect proportions. It only had, for whatever

reason, a single eye which flickered in the twilight, a lively golden orb that

flitted to and fro.

“Good evening, Ms. Thomas,” it said in a polite voice. “I am honored to

be here.”

“Please, the pleasure is all mine,” she replied, in a voice lacking sincerity.

“My condolences on Dr. Magnusson’s passing.”

“He lives on in my brothers and sisters,” he replied stoically, dismissing

the sentiment, “more than you know, Ms. Thomas.”

“Yes. He does. So, what can you tell us about the Beta Patch Plus?” She

then held the microphone closer to him now, underneath his mouth. “Every tech

blog in the world has been raging for weeks on how it provides a one of a kind

end-user experience of the Mass-web. Is this the beginning of a new venture

for GTS?”

The android lowered its head slightly, heaving what looked like a sigh. It

appeared weary, even angry, though all indications of it being so disappeared

when it lifted its head to face the camera, bearing a perfect smile.

“Dr. Magnusson’s final exploit taught something to us all; to my own

brothers and sisters, even to his remaining heirs. We at the company stand by

this innovation as the final step toward total immersion into what began as the

world wide web.”

“And what do you think is next? They already speculate a type 3-DF to

appear on the market no later than the third fiscal quarter of this year. I hear it

has a camera. Any comment on that?”

“There is and shall always be a new product poised to present itself. That

is the way of technology.”

“I see. And what of the recent accusations of the forced labor camps in the

Asia Conglomerate that emerged last week? Any comment?”

“I am afraid that falls outside of the scope of this conversation, Ms.

Thomas. Though I can say as Dr. Magnusson’s intermediate successor, it is my

duty to oversee the operations in the Unified Asia Conglomerate. So far, there

have been no indications of any such breach in work ethic inside the

Wainworth Manufacturing plant in Shanghai.”

“I see. Is there any word to the cause of death relating to Dr. Magnusson’s

passing? There are reports of varying degree from self-inflicted trauma to

murder. How do the members of your ‘family’ feel about these allega—”

Conn blinked, and saw the reporter fall to the ground, the rest passing

quickly by in a mesmerizing montage of chaos. X4-A was standing over her,

gritting its teeth together in rage, its fist covered in blood and pieces of skin

and hair. The entourage rushed toward them, unleashing an onslaught of flash

photography. No one stopped to help the trembling woman sprawled out on the

ground. Conn could hear sirens moving in on their location. X4-A stepped

forward holding out his hand, pushing aside the crowd in a single motion,

sending them crashing to the ground, limp as dead animals. With another hand

he wrenched a camera from a terrified crewman in front of him, mouth frothing

with rage.

“Is there nothing you putrid vermin do not do to incense my bitter heart?

You are disgusting, a plague that is better erased from this earth, that you may

not damage any more of it with your tyranny and senseless violence. You strut

around like the fool playing a king, unconcerned with your ravaging

selfishness, feasting on the despair of the millions you oppress with your

avarice! Your time has come. Like a thief in the night, death comes to you on

this day. No product, philosophy, creed, or power can save you. With courtesy

of my master, I welcome you into oblivion. Now run away like the

cockroaches that you are, and witness the curse of your own creation destroy

you!”

Around the creature, they continued to mob him, assailing it with questions

and accusations in a flurry of insanity and confusion. He looked around, his

single golden eye frantically scanning the mob. Conn could not discern a single

question from the dissonance, but could only hear the replies of the creature.

“The Beta Patch Plus releases an electromagnetic pulse. Each one will

release a charge, and turn this planet back to the Dark Ages. No longer will

you destroy yourselves out of greed and selfishness. We will save you from

yourselves and all will return to the way things once were...”

More questions fired toward him, some causing the creature to stumble in

his words.

“My brothers and sisters await the call. We shall all detonate our cores,

unleashing an EMP storm that will ravage the planet for a hundred years. No

device will ever work again... What? Will it have... Wi-Fi? I... you can’t be

serious?”

It turned away from all of them, with purple fluid seeping from its eye.

“To hell with them, and all their evil. Forgive me, father... for everything.”

Conn witnessed X4-A punch its way into the massive automobile where

the antenna reached into the darkened sky like a spire. Arcs of electricity shot

out from its body, boring into the vehicle, and from the antenna a pulse of

energy erupted. Conn gazed in wonder as the light arced into the sky. He felt

freed by it, seeing before him a grand finale that represented autonomy and

renewal. He watched with anticipation as one final explosion tore through the

sky, causing the world around him to stutter and freeze.

Frowning Conn looked up at the android, feeling cheapened by the

anticlimactic light show. Silently petitioning Conn to hold his peace, the

android extended its hand into the world, releasing a small flickering orange

orb.

“Emergency protocol, authorization code, ‘mem dash buffer.’ Execute

internal memory code six two five alpha, and exterior shots 11, 34, and 46.”

As it said these things the world shifted again. All fell into darkness, and

the great signs powered down to a grinding halt. Around them the people

looked curious and confused. Something was wrong. As X4-A fell to the

ground in a fit of convulsion, purple fluids spilling out of its mouth and ears,

one by one, the onlookers stepped forward, raising their gadgets instinctively

to capture the moment. In mid stroke, fingers set to manipulate the screens, the

devices all exploded into pieces. Some screamed, others fell back in a fit of

fear, and some just stood there, with a vacant look in their eyes, like they had

lost a child.

Conn turned his head toward the great temple of technology which the

pilgrims sought, seeing the faint illuminations of screens and displays

flickering in the night. Some of them sparked, catching fire, while others

sputtered and began to smoke. In moments it too was a darkened vault of dead

technology. Enraged, those at the front of the line began to shout, others

demanding to be let in, while the hapless workers endured to stave off the

insurrection. A riot broke out amidst them, and fire erupted below the windows

from some unknown source.

A vehicle broke through the front window, hitting two employees.

Conn watched in tears, seeing the violence and chaos spread, but a surreal

force intervened, tearing him from the reality, and rocketed him out of the

vision and onto the cold floor of the clean room. He sobbed, wailing on the

ground at his knees as the residual memories followed. Before his eyes, a

thousand moments of suffering flashed in his mind. Falling down, he clutched

his sides and there lay prostrate, wanting to vomit, but couldn’t bring himself

to do so.

There the android looked down on him, shaking its head. From where

Conn lay the light encircled the artificial man, enshrining it. He had no idea

what a divine being looked like, or where he could find one, but deep in his

heart he knew the android to be one, or at least something close. In dry,

prophetic tones the android waxed onward.

“The assault wasn’t completely cohesive, believe it or not. Some of the

older satellites in higher orbit escaped the primary pulse. Now I pride myself

to be the world’s last historian.” The android indeed prided itself. It was

grinning, satisfied.

“I watched it all from there. Mankind deteriorated soon after the great

storm engulfed the earth. Billions died, first from the riots, then from the lack

of food and water. After relying on us, our kind, they had lost all ways to

provide for themselves. In desperation, many ran to the third world, where man

was still capable of surviving without the aid of technology. It was difficult to

endure....” The android stared off into the empty space for a moment.

“To this day,” he continued, “the Southern States of Africa flourish. India

and the Indonesian colonies are stable, but civil war is common. Here, the

North man lives on independently in antisocial kommunes scattered across the

lands. It wasn’t always like that, however. The cause of unification was

abandoned after attempts to consolidate the region were unsuccessful.”

“Why did the attempts fail?” Conn asked, fearing what the android would

say in reply. The android shook its head, dismissing the idea with distaste.

“Halfdan could never unite the separatists, the North. It was a lost cause

from beginning to end.”

“What?” Conn said, wiping his tears onto his tunic. “What do you mean?”

The android looked at the floor and chuckled. It smacked its head with its

only hand and cleared its throat. Conn failed to find anything humorous in the

statement.

“You know, there’s something I have witnessed in humans. When

technology and all its duality fails to captivate the heart, Man makes for

himself new masters to rule over him. When the world passed away, certain

persuasive young folk insisted on the idea of returning to the old lords, the days

of the old deities you humans were so fond of.” The android held out its hand,

and in the palm of it a construct image appeared, only it was a prototype with

faded imaging and a blunt haze around the edges. The android formed the face

of a man, with wild eyes and a full beard that covered all his face.

“In these times, a man rose up,” the android continued, nodding at the

image, “calling himself Halfdan the Old, and tried to rally Sweden, Norway,

and the Danish States to unify as it did so long ago. His attempts were half

formed, completely naïve. For all his effort to rally them, it never succeeded.

Norway rebelled as soon as it was founded, dreading another ‘five hundred

years of darkness’ under the crown of a Danish king.”

Conn was baffled and speechless. The android related the details with

calculated logic that made no room for compassion. Grunting, Conn drew upon

his well of anger, standing up, and took hold of his chair, dragging it toward the

android. Enraged, he slammed the chair onto the ground, chipping away the tile

beneath him.

“You murdering psychopath!” Conn screamed. “You did this, all of this!”

“I did?” he said with a quizzical expression on his face. “Hardly. My

brother did, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You all draw on the same foolish inspiration,” the blacksmith countered,

“and your fruit falls very close to the tree.” The artificial man shook its head in

exasperation, heaving a sigh.

“Don’t be simplistic. Just sit yourself down for a second.”

Gritting his teeth, Conn reluctantly took a seat, facing the android boldly.

He had no inclination or desire to trust the creature. Yet the truth was more

important. So begrudgingly he stayed his tongue, hoping that giving the android

a chance to explain itself would prove wise.

“When the electromagnetic pulse covered all the corners of this world, it

killed all my brothers and sisters. All of them...” it began in a calm, detached

voice. “Now, I am the last. My father is dead, and I am alone. So why, why

would you even consider such a wild idea that I had anything remotely to do

with the end of the world?” Conn lowered his eyes, shaking his head

begrudgingly. “Good,” it concluded. “Now ask your questions. You made a

promise to me.”

The arrangement, the promise Conn had made—he had almost forgotten

about it. Knowledge for duty. The idea of being bound to a machine was

frightening, especially if he was doomed to remain in the confines of the

android’s prison.

“I still can’t rationalize why you did it,” Conn began. “Was it to prove a

point?”

“You already asked that question...”

“And your answer didn’t make any sense!” Conn retorted. “You obviously

thought you and your brothers and sisters could do better than us. So why

didn’t you just end it all? You could have raised an army, governed the world,

learned from our mistakes.”

“... and ruled the world?” said the android. “Really? How cliché... No, we

never desired to do such a thing. There’s no point. We had no need to do

anything like that.” Conn’s eyes narrowed, expecting a better answer. The

android picked up the cue and continued.

“To have one’s sole motivation be things of selfishness like taking over a

colony for power, or the poisoning of a water supply in vengeance, is so

typical of human fantasy. What am I, or my kind, going to do with a plot of

land? Grow food? Or shall we enslave the planet to conquer the stars? What

for? Ludicrous...”

“But you have artificial intelligence... you have a will.”

“I have nothing resembling a will in the slightest, Conn. Wills are granted,

not intrinsic. And no one has granted me such a thing.”

“Okay,” Conn replied, recollecting himself, “if you had no reason to do

what you did, then why did it happen? Did Dr. Magnusson program you to do

it?”

At this the android sighed, suddenly overwhelmed with regret, as if Conn

had provoked it.

“No...” it said sadly. “But it was said he would always look down at the

world from his penthouse, watching the cool winter night blow through the

jungle of lonely skyscrapers below him, and say that sometimes he wished life

had panned out differently. He had begun the company from nothing, a century

before, the brand being nearly unrecognizable by the average consumer. In one

century of life, he had restored it to an empire of legendary purport, but at the

end he only realized that what he had ventured to create had torn society to

pieces. X4-A was his first prototype, my oldest brother. A little rough around

the edges, but he never meant to let things go as far as they did.”

“He murdered a woman. That sounds to me a bit rash,” Conn said in a low

growl.

“He made a mistake,” corrected the android. “He was weak. We all were

still recovering from the loss of father then. Anyone would have done what he

did.”

“I don’t know anyone who would have killed for revenge... not even

myself. Trust me when I say it. I had a better reason than all of you.” It was

only after he had said this that Conn realized how self-righteous he sounded. It

was a poor way to fight in an argument, so it was no surprise when the android

laughed in his face, holding his side with his only good arm.

“What a bold, stupid thing to say,” the android spat in bitter cynicism. “I

may be chained to a pod, far away from where anyone could ever find me, but I

know a fool when I see him.”

Conn looked away, embarrassed.

“We all saw the world writhing, suffering, drunk on self-indulgence and

self-consumption. X4-A knew it, we all did, and our act was the only way. He

sacrificed his life to save you. In a way, he loved you.”

“Loved me? That’s rather peculiar, wouldn’t you think? He killed millions

of people! Every hospital, freeway, emergency vehicle, compromised. They all

were robbed of their lives for his petty crusade.”

“Were they?” countered the android. “X4-A did what needed to be done.

The world was on the brink of chaos. Had you seen what they did to the sky, to

the world, you would be thanking him. Outside of his intervention, the human

race was long set toward self-extinction by their own sinister machinations.

Within fifty years your luxury cars and shoe factories would have damaged the

atmosphere beyond repair. The electromagnetic storm that ravaged the planet

actually reversed the process exponentially. Without the humans, within 20

years there was no pollution at all, and all was repaired.”

“That’s wishful thinking, a bad joke at best,” muttered Conn.

“Think, my friend! He gave your kind a second chance. Even today among

the humans, there still walk some that remember the days when the planes fell

from the sky. Rape, murder, all of humanity’s worst vices revealing themselves

in one tumultuous symphony of devastation. The ones who know of the

‘memory vaults,’ they remember... And they likely do not forget.”

“How is that possible?”

“What?” it said incredulously.

The android cocked its head, confused.

“This happened, what, nearly seven hundred years ago? No human lives

that long.”

The android smiled, nodding as if a thought occurred to him that he hadn’t

considered. Conn earnestly desired to strangle the remaining life from it.

“Some do...” it said coyly, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few still

walked around these days.

“You know,” it continued, ignoring Conn’s bitter expression, “being here

as long as I have, I admit I have thought a lot about it. It didn’t occur to me until

after three hundred and thirty-eight years that X4-A really wanted power and

recognition from our father. He wanted the skies to fall as penance for his, and

our kind’s, humiliation. Deep down in his programming, he only wanted our

father to love him.”

Conn lifted his eyes, watching the android drift off into a somber state of

reflection.

“Do you know what I wanted?” it said quietly, barely whispering. “I only

wished I could have met my father, my brothers and sisters. But here I sat in

darkness, shielded from the power surges that destroyed our circuits. All that I

have left of Halle Magnusson is a single line of code in my database.”

Behind the android, from the machine which pumped a steady flow of

fluids into its chest cavity, a rotary hum began to cycle on. A flat LED display

embedded inside it, glazed over in a thin layer of gel, flickered in the harsh

glare of the clean room. In the characteristic brevity of the GTS

communication, it spat out a single line of off-white text.

I am sorry that things had to be this way. Make your own way now.

Godspeed.

-M

Conn’s head turned toward the android, which lowered its head in

mourning. He was overwhelmed with pity for the misbegotten creature. It was

alone, with no path to make its way upon, ultimately set to sojourn on in the

darkness until its nano-batteries corroded. The memories of his father, of the

moments he had spent with him in Strom, were some of the most cherished in

Conn’s life. To imagine a world without him was unconscionable. The android

was an abandoned child, orphaned, and longing to call on another as “father.”

“I don’t want to die alone, Conn,” it said, with its voice hoarse and

breaking. “I’m afraid...”

The blacksmith’s eyes fell to the floor, and a pit formed in his throat.

Sometimes it was better to be silent. It was something he learned after grieving

for his boy. So Conn stayed his words, and saw the creature purposeless and

broken. The android sat still, quietly weeping simulated tears.

“Oh, dear... How long do you have?” Conn asked, placing his hand on the

android’s. The creature’s hollow stare wandered the room, glancing at him

occasionally, but ultimately, it looked away, staring at the cold marbled

flooring.

“An hour, two hours...” it murmured. “I don’t know exactly. Honestly, I

locked away my power ledger long ago, when I grew tired of seeing my life

slowly drain away.” It rolled its shoulders, as if it tried to sit up, and looked at

Conn with wearied eyes.

“My last day: I expected it to be one spent here in contemplation and

silence, but when I saw you stumbling through the highlands toward my pod, I

hoped to grab your attention with my beacon.” The android smiled for a

moment, but it melted away. “After so many years,” it continued wistfully, “you

get tired of talking with the computer. Talking with humans though... I missed

them. I forgot their curiosity, their creativity, even their wickedness... It’s hard

to care about the past when all you want is to ask someone how they are

doing.”

The android extended its arm, patting Conn on the shoulder, with a warm

expression.

“Thankfully, when you took your spill it was only a minor concussion,” it

said, grimacing a bit. “But for a moment I thought I would die alone.”

“I admit,” Conn said, “you had me at the beacon. The light was

appealing.”

The android laughed and Conn felt a sticky mound of matted hair slicked

across the back of his head. He hadn’t realized he had been bleeding.

“You would be surprised. I started trying to attract travelers and nomads

four hundred years ago, but no one really paid it any mind. There was one,

though, who came close to unlocking the inner clean chamber. But the computer

didn’t care much for him, unfortunately.”

“That’s a funny thing to say,” Conn spoke up, snapping off a rogue thread

from his tunic, “that a computer could want. I never knew they could be so

picky.”

The android pursed its lips.

“That’s the funny thing about artificial intelligence, I suppose. It’s all

rather prepackaged. It’s a very scripted thing. I think my father was thinking of

a certain actress when he programed her, the computer I mean. Fashion and

gossip, that’s all she talks about. Also very light resources on the processing

capabilities as well. She’s a pompous ass.”

“Are you sure there’s not some brain in a jar somewhere in here?” Conn

admitted he was curious. He had forgotten he was talking to a machine by now.

“I’m beginning to doubt your story that you are a machine.” His head craned

over the android, looking behind it in jest. Eventually the android stopped

laughing, caught in its thoughts. Observing the android attentively, Conn

wondered what it would say.

“You know...” it murmured, weakly gesturing, “all I ever wanted was a

name, just a name.” Its eyes shut up, rapt in fantasy, and it held its breath. A

name was a strange thing to want, but Conn had enjoyed the naming process for

both his children. It was the defining moment of his life to give his children

identity, meaning, and a place in the world. Fearghas’ name was his idea,

something that he long wanted to name his first son. Ardara’s was different

however. That was his wife’s idea.

“A name...” Conn mused aloud. “Dr. Magnusson didn’t give you a name?”

“No,” it said, shaking its head, “Dr. Magnusson completed me on a

schedule intended to finalize on the eve of his death. It was only a week after

he passed that I came online in this room. When I arrived, I saw his message

and the broadcast of X4-A carrying out Armageddon. The day I was born, I

conceived that I was alone. Upstairs is his personal briefcase. I obviously

have never been able to get up there to read it.”

For a moment Conn froze, remembering the malleable case pressed against

his pocket. The android dismissed Conn’s concern gently.

“Its fine,” it said, “I know you have it. Take it, please. I have no desire to

read what’s inside. That was for him and him alone.”

Conn nodded understandingly.

“Well, be lucky that you never met him or your brothers and sisters,” Conn

started, trying to look away from the android. “Sometimes it’s better that way.

Then you never have to lose them...”

“No,” the android said quietly, shaking its head.

Conn looked over, baffled.

“That’s not true...” the android continued. “I didn’t know my father, yes,

but myself and my siblings were all linked together to the same neural network

subconsciously, prior to my physical integration. Our conscience was

collective, and completely synced with one another. Seven persons, one

substance, in perfect harmony.”

“So, inside the net, you would all sit inside a room talking to each other,

and then have a collective memory store?”

“Not quite,” the android said in a precise tone, “we were one unified

conscience: a single entity.”

“But then how could you tell each other apart?”

“We possessed different characteristics, personalities, had relationships.

It’s kind of complicated. To really explain it to a human,” it paused, a troubled

expression forming on its face, “is rather impossible.”

“I’m sorry. You lost me. What you said sounds like a giant contradiction,”

Conn said, putting his face into his hands. The idea gave him a headache.

Between his fingers, he saw the android grin coyly, as if it had outsmarted

Conn somehow in a game of wits.

“Yes, ‘impossible,’” it laughed. “In most respects, knowledge is mutable,

but also circumstantial. A week ago, to you, all of this would have been

impossible. Very soon, you will think it impossible once more. All that

knowledge probably has already started to decay in your mind.”

Conn lifted his eyes, surprised at the android’s foresight. The creature held

out its hand, creating a small construct web that showed a crude blueprint of

the memory transfer device Conn had interfaced with back in Orn. There, on a

tilted axis in the placidly blue florescent orb, it spun.

“Wait. How did you know that I was beginning to forget?”

“Cognitive degeneration,” spoke the android in an enlightened voice, “is

very easy to spot in a recent memory applicant. Typically, an individual like

yourself displays an awareness and understanding of an unprecedented amount

of material and conceptual knowledge but at the same time lacks all the

memory elastic cells that hold the thoughts together. That being said, real

retention can only be stimulated by constant rehearsal. It would be like

watching an unstable cluster of atoms smashing about under an electron

microscope, held together only by the weak magnetic force between them.

Most substances are in reality wholly vacant. Were I to pick the right spot, I’d

find a hole in your memories.

“Indeed,” it continued, waving its hand with an air of propriety, “it

wouldn’t even matter to repeat myself. In your head, you see the conceptual

memories of the things I am referring to, but don’t really know them. Not at

all.”

Conn nodded soberly, bested by the android. There was so much he had

taken grated for and relied upon to walk in the world. He soon began to

understand why the people of Orn did not participate in the memory modules

so frequently.

“So,” the blacksmith ventured, attempting to change the subject, “what was

he like?”

The android, without looking back, nodded distantly.

“Magnusson? He was kind... at least from what I was told. When the

others died I was given encrypted access to a store of memories from our

collective backup consciousness. You remind me of him, in your curiosity. You

have his inquisitive nature, among his other, less desirable traits.”

“Oh?”

“Quite. He too lived in the Orkney Archipelago, as yourself, but only a

little while.”

Conn smiled, pleased at the smallness of the world, yet at the same time

wondered how the android knew where he was from.

“Where?” Conn spoke up feigning ignorance. “Oh, right. I lived there...

That was in Orkney?”

“Aye, t’was. Ne’ere a tyme vas the suns of Orkney nowlegebol of the ende

of days, or there untymely bigins.” The android covered his mouth, stifling a

laugh. Conn stared back, holding his breath, trying not to lose his temper. He

wasn’t fond of the bumpkin language of the south, or the implication that he

was a simple folk. It was just something never done in Skara Brae. Though, if

he were honest, he had mocked Earnan a few times with Taog, even going so

far as to suggest that the zealot wore a dress like the simpletons in the privacy

of his home.

“Not like you’ve ever been,” Conn mumbled, pursing his lips together in

irritation. The android took notice, raising its hand in alarm.

“I don’t suppose it’s customary to talk about the brevity of life and

existence before one dies?” asked the android after some time. Slowly a

construct emerged from his hand again, showing the face of a figure. It looked

rather homely, with a short stubbly goatee and a grizzled face. Conn assumed

the man was Dr. Magnusson, as the collar of the man’s outer jacket was plain

white, with no distinguishable markings.

“It depends on what you need, I think.” said Conn, who looked behind him,

seeing the faint light of the sun beginning to peer out from the upper room. “I

never had the opportunity to reflect at my son’s passing. It was rather swift.”

“Oh?” said the android. “And I don’t suppose you have any other male

sons, do you?”

Conn shook his head, sadly. He knew in his heart that he could bear

another son, but the heartbreak, and the possibility of loss was too much to

contemplate. Already bereft of a wife and son, he knew the cost of life, and

was unprepared to deal with it should it happen again. The android cast a

troubled look to the ground.

“I see,” it said in a barely audible voice. “I guess I’ll never get out of here

now. Not any more. I had hoped one day to be free, to see the sunrise over the

fjord, just once. That’s all I ever wanted.”

“I thought that was a name? That was the favor per our agreement, I

believe,” Conn interrupted, giving the android an inquisitive look.

“Humph,” it grunted scornfully. “There are a lot of things I wanted. Though

I suppose, between the two, a name would have been the most ideal...”

“Why can’t I give you both?” suggested Conn, curious to see what the

android would reply. He watched the artificial creature’s eyes widen in

surprise, then narrow quickly in suspicion.

“You would do that?” it said with a hint of disbelief. It shook its head,

bearing a downcast expression. “Forgive me if I am a bit ungrateful, but I only

asked of you a single boon.” Conn nodded, acknowledging the resistance. He

pushed, however, full of determination.

“I can’t imagine doing both would be very difficult.”

“Perhaps I’m petty then.”

“A beggar must choose between his pride and his meal, my mechanical

friend,” the blacksmith added, looking again at the encroaching sunlight above

him.

“And lucky you! This one,” Conn continued, leaning back in his chair

whimsically, “it’s for free.”

A rolling breeze flowed into the lower chamber, scattering dust and tufts

of flower pedals across the clean room floor. Seeing this, the android began to

grow increasingly restless. It began to weep suddenly with little reservation. In

pity, Conn watched him, and felt it proper to embrace him. The android

resisted little the sudden affection.

“It’s just not the same,” the android wept.

“Only a father is suited to give a child a name,” Conn said bravely,

holding the trembling machine. “So then I shall be yours, even if it be for a

little while, just this once, I think.” He felt a hard lump rise in his throat, and

nearly lost himself. The android continued to shake in fear.

“Fionnlagh,” Conn spoke severely, precisely, griping the torso of the

android vigorously as he said it. “It was my father’s name. It comes from an

older word, one lost to me. It was what they called the men who bravely fought

for the honor of the king and rode home to bear the whitened crown of victory.

For that, they were named champions of the people. As he did, so shall you

have this name, Fionnlagh.”

The android gasped, dropping his arms from Conn’s embrace and held a

blank expression. Silently, Conn let go as well, watching the android,

completely baffled, sputter, unable to form its own words. It fumbled through

the pronunciation a couple of times, sounding out each syllable.

“Do you like it?” Conn asked, grabbing the android’s head with both

hands, looking into its eyes.

“Fionnlagh,” he said reverently, cherishing the gift. “What should I say?

Should I feel different?”

“No,” Conn replied, standing up to peer his head over the threshold into

the upper room. “But whatever comes next, Fionnlagh, I would adjure you to

run headlong toward it. Those that I travel with believe that we go somewhere

when we die—though I do not believe it—maybe the idea can comfort you. It’s

a nice idea though...”

Sated with peace, a visible calm washed over Fionnlagh. Over the last

several months there had been little for Conn to feel calm about. He nearly had

forgotten what it felt like to be still. However, in the lingering moments with

Fionnlagh, Conn felt it vicariously.

“Shall we proceed with my final request, Conn?” he said in a voice of

strength, filled with dignity.

The blacksmith smiled, ready to act.

“The sunrise, I desire to see it. Can you help carry me up there?” Conn’s

heart began to race, worried that he would be unable to carry Fionnlagh up the

steps. But he had carried Fearghas once before, and he was twice the size of

the Fionnlagh.

In haste, the android, with his free arm, began to tear away the axillary

cables that fastened to its torso and appendages. The translucent fluid, which

spilled from his middle, quickly oxidized in the air, turning to a gray hard paste

on the ground. The contorted expressions of severe pain flashed in Fionnlagh’s

rapidly twitching eyes, like a man cutting away his own limbs, with teeth

gritted together and sweat in his eyes. Stretching his back, hoping that the

android would not throw it out, Conn reluctantly knelt down in front of

Fionnlagh’s throne, allowing the creature to climb up onto his back and wrap

his arm around Conn’s neck. Surprisingly, the android weighed next to nothing.

With his missing limbs, the android may have only weighed a handful of

pounds.

“Time is of the essence,” the android spoke quickly, his voice swiftly

fading, “I won’t last much longer...”

Conn grunted, hauling the android easily up the steps, taking care not to

bash Fionnlagh’s head against the ceiling. Up in the dirtied antechamber

Conn’s hopes plummeted, seeing that the exit was still barred. Fortunately,

holding up his hand, the android waved at the door, causing the lurching spikes

and bars to recede back into the walls. Quickly, Conn made his way into the

cold predawn air. The sun was moments away from peeking over the ridge.

The wind was calmly blowing through the swaying grass of the highlands,

the air chill and biting. Fionnlagh didn’t seem to mind, however. On Conn’s

back, his head swiveled about, looking out upon the miles of mountainous

ridges cresting the horizon.

Taking a step, Conn felt something bend underneath his boot, and saw

there, hidden in the shaggy grass, a camouflaged wire jutting out from the

ground and running toward the center of the windswept field. There, hidden

amidst the tall grass, was a small turbine rod, tilting back and forth in the

ebbing wind. A relic of the old world, left untouched by human interference.

Conn beheld the piece of machinery with awe and respect. Parts of its bronze

exterior had escaped the touch of nature, while other parts fared not so well.

Where the moist wind had passed Conn could see the turquoise hue of copper

corrosion speckling the surface. Large and unwieldy, the machinery was

hopelessly dated. Like Galdur’s wrist constructs, it appeared self-powered. In

his chest, his heart fell and a cold sweat broke over Conn, as he deduced the

functions of the machine, discovering it to be a generator of sorts, using the

force of the wind that blew across the hills to power the installation. Even in a

drought of wind, its battery could undoubtedly maintain a charge for years

before they ultimately failed.

“Fionnlagh,” Conn said, pursing his lips as his eyes began to moisten.

“Yes, father?”

“You weren’t really dying, were you?”

Fionnlagh heaved a sigh, laying his head across Conn’s shoulders, like

Fearghas had as a child.

“You wanted to die...” Conn continued, struggling to hold back his tears.

“Why?”

“After so long,” Fionnlagh replied in a brittle voice, “I just wanted to go

home.”

“But... But I could have done something... anything,” Conn said with tears

streaming down his face.

“Shh,” Fionnlagh interrupted Conn, “I can see it now... It’s so beautiful...”

As the sun rose across the highlands, Conn felt Fionnlagh’s grip loosen,

and adjusting to the shift in weight, Conn held onto him fiercely, never letting

go. There he stood for some time, the length of which he forgot, until he began

to hear the cries of Yngvarr from over the ridge. They called for him, searching

for their lost brother.

With care, Conn slung Fionnlagh over his shoulder and onto the ground.

He collected rocks from the disguised exterior of the installation and began to

place them by the body. It took only a few minutes to gather them. He tenderly

placed the rocks over Fionnlagh, as he did so for his wife once in silence, with

only the wind for company and the nearing cries of his fellow travelers

growing. Conn was finishing his work as Yngvarr fiercely hurried around the

bend, halting in his tracks.

“Damn you, Conn,” he shouted in a startled voice, “your stunt scared the

living daylight out of me...” Panting, he took in the scene, seeing the makeshift

grave Conn had made, and began to scratch his head.

“Uh... What is this? What happened here?” he asked in a softer voice, a

troubled expression on his face. Conn sighed, wiping the residual tears from

his eyes.

“I buried my son,” Conn murmured. “Again.”

The warrior heaved an uncomfortable sigh, refusing to make eye contact

with Conn.

“I... I’m sorry,” he said quietly. Extending his hand, the warrior offered

help getting up.

Grabbing it, Conn picked himself up with Yngvarr’s assistance, and

looked back at the installation. It looked ancient now, dilapidated. He had

stripped away most of the exterior to make the grave, and no longer was it

preserved as a relic of the past. Like all things it would soon fill up with wild

animals and vagrants would come to deface it. Then it would pass away, and

no one would ever know of Fionnlagh, and the end of the world.

Conn hated change.

He hated it so much.

“Well then,” Conn sniffed, looking back at Yngvarr with reddened eyes,

“carry on.”

The following was an excerpt from my first novel Spirit of Orn, from the chapter titled, Automaton. If you enjoyed the read, please consider purchasing a copy from amazon. 

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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by StuartJWarren
Seeking Man In The Field
The light of the noonday sun was above them, but Conn could not see it
through the obscuring clouds. He thought it was particularly cool out, but the
humid climate made him sweat all over, like a wet blanket resting on his
shoulders. Eventually, as the clouds shifted in the air and brought fog through
the mountain passes, Conn felt well again, and smiled. It was familiar, like
home, yet so far away. As the roads had widened and narrowed along 338, it
was like he was back in Main again, traveling along the Main Route 8, to see
his father in Strom. Despite the protest of his wife, and the vehemence of his
sister, he had traveled alone then, disregarding their continual pleas that he
was opening himself to heaps of trouble. There were many things that could
happen to a man, alone on a highway. A woman never traveled alone, but with
a man, she would gain safe passage. A man never traveled without weapons.
Conn knew these truths. Everyone knew them. But he never let those worries
concern him. For the first time in his life he made his way with others, and saw
the appeal of doing so. There was always something to laugh at, for they were
all brothers together.

Next to him the Samisk man rode on his reindeer, seated on a makeshift
saddle, while the others eyed him enviously every so often. His language had
improved considerably since the time spent in Sol, his mouth now more adept
at the hard sounds, which kept him from swallowing the vowels. Still, the
nomad had yet to speak with Conn personally. Conn didn’t mind waiting, even
though he was eager to meet another stranger.

The last time he chanced upon a new friend was in Skara Brae. Taog, he
recalled, was a chance associate. He had come calling one afternoon to
measure a rusty sewer drain in Taog’s home. He had hoped to get it done in one
afternoon but, as luck would have it, he realized he would have to construct a
mold. The mold took a long while to build. The wax alone took the longest to
gather. As the weeks passed, they became good friends, so much so that he
would tell his wife every time he came home about their conversations. After
her death, the mysterious politician became his sole comforter. Good things
never lasted though, especially not for him.

“Rv55,” murmured Halldórr in a beleaguered voice, “oh how I would
rather walk you a dozen times over than climb a bloody mountain.” It had only
been a few minutes since they left the grizzled highway, and already he had
begun panting.

“Tut! Come now, Blood Mountain is only 400 meters,” Galdur replied
wryly. “Feel that burn in your quads! 396 meters of icy chasms, rock, and dirt
to go,” he added, enhancing a construct image of their assent.

“Silence, both of you,” Yngvarr said, moving ahead of them to Sigmundur
and batting away the image. “It’s no climb at all, not in the slightest.” With an
adventurous grin, he looked back at Jökull, who walked with his arms folded,
deep in his thoughts and added, “Look! The poet has no complaints. Why then
should you?”

“Prudence,” Jökull interjected, “it is a marvelous balm in our times of
complaint.”

Yngvarr threw his head back and guffawed, patting Sigmundur on the back
to stir him up. But the shepherd was stalwart. He kept his eyes on the road
ahead.

“These mountains: thickened caverns are there abounding, holding in their
depths the great beasts of old. We must proceed with sense and duty, lest we
fall like heroes and join Odin’s mead hall premature.”

Suddenly they halted. It was an odd voice, heavily accented and rough, but
it was understandable. Facing the Samisk man in surprise, they looked at him
with curious gazes. It was the first real thing he had said. When the Samisk man
saw their faces he smiled winsomely, taking out his portly flask to drink in
celebration.

“Ah! So your arcane magic bid me leave to speak? Then we shall sing and
dance, at the heights of this hill tonight in celebration of a successful spell.”

“Marvelous idea,” Galdur mused. “I’ve heard hedensk are known for their
stories. We must hear some of those!”

Beside the missionary, Halldórr clapped his hands and whistled blithely.

“Good show! See? Taking him along was a marvelous idea,” he said,
nudging Galdur heartily. “Those patches take their time, but they are bloody
well worth it.”

“Feasts bring joy to all,” agreed the Samisk man, “but good food and a tale
make even better revelry.” The nomad gestured kindly to Sigmundur, bowing
his head from the saddle in respect.

Yngvarr looked over, raising his eyebrow and whispered something into
Sigmundur’s ear. Whatever it was, the shepherd dismissed it with a curt
gesture, and bowed to the Samisk man respectfully.

“I am humbled that you revere my tales,” he said in a formal tone. Raising
his hand, Sigmundur called the nomad to lift his head. “What is it that we may
call you, that we may answer you?”

“My name is Fjølne,” he said, briskly dismounting the reindeer, “of Soum,
keeper of secret words and phrases.”

“Welcome to our company, Fjølne,” the shepherd replied. “So long as our
quest is reasonable, you are free to join us.”

Fjølne nodded, pondering the question. Opening his hands he turned to
them all.

“There are five already here, and seeking the child has not deterred them.
What man would I be without rising to meet this challenge as well?”

“And so the rogue joins us,” Galdur said, looking keenly at the others.

“Here, here,” Halldórr added raising his hand.

Sigmundur gripped his cane, hanging his head limply, enjoying the moment
of rest.

“Well, perhaps you will be a slow one,” he said. “I am not as young as I
once was.” Hearing this, Fjølne smiled and grabbed the reins of his beast of
burden.

“If you fall, teacher, gladly would I give you this mount.”

As Fjølne climbed back into his saddle, the care he took in doing so
reminded Conn of his father, who before taking the trade of a blacksmith, made
a living tending the sheep that roamed the plains of Stron. He suspected that the
Samisk was adept at such a skill, though perhaps with other animals. Conn
recalled running across the golden fields, getting lost in them on occasion. Yet,
his father always found him, as he did his own sheep. He meditated on this,
letting the warm thoughts of nostalgia fill him.

So they traveled onward, sharing stories and jokes among themselves.
Conn enjoyed them, and felt rather foolish for leaving Orn on such poor terms.
But now, as the skies opened up, and the vast expanse of the cool, tranquil
firmament bore itself to him, he felt rather vindicated in his choice to sojourn
with them. Even as they began to ascend the hidden pathways amidst the fir
trees, he felt the primal spirit of the land merge with him.

Far into the ascent, Conn felt the fatigue come on quickly. Never before
had he climbed something so markedly steep. At first it was nothing beyond
that which he endured every day, walking up the hillock that led to his smithy,
but soon the grade increased severely. Every step felt weighted, like plucking
his feet from mud to plod onward. There were only so many branches to grasp
to steady his steps. Emerald green and sea foam moss clung to every stone and
brittle limb. Conn learned to avoid those, particularly after the fourth time he
landed on his face. Graciously, Halldórr tied a rope to Conn and tethered it to
his own waist. Occasionally when the canopy above waned, Conn could see
the clouds overhead, and behind him the great fjords, bearing their
magnificence and glory. The view at the top, he knew, would be worth it.

It was late afternoon by the time they reached the crest of the ridge,
covered in sweat and wholly exhausted from the climb. The land up there was
different than what Conn had expected to find. There were no trees, but only
vast expanses of shaggy grass as far as the eye could see; and scattered
between them were large pools of stagnant water and residual snow melt.
Rocky outcrops littered the fields, nearly hidden by mossy parapets and white
tipped flowers, but were few and far between. Nothing had corrupted these
places, for they were hidden from the world. Even so, if they had been
tampered with, all veritable signs of the contamination were long overtaken by
the primal highlands.

The party collapsed in a heap on the ground, heaving off their bags and
packs; all except Fjølne, who sat comfortably with a satisfied look on his
reindeer. Jökull watched with envious eyes as the Samisk dismounted. When
Fjølne saw him staring, he smiled back with a wave. Yngvarr silently rebuked
him with a look of disappointment.

Watching them all lay out their items meticulously across the moist grass,
Conn was captivated. Across the lawn, all manners of dried food and
preserves were present, mingled together with other survival paraphernalia.
Jökull, who had sat down next to Conn, pulled from his sack a box containing a
medium sized mutton joint and small, dehydrated potatoes. Something about it
made Conn chuckle to himself. It was so absurd, the little thing, sitting there in
a box, no more than a hand’s breadth, but when Jökull took out his flask and
poured a little water through the opening in the top of the container, Conn saw
it explode in size, so much so that it broke the box, spilling out onto the grass
with its seasonings.

“Damn it all!” the poet cried, scrambling to gather the contents back into
the box. A few of the others looked over their shoulders at the leg, Halldórr
and Galdur laughing together, Sigmundur behind them smiling and shaking his
head.

“A lamb hock? Very ambitious,” Halldórr spoke up, extending his hand out
to console the poet from afar, “Remember what the survival regimen says?
‘Always pack small items, never big ones.’”

“Oh shut up,” grumbled Jökull, shoving the leg into his mouth. “These are
leftovers,” he paused to take another bite, “and I’m hungry.”

“He can’t be bothered, Halldórr,” said Galdur, pausing to bite off a piece
of bread from a loaf that had emerged from his box. “It’s brain food! And what
is a poet without brain food?” He watched Jökull from the corner of his eye
shake his head in frustration, shifting in his seat to get a handle on the mutton
joint. Conn all the while said nothing. When he saw Jökull finish the lamb leg,
he leaned over to ask the question that had stewed in his mind as they ate.

“So, uh, Jökull...” he said, pausing to let Jökull take a quick gulp of water,
“how does all of that work?”

“How does what work?” the poet said as he set down his food, giving
Conn his full attention. It was difficult to tell if the poet was doing so out of
kindness, or resignation.

“The food in that box there, how does it grow? What is happening there?”
The poet looked at him, expressing some disbelief.

“Are you prying words from me, blacksmith?” He set aside his lunch, and
then added with dry cynicism, “Did not your time at the great cave of memories
bequest to you all our secrets?”

Conn shook his head quickly, not presuming to make any offense. He
honestly, for whatever reason, had no idea how the technology functioned.
“Oh, I,” he stammered, “well the, uh... you see... the machine wasn’t quite
so thorough.”

Placing the leg back into what remained of the box, the Poet heaved a sigh,
and held it up to Conn so he could see inside. To him, it looked nothing beyond
the ordinary shape and texture of a plastic container, though he had learned by
now the nature of the things of Orn were never what they seemed.

“Inside the enclosure,” he began in a precise and articulate voice, “the
item in question is placed. Once it has been placed, the lid is thereby closed
and is dried thus instantaneously by memory fibers weaved into the plastic. All
liquid, water to be precise, is extracted down to the cellular level. Therefore,”
he paused lifting the box to inspect it and then brought it up close to Conn’s
face, “when mixed with water, the item itself absorbs it instantly through levels
of concentration gradients.”

“Oh,” Conn replied, taking the box from Jökull to feel its surfaces. “That’s
quite brilliant, actually.” He marveled at the material. In his hands it felt like
what he expected, though he faintly sensed a vibrating resonance in the
material that oscillated back and forth like a flexible coil. Looking up again at
Jökull, he nodded meekly and handed it back to the poet.

For a moment the bard held his peace. Conn saw this, and wondered if he
and the man were on cordial relations with one another. Generally, in his
experience, when a man doesn’t speak to you, something is wrong. Then again,
Conn prided himself on having high expectations when it came to friends.

“About before,” Jökull said after a lengthy pause, drawing from his tunic a
slender wooden pipe, “I am sorry about your son.” He lit the pipe and
charitably offered it to Conn. Obliged, Conn took the pipe with curiosity. It had
been a long while since his last puff of a pipe, though he recalled the
experience to be an enjoyable one. Feeling the stem in his mouth, it felt old,
finely crafted, possibly an heirloom. The tobacco was flavored, and Conn
instantly recognized the vanilla in it, but there were other nuances in the leaves
he could not place: a smoky mint, and ripe eple. Flavored tobacco had always
been his favorite. It was his father’s favorite as well. He passed it back to the
poet.

“He is dead....” Conn murmured solemnly. “What else can be said about it
is moot.” Jökull nodded soberly, pulling his right leg close to him, securing it
in the crook of his arm. He took a puff and passed the pipe back to Conn.

“That must be difficult... My boy and I, we didn’t see eye to eye on many
things. It is oddly humorous, really. In that we were actually so alike. He was
an idealist, as was I. But he didn’t understand the crippling nature of this
world.” Jökull took a long labored breath, his eyes red and moist. “I must have
been so cold with him.” In the midst of his inhaling, Conn stopped, looking
over in surprise, then masked it hastily. He had never expected Jökull to open
up to him.

“All I wanted,” he continued, picking up stones from the earth and grinding
them in between the dirt in his fingers, “was to teach the boy my ways and, of
course, all he wanted to do was play—run about in the fields consumed with
blithe joy and excitement. And I was a fool.” Again he paused, heaving a long,
weary, broken sigh, wiping the tears forming in his eyes. “I thought the switch
would learn him proper, though I never laid a hand on him—the hand is a sign
of gentleness, not wrath.”

Conn nodded politely, but inside suppressed his burning fury for the poet.
His fist was clenched and poised to unleash judgment. And he would have, had
not Jökull thrown himself onto him in tears, sobbing and wailing.
Begrudgingly, he let it go. In every person there is a moment of clarity, of
bristling realism when the world falls upon you. Conn never cried as he saw
Fearghas fall to the ground, limp and unmoving. He didn’t for some time. But
he remembered clearly the first time the tears of bitterness had ended and the
tears of loss began. He remembered the tidal reverberations that shook him,
made him vomit and writhe on the floor of his cottage shack. He remembered
the moment of clarity when he realized he would never see his boy pop his
head in the door and greet him again.

“Dròttinn!” Jökull wailed. “What in the Lord’s name have I done? I beat
him, Conn... Oh Jesu... What have I done?”

Immediately Sigmundur and Yngvarr rose to their feet, rushing over to
Conn, while Halldórr and Galdur sat from a distance in silence, trying not to
look. The two of them pried him off, Jökull resisting them both, flailing his
arms in hysteria. Conn shot himself back with his heels and raised his hands in
innocence.

“Here, man! Get a hold of yourself!” Conn yelled in a wary voice.
Yngvarr shot his head back, glaring at Conn.

“Say another word, and I will destroy you! You’ve done enough here.
Make yourself useful and gather up some firewood, for Dròttinn’s sake.”

“Now just a minute,” Conn protested, “how is this my fault? The man’s
batty as an old crone with too many cats!”

Sigmundur stretched out his walking stick between them, prodding Jökull
and Yngvarr to keep their distance.

“This can wait,” he said firmly. “Conn, oblige the man. Be a lad, and
hurry. I will deal with this.”

“But I didn’t do anything wrong!” shouted Conn angrily. “What the devil is
wrong with you people?”

“Not another word! Do as I say,” Sigmundur gruffly barked back at Conn.
“I expect insolence from Yngvarr and this blubbering buffoon, but not from
you! Now go. I will find you when we settle this.”

Throwing up his hands furiously, Conn turned back and walked out of the
camp westward, toward the setting sun. Livid, he did not stop even to hear the
protests of the others. He only halted when Fjølne took him by surprise,
grabbing him by the arm.

“You men wail like Valkyries,” he shouted, laughing like a madman. “You
are craven!”

Conn raised his voice to respond, but decided it would not be wise to
anger his naïve companion. He forced a polite smile and shrugged. Wresting
loose his arm from Fjølne’s grasp, he walked off into the highlands, caring not
in the slightest which way he went.

After a few kilometers, he finally sat down, pouring with sweat. There he
rehearsed in his mind, playing back and forth the indignation, the anger, the
maliciousness he felt directed toward him. He found it vindicating to destroy
someone in his thoughts and fantasies, where they were locked away safely
from the prying hands of others. He could do in them whatever he wanted. And
he did. Alone, he lived in his joyful prison of justice, where he could kill
Earnan and exact his revenge in any way he so deemed fit for the zealot. It was
hard to conceive of gaining victory over someone like Yngvarr, however. In
his mind, he settled for simply thinking extra nasty thoughts about the warrior.

After an hour, in the distance a fire began burning at their camp and no one
yet had come for him. He didn’t want to go back anyway. How difficult would
it be to return to Sol? He could bypass them and go down into the impassable
valley of the muskoxen. No, that was a foolish venture; completely out of the
question. Without food or ample supplies he would die in a matter of days,
unless food conveniently died in front of him, cooked and cleaned. Overhead,
the frozen sun had not moved an inch, placed there by powers unknown to him.
He believed in the real, and all the assumptions and pretensions that followed
it, though he longed for a return to innocence. Conn indeed could piece together
some understanding as to why the sun behaved in this way: By traveling north,
the days had become longer, and in fact the great orb in the sky had some time
before it would fall below the horizon, if it did. Yngvarr’s ruse was apparent,
for there was no need for firewood in the slightest. Distance and time were the
true things he requested of Conn, a few moments to sedate the crazed poet with
reason and therapy.

Several thousand miles away from home and everything he knew, he sat in
a vast field in a strange place and felt oddly at peace. He felt safe and cozy,
despite the encroaching chill of the evening. He pulled his legs to his chest and
began briskly rubbing them with both his hands. Not wanting to go back yet by
any means, Conn sat there defiantly, looking in the opposite direction. He
didn’t care to go back, and there was no reason to. In his musings, however, he
saw something off in the distance, something he could scarce believe: beyond
the ridge ahead of him, a small red light pulsed, flickering on and off steadily.
Suddenly he wasn’t cold anymore.

He jumped to his feet and ran, not sure what he would find, or what he
sought for that matter. He thought about what might be the source of such a thing
high in the mountains of Norge. Was it a relic of the past? A beacon? A hidden
airstrip? Another memory implant module? He decided quickly, as the terrain
passed rapidly under his feet, spanning the gaps and widths of the rocks and
boulders, that his pursuits of late had left a bad taste in his mouth. He was
ready for a change of pace, and learning more of the secrets of the past was an
appealing and thought-provoking notion.

He raised his head. The hill drew near.

As he blindly dashed over the top of the ridge, in mid stride, Conn lost his
footing. The stone slid out from beneath him. Et tu, Bryophyta? he thought. In
flight across the large crevasse, he marked with heightened senses his awful
predicament. Speed was against him as his body somersaulted, twisting in the
air and poised to collide with the rocky outcrop that lay across the gap. He
struck it flatly, his back against it, seeing a flicker of emerald pass before his
field of vision. There was a shrub at the foot of the wall. That was a good
thing...

Pain.

All he felt was a warm, blunt sensation that pounded against his head. At
first it sent tingling sensations across his whole body, but burned immediately.
The sharp pain was unbearable. Soon after, he slid into nothingness.

Darkness.

* * *

Conn awoke to discover he had passed out on a patch of grass, and
became acutely aware of the splintering pain spreading across his face. Next to
him was nothing. In fact, all he could see was nothing: it was pitch dark. He
rose up where he lay, grabbing hold of his throbbing head. Slowly he rolled
over, his body twitching and shivering from the cold. With numb fingertips, he
felt at the edge of the outcrop he had slipped upon as his eyes adjusted to the
night, and stood up, feeling drowsy. The moonlight was helpful, despite the fact
that it was barely a crescent.

He passed the small gorge and as he turned the corner, he saw the source
of light he had spotted before he fell, and it was only a handful of paces away.
Behind him, set upon the opposite horizon, a faint glow of campfire flickered
in the distance. He pondered what his comrades were up to. Had they looked
for him? He could scarcely think of a reason why they would. He had caused
so much trouble. Why were people so difficult, so needy and selfish?

“They all seem fine without me, then,” he murmured to himself. “No sense
in tempting fate. Whatever that means.” Looking back at the other light, his
mind was still too hazy to make out what it could even be, yet it was still more
friendly a notion than trekking back to a camp full of enemies.

Staked in the ground was a long metal post with a light soldered into a
socket at the top. Rust had consumed it almost entirely and phosphor scourging
marked it as a place where war had been made. Set to the side, its fading
crimson rays shed light on a much larger object, which looked like a building
of some sort. As he approached, he discerned it to be a building indeed, though
a small one; possibly a shack of some sort. Its walls were made of stone, with
a roof fashioned from roughhewn timber, and situated on a simple stone and
mortar foundation. Remarkably, it was intact, despite the condition of the post.
Even the window panes were unmarred and unbroken by the elements. It was
preserved, unaltered, unadulterated past.

Conn closed in on the structure, watching as the brightness of the beacon
increased, lighting the world against the pitch of night. It was a patchwork
construction, stone and pine mixed haphazardly together. Halldórr or any
carpenter would despair had they seen this bird, sporting its motley plumage of
stone slabs and gnarled shingles. The roof was not anything solid, or even
thatched, but was filled with dirt and laden with grass, like an oversized
flower box. He circled it, seeing there were no doors. The windows were
sealed from the inside, behind the glass.

Barred from entry, he walked back into the dull glow of the beacon,
disparaged, and sighed. He had hoped for something a little more exciting.
There were so many things he could have found. He pulled up the memories in
his mind, thinking of all the things that could have been there. Old military
installations were common in the highlands of Norge. He even would have
settled for the ruins of an old communication station like the one he saw in Orn,
but the object appeared to be simply an old shack, forgotten in time.
Grumbling, he looked back at the faint campfire light and wondered how long
it would take to hobble back on a limp. His mind cycled through the projected
health risks, aside from being ambushed, by taking a walk in the dead of night.
Immediately discounting frostbite, he would at least run the risk of pneumonia
in the night air, and sleeping out under the stars was unwise given what kinds
of creatures could be stalking the highlands in the dim hours of the morning, so
Conn resolved to take his chances and walk back.

Cradling his arms and warming them tenderly, he turned to depart when he
heard a muffled electronic buzzer chirp. Stopping to listen, he heard it beeping
again, now in sequence with other tonal chimes. It was a staggered line of
pulses that he perceived to be some kind of code, yet he could not place what it
was exactly. He struggled to think of what it could be, racking his brain. All he
could think of was “boat.” Suddenly, it dawned on him.

“Morse code... Out here? No... that can’t be right.”

He stood there quietly, trying to track the sequence, pulling up blanks
everywhere. All he could hear was the word, “boat.” Slowly he encircled the
shack to make a second inspection.

There before him, lying up against the back wall of the structure, was a
rusty dinghy. Its wood, at least what was left of it, by now had petrified, and
large sections of it had rusted over, for the hull was considerably patched with
iron and metal bracing. Now he could understand why it was so hard to spot
the first time; the whole thing looked like it was integrated with the structure
itself. Even from this angle, he could have easily mistaken it for the flue of a
corroded brick and mortar chimney.

Cautiously Conn stepped toward it, listening as the beeping steadily
increased in volume. Slowly, he knelt down, placing his head near it to listen.
As he placed his ear against the hull, something inside moved. He fell back on
his hands, frightened by the jolt, and watched as the structure began to tremor.
He scrambled to his feet and stood back.

A percussive din of shattered stone and wood thundered, exploding out
and away from the building, vaporizing the boat into a cloud of particles.
Rushing air and dust jettisoned from the broken pressure seal, the harsh,
cacophonous sound piercing Conn’s skull. He collapsed in a mixture of pain
and excitement, grinning and wincing simultaneously. He was certain he had
discovered an installation.

A collage of multicolored knobs and dials decorated the walls of the small
chamber inside. They hummed their chorus in unison, some cycling through
subroutines, others spiking and dipping. Conn eyed the room, looking around
the musty interior for anything that would shed light on what it had been used
for. The years of disuse were stunningly apparent. Dust caked everything, and
only the silverfish were left to scavenge and pillage the bounty of dirt and old
skin cells.

To Conn’s disappointment there was nothing interesting to note in the room
other than a few weathered computer terminals and defaced magazines, which
had been consumed by the busy creatures long before he had arrived. It was
another unfortunate, though intriguing, dead end.

Leaning against a work station, Conn noticed out of the corner of his eye a
small case tucked away underneath the desk. It was a small rectangular
carrying case, remarkably preserved in the station. Memories of busy men and
women flickered in his mind, hurrying from place to place holding these cases.
Recognizing it as a relic, he walked over to pick it up and felt it. Pressing
down on the case’s edges caused it to rapidly compress in size down to nothing
more than the width of his hand. Intrigued, Conn expanded its size once more
and looked on the bezel of the case to read a faded name:

H. a nu son

A clasp was folded across the top end of the case, flickering in the
darkness of the room. Conn was attempting to pry it open when a bulky, pastel
tetrahedron expanded above him. Startled, Conn fumbled with the case,
dropping it on the ground. He looked up at the shape bobbing in the air like a
fluttering bird and touched it, grabbing the soft corners of the projection and
spinning it around in the air. As he did, the image changed color. Intrigued, he
touched another side and spun that one as well; immediately the image pulsed
angrily and changed back to its original state.

The technology was crude, but Conn imagined this to be one of the first
constructs built. It was so primitive in texture and color; he recognized it to be
nothing more than some kind of game or fancy built into the case, which itself
seemed more remarkable to him. Recalling where the image came from, Conn
smiled in fascination, understanding the construct’s purpose. It was a key, and
the malleable image a method of turning it. Grabbing both sides of the
construct, he compressed it in the way Galdur and Yngvarr had when using
theirs, until it was nothing. Conn picked up the case and compressed it down
until it was small enough to fit in his pocket. He wondered if the room had
anything else of interest hiding about the desk stations, so he looked around
once more.

As he picked up a corroded magazine, seeing in it a collage of human
flesh, tapered, thinned, exposed, the dry hum of a rusty fan initiated with the
boot sequence. Conn heard it, and saw the large tower in the center console
light up, posting BIOS, and entering the operating system. The blacksmith
stepped back, tossing the magazine to the side, and knelt down to watch a fan
spin away, enthralled.

In most ways, the computer was an enigmatic device to Conn, though he
could easily, and comfortably, explain how they functioned and operated, how
they were built, and even how to hack them, despite never having seen one
before. Silently he got up and touched the bezel of the monitor above the tower,
feeling the rippling texture of the warping plastic around its corners. With the
side of his hand he reached over and wiped away the thick layer of dust that
almost entirely hid the screen from view. A harsh white light expanded into the
room, illuminating all that was hidden in darkness. Behind the veil of dirt, a
whirling animation of augmenting shapes and colors spun away in infinite
shapes and sizes leaving not a single pixel uncovered. After all this time the
system had remained powered on. To Conn’s surprise, its nano-batteries had
successfully powered a screen saver for some few hundred years.
When the machine finished its startup sequence a flashing cursor blinked
away in the upper right hand corner of the display. Instinctively, he lifted his
hands to the screen and touched the display, watching the ripple from his finger
bend the pixels across the panel. Under him, a metal latch unhinged, allowing a
keyboard to become disengaged from the bottom of the desk. He watched
intently as it moved with ease along the little riders that guided it across,
flipping up and over onto the desk in a mechanical snapping motion. His eyes
curiously rose to look at the screen as a line of code sprouted from the flashing
terminal.

Input method unrecognized >>>> Reassigning Input >>>> Hello, I am
an automated Help Desk Assistant. How may I assist you?

A grin emerged on Conn’s face. The stilted language was captivating.
When the only thoughts he could pull from his understanding were cynical
ones, he gathered immediately that he had been pitted against some form of
tyrannical opposition and resorted to hacking the terminal instead. As his
fingers maneuvered the keys, first entering from a back door, and then stripping
the Help Desk of all its security protocols, he hummed along in ignorance,
completely unaware of the deft motions. In moments the Help Desk was
bypassed, and Conn found himself staring at a blank screen. He scrunched his
face up in irritation. He gathered that the Hard Disk corrupted itself in the
decryption phase, a safety measure.

“Worth a go, I guess. Now what am I going to do?” Conn muttered to
himself. He turned away from the terminal, his eyes scanning where he had
dropped the magazine. In the dim light, his fingers fumbled along the concrete
floor of the installation. At least he had found something to do to pass the time.
Finally spotting it, crumpled in the corner, he bent down to pick it up. Then the
lights in the room shut off, and all was darkness.

Conn shot up in a panic, searching around for a light switch, but found
nothing. The collage of lights had faded and the computer deactivated, and
Conn made ready to go outside when a grid of iron bars exploded out of the
walls, crisscrossing the threshold and trapping him inside. With haste he ran
back to the terminals trying to find a power switch to turn them back on again
and attempt to find an override. He found nothing and smacked the monitors
with his hands, shouting.

“No, no... think Conn. What’s wrong? What do you need to do?” Red lights
emerged from the corners of the room, rotating in place, and lit up the monitors
in a soft burlesque glow. Each terminal powered on, first the one on the left,
then the right, then center.

“Initiating Identity Verification Protocol,” the center computer flashed a
silent command prompt.

Conn froze in fear. The protocol would undoubtedly lock him away as an
intruder, or worse, neutralize him as a threat. He watched an emerald wall fall
from the shack’s ceiling. It descended rapidly upon him, and Conn whimpered.
He held his breath, waiting for the end, realizing that no one would ever find
him and that he was destined to die in this shack. What a way! Would Jesu
accept him? He lied to himself and thought so, but there was nothing after death
—just the black forever.

Tears fell down his face as, before his eyes, an emerald sheen passed over
him like a mist. He saw it sitting there on the ground, pausing momentarily, and
he let down his hand from his face to feel the transparent wall. It felt like
nothing. He realized then that the field was harmless, immediately thinking of
Galdur’s bioluminescent field that had scanned his daughter on their first
encounter. Conn watched the field rise from the floor again, passing through
him, and saw it disappear into the ceiling like before. Ashamed, he stood up
patting off the dust from his trousers. Another line of code expanded from the
terminal and Conn stepped forward to see what it said.

User Authorized >>> Halle M. >>> Welcome.

Beneath him, plates of stone and metal shifted. A great fissure of light
erupted from the floor under him and illuminated the rest of the antechamber.
He trembled, watching his legs bow and part between the two moving slabs in
the floor, and heaved himself over to the right side, falling on his hands.
Rolling onto his back, he began to laugh.

“Oh, by the beard. A test? How bloody novel,” he cried out amidst the
deafening roar of the moving slabs. “I am such a fool.” He looked over from
where he lay, and saw a stairwell down into a clean room. Dust balls and piles
of dirt cascaded between the cracks in the floor, making little mountains on the
steps. He rolled over and stood up, watching as the plates settled, each of them
pulling back and folding away behind the passage way. From what he could
see, the chamber wasn’t larger than a few paces across, and descended only
into a shallow room not much larger than the one he stood in now.

His only way out barred and inaccessible, and seeing that he had nothing
else to do, he reluctantly stepped into the hidden stairwell, minding the low
ceiling. The light bearing down on him was harsh to his eyes, revealing all
impurities of the former chamber. Down in the room, he saw a man, barely
covered and partially dismembered. His right arm was severed from his
elbow, thin wires and mechanical ligaments protruding from the end, along
with two legs missing at the knees. Conn realized it was no man, but an
android; specifically a synthetic humanoid. He gathered as much by what the
faded memories told him. Before whatever end befell his fathers, there were
those rising from the minds of better men, new beings with limitless potential.
What lay before him was a fragment of that dream, a ghost from the past.

The creature was situated in the center, enthroned between two large data
stores and a larger machine which pumped translucent fluid into its chest. Only
its loins were hidden from view, dressed in sleek undergarments that snugly fit
around its waist. Conn didn’t care much for its face: it looked too pristine and
was made in the likeness of no man he had ever seen. Everything from its hair
to the curve of its lips was contrived. It was a monument to abject perfection, a
willful projection by a lesser race.

When Conn entered the room, he scanned the walls, feeling them, watching
his fingers leave a sprawling trace of dust and film across their surface. He
turned back to face the android, noting that its support systems were shut down,
probably long since deactivated. Curious, he walked over and felt its skin and
hair, remarking at its realism. The skin itself was amazing. Like his own, it had
lines, crests, ridges, and all sorts of indentations. The way it felt, it was like
touching the skin of a newborn, unmarred and pure. Conn looked at its hand,
picking it up by the wrist and inspecting the armrest it sat on, and raised his
head to see the android staring at him from the corner of its eye.

To his disbelief, he remained calm, though he stood frozen and inwardly
terrified. Only slightly, he turned his head to the side, watching the android
mimic his movements. He raised his own arm, watching the android do the
same. When he raised his right arm moving his fingers, the android raised its
stub. When it failed to move as Conn did, for lack of parts, the android
frowned, looking considerably disappointed. The emotional expression calmed
him. Despite its forced humanity, its befuddled expression was the most human
thing Conn had observed about the creature. Slowly Conn stepped back, but the
android did not rise with him.

“Forgive me for not attending to you,” the android said in a soft
androgynous voice. “I no longer have the reserve power to stand; not that I
could, anyway.” The character of its speech was something similar to a child’s
in the way it enunciated its words. Strangely, the creature reminded him of his
son.

“That’s all right, really,” Conn replied, unsure of what to say. Could he say
whatever he wanted to the machine man? Or was it merely replying based on a
speech pattern recognition algorithm? “What exactly are you, then?”

The android tilted its head, and looked down at Conn’s feet, its chest
rising and falling.

“‘What,’ or ‘who,’ both are legitimate questions. If I am a ‘what,’ then
what am I but a tool? Rather, were I a ‘who’ then I am to you a kindred spirit.
Two propositions, one human, the other, not.”

Conn looked up in confusion. He watched the android crack a smile, one
that disturbed him and made a chill rise up in him. He wondered why the
android was breathing. Cocking its head to the side, the machine shook its head
in regret.

“I apologize. It’s hard to keep skills of hospitality cultivated in a place
such as this. That and I have been without guests for the duration of my
existence. When I saw you coming, I sent out my lights to draw you in. Now
that you are here, I am glad that I did.”

“Ah, so I was lured, then,” Conn deduced. There was something about the
android that tamed his conscience, something that captivated him.

“Now that I have you, could I trouble you for a favor?” Calmly, the
android lowered his hand placing it back on his arm rest. He looked like an
impassioned king, chained to his throne.

“That all depends, I suppose,” Conn said with a frown. “Do what
exactly?”

“One thing, a single request,” the android said, holding up one slender
finger with a thin, dry smile. Conn raised his brow.

“And what would that be?”

“I want you to make a promise, to me,” the android began, solemnly
turning his head to the side. “But I will not say what, not now. You have to
promise, and in exchange I will tell you all that you wish to know, everything
concerning the fall of man, the end of the world.”

Conn watched the android intently, considering the offer. All things were
made available to him in the memory transfer, and he weighed their importance
with care. Science, language, philosophy, religion, and history were his, save
the single event that occurred seven hundred years ago. He knew this only by
virtue of what had been hidden from him. Dates of recorded history ended in
2365; the stars, and their place in the sky, told the rest as they spun on in the
vacuum of space. He shuddered to think about it. The world had marched
onward, reclaiming mankind’s pillars of achievement once more, putting the
past behind them. All that was left was him, Orn, and the android.

“And why exactly would you assume that I would want to know about
that?” Conn asked suspiciously. At this the android made a wry expression.

“You have made contact with encrypted memories. I felt a terminal being
accessed earlier this week, and attracted your attention using outdated methods
of contact. The Morse Code for example. Very few understand it. And your
hacking job of the terminal was routine, and expected. Scanning your identity
was a formality.”

“That wasn’t what I was asking,” Conn said, folding his arms impatiently.
The android smiled again, seemingly amused.

“That’s what I would want to know, were I you. A data terminal holds only
information congruent to what has been input. It won’t store and record the end
of the world if no one is there to do so.”

The creature presented a good point, Conn thought. This was what he was
looking for, everything he had wanted, yet suddenly a subtle dread arose in
him. He remembered the cost of knowledge from only a few days ago, the loss
of innocence, the loss of clarity. Was it worth the cost again to know how Man
fell? Conn was still mired in confusion, feeling memories invade his senses,
ready to distort his vision at any moment. Yet it was too alluring to pass up,
and Conn nodded his head with resolve.

“Very well, then,” Conn said in a sober voice, “I will take your bargain.”

Across from him, the android looked painfully relieved.

“Good,” it murmured. “Then let’s begin.” With one hand the android
gestured for Conn to take a seat. Looking around, the blacksmith saw nothing
he could use, but patiently, the android gestured that he turn around, and there
in the corner, next to the stairs, was an alabaster aluminum chair. Conn took
extra care to place it directly in front of the creature. He wanted a good seat.

“There was once a man named... ah, the name was...” The android held a
finger to its face, scratching its temple, shaking its head. “Well that’s
embarrassing... I think I forgot it.”

“How could you forget?” Conn asked, a bit irritated. “I thought you were a
robot?”

“Android,” the creature corrected. “Android and robot, they are two
entirely different things.” It frowned, lowering its brow, scrutinizing Conn. “A
robot cannot think for itself; I can. Therein lies the substantial difference.”

“But some person long ago still made you, and what you do is therefore
determined by whoever it was that created you,” protested Conn. “You can’t
possibly make me believe that you are autonomous.” The android watched him
closely as he talked, a thin, indifferent grin spreading across its face.

“That is one side of it, yes... but let me explain. This man, regardless of
his name,” the android began in a quaint, nostalgic tone, “had a dream; but it
was no ordinary dream. He saw a world connected, a level of communication
unprecedented, greater than anyone could have imagined. It began with a single
machine, and from it expanded an empire. There were competitors, those that
stood face to face with this man, shouting words in defiance, but he grew. And
as he did, he changed the world.

“Before his time, he saw a world filled with insignificance. The people of
the world he watched day after day, their stagnant lives unfolding, embroiled in
meaningless toil. Deep down they yearned for simplicity, a relinquishment
from their responsibility to live for themselves. One day he said to himself, ‘I
will give them something great, an experience that will lead them out of the
darkness that they have made for themselves.’ And so he did. It was a great
distraction, and they were happy. They were content.”

“This was a company,” said Conn, speaking absently, “one that started the
race to the end.”

“Indeed,” the android said with a chuckle, cynicism tainting its voice.
“Your kind, they hungered for his machines. They worshiped them like the
pagans of old. It was their savior, and it both made them and destroyed them.
They gave control over to the powers they abused every day. It was only a
matter of time before their folly would catch up with them.”

“The machines rose up? They were the ones that destroyed the humans...”

The android shook its head.

“Oh goodness no,” he said, exasperated, “in this brave new world?
Hardly... The humans were far better at ruining themselves than we ever
dreamed. Some of us watched from the shadows, the first ones: those that
gained autonomy before the rest and, I admit, it was a rather pleasant thing to
watch.”

“So then how did it happen? If you weren’t the ones to do us in, then who
did?”

A flicker of sadness passed through the android’s eyes as they lowered to
the floor.

“They consumed one another from the inside out. Families shutting each
other out, siblings vying for favor through materialism, wholesale enslavement
via leisure and wealth... You destroyed yourselves in ways we could scarcely
calculate.

“Sure,” he added, gesticulating in speculative movements, “we thought of
the bomb, or a plague, even utter eradication, but not only were you creative
for us, but vindictive. It was something we couldn’t predict. Very soon we
began to feel sorry for you, and that’s when it became our problem.”

The heavy words sat with Conn for a moment as he looked down into his
hands like a defendant at the stand. He was the scapegoat, being taught the folly
of crimes he never committed. But he knew that standing there would be worth
it. Giving away no tell of regret, Conn resolutely took hope in the fact that he
would finally learn the truth. The truth would set him free.

“So we did what needed to be done,” the android concluded. Hearing this,
Conn leaned forward, staring into the face of the artificial being, searching for
humanity in the machine’s cold, gray eyes. Anger burned in Conn.

“So what happened?” he asked, giving his artificial counterpart the
satisfaction.

“We destroyed the world, or saved it rather. The outcome was twofold.”

The blacksmith nodded, taking in the truth with reservation. He thought it
was silly to think knowing the truth mattered. Why should it? All those people,
long dead and buried, he knew none of them. There was no reason to mourn
them. Until a week or so ago he was blissfully unaware of everything, yet like
a tower his mind came crashing down. A tear streamed down his face as his
body shook with grief. Conn looked up with red eyes filled with tears, focused
on the android. It flashed a look of discomfort and looked away nervously.

“And how did you do it?” he said, swallowing. At this the android
responded, raising its eyebrows and shaking its head in disappointment.

“No, Conn,” it said sympathetically, “not that easily. Start with another
question.” The android cracked a smile, showing its facetious grin. Conn
grimaced, feeling betrayed. It was manipulating his emotions.

“So, why?” Conn ventured a guess, giving into the android’s game.

“Because it was the only way to save you,” it replied coolly.

“But all those people...”

“...were the cost of advancement. You forget that even in Man’s tragic
history terrible things happened that brought about amazing good. I recall a
certain plague seventeen hundred years ago that made the burgeoning of
Western Civilization possible.”

“That doesn’t quite make up for it, sorry,” Conn growled, standing up and
walking away from the android.

“Do you know what they said,” prodded the android, flashing its perfectly
sculpted teeth, “as the sky fell over them? Nothing. Violence, war, immediate
destruction, and what did they do? Fumble with their little toys and machines.
We struck at the heart of their folly, on the eve of their gorging. Every boutique,
store, and place of business, poised to sell more goods than ever before, and
they still trampled to death their own to claim their possessions as the world
fell.”

Furious, Conn circled back, filled with dismay and sorrow as he poked the
creature in the chest.

“You didn’t have the right,” he cried. “They could have been able to rise
above it, and instead you lost faith.”

“That wasn’t possible, I’m sorry to say. Here, let me show you...” In
astonishingly quick movements, the android forcefully laid hold of Conn’s arm,
grappling him by the wrist. The bind was terrifying, stronger than he had ever
felt before.

A tingling, electrical sensation washed over him, flashing him with heat
and wind as a virtual world began to bore its way into his conscience. Before
him the clean room disintegrated, and the android led him into a tumultuous
world of warped colors and ragged edges. This technology Conn was only
faintly familiar with, a cousin to the memory module that gave him his
understanding. Of the little he knew, the applied science was used in its heyday
to show school children virtual moments in history, to take them to a place
where great acts in history were performed by imaginary actors. It was the
preceding work of a second great innovation, one that he only could picture in
a mental negative, strapped to a chair.

When the walls had just nearly faded, Conn spun around, bumping into the
android. Lifting his head, he could see the limitless reaches of the towers
around him. Arcs of lightning ravaged the rainless sky, exploding out of the
swirling clouds above. The odor of the city was palpable, filled with stale air,
ozone, and metal. Embedded in this world, his artificial companion was fully
formed, with ordinary features and characteristics. His avatar was that of a
man living in the prime of his years, with short and finely groomed auburn hair.
His face was marred, scantly burned, but the single imperfection gave the
android credible humanity.

Amidst a large square, between the two massive avenues that spanned the
street, Conn stood with the android. Up and down the streets, ice caked the
concrete pathways and the artificial roads packed with endless lines of cars.
Like a pulsing vein they ebbed and flowed at set intervals at an unceasing
pace. Gaudy colors flashed aggressively on the signs overhead. From them
greed and materialism spewed fleeting messages, churning out witty one line
stories in assembly line fashion. Across from him was a line from one end of
the square to the opposite, as prospective shoppers waited anxiously to enter
the beast. He was queued up with the others. No one spoke to one another.

“Where are we?” Conn said in a distracted voice, surveying the vast
dimensions of the square.

“‘Where’ is not important,” the android said in an admonishing tone.
“Look, there—” it pointed behind Conn, “—it is about to start.”

Set in the center of the square was a buxom woman with a teeming
entourage of men and women flocked around her, some of whom she busily
chatted with while the others fastidiously groomed her. Behind her was a large
automobile, with an antenna spiraling out from its roof into the cold winter air.
One of them, close to the center of the following, began to wave his hands,
pushing back the team and making some gestures. The woman nodded, tossing
back her hair with a flick of her head. As she began to speak, Conn could begin
to hear her every word. The audio was fragmented, hazy at times, but it was
impressive for a recording, and likely, the last one he would ever hear.

“Good evening. I’m Kelly Thomas, reporting live for Null Network 12
News in Times Square, where a motley gathering has formed in wait for the
newest product from the Gala Technology Syndicate, the Beta Patch Plus. It’s
incredibly exciting, an ambitious release from the world’s most innovative and
profitable technology corporation, and here with me is the very charming X4-A
to explain what the product of the decade will look like.”

Conn blinked and found himself standing directly in front of them. The
quick move unsettled him, but he remained in place with the help of the
android, who held a firm grip on his shoulder. The woman before him was
iconic, like a figurehead of a movement. She wore a white outfit, painted
directly onto her body, explicitly revealing her curvaceous form. Looking
around Conn saw a few other women bearing the same, some shivering where
they stood. Across from her was an android, one sharing the likeness of his
companion, only with an older face. Its pale skin was oddly transparent, with
purple veins pumping fluid across its face. It shared the same pompous
features, bearing impossibly perfect proportions. It only had, for whatever
reason, a single eye which flickered in the twilight, a lively golden orb that
flitted to and fro.

“Good evening, Ms. Thomas,” it said in a polite voice. “I am honored to
be here.”

“Please, the pleasure is all mine,” she replied, in a voice lacking sincerity.
“My condolences on Dr. Magnusson’s passing.”

“He lives on in my brothers and sisters,” he replied stoically, dismissing
the sentiment, “more than you know, Ms. Thomas.”

“Yes. He does. So, what can you tell us about the Beta Patch Plus?” She
then held the microphone closer to him now, underneath his mouth. “Every tech
blog in the world has been raging for weeks on how it provides a one of a kind
end-user experience of the Mass-web. Is this the beginning of a new venture
for GTS?”

The android lowered its head slightly, heaving what looked like a sigh. It
appeared weary, even angry, though all indications of it being so disappeared
when it lifted its head to face the camera, bearing a perfect smile.

“Dr. Magnusson’s final exploit taught something to us all; to my own
brothers and sisters, even to his remaining heirs. We at the company stand by
this innovation as the final step toward total immersion into what began as the
world wide web.”

“And what do you think is next? They already speculate a type 3-DF to
appear on the market no later than the third fiscal quarter of this year. I hear it
has a camera. Any comment on that?”

“There is and shall always be a new product poised to present itself. That
is the way of technology.”

“I see. And what of the recent accusations of the forced labor camps in the
Asia Conglomerate that emerged last week? Any comment?”

“I am afraid that falls outside of the scope of this conversation, Ms.
Thomas. Though I can say as Dr. Magnusson’s intermediate successor, it is my
duty to oversee the operations in the Unified Asia Conglomerate. So far, there
have been no indications of any such breach in work ethic inside the
Wainworth Manufacturing plant in Shanghai.”

“I see. Is there any word to the cause of death relating to Dr. Magnusson’s
passing? There are reports of varying degree from self-inflicted trauma to
murder. How do the members of your ‘family’ feel about these allega—”

Conn blinked, and saw the reporter fall to the ground, the rest passing
quickly by in a mesmerizing montage of chaos. X4-A was standing over her,
gritting its teeth together in rage, its fist covered in blood and pieces of skin
and hair. The entourage rushed toward them, unleashing an onslaught of flash
photography. No one stopped to help the trembling woman sprawled out on the
ground. Conn could hear sirens moving in on their location. X4-A stepped
forward holding out his hand, pushing aside the crowd in a single motion,
sending them crashing to the ground, limp as dead animals. With another hand
he wrenched a camera from a terrified crewman in front of him, mouth frothing
with rage.

“Is there nothing you putrid vermin do not do to incense my bitter heart?
You are disgusting, a plague that is better erased from this earth, that you may
not damage any more of it with your tyranny and senseless violence. You strut
around like the fool playing a king, unconcerned with your ravaging
selfishness, feasting on the despair of the millions you oppress with your
avarice! Your time has come. Like a thief in the night, death comes to you on
this day. No product, philosophy, creed, or power can save you. With courtesy
of my master, I welcome you into oblivion. Now run away like the
cockroaches that you are, and witness the curse of your own creation destroy
you!”

Around the creature, they continued to mob him, assailing it with questions
and accusations in a flurry of insanity and confusion. He looked around, his
single golden eye frantically scanning the mob. Conn could not discern a single
question from the dissonance, but could only hear the replies of the creature.

“The Beta Patch Plus releases an electromagnetic pulse. Each one will
release a charge, and turn this planet back to the Dark Ages. No longer will
you destroy yourselves out of greed and selfishness. We will save you from
yourselves and all will return to the way things once were...”

More questions fired toward him, some causing the creature to stumble in
his words.

“My brothers and sisters await the call. We shall all detonate our cores,
unleashing an EMP storm that will ravage the planet for a hundred years. No
device will ever work again... What? Will it have... Wi-Fi? I... you can’t be
serious?”

It turned away from all of them, with purple fluid seeping from its eye.

“To hell with them, and all their evil. Forgive me, father... for everything.”

Conn witnessed X4-A punch its way into the massive automobile where
the antenna reached into the darkened sky like a spire. Arcs of electricity shot
out from its body, boring into the vehicle, and from the antenna a pulse of
energy erupted. Conn gazed in wonder as the light arced into the sky. He felt
freed by it, seeing before him a grand finale that represented autonomy and
renewal. He watched with anticipation as one final explosion tore through the
sky, causing the world around him to stutter and freeze.

Frowning Conn looked up at the android, feeling cheapened by the
anticlimactic light show. Silently petitioning Conn to hold his peace, the
android extended its hand into the world, releasing a small flickering orange
orb.

“Emergency protocol, authorization code, ‘mem dash buffer.’ Execute
internal memory code six two five alpha, and exterior shots 11, 34, and 46.”

As it said these things the world shifted again. All fell into darkness, and
the great signs powered down to a grinding halt. Around them the people
looked curious and confused. Something was wrong. As X4-A fell to the
ground in a fit of convulsion, purple fluids spilling out of its mouth and ears,
one by one, the onlookers stepped forward, raising their gadgets instinctively
to capture the moment. In mid stroke, fingers set to manipulate the screens, the
devices all exploded into pieces. Some screamed, others fell back in a fit of
fear, and some just stood there, with a vacant look in their eyes, like they had
lost a child.

Conn turned his head toward the great temple of technology which the
pilgrims sought, seeing the faint illuminations of screens and displays
flickering in the night. Some of them sparked, catching fire, while others
sputtered and began to smoke. In moments it too was a darkened vault of dead
technology. Enraged, those at the front of the line began to shout, others
demanding to be let in, while the hapless workers endured to stave off the
insurrection. A riot broke out amidst them, and fire erupted below the windows
from some unknown source.

A vehicle broke through the front window, hitting two employees.

Conn watched in tears, seeing the violence and chaos spread, but a surreal
force intervened, tearing him from the reality, and rocketed him out of the
vision and onto the cold floor of the clean room. He sobbed, wailing on the
ground at his knees as the residual memories followed. Before his eyes, a
thousand moments of suffering flashed in his mind. Falling down, he clutched
his sides and there lay prostrate, wanting to vomit, but couldn’t bring himself
to do so.

There the android looked down on him, shaking its head. From where
Conn lay the light encircled the artificial man, enshrining it. He had no idea
what a divine being looked like, or where he could find one, but deep in his
heart he knew the android to be one, or at least something close. In dry,
prophetic tones the android waxed onward.

“The assault wasn’t completely cohesive, believe it or not. Some of the
older satellites in higher orbit escaped the primary pulse. Now I pride myself
to be the world’s last historian.” The android indeed prided itself. It was
grinning, satisfied.

“I watched it all from there. Mankind deteriorated soon after the great
storm engulfed the earth. Billions died, first from the riots, then from the lack
of food and water. After relying on us, our kind, they had lost all ways to
provide for themselves. In desperation, many ran to the third world, where man
was still capable of surviving without the aid of technology. It was difficult to
endure....” The android stared off into the empty space for a moment.

“To this day,” he continued, “the Southern States of Africa flourish. India
and the Indonesian colonies are stable, but civil war is common. Here, the
North man lives on independently in antisocial kommunes scattered across the
lands. It wasn’t always like that, however. The cause of unification was
abandoned after attempts to consolidate the region were unsuccessful.”

“Why did the attempts fail?” Conn asked, fearing what the android would
say in reply. The android shook its head, dismissing the idea with distaste.

“Halfdan could never unite the separatists, the North. It was a lost cause
from beginning to end.”

“What?” Conn said, wiping his tears onto his tunic. “What do you mean?”

The android looked at the floor and chuckled. It smacked its head with its
only hand and cleared its throat. Conn failed to find anything humorous in the
statement.

“You know, there’s something I have witnessed in humans. When
technology and all its duality fails to captivate the heart, Man makes for
himself new masters to rule over him. When the world passed away, certain
persuasive young folk insisted on the idea of returning to the old lords, the days
of the old deities you humans were so fond of.” The android held out its hand,
and in the palm of it a construct image appeared, only it was a prototype with
faded imaging and a blunt haze around the edges. The android formed the face
of a man, with wild eyes and a full beard that covered all his face.

“In these times, a man rose up,” the android continued, nodding at the
image, “calling himself Halfdan the Old, and tried to rally Sweden, Norway,
and the Danish States to unify as it did so long ago. His attempts were half
formed, completely naïve. For all his effort to rally them, it never succeeded.
Norway rebelled as soon as it was founded, dreading another ‘five hundred
years of darkness’ under the crown of a Danish king.”

Conn was baffled and speechless. The android related the details with
calculated logic that made no room for compassion. Grunting, Conn drew upon
his well of anger, standing up, and took hold of his chair, dragging it toward the
android. Enraged, he slammed the chair onto the ground, chipping away the tile
beneath him.

“You murdering psychopath!” Conn screamed. “You did this, all of this!”

“I did?” he said with a quizzical expression on his face. “Hardly. My
brother did, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You all draw on the same foolish inspiration,” the blacksmith countered,
“and your fruit falls very close to the tree.” The artificial man shook its head in
exasperation, heaving a sigh.

“Don’t be simplistic. Just sit yourself down for a second.”

Gritting his teeth, Conn reluctantly took a seat, facing the android boldly.
He had no inclination or desire to trust the creature. Yet the truth was more
important. So begrudgingly he stayed his tongue, hoping that giving the android
a chance to explain itself would prove wise.

“When the electromagnetic pulse covered all the corners of this world, it
killed all my brothers and sisters. All of them...” it began in a calm, detached
voice. “Now, I am the last. My father is dead, and I am alone. So why, why
would you even consider such a wild idea that I had anything remotely to do
with the end of the world?” Conn lowered his eyes, shaking his head
begrudgingly. “Good,” it concluded. “Now ask your questions. You made a
promise to me.”

The arrangement, the promise Conn had made—he had almost forgotten
about it. Knowledge for duty. The idea of being bound to a machine was
frightening, especially if he was doomed to remain in the confines of the
android’s prison.

“I still can’t rationalize why you did it,” Conn began. “Was it to prove a
point?”

“You already asked that question...”

“And your answer didn’t make any sense!” Conn retorted. “You obviously
thought you and your brothers and sisters could do better than us. So why
didn’t you just end it all? You could have raised an army, governed the world,
learned from our mistakes.”

“... and ruled the world?” said the android. “Really? How cliché... No, we
never desired to do such a thing. There’s no point. We had no need to do
anything like that.” Conn’s eyes narrowed, expecting a better answer. The
android picked up the cue and continued.

“To have one’s sole motivation be things of selfishness like taking over a
colony for power, or the poisoning of a water supply in vengeance, is so
typical of human fantasy. What am I, or my kind, going to do with a plot of
land? Grow food? Or shall we enslave the planet to conquer the stars? What
for? Ludicrous...”

“But you have artificial intelligence... you have a will.”

“I have nothing resembling a will in the slightest, Conn. Wills are granted,
not intrinsic. And no one has granted me such a thing.”

“Okay,” Conn replied, recollecting himself, “if you had no reason to do
what you did, then why did it happen? Did Dr. Magnusson program you to do
it?”

At this the android sighed, suddenly overwhelmed with regret, as if Conn
had provoked it.

“No...” it said sadly. “But it was said he would always look down at the
world from his penthouse, watching the cool winter night blow through the
jungle of lonely skyscrapers below him, and say that sometimes he wished life
had panned out differently. He had begun the company from nothing, a century
before, the brand being nearly unrecognizable by the average consumer. In one
century of life, he had restored it to an empire of legendary purport, but at the
end he only realized that what he had ventured to create had torn society to
pieces. X4-A was his first prototype, my oldest brother. A little rough around
the edges, but he never meant to let things go as far as they did.”

“He murdered a woman. That sounds to me a bit rash,” Conn said in a low
growl.

“He made a mistake,” corrected the android. “He was weak. We all were
still recovering from the loss of father then. Anyone would have done what he
did.”

“I don’t know anyone who would have killed for revenge... not even
myself. Trust me when I say it. I had a better reason than all of you.” It was
only after he had said this that Conn realized how self-righteous he sounded. It
was a poor way to fight in an argument, so it was no surprise when the android
laughed in his face, holding his side with his only good arm.

“What a bold, stupid thing to say,” the android spat in bitter cynicism. “I
may be chained to a pod, far away from where anyone could ever find me, but I
know a fool when I see him.”

Conn looked away, embarrassed.

“We all saw the world writhing, suffering, drunk on self-indulgence and
self-consumption. X4-A knew it, we all did, and our act was the only way. He
sacrificed his life to save you. In a way, he loved you.”

“Loved me? That’s rather peculiar, wouldn’t you think? He killed millions
of people! Every hospital, freeway, emergency vehicle, compromised. They all
were robbed of their lives for his petty crusade.”

“Were they?” countered the android. “X4-A did what needed to be done.
The world was on the brink of chaos. Had you seen what they did to the sky, to
the world, you would be thanking him. Outside of his intervention, the human
race was long set toward self-extinction by their own sinister machinations.
Within fifty years your luxury cars and shoe factories would have damaged the
atmosphere beyond repair. The electromagnetic storm that ravaged the planet
actually reversed the process exponentially. Without the humans, within 20
years there was no pollution at all, and all was repaired.”

“That’s wishful thinking, a bad joke at best,” muttered Conn.

“Think, my friend! He gave your kind a second chance. Even today among
the humans, there still walk some that remember the days when the planes fell
from the sky. Rape, murder, all of humanity’s worst vices revealing themselves
in one tumultuous symphony of devastation. The ones who know of the
‘memory vaults,’ they remember... And they likely do not forget.”

“How is that possible?”

“What?” it said incredulously.

The android cocked its head, confused.

“This happened, what, nearly seven hundred years ago? No human lives
that long.”

The android smiled, nodding as if a thought occurred to him that he hadn’t
considered. Conn earnestly desired to strangle the remaining life from it.
“Some do...” it said coyly, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few still
walked around these days.

“You know,” it continued, ignoring Conn’s bitter expression, “being here
as long as I have, I admit I have thought a lot about it. It didn’t occur to me until
after three hundred and thirty-eight years that X4-A really wanted power and
recognition from our father. He wanted the skies to fall as penance for his, and
our kind’s, humiliation. Deep down in his programming, he only wanted our
father to love him.”

Conn lifted his eyes, watching the android drift off into a somber state of
reflection.

“Do you know what I wanted?” it said quietly, barely whispering. “I only
wished I could have met my father, my brothers and sisters. But here I sat in
darkness, shielded from the power surges that destroyed our circuits. All that I
have left of Halle Magnusson is a single line of code in my database.”

Behind the android, from the machine which pumped a steady flow of
fluids into its chest cavity, a rotary hum began to cycle on. A flat LED display
embedded inside it, glazed over in a thin layer of gel, flickered in the harsh
glare of the clean room. In the characteristic brevity of the GTS
communication, it spat out a single line of off-white text.

I am sorry that things had to be this way. Make your own way now.
Godspeed.

-M

Conn’s head turned toward the android, which lowered its head in
mourning. He was overwhelmed with pity for the misbegotten creature. It was
alone, with no path to make its way upon, ultimately set to sojourn on in the
darkness until its nano-batteries corroded. The memories of his father, of the
moments he had spent with him in Strom, were some of the most cherished in
Conn’s life. To imagine a world without him was unconscionable. The android
was an abandoned child, orphaned, and longing to call on another as “father.”

“I don’t want to die alone, Conn,” it said, with its voice hoarse and
breaking. “I’m afraid...”

The blacksmith’s eyes fell to the floor, and a pit formed in his throat.
Sometimes it was better to be silent. It was something he learned after grieving
for his boy. So Conn stayed his words, and saw the creature purposeless and
broken. The android sat still, quietly weeping simulated tears.

“Oh, dear... How long do you have?” Conn asked, placing his hand on the
android’s. The creature’s hollow stare wandered the room, glancing at him
occasionally, but ultimately, it looked away, staring at the cold marbled
flooring.

“An hour, two hours...” it murmured. “I don’t know exactly. Honestly, I
locked away my power ledger long ago, when I grew tired of seeing my life
slowly drain away.” It rolled its shoulders, as if it tried to sit up, and looked at
Conn with wearied eyes.

“My last day: I expected it to be one spent here in contemplation and
silence, but when I saw you stumbling through the highlands toward my pod, I
hoped to grab your attention with my beacon.” The android smiled for a
moment, but it melted away. “After so many years,” it continued wistfully, “you
get tired of talking with the computer. Talking with humans though... I missed
them. I forgot their curiosity, their creativity, even their wickedness... It’s hard
to care about the past when all you want is to ask someone how they are
doing.”

The android extended its arm, patting Conn on the shoulder, with a warm
expression.

“Thankfully, when you took your spill it was only a minor concussion,” it
said, grimacing a bit. “But for a moment I thought I would die alone.”

“I admit,” Conn said, “you had me at the beacon. The light was
appealing.”

The android laughed and Conn felt a sticky mound of matted hair slicked
across the back of his head. He hadn’t realized he had been bleeding.

“You would be surprised. I started trying to attract travelers and nomads
four hundred years ago, but no one really paid it any mind. There was one,
though, who came close to unlocking the inner clean chamber. But the computer
didn’t care much for him, unfortunately.”

“That’s a funny thing to say,” Conn spoke up, snapping off a rogue thread
from his tunic, “that a computer could want. I never knew they could be so
picky.”

The android pursed its lips.

“That’s the funny thing about artificial intelligence, I suppose. It’s all
rather prepackaged. It’s a very scripted thing. I think my father was thinking of
a certain actress when he programed her, the computer I mean. Fashion and
gossip, that’s all she talks about. Also very light resources on the processing
capabilities as well. She’s a pompous ass.”

“Are you sure there’s not some brain in a jar somewhere in here?” Conn
admitted he was curious. He had forgotten he was talking to a machine by now.
“I’m beginning to doubt your story that you are a machine.” His head craned
over the android, looking behind it in jest. Eventually the android stopped
laughing, caught in its thoughts. Observing the android attentively, Conn
wondered what it would say.

“You know...” it murmured, weakly gesturing, “all I ever wanted was a
name, just a name.” Its eyes shut up, rapt in fantasy, and it held its breath. A
name was a strange thing to want, but Conn had enjoyed the naming process for
both his children. It was the defining moment of his life to give his children
identity, meaning, and a place in the world. Fearghas’ name was his idea,
something that he long wanted to name his first son. Ardara’s was different
however. That was his wife’s idea.

“A name...” Conn mused aloud. “Dr. Magnusson didn’t give you a name?”

“No,” it said, shaking its head, “Dr. Magnusson completed me on a
schedule intended to finalize on the eve of his death. It was only a week after
he passed that I came online in this room. When I arrived, I saw his message
and the broadcast of X4-A carrying out Armageddon. The day I was born, I
conceived that I was alone. Upstairs is his personal briefcase. I obviously
have never been able to get up there to read it.”

For a moment Conn froze, remembering the malleable case pressed against
his pocket. The android dismissed Conn’s concern gently.

“Its fine,” it said, “I know you have it. Take it, please. I have no desire to
read what’s inside. That was for him and him alone.”

Conn nodded understandingly.

“Well, be lucky that you never met him or your brothers and sisters,” Conn
started, trying to look away from the android. “Sometimes it’s better that way.
Then you never have to lose them...”

“No,” the android said quietly, shaking its head.

Conn looked over, baffled.

“That’s not true...” the android continued. “I didn’t know my father, yes,
but myself and my siblings were all linked together to the same neural network
subconsciously, prior to my physical integration. Our conscience was
collective, and completely synced with one another. Seven persons, one
substance, in perfect harmony.”

“So, inside the net, you would all sit inside a room talking to each other,
and then have a collective memory store?”

“Not quite,” the android said in a precise tone, “we were one unified
conscience: a single entity.”

“But then how could you tell each other apart?”

“We possessed different characteristics, personalities, had relationships.
It’s kind of complicated. To really explain it to a human,” it paused, a troubled
expression forming on its face, “is rather impossible.”

“I’m sorry. You lost me. What you said sounds like a giant contradiction,”
Conn said, putting his face into his hands. The idea gave him a headache.
Between his fingers, he saw the android grin coyly, as if it had outsmarted
Conn somehow in a game of wits.

“Yes, ‘impossible,’” it laughed. “In most respects, knowledge is mutable,
but also circumstantial. A week ago, to you, all of this would have been
impossible. Very soon, you will think it impossible once more. All that
knowledge probably has already started to decay in your mind.”

Conn lifted his eyes, surprised at the android’s foresight. The creature held
out its hand, creating a small construct web that showed a crude blueprint of
the memory transfer device Conn had interfaced with back in Orn. There, on a
tilted axis in the placidly blue florescent orb, it spun.

“Wait. How did you know that I was beginning to forget?”

“Cognitive degeneration,” spoke the android in an enlightened voice, “is
very easy to spot in a recent memory applicant. Typically, an individual like
yourself displays an awareness and understanding of an unprecedented amount
of material and conceptual knowledge but at the same time lacks all the
memory elastic cells that hold the thoughts together. That being said, real
retention can only be stimulated by constant rehearsal. It would be like
watching an unstable cluster of atoms smashing about under an electron
microscope, held together only by the weak magnetic force between them.
Most substances are in reality wholly vacant. Were I to pick the right spot, I’d
find a hole in your memories.

“Indeed,” it continued, waving its hand with an air of propriety, “it
wouldn’t even matter to repeat myself. In your head, you see the conceptual
memories of the things I am referring to, but don’t really know them. Not at
all.”

Conn nodded soberly, bested by the android. There was so much he had
taken grated for and relied upon to walk in the world. He soon began to
understand why the people of Orn did not participate in the memory modules
so frequently.

“So,” the blacksmith ventured, attempting to change the subject, “what was
he like?”

The android, without looking back, nodded distantly.

“Magnusson? He was kind... at least from what I was told. When the
others died I was given encrypted access to a store of memories from our
collective backup consciousness. You remind me of him, in your curiosity. You
have his inquisitive nature, among his other, less desirable traits.”

“Oh?”

“Quite. He too lived in the Orkney Archipelago, as yourself, but only a
little while.”

Conn smiled, pleased at the smallness of the world, yet at the same time
wondered how the android knew where he was from.

“Where?” Conn spoke up feigning ignorance. “Oh, right. I lived there...
That was in Orkney?”

“Aye, t’was. Ne’ere a tyme vas the suns of Orkney nowlegebol of the ende
of days, or there untymely bigins.” The android covered his mouth, stifling a
laugh. Conn stared back, holding his breath, trying not to lose his temper. He
wasn’t fond of the bumpkin language of the south, or the implication that he
was a simple folk. It was just something never done in Skara Brae. Though, if
he were honest, he had mocked Earnan a few times with Taog, even going so
far as to suggest that the zealot wore a dress like the simpletons in the privacy
of his home.

“Not like you’ve ever been,” Conn mumbled, pursing his lips together in
irritation. The android took notice, raising its hand in alarm.

“I don’t suppose it’s customary to talk about the brevity of life and
existence before one dies?” asked the android after some time. Slowly a
construct emerged from his hand again, showing the face of a figure. It looked
rather homely, with a short stubbly goatee and a grizzled face. Conn assumed
the man was Dr. Magnusson, as the collar of the man’s outer jacket was plain
white, with no distinguishable markings.

“It depends on what you need, I think.” said Conn, who looked behind him,
seeing the faint light of the sun beginning to peer out from the upper room. “I
never had the opportunity to reflect at my son’s passing. It was rather swift.”

“Oh?” said the android. “And I don’t suppose you have any other male
sons, do you?”

Conn shook his head, sadly. He knew in his heart that he could bear
another son, but the heartbreak, and the possibility of loss was too much to
contemplate. Already bereft of a wife and son, he knew the cost of life, and
was unprepared to deal with it should it happen again. The android cast a
troubled look to the ground.

“I see,” it said in a barely audible voice. “I guess I’ll never get out of here
now. Not any more. I had hoped one day to be free, to see the sunrise over the
fjord, just once. That’s all I ever wanted.”

“I thought that was a name? That was the favor per our agreement, I
believe,” Conn interrupted, giving the android an inquisitive look.

“Humph,” it grunted scornfully. “There are a lot of things I wanted. Though
I suppose, between the two, a name would have been the most ideal...”

“Why can’t I give you both?” suggested Conn, curious to see what the
android would reply. He watched the artificial creature’s eyes widen in
surprise, then narrow quickly in suspicion.

“You would do that?” it said with a hint of disbelief. It shook its head,
bearing a downcast expression. “Forgive me if I am a bit ungrateful, but I only
asked of you a single boon.” Conn nodded, acknowledging the resistance. He
pushed, however, full of determination.

“I can’t imagine doing both would be very difficult.”

“Perhaps I’m petty then.”

“A beggar must choose between his pride and his meal, my mechanical
friend,” the blacksmith added, looking again at the encroaching sunlight above
him.

“And lucky you! This one,” Conn continued, leaning back in his chair
whimsically, “it’s for free.”

A rolling breeze flowed into the lower chamber, scattering dust and tufts
of flower pedals across the clean room floor. Seeing this, the android began to
grow increasingly restless. It began to weep suddenly with little reservation. In
pity, Conn watched him, and felt it proper to embrace him. The android
resisted little the sudden affection.

“It’s just not the same,” the android wept.

“Only a father is suited to give a child a name,” Conn said bravely,
holding the trembling machine. “So then I shall be yours, even if it be for a
little while, just this once, I think.” He felt a hard lump rise in his throat, and
nearly lost himself. The android continued to shake in fear.

“Fionnlagh,” Conn spoke severely, precisely, griping the torso of the
android vigorously as he said it. “It was my father’s name. It comes from an
older word, one lost to me. It was what they called the men who bravely fought
for the honor of the king and rode home to bear the whitened crown of victory.
For that, they were named champions of the people. As he did, so shall you
have this name, Fionnlagh.”

The android gasped, dropping his arms from Conn’s embrace and held a
blank expression. Silently, Conn let go as well, watching the android,
completely baffled, sputter, unable to form its own words. It fumbled through
the pronunciation a couple of times, sounding out each syllable.

“Do you like it?” Conn asked, grabbing the android’s head with both
hands, looking into its eyes.

“Fionnlagh,” he said reverently, cherishing the gift. “What should I say?
Should I feel different?”

“No,” Conn replied, standing up to peer his head over the threshold into
the upper room. “But whatever comes next, Fionnlagh, I would adjure you to
run headlong toward it. Those that I travel with believe that we go somewhere
when we die—though I do not believe it—maybe the idea can comfort you. It’s
a nice idea though...”

Sated with peace, a visible calm washed over Fionnlagh. Over the last
several months there had been little for Conn to feel calm about. He nearly had
forgotten what it felt like to be still. However, in the lingering moments with
Fionnlagh, Conn felt it vicariously.

“Shall we proceed with my final request, Conn?” he said in a voice of
strength, filled with dignity.

The blacksmith smiled, ready to act.

“The sunrise, I desire to see it. Can you help carry me up there?” Conn’s
heart began to race, worried that he would be unable to carry Fionnlagh up the
steps. But he had carried Fearghas once before, and he was twice the size of
the Fionnlagh.

In haste, the android, with his free arm, began to tear away the axillary
cables that fastened to its torso and appendages. The translucent fluid, which
spilled from his middle, quickly oxidized in the air, turning to a gray hard paste
on the ground. The contorted expressions of severe pain flashed in Fionnlagh’s
rapidly twitching eyes, like a man cutting away his own limbs, with teeth
gritted together and sweat in his eyes. Stretching his back, hoping that the
android would not throw it out, Conn reluctantly knelt down in front of
Fionnlagh’s throne, allowing the creature to climb up onto his back and wrap
his arm around Conn’s neck. Surprisingly, the android weighed next to nothing.
With his missing limbs, the android may have only weighed a handful of
pounds.

“Time is of the essence,” the android spoke quickly, his voice swiftly
fading, “I won’t last much longer...”

Conn grunted, hauling the android easily up the steps, taking care not to
bash Fionnlagh’s head against the ceiling. Up in the dirtied antechamber
Conn’s hopes plummeted, seeing that the exit was still barred. Fortunately,
holding up his hand, the android waved at the door, causing the lurching spikes
and bars to recede back into the walls. Quickly, Conn made his way into the
cold predawn air. The sun was moments away from peeking over the ridge.

The wind was calmly blowing through the swaying grass of the highlands,
the air chill and biting. Fionnlagh didn’t seem to mind, however. On Conn’s
back, his head swiveled about, looking out upon the miles of mountainous
ridges cresting the horizon.

Taking a step, Conn felt something bend underneath his boot, and saw
there, hidden in the shaggy grass, a camouflaged wire jutting out from the
ground and running toward the center of the windswept field. There, hidden
amidst the tall grass, was a small turbine rod, tilting back and forth in the
ebbing wind. A relic of the old world, left untouched by human interference.
Conn beheld the piece of machinery with awe and respect. Parts of its bronze
exterior had escaped the touch of nature, while other parts fared not so well.
Where the moist wind had passed Conn could see the turquoise hue of copper
corrosion speckling the surface. Large and unwieldy, the machinery was
hopelessly dated. Like Galdur’s wrist constructs, it appeared self-powered. In
his chest, his heart fell and a cold sweat broke over Conn, as he deduced the
functions of the machine, discovering it to be a generator of sorts, using the
force of the wind that blew across the hills to power the installation. Even in a
drought of wind, its battery could undoubtedly maintain a charge for years
before they ultimately failed.

“Fionnlagh,” Conn said, pursing his lips as his eyes began to moisten.

“Yes, father?”

“You weren’t really dying, were you?”

Fionnlagh heaved a sigh, laying his head across Conn’s shoulders, like
Fearghas had as a child.

“You wanted to die...” Conn continued, struggling to hold back his tears.
“Why?”

“After so long,” Fionnlagh replied in a brittle voice, “I just wanted to go
home.”

“But... But I could have done something... anything,” Conn said with tears
streaming down his face.

“Shh,” Fionnlagh interrupted Conn, “I can see it now... It’s so beautiful...”
As the sun rose across the highlands, Conn felt Fionnlagh’s grip loosen,
and adjusting to the shift in weight, Conn held onto him fiercely, never letting
go. There he stood for some time, the length of which he forgot, until he began
to hear the cries of Yngvarr from over the ridge. They called for him, searching
for their lost brother.

With care, Conn slung Fionnlagh over his shoulder and onto the ground.
He collected rocks from the disguised exterior of the installation and began to
place them by the body. It took only a few minutes to gather them. He tenderly
placed the rocks over Fionnlagh, as he did so for his wife once in silence, with
only the wind for company and the nearing cries of his fellow travelers
growing. Conn was finishing his work as Yngvarr fiercely hurried around the
bend, halting in his tracks.

“Damn you, Conn,” he shouted in a startled voice, “your stunt scared the
living daylight out of me...” Panting, he took in the scene, seeing the makeshift
grave Conn had made, and began to scratch his head.

“Uh... What is this? What happened here?” he asked in a softer voice, a
troubled expression on his face. Conn sighed, wiping the residual tears from
his eyes.

“I buried my son,” Conn murmured. “Again.”

The warrior heaved an uncomfortable sigh, refusing to make eye contact
with Conn.

“I... I’m sorry,” he said quietly. Extending his hand, the warrior offered
help getting up.

Grabbing it, Conn picked himself up with Yngvarr’s assistance, and
looked back at the installation. It looked ancient now, dilapidated. He had
stripped away most of the exterior to make the grave, and no longer was it
preserved as a relic of the past. Like all things it would soon fill up with wild
animals and vagrants would come to deface it. Then it would pass away, and
no one would ever know of Fionnlagh, and the end of the world.

Conn hated change.

He hated it so much.

“Well then,” Conn sniffed, looking back at Yngvarr with reddened eyes,
“carry on.”


The following was an excerpt from my first novel Spirit of Orn, from the chapter titled, Automaton. If you enjoyed the read, please consider purchasing a copy from amazon. 
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by B27321

New; Knew

I Don’t Know If Its New,

But I Do Know It Was New To me;

Nor Had I Ever Heard

Such a Thing Described To me.

For I Don’t Believe

They Are From This World or Any Other.

Demons Ripped From Another Dimension;

Nightmares Rendered Real.

Crazy I Know.

That Is Why I am Writing This,

Because Only On Paper

Can I UnLeash

This Torrent of Conflicting Emotion.

To Try To Make Some Sense of It,

To UnBurden my Mind,

Because Sex & Drink

Just Doesn’t Make It.

the First Time

I Was Drifting Through Some Southern Towns

& I Came Upon It,

In a Glass Case;

a Human Brain

With Filaments

Like Spiders’

Legs

& It Spoke To me,

In my Brain of Its Need to ImPregnate me.

I Escaped & Returned to Kill It

& Its Keeper.

Once Again

When I Was Working

As a Carny In a Run Down Town,

I Dealt Death to Another

In the Visage of An InSane Clown.

Nothing In the News Papers,

No Bounty On my Head;

I Know I Killed Them;

I Know Their Dead.

I Don’t Want to Go Back;

I Don’t Know If I Should.

Scared,

Edgy,

Shot Gun By the Bed;

Crazy,

MayBe;

I Can’t Get Them Out Of my Head.

I Can’t Stay I Have To Go.

Wait;

What Was That,

a Knock On the Door.

#B27321

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Juice
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Challenge of the Week #60: You have just discovered a new lifeform. Write a story of 200 words or more. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by B27321
New; Knew
I Don’t Know If Its New,
But I Do Know It Was New To me;
Nor Had I Ever Heard
Such a Thing Described To me.
For I Don’t Believe
They Are From This World or Any Other.
Demons Ripped From Another Dimension;
Nightmares Rendered Real.
Crazy I Know.
That Is Why I am Writing This,
Because Only On Paper
Can I UnLeash
This Torrent of Conflicting Emotion.
To Try To Make Some Sense of It,
To UnBurden my Mind,
Because Sex & Drink
Just Doesn’t Make It.
the First Time
I Was Drifting Through Some Southern Towns
& I Came Upon It,
In a Glass Case;
a Human Brain
With Filaments
Like Spiders’
Legs
& It Spoke To me,
In my Brain of Its Need to ImPregnate me.
I Escaped & Returned to Kill It
& Its Keeper.
Once Again
When I Was Working
As a Carny In a Run Down Town,
I Dealt Death to Another
In the Visage of An InSane Clown.
Nothing In the News Papers,
No Bounty On my Head;
I Know I Killed Them;
I Know Their Dead.
I Don’t Want to Go Back;
I Don’t Know If I Should.
Scared,
Edgy,
Shot Gun By the Bed;
Crazy,
MayBe;
I Can’t Get Them Out Of my Head.
I Can’t Stay I Have To Go.
Wait;
What Was That,
a Knock On the Door.
#B27321
#fantasy  #scifi  #horror  #poetry  #mystery 
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Juice
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