From Machine to Man

max

“Sir? You need to wake up now, sir.” The white, uniformed human shook Max’s shoulder. He focused and tried to make sense of what he was seeing. A woman stood over him and peered intently into his face. Max turned away. He did not feel well. Not well at all. And wasn’t that rather odd?

He closed his eyes and tried to remember. What happened? Ah, yes, Ingot thugs, mercenaries who preyed upon unwary merchants burst aboard ship and caught him just as he was transferring his data to another guard. An unlucky moment. Surely, it had been planned. But who could have known? Abanaber? He was new and seemed eager enough, but then, he disappeared once the fighting started.

Max sighed. He remembered facing the lead Ingot, a thin, sharp little being. He didn’t want to have to kill him, so he raised one hand and offered—nothing. He looked down and his leg was gone. No pain. No horror. Just falling, sliding to the floor, and the Ingot standing over him, chuckling.

He blinked open his eyes.

The nurse was still there, still peering. Her brown eyes were crinkled at the edges. She was pretty, neat with short, stylishly cut hair, over fifty, and worried. Very worried.

“Sir? I need you to sit up so I can make a proper assessment. Can you do that?”

Keeping his face as neutral as possible, Max raised his upper body, expecting to list to the right since one leg was gone. But he didn’t. He scowled at the end of the bed and the outlined forms of two legs lay there in front of him. He carefully lifted the sheet that covered his lower half. Yep. Two legs. He peered up at the nurse, one eyebrow raised.

She beamed. “Yes, we managed to save it. You were nearly dead when they brought you in. Honestly, I never saw—but never mind. You pulled through, that’s all that matters, right? Now, I just need to take your vitals. You can lean back against these pillows—”

She pummeled a couple of pillows into submission and then, with a gentle shove; she pushed him back, still beaming. “There now. Feel better?”

Max opened his mouth but closed it promptly. What could he say? Did he feel better? He did not feel well. But was that better than how he had felt? How had he felt? Blinking, he realized that his head ached. He touched his head and tapped around. It did not feel like his head. It was bumpy and hard with no hair. His eyes widened as his gaze darted to the nurse’s face.

She stared at an instrument panel; worry crinkles around her eyes again. “Yes, your—skull—was damaged but we were able to replace the missing part.” She glanced at him and patted his arm, a confident smile replacing the worry. “And your brain is completely intact.”

Max shook his head. “I thought my leg was blown off. I had no idea—”

The nurse tapped a console and raised her finger for momentary silence.

Max waited.

She tapped the last time and turned to face him, offering her complete attention. “No, your leg was damaged, but it was your head that received the worst of the blast. You can thank Captain Kimberling that he got you here in time, or we may not have been able to save you. Your friend, Mr. Abanaber, has asked about you every day—for weeks.”

Max bolted straight up. “Weeks? How long have I been unconscious?”

The nurse glanced at the console. “Exactly three Lunar cycles. I honestly didn’t expect you to do anything this different this morning. I’m so glad you woke up. Doctor Mangham will be here momentarily.” The nurse adjusted a tray near the table with studious concentration. “She wrote up a review about you for a prominent scientific journal. You’re the first android she ever worked on. And such an—”

Max shook his head. “But my leg was blown off. The Captain was taken and Abanaber was nowhere to be found—”

The nurse titled her head and smiled indulgently. “You were just dreaming. A nightmare, I’m sure. After all, it was a serious explosion. Stupid accident. Someone didn’t pack their materials properly, and then you came too close with your magnetic—”

Max almost rose from the bed, but a sharp pain to the head forced him to freeze. Holding his head in his hands, he moaned. “I can’t dream. I’m an android; I—”

The nurse chuckled. “Well, maybe you were an android once. Not anymore. At least not completely. I saw the pictures. The doctors were amazed. They wanted to do further studies, but of course, they needed your consent. It was Kelly who saved your life, really. She was the assistant on the scene. When the emergency team realized you were an android, they were going to turn you off in order to make the necessary repairs, but Kelly insisted that they check your brain functions first.”

The nurse leaned in and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Your android brain is overgrown with the human neurons they placed in you at creation. If they had turned you off, they would’ve never have been able to turn you on again.” She straightened up and adjusted the sheet. “You’re a lucky man, Max Wheeler. Most humans add mechanical parts and turn into machines. You, on the other hand, have changed from a machine into a man. A miracle, if I may say so.”

She turned to leave. “The doctor will be in shortly. Get some rest. You’ve awoken into a whole new life.”

Max watched her leave and lay back on his pillows. He blinked and felt an odd ache behind his eyes. Apparently being human involved some level of pain and discomfort. But then—he considered the possibilities—human?

He smiled as a tear traced its journey down his cheek.

This Devil Doesn’t Lie

man_baby

Clare flopped down on her bed with her arms spread wide and her legs dangling over the edge. A black cat jumped forward and curled up on the pillow, nearly blanketing Clare’s face. With a nudge, Clare pushed the shorthaired feline aside. “Hey, you, pillow-stealer!”

The cat blinked, yawned expansively, and then laid its head back on the pillow.

After slapping the light panel off, Clare nudged the cat to the side and wiggled contentedly under a thick blanket. “Ah, nothing like a well-deserved rest after a long, hard day’s work.” She closed her eyes, murmuring, “Nothing you’d know anything about.”

Only a faint moonlight shone through the window, illuminating the sharp edges of her dresser and a couple wall pictures. With the pleasant sensation of drifting into dreamland, Clare’s lips curled into a contented smile.

“Clare.”

Clare sat bolt upright. She knew she had heard a sound, her name, but who— She blinked and swallowed, her mouth half open. Peering over the sleeping cat, she braced herself. Nothing. She frowned. Her eyes scoured the darkened room as she tensed for the slightest noise. Silence. With a shake, she gripped the blanket and pulled it tight around her shoulders and lay back down.

It took a little time to release the tension in her body, but soon her muscles relaxed, and she felt a comforting drowsiness claiming her.

“Clare, I must speak with you.”

Shooting like a star across the room, Clare was in her robe and slippers before the cat could slip out the door. She swiped her Dustbuster off the dresser and held it firmly with both hands, aiming at the door. “Who are you?”

A long, weary sigh floated like a ghostly scent through the room.

Clare twirled like a ballet dancer, nearly falling off balance. “What the hell?”

“You’ve forgotten me? I’m affronted. Saddened, actually. I thought seeing me in person would forever sear me into your memory.”

Clare lowered the weapon as her formerly pink face blanched of all color. She slapped at the light panel, illuminating the room. “Damn you!”

“I certainly hope not. Unkind, Clare, very unkind!”

“Show yourself!”

Omega appeared in the center of the room. He stood, dressed like an ordinary Newearth human in loose fitting, black pants, a light blue sweater, and brown loafers. He lifted his arms and twirled like a model on a showcase runway. “Like it? The very epitome of ordinary. I’m trying to blend in, you see.”

Clare raised the Dustbuster again. “Why are you here?”

Omega snapped his fingers and the Dustbuster instantly rematerialized as a stuffed animal—a pink and purple giraffe. “Please, stop playing ridiculous games. I have very little time, and I have a score to settle with you.”

Clare stared at the stuffed animal, her eyes widening. She threw it against the wall and glared at Omega. “A score with me? I should be the one—”

“Yes, of course! You made it quite clear in the courtroom, before my nearest and dearest, what you thought of me. A devil you called me. You have no idea, Clare, really, no idea at all.”

Pressing her hands together, as if to hold them back from spontaneous combustion, Clare shook her head. “You play with us like toys.” She glanced at the stuffed animal that now lay forlornly in the corner.

Omega huffed. “Because you don’t understand, you lie about me. How human! I simply won’t stand for it any longer. Why do you hate me? Or rather, why do you think you hate me?”

Clare’s breathing rose and fell in shuddering gasps. “You—killed—my—parents! And then you wanted to analyze my suffering—”

“Lies, lies and more lies. I did nothing of the sort. On the contrary, I saved your life. Your parents died of poisoned stew, true, but to be quite honest, I don’t know who poisoned them. But I did realize that someone intended to wipe out your whole family, so I went out of my way to make certain that you were safe. I watched over you like a devoted father hen.” Omega paused, one eyebrow rising.”I’m not sure that works.” He shrugged. “Anyway, when I asked you questions, it was to get to the bottom of the mystery—to protect you.”

Clare stood rooted to the floor. A flush spread over her cheeks. “It can’t be. You never cared.”

“I always cared.”

“No!”

Omega stamped his foot. “I don’t have time for this! I have to leave soon, and I have a request to make.”

Clare stared stone still and silent.

Omega stepped closer, his gaze boring into Clare’s. “Watch over Justine and the child. That silly idiot named her Aurora. How cliché. Like some Disney film. Oh well, I didn’t endow Max with the creative talent I offered Justine—poor fellow. In any case, I’ll soon be—how shall I say—indisposed for a time.”

Clare stepped forward. “But there’s trouble coming, something called Cosmos is on the loose—”

“Yes, I’ve heard. Unpleasant, but then biological life is always perilous. Ask the Bhuaci, they know.”

“But I can’t protect Justine or anyone, not against Cosmos.”

Omega laughed. “By the Divide! I never expected that. I want you to protect them from each other.”

“What?”

Omega looked up as if listening to an unseen alarm. “Time’s up. I must be going. Remember what I said. I saved you once, now save my family. After all, it’s only fair.”

In a blink of blinding light, Omega disappeared.

Clare found herself standing in the middle of a silent room. The cat meandered back onto the pillow and settled in for a contented slumber. Clare stumbled over to the edge of the bed. Her gaze slid to the multi-colored giraffe in the corner. She stood and snatched it off the floor. Tossing it on the bed, it landing peacefully next to the cat.  Clare shrugged. “Go ahead; you two sleep. I surely never will.”

Save Our People From Despair

faye

Despair is an ugly thing. When my mother sent me away after the invasion—little did she dream of what she exiled me to—hopeless dread and futile guilt. With her hands, she pushed me away, yet with her heart, she clung to me.

“Come back when you can; save us if you can. But at least one Bhuac must survive. And it must be you!”

I did as she demanded. I took the transport on docking bay one-one-four and headed out into the universe and away from certain Bhuaci destruction. I was protected only by a gruff, Ingot merchant named Buford, who needed someone to blame when things went wrong, which, with his clumsy skills, they often did. I accepted every menial job: collating orders, checking the ship’s inventory, noticing when things went missing, and even tracking down a guilty thief once. I was a Bhuac of all-work-and-no-play and served in every role imaginable, servant, advisor, director, detective, even guard on occasion. Being a shape-shifter, I could cover my quaking insecurities with hulking forms and menacing fangs.

But I never played the part I longed to return to—Faye, a gentle, beloved daughter. Even as a friend I would have felt some satisfaction. But Buford was not interested in friends. He was interested in units, the more the better. Profit was his closest kin.

Then one day we headed toward a planet I had never been to, a rising star on the horizon, called Newearth. Buford told me its colorful history, the demise of Oldearth, the Luxonians’ protection, the Cresta invasion, the Inter-Alien Alliance Commission. Something in me stirred for the first time in uncounted cycles. I longed to visit this new horizon, but Buford changed his mind, and we veered toward the Divide and a greater profit margin.

I waited.

Then a new opportunity struck. A traveler boarded, a hidden figure who merely said that he was heading to Newearth. His name was Gabriel. He appeared human, as I did on most occasions, but I sensed he was Bhuaci, like me. Knowing our own planet’s desolation and our sister planet’s demise, I could understand his desire for secrecy.

Gabriel paid Buford well to take him to Newearth. My imagination stirred, dead hopes rekindled, but I could not break free of my employer. How could I? I had no one to turn to, nowhere to go.

As we approached Newearth, Gabriel tossed a satchel he always carried over his shoulder and offered Buford his final payment. Buford held out his data-pad, tapping his foot. He had contacted a Cresta merchant who was to meet him on the other side of the planet. I stood by, watching, an unnamed grief wringing my soul. Then Gabriel surprised us both.

“Here, that should cover all costs.”

Buford glanced at the data-pad ready to pass it to me when his eyes widened, and he pulled it close and read it again. “What’s this? Trying to play some kind of game?”

Gabriel’s brows furrowed. “I never play games.”

“But it’s too much, by half or more. We agreed on twenty-five and this here’s near fifty. You’re Interventionist, aren’t you? Trying to catch me out! Well, it can’t be done, I’m an honest—”

Gabriel waved Buford’s concerns away. “Nothing of the sort. It’s just that I plan on taking your hired help with me. She’ll be quite useful on Newearth, and you’ll find another—”

“Not one as good! By the Divide, I’m not letting her go. She’s going with me to—”

Gabriel faced me and bid me come closer. I was in my favorite fairy-like form, lithe with large, almond eyes and shining, golden hair. I stepped nearer, hardly daring to breathe. Gabriel smiled down at me and clasped my hand. “You’re one of our own. So few of us left.” He turned to Buford. “If you don’t release her, I’ll charge you with enslaving a Bhuaci against her will. I happen to know someone on the Inter-Alien Alliance Com—”

“Take her, then! Good riddance. I only hired her for pity’s sake. She’s so timid and all. You’ll find that out.” He looked slyly out of the corner of his eyes. “And when you tire of her, send her back. I’m too soft, I know, but I’d hate to see her come to ruin on some dirty street.”

With a nod, Gabriel led me toward the debarkation tube. I had nothing to carry with me, so I accepted his direction and started away. I only looked back once. Buford had turned away.

When we arrived on the Newearth Main Street, I was overwhelmed by the bright, bustling energy all around. This was like no planet I had ever seen before. I thought my heart would burst with excitement. Gabriel continued to hold my hand as we scurried across the street and up to a tall building with large, gleaming windows.

I stared up at the brilliant structure set against the blazing, blue sky. “Where are we going?”

“Home. Temporary of course, but it will do until you become accustomed to your new role.”

My gaze dropped from the building to Gabriel’s face. “My role?”

Gabriel bent down at my side. “The one your mother assigned you—savior of Bhuaci.” As the sun beat down upon his golden head, a light shone in my eyes. I could barely see him, but I never forgot his words. “I’m your mother’s friend and your friend too. Your family sent me. I’ve been searching all these years. Now, finally, you will save our people from despair.”

My eyes filled with tears. So, I had a friend, a home, and a mission too. But who would save me from despair?

Hope’s Embrace: A Bhuaci Poem

bhuachiwomanpoem

Sisters—linking arms amid the crashing seas-breeze waves—laughing as we fell,

For we knew no fear in our homeland—there we did happily dwell.

Hope ever sprouted,

Love never doubted.

When invaders destroyed our youth and ships to far stars were sent,

Still, our hearts beat true to love—to our faith’s content.

You on board, shivering and afraid,

Me, left behind to protect the home world, there I stayed.

Long years passed and messages did tell of new homes fair,

I wish I’d been with you and every adventure shared.

But my content was in knowing you were free,

For enduring great danger here, never safe were we.

Strange silence then ensued and fearful the cause we pursued.

No words can describe the loss—an entire planet laid waste.

Only dead rocks floating in space—a home—myriad dreams erased.

So sister now, only memory serves to fill the aching void,

Where once we played and with our lives enjoyed.

But somber truth teaches—even in heavy loss we endure,

To strengthen that which is beyond any mortal cure.

My daughter now I send—to far distant stars to seek,

Our salvation in a future none yet can hope to speak.

My child, cling fast to the dream that held us in its sway,

The joys and laughter that brighten youth’s holy, every-day.

For there is no salvation found apart from the dreams that dwell,

Safely in the hearts of those who know how to love so well.

 

A Child’s Eyes

aurora

Someday, Mother, you will want to know, so I’m recording this for you. My first thought upon entering the world was not logical or reasonable; rather it was purely emotional. I cried.

Omega created me at the earliest possible stage when my human egg was joined with Luxonian sperm, and though the process was unique and risky, I developed into an embryo and was placed into an artificial womb. I knew nothing of this, of course, as my brain was not developed until later. But I existed, and I became Omega’s obsession for the twenty-one cycles it took for me to gestate.

Upon birth, I was helpless and frightened. I remember little of this either, but Omega later told me that I kept fading out, a sure sign of Luxonian demise so that he feared for my life until I grew more developed. My caretakers were two beings I have never encountered in any other place, so I can’t give you their true identities, other than to say that they were able to take human form and understood Luxonian physiology perfectly. Their names were Nana and Papa. They were kind and nurturing and offered me a wonderful life full of adventure and trust.

I lived in a human village that Omega referred to as his ‘Advanced Zoo.’ There were a variety of beings living there, but it was stylized like a medieval, human village. Omega once explained that it had once been home only to humans, but in order to determine humanity’s readiness for other species encounters, he had introduced other beings into the village over a matter of ages.

I was naturally curious so I asked many questions, but he rarely gave me the answers I sought. Rather, he simply pointed to a large graveyard on a distant hillside and said that there is no great gain without some loss.

In many ways, I developed like any child on Newearth. I was given proper food, suitable clothing, an intensive education, and loving parents. But I have always wondered, is that enough? Omega told me that he created me for a specific purpose, and when I was brought to you, he explained that you would be my true mother. Though I was very young, still a child biologically, I questioned the wisdom of my creator.

But the other day, I met your friend, the Luxonian named Cerulean, and I asked him if Omega had the right to create me as he did. Cerulean knelt at my side, took my hands in his and delved deep into my eyes. “We create the body, but God creates the soul. It is up to you to decide what to do with both.”

I know, Mother, that you were created as a grown woman, named Justine, and sent into a world adrift in turmoil. You did not have the childhood I did. You did not encounter the love I did. But, in the end, your reality is much the same as mine. You decide what to do with your body and soul.

I just thought you’d like to know.

Your daughter,

Aurora

Updated Story Schedule for 2017

storybooksI am adding a few new stories to my 2017 list. Rather than a continuous stream of science fiction, I am also writing literary fiction short stories that focus on present day “real-world” characters.  Enjoy!

Science fiction stories are in red. Literary fiction stories are in blue.

February 24

A Child’s Eyes

March 3

The Key

March 10

Hope’s Embrace: A Bhuaci Poem

March 17

To Make a Difference

March 24

Save Our People from Despair

March 31

Every Word

April 7

This Devil Doesn’t Lie

April 14

Lilliputians

April 21

From Machine to Man

April 28

Translator

May 5

Off-World Faith

May 12

Native Elements

May 19

Romantic Reality

May 26th

Persian

June 2

Dangerous as They Come

June 9th

Melchior (Chapter One)

June 16

Never Forget

Omega’s Creation

justinefaceprofile“Your name is Justice.” Omega stroked his chin, his lips twitching in uncertainty. “Hmmm…not quite. Too Pilgrim’s Progress for my taste. Let’s see. Honesty? Truth? Oh, help; I might as well be naming an Oldearth compendium on the virtues of… virtue. How dreary!”

The figure of a young woman with long, black hair, dressed in a form-fitting, dark blue, bodysuit lay on a table, her hands clasped over her chest like the remains of a dearly departed. Omega clapped his hands in frustration. “The joys of creation! Even God Himself left the naming to his creatures.” Omega snapped his fingers, a light in his eyes. “She’ll tell me.”

Running his hand over the woman’s head, he closed his eyes in concentration.

The woman stirred. Her blue eyes blinked open.

Omega stepped back, one hand over his mouth as if to stifle a laugh—or a scream.

The woman turned her head, her gaze running over the figure before her. A frown formed between her brows. “Who—?”

Omega stepped forward, his hand extended for assistance. “Here, let me help you.” With a gentle touch, he pulled the woman to a sitting position. Bowing in a courtly manner, he smiled. “My name is Omega. At least that’s what my father calls me. But since you are my original creation, I suppose you must call me—creator.”

“Creator?” The woman shifted slightly as her gaze scoured the silent, still laboratory. “Why am I here?”

Omega’s eyes followed hers, and he frowned. “Yes, well, my laboratory isn’t much yet, I’ll admit. But this is not your destination. I’ve arranged for a transport to take you beyond the Divide where you’ll find…employment.”

The woman threw her legs over the table and clenched the edge. “I am a—”

Omega shook his head. “Not sure yet. To be honest, Father warned me about this. I have a tendency to rush in where fools fear to tread.” With a sigh, Omega took the woman’s hand and helped her off the table. “But don’t be afraid. You have the strength of twenty humans, the data banks of six species, and enough moral code to ensure your survival.”

“You will direct me?”

Omega shook his head, his gaze lowered. “No. That would ruin everything. If I’m to learn anything, you must discover yourself. But—” He looked up and grinned. “I’m working on another one like you, a male this time. He’s been a challenge, but he’ll come out all right in the end, I dare say.” Omega led the woman to a doorway, still clasping her hand. “Strange, I hate to let you go, though I know I must.”

The woman stopped on the threshold. “Who am I?”

Omega rubbed his brow. “You are what humans fear most. I was going to name you Justice but that rankled my sensibilities.” He led her across the threshold and down a long corridor. Other beings, Crestas, Ingots, and two Uanyi passed without comment. When they came upon a large tunnel, Omega led her to an open-sided vehicle and stood by as she perched on the edge of a seat. “It’s a short ride to the central station. Busy place, but I enjoy the bustle of activity.” Various beings entered the open vehicle. A Cresta lumbered over and gripped a central pole with his long tentacles while two, slim, Uanyis with their soft, rubbery exoskeletons slumped on a seat together, chatting in their own language.

The woman stared at her hands and then at the others. Omega watched her and sighed. When the vehicle stopped outside a docking bay, Omega nudged her forward. A huge window separated them from the stationary ships, docked for repairs or loading for their next foray into space. The woman stared at the masses of beings hustling all around her. “I see Ingots, Crestas, Uanyi, and Bhuacs—but none like me.”

“No, you are part android and part human. Humanity is not ready for you—yet. It’s your privilege to discover the larger universe before being introduced to your other half. I’ll be delighted to see what you make of yourself.” He pointed to the largest ship. “You will travel on that one, The Mercantile. A trader in need of protection has hired you.” Omega gripped her hand and gazed into her eyes. “There will be trouble ahead; war brews in the hearts of these beings. But I’m sure you will manage.” Omega peered deeper into Justine’s steady gaze. He smiled with a relieved chuckle. “Yes, you’ll do fine. There’s something ethereal about you.” Caressing her cheek, he mused. “Justine… Santana…holy justice. That’ll be your name. Whether you live up to it or not—will be up to you.”

A blaring noise swept across the loading dock. Omega took Justine’s hand and led her forward. “Time to meet your future.”

As Omega stood back, Justine ascended the boarding tube. She looked back once, clear-eyed and confident before she disappeared into the interior.

Omega waved. “I’ll be watching you.”