Monday, September 29, 2003

Today's Word: Pretend

Sometimes, when I'm watching football, and I see opposite team players talking on the field, I like to pretend they are saying nice things like, "Man, I love this game!" and "Evie says you should come over for dinner after the game since you're in town." I actively avoid reading their lips.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Today's Word: Ascribe

He took her by the shoulders and pushed her away, gently, but with firm pressure.
"What is it?" asked Pam, a look of honest worry drawing down the corners of her eyes and mouth.
"We haven't been intimate in three and a half months, and you come in kissing me like that? What the hell does that mean?"
"What, you're keeping score now?"
He dropped his hands to his sides and stared at her. "Men do that."
"Do men also ascribe intimacy to love, Darryl? Is that all that means anything to them?"
"No, Pam, that isn't all, but a marriage can't be devoid of it. And believe it or not, some women like sex. Some couples do it more than once a month."
"I have other things on my mind."
"Everything but us."
She smirked and said, "I'm the woman, I'm supposed to be saying these things."
"You're right, you should."

Friday, September 26, 2003

Today's Word: Toothsome

On the road to St. Petersburg Michel was stopped by a white light spilling from heaven. His horse, normally an even tempered beast, reared, throwing the young man from his saddle. It galloped away into a nearby orchard as the light filled Michel's world.

He raised and hand and uttered a cry as the light became too much to bear. Then it was gone, and the late summer evening was as before.

When Michel looked, a woman stood before him. She wore a white dress, skirted at the thigh, with a top that covered only her left breast. This toothsome vixen looked into Michel's eyes and smiled.

"Who are you? Are you a goddess?" asked the stunned man.

The woman laughed.

"No, honey. I'm Gladys Charella, from Atlanta. Isn't this Athens? Where's the Parthenon?"

"I don't understand you, goddess. What language do you speak?"

"That stupid travel agent," said Gladys. "She didn't even give me a reverse translator. And this sure isn't Greece." She fiddled with a strange bracelet on her wrist. "BF'ing Russia! That's the last time I use Tara's Temporal Tours. I knew I should have listened to my sister. She said, 'Gladys, go see Christ born, you'll have wonderful time,' but no, I had to see the orgies."

The strange goddess stamped her foot and tinkered with her bracelet again. The heavenly light returned for a moment, and just as suddenly, was gone.

Michel kneeled in the dirt to pray that God might reveal the meaning of this vision.

Twenty five years later, as Arch Bishop of Her Holiness the Blessed Madonna Church, Michel still kneeled at the alter everyday to pray for revelation about that long ago vision. For some reason, the meaning never came.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Today’s Word: Deus Ex Machina

Simon Kidd stared up from the bottom of the fifty foot pit. His arch nemesis, Clive Reginald, smiled down at him, and even lifted his wine glass in salute. Kidd might have saluted back (with one finger at least), but his hands and feet were bound by chains to the stone floor.

"It has been a wonderful chase, old chap," said Clive, "but I'm afraid the ride is over." He signaled, and foaming white water began gushing from four large vents set in the rock wall.

Kidd searched his surroundings for any tool he might use on the chains. Nothing. Reginald's bodyguards had taken his semi-automatic pistol, laser earring, sterling silver bracelet with mini electric hacksaw, and even his faux gold tooth with the diamond edged cutting surface. After all his many escapes, in every corner of the world, it looked like Kidd was finally going to come up short.

A tiny pop, like the sound of a very small firework, echoed from the roof. Reginald looked up just in time to receive a boot to the teeth. He reeled backwards and out of Kidd's view. A figure, dressed head to heel in black, landed in a squat at the pit's edge. A couple of Reginald's flunkies tried to accost (him?), but the figure dealt with them handily.

With the fluid movements of a skilled dancer, the black figure dove into the pit, which was now filled almost to Kidd's waist with water. The black figure broke the water's surface, and his head connected instantly with the stone floor, breaking his neck with an audible crack.

Kidd sighed. So much for Deus ex machina.
"I don't know what she sees in him," said Shondra.
"Girl, have you looked at that man? He's gorgeous," said Tina.
"It takes more than wind to sail a ship, honey. You should know that your own self."
"I heard that boy's got more money than Mr. Monopoly. He drives that yellow Corvette you seen parked out in the teacher's lot."
"We all teaching here," said Shondra, "how he got more money than us?"
"I don't know, but he got it."
"Well, I heard he got kicked out the last school 'cause he was making it with one of the seniors, but couldn't nobody prove it so they fired his ass."
"Girl, that just lip. That man is fine, and if she don't make the hook up, I'm gonna be all over that like cream on jello."
Shondra smacked her lips. "You take it, shorty. I done heard too much 'bout that brother."

Monday, September 22, 2003

Today’s Word: Autocrat

The Galactic Prime Minister loved nothing more than getting away from the tedium of her duties to lock herself in the kitchen and produce exotic cuisine of every variety. This led to her husband coining the phrase, "The autocrat's place is in the kitchen."

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Today’s Word: Expressive

The email read, ". . . and they lived happily ever after".
Anastasia stared at those words, her heart fluttering in her chest like pigeon wings. The subject line was blank, and the return address was a scramble of letters and numbers.

Gregory hadn't sent it. He wouldn't recognize those words, set in that pattern. He was at work, but he only called when he needed lunch brought out and he had never written her an email. No, this wasn't Greg. This was someone else, someone expressive; someone that knew life began after those words, not before them.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

TodayĆ¢€™s Word: Interrogation

Green light dug into Horner's guts like greedy fingers pressing into a ripe fruit. The old man gasped. A shot like this was the worse kind. It was standard technique for Empyrean interrogation. The laser caused horrible pain and deadly damage, but at the same time it cut through flesh, it cauterized the wounds. The internal damage would be sufficient to end a man's life, but it was a slow, painful road to death.

The six pence tumbled from Horner's hand, striking the stone floor with the age-old sound of dropped coins. They fell askew of where they had been when Linus retrieved their alter-selves. And for an instant Horner thought maybe something was changing; maybe this go round would be the last.

But then Linus, with the sleek gun still drawn, bent and lined the six pence up with his free hand. Horner squinted his eyes against the tears threatening to overflow onto his cheeks.

"Before I leave, tell me why you left the Ministry," said Linus. "You've obviously had extensive reconstructive surgery, you even had a brain flush. Can you remember what was so terrible that you'd relinquish the entire world?"

Horner kept his eyes closed, but said, "I ordered the Children's Massacre."

"That's a myth. It never happened. It was made up by Capitalist sympathizers and paid-off historians."

"I was there. I gave the order." Pain seized Horner's guts like a thousand strong hands ripping his insides apart. He gasped and shuddered.

"Then I won't give the order," said Linus, oblivious to Horner's pain.

"You will. It's the only way to retain power. You'll give the order and it will color your days and haunt your nights until you become mad. And even then you'll see the faces of all those children, unarmed, arms locked and voices raised, singing your destruction. You'll order them dead and in that moment you'll condemn yourself to become me."

Linus stood silent for a moment. Horner felt that any second he would raise the scream gun once again to lance his alter-self to death. But the younger man finally turned back to the time machine and triggered its hatch to open.

As the hatch closed to the sound of compressed air, Linus said, "Things will go differently this time."

"I hope so," said Horner.

There was no thunderous sound to accompany the time machine's departure. The stone room brightened for several seconds, whiting out the Sphere's overlay, then the darkness returned, and the room sounded empty.

Horner rose slowly, painstakingly to his feet. He wouldn't die here. No one in the Ministry, especially the computer nodes of the Sphere, would deem his body worth retrieving from the cave. Horner Jensen, once known as Linus Turring, First Minister of the Empyrean Empire, refused to lose his dignity with his life.

He stumbled out the way he'd come. When he neared the cave entrance, Horner turned off the Sphere overlay and strode out into the light of day. The sun was bright and warm, the air sweet.

"Next time," whispered Horner and then fell, dead among the blackberries.


Friday, September 19, 2003

Today’s Word: Farce

The cave wavered, orange and blue vision overlays smearing into a torrent of color. Both men staggered this time. Horner caught a tenuous hold on the cave wall just as the nausea returned ten fold. He bent and vomited on the floor, the hot liquid splattering on his shoes. In the corner of his eye he saw Linus fall flat, his back arching with every heave of his stomach. He too vomited into the dirt.

Vision returned as the Sphere-enhanced overlay righted itself, seeming to congeal into a clear picture.

"We're fast approaching the crux," said Linus, as he rose to his feet.

Horner was not so quick to recover. He leaned on the cold, moist stone, panting for breath. His knees were throbbing; threatening to seize up. Damn the Empyrean Ministry and their healthcare rules. They could cure his arthritis as easily as a child changing the battery in his favorite toy. But a lowly consulate linguist did not warrant that kind of expense. He could bear a bit of pain for the "good of the people", according to his doctor.

"You're making a huge mistake. Don't go this time. Don't repeat it," said Horner, once his breath had returned to him.

"Don't leave the Ministry this time. Then you won't find yourself an old man in a cold, dank cave, facing an insurmountable task."

Horner stood and drew six pence from his pants pocket. Neither man could see it through the Sphere's overlay, but they were shiny as if new. He had polished them every night for more than thirty-five years.

"You kept them," said Linus.

"As proof -- and as a reminder."

"I don't need proof. I believe you are me. You've just made a mistake; a mistake I don't intend to repeat."

"I'm sure I said the same thing when I was on your end of this farce."

"But you were wrong, which means you were weak. I am not weak."

Linus pulled the scream gun from his coat pocket and squeezed the trigger.

To be continued

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Today’s Word: Enamored

Linus bent and retrieved the six pence from the cave floor. He slipped them into his pocket.

"We're coming to a crux, you and I," said Linus.

"In more ways than even we realize, I'm certain."

Linus continued facing away from Horner. His arms hung loosely, but Horner could see that the right was very near his coat pocket.

"I'm going to get in that machine," said Linus.

"You mustn't."

"Why? What do you know that I don't?" Linus finally turned to face his alter-self.

"I know that you – that we are the first Empyrean Minister." The memory seemed to come with the words, the way happy feelings sometimes come with a smile; not before, not after, but with. "I never traveled back. I –"

" – lived on."

A wave of nausea took them both. Linus weathered the bout easily, only uttering a small grunt as his hand moved to his stomach. Horner doubled over and nearly vomited. He held his breath and swallowed as his own stomach cramped hard enough to make his eyes water.

When he could open his mouth again he said, "Time brought us here. We're chasing the same prey from opposite ends of a field. You see it springing towards you; I see it leaping away."

"We are Linus Turring. The Linus Turring. Can that be so bad?"

"What of the wars, the ethnic cleansing?" asked Horner.

"Necessary. Completely necessary for society's forward progression."

He was YOUTH. Horner could see that now. Linus was the product of a society so enamored with its own prowess it couldn't look upon itself with any true insight. His entire life he had been told he was the best, the brightest, and all those different from himself were worthless.

YOUTH was worse than brain flush. It was brain fix.

To be continued

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Today’s Word: Persona

Linus stared at Old Horner. For the briefest of moments, Horner thought his younger self might reach for the scream gun, but the moment passed, and Linus didn't move.

"You're my outcome," said Linus.


"What do you want?"

"I must stop you."

"I've been dreaming about this machine for twenty-seven years. Every moment of my adult life I've spent searching for it, knowing that one day time would bring me close enough to grasp it, and you want to stop me?"

"I must," said Horner. He didn't think he could stop Linus, not physically. But like his younger self, he refused to believe time had brought him here to no avail.

Linus turned towards the machine.

"How did you travel back to this time?"

"I don't know. I or someone else, flushed my memory about thirty-five years ago. I had a persona, a wife, kids. I didn't know anything was amiss until you were born. That's when the flashes began. The –"


"Yes, the dreams."

To be continued

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Today’s Word: Momentous

The cave opened into an oblong space not much wider than the tunnel spilling into it. Uneven rock sloped toward the center, seeming to urge old Horner on, but he stopped at the entrance to this natural room. He might have crouched, but his knees would have never borne the torment and he had no doubt both his alter-self and Mance were using night vision overlays like his own.

The two younger men stood in the center of the space, circling slowly around an oval-shaped structure that seemed too black in Horner's enhanced vision. He recognized it at once. The time machine that had pervaded his dreams for decades.

Young Horner stopped moving and bent to inspect a patch of raw earth where lay six pence lined up on the floor. They looked like tiny black moons aligned on some momentous day of signs and wonders.

"Just as I said, eh, Linus?"

Linus, that was his name. That was Horner's first name, the name before the flush. Linus Turring – same as the first Empyrean Minister. Of course there was nothing special about that. Millions of young men were named after the First Minister. Some families had even changed their surnames to Turring during the First Reign. Horner was half convinced that was the case for his own family.

"I just transferred the funds to your account," said Linus. "You may leave me."

"And miss what happens next? I want to see you use this here thing."

Linus stood. He was a tall man, not muscular, but slim and lithe. Horner couldn't see the expression on his younger self's face, but he recognized the body, the movement of that body.

Linus drew a scream gun from a pocket in his short coat. He gave Mance no warning; no parting words. He simply pulled the trigger, sending a cone of emerald green light across the cave. Mance took the brunt of the laser fire in the chest. He uttered a harsh cry, staggered back, and fell, boneless, to the earth.

Linus pocketed the gun and turned back to the time machine.

"Do you know how to open the hatch?" asked Horner.

Linus did not start, but turned slowly to face his alter-self.

"I know, but how is that? Can a man remember forward?" he asked, his voice level as a blanket of snow on a field.

Horner took three steps towards the center of the room to stand before his young self.

"I'm finding that a man can remember in many different directions."

To be continued

Monday, September 15, 2003

Today’s Word: Spelunking

Horner stood in the cave entrance for several seconds, querying the Sphere for an optical vision overlay. Of course the semi-sentient nodes, of which there were several million between Horner's brain and the Sphere core, had to check his complete background, analyze his current position and situation, and gage the seriousness of his query before there was any response. There wasn't much to find. Since his brain flush over thirty-five years ago, Horner had been working as a foreign language scribe in the New Chicago consulate. He had, at some point before the flush, shunted Arabic, German, French, and Hebrew, none of which were affected by the flushing process. Some people couldn't learn a language through shunt, but others, like Horner, seemed to have a brain designed for synapse remapping.

The cave flickered twice, then revealed itself in clear shades of orange. The nodes had found nothing in either Horner's past or present to deny him four hours of spelunking. A small display in the far periphery of his vision counted down the time.

There was no delay in Horner's night vision, though he knew that the input from his eyes was being directly inputted to the Sphere, digitally enhanced to provide night vision, and then shunted directly into Horner's brain. It seemed like there should be a delay, but there wasn't. Perhaps not everything about the Empyrean Ministry was bad.

He picked his way carefully, aware that if he should fall and break an ankle or hip, he might well starve to death before the nodes found reason to send help. Everything was about superior use of resources in the Empyrean Ministry. And saving an old fart from his own stupidity did not fall into that category.

The cave narrowed, widened, and then forked left and center. Horner, relying on the insistent tug of time with its aggravating bursts of insight and depressing doldrums of nothingness, followed the center course. He moved quietly for a man of his age; a man who had spent too many years warming a cushioned chair before a computer. The only sound louder than his soft foot strikes, was the sound of an old man wheezing through lungs more accustomed to the rarified air of office buildings and courthouses than dank underground tunnels. Maybe if things went wrong this time, he could remember to work out in the next go round.

To be continued

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Today’s Word: Faux

Mance and Horner's alter-self entered a copse of trees in the center of the park. No trace of this area remained in old Horner's mind – time's folds of memory were like analog waves, reaching him only at peaks and valleys, with gaps in between. He had to go on faith – time was leaving him blind.

He rushed through the tangle of vines, leaves and thick branches, chasing the younger men like a beat cop, pre-Empyrean style. But within the space of several minutes the younger men were far ahead, and Horner lost sight of them.

He wouldn't turn back, even if he never found them. He'd die in this faux forest in the middle of New Chicago if that's what it took. Either way, he would have another chance, and another; as many as it took to end this.

A thicket of blackberry bushes darkened a rocky outcropping just ahead. Almost by rote, as if he'd repeated this action a thousand times before, Horner's feet took him to that spot. Ignoring the thorns, he brushed a great swath of briars from the rock face, revealing a cave opening.

"Time be not a fool, my young seed," said Horner.

He entered the cave.

To be continued

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Today’s Word: Marionette

Horner hid behind a tree as his much younger twin and Mance stood conversing on the field of green. Joggers passed by, pounding out their mandatory three miles a day, while couples on soft-colored spreads shared low fat cream cheese and fruit. None of them knew their lives were being doomed to the Empyrean's rule once again (perhaps for the second time, perhaps the billionth). And none, it would seem, could feel the near-overwhelming waves of nausea clawing at Horner's insides. He felt like a marionette whose strings were being pulled sharply back, as if to pull him away from something.
"Time won't be fooled," said Horner, in a low voice.
His alter-self and Mance started away, and Horner followed.

To be Continued

Friday, September 05, 2003

Today’s Word: Spark

Horner rejoined the river of men and women, pushing himself not only to find Mance, but to stay ahead of the impatient Gen-Alphas. The effort paid off. He spotted Mance crossing the block towards the city park, seeming to be in no hurry to make his appointment, thank God.
Horner entered the park gates about forty-five seconds after his target. He spotted Mance crossing the wooden bridge over the duck pond, shambling slowly in the general direction of the wide, green meadow known as Prisen field.
Some flash of memory, so rare after a complete neural flush years and years ago, sparked in Horner's old mind. It was here; here that his divergent twin had met, will meet, Mance – on the green.

To be Continued

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Today’s Word: Bawdy

Horner took the corner and found himself in a river of teeming humanity. He moved with the crowd, fearing to stop, fearing to be pushed over and trampled by gray-suited women wearing winter colors, or bawdy teenagers slickvests and sporting spiked haircuts to better expose their cerebral-shunts and auditory stims. He edged into the lee of an old fashioned stoop, and attempted to look over the heads of the crowd, but it was a fruitless effort. Most of these were Gen-Alphas: pride of the Empyrean Ministry. Their lithe frames were far too tall for a pre-Alpha to look over. Horner looked back the way he came, but didn't see Mance. He was losing time; he was losing Mance. Quickly, he reentered the throng, pushing his tired old legs to keep pace with the young, the strong, the impatient.
Horner blinked, querying the Sphere for a downtown map and the current time. 1353. His self was literally moments away in time and probably only blocks in distance. He'd waited over forty years for this day. He wouldn't let it slip through his fingers again.

To be Continued

Monday, September 01, 2003

Today’s Word: Bedraggled

Horner leaned on the wall next to the phone. Freddie's, the city's most popular open-air bar and grill, was busy this afternoon. Waitresses and busboys scampered about, clearing away dirty silverware and wheeling in tray-carts full of steaks, hotdogs, and onion rings. It was hard to hear the man speaking on the phone over all that racket, especially with the People's Voice and Eye shunted directly into Horner's auditory nerves, but the lives of millions depended on this conversation, he had to hear.
"Yeah, it was just like you said, nothing but six pence and a time machine," said the man on the phone. He was a large man, unshaven, and wearing a bedraggled brown sport coat that ended at his beltline.
Horner leaned on his cane and inched closer, willing the voices broadcast into his skull to shut-up if only for an instant.
"Nah, I didn't touch nothing," said the man. "Looked like mine were the first footprints ever made in the place. I'll show ya to it, but it'll cost. Two million marks. Nuh-uh. Either you pay in marks -- two million, no less -- or in Droos. I'd say at least twenty pounds, I haven't checked the street value lately. Fine. Two thirty tomorrow."
The man, whom Horner knew to be a low-life private investigator, sometimes bounty hunter, sometimes cat burglar, was named Vincent Mance. Mance hung up the phone and turned to leave. Horner shuffled along behind, mixing with the crowd as they turned onto a busy street, just in case Mance got suspicious, though Horner doubted he'd ever suspect a gimpy sixty-seven year old in shabby corduroy as a tail.
Mance made a right off the main sidewalks into a narrow alley that connected Tenbourough with Maxlie street. Ancient, flaking posters of the Empyrean Minister lined the damp bricks, and sagging clotheslines hung between the buildings like loose rigging on giant sail craft. Mance was the only man in the alley. Horner stood at the entrance, watching his quarry walk steadily away. He couldn't lose him like this. He couldn't let humanity suffer the purge yet again.
Horner stepped into the shadows, his heel-strike echoing off moist brick and dusty glass. The sound of it was like a nuclear blast in his ears, and for a foul, stinking moment he thought Mance might turn around and see him. But the other man never missed a stride. He reached the opposite end of the alleyway by the time Horner was only halfway through, leaving the elderly man to trot after him as best he could with his arthritic knees.

To Be Continued