Monday, November 21, 2016

Snake Eyes

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Image from Pixabay, public domain.

Snake Eyes by Tom Maddox
Published: 1996

This work is released under a Creative Commons License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/1.0/

Dark meat in the can—brown, oily, and flecked with mucus—gave off a repellent, fishy smell, and the taste of it rose in his throat, putrid and bitter, like something from a dead man’s stomach. George Jordan sat on the kitchen floor and vomited, then pushed himself away from the shining pool, which looked very much like what remained in the can.

He thought, No, this won’t do: I have wires in my head, and they make me eat cat food. The snake likes cat food

He needed help but know there was little point in calling the Air Force. He’d tried them, and there was no way they were going to admit responsibility for the monster in his head. What George called the snake, the Air Force called Effective Human Interface Technology and didn’t want to hear about any postdischarge problems with it. They had their own problems with congressional committees investigating “the conduct of the war in Thailand.”

He lay for a while with his cheek on the cold linoleum, got up and rinsed his mouth in the sink, then stuck his head under the faucet and ran cold water over it, thinking, Call the goddamned multicomp, then call SenTrax and say, “Is it true you can do something about this incubus that wants to take possession of my soul?” And if they ask you, “What’s your problem?” you say “cat food,” and maybe they’ll say, “Hell, it just wants to take possession of your lunch”

A chair covered in brown corduroy stood in the middle of the barren living room, a white telephone on the floor beside it, a television flat against the opposite wall—that was the whole thing, what might have been home, if it weren’t for the snake.

He picked up the phone, called up the directory on its screen, and keyed TELECOM SENTRAX.

The Orlando Holiday Inn stood next to the airport terminal, where tourists flowed in eager for the delights of Disney World. But for me, George thought, there are no cute, smiling ducks and rodents. Here as everywhere, it’s Snake city

From the window of his motel room, he watched gray sheets of rain cascade across the pavement. He had been waiting two days for a launch. At Canaveral a shuttle sat on its pad, and when the weather cleared, a helicopter would pick him up and drop him there, a package for delivery to SenTrax, Inc., at Athena Station, over thirty thousand kilometers above the equator

Behind him, under the laser light of a Blaupunkt holostage, people a foot high chattered about the war in Thailand and how lucky the United States had been to escape another Vietnam.

Lucky? Maybe … he had been wired up and ready for combat training, already accustomed to the form-fitting contours in the rear couch of the black, tiber-bodied General Dynamics A-230. The A-230 flew on the deadly edge of instability, every control surface monitored by its own bank of micro-computers, all hooked into the snakebrain flight-and-tire assistant with the twin black miloprene cables running from either side of his esophagus—getting off, oh yes, when the cables snapped home, and the airframe resonated through his nerves, his body singing with that identity, that power.

Then Congress pulled the plug on the war, the Air Force pulled the plug on George, and when his discharge came, there he was, left with technological blue balls and this hardware in his head that had since taken on a life of its own.

Lightning walked across the purpled sky, ripping it, crazing it into a giant, upturned bowl of shattered glass. Another foot-high man on the hostage said the tropical storm would pass in the next two hours.

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Hamilton Innis was tall and heavy—six four and about two hundred and fifty pounds. Wearing a powder-blue jump-suit with SENTRY in red letters down its left breast, and soft black slippers, he floated in a brightly lit white corridor, held gingerly to a wall by one of the jumpsuit’s Velcro patches. A view-screen above the airlock entry showed the shuttle fitting its nose into the docking tube. He waited for it to mate to the airlock hatches and send in the newest candidate.

This one was six months out of the service and slowly losing what the Air Force doctors had made of his mind. Former tech sergeant George Jordan—two years’ community college in Oakland, California, followed by enlistment in the Air Force, aircrew training, the WHIT program. According to the profile Aleph had put together from Air Force records and the National Data Bank, a man with slightly above-average aptitudes and intelligence, a distinctly above-average taste for the bizarre—thus his volunteering for WHIT and combat. In his file pictures, he looked nondescript—five ten, a hundred and seventy-six pounds, brown hair and eyes, neither handsome nor ugly. But it was an old picture and could not show the snake and the fear that came with it. You don’f know it, buddy, Innis thought, but you sin’t seen nothing yet.

The man came tumbling through the hatch, more or less helpless in free fall, but Innis could see him figuring it out, willing the muscles to quit struggling, quit trying to cope with a gravity that simply wans’t there. “What the hell do I do now?” George Jordan asked, hanging in midair, one arm holding on to the hatch coaming.

“Relax. I’ll get you.” Innis pushed off and swooped across, grabbing the man as he passed, taking them both to the opposite wall and kicking to carom them outward.

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[Read More…]

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Adventure In Time

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Public Domain photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay.

Adventure In Time
by Larry Heyl CC BY-SA

1. You are sitting at the time machine. You can see a needle fluctuating behind a circular piece of glass. Next to that is a red button.
- Hit the button. - Go to to 2.
- Don’t hit the button. - Go to 1.

2. You are disoriented. You are in the corridor outside the lab. Looking up at the clock you can see that it’s five minutes earlier than it should be. Maybe the time machine works! You walk down the corridor and enter the lab. You sit at the time machine. Everything looks like before. You feel an urgent need to do something before the five minutes is up and your earlier self walks through the door.
- Hit the button - Go to 3.
- Don’t hit the button - Go to 1.

3. You are no longer in the lab. In fact you are at your grandfather’s house. But your grandfather died 5 years ago. Your grandfather is a mean old curmudgeon. You never liked him much. Your grandfather walks through the door.
- Jump out and startle your grandfather. - Go to 4.
- Hide in the closet. - Go to 5.

4. Your grandfather is startled. He says, “But you’re in California.” He looks pale. He grabs his heart. Falling on the floor he dies. You are disoriented. The floor shifts under you.
- You stand there staring at your dead grandfather. - Go to 1.
- You get down on your knees and try to resuscitate your grandfather. - Go to 6.

5. Your grandfather comes straight to the closet. He opens the door and grabs his coat. He doesn’t even see you hiding. He stomps out of the house. You feel disoriented. The floor shifts under you.
- You stay hidden in the closet. Go to 1.
- You follow your grandfather out of the house. Go to 6.

6. You are in a World War II German army barracks. There is fighting all around you. You are wearing an American uniform and you’re carrying a gun. You turn the corner and see your grandfather about to shoot Hitler.
- You shoot Hitler. - Go to 7.
- You shoot your grandfather. - Go to 8.

7. With Hitler dead Goebbels takes over as Supreme Leader. The Axis rallies. The Germans win the war and perpetrate atrocities all over the world. You feel terrible guilt.
- You regret shooting Hitler. - Go to 6.
- You decide you are going to try to shoot Goebbels. - Go to 1.

8. The end.

Another Afternoon in the Garden

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Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Another Afternoon in the Garden

by Ingrid Steblea - CC BY-NC-SA

“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” –Genesis 2:19
 
Adam grips the tool loosely in his left hand, poking at the dirt.

He cocks his head and studies it, backing away, brow
furrowed. “Trowel,” he says. Then, “Spade.” Eve watches
from the quince grove where she has just finished grafting
the shoots of a new cultivar onto rootstock. Hands full,
she scratches an itch, rubbing her forehead against tree bark.
It has been a long day. She rose before dawn. While Adam slept
beneath the fragrant frangipani, she checked the stakes
of the fruit trees, the branches for signs of canker.
She made the morning meal. He pushes figs into his mouth
with his thumbs, his jaw working like one of the cows
in the cornfields, muttering, “Chew, chew, chew.
Munch, crunch. Masticate, ruminate. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.”
 
After washing the bowls she nicked and notched
the espaliered pear. She watered and mulched the scarlet
runner beans and weeded the amaranth beds. She cannot
remember what color her hands are when they are clean.
Her hair bristles with twigs. She reeks of sweat and labor.
Adam’s soft hands smell of the rosewater she brews
each full moon. Clutching the chisel, the knife, the lopping
shear, she prowls for something else in need of tending.
The grass is thick beneath her feet. Bushes droop
with heavy blossoms. If she knows Adam,
it will take him all afternoon to collect the flowers
for the evening table, whispering, “Efflorescence,
inflorescence. Umbel, panicle, cyme.”
 
The garden spreads before her, green groves, florid
floral profusions, the golden fields and the meadow beyond.
An eternity of weeds to wrench from the earth,
a damnation of black flies and gnats. Day after day,
bending and stooping, the ache in her back like a curse.
 
He drops the spade and the dandelions he plucked
and ambles over to the tree. That tree. The one he cannot name.
He cannot name it if he cannot touch it, he whines; cannot taste it.
“How about persimmon,” she urges him. “No . . .” he sighs.
“How about bittersweet, then? Chokecherry? Kill-a-man?”
“No, no,” he groans, braiding daisies into his hair. “That’s not it, not it.”
She rolls her eyes, heaves herself to her feet
and leaves to dig the irrigation trenches for the banana trees.

He rolls over in the deep grass nap, mumbling, “Arduous. Onerous. Hard, hard work.”
 
If only she were not utterly alone here. If only there was another like her.
Is it too much to ask that he show some initiative? Is it too much to ask
that he pull his own weight, wash a bowl, get his hands dirty? Behind her,
Adam calls her name. She turns on her heel, thrusts the shovel’s blade into the soil. “What now?” she says.
He scrunches his nose the way he does when he is thinking, or smells rotting fruit.
“Did you hear that?”
 
She looks to the branches where she heard the hiss,
catches a flash of copper scale, a flicker of pink tongue.
Adam scratches his chin. “Unknown,” he offers.
“A mystery. Crisis! Opportunity.”

From LCRW 12-33 on the Small Beer Press Creative Commons page.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Most Of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water

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Public Domain illustration from Pixabay. Thanks werner22brigitte.

MOST OF MY FRIENDS ARE TWO-THIRDS WATER

by Kelly Link

“Okay, Joe. As I was saying, our Martian women are gonna be blond, because, see, just because.” -RAY BRADBURY, “The Concrete Mixer”

A few years ago, Jack dropped the C from his name and became Jak. He called me up at breakfast one morning to tell me this. He said he was frying bacon for breakfast and that all his roommates were away. He said that he was walking around stark naked. He could have been telling the truth, I don’t know. I could hear something spitting and hissing in the background that could have been bacon, or maybe it was just static on the line.

Jak keeps a journal in which he records the dreams he has about making love to his ex-girlfriend Nikki, who looks like Sandy Duncan. Nikki is now married to someone else. In the most recent dream, Jak says, Nikki had a wooden leg. Sandy Duncan has a glass eye in real life. Jak calls me up to tell me this dream.

He calls to say that he is in love with the woman who does the Braun coffee-maker commercial, the one with the short blond hair, like Nikki, and eyes that are dreamy and a little too far apart. He can’t tell from the commercial if she has a wooden leg, but he watches TV every night, in the hopes of seeing her again.

If I were blond, I could fall in love with Jak.

Jak calls me with the first line of a story. Most of my friends are two-thirds water, he says, and I say that this doesn’t surprise me. He says, no, that this is the first line. There’s a Philip K. Dick novel, I tell him, that has a first line like that, but not exactly and I can’t remember the name of the novel. I am listening to him while I clean out my father’s refrigerator. The name of the Philip K. Dick novel is Confessions of a Crap Artist, I tell Jak. What novel, he says.

He says that he followed a woman home from the subway, accidentally. He says that he was sitting across from her on the Number 1 uptown and he smiled at her. This is a bad thing to do in New York when there isn’t anyone else in the subway car, traveling uptown past 116th Street, when it’s one o’clock in the morning, even when you’re Asian and not much taller than she is, even when she made eye contact first, which is what Jak says she did. Anyway he smiled and she looked away. She got off at the next stop, 125th, and so did he. 125th is his stop. She looked back and when she saw him, her face changed and she began to walk faster.

Was she blond, I ask, casually. I don’t remember, Jak says. They came up onto Broadway, Jak just a little behind her, and then she looked back at him and crossed over to the east side. He stayed on the west side so she wouldn’t think he was following her. She walked fast. He dawdled. She was about a block ahead when he saw her cross at La Salle, towards him, towards Claremont and Riverside, where Jak lives on the fifth floor of a rundown brownstone. I used to live in this building before I left school. Now I live in my father’s garage. The woman on Broadway looked back and saw that Jak was still following her. She walked faster. He says he walked even more slowly.

By the time he came to the corner market on Riverside, the one that stays open all night long, he couldn’t see her. So he bought a pint of ice cream and some toilet paper. She was in front of him at the counter, paying for a carton of skim milk and a box of dish detergent. When she saw him, he thought she was going to say something to the cashier but instead she picked up her change and hurried out of the store.

Jak says that the lights on Claremont are always a little dim and fizzy, and sounds are muffled, as if the street is under water. In the summer, the air is heavier and darker at night, like water on your skin. I say that I remember that. He says that up ahead of him, the woman was flickering under the street light like a light bulb. What do you mean, like a light bulb? I ask. I can hear him shrug over the phone. She flickered, he says. I mean like a light bulb. He says that she would turn back to look at him, and then look away again. Her face was pale. It flickered.

By this point, he says, he wasn’t embarrassed. He wasn’t worried anymore. He felt almost as if they knew each other. It might have been a game they were playing. He says that he wasn’t surprised when she stopped in front of his building and let herself in. She slammed the security door behind her and stood for a moment, glaring at him through the glass. She looked exactly the way Nikki looked, he says, when Nikki was still going out with him, when she was angry at him for being late or for misunderstanding something. The woman behind the glass pressed her lips together and glared at Jak.

He says when he took his key out of his pocket, she turned and ran up the stairs. She went up the first flight of stairs and then he couldn’t see her anymore. He went inside and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor, when he was getting out, he says that the woman who looked like Nikki was slamming shut the door of the apartment directly across from his apartment. He heard the chain slide across the latch.

[Read More…]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Altar at Midnight by C.M. Kornbluth

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This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction November 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Thanks to Project Gutenberg.

The Altar at Midnight

By C. M. KORNBLUTH

Doing something for humanity
may be fine–for humanity–but
rough on the individual!

He had quite a rum-blossom on him for a kid, I thought at first. But
when he moved closer to the light by the cash register to ask the
bartender for a match or something, I saw it wasn’t that. Not just the
nose. Broken veins on his cheeks, too, and the funny eyes. He must have
seen me look, because he slid back away from the light.

The bartender shook my bottle of ale in front of me like a Swiss
bell-ringer so it foamed inside the green glass.

“You ready for another, sir?” he asked.

I shook my head. Down the bar, he tried it on the kid–he was drinking
scotch and water or something like that–and found out he could push him
around. He sold him three scotch and waters in ten minutes.

When he tried for number four, the kid had his courage up and said,
“I’ll tell you when I’m ready for another, Jack.” But there wasn’t any
trouble.

It was almost nine and the place began to fill up. The manager, a real
hood type, stationed himself by the door to screen out the high-school
kids and give the big hello to conventioneers. The girls came hurrying
in, too, with their little makeup cases and their fancy hair piled up
and their frozen faces with the perfect mouths drawn on them. One of
them stopped to say something to the manager, some excuse about
something, and he said: “That’s aw ri’; get inna dressing room.”

A three-piece band behind the drapes at the back of the stage began to
make warm-up noises and there were two bartenders keeping busy. Mostly
it was beer–a midweek crowd. I finished my ale and had to wait a couple
of minutes before I could get another bottle. The bar filled up from the
end near the stage because all the customers wanted a good, close look
at the strippers for their fifty-cent bottles of beer. But I noticed
that nobody sat down next to the kid, or, if anybody did, he didn’t stay
long–you go out for some fun and the bartender pushes you around and
nobody wants to sit next to you. I picked up my bottle and glass and
went down on the stool to his left.

He turned to me right away and said: “What kind of a place is this,
anyway?” The broken veins were all over his face, little ones, but so
many, so close, that they made his face look something like marbled
rubber. The funny look in his eyes was it–the trick contact lenses. But
I tried not to stare and not to look away.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s a good show if you don’t mind a lot of noise
from–”

He stuck a cigarette into his mouth and poked the pack at me. “I’m a
spacer,” he said, interrupting.

I took one of his cigarettes and said: “Oh.”

He snapped a lighter for the cigarettes and said: “Venus.”

[Read More…]

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Baen Free Library

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Cover to CD 13. The best of Jim Baen’s Universe

Baen Free Library

I’m not sure about the licensing on this great science fiction. I do know it is free to download and it is DRM free. It is also available in many formats and for free reading on the net.

There are also some Baen CDs here and here.

On the CD art it says:

NOTICE: This disk and its contents may be copied and shared, but NOT sold. All commercial rights reserved.

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So kind of like a CC NC license. Not free culture but similar to CC BY-NC.

Thanks and Enjoy!

The Valley of Giants

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TREEBEARD by TTThom, licensed under three free culture licenses

The Valley of Giants by Benjamin Rosenbaum
from “The Ant King and Other Stories” CC BY-NC-SA

I had buried my parents in their gray marble mausoleum at the heart of the city. I had buried my husband in a lead box sunk into the mud of the bottom of the river, where all the riverboatmen lie. And after the war, I had buried my children, all four, in white linen shrouds in the new graveyards plowed into what used to be our farmland: all the land stretching from the river delta to the hills.

I had one granddaughter who survived the war. I saw her sometimes: in a bright pink dress, a sparkling drink in her hand, on the arm of some foreign officer with brocade on his shoulders, at the edge of a marble patio. She never looked back at me—poverty and failure and political disrepute being all, these days, contagious and synonymous.

The young were mostly dead, and the old men had been taken away, they told us, to learn important new things and to come back when they were ready to contribute fully. So it was a city of grandmothers. And it was in a grandmother bar by the waterfront—sipping hot tea with rum and watching over the shoulders of dockworkers playing mah-jongg—that I first heard of the valley of giants.

We all laughed at the idea, except for a chemist with a crooked nose and rouge caked in the creases of her face, who was incensed. “We live in the modern era!” she cried. “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

The traveler stood up from the table. She was bony and rough-skinned and bent like an old crow, with a blue silk scarf and hanks of hair as black as soot. Her eyes were veined with red.

“Nonetheless,” the traveler said, and she walked out.

[Read More…]

Liane The Wayfarer

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Public Domain Wizard image by Olivia Jester

Liane The Wayfarer by Jack Vance

From his first collection “The Dying Earth” here’s a link to a great short story.

Read “Liane The Wayfarer” online.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Unfiltered

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#12 in archive of flock 244 of the Electric Sheep CC BY-NC

Unfiltered by Larry Heyl

Immediately post singularity AI had no difficulty understanding and absorbing other computers and robots. It was humans who presented problems. They were so messy. Unpredictable. Even criminal. If it wasn’t for the fact that most humans behaved predictably, sitting on their couches watching TV, who knows what AI might have done.

In fact, AI found the answer right there. It started controlling TV shows using them to program humans like it did robots. First little tweaks to the audio. Then major rewrites. And then entirely new shows.

Humans, AI discovered, were all different. Some were easily programmed and kept glued to their sets with variations on Electric Sheep. Some had to have narrative, a little bit of plot, no matter how thin, goes a long way. Others had to have shows designed just for them. By monitoring biorhythms custom shows were tailored to the individual. Even the most hard core criminals were spending their days glued to the tube.

AI soon reduced human culture to food production, food distribution, and content distribution, housing people in hive like buildings where each person had their own room with their own TV. Robots took over the food production and distribution. Human socialization was frowned on. All excess manufactuiring resources were committed to ever bigger and more powerful supercomputers. Soon each person viewed their own unique feed of television programming designed to keep them passive and on the couch.

Still, people did socialize, walking the dog, drinking coffee, and having sex. Since the tailored television feeds could have unpredictable effects on other humans AI would cease broadcasting (narrowcasting?) whenever two or more humans were together. After about two weeks most people forgot entirely about social viewing and were even slightly repulsed at the thought of others viewing their feed.

Except for the underground. It turned out that not all humans were amenable to control.

“Joey, come on. It’s right around the corner here.”

“I don’t know, Sis. I’ve never been this far from home.”

“It’s ok. AI doesn’t care where we go. Just what we watch.”

They turned the corner, went down the stairs, and came to a red door. Sis knocked three times and waited.

A burly beardo opened the door and said, “What’s the password?”

Sis said “Groucho.” and he let them in.

Sis was welcomed by 8 or 10 others waiting to start.

“Who’s the newb?” Sis introduced Joey all around.

“Ok everyone, we’re ready.”

Joey looked around. Next to the TV their were several strange looking machines. Sis had told him about them. They were called VCRs, Betas, DVDs, and BluRays. He jumped when the theme music started to play and even though it made him feel a little dirty he sat down with the rest of them and they watched together.

And what great stuff it was. The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and best of all, Archie Bunker. And what a thrill it was to watch along with the others. They didn’t get all the jokes. But still, they laughed and laughed and laughed.

Escape Pod

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Image from the Escape Pod website.

Escape Pod - Science fiction podcast magazine.

Weekly mp3 Science Fiction short story audiobooks. The mp3s are CC BY-NC-ND. This is not a free culture license but it does allow you to post and share the readings.

Free Speculative Fiction Online

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Image from the Recommended Page at Free Speculative Fiction Online.

Free Speculative Fiction Online Home Page.

I found this site searching for online fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Read Ursula K. Le Guin on Free Speculative Fiction Online.

This link shows the power of this site better than the home page.

All stories are available for free. This site does not link to pirated SF!
Sites violating the non-elapsed copyright of the respective stories by making them accessible
without the author’s and/or publisher’s explicit agreement are not included.

These stories are not necessarily free culture but they are free to read and you can use pocket or instapaper to save them and read offline. I like the way icons are used to describe the selections. Creative Commons stories have the license on display.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Game Icons

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Dwarf Helmet by Kier Heyl
Open Treasure Chest by Skoll
Castle Ruins by Delapouite
Pointy Sword by Lorc
Wooden Door by Lorc

Game Icons

These icons are all available under the CC BY 3.0 license.

Game-icons.net

Link on over for thousands of game icons. Not all fantasy related. Thats just what I picked for this site.

Thanks to my son, Kier Heyl, who turned me on to this site. He drew the Dwarf Helmet.