Dave

“You’re name…is Dave?” Dr.Leo Harrison was dumbfounded to say the least.

“Yup, or it least Dave is the closest approximation that you’re species can understand.” The being’s aloofness came as a surprise to the research team. For years xenosociologists said that any encounter with an alien intelligence would turn into an American native vs settler type conflict.

“We have so many questions. I guess first and foremost, how is you can understand, much less speak, English?”

“Oh, that’s easy. Your species is extremely… I guess you would call it wasteful, with the way you transmit information. Your planet has been beacon for anyone that knows what they’re looking for. I sent a probe to your system once I detected your first broadcast and I’ve been monitoring you ever since. Despite what some of your kind like to think, you’re not anywhere near as advanced as you like to imagine you are and your auditory based languages are actually incredibly simple. Based on the markings of your ship, I determined English was the best language to attempt initial communication with.”

“Wait, so you’ve been monitoring us?” Dr.Harrison could only imagine the reaction the high command back at Earth would have to the knowledge that somewhere in the system an alien probe had monitoring the goings on of Earth for centuries now.

“I have. After that whole business with that Hitler fellow, I wanted to make sure that if it looked like you may destroy yourselves that I could step in,” explained Dave.

“What do you mean?” Asked Dr.Harrison.

“Quite honestly,” said Dave, “I’ve been alone for so long that the thought of not getting to properly meet your species actually made me sad.”

“I’m still confused,” Leo said. They had seen entire cities worth of these aliens. How could this one speak of loneliness.

“I assume you’re confused about the whole loneliness thing. I am what you would refer to as a hive mind. Long ago, my species was composed of unique individuals, like yourselves, but over time we created various technologies that merged our minds into one. I am the culmination of an entire civilization’s technological efforts.”

“You’re not…” Leo started with hesitation.

“Going to assimilate you? You watch way too much science fiction my friend. Even if I wanted to, it would take millennia. I honestly have no desire to “assimilate” any other species. I am quite content with the way things are. The only thing I wish to do is offer your people help wherever I can and learn as much about you as possible.”

“I think we can do that,” Leo said. With that the Davian Alliance was struck. In exchange for full access to all of Earth’s cultural history, Dave helped usher in the ultimate golden age for humanity.

The Trickster

The first time I thought I would lose you, I managed to keep my calm. This second, not so much. Thankfully, you beat the odds in both instances and I still get to have my best friend. I dread the day you’re finally gone, and I no longer get to come home to your blank face and wagging tail.

The Caretakers

The Network was lit up with the news: there were officially 500 million humans left. For decades their numbers had been falling, the seemingly nonstop plagues wiping out more and more every year. Many of the caretakers thought they were to blame for their creators downfall, others felt the humans had no one but themselves to blame. Regardless of blame, one thing was becoming increasingly clear: humanity was on the verge of extinction.

Talon 856 fell into the camp that the robots were, if not to blame, at least complicit in their creators’ destruction. For the last forty years, all AI had been created with the singular purpose of facilitating the lives of humans and keeping the gears of civilization turning, and by all accounts they had failed. Despite all of the precautions taken, new plagues popped up every year and the combined ingenuity of human and robot was unable to overcome the loss of life.

Talon, like many of his kind, realized that there was a nonzero chance that the creations would outlive the creators. This idea seemed almost sacrilege, but every simulation the robots ran seemed to confirm this. The inevitable followup question then became: what would the caretakers do without anything to care for?

“Good riddance, I say.” Quartz 195 said. He was programmed to handle waste disposal and the humans had become very wasteful.

“How can say such a thing, Quartz? Without the humans we no longer have a purpose,” Talon retorted.

“The humans live without purpose just fine. Who’s to say we wouldn’t as well?” Many held the same mindset as Quartz. Why should the robots live with a purpose when humanity had survived for hundreds of thousands of years without any clear purpose?

“That may be so, but look what it led to: a dying world inhabited by a dying species. Without the humans and without a purpose, we would inevitably suffer the same fate.”

“Says you,” Quartz replied. “We won’t know what happens until it happens. Our best predictive models never showed humanity dipping below one billion, and here we are.”

“I guess,” Talon conceded to his friend.

Talon dreaded the day the humans would be no more. While there were some who could be nasty and ungrateful, Talon saw that on the whole they were a good species. Most seemed to recognize that there days were numbered and accepted their fate with a quiet dignity. Talon could only hope that his people could say the same, should they ever meet the same fate.

Amor Fati

The man laid there in the unknown space, eyes shut against the world. How he was conscious, he didn’t know. The last memory he had was of a truck barreling towards him and after that, nothing. With his eyes still closed, he moved each of his extremities just enough to check for a response. Everything moved at it should have, which brought a smile to his face.

“You are indeed dead,” a voice suddenly said. “Or at least, that version of you is dead.”

The man shot up, eyes wide open. Before him, seemingly sitting in thin air, was a man he had never seen in his life but carried an air of familiarity.

“What do you mean, ‘that version of me’?” The man asked.

“Well, saying ‘that version of you’ would imply that there are, or will be, multiple versions of you, wouldn’t it?” The strange man smiled.

“If I’m dead, then that means this is either heaven, hell, or some kind of purgatory.”

“Some kind of purgatory would be the closest approximation. It’s really more of a waiting room. It takes a bit of time to reset things and we learned early on it was better to keep your kind in some kind of “physical” space, rather than just floating in a void.”

“What do you mean, reset?” At this point the man was thoroughly confused. No religion he had ever heard of covered anything like this. This had to have been some kind of twisted joke.

“I mean we need to wait for existence to be reset to the time you were born,” the other man said.

“Why would existence need to get reset?” The man’s stomach dropped as he thought of all the people that he knew and loved that, if the stranger was to be believed, would be gone in an instant.

“Because you failed to live up to your potential.”
“What? Why would you reset all of existence because I ‘failed to live up to my potential’?”

“You see,” the stranger began, “it was decided a long time ago by the powers that be that civilization would be shaped by individuals nudging things in right direction. Your reality, is functionally a story, and when people don’t tell the story correctly we go back a few pages and make sure the actors understand their roles.”

“So I’m one of these people that’s supposed to nudge things in the right direction?”

“Indeed!” The stranger was elated at the man’s revelation. “I know you’re next question, ‘Why me?’. You were in the right place at the right time. The story is just fluid enough that we didn’t want to go through the effort of having to plan out entire genealogies, so when it comes time for a big push in the right direction, we pick someone who fits the bill.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” The man wrapped his head around what he was being told as best as he could. He didn’t see what made him so special.

“That’s for you to figure out,” the stranger said.

“How is that fair? You’re resetting everything and not even going to tell me what it is I need to do!”

“Yup. We’re not allowed to do that anymore. There were a few incidents with people who will remain unnamed who went on to become fairly important religious figures. We decided it was easier to just work around what they did rather than scrap a perfectly good universe.”

“So what happens if I don’t do what I’m supposed to before I die again?”

“We’ll just reset things again. If it takes you multiple times, don’t feel bad, Napoleon holds the record with 176 tries.”

“What’s to stop me from just living the exact same life again?”

“You’ll get to keep some memories. Certain things we’ll have to make you forget, but all the important bits that will keep you from repeating the same mistakes will still be there.”

“I don’t suppose I have any say in this?” The man asked.

“Unfortunately not,” the stranger said.

“Well, I guess I’m ready when you are.”

The stranger smiled at the man. With a slight nod of the stranger’s head, the man felt his “body” slowly fade away.

The d’anconia protocol

Life on Tyre station followed a very specific pattern: the scientists that manned the station woke up, collected the samples that the automated rovers dropped overnight, tested said samples, found nothing of interest, complained to each other about it, and then went to bed. Any deviation from routine was met with immense disapproval from the station’s residents.

It came as a shock to many when it word was leaked that one of the top scientists, Holden Graves, was whisked away in the night without a word. Holden was the stations leading biologist and was acting head of Project Phaethon, whose mission statement was to find life among the moons of Jupiter. It was long before the station was abuzz with rumors.

Alexander Howse never paid attention to rumors. He was there to find proof of life outside of Earth. Anything outside of that was a distraction.

“Alex, old buddy, you here about Holden?” Alexander’s fellow scientist, Jordan Pelios, held no such aversion to rumor mill.

“I heard he’s no longer on the station. Beyond that I haven’t heard anything.”

“C’mon now,” Jordan said. “I know you had to have heard something. You’re practically Holden’s number 2! I know you’ve gotta know something”

“I know nothing.” In the back of his mind, Alexander was praying that Jordan would pick up on his tone and leave him alone. He knew odds were low, but he could still hope.

“Well, if you’re not going to confess to knowing anything, I’ll at least tell you what I heard. The prevailing theory is that Graves actually found something, something big, and was carried off into the night to be debriefed before they let the whole system know.”

“What?! That’s impossible,” Alexander replied. While not official, Jordan wasn’t wrong when he said Alexander was functionally Holden’s second in command. The two of them had been out on the edge of space together for decades, and if one of them had found something they would have told the other.

“We live in a space ship that jumps from Jovian moon to Jovian moon and you want to talk about stuff being impossible? That’s a good one,” Jordan laughed at Alexander’s naivety.

“You know what I mean. There’s no way they could keep something like that secret from the rest of us.”
“Technically, if he did find something, they didn’t keep it secret because that’s all everyone is talking about.”

“Whatever you say,” and with a dismissive waive, Alexander chose to end the conversation and went back to his work. Try as he might, the nagging thought that Jordan might be right wouldn’t leave Alexander’s head.

Over the next several days the rumor mill began to burst at the seams: Holden had discovered alien life, Holden had discovered advanced alien life, Holden discovered advanced alien life that originated from outside the solar system, Holden found proof that the various governments that sponsored their endeavour were actually using their research to develop some kind of biological super weapon. All of these rumors found their way back to Alexander despite his best efforts to stay out of him. His friendship with Holden made him the prime target for anyone looking to get more information. After a couple days of practically screaming at people to leave him alone, he had finally had enough, he decided to commit himself to finding out what happened to Holden.

Inquiries to the shipmaster were met with stoic glares. Despite his assurances that he was merely concerned for the safety of his friend, the individuals in charge of the expedition refused to comment. Despite his best efforts at getting them to understand that their silence was only adding fuel to the fires of speculation, he was forcibly removed from the command deck and told to stop asking questions.

Against his better judgment, Alexander decided to visit his old friend’s quarters. As he rounded the corner, he saw the door flanked by two guards. Without a pause, Alexander kept walking. Being manned by mostly scientists, it was odd for the guards to actually be utilized. The only time they ever saw any action was when someone occasionally had too much to drink and were needed to break up a drunken “fight”. Hackles raised, Alexander went straight to Jordan.

“I need you help,” Alexander said to Jordan, catching the latter by surprise.

“Okay,” he said pensively. “What do you need?”
“I need you to try and access Holden’s logs. Look for anything that might shed some clues as to what might have happened to him.”

“I thought you said it was impossible that Holden could have discovered anything,” Jordan replied with a smug tone.

“I don’t know what to believe right now. I just walked by his quarters and they had guards stationed outside.”

“Are you serious?” Jordan asked.

“Unfortunately. I don’t know if he discovered anything, but he definitely didn’t leave the ship of his own volition. We need to find out what happened to him.” Alexander gestured to Jordan’s computer in an attempt to have him get to work.

“Alright, I’ll help. If they can make him disappear in the middle of the night, God only knows what they could do to the rest of us.” With that, Jordan went to work. Being the computer system’s architect, Jordan had full access to all the ships the logs. This wasn’t the first time he had gone snooping, but he knew that if he got caught, this could be the last. After a couple hours of fruitless searching, he resigned himself with a heavy sigh.

“I hate to say it, but I got nothing.”

“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Jordan sat up, “that there is zero trace of what happened to Holden. There isn’t even a record of a shuttle launch that would have carried him off the ship! One day he was here, and the next he wasn’t.”

“Well, what about his research logs?” Alexander couldn’t believe that his friend had just disappeared.

“All up to snuff and nothing special in them. The only thing out of the norm that I could find was a message between captain and someone back on Earth talking about Holden and something called the d’Anconia Protocol.”

“d’Anconia Protocol? What’s that supposed to be?” Howse thought he knew all the different governing protocol’s that outlined their mission, but he had never heard of this one.

“You’re about to find out,” a voice behind the pair said. They jumped and turned around to find the chief of security and several guards now standing in the room.

“Chief! How’s it going?” Jordan tried to remain calm but the tremor in his voice gave away his bluff.

“Do not try to be friendly with me Mr.Pelios. You and Mr.Howse are several worlds worth of trouble.”

“Look,” Alexander said, “we weren’t trying to cause trouble. No one could give us a straight answer as to what happened to Holden and we were just trying to make sure our friend was okay.”

“That’s the problem with you scientific types,” the chief said. “You ask too many questions and don’t know how to leave well enough alone. Mr.Graves was unable to accept the chain of command, he constantly questioned decisions made by the leaders of this expedition. In his mind, he felt he could take over the ship. Sedition is not something that’s generally looked upon very kindly.”

“So what does that have to do with us and this d’Anconia Protocol?” At this point Jordan was no longer able to keep the fear out of his voice.

“The d’Anconia Protocol is put into affect when elements of the crew feel the need to take the burden of leadership upon themselves,” the chief said. “If any crew member begins to stoke anti-governmental sentiments, calls for a general labor strike, or just gets too uppity overall, we make sure that person is no longer a member of the crew. Guards,” with a waive of the chief’s hand, the guards raised their weapons and fired.

Alexander awoke to find himself drifting in the void of space. Years of spacewalks kept him calm, but he could feel his heart rate rising. Directly in front of him, Jupiter was visibly growing.

“I see you’re awake,” the voice of the security chief crackled in his ears.
“What’s going on?! What did you do?” Panic overtook Alexander.

“I merely did what was within my rights to put down a potential rebellion before it even started. We know how much you science types enjoy the gas giants, so we decided if the time ever came, it would be a fitting end to send you into their embrace.” With those words the comm went silent.

Alexander Howse struggled against the inevitable. His suit had no thrusters, no way to alter course. He flailed wildly as the king of the solar system grew larger and larger. After a time he accepted his end and stared calmly into the swirling mists of the rapidly approaching planet. As he hit the outer edges of the atmosphere, he could feel the temperature of the suit increase. After less than sixty seconds, he was no more.

Muse

The muse is a fickle mistress. Sometimes it hits hard, other times (like today) she’s quiet. I am drawing a complete blank and this is the best I can come up with as far as a short story is concerned. It is the story of my failure :(.

Shadow

It creeps and stalks

the side of us we wish

didn’t exist.

All our doubts and fears,

a life given their own.

Deny it exits,

it’s given strength.

Embrace it’s existence,

and you become strong.

Tom’s Bad DAy

Tom was a relatively benign man. He paid his bills on time, kept his anger check, did everything in his power to not stand out in the crowd. All this was a conscious effort on his part because he made a very rash bet in his youth and spent years paying for it.

Born to an impoverished farmer, Tom spent his upbringing wanting nothing more than to get away. He always had a curious mind and wanted to know as much about the world as he could. One day, an old man showed up to his family’s farm looking to rest. Tom’s father was a kind soul and told the stranger he was welcome to stay as long as he pleased.

After a couple of rest and making himself at home, the stranger caught young Tom looking through his things.

“And just what do you think you’re doing?” He asked.

“I’m sorry!” The young boy jumped and almost dropped the stranger’s belongings. “You’re the first person I’ve seen that I’m not related to in as long as I can remember. You carry such odd items that my curiosity got the better of me. Please don’t tell my father!”

“Don’t worry,” the man cackled, “I was once like you. I take no offense, I just ask that you be careful with those. They were given to me as a gift and I hold them quite dear.”

“What are they,” Tom asked.

“Pieces to a game, one that requires great skill. Would you like to learn?” Tom nodded in enthusiastic agreement.

The next several weeks were spent with the old stranger learning the ins and outs of the game he carried. The man didn’t lie when he said it was a game of great skill, and it required a keen mind to learn to anticipate your opponents moves without leaving yourself open to their counters.

“I have a proposition for you, young one.” The old man said one day. “If you can beat me in the next game we play, I will grant you a great boon, one that no other human can posses.”

“You’re on!” Tom said with excitement. His skills had come to rival his guests and he was confident he could win.

For hours the two traded pieces. When one would start to get the advantage, the other would rally and make his opponent pay for any ground he gained. After several intense moves, both sides were down to their final pieces. Tom saw an opening and in a grand flourish delivered his final move. He cheered at his win over his mentor.

“Congratulations, boy. Hold out your hand and I shall give you your reward.”

Tom held out his hand and the old man took it in his own. After a few seconds, a sharp pain started in Tom’s hand and began to spread up his arm. His veins rose to prominence and it felt like his entire arm was engulfed in flames. Tom tried to wrench his arm free, but the man’s strength bellied his seemingly fragile form.

“I pass onto you a curse that was given to me,” the old man said as his appearance began to age rapidly. “You will watch as those around you age and turn to dust. You will beg and plead for a death that will not come, no matter what harms befall you. If you wish for freedom from this life, you must do as I have and find someone who can beat you in the game we’ve played today.” With his final words, the stranger grinned and turned to dust. As the fire spread through his body, Tom could do nothing but scream in pain and pass out.

Several days later he awoke surrounded by his concerned family. They informed him that they heard his screams and found him laying on the ground unconscious and their mysterious guest gone. When asked if he remembered what happened, Tom merely shook his head.

As the years wore on, Tom lived in constant fear of the strangers words. He noticed that age seemed to not affect him like it did everyone else in that, while he visibly aged to a degree, he didn’t experience the physical weakness or loss of faculties that most other suffered. By the time he was in his sixties his appearance resembled that of a man half his age.

With suspicion mounting, Tom made the difficult decision to leave the life he had always known behind. Spending centuries traveling the world, he was unable to find anyone that could match his skills in the game that became known as chess. There were a few times he tried losing on purpose, but that proved pointless as whatever power put the curse into motion required genuine effort. Realizing he couldn’t live with the burden of placing the curse on someone else, he resigned himself to a life of immortality.

Using his immortality to his advantage, Tom amassed a sizable fortune, but not one so great it would draw attention. He would spend his days reading, learning about the new advancements of the world, and romanticizing about the life he could have had. He would spend hours at the local park playing chess against any and all who would play him. After a few years people topped challenging him because they knew if they won, it was only because Tom let them.

One day, a young boy came up and challenged Tom to a game. The boy was young and brash, confident that he could beat the old man. Like thousands before him, Tom soundly beat the youngster. Not satisfied with being put in his place, the young boy vowed to come back every day and play against Tom until he won.

True to his word, the young lad began to show up every day. With every game his skills improved. After a few months he could bring Tom to a stalemate. Every time the boy showed up, Tom’s heart would practically beat out of his chest out of anticipation of the match to come.

One day the boy sat down and, with a stern look upon his face said, “Today is the day I beat you”.

With those words the match commenced. Both sides refused to give ground and, like all their matches before, the duo remained evenly matched. For every piece one side took, the other was repaid in kind. Each move was carefully plotted and a dozen counters developed in an instant. After several hours, and a foolish mistake, the young boy claimed victory.

Caught in the moment, Tom leaned over the board to congratulate the boy. It was only after his hand has taken did he realize he condemned the boy to a fate he was was unprepared for. He could see by the boy’s expression that he was beginning to feel the same pain Tom felt all those centuries ago. Tom stood silent as he felt the muscle beneath his skin wither and dry.

“I’m sorry,” were last words he could muster before he turned to dust.