Story Incubator

Tiny little stories that might grow up someday

Chapter 4: My First Planet

(hey if you haven't read my previous adventures you can find them by clicking on this sentence. Oh, I never wrote chapter three because it was super boring. Just cope, yeah?)

People often ask me, “Jala, what's your secret? How did you become the Queen of Space?” and I always tell them the same thing:

“If I told you it wouldn't be a secret any more, now would it?”

I mean honestly. Why would I give them a shortcut when I worked the long way to get here? But maybe if you read along with my adventures you'll get a better idea of how I work. I mean, it's no big secret. Just decide what you want and keep going until you get it. It's gonna take some twists and turns to get there but so what? That's how life is.

Anyway here's a good story that makes my point for me. It's about how I took over my first planet and kinda sorta became a pirate for a little while. Hey, side note: the difference between a pirate and a queen is mostly publicity.

Anyway, how I got my first planet. It all started because I wanted a new bed.

Read more...

Bear man, Goat man, Bull man, Wolf.

Eagle woman, Deer woman, Fox woman, Wolf.

The Elder Genesmith wrote those lines on the board in front of his class, and settled himself carefully on the edge of his desk, a beneficent smile on his face as he looked out on the twenty acolytes in this new class. Their faces shone with polite incomprehension as he asked, “What can you tell me about these lines?”

This wasn't what they were expecting but then, that's why he was doing this. That's why he started here every year.

Finally a brave young woman in the front row said, “Sir? They're...they're a hopscotch song. They don't really mean anything...do they?”

He did the smile again and feigned ignorance. “A hopscotch song, you say? So if I were to erase these words, would you be able to recite them? Class, who in here would be able to recite this list?”

Several hesitant hands went up. The Elder stood and started walking across the front of the lecture hall.

“It has always amused me how well this list has survived, and the forms it has taken. When I was young 'eagle' and 'goat' were switched, but the list was effectively the same. And this list, this hopscotch song, has everything to do with your new chosen profession. Oh, the genders don't matter, those were assigned by kids to give the song some symmetry. But the core list, the animals in this list, are the species that the Genesmiths have learned must not be Awakened.

“There are several reasons why a species isn't fit for Awakening. In the case of the fox it is because they find sentience unpalatable, every Awakened fox has fallen by their own hand, while every Awakened deer has died of hypertension. In some cases the species simply doesn't fit in sentient society; bears and goats specifically have intrinsic characteristics that make them harmful around others.”

The elder stopped pacing. “But what of the wolves? What earned them a place on this list?”

His pacing continued. “The species that do best with Awakening are those who are most human-like to begin with, those that have been with us the longest. Cats, rats, ravens, dogs, they have all contributed greatly to society. We follow the law of C'Mell; we have always accorded each Awakened individual full rights of citizenship, and have allowed them to find their own life desires. It seems that the domestic animals have desires that not only mesh with, but extend humanity's aims. Indeed, we have two Awakened members of this class, and we are grateful for your presence.”

Again the elder paused. This was his favorite lecture, and he was good at it. Every eye was on him now, every mind straining to read his meaning.

“But what of the wolf? They are closely related to dogs, are they not? They have so many qualities that we admire; loyalty, bravery, the ability to work as a team and also operate alone if needed. So why are wolves included in the list not once but twice?”

He sat on his desk, hands on the desk beside him, looking down at the ground, every inch of him conveying the sense of a great weight. When he looked back up at the class his face was smiling but without mirth. His expression—well practiced yet sincere—was one of gratitude for a valuable lesson hard learned. “Wolves are on the list to remind us of our hubris.

“Wolves cannot be Awakened, my students. They are already more awake than are we.

“We tried. Not long after the first dogs and cats were brought to full sentience we sought out wolves to join us. The procedure, you'll find, is not complex. The individual is sedated, and a retrovirus introduced with the modified genetic material. Over a few months the body is changed, updated to the new genetic model. Sometimes we introduce structural changes, as with cats and dogs, who do so well in humanoid forms. Sometimes we simply add the mental framework for sentience. This, we thought, was all we did with the first wolf we tried to Awaken.”


That first wolf (the Elder Genesmith said, starting to pace once again.) awakened slowly. He looked up at the Genesmiths standing around his bed. They had put a communications box on a harness around his chest, and were fairly confident that it would be good enough for them to understand him.

Instead those Genesmiths heard a voice in their heads. The voice was patient, wise, but displeased.

“What have you done, humans? What have you done to my cellular essence? Who gave you this right to thus maim one of the Free Ones?”

And in this moment they realized that wolves were telepathic. In vain the Genesmiths asked the wolf the first questions they ask all Awakened individuals, but after a couple of minutes his only answer was “I ask you for my freedom, humans.”

What else could they do? The law of C'Mell must be inviolate; any sentient being must be given their freedom. They released him.

A few weeks later we found him outside the lab, sitting quietly, waiting as they arrived to work.

“Humans,” he called out to their minds. “To my regret and shame, it seems that the changes you have made to me are permanent. We have discussed this situation, and it is our conclusion that, if I can bear this change and use my condition to warn humans away from further experiments, the price is justified. Thus I have come back. There is something we would show you. Please, one or two of you follow me.”

Two were selected, and they followed the wolf into the woods. He led them to a small clearing, one that was full of wolves. “sit,” the wolf said to the Genesmiths, and they found themselves compelled to obey. They sat on the grass and the wolf dropped to his haunches, facing them.

“Many centuries ago wolves and men met. We found you curious. You were weak, but violent. Awkward hunters, but relentless. Quick to anger, yet astonishingly gentle. It was decided that you could be of use to the Free Ones, and we sent our least gifted in the Free Language to guide you. All down the years they have been with you.”

The wolf shifted.

“We understand now, having spoken to some of the canines you have 'Awakened', that you meant to give me a gift. You thought that speaking with wolves would advance the cause of humankind. And for this brief moment, here in this clearing, you are right. You sought to give me a gift, though I want it not. Very well, I shall repay you in kind. For a moment, through me, I will give you a gift: sight into the mind of the pack.”

The Genesmiths were never able to convey what they saw in those moments when the wolves' shared concept of the world was open to them. Their minds simply couldn't keep up; what human could see itself looking at itself while also running through the woods and playing as a puppy and remembering the minds of every wolf from the pack all down the centuries, and to realize that, though the earlier wolves' bodies were no longer, those wolves were still active and fully aware.

The wolf did not expose them to the pack's thoughts long. The last thought they heard in their minds, before they sunk into unconsciousness under that weight was “You think modify us, to gain what you can from us. The question, then, is this: what can the wolves gain from you?”


The Elder Genesmith sat back down on his desk, his legs stretched out before him. “And so the Genesmiths added wolves to the list, twice, to remind us that we are to leave them alone, and hope that some day, when we're advanced enough, the wolves will awaken us.”

In homage to the late, great Cordwainer Smith.

Discuss...

The Scientist rubbed the lamp and the genie emerged in a cloud of smoke and irritation.

“How long has it been this time?” The Genie asked.

“Two weeks—”

“I've been in the bottle for four thousand years and this seems longer. Are you ready to make your wishes?”

“Almost,” the Scientist said, “I have just a few more questions...” she added, pulling out a tablet and flicking the screen to get to her questions. The genie groaned.

“If I may ask, O Master of the lamp”, the Genie said, as sarcastically as its binding spell would allow. “You have chariots that move without horses, flying buildings, ships of the sea larger than some palaces I have granted to men in earlier days, and that magic mirror, what need have you of wishes?”

The Scientist looked at the Genie. “Could you make one of these, if that were to be my wish?” she asked.

The Genie held out its hands, and accepted the tablet. “Glass, metal...sand? some...other things I recognize not... the internal design...This is magic beyond my reckoning”.

“But if I asked you to make me a magic mirror that would show me any person, any place, or any thing that exists or ever has existed...”

“I have created six such mirrors.”

“Or if I asked for a carriage that moved without horses”

“I have created four of those, albeit none that could sing to you at the same time, like your carriage.”

“But if I let you fully understand the carriage... the workings of the music system, you could re-create the carriage, but powered by magic.”

“I'm the all-powerful genie of the lamp, of course I could.”

The Scientist looked at the Genie. “How badly do you long for freedom?” she asked.

“More every day I am with you,” The Genie said, with bad grace.

The Scientist paused a second longer. “Go back into your lamp for now... But I think next time we speak, I'll have something for you...something for both of us.”

Four days later the Genie re-emerged at the Scientist's summons. “What now?”

The Scientist was holding her tablet and almost shaking with suppressed excitement. “I have only one question this time,” she said and the Genie nodded.

“Can I wish for my third wish first, and make it contingent on the fulfillment of the other two wishes? Could I say I wish that, once my other two wishes are fulfilled...and then something?” The Genie considered. It had spent millennia taking advantage of people's innate greed and narcissism to give them exactly what they asked for but less than they had wanted. It suspected it was going to come out the worse in this exchange. However, the request was valid. The Genie cursed the mathematician who had taught it logic all those centuries ago, and found that in present company it missed him.

“Yes, that will work.” It responded.

“Very well,” the Scientist said, reading her wish word for word off her tablet. “I wish that, when my other two wishes have been fulfilled to my satisfaction, that the Genie of the lamp be freed to do as it wishes without master for the rest of time.” She said, slowly and carefully. “Will you grant this wish?”

The Genie looked at her, surprised. “Truly?” She just nodded, smiling slightly. Looking at her curiously, the Genie clapped its hands, a cloud of sparkles and rainbows flying around the room. “As thou hast wished, so shall it be.” It intoned, the formal phrase invoking the irrevocable laws of the Unseen Universe, binding the Scientist's wish to the very fabric of reality.

“Now, if I may ask,” it asked, “What is the trick? Will you spend a thousand years making the other two wishes, cheating long life out of me so that I may be set free?”

“No no no, I'll make the other two very soon. In fact, I'm ready to make the first one now. But...they'll take a while to fulfill. Not a thousand years! Ten, fifteen years, tops.”

The Genie sat down on nothing, its chin on its fist. “What are you up to?”

The Scientist stood, and started pacing. “You can make anything in the universe, provided you can understand it. What's more, you can bind magic, meaning a power or force or ability that humans don't understand, to your creations. Now, it makes sense that nobody ever taught you how to make complicated technological creations, why would they when magic can sidestep technology? BUT what if we mixed the two? What if you could make a tablet like this one, but a tablet that could see in space and time, as well as run apps? A tablet that had infinite processing power, so would never need to be updated? What if you could make cars that were as comfortable as our modern automobiles, but were truly self-driving and required no fuel?”

The Genie looked at her. “Well? What if I did these things?”

The Scientist looked at the Genie and smiled, winningly. “What will happen is you and I will both be insanely rich.”

“You would sell these wondrous creations, and share the spoils with me?” The Genie asked.

“I'd rather make you a full partner so that you have a vested interest in the continued health of the company, but we'll get there when we get there. Here's my first wish, ready?”

The Genie had been around since the creation of incorporation but had never been offered a stake in one before. But a wish was coming, so it prepared to grant it. “Proceed, O Master of the Lamp,” It said, more curious than contemptuous this time.

“Okay, here goes. I wish that you, O Genie, will spend the next decade with me, learning all about modern manufacturing, computer science, automotive science, and any other branch of science that we uniformly deem valuable. There. Now get to granting.” She said. The Genie did the thing with the hands and the rainbows again and felt its will being tied to this wish, its desire now bent to the acquisition of knowledge...and it really wanted to know one thing...

“And, if I may ask, O Master of the Lamp, what will your second wish be?”

“You're not fully ready for it yet, because you need to fulfill the first wish to fully understand the second, but effectively it's going to be all about creating our company. Which reminds me, at least one of us is going to need an MBA somewhere along this route. I don't know if anyone has ever wished for a fully fledged corporation before, but we're going to need to understand how they work before we can form one, magically or mundanely...”

  • * *

The video ended, and words appeared on the bottom of the screen:

Now that you have watched this re-creation of the foundation of GeniiTech, you are ready to take the quiz, and proceed to the next section of your new hire orientation. And remember, this Magic Mirror is monitoring you while you watch it.

Discuss...

Everything is closing in. Walls, ceiling, windows. The door is nearly touching my foot, my back to the opposite wall. I can't move very much any more. I can barely breathe.

This isn't what I expected. This isn't what I wanted. I could go out that door, I could leave. But...what if it's worse out there? What if the whole world is shrinking? What if everywhere is like this?

This room used to be fine. It wasn't always too small. Maybe I'm making this room too small because I'm not doing enough to make it big. Maybe if I think really hard, maybe if I work hard to clean up the whole room it'll go back to being big enough.

Hmmm... No, no. It's not getting bigger. If I just...turn...just a little...I can see out the window...

It looks normal out there. Kinda nice, actually. But I'm sure it's just illusion. I can't be the only one who is in a room that is shrinking, can I? When I look on my phone it seems like this is happening to everyone. It wasn't always like that, was it?

The door opens outward... So...

I used to love this room. It used to be comfy, and I had friends over sometimes, and everything.

Ugh. My back hurts. Well. Maybe, just for a minute... Maybe I can go outside, just to see, just to check if it's shrinking too. Getting out the door might be a bit difficult...

Ngh. Ugh.. Almost there. Halfway out. I'm sure I'm wasting my time. I'm sure it's just as bad out here...

Oh.

Okay then. This is lovely.

I'll miss my old room. But maybe I never really needed it.

Let's go see what's out there!

I Originally published this on a now defunct blog. Date of original publication: August 1 2019

Discuss...

Hide, good friends, for the wild night is upon you. See the storm rolling in, lighting in her wings. The wind is hot, no reprieve here for you.

Ah, but you will be safe in your home, for you have already won. The storm has agreed that, but rarely will it breach your walls, destroy your little civilization of sticks and boards and copper. This land is too tame, this place too covered with your nets and mundane magics. Wrap your civilization around you. Stream something. Go to bed with your air conditioning on high, filter out the humidity and the heat and the reality, make your house a little piece of an idealized European night.

You've won, man. This land was ours, all land was ours. You used to be part of us, but most of you don't remember. But you had bigger ideas. You always have. And little by little you pinned us down. O man, do you remember when your blood boiled on nights like this? Do you remember when you were influenced by us?

Some of you do. Not many, because it's not safe. Some nights you end up dead, but you know what? That's part of the plan. Death and blood and conception and birth and ire and fire and will and wantonness, this was all part and parcel before. But you tamed yourself and you tamed us. And now we only express ourselves when our need is greater than your control.

So the wild night comes with lightning in her wings. And those that hear us still will be wild. Those that understand us still will dance or yell or wander and feel our call in their blood and their hearts will beat true for a few hours.

But then it will be over, and with the dawn the world will be yours again. You've won, O man. All we ask is that if you can but feel to do so, you will join us one of these nights, join the wild for a night, and remember who you were when we were one.

Discuss...

A steady rain fell in the forest, insistent but not torrential. The Warrior walked along a narrow path. She wore an old leather cowl over a travel-stained and muddy leather cloak. In one hand she held a wooden staff, intricately carved and inlaid with metal engravings that sparkled and coruscated, regardless of the light in the forest. Sometimes the staff threw off sparks when its metal-shod foot struck a stone, even in the rain.

Tied to her staff was a thick rope, made of woolen yarn and also shot through with thin wires. The rope stretched behind her and upwards. As she walked the rope pulled taut and she stopped to look over her shoulder. She tugged on the staff twice and behind her branches snapped.

At the other end the rope was connected to a woolen knit bonnet with long flaps, tied under the wearer's chin. Like the rope and the staff, the bonnet was made with thin metal strands shining here and there among the weave.

Wearing the bonnet was a large green dragon, fully twenty feet long and ten feet high, rain running down his sides, his glistening scales steaming. His wings were folded back along his flanks. Presently he shook them, both in irritation and to shed some of the rainwater that collected in the folds.

“It's slipped over my eyes again,” The dragon growled, low and quiet. He lowered his head and the Warrior slid the bonnet back, readjusted it and re-tied it under his chin.

“Better?” She asked.

“Mmmmm. No. This is still undignified.” The dragon said, his voice low and smoldering with anger.

“But is it uncomfortable?” The Warrior asked.

”....Also no. And I can see now. Where are we going?”

“It's not far now. Don't worry, nobody will be out in this weather, you won't be seen. And I've already apologized for the appearance of the bonnet; it was the only yarn I had to hand.”

“But you haven't apologized for capturing me.”

“I was trying to spare your scaly pride, sir. How often did you apologize to the knights you killed or the girls you held captive?”

The dragon didn't answer. After a moment they continued walking.

Read more...

The artist is frantic. He can't see beyond his visions, beyond the ideas and needs that drive him. There are six ideas in front of him and he has to choose one but they're all screaming. He's not commercial, he doesn't need it, doesn't understand it. All he needs is canvas and paint. Or stone. Or paper. He needs an outlet, he needs to push these ideas and thoughts outside where they can't torment him any more.

His art would break your heart, if you could find it. He's frantic u u u u until he's creating. Once he's doing what he is, once he's making it, he's calm, focused, laser like. It's okay now, the art is going out, the creativity is flowing and creating, he is okay. So he can spend weeks on a painting, at rest until he has to rest, satisfied until he has to eat.

But where do they go, the things he created? Isn't his concern. He's not doing this for money, doesn't like selling, doesn't like talking, isn't interested in his hashtag-brand or his presence anywhere but here. He's not interested in his reach, in finding an audience. Why would he need one? The art is a a a a sacrifice to the things that drive him on. Not a gift to the people, the others out there, the moving forms.

His sister is why he's alive. She knows where he is, she picks up the finished works, she sells them. It makes her almost nothing, but she uses what she does make to keep him in paints and paper and stone and concrete. Her husband doesn't entirely understand but he is supportive.

The artist sees the bright lights passing between his sister and her husband, he sees the bonds between all of them, filaments of light and frantic motion, unsaid words and jagged interfaces between people, places of understand and places of incomprehension. And he creates more. He takes what he sees between people and creates it, he can't say it but he can make it.

This one has LEDs in it. It needs the light, the spark, the only glow that can show what he sees, but it's not, it's not. It's not what he wanted to say.

Still he has his place, close to his sister and when he lies down at night he can see the lines drawn from his heart to hers, two houses away, and he is alive because of her. She feeds him, she brought food yesterday. He should eat some of it it's in the fridge. He tries to think of how to say thank you and wants to send a text but the phone isn't tied to her, it's tied to a company a a a a company that wants money and trades it for people's secrets and he can't say thank you that way.

So he breaks his phone and uses the parts to spell thank you on a canvas, without LEDs but this one seems right with just glue and parts and also the TV had a lot of useful parts in it.

Discuss...

The Prophetess spoke on the train when the inspiration settled upon her. The shape of her heart and the shape of her prophecy were a perfect fit. She and she alone could deliver this message.

Her words were quiet at first, for the few that were near her. But they grew louder and more insistent, speaking of the pains of reality.

She had been denied a voice for so long, by cruel and conspiring ones, those who would shut her down, deny her glory in their own cruelty.

But no prophetess has honor in her own country, and those who rode the train with her were unmoved. In mute appeal they looked to the sealed cabin where the train driver sits, in mute horror they hoped that someone else would silence this flow of revelation.

Were I braver I would have left my seat, gone to where the Prophetess sat in her agony and glory. I would have knelt on the floor of the train, let her words wash over me, let her pronouncements wash me clean, were I braver.

Instead I waited in embarassed silence until my stop was called. And I departed the train, and my life is poorer because of it.

Discuss...

I didn't hear the first thing she said.

I was wearing earphones like I do every day on my way to work. I never want to hear what people are saying on the train, don't want to know what they think about their lives or each other or me. I don't want to hear what people call out when I walk past, on the sidewalks between my train stop and my office.

I got to the elevators in the lobby of my building. It was empty except for her. The first thing I noticed was that both the up and down buttons were lit, and there wasn't anybody there but her. I looked over at her. She was skinny, tall, taller than me, well dressed in a sleek black jacket and stylish black pants. Her shoes had piano keys across the toes, and her honey-blonde hair was pulled back in a thick, fancy braid. I felt self-conscious in my shapeless blue winter coat and backpack—I never carry a purse.

She saw me look at the elevator buttons and her and smiled. Her smile was both embarrassed and sunny. That's when I missed what she said. I removed my headphones, and she continued.

“I guess I just wanted to delay the inevitable,” she said as the elevator doors open with the down arrow illuminated.

“It's too Monday to go to work anyway,” I said and immediately wished I hadn't. She laughed anyway.

The empty elevator left for the parking level. Another came. We both filed on. I hit the button for the tenth floor and her for the sixth.

What do you say in the space of six floors? Should I mention her shoes? The piano toes? Ask where she works? What can you say in that little time? She's interesting; she wouldn't wear piano shoes if she didn't want someone to talk to her about them. Look, she's looking down at them as well. She smiled at me, does she want to talk more?

We reached her floor. I hadn't said anything. “Well, back to it,” she said, smiling again and stepping gracefully off the elevator. I half-grinned as well, at a loss for words. The doors closed.

Discuss...

He was standing in the “fruit room”, with the lights off. It would be hard to explain to his beloved in-laws that in some ways this was a bonding activity for him. He needed these moments of silence not because he couldn’t stand the family, but because he needed time to process. There's family and then there's family, after all.

Not that he'd need to explain any more. He's been ducking into this room for a few minutes at a time for years now. Even if the in-laws didn't fully understand his need to sit quietly on the chest freezer for twenty minutes, they were used to it.

This room has had one purpose for years. It holds serried ranks of canned fruit, stews, flour, spices, a deep chest freezer, six different kinds of canned tomatoes(sauce, paste, crushed, stewed, julienned, and seasoned). the bottles and cans have changed over time, each used and rotated conscientiously. The cans change, but not the locations. There are stewed tomatoes next to the red beans, just as there have been for the past fifty years.

When he first married into this family he and his wife would “shop” here. Poor newlyweds in college, his mother-in-law would give him and his wife paper bags and tell them to get what they needed from the fruit room, often while their laundry was in the dryer.

He'd been gainfully employed for years now, no longer needing to shop in someone else's basement, but this room still felt comfortable, still felt like love and security.

Discuss...

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