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ROCKFISH: A NOVEL EXCERPT

Posted: February 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

By David Hunter

Chapter One

My daddy, Jack Winsom, left when I was ten. No explanation why. I thought, and still think, we deserved one. My momma blamed Brian, my older brother. Brian was fine up until he was 8 or so, and then one day he was found walking around our farmhouse in a daze, unable to walk straight. Momma took him to the doctor up the road but in those days them country docs weren’t too sophisticated. Old Doc Phelps, who delivered all four of momma’s children, me, Luke, Hannah and Brian, casually examined her first born and arrived at a brilliant conclusion; the boy has a headache, give him some aspirin.

In actual fact, as I learned later, Brian had a concussion, a bad one. He wasn’t treated for it, ‘specially not by the old booze hound Doc Phelps, and he was never quite the same ever afterward. It scared me, let me tell you, to see my previously normal big brother, who used to play catch with me, and who taught me to catch butterflies, start talking to himself or scream in the middle of the night. Yep, Doc Phelps, what a piece of work he was. Brian had to be pulled out of the eight grade because he had grown to six feet tall and started getting violent when any of the kids called him names like dummy and feeb, the latter short for feeble. He didn’t know what the word meant, but correctly deduced that it wasn’t good. And all the laughing directed at him, he understood that. That was when Brian decided to take a rain-check on life; he descended into childlike whimsy, regressed to sucking his thumb and wetting his bed. Momma went berserk and daddy just left. A gimp son he could handle, but a feeble one too?

But the last straw was Luke.

Luke had been a hell raiser since the age of two, eating Clorox and having my frantic parents rush him over to Doc Phelps (a crap shoot at best) and somehow the old toss-pot managed to induce vomiting and my brother survived. After that Luke ran the gamut from bruises and cuts, to accidentally starting dad’s truck and putting it in gear; destroyed most of the barn and the back bedroom of our house. But somehow daddy Jack never got too mad at Luke. He’d explain it away, as if he was the great all- American son, “Aw hell, I was a rough and tumble when I was a boy. He’ll be a hell of a man, HELLUVA man! Got GRIT in his eye!” he’d say, mussing Luke’s almost white-blond hair, but that grit blinded daddy and it blinded Luke; a mutual shit-storm between them, each looking at each other through rose-colored and manly glasses. If none of us other family members ever existed, they’d of been fine and dandy, the two of them.

Luke was so spoiled by the time he got to be a teenager that no-one could tell him what-for. He knew it all. Daddy let it happen that way. Course, daddy left before it all hit the fan, so maybe he had an inkling of what he’d wrought. Guilt sometimes makes us do things unexpected. Daddy’s thing was to wash his hands of it. Daddy’s way was to leave us in the wake of his mistakes. Wonderful man, my daddy Jack.

Momma just plain fell apart. After daddy’s exit, the state caught wind of her boozing and week-long trips to God knows where, leaving us all by ourselves. They took my youngest sister Hannah, away, mostly because she was only six, and they figured Luke and I could fend for ourselves. They tried to take Brian away too, but he knew that land like the back of his hand and disappeared like a ghost. The only way you’d ever find him was and get him to come in was to yell “Rockfish!” at the top of your voice, and he’d come running out of the field somewhere or crawl out of a gully or something.

“Rockfish” of course was something Brian came up with. It was a mystery to us. When he was upset he’d draw his knees up, rock back and forth on the floor, and chant it, ‘Rockfish, rockfish, rockfish.. .’ like a mantra or something. It baffled me to no end, but to him it was, I guess, something that comforted him; his own secret portent. God only knew what things blew threw his mind.

But I loved him. Despite his flights of fancy and his bed-wetting and his chanting, he was, strangely, the only one in this cock-eyed world that I could truly rely on. If I need to talk, he was there. If I needed help, he’d be there. If I was hurt or sad or crying or happy or hungry or my back itched in a spot I couldn’t reach, he’d be there. I have never met a person more loyal and loving, and I miss him like hell.
But, like I said, it’ll all be revealed.

Revelations of the Astronaut

By David Hunter

Disclaimer: I don’t own Northern Exposure or any of its characters, so no lawyers huh?

CHAPTER ONE

Maurice Minnifield was sitting on the examining table in Dr. Joel Fleischman’s office fussing and fuming and generally making Joel’s life miserable. Maurice believed he was self-healing and immortal. Medical exams were an indignity to him.

“Fleischman, is this really necessary?” He grumbled.

“Maurice, you fell off of a twelve foot ladder. I’m surprised you can still remember my name,” he said.

Maurice hopped off the table and began buttoning his shirt back up. “Look Joel, I been to outer-space. I took my ride, braved the rockets and the uncertainties, just like Shepard and Glenn. Nope, a precipitous little fall is not the way this fly-boy’s going down, no sir. And you can take that to the bank son.”

Joel sighed. “Well, there doesn’t seem to be any fractural damage to your skull. ‘Course, we can’t tell for sure, since you refuse to go to Anchorage for a CAT scan…”

Maurice walked over and put his arm on Joel’s shoulder. He had that sick, greasy, faux-fatherly grin on his face, like he was addressing a child of 10.

“Joel, I’m a throw-back, a breed of man that this country of ours doesn’t produce any more. I’ve survived test flights, rocket shots, even a crash landing or two. Don’t get your knickers in a knot, son! Before you know it, this bump on the head will heal, and I’ll go on living forever. You’ll see,” he said, shaking Joel’s shoulders roughly. Joel adjusted his glasses. He laughed nervously, hoping Maurice would laugh too. But he was serious.

“If you say so Maurice,” he finally said.

The Brick, Holling Vincoeur’s bar, was busy with the lunch crowd. Ruth-Anne was at table six attempting to cut her food and Shelley, as usual, went over to help her. Hayden was already half in the bag, and playing pool. Dave the cook was complaining because everyone was ordering Ratatouille, some kind of French peasant stew that had recently come into vogue here in Cicely. Chris Stevens was at the bar eating said stew, and expounding about its meaning, quoting Lord Byron or something; “It is always the latest song that the audience applauds most…”

“Beg pardon Chris?” Holling said. He had been wiping the bar down in that monotonous, circuitous way of his.

“I was just sitting here eating my stew when I suddenly started thinking about the old and new. What’s old is new again. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, that kind of stuff.”

“I see,” said Holling. What could he say? It’s only stew. But it’s never “just stew” for Chris.

“We’re all transplants up here, re-inventions of our former selves. We’ve cast off the old persona’s and problems, the old skin so to speak, living up here on the Alaskan frontier…” He took a swig of his coffee, then a gulp of stew. He cocked his head slightly, lost in some primordial thought. “I think this stew has awakened some dormant feelings in Cicely, a homing beacon if you will…”

“Uh, would you like some more coffee Chris?” Holling said politely.

“Sure thing,” Chris chirped.

Just then, Maggie rumbled up to the bar, tossing a package on the floor beside her. It crashed and tinkled, most likely destroying whatever was in it. She sat for a moment or two staring past Holling at the shelves with the liquor bottles on them. Then she buried her head in her arms and began alternately whining and cursing.

“Can I getch you somthin’ Maggie? Cup coffee..?” Holling said warily. No response was forthcoming from Miss O’Connell.

“Hey Maggie, you oughta try the stew. Good for the soul,” Chris said from over on his end of the bar. Maggie finally lifted her head; her hair was currently a very cute tom-boy cut, which ran conversely with the mean look in her eyes.

“I have had four boyfriends die on me.” She said, holding up the corresponding finger count. “Now that could all just be some sort of sick, twisted coincidence, but I vowed never to let that happen again, ever. If that meant never having a man again, I could live with that. Maybe this curse would just…go away on its own, you know?” she said, bugging her eyes out at innocent looking Holling, who was drying a beer mug with his cloth. Maggie buried her head in her arms again. Marilyn Whirlwind appeared at the bar and ordered a stew and Darjeeling tea. She looked at Maggie, and then at Holling.

“She got a new boyfriend. Doesn’t want him to die,” she said quietly.

“Oh.” said Holling.

Chris scooted over next to Maggie and Marilyn, dragging his stew bowl across the bar with him. He brandished his spoon contemplatively. “I think what’s happened here is that, when Maggie shared this bad Karma with the men she loved, she unleashed a meta-physical reaction.”

Maggie raised her head, her eyes narrowed into cold slits. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she said. Chris cleared his throat nervously.

“Well, what I mean is that, you’ve taken these thoughts in your head and shared them with the men you fell in love with. You’ve created a physical manifestation of your inner most feelings.”

“So you’re saying I wanted them to die?”

“No, I just think you should give this curse less power by not mentioning it to your lovers,” Chris said. “That way the karma stays kosher, you know? You’ll have a clean wavelength,” he said. He made funny back and forth motions with his hands to illustrate the point.

Holling shook his head, and then went back to get Marilyn’s stew.

Maggie was shaking her head too, and smiling un-warmly. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I am not the cause of these “manifestations” or whatever you call them. People die everyday! Just because it’s happened to me four times doesn’t make it my fault. Okay??” she said. She grabbed her stuff and stormed off. The broken box lay near by, forgotten. The label had Dr. Joel Fleischman’s name on it.

“Whoa,” Said Ed Chigliak, who just appeared at the bar.

“Hey Ed,”

“Hey Chris; say, what’s wrong with Maggie?” he asked, looking back and watching her stamp out of the bar.

“Just the usual trials and tribulations attributed to the human condition manifesting itself,” said Chris.

“Oh,” he replied. “Uh, Holling? There’s a man outside, sez he’s looking for you.”

“A man, looking for me?’ he asked. “Well what’s he look like?”

“He’s real big; Surly looking, too. Sez he wants to fight you,” said Ed, sitting down at the bar. “Should I get Maurice? He has an extensive gun collection…plus he’s mean.”

“No Ed. I can take care of myself.”

Shelley wandered back to the bar, sensing something amiss. “What’s going on?” she asked; cute and clueless all at the same time

“Holling’s gonna fight some guy,” said Ed absently, eating some peanuts left on the bar.

“What? Babe, who’s gonna help me run the bar if you get skunked??” she said.

“Nobody’s getting skunked Shelley. I have a feeling I know who’s out there. I knew this day would come…” Holling said. He threw his rag down on the bar and began rolling up his sleeves.

“Babe, you’re not going out there?!” said Shelley. “What if he blows you away or something?”

“Oh, he’s clean,” said Ed. “He just wants a fist fight; and to kill Holling.”

“Now Shelley, I have been called out. This is between me and him. What kind of man would I be if I refused a challenge?” he said. “I could never show my face around these parts again.”

Shelley pouted a little and then stamped her feet in protest. “Fine, but if you get killed don’t come crying to me,” she said. Chris asked about the guy outside.

Everyone leaned into a tiny huddle around the bar to hear. Even Dave the cook came over.

Part two coming soon

Special Delivery

Posted: July 25, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

By David Hunter

The Earthstar was making its way across the Omega Quadrant en-route to Alpha-Sagan Prime when the urgent communiqué flashed across the com-screen:

Urgent: Special Parcel Delivery to Zandra Major, UnEx, Space-Dock seventeen at Galdorphus.  Rush job, please hurry.  Fee 5000 ITF (Intergalactic Transfer Funds)

“Five thousand!” yelled Bogart.  He was now having trouble keeping the craft on course—visions of money were impeding his motor skills.

“Take it easy, Bogart,” said Hox, his short and furry partner, “we’re traveling through the Scorpio meteor system and we don’t wanna get tagged by debris.  We still owe Nexxus Motors six payments on this ship.”  He seemed unmoved by the message, and the promise of money.  In fact, Hox hardly ever changed disposition, except when he was angry.  He buried his head in some star charts, and looked for Zandra Major.  He found it near Vexor.

“Hox, Galdorphus is near Hydra.  What about this Alpha-Sagan pick-up?” asked Bogart.  He was 8 feet tall, so he had to look down at the 4 foot Hox.

“We’re not going to Galdorphus.  Keep on course,” said Hox quietly.  He picked up an old issue of the Battlestar Press and began flipping through it.  Bogart just stared at him, incredulous.

“Keep on course?  Are you mad? That’s five thousand ITF!  We could buy a new engine for the ship…” the com-screen buzzed and cut him off.  It read:

RE: Parcel Delivery, Galdorphus, fee 10,000 ITF, please reply immediately.

“What the hell is going on?  Is this some kind of joke?” said Bogart.  He barely noticed the fifty mega-ton meteorite that almost came through the cockpit glass.  Hox casually glanced over at the screen, uttered a slight “Harrumph,” and went back to his paper.

Helena, the ship’s engineer, came into the cockpit.  She was tall and beautiful, and had short blue hair.  She looked at the beeping com-screen and then at Hox.

“Why are we still on-route to Alpha-Sagan? Have either of you seen this message?” She said, “They’re offering us 10,000 ITF…” the com buzzer cut her off too.  A new message appeared:

URGENT! URGENT! URGENT!

We will pay 18, 000 ITF.  Please reply soon.

Hox could feel the two of them staring at the back of his furry neck as he tried to read his paper.  He finally whirled around and slammed his fist down on the armrest, and threw the Battlestar press to the floor.

“Do you have any idea what his means…” he said calmly, “when the price keeps going up incrementally like this??  Hmm?  Especially such an absurd fee?  It means there is a lot of trouble attached to it.  I don’t like trouble.  It doesn’t agree with me.”

BeEp.  Com screen again.

50,000 ITF!!

Will throw in a Hyper-Space matrix,

REPLY IMMEDIATELY!

Hox raised his eyebrows slightly.  “You see?  A Hyper-Space Matrix, just thrown into the deal? I don’t like it.”

“Oh Hox, come on, what could it be?  It’s probably just a packet of lude photos meant to blackmail a high ranking official,” said Helena.

“That’s just wonderful,” said Hox.  He was starting to crack.  He was always such a softy, especially when Helena was involved.

“Look, let’s just take the trip to Galdorphus and take a look.  What could it hurt?” said Bogart.  “If it smells funny, we leave.”

“Fine,” said Hox, who still felt uneasy about the whole thing. “Set a course for Galdorphus.  And watch the damn meteors.”

“Roger,” said Bogart.

Helena smiled as she left the cockpit.  This could mean big things for the company, she thought.  A new ship, new offices!! She felt slightly giddy as she walked down the cramped gangway and entered the engine room.  Sitting on the work-bench was a large box that said, “Servo, the Do-It-Yourself Android kit,” that she had purchased at a yard sale on Primak months ago, and had never gotten around to assembling.  She rolled up her sleeves and went to work, humming tunelessly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Galdorphus,” announced Bogart, three hours later.  He tapped a few buttons on the console and the Earthstar adjusted its flight attitude slightly in order to dock at port 17 at the east side of the station.  Bogart was beaming; ten minutes ago the com-screen had chirped on and read:

100,000 ITF!  Please hurry!

That’s when Hox finally replied, to make it all official of course.

Bogart eased the Earthstar into the grav-moorings and put the engines in reverse to slow the ship.  Four large arms descended and clasped the hull.  Bogart, Hox and Helena made their way out of the air-lock and into the station.  The place was teeming with life-forms from all across the galaxy.  They found a UnEx (Universal Express) kiosk next to some kind of bakery shop. The thing behind the counter was barking orders and screeching at his beleaguered workers.  The place was pandemonium.  Hox walked over.

“We’re here to pick up…”

The thing behind the counter, rather gelatinous and furry, interrupted, “Do you have an invoice number?” it barked, “we’re not psychic here you know!”

Helena produced the invoice number by rote.  The thing double and triple checked it.  It was slow and ponderous, and it took long stretches of time to move its arms to work the computer.  It took almost a full minute for it to turn around and order one of the workers to go get the package.

“Is there anything else?” it said, curtly.  Before anyone could answer, the shlub had returned with two packages.

“Please sign here, here, here, here and here.” It said.

Back aboard the Earthstar, Bogart was settling back into the cockpit seat and taking the ship out.  The mooring locks released and he powered up and set a course for Zandra major.  Hox was back in storage staring at the parcel.  It was a small case made of Dutronium.  Something very powerful was in this box, powerful and important.  After a while Helena joined him.

“Which one’s the Hyper-Space Matrix?” she asked.  Hox pointed to the smaller box.  Helena picked it up, turned it over in her hands.  The box was lettered from Earth.  Helena read it, but was confused.

“What’s a “Radio Shack?” she asked Hox.  He grunted something, but she didn’t understand that either.  She shook the box lightly.  “Not very heavy, is it?”

“It’s just an electrical component.” He said.

“The question is, will it integrate with our engines without blowing them up?  They’re old C-2000’s, not very modern.” She said.  “I’m gonna go try it out.”

“I’ll help,” said Hox.  Together they went to the engine room.

There were four C-2000 Rhino Rocket engines aboard the Earthstar, ancient machinery that was almost 60 years old.  The mainframe reactor powered them all.  Helena looked for an Auxiliary port, where the matrix had to be wired.  Problem: the ship was never designed for hyper-drive, would it hold up?

“How long will it take to hook it all together?” said Hox, anxiously.  A hyper-space drive meant faster deliveries, and more money.

“Who knows?  Look at this wiring!” she said, removing an access panel, revealing a veritable rat’s nest.

“Ah.  A Bogart home-made job,” said Hox, peering into the mess. “Lovely.  This could take a while.”

“We’ve got a few hours until we make Zandra.  Let’s get to work,” Said Helena.

Bogart sat at the helm of the ship.  With the course laid in for Zandra, and his new wealth all but affirmed, he eased back in his seat and dimmed the cockpit lights.  He reached over and hit a switch; light music filled the cabin.

“Ah, Montovani, lovely sounds from the Milky Way!” he said. After a few moments he reached over again and tapped more buttons.  The console lit up, and glowed dull green in the dimness.  The screen showed Bogart what was ahead on their route; meteor shower near Caligula, wave storm in the Tetra Quadrant, and a few Nebulae near the Birdus system.  Routine.  At the final leg of the journey was the Zandra system.  The chart showed Zandra’s eight moons, Rio, Dejianero, Poopus, Froth, Galecki, Spazk, Montauk, and Feebus.

But no Zandra.

“That’s weird,” said Bogart.  He pulled up the star charts on the Zandra Major system.  Seconds later they appeared on screen; eight moons, and big old Zandra sitting at the center.  The long range scanner however was showing no Zandra Major and slightly altered moon positions.

Was Zandra gone?  Bogart’s long finger-tips worked the com.  Surely someone would answer….

He got nothing but cold, hard static.  Bogart tapped his communicator.

“Hox, you’d better get up here.”

“This isn’t possible,” said Hox, after Bogart explained the situation. He was studying the charts and the long-range scanner, as Bogart had earlier.  “The planet is gone?”

“That’s what it looks like.”

Hox looked perturbed.  Now they had a parcel to deliver and nowhere to deliver it!  No payment even.

“Maybe there’s a glitch in the system,” said Bogart, hopefully.  “I can run a few diagnostics and make sure…”

“You do that.  Keep on course to Zandra,” said Hox.  He turned to storm out of the cockpit and was startled to see an android blocking his way.  Hox felt like his heart was about to leap out of his chest.  He clicked his communicator.  Helena answered.

“Helena?  Your pet project is walking about the ship.  Just thought you should know.  Can you come and get it out of here please??”

“Oh sugar, I forgot all about him!  I was so busy with the matrix-thingy!” she said.  “Can you baby-sit a while?  I’m in the engine room, knee-deep in wires…” Before Hox could yell back, she clicked off.

The android, Servo, stood staring at Hox.  He seemed rather regal, elegant.  Hox grimaced; he hated androids.

“Well, what the hell are you staring at?” said Hox finally.

“I am called Servo.  I could not help but overhear your current difficulties in locating one “Zandra Major,” perhaps I can be of some assistance to you and your elongated compatriot.”

Bogart turned in his seat to get a better look at the android.

“I don’t care what you do, just get out of my way…” said Hox, pushing past the android.  Servo “humphed” haughtily, and made his way over to the co-pilot chair.

Bogart cleared his throat.  “Are you familiar with any of this stuff? Piloting a space craft I mean?”

“It shan’t take long to become familiar with this antiquated technology, a matter of seconds.”

“Cool,” said Bogart.  He turned the music up.  Servo’s finger’s flashed across the touch-screens, information was streaming at an incredible rate. Finally Servo finished and turned to Bogart.

“I have confirmed that Zandra Major is at present, no longer in existence.  In the midst of life, we are in death, lo…”

“How do you know?” asked Bogart.  He was squinting his eyes, looking at Servo’s data.

“The planet Zandra Major has ceased to exist, my good man.  Zandra’s eight moons are drifting from their original positions without the gravity from Zandra to hold their orbit.  The planet is gone.”

Soon they reached Zandra Major, and their fears were confirmed.  Servo was reeling off statistical information, casualty numbers, and any data which happened to drift through his artificial transom.  Hox stood behind them, fuming.  “Can we see any residual energy signals from the planet’s destruction?”

“This ‘ain’t no starship man.  We don’t have that kind of equipment,” replied Bogart.  Servo interjected almost immediately.

“Analytic systems do exist aboard this vessel, and are merely dormant.  I shall reactivate them, good sirs!”

“Looks like I got me the King of England for a co-pilot,” said Bogart.  Servo’s fingers danced over the buttons, information was buzzing and chirping on the screen.  Bogart couldn’t keep up.

“You’re sure handy to have around,” said Bogart.  Servo stopped and turned.

“It grieves me to report that I have found an energy source consistent with the destruction of a star-class planet,” he said.  Suddenly the com buzzed.  Bogart started to put it up on the screen, but Servo beat him to it before he even raised an arm.  An ugly and angry Vexan appeared.

“I am Glock, of the Vexan Empire.  Give us the parcel or be destroyed.”

“Where did the Vexan ship come from?” asked Hox, looking out one of the cockpit portals.

“You have thirty “earth” seconds,” he said, then blinked out.  The three of them continued to stare at the com screen.  Hox finally spoke.

“How many ships are out there I wonder?” he said.  Servo, as usual had the depressing answer.  “I detect six battleship cruisers.  All cloaked from sensors.  Perhaps victory may elude us yet, dear friends…”

“Great!  And no weapons at all,” said Bogart.  He looked over at Servo hopefully.

“We are unarmed my friend, our only defense is courage…”

“Maybe we can negotiate something,” said Hox.  He reached over and hailed Glock.

“Yes?” answered Glock.

“Perhaps we can come to some kind of agreement, an exchange.  We never received payment for this delivery and…”

“You have fourteen seconds left,” he said, and the transmission ended.

On the battleship Arrghamuss, Glock sat glowering at his view screen.  This tiny courier ship was standing in his way and he did not like it.  He liked to destroy things; it was a nice release for him. Of course, he couldn’t fire upon the tiny ship with such a valuable package aboard, but they didn’t know that.  Second officer Sprong came over.

“Glock! Hock, meck sphwa gleep!” (they are sending the parcel over! We’ve succeeded!  Hail Vexan!)

“Blaugh,” said Glock.

The tiny parcel drifted off until it was centered between the two ships.  Glock ordered a tractor beam to retrieve it.  Gleefully he made his way down to the cargo hold.  Once there, he stopped and hailed the Earthstar.

“You have made a wise choice Earth-people,” he said.  “Now you may leave…”

Bogart didn’t need to be told twice.  He engaged the engines and took off.  Servo was at the console, looking at engine schematics.  Hox looked like he was about to have a coronary at any second.

In the cargo bay of the Arrghamuss,  Glock stood in front of the Dutronium case containing his prize.  He pushed aside three ensigns and took it.  He smiled a rotten orange smile.

“The Galaxy is mine!” he said, laughing.

He opened the box.

And found nothing.

Bogart had the Earthstar at almost full throttle now and the ship was rattling uncomfortably.  They agreed to try hiding in the Antares system where stellar gasses negated any tracking sensors.

“He’s gonna be mad,” said Bogart.

“We had no choice, friend,” said Servo.  “Sic Semper Tyranus! Thus be it ever to tyrants…”

“Right dude,” replied Bogart.  Hox called down to the engine room to check on Helena.  “Listen babe, I hate to be the bearer of bad news…”

“What’s going on up there?  The ship is shaking like a leaf.  Why is Bogart running the engines at full throttle?”

“We had a little run-in with a Vexan named Glock, Captain of the Vexan militia.  He wanted our package, so we sent him a ringer.  He’s gonna be mad…”

“A ringer?”

“An empty case,” said Hox.  We need hyper-drive, or we’re dead.”

“I need help.  Can you send Servo down here?”

Hox turned to the cockpit.  “Servo, can you fix a Hyper-Space Matrix?”

“I can fix anything my good man!  Point the way!”  He said, and was out the door.

Bogart interrupted.  “Hox, sensors are picking up ship signatures.  It’s Glock.”

“Can we get more speed?”

Bogart looked at the control panels, and blinked once, “Nope.  No more speed.”

“Our only chance is Antares.  How long till we reach it?”

“An hour or so.”

Hox looked sour.  “That’s a destroyer-class war ship chasing us.  We need hyper-drive and we need it now.”

Down in engineering Helena was beside herself.  In a matter of minutes Servo had completely rewired the auxiliary port.  It looked as good as new.

“Servo, I could kiss you!” she said.

“All in the line of duty my dear.  By studying the ships schematics I was able to adjust the engine’s speed drag,” he said.  He pushed a button over on the console.

“What was that?”

“I increased the engine’s speed threshold by 10 percent.”

The com buzzed.  “What did you guys do?  My speed’s up by…”

“Ten percent, I know.  Servo again,” said Helena.

Servo then routed the hyper-space matrix into the auxiliary port.  He was finished in minutes.

“So, do we have hyper drive?” asked Helena.

“We may need a few moments for the ship’s mainframe reactor to calibrate the matrix into its system.  I calculate 3.7 minutes until full power-up. Now, if there is nothing else, I must return to my post and aid my good fellow, Monsieur Bogart.  Good day Madame! Adieu!” said Servo.  The lights suddenly went out and the ship heaved and they were thrown to the floor.

“What’s going on up there?” yelled Helena into her communicator.

Bogart’s voice, tinny, and calm, “Glock found us.  Hold on.”

There was another violent jolt.  Helena almost dashed her head on a support strut, but Servo caught her.

“There’s nothing more we can do here.  Let us leave for the front, and prepare for battle. Onward!” said Servo.

Moments later they were in the cockpit.  Servo took his seat beside Bogart.  “You are a brave man, facing danger alone.  But I am here to assist you now.  Have no fear!”

“What’s our status?” asked Helena.

“We’re okay.  Our protection grid held up,” said Bogart.  Hox scanned the vicinity and found the Arrghumuss only 300 kilometers aft, and gaining.

Bogart came alive.

“They’re firing again.  Everybody grab something,” he said neutrally.  He rammed the controls all the way to the left as far as they would go.  The Earthstar did a tight spiral and barely avoided the blaster-ray from the Arrghumuss.

“That was too close.  How long until we have hyper-drive?” asked Hox.  Servo was already on it, checking systems.

“1.5 minutes.  When the auxiliary light flashes, we shall have hyper-drive.” He said.

Everyone stared at the auxiliary light.  It was not flashing.

The world keeled over again as another blaster-ray from the Vexan battleship nearly tagged them.  It was close enough to disrupt power supplies and the crew of the Earthstar sat in complete darkness for a few moments.  The emergency panel was flashing and buzzing.

“What’s wrong?” asked Hox from his position on the floor.

“Shields are gone.”

The com chirruped, and Glock came on screen.

“You cannot run from me.  Your shields are off-line and your pitiful little vessel cannot hope to out-run a destroyer-class Vexan battleship.  Give me the parcel, and I promise you a swift death,” he said.

Just then, the auxiliary button lit up.

“Mr. Bogart, you now have hyper-drive,” Said Servo.

“But we can’t use it yet,” he whispered, “we need to pre-determine a course or we’ll hit a meteor or a planet or something.”

“Any port in a storm my good man,” said Servo.  He hit the aux button and jammed the controls forward.

“Once more unto the breach dear friends!!  Once more unto the breach!!!” Servo yelled. The ship rattled like an old tin can. The noise was cacophonous.

As Glock sat staring, the Earthstar simply disappeared into nothingness.

The Earthstar came out of hyper-drive somewhere in the Solaris System and a sigh of relief came over the crew.  Back in engineering, Helena and Hox were staring at the Dutronium case, wondering what to do with it, and its mysterious contents.

“Well, we can’t keep it.  Can we sell it? Make our money back?” asked Helena.

“Anything that the Vexan militia is interested in can’t be very good for humanity and the universe at large.  I say we bury it, so other people of Glock’s ilk can never find it, whatever it is.”

Helena nodded agreement.

Epilogue

The Dutronium case and its contents were jettisoned over Primorak, a deserted planet near the Seti-Nine system.  It drifted in orbit for 15 days before the planet’s gravity snagged it and pulled it down.  It tumbled through the bio-sphere, ablaze.  Had anyone been on the ground looking up, it might have seemed like a shooting star or a piece of meteorite cascading through the upper atmosphere. It finally made its way down into the lower strata, landing on a dune and burying itself, some three or four feet into the sand.

Six years later, or more, a lone man came trudging through the barrens and came across the case.  A geyser had dislodged the thing from its hiding place in the ground, and it lay in the dusty sunlight.  It’s previously shiny sheath was now dull and matted, scarred by years of sand-blasting from Primorak’s fierce dust storms.  He stood looking at it for some time, did the man.  Sensing that this object was not from this world, he looked up towards the sky, shielding his eyes from the gritty wind, but he could see nothing.  His eyes fell back down to the case.  He picked it up and tested the weight of it.  Not heavy at all.  He placed it in his satchel, and headed home towards his hovel, back by the cliffs.  The night storms were coming, and he needed shelter fast.

Night on Primorak was treacherous; winds howled at untold speeds, and temperatures were well below biological endurance. The man, who had no name, was bundled up by the large stone cook stove, and basking in its hearth.  He nibbled on roasted vermin, and stared at the case sitting across from him on a table.  He stared for many hours, his only company the wailing winds and the sound of the sands, beating and scraping at his walls.  After a time, he rose and crossed the room.  He picked the case up.  He opened it.

Inside was a glass ball.  He could see his reflection in it, and the image startled him; he had never seen his own image before.  After a few moments of making funny faces into its glassy surface, he reached in and grasped it.  He held it up; it refracted the fire-light from the stove, and it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

Suddenly, his hands began burning, but he couldn’t put the orb down.  It had fused to his hands.  Seconds later, he was unable to move his entire body; skin, muscle, sinew, heart, lungs, organs, everything, crumbled.

The orb fell to the floor of the hovel, because there was nothing left to hold it up but ashes, and they too fell to the floor.  The thing began eating the ground, and the walls, and the roof, until nothing was left, and it lay exposed in the sand once again.

An hour later, the planet Primorak was gone; dusty motes of granite hung suspended in the void, the orb at its center gliding listlessly through the dark matter of interstellar space.

Where Glock would find it, three weeks later.

Like most people, I tried Twitter on for size.  Its austere nature was odd to me; no photos, no applications, nothing; Just one big message board.  But I found it very immediate, lively, and addictive.   The dangerous part; crashing, coming down.

At its best, Twitter provides instant conversation to whomever wishes to engage in it; you get to meet people, you partake in entertaining and educational talk, you communicate, you listen.  At its worst you’re bombarded with idiosyncratic messages (called Tweets) that are indecipherable, and people post enough quotes a day to choke a camel.  People on Twitter love posting quotes; they are ready-made for the Twitter- imposed 140 character limit.  All in all, it’s been an experience.  But there are bad side effects, one’s that I never expected.

People are people, no matter what form they choose to communicate in, and when you get them together you get the same social dichotomies that exist in real-life situations, offices, schools, clubs; we’re all human, and we all behave the same in social settings, whether it’s online via Twitter, or in the real world.  For instance, cliques exist on Twitter, and so do opinions, and tempers, and loneliness, and jealousies, and about a thousand other human behavioral traits.  There are smart people and dumb people, there are literary genii, and there are grammar school drop-outs who leave linguists swooning at their phonetic butchery.  It’s a smorgasbord of humanity, and they all have an opinion.  If you are not prepared to wade into this maelstrom, be forewarned.

Again, people are people, they will follow you, un-follow you, fight with you, love you, hate you, stick with you, abandon you, and everything else you can think of.  But you must not take it seriously.  You must not.

Perhaps a personal note is in order here.  I feel affected sometimes by all the things listed above.  I forget sometimes that people don’t always have to pay attention to me.  People don’t always have to respond to me, or “re-tweet me”, they don’t always have to be there for me, because they have their own lives, and being online all the time and being responsive to only one person is not a priority.  It’s just the way it is.  When I’m a little tired, and my usual online cohorts aren’t being as responsive as usual, I start getting down.  Not for long though.  I know they lurk somewhere in the weeds, listening.  And the good ones will always be listening.

I’ll admit though, Twitter isn’t for everyone.  I’m a writer, and the forum seems to work for me because I talk to other writers and other interesting and creative people.  There are many lost souls though, who use Twitter aimlessly; Bad idea; If I was only using Twitter to communicate randomly about random things to random people, I think I would drive myself nuts.  To everything there is a purpose, and Twitter is no exception.

I mentioned Twitter being addictive; it is.  Everyone likes to get messages.  Everyone likes attention.  And so you get to where you crave it.  As a writer, Twitter creates a lot of inspiration, but uses up a lot of time and ideas.  Sometimes I just can’t muster up even 140 characters; the well runs a little dry.  I’ve read where people say they need a “Twitter break.”  I can feel their pain, I really can.  It’s easy to jump in the fray sometimes, when you’re feeling good, and there are hundreds of conversations going on, but sometimes it can be daunting because there are millions using the service, and you get to feeling like a small fish in a very big pond.  This is not a good feeling.  It’s easy to get lost on Twitter, where messages flash by at light speed and you can barely catch them.  Tweets can disappear into a vast void instantly.  But damn it all, it’s so hard sometimes not to take it personal.  Is it all just a popularity contest?  Am I winning?  Am I losing?  Am I anything?

You may or may not relate with anything I mentioned above, but a lot of people do.  Creative people are often sensitive souls.  We’re forever  searching for that writing nirvana; a place where you can be accepted, and things will be perfect, and people will be perfect, and all your ideas will be perfect, but let’s face it,  there is no enigma greater then a human being, so don’t expect any of this perfectness.  If you wish to take part in the Twitter experience, you partake in the human experience; you’ll fight, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh, you’ll love and you’ll hate.  And if you need to take a “Twitter break” by all means do it.  I did, and now here I am, venting my feelings.  And it feels great.

And now, I can go back to Twitter, knowing that it’s not personal, it’s just life.

Goodnight Uncle Walter

Posted: July 18, 2009 in Uncategorized

“…And that’s the way it is.”

Walter Cronkite said those very words every evening for 19 years behind the anchor desk at CBS news.  He was there when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States, and when the same president was coldly assassinated 3 years later on November 22nd, 1963.  He was there to guide America, and hold its hand, during the turbulent and confusing decade of the 60’s, when the whole world was being turned upside down and inside out due to racial tensions, the anti-war movement, and the hippie movement youth-quake.  He was there at America’s proudest moment, when the Apollo 11 spacecraft blasted off into the troposphere and landed man on the moon.  He sat at the center of all this, calm, cool and collected, effectively creating the model of the modern day anchorman.   And now he’s gone, too soon even at age 92.

I was too young to have really appreciated Walter Cronkite, but I have heard through the years that he was known as “the most trusted man in news,” and after seeing various clips of him and listening to that soothing voice, his calm demeanor, and his heartfelt delivery, I can see why.  If I had to hear bad news, I would have liked Walter Cronkite to break it to me.

Walt was a pioneer; he started broadcasting when TV was at its infancy, and worked without a net most of the time.  This was in the age before tele-prompters, remember;  he gave his most famous broadcast, the Kennedy assassination, off the cuff, standing by a United Press International Wire machine, reading the news as he received it.  And he shared his anguish, visibly choking back tears as he told us that the beloved president was dead.  His honesty, his humanity, is what made him the towering figure that he was.  They don’t make them like Walter Cronkite anymore.

I was just a kid when Walter Cronkite gave his last newscast, on Friday March 6th, 1981.  I remember watching it with my parents.  Hell, I bet all of America and the world were watching.  And somehow I felt sad about it, his weathered and kindly face, his calm voice; he was hypnotic.  And the reason I felt sad was because I was picking up on Walter’s emotions; he was sad to go too.  He was being forced to retire.  Still, I watched him give his last statement as CBS anchorman:

“This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it’s a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we’ve been meeting like this in the evenings, and I’ll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I’m afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards,  preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow,  and anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers, and none of that will change. Furthermore, I’m not even going away! I’ll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don’t fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that’s the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.”

Goodnight Walter; I guarantee you’ll make anchor in Heaven.

David Hunter, The Writers Den

I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.  The other kids in the neighborhood thought I was crazy, because I would spend summer afternoons under the shade of the giant maple tree across the street with a pen and paper, doodling, scribbling, writing and creating fantastic worlds.

I guess you could say I was born to write.  It took a long time to find that out though; sometimes the passion was obscured by life’s little detours and dramas.  And, let’s face it, we’re not all great writers right off the bat.  There’s a lot to learn.  Also, sometimes we take an end-run at what we really want in life; we do things the hard way.

I always wanted to be a cartoonist.  I read them constantly (but what kid doesn’t?) and I wanted to make my own.  When the parents found out they gushed, “our  protege!” however, sometimes parents can lead you to believe anything, and I wasn’t that great a cartoonist.  I think I was being praised for simply trying; and that’s deceptive.  Now, I would never blame a parent for that, I would have done the same thing, but it adds an interesting layer to the tapestry.  It let me find out things for myself.

Then there was music; I picked up a guitar one day when I was 16 and found I could just play.  Just like that, I was off joining bands and playing bars.  Detours.  I had a journal at the time, so writing was present in my life, but nothing could beat the  feeling and acceptance I got from playing that guitar on stage; a thousand watts of power, sound,  people out there past the lights in the dark yelling, hooping and hollering for me.  Writing, naturally, took a back seat.  It was a few years before my dream of becoming an artist were dashed as well.

My college art professor, David Blustien, animator extraordinaire, ran his classes like a boot camp.  He was tough; he had seen the carnage out in the field.  He pulled me aside after the course was finished.  He told me he hated my drawing.

He hated my drawing, but he loved my writing.

This was a man who had drawn comics for Marvel, Mad magazine and many others.  He was an animator for Disney.  When he told me, after 8 months of classes, that my drawing was weak, I was devastated.  But he loved my writing.  He loved my writing.

So, comics were out.  My last band had devolved into egotistical pettiness (as it will, in a band) and I quit.  I had nothing left.  Except to write.

But it hasn’t come easy; if it was easy, everyone would do it.

So Writing and I, all we have is each other now.  There’s nothing else.  Nothing to dilute or distract or weaken this passion I have.  I still play guitar, and I can still draw comics, but I always come back to her, the written word.  Some can express a dusky sunset with a song, some can paint a visual masterpiece of a misty mountain range on canvas with oil paints, but I can only describe it in word pictures; can only bring people there through the power of the page.  That’s my gift.

If I had only discovered that before.

Posted: July 8, 2009 in Uncategorized

The King is dead.

No, not Elvis;  he shuffled off this mortal coil long ago.  I mean the king of pop, Michael Jackson.

Michael had been omnipresent for the past 4 decades, in a very tough business, and endured the insidious scrutiny that came with the age of the internet.  He was a triple threat; singer, songwriter, dancer.  He broke color barriers, became the first African American to gain heavy rotation on MTV.  He was a humanitarian.  He was the butt of tasteless jokes.  He was a lot of things.  And now he’s gone.

But this overwhelming sadness is not  just about his death; I’m jarred by the sudden realization that everything ends eventually, and this previous feeling of permanence is fading.  Whether Michael was on the charts at his peak or living through his last, and toughest, years, he was still there.  You had the feeling that he was always just around the corner, waiting to come back into our lives.

As though he would always be there for us, when ever we were ready to listen again.

I’m guilty of the jokes too, I confess, but I never wished death on him; I always respected the talent and the heart of the man, he was  a true artist.  And,  I admit, I abandoned him for other artists as I got older.  I still remember, as a kid, staying up till midnight to watch the first broadcast of Thriller that long ago Halloween.

That was one of the best nights of my childhood.

None of us like to be reminded that we are mortal.  It’s inconvenient.  And none of us  feel too comfortable knowing that someone as young, so full of life, so there, as Michael was, could ever die.  It throws a monkey wrench into our little insulated worlds; a kind of forced perspective, to misappropriate a theater term.  I’m being forced to think about death, and life.

Michael is gone, and I feel emptier today.  Like the old adage, “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”,  I’m feeling like I should have appreciated Michael a little more when he was alive, listened to his music more when he was alive, and thought about him more when he was alive.  In my mind though, he had grown old and anachronistic, a relic of the past;  not so.  He was as relevant as ever, musically and artistically, but the headlines turned us against him anyway.  He gave us a whole life of entertainment.  He  gave us  his nervous system, gave up his privacy and his dignity, and watched it get trampled on.  And then we stopped listening.

We turned our backs on him.

But he still loved his fans, and that says more about the man then anything I can ever say.

The King is dead,  gone too soon.