One might ask, once you’re done Googling the given title, why the HELL would we be interested in a book published 72 years ago. That was before the Red Scare of the 1950s, before fears of nuclear war overtook all future versions of Armageddon. There is wisdom in old works, perhaps more than can be found in contemporary books. I found for myself this is a more timely text than was seemingly possible.
The back cover of the 1976 edition I read describes this as ‘a novel about a tomorrow that could happen today’. After the events of 2020 it seems very close to home. Our protagonist, Isherwood Williams, spends some time in a cabin in the woods recovering from a rattlesnake bite. He comes back to a city that appears deserted. Scattered newspapers, what’s left of them, tell of a ‘new and unknown disease of unparalleled rapidity of speed, and fatality’. Unlike in 2020, in the novel there was a concerted and competent government response, although this pathogen still wiped out the better part of the population of the late great United States.
I saw a lot of myself in Ish. He was well read, and probably more mechanically inclined than I. Basically he’s a good person trying to make sense of an impossible situation. At first he was all right with solitude, he could do without loads of people and their problems for a while. Peace and quiet were nice, and he was free to do what he wanted. Some inhibitions had to be broken, such as when Ish had to start breaking into stores to get canned goods, just for his own needs, now without fear of prosecution. Given that all means of mass production were essentially gone, canned goods were all that city people had to live on.
But no one can live alone forever. That’s how Ish was adopted first by a homeless dog, Princess, which lead him to Em, his future wife and the woman who would become this novel’s Mother of the community they gather together in an old California suburb. . As the first, original Mother, Em becomes the heart of what they call the Tribe, probably the most intuitive person and the one everyone defers to in matters.
This community Ish gathers, this Tribe, is comfortable, too much so perhaps. Even when a crisis arrives, when the reservoirs have dried up and no more water is to be had from their taps, it is very hard to stir the people to make an effort even to dig a well.
I can see this–I believe it. For a novel written seven decades ago, it has a clarity and insight. These are average people with average goals, without much ambition to rebuild civilization as they knew it. Ish’s efforts to educate the children of their small Tribe come to no avail, until he settles on more basic–and potentially fun skills, such as bows and arrows. And of course there is the Hammer, which Ish has carried with him from the beginning. This becomes an unconscious symbol of power, a tool as well as a faithful companion that Ish has to pass on in the end.
I would highly recommend Earth Abides. There is more truth, more humanity there than a lot of the propaganda we’ve indulged in for the past several years.
Soon as this was over she wanted to get stoned again. So much had been real…so much surreal: the heft of Kali Ma’s sword in her fist, the cool solidity of the pommel. Cradling Lady Smirnoff to her chest, her weight in her four arms evenly distributed, drooping like a lazy cat…
The Professor and Dr. Chen bumbled into each other as Lianna jumped up. She tossed off the blanket, then immediately tugged it back to her naked chest. She took in the bland white medical cabinet over a sink behind the medics, the stiff sheets under her legs.
Dreamy, fuzzy images floated in the periphery of her thoughts; an emergence of some kind on the main floor of the observatory, her tail swishing between her buttocks. No tail now, she thought. Some wise ass must’ve thought it’d be a good idea to get her to the outpost’s dispensary. That was probably a good idea since she didn’t remember much after first she dropped Lady Smirnoff, and then collapsed herself.
She slapped her left shoulder, groping for ridges, skin folds, anything that would be indicative of a scar. She came up empty. “Professor, how many arms did I have when I got back?”
Their distended eyeballs gave the game away. Troopers that they were, they kept up the pretense. “Two, of course,” the Professor replied, lifting his arms. “Just two. Right, Chen?”
“Oh yes, yes! How many arms were you expecting to have?” His forced laugh reeked of fear and barely suppressed hysteria. And then Petersen burst in.
“Got the stills developed! They’re gonna love this at the…” he frowned, first at the two scientists waving their hands like livid sports coaches. His eyebrows raised at Lianna, nodding at her cot. “Oh. Hi, four-arms.”
That earned him the double sock in the arm that she’d been waiting for. “I knew it!” Lianna bounced off the cot, pacing the room despite the Professor’s efforts to keep up and drape his lab coat over her. “I knew it! It’s the first proof that the Hindu cosmology has a basis in fact! I gotta write this up in the Physicists Quarterly–“
“Mom would shit if she could see this! This would be the best–!”
Both bare heels slapped on the deck. The Professor stopped himself just in time, finally succeeding in wrapping his coat over her. “Your other limbs disappeared shortly after we had you settled,” he said.
“What, they melted?”
“No, they…how do I say this, dissipated. I can’t explain it better than that. They seemed to vanish as soon as you came off your high. Umm, how much powder did…?”
“I thought it’d be a bit much.”
Lianna crossed her arms with a smirk. “And if there had been evidence of a transformation, I suppose you’d keep it from me anyway?”
The Professor sighed. “Lianna, cultivating a personal relationship with Kali is not something I’d encourage.”
“But isn’t that what Mom and Poppa wanted to investigate? Surely that’s the reason they kept such extensive notebooks.”
The Professor nodded to both points, though his downturned bushy mustache suggested he now wished that he’d never let her get her hands on them, let alone follow the hints and star charts highlighted in red in the margins. ‘What happened to my tail? And what about Lady Smirnoff?”
“First, allow me to congratulate you on the successful conclusion of your extraditionary mission. She’s in the next room. Would you like to see? We can discuss the, umm, other item after that.”
Her deep crimson skinsuit glistened even in the dimmed lighting ordered for her recovery room. What was left of it, anyway. Lady Smirnoff looked like she’d been through a war and lost. Her right leg was a purplish stump below the knee. Her left side wasn’t in much better shape. The skinsuit over both her left shoulder and breast was torn, exposed to the dangers of the Microverse. In fact, her left breast appeared to have been punctured by a barbed shaft. Tardigrade, Lianna deduced silently.
Further puncture marks could be found in both wrists, another in her suit through the crotch. Some repulsion prevented Lianna from examining that hole too intensely. Lianna took a scanner from a young medic in training, which enabled her to probe the puncture just below Lady Smirnoff’s breast that almost reached through her chest cavity to her heart. Curiously, all these puncture wounds had been plugged with a flexible, indigo-tinted foam. Further proof, to Lianna at least, of Kali’s charity, or malice.
The medics stepped aside to let Lianna in, but not too far from the floating examination table. They were keeping her in an induced coma for now, they told her, pending a decision by the outpost’s chief of staff toward what exactly they were supposed to do with her; whether her punishment by Kali had been sufficient, if indeed that would factor into any subsequent care she’d receive at a better equipped facility.
Her hand squeezed the smooth blotchy stump, just above the knee. Lianna peeled back one of Lady Smirnoff’s eyelids. Her pupils had shrunk to tiny dots. Her facial features, usually so stern, was relaxed in sedated rest. She hadn’t been prepared for this, Lianna thought, her hand lingering for what little comfort it might offer. Sweet Kali, what a state her mind must be in.
“Baby, come on,” the Professor said, gently taking her hand. He led her along the main corridor to the Specimen Lab. Normally this was where cultures were housed in specialty racks, behind vacuum sealed doors housing the wall-mounted coolant cells. He fixed on the third coolant door to the right, grunting as he yanked the handle down.
A tray rolled out containing no racks full of specimen trays, only an extra-large storage bin, about the size of Lianna’s upper torso. With the input of a code, the top was forced wide open as a bushy something arched out of its confined space.
“It didn’t dissipate…”
“Presumably Kali wanted this preserved, as a keepsake,” the Professor muttered. “So we’d know this wasn’t entirely a dream.”
The thick fur yielded several centimeters to the touch. Moments passed as he watched her stroke the reddish streaks. The end where it should’ve ‘connected’ seemed evenly cut, or partly healed. “Did you guys…?”
“We didn’t have to do anything. It sort of popped off as soon as you two hit the floor, just as a chameleon’s would.” All latches shut quietly, efficiently as he tucked the fur back under the lid and shoved the tray door shut. Lianna drew the lab coat closer, almost disappearing inside it.
“Professor, this isn’t a surprise to you. None of it. I’ve given you probably the most absurd, unscientific reports you’d ever seen, about things that would normally get a gal shipped to the nearest funny farm. And you…you just accept them. How much did you know, before I started out there?”
He kept his hands in his pants pockets, then adjusted the online scribbler in his top shirt pocket with a smile. “I had a more adventurous youth than I’ve let on. Several of my experiences could be described as humbling. I’d like to tell you I was never…hmm, intimate within my interpersonal contacts, but,” he shrugged, “I could never lie to you, child.”
“But you’re never gonna tell me about those experiences, are you?” she asked.
Still smiling, perhaps a little more warmly, he held out his hand to her. “There’s too much to cover in one afternoon,” he said. She clutched the coat to her bunched in one hand, while with the other she took his proffered palm. “But I see no reason why we couldn’t start.”
The professor will probably shit when he reads this report. This was supposed to be a rescue mission. Floating inside the belly of a tardigrade wasn’t part of the plan. Still, navigating the microsphere wasn’t so tough. In some ways it was similar to free fall in zero gravity. This water bear bore me with remarkable alacrity now that I was inside it, if one can assign such values to a microbial anthropoid thingy.
I’m trying not to touch anything. I should be thinking of my own survival, floating in this thick interior jelly, but…this specimen was unique. Its feeding stylets actually shifted into a fissure in the upper part of its snout, which enabled it to ‘devour’ me without harm…. shit, those phrases don’t really belong together, do they?
A flap had opened in its digestive bulb after its intestinal tube pushed me through. That allowed me to slide into its lower body cavity, in the segments between its third and fourth pairs of legs. Here I was wedged between his spinal ridge and that intestinal tract that ran like a big ugly worm throughout the length of its chubby body.
If I pressed my face to its inner membrane I could breathe; these bugger’s respirate through the pores of their skin anyhow. I wasn’t alone either. There were swarms of beach-ball sized nodules–no, eggs, in this fluid-filled cavity with me.
All this for a woman who hated me. Lady Smirnoff was jealous of my position with the Professor, thought he favored me over her. Funny thing was, I was never aware of having any ‘position’. He saw her as a capable lab assistant. Me, I always called him Professor but I thought of him as a second Dad.
Jealousy had driven her to steal an experimental shrinking formula from Dr. Chen’s biolab. It worked, after a fashion. She surprised me in the lab and gave me a hefty spray. Then she watched as a alien grub devoured me.
That the plan failed was only on account of the formula’s unstable nature. Let’s just say that grub experienced an explosive end, once the shrinking effect wore off. I fought back before she could douse me again. Her tanks ruptured on a lab sink, exposing her to ten times the dosage I received. All that was left of her after that were her clothes. Fortunately the biolab was able to refine the formula into a stable element for this mission.
Apparently the goal lay ahead. Mama Bear was ambling along a string of lichen toward this gorgeous orchid floating improbably in this microscopic soup. Its spreading petals displayed a blood red aperture, a bowl tapering into a rounded pitcher vessel. As if aware of our approach, the skin of the pitcher became transparent, stretching over four projecting fingers pawing at its interior. The fingers curled into claws before its waxy outer skin smoothed over once more.
And above said orchid floated my host, I suppose, the goddess who’d been guiding and testing me up to this point. Dark hair that absorbed all color from the spectrum billowed around an oily blue face. Fangs indented the corners of her full red lips while a necklace of skulls rattled across her neck.
Eggs poked my bare thighs as we bobbed in this baptismal chamber, waiting to be discharged unto the world. The question becomes how this mother tardigrade intended to eject me. If I recalled my studies aright, baby tardis get excreted through the anal chamber to make their way in the world–oh crap, that’s not how–
A gush of fluid flooded its torso as a narrow tube squeezed me out of my host. God, do I feel like an ass–! …Stop that. After orienting myself, I paddled to her as the tardigrade lumbered on about its own business. Four arms beckoned and gods, she was as naked as I was. “Welcome, daughter,” she intoned.
I sighed and waved, “Hi, Mom.”
“Oh, you’ve sweated up a storm, child. You’re going to be in no condition to carry your burden home. Come, drink.”
A cup was raised. I hadn’t noticed the empty eye sockets and grinning teeth until I’d taken it in my hands, shaking now as I raised it to my lips. Thankfully instead of worms it tasted of ice-cold water; just water. I drained that, and the second skull thermos she detached from the band around her perfect waist.
Still I held back, suddenly uncomfortably aware of my own state of unclothedness. Shivers rattled me; and yeah, the fact was that I could not look this manifestation of Kali in the face. “Gaze upon me, mortal,” she chuckled.
I gazed down at the underside of my bare arms. “I-I can’t, not as long as you’re wearing that face.”
Her upper left palm, red as blood, cupped my cheek, so very warm. I hadn’t thought about how frigid this place was in a while, if at all. “Does this face displease thee?”
“No–I mean, yes! Gods, you’re gorgeous, it’s just–I know you’re really not her. I-I see Mama lying dead, on the floor by our bed, every time–it just reminds me–“
“C’mere, little vine.”
Just like that my head shot up. That was her voice–! With my guard down, four strong arms drew me to her bosom. I rested my chin on her shoulder, inhaling the scent of incense and perspiration, blood and jasmine all intermingled. Muscles oiled with sweet alms flexed in a protective cocoon. “Why have I found favor with you?” I whispered.
Hands stroked waist and shoulders as her warm breath brushed my neck. “The pure of spirit are rare in the mortal sphere, more so in the realm of gods. It would be sacrilegious to tarnish such a spirit, especially one that has survived so many perils.”
“Huh. You haven’t seen me with the freaks I’ve encountered.”
“Wanna bet, kiddo?”
I jerked back, enough that I was staring nose to nose into my mother’s eyes. That long forgotten smirk was there for a second, and then there was only Kali Ma. Red palms stroked both my cheeks. “Innocence is a state beyond sexuality. It is possible to possess such purity even when the flesh is weak.”
“Doesn’t feel weak when I’m turned on.”
We both shared a laugh. “And now,” Kali said, “I suppose you will want to view the prize, the object as it were of your quest.”
Her arms stretched to their full length as I gazed over the rim of petals. At first I only saw vague shapes in the darkness, two blue mounds twitching and pressing over a reddish scalp. The blue flesh parted and a face tipped up. Our eyes met but no recognition flickered in her glassy stare.
I’d spent weeks scrutinizing every microscope in the observatory to find her. The Professor would pass me the odd assignment to take my mind off her. Somehow, I finally found her. Or maybe I was allowed to view the inescapable horror she’d been subjected to. Maybe it was a challenge our host knew I couldn’t ignore.
Her skin was the whitest shade of pale, with sweaty cheeks sunken. But this was unmistakably the missing Lady Smirnoff. The rest of her body was lost in a quivering fluid mass pressing into her. The mounds flopped over her face with a wet slop and she was gone again. “Is she all right?” I asked as Kali pulled me close again.
“That depends on your definition.”
“Why hasn’t she tried to escape?”
“Where is there for her to escape to? The hallucinating incense infusing that bulb have convinced her that our bodies have melded. It was easy to maintain the delusion with an extension of our musculature around her crippled form.”
“Her encounter with an amoeba was not so fortunate as yours. She has lost the lower half of her right leg. Have no fear, I can detach myself from her at any time. But I needed her to reflect on her life choices, on the karma that had brought her to this state. And I wished her anguish for the terror she had inflicted on thee.”
“I think she’s got it. Kali Ma…Mama…will you grant me the boon of releasing the Lady Smirnoff to me?”
“She may not recognize you now. Not much of her feeble mind is left.”
“I-I don’t care,” I panted. “I need to bring her back.”
“She is not likely to thank you.”
“Huh. That’s what the Professor said. Please, this is inhuman.”
‘Neither are we.”
“Yeah, well,” I ducked down, staring down at my wringing hands. “I am. I’m human. I-I know she did this to herself, but…I can’t leave her. I don’t understand why but I don’t hate her. If only you could understand.” I kept staring down even though I could sense Kali’s gaze on me. Her lips pressed to my forehead. The words she spoke were my Mama’s.
“You couldn’t abandon her to a hopeless situation, the way I’d abandoned you on the Lost Ship.”
“It wasn’t your fault…”
“So. That wasn’t so hard, wasn’t it?”
I shrugged. “I’m still not sure how I’ll get back. Your tardigrades burst all my nanobots, and the growth formula they were carrying. Even if we can get home, we might both be stuck at this size.”
But then Kali held a capsule under my nose, right before she quickly withdrew it and tucked it back into one of her waist pouches. “Not so fast, silly me. That was a disintegration pill. Here’s…no, wait, that’s another shrinking pill. Fear not, I’ll find it. Take this,” she muttered as she absent mindedly handed over the sword in her upper left hand
“What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked.
“Dance, of course. Join me in the Dance of Kali.”
“I-I can’t dance.”
“Yes you can.”
“But I never…”
“You would deny Kali, who wears your mother’s face?”
“No, I’m just saying…” What was I trying to say? I kept staring down, muttering words to myself: “Om Hreem Shreem Kleem Adya…” “I’ve never danced before. I don’t know how.”
Her upper right arm stretched tight as she took hold of mine, now also extended straight. “Fear not. It’s easy. Follow my steps.”
But there were too many questions. What was this supposed to accomplish? How was this going to get the pair of us home, and at normal size? What was normal anyway? Why’d she have to take my mother’s–
“Shhhh…no more questions. Let your thoughts flow.”
I was about to protest further before this Kali apparition blew into her palm. A cloud of fine dust pecked me full in the face. Breathing was a reflex so I sucked it right up my nostrils and…and…what purty colors they are, swirlin’ an’ oscillatin’ rainbow suckers.
Everythin’s all fuzzy an’ dreamy. Why’d my stomach drop, an’ where these other two arms come from? No, I gotta be dreamin’. My shoulders ain’t really brushin’ up to another pair o’ shoulders rotatin’ an’ poppin’ in their sockets like dey always been there. Heyyy, my palms was red all over, all four of ’em.
Big Blue Babe pressed her hands inna mine, gobs of fingers strokin’ the back o’ my four hands, an’ objectively, Kali’s one gorgeous bitch. “Now I knows you actin’ like a gob,” I giggled. “My mama wudn’ make me hallubsin–hallub–she wudn’ do dat.”
“Is that all you’ve noticed? Suppose I imagined an extra pair of arms growing out of your ass?”
“Eyyy, dis is my hallub–hallu-oooo!” Somethin’ pushed between my cheeks–! I took a gander over both right shoulders just as somethin’ silky, bushy an’ red wit’ white stripes swished from my butt.
I guess when yer stoned dancin’ is easy. Kali’s moves wuz like oil, fluid an’ smooth an’ so precise. With my four palms pressed to hers, I could kinda trace her movements. Her sidewise shuffle led me forward an’ pushed me back, while our arms wheeled in flowing clockwise circles.
The hard part wuz knowin’ which Kali to follow. There wuz ‘nuther Kali overlaid on top of the first one, all fuzzy an’ trailin’ rainbow colors. Didn’t nobody line up the 3D projectors right? Well, so wat? Anythin’ she could do–
OWWWW! I popped the socket in my hip steppin’ too far out. And she kept on, raisin’ her hands in the prayer position, bobbing her head side to side. I followed as her arms flowed up an’ around, feet sliding side to side and back. Our tails counted time as dey swayed to balance us. Our upper palms came together as our heads zigzagged, sharp yet synchronous.
It wuz just me an’ Kali, skifflin’, hand in hand, countless fingers interlocked while Mama’s bootiful lashes batted like butterfly wings. Mebbe it wuz ‘cos we wuz on the same wavelength but some minutes in, it hit me that we been doin’ the same singsong chant: “Om hreem shreem …adya kalika param…” Kinda like that.
A really absurd thought entered my mind as I pirouetted…hey, with this sword I could kill Kali. I dismissed it quick, largely ‘cos even in this state I was repulsed that I ever thought. Besides, this wasn’t Kali facing me, just another aspect of her. That’s probably why she took Mama’s face in the first place. Judging by her toothy smile and slow shake of the head, she already knew what I was thinking anyway.
At some point Kali-Mom eased away. I wuz ‘lone, an’ somehow I didn’ mind. My legs still pranced, touchin’ on water molecules as dey traced her movements as if dey’d always knowed how. Her sword was still in my hands. Our chant grew louder, more authora…authora–more bossy.
Kali floated ‘hind ‘er orchid bulb, gesturin’ hypnotically over its petals. A shadow rose over the inner rim. An’ there she wuz, Lady Smirnoff floatin’ feather-like over her former prison. The left shoulder o’ her skinsuit wuz torn down t’ the upper bicep an’ yeh, her right leg was gone below the kneecap. Her stern scowl musta mellowed on ‘count of her zombie-like torpor.
Despite her emaciated state, she wuz hot in that glistening crimson skinsuit. Oh my gawd, it emphasized every voluptuous curve. You jus’ hang on, gorgeous, we’s gonna gets you outta here.
Now I nebber used a sword ‘fore, but somehow I knew what I hadda do. With an “om hreem shreem” I held my upper hands pointin’ up in supplication, blade straight an’ true as we cut a 180-degree arc in the space facin’ us. On the “adya kalika param“, I followed with a reverse cut…I think. Some of it’s kind of a blur. An’ then it wuz like sunrise over the Moon.
Light poured in us, radiant godlike an’ pure, and ohmygod so toasty–! Even as I bobbed over to take the Lady in my arm an’ arm an’ arm an’ arm, I wondered how Kali’d administer her potion to us, whether with another puff in our snozzers or a dab on our tongues–
Kali answered with a bucket drenched over our heads. Already our skins stretched taut as muscles bulged beneath ’em. There was no time for anything else as Kali braced herself on the rim of her orchid and with both feet booted us into the vortex…
A short excerpt from my next novel in progress, Sanity’s Edge. Enjoy.
I slipped off the ship after dark, once I could sense that everyone in the village was asleep. The forest was new but Mama had found me a new friend. We stared at each other under the shade of a mango tree as the Moon climbed into the sky. Its tongue flicked the air in the three-meter space that divided us. This wasn’t one of the gen-altered snakes I was accustomed to from my home. This bugger was all wild, possibly the first of its kind that I’d seen since childhood, possibly the first I’d ever seen in my life. Sweet Ngai, was she massive! Her trunk was thicker around than my thighs.
I sensed her full belly, so I had no worries on that score. Her scales had a fresh gloss, as though she had just completed shedding not too long ago. I suppose she wouldn’t object to a warm body to enfold. I closed the distance between us and stepped into her embrace.
I knew this would be a problem as soon as a hundred kilos seemed to land on my hips, pressing me down. My knees buckled at first, but I kept to my feet as a second curl of muscle wound behind my legs, brushing the skin of my thighs before plopping atop the first coil, in the process pushing up my breasts.
Both were solid rippling muscle. A thrill shuddered through my chest, and perhaps a little excitement. I’d never given myself to such a beast before. A third coil slipped past my shoulders, pressing my breasts into flattened ovals between them. Sweat trickled over them and down the middle of my back; but that was probably just the heat of this place. For now, I was content. As I held out my hand, the last meter of its tail settled in my palm, circling twice before cinching tight. With my eyes shut, we dropped as one bundled mass into the soft grass.
Of course that wasn’t the end of it. When was it ever so? The sun had barely emerged as a pink fingernail on the horizon when my hand comm chirruped in my waist pouch. This was ten meters away, along with the rest of my clothes.
Brutus, for so I named her, showed no inclination to release such a rich source of warmth, and gods, I didn’t want to leave this body hug just yet, either. Oh well. I stretched forth my free hand, the new new left one.
The hand comm made an oddly hard thump as it whipped through the grass into the false meat of my false hand. I settled back in Brutus’s coils, pillowing my neck on hers as I put the comm to my ear. “Jambo?”
“The correct greeting would be I ni sogoma, young miss, but we will let it pass this time,” a firm male voice replied. “Am I speaking to Miss Jamai Dlamini?”
“Yes,” I said, suddenly a little nervous.
“My name is Magistrate Oumar Hadad, the local prefect for this hamlet. Would it be possible for you to spare me a few minutes?”
“H-have I done something wrong?”
“Not at all. Your Captain Ismalla discovered you missing this morning and got it into his head that you would be in the fields, with a snake. And so you are.”
My body seemed to have frozen, even snug in Brutus’ coils, though my stare darted left and right. “Don’t be alarmed. The local children spotted you sleeping from some trees they were climbing. They almost took you for dead, but for the fact that you were snoring.”
“My deputy has been watching you via long-range glasses, to see to your safety. He will escort you to my office, in your own time.”
My own time…I could make them wait another hour…No, best to be done with it. “Whenever he’s done masterbating, I’d like to dress in peace.”
A deliberate pause followed. “Let me speak with him. You can pull yourself together while I’m berating him.” And the comm chirrped off.
(This is a short story fragment serving as an introduction to a current art series on my DeviantArt page. It follows on from two previous art projects, requests really, that have come over the past couple of years. Enjoy.)
Bad luck that the Professor came in at the precise moment I was adjusting my skinsuit’s fastenings. “Ah, Lianna, we need to talk about–whooaaa!” He swerved to one side so as not to see his little girl peel her suit off her torso.
He covered his eyes, still looking away, as my crimson bloboid Stavros peeled the legging from my right foot, then proceeded to work on the left one. Amba was on my left to steady me. The guys at the observatory had gotten used to their presence, my two alien lovers. Huh, alien…that’s a funny word. As far as the universe is concerned, we’re the aliens.
I have my own ideas about these two girls. Clearly they’re largely photosynthetic, manufacturing energy from their respective stars. Minerals augmented their nutritional needs, but it’s what they can do with their bodies that fascinates our resident stargazers. They can contain themselves in roughly humanoid forms; Amba especially has a height advantage over me. Still, it’s an approximation, where their faces hold the shape of a human face without any definition–their eyes are like round anime buttons. Back on my ship, they’re apt to slump into a mass of gel and…well, that’s for me to know.
Apparently my nakedness was more than the Professor could stand. Yeah, he bathed me as a child, but the last time he did that was like fifteen years ago. So now he snatched the nearest cot blanket and tossed it over my head. That was no deterrent at all. Stavros had been swept under the enveloping coverlet too, still assisting me in stripping down. “Might I ask the purpose of this?” the Professor inquired as the skinsuit flopped from under the covering onto a nearby seat with a rubbery smack.
“I told you what I saw, Poppa,” I muttered. “Lady Smirnoff is still alive on the microscopic level. She’s a prisoner of Kali, or a form of Kali, I dunno.”
“You’re seriously going to do this, undertake a rescue mission on your own, to a world beyond our comprehension, on behalf of a woman who’s already tried to kill you once, using the same gas she was exposed to herself? Oh dear…” He averted his gaze as Stavros and I flung off the blanket.
“Yeah, that about sums it up,” I said.
“Well that’s crazy! Child, consider what you’re saying. You may have been mistaken in what you saw.”
“How could I have been? That’s a very specific delusion, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”
“The mind plays tricks. You have had some extraordinary experiences. Perhaps–”
“I can’t stop thinking about it, Poppa!”
My butt slapped on the cold bench beside him. Neither of us could look at the other, mostly because of his discomfort at my state of undress. “I can’t stop seeing her, dissolving into Kali’s body. I can’t forget the hate in her voice when she tried to kill me. I didn’t know she felt that way about me. I didn’t–if I hadn’t made her storage tank rupture–”
“She’d have sprayed you with the same dosage of reducing gas she was exposed to, and you’d be lost.”
“Do you hate her so much, Poppa?”
“NO! it’s not–” his hands fidgeted, but then he reached over with the right hand to squeeze mine. “In the past you’ve come back to me with so many injuries because you never took the proper precautions, or you were careless. Lady Smirnoff was jealous of the attention I lavished on you, but what could I do? You were my child…adopted child, since your parents…
“Are you really willing to undertake a mission where no blame is attached to you? She’s not going to stop hating you. God knows, she might be on the brink of madness, after what she’s seen in that hidden world.”
God, he was so sad. Out of some childish habit, I dropped down in front of him and clutched his knees. “Poppa, I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. Whatever she feels about it, I can’t live with myself if I don’t try to help her. And I have listened to you enough that I’m taking some precautions.” I stood up then. “Come on, girls, let’s get started.”
Now that the suit was dispensed with, both my shipmates, my blobs, my lovers began what at first might have seemed like a massage, rubbing their hands over my body with circular strokes. I’m sure the Professor observed, at one of those times his avoidance strategy lapsed, the thin sheen of green and crimson goo they smeared over my epidermis, which was quickly absorbed by my pores. “A biological coating to shield you from contaminants on the microscopic level,” he said. “Very good.”
“I can’t take the skinsuit, it probably won’t shrink as handily as a biological subject–” and I tapped my chest with my fingertips, accidently jiggling my sweaty gigs. Oddly enough he wasn’t looking at me as a sexually active woman. Maybe in his eyes I’d always be that wary seven-year-old girl he picked up off a derelict starship, suspicious of all things except for that skinny balding scientist who became her adoptive father.
He swallowed, then seemed to remember not to stare. “Umm… assuming you find them, what’s the plan? Are you just going to ask the Goddess of Death to give you whatever’s left of her?”
‘That’s the general idea.”
The circular door hissed open like a gushing refrigeration unit, admitting Pederson, our overly tall microbiologist, carrying a tray of samples. “Hey, how’s my favorite geltoid?” he grinned–at Amba. As soon as he bent over the coolant unit to slide in his tray, Amba’s arm reared back, stretching an extra half meter as her ‘hand’ flattened into a roughly paddle shape. A sharp crisp smack rang from Pederson’s ass on impact.
Pederson’s head banged on the coolant unit’s upper frame. He staggered around, slipping on the slick tile floor. But there was no mistaking the sly grins that passed between them. “Ayy, are you two flirting with each other?” I demanded. Pederson shook his head, not very convincingly, while Amba offered only the slightest shrug.
The door gushed again to let Hue in next. “Oh please, the more the merrier,” the Professor grumbled. ‘Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”
The small stipple-haired fellow also avoided staring at me in my birthday suit. “Professor, we have tested the reduction samples. The subjects have all passed. We can replicate the process that reduced Lady Smirnoff safely with Lianna and recover her when needed.”
“Wait, wait, it’s illegal to test an experimental procedure like this on people–or animals, for that matter,” I interjected. “What did you test it on?” I happened to look in the mirror at the precise moment Amba and Stavros both tentatively raised their right hands.
“Girls!” I exclaimed. “What did you think you were doing? You don’t know what that stuff will do to you! Whose idea was this, anyhow?” And again, both ‘geltoids’ pointed at their own chests.
Then the Professor’s hand rested on my shoulder. “Child, they volunteered. Nobody coerced them. The young ladies volunteered a small quantity, barely a teaspoon from their core bodies. The formula Lady Smirnoff left on her database was applicable on both test subjects. Believe me, nobody in the observatory would dream of harming your best friends.”
“Even if some of you are bent on hitting on them,” I said, glaring at Pederson as he ogled Amba.
“Misses,” Hue continued, “we’ve prepared the nanobots, as you instructed. They have already been miniaturized and will be waiting in the lab when you’re ready. Forse will be here momentarily.”
Sooner than expected, as the door admitted yet another specialist, this time our resident optometrist. “Hey Four Eyes, whatcha got for me?” I grinned.
“Nothing if you insist on that peculiar frame,” Forse replied, but still with a twinkle in his baggy eyes. He opened a compact, keeping his stare on the two round half-orbs resting inside instead of my boobs. “These contact lenses will serve the same as compound eyes. Each has thousands of optical facets that will adjust to the focal points of your eyes, enabling something resembling normal vision.”
“Thanks, doc.” That’d be one advantage I’d have over what happened to Lady Smirnoff. At microscopic levels the light spectrum is pretty much irrelevant. God knows what I’ll find but at least I might be able to make some visual sense of it. It only took moments to pop the contacts in each eye, but then, I was facing a thousand semicircular images, all the same and yet peeling off from another angle, and another–
“Focus,” Forse chided. “Concentrate on one image, one form. The professor–seek him.”
Well I could see him, thousands of him, some facing me, more at half-profile the further out each image zoomed. But maybe, if I chose the one in the middle, and focused–Yesss! All those hundreds of warped eye-fields seemed to blur towards the center, dimming wetly before coming into crystal clear sharpness–probably the sharpest I’d ever seen my old man as he smiled.
From there it was but a short march to the lab. I entered alone. On the platform lay an open valise. Sensing my presence, there now rose half a dozen drones, barely visible to the naked eye. That’d change soon enough as the gas took effect. The nanobots I carried inside my own body had already received their peculiar instructions for whatever dangers we expected to encounter. Kali alone knew if that’d be enough.
Sucking in a last few deep breaths, I called, “All right, boys, let ‘er rip!”
[Hello there. This was something I scribbled one night for a project that may or may not ever come to fruition, bringing together all my female characters. Just for the hell of it I’m throwing it out here. See what you think. Enjoy.–Mike.]
She pushed herself up from the pile of bodies, wrinkling her nostrils against the sulfar stench wafting up from the lowlands. She stood tall, her cinammon-skin already damp with perspiration. Someone had thoughtfully provided a tight pair of snakeskin trunks, while leaving her feet bare. Next time, she mused, I get to pick my outfit.
Perhaps it was still night, Jamai thought. Somehow she knew this purple skyline with her roiling storm clouds had always been so. All it needed was a cliché bolt of–
“Holie!” And here it comes, grounded to the lightning rod her small companion thrust into the catwalk at the last second. A blinding flash illuminated her in white silhouette, but in all respects she appeared unharmed.
“Hah! Take that, you dinkoff! Nobody beats science around here!” After taking one quick around, she added to herself, “God willing.” None the less, her khaki shorts and dingy white safari blouse appeared undamaged.
“It was nothing special,” Kiana shrugged, flicking her neck-length auburn hair back from her face. “These things were just lying on the catwalk. It just seemed like the thing to do. One question…”
“Yes. Where are we?”
“Exactly where you need to be,” another voice intruded. Another sister. Her bootsteps rattled on the catwalk’s struts, shaking the fragile structure and sending sympathetic shivers through all their bodies. The violet skinsuit graced all her best features, while the window cut into the chest fabric did nothing to hide her globes.
“Lianna,” Jamai nodded.
Kiana did the same, adding, “This is gonna get confusing fast. So tell me, we were all called together for a reason, or fell out of time or some crap?”
“No need to get snarky, red.” A collective startle jumped up into their hearts as they jerked to the right. Another blonde like Lianna crouched on the handrail, honey-tinged this time. But even in this dank light she was pale beyond reason, the tips of her fangs dimpling the corners of her lips. Leather cloaked her from those wetlook leggings to the slinky coat on her back. “Hi there. I’m Vye.” Nudging Jamai’s forearm, she said, “Hi again, bosoms. Been a while.”
To the others she said this. “It’s probably appropriate that I’m here at least. Take a look down.”
Her gaze angled over the rail. Together the three of them joined Vye in peeking twenty stories down to the field of lava breathing acrid fumes below. A dark crust formed over a large proportion of the landscape, but there remained bubbling honeypots oozing fresh magma. And towards the east, from their position at least, there heaved a maw filled with stalactite teeth, wide enough to gorge on an elephant.
“Let me guess,” Kiana whistled. “That’s the devil himself.”
“I’m going for something more general,” Vye replied. “Evil from before the dawn of time.”
“And what say you, Godwalker?”
This was getting to be such a regular occurrence, the ladies simply joined in a mutual sag, then turned to greet the new intruders. Apparently this was to be the first man on their team, a husky fellow in buckskin breeches and waistcoat over a plain white shirt, with moccasins and a leather sash girding his Bowie knife.
“Welcome, Jeremiah,” Lianna grinned. “You’re just in time. Bring the reinforcements?” He nodded.
As the portal opened wide behind him, Kiana asked, “Excuse me. Godwalker?” “Just a nickname,” Lianna squirmed.
“You don’t say,” Jamai queried with her raised eyebrows.
Throwing up her hands, Lianna elaborated. “All right, I may have met some Hindu gods, and they were kind to me…”
“Hah! More like they fondled you!” Vye laughed.
“So wait…are we all…dead?” Kiana whispered.
“Only some of us, lass!” spoke the tall Irish beauty striding from the portal, flowing skirt trailing her. Beside her a girl of Chinese-American descent practically skipped to keep pace. Besides her TV-Western cowboy outfit, she also lugged a Santa Claus-sized bag across her right shoulder.
The flaming red Irish woman shook all their hands in turn. “Top of the day, lasses. I’m Caitlan, this poor we’en is my partner, Fong. As ye can see, television has thoroughly corrupted her.”
“Sez you,” Fong’s higher pitched voice laughed. “I got the gear.” She looked toward Jamai and smiled. “Hi, Granny!”
Six pairs of eyes at various heights swiveled to a suddenly bashful Jamai. “It’s an affectionate appellation…ohh!” Any shy feelings evaporated as Caitlan and Fong both swept in for a hug.
Lianna harumphed, drawing their attention. “Okay, we all know each other…most of us. We’re all connected in some way. We’re all sisters. A-and brother,” she noted, waving a hand to Jeremiah.
“We’ve all experienced our days of terror, all looked into the face of damnation. I can’t force you to do this, but…that thing down there represents a power even the gods are a little nervous about. We all have our powers, all have our own little gifts, and that’s going to come in handy in the next few minutes. So, I’m asking you, will you stand with me?” As she spoke, so she circulated among the gathered, touching each of her allies with a gloved hand. Those hands were now open, beckoning.
“We’re gonna need a way down there,” Vye commented.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Fong huffed, dropping the bag onto the catwalk. Reaching inside with both small hands, she distributed a rocket pack to each of her fellow warriors. Each one of them fastened the gear as though they’d done this before, like they’d done this all their lives.
“All we need now,” said Kiana cheerily, “is Gail Simone to lead us.”
“Maybe next time,” Fong chipped in.
“Ready, Godwalker?” Jeremiah smiled.
“Don’t call me that,” Lianna moaned. As the smallest, Vye and Kiana bunched on the rails, ready to push off. Everyone else dropped to a runner’s crouch, ready to watch Lianna’s back.
“Okay,” she called, “Let’s go!”
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.
[Another short post with my Deviantart OC, Lianna. Enjoy.]
DEAR DIARY: It fits perfectly.
The second I graduated from the Space Academy and got my Independent Pilot’s license, I wanted to try it on. Professor Chronitis kept all my parent’s belongings after he took me in, including Mama’s skin suit.
It still smells like her, all jasmine and roses. I want to go to all the places she would’ve gone to. I’m gonna find every weird form of life she never got a chance to. I know it’s kind of weird, but sometimes it’s like she’s still with me, even though she’s been dead over 15 years. I do miss Papa; but I wanna do this for her more.
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com. Mike’s Amazon page:
I’m afraid when I started posting pix of my OC Lianna Jensen on my Deviantart page, I had no story to go by. Basically I was following the Jim Starlin method of writing, ie, I was making things up as I go. I hadn’t even given her a name until my fourth art set with her. Fortunately by then I also concocted an origin story, and it’s held up pretty nicely since. Enjoy.
I wasn’t actually born there. I was seven years old at the time of her launch. She was a Podship, the first of its kind, with a fully-automated wetwork to monitor our life-signs as we slept between the stars. Her Bangali designers christened her the Naga Sentry.
Her solar sails could harness the currents of Dark Energy between stars. We weren’t scheduled to be awoken for another 100 years, once we reached our destination. She was billed as the Perfect Vessel to colonize the stars, and in a way she was…a perfect nightmare.
Seventeen years into our voyage, our ship hit a solar storm, a corrusation of gamma-ray bursts within Sector 006. Oh, our sleeper-beds were undamaged…we were ray-shielded after all. But the sheer energy billowing through our sails pushed us violently off course, into unknown space. The star-patterns weren’t any that the Navigation banks had been programmed for, so the passengers were awoken too soon in order for them to take charge.
That might explain the subsequent behavior of the passengers and crew. We’d entered a sector where the Multiuniverses converged. The quantum energies flowing between these tiny, overlapping Multiverses began to affect our minds. You might say the adults all got cabin fever…
Even my parents. I-I mean, they adored each other…both as smart as whips…b-but they became like….like…oh God…
By the time the Naga Sentry left that sector and returned to a semblence of normal space, the only ones left alive were the children. The bully boys basically took over, organizing into their own little cliques. They kept some of the Smart Boys on, ‘cause they knew how to work the ship. Some of the smart girls attached themselves to the bully-boys in charge. Anyone who wasn’t attached was called a Loner. And culled.
They might just as well have called us lepers. It wasn’t easy being a Loner. You really had to be ninja. You had to be quick…you had to be sneaky…And you had to know where to hide…
There weren’t many Loners left by the time that lone mining tramp-ship almost collided with us. At least her captain had the decency to call the Space Port Authorities. You see, we couldn’t have known there’d be such advances in sublight engineering in the decades since the Naga Sentry left port. Even the most common ship possessed speeds that had easily overtook our ship and surpassed it. Our mission had become irrelevent. In fact, we’d gone down in history as a legend; the Lost Ship they called us.
We were all pretty much in rags at that point, and didn’t care. Some of the career Terranauts were scared to be around us. Not one man though. He was one of the Observers who came with the rescue ship. I don’t know what Professor Chronitis saw in me, but…he offered me his hand and took me in, and raised me as his own daughter.
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at Amazon.com. Mike’s Amazon page:
I think I’ve heard just about enough of this. Ever since Jodie Whitaker was announced as the 13th Doctor, we have heard from the disgruntled male class how wrong this was, that the Doctor was MALE and always should be. Guess they all forget that the idea was first introduced in the 4th Doctor story “The Hand of Fear”. The change, if you will has been hinted at, even anticipated by fans every time a regeneration was due. And now that is has happened, we have those same males swearing this is the worst Doctor Who ever, that this marks the END of Doctor Who.
I’ve finally had the opportunity to view the entire 11th series on DVD, including the New Year’s special ‘Resolution’. And my verdict? Calm down, you dimwits.
Point one: WORST Doctor Who ever? You people never watched Classic Who, have you? Where do I begin…? How about ‘The Twin Dilemma’? ‘Time and the Rani’? ‘The Power of Kroll’? Okay, ‘Robot’ had dicey f/x but at least there was some heart in it, and it was Tom Baker’s debut so his energy managed to carry it through.
@ BBC still for ‘The Power of Kroll’
No, I think we can settle on Series 22 as the rock bottom of DW. The writers failed Colin Baker, they relied too much on torture and violence as valid story telling elements, and god! That patchwork coat still burns my eyes!
Don’t look on this as a criticism of Colin Baker. Truth is he was my first Doctor, which is always going to leave some warm fuzzies–even though my first viewing of DW on PBS was Episode 4 of the Trial of a Time Lord season. Getting back to Jodie Whitaker. What to say about her first outing as the Doctor…
One of the failings of series 11 was something we’d all gotten used to, an overarching plotline leading to a season-ending all-in showdown. Where was the Cosmic Menace with Delusions of Grandeur threatening all reality/the universe entire/Earth in general, whatever? I think we could all have used more scripts of epic proportions. And DAMN Doctor Who for making me care about f—in’ giant spiders! Why would you do that, Chibnell? ‘Kay, so much for the negative.
‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ served as a decent introductory story for 13 (I’m just going to call her that for now). Like so many before him, Tim Shaw–is it ok to call him that?–mistakes regeneration for incapacity. This Doctor is firing on all cylinders, scraping traps out of available materials and assembling a new sonic out of spare parts. Think ‘The Christmas Invasion’–‘The Eleventh Hour’–‘Deep Breath’. We haven’t had a regeneration story yet that was a turkey, and we don’t have one now. The Doctor is never more dangerous than when their neurons are going batshit.
We did have gold amidst the dross. ‘Rosa’, ‘The Witchfinders’ are among the best New Who has to offer. ‘Demons of the Punjab’, oh lord, that was a heartbreaker! And make no mistake, 13 is the Doctor. The sanctity of life is still paramount, perhaps too much so; we’ll see what Time and Experience does to modify 13’s perspective and attitude.
I know there are some people who will never be convinced this series is not pure shit, and honestly they’re not worth our time. Science fiction is about open perspectives and challenging ideas, NOT calcified notions of ‘THIS IS HOW DOCTOR WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE AND NOTHING ELSE!’ I got this with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, not to mention Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy ad nauseum. There are some die-hards who think anything done since the 2005 return of DW was god-awful.
Okay, I’ll give you this. Jodie Whitaker’s first series as 13 was lacking in the Epic department. But its not the end of DW. It’s a different team’s take on a classic hero…heroine, whatever. We have two or three more series to judge her era on its merits or demerits. And I got exactly what I wanted when 13 first met a Dalek, she left it gobsmacked with clever patter, and she gave it as much mercy as it deserved–which is none at all. Will future Whovians look back favorably on 13? Sorry, friends, only Time and distance will tell us that.
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.