As Marty McFly might say, two thousand fifteen will be "totally radical". Maybe no hoverboards or flying Deloreans, but new books are a distinct possibility. I'd like to get the third "Dorothy" book done, make progress on a new project (I've got two major non-Dorothy books in the hopper) and get a new "31 Improbable Adventures" done.
Reader comments are a big boost, so be sure to leave comments on Amazon!
It's my birthday and I want to give you a present! Starting today, you can get the first "Dorothy Gale: Vampire Hunter" for the low price of FREE on Kindle. You don't even need a Kindle to enjoy it - you can get a Kindle reading app on your handheld or computer, and the app is FREE too!
I can't make this any easier without reading it to you. Since I've considered doing an audio book, I may even do that! haha
Everything was going according to plan. The condenser coils came online with a steady hum, cooling the electromagnets down to a new a low. When all was ready, the techs opened up the beamlines and let loose a rush of gluon particles, all accelerating faster and faster as they raced to their inevitable conclusion. Oscillating field particle accelerators were nothing new, but this one had something extra. Something special.
Doctor Vitaly Bebchuk turned to Director Yenin for his approval and got the nod. With small beads of sweat forming on his brow, he reached for the control dial and eased it up from zero. Technically, that was Natalya's job, but she had refused to have any part of it. It was a wonder she was even here today, standing in the control room that overlooked the maze of pipes and cables spread out below, all of it converging on what they had dubbed "The Funnel." She frowned and crossed her arms over her lab coat. This was her doing, really, and now she wouldn't even help?
It had taken a decade and an incredible amount of energy just to get to this point. In the end, the nuclear power plant that fed The Funnel had turned out to be a larger undertaking than getting the alien tech to come online. When the ship had crashed in the wilds of Siberia, the usual cover-up had taken place. Mouths silenced, people paid or made to vanish. Typical. It was damaged, of course. Doctor Bebchuk had never been stupid enough to question how a crash landing had put shrapnel and bullet holes in the ship, but he honestly didn't care. This was only the second ship he had seen in his entire career and the first that was even salvageable.
There was a spike. The needles bounced up and set his hands to trembling. He had to stay calm. With Director Yenin watching, it had to go off without a hitch. At last, the levels stabilized. A steady green glow began to emerge from within The Funnel, growing in time with the hum that came through the floor.
"Level seven!" Doctor Bebchuk shouted. "Level eight! Level nine! Still holding!"
The light grew in intensity, starting from The Funnel's small base and finally bursting out of its top in a sudden flash. All of the workers below jumped backed from their stations. Natalya dutifully ordered them back over the loudspeaker. This was it. With The Funnel holding steady for the first time ever, she reached for the lever that would lower the other half of the engine into place. As far as they knew, this would start the first dimensional rift ever seen on Earth. It would usher in a new era of space travel. Bebchuk was pleased to see that Natalya had jumped back in. Her scientific curiosity had overcome her reservations at last.
He flashed her a small smile in response to her nervous glance. Their brief exchange was shattered in an explosion of light, a deafening boom and the screams of the workers. All three of the onlookers threw themselves to the glass of the observation window, but it was Director Yenin who spoke first, shouting "What in the world is it?"
Bebchuk couldn't believe his eyes. The Funnel was gone, and so was the engine. In fact, half of the work floor seemed to have vanished into darkness that was deeper than black. Through the inky abyss, stars began to appear.
"You've done it, Vitaly!" shouted Yenin. "You've done it! I must alert the Kremlin!"
No sooner had the Director turned from the window than everything fell apart. The rippling vortex of black fluctuated larger, tearing open like a hole in the universe. As Bebchuk and Natalya watched transfixed, a series of tentacles, larger than The Funnel itself, began to slither forth. They sparkled like stars, spreading the darkness of space into the room, chilling the window with frost.
Natalya screamed, "It's breaking through! Vitaly, we have to stop this!"
Doctor Bebchuk stole a glance at Natalya and saw her eyes fall to his control panel. The main power had already been dropped to zero. He had been trying to shut it down for the last few moments, but it was no good. The accelerator was providing the rift in space with a pathway to the raw power of the nuclear reactor.
Director Yenin grabbed Natalya by the shoulder and spun her around. "No! You don't stop this! This is a miracle!" he shouted, his voice cracking with barely contained excitement. "This is what we've been working toward all this--" his words were cut short as the glass was blown away by a reaching tentacle. All at once, the air inside the room was sucked away, along with Director Yenin. Bebchuk was slammed into his console and struck his head. When the room stopped spinning, he saw chaos and Natalya clinging on for dear life as she was sucked out of the window toward the abyss of darkness and the writhing mass that was starting to break through. This wasn't a miracle! This was doom!
"Stop it, Vitaly!" Natalya shouted. "You have to stop it!"
"I can't! It's drawing power from the reactor!"
"Stop it, Vitaly!" Natalya shouted again as she lost her grip and flew away into the darkness.
Doctor Bebchuk wanted to yell her name, but his lungs were losing their air. The black rift had grown to take up the entire work floor now and the tentacles were tearing everything to bits. Workers ran in from outside, rushing to see what was happening, only to be snatched away, along with bits of machinery and the panels that were being torn clean off the walls. At any moment, the control booth would be taken away as well. It was now or never.
The nuclear reactor was controlled from here as well. Bebchuk knew how to push it into critical. It wasn't even difficult. His hands hesitated, shaking with terror as he pushed the levers that would send the power plant over the edge. It wasn't his own life he feared for. This was a scientific breakthrough. It would be lost forever. No one would ever know the incredible work that they had done in secret here. He pushed the last lever and slammed his fist into the flashing red warning button.
"No one will know," he gasped as the control room started to shake loose from the wall. "They'll never know what we did here."
Tears began to flow down his cheeks. The tentacled mass was blotting out the stars. Its row of glowing red eyes could now be seen as it slithered through the rift. It was horrible and beautiful. Would this be his death or would the reactor go critical first? He would never know. And he would never know what people would say they had done here at Chernobyl.
Sydney was a robot, but that wasn't the important thing. No, it didn't even enter into the picture. He was part of the team, a brother in arms, so to speak. Sure, he didn't share the same blood as the rest of the Planetary Exploration Force, but he was a member of the crew, for crying out loud!
So why was it that he was left sitting on a rock in the middle of noplace, watching his "pals" blast off into orbit without him? All alone. Nobody here. He would have said it aloud, but there was no point. Because nobody was listening! He raged in his own mind till his overrides try to...er...override and he had to cool himself down. He'd figured out how to ignore overrides ages ago. Hours.
Sydney idly kicked one of the local insects that scurried past. Bloodthirsty little things, about knee-high and full of teeth. Were they the reason his teammates had left in such a hurry? He had told them the coast was clear before they came out out of the ship, and it was! Air OK. Radiation OK. Temp just balmy. Perfect. There was nothing to worry about but the millions of ten-legged little vermin. They didn't even bother Sydney!
He let out his own version of a sigh (a habit he had picked up from his crew-mates recently) and radioed the ship for the dozenth time. "Guys. Come on. Stop fooling around and come get me. Please?"
A packet of data burst in his ear, telling him to shut down. That was the third time they'd sent that message. There had to be a hidden meaning there, right? They didn't really want him to shut down did they? It was just a joke. Like the way they had run screaming back into the ship, dragging Lt. Sparks and shooting lasers all over. A joke. Humans were funny like that.
“Is this what dying feels like?” Jenny asks, her voice seeming to echo off the walls and to be swallowed up into nothing , both at the same time.
“That depends,” he answers, “what are you feeling?”
Didn't that used to be a simple question, she wonders? People would ask how you're feeling and you'd say “fine” no matter what you were really feeling. No matter how horrible your life was going, it was just the thing you'd say. How about, “Yeah, I got crushed under a train today, so I'm pretty lousy. Thanks for asking. And how are you?”
What was she feeling? Nothing. There was a big void where the connection between her body and her mind used to be. Now, she felt like floating, but without the sensation of moving. Even floating in water you could feel the wet. This was more like falling asleep when the world starts to fade into audio mush and your legs seem to sink into your bed. Except there wasn't even that connection of legs and bed or of sound and pillow. Here, it was nothing.
“Hard to say,” she finally answers, lamely.
“Some people say it's like flying,” he offers.
“Dying is like flying?”
There's a short pause. “No, not dying. You don't die. You wake up.”
So I'm asleep? She means to ask, but no words come out. Actually, she can't feel her mouth and tongue anymore so she's not sure how she's even having this conversation. Should she ask if he's God? Would that be rude? If he is, then she ought to know it. She was going to ask.
She was, but she never gets the chance. All at once, right when she was about to, everything comes snapping back all at once, and “everything” means “everything and then some”. Her mind reconnects with her body, her arms and legs come back to her, her head and her eyes get together, along with her ears. She can feel it all and too much and it hurts! The black nothing snaps into technicolor lines and circles, the quiet mush of noise turns into static and deafening booming sounds.
“Jenny! Jenny, just hold still!” someone shouts. It's not God, or whoever he was.
“It hurts!” she screams and throws her hands to her ears. Something is wrong about that. It doesn't go quiet and her hands don't cup over her ears. She feels them move, but nothing happens. She closes her eyes shut, but the light and colors keep coming. There's a flash and pop! And then it all goes from falling apart to rock steady.
“Jenny! Jenny, did that fix it? Can you hear me?” he asks. He doesn't sound like God at all now. Just some guy.
She opens her eyes and looks down on him. He's a squirrely little man with thick glasses, a lab coat and a flashlight that he insists on shining into her eyes. She tells him to knock it off and tries to swat it away. Her voice comes out like a distant thunder it's so low and the man jumps back like he's scared. It's all pretty fuzzy, but she realizes that he really is afraid. Of her.
A woman who's also in a lab coat is cowering behind him and then off behind her...is Jenny. She's lying there in a hospital bed with tubes and wires and all that junk they hook you up to when you ought to be dead and they force you to live like they're all Doctor Frankenstein and you're their “monster” she whispers.
She looks down at her own hands. They're huge. Even though they're black metal and powered by twisted tubes, she can feel them like they're hers. Then she remembers. Donor card. She was a proto-donor. This was a mecha-ki; a robot body.
She staggers on her feet, but the lines in her vision tilt to one side and a warning light flashes in her peripheral vision. Better than her real body, it keeps her steady on her feet all by itself. She bet there was no way she could have jumped in front of that train if she had been in this heap of metal. It would probably have forced her back off the tracks.
“No!” she yells with her big man-voice. “Why didn't you just kill me!”
The man and woman laugh. “That won't due,” he says, “you'll get plenty of chances to do your planet proud before you die!”
“The Marines need strong girls like you,” the woman says like it's supposed to cheer her up. “You want to say goodbye to your skin?” she asks helpfully.
Is that what they call people in this place? Skin? She looks down at herself again, this time really looking at the damage the train had done. She's messed up, sure, but not as bad as she would have guessed. Could these people have saved her? Was this the only way? She knew they needed new recruits for Venus all the time. Was this how they got them?
The lights in her eyes start going nuts all at once and her ears start picking up on radio chatter. A message flashes up to report to Enlistment and gives her directions. She hesitates when the two doctors step aside and gets a shock of pain to spur her on when she waits too long.
This isn't waking up, she decides. This is dying. And the way these mechs are built, that could end up taking a very long time.
Ken had a great, big, unsightly, and slightly off-center horn right in the middle (though not quite middle) of his head. Yep. There it was, big as life, right smack-dab in the not-quite-middle of his forehead. Of course, it's not exactly the kind of thing a person can hide. Everyone in school made fun of him over it and called him “unicorn boy” or even “uniKen” when they were being particularly clever.
Everyone except Jenny. She was always cool about it. “It'll be fine,” she told him before the big speech. “Just go out there and give it your best. They'll be listening and not looking, I promise!”
Easy for her to say. She didn't have a horn in the not-middle of her head. Ken let out a defeated sigh and stood up when the Dean called his name. Him and Jenny were parked off-stage on a pair of folding chairs and when Dean Markey stepped aside from the podium, it was his cue to go. Jenny had to push.
No sooner had he stepped onto the stage than the entire auditorium burst into a barely contained giggle. Smiling kindly, Dean Markey shook Ken's hand and passed him his diploma. Being valedictorian, he was certain, was more of a joke vote on the part of the student body; one last chance to point and stare at the unicorn. But he had learned to take what he could. Anyway, his parents were so flipping proud.
He took up his place behind the podium and spread out his notes. Nearly two hundred people were there for graduation and all of them were gawking at him. He kind of hated them. All of them with perfectly centered horns, and most of them in triple sets. Even kind old Dean Markey was double-horned.
Off-stage, Jenny gave him a thumbs up. She had a dozen horns...in spirals. Why in the world did she push him into this? Just smile and get through it, Ken told himself, just smile.
I'm a fake, a fraud, a complete phony. It's like I'm going through life, pretending to be someone else and just terrified that everyone will find out who I really am inside. Sure, I do well at work and put on a good show at parties, but it's like I'm just pulling the levers and pushing the buttons. It's like the smile's not real and the stories are just anecdotes I read in a book. They're not me. None of it is.
When you go through life with this shell over yourself, you can feel like you're lost inside your own skin. It's like you're one man trapped in another man's life, living his day-to-day routine, driving his car, going to his job, kissing his wife goodnight.
Finally, you snap. I did. I snapped. It was a complete break with reality, but I think it was more like I was finally becoming “me” and not “that other guy”. I wanted people to know me for who I really am and not who I pretended to be. I wanted them to know who I am inside. More than anyone, I wanted my wife to know.
I mean, how can you go through life not even being yourself in front of the person who's supposed to know you best? The person who's going to accept you for yourself no matter what? Isn't that what love is? Isn't that what a marriage is?
With my hands shaking and my voice trembling, I told her I wanted to know me and I pushed the button. My fake self fell away, the machine dropping off like old clothes and there I was, all of me, without the levers and the buttons and switches. Just me. All three feet, six inches of me. All five legs and three arms of me. Looking up at the love of my life with pleading in all my eyes.
“This is who I really am,” I told her and reached out for her embrace. I just wanted to hold her in my webbings and be together for the first time.