Browsing Category 63 Zeros

The Bokor

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“St. Croix, you’re coming with me.”

Lieutenant Jim Connelly, Manhattan NYPD, spoke with an air of authority. Connelly rolled up the sleeves of his conservative white shirt. A creature of habit, he wore a long-sleeved white shirt to work each day, just as he kept his graying hair cropped military short. Sergeant Lou Minetti who usually partnered with Connolly on homicide investigations raised bushy eyebrows questioningly.

Bert St. Croix knew what was going on and could have explained it to Minetti. She’d been promoted from uniform officer to detective third grade recently and then quickly moved up to a coveted spot in the homicide division. This was all well and good, except that the fellow detectives she was now working with did not think she could handle the job. She was certain Lt. Connelly was planning to test her. Bert had every intention of winning his respect and that of other detectives who worked homicide division. But she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

She’d overheard Minetti talking with some of the others behind her back.

“St. Croix must have kissed some serious butt to get moved up so quick.”

There was a general buzz of agreement. Then Detective Randall, a rosy-faced, burly cop said, “I think St. Croix got the promotion because she’s black and a woman. That’s killing two minority requirements at once. The brass just loves that.”

Bert didn’t bother to let them know she’d overheard the conversation. There wasn’t any point. Their minds were closed. She walked quietly away. As far as Bert was concerned, she had nothing to prove. She’d gotten the job because she’d done quality work as an officer and passed all the requirements for detective. No, she didn’t have to prove herself. She’d just do her job. They would discover the truth in time. Being a female cop and a woman of color besides wasn’t an easy path to travel but she had no regrets. This was the right job for her.

“Ready?” Connolly asked.

“Right with you,” she said, pulling on her leather jacket.

It was a freezing cold, fall day in the city. The wind cut across her face like a switch blade. Bert said nothing. No use complaining or stating the obvious.

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Cosmic Spin Class On Deck 112

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Waiting for a scan into the Health & Leisure deck, Varde pulls on her blue unitard sleeves. Beneath it, her skin feels too small, but the instructions state attire is obligatory.

“Eleventh door on the left,” the receptionist says.

Varde’s eyes quest in the other direction and search for another glimpse of the happy family: a couple sandwiching a child, swinging the young boy with dimples like Benjamin had, five, maybe six Earth years old, in between them. It’s no use, she gives up; they’re lost to the crowds of holidaymakers and off duty star-sailors. She now only hears the reverberation of Benjamin’s laughter, feels its tight squeeze on her heart.

“Your treatment commences in three minutes.”

“Sure,” Varde replies, her voice reedy, unsure. “Thanks.”

The eleventh door opens on her approach. Hydraulic magnets hiss, the noise dissipates, becomes lost between the whir and flick of wheels. Inside the padded box room are seven others in blue skinsuits, all taking in the blurred bucolic projections on the walls and ceiling, all already in their spots, cycling, disinterested in her arrival, self-absorbed.

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High Thoughts Of A Fallen Angel

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The reek of moldering seaweed hung above the thick, soupy bog. Sella gripped her climbing gear, scanning for monsters in the peat slopping around her calves.

Nothing came up. Yet.

I’ve fallen all the way to the surface. Tremors of panic coursed through the wing stubs on her back.

Stupid late wings. Her nest mother had said they’d grow in eventually, but “eventually” mattered a whole lot more now than it had on Mt. Hazi.

She’d gone and done the thing they warned hatchlings about. She’d wandered to the outer edge and had slipped on the cold, dewy stone. Sella, the clumsiest angel in the sky, her nest sister, Isa, always teased. A real cloud toot.

She had tried shooting her climbing gun into some trees. The hook had caught on some spindly branches, which had slowed her enough that she hadn’t hit her head or broken a leg when she landed. Thank Solace that Isa had insisted on her keeping a climbing gun.

Would anyone notice her missing yet? Probably not until noon, when she didn’t come back from her walk.

She tilted her head up and surveyed the sky. Trees seemed to float in the high, wispy clouds lining Mt. Hazi’s slope. Her home. Too far, too high for her climbing gun. The thousand feet of spider silk coiled in the mechanism would not reach the lowest of Hazi’s trees.

She could reach Mt. Pell, the lowest of the mountains. He smiled down like a jolly bard in the distance, maybe a few miles away. He had a silly mountain face, his cavernous lips in a permanent smirk. If she got close enough, maybe he could speak to Hazi for her and tell someone at home what had happened. She slogged forward, testing each step to avoid bog pits.

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Loaded For Bear

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David stood atop the front wall, lead sentry and first line of defense for the town. Right now, he glared out toward a noise which had been approaching for several minutes.

“God damn it. That’ll bring every deader for miles.”

It was the steadily building sound of a vehicle’s engine, something you didn’t hear so much these days. Something powerful. Whatever the thing was it moved slow, as if they wanted to attract attention, or just let everyone know company was coming.

David unslung his rifle and held it at the ready—an action he’d done once already, only to re-shoulder the weapon when it became obvious the vehicle wasn’t close to arriving.

“If that’s a tank,” he muttered to himself, “I’m out of here.”

It was a half-assed joke, with the unwanted result of him picturing a great, dirty tank breaking through the pine trees and rumbling up to the front gates.


The word didn’t dispel his fears. He took a deep breath and let it out through his nostrils, searching for some inner calm. Manning the wall always got him jumpy, talking to himself. At least this was the day shift. Light enough to finally see the first hint of movement up the road.

“Pick up truck,” David sighed.

One of those rugged, manly rides that towed trailers up a muddy hill in a rainstorm in commercials, back when commercials were still a thing. Who would have thought those would be missed? The truck’s back window would have a decal of Calvin pissing on something, and a bumper sticker with some witty slogan confirming the driver was a complete knuckle dragger.

There were times when David’s cynical side thought the zombie apocalypse wasn’t an entirely bad thing.

Back weighed down, the truck angled, front looking ready to take off and jump the wall. Jet black—at least originally—now covered in mud and blood, and who knew what else.

“But it’s not a tank.”

The pick-up came to a stop and David swung his rifle in the general direction. Not so direct it could be taken as a threat, but close enough for the warning to be clear. Other sentries, better hidden ones, had more guns pointed at their visitor.

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Cycle: 1,499,311

ELOMA, finished her morning routine, clipped her hair tight at the back and turned her link-device on, a small metallic implant stretching from her left eye to her temple. The Liberty’s onboard AI construct, Cert35 instantly appeared in her bedroom. It assumed the form of a non-binary adult-human.

‘Morning ELOMA.’

‘Morning Cert. How long until earth?’

‘We are currently 2 hours, 32 minutes from Earth, which is 40419 light years.’ Cert replied. ‘How are you feeling about today?

‘I’m okay. I’m ready.’ She replied, as she stared at her CP log, a computer screen bracelet, on her right hand, it displayed: S-3, Cycle 1,499,311.

‘I hate to step outside of designated programming. But can one ever truly be ready for what you are about to undertake?’

ELOMA paused. Throughout her time on the Liberty, she had spent three of those five years, coming to terms with what she was going to do, what she was soon to undertake. To come to terms with such a fatal decision, she often told herself, it wasn’t just for her, but for all humanity.

The Liberty was a Nova class starship for short-range planetary exploration. It was home to ELOMA, her mentor DEKA and Cert35.

‘I need the answers. We all do.’ Replying as she left the room.

The Liberty was part of the ‘search for intelligent life programme’. An armada of starships sent to the far reaches of space, to find intelligent life. It was 3123 AD, and humanity was alone. After 700 years of space exploration, not one intelligent species was found. Humankind had achieved many great accomplishments, Time travel, the Theory of Continual Progression, extended life span of over 300 years, the Theory of String to Scuti. It had however failed to answer the fundamental question; the answer to which many had hoped, lied with finding sentient alien life. This failure forced ELOMA and DEKA to develop a plan to breach the Great Temporal Wall, and answer the fundamental question.


Cycle: 1

Har-a was unlike all others in her Troop, apart from her mother and her older brother; no one else habitually walked upright. That was not the only difference; Har-a, her mother, and her brother Ban, had an awareness that was not seen in their kin. It was hard for them to show or signal to others what it was that made them different, they just knew they were, and the others did not.

The sky fire burnt brightly on the plains of early Africa, and food was sparse. At times like these, it was common for all members of the Troop to break-up into groups and go forage and hunt. Har-a ventured out with a small group; Ban included. He was the best hunter, he was the fastest and tallest, and had a way with rock, spear and anticipating prey, that was superior to all.

The land was dry, it cracked beneath their bear feet as they slowly made their way.

‘They were stalking crocodile, not only would it be dinner, but it could also lead them to fresh water, with more food and water to drink,’ Har-a’s unique inner voice said.

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No Man’s Land

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Holmtjärn, a woodland lake, could be found near Björksele. It was an excellent fishing spot and only a few of the locals knew about it. In the middle of the depths of the forest – in no man’s land – the woodland lake lay still with its clear green water next to the low mountains. The water became lukewarm as the sparkling sunshine arched over the forest landscape. The spring sun woke the surrounding forest from its slumber and it was crowded and teeming with newborn and powerful life. The trees and greenery were freshly green and rose stately from the cold of winter.

Next to the woodland lake, in the adjoining forest, was a red cabin with white knots. It was well-kept and shone at sunrise. The greenery was lush and green around the cabin.

Inside the cabin Erik Daniels woke up that morning with a relief in his chest. The frost had gone out of the earth and spring was bursting with renewal. The forests of northern Sweden woke up slowly from the prolonged hibernation of winter.

He sat up in bed, pulled his hand to his face and felt the stubble of his beard scratch in his hand. He was old but strong in mind. He was small and lively, dark-skinned by the sun, with sharp blue eyes. Hans was a man of the forest with small, strong hands, narrow and sinewy arms and a thin nose. Slowly he got up and went to the fireplace to start a fire. He was wearing blue cotton trousers, a flannel shirt and an unbuttoned vest. It was a simple cabin with a fireplace, bed, kitchen table and two kitchen chairs. It was a spartan and frugal life he lived.

After breakfast he went outside in the yard and fell deep into his thoughts and studied the still water in the woodland lake. He turned his head and could see night tracks and paw prints of the forest fox and rabbits from the surrounding forest. He noticed split hoof stamps of deer that had come down to eat insatiably and partake of his vegetables in the garden. He shook his head and stared bitterly at the half-eaten vegetables in the garden. They had almost completely destroyed the whole garden with their insatiable hunger. To his anger, he went into the cabin and found his rifle. He took out a cartridge box but discovered it was empty. He needed to buy more cartridges. It would take about half an hour on foot to get to the store up by the country road.

Erik got ready and then booted off with his backpack. A forest path, trampled by Erik, ran through the thickets and the forest towards the country road. The forest smelled fresh from the warming of the spring sun.

In the depths of the forest he could hear a black woodpecker hammering against a dry branch. Some rabbits sought shelter in the bushes when they heard Erik’s muffled footsteps on the path. He knew the area very well and kept to the path because he knew how easy it could be to get lost in the wilderness.

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A sound of water dripping awakes me. First, I assume the babysitter has left the faucet on. How many times have I told her to be careful with the utilities?

I look up.

I’m not home.

This isn’t my bed. It’s… a bunk bed.

Like the iron ones in the army, except no top mattress above my head and I can spot the yellow-stained ceiling through the holes in the bed springs.

I pat myself subconsciously, perhaps to look for my keys, perhaps because it feels like a dream, or at least, something far away from my plane of reality. Regardless, nothing but clothes on my back—the same suit I went to work with this morning, but the jacket and, for some ominous reason, my socks, and shoes.

It’s someone’s basement. It’s sparse. The floor is made of cement—it’s shockingly cold, makes my hair stand on end. There’s a tiny window right above the ground and too small to actually open or climb through. There’s no natural light pouring in from it. Only darkness.

A neon light buzzes, a rocking chair sits in the corner of the room, its fabric worn out, overlooking my bed in such a way that I can’t help but find disquieting. Without warning, I’m reminded of my younger self swaying Sophie to sleep in one of those, back when she was no older than twelve months and I was still figuring out how to be a half-decent paternal figure. The image begs me to let go, like it’s too good of a memory to be revisited here, like it doesn’t belong in such a place. It’s probably right.

Instead, I comb through my surroundings in search of my belongings. I look under the bed, beneath the mattress, inside the thin-as-a-sheet pillow.

Nothing. No sign of my wallet, my phone, my briefcase.

My breathing quickens as I start to consider the list of possible explanations for my predicament, from most to least likely. I try to convince myself any one of those options might be plausible, but ultimately, it’s futile. I know better.

Mentally, I start to retrace my steps. Six o’clock this morning—assuming today is still today—my internal alarm clock rings, I get up, hit the shower. Stephanie calls from LA; we argue for approximately fifteen minutes before I decide I had enough and hang up. I smoke a quick cigarette on the balcony to decompress. I wake Sophie up, helping her get dressed, brush her teeth, and we head downstairs for cereal. Frosted Flakes, but it’s a Friday, and on Fridays we deserve sweets. Seven thirty, I drop Sophie off at daycare, dry her crocodile tears as the worker pulls her little fist away from my jacket. My heart aches as usual, but I can’t be late for work, so I kiss her goodbye and leave before I can change my mind. Eight o’clock. I get to work, coffee deprived, and pass Joan at the reception desk on my way to my cubicle.

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Platzkarte 25

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Sudden brakes woke me up. By inertia, I hit my elbow on the metal side of the bed and sighed. My arm started aching, but still not as much as my head. I cursed and opened my eyes.

The dim light made me squint. Then I got up from the bunk and sat with my feet touching the cold floor. The clock showed half-past eight. Looking out the window, I saw that the picture outside had changed.

Earlier I saw abandoned dilapidated houses, neglected fields, and rare trees, crushed by a thick layer of black dust flashing outside the window. Now I was looking at the once majestic building of the Kazan railway station. This city had seen much better times. The bricks in the walls were missing in places; almost every window had the broken glass.

The most conspicuous place showed a huge red banner with two white hieroglyphs. I don’t know how to read those correctly, maybe Ka-Shang or Ka-Zhen. Despite all the simplifications made in Chinese after the Great Reunification of Peoples and my countless efforts, I still could not communicate. Reading and writing were even a bigger problem than speaking.

This part of the Russian Union passed under the wing of the Republic of China long ago. The thankful Republic wrote off Russian debts for anti-radiation shields and food greenhouses. Of course, this transition brought little improvement, but the situation looked more under control.

Transparent green balls aimed to absorb chemicals covered all the visible land. Tiny helpers glowed in the dark like garlands scattered across the night. Several freight cars were visible on the platform behind the station. White barrels stuck out of them like candles from a cake. Each of them bore an inscription: ‘Attention! Dangerous substances! Keep a distance of 3+ meters’. They wrote the warning in all five common languages: Chinese, English, Russian, Arabic, and German.

Suddenly, I heard two muffled voices coming from outside. Two workers, dressed in bright yellow uniforms, exclaimed on the platform. One of them knocked on the wheels with a wrench filling the surrounding reality with a dull sound. Having checked all the wheels, the workers moved on and their voices got lost somewhere beyond my vision.

The noise inside the train did not subside and was not subject to control. People were chatting all around me. I was lucky with the ticket. I came across the bottom seat in the niche, simply saying the best possible. Two pairs of legs, lying on the bunks above me, seemed to envy my position. Just like two passengers with aisle seats sitting in front.

I heard that nowadays they even started selling tickets for standing places. But that’s only for bullet trains and high-speed airships. Enjoying my place, I once again looked around at all my closest neighbors. I have been watching them for three days and at this point it seems to me there is nothing they could surprise me with. The woman on the bunk bed next to me is about the same age as I am.

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