Tales by the Blue Light

My friend James Wylder and some of his people have started a podcast, so I’m handing the front page over to him for a minute.  Check it out!  

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Do you like stories? Miss having them read to you? I might be able to help.

Tales by the Blue Light is my new Podcast, a mix between “the Twilight Zone” and an old fasioned variety show, every episode brings you a brand new Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy short story, as well as skits, and some other fun stuff.

We’ve been performing and recording the show live for a year and a half at the Blue Box Cafe in Elgin Illinois (and at a special performance at Indy Pop Con) but we haven’t put the show out as a podcast yet…till now! Our first episode is up to listen to everywhere, with fresh ones coming out every Tuesday till we catch up to the live performances.

I can’t wait for you guys to hear some of the great stories we’ve featured. “McMansion Hell”, “The Legend of Miz”, and “Prescription” for instance were all audience hits I can’t wait to bring to even more people. Plus, you’ll get to see our other featured segments, like our Radio Play, Interview, and everyone’s favorite sketch: “Monster Hunter Monthly” where Magpie Jones gives advice on surviving encounters with things that go bump in the night.

And it’s all free (though we do have a Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/jameswylder if you feel like supporting us) so go take a listen! These episodes are only going to get better as you go through our year and a half of learning how to make this show, so hop on now, and tell your pals!

-James Wylder

iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/tales-by-the-blue-light/id1403816049?mt=2

Stitcher:
https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/robert-southgate/tales-by-the-blue-light

REBLOG: SOLO: A Poverty Story, by James Wylder

I know I already reviewed Solo, but I just read my friend James Wylder’s take on the film and I thought it was interesting enough that I asked him if I could reblog it.  I’m packing for Indy Pop Con tonight, so this is actually pretty perfect timing.  Enjoy the piece, and check out James’ other work!

Spoilers throughout, btw.


solo-a-star-wars-storyI remember when my family went bankrupt during the Great Recession. This isn’t an uncommon story, it’s practically the story of America. I’d already known we had less money than other families. Reduced lunch at school told that story enough. There was an element of shame involved, when I lied about not being able to join friends on outings I couldn’t pay for. Eventually, shame grew into a facade of bravado, and I started to take risks I hadn’t considered.

After all, if you’re going to lose even if you work yourself to the bone everyday and do everything right like my father did, all because of higher powers outside your control, then why not shoot for something you truly want? A goal, a dream. To be a pilot, perhaps, or even a writer.

* * * *

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t the movie I thought it would be. I went in expecting a fun romp, but came out of with a strong pull on my heart that wouldn’t let go. This is my movie, and by golly am I glad it exists, but it’s also one that is already being unfairly looked over for reasons completely outside the bright light shone onto the walls of theaters everywhere. It’s not going to find it’s audience at the moment, but it’s going to find its audience in time, because counter to my expectations, Solo a Star Wars Story is about something.

It’s about being poor and downtrodden.

But it’s in space.

Which makes it a lot more fun.

The signals are clear from the get go: the opening title cards of Solo aren’t in the traditional scrolling format of the main Star Wars movies, the non-existent blink-and-gone of Rogue One, or the Newsreel of Clone Wars. Rather, these title cards come straight out of Cyberpunk. The easiest comparison is to Blade runner, with its flash card information to electronic tones. When these end, we don’t get the traditional shot of space, we get a shot of a dark engine and wires, as Han tries to make a spark strong enough to hotwire it.

Han lives on Corellia, a poor industrial world, rather like the rust belt I grew up in (but in SPACE). The sky is coated over with smog. We’re in Star Wars, but this is a different side of Star Wars. We’re not even allowed to see the Stars yet. With him is Qi’ra, his teenage sweetheart and childhood friend. Together, they’re begging for someone to make a fanvid set to “Livin’ on a Prayer”. They’ve formed a little impromptu family of the two of them, and they plan to escape and survive. They won’t live in this hellhole forever. They’ll get out.

Their life together is one we’ll see repeated throughout the movie: Han and Qi’ra live under a selfish leader (in this case named Proxima) who exploits the downtrodden for their own gain. They have little power, and their only power comes from understanding the rules around which their masters have built their powerhold, and exploiting them. Han and Qi’ra escape, but the plan goes wrong and they are separated on two sides of an Imperial checkpoint. Han may be bold, and he might be able to escape some thugs sent by a crimelord, but he can’t defeat a government. He and Qi’ra are helpless against this immigration border, no amount of clever tricks or violence will stop an army with a wall when it’s government has decided the lives of the people on one side of that wall aren’t good ones. The pain of separating this family is a terrible one, totally morally bankrupt, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could approve of such things in our own world. And yet, some people thought the Berlin Wall was a good idea.

So now we’re left with Han alone. Unable to survive from here on out, and now alone, he does the thing plenty of poor folks do who need to escape their situation: he joins the military. The cut from Han joining to him fighting in a dark muddy hellscape is one of my favorite things in the movie, and the whole sequence set within the Imperial Military adds more to the Star Wars saga than a lot of things that look more impressive: here we get to see how awful and hollow being in the Empire really is. Officers shout trite propaganda slogans about serving the Empire that they even sound tired of yelling. Soldiers take off time by watching other soldiers get eaten by slaves. Han doesn’t care about the Empire, it’s just another big powerful force that’s trying to press him down. But he’s seen tons of those. It’s nothing special. The difference is its big enough he can get lost in it, and so can other criminals. We’re introduced to Beckett and his crew, impersonating Imperial officers, who exploit the unquestioning nature of the Empire to blend in, and get Han thrown under the bus to survive.

Here is the first turn of the movie, and it’s a nice one. Han has no desire to kill anyone, or to be involved in a war. What the empire is fighting over is invisible to the audience, and Han. But as Han is thrown into a pit to get eaten by a monster, we get the movie’s first real acknowledgement of it’s overarching message. In the pit is a wookie slave, forced to kill and eat imperials who don’t follow the rules. Fighting won’t work, and Han recognizes something here: both he and the wookie are victims of the same shit universe. Even as the wookie beats him up, he convinces the wookie they can escape together, and they do, achieving something neither could have alone. They reach Becket, who is impressed at their moxie, and Han and his new wookie friend Chewbacca escape the empire.

Which brings us into the main plot. We’re thrown into an adventure, where we see Han is very good at piloting, and not as good at everything else that isn’t piloting as he thinks he is. We’re also introduced to Enfys Nest and the Cloud Riders, a group of marauders constantly trying to steal the takes that Becket’s crew is after. It seems to be a standard space western, and good fun.

And we also meet Qi’ra again. This is the second turn of the film.

Qi’ra has gone from Han’s childhood friend to a more weathered femme fatale since we last saw her. Han dreamed of coming back to rescue her, a masculine dream where he could rescue the princess and save her, but the world didn’t work out that way. Saying she “saved herself!” sounds too nice, neither Han nor Qi’ra have actually gotten anywhere good, they’ve just managed to survive by the skin of their teeth. They’re poor, and the world has been shit to them, and they’ve both had to do what they’ve needed to. We’re not allowed to see what Qi’ra had to do alone, but we can see she’s ashamed of it. It’s heavily implied she’s murdered people, tortured people, and engaged in survival sex. These haven’t been choices Qi’ra made because she wanted to: she made them because she needed to live. Qi’ra is a strong woman, but like Han she is no better than a commodity to the people who lord over her.

People’s bodies being commodities is a constant theme throughout the film: this is a film about the physical reality of being oppressed, not about a spiritual battle between light and dark. Barriers block bodies from other bodies who love them. Bodies sell themselves into the military to escape destitution. Bodies sign up to be used by crimelords to escape destitution. We see bodies sold into slavery, checked in the teeth like cattle. Bodies with the top of the head, and hence the brain, cut off and replaced by computers serve drinks to crimelords. Bodies everywhere, and each one of them is a person who lives and feels and hurts. And the broader universe keeps turning because they are small, and not Jedi or Sith or Generals or Royalty. These bodies have to survive somehow. And by god, does it leave a mark.

Later in the film is one of the most poignant moments, of the film, where Qi’ra throws a bomb, and screams in solace and rage as she kills slavers on Kessel. Without making this movie unwelcoming for children, we can see all Qi’ra has suffered in this moment. Her righteous fury at the kind of people who hurt her her whole life boils over, and we have to confront it. We have to see that pain as she cries out. No masculine fantasy could save her. She had to survive, and survive among men who hated her. And she did. And her body is here, and breathing, and screaming, and by the force does she scream.

The characters in this film are all broken people in different ways, each covering over their cracks with facades. When those facades crack, the movie truly shines. As a surviver of some traumatic experiences, Han reassuring Qi’ra that he doesn’t care what she had to do to survive, he still wants her, was a great moment, and one of my favorite in the film. The cracks start getting wider still, and by the finale we’ll see something from each of them.

Kessel features the next turn in the film. We’ve picked up Lando and L3, since they have a ship and the crew needs that. Lando is similar to Han in a lot of ways, but he’s made it. He’s still living on the fringe of society, and he’s had to make dreams with Crimson Dawn like the rest of the crew did, but he isn’t in anyone’s debt anymore. Lando’s flaw is now that he’s reached that point, he’s forgotten what it took to get there. L3, the droid co-pilot to his ship, is frustrated by the servitude of Droids. It’s been a running theme throughout all of Star Wars: the audience can see clearly that droids are people, but the characters treat them as less than people. We’re told Lando has feelings for L3, and he cries when her body gets wrecked on Kessel, but he still talks about how he’d wipe her memory if she wasn’t so useful, leaning in to tell Han that in aside, like a man trying to get another man to join in with him on a sexist joke.

That we can see that this is hypocrisy, and the characters can’t, is the point. It’s been the point for decades, but here it’s shoved in our face. On Kessel, we see droids and organic beings all being used as slaves, and get two parallel stories showing their plights are the same. Chewie breaks off from the mission to save his fellow wookies, and L3 breaks off to save her fellow droids. A revolution begins, and the people who oppressed both of them get some comeuppance. L3, as noted, is nearly destroyed in their escape though, and only her memory is saved by placing it inside the Millenium Falcon itself.

There is a certain horror to the way the characters put L3 into the ship, she had no control over it after all, but L3’s desire for revolution and change perfectly fits the symbol the ship becomes. She is the Falcon, and she will become the savior of freedom in the Galaxy. But even she is a commodity, like any other character in the film.

The finale of the movie see’s nearly every character Han trusted aside from Chewbacca betray him. Becket betrays Han, and Han is forced to kill him before Becket can kill Han. Lando abandons him mid-showdown with Enfys Nest. Qi’ra, despite hating the world she’s lived in, cannot imagine leaving it. She takes her superior’s place in Crimson Dawn upon killing him, and takes on the role of helping run the very people who hurt her. Her parting words to Han are telling, “When I imagined you out there, it made me smile.”
Han’s life is a fantasy to Qi’ra. It’s beyond her own reality, and seeing that Han had survived without compromising as much as she did hurts. “You’re the good guy,” she says, and Han replies, “No I’m not, I’m a terrible person!”
But she’s right, in the end. And in letting Han go, she avoids letting him see the scars.

A lot has been made of a big twist towards the end of the movie about who was running Crimson Dawn, but that’s tertiary to our point. It’s not the twist I’m concerned with, at least. Really, the big twist of the movie is the reveal of Enfys Nest: a teenage girl of color who took over the role of freedom fighter from her mother. One could guess she might be as young as Han was when we met him back on Corellia. This is the point the movie truly turns. Everything we thought was going on was wrong—this isn’t a story of a group of rag-tag heroes trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, this is a rejection of it. The gang Han is a part of are the same kind of people who pushed him down his whole life. Crimson Dawn and Becket are no different than Proxima in her lightless pool on Corellia. They’re all content to use downtrodden people to make some sort of gain. Caught up in the adventure narrative, we’ve missed the real struggle of the movie.

This is the true brilliance of Solo: it’s not just that Han is poor, and Qi’ra is poor, it’s that the moral of the film isn’t “You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you work hard enough!”, but rather, “If you’ve suffered, do what you can to help others not suffer like you did.”

Han doesn’t reject Enfys Nest, nor does he give up on his dream. He doesn’t want to be a rebel (at least not yet) he gives away the money that could secure a life of peace for him because he has known suffering, and can’t abide to let other people suffer just like he did, even though they’re different from him. Neither different upbringing, nor skin color hold him back. He doesn’t let his own suffering be an excuse to be selfish, and not be good. He helps. It’s an important message, and one worth remembering.

Often times, in circles of people who want to improve the world, there is a sense that everyone should be fully devoting themselves to it at all times. This is impossible, of course, but it also sidelines the little sacrifices people make who don’t have the luxury to devote every moment to that. Solo is a movie about the unity of the downtrodden in the face of oppression, but one where the freedom fighters continue their battle against evil while the protagonists go off to try to make some more money to eat at the end.

We can all do something, and you don’t even have to be a hero or special or particularly clever. You can just be a decent person, and be unselfish when the people who have devoted themselves to heroism need you to be. You can go to work, and struggle, and hurt, and just be a normal guy, but a good guy.

And maybe your life won’t be a fairy tale, it’ll be filled with mud and pain, but maybe in ten years you’ll trip onto an old wizard and the chosen one and accidentally win the heart of the princess anyways, who knows.

GUEST POST: The Apocalypse at the End of the Inkwell, by James Wylder

I’m back from the wedding, obviously, but I never got this James Wylder story up.  Enjoy!  


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Artwork by Chase Jones.

Let me take you back to a time before your dreams, when the greatest things in the universe were just an inkblot on the horizon. This was in the days before I realized there was more to the inkblot than the slight fades in it we call stars, and the deep rivers we call the sunlight. These were the days of Ahnerabe station, the days with my family, the last days I really felt like there was anything so wonderful but to live in the thin metal halls that rotated endlessly outside of orbit.

Our home was built a long time ago, some say it was by people from Earth, and I suspect that’s true, but somehow it seems permanent and eternal, like the idea that the universe always was, that there was no beginning and we simply formed in a long string where the negatives were as long as the positives and the dead center was our own breath. But it wasn’t really so, and there was a big bang, despite some scientific disagreement. We all had a beginning, a place best described as where we thought there was no beginning. The time of no change. Just like the universe, it all ended with a Big Bang, and the beginning began.

My father wasn’t sure what to think about the noise, after all, if it was an impact from a piece of space rock, it meant we were likely all going to be dead shortly to make that much noise, so he tried not to think about that. I didn’t try to stop, and I remember I was shuddering in fear, as I spun in the gravityless air. Father hesitantly told us to put on our space suits, and he got out a toolkit, and headed towards the noise. If the hull ruptured as he went over there, there would be no father anymore, just a stick figure shaped fade on the inkblot, reflecting light back at us like a signal flare, its eyes forever locked in terror.

Luckily—No, I shouldn’t say luckily. I don’t believe in luck, any more than I believe in an eternal universe. It’s just too convenient. There was another bang, and then a weird noise, a noise that sounded horrible, like I imagined a banshee sounding like in bedtime stories in that moment you get in the sheets and you’re still cold and your mother hasn’t kissed you yet. There was a silence, and then a clank, and slowly my father came into view.

He wasn’t alone.

* * * *

One of my first memories is of when my older sister got lucky enough to have her arm amputated. nShe was very excited. You always cut the legs off early, because if you don’t you could easily die if the inertial dampeners fail and your blood ends up rushing into them during an acceleration unit. They fail often. The arms are less deadly, so we keep them longer. Her eyes were so bright when my father got out the bone saw, and I was more jealous than you can imagine.

“Why can’t I lose an arm too ma?”

“When you’re older sweetie. And its Artemis’s birthday!”

She told dad to do it without anesthetic, and he was so proud of her. Sure, she blacked out, but it was worth it. When it was time for me to lose my first limb, I was an embarrassment. I tried to be strong like sis, but I just cried and cringed and thrashed as the teeth of the knife cut into me. My dad sedated me. The last thing I saw on his face was that look of utter disappointment.

* * * *

“Who… Are they?”

My mother could have asked a million more questions, but that question was good enough.

“They’re explorers. They say they came from a station of Titans and Gods.”

“Olympus Station,” one of them said, through her pierced lips, the tattoo running along her lower and upper lip, along the side of her nose, before climaxing into an explosion of color around her eye. The tattoo faintly glowed, just like I could make my limbs do. Their spacesuits didn’t match, and were a gaudy mix of red and purple for one, and yellow and black for the other. They had what I was fairly certain was a “cat” emblazoned on it, which was one of the mythical “animals” I’d heard so much about.

“I thought we were the only ones left…” my mother stammered. The two women looked at each other.

“The only ones of what?” one of them said, in a tone of voice I had never heard before.

“People.”

* * * *

There used to be a lot of people on Ahnerabe station. There were a lot of other children there that I played with, and we would roam around in the zero gravity, bouncing balls around. There was a sports team I was on, but I can’t remember the rules to it, except that it involved swimming through the air to place a ball in a receptacle, and that I was descent at it. On my team was my first crush, Selene.

Unlike every one else on board, whose hair was blonde, hers was white, and she was teased for it immensely. The most common insult was “Crone Head.” I found her one day, curled up in a ball, slowly rotating around, her tears spiraling out from her body, glittering in the emergency lighting. I floated up to her, and pushed through the tears. It was the first time anyone ever hugged me, and I felt perverse when I felt the warmth of her body.

I’m ashamed to say I ran away.

* * * *

The two women looked at each other, and their faces made some expression I couldn’t read, and I blushed and turned away.

“You seriously think you’re the last humans?”

“We did, and could you… Make yourselves decent?”

They looked totally confused. One looked down her spacesuit as though she’d unzipped it on accident.

“What the…”

I didn’t know the next word they said, neither did my parents.

“You know…” My mom leaned in, though it didn’t help since her voice was coming out of her spacesuit speakers. “Your faces are showing.”

Their jaws went slack, and they just stared at us for a long time. Eventually, my mother undid the locks on her helmet, and showed them her mask, the smooth white oval of it contrasting hugely with their indecent flesh, its one red optical input over where her left eye was seeming so elegant and efficient.

“You don’t…. Show your faces to each other?”

“It’s indecent.”

“Are you some kind of cult or something?”

My sister intervened. “Clearly the land of Olympus has very different rules about these things, Mom.”

“Doesn’t mean they’re right…” my mom muttered.

“So, who are you two?”

“Better yet, who the hell are you guys?”

* * * *

The Family.

There is my father, Apollo. He is a wise man, after all, he and mom kept us alive all these years.

Though he cried all the time that we were the end of humanity. He liked to keep a pattern of flowing water on the video panels of his limbs and mask, it gave him a stoic tranquil appearance I could always trust in.

There is my mother, Aphrodite. She always enjoyed the hydroponic gardens we got our food from, and she used to take us there to look at the plants. While we didn’t need all of the surviving gardens to live, she kept them up, because she loved the greenery. It was so amazing to see how nature worked, that if you just put a plant in a stream of nutrient injected fluid, it would grow big and strong and make tasty things for you to eat. I swam through the zero-g jungle, and my mother would encourage us. I used to pretend there were animals there, but I knew they weren’t real, though that didn’t stop my sister from teasing me about it. My mother always kept her skinpanels in a pattern of greenery. It suited her.

There is my sister, Artemis. She was the most adventurous of us. After all, if her or I died, there was no one left for us to mate with, and we were brother and sister, which would be highly immoral. So that was the end of it. And she took her apocalyptic certainty as an excuse to do anything. She would go on spacewalks, just for fun, and see if she could hold on untethered. She would remove some of her limbs, or modify them, and try to wriggle into small spaces. She was brave. And she was dangerous. Artemis kept her skinplates grayscale, shifting colors, usually towards black.

And there was me. Archimedes. I usually forgot to turn my skinplates on, so they just stayed the generic white they are if you don’t use that feature. I was the youngest, last one born, and since I played it safe, I knew I would be the last one to die. Alone in the metal tubes of my cold heart home, pumping despair into the inkblot.

* * * *

The one in the red and purple was named Grit Simmons, which didn’t sound like a real name, and the other was named Cat Conkers, which sounded even less like a real name. They explained Titan station was like Ahnerabe station, only larger, and with more people on it.

“Did you ever find more normal people?” My sister narrowed her vision receptacle at me sadly.

“Normal?”

“You know, who look like us.”

“No, I can’t say we ever have.”

They took off their spacesuits, and I saw one of them had robotic legs, and another robotic arms, but their limbs had all of the gizmos showing, they weren’t covered at all. It was strange.

“So how long have you been living out here?” Grit said.

“Our whole lives,” my father replied, “We honestly thought we were the only ones left. That’s what our parents told us.”

“Is the Earth finally safe yet?” My mother perked up, “Or do the other survivors all live on spacestations too?” Grit had to blink a few times, which reminded me of a computer light flickering to process data.

“Er, well a few places are irradiated or polluted, but Earth and Mars have always been okay, I mean, as much as it can under Centro.”

“Is Centro some kind of protective radiation field?” Artemis inquired.

“No, its, um, no. No its not.”

“It’s a government. They are big wigs who run everybody’s life and tell people what to do and stuff.”

Cat helpfully finally chimed in. “Do you have any meat? Or is this veggie stuff all you have to eat?”

I was still wondering why people wore large wigs on Earth, but my mom had a different question.

“You… eat people?” The pair twisted their faces in very weird ways.

“No! Of course not!”

“Why would you think that?”

“Where else would you get meat!”

“Animals!”

“Animals aren’t real, everyone know that.”

“What?” Just… Stop. What?”

Needless to say, it was a long conversation.

* * * *

The time I didn’t run away was much more notable, and happened purely by chance. I was floating through the gardens, when I heard a sigh. I swam towards the sound, and found Selene, looking at some celery. “Selene?” She looked up, her hair seeming to shock into the weightless air, her vision receptacle widening. “Arch, I didn’t realize you were here.”

“I didn’t realize you were here either. I thought I was the only one who came here.” Her shoulders lowered with the faint hum of machinery.

“So did I.” We sat, and talked about the plants. It wasn’t the last time we met up there, we started doing it regularly. And soon the two of us were inseparable, Crone Head and Arch Disappointment, best of pals. She told me all her fears, and I hers. She wondered if we’d ever go to Earth. She said she’d like to, to see the plants there, and raise children. We wondered what it would be like to walk in gravity, and used to pretend to, pushing each other’s feet down, giggling all the while.

One night, as we were sitting together, Selene took my hand, and told me she’d been thinking, and she wanted to show me something. I shrugged, and said okay. I couldn’t believe what happened next: she reached up to her head, and opened her face plate, snapping off the latches installed in her skin, and letting it drift away.

“Only people who are married can see each other’s faces Selene…”

“Like they will approve us for admission to the gene pool. You’re… Special, Archimedes.”

“So are you.” Her face was… Immensely fundamental. Her eyes were a sort of pale blue, and she seemed to have to… close them occasionally, which she seemed to find difficult, and the tube leading into her eye seemed to block it partially. I wondered if eyes had been designed to do that before faceplates. Her skin showed scarring from where all of the attachments, wires, and tubes had been implanted, and her visage was wreathed in the silver teeth that held her faceplate on. And I realized I must look like that, and the more I looked at her face, the more I wanted to share mine with hers. I pulled off the latches, and my faceplate floated up into the air, and then she leaned in and put her mouth on mine like they did in books, and I wrapped my arms around her, and hers around me, and I could feel her heartbeat, and the whir of her motors, and I think we both began to cry. I had never felt another person so close before. We met up many more times, and got closer and closer each time.

Her body felt like starlight on my skin, warm, yet it wasn’t far away, and she could whisper in my ear.

And I knew it was wrong, and that to be so close with another person was immoral, but we did it anyway. I held her close. And eventually, there were no barriers between us, and we wondered why it was that you were only allowed to make children by artificial insemination, because the alternative turned out to be… Better than anticipated, and I didn’t feel at all like the darkness.

* * * *

After they explained Mars (which was apparently communist) to us, which took some time, they began to get down to business.

“So look, we can get you off of here, take you somewhere where there are people.” Grit said.

My mother looked at my Father, “We can’t just let them die here.”

My Father nodded, “We need some time to think about this, to plan… To know what the outside world is like.”

“Oh come on, we do not have enough god damn time for this!” Cat pulled out a gun. I’d read about them. I’d never seen one before. “We’re taking over your station in the name of Olympus, now shut up and get on our damn spaceship before I blow your cultass brain into the next hemisphere.”

“Cultass?”

“Just shut up!”

“Cat, what are you doing?”

“I’m not letting your molly coddling get in the way of our survival!”

“You don’t even know if this will do that!”

“Well it’s worth a fucking shot!”

* * * *

The last time I’d heard that kind of yelling, the elders of the ship were meeting. We never learned what about, but in hindsight, they must have learned that there was something outside. They yelled, and at the end of it, some of the station decided to leave, and the rest decided to stay, but neither would do it without everyone. So ended, and started, the brisk war. It was over so fast. In the opening gambit, one side lowered the defensive grid for a chunk of the station, in time for a meteor to hit it. The meteor didn’t just crack us open with stardust, it poured us into the stars, and spilled our bloody guts into the void. It had been meant as a warning blow, a way to say, “This is the end, we all have to leave anyways now!” instead, the meteor tore through the living area, ripped off an arm of the station, and left the rest venting bodies and air. My father had us hide that night in the gardens, and we lived, and no one else did. We never heard from the missing arm. It was where Selene lived, and I dreamed for a long time she lived. But she didn’t. They were all dead. Spinning out like tears.

* * * *

My father’s blank faceplate stared impassively. The gun pointed at his head. I shivered. Not again.

* * * *

Before everyone died, I got my name. We weren’t born with names, just serial numbers. Mine was 0042623.

When I was old enough, my naming ceremony came. Most children got named after Gods, so when my naming time arrived, I wondered what it would be. Zeus? Apollo like my father? Or maybe some lesser God… I didn’t care, I was excited. My parents and the registrar sat, their vision receptors glowing red against the white walls.

“Welcome 0042623, are you ready to receive your name?”

I nodded excitedly.

“Now son, your mother and I have talked it over…”

“….And we’re naming you Archimedes.” That wasn’t any God I’d heard of.

“See… We care about you, but we’re under no illusions, your sister is the talented one, and you’re simply going to follow her, and support her. You aren’t the one who is going to achieve the greatness in our family, so we don’t want to give you a name that will give you any false ideas. So we’re naming you Archimedes Artemis, so you’ll never forget your purpose is to follow your sister.”

I was never so dismayed. The other kids called me “Arch disappointment” after that.

* * * *

“Don’t!” My mother cried, and Cat glared at her, and grabbed her by the hair. In a swift motion she slammed my mother’s head into the table, and then again, and again the blood seeping out from under the cracked plastic. My father tried to intervene, and she pointed the gun at him, and shot him in the head. Apollo fell, smelling of meat and circuits, and I screamed. I was glad my mother wasn’t alive to see that, in a way…

I lunged at her when she shot. I barreled at her, propelling myself off the wall, and ramming my metal shoulder into her chest. Her companion tried to get to her, but Artemis grabbed her, and clenched with her metal hands as hard as she could, crushing bone. We wrestled in the zero gravity, till the apocalypse was signed with ink.

Cat had a gun. And she tried to save her friend.

And she shot.

The station was old, and wasn’t designed to take the strange plasma belting gun she had.

It melted through the wall, it burned it, over and over as her shots went wild. There was a moment where only air was seeping out, then the wall burst out, and Artemis and Grit were ejaculated from the station, their arms still locked in a dance of violence, a dance that they would never finish, as their flesh froze.

Cat followed soon after, with the corpses of Aphrodite and Apollo, both heading towards the sun, fittingly. And I clenched onto the table, which was bolted to the floor, till all the air was gone, and walked to the next airlock…. Where I went in, the last survivor of the apocalypse. Just like I’d always known.

* * * *

“So, you just got on their spaceship, figured out the controls, and flew it here?” The man said. I nodded.

“That doesn’t sound too believable.”

“I don’t find any of this stupid place believable. You people are ridiculous. I’m still ashamed to see you showing your faces around here.”

“Right… So what do you plan to do now?”

I squinted my vision receptacle at him, and sighed.

“I wish I knew. I’m the last living man, in a world full of people. It’s not an easy thing to figure.”

He poured me a drink. My liver told me it required extra processing, but he said it was on the house, which he explained meant free.

No, free was wrong. I went outside the bar, as the mobs of flesh wandered around me, and I looked up at the speck of light in the inkblot, that was called Earth. And there was a moment where the world was the way it was, and the end became the beginning, and apocalypse formed a broken Eden.

* * * *

The end of the Earth was a terrible thing, and we all knew about it. It was one of the first things every child on Ahnerabe learned. The earth became corrupt, immoral, decadent, and it was washed away with a fire called radiation, partially. We were spared the first round, and we build rockets, and launched ourselves into space, building the station far from where anyone would ever find us. We hid, and avoided the apocalypse, a hidden arc sustaining the best of humanity. Very strict guidelines for who could go on the trip were assembled, and we were the descendants of those lucky few. As the world burned, we on Ahnerable stayed safe, knowing that when the Earth was ready for us we would go back, and repopulate it. It was the noble dream. It was the beginning of all things, it was the end of all things. We blurred into the shadows and took a gasping breath as we plunged into the inkblot, slowly turning around the sun, like a tiny marble, or Selene’s tears when I could feel her heart beat.

There was a light, and it was the knowledge that though everyone else was dead, we would live on.

And when we finished the story, the ink spilled along the page, and no one could read it but memories.

* * * *

“Cat?”

“Yeah, Grit?”

“You see that?” they’d drifted so far out, their ship running cold, but still propelled at speeds like the chariots of the gods through the darkness, that they didn’t even know where they had run to in running.

“Looks like some sort of spacestation.”

“Nobody builds a spacestation out this far, its lunacy. You couldn’t resupply.”

“But you could hide.”

“So?”

“The boss of Olympus might want another place to hole up, this could be our shot. She might forgiv—“

“She won’t ever forgive.”

“What’s the worst that happens, we end the world?”

GUEST POST: A MAGIC TRICK, by James Wylder

It’s Saturday!  Hopefully I made a lot of money yesterday, because this convention was insanely expensive.  Anyway, James Wylder’s our guest poster today.  Have a story!  You like stories, don’t you?  


This is a brand new short story set in the 10,000 Dawns universe. Its a fun, and continuing, series of sci-fi tales, so if you like it you can find more of it at jameswylder.com/10kd.
Thanks to Luther for letting me write this guest post! See you at C2E2 if you’re there. -James Wylder

A Magic Trick
by James Wylder

 

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Artwork by Annie Zhu

We’d burned through seven fuel cells just trying to turn our ship off to save power, a fact which I was trying very hard not to yell at the Captain about. The captain still wore her old coat from when she was in the Centro Marines, a long blue thing with a red tech-shoulderpad, and was finally moving to inspect our cargo as the Wind Fish clung to the side of the asteroid we’d finally landed on. Captain Nichols was smoking, which made her not only a bad role model for children, but also a danger to all of us since she could cause our ship to blow up accidentally at any time. I respected her a lot.

Nichols opened the first crate, and sifted through some generic supplies before lazily throwing the lid back on, then moved to the next which was filled with gold bars. Finally she opened the third crate, which wasn’t actually the last crate, but spoilers: it’s the important one. Inside was a gray box, maybe the size of a thick copy of one of those books that’s too long for me to pay attention to like “War and Peace” or “Jane Eyre.” It had a standard data cord port on one side of it, and the letter “A” painted on a different side. Not printed, hand painted. I didn’t even know how to hand write a letter A if you paid me and put a gun to my head for maximum motivation, but Mars had been doing weird stuff since their revolution.

Desi nudged me in the shoulder, “That’s how we’re making bank this trip, you know.” I squinted at the box. It looked more boring than that French book I’d tried to read about the guy eating a piece of cake.

“What is it?” She shrugged.

“Some sort of Martian computer program, military grade. Its supposed to be worth a fortune, or at least that’s what our sources tell us. The Index is willing to pay heavily to get one of these things, the Librarian wants it for something special. Or, at least that’s what the rumors say. He might just not want other people to have it.” Either made sense, really. Captain Nichols spun the box around in her hands, puffing away.

“Don’t we like, hate the Index?” I asked.

“Well sure, but they’re offering enough money in this case the Olympian Senate agreed to let us take it on. They get a cut, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Should we plug it in, see if it works?” Jackson asked. Nichols’ cigarette flopped down in her lip.

“Are you crazy? This is a military AI system. You plug this thing  in there’s no telling the havoc it will cause.” Jackson looked at the box wearily. She looked at the thing like it was a spirit trapped in a magical ward of salt and bones. From what I knew about these things, she wasn’t even that wrong. Then again I didn’t actually know that much. We were cave-women in space.

“Megan,”she said to me, “get back to the cockpit and check if we’re being tracked.” I yawned, nodded, and started walking over there. I think she still wanted me to salute, but this wasn’t the military. The Valkyries were the best pirates in the solar system, along with every other group that called themselves the best pirates in the solar system, so it was a big tie. I’d joined up at fifteen, mainly because I couldn’t stand school. Living on Titan is frankly better than 90% of the Rim, since we have a corrupt poor government as opposed to no government, but schooling there is so boring. I had to read so many big novels, just because it was the cheapest lesson plan data package our teacher could get. Now I was twenty, and whether or not ship life suited me, I was doing it. There were just the five of us on the Wind Fish, me, the Cap, Desi, Jackson, and Elodie. Elodie was just on here on loan till we got a new mechanic cause our regular one had turned a proton redirector the wrong way and blown herself up leaving only her shoes and socks up the ankles.

Jackson had taken the shoes.

I slid the door to the cockpit open, rubbing my eyes with the other hand, and slid it back shut, only to turn and see a teenage girl spinning around in the pilot’s chair, with a towering cyborg standing next to her. Naturally, this was unexpected. My first thought was “Stowaways!” But that was impossible: there wasn’t any cargo, and we’d stripped the ship down to the barest weight we could before launch. The cockpit only had one way in and out, and the door made enough noise that any of us would have heard someone sneak in regardless. They had appeared inside the ship out of nowhere. There was no way they could get have gotten in, mass simply popping into unoccupied space like a rabbit out of a hat.

“Graelyn, could you stop spinning?” The cyborg asked, “It’s giving me a headache.” The girl stopped, and glanced over at me, grinning.

“We’ve got company.” She said. The cyborg turned, and jovially waved. He had no visible skin, just an outer carapace made of what looked like video screens that curved around his form. He also wore a blue trenchcoat, and what looked like one of those old Admiral’s hats you see in Napoleonic War Dramas. The girl was wearing high top sneakers, a matching blue skirt and blazer,and a white shirt and black tie. She had a pin of a cat, and one of a half-sun, half moon on her lapel.

“What the hell.” I said.

“Shh.” Graelyn said. “I’m Graelyn Scythes, this is–”

“Archimedes Von Ahnerabe.”

“And we’re here to stop you from dying.”

“And take your stuff.”

“Well, I was going to leave that part off till later.” My jaw was loose, and I wished I had a cigarette like the Captain now just so I could let it drop out of my mouth dramatically.

“CAP!” I yelled, and the crew stormed up behind me. The door slid open, and the four of them stood with weapons drawn. The Cap had a gun, as did Jackson, Desi had a vibro-Ax, and Elodie had grabbed a large wrench. Her purple clothes were still stained with grease from the engine room. The girl in the chair sighed, and raised her hands.

“I surrender.” She said with more than a hint of boredom. Arch was just watching her, and she raised her eyebrows and tucked in her lips and he raised his hands to.

“How’d you get on my ship?” The Captain demanded.

“We cut our way in.”

“We’d get signaled if there was a hull breach.”

“Would you get signaled if there was a stealth ship coming in on an attack vector, like, presently?” The Captain leveled the gun.

“Yours?”

“Oh not at all. We just want the box. Turns out the people you stole it from aren’t too happy about it though…” The Cap gestured at us to keep our weapons on the pair, and ran to a console, she fiddled with some equipment.

“Nothing on scanners…” She adjusted a few things. “Shit. The girl’s right, the ship’s bouncing data back at us to tell us it isn’t there, but the timing’s off a fraction of a second.” Cap slammed her fist on the console, which was totally unnecessary.

“Elodie, how long till you can get us up in the air?” I tried really hard to not correct her on the ship not being able to get into “the air” in deep space. Elodie blew out a breath.

“Not before they reach us.” The girl in the chair kicked her legs.

“So let’s make a deal. I save you from the Martians, you let me keep the box.” The Captain’s eyes bulged, she was furious.

“That box is worth more than your life.”

“Is it worth more than yours? Martians aren’t exactly kind towards thieves of high grade military tech. I’ll let you decide. No rush.” The time till the Martian ship intercepted us ticked down on a monitor dramatically. They stared off. Graelyn smirked. The Captain conceded.

“Fine. What do you need to do?” Graelyn hopped up.

“You guys just stay in here, I’ll do to the rest.” She slid out of the chair, and Arch followed her. Closing the door, they covered up the window by hanging Arch’s hat on it. There was a noise, and then nothing. When we finally decided to open the door, the cargo hold was empty.

“I don’t understand.” Jackson sputtered, as the sound of the Martian ship docking with us clanged through the hull.

 

The Martian Captain, who corrected us into saying they were from “Geru Ghara” not Mars every time they said the word, led two squads of Martian troops into the hold. A group of troops held us at gunpoint, while the rest searched the ship, opening every panel. I’d just tidied a lot of those panels, so it was a bit frustrating, like someone dumping out your trash on the floor after they entered your house.
“This is an unusual ship.” The Martian captain finally said. Her left eyebrow had a thick scar through it. She wore all black, aside from a red scarf and a red tech-shoulderpad. Her long coat also had red and yellow stenciling, but I wasn’t sure that counted. You don’t get off for wearing a shirt with tiny green frog on it on St. Patrick’s Day after all.

“Its an old Centro Sleeper Ship. They used to send them throughout the system before drives got fast enough it wasn’t necessary, you’d freeze the crew and-”

“Yes, I know how they worked. But this is a stealth model.”

“There are more of them in service still than you’d think on the Rim, they don’t break down. I heard the Van Winkle and the Red King are both still–”

“Yes, yes… That’s not what I wondered.” The Martian captain pulled up a hologram on a handheld projector. Ironically, it was still branded with a “Centro Systems” Logo.

“This ship was tracked after it assaulted a Geru Gharian cargo vessel, stealing its most valuable cargo.” Our Captain shrugged.

“Clearly, it was a different Sleeper Ship.” The Martian Captain nodded, and put the hologram away.

“Did you fight in the war for Geru Gharian Independance, Captain Nichols?”

“The giant blue coat gave it away, huh?”

“Quite. So you served Centro?”

“If you think you’re going to trump up some charges on me just because I fought for Centro Systems, you’ve got another thing coming. After how the war ended I couldn’t keep fighting for them, so I came out here on the rim making an honest living hauling cargo.” Well, that was all true aside from the honest cargo bit, and the honest living bit. The Martian Captain’s eyes looked distant.

“I can respect that. Geru Ghara had hoped we’d all be able to work together after the war ended…”

“Clearly the Rim’s idea’s of independence are different than Mars’.”

“Geru Ghara.” She said, more faintly. “The war is past us now.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. There’s no way you could have unloaded all of this cargo. Your ship has no way to drop or vent its cargo hold into vacuum without killing the crew. A terrible and massively unsafe design flaw, certainly, but it proves you’re innocent. I’d watch out Captain, someone is trying to sully your good name.”

“Captain Hara.” A man yelled from the other side of the ship. “We have Centro ships inbound, we need to take off immediately.” Hara looked down at the five of them.

“It’s been a pleasure. I wish you all the best, and I hope you find the freedom you seek.” She gestured with her hand, and her troops shuffled back into their ship as quickly as they’d barged in. I hurried up, and ran to the scanners, watching them flee from the group of much larger Centro vessels on their tail. Spoilers, they got away. Good for them. Annoyingly for us, a Centro ship split off to check us out.

I won’t bore you, it went about the same.

 

That wasn’t the end of it though. If it had been, I might have been able to square it all away with excuses, like only hearing half a joke and assuming it would have been funny. But, as we got the ship ready, we all headed into either the engine room or the cockpit and as I opened the door into the cargo hold after getting pre-flight ready, all the boxes but one were back. You know which one was gone. I called for the rest of the crew, and we marveled for a moment, running our hands along what felt like a magic trick.

“Look, there’s a note.” Elodie said, and we ran over.

“Have fun stealing stuff, see you in the future. Love, Dawn.”

“Who the hell is Dawn?” Jackson asked.

“More what what the hell is it.” I added. The Captain took the note and pocketed it.

“We didn’t get the prize, but we still have a small fortune in other supplies here. Let’s get it back to base.”

“We’re gunna burn a powerpack just lifting off of this rock, you’ll be spending that small fortune in powerpacks just from this trip alone.” I said, and instantly regretted it. The Captain’s face lit up red, then softened, and she laughed.

“That’s life on the Rim, Megan. Get used to it.” And walked off.

I stood stunned, “I was born here! Cap, Cap! I was actually born here you know? You’re the one who moved here!” But no one was listening. There was work to be done now, and the stars were beckoning for us once again. I got a cup of coffee, and got to work.

 

I began to power the ship up to lift us off, burning up a powerpack, and felt her breath on my cheek. She was leaning over the back of my chair, her tie hanging down onto my shoulder.

“It’s not like anyone will believe you,” Graelyn said, “so do you want to know how we did it?” I nodded, not turning around. I half wondered if she’d slit my throat.

“There’s another you, in another life, who did this same thing. And another one, and another one. And I can cut between the air you breathe, and step through into those worlds, through time, through space, through your existence. I’ve seen this dawn before. We’re inter-reality travellers, Dawn. We’re here and there.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up.”

“You’re being really creepy.”

“Oh, uh, sorry.” She said awkwardly, as if she hadn’t realized standing behind someone whispering in their ear after sneaking up on them was creepy. I spun around in the chair in time to catch a flash of white light, and what looked like a white disk shrinking into nothing. I wasn’t sure if I’d dreamed that, or what, but my top concern was more important than any sort of cosmological bullcrap.

Graelyn Scythes had stolen my coffee.

GUEST BLOG: I Watched JESSICA JONES, and My Hands Froze, by James Wylder

Day Three of guest blogs; there will be one more tomorrow morning, although it won’t be strictly necessary since I’ll be home.  I’m incredibly proud that James trusts me enough to let me run this; it’s an amazing piece and it deserves more attention than I’m probably able to produce for it.  That said, for the second time in two days, I’m gonna let y’all have a trigger warning, as this one also could be hard to read.  

I do not have the sort of readership who I need to warn to behave in comments, so I won’t.

Man, I hope this con is going well.


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We were sitting in the room together, me and my friends. I’d been warned, and so I warned them.

“I might need to leave the room while we’re watching, just so you know.”

“So… Pause it?”

“No, uh, I was told there was some content I might not be able to handle. So if I can’t handle it…”

“Got it, so you want us to give a holler when it would be over?”

“Yes, that would be wonderful.” I love my friends, it was good they got it, without me having to explain further. I tucked the blanket under my feet. Good, we can finally watch Jessica Jones.

I’d been waiting for this show for a while now, but I’d been scared. I thought about watching it alone, but I decided it was a bad idea. I’ve mostly dealt with my issues, mostly, but some things don’t ever really go away, you just hope you dealt with them enough to that you can stop dealing with them on a day to day basis. Eventually you stop crying yourself to sleep, eventually you stop having to leave parties because you feel so worthless you can’t stand being around people. Eventually you stop yelling at people for what seems like no reason when they say something innocuous about a TV show. Eventually.

But it still comes up. A few months ago I drove down to visit a friend, and he decided to show me one of his favorite story arcs of a show I’d only seen the first season of: the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. We were watching it, eating sloppy Taco Bell food and discussing things when there wasn’t much dialogue. Usual, normal.

Then the scene happened.

When I next was in control of myself, I was in a Wal-Mart. I’d driven there, I guess, I mean, I had to have. The tiles in front of me were strangely white against the florescent light. I had put my shoes on, but I hadn’t grabbed my coat. I recalled that it had been dark outside, that was something. I had texts on my phone, and I reassured my friend I was okay. I’d lost maybe twenty minutes. This hadn’t happened in years. It was terrifying. I paced the aisles, and decided I’d try to fix one of the license plate lights on my car. I went out to it. I found what kind of light I needed. I bought it, and realized I didn’t have a screwdriver. I bought a screwdriver. I went back in because it was the wrong kind of screwdriver. I bought another screwdriver. My hands shook. I fixed the damn light, and went back into the Wal-Mart, shielded by its 24-hour capitalism. Eventually, I cooled down enough to drive back to my friend’s. The roads were empty. I put on “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” by Fever Ray, because a lack of subtlety is my specialty.

When I got back, I tried to play it cool. I got hugs. I hated that this still affected me.

What exactly happened to me doesn’t matter. Don’t ask. Its not even one thing. That’s not the point here. I’m not telling. I don’t want to tell you.

What does matter, is that I watched Jessica Jones, and my hands froze. This might sound strange, but it was a reassuring reaction. Usually, when sexual assault is portrayed in media, its for shock value. It happens so people can react to it. Its a motivator, and then the heroes can sweep in and save the day, or whatever. Sometimes what happens isn’t even treated as a serious issue, its laughed off, its forgotten about the next episode, or the perpetrator is brought into the main cast. Sometimes, I just can’t take seeing it. Sometimes, the only thing my body can do is run. And then I end up in a Wall-Mart in the middle of the night.

But when I watched Jessica Jones, I didn’t run. It was hard to watch. My hands froze: I couldn’t make my fingers move, and I was sure the guy next to me could hear me whispering to my fists “come on, you can do it, you can do it…” as I slowly got my arms to work, then each of my fingers (my legs followed after), but I didn’t run. Sure, I cried myself to sleep later, but whatever. There was something different about this show, and while it was difficult, it felt safe in a way it didn’t usually feel, because the show understood that Jessica Jones wasn’t a victim to be saved, but a person who had to keep living her damn life.

So often when rape or sexual assault is portrayed, the narrative treats the survivors of the assault as needing to be redeemed. They need to be saved. They need to be purified. But we were never dirty, we were never in need of redemption. We were just us, and people did horrible things to us, but fuck them not us. Jessica Jones isn’t broken, she has PTSD. She uses techniques to get herself steadied and stop dissociation I’ve used and seen others use. She goes to work, she does her job, she has friends, she lives her life, she has flashbacks, she struggles, but she lives. She pushes other people away, she lashes out at people she shouldn’t, she has problems, she won’t ask for help and hates it when people do things for her, and I know exactly how she feels.

David Tennant plays Killgrave, aka the Purple Man, aka the scariest character ever, who manages to pick up on so many traits of rapists and abusers that you could probably make some sort of checklist out of them. He controls your mind, and honestly I can’t think of a better analog for the feeling of powerlessness that those things do to you. There is damage done by it. His careless hedonistic evil is so casual, so compassionless, and so shockingly real. At one point in the show, spoilers, he makes Jessica send him a picture of her every day at a set time. He doesn’t need to do this, he can mind control people to take her picture if he wanted to. No, he wants the power over her. He wants to know she is under his thumb. To me, Killgrave is the scariest villain, because he is the villain I know. He is the villain who is given fist bumps over beers afterwards, and the one who is defended later. He’s the one people don’t unfriend on Facebook, because sure what he did was wrong, but everyone makes mistakes. I’m sure you both did something wrong, they will continue. Smile, they’ll say, he’ll say. The look in their eyes will tell you they think it shouldn’t bother you anymore. They’ll call you broken behind your back.

I got my fingers unclenched, and I could move. I’d conquered by body, and I could enjoy the rest of the episode. It was still hard to watch, but it understood. It understood like so few people really did, that you can heal the damage, wipe away the bruises, but the damage lingers inside you. And I’m damaged, but I’m not broken. I’m a superhero. And even if you ran away, you are too.