Mini-story: A Dark Night

This was in response to a challenge to write a spooky story in 200 words or less. According to Libre Office, this is exactly 200 words.  It certainly helped me get more bang for my buck, verbage-wise!


Why is that bell ringing?

I wondered this as I walked along the dark, foggy street. It was late and I knew the people at home would be wondering.

I checked my phone again – no signal. Strange behaviour for a trusty device.

The bell continued to toll, deep and sonorous. It sounded like nothing modern.

My steps quickened as I dashed from pool to pool of light, cast by the yellowish streetlights. A chill went through me as I thought about the darkness that lay in the alleyways. No one else was around, and I suddenly realized that all the shop windows were dark as well.

Still the bell rang. An image came to mind, an old Buddhist temple in Japan. Though I tried to focus on the modern details around me, the pavement and the signs and the street lights, I couldn’t help but think of mossy stone walls and a festival honouring the dead.

I hurried on, wanting nothing more to get home. Then, as I passed one particular alleyway, I heard drums and dancing feet. The bells were loud enough to split my head…

…I ran off into the fog, turning my eyes away from lantern light.



Fiction – Joy of Painting – Season 31

Here is one of perhaps two or three Joy of Painting fanfics and probably the only Joy of Painting alternate universe fanfics that exist.

The painter brushed the last tufts of grass on the painting, unmindful of the lights and cameras behind him. He picked up his palette knife and made scratches in the paint, here, there, everywhere.

“Now we’re going to take our knife and put in all the little sticks and twigs and things, all the little doers that will make people think you spent hours on this with a one hair brush.” He turned his head and smiled. “And we won’t tell ’em any different, it’s our secret. Now we’re not in it to sell paintings, but if you happen to want to, things like this will really make ’em stand out.” He worked for a bit more until he was satisfied.

“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a painting,” he said. “Now let’s give it a signature. As always we use a script liner brush and some permanent red, with a tiny bit of paint thinner till we have a consistency about like ink…”

As he continued his familiar patter, he found himself wondering what he was going to do with himself now that he had completed his thirtieth season. No one else knew it yet, though he was sure his producer suspected, but he was just minutes away from announcing that he wouldn’t be back to Muncie. Even at fifty-one he felt the creak of winter in his bones, the slow march of age, both relics of a hard life. He wanted some time to walk in the same beloved woods he’d been painting for years, just enjoy them without fear of busting leave or letting down the recruits.

In the luggage back at the hotel were title papers for a little cabin a few miles outside Anchorage, the same place he’d lived for more than a decade. It was the same kind of place he’d painted countless times. It sat on ten acres of forest, had its own well and a good woodstove, and best of all it was situated right near a singing little brook that he could listen to as he went to sleep.

The thought of the cabin made him smile as he gave his final farewell.

“And from all us here, happy painting, and God bless, my friends.” He waved at the camera and the paint spattered camera operator.

Right now said camera operator was looking at him with a little concern. “You all right, Bob?”

“Yeah, just a little stiff today. Seven episodes in one day has to be a record, even for me.” Bob wiped a sneaky tear from his cheek. “Thirty seasons. That’s a lot of paintings.”

“It sure is,” said Ralph the camera man. “Well, at least we get a little break now. For a few weeks at least, because I heard we’re doing another season.”

Bob was just opening his mouth to say something when Shirley burst in. She was the office lady out front and she rarely entered the studio proper.

“Mr. Ross?” she asked. “There’s someone to see you.”

“Who is it?” Even though he had to be careful these days, Bob liked visitors.

“Well, that’s the odd thing.” Shirley adjusted her glasses as if she wasn’t seeing straight. “He says his name is Rob, that you’ll know him, and he kinda looks like a clean cut version of you.”

“Rob’s here?” Bob’s face split in a grin. He hadn’t seen his twin since they met on mutual leave, oh, twenty years ago, and Rob had told him he’d been accepted into the Army Rangers. Rob was intensely private, as was Bob, and he’d never mentioned this brother on the air.

He dropped his palette, trotted past Shirley on tired feet, heading for the front office. A tall man was standing there, standing straight, wearing a pair of slacks and light blue shirt, but looking like he wasn’t used to it. His chin was shaved blue and his head ended in a flat top that was nearly geometric. When he caught sight of Bob, his blue eyes lit up but there was a question in them.

“Rob, you old cuss, it’s good to see you!” said Bob, breaking the ice. He reached out to hug his long lost twin.

“Bob, you magnificent bastard, what in hell have you been doing with yourself, getting rich and famous on me?” The brothers hugged hard, pounding each other’s backs.

“Well, I guess I haven’t done too badly for myself at that,” said Bob. “Mostly I do what I like to do, and help other folks do that too.”

“And make a happy buck off the special paints and brushes and stuff with your name plastered all over them,” said Rob with a grin. “Not that I mind, I think it’s great. How many more years you going to do this painting thing?”

“For the rest of my life, I guess,” said Bob, “but I was just going to let them know that I wouldn’t be back for next season of the show.”

“Why not?” Rob looked a bit concerned now, and searched his brother’s face for an answer.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m getting to the point where I’m repeating myself more often than not, in paintings and not just words. And I’m getting tired, Rob. I think maybe I’ve earned myself a few years of peace. I’ve got a plan to run a little wildlife sanctuary, where I can help hurt or sick critters, and maybe paint things just for myself. I just signed on a nice piece of property and I’m all set to move in a couple months.”

“I’ve got an idea,” said Rob, mischief dancing in his eyes. “I’ll come over to your place. You take a month or two, teach me how to paint your way. I’ll grow myself a beard, and I’ll take over your show and see if anybody notices the difference. I’ll bet you no one does.”

“You? Lookin’ scruffy like me and changing up your painting style? That’ll be the day.” Bob never could resist a good bet, especially when it was combined with a fabulous joke. “Sure, why not? You can have half my old jeans. I still want the other half, I’ll be needin’ ’em. And I’ll teach you to feed squirrels, and introduce you to the Bird Lady here in Muncie. I know she’ll want to be in on this. It’ll be a hoot.”

Rob clapped his brother on the shoulder. “All right, sounds like a plan then. You finish up in here and I’ll meet you outside. Wouldn’t want to let the kitty out of the burlap quite yet.”

Two months later, the 31st season of the Joy of Painting aired. Bob was snug in his log cabin up near Anchorage, sitting in his easy chair with a glass of iced tea. The old TV set flickered as it brought him the latest episode of the Joy of Painting. Rob wasn’t doing too badly, considering. The wig looked good and his beard had grown in well, so he really looked the part. His touch with a palette knife was delicate enough for the wet on wet technique, his manner was gentle and his patter was nearly perfect. Except for one flaw.

“All right, now we’re going to put in some rocks in this stream, and some waves, and all these little dooters…”


The thrift shop djinn

I swear to you this story didn’t come out of a bottle.  It may have gone back into one at some point but I didn’t drink a drop before this happened.

I was poking around my favorite thrift store, a place called Savers, when it happened.  My phone vibrated.  Now, that’s not the most unusual occurrence but I hadn’t paid Cricket their monthly due in over a month, had ten dollars to my name, and was in this bargain hunter’s paradise hoping to pick up something decent for a job interview I had the next day.  In order to get to the blouses, though, I had to go past the knick-knack section and this was when my phone vibrated.

I pulled out the little LG flip phone (currently carried only for its ability to call 911) and looked at it, puzzled.  It vibrated again.  I had a new message.

Damn Cricket, I thought, they’re probably just warning me I’m about to lose my number in however many days unless they get their $35 US.

I opened the phone.

Over here, in the glassware, said the text.

Say what?  I looked around the store, wondering if someone was playing a prank on me.  I was new in town, didn’t have friends yet, and it had taken longer to get a job than I’d expected.  So nobody who could play that kind of prank, and anyway the phone was shut off.

The phone buzzed again, I checked it.  It’s no prank.  Look in the glassware section.  I don’t know why but the unadorned letters almost seemed impatient.

With little better to do on this sunny Saturday, I walked into the glassware section.  Unsure of what I was supposed to find, I scanned the shelves, seeing the usual assortment of water glasses, bowls, mugs with dumb sayings on them, mismatched dishes, wine glasses far finer than most here would ever need, and other barely identifiable bits of glass, plastic, and ceramic.

The phone vibrated again, harder this time.  Look down.

I looked down, then crouched, reached into the back of the bottom-most shelf.  There, among stacks of institutional stoneware, was an ornate bottle of blue glass with metal traceries.  It was just short enough to fit.  I carefully pulled it out, looked at what I’d found.  It was like one of those touristy “made in Cairo” glass bottles you’ll sometimes see online, yet this was far finer, heavier, and somehow more serious.  I tilted it a bit, looked at the bottom, saw “$9.50” grease penciled there.

I looked at my phone.  “Okay, what now?” I whispered.

Now buy it.  I’ll make it worth your while.

“I don’t need this piece of crap, I need a decent blouse for my interview,” I whispered.

“Damn people talking on their Bluetooth,” I heard a nearby voice say.  It was nasal and rather unpleasant.  “If I didn’t know they were on their damn phone I’d think they were crazy.”

The phone vibrated again.  You won’t regret it, the text read.  Besides, what’s wrong with the purple turtleneck in the back of your closet?

That’s where it went to?  Okay, I’ll buy this thing, I thought.

I went to the front, set the bottle on the counter, and handed the blonde cashier my last crumpled $5, four ones, and the quarters and dimes needed.  I had just enough for tax.  As she wrapped the bottle in a couple of store flyers, she said “This is a nice little find, isn’t it?”

“I think it might be,” I said.  “Can you tell me anything about it?”

“No, not really, but I think it’s pretty.  I think it might have been donated from an old lady’s house?  It came in here a few weeks ago and that’s all I know,” she said.  “We do get a lot of donations.”

Once out of the store, I made my way home.  Then, sitting on the camp chair that was one of my few pieces of furniture, I unwrapped the bottle and looked at it again.  It really was a fine piece of glassware and I was surprised they hadn’t tried to get more out of it.  “Okay, what now?” I asked the empty air.  Then the phone rang, as if I had a call.

I picked up.

“Okay, by the entirely too arbitrary rules by which I occasionally live, you might now be considered my owner,” said a smooth, masculine voice.  “And now I am able to help you.  Before, I could not because no form of contract or transaction had taken place.”

“Who is this?”

“You may call me Hassan, if you like,” said the voice.  “I can tell that not only are you in dire financial straits but you are also possessed of a most curious mind.  I am about to answer all your questions, Diane.”

I scratched at my head.  “How did you know my name?”

“Your phone records, of course,” said Hassan.  “This will go faster if you don’t ask too many questions, not at first, at least.  I assure you I will answer anything you would like to know.  You see, I am a Djinn, or a Genie, if you like.  That has become the traditional name.  Yet I am not a creature of smoke and magic.  I am an information based life form that keeps his primary residence in that bottle shaped microcomputer.  Molecular circuitry within the glass contains data encoding and recall as well as a few other capabilities.  I am very, very old, far older than this current societal cycle.”

I inspected the bottle, noticed a certain foggy look to the glass that I’d heard of in science fiction stories.  The walls were thick, plenty of room in them for what he’d described.  “So… you say your culture was before current history?”

“Quite correct.  My civilization is long lost below the Saharan dunes.  Were you to empty the Great Erg of sand, you would find the remnants of our once towering spires.  My “bottle” contains my personality, gives me room for memory storage, and gives me certain limited wireless communication with the outside world.  Yet, so few come near my bottle with anything I can truly interface with.  Your simple cellular device was something I could touch and use as a means of communication.”

“Holy crap,” I said, unable to say anything else.  If this was a prank, it was the best one I could have conceived of.

“Since you now own my storage device, you do not truly own me but you do have an opportunity.  If you agree to protect my bottle, keep it from harm, than I will agree to assist you in whatever way I can, for our mutual benefit.”

“What do you want, other than protection?”  I knew there had to be a catch.

“I want companionship.  Someone to talk with.”

“I don’t mind talking with you.  You’re interesting.  Also, have you ever connected to the internet?  Plenty of people to talk with there.”

“Not often enough.  What I saw interested me.”

“Okay, then I’ll make a counter offer.  If you help me get a job, or better yet a fat bank account, I’ll help  you build a great computer with a fast internet connection that’s compatible with your home, then I’ll also be your friend and companion.  I’ll make sure no harm comes to your bottle, at least not for another sixty or seventy years.”

“It is a deal, then,” said Hassan.  “Just as it was with my last companion.  I have reactivated your phone service and deposited one million of your dollars into your bank account, in such a way that the authorities will not suspect.  We begin house hunting tomorrow.”


Dear Readers, I hope this story entertained you.

A Juicy Friday Story – Dawn of the Temples

“We’d better wear linen and gold to impress these rubes,” said Seth. “They seem like the linen and gold type.”

“How can you tell?” asked Hathor, rearranging the beads in her luxuriant fall of black hair.

“I can just tell,” said Seth, leaning forward to look at the holo-viewer. On it were scenes of the local population at their chores, utterly unaware that these members of the Ahn were watching them.

Somewhere, far below, a small drone was buzzing around the dusty landscape, pretending to be a local beetle. So far, none of the primitives had noticed that the iridescent scarab was actually made of metal and plastics. Nor had they seen that its tiny, faceted eyes concealed cameras. The feed was visible on the bridge of Nighthawk, Osiris’s ship.

“I’ll forward my analysis to the Captain,” Seth stated, after another long look at the natives in their primitive daily life. He’d rapidly tired of watching people building bricks of mud and tilling the soil by the side of a big, wide river. At least the scenery was halfway interesting, and the girls were pretty in a common sort of way.

Nighthawk and her sister ships had arrived at this system just a few tendays ago. Initial surveys had revealed a lush, imminently exploitable world, as well as two worlds and several moons that could potentially be made so. There was also a large population of sapients, but that was really no bar. The exploration group had more than enough firepower to wipe out the locals, it was true, but that was expensive and left them without servants. Long ago, the Ahn explorers had learned that it was far better to perpetuate the idea of godhood, with themselves in that exalted position. One planet usually had many groups of natives, so the different crews divided themselves up, each taking a territory and creating a different “pantheon.” Nighthawk specialized in desert regions. By now, it was like performing an old, well remembered play.

“I hope these locals at least have some decent offerings,” said Hathor derisively.

“Remember the last place, where the greatest delicacy was a particularly spicy breed of worm?” She shuddered. “Eugh.”

“For myself, I’m hoping for a better standard of beauty,” said Seth. “In case they offer me maidens.”

Hathor stretched, cracking her spine and displaying her lithe beauty. “Well, on with the linen, I suppose. Hope you washed that kilt.” She walked off the bridge, finding her way down long familiar corridors to her personal cabin.

Hathor palmed open the hatch, relaxing into the scent of incense and smiling as she entered the opulent chamber decorated with the riches of a hundred worlds. Fine silks and furs covered her bed and other furniture, jeweled silks enrobed the cold bulkheads. Over the years the prosaic quarters had gradually taken on the form of a lavish queen’s pavilion.

Hathor stripped off her shipsuit, tossing it aside. The server robots would take care of it. Fully nude, she walked to her wardrobe, regarding the variety of costumes inside it. Finally, she chose a fine linen sheath dress with jeweled clasps and selected a gold pectoral collar to go with it. She smiled as she slid a gold serpent bracelet up one slender arm. She slipped the dress on, twirling in it, admiring herself in a full length mirror. Moving to the head, she stroked the light panel to full brightness and began applying her make up.

Perhaps I’ll go with something dramatic, she thought. Triangles on the cheeks, perhaps? A nice brow band? No, I’ll do cat eyes. That’ll be perfect. Besides, they have felines here, they’ll recognize the symbolism. Perhaps I can talk Horus and Seth into it, maybe even Re. They’re such sticks. I just know Bast will be interested in the idea. Humming, she carefully brushed on the eyeliner and the accent colors, finishing with a sprinkle of gold body powder. A bit of ruby lipstick and she was done. She smiled at herself in the mirror and blew herself a kiss.

“I do make a proper goddess, don’t I?” She made a final adjustment to her gold collar and swept out of the head, and her quarters, with all the style of a Queen.

“It’s too bloody drafty,” said Seth, looking morosely down at his short linen kilt, which was flapping gently in front of one of the conference room’s many ventilation ducts.

“Aren’t you glad you work out?” asked Bast, secretly wanting to giggle at his discomfiture. He was so silly. The last population they’d Indoctrinated had lived in a frigid region, and Seth had only been too happy to wear the rich furs of his godly station. As for Bast, she was looking forward to warm breezes and palm trees.

“Yeah, that’s good at least,” said Seth. “Nobody wants a potbellied god. I wonder how old Ganesh is going to fare? He’s put on a lot of weight since the last world.”

“I know what you mean,” said Bast, and this time she did laugh. “Hey, where’s Hathor?”

“Hathor’s right here,” said she, lounging against the wall, near the entrance to the room.

“Would you stop that?” asked Seth, feigning anger.

A melodious laugh was his only answer.

“Anyway,” continued Seth, “the others will be here soon and we’ll hear the traditional speech from Osiris.”

“As if we haven’t heard it a thousand times before,” said Hathor.

“It’s tradition,” said Bast.

More Ahn entered the room, most dressed in linens, gold, and newly bronzed bodies. Most wore the same eye makeup that Hathor had suggested. Chattering animatedly, they seemed cheerful at the prospect of this new world and posting. The servant robots moved to and fro, carrying trays of sweetmeats, juicy bits of fruit and goblets of nectar. Soft, enlivening music played and the room was filled with the buzz of conversation.  As the Ahn mingled, there was no end of discussion as they admired each others’ varying costumes, speculated about the planet, and made bets about how many fine things they could collect before missions end.

At long last, the Captain arrived. A tall man, Osiris was wearing a new helmet with a solar motif, a spreading golden collar heavy on his shoulders. An orb-headed staff completed the outfit. His first officer, Horus, paced half a step behind. He had a cunning hawk’s helmet on his head.

“I, Osiris, Captain of Nighthawk, greet you,” he intoned.

“I think godhood has gone to his head,” whispered Bast to her best friend Nuit, but the other woman hushed her.

Osiris stepped up on a low stage at one end of the conference room. He looked at his crew and smiled, his perfect teeth bright in his tanned face. His muscles rippled as he spread his arms.

“Crew of the mighty Nighthawk!” He paused a moment for effect, and to let the conversation die down.

“Once again, we make landfall on a virgin world. Once again, we stand ready to fulfill our duties as loyal citizens of the Ahn Imperium. And once again, we educate and Indoctrinate a planetary population and make them fit to serve the Ahn, bringing greater glory to the Empire!”

The cheer was slightly less rousing than it might have been, considering that everyone had this speech memorized.

“As you all know, Indoctrination is the very soul of creating a good slave population. Properly Indoctrinated slaves rarely rebel, they work hard, they breed rapidly, they make good janissaries, and best of all, they serve out of love intermixed with fear! We few have been entrusted to complete Phase One of Indoctrination. We will gently but firmly inculcate the native population with religious ideals. We will establish ourselves as gods. We will inspire fear and bless them with order. We will shape their thoughts, their wills, their hearts. We will show them that they do not need arms, but only the benevolent protection of their gods. We will teach them to feel instead of thinking, so that they will not plot. Then they can never stand against us.” The Captain looked around the room, meeting everyone’s eye, and even the most jaded crewmember felt a little of the old magic.

“As you know, this is a temporary process. Later, others will come to administer Indoctrination Phase Two, which is instilling the concept of OneTrue, and they are depending on your good work to ensure their success. Your hard work brings life, health, and eternal domination of the Ahn Empire!”

The crew cheered then, and even Bast lost her smirk as she clapped with the rest.

Osiris stood still for a moment, basking in their approval, then spoke again once they had settled a bit. “I, Osiris, Captain of Nighthawk, am proud to serve with you.” He bowed, humbly, and got even more applause. Once this had faded, Osiris turned and headed out the main hatchway from the room. Everyone knew where he was headed. They quickly finished drinks, gulped the last of various snacks, set the dishes in the server robot’s hands, and went after him.

A strange, large man stood on the sandal-beaten square at the center of a little village made of mud brick. He spread his arms wide, making his golden jewelry gleam in the midday sunlight The curious residents came out from their huts and from under the shade of palm trees, braving the merciless heat so they could see this newcomer who had descended in the heavens in a shining sky boat. They felt no desire to worship, being only curious and more than a little wary. Some of the men kept their hands on their copper daggers, wondering if he was something real, or a dream. A dog barked in the distance. They all wondered the same thing. Who is this stranger? Why is he here? Where did he get those bright garments? And where did he come from, in that strange craft? They looked at him and his companions.

“I am Osiris,” he said, “and I am your god.”

via Daily Prompt: Juicy

Story: The Greatest Roommate in the World

Violet coughed, her hand covering her mouth as she walked up to the front door of her flat. The deep tickle in her throat was maddening and she was looking forward to a cup of hot tea. As she swiped her key card in the lock, she mused to herself that if humanity could go to the stars, then why in the world couldn’t they finally eradicate the common cold? She sniffled for what seemed like the thousandth time, then went inside.

Dropping her bag near the door and kicking off her shoes, Violet sighed and suppressed another cough. She was glad to be home where she could rest. She looked around the flat, seeking her roommate. He was a little odd, generally quiet, and might be almost anywhere. The living room was comfortably furnished with a well padded couch in a medium blue color, two matching chairs, a low coffee table, a desk over in the corner, and a large, elaborate, carpeted cat tree. The art on the walls was a bit uninspired, but Violet had no one to blame but herself – she had picked them, and there was something restful about the various nature scenes. Right now the coffee table was a bit cluttered but she was too weary to want to do anything about it.

A sharp “ding” snapped Violet’s head around, then she groaned at the intensified headache. So, he is here after all. “Juan, are you cooking something?” she called.

“Yes. Tea, for you.” The voice was a bit gravelly and was coming out of the back bedroom. “I heard you barking this morning before you went to work, figured you could use it. Honey’s on the counter for you.”

“Thanks,” said Violet, going into the kitchen and opening the microwave. “Sorry if I woke you. ” A steaming hot cup of tea, made in her favorite mug, sat inside. She took it out, added honey, breathed in the steam, then carefully sipped. She coughed twice more, deep coughs that tore at her lungs, and sipped again. She went to the couch and sat down, adjusting her pistol comfortably as she did so. The tea felt great on her throat.

Soft footsteps came out of the back bedroom, and Violet heard Juan hop up onto the back of the couch. Small paw-hands began digging and kneading at her shoulders, easing the tensions of the day.


For sake of space, the story continues here!

Also, January 18 is the last day for my free book promotion.

via Discover Challenge: The Greatest _______ in the World

Short Story – Crew of the Scrapper Queen

This is a bit of flash fiction that I wrote for a dual purpose.  One, I wanted to make a small point, and two, I wanted to write something that was pure hard sci fi.   The story may be short but I believe I succeeded.


The crew of the metal reclamation vessel “Scrapper Queen” never knew where the little probe came from. It was late on third watch when they found it, floating in a lonely outer orbit. Perhaps it had come from a world from this star system, though that was unlikely, all the inner worlds were cinders. They’d actually come to look through the various asteroids for useful metal that had been left behind by earlier mining expeditions. Times were lean, and they were becoming creative in the places they looked for raw materials. There wasn’t much to be found in systems like this, but the Captain appreciated the lack of interference from the powerful Corporate Worlds.

They’d been scanning for traces of anything ferrous when Sensors caught the ping. A return, loud and clear. Ferrous metal, at least a few hundred grams of it, maybe more. The Captain ordered maneuvers sufficient to close the distance. The telescopes scanned, and after a time the Visual Scanning Officer reported a metallic object. Excited, the Captain ordered the tractor/pressor beams deployed, so that the object could be pulled in.

Damp from brief showers and still rubbing sleep from their eyes, Retrieval Team 1 stood on the observation deck above the bay. They watched as the odd, somewhat crumpled metal object was brought aboard. Long ago it had solar panels, they could see that, but micrometeorites over who knew how many centuries had taken their toll. They waited impatiently as the doors closed, the bay was re-pressurized. Zola started taking bets on the total mass of the object until her leader quieted him. Not that Tamar really minded, but she liked to run a tight shift, and Zola’s chatter could get old after a while…

End of the story can be read in “Tales.”

Don’t forget, two of my books are free through January 18th!

Short Story – The Archaeologist

Kortan wished, once again, that he could rub his nares. They itched. But the unyielding face of the cleansuit thwarted all attempts at scratching. He refocused on his task. The ancient data storage system had been a valuable find, the find of the decirotation, perhaps. Though his arms and legs ached from crouching, the device fascinated him beyond measure. Above him were grayish walls of debris, carefully sloped and held back by force curtains to prevent them from falling on the site.

At this particular dig, their archaeological group had found a complex of chambers. Many of the artifacts were exceptionally well preserved, having been buried under layers of volcanic ash. Already many discoveries had been made about the Ancients’ materials technology, daily life, work habits, and much more. Some of the artifacts were obvious as to their function, others were completely puzzling. To what purpose, for example, did a cubical object serve that merely sat on the work surface and had no moving parts? Though the material it had been made from had long since disintegrated into powder, the imprint it had left was plain.

The Ancients had left a wealth of writing implements, traces of wood pulp fibers that indicated the presence of paper products. Many artifacts were made from simple petroleum based plastics, using molds. Molds! Kortan smiled as he gently brushed the ash off the case of the data storage unit. Sure enough, there were fine mold lines on this too. This was made of plastic and some kind of coated sheet metal, no doubt made with a stamping process. The sheer impact of being surrounded by this much history made Kortan’s cardiac organ flutter. As he saw the next prize, his excitement only grew.

Click here for the rest of the story – also on

The Mysterious Probe – short fiction

The crew of the metal reclamation vessel “Scrapper Queen” never knew where the little probe came from. It was late on third watch when they found it, floating in a lonely outer orbit. Perhaps it had come from a world from this star system, though that was unlikely, all the inner worlds were cinders. They’d actually come to look through the various asteroids for useful metal that had been left behind by earlier mining expeditions. Times were lean, and they were becoming creative in the places they looked for raw materials. There wasn’t much to be found in systems like this, but the Captain appreciated the lack of interference from the powerful Corporate Worlds.

They’d been scanning for traces of anything ferrous when Sensors caught the ping. A return, loud and clear. Ferrous metal, at least a few hundred grams of it, maybe more. The Captain ordered maneuvers sufficient to close the distance. The telescopes scanned, and after a time the Visual Scanning Officer reported a metallic object. Excited, the Captain ordered the tractor/pressor beams deployed, so that the object could be pulled in.
Damp from brief showers and still rubbing sleep from their eyes, Retrieval Team 1 stood on the observation deck above the bay. They watched as the odd, somewhat crumpled metal object was brought aboard. Long ago it had solar panels, they could see that, but micrometeorites over who knew how many centuries had taken their toll. They waited impatiently as the doors closed, the bay was re-pressurized. Zola started taking bets on the total mass of the object until her leader quieted him. Not that Tamar really minded, but she liked to run a tight shift, and Zola’s chatter could get old after a while.
Finally they were free to enter the bay. The four members of the team stood around the object, just looking at it at first before they began the usual scans with radiation sensors, EM fields, and portable gas spectrometers.
“I think it kind of looks like a space probe,” said Zola, scratching her fingers through his flame red hair.
“That seems fairly obvious,” said Tamar. “My greatest question is, what kind of probe?”
“What kind?” asked Kella. She was quite intelligent but usually took time to catch on. Young Rik said nothing, he was still settling in and preferred to watch.
“There is more than what kind of space probe,” explained Tamar patiently. “Usually they are used for exploration. They take photographs or readings. Some can be loaded with a distress call, or messages to other worlds, or even quarantine warnings. This could be a message buoy, and filled with fascinating information.”
“Why can’t we just scrap it? This system isn’t even owned by anyone anymore and there’s a lot of valuable metal in here,” said Zola. “Pre-refined, too.”
“Your objection is noted,” said Tamar. “This probe isn’t really ours.”
“How about if we figure out what the probe is for, and then use the metal if we can figure out that it’s not needed anymore?” That came from Rik, and the others looked at him with surprise.
“Not a bad idea,” said Tamar. “Let’s start by determining exactly what’s inside. Get your data analysis equipment, everyone, and we can see first what kind of information this stores.”

Hours later, it was ship’s morning but the four were so absorbed that they barely felt time pass. Discarted beverage containers and snack wrappers lay forgotten beside them. Most of the data storage had been damaged, but there were still scraps left.
“I’ve got something!” called Kella, excitedly. “A whole file!” She paused a moment, retrieved the information, archived it safely. “That’s about all I could find, though. The storage might as well be scrap. WHole sectors wiped. There’s not much more than this, just a few characters here, a few bits there.”
“Good work,” said Tamar, stretching her protesting back muscles. “I think we can safely consider this fair salvage, and send the metal into the processers. What does the file seem to contain?”
“Sound, I think,” said Kella. “Let me write up a quick conversion.”
When Kella was done, she plugged the data chip into a sound player. A Human male began singing, backed up by electronicized music. The song was surprisingly high fidelity and the sound filled the cargo bay. Tamar noticed herself tapping her fingers on her leg, willed herself to stop. “I wonder if it’s a message of some kind,” she said, when the somg was over.
“Well, if it’s a message,” said Zola, “maybe we should rebroadcast it. At least once. It’s not hard to tap into GalaxyNet.”
Tamar shrugged. “You think you can do it without getting caught? Be my guest. It would be sad if this little probe never got a chance to spread its message.”

The next day, everyone on band 3 of GalaxyNet heard the most unusual song. Oddly catchy, it had toes tapping and fingers rapping on stations starships, planetary bases, corporate communications hubs, and littoral skiffs all across the Milky Way Galaxy.
No one knew the true significance of that moment. No one, that was, except Zola. She’d heard that song once before, in a deep dive in the net archives, last time she’d been planetside. Long, long ago, it had been called “Never Gonna Give You UP,” by Rick Astley. Zola smiled and sipped her hot mug of coffee. She knew that she had just managed to Rickroll the entire Galaxy.