The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Four

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-In case you missed it: PrologueChapter one, Chapter two, and Chapter three.

 

Chapter Four

Secrets

     The morning of the tenth dawned bright and clear like every other morning as far back as Sara could remember. The blue of the sky matched the blue of the cup half full of tea she was still holding from earlier that morning. The tea was cold now. Her stomach rumbled for solid food, but she was too nervous to eat. At least she didn’t have to report to Assigned Learning until after her appointment.

Her lenses had kept her awake and in pain almost every night this week. Advertisements uploaded at random. A classmate sent her notes on their combined tribute to the First Inhabitant project, but they came through at three in the morning and in a language Sara had never seen before and that her lenses refused to translate. Her eyes were stinging and red. She still hadn’t taken her vitamins. Not trusting her lenses, she consulted her holo-pad for the time: nearing noon. She decided to leave now. The sooner this appointment was over, the better.

Adjusting her stance on her hovboard, Sara glided through the park and down a side street, careful to avoid the platform in the square. The second tier traffic was light today. Sara looked down at the first tier pedestrians beneath her feet. Most Inhabitants preferred to use their air-cycles or hovboards for efficiency as well as distinction. Walking was for the poor. Cars were for the rich. Sara looked up at the smooth-bottomed XI-47 humming six feet above her head. Like hov-boards, cars used the city’s magnetic grid to float above the streets, but in the third tier and twenty-eight feet in the air. The most expensive cars had a special tint to keep out the commercials that beamed in from every business in the city. Sara had never ridden in a car, much less owned one.

She clapped her hands twice to disengage her shoes from her hovboard, jumped off, folded it down to pocket size and walked towards the gray building. It was almost indistinguishable from every other gray building in the city, save for a stubby black cross above the main entrance that marked it as the only Health and Wellness Center in Barter. For the first time, Sara noticed how gray the city was, how smooth and free of color. The one bright place in the city was the park next to the Center, but even there the benches were gray and the walking path as well; all smooth and made out of the same metal as the platform in the square.

Sara shivered and shoved her hovboard in her pocket as she walked inside.

Black plastic chairs lined the waiting room on floor eleven. The walls were off-white, the tile floor two almost indistinguishable shades of gray. Sara could have sworn the floor was green the last time she was here. She closed her eyes and waited.

“Inhabitant Sara Todd, you’re super early,” Amie, the receptionist sang out.”Why don’t you just go ahead and wait in the room for the Doctor?”

Sara’s forehead furrowed as she stood to walk back to the secondary waiting room. This was going to be a long day.

Outside the waiting rooms Doctor Aliah was training a new technician to read the diagnostic screen.

“This is where I plug in the wires that attach to the patient’s temples” she pointed, “and here is where you will sort the information feeding from the lenses. Bugs and glitches in the software are sorted into the blue folder, everyday patient life into the yellow folder, and any potential misconduct or peculiar behavior is sorted into the red folder.”

Her eyes searched the young technician’s face.

“Do not delete or misplace any information, Ro. I will know, and you will be banished. You will help with three patients today, then report back to your Assigned Learning. Have I made myself clear?”

“Absolutely,” said Ro.

“Good. First on the list is Inhabitant Tovah Fields. Let’s get to work.”

The Doctor and her technician came into Sara’s room at exactly two o’clock. Sara lay half reclined on the chair, her eyes shut. The technician taped the wires to her temples and sat behind her, reading the information that flowed across the screen in her lap, her nimble fingers sorting the information into the proper folders. Sara opened her eyes.

“Where did you purchase the lenses, Sara?” Doctor Aliah asked.

“A bargain basement trader. Elias.”

“Ah. And how long have they been glitching?”

“Not long. I made an appointment with the General Health Doctor, and he told me I needed to see you. I made an appointment right away.”

Doctor Aliah looked at the technician for conformation, and Ro nodded.

“Good. Please be comfortable while I consult your chart,” the doctor smiled, and then her eyes began to twitch and blink as she consulted the information on her lenses.

Sara’s stomach burned. She had erased the note from Love, but a good technician could find just about anything. She couldn’t see the tech sitting behind her. She hoped it was Culper. He was too lazy to dig deep into people’s heads.

Ro recognized Sara from the lab class they shared, but said nothing. She was too busy looking at the note she had found from a former classmate, presumed dead. Definite red folder material.

Doctor Aliah stood.

“Let’s see what the problem is, Sara,” she said, walking towards Ro.

She consulted the screen behind Sara’s head, pressing the blue folder, then the red. Sara held her breath.

Doctor Aliah walked around to Sara’s right side, leaned on the chair, and pursed her lips before speaking.

“Inhabitant, is there anything you want to tell me before I alert the authorities?”

 

 

 

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Caution: “The Underbed Tales” Ahead

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Stories to chill your bones, to send fear trickling down your spine like ice water, or at least to make you raise your eyebrows and think, “I knew it, she’s crazy.” Four stories, to be exact, one published every Friday in October for your reading pleasure from the book The Underbed Tales by yours truly.

Consider yourselves warned.

 

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Three

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-Feeling lost? Read the prologue here, chapter one here, and chapter two here.

Chapter Three

Take Your Vitamins

Sara’s body writhed in pain. She thought she heard her father’s voice, but then everything went black again. She felt as if she were drowning in the blackness. Even the circular room was a dull black; no doors or windows in sight. She heard the Voice speak again.

“Inhabitant, you have brought this pain upon yourself. Answer the question correctly, and all this unnecessary suffering will end. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”

The pain was less now, her head more clear. She stood up, defiant.

“My father said–” another wave of pain wracked her body and she fell to the floor. Her ears started to ring. Blood dripped from her nose and down her chin like gory face paint.

“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”

This time she could only prop herself up to reply.

“My father–” this time she screamed as her body spasmed. Every nerve was on fire.

“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five? Final answer before maximum pain is inflicted.”

Sara sobbed. She knew maximum pain would mean death. She also knew the Five stood for everything her father stood against, but what else could she do?

Sara closed her eyes and murmured, “Follow the Five, stay alive: Skipping a scheduled update is Not Allowed, Failure to report a glitch or malfunction is Not Allowed, Taking another Inhabitant’s updates is Not Allowed, Religious, Political, or Other objections or refusal of implants are Not Allowed, Removal of implants is Not Allowed.”

“Louder please,” the Voice demanded.

Now all Sara wanted was to end this nightmare and go home. She tried again.

“Louder please,” the Voice said again.

Sara took a deep breath, willing herself to use whatever strength she had left. She crawled to her feet, squaring her shoulders, and looked straight up at the ceiling. Sara screamed at the Voice. She screamed the Five to the emptiness of the black room, her words echoing, crashing into themselves and shattering, falling around Sara like confetti for a parade she didn’t want to see.

“Very good Inhabitant. And will you fail to report a malfunction again?”

Sara could swear the Voice was smiling. She grit her teeth.

“No.”

“Good. You may leave and report back to your dwelling for further instructions.”

A door opened in the wall to Sara’s left. Hot tears began racing down her cheeks as she staggered home with the knowledge that she had let her father down. Tomorrow, he would die.

 

 

 

Sara regained consciousness a minute or two later, still on the cold floor. The lights in the hallway seemed even brighter now. She groaned, propping herself up with her elbow and rubbing her head.

“Quite a fall you took, Inhabitant,” said a voice behind her.

Sara tried to stand up, but was too woozy to keep her balance and sat back down.

The Supreme Inhabitant’s son, Eli, squatted beside her, Sara’s holo-pad in his hand. He was in the same year as Sara, but she was training for a job as a product tester at Gryce Industries and he was training to take his father’s place. His smile was jovial, but Sara didn’t trust him. She said nothing and went back to rubbing her head, her eyes focused on the floor.

“I heard you got yourself in a little scrape today,” he continued, “but I’ll bet that adjustment did wonders for you. Then you got whacked on the head by a door. What a day, huh? Here, let me help you up.” Eli extended his hand.

Sara neither wanted nor needed his help. She stood up on her own and snatched her holo-pad out of his hand. Then she realized she probably shouldn’t offend someone so important. Part of her realized she didn’t care.

“Sorry, I’m not quite myself today. I have to get to class,” she mumbled and walked into her next classroom, this time avoiding the door. Eli shrugged and walked down the hall, calling out greetings to some of his classmates as he headed back to the Principal’s office.

As soon as school was over, Sara walked home. She was only too happy to put this day behind her.

At dinner, her mother was overly cheerful, the corners of her mouth pinned tightly into a smile.

“I heard someone got an adjustment today. A little out of sorts, were we? Well, I don’t like to say ‘I told you so,’ but I did. Sara, take your vitamins! You’ll feel so much better.” She scraped a bit of butter on her roll and stabbed at the peas on her plate, still smiling.

Sara nodded as she finished the last of her roll.

“I will. May I be excused? I have a lot to prepare for tomorrow’s testing and it’s getting late.”

The corners of her mother’s mouth came unpinned.

“Why are you doing this to me,” she hissed, “is this because of what happened with him?”

“You mean my father?” Sara said. She stood to take her dishes to the sink as casually as if her mother had mentioned a change in the weather.

“Are you malfunctioning,” her mother spat over her shoulder, still sitting at the table, “you know he’s Not Allowed.”

“And we both know whose fault that is, don’t we?”

Sara’s head was feeling sharp and clear as she reached for the vitamin bottle over the sink, opening it and shaking one white pill into the palm of her hand. She felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder.

“I just want what’s best for you, you know I do. Take your vitamin and get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

She kissed Sara’s cheek and gave her a gentle squeeze.

“I love you Sara. Never forget that.”

“I love you too, mom.”

As her mother walked away, Sara looked at the little white pill. She felt a sudden urge to throw it as far away from her as she possibly could. Instead she dropped the pill down the sink, running hot water after. She shook her head, unsure why she felt so elated over such a simple act. It was only a vitamin after all.

The figure across the street that had been watching Sara through her kitchen window smiled. The Inhabitants were waking up. The time for revolution was at hand.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Two

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-Just joining us? Read the prologue here and chapter one here.

 

Chapter Two

Chickens

Sara ran her fingers along the spine of the thick, black book. She had never seen a paper book before. A civilization as advanced as theirs had little need of paper. She had found the book deep under Love’s bed wrapped in some old clothes; the girls were playing their favorite game, hide-and-seek. Sara couldn’t make out the words in the darkness and she couldn’t risk tapping the under-bed light on or Love would find her. She cracked open the book and put her cheek on the cool, delicate pages. She sniffed the book. It smelled like her Great-Aunt Linda – old and a little musty. She wondered where Love found such a thing, and why she kept it. Her stomach felt hot at the thought of breaking a Not Allowed. She heard Love’s footsteps by the bedroom door. “Saaaara, where aaaarre you?” Love giggled and pounced on the bed. Sara hastily put the book back and rolled out from under the bed, forcing a giggle as she admitted defeat. She wouldn’t ask Love about the book. She knew she couldn’t tell anyone about the book, not even her mother, or Love would be punished. Sara could never hurt her best friend.

 

“Call Doctor Aliah,” Sara commanded, squeezing her left earlobe to activate her implant for the call.

“Health and Wellness Center, Amie speaking, how may I direct your call?”

Sara squinted at the brightness in the receptionist’s voice.

“Hi, this is Inhabitant Sara Todd. I’m uh, looking for an afternoon appointment with Dr. Aliah to correct my lenses,” then she added, “Class 3.5.”

“Let me help you with that,” Amie gushed. “I have a three-thirty on the seventh, or a two o’clock on the tenth.”

Sara flicked her schedule up on her lenses, but all she could she was static. She tried blinking to refresh it. An image popped up that Sara had never seen before.

An electronic note from Love with today’s date.

“I’m not gone,” it read, “come find me. I’m with the Naturals. We have found the Better Way. Come find me.”

“Are you there, Sara?” the receptionist’s voice burst Sara’s concentration like a bubble. Sara gulped and the note vanished, her schedule in its place.

“The tenth,” she managed, “the tenth is good.”

 

Later during her first class at Assigned Learning, she puzzled over the note while the teacher droned on about the First Inhabitant.

Technically, the First Inhabitant no longer existed, and was therefore Not Allowed according to Lesser Not Allowed number twelve: Do not speak of the dead. The Pinnacle, the governing council of the city – of whom the Supreme Inhabitant was the head – got around this rule by erecting a life-sized statue of the First Inhabitant and every Supreme Inhabitant after. This way the students could learn of their brilliant leaders without committing a crime. One year a student asked why only the Supreme Inhabitants could cheat a Not Allowed. He was absent from class after that. Nobody asked why.

The First Inhabitant was a doctor. He lived with a group of people whose pursuit was the longevity of life through body modifications. They invented the first crude implants and founded the city of Barter that Sara now lived in. It was more of a town back then.

Sara’s thoughts drifted back to the note. It had mentioned the Better Way, something she and Love invented when they were twelve, bored with learning and big with ideas and dreams.

The Better Way was a simple wish list, a child’s fanciful daydream. There would be no implants or checkups with needles or sore eyes or stinging fingers. They would not be dizzy for days after new ear implants. They would not need to memorize The Five rules or any other Not Allowed’s and they could have whatever job they wanted. They could leave the city. They would even have dessert for breakfast if they liked.

And they would find the animals. Only a few animals remained in the city, and the Inhabitants were not permitted to see them unless assigned to care for them. The closest Sara had come to seeing a cow was the burger on her plate.

Sara’s father whispered stories to her at bedtime about things his father had told him at bedtime, stories passed down from generation to generation. It was Not Allowed, to be sure, and if Sara’s mother ever found out, she would turn him in for telling such lies, but Sara treasured those stories.

Her favorite story was about chickens. One of Sara’s ancestors had been a farmer. He raised chickens, cows, pigs, and horses. He had four cats and three dogs. He even had a few goats. Sara thought that was a funny word – goat. Her father would say it over and over again until it no longer sounded like a word and Sara’s laughter threatened to wake her mother. Then she would beg him for the chicken story.

The farmer had a little girl, just like Sara. Her job was to feed the chickens and collect the eggs while avoiding Solomon, the mean-spirited rooster. Solomon’s black heart delighted in chasing the little girl, pecking at her and digging her with his sharp spurs. One day the little girl had courage. She picked up a stick and fought back. When Solomon came towards her, evil eyes agleam, she clubbed him so hard he flew to the other side of the coop. Solomon walked with a limp ever after, but never bothered her again.

Sara’s father was an animated storyteller, flapping his arms like wings and bobbing his head to pantomime Solomon, with an expression on his face he insisted was evil but it made Sara laugh.

That was eleven years ago. Sara wondered if the note meant Love had found a chicken. She laughed softly to think of Solomon and the little girl of long ago.

“Something you’d like to share with the class?”

Sara’s head snapped up from the desk. The teacher was standing in front of her, his arms crossed, one eyebrow cocked.

“N-no sir, Inhabitant Palmer,” she stammered.

He looked down at the holo-pad in front of her and she realized too late that instead of taking notes, she had been doodling  farm animals. He took the pad and held it high for the class to see.

“I see you do have something to share with the class,” he said in a mocking tone, “things that no longer exist. Class,” he continued, walking back towards the front of the room, “if something no longer exists, what is it?”

“Not Allowed,” they chorused.

“Very good, class,” he put the pad on his desk. “And what is the penalty for a breaking a lesser Not Allowed such as drawing things that do not exist?”

“A visit to the Principal,” they chorused.

“And what happens in the Principal’s office?” he asked smiling, his voice as smooth as butter.

“You get adjusted,” they chorused.

The teacher sat on the front of his desk, arms crossed, still smiling as Sara rose from her seat to go to the Principal’s office. She willed herself not to cry. Maybe she did need an adjustment.

There were no such things as chickens anymore.

 

The Principal looked down his beak-like nose at Sara sitting in the plastic chair in front of his desk. He tented his fingers, tapping them three times on his chin before speaking.

“Tell me why you are here, Inhabitant.”

“I broke a Not Allowed, sir,” Sara said softly, “I drew creatures that do not exist.”

The Principal stood, walking around his desk and behind Sara, his fingers tapping the back of her chair tap, tap, tap.

“And why did you draw these, these creatures that do not exist?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Nausea rippled down Sara’s spine like ice water.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“You don’t know.”

Tap, tap, tap.

Sara could feel his breath on the back of her head. She fought back the urge to vomit.

“No, sir.”

“Well then, let’s get you adjusted and back to class so you can become a productive member of our grand society.”

The Principal pressed his pointer fingers into Sara’s temples.

“Now,” he smiled, “this won’t hurt a bit.”

Sara walked down the harshly lit hallway towards her next class with swimming eyes and a head full of fog. She had needed the adjustment, she thought to herself. She had been right to turn in the Brinkles. She was wrong to have drawn the creatures that do not exist.

A piercing whistle sounded. Sara looked up just in time to realize she was standing too close to her classroom door, but too late to avoid the impact as it flung open. She fell backwards, arms outstretched, and the last thing she remembered hearing was her father’s voice.

How foolish. He no longer existed, and was therefore Not Allowed.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter One

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-If you missed it, read the prologue here.

Chapter One

Execution Day

Three Inhabitants stood on the gleaming metal platform in the square. One male, two females.

All three guilty of breaking the Not Allowed’s.

The Prosecutor read their charges from his Class 6 lenses to the crowd in a booming voice. He waved his hands about in a grandiose fashion, parading back and forth across the platform in a way that distracted from his under-average stature.

“Inhabitant Arthur Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

The accused Inhabitant was young, in his mid-fifties, with brown-black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He looked neither ashamed nor afraid to hear his sentence pronounced.

“Inhabitant Mattie Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

Mattie looked at her husband with a small smile and reached for his hand, but a guard tased her and she screamed, falling to her knees. A murmur hummed from the crowd. Surely even a rebel deserved some small measure of mercy. The Prosecutor hurried on.

“Inhabitant Love Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

Love was still a child at twenty-three. When the Prosecutor announced her fate, she thrust both fists in the air and screamed, “Down with the Inhabitants!” before the guard could step in and tase her too. That settled the crowd in square opposition of the accused. The Inhabitants hadn’t done this. They hadn’t forced the girl or her parents to remove her implants. They were not pronouncing a death sentence on a child, the child had pronounced it upon herself and they washed their hands of her.

The Prosecutor lead the way as the guards marched the condemned Inhabitants down the shiny platform’s steps and along the road that threaded through the city towards the gate. Inhabitants lined the road the entire way. Some looked sorrowful. Some jeered curses and insults. Others were silent, like Sara.

Inhabitant Sara Todd stood deep in the crowd by the gate, swirling with emotion. Love had been her best friend since they met in Assigned Learning at the age of ten. Sara herself was twenty-three just last week. Maybe she was still a child, but she knew better than to remove her implants, no matter how they plagued her. Yet Love and her family had done just that, and had tried to encourage others to follow their example. It made no sense to Sara.

Love even made wild claims that the city smelled of rot. She said the grass in the city park was plastic. She said the food they were issued daily had little flavor and less smell, that it was a lump of vitamins and nutrients to sustain life, nothing more.

The lies her parents told were even worse.

The Inhabitants could clearly smell the crisp, clean fragrance of the city, feel the softness of the grass, and the food – the food! –was daily manna from the Supreme Inhabitant himself. Muffins studded with blueberries and dripping with butter, peaches downy soft and juicy, steaks smothered in crispy onions with great, fluffy baked potatoes and even fluffier rolls; how could she deny this bounty they could see and smell and touch and taste and even hear for themselves?

The crowd was silent as the procession approached the gate.

“Do the condemned have any final statements,” the prosecutor boomed.

“We did no wrong. May God have mercy on our souls,” Mattie Brinkle said, squaring her shoulders.

The crowd tittered at her foolishness. Souls and gods had been done away with eons ago.

“My only hope is that you see the light, as we have,” Arthur added.

Love had been searching the crowd when her eyes locked on Sara’s.

“’Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not,’” she quoted.

The crowd hissed. Quoting from a banned book was a lesser Not Allowed, to be sure, but still; the audacity of the child to heap sins on her head even as she faced execution.

Sara shrank deeper into the crowd to escape further unwanted attention.

The heavy gate cracked open as the guards forced the Brinkle’s out into the Unknowns, the  unprotected and unfiltered region beyond the city’s protective gates.

Nobody survived the Unknowns.

The gates, now shut, flickered to life, a giant screen. It was mandatory to watch the rebels pass into the EverAfter, and watch the city did, with bated breath.

First the man fell to his knees, fingers clawing the hot, red dirt as he gasped for breath. Without his implants to filter out harmful toxins in the air, his lungs shriveled and his nostrils scorched. His wife ran to him, an expected display of devotion, but she too succumbed in the dirt beside her husband. The girl was the last to die, tears streaking her face, one hand reaching back towards the city in a gesture of longing and regret.

Sara let out a quiet, shuddering breath. She tried hard to convince herself that she had done the right thing by turning in the Brinkle family, but she kept seeing Love’s agonized face as she died. She walked back to  Assigned Learning  with guilt gnawing at her backbone. What did it matter what Love said to her anyway?

Love was dead. It was finally over.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Prologue

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Sara looked into the bright light for several seconds, then closed her eyes. Immediately the commercials began to play. They glitched between a new meal replacement pill flavor, a smiling woman advertising gum you didn’t have to chew, Gryce Industries’ latest air-cycle model, and a few others before the doctor told her to open her eyes.

“Well, I can make adjustments,” he said, “but your lenses will need to be reprogrammed by a specialist.” He consulted her chart downloading to his Class 8 lenses, flipping pages with a few flicks of his right eye.

Sara briefly wondered what it must be like to have Class 8 lenses. Hers were barely Class 3.5, and only because she had scraped together enough credits for the update from her Class 3’s. She should have known not to trust that bargain basement trader again, but the update had seemed a bargain too good to be true. Now that her lenses were glitching, she knew why.

“Fortunately, this is all covered on your plan, so the procedure shouldn’t cost more than four credits.” He smiled at her reassuringly. “It won’t hurt a bit.”

Sara sank into the hard plastic chair. She’d heard that lie before.

When a child is born, they are taken to a specialist for mandatory procedures. Eye lenses for information and communication, nostril implants for unpleasant smell reduction and contamination identification, ear canal implants for noise adjustment and sound filtration, an implant under the tongue to adjust taste and temperature, and various implants in several fingers, such as magnets and computer chips. The implants are updated every three to five years without fail. This is all done in the name of health, the name of longevity, and the name of Progress.

Sara was twelve when her implants began to fail. She had a cold, and the hot tea her mother made her had tasted terrible. She spat it out and refused to drink any more of the stuff. That is when she started going to the doctors, and that is when the lies began.

Follow the Five, stay alive.

Skipping a scheduled update is Not Allowed.

Failure to report a glitch or malfunction is Not Allowed.

Taking another Inhabitant’s updates is Not Allowed.

Religious, Political, or Other objections or refusal of implants are Not Allowed.

Removal of implants is Not Allowed.

-Rhyme taught to children at school

The Cheese Sandwich and the End of the World, Part Five

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-Missing  something? Read part onepart twopart three, and part four to catch up.

 

 

A general panic arose on the bridge.

“Turn that,” bluuurguh, “thing off,” bluuurguh, “NOW,” the captain managed. He dearly wanted the cheese that he had been promised in one piece.

Frip was trying to clean the vomit out of his eyes.

“Captain, there’s no off switch,” he blurted through tears, “how in the worlds am I supposed to fix that?!”

If the captain had not been so preoccupied with empting his stomach, he might have had Frip ejected.

“Figure it,” bluuurguh, “out!”

“We can’t turn the ship now that the laser’s been fired up and locked on target,” Kik shouted, “and the manual override is on the fritz!”

While they were sorting out the problem with the laser on the bridge, people were in serious danger of dying in the galley down below.

Whenever the captain had cheese brought on board, he had a standing order that a team of four trustworthy crew members, the Cheese Team, should inspect and secure the cheese room beforehand. Not knowing that the cheese had spoiled and the smell had reached lethal proportions, the team had charged into the galley and passed out before they could even reach the cold storage.

Gurn was oblivious to his crew members’ impending doom. His hammock swayed gently; his mouth gaped heavy with snores that could fell a smallish Jarkop, or at least a medium Rinfin. Then he turned in his sleep, as he was wont to do, and fell out of his hammock and onto the galley floor, as he was also wont to do at least a dozen times per nap.

Gurn pushed himself up, grumbling. He stopped grumbling when he saw the pale faces of the Cheese Team lying on the floor in front of him. He shook one of them awake.

“What’s this,” Gurn demanded, “and why are you all on the floor?”

“Get us out,” she managed to whisper.

Gurn couldn’t smell what was wrong for the life of him, but carried each crew member out anyway. They sat in the hallway, gasping and vomiting while Gurn watched them, looking disgusted.

“I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” he protested, dodging projectile vomit and icy glares.

“What,” Luplop, the captain of the Cheese Team managed, wiping her chin, “in the name of all the worlds have you done to the cheese?”

Gurn looked offended.

“Me? I didn’t do anything. I don’t understand what you’re fromping on about.”

“The cheese is ruined! Unless you have a hundred rotting Rinfin carcasses in there, the cheese is destroyed. I would think even a Goberarian could smell that stench.”

Gurn gulped a tremendous gulp. Captain Tentorp would have him ejected for ruining his beloved cheese.

“What are we going to do,” Gurn whined. It was a most unbecoming whine, but Goberarians are not becoming creatures.

Luplop shook her head. She knew even though Gurn was responsible, Captain Tentorp would have them all ejected.

“We could try eating it,” Bob piped up. Bob was not brilliant.

“Yeah, and how would that work,” Roth growled, “it nearly killed us by the smell alone.”

“We should eject the cheese,” Gede said, “and send it to some Earth town. The captain will think the humans managed to steal his precious cheese and blow them to the worlds to come.”

Roth, Luplop, and Gurn nodded in dubious agreement.It was not the best plan, but it would have to do. Bob pouted and began drawing pictures in the vomit on the floor with his finger.

“It’s settled. Everyone, go clean yourselves up and get in full protective gear. Meet back here in fifteen minutes. Gurn,” here Luplop turned to glare at the Goberarian. “Gurn, start loading the cheese into sacks.”

Gurn acted as if he was intending to do just that all along, when really he was thinking of taking another nap.”

“And if I catch you napping,” she warned, “I will eject you myself.”

Gurn slunk off to do as he was told.

Back on the bridge, the captain had stopped vomiting. He sat in his chair, trying his best to berate Frip and the other members of the crew, but his voice had been reduced to a whisper. He raised his first-right hand in a fist and shook it at the crew in general.

“If nobody can turn off the laser,” he whisper-screamed, “everyone will be ejected. I don’t care if I have to run this ship myself!”

He sank back into his chair with a groan.

Something pinged and popped. The laser was ready to fire. A few of the crew members began crying, and some tried to run, slipping and falling in the vomit that covered most of the bridge.

Alarms began to sound.

Then someone cried, “Captain, look!”

From behind the Earth, the remaining Medilarian pirate ship limped into view. The pirates had been trying to work out where to land with their fried equipment, and thus were unaware of the Splinter’s proximity until it was too late.

The laser fired directly into the unsuspecting pirate ship with such force as to reduce it to oblivion. The crew on the bridge of the Splinter gaped. Tentorp began to cry. His precious cheese, saved.

Then he sat bolt upright in his chair. The cheese! Where would he put it all? His cheese room was quite full. But that cheese was trash compared to this earth’s cheese. He’d heard wild tales as a young sprout of the wonderful things humans call “cows” and “goats” and “sheep” that produced delicious milk the humans turned into heavenly cheese.

Cheese with exotic names like “Camembert” and “Asiago” and “mild cheddar.”

The captain motioned for a fetcher and croaked his instructions, dispatching him to the galley.

After all that, everything went smoothly. The Cheese Team ejected the spoiled cheese in an escape pod and Bob along with it.

Accidentally, of course.

The fetcher arrived at the galley just as the team was finished deodorizing, delivering the captain’s instructions to dump the cheese and prep the room. No one ever suspected a thing.

The government delivered the cheese as promised. The rest of the humans were unaware they had almost been obliterated, or indeed that anything out of the ordinary had happened.

The Admiral was quite pleased with the alternative solar system, although she never let Tentorp know it. The planet she chose was riddled with soothing sulfuric springs and much less expensive to decorate. She was able to buy a whole flock of purdles with the extra money. They eventually ate her.

Frip lost 37% of his vision in one eye and took to wearing an eye patch because he thought it made him look rather distinguished. It did.

 

Bob and the escape pod containing the rotten cheese melted after entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The cheese did not. It boiled and frothed, writhing like a living thing, then burst into tiny pellets raining all over the town of Oakville, Washington. The citizens of the town fell violently ill, but no one actually died. They blamed it on the government, the government blamed it on nature, and several articles were written on the subject by self-proclaimed experts. It remains a mystery to this day.

And the captain. Tentorp Amadeus Olid was finally happy. He eventually retired and lived on Earth’s Moon.

It is, after all, made of cheese.

 

 

The End.

 

 

 

The Cheese Sandwich and the End of the World, Part Four

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-Trying to get your bearings? Read part onepart two, and part three. We’ll wait.

By the time the captain reached the bridge, he was feeling rather queasy. His stomach gurgled as he walked over to his mother’s hologram. She was sitting on a large, ornate chair and scratching Bobo behind her stubby black horns.

“Stand up straight and look me in the eye,” she snapped. “Why haven’t you gotten rid of that planet yet? I have my contractors and my designers and all sorts of people on standby while you are out playing with pirates. I mean really, Tentorp, pull yourself together.”

She sipped a sunset colored liquid from a thin-stemmed glass before continuing.

“You are a disappointment to me, Tenny, I just cannot comprehend why you can’t do this one, tiny little thing for me. Well? What have you to say for yourself?”

By this time, the captain was the color of pea soup.

“Admiral, I will attend to the matter at once,” he stifled a burp, “don’t worry about another thing.”

“See that you do,” the Admiral sniffed, and Tentorp could have sworn that purdle smirked at him just before the hologram ceased projecting. He leaned on the nearest crew member’s head, Kik, for support.

“Captain, are you feeling well?”

Kik, the ship’s navigator, was not at all worried for his irritable captain’s well-being. He was worried the captain might spew chunks on him.

“Set a course for Earth, Kik, and be quick about it.”

The captain toddled over to his seat and fell into it, moaning. The crew worked in silence, every one of them afraid to incur the captain’s literally vomitus wrath.

The sun they had hidden behind was the Earth’s Sun, so they arrived at their destination before the captain had a chance to run to his cabin and lie down.

“Sir, we are holding at a safe distance from the planet’s blast radius. What are your orders?”

The captain peeled himself from his chair, sweat dribbling down his face and back. He stumbled over to Frip’s chair. Frip was nervous, having never pushed the button before, not even once in the battle against the pirates. He had been feeling useless up to this point, and he wished he could go back to that feeling instead of the one he was experiencing: stomach-knotting, pants-wetting dread.

A face appeared on the large screen in the front of the bridge.

A human face.

The words it squeaked were English, a language only a few crew members, including the captain, could speak or understand.

“Hello, I am a representative of the leaders of this planet. We have taken the liberty of first communication. What brings you to our solar system?”

The face was male, with a brownish sort of beard and brownish sort of hair. It was a pale, sweaty face, and the captain was in no mood to listen to it speak.

“Earth man, hear this: I am blowing up your planet. It’s not that I want to, but my mother insists; you know how that is. So I must blow your planet to smithereens.”

The captain wobbled and shivered off the urge to vomit.

“Before I scatter you and your kind to the outer reaches of the universe, I must ask you a very important question: do you have any Roquefort?”

The sweaty faced man had passed out right after the captain had stated his intentions to blow up the planet, and nobody had wanted to replace him, as most of the staff of the top-secret government facility had also passed out or ran away screaming in mortal terror.

Then a soft face with a pointed chin and curly gray hair popped on the screen.

“What’s your name, sir?”

“Captain Tentorp of the S. S. Splinter, human. Do you have any Gouda?”

“Well captain, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Marge. And yes, we have all kinds of cheeses down here. Our Gouda is quite Gouda,” she said, winking.

The captain, although nauseous, could still appreciate a cheese pun.

“That’s a Gouda joke, human, but I still have to blow up your planet. I’d like to take some cheese with me as a memento. Do you have a recommendation?”

The captain’s stomach gurgled.

“I must say I do. Do you see this solar system here,” she pointed at a star chart of a system far, far away from Earth. “This system would be much better for your mother. There are some lovely, warm, uninhabited planets she might like. Then you wouldn’t have to blow us up and we would be more than happy to supply you with a good deal of cheese.”

The captain’s stomach burbled.

“I don’t want to disappoint mother,” he grimaced.

“I understand, captain. As a mother, if my son found out the home I preferred was inhabited with creatures that would most assuredly fight back should I try to exterminate them, I would thank him to find me a new one.”

“Human, did you threaten me?”

“Oh no captain, I wouldn’t dare threaten a nice alien such as yourself,” Marge smiled.

The captain’s stomach rumbled.

“Then I accept your offer, on the condition you render to me 5,000 pounds of cheese,”he blurted, doing his best not to heave.

“1,000.”

“2,500.”

“Done.”

The captain managed a pained smile.

“Human, I shall send a shuttle down for the cheese to whatever coordinates you provide. End communication.”

“Nice to meet you too, captain,” Marge nodded. Her face disappeared and coordinates popped up in her place.

The captain gripped the back of Frip’s chair and spewed hot, spoiled cheese all over the poor Yamagorn. Frip yelped and tried to stand, but he slipped on the mess and fell back into his seat, tail unfurled. The captain, in trying to catch his balance, stepped on Frip’s tail.

Frip howled and slammed his hands on the panel in front of him.

A whirring, humming sound indicated that the giant laser had begun to warm up.

Frip had pressed the button.

The Cheese Sandwich and the End of the World, Part Three

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-Just joining us? Read parts one and two.

 

The captain barked orders left and right, whipping the bridge into a frenzy of activity.

“Kik, bring us out of the holding pattern and fire up the reserve boosters. Rip, divert all power to the engines. The shields will be useless if they catch us anyway. Hode,” here the captain paused, as if the words he was about to say carried the weight of the worlds with them.

“Hode, get your fromping bulk out of my chair.”

Hode was Director of Holograms, and had been trying to fix the flicker in the captain’s map, but had been distracted by all the activity on the bridge and unfortunately sat in the captain’s chair. Poor Hode ran away as fast as his three legs could carry him.

The captain considered throwing a boot at Hode’s head, but the pirates were more important than self-gratification.

He jerked a boot off the nearest crew member and threw it anyway. He missed.

With the pirates gaining fast, the Splinter tried every maneuver in the book, and some that were not. The Splinter, though nimble, was a small expedition ship and not equipped to fight, even with Frip’s giant laser, which was mostly for small things like mining and blowing up planets.

The captain twirled his first-right hand’s fingers through his beard as he stared at the map. Deep lines creased his forehead. He jabbed at the map, using his fingers to zero in on a bright point not far in front of them. His brown eyes narrowed, his lips pressed together in a long, thin line as he considered his next move. He flicked his second hands to throw the map onto the large screen that hovered near the front of the bridge where all the crew could see it.

Pointing, he said, “We hide on this sun.”

The crew gasped as one.

“Captain, it’s too dangerous! We’ll burn!”

“The magnetic field alone will wreak havoc with our equipment!”

The captain held up all of his hands to silence the protests.

“The Medilarian’s shields aren’t as strong as ours. If we divert all power back to the shields, and hover just above the surface for less than five minutes, we can make it. Equipment can be recalibrated. We cannot. If our faces melt off while we hide from the enemy, so be it.”

The crew was understandably confused by the captain’s less than motivational speech, but they followed his orders.

The three Medilarian pirate ships were large, but made of salvaged and stitched-together parts, including the Medilarian pirates themselves. When they overtake a ship, most passengers choose to eject themselves into the dark of space rather than have a foot or an eye -or worse- taken by a pirate in need. Not many are charitable when it comes to giving up a body part they need to function properly. Medilarian’s are only as good as the last brain they stole, and as there seems to be an abundance of idiotic people, most of the Medilarian’s are quite stupid.

That is why the captain’s plan was brilliant, except for the part about the face-melting.

The Splinter sailed over the sun, but dropped down just above the surface on the other side, hovering in relative safety.

The pirates, who had half of a working shield between them, tried to follow. Two of the three ships exploded, and the third was scorched and melted so badly that they gave up their pursuit and set sail for the nearest harbor to make repairs and harvest parts from anyone unlucky enough to be close by.

The Splinter popped up just in time to escape any severe damage, and not one crew member’s face had melted. A collective cheer rose throughout the bridge.

The captain wiped the sweat off his forehead. Time to celebrate. He excused himself from the bridge and made his way to his cabin, exhausted and hungry.

Again he shut the door, again he retrieved the sandwich, and again he lifted it to his lips.

And again an untimely knock at the door.

“Sir, I’m sorry but the Admiral requests your presence.”

The captain turned purple. All he wanted in all the worlds was to eat his sandwich, and he hadn’t a moment’s peace to do it in.

“Tell her I’m on my way,” he shouted through the door.

Then he devoured the sandwich in three quick bites.

Down in the galley, Gurn snored steadily while the smell of rancid cheese drifted under the cold storage door.

The Cheese Sandwich and the End of the World, Part Two

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-Missed it? Read part one here.

A knock on the door almost startled the captain into dropping his sandwich.

“Captain, you’re needed on deck. The Admiral requests your presence.”

The captain grumbled into his beard, but put the sandwich back on the plate and into the cooling drawer of his desk. His delicious cheese sandwich would have to wait.

On the bridge, the Admiral’s hologram glowed bright green.

“You’re late,” she said, “and you look terrible. Tuck in your shirt.”

The captain blushed so hard his ears turned blue as he tucked in the corner of his shirt with his third-left hand. It had come untucked in his mad rush up the stairs to reach the bridge. He wished with all his three hearts that the teleporter was working. Splat that technician and his temperamental goat! The captain forced a smile.

“How are you, mother? You look well.”

“No time for niceties, there is work to be done. I need that filthy little planet out of my way.”

“What planet might you be referring to, mother dear?”

“Stop driveling. Remove planet X-358-932 so I can have my designers build my nice, clean planet in its place. Bobo will adore it; it will be the perfect vacation home for us when we visit the Milky Way.”

Upon hearing her name, Bobo jumped into view on the hologram. It was more of a hop, as she was the most massive purdle Tentorp had ever seen. Her scales were purplish, covering her entire body tip to tail, and her teeth were set with tiny emeralds, giving her smile an eerie glow. She growled and snapped at the captain. He took a respectful step back despite the fact that nobody ever had their head bitten off by a hologram before. Still, one could never be too careful when it came to giant purdles.

“Now Admiral, I-“the captain started to protest.

“Just blow it up and stop fromping around!”

The hologram cut out abruptly. The captain sat with a heavy thud in the nearest chair, mopping sweat off his brow with his first-right hand and ignoring the squealing of the crew member he was sitting on. His stomach burbled.

On a normal day, the captain would have given less than a teenth of a second thought to blowing up a planet, occupied or not. He loved to watch things explode. But that planet, X-358-932, or Earth, was home to some of the finest cheese-makers in the universe. Cheese. Sandwich! He stood up and bolted towards the stairs, licking his lips and rubbing all three pairs of his hands together in anticipation. The Earth problem could wait.

As soon as the captain had left the bridge, the crew member he sat on was rushed to the infirmary. The man who took his place was named Frip, and a nicer Yamagorn you will never meet. He was tall for his species, and overly orange, with bright yellow eyes and a longish tail that he kept curled up in his chair for fear someone would step on it. His job was to press the button that fired the giant laser when the captain wanted to blow something up. Frip’s predecessor had pressed that button no less than 1,597 times in the last two weeks, giving him a great sense of job security and several sore fingers.

Back in his cabin, the captain shut the door and sat at his desk. He pulled the sandwich out of the cooling drawer and smiled with all of his 49 teeth.

He opened his mouth wide.

He brought the sandwich to his lips.

Someone began beating on his door.

“Captain, you’re needed on deck! Pirates!”

The captain growled, his gray-brown skin flushing an angry rose-jam red. Shoving his sandwich back into the drawer, he stormed to the door and flung it open so hard, decks C-1 through F-3 thought the ship had hit a small asteroid.
The captain pushed past the shaking messenger, down the hall, and up the stairs. All colors of lights were flashing and three or four different alarms were beeping and trilling on the deck.  The captain paced as the crew began yelling information.

“Sir, the Medilarian pirates are hot on our wake and closing!”

“All weapon systems operational, sir!”

“Three ships pursuing armed with three hundred seventy-two guns total, sir!”

The captain sat on his own chair this time and stared at the map flickering on the table in front of him. Three red squares chasing a green circle. Outmanned and out gunned, there was only one thing to do.

Run.