Archive for the ‘Steve’s Shorts’ Category

Steve’s shorts: The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer…

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

“Hiya Rollie.” I had to step aside as the ME, Big Tiny, stepped out of the small apartment into the corridor. “Prelim findings should be on your smartphone.”

“You can’t just tell me?”

Big Tiny carried a large super-mocha-double-double something-or-other in his large rubber-gloved paw. Whereas a defensive nose tackle is more muscle than fat, he was the reverse. A happy man, though, in spite of his profession.

“I’m off to another crime scene.”

“So this is a crime scene? It wasn’t clear before, but I preferred coming over to reviewing pending cases where Chen and I aren’t doing too well.”

“I expected to declare it a suicide, but I’m leaning to murder. The bottle of sleeping pills is almost full and there are signs of antifreeze. The tox workup will decide for certain.”

“CSU is still here, I presume?” He nodded. “They might come up with some more evidence.” Bid the big guy farewell, put on my Tyvek booties and rubber gloves, and went inside the apartment. “Anything?” I said to the first CSI I encountered.

He handed me a sealed plastic bag. A regular sheet of paper folded in half showed a crossword partially filled out.

“Right up your alley, o puzzle-meister,” he said.

Didn’t know the guy, but he knew something about me. “I don’t do crosswords. I’m more a math puzzle fellow. What’s special about this?”

“First, it’s homemade. Second, there’s a message. Take a look.”

He went about his business. I stared at the crossword.

Someone—the vic?—had started filling it in. None of the words were erudite—NY Times Monday level—but there was a message. “Death is a release. Relish it.” Huh? The crossword wasn’t large. How did it arrive at the apartment? If the vic had begun to solve it, where did she get it? Better yet, what amateur word smith had made the puzzle? Or, had the vic just taken the message as a sign to do herself in? That tox report would be important.

Hung around a bit more and then returned to the precinct. Chen had gone to chat with one of her snitches about another case, but she was back.

“Just received a message from Big Tiny,” she said. “He’s declaring your case a homicide.” I’d heard the ping but had ignored it. Guessed he didn’t take long on his other case. The big black bear had crawled back into his lair to drink his coffee thing in peace.

I’d snapped a photo of the crossword with my smartphone. Handed the phone to Chen. “This might be the murderer’s threat then.”

She studied the phone’s screen, nodded, and handed it back. “Just what we needed: a weird case. How do you want to handle it?”

***

Two days later, we had another murder with the same MO. This time the vic’s throat was slit. He was an old man. There didn’t seem to be any connection to the first vic. Random? Serial killers often act randomly. But old man v. young woman was interesting. Just a killing lust? I’m not an FBI profiler, so I was at a loss.

You want to make sense of killings like that. I knew that the psychotic mind was often not logical, but sane people want to look for the logic—something that makes sense of it all. The first often means the case isn’t solved. The second, if you can find it, often leads to solving the case.

“Undeserved death. Grim Reaper laughs.” That’s what the message said in this crossword. Still Monday level. The creator wasn’t the brightest serial killer we’d seen. But he had a way with words.

He? That was an assumption. I knew for a fact that women read a lot more than men. Did that extrapolate to women doing more crosswords than men? Didn’t know, but our killer could be a she. Had to keep an unbiased mind.

The throat-slitting had looked professional. Maybe ex-military? That still didn’t exclude a woman these days. Asked Chen’s opinion.

“Overpowering an old man is easier than a young woman,” said Chen, flashing her Asian Mona Lisa smile, “but you’re right. The perp could be a woman. I’m not seeing a pattern, though, besides the crosswords. Time to bring in the FBI?”

“Not on your life. We’ve barely started.”

***

My partner came up with a connection. It seemed tenuous. Both vics rented apartments in buildings owned by the same guy, a Richard Jenkins.

“Let’s find out more about this guy and then pay him a visit,” I said.

In that process, we discovered that Jenkins was a vocal opponent of rent control, and the two vics were in rent-controlled apartments. We started forming a theory. Chen didn’t think much of it—she thought rents should be tied to market value if they were regulated at all. Pam, my wife, and I had lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn for some time. We couldn’t have afforded a rent tied to market value. Maybe your opinion is biased if you’ve benefitted from rent control or not? Didn’t know what landlords thought, but suspected that they wouldn’t be in favor. Complex problem: How do you provide housing for poor city dwellers in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the Big Apple?

Pam and I now lived in Clifton, New Jersey, living the American Dream with our kids and heavily mortgaged house. Rent control was in our past. Still didn’t like what I saw in Jenkins’s record—he even went after New York mayors on the issue. Did that make him a killer? Doubted it, but it was time to interview the man.

***

Of course, Jenkins’s penthouse was luxurious compared to the two vics’ apartments. A maid showed us into a comfortable study and indicated two seats in front of a modest desk. We waited.

I studied the walls. Ex-Marine mementos, including ribbons. As an ex-Navy man, I liked Marines. Tough hombres who generally have your back. One pic on the wall showed our landlord, a heavyset man-bear, standing in a small group with a Navy captain in the middle. My captain—in the sense that I’d served on his carrier long ago in another more dangerous life where choppers would carry us off to wreak havoc and destruction for the Pentagon.

“Isn’t that our old friend?” said Chen. He had participated on a few cases. I nodded. “That’s some coincidence.”

“Not really. Jenkins and I are about the same age. Could be a good recommendation for him.”

We talked about our families until Jenkins showed up. He shook both our hands. For me, his grip was strong. For Chen, he let up a bit. Chivalry not dead?

“I understand you both have served,” he said, taking his seat behind the desk.

Pointed at the pic. “The captain is a good friend.”

“For me too,” said Jenkins. “I guess there are a few cops who served.” We nodded. “They probably have to tone down the military bravura on the beat. We’re not a fascist state, thank God. What can I do for you, detectives?”

I explained our case. “The only connection between the two victims is they both were your tenants in rent-controlled apartments.”

He frowned. “And I’m a suspect? Good Lord! I work within the system. I have to. I don’t have to like the fact that other landlords don’t have to put up with rent control, of course. It’s a bit random, you know. I’ve never met these two people, by the way. Where did they live?” I told him. “Yeah, those are my buildings. I’ll have to check with the agency that handles the rentals. They should have sent flowers to relatives if they’re local.”

“They’re not,” said Chen. She checked her smartphone. “Do you have an alibi for the range of times established by the ME in the TODs?”

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Nth Contact…

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

[In the sci-fi realm, we have subgenres like hard sci-fi, militaristic sci-fi, space opera, fantasy, and so forth. Star Trek episodes and movies can be considered everything except the first (reasonable scientific extrapolation is too often lacking). Star Wars movies are more akin to the last two. But the old stories that we now call space opera were a lot of fun. Consider this a bow to space opera with a wee bit of militaristic sci-fi and tongue-in-cheek. As they say, knowing the past can prevent us from committing errors in the present…]

Nth Contact

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                Captain Rick Hastings watched the screen. The Star Queen had just popped out of hyperspace and entered the unexplored solar system.

“AI, what am I seeing?” Something that sounded like a chaotic series of grunts, whistles, and sounds passing through several octaves filled the ship’s control room. “Standard, dimwit, not Draconian.”

“My apologies. I was conversing with Nigel. My sensors tell me there are several large starships in orbit around the fourth planet. More details will become available as we approach.”

“That’s not good,” said Nigel, his XO. Like many Draconians, the large humanoid had adopted a name that could be pronounced by Humans. The AI had no problem with his real name. “The last survey of this solar system showed it wasn’t inhabited. Should we write it off?”

“Because some ETs decided to steal our real estate?” He shook his mop of black hair, wiggled his eyebrows, and thought a few seconds. Compared to his XO, the captain wasn’t tall and had legs shorter than his torso. He looked stumpy in a uniform, a characteristic of many from his home planet where genetics had taken over adaption to a high-g environment. “Let’s at least take a look.”

“They’re coming to meet us,” said the AI, flashing up images of three ships speeding towards them.

“They don’t look friendly,” said the XO. “We should throttle back or take evasive maneuvers. Those look like missile-launching ports.”

“We can’t go FTL this close to the star,” said the Star Queen’s navigator.

“Take a course perpendicular to the planetary orbits,” Hastings told the AI.

“That’s an indeterminate command,” said the AI. “There are two possible—”

“Either way works! Just do it. Go FTL ASAP!”

“They launched missiles at us just before we went FTL,” the AI announced twenty seconds later.

“I’m getting my bearings,” said the navigator. Hastings waited. “Very clever, AI. We’ll pop up near base.”

“Forget about admiring a stupid machine. Just get us back to HQ. I’m going to my stateroom. I need some time to write up the report about this new contact.”

“Be sure and explain why you decided to confront the ETs who had taken possession of the solar system,” said the XO.

“Go to hell!” Hastings stomped out of the control room. He’d said it in Draconian, one of the few phrases he knew.

***

                “I’ve read your report.” Admiral Bonaventura studied his captain. “Did your XO forget to sign off on it?”

“My XO is a Draconian asshole. I’ll have his hide if he mentioned anything to you.”

Bonaventura frowned. “Am I a Draconian asshole too?”

Hastings retreated. “That remains to be proven. The Star Queen is a survey ship. I was doing a survey. Nothing says I can’t see who the trespassers are.”

“Your only weapons are found in your security detail’s small arms cabinets. What were you thinking? Whoever establishes the first colony claims the real estate.”

“Don’t you want to know what they were doing there? Colony ships aren’t battle cruisers.”
(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Snug Harbor…

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Snug Harbor

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                Not all the colonists awoke. Cryosleep had a risk that compounded over time, and almost two centuries is a long time. Adriana Cisternino-Cho had to decide whether to eliminate her husband’s name. James Cho had died in transit.

The exobiologist threw herself into her work as soon as she recovered in the huge ship that was in orbit. She didn’t want to think of the bodies that were spaced and sent to burn up in the new planet’s atmosphere. Others needed to visit the psychologists. She’d stopped going after two sessions. Nothing was going to bring Jimmy back.

The starship Vasco da Gama, the sixth colony ship a dying Earth had launched, had been assembled in LEO. It used standard technology developed over two centuries of exploring Earth’s solar system augmented in scale to match the size of the ship. The AI had kept watch over its cargo of a fifty-member landing crew and thousands of frozen embryos. They had parked the ship in orbit around the fifth planet of another system.

Only thirty-three of the skeleton crew had survived. Tests showed all the embryos were probably OK.

Dyads and triads had formed among the survivors who had lost their significant others. Adriana wasn’t interested. It seemed that only yesterday Jimmy and she said their goodbyes and entered their cryochambers. You knew the risks, girl. That doesn’t make it any more bearable!

Although the tests showed all the embryos were probably OK, she wondered about their future. If the planet wasn’t a feasible home for a colony, everyone would die, unless there was some possibility of reprovisioning the starship. Hundreds of more years in cryo? I’d rather die!

***

Two exobiologists were in the first shuttle party to zoom in on the planet, more of a survey crew that checked out five possible sites in more detail. They had done all the surveying and probing they could do from orbit.

“More land area than Earth confirmed. Mild climates are commensurate with axis tilt, but polar regions are stable. Oxygen levels in agreement with normal photosynthesis of local vegetation, which is abundant. Omnivore herds are plentiful in interior plains of continents.”

The AI summarized their findings ad infinitum. Adriana almost dozed. After it finished, Scot Cobb, their temporary leader, said, “Any comments? Adriana? Don?”

“We saw herds but no predators,” said Don Chang.

“That’s an oddity,” Adriana said in agreement. “There has to be some mechanism to control their numbers.”

“Food shortages?” said Scot. “When those strange grasslands are wasted, maybe the herds die off.”

“A possibility,” said Adriana. Why am I so agreeable? She didn’t buy Scot’s conjecture. I must be tired.

“There might be some lemming phenomenon,” said Don. “It will be interesting to study.”

“Will we be able to eat anything on the planet’s surface?” said Roberto McLane, an exogeologist.

“Let’s hear the AI’s ranking of the landing sites and see if we agree with it.,” said Scot.

(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: 2035…

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

2035

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Regional Governor Ricardo Sandoval kept one eye on the protests in the NADA capital of Atlanta as he answered his videophone, the red one he generally kept under lock and key. It needed a thumbprint and voiced password.

His counterpart, Regional Governor Desmonda Bailey, appeared on the screen.

“Yeah, I’m watching. NADA’s propaganda machine is whipping them into a frenzy. I’m more worried about the massing of troops on our borders. Our only recourse might be the battlefield nukes.”

“A last recourse, but I agree,” said Bailey. “Our small forces would be run over by those fanatics.”

“At least NADA’s generals have two fronts to divide their forces, but you’re at a geographical disadvantage, Desmonda. They can roll across the Adirondack chain a lot easier than the Sierras and our other western mountains. Maybe the sanctions weren’t such a good idea.”

“Nonsense. Their Great Leader started paying attention when we voted them in. They were a logical first step for trying to make him come to his senses. I don’t know what our next steps should be, but I’m not about to let him and his hordes overrun our Region.”

“I’m with you on that. But my security team warns that they might take out our satcom. We have to be prepared to act unilaterally unless we can agree on something now.”

“Let’s define some plans, old friend. My people warn me this could escalate fast.”

***

The two leaders worked for an hour and a half, coming up with plans that both the Eastern and Western legislatures would pass given the emergency. They worked from scenarios already prepared and studied, originating in the collaborative defense departments.

When they finished, Sandoval told his aid to call for his limo. The trip to the capital was walkable, but the limo was used to keep his security detail happy.

During the trip, which took more time loading and unloading of security personnel on each end than travel time, he went through some historical antecedents he might include in his speech.

Things had gone to hell fast beginning in 2017. That contentious election for president had unleashed pent-up hatreds that had smoldered for years, even decades. Perhaps inevitable, he thought. Reasoned discourse went the way of the dinosaurs.

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: The Interview…

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

The Interview

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                From his screened-in porch, Adam Hart heard the grinding gears. Someone wasn’t skilled in driving stick, but the driver was coming along the windy, gravel road leading to his cabin. He went inside, unlocked his gun case, and took the shotgun back to the porch and propped it up by the chair he had been sitting in. Nothing like disturbing my peace and quiet!

He’d been enjoying the bird calls, the sound of a woodpecker off in the distance, and an intimate dialogue with the rushing waters from a nearby brook. His sanctuary from the Upper West Side had allowed him to produce thirty-two books, most featuring his irascible detective Leo Goretti and his cop partner, Emily Durnin. Adam’s laptop sat beside him on the table, open and ready for action. It wasn’t connected to wi-fi—there was no internet service within miles. He liked it that way.

He soon saw the jeep was a rental with New York plates. The muddy entrance road had done its job of making the vehicle’s color indeterminate. A woman was driving. She stopped in front of the porch and stepped down, a tall, angular figure, and a younger version of his agent who had spent many years badgering him about publishing deadlines. He never met them. Never intended to do so.

Nowadays he’d prefer a comfortable small press or going indie where he’d represent more than substantial paychecks for editorial support staff and his agent. The big traditional publishers milked their big names all they could. He could still make money writing, but he knew a lot of new or less established writers couldn’t hope for that. When he used to give lectures to newbies, he’d always recommend never to leave their day-jobs until they won the lottery of having a bestseller.

“Adam Hart?” said the woman.

“Wrong cabin,” said Hart. “The roads are confusing in these parts. Bet you were using GPS. They regrade the road differently after every winter because the spring runoff does a number on them.”

The woman eyed the shotgun. “I just want to talk. Can I come up on the porch?”

“I’m telling you you’re wasting your time, but come on up. Door’s on the side there. Clean the mud off your boots and watch your step.”

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Anna Utkin…

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Anna Utkin

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

            Anna Utkin shut the library’s main door, locked it, and headed for her car. Her little Honda Civic awaited to take her to her one-bedroom apartment in the complex three miles from the Oakwood Public Library where she had worked the last ten years of her life. She smoothed her blouse after getting into the car and thought about dinner. Tonight maybe I’ll have a glass of red wine because today’s dinner will be a Salisbury steak meal. She always bought her TV dinners on sale, so the glass of wine would be the most expensive item, a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon from California.

As usual, when she pulled into her parking space, she remembered nothing about the trip. She’d made that trip twice a day for years—the drive was always the same. The only day she remembered was when she was hit about halfway home by the stranger who ran the only red light along the route. The burly man had blamed her, but there were witnesses, one of them a cop who was parked and enjoying his coffee and donut. That accident was the most excitement she’d ever had in Oakwood.

People still frequented the library—some readers looking for big city newspapers, some looking for NY Times bestsellers they couldn’t afford to buy, and some who wanted to read older books they’d missed and couldn’t find anywhere else. There were few kids. Students wrote their “research projects” using the internet these days—some of them even got away with cutting and pasting, and many homework assignments for common texts had answers posted on the internet too. The millennials were more into their smart phones and laptops than books, preferring a summary of To Kill a Mockingbird found on the internet to actually reading the book.

She worried about the future of public libraries.  She didn’t know if the modern world really needed librarians or libraries anymore, but she loved her library and its books. She was also a voracious reader and donated the books she purchased and read to the library so others could read them. They were print versions, so she didn’t have room to store them in her apartment anyway.

She ate her TV dinner while watching the ten o’clock news.  She then placed her own laptop on the tray after wiping up a few spatters. I wonder if my profile is ready.  She’d always been curious about her ancestry and ordered a DNA report in order to find out something about it. As an orphan, she had no family tree available, so that DNA report would be a good starting place for finding one.

***

            Anna had been waiting seven weeks for the DNA results. She logged onto her personal page and smiled. She had her report online. She opened the file. The smile turned to a frown.
(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: Toy Story…

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

[Dickens wrote the story “A Christmas Carol.” This is mine, and it’s dedicated to author Scott Dyson, who is mastering the horror genre quite well….]

Toy Story

Copyright 2016, Steven M. Moore

Curt Boggs’ coffee mug spilled its contents onto the Plainville Herald’s classified section. As he mopped up the spill, an ad caught his attention: “Hartley Mansion up for Sale.” He smiled as memories flooded into his mind.

He had left Plainville, Kansas for college long ago and never returned. His subscription to the newspaper followed him everywhere, though, even to the small Queens flat he now rented. The memories were mostly about Carol Hartley. She’d been a cheerleader; he’d been a fullback. A major knee energy in his freshman year at college had ended his playing days. The newspaper subscription allowed him to confirm every year that his football records in high school were never broken.

He wasn’t interested in buying the Hartley Mansion, of course. Even after Carol married Tom Rice and they moved into the family home—her parents were dead, weren’t they?—it was still called the Hartley Mansion. In high school, a lot of kids thought the old, rambling house at the end of Main Street was haunted. He knew better. Carol and he had made love in almost every room of that house, including her parents’. He couldn’t even remember what the father did. He was somehow rich and never home and mommy was always out shopping, often visiting the chic stores in Kansas City.

Would Carol be involved in the sale of the house? What had happened to her and Tom? He seemed to remember something in the Herald’s society page about ten years ago about their moving to Chicago. The classified ad had made him a bit curious this time, though. Time to revisit your roots, old boy?
(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: Ride-Along…

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

[In my blog posts on writing, I’ve encouraged wannabe novelists to choose journalism over an MFA if they believe they need some formal education on how to write (the key word is “formal”—they don’t). Considering this story, though, maybe an MFA is safer?]

Ride-Along

Copyright 2016, Steven M. Moore

                “Have you decided on a project yet?”

Danny Reid eyed Bert McAdams over his coffee mug. He didn’t like the burnt-toast flavor of Starbucks coffee, but the store’s location attracted students—several of his fellow journalism students had gathered around the table.

“Working on it,” Danny said, wiping latté froth from his upper lip—that was the only way he could drink the strong stuff. “What about you?”

“The UN is in session, so I’m heading over there to see if I can get a few interviews.”

“You’ll only get second- or third-tier diplomats,” said Connie Kingsley.

Bert winked at her. “I’ve got some leverage. My uncle is a security guard at a consulate and knows a few people.”

“It’s all about who you know,” said Danny with a grimace. “I’m at a loss.”

Connie, her dark brown skin glowing in the late April sun, smiled at him. Their eyes locked for a moment. “You could cover my aunt’s wedding with me. Maybe that will give you some ideas.”

Does that have a double meaning? Danny liked Connie but always figured she was out of his league. Her family was rich. His was poor enough that he wouldn’t even be in school if it weren’t for the low tuition and fees in the CUNY system.

“What about your dad?” said Ben Speyer. He was a sloppy, overweight, but brilliant Jewish kid and probably Danny’s best friend—Danny didn’t have that many white friends growing up in spite of New York’s touted diversity. “The NYPD must have lots of great journalistic stories.”

Danny’s father ran a precinct. Danny had only visited it a few times. He wasn’t close to his father because an early marriage had ended in a bitter divorce with his mother getting custody. “Mom wouldn’t like that.”

“You don’t have to hug or kiss the old man,” said Bert. “Just watch, observe, and write about it. That’s our term paper assignment in a nutshell.”

Danny thought for a moment. “Maybe. It’s about all I have right now.” He winked at Connie. “Besides a wedding. I hope you catch the bouquet.”

She smiled.

***

“Absolutely not!” Captain Carl Reid had been surprised to see his son’s face in the tiny screen on his phone. What he had proposed was even more surprising. “Our patrols can be dangerous. I might not be in your life that much—that’s your choice as much as your mother’s—but I still want to protect you.”

“I’m twenty-one. Three years ago I voted in the primaries and I just had my first legal drinks. I’m not interested in being a cop, but I want to be a journalist. Maybe a journalist specializing in crime stories.”

“Yeah, those guys get it all wrong most of the time. And you only voted in the primaries, not the general election.”

“My man didn’t win the nomination.”

“I still voted for the old woman. You slackers who didn’t vote are now stuck with the new guy.”

“It wouldn’t have made any difference in New York State, Dad.”

Carl sighed. They’d had that conversation many times. Some cops thought the new guy was good for law enforcement. Carl had his reservations.

“Back to your project. Can’t you choose something different, something safer?”

“Nothing will happen, Dad. You told Mom that many times when you were on patrol.”

“It usually doesn’t. But then you could have a nutcase who thinks killing cops is a great high and his civic duty. You never know when something will happen. Domestic disputes, weirdos high on some drug, bank robberies—it can happen anywhere in the five boroughs, you know.”

“Consider it job security,” said Danny.

“You mocking me?” said Carl.

“No, sir, I’m talking about my future job security. There’s plenty to write about.”
(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: A Singing Sadness…

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

[I just found another early short story…and it contains a poem! I won’t say when the story was written, but it has current relevance. It can be classified as shorts that are almost a speedo…but get rid of that image right now! Enjoy…]

A Singing Sadness

Copyright 2016, Steven M. Moore

                Mila Park walked slowly to the lectern. She preferred to be out on a dig, but her sponsors thought this find was important. As the South American Combine prepared for war with the North African Union, tensions everywhere on Earth were high. At the cocktail hour, some Combine and Union scientists had been exchanging angry words. How peaceful it is on an archaeological site light-years away!

“The title of my lecture is boring. ‘Insights on the Archaeological Excavations in the 82 Eridani System’ is simply the title of a recent paper I wrote. I’ll now give it a subtitle: ‘How a Civilization Can Destroy Itself.’” There were some stirrings in the audience. Several conference attendees looked at each other. “The finds offer a lesson for humanity in these troubled times.”

She put up her first slide. There were several gasps from the audience now. “What you see is a temple littered with skeletons. We didn’t have to dig much to find them, of course, but the entrance to the temple was covered by rubble. A nuclear warhead hit only half a kilometer away. Most of the city’s inhabitants on the surface were vaporized, of course, but we believe that those in the temple died from starvation or radiation poisoning—it’s hard to tell which ailment would get them first because we don’t yet know enough about their physiology.”

She took a sip of water and put up another slide. “Here you see one of the many documents we found inside the temple. As you may already know, these were a sensitive people who left great works of art—paintings and sculptures and beautiful architecture—but they also had a literary tradition. It is sad that this search for beauty couldn’t stop the descent into the madness of self-annihilation. The many documents in the temple provided much more than a Rosetta stone for our time. The ideograms are complicated, so a massive effort using a lot of computer power was needed to translate them. But once we translated them, we developed a pretty good idea about this people’s culture and what went wrong.”

She began a long summary of their findings, including the history of greedy groups vying for control of the planet. “Are there any questions?”

“Could you go back to that first document?” said a woman in the first row. “I know nothing about their language, but it looks awfully short. What is it?”

“A poem by one of that people’s greatest poets. It’s hard to translate poetry well, but here’s what she says:

My soul awakens.

All about me the stars,

Like signposts up ahead,

Marching into the distant past

And even more distant future…

I see them strangely.

And yet the Universe is me

And I am one with it;

And my soul feels the thunder of a thousand suns

While I am the seeker and finder.

Could it be otherwise?

Not until a singing sadness

Erases it all

And I and my Universe are no more.

That’s it.”

Mila saw the tears glistening on the woman’s cheeks. The rest of the audience was silent.

“It says enough,” said the woman.

In the following weeks, a popular singer/songwriter used the poem as lyrics for a song that blew up the pop music charts around the world.  Peace talks began between the South American Combine and the North African Union.

***

Aristocrats and Assassins. Detective Castilblanco and his wife go on vacation. They both see a wee bit too much of Europe, including a few royals who are kidnapped. Written before the Paris, Brussels, and Nice attacks, I don’t think anyone would say now that this is impossible. Maybe European security agencies should consider it a warning?

In libris libertas!

Steve’s Shorts: Emma5…

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

[Encounters with ETs don’t need to happen in space…and they could be a bit racy…For those of you traveling during this busiest travel time of the year, have a safe and easy trip!]

Emma5

Copyright 2016, Steven M. Moore

Chapter One

Mari fought to control starship Odysseus as it bit into the atmosphere. Alarms were sounding. The calm but irritating voice of Jason, their AI, still came through on her com implant, so she killed his alarms.

“Dip and dive!” said Hana. “We have to keep it from breaking up.” That suggestion was vocal, not via the embedded comset.

Gee, thanks, Hana, why didn’t I think of that!

“These damn things were never meant for planet-fall,” said Loku.

Yeah, someone else thinking I don’t know what to do.

“We don’t exactly have time for the escape pods,” said Mari, deciding not to waste time with biting rejoinders.

“Bring her down anywhere. Practically the whole damn planet’s ocean. We’ll worry about finding land later.” Loku checked skin temp. “If you have enough control, we’ll just make a big splash.”

They did. The ten-thousand ton starship created a small tsunami and then sank.

What the hell?

“Jason, why are the cargo hold’s doors opening?” Loku tried to counter the AI’s command.

“Damn AI thinks we want to abandon ship for some reason,” said Mari. “Some embedded protocol. It probably doesn’t understand water. Software glitch!”

“We’re sinking and filling with water,” said Hana, just before the control room’s sliding door buckled and the wave of saltwater hit her.

This is not the time to learn to swim, thought Mari as she fought to keep her head above water. Her next and last conscious thought was that they should all have been in their spacesuits. Three could be found in closets beside an airlock right beneath them. That might have saved them.

***

Mari awoke on a beach and felt something crawling on her face. She screamed and brushed off a small animal with eight legs. She sat upright and squinted at the planet’s sun.  Not a cloud in the sky. She studied the horizon. Where’s the ship? Did we somehow escape and swim ashore?

                She realized she was completely naked. The light clothes she had worn on ship were gone. She sat up, hugged herself, and noticed the curious welts on her torso. Did another sea creature save us? She was surprised at the thought. The planet was supposed to be devoid of any large life forms. Maybe her subconscious was telling her something.

She felt a rawness in her genitals, as if the Union’s portodocs had just given her a flight-check physical. She put that out of her mind, writing it off to the traumatic experience of somehow getting out of the ship and saving herself.
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