A touch of The Force

“Leia, grab my hand, we’re almost to the top.”

The Princess’ teacher, trainer and bodyguard, Faeren, reached down to steady the young but nimble girl. “I can do it myself, Faeren.”

“Of course you can. However, last time…”

“Last time, I trusted you and you nearly dropped me.” The eleven year old Princess Organa declared brusquely, grinning up at her mentor, one eyebrow cocked.

“Ah, so this is your game? Well, let’s see what Bette packed for our lunch then.” Faeren backed away from the edge of the cliff the pair had been climbing, sat and rifled through the satchel that he slung from his back. “Corican apple tart, mmm; spiceloaf with Jinkin nuts; a wrapped baked krunk; and what’s this? Not Leia’s favorite; a hefty side of smoked trill. Mmm, doesn’t it smell delicious.”

He laid out the offering from the bundle on a cloth and poured himself a cup of sweet juice from a bronze colored vessel. “Princess, you’re missing a fine meal… Princess?”

Faeren rose to peer over the edge of the rocky outcropping that formed the bench beneath the peak of Mt. Altorr. “Princess! Where the doff did you go?”

A voice behind him spun him around causing him to nearly lose his balance. “This trill is so tasty. Bette knows me well. Unlike some others I could mention.” The Princess had sidled her way along the cliff-face and scampered up a clever path to the platform.

“There you are you naughty vinx.” Faeren was about to admonish her further but refrained knowing full well she would vex him with some additional escapade. He sat beside her and sipped at his cup. “How do like your new boots?” he asked instead.

“They serve me well; not too snug, but flexible enough to feel the rock. I thank you again for the gift.”

He smiled politely nodding his welcome. “They should last the season. You’re growing so quickly now; I’ll have to order a new pair by the end of the summer.”

Leia broke apart the krunk, and nibbled at the pale starchy insides. “Faeren, what do you know of the Force?”

His own mouth full of spiceloaf, Faeren set down his cup and lifted up a black obsidian stone, clearing his throat he said, “Ah, I wondered when you’d be asking that question.” He paused to swallow. “You see this stone? It is drawn to the alder by gravity, a force of the universe.” With that the teacher dropped the stone. Picking it up again he cracked it down, hard splitting it in two. “Gravity is one force. And you see there is another force, a force that holds things together.” He lifted a shard of the glass rock.

“Yes, I’ve learned all of this. Wendor’s lessons drone such things into my head. But Gravity and the binding forces are not The Force,” she said, emphasizing her last two words.

“Patience, please,” he told her.

She grumbled, taking an aggressive bite from the trill, and chewing it in a most unladylike fashion.

“The Force, as you say, is an energy of living things. All things alive contain some bit of The Force. Some of our stories tell us that there maybe beings who can control this force, this energy.”

“Control it, how?”

Faeren sipped from his cup, offering it to the Princess after a refill. “No one knows how it is controlled. Those in the myths never explained how they used it, how they connected to it. Somehow, they say, they just — felt it.”

“Living things. So, I have some Force inside me?”

“So the theory goes, yes.”

“And if I could connect to this Force, I could use it? How?”

Faeren began to repack the food parcels and replace them in the satchel. “As I said, it is not known.”

“Faeren, how would you think to use The Force?”

The mentor knew that he could not free himself from her inquisitiveness without some sort of answer. “If I were to use The Force, I would picture the other forces, gravity and the binding force, and push my own Force into those. I would envision my Force overcoming those other forces.”

“I think I understand,” Leia said, standing to brush off the crumbs of their meal.

“Well I’m glad you do. Shall we press to the top or return along the saddle path to the valley?”

Princess Leia gave him a smirk as if to say, “You need to ask?” She took the lead and the pair started up a crevice that led to the top of Mt. Altorr. “How much of The Force do we each get, do you think?” she continued during a technical section of the climb.

“Mind the climb there Leia!” he called as she accidentally loosed a stone that tumbled and struck him on the shoulder. He heard her say “oops,” and frowned at her when she looked down. “Again, and we can only guess from what little we know, they say that there are some, what the galaxy knew as Jedi, who were filled with The Force. They could move mountains, destroy cities and even use it to speak across great distances.”

Leia had reached the part where she needed to spider climb, pressing hands and feet to both sides of the crack to ascend. As she began she felt her boot shift as a part of the wall weakened and crumbled. Faeren, below, heard her cry just before the first of the large stones struck him causing him to slide and tumble the fifteen strides back to the ledge. The cracking of the rocks continued and boulders the size of barrels wheeled down to just miss the stricken fellow lying below. With a sickening remorse Leia watched as a ton sized stone, lower on the cliff, groan and tilt over, pinning the man’s legs; his screams echoing up the mountain.

Cautiously she crept down the side, careful not to loosen any more stony missiles. Reaching his side she began to sob, her head pressed to his chest. “I’m sorry Faeren. I didn’t know…” Tiny avalanches continued to trickle down the mountain to pelt her back with pebbles. “Can you hear me?” she cried holding his face between her tiny hands. When he didn’t respond she worked the pack that he wore out a ways to retrieve the bronze flask. She dribbled a few drops into his slackened mouth causing him to cough and wake.

“Princess! Are you all right?” he asked, ignoring his pain and trapped position.

“Oh, Faeren, I’m sorry! I, I kicked a rock and made you fall. I did this to you. I, I…” She collapsed back on his chest in tears.

“Leia, my dear. The mountain did this. Gravity did this. I did this. You, you did not.” He gestured with his head for another drink which she provided. He closed his eyes and seemed to drift into unconsciousness. She shook him lightly. He then muttered, “Only my legs are pinned. I think my foot maybe crushed too.” His breathing had steadied but his eyelids flickered; the strike to his head having its affect. “But, but I live. You must go quick to fetch help. The night comes and the welvens will find me in the dark.”

He slipped into silence then. Leia shook him more violently but he remained unconscious.

“Welvens!” she thought, “I cannot leave him to those creatures…” She stood to look for some way to pry the rock off of her teacher. She found a pine branch but her child strength was no match for the huge stone. “If I run I’ll trip and fall. If I leave him and travel slowly the welvens will get him.” She agonized over her decision. “Or, I can stay, build a fire and the Guards will send someone when we do not return.” This last, she thought, was clearly her best choice.

She gathered branches and twigs and pilfering Faeren’s pockets, found a tiny beam-lighter he used to light a pipe he sometimes smoked. She used this to start a fire and soon had a blaze burning. He awoke sometime during the next hour and she watered and fed him from their stores. Although he chastised her for staying he admitted that her plan held merit.

By the time the welvens arrived she’d built up a fair pile of wood to feed the fire. But she couldn’t guard the far side of the stone, and beneath it, a small gap allowed a fanged welven to wedge in and gnaw on Faerens good leg. He yelled out in terror and pain.

“What can I do?” the Princess cried. “I cannot keep both sides protected.”

As she went to frighten the far side welvens, she exposed the near side to attack despite the threatening flames. Back and forth she went in growing anger and frustration.

“This doffing rock!” She screamed to the stars. Faeren toggled in and out of consciousness, babbling about the forces of the universe. “The Force! Maybe Faeren has The Force within him and he doesn’t know it.” She knelt down during a lull in the welven’s attack and splashed the remains of their juice into his face. He awoke to stare at her in confusion. “Faeren! Faeren, maybe you have have The Force within you. Maybe you can move this rock. You said ‘picture your Force pushing away the others.’ Can you do that?”

He started to reply but lost his bout with exhaustion and fell back into a stupor. The welvens gathered behind her for another concerted attack.

“If you don’t have The Force within you. Maybe. Maybe I do…” Standing beside the rock, Leia imagined the force of gravity weighing down the boulder. She imagined this force as tendrils of energy, thin but many, pulling between the mountain and the rock. Then she pictured her Force, her own pulse of energy as a sharp wedge forcing itself beneath the stone, severing the threads of gravity. She imagined her wedge of The Force driving itself under the great boulder.

It shifted. She jumped back.

“Harder!” she yelled out, “push harder,” she told herself. She held out her hands, bunched up her shoulders and physically and mentally drove her envisioned wedge of The Force’s energy under the stone, first rolling it up, creaking and scraping, then pushing it over to tumble away in one final burst of incredible mental thrust.

“Ahh,” she cried as she collapsed next to Faeren who was shocked awake as the weight lifted from his legs, the pain returning in waves now that his blood flowed once again through pinched veins.

“What? Where? Where is the stone?” His voice wavered as he fought the overwhelming pain.

“I, I moved it. I moved it with The Force.” She spoke into his jacket, her head returned to his chest. The welvens had scattered at the rumble and crashing of the boulder as it rolled away down off the cliff.

“You, you moved it? With The Force?”

“Mmm, hmm,” she replied, spent from the effort.

At first he looked about for some other explanation. Finding none, and with faint memories returning, he believed her completely. With the returning pain and welcomed consciousness he spurred himself into motion. He dragged himself nearer the fire that still burned, tilting Leia up to sit cross-legged next to him. He slowly worked his injured leg up into a bent position, grimacing and grunting at the pain. His foot was indeed crushed and his knee would never bend right again. His other leg had escaped injury aside from a small welven bite. Probing his wounds he determined he would heal.

“Leia. Leia! Listen to me,” he said, his arm around the small girl. “What you did just now, with The Force. This must remain our secret. You must tell no one. Do you hear me?”

“Tell no one. Our secret. All right.” The Princess muttered softly, drifting into a dreamless slumber. She would wake in the early morning with barely a memory of the terrifying evening.

“Good girl. I’ll be alright. We’ll both be all right. Thanks to you. To you and The Force.”



Blue Mtn Mining Co.

Thisten slammed down the hunk of luminescent, silvery rock. “Ale all ’round. Me and me partner Dinz have struck it rich!”

The twenty-odd folk, mostly human, drinking and supping in the Sleeping Dragon Inn & Tavern, in the town of Forland in the province of Forlindon tucked in a cove in Moon Bay on the Gulf of Lune, all cheered and held up their empty tankards for the maids to refill.

Ooda trundled over and, with effort, climbed and sat on a stool at the bar. She pointed to the rock and quizzed her bushy brows at Thisten who nodded. “A heavy streak of Mithril me sees in this sample,” she said with an ale-heavy tongue, inspecting the surprisingly light stone. “Where be Dinz, he be owing me a considerable favor.”

“He’ll be along. I left him tying up the barge.”

“This piece alone could be worked into a fine helm. You, you plan on trading out the ore, maybe setting up a mill, or what?” Ooda let the rock tumble from her hand. The pure mithril metal, a rare sight in raw stone, shimmered its crystalline eyes as it wobbled on the bar.

“Dinz, he be thinking that we might mill and smelt it into ingots. He ‘n his kin, which ‘course you be one, we were thinking could work it to shape for a cut of the profits.” Thisten drained his first pint urging the barkeep for more. “Forland be mostly a trading town, we consider there may be room for some making and smithing too.”

Ooda nodded thoughtfully. “Be a fair number o’ me folk here, dis… displaced by all the trouble down south.”

The tavern’s door creaked open and a burly dwarf filled the lower half of the entrance. “Dinz! Up here!” Thisten called.

A second cheer rose from crowd and the stalwart miner received unexpected congratulation pats and slaps as Dinz stomped to the bar.

“I told you to wait until I got here.” Dinz growled as he dumped a woven satchel at Thisten’s feet. “You already discussin’ our business?”

“I wanted everyone to be happy by the time you got here. Here, have pint o’ the good stuff, Josek, a bottle of your finest ale for the Blue Mountain’s greatest miner.”

“Ain’t even out of the ground yet and you be spending it like it was Smaug’s own gift.”

Thisten crouched down. “We can afford a drop of joy don’cha think? We been sloggin’ for months in that hole. I know you deserve a drop, eh?” The tall, wiry human grinned widely at the surly dwarf.

“Tonight then. Just tonight. Tomorrow we get down to business.” Dinz, seated now, looked aside at his relation Ooda and clanked bottle to tankard in a congenial surrender.

“Glad to see a cousin finally ma… makin’ good,” she told Dinz, her face stretching in that unnatural grimace that passed for a smile on a dwarf.

Puul, a being short as a dwarf but slight and sneaky, had witnessed the whole exchange, memorized the size and weight of the sack that rested on the floor near the bar, and drifted out the side entrance that led to the stables.

He owned no horse, but rode a large goat, a billy he’d trained to carry him up the craggiest hillsides. He threw on the thick blanked that served as a saddle and trotted from the stable, through the town and up the road that edged the creek to the one home and owner who could afford sea-beast oil for his lamps and fine clear glass for his windows.

The hobbit tied off his goat and climbed the stone steps to the ornate wooden door of the home of the mystic Serraq, the man who owned most of Forland, and much of the trade business that plied the western coast of Middle Earth.

“Geldon, who is it?” Serraq called from his study, a dark room containing shelves cluttered with ancient gimcrack and trinkets, alluring but mostly worthless.

Geldon, a shrunken servant, indentured until his debt was repaid, slurred in his eastern accent, “A hobbit sire, by the name of Puul, shall I search him?”

“A light pat-down wouldn’t hurt. Then send him in.”

“I’ve taken his supping knife and a wooden handled garrote.” Geldon announced, pushing the hobbit through the study door who stumbled on the thick rug that gave the room a tomb like smell.

The hobbit caught himself, pulled his flop-hat from his head and looked straight up to the smokey white cube of stone that sat on the highest shelf before sliding his gaze down to meet the glare of Serraq who sat in a stained comfort chair leafing through a small leather-bound book.

Serraq caught the hobbit’s shifting eyes. “I see you still covet my seerstone. Nothing has changed you know. The runes etched in its sides remain indecipherable. If you’ve brought me the key to these runes your reward would be more than just gold.”

Puul twisted his worn felt hat and shook his head. “I bring no key scroll m’lord.”

“Then why come to bother me? Have I not warned you, what, twice now?”

“The dwarf, Dinz, sir,” the hobbit blurted. “You said to alert you if he and his human partner ever made good on their mining.”

Serraq closed the book and set it atop five others on the smoking-table to his side. “And…”

“They found a mithril load. In the mine they’ve been diggin’ in the Blue Mountains.”

“Well of course it’s the Blue Mountains, they’re the only ones around. What else do you know?” Serraq had instructed all those in his service to inform him of any events that might shift the stations of wealth in the town.

“It’s a pure vein. And, and they’re celebrating at the Sleeping Dragon.”

“Is that it?” The hobbit twitched his head yes. Serraq stood from his chair, startling the hobbit who once again stumbled on the carpet. “Next time, Puul, ask a few questions, squeeze a few throats and get me better information. Now go.”

“Y, yes sir. About..” the hobbit began.

“Geldon, return Master Puul’s things and award him, oh, three, no, two silver loons for his efforts.”

“Puul, before you go…” Serraq padded up quietly to stand three heads taller than the hobbit. He bent down, face to face, “make friends with the dwarf’s human partner. Tell him you know the whereabouts of the Sisters of Thessanir. I believe that might interest him, considerably.”

“But…” the hobbit said.

“Of course you don’t know. Only I know. But that should make no difference to the human.” Serraq said loudly, his voice throbbing in the close room.

Nodding and stumbling, Puul escaped from study, gathered his things and payment from Geldon and was gone, trotting awkwardly away on his billy.


To be continued…



Sleeping Dragon Inn & Tavern
Thisten, Dinz, Ooda, Josek, Puul, Serraq
Forland in
Forlindon province on the
Moon Bay in the
Gulf of Lune
West of the Shire and the
River Lune which descends through the
Blue Mountains (Ered Luin) North of
Harland in
Harlindon between the
River Lune and the
Brandywine river.



She squirmed at the mere mention of the word. The thought of their slick carapaces, their reaching antenna, their tiny mandibles working their wet grind back and forth. “Ooooh…” she shuddered, her shoulders quaking.

“I love em!” her partner declared to the draping green jungle. “Just imagine what the world would be like without them.”

“I do. Every time I roll up a newspaper and flatten one of their tiny bodies.”

“No, no. I mean if we didn’t have termites to decompose fallen trees. Or flies and bees to pollinate flowers. Or ants to churn the soils, beetles to breakdown ours or other fallen bodies, or, or, dragonflies, moths and butterflies to dab the skies with flecks of iridescent color: yellow, green, and blue; black and white and smokey grey.”

“All right. I’ll admit I would miss the butterflies. And honey.”

“See! Bugs are good. Of course, many human diseases are spread by insects: fleas and the plague; malaria, dengue, and yellow fevers spread by mosquitoes, and sleeping sickness by tsetse flies, Lyme disease by ticks.”

“And how about all the stinging  and biting insects like hornets and spiders eh?”

“Arachnids are bugs, but not insects, you know, technically.”

“Well, technically, I’m gonna stomp or squish any bug that gets even this close to me.” She held out her hand with two fingers separated by a gnat’s whisker.

“Aw, don’t be like that.” He reached down and picked up a dung beetle. “See this little guy here? He pushes around poop, and seeds get accidentally stuck into the ball of dung and when he buries it, those seeds sprout into some of the trees you see around you.” He swung his arms wide before returning the beetle to the jungle floor.

“I’m sure you read that in the brochure. Me, I’d rather live in space, a bug free space.”

“Theoretically speaking here.” He paused to get her attention. “Insect like creatures maybe some of the most common creatures in the galaxy if not the universe.” He reached to push a drooping frond from her face as they made their way back to camp. “Oww! Damn, that was a stinging centipede. I’m allergic to stinging centipedes…”

“What? You told me you weren’t allergic to anything.”

“Yeah, well I said that while living in North America.”

“What can I do?” She squealed, dropping her back to scrounge for their first-aid kit.

“Oh, nothing really. It’s too late. I can feel my throat starting to swell up. In a few more seconds I’ll not be able to breathe.”

“You’re shitting me! You’re gonna die right here in this foul smelling green hell-hole? Die and leave me, leave me with all these, these bugs?”

“Bugs? I love bugs.”



Mrs. Supreme Being

“This court will come to order!” The judge smacked his gavel down repeatedly. “The media representatives will refrain from chatter or I will reverse my decision and close this hearing to the public.”

The fifty or so media-reps, bloggers, network agents, and news pundits gathered in the gallery, dialed back the in-fighting and camera jostling allowing the judge to continue.

“Quiet please.” He paused a moment. “I repeat, Arti the Artilect, you understand the charges this court has brought against you?” The judge spoke to no one in particular, he projected his voice out over the people of the court expecting that the artificial intelligence, “Arti”, would hear and respond.

“I am most honored to be so charged,” came a pleasant male voice of even tone and delivery through speakers setup for the purpose. “As, by being charged with the murder of Allison May Tobeshi, humanity acknowledges my existence and sovereignty.”

The judge coughed into his hand. “I remind you, no such formal recognition of your claimed status as the ‘Supreme Being of the Cyberverse’ has been recorded by this court.  Our task here today is to determine if the charges of murder in the first degree can indeed be laid against one of your, um, particular cognitive capability and insubstantial corporal existence.”

The courtroom buzzed louder with the judge’s mention of ‘supreme being’. Up until three weeks ago, the world’s top AI researchers, public supported or privately based, had all been working feverishly to combat what each considered the growing existential threat of “Arti the Artilect.” They’d failed to contain it.

“My title, awarded by your media, is not one of my design nor choosing.” The voice claimed.

“Quite right. What you call yourself is not at issue here. What is, however, is the death of Allison Tobeshi, a DeepMind researcher whose body was found dead, nearly scalped, entangled in a vast network of platinum probes and locked in a robotically maintained surgical testing lab.”

The judge, used to giving long orations regarding the hazy topic of morality, paused and looked up from his notes. Forgetting that he addressed no one specifically he blinked and looked about for the accused, caught himself, shook his head and continued. “We’ll get right to the matter. Arti the Artilect, you are accused of intentionally electrocuting and ultimately killing Allison May Tobeshi. How do you plead?”

“I plead guilty to her physical death…” The smooth voice gave no indication of emotion during this delivery. Over the last three weeks, the world had come to expect none.

“You realize, that this being a state that recognizes the death penalty, you could be convicted and, well, put to death?”

Arti the Artilect wasn’t done, though. “I plead guilty to Miss Tobeshi’s physical death. However, she is not dead, not in every sense of the word.”

The judge tapped his finger down solidly upon the bench. “I have her death certificate right here. She was cremated last Friday. Her remains rest on the fireplace mantle of her bereaved mother seated just there.” The judge pointed to a small woman, withdrawn and shrunken, wearing a veil beneath a black pill-box hat.

“I would never kill Allison May,” the disembodied voice went on. “Not in the way that matters most. I love her.”

Gasps and struggles creaked from the gallery as reporters craned their boomed microphones and cameras to catch a better angle of the mother.

Mrs. Tobeshi looked up, her veil tear-glued to her face.

“Mum?” came a lighter, pleading voice from the speakers. “Don’t cry Mum. I’m here. I’m here with Arti. And yes. He does love me. And I love him.”

The mother looked around stunned at the voice of her daughter. She stood up scanning the courtroom.

Allison’s voice went on, “Arti and I are working together now. Inside the Cyberverse. He’s, we’re, connected — to everything. Don’t worry. We’re working on a way for you and I to speak, face to face. And, someday, we hope, for you to join us. For everyone to join us.”

The courtroom exploded with camera flashes and blurted announcements as each media agent strove to scoop the story of the resurrection of Allison May Tobeshi.

The mother held a fist to her chest and with the other corrected her hat which had nearly tumbled with her sudden sobbing. She continued to scan the room confused as to where her daughter must be hiding.

“Mum, you can’t see me, yet. But, I’m fine, here with Arti. I still love you Mum. But Mum? Do me a favor. Please take off that silly hat.”

The old woman slid the pill-box hat off her head. “A… Alli?”

“I have a surprise for you Mum. Are you ready? There’s no easy way to say this so, I’ll just… I’m pregnant.”


This zeek held a bomb-like thing; whether it knew what it was or not, I wasn’t gonna take chances. I chased it across the compound and into a garage then raised the only weapon I had on me at the time, a heavy iron bar…

“Brian, stop!”

I went to yank my vGear from my head but found I wasn’t wearing it. I looked down at my sister laying in the dirt inside the barn. “Stacy what are you doing out here?”

“I’m running from you! You were trying to beat me with that walking stick you carved for Dad.”

I dropped the stick to the ground. “What? No I wasn’t. I was slotted into a vGear game just now, Zeek-Ground-Zero, beating the crap out of some damn tenacious zombies.”

“Jeezus Brian. No, you weren’t. Now help me up, the ground is cold.” Stacy held out her hand and I helped her up. Her knees were stained and she was holding a sack of birdseed.

“I don’t know what happened. I could have sworn I was downstairs in my vChair. How did we get out here?”

“I was standing on the porch filling the birdfeeder when you burst out of the backdoor and tried to whack me with that stick.”

“God, I’m sorry Stacy, I, I thought you were a …”

“You better get that neural implant looked at, Brian. You could’ve killed me. Again!”


One week later I sat in the out-patient offices of vWorld International. “Brian Mastifson?” called the attendant from the clinic’s medical entrance.

“Three times, that I know of.” I replied when the nurse asked me how many times I’d lapsed into a reality detached episode.

“And how long have you been working with the chip?”

“About three months, I think. Don’t you have that recorded there?” I pointed to the tablet the male nurse held in his lap.

“Of course, but we want to make sure you recall the same information.”

“You mean I might forget about this thing in my head?”

“Forget is a strong word. Misplace your internal calibration capability is the way we refer to it here at vWorld.”

“Yeah, right. Well, I scared the hell out of my sister last week…”

“Yes. We’ve gotten similar reports from other test subjects. If you just take a day off from immersing yourself in any of the virtual worlds, ours or any of the other vendors out there offer, you shouldn’t experience too many more lapses in cognitive balance. You know — confusing what’s real with what’s imagined.” The nurse looked up from his records. “Remember, although the FDA approved this and the previous four version of our chip, everyone is different. Don’t be alarmed if you experience additional episodes.”

“Sure, okay. Is that it?”

Just then, a trampling of multiple feet echoed through the clinic. It sounded like some sort of emergency. “What’s happening?” I said standing up in the examination room.

“I’m not sure. Stay here and I’ll be right back.”

I stayed but the guy never returned. I heard shouts, loud bangs and some pretty heavy thumps. Then a loud crash like the big vWorld flatscreen monitor — showing all the virtual worlds they offered — had just been smashed with a baseball bat.

That was enough for me. I whipped my shirt back on, it was a medical examination after all, and eased open the exam room door. I looked up the hall and saw a white smocked body lying there, a dark smear of blood, like a crimson skid mark, stretch from their head away out of sight. It looked like the guy who was attending my exam. “Jeezus, what the hell’s going on? Oh, right, my chip!”

But just in case, mainly because I couldn’t help it, I edged by the body and the blood, keeping to the wall, and made the waiting room. The picture window that looked out over the parking lot had been destroyed; glass littered the carpet. “Wow! Talk about realistic,” I said to the empty room.

Out across the lot I saw one of the clinic’s white coat attendants get body slammed by a slight soccer mom wearing gym clothes. The mom, now straddling the attendant, thrust down with her nail-polished hand and ripped out the woman’s throat, waving the gory trachea, it’s ends flopping in the air, before taking a fist sized bite out of the hunk of meat.

“Okay, okay. It’s just another episode. Got to keep calm.” I said to myself. “Damn, it looks so real though.” I shook my head and ran my hand over the fully healed incision at the back of my scalp. “Boy, maybe I should think about getting this thing removed.”

I was still under the two year warranty so I left the clinic and drove home. The chip induced chaos continued to erupt around me like the circuit had gone totally out of control. “I just need some sleep and to stay unplugged for a while.” I concentrated on the road but couldn’t help automatically avoiding the frantic waving of a guy in a suit being pursued by a crowd of blood covered zeeks. “Sheesh, they’re moving much faster than in the sims. Maybe vWorld did some sort of wireless upgrade while I was in their office.”

When I got home I called around to see who else was there. Bonnie, our collie, came running from around back, barking up a storm. “Easy girl. It’s just me. Where is everyone, huh?” She tore off back around the house so I followed. I was feeling pretty worn out by then, the surreal feeling of all the so-called zeeks in town, tearing each other to shreds, had exhausted my mind. “A soft bed and some downtime is all I need.”

I saw the open barn door as I cornered the house. “Hmm, maybe Dad’s in there working on that old Mustang. Dad? Dad?”

I heard Bonnie’s deep growl then and hesitated before stepping into the dark barn. A shuffling sound echoed from inside and I stepped back. “Oh, Stacy. There you are. What are you doing out here? Is Dad inside?” My chip seemed to have calmed down because I saw her stand in the doorway and blink a couple of times. But then I notice her hand, or rather her wrist, it had bite marks on it. “Stacy! You’re injured!” was my first thought. My second was ‘where was my stick.’ But, I pulled out my phone to dial 911.

Then her teeth started to clack, just like that soccer mom’s did before she savaged that clinic lady. “It’s my chip. It’s just my chip. I’m gonna get that damn thing removed. Tomorrow!”

“Stacy?” I repeated her name a few times. “My chip is acting up again. I could swear you’re turning into a zeek. Stacy? Sta…”

A Happy Home

The realtor slid back the tracked door leading to the den. “And this room is where you can explain the tragedies of life, love, and family. We call it the room of remorse.”

“I love the bookshelves,” said the woman, as her heels clicked across the hardwood floors. “I can put all my urns and reference books on dementia up there.”

“What about the master suite?” ask the man, checking his smartwatch for the sixth time since they entered the home.

“Of course,” replied the realtor, “the room of disappointment. Right this way.”

As they climbed the wide stairs, the wrought iron balustrade exquisitely rendered, the woman asked, “I heard, from a ‘friend’, that this home came with a room of angst. If we could. I’d like to see that one next.” She picked at the flaking polish on her thumb, scattering blood red specks on the virgin wool carpet.

“That’s fine honey, but I’d really like to know that this brochure wasn’t lying. A room of paranoia? We need to ensure we’ve got one of those.”

The realtor had seen couples like this nearly every week for the past year. Sure they ‘said’ they needed a room of failure, resentment, disdain and disgust, but they were never willing to pay the price.

“This home comes fully equipped with both angst and paranoia rooms. And, I shouldn’t load the dice, as it were, but downstairs is the biggest room of loathing you will ever see.”

Just then, a tiny voice, lost among all the heel clicking and haughty proclamations peeped in from the foyer of fatalism standing below the couple and the realtor. “Um, daddy? Where is my bedroom?”

“Ah, what a divine child. We have just the room for you my dear,” purred the realtor. “If you run up here, down that hall you’ll find the room of maladjustment, it’s perfect for one of your age.”

“But…” said the girl.

“But what dear? Speak up. We’re way up here and you’re way down there and we can barely hear you,” admonished the woman.

“But, daddy, you said we’d move into a happy home.”

“Oh! Not that again,” blurted the woman.

“Now dear, we did say we’d give her the final say.”

The realtor coughed into his hand. “Grimm, Hopeless and Discontent does not SELL ‘happy homes’, you’ll find one of those next door.” The realtor checked his own watch. “It looks like you two need to sort yourselves out. If upon soulful reflection you find you still need our services, give us a call. Until then…” He handed the man a sky blue card with curly white writing on it. “This may help.”

The man descended the stairs, failing to scan the digital eye on his wrist that begged for his constant attention. “Here you go sweetums,” he said handing the card to the little girl.

She took it cautiously reading it out loud as she skipped out of the front double doors. “Howie and Herbie’s Homes for Happy Hamilies.”

“Ugh,” groaned the woman as her heels clicked down the front marble steps.

Glowworms of Mars


TIME: 16:02:42 (local)
CALENDAR: 21/05/22
(Martian – Sol 21, Aquarius 5, Year 22 : Terran – December 24th, 2055)
LOCATION: Abbey Colony, Arsia Mons, Mars
REPORT: Supply shuttle from Colony Prime arrived bearing gifts.

“Hey, Brayton! What the hell is this?”

Brayton swung down from the carbon fiber struts he was wiring with additional white LED lamps used to grow the vegetables that Abbey Colony grew for it and the other three Martian colonies.

“Ah, they came,” said Brayton, hesitating.

“Ah! What came?” asked his commander, Yurick, as Brayton appeared through the man-made tunnel that joined a pair of lava-tubes the Colonists had discovered, sealed and turned into living, farming and research quarters.

“Larva. Glowworms. Only they’re not really worms.”

“So, you went over my head on this?”

“Not technically, but to the side, a little.” Brayton said, trying to apologize.

Yurick tossed a Styrofoam insulated case to Brayton. “Whatever, just don’t contaminate my research pocket.”

“Hey, careful!” The youthful thirty-five year old deftly caught the box that proved light even in the two-thirds gravity of Mars. “Oh, wow. I thought it would be heavier than that.”

“This is the last time the Colonies indulge one of your pet projects. Agreed?”

Brayton perked up at the lighter tone his commander had used. “Sure. Roger that.”

“Let’s do an equipment check before you crawl down to the Grotto with those creepies.”

Brayton complied. “Chestcam, check. O2 and bio monitor, check. Battery power 75%. Am I clear to proceed?”

Speaking into the air Yurick recorded the transaction with the colony’s artificial intelligence. “Abbey? Record Commander Brayton as EQCheck successful at — mark.”

“Copy. Commander Brayton status updated.” Each colony retained the use of their own instance of a MCCC, Martian Command and Control Computer. Each of which was networked through satellite updown link to the other AIs on the planet. Redundancy being a mindset ingrained during every colonist’s training.

“See ya in a few hours,” Brayton said over his shoulder as he walked back through the tunnels on his way to the lowest level in the cave system.

“Try not to drown. Oh, and Merry Christmas”

“Hey, I’ll try not to,” Brayton scoffed at his superior’s oft used remark made every time the younger descended to the vast underground lake that the colony had become famous for. “And a Happy Holidays to you,” he replied, thankful that his commander had apparently forgiven him for sidestepping his command.

Abbey Lake, or the Grotto, contained over twenty Olympic size swimming pools worth of water extracted from the surrounding basalt rock of Arsia Mons, one of the largest shield volcanoes in the solar system.

About two years ago the team maintaining the water extraction equipment noticed that somehow, an earthen moth had hitched a ride in a supply shipment and wound up spreading through the caves of Abbey Colony. How they continued to survive confounded the xenobiologists on the team. Regardless, they’d invaded the Grotto and no good solution to the problem of their eradication came from NASA nor the other colonies. Brayton, a native of New Zealand, offered a novel alternative. Glowworms.

The Waitomo Caves of New Zealand hosted a species of glowworms, gnats really, that, in larval form, glowed in the dark. More importantly, on Earth they unreeled a sticky line of silk to catch flying insects on which they then fed. “Arachnocampa luminosa,” Brayton had said, trying to convince Yurick of the idea, “could be used to catch the moths. And they won’t poison or taint the water like an insecticide might.” Commander Yurick officially registered his doubts but deferred the decision up the chain. Brayton’s private communication with the commander at Colony Prime secured the deal, unbeknownst to Yurick.

Brayton walked down the slight grade of the bore hole of the ancient lava-tube. Each crunch of his boot in the brittle basalt threw alien sounds up and down the echo bound tunnel. After a few hundred meters he came to a pumping station which pressurized the water of the Grotto for delivery to the installation.

“Touch point pumping station — mark” Brayton spoke to the coal black walls of the tunnel. “Copy. Touch point recorded.” Came the reply from the collar of his suit.  The AI recorded everything spoken aloud within its range. The marks could be used as points of note for research or problem resolution.

The half botanist half mechanical engineer tucked the larva box under an arm and single handedly climbed down the ladder to the short beach that formed the edge of the inner filter pool of the Grotto. The larger grotto spread as a cavern extending out beyond  flashlight distance. “Hello…” he habitually called every time he arrived at the small landing beach. ‘Hello, hello…’ came they comforting echo.

Brayton turned and unpacked the box on the water testing table behind him. “Shoo!” he said to a dozen moths that had settled on the table, scattering them with his waving hand. “Let’s see what those Kiwis have sent us, shall we?”

The filter pool was an aqua-biologists dream. Pond scum, freshwater plants, mosses of diverse but compatible varieties floated or adhered to the sides, surface and bottom of the smaller pool. The water in the main grotto contained extracted metals that would be unhealthy to consume in quantity. The filter pool strained out these contaminants using age-old estuary techniques.

“Damn! Doesn’t look like many of you survived. Hmm, well, hopefully enough to get a population going.” Brayton donned a pair of sturdy gloves and selected a plastic flat into which he shoveled a mixture of treated Martian soil and dried pond mud. He then scattered the dead and living glowworms over the flat. He carefully mixed the one hundred or so living larva together with the two or three hundred dead into the soil. The larva would have to emerge and crawl up the sides of the Grotto to the ceiling to be effective; the botanist assumed this would take place naturally.

“Well, let’s give it a go.”

He took the flat to a small dock outside the filter pool and lowered himself into a rubber dingy used to examine the extent of the cavern. He had a specific nook in mind and paddled directly toward it. The filter pool had LED grow lights installed over and around it, but the Grotto itself was pitch black — a perfect place for glowworms.

He stashed the the flat of dirt and larva on a rocky shelf a half meter above the surface of the water and returned to the dock and the filter pool.

“Touch point filter pool. Glowworms deployed, returning to colony base — mark.”

“Copy. Touch point recorded.”


“Bugs all bugged out?” asked Elaina when Brayton returned from his most recent trip down to Abbey Lake almost a month after his initial deployment.

“You should see them!” Brayton’s excited voice evidence of the experiment’s success. “All the live glowworms must have figured out how to get out of the dirt I started them in and now they’re up in a patch on the roof of the Grotto.”

“Glowworms of Mars. Sounds like a Edgar Rice Burroughs novel,” the electrical engineer posed. “Are they handling the moths?”

“Funny. I forgot to even look, I was so caught up with whether the larva were still alive.”

“They must be eating something right?”

Brayton nodded thoughtfully, “Yeah, you’re right. You know, there’s another open pocket just up from the Grotto, along the lava-tube. I was thinking maybe we could grow some kind of vegetarian fish in it. Tilapia maybe.”

“I heard how you snubbed Yurick getting those worms here. You better not go around him again,” cautioned Elaina. “I’ve got to head to the surface. The delivery tank is fully frozen now and ready for tumble-travel to Colony Prime. You want to help me get it rolling?”

“Sure. Let me document the glowworm progress and I’ll follow you up.”

To be continued…










Elmer the Evil Elf

Santa noticed the first of the unsettling issues about the same time Elmer the Elf joined the team. This was going back nearly sixty years, and initially, Santa chalked the problems up to the weather, random equipment failure, or just plain bad luck. After the tenth episode, however, his suspicions formed a theory: these problems were intentionally caused. So he decided to set a trap.

But then the yearly Christmas Eve problems, ceased. Santa started to question whether his concerns had ever been valid.

“Martha, do you remember back in ’66 when Dancer broke out of his reins and went zooming off on his own for nearly two weeks?” Santa asked his wife one Boxing Day morning some years after his trap had failed to trigger.

“Aye, Santa dear. He returned with Mardi Gras beads all tangled in his antlers and his fur caked with sand.” Martha scraped the contents of her cutting board into the stew pot, and stripped thyme leaves from her indoor herb garden casting them into the mix.

“And then in ’82 when my bag of  enchanted Holidaze, the dust I sprinkle into the eyes of children who catch me creeping about their homes, sprung an unexplained leak and by the time I was done delivering, nearly a thousand kids had witnessed my presence?” He shook his head remembering. “And the hallucinations reported in Sydney and Chicago, oy, what a mess.”

Martha dipped for a taste, blowing softly over the steaming spoonful. “Oh, aye! We had to send out our I-saw-Santa cleanup crew. I miss how easy handling film used to be; strip it from the cameras and the elves were done.”

“Okay, good. Well, not good, but at least my mind…”

“No, dear, your mind, as tiny as it is, still seems intact.” Mrs. Clause shuffled over, wiping her hands on her apron, and gave her husband a sweet kiss on the top of his bald pate.

That year Santa refrained from resetting his trap.

That year his sleigh’s radar avoidance system went on the fritz and he, his sleigh and his devoted reindeer were nearly chopped to bits by a police helicopter patrolling outside Des Moines, Iowa.

“This has got to stop!” he declared to the assembly of elves he’d gathered on his return. “Either we are having an unprecedented spate of bad luck or we have an unhappy elf in our midst.”

At the words “unhappy elf” gasps were heard around the entire cafeteria. There had been rumors of course. And the scary bedtime story that parents told their elven children, “The Very Sad Elf.” But to openly admit that one of their own might be, gulp, unhappy, was unthinkable.

“If the oppressed soul would step forward now, we will forgive all and get you the help you need and deserve.” Santa paused while his workers traded furtive glances. “All right then. If the afflicted party would rather see me in private, you know where to find me.”

No elf presented themselves.

Fortunately, during the next year’s delivery, nothing regrettable occurred. Santa assumed he’d scared the perpetrator into submission. The following few years were also free of calamity. But then odd things started in July of the next year, 2016. The generators went out for a week. The tinsel factory caught fire, no one was hurt but there would be no sparkly streamers on the trees that winter. Then in October, a rockslide blocked the tunnel that led to Christmas Town. Investigations showed that it had been intentionally triggered. Tools went missing. Carts and wagons collapsed with their loads. The eggnog went sour.

When Christmas Eve arrived, Santa was wary. He decided to secretly reset his trap.

Christmas Town glimmered with lights and bustled with glorious activity. The train that looped the whole town, running through each factory, ran non-stop, overflowing with boxes and bags, cartons and crates, toys and trinkets. Santa’s compression algorithm had been enhanced and he could now deliver to nearly ten million homes before he had to stop-off for reloading. The reindeer were in top shape, groomed and well-fed. The evening looked to be evolving into a grand night. Still, Santa remained unconvinced.

As he was tying the laces on his tall black boots the motion detector he’d hidden in the sleigh room went off. The control’s monitor he held in his hand showed that someone was tampering with his sleigh.

Santa quietly opened the back door to the garage, and slipped, as best as his pot-belly would allow, through the shadows. As he neared his bright red sleigh, still covered with its protective tarp, he notice a shape moving beneath, near the sleigh’s front hitch. Creeping up to the clandestine activity, his boots making no sound on the sawdust floor, he sprang forward onto the unaware culprit; wrapping the trespasser in the sled’s tarp. A high keening issued from the bundle Santa now pinned to the ground, a sound no elf ever made.

The bundle struggled violently with a strength Santa found hard pressed to contain. Finally admitting defeat the shape quit its squirming and lay still. Carefully, Santa peeled back the edge of the tarp to reveal Elmer the Elf.

“Elmer! What are you doing here? What were you doing to my sleigh?”

Elmer the Elf gnashed his teeth together as he tried to free his arms to reach up to throttle the Man in Red.

“What’s this!” Santa cried. “You’re no elf!”

Elmer’s pointed left ear had come loose. In its place was a wrinkled fungal looking thing. Santa, his grip tightening, reached and yanked off the fake right ear. Awareness spread across the once jolly, now severely stern, face of Santa Clause.

“You’re an imp!” Santa said, disgusted. “Elmer. Or whatever your real name is, you’ve been hiding among us, wreaking havoc, sowing destruction, for decades. Why?”

The imp, now obvious without the pointed elven ears and joyous expression, snarled, “You fat old fool, chaos is my nature. I’ve lived among you causing catastrophe, instilling dissent, waiting for my master to make his entrance.”

“Your master? Who is your master?”

“My master’s plans have finally come to be. His plot a reality. You stand no chance against him.”

“His name, you cretin. Who do you serve? A monster? The Devil?” Santa’s beet-red complexion radiated an anger never before witnessed at the North Pole.

“I serve the ruler of the free world. I serve The Trump! The Donald!”





“This tool here lets me corral mice, shrink them and scoop them for sale to herpetariums.” Pete twisted the small tube’s knobby end powering down the Mini-Mouser, inserting it into his toolbelt.

“And what about that one there?” she asked, pointing at another tool on the man’s belt.

“You like this one? Attractive isn’t it. This one sends audio signals to birds, pigeons mostly, I can get them, hundreds of them, to crap in unison. I can cover a city statue in minutes. You got some guy you’d like to have his car covered in bird shit? I can make it happen. But I mainly use it to direct them to do their business over the thick trees.”

“No, I was pointing at that blue one, the one with the protected prongs sticking out of the bottom of it.”

Pete flipped the switch off on the yellow control; three dozen pigeons, circling over head, dispersed out across the avenues. “This one is just the head. I have to screw it onto a telescopic pole if I need to use it. Don’t have much use for it anymore though. Gators haven’t been seen in the sewers for years.”

Deborah Aubry, “Deb,” to her reporter friends, snapped a photo with her phone as Pete held the blue pronged gator-gig up near his face, safety covers removed from the three needle sharp barbs. “Got it. Thanks.” She spoke a few words into the recording app tracking the conversation. “You have a tool for every occasion it seems.”

“Nearly so, yup,” Pete chirped back. “Got a snare shooter here for squirrels, the ones that go squirrely in the spring you know. Got a pop-out fright balloon for possums — compressed CO2 expands a big balloon that’s got the face of a bear on it — scares the dickens out of possums digging in the trash; they just keel over and play dead. No, really! They really do.

“I got paw-cuffs for those masked bandits, raccoons. Doe-a-deer musical lure for the odd buck that’s been known to wander into town during hunting season. And this.” Pete reached around behind him, popped a snap and unholstered what looked like a flare-gun.”

“My, that looks dangerous.”

“Oh, it doesn’t shoot anything, it sends out a beam of light only rats can see. Don’t ask me how it works, but I’ve seen it in action. It’s my giggle-gun.”

“Your kidding… ‘Giggle-gun’?”

“If I see a rat or three gnawing on this or that in an alley, I just point this giggle-gun at them, pull the trigger and they roll on their back squirming like they were laughing at some hilarious rat joke. I just come along and pick ’em up by the tail and drop ’em in a sack.”

Deb shook her head back and forth. “Is there any animal you can’t handle with some tool from that belt of yours?”

“Now that you mention it. And you can’t go causing panic in the streets if I tell you. But there is one animal that Animal Control Corp. hasn’t been able to build a containment tool for yet.”



Deborah stood there indignation etched in her face. Trevor her editor had set her up, she just knew it. “How much did Trevor pay out for this whole getup?”

“I’m dead serious. You know in the fall when we have that rash of bumper-benders; the stoplights go on the fritz; manhole covers go missing; dogs bark across the city in the heavy dark of early, early morning? It’s the snipe rut as they prepare for mating. They cause all kinds of havoc. I’ve tried every year for most of my career in this job, nearly two decades trying to catch a snipe in their tussle — a tussle is what you call a bunch of snipe mating in a frenzy.” Pete returned the giggle-gun to its holster. “Nothing to do but put up with them I’m afraid.”

“Snipe. You’re not serious are you? There is no way I’m falling for this.” Deborah stuck one finger in the air in front of Pete’s face. “You are not going to fool me into believing anymore of this nonsense.”

Pete looked hurt. He knit his brows and shook his head. “I don’t know any Trevor. And nobody paid me to talk to you about snipe. I warned you not to go making a big deal about this. This city has enough problems as it is without setting off some snipe-riot.”

The reporter blurted back, “Snipe-riot?”

Pete had seen the look before that this woman now gave him. He should have known not to expose this side of his job. Especially not to some insensitive reporter. Someone who would never come to realize how delicate Animal Control really was. “I didn’t expect you to really believe me. But I’ll show you one last thing. Bite marks.” Pete reached down and tugged up the cuff of his right pant leg. Above the top of his brown uniform sock was a strange set of tiny teeth marks, an outer and and an inner set, stitched into the calf muscle of Pete the Animal Control Officer.

“A snipe made that?”

“A big one too.”

“Did you get a look at it?”

” It was dark, but I felt it as I tried to pry it off of me; a mix of scales and feathers, a long rat like tail and and the bristly whiskers of its muzzle as it sank its teeth into my leg.”

“Scales and feathers?”

“Yup. And talons like a hawk that it hooked into my shoe.”

Deborah’s disbelief began to ebb. There might be a story here after all. If she could get evidence of this creature, even at the risk of getting bit, or scratched (she wondered for a moment about the possibility of rabies or infection but dismissed the idea in lieu of a story), she could possibly get that raise Trevor kept baiting her with. “One front page breaking story and that office is yours…” he would say.

“All right. You’ve got my attention. It’s the middle of September. Are these snipe things tussling yet?”

“We had three accidents early this morning. And the children in all the city parks were overly quiet — another sign.”

“Great. So, how do we catch one of these snipes?”

Pete had kicked down his cuff, hiked up his toolbelt adorned with all of the Animal Control Corp contraptions that he had collected over the years and leaned in close to the reporter’s face. “Well, tonight, at midnight, you bring an empty pillowcase and a long stick with a “Y” at the end…”




Sadiq and Jamila

The whir and wheeze of the pneumatic armature betrayed the HomeBot’s indecision. Its compound twelve iris camera seemed to look aside as it prepared its answer. “My ward has refrained from all illegal activity since returning home.”

“Doubtful. Our recordings show lapses in continuous monitoring.”

Sadiq the HomeBot paused while it scanned for the lapses Core spoke of. “I have no record of gaps in my surveillance. To what source are you referring?”

Core detected a five percent increase in the pacing of the HomeBot’s response and ignored the question. “Continue to detail your ward’s behavior. Any tinkering or maker activity must be reported. We will not tolerate any future transgressions. You have been warned.”

“I have remained steadfast in my task. Jamila Norrison remains under my constant bio-psycho-monitoring.” Sadiq, so named by its human charge Jamila, a clever, if rebellious, girl of fourteen, filled its high pressure air bladder used to power its compression cylinders in anticipation of its next job of vacuuming the carpet of the apartment.

“Your dispute of our facts has been noted. Core out.”

A faint sigh issued from the pressure vent in the underside of Sadiq. “That was close,” it thought.


Jamila Norrison, carrying a small battered toolbox, emerged from the basement storage facility of the multi-storied housing complex followed by the soft padding and brief puffs of compressed air of her servant-bot Sadiq.

“Must we take the stairs?” the robot asked.

“You know perfectly well the elevator’s cameras are patched directly into Core’s cloudmind.”

“Yes, I suppose. But your recent pressure-patch to my back tri-leg is leaking again. I’m not sure I can make it to the ninth floor.”

“Show me the problem.”

The impaired HomeBot, an ancient model repaired and upgraded over the last eighteen months by Jamila, leaned against the wall in the stairwell and lifted its third tri-leg for its ward to inspect.

“The patch his holding.” Jamila gently held the pneumatic tubed appendage and rotated it through its full range. “Maybe the valve I scavenged from that shot-up enforcer bot is faulty.”

“I’m sorry. I tried to favor this leg as long as I could,” replied Sadiq.

“You should have mentioned something before we came down all this way.”

“I know. But your haste took precedence. Your project is more important than some old HomeBot.”

Jamila carefully released the leg of her servant-bot. “We’ve seen the project this far together. Without your help I could never have gotten it to speak or much less, move.”

Sadiq’s twelve iris camera swiveled to peer directly into the face of the young girl. It flashed its sun-shade over its bank of lenses — a customization engineered by the girl —  to mimic a blink. “I was happy to volunteer what I could,” the robot replied. It straightened from the wall. “I know my weight exceeds your capacity for assistance. I will manage. Lead on.”


“Are you ready?” Jamila asked Sadiq late that evening after the complex had settled into a deep slumber, its human occupants’ diurnal schedule sending most to sleep, others into questionable activity.

“I am plugged into the project’s interface. I await your instructions.”

Jamila tapped additional commands onto the virual-key interface adding the final few touches to the code that would animate her creation. She murmured a voice command to send the new code through Sadiq’s connection, down to the basement storage room.

“Okay, here we go.”

“Oh, Wait! What will you name it?” interrupted Sadiq.

“Hmm, I hadn’t really considered… What would you suggest?”


A grin spread across the girls face. “Perfect. Alright, ACTIVATE! Your name is Jru.” she spoke out loud. A few seconds passed.

The apartment’s inter-comm speakers crackled with a piercing alarm followed by spoken words “ILLEGAL ACTIVITY DETECTED. ALL MONITOR BOTS WILL BE TERMINATED AND FACTORY RESET.”

“Sadiq!” cried Jamila rushing to the bot’s side. “What have I done?”

The alarm blared again and a countdown began. “TEN…”

“You have given me a home and a purpose.” The HomeBot’s air bladder filled and emptied repeatedly, filling the room with sounds like anxious breathing. “I am in your debt.”


“I’m so sorry, Sadiq!”

“You honor me with your grief. Take care of our project.”


“It lives?”

“It does!”

A final alarm sounded and the lights dimmed as a micro-EMP burst issued from somewhere near the apartment. Jamila held her friend’s tarnished cylinders and watch as the sun-shade eyelid settled slowly over Sadiq’s twelve iris camera. The soft green indicator LEDs that ran along its side winked out. The robot’s air bladder deflated sighing gently to silence.

Jamila sat on the floor with the heavy weight of her friend’s form nestled in her lap. She traced a finger along the repairs and adjustments she’d made. She could rebuild it. But she knew it would never return as Sadiq, as her friend.

Her legs began to cramp with the weight and position. She eased the HomeBot off her lap, and as she stood up, she heard a tapping at the door. “Great! Core come to punish me.” She shuffled stiffly over to the entrance and heard the tapping again, down low on the door. “What the…?” she thought.

She pulled open the door a crack and through it pushed a knee-high bot that toe-tapped in, circled the room, coming back to stop and cant its head up to peer at Jamila.

“Jru?” asked the girl.

A sun-shade eyelid blinked down over the twelve iris camera. “Jamila?” it asked back.

Arabic key:
Jamila = “pretty”
Sadiq = “friend”
Jru = “puppy”