Digging through my “archives” has revealed a number of stalled stories I have completely forgotten about. Almost all of them date from the mid-1990′s and speak to my obsession with science fiction. Here are two of them, one untitled, the other called “Nanotech.”
A translucent chessboard hung in the air. It had no physical substance and the pieces that occupied its squares were ghosts. Through the board could be seen a poster of Vain Gloria on the wall. Her pose suggested she was holding out a long scream from one of her chart topping songs. The poster read, “Vain Gloria: Intergalactic Tour ’47.”
On the floor in front of the chessboard was a young boy, comfortably seated in an expensive Brooks & Hauser bubble chair. He was staring at the board contemplating his opening move. Scratching his head, he shifted his weight and the bubble chair hissed in response, redistributing the air inside to compensate for the movement. His arms rested on the arms of the Chair, allowing his hands perfect placement on the keyboard, half of the Standard Alphabet on the left, the other on the right.
A small communications window fizzed into existence next to the chessboard. In it was the face of the galaxy’s reigning chess Grand Master, Xulo. The Centuri’s insect like eyes stared at the boy patiently.
“Are you going to open, Kaleb?” The words came from the comm unit in Xulo’s native language of clicks and buzzes. A translation into Standard lagged about half of a second behind. Kaleb could not speak Centuri but he could understand it. He was annoyed by the translation but the comm was broken and he could not turn the translator off. If he let the translator bother him, it would throw off his game.
“Let me think a minute,” Kaleb replied. He took his hands off of the keyboards and rested them in his lap.
Xulo’s mandibles opened and closed quickly. He was laughing. “Remember the lesson for today, Kaleb. Do not think. You must learn to feel the game.”
“All right.” The translator was annoying him already. How was he going to feel the game if he had to listen to two different languages at the same time?
He placed his hands back on the keyboards and without thinking, moved his King’s pawn forward one square.
Xulo moved and play began. All during the game Xulo offered constructive criticism and support. All during the game Kaleb became more annoyed. He began to make mistakes that he had outgrown years ago and he knew he was going to lose which annoyed him further. He consigned himself to taking as many of Xulo’s pieces as he could before that happened.
During mid-game, the door to the room opened and Kaleb’s twin sister, Mauel, entered carrying a large holo-book. She looked much like Kaleb, brown hair and eyes, small nose, rose-colored lips and pale almost white skin. The only difference in their appearances was that Mauel possessed dark markings on the skin of her neck which led up to her head until they disappeared under her hair. As she walked by the chessboard she glanced at it and said, “Queen.” She stopped at the other bubble chair and with one giant gush of air, settled in to read her book.
Kaleb stared at her in puzzlement and then returned his attention to the game. Sure enough, Xulo’s queen was in a position to win the game in the next few moves and he had not seen it. Kaleb keyed quickly and set up a block against the queen.
“I was beginning to worry about you, Kaleb,” Xulo’s duel voice said. “You should have seen that coming long ago. Now, what will you do about this?” A black bishop slid across the field of play and a white knight disappeared.
“Aw, c’mon! Gimmie a break!”
“No. No breaks. You are near Master level. You must play as such.”
Suddenly, Kaleb saw an image in his mind of a black knight on horseback charging across a meadow. At the far end of the field stood a priest dressed in white. Within seconds, the black knight ran down the priest and killed him. Kaleb sighed angrily and moved his bishop.
“Don’t play foolishly, Kaleb,” scolded the Grand Master as his knight took Kaleb’s bishop.
Kaleb looked at his sister. She was reading her holo-book, seemingly unaware of the game. A three-dimensional picture of a sculpture floated above the book.
“Don’t do that, Mauel,” he said to her in a whisper.
“You know what. I can play the game myself.”
I just thought you might need some help. Mauel did not look up from her text as she smiled.
“Stop it, Mauel.”
Okay. She smiled even more.
“And stop talking in my head. I hate that.”
Kaleb turned back to the game in anger and punched keys. A white pawn moved forward on the board.
Again, Kaleb saw in his mind a beautiful woman, wearing a flowing white gown. She was seated on a throne. Standing next to her was a boy in a black tunic holding a short staff with a flag on the end. Suddenly, the boy swung the flagpole onto the woman’s head and she slumped to the floor. The image faded.
Xulo moved his pawn and took Kaleb’s Queen. The Centuri’s voice clicked through the comm, “What’s wrong today, Kaleb? You aren’t playing as well as you usually do.”
“It’s Mauel. She won’t stop bugging me and I can’t turn the stupid translator off.”
Xulo’s mandibles laughed. “Would you like to stop for today and resume your lessons tomorrow?”
“Okay. I’ll call you tomorrow.” The comm window and Xulo’s face vanished. Kaleb tapped a button and the chessboard disappeared as well. He sat for a moment staring at the Vain Gloria poster.
“Why do you have to bother me during a lesson? Xulo is very busy. He’ll think I’m wasting his time.”
TERRA ORBITING PLATFORM
Jensen went today. That leaves only three of us, if you could call Anderson “one of us.” They will have taken him within the next twelve hours I think. Only the doctor and I have not been infected by this strange disease. Dr. Lang has been working almost non-stop on the corpses and those not quite dead, trying to find out what is causing these deaths. For obvious reasons, the Nanotech Project has been put on hold. We need to save ourselves.
I fear that the shuttle will arrive too late. The scheduled link time is two days from now, but this disease can kill in less than one. The doctor and I have made plans to use the escape module if necessary. Dr. Lang has instructed me in how to purify the air in the escape module (he thinks the disease is air-borne) and, of course, we will need to clean ourselves thoroughly before ejecting. I can only pray to God that we make it out alive.
TERRA ORBITING PLATFORM
Dr. Lang is in the final stages of degeneration and will be dead in an hour. I have prepared myself and the escape module for departure. I am sure I will be dead when the shuttle arrives tomorrow. It may be possible for them to pick me up in the escape pod before I’m pulled into the atmosphere.
God willing, I will make it home alive.
“How is Captain Hill?”
“Much better, sir. He should be ready for re-assignment within a week.”
The sterile lighting of the Lone Star Space Research Center (LoSSReC) hurt General Hunter’s eyes. He was never able to get used to the special types of lights they used here and as a result, he got frequent headaches whenever he visited the center. He had to be here today. He was here to help decide what the future of the Nanotech Project would be as well as deciding the future of Captain Hill.
Hunter glanced over at his aide, Lieutenant Porter. The Lieutenant was a good man, but the events that occurred on the Terra Platform had him shaken up. Over a year ago, Porter was chosen to be stationed on the orbiting platform but the General had him re-assigned as his own personal aide. The thought of some strange new space-disease had everyone at the center nervous.
After the shuttle retrieved Captain Hill’s escape pod, he had undergone rigorous testing and de-contamination procedures as well as a bombardment of psych exams. He had apparently not suffered from any form illness. Foul play on the part of the Captain was ruled out the minute the rescue team found the bodies on the Platform. There wasn’t much left of them and what they found was barely recognizable as human. Whatever had killed them was something new and very dangerous.
The General shook his head and tried to clear his thoughts. These damn lights are driving me crazy, he thought. At least the conference room has normal lighting. The General and his aide wound through the corridors of LoSSReC without speaking. All would be said at the meeting. Maybe I can get them to put in normal lights, General Hunter thought glumly.