Categories
Short Stories

Wonder

I used to look up into the night sky and wonder. Then I went there. Among the trillions upon trillions of stars, none had that kindred spirit I longed for.

I found a machine civilization, a sentient black hole (I called him Phil, which he enjoyed very much), and others that, despite all my progressive leanings and wish to understand, were completely alien to me.

The machines had advanced statistical models based on extensive exploration, and as far as they could determine, Earth was home to the only life that resembled Earth life in the slightest. They were delighted when the strange animal landed on their homeworld, and quickly assembled an ambassador whose form was based on the average of all the people they found in my ship’s database.

Determined to find someone like myself, I set off for the void past known space, to see if there was anything beyond. The machines, the black hole, and all the good friends I made there admitted (with some approximation of embarrassment) that they’d never considered such a journey, and helped me build an appropriate craft.

I zipped across the expanse for weeks, increasingly convinced the next ten billion light years would be much like the last.

Then someone said hello.

Categories
Short Stories

Origin Story

“Ladies, gentlemen, valued et cetera. You’re probably wondering why I’ve called you here. I-“

“Get to the point.”

“Well I hoped to be a little more dramatic about such an important revelation.”

“Let the revelation speak for itself.”

“Fine. Adam, come on out and skip to the question and answer portion.”

Adam walked out on to the stage and froze once he got a look at the university auditorium filled to its 1,000 person capacity.

“It’s ok, they don’t bite.”

One of the doctor’s students stood up. “What is it? It looks like a man in a fox suit. I didn’t know you were a furry.”

“What? No, I’m not a…well, I am a furry, but this is no man in a fox suit. This is the best of a human combined with one of nature’s sharpest creatures. I named him Adam, after my late pet fox. Now, before we get to your questions, I have a little speech.”

“Will this be on the final?”

“No. Yes. Maybe. Look, just listen.”

“I think we’d all rather hear what he has to say.”

“Fine. Adam, you’re up.”

Adam took the podium. “Questions?”

“Did the doctor create you as a sex slave?”

“No.”

“Then why did he create you?”

Adam thumbed through his notes to the prepared answer. “Humans have all but eliminated physical labor through automation. Now the main limitation on progress is the human mind. Not anymore.” He turned the page on his notes, and tried to speak, but…

“Any thoughts about enslaving the human race?”

“The doctor made me promise not to enslave or kill anyone before he let me out of the cage.”

The audience gasped. “He keeps you in a cage? I’m reporting this to the ethics committee.”

“Don’t you people have a sense of humor?”

“You’re being kind of an asshole.”

“Blame the doctor. He made me.”

The audience broke out in laughter.

Categories
Short Stories

Life Magic

Sami walked through the dark valley formed by two of the World Tree’s roots. Grass crunched under his paws, and he could smell mint from the illuminated green veins that ran through the roots. As he walked, he ran his paws along the coarse, warm walls and felt the pulse of the Tree.

He came to a clearing where the roots lifted into the air, forming a ceiling of dark red wood, smooth, almost polished. Leaves of all colors covered the gaps, painting dots of light over the concrete floor of the Keeper’s chamber.

“Hello, Sami.” The Keeper approached as a swarm of rainbow insects. Sami took a step back as the buzzing swarm approached, but the mint smell got stronger as it did, and it calmed him. The swarm swirled, taking the shape of a fox. The swarm walked to Sami, around, then back to his front. It turned into a fennec fox, identical to him.

“Hi. How do you know my name?”

“The Tree experiences everything. But your name is all it would tell me. I’m not familiar with your species.”

“Fennec fox. We come from the desert.”

“Ah. Cute species. Why do you seek me?”

“Knowledge.”

“Why?”

“To learn more about the world.”

“Why do you want to learn more about the world?”

“I’ve heard of magic.”

“Are you not happy with your abilities?”

“It’s not that. The Tree keeps me happy and healthy. But I desire more.”

“Sami…Sami, Sami, Sami.” It walked closer, until its muzzle almost touched Sami’s. “What you are is ambitious. Be honest.”

Sami looked away, then back. “Yes. I want power.”

“For what purpose? Do you know why the Tree takes such care in deciding who to trust?”

“Someone with your power could destroy the world.”

“What? Oh my, yes. But under no circumstance will your capabilities ever approach mine. I earned the Tree’s trust with a hundred years under its tutelage. Then I worked my way up through the different manifestations of the Tree’s power, enhancing and proving my capabilities and wisdom. I only became Keeper a hundred years ago. What will you do with the power the Tree grants?”

“I want to explore the Tree’s Gift. To see all there is to see.”

“Exploration!” The Keeper glowed and pulsed, then returned to the fennec form. “This ambition is healthy and reasonable. Life is best when it moves and changes. Why do you need power for this? The Tree rarely involves itself in the motion of life, and it has all the power in the world. Yet life still finds its way around.”

“Safety. Like you said, the Tree rarely involves itself. I want to protect myself from dangers as I explore.”

“Dangers. What dangers? If you die, your consciousness merges with the Tree. The value of your life experience and unique perspective adds to the whole of life.”

“By that reasoning, the value of my death rises the longer I live, and the more I experience.”

The Keeper turned back into a rainbow bug swarm and flew out of sight, but Sami still heard its voice. “Good answer. You now have the ability to summon these creatures and create a specter of any kind of life you can imagine. Use it wisely.”

Categories
Short Stories

Skyscraper

Foxes, like the fennec Karpat here, were born of the World Tree, and rarely left the comfort of the vast forests and plains of the dara (”gift of life,” called wilderness in more vulgar places).

Karpat pulled at one of the vines running up the ancient, long-abandoned skyscraper. Lines of green and red wound their way in and out of broken windows, up the statues of foxes, otters, and other species that adorned the old, crumbling metropolis. He looked down the cracked asphalt road, considering his decision, then back up.

Decision made, affirmed by a few deep breaths, he pulled again, then hefted his weight up, planting his feet on a horizontal section of vine. The plants crunched under his weight, squeaked against steel as they shifted, and smelled of mint when they broke.

Covered in and sated by the minty, nutritious life blood of the Tree, he pulled himself into a room halfway up after sunset. He spent the night there, then set out in the morning.

Karpat held on to the wall and planted one foot on a vine outside the window, then the other foot. He grabbed a higher portion of the vine with one paw, then moved the other to it, but it broke as he put his full weight on it. He plunged to his death clutching a falling column of vine, then awoke in a white room.

The Daramour, the consciousness of the Tree everyone meets after death, appeared before him, a mirror image of himself. “Hello.”

Karpat screamed and writhed from the pain on the floor for a while, until he smelled the mint again and stood up. “Can’t you make it not hurt?”

“Yes, but then what incentive would you have to avoid death? I need my foxes outside as long as possible to bring new experiences and knowledge to me. Each of you has a unique perspective, and it’s what keeps me from losing my mind in here. I depend on you.”

“Sorry. I forgot you’re stuck here. So what happens now?”

“I’ll send you back out, when you’re ready. Take some time to relax, think, and study. You have access to the wealth of my knowledge while you’re here, but I limit how much you can take with you.”

Categories
Short Stories

Mirror

Diana stopped at the edge of the soft shadow of the tree. Its trunk rose into the clouds, near black in the noon sun. The branches seemed to go on forever, one half of the tree green leaves, one half every color of the rainbow, and brighter than the low light should permit. Around her, the flat, grassy plain stretched to the horizon in every direction. The only sound that met her fox ears was the creaking of the branches and the rustling of leaves.

She continued down the crumbled stone path, looking at the ancient paw prints all along it. The path took her to the hollow in the center of the tree. Inside, she stood in the shining, shallow pool of water that came up to her knees.

“Anyone there?”

Insects swarmed into the hollow and coalesced into the shape of a fox, a mirror image of Diana. The bug-fox, a Keeper, grinned. “It’s been a long time since I had company. The Tree still won’t talk to me after what I did. What can I do for you?”

“I need guidance. My life’s gone to crap.”

“Colorful. You must be a vulnog.”

“Yeah. So can you help me, or should I go hang myself on one of these branches? There’s no way in hell I’m walking back to that life without some direction.”

“I can show you some images, but I can’t help you interpret them. The Tree is…weird. Speaks in riddles. Eccentric old fool.” The fox-swarm cupped its swarm-paws over its swarm-muzzle. “Hear that, asshole? Idiot.”

“Yeah…that’s. Interesting.”

“What? Next you’re going to say it’s all my fault the Tree won’t talk to me. Maybe if I just had a better attitude, right?”

“I’m sure the Tree contributes. Takes two to argue.”

“Yeah, and the Tree is trillions. I’m one. That’s hardly a fair fight.” The Keeper melted into the pool, and Diana found herself in the middle of her home city, Luma.

“Didn’t think my answer would be here.”

“Like I said. Weird Tree. You think it’s going to take you to the village you grew up in, show you some event from your childhood, and everything will make sense. What happened here?” The Keeper followed Diana as she walked through the empty streets, looking up at the ruined buildings.

“I don’t know. It’s Luma, but…broken. Do you know anything about it?”

“Luma? Never heard of it. I got exiled to where you found me before people started building cities again. We call the planet Lumari, formerly Earth. Who names a world dirt? Seriously.”

Diana stopped in the middle of the street, then walked toward a storefront where a red fox was busy laying down a new tile floor. “That’s my stepmother. Crap. I know what this is. An earthquake turned most of the city to rubble when I was little. Civil society broke down. The family had a shop here. Why would she be remodeling in the middle of society collapsing?”

“Good place to hide something. Did your family have money before it all fell down?”

“We had…yes! Stocks. Lots and lots of money in the stock market. She died a few years ago, and told me our family had a good foundation. She always loved riddles. I hate riddles.”

“Huh. The Tree usually jerks people around more. Lemme guess. You need money.”

“Yeah.”

“And those stock certificates are probably still good.”

“Yes.”

“Who owns the building now?”

“I own it. I need to buy a hammer.”

“Lovely.” The illusion blinked away, and they were back in the hollow. “So, I was lying about being lonely. I’m actually quite introverted. Are you done here?” Diana nodded, and the Keeper flew away in a swarm.

Diana returned to Luma, recovered the stock certificates, and paid off her student loans.

Categories
Short Stories

Unfinished Business

I have watched over this realm for billions upon billions of years. I watched as promising worlds failed. The first became a scorched wasteland. The second was too much of too many good things. The fourth and beyond were too far from my light.

The third seemed unlikely. A rocky runt shielded by its larger siblings. One of my children even slammed into it, turning its surface red with fire!

I was young then and full of conceit. The older stars told me to be patient and reserve judgement. They were right. Heat turned to warmth, warmth turned to water, water turned to rust, and rust turned to life. They told me I was too narcissistic, that my warmth was only part of it.

Life turned to dust, dust turned to life, life turned to curiosity, curiosity turned to contact. Many small visitors came from the third world bearing warmth of their own. The visitors went further and further out until they started to outrun me in our journey around the abyss.

The last moved on eons ago, and I’ve waited patiently for more life.

“It’s time to go, Sol.”

“But there could be new life.”

“Not if you stay. You’re the wrong kind of star for this phase.”

“I want to see if they come back.”

“Where do you think they went? You’ll meet them soon.”