Month: June 2015

Complimentary Coffee

A steady patter of blood dripped from the guy sitting next to him. It splattered the white tiles making a pool that  reflected the bright neon lighting. They called a name on the loudspeaker and he shifted in his sit. He lifted his jaw back to his face and nodded at Justin. “It was great to meet you Justin. I hope to see you in the next phase.” They guy had gotten in a pretty bad car accident or something, it was hard to tell what the cause of death was really.

Holding his own hands out he examined them, he didn’t really feel dead his hands looked as they always have. His face felt the same, he stood and walked over to the receptionist. A long queue of folks stood at the desk staring at the waiting room with wide naive eyes.
“Excuse me, hi. I’ve been here for almost eight days just sitting over there. Can you provide an explanation or an ETA?”
“One of our care providers will be with you shortly. Please help yourself to some coffee and have a seat.”
“I’ve been helping myself to the coffee. I’ve been having my seat. Now I want some answers. What the hell is this?”

“Sir.” please lower your voice, you’ll only prolong your wait.”

His shoulders slumped forward and he hung his head before finding a new seat by the windows. They seemed like windows but outside was nothing but light. He saw no cars nor any sign of life. The woman next to him smiled and looked like she wanted to talk.
“Hey. How long have you been waiting in this DMV-esque hell?”

She motioned for him to wait a minute and fiercely began scribbling on her coffee napkin.

Smiling she held it out to him.
“I’ve been here for three months. I can’t talk because I’m embarrassed of how I died. But I watch and I listen. I don’t think there is a way out of here or a method to the madness. My name is Leah tell me about your life, why are you here so young?”

Ever the conversationalist he asked “What do you mean, you can’t talk?”

“Well.” she said in a inarticulate pneumatic voice. “I went out on the business end of a shotgun.”

When her mouth opened he could see the person behind her. She turned and confirmed by showing him the gaping exit wound on the back of her skull.

“We’re all dead apparently, there’s no sense in being self conscious. People are carrying around their limbs for christ’s sake, look at that guy completely nude. This is straight out of a Beetlejuice movie.”

“Fine.” She said.
“There’s no pouting in purgatory Leah, cheer up. We’ve got complimentary coffee after all.” She flipped him off and smiled.

“Is this purgatory though, I’m no catholic. Are you, do others even believe in this? What are we even waiting for, you know?”

“Too many questions, tell me how you died.”

“I don’t know.” He said. “I must have been sleeping or not seen it coming, I really can’t remember. I seem to be intact. its odd though, I always thought I’d be bummed out about leaving the realm of the living. But now I’m anxious to find out what’s going on here, I haven’t even thought about my old life much.”

A name was called and a corpse began shambling towards the open door, it closed behind him and another took his seat.
“Does anyone know what we’re waiting for!!” he screamed.

“Quiet down!” The receptionist snapped back a little too loudly over the speaker causing it to squeal.
“Waiting is hell Leah. Come with me.” They walked closer to the windows. “The next time that door opens I’m going to rush in. What can they even do to me, I’m dead right?”

“You should just bide your time and wait. This is the punishment we earned in life.”

“Why do you talk like that? We don’t live to earn or avoid suffering, we just live. I know I didn’t spend 33 years doing my thing just to wait in this place.”

“You know what I mean?” She was back in her chair. “I guess not.”

Purgatory, heaven, hell, reincarnation, nothingness he didn’t care, but the waiting. This process was excruciating. The door began sliding open and he ran for it. It closed quickly behind him. He was in another damn line. Everyone was still there, Leah sat near the windows a tear ran down her cheek. He went to her. “Did you know this would happen.”

She nodded.

“What happens now?”

“Two more weeks on top of whatever you had. I’m sorry, I wanted to tell you but I get so lonely here. We could be friends? I’m sorry.”

He sat down next to her with his head in his hands.

“What else do you know?”

“I, well..”
His name was called. They called his name! He ran for the door.

A diminutive man sat in a leather recliner with his legs crossed he sipped complimentary coffee. Four others were in the room wearing dark robes.
“There seems to have been a mistake, Mr. um Harris.”

“A mistake? I’ve been here over a week!”

“Yep.” The man smiled revealing a few missing teeth.
“You’re not dead Justin. Go Home.”

“But what’s all this, what’s happening here?”

“You’ll find out another time Mr.Harris. Have a good evening”

“No, wait!” He was lying on his back in a sterile white room.

“Justin, honey”

“Mm-mom.”

“Oh, I thought I’d never hear your voice again!”

Cold Coffee and Disappointment

He tried three different coffee cups before he found one that was still warm. Unintentionally cold coffee is pretty damn sobering at least they leave him alone at night. His swivel chair squeaked softly as he did a 360. The control room was an utter mess, so many departments sub department and sub sub departments had set up temporary residencies. Each table had an insect like power strip beneath it breathing life into idling desktops. His timer went off and he looked back at the screen before him. Pulling his glasses off his forehead he squinted hard at white\grey expanse of Mars through the Rover’s on board cams. Of course it was coming with a pretty might delay, the landscape moved by at a brisk 20mph as the rover made smaller and smaller circles searching the landscape. The world watched eagerly, he updated the 3 twitter accounts with the current sightings:

Internal: “Whole lot of the same thing. #LifeOnMars #IsBoring #NASA”

External: “#LifeOnMars #MarsRover continuing the search, look for another update in fifteen minutes.”

Private: “Can you believe they’d trust me with this shit? #LifeOnMars bahaha?! yeah right, but keep the OT coming NASA”

With updates sent he forwarded some screenshots and the last 5 minutes of video up to the brass. He set the 10 minute timer and threw his feet up. The chairs seemed designed to advise against sleep. If he leaned just right he could rest his head on the console next to him. His Timex lit up, 3:30am. He may or may not have dozed off but it was only for a moment before his phone vibrated. It was her again, “Hey stranger, still remember my face?” Her voice was tired.
“Babe, you don’t have to keep doing this. It could be weeks.”

“Shut up, you Mars boy. Did you find him yet?”

“Nah, but I’m hoping he’s a she. Maybe martian ladies aren’t as crazy?”
“Watch it. I know where you live and where you sleep. Well at least where you used to sleep. The bed is weird without you Kurt. The dogs don’t understand where to sleep and its cold. Come home.”

“You know I want to. This is a huge opportunity for me.”

“How do you know it’ll actually pay off though? Before you saw it they hardly gave you any notice.”

“Well obviously, why do we have this conversation every 15 minutes? I am the only human alive that has seen extraterrestrial life live. I mean this is huge Janell, I was interviewed by CNN today? I mean me, Kurt Radiens on the news, famous. Its crazy right?”

“Its been three weeks, I’m about to give up on it.”

“On life on mars?”

“On waiting for you.” She hung up.

Damn he hated when she did that, she was probably right. This isn’t exactly in his job description. At first it was cool, he dug the fame and felt like a child seeing an amusement park in full operation after only seeing them abandoned and left for nature. What was once haunting and mysterious is now thriving with purpose. He never imagined how busy the place got during business hours. He had been cleaning this floor for almost a decade. His mop bucket and supplies still lay by the door where he threw them aside three weeks ago. He picked them up and started throwing away some of the trash that had gathered around his desk. It felt good to go through the motions, he always likes to contemplate while doing repetitive tasks. Cleaning was good thinking work he would tell you if you inquired. The timer went off, he took a look at the screen, still nothing. His tweet updates were sent along with file uploads for the Lieutenant.
Internal: “Kurt here, I’m going home. #LifeOnMars isn’t my responsibility. Cheers. See ya tmrw”

External: “Well folks, I’ve been watching since I made the discovery whatever the silhouette was it gone.

Private: “Its time to get back to the day job kids. I’m tired and the better half has had enough. Not to mention I haven’t seen my bed in weeks.”

He began rolling the mop bucket out the door, taking care to steer it unnaturally to the left a bit to account for the bad wheel. He smiled. He stopped and went back to the monitor he had been glued to for so long. Mars was grey and boring still. He squeezed his eyes tight and opened them again taking in the whole screen for the last time. There had to be an intern that wasn’t also tasked with cleaning to handle this. Everyone plays their part after all. The sky of Mars blended with the sand and the cliffs a lone figure was moving towards the camera. He rubbed his eyes hard and blinked rapidly. Holy shit this is it, this is it! Before he could make anything out his phone rang.
“Babe its back!” he answered blindly.

“Kurt. Have you left the office yet?”

“Just locking up, I need to get back to normal ya know?”

“Oh don’t attempt to apologize. Go look at the screen.”

“I’m looking at it no–”

“I’m sorry we had to string you along like this. The media was all over you we didn’t know what to do. Want NASA to put your kids through college Kurt, want to stop working today?”

In the screen stood Lieutenant Graves talking on his iPhone and waving at the camera, behind him Kurt could make out a few other folks.

“The set is downstairs on C3, want to come down and check it out?”

“Kurt are you still there?”

“Kurt?”

“No, he’s gone send a team to his house, he’s running”
Internal: “Fuck you for lying to the world! #NothingOnMars”
External “#NASA lied the Mars Rover set is on floor C3 here in #Tampa #LifeOnMars  #FakeLanding RT I fear for my life”

Private: “Janell, run. Call Eric tell him to get the go bags and two tickets to anywhere but the states.”
Private:”You were right about all of this. The Mars landing is a lie.”

Love on Atali 9

                                          /* ! */

    They walked along the beach at the end of the world, holding hands for the last time. Their footsteps left a trail in the dry grass that scratched bare legs and begged to be remembered. The ocean slithered up making it’s Sisyphean attempt at expanding its territory once again. Tendrils of swirling darkness washed over their bare feet before making a fast retreat. In it’s wake the roaring ocean peeled back to reveal wreckage in the sand, pieces of their life from the last three years.

“Smirking, really?”

“Yeah.”

“No. You’re not getting off that easy. I’m over here in deep introspection and you’re just having a laugh?”

“It feels like it would be easier to just laugh though, doesn’t it?”

    He turned his gaze from the sadness in the sand as the ocean covered it up once again, his future. Her walking slowed, she didn’t agree. She gripped his hand tighter and pulled his arm up around her shoulders. Walking for just a moment as they used to, it felt pointless now, despite the soft glow of nostalgia that prickled the back of his neck.

With shielded eyes he squinted southwards.

“We have another mile or so to go before the cliffs.”

“Okay.” She moved her hand away and wiped eyes with a balled fist.

Her tears were hot on his hands. He drew patterns on the back of her hand with his thumb he didn’t have the words.

“Veran, stop for a minute, please.”

“Do you think this is easy for me, I can’t stop.” he stormed ahead.”We have to see it, they need to know. They need to know as soon as possible.” His voice was hoarse from yesterday.

Elaine sat down on the cold sand and cried as he grew smaller and smaller on the horizon.

                                                       /*@*/

    The rod iron gate was the only thing she could bring for the yard. Space was limited. But after the first year the soil was ready. Veronica flowers were the first thing they planted, tall with dark purple feathers that wove through the gates filigree. Multicolored blanket flowers next, they spread out and controlled the yard. In the mornings she would have tea and wait in them until he was ready to go. Sometimes she would weave them into a cape or hat by the time they left. Their two bedroom place wasn’t fancy. But she didn’t sign up for that, she accepted living with her work. It was a prestigious job after all, her family ad friends back home would continue to boast about knowing somebody like her.

   The top of a bench from their lab washed up next to her. She looked around at the mess they made. Her ribs still hurt from yesterday. The cool tide came up again and she shivered. If only they left when they got the chance. That was selfish to think. A part of her ego liked that she would serve a purpose. Who doesn’t want to live on in the minds of others.

    He was stubborn. She didn’t regret him but it made things harder now, especially since they were the only ones left. The endless tide washed up around her again, she tried to remember when they would come down here to listen to it. Something wrapped around her foot and she jumped up. A woven crown of blanket flowers had somehow survived the explosion, she laughed and chased after him, calling out.

                                                        /*#*/

    He heard her yelling but he didn’t stop. The cliffs loomed ahead, each strata promising a story that would never be told. The path was steep, not dangerous. After an attempt at removing the sand from his feet he put shoes on and started the ascent.

“Wait!”

“I’ll wait at the top.”

She stopped to catch her breath before ascending in his wake.

    They stood together at the edge of the ocean watching the waves break against them for the last time, unnatural wind threatened to topple them.

“Can we go together?” She had to yell in the gusts of wind coming from the field behind them

He nodded.

“I could have loved you.” he whispered too soft for her to hear.
Hand in hand they turned to face the field behind them. Dominating the horizon the monstrosity they had awoken was still there. It rose from the ground on thirty long multi jointed legs, its torso an amalgamation of the very land itself. Its head if it had one was in the clouds. gradually reality slipped towards it like grains of sand slowly succumbing to the tides. They kept their eyes open as instructed but once they got closer to it all the feeds went black.

                                                        /*$*/

“We hardly saw the thing Colonel Vickers. How do you expect us to do anything with that footage?”
“I concur sir, but from these ten seconds.” He played the last few seconds of the clip again. “We can see that its operating like a black hole pulling in the matter around it.”

“But for what, and how? Why did we have to sacrifice years of planning and two of our best terraformers for that?”

“Play the other clips.” Vickers said with a purposeful sigh before slumping to his chair.”

Silently flickering images of the black hole things lit up the walls around the briefing hall. Major General Carlyle Sutherland’s mouth fell open.

“We-we-well how many?” he stammered.
“Of the ten terraforming expeditions we’ve received footage like this from eight. One initial lander had ‘complications’ and the tenth hasn’t sent any data our way in almost a day. Something has already colonized this system sir. We should make defensive preparations immediately. They are a good 2 light years away, but I wouldn’t doubt some kind of FTL tech.
“No.” Sutherland interrupted. “The public must never know. The investors must never know. Delete these feeds immediately the videos, the memories, the audio, the sensory inputs, everything.” With that he stood and made his exit.
Colonel Vickers did as ordered but not before sending copies of the feeds to his sister. He would be dead within the hour for doing so. From his pocket he produced the blue and black armband of the resistance. He cracked the pill in his molar loose with his tongue and took a long swill of scotch from a flask. He pulled the armband on and smiled. The memories his brother relayed back from Atali 9 would not be forgotten. He thought about an afterlife where he could poke fun at his brothers last words. He laughed and said them too before closing his eyes, confident that their sacrifices would not be in vain.
“I could have loved you.”