Three Fates

More old shorts. This one was an experiment in non-traditional narrative.

It was also a prompt piece. The three word prompts were: Asteroid, Tellurium, Rictus

The following is an excerpt from evidence presented in the case of the abandonment and supposed destruction of the mining spacecraft, Atropos. The Atropos was one of three close-proximity mining survey ships deployed to survey the Jovian asteroid fields located in Jupiter’s orbit.  At the time of the incident, Atropos was operating in the Trojan Asteroid field on a 6-month mission to collect samples of several previously identified asteroids to determine whether their composition warranted further efforts to mine them for minerals. Atropos had two sister ships, Clotho and Lachesis, which at the time of the incident were stationed at the Ulysses Mining Base on Titan for routine maintenance.

The crew of the Atropos was as follows:

Chief Engineer Michael Lewiston – Mission Commander; Employee of Ulysses Mining Corporation for seventeen years; former ISA Exploration Team member; presumed killed during EVA above Asteroid EE43; 46 years old.

Engineer Thomas R. Franks – Systems Specialist; Contract labor; Expertise in Advanced Aeronautic Intelligence and Navigation Systems, asteroid mining protocol, astrogeology; former consultant for Ulysses Mining Corporation; presumed killed by exposure to toxic material aboard the Atropos; 43 years old.

Dr. William P. Weller – Medical support and psychologist; Employee of Ulysses Mining Corporation for ten years; only survivor of the Atropos incident; 51 years old.

Primary Mission Log – 12.16.2039

Chief Engineer Lewiston

In accordance with the mission specifications, we are halting our surface excavation of Asteroid EE41 and will proceed over the next three days to rendezvous with our secondary target, Asteroid EE43.

Preliminary data from the excavation of Asteroid EE41 shows that little or no viable minerals can be mined without jeopardizing the structural integrity of the object. As reported in the previous log, at approximately 4 hours and 17 minutes into our initial excavation, we breached a pressure pocket within the asteroid. The force resulting was enough to propel large sections of rock into the excavation apparatus. After inspection, I determined that the device is still operational. Once we rendezvous with Asteroid EE43, I will make an EVA alongside the device in case manual intervention is necessary at the asteroid’s surface.

Medical Log – 12.16.2039

Dr. William Weller

Our maneuver to rendezvous with Asteroid EE43 will take three days. I am using this extended downtime to conduct psychological reviews of the other two crewmembers. I feel this is necessary following the events of yesterday. Franks has intimated to me his concerns that the crew was in real danger when the pressure pocket was breached. I tend to agree that our fate could have been much different. While Lewiston seems unfazed by the event, I feel it will put Franks more at ease if he feels the evaluation is routine and that Lewiston is also participating.

I have indicated that for the next 24 hours, we should confine ourselves to quarters for rest after the stress of yesterday. After the 24 hours we will begin rotations in the exercise room with short routines using artificial gravity from the revolution pod and the jump rope.

Psychological Evaluation of Chief Engineer Lewiston – 12.17.2039

Dr. William Weller

Lewiston is displaying his usual stoic front at the prospect of his impending EVA. While he says he has considered the dangers of being present at the surface while attached to the mining apparatus, I do not believe he has thoroughly considered the possibility that a repeat of the incident on Asteroid EE41 would pose a great danger to him.

We reviewed several moments from his past including previous missions with the ISA Exploration Team where malfunctions in equipment or unforeseen crises directly affected him before proceeding to speak of his trouble with [DELETED]  Regardless, Lewiston is confident that the remainder of the mission will be successful and he looks forward to returning to Titan to reunite with [DELETED] I feel it is important to continuously boost his confidence to a point where it will overpower his guilt about [DELETED]  and I am administering a small dose of antidepressants to counter any feelings of anger towards [DELETED] after our discussion.

Upon our return to Titan, I would like to discuss the possibility of taking on Lewiston as a patient of my own as I feel my own experiences with similar situations, specifically [DELETED] does benefit our trust levels.

Psychological Evaluation of Engineer Franks – 12.18.2039

Dr. William Weller

Franks was difficult to engage in productive conversation today. I believe he is over-thinking the incident with the pressure pocket and is nervous about proceeding with the mission. His knowledge of astrogeology is extensive and I must admit his misgivings about Asteroid EE43 do somewhat transfer to me. He describes his fear as relatively sound considering the composition, size, and density of the two asteroids is nearly identical. While I am not as versed in the science of asteroid composition and stability as he is, I am still only marginally concerned about our safety.

I attempted to divert the conversation away from the present to points of his past that he felt more relaxed and happy, but as was evident in my previous evaluations during this mission, Franks is extremely reluctant to discuss his past, even to the point of abruptly ending the session by refusing to speak to me further.

I am giving him an increased dose of muscle relaxers to ease his mind until the rendezvous. Hopefully once the excavation begins his concerns will be somewhat alleviated, and he will be able to function at a higher efficiency during this critical time.

Primary Log – 12.19.2039

Chief Engineer Lewiston

Atropos is now currently positioned approximately 200 meters above the surface of Asteroid EE43. In the next hour I will initiate the secondary phase of our mission by launching the impact probe. Franks has refitted the probe with some additional imaging hardware hoping to increase our visibility of the composition of the asteroid at the excavation point. I am impressed with his talents in this regard. If his addition to the probe works, I will recommend that Ulysses consider making the adjustment a standard feature for future probe designs.

Once data has been streamed back to us from the probe, we will prep the excavation apparatus for its positioning above the surface of the asteroid to begin excavation. I will commence an EVA simultaneously and will ride the apparatus down to the surface in case manual intervention becomes necessary due to unknown damage sustained during the primary excavation of Asteroid EE41.

Should any malfunction occur, I will attempt repairs on site. If repairs are ineffective, I will scrub the mission and begin maneuvers to rendezvous back with Base.

Medical Log – 12.19.2039

Dr. William Weller

At 1732 hours,  Chief Engineer Lewiston’s Life Support monitors registered a flat line. After a final attempt to retract the excavation apparatus and retrieve his body to resuscitate, he was pronounced dead.

The following is a description of the events leading to the death of Chief Engineer Lewiston:

1643 – Lewiston and the apparatus reached the target area at the surface of Asteroid EE43. After a final check of the laser machinery, Lewiston activated the laser and began excavation of the site.

1657 – Lewiston halted excavation for further surface scans. After seeing no structural anomalies, Lewiston reactivated the laser and commenced excavation.

1715 – The excavation apparatus breached a large pressure pocket, the resulting force of which propelled the apparatus away from the asteroid and on a collision course with Atropos. Two of our solar arrays were damaged, along with the communications dish, and the secondary life support systems. Lewiston was attached to the excavation apparatus via his EVA suit when the incident occurred. He most likely suffered blunt force trauma either from the impact with the solar arrays or debris from the asteroid blast.

1717 – Franks and I attempted to retract the apparatus and retrieve Lewiston; however, the force of the blast caused the velocity of the apparatus to pull the umbilical attachment in excess of the force supported by the retraction device, thus rendering it destroyed and inoperable.

1723 – Lewiston still shows signs of life on the monitors and his breath is heard over the comm. Franks begins to suit up for an EVA retrieval. Upon assessing the damage, it is noticed that the velocity of the apparatus is pulling Atropos towards another asteroid. Franks and I decide to disconnect the apparatus to prevent a collision with the other asteroid. This results in the loss of Chief Engineer Lewiston.

1732 – Lewiston’s life functions cease. Franks continues to prepare for EVA to assess damage to Atropos.

Medical Log – 12.20.2039

Dr. William Weller

Franks is continuing to exhibit symptoms that go beyond my medical knowledge. Shortly after his EVA to assess the damage to Atropos, he began to complain of chest pains and a shortness of breath. Initially I felt that this was a cursory reaction relative to the stress of the incident, but its exponential increase in seriousness over the past few hours has me worried that something else is the cause. I have resorted to wearing a rebreather in the event that Franks has inhaled some type of toxic material.

Our communications are completely down. Though I have activated the distress beacon, the position of Jupiter between Titan and Asteroid EE43 might result in it not being received for several hours.

I am continuing to monitor Franks. Without him, it may be impossible to reposition Atropos to exit the asteroid field and maneuver the ship into a position where it can rendezvous with Titan should propulsion systems be damaged further. Our trajectory change following the detachment of the excavation apparatus has put us closer to Asteroid EE43. The pressure pocket has proved to have been something other than what we discovered on Asteriod EE41. The plume of purplish gas has continued to be emitted from the excavation site. It troubles me to consider how such a phenomenon could occur continuously like this. Surely once the pressure was released, the plume of ejected gas would dissipate. A part of my mind wonders if this has any relation to the symptoms Franks is exhibiting. Perhaps his exposure to the gases has caused some kind of reaction. I plan to take a sample of dust from his EVA suit to determine if any unknown residues might possibly have been inhaled by Franks once he re-entered the airlock of Atropos. Once I have stabilized Franks, I plan to spend 30 minutes with the jump rope to release some tension.

Medical Log – 12.21.2039

Dr. William Weller

Franks has died and I believe I have discovered what caused his death. In his final moments, his face frozen in a rictus of paralyzing pain, I chanced to remove my mask to see if it would help him breathe. Franks exhaled at that moment and released a sudden heavy effluvium of garlic-smelling foulness. Immediately, considering the strict diet we have on board Atropos, I realized this was a telltale sign of the agent of his destruction. During his EVA, Franks spent a good deal of time attempting to repair the solar arrays. The arrays currently in service on all three Ulysses mining ships are Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) based. It is my belief that the damage of the solar array created a fine compound dust of cadmium and tellurium that stuck to his EVA suit and was later inhaled. Tellurium ingestion commonly results in a heavy garlic odor in the victims exhalations.

I cannot correct the course of Atropos as the propulsion systems are inoperable. Collision alarms have sounded and I have no alternative but to launch the emergency escape pod and wait to be rescued. Hopefully, my proximity to the asteroids will not result in my own death, but this is a chance I am willing to take. Atropos is going to collide with EE43 and I am unable to prevent it. Due to the nature of the death of Franks, I have decided not to bring him in the pod with me as it could jeopardize my safety and the safety of any rescue team. I only hope that I have not already received a lethal exposure to the toxin.

This will be the final mission log entry for the mining ship, Atropos. Lewiston and Franks are dead, and I, Dr. Weller am exiting the craft via the escape pod.

The following is an excerpt from the ISA Court proceedings that followed the incident with the mining ship, Atropos. Dr. Weller was asked by the ISA commission in charge of the investigation to answer a few questions regarding the events leading up to the incident. The investigation was conducted largely outside the public eye, and up until the time Dr. Weller was asked to answer the commission’s questions, no one with either Ulysses Mining Corporation or the rest of the ISA and its many subsidiaries knew what the investigation had concluded.

The transcript of the proceedings is presented as it occurred with “Q” representing the questioning ISA Official and the “W” representing Dr. Weller:

Q: Just prior to the incident with the apparatus on EE43, was there continued communication between Lewiston and yourself, or Lewiston and Franks?

W: No. After his final check we did not hear from Lewiston again.

Q: And the records of the communications that were recorded on resident computers within the Atropos databanks … they were destroyed with the ship when it collided with the asteroid?

W: I believe so.

Q: With Lewiston dead, who was the mission commander in charge of the Atropos?

W: I was the only Ulysses employee left, so that responsibility fell to me.

Q: So it was your sole decision to send Franks out to inspect the ship?

W: No. It was originally suggested by Franks. I felt we should wait for rescue.

Q: Was it your sole decision to release the apparatus and Lewiston to deep space?

W: Franks and I came to a mutual agreement that it was the best thing to do.

Q: And in doing so, you prevented the Atropos from colliding with another asteroid. Is this correct?

W: That is correct.

Q: However, releasing the apparatus adjusted your trajectory to proceed along a collision course with EE43 after all. Is this also correct?

W: That is correct.

Q: Was Franks not able to calculate this possibility given the ship computer readings?

W: He did not indicate the possibility to me.

Q: Dr. Weller, do you have any previous experience piloting a Charybdis-model Mining Ship like the Atropos?

W: No. I’m a doctor, not an astronaut.

Q: Dr. Weller, where were you in the autumn and winter months of 2023?

W: … I can’t recall. Possibly working with ISA.

Q: Isn’t it true that you were stationed on the ISA ship, Ticonderoga?

W: Oh … um … yes, that’s correct.

Q: Are you familiar with the name James Addison?

W: He was my superior at the ISA.

Q: Is he alive today?

W: Yes. I believe so.

Q: And can you tell us why he is alive today?

W: I don’t understand.

Q: Isn’t it true, Dr. Weller, that while stationed on the Ticonderoga in orbit around Mercury that your Charybdis-model Mining Ship was damaged by space debris?

W: Yes.

Q: Isn’t it true that your superior and pilot of the ship was rendering unconscious during the collision?

W: Yes.

Q: So tell me, Dr. Weller, who exactly was it out of the two people operating the ship, one of which we have decided was unconscious, that initiated the intricate set of navigational adjustments that pulled the ship out of its fatal orbit and saved the ship and the life of James Addision.

W: Me.

Q: So you do have experiencing piloting a Charybdis-model ship like the Atropos?

W: … yes.

Q: Dr. Weller, did you know Thomas Franks prior to his contract with Ulysses Mining Corporation?

W: No.

Q: Wasn’t it you yourself who recommended Franks for the job to the Mission Commander, Chief Engineer Lewiston?

W: I … I don’t remember.

Q: Are you willing to swear this isn’t your signature on a document offering your recommendation of Mr. Franks for the contract? [document available in case discovery]

W: It is mine. Yes, I recommended him.

Q: Dr. Weller, have you ever hired a private investigator?

W: No … I … Yes.

Q: How did your daughter die, Dr. Weller?

W: …

Q: I repeat, Dr. Weller, how did your daughter die?

W: She was … raped and murdered.

Q: Dr. Weller, isn’t it true that you hired a private investigator to discover the murderer’s identity?

W: …Yes.

Q: And did you not receive information from the private investigator detailing the murderer’s identity and whereabouts?

W: Yes, I did.

Q: Who murdered and raped your eight year old daughter, Dr. Weller?

W: Franks.

Q: Please tell us his full name.

W: Thomas Franks.

Q: The same Thomas Franks that died of Tellurium poisoning aboard the Atropos?

W: The same.

Q: Dr. Weller, are you absolutely positive that the Atropos crashed into Asteroid EE43?

W: Yes … I mean … I’m fairly sure …

Q: What do you think we would have found if the Atropos hadn’t been destroyed in that collision?

W: I don’t know. Franks. The databanks.

Q: A jump rope?

W: …

Q: Dr. Weller, did you murder Thomas Franks by strangling him with a jump rope?

W: No … I …

Q: Did you also murder Michael Lewiston after he discovered the true cause of Franks death?

W: …

Q: Did the laser ever breach a pressure pocket, Dr. Weller?

W: …

Q: Dr. Weller … I believe this is yours. [official holds up a jump rope]

Replacement Parts – A Dandelion

ulysses

Another bit from one of my novels.

The upside down owl is significant.

As Tenser returned to the house, Michael took the opportunity to look around. The backyard was immense and could hold a nice-sized wedding reception party quite easily. He could see where small trails cut paths through the dense trees and walked toward one of them. He was about to examine some markings in the soft dirt of the trail when he heard a voice above him.

“It’s a game trail,” said the voice. “Deer mostly.”

Michael looked up and saw a teenage girl in a tree, her legs dangling from the limb she was sitting on. He smiled politely at her, but then noticed she held in her hand a red water balloon.

“Hello,” he said to her. “I’m Michael.”

The girl hefted the water balloon in her hand – its shape changing from tall to flat and back again with gravity. He watched her, not sure if the balloon was meant for him or some other victim.

She was dressed in khaki shorts that rode just above the thickest parts of her thighs. Her pale yellow shirt was barely sleeved and was covered at the shoulders with her long brown hair.

“Do you know who owns these woods?” she asked him, still menacing him with the balloon.

“I assume they are connected to Mr. Tenser’s property, but I might be wrong,” he guessed.

“You are wrong,” she replied. “These woods belong to no one.”

“I see,” Michael said. “Are you their guardian, poised to pelt trespassers with your watery defenses?”

She smiled a bit and then cocked her hand back a bit further, as if about to throw the balloon.

“If I am, then are you not destined to become my next victim?”

“Perhaps,” he said, smiling a bit more. “But after all, I am only on the grass.”

The splash of water from the balloon hitting the ground before him came faster than he could react to, but only a few drops hit his shoes and the cuffs of his coveralls.

“Then consider that a warning shot across your bow,” she said and swung down gracefully from her perch, landing softly in the grass. Casually, she grabbed a knapsack full of balloons from behind one of the trees.

“What’s your name?” he asked her.

“I don’t have a name when I’m outside civilization,” she said matter-of-factly. Readjusting her knapsack over one shoulder she began to walk down one of the paths. Michael watched her as she disappeared into the thickness of the trees and he then turned away, deciding to return to the house.

The vaguely tribal music still played its cacophonic melodies across the yard and lent the scene an enveloping macabre miasma of sound that made the house seem to threaten him with its urbaneness – wielding its clever color schemes like an ax over his head. Michael felt suddenly ill. He noticed a strange acrid odor and thought for a moment that perhaps Mrs. Tenser wasn’t that great a cook after all.

“Are you coming or not?” a voice spoke behind him.

Michael turned back to the woods and saw the girl with arms crossed, tapping her shoe on the path.

“I really should get back to the house, I’m expected,” he said, though reluctantly. The girl had changed in a way but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Her hair seemed to throw reflective sparkles from the sunbeams, making it appear that her hair was made of tiny rainbows. He was vaguely attracted to her in a very animal sense – a predator-prey sense much more than anything purely sexual. He could see the roles reversed suddenly, seeing her as the predator – a widow spider, luring yet another morsel of food into her forest web.

Suddenly, Michael realized he had been drugged. The balloon had held some quickly evaporating liquid, the fumes of which he had inhaled. His cohesion to reality had become tentative.

“Follow me, Michael,” she said. “I want to show you something.”

Against all the voices screaming in his head to run from this place, Michael took a step toward her.

“There’s a good boy.”

He followed her down the path, staying ten feet or so behind her. He noticed then, for the first time, that the back of her shirt had an upside-down owl screen-printed on it. He focused on this and let himself be led deeper into the woods.

“If you were Alice and I were a white rabbit you’d be falling down a hole by now,” she said, suddenly very close to him. He blinked his eyes blearily and was able to focus long enough to see her looking back at him.

“He’s going to destroy you, you know. He thinks you’re an anarchist,” she said to him. “He’ll play with you a while, letting you think he’s off the scent. It’s his favorite thing to do – crushing little people like ants. But we both know the real problem here is that you’re not an anarchist. You’re just special and he hates those that are special because he doesn’t understand how you fit into things. He sees you as illogical.”

He was in a state of complete inebriation but her words pounded in to his memory like cuts from an engravers chisel.

“You are special. That won’t keep you safe, though. I’ll protect you. Remember what you see here.”

“Who are you?” he said, his voice thick and too low.

“I’m his daughter,” she said, and disappeared.

A sudden pain erupted in Michael’s head and within a few seconds his vision was restored to normal. The drug was wearing off quickly. He looked around him, but saw no sign of the girl. He was in a small glade and sunlight broke through the boughs in mote-infested beams. The glade was circular and in its center a small yellow flower was growing. Michael had seen a flower like this many times before in botany feeds. The species existed only in a few laboratories in the world, and there in highly controlled conditions. Yet, here he saw one growing wild.

It was a dandelion.

The Old Republic: Griegan

I forgot this. I never finished it, but it was meant to be a backstory for my Jedi Sage in SWTOR. I still play around in SWTOR on occasion, and will probably get back into it once I get my Alienware monster next week.

Just a quick scene. No substance.

The Miraluka youth named Greigan stood on the bridge of his father’s junk freighter the Dire Ember. As preparations commenced to leave orbit around Alpheridies, Griegan could feel the vibrations of the ship through his feet. Looking out the observation porthole, Griegan could “see” shimmering auras lazily rolling by outside the shielded glass – auras that surrounded the energies released during the ignition of the aged ship’s engines.

Running his fingers along the glass, he imagined his reflection there – a reflection he could never see, a sense of identity unknown by all Miraluka. His focus shifted to the planet below them and he watched the movements of the atmosphere – strange swirls of light and shadow, offset against the void of space. To his eyes, space was never empty. To Miraluka, energies invisible to most other species appear as shimmering eddies across the emptiness, like waters breaking over submerged rocks.

“Come away from there, boy,” echoed a gruff voice from behind him.

Griegan was not startled. He sensed his father’s presence at the door to the bridge several minutes earlier. He felt his father’s gaze on him long before the older Miraluka had announced his presence.

Griegan inclined his head slightly and moved back to his place at the navigator’s station. Dropping heavily into his captain’s chair, Raechoryn, Greigan’s father, impatiently batted at the switch to drop the metal panel over the open observation portal. His son took one last look at his ancestral home and then turned to his tasks.

“Course set,” Griegan stated evenly.

“Prepare for jump,” Raechoryn replied.

Seeking Collaborators, Fans, & Beta readers

UR

As you may know, I’m creating something huge. Novels, shorts, live-action performances, video games, fashion … all epic.

I need help to make it happen. (that means more people than just JD – she’s got enough to put up with with me just being me)

I’ve got two shorts ready for beta reading. (constructive criticism only, and I’m completely willing to reciprocate)

I have several other projects in concept stages that I need to bounce off receptive minds. (again, I will reciprocate)

I am seeking collaborative help in fleshing out art and design concepts for several projects. (I cannot draw, but I know what I’d like to see. Sci-fi is the theme of the day, but fantasy works too. I work at a commercial printer, so I can totally get you some free prints if you’re nice)

I also need devoted fans to assist in possible guerilla marketing schemes. (stencils, stickers, flyers, etc.)

Interested? Want more information?

You don’t have to be local. In fact, maybe far away is better?

Email me at: prof.edtt@gmail.com

Ask me before sending your own work. I may also get JD to read, too. She’s a fantastic judge of quality storytelling.

Eulogy

Wtf? Poetry? From Me?

If I accomplish one thing in my life, let it be that someone somewhere requests that this be read/sung at their funeral while a dozen or so midgets dance and re-enact the Battle of Poltava using a steady flood of dirty water from an overflowing baptismal font to represent the Dneiper River.

I’ll record the piano part for you if you’re interested.

Come dear friends

It’s war in trenches again

The leaves are cold and damp

And we are hungry for life

Father Nell

Has lit a fire for us

His god is sharing his love

With men across the dark wastes

We are lonely

And we’re getting depressed

A sergeant puts on a dress

As they act in a play

The cannons fire at will

And then its suddenly still

17,000 men

Have sadly met their end

A river lazily flows

And thunder cracks and it snows

They’re lobbing poisonous apples

And we’re filling our satchels

These are the first days of your strife

These are the first days of your strife

Come, my friends

We’ll circle round the fire

The skin will crackle and peel

So we can finally feel

Father Nell

Has gone and done it again

He’s drowning his fear

In cups of tepid brandy

We are Lonely

But at least we’re not dead

Our rivals poke up their heads

From across the dark wastes

The cannons fire at will

And then its suddenly still

1700 men

Have sadly met their end

A river lazily flows

And thunder cracks and it snows

They’re lobbing poisonous apples

And we’re filling our satchels

These are the worst days of your strife

These are the worst days of your strife

Come, my friend

This is the bitter end

We’ve wasted all this time

Your lips taste like sour wine

Father Nell

Lies dead, still holding his bread

His face a mask of relief

His god is not to be found

We are lonely

But there’s hope in the haste

Our enemies wave their flags

And walk across the dark wastes

The cannons fire at will

And then its suddenly still

17 bitter men

Have sadly met their end

A river lazily flows

And thunder cracks and it snows

They’re lobbing poisonous apples

And we’re filling our satchels

These are the best days of your strife

These are the best days of your strife

Come, dear friends

Just like when weasels were in

We’ll laugh at goats on the fly

And sack the pansies that cry

Father Nell

Is living happy in hell

His parsonage is on fire

His pets are writing their wills

We are lonely

And we’re living a lie

These are not our friends

And this is not the end

The cannons fire at will

And then its suddenly still

One wasted man

Has sadly met his fans

A river lazily flows

And thunder cracks and it snows

They lob a poisonous apple

And he’s filling his satchel

These are the last days of his strife

These are the last days of his strife

 

Replacement Parts – An Introduction

This is the first 2,000 words of a backburner novel. Yes, I’m letting you see a portion of one of my novels. Crazy, isn’t it?

This one was written in shades of Vonnegut, with highlights done in Bester and Ballard.

I’m not going to tell you anything else about this novel, other than its near future, Ulysses is in it, and there are portions of it that I laugh maniacally at when I consider that I wrote them (none of what you see here though).

When the unusual sound first echoed through his flat, Waldo Peterson waved it off as the typical background noise of the GoodeLife Sector #34821 Residential Building. He gave it a nanosecond of consideration before continuing his absorption of culture through the MultiFeed his thick and sweaty bulk was attached to. The brief halt gave his body a moment to readjust itself in the Ulysses Mark II Tranzend Lounger, and with the readjustment came a release of built-up gas from his bowels and a few deep cracks from his joints.

When the same sound – a staccato rapping against a hard surface – increased in volume and continued, Waldo shut off the MultiFeed and sat up from the lounger, his FeedGoggles reflecting the blue of the Disconnection indicator. His appearance was vaguely insectoid, the tubes and wireless receiver antennae completing the alien look.

Fear struck him and sweat began to bead on pale and hairless skin.

“What is that?” he shouted out to his empty flat. “What’s that noise?”

Waldo ripped the FeedGoggles from his head, and quickly scanned the room in a panic. It took a moment for his eyes to readjust to real life after a 72-hour session connected to the MultiFeed.

“Hello?” he shouted, his voice cracking.

The rapping continued, and exceeding it in tempo was his heartbeat. With a great struggle against gravity, Waldo extricated himself from the Lounger and the Waste and Syntho Tubes and managed to stand for three seconds. Then he fell to the ground, his legs forgetting how to handle the weight of a human – made even more difficult by the daily increase in Waldo’s mass.

He managed to lift himself from the ground and his panic increased. Whatever was in his flat, he would not be able to defend himself from it.

“Jesus God! What is that noise?! Someone help me!” he screamed. Beyond the rapping, he could hear the sounds of the thousand or so other flat tenants also absorbed in the MultiFeed. There was little chance anyone would hear him scream during this peak time. Most of the best feeds were online at the moment. If the source of the demon noise were to set upon him, no one would hear his death rattle, his final agonizing scream.

He felt his heart pounding against his chest. His adrenaline kicked in and pushed him to face the source, no matter what the cost. If he were going to die, he would meet it on his feet, not strapped into a Tranzend Lounger watching Japanese Reality feeds.

He trekked through his living room, following the sound. He hadn’t been in this part of his flat in weeks and it smelled stale despite its pristine condition.

“My God … it’s the door,” he realized. A thousand scenarios fired like salvos in his head. Anarchists, evil robots, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Republicans, punk kids, Reformers, Endtimers, Rebooters, Freeminders, a hundred other groups whose purpose it was to oppose the GoodeLife society he was a part of, and the way of life that made it so appealing.

The knocking stopped.

“Mr. Peterson?” a voice asked behind the door.

Waldo screamed.

The door to his flat opened. How could it have opened? There were locks, safeguards, security protocols. It must be his death!

Only the maintenance robots could open his door without authorization, only …

A man peeked his head around the door. He looked nice – clean cut with a pleasant smile, middle-aged, neatly trimmed beard.

“Mr. Peterson,” the man said again. “I’m with the LRC. I’m here to repair your MultiFeed.”

LRC? Waldo had heard of the Labor Replacement Corps, but he had never seen a Lurker in person.

“The LRC?” Waldo whispered timidly, the words sounding strange coming out of his mouth.

“That’s right, Mr. Peterson,” the man said politely, still smiling. “My name is Edward.”

“The robots …?” Waldo questioned.

“The number of repair jobs currently in the system exceeds the number of AI technicians currently available. To keep our level of service at a pleasing level to customers like you, Ulysses Corporation has recruited the LRC to help relieve the workload.”

Edward smiled again, apparently he had given the speech many times before.

Waldo vaguely nodded his understanding.

“Now, Mr. Peterson,” Edward said, closing the door as he backed into the hallway. “If you’d like to put some clothes on, you can let me know when I can come in and service your MultiFeed.”

Waldo gasped, suddenly realizing his nakedness. The last human he had seen was his uncle who visited every few months, the last visit being six months previous. The door shut and Waldo quickly grabbed what he called his “Receiving Robe” which he kept on a hook by the door. He hastily wrapped it around his naked obesity, noting that he would need a larger robe soon due to his increasing size.

“Come in,” Waldo said aloud to the door.

Edward entered completely this time and carried with him a small portable NodePad and a mechanic’s toolbox.  He paused a moment just inside the door and looked around.

“This is a very nice flat you have here, Mr. Peterson,” he remarked. “Very tidy and well-maintained.”

Waldo was caught off guard. All flats were pretty much the same in the GoodeLife sectors. He had never considered his home to have endearing individual qualities beyond what might be found in every other home.

“Th-thank you,” Waldo replied.

Edward moved purposefully into the rest of the flat with his equipment.

“You’d be surprised how many GoodeLifers let their lives go straight to hell,” he said as he kneeled down by the Data Core of the Multifeed. “I mean take this guy that lives next door to you. Wilson, right?”

Waldo had no idea who lived next to him, but nodded his head quick enough to jiggle his second chin.

“Now there’s a man who is abusing the system. We live in an amazing age, you and I. Every man, woman, and child on the planet has the right and privilege of the basics. Nice flats, running water, Synthofood, 24-hour entertainment … hell, it took the global governments half a century just to agree what constituted the ‘Good Life’ and here it is, just given to you. Yes, this is a golden age of man, indeed.”

With a metallic clang, Edward popped open the maintenance panel and began sorting through the mass of wires it held.

“Were your parents GoodeLifers, Mr. Peterson?” Edward asked.

“Uh … yes. Third Generation,” Waldo answered. “I think.”

Edward stopped his work and smiled up at the GoodeLifer.

“That’s just great, isn’t it?” he beamed. “I mean, you’ve never known anything but the peace and security our grand civilization has been able to provide you.”

With a flourish he twirled a small penlight out of his belt and bit down on it to free his hands, then went back to sorting through the wires. From the corner of his mouth he mumbled, “Tehw mwe aboud yewselb … malvweed?”

Waldo blinked, not understanding. “I’m sorry, what?”

Edward secured a bundle of wires with one hand and with the other pulled the penlight out of his mouth a second. “Are you married? Any kids?”

“Oh!” Waldo exclaimed, chuckling. “Good Lord, no, never.”

“So you’ve got the bachelor package,” Edward replied, nodding enthusiastically. “Now there’s the life – assuming you intend to use it. Take Mr. Wilson next door. All that given to him, and he’s not even a contributor.”

Edward shook his head gravely and began plugging various wires into his NodePad.

Waldo began to tire and scanned the room for a chair he soon realized he did not have. The Lounger was the only seat in the entire flat. He decided against returning to it and leaned heavily against a wall.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Mr. Peterson, what is your contribution?” Edward queried.

Waldo panicked. He knew good and well that he had never contributed a thing since his Age Separation from his parents. He attempted to remember what his Academy-level contribution was but found his mind only able to flash through past episodes of “Killer Finder People Squad Investigations”

“Do you bring something fresh and new?” Edward asked, smiling disarmingly and staring directly at Waldo’s quickly reddening face.

“Oh … uh … no, the thing that I do … uh … is not very new,” he stammered, “just a little thing, that I happen to  … bring …”

Jesus God … he was blowing it. This damn laborer had him cornered. The Lurker would probably purposefully screw up his feed because of his old world morals – he must be a damn Rebooter or worse.

“A poet?” Edward asked, his eyes twinkling.

Waldo’s heart burst, the doors of his mind opened as he realized his fortunate rhyming. He ran with it.

“Yes!” he joyfully exclaimed. “I am a poet.”

Edward jumped up so quickly that Waldo started, bumping his head against the wall. Dropping his penlight into the growing pile of wires, Edward pressed a hand to his breast and gesticulated with his free hand while spouting:

“Hedgerimmy flimey poragus!

Cried the thrimdilly gaspaggo flumicus,

Had his flimm taken dammily costicus at heart,

Mosticus,

Tosticus,

And Rabinifeltillo trabinny plarghed

Like a Glumglimmitimmilful, a frong to be barghed”

Silence followed. Waldo had no idea what to do. For a moment he thought that perhaps the man had just accused him of lying in some language of the Justicars, or cursed him in some foul tongue.

“Well …” Edward finally said, looking a bit disappointed. “It’s not nearly as good as your own work, I’m sure. But I guess that’s why I’m with the LRC and not a poet.”

“No no, it was very good. You should keep working at it,” Waldo offered. His confidence returned a bit as he finally grasped that he was dealing with a simpleton here, a laborer, a man unworthy of the social benefits a contributing member of the GoodeLife Society merits. “With skill like that, why are you a Lurker and not –“

Waldo froze. Lurker was a derogatory term that GoodeLifers used to describe the small unions of manual laborers that Ulysses Corporation used to supplement the robot workforce. The term came from the name of their governing union, LRC, along with the fact that it was a common occurrence to see members of the LRC loitering around the Ulysses Corporation Human Resources division offices, waiting for contracts.

Edward just smiled and continued his work while he explained.

“I’m cursed with needy hands, Mr. Peterson,” he said, expertly running diagnostics on each feed wire in the Core. “I just can’t sit idly and do nothing. Sure, I dabble in the arts and maybe I could find some happiness in choosing the GoodeLife scenario. But, honestly –“

Alarms sounded from the Data Core and lights flashed on his NodePad.

“AHA!” he shouted in triumph. With deft hand movements he cut and spliced several wires from his own toolbox into the Core. In just a few seconds, the alarms stopped and the MultiFeed Activation indicator blinked its green light happily.

“Honestly,” he continued, “it would drive me insane not to be able to work with technology, and I’m not intelligent enough to be a Customizer.”

Waldo nodding knowingly.

“All done. Have a pleasant rest of your day, Mr. Peterson.”

“That quick?” Waldo asked. “What was the problem?”

Edward began packing up his things as he explained. “The fact of the matter is, no matter how good our technology is, it doesn’t last forever. This generation of MultiFeed Data Cores has about a 20-year lifespan before some connections start to go bad. Most of your core has been replaced by the semi-annual maintenance from the robot force, but occasionally we get a batch of faulty wires that need fixing before the regular maintenance schedules. And that’s why the LRC has been called in, there’s a fairly substantial batch of bad wiring that came out in this sector a few years back that are now failing – too many for the robots to handle alone.”

Waldo blankly listened to the man, hoping he would leave soon.

“Go ahead and plug in, Mr. Peterson,” Edward gestured.

Waldo obliged, settling his weight back into his Lounger and placing the FeedGoggles on his head.

“Can you tell a difference?”

“My God … it’s so much more intense and brilliant!” Waldo exclaimed. “I had no idea I was missing this much detail.”

“Try several feeds at once and give the tiered panes a try,” Edward offered. “You should be able to handle as many as sixty feeds at once now.”

Waldo was gone from the real world by then. His bulk was settling back into the Lounger as his hands absently reconnected the Syntho and Waste Tubes.

Edward smiled brightly and let himself out. He typed in a few notes on his NodePad in the hallway of the GoodeLife Flat Sector #34821 and walked next door where he started knocking patiently.