Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus: A New Pope and the Bureaucracy Strikes Back

Darius dropped to his knees and ripped the cover away from the manual door controls, tossing it aside. Leaning to his right, he looked down the long corridor and saw that his pursuers had yet to circumnavigate the pile of synthore he had dropped in front of the door to the cargo bay. Quickly, he removed the safety pin from the crank and started turning.

Sweat dripped off his nose and soaked into the sleeve of his flight suit. As he turned the crank, the door slowly dropped inch by inch. Just to make sure, he slammed his palm against the automatic controls again, but his pursuers had done their homework: the ship was under their control.

Darius thought to himself that he might still make it out of this. If he could get to the cockpit of his ship, he could override anything they had done and return the ship to his control. If only he could get this door shut.

The sound of plasma rifles being fired echoed down the corridor and Darius stopped. The door was about halfway down and he peered through the opening to see what was happening. After a moment of silence, Darius heard the sound of the synthore being melted by the plasma blasts. The distinct popping sound of the air pockets in the material gave it away.

Darius turned the crank faster, desperately trying to get the door down before they got to him.

The door was a quarter of the way down when he heard the guttural language of his pursuers moving down the corridor. He didn’t bother looking down the corridor to see them, he just turned the crank as fast as he could, sweat flying from his arms and his brow.

A loud alarm sounded and Darius jumped, realizing after a few seconds that the sound signaled the door had shut completely. Standing, Darius heaved a sigh of relief, only to gasp back in most of his exhalation. One of the reptilian creatures was glaring at him through the small window of the door.

Darius turned and sprinted for the cockpit. His pursuers could just as easily open the door manually from their side. Their species’ strength was considerable and most likely it would take them less time than it had Darius.

Skidding to a halt through the cockpit doors and before the main controls, Darius quickly ran through the security protocols: scanning his retinas, entering three separate decryption sequences, speaking his name and rank, solving a puzzle lock using a memorized key. Finally,  controls were restored and Darius turned around triumphantly. One of his pursuers was twenty feet away from the door to the cockpit.

Darius punched the door controls and the dual steel doors slid shut just as the creature stuck his arm through. The doors severed the arm at the elbow and it fell with a wet thud to the floor.

Darius sighed his relief and began shutting down life support in the rest of the ship. In about ten minutes, the only habitable place on the ship would be the cockpit. They’d have to exit his ship the way they came.

Slumping down in his chair, Darius closed his eyes and waited for his engines to heat up.

Behind him, the severed arm began to grow, from elbow to a shoulder, a shoulder to a torso, a torso to legs, another arm, and a head. The Frezklik that grew from the arm shook his finned reptilian head to clear its newly formed mind and tensed his body as bones cracked into place.

“Darius Taloni,” the Frezklik bellowed officially. Darius jumped from his chair and spun around in horror. “By the power vested in me by the newly elected Galactic Pope, you are hereby charged with Illegal Docking with an Unauthorized Vessel, Failure to Show Certified Identification, Illegal Use of a Communications Device, Illegal Entry of a Private Restroom with Intent to Defecate, Littering, Loitering, Improper Use of a Cargo Hauler, Intent to Solicit Sexual Entertainment, Improper Use of a Holosex Booth, and Refusal to Render Aid to Licensed Beggars.”

Darius gulped.

The Frezklik pushed a button on his wrist unit, which had been attached to the arm he had stuck through the door. A waterfall of paper began to stream out of it into a pile on the floor of the cockpit.

“You will be given a warning,” the Frezklik stated. “You must report to Gallus XII before the end of this month and sign documents acknowledging your receipt of this warning.”

“Gallus XII is five hundred light years away!” Darius cried in disbelief.

The reptilian clicked another button on his wrist unit and the tail of the printout disconnected and fluttered down to the pile with a flapping sound.

“Then I suggest you start flying,” the reptilian law enforcement officer said, baring his sharp teeth in a grin. “Have a pleasant day period.”

Activating the inside door controls, the Frezlik let himself out of the cockpit where he was met by the rest of himself. The two melted together and strode down the corridor where the remainder of the squad waited to depart.

An alarm chimed from the ship’s console.

“Fuel depleted,” the ship’s computer stated.

Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus: The Day the Sky Became Like Dirt (or Markus Wells Has a Drink)

On Thursdays, the slow flow of traffic on Kegel Station made St. Pete’s Pub an acceptable place to get away from people.

Jax, the bartender on duty this particular Thursday, was wiping down the brass when the old-style wooden door creaked open. The bright light from the promenade outside the bar reflected in the big bartender’s glasses, and he stroked his mustache waiting for the ancient door to close so he could discern the details of the person who was only silhouetted in the doorway. The owner of St. Pete’s had salvaged the door from an old pub on the surface of Earth. He insisted it brought character to the establishment, and to his credit, St. Pete’s was consecutively one of the highest rated businesses on the orbital station – mostly on charm alone. All other businesses on the station had automatic doors.

Jax didn’t recognize the patron who made his way up to the bar, and that immediately struck him as unusual. The Happy Hour crowd was almost always regular, and even those that didn’t make St. Pete’s their regular bar were at least recognizable as frequent visitors to the station.

“Scotch. Neat,” the man said as he sat down in one of the antique bar stools.

Jax eyed the man a moment. His accent was definitively British, but lazy enough to indicate the man roamed quite a bit in his life. He wore either a very old, or very expensive replica of an old English football jersey. His dark hair was shot with grey, and his face was dark with a few day’s worth of stubble. He looked out of place, and in Jax’s experience, that sometimes meant trouble. The trip to Kegel was short but expensive. Dayorbiters ran on frequent flights between Kegel and Kennedy Stations, but it still took at least five hundred credits to get to a station on the dayorbiter route. Kegel Station, being a space elevator hub, got quite a few freeloaders that ran the dayorbiters perpetually.

Jax glanced at the old bottles on the top shelf, before grabbing a glass and clicking it against the trigger of the synth-tap.

“I said scotch, not synthspit,” the patron said, watching Jax with a detached interest. “Do you serve a lot of synth here?”

Pouring out the synthetic equivalent to a single malt scotch, Jax pulled a step stool over to reach the high shelf. “More than I’d like to. I prefer the real thing myself.”

“Good man,” the patron responded.

“Any preference?” Jax queried as he elevated himself.

“Nah,” the man replied, laughing a bit. “Just stay away from the Islay, old bean.”

Jax snagged a dusty bottle of an old Speyside and dropped heavily off the stool. He poured the man a little over and then one for himself.

“Name’s Markus,” the man said, offering his hand.

Jax took it and smiled at the firm handshake. “I’m Jax,” he said, already starting to like this strange man.

Raising his glass to Jax, Markus said, “To good scotch and to those who’d know the difference.”

“Cheers,” they said and drank.

Jax left Markus for a few minutes, going about his usual opening routines. Thursdays were quiet, but always interesting. Anticipating a few regulars, he started a rotation of jazz and electronica on the audio system. Switching on the telefeed, Jax quickly scanned the channels for a gravball game or a jet race. He paused briefly on a new report about trouble on several of the colony worlds. The Global Federation of Earth was accusing the colony on Titan of a military buildup and the development of advanced weaponry.

“Fuckin’ colonials,” Jax cursed under his breath.

“We were all colonials once,” Markus said, overhearing Jax. “We’re never really from where we’re born, and never really die in a place we’ve been.”

Jax grunted a chuckle and switched over to a sports channel. Returning to the bar, Jax pulled up a stool next to Markus.

“What line of work are you in?” he asked Markus.

“I’m a writer,” Markus replied flatly.

Jax’s brow wrinkled as he turned the response over in his head. “Like a scriptwriter for holos?”

“No. I write novels.”

Novel writing had been an abandoned art for centuries, but a few die-hard writers kept up the practice, spending what little money they could make to print and publish their own material.

“Man,” Jax exhaled, shaking his head. “I haven’t seen a novel in ages.”

“I write science fiction,” Markus explained. “Though, these days what haven’t we done? What could I possibly write about that would be considered futuristic?”

“Aliens?” Jax offered.

“If there were aliens, we’d have found them by now,” Markus said. “We’re stretched out through three systems now and nothing more than a microbe. It was edgy back then, now its just kid’s stories.”

Jax sipped on his scotch and watched the old man talk about his craft. He could tell it was what Markus needed – its what made Jax a great bartender – a purveyor of the remedy to a man’s madness.

“Science fiction was almost always about the future. The possibilities branching away from the present, spreading to the horizon, a universe of possibilities. Now, the future is no different than the present and science fiction is a thing of the past. We’ve mastered interstellar flight, we’ve solved our energy problems and found infinite resources. The frontier is gone, the sky that stretched unreachable above us, has become like the dirt beneath our feet. Our culture is rich, the government functions effectively, every human has the essentials. What place does science fiction have in utopia?”

“This isn’t utopia,” Jax stated. “I see people in here all the time who prove some humans haven’t evolved for centuries. There’s greed, and hatred, and bigotry.”

“Save me the sob story,” Markus said wearily. “Science fiction isn’t about who we are, its about who we have the opportunity to be. Utopia is every generation. Everyone wants to think they’re the pinnacle.”

“So what does that mean for you?” Jax asked.

‘Well,” Markus said, and then drained the rest of his scotch. “What time is it?”

“Nearly three o’clock,” Jax answered.

Standing, Markus Wells, a direct descendant of the very family tree that sprouted one of the fathers of science fiction, dropped one hundred credits on the bar and turned to leave.

“You might want to hop on this next dayorbiter, Jax,” Markus called back to him as he left.

“Why’s that?”

Stopping at the door, Markus turned back to him, a strange sad look on his face. “When the future runs out, sometimes you have to return to the past to find it again. There’s always a reset button.”

With a final creak, the ancient door slammed shut.

An hour passed and several regulars came in, bringing their pointless lives with them on the tips of their tongues. Jax found it difficult to get the old man out of his head. There was something about him that Jax felt he should have noticed, a mysterious darkness hanging about the man. Continuously, Jax would be able to drown out the thoughts with his bartending duties, but the figure of Markus always returned to his mind’s eye.

At 8:45, there was a ruckus outside the pub. Jax pushed through the crowd gathering at the door and forced his way outside into the blinding light of the promenade.

Blocking out most of the view from the massive clear dome that separated Kegel Station from open space was a giant military vessel. The sun glinted off missiles and laser batteries, all aimed towards the station.

As the first blasts shook the station and Jax witnessed people floating out into the vacuum of space, Jax could not help but wonder if somehow Markus was involved.

What Jax saw outside the station was a reset button with teeth.

Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus: Namesake

I used to fear that so much of my little pieces were going to waste. It wasn’t that I felt posting them as part of my blog would negate their viability for other markets (it won’t, by the way, if you know what you’re doing), it was that I felt I wouldn’t be able to create but a certain amount of fiction in my lifetime. Like if this represented a large percentage of total creative output, I was totally squandering it in a medium that won’t get me anything.

Well, no worries. I’ve come to learn over the last two or three years of spontaneous fiction, especially spontaneous science fiction, that I’m not going to have an issue coming up with ideas.

While this story can be expanded upon, its not going to be. This is it for this Taggart. It’s a sci-fi collage, hastily glued with old school paste, some of which I’ve eaten.

And now I have a tummy ache.

The ground sped towards him in the forward HUD, and Sergeant Alvis Taggart braced himself for the impact. Collision alarms assaulted him from every direction in the tight cockpit of Exotech Mechanized Assault Suit.

The blast from the enemy plazmortars had knocked him from his perch along the 351st’s stealth assault vector, and as he fell, he noticed the rest of his squad continued along their mission path.

The fall was considerable. The 351st had taken a lightly fortified route through a rocky area that hid the enemy’s waste disposal plants. Clinging like insects underneath rocky outcroppings over sheer cliffs, they had infiltrated well into enemy territory before encountering heavy automated resistance. These plants were apparently more important to their enemies than first assumed.

Sergeant Taggart, imprisoned in his heavy assault vehicle, plunged towards a giant piece of machinery attached to a wide vat of glowing blue sludge.

“Radiation levels are increasing dramatically. Collision imminent. Primary thrusters offline. Compensatory maneuvering insufficient at current velocity.”

The AI spat error after error as the helpless soldier descended towards what he assumed would be his demise.

Taggart collided with a heavy conveyor routing spent fuel rods from enemy space cruisers into the vat of waste. Laser shears, used to cut the rods into smaller pieces, ripped through his suit at midriff and Taggart spat blood inside the mechsuit as he slowly rolled along the conveyor towards the waste vat.

***

“Secondary energy source detected. Nanorepair sequences initiated. Compensating for radiation. Organic systems failing.”

Taggart could hear the AI attempting to extricate itself from the vat, but in the HUD all he could see was the glowing blue of waste.

“Initiate sequence 33,” Taggart gasped. The suicide sequence would take a few seconds, and then he wouldn’t have to worry about where his legs were anymore.

“Database corruption detected. Sequence 33: Unknown command. Integrating with organic components.”

It took Taggart a moment to realize what the AI had just said. “You can’t do that. Order 26B.” 26B was a failsafe that prevented AI-assisted mech units from attempting to integrate their cybernetic systems into a human body. The AI’s were programmed to prevent the death of their human operators, but after several “abominable” hybrids as a result of the AIs going to far, the Terran military had installed all mech units with the 26B failsafe.

“Order 26B not recognized. Integrating with organic components. Secondary energy source overloading current configurations. Adjusting systems to compensate. Energy levels increasing exponentially. Compensating. Compensating. Compensating.”

Before Taggart could scream, his brain shut down.

***

Inter-Terran System Emergency Data Stream:

WARNING: ALL INTERPLANETARY VESSELS

Following the destruction of Titan and the Terra-Jovian Asteroid Array, all non-military traffic in this system is hereby prohibited. Pursuant to the binding interplanetary decrees as ratified in the signing of the Io Treaty, all military vessels are to report to rendezvous T9-AA13.

Encrypted orders can be uploaded using SigmaTrans at TR34.50.H77

***

THREE MONTHS LATER:

The Terrans had been fighting near Saturn against an alien insurgency that called themselves Andromedeans. Now, mercenaries from all parts of the galaxy were streaming into the Sol system for a piece of the action and to assist the combined armies of the former foes against a new “anomaly”.

Captain Threx Banner had never been to Mars, but now he took his rag-tag team of mercs into orbit to see what this “anomaly” was that had both the Terrans and the Andromedeans running scared.

Dropping below the man-made atmosphere of the planet in a loose configuration of stolen military vessels, the mercs quickly saw what it was they faced.

Across all screens on their flagship, a blue cyber-enhanced human face appeared.

“I am Taggart. You have been classified as a destructive virus. Prepare for cleansing.”

It looked like an Exotech Mechanized Assault Suit, but it was a thousand times too big and eerily glowing blue.

Captain Banner flicked a finger at the hula dancer figurine on his control board.

“Farewell, me buckos,” he said.

***

Indeterminable light years away, an organism with advanced intelligence observed a strange phenomenon in a distant galaxy.

Over the last three cycles of his planet’s orbit around its red dwarf star, the organism had noticed the galaxy turn gradually blue.

Taking one of his optical appendages away from the observation unit, the creature noticed the blue glow was now visible in the inky blackness of space by his naked eyes.

The creature quickly began to fill out the forms to have the anomaly named after him.

Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus: Self Portrait

madmen-in-yard1

“I’d like to think my approach to science fiction is fresh and new,” the author replied. “In reality, I don’t know if it is, or not. I haven’t read everything out there. In the end, maybe it is all regurgitation. Once upon a time, a man said: I’ve just written the greatest story ever told, and it starts with ‘Once upon a time, a man said: I’ve just written the greatest story ever told, and it starts with …”

“Describe your approach to science fiction for us,” the interviewer prompted. She tapped a poorly tightened ballpoint pen that rattled irritatingly against her clipboard. Like others who had interviewed the obscure author, this one seem disinterested – as if science fiction and any crackpot with connections to it was beneath her.

“I grew up reading pulp fiction, discarded in old boxes, usually only found in garage sales and occasionally those forbidden back rooms in discount book stores. It wasn’t just spaceships and aliens like you got with Asimov and the like – it was dark, shadowy material. You saw a portion of it in comic magazines in the early sixties before superheroes took over. There was brooding evil in those pages, elder gods, dark things that existed before the beginning of our universe. I grew up in the eighties, so I missed the true golden and silver eras. You saw it in Howard and Lovecraft during the pulp fiction days. Barker and King make it ridiculous in modern horror.”

The author paused, gauging the interviewer’s attention, then trudged onward.

“That kind of science fiction was before my time, but it is my favorite. I believe that in these modern times, we want to believe we’ve surpassed the wonder those old writers tried to evoke in the readers. We have computers, robots, global communication, space exploration. So then, what is science fiction to us now? Just another tool to hammer the same nail. We’ve learned how we can sell it just as easily as anything else.”

The interviewer – thin, made-up, plastic and vapid as the Hollywood that spawned her – stared blankly at him.

“My approach is not to be a prognosticator. I have no intention to predict what grand technological achievements will propel us into the future. I like to focus on what we’re going to take into that future from the past.” The author paused for dramatic effect. “Our fear.”

“So you write mash-up fiction? Horror Sci-fi?”

“Have you ever seen Goya’s painting of the yard full of madmen?” the author asked.

“I don’t believe so,” the interviewer said, absently looking at her watch. “Who is Goya?”

Dismissing her ignorance, and proceeding purely for the viewer, the author spoke on. His eyes took on a mysterious glow – some unintended effect of the studio lights.

“The painting is simple. Several lunatics are standing in a courtyard. Above them, an open ceiling with almost blinding light. In the courtyard, the shadows descend into void. A couple of madmen grapple with each other. You can see violence in the faces of the men. But there’s one figure in that painting that always gets to me. The figure is dark and obscure. When you observe the lighting of the scene, you start to think that you should be able to see that figure more clearly. You begin to fear that the lighting is right – its the figure that is wrong. A void. A darkness amidst dark things. An unknown evil hiding among well-detailed lunacy. This is what I write.”

“You write shadows?”

“I write little girls waving goodbye to men just released into a vacuum. I write polite alien parasites. I write geniuses who build rockets from scratch just to send their wives away. I write man as a virus spreading into space where he will soon meet things worse than himself.”

“Thank you,” the interviewer said, wrapping up the interview. As she gathered her things, she felt odd. There was a strange humming vibration causing her teeth to chatter.

The author gathered his satchel, lovingly placing his latest published novel into it, and then said his farewell. Holding the interviewer’s hand, he squeezed just slightly.

“I believe your eyes are bleeding,” the author pointed out.

“Thank you,” she responded. As the humming continued, she tried desperately to wipe the quickly pooling blood from the page of doodles she had created during the interview.

Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus: Finger Food

Another very short piece for Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus.

I think that sometimes, when writing science fiction, it is not so important that you have the technical expertise to understand possible future technologies, or even modern ones. I think what’s important, when the scene calls for it, is that you sound like you do.

Science seems like it would be rigid and unbending, but you can be awfully vague in your delivery of it, and the intelligent reader conjures the practical application of what your touching upon themselves. Not every reader wants to be led through your story by the hand.

I’m not big on research, unless I have to do it. When I have the need for a faster-than-light solution, I’ll take the time to check out the frontiers of propulsion. When you tear my stories apart, to behold the reason why I choose this genre, it has nothing to do with gadgets, space exploration, aliens, or advanced science. I write about humans.

Chief Regan rubbed his thumb along the palm side of his middle finger, between the first and second knuckles.

“I think it safe to assume the incidents are related, starting with the first fatality five days ago” Director Jaynes declared with finality. “Down three techs, we don’t have the luxury of time to play detective.”

Doc Underwood zipped up the third body bag, and wheeled the gurney towards cold storage.

In the tight space of the medical examination room, the five figures that made up the decision-making authority for the Ulysses Mining presence on Asteroid EG37 eyed each other suspiciously.

Chief Regan dug a thumbnail into the flesh of his middle finger, tearing away a bit of dead skin.

“Psychotic episode?” the astrogeologist offered.

“I said no more detective work,” their director snapped. “We’ve got three days to get that hab-pocket ready for a permanent team. That’s three days of non-stop work, no breaks. Chief, I want you to get those mech units in there to start scanning for leaks and patch as they go. If we’ve got a space-crazy wrench in our crew, then we’ll handle it once we get off this rock. Until such time as Ulysses 3 blasts off from the surface with our happy asses on it, we watch ourselves and work like we’re getting paid for it. Understood?”

The five crew leaders nodded their understanding and left for their assigned areas.

Chief Regan walked absently away, still digging into his flesh, looking for the tiny alien that had burrowed into his finger five days earlier.

Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus: Whistling in the Dark

I love space. Not just the planets, stars, and galaxies – I like room to maneuver. I think the space setting gives me that more than any other setting. It’s vast, cold, unknown. We, as humans, breaking out from that frontier line into the unknown will inevitably take our humanity with us, in all its bizarre glory. There will be good and bad, greedy and generous, sane and insane, just as there is on this planet we call home.

So, with that in mind, a short space piece.

The ship’s engines pulsed methodically, vibrating the deck underneath the purposeful strides of the ship’s captain. Captain Vendo whistled a complicated tune as he walked his rounds.

He reached the engineering deck while whistling a difficult arpeggio pattern he had perfected in his seven years in space. Perusing the console for issues, he practiced alternating notes in octaves. After verifying all lights were green, the captain headed for the life support systems.

Scaling the ladder that led from one deck to the next through a narrow tunnel, Vendo experimented with his trills, expertly constructing counter-rhythms against the echoes of the long tube. Stepping onto the Life Support deck, he ignored an entire bank of glaring red lights while whistling Mussorgsky.

Ending his rounds, Captain Vendo returned to the cockpit. Only there did he end his concert. Sighing to himself, he repositioned the body slouching at tactical, holding his breath as he did so. Having set things back to the way they were meant to be, he departed for his quarters, giving only a cursory glance to the vast void of space that was the ship’s destination.

Vendo took a shortcut through the suspension tanks, and visited his favorite corpses out of the thousand. As he did so, he whistled “What a Wonderful World”.

Salvatore Ambulando’s Detritus: Eye Appointment

“Devour us,” the old warlord commanded his underling. “Take my strength and the strength of these warriors and defeat these sadistic imperialists.”

The collective gasp of the twenty gathered warchiefs could have been enough to empty the tight planning module of breathable air. All of them were seasoned veterans of the long conflict, witnesses to countless atrocities, not limited to blatant genocide, chemical warfare, nanosubversion. None of the twenty had expected their leader to suggest they break the Ancient Codes – not after they had held their own against the Empire for so long.

“Do not place this burden on me, my lord. We can still triumph,” pleaded the warchief who was second-in-command.

“We can still be enslaved!” the warlord barked in response. “That is what awaits us. We are the last bastion of hope against them. We have fallen back for decades, losing all our holy planets, sacrificing our history for some future we knew we would never see.”

The ancient leader of the Greldzkik warrior tribe stood – the fierceness of his gaze on his assembled warchiefs locked them into rapt attention.

“Now is the time to stop looking to the future for our saviors. Now is the time to look to the past. The Ancient Codes made us civil, they ended the Great Struggle that devastated every system we expanded into. Today, we will reverse the Codes and reclaim our ancient heritage as devourers of power. Today, you will all be devoured by the greatest of my warchiefs and he will march into battle as a god. Today, the new day passes and the old days will live again to devour the future.”

United, each warchief inserted his mentaspike into the Greldzkik cube that held the Ancient Codes. As prescribed by the holy rites never intended to be used to reverse the codes, the assembled warriors input their encrypted failsafes and undid eons of evolution. The Greldzkik cube began to feed back the intricate gene sequencing that would rewrite their genetic code and return their race to what it had been.

When they had finished, the chosen warchief absorbed his wise and powerful leader. Then, one by one, he devoured each of the other warchiefs.

***

In a lavish office, atop a towering building in the Imperial City, the Chief Imperial Officer of the Grand Oberzetz Empire wondered why things were sliding off his desk. For several minutes before that, he had wondered at a strange sound like a mythical giant pacing across the city towards his building. He gazed curiously at the large, bloodshot eye staring into his office, and then checked his calendar – immediately flustered that he didn’t have an appointment with a large eye that day.

As the building toppled, the Chief Imperial Officer of the Grand Oberzetz Empire jabbed a finger at the intercom switch on his communications unit as it tried to slide off his desk. He paged his secretary in an attempt to determine if she had bungled his appointments again.

“Rose?” he asked cautiously as he and his empire died.