Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shore Leave, part 1

This is the latest in a series of fanfic prequels to Isaac Asimov's early story "Black Friar of the Flame", detailing the history of humanity's interactions with the reptilian Vegans. Previous stories are "New Management", "An Audience with the King", and "Repurposed". And now, without further ado, the first installment of

Shore Leave
by Johnny Pez

Captain Wern Thorba had to pause for a moment as he left the boat to let his eyes adjust to the dim sunlight. The Sirians lived under a sun that was nearly as bright as Vega, so they tended to keep their spacecraft decently lit. The Sirians' Terrestrial allies, though, lived under a dimmer sun, which gave the planet Earth an eerie twilight quality to the Vegan's eyes. Thorba knew in an abstract way that the Terrestrials found their sun's light to be perfectly normal, but he could not escape the feeling that they must secretly find it as unsatisfying as he did.

The view around the boat was equally unsatisfying, but his time with the Sirians had taught Thorba that all spaceports looked pretty much the same, and that it was unfair to judge a world based on the appearance of its spaceport. As he and his men stood by the open hatch of the boat, Thorba saw a self-propelled vehicle -- a bus, the humans called it -- approaching. As he often did at times like this, Thorba tried to imagine such technology being used on Vega VI, his own world. It wasn't easy. The bus would have a difficult time navigating the narrow streets of Lhasinu, capital city of his native Kingdom of Lhasi, and probably an equally difficult time making its way along the rutted dirt roads that ran between Lhasi's cities. Not to mention the fact that the vehicle's hydrogen-combustion engine was centuries in advance of anything found on Vega VI.

The trip on the bus was uneventful as they crossed the wide concrete plain of the spaceport's landing field. Ahead was a terminal building done in what Thorba had come to think of as standard human architecture: rectangular, with a flat roof and glass sides. The bus came to a halt near a pair of glass doors, of the equally standard human sort that slid aside automatically as you approached. Thinking back to his first day as a recruit as Lhasinu Base back on Vega VI, Thorba could still remember his shock at first encountering automatic sliding doors. At least a quarter of the Vegans who had come to Lhasinu Base to sign up with the Sirians had been unable to cope with the doors, convinced that evil spirits must be involved in their use.

As Thorba and his men left the bus the doors slid aside, and they were approached by a human male in the uniform of the Terrestrial Space Navy. He had evidently been well briefed for his mission, for he came directly to Thorba and saluted, saying, "Captain Thorba, I am Lieutenant Tatupu, your liaison." Since humans and Vegans had a difficult time telling individuals of the other race apart, Thorba assumed that Tatupu had relied on his uniform's rank badges to distinguish him from his men. He might be wrong, though; it was possible for members of one race to train themselves to recognize distiguishing characteristics in the other.

Tatupu was taller and broader than most of the humans Thorba had met, with the usual black human hair. Thorba had mostly become used to the appearance of humans, but he still found hair disturbing. Fortunately, Tatupu, like most human males in the military, kept his hair very short, which made it easier to ignore.

Thorba returned Tatupu's salute and said, "Good day, Lieutenant. You will be in charge of escorting my men through customs, correct?"

"That's right, Captain. If you and your men will just follow me, I'll get you all sorted out."

Tatupu led the Vegans through the terminal while Thorba made sure that none of his men strayed off. They mostly avoided the crowds of humans by making their way through an otherwise empty corridor. As far as Thorba knew, he and his men were the first Vegans to visit Earth, so he doubted the corridor had been constructed specifically for them. No doubt it had been designed so that important humans could avoid the crowds, and the Terrestrial Space Navy had commandeered it for the Vegans' benefit.

The corridor led to a large room, dimly-lit as everything else on Earth was, occupied by a desk with a human female sitting behind it. She had hair as dark as Tatupu's, but longer, and rather elaborately styled. Her skin was darker than the Navy man's, and she wore civilian clothing. The two humans conferred for a few minutes, and then Tatupu turned back to Thorba and said, "Ms. Walsh tells me that everything is in order. I have a vehicle waiting to take you and your men to the hotel where they'll be staying."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Thorba said. "Lead the way."

Another stretch of empty corridor led to another set of sliding doors, which opened out onto . . .


(to be continued)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to offend everyone (and get arrested)

South Park creators/producers/voice actors Trey Parker and Matt Stone are in trouble again. This time, a two-part episode that depicts Mohammed, Prophet of God and founder of Islam, in a bear suit, has prompted a previously unknown group of religious fanatics in New York City called Revolution Muslim to issue a death threat against the pair.

However, we here at the Johnny Pez blog think that offending the world's billion Muslims doesn't go far enough. That's why we wish to make the following suggestion to Parker and Stone: what they need to do now is air a cartoon showing Mohammed having sex with his nine-year-old wife Aisha. That way, in addition to offending Muslims by depicting the Prophet of God, Parker and Stone can also offend Christians by depicting a fifty-two-year-old man having sex with a nine-year-old girl. As an added bonus, by producing a cartoon that "depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and is obscene", Parker and Stone would also be liable for criminal charges of child pornography under Federal Law 18 U.S.C. 1466A, which would be particularly badass.

So think about it, guys. There's a perfect storm of offensiveness (including blasphemy and lawbreaking) just waiting to happen, if you've got the nerve.


If you thought we were done with the fanfic prequels to Isaac Asimov's "Black Friar of the Flame", you thought wrong! In the stirring tradition of "New Management" and "An Audience with the King" comes . . .

by Johnny Pez

Dr. Nelda Hartz was shocked, to say the least, to find one of Admiral Roh's marines pointing a gun at her when she returned to Lhasinu Base. The marine escorted her to her quarters, and she was even more shocked to find that her possessions had all been removed. She attempted to call Admiral Roh, but her monitor had been disabled. In fact, she was unable to speak to anybody else in Lhasinu Base except for the marine, who had stationed himself outside her door. It was really quite astonishing how easily her quarters had been converted into a prison cell.

Lacking any other means to communicate her wishes, she finally said to the marine, "I'd like to speak with Admiral Roh, please."

The marine looked at her without expression as he replied, "I'll pass along your request, ma'am." And that was all. Would he shoot her if she tried to leave? She preferred not to experiment.

Her books had been removed with the rest of her belongings, and the monitor was still disabled, so Hartz found herself in the extremely unusual position of having no way to pass the time. She stared out of the window at the grounds of Lhasinu Base, and at the primitive, alien buildings of Lhasinu visible beyond the base's outer wall. The more distant parts of the city were obscured by the falling rain, and puddles were forming in their usual places within the base. She was briefly puzzled when the scene outside began to grow dark, then realized with a start that night was falling, and that she had been sitting and staring out of the window for hours.

It was nearly full dark when the door to her room opened and the lights came up. Turning from the window, Hartz saw Admiral Roh Bon-hwa standing in the doorway, dressed in the white version of his Sirian Navy uniform. A marine entered the room behind him, a different one from the one who had been guarding her door earlier.

"Doctor Hartz," said the Admiral, "I must ask you to accompany me."

Hartz sighed and rose from her place by the window. "Can you at least tell me what's going on?"
she asked as she followed him from the room. The marine followed behind her.

"Lhasinu Base is being repurposed," Roh replied as they walked through the corridors. "The research establishment is being closed down, and the base will be used as a training camp for the Vegan recruits. You and the other scientists are being flown up to the Dauntless, to be taken back to Sirius for internment. Your personal effects have already been transferred up to the Dauntless."

Hartz had suspected all along that the base personnel would wind up being shipped back to Sirius for internment, but Admiral Roh seemed to be moving quickly. She noticed that they were moving in the direction of the base's landing field.

As the three emerged from the building, Hartz found a minor sense of relief that the rain had stopped. She strongly suspected that Roh would not have bothered to provide her with an umbrella. The area around the Sirian Navy boat was lit by floodlights, and they provided enough light to allow Hartz to navigate around the various puddles that were scattered across the landing field.

Roh unexpectedly spoke up. "If it's any consolation, Dr. Hartz, I believe the Sirian government is planning to establish its own research base on Vega Six after the war. I wouldn't be surprised if scientists from the other nations were allowed to take part."

Hartz found the use of the phrase "other nations" jarring. It looked like the human race really was reverting back to the 21st century. And now that the Sirians were recruiting Vegan soldiers, the Vegans would soon be experiencing a technological leap forward.

As they entered the boat, Hartz found herself wondering what would happen when the advancing Vegans caught up with the regressing humans.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Come take my pulse

As I learned some time ago, when there's nothing else to blog about, you can always embed a music video. Here is a short film by Deco Dawson set to Metric's "Help I'm Alive".

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mooning over "The Moon Woman"

Some odd things can happen when you get non-genre writers writing science fiction, such as C. S. Lewis' Perelandra trilogy, Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos pentology and Margaret Attwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Not being familiar with the genre's established tropes, non-genre writers can sometimes experience a feeling of irrational exuberance when they come into contact with them. They also fail to understand the underlying rationale behind science fiction, which is the effort to remain within the realm of the scientifically plausible. While this rationale is sometimes honored more in the breach than the observance, even genre writers who flout scientific accuracy at least do so deliberately, in open defiance of the genre's most basic convention. Non-genre writers, on the other hand, tend to disregard scientific accuracy out of ignorance, both of the genre convention of scientific plausibility and of scientific knowledge itself.

It can be argued that Minna Irving's "The Moon Woman", from the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories, doesn't quite fall into the category of the genre story from a non-genre writer. After all, Amazing Stories had only been on the newsstands for two and a half years when the story appeared, so it might be said that there was yet no such thing as a science fiction genre. However, this argument ignores the genre's long antecedents. Hugo Gernsback may have given the genre a name (actually, two names), but the importance of scientific plausibility had already been established in the 19th century by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

A corollary to the importance of scientific plausibility is that whatever strange society you come up with has to have its own internal plausibility -- it has to work on its own terms. Thus, in a science fiction story, you are never, ever, ever supposed to find out at the end that it was all just a dream.

So, it turns out that Professor Hicks didn't decide to spend a year in suspended animation lying in a specially-built tomb, and wasn't betrayed by his debt-ridden colleague Dr. Blinkman. Instead, he spent less than a day in suspended animation, lying in his study while Blinkman kept watch over him. There was no tomb, and of course no Rosaria. It's even possible that Hicks got his numbers mixed up, as people do in dreams, and that the story does not take place in the year 2814, but in the late 1920s, as the passing reference to a trans-Atlantic steamship implies.

Although it fails as science fiction, "The Moon Woman" does contain two interesting bits of etymology: "loan shark" and "bozo" are both older than I thought they were. According to Wikipedia, "loan shark" goes back to the late 19th century, though the term didn't have the association with organized crime that it does now. And according to Merriam-Webster Online, bozo dates back at least to 1916, decades before the debut of Bozo the Clown.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"The Moon Woman" by Minna Irving, part 3

This is the third and final installment of "The Moon Woman", an early science fiction story by the poet Minna Irving that appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. This represents the first appearance by this story since its original publication over eighty years ago.

The story so far:
Professor James Holloway Hicks has perfected a suspended animation serum, but he is unable to find a human subject to test it on, so he decides to test it on himself. With the help of his friend Dr. Horace Blinkman, Hicks places himself in suspended animation for a year. Blinkman, however, is deep in debt, and Hicks has made Blinkman the heir to his considerable fortune. Blinkman give into temptation, and injects Hicks with the entire supply of the serum, ensuring that Hicks will remain in suspended animation for decades . . .

The Awakening

In the dew of the early morning a young woman alighted in the cedar grove surrounding the ruined mausoleum where Professor James Holloway Hicks had lain for two hundred years. Her bare white feet were thrust into sandals of snowy leather, her superb form was clothed only in a scant garment of thin white silk that only reached to her dimpled knees and left her arms and shoulders uncovered. Her glorious golden hair was confined by a fillet of silver studded with turquoises, and anklets and armlets of the same jeweled metal tinkled and clinked musically as she walked or rather glided forward.

Suspended from a thick gold chain about her neck dangled a cylinder about two inches long and of a dull green substance. From her shoulder-blades extended broad wings of a glittering, semi-transparent, membraneous material, and these beautiful wings she folded as her feet touched the ground -- apparently without volition just as a bird folds its pinions when it alights, but really by touching a small protruberance set in a belt of white leather that crossed her full bosom.

She looked around her, and her eyes caught the gleam of marble through the trees. Stooping, she touched the backs of her sandals and immediately a pair of little wheels sprang out under the soles; on these she rolled smoothly and rapidly toward the crumbling tomb. Rain had stained its purity, sun and wind had cracked and crumbled the cement that held the marble blocks together; many of the columns had fallen and were buried in weeds and débris, and the walls were half submerged in a rising tide of soil, only the upper half of the bronze door remaining above the ground.

"It is a temple of the dead," she exclaimed delightedly, "and none are supposed to be in existence now. Oh, what a find! Grandfather must come here tomorrow and explore it. He may find some priceless relic of the old, old barbaric times, or new material for his film on 'Ancient Customs of a Wingless World'."

Her curiosity was aroused and she circled the ruined mausoleum slowly on her wheeled sandals, looking for a crack or a peep-hole in the walls, but solid marble confronted her. Determined to find some fissure through which she could see the interior, she spread her majestic white wings and rose above the roof, where she hung poised in the sunlight, gazing down upon the fragments of the iron grill-work still adhering to the leaden frame. The sheet of glass beneath it had long ago dropped and been shattered on the bronze canopy below.

The winged woman had a good view of the inside of the mausoleum through the broken skylight, and she studied the bronze canopy-top with increasing interest, trying to conjecture what it could conceal.

Resolving to find out and reap the glory of a first discovery, she alighted on the roof and removed the fragments of iron still projecting around the edges of the opening. The air that arose from within was cool and sweet. She measured with her eye the distance from the roof to the flat top of the canopy beneath. She could not make use of her wings in squeezing through the narrow skylight, and the canopy appeared to be as solid as the marble walls. Seizing the sides of the aperature, she fearlessly lowered herself though it until she hung by her hands, then let herself drop.

When 150 pounds of solid, healthy womanhood struck the top of the canopy exactly in the middle, the metallic supports snapped like so many pipe-stems and the whole structure heeled over like a full-rigged ship in a squall, and spilled her on the floor, where she sat half stunned by the fall and afraid to move.

The floor was deep with fine gray dust mingled with shreds of black near the great sarcophagus. The canopy had toppled to one side clear of the bronze coffin, which now stood fully revealed. All around her on the floor were little reddish heaps of rust like gouts of dry blood where the metallic fringes had fallen. She had discovered the sarcophagus had no lid and was so frightened at the thought of the horrible unknown dead thing within it, that she was about to unfold her wings and try to scramble out through the roof again when a sound broke the profound stillness and robbed her of strength to stir.

It was a long, fluttering sigh.

She closed her eyes in helpless terror.

When after at least ten minutes of absolute silence she ventured to open them again, a large white hand was dangling over the side of the sarcophagus.

She sat staring at it, mute, paralyzed, waiting for the dead to rise and destroy her for having dared to invade the sanctity of the tomb. Then a dark head appeared and a pair of broad shoulders, and a man sat up and looked stupidly around him.

His eyes wandered slowly round the bare, windowless walls, and rested on the beautiful intruder. He spoke in a thick, hoarse whisper, articulating the words with difficulty like a child first learning to talk:

"Who are you?"

Though trembling with fear, she understood him at once and answered timidly by clearly:

"I am Rosaria. Please don't hurt me."

The man continued to gaze at her for some time in silence, evidently pondering deeply over some problem he could not grasp, but when she made a motion to rise, he spoke again, hurriedly but in a clearer voice than at first:

"Don't, I beg of you. Remain where you are, my dear young lady, I am -- er -- not -- er exactly presentable."

* * *

Somehow his tones sounded more natural now, and she sank back to her sitting posture on the dusty floor obediently, but wondering, fearful that this "dead" man was half bones and so objected to being seen in a skeleton state. She was too amazed at this weird tête-à-tête to be frightened now.

The truth was that a quick downward glance had revealed to the professor the scandalous fact that he was clothed only in a layer of dust and a few tattered shreds of his silk undergarments. It was a most embarrassing situation to say the least, but probably it did more to shock his dormant senses into their normal activity than anything else could have done.

Professor Hicks was a very modest man.

The fair Rosaria was next to break the silence:

"You are dead, are you not?" she asked gravely. "But I never knew that the dead could speak. This must be why we disperse them, so they cannot talk to us and bother us about their affairs."

"Dead!" cried the professor, his voice still a trifle husky, but growing stronger every minute as the returning flood of life swept through his veins. "I am not dead, I'm very much alive. I have not the faintest idea who you are or why you are here, but, no doubt, you can tell me why Dr. Blinkman and Mr. Lecky are not here at my awakening. Perhaps I have recovered consciousness too soon -- or have I been longer than I expected to be? My robe must have been destroyed by moths -- something I should certainly have guarded against."

The winged woman heard him through attentively, and at once grasped his meaning. "I do not know your friends," she declared, "but evidently you have overslept yourself. Why did you come to a place like this to sleep, an old-time temple of the dead, probably the only one left on earth; our dead have been dispersed now for many generations."

Professor Hicks gasped, and in his agitation almost forgot his nudity and came near to leaping out of the sarcophagus.

"Generations!" he almost shrieked. "Good Heavens, girl! How long have I been here? What year is this?"

"This," said Rosaria, "is the 10th of June, 3014."

For five minutes the professor remained actually dumb with amazement. Then his voice rang out in a hoarse cry of mingled astonishment and triumph:

"The serum! The serum! It is more powerful than I thought. I can bridge centuries for the human race. I can make man almost immortal. Animation has been suspended in me for two hundred years."

He suddenly realized that he was hungry; two hundred years is a pretty long time between meals for a full-grown man. He felt for the metal box of tabloids that had been placed at his feet. The hinges were gone from the lid, which had fallen off, and the tabloids were merely pinches of powder. He picked up the bottle of champagne, struck off the neck on the side of the sarcophagus, and drank thirstily. The wine was flat and sour, but it moistened his dry throat and parched tongue most acceptably.

Something heavy and cold fell against his naked side; it was the key to the door of the mausoleum.

"Now my dear Miss Rosaria," he said, "I am placed in a very peculiar position, which I will be able to explain to your entire satisfaction when I am a little stronger. Can you not procure me some clothes and something to eat so that I can leave this terrible place? Here is the key to the door."

He lifted the great key and threw it at her feet.

But Rosaria shook her head:

"The key is no use," she said, "the door is half underground now. You can escape the way that I entered, through that hole in the roof."

He glanced round at the walls which had enclosed him for two long centuries and shuddered:

"I cannot possibly go out in this condition, I must have something to wear, and I am terribly impatient to breathe the free air and walk on good old terra firma again."

Rosario sprang to her feet:

"I will go at once," she cried. "Do you wait here until my return. I will fly back within the hour."

As she stood up, she unfolded her white, glistening wings in such a way as to form a screen between herself and the shrinking man who was vainly trying to hide himself in the bottom of the bronze box. To the professor's amazement, she floated up to the roof like a bird or a gigantic butterfly. Seizing the edge of the opening in her strong white hands, she deftly furled her wings while Hicks stared, open-mouthed, and raising herself through the aperature, spread them quickly again and soared up, up against the blue sky, until he could see her no longer.

* * *

* * *

"The human race has developed wings like the angels since I retired from the world," mused the professor. "Many marvelous things must have happened while I slept."

He fairly trembled in his eagerness to leave the mausoleum and see for himself the progress the world had made.

He rose, stretched himself, clambered over the side of the sarcophagus and stood with his bare feet in the dust of centuries. He walked over and pressed the electric-light button near the door; the button fell off in his hand. He gazed overhead at the patch of blue sky and saw what he took to be a large bird pass swiftly across it; later he learned it was a man flying.

Soon after he heard something on the roof and darted behind the fallen canopy, which afforded an excellent screen. Rosaria appeared at the opening and dropped a bundle through it. The professor crawled out from beneath the canopy, grabbed it and scurried back to shelter. The bundle contained a garment of purple silk reaching to his ankles, a pair of white leather sandals with what looked like flat buttons at the heels and little folded fans under the soles, and two long ribbed contrivances attached to broad pieces of leather.

He could not imagine what they were intended for, and after pushing and pulling them, trying to shut them up and spread them open, he finally threw them aside in disgust and attired himself in the robe and sandals.

When he was dressed he shouted boldly: "Miss Rosaria! Miss Rosaria!"

There was a swish overhead and the winged woman knelt at the opening and looked in.

"I dropped on that broken thing over there when I came in. You see there is no room for me to my wings, the aperture is too small. I could use them going out because I could catch hold of the edge with one hand and fold them up with the other before I climbed through. But I can't, coming down. I'll have to hold on by both hands and drop. It is too far to the floor, so you must stand up in the box and catch me. Only be careful not to break my wings."

Wonderingly, the professor climbed back in his bronze coffin again, stood up to his full height and stretched out his arms. Fortunately, the roof was not very high and he could reach her ankles with his hands. So she rested her pretty sandaled feet on his palms to steady herself before she let go. The professor made a valiant effort to catch her, but staggered under her weight and both fell to the bottom of the sarcophagus. With that white and gold bundle of womanhood in his arms, the professor suddenly felt how silly all his crucibles and retorts and serums had been. He could not even remember the formula of the serum of suspended animation; it had served its glorious purpose, it had bridged the centuries between him and this super-girl, who was winged like an angel, and he felt that he was through with all that had been so important to him two hundred years ago.

For the first time in his two hundred and thirty-five years, the professor was in love.

Laughing, but not in the least embarrassed, the remarkable Rosaria disentangled herself from the professor's arms and sprang lightly out upon the floor.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "where are your wings? Why didn't you put them on?"

"My wings?" said the bewildered professor feebly. "I have no wings, my dear Miss Rosaria. Nobody had wings in my time."

"No," she said calmly, "I don't suppose they were invented then. Eat your lunch and afterwards I will help you put them on."

From a silver box delicately enameled in colors hanging from her wrist by a slender chain, she produced a number of small vials bearing tiny labels, and filled with differently colored liquids.

Rosaria enumerated the various edibles as she handed him these vials:

"Roast beef, wheat, chicken salad, cheese, potatoes, oranges, coffee and wine. These," she explained, "are extracts of the essences of the foods and drinks I have just named. By reducing them to the actual concentrated essences necessary to nourish the human system, we avoid taking waste matter into our stomachs. We have thus eliminated a great deal of unnecessary work and solved the servant trouble and expense that used to be such a great source of annoyance to our grandmothers. The kitchen range and sink have disappeared with the butler's pantry and the storeroom. There are no meat-markets, no grocery-stores, no dairies; everything we eat and drink is prepared by the government laboratories and sold in drug stores. A year's supply of food for a family of eight persons may be kept in a small cellerette."

By this time the professor had swallowed his lunch. While he felt sustained and wonderfully strengthened by the essences, at the same time it seemed too much like taking medicines to be enjoyable.

* * *

Rosaria now assisted the professor to strap on his wings with the broad leather belt, explaining as she did so, that they were controlled by a tiny spring on the breast which turned on or off at will the electrical current drawn from the body of the wearer, which also controlled the action of the wings. It was all so beautifully simple, the professor wondered why nobody had thought of it before the clumsy airplane of his time was invented. With a little practice and the help of his charming companion he was soon able to balance himself quite well in the air, though he could only rise a foot or so above the floor in the restricted space of the tomb. But when he attempted to catch the edge of the skylight opening and climb out, one of the wings collided violently with the roof because he forgot to touch the spring, and snap went a rib.

Poor Professor Hicks tumbled to the floor and pretty Rosaria wrung her hands in dismay.

"It is too bad," she cried. "It would have been so easy to go out that way. Now I will have to use my radiomatic and partly destroy your lovely temple."

She touched the small, dull-green cylinder that hung from her neck:

"All women carry them," she said, "for since everybody flies who can afford to buy, borrow, rent or steal a pair of wings, it is not safe for any woman to fly out alone without being able to protect herself. I hate to spoil your temple though."

"It is not a temple," exclaimed the professor hastily, "it is just a tomb, a place to put the dead in away from sight. There were much finer ones than this. Don't you be afraid to wreck it, I -- I hate it!" he jerked out disgustedly.

"Why," she asked suddenly, "did they keep you? Why didn't they disperse you? Or did you die long before our method of dissolving the dead into nothingness was adopted?"

"People were either entombed in the earth or in a crypt or mausoleum like this in my time, or were cremated," he replied. "I never heard of any other way of disposing of the deceased -- unless with quicklime, which was only used on the bodies of criminals."

"Oh!" said Rosaria, "how funny! It must have been dreadfully unhealthy to have a lot of dead people lying around."

"What do you do with them now?" inquired the professor.

"We disperse the remains," she answered. "The coroner turns a powerful X-ray upon a body and it vanishes, resolves into nothingness. It is so much cleaner -- and cheaper."

"Can you use that little gun of yours on the locks of these doors?" asked the professor, impatient to get out. Just then the marvelous X-ray did not interest nearly as much as the thought of freedom. The very idea of having spent two hundred years in the limited space of the marble chamber almost stifled him. He wanted to feel the cool winds of heaven on his brow, hear the songs of the birds, touch the green leaves once more. The serum did not interest him, now that he could look at Rosaria's exquisite profile.

"You can't get out of that door," said his fair deliverer. "It is closed and the earth is banked against it half way to the top. I will make an opening above the level of the ground as nearly as I can judge."

She lifted the little cylinder and pointed it straight at the marble wall.

Professor Hicks heard no report, saw no flash, but almost immediately a tiny bubble was traveling rapidly up the smooth surface, and as it moved, the marble melted beneath it until a fissure an inch wide appeared.

Rosaria still stood with the little cylinder extended as if taking aim. The bubble on the wall vanished when it had covered a foot and another bubble took its place, traveled the same distance and a third bubble continued the crack. This was succeeded by a fourth and a fifth until three sides of a square was formed. The direction taken by the bubbles was determined by the position from which they were aimed. With the sixth bubble the section of the wall tumbled inward, raising a great cloud of dust as it fell. Blue sky, green trees, and sunlit turf appeared through the opening, which was breast-high.

"The radiomatic fires a bubble of radium gas," explained Rosaria, "and nothing can withstand it, neither stone nor steel, nor iron nor living flesh."

"I feel," said the professor irrelevantly as he gazed out into the world again, "like a ghost. I am two hundred and thirty-five years old and I feel like an infant in knowledge beside you."

Rosaria opened her violet eyes wide, and shook her shining head gravely.

"I am not wise," she said earnestly, "I only know the common things I see, but the world is full of very wise people -- those who know how to harness the winds and direct the stars, and make the sun obey. Disease is unknown and death rarely occurs, unless in accident or battle, until the mind becomes so weakened that it can no longer command the forces of the body."

"I suppose earth has changed greatly since my time," he sighed, "and all the governments of the various countries have also changed."

"There is only one government now over the entire world," said the winged girl. "In the summer of 1930 a projectile was fired from the earth to the moon, and it was successful in reaching it. It was then for the first time that the moon-people were sure that the earth was inhabited and therefore habitable. So they came to earth in a great cylindrical car -- at least some of them did, and finding earth so very far behind moon-times, and also that very large areas on its surface were unpopulated, the moon-people remained here, and sent for many more. Being so much wiser and so much farther advanced in civilization than the earth-people, they became rulers here, and by intermarriage soon improved the earth-races -- mentally, morally and physically."

* * *

The professor pondered over this astounding information a few minutes before he asked another question:

"Are you still able to travel from the earth to the moon and vice versa?"

"Oh, yes," answered Rosaria, "almost everybody who is anybody at all takes a trip to the moon once or twice a year, and the moon-people are frequent visitors here. This is also true of the nearer stars, but we have not yet found a way to withstand the long period of traveling in the intense cold in order to reach Jupiter."

"But you still speak the same language -- the good, plain English that was spoken over half the globe when I withdrew from active life to my long rest."

"That," said Rosaria, "is because English is so much more expressive and contains so many more words than the language of the moon-people, which is only founded on half the letters of the alphabet, and moreover is very difficult to pronounce properly, being a series of gutterals from the throat rather than the tongue."

"And animals?" queried the interested professor.

"There are very few, only the cow, the hog, the hen, and the dog have been allowed to survive, the three former because they are useful for food and fat, the latter for friendly companionship and protection while we sleep. The weavers make furs from silk and wool far more beautiful and durable than the finest pelts. Silk, too, is manufactured from vegetable matter, independent of the silkworm, which is now seen only in museums. So it is with ivory, leather, and gems; science has found out the secrets of nature and makes them far better and at less cost. But had we not better climb out of here while it is yet light?"

The professor gallantly knelt for Rosaria to mount upon his shoulders and she wriggled through the narrow opening without injury to her precious wings. Professor Hicks then scrambled out, aided by the lady's strong little hands. He stood looking round him at the green woods, the glimpse of the Hudson, but a few miles distant, and the azure heavens through which sped occasional specks he knew were men and women. But he looked longest at the ancient mausoleum which was yet younger than himself, and like himself had withstood the assaults of two hundred years. Then he turned and gazed spellbound at his lovely companion. He felt that the wonderful serum had fulfilled its mission, and that there was no need of it in this marvelous new world into which he had returned. Then and there he ceased to be the professor; he became simply James Holloway Hicks.

"And you?" he asked, "are you an earthwoman?"

"Not altogether," said the winged girl. "I was born of an earth-father and a moon-mother."

Strange flutterings assailed the heart of James Hicks, hitherto callous to female charms, and then happened the most surprising event of that surprising day.

He dropped gracefully on one knee at the feet of his enchanting rescuer and lifted her dainty hand to his lips:

"Miss Rosaria, are you married? If not, will you fly through life with me?"

* * *

The morning sun was streaming through the long windows of his study. Outside every branch and twig and bush was sheathed in ice and flashing like a million jewels. The professor turned his head and saw Dr. Blinkman smiling at him from the depths of an easy chair:

"I thought it wouldn't work on you," he said, "but you have had a good night's sleep, and at times you seemed to be dreaming."


Sunday, April 18, 2010

"The Moon Woman" by Minna Irving, part 2

This is the second installment of "The Moon Woman", an early science fiction story by the poet Minna Irving that appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. This represents the first appearance by this story since its original publication over eighty years ago.

The story so far:
Professor James Holloway Hicks has perfected a suspended animation serum, but he is unable to find a human subject to test it on, so he decides to test it on himself. With the help of his friend Dr. Horace Blinkman, Hicks places himself in suspended animation for a year. Blinkman, however, is deep in debt, and Hicks has made Blinkman the heir to his considerable fortune. Blinkman give into temptation, and injects Hicks with the entire supply of the serum, ensuring that Hicks will remain in suspended animation for decades . . .

One Year Later

A year had passed since the March night when Professor Hicks had been secretly laid away in the marble mausoleum on the lonely hilltop. Dr. Blinkman again sat in the library awaiting the arrival of Mr. Lecky and the representatives of the press.

With him was Professor Perkins, alert, keen-eyed, bubbling over with skepticism. "Mark my words," he cried, "you will find that I am right, and our learned friend has been another martyr to the great cause of science. Dear me! where do the others stay? It is time we were off."

"I sent the car to the 8:15 to meet Mr. Lecky," replied the doctor, "and the correspondents will also come up by that train. They should all be here together in a few minutes now."

Dr. Blinkman had improved with a year of easy living. His form had taken on flesh, his face a ruddy color, and his manner the pomposity of one accustomed to command. He had no fear of the result of the night's trip to the mausoleum; he felt sure that Hicks was dead months ago of too much serum. He had tried heavy doses repeatedly on animals in the interim, and while they had lain without signs of decay for a week or month, according to the dose, at the end of that time all had given indisputable evidence that they were dead. He had even kept several until the odor became unbearable, desiring to convince himself beyond all doubt that the serum was fatal in large doses.

All his experiments had set his mind at rest. Tomorrow everything would be his, he thought exultantly as the blare of a motor-horn announced Mr. Lecky's arrival.

The lawyer was soon followed by the hired touring-car containing the special correspondents who had been invited to the "resurrection."

After some light refreshments and a hasty explanation from Mr. Lecky regarding the nature of the professor's experiment, the entire party was on the road to the mausoleum within the hour.

The night was clear and cold, the sky studded with millions of stars and the earth blanketed with a heavy fall of snow. Stewart, hunched down in the front of the limousine with his gloved hands on the wheel and the speed limit off, was turning matters over in his mind:

"Darn funny," he was thinking, "this trip out in the woods again same time as last year, with all these strange guys along too. Something I don't understand. These professors are all crazy anyhow, but Hicks was a good old scout. Wish he'd come back and give this Blinkman bozo the air."

Thus ruminating, he arrived at the foot of the hill with the hired car close behind, and the whole party piled out in the snow, and started to climb the narrow path Indian file, leaving the chauffeurs to gossip and smoke.

Not a footprint of man or beast had broken the smooth snow on the circular steps. The strange edifice rose glimmering from the snows that banked it and hooded it, white, cold, silent, a fit waiting-room on the mysterious route to eternity. Ice had filled the lock of the bronze outer door and had to be thawed out with matches before the key could be inserted. A reporter who carried an electric flash-light threw the beam on the lock and the rest stood grouped at the bottom of the steps, all eyes and ears and shivering with cold and expectancy. By tacit consent, as the great door swung slowly outward, Dr. Blinkman, Professor Perkins, and the newspaper men dropped back to let Mr. Lecky enter first. As on his first visit the preceding year he pressed the button on the wall and the electric light streamed down upon the interior from the rows of bulbs around the skylight.

Everything was exactly as it was left twelve months before.

One by one the awe-stricken men stepped softly in and gathered round the sarcophagus, staring down wide-eyed upon the white face of Professor Hicks. No change had taken place in those frozen features; there were no indications of decay and neither were there any signs of life. To all appearances he was still a dead man -- and the hands of Mr. Lecky's watch pointed to ten minutes after midnight.

The professor was overdue on his journey back from oblivion. No one moved, no one spoke, every eye was rivited unwinkingly upon the rigid form stretched out under the bronze canopy, every heart beat madly with suspense, and teeth chattered like castanets with excitement and the deadly cold of the tomb.

"One o'clock," said Professor Perkins at last as he pocketed his watch. "Supposing Professor Hicks' theory of his serum to have been correct, perhaps it would be as well to assist returning circulation by rubbing the extremities. Let us remove him from his present resting-place to the floor."

So the poor professor who had sacrificed himself on the altar of science was tenderly lifted from his huge bronze coffin, and for more than an hour the men took turns at rubbing his icy hands and feet, and working his stiff arms up and down like pump-handles; at the end of that time, and after every test known to medical science had been applied, Professor Perkins sadly pronounced him to be dead.

He was restored to the sarcophagus, the long black cloak was again thrown over him, this time to conceal his face, and Mr. Lecky, turning to the horrified group, spoke briefly and solemnly:

"I have already explained to you, gentlemen of the press, the fact that we are obeying the instructions of the late Professor Hicks in gathering here tonight. He made an heroic experiment in the interest of science and it has failed. On my return to my office tomorrow, I will hand you the explanation of this most lamentable affair as prepared by him to be given to the world in the event of just what has happened -- his death. In view of the peculiar circumstances surrounding his demise, I think you will all agree with me that a second burial would be a mockery, and that we cannot do better than to leave him here to the long sleep, from which we are now convinced he will never wake in the flesh."

Slowly, solemnly, the silent company passed out, the great door clanged shut for the last time, and the mausoleum's quiet occupant was left to await the resurrection dawn.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"The Moon Woman" by Minna Irving, part 1

We at the Johnny Pez blog are taking another break from our longstanding Harl Vincent obsession, since we don't have any stories by Vincent available to post. Instead, we'll be posting a story by an even more obscure writer.

Minna Irving (1857 - 1940) was the pen name of Minnie Odell Michiner, a poet who lived in Tarrytown, New York. Although she published a poetry collection, "Songs of a Haunted Heart" in 1888, and published poems in turn-of-the-century periodicals such as Munsey's, The Smart Set, and The Gray Goose, "The Moon Woman" was her only science fiction story. "The Moon Woman" appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine and in the eighty years since then, it has never been reprinted. The Johnny Pez blog will be rescuing this story from oblivion and granting it the immortality of online publication. As always, we will be presenting the story in a blog-friendly multipart format. And now, without further ado, the first installment of

The Moon Woman
by Minna Irving

In a Winged World

Professor James Holloway Hicks was thirty-five when he discovered the wonderful serum of suspended animation. By injecting this marvelous fluid into the veins, a living body became practically dead and remained so for a certain length of time without undergoing the processes of decay.

When the serum ceased to act, the apparently dead man would revive and take up the thread of life again where he left it, and as well as ever. The period of suspended animation was governed by the quantity of serum injected into the blood.

Professor Hicks had repeatedly demonstrated the perfect success of his great discovery on dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, and even on horses, but for obvious reasons had failed to find a human subject. Though he offered a large reward to any man or woman willing to be "made dead" for six months or a year, no one could be found courageous enough to risk it. Even would-be suicides shied at the test, preferring to travel to the next world on a high-speed ticket, or by the popular gas route, to taking chances with an unknown drug, which might for all any one knew (even Professor Hicks himself) bind the body in the chains of pseudo death but leave the brain alive -- truly a frightening condition to contemplate.

So after vainly advertising for a subject, and even canvassing the park benches at night in the hope of persuading some wretched creature to lend himself to the glorious cause of science, the professor decided to try it on himself.

One blustery March night found him seated in his handsomely appointed library ready for an excursion in death. Opposite him sat his friend, Dr. Horace Blinkman, and upon the carved teakwood table between the two men lay the black box containing the serum in a small vial and a little hypodermic syringe filled for the supreme test.

Outside in the bitter wind the professor's luxurious limousine waited at a side door to bear him away to his temporary tomb.

Professor Hicks was clothed in a long, loose robe of fine white woolen stuff, fleeced inside with lambs-wool of a sufficient thickness to protect his inanimate body from freezing hard in winter in the damp cold atmosphere of the marble mausoleum which he had built especially for this great experiment.

His affairs had been put in order a few days before, and in case of his death occurring through any unforeseen contingency, such as some unsuspected freak of the serum, he had made a will leaving his entire fortune to Dr. Blinkman. The doctor needed it; his own scientific experiments had drained his pockets without adding to his reputation, and more than one loan-shark and pawnbroker was acquainted with his shuffling step and slovenly figure. He had borrowed heavily, too, from Hicks, and had been living on the professor's bounty for months.

The clock struck twelve -- the hour appointed for the experiment to begin. Professor Hicks rolled up his loose woolen sleeve, revealing a white and muscular forearm, and Dr. Blinkman picked up the fatal hypodermic and poised it above the large vein at the wrist.

"Two punctures," instructed the professor calmly, "each injection will last for six months. A year will pretty thoroughly prove to the world the immense value of my serum. You are to occupy this house during my absence. One year from tonight at exactly twelve o'clock you will come to the mausoleum with my attorney, one other gentleman of science chosen by yourself, and several members of the press to witness my triumphant resurrection. Now goodbye."

Dr. Blinkman gripped the professor's extended hand, jabbed the needle twice in his wrist and the thing was done.

"I will compose my limbs on the davenport," remarked the professor, "so that you may be better able to observe the action of the serum, and take careful notes."

He stretched himself upon the richly upholstered couch and crossed his hands upon his breast. A valuable ruby on his little finger winked malevolently in the clear flood of light from the electrolier. Already a deathly pallor was stealing over his smooth-shaven cheek, and his eyes were fast losing their accustomed brilliance.

"I feel as though my limbs were going to sleep," he murmured drowsily, "there is a prickling sensation all over me, and a numbness. Horace, I -- am -- so -- sleepy."

His voice died away in a whisper, his faint respirations became slower and slower, and at 12:15 he was to all appearances stone-dead.

Dr. Blinkman closed his ancient silver watch with a snap and laid his hand upon the professor's brow; it was damp and cold. He lifted one of his hands and it dropped limply from his clasp. He held a small pocket-mirror to the blue lips and the clear surface of the glass remained undimmed. There was no pulse, and not the faintest flutter of the heart could be detected. Any coroner in the land would have pronounced Professor Hicks as dead as a door-nail.

* * *

Dr. Blinkman stood regarding the inert form with knitted brows. What if he were really dead? It would mean great things to him, all this ease and luxury would be his as the professor's sole heir. Yet he knew the apparently lifeless form before him was not dead. He knew he would return to life at the appointed time. He had assisted at too many experiments with the serum on animals to doubt it. His own setter dog had been dead and was alive again none the worse for three weeks siesta in the professor's laboratory. The vial glittering on the table caught his eye.

What if he should administer a little more -- enough to make the professor sleep a little longer, say five or ten years? That would leave him in undisturbed enjoyment of this splendid mansion and the income from certain stocks and bonds long enough to complete some experiments he had under way, and so put him on his feet in the scientific world. Professor Hicks would think his reckoning had been wrong.

But would he? Had he not proved the exact duration of the serum too many times to be fooled? The professor was a "square man," loathing deceit, despising trickery, and utterly incapable of a dishonorable action himself.

He would denounce him without mercy if he played any tricks on him. He remembered, too, that each puncture must be made in a different place, and the tiny scars would reveal his perfidy.

The doctor paced the room, his hands clasped behind him, black temptation wrestling with his soul.

A year of this luxury, and then to return to his dingy lodgings in Harlem with their faded brown curtains, worn leather chairs, and tattered rugs; once more to be hounded by the loan-sharks, to make furtive rounds of the dusty pawn-shops again, to beg for time from the slatternly landlady -- his whole being revolted at the thought of it all.

It would be lifting a man into Heaven for a brief time, then plunging him into the depths of Hell forever.

His bloodshot eyes raged over the de luxe editions that lined the walls on three sides, the costly desk-fittings, the rare bronzes, the marble figures guarding the doorway with its sweeping curtains of heavy brocade. He gazed at the humidor with its expensive cigars; his mind traveled to the cobwebbed bottles in the cellars, the gray limousine with its Turkish upholstery and silver vase always filled with fresh flowers now waiting outside, and from the bottom of his treacherous heart he fervently wished the still form on the davenport was really dead, that all these luxuries might be his, not for a few fleeting months but for as long as he lived.

It would be easy to inject any one of the deadly poisons in the laboratory into the veins of the unconscious man, and the long sleep would become the sleep of death.

But each poison left its damning evidence behind, and murder is an ugly word. He was ghastly pale, beads of sweat glistened on his forehead and his knees shook under him.

He picked up the vial of serum, trying to guess the operative power of the fluid it still contained. The oily stuff gave off an opalescent shimmer as he turned it this way and that in his trembling fingers.

Within that tiny crystal cylinder lay his future. It would not be murder -- not if all Professor Hicks claimed for it was true. The professor would simply sleep on for a number of years, ten or twenty according to the amount administered, and wake up at the end of that time safe and sound and with all his faculties unimpaired. Meantime he would revel in the luxuries he coveted, and would have the means and leisure to conduct the costly experiments in cancer-cure that he felt sure would bring him fame and fortune.

He picked up the little syringe and crossed to the quiet form on the couch. Blinkman had no clear idea of the quantity that should be injected to produce a quarter of a century of suspended animation, and he was too agitated to figure it out, but when he folded back the professor's sleeve and made half a dozen punctures, he felt dissatisfied. Perhaps it would only last four or five years and the professor would wake up and be furious -- for every little scar would be a witness against him.

He had already gone too far now to draw back, so he determined to make sure and use all of the stuff in the vial.

He filled and refilled the syringe, jabbing wildly at the professor's arms and legs until the last drop was gone. Then with a sigh he sank down in the big velvet chair and stared dumbly at the seemingly dead body before him.

Was he dead? Perhaps he had been from the first. His muscles were so rigid, his flesh so clammily cold, already the violet shadows of dissolution lay beneath his closed eyes. The doctor shuddered and reached for a bracer of brandy.

A bell jangled sharply in the silence. He staggered to his feet and passed into the hall, throwing a fearful glance over his shoulder as he went; it was hard to believe it was not a dead man stretched out on the davenport.

He flung open the door and admitted the professor's attorney, Mr. Lecky, who was to accompany the body to the mausoleum and see it properly installed within.

"Is everything ready?" he inquired brusquely afer a cold nod from Dr. Blinkman. He was a man of stern common sense and had opposed as strongly as he dared the experiment which he frankly characterized as "a crack-brained freak."

"I have been awaiting your arrival for almost an hour," returned the doctor smoothly as he led the way to the library. "The serum has acted beautifully, and Professor Hicks' discovery is a monumental success."

Mr. Lecky gazed down at the recumbent form with a look of profound disgust, yielding to pity:

"Are you sure he is not dead?" he asked sharply.

Dr. Blinkman turned his head away under pretense of closing the black box. He could not meet those searching eyes. A sense of guilt overwhelmed him, but he managed to retain his cool professional manner.

"Our distinguished friend," he replied suavely, "has already no doubt fully explained to you the effects of the serum upon the living body. It is suspended animation, my dear Mr. Lecky, suspended animation, that is all. He can neither hear, feel, think, taste, move nor speak; at the present moment all the organs have suspended their functions; he is insensible to heat or cold, hunger or thirst. His system needs no fuel because there is no waste, but he is not dead. But had we not better be on the way? We have a long, cold ride before us."

He took from a chair where they had been laid in readiness by the professor himself a long black cloak and soft felt hat of the same somber hue. The helpless scientist was closely enveloped in the folds of the cloak, the soft hat was pulled well down over his head so that his rigid white face was concealed under the broad brim, and the two men supported him between them to the lomousine so cleverly that to the waiting chauffeur his master appeared in the dim light to be walking in his usual fashion between his friends.

He was lifted into the car and placed in an upright position on the rear seat. The doctor and the lawyer placed themselves with their backs to the driver, and the limousine rolled smoothly and almost noiselessly out of the stone gateway and turned northward in the deserted road.

Never did either of those two men forget that night ride. The full moon was veiled with thin clouds and a light snow had fallen earlier in the evening. From its purity the black ruts of the road stood out in bold relief. No living thing was abroad, not even a dog barked, and all the houses were dark. The wayside bushes powdered with snow rushed to meet them like sheeted ghosts in the headlights of the car, sped by them, and vanished in the gloom.

Professor Hicks had built his mausoleum of sleep on the top of a hill in a grove of cedars. Thick woods and rocky pastures sloped steeply down from it on all sides, and an abandoned cemetary at the bottom completed the profound desolation of the spot.

At the foot of the hill the car stopped, the two men got out and carefully lifted the stiff form to the ground, still supporting it between them.

* * *

That morning the professor had summoned his chauffeur to him in the library, and had said: "Stewart, I am going to Europe for a year. Dr. Blinkman will reside here during my absence, and will take charge of everything. You are to take your orders from him, but look to Mr. Lecky for your wages. Bring the car round to the side door tonight at midnight, as I am going to the house of a friend up in the country who will entrust me with a rare and delicate culture to deliver for him at a laboratory in Paris. I will, therefore, go directly from his house to the steamer tomorrow, so you will return without me. Dr. Blinkman and Mr. Lecky will accompany me tonight, however, and you will bring them back here. I am explaining these matters to you so that you will understand why I do not return with them.

"I will say goodbye to you now, Stewart, as I will have other things to occupy me tonight."

Thus had the professor paved the way for the midnight journey to the mausoleum, and nipped in the bud any suspicion of foul play that might have been born of the peculiar circumstances under which he was to disappear.

"Wait here," said Dr. Blinkman to the chauffeur, "there is no road up to the house on this side, only a short cut through the woods. We will be back in half an hour."

While in sight of the furred figure on the front seat of the limousine, the men went slowly with the professor slightly in advance propelled by their hands on his shoulders. The chauffeur paused in the act of lighting a cigarette to watch the three dark figures:

"Now I wonder what the legal guy has to do with this trip? Gee! doctors are all nuts."

Once behind the shelter of the thick bushes and low-hanging branches, the two men picked up the professor by the head and feet and carried him swiftly up the hillside.

It was a stiff climb to the mausoleum, and they laid their burden down on the marble steps and stood gasping for breath, and wiping the sweat from their flushed faces, though the night was cold.

Neither spoke, an invisible finger of silence seemed laid upon their lips. The mausoleum was a magnificent structure, perfectly round in shape with a row of fluted pillars supporting the overhanging roof. It was encircled by a flight of shallow marble steps, and bronze bas-reliefs, typifying the immortality of the soul, formed eight panels set deeply in the walls. The domed roof was flattened at the top to receive a thick glass skylight which was protected by an iron grill-work set in a leaden frame. The bronze door swung outward, and was supplemented by an inner door of iron studded with brass nails. Ventilation was supplied by slits in the walls close to the roof, and cunningly concealed in the pattern of the ornate frieze.

As the doors creaked open, Dr. Blinkman involuntarily shrank back from the pitch-black interior, but Lecky, more self-possessed or perhaps less imaginative, stepped into the inky chamber and felt along the wall until he found the electric light button. Instantly a flood of soft radiance poured down upon the place and streamed out across the marble steps on the dark form huddled there.

The floor was paved with blocks of black and white marble. In the center stood a bronze sarcophagus lined with softly padded white velvet. The sarcophagus was of unusual size; at the head was a pillow of white velvet for the professor's head to rest upon, and at the foot an air-tight metal box containing food-tabloids and a bottle of champagne.

A bronze canopy supported on iron rods sheltered the sarcophagus and completely concealed the open interior from any inquisitive person who might climb to the roof and look down through the skylight. Heavy metallic fringes depended from this canopy all around.

Gently, almost reverently the two men laid Professor Hicks in his gruesome bed, arranged the velvet pillow beneath his head, straightened his white robe and threw the black cloak across the foot of the sarcophagus like a pall. A duplicate key was left by his side in case the effects of the serum should wear off sooner than expected.

The light was then turned off and the doctor and lawyer stepped out side by side into the chill March morning, closing and locking the heavy doors behind them. The cold light of a struggling moonbeam pierced the clouds and fell across the marble steps as they turned once to look back; all else was in blackest shadow.

(continue to part 2)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The origin of feces

The wingnuts' incessant use of oral-rape imagery to describe health insurance reform was creepy enough, but now it looks like they're going to start referencing their coprophilia fetish too.

No good can come of this.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Audience with the King

It turns out I'm not finished with the Lhasinu after all.

An Audience with the King
by Johnny Pez

Carg Jendo Porga, beloved of the Gods, King of the Lhasi and defender of his people, liked to relax in a small dining room a nice long distance away from his throne room. The dining room had a wide window that faced out onto the Blue Courtyard, and while he ate Carg would gaze out upon the twin fountains that gave the courtyard its name. Normally, his staff knew better than to interrupt him while he was eating his lunch there, so he knew something very important was going on when his chamberlain entered the small dining room.

Carg sighed. "What is it, Trel?"

"Sire, the learned Nelda Hartz has come requesting an audience."

And that was important enough to be worth an interrupted lunch. The learned Nelda Hartz was the leader of the sky people, who had occupied a villa here in Lhasinu for over fifty years. The sky people, Carg knew, were literally from the sky, though they disclaimed the title of gods. They insisted they were mortal, just like people in Lhasi and the Tresinuic Empire and everywhere else Carg had heard of. That they grew old and died, Carg knew from reports he and his predecessors had received from the time the sky people had first appeared in Lhasinu.

Nevertheless, the sky people routinely flew their metal ships up into the sky, and back again. They also had weapons that could kill at a great distance, something Carg also knew from reports that went back decades. They didn't use their weapons very often, but when they did, the sky people were unstoppable. The full extent of their powers was unknown, and it had been the policy of the Kings of Lhasi to do nothing that might cause the sky people to reveal just what the full extent of their powers might be.

It hadn't been a difficult policy to follow. The sky people seemed content to remain in their villa, emerging now and then to look at the people of Lhasi, as well as the kingdom's plants and animals, its marshes and forests and rivers, and even its rocks. Nevertheless, maintaining friendly relations with the sky people was one of the paramount duties of the Kings of Lhasi, if not the paramount duty. So, when Carg's chamberlain said that the leader of the sky people wished an audience, Carg was not minded to refuse her, or even delay her request.

"Very well, Trel, show her in."

Trel did so. The learned Nelda Hartz assumed the standard posture of respect, and Carg quickly bade her rise, and invited her to join him at his meal. The learned Nelda Hartz joined him at his place before the window, and looked at him with those peculiar eyes. It required a considerable effort of will for Carg to refrain from staring at her face, especially when small flaps of skin flicked down over her eyes; eye lids, Carg knew they were called.

"You are here to discuss the Sea Lord's new company?" Carg asked.

The learned Nelda Hartz gave an affirmative tilt to her head. Carg knew that among the sky people, it was customary to nod the head rather than tilt it to indicate agreement. "Have you given thought to the results of your policy?" she asked. Her Lhasinuic was not as fluent as that of her herald, Mac Innis, but Carg had no trouble understanding her.

"I have given thought to the immediate result, which is a reduction in the number of restless, landless younger sons that currently afflict my kingdom."

"Sire, I speak of more distant results. Sooner or later, these young men will return from the stars, and I promise you they will bring highly peculiar and disruptive notions."

"Such as what?"

"Such as the world moving around the sun. Such as other worlds moving around the stars, many of them with sky people living on them. Such as the abolition of the monarchy and rule by commoners."

No doubt Hartz felt that her last example would give Carg pause, and she was right. "Is that how it is among the sky people? No Kings? Rule by commoners?"

"It is, Your Majesty."

Carg slowly rocked his head from side to side in negation. "Learned woman, even if that were true, there is nothing to be done. Having made this decision, I cannot unmake it. I have a reputation for keeping my word, and it mostly consists of keeping to the decisions I have made. In any case, you postulate possible future difficulties. The future must take care of itself. My decision stands."

Carg could tell that Hartz wished to argue further, but she did not. Instead, she made an odd gesture with her shoulders. "Very well, Your Majesty. In that case, consider my words to be a warning. When your subjects return from their service under the Sea Lord Ro, they will bear close scrutiny."

"I do not require a warning from you to know that, learned woman. Nevertheless, I do thank you for your counsel, for I see that it is sincerely given. And if you will indulge me, I would like to know what has brought about this turn of events. Why does the Sea Lord seek to recruit my people now? What has changed?"

Hartz was clearly debating with herself on whether to answer. Finally, she gestured with her shoulders again and said, "It can do no harm to tell you. There is war among the sky people, a civil war."

"I did not know your people fought among themselves as we do."

Hartz was looking out at the Blue Courtyard, but Carg could tell that what passed before her eyes was not the vista of the two fountains. "For a long time, we didn't. When we first began to travel among the stars, it seemed that we had given up war. Star travel seemed to take all our effort, leaving none for war. Also, with so many worlds available, what was there to fight about?"

"But it seems that you have found something to fight about."

Hartz tilted her head. "Power. Those with little want more. Those with much wish to keep it. Now, after seventy years, war has returned to the sky people. But we are out of practice, so the Sea Lord's masters have decided to come to your world and let your people fight for them."

As unfamiliar as the sky people were, Carg could still hear the bitterness in Hartz' words. He also heard something else. "Learned woman, am I right to believe that you and the Sea Lord Ro are on opposite sides in this war?"

Now Hartz turned her strange eyes to look at Carg. "You are wise, Sire. So it is. The Sea Lord's people came to your world with much strength, too much for my own world's forces to resist. So they fled, and now we are prisoners of the Sea Lord."

"You seem to have a great deal of freedom for a prisoner, learned woman."

"It is seeming only," said Hartz, turning back to look at the Blue Courtyard. "My people and I have no way to depart from your world, save by the Sea Lord's leave. It is a most effective prison."

"Will the Sea Lord Ro allow you to continue to study my people?"

"I do not know, Sire. The Sea Lord is playing his tiles close to his vest."

Carg burst into laughter to hear the familiar idiom coming from the sky woman. But he quickly grew sober again. "I should warn you, learned woman, that if any of your people seek asylum from me, I must refuse them. I dare not provoke the Sea Lord Ro."

"I understand," said Hartz. "I will tell my people, though I do not think any of them were planninig to seek asylum." The learned woman rose from her seat and again knelt before him. "I thank you again for your courtesy, Your Majesty. With your permission, I must return to my villa. Or, I suppose I mean the Sea Lord's villa."

The learned Nelda Hartz departed, leaving Carg's mind troubled. If she spoke truly, then the decades of quiet coexistence with the sky people were coming to an end -- had already come to an end. Now turmoil was sweeping across the starry sky, and his people were in the thick of it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

"New Management", part 5

This is the fifth and final installment of "New Management", a fanfic prequel to Isaac Asimov's early blood-and-thunder space opera "Black Friar of the Flame". The first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here.

Wern Thorba was a simple man from the valley of the Serru River. The younger son of a yeoman farmer, Thorba had inherited a modest sum of money upon his father's death, while his eldest brother inherited the family farm. Thorba had looked into the future, and seen a life spent laboring for his brother. This, he decided, was not the life he wanted, so he left the farm and went out to seek his fortune.

For a man of humble origins, the choice of occupations were few: farm laborer, or the priesthood, or soldiering. He had even less wish to work on a stranger's farm than on his brother's, and he felt no calling to serve the Gods, so he signed on with Captain Jord Skarda, and for four years had marched and fought across the sea in the Tresinuic Empire. Four years had ended with Skarda's capture and death at the hands of the barbarian Drantu, and the breakup of his company. Thorba had taken ship back to Lhasi, and was in Lhasinu at the court of King Carg seeking employment in the Royal Guard.

Entering the King's service, though, was no easy task. Lhasi was at peace, and likely to remain so as long as the Tresinuic Emperor was preoccupied fighting off the Drantu. The waiting list for a position in the Guard was currently about half a year long, and the price asked by the Guardmaster to jump him to the front of the list was far beyond his means. He might join the retinue of one of the nobles, but that didn't appeal to him. It mostly meant bullying the noble's peasants, and Thorba had seen enough of that sort of thing under Captain Skarda to last him a lifetime. Worse, if you spent long enough doing something like that, you started to like it. Thorba had seen men like that, and had no wish to become one himself. For now, he remained in Lhasinu hoping something would turn up.

He was in the throne room one day, watching the petitioners present their appeals to the King, when he heard the chamberlain announce, "Presenting to His Majesty the learned Nelda Hartz of the sky people, and members of her company." Thorba found himself craning his neck to see over the heads of the crowd. He had heard of the sky people, as who had not? They were said to occupy a villa here in the capital, and to have command of flying ships that sailed up to the sky and back. He was near the door to the throne room, so he got a good look at the sky people as they entered.

There were eleven of them in all. They seemed much like people at first glance, but the longer you looked at them the stranger they appeared. They all wore far more clothing than normal; with one exception, they were covered from neck to foot. They all had jutting noses, scaleless skin, and most bizarre of all, fur growing from the tops of their heads. As far as Thorba knew, most animals had scaly skin, just like people did; the only exception were the sarks, small pests that gnawed holes in walls and stole food, that had bodies covered in fur. If you took a sark, and changed it around to look like a person, the result would be very much like the sky people.

Five of the eleven wore tan uniforms, and another four wore blue, all with trousers like those worn by the northern barbarians. The leader of the group, the learned Nelda Hartz, wore a long, dark blue skirt and a white long-sleeved shirt, and carried a wide-brimmed dark blue hat in her left hand. The final member of the group also wore a long-sleeved shirt and carried a wide-brimmed hat, but he at least wore a civilized kilt woven in an unfamiliar but pleasant pattern of checks.

Hartz, the kilted man, and the five tan-clad guards (for so they clearly were), all bowed at the proper distance from the throne. The four blue-clad men belatedly followed suit. King Carg said, "Arise, my guests. Well do we know the learned Nelda Hartz, and her herald Weyum Mac Innis, and her Captain of Guards Anton Kora Vek. We bid you welcome. Who are your companions? For we do not recognize them, nor the fashion of their raiment."

The kilted herald, Weyum Mac Innis, spoke with the men in blue in a harsh tongue unfamiliar to Thorba. One of them answered briefly in the same language, and Mac Innis turned to address the King. "Your Majesty, I present to you the Sea Lord Ro Bon Hwa and his lieutenant Nwen Con Dan. The Sea Lord has come to seek Your Majesty's permission to recruit a company from among Your Majesty's subjects."

"Where would this company serve?" Carg asked.

"Your Majesty," Mac Innis answered without consulting his chief, "they would serve with the sky people, out among the stars."

That remark caused a murmur of astonishment among those present, and no wonder. Thorba had heard it said that the sky people literally came from the sky. Now a sky man had confirmed it from his own lips.

A sudden urgency gripped Thorba. He had come to Lhisanu seeking his future, and now here it had come seeking him. Thorba felt the hands of the Gods guiding events. Surely it was fate that had put him here at the Royal Palace just as the sky people had come seeking men such as him. With the sense of a man fulfilling his destiny, Thorba stood forth from the assembled courtiers and petitioners and spoke out: "Your Majesty, I urge you to grant the sky man's petition."

"Who are you, then, good man? Are you one of my subjects?"

"I am, Your Majesty. I am Wern Thorba of the Serru River country, a landless younger son seeking to make his way in the world. I came here seeking a place in your Royal Guard, but if you will permit it, I would join the company of the Sea Lord Ro Bon Hwa and serve among the stars."

Another man among the King's petitioners stood forth, a man of the northern hill country by his accent. "And I, Your Majesty. I am Sker Perna, likewise a landless younger son. I too would join the company of the sky people." As though Perna's words had unleashed a flood, a score more of those present offered to join the company of the sky people.

Carg raised his hand, and the Guardmaster, standing at his left, called for silence. Those present quickly ceased their speech. The King said into the silence, "I am well mindful of the many landless among my subjects seeking for employment where they may. If they wish to take service with the sky people, they may do so with my blessing. Sea Lord Ro Bon Hwa, your petition is granted. Form your company as you will, and may my subjects serve you well among the stars."

Ro Bon Hwa bowed low and spoke in his own harsh tongue. Mac Innis translated, "The Sea Lord Ro offers many thanks to Your Majesty." The Sea Lord spoke again, and Mac Innis relayed, "The Sea Lord Ro says further that all who would take service with him may come to the place of the sky people at the second interval after sunrise, there to be mustered into his company."

Thorba spared a glance then for the learned Nelda Hartz. Even though he had never set eyes upon the sky people before this day, it seemed to him that disappointment settled upon her frame. She, at least, did not think the King's decision a good one. Perhaps Thorba would learn why, after he had joined the company of the sky people.