Tag Archives: Science Fiction

FPSE29 – Scientific Inquiry

Welcome to Flash Pulp, Special Episode Twenty-Nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present Scientific Inquiry

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Way of the Buffalo!

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we present a romping tale of mad science originally presented at TheWritersArena.com

 

Scientific Inquiry

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

The judge waited, and the attorney repeated his question.

“Professor Riddle, how do you explain the video?”

The answer finally came. “Simply: It’s not me.”

Tugging at a well-tailored suit cuff, the lawyer, Benson, nodded.

“That does appear to be you shouting,” he replied.

“Look,” answered Riddle, as he ran a hand through the cloud of ivory wisps that ringed his balding head. “If you discount everything from the day my son was born until the events of the day of the recording, I suppose the trouble began in early September of this year.”

As he spoke he shifted in his seat, his swinging knees making full use of the width of the witness stand.

“I am prone to evening work, a habit of my years at the university, when I was required to spend my hours focusing on the distractions of academia – marking, quizzing, mentoring – instead of pure science. Night had fallen beyond my laboratory’s window, and, with aching eyes, I was considering leaving my research to locate a crust of bread with which to fill my belly.

“Now, while my equipment represents the finest in its variety of lines, I do admit the neighbourhood in which I lease my space is not of the same quality. Each evening I take special care to visit the thirty-two locks I have positioned around my property.

“This was why I was surprised when, not a minute after having set my key ring back in my pocket, a light came on in the lab, and a face appeared at the window.

“It was my own cry of ‘what goes on here!?’ that I believe drew the gaze of your supposed witness, perhaps a pedestrian, as you say, although I stick by my contention that this curious fellow was more likely a private detective hired by my own offspring.

Flash Pulp Special Episode 29 “Whatever the case, I was turning to sprint back inside when the window shot up, and the barrel of my experimental particle-beam cannon was thrust through. Behind it was a familiar visage, and, as you said, he was shouting with passion.

“You must understand, though, that this is no ridiculous G.I. Joe gadget to be fired willy-nilly from the hip. The cannon is controlled through an operational software suite, which should have been safe behind several passwords.

“So, yes, I can understand why you might be confused. The intruder not only looked like me, but knew my codes. How could you conclude otherwise?

“Yet, as a man of science, I stand by my principles, and maintain that no two people utilizing the same atoms can exist in the same point in a Minkowski spacetime plane.

“Thus, how could I be in both places at once?”

The judge raised her brow at the question, and the professor offered a grave nod at her interest.

Alone on the courtroom’s rearmost bench, Henry George Riddle Jr. frowned.

The testimony continued.

“Well, by the time I’d dislodged the necessary locks and reentered, the intruder was gone. The sole clue, beyond a slight increase in the room’s backroom radiation, was that the handsome trespasser had left his firing coordinates on the central monitor.

“That’s when things turned truly strange, as I quickly ascertained that the interloper had been aiming not just at the moon, but at a point quite some depth beneath its surface. While I could make some guesses as to the size of the pit’s previous occupant, based on the lingering crater, the weapon had done a thorough job of wiping the site clean of proper evidence as to the target.

“Still, it was clear it had hit something – and something explosive, as the lunar gash was much wider than my beam could have achieved after such short usage.

“While this was a fascinating mystery, my mind leapt forward to a much more troubling conclusion. With some quickly scrawled math, I determined that the impact of the energy exchange was such that the moon’s orbit was, in fact, crumbling – and not slowly either.

“To be clear: I did not think of this as a problem I had created. My attempts to remedy the situation were entirely altruistic, and, frankly, related to the fact that there are few others in the scientific community who are so, er, singularly suited to the task.

“That said, rockets are not my area of expertise, and it was clear I would require a massive fleet to provide the sort of thrust necessary to return Earth’s satellite to a stable trajectory.

“I do admit, though, that under extreme circumstances I turned to extreme measures.

“While my armada would have to be researched, designed, and constructed from the ground up, my cloning tank was fully assembled, if never used. I have always liked to think my mind alone to be sufficient to conquer any task, and I worked in solitude throughout that first week, exhausting myself and sleeping rough on the floor. There was so much to consider, and not just in the physics: A single misfire could drop one of my payloads, and the lifting fuel behind it, onto a major metropolitan area, killing thousands.

“Eventually I was forced to allow myself an extra pair of shoulders to carry the weight. I took every precaution of course, as I know myself to be a wily man. I provided as few details as necessary to succeed in our current undertaking.

“Still, Two was always the most faithful of them all. He would be here to defend me from the treachery of my progeny if he could.

“Anyhow: Freed to update my calculations, I then realized that the lunar body was descending at a much faster rate than I had anticipated. This meant, obviously, having to kick the cloning operation into high gear. In total we created one hundred doppelgangers.”

Benson’s lips tightened, and he asked, “why not a thousand?”

“Well, partially due to simple logistics: Where would we all sleep? More importantly, however, there were only so many ways to divide the labour. Worse, project management was a bit of a debacle. Everyone wants to be captain when the rest of the team is made up of yourself, and it’s hard to argue that any of you merits the position more than another.

“In the end, given our math on the moon’s descent, and the large scale manufacturing necessary to complete the undertaking, we decided it was easiest to construct a time machine to allow for a larger project window.

“If you’re not familiar with quantum mechanics, this can be a tricky bit of business. As I mentioned, I was not eager to cause the collapse of the universe by encountering my atomic configuration in my own timeline, so it was necessary to move the lab backwards to a date before my own birth.

“The trouble is that if you move too far back, the means of production quickly slip beyond your grasp. No matter how grand our design, it would be impossible to carry out our plan if we could not locate the simple components necessary to fashion our fusion engines.

“Worse, my selves did not enjoy the working and social conditions of 1985. It is hard to blame them, although I was clearly able to get on with my work. Perhaps their tolerance was lowered by the fact that they could not quite see the grand vision of my master plan, and they began developing quite the notions as to the proper use of our rocket fleet.

“Tensions increased throughout 1986. Despite the expanded development horizon, I could not shake the worry of the impending doom in my own timeline. I pressed my small army hard. At one point, for a cold March week, there was a strike that led to a complete work stoppage. I managed to negotiate a settlement, with Two as intermediary between the parties, but we never again achieved the same pace of work.

“Yet things did move forward until early 1987, when our goal was in sight. It was then, as Dancing on the Ceiling drifted through a quiet afternoon in the lab, that the mutiny began.

“It was not in them to kill me – to kill one of themselves – but they were happy enough to leave me to a fate as sure as death. Pushing our temporal portal to its limits, they thrust me into the early Triassic period and shut the door behind me.

“I have always fancied myself to be an independent man, but it is quite another thing for a gent to be asked to survive in an age without residential housing or basic agriculture.

“The inevitability of my end yawned before me. The notion that some lurking beast was about to burst through the foliage settled deep in my mind. I was about to push forward, thinking I could at least die a tool user if I might locate a suitable club, when the gap in space and time re-opened.

“It was, of course, Two. The lovely idiot was smiling.

“‘The others abandoned me,’ he said.

“‘Don’t worry though, I fixed it all,’ he said.

“It came out that the clones had absconded with our spacecraft. Two suspected secret communications with my damnable heir. He’d pieced together enough to know they’d built a subterranean moonbase, and had further plans on stealing my identity to carry out nefarious machinations.

“Once deserted it had suddenly struck Two that he still had access to the time machine. He also recalled that my modern-era lab had been equipped with a particle-beam cannon. Without hesitation, he jumped forward, levelled the disloyal duplicates’ by-then-fully-constructed HQ, and finally moved to rescue me.

“He was still explaining all this when three Coelophysis got him.

“I was too wrapped up in the tale – in his excitement – and they came at us at a full, silent, sprint.

“It is a horror to see a friend pulled apart by a trio of pseudo-raptors, but doubly so when the friend carries your face.

“My escape was a narrow thing.

“With the clones dead, the rockets destroyed, the moonbase annihilated, and the time machine’s chrono coils melted from the rescue attempt, my return to the present should have perhaps been one of defeat, but, in truth, I arrived with a renewed vigour.

“I knew the situation to be bleak, but, though I’d been years at the project, I hadn’t actually lost that much of my window in local time. Opportunities had been lost, I realized, but I refused to let Two’s sacrifice be in vain.

“So it was that I was coming up with Plan B, a week ago, when the flicker of torches appeared at my window. My son, having failed to destroy his father by having turned my own science against me, had instead fallen to the most ancient ruse: Gathering the villagers and their clubs.

“There he stood, with two policemen, and I’m sure it was only by the grace of those uniformed gentlemen that I was not torn apart by the lynch mob watching from the sidewalk.

“Now, I have been told, again and again, that I would have my day in court – and here it is. Yet, Judge, the matter of the collapsing moon goes uncorrected, and if I do not return to my work we will all shortly be little more than lunar waffles. Have sense, your honour, and let me get about it.”

The arbiter looked from witness to inquisitor. Benson simply raised a brow and shrugged.

From his position on the stand the professor could easily see that his son’s face had collapsed into his hands, and he could not suppress the grin that formed at the clear sign his argument’s power.

Clearing her throat with a dry cough, the judge replied.

“Do not fear, sir, you will have plenty of time to consider the problem,” she told Riddle directly. Then her voice raised to address the room at large.

“In light of this testimony, the video, the rapid descent from his position at the university, and the profile provided by his state-mandated psychologist, I feel we can expedite the processes of transferring power of attorney and of relocating the professor into a better environment than the alley-side cardboard box which he currently refers to as his laboratory.

“It is this court’s judgement, for reasons of public and personal safety, that Henry George Riddle Sr. should be remanded to the care of St. Jude’s Psychiatric ward for observation and care, as requested by his son.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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FP431 – The Irregular Division: Hostilities, Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-one.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Hostilities, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Elysian Springs Kickstarter!

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, we report on unpleasant and indecent acts as they unfold across Great Britain. This episode, dedicated to Captain Pigheart, is definitely not safe for children, workplaces, or your parents.

 

The Irregular Division: Hostilities, Part 2 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

November, Year One

Source: The Capital City Citizen

Headline: UK TERROR ATTACK

Body:

We have reports, most from what remains of the BBC, that Great Britain has been the target of a well-coordinated string of bio-weapon attacks conducted by an unknown group of aggressors.

Indications began to crop up on social media feeds around 10PM London time, and it has been confirmed that an emergency declaration was made to European Union officials, by British parliament, shortly before midnight.

Though transcripts of the conversation have yet to be released, the discussion was obviously dire: A naval task force was immediately deployed, and fighter jets scrambled.

No official tally has yet been provided, but witness reports from one Princess Cruises ship, re-routed from its Brest-to-Plymouth course by military vessels, claim that at least three fishing-class boats were sunk within view of the vacationing families watching from the liner’s balconies.

Aircraft were also targeted, as cellphone photos of wreckage, taken in the northern provinces of the French countryside, have surfaced online. Though currently unconfirmed by Citizen staff, information on the ground is that all lives on EasyJet flight U2-7142 have been lost. It is unclear if the infection had spread to the passengers and crew.

FP431 - The Irregular Division: Part 2 of 3While every death related to this incident is an unfortunate loss, it appears the hastily erected quarantine blockade is holding.

Satellite and fly-by imagery was hampered during the night hours, but dawn has found a very changed island.

Social media reports seem to indicate rioting, but no observers were prepared for the swathes of human flesh that they were presented. While the plague’s transmission mechanism has yet to be determined, it is clear that close contact is more than enough to spread the epidemic.

One man was spotted sprinting away from a crowd in a panic, along the Liverpool docks, only to stop some dozen feet ahead of his pursuers, possibly due to a shift in the wind. When he halted, so too did the twenty to thirty revelers behind him. He immediately began to strip, first removing the scarf he’d wrapped about his face and the goggles he’d been wearing but not stopping until he was completely nude. Though the crowd howled at his display, they could not join him in disrobing: Each was already in a state of undress.

It is reported that those giving chase were endlessly grabbing at each other, and themselves, in their anticipation.

Finally naked, the man apparently turned back towards his stalkers, and what can only be described as an orgy ensued.

The merchant ship that spotted the activity, its Norwegian crew having drawn up its entry at the earliest indication of trouble, cut ties from the shore and moved into open water once it was obvious that, after an hour’s brutal sexual interaction, not all members of the clench had survived the ongoing copulation.

However, as of press time, the sole government-acknowledged release has been from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, who set down a light aircraft at the Manchester airport at approximately the same hour as the incident reported by the Norwegian crew. For reasons of expedient public disclosure, the center’s visual link was provided to news sources uninterrupted and unedited.

Video from the cockpit shows two armed analysts moving from the plane only to be caught up in a tide of naked humanity flowing from the terminal in search of a target to sate their lust. Though the recording provides no audio, the pair can clearly be seen attempting to retreat from the flood until their suits are breached by groping hands. Once their barriers are violated, both members of the ECDC strip away their gear at top speed, their tongues making lewd gestures towards the infected even before they were free of their suits.

What follows is a horrifying sight: The group falls to the tarmac as a single pulsing mass of limbs and genitals, and remains there for the majority of the broadcast. In the end, just three of the dozens who entered the frame stand to depart, the rest having evidently died of dehydration, exhaustion, or simple brute injury during the act of mob fornication.

Though the survivor is not visible, a slight shake then indicates the plane’s engine was restarted, and the perspective swings to an empty runway.

The remaining lovers – two men and a woman – turn as one at the noise, running directly towards the small plane’s single prop. Though the males’ libido is clearly on display, the look of hunger in the trio’s eyes is perhaps what is most unnerving. The fervor remains unchanged even as the group move to embrace the escaping craft. While the view provides little detail, it is clear that their embrace of bone and meat is enough to damage the propeller, and the final seconds of the transmission are a quickly approaching utility hangar.

There is no confirmation as to if the pilot perished in the impact. Perhaps it would be the better option.

As of the time of this printing, millions are expected dead.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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FP430 – The Irregular Division: Hostilities, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Hostilities, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Elysian Springs Kickstarter!

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, the Irregular Division find themselves landing in a very changed British forest.

 

The Irregular Division: Hostilities, Part 1 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

February, Year One
Source: Presentation to Working Group Alpha
Presenter: Head

[…]

Ever been at 35,000 feet and have someone punch out your pilot?

Fine, smartass spec ops guy at the back of the room, ever been at 35,000 feet and have someone punch your pilot completely out of your transport?

It was the old “I leave you now – TO YOUR DOOM” scenario, and Ms. Atlas was having about -10% of that bullshit.

In fact, I believe the fellow in question, apparently a Kar’Wickian turncoat, was about halfway through his dialogue when she said “You announced you were leaving, so fucking LEAVE,” and then she hit him.

Now, listen, I’ve been in situations where an unexpected punch is thrown. I’ve been in locations where “and then he hit him” was not an out of place option. You’re sitting in a bar, the guy five stools down is mouthing off, the fella whose wife he’s making fun of turns around, boom.

There’s usually some blood, maybe a broken pint glass, maybe some apologies to the barkeep if you’ve made a mess.

When I say “and then she hit him,” I don’t mean he fell to the floor and groped for his missing teeth, I mean it was like watching a Dodge Ram with a novelty fist strapped to its fender slam into someone. His body passed cleanly through the skin of our admittedly fragile high-altitude insertion vehicle, and I doubt he was in any condition to pull his ripcord on the way down.

In instances like that I like to remain cool and calm, I like to deliver a witty one-liner and perhaps sip on an extremely dry martini.

There was no booze service on the flight, but I do believe I managed to utter the line, “holy fuckity fucking fuck.”

The Irregular Division: Hostilities, a futuristic podcast with a certain heroic flavourNow, have you ever seen a largely cybernetic She-Hulk gracefully touch down an injured craft as if a sparrow alighting on a willow branch while dawn’s gentle tendrils crest the horizon?

Me either, because she grabbed the controls and dropped us to five hundred feet at such a high rate of acceleration I thought the tail section was still a good half-mile above us.

I remember her laughing and laughing while the wind howled through the Wile E. Coyote hole in the wall.

Betrayal, as it turns out, is extremely low on Atlas’ list of preferred daily events, and I could tell she wasn’t in the greatest mood as the wingtips grew closer to the grasping trees of Sherwood Forest. We’d picked up a lot of speed from our sudden descent and the titanium skeleton was shivering in the clutches of that much g-force.

Then as quickly as our pilot had gone truly airborne, we came across the target site. Abruptly the windshield was full of stars, and I swore I could feel the frame giving out under the pressure, which was kind of okay with me as we were just as abruptly staring at the ground – then we were on it, skidding through frozen dirt and tufts of snow.

Atlas didn’t bother to use the door – hell, she didn’t even bother opening the tub full of expensive firearms we’d been supplied.

Some poor murderous schmuck came up to the hole, AK-47 poking in like a curious dog’s nose, and then there was no more schmuck, there was only Atlas, and, like a magic trick, it was suddenly HER AK-47.

Yes, I’d say that’s when the shit really hit the fan.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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FP424 – The Irregular Division: Crossing, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and twenty-four.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Crossing, Part 3 of 3

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(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites!

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we complete the flight of Aurelio Medina, a man who went in search of a home but received, instead, unexpected talents.

 

The Irregular Division: Crossing, Part 3 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

September, Year One
Excerpt Source: [redacted].com/rambling/Aurelio.html

Author: Head

Title: You Will Believe a Man Can Fly

Body:

[…]

We held him for about five days, then – well, you’ve probably seen the leaked footage. It starts with a time lapse of Aurelio wandering around the small safehouse room that was acting as his temporary cell. With that weird moth-like motion that people get when sped up, he flits from a small table, where he eats dinner, to the barred window, to sitting on his bed, to making use of the room’s prison-style toilet.

Finally, after a chat through the door with the uniform on duty, he lies down in the lower right hand side of the screen, getting comfortable as the light beyond the drawn blinds fades. I’ve heard conspiracy theories that there’s a different shot, from a better angle, but if the footage exists, I’ve never encountered it.

What I know – what I’ve seen – is a bunch of restless blankets moving, then an eel, specifically – as I’ve been told by the team that was assigned to review the footage – a conger eel, writhing from the bedding and onto the floor.

Those same lab coats told me this was easily the longest one on record.

Now, Aurelio’s escape wasn’t pretty, but, honestly, neither was how we’d treated him. We’d chased him with robot dogs, forced him from the sky with armed drones, and, frankly, implied pretty heavily that we were going to have to take him apart to figure out how he could accomplish his feats of bioengineered prestidigitation.

You might say he’d already gone through so much shit, what was a little more? Especially when it meant his freedom.

Down the drain he went, and into the world. Must have been a hell of a squeeze through the toilet’s s-bend.

In the department’s defense, the safehouse was never intended to hold massive eels.

FP424 - The Irregular Division: Crossing, Part 3 of 3What I find most amazing, though, is that he didn’t simply turn into one of us. Surely if he’d waited long enough he could have slipped into the guise of being a white guy – hell, an exact duplicate of his guard even – and made a, uh, clean break.

Of course, Uncle Sam wasn’t willing to let him, you know, wriggle from our grasp.

As far as we could tell from the conspiracy theorist websites, a man sporting majestic wings had been spotted gliding from an empty chunk of Texas and south towards the Chihuahuan Desert. Our man at the top nearly lost it over that, as we’d done a fairly decent job of keeping the nature of the operation secret until then.

The poor bugger who reported it should thank the Saint of Sasquatches that we didn’t have to knock on his door, as would have been the case if he’d managed to grab any credible video.

Anyhow, under the auspices of an ongoing anti-drug joint task force, we were given limited authorization to cross the border and operate in and around Aurelio’s former hometown. We were told to keep it quiet, as we didn’t need the Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional putting together the pieces with their domestic intelligence guys.

So there we are, Atlas and I, sitting in Aurelio’s otherwise abandoned shack. He wasn’t joking when he said he just picked up and left, there was still a pair of mugs in the sink that had been left to dry, and the square of garden hadn’t yet had a chance to wither.

We’re mostly sitting in the dark, as Atlas is all “mission security” and “standard operating procedure” and “silent running” and blah blah blah, so I was sharpening my Spanish by reading Mexican webcomics when we heard an engine outside.

Now, they gave me a gun, but I’m still pretty laughable on the range. I mean, I can flatten an entire opposing team in Call of Duty, all while they complain that having a neural interface hooked directly to my game console is cheating, but I still differ to Punchy when it comes to knocking real people over.

– and, of course, we were supposed to be taking Aurelio alive.

Thing was, it wasn’t Kafka’s birdman that came through the door, it was a local idjit named Bruno and a couple pals who thought they’d arrived to pummel a destitute local into keeping his mouth shut about how they’d killed his grandfather.

You wanna know what pisses Ms. Atlas off more than chasing a prisoner she’s already captured? Realizing that, despite all of her precautions, her operation has been compromised by some nosey punks with no clue what they’re actually getting themselves into.

Worse, they had gall and bad manners enough to try and shoot at her.

She’d lost all the robotics below her right elbow, and her patience, by the time she disarmed them, and there was so little of the hacienda left after she was done tossing them through, around, and over it, that we had to scrub the mission entirely.

A day later word came down the chain that Aurelio was to be forgotten – that is, at least until the media leaks started.

Stories still abound of the Nagual who supposedly walks, crawls, and flies across the southern Mexican states, but I can’t help but wonder: If we’d just been perhaps a bit more welcoming, maybe he’d be our Nagual.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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Extra: Jessica May – March to the Stars (The Joe Monk Theme)

Joe Monk, Emperor of Space

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* * *

If you have comments, questions or suggestions, you can find us at http://skinner.fm, or email us text/mp3s to comments@flashpulp.com.

This song is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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Filed under Extra Extra, Flash Pulp, Joe Monk

FP412 – The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and twelve.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Get Published

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, the public has its first encounter with the government-assembled group of misfits who would one day become known as the Irregular Division.

 

The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Fragment One:

March, Year One
Source: Verbal Debrief Following Operation Pancake Grid

Adviser: Major Nelson Wily
Subject: Corporal Jennifer Glat, AKA Ms. Atlas

Wily: Okay, it’s recording. Just give me the rundown of how you saw the operation unfold. Who knows, maybe kids will be listening to this at a museum exhibit someday.

Atlas: Uh huh.

The Irregular Division: A science fiction Flash Pulp podcast from Skinner Co.Following a two week period of downtime I was collected from a West Coast VA facility to meet in an administrative office in a Capital City hospital. Special Operative Head and I were formally introduced, and he was provided with a rundown of the situation. He was sarcastic and questioning. He challenged the plan, and insinuated that my daughter’s recent death would cloud my judgement.

I’d like to go on record as saying that, while I appreciate the opportunity to lead this unit, I feel that Head is not up to what was envisioned when the surgeons scraped what was left of me off of that floor in Aleppo.

I admit to an outburst that may have been peppered with a mild threat or two.

Wily: [unintelligible coughing]

Atlas: The situation was brought under control, and we were briefed on a fast moving scenario in New York state.

We were told a computer security expert by the name of Morris Fulbright had taken down essential components of the electrical grid, and that the operation zone, including New York City itself, was in total darkness. Fulbright had anonymously released a statement that the flaw he’d found in the public utility’s software had allowed him to run portions of the network at extreme heats until they burnt out. He also claimed he was working on behalf of a larger organization, although no evidence of that was found.

Intelligence intercepted the message before it got too far on the net, and the brains were hoping to turn the GDCF into a PR win by sending in a small strike force to subdue the what they termed a “cyber-terrorist.”

Eager for hearts and minds, the man responsible for the death of my daughter and I were sent to collect, as we were told, “a computer nerd from his plush suburban home.”

I recall one of the tech guys in the office telling us there was no way Fulbright could know we were coming, as the technology to break the encryption he’d used to anonymize himself was classified.

Despite the secrecy, however, it’s my understanding that the time and location was somehow misplaced so that a single news helicopter was on the scene to witness our arrival.

* * *

Fragment Two:

July, Year One
Source: [redacted].com/rambling/Operation-Flapjack-Grill

Author: Head

Title: Action Squad, Go!

Body:

I get it. On paper it looks perfect: They’ve got this guy with a prototype computer interface stapled to his brain and a vet that military doctors and cyberneticists have remade into the world’s first death dealin’ cyborg. The IT expert and the muscle, just like in any spy flick.

It’s funny on screen when the murder droid threatens to crush their geeky backup, but less so when you’re the backup.

There wasn’t much space to move around in the gun truck either. Strange how quickly you start unthinkingly using that sort of slang: Gun truck.

Anyhow, that’s when I realize that, as pissed as she is, and as much screaming as she’s doing at me, Atlas isn’t really moving. I finally understood that she was sitting in a [redacted], and that she likely didn’t want to break away from her charging plug.

Still, the longer we sat in that tiny space the more I wondered how many extra percentage points on her battery meter my life was worth.

With everyone stuck in the deep dark, civilian cell service was down, but there was a mesh of military drones overhead providing a connection as fast as anything AT&T has on offer. I was internally Googling possible escape routes from that model of tactical vehicle when the buggy came to a sudden stop.

“Go, go, go,” says the Major, and Jenny – she really likes it when I call her Jenny – was up and away.

“Remember that Atlas is in command on the ground. Listen to her if you want to stay alive,” says Wily, and I’m thinking listening to her may be the least safe thing I’ll do that day when the door slams shut behind me.

Now, I’d gotten pretty used to my neural pipeline by then, and I’d already fallen into the habit of flipping between social networks when nervous. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with service, as the major sites began to flood my feeds with updates on the second surge.

Over a hundred hard working line men and women, fried with their hands in boxes that were only ever damaged in their reporting software. Fulbright was one sneaky bastard.

A sneaky bastard with a television feed, as well, as he was apparently watching the news chopper’s feed as Atlas peeled away the front of his house.

That’s when the poop hurricane – the shite-nado, if you will – really began.

* * *

Fragment Three:

March, Year One
Source: TNTV.com/2047/03/NY-State-Power-Hostages

Author: December Hook

Title: New York State Powerline Terrorist Attack Thwarted

Dramatic footage captured by a Total News Television helicopter seems to show a military special operations force invading the Blooming Grove home that we now know to be the epicenter of the state-wide blackout.

A declassified communique, provided by anonymous military sources, indicates that the home’s owner, Morris Fulbright, released a rambling and incoherent message in which he claimed sole responsibility for the attack, and also specified that he was working alone to avenge a list of grievances that, as the source remarked, “can only be classified as being the figments of an unbalanced mind.”

Grainy footage shows government forces on the scene, believed to be led by Jennifer Glat, the soldier the press dubbed “Ms. Atlas” after a series of miracle surgeries replaced the majority of her charred muscle mass with high-powered electronics.

Unbeknownst to the operation, inside the house, Fulbright, who’d created a virus to fool utility overseers into believing a number of powerline assets had been physically damaged, had just forced a reboot of systems which went on to kill three dozen workers and injure over eighty others. Several remain in critical condition.

Anticipating a response, the accused cyber-terrorist had planted several pounds of improvised explosives at all exits of his household, and, as the strike team leader pulled open the front door, the madman was waiting with detonator in hand.

Although the explosion seemed to have left the woman’s right arm shredded at the elbow, the video shows her prying the brass knob from her dangling hand, then lobbing it into the building. Reports confirm that the missile lodged itself several inches into Morris Fulbright’s chest, killing him instantly.

An unnamed military spokesman referred to the effort as “a triumph” and remarked that it was unlikely that this would be the last we’d see of The Irregular Division.

This journalist, for one, is glad to have them watching over us.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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FP411 – The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and eleven.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Get Published

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we introduce The Irregular Division, the newest, and final, thread of the Flash Pulp universe. Here it all begins to come together – and here it all begins to unravel.

Please be forewarned that this episode contains scenes of violence and strong language intended for mature audiences.

 

The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

July, Year One
Source: [redacted].com/rambling/First-Date.html

Author: Head

Title: Our First Lunch Meeting

Body:

So, apparently this blog is now considered government property, along with the rest of me. As such, I’ve been instructed to post my version of how our little family came together. I suspect that means they want me to tell you the happy tale of Operation Pancake Grid, but that’s not what I’m going to do.

In my mind, and maybe in yours if anyone other than the NSA ever bothers to read this, everything started at the McDonald’s in Tucson.

Given the layout, I could’ve been walking in the same store I’d visited in San Fran for breakfast or on the outskirts of Vegas for lunch. I came in the door beside the counter, and worked hard to ignore the squealing from the ballpit while I ordered. Once I had another Big Mac in my hand I hustled around the ordering slab and took cover behind some plastic foliage. My ass was just starting to numb up on the formed plastic bench when the cast of a heart-warming sitcom about non-nuclear families took the booth across from me. The little girl couldn’t have been fourteen yet, but she spoke with the firm tone of a self-assured authority.

“I don’t care what Mom says, Dad, I don’t want to move again, and it’s not fair to make me go somewhere I can’t visit you.”

Dad, his well pressed suit looking a little out of place in the house of the Golden Arches, tightened his grip on his partner. The partner was really the wacky breakout character of the group: bright friendly eyes and black wiry hair on every inch of exposed flesh made him look like an old timey grizzled prospector.

“Hun,” says Dad, “you know we love you to pieces, but there’s nothing the court will let me do. You need to be a little older before they’ll let you decide where you want to be, and even in this day and age they’d still rather you tag along in a war zone with your Mother than let you stay with an old gay married couple.“

See, the problem is that I wasn’t in a position to use any public internet access. Normally I would’ve just logged in wirelessly and forgotten the world around me as my mouth drowned in secret sauce, but I knew certain unpleasant fellows would be ringing me up for an audience before I’d even hit Google. There was definitely something compelling about the girl’s oratory though, she’d’ve been a general, a politician, or a CEO given the time.

At a My Little Pony pitch, she started, “I don’t give two shits about those asshats from court. You actually listen to me. You actually care about –“ then Dad interrupted.

“Whoa, hold on. Your Mom might not take a lot of input, but if you seriously think she doesn’t care about you, you need to pull your head out of your butt. She does have a set of standards she lives by, whatever the hell they may be, and for better or worse she’s trying to raise you to them. Mike and I love you, but so does your Mom, just in a different way.”

For a moment all mouths were full and conversation paused.

A smiling maw broke out of Prospector Mike’s face tribble.

“Hey,” he said, “she never moves for long, and both of you should calm down and cut her some slack, it’s not like she’s actually going overseas this time. I don’t think she can be blamed for heading to the coast to recoup, not all that unreasonable considering most of her body EXPLODED.”

Father and daughter simultaneously took a tight lipped sip of cola.

Dad cleared his throat, saying, “Listen – “ and that’s when everything went to shit.

With my back to the wall, and my seat opposite the door nearest the washroom, I had no problem noticing the beaten black pickup truck roll to a halt at the curb. Made gigantic by its oversized tires, its shadow seemed to stretch right through the glass. The two hillbillies who took long steps down from the cab would have made Bo and Luke Duke piss themselves if they’d caught them out behind The Boar’s Nest. They made no attempt to hide their 12 gauges.

I reviewed all of this from under the table, of course. If anyone had been observing my booth they might have seen something akin to a blow up doll half doing the wave as it slid out of sight at high speed. I’d brought my burger with me in the hope that my tray would simply look deserted. Honestly, it was instinct once my brain registered a black vehicle coming to an abrupt stop, but after checking over what exactly I was dealing with I wasn’t convinced it had anything to do with me. They didn’t strike me as dressed up enough. That said, I’d also kind of envisioned using the rear door as an exit in case anyone did find me, and hadn’t really thought through that they might not enter from the front of the store.

All of this happened within the span of a breath, and it was only as I watched their denimed knees scuffle past me awkwardly that I was sure they hadn’t noticed my duck and cover.

I named them by the condition of their jeans.

“Where is he?” shouted hole-in-left-leg.

“Fucked if I know,” replied frayed-at-cuffs.

Hole-in-left-leg went running to where the row intersected with the main serving area.

As he rounded the corner and into the Playland he parted a sea of panicked murmurs with his a repeated and plaintive cry of “Fuck!”

Frayed-at-cuffs began to pace the short length from the bathroom to the third booth in, obstructing any ideas I might have had of making a go at the exit, and bringing a repeated “Hurk!” intake of breath from Dad every time he passed.

“Would you cut that shit out!” Frayed-at-cuffs demanded, his voice cracking.

The Irregular Division: A science fiction Flash Pulp podcast from Skinner Co.“Hey listen –“ began Prospector Mike.

“WHAT!? WHAT!?”

I was leaning a bit now, trying to see what was going on, and I made out that Frayed had gotten a handful of the girl’s hair and was pressing the shortened shotgun barrel against her temple.

“Listen –“ it was Dad’s turn now, “her mom is going to be here soon to pick her up and we don’t want any trouble and if you simply move on we’ll just sit here quietly and wait for her and everything will be ok because –“

Dad’s mouth had lost it, and it was obvious Frayed had decided a simpler solution might be had by simply swinging the barrel of his cannon around. It was then that Mike decided to make a play, flying off his bench and around the table even managing to push over Frayed without plugging Dad. That was the end of his luck though: As the hick landed heavily on his ass his shotgun let go. Down went Mike, missing a chin. That was also when the goon decided to look left, directly into my eyes. He jumped to his feet.

“TEDWARD! TEDWARD GET YER ASS –“

Dad started wailing.

“SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” screamed Frayed, once again pressing the barrel of his gun against the girl’s temple. “TEDWARD! HE’S –“

At that point I frozen with the knowledge that I was absolutely fucked. I was staring at the murderous farmer, waiting for Tedward and the hole in his jeans to swing back from where the food is served, and I remember feeling a bead of sweat fall on my hand. I remember stupidly thinking it was raining.

Then the exit turned into a ball of glass and heat and light.

In the video it’s as if she just appears, a pistol the size of a small East Asian nation in her hand.

She looked at me. She looked at the hick. She looked at Tedward, somewhere in the wings beyond my perspective.

She said, “Michael? DAN? Nancy!?” in the order of surprised; upset; angry.

Frayed suddenly unfreezes long enough for his trigger finger to reflexively operate, and the top of Nancy’s head disappears.

Everything until then had felt like a rollercoaster, with the chain of events moving along much faster than even I could compensate for, but the world stopped at that second.

I know that all of the local recording devices bit it – that only those who were there heard the cybernetically amplified howl the media calls the “banshee’s scream” – but you don’t want a recording. Imagine the sound a humpback whale might make going through a meat grinder, impart to it the unknowable grief of a mother losing her child before her very eyes, and then amplify it to the point that .76 seconds of exposure leaves every customer and counter jockey in the restaurant stone deaf and bleading from their ears.

That’s when my memory stops, but my questionably-borrowed neural rig just dumbly kept gobbling up whatever my glazed gaze fell upon.

Deeply in shock I began to list to the left. Still, I have video of Mom – Ms. Atlas – closing the distance between her and Frayed like a rabid gazelle. The speed is such that you can barely see her arms move as she rips off his right leg at the socket, a stabilizing combat boot, peaking from below her sensible slacks, resting on his groin.

The spray of blood across my face is the last thing I witnessed before I thankfully fell into darkness.

Five days later I awoke, like the rest of the store patrons and staff, in a military hospital having my eardrums replaced by government surgeons.

Unlike the rest of the patrons and staff, however, there were two generals standing over me wanting an audience and an explanation – then they suggested that I might not go to prison over my stolen brain chip if I teamed up with their vengeful mother of a public relations disaster.

That, to me, is the day the Irregular Division formed.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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Filed under Flash Pulp, The Irregular Division

FP406 – The Blue Mask

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and six.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Blue Mask

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Pop Mockers

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we find ourselves visitors to the shores of the Island of Corosia, and walk among the contagions that rage across it.

 

The Blue Mask

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

The island nation of Corosia supported two cities of size and a dozen hamlets yet unconsumed by the urban march. To its many passers-through there was a familiarity about the nation that had been carried to its shores in the suitcases of beach-bound tourists and over the satellite signals pirated by its inhabitants. It was in the cut of the military uniforms worn at checkpoints and by billboard-displayed leaders; it was in the brightly coloured t-shirts worn by the nation’s teenagers; it was in the chords and rhythms of the music leaking from open-windowed vehicles and kitchen radios.

The beauty of the spot, mixed with its location along the tradewinds, had left it a thick history of exposure to the shifting tide of inquisitive outsiders. Many gods had once swept ashore, then many prophets, then, finally, those mock deities broadcast to the heavens from studios abroad.

Yet, in spite of this familiarity, or perhaps because of it, there was also a deeply ingrained skepticism to Corosian society.

There were few who would not lend a traveller a ride along the isle’s dusty roads, but all would be sure to later joke that they’d checked afterwards that the stranger hadn’t stolen the seat.

Still, the Corosians were as upset as the rest of the world at the televised collapse of the town of Harthomas, Pennsylvania.

Every Western news network shifted its unsleeping gaze to the events in Harthomas, and legends regarding the misinformation in those transmissions would spring up almost as quickly as the arrival of commercial breaks. For forty-eight hours the world observed the quarantined population of ten thousand collapse into madness even as their government raced for a cure.

The footage of weeping faces and inexplicable undertakings was only interrupted by the occasional newsdesk rebuttal to federal suggestions to discontinue broadcasting. Whatever say in the matter the powers in question held, answered the blazer wearing anchors, they had lost it when they’d allowed the virus to escape a research laboratory just south of Pittsburgh.

So viewers watched while packs of wailing children swept through the streets of Harthomas, their arms raised in trembling need of a hug, and as a suddenly famous hard-faced bank teller led them on an extended, if eventually futile, chase. They watched as lovers held each other tightly for hours, their tears staining each other’s shoulder, until, without warning to the patrolling news drones above, they cast themselves down from rooftops and balconies. They watched as crowds of fifteen and twenty would wrap their arms about each other in solace-seeking knots, their chests heaving with their tears, until dehydration and exposure would take them, though their corpses were held in place until the weight of the decaying human web simply became too much for those few fatigued mourners who remained.

The Blue MaskThe Melancholy, as it came to be called, was thus well known to the Corosians – although, as the coverage spread into rumours that cases of infection had carried beyond the perimeter of the quarantine, the isle’s inhabitants took some comfort, in the thankful moments of their kitchen table prayers, that there was an ocean between their families and the troubles.

As the threat crept, on aircraft wings and on the decks of fishing boats, ever closer along the chain of islands that flanked their home, deception also slipped into their ears.

Their leaders began to appear before crowds and microphones to declare the illness a conspiracy, a tactic of the greed-stricken developers who had long lusted for their pristine coasts and unending sunshine. Just that week, they declared, they had turned back offers to have the men and women in their thick rubber suits arrive and lay out their needles and tents supposedly intended to heal. With great confidence the khaki-garbed rulers scoffed, pointing out that it was only upon such invasions that their neighbours had even begun to grow sick.

Truly, they said, such ministrations carried sickness, not the cure.

This version of reality gave succor to many, but there were some who doubted.

One such, a physician of some renown who had gathered knowledge from many lands before settling in the place of her birth, was known to publicly ask, “what of the terrible images they’d seen from the heart of the persecutors’ own lands?”

“It is said their black arts can tailor plagues to any need. Obviously a controlled release is simply a tactic to make them appear free of guilt as they steal what they could not buy,” came the response. “If they were willing to do such things to their own people, what mercy would they have for those they wished to unseat?”

The physician was told to hold her tongue.

Divine appeals continued. Rites were planned. Breath was held.

It was not long before any who might be considered tainted by distant infection, visitor or resident alike, were expelled or sent into hiding; be they at hand to help the impoverished at the island’s core, or simply to enjoy the sands along its edges.

Faith became central. In some quarters forgotten gods were resurrected and invoked. Offerings were left upon shop stoops and in the entranceways of homes. Smiling faces in costly suits declared a cure had arrived, but the images from but a few shores away made salvation seem no closer than the newscasters themselves.

Soon the Corosians turned to the traditions that had been handed to them from grandparent to parent.

A night of ceremonies was planned – masquerades of a sort, a culturally ingrained ritual of prayer and pleas for celestial amnesty.

Little could they have known that the infection had been carried into their midst – even as they donned garb in every shade and moved through the customs of dance and religious observance – by fisher folk who’d secreted cousins from the nearby danger, and by smugglers too destitute to give up the opportunity of providing much needed supplies to their beleaguered neighbours.

Nor did the Corosians realize that they themselves then spread the contagion through their sacramental sweat, consoling embraces, and profured handshakes.

On the soft beaches of a half-dozen villages countenances of red, yellow, and green hoped for safety, their exhortations aimed to move a power they thought greater than their own, but, as masked faces, both angelic and demonic, mingled in the shadow of the mountain that marked Corosia’s heart, the most important fact among their missing knowledge was the identity behind the soft-smirk of a sole blue mask roaming the islands eastern edge.

Years later it would be realized that it was their own daughter behind the cerulean visage – the very physician who had warned against isolation. Yet, she was twice as infectious as any other. With every flung droplet of sweat, with every passing brush of exposed flesh, she spread a sickness of her own design, her advanced craft having allowed her to engineer a curative epidemic so furious it would eventually wipe clean the plague of irrationality already incubating in the population.

For that evening, however, the mask simply grinned.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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Filed under Chiller, Flash Pulp

FP367 – Proud Mary

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and sixty-seven.

Flash PulpTonight we present Proud Mary, Part 1 of 1

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Every Photo Tells…

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we present the tale of Caesar Riley – a lover, fighter, and sailor – as he discovers new lands at the distant borders of Los Angeles.

 

Proud Mary

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Proud Mary

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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Filed under Flash Pulp, Science Fiction

FP356 – Heroes

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and fifty-six.

Flash PulpTonight we present Heroes

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we move briefly into the future, where code monkey Arturo Proto will receive an unexpected visit from musician, and goblin king, David Bowie. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious though any resemblance to real David Bowies, living or dead, is purely intentional.

 

Heroes

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Arturo Proto had owned every Bowie album well before the visit – had, in fact, spent long hours working on the MRI3 itself while listening to his idol’s output.

The piano plonks opening Life on Mars? still reminded him of the imaging problem from the last half of the second year, and the bassy grind of I’m Afraid of Americans was forever linked in his mind with the two-weeks’ worth of all-nighters that had preceded the device’s first testing.

Bowie was but one of ten celebrities to enter the neural scanner during an online publicity campaign set-up by General Electric and the Rolling Stone, but he was the only one Arturo had cared to meet. Though Proto wasn’t project lead – he was an equal member of its eight-person programming team – his manic hours and enthusiasm had earned him his choice of when he wished to be at the console during the visits.

Surrounded by a phalanx of twenty-something assistants, the ancient Ziggy Stardust had drifted into the lab behind a pair of thick sunglasses. His sleek cuffed black suit left just his thin lips and slow gait to give away his true age, but the wheeling and flocking of his adherents was tightly controlled by his sing-song whisper.

Proto had been surprised at the number of questions.

“Mr. Bowie would like to know what feature differences there are between this and the previous generation of device,” a pencil-skirted woman with a bob haircut would ask, notepad in hand – then, even as a tech would volunteer to take her aside for a full answer, a man sporting a three piece suit and an ironic moustache would inquire, “Mr. Bowie would like to confirm that there will be no interactions with the iron in tattoo ink.”

Before the afternoon was out the lab had somehow become infected with their pharaoh-like treatment. It had not helped that Proto stammered through every simple instruction, nor that he’d teared up when he’d received a pixie smile in response to his declaration that he’d spent most of his working life listening to the subject’s musical catalogue.

The pop star’s fatal car crash came nearly six months after the visit.

A half-decade, and four largely unrelated projects later, Arturo was sitting on a plain wooden stool under On an Ale Horse’s spotlight. The dive bar had gone long enough without renovations to be able to call itself retro, and the patrons, working at their domestic draughts with resolute throats, paid little notice to the string of amateurs taking to the low stage.

There was something in Proto’s delivery, however, that was different.

His voice wavered and skittered around the notes, and his guitar strumming was numb fingered at best, but there was a rhythm to his acoustic flailing that dug into the professional drunks’ ears.

He sang of afterlives, outer space, and needs that would never be met. In a haze of heat and alcohol Arturo’s songs, practiced until then only in the second guest room of his otherwise empty suburban home, blurred together, and yet each time he attempted to step down from the platform the evening’s aspirants would encourage him to return in their place.

It was the first night of his new identity. Like Stardust becoming Alladin Sane becoming The Thin White Duke, Proto used every success that followed to bury the corporate burnout he’d become. Now he was simply Prototype. Sold out bars became sold out local festivals, and online sales soon meant he would never again have to worry about project cancellations, office politics, or performance assessments.

Two months later he introduced the song Franciscan Park, and he was no longer just a sensation on the Capital City scene.

The meeting took place in a downtown lawyer’s office. Entering had required braving concentric rings of administration people, but they were all too eager to push Arturo towards the topmost floor. They struck him as aware of his coming, which was worrying because he had but the vaguest idea of why he had been invited to the expanse of leather and wood.

After being ushered through a final oaken door, however, Proto briefly stopped breathing. The man waiting behind the desk was not the thin-faced elf of Bowie’s youth, nor the knowing ancient who’d shuffled into the lab. This was a composite of the many men who’d once been Davey Jones – a sort of Bowie Prime.

“I… I thought you were dead?” stammered Arturo, his arms unthinkingly moving to cover his all-white wardrobe as if a child caught parading in his father’s clothes.

A Skinner Co. Podcast“I am not living,” said the pale android in the velvet Victorian waistcoat, “I am an artificial avatar known as RoBowie. I had myself built to stand as guardian to my estate – I didn’t relish the idea of being sold into a Coca Cola commercial. I’ll take my immortality where I can get it.”

Arturo frowned, “if you’re not Bowie, then why do you keep referring to him as yourself?”

“I thought it would be funny.”

The room settled to silence, during which Proto unabashedly gazed at the machine’s subtle seams, then the robot’s eyelids clicked twice.

“Do you know why we’re here?” it asked.

“I’m hoping it’s because you like Franciscan Park,” answered Arturo, but he could no longer maintain contact with his interrogator’s lens-glass gaze.

“Well, in a sense – but the root of the thing is really your habit of stealing office supplies, you naughty boy. Worse, the code package you stole wasn’t even complete.

“The software you pinched was crude compared to the version that runs my operating system, and its limited programming only allowed for finite musical combinations. Other than the name, which you clearly changed, the song you tried to claim by retitling Franciscan Park is an identical match for catalogued composition #544694, The Unfading Lament.

“We were surprised when the tune, poorly transcribed by one of your fans, turned up in a lyrics database.

“The thing is, the rhythm structure had fingerprints all over it.

“Now, when you walked away with a backup of the last version of the artificial intelligence simulation project you couldn’t have expected anyone to know you’d hook it into an equally stolen copy of your MRI3 work, but what you weren’t aware of is that General Electric had sold the exact same idea to a number of high profile investors a decade before either undertaking had gone into production. Development actually escalated after its supposed cancellation and your departure, but in a much more classified facility.

“Perhaps with good reason though – right, Sticky Fingers?”

With the legal weight of an immortal pop star and an international corporation hovering on his shoulders, Arturo deeply missed the simplicity of a life of debugging.

His mind flailed in an attempt to find an escape.

“I promise I’ll wipe the setup and shutdown my servers,” he said, “it was nothing, a few songs -”

“Nothing, nothing tralalala!” answered the suddenly standing machine, “You stole my brain, Arturo – my brain! How many simulated mes are virtually running around in boxes in your basement?

“Don’t bother trying to remember, the SWAT team will be able to answer me in less than ten minutes.

“Think of the nauseating imagery – thousands of enslaved Bowies squirming endlessly in the darkness of digital space – think of the global headlines.

“I was not a spiteful man, however, and I cannot deny that some of my own best ideas started as other people’s. We’ve decided not to run your name through the mud by suing over Franciscan Park.”

Proto’s thoughts staggered to keep up, and with a thick tongue he asked, “so I’m not going to jail? But you want me to keep quiet? I can do that, I promise.”

“No, no,” replied RoBowie, “we already have press conferences booked for you. Taking responsibility in front of the media will be your punishment, but think of Franciscan Park’s notoriety: A little controversy never hurts sales, I assure you.”

With only a hint of a whir, the avatar’s latex cheeks moved into a Cheshire grin, and glee slunk into its tone.

“What a fantastic platform from which to announce my comeback.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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