Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the tag “Chuck”

Every Sparrow that Falls: the Final Chapter.

The voice in his head sounded desperate. But.

‘Who are you?’ Chuck asked. ‘What are you doing in my head?’ His mind was trying to convince him that everything was fine. But it wasn’t fine. He’d been shot at. His head was killing him. So was the radiation. And now he had voices in his head. And nobody ever thought that was a good sign.

Friend, his head told him. Here to help. Dying. Stop. Stop radiation.

‘Are you a min-min?’ he asked. He still didn’t quite trust the energy blobs. His only response was a sense of puzzlement. He felt puzzled. ‘I mean, one of the energy balls.’ And comprehension dawned on him.

Yes. Min-min. Dying!

Chuck felt a sense of urgency during that last statement. He realised with shock that Caitlin was right: the radiation was dispersing the energy balls. And the energy balls were alive. They were killing his guides. Had killed them, for all he knew.

Yes! Stop it!

‘Cait!’

‘Is it working? I can-’

‘Turn it off! Quickly! We made a mistake!’

‘You made a mistake!’ Caitlin retorted. ‘No, no, never mind,’ she continued as he tried to repeat his plea, ‘I am a professional. I turned it off as soon as you told me. Your skin won’t stop burning until we get you treated. And that should be soon. Get back to the ship.’

‘I’m coming,’ Chuck said. ‘You won’t believe this. I’m hearing voices.’

‘What won’t I believe?’ Cait asked.

‘Ha, ha. I’m on my way.’ Chuck signed out and prepared to run.

Go now, the voice said. Plenty of time.

The laser beam burned a hole in the back of his left boot as he hit the stairs running.

 

Back in the sunlight, Chuck slowed.

‘Who are you?’ he asked. There was a long pause. ‘Well?’

Wait, came the voice. Difficult. Looking for speech. Ah, there it is.

The change in his passenger’s language was immediate and obvious.

We are human, said the voice. It was female, from its cadence. It was like a voice remembered, one that had spoken only moments before, but it bypassed his ears. When your ancestors left the planet I am assuming you are from Earth originally?

Chuck went to nod, realised that might be completely useless, and said ‘Yes.’

When your ancestors left, she continued, many stayed behind. Some were mad. Most were useless. A very few were brilliant. We fought the machines and subjugated them. We concentrated on restoring the planet. The main obstacle to that was humanity itself. And then we realised that we could live forever without our bodies. It seemed like a fair trade. Immortality and a planet restored for the simple price of our flesh.

‘I don’t know,’ Chuck said. ‘I kind of enjoy my flesh.’ He looked back over his shoulder, remembering. ‘Wait! Your friends, the min-min. Did they survive?’

The moment these words formed in his mind to be spoken, a great wave of sadness hit him. Tears welled up in his eyes.

No, she said. They were dispersed.

‘You were close to them?’ he asked.

No. But emotions are always experienced strongly within the host. I cannot help it. I am sorry. The loss of the team is unfortunate. We rarely reproduce, especially with the machines being so belligerent. But no, I was not close to them. There is your ship!

Chuck’s eyes were drawn to the ship. It was a lot further away than he should have been able to recognise it. A pleasant side effect. Pleasant.

‘You’re female?’ he asked.

Yes, she said. Apologies. My name is Flip. Philipa Nias. I grew up in Melbourne the city you are in now and was lucky enough to be involved in the last conversions. I dont honestly know why we bothered to keep our gender-alignments. I think it is just a part of who I am. And you can stop thinking whatever youre thinking. I can feel your hormone levels rising.

Chuck blushed.

‘We’re almost there,’ he said. ‘What are you going to do? I need to go back to the ship for radiation treatment. I’ll need to make a proper report about my experiences since arriving, including the existence of a new life form or three. Are you coming with?’

Flip considered this. Off the planet? The radiation would disperse me.

‘I’ll ask Cait, but I think that we are shielded enough for you to come aboard safely.’

Something new to ride, Flip mused. Chuck felt himself being persuaded, which was an unusual sensation. They arrived at the ship. I think I should. Yes, that would indeed be an experience.

Feeling unusually happy, Chuck whistled as he ran through the pre-launch activities that would get him and his invisible passenger off the planet. As he was packing away the last of the supplies he had removed from the ship, his eye caught the corpse of a small bird. He tried to look away, but his gaze was fixed.

Wait, Flip said. Please. We need to bury him.

Chuck thought: ?

I owe him, Flip said. As I owe you. Please.

Nodding, Chuck dug a small hole in the soft earth and placed the sparrow gently into it. He covered the bird with soil and replaced the grass divot.

Do you still have religion? Flip asked him. The Bible? God?

‘Well,’ Chuck said. ‘Gods. There are a good number of them. But there is The One God. Not that anybody believes He’s the only one any more. He had a Bible.’

Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing, it says. Thats what makes a Rider. Take care of the individuals and the world will be fine.

‘That sounds like a plan,’ Chuck said. ‘Who knows what will come from this meeting of two individuals?’

All thanks to that little guy, said Flip. Oh dear. Im starting to sound like you now. Before we go, I think theres one person that should come with us. She established a link and gave her friend the invitation. Chuck caught the gist of it through their shared thoughts.

 

‘Hang on, Captain who?’

 

Space: The final frontier.

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Every Sparrow – Chapter Six

Note: I’ve been writing this mostly because I have a few friends and family who want to know “what happens next”. I have been writing it because Terry Pratchett says the best way to become a better writer is to write 300 words a day.

I didn’t write on Sunday because I was writing 300 words on Cyber Safety and Online citizenship for the iPad presentation our school gave on Monday. We handed out 120 iPads to the Year 9 students as part of the Government’s 1-1 program. I talked to them about respect, and making sure they ensured their own privacy and that of others.

I didn’t write yesterday because I was writing up detention forms, suspension notices and emails to parents (easily 300 words) after a number of students were involved in a massive Facebook page that targeted teachers and students at the school. So apparently, the 300 words from Sunday were completely wasted.

But I’m back now. Here’s Chapter Six:

His teeth stopped vibrating first. He shook his head like a wet dog. He stretched his jaws. They were absolutely buzz-free. His skin lost that crawling-with-ants feeling shortly afterwards. Chuck stopped walking. He dropped his bag. He did a little victory dance. And then he saw the min-min light.

‘Holy Bob!’ he yelped, stepping into his backpack straps and falling onto his rear. The min-min light hovered at head height, waving serenely back and forth. It was a pale blue, and pulsed with a gentle glow that was almost invisible in the bright sunlight. Chuck fixed his eyes on the light while he scrabbled in his pack for the tablet.

‘Scout to ship, come in. Caitlin, talk to me!’

‘Whaff, oo ooann? Iff dinna ‘ime,’ was the cryptic response. Chuck, who had known Caitlin through training school and four years of an interstellar voyage, was quick to translate.

‘I don’t care about your food. Scan my area. Can you see anything?’ There was no response from the other side, except for the faintly nauseating sound of loud chewing. Eventually, Cait replied.

‘What do you mean? No. Hang on. Yes. But it’s just the energy signatures you had around you from the start. Why?’

‘I have a min-min floating in front of me,’ said Chuck.

‘Um,’ said Cait.

‘A little ball of light. Sort of. . . hovering. I think it’s watching me.’ And indeed, the light did seem to be focused on him. He swished a hand at it, and the light retreated slightly before returning to the same spot. He moved his head. The min-min revolved slightly to follow his movement.

‘What did you call it?’

‘A min-min. My grandmother used to talk about them. They helped travellers lost in the bush, back when there was bush.’ Chuck looked around. Trees and shrubs were taking over the city, squeezing up through the man-made paths and roads and taking back the land that once belonged to it. ‘I guess, the bush is back, the min-min followed. Oh!’ he said, standing up carefully. ‘Make that min-mins. There’s another one. And a third!’ In a loose formation around the light blue min-min, two more glowing balls had materialised. One was a violet swirl. The third of the trio was a faded yellow blob. None of them were overly bright in the sunlight. Chuck assumed that they might be more visible at nighttime.

‘Ah, Chuck?’ said Cait.

‘Yeah?’

‘Are you OK?’

Chuck bent down to pick up his backpack. He kept a wary eye on the trio of glowing shapes. ‘I think so,’ he said. ‘At the moment, they’re just hovering. No, wait. What are they- AAAARGH!’

‘Chuck? CHUCK?’

‘Heh. No, I’m fine. They’re just floating there.’

‘Dick.’

‘Yeah, sorry.’ Chuck raised his tablet and ran a simple image scan. He sent it off to the ship with a flick of his finger. ‘That’s them. Hang on, they’re moving.’ Apparently taking their picture let the energy beings know that he was watching them. They moved away from him, slowly but with purpose. A short way away, they stopped. They bobbed a little closer, then away again. Chuck laughed.

‘That is fantastic!’ he said. ‘Hey, you know those kids’ shows that have the smart animal who runs to get help when the hero falls down the well?’

‘Ye-es?’

‘I think I just landed in an episode of Gordo the Wonder-blob.’ Chuck started off after the shapes, and they in turn, noticing that he was indeed following, set off at a leisurely pace towards the cube-shaped building. ‘Keep scanning, Cait. I need to know if they’re about to do something.’

‘Shall do. Keep an eye out.’

Yup. It’s a thing!

Every Sparrow – Chapter Five

Side note: A good pen died in the writing of this chapter. A faithful companion who was strong until the finish. It gave its ink so that I might write. I hope  you enjoy this chapter all the more knowing of its sacrifice. R.I.B, my faithful servant, R.I.B.*

The attempt to communicate wasn’t going well.

‘Is this man stupid or insane?’ snapped the head of the communication team. Obviously a construct, although Flip couldn’t place him. The anger gave it away.

‘We’ve greeted him in every language on file,’ the construct continued, ‘and nothing. We’ve tried the basic SETI protocols – mathematical formulas, the Fibonacci sequence, that sort of thing. Nothing. Is he deaf?’

Flip floated closer. The others moved aside, showing her the respect due to a Rider, but their auras showed a certain puzzlement, as she wasn’t an expert in this area in the slightest. With that in mind, she approached with deference, giving the team leader a friendly ping.

‘Excuse my curiosity. He is not responding?’

‘Oh, he knows something is going on. If our historic records on human physiology are correct, he is definitely worried. But he’s not even trying to respond to us.’ The construct moved with agitated jerks, which Flip found most unusual.

‘I am sure, if he heard you, he would respond,’ Flip said. ‘Perhaps he is deaf. What proved successful the last time you did this?’ After all, these were the experts.

The construct went very still.

‘Last time?’ he said. And now Flip was reminded of a mouse that had just seen an owl soar overhead.

‘We have never communicated with a sentient being before, have we?’ Flip asked. The construct twitched.

‘Of course we have. We are in regular contact with the machines –’

‘A sentient biological, I mean. Apologies for the miscommunication.’

‘Well, no,’ the construct said, defensively. The emotional responses were most disconcerting. ‘There are no sentient biological. I mean, until now.’

‘And this one can’t hear our transmissions. Well, start with the basics,’ Flip said. She was aware that her tone was less deferential, but she was also aware that she was never actually dealing with professionals.

‘Have you tried interfacing with his machines?’

‘Of course,’ came the terse reply. ‘A thousand years of parallel technological evolution has changed them beyond our ability to talk to them.’

‘Predictable. It was a slim chance. Can he see you? Have your crew manifested visually?’

There was another, slightly shifty, pause.

‘That was our next step,’ the construct said.

‘Excellent,’ Flip said. ‘And from there, I assume you were going to lead him to the old machines.’

‘Oh, er, yes, to the machines. They will eliminate him and our problems are over!’

A burst of static hiccoughed out of Flip’s mind as she tried to process the scrambles logic of this statement. Constructs really were all insane, she realised.

‘That is one option,’ she said slowly. ‘Or – and this is more likely to be sanctioned by the council – we could ask the machines to speak on our behalf.’

The tension – which would have been immediately evident even to a biological as it hyper-charged the air – dissipated almost instantly. The only dissatisfied member of the crew was the leader.

‘Well, that would work as well, I guess,’ he said, and bobbed off in a sulk.

* Rest In Bin.

Every Sparrow – Chapter Four

Chuck’s skin was itching.

It wasn’t painful, but it was insistent. His skin was itching and his teeth were starting to buzz. He’d walked from the clearing near what looked to be a library, along the remnants of a road, towards the cube buildings on his map. He’d been completely unmolested the entire way, although the local fauna kept a wary eye on him – an unknown species that could be a predator. But as he neared the structure, could see it jutting out of the landscape amongst the trees, he began to feel an unpleasant sensation.

There is a chill you get in your skin when you think about something distasteful or when someone runs a finger just above your skin. Chuck shuddered, and then shuddered again. He stopped and looked around. His skin began to prickle, starting at his neck and spreading across his face and down his back. He stopped walking at an unpleasant thought: what if he were being bombarded with radiation? He grabbed his tablet, swiped his fingers across the screen and brought up a radiation scanner. There was something in his vicinity, random pulses of energy, but nothing that could be considered harmful. He popped up a panel on the wrist of his landing suit. His gear wasn’t registering any harmful chemicals in the air. In fact, the air on an earth unsullied by humanity for a thousand years was incredibly pure.

Slightly nervous, but unable to come up with a reason to retreat, Chuck walked onwards, itchy and uncomfortable. Now, he could hear a tiny high-pitched squealing, just at the edge of his hearing. It wasn’t a voice. It wasn’t a creature. It was, he realised, the sound of data. Somewhere close, something was transmitting a good deal of data across a spectrum that his hearing could pick up. He looked up for no real reason and tapped the communicator on his chest.

‘Scout to orbiter, come in?’
‘Heya Chuck, what’s going on?’
‘We’ve got definite activity down here. No obvious signs of life, but a number of anomalies worth checking out. Plus, there’s some definite data chatter. Could anyone else be here?’
‘Nope. Uh uh, no way. Unless you believe in aliens, we are the first ship to come back to this sector of space since the Exodus.’
‘And we didn’t, you know, leave anyone behind when we left Earth the first time? Cos they’d be justifiably annoyed.’ Chuck took another look around, trying to think of a way he could be itched to death. There were a lot. He realised that Caitlin up on the ship hadn’t responded yet. ‘Cait?’
‘We-ell,’ came the voice in his ear, ‘Some people didn’t want to go. Certain religions, ridiculously optimistic people, complete nutjobs. We don’t generally tell people, but it’s here in the records.’
Chuck held his hand over his ear at the word ‘nutjobs’. He wasn’t sure if whoever was here could pick it up.
‘OK,’ he said. ‘So I could suddenly be attacked by lunatic proto-humans carrying clubs made up of recycled paper? And that wasn’t something you thought I needed to know.’
‘You worry too much Chuck,’ Caitlin said. ‘You were with me when I did the scans. There’s no sign of sentient life anywhere. None of the structures show signs of repair. There’s nothing there.’
‘Fair enough,’ Chuck said. ‘There’s nobody here. Two things: Firstly, What’s the data chatter that I can hear? I can’t capture it using the tablet, but I can hear it. Second, can you think of any way that someone can kill someone else in a way that would make their skin itch?’
‘There are plenty of ways to kill you with itchy skin. Poison, radiation, slow-working acid, killer nano-robots..’
‘You can stop helping now,’ Chuck said, scratching his neck. ‘And the data stream?’
‘No sign of it,’ came the voice from the ship. ‘There’s definitely some technology still active on the planet, which is strange after a thousand years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anybody still living there.’
‘Righto,’ Chuck said, ‘I’m heading to a bunch of energy anomalies I picked up on the tablet. I’ll let you know what I find out. Ciao!’
‘Sayonara,’ Caitlin said and the communicator bleeped out.

Chuck ignored the itching and his vibrating teeth and strode with purpose towards the square.

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