Monday, September 28, 2009

Hogs of the Heavens, Part 5

I know I had promised the conclusion to Hogs of the Heavens for Monday, and I’m posting this while it’s still Monday here in Arizona. Unfortunately, due to a very busy weekend and Monday, I haven’t had much chance to work on the story, and so I regret to say this part will not be the conclusion. I will do everything in my power to be sure I have the conclusion posted for Friday Fiction this week, before we leave for Mexico on Friday morning.

Eusebio Kino, the man that Cranston’s main vessel is named after, is a well-known name in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. If you read about him on Wikipedia, you’ll find why I considered him an apt namesake for this kind of vessel.

Hogs of the Heavens is turning out longer than I originally thought it would, and the more I get into the story, the more I think this would make a good prelude to a novel-length manuscript. For now, it looks to take its place with the Rover Tales I write from time to time, and gives me new ideas to consider.

Previous Parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Hogs of the Heavens

Part 5

By Rick Higginson

“Affirmative,” he said, and then turned to her. “When I wake up, we should have something better for you to wear.”

“What should I do while you sleep?”

“You can slip into one of the cots and sleep as well, or just stay close by, or you can even go explore the ship a little.”

“I can move about freely?”

“Why not? You’re not a prisoner or a threat, are you? As a visitor, the Erikson won’t let you go anywhere you shouldn’t, or do anything that could cause problems, and you can’t get lost, as she’ll guide you to me if you just ask.” He yawned. “If I don’t get some sleep, though, I’m going to start seeing things that aren’t really there.”

“If I need any help - ?”

“Just ask the ship. Either the Erikson will tell you what you need, or she’ll wake me to come help you, and believe me, I won’t sleep through the summons.”

“Thank you, Cranston. Whatever I find up here could not make me happier than having someone believe I’m more than just a foolish, helpless sow.”

He opened his mouth to respond, and lost his words in another yawn as she floated back towards the bulkhead door. Sleep came quickly, and his eyes were closing before she made it to the corridor.

Faces danced through the interval of dream-sleep – people he’d known and left behind at Procyon. He saw them as they once were, peers his age or younger, and not as he knew they were now. His time in SusAn had kept him young through the years of space travel, while his friends and family had continued to age. He dreamed of home, and his little sister now had a son that was older than him.

His sister sounded like their mother as she told him in the dream, “Cranston? He went away years ago and never came back.”

Deep sleep ended the dream before he could tell her he was Cranston.

He was shaken awake after what seemed far too short a nap. He mumbled unintelligibly and blinked his eyes, trying to focus when he wasn’t sure he was even ready to wake up.

“Please wake up and tell me you’re real,” the voice pleaded just in front of him.

“I – guh – what?” he said. His vision cleared and met a pair of soft brown eyes, peering at him from beneath floating locks of hair the color of deep space.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see anyone again,” she said. “Did you repair the Percheron? Is the colony all right?”

He pulled his arms out of the bed sleeve and rubbed his eyes and face. “The Percheron – was that your lander?”

“Yes; is it flying again?”

“Okay, let’s start with introductions. I’m Cranston Berryman, Rover-Pilot of the Scout Vessel Voidrunner dispatched from the Survey Research Vessel Eusebio Kino in response to your distress beacon. Now, who are you?”

“Did you find the Percheron? What about the colony?”

“We’ll get to that, just as soon as I know what I can call you.”

“I’m Violet Versak, one of the Voidship technicians for the Erikson.”

“Did the Erikson inform you just how long you’ve been in SusAn?”

“No. I woke up, got dressed, and saw you over here sleeping.”

He stretched and drew his knees up inside the sleeve. “Well, Violet, when the Kino departed Procyon for her current mission, the Erikson had been missing over two standard centuries. We picked up the distress beacon, and I was sent to see if there was any reason to bring a larger vessel in response. You’re the only human survivor I’ve found.”

Her expression turned coldly sober. “No human survivors? What did you find?”

“Current location of visitor Minerva,” he directed towards the ship.

“Visitor Minerva is in the observatory,” Erikson replied.

“Are you hungry? I doubt your synthesizer is working well after this long, but Voidrunner has a small galley that’s considerably better than the best they had when Erikson was built. Why don’t we go get something to eat, and we can discuss what happened here.”

“Who’s Minerva?” she asked.

He sighed, and slid out of the bed sleeve. “I want to ask you that same question, and I hope you have some answers for me as well,” he said. “Do you want to meet her over dinner, or in the observatory?”

“What did you bring to my ship?” It was as much accusation as question, and with practiced fluidity, she propelled herself towards the bulkhead door.

He pushed off the cot in pursuit of her, and kept up a reckless pace through the weightless corridors behind her. “Violet,” he called. When she didn’t respond, he got more insistent. “Technician Versak!”

She ignored him and flipped around a tight corner.

Her familiarity with her vessel was evident, and he nearly yanked his arm out of his shoulder trying to take the surprise turn. “Violet, if you keep up this pace, you’re going to crash. SusAn may have kept you from aging, but two lifetimes in the field can’t pass without draining your body’s resources.”

It took another three minutes to catch up with her, and he only did so because she rested in the corner of a bulkhead, gasping and looking sick. “What’s in my observatory?” she asked between wheezes.

He glanced down the side corridor, and saw the door labeled, “Observatory.” Once he’d caught his breath, he answered. “Someone who helped me out of a bad situation, and who wants to know the truth about her own history.” He pulled her towards the door. “You need to tell her what happened here, Technician Versak.”

She was like a limp doll. “It wasn’t me,” she said.

The door slid open, and Minerva floated with her snout pressed against a window a short ways ahead. “Minerva,” he called to her.

“It’s so beautiful out there, Cranston,” Minerva said, not taking her eyes from the view. “The settlement we found had some writing about God. Is this where we find God?”

Violet was shaking her head and trembling, and he slipped his arm around her in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture.

“God finds us when we’re ready to be found by Him, no matter where we are,” he said. “Minerva, I want to introduce you to Violet, the woman from the SusAn chamber.”

The sow took her snout from the window and looked at them. She sniffed the air, and approached a little closer. “She is afraid, Cranston. Why is she afraid?”

“I don’t know, but I think we need to get her back to Voidrunner and get some food in her before she can tell us much.”

To be continued…

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Friday Fiction for September 25, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sherri on A Candid Thought, and we’re mighty glad to have her taking care of MckLinky for us!

As promised, here is the next part of Hogs of the Heavens, which my wife still considers the strangest story I’ve written, but wants to know what’s going to happen. I think I’ll need just one more part to finish this up, and because this is taking longer than I expected, I plan to post the next part (hopefully the final part) on Monday. If you’re just now getting to this story, you’ll want to go back and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 before launching into today’s chapter. To avoid confusion, keep in mind that all measurements are metric, and temperatures are measured in degrees C.

Bonus points for those who recognize the person Cranston’s main vessel was named after (though I won’t fault anyone for Googling him)…

Hogs of the Heavens

Part 4

By Rick Higginson

“Minerva,” she said. “My name is Minerva. It’s been so long since I was allowed to say it, that I feared I might have forgotten it.”

“Passenger Minerva identified and characterized,” Voidrunner said. “Vital signs scan indicates body temperature of 39 degrees and other anomalies. Initiate quarantine procedures?”

“Negative,” Cranston replied. “Minerva is not human. Check library for porcine parameters and rescan.”

“Rescan indicates parameters within normal limits. Characterization adjusted.”

“Well, Minerva, I’m glad to finally meet you. We’re going to have a few hours of rather boring flight before we reach the colony vessel Erikson. What shall we talk about?”

Her questions seemed almost endless as the scout vessel continued on its chasing orbit of the much larger derelict. We had centuries to adjust to this much progress, Cranston thought during one lull of silence while she considered another answer he’d given her. She has to assimilate it all in a matter of hours. The inky black of space now showed through the unshuttered cockpit windows, liberally salted with more stars than would ever be visible through any atmosphere. The world’s binary mate glowed bright on the horizon of the planet below. The two bodies were so close in size and mass, that it would be difficult to determine which should be called planet and which moon.

The scientists aboard the Eusebio Kino would have likely rated the system as marginal for colonization. The extreme gravitational forces of a binary system often resulted in severe geological instability, and the crew of the Erikson should have also known that as well. Maybe I should have checked out the Erikson first, instead of descending to investigate the stray signal from the surface. Then again, I shouldn’t have gone for a long exploration by foot without a weapon, either. He stifled a chuckle, thinking of the reaction his crewmates aboard the Kino to not only his foolishness, but also to his discovery of the pigs.

“Approaching CV Erikson,” Voidrunner said. “Command?”

“Attempt AI interface. Let’s see if she can tell us anything.” He pointed to the growing shape shining ahead of them. “That’s the Erikson,” he told Minerva. “It won’t be long until she actually looks like something. Colony vessels of her class were huge. They had to carry enough supplies to start the process of terraforming a planet, along with all the necessary people to see to the work, and everything they needed to survive long enough for either a resupply vessel, or for the planet itself to sustain them.”

“You said before this terraforming was done to our world,” she said. “What do you mean?”

“Terraforming is the process of transforming a world that cannot support life to one that we can live on. How long it takes depends on how extensive a transformation it is. If a world already has a basic atmosphere and water, it’s a much faster process than if it doesn’t. The atmospheric scrubbers are inactive now, but they’re still down there.”

Voidrunner interrupted them. “Erikson is reporting one active SusAn chamber aboard, indicating a survivor awaiting rescue. Command?”

“Status of environmental systems?”

Erikson is preparing for our arrival by restoring the intact portions of the vessel from minimal to nominal. Scans indicate the lander bay is functional, and should be compatible with a scout vessel.”

“Bring us alongside Erikson first. I want to do a visual inspection before we dock.”


They drew closer. The massive plateau drive on the stern of the vessel was large even for the generation of technology it represented. The Kino’s plateau drive was between a quarter and a third of the size, and would propel the survey ship to speeds that were barely dreamed of when the Erikson was built. As they came alongside the immense colony ship, Cranston saw his first clues to what had happened. Jagged framework protruded from where the numerous relay drones had been stowed, and the damage worsened the farther towards the bow they looked. As they rolled over the bulky superstructure, a gaping hole came into view, framed by twisted bulkheads.

“Merciful heaven,” Cranston blurted.

“Is something wrong?” Minerva asked.

“I’ve never heard of a vessel losing this much of the hull.”

She stretched to look past him. “What do you mean?”

He pointed. “All that jagged stuff? There’s supposed to be additional structure there. Imagine if a big chunk of the palace just suddenly disappeared. That’s what happened, only out here, the outside is death.” He rubbed his neck. “Voidrunner, is there a record of the cause of this in the Erikson’s files?”

“The incident findings indicate an oxygen line fractured, causing first a fire and then an explosion in one of the environmental processing centers. The resulting damage weakened adjacent sections, which subsequently failed. The Erikson lost all primary navigation processors, along with the system monitoring thirty-five percent of the SusAn chambers. All personnel in said chambers were lost.”

“How many people, Voidrunner?”

“Two hundred and fifty.”

He suddenly felt very tired. “Dock us with Erikson. Let’s see if the survivor can tell us anything.”

The cabin remained quiet as Voidrunner maneuvered below the forward superstructure and centered herself beneath the recessed lander bay. The scout vessel was much smaller than the cargo shuttles the bay was designed for, and she slipped forward into the docking collar with ample room to spare. Lights that likely hadn’t illuminated in well over a century responded to sensors and banished the shadows from the bay. Seals responded as though they had not remained static well beyond their designed lifespan, and green indicators shown through the cockpit window when the seal integrity was confirmed.

Cranston released his seat restraints and drifted up in the weightlessness. “Status?” he said.

“Docking complete and secured. Atmosphere on Erikson stable at twenty point eight percent oxygen, nominal temperature set at twenty five degrees, with a detected gravity of zero point zero zero four standard gee. Risk assessment acceptable.”

“Inquiry, Erikson – estimated time to bring survivor out of SusAn?”

Erikson estimates SusAn collapse will require eight minutes. History of crewmember indicates recovery from SusAn will require approximately five hours.”

“Initiate field collapse.” He turned to Minerva. “I wish we had time for proper zero-gravity training, but that usually takes weeks for most people. I’m going to release your restraints, and you’re going to find there’s nothing holding you in the seat. How are you feeling?”

“Strange,” she said. “But I think I can handle it.”

He unfastened the harness and took hold of her hoof-hands to draw her out of the seat. There was a difference in her from just a few hours earlier. He had expected her to be fearful or disoriented when faced with the new experience of weightlessness, but instead her mouth curled into a smile. Taking that as a cue, he smiled back and led her towards the docking collar on Voidrunner’s anterior surface. At a verbal prompt from him, the collar hatch slid open with a slight hiss as the pressure between the two vessels equalized.

He released one hand to take hold of the handle in the docking collar, and pulled them through into the eerie quiet of the Erikson. Shielded from the deteriorating effects of a star’s ultra-violet rays, and circulating well-filtered air scrubbed of any dust, the interior looked much as it had when the vessel was new, and only the differences in design styles betrayed that the ship was over two centuries old.

“Visitors, identify,” Erikson said when they had cleared the collar.

“Cranston Berryman, operator of SV Voidrunner, assigned to SRV Eusebio Kino. Command: Rescue Access Override, confirm.”

“Override confirmed. Visitor, identify.”

“Minerva,” she said, sounding far more confident than she had the first time she’d given her name.

“Identities stored. Command?”

“Direct us to the remaining survivor,” Cranston said.

“Follow the indicators to SusAn Compartment Six.” Green lights appeared along a corridor in front of them, stretching ahead for several meters.

Cranston pulled himself hand-over-hand along the padded rail in the direction indicated, and then stopped to see if Minerva needed help. He was surprised to find her just behind him, adapting to the motion quite well. Continuing on, the lights progressed ahead of them, keeping a definite lead they could easily track.

After some ten minutes of floating down several different corridors, the lights stopped in front of a bulkhead door, which slid open at their approach. Inside the compartment, rows of dark, empty chambers lined an expanse of floor, with a solitary chamber glowing a pale blue color.

“What are these things?” Minerva asked.

SusAn chambers,” Cranston replied. “They hold a person in suspended animation for the duration of the voyage, since it takes so long to travel between stars.” He floated over to the single illuminated one. “They can also keep someone alive almost indefinitely if they’re awaiting rescue.” He stared down at the face visible through the single window in the chamber. She had the olive skin and dark hair of someone with Mediterranean heritage from Earth, and her slightly parted lips allowed her breath to repeatedly fog the window directly in front of her mouth. “Status?” he asked.

SusAn field collapse complete. Vital signs at sixty percent normal and increasing at acceptable rate,” Erikson replied.

“Well, it’s going to be several more hours until she’s awake enough to try and talk,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had near enough sleep the last couple of days, and I could really use a nap.”

“How do we sleep in here?”

He pointed to a series of cots beyond the farthest row of chambers. “Standard practice is to keep a few beds in the SusAn compartments, for those who need some extra recovery time.” He hooked his fingers on the edge of the chamber, and gently launched himself in the right direction, walking his hands across other chambers to keep control. When he reached the first cot, he pulled the stretchy tubular cover open, and slid inside. The material held him gently in place. He watched Minerva similarly glide along the chambers towards him, her rags fluttering with her motion. “Erikson, scan Minerva for dimensions and search for a uniform that will fit her.”

“Non-standard dimensional ratios,” the vessel said. “Fabrication system is operative. Create uniform?”

“Affirmative,” he said, and then turned to her. “When I wake up, we should have something better for you to wear.”

To be continued…

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Friday Fiction for September 18th, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Joanne over at An Open Book. If you haven’t already visited her blog and found MckLinky, be sure to drop by for some terrific fiction. There’s been some great stuff going on in Friday Fiction.

As promised, here is Part 3 of Hogs of the Heavens. If this is your first visit to the story, you’ll probably want to go back and read
Part 1 and Part 2 first, otherwise, this isn’t going to make much sense. In this part, you’ll find the abbreviation MAGL, for Meters Above Ground Level, and – yes – this week you’ll learn Mocking Sow’s real name.

Hogs of the Heavens
Part 3
By Rick Higginson

“Maybe his Soreness can drown out all dissenting voices, but there’s no way he can drown out the sound of Voidrunner lifting into the sky over his palace. I can take you to the colony vessel in orbit, and we can find out what really happened here.”

She twisted a bit of the rag that served as her clothing between her fingers. “I haven’t been away outside the Palace grounds since the day his Boarness took away my name.”

“The truth will restore your name to you. No one will ever mock you again, because they’ll know you were right all along. You lead me to a clearing, and let me use this Datab, and you’ll never have to wonder again if you’re crazy, and you’ll never have to suffer the laughter of the ignorant.”

She turned her face towards one of the open slits high on the wall. “The truth,” she said, in a low, reverent tone. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“What did you just say?”

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” she repeated. “It was written on an odd surface at the same site where I found that data thing. I remember it, because it fit perfectly what we worked for as scholars.”

“It’s a quote from Earth.”

“You can really do what you are promising? Our stories of humans don’t portray you as very trustworthy.”

“Our stories don’t exactly portray pigs well, either.”

She studied his face, no doubt as unsure about human expressions as he was about porcine mannerisms. “You can talk to this Voidrunner with my data thing?”

He brought it back up in front of him. “Command,” he said, and the Datab face glowed. "RSV Voidrunner access code, Cranberry Kinetic Thirty-Nine Status Green, confirm.”

“Transmitting,” the Datab replied, and then the voice changed. “Awaiting instructions, Cranston.”

“Ascend to four kilometers and localize transmission source, confirm.”

“Confirmed; securing for ascent, and commencing pre-flight diagnostics. Estimated time to target altitude, seven minutes. Localizer carrier characterized and locked; access of Datab confirmed. Datab anomaly; this is not a standard-issue Datab, Cranston. Please confirm Status Green.”

Shalom aleichem. Status Green confirmed.”

Aleichem shalom,” Voidrunner replied. “Proceeding with program, and will await instructions upon localizing transmission.”

“It – talks like a person.”

“It’s an artificial intelligence; a machine created to think and respond independently.”

“If we are from the same place you are, then how did we lose all of this?”

“I don’t know, and the only way to find out is access the records on the colony vessel in orbit. If you want answers, that’s where they’re going to be.”

She took one last look at the room, and then opened the door. “This way,” she said. She hurried back up the corridor until another crossed it, and turned towards the right. They took a left at the next crossing, and followed that corridor until it ended at a large door. She pulled it open to reveal a lush garden.

A pair of soldiers stood outside the door, and both turned to look at them. “Ho, Mocking Sow; is this the new mate we have heard about?” the one to the left of the door asked.

The other made no attempt to hide his squealing laughter. “It smells. Are you taking it to bathe before you make it your boar?”

“It needs exercise,” Mocking Sow replied. “I’m taking it to the playing fields so that it may run.”

The first soldier snorted. “Exercise? I’d say it needs feeding, as emaciated as it looks. Where did his Boarness find such a deprived-looking creature?”

“I heard the wastelands,” the second said. “Fitting; it appears nothing valuable has ever been wasted on it before.” He squealed at his own humor. “Don’t exercise it too much, or it won’t have any energy left to properly perform later.”

She hurried him on, keeping her neck bowed and gesturing that he should do the same.

“I smell?” he whispered when they were a short distance away from the soldiers. “They aren’t exactly the scent of pristine air from the filter system, either.”

“Please don’t be offended, Cranston, but you do have a very distinct odor. It’s very different from the individual scents we have.”

They ducked around various trees, and a branch laden with ripe oranges caught his eye. He reached for one, but she pulled his hand away from it and continued to rush ahead. Another tree held lemons, still small, green, and far from ripening. There seemed to be little logic to the layout of the trees, unlike the linear, organized groves of the colony farms. Different varieties of citrus were randomly mixed, and the trees could as likely be growing where an overripe piece of fruit had been discarded, as where a seeds had been specifically planted.

She pushed through thick branches, oblivious to the thorns that scratched at his exposed skin, and then stopped.

He stepped up beside her. The trees stopped at the edge of a flat field stretching hundreds, perhaps thousands, of meters into the distance. Vibrant vines covered the ground, with different varieties of squash and pumpkins at different stages of growth intermixing just as randomly as the fruit trees.

“Is this area open enough for you?” She asked.

“I’ll smash a few plants, but yeah; this is big enough for a whole fleet of scout vessels.” He removed the Datab from a pocket. “Voidrunner, status.”

“Altitude static at four thousand MAGL. Datab localized and targeted. Command?”

“Urgent extraction, one additional passenger, this locale. Status Amber; possible hostiles.”

“Confirmed. Estimated extraction in two minutes, thirty two seconds.”

“Come on,” he said, taking the lead for the first time. “The farther from the trees we are, and the farther from the palace we are, the better. If any soldiers are liable to hear Voidrunner and come out to stop us, I want to be able to see them well before they reach us.”

The wild vines made hurrying almost impossible. Each step had to be carefully lifted and placed to prevent catching in the chaotic loops and tangles, and before they managed to cover much distance, the sound of Voidrunner’s engines arrived overhead. The sound increased in volume rapidly as the vessel made its urgent descent into the field.

Mocking Sow stopped, staring upwards. “I never imagined - ”

“Welcome to the future, and to your past. Your ancestors had to have arrived on a similar, but larger vessel. Cover your eyes; things are going to get real windy in just a moment.”

Voidrunner pivoted as it descended, turning the hatch that was opening even before it touched down towards them. A bright yellow arc projected on the ground in front of them, defining the safe boundary against the landing zone.

Cranston looked back towards the trees. Several soldiers had emerged from the grove, and stood with jaws agape watching the descending craft. Their weapons hung from their hands, forgotten for at least the moment. Any sound or challenge they might have issued was lost in the rush of the engines. He shifted his glance between them and the projected boundary line.

The noise and turbulence decreased, and when the projected line turned green, he grabbed Mocking Sow and pulled her towards the ramp that extended from the hatch. Just at the threshold of the hatch she stopped, and he turned back to look at her. Her eyes were wide with fear and uncertainty, but behind her several of the soldiers had found their nerve to offer pursuit.

He looked into her eyes. “Give me your hands, and trust me,” he said, taking a firm grip on both of her wrists.

“Cranston, I - ”

“No time,” he said, and braced his heels on the raised lip of the hatch. He threw his weight backwards, pulling her off-balance and down atop him. Before she could react, he rolled her to the side away from the hatch, putting himself atop her. “Secure hatch and ascend,” he yelled.

Voidrunner immediately started climbing in a banking turn, and the hatch sealed into position with a hiss. The acceleration slid them against the bulkhead, and he waited until the turn leveled off into the nose-high climb. “I’m sorry; there were soldiers heading for us, and if they got too close, I’m afraid Voidrunner might have initiated defensive actions. I didn’t want to see them hurt just for doing their duty.” He pushed up onto his hands and knees, and then got his feet back under him. He offered her a hand up.

“I think I should stay down here,” she said. “I feel strange.”

Voidrunner, status?” he asked.

“Currently ascending through three thousand MAGL, heading ninety on polar reference at current speed of two hundred fifty meters per second.

“Stabilize altitude and speed at four thousand MAGL.”

The nose dropped to level flight, and the acceleration eased back. “Stable flight at four thousand, six hundred, seventy two MAGL. Shall I descend to four thousand?”

“Negative,” he said. “Hold this altitude.” He turned his attention back to her. “Come on; where we’re going, you can’t stay on the floor. You need to be strapped into a seat.”

She reluctantly took his hand, and slowly got to her feet. He led her into the cockpit, and settled her into one of the spare seats. As soon as she was settled, the restraints extended and snugged around her. He smiled to reassure her. “Don’t worry; my seat will do the same thing. Where we’re heading, we can’t be loose when Voidrunner is maneuvering.” He handed her a bag. “If you think you’re going to vomit, hold this around your mouth. We don’t want that floating loose around the cabin, either.”

He took his seat at the console, barely noticing as the restraints fastened around him. “Orbital status?”

“Status clear,” Voidrunner replied. “Command?”

“Plot course for the Erikson, ascent optimal.”

“Confirmed. Estimated rendezvous with Erikson in three hours, six minutes. Passenger, please identify.”

Cranston pivoted his seat to face her. “You need to tell Voidrunner your name, so it can allow you passenger interface.”

She looked around, as if to locate the source of the vessel’s voice. “I’m Mock - ”

“No,” Cranston stopped her. “Your name. I don’t want to hear that title for you again. That boar may rule in the palace and on the surface, but up here, he has no authority. Up here, you’re under our rules, and our rules require actual, legal names.”

She held up a bit of the rags she wore. “Could I have real clothing again?”

“I don’t carry much in the way of supplies, but I’ll see what I can do. For now, let’s start with your name.”

“Minerva,” she said. “My name is Minerva. It’s been so long since I was allowed to say it, that I feared I might have forgotten it.”
To be continued.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Friday Fiction for September 11, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Karlene on her new blog, Homespun Expressions. We have a double-reason to visit her blog; check out the spiffy new blog, and MckLinky for all the other spiffy submissions this week.

I promise you, though, that the word “spiffy” does not appear in my story. I think it would have been pretty spiffy, though, to have somehow worked it into the science-fiction setting.

Anyway, here is Part 2 of “Hogs of the Heavens,” which my wonderful wife has told me is the strangest story I’ve ever written. I swear that the old Muppets skit, “Pigs In Space” had nothing to do with this story, though I have long been a fan of the Muppets. If you are new to this story, you'll probably want to start with Part 1.

Part 3 will run next week, and this week we’ll get more details on Cranston’s odd situation.

Maybe I should run a contest for Mocking Sow’s real name…

Hogs of the Heavens

Part 2

By Rick Higginson

She dropped from the chair onto all fours, and crawled close to him. With her mouth close to his ear, she whispered, “What star are you from, Cranston?”

He leaned away from her. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t want to risk being overheard. What did you think I was doing?”

“As close as you were getting, I was wondering if you were taking him seriously on the ‘mate’ thing. No offense intended, but I’m really not into cross-species romance.”

She sat on the floor next to him. “His Boarness was completely serious about making you my mate, and he was just as serious in giving me the choice of whether I would take you as my boar. I suspect your world works differently from ours, doesn’t it?”

“Well, for all the old lines I’ve heard about Boss Hog, we don’t have anyone like the Big Boar.”

“Our society is all about status and image. His Boarness rules not only by holding the position, but also by maintaining his reputation as the dominant boar. Part of this involves denying stature to those that might somehow threaten his position.”

“Is that why he mocks you?”

“Yes. When I first came to him with what I’d learned, he believed it could diminish his status by creating doubt about all that we have been taught. Declaring you my mate is further humiliation, because it means he has declared that I could never be suitable as a mate for even a sickly boar. He added the additional insult to you by letting me decide what your status would be – platonic mate, or intimate boar. He esteems you lower than a heretic sow.”

“I never thought I’d cross the stars just to be insulted by a pig.” He scratched an itch on his leg. “I’m sorry if I insulted you by thinking the wrong thing when you whispered to me.”

“Will you be insulted if I tell you that I haven’t been alone here long enough to want you for my boar?”

He chuckled. “No, I won’t find that insulting at all.” He lowered his voice. “I was born on a colony world in the Procyon system. The vessel I serve on is a survey ship that conducts research on distant systems and identifies which are promising for further exploration.”

“A colony world? Are your people not originally from that world?”

“My ancestors are from the same star your ancestors are from – a planet called Earth that orbits a star called Sol.”

“You are certain we’re from the same world?”

He looked at her and raised his eyebrows. “How else would you explain all this? Humans and pigs are both native to Earth. You speak English, which is a language from Earth, and if that isn’t enough, the reason I’m even here is that we picked up a distress beacon from a derelict colony vessel orbiting this planet.”

“Then it’s true? We did come from the stars originally?”

“I’d say so. This world has all the signs of having been terraformed into a habitable planet, though the colony vessel that I found was declared lost over two hundred years ago. That’s why I came, instead of the main vessel. In cases of old distress beacons, all we usually find are wrecks and no survivors. A small scout ship is more than enough to verify that, and if there are still survivors, then after this long, there probably isn’t a big hurry to get a rescue vessel here.”

She crawled across the floor to the pad, and rummaged beneath it. Mocking Sow stood up, clutching something close to her chest, and walked back to where he sat. She seemed indecisive for a few moments, before slowly revealing what she held. “Can you tell me what this is, then?”

The glint of the composite synthetic case caught his eye, and he reached for it. “I promise I’ll give it back,” he said, when she didn’t immediately release it.

“I’ve guarded this for so long, because it was the one thing that kept me from thinking that maybe I was crazy, and that I’d imagined everything.” She loosened her grip, and fidgeted nervously while he brought it into one of the light beams.

“Wow; I remember seeing one of these in a museum when I was a boy. They haven’t used Databs like this in over a hundred and seventy five years. Where did you get it?”

“I was a scholar before I became Mocking Sow. There was a group of us exploring an ancient, abandoned settlement in the wastelands, and I found it there. What does it do?”

“It’s a data tablet. It interfaces with the data systems on the colony vessel and landing vessels, for both storing and retrieving information. Depending on the access level of the user, it could also be used for remote control of a vessel.” He shook his head. “Did you show this to his Boringness?”

“No. He refused to even listen when I tried to tell him I had evidence, and I realized that if he saw it, he would take it as a prize and I’d never see it again.”

He held the Datab close to his face. “Rescue Access Override: Confirm,” he said.

The Datab face lit up. “Override, confirmed. Command?” it said.

“Active AI search, picowave spectrum.”

“One AI found. RSV Voidrunner, access code required. Command?”

“Standby.” The Datab face dimmed.

Mocking Sow stared at the device. “All I had to do was talk to it?”

“It would only have worked if you knew the correct command protocols. The Rescue Override is a universal command for all data systems since the first exploration missions. I’m a bit surprised the Datab still works. They’re built to last, but it has been a long time since this one left the factory.” He looked around. “You said you had a team? Did they see this?”

“Some of them.”

“His Boorishness wouldn’t listen to them, either? Are they prisoners here, too?”

“No. They heard what happened to me, and kept silent about what they found. I’ve often wished I had, too.”

“Is there any way we can get out of here and to an open area nearby?”

“I could leave, but it’s pointless. I’m known as a heretic, and anyone who finds me outside of the Palace could do whatever they wished to me. Most would kill me on sight.”

“Listen; Voidrunner is a single crew scout vessel, but she can carry several passengers. With this Datab, I can remotely bring Voidrunner here. You can escape all this.”

“Where would I go? I’m still a heretic, no matter how far I run from the Palace.”

“Maybe his Soreness can drown out all dissenting voices, but there’s no way he can drown out the sound of Voidrunner lifting into the sky over his palace. I can take you to the colony vessel in orbit, and we can find out what really happened here.”

To be continued…

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Anthropomorphic God - Monday Manna

God is not a man, that He should lie,

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

(Numbers 23:19)

Voltaire once quipped, “If God made us in His image, we have more than returned the compliment.” We’ve taken the statement that man was made in God’s image, and transfer our own traits back onto Him. The trouble is, the backwards projection from the “copy” to the original is not logically solid.

This is particularly true when we are told specifically to the contrary. This verse in Numbers addresses specific human character flaws. Unlike men, who might purposely deceive, or might change their minds, or even make an innocent mistake and forget the promise, God is one hundred percent reliable in what He says. The character faults that are so evident in us are the product of our fallen state, not the expression of His image in us.

Throughout history, though, we have also projected our physical limitations on God, and this was not just limited to the one true God. So many of the gods represented by the idols of various cultures are very imbued with human characteristics. While it is not so immediately obvious, the prophet Elijah drew this contrast during the famous confrontation on Mt. Carmel, when he challenges the priests of Ba’al.

And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27)

Elijah isn’t just taunting. He is pointedly reminding the prophets of Ba’al that their god is limited. One connotation of one of the things Elijah says is a suggestion that Ba’al is using the latrine. Their god has to go potty, and has to delay answering them until he’s finished. Or, perhaps Ba’al is taking a nap, or preoccupied, or maybe he’s on vacation in Aruba.

Honestly, if I were a god, I’d enjoy hanging out in places like Aruba, rather than being stuck waiting to light a fire for a bunch of guys that should be grown up enough to light their own fires.

The Bible doesn’t just leave us with an implied refutation of these human physical limitations. Psalm 121 states explicitly,

Hine lo yanum, v’lo ishan, shomer Yisrael.

The Hebrew is so lovely, I thought I’d share it first. The literal, word-for-word translation is simple:

“Behold, no slumber, and no sleep, Who watches Israel.”

The standard translation is a bit more filled out in English.

Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:4)

God doesn’t have our physical limitations. He doesn’t need to sleep to refresh a body. There is never going to be a moment when He might be caught unaware. He’s never looking away, or distracted elsewhere. He’s not conflicted deciding where He should turn His attention, and where He should neglect so that He can attend to something important.

God is God, and we are not. We need to always remember that we are just a small image of Him. He is not a big image of us.

Monday Manna is hosted by Joanne over at An Open Book, where you'll find links to more essays on this theme.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Friday Fiction for September 4, 2009

Things have been so busy the past couple of weeks, that I didn’t even manage to post anything for Friday Fiction last week. With any luck, I’ll be able to get caught up over the long weekend on what I’ve missed. For now, Vonnie is hosting this week on her blog, My Back Door, where you’ll find MckLinky with the list of wonderful submissions for this week.

This week, I have the first part of a short story that has brewing in my head for the past few days. I’m not sure how long it will end up being, but I don’t think too long. Look for Part 2 next week, and trust me; it will make sense before it’s finished.

Hogs of the Heavens

Part 1

By Rick Higginson

Cranston Berryman glanced again at the larger of the two guards escorting him into the large room. I should have stayed aboard the Voidrunner, he thought as the smaller guard prodded him, apparently just for fun. The remote scout vessel was only minimally armored, but it would have had no problem remaining out of reach of his low-tech captors.

They stopped in front of a raised platform. “As you commanded, your Boarness,” the larger guard said. “Here is the strange creature that was spotted near the border of the wasteland.”

A single throne sat in the middle of the platform, occupied by an ornately robed, corpulent boar. He was flanked by an assortment of barely veiled sows. “Does it speak?” he asked.

“It has not spoken to us, but it does appear to understand our instructions, as it has complied without needing excessive correction.”

The boar turned to his right, and gestured with a hoof that looked like a mockery of a human hand. “Lucinda, my pet, does this creature look like anything from your storybooks?”

The largest of the sows stepped slightly forward. “It is a human,” she said. “I am distressed to see that they are real after all.”

The boar snorted. “You are certain it is a human? What do your stories say about humans?”

“They eat pigs. When I was a piglet, my mother would tell my littermates and me that if we did not behave, humans would come and take us away. They would fatten us up, then kill us and eat us,” Lucinda said. The look she gave Cranston seemed to be one of both disgust and fear.

The boar smiled, showing a set of large fangs. “Yes, I remember my mother telling me similar stories, now that you remind me.” He gave Cranston a narrow-eyed glare. “Can you understand me, human?”

He hesitated. How much should I reveal?

Lips curled completely away from the teeth, removing any trace of an amused smile. “Would you understand better if I told my soldiers to kill you if you do not answer?”

“I understand you,” Cranston said.

The smile returned. “Are you a human, then?”


“Do you eat pigs?”

Thank God I’m Jewish. “No. It is forbidden for my people to eat pigs.”

“You said, ‘my people’ – there are more of you, then?”


“Where are they, and why have we not found any of you before, despite your kind being in our stories?”

“My people are on another world, which is why you have not found any of us before.”

“Another world? That is impossible. How could anything get here from another world?”

“My people have the means to travel between stars.”

The boar laughed, the sound something between how a human would laugh, and a squeal. “I believe we have heard such delusions before. Summon the Mocking Sow!”

“It’s not del- ” A sharp blow to the ribs cut off his objection.

“Speak only when addressed,” the smaller guard hissed, adding another cuff with the butt of his spear.

“Pathetic,” the boar said. “How has your kind survived without the protective fat to cushion your vital organs? That strike would have been barely felt by any healthy pig.” The assorted sows joined him in derisive laughter.

The laughter had nearly died out, when a smaller sow barely covered in rags entered the room from a side door. At her appearance, the amusement heightened to a higher level.

“Mocking Sow, come here,” the boar ordered.

She stopped just off-side at the front of the platform, and never raised her gaze from the floor. “Yes, your Boarness?”

“Mocking Sow, look at this creature and tell me if you have ever seen its like.”

Cranston met her eyes as she complied with the command. Unlike the other pigs he had encountered since being captured, there was no surprise in her eyes.

“No, your Boarness. I have never seen its like.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“It is a human, your Boarness.”

“Yes, a human. It says it came from the stars, just as you say our ancestors did. I find this the greatest indictment of your insanity, that your story is mimicked by this perversion of nature. Surely you must agree, Mocking Sow?”

The eyes lowered again to the floor. “I must agree, your Boarness, as always.”

Cranston looked from the emotionally broken sow to the gloating boar, and back again. She was intelligent, and apparently she knew something about space travel.

The boar stood from his throne and came to the edge of the platform. Gazing down at them with narrowed eyes, he laughed again. “If there was ever a better pair of misfits in all this world, I have not been told of them. Mocking Sow, when you first came to me with your ridiculous story and heretical ideas, I promised you if I ever found a bigger fool than you, it would be your mate. Take this creature to your sty; if you are fortunate, it was being truthful when it said its people do not eat pigs.” He turned his back on them, and took a couple of steps towards Lucinda. Glancing back, he added, “What you do with this creature is up to you. If you wish to make it your boar, you are free to do so, only that I do not wish to know the details of such an arrangement. I will summon you both again when I am in further need of entertainment.” He snorted. “Mocking Sow and her mate; what could be more pitiful?”

She grabbed his hand. “Follow me, quickly,” she said. Leading him through the same door she had entered by, she headed down a dimly lit corridor until it ended at a rough-hewn door. The Mocking Sow opened it, herded him inside, and then closed it again behind them.

Faint shafts of light angled into the room from openings high on the wall. A pad rested on the floor in one corner, with a block of stone diagonally opposite from it. In the back was a large earthen jug with a wooden cover, a few meters away from what appeared to be a hole in the floor. She gestured to the stone block. “You may sit, if you wish.”

He settled instead onto the floor, with his back against the wall. “I’m fine like this, thank you. I don’t want to take your only chair.”

She sat down on the stone block, and arranged her rags for the best coverage. “What shall I call you?”

“My name is Cranston. What about you? Surely your name isn’t Mocking Sow.”

“By the command of his Boarness, my name is Mocking Sow,” she said. “Because I dared to speak heresy, my name was taken from me, and I have only the title for the purpose I serve. He has allowed me – us now – to live only so that he can find amusement in mocking us.”

“So what was your name before he took it from you?”

“It is better if you do not know. If you accidentally speak it in front of him, he will know that I have spoken it, and he will have me punished for defying him. If he takes your name as well, you would be wise to remember that.” She dropped from the chair onto all fours, and crawled close to him. With her mouth close to his ear, she whispered, “What star are you from, Cranston?”

To be continued.