Posts Tagged ‘books

19
Jun
15

Everything You Need to Know to Survive English Class Lesson 2: The Divine Comedy

Professor Petit returns in the second lecture intended to teach you everything you need to know to survive English Class. This time, he walks you through the many levels of the afterlife in the classic piece of Italian literature, “The Divine Comedy.” Heaven. Hell. Texting in a movie theater. It’s all covered here!

27
Feb
14

Blake has written books Day 4: The Pyrite War

PyriteWar_v2For my fourth novel, I returned to the world of Siegel City, but not the one we saw in Other People’s Heroes. While OPH was very much a contemporary novel, in The Pyrite War I hearkened back to the city’s early days to tell the tale of Siegel’s very first superhero.

On the cusp of America’s involvement in World War II, the world only knows of one super-powered champion: Guardian M, protector of Siegel City. When young Gabriel Ruston discovers powers of his own he sets his sights on becoming the second champion, but dies in a tragic incident on his first night in costume. When his brother, David, finds evidence that Gabriel’s death was no accident, he is forced to join with a frightened underground to uncover the truth about the man everyone idolizes. In Siegel City, nothing has ever been what it seemed… not even in a Golden Age.

This book is partially my tribute to the origins of the superhero, partially a way to flesh out and develop the world of Siegel City. Fans of OPH will find a whole new cast of characters, but a few of them may just have links to people we’ve seen before.

And don’t forget, guys — reblog! Tweet! Share! And please post your reviews at all of the above websites and at Goodreads.com!

02
Mar
13

I assure you, I’m still alive

IMG_3213Hey, everyone. I know I’ve been quiet lately — it seems I’ve entered one of my periodic “quiet but working” phases. I’ve got nothing huge to report at the moment, I’m afraid, but I am splitting time between three projects: the revision of The Pyrite War and the expansion of Reel to Reel: Lunatics and Laughter are the ones I’ve talked to you about.

The third is a little more personal but, hopefully, something you guys will like when it’s ready. As you may know, Erin and I are getting married next year. As you may also know, we’re broke-ass poor and the economy is craptacular. So rather than sitting on a sidewalk with my hand out, I’m working on something else that may help us out a little. I’m composing a series of (hopefully funny) essays about our relationship, the wedding planning process, wedding planning in general, and so forth. Once I’ve got enough of them done, I’m going to start releasing them in short eBooks, 99 cents each, about the same length as the Obligatory Everything But Imaginary collections. I’ve got four essays finished so far, not quite sure how many I want to put in each volume. I intend to get two volumes finished and release them both at the same time, hopefully with one of them for free to gin up interest (I’m gonna try to navigate Amazon.com’s intriguing rules about what you can release for free in the hopes of getting it into the hands of more people). Then, I’ll continue on with these essays for… well, as long as possible, and as long as people want to read them. Up to the wedding and maybe beyond.

So yes, I’m here. Yes, I’m working.

Just bear with us, because eventually, all will be well.

23
Aug
12

What I’m Reading: Fahrenheit 451

With the sad death of the great Ray Bradbury earlier this year, I decided to reread some of his works that I haven’t read in a while, beginning with the classic science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. For those of you who haven’t read it… first, shame on you. Second, it’s about a future where people have grown intellectually soft, subsisting on brainless television programs and avoiding books and other intellectual pursuits until, finally, books are actually banned and firemen are repurposed to burn homes where books are being kept rather than extinguishing fires.

I’m certainly not arrogant enough to review this book, but I will discuss it. The book is often called as a commentary on censorship, although Bradbury himself denied that was his intention, saying instead he was trying to make a point about people allowing themselves to be absorbed by television. Reading the book now, for the first time in many years, I think it’s easy to see the intent here. The wife of Guy Montag, our protagonist, is where the most potent criticism comes. She spends all her time lost in a world where three of her walls are televisions and she laments the fact that the fourth isn’t yet. She thinks of TV characters as “family,” and she and her friends casually discuss people’s deaths, divorces, suicides, and think of their children as disposable creatures, no more important than the “family” that appears on the screens when they want them and go away when they’re done.

The thing that really gets to me, more than ever, is just how prescient this book is. The implication is that when people turn away from intellectual pursuits, they lose their perspective and compassion for other creatures. And I see that. When I look at students who steadfastly refuse to read a book, I’m not surprised to see those same students in trouble for disrespect, profanity, fighting, and generally displaying a lack of respect or concern for other people. (I don’t just mean kids who don’t like reading here, I mean the ones who fight it as though it will do them physical harm. Yes, they exist.)

Bradbury paints a picture of a world where books are abandoned and, when they’re finally banned, the Firemen are basically there to clean up the last few stragglers, a place where newspapers die out and nobody cares. And then there was one last thing I read today that chilled my blood, the most terrifying prophecy of all. From Faber, Montag’s friend who helps him find his way to a different path:

“And then the Government, seeing how advantageous it was to have people reading only about passionate lips and the fist in the stomach, circled the situation with your fire-eaters.”

“Passionate lips and the fist in the stomach.”

That’s right, people. Way back in 1951, Bradbury predicted 50 Shades of Grey.

Terrifying.

02
Jul
12

Where to Buy… OPENING NIGHT OF THE DEAD

Opening Night of the Dead

Combining the wit of the Siegel City stories with an offbeat look at horror stories, Opening Night of the Dead is my little twist on the zombie tale.

From the back cover:

The Climax Studios Festival of Fear is a Halloween tradition, but with monsters roaming the theme park and a monster movie filming on the adjacent film lot, what hell will break loose when a real zombie surfaces and starts biting? When you can’t tell who’s alive and who’s undead, can a stuntman, a makeup artist, a sleaze-slinging blogger and a pair of former cops stop the end of the world from sneaking off the studio lot and infecting all of California?

Available now:

19
Jun
12

OPENING NIGHT hits tomorrow… read the prologue today!

As I mentioned Sunday, my all-new zombie novel Opening Night of the Dead is sittin’ high right now in the Amazon Kindle Store and the Smashwords.com bookstore, for just $2.99 in any e-reader format. The book should soon be available in the Nook store, Sony Reader store, iPad store, and in print as well. (Watch this space for those announcements as soon as they’re available.)

Also as I mentioned, I’m asking those of you who are planning to get the book to wait until Wednesday to buy it. In short, I’m hoping to so a small-scale “rush” of Amazon, getting as many people as possible to get the book in as short a period as possible, helping it gain a more favorable position on the highly-competitive horror charts and increasing its chances to be seen by more people. I’ve even started a Facebook Event for the Amazon Launch, which you are all totally invited to join if you haven’t done so already.

To give you one last little bonus before tomorrow’s big push, I thought I would give you a taste of the novel itself. So here, for the first time, is the prologue to Opening Night of the Dead. Hope you enjoy it!

OPENING NIGHT OF THE DEAD

PROLOGUE

If he knew the crap he was in for after he died, Josh Cambre would have made a more concerted effort to stay among the living.

He wandered the Halloween Festival of Fear alone, Kelly having abandoned him for a guy in a Conan the Barbarian costume (and not a square of cotton padding necessary to fill out the muscles, either). Josh was dressed as a scarecrow, and like Kelly’s new Conan, he had the physique for his costume. Josh was thin, spindly – even sickly if you looked at him from the wrong angle. To be frank, it was astonishing that a zombie would bother to bite somebody with so little meat on his bones. Then again, it was just his luck to run afoul of the only member of the undead in the world busy counting Weight Watchers points. He hadn’t encountered any real zombies yet, but after his date walked off with the guy in the loincloth, he lost most of his inclination to keep on going. He wasn’t considering suicide or anything – Josh didn’t quite have the steel for that – but if you’d told him there was a flesh-eating ghoul marching around the Climax Studios Amusement Park, he wouldn’t necessarily have made an effort to flee in terror.

Wandering the park alone, not knowing or particularly caring if Kelly would have a ride home with her Cimmerian king, he decided to force himself to have a good time. This would have been a brilliant idea, had it proven even remotely possible. The roller coaster was a bust (literally, it broke down with three people remaining in line ahead of him), and the last time he’d gone on a Tilt-a-Whirl he’d been left with three days of hugging the toilet bowl. Popping into a Haunted House, he decided, would be his safest bet. It was unlikely he’d run into Kelly; if he did he probably wouldn’t recognize her in the dark, and maybe a good scare would wipe the depressed look from his face.

Of course, that was the great thing about the scarecrow costume – the mask covered his entire head. His Coke-bottle glasses fit under there as neatly as his enormous ears, his matted-down haircut was invisible, his acne across the bridge of his too-small nose was as good as clear. No one could even see the small brown blob underneath his chin, the birthmark that his mother always tried telling him looked like a lion, but that people always said looked like he’d been eating chocolate and hadn’t wiped his face well enough.

Chocolate if he was lucky.

Christ, it was amazing that Kelly had even agreed to come here with him in the first place, wasn’t it?

An enormous fiberglass proxy of Frankenstein’s monster was grinning down at him, lightning flashing up into his face and reflecting onto the ground with a strobe effect. Shuffling around outside of the building he saw mummies, werewolves, and slashers aplenty. This was the one he wanted. There were a dozen Haunted Houses on the Climax Studios theme park property, each with its own theme or overlay – Science Gone Bad, Gateway to Hell, Crypt of the Vampires (reportedly the tamest haunt on the property, and oh, how that wounded him). After very little deliberation, Josh decided to soak his sorrows in Silver Screen Screams, a house full of dioramas plucked specifically from classic horror movies – and, no doubt, liberal use of the characters from Climax’s recent horror hit, The Beginner. In fact, he could see one of the bad guys from that movie waiting in the wings – a little bald fella wearing all black and twirling what looked like a surgical scalpel from a leather thong on his left hand. Good job making the little bastard look creepy, if nothing else. He worked with this fright factory. It was good enough for Josh to waste a little time before he dragged himself home.

He was told that actors in a Haunted House are trained to leap at the most terrified-looking person in a group, and in front of him was a giggling mob of teenage girls, each of whom seemed to make for a welcome target when someone was primed to leap out from a casket or reach a mummified arm out from behind a hidden panel in the wall. Since the actors in their monster makeup invariably blew their wads trying to terrify the girls, they were always resetting the scene when Josh walked past on his own a few seconds later. He tried not to focus on the idea that even actors paid to terrify people seemed to have no interest in him at all.

After about 20 minutes in the house, Josh wandered into an area lined with rows of authentic-looking corn stalks, with yellow lights twinkling at him in pairs – eyes watching him from behind the rows. Interesting effect, one that worked pretty well, he thought. It would be better if they tried to shape the lights a little, they were too round to accept as eyes, but he could give the Climax folks an A for Effort. He even felt appropriately dressed here in the cornfield, even though he didn’t actually feel like he fit in any better than he did anywhere else.

A nasty chill whispered across his back when the gurgling sound began, and the zombie that moved out of the cornrows reached out at him, hissing and snapping his teeth. Josh didn’t scream – didn’t even flinch. He just rolled his eyes and said, “Dude, I really think you wandered into the wrong scene. You’re supposed to be a creepy-ass kid with platinum blonde hair. Good makeup, though.”

He moved to continue after the girls on the path, but the corpse wrapped its claw-like hands around his arm. Josh turned, starting to get angry with the pushy kid in the zombie getup. “Look, man–”

Whatever threat or ultimatum would have followed was lost when the zombie’s thick, yellow teeth chomped through the burlap shirt that was part of his costume and into the admittedly thin flesh of Josh’s arm. He shouted, yanking the limb back out of instinct, but succeeding only in helping the zombie rip out a chunk of stringy flesh. Blood spurted into the air and dripped from the mouth of the hungry ghoul. Josh screamed again, but still had the presence of mind to back away, flailing, and bolt from the scene.

The arm hurt terribly, not only from the wound, but from an intense burning sensation that seemed to consume the whole area. When he placed his good hand over the wound he was stunned to feel how hot it was already, as if his arm alone could somehow contain a fever.

Oh god, he thought, what if that guy had rabies? What if he had something worse? Those videos, those Curtain guys, what if— What did he give to me?

He rushed ahead into the house, shoving aside the teenage girls (who threw some decidedly un-ladylike language at him, not that he was in any condition to get into a snit about it), and began to wander through room after room, shouting for help. In an Egyptian crypt, he nearly trampled an old woman in a walker. In Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, he actually shoved the Monster himself over into the lab table, eliciting some joyous laughter from the kids Frankie had been attempting to frighten. Finally, he stumbled through the exit door and fell right onto the pavement, rolling to the feet of a little man with a big smile.

Josh looked up at him, seeing someone dressed in all black, which wasn’t exactly unusual at this time of year. The small figure had no hair, but a wide, toothy grin spread across his face like a famished man looking down at a perfectly grilled steak. He held something in his left hand – cradled it, if one was going to be honest – but Josh wasn’t even paying attention, which was the last mistake of his life. Josh was happy to see anyone, even someone dressed like the Closer-monster from The Beginner.

“Dude! There’s someone in there… someone biting people! You gotta call the cops, you gotta–”

“Joshua Cambre.”

Josh blinked, surprised to hear his name from the lips of this stranger, startled just enough to arrest his panic. “I… yeah, that’s me, but…”

“Eighty-two years old,” the little man continued. He reached out with his right hand, grabbing the burlap mask that shielded Josh’s unseemly face from the rest of the Halloween crowd. With one fierce yank, he pulled the mask away, exposing Josh’s skin to the warm autumn air of California. Josh looked up, seeing a horrible gleam in the man’s eye, and suddenly he was far more terrified than he was when it was just the walking dead after him.

“You die,” the man said. “You die alone, from a pulmonary embolism in your sleep, after a tragically lonely and pathetically uneventful life.”

“What the hell? Dude, break character! Some asshole bit my arm, you gotta help me!”

The little man raised his hand, and something flashed. Something long and silver.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m about to spare you all that.”

*   *   *

Aaaaaand, scene! There you have it, friends, the prologue to Opening Night of the Dead, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget, some time tomorrow head on over to Amazon.com if you’ve got a Kindle or Kindle App and pick it up. If you’ve got an iPad or some other reader, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered at Smashwords.com. And don’t forget, as part of the launch celebration, I’m cutting the price of my previous novel The Beginner to just 99 cents until August 1. That, too, is available at Amazon.com, as well as The Barnes & Noble Nook store, Smashwords.com, in print from Amazon.com (print version is still full price, sorry), and in your iPad bookstore.

See you all tomorrow!

12
Jun
12

Universal Rule of the Universe #77

Blake’s Universal Rule of the Universe #77

If you sit in the middle of the aisles in a bookstore, reading books you have no intention of buying, when the bookstore itself has kindly provided numerous desks, tables, and armchairs, then you forfeit your right to complain if a paying customer “accidentally” kicks you in the face when I’m leaning over you to reach the latest Rick Riordan novel.

Read the rest of the Universal Rules of the Universe right here!

10
Jan
12

One: Kronos-Beyond Time

On New Year’s Eve I did something that, for me, is kind of unprecedented. I sat down and began writing a story with no idea, no pre-planning, and no idea of where I was going to go. I’ve never worked this way before — I usually need to have a solid premise and a final goal in mind before I even start, for fear of petering out or ending in a distinctively Stephen King-style fashion (villains with a glass jaw that wind up getting defeated way the hell too easily in the last segment of the book… and I say that as a fan).

I was honestly pretty skeptical about this experiment panning out, but it’s turned out well so far. I’ve finished the first segment of story and I’ve got a basic plot, an idea of where it’s headed, a premise with a lot of potential and several characters that I’d like to get to know better… characters that are very different from the squeaky-clean Josh Corwood or the noble but tormented Curtis Dupré that came out of my most notable works. I find myself getting really excited about the story, as I move into the second segment.

I don’t know if this is going to be a short story, a novella, or a novel. Hell, there’s a chance that it could change into something else entirely. But having finished the first story segment yesterday, I thought I would share it with you all. Hope you enjoy it. Meet the the characters that, for now at least, I’m calling the Tempus Fugitives.

ONE

Kronos-Beyond Time

There was a light.

Phillip didn’t expect to see anything that morning – didn’t expect to see anything ever again, if he was going to be honest with himself, but from the dank, grungy bed of moss at the bottom of his cell, he looked up and saw an unmistakable, piercing blue light.

“Is that you?” he whispered. If you asked him later, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you who, exactly, he thought was looking for him, but for the six years of his imprisonment he had felt plainly certain that somebody, somewhere must have been at least curious as to what had become of him. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, there were still names – Diana, Chester, Clark (or was it Clarke?) and Eden. For some reason, those four names were clinging to his memory even now, even after virtually everything but this cold, wet hole was nothing but a faded remnant of a dream he was no longer certain was his own.

There was a light.

Not just light, he realized, but a warmth. The chill he’d grown so used to was fading from his skin, the ugly black sores on his arms were slowly irising away and fading, the long gashes in his chest… reaching up and touching his ears, he felt the holes in the lobes closing up, filling with flesh, becoming whole again.

He tried speaking again.

Who are you?” he whispered.

There was no answer, but the light continued and he began to bask in it. He stretched out his arms, allowing the healing blue glow to surround him. It seemed to flow down his body, warming his legs, turning the calluses on his feet back into skin, regrowing the missing and split toenails that oozed with pus and blood from years of clacking against the cobblestone floors. The aches in his joints faded, the elephant skin on his elbows and knees healed and smoothed. He would never be aware of it, but a series of tumors lining his colon at that moment dwindled away, the matter breaking off and joining the waste material awaiting simple evacuation.

As he felt warm again, whole again for the first time in years, he felt tears begin to prick the corners of his eyes. For several long moments, he didn’t know what he was feeling, didn’t understand what he was feeling. He hadn’t cried in a very long time, hadn’t felt anything but numb misery for a very long time, and when the moisture began to run down his cheek, he giggled. It tickled, somehow, and he didn’t know what the cause was. He thought it was the light.

If he was aware of the feeling of his feet leaving the stone floor, he didn’t react. The gnarled, yellowed extremities drifted upwards, leaving the stone two, six, twelve inches beneath him, as he rose higher and higher. He reached his hands out towards the light, and saw in the beam the shadow of his fingers. His nails were long, broken, splintered in some places. If he could see them in a normal light he would see long, black streaks on his fingers from the dried, gummed blood that flowed from the nails when he first attempted to claw his way from his prison. He didn’t remember how long ago that had been, nor how many times he had injured himself trying to escape to the freedom of a world he could no longer visualize. He couldn’t see the faces of his family in his mind, was only dimly aware of such things as “mothers” and “fathers,” “sons” and “daughters.” He knew Light, if only because of the marked absence of such a thing during his long confinement, but he could not imagine the sun in the sky baking a desert, or bringing clear warmth to a field, he could not conceive of a moon slicing through darkness and bringing a small piece of day into an endless night.

If he could, he may have compared this Light, his Light to a moon, although that would have been wholly inaccurate. It was much brighter, much clearer. It broke through the darkness into his face not like a distant orb shattering a ceiling of clouds, but more like a brilliant globe drifting towards him. He reached for it, grasped at it, didn’t know that it was still too far away to touch… but it was getting closer.

And it wasn’t moving.

He felt air moving past his face, a sensation he once would have thought of as “wind,” if he still had any conception of such things, and the light started to grow brighter, and closer. His cell fell away from beneath him, and a soft blue surrounded him. Another word he hadn’t thought of in some time came to his broken mind: “tunnel.” He felt like he was in a tunnel. No… like he was flying through a tunnel… flying towards his light.

The light grew closer, the blue grew brighter, and to his eyes so unaccustomed to light, it became too intense. He didn’t want to close them, didn’t want to shut himself off deliberately from the light that had been denied him for such a long time, but the pain became intense. He couldn’t look at the light any longer. He shut his eyes just as he was about to touch it.

The wind stopped.

Suddenly, the rushing sensation from all around his body was gone, the sensation of forward motion was gone, but he still drifted. He opened his eyes – forced them open, really – and found himself in a room. It was small, and rather dark, but with many more lights than his cell. There were sconces on the wall that shed a soft blue glow, similar in color to the Light that had rescued him, if much diluted in intensity. There were lights along the walls as well – lights of many colors, some of them round, some in the shapes of letters and diagrams.

And in the middle of the room was a woman, holding a tablet that gave off a light of its own, illuminating her face. She was tall, dark-skinned, and smiling with a sly grin that he liked immediately, even if he didn’t understand it.

“Hello, Phillip,” she said. “We’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”

“Looking for me?” he said. “Who are you?”

“Friends, I promise.” She touched the tablet in her arms a few times, and with each stroke of her fingers he heard a low tone and saw a small burst of light. When she finished, whatever force was keeping him suspended ceased its operation, and he was lowered to the ground.

“I’m keeping the lights low for you,” she said. “Six years in a hole is a long time, I’m sure you’re pretty sensitive to bright lights.”

“The Light…” he pushed himself onto his knees, looking up at her face. “The Light in my cell… what was that?”

“Just our scanner, honey. We had to look all through the timestream to make sure we had the right person.”

“Right person… I’m… the right person?”

“I think you are. Kirby thinks you are. For now, that’s good enough.”

Questions came to mind… who was she, where was he, was she Kirby, was she speaking in the third person. Instead, all that came out was, “Water?”

“Of course – I know they gave you some rations down there, but honestly, I don’t know how you lived on them.” She opened a panel against the wall and pulled out a silver canteen, handing it to him. Phillip unscrewed the cap and was about to guzzle the water inside when she stopped him, putting her hand over the mouth.

“Take it easy there, champ,” she said. “It’s been a while since you had all you could drink, don’t overdo it.”

He nodded, trying to force himself to see the sense in her words even as his mouth cried to him to swallow it in huge, triumphant gulps. He tipped it slowly and let the water spill down into his mouth, cooling the dry flesh and filling the cracks in his dry, broken skin. He swallowed once, twice… He tried to control himself, but he soon felt the canteen tipping back and surrendering its entire contents into his mouth. The dark-skinned woman laughed. “I guess you know best what you need, don’t you sugar.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder and he lurched backwards, horror creeping into his eyes. She looked at him, keeping up her smile without malice, but maintaining an intensity to it. She had her hair pulled back behind her, thick locks lashed together at the crown of her skull and spilling backwards into a long tail. Her face was slim, her nose broad, her lips full, her smile sincere and firm. She had a face that could be trusted, but at the same time, demanded his trust.

“Phillip, right?” she said. “Phillip Kensington?”

“Yes,” he said, nodding slowly. “Are… are you Kirby?”

She laughed again, a gentle sound that hurt his ears for a moment, being utterly foreign to him for the past six years. “No, sugar, my name is Lyla. Kirby’s my man, he’s with the others.”

“Others?”

“Well you didn’t think you were the only one, did you? Oh, sweetheart, we’ve got so much to show you.”

She led him through a doorway into a long hall with the same low lighting as the first room he’d seen. The light was a little brighter here, though, and it dawned on him that she was trying to acclimate him to being out of the darkness. The next room, he assumed, would be brighter still, and he was right. What surprised him, though, were the room’s contents.

A bed. There was a bed here, a genuine bed with sheets and a mattress, something he hadn’t seen in… well, six years. His eyes bulged with a hunger for rest that almost matched the growling in the pit of his stomach. She smiled at that, too.

“I thought you’d want some real rest,” she said. “Or do you want to wash up first?”

“Wash? You have a bathtub?”

“No, but we’ve got a damn good shower.” She led him to a panel along the pure white wall, made of a sort of frosted glass. Touching a small silver square on the wall next to it, the glass slid away to reveal a much smaller room with a drain on the floor and a silver fixture just about head level. There was a grey screen there, and above it a cylinder full of holes, like a strainer. She reached in and touched the screen, which flashed with lighted numbers: 90. Besides the 90, two arrows appeared – a red one pointing up and a blue one pointing down. Water began to flow from the holes in the strainer.

“Water,” Phillip said. “So much water…”

“Like I said, sugar, all you need. You might not want to drink this one, though. Touch it.”

He reached a filthy arm into the stream and felt a flow of warm liquid down his arm. He looked back, startled.

“Use the arrows to adjust the temperature if it’s too hot or cold,” she said. She pointed to another door, next to the shower, and revealed a water closet. “When you’re done here,” she said, “just touch the silver contact on top of the toilet and it’ll flush.”

“Flush?”

“Man, you’re gonna love it here.” She opened two cabinets. “Soap and shampoo in this one, clean towels here to dry off. Over here we’ve got toothpaste and a brush, and over here we’ve got some clean clothes. I’m sure you’re ready to get out of those things.”

Phillip looked at what he was wearing – disgusting rags of the suit pants and shirt he’d been wearing on the day he was captured, never having been changed or washed in such a long time. For the first time he paid attention to Lyla’s attire – a pair of blue pants with a red shirt beneath a brown jacket. She had black boots as well. When he looked in the closet, he saw boots, pants, and a coat like her own, as well as several shirts in assorted colors.

“It should fit you,” she said. “I had to guess as to your sizes, but I’m usually pretty good about these things.”

He sat down on the toilet, looking around him. Such a bounty… clean water, clean clothing, soap… all things he thought he would never see again.

“I don’t believe it,” he whispered to her. “Thank you… thank you so much.”

She smiled again, and while her smile was still kind, there was a sadness in it as well. “Don’t thank me too much, baby,” she said. “We’re giving you everything you need, but we’re going to need something from you too.”

“From me?” he said. “What could someone with so much possibly want from me?”

“We need something you can do that we can’t,” she said. “And there’s a hell of a lot riding on it, so you better be as good as they said you were.”

 *   *   *

Phillip never wanted to leave the shower. That feeling, that lovely sensation of water flowing down over his body was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. When he saw the water simply coming out of the spigot, he thought it would feel like rainfall, but that wasn’t the case at all. The water was warm and soothing, rejuvenating his sore muscles even as it washed away years of filth and blood from his skin. The soap Lyla gave him was unusual as well – small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, with a soft aroma that reminded him of citrus fruit. It wasn’t as harsh on his skin as the soap he knew, and he rubbed it all over his body, working up a heavy lather and rinsing it off, then doing it again, and again.

The last thing Lyla showed him, the “shampoo,” was the strangest thing he’d seen yet. He’d heard of “shampoo” before, of course, but he’d been told it was some sort of Oriental massage of the head. This, however, was a small bottle full of a liquid that smelled similar to the soap she’d given him. He was unsure at first what it was for, but there were directions printed on the bottle (itself made not of glass, but of some strange, thin, somewhat flexible substance that only looked like glass). The bottle informed him that he was to pour the “shampoo” into his hair, lather, rinse, and repeat. He smiled at the notion that he was to be given an excuse to return to the shower. He poured half the bottle out over his head and began to rub it into his hair and beard, working up a thick, sweet-smelling lather. Working it up as nice and thick as he could, he thrust his head under the flowing water and let it pour down around him.

Second later, he was screaming.

His eyes were suddenly burning like mad, like when sweat or salt water dripped into them, only much worse. He squinted shut instinctively and stumbled out of the shower, flailing for a towel. Wiping his eyes, years flowing, he grabbed the shampoo bottle and looked at it again. Beneath the directions, in small letters, was a line he had missed before: “If shampoo makes contact with eyes, flush with water. Do not swallow.”

Well, at least they’d been kind enough to include that information. He hadn’t actually thought of drinking the stuff, but he understood now he would have to be careful about anything he found in this strange place Lyla brought him to.

*   *   *

Finally clean, finally finished with his long shower, Phillip finally stumbled into the little bedroom and lay on the bed he’d been provided. He wasn’t sure about allowing himself to sleep in this strange place with these strange people, letting his guard down, allowing himself to be vulnerable. On the other hand, no matter their true intention, if they wanted him dead they certainly could have killed him any number of times by now. Fewer than 100 seconds passed before he was sleeping very, very soundly.

He was awakened some time later – he had no way of knowing how long – by a hand on his shoulder and a quiet voice in his ear. “Mr. Kensington? Phillip? I need you to wake up, sir.”

He woke from a dream where he was drifting through a cloud, free from the bounds of earth and gravity and all the terror his world had been associated with over the last several years. He was sure he had dreamed during those days in his cell – there was little else to do, really – but he couldn’t remember any dream he’d had in years. This time, he didn’t want to wake up, but the voice was rather insistent.

He forced his eyes open and looked up at the girl in the room with him – brown hair and green eyes, with a sort of weariness to them. She was young to have such weariness – maybe 20, maybe less, about the same age as

(Edna? Was that her name?)

someone he used to know.

“Phillip, Lyla says you should wake up now.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Diane.”

“Diana?

“Diane. Die-anne,” she emphasized. “Diane Davis.”

“Yes, nice to meet you.” He sat up and the sheet wrapped around him fell from his chest. “I’m suddenly very aware that I didn’t dress after I bathed,” he said.

“Doesn’t bother me,” she said, “But I’ll wait outside if it bothers you.”

“That would be nice, yes.”

When he stepped out of his quarters, he was wearing the odd sort of uniform Lyla had shown him, having chosen a simple black shirt to go beneath his brown jacket. In the hallway, he noticed Diane’s clothing for the first time – the same uniform, but she had a bright blue blouse underneath. It suited her, he thought.

“What time… um… what… I’m sorry, I just realized that none of the typical questions I’m inclined to ask really matter. I haven’t the slightest idea what day or what time it was when I was taken, or even when I was placed in that damnable cell.”

“That’s okay,” Diane said. “Where we are, it doesn’t make a difference. The important thing is that it’s time to eat.”

“Eat?” He thought about what he’d eaten in his cell – bowls of cold, flavorless slime, suitable perhaps for keeping him from dying but little else. The prospect of real food made his mouth began to water without even knowing what food he would be given. “What… eh… what are we eating?”

“Well, it’s breakfast time, so you’ll have your choice of the usual, I guess. Eggs, bacon, sausage. Do you like grits?”

“Grits?”

“Yeah, little bits of ground up cornmeal… kind of in a paste…”

“No. No, I do not like grits.”

She laughed. “Whatever you want then.”

The hallway was brighter now than it was when Lyla brought him here, as he rather expected. The light no longer caused him to wretch in pain, and the aroma he was sensing from down the hallway was beginning to draw him in. His eyes were growing wider, his mouth dangling open as he approached, and he realized with a start that Diane was smiling at him. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Mr. Kensington?”

“I don’t even know how long,” he admitted.

“Well, get ready. You’re about to get jolted into the modern age really quickly.”

A door slid open in front of them and they stepped into a large room full of people. Each of them was wearing the same costume Lyla had provided him, different only in the color of their shirts, and each of them was seated at a table, happily conversing with other people as they consumed plates full of food – eggs and bacon, as Diane had promised, but so much more. Toast, fruit, cakes, biscuits, bowls of oatmeal, cold cereals, and glasses of milk or juice and cups that gave off the unmistakable aroma of coffee.

“I’ve died,” Phillip said. “I died in that cell and you’ve brought me to Heaven.”

“I kind of thought that when I first got here too,” Diane said. “You’ll change your mind. But for now, let’s get you some food.”

She led him to a bar on one end of the room where a smiling man with white hair and a few old scars on his face was stocking tubs of eggs, breakfast meats, and other food. Diane took a plate from one end of the bar and handed it to him, picking up a second for himself

“New guy?” the man behind the bar asked.

“Phillip, this is Joey Rice. He’s a couple of hundred years ahead of you.”

“What?”

“Sorry, you haven’t been briefed yet. He’s from far away. But you know the important thing, Phillip? He’s the best cook I’ve ever met.”

“It’s true, I am,” Joey said. “What’ll it be, buddy? We’ve got scrambled eggs prepared, but f you’d rather have ‘em some other way, I’ll make ‘em to order.”

“No… no, scrambled is just fine, thank you.”

Joey smiled, picked up a silver ladle, and served up a healthy pile of yellow eggs on Phillip’s plate, following it up with a small stack of toast, three strips of bacon, and a bowl of melon, grapes, and a cubed fruit Phillip was fairly certain was known as “pineapple,” although it had been many years since he’d seen any. Diane asked how he took his coffee, and she returned with a mug of thick, black liquid, free of cream or sugar, just as he preferred it. She led him to a seat by the window at the end of the room, and as he began eating, he started to notice that everyone else was looking at him. None of them were staring, exactly, they seemed too polite for that, but each person was inarguably stealing glances in his direction

“Don’t take it personally,” Diane said, sitting across the table from him. “You’re the new guy. Everybody wants to see the new guy.”

“I don’t understand anything that’s happening here, you know,” he said.

“I know. Eat. I’ll tell you a little now, but most of it is Lyla’s thing.”

“I rather suspected it would be.”

As he started to eat, she turned her attention away from the people assembled – some 60 or 70, by Phillip’s estimation – and towards the windows. There was a night sky in front of them, clear and brilliant, with more stars than he could ever remember seeing before. “Lovely, isn’t it?” she said.

“It is. So we’re awake very early, then? What time is it?”

“It’s not.”

“Eh?”

“You think you’re looking out at a morning sky, Phillip, but that’s not true.”

“It’s not? It’s night then? Late?”

“No.”

“The daytime? Has something happened to the sun?”

She laughed at that one. “Oh heavens, no.”

“I’m sorry, then, I’m afraid I don’t know any other alternative.”

“Not your fault. Let me ask you, you obviously don’t know when it is. Where do you think you are?”

“I’m not sure. Lyla rescued me from my cell in Florida, but I don’t know of any place along the coast with cliffs like this.”

“Cliffs?”

He pointed to the window. “So high that we can’t even seen the ground or sea below us.”

“There is no ground below us, Phillip. There’s no sea, either.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“To you, I’m sure I’m not. But it’s true.”

He took a sip of his coffee – strong, slightly bitter, and just the thing to force himself just a little more awake. He became aware of his appearance for the first time – the long, knotted beard and untrimmed hair and fingernails that were on display. No wonder these people were all staring at him, he must have looked like some sort of wild man. Even Diane no doubt saw him that way, and he wondered if this strange complex Lyla brought him to had such a thing as a barber shop at his disposal.

“I’m sorry, Diane, but nothing you’re saying is making anything any clearer for me.”

“I know. Let me cut to the chase, then. What year is it?”

“Pardon?”

“The year. As close as you can figure, what year is it?”

He thought for a moment. Six years in prison was merely an estimate, but the way she asked the question, he believed an estimate would be close enough. He hadn’t thought about anything as mundane as the exact date in some time, but…

“I was imprisoned in the year 1826,” he said. “If I kept close enough track of the passage of time, it’s 1832.”

“You kept your track pretty well,” Diane said. “Lyla told me she snagged you from the 1830s.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s not 1832 anymore. In fact, I’ve never even seen the year 1832, I doubt most of the people in this room have, although I’m not sure about that. I’m 22, Phillip. So what would be the year of my birth?”

This entire conversation was becoming a mess. “Twenty-two years ago… you were born in 1810, then.”

She shook her head. “Way, way off.”

“1809? 1811?”

“2019.”

He was holding his mug of coffee very tightly, but still nearly fumbled with it. “I’m sorry?”

“I was born in the year 2019.”

“Are you telling me that the current year is 2041? That I’ve been in that horrific cell, somehow, for over 200 years?”

“No, Phillip, that’s not it at all. You’re right, you were only in your cell for six years.”

“Then how can this be 2041?”

“It isn’t. I said that I was born 22 years ago, not that this is currently 2041.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“The simple way to put it, Phillip, is that I didn’t live those 22 years all in a row. You don’t have to, you know – nobody here does, anymore. You don’t have to anymore.”

“That’s the simple way to say it?”

“Here’s the hard way, Phillip. It’s not 1832, and it’s not 2041.”

“When is it?”

“No time at all, Phillip. We’re completely outside of time itself. Congratulations. You’re about the join the Tempus Fugitives.”

*   *   *

“Science hurting your brain yet?” Lyla asked.

“Not as much as I would have thought,” Phillip said. After breakfast, Diane brought him to a small office where Lyla handed him her tablet. It had a metal black and a glass face, which lit up the way the walls did – not only with glowing letters and numbers, but actual moving pictures. The pointed to an image of a small arrow at the bottom of the glass and tapped it with her fingertip. Above it, a picture began to move and a voice began to speak.

“This is the Timecraft Kronos,” the voice said. It was loud, booming, and seemed to consider itself extremely important , so Phillip decided to do his best to treat it as such. It was difficult, though, the voice reminded him of an uncle he had that tried desperately to tell stories of his own adventures and prowess despite the fact that no one believed a word of it.

The “timecraft” itself was a long vessel, with a bottom hull that looked somewhat like that of a sailing ship, at least in shape. It wasn’t made of wood, though, but some sort of metal painted a dull purple color. Instead of having a deck open to the air, the top of the vessel was another shell, similar in shape to the bottom half and welded to the top. Both halves featured small windows in various locations, too small for Phillip to see the people inside, but considering the sizes of the windows he saw in the eating area and here in Lyla’s office, it gave him a greater understanding of just how large the ship was.

The odd part of the ship, he noted, were the fins.

The top and sides of the Kronos had large, silver fins affixed, bolted on somehow. They looked odd, out of proportion with the rest of the vessel, and far from functional. When he saw them, he was unable to stop himself from touching the glass face of the device as if the fins were in front of him. When he did so, the image stopped moving and the voice and incidental music that had been played ceased.

“You paused it,” Lyla said. “Like the fins, huh? I’ll have to tell Kirby, he’ll be proud. Just tap the arrow again.”

He did so, and the image resumed its movement. When he heard the Very Important Voice refer to the Kronos as a “Timeship,” he rather expected to see it cruise somehow, as if sailing through the water. Instead, it was dangling in an empty void, surrounded by blackness and stars, save for the image of an immense grey spherical shape in the corner. Some of the patterns of the distressing on its surface were familiar, though… could that be the moon itself?

“The Kronos is the first and only timeship of its kind,” the voice continued. “Constructed in the Tranquility Base Lunar Shipyard, the Kronos began construction in the year 2091 and was completed in 2094. It was constructed as a joint project between the governments of the United States and Chine, with heavy subsidization from Microsoft, Pepsico, Toyota-Chevrolet and the Walt Disney Corporation.”

“I didn’t understand any of those words,” Phillip said.

“Shh! You’re missing it.”

“I apologize.” He returned his attention to the screen, where several numbers were flashing around the spinning Timeship.

“-72 meters long, capable of sustaining a population of up to 500 people, but simple enough to be operated by a crew as small as six. The Kronos is more than a craft, it’s a fully self-sufficient mobile environment, constructed in space with no intention of ever entering the atmosphere – and no need to. The onboard computers of the Kronos are tapped into virtually every database in the world, containing every document and historical record to aid in its mission – track down the most significant individuals in the history of the world and observe their triumphs and defeats, and learn from them.”

The ship disappeared from the screen, replaced by a painting Phillip had seen reproduced before. “Imagine being able to witness the chilling night when General George Washington led his stalwart army across the Delaware River.”

The image changed again, to a slender man with a beard and large nose. “Imagine listening to President Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.”

Another change and he saw a much clearer image, almost as if he was there, of a man of about his own age, looking haggard and weary, accepting a tattered remains of a flag from another man kneeling before him. “Or be there when King William V accepted the unconditional surrender that brought an end to the brutal third World War.”

World Wars?” Phillip said. “Three? Lyla, what did you people do to the world after my time was over?”

“Don’t look at me, I wasn’t born until 2177.”

“The strangest thing about my life right now is that I don’t feel the need to question such a preposterous statement.”

On the device, the ship had reappeared, and the voice was continuing its story. “The Kronos was designed by Kirby Dalton, the Silicon Valley software developer who first perfected the mode of time travel used by the ship. Dalton also suggested that the ship be constructed in such a way as to not enter the atmosphere of the planet, making it more difficult for rogue elements to try to use the time travel device to attempt to alter the past. It was, in fact, Kirby’s dedication to preserving the sanctity of the time stream that made it such a shock when he stole the Kronos himself.”

As the voice made its revelation, the ship vanished from the screen, replaced by the smiling face of a man with burning red hair and green eyes that had an undeniable jocularity to them. The man was large, though, and beefy, with a smile that indicated he could easily conquer anyone who decided to put him to the test.

“I’m Kirby Dalton,” he said, in the same voice as the narrator of the presentation .Somehow, Phillip wasn’t surprised. “I designed this ship, I built this ship, and I stole this ship. I can use it to see anything, observe anything, and – thanks to a few modifications in the design that higher-ups in the shipyards were never supposed to know about, I can use it to take anything or anyone from the timestream. Why would I want to do that? The same reason mankind has done everything it’s done from the moment Ugg the Caveman figured out he could trade Gronk one of his pointy rocks for a piece of his fish – profit.”

“This Kirby uses bizarre metaphors.”

“Don’t I know it. Keep watching.”

On the screen Phillip saw the Kronos hurtling through space, stars becoming streaks in its wake, then sparking and transforming into a strange nimbus of light. The colored lights began to intertwine and twirl around the ship, transforming into a tunnel of sorts. Kirby’s narration continued.

“With the Kronos taken here in the timestream, I’ve got the freedom to go anywhere, to do anything. Any lost treasure can be mine. If a question has gone unanswered for thousands of years, the question can finally be found. The Library of Alexandria can be saved, the children of Pompeii can be rescued… we can even go to Al Capone’s vault and loot it before Geraldo gets there.”

The image changed again, back to Kirby, who now appeared to be sitting in front of a wall lined with bookshelves, heavy, leather volumes weighing them down. Phillip couldn’t quite explain it, but he had to confess the effect made Kirby seem more intelligent somehow.

“But I’m not a greedy guy. I’ll go to these wonderful anywheres and find these magnificent anythings for any charming anybody who needs my help… for a price.”

“Of course,” Phillip said. “I’d expect nothing less.”

“Here’s the tricky part… I’m pretty magnificent, as you no doubt have determined by now. But even I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. If I’m looking for something that has been lost to history, there’s a pretty good chance I won’t know where to look. That, my friend, is where you come in.”

“Me?” Phillip looked up at Lyla. “He’s talking to me?”

“It’s prerecorded, don’t let it freak you out. We show this video to everybody.”

“If we’ve brought you on to the Kronos, sir or madam as the case may be, we’ve done that for a reason. Maybe you have – or we have reason to believe you have – information that we need to locate a target. Or maybe you have a particular skill that will help us crack a puzzle or solve some problem. That’s another magnificent thing about having the entirety of time and space at my disposal – I can get anybody from anywhere to work for me. In return for your services, we offer a good home and good food, an obscene amount of money, and free passage to any point in the timestream you wish to go once you – or I – decide that your services are no longer required here on the Kronos. We don’t make anybody join the Tempus Fugitives if they don’t want to. But there’s one other thing we can offer that nobody else can – an adventure like you’ve never seen before.

“Oh, and one other thing you should know. If you’re here, that means you’re done.”

“Done?”

Done. The timestream isn’t really as fragile as a lot of my colleagues seem to think it is, but that doesn’t mean we can go around making massive changes to it either. Time itself has a way of stopping us from changing anything that matters. If we actually tried to prevent the Lincoln Assassination, for example, the Fugitive who made the trip would get lost or sick or die, or maybe the ship itself would malfunction, maybe he’d step on a nail and get tetanus and we’d have to chop off a leg, preventing him from climbing the stairs to Lincoln’s balcony. It could be anything, really, but we can’t change something we already know. It’s actually pretty freeing from my point of view – I don’t need to worry about screwing up history because I know I can’t do it.

“But for you, my friend, it can be a little depressing. Because that means we couldn’t have taken you here if you had any impact left to make on history. From this point in your life onward, you’re not going to become a parent, win an election, invent something amazing, or do anything else that anybody would remember. Ever. Maybe you were about to die in some horrible accident. Maybe you just vanished. Maybe you were just going to waste away in a prison cell for the rest of your miserable existence. The point I’m making is that, whether you decide to join us or not, your life as you knew it was already over. Sorry. It’s the truth.

“But hey, consider that a little incentive. Here’s your chance to keep going, to do something that might matter someday, to have a little fun and make a little money while you’re doing it. So think it over. Feel free to ask Lyla any questions you have. And I’ll be there I person really soon to find out your decision.”

The screen went dark for a moment, then changed to a picture of several small symbols with words underneath them – “INTRODUCTION VIDEO,” “KRONOS WIKI,” and “SOLITAIRE” among them. Looking up at Lyla, her smile had evolved again, this time to one of understanding.

“I’m sorry he’s so abrupt about that last part. I wish he would ease people into it a little better, but… well, once Kirby decides that things are going to be done a certain way, it’s kind of difficult to change his mind.”

“I’m… done?”

“Afraid so, Phillip. But come on, don’t be so down about it. We know why you were in that cell in the first place, you know. Even if you’d ever made it out, what are the chances that you would have gone back to a real life anyway?”

“Well… I suppose that’s true.”

“I’ve gotta say, Phil, you’re taking this really well. A lot of people we pick up get all freaked out when they realize they’ve been taken out of their own time. I know I was pretty surprised the first time Kirby snagged me.”

“I suppose when I was younger, I may have been ‘freaked out’, as you put it. But considering the things I saw in the last few years before I was imprisoned…” He looked up at her, quizzical. “You know why I was in prison, you say?”

“Oh hell yeah, Phil. That’s why Kirby wanted you in the first place. Let me ask you… the history books are kind of sketchy, and we haven’t been able to find anything that describes your methods, but… is it true? Can you really do it?”

This time, it was Phillip’s turn to give a knowing smile. “Oh, Lyla. Oh, my, yes.”

They waited another ten minutes for Kirby Dalton to appear, but it was ten minutes Phillip hardly needed. He knew what his answer would be. Kirby entered the room – a man who appeared larger in person than he did in the moving pictures – the “video” – on Lyla’s pad. His hair was blazing red and, despite the beginnings of wrinkles in his features, he had not yet begun to turn gray. His eyes, green and full of energy, were both sly and jovial. He held out his hand in greeting.

“Doctor Kensington.”

Mister Kensington, to be accurate. I’m afraid I was stripped of my medical license.”

“We don’t really stand on ceremony about that sort of thing here. If it makes you feel better, it’d be easy enough to travel back a few years and pick it up for you.”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”

“You’ve seen our presentation? Had time to consider my offer?”

“I have, yes, and must say, it’s an easy decision as far as I’m concerned. You’ve already freed me from that damnable prison. If you can make me free to experiment again–”

“Oh, we can, Doctor, no qualms about that.”

“Well then, it’s worth it to place my skills in your capable hands.”

“Excellent!” Kirby pumped Phillip’s hand much harder, almost shaking the smaller man to his boots. He seemed almost as excited as Phillip had felt when he tested the shower Lyla directed him towards. “I can’t wait to get started. I tell you, Doc, we’ve got all types here… scientists and criminals, safecrackers and swindlers, archeologists and historians… and we’ve even got a few other medical doctors, so don’t worry about being on call every time somebody gets the sniffles. But you, my friend… you are the first man I’ve ever known who has the ability to raise the dead.”

*   *   *

Prior to joining the Tempus Fugitives, Diane Davis had been a student at Oxford University, an association that came to a rather abrupt end in 2039 when the University made the rather short-sighted decision to eliminate its archive of books and documents, destroying thousands of them in the process. (“Short-sighted” was actually the term her lawyer used in trying to arrange a plea bargain – Diane’s terminology rather consisted of terms such as “asinine,” “moronic,” “insane” and “the stupidest thing ever done by a bipedal creature who wasn’t still picking lice out of its mate scalp and eating them.”) The University’s position was that the vast majority of its students had never even touched a real book since graduating from “board books” as infants and picking u their first digital reader, and since all of the information in the archive had been digitized and was freely available anyway, it was a waste of resources to maintain a facility for the preservation of hundreds of thousands of documents that were going unused and were, in fact, unneeded. Diane’s position was that the president of the university could perform a certain act upon himself that, prior to her discovery that time travel really existed, she would have thought could only be accomplished via bodily mutilation or the most extreme contortionists.

Diane had been arrested for attempting to smuggle books out of the holding facility where they awaited destruction. Although the University expelled her immediately, the President declined to press charges against her – she was already a joke at that point. Her name had become a punchline for television comedians, schools were using her as an example of what happens to a person who is unable to adapt, and she became the unwilling star of an online video series that cast her, among other things, as the world’s last horse-drawn carriage driver, a zeppelin pilot, and (in period medieval grunge) a shoveler of human feces attempting to clear the streets of filth that was flowing underneath her in the sewer. Once the videos hit twelve million hits just two days after being uploaded, she knew it was over for her.

As she had learned later, the moment when “it was over” was in fact the moment that Lyla and Kirby plucked most of the Tempus Fugitives.

Here, on the Kronos, she’d never been happier. A lot of the research and detective work their task called for involved the “liberation” of old books and documents that hadn’t survived into Kirby’s day, so Diane had the thrilling task of sifting through mountains of real, honest-to-god paper. She was digitizing it for easy searching and access, which was all well and good, but she loved the heft, the feel of paper, the smell of these old documents, and the character that came to a page that simply was never captured by an e-reader. One of the old diaries she was going through, for example, kept by a soldier in the first World War, had several pencil notations that had been erased. A little tinkering in a photo manipulation program darkened the writing and revealed this soldier in particular – an Englishman — had fathered an illegitimate child with a French woman, information he erased from the diary for fear of his wife back home finding it after he died. With this information, she was able to trace the man’s genealogy to the current president of France – or at least, the woman who was the French president in the year Diane was removed from linear time. All of history was an enormous puzzle, and the books that the idiots at Oxford would have destroyed were the picture on the box, helping them figure out how it all went together.

Connecting the dots on this sort of thing was really just a hobby for her, of course. When she had these sorts of historical documents at her disposal, she would delve into them as deeply as possible, but when she had a specific assignment, that’s where all of her attention had to go first. And that’s how Kirby and Lyla wound up deciding to place the Ex-Doctor Phillip Kensington on their payroll.

She shared her document lab with Alicia Harris, a refugee from Bristol, England, 1988. Alicia was a theoretical biologist with some interesting ideas that got her in trouble with the medical establishment of the time, so Diane wasn’t surprised when she showed a great interest in Phillip’s case.

“So is it true, dear? Is Kensington really what they’re saying he is?”

“I don’t know, what are they saying about him?”

“That he’s some sort of crazy Frankenstein type. That he can stitch together the dead and make a monster.”

Diane shook her head. “No, that’s not it. Well… not exactly.”

She was actually pretty proud of Phillip, he was one of her finds. When she went through old books, newspapers, magazines, and diaries, she would often find little nuggets of information that she thought were interesting, but incomplete. When she came across something like that, she would tag it for future examination. Such was the case when she came across a court report from Philadelphia in 1826, reporting on a Dr. Phillip Kensington who was denied the right to practice medicine and imprisoned for “high crimes against the laws of man and God.” The lack of specificity about his crimes was what made Diane so interested – there were a few veiled allusions to grave robbing and the performance of some unusual experiments being done with the corpses. There were also reports from the same area at the same time period that caught her attention – several mysterious murders that were attributed to “ghoulish creatures,” then quickly ceased at about the same time that Phillip was arrested. She’d meant to get back and dig further into this situation for a very long time, but she never had the excuse until Lyla approached her with their current client and her highly unusual request.

“Phillip Kensington believed that he could reanimate tissue after death,” she said. “He developed an electrochemical process that could start a heart beating again and restore some functionality to the human brain. The problem was that he couldn’t reactivate brain cells that had already died, and since brain death begins six minutes after a person stops breathing, most of his experiments couldn’t move or talk or think or do anything but lie there in misery.”

“Sounds lovely.”

“I’m sure it was. So he started some different experiments, started looking for ways to get a corpse moving again Again, he had limited success. He managed to restore some muscle control and functionality to brain cells that had been dead for some time. The problem was that the higher-order stuff was gone. It was like turning off a computer without saving the work you’ve been doing – all of the functionality will be there when you turn it back on, but none of the data you’ve input will remain. Every time he reanimated somebody, they were a slightly decomposed body that walked around with no consciousness.”

“Zombies?”

“Well, they never tried to eat anybody as far as I could find, and their condition wasn’t contagious. But they certainly scared the hell out of a lot of people and there were a few deaths before they finally caught Phillip.”

“How did they catch him?”

“Ah, that’s the fun part. Eventually, he decided to test his process on a body that had been dead for such a brief period of time that the brain hadn’t suffered permanent damage yet.”

“That actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea. If he could jumpstart somebody who only just died, he could probably save a lot of people.”

“Yeah, sounds great. The trouble is, how do you get to be there when a body has only been dead for a few minutes? They were looking for whoever was creating the ‘ghouls’ at that point, and his equipment was apparently pretty elaborate. He couldn’t just wander into the hospital and hit somebody with defib paddles when they went down.”

“I suppose not. So… what was his solution?”

Diane smiled. “Guess.”

Alicia thought for a moment, then her jaw dropped. “You don’t mean…”

“He led the guy right into his lab and stabbed him in the stomach.”

“In the stomach? Isn’t that supposed to be a pretty horrible way to die?”

“Yeah, but he couldn’t shoot him in the head. He needed the brain intact, remember? Anyway, as soon as the victim died – which apparently took some time – he used the process on him.”

“Did it work?”

“The dead victim was the primary witness for the prosecution at his trial. It didn’t occur to Phillip that the person he decided to test this process on might hold a grudge.”

Alicia laughed. “It sounds like an old scary movie.”

“I’ve watched a lot of those – it’s better than most old scary movies.”

“How’d you find all of this?”

“After I got the chance to research his case, I got Lyla to locate and steal some of the sealed court documents, and then finally managed to find a copy of Phillip’s journal and some private letters sent by people involved with the case. When you can jump anywhere in time, taking something is easy once you manage to find it.”

“Sounds good.”

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t just look into the process itself. A lot of the court documents survived, but the diary wasn’t specific about how he managed to reanimate the dead. I looked through every scrap of paper we could find connected to him, but there’s nothing we could locate that could tell us how he woke up the man he stabbed. So finally, Kirby said, ‘Hell with it, just take the guy’. We waited until the last recorded instance of a visitor to his cell – a reporter, it seemed – and then plucked him a few days after that. He was so muddled I don’t think he even remembered the reporter, really. They left him in that hole for six years. It was pretty terrible.”

“Well, to be fair, the reason they threw him in there wasn’t all gumdrops and lollipops, was it?”

“I guess not. Still… short-sighted people. Pet peeve of mine.”

*   *   *

They gave Phillip the rest of the day to acclimate himself to life on the Kronos. He was a little worried that they were wasting time, that whatever task he’d been summoned for was too important to waste his precious hours in what, to him, was incredible luxury, but Lyla brushed off his concerns.

“You’ve got to remember, Phil, we’ve got a time machine. You can have as long as you want to get yourself ready.

He nodded, trying to understand, still not completely grasping the nature of his new life. The idea of moving forward in time, he could conceive. Ways of removing yourself temporarily from time’s flow, suspending your aging and vital functions and restarting them when the moment was right… these were all things he had considered in his old life. At times, he even considered using an adapted form of his process for just such a thing. But moving backwards… he simply didn’t understand the physics behind it. Perhaps later he’d try to study the phenomenon, but for now, he was too busy trying to make himself into a human again.

In addition to the truly magnificent shower facility Lyla had provided him with, the Kronos also sported its own barber shop and salon, where a smiling girl named Erica trimmed his hair, shaved his beard, and clipped and filed both his finger and toenails to normal lengths. He was a bit self-conscious about taking off his shoes, considering the condition of his feet, but Erica laughed at the notion.

“Dr. K, Lyla and Kirby have picked up guys in much worse shape than you. Trust me, you’ve got no problems down there I haven’t seen before.”

By the time she was finished, Phillip had to admit, he felt remarkably better… more like his old self again. Even those names that had swirled around his head were coagulating into something solid. He remembered now who Diana was, and Chester… Eden and Clarke (and it was Clarke, with the “e,” he was certain now). He couldn’t quite remember all of their faces just now, but then, he didn’t really have much need for that, did he?

Phillip relaxed for a few more hours, using a pad similar to Lyla’s to study various historical documents and “videos” to begin educating himself on the world he’d missed out on over the last few centuries, and took in a magnificent luncheon in which Kirby introduced him to something called a “Hot Dog,” but finally he knew it was time to begin the work he was really here to perform.

It was time to examine the body.

Kirby led him to a corridor far away from any of the placed he’d visited before. It made sense, he supposed. If a ship of this nature had a morgue they would no doubt want to keep it separated from the rest of the vessel and the people who lived there. The room was relatively small, and dazzlingly lit not only from traditional ceiling fixtures, but also from many of the seams along the floor. There was a large table in the center of the room and it, too, was luminescent, but not glaring. He could look down at the glowing surface without hurting his eyes, and the result virtually eliminated shadow around the body. It was a marvelous construction, and he could only imagine what other little technological advances existed now that would make his task so much easier than it had been in his own time.

The body lying on the table was a man of about 50 years of age. His skin was pale, but not as gray or pallid as he was used to seeing in corpses. It was impossible, he knew, but it looked as if he had been dead for mere moments. He was a relatively tall gentleman, six feet, maybe two or three inches more, and had broad shoulders and a barrel chest. He wore a gown made out of a thin, blue fabric that didn’t look particularly strong or protective, but perhaps it was another of those technological advances that Phillip would have to grow accustomed to.

The cause of the man’s death would be no mystery even for the freshest medical student. There was a hole in the center of the man’s neck, about the size of a quarter-dollar, with broken, ragged flesh all about it and thick red stains of blood beneath, flowing down onto his chest. He couldn’t see the exit wound without lifting the victim’s head, but judging from the amount of light that was coming up from the table beneath him and shining through his neck, Phillip felt safe in assuming it was of prodigious size.

“This was Timothy Lanning,” Kirby said. “He was the head of the Appalachian Trail Mining Company. Don’t let the name fool you, they were involved in mining projects all over the world, on the Lunar surface, and in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. By the year 2204 it’s one of the richest companies in the world, and he was one of the richest men in the world, right up until somebody turned up at his annual shareholders meeting and created that little hole you see in his neck.”

“It looks brutal.”

“It was. The guy who shot him decided to go old-school and use a firearm instead of a laser or particle weapon. Didn’t stop him from using a laser targeting system, though – nobody could have been that accurate from 150 yards away without it.”

“I’m going to pretend I know what all of those words mean and assume the practical explanation is somebody shot him from very far away.”

“Close enough. Anyway, his wife contacted us about a month after his death and asked to secure our services. She wanted us to save his life. I told her we couldn’t do that, because it had already happened in an extremely public forum. Thousands of people saw him die live via webcast. Billions saw the replay later. You can’t pluck a moment like that out of the timestream. So she asked us if we could bring his body back to life after he was killed instead. And I was about to say we couldn’t, but…”

“You thought of me?”

“You? Naw, Phil, I didn’t even know who you were at that point. I was going to say we couldn’t, but then she offered us even more money.” He shrugged. “I figured it was worth looking into.”

“Well, I hate to disappoint you, Kirby, but I don’t know that my procedure would be of any service to you. I don’t know what Diane told you about my techniques, but every time I tried to use them on anybody but the most recently deceased, I was left with a truly mindless creature. I can reanimate muscle tissue, but I’ve been unable to restore life to a deceased brain.”

“I know, Doc. That’s the lovely thing about the Kronos. We can get you to your patient right when he needs you. Our friend Mr. Lanning here was taken from the timestream exactly two minutes after he stopped breathing.”

“Regardless of when you took him, Kirby, it’s been too long.”

Kirby shook his head. “Oh, Doc, you’ve got so much to learn.” He picked up a small metal rod from a tray of instruments and held it over the cold form of Timothy Lanning. “Watch this.”

He tapped Lanning’s forehead, but the rod never made contact with the victim’s lifeless flesh. Instead, there was a cold shimmer of blue light that spread out in ripples down his entire body. The light moved like water, the ripples rebounding and reflecting back when they reached the table and eventually calming down again, with his feet being the last things to stabilize. “It’s a lovely effect,” Phillip said, “But I’m afraid it doesn’t tell me why my technique will work on a man who has been dead this long.”

“Because it hasn’t actually been that long, Doc, not for him. We took you out of your cell on April 19 at 2:56 a.m. and 19 seconds. But we took about two days of our objective time to narrow down the right time to take you – it was after the last time anybody would see you live, and late enough that any commotion you happened to make while we were getting you out of Dodge wouldn’t go noticed by the guards. We found you at 2:56 and 19 seconds, and then we spent about 90 minutes scanning the timestream on either side of you and then we took you from 2:56 and 19 seconds.”

“So your existence – or rather, our existence outside of time allows us to return to items at the moment we desire, regardless of how much time has passed for us subjectively?”

“Exactly, Doc. It looks like Tim Lanning is lying here on our table, but that’s because we’ve draped him in a Chronal Shroud. We did so exactly one minute and 56 seconds after he ceased respiration and the threat of brain death became imminent. What you’re seeing here is the projection of the man inside of that shroud. He’s going to remain at that point, at one minute 56 seconds, for as long as we want him to. Then, when we’re ready, we’ll remove him from the shroud, bring him here to the lab, and let you work your magic.”

“Remarkable,” Phillip said. “You could save so many lives with this sort of invention, Kirby. While I respect your profiteering, I haven’t been above indulging in a little of it myself, have you ever considered using this for more benevolent purposes?”

“Have you been talking to Lyla about this?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Funny. You sound just like her. We do some pro bono work, Phil, not everything we do is for a profit, but that takes some pretty extreme circumstances. Like I told you before, the timestream is very happy the way it is. If we try to change it, it starts to get pissed off. So it’s only in really specific circumstances that we can even attempt to save somebody we know is supposed to die. It’s the reason we can only take operatives for the Kronos that have finished their functional imprint on the timestream. Have you ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?”

“The theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in the eastern hemisphere may cause a hurricane in the western hemisphere six months later?”

“I was actually talking about the Ray Bradbury story, but I guess that’s before your time. The hurricane thing is close enough. Is it possible that a butterfly may cause such drastic changes? Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is. But is it likely that every butterfly will? I don’t know about all that.

“So the short version, we can only take those butterflies whose wings aren’t going to flap anymore. People who are about to die… or are going to rot away with no one else ever seeing them. Nothing personal there.”

“None taken, I certainly made the decision to let a man waste to death in a prison cell.”

“And we can’t restore them to their former place either. When Lanning’s wife hired us to bring him back I warned her straight up that I couldn’t just give him back to her, because I’ve been to her future and I know that history records his death as being irrevocable.”

“Then what is she hoping for?”

“Something clandestine, I suppose. She wants to go into hiding with him somewhere – maybe even some other time. Some place they can start over and not have to deal with all the crap that comes with running a huge company and having people wanting to kill you for the sin of making money. Actually, when I put it that way, I kind of want to go and smack that assassin around a little myself…”

Phillip nodded. “Well, I see then. It seems I’ve nothing left to do but get started. Where is my equipment?”

“Equipment?”

“Yes. The machinery I used. And my supplies… the chemical bath, the electrociter… oh, I suppose with your vast future technology you’ve come up with far superior machinery to what I created in my humble laboratory.”

“Yeah… Doc, about that… we don’t have any of your stuff.”

“You what?”

“Your machines, your chemicals. We don’t have any of that. We don’t even know what you need.”

“What? How is that possible? I thought you people knew everything!”

“Everything that’s been recorded. Doc, all we could find about how you brought somebody back from the great beyond was a tidbit telling us that you destroyed all of your notes.”

“Well, I did, once it became clear that my traitorous last experiment was going to turn me in to the authorities. I couldn’t take the chance of it being entered into evidence, for all the good it did me.”

“And your machinery?”

“I broke it down, but it wasn’t damaged. I hid it, secreted it amongst other articles in my lab.”

“Oh crap. Doc, that’s gonna be a problem.”

“Why? We have your marvelous ship, let’s just go back to the moment I broke it down and take it.”

“We can’t. Because we do know what happened to the stuff in your lab. It was all sold away at auction, to different owners all over the country.”

“Oh. I see.” Phillip shrugged his shoulders. “Well, fortunately we have all the time in the world, don’t we Kirby? We’re simply going to have to go out into your timestream and get it all back.”

17
Dec
11

What I’m Reading: Blogs to Books

With the Internet now being responsible for roughly 97 percent of all entertainment content generated in the universe, it’s inevitable that many of the more popular websites would find their way into print. Present company excluded. :sigh: Anyway, today I’m going to take a look a a pair of Christmas collections of content that either appeared online or got its launch there.

Let’s start with Wreck the Halls. For a few years now, author Jen Yates has been keeping us entertained with her website Cake Wrecks, where she presents hilariously mangled pastries that barely deserve to be called cakes. As funny as the terrible cakes are, though, it’s Yates’s writing that really makes the site work. She’s a wonderfully funny commentator with a sharp sense of humor and great skill at assembling the pictures in a way that sets up the jokes even better.

Wreck the Halls is her second book, following last year’s Cake Wrecks. This time out, she’s focusing on holiday-related wrecks, and again, it’s a real joy to read the book. She splits the book up into several sections, including chapters related to Thanksgiving wrecks, Christmas wrecks, and even Hanukkah wrecks, with several other cakes along the way that wouldn’t technically fit into their assigned category (or even this book) were it not for the way she manages to pull out a joke that fully justifies their inclusion. Plus, if you’re a fan of the website, the majority of the cakes in this book never appeared online, making it even more vital that you read this book, and right now.

On the other side of the Internet spectrum, let’s take a look at The Onion. (And yes, I know the newspaper version of The Onion actually precedes the website by several years, but most people are familiar with it primarily as an Internet source and, more importantly, without that segue I’d have no way to put these two books into the same blog post together.) If you’re one of the few people who’ve never visited the website, The Onion is a satirical website that mocks the news — newspapers, news websites, and even news television now. I’ve never been a faithful reader of The Onion, to be honest, but reading this book reminds me of why it’s popular. It’s really very funny.

Until you get past the headline.

That’s the problem with The Onion, and that’s why I never seem to keep reading it on those occasions when I stumble onto the website for one reason or another. The faux news articles, which this book mostly collects, usually have a very clever and inventive headline that pokes fun at something in popular culture, or takes something serious and juxtaposes it with something terribly mundane. (One of the best, for example: JESUS ‘REALLY DREADING’ THIS NEXT BIRTHDAY.) The thing is, once you read into the article, it’s clear that the writer didn’t really have much to go on past the headline. The jokes aren’t good enough for extended commentary, and the articles are almost universally weak. The short blurbs are the best things in the book, probably precisely because they’re short. Once you get past a first paragraph, the articles ramble on with variations on the same joke over and over again.

If you’re looking for a Yuletide chuckle, jump at Wreck the Halls. Pass on Christmas Exposed.

16
Dec
11

Play This: Santa Rockstar 3

Today was my last day of work for the year. Our Christmas vacation has begun, which is nice. It also means I’m absolutely exhausted. So I haven’t really had a lot of time to read, watch, play with, eat, or otherwise experience a lot of Christmas stuff for you guys.

So today, I’d just like to point you to an online game I discovered a few weeks ago: Santa Rockstar 3. This is, apparently, the third iteration of this “Guitar Hero” knock-off where you play as Santa Claus and rock it to assorted Christmas songs. It’s a fun little way to kill time, if you’ve got time to kill. Which I really haven’t lately. I need a nap.

Also, let me remind you that I wrote a Christmas book, which you can get for $2.99 on any major eBook platform.

And as longtime readers of this site know, it’s my little tradition to write a new Christmas short story every year. But this year, that’s not what happened.

I wrote two.

“Lucky Penny” and “The Stowaway” will be available as a free eBook sometime in the next couple of days — I’ll let you know. My little Christmas gift to you. (And like all Christmas gifts it will be a limited time only. Get it while it’s free, because in January the price will go up to a wallet-crushing 99 cents.)

Okay, Love you guys. I’m going to bed.




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