Monday, 30 May 2016

Evil Interlude

Molly Donaldson awoke in a dark place. twas quiet, warm, almost cozy.
She was naked, but that was not an issue - it seemed like nobody was there, so it didn't really matter.

After a while,she realized that it was not pitch black... some light was there, not enough to pick its color, but still enough to get a sense of the space. Which was better, as she could hear somebody else breathing nearby. She was not alone... was this a monster? A wolf?

"Who's there?"

"A girl" was the answer. Maybe older than Molly, but not an adult - Molly wasn't sure. Almost everybody was and sounded older, to her.

The voice could come from a child, a girl, a woman or a Balrog. It sounded friendly, at least.

And the light was slowly improving. She could make the silhouette of the stranger, now.
Bigger than her, older, but smaller and younger than her mom, Lidia. Naked, like Molly. "Hi, my name is" - a voice interrupted Molly, coming from the walls.

"Unit, you will refer to yourself only as 121 - you will not use your previous designations, nor use the previous designations of any other unit"- pause -

"My name is-" this time, the other girl stopped her, frantically closing her mouth with both hands, visibly scared.

"Believe me, you do o not want to discover what happens, when one refuses to obey."

The voice returned, speaking slowly - "Failure to comply to our directives will be punished, by means of liberal applications of emotional and physical pain."

"What does that mean?"

"That they are going to beat the snot out of you, and of anybody you love, till you obey to whatever order that they give".

"You are correct, 117" - the voice from the wall said drily.

"It is time for your exercises, 117. Take 121 and bring her to the war room, to observe your work." - said drily the voice from the wall

"I obey" - said 117, even more drily.

The door of their cell opened, but a ball-bot was there, waiting for them. Molly had seen some of those contraptions only at a science fair where they were used to shepherd visitors. They were supposed to be cute and non-menacing, as their lax stability meant it didn't take much to topple one over.

This one... looked plenty menacing, somehow. On her part, 117 remembered the time when she tried to escape. The infernal machine was faster than her, and broke her arms with no effort.

It drove them down a corridor, full of doors similar to their one. All cells? Every second, things looked scarier  to Molly.

When Molly saw the War Room, its content - out of one of those crappy horror movies that her  mom had to stop watching - she fainted.

"You must observe, look, and learn. It is not so terrible as it looks, it can be endured. Soon, your life - and that of the persons that you care for - will depend on you being able to perform these tricks, up to whatever standard they decide." - 117 had managed to revive her, and was saying these words, at a very low voice - "Resistance is not futile, it is not possible. Do you feel this? Here, in the back of your head? It is a transmitter. They know what you hear, see, say, and even think. They are always surveilling, their machines never stop, never tires. There is no more, only survival, here. And survive you must, as they never keep only one of a group. If you die, they'll kill your mom too."

"Remember: nothing is so hard, that it can not be done" - 117 said so with a tense smile,  doing something that looked - to Molly - as painful as humanly possible. 

That first day, Molly cried all the time, through any horrible moment of 117 work-out.

By the end of the month, 121 was able to obey her orders and stopped crying, or trying to use her name.

- Another place, some weeks later

The Blonde Bitch is looking at the tapes. Lidia Donaldson, unit 122, has tried to kill her, again.
After she watched the damn tapes...  Irene Reldas can't help but agree with her prisoner. She, too, would try to kill the "Blonde Bitch", after seeing what was going on with her daughter.

The impulse to vomit strikes hard, but there is nothing in her stomach. As far as Irene knows, she may not have a stomach any more. It's been three years since last time she ate something... yet, she can't accept the fact that she is, most likely, just a Revenant of the less human kind.

"I do not know why you do this to yourself" - the voice was amazed,  somewhat childish... unit 73, Pipa Stone. One of those that had truly embraced their master and its foibles - "Let the golems handle these affairs. There is plenty to do out there,  and whole lives to live on the side; there is no need for a Herald to bury herself in Purgatory".

Irene knows better than answer with her voice. Pipa is using the Heralds channel.

The same small box (more like a squishy pea, really) inside their heads,  the one that 117 had warned off Molly some weeks ago, can be used as a communication device.

If the function is enabled, of course.

"Back off, Pipa. Irene doesn't want to let these poor fellows without any human interaction. She is worried that they are going to be washed away, which would be terrible for her - because they are her last tally" - Keisha Lawson, almost as whimsical in tone as Pipa, but Irene feels a shade of concern behind the affectation of nonchalance.

Irene may have been their captor, but Keisha and a botched operation of hers are the reasons those two were there.

"Everybody has been her last tally, at a given moment" - neither forgot, nor forgiven,  evidently.

Irene, "unit 5", the great huntress that tracked down Matthew Stone and his family, when he tried  to warn the U.S. Government of some o the Masters ore unsavory activities.

That the Pipa Stone that is living with them is the real, or is the Herald, as always is anybody's guess.

"It is one of the reasons why she should stop" - Pipa continued - "Before she really goes crazy and tries to rebel against 'god' , again."

"Uhm" - they are half-way around the world, and yet  Irene could visualize Keisha cringing at the biblical reference.  The Evangelical girl was one of the few heralds that managed to cling on to her faith, and was deeply unnerved by the similarities between the genesis and some of their circumstances.

"Krack" - Pipa was breaking somebody's bones, judging by the noises reverberating inside her body - "It would be stupid, and useless, and we all know that you are getting too frustrated in that place. You hold the fort longer than anybody, you paid enough for your sins. Take what's left of your soul and walk under the Sun again."

She may have been right.

"Yes, please do. Your substitute has already been selected" - they knew that 'god' was listening, but it seldom interfere, nowadays. It makes easier for them to behave like it did not exist, which probably ticked some of his conspicuous fetishistic desires.

"My substitute?"

"122 will replace Irene as chief of Purgatory"

A number, not her name... a Revenant? it made sense - "What about Lidia and Molly? They are my last prey, after all."

"Their memories have been edited with success, the FBI managed to intercept the band that kidnapped them, and all criminals were shot down in the ensuing armed conflict. This has happened two months ago."

"Really?"

"Their personalities were interesting, amenable to be developed in some intriguing directions. I decided to spawn some copies, and investigate the possibilities."

Too much information - it never lets out all this information, never... and the Channel is mute - "Am I going too die?"

 "Yes"

"How?"

"Apparently, my ability still has some limits. You are old, the trinkets in your body have long stressed the chemistry of your brain, accelerating its natural decay, and the countermeasures in place are near the end of their effectiveness."

Why must it always state the obvious? In transitioning from humans to whatever it now is, the guy took two levels in obnoxiousness.

"You are nearing a tipping point, where the artificial neurons that have replaced your lost biological cells cannot but inter-operate directly, and your down-clocker will all but cease to function."

"Correct me if I am wrong, but it does not mean that I am going to die.  No?"

"Your analytical mind will accelerate to a couple of hundred thousand times its normal speed, all the while you will lose access to many of the emotive aspects of your moist cherished memories. The physical sensations will feel so diluted that you'll feel without a body, images from your eyes changing every three subjective hours. After a year subjective time - three minutes real time - most of the others decided to self-destroy"

And, almost surely, it killed the ones that didn't, just to avoid competition - that was the most logical thing to do, for the entity that nicknamed itself  'god' (lowercase  and apexes included). 

To make sure that no other 'god' ever appeared, to cross its paths.

"We did not choose our 'god', did we?" - fifty years before, her only lover said that, just seconds before Irene snapped her neck, at the end of their rebellion. It was still the same cruel bastard

It took 'god' two weeks, to do whatever it had desired to do to prepare 122 for her new role.

Irene felt, one by one, her "trinkets" go off-line and vanish. She was back at being a normal person , again. Feeling hunger, thirst,  tiredness... the whole package. This way, her last few months could stretch to her last few years,. she knew.

It did not make feel her any less defenseless, when she met 122 again.

The Asian-looking midget had received the whole package, whatever the package was these days. Skin thougher than steel, for sure.

"I never thought to see you this way.I thought hat you'd be my refuter, that you'd hold out till..."

"I am a mother, he gave me a choice. I want my daughter to live an happy and free life with her mother, not to join me and her - revenant?  that's the term that you use, right? its genetic and mental copy - in this hell."

"That is not your daughter, 122, or 121 is as much your daughter as she is."

 "121 has accepted her role in the grand scheme. You cannot save who want not to be saved, and my name is Lidia"

What?

"I must accept that my revenant will fill my role as the mother of Molly, as I know that it would do her best for our daughter."

"Nice to know. And, 121?"

"She has been already assigned to her new duties, and will continue her training under Maître Grenadier."

"Yes, I forgot that there is more than one Hell, in our world" - Irene had some ideas of what was the "Ècole de Maître Grenadier", and shuddered...  and that was all.

Lidia watched the videos of the last session of her daughter - no, 121.

Her daughter was home, with her mom, the two of them still battling with a new security detail from the FBI. It would take long before the agency finally registered that they had no usable information, and were not in danger after the death of the "band".

121 was a copy, not a real person... and if it was a real person, she was her own, not Molly.

Molly was her true, her only  priority.

121 could fend off for herself.

Lidia couldn't save 121, so she preferred to think at the little girl as some kind of object, not as her second daughter.

Unit 122, revenant r1178, the nine months old woman inappropriately called Lidia,  could almost feel 'god' laugh manically in the deep back of its skull, then and then every so often, when the"entity" contacted her directly.

She never guessed why she made it so jolly.


Thursday, 26 May 2016

Type 116

First of all, beware - this could be boring.I am going to talk about cars. European cars, really.

You may run for your life.

Faster, faster!!!!!

You still there? OK, thanks God the world is full of masochists, though not nearly enough of them are women (and even less of them are beautiful women, simple for statistics reasons).

Though I have been spared the worst of the illness, I am a bit of a petrol-head.

I am not to the point where it affects my professional or financial decisions, I rarely if ever speed on the road, and my life does not operate around cars.

Which could be,in reality, a manifestation of some other, more obscure illness... I should discuss it with my therapist.

But, when I climb an old car, chances are that I know a bit of its history - modern cars are another matter; between stricter regulation and consumer demands, technically they are almost all identical: fwd with trans-axle gearboxes, unequal length drive shafts, for-life metal distribution chains are replacing rubber belts in into most modern designs, as tighter packaging has made more and more difficult to change the damn thing etc...

Admittedly, I am a technical-detail oriented maniac, but I never cared how a car then actually drives.

Or how fast it is.

As long as it is not an Alfa Romeo RWD saloon.

In which case, I must drive it! I must! I must! Gimme that damn keys!!!

Wrouumm!!! Wroumm! Wroum! 

(TA-Da_Da_Dam! - dramatic music clue)

Yes, I am a bit of an Alfa maniac, of the "old guard" - I like the old Giulietta, Giulia, Alfetta, Giulietta '77, 90, 75 (known as Milano, in the U.S.A ), SZ, RZ and, now, the new Giulia.

I never really dug the FWD Alfa Romeos (shit made in Pomigliano d'Arco; no wonder that they fall apart looking at them!)

I haven't always been a fan of the marque... when I was a kid, I was all for foreign cars - German, French, Japanese, anything but Italian cars.

My father's first car was a FIAT 1100d - thirty years after, he still loathed the God-awfully thirsty piece of  whatever.

(To be honest, I suspect that its 8 mpg mileage was more the product of some half-assed modification by a local mechanic, than a by-product of FIAT lack of ingenuity and unreliable quality control)

And he managed to pass the prejudice to his sons.

So, when I finally got my licence, I wanted to buy a ten years old Subaru Leone Wagon 4x4... it was a sensible car, in my mind.

Wagon, so I could use it to shuttle things to and from work (I worked as a mason - with my father, that didn't give me a wage), 4x4 so could go anywhere, and not really too fast (the 1.8 litres carburetted engine had some 70 bhp)

Not really the dream of a petrol-head...

But, as I said, I wasn't really paid, for my job. All the money I earned went to pay for the restoration of our home (yes, the most idiotic thing a 20 something can do... invest what few money he earns in a house in a shitty corner of a shitty country where he doesn't feel at home, even though he was born there... JUST so his parents can't accuse him of having run away, like his bigger brother), so I couldn't really take a thousand dollars (two weeks worth of my work, really) just to buy a car, because I didn't have any money at all.

It bothered me to death asking my father his car, because he loved that piece of junk beyond logic (a 1983 Mercedes W124, 200D - 60 hp gross power, then one had to subtract the power for the alternator, water pump, servo-direction pump and an actual exhaust system, multiply what is left for the efficiency of the average late '70s transmission, 75%,  consider its 1.5 tonnes dry weight and it was no wonder that the engine couldn't broke the wall of the 0-60 mph in 30 seconds, or that the car could barely pass 120 km/h on a level road).

I'd rather have a car for myself,  but my parents kept answering that it was not the case, as I still had to serve my national service.

Their official reasoning was that, if I was going away for a year, the car would have rotten away... a 1k car, when I was making around 2k a month, working for them with no insurance or papers, because dad "didn't like bureaucracy".

The unofficial reason (one of the most bitter things that I learnt in my life was that I could not believe my parents, because they spent half their time telling themselves lullabies and couldn't see reality even when it bit their arses) was that they feared me having some sort of freedom beyond their control, leading to the same kind of outcome of my brother - going away to live with a woman, leaving them to themselves; before you start objecting, remember: most Italian families work along those lines.

I know, I know... there is something fishy, there.

Anyway, I finally got drafted, we were in the middle of the fucking house restoration, and my quarters were 30 km away from my home-town.

I was on guard duties, and had a day home every 3... to work on the house.    

Clue me coming home, spending a day working on the house, and then having to come back to quarters by 7.30 in the morning.

After the second time, the first car below 1200$ in the second-hand magazine was suddenly mine.

It was a 11 years old, 100k miles, Alfa Romeo "Nuova Giulietta" 2 litres, last series and last production year (actually, the platform was already that of the future AlfA 90, I discovered a couple of weeks ago), with a rebuilt engine (the owner tried to make the 1000 km from Switzerland to Calabria at 200 km/h; the car was rated only for  a max speed of 185km7h - oops! ).

It was the "second daughter" of the Alfa Romeo type 116 chassis (considering the fact that that last production run used the revised version, soon to  underpin the 75, more a 4th daughter, really).

So, the 70hp 4x4 wagon of my desires was replaced by a way lighter, way faster 130 hp RWD with almost no trunk... uh, Dad, were you sure that you loved me? It doesn't really seem a rational decision.

Gear lever apart*, it drove well..

(* As anyone who drove one of the "Type166"s can tell you, their stick is not really precise... not a fault of the gearbox, which is really improved over the highly regarded unit used in the precedent Giulia, but rather of the way the gear lever was connected to the gearbox, through one single rotating and sliding pole instead then, say, the two Bowden cables used by the FWD VW of the same age, or the two rigid levers used in the fiat Uno...being the intermediate movements too shorts, any amount of slack induced by wear had oversized effects), 

Really well.

No, really, really, really well, once you got used a bit to its two or three idiosyncrasies (namely, some voids in acceleration with a coldish engine under 2000rpm, a overly precise non-servo steering and a 0.1 seconds delay between pushing the brakes and the brakes acting... this, probably because of oil too old), it drove way better than that shit of the BMW 3 Series of my friend Pat (one buys a BMW, and goes for the 1.6 litres????? Madness!).

Maybe I was lucky, but in the 4 years that I had it, the clunker really broke down only once, and I fixed it in half an hour (the cable grounding the engine... detached one side, opened the connector, placed the remaining head inside the connector, close it with a hammer, mounted it back ).

I changed oil and filters, the head of the distributor (when I bought it, it had problems starting in damp weather) and re-chambered the last box of the exhaust, but It never stopped.


It had a chain, so it couldn't broke the distribution belt either (my bro totalled three cars, that way), and few to no electronic, so it didn't kill batteries like the Mercedes, as for a long while I drove only once a week.

Year on year, km on km, it didn't suffer more mishaps than the Mercedes W124 that inherited when my father died.

It was just the funniest car that I ever driven (ahem, second is the UAZ 469B, with a VM turbodiesel - it made the Alfa look like a safe car)

To be honest, I still miss the Giulietta, sometimes... and it's been almost twenty years.

The car that made a petrol-head out of me...

Monday, 23 May 2016

Bacteria

"So, you are CIA?" - Callie Lawson dreaded this moment, ever since she had let her boss convince her to "cultivate" Xhanthippe Xeyos, the lone Beta member of the Anipos delegation on Earth.

Callie was a thrill-seeker, and the relationship with the immensely dangerous alien beauty had more than satisfied that aspect of her. Still, "thrilled" still rhymed with "killed".

Now, her name was probably going to enter the list of intelligence operatives that had tried to do the same things, done the same woman, and had vanished once their natures had been discovered.

Callie didn't even think about running... she knew enough, about this much beloved neoprene-clad monster, to realize that there was no place - in the whole solar system, really - that was safe from her wrath.

"It was fun, till it last" - not a great epitaph, but a fitting one for a 27 year old black girl from Nebraska.

"How did you know?"

"Oh, those gentle guys in the FSB managed to let the info slip through their back channels, so that our monitoring 'bots could intercept it" - a scroll of shoulders - "the usual shit your people likes so much to play".

Pretty much the same had happened to Irina Kolskarova, the predecessor of Callie in Xhanthippe's bed, only that time the info had been "slipped" through the British MI6.

Earth's various countries' intelligence agencies were all taking turns, to say so, sending gorgeous agents to ensnare this alien bon vivante, each time managing to burn out the agents of the previous .

Callie was waiting for some alien tool to enter the room and arrest her - she was sure that Xanthi had never, would never kill anyone, but all those other women had disappeared, shortly after they had been unmasked.

What she didn't expect, was seeing the alien woman decide to sit on the sofa, while inviting her to join in. A scene so familiar, and so comfortable, that Callie was there before her rational brain could scream "no!".

"Of course, I knew you were something: to date, no civilian woman has ever dated me. it was just a question of which agency, which country, really."

"So, you knew... from the start? Then,why? Why did you end up with me?"

"I am not really ready to live a caste life and, as I said, no civilian really comes close to me. So, let me ride the dragon - till it is this sexy, I am not going to complain."

A long, uncomfortable pause, while Callie considers all the implications - if that was the truth, who seduced who? All the information that she had passed to her superiors, how much was it true and how much was doctored? Her job, the risks she ran... all for nothing?

Not for the first time, Callie thought that she wasn't really cut for this stuff - something that, truth be told, could be said for most of Xhanthippe's marks, all young beauties at the star of their career in intelligence.

"So, you are not angry? With me?"

"No, how could I? Why should I? Your nations look silly, to me, and the whole paraphernalia of agencies protecting each country's interests is just a senseless waste of energies, but I respect a woman that honestly tries to do her job to the best of her abilities."

Callie feels relieved, a tiny bit - her predecessors must have heard these same words, and have all vanished nonetheless.

"Leaving these childish questions aside, I fear that, no matter the fact that I already knew that you were an agent, the FSB plot has worked. I cannot keep our relationship."

A pain went through Callie's heart, unexpectedly. She always told herself that the sole reason she continued the charade was her sense of duty, bur the ache that she felt told her otherwise. Xanthippe had played her too well. She was the one who had fallen in love with the enemy, and didn't even realize it.

"Before you go, though, I have some information that you need to know. Stuff that is important, for you to decide what to do with your life, now that you will not have to devote your energies to keep me happy."

Callie wanted to retort that it had been her pleasure, keeping Xanthippe happy... but she knew it didn't matter any more.

"You know, there are some holes, in the info on the web, bout the relationship between my culture and the Anipos" - of course, Callie had no idea... she had surfed the 'net  looking for information, before and since she was assigned to "handle" Xanthi,  but she had no other sources but what trickled through the FTL data-stream.

"None of us is admitted inside the Anipos home system, none."

Callie was even more perplexed, now, though she could imagine why.  For all their technological might, the Anipos where remarkably human, one of the less mutated of the offspring of the Cro-Magnon expansion. 

The Betans are, for all intent and purposes, super men and superwomen. Not so unstoppable, for a civilization with the kind of weaponry the Anipos showed during the conquest of Earth, but still some mean heavy-hitters. 

"And we do not really enjoy going to other planets either, as the rule of thumb is that we go not only covered in latex, like I am now..." - Callie thought that Xanthi simply liked the stuff, pervert fetishist as she was - "but we also have to wear masks and air filters, every time we step outside our air conditioned, sterile compounds."

This was news to Callie, that thought - an agent is an agent is an agent - that her chiefs would have been mightily interested to it. 

"Unless, there are good reasons not to obsess over the dangers."

"Which dangers? Your people is, as strong as physically possible. Nothing can damage one of you!"

"Plenty can damage me: rejection, fear in  the eye of a person that I like, any of a host of infectious illnesses that still roam through the various humanities, for which my sub-species has no immunity nor any knowledge" - Xanthippe makes a pause, to sip a bit of water from the glass in the table in front of the sofa - "but no, I was not talking about danger for us."

"I was talking about dangers for the society that we are visiting."

A terrible uneasiness suddenly gripped Callie.

"I think that you spent your time learning what you could about the history of  my home, Beta Canis Minor as you call it..." - Callie didn't need to nod, both knew that she did - "... but, the history on the 'net ignores a lot of wild guesses and hypothesis that have been made along the years, and have always been rejected for being unsubstantiated."

"What are you trying to say, Xanthi?"

 "OK, always impatient, my little tortillera? OK. Our planet, was colonized by a bunch of idealistic university types, that is known. Very idealistic, because there was no way back. What gives us our 'powers' are 'extraterrestrial mitochondria'."

 "that is known - I found that much on the web, too. It is not a secret, no?"  

"Well, but these mitochondria, in a way, had the same genesis as the ones in standard humans and all other 'first wave' life forms, like most of the ones on this planet: aggressive bacteria that infected a species in the past, and managed to integrate themselves into it, as a for of symbiotic relationship."

"OK, this is high school biology. Still, I do not get what you are trying to say."

"My mitochondria are aggressive, alien, nuclear-reaction powered extraterrestrial bacteria that learned how to live symbiotically with humanity, by making humans their carriers, integrating said humans in a planet-wide collaborative ecology that eschew the tenets of competitive evolution."

Callie wasn't an expert in biology, but the logical concatenations were simple to follow... aggressive bacteria. Infections. And, from the dawn of time, sexual intercourse of any kind have always been among the preferred infection routes, for every kind of bacteria, viruses, fungi and God only knows what.
     
"Am I... infected?"

"Undoubtedly, Callie."

The news struck the black girl... she couldn't believe it. And Xanthi didn't say anything about it, she just let her run into the danger - OK, she would have run into it anyway, but still, knowing it before would have been nice.

"With what?" - the face of Xanthi didn't look very serious, so, maybe, it was not going to be anything fatal or serious like HIV, or any of the other hundred bothersome chronic illnesses. Something easily curable, maybe?

"How do they call it, in your country? Ah, yes, I know the word." - pause - "Superpowers - you have been infected with superpowers."

Callie's face went blank with stupor, while Xanthippe kept her best poker face. The, the laugh started. 

"Hahahahahah -What? Really?" - tears from the corners of her eyes, Callie can't help herself... what an anti-climax - "I am infected with... superpowers? OK, I earned the joke. I am sorry, Xanthi. I really loved these months with you, I will miss you"

"Callie, this is not a joke - you are infected, with alien bacteria that will replace some if not all of your mitochondria, over time."

"Sorry? No, wh, what?"

"You are too old to really learn how to use them, so you'll get only the 'passive' ones, and super-strength" - another pause - "but your sons and daughters will have the complete deal; super-strength, near-invulnerability, anti-gravity and magnetic fields manipulation" - another pause, and a smile - "yes, flight. They will fly."

They sat there in silence for a couple of minutes, while Callie tried to bend her head around the idea.

"That is, if you will be allowed to have children" - Callie's was puzzled, again - "if your bosses, or their bosses, do not stick you in a lab for tests, if they do not sterilize you to avoid the risk, and if they do not kill you right now, till they still can do it with a minimum effort."

Callie analyzed these words, at length. It all made sense, but for "Why should they kill me?"

"How would you describe Beta's society?" - that was an easy question, after so much reading on the argument.

"Chaos, tempered by laziness and an absolute incapacity to take authority seriously."  

"Yes, that sums it nicely... the first colonists were a bunch of academics, it is true, but many of them were in administrative duties. It started as a pretty, run of the mill - if somewhat laid-back - human society. Not different than Anipos-Prime, really... much smaller, but with almost as much technical skill and support."

"By the time their children had grown up, they lacked almost any reason to keep it running - the bacteria were filling them with energy, so they did not really need to eat more than once every fortnight, they did not really needed shelters... and they didn't really enjoy most of what their fathers did anyway. They let it all rot, as it was useless to them."

"A structured society is kept together, really, by the necessity of the singles to satisfy their needs, and by the fact that the force and abilities of one person, alone, are hardly enough to do most of the needed jobs. Those of a normal human person, that is."

Callie's mood grew colder, while she listened to this.

"The bacteria removed most of those basic needs that bring persons together, and allowed everybody a degree of absent-minded, ruthless selfishness that most human societies allows only to a very small handful of  somewhat despised alpha-males, at the very top of their hierarchies.  So, you see, your offspring will be an unstoppable engine of social disruption, showing to the masses that your 'authorities' lacks the power to manage, really, anything."

"I am sorry, I think that... this surpasses me."

"There are two reasons why I can go around this planet with just a low protection suit, and screw with the natives."

"Two?"

"One: it is already too late to stop the tide. Bridget became famous, but she had three sisters... all of whom are still on this planet, all of whom is at least as infectious as me, all of whom have developed a prickly personality and have had far too many lovers to ever recount them."


"Two: the Anipos invaded the planet because they feared that your 'superiors' would have managed to launch some kind of interstellar crusade, to justify the need of their authority in front of the already growing shift to widespread asocial behavior. A shift fostered by the belated, but inevitable, arrival of hyper-automation, a time that is critical in most civilizations."

"On Anipos Prime they  are not going to lose their sleep. Surely, not over the possibility that the civilizations of this planet crumbles to dust, and devolve into the kind of very loosely tied anarchy that is Beta. A nifty solution to a horrible problem, really."

Callie stared at her with horror.

"I am a weapon of massive social destruction, aimed at the most grave danger the Anipos influence sphere has endured in the last eight centuries." - the smile on Xanthippe lips turned bleak - "and so, now, are you. Once they realize it, your chiefs - most of whom have earnestly invested all of themselves, into the preservation of their social system - will see plenty of reasons to contain you."

"What happened, to the other women?" 

"Rita McFadden went her way... she didn't get the bug, but she wasn't exactly human when we met, either. She had her own protective shields, always up a micron from her skin, always protecting her from everything, even me. The Anipos knew more about her than what they let me investigate, and she was thick with their battle-bots."


"Suzy Chang found a nice place,  re-discovered sculpture - molding smelted iron by her bare hands, by now, I think - and is alive and well. She has two nice daughters, that  have already started to fly, the same did Linda Fiorentino and Carol Pedersen." - then, Xanthippe added - "The same reasons why no Betan males are allowed outside the planet, no matter the precautions, applies to the kids of infected humans. You will have to remember this."



"Michelle Ouellebeck disappeared, no idea where... she hit the ground running, as they say, hiding from hers and us."

"Irina went back, talked to her chiefs..." - a long pause - "... I think that she is already a collection of samples floating into vats, in some number city in the middle of Siberia. Probably, you are my last lover, on this planet."

"The last?"

"I do not think that Irina's bosses will be able to keep the information for themselves, for any long time. It is just too good not to be sold."

"My superiors... will they know?" 

"You are advised to act as they already know that you are one of the seven-ten most egregious dangers, to their power system, that actually roam this planet. They would be fools, if they didn't try to contain or destroy you, as soon and as swiftly as possible."

Callie started to cry. 

"Unfortunately, now that I 'know' that you are a spy, I cannot justify having you around. I can still help you 'disappear', if so you decide. What to do in these circumstances, has been well analyzed by Adri Rohsvabat, our chief of security."

"Disappear? How?"

"We have routes in place, and new identities prepared. Your government may want you dead - if they are not idiots - but we, the alien invasion forces, would be very glad to see you live a long, happy and lewd life. With plenty of kids."

"Plenty of daughters, you mean."

 "Oh, sons would accelerate things a bit - one of the bacteria is small enough to colonize, and power-up, spermatozoa.  Not to make them as powerful as the Kryptonian's of the legend, but still enough to run for hundred of miles before the 'zoa cell dies, and to impregnate every egg cell they may happen to sense" -  Xeyos tone was almost whimsical - "thousands of undesired pregnancies, most but not all resulting in abortions and the death of the mothers, in a radius of  three or four hundred miles. This, each time the kid had a night pollution."

Callie tried to visualize this... failing.

"And those of the unwanted kids that manage to be born... it takes more than one type of mitochondria, to make a functional cell, and more than one type of Betan bacteria, to make a functional mitochondrial replacement.  There is no way to know what would they be. Superhuman, subhuman, un-human? Nobody has any idea, really. This is why, all the others decided to abort, when the child was a male. It would be too much responsibility, to put upon a child."

"Sigh - this, didn't happen, on Beta. The bacteria were everywhere and exchanged particles with information, like all bacteria on worlds of the first wave do. The colony was relatively small, just a dozen millions bodies living in a concentrated area.When the bacteria learned how to colonize the human body, it was over in a matter of weeks."


"I don't think that I'll have children. Not after this." - Callie was crying, and she was sincere, too.

"Why not? They are going to be healthy, good looking as their mother... strong as their mother - in a couple of years, you'll know what I mean - and they will fly. Why not have daughters like that? The future will be their. Only, it will be a future that will have scarce need for states, countries, armies, or chiefs of any kind."


A buzzing sound interrupted them, as Callie's phone sprang to life. It was Callie's handler, with a message that felt both cryptic and urgent.

Her heart sank... her bosses knew, she thought. Had they knew, when they sent her in? Probably, not her chief, but someone above him, surely.

Three weeks later,  Renee Furler met Xanthippe Xeyos at a No theater representation organized by the active (however reduced from its heyday, it still had not decayed as much as the motherland's administration) Japanese consulate of New York. 

The athletic blonde, sporting a surfer tan gained on Australia's best beaches, accepted gladly the fascinating alien's proposals, and they ended the evening drinking in front of Xanthippe's flat warm fireplace. 

Some days after, Renee joined the selected ranks of those that had awakened in the voluptuous satin of Xanthippe's sheets, after a terrifyingly - and satisfactorily - sexual week-end. 

It would take some more years, before the last of Earth's authorities finally understood that Xanthippe's loves were, all of them, deliberate ruses in a social-biological warfare that they hardly understood.



Monday, 16 May 2016

Aftermaths

Lidia Donaldson entered the kitchen of the safe house. Safe flat, really, in an average neighborhood in Queens.

She and her daughter had to move out of their "America's Best Quality Inn", after whatever happened last week.

The place was full of feds, and they had all those questions about the girl in the lift. She was some kind of crazy drugs runner?  Awfully nice for a thug... they placed her and Molly under surveillance' so, now, they are cooped inside a rundown flat, together with a "protection detail" - three agents that take turns, to ensure their security.

They take turns, THEY - she and Molly have no such luck.  They had to stay closed there, all the time.

- "Isn't life wonderful?" 

The TV was going on, in the sitting room - the kid agent, what's her name? McAllister. She was so uptight, usually... - "So, you are finally believing me? We have no ideas who that girl was or what was she doing - this whole mess is useless. Can't we just go home, and go on about our life?"

"I agree, it was useless" - this voice was new, and it startled Linda. If the feds had brought in a new member into their protection detail, they'd have presented her. It wasn't cold, or angry, rather... whimsical? Bemused-

McAllister is on the sofa, alright, but she is out cold.

At her side, a diminutive blonde glances at Linda, with clear gray eyes just one shade of blue short of really being white. Linda turns to run away and start to scream.

She never managed to reach the door of Molly's room.

Lousy feds...

When Linda wakes up, she is naked, on a small medical bed in a white room. No sign of Molly. Maybe the blonde bitch didn't take her... sure it was hard enough to carry her body away, under the Feds nose.

Maybe... she could have accomplices, she could have entered the flat after having stun the others. Nothing was sure... but Lidia's heart wanted desperately to believe that her daughter wasn't here. That she was safe.

"I know that you are awake" - The blonde bitch's voice, again... Linda sits on the bed, and looks around herself better.

 The room is white, it is difficult to see how big it is... the trick photographers use to hide the limits of the studios, carefully homogeneous lights and curtains to hide the angles, all smoothed out - Linda remembered it from her stint as model, when she was in college.

Too ethnic and short for a serious career, but a lot of bikini shots - when she had high hopes and great illusions.These guys must have done the same... tried to give the illusion that this place was a white, infinite space.

No shadows - the light seems o come from every direction. If they built this to impress their preys - they succeeded. It was extremely upsetting.

Lidia's trying to calm herself, while the most horrible stories, urban legends mostly, that she has ever heard chase each other inside her head. Some crazy cult? Organ traffickers? People that sells women to rich foreigners? - this thought stabs Lidia at the heart as, if she is right and this is their purpose, no way that they would have left Molly out.

There is a chair, in front to the desk where the white bitch sits, reading a short book. The woman doesn't care about Lidia's nudity, no more than she cares for the rage that her body language increasingly show. Lidia picks the chair, and tries to smash it on the bitch's head.

"Nice heart, mommy" - when the hell did she moved - "but, I can't let someone resort to violence, here".
The blonde is behind her, and has taken away the chair, prying it from Lidia's hands, like it was some dangerous toy. Her speed, her strength... Lidia wasn't sure, she was no athlete, never did martial arts or anything, but this.

This did not look human - fright, Lidia feels fright, all of a sudden. Her fury has disappeared... if this is how her captors are, getting angry will accomplish nothing.

"Molly, where is Molly?" - will the bitch tell her the truth? Lidia must know.

"In another room" - the blonde looks around looking, for a small fraction of second, not as the tough as steel thug that she must necessarily be. Disconcerted, upset, worried... frightened? Why someone like that should be frightened, looking around in her own den?

Lidia set the discomforting thought aside.

"She is in another room like this" - the blonde bitch continues - "waiting to to be examined."


"Examined?" - (Oh my Fucking God ) -"What kind of exams?"

"To see if if she is useful" - the pale criminal seems uneasy, again, - "like you".

Lidia's feels like she is falling - organ traffickers! They exist, for real!

"And if she is not useful?"

"She will be discarded" - the monster grins, cold and distant, again. Lidia jumps oon the other woman, hoping to overpower her - and then? Her mind doesn't reach so long - but she fails, again. This

time, her captor knocks her out.

When she wakes up again, Lidia is already crying. The place is... odd.

Looks like an hospital, but everything feels off. A bit, not very much, but... off. Whoever they are, these guys take scenography seriously.

Another woman is waiting for her to come awake. This is a smallish, very androgynous brunette, with a perplexed expression.

"Please, beware - your body has not recuperated its full strength".

"So, have you decided that we are useful?"

"That woman, that  place, are twelve hundred and six years away from here. You have slept for a long, long time, and traveled a great distance, to be here."

"What?"

"My name is Vikar Kribsly, I am a nurse, and I am charged with helping you int these first hours. You are a very honorable guest of the second Gubernist Theocracy. Feel free to ask, I will answer as best I can."

This made no sense... "Gubernist Theocracy?" - theocracy? those were places like Iran, Siria, some of the many 'stan... but this place looked remarkably modern.

"Where, were are we?" - without giving time to the woman to answer - "where is my daughter?"

"Your daughter is alive, and well. She is coming here... we encountered some problems, reviving you. I fear that you will discover her somewhat grown up."

P-Problems? Reviving? - "Oh, my God, those maniacs froze us? Something like that? To ship us out of the country?"

"In a manner of speaking. You were 'engrammed',  around twelve hundred years ago."

Lidia's front tickles, as she feels its muscles compose her "I am hugely pissed off" frown... the nurse's words keep making no sense, for her. If this woman was a nurse... could as well be some crazy sci-fi cult.

"Mom?, Mom?" - it's the voice of Molly - somewhat changed for wear, maybe.

"I am here, love. I am her..."

She is  Molly, alright... the cheeks are unmistakable. But she look grown up. Some eight years more grown up than in her  memory... Molly is a young woman, almost the size of her mother, now.

"Oh, Molly" - where the hell is my girl? This can't be her - bbut she is - but she can't.

Molly sees her mother confusion, and talks with the nurse "can we go out?"

"I wouldn't advise it, at least not before she has grown used to normal Sun light"

"Yeah, right" - why that face? Like there was something inherently unpleasant, in Sun's light  - Molly adored outdoors activities.

"How much time, before we can go for a walk?" - "The program is already running... in a couple of hours, the light will have normalized to a normal sun day".

Lidia could have sworn that light had grown dimmer and more red, instead. Like some old bulb receiving less current.

Two hours later, she was finally allowed outside... and she finally understood everything.

The Sun light was dimmer, and red. Much redder than even the sun at dusk.

Molly passed her a couple of goggles, some kind of light amplifiers that turned the image  brighters and green.

"They saw that we "expatriates" get really nervous, with the red light, so they cooked up these things."

"What, what has happened to the Sun?"

"To this Sun? Nothing, it has always been like this"

"This? THIS Sun?" - no way - "Molly, what are you saying?"

"Mom, welcome to Earth, first planet from the Sun - or, rather, using the name that we gave it on our Earth, welcome to Transsia, first planet of the Barnard Star. Our new home."

Lidia remained speechless... could it be true? No way, no way. But what other explications were there?

"Interstellar travel?" - Lidia wasn't much into science, or fiction,  but she knew it was impossible... at least, impossible in a human's lifetime. Hibernation, that was the answer!

"So, they really froze us! And sent into space! - she opened the mouth again, but no words came out. She was speechless...

"It makes no sense... what about the drug dealers? the Thugs? It's been the government? Some crazy  cospiration?"

"Mom..."

" I need to sit down for a second" - on a bench, in the park... she lowers her goggles, and then immediately regrets it.

The red, glumly light surely doesn't help at all, and the trees look positively black ( "the local plants use iron, instead of copper, to absorb energy from the sunlight... in reality, every one of them is bright red, dark red, brown red... with so few visible light, the local flora never created flowers as we know them. It is a world in red and black, really" - a few days later, Andrew, one of the other "expatriates" would explain her this, while teaching her some of  the  mysteries of the local cuisine) - decidedly, not a sight you want under your eyes, while having a panic attack.

"Mom, it was no government - nobody know who"The Sender" was, or even "what" the sender was"

"Oh, come on? Some crazy billionaire sent us? Really?"

"And, we were not frozen, mom"

"But, we are here, and what was saying that nurse?  Twelve hundred and six years?"

"That's a guess made by their experts, evaluating the ship's propulsion system and other stuff... about 1200 years of travels, to cover the six light-years of distance form Earth to here. The expression caught on... I think they like it as a joke" - a pause - "a joke on us."

"I hope they find it funny, because I don't think it really is".

"No, mom, it is not funny."

"Oh, well, we are alive - that's the important. I thought that they were going to cut us to pieces, and sell them on the market . That, or something  something else".

"They did cut us to pieces" - Molly's expression goes way, way bleaker than jsut a moment before- "though, I do not know if they sold those pieces on the market".

"What do you mean? We are here."

"Mom, hibernation... can't really cut through thousands of years in space. Even with massive . and I mean massive - radiation shielding, you'd end up absorbing so much molecular damage that, the moment you gets revived, almost all of your cells breaks down , or go cancerous, or go cancerouses and break down, or worse"

"Worse? There is worse"

"Yes, maybe... "

"The sender didn't rely on hibernation, not really"

"What? How?"

"Mom, we are... copies" - "the original me, and you, disappeared twelve hundred years ago"

"What wen into space were copies of our minds, in self adjusting, redundant solid state memories."

"No"

"Our minds, and of our DNA... almost all solid state data, plus some  molecular data that was continually verified and corrected"

"No"

"But, I  am me, mom. I am Molly, you are still my mom. Everything is going to be all right."

"No, no, no, I am alive, I  am... I am not a zombie".

"Yes, you are mom. We are"

A long silence crept between them, while Lidia tried to absorb all the novelties "So, we are... ghosts?"

"In a way, it is one of the problems with the locals"

"There are problems with the locals? really?"

"We are invading zombies from outer space, after all" - the joke makes both women laugh.

"No, mom, really... we are invading zombies from outer space. From a system they are at war with, too"

"Eh? War? But, if travel "

"Mom, these people... they are religious. Really, really religious... they are trying to reverse-engineer the tricks of the ship that brought us here. Its computers are - if I must believe them - amazing, which is the reason why they are popping us out. They'd have gladly destroyed all the data and got ridden of the nuisance, but they want the "en-gramming" tricks for themselves, so they can launch a crusade - I kid you not - a crusade against a bunch of preachers on our planet."

"What?"

"Yes, FTL travel is almost impossible, only one civilization has managed to pull it in this arm of the Galaxy, but FTL data transfer is much simpler. The problem is, using it as religious propaganda tool is a big no-no... almost all "Earths" in a radius of a thousand light years have agreed to put a lid on it. All, but this..."

"... and ours."

Friday, 13 May 2016

NCIS

I like NCIS - I know, it really means that I am old.

NCIS is one of the few shows in which the age of the protagonists is not constrained in a narrow demographic... the charismatic leader is well in his 50s, the M.E. is steadily marching toward mandatory retirement and most of the cast is really in his '40s by now, with the "new blood" represented by the last female addendum to the cast, Bishop, a woman in her late twenties.


At the same time, I think that NCIS is also yet another one in a crop of US shows that the State Department should, really, ask producers NOT to export in foreign countries.

Of course, not that it would mean much, in this Internet-laden era, but the case for avoiding show the rest of the planet how little does the American public think about international laws - and some of their country's staunchest allies, for that matter - should be compelling.

Even if itt is - and by far - not the worst offender, NCIS doesn't really help convince the rest of the world that the U.S.A. are not the biggest bully on the planet today.

Of course, it can be argued that the show is just a bit more realistic than what a guy like me would like: the U.S.A. ARE the greatest power acting on the international scene today, as much as they were at the height of George H. W. Bush presidency, and they use their weight in plenty of "unjust" ways.

Obama is better at public relationships than his predecessor, but the USA still have an illegal prison, concealed from the wrath of constitutional jurists by a couple of fig leaves that doesn't really convince anybody. The country is still engaged in military operations without explicit authorization from the congress, it is all  but certain that nobody is ever going to be charged for the systematic use of torture in interrogations that have stained its reputation, American forces continue to make their presence felt all around the world, Afghanistan is still a mess etc.

Now, this obviously does not surprise - at all - political official of anywhere else... for most of them, the relationships between countries are still, at best, accords between highwaymen, with brutality often ill concealed, just below the surface. 
 
On the other side, most "common people" is not necessarily affected by this kind of perceptual aberration... if you do not keep reminding them this kind of issues, they'd gladly go back at envying the USA and its inhabitants and see it as the land of freedom.

 If you do not remind them too much, for example, that  USA intelligence agencies tend to valuate as nil the life of foreigners that have the misfortune of crossing their path.

Ever after 2001, a lot of modern American shows tend to portray the US as an overpowering, and ever-so-slightly arrogant superpower that does whatever the hell it wants, regardless of violating international law, foreign air spaces or the civil rights of the occasional miscreant.

All in order to safeguard the inhabitants of the USA, of course - maybe.

A pity that a lot of other persons live in other countries, and that some of these countries have legitimate interests that go in opposition to some USA goals... in which case, some "American Hero" should arrive and solve the problem, say, organizing the next military dictatorship.

Or organizing a nice clean "extralegal rendition" - or something.

As I said, NCIS is not the worse offender... it is more realistic than many of its brethren, as it does not hand-wave so much that, for an US Military plane to pass over some countries (any country, reall, unless there are already accords in place), it is better to log a formal request to that country's authorities, that even in countries with formal treaties with the U.S., extradition requests may be contested on the base that the crime upon which the request was issued is not a crime in that country, and a host of other, similar details.

It is not a Michael Bair movie, with the heroic American flying gunships mowing down anything that moves in a desert oasis, without even spending a second showing thay someonein the command chain has to stop to consider the wider political implications of such an action.

Yet, it sways out of realism, describing the military personnel that is, so often, protagonist of their story.

Of a female pilot of assault airplanes, "she saved hundreds of innocent people" bombing a taliban camp.

The same is said of a navy jock turned UAV driver for the USAF.

Now, don't get me wrong - most soldiers hardly ever have to kill anyone, and some even manage to spend most of their time in the army making the kind of constructive contributions that even a most intransigent pacifist would be proud of - drilling water wells, shoring up damaged dams - that kind of things.

However, these are a very damn few lucky ones.

A lot of other soldiers are faced with less palatable options - firing like crazy trying to get out of an ambush, sorry for the little girl that gets the bullet in her eye;  having to apply rules of engagement in environment so ambiguous that "fire before ask" is just being moderately cautious, and maybe even go crazy.

In the end, a fair number of soldiers - in every action theater ever existed - always end up with the shorter stick, having to do the kind of crap that nobody would ever wan to remember in any moment of the rest of their life.

Some of them will kill some innocent bystander - out of tactical errors, political expediency, mind-blowing terror or any combination thereof,, often not even on their part.

The US government never ratified the Hague international tribunal for war crimes - this because, no matter how they paint things when under trial is some of their political adversaries, War is just - really - "shit that happens so fast and crappily that you have no idea".

It would be nice that these fundamental details of the USA experience, in occupying what used to be the greatest civilization on Earth, managed to reach the public of the most seen drama in USA.Just to show the rest of the world that a glimpse of objectivity do permeate USA's "popular culture".

Of course it is not going to happen - HBO may green-lit a show like Generation Kill (in the end just a bunch of actors going crazy in New Mexico), but NCIS gives the vibe of depending quite a bit more from the logistic support of the US military... 

Lockheed C-130s do not grow on trees, no? And, if the producers want access to that kind of support, they must lay nice, have a liaison officer vet their scripts, and smile and dance to military tunes.


Which contribute to the latent, powerful pro-army propaganda that flush almost every aspect of current USA entertainment. 







Thursday, 5 May 2016

Photo References




A classic photo-based work of mines, some six hours... A drawing "from scratch": four hours.




Nowadays my works are based, mostly, around a photo.

However,the  truth is... I am a bit faster drawing on my own.  Not much, but a bit.  It takes me a quarter of an hour to whip up a sketch with four characters, it takes me some twenty minutes to find a photo I want to "mod". With one character. If I have to use two or three characters... the photos really becomes just a limit, as I have to redraw the characters anyway, in order to get them to interact believably.

So, to spare time is not really the reason why I use so much photos. I have a couple of other reasons.

The first is that, if I go on  for a while without "checking in" with reality, I tend to use a style that is not very realistic but, rather, quite cartoonish.

It doesn't come as a surprise - cartoons were my first love, and I still love them dearly.

There is nothing wrong with it, really... just, realism goes out of the window, which places those works well inside the realm of fantasy.

Now, most often than not, it is not really my purpose to draw out my fantasies as such - as fantasies, that is.

Often, when I draw, what I want do is to illustrate, as credibly as I can,  a possible alternate reality. 

This because it is evident - to me, of course; may not be the same to you - that most of what we call reality, most of what we accept for granted is just, really, a collection of social constructs.

Other societies, in the past, created different values than the ones that we currently believe in.

Even our society has changed its values notably, in just the span of our lives - which doesn't really make it that much more enjoyable for the likes of me, of course.

So, when I draw, I often like to hint at some other ways things could go - not really any better than what we know, just... different.

Maybe, a little more "honest" world... plenty of our rules and laws are just the by-product of the current balance of forces, in our society, and have not much to do with any "objective" justice.

And not so rarely, the values are also pretty arbitrary, if observed with even a modicum of "scientific spirit"... what is the difference between liver-destructing alcohol and Marijuana, for example? Why one is still a mainstay of our culture, the second a proscribed product with an almost illegal market?

Not that something like any "objective" moral value actually exists, or have ever existed in any society...

In this, I am rather with Ken McLeod.Right or wrong... it is all just balance of social forces struggling against each other and economic necessities, where "economy" must be taken in a broader sense.

A different world, one even almost unrecognizable from the one we live in, is always possible. And such worlds are what I, really, like to draw.

Worlds were I, hopefully, could feel less hopelessly oppressed than in the one we live in.

- I do not care that this is the better of the worlds we have seen so far, that every other society our species has generated was almost inevitably harsher, more classist and unjust, less forgiving... fucking worse. I still feel oppressed by the shitload of crap that it does charge on almost everybody that lives. Better than anything till now, doesn't mean that it is not, still, a gigantic bag of crap. It could be worse, and it seems all intent growing into something that will be much worse, a much needed (if you believe the assholes that writes on Forbes) return to the moral  values of middle XIX century cut-throat capitalism... shittier than shit -


I am not so interested in providing more sexually tinted fucking escapism, so that some more dumb fucks like me can lower their head, eat their daily dish of merde and keep soldiering on, till they are finally allowed to die.

I prefer to hint that thing could be different... nothing less than this  cuts it, for me. 

To do so, the more realism, the better... for which, photo-based works are better.

Even when, to render justice to the original material, it takes me a lot more time in the "inking" phase than what would be needed for simply wrapping up a sketch and go with the flow.