Heartfelt Lyrics

Today’s The Write Practice has us playing the part of musician, with a little help from Carl Dylan. Check some of his sage advice on the subject of wrangling the muse. It’s invaluable, and can be applied to writers of all stripes. (I can never get enough of Thomas Jefferson quotes)

Besides, who hasn’t wanted to be like Paul McCartney or Elton John and pump out a moving ballad about love?

The actual writing practice of The Write Practice is to spend 15 minutes slaving over four lines of music. You’d actually be surprised at how much time can be invested in something so ‘simple’.

Here’s what I came up with.

Sorrow’s well reflects her eyes
Static time crackles on; (all we’ve ever known)
This loneliness pokes and pries
Yet I’d wait forever; (locked with you in stone)

Ah, long distance relationships.

I also want to thank my own special someone, without whose patience and complete love, I literally couldn’t survive. Two years isn’t enough. This is just the beginning.

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The Next Big Thing

With National-Novel-Writing-Month drawing to a close, many writers have their attention locked securely on current projects. Those masochistic enough to succeed with their 50,000 have my sincerest — congratulations. I’m very proud of you guys. Witnessing your progress over the month has been more than a little inspiring. You all deserve a round in celebration: alcohol or applause, your choice.

I found this the perfect time to strike out with my own round of The Next Big Thing. I’d love to learn a little more about what you guys have in store for the future. This is, after all, when things start getting interesting. Edits upon edits, peer reviews. Shining stories are hammered out of the laborious molds you’ve crafted in November.

What better time than the present?

I wasn’t brave enough to undertake the rigors of Na-No-Wri-Mo this year; but in true writerly style, I’ve got my own ongoing project knocking around. I need to put something up here in order to get the ball rolling after all.

So lets see what we’ve got.

1.)    What is the working title of your next book/short story/project?

Yoan ex Novo.

2.)    Where did the idea come from for the book?

Sparks of inspiration trace back well into my childhood. I could try to pin it down to some philosophical fascination I have with the unknowable and the fathomless depths of time… but it’s more likely that I’ve always had a thing for monsters. I always found myself identifying with the stop-motion beasts or poorly hidden men in furry suits. They were my protagonists. They captured my imagination. The original germ of the idea arose a long time ago. I’d always wondered how different things might be if beings like them were running the show.

3.)    What genre does your book fall under?

Solid Science Fiction, if you wanted to paint with heavy brushstrokes. Probably Anthropological SF if you wanted detail.

4.)    What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

What was that I said about guys in suits earlier? I would probably have a seizure if an effects company like Jim Henson Studio or Stan Winston Studio to tackle some creatures portrayed in the story. Though knowing how far motion capture has come, I’d absolutely love if Andy Serkis were involved in any kind of iteration. Gotta have your pipe dreams, you know?

5.)    Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve always imagined Yoan being picked up by an agent, but as I am currently amid the throng of the unpublished, it shall remain in the aforementioned pipe dream category. I do have goals for future self-publishing schemes as well.

6.)    What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A human consciousness from the 21st century is cloned by the next dominant species of a future earth. Bonus sentence: shenanigans ensue.

7.)    How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

How can I answer this without sounding more like an amateur? I can’t? Oh. Well – I’ll tell you when it’s finished.

8.)    What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Yoan ex Novo would draw its strongest parallel with Jurassic Park. I’d go as far as to say that it’s a parabolic retelling. The ‘once rulers’ of the planet find themselves miraculously resurrected only to butt heads with the new head honchos; though it isn’t meant to be a Crichtonian cautionary tale about scientific hubris. Yoan aims to ask more questions than it answers. Who has the intrinsic ‘right to exist’ in a situation like that, etc?

I’d also compare it to William Golding’s The Inheritors, as it chiefly features a nonhuman intelligence and its means of coping with a very human threat.

9.)    Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Once again, I can’t really narrow it down to a singular cause. Not one person in particular inspired me to buckle down and pull my head out of the clouds. There’s an amalgam of motivation, from my love of sweeping Attenborough documentaries to deeply paranoid Science Fiction about the human condition. Ultimately, it’s a story that I’ve kept bottled up for so long, I feel a bit guilty keeping it out of the sunlight.

 

10.)     What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s an adventurous coming of age story about a single person who becomes the focal point that decides the fate of two terrestrial alien cultures. It’s got giant talking neo-monkeys and imprinting corvids that could ace an IQ test. There’s love, genocide, extinction and climate change – long-spanning and epic travails seen through a modern day lens.

I’ll nominate a couple very talented writers to take it from here. Chris J. Randolph, Jeff Ellis, and Scott Zachary (whose teasers for a post-apocalyptic thriller look plain awesome). These are three guys we all need to read a lot more of.

Keep writing everyone. Never stop creating.

Outward Reviews: All Yesterdays

You know that kid who screamed out the scientific names of dinosaurs he saw during a movie trailer? That kid whom everyone smirked at and whose parents and sibling leaned away from a little too casually? That little guy was me. So with that knowledge, I give you my first book review —

If anything, we dinosaur fans are gluttons for punishment. It’s not like we have anything better to do than slog through the latest iteration of Cretaceous Battle Royal for the umpteenth time. For us, it’s just another day at the office. We really don’t have much of a choice. Hollywood movie monsters garner attention and sadly, that’s about all the seriousness popular media wishes to bestow on the subject of ancient reptiles.

Well known creatures in ways you’ve never seen them: par for the course with All Yesterdays. A plesiosaur uses a camouflage hunting strategy here.

It’s a precipitous and very slippery slope. You’re pretty much guaranteed schlock, even from heavy hitters like the Discovery Channel and the BBC.

Yet we come running every time. It’s like an abusive relationship. It’s the only show in town. We’ll put up with nearly any amount of punishment to get our fix of X-treme archosaurs, shot through the corneas to a soundtrack of overdone roars and bellows.

With stereotypes and clichés so ubiquitous, us paleo-buffs have had to produce some pretty thick skins over the years. I myself have become jaded; bracing for the parade of Mesozoic tropes I know are in store. I’ve got my checklist, derisive snorts at the ready.

How many of us have gathered around our TV’s to chuck popcorn and soda cans at every single tired and over-the-top “seen-it-a-million-times” moments? Rolled our eyes at the scientific inaccuracies *where are the goddamn feathers?!* and taken too much joy in pointing out facts nobody cares about?

Almost any recreation will focus on the Hollywood aspect of the animals. Predators bellow victoriously over fallen enemies every other second. Herbivores are nothing but glorified redshirts, glancing around fearfully before the clawed hammer falls in the next scene. It gets to be a bit much.

Animals do strange things seemingly outside their bodily adaptations, hence Protoceratops forage in a tree to get some tasty morsels.

So when such a cool, tall glass of sanity broaches the genre; I sit up and take notice.

All Yesterdays is the first book to confront these overblown notions and call it out for the nonsense that it is. That’s what stood out to me immediately upon reading it. The level-headed assuredness with which it builds a case for what a younger, Mesozoic earth might actually have been like without all the flashing neon. There is a boldness to openly and beautifully speculate within this book. Couple this with a sound scientific foundation for each and every idea and you have yourself a rare cocktail indeed.

It’s a marvel. It’s addicting. And might I reiterate again: It’s so damn refreshing.

But I need to backtrack from here:

All Yesterdays is the brainchild of several well-known names in the field of paleontology and paleontological artistry. Paleozoologist Darren Naish, known for other dinosaur publications such as Walking with Dinosaurs: The Evidence as well as his unbeatable blog Tetrapod Zoology; and artists John Conway and C.M. Kosemen combine their talents and ideas with inspired success.  All Yesterdays is a book that does more than celebrate paleoart. It joyfully turns the subject on its head and forces the reader to look at it from a new perspective.

Some of my most memorable sections were the quiet moments. Several entries juxtapose the incessant carnage seen elsewhere with the doldrums we almost never hear about. A lethargic tyrannosaur, sleeping off its latest kill. Allosaurus and Camptosaurus (mortal enemies in any other light) exchanging an unobtrusive glance at a watering hole. The best was a Tenontosaurus simply walking through its wooded habitat with nary a sickle-claw in sight.

How much of the “external bits” would cover up that familiar dinosaurian outline? If this ain’t too weird for you, you can handle the rest. Think of fluffy Antarctic dinos as the whack-a-zoo bar for entrance.

What All Yesterdays does exceptionally well is the speculation. Obviously my favorite. The authors lead you into each piece of art confidently. They lay out the thought process behind each one, comparing behaviors based firmly in reality, but at the same time making it clear that any such proofs would be impossible to confirm without a time machine at hand. In a way, I found it exciting to finally think of these ancient creatures as animals again.

Knowing that there’s plenty of boisterous mating displays, mud-rolling, unanticipated climbing, and chronic sleeping mixed in with all that unrestrained killing really levels the playing field. What is usually so one-sided becomes illuminated. Its horizon made colorful.

All Yesterdays doesn’t impose to preach about “What it was really like”. It simply gives you the tools and insight to realize that there are many facets of the past that we’ll never know. Brilliant, stunning things that are forever lost in time.

In the end, this is All Yesterdays’ achievement. It’s its sheer power to change your perception using pretty (and at the same time deeply thought out) pictures of awesome dinosaurs.

In the latter half of the book, All Yesterdays even turns a mirror onto itself. It projects a future where the next intelligence of earth discovers long extinct ‘currently extant’ species. It postulates what sorts of reconstructions these beings might produce: a cat, a hummingbird, a baboon etc. (Human killer/parasite/venomous predator, respectively) This is the most tongue-in-cheek segment of the book**, highlighting the kinds of mistakes modern scientists and artists make when visualizing extinct creatures.

It’s expertly done, eye-opening, and I loved every minute of it.

**I adored how everything was tainted towards the vicious and merciless. Baleen whales and elephants became the stuff of nightmares. Also, hippo based on the skull: Just back away slowly and hope it didn’t see you.

For those of you in desperate need of a reprieve from DinosaurusX style programming, you should jump at this chance. As a fellow dino-nazi, I can’t recommend this book any higher. The artwork is stunning. The ideas are fresh and thoroughly backed up, leaving your head spinning with the sheer ingenuity involved.

Even familiar faces aren’t safe. Here, Triceratops sees a facelift thanks to recent quill-nob discoveries way down its ancestral line.

There are lessons here that should absolutely be taken to heart.

If only more would.

Oh, and snag a printed version. A kindle’s black-and-white just doesn’t do it justice.

UPDATE: I’ve just been informed by one of the ‘high ups’ (holy crap actual feedback!) that most of you lovely people will get to see the artwork generously colored. Smartphones, tablets and computers are the way to go. Don’t let my Black and White Kindle shriveled heart dissuade you. Now there is literally no reason for you not to get this book.

So off with you! Go find Majungasaurus.

Antediluvian: Words on Wednesdays

A piece of flash fiction inspired by the good folks at The Write Practice and their word of the week format. Constraints were to include a President and a storm. The times we live in, eh?

Also! Congrats Obama.

Antediluvian

adjec­tive:

  •  of or relat­ing to the period before the flood described in the Bible
  • made, evolved, or devel­oped a long time ago
  • extremely prim­i­tive or outmoded

The hibernating ship Anomalocaris began to stir after a universe long slumber. Ageless subroutines booted to life on a solar scale. In the time it took a nearby star to first luminesce under thermonuclear fusion, Anomalocaris’ antediluvian systems managed to become self-sufficient.

Life signs spiked deep within the rousing vessel. A president awoke to raucous clamoring that permeated from outside the hull. He ran a diagnostic and learned that a system was ejecting far too much radiation to conform with known stellar parameters. This universe could not be so different; he was awake after all.

Sensors reached out into the storm, relying on outmoded detection algorithms. Equally antediluvian methods filtered data effectively, yet slowly. Feedback reported in an instant. The president’s display banished pools of darkness from his face with a shock of plasma. His irises contracted in the light.

Anomalocaris’ armor plating, usually relegated to protection against eroding timespans, was under direct attack. Bombardment rocked her as she woke. Had been pummeling while she slept. He checked: For millennia. A static appraisal revealed that there was indeed an intelligent cause. Radio bands were chockfull of chatter. Alien sounds.

“Kids these days,” the president said. His voice was a rasp. He’d wake his constituents. It was time to go to war.

The End of the World has a Commentary

The end of 2012 appears to be angling towards batshit insane after all. It might not be on par with a Mayan foretold apocalypse, but between the east coast of America getting pummeled by a hurricane and news of talking animals coming to light, even hardboiled skeptics like me are beginning to take notice.

Belugas may have to trade in their old monikers of “canaries of the sea” to something a bit more appropriate. Is your money on parrots or mockingbirds?

In all seriousness, learning about several “high-profile*” animals taking to spontaneous mimicry is all that’s keeping me going. It’s good to know that when climate change eventually kills us off, parrots won’t be the only animals to carry on our linguistic legacy.

First up, we have a beluga whale who needed a little personal space. NOC (named after nasty little insects “no-see-ums”) apparently uttered a phrase from every ghost story you’ve ever heard. “Get out.”

When he was nine years old, NOC began to emit calls many octaves lower than cetacean norm. The haunting, garbled sounds appeared very similar to human frequency speech. Such spontaneity is a first. As you can imagine, dolphins have been taught to mimic human language (along the lines of teaching the apes to sign), but this could be the one of the first instances of a beluga whale taking it upon itself to mock exemplify hominid sounds.

Sure, it’s amazing to hear a whale babble incoherently, but it gets better. Or creepier. Or maybe just closer to home.

Next: A male Asian elephant called Koshik was recorded ‘actually speaking Korean words’. Though his vocabulary is limited, Koshik can clearly be understood by other Korean speakers. It turns out that in the formative years of calf-hood, the elephant was only exposed to humans and human interaction. He was taught several simple commands (which I strongly suspect influenced his lopsidedly “commandy” current vocabulary. “Sit down” and “lie down” make up one third of the words he uses.)

Koshik reproducing the devilry that is human speech. He uses his trunk for the tough bits; namely all of it.

Elephants are consummate mimickers. They sometimes emulate lyre birds and imitate manmade sounds such as car engines. That doesn’t make it any less creepy when you learn that Koshik reproduces his trainers down to their individual voices.

None of this comes natural to these animals by any means. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances that has led to their impersonations. Creating such sounds is obviously well outside what their bodies can produce naturally. A massive elephantine throat and the pitched nasal calls of belugas are hardly suited for the job. Both of the animals have to physically modify their ‘vocal apparatus’ to get the job done.

Koshik substitutes his trunk for mobile human lips. And it works startlingly well. He’s able to reproduce tone and enunciation to a degree that is unreal.

NOC had to increase the pressure in his nasal cavity to get it right. He over-inflated a few key elements of his anatomy (which doesn’t sound comfortable by any means) to reduce the pitch of his regular, screeched calls.

There’s a long distance between imitations and actual full-fledged language, of course. It’s a stretch between “Polly want a cracker” and “Hey, want me to drop by the local market for some chips?” But the implications are there. I thrive on implications.

Earth is changing around us. Storms are gettin’ bad and I’m ready to head for the hills when the coastline decides a change of scenery would be in order. Our perception of animal intelligence has also changed much over the last few decades. There’s simply a lot more to them than we once thought.

There’s still so much to learn. I hope we can stick around for the coming golden age in animal communication. Hell. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be part of the creation myth of the future elephant civilization?

*By “high-profile” I of course mean; candidates for sentient intelligence, or; our replacements.

Bow To Your New Overlords: Cats

It seems I’ve got felines on the brain lately, what with the recent passing of a lifelong pet that stretched away into the annals of my childhood. I’ve been coping pretty well, I’d wager; and was even faced with something you might call heartwarming very recently– But more on that later. For now it seems like I’ve got some more healing to do. What are blogs for but to be used as the tools for writer-ly expression? Or just plain venting.

It’s time to focus on a new series that I pulled out of thin air. In Overlords, we’ll focus our speculative powers on what species might take the mantle of world dominators from us. When we pass the buck, who will be there to scoop up the pieces? It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but I’m sure that’s just a defense mechanism for all the hypothetical drivel I purvey.

“On your knees!” Complements: akreon

First up we have domestic cats, in all their aloof, love-em-or-hate-em glory.

When they inevitably usurp us, what would become of those conniving fuzzballs? Evolution would unquestionably have its way. Ah, evolution: the speculator’s whore. You could branch off into a million-trillion directions. Or you could if you were a mental case like me.  But what does popular culture have to offer on the subject?

Humanoid cats in spec fiction and fantasy are a literal dime a dozen. They clog books and video games so much, you’d think everyone would get sick of the hair-balls. I even covered a game that chronicles an adventure across a whole planet of ‘em, and Outwardbounder is still causing birthing pangs! But as per our mission statement, what might future cats evolve into? We’re talking felis catus here.

The undeniable authority on the subject #Tongue-To-Cheek Alert# can be found in the British television series, Red Dwarf. One of the characters is actually a super evolved descendent of the protagonist’s pet. When Dave Lister is accidentally left in suspended animation for millions of years, his pregnant cat Frankenstein gives birth to a whole race of (suspiciously) humanoid catpeople.

The Cat. Pinnacle of interstellar feline evolution.

An entire culture and religion is sprung up around Lister and his pie-in-the-sky plans to retire to Fiji. The show really tears society a new one and is a marvel to behold. As for Cat, (capital c) he becomes the recipient of all of humanity’s stereotypes about felines. Fashionable, uncaring, cool… he’s got it all. The Cat has maintained the most elaborate, funny, and original origin story for any comedy series that I’ve ever seen. Hell, I might go as far as “any sci fi series, period.”

But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves. How would it all start? What would go down in the first place? Some might argue that they’d need thumbs. Others have presented scenarios where humans personally uplift animals through diabolical technology.

In the bloody and beautiful comic We3, a group of fluffy animals have been engineered into competent killing machines. Things take a turn for the heartfelt when the robotic creatures break free and are hunted down by the military. Naturally, throughout the story, characters remark at how viciously proficient the cat appears to be.

There’s something hauntingly plausible about humanity falling because of its own hubris. Evolution made cats into perfect killing machines. Might humanity push the scale even further? Or would we just end up with this?

I could see something like this eradicating all mankind…

How might our Overlords view us? Would they stamp us out completely with no remorse, or perhaps; would they see something of themselves in us? Strangely enough, this might not be completely speculative. In 1999, scientists at the University of California studied how neurons fired inside cat’s brains. They managed to project the data picked up by their retinas onto screens; effectively revealing what the cats were seeing.

As amazingly cool as eye-cameras and dream recorders would be, the study did manage to pick up a snippet of delicious spec fodder on the side. When it viewed a human face, the cat seemed to interpret it in its own felid-centric way. Check this amazing video and judge for yourself.

And there you have it. Cat Overlords, though maybe not completely terrifying, present a particularly wide array of possibilities to ponder. Be it your typical Man Vs. Kzin laser weaponry genocide-fest, or your slow and calculating tabby on a windowsill, you never can tell just how they’ll pounce and steal the stage from under us. Somehow, you wouldn’t put it past them. It’s something about that cold and distant stare. The purr is just to lull you into a false sense of security.

As George Carlin once put it, you can’t really relate to cats like you can with dogs. Cats don’t have eyebrows. Cats have a bunch of shit sticking out of their head.

Short Fiction: Reciprocal Pilferage

Complements: EMERALD WAKE

Most of the rotating globes of free-floating pudding hadn’t been touched. Flan was always a big hit with the passengers, but they never went for the tapioca. That was fine with Linesman Singer. He’d made a habit of popping up for dinners and brunches at the zero-gee EyeCity lounge, ready to lend the cooking staff a helping hand with dish outs. It was easy work, always coming down to Singer reassuring the odd patron that eggs used in the floating island dessert were indeed free range. Post clean-up was tiresome, so Singer was never turned away. For his trouble, there was access to all the tapioca he could carry.

Usually.

While spooning in several mouthfuls, Singer glanced over at the assistant hoovering up blobs of wayward sweets. The fancy orbits the sous prepared only lasted the initial buffet pass. Rogue crème droplets freewheeled in all directions. The vacuum pack hummed softly, inhaling briskly as the nozzle hunted them down one at a time. He was making his way inexorably towards Singer.

The spherical room was clearing of clientele. A few were dotted here or there, but staff had free lanes of traffic. Singer could see the white clad crewmembers flitting about with platters and trays. Cleaners tidied the area with baker’s racks. Most of them kept away, busy elsewhere.

A loud voice spoke nearby, startling the unusually vigilant Linesman.

“Call me Clark,” said someone familiar.

Singer looked into the vaulted ceiling – situated below him at this perspective – and nearly swore. Mr. Ras was just wrapping up a conversation with a gaudily dressed woman. He floated, looking like a bent mantis. The woman was enjoying his company, thumping his chest in a jovial way before heading off.

He looked his way. Singer’s throat clenched on a bunch of coconut cream. Mr. Ras was his supervisor. Somehow he’d found him.

Singer left the spoon to twirl away as he oriented to meet his approach. Mr. Ras didn’t seem particularly happy, but that was hardly a change. Time to get grilled. Just please… please tell me to finish up here before reporting to my station.

Linesman,” Ras said. “Report.”

Always so formal. Ras never used names, other than relaying orders about an outside party.

“Hey supe,” Singer swallowed. “I mean, sir.”

He’d return the gesture.

“As much as I like to see the… ah, initiative to satisfy the needs of our inside customers, we have a situation.”

So this wasn’t about him being away from his post?

“What’s going on?” Singer raised an eyebrow to feign interest.

“Some alien naturists are outside Catseye’s hull. They’ve been plastered there for dangerously prolonged periods.”

“You mean alien passengers?”

“Obviously. Catseye Star-liners are equal opportunity partners. We do not discriminate on grounds of creed, religion, origin or genus. ‘Bilateral symmetry or naught, we’ll see you to your destination and back.’”

“Oh, right. Obviously.”

Ras lifted a hand to brush a knot of food away from one ear.

“We need to get them moving again. It’s everyone’s duty to perform adequate safety regulations per individual alien-entity norms. We can’t endanger life through inaction, even when deemed culturally unsound by corresponding species.”

“That serious, huh?”

“These barnacles have been in string-shadow for the past 17 hours. That’s pushing well into tolerance thresholds.”

Jesus. This guy doesn’t even need to use a handheld Portois to sound like a jerk. It’s like he actually cares to remember this jargon! Impressive.

“We’re nearing the point in-voyage that the window will completely close on their outside excursions. Thanks to inverse-square law, they can’t ‘rough it’ this far into interstellar space. We’re sailing too far from Sol’s rays to keep them adequately engaged and energy-filtrating.”

Singer nearly scoffed.

“What are they, plants?” Crap. He’d said that aloud.

“Life forms of all types: animal, vegetable, mineral and variational-hybrids thereof are completely acceptable.”

“Okay, right. So – beam them a frequency. Tell them to get back inside.”

“This species is no-comm.”

“What?”

“They do not interact in the same frequencies as vocalizers.”

“So shoot a firework. Something.”

“These barnacles respond to proximity and intent. We need to send an able-bodied crewman for a vicinity conference.”

It felt as if Singer’s feet fell away from him, or would have if he wasn’t floating to begin with. The gruel in the pit of his stomach suddenly turned to ice.

“You aren’t saying – I can’t go out there!”

“It’s mandatory, Linesman. You have to step up to regulations.”

“I’m not even certified for spacewalks!”

“You will use a Bathy Tube. All highly automated.”

“But what about… them?” Singer indicated to the still industriously working kitchen staff.

“Their insurance coverage won’t allow them to take such an untoward risk.”

Singer didn’t think his heart could sink any lower.

“But you, Linesman, are not encumbered by such policy.”

Singer made to throw out that this should be security detail’s problem, or it fell under navy jurisdiction, but he realized that the lounge was a self-contained ‘hub’. They were more or less detached from the bulk of Catseye.

Which was exactly why Mr. Ras should never have found me here.

EyeCity café itself was casting the shadow over the naturists. Management would send a nonessential-someone close at hand. Especially if it meant security wouldn’t be put off lining up an expeditionary force en masse. What quaint hypocrisy.

The Linesman wasn’t getting out of this. He didn’t have a choice, but Singer would kick and scream the whole way…

“What about air?” said Singer.

“Your tube will recycle latent oxygen. The air you breathe out is mostly oxy anyway. There is plenty of time.”

“Controls?”

“Preprogrammed coordinates.”

“Return trip?”

“Already scheduled.”

“The aliens?”

“Just get close and they’ll disperse. Probably just need a reminder; but scrape them off the plating if you have to.”

Singer winced. He was drawing a blank. There really wasn’t much room to weasel.

“And you’re sure about him…” Singer gestured toward the vacuum-laden crewman, who was currently elbowing his device in attempts to bring it back to life.

“He’s a union member. Can’t touch him.”

Goddamn it.

It was almost calming. Singer’s perspective lazily shifted as his one-man craft corkscrewed round and round. The Bathy Tube was slipping along a sophisticated ‘string’ that reached out across Catseye’s many hubs and luxurious condominiums. The linked network diverged like an insane technological spider web. Most of it lay hidden by the trackless distances and snuffing black void, but every so often a glint of light caught in such a way that Singer was treated to a dazzling spectacle.

And there were the stars; always the stars.

The Linesman wouldn’t have it. Any of it. He was still gritting his teeth at Mr. Ras. Clark Ras, that uncaring tool of a manager. Singer would start using his name. Just to spite him. Yeah, that’s right Clark. How professional indeed!

It felt as if a cloud passed overhead. His world dimmed perceptively. It took a moment, but Singer realized that he had passed into the café’s shade. EyeCity would have loomed behind, if he were able to turn and see. The dining craft wouldn’t dwindle much, which should have been reassuring.

Below – ahead, Singer saw an angular structure. It was probably a casino. It was daisy-chained into an arched semicircle, looping off into Singer’s personal horizon. In one direction he could make out the signifying moniker of a fitness center; a wide swath of stylized pink cladding specified the facility.

Nebu-Liners always made sure to keep things appealing to the eye. Shuttling passengers had discerning tastes after all.

Singer spotted the naturists.

Mr. Ras had called them barnacles. At this distance, they looked more like starfish to Singer. They could have been black scuffs on the bulkhead, but as he approached, Singer could make out the slightest movement darting through their spindly bodies. Probably guzzling all the sunlight they could. Yet, for some reason, they made no attempt to exit the shadow.

How any living thing could survive in a void was amazing. Singer glanced at a readout. It flickered red, just as Ras had warned. It was the radiation detector. When buildup became hazardous, the light would steady. Singer would have to “get back like it was yesterday” once that happened.

Singer tried not to think about all the energized particles tearing through him, but it was a lengthy descent.

Before long, the Tube was scooting free into a noiseless landing. The Coriolus effect drew him down as effectively as gravity. It was that same rotational momentum that kept the string taut without actually touching anything. Motive roadways, some called them.

If all went well, he’d be heading back up again.

There was a sense of urgency as Singer watched the string recede, like a fisherman’s line in slow motion. It was the casino. It was orbiting, ushering him and the naturists away. The spin wasn’t fast enough to get the aliens into sunlight on time.

They’d need a little bump.

Singer goosed the treads a bit and felt the reverb up through his seat. The flexiglass screen wobbled and he was underway.

Progress was akin to a slug on a wall. The uniform ‘skyline’ made movement hard to judge, but touchdown was good and close. There wasn’t a lot of time to prep for contact. Singer was on top of them in the next moment.

There wasn’t a reaction, much less a greeting. Singer wasn’t sure if they knew he was there. Maybe he’d snuck up on them? Hard to gauge when they didn’t have backs.

The Linesman parked the tube a few feet away and folded his arms across his chest. How easy was this supposed to be? Something about proximity. Not that a horn would be of much use out here. Singer edged forward a few times, practically dancing on their root-like toes. Nothing.

He tapped on the inside of his cage.

Nothing.

The aliens were dark. Not exactly space-black, but pigmentation must have been crammed wholesale into every square inch of skin. Or was that exoskeleton? It bloated and twisted like gelatin, but Singer instinctually associated it with hardened chitin or bone. Perhaps he’d find out with a handshake.

If only he could make it that far.

His hands were probably too clammy to use the external enviro-gloves.

The naturists appeared like lopsided mounds of stringy antennae. There was no symmetry to them. All of the seemingly random offshoots or tuber-like growths undulated in the same motion he’d seen from above.

They moved together. Every last one of them; and there were a lot of the creatures – every one of them flexed as one. That was their only saving grace. A kind of uniformity was at play that told Singer that these were indeed intelligent beings.

What the hell were they doing? On the face of it, Singer might guess they were waving. But that was humanizing something that wasn’t human. Not even close. The naturists were filtering or filtrating… whatever Ras had said. Only…

Shouldn’t they at least be facing the sun? Don’t dandelions turn?

Would they really need to dance about like idiots to get the energy practically humming around them at all times? Even now, the ambient radiation was intense. Plenty to gorge on ‘til bursting. If your species was into that sort of thing.

The naturists were up to something else.

Wait.

They had been waving at him. During his spiral descent, the vines or appendages or whathaveyous – they’d been fixated on his approach. Maybe if he wasn’t moaning about Mr. Ras at the time, he’d have seen it.

They weren’t focused on him now.

The aliens faced away from the direction of the casino’s rotation. Back the way they’d come.

“Hmm,” Singer mused. He busied the Bathy Tube into a protracted roundabout turn. He’d look behind him.

Immediately, he was startled to see a single alien naturist suspended in the void. It was tucking itself into a bowl, probably feeling the full brunt of the Coriolis effect. Pale pouches, like a car’s airbags, were deflating and retracting from view as he watched. It was going to land nearby.

How it was able to navigate through space, in the buff, would forever be a mystery to Singer. The thing brushed by so easily, it was almost narcissistic. The being was close enough that he might have been able to touch it, had he taken to using the enviro-gloves from before.

It brought something with it. Clutched in an array of florets, Singer could see a frosted cylindrical casing. He saw the word “Neapolitan” clearly on the side until the creature landed like a willowy parachute. What would a space-plant want with ice cream?

Singer’s mouth started watering.

There was movement all over the place. The naturists began scuttling back and forth with what had to be excitement. A few reached out to the newcomer with – reassurance? Gratitude? A few even expanded their internal gas bladders and launched away. They weren’t heading into the light.

The bulk of them scooted across the ship’s hull, heading towards the loading dock. They were going inside.

Linesman Singer was dumbfounded. What was going on out here?

Something clicked. These guys were raiding EyeCity’s storeroom. Or perhaps one of the supply tugs that came and went periodically. Management had sent Singer out on protection detail. He wasn’t here to commune. He was here to scare them off because actual security didn’t want to get their hands dirtied with alien politics.

As much as human rules applied aboard the Catseye, you’d always find rules being bent to keep the clientele happy. Hell, ritual raids might be the naturist’s way of complementing good service. You didn’t want to undermine a good reputation. The company could sacrifice a few choice goods if it meant they’d get a whole planet of paying customers.

A lone alien stayed behind. It curled its tendrils, facing him. Inviting him. Singer leaned to one side and could see the ice cream bearer leading the group. Neapolitan sounded very good right now.

An orb of light flashed behind one eye.

Inside the tube, a steady red glow shone against the Linesman’s face. He wasn’t exactly ignoring it.

A little acute radiation syndrome wouldn’t hurt any. He’d probably just get a stomach ache. Maybe a little quarantine time to himself. That wouldn’t be so bad. He’d get some ice cream out of the deal.

Just like getting your tonsils out.