Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

An Easy Favor Pt. 3

January 1, 2022

The taxi arrived in Old Remington in front of a rundown halfway house. Hawthorne and his sister’s apartment had long been reclaimed and their possessions had probably been disposed of. The prison system had provided a few changes of clothes and a pair of boots and that was it. He grabbed the duffle bag and thanked the cabbie. The cab was prepaid by the State but he wished he had some money to tip the guy. Not having the money to give that tip wounded him. He had been a criminal but he still had respect for the workers out there. He and Mars had only hit wealthy targets by design.

Hawthorne started toward the front door. He still had to get his room assignment and check-in with his parole officer before he could even think of carrying out Art’s wishes. He reached and checked to make sure Art’s note was still tucked in the joint of his shoulder. He stepped into the doorway of the apartment building and the security scanners whirred to life. One of the sensors gave off some sparks as it moved. He could see some rust and exposed wires in places. In older days he would have looked at these signs as something he could exploit but now he just hoped it would not spray sparks on him anymore.

He walked into the lobby which looked alright but there were definitely signs of wear and tear. He shook his head and turned to head toward the front desk. He had to stop acting like he was casing the joint. Besides, it was a halfway house so there was probably nothing to steal anyway. He set his bag down near the front desk gently and tried his least intimidating smile. He knew that he was big and imposing and he knew he sometimes had to compensate for that. He did not want a bad reputation on day one. He had been on his best behavior in prison in an attempt to get the best chance to go straight. He had to continue that effort.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “My name is Hawthorne Cassidy and I’m here to report for my room assignment.”

The young woman looked up from her book and looked Hawthorne up and down. She seemed thoroughly unimpressed. She grabbed up a datapad and scrolled through it slowly. She looked at the datapad and then at Hawthorne and back at the datapad’s screen.

“Hold out your data tag,” the woman said, looking up to suddenly stare into his eyes.

Hawthorne found himself actually flinching. This lady was one tough customer but he tried to keep smiling. His arm clunked against the counter as he held out the device bound to his wrist. He tried to be gentle but his cybernetic arms weighed far too much to be too gentle. She rolled her eyes and waved a scanner over the data tag.

“Hawthorne Cassidy,” the woman said in a monotone. “Formerly of the Cassidy Twins. Held for robbing banks, antiquities, and private collections. Several pages here about the destruction done to law enforcement property.”

“All that is over,” Hawthorne said. “I’ve served my time. All of my enhancements have been powered down to human levels. I just want to walk the straight and narrow now.” He smiled again, trying to project innocence.

“We’ll see,” the woman said and yawned. “Unit 405. Keep it clean and behave. Your data tag and only your data tag will open the door to your unit.”

“Will do,” Hawthorne said. “Can I ask your name?” He genuinely was not trying to get intimate. He just wanted to make a human connection.

The woman swiped a strand of her platinum blonde hair from her face. “I’m not giving a criminal my real name. It’s also against company policy. You can call me Erinyes,” she said.

“Kind of a weird name,” Hawthorne said.

“Read your Greek mythology,” Erinyes said. “and get away from my desk.”

“Sure,” Hawthorne said. He grabbed his bag and started to step away. “You know my sister taught me quite a bit about electronics,” he said. “I could take a look at the scanner at the door. It looks a little bit busted.”

“There’s no chance we would let a known ex-con even touch that thing,” Erinyes said. “If I see you touching it, I’ll report you. Now go away.”

“You got it,” Hawthorne said and headed toward the stairs to get to his room. So much for first impressions.

An Easy Favor Pt. 2

December 18, 2021

When Hawthorne woke up the next morning, Art was already up and getting ready for breakfast. He pressed a scrap of paper into Hawthorne’s palm as they shook hands which Hawthorne tried not to react to. Hawthorne discreetly slipped the rolled-up paper into a compartment in his cybernetic arms, one that was small enough that it looked like an anomaly on X-Ray, and therefore it had never been searched. Hawthorne’s sister, Mars, had built all sorts of tricks into his cybernetics, most of which had been shut off after his arrest.

“Give her my best,” Art said with a grim smile on his face. Art really did not show a lot of emotion, so this was a lot for him and Hawthorne regretted leaving him behind again. He would definitely do this one thing for Art. They were not exactly friends but they had somehow almost become family. Art had been there after the death of Hawthorne’s sister when nobody else gave a damn. “Don’t forget to watch your ass and don’t you come back here, right?”

“Don’t worry,” Hawthorne said with a smile. “I’ll be good.”

“You don’t have to be good,” Art said. “just don’t get caught.” He let out a single barking syllable of a laugh and headed off to breakfast. Neither of them had said goodbye. He hoped Art would keep himself out of trouble but he had a feeling that trouble would not leave the old guy alone.

Hawthorne was led off to eat his breakfast in private to prevent any problems before his release. One more meal of nutritional paste which was designed to be healthy, taste decent, and keep the prisoners regular. He was definitely looking forward to a real meal once he got into the city. After breakfast, it was time for the usual multitude of scans and medical examinations that came from living in prison. The final stop was the property window where he was handed back his watch, a pocket knife, and clothes he had not seen since his arrest. He had been loaned a suit by the penal system for his sister’s funeral, one of the few good things the system did for him. He also received a datapad with which to check in with his parole officer. After he got dressed, it was finally time to make that walk through the gates and into the back of a waiting taxi.

He finally relaxed as the taxi pulled away from the prison gates. In that moment he realized that he had not really relaxed the whole time he was in prison and it had taken its toll. He leaned against the window a bit and looked out at the scenery as it went by as if he had never seen any of it before. His eyes drank it all in. Of course, he realized that his criminal career had not been exactly restful but it had been side by side with his sister as his partner in crime. Both of them had been addicted to the rush but they had also been proud of something they had built together. He never saw himself as the bad guy but maybe it was time to really go straight. He did not know if he had the heart to start pulling jobs without his sister’s razor-sharp intellect anyway.

The taxi headed south down Route 83 on its second level and past both beltways and into Baltimore City proper. He found himself smiling as he saw all the familiar sights of his hometown. He rolled down the window so he could smell it. It was fantastic. The cabbie gave him a curious look but he did not care. He was free. His heart truly sang at that thought. There were days and even weeks in prison where he wondered if he would ever be free and here he was smelling exhaust, taco trucks, and the faint smell of the sea through a cracked cab window. Very few things could have made him happier at that moment.

An Easy Favor Pt. 1

December 11, 2021

A loud alarm sounded as the cell doors slid closed in Cell Block 4. Of course, the bars were holographic as a forcefield actually responsible for keeping prisoners in. Hawthorne took a deep breath, feeling grateful to have made it through another day. His last full day. He was fully expecting to start something. You didn’t make it through four years at New Lincoln Penitentiary without expecting a ruckus usually right when you did not want one. Thankfully, things had been relatively peaceful and he had been allowed to just work out for a large part of the day. He had been taken off of work detail rotation due to his imminent departure so they had not known what to do with him. That suited him just fine.

“So, tomorrow’s the day, huh?” Art asked with a lopsided grin. The lopsided grin was mostly because his face had been rearranged too many times before Hawthorne started protecting him. Art was a lifer and, at his age, that term could probably be used literally. “Gonna miss you big bear.” There was humor in his face that did not fully reach his eyes.

“If I could take you with me, I would,” Hawthorne said. “You going to be alright in here?”

“Probably not,” Art said, again half-joking. “but I’ve had a hell of a ride.”

Hawthorne nodded. They had never really talked about it but he had always gathered that Art was old school mob, a rarity among the gangs and factions in New Lincoln. Art had a punchable face but Hawthorne swore there were actual reasons for attacks on him. There was something shadowy out there that wanted Art Bayley dead. Hawthorne suddenly wanted to say something but nothing seemed sufficient. No words would be enough.

“Oh, don’t you go worrying about me, kid,” Art said. “I’ll be alright. I just wanted to ask you for a favor if I could. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important.” This was true. When Hawthorne had first saved Art from a beating, Art had simply told him to let him die. Hawthorne was not exactly about to do that and Art had eventually warmed to the assistance.

“Go ahead, old-timer,” Hawthorne said. “I won’t make any promises but you’ve earned at least a favor.”

“Smart ass,” Art said with a grin that almost had half the teeth it was supposed to have. “It shouldn’t be that hard. You just have to make a little visit for me.”

“A visit?” Hawthorne asked. “Where would I be visiting?” He was now a little doubtful but it was not a no go yet.

“The where would be Baltimore,” Art said. “That’s easy, right? That’s where you’re from, right? But more important is the who. I want you to check in on my daughter, Carter.”

“Is she in trouble?” Hawthorne asked. He was a little suspicious at that point. His probation definitely limited contact with any criminal element and he had never picked sides before. He was proud that he had never joined a gang and he had kept his circle tight. He was not about to throw in with the mob but if this was genuinely a family thing and not a Family thing then it would probably be alright.

“I don’t think so,” Art said but he glanced away as he said it. “She’s a smart girl. She’s fine but I haven’t seen her in forever and I just want to make sure she’s alright.”

“I guess that’s something I could do before I settle in,” Hawthorne said. “I was already heading toward Baltimore but I’m not sure I’ll stick around. A lot of memories.”

“Understood,” Art said. “This wouldn’t take but an hour at most. Just don’t scare her, big guy.”

This was actually a cause for concern. Hawthorne was born big and he had grown up even bigger. He was nearly seven-foot-tall and ripped. He had had body modifications due to some injuries and a lot of him was made of polymer and metal. Thankfully, his face was still intact but he definitely had to work sometimes at being non-threatening.

“I’ll try my best,” Hawthorne said. “How does she know I actually came from you?”

“Hound,” Art said. “Tell her I said ‘Hound’.”

The Faceless

August 28, 2021
Photo Credit: @rn_murse on Twitter

Cat and Sparrow stood, barely hidden in a back alley. Cat was having a hard time keeping it together. Anxiety was clawing its way out of her and she had to fight to stay still. Meanwhile, Sparrow was standing as still as a statute, not a bead of sweat. The tall girl was very narrow but had long pretty pink hair. Cat always felt self-conscious about her own black hair which she kept extremely short. She tried to push such thoughts out of her head. They were on a mission. Besides, everybody else was walking around them without a care in the world. They were all smiling.

Of course, they were all smiling because that was their default setting. They were not actually present any more. As far as they could tell, something had invaded Earth two years earlier. Cat and Sparrow were part of the resistance, something that Cat had stumbled into completely by accident. As near as the resistance could tell, whatever was doing this was taking people and turning them into robots. Well, robots was not the correct term. They were still organic but nobody was home. The things that were no longer quite human walked around and remained productive but they were easy to spot. They just smiled way too much and had vacant stares. It was creepy. Otherwise, they looked untouched.

“Stay with me, Cat,” Sparrow said firmly in a whisper. “Stay present. We have a mission to complete.”

“Sorry,” Cat said with a slight nod. “I’m feeling very exposed out here.”

“If you don’t feel nervous in the field, you shouldn’t be in the field,” Sparrow said. “I wouldn’t have brought you with me if I didn’t think you were ready.”

“Why does everything still look the same as before the invasion?” Cat asked. “Like, why do they keep all of the signs illuminated? it seems pointless.”

“Well, it’s not exactly the same,” Sparrow said. “There are definitely little differences. Like that sign.” She pointed.

Cat looked where Sparrow as pointing. The sign read ‘You must wear a face’.

“That makes no sense,” Cat said.

“They haven’t quite mastered our language,” Sparrow said. “but I think it’s a reference to the facial recognition scanners.”

That had been part of several briefings before returning to the surface. The resistance had found and dismantled a few of these scanners for study. The most likely conclusion was that when citizens were taken, they were scanned and cataloged. The scanners in the wild would catch anybody who had yet to be cataloged and would sound the alarm. Reviewing this in her head did not make Cat any calmer.

“How safe are we out here?” Cat asked, her voice suddenly a little shaky.

“The lab rats whipped up these jammers for us and they are field-tested,” Sparrow said. “Visually, we are wearing our own lovely faces.” Cat turned away a little so she could blush at that. “Electronically, we present as drones already on file. We’re good. Though, we should probably limit our exposure out here to the mission and only the mission.”

Humanity’s resistance lived underground in isolated cells that communicated through dead drops and encrypted burst transmissions. They were structured so if one cell was taken, they would not be able to discover the others easily which would give the other cells time to scatter. They stole food and technology from the surface the best that they could. Luckily, they still had some engineers and scientists on their side. They were important for staying in front of the invaders’ efforts to hunt them. The countermeasures were holding for now. Their enclaves remained hidden for the time being.

“That makes sense,” Cat said. “We’re taking one of these brainwashed people to a safehouse for study, right? To see if their condition is reversible?”

“Yeah,” Sparrow said with determination and a faraway look. “I know the perfect person too.”

The Swarm (1978) – Spoiler Review Pt. 1

January 4, 2021

Rundown of the Main Plot

The Swarm is a Science-Fiction horror movie about a swarm of Africanized Killer Bees that have been scooped up from Venezuela by a series of hurricanes and deposited in Texas. The movie opens with a military reconnaissance team discovering a United States ICBM base where almost the entire duty roster has been killed. At first they suspect a chemical attack but a scientist (played by Michael Caine) appears and claims that it was a swarm of bees. He is arrested for being a foreigner on a military base in the midst of an attack but the base’s doctor (Katharine Ross) backs his claim. The President’s science advisor assigns the surly general (Richard Widmark) to follow Caine’s lead much to his dismay. Caine calls in a group of eccentric scientists (Richard Chamberlain, Henry Fonda) to try and solve the problem without harming the surrounding ecosystem.

After a local boy is orphaned when his family is attacked by the swarm, the local town of Maryville is involved while in the middle of their annual Flower Festival. Caine and Ross struggle to protect the town while working toward a solution to their problem. It turns out that receiving any more than three stings is automatically fatal to victims. Victims who pull through after less than three stings can still suffer a cardiovascular failure out of the blue. The surviving boy tries to avenge his family with firebombs but only pisses off the swarm and causes them to attack Maryville head on. Suffering major casualties in the town, the military decides to evacuate the town but the train used derails and explodes. Meanwhile, the bees have started to advance across the Texas countryside and end up in Houston. At the eleventh hour, Caine figures out that the bees were originally driven to attack by the sound of an alarm on the military base. They throw together a plan of action and the military is able to lure the bees out into the gulf and firebombs them all straight to Hell.

Be Kind to the Bees

I watched this with my mother (who is a beekeeper) and we were both pleasantly surprised that the movie made a huge effort to protect the reputation of bees. Caine stresses repeatedly that the American Honey Bee is not to blame for any of the carnage. In fact, the movie correctly asserts that we rely on the bees for pollinating our crops and thus our agricultural system depends on bees. The scientists try to come up with several plans that would prevent the death or destruction of the environment. The villainous bees are depicted as fairly innocent as well. They are just insects driven to attack through their interaction with human beings, something that should not happen. Of course, the movie neglects to talk about how the real-life Africanized bees were created by humans through selective breeding in Brazil.

Loose Padding

There are numerous plots added to the movie that feel like they were written in for two reasons. A) They wanted to add more movie and television stars to the cast B) This was a television miniseries and they needed to fill two and a half hours. These plots get absolutely ridiculous and I have to detail them all.

  1. Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson are both thirsty for Olivia de Havilland

At some point early in the movie, we cut to Olivia de Havilland who is arranging flowers for the festival. She is approached by Fred MacMurray (the town’s mayor) and Ben Johnson (a retired engineer) who are both dating her. The two men snipe at each other but Olivia laughs it off. Throughout the movie, they both propose to her but she avoids answering either one. She points out that since she is the School Superintendent, she is a working woman and will give them their answer at the end of the school term. The three of them board the evacuation train together and are on it when it crashes and explodes.

This was a completely extraneous plot as the three rarely felt like they were in a movie called The Swarm. They were in a separate romantic comedy the whole time. MacMurray and de Havilland are present at a strategy meeting with the military and de Havilland witnesses the deaths of several small school children. Other than that, they don’t seem to act like there is a deadly threat anywhere near them. They also never cut back to them after the train crash so we never discover if any of them survived much less whether Olivia made up her mind about who to marry if anybody.

  1. Slim Pickens Steals a Dead Body

Sometime after the deaths at the ICBM base (the inciting incident of the movie), they have examined all of the dead bodies and placed them in a makeshift morgue. A county engineer played by Slim Pickens shows up outside of the fence at the base and threatens to shut off the base’s utilities if they do not let him speak to his son. The military quickly discovers that this man’s son was one of the many who suffered horrible death from bees. They let the man onto the base and show him his deceased son’s body bag (they never open it). Slim reaches down and picks his son up and cradles the body in his arms and starts to walk out with it. He is told that he will be shot if he tries to take the body. He dares them to follow through and they back down and he leaves with his son’s body. It is actually a really touching scene because Slim Pickens sells the heck out of it. However, Pickens never appears in the rest of the movie and the scene has zero impact on the rest of the film.

Check Part 2 for more craziness!

Sputnik (2020)

October 5, 2020

Space is absolutely frightening. For one, as far as we know, space is infinite and thinking about that makes me feel very small and kind of worried about what is out there. Thankfully, the vastness of space means that even though it is very likely that something else is out there, it is less likely that we will encounter them in any meaningful way. Still, the idea of encountering something or somebody outside of the realm of our experience or understanding is terrifying. We can experience a little of it in our lifetimes even without dealing with little gray men. When we are forced to interact with a completely wild animal, the experience is so fraught because we have no idea what the animal might do. In a way, the same thing is true when you meet somebody from another country where there is a language barrier. You cannot fully communicate so there is just a tension as you try to figure each other out.

Considering the form these aliens might take is something spooky to think about it as well. Evolution has been something interesting to observe and study on our planet. As far as we know, humans are the only beings to evolve to walk upright, use tools, and dominate the planet. We were akin to apes, an evolutionary offshoot that either went above or fell above expectations based on what criteria you are judging by. What if the dominant species on other planets evolved differently? For example, the most ‘alien’ thing we have on Earth is probably collectively the insects. Insects look and act strange. What if aliens are more insect like? I mean, that’s basically the aliens from the Alien franchise. What if they are lizards as people theorize is already happening on Earth? Maybe aliens are crystalline based or energy beings? The options and possibilities are troubling and yet exciting.

The first thing I noticed was how dark the movie is lighting-wise. The movie has a dark shadow over it that goes from gentle to harsh in a heartbeat. Even in the brightest, fluorescent-lit rooms there is a pall over everything that reminds me of horror movies like The Exorcist. Part of it feels like the filter they put over things to make them look like cold war era period pieces which this is. It could be annoying but I found it kind of appropriate in a way. The attention to detail in set design and costuming made me feel like I was at a Russian military compound. It is interesting because I am used to watching Russia portrayed in US films a certain way. It is interesting to watch something that is genuinely and totally Russian.
The special effects are top-tier, using brilliant technology and artistry to create visual effects that are frighteningly good.

The acting is incredibly subdued and nuanced. The main character is a female psychiatrist who is tasked with visiting an astronaut in a military base. All of the other characters are military personnel so it makes sense that most people in the movie would suppress their emotions. This is also a time where the Russian government was very oppressive when it came to self-expression and people had to be careful. The subdued tone of the movie only serves to ratchet up the tension similar to movies like The Witch and Hereditary. The actors do a great job of keeping the tension and driving the importance of the events around them. To watch such stoic people unravel is something powerful to watch.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It is a little horror movie and will probably fly under the radar but those who are lucky enough to see it should enjoy it. It definitely owes a lot to Ridley Scott’s Alien and other great first contact horror stories. It also definitely feels like its own thing. There is a deeper horror to movies like this because it is not only the aliens we should fear but ourselves as well.

HoloTek Programming – A Star Trek Story

April 9, 2020

President Adrienne Cocteau sat at her desk tapping away at the console embedded in her desk. She was a bit distracted and had not yet really acknowledged her visitor even though she had told her secretary to usher the man in. For her part, Judith Korben was happy to wait even though she was a little anxious about the visit. Getting hired at HoloTek Programming was a dream come true. It was definitely the place to work if you were interested in working with bleeding-edge holographic technology. Judy had been hired as an entry-level programmer but had quickly shown her skill and creativity when solving problems. She was a valued employee now and that is how she had requested and received a meeting with the big cheese.

Of course, Judy would have to actually get a chance to speak in order to make this worthwhile. Several minutes had gone by and her lunchbreak did not last forever. Thankfully, Ms. Cocteau’s secretary cleared his throat standing at the doorway which caused Ms. Cocteau to look up. Judy flashed the secretary a grateful look and then turned and smiled at her boss’ boss.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me today, Ms. Cocteau,” Judy said.

“Please, call me Adrienne,” Ms. Cocteau said. “I’m happy to meet with you, Judith. I’ve heard really great things about the work that you have been doing. You’ve increased our efficiency a lot.”

“I’m flattered to hear it,” Judy said. “It’s Judy, actually.”

“What?” Ms. Cocteau asked, confused in the moment.

“Judy not Judith,” Judy said. “It’s not a big deal, though.”

“Oh!” Ms. Cocteau exclaimed as she realized what Judy had been saying. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Judy said. “It’s perfectly alright.”

Ms. Cocteau seemed relieved. “Well,” she said with an easy smile. “What brings you to my office today?”

“I have a proposal for you,” Judy said. “I have a new direction to take our business which could make the company a lot of money.”

“Last time I checked, we are making a lot of money marketing our products to Federation and independent laboratories. Our revenue is higher than it has ever been.”

“Which is why I think we need to redirect that revenue for even further growth,” Judy said.

Ms. Cocteau’s curiosity had definitely been piqued. “What sort of growth did you have in mind?” she asked.

“Have you thought about entertainment?” Judy asked. “I think there are a lot of avenues that we can explore there. When I was little, I played a lot of video games. Actually, to be honest, I still play a lot of video games during my free time. I think we can adapt our technology to the world of video games.”

“I’m aware of video games,” Ms. Cocteau said. “I’m still not really seeing how this all connects. Also, with all of space to explore, why would people sit on their butts playing games?”

“I’m getting to that,” Judy said. “Ages ago there was a video game technology called virtual reality. Through the use of goggles and headphones, the player was immersed within a virtual game environment. With holographic technology, we could do this but make it way better. You would actually walk around and actually do things instead of manipulating a controller. We could create whole worlds within a single room.”

“This does sound interesting,” Ms. Cocteau said. “It sounds pretty complicated.”

“Oh definitely,” Judy said. “Each character within the world would be programmed separately and guided along by a dynamic and interactive script.”

“So you propose that we fill a room with holograms and each of them is controlled by a separate artificial intelligence program?” Ms. Cocteau asked.

“Guided by a voice-activated artificial intelligence. Yes,” Judy said. “Each game would have branching paths based on the player’s actions within the game.”

“That’s a lot of processing power, Judy,” Ms. Cocteau said. “It seems like there might be a high rate of hardware failure.”

“I think we can compensate for that,” Judy said. “Besides, I really only envision this technology being used on a planet or in space stations. Conditions there should be pretty stable and won’t be interrupted by the rigors of space too much.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Ms. Cocteau said.

“Oh, and there is some really interesting work being done with beams, fields, and replication which would be able to make everything feel real in the simulations.”

“That sounds like it has the potential for being dangerous,” Ms. Cocteau said. “Correct me if I’m wrong but video games can get fairly violent. That sounds like a recipe for injury and maybe even death.”

“We’ll install safety protocols,” Judy said. “If somebody is about to be hurt then the program will shut down. Like a killswitch.”

“I really don’t think we should call it that,” Ms. Cocteau said. “That sounds really iffy, Judy. This whole thing sounds like a huge liability risk.”

“I mean, that can be covered by waivers and warning labels, right?” Judy asked.

“I’m not so sure,” Ms. Cocteau said. “I appreciate your creativity and there might be something to all of this but I don’t think we’ll pursue it.”

“Oh,” Judy said, obviously disappointed.

“I’m sorry to bring you down,” Ms. Cocteau said.

“That’s ok,” Judy said as she brightened after thinking of something. “Do you mind if I shop this idea elsewhere?”

“I suppose I don’t mind,” Ms. Cocteau said. “Just keep me apprised of the situation. I’m very curious now.”

“I definitely will,” Judy said. “This is going to be huge.”

<Star Trek was suggested as a topic by my friend Vashti on Twitter>

Jamming

April 11, 2019

Kath sat against the cool stone of the mini storage place on Elm Street. In the late afternoon, the sun had shifted so that she was now sitting in the shade. A kind stranger had gotten her a cool drink so she felt revitalized, ready to keep playing her guitar for the people. Her case was once again open in front of her, already jangling from the morning’s tips. She had pocketed some to encourage people to keep donating to her cause. The morning had been alright but she needed to keep going.

She was tooling her way through an acoustic version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It had attracted some attention but it was a bit too hot out for anyone to linger to listen. The best she got was a few dollar bills, some quarters, some thumbs up, and one very good set of metal horns. It was not bad for a workday in the summer. She wondered how long she would have to play before taking shelter from the heat once again. She hoped she could go the distance.

A piece of paper fell into her case as she was starting into a Cat Stevens medley she had put together. The piece of paper was not green. Kath stopped playing and, out of curiosity, she leaned over to pick it up. She unfolded the sheet and saw that it was sheet music. She was a little confused. She looked up and saw a tall, thin man with wiry hair and big glasses. Before Kath could even open her mouth, the man spoke.

“Can you sight read?” the man asked.

“I can,” Kath said patiently. “I’m actually classically trained.”

“Are you very proficient?” the man asked, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized her.

“Again, I’m classically trained,” Kath said. “I’m pretty good if I say so myself.”

“This needs to be played with absolutely perfect precision,” the man said. “No mistakes. ‘Pretty good’ is not good enough.”

“Did you want me to play this?” Kath asked. “What is it?”

“Only if you are sufficiently proficient,” the man said. “You’re not a spy, are you?”

“Who are you?” Kath asked, laughing a little bit.

“I don’t see how that matters,” the man said. “Can you play it? Perfectly?”

“My name is Kath,” Kath said and stuck her hand out to shake hands. “Some people call me Kath Kat. And you are?”

“Can you play the song or not?” The man asked.

Kath paused for a moment and stared at the man. “And you are?”

There was another long pause.

“Fine,” the man said. “You may call me Edgar.”

“Nice to meet you, Edgar,” Kath said. “So you want me to play this song? Is it special?”

“More than you realize,” Edgar said, pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Did you write it?” Kath asked.

Edgar’s eyes narrowed again. “You never answered whether or not you are a spy.”

“I’m a music major,” Kath said. “and I’m not a spy.”

“Fair enough,” Edgar said. “I suppose whatever you said I could not verify your claim. Things have progressed and I must test my hypothesis. Before you ask, it is too complicated to explain.”

“Fair enough,” Kath echoed. “So should I play the song now?”

“Begin the experiment,” Edgar said. “Whenever you are ready, of course.”

Kath grinned and shook her head before taking a deep breath. She scanned the notes on the page and looked for any surprises or tricky bits. It was all surprises and tricky bits. This was unlike any music she had ever played before. For a moment, she wondered if she was proficient enough. She shook it off and arranged her fingers and began to play. She gave her all into and out of her guitar came strangely beautiful discordant music. Each note reverberated through her being and the air around them. She could almost feel the pressure waves from each and every note.

She wondered how other people on the street might be reacting to the weird music. She looked up and saw Edgar hurriedly writing on a pad of paper he had fished out from a pocket. He looked excited. She looked to her right and saw a tall shadowy being walking on two legs, Edgar stepped out of its way, snapping pictures of it with his phone. She saw a bird with two sets of wings swoop by, plucking a cockroach off the side of the building across the street. The building seemed to be covered with cockroaches. To her left was another group of those shadowy figures. The landscape around her seemed to flicker and change like static on a television set. She reached the bottom of the page and stopped playing and it all stopped. It was just a normal city street again.

“What the hell was that?” Kath asked. She stood up and looked around wildly.

“The other dimension,” Edgar said. “The experiment worked!”

“Um,” Kath said. “What does that mean?”

“Please come back to my lab,” Edgar said. “We have to keep going.”

“Sure,” Kath said. “I guess I can’t just walk away from that. I’m inviting a friend, though. No offense.”

“None taken,” Edgar said. “They’re not a spy, are they?”

Kath shook her head with a laugh. “No.”

Deadly Friend (1986)

October 10, 2018

Wes Craven was seen as one of the kings of horror especially when I was a teenager because his popular movie Scream had come out when I was 14. I was never really a fan of the Scream franchise because I felt like the meta elements fell a little flat. Although, I should probably revisit the franchise at some point and give it another try. The reason that I keep coming back to Craven because he is the man who created Freddy Krueger, probably my favorite horror character ever. I have practically worshiped that character for a long, long time. He returned to that franchise to make my favorite of the Elm Street movies, The Dream Warriors. His movies often have the right mix of horror and corniness that make Halloween fun. With New Nightmare, he first introduced the self-aware horror movie that birthed a new sub-genre in horror. Part of his innovative approach comes from the fact that after he broke into the film business, he did not want to be known as a ‘horror guy’. He also earned bachelor degrees in English and psychology along with masters degrees in philosophy and writing in my hometown at Johns Hopkins University. On a side note, I applied to JHU to get a degree in writing but never went down that path. He poured all of that into exploring horror and also exploring reality itself in his films.

Biomechatronics is a new field that integrates the fields of biology, mechanics, electronics, robotics, and neuroscience. In the real world, this means replacing damaged parts of the human body with machine parts that do their best to act like the part they are replacing. The biggest examples are prosthetic limbs that act very much like the limbs they are replacing, making them act and look like biological parts. These parts interface with existing nervous or muscular systems in order to function correctly. These are obviously a great benefit for veterans and other people who need help with movement or other bodily functions. It is currently too expensive for most people to afford. In fiction, this kind of thing is not comforting, it is frightening. In a world where killer robots and sentient computer viruses are a thing, putting robot parts in your body is a bad idea. Earlier this year, I reviewed the newer movie Upgrade where the concept was explored in depth. Cyborg parts regularly malfunction, get hacked, gain sentience, or find other ways to start killing people. It makes sense. Also, people are already disturbed by surgery so the idea of having surgery and purposefully leaving something inside is easy horror fodder. On top of that, many people are justifiably afraid of new technology. It is easy to see how this is an interesting element for a horror movie.

One thing that makes this movie special is that it is the film debut of Kristy Swanson at age sixteen. She does such a great job here in a pretty demanding role for a campy eighties horror movie. She would later tussle with vampires but here she is an innocent girl who gets caught up in some pretty twisted stuff. She basically plays two different characters and she plays them well. She is joined by Matthew Labyorteaux, a well-meaning boy who is smart about science but maybe not so smart about life. It may be a stereotype but I have met many scientists who lack social graces and knowledge about life. Their robot friend is played by Charles Fleisher who was Roger Rabbit but he was also a key character in the Elm Street franchise. The movie plays with the idea that it is the adults in a kid’s life that are allowed to be the real monsters. Chief among them is Swanson’s father who is played by Richard Marcus. There is also Anne Ramsey (of Goonies fame) who plays an angry neighbor. The movie has a strong cast who do great making it scary even without the horror elements.

The effects are strong for an eighties horror movie. There is one awesome gore effect in the movie which is famous but there is some unique stuff as well. The robot BB is absolutely fantastically built. He looks even more advanced than Johnny Five from the Short Circuit franchise. Like Johnny, the robot is expressive and exhibits a personality even without Fleischer’s voice acting. The puppetry is definitely on par with just about anything I have seen. The time we spent with BB made me think of how good the pacing is in the movie. We spend a lot of time with the characters before the horror and science fiction elements start. It gives the movie more heart and gave me an opportunity to like the main characters before things got complicated. This movie more than any other of Craven’s movies embraced non-horror elements while still being ostensibly a horror movie. In fact, it was only made into a horror movie by studio meddling which pisses off Craven to this day. However, I think Craven is a bit too hard on it and I feel like the movie has scares but it also has heart.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It was not exactly my normal fare when it comes to horror movies but it is kind of in a pretty small category. It has the same kind of feeling that I get from movies like Gremlins, Fright Night, Once Bitten, and Monster Squad. There is good camp but also genuine characters with fleshed out personalities. It is also rare to have likable protagonists in horror movies. I definitely recommend it for a more casual Halloween experience after watching some of the rougher films I tackle this year.

Vacation in Hallus

July 16, 2018

Colin could feel his left stabilizer fritz out a little bit as he landed. It made the landing a bit too shaky. That would be a problem if he had to leave in a hurry. This was Hallus and there was often a reason to run fast in Hallus. As he landed, Colin activated his console and scanned the surrounding atmosphere. This was a designated safe zone but it always paid to be careful. The air seemed nominally safe so Colin activated his suit’s ‘hunter’ protocol. His armor and helmet quickly folded away into the receptacle on his back. It was as if he had never been wearing armor. These new compactible armors were so handy. In years past, the old models opened up like a tin can. He would have had to step out of the armor and leave it behind. Either that or he would have to walk around in the bulky armor which made it hard to squeeze into small spaces or get the feel of a place. Colin activated his secondary visor and pulled his rifle off of his belt and expanded it.

There was a loud crashing sound nearby and when the dust settled, there was a young woman standing there. “Expecting trouble are we?” Anda asked. She was standing there without a suit of armor or really any gear. In fact, she was wearing a sundress and was barefoot. Colin found this maddening and he sighed and rolled his eyes as he looked over at her.

“I told you to dress mission-appropriate,” Colin said. He was not the biggest stickler for professionalism but he did believe in putting on a good front.

“But I do not require armor or any specific cosmetic displays,” she responded, both confused and aloof. “I cut and tied up my hair in accordance with military regulations. Is that not enough?” She tilted her head to the side just so.

“Wait, pigtails are regulation in the military?” Colin asked. “Which military?”

“The Galbadian military,” Anda answered. “Pigtails are not on the list of forbidden styles as long as they are kept to an acceptable length.”

“I would have thought they would all have crew cuts,” Colin said.

“This is not so,” Anda said, watching him unblinking. “They allow some measure of individuality.”

“The Galbadian military, huh?” Colin asked. “Why would you use their regulations? Neither of us is Galbadian.”

“I have servos in my knees made in Galbadia,” Anda said with a shrug.

“Whatever,” Colin said. “We’re also not in the military.”

“This chassis was originally a military model,” Anda said and it almost sounded pouty.

“Parts of it were,” Colin said. “Dr. Anders cobbled you together from a military model and an entertainment model.”

“Ah yes,” Anda said. “Hence the ‘tits’.”

Colin nearly choked at that. “Don’t call them that,” he said. “You spent far too much time with that dirty old man. At least he uploaded the right military subroutines. If you are going to hunt with me, you should at least dress the part.”

“I had to suppress a lot of the other subroutines he programmed,” Anda said. “Though I am not ashamed of them, they just did not feel like me.”

Colin had found Anda at the outpost in Old Baltimore. He had befriended Dr. Abel Anders in a bar there and the old drunk had given him a few missions seeking parts for his various experiments. When Colin returned from one of those missions, he had found Anders dead. While looking around the old man’s shop, he had discovered Anda. He had felt bad for the girl. He had given her the choice in that time to either escape with him or stay and be claimed by the coroner as property to be distributed. The state would have either given her to a new owner or put her in storage until the world ended again. Anda had chosen escape, probably exploiting a small window in her programming. Colin had given her complete autonomy but she had chosen to stay with him and join him in what she called ‘parts reclamation’ but Colin called ‘treasure hunting’. She looked like a normal young girl but there were little touches that gave it away. There was a glowing purple circle on each of her elbows, she moved stiffly, and she never blinked. However, she did smile sometimes.

“I enjoy being your ‘girl Friday’,” Anda said with a smile. A smile from an android was kind of a miracle. A lot of them did experience emotions but the vast majority experienced their feelings at a far less intense level. Colin found himself smiling back.

“So what are your scanners picking up, Friday?” he asked.

“My designation is Anda, Colin O’Malley,” Anda said. “Anda or Anda-013 if you please.”

“You just said, ok whatever,” Colin said. “What are your scanners picking up, Anda?” He smiled and checked the readings on his rifle to make sure the darned thing was charged. It was.

“I am reading the three Titan 6 battle robots,” Anda said. “They are a few meters to the east and underground.”

“Exactly as our source said they would be,” Colin said. “Let’s get to work.”

“I forget, did our source say that they were still in operation?” Anda asked.

“Why?” Colin asked and then his shoulders slumped. “Shit.”

As if on cue, the three robots burst through the ground a few meters away. Each was fourteen feet tall and their power cores and other parts were needed by a buyer in New Trenton. Colin took off running immediately and one of the robots chased after him. It sent metal parts and dirt flying everywhere around them. He yelled out “paladin” and his armor quickly slid back into place as he ran. He activated his jets but nearly fell on his face when the stabilizer blew out and he had to shut off the right jet and keep running. It was really hard to run in the armor and there was no way he could he run much further. He fell forward and rolled onto his back in one fluid movement. The hands of the robot started to come down, looking to hammer him into oblivion. Instead, he fired three shots from the rifle and luckily those shots punched through a fault in the thing’s armor and it powered down again, smoking from the new holes in its chassis. He activated hunter protocol again and ran back toward Anda.

She was nimbly dodging the swipes from two of the hulking robots. As Colin watched, the purple circles on her elbows glowed brighter as the gravity engines in her arms activated. They made her lighter, able to leap and dodge as easily as a circus acrobat. When she punched the first robot, it was clear that the engines also were able to exert great force. Parts flew out of the back of the robot and it fell to the ground. She whirled around and uppercutted the other one and it too was defeated with one blow. She floated to the ground and the engines powered down.

“Shall we get our parts and go, then?” Anda asked.


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