Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

An Easy Favor Pt. 6

February 19, 2022

The next day, Hawthorne set out on his last day between prison and his new job. He had to search out Art’s daughter that day because he did not know when his next day off would be. He also owed it to the old man to keep his word about passing on the message. It would probably be awkward but if he just got through it and stayed polite, he could get out of her hair with minimal fuss. He knew that he came off physically imposing. His height was already towering but when you added on the metal arms and back, he could easily be mistaken for a monster. Thankfully, he had covered his face throughout his criminal life which had kept his face unscathed.

A cart on the corner was selling delicious breakfast sandwiches with a handful of hash browns in a sack. Hawthorne was in heaven as he sat on a bench for a little bit and dug into the food. His mother had always chided him for eating standing up and eating while walking was absolute insanity. Besides, sitting allowed him to focus on how good the food tasted. It was greasy and salty and probably horrible for him but at that moment he pushed such thoughts from his mind. He just focused on each perfect bite and even found himself closing his eyes.

When he opened his eyes, he saw a young woman on the other end of the bench staring at him. He blinked for a moment and then turned away before he was caught staring. Then he realized that the woman was the same one he had seen entering the halfway house the night before in the rain. She looked a bit different now that she was dry but there was no mistaking her eyes. He thought for a moment that she was following him but there was no way that she had seen him through the one-way window the night before. She was probably just waiting for a bus. He got to his feet as nonchalantly as possible. He tossed his breakfast trash and went on his way again.

He was finding it hard to shake off the paranoia that had kept him safe in prison. A little paranoia was healthy but too much would give him a heart attack eventually. He reminded himself that this was his first full day out of prison. Adapting back to the real world would take time. He knew that getting into a routine and breathing the outside air a bit more would help clear his head and his heart. These things took time and he wondered if the Department of Corrections would pay for a therapy session or two. It seemed unlikely. His parole officer would have probably mentioned it if that was the case. He seemed to actually give at least a little bit of a damn unlike Erinyes and other Corrections employees he had met.

The place where Art’s daughter was supposed to be working was actually not far and it was a nice day for a walk. He was also just a little bit rattled to wait for the bus. He had plenty of time so he started to make his way through the streets of Baltimore. Things had changed since he had been inside. He had gotten a bit of a look while riding on the Jones Falls Expressway but you always got a better look when you were on foot. Hawthorne loved Baltimore and he had missed it a lot. He had tried to separate the city from his mind while he was inside. Some guys had talked about their home base all the time, trying to hold onto that for hope. Hawthorne had done the opposite, he had made the prison his home. Now he had to find a new home. He thought he would pass through Baltimore to find that home but now he could not imagine leaving the city again.

He wondered what he would do for lunch. He was walking over to Mount Vernon so there should be several good restaurants in the area. He wondered how many of them might refuse him entry. He was looking a bit scruffy and could probably use a haircut and a beard trim. If he was looking for jobs he probably would have shaved the beard off. He shook his head gently. He was too much in his own head. He needed to just stay in the present for now until it made sense to think of the future. Just enjoy being out and having some of his freedom returned to him. He briefly watched a trio of seagulls fight over a bagel.

He stepped onto Charles Street and it was just as bustling as it had always been and he was a bit overwhelmed. He waited at the crosswalk to get across the street for a while and then hurried across. Even with plenty of time, he still got honked at. It was not worth it to get angry. The elevator at the office building was taking a while so he took the steps. He climbed three stories pretty easily. He was still in shape.

“Excuse me,” he said to the guy at the front desk of the office. “I’m here to see Marianne Grover.”

“She just stepped outside,” the guy said without looking up. “If you hurry you can catch her. Unless it’s business. If it’s business you can take a seat.”

“Thanks,” Hawthorne said. “It’s not business. He walked back toward the stairs and hustled down them. That explained why the elevator was in use. If he had just waited, he might have caught her. He reached the bottom and stepped outside and saw a young woman hanging up her cell phone. “Excuse me, Marianne Grover?”

The woman turned around with tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Whatever you want will have to wait. My dad just died.”

An Easy Favor Pt. 5

January 29, 2022

Hawthorne tore into the meatball sub as he sat on the bed in his room. It was the first non-prison food he had had since his sister’s funeral and he nearly wept at the taste of it. He had to stop himself from wolfing the whole thing down right away. He took his time, meticulously eating and tasting the meal and trying to remain present in the moment. He had also bought an iced tea and a coffee. He had had coffee in prison but it was pretty close to mud. This was sub shop coffee but it was about twenty times better than the stuff in prison. He had not had iced tea since before the trial.

He had the blinds open on his window so he sat and stared out as the sun went down in Baltimore City. People were coming home from work or going out but Hawthorne felt so disconnected from it all. He was out of prison but he had not really reentered society. He was forbidden from contacting most of his friends and he did not really have much family anymore. The few he knew of would not want to talk to him. He was looking forward to meeting people and possibly making some new human connections but he knew that it would be rough going as well. He was an ex-convict and most people would not respond well to that.

He hoped that his new boss would be agreeable. He knew that he could be a good hand around a parts shop but he would be hard-pressed to make a good impression. If things went poorly, work would not be a happy place to spend time. Hawthorne had no choice but to try to be optimistic that he could win his boss and coworkers over. He wanted to have a good life but he knew that a lot of people would want him to be miserable. The stigma of prison would never go away as long as he lived. It was not like society was going to change anytime soon and he could not hide his past.

It started to rain outside and he stood up to watch everybody scurry around. A few well-prepared people deployed umbrellas. It paid to be prepared. It started to pour and even the umbrella users started to hurry and soon only cars were on the street. The sound of the rain was peaceful and Hawthorne took several deep breaths as he let the sound fill his being. He had been the muscle between him and his sister but he had always been the more contemplative. Mars had never wanted to stop and think. It gave her anxiety to stand still. Things would be a lot more peaceful without her.

He watched as a single person in a long raincoat walked down the street as if the rain did not bother them. They were tall and thin and walked with ease. That person stopped in front of the halfway house and looked up and. for a moment, Hawthorne could have sworn that she could see him. The girl had an eyepatch over her right eye and her left eye had a fierce wildness to it. It took Hawthorne a few moments to remember that the window was built with thick one-way glass. Still, her look had unnerved him and he hit the button to close the metal shutters. He could still hear the rain.

He walked back to his bed and sat down to finish his sandwich. In the morning, he would use the free day to track down Art’s daughter. He would give her the message and then he would move on unless she wanted to talk about her dad a bit. He did not have a lot to offer but he could talk about how Art was inside and how he was as a cellmate. After that, he would grab some groceries so he could cook a bit over the coming week. In the meantime, he was starting to get very tired. He would go to sleep soon and hope that he had no bad dreams.

An Easy Favor Pt. 4

January 22, 2022

Hawthorne waved his data tag near the panel on the door and he heard the deadbolts release and he pushed the door open. He set his bag down and stretched, hearing a slight creak of metal in his shoulder. He really needed maintenance but he did not really have the money for it. He would have to save up his money after he got a job. He thought about hosing himself down but almost as soon as that thought entered his head, the data tag started beeping loudly. It was so loud that he was glad that he was in private and would not annoy anybody nearby.

“Stand by!” the device chimed almost cheerily. “Incoming call from Sergeant Callum.” The voice sounded like an old school phone menu voice. Hawthorne could not tell if it was recorded or synthesized voice. He idly wondered if there were voice options on the data tag. If there was a more soothing option, it would make calls a little better.

Hawthorne looked at the device on his wrist and sighed. He was kind of tired yet keyed up from his encounter downstairs and was in no mood to talk to his parole officer. However, he had no say in the matter and he had a feeling that his parole officer could reach him no matter where he was and what he was doing by design. He was resigned to make something of his second chance which meant putting up with his parole officer no matter what. The data tag whirred to life and a hologram started to form. A tall, lanky man with a gray push-broom mustache and a shaved head. Not what Hawthorne was expecting.

“Inmate report in,” Sergeant Callum said. It was direct but not hostile. The man stared hard at Hawthorne, his body language giving away nothing. He was all business much like Erinyes had been downstairs. It was the kind of attitude that subconsciously made Hawthorne stand up a little straighter.

“Inmate 1159261181514 reporting in,” Hawthorne said. It was something he had said hundreds of times over the course of serving his time. The numbers would be burned into his brain forever even though he was usually referred to as the truncated ‘1514’. Few people had used his name but he had repeated it in his head to keep a hold of it and hope that he would use it again.

“By reporting to your quarters, you are officially released,” the Sergeant said with a slight smile. “You’ve earned your name back, Hawthorne Cassidy.”

“Thank you, sir,” Hawthorne said. “I appreciate it.” He felt a weight lift off of him that he had barely realized was there. He was free. There were plenty more hoops to jump through but he was free and out in the world. He would be whole again.

“I hope you do, Cassidy,” the Sergeant said. “Don’t make the Department of Corrections regret releasing you. That’s my one and only rule. I succeed at my job when you succeed at your rehabilitation.”

“I get it,” Hawthorne said. “I mean that I understand. I want to go straight, I have no desire to commit any more crimes. I just want to live my life.”

“I hope that’s a genuine statement,” the Sergeant said. “For now, I’ll believe it is. I’ll be doing regular check-ins with you and I will be in communication with the house staff and your boss.”

“Yeah I have to get myself one of those first,” Hawthorne said. “I’ll start looking for work first thing in the morning.” He was not looking forward to the job hunt process. Part of what had made crime so attractive was not having to go through that process.

“No need,” the Sergeant said. “I have a job lined up for you already. A local auto parts shop put in a request for somebody with muscle and I volunteered you. The guy gets back into town day after tomorrow so you can use tomorrow to do a little food shopping and settle in. I’ll send the address to your data tag. You’re also due a few credits to start you off with some food. There’s a sub place a few doors down from where you are.”

Hawthorne was taken aback. “Thank you, sir, I frankly was not expecting this,” he said. “I was expecting to deal with a hardass.”

“Oh, I can be hard if I have to,” the Sergeant said. “Don’t make me stop being nice, neither of us will enjoy it. I gave up being mean when I left the service. Help me help you.”

“You’ve got it,” Hawthorne said. “A Cassidy is true to their word. I’ll do my best by you.”

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>


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