Monday, June 27, 2011

Forever Is...

It's writing challenge time, brought to you by Indie Ink. New contestants: Funderbar; New feedback and comments: Fantabulistic; Not meeting deadlines: Priceless. For everything else, there's me.

Welcome to Week 15.

Week 15.
My Challenger: Jules
My Challenge: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars... go with the one that offers potential of stars." - Oscar Wilde
Who I am Challenging: Miranda
What I Challenged Them With: All that glitters *could* be gold...

Time & Space...

"We'll be breaking every known law of relativity..."

"Not exactly... In fact, no, no we won't. We're 'side-stepping' them. Do you not pay attention during class?"

"Man was not meant to travel this way!" He turned and stared out at the black hole, at the brilliant light of so many stars on the verge of falling over the event horizon. Like fire flies, he thought. Stars zooming in from seemingly nowhere as others blinked and fizzled out once they reached that point.

The point of no return.

"Theoretically, you mean."


"You said 'the point of no return'," Chandra said, a small smile on her face as she strapped on her foot-gear. "And I said, 'Theoretically'." She stood up, grabbed her helmet from her locker, then slammed it shut as she turned to face him once again. "You best finish suiting up. We're heading out in five."

"But man was not meant--"

"In case you haven't noticed, I'm no man." Chandra turned and headed out the door. "Five minutes!" she called back, her voice echoing back to him.


Kennedy twitched. He hated his space suit. He hated this tiny craft. He hated that it felt immoral to "side step" known laws of the physical universe.

He hated that he wasn't more like Chandra.

He readjusted the belts again, if for nothing else, than to occupy the fingers that would give everything up to be back on Earth; to feel a blade of grass; to reach up toward a star that wasn't graveside.

Chandra plunked down on the seat beside him. "Ready, cowboy?"

He blinked at her, attempting to convey nonchalance.

She punched him in the shoulder playfully. "Oh, buck up. We won't be cutting the trip short if you soil your suit."

He apparently needed to work on his conveying skills.

"DS-Twelve, this is Hole Jumper One. Beginning preflight checks," she said into her in-helmet mic.

"Copy that, Jumper One. Begin preflight check when ready."

Kennedy tapped his helmet. "Is your com static-y?"

"Nope, and neither is yours. Hand me that pencil, will you?"

"You see? You see? This is a perfect example of why we shouldn't be doing this!"

"A... Pencil?" She quirked an eyebrow at him as she grabbed it from his hands.

"How many different types of ink pen have been invented for zero-gravity situations just like this? Huh? And yet we come back to the trusty pencil! If we can't get ink to flow out in a way that doesn't require--"

"Stow it, Kennedy," came a voice over the com.

"Yes sir."

"Jumper One, begin preflight."

"Yes sir," Chandra answered. She shrugged sympathetically at Kennedy then began the rundown.


"What if...?"

"What if what?"

"What if the tests were wrong? What if, when we jump out of the four dimensions and cross over that event horizon..."



"It's okay to be scared. But we've run the simulations, we've sent over and brought back the cams and bots and rabbits and monkeys..."

"Yeah... I know..."

"We'll be all right."

"But how do you know?"

"Because I know."

He absorbed this statement, this faith, this improbable possibility. Then he turned to her and said, "You realize that monkey was never the same, right?"

"And maybe we won't be either. But I plan on attending the funerals of several stars today so that tomorrow? Tomorrow we can start saving a few."

"We're attempting to play god."

"We're attempting to save our galaxy. And hell, if god ain't gonna do that for us, we better start playing god, or we're all fucking dead."


He remembered being amazed at how gray everything was. Granted, the gray only lasted a split second--check that. It seemed to last only a split second. And then they were there--or not there, depending on where you were on the side of time.

Not to mention the other three dimensions that, until this point, no other human had managed to leave.

"Breathe, Kennedy! Dammit, breathe!"

He turned to face Chandra. Then his glass mask fogged up.

"Oh, thank goodness! I have no idea how long that was, but get a grip, turn on your suit-stasis, and don't lose it on me, okay?"

He nodded.

"Say something."


He saw her smile. Then he saw her frown. "What?"

"I... I don't know." She shook her head. "Come on, let's start up the cams, see what the hole is like on this side of relativity."

Switches were flicked, screens lit up, images began to appear. "Everything seems in order, just..."

"I know," Chandra agreed. "Odd. Bluer, yes?"

"I would say 'aqua-er'," he replied, tapping one screen which seemed to be distorted.

"You can't pick a real color, can you?"

"Do you see this?"

"What?" Chandra frowned.

"The matter--or, the singularity--the middle, the fucking middle of the black hole!"





"Is that...?"

"When you take away the four dimensions..." Kennedy trailed off.

"But the cams we sent over. Why didn't they see this?"

"I don't know." He began running calculations. He tapped keyboards, consulted screens. "This is incredible."

"What is?"

"Mass... The mass... All those stars and planets and light and matter that have been sucked in, sucked down, compressed into that single point... I don't..."

Chandra punched him. "Seriously, Kennedy, if you don't learn how to complete a goddamn sentence real fucking soon, so help me, I swear, I'll leave your ass here."

"I'd live forever," he mused.

"Alone. Now what were you saying?"

"Over here, on this side of time? It's not a black hole at all. It's a white hole!"

"You going monkey on me?"

"No-no-no! Look!" He pointed to the furthest-most left screen. Where large bodies of matter were being expelled over the event horizon.

"Is that...?"

"The birth of a dark-matter star..." Kennedy confirmed.

"It's... It's so beautiful."

They watched for what seemed to be several minutes as stars and planets spun out erratically in all directions, flung out of the singularity with rapid profusion.

"But--wait," Chandra interrupted. "Did you say 'dark-matter star'? Dark matter is nothing more than a vast, thin collection of molecules and atoms, invisible to the naked eye but with a gravity equal to that of most other..."

"Yes. Equal to that of other stars or planets that we can see."


"They were wrong. All those scientists, all those years, for the last sixteen centuries. All wrong. This, Chandra, is really what dark matter is."

"We need to get back."

"Just--just a little longer. Please."

"It is beautiful..."


Gray. Of course, the gray seemed to last for only a split-second, depending on where you were on the side of time.

"There they are!" shouted the commander as the tiny ship popped up on their radar. "Jumper One, Jumper One, this is DS-Twelve, repeat, this is DS-Twelve, do you copy?"

Silence. "Jumper One, this is DS-Twelve, do you copy?"

More silence. "Captain, start pulling in that ship."

"Yes, Commander."

"And alert the medics to meet me in the landing bays. Hopefully it's just that their coms have malfunctioned."

"Yes, Commander."

He strode through the halls, his mind pondering the millions of things that could have gone wrong, from the inane to the fantastic. Medics fell in behind him, but he didn't acknowledge them, barely registered the fact that they were now following him.

He reached the landing bay just as the small silver craft was lowered by boom onto it's landing pad. "Get me a ladder!" he shouted to one of the crew.

As he climbed the now-positioned ladder, he ignored the fact that they still hadn't popped up the cap of the craft on their own, ignored the fact that he could see no movement behind the glare of the lights. He reached up and grasped the ice-cold emergency latch and the cap popped off and fell down the other side.

"Sweet Jesus..."

Two sets of very ancient eyes pivoted from sunken flesh...

"Caaa...." one of them said.

"Fooo..." gasped the other.

More men appeared on top of a ladder on the other side of the craft.

The commander tried to regain his composure. "Get them to the infirmary."


The doctor came into the commander's quarters.

"Doctor? What is it? That--they... They are Kennedy and Chandra, yes?"

"Well, yes. They were Kennedy and Chandra."


"They passed away about half an hour after we got them into sick bay. Commander, I'm so sorry."


"Time. That's all it was," the doctor said. At the confused look on the commander's face, he continued, "They died from extreme--and I do mean extreme--old age. Their biometric readings were... well, let's just say for as old as they were, our machinery and technology couldn't even begin to fathom..."


"From popping back into time, apparently," the doctor continued. "They both managed a few words, but on review of some of the cams, when they popped back into time... Well, let's just say we never... We never expected footage like that."

"What did she say? Chandra. What did she say?"

"She just kept muttering 'monkey,' over and over."

"And Kennedy?"

"He said..." the doctor choked up. "He said," he continued, voice quavering, "that forever was longer than anyone could imagine."

"I don't understand."

"Apparently what takes a split second physically to pop back into time," the doctor said, "takes an eternity for the consciousness to do."

"Sweet Jesus. You mean...?"

"That's exactly what I mean."


"And he also said he was never so happy to see stars again."

Previous Challenges I have answered:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And the Winner Is...

Yes, yes, ladies and gentlemen--you are reading the blog of a winner. Sorry, that should be A WINNER.

You see, I've just won something from a contest on Facebook--I know, Facebook, of all places! (But before you get too excited, no, it wasn't a Hover Car...)

Of course, this isn't the first thing I've ever won. I originally won these adorable, gay-pride-colored Grateful Dead-esque little guys in a raffle at a camp site far, far away from where I currently sit and impart my wisdom to you:

See, there's Squishy, and George, and Dixie, and... Ahem! Well, yes, where was I? Oh, the winning. Me = Winner.

I know, I know--the bears do bring to mind strawberry fields, pot heads, bad seventies-porn-type mustaches... But they're mine, and I won them, and I love them...

But today, folks--TODAY--I've won Preen! Preen, if you didn't know, is a weed killer. And I won because I submitted the winning caption on this photo:

My winning zinger of awesomeness:
This is your brain on gardening... Any questions?
The contest was put on by the National Gardening Club (of whom I am a proud Life Member) to see who could come up with the awesomest, zingiest, most creative caption for the picture above--and out of the (thus far) 212 comments, it is I, Jason Hughes, who was declared, and I do not quote, "Awesomest." (And the only reason I do not quote is because they actually forgot that part in the email letting me know I won, but I'm thinking it's because they knew it was implied... And it was...) I can't wait to start killing me some weeds!

Of course, I can't help but think if Karma is trying to tell me something:
  1. Win Marijuana-type Bears
  2. Win Weed Killer
You think... Maybe...? Naaaah!

I'm just one of those people--you know?


At least, that's what I tell you the next time you nonchalantly stop me tomorrow morning to say "Hi! How are you?"

I'm a WINNER. And don't you forget it!

(The husband is so not going to let me enter contests anymore... But I like to think it's so others can have a better shot at winning...)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hey, Mister, Can You Spare Some Love?

It's writing challenge time, brought to you by Indie Ink. New contestants: Funderbar; New feedback and comments: Fantabulistic; Not meeting deadlines: Priceless. For everything else, there's me.

Welcome to Week 14.

Week 14.
My Challenger: The Supremely Talented Lazidaisical
My Challenge: homeless
Who I am Challenging: The Gracious and Lovely Supermaren
What I Challenged Them With: Love is more than good intentions.

Hey, Mister, Can You Spare Some Love?

The thing is, it's not only ever just "their fault." Shit happens. Sometimes a lot of shit happens. I get that.

But I also don't get it, if that makes sense. It scares me--scares the holy bejesus shit out of me, honestly--to think that I could end up that way. Homeless.

But then again, I truly don't believe it ever could happen to me, which part of my mind just whispered, That's what you think...

I hate that voice.

I can't even begin to imagine it. I don't believe for a second that they are all wino's, or addicts, or lazy, although some of them probably are. I can't guarantee that whenever I hand a homeless person some change or a bill that they aren't going to turn around and spend it on alcohol, or drugs, or sex...

But then again, I don't care if they do--but allow me to clarify that statement, if you please. "I don't care," as in, if they, as a homeless, wandering human soul who hasn't a roof over his/her head and no guarantee of food or a place to sleep safely at night, finds even five minutes of comfort in a drink, or a high? I cannot begrudge them that. I'm not an idiot. I know $5 isn't going to really, truly help them, in the sense that they certainly couldn't rent a room for the night--hell, if it weren't for the so-called "dollar" menu at fast-food chains, I doubt anywhere else it would even buy a proper meal (and that's assuming the dollar menu falls into the "proper meal" category, which we all know it doesn't...). What I'm saying is, I'm not one of those people who make someone who is begging--BEGGING, mind you, for change, pennies--promise me they aren't going to spend it on this or that.

And I would hope that, were I ever to find myself in such a situation, someone else would be kind enough not only to hand me some type of money, but would allow me the dignity, that tiniest part of dignity, to spend this treasured gift in whichever way I choose. After all, if I were homeless, what dignity have I left? What kind of choice could I possibly make? No job, no money, no home, no food--but for a brief moment, when that money hit my hand from your heart, I know I'd feel like a king, albeit briefly. And I personally can thing of nothing more degrading, nothing more humiliating, than, having accepted your generous gift, to then listen to a list of demands and rules about how to spend it. It breaks my heart when I see others treat the homeless like children who are being punished, children who just need a good talking-to, children who are ultimately someone else's responsibility...

I'm not sure we could ever fully "solve" the so-called "homeless problem" in our country. I'm not sure we could even begin to fathom a way to make sure every person gets that chance, at that moment, to turn their lives in a direction which would restore their dignity and pride at being a human being once again. After all, some of it would have to be a conscious decision on their part--but it will also take a hell of a lot of heart on our part.

And honestly, I don't see us ever getting around to having that much heart, as a country at least. Sure, on a case-by-case, person-by-person basis, sure, we can save a few--and by "save," I certainly don't mean "Every single one a home owner and making thousands each year at a job." And, of course, each year there is a success story in one way or another of a formerly homeless person reaching for and getting the life back that they want, the life back that they lost, due to their own hard work and other's giving them a break, giving them a job, giving them a place to lay their head safely each night.

But thousands more never get that shot.

The homeless. Each individual is someone's child, someone's son or daughter, someone's brother or sister, someone's father or mother.

They aren't the homeless--they are human beings. They are who each and every one of us could end up becoming.

But for each other.

But for me. And you.

And the thousands of those whom we have failed in one way or another.

Do me a favor, will you? Next time you pass by a homeless person, don't think of handing them money because it will make you feel better--do it because it might make them feel better, feel human again, just for a moment.

Because it will only take one fateful moment in your own life, and that could be you.

Previous Challenges I have answered:
[Week 1: All of Me] [Week 2: Child's End] [Week 3: Seeking Bonds]
[Week 4: Just So You Know] [Week 5: Justice & Mercy]
[Week 6: Tale of a Fateful Flick] [Week 7: Hell or High Water]
[Week 8: Streaming Summer] [Week 9: Piss & Vinegar]
[Week 10: Set It Free]
[Week 11: Four Horsemen, Three Gods, a Transgendered Devil, and Lazarus Under a Pear Tree...]
[Week 12: Worth a Thousand Words...] [Week 13: On the Down...]

Friday, June 17, 2011

They Promised Us Hover Cars...
No, Seriously! They Did!

It's me. Jason. It's approximately the year 2011 (I say approximately because we've realized we can't trust our government about anything--least of all those hover cars that were promised, let alone the year...). I was gonna take the easy route and write to future me--after all, if I'm this awesome now, how totally, insanely, fan-freakin-tastically awesome will future me be?

Yeah, I drew the same conclusion: Unstoppably Rockin.

So instead, I decided to write to those of you who have perfected faster-than-light travel; who think skipping off to the rings of Saturn for a weekend jaunt is old hat; where a beach-vaca in the Andromeda galaxy is "too local" for you mere Earthlings. Yeah, you know who you are. (You've also perfected time-travel, obviously, and are laughing your asses off as you read this thinking we haven't caught on to you--well, we have, we'd just hate to blow your cover... Duh!)

You see, I have no idea when all that nifty stuff--like space travel for the lay person, or trans-warptation from your bed to your job, or when you can genetically alter your mutt just enough to learn to mow the lawn--is going to happen. After all, I'm back here in the supposed year 2011. Will ancient blogs like mine still be available to read in the year 3030? Will these typed, digitized words be archived somewhere on an administrative planet to be shielded from those pesky, data-wiping gamma bursts when stars thoughtlessly die without regard for how much consumer debt they wipe out? Will Pauly Shore be just as dorky? Will an Alf-like creature have been discovered that actually use felines in their General Tsao's?

You see, it sucks being back here--not as much as it sucked for cavemen, granted (or worse yet, BETAMAX VCRs)--but it sucks nonetheless. We have no idea what you future dudes and dudettes are up to! (Yes, an homage to the supposed decade known as "1980s"...) Have you kept that human drive of curiosity burning? Have you actually reached the limits of your species' imagination? What wonderous toys and gizmo's and what-not you must take for granted, like your super-deluxe Ninja-Cacti-Gremlins that slice and dice while waxing your Kia Centauri Cruiser! Or your green Flibbidijibbits that serve exactly what you were hungry for before you even knew what you were hungry for! (Hmm... Pizza... With Asteroid cubes and Jupiter Crust!!)

Perhaps you'll be sunning on the event horizon of a black hole three galaxies to the left (because of course you have by now mastered which end of space is UP, so obviously there is, indeed, a left...), wishing for a simpler time when all the hooligans left black holes well enough alone...

But enough about that--after all, we have it pretty good too. I bet you aren't even going to realize what it was like to gaze at the stars and wonder... To imagine what it would be like to stand on a planet with orange skies and magenta clouds... To contemplate if the jump into hyper-light would give you butterflies much like today's roller coasters...

Granted, in a few decades time, I'll be finally getting that hover car I was promised, upping my awesomeness to whole new levels of unmentionable and unforseen zeniths that humanity never knew it could reach until I came along...

But until then, I will slightly envy you, future humans...

Because to you, hover cars will be so old, they won't even be considered classics...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Down...

It's writing challenge time, brought to you by the ever-awesome site of Indie Ink. New contestants always welcome; new feedback and comments always welcome; not meeting deadlines never welcome...

Welcome to Unlucky Week 13.

Week 13.
My Challenger: Trish
My Challenge: What goes up, must come down.
Who I am Challenging: Sunshine
What I Challenged Them With: Retell the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff from the Troll's perspective...

This week's challenge is eerily apt, as I feel the ups and downs of life are really trying to get me to crack. Be that as it may, what goes down must also come back up, yes?

On the Down...

He glanced to his left--toward the window which looked out onto sterile walls, starch white uniforms, and the numb stares of his caretakers.

He then turned to his right, staring out the window whose frame held a tree, some parked cars, and buildings in the distance filled with people going about their daily lives in the same sort of way he used to.

A sigh escaped his lips quite involuntarily.

His son was coming today, along with his wife, a few of their kids, and a few of their kids. That's what the sigh was all about, he decided. He stared down at his hands, rubbed his fingers over his other fingers, feeling the callouses that no longer sloughed off after a hard days' labor, as if they, too, knew they were on their way down, not worth the effort to produce new skin and shed the damaged, hard sections.

As a nurse came in and mumbled something about the sun shining; he didn't even spare her a glance. Another involuntary sigh escaped, and he grimaced as he realized the nurse had picked up on it.

"Now, don't you be sighing like that--your family's coming today!" she said between overly-white teeth framed by overly-red lips. "That'll cheer you up something for sure!" She fussed with some papers on his chart, delaying, waiting for a stock-answer which meant her job was done, she had done her good deed for the dying soul, that she could move on to the next with a clear conscience.

He harumphed.

She smiled, waiting. No longer even bothering to pretend to be doing paperwork, or checking his IV, or one of any other of a dozen menial tasks. He was no longer worth the pretending, so near the end, and they both knew it. She just wanted her fix from her pimp, and he was unwilling to oblige.

Staring her straight into her mascara-purple eyes, he harumphed again.

It was her turn to sigh. "Don't like your family?" she queried.

"What's to like--or not like? Dammit!"


"Go away!"

She shrugged her shoulders and left, shaking her head. He saw another nurse shake her head in agreement out in the hall.

He leaned back against the pillows, eyes cast back toward the outside-facing window.

Do I not like my family? he pondered. No. Definitely not. In fact, he did have a slight uplifting of spirits on the days he knew they were coming, the break of the monotony, even if it did interrupt Dr. Phil.

No, he didn't dislike them. He just couldn't relate any longer. His mind drifted back to the days when he was going places--going up, as it were. One of the few who were lucky enough to survive the Normandy beach landing... Later, as a crane pulled him up on a beam several stories above the ground, just two feet and four fingers balancing in the air on the faith of a steel cable and a crane... And when he finished building that cottage for him and Martha, on the roof nailing in that last nail into that last shingle, Martha on the ground beaming up at him with pride and love... Helping Dennis learn to first ride a bicycle, then a car... When he'd finally saved enough to take the wife and kids on that trip to the Grand Canyon--what pride he had felt, what a sense of accomplishment!

What would his grandkids, his great-grandkids ever know of him? They wouldn't know him as the young man who saved lives in Europe, or the guy who built those sky scrapers in the distance, or who helped their dad or granddad learn to ride a bike...

Or any of the hundreds of other events in his life that no longer came when summoned. They'd just know him as the guy in the bed who they had to visit once a month, with the smelly room, the mottled skin, the sagging flab, the runny eyes.

They would only ever remember the down.

He could only hope that, when they, too, started the down, they would remember him.

He turned to stare out at the solitary tree beyond the glass, just beginning to turn a mottled shade of yellow as autumn approached. Hopefully, just hopefully, they'd have a better view.

Previous Challenges I have answered:
[Week 1: All of Me] [Week 2: Child's End] [Week 3: Seeking Bonds]
[Week 4: Just So You Know] [Week 5: Justice & Mercy]
[Week 6: Tale of a Fateful Flick] [Week 7: Hell or High Water]
[Week 8: Streaming Summer] [Week 9: Piss & Vinegar]
[Week 10: Set It Free]
[Week 11: Four Horsemen, Three Gods, a Transgendered Devil, and Lazarus Under a Pear Tree...]
[Week 12: Worth a Thousand Words...]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Worth a Thousand Words...

It's writing challenge time, brought to you by the ever-awesome site of Indie Ink. New contestants always welcome; new feedback and comments always welcome; not meeting deadlines never welcome...

Welcome to week 12.

Week 12.
My Challenger: Miranda
My Challenge: whatever you write you must use onomatopoeia in it somewhere
Who I am Challenging: Random Girl
What I Challenged Them With: A life lesson learned from an *extremely* unlikely source/event...

Worth a Thousand Words...

Definition by Webster's,
Enlightenment by Nature...
"What's this?" the young woman asked as she brushed away the dirt and dust.

"Why, it looks like... Yes, yes, my child, you have found it!"

"What?!" She straightened and stepped back, unsure if this was one of those "Yes! Step back!" moments or one of those "Yes! Bring it here!" moments. The first were far more often than she liked to admit, let alone experience.

The man knelt down on the dirt and slowly lifted the item, holding it with tweezers. "I never thought we'd find any evidence, and here it is!"

"Here is what?" she half-whispered, seeing the reverence in his eyes, the stillness of his fingers as they applied the just-right amount of pressure to secure the thing between the metal tongs. These moments were indeed rare, explosive, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and she had yet to figure out which of these it would be. She thought back to the time when they had been on Ares, when a similar item bearing analogous markings had been raised from the red soil--and scattered to the wind once it was freed from the soil. That had been a bad, bad day for them both. Not to mention the ridicule and charges of imagined evidence that had followed them for months.

Now they found themselves on Terra, supposed mythological home to the Second. As she let her gaze sweep over the brown, dusty landscape, she couldn't help but wonder if the myths were just that--myths.

"Draga, this--this," he said, his hands now quivering as he gently carried the item through the flaps of the nearby tent, "will prove that I've been right all along--come, come, quickly, inside!"

She shrugged, and followed him into the darkness, where she watched as he placed the item into a protective shield, then sealed it inside, preserving the item--

"Paper!" he said, the reverence still in place. "With actual, hand-written letters! Do you realize what this means?"

"Not really..." she trailed off.

She stepped closer to peer at the item, knowing now that she could set off fusionworks and the thing--paper--would be safe. She leaned down, making out scratches of color on the pale yellow surface. "I take it those are the... Um, 'letters'?"

"Yes, yes, silly child!" He rubbed his hands excitedly, unsure what to do now that he had his proof, his vindication. Now that his hands had placed the paper into safety, they seemed to have minds of their own, rubbing together, waving about, running through his hair...

"Oh, when my colleagues see this..."

She tried to keep from rolling her eyes. "Any chance we can figure out what these letters mean?"

"Oh, how silly of me! Yes, yes, hold on..." He wandered to the left side of the tent, picked up their helmets, and handed hers to her. "We'll download all of my research now--it's a lot, so take the painkillers or you'll end up with a hell of a headache. Once you're ready, navigate towards the com in the rear of the reality and press the orange key. That's where the information is stored." Then he had his helmet on and his body, released from conscious thought, collapsed on the chair behind him.

She eyed her helmet. She hated these trips across the ether, especially so far from home. She'd heard of consciousnesses being lost, carried away on the lightwaves of the universe, never to arrive in any body, anywhere. The teacher may think it all superstitious nonsense, but there were just too many stories to poo-poo the idea entirely.

"What are you waiting for?" He was back, obviously, as he raised his helmet off and stood back up. "Come on, we have much work to do! Get going!"

She sighed, sat, and placed the visor over her head. Closing her eyes, she reached up and engaged.

And then she was there, in his office back on Yiu. She wandered over to the consoles at the back, located the orange button, and pressed her fingers deep inside.

The teacher hadn't been kidding about the headache, as information zoomed into her brain: thoughts; ideas; images; pictures; vids; other conscious matter. She half-stumbled back across the office, sat back into the ether-chair, and in nanoseconds found herself back on Terra.

She let out the breath she had been holding.

"Draga, see this--and this?" He was pointing excitedly at the "paper," picking out symbols that apparently meant something. She shook her head, willing the downloaded information to quickly disseminate so she, too, could act as excited as he was.

"Yes... Yes, I do see..." she mumbled as she stared, the scratches starting to form coherent, logical meaning. "But--"


"Why-- I mean, what kind of civilization would try to place ideas in such a rudimentary form? I mean, all throughout the galaxy, all conscious minds work on images, pictures, intangible thoughts. What kind of being would use... You called them 'letters,' yes?"

"Exactly!" he cried. "These beings--they called themselves 'humans,' but you were taught 'the Second' in school--this was their main form of communication for centuries--eons, in fact! It's why they were classified as the Second. Their contributions to the races of sentients that followed are almost unparalleled, excepting, of course, the First. But that's hotly debated, as you know."

"With letters?"

"Yes!" he cried. "Evidence has been far and few between, granted. Once they perfected and harnessed the power of electricity, soon the hand-written word was replaced by the typed word, and then the light-scribed word, and so on. Most of this has been speculation, of course, as we only have our own records to fall back on to the earliest days of our races intermingling, near the end of the Second's time in this galaxy. By then they were so many millenia old, they had long since ceased with letters, written, typed, or otherwise!"

"But I fail to see how this archaic means of communication--"

"Think of this," he said, now thoroughly engaged in teacher mode. "Back into the recesses of time, long before our race, the Tenths, had even dreamed of space travel. We had long, long lists of images for communicating even the most basic of needs! The Second's had a few similar early cultures in which images served them instead of these letters--Cheenese, I believe they were called, something like that anyway--but even as we, the Tenth, were evolving almost in lock-step with the Second, they achieved so much more in such a shorter amount of time because they realized that not all images were viewed equally! Take our water picture, for instance. To some of the Second, it meant life, while to another Second it could mean wet, or where fish are found, or--"

"What's a 'fish'?"

"Never mind that! Don't you see? The Second realized that, until brain-transferring thought technology could be harnessed, where images and their conscious meanings could be sent to another leaving no doubt as to what was meant, they needed a system of communicating exact, specific, precise ideas!"

"So they knew in the future they would have brain-transferring thought technology?"

"Don't be stupid! Of course not! But through their evolution, they realized, unlike the evolution of our own cultures, that to create 'letters' to ascribe meaning in ways images could not, they had a better chance of communicating, which set the stage for them to be the Second! It was only by the merest of chances that the First came along before them! Fluke chance!"

She soaked all this in, melded it into the downloaded information she had received back in his office. "I guess I see what you're getting at..."

"Second, you know, was the culture that came up with the phrase, 'A picture is worth a thousand words.' And in that little phrase lies the whole of their successes!"


She stared at the paper, the first evidence of the Second's ancient form of "writing." Somehow she felt a bit dirty staring at something so old, as if it were beneath her to consider something so archaic as "grand."

She stared harder as her brain started making more sense out of more and more of the symbols. "Not much repetition..."

"No, and that was part of the genius. Twenty-six symbols, or letters, were all they needed to get even the most complex ideas across. Twenty-six! Compare that to our ancient image system thousands upon thousands of images deep!"

"What are these?"

"Those are 'numbers.' They sometimes used these symbols to shorten, or 'abbreviate,' if you will, so it would take even less letters to get the idea across."

"You have got to be kidding."

"Second was nothing if not succinct at times. Straight to the point, that's how they liked things. Something I think our species could take a lesson from." His eyes never left the paper, engaged in seemingly trying to memorize this document in case it's fate went that of the way the one on Ares had gone.

"And this--" he said, pointing at the paper behind the shield, "this is what truly made Second great."

She scanned through her brain database. "But-- that's not even... It's not..."

"Exactly!" he cried. "This is better than even I could have dreamed of finding!"

"These letters make no sense in that configuration though!" she cried. "How great can the Second have been if they couldn't even then get their letters in the right order? Or even the right combination of letters?!"

"Read the letters, don't simply stare at them," he urged.

"What? 'Read'?"

"You see this word? I read it as 'Brumrumrummmmrumrummmm'."

She stared at him blankly.

"If I read the entire line, or lines, I get the image in my head of thunder making noise over the horizon!"

"I don't follow! It's not a 'word' using their 'letters'."

"Oh, but it is, it is. One thing Second was great at was creativity. And realizing that sometimes even their known letters and words failed them when trying to get across an idea, they made it up!"


"They knew what sounds each letter made. So they would throw the letters together to convey the sound! It's called--or at least I think they called that, an 'onomatopoeia'. When they threw letters together to convey the image they had no exact word for! Whether out of reverence for such basic sounds and noises I suppose we'll never know."

"Sounds like the silliest--"

"Oh, but it's not, and here's why," the teacher stated emphatically. "How would you communicate the quiet whisper of the wind? How would you know whether it was a breeze before a storm, or a breeze bringing relief to a sweltering day?"

"I'd just... Well, you just know. You look at the sky, you watch the weather vids, you..." She trailed off.

"Ah, but with a simple, quiet spelling of "sssshhhh through the trees," using the Second's letters, all humans knew! And if it was a 'fictional' story, they couldn't very well watch the weather vids to know what the human was trying to convey, could they?"

"Well, they could watch the vids of the story--"

"Not all stories had vids in their cultures."

"And you're sure they are worthy of such praise?"

"You have no idea..."

Previous Challenges I have answered:
[Week 1: All of Me] [Week 2: Child's End]
[Week 3: Seeking Bonds] [Week 4: Just So You Know]
[Week 5: Justice & Mercy] [Week 6: Tale of a Fateful Flick]
[Week 7: Hell or High Water] [Week 8: Streaming Summer]
[Week 9: Piss & Vinegar] [Week 10: Set It Free]
[Week 11: Four Horsemen, Three Gods, a Transgendered Devil, and Lazarus Under a Pear Tree...]