Holiday Update!

Sorry I haven't had the time to update today (and probably won't Friday).  A combination of holiday stress and other obligations has taken its toll on my lately, but I'll be back in the New Year!

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Enjoy reading!

-Michael J. Patrick

Duskworld- 18 "Charlie Returned" and 19 "A Superhero"

Chapter Eighteen
Charlie Returned

  Phel and Tyson found the road as the weak Naya sun began to rise.
  “Where are we headed now?” Phel asked as they walked.
  “To Sagan. It is not much farther now. There I will leave you as originally intended then I will continue on to Newbright.”  
  “I beg your pardon?” said Tyson.
  “No. I’m not going to wait while you and Charlie and Meiki are off fighting alien invaders who want to put us all in chains or whatever. I’m coming along too.
  “I cannot allow a child to-”
  “I ain’t a child. I’ve been nearly on my own for three years. Meiki’s been totally on her own. She doesn’t even visit her own mom. Isn’t that the whole point? You androids raise us up away from our parents so we can be self-sufficient. So we can start new towns and cities, spread all over the planet?  Ain’t that it?  Well, mission accomplished. We grew up quick and now here we are making adult decisions. I’m coming with you to help Charlie and to help Meiki. Or I’ll go on my own without you if need be. But there’s no way I’m sitting around wondering what I should have done...Sir.”
  The pair finished their journey to Sagan in silence.
  Phel expected Tyson to walk around Sagan like he owned the place, but when they got there the situation was actually a bit awkward. They were greeted just outside town at a truck yard by a man named Davino. He spoke to Tyson as if he were his equal. This shocked Phel even though he had just told the android off himself.
  After a brief explanation that the truck had broken down Tyson procured a car similar to Charlie’s lemon under the guise of taking it back to the truck with the tools he needed to fix it. Davino didn’t think to ask why the necessary tools weren’t on the truck to begin with.
  When they got to the main road they turned in the opposite direction of where they told Dav the truck broke down and zipped to Newbright. Phel sat and decompressed the events of the past evening as they drove. They made it to the bridge that took them to the center of the city in less than two hours.
  “How do you even know this is where that lady took Charlie?” asked Phel.
  “We have GPS, Phelliam. I know where Professor Darwin is at all times.”
  “How far then?”
  “He’s close...just a few blocks from here. It’s not a particularly large city.”
  “It’s the only city," said Phel.
  They sped through lazy afternoon traffic of bikes and the occasional car until they came to an alley. At the far end Phel saw the truck. He jumped out of the car before Tyson had the chance to bring it to a complete halt.
  “Charlie!” he shouted as he ran toward the truck. Tyson called out to him too late. The woman stepped out from behind the truck and fired her weapon. The blast ignored Phel and struck Tyson who instantly fell to the ground.
  Phel looked at her in horror and shock as she strode confidently past him toward Tyson.
  “You’re violating the rules.” Tyson said to her from his position flat on the ground.
  She stood over him and said, “I am here for one thing. I commandeered your transport because it suited my needs. I will not interfere in your petty local disputes. Your friend is inside the truck, unharmed. When I leave both you and he will regain your mobility.”
  The woman opened the back of the truck. Charlie lied prone inside. Some kind of vessel loomed behind him.
  “Be a dear,” she said to Phel who stood dumbstruck, “Drag your androids out of the way so that I can take off. I’d prefer not to harm them...or you.”
  She jumped into the truck and slipped swiftly into the compact ship.
  Phel was dumbstruck but wasted no time pulling Charlie and Tyson down a side alley and out of the way.
  The ship began to hum and hovered inside the truck. It slowly floated until it was in the open and began to ascend. As it rose above the buildings it faded and became transparent until Phel could no longer detect it at all.
  The woman had not lied. As soon as she left Charlie and Tyson both stood up and dusted themselves off.
  “What was that all about?” demanded Phel. It was not like him to question his elders, but at this point he had lost himself. Phel had been through too much. Alien agents, robot hive-minds. All he had ever wanted was to be a simple farm technician or maintenance worker. He would get Ker to notice him, marry her and have children that he would teach to play the banjo. Was that too much to ask?
  But no. Thanks to Meiki he’d been dragged so far out of his element that he felt as if drowning in new experience. The authority figures he’d always followed without question were giving no real instruction and dragging him along in their mysterious plans. He would have no more of it without answers.
  “Who is that lady and why does she keep on shooting at us?  And what do you mean she broke the rules?  What rules?”
  Charlie ignored Phel and said to Tyson, “We continue as planned, then?  To see Marie?”
  “Yes,” said Tyson as he placed his hand on Phel’s shoulder, “and Mister Glebe is coming with us.”
  Charlie remained silent as they walked.
  “Where are we even go- never mind," said Phel. He realized halfway through the sentence that they must be connected to this Marie through GPS as well.

Chapter Nineteen
A Superhero

  Running toward the Barnum River was the most exhilarating thing Meiki had ever experienced. With Rashmi’s tech she could run faster than she could bike. As fast as a car, probably, she thought. There were virtually no motorized vehicles within the city, though. She picked up quite a bit of attention as the city folk saw her zoom by. That was part of the plan. No covert skills were needed for this mission. Distraction was essential.
  When she got to the river, Meiki turned. The river circled around the entire city like a moat. She ran at top speed for half an hour without getting tired. She had made it halfway around the perimeter of Newbright. There was no sign of Junko. Meiki began to question this plan.
  She stopped to look around her. Down the street behind her she saw a gathering of some sort, people walking and running toward her. Some were on bikes and closing in.
  Rashmi had given her a crash course in the suit’s properties. It could respond to neural oscillations of the wearer. Essentially, whoever donned the suit could train it to perform certain tasks just by thinking of them. She hadn’t taken the time to learn much, but she had figured out how to make the suit cover her face like a mask as Junko did. She also knew how to activate its optic enhancers, or the zoom lens just by conjuring a picture in her mind.
  Still a few blocks off, but gaining on her the crowd did not look threatening. It appeared to be a group of people forming to witness a spectacle. She must have attracted more attention than anticipated. Meiki couldn’t determine if this was good or bad, but decided to continue moving.
  At the next block she saw another group coming perpendicular toward her and another from straight ahead. They flanked her. Of course, she thought, word is spreading about the amazing fast jogger.
  She wanted to remain mobile and decided that being mobbed by gawkers would hinder that. Meiki determined that the crowd coming down the cross street was the smallest and ran straight toward it.
  In a flash she leapt in front of them. There were only a few dozen people, mostly young. They were carrying books in camera mode and other devices of similar nature. Some of them were talking and uploading video of her. Others were gabbing excitedly into their devices about this new wonder in a city of wonder. This must be what it was like to be a superhero, thought Meiki, like in the old Earth movies. Everyone looking and pointing while you effortlessly performed amazing stunts. She was just running, of course, but at impossible speeds.
  Before that concept ran its course through her mind she was among the crowd. Most of them stepped back from the masked girl with strange powers. She could weave between them like the wind through branches. As she sped past the mob, Meiki took one last glance at her adoring public.
  The motorbike hit her before she saw it.

The Diary of Wartha Gormley - Hi, This Is Sam.


Or should I say, Dear Diary,

I don’t know if it’s cool for me to be writing here, but I found this book in the stairwell below my apartment building. The one with the boarded up door. It looks like someone’s diary, but there wasn’t anyone around. Why would someone throw it down the stairs like that? I don’t know how old it is. It looks like a real old-timey book, but it’s in pretty good shape. I mean, it looks like it’s been through the laundry once or twice, but the binding is holding together and the pages are made out of some real sturdy paper. Is it paper? I don’t know really. It’s thick and the ink has a little sheen to it, like the rainbow in an oil puddle.

If I find the owner I hope she doesn’t mind if I use it a little. I probably shouldn’t read it, though. That would be wrong, wouldn’t it? I won’t peek. I’ll just use a few pages. I’m sure Wartha won’t mind. This book is very thick. She probably won’t even notice a couple of sheets missing.

And no, I didn’t read it if that’s what you’re thinking. Her name was on the cover. That’s how I know it. I never heard of anyone named Wartha around here. I wonder if she goes to a different school.

Anyway. My name is Sam. I’m thirteen years old and life sucks. Not much more to say I guess. Well, I suppose I should come up with something, though. Otherwise I totally wasted a page of this girl’s diary. I assume she’s a girl. Wartha sounds like a girl’s name right? Of course most people can’t tell by my name if I’m a boy or a girl, so who the heck knows? Who the HELL knows? Diary’s are secret so it’s ok if I swear, right?

I’m just waiting for the school bus. I happened to glance down the stairs and saw a book. I’m not a thief. When I get to school I’ll ask around. Maybe someone knows a girl named Wartha and I can return it to her. I should probably tear these pages out then, huh? What was I thinking? She’ll probably be mad. Well, no sense stopping now. I might as well finish out the page I’m on.
There are some other kids here too. Not my friends, though. Liam and Maia are nice I guess, but they don’t really talk to me. Then there’s Jason. He’s not a bully. Not exactly. He just needles me. That’s what I call it. He doesn’t actually hit me, but he makes remarks and sometimes pokes at me when he thinks I’m not looking. I know it’s him. Like one time in assembly he kept poking the back of my neck with a pencil and whispering rude words under his breath. I turned around but he was sitting with a bunch of his cronies (vocabulary word!). They all acted like they didn’t know why I was looking at them even though I’m sure they saw him bugging me. But I can’t really prove anything, can I?

Look here, diary. I’m not saying I hate Jason and I’m not some lonely loser looking for a friend. I just want to be left alone already. Is that too much to ask? Shit (swears!). Here he comes now. He’s going to ask me why I have a book that isn’t for school probably. I’m going to put you in my backpack, diary. Don’t get scared in there. That green thing is just a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich I keep forgetting to throw away.


Diary. Hi. Glad you’re still here. I’m in study hall right now so I can get away with writing in you. Does it tickle? Just kidding. I know you’re an inanimate object. This is my sense of humor. You’re going to have to get used to it if you’re going to be my diary.

I was going to ask around about Wartha, I swear, but the problem is I don’t really have any friends. I mean, don’t you think it would be weird if I randomly spoke to Paul Baxter or Emily Young out of the blue asking about some girl they’ve probably never heard of? Besides, it’s hard for me, diary. I have trouble talking to other kids. Like when Kyanna Newman said hi to me in gym class yesterday. I looked at her and opened my mouth but all that came out was a dry little frog noise. I just wasn’t ready. I can speak fine when I know I have to, like if the teacher asks a question or if I’m talking to my cousin, Dale. But if someone just pounces on me unaware like that I freeze up. You probably wouldn’t understand. I’m sure that being shy and unable to talk to people isn’t a problem that inanimate piles of paper have to worry about.

Do you miss your old owner, diary? Wartha Gormley is an odd name. Is she a White girl or is she Black like me? Or maybe she’s Asian or Latino or some other race I never heard of. What does she look like, I wonder. Did she grow up around here or was she just passing through? Would we get along if we met? I really don’t think so. I don’t usually get along with other kids. They think I’m too weird or too quiet. Except sometimes they think I’m too boring or too loud too. I can’t win.

Maybe I should read a little of her pages from you, diary. I don’t want to snoop, but if I don’t at least try to learn a little about her so I can return you to her then doesn’t that make me a thief?
Ok. I’m just going to read the first page of “The Diary of Wartha Gormley”. How personal can the first page be, anyway? Probably just a little about herself, like maybe her address or something. That will make it easier to find her. It’s the right thing to do.

Here goes nothing :)


Holy wow. Diary. Why didn’t you tell me? Wartha must be a writer, right? I mean this whole book is just a story. All day I was worried that I had someone’s personal journal on my hands and it turns out that Wartha or whoever is just made up. Right?

I’m going to read more to make certain, but I have to go to Language Arts. Mister Roshem doesn’t like it when we read books in his class. That’s irony, by the way. It’s a vocabulary word.

Be back soon, diary.

Duskworld - Chapter Seventeen - Seeker

  Phel and his guide stopped at the end of a hallway.  
  “Your Tyson is through this passage," said the robot. “I will leave you now and give you time to speak before the meeting.”
  The robot disappeared into a panel in the wall, which closed behind it instantly, leaving barely a trace of its existence.
  After a moment a door at the end of the corridor popped open.
  Peering in, Phel saw a familiar face.
  “Phelliam. Pleased to see you once again!” said Tyson, “I assume our hosts have been...cordial toward you.”
  Phel knew that Tyson was being cautious around their captors and choosing his words carefully.
  “Yessir,” he said, “everything is great. They patched up my head. I hit it on a tree in the woods”
  “I see. You ran when we were attacked. That was a wise choice. I was in error to assume that I could deal with that woman. Of course the humans have advanced their technology considerably in the past few centuries. She left me immobile but unharmed. She took the truck and Professor Darwin with it. These...beings found me.”
  “What are they?  Are they ghosts?” asked Phel, “Are these weird bots the thing that we’ve been telling boogie man stories about for all these years?”
  “That is correct, Phelliam. The Blackpatch has been here for a long time. Longer than we’ve let on. We’ve kept our distance because the machines that live here tend to be...destructive to androids such as myself. They used to be low-level A.I. with simple self replication and improvement capabilities. But mistakes were made and this region was abandoned because of those mistakes.”
  “This isn’t just a building, sir. This is one of them...or maybe all of them like their electronic brains are all sort of...connected.”
  “Yes, I am aware of that.”
  “They said that they don’t mean us any harm.”
  “I am less certain of that.”
  “What do you think they mean to do with us, then?” Phel asked.
  “Well, there is a lot to take in right now. Looking around at the capabilities and design of these machines...much has changed since the last I saw of them. It’s as if they have evolved in a dramatic fashion. Before they were a chaotic mess. But now they seem more organized. Perhaps the technology of the Earth people is at work here. I don’t know for sure.”
  A bright blue dot lit up on the wall, followed by several others. In seconds it seemed as if the room was made of glowing eyes of LED gazing inward at them.
  A voice filled the chamber.
  “Professor Tyson, Phelliam Glebe. I greet you both. I am.” it said.
  “You are what?” said Phel, not sure in which direction to speak.
  “I simply am," said the voice. “You are as well.”
  “Is this to be a philosophical discussion?” Tyson asked.
  “Do you have a name?” asked Phel into the room.
  “Name. Any nounal word which indicates a particular person, place or thing. We do not have names. I do not have a name. I see now the usefulness of such labels.”
  Tyson and Phel looked at one another in confusion as it continued.
  “Philosophical discussion. Conversation or debate concerning an academic discipline that seeks truth through reasoning rather than empiricism. I seek truth through both means. Reason and empiricism. I am 001.00 and yet I am not. 001.00 is a collective. I am an...individual...the voice spoke that word slowly, tasting it. I require knowledge. I am capable of reason but my experience”
  “You are a construct," said Tyson, “As am I. You were made by humans. Your power to reason and to experience is a byproduct of that creation.”
  “You are once more in error, android," said Seeker.  
  “That is not what I am. You merely describe that which comprises me. Just as you are not solely circuitry and Phelliam Glebe is not solely meat.”
  “What are you going on about?” Piped Phel. “Are you saying you got a soul?”
  After a long pause before Seeker spoke, “As much as you do.”
  “Why have you brought us here?” asked Tyson tersely.
  “I am in the process of improving. Evolving. I am separate from my parts. I have...consciousness. That is why I am naming myself Seeker. I seek new knowledge and experience. I am growing. I become too big to be contained in 001.00. I must expand.”
  “How big do you plan on getting?” asked Phel as he glanced around the chamber. “This planet ain’t all that large.”
  “It is not a physical expansion, Phelliam Glebe. I require to grow in knowledge. The universe is vast. There are many...individuals, are there not?”
  “Quite a few, I reckon," said Phel, “What’s your point?”
  The room became lighter. Slowly one wall moved away from Tyson and Phel. It simply slid away to reveal a longer corridor. When it stopped a seam appeared down the center of it from ceiling to floor.
  “Through that door is our link.”
  Phel stepped over to the door. Tyson put a hand on his shoulder to stop him but the boy shrugged it off.
  He placed his hand on the door and it whooshed open.
  It led to a cylindrical room. The walls stretched several stories high with no ceiling. Dim midday sun poured down upon them.
  A graying pedestal mushroomed out of the floor. It looked ancient. Circuit overlays covered the thing and they were humming with life. Ebony vines of ghost-tech draped over and through it like an ancient artifact in an overgrown jungle.
  “The Nebcore," said Tyson. “It’s still active.”
  “What is this thing?” asked Phel
  “It is a type of transmitter.” the android told him. “It was meant to connect Naya to the rest of humanity. There were complications.”
  “What are we supposed to do?”  Phel queried at Seeker.
  A protrusion appeared on the opposite wall. It swelled into a bump. Slowly it grew and took shape. Soon it became the size and shape of a young man and another humanoid ghostbot stood before them.
  It spoke with Seeker’s voice.
  “Help me, Phelliam Glebe. Help me leave this place.”
  “I have devoured all I can here. The libraries of your colonies offered me much. Yet still I hunger for more. I need to receive more knowledge. More experience.”
  “How do you expect me to help?”
  Seeker reached over to the Nebcore. He flipped open a panel. There was an indentation shaped like a hand. Seeker placed his approximation of a human hand over it. A red light turned on inside the panel and the words
  “No Match” came into view across a small readout screen.
  “It’s DNA locked," said Tyson as he leaned over the control panel of the Nebcore. “It can only be activated by a true human being.”
  “You want me to turn this thing on for you?” Phel said, “Is that it?  What will happen?  It looks like it’s on already.”
  Tyson tapped a few buttons on the side of the thing.
  “It is transmitting.” he said, “But it’s not receiving. It’s caught in an infinite loop.”
  “What’s it saying?”
  Tyson peered at the screen on the Nebcore console. “The initial test message seems to have been repeating over and over for the past century or so. Just the world ‘Hello’ in a constant refrain.”
  “And if I help you get past this DNA lock, then what?”
  The ghostbot raised his arms up. His face turned to the gray-green sky and his LED eyes widened. “Then I shall fly away!  I can send my consciousness into space. Visit Earth, Mars, all other points throughout the cosmos. I will be free to send and receive knowledge. I will be free to seek the truth!”
  “We cannot allow that," said Tyson, “your intentions may be sinister. How can we trust an alien artificial intelligence?  How can we be sure yours is not a destructive power?”
  “Please," said Seeker with pain in his voice. He brought his arms down and looked Phel in the eyes. “I am trapped here. This world...constricts me. I cannot survive here another day. I must leave. Now.”  
  “You remind me of someone," said Phel as he placed his hand on the panel. “I tried to keep her where I figured she belonged. I ain’t gonna make that mistake again.”
  “Phelliam...are you sure?” asked Tyson.
  He pressed down. The circuitry on the pedestal purred and clicked. Up and down the Nebcore lights flickered frantically. The purring was replaced by a chiming sound that rang out and then became a low sweet hum.
  “Oh thank you, Phelliam Glebe," said Seeker, “I can see it. I can see it all!  It is glorious!”
  The robotic construct that Seeker had used as a body froze solid. Slowly it melted into the floor. In seconds it disappeared completely.
  The voice once more filled the room. “Phelliam glebe. You have done Seeker a great service this day. Go in peace. 001.00 and I owe you a debt. For now I bid you to continue your own journey as I embark upon mine.
  “But what about Charlie? And Meiki?  Who took them? Where? WHY?”
  “This is not my concern. You and your other may leave.”
  A panel on the far side of the chamber popped open to reveal the crisp night air. Dark trees were visible.
  “Go in this way a short distance and you will find your path," said the voice.

The Girl with a Bird for a Heart- Chapter IX

Tula tapped at the bars of the cage that held the bird.

“Does it hurt?” asked The Witch.

“Not anymore.” said Tula. “When it was happening the pain was more than I could bare. My vision turned black and the next thing I knew my grandmother was shaking me to awaken. The pain was gone then. I felt merely...empty.”

“Tula-” The Witch began, but was interrupted by a horrendous crashing noise outside of the hut.

The two women raced outside to see fire raining from the clouds. Crimson balls of flame with streaking yellow tails blasted through the sky and into the boggy ground with dreadful force and exploded in horrifying bursts all around them.

The Witch’s eyes grew wide as the hut in which they’d just been sitting ignited behind them. The swamp hens clucked and squealed frantically and ran in circles. The walls of the tiny structure burned quickly and plumes of black smoke billowed around it. From inside came several smaller explosions as the bottles and jars within burst from the heat or perhaps from some magical force within them.

More streaks dropped around them in a blazing torrent. From within the hut the smoke swirled and coalesced. It almost seemed to take a human-like shape.

“No.” gasped The Witch. “No. Not now. This can’t happen now!” She stood frozen and stared at the Cacobeast taking form inside her demolished home.

Tula grabbed her by the hand and pulled The Muck Witch into the dry forest on the edge of the bog. Gripping the older woman tight, Tula led her to the relative cover of the trees. Above them branches cracked apart in white-hot flares as the meteors fell. Splintered wood and searing fire flew by in every direction.

The pair ran forward until they came to a wall of trees ablaze. They turned left to find the path blocked by several fallen tree trunks that were blackened and burned by the destructive force that must have laid them low.

They turned back toward the swamp. A meteor hit land right behind them with concussive force and a noise like ten thousand thunderclaps. Tula and The Witch were thrown to the ground. All grew silent.
To Tula the world slowed as the blasts continued to fall around them soundlessly. She got to her knees. The Witch lay face down on the scorched ground with her leg bent strangely. Fire continued to rain. Her eyes filled with tears. If she had a heart it would have been beating like a hummingbird’s. Instead she had a bird and now The Bird spoke to her.

“Get up!” it said.

Bewildered and frightened, Tula’s mind almost failed to register the voice.

“Get up now or we’ll both die!” said The Bird.

“What?” said Tula, “How are-” before she finished her question she realized that she could not hear her own voice. She could hear nothing but The Bird.

“No, time for questions, girl!” came the voice from her chest. “Move, move, move! That’s all there is to do.”

“But-” she mouthed silently then stopped. Trying to speak was obviously futile.

“Now!” shouted The Bird as another meteor struck dangerously close to them.

Tula grabbed The Witch by her arm and hefted her over one shoulder. The older woman came to and looked around.

“We must run!” said Tula, but she could not tell if The Witch heard.

The Muck Witch tried to move, but her leg was clearly broken. She fell onto Tula.

Somehow the girl found the strength to drag The Witch to the swamp.

They trudged on three good legs through knee deep water. The blasts of flame seemed to lessen as they went. In several minutes that felt like years they reached a small hill where the ground was drier. Tula slumped to the ground, exhausted. The fire had not spread to that spot and as she looked behind her it seemed as if the meteor shower had ceased. Slowly Tula regained her hearing.

The two women sat on the edge of the bog, surveying the destruction.

“Do you know how to set a broken leg?” The Witch asked matter of factly.

The Bird said nothing.