Fast Times in Slo-Mo

Author : Gray Blix, Featured Writer [ bio ]

At a Calgary hockey camp, parents and players watched a goaltending 8 year old novice stop everything shot at him. Might as well have been a brick wall. Coach brought a talented 16 year old over to rapid fire a row of pucks, a 125 kph fusillade. But to the kid, they were like nerf balls, floating lazily in his field of vision, easily blocked, swatted away, or caught.

His reflexes were… unnatural, coach thought, but he was small and could be intimidated into submission. Reverting to his semi-pro days, coach dropped a puck to the ice, grabbed a stick, and skated towards the kid fast, threatening to take him out if he didn’t give way. The kid saw coach as a lumbering Neanderthal and kept his stance until the last second. Puck on its way to the five-hole between his legs and coach almost upon him, he nevertheless had plenty of time to not only deflect the puck, but to glove it, lean aside, and extend his stick to clothesline coach, who fell backwards onto the ice. The crowd collectively gasped.

Looking up, coach saw the kid’s eyes, grey with flecks of gold, gleeful behind the mask. “Again!” the kid demanded. Then remembering who he was speaking to, “Uh, again, please?”

“So far,” lectured the Caltech professor, “we have reports, worldwide, of hundreds of thousands of kids with extraordinary… no, superhuman, visual-motor reaction times — averaging 25ms, ten times faster than normal. They process visual images at 250 or more frames per second, again ten times faster than normal, with equivalent cognitive throughput.”

An Atlanta 15 year old, learner’s permit in her purse and grandmother seated next to her, flicked the turn signal of an ancient Mercury Marquis station wagon approaching a freeway off ramp. Following closely was an 18-wheeler, and from the left an SUV veered across three lanes to cut in front of her. She realized instantly that they were going to be sandwiched between the two vehicles. To the other drivers and her grandmother what happened next was a blur, but to her it was slow motion, as she experienced everything in life.

If she hit the brakes, she calculated, the semi-truck would overtake them in seconds. Speeding up would rear-end the SUV ahead and they’d still be crushed by the semi behind. A glance at the mirror showed they’d hit another truck if they swerved left. She did what she had to do to survive — jerking the wheel to the right and braking to spin the wagon 180 degrees, skidding it backwards onto the narrow shoulder and pinning the driver’s side against the guard rail, just as the passenger side was sheared off by the truck, horn blaring.

She sat silently, cars whizzing by on the freeway as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Her eyes, gray with flecks of gold, were moist as she looked across at the open space where her grandmother had been seconds before. “Sorry, Meemaw” she said.

“There must be many more than reported,” the professor continued, “tens of millions, who don’t yet realize they’re different, who think everybody sees people shuffling around like zombies, TV as slide shows, and jet planes as gliders. What do they portend for our species? I can only say they represent a major evolutionary step. Oh, and they all have gray eyes flecked in gold.”

Audience members turned to see the eyes of those around them. Laughed.

None could foresee that gray-golds would not only soon be outcompeting their kind in every walk of life, but that before the end of the century, slower humans would be eliminated altogether.

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Invasion Redux

Author : Gray Blix, Featured Writer [ bio ]

It’s a 20 degree C heat wave near the Martian equator as Commander Vlad says, “Follow me,” and clumsily leads his exploratory party into a cave.

Exobiologist Bertie imagines that their bulky gray pressure suits and dark colored lenses would frighten the natives, if there were any.

They flip up lenses and activate helmet lights to find they’ve already inadvertently crushed a possible lifeform that looks like a mat of red lichen as they carelessly walked through it. Beyond, something reflects their lights, a pool of liquid, surrounded by the colony of lichen.

The crew uses laser rays to clean their boots of lichen and clear a narrow path to the water.

“This reminds me of something,” says Bertie.

She takes samples of lichen and liquid back to the landing module and places them in a vacuum chamber. She can’t match the lichen to any Earth organism, but the liquid is water, full of microbes that appear to be rod-shaped bacteria. She tentatively names them “Bacillus maris” and jokingly dubs the other lifeform “looklichen.” The looklichen ingest the water and apparently find B. maris nutritional, since the red colony grows.

In another chamber, she places water samples containing B. maris next to white mice. Can the microbes survive in an atmosphere whose pressure and oxygen are at Earth levels? When the mice ingest the water, they show no ill effects, and the B. maris seems to be a source of nutrition. Future colonization counts on the availability of subsurface water, but it would be a bonus if that water were of nutritional value.

A few hours after Commander Vlad enthusiastically reports Bertie’s initial results, the chamber where looklichen were feeding on B. maris is nearly devoid of the former, the liquid having apparently expanded into their space, leaving just a thin red line of looklichen surrounding the water.

Bertie wonders aloud, “Is this part of the B. maris life cycle, or a symbiotic relationship gone bad?”

Everyone’s attention turns to the chamber with mice who drank Mars water. The rodents are seemingly fine, which the flight surgeon attributes to their “stronger mammalian immune system.”

“Plus,” he says, “there’s ten times more Earth bacterial cells than mammalian cells in mice and human bodies, so we’ve got our own microbes fighting for us.”

Bertie knows otherwise. She’s been trying to kill another sample of the stuff, throwing every antibiotic onboard at it, as well as extreme temperatures and doses of chemicals and radiation. Anything short of incineration doesn’t phase B. maris, which reactivates unharmed when it finds itself back in liquid water. Humans and their bacteria would just be food conveniently packaged in water bags to it.

An alarm goes off, signaling that B. maris spores have been detected in the air supply. This panics the crew, which scrambles into their pressure suits to breathe bottled air.

A few hours later, the mice are gone, replaced by a puddle of liquid full of B. maris. This time, a camera recorded the whole process. Mouse bodies appeared normal one minute and then liquefied moments later.

“Another B. maris-host relationship that turned FAST,” Bertie says. “This is familiar, something I’ve seen or read,” she adds.

“For God’s sake what?” says the annoyed flight surgeon, speaking for the rest of the equally annoyed and frightened crew.

A few hours later, Commander Vlad collapses. Bertie is closest, and when she looks into his face mask, she sees nothing but liquid sloshing around.

“I remember what this reminds me of!”

Her crewmates are ready to strangle her.

“It’s ‘War of the Worlds,’ but we’re the Martians.”

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Author : Gray Blix, Featured Writer [ bio ]

“I remember when there were forests and farms right up to the border. I’d shout hello from my dad’s tractor and Americans would shout back. We crossed the border to shop. Before the DPA.”

“There you go again, old man. You could have retired years ago,” meaning he should have. “Why keep working?”

“Who can live on a pension nowadays?”

“Hey, pay attention, look at your display.” Pointing, “Right there.”

Only an expert controller could glance at another’s screen and make out two indistinct thermal signatures against rocks still warm from the Sun. The kid was good.

Below, having rested as long as they dared, two intruders put on hoods and walked by starlight on the dry bed of Belly River, now a trail, an escape route for desperate refugees from a parched, hungry, violent homeland. Even if they had heard the quadcopter buzzing above, these two wouldn’t be worried, having paid thousands to make themselves undetectable.

The older pilot activated his mike, “Four-zed, crank up your sensitivity and look for two partially cloaked illegals to come around the bend in few minutes.”

From a truck on the bank, looking upriver through his thermal scope, “Will do.”

Mutual Assured Destruction kept the US from invading. As the situation in the states had deteriorated, the Canadians had secretly positioned nuclear tipped missiles. When they had enough to obliterate their neighbor to the south, Parliament simultaneously passed the Dominion Preservation Act, sealed the border, and offered a non-aggression treaty.

“That’s it,” she said, pointing to a stack of rocks. The two figures, their cloaking gear looking like bulky hazmat outfits, headed up the creek.

“Four-zed, do you see them yet?”

“Nope. Are you sure of what you think you saw, old man?” He laughed and nudged the other officer. “Better crank up the sensitivity on your bifocals.”

“They must have deked up a creek, four-zed, heading for the campground or Highway 6. Check it out.”

Neither officer moved. They had hoped to sit in the dark until sunup, when they would be safe from the triangles. Drawn to lights like huge moths, the craft had been seen sucking out the contents of homes and swallowing up vehicles whole.


Finally, a reluctant, “OK.”

The heat and moisture inside the cloaking gear was becoming unbearable.

Checking his watch, “They’re supposed to pick us up in about 15 minutes.”

They removed headgear and sat on a picnic table. Hearing what sounded like the buzz of an insect, she swatted the air, nearly slapping him. He laughed and playfully swatted back.

Zooming the drone’s camera, “Four-zed, they’re in the campground, end of the road.”

The driver flicked headlights on, and the Americans froze.

Watching his display, “We’ve got ’em,” said the old man. But he cringed, knowing the two intruders faced death sentences.

A shaft of light fell towards the truck, engulfing it. The old man later described it as “a bright waterfall.” He pushed the video record button.

All four at the scene fought to make sense of what was happening, but their mental processes were labored, as if they had been drugged.

Suddenly, the man behind the wheel slammed the shift into reverse. The truck spun its rear wheels but didn’t move an inch before the light fell upward, taking the vehicle and occupants with it. A dark triangle silently floated away.

The video’s sale funded retirement on a New Zealand hobby farm, where the old man spent endless hours driving his tractor and chatting up neighbors. His new island home was like a lifeboat in a worldwide sea of misery. Until the triangles arrived.

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Bulletproof–A Love Story

Author : Gray Blix, Featured Writer [ bio ]

Richard walks the dark streets of the worst part of town, a noir figure in a fedora and trench coat, his eyes casting about for shadows that move, his ears yearning to hear a cry for help. Nothing. He can’t remember his last assignment, his last rendezvous, his last secret password, his last foreign intrigue… no memory of claptrap from a bygone era, because memory was at a premium in the old days, and they’d only issued him 16K.

Even though he’s a walking relic, he feels young, as if he’d joined the Service just yesterday. His girl has a lot to do with that. The girl of his dreams come to life, she has Grable’s million dollar gams, and Russell’s voluptuous bazongas, and Bacall’s sultry pillow talk. What a dame. But deep down he knows he doesn’t deserve her. He hasn’t won her for sending the bad guys to jail, or to hell.

And worst of all, he’s a kept man. Yeah, it crushes his soul to depend on her for everything, for life itself — for vacuum tubes.

Back home, Constance sits by the window, looking onto the dimly lit street below, waiting for him to return from his midnight walk. She knows he aches to get into the fight, to right wrongs, to defend his country, to earn the devotion of a dame like her. It was designed into his circuits, and she loves him for it.

He is the man of her dreams. Literally one of a kind. The shining achievement of a top secret project to make a robot agent generations ahead of its time — able to outthink Enigma, to shed bullets, to overcome evil, to go 24 hours without recharging, and most important to her personally, to pleasure women. That last feature was added in hopes of turning foreign fems into spies for America. Connie gladly role-plays Axis Fraulein to stimulate Dick’s Allied Powers.

She had come across him at a government surplus auction, standing next to the crate that had preserved him for nearly 70 years. Others had thought he was a statue or a clothes mannequin and passed by without stopping. But she immediately saw something special about him. He was a hunk of a guy — healthy mop of brown hair, laughing green eyes, kissable lips, square jaw, and the body of an Olympic athlete. Lingering to examine him carefully from head to toe, she marveled at the attention to detail. Moles, scars, hairs in nose and ears. She found his power cord and wondered what it was for. Some sort of pre-Disney animatronics? Whatever. It didn’t matter. She had to have him. Didn’t bargain. Just paid the $100 cash and had him placed in the passenger seat of her Prius. Almost forgot his user manual!

To this day, three years later, she still wakes up in a panic from the recurring nightmare of forgetting to take the user manual. But it’s always right there on her bedside table, and he’s next to her, emitting the reassuring hum of his battery charger.

He stops. A muffled cry? Over there, in the alley behind the tavern. Two figures silhouetted, a man and a woman, struggling. He runs towards them, kicking a can, alerting the man.

“This is between me and her. And I got a gun.”

He’s just twenty feet away when the bullets ricochet off of him. He slams into the man, who collapses like a broken mannequin. The girl runs away.

He dusts off his coat, picks up his fedora, and heads for home. There will be no need for role-play tonight.

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Mechanic's Blues

Author : Jay Knioum, Featured Writer

I’m getting grease on my sandwich when she walks in. The whole hangar pretends to be busy while throwing glances at her.

She looks around, finds me, smiles. She’s walking my way, but her eyes are all for her baby. I’ve been pulling extra shifts getting her baby ready to fly.

There’s a monkey on her shoulder. It leaps off, and scrambles into the cockpit.

She tosses her goggles on top of my workbench, brushes a braid away from her shoulder. “How’s she look?”

Perfect, I want to say, but that wasn’t the question. “I patched your oil leak, unstuck your throttle problem. Had to replace your altimeter, but I told you that.”

“Yeah, you told me that.” Her eyes are brown. Could’ve sworn they were blue. They’re blue in my dreams.

Those brown eyes are turning the ship over and over. My eyes? Well, I guess they’re doing ungentlemanly things, but they snap back to attention when she speaks.

“Am I loaded?” she says.

I shake my head, grinning. “Yeah. The clockguns are all bolted in and topped off, but the extra weight’s gonna drag ass.”

She smiles, and not like a lady would. “I might have to shoot somebody this time.”

I don’t ask. I don’t, usually. She wouldn’t answer anyway.

She presses against me. She smells like sweat and diesel, but it’s like flowers to me. When she pulls away, her goggles are gone from the workbench. In their place is a stack of League bearer notes, every one a little singed. Blood on the top of the stack. Still good. More than the usual amount.

“Thanks.” She grins, walks away and climbs aboard her baby. The monkey sticks its tongue out at me as the ship roars to life, rotors spin up and pinions unfold.

The Aphrodite takes to the wind again, and I’m just standing here holding my wrench.

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