18 July 2009

17 July 2009

"Universal Language"

By Curtis C. Chen

I've thrown up exactly three times in my adult life. The third time was the best.

The first time was in college. I remember being confused at first—I'd never been that drunk before, and I didn't recognize the conflicting sensations in my head and my gut. It made sense when I found myself hunched over the toilet, expelling a mixture of vodka and curry, and I had plenty of time to think about it while lying on the floor and waiting for the bathroom to stop spinning.

The second time was in a training aircraft, a modified KC-135 Stratotanker. It flew parabolas, climbing upward at a forty-five degree angle and dropping its nose at the top of each curve to give its passengers twenty-five seconds of weightlessness.

Our instructors expected about a third of us to experience "kills" during the four-hour flight. I was the first to puke. I managed to pull a plastic bag over my mouth before it started, which was better than some of the other candidates.

I stayed flat against the floor, staring at a fixed spot on the ceiling, silently cursing my weak stomach. I thought I had recovered after a few seconds, but then we reached the bottom of the parabola, and I felt the renewed pressure in my abdomen—two gees—threatening to start another purge cycle.

We climbed for longer than it should have taken to reach the next zero-gee period. The floor began vibrating, and then the entire top of the aircraft sheared off.

We'd been pulled high into thin atmosphere. Breathable, but the sky outside was dark, and I stared straight up at a disk-shaped array of multicolored lights. A shadow appeared in the middle of the lights, then grew larger, blotting them out.

I rolled out of the way and dragged myself to a standing position before it landed inside our aircraft. I found myself facing a mottled, cylindrical creature, about seven feet tall, with one eye, an X-shaped mouth, and a ring of writhing tentacles where a human's waist would be.

The alien looked me up and down, then bent forward, opened its mouth, and vomited right between my feet.

It wasn't the sight of it, or even the smell, that pushed me over the edge. It was the feeling of warm liquid soaking through my socks and oozing between my toes that did it. This time I wasn't fast enough with the sick bag, and most of my partially digested continental breakfast ended up on the alien's lower body.

Fortunately, regurgitation is an important and highly dignified part of the Varna'ut greeting ceremony. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was showing their scout great respect by depositing the contents of my stomach directly on his esteemed mass.

And that's why I'm the human ambassador to Varna'ut. I never made the astronaut corps, but I'm not complaining. How many people get to travel across the galaxy?

Just don't ask about their farewell ritual. You really don't want to know.


Audio: "Universal Language"

I know, I know, lamest title EVAR. Would you have preferred the even more overused "First Contact?"

BONUS ROUND: There's an Easter Egg in this week's podcast! After recording, I reconsidered one word choice and changed it in the text, but not the audio. Identify the changed word and win the first 6 issues of Marvel's Runaways comic book (series 3), featuring a complete story arc written by Terry Moore. Email: 512words+orfewer@gmail.com Congratulations to Diana in Sunnyvale, CA, who spotted the change (from "pooling" to "oozing").

Music: instrumental stems from "Baby Got Back" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.


Based on a True Story

Yes, I know that NASA retired their KC-135's in 2004 and have been flying a McDonnell Douglas C-9B Skytrain II since then. I just like the word "Stratotanker."

I had the opportunity to ride on the Zero-G Plane a few years ago, and it was an amazing experience (follow link for video; my "kill" is at 7:51). The funny thing about being weightless is that you don't sense it internally, like being on a roller coaster or in a centrifuge, where there's additional acceleration. An absence of gravity doesn't feel any different when you're stationary. It's only when you start moving that you realize everything is different. It's a truly magical thing.

Oh, and you knew I had to include this clip, didn't you? Shout out to @wilw:


During my research for this story, I found a surprising number of synonyms for "barf." Some are very clinical; others, purely slang. There's really one for every occasion. Language says a lot about culture, don't you think?


12 July 2009

4,400 Words, More or Less

If you've ever read comic books, you might enjoy my new short story, "Restart," which has just been published in the new online magazine Strangetastic. It begins thusly:

My name is Eddie. I am ten years old. I forget things sometimes because I am sick. That is why I am in the hospital now and also why I am keeping this journal. So even if I forget things they will still be recorded here...

Read "Restart" in Strangetastic, Issue 1: Beginnings.