14 January 2011


By Curtis C. Chen

Travis stumbled through the alley, tripping over fetid piles of garbage and skittering masses that might have been insects or rodents. He didn't stop. He didn't look back. A light flashed to his left, and he sprang right to avoid it.

He found himself in a wide boulevard, facing speeding cars and pedestrians. The tide of people swept him up and carried him to a street corner, where he clutched at a lamp-post.

And then somebody recognized him.

They shouted his title, not his name—nobody used his name anymore—and eyes widened as they registered his face, the peculiar pattern of white streaks in his beard, the unnatural color and texture of his eyes.

The crowd swarmed around Travis, and he climbed the lamp-post. Hands reached out for him, and the murmur of reverence began building to a demanding cacophony. This was how it always happened.

A squeal of tires against pavement and a wet crunch silenced the crowd. Then their noise resumed, but with a different focus.

The injured man lay in the street, one hand still outstretched toward the lamp-post. Blood ran down his face, and pink foam escaped his mouth with every ragged exhalation.

A woman turned to Travis. "Help him!" she called out. "You can save him!"

And then the entire crowd took up the call, asking Travis to do what he could not.

"No!" he replied. "I can't! You don't know what you're asking!"

The people ignored him. They seized his ankles and pulled him to the ground. They grappled him to the injured man and placed Travis' palms on the man's head and chest.

"Please," Travis said, weeping. "Please don't."

But the crowd was no longer listening to him, if they ever had.

An alien power surged through Travis' arms, and he closed his eyes.


"Where is he?" asked Sergeant Roberts, skidding to a halt at the scene of the accident. "Where did he go?"

The crowd glared at the soldiers.

"You'll never catch him," one woman said. "He will save us."

Roberts knelt beside the injured man. "Like he saved this one? Medic!"

Airman Collier ran forward and waved a scanner over the man. "Just like the others," she said. "Superficial wounds have been healed, but he's still bleeding internally. We need to get him into surgery."

"Infidels!" the woman cried. "You will not desecrate him! He has been touched by God!"

The crowd closed in, threatening the soldiers. Roberts raised his weapon.

"Sarge!" Collier said, standing up. "Let me handle this?"

Roberts hesitated, then nodded. Collier raised her arms above her head.

"It is a miracle!" she shouted. "We carry this man to temple! Praise God! Let Him lead the way!"

The crowd echoed her proclamations, waved their arms, and began shuffling down the street. Collier stepped back and leaned in close to Roberts.

"We make a show of putting this guy on the stretcher," she whispered. "Then, when the mob's thinned out, we pick him up and run the other way."

Roberts lowered his weapon. "You're a regular miracle worker yourself, Collier."


Photo: Rats & Jesus by andrewneher, February, 2008

11 January 2011

"In the Navy"

By Curtis C. Chen

Petty Officer Second Class Sandra Choe, Sandy to her friends, was bored.

The clock on the wall read 11:32. She had the whole day off, but she'd already read every book in the base library, and the next planetside shuttle didn't make another run for six hours.

"I'm bored," Sandy said.

Her bunkmate, Charlene, grumbled in the bed above Sandy. "Why don't you go get some lunch? I hear it's cake day."

Sandy contained her excitement long enough to ask, "Will you be okay here by yourself?"

Charlene waved a hand over the edge of her bunk. "I'll be fine. It's just a rhinovirus. Go."

Sandy went to the cafeteria, where there was indeed cake. She selected the two largest, most frosting-laden pieces and sat down to enjoy them. Halfway through her second piece, two Master Chief Petty Officers came into the cafeteria and sat down within earshot of Sandy.

"Still can't fucking believe it," said the first Master Chief.

"Total fucking clusterfuck," said the second Master Chief.

"How the fuck do you misplace half a million dollars' worth of fucking armor?"

"And you fucking know that's coming out of our fucking budget."

"Fucking fucks."

The only unusual thing about this conversation was the discussion of missing equipment. Sandy, being a sensor tech, had never worked directly on armor, but she had calibrated plenty of sensor arrays to detect enemy armor.

After finishing her cake, Sandy found her commanding officer, explained about the conversation she'd overheard, and asked for permission to search the base's cargo holds.

"Do you know how many fucking holds this base has?" her CO asked. "Waste of fucking time. But hey, if that's how you want to spend your fucking day off, go to town."

Sandy borrowed a portable sensor deck from her shop and began searching. The Gamma Accra orbital platform had grown "organically," as the PR flacks liked to say, and was in many places a maze of twisty passages. The cargo holds had been designed for access from space, not from inside the base.

It took her nearly an hour to locate and access the first hold. Sandy found nothing interesting in that one, or the second one. The third hold had several containers with more radiation shielding than necessary, but Sandy ignored them.

She found the missing equipment in the fourth cargo hold. It had been mislabeled—somebody had typed "5" instead of "4" on the manifest—but it was all there, a platoon's worth of armor pegging the needle on Sandy's sensor deck.

Her CO actually smiled when she reported her success.

"Well done, Choe!" he said, shaking her hand. "You'll get a commendation for this. Fuck, I'm putting you in for a fucking medal! Good work. Dismissed!"

Sandy went back to her quarters, where Charlene was snoring loudly. The clock on the wall read 16:04. The next shuttle didn't leave for two more hours, and there wouldn't be any new books in the base library until the next USO ship docked.

"I'm bored," Sandy said.


Photo: Air Traffic Controller Airman Chelsea Pitchford aboard USS Essex, September, 2010