If I ever was. I am no longer facing computer, loading words and images. I can kick back on Blackberry Storm or my iPod Touch and read, write, post, tweet, flickr, face your book and generally be unassumingly in your face.
Hosting company took my site down on Sept. 23. Long story for a different day not too far removed from now.
My plan was to give you this once I was back up as a gift. It’s story time below the fold.
To The Ninth: Power
by temple a. stark
© September 2009 Temple A. Stark
It started when Tom flipped the light switch and light appeared only nine seconds later.
“Damn, what the …?”
The delayed light was followed a little while later by a series of flickers of that same wan light. Tom, reading, did not count the flickers nor did he have a stopwatch or think to use it otherwise his puzzlement and following actions would have come sooner.
But being prepared for the supernatural does not come easily, even to those suspicious of the trusts and the laws of life.
Tom was about the most cynical person he knew, except he had the knowledge to not give it voice at every possible moment. Such mood and character when publicized rarely moves the world forward. Hidden, it promotes original thought.
At this time of intermittent illumination his mind was already pre-occupied – another factor on which the universe’s history must forgive him.
Reading, he was distracted, but truly, and unusually the words blurred as he thought of the day before him. Working with an idiot; worse relying on her to reach deadlines and stop the company bleeding money as if from an axe to neck encounter.
It was not new. He hoped it would end but he felt like a tri-athalon champion by the end of the worst days.
He pulled his pants up, zipped, flushed. Turned off the light as he headed out of the bathroom. It went dark instantly, but again repeatedly flickered. His peripheral vision subconscious took notice as he left the room, and only revealed the fact to him about three minutes later as he took a left out of the road where he lived.
That’s when the overhead light in his car also flickered. The light of the dash, previously faded in the bright light of the morning, increased in its glow and grew in the gasp of the sun.
His mind put the pieces of the morning together in an instant. From that grew one bold, visionary statement – “Holy shit, what the hell is going on? Don’t fuck with me world, not today.”
When he reflected years later, after his brain was again capable of rationality, he told interviewers, “That’s when I learned you don’t challenge the world, it takes you seriously.”
“Just take on one bit at a time, chew it over and spit it out” he added if there was an intelligent follow-up question.
The light play inside his car made him swerve, but only slightly, enough for a horn blast from the car behind him, but nothing more. He knew he deserved it and held up his open palm as he slowed and the SUV passed.
Gripping the wheel a little more tightly he pushed it as the traffic light ahead turned yellow. He passed underneath but those behind him wondered why the traffic light spazzed out, flashing through the R.A.G. colors three times before settling on green and chaos.
He flew through the next series of streets, from 8th Ave to 17th, unaware of the piles of dented metal, broken plastic, and ripped skin he left behind.
Looking over at the new Cafe Connex, a place he’d been waiting to see open, he wanted to stop in but today didn’t seem the right time. Had Tom done so, well again, explanations come easier to those who break out of their routines.
When he looked back ahead he saw a burning smudge of red – and stopped behind a Qwest repair van. Nine seconds later, he saw smoke rise up through its back doors. Through the growing cloud he saw the driver’s door fly open and she exploded out of the vehicle like a swarm of hornets had hunted her down. She stumbled over to the median and turned around, tripping, falling but catching herself. Flames licked out from the door she’d exited.
Her eyes wide, her head turned, searched, pleaded – and found Tom looking back at her in astonishment. The lanes around him started moving, haltingly, even the few cars behind him pulled out and away. In seconds they were alone in the heat of the fire that now seemed more smoke than flame.
“Uh, yeah, I guess.”
“Engine fire?” Even as he asked he glanced over and saw the answer.
“No, it came from behind me. I’ve got a load of equipment back there, but I don’t know what happened.”
Tom walked back to his trunk, popped it and pulled out a small fire extinguisher. He bent and reached through her door and saw small flames and smoldering wires. Psssssssssht, two quick blasts and everything seemed OK. Except the dash lights flickered. As he took that echo of his morning on, the overhead light flashed and then exploded above him. Tom flinched as he felt the light rain of plastic bounce off his hair.
The moment of emergency seemed past and they both looked at each other, both with something else to do.
“Has this ever happened before,” Tom asked, looking her over, making sure she didn’t have anything burning on her, appreciating her curves in spite of himself.
Screaming, panicked, scratching crazily at her wrist, Joanna’s watch crashed to the ground, glowing. She took a step away from him and said something he couldn’t hear through the crackling in the air.
Whatever he thought he was going to say in return, a horrendous bang drowned it out and they both swiveled around.
Their isolated drama was no longer their own.
In truth, Tom in a sudden rush of inspiration saw that only one car had come up behind them and as he looked down the road where he had come he saw hives of halted activity where urban rhythm should have been flowing traffic across the intersection.
Even as he looked back to 17th and Circle, Tom started to pat himself and turn his limbs, searching for a reason; intuitively he knew to blame himself. This time, he was right.
In a growing daze, he looked up at the intersection and something he’d only ever seen on TV faced him. All angles – cars and trucks pointing in every direction but the right one. Smoke-puff clouds, small groups of people huddled away from their vehicles. Anger, shouts, misdirected aggression.
And as if lit by the same fuse, a thousand explosions occurred as one. Every light bulb, radio, cellphone, underground and overhead wire cracked and burned away, ashes falling to the asphalt. Every car and building window shattered down in a cascade of jarringly cheerful noise and it was the loudest thing anyone present had ever heard. Until it stopped and the silence made a ghost of one of the busiest intersections in the city.
“What’s your name?” “Joanna Lambert.” “Sorry for this.”
She stared at him and her apprehension about him returned. Joanna walked over to join the others.
*** *** ***
The pressure of a finely manicured finger delivered a button downward.
“It’s not working out, we’re ending it for now.”
“We need to see it in action, get reports back from the inner reaches. It has to continue, it’s worth too much.”
“They seem light-minded but they stubbornly pursue for answers.”
“This is one of our last chances. Others have failed far too much for far too long.”
“This is a big city, we usually choose less populated areas.”
“The communication systems here are what we need to beat. It’s the only way.”
“For now it seems, but …”
*** *** ***
Tom’s instinct told him to stay at the scene but something deeper even than that told him to get away. He walked toward the highway and made the final mile to work, looking at the everyday debris along the side of the road. It seemed normal around him; traffic moved as it should, the sky was as blue as always.
All as it should have been except he’d just had the freakiest morning of his life.
The frustration of the day at work had shrunk to a nothing and as he pushed the doors open, his story spilled out to the first person he saw, Adved. The property division manager looked at him at first with bemusement, expecting some type of usual sarcastic ending to what he was being told. He liked Tom and hoped he’d stick around and move up in the company.
The conversation was not taking its usual course, Tom noticed. There were no pauses for Adved to say anything. He was telling it to review it for himself, not for reaction. And as soon as he thought that, he stopped talking.
Calm but a little bug-eyed, Adved finally reacted. “Shit Tom, that’s what’s been on the news. Over here.”
They walked to his office. Adved was one of the few news junkies in the building and one of only three senior enough to get – or need – a TV while he sat at his desk.
Tom hadn’t said anything about what he feared was, somehow, the underlying cause, but he’d told Adved the facts. And that’s what he saw on the television. A helicopter camera panned down the length of Circle Avenue, the smash-up compacted cars, huddled people – and nothing moved.
“The horror started about 40 minutes ago,” a remote voice was saying. “All along Circle, lights and electricity acted erratically. Jim Wight, who was commuting to work said he heard a long screech of tires and then his day changed for the worse. “Jim, what happened next?” The camera panned to a woman holding a microphone and a short, good-looking, upset man. “I smashed into the back of that Honda, and the car behind me did the same to me.”
Jim Wight stopped, as if that was bad enough, as if that was news enough. But the up-and-coming Laticia Parsons prompted.
“And didn’t you see a fire?” He looked at her, stunned at himself for forgetting. “Yes, yes. A huge fireball about 50 feet away, at the intersection. And smoke everywhere from the cars around me. And mine, look. Look, there are cars in every direction. It’s a total standstill,” his voice was rising. “It’s a fucking disaster. Oh shit, I’m sorry. I mean f…, I’m sorry but this is crazy.”
She winced on camera, but inside Laticia completely sympathized. She had the bigger picture he didn’t and something had gone seriously wrong.
“Thank you Mr. Wight. Tanya and Greg, AP Electrics and city utilities both say they cannot find anything wrong with their systems but they continue to look into the matter.”
Tanya and Greg, pausing to apologize for the “adult language,” continued the conversation. For Tom the shock, that had been fading in the comforting normality of his workplace returned. All this had happened, not in a different part of town, not in some out of the way Bumfuck Egypt, but along his regular route to work, and he’d been a part of it. “Perhaps the cause,” he thought, though called himself stupid in the next breath.
*** *** ***
“Ok, we’re a go.”
The debate had continued, all nine of them seriously listening to pros and cons as to when to continue to move forward with the experiment; one that desperately needed success. That it had to happen anyway was uppermost in everyone’s minds. Regardless of damaged innocents, there was a goal to meet.
Woodrow, Woody, sat in front of a large panel of slides, dials, buttons and black and red knobs of various diameter. Designed to look like a studio’s music-mixing deck it was, in fact, the nexus of a communications center. The rest of the room, lined with dark blue-colored metal boxes and other equipment was largely a facade, but every piece had its dual and backup role, as well.
Today was critical. Woody glanced around one more time and nodding, he simultaneously pressed two buttons; one of which had halted the test.
*** *** ***
All nine listened for reports from their satellite ships above them in the inner reaches. For a year, they did not eat.
The nine, sitting in self-judgment of an awesome responsibility and its success or failure, waited for not only the nearest ships to report back – which they did favorably – but for the home planets and beyond to their brothers.
The speed of the communication was key. Decades of time were nothing to them as far as lifespan, but still, news and actions needed to be quick, otherwise there were great periods of uncertainty and wait. The universe, born in fractions of a microsecond, was not meant merely for mechanic motion.
Other than Tom, there were eight others who had been drawn to the same city, seemingly of their own free will, and all were acting as conduits. However Tom, because of his latent chemistry – what others thought of as a disease – was the final pathway and the best test subject. He didn’t even know he was sick. And now, with their help, it was no longer fatal. That was just a happy, for Tom, coincidence.
None of them quite knew why he was the one. The only being they had encountered so well suited to the task.
Years ago, in initial studies, they had passed a low pulse of waves through Earth’s population, and had created a wide series of results from the humans, plants and animals there. Many of these were being researched for different applications such as thought erasure and thermoneural eradication. These were lesser goals, however, as there were already instruments in place to reach them. But rapid, galaxial communication was still primitive and mostly wasn’t rapid at all.
While Tom’s disease had been reduced considerably by accident, his lifespan had been increased deliberately. In him, the Stepalthe had found their Holy Grail. Knowing the fragile lives of humans, the swarm of accidents that killed more as a percentage than any other specie they had ever encountered; knowing this they spent the year they waited – as reports came back and as success seemed more likely – building into Tom ways to survive.
Tom’s life, from the moment he again became a live wire at work and all the computers exploded, was atypical. Even as the Stepalthe crew improved their work, and Tom no longer started fires or set off alarms from law enforcement’s probing networks, there were errors and backward steps along the way.
Tom was now a communication tower to the greater outreaches of the universe. Mobile, organic, inexpensive and easy to study and therefore improve upon.
However, those who had rebirthed him understood less than they believed they knew about the physiology of humans. A critical moment came at the 11th month.
Tom had always thought himself spontaneous but the nature of what was happening around him more often than not created disturbances in other’s lives. This spreading pain continued through spasms and accidents Tom knew he somehow, caused. Confused about what he had become without even knowing what he had become, he shot himself. Or tried to.
The plasma shield, even at such close range, formed internally around the bullet and stopped its path before it could rip through the roof of his mouth and send showers of dark red blood and pieces of teeth and tongue ripping through his cheeks.
None of that happened.
This self-destructive urge was completely alien to the Stepalthe. A quick calculation showed that had Tom jammed the gun hard enough, rather than let the barrel rest on his lips, loosely, they would have lost him.
In panic, and not knowing what else to do they did the one thing they had planned to never do. They brought Tom in. They called, arranged for him to meet a friend at Cafe Connex. When he walked through the doors, he didn’t walk out again for a month.
*** *** ***
What Tom learned, helped, to a point. There were some answers where before there were none. Tom’s life, he had been told, had a purpose beyond his skin and beyond earth, which he was expected to stretch into and explore.
But he itched mostly to tell his story, but couldn’t think how to be taken seriously. He knew the dangers of trying to prove to anyone what he now was and, yet, that was a risk he was destined to take.
On the ninth of September 1999, Tom walked out again, shaking the hand of the first person he met, killing her, in what was disturbingly determined to be an involuntary immolation. And an accident.
It was neither.
The rest, as we know is history.