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Friday, August 21, 2015

JUPITER RING

by Misha Nogha





Artwork by Will Ferret




Sergei grimaced as he watched a crow hop around with a piece of Naan bread in its bill. It fixed its shiny jet eye on him and Sergei took a step closer. The crow ruffled its blue black feathers and Sergei could see more clearly that it was not Naan bread at all, but a round disc of golden fry bread.

“Where did he get that? Sergei wondered aloud. The corvid leapt into the air and flew west joining a murder of crows that circled the towers. No! Thought Sergei. “No no no! he shouted, flapping his hands in the air.

Starting with the raven who had dropped a baguette in the cooling tower at Hadron, corvids seemed to take a particular delight in dropping objects into the towers. Rocks, marbles cherry pitseven pieces of yellow jacket nest complete with hornets. If the cooling towers shut down so would the super collider, and during a run, it might spell a catastrophic disaster.

“Dammit,” he said tapping at his holo watch. Fifteen minutes until run start.

Of course they had screens. But the screens had quickly gummed up with detritus. And in one case the whole screen had dropped down into a tower and caused a run halt for two weeks.

Jupiter Ring was a bigger, better, faster super collider than Hadron but it still had some of its more primitive technology subject to the whims of birds. The crows stirred the air with fury, around and around until watching made Sergei dizzy with despair and he glanced at the ground to look away. But on the sandy soil there was a glinting that caught his attention. He looked nervously around to see if any wiredog drones were viewing him, and then sort of nonchalantly bent down like he was tying his shoe.

The best and worst part of the company uniform were tie shoes instead of slip ons. Dark blue shirt, with yellow stripes, and Jupiter symbol on the right pocket, jeans and high top chucks. He always felt like he was in a Cub Scout uniform. But it was comfortable and the tech dudes liked it because they never had to bother with choosing an outfit for the day. It was always the same outfit. Miles of royal blue and yellow thick cotton shirts. The chucks needing tying gave him an excuse to bend down. He fumbled at his laces, brushed some sand away on the ground and unearthed a tiny tan jasper arrowhead that looked as if it had just been newly knapped. 

Surrounding the arrowhead were several red white heart crow beads. More Indian artifacts, he puzzled, or some techie’s joke? This was his third find if you didn’t count the fourth—the colored porcupine quill pendant. And he did not count it because it was his. It was mandatory for him to turn in and report all anomalies. But this one, he secretly kept for himself. Each time he found an artifact, surrounding it was a handful of red white heart beads. Why? What does it mean? He wondered. He picked up the beads painstakingly and put them in a plastic bag.

He heard before he saw the security drone buzz overhead and stood up quickly. It wasn’t coming toward him and he shaded his eyes to watch it fly straight at the corvids. That’s not the way to do it, he thought angrily and clenched his hand that held the arrowhead.  Bad idea. Instantly the razory edge of  stone sliced a smile shaped cut on his thumb. “No!” he shouted at the sting of the cut, and “No no no!” at the drone. Ruby droplets of blood soaked into the sand at his feet.

In seconds the crows had savagely attacked the drone with a seemingly gleeful menace. Sergei winced as shattered plastic pieces of it tumbled through the air and fell directly into the tower.

“Dammit,” he said,  as the klaxon went off on his wrist band. Ten minutes and counting until the run.

He pocketed the arrowhead and sucked the blood from his thumb as he hurried to his sharc, the sonic hover air resonating craft that he used to patrol the town of Jupiter Ring. Since it was so close to run time he took it off automatic pilot and lifted off.

“Warning” said the snarky ai voice. “The autopilot has been disabled.”

“Yeah duh,” he said to it “I just took it off didn’t I?”

“I hope you know what you are doing?” said the ai voice in a doubtful tone.

Sergei made a grunt. Sarcastic programmers are the worst. Why program in chit chat?

It's true, he was not a tech-troller but a Gatekeeper who handled hallucination control. On the side of the deep blue sharc were the bright yellow letters MTT, mobile treatment team. But due to budget constraints there really was not a ‘team’; just him, a roving psychiatrist who drove around tending the worst cases of disorientation caused by the collider runs. At nearly the end of six years Sergei began to wonder. Were these just brain wave hallucinations caused by the intense electromagnetic distortion? Or was reality really shifting? Of course he knew the answer, but the hallucinations had tended to get a bit more solid. In other words, after the run they seemed to linger. Not like before when as soon as the run was complete they shut off and all was back to ordinary reality. Of course the one thing he was sure of was that during a run, people went blatherskite crazy!

To compensate for this erratic behavior he carried sedative filled airdarts, tiny little needles with a light dose that he shot at his patients. True they were full of zpop, a modified pesticide, but it wasn’t truly dangerous and it did tend to lay them out and send them into a deep sleep so that they immediately ceased being a danger to themselves and others and most importantly, as far as the agency was concerned, to the super collider itself.

For everyone working and living in the town of Jupiter Ring was an employee of the agency, whether a physicist, a technician, or a service person hired to take care of the needs of these most valuable employees.

As far as Sergei was concerned they were all a bunch of nutters anyway, mostly Auties and Aspies who threw themselves into their work with reckless abandon, and didn’t care much about the social amenities of life. There were rules of course, no one left or arrived without clearance, which suited the staff quite well, and instead of calling the place by the name of JR Complex they called it the town of JR Tolkien. Fantasy land.  Casual relationships were ok but there were no marriages, children, or pets allowed. Sergei called it geek pieville because to him the entire inside of the ring both by arrangement and feel seemed like three day old leathery pizza. The perfect geek food in his opinion. Heck even he ate that out of sheer convenience.

As soon as Sergei turned the aircar, he saw it, the lone black cat who wandered the facility. He stretched and loped off like a mini black jaguar. No pets, but he wasn’t anyone’s pet, just ubiquitous. The cat leapt through some invisible portal and disappeared. He was also an anomaly but a seemingly intangible one. Not anything that could be actually touched.

Like, and here is where Sergei got really nervous, the Indians he was seeing on the top of the berm over the ring.

These were Indians dressed in traditional regalia. On horseback. They seemed to ring the entire complex, mounted on the berm, and he kept glassing them with the electro goggles. Of course they didn’t show any heat index, and so couldn’t be real. But there seemed to be more and more of them and they lingered even after the run. Ghostly images that rode or danced a strange ghostly dance. Before and after the dance they seemed to be staring at the town, grim-faced and silent...and waiting. But for what?

Of course that didn’t really matter. What mattered was that Sergei saw them and this was a very bad thing because it meant he was losing control of reality and would be subject to termination if anyone found out.

As he banked left to land at hq he saw more of them and they were riding single file on gleaming little mustang horses. As they trotted their long manes fluttered like silk flags. There were mahogany bays and bright sorrels and pintos and blue roan appaloosas, palominos and blacks; all sturdy ponies with quick stepping action. But Sergei was looking for one particular horse, a pale sand-colored pony with a black mane and tail, because its rider was the only one who could actually seem to see him, Sergei.

“Delusional,” Sergei whispered to himself. He was worried. An MTT psych had to make it six years without an incident, meaning losing their mind, before a good retirement with full benefits. He had made it five and a half. So far, the longest standing psychonaut of the history of Jupiter Ring.

“You are losing altitude at an unsafe rate,” the auto pilot warned him, “Please regain forty meters for safetys sake.

“Come on, come on,” he said, trying to find the buttermilk buckskin. “You gotta be there.” He banked the aircar forty degrees west and he was nearly face to face with her, or so it seemed with the binoculars, and there, she looked right at him and made his heart kabang. She was  an old squaw with wolf colored braids, slowly she turned her creamy buckskin horse and shook a twisted staff at him. He could swear she laughed. Sergei began to sweat profusely. Delusions were not real. They weren’t supposed to look at you.

If he went crazy he would miss out on his full time span and end up drugged out in an assisted living facility; lose the hefty stipend a full service would give. His mouth went dry. The auto pilot was warning: six meters five meters.

What the hell? he thought, suddenly punching all the buttons at once to gain altitude but the car couldnt handle the fast sequence and stalled landing with a thump. He jumped out and hurried off to the hqhe decided to mention them. Just in case.

Everything inside the headquartersfloor, walls, ceilingwas fabricated of aqua blue bubbled glass. It was like being inside of an iceberg that had calved in some distance arctic ocean, but the glass had the purpose of insulating the workers from electromagnetic waves. And it was excessively chilled in there to compensate for the heat of the collider.

He strode into the director’s office and slapped down the arrowhead on the electric blue slab of  oval glass that was his desk. Behind Dr. Johnson was an imprint in the glass, a sort of etching of a stick tree with nine bent branches. Dr. Johnson has told Sergei once that it represented nine dimensions. “There are nine, not four,” he had said emphatically. “If other physicists would just see that, we would actually get somewhere instead of going round and round all the time.

An antique black wooden ball war club laid on its side on the desk next to the director. It looked menacing. Sergei stared at the gleaming club. He had brought it to the office a few days before and was surprised to find that the director had not put it in the file drawer with the array of other Native American artifacts Sergei had turned in.

Johnson pointed at a run holograph on his desktop.

“What are you doing Dr. Vassiliev? Run is in five minutes. Get back out there.”

“Push the delay. Stop it.” Sergei tried to make his voice stern and commanding.

Dr. Johnson frowned at him. “Are you mad? Too close.”

The director flipped his fingers dismissively, and turned back to his holo screens.

Sergei's voice came out shrill and tense this time. “But the crows dropped a drone in number 3.”

Johnson squeezed his eyes tightly shut and pinched his nostrils with his fingers.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes I saw them a few minutes ago.”

Johnson switched the camera on the inside of the tower, and there on the bottom grate were twisted bits of plastic.

“Too late.” said Johnson gloomily. “You should have gotten here sooner.”

“How? I took the aircar.” Sergei was annoyed that he could not contact the director by holophone. But such items were on rest for an hour before and after run.

“The log says you took it off autopilot, wasted an entire forty seconds of time.”

“God help us,” Sergei said in a breath.

“Oh relax, I don’t think three ounces of flimsy plastic is going to make a bit of difference. Get back out there or I'll have to write you up.”

Sergei threw up his hands, turned on his heel and headed out of the office. As he got to the door though he heard Johnson.

“Is this a threat, Vassiliev?”

Sergei stopped and didn’t turn around. “What do you mean?”

“Isn’t this blood on this piece of glass here on my desk? Is it full of pathogens?”

Oh right he almost forgot, paranoid propped up by p-tak pills.

“It’s my blood and it's safe. That is not glass it’s an arrowhead.” Sergei turned back to him. “Newly knapped,” he added to see if the director would react to that information.

Johnson rubbed his forehead and donned a surgical mask and a pair of blue surgical gloves. He gingerly picked up the arrowhead with a pair of forceps and put it in an analyzer cube.

“Where did you get this?”

‘The same place I got those other things,” he pointed at the club. “I didn’t mention this before but there are Indians on the  hills.”

“Indians. Doctors Shudarhan or Paati you mean?” Dr. Johnson's voice was cold. Flat.

“No, Indians,” Sergei patted his lips and said whoowhoowhoo.

With supreme effort Dr. Johnson held in his annoyance and closed his eyes slowly while poising his finger over the delete holo on his desk. Once pressed Sergei would be terminated as an employee of Jupiter Ring. Forever.

A soft insistent gonging was pre-warning of a run of the Jupiter ring.

“Don’t press that,” Sergei pleaded. “Never mind. I’d better go.”

“Yes, I think you had better Vassiliev, but report back to me as soon as you can after the run.”

Sergei blanched and cleared his throat. “I will.” Inwardly he groaned. Don’t fire me.

He turned to leave but Dr. Johnson spoke again.

“What tribe?”

“Pardon?”

“What tribe of Indians?”

Sergei had done research. He had studied. “Cheyenne I think, and one Cree. An old woman.”

“Old woman?” Dr. Johnson tipped his head quizzically, like a crow.

“Yes, on horseback and with a blue saddle blanket that had a crow in flight painted on it.”

Before a run?” Johnson looked almost gleeful. There was something smug about his expression, as if he knew something Sergei didn’t.

“Yes. He hesitated waiting for Dr. Johnson to say something else. But he had picked up the diagnostics box with his gloved hands and was reading the specs on the arrowhead and a very quiet humming began to erupt from his throat as he did so.

The gong was sounding more insistent and louder now.

“Get back to work Vassiliev,” his voice was hard and cold but he was grinning.

Being a psychoanalyst Sergei knew that paranoia was not contagious of course. But as the doors closed on the sharc he could feel the viral chill of it seeping in. He knew Dr. Johnson speculated that the Jupiter runs were tearing holes in the fabric of reality and that one day, another reality would replace the current.

Absolute pathology, Sergei consoled himself. “No bearing on any reality of all, he told himself out loud.

As the aircar lifted he circumnavigated the ring and saw various technicians and service people run about interacting with the illusions. A man firing a Gatling gun at a pair of World War II bombers, two crane-like birds perched on the back blades of a stegosaurus, a programmer trying to catch some red yellow and blue triangles soaring through the air like plastic manta rays, a violet cat-headed woman copulating with a black jaguar which looked suspiciously like a jumbo version of the portal cat, a masked Buryat shamaness twirling in the middle of the town park beating a drum and singing, and a gardener trying to cold cock an angry white swan with a golf club. He frowned. Why were the gardener’s illusions always about killing? He wondered making a note. I thought gardeners were all about living things.

As he circled Jupiter Ring he glanced at the mound around the town and noticed it was almost completely full of  ghostly Indians on horseback, encircling the entire ring. He flew over the diameter of the ring, breaking protocol and made note of them. They were sitting cross-legged in front of their horses on the edge of the berm. The horses stood placidly behind them, manes and tails whipping in some kind of sonic wind. As he watched, the interior of Jupiter Ring became a huge drum; a veritable ocean of hide, and the Indians were beating it with staffs—long twisted staffs jangling with jingle-cones and fluttering eagle feathers.

He flew down lower and saw the cream colored buckskin pony of the old woman. She pointed up at him and cupped her hand to her mouth and shouted “Kachinas! Kachinas are coming!” She looked completely wild and deranged.

Gosh, he thought, even illusions have delusions.

They think Im a sky god. He snorted. But he realized quickly that she wasn’t pointing at him but at a great huge black storm-cloud that was forming above him. A tremendous drum boomed, or was it thunderand the sky was blasted wide open with a spidery web of blue lightning.

The aircar was struck; the dials dimmed, brightened and winked out.

Sergei almost didn’t have enough time to press the chute button, but he did, and then the sharc caught in on a wind wave, and slowly settled onto the triangle of brilliant gold mums tended by the gardener.

The storm cloud winked out, the klaxon stopped ringing, the Indians faded, and the black cat was washing his paws and gazing at him suspiciously. Then the chute deployed and Sergei was covered with a bright orange blanket of nylon.

Sergei popped up the doors of the sharc and climbed out, pushing aside the chute like a heavy orange curtain. He was shaking and disoriented. He looked around and all was normal. Quiet little sun-soaked Jupiter ring. Tolkien land. No clouds, no thunder drums, just silence.

He rubbed his hands over his face and shook his head, but as he pulled them down the blond duckling-headed gardener was rushing toward him brandishing a dibble like it was a butcher knife.

“You landed on my mums, you jerk. My beautiful prize mums, I’ll kill youyou son of a bitch!”

But before he could get any closer, Sergei darted him with the sleep gun and the gardener sank to the ground in a slump.

He made a note of it in his journal and then got back into the sharc and tried to start it up again.

It made a swift clinking sound but the engine would not start, so he walked the three blocks to headquarters to make his report.

One sleeper and one dead aircar.

When he got to the directors office, the director was still wearing the blue surgical gloves and mask. But his face above the mask was painted half black and half red. He wore a crow-feather war bonnet and had the war club in his handon his neck were strung all the red white heart beads Sergei had collected.

“Director?” Sergei said tenuously.

The director ululated and then slammed the war club into the holo desk sending chips of glass flying around the room. Sergei covered his face and stealthily reached for his dart gun. But before he could unholster it, Dr. Johnson hurled the club across the room and hit him in the arm. The dart gun dropped to the glass floor.  “Aho! You were right Vassiliev,” he shouted out loud.

“About what?” asked Sergei nervously, rubbing his wrist and wondering how to retrieve the dart gun. No one had ever darted a director before. Could he? Was there policy?

“The Indians. I saw them! Ghost dancers!”

“Here,” he said, punching a holograph loader, and there appeared on the screen Indians singing and dancing just as Sergei had seen them during the run.

“It has finally happened!”  Dr. Johnson got up and did a little two-step war dance himself.

“What has, Doctor?” Sergei surreptitiously moved his toe closer to the dart gun.

“The realities have swapped out! In just a matter of time, we will be somewhere else! All of us. At once!”

The holo came up of a great tribe of Indians riding horseback around and round the edge of the berm.

“They are real. This is it. I have made my great discovery. The god particle is a bunch of hooey. I knew it! This is the greatest discovery of all time.”

“What is?”

“That the ring has finally shifted reality.”

At those words Dr. Johnson started fumbling with something in his lap. It was a tiny bow made out of flexor rod and rubber bands. Across the bands lay an arrow made from a light pen, and duct taped to that was the arrowhead Sergei had found.

Dr. Johnson pulled back the arrow on the bands and pointed it directly at Sergei’s heart.

“But why point that arrow at me?” Sergei spoke calmly so as not to excite the director.

“Because Sergei, those Indians,” he waved at the holo behind him. “Those Indians were dancing the ghost dance. The white man’s world is over. You are over.”

“Well you too then, director.”

“No.” Dr. Johnson shook his head. “Not so, because, and he brought up a life sized holo of the Cree woman with the wolf braids. “This woman is my great-great-grandmother. Do you hear what they are singing?” He asked. “Do you hear it? Let me turn up the volume.

As he waved over the glass top, Sergei bent quickly and retrieved his dart gun and shot the directorwho slumped over in his chair.

But the woman regarded him solemnly from the back of the buttermilk buckskin, and the words of the Cheyenne were heard. As they sang, a great vortex of crows began to spiral around the cooling Jupiter Ring.

The walls of the facility began to shimmer and fade as the song reverberated through the entire complex.

They sang:

A'guga'-ihi,
A'guga'-ihi.
Tsi'shistä'hi'sihi',
Tsi'shistä'hi'sihi'.
I'hoo'tsihi',
I'hoo'tsihi'.
Tsitäwo'tähi',
Tsitäwo'tähi',
Hi'nisa'nûhi',
Hi'nisa'nûhi'.
Tsitäwo'mohu',
Tsitäwo'mohu'.



Translation:

The crow woman—
The crow woman—
To her home,
To her home,
She is going,
She is going.
She will see it,
She will see it.
Her children,
Her children.
She will see them,
She will see them.

With that last phrase the whole headquarters faded and shimmered up like a shining mirage. Nothing was left except a whole lot of sleeping techies naked as jaybirds, and the black cat who dashed off.

Indians on horseback rested their hands on their horse's manes and looked down at him—the last JR employee still awake. The old woman pushed her horse closer until the flies on its muzzle landed on his face. He wiped them away and looked up at the ride just as she extended her staff and gently lifted the porcupine quill pendant up with the tip of it. She looked doubtful, fierce and crabby. But she slid off her mount and pulled the blanket out from beneath the saddle on her horse. It was the blue one with the bird in flight. She draped it across his shoulders, and stood back. It was hot, damp, sweaty and pricklyand smelled of horse sweat. But he left it on. She remounted her horse and turned and shouted “Naetan!”* to the other Indians. They all laughed and turned their ponies at once, galloping away and leaving him in the dust with the prone Jupiter Ring employees who were starting to sit up. A  flock of crows and ravens suddenly swooped by in a buzzing of wings and cawing.

Sergei was already struggling to put together a proper debriefing.

* old Cree word for Medicine man.


















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1 comment:

  1. Great use of science fantasy to justify an intimate tangle of illusion and reality! Truth and fiction converse with such dream force, the reader experiences the capture of language in the mythology of cultures and the enormous strangeness of human being.

    ReplyDelete

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country. 877-DRK-POEM -



Icy Sedgwick's
THE PORCELAIN WOMAN


Icy Sedgwick is part writer and part
trainee supervillain. She lives in the UK
but dreams of the Old West. Her current
works include a ghost story about a Cavalier
and a Western tale of retribution. Find her
ebooks, free weekly fiction and other
shenanigans at Icy’s Cabinet of Curiosities.


Blag Dahlia's
armed to the teeth
with LIPSTICK



BLAG DAHLIA is a Rock Legend.
Singer, Songwriter, producer &
founder of the notorious DWARVES.
He has written two novels, ‘NINA’ and
‘ARMED to the TEETH with LIPSTICK’.


G. Alden Davis's
THE FOLD


G. Alden Davis wrote his first short story
in high school, and received a creative
writing scholarship for the effort. Soon
afterward he discovered that words were
not enough, and left for art school. He was
awarded the Emeritus Fellowship along
with his BFA from Memphis College of Art
in '94, and entered the videogame industry
as a team leader and 3D artist. He has over
25 published games to his credit. Mr. Davis
is a Burningman participant of 14 years,
and he swings a mean sword in the SCA.


Shae Sveniker's
A NEW METAPHYSICAL STUDY
REGARDING THE BEHAVIOR
OF PLANT LIFE


Shae is a poet/artist/student and former
resident of the Salt Pit, UT, currently living
in Simi Valley, CA. His short stories are on
Blogger and his poetry is hosted on Livejournal.



Nigel Strange's
PLASTIC CHILDREN


Nigel Strange lives with his wife and
daughter, cats, and tiny dog-like thing
in their home in California where he
occasionally experiments recreationally
with lucidity. PLASTIC CHILDREN
is his first publication.


J.R. Torina's
THE HOUSE IN THE PORT


J.R. Torina was DJ for Sonic Slaughter-
house ('90-'97), runs Sutekh Productions
(an industrial-ambient music label) and
Slaughterhouse Records (metal record
label), and was proprietor of The Abyss
(a metal-gothic-industrial c.d. shop in
SLC, now closed). He is the dark force
behind Scapegoat (an ambient-tribal-
noise-experimental unit). THE HOUSE
IN THE PORT is his first publication.


K.B. Updike, Jr's
THE GOLDEN THIRD EYE


K.B. Updike, Jr. is a young virgin
Virginia writer. KB's life work,
published 100% for free:
(We are not certain if K.B. Updike, Jr.
has lost his Virginian virginity yet.)