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Sci-fi excerpt from the archives

So I have these massive folders on my laptop. I really should back them up… Anyway, every once in a while I’ll try to clean them out, streamline, organize, etc.

Well, I came across these few paragraphs today, and I thought, at first, it wasn’t my writing. I thought perhaps someone had sent me a story excerpt to review (which happens all the time between us writerly types). Perhaps that illusion that it wasn’t my writing let me read through it with interest (I tend to be a bit self-critical… another common occurrence in us writerly types!).

After I read the few paragraphs and thought for it a bit, I realized it was in fact my writing. It was a quick exercise when I was thinking about writing a short story for a Halloween contest for Apex Books last year. I never got the story off the ground, so don’t read this excerpt if you feel you need closure. But the theme of the short story contest was something about Aliens and Urban Legends, and I remember thinking that I was going to write the story from the perspective of the alien who inadvertently and haphazardly caused the majority of urban legends in Philly while he was in the very volatile process of maturing to adulthood. Interesting concept, right?

Well, it may have worked out if September, October and November … and December, for that matter, aren’t crazy months for me. No writing gets done then (in fact, in 2010 I’m going to make a concerted effort to make sure I don’t shut down in the fall and fall prey to the constant activities scheduled for kids and family.)

Anyway, here’s the excerpt sans editing, for your enjoyment.

As far as plum assignments go, you’d think Philadelphia would be a cake walk. Just set up shop in the Eastern State Penitentiary or at Christ Church at Fifth and Arch. Passersby are used to “ghost” sitings

I got the notice on my birthday. Loosely translated, it said this:

Assignment: Advance Team
Location: Philadelphia

No need to list “North America.” Or even “Earth.” We have a long history with Philly. It’s been the main outpost in that sector for many time cycles. Philly’s notorious.

I had an idea what “advance” team meant, and you would probably use your word “ironic” to describe its use. We’ve been set-up in Philly for a long time, so it would seem a bit late for an “advance team.” I couldn’t be sure, but “Advance” in this case meant The Advance, the once-phantom policy the networks have been dreaming about for years. The time when we fully integrated Earth into the network. Someone would get a big, fat promotion for this. That person wouldn’t be me.

My parents were dispatched to Philly before I was born. So, in essence, I grew up almost like every other kid here. And just like every other outpost brat, I’ve caused my fair share of royal almost-expose-centuries-of-work mishaps. Thankfully, I was luckier than most, as one of my parents is from a clean-up crew clan and always knew what to do. Still, evidence of my maturization phase lies scattered around the city like a tossed deck of cards. You might make a bad joke here about the “deck being stacked against me” but my people don’t get that kind of humor.

I applied for Translator. After all, being here for so long, I can do both languages. But then again, any of us who are here more than 5 minutes can speak like a native. I felt I was a bit more insightful, though, than your typical alien; I was one of the few who lived like Earth progeny, going to school and socializing. I mean, I have Earth friends. They don’t know what I am, of course, but I can safely say that having friends is rare for us. I figured out a formula for long underwear that blocks the more harmful secretions and magnetic fields from my body, so only a few of my friends over the years have suffered from bad outcomes, and most of those outcomes were gradual and couldn’t be linked to me or my network. My parents are not convinced of my underwear’s efficacy, stating that it is more my superstition than reality. I wear the underwear anyway, just to be safe.

But here it was, my 2908th (in your years) birthday and I am being sent back to Philly. It’s all politics, I’m sure. As I said, this Advance thing is a pipe dream.

Loosely translated:

Assignment/ Urging/ Suggestion: Advance Team
Location: Philadelphia

A more strict translation of this message or any event in this story would take too much time, and it would just look repetitive to you. The best way I can describe our communications is like a one-way network: you hear the voices of many, all shouting or whispering at you at once, but none of them hear each other. It isn’t like what you think when you hear the word, but “network” is probably the closest you can get to understanding this.

Here is a rough translation of the conversation with my parents that followed:
Me outward: Philadelphia.
Parent 1 outward: The Mutter Museum is full.
Parent 2 outward: Bring your underwear.
Parent 3 outward: Bring your underwear.
Me inward: *sigh*

Parent 3 is mimicking Parent 2, but really Parent 3 doesn’t realize Parent 2 is making the same joke, because they can’t hear each other. This isn’t one of your conference calls.

So this would be my new assignment. Now, as a full grown person, I would be on the Advance Team on Earth, back home in Philly. I applied for Translator. After all, being in Philly for so long, I can do both languages. But I’ve said that already, haven’t I? We repeat a lot, in our communications. Forgive me. It’s the only way we have to make sure our whole network gets the message.

The Mutter Museum comment I’ll explain in a bit.


I wouldn’t be safe until Philadelphia; I knew this. Traveling around in our space is dangerous. There is something called The Trend (this is a sort of “baby talk” translation) wandering around out there and it is to be avoided at all costs. Best way for you to image it is to think of the The Trend as a traveling vacuum vortex that sucks the life out of creatures like me. And I could hear it as I was getting ready to head towards Earth. It was growing, like a sandstorm in one of your deserts, obscuring the pure messages and blocking the wayward thought. The transport was down below, in the garden. I practiced my technique. Slow breath, tunnel vision, simple mind. I tried to be Master Zen Li Zhou.

The Trend got stronger. Turtle, I thought. Turtle Turtle Turtle. The Trend was beating with massive signal noise right outside my door. I had gotten this far, but the turtle wasn’t enough. The Trend crushed the image of the slow-moving earth creature with the devastating wave of a tsunami. I have to think that even Li Zhou would have been no match. I had no choice; I was taken with it.

The signal noise was deafening and constant. My eyes burned and my mind was beginning to race. The speerings started to burn the edges of my brain. Images of Philadelphia were fading quickly into the far away space reserved for dreams.

I could feel my magnetic field expanding, furthering the power of The Trend. I closed my eyes and shut my ears. I struggled to contain it. I fought the nausea that gripped my body. Brutal pain pounded the feeling out of my arms and legs. Then I felt the snap. It was subtle and vaguely satisfying, so small a click I almost didn’t feel it. My friends on Earth described the moment when they realize they are drunk. It seems similar. I was beginning not to care.

My function began to deteriorate. My field was inextricably linked with The Trend. I’d never get back to Philadelphia. I’d be at The Trend’s mercy for the rest of my days.

Back in Philly, it was Halloween. It’s a rare holiday celebrated by few inhabitants, but it was my favorite, for obvious reasons.

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