Sunday, 20 July 2008

Fictional Freakouts: The Phantom Brigade Issue #8

New to this little piece of literary improvisation? Then check out the earlier chapters.


"We are at heart a peaceful people," said Procurator Wind-Grass.

"I'm also pretty sure you're not native to this planet," replied Thorn, earning a surprised look from Emma.

"You're very perceptive... by the way, you never told me your name?"

"Thorn," he answered.

"Well Thorn," continued the Procurator, "we are not native to this planet, or this system. Our home planet Gesserax was destroyed by an asteroid bombardment over a century ago. My parents came here with the rest of the survivors to this planet as refugees. It was the only habitable world within range of our sub-light ships, and then...."

"You had some trouble with the people already here," added Thorn.

"Sad," replied the Procurator, "but true. We tried to make peaceful contact with the Brutals, form a partnership since neither of us could go anywhere. We offered them our medical and scientific knowledge in exchange for peace. However Brutals have no interest in peace, only in sacrificing to their idols."

"I guess you won," said Emma, not really knowing why.

The Procurator tapped his chin. "We did. Kept them in the enclosures, and tried to do our best to nudge them along the path of evolution."

"How?" asked Emma.

"Eugenics," said Thorne in English, before returning to the Procurator's language. "That's our word for sterilizing the undesirable."

"Then you do understand," said the Procurator. "We did that, and allowed only the cooperative ones to breed, but the sterilized ones started causing acting out violently. We tried exiling them from the enclosures, but they would just come back to attack us. Lobotomizing them just made them even more aggressive. Then we realized a way to use one of their own traditions against them."

The Procurator opened a shiny metallic decanter and poured some green liquid into a glass, he offered some to Thorn and Emma, but they turned it down. Emma because she didn't take anything that didn't come from her own planet, no matter how thirsty she was, and Thorn, because he didn't feel like being a good guest.

"They worshipped the spatial rifts," said the Procurator, "they occur naturally on this world, appearing according to some complex pattern based on natural eddies caused by interactions with signals from a nearby pulsar with the planet's electromagnetic field. The Brutals thought they were the mouths of their gods, and after butchering and burning their sacrificial victims would toss the ashes into the rifts."

"So you would lobotomize them," concluded Thorn, "and toss them into the rift, to our planet."

"We do apologize," said the Procurator, taking a sip of his drink and opening a small box on his desk. "We thought the rifts led to caves on an uninhabited world. It was not our intention to anger a technologically advanced culture like yours." The Procurator took Thorn's pistol out of the box. "I assume this is some sort of a weapon."

"It is," answered Thorn.

The Procurator aimed the pistol at Emma.

"Why don't you tell me how it's made and how it works," asked the Procurator, his tone deceptively pleasant, "so I won't have to test it on your friend here."

"Sure," said Thorn, "but I have to say something first."


"Bad touch."


The Procurator screamed as sparks leapt off the pistol's grip and up his arm. He then staggered backwards, into his own desks, dropped the pistol, and fell to the floor.

Thorn picked up the pistol and put it against the Procurator's temple.

"You know," said Thorn, "I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, give you a chance to explain yourself, but when you decided to pull the old 'threaten the woman' stunt, you just have to go down."

"Fire that thing and a hundred guards will be in here," groaned the Procurator. "Not even that weapon will save you."

Thorn smiled, a chill went down Emma's spine.

"This isn't the first time I've been threatened with an army," said Thorn, "and I've been threatened by scarier people than yours. Now I want you to listen, and listen carefully, because I won't be repeating myself. It's not my job to make you change your ways. I can't change your history, or those Brutals or anything about you. What I can change, what I can handle is how you affect my planet and my people."

"Is your planet going to declare war on us?" asked the Procurator, fear in his eyes.

"If you're lucky," answered Thorn, "but your luck has run out, so you have to deal with me." Thorn then pressed a button on his watch.

"Tanaka here," came a voice from the watch.

"We found out who was using the rifts," said Thorn, "we need to teach them some manners. Initiate the demonstration, about thirty clicks east of portal location."

"On it," answered Tanaka.

"Get up," ordered Thorn.

The Procurator got up, his legs wobbly.

"Go to the window," commanded Thorn. "Look out the window."

The Procurator approached the window. Emma looked out, she could make out a needle thin contrail in the distance.

"Is that a missile?" asked Emma. Thorn remained silent, but she got her answer.

The whole sky went white, then orange, and everything shook as a terrible noise, a hundred thousand thunders, blasted across them.

Emma fell to the floor, her eyes dazzled by the light. In a few seconds her sight returned and she started to hear Thorn over the fading boom.

"Send anything through any rift to my world," said Thorn, "and I will send one hundred thousand of those things to start. And after I've burnt your cities to ashes, I will then get very, very unpleasant."

"What was that?" asked Emma.

"It was a fusion bomb," answered Thorn in English, "just a small one."

"I see," said the Procurator, "I understand."

"I suggest you find some other way to break through to the Brutals," said Thorn, "tell them that little explosion was a demonstration from their gods to seek peace. I don't really care, just don't use my planet to dump your problems."

The Procurator nodded.

"You see," said Thorn, "two different species can break through. Now take us to the nearest portal."

The Procurator nodded.


"Is it sealed?" asked Thorn.

Fahey nodded and turned off a machine that looked to Emma like a something out of the prop-room for Frankenstein.

"Did you really intend to drop a hundred thousand of those bombs on his planet?" asked Emma. For some reason, being in a huge storm drain beneath Los Angeles now seemed positively homey compared to where she'd been.

"No," said Thorn, "we only have a thousand."

"I feel dizzy," said Emma. "I need some air."

Emma stepped out into the night air of her home planet. The concrete banks of the dry riverbed seemed to spin around her.

"Emma," said Thorn, "are you all right?"

"I don't know," said Emma, "should I? I just visited an alien planet, watched you electrocute an alien and threaten to blow up his planet. How should I feel?"

"I'm responsible for six billion lives here," answered Thorn, "sometime I have to be--"

Emma collapsed into Thorn's arms, her eyes rolling upward into her head.

"Shit!" said Thorn.


"She's stable," said Dr. Chambers, his eyes studying the scanner readouts in the Brigade's clinic. "In fact, according to her brainwaves, she in deep REM sleep."

"What happened to her?"

Dr. Chambers shrugged. "It could be a psychological reaction. Not everyone is as mentally.... 'flexible' as you are. Or... What's this?"

Thorn looked at the monitor. In the back of Emma's Grail's brain was a small oval object.

"I think it's some sort of microchip," said Chambers.

"Could it be the reason why she understood the other planet's languages?" asked Thorn.

"Why did those first aliens you met give her one, and not give you one?" asked Chambers. "Why didn't they rewire her brain like they did yours?"

Thorn shrugged.

"Hey," said Fahey, studying his own equipment. "Whatever it is, it's sending a signal. I'm talking terrabytes of data a second."

"Where's the signal going?" asked Thorn.

"It's short range," answered Fahey. "It's going to your office. To you office computer to be exact."

The door to Thorn's office slid open and he walked in alone.

"Still prefer to face the unknown alone," said an extremely familiar voice. Thorn looked into a hologram of his own face.

"That's right," said the hologram of Thorn, "it's me. After all this time I still haven't lost my taste for melodrama."

"You look..."

"Older?" said the hologram. "Yes, we will age, eventually, but only slightly, I won't tell you how long. Let's just say long enough to pack an interactive hologram program into a chip smaller than a the tap shoes of an angel dancing on the head of a pin, and toss in a universal translator to boot."

"The rift must have activ--"

"I remember what happened," said the hologram. "I don't have much time before my program burns out your primitive computer. You remember the third time she met you?"

Thorn nodded.

"Well you were wrong," said the hologram of Thorn. "It was actually the fourth time she met you. She doesn't remember it, because it happened in the future. Yes, your theory was right, time travellers do lose their memories of future events, it didn't just happen to you. But back to my story, it was the fifth time I met her... after a long time, and... damn, I'm just a simulation and it still chokes me up."


"I have included all the information that will prevent the future she visited me from ever happening," said the hologram, "trust me, it'll be better for every one."

Thorn's desktop printer came on and started pumping out pages of data.

"You'll know what to do with this information when the time comes," said Thorn. "I guess I should tell you that the pain will get better, but I was never very good at lying to myself."

"What pain?"

"Time's up," said the hologram, which then vanished in a flash and the smell of ozone and burnt circuits.

Thorn stood alone in his office.

...for now...

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