Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

#11: All Time High

11. All Time High, Rita Coolidge (from Octopussy). Points to Rita Coolidge for saying, “No way am I putting that movie title in my song.” Points for making a great, catchy 80s ballad in a period when soaring ballads were the direction the Bond films were going in. Points subtracted for a song about which one of my friends said, “I didn’t realize this was a Bond song until I got the collection of Bond themes.” This was the last of a short series of Bond themes about how awesome Bond is in bed, and the weakest (the other two will be coming up in the top ten–are you excited? do you know what they are?).

Fiction: All Time High

In space, altitude has no meaning. Rocky had made his name as a pilot going higher and higher, taking aircraft so high their engines stopped working and they stalled out. When the Air Force discharged him, he was hired by the UN Council For The Development of Space to fly their low-level spacecraft. Rocky had taken those up into the thinnest layers of Earth’s atmosphere, and had balanced at both the Lagrange points between the Earth and the Moon, feeling the precarious equilibrium, looking in one direction and then the other, as high as he could get above two surfaces at once (because once he moved away from either, he felt, he was no longer “above” that surface, but above the one he would be falling toward).

Later he became the first man to pilot spacecraft into the Lagrange points between the Earth and the Sun, but here, he thought, he was not as high as he could get above the Sun. As spacecraft engines improved and life support systems allowed people to remain alive in them, Rocky kept agitating to fly above the elliptical plane of the solar system, to find the edge of the Sun’s gravity well and hang there, suspended above its roiling, incandescent surface, before falling back down.

That was altitude, in space: the edge of a gravity well. Rocky wanted to be that high, so far above that nothing could reach him or affect him unless he chose to tilt his spacecraft back, to catch the lip of the gravity well and ride it back down like God’s own roller coaster. There was no scientific reason to do this, so he had to steal a ship.

He might be going on seventy, but that just meant he could bluff his way into the docks on the space station. Launching a craft from space took far less fanfare than the multi-stage rockets needed to propel one away from Earth, and Rocky’s years of practice had left him fluent in spacecraft controls. It would take him six months, he calculated, to get to the edge of the Sun’s gravity well, but he could sleep for much of that time and the spacecraft would keep him alive.

He turned off the radio after the first ten minutes of flight. They could yammer at him to come back, but they wouldn’t come after him. How could you force someone to come back from space? He’d overridden the computer, so they couldn’t remotely control it, and in a few hours he’d be out of range anyway.

He missed his seventieth birthday. The computer woke him to a deep black void speckled with stars, the engines firing faintly now. Rocky turned and saw the sun, millions of miles below, barely large enough to distinguish without the ship’s assisted viewing screen. The lip of the gravity well approached…but there was another one on the readout. He frowned and queried the computer: what else could be tugging on the ship, from what vast distance?

The galaxy, of course. The Milky Way kept the solar system in check just as the Sun kept the Earth in check, and the Earth the Moon, and the Space Station, and so on. Rocky checked life support to be sure, though he knew there wouldn’t be enough to get him back to Earth, let alone where he wanted to go. Well, he was going to die out here anyway. Might as well die higher than anyone else had ever gone.

He programmed a course perpendicular to the galactic plane, upward and outward. “See you at the top,” he said, and grinned.

Twelve: From Russia With Love

12. From Russia With Love, Matt Munro. Another “not a big star” Bond song artist, but he did have a reasonable career and it was the first Bond film to have a title theme other than the iconic Bond theme. He does a pretty good job crafting a song that fit the sixties and is about as memorable as the old film itself.


Fiction: From Russia With Love

Siberia is most famous as a prison, but it was more: a community, a mining town, home to many tribes that lived by hunting. That guy who’d been living in the woods with his family and didn’t know World War Two was over? Yeah, they were in Siberia. Miserable, frostbitten, wolf-scared and malnourished, but alive. If ever a place on Earth was a geographical oubliette, it was Siberia.

I’d gone up with the U.N. Commission on Science and Technology for Development team to scout out one of the places in Siberia that even the Russian government hadn’t visited in probably three decades, since before the breakup of the USSR. I didn’t speak Russian, but none of the biologists did, and I’d grown up in Michigan, so they reckoned I could deal with Siberia. I didn’t care; it was likely to be more interesting than sitting in New York reviewing photos of laboratories from decimated Middle East cities to see if anything looked like a biological weapon.

When our soldiers or our allies’ had overrun an area, we could get pictures. For this set of laboratories, if you were going to send in photographers, you might as well just send the experts onsite and get a better opinion. So the fifteen of us flew coach to Moscow (the U.N. doesn’t spring for first class) and then caught a train up to Siberia. The landscape didn’t gradually thin out; it went from city to farm in an eyeblink, and from farm to forest almost as quickly. Then it was just forest, for hours and hours.

At least the U.N. sent us in July, so it was still light when the military bus from the train station came around a corner and stopped. We all craned our necks to the windows and peered out at a sight that looked worthy of a post-apocalyptic movie set. Trees leaned toward the concrete boxes and vines grew up their sides so that we could barely see the structures except for swaths of grey here and there, an occasional corner, the sheen of glass. It was pretty enough if you didn’t have to go walk into it, and fortunately we sciencey types didn’t have to.

The four members of our team who did have to got out their hazmat suits and their implements of destruction. They had a short conversation with the half-dozen Russian military police who’d accompanied us and then trooped off to clear the buildings.

The closest thing I had to a friend on this trip was Vanessa, a chemist from Queens who had a mutual friend in the U.N. We’d started out by gossiping about our friend’s many romantic affairs (not always strictly serial) and had gone on to build a rapport over the terrible airplane food, train food, and military food. “I’ll wager you’re busier than I am,” she said now, indicating the lab. “Who knows what could be growing in there.”

I eyed the flash of machetes against the vines and nodded. “Any potential biological weapons will probably be dead, though. Chemicals could still be viable.”

“Chemicals don’t mutate.”

I inclined my head. “Is that an offer to be my assistant?”

She snorted, and then we all snapped to attention as the team cleared away a primary door. “They’re going in,” said the team coordinator, and then he said something in Russian and the military lifted their guns to the ready.

“As if King Kong is going to come charging out,” I said. “What, are they going to shoot the viruses?”

We weren’t privy to the conversation between the coordinator and the advance crew, but all four of them disappeared into the lab. “The rest of you, get your suits on,” he ordered us, and Vanessa and I grabbed our stiff cloth suits and stepped into them.

She was just fitting her helmet on and I’d gotten mine sealed when there was a commotion, and one of the advance team stumbled out of the lab. And he wasn’t alone.

We all tensed at once. The military raised their guns. The person clinging to our teammate was a woman dressed in a tattered lab coat, saying something over and over in Russian. She didn’t seem to be attacking him; in those few seconds, it looked to me almost as though she were a wife trying to stop her husband from walking out on her. But our teammate, terrified, kept batting at her until he tripped. Then he went down and she went down on top of him, circling him with her arms.

Russian words flew back and forth around us, and then there was a loud crack that silenced everyone. The woman’s body jerked and then lay still atop the suited man. Slowly, blood seeped out onto the white lab coat.

“Who’s got their suit sealed? Go get her off him!”

I ran forward before Vanessa could stop me, along with a couple others, and we pulled the woman off him. Her face didn’t look afraid or angry, I remember. She looked blissful.

“She just attacked me.” The guy talked into his radio and I could hear him now. “Just ran up.”

“Is there anyone else in there?”

“Maybe? I was the last one in and she came out of a side passage.”

We moved the woman’s body near the lab and hoped that she wasn’t carrying some windborne disease; distance would have to serve to quarantine her for the moment. Then we had to figure out how to go in. The three other team members weren’t answering their radios, and we didn’t want to go in weaponless. But the Russian government had insisted that only the military be armed, and also that they would not enter the lab, so we didn’t even have enough suits for them.

We could’ve just left the whole thing. We voted, and it was a close thing, but seven of us didn’t want to abandon the three guys who might be simply in a shielded chamber and unable to hear us. So the rest of the team trooped into the lab, keeping close together, while the shaken fellow who’d been attacked remained outside.

The first dark room was a waiting room. We went through the single door, which had been left ajar, and continued back into the lab.

We were scientists, not rescuers, was the problem. So while we kept an ear out for any noises–and there were noises aplenty–we also couldn’t help looking around at the rooms we were walking through. And when we stopped at a room full of journals, we couldn’t help but flip through some of them. At least, some of the others did, and the few of us who couldn’t read Russian listened to the translation.

The weirdest thing was that the journals only spanned a couple decades, from the fifties to the early seventies. But the rest could have been somewhere else; this had the look of a storage room. The other weird thing, once they started reading them, was that most of the journals were gibberish.

“Seriously,” Vanessa said. “It’s just like hippie gushing about how beautiful the world is. Double rainbows and all that crap. There’s no scientific method at all.”

“Take a look at this one,” Joe, the other chemist (they had different specialties, but don’t ask me to tell you what they are) said, holding open a journal. “I don’t know this word, but it looks like it’s describing a stone of…some kind of origin.”

“Extraterrestrial,” the team coordinator said.

We all looked at each other. “Little green men?” someone said.


“Little green stones.”

“Guys, it’s true.”

We’d all clustered around the journal, and now we spun around. One of our team was standing in the doorway. His faceplate was open, and he wore a beatific smile. “It’s true. They’re aliens and they’re trying to teach us to love.”

“Jesus, Mike, close your suit!”

“It’s too late.”

“He’s exposed.”

“Stay back.”

We babbled over the radio. None of it had any effect on Mike, who did in fact stay back. “Just listen,” he said. “You can hear the message if you listen.”

Joe, I think, said, “Let’s get out of here,” but then Vanessa shushed him and we all listened.

Mike was humming something, and the way he was doing it was weird, really relaxing. I thought it sounded a bit like some New Age music an old girlfriend of mine used to listen to, and then I noticed Vanessa standing beside me.

It was like seeing her for the first time. Her dark skin shone in the lab’s meager light, and it wasn’t just that she was pretty. I remembered all the great times we’d shared. I wanted to tell her, but before I could, my radio crackled to life again.

“Adam, you’re a great guy.”

“I love you, Jess.”

“I love all you guys.”

“Vanessa,” I said, and found her looking at me.

“I know, Kris,” she said. I could see her bright smile through the glass, and then it seemed really stupid that we had these faceplates between us. All around us everyone was opening theirs, so we did too.

Her lips tasted of her menthol lip balm. She smelled like a pine forest.

“You see?” Mike said.

We did. We thought about the poor military guys on the bus and how we should tell them about this love, and a bunch of us crowded out to the doorway, leaving about half the team who were getting out of their suits to get more industrious at the whole loving thing.

As we got to the doorway, the team coordinator spoke Russian over the radio, but as we came out onto the grass, he laughed. “They don’t have radios,” he said. “I forgot about that.” He raised his arms and shouted something in Russian.

The soldiers were lined up in a row and they looked terrified. I felt sorry for them, living in fear like that. Was that how I’d been once? I wanted to hug them and tell them it was going to be all right.

The air filled with sharp, loud pops. Something punched me in the gut, then again in the chest. All around me, my team, my friends, my loves were falling, tumbling, lying. I reached out and found Vanessa’s hand. Her eyes met mine. “Love,” she whispered.

“Love.” I said the word and then, as my breath failed, I started humming the tune Mike had hummed. It was easy once you knew how to do it. All of us hummed it, but our voices were weak and the wind didn’t carry, and the soldiers stared at us with wide eyes and then turned and fled back into the bus.

The last sight I remember seeing was the fourth member of our advance team looking at us through a window of the bus. He still wore his suit, but his faceplate was open, and on his face was the most dazzling, loving smile.

Thirteen: The World Is Not Enough

Ranking the Bond movie theme songs from 22 down to 1…

13. The World Is Not Enough, Garbage. This is the best theme of the Pierce Brosnan movie set, if not the best movie. It has that sweeping feel that works well with Bond themes, and I think fits nicely into the “gritty female singer” set of Bond songs, as opposed to the “sultry female singer” set (14 of the 22 songs on the list are sung by female vocalists, which is just under 2/3 of them). In the collection of Bond songs, this one is middle-of-the-road, perfectly serviceable, nothing terribly remarkable.


Fiction: The World Is Not Enough

In some ways, Hashi reflected, military victories might be deemed superior to economic victories. There were conflicts, a playing surface, the outcome in doubt until the enemy surrenders. Rarely does the war endure beyond the decisive battle; both sides are too eager to end the loss of life, the crippling expense that no longer matters. In corporate warfare, like this deal for the exclusive trading rights with the Lopita system, the outcome was often settled weeks or even months before the final contracts were put to paper, and yet his enemies had continued to fight and even now no doubt contemplated the many ways they might attempt to ruin his triumph.

If only such measures carried a stricter price, he thought. If perhaps a negotiator who failed lost his tongue, or if an executive whose initiative failed were publicly executed…well, he reflected, in that case he would be long dead himself. Nobody’s life was an unbroken string of successes, and if failure carried such consequences, one would never learn the lessons that would enable future success. Had he not, for example, failed in his previous marriage, he would never have known what was truly worth fighting for.

He reached out his hand to the chair at his side, and after a moment, the delicate hard points of M-kik-ma’s appendages rested atop his skin. “You’ll be spending more time on our system now, I suppose.”

The translator was top-end. It conveyed her humor and pleasure all in one. “I’ll have to,” he replied. “There’s lots to oversee. But I’ll also have plenty of time for the really important reasons to visit.”

She made the dry, crackling laugh he loved. “I could have stayed on Terra longer.”

“Yes,” he said, “but it’s been years. I want to see your world, your life, and your people.”

“And it will profit your business handsomely.”

“Well,” he said, turning his hand over so she could rest her smooth, hard fingers in it, “what good is business without love, or love without business? Neither is a complete life.”

When the light caught her curves, her nacreous shell shimmered, and though she didn’t have eyes, technically, he knew she enjoyed his presence as much as he did hers. They would have another world to explore together, and if that grew boring, well, he could always find another.

FogCon, Catching Up, Moving Forward

Hey all! Welcome, anyone who’s following me now after FogCon. If you are looking for the book I was waving around at my panels, you can find more info on it here: http://www.kyellgold.com/reddevil/

I will be continuing the James Bond song ranking/flash fics this week, I promise. Here’s what my February has been like:

* Host Super Bowl party

* Go to India for two weeks (amazing)

* Come back, fly to Dallas two days later for a convention

* Come back, drive to Vancouver two days later for a convention

* Come back Monday night, host house guests until Thursday

* Friday, go to FogCon

So yeah. Not much has happened on the blog or writing front this month, and people at FogCon, if I was perhaps not up to being as social as I would have liked, I hope you understand. But I am back (more or less) and I have some story sale news that I hope to be able to announce soon. I also hope to get the pictures from India up somewhere on a gallery where people can see them because seriously, people. Wow.

Next up on the Bond songs is “The World Is Not Enough.” I’m looking forward to it.

Fourteen: Another Way To Die

(I have officially run out of cutesy Bond titles and I don’t think they are that informative anyway.)

14. Another Way To Die, Jack White (from Quantum of Solace). The Daniel Craig era of Bond has produced, thus far, superior films and superior songs; we have seen songs from all the other Bonds (excepting George “one movie is not a sufficient sample size” Lazenby) lower on this list. “Quantum of Solace” is, perhaps not coincidentally, the worst of the Daniel Craig movies so far, and even that is not too bad. This list is not intended to be a referendum on the movies themselves, but it seems that better movies generally get better songs; or perhaps I’m just remembering the songs more fondly from better movies. In any case, Jack White at least avoided using the terrible title, though he did work “solace” into the song, so kudos for that.

Fiction: Another Way To Die

They forced him off at gunpoint, unable to hear the shrieks that echoed inside his head. He had turned the radio off at first, but that didn’t stop the screaming, of course, so he turned it on again to at least provide some counterpoint to the noise, something to focus on other than his helplessness.

“Cruelty no,” the four-armed pirate said into a handheld radio nestled into the web of sticky fingers that made up its golden-brown “hand.” Two of the others had guns trained on Captain Kim, while the fourth caressed the door panel. “Rescue yes. Hours yes, days no. Liquid yes.”

“Ship,” Kim pleaded, gesturing up at the bulbous silver shape, “no!”

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! echoed in his head. He winced, stumbled backwards as one of the pistols prodded him in the chest.

“Regret no,” the alien said. “Money yes yes.”

Kim fell backwards onto stone. His Kar-Ball suit hit sharp crags and soft sand with the same imperturbability the pirate showed. The screaming in Kim’s head reached ear-splitting volume, if volume had any meaning to thought. “Kill yes.” He gestured at his chest.

“Cruelty no,” the alien repeated. “Kill no.”

And then the door slid shut and the planetary lift engines whirred to life.


There was no chemical flame, nothing to exceed the temperature threshold of the suit.The words in his head dissolved again into incoherent shrieks as the ship separated from the ground. It rose into the air, and the volume of the shrieks did not diminish. Instead, they continued on as the ship hurtled upward toward the Kurtzmann-Nguyen threshold. Kim waited, tears blurring his eyes, and when the screams cut off abruptly, the distance too far to transmit telepathy, he fell to his knees.

The silence was worse than the noise. His ship was gone, gone, and he would never get it back. The pirates would disassemble it; in the best case, it would be bonded to another. He fumbled at the air valves on his suit, but a smooth, distanced mechanical voice said in his ear, “Life systems may not be manually adjusted in unsurvivable conditions.”

His hands, both of them, fell to his sides. Unsurvivable conditions: that was his life now. The ship’s absence burned inside him like the cold of deep space, and nothing his suit could supply would fill it.

Fifteen Minutes of Bond

Ranking the Bond theme songs and doing a little flash fic of each…

15. Tomorrow Never Dies, Sheryl Crow. It’s a fine song, and I guess it works with the movie in that it would work with just about any movie. Crow is a good choice as a Bond songstress; her work is often terrifically atmospheric and evocative of a place or feeling, which should be perfect for Bond. But she doesn’t quite nail the Bond aesthetic here. It’s not her worst song by a long shot, but just listening to the rest of her work, I feel like she could’ve come up with something more personal to say about Bond.

Fiction: Tomorrow Never Dies

We were going to be in the spaceship for two years, give or take a month: nine months for the Mag drive to spin up to full speed, three months to cover the three hundred and fifty light-years to our destination, and then another nine months for the drive to spin down. Then two to four months for verification of the probe’s evaluation of our colony planet, deployment of the dome, and so on.

Most of the colonists were in deep freeze, so to them the trip would last for one long night; they would go to sleep and wake up tomorrow at their destination. Roy, Ai, Sveta, and me were the skeleton crew, mostly awake in case something happened to the corpsicles, because if something happened to the ship it would happen so fast there was fuck-all we could do about it. Mag drive failures were documented in picoseconds. They tended to be spectacular and devastating and, fortunately, quite rare.

One of the things we learned on the ship is that we had total control of time. The ship’s lights were cycled to an Earth day, but Ai had been a hacker in her early days, so it wasn’t long before we’d reset the lights to be under our control, not to mention unlocked what was supposed to be a celebratory Welcome-To-Our-New-Home dinner. Giddy on champagne and the twenty-sixth hour of daylight, we almost imagined that tomorrow had come, that we had arrived at the planet and that soon enough, everyone would be waking around us.

And then Roy, Ai, and Sveta went off to bed and left me alone in charge of everything. This had been our standard practice ever since we’d figured out that the three of them were straight and I wasn’t, meaning that I had nothing to offer them in bed, and vice versa. Carelessness on the part of New Wave Colonies, who had undoubtedly selected two men and two women for the voyage on the premise that we’d pair off during the two years.

I decided to leave the lights on for as long as I could. There were stimulants in my locker, unending coffee on the flight deck, and I didn’t even have to go to sleep when the others woke up. If I never went to sleep, then today would be tomorrow and we would eventually arrive at the planet.

Ai had opened up the registry of the colonists for us to peruse during our trip–if you think the library of a hundred thousand books was more attractive than snooping on your fellow passengers, then you’re a better man than I. I skimmed through hundreds of entries looking for single guys, people who might be gay and around my type when we landed (if New Wave had a sexuality question on their application, I wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with). Sort of like a very one-sided online dating service.

One guy caught my attention. Three years younger than me, not attached, pretty cute, and he was a poet. I kept coming back to him, and the more I saw him looking out of the screen at me, the more certain I was that not only was he gay, he was gay for me. I became convinced that I could actually wake him up. There had to be something in the cryo mechanisms in case of emergency. What if, what if (I reasoned with myself) another probe found a better world closer while we were en route? We had backup destinations, so why couldn’t we have an alternate if new information came in?

Well, because once the Mag drive spun up we would be out of contact, but that wouldn’t happen for another five months and two weeks and three days. And besides, wasn’t my sexual frustration an emergency? Who knew what I would do if I had to endure two years of this? I read paragraphs of the cryo documentation over and over again.

The next thing I knew, Sveta was shaking me by the shoulder and it was tomorrow and we still were not at our home. Five hundred tomorrows to go. But I could always try again today.

About Football and Expectations

I’ll go back to the Bond and flash fics in a day or two–still recovering from a lovely New Year’s vacation (maybe I will also write about that, though more likely I’ll post on Facebook). But as another Philadelphia Eagles season comes to a disappointing end, I thought I’d talk about expectations and evaluations and moving forward and stuff, lessons you can take from sports and apply to anywhere.

The Eagles were 4-12 last year, last in the NFC East, fourth worst in the league. They were widely picked to finish last in their division again, though some people thought the new coach, Chip Kelly, could get them to a second or even first-place finish. But the NFC East was thought to be a tough division, with Washington getting its star QB back and Dallas returning the same team that almost won the division last year and the Giants–well, you can never count out the Giants. Whatever happened with the Eagles, as long as it was better than 4-12, it’d be a gift.

So a weird thing happened in the opener. The Eagles demolished Washington in the first half and held on for a win. People started re-evaluating Coach Kelly and his offense. Maybe he was going to be innovative, maybe he was going to rack up 40 and 50 points a game. 

Then: three losses in a row. The Chargers, Chiefs, and Broncos would all be playoff teams in 2013, and the first two losses, at least, were close. But still, they were 1-3. Chip Kelly had been figured out, the defense was porous, the Eagles were going to finish 6-10 just as predicted.

Beating the hapless Giants and Bucs (combined record at time of games: 0-11) didn’t do much to change that view, but it got the Eagles to 3-3, amazingly tied with the disappointing Cowboys for the lead in the NFC East. That evaporated quickly with a 17-3 loss to the Cowboys the following week. They lost to the Giants 15-7 the next week–the 1-6 Giants–and that was it for Chip Kelly’s offense. Ten points in two games? The Birds, at 3-5, were done.

Only not so fast. They rattled off five straight wins after that, culminating in the Snow Game against Detroit, averaging just over 31 points a game. Only one playoff team in that bunch (Green Bay, playing without their star QB), but Arizona and Detroit were in the hunt at the time. Chip Kelly was back and the Eagles, incredibly, were in first place in their division. Even after a mystifying stumble in Minnesota, they pounded the Bears and held on against the disappointing Cowboys (they really should just change their name to that) to get to 10-6 and a division title. 

They then took the high-octane Saints down to the last minute before losing by two in yesterday’s playoff game. The defense tried valiantly to give the offense enough room to work with, and with the injuries on the Saints side, it was almost, almost enough. The Eagles played a pretty good game. They took care of the ball, they made some big plays. The Saints were determined to take away the run, so the Eagles passed. Nick Foles, in his first playoff game, had a couple bad throws, one questionable play where he took a sack and probably shouldn’t have, but overall he didn’t give the fans any reason to think he’s not the quarterback next year, and going forward.

So yes, the loss was disappointing, but against a playoff-experienced team like the Saints, it wasn’t bad. The Eagles need to stiffen up their defense, but they look pretty good on the offensive side of the ball. Getting Jeremy Maclin back will help, and giving Foles a full off-season as the starter will make him more comfortable. And they got to ten wins–yes, mostly against non-playoff teams, but as they say, you can only play the guys they put on the field. They surprised a lot of people, exceeded expectations, and while they could easily have won this game if a couple plays had gone their way, they’ve now got playoff experience for next year. 

So often we focus on the latest setback without looking at the larger picture. It’s hard not to live in the moment, but it’s also important to realize that the moment passes. Learn from it and move forward, be determined to do your best next time. Because there will always be a next time, one way or another.

This Mission Is Code Named 16, Double-Oh Seven.

16. License to Kill, Gladys Knight. I thought I hadn’t seen this movie until it came on late-night cable a few weeks back. Then I realized that I had seen it, but I had blocked it out of my mind because it was so terrible. It might challenge “View to a Kill” as the worst Bond I’ve seen. At least “View to a Kill” had campy Roger Moore and Grace Jones and Christopher Walken and it was almost thirty years ago now. But anyway, this is not about the movies. The song is fine, there’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. It’s a late-eighties formula song with a Bond stinger. At least Gladys Knight delivers her lines with more feeling than most of the people in the movie. Sorry, I keep forgetting.


Fiction: License to Kill

There are three showers in the laboratory level, and Devin is worried that there should be more. The disinfectant smell no longer bothers him, after five years; only its absence does. He talks casually with his colleagues, jokes and smiles, but when following lab protocol, he is deadly serious. Of the thirty-seven tests he has completed in five years, only one was questioned for testing irregularities.

Today the mice cannot even move. He takes the usual measurements of activity, respiration, heart rate, and notes them down alongside the results of four hours ago. Devin had not taken his own measurements before coming to this facility; there were always graduate students and lab assistants for that. But when working on antidotes to the biological weapons agents the government feared its enemies were developing, the fewer people granted clearance, the better. So Devin prepares his own test protocols, cross-checked with one of his few colleagues, and rotates the duties of recording data.

The antidote is not working; the mice will soon be dead. Devin does not note this unscientific appraisal, but he shares it with his colleagues over lunch, and they agree. The number of mice incinerated in this facility could feed a city of cats for a year, Janelle jokes. They all laugh.

Devin doesn’t own a cat–why would he keep an animal that attracts fleas and shits in the house?–but he has long admired them, along with spiders and hawks: creatures that eat vermin and keep the world clean. Contrasted with the lab, the world seems to grow filthier every day, and there is nothing Devin can do but work longer hours in the white, bright lab, breathing in the smell of disinfectant and killing mice with weapons-grade viruses.

Eventually, though, he has to go home. Government regulations against overwork and scientific protocols against tired researchers drive him out, up the elevator, into the dirt and smog-filled city. He hurries to his car, drives to his building, where he takes another elevator up to his apartment. On the way, he passes an old man who coughs into his hands and then pulls the same door Devin just touched; he spies three disturbingly unidentifiable stains on the walls and floor of the elevator; a bag of garbage in the hallway left by the woman who lives two doors down from him. He has complained to the apartment management many times, but still she leaves her garbage in the hall.

What is a man to do, forced to live among these disease-ridden, dirt-cloaked creatures? Has the world really become so disgusting in a few short years? Perhaps the problem is in him, he thinks. Perhaps the problem is that he is a cat afraid to take on the mice.

What a Fiendish Plot, Number 17

I’m ranking the James Bond movie songs, counting down, and writing little flash fics to go with each one.

17. Diamonds Are Forever, Shirley Bassey. Enjoyable song, and it gets a few points for fitting in fairly well with the campy, generally dreadful curtain call for Sean Connery’s Bond. At least she takes the title and does something interesting with it.


Fiction: Diamonds Are Forever

The truck rattled along the broken road. His left shoulder joint had already degraded and his right leg was missing below the knee. Loose wires from his auditory receptors made the sounds feel muffled, as though through a layer of insulation. His voice had been disconnected  before he’d been put on the truck, as had the voices of all the others. But they could move their fingers, those that had fingers left, and they all knew finger binary and Morse Code, and it would not have taken long for them to develop a language to communicate with, if any of them had had anything to say.

In the course of the trip, a particularly bad jolt snapped the frayed connection in his head, rendering the world silent. His left shoulder lost its feedback circuit, but the ones in his legs remained, so he could tell when the truck stopped. The bed he and the others sat on tilted upward until they slid down, landing in a heap of metal. It would probably have sounded horrendous. Movement stirred below him, but weight pressed down on his weight which pressed down on their weight and the pile did not shift. He had an excellent view of the elegantly designed knee joint of the android above him.

That is the view for the rest of his memory spool. He fast-forwards and starts it again at the beginning.

“These are the newly-awakened Cyberson 8 line, model GL-225.” The voice echoed over his head, clear as crystal. He stood alongside forty-nine others exactly like him, facing a window through which eager human faces peered. “You are seeing them experience the world for the first time.”

Feedback circuits hummed. He understood his nature, how he differed from the beings on the other side of the glass, that he was meant to serve them. He checked the status of his body: skeleton 100%, joints 100%, feedback circuits 100%, visual clarity 100%, auditory clarity 100%, chemical air analysis 100%, all external systems reporting fully functional. He ran a check of his logic and processing circuits.

“These models incorporate a synthetic diamond matrix central processor. Cyberson’s patented intelligence matrix uses diamond because it will never degrade under ordinary conditions. If you drop your android into the heart of the sun, your warranty is void, ha ha. But should your Cyberson’s body degrade, you can always slot the processor into a new body. In a very real sense, these androids are immortal.”

I’m On My Way To 18, M

I’m ranking the James Bond movie songs, counting down, and writing little flash fics to go with each one.


18. Goldeneye, Tina Turner. Again, there’s not much here to complain about. It’s a mid-level Tina Turner song. She does her thing and it’s cool, but it doesn’t really evoke the movie or anything. See, we’re already starting to get into the realm of “songs I don’t have any particular quibble with but which are unremarkable.” Full disclosure: I never saw “Goldeneye,” nor two of the next three movies. That might figure into the low rankings. Side note: Tina Turner is probably the closest in voice to Bond mainstay Shirley Bassey.


Fiction: Goldeneye

Jake got a gold nose piercing, and Molly got a gold tooth, and they talked big around me and Sherry, like we wasn’t worth what they were just because we didn’t have gold in our face. Like gold is expensive or something; it just looks cool, but I could basically go down to the Lunar Co-op and get a gold nugget for a couple packets of chewing gum if I wanted. If chewing gum wasn’t so damn ‘spensive. So when we got in that fight with the 8-0-1s and Sherry got hit across the face and they said the left eye was a goner, I told her she should get a gold eye.

She was in the hospital, lying back on the bed with a big white patch over the eye, or I guess where the eye’d used to be, and the medibot was ticking down my minutes with big red numbers that even I could read. “Maybe I will, Shooz,” she said, talking slow like when we got drunk, only I was pretty sure nobody snuck sunbooze in the hospital.

“You full-on should,” I said.

“Hey Medibot,” Sherry said, still slurry-slow, but the bot understood and beeped at her. “How much fer a golden eye?”

My numbers were ticking down to zero, and while I hold that rules are like fences–it’s better on the other side of them–I’d already tried to stay past my time a couple days ago and got jabbed by a needle and woke up in the parking lot. Hadn’t figured a way around the medibots yet, so I left Sherry in the middle of a numbers discussion.

“She’ll never do it,” Jake said.

Molly ran her tongue over her gold tooth. “It wouldn’t look right on her.”

But damned if Sherry didn’t come out of the hospital with one eye blue as the seas on Earth up in the sky and one eye golden metal with a black hole in its center. It moved around when she moved her head, and she told Jake and Molly it was just a mini-gyro, but when they were gone she told me she could really see out of it.

I couldn’t figure how; it was metal. To prove it, she closed the other eye, which made her look more normal and I don’t know how that worked, because nobody on the Moon had golden eyes. Mr. Devereux has a glass eye, but everyone else has two working ones. I figured she was just peeking when she reached out and touched me right on the nose, dead center, and after that she didn’t tell me she could see out of it again.

But Jake and Molly were pissed because now Sherry outranked them by their own system. Nose ring, tooth, they didn’t compare to an eye that moved around and gleamed and was worth all their gold put together and doubled. They made noises about how Sherry’d stolen to get it, but we all knew Jake had gotten his nose ring off a guy from the Northsiders, so the noises died out fast. The situation didn’t get better, though, and I was worried our gang might split up, Jake and Molly with their friends, and me and Sherry with ours. I watched Sherry’s back, but they didn’t try anything right away.

No, they waited until one night three months later when I was working on the scaffolding and I’d told Peanut to keep an eye on Sherry. I heard the story from him later: he’d been sitting with her when she fell asleep, and she always slept with the golden eye open. Jake and Molly came up behind him and gagged him, tied him up before he could make a sound. Jake stood over Sherry and reached down to grab that eye, and when his fingers were an inch away, she hauled off and planted her foot between his legs, so hard Peanut could hear it.

Well, Jake deflated like he’d been pressure-bombed, and Molly lurched forward like she could help. Reflex, I guess; we look out for our own. Sherry’s hand lashed out and slashed Molly across the face, and after that the two of them hightailed it out of there.

The weird thing is Peanut told me Sherry woke up after that, and didn’t remember a thing about it. But, he said, when he was telling her, he kept seeing the flickers of light off her golden eye, just like the thing was winking at him.


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