Writing and Other Afflictions

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Three: You Know My Name

Hey there! If you’d forgotten or had never known I’m doing this countdown of the best songs from James Bond films accompanied by a flash fiction piece based on the title of each song, well, I don’t blame you. It’s been close to two years since I started. The last one was posted back in June, and that was months after the previous one. But! Only three to go, and two left now.


  1. You Know My Name, Chris Connell (from Casino Royale). I’m still not quite sure this isn’t #1. Ultimately I knocked it down slightly because it has very little callout to the Bond theme. But it’s a great song, and it is absolutely the perfect song for the major reboot of the series that happened in bringing in Daniel Craig. “Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you / The odds will betray you / And I will replace you […]The coldest blood runs through my veins / You know my name.” The callout to one of Bond’s signature lines—introducing himself—while at the same time making reference to the introduction of a new incarnation of the well-known character makes me happy as a writer.

 

From MI6-HQ.com: It is only the fourth Bond theme (after the opening medley of “Dr. No”, the instrumental theme from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and “All Time High” from Octopussy) to make no direct reference to the title of the film. The soundtrack was completed early in the morning on October 11, 2006. The soundtrack was released on November 14, 2006.

“You Know My Name” is the first Bond theme not to be included on its film’s soundtrack album and was released separately as a single and on Cornell’s album “Carry On”. Cornell declared that it happened because he wanted the song to be “his”, and since he wrote “You Know My Name” in midst of recording the solo album Carry On, he felt that the song belonged to the album. In 2008, the song was included in the compilation “The Best of Bond…James Bond”. The video for the single premiered on MTV’s Making the Video on October 31, 2006.

 

Flash Fiction: You Know My Name

 

She jacked in with a password and a code sent to her mobile. No fingerprints; meatsuit security was unreliable. Fingers got cold, dry, wet; retinas could become detached or otherwise altered through the mysterious body processes happening inside her, largely beyond her control. Some of her friends recommended various homeopathic remedies or medicines or devices to wear on or under your skin. Lana preferred to focus her energies on the real world.

Today was a pretty routine meeting with a client in Singapore, at the beginning of their Wednesday and the end of her Tuesday. For this meeting she was Wong Jiu, fluent in Mandarin as well as English, avatar by Avid Diva. She downloaded the personality and loaded it.

And it wasn’t right. None of her Mandarin was there, and when she checked the avatar, it was some crappy free generic businessman off the Cloud somewhere. But Wong Jiu’s name was there on the file, so it had been corrupted somehow. Or hacked.

Lana fought the urge to disconnect right away. If it was a hack job, it was a clumsy one, and she could get out whenever she wanted. If it was a mistake, then she could poke around and maybe learn something—doubtful though, with a shitty avatar like that. And there was that third possibility in the back of her head, those apocryphal stories about people being approached by the secret cabal that everyone was convinced oversaw the Cloud. These contacts never came in the form of an actual message; they were puzzles, breadcrumb trails, modified ads. Maybe even corrupted profiles.

If it were just a Cloudbody fuckup, someone else might be loading Wong Jiu. That wasn’t worrying; her history and such were accessible, but she didn’t save passwords in her identities. They were all in her brain, because cyberspace was as unreliable as her meatsuit. Her mind was the only thing she could count on.

This guy Jenkins didn’t have any other languages, just English, and his history was as boring as his avatar: shopping, conferencing sites, and—hello. She’d read something about this one website, a museum site where people left coded comments on posts. That was a different museum, a science and natural history museum where this one was a modern art museum, but it was still incongruous with the rest of the boring profile. She could already feel herself getting dumber as she assumed the identity of Mr. Horace Jenkins, and she certainly didn’t feel any appreciation for modern art.

So she pulled up the site, entered Mr. Jenkins’ login information (he did store his password, idiot), and waited for her loaded memory to tell her what pages to go to. There were the ten most recently visited ones, eight of them by the same artist, called “studies” of various things. Studies in boredom, she thought, paging through them, reading the comments that were, if anything, even more boring.

But then, because she was alert for a pattern, she found one. Mr. Jenkins had commented on each painting, and she’d been trying to analyze his comments, with no success (example: “I feel that this painting really conveys the sense of disaffection with the modern ennui that the artist encountered in his time in Lagos.”).

After every comment, too, the same person, a Mr. Fallow, had responded either, “I agree,” or “I don’t see it that way.” Very little more than that.

So that might be a pattern, but then she noticed the other thing: the posting times. Every comment by Mr. Jenkins was posted at either 7:00 pm or 8:00 pm exactly. That had to mean something.

It had just gone 8 pm, which was the time Wong Jiu was supposed to be meeting with her client, so she went to a picture by the same artist that didn’t have a comment on it yet and posted one along the same lines. “I feel that this piece conveys a deep appreciation for the boundaries beyond which the artist has struggled.”

Then she dropped out of that memory, because the time had reminded her that she had business to conduct and that she had to figure out what had happened to Wong Jiu. She chose a backup identity and wrote to the client, identifying herself as Wong Jiu’s assistant and apologizing for her employer’s tardiness.

While she waited for their reply, she worked in another window to track down the problem with her memory. Trying to get into Wong Jiu just got her Mr. Jenkins again, so she filed a complaint with Cloudbody and wiped Wong Jiu to replace her with the most recent backup. Getting in worked fine after that, and the client wasn’t all that upset at her—they even commended her assistant on her professionalism.

Cloudbody wrote back apologizing and recommending that she restore her identity from the most recent backup, and also informing her that according to her terms of service, taking any action within an identity once you have determined it is not yours can be subject to criminal prosecution and termination of their services. She ignored the e-mail and chalked it up to one of those things that happens. After her meeting, she went through and double checked that all her identities had extra security protections in case someone accidentally got a copy of one of them, but she was always careful about that, so of course they did.

She didn’t think anything more of it until she went back to that painting’s web page a couple days later to see if “Mr. Jenkins” had gotten a reply. He had: Mr. Fallow had responded, “Surprised to see you commenting on this work, but I agree with your opinion.” Then a day and a half later, Mr. Fallow had commented again: “On second thought, I think I don’t agree with your opinion. I actually think that you know nothing about art.”

Mr. Jenkins had just recently commented below that. “That wasn’t me! I don’t think that about this painting at all! I’m sorry! Please contact me so I can explain.”

And Lana laughed as it became clear. They were coded messages: to set up assignations, probably of the extramarital variety. Ah, the lengths people would go to. She was glad she didn’t have anything like that to deal with.

Five: We Have All The Time In The World

  1. We Have All The Time In The World, Louis Armstrong (from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). If you haven’t watched the movie, you probably can’t understand why this song is here. Go watch it.

It was Louis Armstrong’s last recorded song, and at the time did not chart well. Cover versions of it have boosted its popularity, especially a cover by My Bloody Valentine used in a Guinness ad, and it is now considered “among the finest of Barry’s songs for the franchise.” By this poll as well.

(In addition to My Bloody Valentine, “We Have All the Time in the World” has been covered by Iggy Pop with soon-to-be Bond composer David Arnold, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Vic Damone, Michael Ball, Amalia Grè, The Puppini Sisters, The Fairly Handsome Band, and Tindersticks.)

Fiction: We Have All The Time In The World

 

Tianora had perfected the art of distilling time into vials and her workshop overflowed with them. Minutes as thin and delicate as pencils, stout hours in test tubes and Christmas ornaments, days bottled and sealed with wax and foil and spellcraft. Colored glass sparkled in the sun’s beams through the skylight, and any visitor to Tianora’s shop had the impression of walking into an ancient temple, with the witch behind her counter at the center and candles lit on either side of her, her robes almost liturgical.

Tianora herself was no priestess. Olive-skinned and raven-haired, she wore dresses and shirts and skirts as bright as her bottles, festooned her hair with jeweled barrettes and her ears with silver spangles, wore antique pendants and old ivory-carved brooches, and if ever she came out from behind the counter, her feet were always seen in tanned, dyed leather. She laughed often, joked with the people who came in often and warmly greeted those who didn’t. To the people who decried her trade, she made a free gift of a minute and received in return a customer.

There was no money exchanged at her counter, no gold nor silver nor promissory note. The price of a stolen vial of time from Tianora was double that time from the end of your own life. An easy price to pay, because who values an hour in their dotage more than an hour with their sweetheart with the flush of youth still strong in their cheeks? A drink of Tianora’s potion and you would find the world stopped around you, the sun and moon’s dance arrested for your pleasure. If another had drunk at the same time, then you would both experience the stopped time (more than one vigilant parent kept a stock of Tianora’s potions for nights when their teenaged children went on dates), but otherwise the world would be frozen.

(On occasion, unscrupulous people used this power for robbery or worse, but Tianora always knew when someone had taken one of her potions and pointed the constables unerringly in the direction of the perpetrator, whereupon they made restitution, with the help of a resurrectionist if necessary. Many people used the power of stopped time to play pranks, and Tianora not only seemed to enjoy this, but actively encouraged retaliation.)

When she’d first discovered this magic, she’d traded out of her cottage. Word spread quickly, and soon she moved into an abandoned alehouse, using its wine cellar for storage, its upstairs bedrooms for their original purpose when couples who had nowhere else to enjoy their stolen time sought her out. In time, a quiet young woman was seen in the shop, fetching bottles and dusting. Her name became known as Jewel, and as Tianora left her shop less and less, Jewel scoured the town for new gems and finery to wear, though she herself wore only grey and beige and flat sandals. Rumors spread, of course, but if Tianora and Jewel shared a bed at night, only the two of them knew it.

“What will you do with all of this time?” Kor the baker asked her on one occasion.

“Don’t you think time is worth saving?” she replied.

“You’ve sure got a lot of time here,” Alasia the seamstress said cannily on another.

“A stitch in time saves nine,” Tianora said with a bright smile. “And how is Ferdinand doing?”

“If you ladies would like to attend the social…” Mayor Brandon took great delight in planning town dances. “I could use another day to set it up.”

He was hoping for confirmation that the ladies were a couple, but Tianora just smiled and passed him a day bottle. “Thank you for the invitation,” she said, “but I believe we’ll stay home that night.”

And then came a day when Davrim had the bright idea that he would take one of Tianora’s potions at night and under cover of stopped time, steal many of her bottles. Not many people would even conceive of stealing from a witch, and fewer still would put a plan into action, but it should be said that Davrim had indulged from many non-magical bottles over the previous weeks, and it was his idea that it would save him a great deal of money if he could but stop time while drunk, postponing indefinitely the arrival of the price of intoxication. What was more, he had an intimate knowledge of the old alehouse from its former life.

So Davrim traded two hours of his likely cirrhosis-plagued old age for an hour of crime, and returned when the crescent moon was high. The wine cellar (he happened to know) could be accessed through a back door which itself could be jimmied off the latch inside. His fingers were not as sure as they’d once been, but memory served where dexterity had failed, and soon he was inside.

His first surprise came when he stumbled down to the wine cellar. His memory filled it with bottles, and he had expected to see a similar sight, only in many different shapes and colors. But the cellar stood empty, the wooden racks stretching bare to the back wall.

Davrim’s torch shook in his hands and flickered too, and so with the dancing shadows it took him a good several minutes to determine that indeed, the bounty of bottles he had anticipated was nowhere to be found. Well, he thought, there had been plenty in the shop upstairs when he’d been in that day. They’d be missed sooner, but he couldn’t come all this way for nothing.

Upstairs, he hummed to himself as he walked along the corridor to the main room, and stopped with one hand on the door when he realized that he was humming along to music he could hear. The rest of the night had been so still—no animal sounds, no wind, no creaks of settling wood—that he hadn’t even registered the music at first. But it was there, a bright, happy tune reaching through the door to draw him out.

He pushed slowly on the door and was greeted with his second surprise. A player piano tinkled the music he’d heard, and in the center of the floor, Tianora and Jewel danced.

They spun around, laughing gaily together, and they wore similar simple white robes which flowed and waved above their flying feet. Their hands rested on hips, on shoulders, and their eyes never left one another.

Except to settle on Davrim, both pairs of eyes, when their feet stilled and their smiles faded. Neither of them spoke, so Davrim supposed he’d best say something.

“Fine evening, ladies,” he said. “Sorry to intrude. I—heard the music. I’ll be on my way.”

“Oh, Davrim, you old drunk,” Tianora said. “Why don’t you come on in?”

Her voice, still light, held steel below it. Davrim did not want to come in, but his feet shuffled forward and his hand let go of the door. It swung behind him and shut with a click. “I didn’t mean no harm,” he said.

“And yet you’ve caused it.” Tianora glided toward him. “You’ve disturbed our privacy.”

“I won’t tell nobody.” He looked earnestly between them. “Nobody’d care nohow. There’s Fannie and Jellinda and they walk together hand in hand.”

“We don’t care that people know.” Jewel spoke in a low voice. “We like our privacy. We can be together, alone, with all the time we need.”

Davrim’s hand shook so badly he dropped his torch. “I’ll leave,” he said. “I’ll never come back.”

Tianora’s fingers touched his brow. “Yes,” she said.

He was old and had indulged often, so there was no particular surprise when Davrim’s body was found that morning. “He looks so old,” Timony, the stable boy who found him, said.

Mayor Brandon shook his head sadly. “Let this be a lesson to you on the perils of drink, Timony,” he said.

In the course of his duties, he returned to Tianora’s shop. She greeted him in a sober black dress. “You must have heard the news,” he said. “Well, as it happens, I will have to have his funeral…time is so short…perhaps a day for me and one for each assistant?”

“Such a tragedy,” Tianora murmured. “Jewel, please fetch three days for the Mayor from the wine cellar.”

Seven: A View To A Kill

7. A View To A Kill, Duran Duran. You see “Duran Duran” on the list of Bond song artists and you think, wow, WTF? You’d expect them to be down at the bottom of this list with a-ha and Madonna, but damn if they didn’t nail this one. The lyrics are typical Duran Duran, very sensory and pseudo-poetic with lots of fire references, but as a Bond theme and as a standalone song, it works (note that the difference between this and “Thunderball” is that in a Tom Jones song, the lyrics carry more weight; in a Duran Duran song, they’re mostly there to sound good with the music, like R.E.M. only less so). The story, according to bassist John Taylor of Duran Duran, is that he met the Bond producer (Albert Broccoli) at a party, and Albert was complaining that the recent movies had had sub-par music (perhaps he just disliked the “women sing about how awesome Bond is” genre), so Taylor offered to help out. And he penned the only Bond theme to hit #1 in America.

Fiction: A View to a Kill

At first, they thought it was pneumonia, some complication from the intense rains that had been drenching the world’s cities. Older people and infants had trouble breathing, and the hospitals prescribed antibiotics, but none of them got better. Then they started quarantining people, remembering the drug-resistant TB strains, but all the bacterial tests turned up negative. Still, all the patients were dying; an infectious agent was running wild through their immune systems, filling their lungs with scar tissue and fluid.

Dr. Jennifer Markley thought that the epidemiology was the most interesting part of the worldwide crisis. With TB or any other airborne pathogen, there was usually a trackable spread. In this case, the infections seemed to have bloomed in fifty places around the world simultaneously. People in Shanghai, Kolkata, Moscow, Karachi, Sao Paulo, London, New York, Tokyo, Dhaka, Seoul, and dozens of other places were falling dead at a rate that had alerted the CDC a week before the news outlets started to take notice. Now Dr. Markley saw CNN devoting 24-hour coverage to the “Killer Cough,” but she’d been sealed in her lab for ten days already, tracking deaths and working with samples, part of a hundred-person team in Atlanta that was coordinating with hundreds of others worldwide.

She had had the very strong feeling that this was a terrorist act, that somehow an organization had created a completely untraceable pathogen, deployed fifty agents to the centers of the world’s populations, and released it. There was no world power unaffected, no religious group targeted, and nobody had yet claimed responsibility; Dr. Markley had only shared her feelings with one colleague, Dr. Maria Lubova in Moscow, who agreed both with her feeling and with the certainty that it made no logical sense. And yet, the current favored explanation, that this mystery disease had been spread by a world traveler and only just been released from its incubation by the steady rains, was logically even less probable. The FBI had turned up three people who had visited forty of the fifty cities in the past two years, but nobody had been to more than that, and the three people did not even know each other. Moreover, none of them had gotten sick.

No, it had to be some strain of TB, introduced deliberately. Dr. Markley usually spent hours each day looking at blood and tissue samples that had come in from New York and L.A., but today she had to greet twenty new transfers from hospitals around the country, recruited to her division to help with the crisis. She didn’t think more eyes would help, but it would free her to do more thinking and less staring at the same patterns in blood and tissue, day after day after increasingly frustrating and stressful day.

So she helped situate everyone at their stations, the lab fully staffed for the first time since the SARS scare, and ran through the distribution of samples, and by the time she got back to her desk, she had only three samples left to look at from the day before, when her eyes had gone bleary and she had retired to the cot in her office for four hours of sleep.

The samples had come from an eighty-three year old man, a fifty year old woman, and a two-year old boy. The man’s blood and tissue showed the same thing everyone else’s had: elevated white blood cells, some pieces of scar tissue, no pathogens. The tissue, likewise.

In the woman’s blood sample, Dr. Markley saw elevated white blood cells, some pieces of scar tissue, and no pathogens. She was about to put the sample away when a glint caught her eye, something that looked like an imperfection in the glass cover.

She zeroed in on it. It wasn’t part of the glass; when she focused on it, its outlines sharpened just as did those of the blood cells around it. Those lines were regular, defined.

There was a higher-magnification microscope in the downstairs lab. She took the slide and hurried down, heart pounding. If she’d thought her terrorist theory was crazy, then this was beyond crazy. This was insanity, this was science fiction, this was blockbuster movie territory.

It took the microscope a moment to power up. Her palms sweated as she flicked on the light, and she bent to the eyepieces without sitting down.

There were the regular lines, a small shape made of something transparent like glass, an eight-legged star whose circular central body was intricately decorated.

Was this her pathogen? The image blurred; she lifted her head and wiped her eye, then lowered it again. She snapped a picture with the scope and then frowned. The little star wasn’t where it had been. She watched each of the eight needle-sharp legs, and then sucked in a breath as they quivered.

The thing was moving. It was alive, somehow, it was moving through the blood sample. Or it had been made of glass, designed to infiltrate the human body, a kind of artificial Mycobacterium tuberculosis that ravaged the lungs and immune system until the patient died.

It continued to struggle through the medium. Dr. Markley wanted to reach in and smash it, to rip its arms off and kill it, to ruin that deadly crystalline perfection. But that wouldn’t do any good. Nothing would do any good. These things were in people already by the hundreds, the millions perhaps. Watching it struggle through the blood, she thought, the rain. We thought the rain was unusual, but it was an attack, fifty cities seeded with glassine death and water droplets gathering around them. They filled the air and people breathed them in, and in the less healthy individuals, their attacks bore immediate results. But the world’s population centers were full of people already infected with minute, efficient machines that either killed in low numbers or were near-impossible to see. Otherwise, how could they have gone undetected for so long?

She pulled back from the microscope and sat down heavily on a lab stool. The war had been fought and was already over. All that remained was to count the fatalities. She felt a rush of relief that Atlanta had not suffered the mysterious rain, that her family might survive this first wave, but that relief crumbled when she wondered what sort of world they would survive into.

Eight: The Man With The Golden Gun

8. The Man With The Golden Gun, Lulu. Rollicking good fun, Bond might have said, and a song that is unquestionably about the movie. It takes a goofy title and makes a great song out of it, and Lulu (otherwise best known for “To Sir With Love”) delivers a smash. It’s a little campy, but perfect for the seventies and still tons of fun to listen to. John Barry, who wrote it, would disagree, calling it “bad,” and the song is the only Bond theme that did not chart in either the US or UK. But this is my list, and I like it.

Fiction: The Man With The Golden Gun

Shuttle traffic to the Ceres mine had grown along with the chatter on the ‘net as the day of the vote approached. A simple measure of unionization had exploded into fragments as jagged and dangerous as the asteroids themselves: the question of whether the union would impede the growth of free enterprise in the mostly-unregulated asteroid belt; the question of whether humans would be allowed to join the union simply by virtue of living closest to its physical location; the question of the authority of Gl’zar over the Ceres Mine and of Cerean secession. Ejectionists from Earth arrived with signs that read “Gl’zar Go Home Or Hell Whichever Closest”; Gl’zaran activists arrived with signs that read either “Rights for Workers” or “Work for Rights.” The Cetians, who had no stake in either the mine or Earth/Cerean sovereignty but liked a good fight, showed up with their plasticuffs in high good humor.

Chu Len, the token human assistant to the Gl’zaran administrator of the Cerean mine, had been following his boss around for the week leading up to the vote reading off reports as they came over his ‘net. “Fight at the Grand Stellar Binary Hotel…fight at the Slender Whistle…oh dear, a fatality at the Perennial Wandering Soldier…”

Leatham Twenty, the administrator, liked to hear the ridiculous human translations of the elegant Gl’zaran names. “Cerean, Cetian, human, or Gl’zaran?” he asked.

“Gl’zaran,” Len replied. “Aggressor and victim both. Neither Cerean.”

“Deport the aggressor. Send the victim back to Gl’zar.”

“Yes, sir. Already done. But sir…” They were walking through the mines in virtual space courtesy of a floating drone that was physically present, and the the blue-skinned hulk stopped it to examine a particular area.

“Illuminate that,” Leatham ordered, gesturing with an arm the size of Len’s torso. Two of Leatham’s eyes remained focused on the shadowed crags of the mine while the others turned toward Len, anticipating his question.

Len activated the lights on the drone and focused them on the area in question. “Sir, how will the vote proceed? The fighting is getting worse–this is just in the past hour–and we will never succeed in bringing order. The police are occupied just picking up fatalities and three of them were injured breaking up fights in the past week.”

Leatham examined the mine, then indicated his satisfaction with a gesture. Len turned the lights off and the tour resumed. “Yes,” Leatham said, “I have come to the same conclusion. Tell me, Chu Len, if security measures are necessary, could their cost be borne by the Union, to come from the dues of the new branch should it pass?”

“I believe…the union representatives I have spoken to feel confident that it will pass. I am sure that in order to ensure a vote, they would bear a cost.”

A link appeared on Len’s ‘net. “Make sure of it,” Leatham said. “Then call that man.”

“Will he arrange security?”

Leatham made the growling sound that Len had learned was Gl’zaran laughter. “He is security.”

* * *

The morning of the vote arrived as scheduled under the Cerean dome, with the images of the yellow Gl’zaran mist creeping up the rim of the sky. Len met the dawn at the port, where a single elegant silver vessel with a golden spiral around it was dropping like a raindrop to the broad port surface. Out from it emerged a single Gl’zaran, a male double the size of Leatham, his skin mottled green with age, swathed in a sweeping cloak that glittered with gold and diamond. Though he had only six eyestalks, when they all focused on Len, the human felt his knees weaken. “Greetings, Cordwainer Seventy,” he managed. He’d seen males before, though usually it was the neuters who came to Ceres, but none of the males he’d seen matched this one’s stature and elegance.

“Human, eh? Fascinating.” The Gl’zaran followed Len to the skimmer, and even when Len’s back was turned, he felt the weight of those six eyes on it, the bulk behind them moving almost silently so that the swishing and crackling of the cloak was the loudest sound that reached his ears.

At the Mother’s Firmament Dazzle Hall, the crowds of humans and Gl’zarans and Cetians choked the plaza, and Len had to stop the skimmer. “I’m sorry,” he said, pointing ahead to the vast double doors that stood vainly open. “We will have to walk.”

Cordwainer sat still for a long moment, so that Len cleared his throat, unsure if the alien had understood him. But then the immense bulk shifted, and one arm reached for the skimmer door. “Time to work,” he rumbled, and threw the door open.

At first, nobody noticed save those just nearby, all attention focused on the hall and the doors. Signs and shouts flew and echoed and already Len could see fights going on like boils in the seething crowd. And then he heard something, a low hum that made his ears itch. Gl’zaran and human and Cetian alike began to turn.

Cordwainer stood beside the skimmer, and in one massive arm he held a weapon. His fingers curled around a handle that protruded from the base of it, and above his hand spread out a dozen golden nozzles, surmounted by a spinning globe that threw off sparks and seemed to be generating the hum. Shouts faltered, fights slowed, signs lowered. The Gl’zaran’s voice rang out clearly. “We are all now to behave ourselves.”

Slowly, he began to walk toward the hall. He’s crazy, Len thought, someone’s going to jump him. But the crowd parted, and Len hurried to follow the massive Cordwainer, even though the hum continued and he had to rub at his ears. And through the silent crowd they walked, to the double doors where Leatham awaited them.

Leatham bowed and exchanged some words with Cordwainer in Gl’zaran, and allowed the massive warrior and his golden gun to take up station inside the hall. Gl’zarans and humans filed in mutely, recorded their votes, and walked out undisturbed by the crowd. And over it all, the Gl’zaran watched, his golden gun at the ready, and never did it need to do more than hum.

 

(Yes, this is a deliberate sort-of homage to Cordwainer Smith’s classic “Golden The Ship Was–Oh! Oh! Oh!” Well spotted. :)

Nine: For Your Eyes Only

9. For Your Eyes Only, Sheena Easton. “For Your Eyes Only” tries to recapture the Carly Simon magic of “Nobody Does It Better,” with moderate success; it’s close to “All Time High” purely on pop song merit, but grabs the sound of the 80s much better, and that’s when I grew up, so points to it. Interestingly, the song was almost written and performed by Debbie Harry, who had penned her own version (later released as a Blondie song with the same title, which sounds more like a typical Bond theme if you imagine the orchestra behind it). Behind-the-scenes production issues led to the hiring of a new composer for the score who was also contracted to write the theme song, and Harry took her song and her voice and quit, leaving it for Sheena Easton.

Fiction: For Your Eyes Only

Kelly was ten the first time she saw the Munchkins, three years after she learned the truth about Santa Claus (though she did not celebrate Christmas, most of her friends did, and her parents chose to celebrate it secularly) and three years before she stopped dressing up for Halloween (her last costume would be as Lady Gaga, complete with eggshell). Later she would learn that they called themselves Trolls, but she had just seen “The Wizard of Oz,” and besides, she knew that trolls were nasty things that lived under bridges and ate goats, and the Munchkins were slender, delicate creatures with rosy-pink skin and lively, intelligent golden eyes. They looked more or less human; it wasn’t until her eleventh birthday that she touched one and found that the rosy-pink skin was actually fine fur, as soft as a kitten’s. The first Munchkin she saw wore a filmy cloth around its body, and at first she thought that someone had left a tissue wrapped around a red highlighter. Then the highlighter moved, and Kelly squealed, and she spent the rest of the evening lying very still in her bed staring at her desk to see if any of her other pens or pencils would move.

A week later, she saw another Munchkin climbing the side of her wastebasket. It disappeared over the lip, and Kelly hurried over to peer down. The creature was holding up a broken barrette she had thrown out the previous day, but when it saw her looking down, it dropped the flowered plastic and leapt from the can so quickly that Kelly stumbled back and sat down on the floor.

The Internet on the computer in the living room did not provide much help. She told her parents she was doing a report on tiny creatures for her science class, but when she searched on “small pink people” she got links to little people working in Hollywood, or Bratz dolls, or a cartoon show she’d never seen; or to short essays about faeries and their kin. Eventually she found a link to books about “The Borrowers,” and read some from Amazon’s free sample. Wikipedia, which her class had just learned how to use, told her how the rest of the book would go.

It didn’t seem quite the same, but regardless, she went back to her room that night with a small saucer of milk, which she set on her desk. “This is for you,” she said, and crawled into her bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and waited.

Nothing happened while she remained awake, but in the morning the saucer was empty. After that, Kelly brought a saucer up every night, and it was a week later that the Munchkins came out while she was awake, creeping up the chair and drawers, bringing little flagons to the saucer where they sat and drank, with an eye on her.

Kelly said, “Who are you?” and they jumped, but did not flee. They arrayed themselves at the edge of the desk.

“We are the Trolls,” the leftmost one said with a bow. “And we thank you for your gift of milk.” His tone was polite, but they all kept the same wary manner.

“You’re very welcome,” Kelly said. “I’ll keep bringing it, then.”

They bowed again, and that was all they said that night.

But as she gave them more milk and no threats, they warmed to her and spoke more often. She learned that they had come on a long journey, packed into boxes with an estate that had come from somewhere far away two hundred years before. They only stayed in a particular house for a short time, but they liked her house and had been here for a year now. And, most importantly, she learned that nobody else could see them when her mother burst into her room to scold her for not putting away her dishes, completely ignoring the three Munchkins sitting on Kelly’s desk.

When Kelly was thirteen, she wondered why only she could see the Munchkins. TV and movies suggested that she was insane, that they didn’t really exist. But she tested them by asking them to report on what her mother and father talked about at night, and that was how she learned that her mother had had an affair with Mrs. Besley, her fifth-grade English teacher, and that her father was battling alcoholism. Those were things she could not possibly have known on her own (she confirmed them by finding Mrs. Besley in school and saying hello from her mother, watching as she did the Munchkin-bright pink blooms in the woman’s cheeks), so she concluded that she was not hallucinating the Munchkins.

Kelly believed for a short time that God had sent the Munchkins to her as a gift. But the little creatures seemed supremely uninterested in whether or not she read her Torah, went to synagogue, or discussed any kind of religion with them. They did not come to her bat mitzvah and did not care about it when she tried to tell them.

They had a similar coming-of-age ceremony, but in it, their children left the family to strike out on their own and might never be heard from again. Kelly concluded that this splintering of the family was not something that her God would have condoned, and so reluctantly concluded that the Munchkins were not creatures of God.

Two months before her fifteenth birthday, the family of Munchkins gathered to tell her that they would be moving on. She cried, and some of them did as well, but they were feeling confined and trapped, having been in this house for nearly six years. They left her with a small ornament to hang on her wall which would tell other Munchkins that this was a friendly place, and they asked her to lower her head to the desk so they could kiss her nose.

Kelly’s going off to college this year, ready to study economics and play softball. She is about two years away from dressing up for Halloween again (as Columbia from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with her sorority sisters), and two years removed from her first date (with Brad, a neurotic boy who washed his hands three times in an hour during dinner; she has had more and better dates since). Her father no longer drinks, and if her mother is still seeing Mrs. Besley, Kelly has no way of knowing.

But she packs the ornament lovingly in her small jewelry box, and when she arrives in her dorm room, it will be the first thing she hangs on the wall.

Ten: You Only Live Twice

10. You Only Live Twice, Nancy Sinatra. This is a great late-sixties song, and points for including a bit of far Eastern sound to go with the Japanese theme of the movie. The original version was apparently much more heavy with Oriental sound and was performed by Julie Rogers, but the producers said, “This isn’t working,” and they searched for a replacement. Frank Sinatra was tapped to sing it, but he recommended Nancy, who had just had a #1 hit with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” The result, after a lot of different takes (Nancy was a nervous 26-year-old), was one of the most popular themes, covered by a number of different artists (including Coldplay). But it’s number ten on my list.

Fiction: You Only Live Twice

Vilnus had worked in the blacksmith’s all his life. He’d made shoes for the horses of a dozen knights and had mended one blade, for Sir Kilhain (may he rest in peace). The heat of the forge which had so intimidated him as a seven-year-old boy now comforted him; sometimes he slept in front of it.

Sure, there was the occasional disruption in his life, like the time the water sprites had driven all the townsfolk out of New Marsham and they’d had to hire the Seven Blessed Monks to drive the demons out. Getting the town back had been worth the gold, even the extra they’d paid for the loss of three of the Blessed Monks. And there’d been the time the witch had lain a curse on the town so that every mother’s milk turned sour. They’d had to pay three wandering mages to fight the witch before one finally destroyed her.

Still, Vilnus knew towns that lived in the constant fear of dragons, towns that had found themselves on the fronts of terrible wars between unknowable combatants who fought with vapor and shadow, towns that had been renamed Hero’s Rest and Last Quest for all the heroes who’d fallen attempting to defend the towns from their plight. All in all, New Marsham was a quiet town, with disruptions only every few years. Many of its oldest inhabitants died of old age, as Vilnus himself hoped to.

Not before he and his beloved Rilla gave birth to their child (the wise woman assured them it would be a daughter) and one or two more. When Vilnus took over the smithy from old Weyland, he would want his son to apprentice with him. He looked forward to the quiet, anonymous years ahead with contentment.

*

“Sir!”

A hand shook his shoulder. “Sir Vilnus, sir!”

Vilnus opened his eyes to the round red cheeks and earnest gaze of the apprentice smith. “Sir, your horse’s shoes are ready, sir.”

The tall youth shook the dream from his lean features and stood. “Thank you…what was your name again?”

“Oh,” the apprentice said. “My name is not important, sir. It’s Weyland.”

“Of course. And your wife is Flora, and your first child is due soon.”

Weyland beamed. “So good of you to remember, sir. It is an honor to have the slayer of Frostblood and the savior of Lichthall here in our humble town.”

“Well,” Vilnus said, “someone must deal with this barrow-wight that’s been stealing your children, eh?”

“Aye.” Weyland looked away. “And you’ve a Holy Cross on your sword. I know you’ll fare better than the others.”

Perhaps he might; but if he did, then he would fall next year, or the year after. All heroes knew they had to make their name before their death, and Vilnus had been lucky so far. He would have no child to carry on his legacy, no woman to hold him at night, but his name would be known throughout the land, and his death would be mourned by many.

Vilnus said good-bye to Weyland and mounted his horse, then rode in the direction of the monster, because that is what heroes did.

Life Update and Bond Songs

As I wrote on Facebook, I have been accepted to Kij Johnson’s CSSF Novel Writing Workshop this June, which is very exciting. I enjoyed working with Kij at Clarion and am looking forward to meeting the rest of the workshop crew (and on working with the one I already know, Watts Martin).

The workshop starts June 1, so I am going to try to get through the top ten Bond songs by then. The writeups on the songs are done, but the flash fics I generally write off the top of my head when I do the posts, so they take a little more time. Still, two a week for the rest of April and May sounds doable. For the top ten, I’ve also found a Bond website that has a few tidbits about each song, so I’ll include those (with links) in the writeups.

Here are the bottom 12, as a refresher:

22. Die Another Day, Madonna.
21. The Living Daylights, a-ha
20. Moonraker, Shirley Bassey.
19. Thunderball, Tom Jones.
18. Goldeneye, Tina Turner.
17. Diamonds Are Forever, Shirley Bassey.
16. License to Kill, Gladys Knight
15. Tomorrow Never Dies, Sheryl Crow.
14. Another Way To Die, Jack White (from “Quantum of Solace”)
13. The World Is Not Enough, Garbage.
12. From Russia With Love, Matt Munro.
11. All Time High, Rita Coolidge (from “Octopussy”).

#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.

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.”