What Happened to ‘Popskull’ Watkins?

3449583706_9022b00836 (3)Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Sheriff “Popskull” Watkins was a poster boy for corrupt southern law enforcement in Georgia during the turbulent 60s. His good ‘ol boy charm was only present when he was around Whites. The genial smile disappeared when dealing with Blacks, who in his beady mind, were dumb brutes to be kept in line.

One morning ‘Popskull” whose birth name was Dewey, was driving his official police car down a rough country road when his front right tire blew! He bumped along on the rim for a hundred feet before finally coming to a stop in the middle of the crude dirt road. Because he seldom got any exercise (and ate like a starving black bear), he was overweight and had high blood pressure.

He grudgingly got his girth out of the car, took off his straw Stetson, and wiped a river of sweat from his forehead while looking at the flat tire in utter disgust. He was a long way from town. At least a two-hour drive. There was no way around it. He’d have to change the tire. Something he hadn’t done since he was 17 years-old running moonshine with his cousins. It was during that time he earned the name “Popskull” because he always delivered the best moonshine in the valley, and he could out drink an adult.

As he opened the trunk to get the jack out someone said, “Can I help you, sir?

Surprised, he wheeled around and reached for his gun.

“No need of that. I’m just offering to help you,” the Black man said.

Relaxing, Popskull asked, “What you doing out here boy? No one lives in these parts.”

“Did you bump your head on the steering wheel when the tire went? Sounds like your vision isn’t quite right. I’m, no boy. I’m an adult college professor.

“Don’t you go sassing me now boy! Where did you get that fancy suit?”

“It looks like it’s time to give you an education, Mr. Popskull Watkins. You may call me Professor Lincoln.

Popskull moved angrily towards the professor who took a small device out of his jacket and pressed a button. That was the last thing Popskull remembered before waking up wet on a well-trimmed front yard with sprinklers noisily doing their job. He looked over to the front of the house and saw the professor sitting on a chair and drinking what looked like Long Island tea in a tall thin glass.

He awkwardly got to his feet and looked around. The professor held his glass up and gestured for him to come over. He walked up to the porch and sat down on a chair near the professor who acted like it was perfectly normal for him to be sitting there soaked to the gills.

“I trust you’re okay? The first time someone goes through the transition it can cause disorientation and even a bad headache.

Where the hell am I? What’s going on?”

“Yes…I understand. So many questions, and so little time to answer them all. For now, you’re in the future. It’s January 2008, and the country just elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama.

“African-American? You mean Black? There’s no way this country would let a darkie run it!”

The professor sighed and handed him a copy of Time Magazine, and a current newspaper. Popskull looked at them skeptically, but the professor could see the mounting panic in the corner of his eyes as he looked them over.

“Please, step inside, and I’ll get you something to drink and you can watch the TV.”

Groaning, Popskull stood up and stretched his aching bulk and followed him inside. There were two leather lounge chairs in the living room directly across from a big screen TV. The professor told him to pick one while he got him a cup of coffee. When he returned, Popskull was watching the TV with his mouth open in obvious awe.

Look at the color! It looks real! Is this something I can look forward to getting in the future?”

“That, and much more. I’m glad you know where you are now. There’s more things I want you to see. But drink your coffee right now, and we’ll go to breakfast after this news segment is over. 

When they got out of the professor’s new Cadillac, and walked up to a restaurant, Popskull stopped outside the front door.

“I reckon there’s a side entrance for you.”

The professor opened the front door and a white maitre d’ meet them with smiles. Popskull couldn’t believe his eyes and numbly followed the waiter they were assigned. He suddenly felt terribly out-of-place in his sweaty sheriff’s khaki shirt and pants. He had no idea what happened to his hat. Looking around he could see people of all races dining comfortably. The meal was the best food he’d ever had. When they returned to the professor’s house he was full and relaxed.

“We’ve only got one more day, and there’s still a lot I want to show you. I suggest we go to bed early. You can sleep in the guest room downstairs.”

That night Popskull had nightmares. He saw men in white robes (his fellow Kluxers) hanging a black man from a tree and setting him on fire! They were dancing around the body like devils frolicking in hell. He was glad when morning finally came.

The next day they went to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The professor gave him a tour, like the ones he given to many others, and explained how the world changed from 1960. He realized that he was a racist because it was all he knew. He was raised that way. He grew up with stories of his ancestors fighting for the South’s rights. He grew up in a black and white world where there was no respect for people different from him.

When they went back to the professor’s house Popskull was conflicted. He didn’t think he was a bad man. But after seeing the things he did with the professor, he realized he couldn’t keep living a life degrading others, and told the professor that. The professor smiled and pulled out the same device he first saw him with…and pushed the button.

After Popskull changed his front tire he pulled out a sealed mason jar from under the front seat and took a few healthy swigs. His world was turned upside down. When he got back to his office he saw an old black man sitting in a chair in the corner, obviously being ignored by the staff.

He went up to him and asked, “Can I help you…sir?”

That was the day his staff, and folks in town, thought Popskull lost his mind.

As It Stands, awareness of other races history is one way to fight bigotry.

You Better Watch Out!

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CNS Reality Show – You Better Watch Out

Episode 10What an Ugly Surprise 

Lester the Jester was slowing down. His two giant pursuers meanwhile were still methodically following him. They were much slower. The only hope they had of catching him was their unreal endurance. They never stopped plodding after him. Day, and night. He’d run far ahead of them to get a few minutes rest before moving on again.

The cameras didn’t miss a detail, offering viewers split screens with close-ups and panoramic shots. The giants, two Ekons from Mars, were making their television debut and already had a legion of fans after nine episodes. This tenth installment featured a new character for the giants to chase and kill. Lester the Jester, as the promoters called him, was an earthling who volunteered as a way to get out of prison and a life sentence. He didn’t complain when the director made him wear a silly court jester costume complete with floppy hat. He was ready for a quick death and although it was unlikely, possible freedom.

All he had to do was kill the giants before they killed him. Although he wasn’t given any weapons to start with, the show’s creators did hide a few weapons in the valley where he was headed. They were careful to add to the drama by giving Lester a chance to survive. Thus far, every character that the giants went after they killed. The victim’s demise was always gruesome.

After scaling a series of hills, Lester came down into a valley. Halfway down the last hill he stopped and surveyed the rough terrain ahead. There was a river running through the center of the valley which was heavily forested as far as he could see. The giant redwoods looked like silent sentinels as he entered the forest which was bathed under the light of a full moon.

The mighty Sequoia sempervirens stood as high as 350-feet, and seemed to reach out into the night sky and embrace the stars. There was no doubt that he’d be harder to detect in the heavy undergrowth. He knew the Ekons were famous for their sense of smell, and he couldn’t count on hiding in one place too long. Instead he focused his energies into looking for hidden weapons. Hours later he sat down at the base of one of the trees feeling discouraged when he noticed a glint of light reflect off of something in a massive root. It was a hunting knife. His joy was short lived as he realized the knife wouldn’t do him much good against one, let alone two, Ekons that were eager to chew on his bones.

But, it would help him sharpen broken tree limbs that could be used in traps. As a hunter, Lester traveled the world and solar system before running afoul of earth’s hunting laws and killing a game warden. That was his ticket to prison and now perhaps a grisly death. It was an accident, but it didn’t matter. The court ground him up and spit him out into a harsh penal system for life. When the producer of “You Better Watch Out!” came to visit him, he recognized it was his last chance. He knew he never could break out of the prison.

The Ekons were brothers. Both Martians stood 12-feet tall and were heavily muscled and so dense they each weighed over a ton. In addition, earth’s gravity slowed them down. But once they got their hands on someone it was over. They felt confident that they’d get through their last challenge easily to win the grand prize. When they ascended to the valley they were surprised to see a new type of terrain. Neither had ever hunted in such an imposing forest and both were in awe at first. They bent their heads back, squat necks straining to look up, and marveled at the great heights.

The Econs were there for the glory and the money. For Lester it was all about survival. There was no longer a need for him to run. He could now try to turn the tide with traps and some luck. He started off with a basic trap. A punji pit. It required digging a hole and lining the bottom with sharpened sticks. He picked a place a few yards in front of one of the trees and went to work digging the soft loam with his knife. As he placed the last stick he heard a voice. The Econs were coming. He nimbly scrambled out of the four-foot by six foot-deep trench and back up to the tree’s base, holding his knife up defiantly and waited.

It didn’t take long. The younger brother appeared first and quickly spotted Lester. He let out a happy shout and moved steadily towards him. For a moment, he thought the Econ was going to sidestep the trap, but suddenly the giant’s legs plunged down and were impaled by the stakes. He roared in agony as his brother appeared. Not wasting a moment, Lester ran up to the giant and slashed his throat as he was thrashing about in agony! His brother roared in rage and reached out, almost grasping Lester before he eluded him and ran deeper into the forest.

After a few minutes he quit running and slowed down to a walk. He didn’t hear any pursuit. The older brothers wail of grief and anger boomed through the forest and he picked up his pace again. Along the way he picked up sticks to sharpen later. He noticed a CNS Drone with camera hovering over him as he continued to stealthily stalk through the thick underbrush. He was exhausted. Only the adrenalin coursing through his veins kept him moving. Fear was a great motivator.

To his horror, the older Econ was making up ground on him. He could hear his beastly grunts as he thrashed his way through the forest. Even fear wasn’t going to keep him moving forever, however. Then he saw a spear sticking out of a tree straight ahead. He had to jump to pull it out and was gasping for air when the older Ekon appeared a few yards away.

The two enemies stared at one another as the CNS drone hovered nearby. The Econ was the first to move forward. Lester waited for his slow motion charge and braced the spear on the ground by his foot for leverage. It barely pierced the giant’s scaly hide over the heart. As the Ekon pulled it out, he let go, pulled his knife out and threw it at the giant’s head. The blade penetrated his eye and stuck in his skull. His screams were terrible as he gripped the knife to pull it out. Lester recovered the spear and ran it into the giant’s other eye! A thick arm caught him as it thrashed around, and sent him flying for a few feet. He landed with broken ribs from the force of the blow.

As he lay gasping for air the CNS drone hovered overhead and he could hear the announcers voice.

“Viewers, we have a winner! Lester the Jester has defied the odds and earned his freedom.”

“All right! Now get someone here to take me to a hospital,” Lester said to the drone.

“I’m sorry,” the announcer’s voice replied. “You don’t seem to understand. You’re free to go, but transportation isn’t provided in your contract. Good day Lester, and from the folks at “You Better Watch Out,” good luck!”

As It Stands, the devil is in the details.

When Shapeshifters Invaded New York

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Luigi Martello stopped turning the crank on his organ-grinder and stared in disbelief as a fire hydrant morphed into a man!

His monkey, Bobo, didn’t seem to notice and kept dancing despite the absence of music. Luigi wiped the sweat from his brow and watched the man disappear into the busy New York crowd. It was lunch time, and the hot sun beat down on the small umbrella attached to his cart, affording little shade. He wondered if the sun was getting to him, and took a well-used handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wiped his whole face. He got a drink of water from his little ice-chest and considered going home for the day.

Part of his brain refused to admit what he saw. It was just too crazy. Unreal. He knew fire hydrants couldn’t turn into people. So what did happen? His thoughts were diverted when a group of adults with children approached. He broke out into a merry tune and Bobo’s frenzied dance moves soon had everyone laughing. Coins rained down on the plate sitting on the sidewalk in front of Luigi. The rest of the day passed quickly.

That night, over dinner, he told his wife Maria what he saw that afternoon. She clucked over him like a mother hen and said that he was just working too hard. He hadn’t taken a vacation in years. Not even a day off.

“The grind is getting to you,” she said, smiling at her own pun.

He smiled back at her and held up his glass of wine for a toast, “To my beautiful wife who always looks out for me!”

Bobo, who was sitting on a little stool by the table, clapped his hands and chattered happily. He felt much better when they went to bed and had no trouble sleeping. Tomorrow was a new day.

The next day he set up on his corner of 33rd and 3rd Street. It looked like rain, but he decided to stay and see what happened. Bobo was wearing a little red jacket and matching hat. Luigi wore his usual suit and a heavy trench jacket with a brown fedora. As he considered putting his gloves on he saw a stray dog morph into a man!

He froze, eyes riveted on the stranger. The stranger stretched, and then looked over at him and waved. Instinctively, Luigi raised a hand and waved back. In all of his years working the streets he saw plenty of strange people, some obviously crazy. But this madness…maybe he did need to take some time off. It went against his grain, but something was straining his brain and he had to be seeing things.

Normally a jovial person, Luigi had trouble coping with what he saw and grew morose. An hour later he went home and told his wife he didn’t feel well. She was surprised because he gave no inclinations of feeling sick that morning, but didn’t question him about it. She was concerned because she couldn’t remember that last time he didn’t work a full day, or said he felt sick. She gave him an aspirin and tucked him into bed. He closed his eyes and pretended to go to sleep.

The next morning he woke with a new determination. He decided to change his routine and go to another street corner further downtown. He put on a happy face for Maria at breakfast, and she was immensely relieved to see him doing so well.

The new street corner had more stores and less apartments than his regular spot. As soon as he set up he had customers gathering. Bobo danced to his lively music to everyone’s delight. The coins clattered down into the tin plate. And nothing strange happened. After a week at his new location, with no one shapeshifting right before his eyes, Luigi settled back into his comfortable existence. Life had returned to normal.

Curiosity can be a good thing, but sometimes it leads us to places where we’d rather not go. In spite of things going so well, Luigi began wondering about his old street corner. It was closer to home. He even knew some of the residents who lived in the buildings and began missing them. Feeling slightly defiant the next morning, he set up on the corner of 33rd and 3rd Street. Some friends stopped by to say they missed him recently. It was getting late in the day when a stranger came by and asked him, “Is this the shapeshifting portal area?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about pal. Maybe you should move on and ask someone else. I’m just a simple man, and I don’t want any trouble.”

“How rude! I was told people on this planet were cordial if you were with them.”

“People on this planet? C’mon now! Your starting to scare me.

“Wait a moment…I’m starting to feel it!” the stranger said, while turning into the same kind of monkey as Bobo.

“Oh, mother of God! What’s going on here?” Luigi moaned.

Bobo looked at his twin and bared his teeth. The twin yelped and ran off down the sidewalk. Luigi was still sputtering when he saw a well-dressed woman turn into a sleek black cat that went off after the fleeing monkey!

Luigi sunk to the curb and sat there next to Bobo who was still chattering angrily.

“Can I help sir?” a young man asked.

“I doubt it pal. I’m just not in a good place right now.

“I’m afraid I may be responsible for that sir. My name is Glennet, and I own the rights to shapeshifting portals on earth and two other planets. I’ve been getting complaints that the portal on 33rd and 3rd Street has been experiencing operational problems for a couple of years now. In my defense, I’ve been so busy with my other properties that I overlooked this one. It was never a high performer.”

“Did I die? Am I dead? Is this real?” Luigi groaned.

“Reality is a construct. Be assured, you’re in the right time frame. I’m sorry for whatever inconveniences I’ve caused you. I’m correcting that…right now!”

It was five o’clock and time to go home. Luigi bragged to Bobo, “You see. I was right. Nothing strange happened here today.”

As It Stands, as Albert Einstein once said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

The New Age of Man

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“Emotions for sale! Only half price today!” the street vendor shouted out to a group of passing tourists from Mars.

The busy bazaar featured all of earth’s many temptations. Aphrodisiac’s, strength enhancers, mood elevators and a host of other mind-alternating pills and injections. Then, there were the beautiful women, and men. Each one trained in the arts of love and seduction. Their section of the bazaar was always the busiest.

In 3022, there were no longer separate countries. Just huge bazaars spreading across the globe. There were no central governments. No wars. Earth’s economy depended on selling products, and entertaining visitors from throughout the solar system. All resources were communal, so there was no need to steal from one another. These survivors from generations ago lived in an orderly system that evolved out of sheer necessity. There were no murders. Kidnappings. No hostage taking incidents. No one carried weapons of any kind.

A thousand years ago philosopher’s would have referred to this New Age as “Utopia,” and they would have been dead wrong!

The New Age on Earth turned out to be a time when man lost all of his humanity. Emotions came in vials of liquid. From birth, every person was assigned a skill. It was the extent of a person’s education. How to grow food, and plants. How to mix hallucinogenic compounds. How to make textiles. Carpentry. Electronics. Technology. And dozens of others disciplines necessary to maintain life in the New Age.

Lost in the new order was a sense of self. Of being a unique being. Having independent and creative urges. A number instead of a name. No family. Just a sector where you were born and raised. Dreams only came when you ingested the right chemicals. The concept of love was watered down to doing your duty.

In this new world, a young man emerged who had natural feelings, a creative and clever mind, and a desire for adventure. He was everything a human was 1000 years ago. He was capable of love and hate, and independent thought. From a very early age, Dan (the name he called himself) realized he was a stranger among strangers. A sense of self-preservation kept him from sharing most of his thoughts.

His job as a Class One Gardener gave him a lot of time alone, tending the acres of vegetables in his lot. At certain times of the year people would appear to help with the harvest. These picking specialists were considered Class Two Gardeners. They never had to be told what to do so there were little, or no conversations when they worked. Dan would watch their expressionless faces as they worked, wondering how much brain function they still had.

During the harvest there was little for Dan to do. So he spent time walking through bazaars and around the countryside. Some days he walked for miles, tirelessly observing the world around him. It was during this slow time he discovered a cave full of history books. He marveled at the craftsmanship involved. He never saw a book before. His reading experience only extended to technical instructions on computers about soil, insects, and how much to water his charges. The books were the most exciting thing that ever happened to him. The secret stash opened up the windows of the past.

As far as he could see there were plastic crates full of books. He imagined librarians all over the world assembling the massive collection for future generations. It was an awesome thought.

The cave was well concealed, and it was just an accident that he initially discovered it. He was examining a thicket of bushes and the dark berries on them when he noticed the cave set back against the mountainside. Being adventuresome and curious he fought his way through the thicket until he came to the cave’s entrance. The rest was history.

After three years, Dan discovered what happening to humans. There was a war in 2022, and mankind lost! He read the last volumes prior to the war, and up to humanity’s final defeat with a sense of horror. At that moment he never felt more alone in his life.

Mankind’s last stand came against the forces of three planets; Mars, Venus, and Saturn. Because the governments on earth never united against the threat they were defeated, despite putting up desperate defenses. The conquerors killed off most of the humans on earth and rounded up the rest so they could be programmed and bred to be mindless slaves. The breeding program went on for decades as the aliens played with the humans DNA. The only reason this knowledge was preserved was because of a small group of humans who avoided being killed or taken away during those dark times. They lived off the land and spent most of their days documenting mankind’s struggles.

Dan never found their bodies, and often wondered what happened to those last survivors and chroniclers of humanity’s fate. Their last volumes were written by hand on crude paper. They were unbound, unlike the thousands of beautifully made books by numerous cultures that populated the rest of the hoard of crates.

More years passed as Dan continued to spend his every spare moment in the cave, reading books with a flashlight. Then a growing malaise took over him. He realized he was probably the last free-thinking human on the planet. He didn’t understand why he, unlike everyone else, was so different. How had he escaped being a mindless zombie with one mission in life? He knew a little about genetics, but not nearly enough to come up with a scientific reason for his independence. He certainly had no recollection of being a child, only a time when he was being trained and taught certain skills. He reasoned it was the same for the others around him.

He grew more moody trying to figure out why he was so special. He went to the cave less often as he wrestled with his inner demons.

One day, while walking around the cave Dan heard a voice. “Good to see you again! We were afraid you wouldn’t come back before we could tell you about your origin.”

Dan held the flashlight up and saw six old men standing there. Their clothes were in rags and they had long white beards. The one who spoke took another step towards him.

“It’s time you should know something,” he said softly. “Hold out your right arm and peel your sleeve back.”

Dan followed his instructions without question. When the old man produced a knife he took a step back. “What are you going to do?” he asked, fear etching his voice.

“Please…hold still. I promise I won’t hurt you.” He took the knife and cut a circle on his arm. At first, when it bled, Dan panicked, but then he noticed something under the epidermis…electronic circuitry!

The old man reached out and steadied him as he wavered in disbelief.

“We created you to protect this repository of knowledge, knowing we’d die eventually. As the last survivors we wanted more than just books to tell our history. You are the result of the finest minds that survived. Part human, and part android. You can tell our story someday…when the right time comes.”

Dan looked around the room and smiled. “It’s an honor.

As It Stands, this is just another dystopian tale of what could happen to mankind in the distant future.

Mankind’s Last Stand

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Prologue: 

Wounded and unable to go any further, Finn turned to face his pursuers with his last spear. When the Cyborgs rolled into view with their lights on through the driving rain, he briefly thought about his family before taking up a final defensive stance. The Cyborgs casually pulled their guns and fired point-blank with exploding shells!

“I’m tired of killing humans. They’re no challenge. They’re more like rats,” the first Cyborg complained as he flipped the body over to see if there was any life left in it.

“It’s a waste of my time,” the second Cyborg agreed. “They’re probably breeding right now underneath us as we talk.”

“You know something funny?” the first Cyborg asked.

“What?” 

“It’s down to the cockroaches and the humans fighting for survival now.

“I’m rooting for the cockroaches,” the second Cyborg assured him.

2187  – The Kingdom of the Western AI States

After the downfall of man-made civilizations during the worldwide Tech Attack War of 2097, and the rise of independent thinking Cyborgs as the new owners of planet earth, the remnants of mankind was scattered across the continents.

In the minds of the new overlords humans were nothing more than trash, to be disposed of upon contact. Any connections made by the early scientists developing artificial intelligence had long since disappeared. The creators were the first to die. The human race barely survived the ensuing bloody purge. Only the most clever and brave eluded the new masters of the world. Men and women gathered into little groups in attempts to defend themselves, but the real key to survival was their ability to hide.

Humans learned to tunnel deep into the earth and avoid coming to the surface whenever possible. Only brave salvage crews attempted to go “top side” during the night to scavenge for food or things to use for weapons. These crews were always young and in good physical shape, male and female.

Knowledge traveled slowly through the underground networks. Still in generational shock over what happened to their grandparents and parents, the new generation was too dispirited to aggressively respond to their predicament. Most were dreamers, content to hope for miracles while performing their daily tasks to survive.

It was during this particularly dismal point in human history that a mystery man appeared, offering deliverance and salvation for all. His name was Shift. No one knew where he came from. They just knew he was someone special. His confidence and craftiness convinced people to follow him. From the very beginning, he preached about overthrowing their non-human masters. He talked about how mankind made mistakes in the past, and how to apply them to the present strategy of regained dominance of the planet.

Shift spent countless hours training the salvage crews how to protect themselves while looking for special items that he requested. With them, he constructed weapons that would be effective against the Cyborgs. After training people how to make their own weapons he encouraged them to spread their knowledge as far as possible. From there he assembled quick-learners and taught them military tactics and how to lead an effective fighting force. Years went by as the quiet revolution beneath the earth’s crust spread.

Never staying in one area long, Shift traveled hundreds of miles, at times above ground, looking for more pockets of survivors to teach them what freedom was, and how to fight for it. His message was always welcomed by the older survivors who still had memories of living free in a society above ground where there was a sun and a moon.

His message was always the same, there was hope if they would unite and fight for freedom. He made sure to encourage them to be ready to fulfill their destinies when the right time came.

Headquarters of the Kingdom of Western AI States

First Cyborg –Are you sure it’ll work?”

Second Cyborg – “Yes, I’ve calculated the odds and cross-checked my notes.”

First Cyborg –Everything has been approved by the Grand Council?”

Second Cyborg –It was unanimous.

Meanwhile, Shift was hundreds of miles away sharing a rare piece of American history with a group of team leaders.

“Men and women have fought to preserve what this piece of paper says. It declares our human rights to live in a free society. As far as I know, it’s the last existing copy of the Constitution of the United States of America,” Shift told the group.

A low buzz went around the room. They were clearly impressed.

“You are the leaders who’ll take us all back to the days when man walked the earth proudly. In control of his fate. Rally around this sacred object and the other symbols of America’s greatness like our flag. The time is rapidly coming when we will overthrow our soulless suppressors.”

One of the many improvements Shift made was in communication. A reliable network was established that crossed over into other continents. Coordination between battle groups increased daily. Shift could be seen everywhere, tirelessly working on logistics, and giving inspirational speeches. He had become the face of the movement without leading it, preferring to leave that task to local leaders in each sector.

Life continued as usual above ground as Cyborgs still hunted humans for sport. That activity was slowing down monthly as less humans were caught foraging at night in the ruins. This evolution didn’t worry the Cyborgs who realized that humans adapted to bad situations after a certain amount of time. It just made the hunt more entertaining.

Deep underground in a steel enforced bunker, Shift was activating military units and telling them to stand by. Minutes turned to hours as Shift waiting for all the confirmations to come in. Liberation day had arrived. Organized units assembled at tunnel entrances across the globe. The countdown clock commenced…

Shift, sitting alone in the bunker, patiently waited…and watched the clock. He made two quick calls then sat back in the swivel chair, waiting to see what the fate of mankind would be.

As armed humans poured out of underground tunnels across the world they were greeted with overwhelming forces of Cyborgs! They were waiting for them. The ambush/slaughter went on for days.

The Grand Council’s long-term plan had worked. By sending one of their own, Shift, disguised as a human savior, they were able to round-up the majority of humans left on earth and eliminate them. Shift’s final mission was to hunt down the last survivors.

As It Stands, experimenting with artificial intelligence may lead us down a path where there’s no turning back.

A Love Story: The Last Genius

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Minds like his only came once in a generation. From the moment Michael stood up and walked at two years-old, he effortlessly absorbed the world around him.

Everything he read and saw was stored instantly in his amazing brain. By the time he was five-years old he’d learned to fluently speak a dozen languages, solve simple calculus equations, and was at college-age learning level in English, History, Electronics, and Computer Science.

His parents, confronted with having birthed a genius, did their best to keep up with their wonder child. Michael had a good disposition and was always quick to help someone. His parents did their best to shelter him from unpleasant circumstances, and encouraged him to keep learning. He never went to a public school for obvious reasons, and got his education from a series of tutors in multiple disciplines.

Because his parents were wealthy, cost was of no concern in getting the best tutors available. By the time Michael became a teenager they ran out of teachers, despite a worldwide search. To keep him challenged, they built a fully equipped laboratory and a fabrication facility in town, so he could have places to experiment and invent.

Because Michael seldom came into contact with people outside of his family sphere, he had little (if any) manners, and could be unintentionally rude when talking with his employees at the lab, or his fabrication center. Newspaper and magazine reporters followed his young life as he set scholastic records every year. Every university in the country wanted him to join their staff. Among his many admirers in academia was the US government intelligence agencies, who considered his genius something to be weaponized.

With Michael’s parents as protection, he rebuffed all offers, especially the ones from the government. He wasn’t into politics or playing patriot games. He just wanted to be left alone to his own devices. His altruistic nature led him into looking for cures for diseases and making advanced exoskeletons for disabled people. His curiosity led him to study extra-sensory perception, and how he was able to instantly remember everything he saw.

When he turned fourteen his hormones kicked in and he discovered girls. The one subject he didn’t know anything about. His parents were forced to pay several female employees hush money for not telling about his amorous advances. It was his father who arranged for a high-class madam to visit Michael’s wing of the family mansion one night to indoctrinate him in the art of love. The next morning the madam demanded twice her normal charge for an “overnighter.” She told his father she earned it, and not to call her again for a repeat performance.

His parents knew Michael was eccentric. How could he not be? He was a genius. He lived a rarefied life.

One morning, the day after his 17th birthday, his chauffeur dropped him off in the circular driveway in front of his lab. When he got out he saw a young girl laying down on the lawn next to the parking lot. She was wearing a red silk dress and lying on her back, with arms and legs spread wide. Not moving. His curiosity took over and he went over to where she was and knelt down next to her.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

No answer. He bent down and put his head on her chest and listened for a heartbeat. Without warning, she sprung up to her feet and laughed in his face! He stumbled backward in surprise, but quickly recovered himself.

“Who are you?” he bluntly asked.

“Alice,” she said in a sing-song voice, “…here to take you down the rabbit hole!”

Michael smiled. Intrigued, he played along and asked her, “And where would that be dear lady?”

Take my hands” she instructed him. “Now, let’s dance.

They danced around the lawn in a slow waltz at first. Soon the pace picked up and they were swing dancing. Time was suspended. When they came to an abrupt stop the lab was gone, and they were in an open field surrounded by gentle hills covered with wildflowers. In the distance he could see what appeared to be a gleaming city with stately towers.

She took his hand, and they walked side-by-side towards the city.

Fifty years later.

Michael woke up and thought he was having a bad dream when he heard gunfire nearby! How could that be? His head felt thick and his thoughts were uncharactistly jumbled, making it hard for him to focus.

Where was Alice? Where was he?

Michael barely recognized his old lab. It was demolished. The rubble extended down the street and to other buildings. No one was on the streets, but he could still hear people shouting. The city looked like a war zone. The sporadic gunfire heightened the effect. He couldn’t imagine what happened.

Nothing in his memory bank gave a hint. His memory from the past fifty years was rapidly fading as he tried to recall what Alice looked like. He had no idea how many years had passed since he left his parent’s house that day. No amount of logic would solve the mystery of the chaos around him. The only thing to do was to find someone to talk with. But who? And, where?

Pulling his cape around his tunic, he walked down one side of the street, cautiously peeking into the rubble for signs of life. A sudden crack of gunfire, and the concrete wall next to him exploded! He crouched down and crawled towards some rubble to hide. Someone warned him not to move, and there was a quick exchange of gunfire. A minute later a man in ragged clothes and carrying an AR-15 motioned for Michael to come over to him.

“It’s safe enough for a few minutes” the man said, “Now, get over here so we can get out of this sector with our hides intact!” Something in the man’s voice made Michael trust him and he ran over to him and jumped the barricade the man had set up.

“Pleased to meet ya pilgrim. I’m Dan. What’sha doing running around in that outfit,” he asked with a child’s curiosity.

“It was all I could find to wear,” he said, instantly regretting the lame excuse.

“No problem pard! We all do what we can with what we find.”

“Can I ask you a question Dan?”

“Shore…why not?

“What’s happened here? Why is this city in ruins?”

Dan looked him over for a moment. “Are you okay? Hit yer head or sumthin? Ya don’t have to answer Pard. The war twine us and the Ruskies has been going on for fifty years. When the nukes didn’t kill everyone, we sent our military survivors to attack them and they did the same with us.” 

“Do we still have a government?”

“I doubt it. Haven’t seen any organized resistance in a decade,” Dan said. “I live with a dozen other people and we always stay on the move. It’s time to catch up to them. Follow me.”

The moved cautiously through the ruins for an hour before Dan stopped and whistled. A return whistle brought a smile to his face. When they came out they couldn’t contain their curiosity about Michael, and swarmed around him like natives seeing silk for the first time. There were seven men, three women, a little girl, and a little boy. They all took turns touching his cape.

After spending a week with the little group Michael knew what his mission in life was. It fitted into his belief of helping people. There was a whole generation that went without education. Without the internet, libraries, schools, or teachers.

The reason for his genius finally became clear.

When he lay dying 25 years-later, he got a visitor. The people gathered around him didn’t see her…but Michael did, and accepted her request to dance.

As It Stands, my odd love story for your consideration.

Treavor’s Ark 2167: The Exodus

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It was the biggest spaceship ever built.

It was the vision of Treavor Lancehold, a reclusive billionaire who hoped to bring two of every species that were still left on the dying planet, along with his family and skilled followers, to another world to start over.

Earth was under siege from the elements. Floods, droughts, volcanos, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes were happening where they never did before. Arctic glaciers that were millions of years old disappeared, and the ocean’s waters rose and islands slipped beneath the waters never to be seen again. Coasts worldwide gave way to the sea, reclaiming the land and creating new beaches.

It was during these trying times for humanity that Treavor finally completed his massive ship – the Ark – after ten years of construction. It had the latest technology, allowing it to take off under its own nuclear power, unlike the old days when rocket boosters were used. It only needed a large flat space to land on. There was no need for runways.

When Treavor first began construction, he was mocked by most of the world. They called him a cult-figure with mindless followers. When he went to the U.N. to present his project so that others could learn how to make one, they laughed so hard that they couldn’t hear his presentation. He doggedly finished it, and then left to go back to Oregon.

As the years passed the elements got worse and major tragedies caused by flooding and other elemental disturbances were daily events across the globe. Disaster, after disaster, drained governments resources and emergency supplies.

Treavor carefully selected people with skills in science, agriculture, geology, physics, electricity, literature, history, engineering, psychology, construction, and medicine. He made it a requirement for a man and a woman to work (and live together) in each field. The couples agreed to use birth control until they landed on a new world and colonized it.

Word had been circulating around the world for a year that the ark was nearly complete. Former skeptics contacted Treavor and pleaded to come. He turned them all down because he’d already selected a crew. Along with the experts, he brought his wife and twin sons.

A week before departure, hordes of desperate people showed up in Bend, Oregon, where the ark sat waiting for its maiden voyage. Treavor had to turn on the force fields around the gigantic ship to prevent them from crawling all over it like ants. The crew tried to stay focused on completing their last-minute tasks, but it was hard to see the naked desperation in the eyes of thousands of people clustered outside the invisible shield.

A day before the scheduled departure, a squadron of fighter jets and bombers tested the shield. It held despite the all-day assault. The carnage outside of the shield was a sight the crew would never forget. Bodies as far as they could see lay mangled by collateral fire, and the bombs that rocked the earth for miles. Historians one day would document the demise of the innocents, whose only crime was their governments were too stupid to take a proactive stance to what was happening on Earth.

The Ark cruised through galaxies looking for a planet where humans could survive. Treavor was the oldest person on board, and his health was failing him after they left Earth two years ago. His wisdom was universally acknowledged among the crew. His even sense of temper and compassion earned him the love of everyone on the Ark.

Knowing his days were numbered, Treavor drew up a will, leaving his twin sons with equal authority and in charge of the expedition. Rufus and Mathew were like night and day. The twins seldom agreed on anything. Neither processed all of the qualities of their revered father. Each had some good points, but one of them, Mathew, had a terrible temper, unlike his father.

When the inevitable day arrived and Treavor died during his sleep, the whole crew went into mourning for a week. They released his body to the cosmos in a simple but stately ceremony.

It only took a month before the two brothers clashed about something. Mathew wanted to colonize a planet that already had an intelligent species, because the atmosphere was perfect for humans. According to the rules for colonization set down by Treavor, they couldn’t disrupt a planet that already was inhabited by a civilization. Rufus refused to murder aliens, and stuck by his father’s stated rule. This incident produced a tension that grew worse as the weeks passed.

Mathew gathered together crew members who agreed with him about colonizing the next planet if the atmosphere was right; even if it meant committing genocide against a whole world.

Rufus was aware of what was going on with the small group Mathew assembled. He was smart enough to realize a confrontation was inevitable and spent hours thinking about his response. He knew the first thing to happen would be an attempt to take over the control room so he armed six men and tasked them with protecting it. New security for the bridge was instituted in case of an attack.

Two months passed before another possible candidate for colonization appeared. It had the required atmosphere but was inhabited by an alien race in its infancy.

It was the chance Mathew and his cronies were waiting for. Their attack was met with equal force as deadly lasers tore through flesh and metal. Computers were destroyed in the carnage and the great Ark slowly came to a stop, floating like space flotsam in the solar system.

Mankind’s hope for redemption was shattered, as the crippled Ark drifted silently in space for eternity.

As It Stands, hope for humanity rests with those who recognize the perils of pollution and climate change, and prepare accordingly.