In honor of National Book Lovers Day (first Saturday of November), the next installment of The Outer Pendulum Saga will be published Nov 5. The cover art is still in production and is unfortunately unavailable for display at the moment, but here are some vintage sci-fi pulp covers for your enjoyment:
One of my favorite games from 1994
It’s here! The much anticipated second installment in The Outer Pendulum Saga has arrived. Thank you all for reading and don’t be afraid to send me a note, become a fan of the Facebook page, or spread the word if you enjoyed it.
Special Promotion! Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want a free Kindle copy of the first installment: Corsair (Outer Pendulum, Part 1)
There’s One Born Every Minute
By Slava Heretz
“What a ripoff! Twelve credits for this nasty looking kebab?!”
“First of all, human, this is my family’s prize winning recipe. Secondly, we use base four here. When we say twelve credits, that means six to you.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
The street vendor put his slimy hands on the counter.
“Look at both my hands. How many fingers do I have?”
“Now look at your hands. How many fingers do you have?”
“Ok. So when your sad, pathetic race first started counting, they thought it intuitive to use base ten, much like ours did, by looking at our fingers. Does this make sense yet?”
The human shook his head and threw his arms up in disgust.
“Base ten. Base four. All I know is I’m starving and I’m not paying twelve credits for this tiny meat-on-a-stick.”
“Ok, human. I’ll make this easy for you to understand. Count to ten.”
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“No, I’m trying to explain to you why this so-called twelve credit delicacy you are about to purchase and enjoy will only show up as six on your account.”
“Fine.” The human counted from one to ten then stopped with an expectant look on his face.
“Now I’ll count to ten in base four.” The alien cleared his throat and held all four fingers up. “One, two, three, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two.”
The human stared at him with glazed over eyes. Hordes of alien species raced past in the crowded marketplace, bumping into the human without hesitation or apology.
“Listen, Datendi. I don’t have time for this. I have a shipment due on Rigel III in under an hour. I’m going to put six credits in your little machine and you’re going to give me my food.”
The Datendi sighed.
“What is the number after nine, human?”
The human rolled his eyes. “This again?”
“You were doing so well before. I think this last exercise will help you understand.”
“Alright, I already told you. Ten.”
“How do you write the number ten?”
“A one then a zero.”
“Aha! So! You reused numbers. Meaning there are no more unique digits after the number nine, correct?”
“In my culture’s system there are no unique numbers after three. We know of only zero, one, two, and three. That is why if you want to count higher than three in base four, you must reuse numbers just as you would do when counting higher than nine in base ten.”
The human scratched the side of his head.
“Oh. Maybe I get it now.”
He then paused.
“Wait, so why do you use human numbers and not your own.”
“Not my rules. This entire space station and the market you’re in right now conform to the galactic standard, which fortunately for you is the Human Arabic system.”
“Ok, so four of my credits would be ten of yours?”
“Five would be eleven?”
“And six would be twelve?”
The human smiled then nodded understandingly.
“Alright. Twelve credits it is. How do you say that in Datendese?
The Datendi held in a smirk. He wasn’t in the business of laughing at paying customers, no matter how badly they butchered his language.
The human slid his paycard through the scanner and pushed a few buttons on the screen.
“Here you go,” the Datendi said and handed him a kebab.
“Hey thanks. And thanks for the math lesson.”
“Any time, human,” he said and finally let out that smirk he held in so tightly.
The human turned around and took a chunk out of the piping hot meat. He smiled and wandered off towards the docking terminal, smacking his lips as he gnawed on the rubbery flesh.
“Sucker,” the Datendi muttered.
He was about to turn back to his rotisserie when he caught the merchant beside him giving him a stern glare.
“One of these days, Jado,” other alien said.
“Aw, come on. He’s just a stupid human.”
“How long you been running this little base four scam?”
“Relax, Git. So what if I make a little extra profit here and there. No one’s ever complained.”
Jado shook his head. “You just mind your stand, Git, and I’ll mind my own.”
Jado reached for the rotisserie and shaved a few slices off the front of the rotating loin. The meat fell onto a tray below and he quickly rubbed the top with a concoction of spices and herbs. Just as he was about to cut another piece he heard a voice call out from behind him.
Jado turned around and a big smile formed on his face.
“Human! You’re back! Did you enjoy the kebab?”
“I sure did.”
“Would you like another one?”
“Oh, no. No thank you.”
“How can I help you, then?”
The human reached inside his jacket and pulled out a wallet-like leather billfold. He flipped it open and held it up over the counter.
“Special agent Michael Ingram with the Department of Interstellar Trade and Commerce. You’re under arrest, Mr. Jado.”
Jado’s eyes widened. His smile instantly disappeared and he swung his head towards Git. The alien in the veggie stand beside him now poked at a datapad. He sat back in his chair with a self-indulgent grin plastered across on his face. Git paused and looked over at the poor, helpless Datendi. There was nothing to say. He just kept that grin as he watched the alien get cuffed and escorted out of his kebab stand.
Git grabbed a vooyan root and took a small bite out of the stringy vegetable.
“Who’s the sucker now?” he whispered to himself.
A new bit of flash fiction is up. It’s a little 300 word robot story I submitted to an online literature review site.
The inspiration maybe obvious if anyone has seen an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But I figured I’d let it slide for the sake of a fun idea.
by Slava Heretz
The robot smiled and began to corral the giant stack of chips in the center of the table.
Richard first looked down at his own hand then at the five cards sitting face up on the table.
The robot lifted its head.
“Master! How can you accuse me of such things? I am merely programmed to perform statistical computations and place logical wagers in response to my analysis of the given scenario.”
“I don’t care what I programmed you to do. You cheated.”
“Master, Texas Hold ‘Em is a zero-sum game. I believe you are simply upset that I have claimed all of the chips that were presented at the beginning of the tournament.”
“Look here, you circuit brain. There are four aces in a standard 52 card deck. I had one and there are two on the table. How in the world do you have four-of-a-kind if there’s supposed to be only one ace left in the deck?”
The robot said nothing. It simply blinked its aluminum coated eyelids and stared blankly at its master.
“Let me see your cards, Sid.”
Sid didn’t move.
“Let me see your cards, you heaping pile of metal!”
The robot sat still in defiance.
Richard stood up and shoved his chair back across the room. He stomped over to where Sid was sitting and stood over him, staring down at the two cards laying face down.
“Flip them over, Sid.”
Sid began to bring his left hand towards the cards but suddenly stopped. A drop of ink fell on the table from the tip of his index finger and he looked up at his master with the guilt and shame of a toddler caught reaching into the cookie jar.
“You know, Sid, this is why we can never be friends.”
THE UNCOMMON COLD
by Slava Heretz
I’ve been having these headaches recently. I pop Ibuprofen like an acid junkie. There’s a Costco sized vat of it in my bottom drawer. My girlfriend tells me it’s because I’m staring at the computer all day. Nothing’s changed though in the past twelve years. If, for, count, int. That’s all I see. That’s all I’ve ever seen. She’s telling me not to work so hard. That’s like me telling her not to go tanning so often.
We’re having a “Scrum” meeting this afternoon. I don’t even know where they get these bullshit buzzwords. My boss is a dickhead. No, sorry. My ScrumMaster is a dickhead. We have these asinine meetings about “the voice of the customer” and that “the team” is “accountable for ensuring the delivery of our core values.” I mean, what the fuck? I write the same functions whether I know what a “feedback loop” is or not. And then there’s always that one jackass who nods at everything that Sir ScrumMaster says, like his words are gospel.
God, these headaches are killing me! I don’t even think the pills are doing anything. Where’s my power drill when I need it? I’m ready to just do it –- instant lobotomy –- make the pain go away for good. I can’t even write a fucking line of code.
I picked up the shiny stapler on my desk and fiddled with it until I could see my forehead in the reflection.
My God, what is that?
I touched the middle of my forehead with a finger. There was blood forming around a sharp scab or something right there. I ran to the bathroom as quickly as I could with my hand over the spot. Everyone must have seen the blood though. I could feel it trickling down my forehead and onto my nose. Some of it ran into my mouth. I could taste that nasty metallic liquid seeping in through my lips.
“Mike, hey.” It was that nodding idiot, Jason. “Hey, woah, are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just ran into a nail on my cube by accident.”
“You can file a complaint, you know. If there’s any negligence you could get some compensation.”
I wanted to strangle him right there.
“I’m fine, Jason. It was a stupid accident. I’ll just wash it off and be fine.”
“Alright, man.” He paused. “Hey, you coming to that meeting this afternoon? I hear there’ll be brownies.”
I ignored him and pushed the door open to the bathroom. I looked in the giant mirror over the sinks and took my hand off my forehead.
No! I don’t believe it.
I started taking my shoes off frantically, then ripped off one sock and the other until I was barefoot on the tile.
I can’t fucking believe this.
I stared at myself in the mirror, the gash in my head growing steadily with the blood clotting around the edges of the wound. I looked down. I remembered my toes. About a year ago my middle toe started growing like crazy with bumps and weird skin rashes forming everywhere. There was about a week when it was almost as painful as the headaches.
No, that’s impossible.
I thought back to two years ago when I was short on cash. Some biotech company was looking for guinea pigs for some harmless common cold experiment. They injected me with something and told me I’d either feel nothing or slight discomfort in my extremities. They handed me a check and said to contact them in a month if I felt anything. I didn’t feel anything, so I forgot about it.
There’s no way this is related.
I looked closer at my feet. I only had three toes now and my middle nail was growing as fast as the gash in my forehead.
The door swung open. My boss. I panicked. I ran into a bathroom stall and slammed the door shut behind me, hands shaking as I tried to flip the latch shut.
“Michael?” The voice echoed through the white tiled room like a cavernous opera hall.
“What’s going on?”
I couldn’t help it. The pain was too much.
“Michael, I’m calling 911.”
“No. No, no. I’m fine.” I winced and clenched my jaw, holding back another primal yell.
“Michael, we need to get you to the hospital. Jason told me about your injury.”
Fucking tattle tale.
There was a sudden burst of pain in both my head and feet. I tried to hold in the scream but it only made it worse. I toppled off the toilet and writhed on the damp floor. I started feeling the world get cloudy. Woozy. Light. Then I felt nothing.
I woke up with my girlfriend by my side. I wasn’t sure where I was. Everything was still kind of blurry. She sat in a chair beside me. I was on a bed. I tried to sit up but a guy in blue scrubs rushed over and gently pushed my head back down on the pillow.
My head was no longer throbbing, but still sore, like a bad hangover after a night of shitty tequila shots.
I turned to Anna. “What happened to me?”
She frowned and put her hand on top of mine. She looked up at the doctor. He looked back at her with the same concern and pulled out a small mirror out of his scrubs and brought it towards my face.
I looked at my reflection and said nothing. I just stared at the thing on my forehead. It was jutting out a foot, maybe a foot and a half. I had seen them in nature shows and zoos, but never up this close. And certainly never on me. It was a horn. A bony, rhino, keratin horn.
I closed my eyes. I remembered what those scientists told me at the medical trials two years ago.
Rhinovirus — the common cold.
Art by Eric Brock