Saturday, April 18, 2009

Great HItes # 49


Ashley Redden is this weeks winner.

Stories this week from:
Scott Roche
Ashley Redden
Norval Joe
and Jeff Hite

This week GreatHites is sponsored by my source for all things computer.

Need copy editing? Try contacting Shawna Noble.

Magic Quadrant Part 5
Scott Roche

Thornton returned to the bridge after spending a half hour sifting through what Lisor had sent them. His head felt like broken pieces of his Gram’s china coffee cups were rattling around in his brain. It wasn’t the fall, the hypo spray he had been given took care of any aches and pains. It was the strain of being in this uncharted territory and the stress of a crew who needed him to be able to tell them what came next. He had nothing for them yet.

The doors to the elevator opened to a calm sight. Everyone was doing exactly what was expected, which really wasn’t all that much under the circumstances. They were holding their position in space. There was no sense in gallivanting around without knowing their precise location. That meant navigation had little to do. The ship stood down from red alert since there was no immediate threat. All the appropriate crew and perhaps a few who had no business were keeping their eyes on sensors just in case. Still information could be gathered and diagnostics run. It was all busy work, but sometimes that was necessary to keep sane.

He took his place in the captain’s chair and Lisor was at his side in a moment. “Go ahead.”

Lisor shrugged. “Nothing to report at the moment captain. I…” Just then a steady beeping started coming from the science station. Without so much as a ‘by your leave’ the science officer strode to his place and checked on the alert. He allowed himself a smile. Something had caught itself in his little sensor web. He had modified the ship’s own state of the art array to work in combination it with the modular package to sweep for anything artificial that might come within its range. The signal would have ordinarily been too faint for the Kongo’s equipment to see and outside of the module’s standard programming so it wouldn’t have known to look. Together they sniffed out someone who was taking great pains to remain invisible.

“Captain, there is a ship out their scanning us.” He fed the coordinates to the main view screen. The star field came up empty. Lisor looked on, confused. “There’s something there captain, I swear it.”

“Helmsman take us to read alert.” The shields went up and the klaxon sounded on all decks. “I trust you Lisor. You’ve got to give us something to work with.”

Lisor looked back at the information he had in front of him. “Lieutenant Banks, I am picking up a scrambled communications signal coming from that location. I am piping it to your station. Please set to decoding it.”

“Aye, sir.” The big man put a hand to his ear piece and began working the buttons at his own console.

There was some kind of shielding keeping the ordinary sensors from nailing down whatever the other ship was. Lisor thought perhaps he could use that and the unusual configuration of the sensors to his advantage. “Captain, putting a three dimensional model of what I am guessing to be the location of the ship on screen.” It wouldn't’ give them the ship’s outline or anything to fire upon with any accuracy, but it was less unnerving than looking at empty space. “They appear to be scanning us sir. I don’t believe our shields are effective against whatever they are using.”

Thornton stood up and crossed his arms. The idea of a strange vessel scanning his own set his teeth on edge. He wanted to put a photon torpedo across its bow, but that would let them know that they had been detected. “Steady as she goes people. They don’t know yet that we can see them. Let’s keep it that way. Banks, as soon as you have something unscrambled for us, you let us know.”

“Aye. Sir.” For a communications officer, Banks was a man of few words, but he knew what he was doing. The deck was silent as he worked. “Sir, it’s attempting to connect to our new sensor array. It’s some sort of override attempt.”

That was reason enough for Thornton. “Mr Sing I want you to put a torpedo spread as near as you can to that ship.”

Her answer to the order was the pressing of keys and the unique sound of a deadly payload being deployed.

Ashley Redden

“Damn,” said Richard staring across the table at the bright yellow wall beyond and seeing neither. “Damn, I mean he was just thirty-four years old.” Richard sighed and shook his head.
“I know,” answered Joan, “I was just talking to him the other day. He seemed perfectly fine.”
The conversation dragged. Both coworkers were sitting at the office’s equivalent of a water cooler gossip center, a small round table in the alcove lunch area.
The office was small, about fifteen employees, so administration had the bright idea that placing a smaller table would dissuade employees from loitering too much at lunch cutting down on office gossip. The idea worked in that most of the employees went out for lunch now, but failed miserably in killing the gossip. The table turned out to be a perfect gathering place for loose mouthed workers, usually three or four at a time gathered, tongues waggling maliciously.
But the mood today was somber. Frank Coates, a much well liked individual by workers and administration alike, had died six days earlier of a sudden heart attack. Frank was walking across the street and then bam, fell dead in his tracks, just like that. Frank Coates had been the picture of health.
“Well,” said Joan, “I guess he didn’t suffer. I mean I know it was sudden and all that, but well, at least he didn’t suffer,” she finished lamely.
“Yeah,” responded Richard, “maybe that is a good thing.” Though both agreed neither really believed it. Losing a coworker is always difficult, but make it someone well liked and the loss becomes especially tough.
Joan sighed, “His wife really did a good job at the funeral holding it together. If I was pregnant with my first kid and lost my husband so suddenly…well, I don’t think I would hold up so well.”
Richard nodded in agreement. “I would imagine the hardest times are ahead.”
Both looked up as Michael approached large cardboard box in tow. “Well,” said Michael, “this is it. I cleaned everything out of his desk. The strange thing is all the coffee cups,” said Michael opening the alternately folded lids. Both Joan and Richard peered into the box. Contained therein was a sundry of broken, chipped and cracked coffee cups of every shape imaginable.
“Hey,” said Richard brow furrowed, “that’s my old coffee cup. I thought I chunked that thing.”
“This one here was mine,” said Joan also perplexed, “and this one too.”
“I have couple in there too,” said Michael shaking his head. “I wonder why he kept them.”
“He said that they were memories,” said Gail walking up. Everyone at the table turned to look. “He pulled those things out of the trash, cleaned them up and kept them. Frank said that when he got down, he could open that drawer and the cups would cheer him up. He said something about each cup containing happy memories for each of us. Seems a bit strange, but I guess it was his way of coping with stress.”
Joan was holding one of the mugs aloft with both hands. She said, “He did always comment on our coffee cups. How each one was different, like the person that belonged to it.”
“I wonder what his wife will do with all this stuff,” asked Michael?
“Maybe we should write a note to explain the significance of the cups,” suggested Gail.
“Yeah, maybe so,” said Richard again looking unfocused at the bright yellow wall.
“Well, we can decide on Monday,” said Michael. “Frank’s wife won’t be picking up his belongings until next week. I guess I had better get back to work or I’ll never get home.”
“How far underwater are you on the project,” asked Gail?
Michael held his hand up above his head as high as he could reach and in a resigned voice said, “This far.”
Michael refolded the box lids and sighed. All four arose and started back toward their respective desks. It was already past five on Friday and the whole office had been burning the midnight oil, literally, for weeks on the current office wide project.
Richard was the last to get up. He paused, eyes lingering on the box, and made his way back to his own desk. Once there, however, he didn’t immediately sit down. Richard picked up the framed shot of his family, himself, wife and three kids. “Man, Frank was only thirty-four,” he sighed. As Richard gazed at the photograph, something that his grandmother had always said came floating back.
“Doesn’t matter who they are,” his Grandmother had said, “I’ve never heard of anyone on their death bed wishing they’d spent more time at work. You have to work to live Rich,” she would say pinching his face lovingly in her strong wiry hands, “but don’t work so much that you forget to live as well.”
Richard stood staring at the picture only moments more, then placed it gently back onto the desk. He closed down his computer and quietly left for the night. Monday would bring the same brutal schedule back in force, but for now, Richard was going home to spend time with his family. After all, the work load would still be here.
“Anyway,” thought a forty-one year old Richard as he walked by the lunch alcove and glanced at the box still sitting atop the table there, “who knows how much time any of us has left.” And with that thought, Richard left the building and headed home.

The Dish Washer
By: Norval Joe

He picked up the cup to put it into the sanitizer. The handle dropped off and broke into several pieces on the floor. "Why they don't change all these for plastic," he grumbled and bent to pick up the pieces. His hand reaching for the closest piece, he stopped and stood back up. He kicked the pieces under the sanitizer, then quickly looked around to see if anyone had seen him do it. They would make him move the heavy machine and clean underneath it, if he gave them the slightest reason.
He looked into the sanitizer, there didn't seem to be any room for the cup that he held in his hand. It was chock full with chipped and broken coffee cups, cracked and stained plates, and beer glasses so completely covered with hard water spots that they appeared opaque, even frosted.
He took out three of the glasses, moved some coffee cups and replaced the glasses, leaving enough room for the newly handless cup. The rack of cups, glasses and bowls was a fascinating and intricate utilization and conservation of space.
Unhappily resigned that the arrangement couldn't be improved, he pushed the rack shut and lowered the door of the sanitizer. He poked the green button to start the cycle.
Twice he turned from the deep stainless steel sink where the bus boy had dumped more dishes into hot, soapy water; he turned to stop the sanitizer and rearrange the cups. Instead, he stopped himself and went back to hand washing the dishes.
He had been warned; and he knew that they were watching; he could feel their eyes on his back, when they were in the room with him. They told him, "Do it fast. Just throw them in there and they'll come out clean." He heard it from them everyday, each time they caught him reorganizing the cups and bowls for greater efficiency. "Just thrown them in there", he muttered, reaching into the warm suds and rubbing the food off another plate.
He dipped the plate back into the soapy water and lifted it to watch the soap bubbles ooze off the plate and down from his wrist to drip off his elbow. He studied his deformed reflection on the wet surface of the cheap white ceramic plate. He watched his nose grow large and then small as a ripple of soapy water moved by.
"Robert Mc Feergan", the announcer said, and Robert got to his feet and walked across the stage. An honors graduate in Mathematics, he had continued his studies and received his masters and doctorate degrees in Statistics. He could see himself on that hot, June, Arizona day shaking the deans hand, receiving his diploma. As he turned and walked back to his seat, his young wife, with tears of pride in her eyes, blew him a kiss.
"Robert Mc Feergan," he suddenly said out loud to the plate, now mostly dry, in his hand. He held it up. "I present you with the plate of ignominy. The highest award for failure to perform to ones potential. For your outstanding service as a dishwasher, for the ability to clean even the grimiest of plates under the most favorable of conditions, I award you the plate of shame." His voice was raising in both fervor and pitch. "Take it you fool. Carry it with you, for all to see. So that all may no the limitless potential of your ineptitude and incompetence." The waiters were staring in through the open door. Customers were getting from their seats, trying to see the cause of the commotion.
Looking again at the plate, his image faint and deformed, he was revolted. As if suddenly realizing that he was holding rotten meat in his hands, teaming with maggots and roaches, he screamed, "No! I won't have it!" He threw the plate to the floor with such violence that it unbalanced him and he fell forward, striking his head on the corner of the stainless steel sink.
The shock and pain of hitting his head brought him out of his rant, to find himself on hands and knees, watching a pool of blood, on the floor, rapidly growing in size, as his blood flowed steadily from the gash on his head.
The hostess rushed over, "Oh, Bobby. Your head. Here, here is a cold towel. Sit down and hold the towel on your head." Her hand was on his shoulder, and he felt himself turning to sit, and taking the towel from her hand, pressing it to where he felt a sharply dull pain at the crest of his head.
"That's it Bob." The owner walked in. "I've had enough. No more broken dishes, no more screaming rants, no more scaring the customers. Here is your pay, plus an extra day. Take it and don't come back."
"I'm sorry, Jack." He could hear himself saying. "I'm sorry, my head is bleeding."
"I'm sorry, too, Bob, but you have to go. We've tried this and it's not working."
"My head is bleeding," Robert repeated as he got to his feet, he could hear the surprise in his own voice, as if he had just realized why he was holding the towel to his head.
"Go Bob. There's a clinic down the road, you know where it is." Jack took him by the elbow, and lead him to the back door.
The light outside was brilliant and harsh. He squinted up the road in the direction of the clinic. He took several steps in that direction, then abruptly turned to cross the street. Amid the honking of horns and cursing of drivers, he made his way to the liquor store. He stepped toward the door but stopped just short of it, sudden horror turning his insides to water, and he felt a wet warmth running down his leg.
In the reflection of the glass door, he saw a monster. Equal in size and nature to the famous Frankenstein monster. It held its overly large head with one hand, blood covering its misshapen face. In its other hand it clutched a wad of $20 bills. The macabre image faded into that of his own, but as urine pooled around his feet, in shame and frustration, he realized that he couldn't enter the business, in such a condition.
He shoved the bills into one urine soaked pocket. He turned toward the clinic again, but after only a dozen steps he stopped. His head hurt, the world was starting to spin, and his wet clothing chafed his thighs as he walked. He swayed a bit and then sat heavily in the middle of the sidewalk trying to keep the world from spinning around him. However, he soon toppled to his side, vertigo and weakness sapping his balance.
Overwhelmed by his impotence, in pain and self pity, he lay on his side weeping, pedestrians careful to step around him, and careful not to look too closely at him.
He knew that he should go to the clinic, but he couldn't. They would ask too many questions. "What is your street address?" "Who is your next of kin?" "Do you have your insurance card?" "Are you taking any medications?"
Medication! That's what he needed, he shifted his body and looked in the direction of the liquor store. He felt for the money in his pocket. "I just need a drink," he groaned. If he could just get some whiskey he would be alright. He would feel even again, in control. That is why he washes dishes, after all; to buy alcohol. He was too proud to pan handle; still, he needed to get the whiskey, his medicine, to make him feel right, so that he could be himself.
He stood on the front porch of his suburban home staring at the door, the frustrations of the office, like a recent sunburn, persistently aggravating and refusing to cool, even with the passage of time. He stared at the faux antique door knocker, just below the peep hole and in his mind, as if it came directly from a Dickens novel, the knocker took the shape of a human visage. But it wasn't the ghostly visage of a deceased miserly business partner; it was his own. He pointed his finger at the door and shouted, "You know that I should be the one running that place. I'm the Vice president of production! If they would just listen to me, they could be so much more efficient. Instead it's, 'No, Robert, that would take too much time' or, 'Put that idea down of paper, Bob, and we can see if we can whittle it down to make it more cost effective.' It's been three years now, and they haven't used a single idea that I've presented. Why'd they hire me, if they won't implement any of my programs."
He rubbed his face with a sweaty hand, put his key in the lock, and turned it. Strange, the door was unlocked. He would have to talk with Karen; he had lectured her before on keeping the doors locked when she was at home, without him there. He had to lecture her a lot recently; leaving lights on, windows open, going outside in a halter top, and how she was raising their little girl; she was getting a bit spoiled, and only three years old.
He pushed open the door, "Kare?", he called out. "Honey? You left the door unlocked again, you know how mad that makes me," his voice trailed off, as he realized that there was nobody home. As he walked through the door to the kitchen he could see the piece of paper on the table. He stopped and stood just inside the doorway, as if not approaching it, not reading it, would make it not real.
The sun had set, and he had to turn on the light to read it, when he finally approached the letter. "We're gone. Don't try to find us, you won't be able to. I've taken all we need, you can have the rest." 'What more was there?', he asked himself in despair.
He sat at the table and wept. He only got up to go to the liqueur cabinet, filled a laundry basket with as many bottles as he could and returned to the kitchen table, where he stayed for days. The phone range, people pounded on his doors and windows, but he never answered, never even moved. Finally, weeks later, the police came; they broke open the door and took him; filthy, emaciated, barely coherent; to the hospital.
Here were the police, again. He looked up from where he lay on the sidewalk, holding his bleeding scalp. "What are you doing there, pal? Been in a fight?" A cop with a night stick in his had was asking. "You got an address, bum?" The second cop said, "I think you must be a vagrant. You know we don't want vagrants bothering the decent people around here."
He rose on one elbow, looking around, expecting to see vagrants chasing decent people around, threatening them with bad breath and body odor. 'Decent people', he thought. 'I'm a decent person, what about me.' "I'm bleeding" he shouted at the cop, "can't you see I'm bleeding?" He was getting to his feet, to speak to the policeman face to face. "I have more education than the two of you combined," he wanted to shout at them, and make them see that he was a decent man, as decent as any other citizen. All he got out was, "I have more," when the first cop hit him with the night stick.
Riding in the back of the police cruiser Robert Mc Feergan was about to reenter the American mental healthcare system; prison, limited counseling, even more limited medication, and then back onto the street.
'Well,' he thought, 'At least they use plastic cups in prison.'

By: Jeff Hite

It started with the layoffs, a few people here and there left. But, then there were still other people to see them, they had to stay hidden. They came out then mostly at night, and whenever there were few people around. Nearly no one ever saw them they were not meant to be seen. Most people that did ever was them thought it was back luck to see them. With all the superstition about them, still only a few believed they were real.
As things went from bad to worse, there were more and more sightings. The fewer people around, the more of them that found their way into the empty places left behind by the humans. Now that the humans are gone, they are all that is left. They inhabit the places that people used to go, they sit at the desks, and tap out messages on the keyboards in front of them. They drink from the chipped and broken coffee cups, they are the things we leave behind. They cannot be denied now, but there is now one left to deny them.