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THE PRIEST’S CONCUBINE – SMITA BHATTACHARTA

Shaukya was both the head priest and the de-facto leader of Dhruvgiri, a remote village atop the mountains. One morning he called a meeting of the village elders, saying the goddess had spoken to his wife, Wagmani, once again, and she had an important announcement to make.

“The goddess told me of a way to save our women,” Wagmani proclaimed.

Puzzled, the villagers looked at one another.

“But what’s wrong with them?” one asked.

“Haven’t you noticed?” she said. “They look sick. Emaciated. As if something’s gnawing at them from inside.”

They thought of the women they knew—mothers, daughters, and wives. Yes, a few did look sickly, but…

“It’s because of the lack of pleasurable love in their lives,” Wagmani said.

They stared back at her, not understanding.

Shaukya interjected. “What she means is–thehe goddess thinks the men of the village don’t know how to keep their women happy, and that’s showing up in their health. This needs to be corrected.” And he told them how.

There was an uproar.

“This is preposterous.”

“What do you mean we need practice?”

“Where will we find the girls for such an enterprise?”

“It’s immoral to even talk about it.”

Shaukya tried to calm them down. “It’s the goddess’ wish,” he said.

“That’s impossible,” they protested.

“Goddess Barohi has spoken to my wife,” he said firmly. “And when she asks for something, we do it. Or there’s going to be a disaster.”

“What kind of disaster?”

He shrugged. “Drought. Famine. Mass childlessness.”

Shaukya was seventy years old. His wife, Wagmani, was twenty, and his fourth. She was the daughter of the richest man in the village and exquisitely beautiful. His earlier wives, equally beautiful and accomplished, had given him no children. With this one, though, he had hope. He was trying hard enough and if she failed to give him the progeny he so desperately wanted, he hoped this new plan  might work. Luckily, beauty and money had not bred intelligence in her, and Wagmani had been easy to sway. Coming from her, the directive sounded almost innocent. He’d sometimes taken his people’s naivety for granted, and that hadn’t worked out so well in the past.

Now, infusing authority into his voice, he said, “I’ve already planned it out for us. First, we’ll build a temple for the goddess: bigger and grander than the one we have. For that, every household will need to donate some gold. Next, each of you will sacrifice one girl from your family for the service. It could be anyone!”

“But it’s immoral!” said the villagers.  

“Not when the goddess decrees it,” Shaukya comforted.

“But why does the goddess speak to Wagmani alone?” a villager wondered aloud to his wife, later in the safety of his house.

His wife replied, “Shaukya and Wagmani serve the goddess, and so they have divine powers.”

“But what if we don’t need to do anything at all? Everything might still be fine.”

His wife took a step back, aghast.

“Don’t say things like that,” she begged. “You’ve little children. Have you forgotten the drought that happened three years ago? We refused to give gold to the temple. And the flood that came two years before that, and the fire that raged through the village the year I was born. All because we neglected the goddess..”

Her husband nodded ruefully. He did remember.

Thus, after some discussion and many threats, the village fell in line.

The temple was builta stately edifice in white marbleat the centre of the village.Upon its altar was placed a stone idol of the goddess: sturdy, ten-feet-tall, her skin a muddy-puddle brown, her eyes red and fiery, her hair a matted ash-black that reached halfway down her back like a thousand caterpillars, a garland of nettles around her neck, her purple and gold sari hitched up to her knee, a gold crown on her head.

Then the women arrived: maids from the rich, daughters and wives from the poor, disobedient and unruly or quiet and submissive. Mostly the women were unattractive or had displeased their households. The temple maids—or Barohi’s angels as they were called—were trained by Shaukya and a few of his chosen men. A section of the temple had been cordoned off for the training period and no one was allowed to enter the area, not even the priest’s wife. The girls were sent to rooms around the altar. Each had a room of her own, with illustrations on the wall depicting her specialty. In their incense-filled, lamp-lit confines, the girls worked round-the-clock to teach the men of Dhruvgiri the art of love.

There was no dearth of devotees. Men came knocking at the very next day following the temple’s opening. The devotees had to give a donation to avail themselves of the angels’ services. Shaukya had convinced everyone that it was a divine act of love; both parties were cleansing themselves of their turpitudes. They served the women of the village by training the men, and encouraged their goddess to protect the village.  More men and women arrived everyday. After a while, no one checked to see if the  women in the village had grown healthier.

Then Selvi arrived.

The villagers later claimed the ground shivered and the river’s water roiled when Selvi was dragged into the temple. Her screaming was heard far and wide—the piteous screeching of a dying bird—as she struggled to free herself from the grasps of the two men holding her.

“This is wrong!” she cried. “Let me go.”

“Stop screaming,” Wagmani scolded. “You should be grateful. You’re the chosen one.”

“This is a lie,” Selvi spat. “A story concocted by that stupid old priest.”

The angels held their breath. Some looked nervously at the ceiling, dreading a shower of boulders. Others turned to look out the door, ducking their heads, as if fearing a flood.

“Shut your mouth, girl,” Wagmani hissed. “Are you calling us liars?”

Selvi glared back. “Why does the goddess speak to you only?” she demanded.

“Because I’m her divine messenger,” Wagmani replied.

Selvi laughed. “Wake up, woman. Your husband only wants to avoid the dark road to the brothel.”

Wagmani covered her ears in alarm.

“Shut your foul mouth,” she yelled. Then, turning to Shaukya, “Let’s take her to a brothel and leave her there. She doesn’t deserve to be even the temple’s maid.”

But Shaukya was looking at Selvi with interest rather than anger. A strange gleam had come into his eyes.

Selvi was anything but beautiful—or what they considered beautiful in Dhruvgiri. Her dark brown face was uneven and gleamed like fish scales. Her cherry red lips were fixed in a grotesque grin, even, when she wasn’t smiling. Long, grizzled hair framed her round face. She was thick all over: thick waist, thick wrists, thick calves. Plentiful gold jewellery sat on her skin like yellow bugs wallowing in  mud. Her father was rich, but had wanted to rid himself of the burden of marrying her off gettingoffgetting her married.

Shaukya thought Selvi was fascinating. He’d never known anyone so repulsive to be so fiery. The priest hadn’t been challenged for a while, and this could be interesting. The gold he’d take. The girl he’d tame.

So, when Wagmani raised a hand to slap Selvi, he stopped her.

“No,” he commanded. “She’s going to be my personal servant.”

“What?” Wagmani protested. “But you’re married to me.”

He looked at her with barely controlled rage. Wagmani averted her eyes. Shaukya gestured for his men to take a screaming Selvi to the training area and ordered that no other girl was to be taken in until her lessons were complete.

And so began Selvi’s time at the temple of Barohi.

At first, no one dared to venture close to the training area, but after three weeks, when the first of the maids did sneak pastmore out of curiosity than pitythey heard silence. hen giggles… soft chatter… laughter? They stopped in surprisesurpriset. Had the poor girl been terrified into madness?

Wagmani heard the news with trepidation. She’d noticed the changes herself. Her husband was a transformed man: more composed, dreamy-eyed, almost kind. A strange smile played on his lips. He scarcely heard her when she spoke and rarely called her to bed anymore. She grew increasingly bitter, until one day, after a fiery argument with Shaukya, in which the maids kept hearing the words “you told me to,” Wagmani rushed to the terrace and hurled herself off. Some would claim she was pushed a hand’s shadow was seen before she fell—but Shaukya quelled all rumors.

“She has sacrificed herself to the goddess,” he said.

And now Selvi was to take her place.

The wedding celebrations lasted three days. The village had seen nothing like it before. More remarkably, they’d never seen Shaukya so happy.

A month later, Shaukya called another meeting of the villager elders.

“Congratulations.” They clapped.

His face fell for a minute, then brightened again. “That good news will come soon. The goddess is benevolent,” he said.

“Then what did you call us for?”

“My wife has a wish.”

There was faint murmuring. That Shaukya was heeding his wife’s wishes was unusual. He was indeed smitten.

“What is it?” they asked warily.

“She says the temple angels have been working too hard and deserve a day off. A day of celebration.”

Well, no one had a problem with that. The girls were doing the goddess’ work after all, and some eating and merrymakingmerry-making never harmed anyone.

A grand feast was held in a large open space right outside the village, with dancing, drinking, music, all in excess. And within the hour, there was enough debauchery to churn an ocean.

Then, in the midst of all the delirious cheering and music…

“What’s that?” a voice from the crowd asked in wonder.

Everyone stopped. Turned to look.

Their mouths fell open.

The temple was up in flames. Great tongues of fire leapt up from it, greedy and unstoppable. The evening sky blazed red.

“What’s happening?” the villagers gasped, too shocked to move.

Then, as if an invisible hand had turned all their faces to look in one direction, they saw her, emerging out of the shadows, hair flying, wrapped in an eerie orange glow, mouth agape in a silent scream.

They ran to her.

“Where’s the priest?” they asked.

“Dead,” she whispered.

“What happened?”

“He’d displeased me,” she murmured. “He’d lied.”

“What? What do you mean?”

But she didn’t reply. Merely stood still, a flaming rock, her eyes unblinking, a soft, mad chant on her lips.

A strange calm overtook the villagers as they gazed at her, as if a puzzle they’d wanted to solve all their lives was going to finally unravel. No one thought to run to the burning temple to rescue the priest or save their houses.

Then, an angel spoke, breaking the hush.

“But… don’t you see?”

“What?” a mumble from the crowd, as if held in a shared dream.

“The goddess!” the angels said together.

The bloodshot eyes, the knotted hair, the bronzed face and nettles around the neck. The crown of gold, the purple sari, it was she!

The temple angels fell to their knees first, followed by the rest of the village, one after another.

They all looked up to the goddess, and listened.


Smita Bhattacharya is an award winning short story writer based out of Mumbai. She has published two books: He Knew a Firefly and Vengeful. Though, seeking to write the next big novel, she considers short stories her pièce de résistance. Her short stories have appeared in several Indian and international publications (The Statesman, DNA-Me, Fiction Magazines, Chicago Literati, Eastlit, Elsewherelit, Earthen Lamp Journal, Tall Tales, The Pomegranate Anthology). 


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Bill McCormick – Interview

Sean Clancy, one of Scummy’s main minions, was dispatched recently to learn more about the world of Korzac and its discoverer Bill McCormick. Here is the transmission Sean sent to Scummy detailing his findings:
kay, that should work.
It just told me “this call is now being recorded.”

Yeah I think they’re legally required to make sure everyone knows when that’s happening.
Oh, that’s cool. I do a radio show on Fox and we have all sorts of disclaimers.

Oh, no kidding? What about?
I do a weekly radio show called “The Big Wake-Up Call” on WBIG, which is Fox Sports, and I talk about anything but sports. I talk about politics and science and comedy, comic books, whatever crosses my mind. It’s a pretty free-ranging show. It’ll be seven years this October.

And it’s on a sports network?
They’ve got plenty of sports stuff, and they brought me in originally to do pop culture. It kind of got free-ranging, and then when I started getting science fiction stuff published, people would write in and go “Well, if you’re writing science fiction, do you know anything about science?” One thing led to another and here we are.

Always great when you come in for one thing and can move it towards whatever you want to do.
Like I said, it’s a pretty free-ranging show and it’s a lot of fun to do.The guy who hosts it is a guy named Ryan Gatenby, and he’s been doing it–I don’t know–twelve, thirteen years. I’ve been with him for the last seven. So it’s fun. Once a week, get on the radio, wave at people, you know. They can’t see me waving, of course, because it’s the radio, but I do it anyway.

Read KORZAC RIGHT NOW!

So with “Korzac,” it seems like one of those stories where a lot of thought has been put into how this species functions. Did you think of this alien species first, these strange, warlike bug-people? Or did you conceive the plot of the story first, and then slot this species in?
None of the above. I was playing around with a language exercise, and instead of just saying “this is ‘mom,’ this is ‘dad,'” trying to come up with different synonyms so I wasn’t always boring. Came up with “progenitor,” and once I started working with that I came up with this whole fake lineage of random names–mates and progenitors and different things. And I looked at it and I said “Wow, that’d be a fun story,” and I backtracked into it to figure out, well, what kind of species would do this and how would it work? Next thing you know I’m writing “Korzac.”

So you started with alternate terms for parentage and went from there?
Yeah.

Huh.
(Laughter). I know. But, it’s where I started.

Could you ever see Korzac or the Dernians–even something tangentially related to this setting you’ve created–appearing in other stories?
I try and keep my stories separate, but obviously I only have one brain, so things do occasionally cross over. With “Korzac” though, if I was going to cross something over, I would probably just go back and expand that story. It’s a story that if I really wanted to sit down and tackle into it, I think I could make at least a novella out of it.

It does seem like we’re coming in on the tail end of a larger story.
Right. I mean, “Korzac” is actually a slice of the middle if you think about it for a second. Obviously the Dernians have done all these amazing things, and now they’re starting to piece the galaxy together in one giant web. I actually wrote what the threat really is. I’ve got that on my computer somewhere. But it just became such a long, wandering piece that it took away from Korzac. If I was going to go back to it, I would insert that threat and build what the Dernians are like. Probably break out my synonym generator and burn it to the ground trying to get it all to happen. I’ve thought about it, but right now I’ve got two… three… two and a half novels I have to get knocked out and turned into two different publishers. Plus I’ve got four graphic novels and two comic books that I’m working on. Korzac is going to have to be a labor of love. But I’ll get to it. I know it’s one of those things.

What was really interesting about how they’re presented in the story is that–in part–they have this throwback, pulpy science fiction quality with your stereotypical empire in space, but also they’re strangely progressive. Like all good heroes or villains they view themselves as the protagonists in their own story, right? They think they’re doing what’s best? Is that how you see the Dernians?
I’ll be blunt here, I definitely ripped the whole pulp concept from A. E. van Vogt. I mean, everything he did was just larger than life, sci-fi pulp-type stuff. As a child that ruined my brain, forever. So there’s always going to be an element of that there.

As to the species themselves, it was more a matter of–like I said before–backtracking into how they would mate, how they would have all these children and do all of this stuff. I just started having some fun with it. That’s an integral part of anything I write. I have to have a good time doing it. So coming up with the different chambers… (laughter) and what they have to deal with just seemed like a fun way of doing it. And you can actually credit one of my ex-girlfriends for calling her private area her “cathedral and chamber of love.” So that made it into the story.

(Laughter) We won’t mention any names, but…
Yeah I can’t give her name out because I’ve got a new girlfriend now, who lives with me, and…

I understand. You mentioned the work you’re doing, and it’s always great to hear of writers who are able to get their work out there and be busy. Being busy as a writer tends to be both a curse and a blessing. I was looking at your website, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on self-promotion.
My experience is kind of unique, but it’s fun. I lost my job in 2010. I was going through a really dark time. So I started writing, kind of as therapy. I’d always written non-fiction. I wrote stuff that ended up on Fox, I’d been published in a bunch of different magazines. I did a lot of music-related stuff, because I’d played in bands and worked with bands for many many years–some very famous, and some “ehh.” Not so hot.

My experience was coming at it from the entertainment industry. In 2011 I wrote a story, called “And the Beat Goes Phut,” P-H-U-T. It got picked up by Bewildering Stories–much to my surprise and much to everyone’s surprise I think. They decided to release it on September 11, 2011. That was going to be the release date of the story. Then they realized that the “villain,” such as it was–“antagonist” I guess, would be a much better word–was this Muslim guy. It hadn’t clicked that September 11 with an evil Muslim might set off a lot of warning bells and sirens. Personally I wished they would have released it then. Probably would have gotten some great pub. But they pushed it back a month. Anyway it came out, and it came out to really good reviews. Again, much to my surprise. It was really my first real take at trying to do this. I’d played around with different stuff before but I’d never really, seriously done it.

That came out, and then a story called “If Thou Art God,” came out–which I wrote, obviously. Then, all of a sudden offers started coming in. Originally to write for a comic book series, and then to get other short stories done. I’m just kind of fielding stuff right now. I’ve had calls from different publishers and different things and sometimes it’s a good fit, and sometimes it’s accidental. Like finding you guys online.

Do you have anything you try to avoid when you’re sending work out?
My stuff tends to be edgier and a little more adult, so I tend to avoid any religious publishers. I see no reason to offend them. There are certain publishing companies that have very strict guidelines–some I can adhere to and work with and others that I just don’t. There’s plenty of room out there for everybody. Including me! I try to keep my audience engaged. I’ve got a few thousand people that follow me or are friended with me on Facebook. A few thousand more on Twitter. I don’t do Instagram or stuff like that–mostly because I don’t do a lot of photos. Only so many pictures of my ugly head I can throw online. We have a running joke that I have a face for radio, and that’s fine.

I love the fact that my last novel, The Brittle Riders, got bootlegged in Russia. On the one hand I’m upset they sold 35,000 copies of my novel and I’ll never see a penny from it. But on the other hand it’s pretty exciting getting fan mail from Russia!

If someone’s going to go to the trouble of bootlegging your stuff, clearly they liked it.
The funny thing is that, in Russia, the themes I touch on–in Brittle Riders, not in “Korzac,”–are actually against the law. This has got to be an underground book over there, because–

Like a Beatles, rocks and rolls thing going on.
It’s like punk rock literature. Very underground. That’s cool to me. I grew up being a punk. I was talking with a pastor at my church and he was like, “You’re 55-years-old and you’re still more punk than all the kids running around with safety pins.” I came up with a lot of the originals. There’s a lot of that attitude that’s ingrained in me, which makes me a little prickly to be around sometimes but, I try not to. I try not to drop an f-bomb every three seconds.

Any other upcoming work you’d like to plug?
The Brittle Riders trilogy is hitting the first week of April. “Korzac” is coming out, which I’m really stoked about because I wouldn’t let my girlfriend read it until it got published. There’s an anthology out called The Dogs of War, which I wrote a furry-themed horror piece (for). If you’re into furries, there’s a horror piece for furries that I wrote. It’s getting really great reviews. The story is called “The Loving Children.” Then my comic books Legend Parallel and Pestilent. Legend Parallel Issue 02 is coming out right now, and Pestilent will be out this summer. Both are very dark, both are rated “M for Mature.” They’ve got nudity and boobs-a-popin, and lots of really good violence. Lots of gross, mean violence. Ripping peoples’ hearts out and stuff like that–it’s a lot of fun.

That’s how I avoid therapy. See, I have these thoughts in my head, and if I acted them out I’d be in prison, but if I write them out they give me money. So I think this is better.


Bill McCormick began writing professionally in 1986 when he worked for Chicago Rocker Magazine in conjunction with his radio show on Z-95 (ABC-FM). He went on to write for several other magazines and later transitioned to blogs. He currently writes a sports blog at Jay The Joke, as well as a twisted news blog at World News Center. The latter provides source material for his weekly radio show on WBIG 1280 AM, FOX! Sports. Yes, you read that correctly, he does a show about anything other than sports on a sports radio station.

In 2011, Bill started submitting some fictional short stories to various publishers. Much to his surprise, and the consternation of linguists everywhere, they began publishing his efforts. Bill has expanded his repertoire to include comic books, graphic novels, and full length novels. He has currently penned everything from dystopian nightmares to cuddly children’s stories.

Bill is a big fan of nicotine, vodka, music, and this rambunctious redhead (formerly a bottle blonde) who keeps waking up in his bed.


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KORZAC: NÖRDICON OF DERN – BILL MCCORMICK

Korzac: Nördicon of Dern, Most High Admiral of the Fleet of Reverential Destiny, Honorary Moon God of the Exalted Planet Cloorbius, Holder of the Scepter of Gloptium Prime, Wielder of the Sword of Infinite Cuts, Prime Mate of Nizbo, Progenitor of Hazna, Quizbo, and Yath, Prime Mate of Ilxhan, Progenitor of Ooklsa and Horth, Prime Mate of Unquin, Progenitor of Jaexx, Wongaloo, Hipth, Sarf, and Tronk, Secondary Mate of Kandok, Junhre, Lorpa, and Krad, sat hacking into his claw like a skiggling zak.

The Dernian armada needed him to be focused and, for the most part, he was. His Vice Admiral, Oxlis, was a fine mind in his own right and made sure Korzac stayed on top of his game. And he hadn’t become Nördicon by having bad game.

Despite his current illness, Korzac was a prime specimen ,of the best Dern had to offer. Over six and a half feet tall with knee- length purple hair, perfectly oiled, cascading over his black and blue shell. His upper claws glistened naturally and his lower arms, with the traditional six fingers each, were finely muscled. His legs were thick and firm, and his hooves were perfect triangles. His pale blue skin and yellow eyes were straight out of one of those modeling books young femmes liked to swoon over.

Well, normally all that would be true. Right now his shiny black lips were dull gray, his bright yellow eyes were rheumy, and his smooth skin was oddly mottled. He knew what he had, and it wasn’t fatal, but that didn’t make it any more welcome.

He’d attained his rank while only having to use the Right of Assassination twice. The fewest in the history of the Nördicons. His ascension was the stuff of textbooks for all future Nördicons. He supposed that was something to be proud of. Maybe when he retired.

System 232: update.

Quantum bridges complete

Total loss of life: 6.38 billion

They’d slid into Wala-Un-sook space unnoticed. The Deceptor Shields having done their job, magnificently, again. Unlike that backwards planet, Earth, which had been kind enough to surrender right after they’d blown the first hole in one of their continents, the Wala-Un-sooks showed no inclination of being polite. In fact, they were being downright rude.

System 17: update

Quantum bridges detected

Current inhabitants reside on 4th planet from solar center

Population: approximately 1.72 million

Technological status: pre-industrial

Chance of survival… … Zero

He’d been forced to implement attack plan Gama Zed Zed Minor to counter the Wala-Un-sook. Which was fine. He knew his crew preferred a good battle before conquest. He watched as two battle cruisers pulled past his flagship and raced towards the edges of the Wala-Un-sook armada. They had placed their smaller fighters as protection and he wanted them taken out before he committed the destroyers.

They had their work cut out for them. This was the last system their scientists needed to create the Quantum Entanglement Grid, which would keep the invaders out of this third of the galaxy.

Of course, in accordance with the Diplomatic Gnosis of Necessity, they’d asked each planet for permission first. The Grid enablers on each planet would only kill about a third of their population and each was, naturally, offered time to evacuate within their system. All had declined. Earth had even threatened legal action.

That announcement had led to days of laughter in the High Council chambers. It was also the reason Korzac had decided to lead the assault there personally. No one sued a Nördicon and lived.

The Wala-Un-sook, on the other hand, would be offered an honorable defeat. Even as their entrails drifted into the vacuum, they’d earned that much.

At least.

He let out a garnoofing sound which caused the bridge crew to cringe without comment. He privately admitted it wasn’t pleasant while appreciating their decorum.

He hated being sick.

He heard a gentle rustle beside him and turned to face a young cadet. He forgot her name. She was holding a clip-pad with several icons highlighted.

Not everything was glory and battle when you were a leader. He motioned for her to speak.

“Forgive my presence, sir,” she began . “I have the updates on the Grid you requested.”

He nodded for her to continue.

“Since the Earthlings have agreed to participate in Xhak-Ko …”

His raised claw stopped her.

“What? With no Wark-Hana or Quandikran first? Are they that eager naturally or did Ilzak come up with some new threat?”

“As far as I know, neither sir. It seems there was some sort of fertility or rebirth festival going on when Ambassador Ilzak arrived to oversee the installation of the grid. It’s called…” she checked her notes, “e-stir, I believe. Our linguists are having problems with their many languages and religions, most of which contradict each other.  Anyway, sir, he decided to take advantage of it to see if he could get the work going earlier. About thirty percent of the population agreed to join in Xhak-Ko with us so he issued the Formal Writ of Apology for the little hole you left in some place which used to be called … le-wee-zee-anna … and repatriated the citizens of that continent to other locations, either on their planet or in their system, depending on their wishes. He is currently setting up the grid unit on the empty continent. He reports he is one galactic year ahead of schedule.”

He hacked again. Flushed with embarrassment, he nodded.

“Ilzax is one of the good ones. I once saw him stop a war with a simple orgy and some oils. Well, I hope the Xhak-Ko with those primitives was worth his time.”

“Yes, sir,” she continued, “he reports he has personally had carnal relations with eleven different humans, that’s what they call themselves, and says, despite their limited amount of orifices, they really seem to enjoy everything and, he enjoys them as well.”

Despite himself Korzac laughed. Then he garnoofed again. The cadet didn’t blink.

“Very well, cadet, is there anything else?”

“Yes sir,” she smiled, “the remaining thirteen grid units are now complete and have successfully finished testing. The ones on inhabited worlds have produced fewer casualties than predicted.”

He beamed.

“That is good news.”

She bowed slightly.

“Yes sir. Will you be needing sex before I go?”

He frowned.

“Sadly, no. I’m so glumped I’d never make it past your first chamber.”

She giggled at the old joke, bowed again, and left.

Korzac adjusted himself in his chair to better see the battle screens.

The destroyers were arcing into the main force of the Wala-Un-sook armada. The battle would be fierce, but the ending was inevitable. Wala-Un-sook would soon be the property of Dern.

 

System 837: update

Quantum bridges complete

Total loss of life: 1.31 billion

Survivors: 2.33 million

Rescue ships have been launched

Another look at the battle screens showed him all was going well outside. Oxlis could handle things from here on out. He nodded to him, rose from his chair, and exited the bridge. He was grateful the rituals of salutes and obsequiousness were abated in times of formal battle.

He was almost to his cabin when the ship’s doctor greeted him in the hall and handed him a small bag.

“Huff.”

Korzac shrugged, took the bag, and huffed it into all six nasal slits. He immediately felt better. He could feel it, go glass-ice in his veins like the shatter-shatter of his youthful indiscretions.

He turned to the doctor and smiled.

“Believe it or not it’s an Earth remedy. Something called Anthrax. Doesn’t seem to do them any good but it tested out perfectly against the Gorfian flu. How’s your breathing?”

“All clear. I can’t feel any congestion at all.”

“Good. You’ll still need a day of rest so go to your cabin. Your skin and muscles should be fine in two shifts.”

Korzac wasn’t due back on the bridge until then anyway, so this worked out perfectly. Instead of five days of misery he figured he could easily get to the fourth chamber now. He heard his lung rattle and decided that might be pushing things.

Still, he did feel better.

He got to his cabin and sat at his command desk. He pulled up the files on the invaders to see if there was any new information.

They’d been discovered one hundred years ago when Operation Oversight had been put in place. He was barely old enough to play with dolls when it happened. Dernian scientists had launched a probe one billion parsecs above the galactic plane. Their intent was to get a real-time map of this galaxy and its relation to as many others as they could. The idea was that a single location would garner the most complete data when all distances were equal and there was less time dilation to deal with.

What they found, instead, horrified them. An entire section of the galaxy, over forty systems, was connected by quantum bridges and those bridges were expanding. Someone, or something, was, literally, knitting together the galaxy and whatever life forms had been there were gone now.

All attempts at communication had been ignored. They didn’t know if the invaders were organic or cybernetic. All they knew was Dern, and its whole section of the galaxy, was in their path.

All the best scientists, and even many of the lesser ones agreed, within two thousand years this half of the galaxy would be under the control of the invaders.

In another ten thousand the whole galaxy would be overrun. Something had to be done.

An elderly scientist, named Quizex, had tried one last attempt at communication. He’d mapped out where molecules here were quantumly entangled with molecules inside the invaders territory. This would allow real-time communication. His plan was to send a variety of signals, ranging from the lowest audio to the highest visual, simultaneously, and see if they responded to any of them.

The plan was approved by the High Council and put into effect on the fortieth anniversary of the discovery of the invaders.

The quantum connection was enabled, the signals were sent and, then, something amazing happened.

One of the bridges erupted and shattered. They’d seen its demise through the entanglement andhirty years later, when the quantum ripples hit the probe above the galactic plane, they had confirmation.

They still didn’t know anything about the invaders but they knew how to stop them.

Scientists had spent those intervening years figuring out how to best use this knowledge. The day Korzac was announced as the new Nördicon was the day they had confirmation of their theories and presented their findings.

They would place quantum entanglement generators on fifteen worlds evenly spaced around Dern. Once enabled they would create a Quantum Dome which would protect them from an attack in any direction.

Their research had also led to these glorious Foldspace ships which could travel from system to system in a heartbeat. Combined with the Deceptor Shields they already used, they had the stealthiest––and most powerful––fleet known.

Within five years the entire grid would be active and Dern along with its sudden, if reluctant, allies, would be safe.

Korzac settled into his cabin, well pleased with the progress. He poured himself a snifter of gwindakwan, confident the doctor wouldn’t complain too much, and settled in to catch up on the latest news.

System 54: update

Quantum bridges detected

Current inhabitants reside on 3rd planet from solar center

Population: approximately 2.71 billion

Technological status: interstellar

Chance of survival: 40%

He silently toasted those who would be lost, and those who preceded them. Their numbers increasing every day. There was no way Dern could save them all.A glance at the grid screen showed him that, in this section of the galaxy, those few survivors would be safe and able to start lives on new worlds.

Now, if only someone could tell him who these invaders were and what they wanted, that would be great.


Bill McCormick began writing professionally in 1986 when he worked for Chicago Rocker Magazine in conjunction with his radio show on Z-95 (ABC-FM). He went on to write for several other magazines and later transitioned to blogs. He currently writes a sports blog at Jay The Joke, as well as a twisted news blog at World News Center. The latter provides source material for his weekly radio show on WBIG 1280 AM, FOX! Sports. Yes, you read that correctly, he does a show about anything other than sports on a sports radio station.

In 2011, Bill started submitting some fictional short stories to various publishers. Much to his surprise, and the consternation of linguists everywhere, they began publishing his efforts. Bill has expanded his repertoire to include comic books, graphic novels, and full length novels. He has currently penned everything from dystopian nightmares to cuddly children’s stories.

Bill is a big fan of nicotine, vodka, music, and this rambunctious redhead (formerly a bottle blonde) who keeps waking up in his bed.


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WHITEFLOWER DUET – R.A. GOLI

Amber Whiteflower skirted along the edge of the forest, the dappled sunlight casting picturesque patterns on the ground as she headed towards her grandmother’s house. Her tune was a cheerful melody that peaked and fell as her temperament dictated. Today it was lilting and high, indicative of the good mood she was in. She was excited to be visiting Grandma Lottie, who had been sick of late. So Amber had baked her some faeberry muffins and made quaffberry jam. The small woven basket dangled from her slender arm as she skipped along, the bird and insect symphony providing a soundtrack to her journey. Continue reading WHITEFLOWER DUET – R.A. GOLI

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A Critical Reappraisal of- Oh, Hell, It’s “Leprechaun 4: In Space” Isn’t It?

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No one even likes this holiday

Planet Scumm is a science fiction zine. Leprechaun 4: In Space is the fourth film in the Leprechaun series. It’s the one in space. It’s a science fiction film. It’s tangentially related to St. Patrick’s Day. God has abandoned us.

Any questions? No? Fine.

Leprechaun 4: In Space is like the fever dream of a Stargate SG1 grip who’s addicted to whippets. After an opening credits sequence featuring a ribbed for her pleasure spaceship and some Windows 98 screensaver asteroids (reminiscent of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but shit), we’re introduced to our ostensible heroes. Rather, we’re introduced to our gross, porny space marine scene-fillers, each doing their best to emulate Bill Paxton in Aliens. Now, you might be thinking there’s no way the schlock filmmakers behind Leprechaun would go for an Aliens ripoff in 1996, a full decade later. YOU’D BE WRONG. Wrong just like I was. Wrong about so many things.

I don’t blame you, Gabe.

(Side note: I watched this, like, a day after Paxton died, and I can think of no better tribute to the man than a movie which nearly surpasses his performance as Private Hudson when it comes to making space marines look like cowardly little mouthbreathers. Rest in peace, Bill.)

As we learn from Sgt. Hooker–a cyborg who likes to say “fuck”, which, you know, neat–the squad’s after an alien who’s been causing trouble at some mining colonies. Do these colonies mine gold perhaps? Maybe. Hooker never says because this is a Leprechaun movie that doesn’t give a damn about doing tricksy leprechaun stuff. BOO.

(Also, there’s no other place to stick this, but Hooker is played by Tim Colceri, an actor who makes a brief appearance in Full Metal Jacket. Yeah, Leprechaun 4: In Space is only one degree of separation from Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam masterpiece. Think about that when you’re trying to fall asleep at night.)

FUCK YOUR FINGER SOLDIER! SEE I HAVE ONE TOO!

Dr. Tina Reeves enters the scene. She’s our protagonist by virtue of the fact that she’s not immediately repellant. Reeves is a doctor of… something (space?), and DEMANDS that she be allowed to follow these TRAINED KILLERS to an UNKNOWN PLANET to KILL WHAT IS PROBABLY A LEPRECHAUN. Hooker’s all “Is that really a smart idea?”, but he says it in a condescending, sexist way, which totally undercuts his argument. So off they go!

Meanwhile, while the marines are loading their guns and rubbing one another down with oil, trouble brews on the planet below. A space princess in full Barbarella gear is chained to the wall of a hidden cavern and/or community-run climbing gym. And who’s behind this nefarious imprisonment?

It’s a leprechaun. The leprechaun, Leprechaun Four. Warwick Davis just walks out–no hiding in the shadows, no coy Irish brogue echoing through the cave–and starts chatting with the space princess. Leprechaun Four wants to marry her so he can inherit her planet, I suppose, and by way of persuasion he promises her a share of his gold. Of course, in a Shakespearean aside we learn that Leprechaun Four intends to kill Barbarella as soon as they tie the knot. Just what fans of the Leprechaun Cinematic Universe love–courtly intrigue!

This is the part of the film where questions start piling up, never to be cleared from one’s brain again. Why does a space princess need gold? Surely she’s already wealthy, due to her owning a planet and all. And, is gold even that big a deal in the future? Has Starfleet not perfected replicator tech yet? Leprechaun Four isn’t even offering her that much–it’s maybe a tableful of old-ass goblets and coins, stuff you probably couldn’t even melt down for circuits. And one more thing: WHY IS THERE A LEPRECHAUN IN SPA-

Anyway, the space idiots arrive and shoot the hell out of L4’s Duplo block cave. There’s a gag with a green lightsaber and a doomed marine named Lucky, because Ireland. Suddenly, one of the space idiots tosses a grenade next to Barbarella. Since she’s his meal ticket L4 knocks her out of the way and dives on the explosive, which blows him to smithereens.

Yeah. The frigging leprechaun dies. Say what you want about the team behind Leprechaun 4, but they had the stones to give L4 his Butch and Sundance moment in the first ten minutes of the movie. (That said, this is a deeply weird scene because it really makes you sympathize with L4. He hasn’t had time to do anything awful yet when the space marines barge in and turn his toddler playpen into a shooting gallery. When he takes a ‘nade for Barbarella it really throws into question who we’re meant to root for.)

Job done, the space idiots pack up the gold and the princess and head back to the ship. But not before Kowalski (yes, there’s a Kowalski, of course there’s a Kowalski) does a pee-pee on L4’s green, dismembered corpse. The rest of the marines laugh, and it’s not a “Wow, what a funny thing Kowalksi just thought up right now” kind of laugh, but a “Wow, there goes Kowalski again, urinating on yet another mythological creature we’ve gunned down in the name of mining rights” kind of laugh.

But not so fast space idiots! Some green lighting from the corpse travels up Kowalski’s pee stream, and suddenly the rest of the marines are making STI jokes at his expense. Like, is this a common occurrence? Is the company medic trained to treat urinary tract infections caused by eldritch energy? WHY IS THERE A LEPRECHAUN IN SPA-

Didn’t this happen in “A Sound of Thunder” too?

Back on the ship, we’re introduced to some supporting space idiots, who are apparently financing this mission. Space marines take contract work on the side in this future.

Harold is Dr. Mittenhand‘s assistant. He and Hooker have a meet-cute where Harold shows off the shrink ray he uses to conveniently store freight, and Hooker brings up A Totally Unimportant Point. To paraphrase:

“What happens when you need to make things big again?” asks Hooker.

“Oh, there’s a Make Things Big Again button,” says Harold, “Despite the name, it makes normal things big too.”

“Would that work on, say, a small creature of Irish folklore? A ‘leprechaun,’ if you will?”

“What? Why would you ask me that?”

“Please kill me I don’t want to be in this awful movie any mo-“

The rest of the crew parties-down in the shipboard bar, which looks like it’s been set up for a high school prom, or as a showroom for mail-order brides. Everyone’s getting lit on Zima, but not one person says “Hey guys, that was a leprechaun right? Like, we in the future all still understand the cultural context of a short little man in a green suit? Who’s magic? We were making jokes about Detroit and Stevie Wonder earlier so I’m assuming the still scans.”

Kowalski stumbles off with Delores. (Did I not mention Delores yet? Her story is that she’s another space marine. BOOM, you’re caught up.) They’re heading off to play with “Mr. Snake.” Sorry to disappoint, movie fans, but the space idiots don’t have an unimaginatively-named pet anaconda–“Mr. Snake” is military jargon for “Kowalski’s sickly green penis.”

And, for a brief moment, we’re left to wonder: at what point does Kowalski’s pee-paw end, and the leprechaun begin?

Kowalski and Delores start smooching, and this makes “Mr. Snake” come out. Apparently, arousal is the final necessary component to whatever hex hit Kowalski’s penis, because as soon as Kowalski pitches a tent the leprechaun is reborn like Gandalf the White, and he burrows out of Kowalski’s crotch. (This is the part where most people will Google “Is Warwick Davis knighted?” He’s not.)

Leprechaun Four the Green starts tearing around the ship, looking to free Barbarella from the medical wing so they can get hitched. The rest of the crew gear up to kill it, again, AT ANY COST. Well, not any cost, really. More like “at the cost of exactly one more space idiot.”

See, they trap L4G in the trash compactor, and that’s full of bacteria which can quickly degrade organic matter. Cool, whatever, so Books and Mooch head in wearing biohazard suits. (L4G has one on as well, and it fits perfectly–where did that come from? Do they ever bring kids with these folklore kill squads?) Now, does L4G play some clever trick on Books and Mooch? Does he, maybe, conjure up a pretty lady or a large meatball sandwich, to trick Mooch into taking off his helmet and melting his own face off?

Nah. He just cuts Mooch. With, like, a knife. A regular knife.

Here’s the ultimate sin of Leprechaun 4: In Space. It’s not just that it has a cast of porny overacters. It’s not just that the scene on the box art never happens (and doesn’t even make sense, considering this is set in a future that’s far more advanced than lunar lander-era NASA). It’s that L4G is a dang leprechaun, and yet for the first half of the flick his chief methods of dispatching the space idiots are stabbing, shooting, and otherwise doing anything but leveraging his super-convenient, poorly-defined magic.

This mundane stuff keeps happening. After Mooch gets wasted, the space idiots have a pow-wow with Dr. Mittenhand, and they immediately opt to give the space princess to L4G in exchange for their own lives. Earth’s finest, folks.

Mittenhand won’t have it though. See, he’s a one-armed torso riding on a robot chassis (this is the part of the movie where numb fatigue sets in and the voices grow louder), and he needs the princess’s blood (?) to regenerate the rest of his body. After a lengthy discussion of the space idiots’ contract with the good doctor, Hooker comes to the conclusion that they need to protect the princess, or else they won’t get their stock payouts. Just what fans of the Leprechaun Cinematic Universe love–contract negotiation!

So, the space idiots go back out to kill L4G, who at this point is just wandering around the ship, quoting Shakespeare. Hooker tries to cheer up Delores, who feels guilty because her rockin’ bod made a small green man burst out of another man’s penis.

“Kowalski would have wanted it that way,” says Hooker. “He was a marine.”

There’s a space idiot named Danny, by the way. That’s relevant only because L4G kills him next, while singing “Danny Boy.” Then Delores gets it by, sigh, getting pushed over a railing. Come on man! You’re a leprechaun! Aren’t leprechauns powered by ironic murders?

While this half-assed hunt is on, Mittenhand is extracting the healing blood from Barbarella, using what looks like a Creepy Crawlers playset. Isn’t it weird to see something with porn-quality sets, but no sex? Watching this movie I just kept expecting a sharp turn into leprechaun sex but, nope. Never happens. Where’s my escapism, Hollywood?

After several gunfights (with a leprechaun) and one truly magical kill–L4G slams a serving plate into Harold’s face with telekinesis, pancaking it–our space idiots manage to lose the princess. BUT, L4G can’t leave yet, because he also needs his gold! Remember that? Remember the gold, and the shrink ray? Oh, also, Mittenhand’s been injected with a combination of princess blood, spider, and scorpion. Remember that, too. (Also: What’s my name? Do you remember my name? Why does everything look… green?)

Harold no! Who will host the ship’s open mic?

L4G catches the remaining marines off-guard, and he finally uses his weird leprechaun powers. What on, you ask? What does he use them for? Hmm? You say he uses them for a profoundly unfunny scene where Hooker attacks the rest of the space idiots while wearing a dress? How did you know?

Books, Reeves, and Sticks (there’s always a Sticks) kill Hooker. Turns out Hooker wasn’t even a cyborg–just a straight-up robot! Like in Alien! Does that matter to the space idiots? Certainly not as much as his wearing a dress seemed to!

“Human or not, he was a marine.” Was he though? Does it count if you’ve just been programmed to be a marine? WHY IS THERE A LEPRECHAUN IN SPA-

FUCK YOUR HETERONORMATIVITY SOLDIER! I’VE A TINY PURSE AND ROBOT LEGS.

At this point there’s no respite from the insanity. The film cuts away from a dead cyborg marine–sorry, robot marine–in a sparkly dress to Mittenhand, who’s now been transformed into a mutant Mittenspider. Just what fans of the Leprechaun Cinematic Universe love–spider-creatures with bad German accents!

“Mittenspider” is not my coinage, by the way–the monster actually calls itself that.

“Now, I am… Mittenspider!”

“The hell? Are you from a different movie? This is the Leprechaun 4 set.”

In fairness, this is what I look like every St. Patrick’s Day.

SO. L4G turns on the ship’s self-destruct, so that he can erase the evidence of his being a leprechaun in space, I guess. Sticks heads to Mittenhand’s lab to stop the explosion. Meanwhile, Books and Reeves accidentally shoot L4G with the growth ray, in the cargo bay. He turns into a giant and immediately looks into his pants with the implication–heh heh, get this–that he now has a Very Large Penis. Which suggests that, for all his leprechaun powers, he can’t make his penis bigger? That doesn’t seem like a tall ask for a leprechaun, but, hey, the miracles of science will suffice.

Apparently, getting hit with the shrink ray also turned off L4G’s magic, because he spends the rest of the finale clomping around the cargo bay like King Kong, trying to crush Books into a fine paste. You know, like the fae folk of yore! At the same time, Reeves rushes through the ship’s ventilation shafts, dodging Mittenspider.

In fairness, this is also what I look like every St. Patrick’s Day.

Wouldn’t you know it, our heroes manage to flush L4G out of the airlock, which is a famous ending never before seen in film and never seen again–certainly not from notorious anti-Irish filmmaker James Cameron. They also kill Mittenspider and save Sticks. (They couldn’t save my soul, though.)

At the last minute, the surviving space idiots guess the password to abort the self-destruct. As they laugh, L4G explosively decompresses in the vacuum of space, and his giant, gross hand flips them off through the viewfinder. And in a way, children, haven’t we all been flipped off by a little cash-hungry man with a green suit and a fake accent? Flipped off where it counts the most–the heart. I know I have. Also, I can’t hear the sound of birds anymore and my eyes are bleedi-

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! May the snakes below be kept at bay with your drunken revels!

By Sean Clancy, Planet Scumm’s Irish-American editor


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RONIN – PAUL SPEARS

Robotic Orderly / Non-Intrusive Nurse 3PK cares for its patients.

It cannot care for them emotionally. This does not interfere with its duties.  It delivers medication, checks life support machines, and bows to doctors and nurses as necessary. Primarily, the Unit is a comfort device. It does not possess the fine manipulation skills for surgery, and can only provide basic medical treatment. Only rarely does 3PK function as an actual nurse. Continue reading RONIN – PAUL SPEARS