Plugs

Carla backed up so she could see the reef better. A tessellation of almost-identical shells, each occupied by something vaguely resembling an octopus, individually as intelligent as a cat, and about half the size of a cryopod. As in a coral, the “animals” were connected, forming one colonial organism. It sounded like the cell right in front of her was the one that had spoken. Last time, the colony had been much smaller, and it had not understood her next question.

“Which one of you spoke?”

I am only one. There is no one else but you.

That was interesting. The first few visits, she had not been sure it recognized her as an independent entity. And the language lessons she’d broadcast from the buoy seemed to have been assimilated. Was it gaining intelligence as it grew? She went through the rest of the questions, recording the answers.

“I’ll be back next year. Your health and prosperity.”

As on her previous visits, it only responded to direct questions.

You have returned. Why?

The reef was huge, extending several meters above sea level and for kilometers along the sand ridge. The base was lost in darkness. She hovered above the waves on the seaward side. As always, it seemed that the polyp directly in front of her was the speaker, though she never could see an organ moving or vibrating. She set up a slow leftward drift of the skimmer, to see if the conversation stayed with the original polyp or moved with her.

“You are my research project,” she said. “I study you, to find out how you grow, how you think, what you do.” The reef was silent for a bit.

Again, why? Small organisms that I eat don’t visit me. Only you visit me, and you are not like anything else I know. The voice moved with her, transferring seamlessly from one polyp to the next.

“I visit you because my people want to learn about others. Because we are not alone.”

Another pause.

Do you know others like me?

“I don’t,” she said. She and her Thesis Committee had agreed to say nothing about the fossil reefs stranded 100 meters above sea level. The reef spoke again.

I will create a motile form. It will transport my essence as you do for your “people.” There will be more like me. They will speak with you.

Your health and prosperity.

end

DISCLAIMER: The story below uses the names of real celebrities. If you think any of the events portrayed even vaguely resemble real events, please contact me—I have a magic lamp to sell you.
Eventually they found me. The media. I figured they would sooner or later, what with everything that had been going on. So I explained to them about the lamp, and about the genie and the three wishes. And I explained about how my first impulse had been to wish for the general selfish things that everyone thinks of, but then how I’d thought about it a bit and done what I think most people would really do if they’d been in that situation.
First I wished for lasting world peace.
Second, I wished for the eradication of all diseases and ailments.
“What about the third wish?” asked Dan Rather, who seemed to be the ringleader.
“I haven’t decided what to do with it yet,” I said. Which was true.
Things got rather ugly after that.
Matt Lauer started smashing my stuff with a baseball bat he’d brought. Crash. Crash. Crash.
“You better wish it back, you bastard!” Keith Olberman shouted.
Bill O’Reilly was sobbing into his hands, just repeating “I’m doing pet detective segments,” over and over.
“Wish it back!” They took up the chant, started advancing on me. “Wish it back!”
“You have any idea what you’ve done to my ratings?” Larry King had a knife.
In retrospect, of course, I should have turned them all into chickens or something, made them feel inner peace. I don’t know exactly, something. But I panicked. Katie Couric had a very vicious looking cleaver and kept letting out short yelps. And, yeah, I panicked. And I put it all back.
So that’s how that all went down, and how things all got messed up so bad again. Of course, nobody in the news is letting me get my story out, which is why I’m putting it here. I guess I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I guess I wanted someone to know.

The first time I remember noticing her was one day when leaving the nail salon and there was all that hubbub about the old Victorian for sale across from the post office. She looked non-descript enough, kind of like an investigator in an old trench coat and old hat.

 

People in the neighborhood had hoped a buyer would be found who would preserve the old house but instead plans were made to tear it down and put up another small strip-mall type office complex. Merrick Road was full of such, so it wasn’t the presence of more that was such a tragedy. I liked going there. I found my way there everyday. After, I went to the nail salon, the post office, and walked up and down the main drag. Always I rushed past the telephone pole full of flowers and photos.

 

“I see you staring,” the woman in the coat said.

 

“It’s such a nice building. It’d be a shame to tear it down. Just there, that office, used to be a shoe repair shop with the quirkiest old guy from down south running the place.”

 

“I know,” she said. “You could barely understand him, but thought he told the darndest stories…”

 

“How do you know? Are you from around here?”

 

“No, I’m on business,” she said.

 

She fished an odd device from her pocket, it looked like a crystal rod, and waved it about. I felt very uncomfortable and wanted to go.

 

“Places have memories tied to them,” she said. “And when they’re gone, well the memories, and more, are just un-anchored, shall we say.”

 

Suddenly I could see what would become of the house. The wrecking crew and bulldozers. I saw myself in that house; saw the faces of all the people bringing flowers to that telephone pole.

 

“It’s alright,” the lady said. She kept waving the rod. “Its how I save the memories. The house will be torn down soon and then you’ll be unanchored.”

 

“Unanchored?”

 

“You’ll wander aimlessly, then eventually forget who you are until you dissipate.”

 

“How long does that take?”

 

“Hard to say.”

 

“What if that’s what I want?”

 

She didn’t answer and I didn’t have choice. The rod was pulling me, taking me somewhere and I could not resist.

 

“Don’t worry. You’re going to like it with us,” she said.

 

But I didn’t believe her.

 

- End of Part One -

I trudged for a day in a direction that had not existed the day before.  Tramping to the bleak beacon was like plowing through mounds of slushy snow seeping through your boots.  When the pair of shining black beams smote me, the going slowed to a crawl.

I’d passed beneath the lower angle of the beacon’s lantern room’s reach before the sensation in my goose-pimpled flesh returned.

A white-bearded dwarf exited the base of the beacon waving a lantern, a replica of the one squatting on the beacon.  “Turn back!  Look not into eyes!”  His voice was mechanical, gear-grinding.

The journey had worn my patience so I toppled him.  He fell back flinging his lantern behind.  He hit with a clang; the lantern’s hinged glass door swung open and cracked against the rocky soil, and the cold, coal-black flame soared, guttered, and winked out in the indifferent wind.  The man groaned as I carried on.

Years of severe weathering had pocked the formerly sleek obsidian surface of the beacon.  I ran my hand along its rough flank and steered myself up the inner winding.  The rotting wooden planks protested the load as I pushed wide the trapdoor.

Inside the lantern room, I swung open the glass lens and slid shut the iron vent to suffocate the coal-black flame.  Ice crystals formed in the cracks spread across the vent.

The lens separated into smaller, distorting glass blocks–each chanced to point at the spire that had been my home since my days as unformed crockery.  From this vantage, it looked little more than a mossy screw, but each lens block also pulled it in some direction that made my attachment to it laughable–fat, skinny, hour-glassed, warped.

I pivoted and found myself gazing, across a broad desert, into a land leviathan’s slow blinking gaze.

“You fool!”  The dwarf was hoisting himself up on the floor.  “You’ve opened the gate to misery!”  He brandished a dagger, slashed and thrust.

I dodged.  “Wait.”  Again.  “I see your point.  Please.  Let me open the door, so the flame can breathe, and men do not look.”  With an elbow, I broke the ice and slid the door open, careful not to let the chill black light fall on me.

The dwarf tilted his head back and absorbed the light.

I threw his heavy metal frame into the flame and slammed the door shut.

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