Monday, October 19, 2015

The Artifact

"The Artifact" is based on the idea of an alien civilization on a rogue planet finding Voyager. Below is the very first rough draft. It is a bit too technical but for those who enjoy that, enjoy.

The Artifact: By Gabe Bentz

A thorough analysis shown that the artifact had existed for several thousand years. It contained a primitive nuclear system and what appeared to be a communications array of some kind. It seems to be very ancient technology. Some type of binary system controlled the communications array.

What was most comical about the system was the disk. The metal had  been damaged in areas from contact with space dust but the ridges could be distinguished. Each concentric circle contained a series of indentations. A laughable technology. The creators must have manually inscribed the patterns onto the disk, this is but one step up from a chisel. The machine was likely launched with a catapult or some equally violent event. Several simulations were able to define pattern. The indentations were the mechanical recording of sound waves. The noises which were created seemed to be voices. The speech was incomprehensible. There was no analysis which could decode the phonetics. Speech without mathematical reason or foundation.

A few musical-like sounds arose. Both were unimpressive again lacking understanding of the art in any form.

The only other portion of the artifact which might reveal more about the species that created it was a piece of metal. Unfortunately it was impacted by debris so much as to make it incomprehensible. The only viewable symbols are “\ O Y /- G |- R”

Clearly this was an object that was sent from some primitive species. They were likely in their final days of civilization and this artifact was meant to be a time capsule for their civilization.
The puzzle is in where the object came from. Its trajectory and dynamics were analyzed and simulated within the gravitation parameters of the galaxy. The solar system it appears to originate from could not possibly harbor life.

The solar system contains a Phase 2 star. Such a radiation source is certain death for any advanced life. It would not be able to develop advanced biological systems without having them obliterated by radiation.

The analysis of the planets shows that almost none of them has a sufficient atmosphere to protect from the radiation. But any sufficient atmosphere would surely bake any organic matter on the ground.

There is also the issue of how dirty the system is. Any planet on it would likely be impacted by any number of asteroids which would constantly wipe out life. Intelligent life would not have time to develop before it was wiped out.

Our own planet, Terra,  is devoid of a star. It was formed from a rogue cloud of dust from a supernova. This dust cloud created our planetary system. A single core planet with dozens of moons. Several of the moons were collected millions of years ago during our traversal of the galaxy. They were collected much like this object which entered our system several years ago.
Life was able to form on Terra because of its subterranean system. Our planet is likely ten times larger than the largest planet in the system where the artifact came from. Only Terra is entirely solid. But the planet is riddled with caverns. These subterranean areas allowed the early biological molecules to develop into complex cells without being disrupted by radiation or impacts.

Truly this artifact is a conundrum. It is likely that it originated from another wanderer planet like our own and simply passed through the system we observed.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cargoship 14: Chapter 1 (Part 1)

Chapter 1: 

Paul Stevenson was one of those rare individuals with an almost transcendent understanding of the world around him. “He could see something in nothing,” was the way he was described by many of his friends.
“There were times when he would walk into the office where a group of guys were arguing around a CAD table and, with a few flicks on the surface, completely solve the issue without a second thought,” remembers Jerry Harper a close friend of Paul’s. “He just saw things a different way.”
Paul Stevenson was born in 2031, the sixth child in a rural farming family. His parents Benjamin and Samantha Stevenson were people that had gained success in agriculture by embracing the new technologies that were developing but at the same time maintaining their connections to the past.
Benjamin Stevenson was a shrewd businessman who always got the better end of a deal. Not because he was a slick operator or a great negotiator but because he saw and could create opportunity where no one else could.
Stevenson had been a farmer all his life. Following in his father’s footsteps he purchased his first few animals when he left high school. Not wanting to attend college, an odd decision in the early 2000’s, he immediately set to work building his farm.
While not an officially educated man, Benjamin was very well read and informed. He always kept a pulse on the changes in his industry and its potential opportunities. This led him to great success in many of his endeavors.
Stevenson had been one of the first to adopt cloned animals, a huge gamble during the health conscious period. But, seeing that the control of the genetics in his farm animals would guarantee consistent quality and performance, he took the chance. This gamble paid off when genetically modified and cloned food gained respect in the health community for its enhanced nutritional content. Benjamin soon became a very wealthy farmer and cattle rancher.
Though as others saw the opportunity and began to jump into the cloned agriculture business Benjamin took another gamble and stepped backward to resort to traditional breeding in order to diversify his herd. This saved him a few years later when the lack of variation in the cloned herds led to a mass die-off when a particularly potent rotavirus mutated to be especially attracted to the few types of cloned cattle.
Paul Stevenson grew up listening to his logical father predict the future through a series of rationalizations. Benjamin often involved Paul and his siblings whenever he was conducting business at the dining room table. Benjamin Stevenson’s business prowess and forward thinking certainly rubbed off on Paul.
Samantha Stevenson was also incredibly competent. Samantha Philips had been a gifted student and athlete for most of her high school years. She had been accepted to attend the Google Industrial College where she studied applied physics while designing products for the company.
The industrial school was located near Fresno California. She was introduced to Benjamin at a young professionals meeting in the town. She had initially brushed him off as just a farm boy until he started offering very detailed opinions and solutions to some of the work she was doing. The two continued to meet for about a year before Benjamin eventually asked her to marry him.
Samantha Stevenson immediately left her career and studies to help Benjamin on the farm. Soon they had children running out their ears and both Benjamin and Samantha loved it. Their large family drew much attention, at the time, when more than three children was considered a large family. But Samantha was a dedicated mother to all of her children. Teaching them to read and write long before they ever entered school.
Paul Stevenson was the youngest. He had an older sister Anne, then the twins Jeff and Ben, and then the youngest sisters Tiffany and Alex. While there was a large amount of rough-housing the children always knew not to misbehave because neither of their parents had any issue with inflicting some pain to teach a lesson. But they also realized their parents loved nothing better than to praise their children for their accomplishments and good behavior. This system led to all of the Stevenson children becoming quite well behaved and accomplished individuals.
The farm, where the children grew up, was very rural. The nearest town was nearly a hundred miles away. Even with the air cars of the time that was quite a distance. But it offered the solitude the family enjoyed.
But such a rural location attracted another group also. The space industry at the time was booming. Lunar Base One was beginning to grow and actually have positive production of helium-3. Orbital power plants were aiding to the global power shortage and Mars was just beginning farming after the 2034 Bio-Containment Agreement was passed by the United Space Organization.
A small launch company, Space Solutions Inc., had set up operations next to the Stevenson farm. Paul grew up watching tails of fire and circles of light blast toward the heavens. And his parents were equally fascinated by the possibilities space offered.
Some nights the family would just sit on the porch of their home and watch a launch. Benjamin and Samantha would answer the children’s questions as well as a physicist and a businessman could.
It was unavoidable that Paul would catch the bug of space. He soon was digesting everything he could find about space travel. He learned the history, he learned how rockets worked, what the latest technologies were. He started following influential engineers and entrepreneurs. He would write them messages by which many were greatly surprised that the person on the other end of the line was a child under ten years old. “The questions he asked and the ideas he shared were some of the things that many companies had hidden in a backroom, waiting to reveal and yet here was this kid asking how this stuff would work,” stated Sam Stricken an engineer at SpaceX at the time.
Wanting to promote their son’s interests Samantha and Benjamin Stevenson pulled in some of their friends from Space Solutions to talk to Paul and help him with his ambition. By this point Paul was designing spacecraft and planning businesses around them.
Stanley Wilkers, an engineer at Space Solutions and a friend of Samantha’s, recalled, “When I met Sam’s twelve year old boy for the first time I had been expecting to tell him to work hard in school and learn as much as he could. I found that he knew about as much about the industry as I did. And was also doing some pretty detailed engineering. All I could say to the kid was “keep it up.” He was ahead of some college kids I knew.”
Paul maintained his passion for space all the way into high school. Though intellectually several grades ahead of his age group, his parents had required that he not skip any grades and participate in sports. While at first this seemed to Paul as holding him back, he eventually started to become, by all appearances, a very normal teenager. Engaging with friends and activities during the day   but engrossing himself in space at night. Bill Akin, a high school friend of Paul’s said “Paul was a weird guy ‘cause he was as normal as any other kid when you saw him in the halls at school. He had a lot of energy, a real sharp wit, and was a good basketball player. But if you ever looked in his backpack you would see textbooks on math and engineering and if you ever made it to his room it was like a nerd’s paradise. Paul was just really rounded.”
Unfortunately, Paul’s choice of careers changed suddenly his sophomore year in high school. He was walking across the street to head home from school when a smartcar went out of control and hit him on the street. It was later found that the car had been hacked. The owners of the car weren’t able to get manual control of the vehicle before it crushed both of Paul’s legs. The damage was so severe that even stem cell therapy wouldn’t help.
Paul’s parents walked into his hospital room after the doctors gave them the news and told Ben that his legs would have to be amputated.
Amazingly Paul responded with a bright smile and said “Cool I’ll get to try out this idea I had.” Paul had been diversifying his interests the last year or so and had gained an interest in prosthetics.
“I never saw anyone so excited about being crippled,” said Dr. Sandling the surgeon who amputated Paul’s legs.
Paul was given a set of biomechanical legs to work with. While they were high quality and the link to Paul’s nervous system was stable enough, Paul was incredibly disappointed with their performance. They were lightly built and felt as if they would easily break if put through extreme abuse. Paul was used to running around in the dirt and the mud of the farm. Now he had a pair of high tech legs that let him walk and even run but on nothing other than clean floors and asphalt.
He immediately set to work in the farm’s shop to build himself something that was a bit more rugged. “He started building something that was completely different from any of the prosthetics out there. It started as if he was making a wheel chair but then it started getting taller,”  said Benjamin, who often helped his son with the fabrication.
The result was neither wheel chair nor legs, but a hybrid of the two. Paul called it the BiPed, which was actually a play on the word bicycle and the appendages he had lost. The device stood about three feet tall. It had an electric base with four rugged tires. Then a thick trunk that rose from the center of the base. This trunk had a single hydraulically powered knee and “ankle” that allowed it to crouch and lean forward. Paul was able to fit the stumps of his legs into a socket at the top of the trunk and then link his smartband to the system to control the knee and ankle.
The first design was actually quite crude. Most of the parts Ben had scrounged from a few nearby scrapyards. Hydraulics was beginning to be replaced by electromagnetics so there were many operable units that were just thrown away.
Ben soon started using his BiPed instead of his highly expensive legs. But his parents didn’t mind. “We were just happy that he found so much enjoyment hacking his injury for the better,” stated Samantha.
Paul continually upgraded his robotic prosthesis. He eventually added electrodes to the socket to read the nerve signals coming from his stumps. The electrodes he actually took from his original prosthetic, this did create a stir in the Stevenson household when his mother found out about it.
He also continued to improve the look. He started smoothing the edges and grinding down the welds he made. He added coats of black paint, inspired by early stealth aircraft. As time went by his creation morphed from a thrown together do-it-yourself machine to a near work of art.
Paul was able to dance in his creation and even crawl up stairs by twisting and flexing. The machine soon had his friends calling him “Cyborg.”
Paul’s friend, Bill Akin, best described the situation. “He was probably one of the most popular people at school by his senior year since his personality actually grew more infectious with his creation of a half robot body.”
Paul graduated from Skybrook High school in 2049 ready to take on the world and begin on a degree in mechanical engineering. Amazingly he was denied by some of his top picks for colleges. For some reason his interviews at some of the Ivy League schools didn’t impress enough. His mother had recommended attending some of the Inc. Colleges as she had, but Paul wasn’t interested in having his ideas given to him. So he went down his list and eventually ended up attending a small aerospace engineering  school in New Mexico. So he packed up the BiPed and a couple of suitcases and headed out. (Unfortunately, he had to check the BiPed in as luggage and take a wheel chair onto the plane. Paul later recalled that he never forgot how people felt sorry for him on that flight, even though he wasn’t hampered or discouraged by his lack of legs at all.
Smith and Hatley University was founded in 1914 when the world of flight was just getting started. William Hatley and James Smith had started the school to train pilots and explore the science of flight. SHU provided many pilots in both WWI and WWII. But it never really came into its own in engineering until the 1990’s and early 2000’s when they began to explore the applications of robotics in aircraft. The drone developments achieved at the school put it on the map. It also gained notoriety in the aerospace industry for creating high quality engineers that performed well in the established companies and the emerging space industry.
Having had such a close connection to the military for a very long time, SMU was almost a private Air Force Academy. It had a heavy ratio of ROTC programs and was a major place for inactive veterans to complete their education.
Paul wheeled onto the campus and was quickly a point of attraction. He would introduce himself at the orientation groups and would quickly be bombarded with inquiries concerning his accident and where he obtained the device. As this continued into the semester Paul began to calmly answer the questions and then move on with whatever he was doing.
Paul considered his prosthesis to be the status quo. He used it naturally as if it was truly a part of him. This attitude came through in his daily activities on the campus.
One of Ben’s professors was most impressed when “On the first day of class Paul wheeled into the middle of the front row with his lower half, and actually sat down without so much as a smirk, when everyone started murmuring about how naturally he used the machine.”
There were a few people however who, initially, were not very impressed with the clunky tree trunk of metal which was Paul’s lower half. This group was the combat hardened veterans who were also amputees. “The prosthetics of the time were incredibly complex. Able to mimic the biological leg in every way, even allowing direct neural control. Ben’s chunky “stump,” as we all used to call it, just seemed like something the kid built to get attention but wasn’t really very practical. I liked my legs just fine and I wasn’t going to replace them with a tank to have to wheel around.” This was the opinion of Sergeant Phil Peterson.
Peterson was an amputee from the counteroffensive against North Korea. He had lost both legs when he was hit by a rail gun round. His legs had been replaced with the best prosthetics of the time and he was allowed to live a normal life. Though he often missed getting dirty, just as Paul had.
Peterson and many of his fellow amputees ate their derogatory words about Paul when they were walking around one day in the early part of the semester and saw Paul fly by them at around thirty miles an hour and then proceed to spin some wheelies in the muddy ground before ducking into a nearby fountain to clean off and then continue on.
Now Ben was really getting attention. The BiPed was no longer thought of as a rebuilt wheelchair but as an upgrade. A machine that gave a person super abilities in place of disability. And though its design was still very home grown all the veterans that wanted to get the adrenaline pumping again, after losing a limb, wanted one.
Peterson was actually integral in getting Ben started in the business. He pulled together a few of his buddies and had Paul give them a demonstration at the school track. He wowed them all and several offered to buy his on the spot.
Paul was in business. He contacted an engineering firm that was near the school and had them start building copies of the BiPed, with a few upgrades, which he then sold to his fellow amputees. To market it even more Paul started a group on the campus which was like a motorcycle club for the BiPeds. There were probably thirty veterans that had lost limbs, all of them wanted a BiPed but until Ben could get them built they had to share the few available.
As each man got his Biped there was always a small ceremony where he would get it painted, like a custom car, and then take it for a spin.
Though the building of the BiPeds was actually very lucrative and helped pay the bills at college. Ben still was more interested in space. He was actually one of the few people that didn’t get a huge rush from the BiPed. It was good, but it wasn’t better than what he imagined riding a spaceship would be like. He wasn’t planning on building a career around his invention quite yet.
This changed in 2050 when an army colonel was performing a standard check of the ROTC cadets at the school but instead became more interested in the group of men zooming around on the hillside behind the training field.
“I thought they were all riding some kind of new ATV,” stated Colonel Peter Knells. “They were kicking up dirt and flying over humps like a SuperCross race.” When Knells went over to the area to investigate, he was surprised to find that the group was actually composed of the disabled veterans on campus.
He grew more and more impressed as the men quickly and easily formed up in a line to salute the colonel whom they all knew very well. Knells asked them to give him some more demos of the things that they were wearing. The men gladly obliged showing the colonel many maneuvers that could be done with the machines. From actually lying on their bellies and crawling under bushes, to beating through bushes and over rocks.
Knells asked who the company was that made the machines, and was amazed when the response was that a kid on campus built them for the veterans. Knells quickly worked to find out where Paul was on that Saturday.
Knells was in charge of the Army’s Infantry Research Division. He focused on many of the combat suit designs that were being implemented at the time. He had hated where the technology was going. The war department had forced him to focus on stealth and minimalist design. The wars in the Middle East in the early part of the century had changed the fighter into someone that had to work in an urban environment and perform like a controller for a robot army. This meant information was more important than actual action. Many of the exoskeletons in use by the infantry at that point were too petite for Knells’ taste and had actually been the cause of most of the Infantry’s casualties during the Korean Counter-Offensive. Knells wanted a machine that was better, faster, and stronger and he saw the potential for it in Paul’s Biped which was giving amputees superhuman abilities.
With a few questions Knells found out that Paul would be in the library studying. Knells went there immediately. Upon entering the building Knells scanned the groups of students for Paul. He located the prodigy in large reading chair with his Biped parked next to him.
When Knells approached Paul, the boy didn’t even look up until he had completed the page he was reading.
“I had thought that it was one of my ROTC friends coming to bother me and I never gave them my attention until they either said something or I was at a good stopping point in what I was doing. I was shocked when I looked up to see an Army Colonel take a seat across from me,” recalled Paul.
But Paul quickly shifted from slight shock into his charismatic personality, extending his hand for a shake and jokingly apologizing for not getting up.
Knells introduced himself to the confident boy and started to explain why he was there. “I told Paul that I liked his design for a rugged prosthetic and could probably get him a contract to develop it even further. But I also wondered if he could design something that would be more of an exoskeleton which could be used by people that still had their legs. I was then amazed as Ben pulled his tablet from his backpack and proceeded to show me several successions to the design of the BiPed. One with arms to give more support and abilities to amputees and even one for the average person to use. Paul had already laid out a development map for his idea.”
Knells asked Paul to present some of his ideas to Knells engineers. Paul recoiled at first with the fear that his ideas would be taken away from him. But Knells promised there was no danger of that. Trusting the Colonel’s word Paul agreed.
This was the point when Paul diverted from his path to the space industry. He was 19 years old and was about to be given military contracts to build stuff. Paul liked the idea of running his own business where he could be a free designer. Though space had always been his passion Paul had always loved to tinker. The developments for the BiPed only fueled that desire more.
So after Knells left him with the potential for military contracts Paul quickly went online and started searching for potential names that he could use for his company which were not already trademarked.

Cargoship 14: Intro

This is a fictional historical non-fiction told from the future.
When I started this book I intended it to be a story about the two protagonists. But at the same time I wanted to give a detailed vision of what the future space industry would look like. I wanted to talk about the technologies used and the people who used them. While that can be done in a standard work of fiction it can often become tedious to read and difficult to write if you wish characters to convey all of this in their dialogue or actions. There was also the problem of a theme and compelling story.
I felt that the story was compelling based on the accomplishments of the characters. But if I were to turn it into a piece of fiction that is unfolding before the reader then it could go on and on.
So I decided to take a different approach. This book tells a story of the future as if it were written by a history professor looking back from even further into the future. It is an historical non-fiction told from the perspective of a fictional future. In this way I was able to explain the technology and the people in a very literal way and help to show what might be needed in order for the space industry to grow enough to create a space society.
True I use my writer’s privilege to perhaps exaggerate what the future may be. As an engineer I realize that I may have overestimated some technologies underestimated others and surely created some that may never exist. And though I state certain events as having happened, I assure the reader that they are neither predictions nor expressions of any kind of sentiment. They are simply a means to create a compelling narrative.

I hope that the adventures and accomplishments of the crew of Cargoship 14 will help to inspire those who may become the real space adventurers in opening universe.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Dinner with Death

A satirical story of an old man teasing the person Death. By Gabe Bentz

This story I wrote for a class but the original concept was to create a screenplay that could be easily filmed. Much like Sunset Limited this story is an "at the table," reflective kind of story.

Dinner with Death

My, but Death is annoying. I swear that he comes calling in my neighborhood at least twice a week. He knocked on the door of the Robinson’s the other day when their young son Bobby was trying to learn to fly with a parachute made of bed sheets. He peeked in at Helen Norm’s house also recently, when a grandchild attempted to play a cruel prank. Why Death even had the audacity one day to visit me. Let me tell you how that fellow happened to be in my vicinity.
I’ll admit that I had been expecting a visit or two from the Ole’ Fellow with the sickle for some time. I have lived a good portion of my life here on this earth, with very few brushes with the old boy. It is only fitting that he make up for those missed visits now in my old age.
I’ll admit that I had been somewhat infirm lately. My doctor has been telling me about my blood pressure and saying that I should take it easy. I promptly ignore the young quack. After all I know my body better than he ever could learn from any medical schooling he may have had.
This caught the attention of that pesky Death after a while. I was in the kitchen starting to prepare my favorite supper, a fine collection of spaghetti and meatballs. And, the dear young Emily Sanders dropped by earlier and had been cooking again. I was far too polite to decline the gift and intended to enjoy it after my Italian dinner.
I was just about to sit down to my meal when I heard a knock at the door. I left my warm meal to see who could be calling. When I opened the door who should be standing there but Death himself. He greeted me cordially and asked if he might come inside.
Now, I am one who certainly respects Death. After all he must have one of the most difficult jobs of all. He gets to tell people it’s time for them to learn the answer of what comes after him. I wonder if he ever plays jokes on people to liven his job up? Maybe head for the pearly gates and just when Saint Peter comes into view he drops the person to the warmer place. But though I respect his job I feel perfectly justified in politely avoiding him.
Therefore, when Death asked to come into my home I simply said that I couldn’t accommodate him. After all I was in the middle of dinner and I didn’t have enough to offer him, though I don’t know if he would have taken it anyway.
And so I left him on the stoop. I returned to my meal and was again about to slurp up the warm pasta when my doorbell went off. I was now annoyed with the pesky fellow but felt as if I might some fun with him.
I opened the door again and this time Death was a bit more polite saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, but could I wait inside. I am supposed to pick you up a little later.”
Oh really! This fellow had the audacity to tell me when he’s going to pick me up. Who does he think he is?  Although it would be interesting to actually speak to the gentleman. I’ve never looked death straight in the eye before. I thought it might be fun.
I decided to give him what he asked for and allowed him into my home with a pat on the shoulder. I quickly glanced up and down the street to see if anyone had noticed that I was admitting the fellow into my house. Thank goodness. No one had noticed. I’d hate to have the neighbors worrying about me or worse thinking that I might be considering “harrie-carrie.” I personally have seen some people admit in death and I just can’t abide it. So many of these young folks today just aren’t brought up to keep such strangers at a distance. Why sometimes I see children playing with the fellow and the fool parents don’t have the sense to chase him away.
I found Death made himself quite at home in my dining room as he waited. I found it rather rude. I mean I had not been notified that he would be calling. And being one of those people that don’t clean the house unless company was coming I had left the kitchen and the living room adjacent to the dining room in a complete state of disarray. But Death didn’t seem to mind. I doubt he visits many places that are prepared for his arrival. I plan to have my life in order when I leave with him. But when that day comes I’ll let him know.
Death sat in the chair across from where my plate now sat on the table. He was reading a book completely calm. He was serene. I couldn’t have that. He spends too much time rattling people’s cages to not have it done to him once in a while.
“Here, Deathy, I won’t have my guests go hungry.” I placed the plate of food in front of him.
He hesitated at first. “Oh no, Mr. Smith, I would not deprive you of your… supper.”
“Oh nonsense there’s plenty more. Dig in.”
He hesitated again but then placed his manuscript to the side and began to eat. I went into the kitchen. I had lied of course. Being a bachelor you only ever make as much as you need. If you don’t you have ordered a pizza. Pizza! There was an idea that would make Death get excited. I’d give him hope where there wasn’t any. I called the pizza place and had them deliver a couple of boxes. As I waited I grabbed an apple and some carrots and returned to the dining room. When Death saw me his face tightened and he sharply slurped the bit of spaghetti that was hanging from his mouth. I smiled to myself at having ruined a part of his day.
I sat down and started munching on the carrot. Horrible things really. I just keep them around to let folks think I’m being healthy. I never had quite as good a reaction as from the dark figure at my table that night. He seemed close to death for a moment. Tight and rigid. He pulled up his sleeve revealing an arm covered in wristwatches. He checked one and then let out a sigh.
Death asked me with a disgruntled look on his face, “Mr Smith, are you going to do this all night? You’re resisting more than necessary.”
I smiled. “Why, Death, I don’t resist you. I simply decide to ignore you. Why should I simply accept your presence as I do gravity. You are not some force of nature.”
“But Mr Smith, you seem to draw me so often.”
“Ha I don’t want to draw you. You come sniffing whenever I cross a street or have a piece of cake. I just decided I don’t care what your schedule is. If I did, that would mean that I was waiting for you. What a dismal thought. Whenever I’ve seen someone wait for you life seems to leave them and you seem to be a bit slower on the approach. While I’m out in the world having a good ole time, you stalk me. But if I went home and said, “I’m too old. Death take me,” I would find you nowhere.”
“Because it isn’t your time.”
Death looked at his wristwatches again.
“Answer me this Death, old boy. What are all of those watches for?”
He smiled shyly. “They give me the time.”
“The time of what?”
“Then time when I need to arrive. Your time”
“Now how can that be, my boy? You and I both know you can be in the area anytime and yet you have a schedule?”
“That first part is not always true, Mr. Smith. When each new life is created it is given a specific amount of time until it must relinquish its time to someone else. Look at this child here,” He motioned to a watch that I was sure was not there a moment ago.” She was born earlier today. You will notice that the alarm is set for December of 2075. But at this moment she is having difficulty breathing and may not last the night.”
He continued to point out timepieces as he spoke.
“This young man here has several decades left and yet he is holding a gun in his hand considering calling me. And this woman here could live to see her grandchildren, but instead, is donating a lung to her sister who only has a few months left without it. So you see, Mr. Smith, your choices define how much of your allotted time you retain. You can waste it, give it up, share it, or hoard it and use it all. But eventually your time will run out and then I’ll take you, kicking and screaming if necessary”
“So tell me, ole’ boy, which of those watches is mine?”
He pointed to a worn leather-handled watch with the face scratched. It was simple but apparently sturdy. I could see that the alarm was set for just an hour away.
“Why this can’t be right. It says that my final time is an hour away.”
“And now you see why I’m here.”
“But I feel fine.”
“As do many when I arrive for the appointment.”
I was stunned. I was just given an hour to live. My, Death is just about as a bad as a doctor. Only I couldn’t argue with him. I just got the word straight from hood and sickle himself. I’d seen him linger many times but I realized then that he only stepped in if the person required him to. As he said, this time it was an appointment.
I sat quietly for several minutes thinking about this interesting circumstance. Death simply sat across from me and ate. All I could think was that I wasn’t done. How could my life end now? How could I leave my friends and family without even a few months of chemo to prepare them? I watched the dark figure at the end of the table, simply waiting. Not hovering, not anticipating, just waiting. He wasn’t hunting me as I had long believed. He was just the catcher waiting for the ball.
“Hey Death, I’m curious. Do you like your job?”
He dabbed his mouth with the paper napkin on the table before answering.
“I take you from this life to the next. Many of those that I collect are in the deepest of misery. They scream with terror at my arrival and writhe at my touch. And then there are those miserable souls who chase me and grab at my heels. But all of that sorrow and depravity is erased when I come for a soul when it is their time and they simply take my hand, stand up, and walk with me. Yes, I enjoy my job.”
The doorbell rang. I was jolted a bit but stood to answer it. When I opened the door I was greeted by a pimple-faced teenager holding two boxes giving off the aroma of greasy happiness. I paid the delivery boy, giving him an extra-large tip, and took the boxes into the house.
I was like a kid opening a Christmas gift. I looked at the warm slices, the cheese glistening with grease and steam under the yellow light of the dining room. I pulled a large piece away. Olives and cheese clinging to the rest of the pizza, unwilling to give up their connection. Then I paused just before the bite.
“Tell me something D. Would it take much off that hour if I indulged?”
I didn’t think it was possible, but I saw that shallow face curl into a smile. Not sarcastic, not even satisfied, just simple clean amusement mixed with a touch of pride.
“Go ahead, Jerry.”
I took the bite and the last strand of cheese broke.