10 Jul

Free Short Story: The Alien from Verapaz

The Alien from Verapaz

by Tobias S. Buckell

 

At five’o’clock, agents working for ICE swarmed through the doors of a childcare center on 35th Street, across the road from Eastern Park, and arrested the children of a superhero.

Simeon got called in at six, when he was already on the Scozi Island ferry and thinking about passing by the store at the terminal for a pet six-pack of something as hoppy as he could stand to bring home and put on ice so he could watch the sunset in his backyard. Maybe he’d even sit there and toy with the idea of getting some of the awl grip done on the boat’s hull, so that he could take the trailer up to the north end slip and get out for some recreational fishing.

But someone had fucked up, the phone started buzzing, and Simeon turned to look back toward the gleaming spires of the Financial District.

Nothing good would come of an all hands on deck alert, he knew.

After letting the buzzing go on long enough to establish that someone really, really wanted to reach him, Simeon opened a battered old flip phone.

“Simeon,” he said.

There was a pause on the other end. “You on the ferry yet?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit.” The voice Simeon was listening to was one of his superiors, a boss of a boss much removed and high up the heirarchy. Not someone he was used to hearing over the cheap phone. Bob somebody or the other. A red-faced, perpetually harried man in a well-tailored suit and a greying haircut that was aspirationally military short even though Bob looked a century away from any sort of boot camp experience. “We’ll send over a harbor patrol boat, stay on the pier when you get there.”

“That bad?”

“It’s ICE. They picked up El Fantastico’s children.”

“They what?”

“They rolled up El Fantisco’s kids in some sort of raid. We’re trying to figure out what dickless judge signed the warrant, but they probably hid who the kids where from the robe. There’ll be a car waiting for you. Unmarked Brick City unit.”

The call cut off, and Simeon stared at the water from the railing. He would need to stop and get a big mug of coffee when they docked.

#

The harbor patrol beat the ferry in, and there was no time for coffee. The officer on the semi-rigid inflatable looked annoyed at being used as a taxi, but didn’t take it out on Simeon, just gave him a bright orange PFD that smelled of gasoline and sat him down on the bench in front of the steering console.

Simeon thanked him and apologized on the other side. He scrambled awkwardly out with the help of the plain clothes officer waiting for him at the wharf.

“Thanks.”

“Lars Erikson,” the detective said, showing Simeon his badge.

“Simeon.” Simeon pulled his wallet and showed his ID. They were gliding up between steel and glass office buildings a moment later in the detective’s unmarked, boxy car.

“This the ICE thing?” the officer asked.

“Word already around?”

“My buddy Eddie said they took a super’s kids.”

“Something like that.” Simeon watched a drunken cluster of dark-suited traders stagger out from a bar. Already blowing that Financial District money.

“Fucking baby-cagers. They tried to get the 43 to do some surveillance for them, chief refused, then sent us to watch them instead. Our territory, you know? Fucking cock-suckers, the lot of them.”

Simeon felt a blow, the words an impact that left his chest tight and a swirl of reactions whipping past him, each one fading away as the seconds ticked by. He tamped anger and hurt down, looked over, and said calmly, “I’m gay.”

“Yeah, okay,” the detective said, not missing a beat. “That’s the good kind of cock-sucker, I’m talking about those asshole cocksuckers.”

Simeon let the rest of the ride lapse into an awkward silence.

When Lars stopped the unit and Simeon got out, the detective looked over at him. “You have to wonder: stealing a super hero’s kids? That sounds like the origin story for a godamn super villian.”

#

“This is Brick City,” said one of the officers standing outside the daycare center, Incredible Minds. “I can’t believe they found El Fantistico’s kids. I can’t believe they took them.”

Simeon joined the small cluster of uniforms inside after his ID was checked, and he was waved through. A young woman in a floral print dress sat on a chair in the corner of the room, her face puffy from crying. An officer was holding her hand and reassuring her.

“You’re the liason?”

It was a police chief asking. He looked nervous as hell, sweat dripping down the side of his face despite the soft kiss of the AC inside the old brownstone that had been converted into a daycare.

“I’m SRD, yes,” Simeon confirmed, showing his ID again.

“Someone played ‘not it’ and you get the shit job here,” the chief said, shaking his hand. “Superhero Relationship Department got called the moment we found out so that none of us had to… you know.”

Simeon felt sick. “Does he know yet?” He didn’t need to say who ‘he’ was.

“No press, and no one has leaked, I think, or he’d be here already.”

“When does he pick the kids up?”

“Any moment, according to her.” The chief jerked his chin toward the puffy-faced woman in the back.

“Shit.” Simeon wanted a coffee. Or a cigarette. Just something to do with his hands while he thought. “Where’s the rep from ICE?”

“They left a statement.” The disdain dripped from the chief. “‘No person is above the law in this country, even one with powers. ICE was following orders and the law.’”

Simeon kept a neutral expression on his face. “Where are the kids? I need to be able to tell him where his kids are.”

“ICE won’t say. Undetermined location. But I have a friend who works the buses.” The police chief scratched his forehead. “He really needed the job, been down and out for a bit. He got it out of dispatch that they have them in the addition to Collyhaven, the addition they made with that private prison company for holding illegals.”

“Illegals like the children of an alien from outer space who has unlimited powers, can fly around the world and shoot laser beams from his eyes?” Simeon asked. “That you know want me to go out and tell that we’ve locked his kids up in a cage upstate somewhere?”

The chief let out a deep breath. “A shit show, yeah. Will my men even be safe, staying here, or should we withdraw?”

“I don’t know. What the hell is ICE hoping to accomplish?” Simeon groused.

“They’re saying it’s a deterrent. If even a super hero can’t be here without papers, and the whole world sees this, then other people won’t try to come here.”

“Everyone knows that El Fantistico’s parents sent him here to escape Cataclysm, who’s sworn to kill him and his family. Breaking the kids’ identity like this risks their lives.” Simeon straightened up. “They’re going to go after El Fantistico, too?”

“Yeah.”

“How can you stop him from just going up to the jail and ripping it apart?” Simeon asked.

“I’m told that, if he finds them, the cages are wound with adamonite, from the pieces the Department of Homeland Security confiscated after the battle for Brick City, the first time Cataclysm attacked Earth. That saps his powers.” The chief handed Simeon a folder. “You’re supposed to give him this.”

There was a ‘woosh’ outside, a murmur of awed voices.

Simeon tasted acid in his mouth. He didn’t want to do this. But it was the job, right? He hadn’t grabbed the kids. He was just the messenger. He hated it.

He took a deep breath and went to deliver the news in person to the super hero that ICE had taken their children.

#

El Fantisco would be forever remembered for his role in fighting the Gruesome Five in the skies over Brick City, and we had all cowered as the skies had roiled dark with awesome power in the first duel against Cataclysm, who controlled dark energy from his gauntlets of fury. El Fantistico had created a frozen ice dam to hold the water at bay against the tsunami of ’83, and even disappated hurricanes at sea so that they couldn’t threaten the subways and homes near the beaches.

And that didn’t count the thousands and thousands of small things, too many to count. Muggers stopped, bullets stepped in front of, bridge jumpers saved, and cats pulled out of trees.

During the blackout of ’91, El Fantistico had lit up the sky over the city with his eye lasers. He’d been blind for a month afterward, depending on his finely tuned sense of hearing and clicks to navigate by sonar.

He never missed a day of protecting Brick City.

Why do it?

“Because when I had been thrown free of my own dying planet, you took me in,” he told a reporter by the foot of the Statue of Liberty once. “Because, when powers like this are gifted, it is a great responsibility.”

Now Simeon was looking at that same chiseled jaw, the dark hair with curls at the end, and those dark brown eyes. His cape, with the American flag stitched into it, brushed against the ground as he walked toward the steps.

“Mr. Fantastico,” Simeon stepped forward, wondering if those eyes could see right on through the fake calm he tried to project.

“You’re Simeon, from the SRD.” El Fantistico stopped in front of him. “I remember you.”

Simeon’s knees wobbled slightly. “I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.”

There were fifty years of clippings: El Fantisco’s exploits began when he was a teenager, and his powers had bloomed, but he looked like he was in his late twenties. He always had. That deeply tanned skin always looked flawless, the brown eyes ever curious and patient.

Even now.

“My secret identity has been uncovered,” the super hero said. “So I skipped taking the F-train over and flew.”

“How did you find out?”

“Super hearing, I overheard a tip line calling another reporter in my office that ICE had taken El Fantistico’s kids. I’m guessing you’re here to give me the bad news?”

Simeon wet his lips. “Yes.”

He handed the folder over.

El Fantistico read it, his mouth a tight line. Then he closed it, wearily, and looked back at Simeon. “They’re scared, in there. I can hear it on their breath.”

Simeon nodded.

“Walk with me, Simeon. Let’s reassure them, I don’t want anyone shooting at me, there’s a camera over there from the Post.” El Fantistico’s mouth twitched, an expression of disgust leaking through. “You know them, the ones who called my children ‘anchor babies.’ I would bet they’re the ones who uncovered me and told ICE where my children were.”

Simeon followed the caped superhero along the road to a bench in the park. El Fantastico sat down on the bench and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.

“You smoke?”

Simeon looked around, as if this was a prank, then took one. El Fantistico lit it by looking at the tip, his eyes glowing, and then lit one for himself. Together they took long drags as confused joggers passed by.

“Back in the 80s I used to do TV spots telling kids to not smoke for the Ad Council,” El Fantastico said. “Truth is, my lungs eat cancer for desert and I like the taste. Nicotine’s okay, too. I wonder if we had it back on the home planet?”

Simeon didn’t know what to say. But the cigarette stopped his hands from shaking so much, so that was a relief.

“I find it a ridiculous element of just sheer chance that, had my pod veered just slightly as I tumbled through the Seventh Dimension, I might have landed somewhere like… Iowa, instead of Verapaz.” El Fantastico blew out a long cloud of smoke that hung in the air above the path. “With corn bread, rural American parents, I could have had white skin and blue eyes as my genetic profile adapted itself to appeal to the people who found me. Do you think, Simeon, that my children would be locked up right now if that had happened, even though I still would have been an alien from another world?”

Simeon knew the answer to that, because ICE wasn’t knocking on the door of Amazing Woman, or locking up British or Irish babies at Logan International. But the superhero who’s parents carried him across the Rio Grande, led by a coyote, running away from death squads and crime, he was being treated differently.

He stubbed out the cigarette. “Look, I can’t stop you from going after your kids. I can’t imagine—”

El Fantistico interrupted him. “Do you have kids, Simeon?”

“No.”

“Then you’re right. You can’t imagine. You have no idea. When I first got the call, the first time this happened, I thought about destroying them all. Every single one of them. Every uniform. They wouldn’t have even had time to realize I was coming for them.”

Those brown eyes were slightly aglow, either with anger or actual rays.

Simeon glanced down at the ground. Just a blink, and he could be vapor. El Fantistico was right, he didn’t have kids. But he could imagine. And even just imagining, he could see the anger in people’s faces at the idea of detained children.

“What do you mean, the first time?” Simeon asked, frowning.

El Fantistico took another deep pull from the cigarette, drawing it all the way down to just ash in his fingers that blew away in a slight wind.

“They shot me when I tried to rescue them, my powers sapped by the crap they’d put on the bars. You warned me, but I had to try. I barely lived. The caped vigilante, he refused to come with me. He’s a billionare playboy, he voted for all this. But the speedy guy came and got me, so I got away. And when I healed up, I flew to the sun and went back in time.”

Simeon stared. “You can do that?”

“I can.”

There was another long exhale from the superhero.

Simeon had a thought. “If you can do that, you can go back and warn us–”

“I’ve been doing that forever. What do you think all the truth, tolerance, and the American Way speeches were about? And yet, here we are again. Repealing the fourteenth amendment, taking back citizenship, the camps. I think, it’s something you all have allowed to happen and I am going to have to leave it. Even a superhero alone can’t fight millions unless there are other millions willing to stand by my side. I can’t afford the bond payment they wand, not on a journalist’s salary. They’re cutting my position to hire more online listicle staff.”

El Fantistico stood up.

“So what now?” Simeon asked. “What should I tell the department?”

“Tell them that they could have stopped this. That you could have worked together to stop it. But everyone stood around, doing their job, instead of stopping something that should never have happened.”

And then, El Fantastico was gone, jumped into the air, a small divot in the asphalt where he had stood.

“That could have gone a lot worse,” said a worried officer, standing at the edge of the jogging trail.

Simeon wasn’t sure.

#

ONCE “DEFENDER OF FREEDOM” SHOT WHILE FREEING JAILED ILLEGALS.

Simeon didn’t bother reading the article the next morning, but the front pages all showed the same grainy security camera footage of El Fantastico, his cape riddled with bullets, blood dripping down the red and white bars, terrified children huddling under his arms.

The city was in shock.

The city was unsure. What would happen if Cataclysm ever returned? Only El Fantistico had been able to stop him.

The future was suddenly uncertain. And the same ICE agents who’d been interviewed saying that, under the new rules their jobs were ‘finally fun again’ were now reporting someone on 8th Street tossed a bottle at them. And the beat cop nearby had refused to give chase on foot to the perpetrator.

Simeon left his badge at home, crossed over on the ferry, and took the north train to Collyhaven. It was packed with the sorts of people Simeon had always regarded as drains on society. Coddled students, do-gooders, the overly concerned.

But there was an old veteran in one corner with a sign that said ‘FREE THE CHILDREN’ and a mother with two children. The northbound was packed shoulder to shoulder, and there was a grim camrederie in the air.

“This your first one?” the mother asked. “Protest?”

“Yeah.”

“Mine too.”

The train rocked. Simeon thought about the fact that he would be facing officers he knew, officers that worked with on a daily basis as he liaised between superheros and the police force.

It wasn’t millions, he thought, looking around at the train full of people headed toward the Collyhaven detention center. But it was a start.

A train full of small heroes.

 

About this story:

This story was written for my Patreon. If you’re reading this and are not a subscriber, Patreon is a way for people to subscribe on a monthly basis to support a creator to keep making great art.

For as little as $1 a month on my Patreon you can read these stories. If you enjoyed this story, consider getting more stories like this in your inbox every month!

Check it out at www.Patreon.com/TobiasBuckell.

12 Sep

Read ‘High Awareness’ a story I co-wrote with David Brin for free online in Overview: Stories from the Stratosphere

I really was a huge fan of David Brin’s Startide Rising in high school. Enough so that when an opportunity came up to collaborate on a short story with Brin, I had to do it just as a way of sending a message back to my 15 year old self to say ‘see the cool shit you’ll be up to in your 30s?’

The opportunity to collaborate on a short story came through the Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination which created an anthology of stories imagining the future of stratospheric ballooning and sub-orbital communications and observation. I promise a rollicking ride.

You can read the story Brin and I wrote for free by going over to the Center’s book page for Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere.

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02 Sep

Shoggoths in Traffic is now available in the September issue of Lightspeed Magazine

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So this is cool. Lightspeed Magazine has my first ever Patreon reprinted short story running in their September issue out now. It’s April’s “Shoggoth’s in Traffic.”

This is the story that Rich Horton reviewed in Locus Magazine and called “a clever Lovecraftian crime story” in a complimentary review and call out of my Patreon. He also said “you’ll not think of cloverleafs and other traffic patterns quite the same way after this!”

This issue of Lightspeed contains stories by Marissa Lingen, Timothy Mudie, Genevieve Valentine, Giovanni De Feo, Jaymee Got, Tamsyn Muir, Tony Ballantyne and nonfiction by Amal El-Mohtar, Joseph Allen Hill and has an interview with Theodora Goss. Exclusive paid content is a novella by Elizabeth Hand and a novel excerpt of Autonomous by Annalee Newitz, which is a book I’m very much lucking forward to.

I’m really excited about this because it’s a new audience for the story I wrote that would not have existed if not for the folk backing my Patreon. And with both a nice review of the story all by itself from Locus *and* a reprint in one of the top science fiction and fantasy short story magazines out there, I think it demonstrates the stories I’m writing for the Patreon are worth checking out.

15 Sep

Anthology LOOSED UPON THE WORLD is Now Available, contains two stories of mine!

From John Joseph Adams’s website:

This is the definitive collection of climate fiction from John Joseph Adams, the acclaimed editor of the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series and Wastelands. These provacative stories explore our present and speculate about all of our tomorrows through terrifying struggle and hope.

Join the bestselling authors Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Nancy Kress, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jim Shepard, and twenty others as they presciently explore the greatest threat to our future.

This is a collection that will challenge readers to look at the world they live in as if for the first time.

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(Via NEWS: LOOSED UPON THE WORLD is Now Available Wherever Fine Books Are Sold! – Loosed Upon the World : Loosed Upon the World.)

I have two stories in there, ‘The Rainy Season’ and my collaboration with Karl Schroeder ‘Mitigation.’ Mitigation went onto to heavily influence my desire to write Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever.

The Rainy Season has only appeared in my short story collection Mitigated Futures previously.

I’m quite honored to have these two stories included next to the other amazing authors in this collection.

02 Jun

Lithuanian Crystal Rain!

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This is cool, a fan sent me a nice letter about the Lithuanian version of Crystal Rain, which I hadn’t realized existed. It came out in 2009 from Eridanas, and that year was when I was in and out of the hospital a fair amount and out of my mind with worry about other things, so I totally missed that it existed!

A fan sent me this recent review, in Lithuanian, which is how I ended up finding out. Seemed like they liked it, from what Google translate muddles through to say.

That’s the 8th language Crystal Rain has been translated into, which is cool (it’s been Russian, Polish [not out yet], Czech, German, French, Romanian, Japanese, and now Lithuanian).

02 Jun

Some reading advice to breathless reporting about job-stealing robots

Pro tip, everyone getting ready to talk about robots and economics should read Jack Williamson’s ‘With Folded Hands’ and ‘Midas World’ by Frederik Pohl.

Which is to say, you all should interview some SF/F writers. We’ve been thinking on this shit for half a century, at least.

“It’s the same around the world. Western manufacturing jobs used to go to Chinese workers; now they’re increasingly going to Chinese robots, such as the million new robots that Foxconn is deploying.

Think you’re safe because you don’t work in a factory? Guess again. ‘In a move that could put millions of teenagers around the world out of their first job, Momentum Machines is creating a hamburger-making machine that churns out made-to-order burgers,’ reports Gizmag. A Cornell robot can learn how and when to pour you a beer. Well, never mind food service, how about social services? …Oh. Other robots have been shown ‘wiping the mouth of a disabled man and adjusting a blanket.’”

(Via After Your Job Is Gone | TechCrunch.)

03 Jan

New short story, The Rydr Express, sells to Stone Skin Press’s anthology The New Hero II

In the middle of last month I worked on a longish short story, featuring Pepper and set in the Xenowealth. I can reveal now that it was accepted for Stone Skin Press’s anthology The New Hero II.

Stone Skin Press kicks off with a line of original short story anthologies, each commissioned around a compelling central theme. First out of the blocks will be The New Hero, featuring the adventures of a new wave of iconic characters capable of standing toe to toe with such classic luminaries as Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, and Abraham von Helsing. … Following it is The New Hero II, unleashing a second wave of exciting new heroes.

For its impressive line-up of authors, Stone Skin Press taps the stars of the roleplaying game scene, supplemented by a roster of illustrious names from the literary, F/SF, television and comic book fields. A brief sampling of contributors includes Ed Greenwood, Adam Marek, Alex Bledsoe, Jesse Bullington, Richard Dansky, Monte Cook, Matt Forbeck, Julia Bond Ellingboe, Jonny Nexus, and Kyla Ward

I was tickled to see editor Robin D. Laws use the phrase “classic, straight-up ultra-violent bad-ass” in reference to the piece, so Pepper fans will be in for the usual sort of mayhem I try to deliver. I mean, there’s a serious fucking bodycount going to go down on both sides, all packed into 7K of second person perspective between-the-eyes trenchcoat flapping retribution. And someone’s going to hijack a nuclear powered train.

This is my 40th announced sale. There’s a 41st story accepted, but I can’t reveal any details about it yet.

In the meantime I’m writing 3 more stories I’ve promised editors this month as I also work on rewriting a novel, so 2011 may be quite a year for short stories for me.

03 Dec

Speculative Horizons is now shipping

Speculative Horizons, an anthology containing a short story by me, is now shipping.

In Tobias S. Buckell’s “The Eve of the Fall of Habesh,” contragnartii Jazim must carry out one final assignment before the armies of the Sea People lay waste to the city he loves.

Also included are stories by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., C.S. Friedman, Brian Ruckley, and Hal Duncan. It got a starred review from Publishers Weekly, as well as good reviews elsewhere.

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