The Electric Owl – Chapter I

The Electric Owl (1982)

or

Bot Hunter

or

Do Bots Dream Of Bi-Horned Unicorns?

Electric Owl Red

a Ragle B. Gumm novel

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All owls are electric.

To a certain extent.

But what if they weren’t owls?

This was the subject of Aardvark Magnussen’s ground-breaking scientific research. Anything could be genuinely electric, in theory. This, however, had yet to be proven.

Until now.

Aardvark had made an electric owl and this meant that, not only was his experiment successful and he therefore possessed tangible scientific proof but now it was time for the next step.

“Damn this headache.”, he complained.

Perhaps he was overworked, perhaps it was the stress. After all, his horoscope had not been particularly encouraging for this month.

“You will find the key. You will not like what the key will unlock.”, it said.

Petal Pladd was a telepath, her head was literally bigger than most people’s. Her predictions were, unfortunately, never wrong.

A few Martian poppy seed pills should do the trick, he concluded. They’d put him right to sleep and he wouldn’t remember Pladd’s cryptic nonsense in the morning.

After popping five pills, Aardvark sat down, dimmed the lights in his laboratory and fell asleep quickly and quietly.

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Dick Richards felt nauseous.

He’d just awoken from a particularly unpleasant dream: he was pregnant with a bi-horned unicorn, he was bleeding inside and out. The blood was white, like milk, and smelt like trees.

He heard a faint sound, was it raining outside?

Looking up, he saw, in the distance, the faint blurred curves of a naked woman surrounded by steam.

His wife Nat was showering.

Ex-wife, he corrected himself.

“Where’s that goddamned Happy Sink?”, he thought. Lighting a death stick blindly, standing up with a wobble. He twisted the tap, set it to “perky” and closed his eyes.

“If you’re confused, hun: it’s the poppies. You took a handful last night. “, Nat said all the way from the shower pod. “We made love again. You should set that thing to “perky” next time. You were drunk.”, she added.

Too early for poppies.

Never mind. She was a quick dresser. She’ll be out in a minute.

Coffee.

Coffee sounded good.

He smiled a little, just thinking about it.

If only coffee was still around…
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Dick’s fly-bike was hovering higher and higher, but not fast. He was in no hurry to get to this next job.

Dick was a bot-hunter: he hunted bots, bots that got out of hand somehow. It didn’t help that they looked like anyone else, like flesh and blood human beings. They paid the rent, though, and the imitation-coffee. Three-hundred floor apartments don’t come cheap and neither do those rare artificial beans.

The client was Aardvark Magnussen, some crackpot Swede with way too much money and way too much power, Dick thought smugly. In a way, Dick owed his whole livelihood to Aardvark. After all, the latter did build the first bot and all bots since.

I’ve been cleaning his mess for years. I hate him. But let’s face it: without Magnussen, I’m nothing.

This depressing realisation left Dick beaten.

Why did I choose “perky”? Perky never lasts.

Dick had never been this high-up.

He didn’t even know that a fly-bike could reach the clouds.

So peaceful up there.

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The inside of Magnussen’s office was vast and nearly empty save for a single desk and a winged creature perching on top of it, silhouetted by the Sun.

I had never seen an owl, Dick realised.

Those eyes…

He could hear the sound of footsteps heading in his direction but somehow, he just couldn’t look away from the animal.

“Mr Richards.”, said the female voice coming from somewhere on the other side of the room.

“Yeah.”, was Dick’s vague reply.

“We weren’t expecting you here so soon.”

“That a real owl?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On what you mean by ‘real'”.

Dick gives her a puzzled look.

“And ‘owl'”, she adds.

This was a good-looking gal. The classy, sophisticated type. And she was looking at Dick with a mix of disdain and curiosity. Sad thing was: it was probably a bot.

“You’ll have to wait, Mr Magnussen is still… away.”, she instructed Dick bluntly.

“You got a name?”

“Emily. Anything else?”

There was that disdain again.

“No. I’ll just wait.”

Emily leaves the room as Dick sits facing Aardvark’s desk. The owl flies to the other side and lands on the absent inventor’s chair.

Date with an owl, there was a first, Dick thought as he lit up another death stick.

“You can’t smoke in here, Dick.”

Dick takes a quick look around the room: he is alone.

Did I hear something?, he wonders.

“It’s a bad habit and it bothers me.”

That voice again.

Either Dick was losing it or someone was playing an elaborate prank on him. Neither pleased him much.

“Whoever this is: mind your own business.”, Dick said to the room.

“Oh but it is my business.”

Dick now started losing patience.

“What in the…”

“Death sticks aren’t good for you. Believe me.”

Just then, Dick’s attention turned to the only moving being near him: the owl, who ruffled its feathers and turned its head towards him just as the voice spoke. Quietly, Dick extinguishes his cigarette on the desk, watching the owl as he does it.

“Thank you.”, the voice said.

The owl blinked.

It couldn’t be…

“Mr… Magnussen?”, Dick asked.

“Yes.”

“What have you done?”

“We mustn’t speak now.”

“You’re…”, a stunned Dick interjects.

“My experiment is not complete, we will speak later.”

“W-word is you’ve made a bot. I’m looking for it.”, Dick persists.

This time, there is no answer.

Dick sits back, looking at the owl in disbelief just as Emily walks into the room. The owl promptly flies over to her and sits casually on her shoulder. Dick stands up, still stupefied and points at the owl.

“That owl!”

“I suppose you’ve figured it out.”

“I knew Magnussen was eccentric but I would have never expected he’d do something like that.”

“It’s all in good fun, Mr Richards.”

Dick takes a second to stare at her in puzzlement.

“In good fun?!”, he asks incredulously.

“The possibilities of bot technology are endless, that’s our motto.”

Dick shakes his head absently, he doesn’t reply.

“Maybe I could take a message?”, Emily suggests politely.

The owl defecates on her, she doesn’t react.

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Dick Richards is standing outside a noodle stand in the rain, chewing on a chow fun enchilada looking morose. He opens the newspaper to find several advertisements relating to space travel, promoting inter-planetary migration.

“The very idea…”, Dick thought, “Fleeing like cowards when we’ve got a perfectly good planet right here.”

Dick always believed in fixing one’s own world before contemplating another. He chews down some of that soy sauce and cheese and dumps the newspaper on the counter. He feels a slight tap on his shoulder.

“Vous have a rendez-vous, old bugger.”

Dick recognises the voice: it was Jacques Smith, another bot hunter. Dick could never stand the guy, or understand him with his confusing French Cockney accent.

Still, the man technically outranked him.

“I’m eating.”, Dick threw in a deadpan tone, before turning back towards the counter.

Jacques this time places his hand on Dick’s shoulder.

“Drole, sonny Jim. Le Commissaire wants you, innit?”

“The Commissionner?”

Jacques slyly grabs Dick’s chopsticks and proceeds to eat one of his jalapenos.

“Oui.”

Dick makes a face.

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Look out for Chapter II soon.

Only on wethemindthinkers.wordpress.com

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Daughters Of Uranus

Daughters Of Uranus (1974)

Daughters Of Uranus

a Gustav Belland short story

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Uranus was fertile.

And so they were born.

Out of Uranus, our fate was sealed and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.

The search for extraterrestrial life had reached its peak in the early 3000’s when scientists invented a teleporting device powerful enough to project human beings onto other planets. By recreating the Big Bang in a contained environment, Man discovered the source of life: the first cell, which scientists called “The Seed”. It is this Seed which paved the way for the creation of the Explorium, a gate capable of allowing a person to travel to distant lands without the need for a spacecraft.

Some planets proved problematic: Mercury was hot, Mars was boring, the Moon wasn’t a planet.

Dr Fredrick Thomson led the expedition to Uranus, assembling a team of capable astronauts and explorers with the common goal of unlocking the mysteries of the ice planet once and for all. Among them was Sharon Lang, an expert on Uranus, playboy astro-physicist John Tucker and decorated space traveller Rick Kirkstrom.

The team would enter Uranus and bring back samples.

Who knew that such a simple mission could go so wrong?

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It was a Sunday morning, Dr Thomson had assembled the departing trio in his office for a final meeting before sending them through the Explorium.

“Thank you for coming.”, he said in a welcoming tone, “I’m sure you all can’t wait to get going!”

“I went to the bathroom, so I’m happy now!”, John replied confidently.

After an awkward silence, Dr Thomson continued.

“This mission should be straight-forward but nothing is straight-forward with science. I wanted you all to keep that in mind, when you’re out there. While we have been fortunate enough to learn a lot about other worlds, we have never penetrated Uranus and there is very little we know about it.”

“You expecting some nasty surprises up there?”, Rick asked before Sharon also showed concern.

“Is there a problem we should know about?”

Dr Thomson smiled.

“There is nothing to be worried about. I simply urge you, all of you, to stay focused on the mission at hand. Distraction is dangerous, in space.”

Rick and Sharon share a slightly puzzled look as John picks his nose.

Shortly after the ominous meeting, the team were standing next to the Explorium in their full space gear facing the leader of the United States who, in the spirit of an impromtu photo op, had agreed to wish the crew well on their adventure.

“Have a beautiful time up there, folks. And I mean that, I really do. I got a lot of astronaut friends, a LOT of astronaut friends, believe me. I know astronauts. Nobody knows astronauts better than me. You guys are great. Have a great time up there. I mean that.”, was President Frump Jr.’s obligatory speech.

Everyone shook hands, pictures were taken and Dr Thomson stepped forward.

“This is it: you are about to be the first people to step inside Uranus. Make us proud and be careful.”, he said.

After a countdown, the Explorium was turned on and the crew was soon walking through the pink, jelly-like portal.

If only they had known…

Sharon was the first to walk on Uranus, the others soon followed.

“It’s cold over here, what the fuck?”, John said.

“John, do you realise that those are now the first words ever spoken in Uranus?”, Sharon responded with a cold stare.

“What’s your problem?”

Sharon shakes her head and keeps walking.

Around the explorers, nothing but ice, wind and fog. White hills and mountains on the horizon and, in front of them, a blank canvas. The sky was electric blue with a slight greenish shade.

“We have reached Uranus, over.”, Sharon spoke into her receiver.

The response was a broken buzzing, no discernible word.

“God damn it.”, she complained.

“What’s wrong?”, Rick asked.

“Audio’s out. I can’t hear a thing from back home.”

“Maybe they’re busy and shit.”, John remarked.

Ignoring John’s last comment, Sharon and Rick keep on walking through the slippery, violently cold environment. Eventually, they come to a large puddle. A thick brown liquid is oozing out of a circular cracked hole.

“Let’s take a sample and get the hell out of here.”, Sharon decided, “I don’t like this one bit.”

Sharon hands John a small vile.

“We need some of that mud: go get it.”

“Why me? I’m an astro-physhism!”, John complained.

“Your father’s an astro-physicist, you’re a rich kid with shit for brains. Now go get the mud before I tell everyone you shit your pants yesterday in the cafeteria.”

“Yes ma’am.”, a beaten John replied, picking up the vile.

As John approaches the puddle, Rick starts filming the surroundings with a small camera and Sharon gets on one knee to examine the frozen ground. Suddenly, she sees something move under the ice.

Startled, she stands back up.

“Rick!”

“What is it?”

“I… saw something.”

Sharon then tries to contact Earth again.

“Come in Houston, come in Houston. This is Sharon Lang. I have encountered a life form. We are coming back now, over.”

She turns back to Rick.

“We gotta go.”

“What about John?”

“Oh right…”

She turns to the puddle but John is nowhere to be seen.

“John…?”, she whispers.

Without warning, the ice breaks underneath her and she crashes through the ground screaming. Rick starts to run towards her.

“Sharon!”, he yells.

Noticing the cracks on the ice, Rick stops running and takes a few steps back. He stands there for a while, silently, not knowing what to do. The only sound is now Rick’s heavy breathing and the wind around him.

“Sharon…”, Rick says under his breath, with a lump in his throat.

The ground starts to shake.

The puddle bubbles.

“My god…”

Brown liquid promptly shoots out of the puddle like a geyser. Rick watches, in shock, as the mud falls back down turning a lot of the ground and the astronaut himself brown.

“Come in Houston… come in Houston…”, he mutters into his microphone, terrified.

Once again, faint static is the response.

Out of the puddle a sphere slowly pushes through: it stays floating in mid-air above the hole for a moment before flying towards Rick.

Rick starts to run back towards the portal and the brown sphere follows unhurriedly. Rick runs faster and faster, slipping and sliding on the ice.

“Come in Houston! Request assistance right now! I am being pursued by a… an unknown life form!”, he speaks into his mic in a panicked tone, out of breath.

Nearing the portal, Rick eventually slips and falls on his front, cracking his helmet a little in the process. The sphere quietly picks up pace. Noticing this, Rick stand with great difficulty and starts to run again. He soon realises the sphere is about to catch up to him and he runs faster than ever before, dropping his camera to allow himself more room.

He finally leaps into the portal and lands back safely on Earth.

On the laboratory side of the portal, Dr Thomson leaves his seat and runs up to Rick.

“Oh no…”, he says to himself, concerned.

A few other men run to Rick and help him sit up, Dr Thomson tries to see who is inside the suit as the helmet is cracked and covered in frost.

“Who is this? John? Is that you?”, he said, “Where are the others?”

Not getting an answer, he signals to one of the men to remove the helmet. The obstruction is quickly disposed of and a hyperventilating, pale Rick is revealed: his hair has turned white.

“Rick! It’s me: Dr Thomson. You’re home! You’re back! It’s alright now.”

An oxygen mask is placed over Rick’s mouth.

“He’s trying to say something…”, Dr Thomson remarks.

Rick, who is breathing a little better after a few seconds, pushes the mask away and gets nearer to Dr Thomson.

“Shut… it… down!”, he struggles to say.

A cloud of horror lands over Dr Thomson’s face: he stands up.

“Shut down the portal! Now!”, he yells.

But it was too late: the sphere suddenly pushes through the Explorium and, in a few seconds, it is on Earth, floating above a group of scared, confused technicians and scientists.

“What do we do, doc?”, an assistant asks, frightened.

“I don’t know…”, Dr Thomson replies.

A sound booms out of the jiggling sphere, everyone covers their ears.

Rick finally stands up, holding the oxygen mask to his face, inhaling.

The sphere bursts.

The brown liquid splashes over the people, the walls, the floors, the ceiling as a thick smoke and a foul stench fills the entire room. Those who didn’t pass out are either coughing or holding a handkerchief to their mouths.

Two glowing silhouettes appear in the middle of the room.

The smoke finally clears to reveal two young bald women, fully naked. Everyone looks up, without saying a word. The women scan the room quietly, intensely.

You could hear a pin drop, at this point.

Without warning, one of the women speaks in a strange accent.

“We are Uranus.”

There’s a beat.

The other woman opens her mouth: countless brown bubbles fly out.

The bubbles stick themselves onto the bodies of everyone in the room, turning every individual into a large brown sphere.

Rick picks up his helmet and quickly walks up to the main control panel.

“What are you doing?”, Dr Thomson asks with desperation in his eyes.

“I’m ending this.”

Rick activates the Explorium before slamming the control panel with his helmet over and over again. Dr Thomson attempts to stop him.

“You fool! You’ll kill us all!”

“We’re already dead, doc. Look around!”

The control panel short circuits and the Explorium partly bursts out of the magnetic field holding it together: it is now a vortex sucking everyone into it. Rick and Dr Thomson grab onto the edge of the control panel as the people around them, some of them brown bubbles, start flying into the pink, fleshy spiral. The two women struggle to remain standing and they are soon sucked in also along with all their loose bubbles.

“I can’t hold on for much longer, Rick!”, Dr Thomson yells out.

Rick tries to move along the control panel in order to reach the wiring going up to the generator. With his right hand, he goes to pull one of the wires but his other hand slips. Luckily, he manages to hold onto the wiring, which he starts to dismantle.

“Help… me!”

Dr Thomson loses his grip and starts to fly into the portal just as Rick successfully turns off the power. The Explorium and its vortex disappear. Rick falls to the ground and turns around: he sees only the bottom half of Dr Thomson’s body wiggling around in a bloody mess.

Rick takes a deep breath, stands up and leaves the empty room.

He walks around the corridors of the building aimlessly, as if in a dream. He looks around the rooms and finds no-one, had they been sucked in as well?

Wanting to get some air, maybe smoke a well deserved cigarette, Rick exits the building. He is surprised to find completely lifeless surroundings, with nobody in sight. Cars have their doors open but no drivers or passengers.

Rick feels a cold wind blowing.

And then…

A snowflake.

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More from Gustav Belland soon.

Only on WeTheMindThinkers.