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.

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The Rice Farmers Of Kryoc – Chapter I

“The Rice Farmers Of Kryoc” (1965)

an Ebert E. Bert novel

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Extract from Chapter I:

“Kryoc, World Of The Damned”

ImageRice.

That most valuable of commodities. That sweet ivory nectar.

Men would kill for it, men would die for it. For a taste of its small, supple, pillowy bosom. For with rice, as with all things, a darkness shadows a valiant purpose.

There was a land, thousands of miles across the galaxy, a land where rice was all.

That land was Kryoc.

A minute planet far within the Tichbar system, in between Koryoc, Kloryoc and the Seven Moons, Kryoc was made of rice. Or, rather, its bumpy, white, shaft-like hills were. At the core of every hill, of which there were an infinite horizon, lay miles upon miles, tons upon tons of the milky substance. It was a peaceful land where the Kryokees lived without conflict. For the Kryokees, the hills were sacred, none would ever dare betray their purity.

Without them, the Kryokees were lost.

Kylias* provided the people of Kryoc with all they needed. Rice farmers would travel to Kylias and there, they would carry home a calculated amount of Kjii* which would feed their families for years. But the Hargyans, a race of rice-seekers from a nearby star system, whose planet neither needed nor deserved rice, had infiltrated Kryoc with the intention of extracting all the rice from the sacred hills to use as currency across the universe, for that rice, the rice buried deep inside the Kryokian hills, possessed a crystal-like fragility and a taste purer than the sky itself. It was also extremely rare and, of course, extremely valuable. Even more so than the rice the farmers grew.

When the Hargyans came, with their weapons, their advanced machinery and their greed, the Kryokees, not being a warring people, had no choice but to cooperate. The Kylias had been drained almost entirely and the rice farmers became rice miners, working to extract the rice from the very hills they worshipped and protected. Soon, the Kryokees would have no choice but to rely on that very rice but by then the Hargyans would have no doubt gained global control over it and it wouldn’t be long before a famin would hit the Kryokees, a famin from which there would be no escape.

A small group of Kryokian rebels, The Kryad, was believed to exist but what could they do? The Hargyans were fierce and their army was far superior (there was no such thing as an army on Kryoc).

Rebellion was futile.

Or was it?

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The Talarians were peacekeepers, scouting the cosmos for conflicts in the hope of resolving them as best as possible. Their mission had been approved by the United Federation Of Space, Planets And Intergalactic Activities (UFSPIA) aeons ago and they were a respected race throughout the galaxy. The Talarian elders had prophecised the Kyokees’ doom and now their ship was approaching Kryoc.

In the Titanus*, the elders were seated.

A young Talarian soon entered.

To say young Hazar, son of Razar and Shazaria, of the 2nd Talarian Kingdom, was a beautiful soldier would have been an understatement: he was radiant. Like a star. His long, flowing blonde hair shone impressively and smelled like the finest Stign* in Glornar*.

“Young Hazar”, said the oldest of the elders, “You have proven your worth. Through rigorous training and exemplary displays of honor and intelligence in the face of battle, you have made us all proud. You are the son of your father who in turn was and remains the son of his. Your mother is your mother and you are her son. Hazar is your name. And now… rise.”

Hazar rose.

“You will be sent to Kryoc, where great evil has befallen its people”, the wise one continued, “We, the elders, have foreseen the most bleak of futures for the Kryokees. But, as you know, we only see what might be, not what must be. You will find The Kryad, guide them, share with them our ways so that a great injustice can finally be put to rest. Go now, young Hazar, and may the rice guide you.”

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*GLOSSARY*

Kylias: A lake of white, milk-like liquid used by Kryokian farmers to help grow their own rice.

Kjii: The white, milk-like liquid found within the Kylias.

Titanus: A large meeting hall at the heart of the lead Talarian ship.

Stign: Flower creature known for its powerful, unmistakable scent. Stigns, when crushed, are believed to bear aphrodisiac properties (if ingested anally).

Glornar: Region of the 8th Talarian Kingdom. It is mostly populated by Stigns. Most Talarians who have entered the region, have never returned. Those who have returned, remember it fondly.

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More extracts from Ebert E. Bert’s “The Rice Farmers Of Kryoc” will come soon.

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