Flash Fiction: “Post-Mortem, Pre-Mortem Report”

Resurrection is great if you’re living in a video game.  Maybe not so great if we ever put it into practice.  But who knows until we try?

 Post-Mortem, Pre-Mortem Report, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 656

Eyes open to a blinding light.  Someone mutters an apology and the light dims.  I blink and look up at the plastic ceiling.

“You’re back!” Kensington smiles and passes his med-scanner over me.  “Vitals checking out, neural activity seems fine.  Name and birthdate?”

Though my lips are tingling, I manage to say, “John Aaron Cross.  February 11, 2198…”

“And the last thing you remember?” the nurse prompts.

My eyes close.  I search my memory.  These backups are so unsettling.  Always hard to tell my last moments from my remembered dreams.

“Water.  Waves closing down on me.  Something wrapped around my neck.”  I touch my neck, but of course it’s fine.  The clone tissue is still tingling, but it’ll pass.  I’m grateful to breathe normally again.

“That’s fine for now.”  Kensington puts away his med-scanner and wheels over a breakfast tray to my bed.  “Just relax, Johnny.  CitySec will be in a little while to get your statement.”

When he leaves, I try to sit up.  It’s always a pain to come back.  Having to relearn walking, eating, going to the bathroom.  So what if it keeps medicine profitable?  And every time I come back and rehabilitated, I’m always one step behind the Exchange.

Eventually, Detective Wayne shows up at my bedside.  He’s Vulpine-American, an uplifted red fox wearing a CCPD badge on his harness.  Wayne sits at attention while an antenna perks up on his back.  All this to record my statement and feed raw data to the processors back at his precinct.  When I tell him every thing I can, Wayne yips in encouragement and races out of my room with his nose to the ground.

Days pass.  I get through the rehab course and am declared fit to return to work.  When I get my recording equipment back, I find that someone had deleted all my evidence.  I toss the stuff into a trash bin on my way out the hospital.  About time to get something less obvious for my next investigation.

But it’s bad news when I get into the cab outside.  The driver ignores my instructions and takes me to an empty lot behind the hospital.  Someone outside the cab pulls me out and jams a syringe into my neck.  Choking violently, I fall onto the pavement and look up at Ronny’s familiar face.

“How many times are we gonna keep doin’ this?” he asks me.  I see nothing but his dark suit and sunglasses as he crouches beside me.  “You leave the Exchange alone, Johnny boy.  It’s not good for yer health.  Keep hasslin’ us and I’ll make sure yer next backup’s loaded into a turkey that’s about to be my dinner.”

I can’t answer him, even if I wanted to.  So I don’t fight the poison that’s slowly shutting down all my freshly grown organs.  Ronny should know better.  You don’t become a journalist by letting a few setbacks or violent deaths stop you from running leads.

He even made a mistake this time.  While I’m dying, Ronny is still looking down at me.  Unlike the last three deaths, I have enough time to activate the optic-cam inside my right eye.  With rapid-fire blinks, I get snapshots of Ronny’s face and the license plate of the cab that drove me.  My last conscious thought—in this short-lived body, anyway—is to tag those photos and send them straight to Detective Wayne.

Ronny seems impatient.  He slams his shoe against the side of my head.  I gasp and feel myself fade away into the soothing black—

Eyes open to a blinding light.  Someone mutters an apology and the light dims.  I blink and look up at the plastic ceiling.

“Back so soon?”  Kensington smiles and passes his med-scanner over me.  “I don’t know how long you can afford to keep this up, John.”

I crack a bitter smile.  “As long as it takes, Ken.  As long as it takes.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Breaking Down The Fall of Man: Ron Moore’s Caprica

Copyright © 2009 by Syfy.

If you were a fan of the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, then doubtless you were interested in following the prequel series Caprica.  It had the same production value, dramatic tension, and rich soundtrack, but while Galactica was a military sci-fi show, Caprica was a family drama in a sci-fi setting that was building up to the cataclysm that jump-started the previous series.

If you’ve noticed by now that I’m referring to the show in the past tense, that’s because it was canceled not long after its mid-season premiere back in late October.  The remaining episodes will air in early 2011.

Even so, I want to talk about the series as a whole and how it compared to Battlestar Galactica.  First of all, its premise is different, as there isn’t a clear conflict between humans and Cylons.  The show begins with a terrorist attack by radical monotheists, which sends shock waves through Caprican society and deeply affects two families: the Graystones and the Adamas.

Zoe Graystone perishes in the terrorist attack–one launched by her boyfriend, no less–but she lives on through a near-identical digital avatar.  When her father Daniel discovers this avatar, he uploads it into a prototype robot that his company is producing–a robot properly known as as a Cybernetic Lifeform Node or “Cylon.”  This is only the first in a series of tragic decisions that Daniel makes, which nearly costs him his marriage and his career.  On the other side of the story is Joseph Adama, a lawyer of Tauron descent who lost his wife and daughter in the attack, and who struggles to raise his only son, William, future commander of the Galactica.  The Adamas attempt to maintain their ethnic identity while living on Caprica, facing discrimination and getting involved in the Ha’la’tha, or Tauron mob.

One of the recurring themes in this series is about sin and redemption.  The creation–and exploitation–of the Cylons proves to be the original sin of mankind in this tale, as their creator Daniel Graystone explains when unveiling the prototype:

This is our future.  Beyond artificial intelligence, this is artificial sentience.  It’s more than a machine–this Cylon will become a tireless worker.  It won’t need to be paid.  It won’t retire or get sick.  It won’t have rights or objections or complaints.  It will do anything and everything we ask of it without question… The desire to anthropomorphize, the need to connect is powerful, and that is why this thing is going to sell. We make them, we own them, they’re real. And the worlds just changed.

Such hubris, however, doesn’t just end with the Cylons, but extends to many human beings throughout the story.  Ardent monotheist and terror cell leader Clarice Willow manipulates Amanda Graystone in an attempt to steal her late daughter’s digital avatar, and has no qualms about eliminating anyone who stands in the way of her “divinely-inspired” mission.  Daniel manipulates Joseph Adama and his Tauron brethren into helping him advance his own career, even though he usually earns some swift retribution at each turn.

If I had to sum up the central theme of Caprica, given all the decisions being made and the actions undertaken, it would have to be this Biblical verse:

Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Though its success may be short-lived and its drama less than stellar, I still enjoyed Caprica for what tension it did build up and deliver on, and for the intricate worlds it fleshed out in its story.  The cast is great, especially the interaction between Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales, who play the heads of the Graystone and Adama families.  It’s quieter and less intense than Galactica, but it still delivers a solid kick, upsetting the peace in every character’s life with sharp setbacks instead of massive explosions.

Bibliography: Caprica.  Created by Remi Aubuchon, Ron Moore, and David Eick.  Directed by Jeffrey Reiner.  Syfy.  January 22, 2010 – October 27, 2010.

Where Death Is Cheap And So Are The Quests: Yahtzee Croshaw’s Mogworld

Cover design by David Nestelle. Cover illustration by Matt Cavotta. Copyright © 2010 by Yahtzee Croshaw.

If you’re a gamer or you read The Escapist, then you’ve likely heard about Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, an Englishman living in Australia who reviews video games on his online show, Zero Punctuation.  Yahtzee does five-minute reviews where he speaks really, really fast about the latest video game, usually emphasizing its negative points in the most hilarious way possible, and illustrating those points with simple and often-ironic animation.

In addition to being a reviewer for The Escapist, Yahtzee Croshaw can now also claim to be a novelist thanks to his recently-published fantasy novel, Mogworld.

According to Yahtzee’s press release, Mogworld is:

“…an idea I’ve been kicking around ever since those dark, unproductive three months I spent playing World of Warcraft.  It’s a bit of a cynical take on MMOs and the standard Tolkienesque ‘fantasy’ setting.”

And for the most part, he’s right.  The story is basically World of Warcraft from the point-of-view of an NPC who doesn’t know his whole world is actually one big gaming environment.

To give you an idea of the plot, try this summary on for size: Jim has been raised up as a reanimated sixty-year-old corpse to serve in a necromancer’s horde of the undead, but wants to go back to his previous non-existence.  He sets out on a quest in search of a proper death, encountering troublesome adventurers, strangely-behaving villagers, and beings from another world–specifically, our world, as two programmers attempt to work out the bugs in the AI of their new MMORPG, Mogworld, with poor Jim at the center of it.

The cast for this story is pretty great.  Jim is not so much the hero as he is the protagonist, since all he cares about is figuring out what’s going on and what to do with his current existence.  He’s accompanied on his travels by two other undead individuals: a chipper young woman named Meryl and a zealous priest named Thaddeus.  Meryl is an eternal optimist who counteracts Jim’s sarcastic cynicism, while Thaddeus is forever condemning poor Jim with such lines as:

“Be silent, venomous spittle of the Doom Serpent!”

And:

“The minions of demonkind are slippery with the foul butter of dreadful cows.”

Add on a host of minor characters ranging from the incompetent Slippery John to the psychotic Mr. Wonderful, and it’s not hard to see why Jim is so thoroughly depressed from beginning to end in this book.

If I have one issue with the story, it’s that the end wasn’t quite what I expected.  If you want a truly heroic ending, then look somewhere else.  Even so,  Mogworld is the kind of story that immerses the reader in a fantastic world just as any MMO would, the only difference being that it will make snarky comments about its world and even point out that man behind the curtain.  It’s irreverent, ironic, and at times, quite exciting.

Bibliography: Croshaw, Ben.  Mogworld.  Milwaukie: Dark Horse Books, 2010.

Cylons, Survivors, and Saviors: The Reimagining of Battlestar Galactica

Title card for Battlestar Galactica (2003).

If you grew up in the late Seventies, you might remember an old sci-fi TV show called Battlestar Galactica.  And if you’ve watched the Sci-Fi Channel during the last six years, you’ve probably heard about the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica by Ron Moore.

This franchise is a major staple of the modern sci-fi fandom.  While I’ve no doubt the original show has its merits, I’ve never actually seen it, so I’ll just talk about the premise of the 2004 reimagined series.

To sum it up, this is a science fiction story with the trappings of a fantasy. Human beings are traveling through space toward a mythical planet called Earth, while trying to survive an uprising from a race of sentient androids called the Cylons.  It’s typical sci-fi fare so far, but when you get into the story itself, all these spiritual and psychological elements keep popping up.  The human beings have a civilization called the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, the Cylons are fighting a war in the name of their One True God, and the whole journey through space is just one big Exodus narrative.

For all the ups and downs this show has taken, it does raise a lot of good issues like the concept of identity (given the Cylons who can impersonate human beings), the struggle to maintain one’s values in the face of annihilation (or to reject them and merely survive at any cost), and just what religion should be in a time of war (Fundamentalists v. Healthy Skeptics).

There are also a lot of memorable characters, thanks to the great cast in this show.  You’ll admire the leadership of Adama, you’ll despise but secretly root for the self-interested Gaius Baltar, and you’ll get whiplash in trying to figure out just how malevolent some Cylons truly are.  And despite what some may say about the series finale, I really think everyone who had a major storyline got a decent ending.

Battlestar Galactica is an excellent drama and adventure, with conflict that never lets up.  And if you’re interested in a more domestic but no less gripping drama, then I recommend you check out its prequel series, Caprica, which chronicles the rise of the Adama family and the Cylons.

Bibliography: Battlestar Galactica (TV series).  Created by Ronald D. Moore and Glen A. Larson.  Developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick.  Sci Fi Network.  October 18, 2004 – March 24, 2009.