Sunday, May 17, 2009

ELEPHANT WORDS, second week


A number of posts back - prior to the series "note from the editor" - I wrote about this cool place on the internet, Elephant Words, created and curated by Nicolas Papaconstantinou. The idea, to have six writers create short stories - in whatever form they choose - one a day from Monday to Saturday all inspired by the image uploaded that previous Sunday.

It's a cool idea, and I auditioned after seeing a post at Warren Ellis's now-defunct ENGINE. I didn't make the initial cut, but decided to continue offering my interpretations of the week's images in the open forum. That first week after auditions, Nick was wise to "replay" the offerings of those chosen to fill out the roster for the Elephant's initial six-week run. That meant the same image as the week before:

I decided to create a completely different story - where my audition had been a contemporary one set in Africa, this would be a futuristic tale in a fascistic, dystopian America (though the milieu may not be clearly defined). What I came up with is below:

A Journey Into Night
By Chris Beckett

Delilah walked down the street pulling her wire cart behind. It had been a good day. She’d discovered a decent amount of refuse she could put to use – a length of rope, some discarded sheet metal that was only beginning to rust, and a number of other pieces she might be able to sell at the market. But best of all, she had found an ancient figurine of Ganesh. It was a beautiful ivory with hardly a blemish on it.

She could remember her grandmother having just such an ornament, which had been passed down to her by her own grandmother. It had been lost in the upheaval that came years ago. Nobody in the lower classes had survived unscathed, and much history was lost in that time. Delilah could hardly accept her good fortune.

“Hey.” The tall man in his pressed uniform grabbed Delilah’s shoulder as he spoke to her.

“You do realize the sun is setting,” he said.

Delilah did not like the man’s tone and against her better judgement allowed her disdain to roll through her reply. “I do have eyes, and I can see that it is time for me to get home. I do not believe the bell has chimed, so if you will allow me, I would appreciate it if you did not delay me any further.”

“I could run you in for insubordination,” said the officer.

“Yes you could, but all I want to do is get home, and I would rather not cause you any inconvenience that my arresting paperwork would engender.”

She thought of leaving it there, but could see the officer’s arm was still tense on the butt of his pistol so she added, “And I apologize for being curt. I have had a long day and am quite fatigued.”

The officer leveled his gaze at a point between her eyes, and she felt as if he wasn’t even looking at her. There was a long pause before he dropped his hand from his firearm and straightened up to his full height.

“I’ll let you go this time. But I would advise against being a smartmouth, especially to an officer of the law. Next time, I’ll run you in.”

“Thank you,” said Delilah and walked off cursing under her breath.

Yes, it was a good thing to have found that figure of Ganesh.


Two of Gotham’s thought police – Janyx and Aramid – dropped from their suspensor-chairs and raced for the corridor, scooping up their helmets from the table as they went. Aramid linked into the net and pulled up the warrant on the holoscreen inside his visor.

Tag #: 0421598764-pw

Address (line #1): __n/a___________________________________________________
Address (line #2): __n/a__________________________________________________
City: __n/a_____________ ___State: __n/a_________ Zip: ___ n/a _______________
Phone #: __ n/a_________________ SSN#: __ n/a_____________________________
D.O.B. __ n/a________________ Gender: __ n/a______________________________

Criminal History:

WARRANT: JP-4278934-AA

Date: 22.06.57 Time: 23:07:17
Judge: Rt. Hon. Azim Akberali

Penal Code Offense Details
1138 Idolatry Unlawful worship of the deity Ganesh (Hindu; elephant-headed god; Ganesh is worshipped as the lord of beginnings and as the lord of obstacles; Ganesh is honored with affection at the start of any journey)
0812 Unauthorized expedition Subject is preparing to make an unspecified journey. Subject has no visa, has filled out no travel application, and has received no authorization for said excursion from the proper officials.

It didn’t make sense. “Jan, did you pull up the warrant?”


“There’s no ID?”

“It’ll be there when we hit the door.”


“It’ll be there! Now shut up and move.

“And make sure you go dark on the other side of the port, no vocalizing.” Aramid was unsure if it was anger or anxiety in his partner’s voice. Regardless, he shut up and kept moving.

Turning into the third room on the left, the two officers grabbed pistols from the wall and stepped over to the port-door, a bio-tech composite that was more a curtain of light than a proper door. Stepping into the waves of green light, the bio-energy read the two men’s DNA and darkness fell over them.

A moment later the two men were standing in the middle of a street on the other side of town. It was past curfew and the street was empty. They both started turning in circles, working to pinpoint the target. It was difficult. Something was interfering with their scans.

Aramid tapped the comm on the side of his helmet twice and brought the holoscreen back up. He started scrolling down through the thousands of red flags for the past twenty-four hours, filtering them for geography and threat level.

Two seconds later Aramid was left with only confusion. No flagged entries relating to this sector, no hint of illicit travel plans, nothing even tangential. How could somebody expect to exit the city without leaving a data trail?

Got it! Janyx’s thought was startling, interrupting Aramid’s reverie and snapping him back to reality. Two doors down. On the corner. Single female. Hurry up, I already pulled the security code.

Aramid fell in behind Janyx, his mind racing.

“Jan, don’t you think this a bit odd What are you talking about It’s just that she’s made no plans and Who cares How can she have time to make plans But don’t you think she would have to prepare for something like this Nobody makes a trip without getting things in order Will you stop whining and just do your job”

Their thoughts raced back and forth, twisting around one another, threatening to drown out either one’s arguments. As they ascended the front steps, Janyx – the senior of the two – cut off any more conversation, “Fall in and quit complaining or head back to the barn! Your choice, but make it quick.”

Aramid closed off his verbal center. To himself, he scolded his actions. More like a rookie than anything. He should have been running black the whole time.

Janyx punched in the keycode and palmed the identipad that slid up from the console. A silent hiss and the front door opened for the officers. Nudging it back with one hand Janyx led the way in, Aramid close on his heels.

All was dark except for a sliver of light leaking beneath a door at the end of the hall. Janyx turned and looked at Aramid who nodded assent. They both pulled their guns from their belts and stepped cautiously along the carpeted floor.

Reaching the end of the hallway the two men scanned for any hostile thoughts, but nothing registered. In fact, Aramid was surprised at how calm the thoughts emanating from the room actually were. It made little sense to him. He thought of mentioning it to Jan but reconsidered quickly.

Janyx palmed the door and allowed it to slide into the wall. The dim light washed over them as their lenses polarized automatically. The strong smell of incense assaulted their noses; a thread of smoke weaved its way toward the ceiling in front of the woman, whose back was to them. Before her was a small ivory bust of a weird elephant, which doubled as the incense burner. She looked up from where she was praying and met Aramid’s eyes in the long mirror covering the wall before her.

Aramid shuddered imperceptibly at her gaze.

Pursuant to Warrant number JP-4278934-AA, you will cease illegal worship this instant! Janyx’s thought spiked into the woman’s brain, slicing into her cerebral cortex with a severity that often left offenders with little resistance. But the woman flinched only once and then returned to her prayers.

Janyx raised his gun. He held it there for a second and then looked to his right, catching Aramid’s gaze. Aramid blinked once and then raised his own gun. The law was clear on this count. No worship of any deity other than the State would be tolerated.

Janyx warned her one more time. The thought-spike was so intense that it even made Aramid flinch a bit. The woman slumped over the short table in front of her, knocking the incense off its burner. But again, she recovered quickly and set about lighting another length of the incense.

Before she could get it properly lit, the two men fired their weapons, vaporizing her on the spot. And that was it.

The charred floor would be cleaned up later that day by drones and the house would no doubt be occupied come evening. There were enough applications for citizenship from those on the Fringe that it would be easy to fill the vacancy.

Janyx and Aramid turned on their heels and walked back outside where a transport was awaiting them.


After finishing the paperwork, Janyx and Aramid returned to the common room to wind down.

“Jan?” Aramid’s thought was filled with emotion He couldn’t remain quiet any longer.

“I do not want to hear it! You have some doubts about tonight. Drop ‘em. Once you head down that road, there’s no turning back.”

“And if I have to be the one to stop you, I’ll do it.”

“But –”

“No. Leave it, or I’ll be the one reporting you.” Janyx turned back to the vid and immersed himself in the drama on the screen.

Aramid slumped into his chair and tried to do the same, but he couldn’t get it out of his head no matter how he tried. She’d looked right at him, right into his eyes.

And she smiled. Why had she smiled?

Any comments or criticisms would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to lambaste me, but let me know what didn't work for you. The only way I can get better is to see these stories through different eyes.

Thanks and take care,

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