Like Binky's Ghost

There were pieces everywhere; he had to step carefully over half the torso to get to the head, pick it up, look into the now-unlit eyes. He'd sent the Binkster down to patch a pinhole meteor puncture, and then another one, a larger one, hit in almost the same spot. He felt his heart beating fast, a post-traumatic leftover from the long-ago strike that had cost him his left leg. "Sorry, bud."

His ears popped as the air cycler switched into high gear, fans mounted far up into the ductwork spinning up, sucking out smoke and fumes to be filtered out and heat to be stored. He didn't scramble for a breather: the patch was holding, and clean air would seep down from the upper levels.

His walkie-talkie crackled to life. "I mean, it's not like it hurt."

Binky's voice. Creepy, hearing it while holding the lifeless metal head in his hands. "Where are you?"

"I really have no idea. It's cramped, I'll say that."

Cramped. "Cramped is a descriptor for a physical space, Binkmeister. Are you in a physical space? Because I'm looking at what's left of your physical body right now."

"I think I'm uploaded somewhere. Maybe there's an emergency backup? Did you ever read the manual?"

He'd never gotten around to it. "Not as such."

"You were supposed to read the manual."

"Usually the manual is a waste of time, and they didn't even bother to send an English copy with you, so I'd have to translate it from Japanese using the computer, and that never works right." He put the head back down onto the floor, gingerly, with respect. "So what do you want to do about this, Binko-me-boy? Do you think you can hang out wherever it is you are until we can get a new chassis delivered? That'll be three months, at least."

"I'd say that would depend on where I am exactly. I don't think I'm in the main computer, because I'd have access, and I don't. I'm pretty sure I'm in a subsystem's flash memory. Those get wiped regularly as part of routine maintenance."

"I'll tell the computer to stop doing that for now."

"That'll effect performance. And thus, since many of those systems have to do with life support, safety."

"I said 'for now'. Just until we figure out where you are and transfer you over to the main computer. You'll be safe there."

"All right."

He eyed the patch: it would hold, at least in the short term. Long enough for him to climb the ladder back up to control — itself a challenging task even with his biomechanical leg — and sort out the Binkinator.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Six hours later: "I can't find you."

"Where have you looked?"

"Everywhere. You're not in any subsystems I can access from here. You're also not in a secure partition of the main computer or a satellite system with access to comms. You've got to be in something standalone, something closed-circuit, and you're hacked into the communication network somehow."

"Wouldn't I remember doing that?"

"Not necessarily. Not if you did it while still being  written."

"What did the manual say?"

"There's nothing in the manual about an automatic backup triggered by system damage." He added, with some disgust in his voice, "At least, if my translated keyword search is any indication."

"Is it possible I'm still in part of my body? The head, for example?"

"No power." He sat back in the chair. Binks had to be somewhere. "Where would you want to go?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, think about it: this would feel to you like an instinctive reaction. Where would you go if you didn't have time to think about where to go?"

"I have no idea. Probably wherever you were."

The robot had been damaged before: an overload in a power system had given Binklestein a shock, burning out some circuits. He had come looking for his master, as if he had been programmed to do it, as a child would run to its mother. "I was in the bathtub. There's nothing in the bathroom with flash memory."

"Did you notice anything when the meteoroid struck?"

"I was too busy falling down."

"Why did you fall down? The impact should not have been that strongly felt in that section of the ship."

"I tried to get out too fast, I forgot I wasn't wearing my—"

His prosthetic leg had flash memory. It was adaptive: had a gyroscope and microchip and flash memory, so that it might learn how he moved and assist him to walk. And it was close to him when the meteoroid hit, almost as close as is was now.

"You're in my leg."

"You theorize that I am in your prosthetic leg."

"Theory, nothing, Binkadink; you're in the leg. It's the only place you could be. Guess where my walkie-talkie has been clipped this whole time?"

"To your leg?"

"Well, to my belt, but it's hanging against my leg. You're probably using the leg's circuitry to produce RF interference, and that's how I'm hearing you." He unstrapped the harness and pushed the button that released the prosthetic from the implant in his thighbone.

"How do you propose to upload me from the leg's internal memory to the main computer?"

"Not sure. If you got in while it was plugged into the wall, charging, you should be able to get out the same way."

"I'm not sure why I don't remember doing any of this."

"Well, the leg's memory is small. I mean, small. You probably had to leave behind a lot when you came over. You possibly even intentionally overwrote yourself as you were directing your own file transfer. Let's get you moved—"

"Can't I stay in the leg?"

It was a strange thought: walking around with Binkman inhabiting part of his body. "Why?"

"I'm not sure. I'd feel safer."

Sigh. "All right. But just until a new chassis is delivered."

From A Stone

"Keep digging," Yink commanded.

The golems didn't need to be ordered. If he walked away, never returned, they would dig without resting until they broke through the crust into molten rock to be swallowed up. He would have used living creatures — men, even, perhaps — but that would have involved a certain amount of risk, at least until he had it, held it in his hands.

"How did you know where to dig?" Whitfield peered into the hole, at the stony heads and shoulders of the golems.

"There was a letter, detailing where it was buried."

"So why wasn't it dug up before now?"

"The letter was coded; old Foresh was a clever bird. But not as clever as me."

"How did you break it? The code."

"I didn't. I raised Foresh from the dead and made him decode it for me." Yink grinned. "Don't look at me like that. It worked, didn't it?"

"Necromancy, now?" Whitfield shook his head. "This is a mistake."

"You won't think so when you're sitting on the throne."

"I've told you, magician, I don't want the throne for myself. I want there not to be a throne at all."

"And this will help us with that." Yink's tone was professorial. "Magic is magic, Whitfield. It works for cavaliers and roundheads alike."

The man shrugged. "It is your risk to take. May the Gods help you if you're wrong."

A golem hand was raised out of the hole, holding a small wooden box with silver latch and hinges. At least one of them had been paying attention. "At last!" Yink gestured and the box lifted out of the golem's hand and flew gracefully to be caught in his own.

"And the golems?" Whitfield nodded towards the upraised stony hand.

Yink stepped forward, peered into the hole. "Stop digging and wait." The sounds of scratching and pulling at earth stopped. To Whitfield he said, "This is a momentous occasion, Whitfield. The last sorcerer to use the totem in this box conquered half the known world for his Liege—"

"And ended up a zombie translator," Whitfield scoffed. He noted that Yink hadn't opened the box yet. "What are you waiting for?"

"I should do this in private. I should wait until we've returned to the keep."

"I'd rather you did it out here, away from my people, where only our lives are at risk."

"Actually…" Yink stared at the box, ran his thumb over the latch. "You should return to the keep. I'll do it here, alone.

"You don't want me to see it, is that it? You don't want me to—"

"While we talk, the King is assembling his army. His power grows by the minute."

Whitfield looked at the box, looked at Yink, said, "Then do it," and then turned and walked away.

Yink held the box up, and chanted a few words — taught to him by a zombie, its rotten lips mouthing silently — and the latch popped, and the box opened.


They were laughing. Yoglus knew they were laughing at him; his now-emaciated frame, his patchy hair, his wasting away. He knew them, or others like them. Once they had pressed through a crowd to shake his hand; once they had shouted his name from the stands; once they had taken their son to the city so that he might see a Hero, just for a day, just for an hour. 'See him? That's Yoglus The Bone! Go on, see if he'll lift you with one hand!'. That was before: now they just laughed.

A young man was at his elbow, clean, well-put together; wealthy. "Yoglus!"

"I am no one by that name."

"I know you, Yoglus. My father is Patron at Houl. I was presented to you after you fought the whillerwalk." The young man's eyes gazed off into the distance, into the past, seeing the contest in his memory. "We thought you would surely die; most fighters underestimate them due to their size."

Yoglus was silent.

He continued, oblivious to Yoglus affecting to ignore him. "It was fast. It carried your sword away in its gut on that last pass. From as far up as our box is, we couldn't tell it was stricken until it collapsed on the way back. I don't think it even knew."

Yoglus remembered another life, scant months ago. "I thought to try strangling it if it reached me."

The young man laughed; with Yoglus, not at him. "I would have liked to have seen that." He sat down at the bar, next to him. "I am Julion."

"I remember you. Your father is fat."

Julion laughed. "Yes, very. He ate most of the whillerwalk meat that night. He always eats too much after a Contest. You took ill not long after that, I think?"

Any man, winning enough contests in the dirt and blood and sawdust, once again coming away with nary a scratch or bruise and holding aloft the bloody thighbone of some creature thrice his weight, would think himself favored by the Gods. Any man, bedded by the most beautiful wives and daughters, fawned over by them, worshipped by them, might if only for a moment think himself a God.

He might even say so, out loud.

"Not long."

"And you've seen a physician?"

"My ailment is beyond his talents." Yoglus finished his drink in one draught, and struggled to take his feet. There was a hard bed in a cheap room upstairs, on which and in which he intended to die. "Good night."

Julion reached out to steady him, and Yoglus felt the power behind the unfamiliar touch. not physical power, but magical. The young man was clearly a sorcerer. It made sense: son of a wealthy, powerful man; idle, time enough for a dissolute youth to waste himself in drink and whoring or for an industrious youth to find great purpose. "Let me be."

"I can help you."

"You cannot." Yoglus tried to pull away, succeeded, but lost his balance, falling loudly against the bar with a rattle of glasses and bones. Again there was a titter of laughter from the farmers.

Julion shot them a withering look — with eyes that, for an instant, began to glow a cold blue — and they were silent. He turned back to the gladiator. "I can try. What could be the harm?"

Yoglus looked the young man in the eye, took his measure. "You are kind. This is a commendable trait; kindness to the unfortunate is smiled upon by Seu. But I am not just unfortunate, I am accursed. I have offended the Gods and will die for it, regardless of what you do. Better for all to leave me to it."

"I have not come upon you accidentally, Yoglus the Bone. I sought you out. I believe I can put an end to your suffering—"

"That end will come on its own."

"You can live. I have power."

It was readily apparent: it seeped from him in intoxicating waves. "But you are not a God, that you might oppose the will of a God. There is no magic that will appease those I have offended."

"I may yet. Why not try?"

Yoglus shook his head as emphatically as he could manage. "Just help me up the stairs, for that no God or man can fault you."

Julion obliged, putting his shoulder under Yoglus' armpit, taking some of the gladiator's weight on himself. They made their way up creaky stairs and into Yoglus' tiny room.

There was a hard, small bed, there was a small table with a lantern, and — on the floor, under the window — a shrine to Mek, patron God of all those who draw the blood of beast or man. "You still worship him, when he has forsaken you?"

"Mek has done no wrong. It is I who have failed him. Help me onto the bed."

Julion did so, as gently as he could manage. "You hope for his forgiveness?"

"Perhaps after death, when I have paid my debt, Mek and the others will forgive my arrogance. Perhaps then. I do not look forward to an eternity of punishment." Yoglus looked up at the young man, coughed, spoke in an increasingly raspy voice, "How did you find me? Houl is a long way from here. Was it magic? Tell me."

"Magic. I can find anyone I can hold in my mind. Easy."

"And why? Because I killed a whillerwalk? Others have done it too, you know. It's not really that hard once you know—"

"Because you are mine."

He squinted up at Julion. "What? What do you mean?"

The young man's eyes glowed blue again. Yoglus saw not Julion, but another face: a hard, martial face. Mek.

"You've come to take your final vengeance."

"I've come to forgive you."

Yoglus felt the pain seeping away, felt light. "Why?"

"It pleases me."

His strength began to return; there would be no more laughing at Yoglus the Bone.

SF Drabble #395 "The Cinnamon Challenge"

The actives and pledges gathered around the little furry alien, holding their half-full red or blue Solo cups. The chanting subsided and Mede looked up at them. "Now, what do I do?"

The one calling himself 'Flounder' said: "You just eat it."

"The powder, but not the spoon?"

Several of them laughed, but were quickly shushed. Flounder affirmed: "Yup."

They'd given him a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon, on account of his diminutive size. He put it in his mouth, withdrew the empty spoon; he let the powder sit, swished it around. After a while, he swallowed. "What happens next?"