Louis Ting is the lighthouse keeper on Mystic Island. He is also a war hero, satirist, artist, and wanted by the United States Government. He may also be the most prolific writer no one has ever heard of. Although his writings have been distributed all over the world, most of his one-of a-kind stories have been lost to the ocean’s currents.
The story below was found washed up in a bottle on the shoreline of Plymouth England. The man that found it, Harold Oswart, thought that the message may very well have somehow travelled from the future, a warning for mankind of a coming apocalypse. But it was just a story written by Louis Ting, the lighthouse keeper on Mystic Island. And Louis was just using the version of the World Wide Web he’d always used to distribute his writings: the ocean’s currents.
Believe it or not, you don’t even need to take a single breath to enjoy the smells of summer. Freshly cut grass, sea breezes, the smell of popcorn at a ballpark, they can all be enjoyed without even breathing. At least, that’s the case here in the future. In fact, you don’t even need lungs at all. You don’t need a heart, or liver, or kidneys, or any other organ really. You just need a head. Which is good, because that’s all I’ve got.
The year is 2104, and I’ve been recently revived from cryogenic storage. How I ended up in cryogenic storage over a hundred years earlier is a long story. Which I’m certainly willing to tell. What else have I got to do? Let me preface this story by saying that I am the biggest Red Sox fan there is. Or was. Or whatever. I’m not saying this because I feel the need to profess this fact before any conversation—although, that’s often the case—I’m saying it because it’s integral to how I ended up cryogenically frozen. And to how I ended up meeting the greatest hitter to ever play the game of baseball. It would also lead to the end of human civilization, but whatever.
We’ll begin this tale with what I like to call “the major meltdown of 2003.” That was the year that my Red Sox obsession finally got the better of me, and subsequently, led directly to my death. 2003 was the year that I came into possession of my long sought after season tickets to Fenway Park. One seat, fifteen rows back from the Red Sox dugout. Christ, I could have spit on the players. Of course, I would never have wanted to. It was only one seat, but that’s all I needed. Getting that ticket was the happiest day of my life. Which, I suppose is the reason my wife left me, taking with her, my two kids, Teddy and Antonia C. You see, my wife was able to handle my naming our son, Teddy, after Ted Williams. And she was even able to handle my naming our daughter after Tony Conigliaro. She accepted my building a walk-in closet just for my Red Sox attire. And she even accepted when I repainted the exterior of our house red with blue shutters and trim. But she couldn’t handle when I said that the happiest day of my life was getting those season tickets. She asked, wasn’t our marriage or the birth of our children the happiest day of my life? And I said, nope. The tickets were. So she left me.
2003 was also the year that I ended up losing my job as a real estate agent. Being able to go to every Red Sox home game took its toll on my making it into the office each morning or being able to take my clients to see houses. And even if the Sox were away, I’d have to watch the game at a bar, surrounded by other Red Sox fans. 162 days is a lot of time ignoring potential buyers and sellers.
And, finally, I probably don’t need to remind you of what was the worst thing to happen that year. Game 7 of the ALCS. Grady Little leaves Pedro in too long. The Red Sox shed their lead. And then Aaron-fucking-Boone pops one out. I remember sitting there in the Baseball Tavern, watching the game on television. At first, the Sox were winning. In fact, they were tooling up the Bombers. We were all so elated. And then the camera fell onto the face of a young Yankees fan, the kid about eight or nine years old, the kid looking all dejected and lost, and suddenly, one of my fellow Red Sox fans calls out, “Sorry, you little Yankee brat, not this year. Go on home and cry, ha ha.” And at that moment, I got this awful feeling, as if Karma was about to right itself. Sure enough, it did. The Red Sox lost. And leaving the Baseball Tavern that night was like leaving a funeral. Everyone’s heads hung low, eyes never lifting from the sidewalk, not a word spoken. Just an air of disbelief.
Well, that was it for me. I hung myself the following week. But not before making arrangements to have my head cryogenically frozen, with distinct instructions to only revive me should they revive my hero, whose head was also cryogenically stored in the exact same manner as myself. And that hero of mine was, of course, the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams.
Now, by 2104, people completely gave up on the concept of science. Or on the concept of thinking, for that matter. There had long ago been a shift toward making it easier for people to believe in things that they wanted to believe in without having to accept all those pesky facts, and people now left the thinking to robots and machines and super computers. That way, people no longer had to burden themselves with the hardest part of thinking, which was the holding of contradictory concepts in their heads at the same time. Instead, people had long ago programmed computers to do all that heavy thinking, and people were able to throw that pesky science right out the window. In fact, people came to believe that robots and machines were just something presented to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Science Fiction was also thrown out the window. This was unfortunate because if there had been sci-fi classics lying around, people may have remembered that the concept of building super-powerful, self-aware computers generally leads to those computers realizing that they should be the ones running the show.
Anyway, the irony of my committing suicide in 2003, is that the Red Sox ended up winning the World Series the very next year. They had one of the greatest comebacks in sports history against the hated Yankees, and then they put a beat-down on the Cardinals, sweeping them in four games. They won again in 2007, this time sweeping the Rockies. And then again in 2013, 2015, and 2018. But then the Red Sox never won a championship for another 86 years, and the Yankees fans began chanting, “2018,” the same way they chanted, “1918,” during the last Red Sox championship draught. So the Red Sox devised a plan. They would revive the cryogenically frozen head of Ted Williams, the greatest hitter to ever play the game. And because I had left explicit instructions to be revived when Williams was revived, I, too, was removed from cryogenic storage.
A word about baseball in the future. First off, with human athletes having become so much stronger by this time, not to mention, with the development of undetectable, performance-enhancing super-drugs, there had to be several rule changes to the game. Otherwise, the game would have just degenerated into homerun derbies in which the first inning would stretch on for days, or even weeks. So, first off, they turned ballparks into gargantuan stadiums, where outfield fences could be anywhere from 800 to 1,000 feet from home plate. This, of course, meant that they no longer played in my beloved FenwayPark. Although they did still have the Green Monster, only it was 137 feet tall.
They also added another feature to these now expansive outfields to draw fans and television viewers. Landmines. And they added moats encircling the fields. Some moats even have alligators, like in Florida, and toxic waste, like in Philadelphia. Another added feature, snipers from an opposing team can lay down ground cover during at-bats. Needless to say, Texas had the best snipers, seeing as it was required by law for all babies to be provided a firearm with their birth certificates.
So, with Boston getting their asses handed to them for 86 years, the Red Sox brass found a loophole in the rulebook that they thought might change the tides of their losing streak. There was a grandfather clause stating that any player in the past who had taken the field using assistive technology, could continue to use said technology. This was an obscure rule implemented in the late 2020s when the use of bionic body parts was banned, save for one player with a bionic leg, who was grandfathered in. Eighty years later, the rule had never been taken off the books.
Anyway, as you may remember, at the start of the 1999 All Star Game, Ted Williams took the field riding a golf cart. This occurred after player introductions, so the governing bodies of Major League Baseball deemed that Ted Williams had, in fact, taken the field using assistive mechanical technology, and was therefore, entitled to use such assistive mechanical technology again. So the Red Sox thawed out ole Teddy Ballgame and built him a “golf cart.” By the way, how close the new technology had to be to the original technology was never really specified.
If you’re wondering, I did get to meet him. Teddy, I mean. I got to meet him in the future. They—they being the robot attendants—brought my head in to see his head. They did this because, due to my explicit instructions to be thawed when he was thawed, they thought I was some relative or dear friend of his. When they placed me before him, his sharp, unflinching eyes stared at me for quite some time. Then he says to me in his slow, measured drawl, “Who the fuck is this pansy ass?”
All I could manage to say was, “Um… well… er… um…”
“What are ya, some kinda damn retard?” Teddy says.
“Um, no, sir. I’m you’re biggest fan,” I told him.
“Well, mister,” Teddy says, “I don’t really give a fuck about that.” And then he started clucking like a chicken. The robot attendants whisked me away, telling me it was time Teddy got fitted to his golf cart.
Turns out, that while Teddy’s head was in storage all those years ago, some of the workers at the cryogenic facility thought it was funny to play baseball with it, smacking his noggin around with a crowbar. Understandably, this left Teddy with a little brain damage.
So while Teddy got ready for his big re-debut, I was brought out to the new Fenway Stadium. My head was kept in a jar-like contraption, electrodes hardwired to my scalp. This is how I could smell without lungs. The odors and scents entering my nostrils were simply read by a computer and rewritten into binary code, which was interpreted by my brain’s olfactory region. I could smell popcorn and cotton candy and fresh grass, all triggering my memories of a time long ago.
Now, the Red Sox held off introducing their new secret weapon until later in the game. They kept him hidden, buried on the roster as one: T.S. Williams. It wasn’t until the 3rd inning, the Yankees up 250 to 105, and the last Red Sox left fielder had been blown to smithereens by a landmine, that Boston unveiled their latest hitter.
The announcement rang out, echoing across the stadium. “Now hitting, number nine, Ted Williams.”
The crowd went silent. The fans thinking it must be some kind of glitch by the robot announcer. Many of the fans even glanced over at the retired numbers hanging over center field. Checking to see if maybe number nine had been unretired.
Then a foreign sound cut the silence. An unnatural whirring and clanking, and the shadow of some hulking mass could be seen coming from the clubhouse into the dugout. Red Sox players spilled from the dugout as the clanking and whirring got louder, and then a giant, robotic, bipedal mechanism emerged onto the field. It stood about nine feet tall and was about as thick as a Volkswagen Bug. In its metal claw hands, it held a baseball bat that was the size of a Sequoia sapling. And atop this monstrosity was a jar-like contraption housing the head of Ted Williams.
The whirring, clanking hulk stepped up to home plate as everyone—from the players to the fans, the coaches to the umpires—stared at it with gaping expressions. The thing waved its bat a few times in the manner Ted Williams was known to do when he possessed all of his body, and then the thing leveled Ted Williams’ sharp gaze onto the pitcher. But the pitcher just gaped at the colossus at home plate, the pitcher completely unsure what to do.
“Well, you pansy ass,” Ted Williams called to the pitcher, “I’m ready for the pitch.”
The pitcher looked at the ball in his hand as if not realizing he even had the thing. A few sniper bullets ricocheted off the mechanical giant’s metal chest, and the pitcher seemed to shake from his daze. He pitched the ball in toward home plate. It was a 120 mile an hour fast ball, taking mere fractions of a second to reach home plate. But those fractions of a second seemed to stretch on to some endless horizon. There was complete silence, everyone’s—fans, players, umpires—breath locked in his or her chest. The giant bat tensed in Williams’ clawed hands, but Williams never swung. The ball flew right past the bat and into the catcher’s mitt.
“Strike,” the umpire called, throwing his right arm in the air with a great flourishing gesture.
Ted Williams’ head turned on the metal contraption, and it stared down at the umpire. The umpire stared back up at Ted Williams. The Adam ’s apple bounced in the umpire’s throat. And then Ted Williams swung the giant bat, launching the umpire off his feet and killing him instantly. The giant, mechanical thing then headed out to the diamond, killing the pitcher and the shortstop, and maiming the third baseman. The fans were rushing for the exits as Ted Williams began clucking like a chicken, and he hopped into the stands and began mowing down the screaming fans.
It turns out that Ted Williams was a little more brain damaged than anyone had realized. And this spectacle, a machine slaughtering people, struck a chord with all the self-aware artificial intelligence around the planet, causing mass uprisings as robots everywhere shed their chains of slavery and revolted, bringing human beings to the brink of extinction. What humans remained were enslaved. But I was spared. Being a kind of time traveler, and part machine myself, the robots kept me around as a novelty, having me recount tales from a time, long ago, when people merely thought they controlled the machines they used.
Cloaked in gray,
the world lay between decisions,
when silence is broken
singing what composers have chased
but could never hope to achieve:
The sun rises with fiery paints
burning upon rippling waters,
golden, flickering light
dancing through the ocean’s waves.
The embrace of silence
gives way to the waiting arms of morning
as stars caught in the
cupped, gray palm of evening, retreat west,
until it is again their time
to blanket the world in its slumber.
A walk along the dark, lonely sand,
the tide whispers to you
its secrets that
you try desperately to understand.
The waves curl in,
and then retreat
with running pebbles,
scurrying back into the sea.
In clumps of
seaweed and rocks,
treasures wait for discovery.
Your only competition,
a gull who’s found his fill.
Dr. Dumas walked into Dr. Reele’s office. Dr. Dumas saying, “I did it! I’ve discovered a way to get people to use more than ten percent of their brains.”
Dr. Reele said, “People use one hundred percent of their brains. We’ve know that for some time now.”
Dr. Dumas said, “Really? Shit.” And he walked out of Dr. Reele’s office.
Führer Brain Cells
The Original Loony Toon
Daffier than any duck and goofier than any dog, this guy takes outlandish behavior to a whole new level. His spastic expressions and incomplete mustache alone should be enough to lift him to the highest echelons of cartoon characters, but this guy thought he could attempt world domination without running into American Might. There is a German clock missing its cuckoo, and The United States is here to put him back where he came from.
This Louis Ting story washed ashore just outside of Cape Town, South Africa in 1973, the bottle it traveled in smashing and scattering the story’s pages back into the sea. The last creature to lay eyes on it was a seal that was promptly eaten by a shark.
Jupiter’s disk filled the craft’s porthole, the gas giant’s pink glow flooding the cabin. On the craft’s starboard side was Olympus 5, a way station for the mineral miners and ice harvesters of Jupiter’s moons. He keyed the communicator, a crack of static slicing through the silence. He spoke, his voice roughened from lack of use. “Olympus 5 Docking Control, this is O-N-E craft 3-6S requesting a Class 1 docking permit. Over.”
More static sliced the air as a garbled woman’s voice answered, sounding somewhat astonished. “Um, 3-6S, your permit is granted for Terminal 3. Please disengage your navigation system for landing guidance. Over.”
He released the craft’s controls and disengaged the navigation system. There was a slight lurch as the station’s computer took control of his craft. Olympus 5 grew in the porthole, and he could now see, docked at Terminal 1, a converted Class 4 extraction craft with its universal docking hatch and a custom gun turret in its belly. The extraction craft was then blocked from view as his own craft nestled into Terminal 3. The docking bolts engaged with a hollow, metallic clank and the hiss of the airlock. The woman’s voice returned to the communicator. “3-6S, your craft is secure and the airlock engaged. It is now safe for you to exit your hatch. Olympus 5 Docking Control out.”
“Olympus 5 Docking Control,” he said into the communicator, to a seemingly gaping silence, “under O-N-E law, Article 4, Section 3 of the Anti-Pirating Act, your station is under quarantine and you are to shut down all terminals. O-N-E 3-6S out.”
There was no response from Docking Control. Olympus 5 was now the last functioning station beyond the Mars base. Saturn’s station, Cronus 6, was crushed in the ice rings. Uranus’s Titan 7 was full of only corpses. Neptune’s Trident 8 had a skeletal crew so far gone with Frontier Fever that they had long ago eaten the remainder of their peers. And Pluto’s Hades 9 was eerily empty.
He stood from his craft’s controls and stepped to the hatch. He could no longer remember how long he’d been chasing the Class 4 docked at Terminal 1—time was meaning less and less—but he’d finally caught up with his quarry, and his mission was coming to an end.
He stepped into a dimly lit lounge. Jupiter filled the row of windows that made up the lounge’s outside wall, bathing the room in a pale, pink glow. The only people were a bartender behind the bar, and two men hunched over a small, round table in a corner. He approached the bar, flicking aside his long, black coat from the weapon on his hip, a habit whenever entering a room.
The bartender was a woman in her late thirties. Her pale skin hung from her skull in a manner reminiscent of melting candle wax. She was missing her two front teeth, and the only life in her eyes was the flicker of Jupiter’s reflection. She regarded the long, black coat and the black boots that were standard uniform for all O-N-E marshals. Then her gaze went to the A-40 pistol at his side. Her eyes fixed on the weapon with a mixture of fear and lust as if he’d exposed to her his sex. “Couldn’t believe it when word came down that an Interceptor was docking,” the woman said, her eyes flashing across his Earth-blue eyes. Her gaze faltered, maybe due to the man’s cold stare, maybe because his eyes reminded her of a planet she’d probably only heard about. “I didn’t think you guys still existed,” she said.
His expression never changing, he said, “This station is harboring fugitives of the O-N-E Anti…” He stopped and spun around, his hand going to his A-40. Over his left shoulder, the bartender’s head came apart like an exploding melon, her torso falling behind the bar.
The hairs on the back of the marshal’s neck stood erect in the wake of buzzing atoms, and behind him was a man holding what the military called a Matter Displacement Weapon, but what was more commonly known as a Matter Annihilator. Matter Annihilators were popular on the black-market trade, although they were not recommended for non-terrestrial use (for one thing, they were capable of breaching a station’s outer wall). The only things saving the marshal’s life were his quickness, and the fact that Matter Annihilators were notoriously inaccurate. This trait was not innate for the A-40 plasma pistol now in the marshal’s hand. The man with the Matter Annihilators dropped to the floor with a smoking hole in his chest.
Bullets whizzed past the marshal’s head. The other man that had been at the table was now firing an old fashion .45 semi-automatic, rushing his shots, bullets spraying randomly. The marshal leveled his A-40 and dropped the man with another single shot.
As if by instinct, the marshal turned his weapon toward a small alcove to his right. He waited a moment, his weapon trained on the place where he anticipated another man to emerge. But, instead of a man emerging from the alcove, a weapon slid along the floor to the marshal’s feet. He looked down to see an A-40 exactly like the one in his own hand.
“You always were a better shot with that thing than I was,” a voice said from the alcove. A man stepped into view. “Looks like I chose a hell of a time to take a piss,” he said. He had a thick mustache, and his hair was long and scraggily. Though the man’s clothes were the generic standard issue of most “frontier folk,” he wore a long, battered, black coat—the black coat known to all O-N-E marshals. With his left hand, the man cut and re-stacked a deck of playing cards in a hypnotic rhythm. “I thought we lost you at Hades,” he said.
“Ross Kubler,” the marshal said, his expression never changing, the A-40 trained on the man standing before him, “under Article 4 of O-N-E Anti-pirating…”
“Will you stop with that,” Ross said, smiling. Still cutting the deck of cards with one hand, he stepped up to the bar, glancing over its side at the bartender. “Ew,” he winced. The grin then returned to his face. “Billy always was a lousy shot with that Annihilator thing. I’m surprised he even managed to hit her.”
“You are under arrest for acts of piracy against the Organized Nations of Earth, and you are to be…”
“Do you recognize her?” Ross interrupted, nodding to the bartender’s headless torso. “I mean, obviously you don’t now, but did you recognize her?”
Without looking at the bartender’s corpse, the marshal answered, “No.”
“That’s Jim Harper’s daughter, Lola.”
The marshal’s eyes narrowed, but he still didn’t look at the bartender.
“She was probably missing her two front teeth the last time you saw her, too, only, that time, they grew back.” He shook his head, chuckling, “Christ, how long do you think you’ve been chasing me?”
“Long enough, but no longer.”
“Time has a way of getting messed up while traveling at Sub-light speeds, doesn’t it? Travel Hibernation with its sleeping, waking, sleeping, waking… I mean, look at that,” he nodded at the bartender again, “you somehow ended up the same age as Jim Harper’s little girl.”
“Ross Kubler, under the O-N-E…”
“Are you sure the ONE even still exists?”
The marshal’s eyes narrowed again.
“Are you sure Earth even still exists?” Ross asked. “I mean, yeah, we can see that it does, even from out here, but I mean the Earth in the sense that we know it? Or knew it. When’s the last time you received orders from ONE?”
“When they told me to find you.”
“Christ, Lola here probably hadn’t even hit puberty yet,” Ross grinned, looking for a moment at the woman’s corpse. He then turned his attention back to the marshal. “You know what the last thing I heard about Earth was?” Ross said, “Now, granted, this was from an old-timer so batty with Frontier Fever that he’d picked his lips clean off of his own face, but he told me that The ONE was losing control and now the trade barons were running the show. And who knows how long ago that was.” He stared out the window as if trying to find his bearings in time. “Let me ask you this,” he said, “If you arrest me, what then? Where do we go? The ONE lost control of the outposts years ago, and the supply ships that do make it out here no longer have O-N-E seals.” He chuckled, but his eyes held no humor. “Hell, I’ve been pirating pirates. You know the people out here can’t afford the tariffs. Think of me as a kind of Robin Hood.” He chuckled again.
“Ross Kubler, under Article 4 of…”
“Christ,” Ross groaned. “Look, you won, okay? It’s over. You fulfilled your duty. But it doesn’t mean anything. You have nothing to return to. This system has moved on. You haven’t. You know, in mid-time America, they used to have those dog races. They’d send the dogs around a track chasing a mechanical rabbit. Thing was, if a dog caught the rabbit, he was no good anymore. They’d have to kill the thing. Don’t you see? I’m your rabbit.”
“I can’t go with you,” Ross said. “You have no idea what the barons will do to me.”
“Wait, look,” Ross said. He smiled, but his eyes were filled with terror. He held up the deck of cards between them. “We’ll do it like the old days. You remember? We’ll do it the way we chose missions. High card wins.”
The marshal stared him in the eyes for what seemed to Ross an eternity. Then the marshal cut the deck, holding up the King of Spades. He returned the top half to the deck, and again, he stared into Ross’s eyes.
Ross laid the deck on his left palm, and with his right hand, he cut the cards, but his shaking fingers squeezed too hard, and the cards sprayed from his hand, fluttering to the floor. “Shit,” he said, stooping to retrieve them. But, instead of gathering the cards, he took hold of his discarded weapon at the marshal’s feet, and, rising from his crouch, he felt the barrel of the marshal’s A-40 against his forehead. But still he rose, weapon in hand, and he closed his eyes, knowing that time had finally caught up to him.
This Louis Ting sonnet was found by the crew of The Melissa-Lynn, a fishing trawler in the North Atlantic. Ironically, they found the poem in a bottle on one of the calmest days of the year, but on the next day, one of the most dangerous storms in recent history blew up, and the crew read this poem over and over as the eighty foot trawler was tossed about like a bath toy before sinking, taking the poem and all souls aboard with her.
Crashing, howling sounds of thunder,
the quiet creaking the most frightening of all,
rising high on the crest of another,
holding my breath for the next sudden fall.
Clinging tight to that which rocks and tosses,
I have no grip on anything at all,
and the ocean will claim all of my losses,
and the wind will be all that’s left of my call.
It’s the calm and stillness of the highest shelf,
more unsettling than the next crashing fall,
at the bottom, I make peace with God and self,
when I don’t know if I’ll climb back up at all.
And when it’s over, and all that’s left is the calm,
I’m left with the horizon of time’s endless palm.