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Apocalypse Bluff and Other Stories

Apocalypse Bluff and Other Stories

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Apocalypse Bluff and Other Stories

261 Seiten
3 Stunden
Apr 14, 2019


As invading aliens unleash monsters resembling mutated carnivores to devour all of human life on Earth, an extended family gathers together in a mansion on an isolated bluff for a last stand. To survive, they must fight together against ravenous beasts attacking from land and sea.

A recently divorced woman joins a virtual community in search of social acceptance and companionship. After fashioning a new identity for herself, she sets off to explore the meticulously created landscapes of this new world, unaware that the beautiful environments are rife with human predators.

While searching for a lost love, an unemployed mercenary comes across a wealthy world in which there are no weapons, no poverty, no permanent social attachments, and everyone is free to pursue their own interests. There's only one catch: these people have no means to defend themselves against a rapidly approaching alien army.

In these and other fascinating tales you'll find apocalyptic landscapes, virtual worlds, far planets, alien invaders, monsters, heroes, villains, lovers, life, death, tragedy, and triumph.

Apr 14, 2019

Über den Autor

John Walters recently returned to the United States after thirty-five years abroad. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He attended the 1973 Clarion West science fiction writing workshop and is a member of Science Fiction Writers of America. He writes mainstream fiction, science fiction and fantasy, and memoirs of his wanderings around the world.

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Apocalypse Bluff and Other Stories - John Walters



1.  Connecting the Dots in Pointillist Paintings

2.  The Library at the End of the World

3.  Vulnerable

4.  Lest I Remember Thee O Torment

5.  Bracelet of Skulls

6.   Layla Moon Shadow and Princess Light

7.  Rainfall

8.  Shanti

9.  The Herald

10.  Escape Strategies

11.  Film Star

12.  A Visit to the Dentist

13.  Encounter on a Castle Wall

14.  Apocalypse Bluff

15.  Afterword

16.  End Notes

Connecting the Dots in Pointillist Paintings

Considering how Maria presently feels it's hard to imagine she was so isolated, so needy before the enhancement.

Shuffling down the wind-blown street. Garbage in gutters, storefront windows boarded up. The smell of sewage and of frying ethnic food. What ethnicity? She has no idea. She is unfamiliar with this part of the city. Normally she sticks to her own territory, a dozen square blocks that encompass all that sustains her: her work, her apartment, the supermarket and other stores where she shops. What has caused her to break out of her cocoon of familiarity?

The analogy of the cocoon is inexact. Having ventured outside of her safety zone, she does not consider herself a butterfly. She is still a worm, at least in her own estimation; she is of little significance, vulnerable to predators.

But she is determined to change that, no matter the cost.

She has seen the enhanced, the beautiful ones, on the gossip sites, the fashion sites, the entertainment sites. She knows that they are better than she is through no talent of their own.

She has also seen her image in the mirror deteriorating day by day; her mortality weighs heavily upon her; an overwhelming sense of loss threatens to drown her.

The shop at the address her colleague has given her displays no name above the door. Disparate dusty heaps of computer parts clutter the display areas inside the front windows.

The area reminds her of her homeland, of Greece, before she made the great leap across the Atlantic to accompany her new American husband to his country; abandoned by the European Community, Greece lay in ruins, bankrupted businesses on every block, formerly prosperous city merchants selling cardboard boxes of fruit along the sides of the roads, pensioners begging in the streets and sleeping on park benches.

When she opens the door, an old-fashioned bell rings and a faint alarm buzzes in the back.

An unshaven dark-skinned young man with course black hair sits behind the counter tinkering with a piece of machinery. As she approaches, he rises.

During an awkward silence they contemplate each other, each waiting for the other to speak.

Finally he asks, You need something?

My... My friend said you could help me.

Who's your friend?

She asked me not to say.


I don't know. She said you could secure me a place in an enhanced community.

Oh, I get it. He chuckled without mirth. Yeah, a lot of referrals prefer to remain anonymous. I don't care. It's a social thing. They're just self-conscious because they can't afford to enhance themselves solo.

Well, neither can I and I want to remain anonymous as well.

Of course you do, he said with a trace of sarcasm. No disrespect. What I offer here is the economy model. Used server hardware I put together myself coupled with meticulously copied state-of-the-art freeware. I have an associate who installs the implant chip in your cranium. Be sure of your decision before you begin because we don't have the medical technology to get it back out. You'd have to go to a state hospital and that would cost you. As far as integration into the community network, you can make a single lump sum payment or rent a space month by month.

How much is the lump sum?

He told her.

I don't have that much money.

Then you'll have to do it monthly, at least at first. Remember that afterwards you'll be enhanced. Who knows? With your more powerful skill set you might make enough to pay it off fast. Others have.

Are you plugged into a community?


Why not?

He shrugged. Business is good. I have my own server.

Then why the shabby storefront?

He grinned. People come looking for me. I have no need to advertise. The clandestine appearance appeals to me.

Do I have a choice of communities?

No. Why should you? Anyway, in a community diversity is the key. The more talent, the better. You never know what inherent abilities people might bring into play. Anyway, that's the deal. You go into the server that's available when you sign up. Right now I have one with a capacity of three hundred that's at one hundred fourteen.

So you never know who you're going to get.

That's right. But you all have access to the basic internal programs. How much you choose to interact while inside is up to you. If you want, you can even cut yourself off and maintain contact with the base hardware and software only.

I see. Well... I want it. I'll do it.

Fine. Fill in the form on that terminal over there. Personal, medical, and financial information. It's all on isolated secure systems. I'm not going to see anything except that you pass the medical and you pay your fee. When you log into the community, none of your personal data is available to anyone else. If you choose to introduce yourself, you can give any identity you want. I'll email you about the chip implant appointment. It shouldn't be more than a day or two from now. Once that's done, you just have to log in.

*   *   *

The day of the chip implant the woman who performs the procedure is all business.

She straps Maria in a reclining chair not unlike that found in a dentist's office.

She puts a tight brace around her head.

She shave a small portion of scalp.

She uses a cotton swab to blot on one anesthetic and a hypodermic syringe to inject a second anesthetic.

She says, This might feel strange. Try to relax, and then opens a hole into Maria's skull with a tool that sounds and feels like a dental drill only in the wrong place. Then the drilling stops, and with an instrument that looks like a carpenter's nail gun she shoots the implant chip into place.

There, she says. How do you feel?

Maria feels woozy and disconcerted, as if she is pitching about on the deck of a boat in a storm. While she attempts to stabilize herself and regain her balance, the technician smears a bit of unguent on her wound and slaps a bandage on top. She removes the skull brace and restraining straps.

Maria wills her limbs to function so she can get up but finds herself unable to move.

The technician is talking on her phone. It's done. She's fine. Nothing but the usual disorientation. Go ahead, light her up. She's got nothing better to do while she waits to regain her mobility. She slips her phone into a pocket of her medical gown and says, Relax. You'll be up and around in no time. Get ready for some changes. I'm going to leave for a few minutes so you have some space to acclimatize yourself.

Alone in the room, Maria closes her eyes. At first she only feels numb and slightly nauseated, but then something happens that she can't quite pinpoint. It awakens in her brain. It's not quite centralized. It's like an add-on to the synapses she uses for self-awareness, for cogitation, for calculating, for planning, even for dreaming. She feels pepped up, ebullient, supercharged. Nothing's changed, but everything's changed. It feels perfectly natural but at the same time radically different to anything she has ever experienced. She knows things, for instance. She has only to desire a piece of information and she is aware of it. She can't exactly roam physically or psychically through cyberspace, but she can bring elements of it to her for her perusal and analysis whenever she wants.

She realizes abruptly that she had this before whenever she logged into a computer, but it lacked the immediacy. What she has now will help her react more quickly, become more efficient. Maybe she will get that promotion she has been desiring. Maybe she can even find a better job, like the man in the storefront said.

First things first. Time to get up. When she attempts it, though, she becomes so dizzy she almost faints. Images and texts of studies in anesthetic aftereffects come to mind. All right then. Give it a little more time. Take it easy. Take it slow.

She closes her eyes again. A presence impinges upon her awareness. May I approach?

Who are you?

Here, my name is Freeya. You know me. I just got finished implanting you.

You're a member of this community?

Yes. Small world, isn't it?

I have a feeling it's about to get much bigger.

That's right. What's your name?


That's what it used to be. What is it now?

I... I don't know.

You should choose a name. It helps you differentiate between this world and the other.

I'll think about it.

Good. Let me show you around. Cast your mind forward. There. Do you feel it?

Yes. What is it?

Control panel. It lets you see things in images, direct yourself from place to place, introduce yourself to others, communicate with the outside. As soon as you can, get yourself to a computer with a screen and log into the community site. You can access a common visual representation of what you're stumbling through now. There are helps for various topics, frequently asked questions, instructional videos. It will take time to adjust. Just study up on the basics and ease into it gradually. Don't expect to become adept in a day.

All right. Thank you.

Don't mention it. Well, my work is done. Goodbye, Maria.

Wait. How do I find you again?

You don't. Maybe you misinterpreted my intentions. I'm not befriending you. This is part of the introductory package. You want to make friends in the community, you'll have to figure out how by yourself.

But how...

It's too late. The connection is gone. Maria is still plugged into the empowering software but the technician – Freeya – has vanished from her consciousness.

Her physical presence reappears just then through the door, all bright-eyed and efficient, acting as if they had never interacted in the intimacy of their minds.

Freeya... says Maria.

Don't call me that out here, please. Try to stand.

Maria discovers that she can, with effort, rise, more or less keep her balance, and walk out of the operating room.

The technician says, I have a vehicle waiting. Come. Let me take your arm. The driver will help you get up the stairs to your apartment if you think you can't make it on your own. Don't eat for a few hours but drink plenty of liquids. We'll schedule an appointment in about a week so I can check that the wound is healing properly. You arranged to take a few days off work, didn't you? Good. Relax. Get to know your new capabilities.

What if I have questions or experience side effects?

Contact me by email. Don't try to communicate with me inside the community. I value my privacy.

If you say so.

The technician's aloofness disconcerts Maria. She thinks about it during the ride home. It turns out that by the time she reaches her building she doesn't need the driver's help. She feels well and strong; in fact, she hasn't felt so vibrant in years.

She pours herself a glass of cold tea, turns on her computer, and peruses the private community website. It's rudimentary, really. Instructional, informative. Maps to place her within the context of the overall schematic. She can use the facilities and never psychically encounter another soul. Yet if she wants...

There's a short directory of members open to community interaction along with their community names and contact links. Perhaps she could...

But first it is imperative that she choose a name. Something unique. Something dynamic.

Yet abruptly the urge to honor her grandmother comes to her. It's the Greek tradition. She should have named her first daughter after her but she never had children. She regrets this; it is one of the things about which she and her ex-husband fought and eventually forced them apart. Not the only thing, of course. She did her best. She tried to adapt to American ways, to what her in-laws expected of her, but she always felt strangely caught between two worlds, as if she fit in neither. At first she and her husband made yearly visits to Greece; after a decade or so she made the visits alone; after a further decade he refused to pay for the plane tickets. It was another point of bitterness between them.

Since the divorce she has been ashamed to go back, though she receives frequent invitations. Nor can she afford it, of course.

Dimitra. She will become Dimitra in her alter-ego. Dimitra will be strong, empowered, dynamic.

Not like her.

She stands, introduces Maria to Dimitra. How do you do? Maria bows. Quite well, thank you. She smiles, considers confronting herself in a mirror, decides against it. It doesn't matter what Maria looks like out here; what matters is how she behaves herself in there. But illusion is part of the interior game, and she wants to do it well. She peruses the subjects in the help index and finds instructions on how to mold her virtual identity. It's like creating a character in a video game. She's seen her nephews do it. She feels no obligation to look like her grandmother; after all, her grandmother was diminutive and weak. She chooses a female model that is lithe but not too slim. She wants to give the impression of strength, not timidity and vulnerability. She changes the pasty white skin to bronze, the short blonde hair to long curly black. She gives herself green eyes, a slender nose, full lips. There is an option for tattoos. Why not? She scans the patterns and can't decide. It's all too new and a bit overwhelming. Save it for later then. She dresses herself in form-fitting jeans, soft suede ankle-length boots, an emerald blouse, a high-cut jacket. Jewels? Yes, but later. She has to think about that too. So much to decide when one is creating oneself from scratch.

Abruptly she realizes that she has absorbed herself so much in the transformation that she has forgotten all about weak, wasted, middle-aged Maria sitting back there at the computer. Instead, she has merged into her new world. It's still a barren landscape, more or less, but it is becoming clearer all the time. She follows the instructions about how to mentally shape her environment so that what she's doing with her mind adheres to visual images and other sensory references. She can see the control panel now if she likes, and she can read instructions without having to back up into the room where she sits before her laptop.

In fact, she realizes she doesn't need the physical computer.

She briefly exits the community environment, takes her physical body to the bathroom to relieve herself, and then goes to lie down on her bed.

Back to the new reality.

The first contact on the list is a woman named Crystal. Dimitra (for so Maria thinks of herself when she is in her new cyber-world) brings up the keyboard and punches in Crystal's call code. She waits for a few minutes and is just about to go on to the next name when Crystal responds.

Hello, who is it?

Ah – hello. I'm new to the community and I saw your link in the directory. My name is Dimitra.

Oh, how nice. What a lovely name. Dimitra, I'm Crystal. I'm happy to meet you. Do you want to communicate by voice only or link images?

Link images?

Yes, we can meet face to face if you'd like.

How do we do that?

We just use the interface... Have you never done it? Did you create an appearance?


Can you see yourself?

Dimitra raises her hands and contemplates them, observes her slim legs and her feet in the stylish boots.


Have you constructed a dwelling?


We'll meet at my place then. Walk straight ahead; it's the first cottage on the right.

After only a few paces Dimitra spots Crystal's home. It has a white picket fence, flamboyant beds of flowers in the yard, more flowers in boxes on the window sills and in pots on the porch. There's a couch swing with a canopy on the porch too, and a metal table with wrought iron chairs.

The house is painted white, but the door and window frames are bright green.

The door opens. Crystal wears a stylish knee-length light pink dress, nylons, high heels. Her bright blonde hair is done up in a lavish permanent that holds it in place as if it were a frozen golden waterfall.

Oh, how wonderful. You came. Welcome, come in, come in. Crystal's voice does not match the impression of the words with which she communicated directly to Dimitra's mind. Although it is melodic in its own way, it is more harsh, more artificial.

They sit together on Crystal's soft comfortable lime-colored couch with tea and cookies on the coffee table before them and exchange polite inanities. One has to play the game first, Dimitra supposes, before succumbing to intimacy. She wants to ask about the community, about what it means to Crystal, about how it helps and empowers her. Finally she gets the chance.

The community? Well, besides the obvious enhancements of data and intelligence, it's made me more affluent on the outside.

What do you mean?

Well, dear, I sell accessories to make your community experience more enjoyable. You know, hardware and software plug-ins. Besides that, I have machines that monitor your bodily functions while you're under, so you don't neglect tending to your needs.

Excuse me?

It's easy to get so involved that you lose track of time and forget to take care of yourself out there. I sell or rent monitors that remind you when your body needs attention. Look, here's a catalog.

Suspicion began to blossom within Dimitra. Are you a saleswoman?

Well, yes, of course, dear, but I'm also offering you an opportunity. I manage a number of saleswomen. You'll receive a generous commission.

Dimitra got to her feet. I'll – uh – I'll think about it.

See that you do. In the meantime, contact me as soon as you browse the catalog and make your selections.

All right. Thank you.

She should have know. Even with normal computer search results, the first entries are always advertisements.

She hadn't expected it here, though.

Still, the disconcerting start doesn't prevent her from moving to the next name in the directory. Nothing ventured, nothing

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