Tag Archives: Short Stories

Livestream Story: All Sales Are Final* Part 2

This is the second part of a three-part short story, inspired by the folks chatting during one of MCA Hogarth‘s livestreams a little while back. If you missed Part 1, read it here before jumping into this bit.

Mr. Fickle’s Pawn and Shoppe the sign hung above the door read in gilt letters beneath one of the eponymous chess pieces carved in relief and painted black. Ted looked down at the card in his hand for the millionth time, then back down the alley toward the street he’d come from. Another bubble of uncertainty welled up from his stomach. He could still go back to his wife and pretend the previous evening’s strangeness hadn’t happened. He had wondered if perhaps the woman was just some nutcase — but the place actually existed! It was more than he had expected after an hour and a half of getting so turned around by well-meaning strangers that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to find his way back to his car, much less the hospital.

He gritted his teeth and pushed the door open. A bell chimed, cheerful but unheeded as Ted gaped at the sheer immensity of the place. On a second floor, open to the ground level, indistinct figures moved in the shadows of row upon row of bookcases like library stacks, and along a catwalk at the room’s perimeter overhead. A stairway curved up one wall to a third floor, hidden from sight. The room in front of him stretched back into dimly lit rows of shelves and display cases with signs denoting such strange things as “Yesterday,” “Today,” and “Tomorrow,” or “Beastly Components,” or “For Warding.”

“Welcome, sir!” A tall, impossibly thin man approached him, arms open in greeting. “I’m Bristlewine, at yuir service.” He paused watching while Ted stared, then leaned forward and said in a low voice, “I’d wager yuir a first time customer, if ye’ll pardon my sayin’.”

“Uh… yeah. A woman at the hospital gave me your card.” He held it out to the man, eyes transfixed by the excited wiggling of the strange man’s ears, long and pointed, jutting up and back out of lank white hair. Bristlewine took it, barely sparing a glance for the front, and flipped it over to see the name “Elzebub” that had been written there in neat curling script, accompanied by “Woman, mated” and the date his wife had entered her current state.

“Ah, I see,” he said, frowning, and handed the card back. “And she told ye that ye’d find this woman’s soul here, did she?” He leveled his storm-cloud gaze at Ted who, unsure how to respond, simply nodded. “Follow me, then.” He turned on his heel and headed back into the store proper, moving briskly through rows of boxes and bottles, crystals, bits of stone, sticks, and all other manner of apparent detritus and other odd objects. Questions tugged at Ted’s tongue, but he bit them back, preferring to have this weird business done quickly. All the way across the vast expanse of that lowest floor they hurried, to the farthest corner, occupied by an enormous floor-to-ceiling glass display case, lit carefully from above by small bright spotlights.

It was filled near to bursting with jars of all sizes and shapes, some of clear glass, some smoky or brown, and for all the world, empty to a one. Each bore around its neck a bit of twine with a tag, probably the cost, Ted thought, until he leaned in to see what outrageous price an empty jar might fetch in such a place. Instead, he was surprised to find they bore hand-written notations of species and gender — “Dog, neutered male” in the case of the first he read, a small wavy-surfaced piece that looked like it may have been made by hand. He quickly scanned the others, moving around within the corner to examine different groups of jars while the shop attendant waited patiently, apparently familiar with this dance.

Ted found that they were separated by type of creature, and noted with absent humor that there were about a third as many cats as dogs, but too there were a small herd’s worth of horses, several types of primates, only a couple bears, and–

“Human, male.”

She won’t wake up until her soul is returned to her body.

He staggered backward, and immediately Bristlewine was at his elbow, steadying Ted by his presence alone, as he made no attempt to actually touch him. “There y’ are, sir,” he said gently. “I believe those’d be the ones fer which ye came. If she’s truly yuir own true mate, ye’ll know the one ye want when ye find it.”

“This is some kind of joke right?” he asked incredulously, the patience borne of desperation finally beginning to crack. “How much money do you and that woman make off of grieving people? Selling empty jars, saying they have souls in them?”

“Oh, these containers aren’t empty. Take a closer look at those there.” He pointed at the group with the “human” labels.

Ted was sure he’d had just about enough of this place, but felt compelled to turn back to the case, leaning in close to the glass to examine the jars. For the most part they did look empty, but in a handful of them, he was sure– There! Tiny, tiny sparks, like flecks of delicate glitter flashed and swirled for a moment and then were gone. If he watched long enough, they appeared again, but always just for a moment, and the longer he stared at one, the stranger he felt. He scanned the shelves, searching for some unknown sign, when suddenly sparks flared in one of them, bright gold behind pale green glass, and he heard Catherine’s voice.

Or more a whisper of it, really, like in a dream where you can tell from someone’s voice who they are, but can’t understand what they’re saying. It was his wife, absolutely, for all that it sounded like she was speaking from a thousand miles away. The sparks seemed to hang still within the jar, lasting longer than the others he had seen, and when they finally faded, the sound died away. He lurched suddenly into the glass case, making a pained noise as he scrabbled to reach it.

“Ah! That one then!” Bristlewine sounded surprised. The man’s voice brought Ted back to himself enough to regain some semblance of control, though he had never in his life wanted so badly to hold an object in his hands. His palms near burned with the need to have the jar, to take it away from this strange, strange place.

“What do you want for it?” He pulled out his wallet, not caring how insane it was, ready to pay any amount the strange elf-eared man wanted. But the attendant simply held up a hand to stop him.

“That plastic card won’t buy ye th’ smallest twig in this shop, sir.”

“I’ll go to the bank then, and get cash. Here, take my keys as collateral. I want to place a hold on that jar.” He thrust the car keys at the man, but found himself once again refused.

“Let me try t’ explain, sir. This’s a very particular kind o’ place, and we cater t’ very particular sorts o’ patrons. We dinnae trade in money.”

“Then what the hell do you trade in? I’ll give you whatever you want!” Ted’s voice was rising frantically.

“Any o’ those others, might go fer a song, but that one in particular is quite potent. One o’ the most vibrant I’ve seen in quite a while. It’ll come at dear cost to its buyer. Be sure yuir willin’ t’ give what’s asked.”

“Take everything I have if you want. I’m not leaving here without it.” Ted met the man’s piercing gray gaze and for the first time in weeks felt completely certain of his path. They stood there a moment, then the man nodded, seemingly satisfied, and fished a ring of keys from his pocket.

A short time later, they stood at the counter. Bristlewine had placed the jar in front of Ted, who compulsively wrapped his hands protectively around it. He was startled to find himself at once surrounded by the whirling sound of Catherine’s excited whispers, and also effectively immobilized by feet grown ponderously heavy. He tried experimentally to lift one of them, and it came slowly away from the floor as if moving through molasses, and Ted suspected that if he were not loathe to release the jar he would be free again.

The other man had donned a pair of thick-glassed spectacles, with several small colored lenses attached at the corners, through which he squinted at a piece of what Ted could only guess was parchment. He was drawing the paperwork up by hand, with stylus dipped in ink. After a few minutes, he returned the pen to its stand and looked up at Ted.

“D’ ye know yuir True Name, sir?”

“Theodore Percival Spires,” he said, stumbling only a little over the frilly name he had always disliked. The man flipped two yellow lenses down over his spectacles, leaning his head back a little so he could examine Ted through them.

“Not yuir given name. Yuir True Name.” He stared unblinking through the specs.

“Uh…that is my name.” Bristlewine shook his head and picked up his pen again to make a notation on the document, then set it carefully out of the way and pushed his glasses up on his nose. He flipped a pair of dark purple lenses down over them and stared at Ted without comment. Ted stared back for a few moments, then began to fidget nervously under the strange man’s gaze. Before he could ask how long the paperwork was going to take, the attendant made a noise of pleased surprise and removed the glasses.

“Well, Theodore Percival Spires, you don’t have much that’s of use t’me, but I believe ye do possess a small thing I’d be willing t’ take in trade. I’ll give ye that soul jar and its contents in exchange for th’ Potential of yuir True Name.”

“I don’t know what that means, but if it means I’m not leaving empty-handed, it’s yours,” he said, unwavering.

The white-haired man’s brow creased and he pursed his lips. “If ye should discover yuir True Name, it’s mine t’ do with as I see fit.”

“Sure, fine, it’s all yours. Where do I sign?” Ted asked, growing more impatient with each passing moment.

Rather than answering, the man held up the paper he had been writing on and showed it to Ted. The writing was in a language he didn’t know, the letters spidery and angular.
“Speak yuir given name fer th’ record.” Ted did so, feeling somewhat silly speaking at a piece of paper, but was amazed to see a gold light etch a signature in his own handwriting at the bottom of the sheet. The man turned it back around to look at it and nodded, then spoke to it himself in a clear voice. “I, Bristlewine Harew Fickle, do accept and sign this contract of trade to be fullfilled at an unspecified future date.”

“That’s it?” Ted asked, feeling his feet suddenly released from whatever force had been holding them.

“Th’ purchase is complete. I’ll need yuir stamp to validate th’ transfer of ownership on the soul.” Fickle turned to a cabinet behind the counter, still speaking. “In blood, o’ course. Technicalities, ye know. Then she’s all y–” He turned with a small rolled scroll in his hands to find the space at the counter empty and his customer gone. “Oh… That’s unfortunate.” He clucked his tongue. “Impatient mortals.”

He shook his head and locked the scroll safely away again.

Livestream Story: All Sales Are Final*

MCA Hogarth does these great art livestream things every so often. It so happened that a couple sessions ago the chatter in the accompanying chat room made my brain esplode with the inspirations, and over the next few days, I ended up writing about ~3500 words of a short story. Unfortunately, I got all the way to the last scene and have since been stumped by the ending. But I said I'd share with everyone so they could see the monster they'd created (did I mention that this story had spawned an entire setting of its own in my head within a day of my starting to write it? >.>).

So I figured I’d post it in parts since the story is kind of laid out in three scenes anyway, and possibly get some feedback that will help me figure out how to put this thing to bed (because I haven’t *finished* anything in a long long time, and I’m kind of excited about the prospect -_-). I’m open to thoughts and speculation on the story itself, as well as constructive criticism and grammar/spelling correction. Seriously. I haven’t shared a lot of my writing in recent years, and I’m very out of practice. -_-

Anyhow, without further ado, Part 1 of “All Sales Are Final*”!

“She won’t wake up until her soul is returned to her body.”

Ted Spires stared at the only vaguely familiar nurse. She had swept into the room a few minutes earlier, the almost imperceptible scent of ozone wafting after. She wore neatly pressed scrubs, and went about the business of checking his wife’s vitals and the level of fluids she was getting.

“Wh…what?” he asked dumbly, shocked by the utter strangeness of the non sequitur. Up until that moment, he had been sitting by the bed, head in his hands, ignoring everything else in his misery.

Six weeks. Six weeks since the disease wracking Catherine’s body had completely disappeared. Six weeks since she had fallen irretrievably into something that hovered between a coma and a vegetative state, her body responding to stimuli, but her brain showing no signs of anything but baseline activity. Every doctor he had spoken to since had been completely baffled by the miracle-mystery. Compared to her previous medical records, her body was healthy, pristine even, and her brain was undamaged. But so far, nothing had any affect on her condition.

The nurse plucked at the pillow, at the sheets and blanket, straightening them though they didn’t need it. “Her soul. It needs to be rejoined with her body, or she’ll stay this way for the rest of her life. She’s fallen for the oldest trick in the book, and a gotten caught in a particularly nasty loophole, I’m sorry to say.”

Ted simply gaped at her, unable to produce a response that was adequately insane. Was the nurse some sort of religious nut, or just your standard run-of-the-mill crazy?

She paid his expression no mind and continued talking absently while she completed her duties. “We try to protect the patients, but we’re not supposed to interfere directly, and frankly, we’re short-handed these days.” Her eyes drifted momentarily back to Catherine, brow creasing in anger as she spoke more to herself than to Ted. “But we should’ve caught this one. The fool probably doesn’t even known what he got his hands on.” She shook herself from her thoughts and approached him, pulling a business card from her pocket along with a pen she used to write something on its back.

“I don’t know where the one who did this is now, but his kind have no scruples.” She held the card out to him and he took it without looking at it. “That’s where he usually hocks his wares. If he’s stayed true to form, you’ll find what was taken from your wife there.” She peered down at him for a few long moments, as if her gaze might pierce through his eyes and into his skull, then blinked before turning and heading toward the door, speaking as she went. “You’ll know what you’re looking for when you find it. Just…don’t go signing any contracts without reading the fine print first. That’s how she got in this bind in the first place.”

And then she was gone. Ted could have sworn he heard a sound like wings beating just before the door closed. The click of the doorknob brought him back to himself and he flew to the door and threw it open. The hall was quiet and there was no one in sight except the night orderly at the desk a short distance away.

“Everything okay, Mr. Spires? Do you need something?” the young man asked quietly. Ted approached the desk and asked if he had seen the nurse that just left his wife’s room. The orderly gave him a strange look and told him the duty nurse wasn’t due around for another hour. “Maybe you should try and get some sleep, sir. I can bring you some extra pillows or blankets if you like.”

“No… Uh, thanks, Ben.” He rubbed his face, thinking the orderly might be right. “Sorry for bothering you.”

He returned to the room, and just when he began thinking he might have hallucinated the entire thing, he saw the card on the floor where he had dropped it.

Review: Fire in the Void

Short, and to the point: I have a new favorite Jokka short! :D

The slightly longer version:
“Fire in the Void” is a newly-released Jokka story from M.C.A. Hogarth. In this world, females must reproduce to keep their people from dying out, but the fragility of the Jokka means they eventually lose their wits to childbirth. The social structure is based on survival of the race, and as such can be…rigid and dark at times. Inevitably, many of the stories focus on Jokka who want to escape the strictures of their society and its gender roles, to live and love as they wish, but Fire ends up being just a little different.

Keshul, the main character of “Fire in the Void,” seems perfectly happy with his life. He’s a charlatan, the equivalent of our world’s psychic advisors and palm readers, offering common sense advice to Jokka who come to him with questions and offering money. Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work, until someone comes asking, and the Void gives answers Keshul thinks could be bad for business.

The archetype of the reluctant oracle is one of my favorites in storytelling, so this one really grabbed me, and of course I ended up wanting to know much more than these mere 5700 words can encompass.

Want to see for yourself? It’s a steal at $.99, and you can have your pick of ten digital formats on Smashwords, or get the Kindle version on Amazon. This ebook comes complete with striking cover illustration, also by M.C.A. Hogarth.

“The Gift of Mercy” by Anonymous

(As far as I’ve been able to find, this story is credited only to “Anonymous” anywhere on the internet, and has been claimed to be an “open source story” and free to share. It is archived here because most online sources are message boards, and I thought this would be a more reliable (and safe) way to share it. I make absolutely no claim of rights to this work, and will be happy to remove it at the author’s request.)


We made a mistake. That is the simple, undeniable truth of the matter, however painful it might be. The flaw was not in our Observatories, for those machines were as perfect as we could make, and they showed us only the unfiltered light of truth. The flaw was not in the Predictor, for it is a device of pure, infallible logic, turning raw data into meaningful information without the taint of emotion or bias. No, the flaw was within us, the Orchestrators of this disaster, the sentients who thought themselves beyond such failings. We are responsible.

It began a short while ago, as these things are measured, less than 6^6 Deeli ago, though I suspect our systems of measure will mean very little by the time anyone receives this transmission. We detected faint radio signals from a blossoming intelligence 2^14 Deelis outward from the Galactic Core, as photons travel. At first crude and unstructured, these leaking broadcasts quickly grew in complexity and strength, as did the messages they carried. Through our Observatories we watched a world of strife and violence, populated by a barbaric race of short-lived, fast breeding vermin. They were brutal and uncultured things which stabbed and shot and burned each other with no regard for life or purpose. Even their concepts of Art spoke of conflict and pain. They divided themselves according to some bizarre cultural patterns and set their every industry to cause of death.

They terrified us, but we were older and wiser and so very far away, so we did not fret. Then we watched them split the atom and breach the heavens within the breadth of one of their single, short generations, and we began to worry. When they began actively transmitting messages and greetings into space, we felt fear and horror. Their transmissions promised peace and camaraderie to any who were listening, but we had watched them for too long to buy into such transparent deceptions. They knew we were out here, and they were coming for us.

The Orchestrators consulted the Predictor, and the output was dire. They would multiply and grow and flood out of their home system like some uncountable tide of Devourer worms, consuming all that lay in their path. It might take 6^8 Deelis, but they would destroy us if left unchecked. With aching carapaces we decided to act, and sealed our fate.

The Gift of Mercy was 8^4 strides long with a mouth 2/4 that in diameter, filled with many 4^4 weights of machinery, fuel, and ballast. It would push itself up to 2/8th of light speed with its onboard fuel, and then begin to consume interstellar Primary Element 2/2 to feed its unlimited acceleration. It would be traveling at nearly light speed when it hit. They would never see it coming. Its launch was a day of mourning, celebration, and reflection. The horror of the act we had committed weighted heavily upon us all; the necessity of our crime did little to comfort us.

The Gift had barely cleared the outer cometary halo when the mistake was realized, but it was too late. The Gift could not be caught, could not be recalled or diverted from its path. The architects and work crews, horrified at the awful power of the thing upon which they labored, had quietly self-terminated in droves, walking unshielded into radiation zones, neglecting proper null pressure safety or simple ceasing their nutrient consumption until their metabolic functions stopped. The appalling cost in lives had forced the Ochestrators to streamline the Gift’s design and construction. There had been no time for the design or implementation of anything beyond the simple, massive engines and the stabilizing systems. We could only watch in shame and horror as the light of genocide faded into infrared against the distant void.

They grew, and they changed, in a handful of lifetimes they abolished war, abandoned their violent tendencies and turned themselves to the grand purposes of life and Art. We watched them remake first themselves, and then their world. Their frail, soft bodies gave way to gleaming metals and plastics, they unified their people through an omnipresent communications grid and produced Art of such power and emotion, the likes of which the Galaxy has never seen before. Or again, because of us.

They converted their home world into a paradise (by their standards) and many 10^6s of them poured out into the surrounding system with a rapidity and vigor that we could only envy. With bodies built to survive every environment from the day lit surface of their innermost world, to the atmosphere of their largest gas giant and the cold void in-between, they set out to sculpt their system into something beautiful. At first we thought them simple miners, stripping the rocky planets and moons for vital resources, but then we began to see the purpose to their constructions, the artworks carved into every surface, and traced across the system in glittering lights and dancing fusion trails. And still, our terrible Gift approached.

They had less than 2^2 Deeli to see it, following so closely on the tail of its own light. In that time, oh so brief even by their fleeting lives, more than 10^10 sentients prepared for death. Lovers exchanged last words, separated by worlds and the tyranny of light speed. Their planet side engineers worked frantically to build sufficient transmission infrastructure to upload the countless masses with the necessary neural modifications, while those above dumped lifetimes of music and literature from their databanks to make room for passengers. Those lacking the required hardware or the time to acquire it consigned themselves to death, lashed out in fear and pain, or simply went about their lives as best they could under the circumstances.

The Gift arrived suddenly, the light of its impact visible in our skies, shining bright and cruel even to the unaugmented ocular receptor. We watched and we wept for our victims, dead so many Deelis before the light of their doom had even reached us. Many 6^4s of those who had been directly or even tangentially involved in the creation of the Gift sealed their spiracles with paste as a final penance for the small roles they had played in this atrocity. The light dimmed, the dust cleared, and our Observatories refocused upon the place where their shining blue world had once hung in the void, and found only dust and the pale gleam of an orphaned moon, wrapped in a thin, burning wisp of atmosphere that had once belonged to its parent.

Radiation and relativistic shrapnel had wiped out much of the inner system, and continent sized chunks of molten rock carried screaming ghosts outward at interstellar escape velocities, damned to wander the great void for an eternity. The damage was apocalyptic, but not complete, from the shadows of the outer worlds, tiny points of light emerged, thousands of fusion trails of single ships and world ships and everything in between, many 10^6s of survivors in flesh and steel and memory banks, ready to rebuild. For a few moments we felt relief, even joy, and we were filled with the hope that their culture and Art would survive the terrible blow we had dealt them. Then came the message, tightly focused at our star, transmitted simultaneously by hundreds of their ships.

“We know you are out there, and we are coming for you.”


(There are actually two more parts following this one, but this is by far the best of them, and it stands very well on its own. If you’re interested in reading parts 2 and 3, you should be able to find them fairly easily with a Google search.)

“The War Prayer” by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came–next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams–visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

     God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory–

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside–which the startled minister did–and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne–bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import–that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of–except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two–one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this–keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer–the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it–that part which the pastor–and also you in your hearts–fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle–be Thou near them! With them–in spirit–we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it–for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

"Answer" by Fredric Brown

Dwan Ev ceremoniously soldered the final connection with gold. The eyes of a dozen television cameras watched him and the subether bore throughout the universe a dozen pictures of what he was doing.

He straightened and nodded to Dwar Reyn, then moved to a position beside the switch that would complete the contact when he threw it. The switch that would connect, all at once, all of the monster computing machines of all the populated planets in the universe — ninety-six billion planets — into the supercircuit that would connect them all into one supercalculator, one cybernetics machine that would combine all the knowledge of all the galaxies.

Dwar Reyn spoke briefly to the watching and listening trillions. Then after a moment’s silence he said, “Now, Dwar Ev.”

Dwar Ev threw the switch. There was a mighty hum, the surge of power from ninety-six billion planets. Lights flashed and quieted along the miles-long panel.

Dwar Ev stepped back and drew a deep breath. “The honor of asking the first question is yours, Dwar Reyn.”

“Thank you,” said Dwar Reyn. “It shall be a question which no single cybernetics machine has been able to answer.”

He turned to face the machine. “Is there a God?”

The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of a single relay.

“Yes, now there is a God.”

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.

A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.