The Window – a short story by Alex Binkley

This is one of my short stories. As a wise writer said, the hardest part of writing a short story is keeping it short. They all want to become novels. Comments welcome. – Alex

Ainsley Smyth held her breath as another couple strolled toward her booth.

She had sold 10 landscapes within three hours of the art show’s opening. Finally she had enough money in her bank account to enable her to reduce her hours working at the coffee shop and devote more time to painting, her goal since finishing art school.

Several customers had left their names for notification of her next show. Some had described the kinds of scenes they wanted. She envisaged the landscapes and seashore vistas she would create for them. Finally her career was coming together.

The couple barely glanced at her remaining piece before moving on. It showed was a double hung window partly open to let a gentle summer breeze ripple lace curtains. Hints of a garden, trees and a rubber tire swing hovered in the background.

While artist friends told her it was a good painting, to Ainsley it did not fit with her other works because it lacked the sweeping scenery she had become known for. Even when she pointed it out, no one seemed to see it.

She had dumped it in the garbage, and then retrieved it saying she would reuse the canvas. When she could not bring herself to paint over the scene, she tried offering it free with no takers. It was like a stray mutt that had adopted her. She called it The Window. Unlike her other works, she had no memory of painting it.

Three fashionably-dressed women did not slow for a look at it. Under the terms of the show, exhibitors could only leave before closing time if all their pieces were sold. It was early afternoon and she could be outside enjoying the sunshine.

While close to 100 people wandered from artist to artist stopping at most exhibits for a chat, they kept walking past her.

She rearranged the promotional material for her studio, and then pulled out her sketch pad to work on ideas for her next paintings. The clock mounted above the entrance to the display room read 1:30 pm. Four o’clock seemed so far away.

She glanced at the painting and to her surprise, a man was examining it. She had not heard him arrive.

People usually stepped back to get a better view of a painting. He stood so close his nose was almost touching it. His head moved as if peering out both sides of the window as well as the top and bottom. Did he expect to see something?

Ainsley shook her head. Most art lovers babbled on about colors and images and where they could hang the piece. He kept examining it. She tiptoed around the desk and approached him wondering how to inquire about his usual form of art appraisal.

Five steps away him she saw something move in the background of the painting. A scream formed in her throat, but stayed there. This is a painting, not an animation.

“Just take a deep breath and let it out slowly,” the man said without taking his eyes off the picture. She inhaled. “My apologies, Ms. Smythe.” The man faced her. “I should’ve been more careful. You shouldn’t have seen that.”

Ainsley could not get any words out.

“We knew a portal had been created but until now we couldn’t find it.” The man’s soft voice did not mask his excitement. Ainsley still could not say a word. “How much do you want for it? All I have with me is $400.” He pulled the cash out of his pocket.

That was more than a full week’s shift at the coffee shop. The man wore a light blue polo shirt, brown shorts and running shoes. His black hair was cut short. Overall, his appearance was respectable but not flashy. “Name’s Harvey Abrams.”

Ainsley hesitated in case her voice conveyed her guilt about accepting so much for a painting she despised. “Why are you interested in it?”

“I came to the show after reading the article in Brush Strokes on the grandeur of your renderings hoping you might be able to create portals for us. The last thing I expected was to find you’d already painted one.”

“That?” she said, pointing at The Window.

Harvey nodded. “It might sound delusional to you but you did spot a creature moving. Rare is the artist who can create portals with the range of yours.”

Ainsley glanced around to make sure they were alone. “What is this all about and what moved in the painting?”

“Step closer to it.” When she did, Harvey placed his hand on the window frame.

The scene came to life. In the background she spotted towering snow capped mountains and great soaring birds. She leaned forward. A large animal shuffled through a meadow. Its meandering gait resembled a bear in no hurry to go anywhere. “So what am I seeing?”

“Another dimension.” Harvey removed his hand and the faint outline of the swing returned. He handed her the money and produced a business card. It said he was a temporal and timeline consultant. “I have a lot of customers with special requirements.”

“Watching other dimensions?”

“It’s connected and your portals will play an important role in our work. I only let you see it briefly because when anyone other than a watcher looks through a portal it alerts ….” He hummed. “Let’s call them the bad guys.

“They would wreak havoc if they got into our world. I can watch without them noticing. I look for other things too.”

Ainsley stuffed the cash in her purse and pulled out her receipt book. Too bad Harvey was odd, she thought as she filled out the slip of paper. Still she would like someone to celebrate selling all her paintings. His comments about portals and other dimensions had raised a lot of questions.

“Would you please keep my card handy?” he said. “Someday you’ll paint another portal and we’ll pay well for it. Don’t worry. It won’t be for a while. It’d be a shame to interrupt your landscapes.”

She held out her hand. “Would you like to go for a coffee?”

“I prefer tea.”

She loaded her notes and promotional material into her bag and took a step toward the entrance.

“If I carry the painting unwrapped, people will see what you did in it,” Harvey said. “If you would take it to where they wrap it in brown paper, I can carry it from there. Even if I trigger the portal, no one will see it.”

Once they were outside the building, Harvey pulled out his phone and typed in a number. He did not identify himself to whoever answered. “Portal secured. Works better than expected. Discussing acquisition of additional ones.”

After stowing the painting in his SUV, he stepped away and locked the vehicle with the obligatory squawk. He typed a second code. “That ensures a nasty surprise for anyone who attempts to break into it.” They walked to the coffee shop.

Harvey remembered every detail about her that was in the Brush Strokes article. She selected a table on the patio where they could chat without being overheard. She waited until they were seated before questioning him.

“I’m both an electrical and computer software engineer,” he explained. “One of my pals took astro-physics and became intrigued in the research into other or parallel dimensions to ours. He roped me into helping him understand the physics of parallel dimensions and I was hooked. While I’m busy enough as an engineer, some of my assignments have led me deeper into the concept. But until now, our ability to see into them was limited to technology that isn’t anywhere effective as your portal.”

“Do you have other portals?”

“Yours is the first and when you’re ready, we need more. Money is no object for the people I work with.”

“Could we just make copies of that picture; the process is fairly inexpensive these days.”

“My understanding is that only original paintings work.”

“If I painted the same scene from scratch?”

Harvey shook his head. “I doubt it.”

“I wish I could remember what was going on in my head when I painted it. Any idea on what kind of scenes would work.”

“I’ve been wondering about that. I don’t know what’s in The Window that enables me to see other dimensions.”

“Ponds have been used in literature to enable people to see what’s happening elsewhere.”

“That might work if there is a sense of depth to the water or something mysterious hinted at in its depths. Perhaps a shadow.”

Ainsley pulled out her tablet. “I’ve copies of all my paintings on this. Maybe one will give you some ideas.” She passed the tablet to him. “You’ve a lot of security on your vehicle.”

“The bad guys have agents in this dimension and they try to disrupt our efforts to monitor their bosses. They’ll be a threat to you and we’ll provide you with special security. I’ll bring it to your place once it’s fully programed. I’ll show you how to expand its capabilities and knowledge of what you do. It does ask a lot of questions.”

“Will it follow me around?”

“No because it’ll be too obvious and attract a lot of attention. It’ll monitor your whereabouts when you’re at work or out. It should also be able to determine whether what you’re working on has the potential to be a portal.”

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Putting the finishing touches to Ultimate Wizard

My next book blends science fiction and magic in what some call science fantasy. It involves a group of young engineers, doctors and other science professionals who discover their considerable talents have been enhanced in ways they are happy to have but cannot explain. Although one member of their group postulates they have tapped into magic, they don’t accept that argument until they encounter a 300-year-old Wizard. Byron wants their help to stop a group of ancient power-hungry Wizards from destroying the planet with super-volcanos, earthquakes, searing temperatures, tsunamis and other disasters.

Stuart, a mechanical engineer with a knack for repairing unfixable machines, and Judyth, a gifted surgeon, lead the Mages as Byron dubs them, against Merstreem and his destructive gang, known as the Brotherhood. The Mages need to gain the support of Wizards who do not belong to The Brotherhood as well as the Thals, an offshoot of Neanderthals who have magical powers of their own.

With the assistance of a team of Beta readers, I’m trying to cull out any remaining typos and grammar errors as well as making the story as scientifically plausible as possible. I’m hoping for release in the fall of 2018.

Lots of research to study as part of writing first draft of the Search for the Sevenths.

More about my next book, The Search for the Sevenths, which is also my NaNoWriMo project for November. Instead of focusing on writing the required 50,000 words, I plan to do some writing but mostly to incorporate the research I have gathered for the book. Much of it I still have to read carefully and decide if and how it fits in the story.

If after reading the rest of this preview, anyone interested in what I’m researching and how I plan to use it can contact me through this web site.

The Search for the Sevenths will be a sequel to Saving Grace and A Biot’s Odyssey set about 30 years after the second book.

Ruth Donohue’s final request to the Biots and the Secund robots is to convince humans, Secunds, Dublos and Pozzens to emulate the Beings and accept creatures of artificial intelligence as partners, not a presence to be feared.

Gaopod, the Biot who discovered how to communicate with the creatures of Lavaworld through music, takes up her challenge now that he’s finished creating a 3-D model of the Milky Way that fits inside a specially-designed building the size of several football stadiums. It becomes the ultimate tourist destination. At the same time, he is among the Biots and robots organizing the search for the seventh species in the Milky Way as revealed by the Ancients when Genghis and the others visited the second Dome World.

Robots volunteer to crew the fleet of spacecraft captured during the battle against the mechanical insanity that threated the Secund and Dublo worlds to explore the regions of the galaxy where the Sevenths, as they have been dubbed, might exist. Information from this exploration is incorporated into Gaopod’s model of the Galaxy, making it a dynamic, constantly changing display.

With that search well underway, Gaopod and his team turn their attention to the AI issue only to be confronted by a mysterious virus that threatens the computer based information systems on Earth and Mandela. Trade, banking, transportation and other vital components of the economies of those planets as well as communications with the other worlds, are crippled by the virus. The Beings, Secunds and Dublos are restricting their links with the infected worlds to prevent the spread of the virus. There is a great debate about whether the virus was developed by groups opposed to contact with aliens or whether it was created spontaneously.

The Sevenths are aware of the other species in the galaxy but have avoided revealing their presence because they fear contamination of their planet (got to find a biological reason) from other organic species. When they detect the approach of the robots’ ship, the Sevenths shut everything down to make their world look abandoned. Intrigued by the presence of several seemingly-abandoned cities on the planet, the robots land anyway. They are confronted by the Sevenths whose hostility dissipates when they realize the visitors are mechanical beings and not organics loaded with bacteria that could wipe out the remnants of their once thriving population.

The Biots and robots organize a project to create a communications link with Sevenths and the other planets and undertake to restore much of the equipment left behind on the planet.

The next Biot adventure

I’m planning to use this year’s National Novel Writing Month in November to create the next installment of my space stories. It would be asequel to A Biot’s Odyssey and the first book Humanity’s Saving Grace. Part of the process to me is making sure it is a plausible extension of thestory line from the first two books. So I would like to share some background with you and follow that later with a short outline for the next story, tentatively called The Search for the Sevenths.

The Universe is immense, really beyond our comprehension. When I was writing Humanity’s Saving Grace set in 2037, I read a most interesting scientific riposte to the old science fiction staple of a massive alien invasion of Earth to plunder its resources. You all remember Independence Day or the Day of the Triffids.
The article said the likelihood of such an alien armada descending on Earth was minimal at best. The writer noted that Earth’s place in the Orion Arm puts it beyond the outer boondocks of a small galaxy. Any resources available here could be found at far less cost closer to the heart of the Milky Way or in another Galaxy without any opposition from inhabitants.
Only a true alien explorer would likely find us, the writer said. He was undecided whether an alien would find much of interest about our species. In Humanity’s Saving Grace, Humbaw the Being found Earth by chance on a regular mission of exploring the Milky Way. His curiosity kept bringing him back every 25 years or so to see if we’d improved.
The Beings, who are reptilians living closer to the centre of the Milky Way, had developed biological robots called Biots as companions and helpers for their Confederation of nine planets. Biots accompanied Humbaw’s missions to Earth and saw some useful traits in humans that intrigued them. They also enjoyed our music and humor. In the end it was these visits that gave the Biots, which are the main characters of A Biot’s Odyssey, an opportunity to convince the Beings to give them a bigger role in the Confederation.
When the Beings’ technology couldn’t stop attacks on their Confederation, the Biots convinced the Beings that humans operating Being space craft could. The Biots wanted to see how the humans would do it so the Beings’ helpers could also be their defenders in the future.
Many Biots served as pilots and soldiers in the Nameless War and some like Genghis distinguished themselves. When the Being-human alliance prevailed, Biots like Genghis weren’t satisfied with returning to their traditional roles. The two alien societies they found needed the help of the Biots to recover including rebuilding the robots that were part of the Secund planets.

A Biot’s Odyssey is now available in everywhere, as well as in digital versions

A Biot’s Odyssey is now available in print and e-book formats on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as other e-book distributors: Apple iBooks (iBooks Canada) , Sony and Kobo or ePUB format from Smashwords. You can look it up by the title as well as ISBN 9781988657042.

It would be much appreciated if you would write a review for Goodreads as well as Amazon and B&N.

Meanwhile I’m working on other books and thinking about a follow up story to A Biot’s Odyssey. It involves the Biots and the robots they encounter in Odyssey searching for a reclusive 7th species in the Milky Way. At the same time, they want to develop a way to inculcate artificial life with the kind of empathy for organic species that will overcome the fears of Artificial Intelligence shared by humans, bSecunds and Dublos. It involves understanding why Beings don’t possess this fear and in fact always encouraged the Biots.

Beyond that, my Ultimate Wizard story is out for consideration by a publisher and I’m working on final edits of By Intelligent Design about a deadly pandemic that appears to be engineered to wipe out most of humanity while altering the few survivors.

After that there’s Consciousness Rising, which is a rough draft form from the 1994 NaNoWriMo and The Circle, my only fantasy story.

Most of my reading in the past year has been non-fiction, which has generated plenty of ideas for my science fiction stories. Among the books I’d recommend are Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and the sequel, Homo Deus, by Yuvul Noah Harari and Machines of Loving Grace by John Markoff. Lots of ideas to chew over in Harari’s work while Markoff detracts from his insightful ideas into the fears of artificial intelligence with too much insider information of the architects of the computer and information revolution.

Meanwhile my freelance journalism has been hectic all fall and winter so far. My main customers are trade publications; Ontario Farmer, Manitoba Co-operator, Canadian Sailings and IHS Fairplay. I’ve also started to contribute a story or two a week to Nationalnewswatch.com.

A Biot’s Odyssey – Book Launch Nov 20th, 1:30pm at Books on Beechwood

Sunday November 20th – starts at 1:30 PM – Books on Beechwood, corner of Beechwood and MacKay.
All welcome. There are numerous eateries and coffee shops in the area.
The book is set 30 years after Humanity’s Saving Grace, my first book, and
follows Genghis, one of the Biots (biological robots), on its journey to
realizing that the Biots have become an independent species and partners with
the Beings and humans. Genghis and his small band of fellow Biots discover who
else lives in the Milky Way.

Price $17.95