cambridge book review

Yellow Sky

Rod Clark

Illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre



“Who or what was behind the wheel?”

It seemed to go on forever under the Yellow Sky; the smartsquad leaning into the curves with the patience of a hunter, the desperate quarry weaving perilously across the interchange. The damn thing looked like a Voltswagen, but in 15 years on the CalState patrol policing the LAland basin, Lt. Trapp had never seen a “bug” like this. Too sleek, too fast, too … well, flexible. It danced through the lanes ahead of him with an eerie liquid grace, severely testing the software limits of the smart traffic squealing from its path. There again! He watched incredulously as the vehicle sliced diagonally across a lane, seeming to change shape as it slipped through a tiny gap between two vehicles at a speed of nearly 150 mph.

Trapp had taken pursuit reluctantly. He had been on his way home at the end of a shift—but with dead air under the Yellow Sky, and no quick way to summon SKYCOP—what choice did he have? He had microwaved a hot pursuit notification down to SMARTpave, but in the LAland of August, 2093, even the microwave transmissions a few feet down to the pave were often lost, and backup could be terribly slow. For now, the chase was his—and even with the best chaseware available, this thing was making him look bad. Love to look under that guy’s hood, he thought. If it was a guy. If it was a driver at all, and not some self-drive with exotic AI. Couldn’t possibly be a remote. With the coming of the Yellow Sky, long range wireless was history—so who or what was at the wheel?

An instant later, the thing ahead of him miscalculated a sudden curve and crashed through a guard rail, splashing his windshield with something gooey and green!

Trapp should have smart-paved a report and driven on, but curiosity—bane of cats and cops alike—made him kill the siren and spiral down an old off-ramp into the vintage hood below. The vid died when he hit the dumb-pave, and he had to worm his way back to the crash site through the street grid with old GPS coordinates. Antique hoods always gave him the creeps. Who would want to live like a cockroach in these dirty brick buildings, forgotten in the shadows of ramps and overpasses—sealed off from the world except for ancient copper and wisps of old silicon cable? The irony was, since the coming of the Yellow Sky, some of these people had better com than the burbs.

Finally he found the crash site and a parking spot nearby. Getting out of the squad, the air hit his face like the breath of an oven cooking something no one would eat. What was that horrible smell? No onlookers had yet gathered by the empty lot fenced in between the grimy brick buildings, and the two city squads already guarding the site had an odd appearance, featuring a strange clustering of red and blue lights on top that he had never seen before. How had they arrived first? New models, he supposed. The lines seemed weird, alien. Squinting through the dark glass windows, he could just make out the pale heads of the officers, oblivious to his presence, bobbing over what might have been their lunch.

The sight triggered a faint, but inexplicable surge of nausea. There I go again, he thought. Seeing evil in the mundane. The DOT shrink, Dr. Phlumm, had warned him of this—the tendency to see malignant intentions in ordinary people, inanimate objects … everything. It was the kind of symptom that came with the job, Phlumm had explained—the mind-twisting tasks, the political games, the demands of total secrecy. Three months ago, Trapp and several other CalState patrol officers had been seconded—drafted more like it—into the MUTE squad. Now, as an investigator for MUTE (Major Unexplained Traffic Events), a little-known division of CALTRANS, Trapp was responsible for explaining things to his skeptical superiors that California state engineers and other expert personnel were unable to do. Traffic signals that went berserk for no identifiable reason and then returned to normal in a matter of minutes. UFOs that were spotted by the highway patrol, and then vanished. “Berkeley triangles” in parts of Calsystem where people and vehicles vanished with greater than average frequency with no satisfactory explanation. Parts of the intelligent traffic systems that seemed at times to have minds of their own.

In the beginning, work had been light, and plausible explanations had been easy to deliver. But since the skies of Los Angeles had turned yellow following the meteor shower in June of 2092, MUTE incidents had quadrupled weekly, and suddenly there was a great deal that could not be explained at all. Throughout the heat of July, the news stream continued to declare that the “Yellow Sky” was temporary, that there was no danger of the phenomenon spreading to rest of the republic. “It will pass!” pundits had predicted, but the sky stayed jonquil and the fear would not fade. You could see it in myriad ways. Pedestrians muttering under their breath at crosswalks. Pigeons cooing piteously on the greasy windowsills of tenements. Dogs that snarled at innocent sidewalks. Buildings that stood stiffly in the golden murk of afternoon as if prescient of some unspeakable—enough! Enough!


“A heavyset figure in a huge Hawaiian shirt and a battered fedora.”

He switched his gaze from the dead lemon sky to the lot below. Ten yards away the vehicle he had been pursuing lay half-crushed against the brick wall of the parking lot. An odd stench filled the air and a dark fluid dripped from the wreck, leaving an evil-looking stain on the asphalt. Nearby, a heavyset figure in a huge Hawaiian shirt and a battered fedora hunched over the open trunk of an ancient gas-fired Checker that had been refitted as an electric. Even at a distance he recognized his old mentor from the State Patrol, and one of the officers that had also been transferred to MUTE, the eccentric Captain Kleep.

Glad ta see ya, Trapp,” declared Kleep, straightening as the younger policeman approached. “Thank God I finally got some real backup!” He twitched the brim of his hat contemptuously toward the Metrosquads at the mouth of the lot. “Those local clowns are too damn lazy to get outa their squads!”

Trapp stepped in closer and peeked in the Checker trunk. Inside was an arsenal big enough to take over a small Caribbean republic—old firepower mingled with new. In addition to an ancient eight gauge shotgun lying on the lip of the trunk, there was a 10mm Beretta submachine gun, an M18 with “smart” clips, an old Desert Eagle Magnum handgun, a vintage Glock, two Macrovolt tasers, a Coltorch flamethrower with ceramic nozzles, a box of plastic fragmentation grenades, a Bowie-style knife with a two-foot blade engraved in gold half out of its sheath, and curiously, a jumbo-sized can of RAID yard and garden spray. NEW! EVEN MORE EFFECTIVE! it said on the can.

What’s happening here, Captain?” he asked.

Kleep looked up at him incredulously; red–eyed, haggard, smelling of whisky. A weird croaking laugh escaped from him, sending a chill up Trapp’s spine.

“Didn’t believe my fuckin’ reports, didja?” Kleep snarled. “Like those morons at MUTE HQ. Thought they could stick their heads in the sand and the problem would go away. Thought they could cover their asses and to hell with the metrop. But they couldn’t keep Kleep quiet, could they? Nossir—Kleep stayed on the job! Kleep hunted these suckers 24-7, up and down the coast, trying to produce a sample dead or alive!”

As Kleep extracted the Coltorch from the trunk and checked the controls, Trapp’s pulse began to race. Hadn’t there been strange gossip at HQ lately? Wild stories in Kleep’s reports? Something about drinking on the job? Slowly and mechanically, he picked up the shotgun and checked the magazine. Fully loaded! Thoughts racing furiously, he laid the weapon down within reach on the lip of the trunk. Maybe Kleep had gone mad, but if he had it might be smart to play along—for the moment at least. A lot of this kind of thing had been happening in LAland lately, packing the metro and state asylums to capacity since the coming of the Yellow Sky. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Dr. Phlumm—

Damn thing gave me one hell of a chase,” Trapp said, trying to sound casual, gesturing toward the wreck. “Couldn’t ID the car.”

It ain’t no car,” snarled the Captain. “It’s a bug!”

Trapp began to laugh, but the sound caught in his throat as Kleep’s angry glare shocked him into silence.

“Wake up, asshole! It’s not a Voltswagen! Take a fuckin’ look!”

As Trapp turned and walked slowly toward the wreck, a strange feeling rippled over him. The stench he had been smelling since his arrival suddenly became overpowering. It reminded him of the time he had struggled to help free bodies from the post-quake rubble of a tenement the previous August when the temperature hit 100 degrees. The smell of dead and decomposing flesh. Feet sticking out of tumbled masonry like dead sticks of furniture, stray dogs pulling at them … pulling at them. Up close the side of the car had a shiny fibrous quality like cheap blue velvet. What kind of custom job was that?

Kleep’s voice startled him suddenly at his elbow. “Touch the tread,” he hissed. Trapp crouched and reached out to the knobby protuberances under the wheel hub. At his touch the tread shivered, and a wheel-shaped ripple glided slowly along the bottom of the car to merge with the rear axle.

Yowp!” he squawked, yanking his fingers away.

Don’t worry—the damn thing’s dead,” Kleep muttered. “Just some kind of motor reflex—like a chicken dancing with its head cut off. You should have seen it zipping the first time it …”


Shhh! Keep it down, Trapp!” snapped Kleep. “Ya want the whole of LAland to know what we got here? You tryin’ ta start a riot?” He glanced fearfully back over his shoulder, and Trapp followed his gaze. No riot here, he thought. The lot and surrounding streets were deadly still. A few pedestrians darted swiftly past on unknown errands as if seized by some unspoken anxiety. Did they know something that he didn’t?

At the sound of raised voices, the pasty blob of an officer’s head pressed itself against the dark window of the nearest city squad for a moment—seeming to peer in their direction and then receded. “Worthless sons of bitches,” Kleep muttered, following his gaze. “Fat lot of help they’re going to be when the bastards come …” He chattered on, seeming a little calmer now that he had drawn another person into his circle of fear; taking a long drink from his flask and offering one to Trapp. Trapp took one willingly, feeling the cheap whisky burning in his throat, letting Kleep’s words fade into the background as the implications sank home.

Perspiring now—and not just from the terrible heat—he stood slowly and took a step or two along the side of the thing that lay crushed against the wall. A sick feeling began to rise in the pit of his stomach as he took a fresh look at the crumpled blue carapace. Two silvery, ever-so-slightly trembling antennae. Curiously faceted headlights that remained uncrushed still glowing with a soft phosphorescence. Windows shiny, black, and opaque, as if the cavity within were filled with a sticky dark syrup. Door handles, which he saw now were not door handles at all, but silvery marks like you might see on the wings of a moth. What had looked at first like a license plate on the rear was a tinted patch on the outer skin with colored stipples of a second color on it forming number-like patterns. As Trapp struggled to cope with the stench and his fear, he heard Kleep talking in a loud whisper from where he crouched, as if, by speaking too loudly, he might inadvertently wake the thing that had never been a car, but was now dead—a thing that had once been alive, slithering with terrible speed through the heart of greater LAland.

Don’t know what the hell it is, Trapp! Some kind of giant creepy crawler, I guess. At a distance the damn thing looks so ordinary, you might not give it a second glance—but this ain’t no car. And those aren’t wheels! More like the foot of a snail, maybe—but moving a lot quicker. Glides over asphalt faster than a centipede over kitchen linoleum. Looks more like wheels when it’s going fast enough!” He rambled on, reflecting, speculating, but Trapp was barely listening. His heart was pounding in the heat that rose in reality-warping waves from the ancient sticky asphalt of the lot. None of this was possible. Nothing like this had ever happened in LAland—until the coming of the Yellow Sky.

Trapp recalled once more the strangeness of the chase. The speed and agility of the quarry, the animal-like urgency with which it had sought to escape! Shivering in spite of the heat, he stared at the ground where the dark stain that wasn’t transmission fluid was slowly widening. A million questions leapt to his mind. He thought of the shotgun and the weapons in the trunk.

The arsenal!” he demanded. “What’s with the arsenal?”

Kleep looked at him incredulously. “Don’t you get it, man? These things come for their dead!”

Bulbs lit up Trapp’s brain like an old string of Christmas lights.

You mean—like ants?”

Yeah, like ants!”

So there were more of them?

Lots more of ’em out there,” said Kleep, in answer to his silent question. “Wouldn’t be surprised at all if the whole grid north from Baja to the Canadian border is infected by now. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Yellow Sky began to spread North and East!”

The whole traffic grid—infected up and down the coast! But at least now they had evidence, Trapp thought, a specimen to convince even the worst skeptics. But then Kleep’s other comment finally registered. These things come for their dead! Abruptly he strode rapidly back to the trunk of the Checker and picked up the shotgun. Kleep followed, scanning the lot around them, cradling the Coltorch in his elbow. Horribly now, the whole situation was beginning to make sense.

They thought you were a drunk,” Trapp said, beginning to think out loud as he filled his pockets with shotgun shells. “And no one ever believed you because they never found a body because—”

Because they come for their dead!”

Like ants!”

Like ants.”

Trapp’s tongue felt dry and hot.

How many? How big?” he croaked. Then, finally: “How long???”

Kleep shrugged, seeming almost cool now that the terror was shared with another member of the human species.

Hard to say.”

Maybe we should—”

We can’t split, Trapp—we gotta stay!” He gestured with his flask back to the dead alien thing crushed against the wall. “This is the proof! We gotta protect the specimen until BIO REPO gets here.”

BR is coming?”

Yep. Should be, anyway. I dumped a com into SMARTpave just before the off-ramp. The link was kinda crackly, but I think it got through. Once the labs report the b-crats have gotta listen. All those stupid assholes—”

As Kleep rambled on, Trapp took a deep breath. Here, at least was some good news. A BIO REPO van was on its way—no ordinary meat wagon. A BIO REPO van could get this thing to the state labs, make some sense of it. BIO REPO studied the bodies of animals that died on California roads. Birds, stray cats, turtles, deer. Found strange stuff sometimes. Deer with two heads grazing near the old nuke plants. Turtles with strangely-shaped shells that crawled out of polluted parks. Squashed species of frogs that no one knew existed or were thought to be extinct. The Agency ran tests, made checks on clipboards, conferred with endangered species experts, made safety recommendations to the people upstairs. If anyone could get a handle on this, BR could.

There was the sound of brakes at the corner, and a huge vehicle cruised down the block toward them. It looked like an armored truck of some sort. BR it said on the side, or perhaps RB. The letters seemed to flicker back and forth in the afternoon light. “Here they come!” said Kleep, with a curious tightness in his voice. Trapp breathed a huge sigh of relief. In a minute whatever was happening here would no longer be his problem. Someone else would deal with the thing against the wall, with Kleep, with all of it. He could go home now, crank up the AC, have a Scotch, and swim in the holos until he was numb and unafraid enough to sit down and fill out some bullshit report. REPO to the rescue! REPO hurrah! The two squads pulled back on each side of the lot entrance with unexpected alacrity as the armored vehicle glided toward them with remarkable smoothness over the warm asphalt.

Suddenly, with a demented cry, Kleep charged the vehicle, his Coltorch primed and at the ready.

No!” shrieked Trapp as he leapt forward to intercede—too late. A torrent of flame leapt from the ceramic nozzle to engulf the grill of the tow truck. Then—to Trapp’s horror—the inexplicable happened. The grill squirmed. And screamed. A high-pitched skull-ripper of a sound. The truck rolled on its side and curled over on its back like a dog wanting to be scratched, its towing crane arcing like the tail of a scorpion, its many legged underside twitching in the hot flames.

Again and again, as the tortured creature screamed in pain, Kleep laid a long torrent of flame along the side panels, which boiled and cracked like marshmallows on a campfire. Acrid smoke billowed up in black clouds that had a less than delicate perfume. As Trapp watched, the thing in front of them began to shrink to a crisp with a rapid roar, feeding the boiling black column with thick grey flakes that danced in the smoke as if it were more substance than vapor. For a fleeting moment it reminded Trapp of the time he had burned a box of old mothballs on the cement floor of his father’s garage back in Rome, Wisconsin.

A half-melted piece of the grill separated from the disintegrating mass and began to worm its way toward Trapp, working its chrome-colored teeth in agony and rage. A series of explosions startled Trapp, and he realized that he had unconsciously leveled and fired the shotgun in his hands, and was reflexively pumping round after round into the face of the snarling horror. It retreated, twitching, and was engulfed by a trickle of flaming fluid. Inside his brain he felt the nudge of an alien sense of unfairness and outrage, a keening, remorseless logic: All I/we really want/wanted was/is to feast on your/entrails/brain/balls—all I/we really want/wanted is/was your world.

Fry, you creep! he thought back, fumbling in his jacket pocket for another handful of shells. Fry in hell! He kept firing until the trigger clicked and nothing came out …

Somewhere off to his right, Kleep was dancing like a fat kid in front of a Halloween bonfire. He waved the flamethrower triumphantly. “That’ll bring ’em!” he howled, gesturing toward the smoke. Kleep was right. No more worry about sending a signal for help. The smoke would be seen for miles. Fire, police, news sources, everyone would see it. Soon the finest lab techs in the world would be sifting this ash and taking tissue samples from the thing against the wall and the burned remnants of the thing still smoking on the asphalt. Soon netcams would be panning across this smoldering carnage, and everyone in the world would know that something truly strange had happened here. Even the stuffy bureaucrats at MUTE would be unable to silence it, bury it, delay the terrible knowing of it. Nameless dread would be transformed into a call for action. And then the world as he had known it—might be saved. As Trapp raised his eyes to follow the smoke that spiraled skyward in a curiously cohesive column, a not quite formed worry teased at his brain: What else would the smoke bring? He shook it off. Action was needed now. He strode back to the Checker, and after a moment’s reflection, traded the shotgun for the Beretta machine gun, checking the safety and stuffing an extra cartridge clip in his belt. Only then did he turn back to face the unknown. Suddenly the empty lot felt like a trap under the pale lemon sky. No breeze stirred the lot, and there was no sound to be heard but the faint roar of traffic high above on the overpasses. Kleep, breathing raggedly now, had also returned to the trunk and was stuffing grenades into his donned flak vest.


How the fuck would I know!” Kleep declared angrily. “They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, okay? They’re ’daptable. Skilled at ‘camo.’ That’s what makes ’em so fuckin’ dangerous! That’s why we gotta wait for BR.”

That’s right, supposedly BR was coming—the real BR. Unless, of course, Kleep’s original com had been intercepted! And how would they be able to tell if it was the real BR this time??

Things had gotten very bad very quickly—and something else was bothering him. Trapp’s glance strayed to the squads that sat silently at the entrance to the lot. Why the hell hadn’t the squads responded?

The sound of a siren and the screeching of tires broke through the smoke that still boiled off the asphalt. A bright red fire engine careened around the corner of the block—leaning strangely on the curve, he thought—and then roared toward the mouth of the lot. The two squads moved in at its flanks as it slowed, and slid toward them with an almost animal grace.

Omigod!” Trapp screamed. “All three—”

He was interrupted as one of Kleep’s grenades exploded on the hood of the squad car on his side of the red monster. The squad ignited in a puff of foul green smoke. A thick pale tentacle rose from the flaming cab. It was topped with a glob that looked a little like a head with a blue cap. A mouth opened on the side of it.


“A thick pale tentacle rose from the flaming cab.”

NOT FAIR!” it screeched in a parody of a voice that sounded like it came from a police megaphone. “CHEATING! CHEATING!” it squealed before curling resentfully back into the flames … The great red beast which had shuddered and leaned away from the blast, now opened its black bumper lips and roared as it reared up on its hindquarters. Trapp opened up with the Beretta, pouring slugs into its wriggling undercarriage, apparently to no avail. The thing leapt convulsively forward and descended upon Captain Kleep—whose Coltorch had suddenly jammed! But Kleep did not retreat! He emptied his service automatic in the creature’s face and raced back to the Checker. He didn’t make it. As the grill of teeth closed on his gun arm, he seized the jumbo can of bug spray from where it sat on the edge of the trunk and hurled it into the maw of the monster. For a moment, Trapp watched the can through the pale jelly behind a window-like membrane on the side of the alien’s head. Shaking off the horror that had paralyzed him for an instant, he slammed the fresh clip into the Beretta and poured out his fire—using the can as a target. Several slugs pierced the can, which began to spiral inside the creature’s head emitting a venomous white foam.

The creature rose from Kleep’s body with a shuddering screech that seemed to emanate on multiple frequencies. It twisted toward Trapp, rippling its elastic, ladder-like arms, but then it was seized by a series of terrible convulsions, striking the asphalt again and again. “YOU!! YOU!!” it shrieked in Trapp’s head, knowing it had his frequency now. That it could drive him mad! But then, with a terrible, brain-ripping noise, it rolled away from him and crashed into the wall of the parking ramp at the edge of the lot—trembled and lay almost still, twitching softly.

Kleep was a goner for sure. One shoulder was gone, and blood ran out like a dark river, pooling around the crushed fedora that lay nearby. I should have fired faster, Trapp thought. The damn thing got into my head!

Didja ever study history, Trapp?” asked Kleep as Trapp bent over him. His eyes were beginning to glaze over. A thread of bloody foam appeared on his lip.

I was never much on history, Captain,” Trapp muttered. “Bunch of stuff that’s over and done with!” Maybe all human history was done with now …

I remember Ms. Murple used to tell us how the Romans built thousands of roads,” gasped Kleep. “—and how they used them roads to conquer the world. But you know what, Trapp? In the end, the barbarians used them same fuckin’ roads to sack the empire!”

An image came to Trapp’s mind. A lace of asphalt and SMARTcrete cloaking a continent. A pathway to destiny and destruction that seemed suddenly inevitable. And who was he to stand in the path of this devastation? One deranged primate who knew with unambiguous certainty the threat to the human empire. One sorry specimen of a species that had finally met its master. Surely, it was all over but the screams of the dying. Surely there was nothing he could do …

Reaching up from the bloody pave, Kleep seized Trapp’s collar with a trembling hand. “Don’t listen to ’em,” he muttered. “Them thoughts you’re thinking don’t come from you. They came down out of the Yellow Sky with the bugs. They know how to put fear in your head. That’s how they’ll try to win …” A coughing fit followed—more blood. “Tell Martha I love her,” he gasped.

Martha? I had no idea you were married,” Trapp confessed.

Nah, she’s a waitress at the Tasty Top,” Kleep murmured. “I’ve been meaning to ask her out, but never got up the nerve.” As the blood pumped out of his shoulder in sluggish spurts, he fixed Trapp with the dying lamps of his eyes. “Our illusions are better than theirs,” he grated. “It ain’t ever as bad as it looks. Don’t believe what they tell ya! Trust nothing you see!”

And then he was gone. As the flames crackled around the dead squads, and an evil sweat trickled from his brow, Trapp said goodbye to the man who everyone should have listened to, the man who could have been his lifelong friend. The family would have to be notified, he thought. If there was any family. If there was anyone to notify. If they would care if notification were executed. If anything anyone did mattered anymore, mattered at all! He rose slowly, turned, and surveyed the lot.

Trapp saw that Kleep had gotten the other squad with another of his grenades. In its death throes the fire-engine thing had lashed its ladders into the cement wall of the old parking ramp that edged the lot to the East. The wall had crumpled oddly—not like a solid barrier, but like the shell of an old pumpkin. Through a gap Trapp could just barely make out the dim slope of one of the ramps elbowing back into the darkness like some fragment of a structure designed by Escher. Pulling a flashcard from his wallet, he warily approached the cavity. Carefully, he sidestepped the ladders which still twitched and rippled like dying tentacles, and approached the wall. Odd, he thought, a parking ramp of this vintage should be wrought of Tilt-Up SYMcrete slabs, but this one clearly had some sort of ceramic block structure that seemed curiously soft—the cross section perforated with five-sided honeycomb-like cells. Stepping over the broken wall into the dim interior, an odd draft—cool and strangely sweet—fanned his cheeks. He stood there, dazed and still a bit in shock, grateful for a moment to be out of the hot sun and the insanities that lay in stinking ruin in the lot behind him.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw something moving there on the concrete surface just a few yards in front of him. Toys. That’s what they looked like, children’s toys playing by themselves with no child in sight. Toys that squirmed and pounced as if they were made of soft rubber. Toys that looked like tiny microvans, utility vehicles, sportscars, smartsquads. Miniature ambulances and fire engines. Twisting and rolling, thousands of them, the shadows teeming with them, playing like kittens in the shaft of late afternoon light that spilled in through the broken wall, revealing what should have, in all decency, remained unseen.

Ramps … No! Not ramps! Hives! Kleep had called them that in one of his frantic memos, but no one had listened to Kleep. Perhaps they had hoped that not listening would keep the horrors of the Yellow Sky at bay—but clearly, that hadn’t worked, and the invasion had happened, and—perhaps by some trick of alien psychic warfare—no one really wanted to know. How bad had things really gotten, he wondered. How much of the metropolis was no longer what it seemed to be?

Trapp backed slowly out of what he had imagined was a parking ramp, stepping past the crenelations of the broken wall which were now seeping an amber-colored syrup. He emerged into the bright hot sunlight that was falling from a sky that might never be blue again.


“And then he heard it, a soft buzzing high in the east.”

Kleep’s bonfire was still burning. Trapp walked toward it as if it were a comfort somehow—strange that a fire that scorched his cheeks even at a distance could be a comfort on such a hot day. It was a good signal, he thought, looking at the oddly vertical column of smoke that poured upward into the stillness of the Yellow Sky. And then he heard it, a soft buzzing thunder high in the east. Skycopters! The high-tech energy-efficient birds with the long spidery blades that had been developed for the thin air of Mars and were now adapted for the thicker air of the home planet. Yes! They had seen the smoke. They were turning in the sky and moving toward him. He was saved. Now everyone would know the truth. Now they could shake off the hypnotic fear that had held them all in ignorance. Maybe the metrop and the interstate and the net of roads that laced the hemisphere could be cleansed. Maybe the world could be saved and the world could return to the state of ignorant bliss that had existed before the coming of the Yellow Sky. Not damn likely, he thought—but in the short run, maybe, just maybe …

Wild laughter rose in his throat as the rescue squad began to descend toward him. It was hilarious how much the helicopters looked like dragonflies.


Rod Clark is a life-long Wisconsin resident. A professional writer and media-consultant, he is also the editor of Rosebud, a national magazine for people who enjoy good writing.


Weshoyot Alvitre is a Tongva/Scots-Gaelic illustrator, comic artist and “collector of all things saffron colored.” She has been doing comics for the last decade, with animation sprinkled on the side, sewing in between the lines, and most recently, molding wood. Weshoyot has a BA in Fine Art and Illustration, and gathers experience wherever she can find a source. Most recently an apprentice of artist Howard Chaykin, Weshoyot has contributed to comics including Tenth Muse (Bluewater Productions), Archaic #10, 11, 12 (Fenickx Productions), Umbrella Academy #6 (Darkhorse), and Native American Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 24 (Eureka Productions). More examples of her art can be seen online at her website and on Facebook. She currently resides in the weather exception to “sunny” California with her husband and two cats.

June 20, 2013 Posted by | science fiction, short story | , , | Leave a comment

cbr 5 / winter 2000-2001


cbr 5 / winter 2000-2001

Fear and Loathing in Seattle
(Or: How I Almost Became a Serial Killer)

Cal Godot

Chris Lanier

The Stripping of Saint Joan
Noel Vera

critic clown
An excerpt
Paul Vos Benkowski

The Glass Cocoon
An excerpt
Christopher J. Jarmick & Serena F. Holder

Long Shot Odyssey
An excerpt
Walter Bruno

Non-Committal Blurbs
for Soft-Hearted or Weak-Willed Book Reviewers

William Ham

Redshift: Greenstreem
An excerpt
Rod Clark

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday,
Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights
David Margolick
Reviewed by Gay Davidson-Zielske

Planet Hong Kong
David Bordwell
Reviewed by Noel Vera


March 18, 2012 Posted by | biography, cinema, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 4 / winter 1999-2000


cbr 4 / winter 1999-2000

Gonzago the Boy Wonder
From a work in progress
Cal Godot

For Harold Brodkey
Marcus Gray

Jan Levine Thal

Redshift: Greenstreem
An excerpt
Rod Clark

Waking from a Dream of Grief
A poem
David Steingass

Glass Cocoon
A poem
Christopher J. Jarmick

Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick
Frederic Raphael
Reviewed by Scott Von Doviak

Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana
Translated by Catherine Temerson
Reviewed by Bob Wake

At Home in the World
Joyce Maynard
Reviewed by Gay Davidson-Zielske

Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City
Nicholas Christopher
Reviewed by John Lehman

Katharine Whitcomb
Reviewed by Matt Welter

The Pocket Poetry Parenting Guide
Edited by Jennifer Bosveld
Reviewed by Matt Welter

Nobody’s Hell
Douglas Goetsch
Reviewed by Matt Welter

Natural Superior
Vol. 1, No. 1
Reviewed by Matt Welter


March 18, 2012 Posted by | biography, cinema, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 2 / spring & summer 1998


cbr 2 / spring & summer 1998

Sugar Road
Excerpt from a work in progress
Rod Clark

On Levertov
Kevin Ducey

From The Land, Always the Land
Mel Ellis

From The Tenting Cantos
R. Virgil Ellis

The Man Who Once Played Catch with Nellie Fox
John Manderino
Reviewed by Gay Davidson-Zielske

Omens of Millennium
Harold Bloom
Reviewed by Bob Wake

Tabloid Dreams
Robert Olen Butler
Reviewed by John Lehman

Just Above Water
Louis Jenkins
Reviewed by John Lehman

Handwriting in America: A Cultural History
Tamara Plakins Thornton
Reviewed by B.C. Brown

In the Deserts of This Earth
Uwe George
Translated from the German by Richard & Clara Winston
Reviewed by David Steingass


March 18, 2012 Posted by | biography, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 1 / winter 1997-1998


cbr 1 / winter 1997-98

Three poems
Jim Stevens
From Earth Hunter

Two poems
César Vallejo
Translated by Mary Sarko

Greta’s Wail of GreatPlains Law
David Steingass
From GreatPlains: A Prairie Lovesong

Mitchum & Stewart
Jeffrey Corcoran
From Unconscious Cinema

Pereira Declares
Antonio Tabucchi
Reviewed by Mary Sarko

Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
Reviewed by Bob Wake

In the Shadows of Mountains
Edited by John E. Smelcer
Reviewed by Rod Clark

Signposts: New and Selected Poems
Frances May
Reviewed by David Steingass

In the Gathering of Silence
Levi Romero
Reviewed by Ken Hunt

Esperando a Loló
Ana Lydia Vega
Reviewed by Nancy Bird

In the Gardens of the North American Martyrs
Tobias Wolff
Reviewed by John Lehman

The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism
Edward S. Herman & Robert W. McChesney
Reviewed by Amitabh Pal

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Rebecca Wells
Reviewed by Kate McGinnity

I Was Amelia Earhart
Jane Mendelsohn
Reviewed by Dori Knoff-Roselle


March 18, 2012 Posted by | cinema, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Origins of FIS (Factory in a Suitcase)

cbr 5 / winter 2000-2001

From Redshift: Greenstreem
By Rod Clark
CBR Press 2000

Appendix II
Selected Terms
from Encyclopedia Cybernetica
as of June 2nd, 2094


Factory in a Suitcase. (Illustration by Spencer Walts from "Redshift: Greenstreem.")

A macroset is a set of interdependent nanobots generally containing at least a billion nanobots whose operations are directed and coordinated by an AI matrix commonly referred to as a “hive.” Macrosets can be powered by a variety of means, including microfusion, old-fashioned microwave technology, and a multitude of biochemical reactions, in particular those related to the binding and unbinding of DNA molecules in bi-knit flow systems. The latter technology was combined in 2053 with human-derived DNA and neurotransmitters to produce an AI system that simultaneously powered and directed the newly invented micro-machinery matrices. Although such neurotransmitters and DNA matrices may be synthesized, the purest and most economic means of producing them is in human beings themselves, thus allowing a large portion of our planet’s population to earn a basic subsistence wage for doing almost nothing, and helping to solve the massive unemployment problem of recent decades.

The first experimental macroset was created by Engineer Jack Dougal McCool in 2042. He called it a “factory in a suitcase” or FIS, and stunned observers in the granite shield country near Rainy River, Minnesota by pouring an early FIS out of the back of a dump truck and having it carve part of a roadway through a half mile long granite shelf in less than three hours. This crude pilot model was nicknamed “the lamp.” It was set in motion not by an external switch, but by rubbing the titanium shell of the cylinder to excite and “wake” the blubit matrix, which then projected a tiny hologram avatar which requested verbal commands from the set “master.” It would then process the commands as riddles to be solved, and proceed with attempted solutions. Today, the macroset descendants of Jack McCool’s early FIS prototype can direct a wide range of nanotech “soups” to perform an astonishing variety of manufacturing or reengineering tasks at a high speed (and at any scale, including terraforming or metrostructing, depending merely on the size of the macroset and its parameters ). Today macrosets are capable of folding all their components into much smaller spaces with much greater capacity then was once contemplated. The massive FIS hives of the mid 21st century have given way to systems that can fit into a 5 kilogram attaché case. “Worldmaker” macrosets the size of McCool’s original FIS can now terraform and urban plat entire planetoids, complete with big box retail and Macrodonald arches from horizon to horizon in as little as forty-eight hours. All the marvelous achievements of macrosets are acomplished with essentially four kinds of bots: sensits, the eyes, ears and nose of the set; blues or blubits, which analyze, program and direct; quicks or quickets, which provide inter- and intra-energy transfer and communications; and redniks, which construct and deconstruct. These collaborate through the aforementioned system matrix called a hive.

Once set in motion, a macroset can be a dangerous tool, since it has the ability to radically transform any matter in its path, creating an astonishing repertoire of buildings, machines, goods and artifacts of all kinds—limited only by the sources of energy and matter available for it to tap, and by the reins of its managing software. Because of its potential for destruction as well as construction (as demonstrated by the tragic art-deco redesign of Cincinnati in 2068), the security, development and improvement of management and control systems has always been the focus of macroset engineering as carried forward by the Greenet Consortium.

Even in the early days of macrosets there was a considerable controversy over the best way to develop guidance systems to manage, direct, and control the energies of trillions of molecular sized nanobots in order that they might perform the many complex and sophisticated tasks that nano engineers anticipated for them. McCool’s orginal FIS was an “evolved” AI system which grew slowly at first, matured rapidly into a brief and useful life, and then became unmanageable as its experience grew exponentially—requiring “macrocide” when the system matured, began to question, and eventually overwhelmed control systems. This early control design was built on the “democratic” hive concept—with each class of nanobots being assigned tasks which it could carry out in any fashion it liked within crudely defined parameters. The “education” process proved extremely difficult, as the creative bots periodically found inventive ways to subvert and overwhelm their parameters—sometimes, as noted earlier, with disastrous results.

The McCool theory was that this nursery method of cultivating and educating macrosets, although expensive and difficult in its early stages, would produce the finest macroset hive in the long run. Challenges included the uncertainties generated by chaotic variation and the difficulties inherent in calculating Brownian tolerances of nanobot matrices when such systems are allowed perfect freedom and maximum learning opportunities (within loosely structured strange attractor parameters). The expenses and danger inherent in this process, which McCool called “training the genie,” plus the reasonable doubts of Greenet Executives that total mastery could ever be achieved over such continuously evolving AI systems, combined to move the “control” initiative in a newly secure and responsible direction. AI queens were established to build security envelopes around macrosets and help commercial interests direct them with tighter discipline. McCool, more interested in science than safety, did not care for the new approach. Unfortunately, his irrational opposition to the new control protocols deranged him, leading him into the unconscionable criminal activities of the 80s, and tarnishing his reputation.

In the interests of greater macroset security and control, Greenet’s 20th century predecessor, a clumsy and loosely structured capital matrix called the Fortune 500, directed Lucent and other ancient firms to create “plug and play central” control systems that would send predefined (fully cooked) imperatives directly from corporate engineers to the systems—crisply separating the problem solving and execution modes of macrosets. However, this proved too restrictive to be economically viable, since such macrosets did not have the creative freedom to sufficiently modify projects when presented with unexpected anomalies or flawed instructions. After a number of tragedies resulted from this well-intentioned but over-restrictive approach—this too rigid format was abandoned. Hence today’s “Chinese Box” macros in which successively more heavily controlled layers of directly programmed security bots encase a free thinking hive like the layers of an onion. Within this secure corral, the macroset is allowed to “think” freely, but is only allowed to “act” when off-system approval of change options is granted. Vicious rumors that some macros have escaped their molecular prisons and are prowling loose on the moons of Jupiter and elsewhere at the Solsystem’s rim are entirely false. Greenet’s management of such systems is secure and absolute.

There are, however, a small handful of FIS lamps—created for the use of McCool and his criminal descendants—still believed to exist, operating irresponsibly free of Greenet. These systems were deliberately released into Solsystem by McCool following his conviction for subversion under the Greenet protrust laws of 2063, and subsequent escape from custody and disappearance among the moons of Jupiter in 2087. These include three lost lamps, and one experimental “ring” which disappeared with him and may be at this very hour in the hands of subversive elements that are either ignorant of the dangers of such self-energizing, continuously self-modifying units or are involved in criminal conspiracies to perpetuate their use. The control of these maverick macrosets, sometimes called the “Y” series, can only be exercised by an imprinted male who shares (by direct descent) the same “Y” chromosome as Jack Dougal McCool. If the reader has any knowledge of these “loose lamps,” or the location of any direct male descendants of Dougal McCool, it is that individual’s responsibility to report this information to the nearest Greenet terminal so that these individuals can be placed in protective custody, and these maverick macrosets can be tamed or deactivated, and made safe for the good of all.

Solsystem, into which we are locked until (or if) the FTL drive can spread Greenet across the dark matter between suns, has a finite and diminishing amount of matter and energy supplemented to some extent by solar and galactic radiations. The FIS lamp piracies which may now operate sporadically throughout solsystem, may be depleting this precious reserve of matter and energy, maintained by Greenet for the good of all, thus threatening the very foundation of civilization as we know it. Remember, energy not managed by Greenet is energy mismanaged: “Loose Lamps Lose Amps!” Be sure to report any information you come across regarding these maverick lamps or McCool descendants to Greenet Central. As the reader is no doubt aware, these maverick lamps are known as Aladdins.

Redshift: Greenstreem is available from or


Rod Clark is a life-long Wisconsin resident. A professional writer and media-consultant, he is also the editor of Rosebud, a national magazine for people who enjoy good writing.

January 1, 2001 Posted by | fiction | , , | Leave a comment