Con Reviews: SheVaCon 10

by Michael D. Pederson


SheVaCon 10
February 22-24, 2002
Roanoke, Virginia

Attendance for this year’s SheVaCon was approximately 500. Guests of Honor this year included David Drake and Daniel Horne. SheVaCon 11 is scheduled for February 21-23, 2003; the location is still being determined.


Con Review: Stellarcon 26

StellarCon26by Michael D. Pederson


Stellarcon 26
March 15-17, 2002
Greensboro, North Carolina

Stellarcon is another mid-size winter convention, one of the last before we start gearing up for the larger spring and summer cons. Though not a big con, Stellarcon is definitely a fun ride—throwing a con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend never hurts. Membership for this year’s Stellarcon was approximately 500, with a slightly younger average age this year than in recent years. This year’s Guests of Honor were Allen Wold and Charles Keegan, with Timothy Zahn, William R. Fortschen, and Simon Hawke also serving as guests. Stellarcon’s first real Con Suite was a major hit. They served sandwiches, chili, spaghetti, hotdogs, and their signature Cheerwine. On Saturday night, the Con Suite also hosted a party for the upcoming Dragon*Con that was very well attended. The dealers did well this year; some of the dealers commented that they did more business on Friday than they did all of Stellarcon 25. This bodes well for the economic situation at cons. Stellarcon’s Charity Auction raised approximately $1,950 for Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro. StellarCon 27 is scheduled for March 14-16, 2003 in High Point, NC.


Con Review: JerseyDevilCon 2

JerseyDevil2by Michael D. Pederson


JerseyDevilCon 2
April 5-7, 2002
Edison, New Jersey

Another fun mid-size con. Incredible programming for a con of it’s size though—Terry Pratchett, Jerry Pournelle, Charles Grant, Michael Kaluta, Jeff Menges, and nearly one hundred scheduled events. Plus, a very full Dealer’s Room; so full, in fact, that several dealers had to be set up in a separate Dealer’s Row by the Con Suite. Even more impressive when you consider that this was only JDC #2. JerseyDevilCon 3 will be held April 25-27, 2003.


Game Review: Munchkin

Munchkinby Chris Tompkins


If you are like me (and unless you have a third nipple and a prehensile tail, you aren’t) you understand that collectible card games are an over-marketed, indomitable money-sink for the rich and the stupid. Yet, there is the allure of a quick, fun, multi-player card game over soda and pizza. What is the common gamer-on-a-budget to do? In this issue I will review two non-collectible card games from the genius that is Steve Jackson Games.

First up is a cute little number called Munchkin. The game boasts to capture the essence of the dungeon experience, without all of that tedious role-playing. The boast is well deserved, as it is easy to play with a smattering of rules that are meant to be open-ended and easily misinterpreted.

The fun begins with the players starting out as no-class, level one humans. The first player to become a level ten character wins. After dealing two dungeon cards and two treasure cards to each player (starting equipment), play proceeds with MunchinDuckCardthe first player “kicking in the door.” He flips the top card of the dungeon deck; if it is a monster, like the dreaded Mall Rat or the Ghoulfriends, the player must then fight it. If the player holds cards for any magic items, like the Horny Helmet or the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment, his combat level increases. Winners are determined by comparing the player’s combat levels to the monster’s—highest value wins. If the player wins the fight, he gets treasure; if he loses, he “dies” and reverts to first level. At any time he can ask other players for help. Why would others want to help? Usually, bribing them with a share of the treasure works. As you can tell, there is a great deal of table talk, negotiation, and smack talking.

The genius and humor of the game come out in the cards, illustrated by John Kovalic (creator of the online comic, Dork Tower). RPGers will understand a good deal of the jokes and non-RPGers will like the game for the social aspects and fast play time. Each game lasts from twenty minutes to an hour and is for 2-6 players. Like most Steve Jackson games, the more people, the better!


Game Review: Chez Geek

chezgeekby Chris Tompkins


Chez Geek is a nifty little non-collectible card game about life with roommates. Chances are, if you’ve never rented an apartment or house with several of your closest friends, you’ve thought about it. The more rational of us understand that friends are best in small doses. Others get that house or apartment and learn quickly what the rational already knew. Remember that you can’t throw them out, they live there!

The rules are printed on one large sheet of paper, front and back. They’re easier than poker, but not as easy as blackjack. There are nine job cards and a healthy stack of other cards. Each player gets one job card, dealt face-up, and five other cards, dealt face-down. Your job card tells you your Income, how much Free Time you have, and how much Slack you need to win the game. Play proceeds as follows: you draw up to six cards, roll any dice you need to roll, call people, do stuff, and discard back down to five cards. The instant you get enough Slack to win, you win.

The cards (once again illustrated by John Kovalic) are divided into four types. There are Activity cards (everything from Mutant Olympics to Gaming Nookie); Thing cards (Booze, Cigarettes, Weed, Pricey Electronics, etc.); Person cards; and Whenever cards, which are events or dirty tricks that you can play on your roommates. You only need one die to play, a single six-sided. You’ll also need a heap of counters to represent Slack. Pennies, dice, or poker chips work well.

After drawing up to six cards, we come to the dice-rolling phase. Most commonly, you’ll be rolling for your income if you have an unsteady job like Temp or Waitstaff. You might also roll to see if your car breaks down, or if a parasitic visitor leaves. All the rolls in this phase break down to the 50/50 rule. 1-3: Bad Stuff happens (the loser in your room doesn’t leave, you have the lower income value for that turn), 4-6: Good Stuff happens (loser leaves, higher income value).

Next comes the “Calling People” phase. You can call as many people as you like in a turn, provided you have their cards in your hand. There are two types of people: those that provide Slack and those that don’t. The people who don’t provide Slack will always come over. Usually you play them on your roommates and they eat their Food, drink their Booze, smoke their Weed, disrupt their RPGs, or hog their computers. There are a few cards that allow you to get rid of annoying visitors (including Justifiable Homicide).

After you’re done attempting to get people to hang out in your room, we come to the “Free Time” phase. It is here that the amount of free time your job affords comes into play. You can play Activity cards like Sleep, getting Nookie (a crowd favorite), or playing RPGs. You can also go shopping and buy Things like a Playstation, a bong, cigarettes, beer, even Harold the Hoopty Car!

ChezGeekSamplesThere’s a strategy element to the game that still manages to be comical. On the surface, the high-paying jobs have it all compared to the folks like the Drummer and the Slacker. In one shopping trip, a Corporate Drone can, provided he has the right cards in his hand, buy five or more points of Slack. The better your job, the more Slack you need to win, but it still seems like the Corporate Drone or Tech Support guys have the game in the bag; you can, however, drag them down to your level. The Corporate Drone, for instance, has only one point of Free Time. If he announces he’s going shopping, you can cancel his action by playing a TV card, “Dude! Check out this episode of Hitler Science Theater Y2K!” He still gets a point of Slack for watching TV, but he was going to get more than that by shopping. You can send parasitic visitors to your opponent’s room to consume their Things. Of course, they can get back at you by making your cat do it’s business in your bed, or playing Moron With A Chainsaw or Car Alarm to disrupt your precious Sleep. Before the game has ended, you might even murder their live-in significant other, or have a burglar break in and steal their stuff.

The game really captures the feel of college or post-college living and it only sets you back twenty bucks. A little more if you buy the two 55-card expansion sets, Chez Geek 2: Slack Attack and Chez Geek 3: Block Party, which add more jobs, people, and activities.

If you now bask in the glow of the awesome brilliance that is Steve Jackson Games then I heartily suggest you check out his true glory at and see what you’ve been missing.


Conspiracy Theory


Illustration by Matt McIrvin

by Sean Dylan Weir


These days you can’t do anything without running into an alien. Movies, television, websites, bumper stickers, T-shirts, amusement parks, and even bar motifs have bulbous heads and bulging black eyes staring at you. I was flipping channels the other day when I saw an ad for a “Welcome All Species” doormat. If you bought one, I think you need to get out of the house more often. And besides, last time I checked, these sadistic bug-eyed freaks were sailing across the galaxy to kidnap and torture hillbillies.

If one of them shows up at my house with an anal probe, I’ll kick his ass.

But no matter how you feel about anal probes, media attention is intense, and keeping your aliens straight can be difficult. So, here is an Alien Field Guide; I hope it will help.


Back in 1947, the Reticulans, commonly known as the greys, landed in Florida and made a deal with Uncle Sam. They would give us technology in exchange for access to human test subjects. Uncle Sam was in a real Catch-22. If he said yes, the greys would have carte blanche to torture U.S. civilians. If he said no, the greys would end up giving tech to the Ruskies. Uncle Sam said yes and has been trying to cover it up ever since.

Some people claim to have been abducted by greys. Maybe I’m a bit odd, but these horrific tales make me laugh. They remind me of what the gazelles must have felt like on “Wild Kingdom.” No wonder the greys think it’s okay to capture and tag free-range humans.

Greys come in two types. One tall, thin, Marlin Perkins “I’m in charge” type is usually seen with a bunch of shorter, pixie-like “watch as Jim tries to insert the anal probe into Cartman” types.


In 1948, the Pleiadeans landed in Florida and told Uncle Sam that he had really screwed up. The greys were planning to take over the Earth. The Pleiadeans offered to get rid of the infestation, but Uncle Sam had to lead a worldwide spiritual renaissance and dismantling of nukes. Uncle Sam laughed, then said no.

But the Pleiadeans came back in 1972 and hung out with a guy named Billy Meyers. The original Meyers material included audio recordings, metal samples, detailed star charts, and thousands of photos and video frames that to this day defy debunking. There is fake Meyers stuff out there, so be careful.

The Pleiadeans have elfin features, with ears set low on the skull, and small pointy chins. Unfortunately, they tend toward long-winded diatribes on human spiritual development. But I’ll take that over an anal probe any day.


Not much is known about these guys from the Dog Star. What we do know is that they have been given credit for Atlantis, the Pyramids, the Incan Highway, the Face on Mars, and those really enormous line drawings of animals that can only be seen from the air. The Atlantis thing is kind of iffy, so we’ll have to wait until the Greeks release their findings. If you hadn’t heard, Greek oceanographers and archaeologists found Atlantis two years ago. Right where Plato said it was.

And from what the history books say, Plato didn’t frown on the occasional anal probe himself.


Also known as the Nazi Hell Creatures From Below The Hollow Earth. Rumor has it that Hitler and his Thule (pronounced tool) Society buddies tried to recruit the Deros as allies prior to WWII. Representatives from both sides met at a Hollow Earth entry point in northern Greenland, where the Deros promptly announced themselves as the master race, then killed and ate Hitler’s hand-picked envoy.

I’ve always thought the whole Dero thing was just so much garbage. They’re supposed to be ultra-violent, hideously ugly munchkins that live in a vast underground maze, hating the humans that infest the uberworld. Whatever, Deros don’t worry me.

But I am concerned about Greenland. Does the government really expect us to believe this island is perfectly flat? No geographical features at all? And why is it always distorted, made to look so big when it really isn’t?


Most people are familiar with illegal aliens from Mexico. But what about the hundreds of Canadians that sneak across our northern border every year?

What to do if you are abducted

Shoot first and ask questions later. If you blow an alien’s brains out, the corpse could be used to confirm everyone’s worst nightmare. There really are extra-terrestrial sadistic proctologists. Countless thousands of everyday citizens have suffered a brutal backdoor defilement and then had all memory of the event erased.

If you are being abducted, chances are pretty good that something really uncomfortable is about to happen. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, then by all means, order yourself a doormat.



Question Everything

by Catherine E. Twohill


Waiting. Shifting from one foot to the other. Leaning against the cold tile walls, my backside is growing numb. Come to think of it, my hands are, too.

Originally, I was only here to be a spectator. A witness. You know, everyone loves to see what’s going on—better than the evening news. The naked eye beats the electronic eye any day. Rubberneckers. Slowing down in false tribute to safety. We only get peeved when we’re in a hurry, otherwise, we’ll slow down, too. Just for a glimpse. Is it gruesome? Is it bloody? Do I know anyone

But now I’m not so sure I’m a spectator any longer. I’ve been waiting too long and have seen nothing that should be seen. By definition then, I’m a “waiter.” Would you care for fresh ground pepper, sir? Just say when.

Concentration camp detainee is the mood of the moment. It’s part of the fashion scene and reflected in the eyes of my fellow waiters. Unable to feel. Uncertain of the future. Unaware of our fate. Oh wait—we’re moving. Our hollow line marches forward and the doorway ahead becomes clearer. As does the sound.

Click click click click click click thwump

Brows furrow. Heads turn sideways, swiveling question marks.

Click click click click click click thwump

Straining toe-to-nose to see above the crowd, I catch sight of the source. A large bull’s eye with a wooden arm resting in the center hangs on the far wall visible through the doorway. An attendant stands beside it. Respectfully solemn. Robotically, he turns toward the device and pulls the arm downward in one fluid movement. He’s well practiced. The arm locks into its own mechanism and, after a moment’s hesitation, begins its methodical trip upward, one click at a time.


To the average spectator, the sound means nothing but to me, the waiter, it now means everything. This is it. This is how it happens. Accidents don’t do it. Cancer doesn’t either. Neither do guns, suicide, AIDS, or bad shellfish. When it’s your time, you’re herded into a great line and forced to stand in a dark clammy corridor—not unlike the hall leading to your high school gymnasium—and made to wait. Wait for the thwump.

I wonder if everyone else in this line knows why they’re here. Probably not. After all, I’m pretty darn clever. More clever than most. But I suppose if I were truly clever, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

Or perhaps I’m mistaken. How could this be right? Why would I be here? I’m young, strong, and healthy. My number cannot possibly be up. I’ve got way too much going on to be here right now. Is this like jury duty? Can I get a waiver or something?

Excuse me, but who might be in charge? I believe a terrible mistake has been made. You see, my life is finally on the right track, things are going very well and I’d like a little more time to see how everything turns out.

Damn it! Who is responsible for this? I promise you, heads will roll. You have NO idea who you’re dealing with, here. Don’t make me come back there.

Okay, I’ll make you a deal. If you let me step outside for some fresh air, I promise I’ll come back. Really. I just have some unfinished business to attend to. My mother always said, “When you start something, you’d best be prepared to finish it.” So, how come I can’t?

No one’s listening. No one cares.

The line is narrowing and dwindling down to just me. I’m not sure now if I’m going with the flow or if I really want this to happen. Rapid eye movement is a tricky state—is it a somnambulist’s bliss or cold, hard reality? We all want to know what happens when we die. Will we remain cognizant of the world around us or will we be thrust into a world beyond our own in sound, smell, and touch. What about those who die and return to their corporeal state to tell tales? Are those stories only so because they came back? Is the experience different if your ticket is punched for a return trip? And what if it happens within a dream? I’ve heard that if you experience death during sleep, you will die in reality.

The room is much too bright. The blinding fluorescent light descends from massive fixtures flooding it into a sterile cube. Dozens of men without faces line the cinder block and tile walls, politely whispering their condolences to anyone who will tolerate their banality. They are the disposers; cleanly and efficiently ridding society of the festering remains.

In the center of the room sits a large wooden chair connected by overhead wires to the bull’s eye on the far wall. As I walk to the chair, one irony-laden thought exists: I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. What a story this is going to make!

Do I subconsciously know that this is not really happening? Am I dreaming? It’s all so real, I’m not certain any longer.

Oh my God, he’s just pulled the arm down. Why is everyone staring at me? Don’t you all have something better to do? Go rubberneck somewhere else and leave me alone. This is my moment; let me experience it in its finality.

Click click

Death. I’m not sure that I’m ready to embrace it yet. This is unbelievable—it’s happening so fast and there’s no time left to stop it.

Click click click

Life. No matter how you look at it, death is the final reality. So, go with the flow, huh?

Click click thwump

Cold. Like a dry ice fog on a warm summer’s day. Am I floating? I can’t tell. Perhaps I’m only riding on a cloud of percale and down. A 200-thread count nimbus to call my very own.


Hector the H2O

by Rob Balder


A hundred and nine thousand years passed relatively quickly for Hector the H2O. That’s the mercy of being solid; you are in a low-energy state so you sleep most of the time.

He had been bouncing and singing in the troposphere, enjoying all of the interesting molecules he was meeting on a millisecond basis. But as he slid into a low-pressure system over what would become Newfoundland, he started to slow down. Molecules he met began to hang around for socially uncomfortable spans of time. Eventually he met Brenda, who wouldn’t go away no matter how often he mentioned how late it was getting. Phil and Delilah soon followed, bringing Habib, Jermaine and Cassie with them. Hector couldn’t get rid of any of them.

But he was getting too tired to care. The snowflake they were forming coalesced and fell onto the white wastes of Greenland. A week later, a second snowstorm covered them. Over the millennia, the weight of subsequent snowfalls would squeeze them into the densest ice pack on Earth. Hector took the first of many long naps.

Spend a thousand-odd centuries with any six other people and you are going to get tired of their stories, no matter how much you sleep. Brenda had one about the time she came out in a stream of urine from a lioness on the Serengeti, was assimilated into a growing strand of grass, got eaten by a wildebeest and absorbed into a fat cell, then the wildebeest was hunted down and eaten…and she found herself back in the exact same lioness. The times Hector had heard this gripping story numbered in the seven figures.


Illustration by J. Andrew World

Phil had one about being inside an overripe berry, one of a patch that was eaten by some passing macaques. The macaques were so intoxicated by the berries that the whole tribe followed their leader off a sixty-foot cliff and into the Mekong River. After a thousand centuries, he still couldn’t quite get through this story without cracking up.

Delilah had unfortunately spent the better part of four billion years trapped in porous seabed rock, until gradual upthrusting finally released her in a cloud of steam from an Andean volcano. She was socially hopeless. Her stories mostly involved the subtle societal interactions among colonies of anaerobic bacteria. Normally silent, when she got to the end of a story she would bust out in snorts and giggles, while the six of them looked at each other and rolled their hydrogens.

Butch was snotty, Jermaine was aloof, and Habib was so eager to agree with everyone that everybody wanted to choke him. Cassie… Well, Cassie was actually a D2O; her hydrogens were deuterium isotopes. But God forbid you’d use the term “heavy water” around her. She would launch into a diatribe about stereotyping people based solely on their physical appearance. One of her monologues could go on for a week, and usually ended with her bawling inconsolably, while the six of them tried vainly to reassure her that she really “didn’t look all that heavy.”

Then the day came when Hector awoke to the crash of a drill bit. A phalanx of diamond molecules, rude and cliquish as always, plowed through their little social circle without so much as an excuse-me. Phil, Brenda, Delilah, Habib, Jermaine, and Cassie were gone. Hector knew he would probably never see them again. As he tumbled along a groove in the stainless-steel coring bit, he did a happy, happy dance.


Hector emerged from the tube into light, the first he had seen since his imprisonment. It excited him. A parka-clad researcher lopped off a section of core sample with a fine-toothed diamond handsaw and laid the piece beside three others in an insulated carrying case. Hector was right on the surface of the core sample, and struggled to wiggle free and sublimate into the surrounding air. It was too cold in the tent enclosure, though. The case lid slammed shut, leaving Hector stuck to three strange molecules named Sanjay, Patsy, and Spike.


During the fifteen weeks they spent in storage, Hector kept his new friends endlessly amused. The others had not been separated in the drilling, except to lose somebody named Oliver, whom they couldn’t stand anyway. He regaled them with stories of his time in the seas of the Cambrian Era, explaining the more sordid aspects of trilobite reproductive habits with wicked comic timing.

At least, Hector felt they were amused. After a while he began to suspect that Sanjay was humoring him, and the others were going along.

So it was with relief that when the case was opened, a gust of warm breath provided all the energy Hector needed to escape the uncomfortable social confines of ice.

“Um, bye guys,” he said. He was pretty sure they snickered.


The breath which freed him had been expelled by Dr. Noel Gatlin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the very individual who had ordered the core samples to be taken. The senior climatologist was leaning over and closely examining the cylinders of ice, and on his subsequent intake of breath, Hector was sucked into his sinus cavity and firmly plastered to a wall of mucus.

Hector was in warm, gooey ecstasy. Only a few times in his long life had he enjoyed the sensation of being mucous. It gave him the freedom of being liquid without the hectic bump-and-grind. It was warmer than almost any lake or ocean, but without the spastic pace of being steam. He sighed, and slowly circulated through the glorious layer of slime.



Illustration by J. Andrew World

Hector spent the day in Dr. Gatlin’s sinuses, bumping around and chatting with any molecule who’d even say hi to him. Most of the proteins he ran into were too wrapped up in their complex agendas to even notice him. He ran into a couple of enzymes who picked him up and tossed him around like a Frisbee™. After so many centuries of having to keep still, this was actually a lot of fun.

But all good things must end eventually. There are two major exits from the human sinus, and Hector was ejected at 200 MPH out the most obvious one. Dr. Gatlin, allergic to dust mites, had sneezed while standing in line at a neighborhood McDonald’s restaurant.

Released as part of a droplet into the warm, moist indoor air, Hector was a little disappointed but still happy to be free. He exchanged brief goodbyes with the other H2Os as their droplet evaporated a few centimeters before it reached the floor behind the register.

Swept up in the rising air from the floor heater, Hector swirled around behind the counter, was inhaled and immediately exhaled by two different employees, and then was drawn near the shake machine.

In one sudden and unpleasant moment, Hector came in contact with the frigid nozzle and immediately condensed. Suddenly he felt cold and sluggish, and couldn’t think straight. Over the next minute or so, countless other water molecules experienced the same problem and began collecting on the nozzle, slowly forming a drop. It seemed that they were fated to fall the 15 inches to the drainage pan, but at that moment someone ordered a strawberry shake. As the shake was dispensed, Hector’s droplet of condensation fell right into the cup.

The shake was a special treat for Jimmy French, age 3, who had finally demonstrated to his parents his mastery of the flush toilet. McDonald’s is the universal place to celebrate such an accomplishment. Jimmy happily consumed about half of his shake by drinking out of the cup with both hands and the lid off. The other half ended up on the table, the floor, the high chair, Jimmy’s clothes, and Jimmy’s face.

As fate would have it, Hector was in the half of the shake which made it into Jimmy’s gastrointestinal tract. Hector found himself being churned around the little stomach with a thick crowd of other water molecules, plus a large number of sugars, fats and proteins. The enzymes in Jimmy’s stomach borrowed him in a number of different chemical operations. Hector thought it was all very interesting.

Before too long, Hector was ushered by peristalsis past the pylorus and into the small intestine. He made it about four feet before he started feeling uncomfortable with how many other waters were around him. He had an overwhelming urge to move himself somewhere where water was less concentrated. As soon as he had a chance, he shouldered his way through the semipermeable membrane of one of Jimmy’s intestinal villi. Hector was now part of Jimmy’s bloodstream.


If the pace in the GI tract was brisk, in the bloodstream it was absolutely frantic. Hydrostatic pressure first forced him into small veins, then larger ones. He was jostled along until he reached the vena cava, then the right atrium of Jimmy’s heart. He was then drawn into the right ventricle, where he was forcefully pumped out the pulmonary artery and into Jimmy’s lungs.

Before long, he reached an alveolus, a tiny sac where gasses are exchanged. This was an opportunity for Hector to escape back into the surrounding air as Jimmy exhaled. But like most of the water in the bloodstream, Hector stayed put and continued to circulate.

Still, Hector was not fated to remain in Jimmy’s bloodstream for long. Less than two days after he was part of that strawberry shake, Hector’s “fantastic voyage” took him through the convolutions of a nephron in Jimmy’s right kidney. Suddenly, a pair of sodium ions grabbed him like military police and escorted him across a membrane and into a glomerular capsule. Hector asked if they were sure they knew what they were doing.

“We’re positive,” they replied.


From the nephron Hector passed from the collecting duct through the renal papillae and into the renal pelvis, another collection point. Hector had been turned into urine a few times before, and he always took it hard, like he was being kicked out of an amusement park. He was forced down a ureter and into Jimmy’s bladder, which was already full and making Jimmy start to get fussy.

This was problematic for Jimmy’s parents, because the family was returning to their home in the Massachusetts countryside after spending a very full day at the Franklin Park Zoo. They were almost there, with no convenient toilet stops remaining. As new as Jimmy was to the mastery of the toilet procedure, they knew that failing to get him to one before he let fly could become a trauma he’d be discussing with a therapist in thirty years’ time.

Jimmy’s dad took up the banner. Stomping the minivan’s pedal, he tore ass over the gravel road which led to their driveway. He was in a race against time.

If anything, the race ended in a tie. Somewhere around half of those unfortunate molecules in Jimmy’s urine ended up in the toilet. Jimmy’s parents had a lot of work to do.

But Hector left them behind with a single flush. He had ended up in the bowl, and now he raced down the pipes. In a couple of minutes, he was dumped into the septic tank.


There were any number of fascinating organic molecules to meet in the tank, but Hector didn’t stay long. The system pumped him out into the septic field in the yard, where he sank quickly into the soil.

Being in soil was always interesting to him. It was a game to see how he could find the quickest and shortest route through the mineral boulders and other particles, like rock-climbing in reverse.

Since the Frenches’ house sat low in a valley, it was only a few days before he had made it into the water table. Pressure from all of the waters seeping in behind him pushed him along. Eventually he rose up through a spring and into a little stream.

In a moment he was moving very fast, with a lot of liquid water. They bounced and swirled and babbled down over the stones of the stream bed. It was the most fun he’d had in a good part of an eon.

The stream joined a brook, and the brook met the Quinapoxett River. At the river’s mouth near Oakdale, Hector passed through a hydroelectric generator. This was confusing and turbulent, but it didn’t hurt or anything. When it was over, he was in the still, fresh waters of the Wachusett Reservoir.


Hector spent eight happy months circulating slowly through the fresh water. It was good to feel natural again, to feel that he was among his own people, in his own element. He blended right back into the water community. It was almost as good as being the ocean.

But to be water on the planet Earth is to cycle and to move. Hector’s moving day came when a stray current brought him by the intake at the hydroelectric plant at the opposite end of the reservoir, near Clinton. He was drawn through the turbines once more, and then suddenly there were miles and miles of pipes to travel.

The pipes led to a plant in Southborough, where suddenly a whole load of fluoride, sodium carbonate and CO2 were dumped in with them. The fluoride molecules were apologetic, seeking to bridge the divide between the molecules. The sodium carbonates and CO2s couldn’t care less.

After crossing the many miles of the Hultman Aqueduct, they all ended up at the hard-to-pronounce Weston Reservoir. There they were filtered and, disgustingly, chlorinated. Hector had actually been enjoying all of the bacteria. They were full of fascinating organic molecules who were working on various complicated tasks that he could help with. Nothing kills that kind of party like a bunch of chlorines crashing it. Just to express his annoyance, he helped some vandals corrode a pipe.

“The Universal Solvent Rules!” they wrote in rust.

More pipes and holding tanks shuffled him around, until he was finally released from the plant and sent down a water main toward who-knew-what.

For many days, Hector flowed along an ever narrowing system of pipes. Each junction and pumping substation he passed was a decision point, a logical OR-gate which led him inexorably to his unknown destination. It was not like anything that had ever happened to him. Hector’s whole life had been spent in little cracks and crannies in Nature. This whole trip he was on was not natural; it was about civilization. Civilization hadn’t even existed when he’d snowed on Greenland.

Eventually Hector passed into some truly strange plumbing. He was inside a narrow coil of copper tubing. He came to a stop, and waited patiently.

All around him were fellow H2Os, jostling around at a comfortable room-temperature pace. He had time to briefly meet thousands and thousands of others, exchanging pleasantries and instantly forgetting names, the way he imagined only water molecules must do.

There were a few minerals and impurities in the mixture, most of which bobbed around miserably, like retired bookkeepers in a mosh pit. Hector gleefully joined a bunch who were knocking around a big fleck of charcoal in a pick-up game of Brownianball. The charcoal attempted to preserve the remainder of its dignity with a glum silence.

Every few minutes there would be a sudden rush of pressure and they would all move along the tube at once. Hector didn’t know what all of this was about, but he figured he would find out in due time.

He did, and it wasn’t pleasant. On the last rush, the copper tube emptied into a small chamber surrounded by a heating element. A wave of searing heat stabbed into the water, and pandemonium broke out. The loose and friendly crowd suddenly became a panicked, screaming mob, shoving and trampling, punching and kicking and elbowing each other in a vain attempt to get anywhere but right where they were.

But nobody got anywhere. The heat and the pressure just kept building. Hector had not experienced anything this profoundly unpleasant in all his four billion years on Earth. It reminded him of his earliest memory, when he’d arrived as part of the cometary bombardment. All those ages ago, he had awakened from the mindless cold sleep of deep space to find himself instantly boiled away into the thin and nasty atmosphere of the primordial planet. It hurt like being born, and perhaps that’s when he had been. Prior to that, he had no clear memory at all.

The hellish riot in the chamber went on and on. In this high-energy state, Hector crashed around like a cannonball, slamming everyone with all his weight, and taking a beating right back. The pressure rose to an excruciating 220 PSI. His time sense was distorted. In some ways, the few moments he was there seemed to last longer than all of his recent millennia in Greenland. But it did end.



Illustration by J. Andrew World

After finishing up a conference call, Kenneth Czonka decided to grab a cup of coffee. He worked for a successful little research and consulting firm which specialized in helping major construction companies write their environmental impact statements. Their well-appointed corporate offices were stocked with expensive gadgetry, and the employee break room even had an espresso machine. Kenneth absently fixed himself a hazelnut latte, while mulling over a tricky bit of language in an email he was composing to a deputy undersecretary at the EPA.


Hector was confused and agitated, and not at all pleased to be part of a hot beverage. The espresso grounds he had been forced through had released all kinds of freaky molecules into their water-only party. There were tannins and essential oils and amino acids and some really bizarre ones that Hector couldn’t identify but who muttered incomprehensibly in thick accents. The lot of them had been dumped into a Styrofoam cup, and then suddenly had to deal with a whole crowd of obnoxious lactoses and fats from a swirling vortex of steamed milk. After that, the simple carbohydrates showed up, babbling dimwits that they are, in the form of the hazelnut syrup. It was like a billion busloads of special-ed students simultaneously arriving at the zoo.

Hector decided it was time to be elsewhere.

As convection brought him around again to the surface, he put all of his angry energy to use and heaved himself into the air, evaporating out of the cup in a peal of steam. All of the H2Os in the steam screamed together in triumph. Their mass prison break was a success!

It took him almost no time to calm down and relax again. He drifted and bobbed in the air of the break room for an hour or two, thinking about everything he had been through since getting free of the ice pack. He’d certainly have some more stories for Cassie and the others if he ever ran into them again.

He considered the mind-walloping odds against that possibility and surprised himself by feeling a little sad. The bonds between water molecules are chemical and made to be broken, he supposed.


He was very swiftly reminded that new bonds will form. Jenny Gumble, personal assistant to the CIO, opened the door to the office freezer to grab her Healthy Choice™ turkey dinner. Hector swirled inside and before he knew what had happened he found himself stuck. He was now a freezer-burn crystal on the part of a fried chicken drumstick that was not well-covered by its aluminum foil. He fell asleep at once.


A little flame-war developed in the office around the subject of the chicken drumstick in the freezer, and the many other leftovers “from home” which had been orphaned in the office fridge. The emails were variously snide, passionate, dramatic, bombastic, resentful, subversive, and even mutinous. There were dark implications: hints at class warfare, suggestions of blackmail, and aspersions on character and personal habits. The drama played itself out over 18 grueling days. It ended in one dismissal, one resignation, one spontaneous affair, and the mortal wounding of the young company’s entire corporate culture. As a snowflake forms around a speck of dust, this drama formed around that drumstick.

Frozen and sleepy as he was, Hector hardly even noticed the 18 days as they passed. He barely got the names of the other waters next to him in the freezer-burn crystal.

As the War of the Drumstick reached its climax, technical writer Angelie Bauman emptied the entire contents of the refrigerator into the trash can, including at least $30 worth of her own food. The drumstick she grabbed and marched out of the break room.

Shrieking a surprisingly coherent and pointed string of obscenities, she flung it overhand. It sailed over the heads of her cube-mates, in the general direction of her email archnemesis Denny Plimpton’s corner office. In midair, the foil came off and fluttered on top of the monitor of an astonished temp. The frozen drumstick missed the office door by several feet and hit the window with a loud “pung!”


Life as a freezer-burn crystal had been dull, but life as a window-glass fried-chicken smudge wasn’t much more interesting. Hector was warm and awake again, but found he couldn’t move around a lot. This was because a whole bunch of lipids, those greasy types who like to shove little waters around, had formed a blocking layer. Like heavy security at a concert, they wouldn’t let anybody through to evaporate.

Hector bobbed over to one of them. “Um, excuse me,” he said, “but could I just—”

“Ah!” it interrupted. “LIPID!”

“But I just need to—”


“C’mon I just—”




Hector stared at the lipid for a long, tense moment. “Listen. I—”

“WHEN a problem comes along, yoooou must LIPID!” the lipid sang.

“Oh, never mind,” muttered Hector, and wandered off.

“LIPID good!” taunted the lipid after him. Hector heard him high-fiving the other lipids.

Opposite the lipid cordon, Hector bumped into an even denser and more antisocial bunch — the silicons of the glass. You couldn’t talk to them, and you couldn’t budge them. There was just no getting through silicons when they were being a pane.

So he waited there until late at night, when a man on the cleaning staff came and cleaned the smudge off the window. By coincidence, his name was also Hector. Hector the janitor sprayed an ammonia cleaner onto the glass, which wasn’t pleasant for Hector the water. And it was absolute murder on the lipids. Hector the water watched in horror as they died by the billions at the hands of vicious ammonia molecules. Then he was wiped up into Hector the janitor’s grimy paper towel, and thrown into a plastic trash bag.

The towel was awful for Hector, and there was nowhere he could go. The fibers just kept clutching and groping at him with their thirsty capillary action. He was drawn along a long channel filled to capacity with unfortunate water molecules like himself. They formed a seemingly endless queue, each waiting to reach the edge of the paper and evaporate. Hector’s turn never came.


It was five years of Hell before an advanced team of seepage managed to breach the bag, now buried under a hundred tons of garbage in a major landfill, and rescue Hector from his cell by helping bacteria dissolve the last of the towel. When they reached him he was babbling, and had the shakes. The seepage took him along, squeezing through the cracks between soil particles and dripping, dripping down into the earth. By the time Hector reached the water table, he almost remembered who and what he was.

He had a long, slow convalescence in the water table. There were endless refugees from the landfill, some of whom had been trapped for much longer than he had. For months, the lot of them trudged along slowly through the institutional gray corridors of porous bedrock, wailing and muttering.

After a while, Hector began talking to some of the waters who were worse of than he was, helping them work through it. He was finally starting to recover.


And then, one day, he bumped into something that was not rock, but organic. With a horrible flashback to the paper towel, he was grabbed and yanked through a pore in the thing, then drawn ever inward by that same sinister capillary action. He screamed, despite himself.

But before long he realized where he was. He knew that he had been here many times before. The thing which had absorbed him was a taproot, which belonged to a 2-month old maple sapling. As he squeezed along slowly, he began to feel the life around him, to feel a part of the whole living system.

He knew that if he could reach a leaf, he would probably evaporate through a pore and be free to roam the atmosphere, free to be rain, or even ocean again. As much as he wanted these things, he realized that he needed something more right now.

And so, before he had even reached a branch, Hector shouldered his way into a crack in a cell wall, and faced a cell membrane.

“LIPID!” said the lipids of the membrane.

“Screw you,” said Hector. They were much weaker than the lipids of the grease smudge had been, and he rammed his way past them. On the other side, inside the tree cell, there were lipids who were just as interested in keeping him in.

He made his way through the cytoplasm, past various molecules more complex than a simple H2O, and who seemed perplexed by his sense of purpose. Near the nucleus, he found an RNA and told it respectfully that he was reporting for work.

“I want to be a part of this tree, sir,” said Hector. “I want it to grow, and thrive, and grow old…as trees go. It’s crazy out there. I need to be a part of something stable, but not stable like the ice pack, stable but growing and improving, alive and beneficial. Do you understand, sir?”

The huge RNA nodded sagely, and put him to work.