Home > Uncategorized > ETL – a free short story.

ETL – a free short story.

I used to work in IT. One of the common tasks required was to move data – sometimes enormous amounts of it – from one store or system to another. Almost invariably, the nature of the data in the source would vary from the nature required for it to be successfully input to the target – so it would need to be changed to make it acceptable. A simple example might be a date that had to be changed from DD/MM/YY to MM/DD/YYYY.

The process used to achieve this was called “ETL” – Extract, Transform, Load.

This story considers what might happen if human incarnations were subject to an ETL process – and something went wrong…


By Dale Renton

Marat wheezed and coughed.  The wind was gaining strength, biting at his ears, numbing his lips.  He looked down towards the frozen creek that wound its way through the valley.  He would have to try that way.  The deer slung over his shoulders weighed too much to carry uphill, to the tree line.

Half way down the slope, crusty snow gave way beneath him and he fell on his back, banged his head against the carcass.  Black circles danced at the edge of his vision.

The touch of snow flakes on his eyelashes stirred Marat awake.  His head pounded and he rolled onto his side, retching.  The light had faded, leaving the valley in deep shadow.  Marat struggled to his feet, rubbing his left arm.  Stabbing pains in his biceps made him grunt but he forced them from his thoughts.  Marat had outlived his sons.  He tired quickly, walked when once he would have run.  His woman had to chew his meat.  But Marat could still hunt.  The deer proved that.  It would silence the young ones.

Marat stooped and caught the deer by the hooves.  He heaved and a hammer blow on his chest sent him staggering.  He looked around in surprise.  Who?

The hurt grew worse.  Marat pulled at his furs and bared his chest.  Ice cracked beneath him and he felt himself sinking.  His feet found the bottom of the creek but there was no sensation of cold.  Marat closed his eyes and lay down.





The moaning changed to a scream.  Muran Ji cursed.  He walked away from the fire and his brothers let him go.  At the edge of the circle of tents he stopped and stared out across the Steppe.  Purples and golds at the horizon told him the sun had returned.  Two nights and a day, and still the child had not come.

Muran Ji started towards the horses, thinking a ride might clear his head.  At least it would take him away from the screams.  He stood for a long time beside his horse, let the gelding nuzzle his arm.

His youngest brother, Kos, brought fermented goat’s milk.  Muran Ji took the bowl and drank.  The sun climbed above the trees and he felt it warm his face.  He returned to his tent.

Li San’s screams had settled into a rhythm of whooping sighs.  The tent flaps parted and the midwife’s head appeared.

“The child is coming,” she said and withdrew.  There was no joy in her eyes.  Muran Ji pulled his shirt over his head and drew his sword.

In the clearing beside his tent, Muran Ji cut and turned, thrust and leapt.  He worked the blade until sweat blinded him, until his arms trembled and refused to obey.  He fell to his knees, exhausted.


A shadow. Muran Ji looked up.  The midwife held a fur-wrapped bundle close to her breast.  Her eyes avoided Muran Ji’s.

“A son or a daughter?” he asked.

“A son.  The cord was caught around his neck.”

Muran Ji nodded.  “Let me see him.”

The midwife held out the bundle.  At Muran Ji’s touch, a faint cough emerged from the furs.  The midwife’s eyes widened.

Muran Ji turned back the furs and lifted his son.  The boy’s skin was blue as the sky.  Muran Ji pressed his ear against the baby’s chest.  He heard the faint flutter of a heartbeat.  Then nothing.





Bartholomew Hoad felt his knee touch the edge of the bed and he brought the dagger down, hard.  He heard a muffled grunt as his wrist jarred.  Hoad stabbed again and again until the only sound was his own ragged breathing.  He backed away, felt for the door handle.

In the passageway he worked tinder to a flame and set it to the wick of a candle.  His fingers glistened, wet and red.  He went back into Greely’s chamber and looked upon his work.

Jacob Greely stared at the ceiling with startled-hare’s eyes.  His nightshirt was shredded, soaked in blood.  Hoad set the candle on the bedside table and slid his hand into the mess.  He felt the key, clasped it and jerked.  Greely’s head flopped forward and back, banged against the headboard, but the tarred sailor’s twine didn’t break.  Hoad cut the twine then wiped the key and his hands on the sheets.  He limped out of the room.

Chain shot from a Royal Navy barque had torn a piece the size of his fist from the back of Bartholomew Hoad’s leg.  Greely hadn’t even paid him a bonus.  The old bastard had grown rich on treason.  He told Hoad how much worse it would be to betray his purse than his King.  He sold good English gunpowder to the Frenchies, never gave a damn about what Buonaparte would do with it.  Well, now he’d learned his last lesson in betrayal.

Hoad slid the key into the lock and turned it.  He pushed open the door and entered the only room in Greely’s house he’d never been in.  He held the candle high and his breath caught in his throat.  A single table and chair in the center, most of the floor covered with draw-string bags.  He reached for the nearest one, hefted it and smiled.  Hoad dropped the bag on the table, fumbled a moment with the string then slit it open with his dagger.

Sovereigns. Greely had always made them pay in good, English coin.  Hoad looked around again, saw candle-light reflect from a row of bottles on a shelf beside the boarded window.  He hobbled across the room and turned one of the bottles till he could read the markings.  French.  But there was a word that Hoad recognized.  Armagnac.  Fit for the Corsican, himself.  Hoad tugged the cork free and limped back to the table.

He brought the bottle to his lips then hesitated.  Greely’s a cunning old bastard

Hoad shook his head and laughed.  If he was that smart, he wouldn’t be burning in Hell right now.

Bartholomew Hoad took a swig from the bottle.





The rumble and clank of armored vehicles grew louder.

Americans? British?  OberLeutnant Gerhardt Fischer dismissed the glimmer of hope.  They would be T34s.  The Russians had been winning the race for weeks.

“Herr OberLeutnant?”

FeldWebel Eckert’s voice had a high-pitched edge.  Fischer held up his hand and Eckert snapped to attention.  The OberLeutnant felt a moment of sympathy.  Eckert needed orders.  He had nothing else.  Fischer looked down the length of what remained of AegiideStrasse.  American bombers had dropped high explosives and incendiaries on LisbetsHof, leveled much of Fischer’s home town, burned most of the rest.

Killed Elsa.

“One squad at the crossroad, one in the church.  Anti-tank at the head of the street.  Make sure they have a clear field of fire.”  As if it matters.  They had only three PanzerFausts and the T34s were too damned tough.

Eckert saluted.  “The command post, Sir?”

Fischer returned Eckert’s straight-armed salute then nodded towards his still-smoldering home.  “I’ll be in there.”  


Private Anatoly Rasnyetchov slid on his belly through the broken remnants of a cemetery.  The long barrel of his rifle bumped against a fallen gravestone, hidden by overgrown grass.  Rasnyetchov cursed under his breath.  It didn’t take much of a knock to undo hours of careful calibration.

A mortar shell screamed as it fell, exploded against the low stone wall of the graveyard.  Rasnyetchov buried his face in the grass until the rain of debris ceased.  His undershirt was sweat-plastered to his back.  It made no difference which side fired the round that killed a man.

The door to the church tower hung at an angle across the outside wall, held there by a single, twisted hinge.  Rasnyetchov pressed close to the stonework and listened.  The T34s were closer now, the crump of mortar bombs almost continuous, interrupted briefly by the tearing-hemp voice of a Schmeiser; but distant.  He could hear nothing from inside the tower.  Rasnyetchov  pulled the pin from a grenade and tossed it through the doorway.  Better to be sure.

A moment after the explosion, Rasnyetchov was inside.  The long barrel of his rifle moved from side to side, seeking.  The place was empty.  Breath hissed out through his clenched teeth.  He clambered over a fallen beam and moved towards the spiral of stone stairs leading up to the bell room.


Most of the ground floor of Fischer’s home was fire-gutted, barely recognizable.  The staircase took his weight and he made his way to his study, overlooking AegiideStrasse.  Smoke had blackened the walls and ceiling.  His desk was littered with dust and broken glass and the pictures that had stood on its polished oak surface were torn, scattered about the floor.  Looters had taken the silver frames.  German looters.  Shouts from outside drew the OberLeutnant to the window.

FeldWebel Eckert stood in the center of the street.  The left sleeve of his jacket hung in bloody tatters.  He was struggling with his right arm to aim his rifle at an unseen target near the crossroads.  A machine gun chattered and the ground at Eckert’s feet split and tore.  Eckert fell backwards and lay still.

OberLeutnant Fischer turned away from the window.  His fingers found the leather holster clip and unfastened it.  He checked, from habit.  Four rounds.  Fischer slid the muzzle of the Pistole-08 into his mouth, felt it press cold and hard against his palate.


Rasnyetchov rested his rifle on the rubble littering the window ledge.  Fifty meters up the street, a German soldier emerged from a doorway.  The man was badly wounded, staggering.  He dragged his Mauser by the barrel, trailing the butt on the ground behind him.  The German stopped in the center of the street, tried to bring the rifle to his shoulder.  Crazy?  Rasnyetchov shrugged.  He adjusted the focus of the scope.

A burst of machine gun fire and the German fell.  Rasnyetchov lifted his head, not really disappointed.  Something moved at a window, overlooking the street.  He shifted his aim, higher and to the right.  A gray uniform at a first floor window.  Rasnyetchov smiled.  An officer.

He centered the cross hairs on the back of the German’s head.

Private Anatoly Rasnyetchov squeezed the trigger.

OberLeutnant Gerhardt Fischer squeezed the trigger.

The bullet from the Pistole-08 collided with the Russian sniper’s bullet, inside Fischer’s head.







Harry Lassiter stepped down from the tour bus, turned and offered his hand to Lisa. Not that she needs help. Lisa Martin was built like an athlete. She took his hand, though.

The tour guide, dressed in obligatory khaki pants and shirt and wrap-around Polaroids, spoke to them for a while. Something to do with the history of the glacier. Harry spent most of the time watching Lisa. The only part that got his attention was when the guide said the ice was retreating.

“A century ago, we would already be standing on Fox Glacier. Nowadays, we need to walk about a kilometer to get to the ice.”

Cool. I’ll walk behind Lisa and stare at that beautiful butt…

“And we’ll be crossing the Cook River. It’s pretty spectacular,” the guide finished in his pleasant, Kiwi accent. “Have your cameras ready.”

The bridge took Harry by surprise. A single-span, rope suspension bridge, a long way above the water. No one had stepped on it yet and already it was swaying in the wind.

Lisa squeezed his arm. “You okay?”

“Sure,” said Harry, “I’m fine. I just don’t have a good head for heights.”

But it was more than that. The doctors called it a mild form of epilepsy and it had dogged Harry all through his life. Stress triggered it. His heart would race, he would break out in a sweat, he saw double. Harry was a good sportsman, probably should have played college football but pressure situations got to him. He’d never made the team.

The tour guide made a joke about not losing anyone so far, and everybody laughed. Harry felt dampness on his forehead and dragged the back of his sleeve across it, hoping Lisa wouldn’t notice. The guide started across the bridge and people single-filed after him. Harry shuffled forward.

“I’ll be right behind you,” Lisa said. She was looking at him kind of funny.


The plank walk-way was wide enough so you couldn’t reach both sides. Harry hooked a thumb through the strap of his pack and slid his other hand along the rope. The bridge swayed a lot with so many people on it. Harry felt a sweat drop hang from the tip of his nose. He let go the rope to wipe it away. The Australian woman in front of him stumbled and the boards bucked. Lisa screamed.

Harry’s ankle snagged on a tie rope and he fell head-down. He saw milky-blue, glacial water and rocks rush towards him.  



Harry’s ankle snagged on a tie rope and he fell head-down. Milky-blue glacial water and rocks rushed towards him.  


Harry’s ankle snagged on a tie rope and he fell head-down. Milky-blue glacial water and rocks rushed towards him.  


Harry’s ankle snagged on a tie rope and he fell head-down. Milky-blue glacial water and rocks rushed towards him.  


Christchurch Press, April 22nd.

Police announced today that the search for Canadian tourist Harold Albert Lassiter has found no trace of the missing man. Mr. Lassiter, 27, from Toronto, fell from a suspension bridge over the Cook River five days ago. He was a member of a guided tour group visiting the Fox Glacier. Witnesses said that Mr. Lassiter lost his footing on the rope and board walkway. Despite an intensive search involving emergency services volunteers and police divers, Mr. Lassiter’s body has not been recovered. A scaled back search will continue. 




Marat stooped and caught the deer by the hooves. He heaved, and a hammer blow on his chest sent him staggering. He looked around in surprise. Who?

The hurt grew worse. Marat pulled at his furs and bared his chest. Ice cracked beneath him and he felt himself sinking. His feet found the bottom of the creek but there was no sensation of cold. Marat closed his eyes and lay down.


  1. Tanushri A
    20/04/2020 at 12:55 am

    Absolutely enjoyed the story! Though it was a bit confusing in the beginning as I’m not at all familiar with the concept of ETL.
    After reading this, I feel like I want more!

    • 20/04/2020 at 6:18 pm

      Hi Tanushri – glad you liked ETL. I know it’s a bit of a weird story-line so I provided the ETL explanation up front. I’ll be posting another free SF short story next month.
      Hope you and your family are staying safe and well,


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