Monday, June 24, 2013
by Travis Perry
Zana followed Jax as he climbed up a trail leading into the hills north of the Palmer camp, Cotton padding alongside her. The lesser whalelight and an unusually dust-free fiveday Summer night made visibility much higher than it would normally be at this hour.
There must be somebody else up there she realized. Why else would a hunter with money in his pocket and ale in his belly climb a hillside in the middle of the night? Normally someone like that would rent a locker for his gear and a cot for his backside and sleep in camp for the night…or even the next day or two…
So she scanned the hills very carefully, looking for any warning of danger, her rifle at the low ready. And then she saw it—a glint of light reflecting from what must be some sort of glass. She snapped up her rifle and looked through her scope. The optic brought the glint close but whatever caused it was already moving.
She lowered the rifle for better visibility and ducked into a branch to the left, veering off the trail Jax trudged up, which would put her in a counterclockwise rotation around the hill. If Mons were up there, she’d circle around until she found him…
“Looks like Jax’s had a good time,” muttered Ernsto as he looked through Jax’s binos, watching him stumble up the hill. The binos were his new friend’s most expensive piece of gear—so Jax hadn’t wanted to part with them. But he had insisted…
Some instinct told him to scan the area behind Jax. Two shapes moved there, in line with Jax, trailing behind by about one hundred meters. “Damnit! He’s being followed!”
And the larger shape suddenly changed shape. Ernsto saw light reflect of what probably was a rifle optic as it rose. He cursed and rolled over to all fours and scrambled forward, down the hill, scrambling downward in a circle going clockwise around the peak…
Thursday, June 20, 2013
by Mary Ruth Pursselley
Robin dropped his pencil into the pile of paper on the table and sat back in his chair, rubbing his tired eyes and stubbled face. He’d taken the disk translation as far as he could. He was no linguist or angel expert, so most of the finer nuances and references in the inscription would have to be figured out by someone else, but he had understood enough.
Enough to make him laugh as he sat, face in his hands, exhausted and ecstatic. Enough to assure him that this was the find of a lifetime—maybe several lifetimes.
“Unbelievable,” he said aloud, referring not just to the disk and its writings, but to his own fortune in being the one to decode it. God was, as always, watching out for him… though His watchfulness and favor were surpassing even Robin’s wildest imaginings. He couldn’t possibly have deserved this.
He said a brief prayer of thanks, then looked at his watch. Doing so made him laugh again—he’d been sitting here for almost twenty-four hours. No wonder he was starving. He stood up and stretched, already working on a mental to-do list: Arrange for the disk to be taken to Trinity University. Get a crew of interns assigned to Adagio to help him. Look into renting boats and diving equipment for an expedition to Funder’s Cove, where the fisherman had found the disk.
Oh—the fisherman. Robin remembered his promise to tell the man what the disk said. He rifled through the blizzard of papers on the desk until he found a blank sheet, grabbed his pencil again, and jotted down a basic outline of the translation.
As he wrote, he considered a few of the stranger points in the account. Strangest of all was the reasoning given for the angels’ decision to abandon their city, Light: an invasion that caused the loss of several lives, as well as considerable damage to the city itself. It wasn’t an invasion of humans—references to the Founders were very distinctly worded—but Robin was sure either he or Hanks must have mistranslated the symbol describing what the invaders were. It was too random, too bizarre. An invasion of crazy bugs, so crazy they nearly destroyed the city? Robin had no doubt that the linguist assigned to the disk would get a good laugh at his expense over that one. Oh well. He’d never claimed to be a linguist.
He was curious to find out what or who the invaders really were, though. Especially since the disk explained the angels’ realization that the event would take place again, because “such is their nature”. Whatever that meant.
As he headed for the bathroom to get a much-needed shave and shower—the last one he was likely to get for a while, if he set out on the expedition to Funder’s Cove as soon as he hoped—he suddenly stopped and grimaced. He’d promised that girl from the school in Zirconia that he’d contact her sister, the archaeologist, while he was in Adagio.
Well, he decided with a sigh, that shouldn’t take too awfully long—a day, at most. He’d get that out of the way, give the fisherman his rough translation of the disk, and then he’d be free to get to work.
Monday, June 17, 2013
by Caitlyn Konze
Mia Meerstein rested her head against the patch-worn seat and sighed. Anjelika could not relax as easily. She had just cashed out her credit stick and bartered passage on the first shuttle off Avenir, paying no attention to its destination or condition. Her knuckles were an angry red from constant rubbing, and she kept glancing at the hatch as if Enforcers waited on the other side. A ridiculous fear since they had left Avenir’s docks twenty minutes ago.
The vibration of the shuttle grew violent for two seconds then faded back to a steady hum. Anjelika glanced down. Her hands gripped her arm rests so tight her irritated knuckles looked pale. She forced her her fingers open. Five crescents on each arm marked where her nails had dug into the seat.
With eyes closed, Mia spoke. “Relax, honey. You did better than I expected from a pampered heiress.”
The way Mia said her last two words made Anjelika’s mind race with uncertainty. Had she mentioned her social status, or was it just that obvious? Anjelika shook the worry from her head, reminding herself why she was here. “Tell me what happened to your husband.”
Mia sat up and addressed the pilot though her eyes were on Anjelika. “Privacy please.”
A small slit lining the doorway to the cockpit grew white, blinked a few times, then buzzed as a the space blacked out. Anjelika opened her mouth, but Mia held up her index finger. The widow unbuttoned a pouch on her belt and pulled out a flat, diamond-shaped piece of metal twice the size of a thumbnail. She slid the only switch on it. A high-pitched tone screamed in Anjelika’s ears, then diminished.
Mia jerked her head toward the cockpit. “Privacy screens are light-proof and sound-proof, but there’s still the com system.”
Anjelika nodded. Once again, Mia slumped in her chair. She folded her hands over her stomach before she began.
“Almost nine Foundings ago, an investigation was ordered about a dock breach. Darl had the bad habit of being perfectly honest all the time. His report concluded the hull had to have been weakened intentionally.”
Anjelika realized her jaw was wide open. She shut it. “But that would mean. . .”
Mia nodded. “It means the explosion that almost killed your mother was no accident. Darl knew, and that’s why my husband’s dead.”
Thursday, June 13, 2013
by Jeff Chapman
The Abbot paused his monologue, apparently lost in some winding corridor of thought. The older brothers shared this habit of stopping in the middle of discussions to think. Sebastian found these pauses annoying. A life of prayer and contemplation no doubt diminished one’s sense of urgency.
Sebastian could suppress his curiosity no longer. “And what was that extraordinary event?”
“Your question suggests that something turned the course of his life, like an unexpected comet cutting across a ship’s course. But wouldn’t you say deciphering the Lord’s message is a type of puzzle, the greatest of all puzzles?”
Sebastian paused to consider the wording of his response, how to disagree with the Abbot. “I suppose his messages are sometimes cryptic to the uninitiated, but I don’t believe the Lord wants to hide anything from us.”
“Not hide. Not conceal. But the Lord expects us to struggle to answers and the struggle, which might last a lifetime, may be more valuable than the answer, for it is in the struggle that we find and achieve our purpose.”
Sebastian nodded, considering his own life--Christchurch, Trinity University, seminary, all of which had fallen into place. He had moved from one phase to another with the ease and certainty of a confident student following a well-lit and well-marked hallway to an exam for which he knew all the answers.
“You look pensive,” said the Abbot.
“I don’t believe I’ve encountered any such struggles. Either, forgive me for my bluntness, you are wrong or I am treading the wrong road.”
“Be patient,” said the Abbot. “You haven’t lived long enough. Now, back to the story of Brother Septimus.”
The Abbot drank several gulps from his glass of water. Depression clouded Sebastian’s judgment and he found his life’s journey wanting. How could he minister to anyone, exercise any sense of understanding and empathy? Patience did not number among his virtues.
“Like most young men, Brother Septimus was restless for adventure, eager to be part of something new. Dax and Macbane were organizing the first expeditions to Eclectia at the time. What ambitious young man would not leap at such adventure? At seventeen he had no skills, other than a quick mind and a persuasive tongue. Somehow he talked his way into a position on Macbane’s third expedition.”
“The third,” said Sebastian. “Wasn’t that...”
“Yes, the ship crashed in the vicinity of Mount Olympus during a dust storm. Septimus was one of the three who walked out of the hinterland to the coast. You might say he was the only survivor. The other two died of ash lung within months. The trek was a remarkable achievement without maps and only rudimentary knowledge of the land. I believe they were the first to discover that the bugs are edible. When Septimus returned to the Avenir, he enrolled to study for the priesthood.”
“Was he religious before his ordeal?”
“Not at all. He numbered among the young atheists, I believe.”
“What happened to him out in the desert?”
“We don’t know. The official report was lost in a core collapse and Brother Septimus wrote nothing else about it.” The Abbot turned toward the patient and the cryptic manuscript on the bedside table. “As far as we know.”
Monday, June 10, 2013
by Fred Warren
The claustrophobia was gone. Anya and Vicky had been guiding John through the restoration of his senses for what felt like several hours, and he could talk back to them now. He was still surrounded by thick darkness, but he could feel tactile feedback from his skin as he lay prone on some smooth, warm surface that conformed to his body’s contours, and when his nose itched, he could move his arm, hand, and fingers to scratch it. The air moving through his nostrils and into his lungs was cold and left a faint metallic tang at the back of his throat.
He knew all these sensations were part of an unimaginably complex computer simulation, but it felt so real. His consciousness was slipping into the Dreamers’ virtual world. It was frightening—and exhilarating.
He heard a series of high-pitched chimes, then Vicky and Anya began chattering excitedly to one another.
“Stage Three alert? You have got to be kidding me.”
“How could they have been overwhelmed so quickly? It must be a mistake.”
“No mistake. Look at the external feeds, Miss Sherikov—here, here, and…wow. There.”
“This is awful.”
“Cromwell doesn’t give a rip about the colonists. I want to see him explain this to Captain Aziz.”
“Hush. We told him we’d help if things got out of hand.”
“This is way beyond out of hand.”
“What’s the matter?” John called out. “What’s happening?”
Anya’s voice swirled around him. “Victoria and I must attend to a minor emergency that will require our full attention. Continue to lie quietly in place and limit your movements. Father Sukahara will monitor the remainder of your integration into the network and begin your orientation.”
“But I still can’t see anything!”
“Oh, quit bellyaching.” The disdain in Vicky’s voice was palpable. “Vision is the most complicated piece of the interface, so it takes the longest. If we energize the connections any faster, it’ll fry that lump of oatmeal you’re using for brains.”
“Sukahara’s the chaplain, right? Wouldn’t it be better to have somebody with a technical background at the controls?”
“Well, if we get a power surge, you’ll need someone to administer Last Rites, and…”
Anya cut in. “Stop it, Victoria. John, Father Sukahara has sufficient medical training to keep you stable in the event of a mishap until we can return.”
“The process is almost finished. Relax. You’re in good hands.”
A rush of cool air flowed across his body, and a tapestry of sound unfurled within the void. Leaves rustling. Birds chirping. A high pitched buzzing that waxed and waned in the background. The whisper and chuckle of water. The smell of flowers, intense and sweet. A strange, hollow knock that repeated at a long interval.
Then, a new voice—a soft tenor. “Hello, Mr. Milton. I’m Jiro Sukahara. We met at the welcome banquet a few days ago, though I’m sorry we weren’t able to exchange more than pleasantries.”
“I remember. I was surprised to find a chaplain there. Why are you part of all this?”
“It was a nod to tradition on the part of the original crew. Some of them were devoutly religious. All of them recognized a need for someone with whom they could discuss delicate matters in complete privacy, outside the military command structure, without fear of disclosure.”
“Wouldn’t a psychologist have served the same purpose?”
“The crew wanted something more than expertise in treating mental or emotional distress. They knew they’d have to make difficult decisions…life and death choices on behalf of the people under their care. Their technical skills weren’t sufficient. They needed a moral and spiritual compass.”
“And now? Do they still feel that need?”
“Hmm. Not as often as I’d like. Anya and Victoria consult with me the most.”
“I’m having trouble imagining Vicky seeking advice from a priest.”
“Beneath her bravado is an anxious little girl who misses her father terribly. She’s been forced to grow up much too fast, and her responsibilities weigh heavily upon her.”
“She hides it well enough.”
“I wish she wouldn’t. It would help her to be more open to others about what she’s feeling.”
John decided not to argue that point. “I hear a knocking sound. What is it?”
“It’s a shishi odoshi, a traditional garden decoration from the land of my ancestors on Earth. You’ll understand better once you’re able to see. I’ve arranged to bring you into my personal space…my virtual residence, you might say. I thought it might ease your orientation.”
“I think my vision’s coming back now. Is this some sort of test pattern? I’m seeing orange fish and white birds with long legs on a blue background.”
Jiro chuckled. “No, that’s not part of the process. Look closer.”
It took a few moments for John to realize he was staring up at a delicate watercolor painting of birds and fish cavorting in a broad blue lake. It formed what seemed to be the ceiling of a room, though the proportions were odd. The place was warm and sunlit, filled with the flowery aroma he’d noticed earlier, plus a pleasant, spicy odor he couldn’t identify. Turning his head to one side, which caused a brief moment of mild vertigo, he could see the light filtered through the pink-blossomed branches of a huge tree visible beyond the threshold of a wide opening. It made the space feel more like a porch than a living room.
There were no furnishings aside from the cushion that supported his body and a low table at the center bearing a stack of thin books on one side. Several large sheets of paper and a collection of writing instruments—brushes?—lay in a loose pile on the opposite end of the table. Jiro knelt behind it, and he was as John remembered him—a small, solidly-built man with close-cropped black hair and facial features similar to the Asian genetic subgroup on Avenir. He wore a dark blue robe decorated in the same pattern as the ceiling.
“Ah, it seems the integration is complete. Welcome to my home.” Jiro smiled, his face as warm and comforting as the room, and every lingering suspicion that all this was an illusion vanished from John Milton’s mind.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
by Edward M. Erdelac -
The cafeteria was tastefully decorated with shifting holographic motivational images, the contoured chairs and tables kept clean by a floating automaid which rested in the corner and whirred gently over whenever an employee rose and exited, dispensing with trays and disposable dishes, storing discarded food and drink to be reprocessed later.
A shining service machine dispensed the daily meal from behind a semicircular counter which displayed images of the various dishes. It took orders and then turned and retrieved them almost instantly from a space in the wall behind which the massive unseen autochef dwelled, whipping up meals at speed.
Orin Bantry had just left the line and sat down with a plate of Eclectian bug fry when Considine stepped in.
Bantry was wearing the same clothes he’d worn earlier in the day. The same damned company cap.
Considine stepped aside to let a pretty woman in a stylish suit leave, then set himself squarely in the doorway, took the stingshot pistol from beneath his coat, and announced in a loud voice that caused every diner to look over;
“Inspector Considine, Zirconian Peacekeeper. Orin Bantry. A word.”
Bantry swallowed a mouthful of bug fry and dabbed at his rusty beard with a napkin before rising slowly to his feet.
He pushed the chair back, and then bolted for the line.
Where the hell did he think he was going?
But then Considine saw.
Bantry shoved aside his coworkers, hopped over the counter past the droning server, and dove head first for the square leading to the kitchen.
Considine collided with the confounded automaid, recovered, and reached the counter just as Bantry’s shoes disappeared through the hole in the wall.
He took aim with his stingshot, eliciting screams and calls for security from the ducking cafeteria patrons, but had no shot.
He limped around the counter, stared dubiously at the hole and cursing, thrust his weapon through first, and wedged his head and shoulder after. He didn’t want Bantry waiting on the other side to crown him with a pan or something.
But Bantry was leaping over the whirring limbs of the massive autochef, a gleaming, towering apparatus that filled the cavernous room, catering to six floors’ worth of cafeterias and eateries at the peak of the lunch hour. Part convection oven, part immense freezer, it was an autonomous food factory, programmed to prepare and deliver foodstuffs at a dizzying rate via an incomprehensible array of specialized appendages, each capped with beaters, pans, blenders, rolling pins, and flashing cutlery. The faroff animal squeal meant that somewhere within the thing an automated slaughterhouse was also in full swing, disassembling livestock into fresh meat, likely for the executives on the top levels. A great pool of sizzling grease popped and spattered him as six hands plunged baskets of some unidentifiable food into its depths.
His hand seared, he ducked away.
Considine aimed his stingshot across the blur of busy machinery and yelled for Bantry to stop, but he could scarcely be heard above the din.
He saw no cut off switch, but spied a service ladder leading up to a safe catwalk and quickly scaled it.
Bantry lost time trying to pace his run through massive prep area, ducking under a huge, buzzing eggbeater that suddenly emerged from a cloud of flour, and Considine managed to get ahead of him, running overhead.
He reached the far end of the chamber and slid down the ladder, cutting off Bantry’s escape route, but nearly crashed to the floor on his wounded leg. He suddenly wished he’d taken all the suppressants he had been prescribed.
“That’s far enough, Bantry!”
Bantry hesitated, then raised his hands slowly. He had a desperate look though, dilated irises, sweaty sheen. It all made Considine wary.
“Recognize me?” Considine said. “You tried to blow me up this morning and failed. But you did manage to kill one of my enforcers. A good man. You’re going to pay for it, Bantry. But first things first. I want to know about the explosives you stole for Almer Croix. What were they for?”
“To free them.”
“The prisoners. The prisoners in the darkness.”
Croix had said something about being imprisoned in the darkness, in his delirium. Something else. Something about wardens.
“You wanted to kill the wardens?”
Bantry’s eyes widened.
“Yes! Then you know. God can’t be free until the angels are dead.”
“The angels. The angels are the wardens?”
Bantry’s expression fell.
“You don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “You don’t know at all!”
He spun on his heel and ran straight at the autochef.
“Bantry!” Considine yelled, lunging for him.
He came away with the man’s hat in his fist.
And Bantry was gone. Plucked suddenly from the prep area floor, the man was passed swiftly from arm to arm and deposited at last in some glowing compartment in one of the upper segments.
Considine heard the buzz of automatic chainsaws and a brief shriek.
Then there was a bleating klaxon, and the room lighting turned scarlet. The colossal culinary automaton slowed and stopped.
The exit door behind him opened, and two heavily armored men with MorgenStar Security emblazoned on their breastplates leveled expensive looking hyperuzis at him.
He raised the hand with the pitiful stingshot over his head and flipped open his ID badge with the other.
“We know who you are, Inspector Considine,” said one of the security men. “Mr. Morgenstar would like a word with you before we remand you to the custody of the Peace Council.”
Monday, June 3, 2013
by Travis Perry -
Zana decided to keep an eye on the one called, “Jax.” A tiny flicker of recognition had crossed his face when she’d shown him the glossy of Ernsto Mons. Jax knew Ernsto, or at least had seen him at some point, Zana would have bet her last credit on that. She could have threatened him, but her gut instinct told her he wouldn’t have talked—not easily anyway.
At the moment, Jax lingered at Maddie’s Pub, seated at a stool near the front, while Zana lingered at a table near the back. He was that kind of hunter, it seemed, the kind to drink big whenever he brought in a big haul. The kind that, like it or not, was the main reason a business like Maddie’s could turn a profit.
Hours passed but eventually, Jax stumbled out of the establishment, dragging a heavy pack after him, clearly full of something, probably supplies. Not too suddenly, Zana followed along after him, Cotton padding alongside her.
Just as she passed outside the pub door, she observed Jax stumble into the nearby “Elimination Tent.” At least he wasn’t the kind of hunter to empty his bladder on the outside wall of the Pub…Zana rounded the corner around the left of the tent. And waited.
Not more than a minute later, she heard footsteps stumbling out across the hardbrick in front of the tent flap entrance. Jax was lucky somebody didn’t assault him and take whatever money he had left on him…if he had any money left, that is. Apparently the Palmer Trading Camp on the outskirts of Adagio wasn’t actually as rough as local lore would suggest.
Jax didn’t reenter the pub. Instead, he stood in the reddish light of the lesser whale, puzzled for a moment, while Zana observed him from the side of the tent. He unsteadily lined up his body as his eyes searched something in particular, perhaps a specific feature on the horizon. Then he pulled on the heavy pack onto his shoulders and stumbled that direction, in something loosely approximating a straight line, straight out of the Palmer Camp.
Zana found it simplicity itself to follow after him.