Monday, December 31, 2012

Rumbles In the Wilderness

by Travis Perry -

The nomads knelt down when they prayed and then arched their backs to the rear, catching themselves with hands stretched to the rocky ground behind them, their faces swinging upward toward Eclectia’s ash-tormented dome of a sky. Their faces sought the sky, but their eyes remained closed as their lips mumbled their supplications to the Divine.

Ross Smit had worked many years to earn his place among the nomads. Most people in fact, did not even know that the nomads existed—he’d learned of them as a teenager from a friendly and overly-talkative-when-drinking miner.

He’d begun his efforts by first pursuing Human Studies at Zirconia University (though he’d grown up in an underwater colony mysteriously named “Enterprise”), not realizing for many years how much all he learned fell short of what his choice of study had been in the Golden Age of Social Sciences back on near-legendary Earth. He then had studied every fragmented bit he could learn about the dialect of the northern nomads—during The Voyage, nearly all languages of the past had been forgotten, leaving what had been called “English” as the dominant tongue. But that one language had since begun to split and fracture—and the nomads must have been different from the beginning. Even then, with all the knowledge of their language and culture he could attain, it had taken four years of him posing as a friendly trader before they’d accepted him into the tribe.

He dressed like them, ate like them, rode their giant insect mounts wherever they rode to follow their “buzbug” herd (the prefix “buz” did not refer to any sound the canine-sized insects made—Ross suspected the word tied back to some now-lost human language), and followed their customs in every way he knew how. Still, he was not fully accepted as one of them—he once asked them to teach him to pray, but they’d treated the very request as a near-blasphemy. So he’d learned to content himself with watching as they rose upright on their knees and fell backward, over and over, performing the evening prayer as the Whale set into barren hills far to the west.

He’d asked once why they did this and at first no one had answered. But finally, as the awkward silence stretched long, an answer came from one of the old women, the one who from time to time toothlessly grinned at him and seized his cheek in her iron grip as she served him supper, hurting him, but meaning only to show affection, laughing at what a good son he would have made…if only he’d been born human. She’d said, “To face Immakah, dear child.”

Through his studies he suspected the word referred to an ancient holy city on Earth. So instead of bowing down in humility to the ground as many praying cultures had done, of course they prayed upward to face their holy city. The sky somewhere contained the city, somewhere on Planet Earth—which they called “Ard,” though without real knowledge of what “Ard” was—so of course they faced the sky in prayer. That moment of discovery, that rapture of understanding—that was why he’d chosen Human Studies (what he’d once heard anciently had been called “Anthropology”). It was better than Wizardry—better to know his fellow man, and thus, himself, than to know the angels and whatever powers knowing them might offer.

But this day the prayers did not end with the setting of the sun. “Buzy! Buzy!” yelled one of the boys left out with the herd during prayer time. On ancient Earth it would have been like shouting, “The sheep! The sheep!”

At that same moment the bugs began sounding, their voices repeating in a, “AhAhAhAhAh AhAhAhAhAh.” Several of the praying nomads snapped upright and turned their heads. Most continued to pour petitions upward.

But in an instant the voiced “ahs” came much faster and in a much higher pitch. And much louder, as the entire herd emitted piercing near-screams. Now all the nomads, even the old ones, sprang to their feet, their eyes looking behind him wide with shock and terror. Ross whipped his head back eastward, the direction all the nomads were looking. He saw what all of them had seen, what his ears also began register as rumbling thunder. The entire herd, hundreds of bugs, were charging full speed at the dismounted humans. As were the “aspbugs,” their mounts. All of them in a frenzied charge all at the same moment, straight at the humans, all of them together, and screaming, screaming, stampeding westward, as if trying run headlong into the blazing circle of the setting sun…

Monday, December 24, 2012


by H. A. Titus -

The glimmer of something shiny caught Marly's eye through the stacks of stuff in her grandmother's apartment. She slipped away from the two women standing beside her—the lawyer and her mom—and crawled over a chair laden with clothes.

"Marly? Don't wander far. We don't know what could be in here," Mom called, her voice sounding wrinkly with disgust. "I hadn't spoken to my mother in years, and for good reason. Why would she care if I inherited all this bugcrap?"

That last must have been to the lawyer-lady, who hadn't stopped fidgeting since they'd met. Marly twisted her mouth and carefully moved a few knickknacks from the table she was half-standing on.

The dusty glimmer she'd seen was a round globe with weird-looking white stuff and glitter inside. Porcelain figures holding hands gathered around a tiny wooden-looking house-like building that was open in the front. Marly picked up the globe and peered inside the house. Animals? And a couple holding a baby? What was this thing?

She shifted to bring it closer to the lights, and the foot not on the table slipped. Marly squealed as she tumbled headfirst into a pile of clothing.

"Marly!" She felt Mom grab her ankle and pull. "Marly? Are you okay?"

Marly flailed free of the clothes. "Yeah, fine. Hey Mom—"

Mom turned to find the lawyer-lady, and Marly caught a glimpse of the woman's coattails as she slipped out the door. Mom sighed and planted her hands on her hips. "Wonderful. I suppose I'll have to find a cleaning crew to haul all this junk out of here. Maybe we can rent it out once it's decent."

"Mom?" Marly stood up and held up the globe. "What is this?"

Mom's eyes went soft, reminding Marly of the blue crocheted blanket her grandma had made for her when she was a baby. Mom took the globe from her and turned it upside down. The white stuff flew into the top part of the globe, and when she righted it, slowly drifted down among the figures.

"It's a snowglobe," Mom said. "And this is a Nativity scene." She pointed to the wooden house. "It's to celebrate a holiday Grandma called Christmas. I'd forgotten all about it! I think it's actually close to the time she used to celebrate it."

"What's…" Marly rolled her tongue around the weird word. Just the syllables themselves made her feel a little shivery and expectant, like it was something she was supposed to be looking forward to. "Christmas?"

"A wonderful, beautiful holiday, Marly. Let's go home, and I'll show you." Mom straightened, cradling the snowglobe close to her body, and looked around the apartment. "Merry Christmas, Mom."

Monday, December 17, 2012


by Deborah Cullins Smith -

Cassie’s hands clenched at the railing along the observation window.

Jacian’s up to something. The words played and replayed as she watched his progress along the ocean floor.

An angel floated toward the window –toward Jacian—its fins raised and motioning him back. The angel’s features twisted in alarm and Cassie heard the words echoing in her own mind.
“No! Go back! Danger!”

Angels had not proven to be hostile. Yet this angel projected warnings to them both, fins waving frantically as though pushing little wavelets in Jacian’s direction would prompt him to turn back.
Jacian headed in the angel’s direction, pulling something from the side of his air tank.

Images of Jacian’s face close to her own in the observation room flashed in Cassie’s mind.

'Just a quick visit,' he pleaded...

‘A stroll in the park…’

Her hands pushing against those rock hard chest muscles.

‘Holding out for an underwater lover?’

Eyes like two ice blue diamonds…

Cassie swallowed hard, a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes. She knew he was lying even as he whispered in her ear. Why had she allowed him access to her lab? Why did she allow herself to believe he might be sincere? The credits he had thrust into her pocket felt heavier in her conscience than they had been in her pocket. She brushed the tears from her eyes and locked her attention on the figure buffeted by the sea’s deep pressure. Then she saw a glint of silver through the murky water.

A knife? Cassie’s breath caught in her throat. He went out there armed? Why?

Horror dawned in her eyes.

This isn’t contact –it’s murder!

“NO!” she shrieked, banging the glass with both fists. “Jace, you can’t!”

Monday, December 10, 2012


by Fred Warren

“There’s another one!”

“I’ve got her, Cecile. You take the old gent with the suspenders.”

Charlie threaded his way through the crowded market, his eyes fixed on the spider brooch that identified his next mark, a tall woman in a green dress and broad-brimmed hat. Her white-bleached hair cascaded across her shoulders in a network of complicated braids threaded with colorful beads.

Two more packages to go. His worry over the parcels he’d squashed in the corridor was a faint memory now. This was so easy it was almost fun. No fear of getting caught stealing when he was giving items to the marks, no need to continually check the exits, and no nagging from Smith afterwards about his technique.

He felt more grown-up without Smith and Kate watching him like a pair of sentry beetles. They still treated him like a baby, and he was one of the oldest. It wasn’t fair. Maybe I’ll get a little more respect now, he thought, as he drew up behind the woman and slipped the chilly package into her shopping bag with a grin. By the time she noticed the extra weight, he’d be off to the next mark.

As he turned to dart away, something tugged at the corner of his vision, and he paused for an instant to look. The woman in the hat wasn’t alone. Her other hand was clasped by a girl about Charlie’s age, dressed in a frilly green frock that matched the woman’s in miniature. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite…

The memory came into focus. “Sophie? Sophie Wander?”  She was from one of the other orphan gangs, and they’d bumped shoulders more than once in the marketplace. Charlie’s excitement overcame his caution. “I can’t believe it…you’re an Oliver!” Smith was always talking about the lucky few that caught the fancy of a rich family and got themselves adopted, like in the story, but to actually meet one, and somebody he knew—it was like a window into heaven.

The girl stared back at him without a glimmer of recognition, or emotion.

“Sophie? It’s me, Charlie Lone! We were nicking pretties together in this very spot not long ago, remember?”

No twitch of a smile, no widening of her eyes. It was as if she was looking right through him. Then, he noticed the faint line of stitch-scarring at her hairline, and the barely-perceptible spiderweb of slender wires beneath the skin of her neck and on the backs of her arms and hands. He was suddenly cold all over.

She’s a Frankie doll.

Another story come to life. The orphans told this one to each other in whispers as they shivered beneath their shredded blankets at night. This is what happens if you’re not careful, if you don’t follow the rules, if you’re bad. This is what they’ll make you.

The tall woman noticed him now, and her mouth twisted in disgust. “You’ve run your errand, little guttersnipe. Get out of my sight.” She tugged on Sophie’s arm. “Charlotte, dear, come along. Pay him no mind.”

“Yes, mummy.” Her voice was as lifeless as her eyes.
He stumbled away in the opposite direction, trying to make sense of what he’d just seen. He delivered his final package in a daze, not even trying to make the delivery smooth and silent. The mark shoved him away with a curse, and Charlie staggered toward the nearest exit, pushing back against an overwhelming urge to run, run, run to someplace dark and silent and safe where he could hide.

A pair of rough hands seized his shoulders and flung him into the iron grasp of a burly man wearing an Enforcer’s uniform. A damp cloth muffled his screams and metal buttons pressed painfully into Charlie’s face as he struggled in vain to free himself. The pungent, syrupy odor of whatever was soaking the cloth drained his strength, and his legs sagged beneath him. His ears began to buzz, but he could still hear voices, harsh and gravelly, from far, far away.

“This is the last one?”

“Yessir. Delivery of all packages, plus ten expendables for the lab or dollworks, as appropriate. I’ll take my payment now, if you please.”

“You’ll be paid once delivery is confirmed by the clients and the expendables are re-purposed. Not before.”

“That wasn’t the deal I made with…”

“Shut up! Don’t speak his name here. It’s the deal you’re getting. Be grateful you have your freedom. He doesn’t like loose ends.”

“If I’m not paid, boyo, he’ll have a lot more than loose ends to worry about.”

There was more, but the buzzing was so loud now, Charlie couldn’t make out the words.

Sorry, Smith.

Wasn’t careful.


Too late.



Monday, December 3, 2012


by Travis Perry

Burt Jonzn shook hands with the man his cousin had brought out to the boat. The handsome younger man spoke, “Mr. Jonzn, I’m Robin Corpsman.”

“Nice ta meet ya. You can read ancient writin’?”

“Ah, I don’t know. Maybe. I need to see it first.”

Without further comment, Burt flipped open the tarp at the back of his boat. He eyed the face of the young man as he caught sight of the large disk, glinting with gold and etched in some bizarre form of hieroglyph. Robin’s eyes lit up in the open wonder of awe, not the attempted-but-failed desire to hide ambition, the covert lust of greed.

“Where did you find this?”

“Ocean bank. I s’ppose it was an island once.”

Robin leaned in and spoke in a near whisper, “I can’t believe it…”

“Can’t believe what, friend?” Burt studied the archeologist. His cousin Edard stood nearby, tapping his foot with the impatience of wanting to make the sale.

Robin stood straight and met his eyes, his face flushed with excitement. “There is a book by one of the old pioneers that claims to contain ‘angel writing.’ The author, a gent named Ernesto Hanks, was regarded as bugscat insane in his own day…but some few wizards have always maintained his book contained real symbols, that somehow the man really had been in communication with the angels. The symbols here look just like the ones from his book.”

“Really,” said Burt, beginning to acquire some of Robin’s excitement. “Can you tell me what it says?”

“You know, I think I might be able to! I’ll have to go get a copy of the book—it’ll take some time to decode. I don’t have the book’s contents memorized.”

“Oh,” said Burt, surprised with himself that he’d been hoping the young man would be able to read the disk now.

“Ahem,” interjected Edard, grinning greedily. “It looks like we’ve just shown you the greatest discovery in your field since the Founding. Surely you realize we’ll want to be compensated for our efforts in bringing this to you.”

“Ah, whoa, uh, I’ve got a grant for two hundred credits to fund my studies, but that’s all the money I have.”

Edard snorted. “This is worth a thousand times that!”

Robin looked down at the bolted metal of the fishing dock. “Mr. Mayor, you’re right. In fact, if this really is a disk made by angels—heck, even if the pioneers made it—it’s worth more than a thousand times what I have…this is literally priceless. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy for me to get the credits to pay you.”

Edard snapped, “If you don’t, I’m sure that someone else will—“

Burt interrupted, “Two hundred credits will be just fine.”

“Burt!” Edard’s eyes blazed.

“It’s my discovery, cousin. I can sell it as I wish. Don’ worry—you’ll get your twenty percent.”

“You’ve got to be joking!”

“I’m not.” Turning to the young man, he said, “Sound reasonable?”

“Ah…sir, that’s to find the whole Founding…the two hundred, I mean.”

“Oh, sorry, son. How about one hundred?”

“BURT!” Edard’s face raged red and his eyes protruded even more than normal.

“Uh, I might be able to make that work…” Robin’s voice trailed off.

“Still too steep? How ‘bout eight?”

“Burt…” sputtered Edard, “a man…does not customarily…barter downhill!

Robin nodded his head, so Burt extended his right hand, ignoring his cousin. As the younger man took it he said, “It’s a deal then. But one more thing.” He retained Robin Corpsman’s hand in his firm grip.

“What’s that, sir?”

“I want to know what the disk says. Whatever it says. Promise me you’ll tell me.”

“Yes, sir,” said Robin, his eyes widening in surprise. “I will.”