Sunday, January 27, 2013

Encoded Vellum: Part 2

by Jeff Chapman -

Brother Sebastian and Brother Peter each held one of the Abbot’s arms as they guided the gasping man into a chair. The Abbot’s face was blanched despite his rapid breathing and his eyes remained fixed on the patient quietly sleeping through the turmoil.

“Are you in pain?” asked the medico. “Any palpitations?”

The Abbot instinctively pressed a hand to his chest, but the veteran of three heart attacks shook his head. “No, no,” he told Brother Sebastian. “I am quite recovered. I have had a shock, that is all. But my nerves....”

The director frowned at Brother Sebastian. “You should lie down, Anthony. Let our able medico examine you. It may seem nothing but turn deadly serious without warning.”

“I am fine, Peter. If you lie down at my age, you may never get back up.” The Abbot smiled at Brother Sebastian. “You are frightening our young medico. He doesn’t want the first patient he loses to be the Abbot.”

“I assure you my medical reputation is the furthest....”

The Abbot raised his hand to silence Brother Sebastian. “I am certain your heart is where it should be. I was only teasing, one of my vices. Now, as to our patient here. Have you checked the DNA archives?”

“Of course,” answered the medico with a force that surprised even him. Whether spoken in jest or not, he still chafed at the previous remark questioning his charity and professionalism. Brother Sebastian was young and ardent and the abbey had not yet washed his soul of pride. He glanced at the director, who was busy taking the Abbot’s pulse, and consciously checked his tone. “We queried all the standard repositories. The results were negative, not even a close match for a relative.”

“I don’t doubt it,” said the Abbot.

“Most births in the land villages, among the miners and hunters and of course the nomads, go unrecorded,” said the director.

“This man was not born on Eclectia but on the Avenir.”

“You know this man?” asked Brother Peter.

The Abbot took a deep breath. “I believe I do.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Go, Therefore

by Heidi Kortman -

Another three steps, and the pacing corps of graduates left the confines of the tunnel, scattering across the great gallery to greet those who had come. Douay Bede blinked. A cluster of chatting people dispersed, and there she stood with her all-weather at her feet.

He wanted to run, but one fruit of the Spirit was self-control. Douay Bede compromised by taking the longest steps his black robe would allow. She wore the coppery headdress of folded thoric leaves that she always saved for special occasions. Perspiration dripped from her chin.

“Mother,” Douay Bede called as he drew closer. She didn’t give him the smile he expected. “What’s the matter?”

“Take him now, son. Quickly.” She moved her all-weather, which covered a large, perforated metal box, their quarr carrier. “Your father trapped him on the west range two days ago. The kit has already tasted spider eggs, and he’s about to have his growth spurt.”

“Oh, Mother.” No wonder she was tense. Depending on how many eggs the quarr kit had eaten, the growth spurt could be astonishingly quick. He’d witnessed it on the last day of a summer in his fifth Founding, while his name was still Ruben.

Wandering along a trail on the east range his family worked for the Palmer Corporation, he had heard a musical sound, and wanted to know its source. Rounding an outcrop of basalt, he found his way blocked by the gray-streaked hindquarters of a scaled beast whose forequarters were busy displacing ash and pumice.

“Striper,” he’d said, “what are you quarrying for?” The beast continued to work. He’d stayed, watching and repeating the name.

Down in the valley, the buz herd had sent up ticks of contentment as the buzy grazed. A six-winged seraph locust flew past, taking his attention from the scaled beast. When he focused on Striper again, the beast’s haunches were more than twice as large. The layered ash above the creature’s head was cracking, tumbling down.

It backed out of the hole and shook ashy webs from its tufted ears. Eight vividly ringed legs protruded between its jaws. One swipe of its tongue took them in.

“Striper, you’re eating a tunnel spider.” So that was why his father’s herds were doing so well on this range. The beast made a strumming sound, and pounced on prey Ruben hadn’t seen. He heard a carapace crack. Then the beast brought an oozing carcass and dropped it at his feet.

He fled. The beast followed at his heels, in a steady pumice-crunching trot. When the drop-off to his right made his heart pound, he expected to be knocked from the trail into thin air.

A bump on his right hip drove him up against the cliffside. Striper had walked the very edge, keeping pace with his increasingly wobbly steps. The beast’s squarish body and muscular legs blocked him from the precipice.

“Remember how you screamed the day Striper followed me home?” Douay Bede looked into his mother’s face. That brought a smile.

“Not for long, not after he pounced on that pink stripe spider so near to little Tabitha, but go, son, go.”

His cousin hadn’t been able to say quarrier, so Striper was soon dubbed a quarr. Douay Bede grabbed the handles of the box and jogged against the general pattern of traffic flow. He had to be alone in a closed room with the kit. If the quarr wasn’t domesticated before the growth spurt hit, it would be a menace. The nearest hope of private, secure space was his former cell.

“You do remember,” she panted as she followed him toward the tunnel.

“Yes, Mother.” Before he came to the Abbey, he’d taught her to domesticate. She could have kept this kit herself. “Please, wait out here.” The box in his hands wasn’t any heavier; now if only the path ahead stayed clear. He picked up his pace, hindered by the skirts of his robe. Lord, let me get there, he prayed, as his sandals skidded on the floor. The kit poked one serrated center claw through a ventilation hole.

Douay Bede ducked into his old cell. He set the box down, then slid the door panel closed. Time for the first step in domestication.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Rider

by Travis Perry -

The charging bugs hurling forward, Ross didn’t know where to run. He dodged left as a buzbug bolted past him and then right, too slow, as another plowed into him. The beast massed less than half his weight but it sprinted as it bleated in terror and hit him low and off-balance. Ross plunged to the ground, rolling, catching glimpses of the nomads responding. None yet knocked down like him—all dodging more successfully than he, even the old ones—in spite of his terror of being trampled to death, some part of him registered chagrin at that.

He pulled himself to all fours, the herd bugs of the nomads still rumbling around, over, and into him. Markas, a robust man of about thirty, jumped up and seized the elongated neck of his aspbug as it galloped, all sixes clawing rocks and gritty dirt backward. He swung upward into the saddle and in moments had his mount under control. He thundered the beast forward and reached a calloused hand out for the bridle of another frenzied mount.

Ross watched in fascination, again amazed at the resourcefulness of this nomad people. But several herd bugs hit him in the side at that same moment, knocking the wind out of him and rolling him onto his back, reminding him he was still in the midst of a struggle to survive.

Covering his face with his hands and balling himself up to make a smaller target, belly down, his ears recorded not only the bellowing bugs and the staccato thunder of their hard chitin feet impacting on rocky ground, but also the nomads calling out to their beasts and one another. In minutes—no, probably seconds drawn out long in the heightened awareness of fear—the rumbling of most of the herd had ceased.

Ross uncovered his head and quickly stood to his feet, ashamed to be the only man on the ground. He spotted Shoo, the old woman who always favored him, also hunched down like he had been. He walked over to her and without thinking offered his hand to help her up. The move was unthinking because in the tribe men only touched women if they were close relatives or married to them. So the fear of having committed a grave social error rushed into him, too late to take back the hand hanging down. But the old woman took the hand and pulled herself up, grinning toothlessly at him.

After that he afforded himself the luxury of looking around. His eyes confirmed what his ears already knew. The nomads, led by the first aspbug rider, had gotten the herd back in control…most of it anyway. Some dozen bugs still rushed westward.

Ross met the eyes of Markas, the rider, who glared back at him in anger. As if the stampede had somehow been his fault.

Monday, January 7, 2013


by Deborah Cullins Smith -

“Is something wrong, Cassie?”

The gentle voice spun the girl from the observation window.

“Oh, Master Ambrose! I’m so sorry! I’ve done something terrible and now he’s going to murder one of the angels.”

The thin, stooped wizard raised both eyebrows as the torrent of words poured from his young assistant. A trainable and obedient girl, but far too easy to rattle, he’d noted in his journals.

“Now really, my dear. What could you possibly have done that’s so terri…” his voice trailed off and shock washed over his ashen face. His eyes widened in horror at the window just beyond Cassie’s stricken face.

Cassie turned and her scream ripped the air just before she slid to the floor, unconscious and finally silent.

The sea monster was unlike anything ever observed before. Water pumped through its mouth and over its gills as the mottled black and brown body charged toward the human figure in diving gear. A wide, flat snout opened and caught the man in its jaws, thrashing it back and forth like a rag doll. A flash of steel slashed at the snout, but broke against the tough hide like a toothpick against steel.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the attack stopped. The monster released its prey and retreated, paddling swiftly through the murky silt. The human slowly sank to the ocean floor; bubbles still rippling from the air hose told Ambrose that he lived. However that could change any minute if they couldn’t get him inside. But how? To scramble divers would take time—time that the unknown person outside did not have.

Then Ambrose saw the angel. He’d seen this one before, always watching from a distance, curiosity etched in those shiny black eyes. It focused thoughts toward the figure on the ground, but the aged master, an adept empath, heard the projections clearly.

Though you sought to kill us, I will not harm you.

Kill? Ambrose cast a frown at his assistant’s limp form crumpled below the window. Is that what she meant? That she had been party to an attempt on an angel’s life? No, she couldn’t have known. She’d shown curiosity—even awe—at the shimmering beings residing in the sea. He would reserve judgment until she was able to state her case. But he would almost certainly have to terminate her employment. Trust was a primary concern in these labs.

Ambrose peered back out the window and saw vague shapes in the swirl of sediment. The angel scooped the diver up, balancing the limp body on his wide tail fin, and deposited him carefully at the lab’s pressurized chamber door. Tentacles of the angel’s “hair” snaked forward to skim over the panel beside the door, as the angel cocked its head and studied the buttons. Ambrose stared, fascinated at this turn of events, then projected the numbered sequence in his mind. The angel turned to meet his eyes through the window and a tiny smile curved the lips below the mammalian muzzle. Turning back to the panel, the tentacle-like appendages skipped over the buttons. With a whoosh and a blaring alarm, the door opened. The angel shoved the limp body into the chamber with a flip of his strong tail fin, and closed the door. Ambrose knew he should move quickly to assess the damage to the person in the diving suit, but he remained riveted at the window.

The angel swam forward, closer to the glass than he had ever come before.

Why am I so sure this one is a male? We so often think of them as female...

Ambrose felt his heart thump in his chest. Contact! But the angel wasn’t looking at him. He stared through the window at the girl huddled on the floor. Then he raised soulful eyes to meet Ambrose’s.

Sorrow! The empathy was directed at Cassie!

No blame.

A glow enveloped the girl’s body, and her face no longer bore the trauma that had sent her into a dead faint. Her features relaxed into peaceful repose. Ambrose stared into those deep eyes, strangely flecked with a deep sea green around the edges of the dark iris, and felt a tremor of exhilaration. He’d never been so close to an angel before. Details flashed as his mind recorded them: the tentacles of hair that worked like fingers when necessity dictated, the blue-green tinge along the white wings that reminded him of ancient Earth’s manta rays, the lower face that resembled a feline predator but without the elongated fangs. His eyes were drawn back to those amazing orbs, mesmerizing, alien—and his amazement grew as he felt the angel’s sympathy for the child at his feet.

In a flash of shimmering light, the angel darted away from the window and disappeared into the swirling silt.

It defied all reason. It was inconceivable—in view of the diver’s actions. And Cassie had to have given him access. But in spite of these facts, Ambrose knew that the angel did not want Cassie held accountable for this incident. His mind churning over the ramifications, Ambrose took a lab coat from the back of a nearby chair, folded it in a small square, and placed it gently beneath Cassie’s head. He stared down at her for a moment, then rose to tend the person in the entry chamber.