Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Cause

by Travis Perry

Markas stood over his aspbug. Three of its legs had been torn from its body before Markas had killed the flailing mount himself.  Ross stood beside him with the other two nomads, surveying the damage. One aspbug and all five buzzies dead, but the humans were still alive.

Ross could see in their eyes that nomads respected him more for having fought for himself. But he’d only been trying to stay alive. He tried not to flinch in pain as Markas bound his wound with a cloth, stopping the bleeding. He did his best to keep his hands from shaking—he thanked God he’d peed not long before the attack, or else he probably would have wet himself.

Standing next to Markas, Ross shifted his feet back and forth to hide the shaking of his legs from the tribesmen, none of whom seemed shaken at all. He watched Markas use his knife to open the body of one of the beasts who had attacked.

The inside of its carapace was crawling with white little moving shapes, like carrion fly larvae, but with legs like spiders. “See, stranger?” The nomad’s voice rasped in a hard whisper. “These are the cause, the reason the buzbugs ran yesterday, the reason they attacked just now.”

“I see them. What are they?”

“They are a sign of the wrath of Lallah. They come to execute His judgment on all that lives.”

“How do they do that?”

Before Markas could answer, one of the small white bugs leapt of out of the body of the dead buzbug onto the nomad’s right hand, the one holding his knife. Immediately the small creature began burrowing into the skin of his hand. With surreal calmness, Markas switched his knife to his left hand and held up the back of his right in front of his face. For a moment he watched the bug dig itself under his skin. And then with the knife in his left, he slashed at the bug, removing it and half the skin from the back of his hand.

Monday, March 25, 2013


by Jeff C. Carter

“Go ahead, I’ll show you how it’s done,” Grady said.

Enforcer Barney Keepagami slipped on the Medical Examiner’s electronic goggles.  A perfect replica of a pale dead man floated in front of him.  Hovering next to the cadaver’s no-nonsense buzz cut was a name and occupation: Kyupiti Brantry, customs officer.  His brutish frame and rough hands clashed with his fashionable clothes and expensive bug shell jewelry.  Barney’s old detective training jumped to the conclusion that the customs officer had been taking bribes.  He dismissed the thought and watched Grady work.      

“Thanks to the deep scan we’re free to do a virtual autopsy any time we want,” Grady said.

“Back in my day they used arthroscopic threads,” Barney said.

“Yeah, and in the dark ages they cut cadavers open and pulled everything out,” Grady said with a shiver of disgust.  “Can you imagine?  Thank God for deep radiation scanning.  Every detail gets captured while the entire body is sterilized.  But here’s the best part…”  

The corpse grew larger until it filled Barney’s view like a foreign landscape. 

“Let’s take a look inside,” Grady said.

Everything tilted and the surface of the dead man rushed up to meet them.  Barney tensed as they smashed through the outer layer of fabric and skin.  They flew through a tangled forest of muscles and arteries towards a pulsing red horizon.

“The red lights are areas that the computer has flagged as outside the healthy base line,” Grady said.

They coasted through the abdominal wall and passed under the broad sweeping arches of the rib cage. “Arteries aren’t in bad shape for his age.  So where’s the red light coming from?”  Grady wondered.

The heart swelled to the size of a house while the red lights shrank down to glaring pin points.  No matter how far they zoomed in the red lights always slipped into the distance.  Finally, they skidded to a halt inside a grey patchwork of spheres pierced with glowing red lines.

“Incredible.  The injury is at the cellular level,” Grady gasped.

“Have you ever seen this before?”  Barney asked.

“Once.  Micrometeor damage.  It happens to meteor cowboys sometimes.  It’s a bad way to go.  I’m ruling this death by trauma,” Grady said. 

Barney pulled off the goggles and looked around the morgue.  He imagined the room stacked full of bodies after the bloody riot.  If there were any clues to glean from the inmate’s cadavers, they would be on these scans.

“Now, about your missing doctors.  What are their names?”

“Doctors Thaani Lev and Samuel Loomis.  They disappeared around the time of the riot.  Actually, I’d like to review all the scans from that period,” Barney said.

“Think they were lost in the shuffle?  I’ll pull up the whole batch.”

A long list of names rolled up onto the screen, but the doctors were not among them.

“Let me dive deeper.  Could be they were filed as Jon Avenirs.” A garbled list appeared on the screen and Grady hissed. “Dammit!  The files have been corrupted.”

Barney gave a low sigh of disappointment that held little surprise.  When would people learn that information was too important to entrust to machines?  The first thing he had learned on the job was that you could only trust hard evidence.

Barney glared at the computer screen and the fragmented list of the dead.  So many lives lost, so many questions without answers. “Did you perform these autopsies?”

“No.  But I remember who did,” Grady said.

Barney’s eyebrows perked up with renewed hope.

“His name was Dr. Kes.  Said he was with the ZMB.”

Barney rolled onto the balls of his feet, ready to go. “Where is he now? Can I speak with him?”

“He was just passing through.  The Peace Council brought him in to help process bodies while I was at the crime scene.  It’s possible he didn’t know our system, or just made a mistake.  We were completely swamped.”

“I suppose I’ll have to add him to my list of missing doctors,” Barney sighed.  “Where are the actual bodies now?”

“If you’re lucky they might be in the disposal bay, waiting for next of kin,” Grady said. 

Barney nodded and handed back the goggles. “I suppose I’ll go pay my respects.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Fight

by Travis Perry

Ross yanked his knife from his belt and stabbed hard at the buzbug that had fixed itself to his leg. His stabs counterattacked in an unaimed frenzy while he screamed at the top of his lungs. His pierced leg kicked hard, almost of its own will, and after eternal seconds the mandibles which had sunk into his leg broke off, the bug falling to the ground.

His fellow nomads had yanked their own black powder pistols from their belts, each responding with a directed fury as if they’d been killing rabid buzbugs their whole lives, firing their single-shot weapons, each one impacting a bug carapace. Then in a flash each dismounted and pulled their knives, launching themselves into frenzied buzbugs with fast hard stabs of the steel knives Ross had traded to them years before.

Ross shouted again, more an enraged roar now, and followed them by jumping off Markas’ mount, which had become the target of most of the buzbug attacks. On the ground he eyed the screaming buzzie with broken mandibles and hurled himself into it, knocking it down, one arm around it as it clawed at him with its hard legs, his other arm stabbing at the side of its hard abdomen, some of his blows glancing off. He finally dispatched the beast which had bitten him, it struggling far longer than it had any right to do.

He looked down and saw blood gushing from his wounded leg…

Monday, March 18, 2013

Our Freedom

by Kaye Jeffreys

Athena Marie rode at the head of Zeus unit as its procession of shelter-wagons approached Apollo unit. She sat aboard her open-air multi-rider exposed to the ash and grit. Her shock of white grizzly hair blew every which way as the winds shifted, never sure which way they wanted to blow.The driver of her multi-rider broke away from the head of the line and brought Athena close to where Logan and Reece waited to greet her.

Athena peered down at Logan through her goggles with her one good eye and nodded her greeting. "Logan."

"Thena," Logan nodded back then shook hands with Athena's driver and son who accompanied her.

"There's a storm brewing. The Hermits say it may last a week." Athena clutched tightly to her spider-leg walking stick, a souvenir from a past bug war.

"Will you circle with us?" Logan turned slightly and nodded back to his own unit preparing for the coming storm. The machinery chugging and groaning as their drivers coaxed them into position.

"I wish we could. You have the best cook, musicians, and storytellers. But Dionys Unit is low on supplies, so we must move on to circle with them." Athena motioned toward her unit that continued to file past.

Logan couldn't help a smile under his face scarf. "So when is Dionys ever not low on supplies?"

"Almost never!" Athena cackled and thumped the floor of her multi-rider with the bottom of her walking stick. "In fact, we were wondering if you had anything to send along."

Logan turned to Reece, "You know what to do."

Athena watched Reece return to the Apollo circle. "How is your Nomad adjusting?"

"Much quicker than I thought. She no longer wears her veil and tries to make herself useful. When Jereth joined us, she only retreated from sight for half a day. She and Rose even share a cubicle now."

"And what does she think about our Avenir-born son?"

"Jereth? She is still a bit awed by him." Logan chuckled. "She's never met an actual Star Walker from Avenir."

"I'll bet it's hard for a Nomad to get their mind around people living on a star or coming from one." Athena looked up to the sky as though she could see Avenir orbiting overhead. "It's hard for me to get my mind around the fact that we all came from that star." Then her voice became grim. "We found out the hard way that you can't trust them up there. We lost your sister over it. And now she floats in solitude and eternally frozen in heartless space. She should be here, with us, either alive or buried with her people within the warm embrace of Mother Eclectia."

Athena snapped out of her regret and looked down at Logan again. "And how is Brett?"

"He refuses to accept that he will never ascend the Rims again."

Athena rubbed the black diamond wired into the joint of her spider-leg. "I'll send you Matthon to teach him how to cut. Brett has a mind for detail and precision."

"That would be good."

"Also, take Jereth up to Blue Rim once the storm blows over. His mother may be lost to us, frozen in space, but she taught him where his roots are and he has come to us in her place. Take Zaibry and your Nomad, too. You need to train another diamond hound to take Brett's place."

"But Zaibry is so young, and Jereth and Sanja are both still unaccustomed to our ways."

"Our time of plenty can't last forever. We cannot afford to baby our children, for survival's sake."

Logan sighed. "You are right, of course."

"And what is the one thing that is more important than our survival?"

"Our freedom."

Athena nodded slowly. "We are caught between the corrupting influence of Avenir and the superstitions of the Nomads. There is no freedom for common men and women among either. We must survive to maintain independence for our children's children."

"There are always the Hermits."

"Aye, but who wants to live like them?" Athena cackled again. "Ah, here is Reece with gifts for Dionys."

The driver and Athena's son jumped out and helped Logan and Reece load containers into the back of Athena's multi-rider.

When they had finished Athena looked up at Zeus unit as they lumbered away over the dunes of black sand. "Our unit has gone off and left us. We better catch up." Athena hit the floor of the multi-rider with the bottom of her stick twice. Her driver started it up and drove away. "Until again." The wind carried Athena's voice back to where Logan stood.

Logan looked up into the sky at the swirling clouds for a moment remembering his sister that floated overhead in her coffin, cold and alone.

Gordy called from behind his cook wagon. "Are you coming, Logan? Or should we circle without you?"

"I'm coming." Logan jogged back to his unit, bringing the memory of his sister into the shelter of their unit's circle.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Attack

by Travis Perry

Ross rode behind Markas on his aspbug mount. As much as the nomad did not seem to like him, the man clearly expected Ross to hang onto to his body. The discomfort most Eclectia men felt about touching one another was clearly not something nomad men experienced. Ross found himself more comfortable reaching under his own thighs to grasp the rough saddle strapped across the bug, even though this made staying put in his seat awkward.

The three bugs rode hard to the west, their riders chasing the buzbugs that had charged off in a frenzy toward the setting sun. The wind whipped hard and the ash blocked out the stars. Ross had no idea how the men knew where they were going.

A cold winter morning revealed a bleak rocky horizon, the distance scattered with a few pygmy lavabushes. Markas glanced back at him without slowing the aspbug’s trotting pace. “You see them, stranger? There, by the hill on the left.”

At first he saw nothing…but then his eyes caught sight of five or six buzbugs charging east in the direction of the rising sun with the same ardor with which they had run last evening, but no longer bleating. He wondered what happened to the rest of them, the other dozen or so bugs…

Markas and the other two riders angled off to the left. The long legged aspbugs soon brought the men to in line with the charging buzzies.

Normally a buzbug would come to a stop near an aspbug, or at least change direction out of fear of the much larger beast. But these buzbugs, each one an herbivore, charged straight at the much larger mounted animals.

Markas, leading the riders, brought his mount to a quick halt, too late to respond to the charging buzbugs, who now voiced a sound Ross had never heard before. A sharp hiss. They leapt at the aspbugs, their mandibles chopping, attacking the Markas’ aspbug. One leapt high and pain lanced through Ross’s right calf as the mouth of the frenzied herd animal pierced his flesh…

Monday, March 11, 2013

Encoded Vellum Part 3

by Jeff Chapman -

“There are no matches among Avenir records,” contended the medico, and regarded the old man in the bed.

“Perhaps they were not very thorough,” said Brother Peter. “Mistakes have occurred before. They give scant enough attention to our requests. You should ask them to look again, Brother Sebastian.”

The medico nodded.

“And if the Abbot will give us a name,” said the director.

“His records are no longer there,” said the Abbot. “They were lost in the core memory collapses.”

Sebastian calculated what that meant for the age of the patient, then recalculated. Impossible. Until now he had thought the Abbot’s mental capacity untouched by age. Perhaps senility came in bursts like solar flares lashing out into space. He looked to the director and wrinkled his brows.

The director shook his head and sighed with the exasperation one might show an errant child.

“I believe—” began the director.

“Do you not recognize the face?” The Abbot turned from one monk to the other. “Either of you?”

Brother Sebastian shook his head.

“I’m afraid we do not,” said Brother Peter.

“Surely you do,” said the Abbot to the director. “You’ve passed his portrait many times.”

Brother Peter stared at the man in the bed, cocking his head from one side to the other to regard the face from different angles.

“I pass him every day,” said the Abbot.

“Yes, yes,” said the director. “I see it now. Uncanny. Remarkable, but utterly impossible.”

“Who is it I should recognize?” asked Brother Sebastian.

“The first Abbot, Brother Septimus. His dark eyes pierce me every morning and night. His is the first portrait outside my chamber.”

The medico gaped. “But—but—that would make him over two hundred Foundings.” 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Word Carrier: Domestication

by Heidi Kortman -

Douay Bede sat in the corner of his cell, facing the box with the quarr his mother had brought him.

“Your name is Pangur Ban,” he said in a firm voice. He had to speak loudly enough to keep the kit’s attention, but without such force that someone could overhear and interrupt. That would be disaster.

“Pangur Ban, I am Douay Bede, and you are mine.” Scratching noises came from the box. He raised his voice. “You are mine, Pangur Ban. I am Douay Bede, who will shelter you from storms and bring you to food-filled places.”

The kit’s scratching grated on his ears, but he might not need to endure it long. “Pangur Ban, the box is small around you. I am Douay Bede, your domesticator. It is I who open lids. Pangur Ban, you are mine.” The kit tried again to widen the ventilation hole with its serrated claw. Once, twice, the claw extended to its full, increasing length. The last quarr he domesticated before coming to the Abbey grew to be over five feet from nose to tail tip, and weighed seventy five pounds.

Now. “Pangur Ban, I am Douay Bede, and you are mine. There is a spider here for you to hunt.” He’d spoken the name seven times. It should be enough. Douay Bede reached out and opened the lid.

The quarr leaped up. It pushed off his left shoulder, then twisted in mid air to spring off the wall. Its claws found purchase on the textured stone, and the hunt was on. Bouncing from wall to wall Pangur Ban climbed the corner. He reached out his right front paw with claws retracted, and batted at the thick web near the ceiling.

The trencher-sized orange legged spider emerged. Pangur Ban sang his hunt call, a long tone deep and resonant like the bass notes played on a cello. The spider raised its front legs and displayed its fangs. Pangur Ban’s ears went back, and he swatted the arachnid down.

Douay Bede climbed on top of his cot.

Pangur Ban dropped from his perch, and slapped his paw, claws out, on the spider. Internal fluids spurted. The quarr shook the carcass from its claws, then cleaned its paw, before crunching down the prey.

Douay Bede unknotted his belt. It was almost time for step two. He began to re-shape the belt end.

Pangur Ban stretched. He lifted his head, scanning the web at the ceiling. His ears flicked. The quarr scampered toward the ceiling again. Supporting himself on his rear paws, he reached out both forefeet and scored through the tough web, exposing a glistening mass of nearly mature eggs.

Douay Bede shivered. He’d been living and sleeping this close to that? Pangur Ban sang as he ate, the tone rising and falling in a rhythm that somehow conveyed satisfaction. The quarr dropped to the floor with a solid thump, and prowled. Into dark corners, under the table, and finally beneath the cot. Time for step two.

Douay Bede let the end of his belt brush the floor. The raveled ply spread out like spider’s legs. If he could get Pangur Ban to play, his domestication would be almost complete.

The quarr’s thick foreleg and broad paw shot out from beneath the cot. Douay Bede flipped the belt up, moving it. The thin mattress rose under his foot as the quarr tried to crouch in a space almost too small.

“Pangur Ban, come out.” He moved the belt again. “Come out to me, Douay Bede, and play.”

With a fluid rush, Pangur Ban emerged. Silvery white, his scales caught the light coming from beneath the door. His tufted ears flicked forward and back as he stalked the improvised toy.

Douay Bede snapped the rope upward, to settle on the table. Pangur Ban sprang. Crouching on the table top, Pangur Ban slitted his pupils narrow. Douay Bede moved the rope to land beside him on the cot. Pangur Ban extended himself in a leap, landing heavy. He sat tall, making soft pizzicato sounds.

Douay Bede reached out. The quarr’s eyes followed his movement, and he yawned but did not bite as Douay Bede stroked him between the ears. “Pangur Ban,” he said. “I am Douay Bede, and you are mine.”

Pangur Ban stepped into Douay Bede’s lap. “Maybe seventeen pounds, and this young.” The quarr rolled onto its side and blinked at him. “Left eye green, right eye purple.” The scales along its body bore swirling spirals that coiled to the right. His parents had given him one of the best, quickest, longest lived, and protective. The quarr reached out. “No claws with me. I am Douay Bede, and you are mine, Pangur Ban.” Domestication complete.

Douay Bede lifted the quarr, and stood. “Mother, Mother—what a publication gift.” She’d want her box back. He set the well-fed animal into it, and retied his belt rope before he gripped the box handles. “Ride, Pangur Ban.” He took three steps, then paused before the door. How would he open it with his hands full?

Pangur Ban slashed out, shifting the weighty sliding door to create a narrow gap. Douay Bede wedged his foot into it. Then, he twisted and pushed with his left elbow until he could sidle through. “You’re almost too heavy to be carried like this.”

Pangur Ban twanged at him, then bumped the underside of Douay Bede’s chin with the top of his head. The hallway was empty, and Douay Bede settled into the stride he’d have to substitute for a run. If he hurried, he could still have time with his parents.

He emerged from the tunnel. Off to his right, his mother and father were standing with Brother Charles. “Pangur Ban, come out.”

Instead of leaping down, as Douay Bede expected, the quarr reached up, and pulled itself to his shoulders. “You’re really heavy.” Douay Bede closed the lid of the box as he walked forward. “Father, Mother, thank you for the publication gift. This is Pangur Ban.”

“Well done,” she said, and leaned, smiling, against his father’s shoulder. His father wrapped an arm around her, while adjusting his hat with his other hand.

“That’s my boy.”

It was the most praise Douay Bede could expect. He shifted his weight to face Brother Charles. “These, Brother, are my parents, and this is Pangur Ban, their publication gift to the Order.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Council

by Travis Perry

Markas’ hard eyes shifted away from Ross toward the western horizon, toward the buzbugs still charging that direction. “A day’s ride and I can bring them back. I’ll need two other men with me. Useful men who can ride.” After addressing the tribe, his angry glare returned to Ross, who found himself flushing red.

“Oh, no, child,” interjected Shoo. “You must not go! They are harem.” Ross would have thought from his knowledge of the tribe that an old woman would not be allowed to publicly speak to an unrelated adult male as she just had done. But apparently Shoo played by her own rules…the word she used, “harem,” Ross of course knew, but she had used it in a foreign way, totally unlike the meaning he was familiar with. He wondered what she had meant…

His chain of thought ended when a young man shouted, “Keep yourself quiet, grandmother! Your open mouth shames us!” Shoo’s face set in anger and the shocked reactions of both men and women told him that her grandson had just violated a rule weightier than a woman addressing a man.

“Calmness and peace,” snapped Markas as his aspbug mount shifted and grunted. “We need to meet in conference over this matter—strangers not included.” The last phrase he uttered while staring directly at Ross.


Ross sat at the edge of camp during the conference, on an outcropping of flat rock. Next to him sat Shoo’s grandson, unspeaking, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in the palms of his upward-reaching hands. They did not speak to one another.

At one point, one of the herd boys passed Ross, his face still pale and sweaty, like the time several months ago when the same boy had thought he’d seen a ghost. “What happened to the herd?” he asked, guessing this to be the cause of the boy’s anxiety.

“Bugs just started running, the same ones who are still running I think. They scared the rest of the herd before we could do anything. Bugs jump sometimes, but a dozen, all at once? I’ve never seen that. There was nothing I could do.”

“I’m sure you did your best,” said Ross. “The tribe won’t blame you.” These words brought a small smile of relief to the boy’s face.

After a bit more conversation, the herder returned to his beasts. Not long afterward, Markas approached Ross. “All is well with Shoo, I trust?”

Markas paused before answering. “She was never in any danger of reprimand—but you have charmed her, it seems. For she defended you and gave her reasons as to what happened to the herd. She says it is not your fault.”

“Praise Lallah. I’m glad to hear that.”

“I would not praise yet. You are to come with me and we shall see if her words are true. If they are not, you will not be returning to the tribe.” As he spoke, perhaps unconsciously, Markas moved his right hand to rest on the pommel of the dagger in his belt.