Saturday Fiction: Big Bird

For this Saturday, more Werewolf stories. Once again, I did some fiction work to prepare my players for more sessions. I was surprised how much they enjoyed them, so I went all the way to 4 (with a 5th one that I haven’t finished yet). Here you go.

Woofskulls

Big Bird

Out in the middle of the woods, a clean red corvette pulled along a dirt trail and stopped outside an old cabin. The engine died, and Lieutenant Spatz stepped out of the car, grabbed a tote bag full of groceries, and sniffed at the air.

He looked around, put on a pair of shades, and then walked over to the cabin door. He opened it.

“Knock next time,” Levi said from the couch. He was typing away at a laptop, and didn’t look at Spatz as he entered.

The cabin wasn’t much more than that couch, a coffee table, a small kitchen made up of a sink and toaster oven, and stairs that lead up to a bed.

Spatz sniffed, and twitched his nose, “Has someone else been up here?”

Levi put down the laptop and pulled the bag over to him, “Don’t sniff my house. That’s weird.”

“Force of habit.”

He pulled out a loaf of bread and a pack of cookies, “And what if there was? Are you jealous or something?”

Spatz shrugged.

“You got the wrong crackers,” Levi said, “But otherwise, this is pretty good. Thanks.”

Why Spatz was still doing this for him was something Levi was still trying to figure out. It was hard enough getting everything else in his life in order. At least this one thing wasn’t a problem. He didn’t have to show his face in town, which lead to the best benefit of all.

“Are you still okay out here?” Spatz asked, looking around the apartment.

Levi shrugged, popped open the box of crackers and stuffed one in his mouth, “I’m fine.”

“Your friends were asking about you.”

He stopped chewing. “Which ones?”

“Mike and Cam,” Spatz said, “I saw them in Chicago.”

So they finally settled on working with Meredith? Well, Mike was already leaning that way, but Cam needed somebody to work for. That made sense.

“They’re big boys, they can take care of themselves.”

“Meredith is keeping them safe,” Spatz said.

Levi scoffed.

“Right,” Spatz added, “I forgot. She who will not be named.”

“Are you hungry or something?” Levi said, jumping up from the couch. He leaned forward for a second and hissed as pain shot through his arm. When he looked up, Spatz was watching him.

“A sandwich?” Spatz said.

Spatz liked to pretend he wasn’t observant. Levi couldn’t decide if he liked that trait, or hated it. Maybe that was part of being Meredith’s lapdog, no telling the alpha-bitch what you noticed until it was the right time.

Levi took the bread into the kitchen, and started making something.

“You two are a lot alike, you know that?” Spatz said as he sat on the couch.

“Don’t care.”

“Just saying.”

There was a chime on Levi’s laptop, and he ran back into the room. He picked it up over the edge of the couch, put it on the armrest, and looked at the message with a stern face.

“You can’t possibly have internet out here.” Spatz said as he watched Levi type away.

“Its called tethering, grandpa. You can look it up on your apple back home.”

Spatz looked a little hurt, and whispered, “Grandpa?”

It was a message. Not exactly what he wanted to hear. It was another strange happening in Chicago, another shifter dropped out. Thankfully it wasn’t one he knew well, he was getting tired of losing friends. Instead this was just more proof of a bigger picture.

There was a thump at the window. Spatz looked, but Levi didn’t bother.

“Something wrong?” Spatz asked.

He shook his head, “It’s nothing. Uni homework. Has anything strange been going on in the city?”

Spatz shrugged, “Maybe.”

Levi narrowed his eyes on Spatz, “Why don’t you just tell me.”

Spatz took off his shades and folded them up.

“Is this because of Meredith?” Levi asked, “Are you keeping stuff from me now?”

“You’re dead as far as she knows,” Spatz shrugged.

Levi closed his laptop, “So what?”

Spatz sat back and sighed.

He wanted to know about the smell. No wonder that woman kept Spatz around. He was completely loyal, to a fault. He was like a worried puppy, doing whatever it took to figure out why his master was sad. Levi was sure that Meredith’s biggest mistake was ordering Spatz to watch out for his pack.

“I’m going to have to move,” Levi said, “Something happened. It shouldn’t happen again.”

When it happened, Levi was pretty sure he was going to die. He was hyperventilating in the middle of the forest, trying to overhear the man in a trenchcoat walking up the trail to his cabin.

The man was on his phone, talking to someone, he never used a real name.

“I’m pretty sure this is the place. Don’t know why it would be hiding in a cabin, but we can figure that out after.”

Levi had eyes in the woods. When someone decided to take a stroll toward him, he could make himself scarce. The problem was, his crows never saw Mr. Trenchcoat enter the forest. There was no car, or bicycle. He came out of nowhere. He looked too human to be spirit stuff, but Levi knew from experience that you never knew what was strange about someone until they let you know.

“No, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. See if you can find a cage.”

He hung up his phone, and then walked into Levi’s cabin.

Waiting for him to come out was torture. When the man left again he had a frown on his face, and looked back and forth.

Then Levi let out a loud caw, and dropped on his head. Whoever this idiot was, he didn’t expect a giant bird-man. Levi laid into him with his claws, doing whatever damage he could before the man could recover.

The guy rolled out from under him, pulled out a strange crooked knife, and slashed back. The blade stuck into Levi’s wing, and he let out a loud cry before swatting trenchcoat man to the ground.

Levi pinned him on his face, and then shifted back to human. He was panting, trying to seem confident when he could count his physical fights on one hand.

“What’re you doing in my house?” Levi asked as he squeezed the guy’s wrist until he dropped the knife.

The guy hid his pain behind a chuckle, “I tracked that strange magic of yours.”

“Tracked it?” Levi said, “How?”

“I could explain it, but that wouldn’t help you understand,” He said with a smile.

Levi put his knee into the guy’s neck, “I’ll give it a shot, I’m pretty clever.”

“Okay, okay,” He said, “Magic leaves a residue. If you can see it, it is pretty easy to recognize unique signatures. Your magic is… primitive, freaky. I wanted to know why.”

“Maybe call next time?” Levi said.

The guy lifted an eyebrow, “You attacked me.”

“Yeah, well shut up.”

“Look,” The man said, trying to adjust his shoulder to be in a comfortable position, “How about we work together? We can figure out what is up with your magic together, do some lab experiments, I can show you a secret or two while we’re at it.”

Levi looked at him, and thought about it. The word cages was still ringing around in his head. He knew even then that Spatz was going to be mad at him for this.

“How about no?” Levi said before punching the guy in the back of the head.

Levi could still feel the knife wound, and he still had the knife. It was healing up fine, but he knew he was going to have to cut down on the curses.

“That’s not much,” Spatz said.

Levi looked at his laptop, “When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

Spatz nodded, and mulled it over from his seat. “We haven’t figured ours out either. The pure, the other werewolves, are acting strange. They have switched up their tactics. A lot less killing, a lot more recruiting.”

“Coyote?” Levi asked.

Spatz shook his head, “The Bohles don’t seem to be involved.”

Levi sighed, “Spirit stuff.”

“Typically, yeah,” Spatz said, “But while you may not like spirit stuff, that is our life. We’re spirit stuff.”

Levi’s phone chimed, and he pulled it out. It was a message from Sylvia. Something was happening in Naperville, she also mentioned something about Jennifer, and undying love. Levi had trouble getting through it all without his eyes glazing over.

Definitely spirit stuff.

“Maybe I should go,” Spatz said.

He looked up, and pointed at the kitchen, “Get your sandwich. Just, you know, put the bread together.”

“You mean make the sandwich?”

Spatz walked into the kitchen, put it together, and took a bite. “This is pretty good.”

“Of course it is,” Levi said, “I made it.”

Spatz nodded, and walked to the door. “Let me know where you go, okay?”

“If I don’t, is your girlfriend going to unleash the hounds?”

“Girlfriend? Meredith?” Spatz grimaced, “Sick.”

“I’m not going to get hurt,” Levi said, rolling his eyes.

Levi could see Spatz trying not to look at his arm. There it was again, trying not to notice.

“If you don’t tell me, I’ll hunt you down,” Spatz said, “That’s my job.”

“As her minion?” Levi said as Spatz opened the door.

“As an officer in my department,” Spatz said as he turned on the porch, “It is literally my job.”

Levi smiled.

“Plus,” Spatz added, sniffing at the air, “Wolf stuff. We don’t take this pack thing lightly.”

He shook his head, and closed the door on Spatz. “Idiot.”

As Spatz walked back to his car, he didn’t look up at the trees, or on the roof of the cabin. Which made it easy to miss all the crows there, watching, in silence.

Inside, Levi went over to the window and opened it. Two crows hopped in, letting out soft caws and adjusting on the window sill.

“Well,” Levi said to the birds as he pulled his laptop over to the counter near the window, “I hope you have something interesting for me.”

Saturday Fiction: Abandonment [A Tri-Star Story]

The first part of Tri-star I created was their god, Mayen. Like most things, I went in half-cocked, and it shows. Still, it created a sort of impromptu religion that would extend to all three Stars, Tau Ceti, Sol, and Gliese. They all believe in Mayen, and by all means Mayen’s power is real. 

Still, god being real wouldn’t stop people from having different versions of scripture, especially when they have been divided by vast distances of space. So I imagined for this story, a council of Nicea for the faith of Mayen. 

Then I regretted that immediately. I tried to finish this last week, and could barely squeak out 3 pages over a week. Something wasn’t right, and it still isn’t. I still wanted to finish though, and so I fought through it this week, and here is the final product.

Nicea

“Quiet, friends,” Luka shouted, “can I please have quiet!”

He felt like his smock was trying to suffocate him. All the eyes in the room focused down on him at the podium. Even without him saying a word, he could tell they were questioning him. This whole meeting was built on disagreement, nearly fifty men and women crammed in together, many more in the libraries and study halls adjoining. The great reliquarium was busier than ever. It was Luka’s task, his duty as its administrator, to run this meeting of faiths.

“I know you are all anxious to begin,” Luka said as he squeezed one hand under the other on the podium, “I too am excited for what we may learn today.”

An unintelligible jeer came from the back of the room. The tone sounded like a Glie, those massive horned men that still disturbed Luka at night. They were too close to a man’s nightmares, powerful, boisterous, aberrations growing from their skulls. Still, when they made up a third of the room, it was best to keep his fears quiet and go where Mayen’s teachings lead him.

Others started to murmur, some in the Glie tongue he heard so often now, still others in dialects from the nations he knew well.

Luka put a hand up, “Friends, we are here because of something all our peoples recognized when we first met across the terrifying raw. It didn’t matter what what languages we spoke, it didn’t matter how different we looked, or how we lived, we all praise a god that is one and the same. You all speak for those who follow Mayen. This is no coincidence, in our faith to Mayen, we are all brothers and sisters. That’s why you answered my call today.”

At least that is what Luka hoped. As the whispers rose again, he thought about what he did know, what he was sure of. When he first got access to foreign scripture, he was afraid. It always came untranslated, and trying to pick it apart himself was time consuming and inaccurate. But one problem rose to the surface, their faiths were as different as they were similar. It posed a problem that he couldn’t solve with prayer and some research. As he spoke with others around the nations, through letters and meetings face to face, he realized the best solution was to bring them all together, Sol, Gliese, and Ceti. It was easier said than done.

“We all worship Mayen, and some aspects of him are the same across no matter who worships him. He fought against the raw nothingness, he created our worlds and us with them, but the differences are just as profound.”

Luka reached under the podium and brought out a large book of old murals. He opened it to a marked page, and turned it to the crowd.

“To the majority of Sol, Mayen is the liberator,” He said as he pointed to a painting of the Old Tyrants, “when the world was first created, kings rose to rule over us all. They took the world, from coast to coast, and they abused the beauty that Mayen gave them. He watched, and let them build their towers and castles dedicated to their own power, until he could not ignore the screams of the meek. He went to the tyrants, and he asked them to relinquish what was never theirs. When they refused, they came to blows, Mayen freeing the people of Sol man by man, until the Tyrants were all defeated.”

It was the short version of just one story, but it was the story. Every child heard of Mayen and the Old Tyrants, it is how Sol was created, how the continents were crafted, how men came to be free, and why the old Spinder had to die. Luka loved the story as a kid, it was exciting, especially the long form that detailed the battles between Mayen and the three Tyrants.

Luka could see the dissent in the eyes of those in front of him. It wasn’t just the foreigners, men from other stars, but even some of his own. The story was hard to lock down. Were there three tyrants, or four? Was Mayen one of the tyrants? He kept his rendition short, so even those with complaints would be hard pressed to bring them forward.

“This is our story, in short,” Luka said, moving aside from the podium, “But I know that among you, there are different versions of our god. Now is the time to hear it.”

The voices rose again, and for a moment Luka was afraid that no one would answer his request. There was always that chance, that they would simply retreat into their arguments, voices bouncing off the walls until they marched out of the room.

Then a man rose in the seats, and held his hand up. The others from Gliese went silent, and soon the room followed. He walked forward, and Luka could immediately see why he was the one who would speak.

He had horns like a great buck, they twisted up from his head, branching out far enough that Luka wondered how he navigated doorways. His eyes were a brilliant green that stunned Luka with a glance. His clothing was fine spun, with what looked like precious silver and gold on the fringes.

“I am Toth Goldbranch,” The man said to the crowd, “Many of you know me. Some of you in person, others through letters and word of mouth.”

Luka stepped further back from the podium and listened to Toth speak. The man clearly had a way with words, and the respect of his people. Still, it always surprised Luka the level of wealth owned by the voices of Mayen among the Glie. They had no shame in showing it either, they wore trinkets and rings, and glimmered in the light. Often they had branched horns, but Luka didn’t know if that was related.

“Among my people, Mayen takes on a different face. We don’t have grand books dedicated to him, though I respect your works of art. Instead, Mayen is respected in grand tales, and just as often, song. The song of Mayen, our greatest poem, is the lifeblood of the kingdoms.”
Luka was thankful Toth avoided calling their government what it was, an empire. When talking with other Solites, Luka could feel the disgust when Glie talked about their ‘empire’ under the branched crown.

Toth cleared his throat, and then spoke again with a musical note. It wasn’t singing, just sing-song, a tone that said this was from memory, ancient and exact.

“We were yours once, Mayen. You wore our horns, and sang our song. You felt us in you, even then. You broke your horns, and bled us out. The land was your scars, mountains of scabs, and rivers of red. We rose in your image, your branch, your coil, your curve, and more. We served you once, Mayen. We bowed at your feet, built mighty towers to your crown, and relished in your praise. We were children, and took your every word as law.”

Luka nodded, he could see the similarities. If he had the text in front of him, there was even the possibility he could find the confusion between the Solite texts, and the Glie stories. But he had tried this before, and most of the tales of the Glie were kept oral, as a tradition. He took down what he could, but they insisted on keeping the tales away from pen and parchment.

“But we were foolish youths, and one of the tribes wished for godhood as well. They crowned their own king, and they took their own land. They built their own towers, and they called Mayen coward. Armies joined them, or died, and through this Mayen stayed quiet. They marched to him, blades at the ready, standing behind the Coilhorned king…”

An uproar began, and Luka was snapped back to reality. The other Glie, they were nearly at blows in the audience, holding each other at arms length and shouting in their own language.

“Whoa brothers!” Luka said as he raced to the podium, standing beside Toth, “Please, let him finish. Whatever the disagreement is, we can discuss it after.”

One of the Glie with spiraling horns forced himself toward the front, pushing others behind him, “He would spread his lies even here!” He shouted.

Luka looked to Toth, and saw that the speaker’s face was passive. Still, something was just below the surface there, a compressed aggression. Luka turned back to the crowd, and put his hands up.

“Please,” Luka shouted, “Can we just have peace? We will make it nowhere if we fight each other instead of listening. We will hear many different versions before our work is done.”

Toth stepped forward, and spoke with a voice that dwarfed Luka’s, “I take back my words, brothers. It was a slip of the tongue.”

His apology spread through the room, and everyone headed back to their seats and tables. Toth nodded to Luka, and after a moment’s hesitation, he backed away from the podium again.

“There isn’t much left to say, I’m afraid,” Toth said, “We struck Mayen, and Mayen’s blood struck back. He struck with black claws, the power of the raw. He smote our king, and shattered the land that once was. For a time, we learned a lesson only tragedy could teach.”

Toth spoke with a flourish, and then bowed. It seemed with that small addition, he was finished.

Luka could still hear the murmuring in the crowd as Toth returned to his seat, but the horned men were still not at rest. In reality, he didn’t know how to calm them because he couldn’t understand what had roused them. He could tell it was some part of the Mayen tale, but the history wasn’t his. The coilhorned king, that was what made them angry, and Luka could already imagine the different tribesman blaming the others for their downfall before time.

To Luka, the chance that their story was the literal truth ended at his own lack of horns.

Then Luka noticed a woman and man walking to the front. They both wore the simplistic brown robes of the Ceti, their skin nearly matching in texture and color. They didn’t say a word as they came to the podium, but Luka stepped away regardless.

Only three Ceti came to his gathering. Of the worlds, they were most resistant to his idea. Ceti was ‘of one mind’, on their faith to Mayen. That was the message he received again and again in reply to his letters. They didn’t want to talk to him, they saw no reason to question the lord chief.

The three who came were a surprise to him. He tried to reach out to the growing radical element within the Ceti, but not even they would attend. As far as he could tell, these Ceti were from the main tribes, which meant to Luka that they spoke for the lord chief as well.

They stood at the front podium, and the female Ceti reached into a side bag.

“We come to tell you the truth of Mayen, the deliverer,” She said, her Sol still rough, “for we have listened, and you could not be more wrong.”

Her language was a little harsh, but he could blame that on their lack of exposure to their tongue. The fact she was speaking Sol at all was impressive, with how little trade the Ceti allowed.

She pulled a statue from her bag, and the room erupted in bright light. Luka winced, and heard screams of panic from across the room. Even blocking his vision, he could barely look in the direction of the podium, and he could barely make out others hiding behind their tables.

The Ceti was yelling over the screams, “Mayen built paradise,” She shouted, “Mayen built the Ceti, and his brothers built others. But Mayen was the strongest, and when his brothers saw his great works, they poisoned the Ceti. For their folly, Mayen banished his brothers, and their creations, from paradise. But it was too late, the Ceti were now weak, and unfit for paradise. So we seek it, forever under Mayen’s eye, and hoping to find the home we deserve.”

The statue’s light had died down, and Luka could see now that it was a statue of a god, arms out and welcoming, a wreath of light around it. The statue seemed to be made of a glowing metal, he recognized the material from one of his studies when he first entered the church. They called it, Ichorite, Mayen metal, the blood of god. It was rare to see even a sliver, and here the Ceti had a small statue.

“So now you see,” The Ceti said, “You’re just another abomination, and an obstacle to our deliverance.”

The room burst into chaos. It started with shouted accusations, then a Glie threw a punch at his own, then someone charged the podium. There was nothing else to learn here, not today.

Now Luka saw the flaw in his plan. Yes, they all worshipped Mayen, and they all saw him as god. What he did not realize until it was too late was the danger of telling, no showing, a people that there was no chance they were the chosen ones.

Mayen had either made them all, or had just made one. Either all their legends were wrong, or they were now neighbors to monsters.

Luka backed away from the arguments as they grew to a peak. He had to think, and he couldn’t split his mind between breaking up the frustrations in front of him and breaking apart the puzzle in his mind.

Still, one matter was growing plain to him. After listening to the three stories, which were just small pieces of greater lore that had grown among three great peoples over generations, something was plain.

Mayen was not guiding them. If the great god was still out there, alive, and speaking to his children, how could their stories have grown so radically different? Luka knew men who had vivid dreams of speaking to Mayen, or wrote new verses in fever fits. He either had to believe this was unique to Sol, or admit that the Ceti and Glie had felt the same in kind. Mayen was silent, and they were in this fight alone.

He watched as holy men and women brawled in front of him, spitting curses he would expect from soldiers on the battlefield. No, they weren’t alone. They had each other, and Mayen’s power was still in the land, and moreso in them, his greatest creation.

Saturday Fiction: Runner [A Tri-star story]

For this Saturday, I had to work past some reservations I had about writing anymore. So I broke some rules. There aren’t a lot of hard rules when writing,  everything is about the moment, but some rules I would never break at my age. Then I decided to do it anyway, for today.

the-crystal-cave-287

They’re coming. The footsteps are there, right out of earshot.

It doesn’t matter how many hills, how many valleys, they are always right there. The wind carries them, a feeling more than a sound, the absolute knowledge of being followed.

He could feel it in his soul, even as his legs burned from running. There was no chance to stop. They would be upon him, seize him, end him.

He fell against a tree, his whole body shaking with the effort to stand. Each breath came as a long gasp, his legs were shivering, refusing to stay locked upright. He pulled the cloth from his cloak and wiped the sweat from his forehead. His fingers clung to the material, not by choice but through exhaustion and desperation.

This was going to kill him, he was sure of it. This was the end of his journey. It didn’t matter where he thought he could make it to, his body gave up, he couldn’t get there. In retrospect, he should have stayed behind, with the others. Maybe he could have done something. They were so afraid, it was going to be terrible.

His heart was beating faster by the second, he could feel it building up inside him. It told him to move, even as his whole body screamed in protest. It told him they were coming, they were right behind him, a thousand footsteps, all coming to trample him into the dirt.

It wasn’t that he didn’t know pain. He had bruises up his sides that said otherwise. He could take the pain. He looked at the back of his hand. Scars ran across his skin, one for each mistake, each time he let himself be caught. Never again, that was the choice he shared with the others.

They just didn’t want to listen. They waited too long, thought they could make a difference. Now they were going to pay with skin out of their hides, and blood on the ground. There was no doubt about it, he had to move, even if his body collapsed to dust.

So he ran, between trees and brush, over roots and holes. He heaved with each breath, and tears came to his eyes, but he ran. With each passing moment it became surviving. Legs pumped their last, his lungs squeezed what they could find. He could faintly hear the wheezing, but he wasn’t hearing much of anything.

The forest started to head downhill. It was briefly a boon, to go so fast with so little effort. Then he realized that stopping was as hard as going, and his body was too far gone for either. His foot caught in a root, and he fell forward into the oncoming darkness of the thick brush. He rolled, his vision swimming, his mind a daze.

It hurt. But he was so tired, of running, and of pain, that that didn’t matter. It could hurt all it wanted. He closed his eyes, and let the hill take him. It was dirty, cold, knobbled. Then, it seemed smooth, and colder, and unbelievably quiet. Then it was nothing, as his mind faded to black.

When he opened his eyes, he was surrounded by a glow like a thousand candles. He tried to sit up, but his body protested, and he fell couldn’t do more than roll to his back. The whole room was alive, light bouncing from every surface. It was like the sun living behind a cavern wall, peeking through to say hello.

A cavern? He didn’t remember going to a cavern. He had to have rolled there. The fall knocked him out, he had to have slept, but he didn’t feel the squeeze on his heart of them getting closer. Somehow he felt, safe.

He let out a sigh, and the light in the room danced as if he blew on the flame directly. His eyes opened wide, and he looked all around, but he couldn’t find the candle itself. When he got up, if he got up, he would have to take a look around.

His eyes closed, and he fell back into a sleep.

Next time his eyes opened, the glow was there, accompanied by the warmth of midday. He tried to move, and his limbs responded with tentative success. Each movement was painful, but at least he could do it. He rolled onto his stomach, moved to his knees, and looked around. Each direction lead to more cave, and despite the light, it was impossible to see far. The paths from where he was curled off, the walls of crystallized light blending with each other as they curved. He was in the middle of nowhere, and in the back of his mind, he knew that didn’t make sense.

He struggled to his feet, and touched the wall for support. It wasn’t warm. With how warm the cave was, why wasn’t the wall warm? It chilled him, an unnerving whiplash of senses. Still, he needed to move. He couldn’t just sit in the cave forever, he had to find a way out.

He struck out one direction. There was a limp in his step, and he had to collect himself every few steps, but it was something. He came to crossroads in the cave, paths that veered off in opposite directions, and chose thought about each choice. If he let himself get turned left, he would circle back in time if he was following the left wall. Following the right path would cover straight ground, and eventually lead to a path out. At least that was what his desperate mind told him. He needed out, he had to be anywhere but here.

More cave, more turns, and soon the paths began to look familiar. The same V-shaped fork, the same 4 way, the same right turn with a nook. He took the opposite choices as before, tried to find some place new. The same paths came again. He looked at his feet. There was a ditch run there, as if he had taken those steps a thousand times. It was impossible, and at once, he could feel it in his bones.

What was this place?
He pushed to the next intersection of paths. Hadn’t he taken every path now? Why did his ditch only take one? Why was the other path untouched? That feeling was creeping back, the sensation of being pursued, the oncoming feet. He wiped his brow, let out a sigh.

Maybe this was it. Maybe he was already caught, and this time there was no mercy. He was trapped here, with no chance of escape. It was an endless maze of his own stupid choices. He shivered, and realized the heat of the cave had faded.

There was no point in running.

The thought crept into his mind. If he was dead, if this was what he suspected, he didn’t need to flee. What would come, would come. He could stay there, at the corner, forever.

Still, he held himself up on the wall. He could let go, fall to his knees, wait for the warmth to return. Would it return?

He took a step, closed his eyes, and took another. He walked, not pushing himself too hard, but walked regardless. It all felt like the cave, his fingers on the chilled walls, the uneven ground, the smell of light soil and some distant moisture. He knew where he was, and could go until he was anywhere else.

Then the path warmed up again, and he opened his eyes. He was in a dead end. The lights were brighter than ever, collected into large stones that almost pulsed. He wanted to be closer, needed to be closer. He pushed himself, grunting with each step.

Something was in here. It was the same something that brought him this far into the cave, that much he knew right away. It was like a voice, but it hadn’t said a word to him. Maybe a power, a god even. It pulled him across that place, brought him here for what, to see glowing rocks?

He was close enough now. The wall was mostly one large crystal, bigger than any of the shards that lit his way there. He looked into the surface. He needed to know what wanted him here so badly, what power was strong enough to drag a man across a forest, away from his own kind, through a maze, and to this very spot. What could it even want?

He searched the flawless surface, tried to look beyond the shimmering light. All he could see was a reflection, his own reflection.

He used his cloak to wipe the surface, desperately trying to make it clearer. He looked again, and his own face looked back at him.

Did he always look like that? So dark, the scars, eyes wet and ready for tears. His hair was coming back, his but his face was bruised and knocked here and there. That was him, the same him and yet not.

What was his name again?

In the moment, it didn’t matter. That him from before, it couldn’t go back, not to his life from before. His hand was on the crystal, and he looked around the room.

How did he get here anyway? Who was he running from? That feeling, like someone was right behind him, it felt so distant now, as if it was lifetimes ago.

He looked over his shoulder, and saw a wall of dancing colors, a portal to someplace else. What do they call them? Mirrors?

It felt silly now, to get so lost in his own thoughts, to let himself get so caught up in the past. He had to go back, let the others know what he knew now, what was possible. They didn’t have to be afraid, they didn’t have to hurt.

Still, somehow, he knew they would feel pain. If it was him, there would only be pain. Which meant he didn’t have a choice.

He took his hand off the wall and stood tall. There were going to be changes, starting with him, his life, his heart, his name. He stepped through the mirror.

Saturday Fiction: Expedition [A Tri-star story]

When I first started writing ‘Tri-star’s’ setting, I wanted the point to be that there could be a million different worlds, and they could hold beauty or horror. It was supposed to be a place where evil was always looking to put a downer on what was happening, but the heroes were using everything in their power to maintain the light for another day. As is typical, I lost a lot of that while I was actually writing stories, as I tend to lean toward either 100% comedy, or something more grim.

With this story, I head back to the Ceti (From Maja’s Lesson), and take a look at what the Ceti do best, explore. Then I gave it a hot drama injection, oops.

fireflysky

When the expedition stepped through, they were greeted with green. They had come to accept green as a positive color. Despite the long wastes that divided the villages and cities of the united tribes, the green of crops was what greeted a traveller when they made it safely to another town.

This green meant something different. Las reached into his bag and pulled out a notebook, scribbling into it immediately.

‘Barren landscape. Odd surface coloration. Strong winds.’

The wind was what Todano noticed. He stopped at the mirror back to their own world, and watched as others came through. Men and women, wearing their own breathing helmets, a glowing shard of Mayen metal at the back. They each came through the portal, and immediately held their hands in front of them, and fought against the wind.

It threatened to blow Todano over. Worse, if the black clouds were any indicator, it wasn’t going to get better.

Las unstrapped his helmet, and pulled it off, “Clouds and green, you know what that means.”

In kind, the expedition took their helmets off, and packed them away in their side bags.

“It means we can be blown away,” Todano said as he got his own helmet off, “This place looks worthless.”

Las turned so he could write in his notebook, and still talk to Todano.

“You need to ruminate on Gohai,” Las said as the wind threatened to steal his paper.

“Gohai,” Todano said, squinting against the wind. He shook his head as Las turned away, “Right.”

The others were chatting among each other, those with more experience were pointing and picking out the best locations for some sort of base camp. Everywhere they turned though was as barren as the rest. It looked like a thousand yards, with the only feature of the landscape being a green discoloration in the soil, and fist sized holes that dotted the ground. There were soft slopes on the horizon, but it looked like they could stare off into forever.

“Come old friend,” Las said with a wave of his hand, “we’re going to set down.”

Todano let out a groan, “Whatever gets me off my feet.”

They made sure to get a distance from the mirror, and then set down their gear. First came tents, and then a fire. They surrounded it, and compared notes.

Todano sat with his back against a large bag of dried meat, and watched the alien horizon. The sky was a thick blue, even though the sun was clearly setting. There was no sign of the stars coming out. He unrolled a jerky, and took a bite.

“You aren’t talking,” Las said as he came around the bag to see Todano, “Something wrong?”

Todano shook his head.

Las had this way about him, as far as Todano noticed. It was as if Las was oblivious. He could know every secret about a man, but he would look him in the face and ask him every question he could, just to be sure he was right.

“Did you want to come this time?” Las asked as he went to his knees.

Todano groaned, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

Las looked over his face, as if there was going to be a clue in Todano’s scowl, “Sort of, yes.Are you going to be okay?”

“I’m not dying, am I?” Todano snapped, his hands up in the air.

The conversation came to a stop, and he knew they were all looking at the pair. He could feel his blood boiling. This was it, every time.

Las pushed up to his feet, brushed off his knees as if nothing had happened.

“Hold out, okay?” Las said, “for me?”

Todano looked away, and whispered, “Curse it all.”

Las rejoined the others, and they returned to their talks. This world was a minor one, it came at the end of a smaller mirror found in in a rocky valley. It was a long while before Las’s team found it at all, but once they received permission to explore it, they began their preparations.

Some mirrors ended in nothing, dead ends to the raw, or worlds that were nothing more than a black mass, destroyed by Mayen’s wrath. The worst was when they found Rawborn, shambling monsters with the touch of god’s punishment in it. This world looked safe, and it had air to breath so they could take a break from the suffocating helmets.

“If this world is nothing but holes in the dirt,” Said a woman named Sachan, “We should leave now and save our supplies.”

“We don’t know that,” Las said, “and since this world is hospitable, we can take our time to discover the truth.”

“If there is even one clue in a pebble of sand that leads to paradise,” A man named Noz said, “a million journeys would be justified.”

Todano scoffed, and there was a break in the talking as they waited for him to speak. He kept silent. Paradise, everyone was always so obsessed with paradise. They wanted to leave home, adventure in the endless worlds hidden among the hills, be anywhere but Ceti. They wanted to feel cold air against their skin, eat strange plants, see odd sunrises.

“Remember Yom’s lesson,” Las said, breaking the strange silence. They grumbled in silent agreement. Todano didn’t know Yom, something about pointless sacrifice?

It grew dark enough that the fire was their only light. A whistle came over the night. The wind was coming back, strong enough that they had to shield the flames.

“What is that sound?” someone yelled.

The holes, Todano knew right away. With the wind this strong, it was playing the whole plain as an instrument. The tone changed as the wind did, grew low enough to rumble, and high enough to make them cover their ears.

Then came the light. It poured out of the holes, a bright green glow that made Todano scramble to his feet. The glow took to the air, head-sized balls of light with a tail trailing behind them. They swayed in the air, moving in long circles or following the wind.

“What are they?” Todano shouted.

The others took positions around the fire, as if they were going to defend the camp with their observing eyes.

“They are…” Las stopped, and then chuckled, “creatures, wildlife.”

Todano looked over, and saw Las put a hand in front of one of the green lights as it approached. He felt his heart thicken as the creature got close, and then it curved around, slowing just in time to avoid Las’s hand.

Todano could see it now. They were like long worms, gliding on a dozen sets of fins at their sides. They swam through the sky, riding the wind like debris. Their glow made it all that much stranger.

“It is beautiful,” Las said, “They must feed during the day, and surface in the night. The holes are for them.”

Todano turned full circle, and saw joyous eyes of the expedition members playing with the creatures. All at once, they had that look of wonder, as if maybe this world would be something different.

“Maybe they listen for the whistle of the wind,” One member said.

“Do you think they feed on the green fungus on the ground?” Asked another.

They were lost in their discovery.

“Are you insane!” Todano yelled over the wind, “we have no idea what these creatures are, what they could do, what plagues they could spread.”

Glances went between Todano, the creatures, and Las. They stopped reaching out for the glowing air worms, but he could see that they weren’t stopping for his sake.

“I know you’re worried,” Las said as he crossed the distance to stand close to Todano, “but they appear safe.”

“It always appears safe,” Todano replied, gritting his teeth, “it looked safe before…”

Las put a hand on his shoulder, “You won’t get hurt.”

Todano’s eyes widened despite the wind, and his mouth fell open. It struck him just how little Las understood, how far he was from reality.

“I’m not worried about me, you idiot,” Todano said as he shoved Las, “I lost her, and I’m definitely not going to lose you. That’s the only reason I’m even here.”

Las opened his mouth to reply, but Todano walked past him, knocking one of the other expedition members aside. Las turned to the group. They all knew what was hanging in the air, history.

“We should be careful,” Las said with a nod, “take good notes, but mind possible hazards.”

They did their research, yelling over the wind, taking samples, observing the movements of the worms. Then they settled, putting up tents for sleeping, and laying out blankets for those who wished to sleep under the stars.

Las found Todano at his new post some paces from the camp. The wind had calmed down, and so had the creatures. Many were floating high up, drifting on invisible currents. They filled the sky with shifting lights that made the fire seem like excess.

“I’m sorry,” Las said as he walked up, “I didn’t think about what I was saying.”

“Well we’re still here,” Todano said, “so that doesn’t mean much.”

Las sighed, “If we could just leave all of this, you would? All of this, the opportunity, the beauty.”

Todano shook his head. “I like home. That’s beautiful, Las. I was fine with all of this while everyone was safe. I should have known better. I’ve heard the horned ones wall up their mirrors, they know to be afraid of what’s on the other side.”

“The horned ones get fat on fields of green,” Las snapped back.

Todano looked over at Las, eyes wide at the boisterous response.

“I know you don’t care about the lessons, or the past,” Las said with his hands out as if begging, “but we have been cursed, Todano. We are punished with starvation and death, do you not respect Mayen’s wrath?”

Todano snorted, his face contorting, “The only wrath I feel is the chief’s.”

“Don’t say that.”

“With all the great things our people have done,” Todano said, “we could create paradise. Instead we’ll die searching for it, just like Poja.”

Las’s shoulders sagged, as if he was deflated on the spot. He looked as if he was going to speak, but instead his eyes fell to the ground. The pain in his expression was evident, but Todano looked away.

“I cannot rewrite the past,” Las said, “all I can do is learn from it. I want, like Poja did, to find a place where our people can feel free. We forgot our caution, Toda, we can call it Poja’s le-”

“Don’t you dare!” Todano’s eyes focused in, and in that moment his rage and anguish mixed to make Las take a step back.

“Sorry,” Las said, turning and starting back toward the camp, “we leave after second watch. You should get some sleep.”

Saturday Fiction: The Night of the Howler A Tri-Star Story

Time for saturday? Time for more fiction? Say it ain’t so! For this story I wanted to mix an origin story, with a first contact story. Plus I want to introduce the third ‘star’ of the Tri-star. This is the first scene of the story, with an old warrior who can’t deal with his new lot in life.

Warning: Silly fantasy names.

miners drinking

The war started with an old man crying. His name was Raynard, Raynard Ramcoil. He wasn’t so much old, as too old for the greenhorns around him. Young men and women drinking to forget the day of labor behind them.

They sat around sturdy wooden tables older than they were, and they drank deep from overflowing tankards. There were the Pickscur boys, with their faces covered in the dirt of the mines, their horns nothing but small blocks of bone laid flat against their heads. They boasted loudly about some woman they never met.

There was Mal Sootcurve, a massive boy who took such simple joy in being around his friends, that he ignored the possibilities his life had to offer. The boy was smart, stronger than two men crushed together, and had a heart that moved anyone he spoke to.

Cathy Roughbone was angry, due to some mixture of the terrible drinks put before them, the new miners who bothered her at her table, and the loud voices that shook the room.

Raynard though, he was just sad. Despite the voices all around him, the stories of a hard day of work, of families back home, and beauties they were yet to meet, he couldn’t drown out one voice in his ear.

Oh lord Mayen, six-horns strong,
On this day our hearts are wronged,
Through the cracks of rock’n stone,
A bright & terr’ble light has shone.

It was the pollard twins. Anne and Devin Bellpoll. They stood at the front of the room, their faces reflecting their inebriation through sweat and swaying. They sang an old song, too old for anyone to sing. It only survived in the hearts of the poor, like the Bellpolls, and fading warriors, like Ramcoil.

Oh lord Mayen, who knows best,
When will your children earn their rest?
Blood for crimes we never caused,
Lost kings to black and horr’ble claws,

“Why you crying old man?” Jamie Pickscur said as he struck Raynard on the shoulder, “They finally putting you out to pasture?”

“Quiet,” Raynard hushed the boy with a finger.

But a Pickscur doesn’t abide being silenced. His face twisted up like he was overtaken by a terrible stench. Jamie looked to his brother, and then back at Raynard.

Oh lord Mayen, king of all,
We submit we have stood tall,
But when your wrath returns again,
We beg, forgive our father’s sin,

“I’ve had just about enough of you old man,” Jamie was pointing, his eye twitching, “Can barely lift an axe, but you’re always acting like you’ve got gilded horns and shit diamonds.”

“Jamie,” Mal said over his table, and many eyes in the room turned to see the longhorn speak, “Just leave’em alone you sod.”

Raynard couldn’t concentrate on them if he wanted to. The next part of the song was already with him, carrying him to distant battlefields, and wounds that turned to scars. He could hear the battle cries of comrades, and the screams of those who wouldn’t make it. He could remember every detail, the weight of his axe, the chafe in his leathers, the smell of mud and blood on metal. He could remember everything except what they gained.

Oh lord Mayen, six-horns strong,
Hear your mighty children’s song,
Watch our hearts, and watch our way,
Know the Traitor’s debt is paid.

“Eh,” Jamie spat on the floor, then plinked a knuckle off of Raynard’s left horn, just missing an old chip, “The old man is just broken. Just like the rest of his lot.”

Raynard blinked back a tear. He turned on Jamie before the boy could get up from his seat. His hard hands wrapped around Jamie’s throat, his thumbs squeezed tight just above his apple.

Jamie croaked in surprise. His arms flailing as Raynard gritted his teeth and growled, squeezed tighter and tighter. The others at the table jumped to the boy’s defense, pulling at Raynard’s arms, trying to peel him off finger by finger. Shouting rose in the room, smaller fights erupted with little excuse.

Raynard could see the fear in the Pickscur boy’s eyes, that fear of a pointless death. The boy’s eyes darted around, looking for some escape that he had yet to figure out. He fought against the reality of his situation, the creeping realization, he was on the edge of mortality.

“Raynard!” Boomed a voice over the room, “Let him go!”

Raynard closed his eyes. He could already feel his fingers go loose. Still too weak to disobey an order.

When he finally let go, he found his arms pulled back, and his body held tight against Mal. He was turned to face the mine chief, Thom. The man was just older than Raynard, years that Raynard could count. He limped into the room, the peg on his right leg knocking against the floor with every step.

Mal whispered over Raynard’s shoulder, “I’m sorry, Ray.”

The crowd cleared for Thom’s approach. The man managed to look in charge, despite the effort every step took him, and having no weapon to his name but a leather-bound notebook. He kept his shoulders straight, and he carried his dirt with dignity.

“Really Ramcoil?” Thom said as he got close enough that their difference in posture became all the difference in the world, “The Pickscur boy?”

Raynard looked to the floor, “I’m sorry, sir.”

“He tried to kill me!” Jamie screamed, “He should be warming a stockade, not carrying an axe!”

Cathy swatted Jamie over the back of the head.

Thom didn’t look to Jamie, his eyes bore into Raynard. Anytime he tried to look up, he was met with that glare.

“Today,” Thom said, “I have to agree.”

Raynard shook his head. He made a mistake, but he wouldn’t go down without explaining himself.

“It was stupid,” Raynard said, “But sir, the anniversary is tomorrow.”

Thom opened his notebook, “As if I’m not aware. Which is exactly why you won’t be going in tomorrow.”

“No one should be going in,” Raynard growled, trying to stand up tall before realizing Mal still held him tight. He pulled himself free from the grip, and looked around the room, “We can’t work tomorrow, not that day.”

Thom’s expression changed, though Raynard imagined the kids would miss it. That look in his eyes, Raynard knew it from the mirror. It was a memory, flooding to the surface. Then Thom blinked, and it was forced back once more.

“Somehow,” Thom said, “I think the king would disagree. In fact, we are reopening the Old Howler.”

“Ah shit,” Jamie grumbled, “Can I take tomorrow off too?”

The Old Howler was a smaller mine. It gained its nickname for the deafening sound near the entrance when the wind hit it. The shrill noise carried inside, echoing down the chamber and making it disorienting to work in. The mine had a history of bad incidents, deaths, structure collapse. It was closed when supports inside the mine started to buckle, and stayed that way for over a year.

“We need every hand we can get,” Thom said as he looked around the ragged room of miners, “Now everyone get some sleep, dawn won’t wait.”

They grumbled, clattered plates and cups, and collected themselves before their journey to the bunks. Everyone kept their eyes away from old Raynard. They chose to walk past, leaving that gap of space between him and them as if contact would make them just as guilty. He sat down at the table, his fingers trembling and his chest burning. He felt like a fool.

“What’s wrong, Raynard?” Devin asked.

Raynard looked up in time to see the boy sit down at the table. It was hard for Raynard to hide his disgust at pollards. Their heads were flattened smooth, whatever scars from the removal of their horns were typically hidden under their hair. Devin in particular had long brown locks that he wore thick, better to hide his shame.

“I saw you,” Devin said, his eyes darting between Ray and empty chairs, “During our song.You were so sad.”

Raynard shook his head, “I was just remembering the past. Don’t you worry about it.”

Devin squinted his eyes. It was the kind of shy reaction you expect of someone like him. He would do anything to avoid a straight look at Raynard, even if that meant closing his eyes as they spoke.

“I…” He stopped, and looked back toward the door, “I kind of already am. Worried that is.”

“Devin,” His sister shouted from the exit. They both turned and saw her lean her head in. She looked frustrated. “Come on, I don’t like waiting.”

Devin pointed to Raynard, “I’ll be right there, just having a chat.”

They could hear Anne grumbling from there. She left, and they were finally alone.

“You used to fight, right?” Devin asked.

“Used to.”

Raynard wasn’t an expert at idle gabbing. Maybe he used to be, it was hard to remember.

“You always move like a soldier,” Devin said with a nervous chuckle, “A sir here, stand tall there.”

He turned on the boy, “Its called being respectful.”

Devin put his hands up, “I get it.”

“You don’t,” He replied, “none of you do, is the problem. You’re all too young to remember a thing.”

Raynard moved to stand, but Devin squeezed his hand over the old man’s. Raynard stopped, but he had to fight against his first instinct. He would have put his skull through the poor boy’s, laid him out in the blink of an eye and dealt with the consequences after. At least, that is what he would have tried, who knew if it would work at his age.

“I knew a lady,” Devin said, “Old lady, she remembered. Said times were different before the fighting.”

Raynard slipped his hand free, and stayed standing, but he didn’t leave just yet.

“Before the crown, we remembered our mistakes.” Raynard said.

“Mistakes?” Devin said, his eyebrows rising.

Raynard shook his head, “We shouldn’t work tomorrow, no one should. So many young men, of all sorts, died to make life that much better, to return to the way of Mayen. We failed, but mark me, we will be punished for our ignorance.”

The words came out like fire, but they only confused poor Devin. The boy was oblivious, to the cosmic balance, to the holy might he spat in the face of, to all of it. Raynard stomped to the door, unsure what to do but rest his old body until the dark day passed.

“Ray, wait!” Devin shouted out. But Raynard ignored him, passing out into the warm evening air.

It was fine. They could do their work on the day of the destroyers, on the day of the traitor. They could dance on those graves, Raynard wouldn’t stop them. His heart would remain clean.

Saturday Fiction: Some Love In The Air

Can you imagine I was too busy to set up my Saturday Fiction post until now? I grabbed a little cyberpunk, the most ‘loving’ scene I could find in a story of espionage and gunplay. Ashleigh and Benito, and first and second in a series of trained super-spies, make good use of a night on the town.

Excerpt: Corpfall Chapter 5

Ashleigh could feel Benito’s arm wrap around her as they walked the street. She smiled, and put her head against his shoulder.

“We should be able to see everything while entering,” Benito said with a boisterous voice that made it sound like he was talking about a tour of Mexcity, “Sure there will be a crowd, but don’t hold that against it.”

Ashleigh frowned, “Not like we have a choice, dear. I’m not sneaking through the back door, no matter the crowd.”

“Did they train you two to act using ancient vidstreams?” Fuller asked in her ear, “This is torture.”

Ashleigh shook her head, mostly because she didn’t feel like holding two conversations at once. It was annoying enough dealing with one Fuller, but Benito had his own Fuller-esque moments. She felt like she was babysitting.

Benito stopped them, rubbing his arm across her side. She had to resist squirming under his arm. If there was one memory she didn’t feel like reliving, it was Benito.

“Look there,” He said, and they both stood straight to look at a car service across the street. Taxis and limos were stopping there.

“What building is that?” Ashleigh asked as she looked it up and down. They were getting close to the front of Jansen’s personal party shack, and a building like this was useful.

“Couldn’t say,” Benito shrugged, “Look how busy they are though.”

“Exactly what it looks like,” Fuller said in her ear, “It is a car port. Seems they have a reputation for keeping vehicles safe while guests go to local services. There is even a lightplane landing 5 stories up.”

Ashleigh looked up, and her eyes saw the hole on the side of the 20 story car port. Why not just land the lightplanes on top, she didn’t know. Of course, if you had lightplanes on top of the building, you couldn’t control who comes in and out.

“At least if we need to leave,” Ashleigh said to Benito with a smile, “We won’t have to worry about our transportation.”

Benito smiled down at her. He loved to show off that smile, every time she met him.

“It should be fine,” Benito said, “I’ve heard Mr. Jansen runs the best parties in town.”

She looked at the tall wall on their side of the street. It was decorated with symbols, like logos for companies that never existed. A massive letter T, a winged lizard that stood on a tall rock, a stylized roaring tiger. Beyond that wall, she knew that Jansen had his mansion, and furthermore it was insanely secure.

Ashleigh wasn’t even sure if the falsified credentials of the NAB would get them through the door. Even then, they would be under constant surveillance, and likely they were even while taking a walk outside of the building. Not just passive cameras, but true scrutiny by a security team.

Benito took her hand, and started to make them walk.

“Stay there a little longer,” Fuller asked, “I’m going to run another probe of his defenses.”

Ashleigh pulled back on his arm, “Can’t we just stay here?” She said with a giggle, “I just love it here, among the art.”

Ben stopped, lifted an eyebrow, and Ashleigh nodded. He walked back, and put his arms on her hips.

“You know,” He said, “When I was in ChiLo, I stopped by and saw my family.”

Ashleigh tensed up, “Really?”

He nodded, “Yeah, they were pretty sad you didn’t come with to visit. I told them you were busy, but I don’t know if they believe it.”

She put her head into his chest, and wrapped her arms around him. His chin was just able to rest on top of her head.

“I hope they aren’t disappointed,” She whispered, “But work does get in the way. They should call.”

Benito laughed, and she felt the rumble of his laugh against her body, “I guess they don’t want to admit they are busy as well.”

They separated, and Benito looked down into her eyes, “This trip isn’t about them though. Don’t let this spoil things, we will go to that party, and it will be glorious.”

He moved down toward her, and Ashleigh knew what came next. She pursed her lips slightly, and they connected, him hugging her close enough that she could feel his breathing.

“I was going to say I’m done,” Fuller said, “But I guess you two can take your time, or whatever.”

She rolled her eyes behind her eyelids.

“I mean it,” He continued, “I’m fine on this side. I can go silent if you two need some alone time.”

Ashleigh broke the kiss, and held a hand against Benito’s face.

“Any more of that,” She said, “And you’ll make strangers jealous.”

Benito chuckled, and grabbed her hand, bringing it down in front of her. “I’m not here for anyone but you, Sarah.”

She smiled, “Let’s go eat.”

They walked down the street, hand in hand. They made their way to a restaurant, just one block away. It didn’t look like anything special, but they were sure the food would be authentic just based on the decor.

“I think our server was a clone,” Benito said as he shuffled in his seat.

“What, and the Mexcity NAB HQ just can’t pick up on illegal clone production?” Ashleigh said with a roll of her eyes.

Benito smiled, “I’ve heard they’ve been having problems,” He said with a wag of his eyebrows, “You know, some accusations here, some arrests there. Can’t make it easier for them to uphold the law.”

Ashleigh looked around the restaurant, it was filled with other folks from Mexcity high life. There were plenty of them, but if she compared it to her trip to the SeaVan dorm, it was a stark difference. She could move and breath up here for one. The food smelled edible, and the people up here had color to their skin.

“So, what is your friend’s progress?” Ben asked.

While they weren’t dropping cover, they both knew that dinner conversations were odd on their own. Their initial intel said that Jansen’s security extended to several regions of Mexcity, but was tightest right on top of his holdings. Whether they were still inside the bubble of tight security, they were going to determine.

“My friend thinks he should leave us so we can have some alone time,” Ashleigh said as she pulled a small rewritable chit out of her bag, a little paper sized screen she could write on.

“I hope I’m not getting in the way of anything,” Benito said as he flagged over a waiter.

Ashleigh took out a special pen, and scribbled onto the chit, the letters writing across with a slight delay. ‘Fuller, is there anything further we need to investigate?’

As a tall and plain looking man came to serve them, she folded the paper in half.

“We will both have the special,” Benito said, “Also, a bottle of wine, whatever you recommend.”

The waiter bowed, likely thankful for the fast and simple order, and left them.

“My friend is aware of how our relationship works,” Ashleigh said, “Don’t complicate things.”

Benito made a hurt face, “I would never, It’s just, I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”

Ashleigh was looking down at the sheet, but her eyes popped up to look at Benito. What was he getting at? They had been around each other for less than a day, and already old rivalries were surfacing. If they had just asked her before the mission, told her she was going to work with one of the others, she could have told them. Were they so blind that they didn’t know the connection between her and Benito? Maybe she was being punished.

She could feel that Fuller was back, like a warning light was on in the base of her spine. Still, she had to say it.

“Diego,” She said, “You know how I feel about you. On the other hand, my friend has been with me, right inside my head, through experiences you and I never shared. You wouldn’t understand.”

Benito’s eyes focused for a moment, and every muscle in her body, in that instant, told her to prepare for a fight. Was that instinct?

“We aren’t at Fort 22 anymore,” She said, “Things changed.”

Fort 22, aka Home.

Benito looked out over the restaurant, “I see, so that’s how you feel.”

“To answer your question,” Fuller said, “I need eyes on a building to the West, toward Jansen.”

She cleared the chit, and wrote, “OK”.

Their food couldn’t arrive soon enough. They ate in relative silence, with Benito occasionally looking at her, and her trying to pick over her food.

“Does Fort 22 still exist?” Fuller asked, “There are censored references to it, but nothing current.”

Ashleigh’s heart leaped, but she smiled, whispered, “Code name.”

Benito looked at her, and he smiled as well.

“That’s where we grew up,” Ashleigh continued, though she didn’t know why she was still talking. If she was going to tell Fuller about home, why not over a year ago when they first met?

“Also,” Ashleigh said, “It sucked.”

Benito swallowed a bite of fish, washed it down, “Most of it did,” He said.

“It had its moments,” Ashleigh said as she looked at Benito.

“What did they do to you?” Fuller asked.

“Train us,” Ashleigh replied.

“Trained how?”

“That’s classified,” She said before taking a bite of her fish.

“Did they torture you? Scoop out your brains? Make you play ‘buzzkiss’ with the boys from across the lane,” He asked, “What did they do to you guys Ashleigh?”

She laughed, it started as a sort of chuckle, but it quickly grew out of control, until a few eyes in the restaurant were pointed her way.

“Maybe all of the above,” She said while looking at Benito, “We can talk about it more later.”

They finished their dinner, paid, and their waiter seemed more than pleased to help them leave.

“Where to, darling?” Benito asked with a hand out.

She grabbed his hand, and squeezed tight. “We have a building to check out,” She replied.

They made their way to the building that Fuller indicated. It was short, compared to just about anything else in that area of Mexcity. It was only 5 stories tall, and only had a select few windows, which looked a milky white from outside.

“What a strange building,” Benito Sandoval said, “Doesn’t seem to fit the local decor.”

“I agree,” She said.

Ashleigh squeezed his hand, “I’m sorry about my outburst earlier,” She said, “I guess work really has been hard on me.”

“Like I thought,” Fuller said in her ear, “This place is a black zone on the South datalink. I have no access to its cameras, security protocols, nothing. As far as the Net is concerned, this building doesn’t exist. It could be empty, or it could be housing a supercomputer.”

“I understand,” Sandoval said, putting a hand on top of her head, and holding her close with the other, “It is a stressful environment, and it follows you everywhere.”

“I bet,” Fuller said, “If I was past Jansen’s defenses, on his personal lines, this building lights up. They went old school with this one. Okay, that’s all I needed.”

Ashleigh took a deep breath, “In that case, can we get a few hours alone?”

Sandoval squeezed her, “Of course we can.”

Fuller paused, but she knew he was still there. “Of course you can,” He said, “Just knock on my door when you two want to get back to planning.”

“Thank you,” Ashleigh whispered.

Saturday Fiction: Scene from The Spinder’s Web Crumbles [A Tri-star Story]

This Saturday I bring you another Tri-star story. This one is on a whole different world (next to… a different star), Sol. This is only one scene of three, The point of this story is to show how Sol got to its ‘basic state’. The world of Sol is divided among many competing lords, and the mercenaries they hire to fight for them. Vurne, our main character today, was crucial in creating that dangerous status quo.

Warning: Overloaded with terrible fantasy names

spartanhelmet

“The cattle drive in Pikin was held off again, they said they still don’t feel safe.”

Vurne tapped his pen, his eyes focusing out the stone-framed window, “Send a missive, tell them that the soldiers they have are our best and bravest, we cannot send more until the talks here are over.”

Liza, Vurne’s right hand in all affairs, rolled her eyes and leaned against a desk worth enough to feed a man for a campaign.

“They aren’t going to like that, Sir,” Liza said, “Besides that ain’t all. I haven’t heard a word from the Mols in over a week, and you know what it means when those boys get quiet. Right here in the capital, The Stol Boys have been wrestling in their bunks, their captain is talking about marching East to look for real work.”

Vurne hated being behind a desk. Like Liza he was born again in blood, and made his name at the end of a spear. Now he was in an office, with paintings hanging from stone that celebrated battles he himself had fought.

The battle of two-clouds, a bloody massacre where the sun was only glimpsed for mere moments between the first clash of swords, and the last enemy falling. It rained, it never stopped raining actually. The men stank, his body ached, and someone tried to put a spear through his shoulder.

In the painting, a glorious ray of sunlight beams down to the very center of the battlefield, where Vurne’s side, for that particular battle, knocked the Claimites to the mud. Vurne didn’t remember Mayen presiding over the battle from the heavens above, maybe it was all the mud in his eyes.

“Don’t let the Stol Boys leave, no matter what,” Vurne said with his eyes drilling the point home, “We need them today, and maybe the next few days.”

Liza shook her head, “For our little chat with the Old Spinder? What would we possibly need those sorry cowards for?”

The door to his office opened, and in walked a man clasped in well crafted blue robes. He had his aging hair in large curls, the sure sign of an aristocrat that has never had to wear a helmet in his life.

“Magistrate Alonz,” Liza said. The desk whined as she stood and bowed to the magistrate.

The magistrate nodded to Liza, his chin never passing level. Then he looked to Vurne. His impatience came through immediately.

“Liza,” Vurne said, “Send the missive. Then, tell the Coccus to send a band to check on the Mols, Varaday owes me. And do not let the Stol Boys march.”

Liza nodded, took one last look at the magistrate before walking out of the office.

The magistrate looked over his shoulder, then turned back to Vurne with a smile on his face, “You continue to impress me, High Captain.”

Vurne sat back in his seat, “I would appreciate it if you announced yourself before entering my office, Magistrate.”

The man looked around the room, his eyes stopping on each painting as he went. The battle of the claw, the battle of shameful sons, the battle unforgotten.

“My apologies,” Alonz said, “I received news, and had to rush here immediately.”

The magistrate wasn’t a bad man, but as Liza would put it, “The man’s head is as soft as his arm.”

“Good news I hope,” Vurne said, “Today is an important day.”

Alonz smiled. It didn’t suit him, it twisted his face up as if he had never attempted it before. “Nothing a man of your magnitude cannot handle.”

It was Vurne’s turn to roll his eyes. This was the problem with working in the imperial capital. Men spent more time licking boot than making progress. Men like the magistrate could look you in the eyes, call you shit, and make it sound like a compliment. It was a waste of breath.

“Do you know what they call you, High Captain Vurne?” Alonz asked as he got to the picture of the battle of two-clouds, “They call you the Emperor in Shadows.”

Liza told him about this before. It was a dangerous nickname to have.

“Senseless namecalling by desperate people,” Vurne said, “There is only one emperor, Mayen’s Chosen, Silas the Third. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“May he reign forever,” Alonz said as rote action, “I just recognize why they respect. You earned your way here, you are a man of the people. Which is why the other magistrates and I were glad to have you take this station. You help us keep order, and spread reach of the empire around the world.”

And then men like Alonz held it to the emperor’s rule. New lands were marched on, conquered by the Many-Flagged Armies of the Merindi empire. Then the lawmen and taxmen moved in, and men like Vurne moved on to the next place they were needed. The magistrates would recut their domains, or promote someone else among their ranks, and a new land would join the Old Spinder’s web.

“And your news, Magistrate?” Vurne said.

Alonz turned to face Vurne, and approached the captain’s desk. “The parliament is of one mind. You will have majority support today.”

Vurne couldn’t help but make a fist, “Good, good, thank you for your work.”

“That’s not all,” Alonz said, “I also managed to convince the royal guard. At your word, they will kneel. The statement will be complete. The old beast will realize he has lost.”

A knot formed in Vurne’s gut. He didn’t like the magistrate’s tone. But he knew that with his goal today, they couldn’t avoid sounding treasonous. The world would remember this, like so many battles before it. Except this one would be fought in backrooms, with ink and parchment.

“Tonight then,” Vurne said, “I will shake your hand when all this is over.”

“By god man,” Alonz laugh, “When this is over, I will buy you a crown.”

Vurne sat back in his seat again, and watched the magistrate leave the room. The emperor in shadow, a name like that would get him killed before he could do any good. High Captain was bad enough, it made the other armies afraid to hear from him. Leaders shied away from him, answered him with trite words, or postured for superiority.

He went back to his papers. He had other letters to pen if the meeting was going to happen tonight. He needed to meet with the other captains.

Liza knocked hard on the door.

“Come in.”

She walked inside, and looked around, “So the curl is already gone huh? I’m glad.”

“I’m going before the emperor tonight,” Vurne said, ignoring her hatred for the magistrate, “I need you there with me.”

She hissed, “Come now, captain, what good am I in a whole room of curls, I can barely deal with one.”

Vurne looked up. She was frowning at him. He knew she meant it, she wouldn’t want to be there, she felt out of place, and the fact he could trust she was telling the truth meant he needed her there even more.

“There might be a fight,” Vurne said with a shrug.

Her eyes popped, “Now that is a whole other animal. Shall I call the Offen-Hide together?”

Those were his men. Well, a band within the greater army.

“They should be ready,” Vurne said, “But hopefully they won’t be needed.”

Liza looked at Vurne, and a smile crept at the edge of her lip. It faded just as fast, but he could tell she was excited. “I know you captain,” she said, “You’re ready for something, but you seem a little on edge. What’s going on?”

“I wish I could say yet,” He replied before getting up from his desk, “Now lets go, we both have a lot of people to talk to before tonight.”

Saturday Fiction: Maja’s Lesson a Tri-Star Story

A year ago I thought of creating an RPG setting… again. I started work on the world, but like many times before, I stopped when I realized I had a setting but no system.

Recently I created a plan for my fiction and short stories. I decided I want to create a collection of short stories all in one setting, and the Tri-Star setting was the perfect choice. It is varied, has chances for ‘legendary moments’, and is nice and strange sci-fi. So here is a story now, Maja’s Lesson.

Trigger Warning: Ridiculous sci-fi names.

Maja’s Lesson

“This is foolish, and you know it.”

Maja was looking back toward camp. She could hear Chan, but she didn’t want to look at him, not now. Instead she looked at her tribesmen. Dark shapes moving in and out of tan tents against the grey and black backdrop of the rock hills. They were moving fast because of her, making last moment preparations and calculations.

“Give it another moon,” Chan said, “there is still more to learn. You are throwing away your life for nothing.”

She was wearing a tie sealed suit. Maja could feel the material biting into her neck, ankles, and wrists. It all felt heavy, like a full pack before the journey. In reality, the only load she carried was a small brown bag at her side.

“Please, Maja,” Chan said, putting a hand on her arm, “give me more time.”

Maja took a deep breath, “What is Rake’s lesson?”

She could hear Chan’s gloves as his free hand squeezed tight.

“Ignorance now, breeds strife.”

She turned, but she looked past Chan to the towering doorway before her. Though calling it a doorway was her own biased response. To Chan, it was a deathtrap, laid out for Maja and their team.

It was tall enough to drag the great monument of Dainus through. Wide enough that the whole team, twenty strong, could walk through side by side with ease. The edge was some shimmering crystal, brighter than anything she had seen in her life, swimming with shades of blue that were unheard of across the world. In the center of the circular shape was a shifting reflective surface. At some angles you could see through to the opposite side, and others you would be looking back at yourself. It moved with time, slow motions that their study had yet to explain.

“I’m going through,” Maja said, “That is the end of it.”

Mayen’s Mirror, that is what they called it. Named after the one and only god, the crafter of the raw. The ambient energy that poured out of it was greater than any other artifact, and yet it did nothing. Nothing came out of it, and objects thrown in did not return. They prodded it with tools, and they returned unscathed.

They didn’t know a lot, but what they did know spoke volumes: It gave off the energy of god, there was no air to breath on the opposite side, there was no sunlight on the opposite side, there was no soil on the opposite side. Animals immediately returned when forced through, but any that were forced far into the Mirror, did not return at all. Whatever they saw, spooked them enough that they couldn’t be returned to herd or pack.

“He is coming,” Chan said. She could hear the depression in his tone. He was having trouble hiding his feelings on this matter.

Maja turned and saw Chief Lohae and his entourage walking toward them. Two men on each side, speaking rapidly, reading off information from notebooks.

The man himself was the perfect picture of importance. He was taller than his aides, his back straight and his eyes focused ahead. His tunic was old, weathered, with patches of rare colored cloth from past rulers. The red band of Chief Jaem. The blue trinket of Chief Tayaj. His headress has color to it as well, as it sweeps down around shoulders.

Maja and Chan both fall to one knee when the Chief stops.

“Maja,” He says, “I am proud to be here today. When I heard that your team was finally going to reveal the secret Mayen left behind the Mirror, I knew I had to be here personally.”

Chan spoke, his head down, “We don’t know what will happen today, Chief.”

She could see the Chief’s aides move aside as the Chief turned.

“Chan,” The Chief began, “You doubt this expedition? I heard you were Maja’s most trusted hand?”

“He is,” Maja said, looking at Chan out of the corner of her eyes.

“Which is why I have to voice my disagreement,” Chan added. He matched her angry glare.

“The time for indirect observation is over,” Maja said, “We cannot wait here forever. What we don’t know, can very well kill us.”

“Ah,” The Chief said with a note of appreciation, “Dainus’s Lesson.”

When the small men of the past lived as scattered tribes, scavenging for whatever they could find, they thought they could live their lives day by day. Then a storm came, a dust storm that ravaged every tribe known and unknown. It was Mayen’s judgement for their stupidity, their ignorance. One Chief, Dainus, did not fall to ignorance. His tribe studied the storms, and learned how long they would last, how harsh they would be. Mayen’s wrath was Dainus’s opportunity. When the storm ended, the Grand Expedition rode out, and in five years time, Dainus had more land to his name than any Chief before him.

“We just need more time,” Chan said.

“I disagree,” Lohae said, “Maja, I am glad you have volunteered to do what others refused to do. You are going to change the face of this tribe. I await your return.”

Then the Chief turned, and walked back toward the camp with his entourage in tow.

Maja stood, and realized her team was standing back in wait for the Chief to leave. They came forward with equipment in hand, setting up far enough from the Mirror that they could get accurate observations.

“What about the smaller mirrors?” Chan said as someone came and wrapped a metallic rope around her waist.

“I’ve heard,” Maja said, “Their discovery doesn’t change our focus.”

The rope was slipped tight, and the girl tying it, Talia, repeated their agreed upon instructions, “Tug three times if you wish to return.”

Maja nodded, and Talia went to check the anchor.

Chan snapped to get her attention, “What if the small mirrors prove volatile? What if the beasts that don’t return go past some threshold we haven’t seen yet? This is all worth researching.”

Another expedition found a smaller version of Mayen’s Mirror. In total, there were four of them, and the news surrounding these smaller mirrors was disturbing in comparison to the sleeping giant that was the Mirror proper. It kept her up at night, knowing others may study them first.

“And we will,” Maja said, inspecting the inside of her pouch, “When I return.”

He put his hands on her, squeezing at the shoulders, “Maja, please don’t go. I need you here, you know that.”

She looked him in the eyes, the black pupils scanning her face for any sign of agreement, any weakness. She couldn’t show it. It would shame her parents, her team, her tribe. In one moment, she could lose everything if she let Chan have his way.

“Confusing your wants and your needs leads to loss and starvation.” Those were the words of Injo, not hers.

“You and your cursed lessons,” Chan said turning his head away. He let her go, and reached into his bag. He pulled out a blue orb, glowing with energy. It fit into the palm of his hand.

“A tear?” Maja asked as her eyes widened.

“Take it with you,” Chan said, “It may come in handy.”

“It could be lost!” Maja shouted, “Don’t give that to me, do you know what the tribe would do if you lost it?”

He held the orb out, and she could feel the heat radiating from the jewel-like orb, “Don’t lose it then.”

He was an idiot. But that was why he was here.

She grabbed the Tear of Mayen, could feel power flowing through her arm, then placed it in her side bag.

When she turned back, Chan had her helmet in his hands. He leaned in and kissed her. It was meant to be calm, simple, but she could feel him trembling as they touched. Then he pulled the helmet down over her head. It was metal, with a cloth drape to tie to her body and seal it closed. A tube fed into the back, her air that could hopefully cross the barrier. She could see out through a small window of glass in the front, but already she could see that her vision would be limited, her periphery blocked by the rest of the helmet.

Chan waved at her to see if she was okay, and she waved in return, then turned to the mirror. Another teammate was standing there, doing a last check. He gave her the okay, and she started to walk.

The helmet was heavier than she believed it could be. With everything else, it was also hard to breath. It felt like she was siphoning from the tube directly. Though in reality, it was possible her nerves were to blame.

She got close to the Mirror, and through the window she could see a moving reflection of herself. A woman in layers of brown cloth, her dark helmet looked out of place, like something from a children’s story. She was a cautionary tale.

She reached her hand out and touched the surface. It broke at impact, like shattering glass that refused to break apart. But it didn’t resist her anymore than walking into a leather tarp. She pushed forward, and the break continued outwards, her arm swallowed up, and her body getting closer to the surface.

Maja noted to herself that it was cold on the other side.

When her face pushed through, she had to force her eyes open. It was awful, a swarming wall of light and color that almost turned her on the spot. It was like looking down a cave tunnel, but the walls were crystal.

She pushed herself through to the other side, and took a deep breath. She expected to be blind, but there was more than enough light to see. It wasn’t coming from behind her either. The walls of the tunnel, they were giving off their own glow, or reflecting something else. Maja could see streaks in the surface, lines of light that spiraled on and on away from her and toward her and crossing where they could.

No wonder the animals turned to leave, it was a terrifying beauty.

She took her first steps, feeling out each one before she put her weight on it. The ground beneath her was solid, and didn’t seem to be the same crystal as the rest. It was like a path, and it was wide and sturdy. If they wanted to, a full expedition could walk through.

Maja looked ahead, and saw that there was a point of light in the distance. She decided to move faster, she wanted to know what god was hiding right in front of them.

As she walked, she put a hand out to the wall. She wanted to know if the crystal was the same as the crystal outside, that framed the Mirror itself. As she got closer, it felt warm, like the surface of heated stove. It was energy, maybe even pure.

Her first guess was that this was a door into the raw, that chaotic energy that god used to craft everything. If that was true, just the prospect of it being true, had her both giddy and afraid. That was the material no man should forge. It held the secrets of power itself. If she was right, she was just on the other side of a crystalline membrane from ultimate power.

She made contact with the wall, and a jolt of pain went through her arm. Electricity? No, raw energy that sent her reeling until she fell in the middle of the tunnel. Her arm was wracked with pain, and her heart was pounding. It was hard enough to breath without the sudden shock, but now she felt like she was suffocating.

Maja got back to her feet, and looked back the way she came. It seemed dark, distant, and growing ever dimmer. Still, the portal she came through was a point of light, like the one ahead.

She put the pain behind her, and continued forward. Every journey begins with the pain of loss, not every journey ends the same; Pachi’s lesson.

Maja caught sight of something in the corner of her vision. A shadow, moving along the crystal tunnel. She didn’t think before to look for her own shadow. When she looked around her feet, she didn’t have one. All the light coming into the tunnel from outside was distant, ephemeral, and left no sign that she was even there. She looked to the tunnel wall, and saw it was more than a shadow. It looked like spilled ink, trailing its way toward her.

Her heart skipped a beat when she looked to the opposite wall, and saw a matching mark, shifting shadows that were following behind her from outside the cave, reaching out to her. She looked ahead, the point of light was becoming clearer, she didn’t have far. She could examine this later.

She walked, looking to her sides every few dozen steps. The darkness was following her, and worse, swallowing up the light behind her. She could barely see her own side of the Mirror, the place where she left Chan, and her team.

When she looked closer, she almost thought the shadows were trying to get through. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she took a step closer, trying to focus on the otherworldly crystal that surrounded her. As she watched, a small corner of the crystal broke, and a needle like point of shadow reached in. It pointed at her, grew longer by the second, but stopped well short of her.

Maja stood up and took a step back, then looked behind her. Was this same darkness all over the tunnel? It was no mere shadow, it seemed to have a will.

She looked ahead, and pressed on faster. The weight of her suit was getting to her, and even moments of this jogging pace made it hard to breath or concentrate. Maja bent down to catch her breath, and saw something by her feet, a reaching bit of shadow. She gasped, and started to run, or try to run.

It was impossible to ignore now. Even from ahead of her, the tunnel was growing dark. Pouring in from the walls were long points of darkness, reaching for the floor, sliding out toward her. Seeing the crystal itself was growing impossible, small regions of rock in a growing wave of black. There was no mistaking it, it was coming for her. The shadow was making it impossible to see, there was nothing ahead, nothing behind her. It was just her, and the oncoming evil.

Evil, that was the word she was afraid to label it with before. She could feel it, a malice to the shadows that were now forming a wall around her, reaching out like a wall of knives that was waiting to make that fatal strike. Then there was nothing to see, no gap to get light, just darkness.

Her line, she didn’t think about it. Could they even feel her at this point? was it even connected? She tugged on it, three hard yanks on the taut metal rope. Nothing happened.

She could feel a pinprick on her right shoulder, and shifted left only to find another waiting for her there. It was closing in on her, going to crush her. She was going to learn the fate of those animals they sent to their death. Children would learn of Maja’s lesson, the woman who vanished in her haste. The woman who lost her tribe the favor of the Great Chief, and lost an artifact of god.

Maja whispered, “The tear.”

She felt small cuts across her arms as she reached for her bag. When the strong was loosened, a light poured out, the light of Mayen. She could swear the darkness screamed. It backed away, enough to give her space to move. Maja reached her hand into the bag, and pulled the orb out, watched it glow with that blue light she had never appreciated enough before.

The shadow, the darkness, it fled from all around her, fled back through the crystal walls. She could see, the path, the crystal, those streaking lines of light outside. Maja could see the other portal, it was so close now.

Through it, she could see something strange, alien. It was green, distorted visions of hills, a bright blue sky.

Mayen the deliverer. They sat there for so long, wondering what Mayen could be hiding behind the mirror. He hid the one thing the tribes of Ceti wanted most, paradise.

Then Maja was yanked off of her feet. She held the Tear close as she crashed to the ground. At first she didn’t understand what was happening, then she realized she was being dragged back.

She wanted to stop, she wanted to tell them to let her go to the other side. Instead the green hills faded away, as she was pulled through that odd place back to the bleak and dying lands she had known her whole life.

Maja came through the portal, and it wasn’t until they pulled the helmet from her head that she realized how labored her breathing was. She looked around, her vision was blurry, and her whole body felt chilly.

“You’re okay,” She could hear Chan saying, “Thank god you’re okay.”

He hugged her, comforted her, but the atmosphere was all wrong. There was no sense of celebration, just tension.

She pulled herself to her knees, and looked to see why.

Chief Lohae was in attendance.

“Maja, you have done it,” The Chief said, “Amazing. My men and I wanted to be the first to greet you when you returned.”

“I’m grateful, Chief,” Maja said as she tried to calm her heart, “The journey was as fruitful as I expected.”

She caught a glance from Chan, she couldn’t tell what he was trying to tell her. It was possible it was nothing but concern for her, but she was now safe, though not unchanged.

“Is that so?” The Chief said, “Tell me, what is beyond god’s Mirror?”

Lying wasn’t an option. This was her leader, the man who made her research possible. She took a deep breath.

“There was a tunnel, awe inspiring in its beauty. It was strange, and it was terrible.”

“And?” Lohae said. He looked like a man waiting for his meal, hungry for what he absolutely needed.

“And,” Maja said, “There was another mirror, one that didn’t seem to lead to any place I have seen.”

“Excellent,” The Chief said, “If that’s true, then you really have changed everything.”

“It was dangerous as well,” Maja said, speaking so fast that the Chief gave her a stern glance.

“I’m sure you, of all people, know Gohai’s lesson.”

The greater danger holds the deeper truth.

Maja looked down at the dirt, “Chief, something is in there, something dangerous.”

“Which is why we will explore it,” The Chief said as he turned and began to walk away, “Call for warriors from the local villages, we will start an expedition immediately.”

Maja stood, and when she teetered, Chan supported her. She watched the Chief and his entourage, walking back toward the camp.

They couldn’t understand what they were dealing with. Even thinking of the darkness, that evil, made her skin prickle. Still, there was something there, and she knew that when they reached it, she wanted to be the first to step foot in paradise.

“Are you okay?” Chan asked.

Maja looked at him, and she put a hand on him, “Yes, thank you. We have a lot to talk about though, and even more to do.”

#Nanowrimo and a little Worldbuilding

November is on the way, which means it is almost time for National Novel Writing Month.

Last year my one month novel was a cyberpunk story, Corpfall. After reading Neuromancer, by William Gibson, and playing a lot of Netrunner, I couldn’t escape the urge to write a cyberpunk novel of my own.

This year, I decided to write a sequel to one of my four novels. In the end, I chose to write a sequel to Corpfall. Now comes the fun part, thinking about what the plot will be.

Corpfall is about Special Agents Carlos Fuller and Ashleigh Anderson. They work for a future North American government known as the North American Business Authority, NAB, that replaced the United States, Canada, and most of Mexico, after the ‘corp wars’.

Ashleigh, or Ash, is known as a ‘Billion Dollar Baby’, trained as part of an expensive program to create perfect government agents through early training and expensive cybernetics. Fuller is a hacker hired into the Business Authority when his former gang was shut down.

By the end of the novel, we are introduced to the other ‘babies’ that followed after Ash, the other members of Fuller’s gang, and the threat of artificial intelligence manipulating NAB for its own ends.

Now I have to ask myself, what more can I build in the toybox I created?

One of the aspects I fleshed out a little before writing the first novel was the history of the world. Cyberpunk as a genre usually leans on a few key ideas: Unrestricted capitalism that allows anything to be sold, Megacorporations that are willing to do anything to continue expanding, and small people who are trying to stay afloat in a world that is collapsing around them.

When I started writing Corpfall, my idea was to write some sort of ‘post-cyberpunk’. Considering I’m not a cyberpunk aficionado, this has likely already happened, and the word doesn’t mean what I thought at the time. In the end, what I wanted was a world that is moving out of the ultra-capitalism stage, and into a stage of returned government control. My question was, ‘what if we mixed stereotypical socialism, and cyberpunk?’

In my timeline, legislation called the Taylor Act allowed corporations that owned enough concentrated land to govern that land like an incorporated town. In the end, corporations gained so much power and control that several of them moved from covert corporate spying to outright violence. The governments of the world took action after an orbital station was destroyed and a the Megacorporation JIL was thought to be involved. Protesters wanted the company ripped apart and held responsible, but the UN was powerless to do much of anything. Shortly after, direct fighting between Megacorps and world governments began, with the mercenary armies of the megacorps winning out.

In the period after, nicknamed ‘the Free Market’, corps fought against each other, and the world governments faded into powerless figureheads. This is the period that is normal ‘cyberpunk’. The average person suffered, but technology took leaps and bounds as no one was able to restrict scientific research that might make the megacorps a profit.

After the Free Market period, came the New Nations. These new governments partnered with corporations, offering to govern the market, but also let them invest in the government as partners. Enough smaller corporations joined that all but the strongest megacorps were forced to consider. As these ‘Business Authorities’ gained traction, their first act was to dismantle the ‘monopoly’ organizations that caused the corp wars, like JIL. Others, like Mailer-Bronson, were simply crippled.

The three well known new governments are NAB, SAB, and WEB (OEB). They are the North American Business Authority that controls the North American business, South American Business Authority that is its sister, and West Europe Business Securities. Russia, Eastern Europe, and most of Asia, resisted the new nation movement. This is also why corpfall doesn’t have the same heavy Asian vibe that most cyberpunk does. While Asian corporations likely had strong sway during the corp wars, the New Nations idea makes me imagine that North America maintains its usual mix of cultures, instead of the ‘future where Chinese is mixed into everything’ that I see in a lot of fiction.

Before November starts, I want to investigate a few parts of the setting that I didn’t look at before.

1) The Billion Dollar Babies: Ashleigh and her ‘siblings’ were my ‘Razor girls’. Hopped up on cybernetics, powerful, but full of issues. I touched on their history, and more babies being made, but their use as agents is still a little vague. Ash is the main character of Corpfall, so I won’t be able to avoid telling her story as the plot continues.

2) The megacorps: JIL, Mailer-Bronson, I don’t have a lot of Megacorps defined but they are important to the plot. Their movements and actions are a background force in cyberpunk stories. They don’t have to be primary actors, but I have to be careful not to make them complete background noise. So knowing a few of them could be helpful.

3) AI and Technology: In Corpfall, an AI is one of the central big bads. To tell the truth, the whole story was born from a short story that I wrote that mirrored the final scenes of Neuromancer. I wanted to see if I could capture that same feeling. Now I need to stop imitating, and figure out the reality of AI in the Corpfall setting. When did they start existing, how many are there, and how powerful are they?

I can’t wait for November this year. I love National Novel Writing Month, and this year I plan to split this novel into two ‘books’, and maybe write another 25,000 words on top of that. I’m pumped, and hope that cyberpunk can motivate me the same way it did last year.

Daily Write: The Last Author

I’ve had this idea for a while, but I didn’t get far on it today. I’m trying, as hard as I can, to avoid ‘boo hoo, poor English major’ writing here. For one, that really limits the audience to other poor saps with an English degree. There are plans for tension, and if I was kind, the story would inflate to something quite dramatic.

The Last Author (A section of the opening)

He shook off the rain from his jacket, and set his hat down on a table in the break room. Tyler was there, like always.

“Hey Bill,” Tyler said as he stirred his coffee, “What is on the agenda today?”

Tyler never knew what was on the agenda until he sat down at his desk. That was one of the hard parts of being an editor. At least, that is what he told himself. When something crossed his screen, he did what had to be done, and then moved on to the next item.

“I imagine,” Bill said as he folded his jacket, “something covering the peace talks in the Middle East.”

Tyler shook his head, “Always something with those people right? Seems like it is always something.”

Bill shrugged, “Always.”

Tyler reached for the stack of coffee toppers, and waved on his way out the door. That was Bill’s cue to put his lunch away, and head for his desk. The mornings were always roughest, Chomsky put out content overnight, which meant that Gail would be on him hard until he caught up.

The halls of the building were barren, each door signifying some department or another. Bill rarely checked what the other rooms were for, their names were complicated jargon, like Sophistication and Adaptation department, or Integration, Reintegration, and Deintegration offices. He passed them all, and found his own door, Poetics Diagnostics.

He opened the door and found two more doors, one to the right, and one to the left. Both were unmarked, and he mindlessly moved to the right door. It opened to a small office, one large tinted window facing the desk and monitor, space enough for two additional monitors and a box for his belongings.

Bill hit the switch near the wall, and waited as everything lit up.

“Hello there, Bill,” Said Gail over an intercom, “You’re right on time, like always.”

His computer monitor came on with words already spread across the primary screen. He could see that it was a news article, the headline said ‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East.’

Bill smiled to himself. He put his case in the box in the corner, with his jacket, then sat down at the desk.

‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East’
by Emmanuel Levy

‘Today begins the fifth day of peace talks between the powerful nations…’

‘…while fighting in the streets have made the exchanges difficult for diplomats and fighters, the people still have hope for a peaceful solution…’

‘Part of the tension is laid at the feet of insurgents, lead by a powerful and enigmatic cleric named…’

Already Bill could see the small mistakes he expected out of Chomsky. The computer, affectionately named after the former philosopher and activist, was one of half a dozen authorship machines in the West. It output poignant and researched political articles on every topic imaginable, abortion, theology, war, medicine, and all without missing a single deadline.

Once it was explained to Bill that XKK-3754, or Chomsky, could complete over two dozen articles for, against, and in criticism of a topic in the time it took live writers to draw up an outline. This meant that with minimal maintenance, and a light diagnostics staff (that was him), they could move creative assets to other parts of the business.

At least that was what they promised when Chomsky was first being integrated into media offices. Then came the layoffs.

“Are you ready to begin?” Gail said in her formal tone.

Bill pressed the button on his desktop, “Yeah, go ahead.”

“I’m going to drop the screen now, wave hi to me.”

It was the silliest part of the day. He looked up over the monitor, and the tint of the window faded away, revealing a young woman opposite of him. Black hair, glasses, nothing exotic. Still, when it was the face you saw once a day, every day, it left an impact on you.

She waved at him without a word, and he waved back. Then the window’s tint went dark again. She was gone for another 24 hours.

“We will start with catch-up articles, and should make 10am quota. Nothing complicated is expected.”

Bill nodded, and looked over the peace talks article again. He saw the mistakes, not only grammatical, or stylistic, but factual. He wasn’t an expert on the situation, but reading Chomsky’s articles meant that he knew enough to make sure the program was staying consistent.

Still, words echoed in his mind. “Bill, you aren’t a writer.”

It was Gail’s reprimand when he submitted a heavily edited article that came up in his queue.

“You aren’t a writer, and you should be thankful.”

It made him remember when the Poetics Diagnostics program first opened at his university, in the last year of his degree. Finally, the fear was alleviated. So many students had resigned themselves to unemployment, the marketability of their degree crumbling around them. They had an escape, and Bill took it.

Now he was a poetics diagnostician, but everyone still called him an editor. He was the last mind before Chomsky’s automated stories hit the internet. Which meant he was necessary to save the company from any mistakes Chomsky might make.

He took to the article, weighing each problem against the whole. The fighting in the streets made life dangerous for diplomats and ‘civilians’, the media had taken to using the title ‘imam’ instead of simply calling them clerics, small mistakes that Chomsky would repeat until correct enough times that whatever algorithms were in place would figure it out.

Bill fought himself over one last edit. He was already up there. Regardless of the size or nature of the edits, the program took them as a raw value. Too much altered from the original caused trouble.

It was the sixth day of peace talks, he was sure of it. Bill double checked the previous articles, and was validated. He made the change, then hit submit.

A second passed before a dialog window popped up in front of him.

‘Suggested changes exceeds per-submission quota. Please limit changes, and try again.’

He felt a small pinch in his gut, but didn’t let it get to him. Often, this was easy to solve. He removed a change, and then submitted again, only to have the article bounce. He didn’t want to think it was anything in particular, so he changed it again, and it bounced again. Bill took a breath, then changed it back to the fifth day. When he submitted it, a new article appeared in front of him.

Giving the world the news it needed was as easy as that.