Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Threshold

ThresholdSándor remembered the sting of the wasp, white hot pain exploding from just above his thumbnail, as he'd picked a spring beauty for his mother in the yard. Then, when he was a little older, the sickening bubbling of hot oil spilled across his wrist; the way the skin had peeled off, as well as the scar that eventually formed but never quite smoothed over his violated nerve endings. He remembered the mind-jarring disbelief as he'd watched his hand separate from his wrist; the fire and nails that had shot right through his arm and torso and head immediately afterward. Sometimes he could still feel that one, waking up lost seventeen years later in sweat-drenched sheets.

He remembered other agonies, too, but chose not to think about those. They weren't the kind that time or painkillers could heal, so were better left behind locked doors, deep down in the safe corners of his mind.

She didn't -- couldn't -- know about those.

A bare foot nudged his ankle. "What's wrong?"

Glancing at Melanie, he was once again startled by how beautiful she looked. "Nothing, babe."

"Liar." She made a face and pinched his Achilles tendon with her abnormally strong toes.

"Ouch," he yelped, kicking her foot away playfully. "I'm telling you, as soon as we spin back to normal grav, you should try hanging upside-down from the chin-up bar with those things. I bet you could do it, too, monkey girl."

"Could not." She slapped his knee, eyes smiling.

The scanner made a gutteral choking noise. Finished, finally.

"Okay, let's see what we've got." Melanie stretched, then touched a series of combos, toggling through the data lists until she got to the one she wanted. She stared open-mouthed at it for several seconds. "Shit," she said.

Sándor closed his eyes and shook his head. "Damnit."


Neither of them spoke for a long time. Even the scanner remained silent, as if fearfully aware of having been the bringer of bad news.

Sándor drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "You remember that thing they told us in basic? How sooner or later we'll all reach a point, a threshold, that will truly test our mettle?"

"Yeah I remember."

"Well." Sándor pursed his lips. "I think I'm getting there."

"Me too. But we'll find one."

"What's the point? We've looked everywhere already."

"Yeah, well, it's find one or die."

"Fuck," he breathed.


Melanie crossed her arms comically and pinched his heal again with her toes. "Hey! Mettle, remember?"

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gone

"Gone" -- from an image by Gavin Post
Something is wrong, and in a moment of panic I realize that my body has tilted too far to the side. The exertion of craning my neck to see out the tiny window has caused me to leave the wall, and I am floating like a dead fish toward the ceiling.

I reach out blindly for something, anything. My fingers find the crack between the door and its frame, and I use it to bring my body upright and my feet back to the floor. With some effort I keep the nausea under control, and gradually my pulse begins to slow.

So this is how it's going to be. Everything cumbersome. I bite my bottom lip and cross my arms, hugging my shoulders.

It's cold in here. Cold air. Cold walls. Cold light. Cold metal floor.

Careful not to apply too much downward force lest I launch myself away from the wall again, I bumble over to the hammock. Its fabric is tangled and dirty. After a moment of futzing with it, I get the netting open. I frown at the stench that wafts out as I lift my legs and angle my feet toward the opening. Unable to let go of the net with my hands, I struggle awkwardly until I am more or less sitting with my legs in the sleeping bag and the netting on both sides of me.

Frustrated. Empty. Cold.

It feels like I'm floating in a pool of water at the gym or something. But at least I am now stationary, except for the slight side-to-side residual drift caused by my efforts. I carefully lie back and reach a finger out to the oily wall to steady myself. After a few minutes, I am almost still.

~.*.~

She's wearing a bright red hat that curls up in the front, made of some sort of synthetic leather with a felt underside. Expensive, like most of her clothes. I keep trying to think of something I can buy her that she would like; something I can afford, but something special.

Her finger is pulling at my belt loop as we stroll through one of the quieter garden tunnels near my habmod. Mostly hidden fans blow a cool breeze, causing the big lazy elephant leaves to wave up and down. My eyes linger on her lips and she smiles. Reaching gentle arms around my neck, she kisses me. My heart is pounding.

I want to have babies with you, she whispers into my ear.

My throat catches. Hands closing tighter around her waist. Pulse racing. The dark green elephant leaves waving all around.

Yes, I whisper urgently.

Yes.

~.*.~

I awaken, uncertain for a moment of where I am. There is no light; all I can see are the little ghostly swirls of random color that my brain has conjured to fill the void.

She's gone. It will never happen.

I move my arms to prop myself up, but I can't feel any resistance; it feels like I'm falling. My heart jumps in panic. Then that back-of-the-throat feeling of near total weightlessness and the sudden smell of the hammock combine to remind me of the cold fact that I am in a prison cell, of my arrival on the comet, of the elevator, of the trial. A knot builds in my stomach and quickly turns to bile.

The rest of my life. Forever.

I vomit hard, convulsions wracking my chest and throat. Through the dark, I hear the liquid stuff spatter against a wall or the floor or the ceiling. The sound and the smell make me heave again and again until I am dry, and then I heave some more.

I blink back cold tears and stare into the disorienting blackness, seeing nothing, begging silently for sleep. After a long time, my throat stops screaming from the harsh stomach acids, and a deep, cruel thirst settles in.

I'm gone. I don't even exist anymore.


This is an excerpt from Gaines's upcoming novel, Climbing Back to Zero. More info about it will be made available soon.


Friday, September 26, 2014

That One Pretty Thing

With the advent of the new Generation "A," the line between child and parent is becoming disturbingly blurred. Something has gone terribly wrong with nature; it's almost as if humanity is broken. The question is, will we make it through this alive?

This is my latest dark sci-fi short story. I'd even go so far as to call it horror.... In any case, readers beware; it's definitely not for the faint of heart. 

Click here or the image to the right to purchase an electronic version from Amazon.com for US$0.99 :-)


To get a free Kindle reading app for your computer, iPad, phone, or other device, click here.




Monday, September 08, 2014

South

SouthThe first slabs to go were usually the most spectacular, so nesters from all five valleys tended to get there early to claim the best of the available viewing perches. The unavailable ones, of course, had already been reserved; their haughty occupants would fly in at their leisure, arriving just in time for the midday games to begin and often later than that.

Spotting an empty stretch of branch between a nester family and a pair of hunters, Sye'sral tucked her wings and dove. Just as she broke momentum and her talons came in contact with the deeply scarred wood, a third hunter swooped up from below, roaring territorially right in front of her. Talons scrabbling for purchase and wings flapping violently, they glared at each other for several heartbeats.

"Buzz off," one of the other hunters hissed.

The newcomer's nostrils flared, inhaling Sye'sral's scent. Suddenly the snarl froze on his face. Sye'sral narrowed her eyes at him and turned to go.

"Wait!" he mewed, moving aside while batting at her with his paw in a gesture of sundued apology.

"Oh, you smell that I'm 'in season' and suddenly there's room on the branch for both of us, is that it?" Sye'sral smirked and let go of the branch. Typical, she thought, as she dropped in a wide arc and glided over to the other side of the Greatree.

She landed on a mostly empty branch this time and made herself comfortable, preening while craning her neck to glance at the gaming sphere. The view here was quite terrible, but at least no horny males were trying to shove her off the branch.

A nearby cub yowled at his sister and copped a gruff paw on the nose from their mum. Sye'sral smiled, settled on her haunches, and reveled in the warmth from the sun. It was a beautiful day for it, if she closed her eyes and pretended she wasn't actually here to kill someone.

The trouble was that whenever she left her eyes shut for any length of time these days, that annoying pull would come back, as if emboldened by the darkness. It had been getting stronger over the past month or so; it would sometimes even manifest in her dreams. There it was like a vague rope or vine, always dragging at her from the same direction:

South, it seemed to command, in a whisper formed from neither lips nor words. 


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Not Bad for a Rental

Image from a drawing by Patricia PostThese days getting your head "cleared" involved a hell of a lot more than the good old-fashioned reboot-n-go that had been the intersystem travel standard for more than half a suntury. Everything was still fully automated, of course; even more so, in fact. Now all you had to do was accept initialization and sit there, wherever you happened to be, and Govcorp's remote scanners would do all the work. The service package even came with a complementary temporalization, during which you were welcome to drift off to the La La Land of your choosing until your fresh-start brain was ready to launch into the next stop on your itinerary.

That was all well and good for the average Joe-blow transworker, tourist, or traveling contractor; however, if you had something to hide, you were kinda screwed. This was because whenever anyone wanted to travel between stars, he, she, or it had to submit to this spanking new service before a reboot and relocalization to the new body was possible--and that's where things got complicated, because during the prescanning process, nothing in your head was private. Every thought, memory, and twinkling of emotion was meticulously translated, recorded, and automatically cross-analyzed in multiple scenariosits by the Wandernet's ogglers. And all of them, as everyone knew, sat firmly in Govcorp's pocket.

There was a way around it, though. You couldn't just hijack a scannernode, of course; besides the problem of the quadruple redundancy, the machinery would simply shut itself down before you'd even hacked through the first layer of security progs. But what you could do was to locate all the nodes that were remote-linked to the transporter you planned on using. And once you'd done this, you could blow them the hell up.

Zeb set the final charge and reactivated his personal refraction field. He then casually slipped past the dozing guards, down the stairs, and out the front door. The chronometer in the bottom right corner of his in-eye displaymod told him he had nine minutes before the next syslock scramble. Plenty of time to reach the transporter two blocks over.

When he got there, the queue was only a few people deep. They all looked half asleep; 3:45 a.m. was an early start no matter what you did for a living. Still shrouded from view by the refraction field, Zeb maneuvered his way to the front of the queue without issue, causing only a moment's confusion in the woman whose turn it should have been when the plate sensor beeped at her to step back behind the yellow line. It was the kind of sensor that cared how much you weighed, not what you looked like or how invisible to the human eye you might be.

The light went green, and Zeb stepped into the booth. As the door was sliding shut behind him, he quickly initiated the destruct sequence with a series of twitches in his extraocular muscles. Five seconds, to allow for lag.

The door was centimeters from being closed.

...Four.

Three...

As the door sealed shut, the service bot clamped its arms around Zeb's body in preparation to move it for long-term storage. He wasn't planning on coming back, at least not for a very long time, but keeping a body on ice here could prove useful at some point in the future. After blinking in a submission of his itinerary, he closed his eyes and waited.

...Two.

...One.

Two blocks away, and simultaneously at three other locations around the CBD, tiny explosions ripped through the four scannernodes remote-linked to the transporter. Unable to initialize a scan or the allotted complementary temporalization, the transporter defaulted to the next step in its command process.

Milliseconds later, Zeb felt the falling sensation that came with a complete reboot, and his mind went blank for a subjective moment as it was translated through the quantum relocation prog.

He opened his new eyes in a body that had been born and nurtured a hundred and forty light years from Earth. As the service bot ushered him through the various adjustment and coordination processes, Zeb took a few moments to glance over his new body. Male again, which he preferred; in its late twenties, apparently healthy, and even endowed with a fairly muscular frame. Not bad, for a rental.

As soon as he was able to walk, he set out to explore his new home. There was no telling when his handler might next contact him, so he might as well grab some R&R while he could.   


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blend

Blend
"Blend" was first published in January of 2013 in
Mustang's Monster Corral. Thanks Mustang!
Travis Wilfreit sat slumped with legs pretzeled, his backbone grinding against the hard stones of the painted wall. On the opposite side of the gym, beautiful Claire Bertrand stood giggling with her friend Bethany. The sound drew a gruff bark from the PE teacher, and the two girls went back to pretending to do their stretches.

Her hair was even more colorful than usual today. The deep azure of the past two weeks was now streaked with crimson on one side and snow white on the other.

"Hey check it out, I think stutter-magic's got a hardon, heh."

"Oh shit, ha, I think you're right!"

"Careful there Wilfreit, you w-w-wouldn't w-want to accide-de-dentally kno-kno-knock her up! We'd have to call up the CDC to come quarantine your o-o-offspring!"

Travis did his best to ignore the group of asshole morons guffawing and pointing at him from a few yards away. He stared at the floor between his legs, but his heart was pounding and hot blood was rushing up his neck into his cheeks; he was sure she had heard the comment from across the gym. Already he was beginning to feel the onset of that dream-like lightness in his chest, the sensation that always preceded one of his flip-outs.

Abruptly he got up and marched left along the wall, wending his way around clumps of slobbering vacant-eyed teenaged bodies until he reached the arched doorway leading to Gym B. As he passed through, he could feel the PE teacher's eyes on the back of his head, but he knew the man wouldn't say anything. Not to him; not now.

The big empty vastness of Gym B opened up before him. Travis moved left along the dividing wall until he reached the middle. The lack of people made it better here, but the feeling had not yet subsided. Find a distraction, and focus on it. Read a book or even just stare at something until you come down. He sat down and stared at the floor for a long time.

Something was wrong. Travis went through his mental exercises over and over, focusing on the floorboards in all their detail: the way the overhead lights gleamed in their lacquer, the narrow grime-filled cracks between the old planks, the very grain of the wood itself. He stared and stared, but the feeling wouldn't go away; if anything, it was getting worse.

A girl's laugh rang out from Gym A on the other side of the wall behind him. Travis put his hands over his ears and hunched his face closer to the floorboards. All he wanted was to disappear. To escape this place; to escape the feeling. But it continued to rise in him.

Desperate, he squinted his eyes until the boards blurred. That was better. He did it some more, and began to pretend he was actually inside the grain of the wood.

He could feel the fibers around him; he could even sense the pressures still holding the flesh of the long dead tree together. There was a funny odor, of oak and lacquer and glue. Travis smiled; it was cool and dark in here, and the light-chested feeling had begun to leave him. He lifted his head and looked around.

It was not exactly sight, but he could *see* through the wood all the way to the end of the board, where it met the painted stone blocks of the wall. How awesome it would be if he could be inside the stone, too, he thought. And so he tried moving, and was delighted to discover that he was able to travel along the grain of the wood unhindered.

As Travis blended from wood into stone, he *stood* and looked back. He could *see* everything in the big empty room behind him, but there was no sign of his body. It was gone; he was actually here.

Free, Travis *laughed* out loud. He laughed even louder when he peered from his hiding place in the wall into Gym A and saw the spooked faces of his PE class, backing away from the wall. This is real, he marveled.

"HAHAHA!!!" he bellowed. Everyone, including the PE teacher, scattered for the exit in a screaming panic.

Travis smiled. Taking a long, deep breath, he exulted in the musty old smell of the stone surrounding him, permeating him. He now knew, without a doubt in his mind, what he had to do. Who he was.

He would teach them, and they would be sorry. He would teach them all.

But right now, he had a whole new world to explore. Feeling suddenly full of energy, he dove, hurtling through stone and wood and metal, blending deeper and deeper, faster and faster. Travis laughed the whole way down.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

You Were There

You Were ThereYou were there when our father would have done anything to keep from tearing her heart to pieces, had he known what was happening. She, who had been his lover, his wife, his boys' mother; his companion, his best friend. She, who watched his mind wilt and blur until it was less than a shadow of its glorious former self.

You were there when the great storm left the hills stretched smooth beneath a skin of ice, glimmering so brightly in the afternoon sun that we had to squint. How loud the frozen wood cracked and groaned beneath our axes as we laughed and swung, racing to outdo each other's pile.

You were there when I abandoned you, whisked off to the far side of the world by adventure and love and destiny. I still remember what you taught me: Holding my palm up against the night sky, I shift my focus from the silhouetted fingers to the shining stars in-between, and can clearly see that some are nearer than others.

You were there when the giant Mooncrusher threatened to swallow the world. The stories we heard as children all spoke of courage and valor, but none of those so-called heroes could hold a candle to how you stood your ground and struck the enemy down, blow by blow by blow.


You were there when I spoke to you yesterday, just before dawn, in a dream. You are still here. You will always be here. And I will always be there.  




Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Pinnacle


The Pinnacle -- a short story by Gaines Post
The duty had fallen to Cor to take his nephew Daron to the top of the Pinnacle, for no one else dared. The hard part was making a game out of it so that the boy would not suspect. Some lies were necessary for the greater good, after all. Weren't they?

This is the latest dark fantasy short story from the mind of Gaines Post. Click here or the image to the right to purchase an electronic version from Amazon.com for US$0.99 :-)

To get a free Kindle reading app for your computer, iPad, phone, or other device, click here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Overlap

Overlap
This is my nineteenth attempt. The lag is making it even harder. But I've got this: If I can just get luck and skill to both line up at the same time, the fucker's gonna blow. I'm sure of it.

The last Overlap happened more than a decade ago, back when I was twelve. After talking it over with their families, my dad and uncle knew exactly what they had to do. So they gamed the system and got posted to rig duty. I like to think their brave sacrifice is a major reason the rest of us are still here.

Now it's our turn: mine, my little sister Deb's, almost everyone we know.

Earlier in the night, in typical Deb fashion, the dumbass went charging in the instant we linked up to the Main. She didn't even wait for the rest of the team to gather. I gotta admit, it was actually pretty hilarious; she blasted a tunnel right through the first two layers all by herself, hollering the whole way down. The others were stunned speechless for a minute, but that little performance of hers ended up doing wonders for everybody's morale.

I mean, this was some scary fuckin shit we were about to face, and boom there goes my little sister, rushing in, one hundred per cent fearless. We big muscly types had no choice but to man up after that!

It was good. Fear has no place down here.

But Deb kept on going, and while we were trying to catch up one of the layers reclosed behind her and cut us off. Now she's out of communications range, and I'm trying to blast through as fast as I can to get to her. But the Intelligence--our name for the invaders that engineered the Overlap--they seem to be on to us; they keep reinforcing the layer, making it harder and harder to find the right resonant frequency.

Carl Griegsohn gave the order to backtrack and hit it from another angle, in a spot half a klick east of here. I ignored him and he shouted at me. So I told him Fuck off, it's my sister down there. He sputtered and threatened to disconnect me from the Main. I knew he wouldn't so I just kept working. A few seconds later he was racing back up tunnel, collecting stragglers, all snarls and bellows fading in the distance.

I'm almost there; this thing's gonna blow, I know it. Maybe Carl's proposed flank attack will be enough to distract the Intelligence from my mosquito efforts. Maybe attempt number twenty will be the magic number. Maybe Deb's on the other side, trying to work her way back through to my position.

Not bloody likely. My sister's probably already inside the Core by now, either dead or somehow still alive and about to place her charges right in the middle of the goddamned thing's brain.

Either way, I've got to blast my way through. I've got to find her. 


Monday, May 06, 2013

Jelly-bones


Jelly-bonesAugust knew what they called him behind his back: "nancy;" "jelly-bones." The five specialists--Toragger, Baans, Zim, Auldelaire, Morris--had all graduated top of their respective classes, extremely well-tuned elites of deadly military precision, but put them together in a group and their inner grunt came out.

The Relocation Meta might observe that they seemed to share an exclusive camaraderie based on a longing for boot camp or a simplicity of life that had probably never existed. Bring in an outsider from clear across the system to take their dead commander's place, and voila, recipe for animosity and potential insubordination. But it wasn't just that. There was an extra edge to their voices when they answered him; a vague limpness in their salutes.

It was because of his father, of course. Everyone knew who Colonel Tansworth had been. Even all the way out here in the dead of space, August still could not escape that fact. One of the specialists, Baans, chuckled something under his breath.

"Midshipman Baans."

Baans raised his eyes, but otherwise showed no reaction. He kept his elbows on his knees, a pair of meaty tattooed fists propping a square stubbly chin. Everyone stopped talking.

If August chose to ignore the man's insolence, he would appear weak. He cracked his knuckles. "That's right; I'm talking to you, numbnuts. On your feet."

Smirking, Baans shot a glance at Zim next to him, but eventually stretched himself upright to assume a semblance of attention. "Sir," he drawled, that extra edge even more palpable than before.

"What was the last order Lieutenant Mensus gave before he died?"

Baans shifted uncomfortably. "What?"

"Your former commander. The last thing he said to you lot before he carked it. What was it?" August knew exactly what his predecessor's last words had been; it was all on record.

Anger rippled across Baans's brow. He pressed his lips together and bunched his forearm muscles, but slowly blood of another kind rose up the sides of his neck. The foredeck had fallen so quiet they could hear the distant rumble from the matter converters.

"Well? I'm waiting, Midshipman."

Baans looked down at his feet. "..ny means..ary," he mumbled.

"Speak up, soldier," August snapped.

"By any means necessary!"

"That's right; 'by any means necessary,'" August repeated. "Well ladies, I am that means. This crew needed a new runner, so here I am. You know it; I know it. It is what it is. So let's stop all this bullshit pussyfooting around so we can get to work. That okay with you specialists? Or am I going to have to drop one or two of you planet-side and find replacements at the orbital resup depot? I know a few folks stationed there who'd absolutely jump at the chance, and they're plenty qualified for the job."

One by one the others stood, glaring.

"Well? What's it gonna be?"

"No sir," Toragger growled.

"No? No what?"

"No need to find replacements, sir!" Zim barked.

August raised an eyebrow at Baans. "And you?"

Baans snapped his boots together and shot his hand up in a full military salute. This time there was nothing limp about it. "Count me in, sir. By any means necessary. Sir!"

"Well all right then. Take a seat, gentlemen, and let's talk about the speed of light." 


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Remembering


He remembered rolling down the back lawn, crashing into cradling honeysuckle in a giggling heap, nose full of grass and earth and the sky still spinning.

And there were her smiling eyes.

He remembered singing, Shuffle shuffle shuffle through the crunchy crunchy leaves, as his feet sought golden orange maple and already brown sycamore and a pile so deep he could jump off the roof and land safe like a crouton in soup.

And there were her smiling eyes.

He remembered when he was a beetle. "You can walk between houses, honey," she said. But of course he insisted on crawling with all six legs. It had to be—and not just look—authentic, after all!

And sighing, perhaps, there still were her smiling eyes.

He remembered last October. The short visit; the half-finished conversations; the goodbye drop-off at the airport, hurried due to the very bulky box he was determined to check in.

And now, months later, he was sitting on a stone beneath an iron sky on the other side of the planet, trying to remember. Had he embraced her? Had he said all that he had wanted to say to her? During his time there, had he done anything to help at all?

The cat tiptoed around the corner and stretched. A cool gust of wind rocked the branches overhead, sending a pair of high-strung lorikeets screeching off in search of a more stable perch.

He closed his eyes, remembering some more. 


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Winemaker


The Winemaker
The Constable's tone had been sympathetic, but his warning was unambiguous: if Arturo did not pay up by season's end, he would lose the other eye.

Arturo had simply given the larger (but in his mind, smaller) man an impatient nod and shown him the door. For the Town to have sent someone all the way out here to East End just to tell the winemaker something he already knew was nothing short of patronizing, and as he watched the Constable carefully leading his mare back down the muddy oily slope, Arturo's wounded pride had left him no choice but to shout after him. "You'll see! It's a bumper crop this year. You'll all have your gold, and I'll be laughing!"

But that had been over a month ago, and no thanks to the embarrassing incident of the storm, his debt had now doubled. Arturo Morlen, who fancied himself a carefree type of fellow, was beginning to worry.

The aluminum broad-brimmed hat hanging from a nail in the doorframe had belonged to his father, and to his grandfather before that. Arturo placed it evenly on his own head, snatched a pair of stained leather gloves from the bench, and walked outside to face the day.

Only a few stars remained in the sky, directly overhead. Their light gleamed from Arturo's single golden eye. The steep little valley spread below him, its sides clothed in shadow-blue vineyards that were broken only by the occasional clump of spruces. Farther down he could see that his only neighbors, the Appenbaums, had already lit their breakfast fire; a ghostly white plume rose more or less eastward to merge with the thin orange glow from the sun where it promised to bloom above the gentle hills that marked the confluence of the Five Valleys. It was a beautiful morning.

Arturo smiled. Never mind the Town; he would prove the Old Crone wrong once and for all about the graygrapes, and while he was at it, he just might win Gailen's heart. 


Monday, February 11, 2013

Flight

FlightAs far as Tarilleon was concerned, birds were worse than fish. Sure, you had more freedom in the air, and thus -- potentially, at least -- more room for perspective. But with fish, the danger was obvious; from the second you entered, being inside one felt so alien and mind-numbing you couldn't wait to get out. The risks of being bird-brained for too long, on the other hand, were much... more subtle.

It was the addiction, of course. The hook, on which so many had hung their mortal coils and never thought to look back.

To be able to fly had perhaps been a dream in the human subconscious for as long as they'd had two hands and a pair of feet. Actually being able to do it now -- soaring high overhead, completely unreachable by earthly concerns, tasting the wild wind—was hard to give up indeed. Tarilleon's own brother Moz had fallen to the temptation, and he himself had nearly succumbed when he was a younger man. He had survived only by learning discipline, moderation, and control.

And so it was with great reluctance and more than a little trepidation that Tarilleon had agreed to the High Oracle's proposal. Using cormorants as their hosts, Tarilleon and four other Watchers would penetrate deep into Sha'mani territory, flying all the way south to the palace of Chamma'Nyva. There they would sit atop walls and on windowsills, dodging rocks and gleaning what information they could.

It would be eight days before they returned to their real bodies. Hence the trepidation: the longest anyone had ever been inside a bird, and successfully returned with sanity intact, was six days. They could shorten the journey by traveling into Krr'Chamma first, finding a safe place to harbor their bodies, and employing wild birds locally. But with animals that had not been raised and nurtured since birth, the risk of a premature break was too great. And so they would have to fly all the way from here using the cormorants.

It was imperative that they find out what the Sha'mani were up to, and soon. Something terrible was happening; never mind the High Oracle, even Tarilleon had sensed it. He could feel it in his bones, in the soil and water, in the very air gusting through his feathers.... 


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bodjack

"Tibialis Posterior Tendon," drawn by Patricia PostClella scratched again at her stubbly man chin and swore. Eerie gray cliffs rose on both sides of the ravine to disappear into a suffocating ceiling of cloud. Whoever had done this to her would pay.

She stared at the knobby bare feet and felt a strong desire to punch someone or something. The masculine intensity of the emotion felt alien but good. Tucking hard knuckles into fists, she watched as forearm muscles bunched beneath coarse skin that was patchy with black hair. Another string of four-letter words sparked deep in the barrel of her throat and exploded upward, ricocheting from cliff to cliff.

She continued her awkward trek down the dripping, fern-strewn gorge, toes and heels bleeding from the sharp rocks. She was shoeless and hungry, but at least she'd been left in a fairly athletic bodmod; the muscles been working for hours, and were still not tired. But everything was cold and wet, and this forsaken wilderness seemed endless. 

Think. Where the hell was she? Who had dumped her here, and why?? Bodmod matching cost a shit-ton of cred. No one would spend that much without a good reason. Why her? But never mind the who and why; the where was much more immediate.

Clella's gut told her this was some backwater hole of a planet; worst case scenario was, she'd been abandoned out on the fringe of some minor Brandscape like the boondocks of her birth. Still, she might luck out and find a conglomerate with a shifter she could hop to one of the majors, or a hub she could plug into in case she was already in one and this place was just some sort of recpark or something. But there had been no sound of air traffic all morning, so she knew her gut was probably right.

She ground her new bodmod's teeth. Things could have been worse. They could have just killed her.

It was raining and nearly dark when the cliffs finally gave way to reveal a tiny cluster of lights, twinkling from the right side of the now broad valley. Clella cracked the bodmod's stiff neck, stretched its legs, and picked up her pace. Soon she would stop shivering, and most of the pain would leave the swollen, brutalized toes.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Zunz'ish

Zunz'ish
It's like getting out of your pod in the morning: you have to do it, whether you want to or not. We're soldiers; we've got a job to do. Why in the Four-Lights should that slacker Zunz'ish be any different?!

Every shift he just floats off by himself, completely out of formation, daydreaming. Putting us all at risk. If I were Reefguard Ts'idjuŗŗ, I'd swim over there and give him a good tailsmack to the face, make him pull his head in and get back to his post. But Ts'idjuŗŗ just keeps patrolling back and forth, inspecting the line or staring over the Edge into the abyss, acting as if nothing's out of place.

Some of us have been grumbling. Shanz'ched thinks the newcomer's birthqueen must've sent word to our Nest to make sure he got special treatment here. But Chonj'ŗŗa disagrees; he says we'd know it if Zunz'ish were that highborn, and that it's far more likely the puny little scrub is directly related to someone moderately important like a cross-Nest Maarguard. Whoever it is must be collecting on a favor, he says.

It would make sense I guess. Politics between Zunz'ish's birthnest and ours are complex these days, to say the least. If an order has indeed been sent down through the ranks to leave the outsider alone, it would explain why Reefguard Ts'idjuŗŗ has been turning a blind eye to the lazy algaescrub ever since he transferred here.

Whatever the reason, it doesn't give Zunz'ish the right to dilly-dally where he pleases and leave a hole in our defenses. If the Murk launched an attack right now, I reckon it would take Zunz'ish at least twenty seconds to swim over to his spot in the grid and synch up with the rest of us. By then we'd be dead; I've seen attacks come so fast that even a delay of five or six seconds would've cost us our lives. And if even one of us dies, the grid fails, and then the Nest will almost certainly fall.

I wonder if he even has the salt to do the job. They only put elite metasingers like ourselves, the best of the best, here on the Edge. But we're trained for this. If Zunz'ish is just some dandy that has been placed here so that he or someone else can get a fin or two up in his career, then may the Four-Lights help us, 'cause we're doomed.

"Sir? What's that up there?" I hear Shanz'ched say. He's staring toward the surface.

As Reefguard Ts'idjuŗŗ makes his way over, I follow Shanz'ched's gaze. Far overhead I can barely make out wave shapes in the dim moonlight. But something else is there, too. Whatever it is seems to be growing.

The Reefguard watches it awhile. "Flotsam, most likely. Nothing to worry about."

"No sir, I think.. I think it's sinking," Chonj'ŗŗa whistles.

"Nonsense," Ts'idjuŗŗ trills.

But sure enough, the dark mass above us appears to be coming closer. Not only that, it seems to be dividing into sections. A chill ripples down my dorsum, immediately followed by a hollowness in the pit of my stomach.

A trick. We've been duped. No sooner do I look down than the first shockwave comes roiling up from the darkness below.

My voice cracks from panic. "ATTACK!!!"

The others race back to their posts, and we begin tuning up as quickly as we can. Out of the corner of my left eyecluster, however, I can see that Zunz'ish has not budged.

"Sir!!! Zunz'ish!!!" I screech, nodding in the slacker's direction.

The Reefguard simply eyes me and shakes his head. "He'll be fine. Do your job, soldier."

"But—"

"No time," he warbles. "Form the grid, now."

Outranked, I shut up and do as I'm told. 

We sing.

Our voices coalesce into a protective grid less than a second before the first shockwave hits. We're in too much of a hurry, though, and the concussion nearly knocks us out of sync. Below, rising fast, is the bulk of the Murk, evil and dark and hungry as ever. I shut my eyes in concentration.

The shockwaves always come in threes for some reason. The second buffets us harder than the first, but our makeshift grid holds. Bracing myself for the final assault, I sing as loudly as I can, and can feel my comrades doing the same. We're a soldier down, though. And the Murk is already level with the Edge.

The third shockwave slams into us. The Murk looms immediately behind it, sending out a thousand shadowy tendrils to surround us. Above, the sinking mass from the surface reveals itself to be more of the same. Very clever, I reflect. A distraction tactic, and we were stupid enough to fall for it.

One of the dark tendrils slices perilously close to Shanz'ched's throat, causing him to flinch. We react, and the grid falters.

"HOLD!" yells the Reefguard, but deep down I know it is too late. And that sooner than I ever expected it would be, my death is upon me.

A clear, piercing note rises from off to the left. I open my eyes just in time to see a reddish globe billow outward from Zunz'ish's position. Expanding as it travels, the strange sphere heads straight for the bulk of the Murk, tearing through the reaching tendrils and leaving fragments in its wake.

It strikes the Murk square in the face. A great bellowing rumbles around the Edge, snapping coral and stirring up a swirling storm of sand and dead fish. The dark beast writhes, vomiting forth a cataract of black mud from its terrible maw.


When the debris finally clears, I peer over the Edge just in time to catch a glimpse of the wrecked mass of the Murk as it plummets into the blackness below.

I can't believe it. We're alive, and the nest is safe. And there's Zunz'ish, still floating off by himself, still daydreaming as if nothing happened. 



Monday, December 03, 2012

Contact ( II )

(continued from "Contact ( I )," below)
...


Contact ( II )
It was Friday afternoon, day twelve of the experiment, when entropy reared its ugly head and ruined the whole plan.

They were in the boiler room, preparing for what would be the last of their secret workplace smooches. Hector was fidgeting impatiently as Samantha went through her "safety check," as she liked to call it. She had to be sure they were alone; if anyone were to witness the two of them being intimate, it could mean an end to her career. And Hector's, too.

"Come on, let's do it. No one's here, I promise," Hector snapped, glancing at his watch.

"Okay, ready now," Samantha said, returning to their secret corner after one final peek up the stairwell.

Hector leaned close. There was the familiar build of energy, the tickling crackle of electricity channeling more and more intensely as their lips drew together. Samantha closed her eyes, as she always did, even though she knew Hector's eyes were open.

As their mouths came together, a spark leapt to the giant water heater nearby. Samantha drew back in alarm. The last thing she heard was Hector shouting and a wrenching sound of tearing metal.


As the sun ducked behind the clouds, a chilly breeze drew goose bumps across their skin. Far below them at the top of the fjord, the water still had not finished filling the crater where the base had once been. The white cataract, appearing frozen in the distance, sent up a faint roar. Nearby a bird was singing.

"Maybe people aren't meant to have all that power," Hector said. "Maybe that was the universe's way of putting us back in our places."

"Maybe," Samantha purred, and pulled his arm around her more tightly. "But one thing's certain: I like kissing you better when it isn't planned."

Hector smiled, closed his eyes, and made contact. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Contact ( I )

Contact

Nothing else seemed to work. They had tried other intimacies, of course; Hector, especially, had wanted to double-check every possible form of contact, and some more than others. But in the end Samantha's hypothesis held: only lip-to-lip contact would build the power.

Worse, they discovered it was not as simple as just kissing each other over and over to build the power all at once; the more frequently their lips touched, in fact, the milder the hit. Likewise, if they went too long between kisses, then what power they had built would quickly fade. After much experimentation, the lovers decided it built best when their lips met no more and no less than about once every seven hours.

This posed a problem on a few different levels. First of all, he was a nightowl and she was not; prior to all of this insanity, Hector's typical morning had begun with waking more than an hour after Samantha had already left for work. Secondly, and most significantly, she was his superior in rank. Although it was widely known that off-base they were a couple, any physical contact between them while on duty was strictly frowned upon and could adversely affect both of their careers. This was what had led them down to the boiler room for their series of secret rendezvous. 

The third problem was academic: if they wanted to sustain a schedule of having lip-to-lip contact once every seven hours, without fail, then their meeting times would necessarily continue to change over the course of their planned regimen. 

Unfortunately, neither Hector nor Samantha had any leave coming up, so if they wanted to attain their goal of building up two weeks' worth of power, they would just have to endure the messed up sleep schedules and risk getting caught together at work.

It was fun at first, especially for Samantha; she seemed to get a kick out of making Hector suffer. "Nope; down, boy. Two more minutes to go!" But by the end of the eighth day they were both already so exhausted from having forced themselves awake at odd hours that their resolve had begun to weaken. The only things that kept them going were curiosity and the perpetual craving for the power, a power that had been building inside them both since the beginning.

"Just think of all the cool stuff we'll be able to do once we've accumulated all those hits," Hector said. It was three in the morning and Samantha, drained from a grueling work week, had just put the annoying alarm clock through the ceiling with a flick of her wrist.

"I don't give a shit," she growled. "I'm tired; tired of it. Can't we just head up there now?"

She was referring to the little meadow they had chosen, the place they would use to test their power at the end of the two weeks. It was a beautiful spot, very isolated, that overlooked the fjord and the top end of the base.

Hector shook his head. "Nope. We're going to stick it out, babe, all the way to next Sunday. But... how 'bout I promise you a two-hour foot massage if you make it to the end? Deal?"

Samantha looked ready to send him after the clock, but a moment later her feet won out and she groaned a reluctant yes. 

(to be continued... )


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Genome

Genome
"Genome" -- This piece of flash fiction was first
published in the  May 2013 issue of AntipodeanSF
To read it on their website, click the image above.
Ani had started with plans for a redberry tree, but the resulting runty bush and the shriveled black things hanging from it were nothing like the beautiful explosion of red lush berriness she had envisioned. That was her first lesson about design-your-own genome kits; since then she had tried a couple of other brands, but none of them was as "fool proof" as it advertised.

And so she cracked her neck, linking her mind to the wyfy, and began to teach herself chemistry. Her mother seemed concerned; now and then she would poke her head into the thirteen-year-old's room and say something like, "Aren't any of your friends around?" or, "What, are you allergic to the phone now? I never thought I'd see the day...."

Ani would just shake her head and mumble some sideways excuse, anything to get her mother to leave and close the door behind her. Friends? Whatever. With the stuff Ani was learning, she wouldn't need those backstabbers anymore.

It took several weeks, but eventually she had the design template tweaked to exactly how she wanted it. The hair was definitely the masterpiece; she was very proud of that in particular. Ani couldn't wait. So she clicked "confirm," and the order was placed.

It was a sunny afternoon when the knock finally came at the door. Heart pounding, Ani jumped up and streaked down the stairs past her bewildered mother.

She opened the door.

"Hi. My name is Berry," said the gorgeous thirteen-year-old with the magnificent brown hair standing on the porch.

"I know, silly," Ani giggled. "I'm the one who made you. Come on in, girlfriend!"