Tag: Free Fiction (page 2 of 2)

Free Fiction: The Jovian Gambit

Jupiter & Callisto

Continuing experiments in cross-pollination between old myths and newer storytelling genres. They didn’t have spaceships and ray guns in ancient Greece, after all.

As always, you can download the PDF or read the text after the spoiler tags. However you enjoy your fiction, this is how to do it.

Spoiler

Tranquility Base was a misleading name for the installation, at least on the date in question. After a great deal of communication between the Terran government and the Jovian military, a single vessel was authorized to cross the interplanetary void. It docked at Tranquility Base under the watchful remote visual links of the installation’s massive MAC batteries. The turrets turned back towards the infinite emptiness as the docking collar was secured and the ships’ passengers walked to their destination.

Rear Admiral Cyprus knew what to expect. He sat behind the carved mahogany desk, his hands resting on the blotter as he monitored the progress of his guests through the polished metal corridors. He reminded himself, as he often did, that this heirloom had required as much fuel to move from Terra to his office as a lightly-armed infiltration squad. He didn’t want to forget that some sacrifices were necessary while others were frivolous.

Next to him stood his adjutant, who kept an ear out for the trod of incoming boots which were somewhat muffled by the carpeted walkways. Their guest had a presence, however, and both men felt it when the doors parted to admit him and his handful of armed escorts.

“Welcome to Luna, General Minos,” Cyprus said cordially. “I trust your journey was a pleasant one?”

“Space travel is a tedious and uncomfortable experience.” Minos of Io was flanked by four of his personal guard, veteran soldiers, killers to a man. “Not to mention I have very little patience for Terrans in general and Terran Command in particular. The politicians and peaceniks may be interested in peace between us, but as far as I’m concerned the Jovian Colonies deserve to be treated as separate, sovereign worlds. But I’m not here to debate our independence. I’m looking for a scientist.”

“You’ve come to the right place. Tranquility Base is one of the Terran Confederacy’s premiere research stations. We have quite a few scientists here.”

“I’m looking for one in particular. Rather than dance around verbally, however, I have a means of discovering if he is here.” The general handed a small data card to the admiral. “Transmit the contents of this data card to your research staff. It contains an algorithm that, I am told, is unsolvable. It was being developed on Callisto before the abduction of the scientist in question, and we believe he might be able to solve it.”

Cyprus nodded, doing as the general asked. The admiral’s adjutant looked on as Cyprus sent the data to the terminals throughout Tranquility Base. Once the transmission was complete, the admiral leaned back to regard his Jovian counterpart.

“Why don’t you take a seat, General? This might take a while.”

“I suspect it won’t.” Minos stroked his mustache. Cyprus made a non-committal noise. Terran tracking stations had been observing Minos’ spacecraft as it made its way through the asteroid belt and stopped on the Martian moons. Both stops had seen the general storming into the commanding officer’s presence, make this same demand and leaving after all of the scientists and mathematicians at both installations had given up. Minos, however, was undeterred. Cyprus knew the Jovian would scour the surface of Terra if he had to.

A soft ping was heard from Cyprus’ terminal. He looked it over for a moment, and then turned the screen to face Minos. The equation staring back at the Jovian general made no sense to him, but the fact that it was a solution caused him to lean across Cyprus’ desk with a snarl.

“I want Professor Daedalus returned to Jovian custody at once.”

“Professor Daedalus is not a prisoner.” Cyprus’ fingers interlaced under his chin as his elbows rested on his blotter. “He is our guest, and if it is his wish to return to Callisto…”

“He was abducted!” Minos roared, pounding the desk with his fist. “An infiltration squad of Terran soldiers came to Callisto, using the storms and gravitational shadow of Jupiter to mask their presence. They navigated our corridors, kidnapped Professor Daedalus, stole or destroyed his research, and killed several of my men, including my base security chief, Colonel Talos. His presence here is all the proof I need. You will release him to my custody, and if you wish to prevent a full-scale interplanetary war, you will hand over the terrorists responsible for this cowardly act!”

Cyprus remained unmoved in expression. After a moment, he addressed his adjutant without looking away from the enraged Jovian.

“Lieutenant Commander Theseus, here, will take you to Daedalus. Commander, if you would.”

“Aye, sir,” Theseus replied, moving to the door. “This way, gentlemen.”

Minos was surprised, but hid his emotions behind his mustache. The Terrans were capitulating too easily. Something was going on that he didn’t like. Was he being deceived? Had they moved Daedalus to another location, or were they perhaps in the process of doing that now?

“You commanded the Taurus division,” Theseus observed as they walked, “which was involved in more exchanges during the war than any other unit on either side.”

“That’s true.” Minos tried to put his frustration and suspicion behind him. “They served with courage and honored us with their sacrifices.”

“I have no doubts about that,” said the younger man, guiding them through the brushed steel corridors, “but I have to wonder why the Martian colonies were so brutally handled. Most of the population there were civilians, and I hear the noxious weapons used on the crop domes fed into the air processors in a way that will take decades to clear up before new colonists can settle there.”

“Much of that is hyperbole and propaganda,” Minos said dismissively. “There were reports of Terran troops hiding among the civilian population. There were civilian casualties on Mars, yes, but the damage done to the fragile and fledgling eco-system was as much the fault of the cretins designing the processing plants as it was any Jovian action.”

Theseus nodded and changed the subject. “I can understand why you want Professor Daedalus returned. He’s been a real asset since his arrival, and has made several key changes to the installation.”

“You’ve been forcing him to work?”

“No, we haven’t. We don’t force people to do anything when they come to us willingly.”

The commander’s words made Minos stop in his tracks. Theseus turned. The Jovians were standing in an intersection of corridors, and when Theseus reached out and touched a spot on the wall, four heavy doors slammed down around them. Each door had a small, thick porthole in it, and Theseus was visible through one of them. There was the hissing sound of a pressure seal, and Minos’ men raised their weapons.

“Put those down!” Minos snapped. “You want to kill us with ricochets, you idiots? Burn us out!” One of his men fumbled with a backpack looking for his torch when a speaker snapped on.

“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” Theseus said coldly into the handset he now held, “Daedalus has made some changes to our installation, such as these heavy blast doors that resist hard vacuum. He prepared them specifically for your arrival. He told us you’d be coming.”

“You coward!”

“I’d save your breath, General. You haven’t got much time left. Do you have a message for your family? You see, I was never given the opportunity to send one to mine. They were colonists on Mars, who were slaughtered on your orders.”

Minos raised his chin. “How does this make you any better than me, Commander?”

Theseus stalked to the porthole, scowling at Minos. The general was taken aback. The man who had appeared as nothing more than a glorified secretary suddenly had a countenance appropriate to the blackest pages of human history, an absolute terror to behold.

“When I kill, Minos, I kill soldiers. I kill those fighting to kill me. I killed Talos because he was about to send me to my family by way of a poisoned dagger at my throat. As for the civilians on Callisto, not a single one was harmed and I doubt most were even aware of our presence. War is an ugly and brutal thing to behold, let alone participate in, and yet you brought it into people’s homes when you had no right. Children and pregnant mothers died choking on their own vomit because of you. Seven thousand souls, and you snuffed out every single one without having the courage to show your face.”

Minos tried to muster a defiant response, to salvage some sort of moral or pyrrhic victory from this. The guard trying to get his torch working finally lit the white hot flame.

“Take a good look at my face, Minos,” Theseus was saying. “This is the face of a murderer who looks his victim in the eye. It’s the last thing Talos saw. Now you two have that in common. Daedalus would tell you to give his regards to his son, but we both know you’re not going the same place he went.”

And with that, Theseus activated the chamber’s upper door. It opened to the blackness of space above Luna. Minos maintained eye contact with the younger man before he was pulled upwards into the void. Without pressure suits, all seven men were dead within minutes. Theseus turned away and adjusted the channel on his handset.

“Get a cleanup crew to junction DA-12, exterior. Have the bodies put back on the Jovian ship per Professor Daedalus’ instructions.”

He walked through the installation and down a flight of stairs, into the very bowels of Luna. He found his quarry sitting at a terminal in the corner of one of the workrooms, indistinguishable from the other desks. The man’s hair had grown along with his beard, but when he looked up his eyes shone with the intelligence and resolve Theseus had seen from the moment he’d found the physicist in the darkness of Minos’ base.

“It’s done,” Theseus said quietly. Daedalus sighed a bit, passing a hand over his eyes.

“My son can rest in peace. Are their bodies being put back on their ship?”

“Just as you asked. It happened just as you said, right down to him using that equation to determine you were here. How did you know he’d do that, by the way?”

“You can’t determine one human biorhythm from another unless you get very close. Using a negrav ship for our escape masked our trail, and he had little else to go on after I deleted my files & backups and you trashed the servers.”

“So why this equation in particular? What is it, exactly?”

“It’s a small program I put into long equation form. A bit of a cypher, really. It expresses the intent and procedure of the program mathematically, like using an encryption key to make a simple text message appear as random characters. I never did get to finish the equation version of the program, however, and without my files…”

“You brought some with you, didn’t you? I mean you’ve been working on a new negrav design…”

“Yes, my boy, but I didn’t save any information on this program. I couldn’t. I didn’t want Minos to have any idea what was in store for him. But now that the equation is complete, I can tease it out into a programming format and use it for its intended purpose. Instead of him going to war to get me back, he used the equation to track me down, when all the while I’ve been here waiting for him. The program he unwittingly helped complete will cause his ship to have an accident on the way back to Callisto. The accident will occur after he reports, in his own voice, that I have been retrieved without incident.”

“I’m sure the Jovians will cry sabotage.”

“They might, they might indeed. But I hope you and I will be far enough from this place that it won’t matter. You mentioned my new design, Theseus, and I’m curious as to your input.”

The physicist called up a schematic of his design, and it sprang to life above the desk, floating in midair, rotating slowly to allow Theseus to take in every angle. He was speechless, and Daedalus smiled for the first time since before his son left Callisto for the last time.

“I’m glad you like it, Commander. I call it the Argo.”

Free Fiction: Citizen in the Wilds, Chapter 1

No hyperbole or anything here – just the first chapter of a manuscript, for your reading pleasure, free of charge. Download the PDF here.

Spoiler

CHAPTER ONE

Field Trip

Asherian rifled through his satchel for what seemed like the hundredth time. The tonics and salves stuffed therein were still in order. They were his own creations, carefully prepared for the widely and highly-anticipated class trip. He sorted through his belongings as he approached the Conveyance. Most of the other apprentices had already found their seats among the various cushions. Alchemists didn’t often begin working with Conveyances until their twentieth year, and Asherian had just celebrated his eighteenth. This was a chance for him to see one in action up close, and he wasn’t about to miss it.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
If you’ve forgotten anything,” Tahri said, “it’s too late to go back now.”

A good alchemist always knows what’s in his satchel,” Asherian replied, still rummaging through the jars. “Even if he’s just taking a stroll around a corner.”

I thought we necromancers were supposed to be the paranoid ones.” Brynn brushed the dark hair out of his eyes. He smiled at Asherian’s rummaging. “Alchemists are seen as useful to the Cities, with their transmutations and concoctions. On the other hand, we make people angry when we poke around old crypts and open up dead bodies. We’re tragically misunderstood.”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Maybe if your Elder associated more freely with the others, you wouldn’t have such a shady reputation.” Tahri shrugged.

My father sees Jekel on a regular basis.” Asherian sighed and closed his satchel. “It’s not like he does nothing but sit brooding in the shadows, probing the bones of long-dead Citizens for their secrets.” He didn’t add that seeing Jekel, the gaunt Elder of Tel-Uzgul, had made Asherian’s skin crawl every time they’d met. Some nights, Jekel’s grinning-skull smile crept into his dreams.

Brynn smirked. “Not every night. Just on the weekends.”

Tahri rolled her eyes. “And you wonder why we consider you necros creeps. Asherian’s father makes it a point to be seen every day, in the streets or shops. Like a good Elder should.”

I prefer the shops in Tel-Enaris.” Vineera didn’t look up from her nails. She had been showing Tahri how show she could create a small illusion that changed their color based on her mood. As she studied them, they slowly faded from light blue to green. “They’re closer to the surface, so their goods are much more fresh than what’s available up here. The food is practically straight out of the soil. Up here it’s all finished products, but in Tel-Enaris, you get the raw ingredients, the real thing.”

That’s not all you’ll get in Tel-Enaris.” Brynn leered at the women.

Vineera glared at him, her nails quickly turning red. Asherian shook his head and pulled his journal out of his satchel. Soon enough, Instructor Yilid would arrive to get them moving on the field trip, and he wanted to glance over his notes on Gravity Wards before they were in the air. He wouldn’t be able to read and watch the Instructor or Wards in action at the same time, after all.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Eyomic approached, having risen from where he’d sat by himself. Asherian rolled his eyes and tried to lose himself in his notes before Eyomic could pull him and every apprentice in earshot into an unwanted discussion on rules and behavior.

Oh, great, the Guardian’s here.” Brynn scowled and spread his arms wide in the manner of a crier, bellowing as if reciting an epic tale of old. “Fear his mighty sword, especially ye necromancers, who violate the Codex just by breathing!”

He’s not a Guardian yet. We’re all just apprentices.” As soon as he spoke, Asherian silently cursed himself. The last thing he wanted to do when Brynn and Eyomic got into it was draw attention to himself.

Apprentice or no, each of us should already do our utmost to uphold the Codex.” Eyomic looked from one face to another amongst his classmates. “And one thing the Codex calls upon us to do is respect one anothers areas of study as well as our privacy.”

Tell that to the seers.” Brynns characteristic grin didnt waver. “They might be peering into your dreams, after all. Or watching you while you bathe!”

The seers that do are punished.” Vineera looked up at the apprentice Guardian. In spite of her defensive tone, her nails had shifted to a dark green. “Didn’t a few of them get exiled just last week?”

Indeed.” Eyomic seemed quite pleased to discuss the dispensation of the Cities justice. “The seers had been looking into the dreams of some Counselors, trying to gain information on the latest debate on non-Citizen rights. They were interested in influencing the upcoming vote on an amendment to the Codex that would allow non-Citizens more reign within the Cities. For this indiscretion, they were tried and exiled. The vote is expected to take place today, and in light of this, I doubt non-Citizens will have their expanded rights any time soon.”

Tahri shuddered at the mention of exile. Brynn was undeterred.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
That’s propaganda. They probably just lost control of themselves when they were in Tel-Enaris being… intimate.” He waggled his eyebrows at Vineera, whose nails again turned crimson.

I suggest you mind your tone, Brynn.” Eyomic crossed his arms. He might have known the Codex better than anyone and handled abjuration well, but neither of those facts excused his behavior as the pinnacle of the class’s behavior.

It’s Yilid’s job to discipline him, not yours.” Asherian still wasnt sure why he was bothering with getting involved. These two were like oil and water, and no alchemy he knew would get them to mix properly, let alone see eye to eye or even share in a joke.

You’re the son of an Elder Councilor,” Eyomic said. “Doesn’t even the implied insult towards a fellow Citizen, and a lady at that, bother you in the slightest?”

So Brynn’s a jerk,” Tahri said. “Ash is right, it isn’t your place to lay down the law.”

The children of the Elders are on my side!” Brynn crowed.

That doesn’t make you any less of a jerk,” Vineera replied. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with my City. We have our fun, to be certain, but it’s for the good of all Citizens, not just for our own pleasures.”

That’s true. Ash’s sister is often seen at Doran ven Tel-Enaris’ grand balls.” Tahri sat back against her cushion with a smile, likely recalling such a ball.

My Elder does throw fantastic parties,” Vineera agreed. “And Elienah’s a delight.”

That she is.” Asherian paused. “You can’t ever tell when she’s going to have one of her visions, though. Then again, maybe that’s what makes her such an attraction at parties.”

You sure it’s not the way she looks?” Brynn leered. “Those long honey locks, bright blue eyes, nice big-”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
I’ll thank you to stop right there,” Asherian stated.

And here I thought it was the Instructor’s place to lay down the law,” Brynn persisted.

That was before you started talking about my twin.” Asherian didn’t look away from Brynn, trying to hide his anxiety. Next time, Ash, keep your nose in your damn books.

Let’s not come to blows, you two.” Eyomic looked from Brynn to Asherian and back again. “I don’t want Yilid to hold up the trip because you decide to have a scuffle on or near the Conveyance.”

Who do you think would win?” Vineera tapped her chin. “My money’s on Brynn. I bet he fights dirty.”

Tahri looked them both over. “Asherian’s the more capable apprentice, and I’ve seen his staff forms. He isn’t bad. He’d have reach over Brynn, who just has his rod.”

I’ll have you know I practice with my rod every night.” Brynn realized hed walked into a trap as Vineera gave a light chuckle.

Oh, I’m sure you do.” Tahri grinned and looked to Vineera. The girls dissolved into giggles as Brynn’s face turned red. Asherian gratefully returned his attention to his journal. He flipped past his notes from the last several months of study, and the diagrams and circles related to the project on which he’d been working with Tahri’s elder brother, finding an open page to begin sketching the Conveyance. Tahri looked over his shoulder at his sketch.

It’s actually shaped more like a teardrop, not quite that round.”

I’m more concerned about the Gravity Wards than the actual hull configuration.”

I’ve seen you sketch Gravity Wards before, though. In miniature,” Tahri added after a moment. “Are they really going to be so different on a Conveyance?”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Asherian looked up from his sketch. Apprentices milled around the courtyard, some unwilling to step onto the Conveyance and claim a cushion. The long alabaster spires of Tel-Urad stretched into the morning sky around them, sunlight playing on the stained glass windows. A small Conveyance floated by, an alchemist standing in its center with two non-Citizens on either side carrying large crates. Asherian pointed with his pen towards the passing platform.

The sigils along the outer rim of the circle are more numerous” He flipped back in his journal to show her an earlier sketch, showing several small Gravity Wards lined up. “In a miniaturized form, there doesn’t need to be that much detail. A Gravity Ward of this size isn’t going to be moving people or cargo, but something rather small instead.”

Like what?” Tahri asked, her hands still on Asherian’s shoulders as she watched his face.

Asherian paused, looking back at her. In his zeal to explain the intensity of his study, he’d forgotten how sensitive some of his material was. There was also the fact that Tahri’s eyes had an intensity to them, a glimmer he didn’t see unless she was looking at him.

Messages, maybe.” Asherian decided to let her in at least a bit. “It’s something your brother and I have been working on.”

He’s mentioned that, in the few moments I’ve seen him. To be honest, I don’t think any of us were expecting him to become an Elder so soon after our father’s death.”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
He was a good man,” Asherian said, resting his hand on hers. “My father misses him.”

Thank you.” Tahri smiled at him. There was a moment of loaded silence between them, and Tahri seemed about to say or do something when the bellowing voice of their instructor broke the moment as he approached the class.

Onto the Conveyance, pupils. Today I am taking you into the Wilds.”

A slight ring of white hair framed the balding pate of the instructor, who continued giving commands as he shepherded his charges onto the Conveyance. Finally, once the apprentices were aboard and situated on the lush cushions strewn about the platform, Yilid raised his staff. The Gravity Wards on the bottom of the Conveyance came to life in response, emitting a blue glow as they lifted the vehicle and its passengers into the air. In short order, they flew out from the Cities of Light. Asherian turned to see his home and those of his classmates from a new perspective.

The Celestial Spire formed the focal point of the Cities’ slow orbits, a staggeringly tall obelisk of Magistone raised by Justinian at the conclusion of the Exodus five generations prior. The Cities, their Gravity Wards even more intricate and wide than those on Conveyances, looked strikingly similar from below, like six nearly identical circular platforms rather than six distinct and proud bastions of arcane might.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
The lowest City, Tel-Yzgoth, remained visible in the late morning sun rather than disappearing from sight or appearing as a cloud. Asherian knew that the City’s Elder, Zareena, liked to make her City disappear from time to time so that the City of the Dead, Tel-Uzgul, would appear to be the lowest of them. From what his father had told him, she thought it was hilarious.

The Conveyance moved swiftly over the fields below the Cities of Light, coming closer to the surface. Ponderous beasts of burden worked the fields at the direction of their non-Citizen masters, who waved at the Conveyance as it flew by. The class was guided over the shimmering blue water of the reservoir, which provided clean water for all behind the Magistone Wall, which was the final barrier between the territory claimed by Justinian and the savagery of the Wilds.

There was no hesitation or warning from Yilid as he piloted the Conveyance with his will, sailing them over the Wall. There were few Guardians walking its ramparts, but they too waved to the Conveyance. Eyomic waved back vigorously while Brynn sat against his cushion shaking his head.

You won’t get into the Guardians any faster by kissing their asses.”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
I was being polite.” Eyomic sat back and crossed his arms. “They waved, so I waved back.”

They waved,” Vineera agreed, “but you were making a fool of yourself.”

Don’t women from Tel-Enaris make fools of themselves on a regular basis?” Eyomic bit back.

We have our fun, as I said,” Vineera replied smoothly, “and if you made a fool of yourself with us on occasion you might not be so uptight. Besides, I thought making disparaging remarks against a fellow Apprentice was offensive.”

That was not-

Pupils, your attention please,” Yilid said, ending the argument. “Coming into the Wilds, as we are, it would behoove each and every one of us to be on our guard. This is an untamed land, anathema to our kind. Everything beyond the Wall is dangerous to us and should be feared.”

Is it true that we have no means to control the spell-eaters?”

In a sense, Tahri, that is correct. The necromancers of Tel-Uzgul and abjurers of Tel-Oron collaborated to create an autonomous force in the Wilds to seek those who might grow too powerful or vengeful against the cities that cast them out. After all, some might consider exile as a punishment for some of the less severe violations of the Codex a bit too exacting. However, those are the laws that were established by Justinian. Break the law, face exile.”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
And consider yourself lucky if your magic and soul stay intact.”

True enough, Eyomic. Excision can be used as a supplement to exile, or sometimes as a replacement should mitigating circumstances prevail.” Yilid regarded his pupils. “But the question was not about those exiled from the Cities, but rather the means of controlling them. The spell-eaters, since their creation, have been a subject of much debate. The Guardians claim the creatures are too vicious, and the necromancers say they arent effective enough since they are incapable of breeding, so they cant increase their own numbers. That, Tahri, is the one method of control we have over them the denial of procreation.”

Tahri nodded. Asherian looked up from his notes and sketches, pausing in his recording of Yilids movements and whispered arcane commands. Tahri was as attentive as she always was in class, a trait Asherian had admired in her since Cahrn, her brother and his colleague, had introduced them during one of Asherians many visits to Tel-Arae in pursuit of his work.

Instructor, is it true that other sapient beings used to live in and around the Wilds?” Vineeras nails were a deep blue as she hugged her knees close to her body, her full attention on Yilid.

Those are the myths. Stories tell of the old races, elves and dwarves. Given the nature of the Wilds and how much it has grown since the Exodus, it is doubtful such creatures still exist. If they did, however, it would fall to us as Citizens to ensure our Cities are protected and the will of the Council of Elders is allowed to govern. We have been gifted with magic, after all, a blessing denied to others. It is our duty to weild such power in the interest of our freedom and maintain the peace in Acradea.”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Asherian returned to sketching and taking notes in his journal. He jotted down observations on the movements Yilid made and the way the Conveyance responded. The instructor fielded more questions about the Wilds, the possibility of exiles finding ways to survive and how the Cities would respond if the exiles were to rise up. Yilid was flatly denying any such possibility when the Conveyance bucked violently, the instructor taking his staff in both hands to maintain control of the craft.

Large simian creatures, visible in the lush canopy of the Wilds, were howling and throwing boulders at the Conveyance. Each had two sets of arms, and most clung to trees with their lower set of appendages while hurling rocks or beating their chests with the others. They had white fur on most of their bodies, and their open yowling mouths revealed long and sharp incisors that could pierce the tough skin of a captured citrus fruit as easily as they could a human jugular vein.

Asherian got to his feet, looking back towards the Cities of Light. He could barely make them out, the Celetial Spire a white line against the light blue of the sky. He turned back to his instructor as he studied the creatures hurling boulders at them.

I take it those are not spell-eaters.”
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Not even close, Asherian. These are called gondrills. They are no serious threat to us, but pay attention, pupils!” He turned his attention to the gondrills wih a sneer. “Poor pathetic wretches.” He raised his staff, uttered an incantation and pointed with his free hand. One of the circles on his staff began to glow, and a mirror image came to life on the surface of the tree. Its bark burst into flame as the alchemy transmuted it violently, causing the gondrills to shriek in surprise and release the tree, some trying to beat out the fires that spread across their furry arms, while others plummeted to their deaths in the darkness of the forest below.

The fire consuming the foliage of the tree began to spread to others, but Yilid seemed in no hurry to douse the flames. Other apprentices got to their feet, rattling off evocations or conjurations to attack the simians. In short order the gondrills had either fallen or swung out of sight, the last one looked pleadingly towards the Conveyance before the branch in its grip turned to air with a popping sound. The class broke out in cheers, applauding their Instructor, who turned and bowed grandly as if he’d just put on a show for their amusement.

You will see, young apprentices,” he declared triumphantly, “that nothing that dwells in the Wilds, be it creature, criminal or even spell-eater, is a match for-”

His declaration was cut short and the staff slid away from his hands. Turning, he looked to Asherian, who felt his heart drop into his gullet as he saw the fletching of an arrow protruding from Yilid’s throat, the metal tip having missed his spine but dripping with pinkish blood. Gurgling in wet futility, Yilid dropped to the smooth floor of the Conveyance, which began to plummet.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
The other apprentices screamed and grabbed for handholds, which were hard to come by in the open-air vessel. Asherian kept hold of his staff, reaching out with his will to regain control of the craft. The sketches he’d been making came to his mind, and he focused on the lines and sigils of the Wards, which responded to his need. The Conveyance righted itself and, for a moment, Asherian felt a surge of hope.

Feeling the eyes of the other apprentices on him, Asherian pointed the Conveyance south, towards Tel-Urad, towards home. The sound of a gondrill crying out caused the hope to drain from Asherian, as the few remaining and wounded simians re-emerged to renew their assault. Some of the apprentices responded in kind, throwing bolts of lightning and conjured lances at the creatures.

Asherian saw a boulder hurtling towards him out of the corner of his eye, but refused to break his concentration until the last moment. He ducked, the hard surface of the stone making contact with the back of his skull in a glancing blow instead of braining him. The impact caused him to swoon, tipping him over the side of the Conveyance. The last sensation he had before the blackness closed over him was the renewed screaming of his doomed classmates.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Pain is what roused Asherian. Pain and the taste of blood in his mouth. Slowly, he opened his eyes, finding himself looking up at the verdant canopy of the Wilds. He was surrounded by birdsong. Asherian was used to hearing birds singing; many people in the Cities kept them for their voices. But never before had he heard them in such great number. It was unnerving.

The birds and some small mammals moved between the trees, unaware or perhaps uncaring of his presence beneath them. Something was missing from the jungle’s symphony. As Asherian tried to take stock of his situation, he tried to figure out what. He winced as he sat up, feeling his left ankle throbbing in pain in tandem with the back of his head. It occurred to him, then, in the wake of that small vocal sound he made: nobody else was making sounds. There were no other human sounds around him. No moans, no cries for help, no other coughs or wheezes, nothing.

His staff lay nearby, miraculously unbroken. He picked it up and got slowly to his feet, leaning heavily on the staff since his left ankle wouldn’t bear his weight. Thinking through the fog of pain in his head, Asherian looked around, taking stock of the situation. The Conveyance lay snapped in twain, half tangled in the trees far above his head and half buried in the ground. His classmates were strewn like broken dolls amid their scattered belongings, eyes blank. Yilid dangled not far from Asherian, his robes caught on a branch; the arrow that had slain him was clearly visible where it had split his neck.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Asherian looked into his satchel and groaned softly, as he saw that most of the contents of it had been spilled in his fall. All of his preparation had been for naught. The totality of his failure consumed him. He looked around at his feet, seeking unbroken containers. He had to focus on the goal of gathering up anything that could help him, rather than things beyond his control. His journal was the only thing that had stayed in his satchel. He finally saw a small unbroken container, a fine item of cut glass his sister had given him that morning. It wasn’t much and the water that had been inside it was long gone, but it was a start.

While most of the herbs and raw ingredients hed used had come from market stalls and not the plants or other sources from which theyd been harvested in the tracts of land below the Cities, he knew enough to spot leaves, flowers and other indications of where he could find what hed need. But the tools required to refine raw materials into alchemical tonics and poultices, as well as the means to contain them, were less likely to be scavenged from places untouched by man. After a few minutes of searching the satchels of his dead classmates, Asherian came across a mortar and pestle which somehow had fared better in the crash than their owner. Relieved at this fortunate turn of events, he continued searching until he found a few containers that were unbroken and emptied them of their contents when he found them to be full of cologne or spirits.

He was bending to pick up one such container when he froze, a low growl coming from the trees behind him. It didn’t sound like a gondrill or any of the smaller animals; it sounded far too large. He spotted a large rock nearby and was about to hobble to it when the apprentice at his feet touched his wrist. Startled, Asherian fell, finding himself looking down at the blood-stained face of Tahri. She struggled to reach for him, her breath a very quiet and very wet sound. She opened her mouth to speak but no sound came from her lips, only blood.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.
Asherian covered his mouth in horror. Tahri still moved, trying to touch him. The growl was louder, now, and the underbrush at the far side of the clearing rustled. The girl spat out a mouthful of blood, but she had so little strength that it merely rolled down her chin. Asherian scrambled to get away, and a sound more terrifying than the growl came to him as he hobbled for the rock.

No…” Tahri whispered. “Please… don’t leave me.”

Asherian threw himself behind the rock, clutching his staff and satchel of scavenged goods to his chest. He dreaded breathing too loudly, and had to clamp his mouth shut once again. The underbrush that had rustled now snapped under the weight of something pushing through it. Ash took a deep breath and dared to turn his head to glance around the side of his hiding place, and rapidly ducked back, regretting his daring and having to hold down a new surge of terror.

Spell-eater.

The long, serpentine horror slithered into the clearing, drawn by the scent of dead Citizens. Its four blood-red eyes scanned the bounty, falling on Tahri. Its arms reached from under the scaly hood for her. With a hiss of pleasure, it sank its razor-sharp teeth into her body, the girl unable to make a sound above an agonized whimper as it began its gluttonous feast. Asherian closed his eyes tight, stifling his sobs as in the midst of the sounds of the spell-eater devouring her, he could have sworn he heard her whispering his name.
cc Joshua Loomis 2010-2011. Some rights reserved.

Full Burners

Caveman Needs
Courtesy Terribleminds

The best way for me to avoid feeling the doldrums of both the season and my situation are to stay busy. I throw myself into my writing during the commute and immerse myself in games and other media while I’m home. Yes, I’m an awful procrastinator when it comes to chores because of this. No, I don’t see it changing any time soon. As Dave Barry puts it, “I’ll mature when I’m dead.”

Citizen in the Wilds is closer and closer to completion. Sooner or later, you as a writer have to draw a line in the sand and say “This is where I stop. This is where I shop it out. This is where I dress up the draft, put on my best makeup and hit the street corner.” Otherwise you’ll be revising and editing until you’re 85 and mumbling into your porridge about protagonist motivations and plot twists. So by the end of the year… Saturday… the fourth (and final?) draft will be done, and I’ll be sending it to agents and test readers alike.

(Yeah, that’s a plug, let me know if you want to be a test reader for the final product.)

This means that Free Fiction might go without an update on the 1st, though I have entertained the idea of putting just the first chapter of Citizen out as a PDF for your reading pleasure. The only other idea I’ve managed to maintain is related to Magic: the Gathering and unless I manage to sell it to Wizards of the Coast, it’d be fan fiction. And I don’t want to waste your time with fan fiction if I can avoid it.

The other other self-imposed deadline toward which I’m hurtling is for the video version of IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! featuring The Emperor’s New Groove. Hopefully this evening I can test a different solution for clip capture. If it doesn’t work I may have to resort to a slideshow style presentation, which strikes me as boring. Still, it would be better than nothing. We’ll see how the next pair of evenings fall together.

I am definitely taking New Year’s Eve off.

…Which means I should probably write those posts in advance if I can.

DAMMIT.

Free Fiction: The Drifter’s Hand

Courtesy impactguns.com

As promised, today sees the second entry in my new Free Fiction section.

I was admittedly a little surprised when I saw how well Greek myth and tragedy translated into non-Greek settings like science fiction. I wanted to try and experiment with other mixes, taking classic stories and putting them in different genres.

Norse myth and Westerns felt like the next logical attempt.

The Eddas are full of manliness, with epic tales of heroes facing down monsters and often paying a dear price for being who and what they are. And many Old West tales bring us images of stalwart, stoic men standing in dusty roads, eyes narrowed at an opponent, unwilling to back down even if it means a bullet for their trouble.

It felt, to me, like a match made in Asgard, and the result is The Drifter’s Hand.

You can read the text below, or download the PDF here. Either way, read, comment & enjoy.

Spoiler

For a good portion of the late 1800s, the Arizona boom-town Midgard was every bit as prosperous and populous as her sisters. She never quite grew to the proportions of Tombstone, though, and as the new century approached she began to shrink. There was talk of the railroad going through or near the town, but local lawlessness kept the Santa Fe people from really committing to any sort of construction.

The stranger approached Midgard on a strong but tired horse, his hat half-tipped over his eyes, his beard disheveled and lips cracked from the road. His boots were caked with mud and his duster had more than a couple holes in it, some natural wear and tear while others clearly indicated the paths of past bullets. He seemed heedless of the looks he was getting from Midgard’s locals as he rode into town, his horse unerringly heading for the nearest trough of fresh water.

As soon as his steed was positioned to wash away some of the dust from the road, the stranger swung down from the saddle, tying the horse to the nearby hitch. Removing one of his gloves, the man bent to the trough and drank some of the water himself. Flicking some droplets away from his beard, he turned and headed in the direction of the saloon.

His spurs tapped against the wooden floor. The mid-afternoon crowd in the saloon barely numbered a dozen, roughly half of them at or near the Faro table in the corner. The man behind the cards, a well-groomed gent with a dark waistcoat and thin mustache, glanced up at the stranger before declaring the player to his right the winner. The stranger removed his hat and approached the barkeep.

“I’d like a room, if one’s available.”

“Ain’t seen you ’round here before,” the barman observed as he placed a shot glass on the bar and produced a bottle whiskey. Seeing it, the stranger nodded. “You just passin’ through?”

“I’ve been on the road quite a while. Not sure if my last stop’ll be Tombstone or further west.”

The barman nodded, pouring the drink. “Well, there’s a room available for the night, if you want it. Ten dollars to occupy it, and that entitles you to breakfast in the mornin’.”

“Sounds like a good deal.” The stranger was rummaging under his duster for his money when the saloon doors swung open again, permitting a stocky man in a widebrimmed hat to enter. The sash around his waist, the band at his arm and the kerchief tied around his neck were all the same color, the red of blood pumping from a gaping wound.

“Oh, horseshit.” The color drained from the barman’s face.

“It’s Tuesday, Dwight,” the newcomer bellowed. “Fenris wants their money.”

“I don’t have it all.” The man behind the bar, his hand shaking, produced a modest iron box with a handle. He opened it and pulled out a small wad of bills. “The rooms ain’t been full all week and not many people been stoppin’ by…”

“Stuff it.” The newcomer snatched the money from the shaking hand offered to him, and quickly counted it. “This is all? What about that city slicker in the corner?”

At mention of the corner, the crowd around the Faro table scattered. The man who’d been dealing raised his eyebrows at them.

“Looks like he just lost most of his profit,” he observed, not looking at the newcomer. “I already paid Dwight for this week.”

The newcomer slammed a fist into the table in frustration and grabbed Dwight by the lapels. “I oughta break your face. You holdin’ out on Fenris? You know that ain’t smart.”

“I’m sorry! I’ll have it tomorrow!”

“Tomorrow is when Fenris comes through here and burns this stinkin’ waterin’ hole to the ground!”

The sound of a gun being cocked echoed through the saloon. The newcomer’s eyes slid to his right, towards the barrel pressed to his temple. The stranger set down the shot glass with his right hand, the left occupied with gripping the Colt Peacemaker.

“I think now’s a good time to leave,” he told the newcomer.

“You lost your marbles, stranger? This ain’t your concern.”

“I plan on sleeping here. If you and whomever this Fenris guy is plan on burning the place down while I’m sleeping in it, I’d say that damn well makes it my concern.”

“Fenris ain’t one guy. Fenris is a force of nature! It’ll sweep through this town like a plague outta the Bible!”

“Well, you can tell Lucifer all about it when I send you to meet him. Which’ll be in 5 seconds if you don’t haul ass.”

The newcomer’s face slackened, his eyes flicking between the hard countenance of the stranger and Dwight’s disbelieving expression. At the fourth second, he swallowed. “This ain’t over.” He backed away from the gun, and then shook a fist at Dwight. “This ain’t over!”

“It is for now,” the stranger said. “Disappear.”

He did. Dwight poured the stranger another whiskey.

“Nobody’s stood up to a Fenris man for months. You must really not be from around here.”

The stranger knocked back the shot. “Mind telling me who or what Fenris is?”

“Wolves of Arizona.” The voice came from the man behind the Faro table, who stood and walked over to join the stranger at the bar. “Thieves, bank robbers, kidnappers and murders. Just the worst sort of cowboy. Most of ’em just wear the red sashes. Fenris folk go the extra mile with those red kerchiefs and armbands of theirs.”

“Heard most of the cowboys were down near Tombstone.”

“So they are, stranger, so they are. One for me too, Dwight.”

“Right away, Mr. Frey.” Dwight produced a second glass, cleaning it quickly to pour the dealer his whiskey.

“Needless to say,” Frey went on, “you’ve made yourself an enemy, and one that won’t easily be placated, Mister…”

“Tyr. Jim Tyr.”

“Pleased, Mr. Tyr. Arthur Frey, at your service.”

“You can just call me Jim. Mr. Tyr’s my father.”

“In that case, Jim, why don’t you call me Art?”

Tiwaz rune

“So why are we playing poker now, instead of Faro?”

Art shrugged. “I like changing the game. I call.”

Jim rubbed his trimmed beard and considered his hand. Three threes wasn’t a strong one but it wasn’t bad, either. He didn’t fold. The locals at the table did. Art turned his cards over, showing a straight. Jim leaned back and gestured to the pot.

“All yours.”

Art smiled a bit and raked in the winnings as Jim turned back to his supper. Dwight had waived the fee for his room earlier, and after coming back from a bath and shave, Jim had found a plate of warm food waiting for him, also courtesy of the barkeep.

“I hear you ran off one of the Fenris boys.”

Jim stopped in the middle of slicing a bit of chicken with a dull knife.

“He was hassling Dwight and threatening to burn the place down. I’m sleeping here tonight. Didn’t want to wake up on fire.”

“An understandable concern, stranger, but most folk around here don’t want to piss off the Wolf.”

Jim looked up. The man standing over him wore a dark patch over his left eye and the star of a United States Marshall.

“They aren’t afraid of you, I take it?”

“They know I can’t be everywhere at once. And when I’m gone they think it’s fun to shoot my deputies. Always have plenty of witnesses to say it was self-defense or some such, though. Everybody’s afraid of ’em. They, on the other hand, don’t seem to be afraid of anything.”

“They should be. Every man’s got the same blood, same skin, same tendency to die when shot or stabbed.”

“Now there’s a pitch-black observation.” The Marshall leaned on the bar. “Where are you from anyhow, Mr. Tyr?”

Jim bristled. “Back East. Grew up around Arlington.”

“You fight in the war?”

He looked at the Marshall. “Yeah. Did you?”

Before the Marshall could answer, the doors of the saloon burst open. Three men walked in, all wearing the red of Fenris. Dwight ducked behind the bar and the music stopped.

“Odin! Where is he?”

The Marshall turned. “Right here next to me, Luke Hundr. And you ain’t taking him tonight.”

Luke stalked towards the table, his two cronies in tow. Art made a move to stand, but Jim shook his head. He stepped away from the others and hooked his thumbs in his gun belt.

“You looking for me?”

Luke scowled. “Hear you pulled a gun on my man Butch.”

“Butch was shaking down Dwight for money he didn’t have. He threatened to burn the place down. Since I’m sleeping here, I asked him not to.”

“You’ve got it wrong, stranger. Butch wasn’t going to do a thing on his own. WE will burn this place down. We put up the money for Dwight to open this little establishment, and if we want to burn it down since he can’t pay us, we’ll do just that.”

“Not in city limits,” Odin said. “You got a permit for this land, Luke? if so, you’ll want to evict Dwight and foreclose.”

Luke waved a hand dismissively. “That takes too long. I want my money or my land. If I can’t have one I’ll take the other.” He smirked at Odin. “And I know you got a hangin’ to be at tomorrow, Marshall. Got that nasty murderer Surtur locked up an’ ready to swing. Wouldn’t want to miss that, would you? Been chasing him, what, ten years?”

Odin’s eye narrowed and his mustache curled around his face in a frown. Luke looked past the Marshall at Jim.

“Tomorrow, you meet me out in the street or I burn this place down with you in it. Got it?”

Jim crossed his arms. “So you and all of your boys can shoot me at once? I didn’t fall off the stage yesterday.”

“It’ll just be you an’ me. We’ll settle this.” Luke smiled unpleasantly and tipped his hat to Odin. “Have a nice trip, Marshall.”

The Fenris men left in short order. Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“Regretting pulling that gun on Butch?”

“I don’t do regret, Marshall. I take it he’s met men in the street before?”

“Many a time. Like I said, always plenty of witnesses saying the deputy or other poor sod drew down first. They say Luke’s got a sense for traps. Any time more than a couple of my men have been waiting for him to show, he doesn’t.”

“And I gather Luke won’t be showing up alone.”

“Probably not.” Odin patted him on the arm. “Nobody’ll think the less of you if you’re gone before dawn.”

“And leave them to burn Dwight’s place down? No way, Marshall. I’m not letting a mongrel like that run me out of town, and Dwight’s place is better standing and unscorched.”

“I have to agree.” Art Frey had resumed shuffling the cards, but wasn’t paying much attention to them. His eyes were on the men discussing the showdown. Music was playing again and people were going about their business. “This is our town, Marshall. It doesn’t belong to Fenris.”

“Art Frey, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Odin looked the gambler over with his good eye. “Siting here behind your cards for months not doing a damn thing about these hooligans. Why now?”

“They never threatened Dwight like this before. It’s be a very lean time. He hasn’t had lodgers, nor I many punters. Dwight and I got a good partnership going. I don’t want to see it end in flames.”

“Do you even own a gun?”

“Matter of fact, I do. Damn peculiar Henry rifle. Most people find it’s too heavy in the barrel or the stock, but if you know her balance and how to use it, the damn thing very nearly aims itself.”

Odin looked back to Tyr, who shrugged. The marshall then ordered three whiskeys, drank with the men and replaced his hat.

“I need to see to Surtur’s transportation. We’ll be gone before dawn. I wish I could delay but the judge is eager to put this on in the books. Good luck, gentlemen. You’re gonna need it.”

Odin left the saloon. Art turned to Jim.

“I hear you served in the war?”

“51st Virginia. You?”

“I’m a Massachusetts man, myself.”

They drank their next shot of whiskey in silence.

Tiwaz rune

The horse at the hitching post turned to Jim, as if to ask a question. The drifter saw the look, knowing what it meant.

“I don’t know what I’m doin’ out here, either.”

The dawn broke over Midgard, painting the town and the surrounding parched lands in pinkish reds. The stagecoach with Marshall Odin, his prisoner and deputies had already rattled out of town. The sound of hooves brought Jim’s attention back to the street ahead of him. Around him, the signs of the shops swung in the morning breeze. The large sign for the livery stayed in place, dominating the second floor of the barn on the north end of town and sheltered from the wind.

Jim stepped away from his horse, hands held at shoulder height. He didn’t want to get shot before Luke Hundr had a chance to get off his ride. Eight men on horses came around the corner and down the street. Jim frowned.

“I’m here like we agreed, Luke Hundr.” He waved his right hand. “My gun hand’s empty. I thought you said it’d be just you and me.”

Luke smirked as he swung down from his horse. The other Fenris men stayed mounted, and Jim saw one of them was Butch, the beefy face under the wide-brimmed hat leering at him. Nobody else was out in the street or even near windows Jim could see. That was probably a safe bet on their part.

Without a word, Luke drew his pistol and shot Jim. The impact of the bullet half-spun the drifter to his right and sent him to the dirt. Jim had been shot before, which didn’t make it sting any less, but helped him fight down the sense of panic that always came with it. He saw his right hand, ruined, pumping blood into the dust.

“I told my first lie when I was six years old,” Luke told Jim as the hooting from his men died down. “I ain’t quit since then.”

“Yeah, well. I may not have the experience you do, but I ain’t always a hundred percent truthful either.”

Luke cocked his head to one side, leveling his pistol. “Really? Do tell.”

“For one, I ain’t alone either.”

From behind the livery sign came a loud crack. Butch was taken right off the back of his horse, a hole opened up in his chest. The others’ mouths opened in shock and Luke turned to see what’d happened. That was his mistake. In a flash, Tyr grabbed the pearl handle of his Colt with his left hand, drew the gun and fired. His shot caught Luke in the shoulder, spinning him fully towards his men. Jim rose behind him, the wide eyes of the mounted Fenris men on every move he made.

“For another, I’m a southpaw.”

The second bullet shoved Luke to the ground, his skull shattered from the impact. Tyr, his right hand at his side and streaming blood down his leg, aimed his gun at the next Fenris man. When another tried to draw down on him, the Henry rifle made itself heard again, dropping the offender. The remaining Fenris wheeled their horses, and two more were shot down as they rode for their lives.

Jim sank to his knees. He holstered his gun and raised his right arm with his left hand, trying to slow the bleeding by elevating the wound. Art Frey appeared beside him minutes later, the Henry rifle slung over his shoulder. His clothing was still somehow immaculate, despite having to climb into the trestle of a stable in the dark.

“Here, Jim.” Art handed him a flask, which Art discovered was full of single malt scotch. He nearly coughed when it hit the back of his throat. The gambler helped him to his feet. “Let’s get that hand looked at.”

“Whatever hand I’m holding next, Frey, it’s going to beat yours. I’m feeling pretty damn lucky today.”

Art chuckled. “I’ll take that bet, Tyr. Now, let’s make sure you don’t bleed to death before I take the rest of your money, too.”

~ fin ~

The Free Fiction Section

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

I think I’ve needed to do this for a while.

I fancy myself a writer of speculative fiction. Sure, I’ll write non-fiction articles, read & edit the work of others, even toil in fields completely unrelated to writing. But my first and foremost desire is to use my grasp of language and imagination to provide an escape for people looking for new worlds in the pages of a book. I’ve put some fiction up here before, but it can be hard to find them and they aren’t necessarily the best I have to offer.

Thus, the Free Fiction section.

Every couple of weeks, I’ll put a new story up there. Sometimes it will be exhumed from the early days of the blog, sometimes it’ll be completely new. But it will always be free.

This week, I’ve edited and am re-presenting The Jovian Flight. Enjoy.

Newer posts

© 2022 Blue Ink Alchemy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑