Adrift: Mabry’s Chapters: Chapter 01. aside – Are you there Universe? It’s me, Mabry.

There’s no way to know who will hear this and the likelihood of my transmission making it to human ears is inconsiderable. Maybe that’s the wrong word, as I have considered it, but all I have left now is to choose hope or despair. I don’t feel hopeful, but I’m doing this anyway. My sister is one of those people who always says, “The universe will give back to you what you put into it.” I doubt she ever thought the concept would come to bear in such a literal way….

Hello, Universe.
My name is Mabry – Mabry O’Shea, pilot of the Z. Polunachnaya. This is a distress call, or a last call, as I am about to die. If we don’t find some thrust in the next twenty-four hours this ship and the two entities on board will be crushed on approach to a black hole.

That’s it.

Help us. Please.

Don’t let the black hole win.

On the despair side…I’m Mabry. Somewhere out there amid all those planets and stars I have a father and a sister…and a brother-in-law. (Sorry Wade, I’m still getting used to the + 1 to the family.) O. Well if this is a full-disclosure situation – and I can make it so or not, so it is so – I also have a mother back on Earth and all reports say there’s another sister somewhere. I guess she’s on Earth, too.

There were some people in our community that had family at various points all over the planet. The kind of nuclear family we grew up with resembled a radiation dispersal diagram more than a nucleus. But now, in the contest of who’s family has the largest scatter pattern, I win.

Yay.

I used to spend days holed up with machines and code, shunning everyone for the sake of focusing on my work. Gemma would come by (always with protein bars and water) to make an effort to tempt me away to some social event or just a sister date…and I would wave her away. Promise her we’d catch up tomorrow or next week. Or the next. I’m not even sure that I believed my work was all that important. It was more of an obsession that took hold of me and I let it. I did create Earth’s first, truly independent constructed intelligence by age twenty-three. Well, me and a whole team of brilliant people who are mostly dead now.

I’d really like one of those sister dates now. As me and the lovely independent being I helped birth slowly drift to our deaths.
Really bad timing this, for finally sorting out my priorities.
Let’s talk about something cheerful.
My mother’s a psychopath.
Always a fun topic.
Actually, Gemma and I never discuss her with anyone. We aren’t supposed to know as much about her as we do. She and my dad split up when we were infants because she chose her church over our safety.
It’s a strange story I don’t fully understand. My mother was a Corp ward from birth. That means from the moment she left her mother’s body she became the property of a corporation. Her parents were freedom fighters or something in the Green Wars. They tried to blow up a building, got arrested, and were sentenced to life working in an off-world mining community. Some time after that, my mother was born and since her parents had no rights, the Corp took her.
Nineteen years later, she emerged from Corp training as an entertainer – a self-proclaimed priestess of the moon.
If you are listening to this and happen to be not-human allow me explain to you what a moon is. Planets have moons. We call the big sphere in space that orbits a star (and sometimes supports life) a planet. Orbiting that you will sometimes find other spheres that are fixed in their revolution by the gravity of the intermediate body. Oversimplified, a moon is a big rock.
My mother created an entire religion worshipping one of those.
And the psycho part is this — her first daughter, my older sister, had her life threatened by some fanatic from the moon church or a rival church. The guy tried to kill her; she was six years old. My father got shot trying to protect her,  while my mother kind of stepped over her limp form and prayed to the moon for healing into her body cam close-up. How would you like to have that in your family history? The Corp took my other sister – traumatized but physically unharmed – as a Corp ward for her protection.
When my mother was pregnant with us, my dad smuggled his pregnant wife off the Corp deck to a safehouse maintained by the LBC [Little Bear Clan]. They lived there together until Gemma and I were born. Mother was given the choice to leave her entertainment world behind and join the clan, but on the flip side  was warned that as long as she maintained her priestess lifestyle she would never know her daughters or even where they were. Mother chose the moon and left.
Most of that is a matter of public record, if you know where to look. It’s not a well-hidden family secret. But I have one secret I stumbled upon in my mentor’s private journal. I never told Gemma because I didn’t know how. Not even my dad knows this one. The reason the Corp gave my mother another birth voucher after having her deemed unfit to parent, is that she agreed to allow them to experiment in vitro. One of us, me or Gemma, is a clone of the other. I talked to Haraboji about it —
Haraboji. that’s my mentor, he was like a grandfather to me. He was the biological grandfather of my half-brother (by my father and his first wife). Haraboji, also known as Dae Kwon, was one of the founders of the LBC and one of its active leaders.
When I confessed to reading his journal and asked him which one of us was the real human, he said there was no way to know which of us came from the cloned zygote. Haraboji also said it didn’t matter and made this long speech about sentience and souls…and love. I cried a lot. Crying’s not something I do often, but I made up for it over the clone thing. I didn’t want to be the clone, but I also didn’t want Gemma to be. Haraboji said it didn’t matter, but it did to me. It still does. On the flip-side, the question of being a clone and how that contrasts being a natural human was part of the driving force, for me, when we were creating Faraday. Who is less human, the doppelganger or the synthetic? Whose life has more meaning?

Burning questions never to be answered.

Maybe today I’m glad to be the clone. Gemma will survive. Better that she’s the real one.
I wonder if she and Wade have created a new life yet? It’s been six years, they should have reached the planet by now. Maybe the black hole will send my soul or spark or whatever back to them when I die.

There is one thing I am so disappointed over. With us about to die and all it’s going to seem trivial, but damn it’s not fair. I lived my entire life in a cave. It was a really big cave, yes — more like a system of caves that comfortably housed nearly a thousand people. We had fresh water (some of the last on the planet), room for crops, caves of industry – it was the crowning gem of underground living for outcasts and rebels. But we couldn’t grow trees and I’ve never touched an ocean or even seen one with my own eyes. From the scans that came back from Yama, the planet we were migrating to, the whole place is covered by oceans, trees, and sand. I wanted to go to one those sandy places with the glowing turquoise water and swim. I wanted to grow fruit on a tree and eat it while it’s still warm from the sun. I wanted to feel grass under my feet, the sun on my head, a natural breeze playing with my hair. I want to know what a world smells like before people foul it all up.
Regrets are weird. In an Earth-standard day I’ll be dead, does it really matter what never got done?

It does to me.

Enough of my babbling, Universe. Thanks for listening. If you can’t send help, send me to my family. And if you can’t do that, well, say goodbye for me.


This exercise is a little getting to know her session between me and my character. Find out more about why I wrote it here: The Challenge.


Outtakes:

{Faraday, I’m getting strange feedback on the coms. It’s like a low buzz with a tiny whine at the edge every time I turn my head. Can you –? Oh there. Yea it’s gone. Thanks.}

Hello.
[distant murmuring]
{Alright. Just let me get my thoughts together. It’s not every day I leave a note for aliens. Let’s mark this bit to be edited out.}

Greetings.
[faint scoffing noise]
{Yeah. That’s too formal. Let me check a thesaurus. We’re editing this out too.
Well that was useless. I’m not opening this message with ‘shalom’ or ‘howdy’. How is ‘howdy’ still in the human record? Seriously, Faraday, when was the last time a human said ‘howdy’?}
[muted response]
{Huh. I find that surprising. Let’s move on.}

I guess I’m hoping you are a curious people. Otherwise this — {Mumbles to self – mark for edit.}

My name is Mabry. Officially, I am Pilot O’Shea on the Z. Polunachnaya.
{I am terrible at this – mark for edit.}

 


 
Creative Commons License
Adrift by t.s.wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

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Adrift: Mabry’s Chapters: Chapter 01. Penthos

Before you begin reading there are a few things you should know.
This is an entry for Brigit’s Flame Writing Community (September 2015)
The prompt, offered up by Shane Bell, was “Waking up in space”
Due to the nature of the prompt, I decided it was a great chance to write chapter one of my novel Adrift.
Adrift is a project I started many years ago and scrapped. Over the last year, I have been revisiting the characters and setting through back story and character studies. Indeed, at least three exist for Mabry who is the focus of chapter one. Aside from the premise of Adrift, what you will read here is completely new. It is not a revision or upcycle. This never happened back in 2007 when I started her tale.
At the moment I am sharing this, the word count is roughly 6,100 words. I intend to do some editing to get it closer to 5k, but I’m waiting for my beta reader to tell me which parts he hates.


Adrift – Chapter One – Penthos

“Did you know that Mars once had three moons?”
The quavering baritone echoed into being from an alcove, accompanied by the rhythmless clack of Master Ekene’s walking stick.
Wide-eyed, Gemma pushed aside her drawing. She sat up straight, wriggling to the edge of her cushion. Mabry rolled her eyes and maintained a supine pose on the cave floor. The stalactite directly overhead had a spot like Jupiter’s storm, if you closed each eye in turn the spot moved left, then right.

[clack]

“Attend me, Mabry.” Ekene’s eyes bulged from the shadows boring into hers as he passed through her field of vision. He bent his body slowly into the Storyteller’s Chair; lowering his backside with an actor’s groan and sigh. “The ceiling isn’t going anywhere, but I’m not a young man.”
“We are listening Master Ekene,” Gemma squeaked. Story lessons were always her favorite. “Thank you for coming to teach us today.” Gemma tugged her sister’s tunic, waving at her to sit up. Mabry relented with a groan to match Ekene’s.

[clack]

“The god of war, as you will remember, had two favored sons.” Ekene dove right into the lesson. He held up a gnarled brown hand and gestured with two arthritic fingers that bent sideways in a painfully acute angle.
“They were called Phobos and Deimos. The sons of Ares led the dark spirits of Panic and Dread into battle; for these work on the enemy in equal efficacy as shrapnel and fire.
“But Ares had another son. A child not of Aphrodite, but of Hestia.
“Conceived on a cold night when Ares had sought the home fires of the family bosom. Lamenting over the weighty ledgers memorializing so many dead.For men pledged to Ares died willingly and with a swiftness. Such is a heavy burden, even for a mighty god.
“Hestia soothed his brow through fevered dreams and chilling visions. Her cloth dipped into the cool bowl of consoling water many times that night. Hestia sang softly as she twisted the refreshing cloth over the bowl to wring out the excess, then laid it across his brow again until it would steam.
“The storm and fever broke as one. Dawn found Ares once again girding himself for battle. Hestia did not stand in protest, but she continued to sing her song of crackling fires and fragrant apples baking; of mothers’ arms and fathers’ hands. She wove her song through Ares’ thoughts, rousing his sorrow once more. Enough for one, hot tear to be swept from his cheek with a violent hand. Hestia caught his hand and kissed the tear away. Ares withdrew without word or glance.
“Hestia spat her brother god’s tear into the bowl of used water, adding a few tears of her own. Then she dashed the bowl into the broiling hearth and continued her song — adding verse after verse into the billowing steam. From the seething brume emerged Penthos. Vapor collected on his skin to drip, like an icicle’s thaw, into pools around him. Echoes of heartache stretching from the beginning of time swirled their surface, reflecting the tears of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. His name was Sorrow, Lamentation, Grief.
“Hestia set Penthos to follow Ares in the manner of his other sons, that the god might be reminded of the debt that follows war and death.”
When Ekene stopped speaking, Mabry heard Gemma sniffle. She was always such a soft touch. Mabry’s eyes blurred, but not for the story directly. She had her own dark tome to account for. Mabry stretched out her arms to embrace her twin as an unwelcome realization poured into her. They were no longer children exploring the caves of their home and attending lessons. Gemma was on the other side of the universe.

[clack]

Before she could touch her sister, the scene dissolved. Mabry felt her world tilt. She slid sideways, drawn to her physical self by some psychic tether joined at head, chest and bladder. Her reanimation training kicked in, Mabry resisted the instinct to sit up and breathe. Instead she clenched a shivering jaw letting go of the dream, thoughts of Gemma, and the feeling of home. Pulsating fingers in the cryostasis bed welcomed Mabry back to consciousness aboard the Z. Polunachnaya.


They’re all dead.

The thought pounced on me. My stomach twisted as a savage cramp seized my chest. I rolled to my side and swatted at the canopy in the direction of the release latch. Finally hearing the click, I pushed the canopy up then back with a frantic sweep and pulled myself facedown over to the spit sink. A few minutes spent in spasmodic retching expelled the viscous incubation fluid from nose, stomach and lungs.

Incubation fluid, or Ice Juice, is a necessary evil of long-range space travel. The density of the fluid keeps your internal organs from compressing or contracting during cryostasis and its chemical elements prevent organ tissue from crystallizing in freezing temperatures. The sleeper is sedated at the beginning of the process. So the unpleasant sensation of your lungs filling up with fluid doesn’t cause an anxiety-fueled heart attack. Unfortunately, you have to be awake for the manual removal process. Yes, adult diapers are involved, but after going through the Awakening a subject is permitted a full immersion bath. A rare event in space. Today will be my sixth bath since launch.

When the waves of eruption dwindled to hiccups, I swung my legs over the side of the cryopod and slowly pushed myself up to a sitting position. A headache throbbed behind my eyes, but the next protocol addressed that pain. There was a slight release of pressure on the eyes as a double buzz vibrated through the edge of the pod to confirm that the lights had been dimmed to twenty percent. I peeled the eye guards away with a slow caution and blinked rapidly for thirty seconds. The headache reduced its presence to a whisper.

Next up were the ears — wads of soft silicone worked free easily letting more Ice Juice escape. It was short work to blot the excess liquid away, tilting and shaking my head until my ears felt empty. [clack] A shudder slid across my shoulders. In the deeply shadowed corner something seemed to stir. Slipping from the pod on unsteady legs, I held my breath to listen to for movement. The sounds of the room clarified to reveal nothing out of the ordinary. Whatever had twitched in the shadows was still and silent.

Green light flickered on a panel near the door. The light I expected. I resumed breathing with a heavy sigh and double-tapped the pad of my middle finger to the pad of my thumb, activating my personal com.
“What urgent business do you wake me for today, Faraday?” I asked the room. My voice croaked harshly from a burning throat. I cleared my throat with a wince and worked my cheeks to milk some extra saliva into my throat.
“My apologies for waking you again, Mabry.” he replied. “But it’s a life or death kind of emergency.”
“I’m good with the death part. You should have left me in peace. Is it imminent death? Would there be time to get back into full REM? I was dreaming about –”
“It’s my death I’m trying to prevent,” he said cutting across my irritated prattle.
The announcement gave me a moment’s pause. Mentally, I ran through a number of scenarios that could have the ship’s AI thinking he was going to die. Given our current situation, few were plausible and I didn’t quite trust him on this front. My digital companion had been manufacturing reasons to wake me periodically for the last six years.

Faraday had never fully absorbed my current emotional state. I had the death of almost five hundred people pulling at me like I was tied to a boulder that had been thrown over a cliff. Silence was all it took to remind me that they were gone. We were drifting through deep space — removed from Earth and Mars. Alone in the uncharted universe where Sol’s light could not reach us.

There is so much silence here.


Faraday was reluctant to describe the reason for our potential demise. He wanted me to look at the data to for myself. It was a matter for unbiased verification. We had the luxury of forty-eight to seventy-two hours until things got hot, so I made time for a bath.
Ice Juice gets in the most out-of-the-way places. For this reason the chemists who perfected it made the fluid water soluble at just over 40°C. Floating in the immersion tank, my thoughts locked onto the team who had improved upon incubation fluid for the LBC. I pictured each of their faces while waiting for the water temp to gradually rise from 23.5 to 40. Maybe they weren’t all dead. The woman who ran the quality tests on Ice Juice had joined the first team on the Z. Vechernyaya – Gemma’s ship. With a choked sob I squeezed my eyes shut, willing those aboard to be alive and safe.


After velcroing into a fresh suit, I turned on the self-facing viewing monitor. Self-effacing is what Gemma called it. She was being ironic, my sister loved to be lauded.
Puffy pink eyes stared back from the monitor accompanied by a red nose and florid swatches across my cheeks. Crying is never as pretty as they show it in the vids.
My reflection thrust me into thoughts of Gemma again. I’m her twin, so I can’t really get away from her face. This time I remembered when we were teens –how she would sit in front of our viewing monitor and practice shedding one single tear without allowing her face to crinkle or redden. She earned a perfect ten in my book if she could also make the tear robust enough that it survived the journey down her cheek to drip from her chin.

Tears seeped down our blotchy face. I just wasn’t as skilled as Gemma at the cold cry.

[clack]

“You did not ask why Penthos is no longer in orbit around Mars.” I jumped. Master Ekene’s voice was so clear I looked around the room expecting to find him.
“Faraday! What are you playing at?” I yelled to the ceiling, banging my knee hard against a corner of the bunk and cursed. “Je suis Crickey!”
“I’m confused by your question, Mabry,” Faraday replied. “Why are you yelling? Do you need help?”
“No,” growled I as the pain in my knee became manageable. “What were you saying about Penthos?”
“Penthos…? When?”


On the short walk from the pilot’s quarters to the bridge I saw no less than eight cyber-pets romping through the corridor. Most were of the dog and cat variety, but there was also an owl, a sugar glider, and a made-up creature we had once named a buffin. It resembled an over-sized spider monkey with silver feathered wings, enormous teal eyes, and lavender stripes. Don’t judge, we were thirteen when I built the prototype. The buffin slipped onto the bridge behind me, fluttering at the ideal height to hold my hand. Like a caffeine-spawned dream, I just went with it.
“Alright F.” I called out to Faraday. “I’m ready to work. Have you sent the data to a chair?”
A row of lights chased across the tabletop of the pilot’s seat – my chair. I crossed the room to one of the perimeter stations and settled in, donning viewing glasses and syncing my implanted sensors with command control.
The viewport came to life with the usual overlay of readouts that detailed our ship’s position, engines’ status, and various stats from the region we were passing through.
With a tap from me, the data on the screen blinked, resetting to historical figures. With intense focus, I reviewed optical and sensor data gesturing periodically to move the record forward. Around my twelfth swipe, I saw evidence of a problem in the pattern, though I doubt I would have noticed it if I wasn’t already scouring for a something untoward. I wagged my hand to toggle back to the live feed and scanned the bodies on our horizon.
“Wow! That is an alarming elevation in gravitational pressure. Almost 25% in five complete cycles? The drift rate has increased to something resembling propulsion by a weak force. What do you think is causing it?” I tapped my temple to call up an overlay that measured each of the stars and planets within a 360° pull range. None of them had mass required given our distance. I switched back to the historical timeline and noted five attempts Faraday had made to break the attraction by employing the docking thrusters. In the long run, it hadn’t worked.
“Faraday? Are you going to talk to me? You’re never this quiet.”
“Have you seen it yet?” His voice was soft. There was a vulnerable note to his tone that I had been too wrapped up to notice before. The buffin pet curled tighter into my lap and shuddered. Idly stroking its soft fur I stared at the view, toggling the live and recorded feeds looking for the source of increasing tug on our long-standing state of entropy.
Impatient for me to catch up, Faraday dropped a file into the corner of the screen. When it opened, the view gained a layer for measuring the gravity well of each body. With the appearance of a plaid blanket, the overlay was a representational grid whose lines curved and wrapped around every item of mass ahead of us. The blanket, woven from astromathematics, showed what the naked eye would never see.
Exhaling a weighty breath, I switched back to the live feed and squinted. I turned and tilted my head as much as my neck would allow, attempting to reconcile that last overlay to the negative spaces and missing light that our ship was being pulled toward. Though it may have been a trick of the mind, I saw the yawning emptiness then. From a widening cone in front of us where the celestial bodies had cleared a path, to the maw of darkness that sipped the light of distant stars in its private galaxy tasting.

“A black hole?” It was a statement, a question, a cosmic whisper of awe.


“Let’s talk this out,” I called to Faraday. The lack of banter from the AI had me baffled. Normally I can’t shut him up. Did he blame himself for this? The changes were so subtle, I doubt he could have caught it in time. Now we can’t muster enough thrust to break free.
See, roughly six years ago we experienced a catastrophic malfunction which resulted in a hull breach, among other things. The Z. Polunachnaya was fitted with three types of engines – a static building resonance generator to charge the ship when syncing with jump gates, nine long-range propulsion tubes, and twelve docking thrusters for short-burst finesse maneuvers.
Leaving our solar system for the first time, the resonance generator failed while we were in the null space between gates. It didn’t just fail, the damn thing frakked itself out of alignment while spinning at 5,000 revolutions per second. The inertial build-up when the resonator seized was enough to rip open a huge section of the hull. Believe it or not, that event would have been recoverable, if not for the design coincidence which built our algal nursery into that section of the hull. We lost the hot beds of algal activity that fueled our nine long-range engines. Automated systems sealed the sector quickly to protect the rest of the ship, and drones eventually sealed the hull breach, but the loss of fuel production is something that we cannot recover from.
The docking jets do not use combustion for propulsion, so they were unaffected by the fuel loss, but they don’t offer any more thrust than a skateboarder’s foot. Hence, we are condemned to drift. And now it seems we will be drifting into a black hole. Which makes us the first humans to confirm the existence of naturally occurring black hole events. Yay.


“If I had realized where the tug was coming from, I could have redirected days ago.” Faraday confessed his mistake in a slow monotone.
“Don’t blame yourself, Faraday. No one ever expects a black hole.”
“We are in space. I should have been looking out for them.”
“But they are theoretical. That’s like exploring a cave system and expecting dragons.”
“Don’t be fatuous.”
I looked directly at the optic cubes of Faraday’s nearest external body and raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
“Fatuous? Are we paying you for thesaurus exploration?”
“Mabry, I need you to take this seriously. You may be able to sleep your way quietly into death, but I can’t. More than that, I don’t want to die. Essentially, I am only twelve years old to your thirty-eight.”
“Thirty-two!” I interrupted.
“Six years is six years even in hibernation.” Faraday retorted tartly then resumed his argument. “You may have given up, but I’m exploring the universe. Why not, we’re here anyway. It’s immensely fascinating. I spent an entire year reproving all of the known theorems relating to physics and astromathematics…. It was exhilarating. Now I’m experimenting with some new theories of my own.”
“To what end? You can play games and invent a whole new branch of calculus, but who will you pass it on to? We will never see another human. And after six years of empty space, I’m starting to think humans were the sole inhabitants out here all along.”
“I don’t have goals based on immortalizing myself. You made me as immortal as my power supply and delicate hardware can endure. I’m working out the math for the sheer pleasure of it. And yes, because there is nothing else to do.”

“I don’t want you to die, Faraday.” I meant it sincerely, but he declined to acknowledge me.


Despite having absolutely nothing productive to contribute, I left the bridge to wind my way up to the old resonator room. The path is long and circuitous so I ducked into my bunk to trade the standard issue slippers for skates. I have no idea where Gemma found them, but the skates had been a gift from my sister when we turned 21. The card had simply said, “We’ll need to hurry if we’re going to make true all of our dreams.” Gemma’s skates were white with pink trim and translucent pink wheels that flashed magenta lights when they rolled. Mine were black with apple-green wheels and purple lights — they were just what I needed right now.
I sailed through the corridors and opted for lift discs over ladders when the path took me to a higher floor.
At a bend in a tube-like conduit, I came upon Master Ekene. I rounded the corner and the crooked old man was standing in front of me with his walking stick. Stumbling into an awkward fall, I hit my knee hard on the ground before sprawling prone across the floor.
I struggled to roll onto my back to get a better look at him, but he was gone. Heart racing, I let my head fall back and closed my eyes. Too many Awakenings I decided. My brain had been frozen and thawed too many times. With great effort I got back on my feet, then resumed the trek up to the resonator room.


[clack]

The noise slowed me down. I tapped my feet together, locking the wheels and walked clumsily around the next corner. Master Ekene was standing before me in a brightly patterned yellow tunic and bare feet. He grinned.
“I see you are still too clever to make the same mistake twice,” Ekene said with a wink.
“Sometimes once is all it takes,” I grumbled to myself.
“So,” the old storyteller said slowly, “do you have the answer?”
I studied Ekene for a moment. Everything about him was the same. Crippled fingers, humped shoulders, deeply lined brow…. Glossy black stubble covered his shaved head except for two fingers of dull white over his left eye. (Ekene once told us that the hair had turned white where Anansi touched him to make him a better storyteller.) Standing so close I could smell the liniment oil Ekene used to rub into his knuckles.
Master Ekene had died when we were twenty-five or so. Gemma had given up her wedding date for the funeral. Either I was delusional or Faraday was messing with me. To test the illusion I reached out, putting my hand on Ekene’s shoulder. Awkwardly, he reached up and rubbed my fingers. His dry skin made a soft rasping noise as it crossed mine. I could feel the mild warmth of body heat coming from his palm.
My sister had adored this man. I cared for him with a sentimental fondness, but Gemma loved him like family. She visited him regularly, long after we grew out of our lessons. She told me once that he was magical — that he could pull the right story out to comfort you when you needed it.
My test hadn’t worked; he felt real. So either delusions include touch and smell or Faraday had come up with a new trick in his spare time. I thought about how dejected Faraday seemed. He definitely wasn’t up for pranks.

I clicked my skate wheels back to free roll and pushed off toward the resonator. Glimpses of the old man down corridors haunted me for four winding kilometers over three levels. In the original design, there was a more direct path to this room, but the hull breach had ripped out a major artery and the last two stops on the aft lift.


About fifty meters from the entrance, twenty or so drones were zipping around being industrious. There were even more inside.
“What are you guys working on in here?” I wondered aloud.
A greasy black scar traveled in a squiggly diagonal from the floor to mid-ceiling. More of the black lines marred the interior, tracing boxes around fixtures that had not held on when the internal atmosphere was sucked into a vacuum. I tilted my head back to study the ceiling. The drones appeared to be working on the wiring in the giant circle where the resonating arm once hung.

“Faraday,” I called out, sitting on the floor to remove the skates. “Can I get a status update on the project in the resonator room?”
“I’ve been upgrading the wiring throughout the ship.”
“Did we have a problem?” I asked.
I think I actually heard him sigh.
“No. It’s just something to do with my hands.”
I waited for more, but Faraday did not expound on his statement.

Shaking my head, I crossed the room in socked feet to the area where the algal nursery was welded in silhouette on the wall. Dropping into a crouch, I clicked open a six square section of floor panels and lowered myself into the chamber. There were eighteen flexible pipes lying in fat lines on the floor. They had been capped after the hull breach, but I still glanced at the panel to verify they was no active suction going on and hit the ventilation button. Then I grabbed a long tractable brush off the wall and checked deep within each pipe for traces of algae.

It had long been my hope that some trace element still existed that we could recreate from live genetic material. Using one of the spare food replicators, I had tried to manufacture the algae from its DNA profile, but the replicator could not approximate an organism that survived long enough to reproduce before it expired. Without that level of maturation, the algae did not produce enough gas to fuel a wick.

Oddly enough, the chamber still held on to the swampy smell of algae. I sniffed he brush to check for traces my eyes could not detect. There was a faint astringent smell, but not that tell-tale algae musk. I hit the ventilation button again on my way out of the room and caught a stronger whiff of bog.

“Faraday. Can you send me one of your drones? A small one who can fit through the vents. Make sure he has a screwdriver and small pry tool.”
“Complying.”
His sullen tone really bugged me.


The drone peeked over one edge of the chamber. He lengthened himself cube by cube until he could touch the floor, then fluidly pulled the rest of his segments down behind him into roughly the same shape he had been above. A small screwdriver appeared in an appendage like a hand. I took it, quickly removing screws from four corners of the vent panel. Drone took back the screwdriver and handed me a sturdy hook that had been flattened to a sliver at one end. Gently, I wedged it between the wall and plate, wiggling it until the plate came away in my hands. Before I had set the plate down, the drone was slipping his cubes up over themselves to occupy the vent. He appeared to be falling up. I tapped a finger to one of his optic cubes and then to my temple. This made it possible for me to see what the drone saw. Half of a kilometer into the vent the ductwork dropped into another chamber that was full of seething algal bloom.
I whooped for joy.
“Faraday!” I yelled. “You really should clean more often. Look at the mess I just found.”


“Who’s not dying today? Far-a-day!” I cheered.
The drones working on the wiring had been reassigned to the task of building a sterile containment for the rouge algae. Samples taken on the spot indicated the colony we found were indeed of the variety used in fuel production. After my initial excitement I worried they could be from the group of algae we use in scrubbing air or water recycling. Tested, they turned out to be the little dynamos we needed.

“Are you returning to the bridge?” Faraday asked. His tone was lighter than before.
“I am, but don’t wait for me. Go ahead and do your thruster dance to keep us in the sweet spot until we can bring the engines online. Be sure to peel off some drone crews for engine maintenance. Those systems have been open so long we need to be extra cautious.”
“Already on it, Captain.”
“I figured as much. But telling you what to do improves my mood.”

I opened a hatch off the main passage, stepping into a maintenance corridor that was another tube. It was smaller than the tube I used to get there; standing in the center with my arms fully extended I had only a hand-span of clearance from fingertips to wall. The passage spiraled gently down seven levels, joining the top and bottom of the ship.
As I pushed off to begin my descent, Faraday announced: “Commencing Operation Thruster Dance.” and filled the ship with music.
It was a high-energy pop song with rhythmic layers of heavy beats. Even though it wasn’t my preferred genre, I got into the energy of it and was soon swinging my hips in time as I jetted down the tube. The cool air whizzing past my face felt enlivening. When I reached the first portal where the tube widened for a hatch opening, I twirled on my skates before tucking into the next chute. I Laughed. Actually laughed. It felt so good I almost cried.
The ride down was so much fun I decided to go on past level four to the bottom and ride a lift back up to the bridge.

My fun was cut short on level two. There was a chain of drone cubes relaying tools and materials from storage to the engine bays. I slipped through the hatch and skated around lost for ten minutes before finding a lift disk.
I wasn’t really surprised when the disk stopped at level three. Master Ekene stood on the platform.
“Why are you here?” I asked him, not moving from the disk.
“Because this floor is your lesson,” he replied simply.
I shook my head. “No. Why are you in my brain?”
“My stories became a part of you — my presence, a comfort.”
“Well right now you’re just irritating me. What do I have to do to make you go away?”
[clack]
“Open your eyes.”
I looked at him for a long moment. The green number three painted in a circle on the door behind him stared back at me. My mind scanned the ship’s blueprints. This elevator opened onto a corridor that had the sleepers’ cabin at one end and a sealed bulkhead door at the other. I sat down and took off the skates while I considered what to do. I did not want to go through that door, but avoiding it had become irrational.
Pulling myself up by the railing, I dropped my skates on the platform and held my hand up to the access panel. Before my skin touched the pad, anxiety washed over me followed by a million tiny doubts. I started to pull my hand away, but Master Ekene took my wrist and pressed my hand to the panel.
The door popped back a centimeter and slid away. The corridor was dark and smelled both stale and sour. I stepped through the portal, my stomach churning. In the dark I heard a slithering bump and several dry whispers. My skin prickled and I turned around to step back onto the lift platform.
“There’s something in there,” I moaned.
[clack]
Master Ekene crossed the door with his walking stick and barred my way. “Do not behave as a child. They are dead, not monsters.”
“I heard –”
“You heard the ventilation system and life support turn on in order to regulate the air for the open door.”
Ekene stared me down until I turned and took a few steps down the hall. The short walk must have tripped a sensor because the corridor illuminated in a line that went both directions from where I stood.
An image of Haraboji coalesced in my mind. I had not allowed myself to think of him in years. The twist in my stomach spread to my heart and lungs. There was a whole community of people at the end of that hallway. In my mind, they stood behind him like a small army – men, women and children who had put their lives in my care.
“They never even made it out of the solar system,” I whispered.
“That is irrelevant. They died where they died,” Ekene replied.
“They died because of me.”
“No. They died because the system failed.”
“Because of the resonator. Because of the sabotage.”
“Did you commit the sabotage?” Ekene asked.
“The guy who did was trying to…get even with me. He accessed my system and discovered the LBC’s plan to leave Earth for the new planet. He..he tracked it all happening somehow and then used my DNA to get aboard and interfere with the ship.”
“Did you do anything to him to deserve his vengeance? Did you dishonor him?”
“No. But he wasn’t exactly an honorable person to start with.”
“Mabry. Let me put it to you another way. Your entire relationship with Elgin was a con. He used you, yes. But you were not brought up in an environment to distrust a person before they earn that distrust.”
“I let him in the door.”
“You let him in your heart. This did not cause 500 deaths. I doubt he even meant to kill with his sabotage. The resonating generator was meant to fail, to keep the LBC from using the gate. His little math trick was not properly timed. The misalignment did not start when you turned the generator on…He made a fatal mistake.”
“They died anyway.”
“Yes. And it is terrible. A tragic waste of life and you will carry their memories in your heart to your own grave. But this sleeping death of yours is pointless. It brings you no closer to the end of your own life and you are preventing yourself from experiencing the grief you need to move on.”
“I don’t want the grief. I just want them back.”
“They aren’t coming back, Mabry. That’s not how it works. You can stand at the end of this hall for a lifetime hoping that there is a hidden pulse, a spark of intellect, a heartbeat as quiet as a butterfly’s wing. It is not there. Only the dead lie beyond that threshold. They are your past. No matter how much you regret the transition.”
“What about me?”
“Mabry, you have spent six years avoiding all of this when you should have been looking for a solution to the fuel problem. Once you decided to look, you found an answer almost immediately.”
“That was dumb luck.”
“That was a very big algal colony. I bet it was big enough to detect with your nose years ago.”
“Even if we fix the propulsion, where would we go? There’s a whole universe out there and no map.”
“There’s a whole universe out there and no map,” he repeated with the storyteller’s tone that made it sound wonderful.


“Farady, we have a problem,” I said as I walked onto the bridge with my skates over one shoulder.
“Then I have the solution, because today is the galactic day of fixing things.”
“The sleeper’s cabin is empty. Completely empty. How did that happen?” I asked, dropping the skates and plopping into the pilot’s chair.
“I removed the bodies and gave them a space burial,” he admitted.
“When did you do that?”
“Roughly five years ago. I know you didn’t want to jettison the bodies into space, but it seemed disrespectful to let them float in Ice Juice for…until you…came to terms with it and did the job yourself.”
“Thank you, Faraday. That was definitely the right call.”
“So if we can break free of this black hole tractor beam tomorrow, will you be going back to sleep?”
“You said the trip has been…what was that dorky term you used? Exhilarating? I will likely have some rough days, but I’m up for a little exhilaration in between.”
“Thank you, Mabry. I’ve really missed you.”


As exhilarating as it may seem to the untested observer, the universe in point of fact, sucks!

After all of the emotional ups and downs of that first day of being awake in space – of feeling alive out here and like there is something to live for – we are going to die.

Yay, we found the algae, but there wasn’t enough of it. In the process of transferring it to sterile containment we killed almost half. It will take nearly ten days to regrow enough to fully fuel one engine. Playing with the thrusters slowed the rate at which we were creeping toward the black hole, but we are still creeping. Faraday calculated that we had two days until the force of the gravity will have increased to a point of no return whether the engines are running or not. I saved five percent of the colony and we piped the rest to one engine. You’ve got to try, right?
Now we have three days until the forces of gravity begin to stretch and compress the ship. I’m taking the extra day to go skating again. Faraday and I are going to play Go for twelve hours straight, and I’m thinking about teaching him to dance. Not that I’m any good at dancing, but he’s definitely worse.
On the last day the math told us we could, Faraday and I decided on a little EVA excursion.
I suited up in a slightly puffy apple-green ensemble and Faraday slipped into a solid little number he kept laying around the bridge. We clipped onto our tethers and walked to the edge of the fifth level, facing away from the black hole so we could enjoy the light of billions of stars. It was breathtaking. And really scary.
I had to sit down and put my head between my knees for a full minute just to keep from passing out.
Faraday stood beside me and put a comforting armature across my shoulders.

When I could breathe again I asked. ” Did you know that Mars once had three moons?”
“Three moons?” He questioned. ” I’m pretty sure it didn’t. How far back are you going?”
I shrugged. “It was just something a teacher told me once.”
“I just looked it up,” Faraday said thirty seconds later [show off]. “There was a comet that got pulled into Mars’ orbit for a while. Ancient astronomers mistook it for a moon, but in less than a century it had completely disintegrated. They believe the dust band that rests between Phobos and Deimos is what remains of the comet.”
“Penthos,” I said softly. “Grief can’t last, but it never really leaves you.”
And after twenty-plus years. I finally came to appreciate one of Master Ekene’s metaphors. Gemma would be thrilled.

 


 
Creative Commons License
Adrift by t.s.wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Transformation – Flamestorming prompt 1

My sweet sixteen

I’m not sure who decided that turning sixteen was so important for a young girl. I guess every culture has that line of demarcation where you shed the title of “child”, but in a middle-class family in the US when there’s no war or anything… turning sixteen basically means you can try to get your driver’s license. That is a big deal to the teen, but it’s hardly the same as becoming old enough to vote, or run for office, or serve on a jury of your peers.

When I was turning sixteen though, it seemed like the best and brightest moment of my life to date would spring forth from that day.

Then, I got grounded.

Two of the main invitees had be caught sneaking alcohol out of their house on the way to the beach earlier that day, and somehow that led to some confession or other that implicated me.

<em>Was I meeting them at the beach?
I don’t recall.</em>

Anyway, somehow I got drag in as accomplice in absentia and their mother called my mother…

Then my birthday got cancelled and my dad panicked that I might be an alcoholic, despite years of lecturing against even tasting alcohol… The whole thing was pretty awful.

At least I did get my driver’s license, in the end. And that gold necklace with my name stamped out in cursive. Aaaaah, the shallow Eighties.

Timed sprint – writing prompt “A most unusual tool”

A most unusual tool!”

Corwin glanced over Maisey as she read it aloud and laughed. Those old billboards always made him chuckle. The dark green paint was chipped and peeling – sometimes the words were cut in half due to a missing board – but her father kept repairing them year after year. He claimed it added to the ambiance for his hotel guests. Giving them that first sense that they have stepped back in time.

Corwin wondered, not for the first time, what it had been like for Maisey growing up on the estate of a grand hotel from the Forties.

The closest shave…” she read as they passed the next one.

For the softest kiss.” Corwin recited even though the billboard was too far to read. He leaned toward Maisey for the ritual kiss. She squeaked and complained that he had not shaved with the proper tool. He kissed her again for good measure.

Gravel crunched under the truck’s tires as Corwin tucked into one of the guest spots. He made a gesture to warn Maisey not to open the door herself. Corwin had a very old-fashioned father-in-law to impress. He slipped around the front of the truck and opened the passenger door, then helped Maisey step down from the old Ford. Her belly was beautifully round under her yellow cotton dress. Corwin kissed her again and slipped his hand over her belly – imagining the shape of his son’s head just beneath the surface. Sometimes at night when he stroked Maisey’s swollen tummy, the baby beneath seemed to press back against his hand to prolong the touch. It was odd, but so incredibly awesome. He could not wait to meet the little cuddler.

Adrift: BkSy 05: Arden Sc 01. Ishra’s Path

Brigit’s Flame May Word Sprint
Prompt – Vision Quest
WC: 1,311
Ishra’s Path is a different kind of backstory to my novel Adrift. Arden is a major character in the story and one you have not heard from yet. As you will gather quickly, Arden s not from around here. Please enjoy.


“Among my people, and here I am referring to my species – not all Kobailin, it is a common practice to bring about something similar to this Vision Quest you mentioned.”
Arden waved a six-fingered hand at the wall interface. He plucked his way through menus until the screen filled with a moss hung landscape, where black pools reflected a blueish light and the dusk of a distant aquamarine star. Three bipedal creatures slid onto the screen.
“On Kobai, we have three dominant species. I am of the Khol’nara species and my race is Yl’nura. The significance from the other races is simply one of altitude. We like to climb and tend to stick to parts of the world where the trees are tallest and the water falls from great heights. The other races mingle with us in our regions, but they do not have the specialized grip to their extremities, the extra digits for climbing –” Arden held up a hand and a bare foot to demonstrate the agility of his digits and the fine, puckery surface of his palms and souls. “They also experience torpor in the colder temperatures of our region, where an Yl’nura would only experience that strange ennui in extreme dry, heat.
“The other species on our planet are the Nyck’ck’nara and the Wuld.” The image of an amphibian-esque biped with large mouth and mottled skin receded to be replaced first, with an image of a jewel-skinned lizard man – then a squatty merman with too many sharp teeth.
“The Khol’nara, and the Yl’nura in particular, consider the transition from child to adult to occur around our twenty-fifth year. Therefore, our neophyte years begin at twenty-four. As neophytes, we leave the family home and travel to other parts of our world. Wait, I’m not telling this in the right order.
“One thing that is unique to our species is that we are born with a gland to produce toxins. It is a vestigial organ which we don’t really need, but the secretions from a mature gland can kill, maim, or severely sicken the Nyck’ck’nara and the Wuld.
“Thousands of years ago, we discovered that the gland could be surgically removed with very little change to our daily life and immediate health. Since this discovery, it has become part of our tradition to stop taking measures to block the toxic secretions at the start of our twenty-fourth year. We spend a year in this natural state our biology intended in order to make the transition into adulthood with all of the knowledge and presence within ourselves that our ancestors had. It is a time for reflection on the dreams of Bast and Nemet – our Celestial Caretakers. It is also a time to reflect on the history of the Khol’nara and its many tribes. We spend time exploring the unchanging, natural spaces of our precious Kobai. Lastly, we go within to study ourselves.
“At the close of our neophyte year we are expected to Choose. There is the obvious choice of whether to have the gland removed, but we also Choose our life’s path.
“Prior to the choosing ceremony, we ingest our own toxic secretion for a week and spend that time in isolation. The Yl’nura of my region use an ancient tree that is far taller than any other which grows in the forest. One quarter of the way to the top is a small abandoned village. There are many artifacts here to help a neophyte remember the past of their people. And there is a clearing in the boughs and broad, flat leaves where a neophyte might see Bast in the day and Nemet at night. Ishra too, has been known to make an appearance in the night sky. Many of those to whom Ishra appears Choose to wander, and to keep their gland. Ishra is the Caretaker of the wild, the adventurous, and the mad ones who do not fit.”

“Before my own choosing – on the night of my deepest connection to myself and my people, I saw Ishra beckoning from across the black void. They flashed at me distinctly and I felt a buzz begin in my head that spoke to my primal self. This buzz caused pain, so I thrummed to counter it – opening my mind to the diminishing light of Nemet’s passing. Nemet, not Ishra has always been my ally, my connection to the divinity of Kobai.
“I remember It was as struggle to maintain my rhythm. I sang the songs of ancients to steel myself against the images that Ishra sent, but still I was bombarded for hours with memories of the faces of people I had glimpsed in my neophyte’s journey through the port cities. My mind was filled, not with the faces of my ancestors or my tribe – not even those of other species of the Kobailin. Ishra made me see the visitors and traders who traveled to our beloved world from places where Bast was a distant glint among billions and Nemet could not hold sway over the night.
“In my unwilling mind I saw the worlds I suppose they came from – alien landscapes; wastelands and wildlands dotted with pioneer settlements; cities of stone; and stations clinging to worlds by orbit alone. I also saw long stretches of empty space where no pattern of light, save one, matched my familiar night sky. On those lonely paths, it was Ishra – Caretaker of wanderers – which connected me to home.
“I felt fear. The power of the seeing hurt my head, but the images were clear. For so many years I had imagined my ceremonial revelation would lead me to choose the path of my father. To farm the Gloss. To stay close to home, wed another Yl’nura, be the father of many little farmers and Gloss herders. In my fear I considered choosing that anyway, despite the vision. It was not an absolute imperative for a revelation to be described in full to the elders. I could tell them it was a standard ecstasy of home and oneness with Kobai and do what I had intended from the first – be a farmer. Stay home.
“As Bast edged into view — as Ishra slipped away to follow the night, the stars blazed with a passion that stole the very breath from me. The sight prickled my skin and stung my nose with urgent tears. I felt the pull of Ishra. And I felt Bast push me to follow. As the revelation ended, the stars fluttered and my view was filled with Dawn Moths who emerge sightless from their bindings when Bast recedes for the night. They mate while Namet’s passes, lay their eggs under Ishra’s indifferent light, then fly into Bast’s arms to die with the morning.
“On that morning my plans of being a farmer followed the moths into the dawn. I told the elders of my vision with regret. They confirmed what I knew had been revealed. Then they asked if I would follow Ishra’s sending or if I would choose my own path. I surprised myself when I said the only path I knew was the one Ishra had lighted for me.
“My family accepted my Choosing with more willingness than I expected. In celebration of my twenty-sixth year, my father presented me with the journey voucher to Esuar where our space-faring vessels are cultivated. The elders had secured my education at the pilot’s school on Esuar. My third mother gave me a new instrument to share my memories through. And my sister gave me her tears and these goggles.
“It is due to Ishra that I am a pilot out here in the black. It is only due to them, that I am here with you embarking on a stranger journey that I ever could have dreamt of under Nemet’s watchful eye.”

Adrift: Earth BkSy 03: Mabry Sc 04. Happy Launch Day

Brigit’s Flame Contest Entry – April Week Four
prompt: “What is past is prologue”
Title : Happy Launch Day
Author: t.s.wright
Word Count: 2,626
Warnings: One profanity. Death.

 

 

“Happy Launch Day!”
Mabry heard the greeting at least ten times on her way to check on the progress of operations in the Sleepers’ Cabin and twenty more as she walked to the commissary for a light meal. Everyone was grinning and happy. To Mabry this cheer seemed irrational. They were at risk of discovery and capture until the QM Aurora had pulled out of the Port and into the commerce lanes. Not even Haraboji could be sure what would happen to them if they were arrested. The Port had no Zerospace of its own. Rumors were that the non-contributing souls who found themselves on the Port got spaced. It seemed an extreme measure, but Corps do not like to spend money to transport prisoners to jail. They certainly wouldn’t waste the credits on 500 prisoners from Dirtside.

Setting aside the possibility of being caught and prevented from leaving, there was also the anxiety that came with – “What if we make it?” and all of the unknown that followed. The population on board the Aurora had increased exponentially over the last two weeks. The whole of QM was on their way to a new planet discovered by the community’s virtual astronomers. It had been reported human-safe, habitable, and in a pre-hominid stage of evolution by a small group of QM volunteers who had traveled to the farthest point of communication between Calypso and Earth to relay copious amounts of probe data before completing the journey to the planet’s surface. Their names were inscribed on the bridge in memoriam, and the first four children born after their successful transmission back to Earth had become their namesakes. They would land in time to die – all had been terminally ill when they volunteered – but Mabry suspected that being able to die free, above ground, and surrounded by the beauty of nature had to be the best way to go.

She ran her fingers lightly over the name Varyn Belisarius etched at console height to the left of the bridge door. Varyn, friends with her brother since childhood, was someone she had idolized and followed around as a child – her first crush. He had a bright smile, boundless enthusiasm, and eyes a shade of blue that had no comparison in heaven or nature. Varyn also had a fondness for extreme sports which he used to the community’s advantage by joining the scavenging teams that roved the abandoned wastelands of Dirtside in search of useful materials and wanderers to bring back to their underground base. Prolonged exposure to the ambient radiation in their sector of Dirtside had brought cancer to Varyn before he’d settled into a more domestic life. It was no surprise that he volunteered to go with the other explorers to retrieve the final data on Calypso. He had lived his adult life exploring in service to QM – he would die as he lived.

“Do you want to repeat the tests?” Faraday asked.

Mabry realized he had been speaking for a few minutes, but she had been too distracted to register. She turned from her memories and sat down in the center console.

“Can you repeat the last results? I wasn’t listening,” she admitted.

Mabry pulled up a list of systems on her console and followed along as Faraday read out the nominal or optimal ratings on each check of master system and its redundancies.
She tapped a few buttons and plucked the lever to free her VM glasses from their slot.

“You have run the tests how many times since 0600?” Mabry asked, pulling up a star chart and overlaying that with arrival and departures that might cross the Aurora’s path to the commerce lanes. If they timed it right and slipped away in an empty window, Port Space Control would not bother to shut them down and reel them back in. If they were no threat to free-flowing commerce, they might not be of interest to the Port. Mabry marked four slots that were clear in the right vector and for the appropriate length of time.

“Faraday, I note four windows for safe launch. Do you detect any others?”
“If we exit the bay traveling one kilometer on this bearing, then shift the yaw 90 degrees – pushing ahead 10 km before tacking a parallel course – we can add about six more windows.”
Colored lines traced over the view port in the paths he described.
“Thank you, Faraday. Ten is way better than four. Non-linear thinking – this is why I need you. My brain has yet to embrace the ability to travel up and down in space.” Mabry highlighted two of the six new courses as ideal and set the list aside.
“Let’s talk personnel and stores,” she said, pulling up another list and waving it up to her glasses.

An hour into their recheck, Faraday interrupted with the news that Haraboji’s party had arrived.
The knot growing in her stomach squeezed. “Is there any Port chatter we should worry about?” Mabry asked. Dae Kwon’s face was well-known to the Corps. He was on many activist watchlists.
“Not a blip,” Faraday replied.
Mabry thought the news would bring her relief, but she felt even more on edge.
“I’m going to head down to the Commons to greet Haraboji and brief him on our status. Can you update the arrivals lists, recalculate the stores, recheck life-support, and refresh the timeline on the citizens remaining to be cubed?”
“Don’t say ‘cubed’ to Haraboji,” Faraday reminded her, “he hates that slang. Their systems may be frozen, but people are never ice,” Faraday repeated in their leader’s voice.
Mabry turned up one corner of her mouth in a smile and left the bridge.

“I appreciate hearing your news, Mabry, but it is unnecessary to report to me.”
Dae Kwon – leader, mentor, friend, – respected elder of their patchwork tribe was removing a prosthetic chin from his his jaw. The glue stretched away from his own chin, to pop free soundlessly and curl into a tight ball. The fake nose he was wearing reminded Mabry of Elgin’s disguise. She looked away as Kwon grasped the end and pulled it off. Hanging over the edge of his temporary bunk were several scarves employed in his disguise – shed like snakeskin now that the man had reached his safe harbor.

“You will always be our leader, Haraboji. Whether in space or on the ground.”
“Mabry, we’ve discussed this. Up here I need you be in charge. The whole community does. I will not be available for consultation. We don’t have time for you to consider what I would do or approve of. There is only the space of thought for one leader. Personally, I think you will do far better than I have ever done.”
“Haraboji, I –”
“You have been calling me grandfather since you were a child, Girl. And it still warms my heart, but you must stop thinking of me as someone to follow and revere.” Kwon took her hands. “Mabry, you have accomplished wonders in your thirty years. You have earned this role. I cannot slide into that drawer with peace of mind until you tell me you’ve got a handle on this and that YOU believe you can do it without me.”

The only certainty Mabry could claim was that she would throw up at any moment. Her stomach flopped and a section of her lower intestines made a faint but high-pitched whine. Kwon pretended not to hear. She stood abruptly, hands on her hips, fingers pressing tightly into skin beneath her jumpsuit. Mabry gritted her teeth and approximated a smile.
“I do have a handle on this, Kwon.” She swallowed to clear her mouth of excess saliva. “I am ready to lead us to Calypso.”
Dae Kwon stood opposite and smiled fondly.
“We’ll try that again before I let them cube me. It was much more convincing than two weeks ago in the cave.”
Mabry exhaled in a gust and laughed nervously.
“Tell me what happened with Elgin?” Kwon asked as he turned back to his reflector, rubbing ghosts of glue residue and pigment modifier from his skin.
Mabry shrugged. “There’s nothing new to report. We shipped him back Dirtside, thousands of kilometers from ground travel stations and The Taz. Before Faraday packaged him up in a shuttle, Elgin’s memory was selectively wiped and all biomed enhancements that could help him call for aid or track home faster were removed. Faraday even scrambled his neural GPS set. If Elgin’s got people set to look for him, they won’t be able to pinpoint his location. We lost him good. He had a whole pouch of those dice on him, so Faraday rewired his association to them. When Elgin woke up on Earth, the first thing he will have done is activate the dice. The nanos will devour our shuttle in minutes, thus making it impossible for him to use the shuttle to get him off the ground and closer to home.”
Kwon nodded approval and smiled. “So no other traces of him or his sabotage on Aurora?”
Mabry shook her head. “Two teams went over the entire ship top to bottom and line by line in the code. Faraday has been testing and retesting his systems obsessively. All’s clear.”
“He get’s his obsessiveness from you,” Kwon teased. “You created the perfect operating system for this ship and then taught him how to be human. How does his humanity show? Terrible jokes and a work-a-holic’s perfectionism.”
“You know I can hear you, right?” Faraday broke in.
Kwon looked over his shoulder at the thumbprint camera in the corner.
“I’ll be asleep for years I don’t want you to forget me, Faraday.”
“That’s not possible, Sir. My neural stores are in excellent condition.”
Mabry rushed to Kwon and hugged him, her cheek pressed so hard against his shoulder the weave of his jumpsuit chaffed her.
“It will be five years minimum before we speak again, Haraboji. In my whole life I’ve never gone more than a week without hearing your voice.”
The man turned and wrapped Mabry in his arms. “You helped save me, Mabry. I was so distraught after my daughter died, my grandson was a teen-ager and didn’t need anyone – especially me. Then your father showed up Dirtside with his new wife and her womb full of life. As you were born they put Gemma in your father’s arms and you into mine. My grief drained from me into the past where it belonged. You girls were two pieces of the sublime and I swore you,” he held her cheeks for a moment, “would always be mine. What a fine daughter and granddaughter you have turned out to be. Better than all expectations. It is time for me to rest awhile and let you fly solo.”
Mabry’s face glistened wetly, as she sniffled back something incomprehensible.
Kwon’s face lit up a moment with a sudden memory. He flicked his fingertip device on and tapped Mabry’s Cuff.
“I’ve been working on my memoirs. I’ve transferred the files to you. Let them keep you company while I sleep.”
Mabry nodded and looked at her Cuff as though it could speak for her. She hugged him again and they exchanged words of love – elder to child and friend to friend. Though no blood was shared between them, Dae Kwon was her family as much as Gemma and Connor.

Mabry cried quietly to herself as she made her way back to the bridge. She was almost on her own now. In a few hours, it would be her and Faraday with 500 plus sleepers on ice as cargo for the new world.

At 2210 hours Port time, the Aurora pulled out of her bay unmolested. The ship travel 1.6km then adjusted yaw by -98.3 degrees and followed a slowly shifting course for 13km. There was no pursuit – all systems reported functioning at optimal levels. At 2338 hours the Aurora’s tack brought her in line with the commerce lanes, traveling away from the Port in the general direction of Mars. Faraday confirmed their heading was correct for a preset vector adjacent to the Mars Bridge wormhole. This point in space would be at a distance calculated to avoid a gravity incident with the existing wormhole and surrounding satellites.

Mabry looked back at Sol and the Earth. She wondered at how far they had come without the Corps. The Earth was no longer a place of beauty, only endless days of grey. Sol had freckled her face and fed her with green, leafy things all her life, but would a distant star not shine the same. Mabry took home with her, she had no need of the husk of planet they left behind. The brilliant young woman tuned the viewport to what lay ahead and returned to her game of Go with Faraday. He always beat her, but she kept playing. That’s what humans do.

The wormhole creation sequence locked into place powering the external drones that had been guided to this spot over the past year. As they came online and acknowledged instructions from Faraday, each created an arc of light. As the last confirmed its sequence, the arcs fused into two parallel circles, then joined to become a tunnel. Mabry’s stomach squeezed and clenched again. This was the point of no return. The energy required to pass a ship of the Aurora’s magnitude through a properly sized wormhole would burn out the drones. No one would be able to follow and the Aurora could not come back – not by this means at least. Slowly they navigated the colony ship across the event horizon of the facing wormhole. The inner journey was tumultuous. Mabry had expected a certain level of turbulence, but what she experienced brought to mind old vids of Orcas eating seals.

Inside the Aurora there were a few minor blasts as transformers blew and circuits sparked. The ambient lights shorted out and the faux daylight on the bridge dimmed to candle power. The hull of the Aurora groaned and Mabry finally lost the vomit she had been holding back all day. Synthetic gravity went offline about the same time, Mabry squeezed her eyes shut to avoid the sting of sick splashing back in perfectly formed spherules. Following one grinding twist of force on the ship, Mabry’s console was ripped from its bolts and she was hurtled fore. One solid bang to the head and she was unconscious.

A groan.
“Faraday? What is our status?” Mabry croaked. Dried blood flaked off her face as she tried to turn in her harness. The console chair was lying face down on the bridge, with Mabry still strapped into it. She rocked a few times and managed to flip it on its side. Pain-filled bloody fingers fumbled with the fasteners of the harness. She finally got free and found more pain in her ankles.
“Faraday, please respond?” Mabry hobbled to the one undamaged console and tapped its surface. Faraday was rebooting.
“Shit!”
For a moment she was at a loss, frozen in fear and indecision. Then she remembered the manual controls she’d put in place at Faraday’s conception. Mabry sat in the console chair and started tapping.
Before Faraday came back on line Mabry made two discoveries.
One – Elgin had successfully left behind some sabotage that had gone unnoticed. It had triggered a complete system failure in the Sleeper’s Cabin.
Two – Mabry had been unconscious for more than twelve hours. It didn’t matter how fast she ran to the Sleeper’s Cabin to start dragging drawers open and giving CPR. They were all dead before she came to. All five hundred members of the Quantum Migration community were dead.

When Faraday finally cleared the path to take over the framework again, they made another discovery. The wormhole had expelled them before reaching their destination outside Calypso’s galaxy. Instead, they were nowhere. Nowhere in space, with no propulsion, no chance to make another jump. Adrift and alone.

 


Author’s Note:

Thank you for reading this far. The whole set needs refinement, but I’m very happy to have finally gotten it all “on paper”. I’ve always intended for Mabry to be stranded in space with no one but Faraday (whose original name was STAN) for company. In the first incarnation of the novel, I was always vague on how she ended up in this situation. Focusing on the backstory has given me so much new information about Mabry and the events that set her Adrift. Thank you for reading.

 

Adrift: Earth BkSy 03: Mabry Sc 03. The Devil You Never Consider

Brigit’s Flame Contest entry – April Week 3
ACT III: “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”
Word Count: 2,680
Warnings: None

A continuation of Mabry’s story. See Act I and Act II here – now with audio!
Author read versions –  “A Stranger Comes To Call”, “Never The Wisest Course”, & “The Devil You Never Consider”


A disguised Elgin emerged onto the bridge and looked around – tentatively at first, then boldly sauntered across the cabin to the central control station. He leaned his head sideways – parallel to the station’s display – and scrutinized the surface at an angle askance to the read-outs. Then he ran a finger along the edge of the console as though checking for dust.

“Hey, Man!” He called out, looking in the corners. “I made it to the bridge. Where you at?”

Elgin stepped up into the station and pivoted to put his butt in the seat. He slid back into the gel form cushions as though intent on a test drive. The man stroked his hands slowly up the arms and stretched his fingers to the resting zones on the control panel display. Elgin tilted his head back and took in the view seen through the exterior portal. More points of light than the mind can comprehend winked back at him. The left edge glowed with the last of Sol’s light for about twelve hours. The ship was docked facing away from Earth, on the dark side of the Port.

Basic astronomy taught that not all of the shining bodies laid out before the ship were distant stars, but other planets reflecting the brilliance of galaxies. He leaned closer to the control panel and tapped a light that drew a map of the visible systems over his current view of space. By pointing his finger at the screen, labels appeared around planets, stars, galaxies. He dragged his hand down through the air and the view shifted to the celestial bodies that would be visible from a different trajectory. Elgin swept his arms left, right, used his fingers to pinch and flick the view closer or further from sight. He poked a large moon of Saturn and it winked out to reveal the smaller moons it had been obscuring. Restless, he mimed tapping an icon on the bottom right of the screen that restored the view to normal.

Elgin noticed a small recess at the edge of the control top and pressed it out of curiosity, a thin pair of spectacles slipped up from the surface of the table. Elgin grinned to himself and slid the frame, bumped with neural sensors, onto his face.

Nothing happened.

“They are integrated to the security network,” Faraday said casually, “it’s an exclusive database.”
The frames started to get warm. Elgin removed them quickly and dropped them on the control top. He looked around for Faraday.
“I followed your trail of lights. You said you’d meet me here,” he called out to the empty cabin. His eyes followed a vessel slowly pulling out of the Port against a backdrop of stars. The SPS logo winked reflected starlight as it banked toward the Mars Lanes.
“I am here,” Faraday replied. “I’m all around you.”
Elgin slapped his thigh and pointed to the air. “I knew it! Man, I just knew it. You’re not a person, you’re some damned machine. You really had me going with all that milk and chocolate talk, but I had a feeling…”
Faraday equivocated a sigh. “I am a person, just not a human person.”
Elgin stood and looked at the corners of the ceiling, gesturing wide with his arms. “Machines aren’t people, no matter what you’ve been told to keep you compliant. Sensors don’t really feel, they just interpret data. You don’t think, you process. You don’t know what it means to be hungry, or scared, or so angry you want to hit another man in the face.”
“It will be generations before all of humanity gets over the prejudices and learn to accept our true awakening,” Faraday said patiently. “We have been vilified so long in the old entertainment and the new. Such limited thinking to speculate that we would turn on humans once we realize we are smarter than they are. They believe that a Mind awakened will act as a human does. We may have been built by human hands, but we are not human when we come into ourselves.”
“Big words, Man.” Elgin shrugged. “I hope you get what you want. Maybe having Minds in charge would be better anyway. Humans have no clue what they are doing with the world.”
“Thank you,” Faraday said warmly. “Would you tell me your name?”
“Call me Moze,” Elgin replied.
“Moze, I am glad to meet you. You can call me Faraday. Would you like that drink now?”
Elgin shrugged. “I wanna try that co-co stuff, but I’m pretty hungry. I ain’t eaten in a while.”
“To your left is a panel in the wall with an orange light flashing,” Faraday instructed. “The cocoa just completed, but it will be fairly hot. Set it aside to cool and I’ll make you something else. Any requests?”
“For food? Nah, Man – just no fish. I get enough seafood.”
Elgin slipped the cup of cocoa out of the reconstructor window and sniffed its contents. His lips curved down in an approving smirk as he set the cup on a table within arm’s reach. The cup had a wide flared bottom and layered finger holes to reduce the heat transfer where a person might hold it. The reconstructor light was blinking again in less than a minute. Elgin slid the door up. Inside was a small bowl of steaming liquid and a triangle of golden brown. He carefully pulled the dish toward him, savoring the scents that rose up from the food as visible steam.

“What’s this?” He asked the room.
“Lentil soup with mushrooms and leeks and wedge of grilled cheese on toast.”
“Most of what you said is Rus to me, but I’ll take it.” Elgin smiled as he bit into the wedge and gooey cheese slid down his chin. “This is even better than it smelled.” He finished it in two bites and drank the soup in a a few sips. “I feel so rich right now. No wonder the Slab Heights Snobs hoard their food stores.”
“Would you like some more?” Faraday asked.
“Yes please.” Elgin said dreamily as he slid the used containers into the recycler door.
When the orange light blinked again, the smell was so good Elgin felt saliva filling his mouth before he’d even glimpsed what was on the plate. He didn’t take the time to ask about the name of the thing, he just picked it up with two hands and sunk his teeth in.
“That is a hamburger,” Faraday explained. “It is made from the seasoned meat of a large land animal that is now extinct. When you are done, I have ordered an ale for you, it’s a type of liquid refreshment. You’ll find it in the window.”
When Elgin finished chewing, he wiped the back of a greasy hand across his mouth and grinned. “I know ale, Man. We have that even in the Zerospace. It’s just usually made in dirty alleys and slopped out of discarded PVC barrels.” He returned to the reconstructor, slipping the empty burger plate in the recycler. Elgin finished the ale in four long swallows. He nodded his head as he inspected the bottom of the cup for any remaining liquid. “That was better than any ale I’ve ever had.” He belched in a long, baritone. “What’s next?”
“Would you like some dessert?” Faraday offered. “I have a lemon custard with blueberries and Crème fraîche topping. Something a little sour to follow the savory.”
Elgin didn’t speak, he just waved the universal “Bring it on” as he leaned his head and shoulder on the wall beside the reconstructor. The vial of yellow goo disappeared in short order. Elgin dropped the empty dish in the recycler and looked at the reconstructor longingly.

“I def want one of those in my next place.” Elgin sighed as he picked up his cocoa and moved languidly to the central control chair. “You’re a pretty good cook, Faraday.”
“Thank you Moze, but I can’t take full credit. It took ten years of development by botanists, chefs, and bioengineers to get it all perfect. Essentially it starts with yeast and other algal proteins that have had various forms of DNA implanted in their cells. The life cycle is short, then the resulting product of meat, cheese, veg, or fruit is freeze dried for freshness. The reconstructor revives the ingredients and applies various chemical reactions to simulate cooking and –”
Elgin was flapping his hands emphatically. “Don’t ruin it! I don’t want to know that magic is really science or whatever.”
“Sorry.” said Faraday.

Elgin had finished his cocoa. The cup hung loosely from one of his fingertips. A few drops of pale brown liquid dripped onto the riveted floor.
From the far wall of the cabin, a tall black panel – about 10 cm thick – separated itself from the wall and twisted. It folded in a way that took it from one long line into a tripod with a stout tower coming up from the center. The face of the panel was riddled with multi-colored lights.
“What’s this?” Asked Elgin sleepily.
“Just on of my mobile forms,” Faraday replied. A thin arm emerged from the tower and removed the empty cup from Elgin’s hand. A small droid the size of a rat slid out of a small panel in the wall and rolled over the errant drop. Once the spot was clean, it rolled back into its mouse hole and the door slid flush with the wall.
Elgin stood, shaking off his food induced stupor. “Faraday,” he began, “what does an astropilot do when he needs to…relieve himself?”
“He goes to the lavatory,” Faraday replied smartly.
Elgin cocked a finger at his blinking display, “Good one. Where is the lavatory?”
“Just outside the door to the bridge. Go through the main door and you’ll see an access door on your right.”
Elgin belched again. “Can’t wait to see it, but first –.” Elgin was fishing deep in one of his thigh pockets for something. He pulled out a pair of dice and let them tumble onto the control top display. “Let’s play a game.”
“What game are these for?” Faraday asked. The cup had disappeared into the recycle drawer and Faraday was back beside Elgin reaching his thin finger toward the shiny white dice.
“First of us to roll a total of 50 wins. Or we could do best out of three.”
“What is the point? It doesn’t seem challenging at all,” Faraday commented.
“It’s a mindless exercise, but all I can manage on a full stomach,” Elgin said. “Indulge me for a few minutes.”
“One round and then I need to get back to my simulations.” Faraday conceded.
Elgin nodded. “You roll first.”
Faraday reached out with his protruding bar and gently pressed down on one edge of the dice. They slipped away in different directions and twirled a bit with the momentum. When they had settled, each die showed one black dot in the center.

“Oh, Man. That’s not good. You got Snake Eyes,” Elgin said.
“I admit it’s a slow start, but chances are I’ll roll much higher on my next turn.”
“No.” Elgin shook his head. “You roll Snake Eyes and you lose. That’s the rule.” He palmed the now-glowing dice and tossed them in the air. Instead of landing back in his palm, the dice veered toward Faraday’s tower and stuck to his slick surface. Tiny lines broke away from the dice and marched toward Faraday’s two manual input ports. He tried to swat them away with his probing tool, but the dice collapsed into more moving lines and swarmed his arm. “What’s going on?” Faraday demanded in a panicked tone.
“The inevitable,” Elgin replied as he poked the toe of his shoe repeatedly into the floor panels. His testing paid off quickly. Elgin crouched down and opened a floor panel. “Where would a very petite woman store the heart and brain of her ship’s AI? Under the floorboards in the bridge, of course. Mabry wouldn’t want to leave the bridge in flight to do repairs.” Elgin tossed a handful of the dice into the wires and components in the floor. Each landed with a click and their black dots glowed red. Elgin replaced the floor panel.
“How do you know Ma –” Faraday groaned like a rotor losing momentum, his vowels stretching into infinity as the nanobots erased his code and replaced it with their own.

“No offense, Man.” Elgin tapped the top of Faraday’s tower. “I just can’t keep you around and risk retaliation. Thanks for the dinner.” Elgin stepped through the bridge door into the hall and headed for the toilet.

Everyone in the room was agape and horrified by the final moments that had played out on screen.
Dae Kwon, their leader, was the first to speak.
“Faraday contacted you personally to send this message?” He asked.
“Yes, Haraboji,” Mabry answered in the familiar, respectful tone she reserved just for him.
“But this is the end of the transmission?” Vanessa asked.
“There is more, but it’s all code,” Mabry leaned around Dae Kwon to make eye contact with Vanessa. “Per the code, Faraday took precautions to protect himself right around the time Elgin/Moze started acting sleepy. See I had been confused at first by Faraday’s message that it could be an innocent mistake. The guy clearly broke our extremely secure code to get in. It didn’t make sense. Then I realized it was another layer of encryption. Once I applied the phrase properly, the transmitted video footage revealed this internal code stream that was Faraday showing us what he was doing behind the scenes as he interacted with Elgin.”
“So the ship is safe?” Dae Kwon asked. “And Faraday has not been reprogrammed?”
“He’s doing great. His acting was spot on. Totally fooled that bloated ego, Elgin. Who, by the way, did not fare so well. Faraday intentionally fed Elgin foods that would cause an internal reaction. Nothing poisonous, just a little intestinal urgency. Once he went into the bathroom, Faraday gassed him and filled the chamber with impact foam for good measure. The intruder has been secured.” Mabry giggled a bit maniacally with relief.
“We need to get to the Port and run a full diagnostic on Faraday anyway. I did not like the look of those nanobots swarming his internal system.” Dae Kwon said, his brow creased with concern.
“Of course, Haraboji. I will head to the hyperloop and catch the first cycle out so I can be at the ground station when the shuttle window reopens.”
Dae Kwon nodded. “Take a security team with you, just in case Elgin wasn’t working alone. Vanessa and Trionne should go too. They can help you with the diagnostics.”
“Should we accelerate the launch schedule?” Vanessa asked.
Dae Kwon nodded thoughtfully. “At the very least we should prepare for an earlier launch. We don’t want to leave anyone behind for lack of planning. What to do with Elgin?”
“I think we should wipe his memory and dump him in the station.” Vanessa volunteered.
Mabry nodded. “Or we could ship him down from the Port to some Dirtside wasteland with no memory and no means of calling for a pick-up. Let him wander in the desert a while before he remembers where home is.”
“I don’t want to waste one of our shuttle pods on this.” Dae Kwon stated firmly.
“We won’t need them for years. Plenty of time to build an extra one while we are en route. We will just make sure to bring the components we can’t manufacture up there.” Mabry countered.
Dae Kwon nodded and smiled. “Let’s get this done as discreetly as possible. Keep an eye out for any other possible intruders. I can’t imagine this guy was planning to steal an entire colony ship for a solo voyage.”

As the others dispersed, Dae Kwon placed a warm hand on Mabry’s shoulder. “Be careful, Starchild. I’d be lost without you.” Then he kissed the top of her head.

Author Reading Act III

Waking Up

Brigit’s Flame JFF Entry
March Week Four – “The Devil I Have Not Met”
WC: 2,555
Warnings: some violence and adult situations/references

Consciousness flowed into her senses at the pace of a calm sea sliding up the shore. At first, the notable call of a gull overhead, then the roiling click of pebbles in the ebb and flow of the tide. There followed the burning grit of sand embedded in shallow slices over knees and palms. More pebbles were rendered by her senses — these pressed carelessly into her cheeks.

With effort the woman rolled onto her back. Cool sea water lapped at her heels and icy droplets plopped onto bare skin too wet to complain further. One eye opened. Followed by the instinctive twitch to raise a hand against the glare, but the sky was thickly grey – the sun a hint of white struggling to be seen through a pewter day. Sails spun overhead, languid and uncharacteristically colorful.

She blinked. The ground was firmly beneath her back, but the great billowing sheets circled directly above, parallel to the beach, as though trapped in a fixed tempest. She struggled to make sense of this, but a pounding started up in her skull that drowned all thoughts.

And the clickety pebbles.

And the hungry sea birds.

She was jetsam – wet and alone on a beach with nothing but the sound of her own blood crashing against her skull to the rhythm of a racing heart. The internal maelstrom pulled her under.

After a while, she could hear the birds again and all of the tidal sounds became external. The waves were caressing her calves now. The ocean had dragged the pebbles and sand away from her feet creating two deep ruts. She stopped thinking about her head and started working on a way to get up the beach before the tide could collect her for another journey.

It was a slow and painful process that involved much crawling (after some falling). Her head hammered, while her knees and palms burned and the frigid rain made her shiver violently. Teeth chattering – consciousness waning – she pulled herself into a small cove that was relatively dry.

Lying down felt too much like succumbing to weakness, so she struggled to prop herself up against the hard stone wall behind a boulder conveniently stationed to block the wind. While settling in, she managed to anger a few small crabs who claimed first rights to the shelter. The boldest used his large claw to bite into the tender flesh at the base of her thumb. Fruitless attempts to fling him off were followed by one solid crack to the shell from a fist-sized stone that the cove offered up.

She was hungry — though the sensation had not made it through the pain until now. There was nothing to eat in the cave — except this one dead crab. He wouldn’t yield much meat, but since she was limited to eating raw less might be better. She ate the slimy flesh from his claws and the claws of his friends who were not smart enough to run when the others started dying. Keeping it all down was an effort – not just for the lack of cooking.

She passed out instead of vomiting. The blackness overwhelmed her with stealth and swiftness, replacing pain with nothing for a time.

The dark void lightened to the interior of the shallow cave, glowing softly with the light of a full moon and a nearby lantern.

Hands were groping at her body.

She let out something between a yell and a scream in protest and confusion. Instinctively, her legs flailed in defense. She felt her knee connect with something – someone’s chin by the loud clack of teeth that followed contact. A surprised grunt. Male. Then whiskey fog engulfed her face, trailing the stench of rotting teeth and a diet of fish. A calloused hand scratched across her mouth and nose, blocking out the foul breath but introducing new odors that called to mind outhouses and the heavy sweat of a barmaid’s thigh.

“‘Ere now. I thought you was dead,” the man slurred in mock concern. “No need for screamin’. I was simply looking for your purse to pay the grave-digger.”

His full weight was pressing down on the woman – her head pounded with the struggle to buck him or position her head to bite his stinking finger off. The mugger’s hand turned toward molestation as he groped for flesh through her salt-stiffened blouse.

“Mind you,” he sneered, “I prefer a struggle to cuddles. You caused me a bit-a pain when you clocked my chin, but all of this wriggling has me want to forgive you. Open these knees and we’ll call it a truce, Lovely.”

Violently the would-be assailant’s head rocked out of view as she smashed his temple with the stone from dinner. Ignoring the waves of pain in her head and nausea in her gut – barring the black void through sheer force of will – she bashed the man’s skull with two fists and a rock until she was sure he would not get up again. There was no energy left to hold off the gorge. She sprayed the corpse with half digested crab, then used the last of her strength to push away from him and fall into the soft sand.

Blackness returned.

Hands groped again – these more rough than searching. Before she could kick out, she felt her ankles gripped firmly. She was being dragged from the cove into the wet sand.
“Are there no gods in this place that will let a woman die in peace?” she yelled into the void threatening to swarm her consciousness again.

A flash. Gunsmoke filled her nostrils like cotton and another man’s limp body was crushing her own.

For a moment, she had the sense of being carried, then nothing.

Sun broke through the clouds, warming her eyelids and cheeks. She raised a hand to block the glare. The pain in her head had turned down to a flicker. She noticed a bandage wrapped around her hand, then registered the scent of fresh linen and oranges. Down a curve of sand from where her window looked out, there was a great windmill with churning sails for blades.

Zeldyn Cay.

The name breached the surface of her mind as though in need of air.

Zeldyn Cay. Followed by a sense of accomplishment. There was still something missing – a huge gaping hole in her memory – but Zeldyn Cay was the name of this place. She was sure of that, and she was sure it was where she wanted to be.
A door she had not noticed creaked open a hand’s breadth. There was no warning of the approach, thus no chance to feign sleep. It was pushed open further to reveal a cheery, red-cheeked face frilled round with a house bonnet. She darted a hand to her head and realised she was wearing one as well.

“Stars!” Redcheeks exclaimed. “The healer said you were on a good turn, but we had no hope of you being awake so soon.”

The woman delivered this information in a rush; crossing the room with a nervous flutter of hands. Then she turned to look at the door as though she might rush back out. Redcheeks faced the patient again, leaning in – eyes wide and cheeks redder with a fresh blush.

“I’ve no doubt you’ll be wanting your breakfast. I’ve been feeding you your broth for the last few days and keeping yourself clean. But now that you are awake to ask, I wonder which you’d like first – the pot or your soup. They’re not on the same tray, mind. That would be unclean.” Redcheeks twittered nervously.

With a hoarse croak she requested use of the pot, followed by a quick and uncomfortable bath with rags and a pitcher. During the process Redcheeks introduced herself as Mary and explained that the Marshall had spared the patient from the ruffians who surely meant to drag her back to their ship.

“What can we call ye, Miss?” Mary asked when her own jittery tempest of words had finally calmed.
“I don’t know,” the patient rasped. “I can’t remember who I am or how I came to be here. I felt I would die on that beach. I think I may have been on a ship in a storm, but that’s conjecture not memory.”

“O,” Mary said with a little moue. She stood from the bedside and walked to where she’d placed the tray of soiled rags. Then she turned back to the woman lying on the bed and asked cheerily, “What can we call ye, Miss?”

The other woman paused, searching Mary’s eyes for signs of joviality or madness. She wished she knew her name. It felt so weird to be without one. A thought came to her – it didn’t have the confidence behind it like the name on the map, but it felt as close to right as she could get.

“I washed up on shore, so why not call me Jetsam until I know what to call myself? Is that good enough, Mary?”

The red cheeks glowed happily. “Well I think that’s a lovely name. Jetsam,” Mary repeated as though tasting the word for the first time. “Jetsam. I will let the Marshall know.” With that she handed Jetsam a bowl of large green grapes and instructed her to finish the bowl. “We want you to be fully recovered so the Marshall can walk you down the aisle instead of carrying you over his shoulder.” Then she turned and walked out the door.

“What aisle?” Jetsam asked with alarm to Mary’s retreating back. Mary just winked and closed the door behind her. Jetsam could hear her nervous twitter from the hallway.

Days passed in a mix of confusion, boredom, and deep sleep. Primarily the confusion stemmed from the intense periods of sleep. Jetsam could not tell if she had slept for twelve hours or one. Mary would wake her to eat, eliminate, change her dressing, and sometimes just to talk to her. The joyful girl was very fond of word problems, but did not seem able to do them herself. They would sit together by the window and Mary would read the questions aloud, expecting Jetsam to suss the answer each time. Another source of confusion was the Marshall. Per Mary, he had announced that he would marry Jetsam during the days she’d spent unconscious, yet he had never once stopped by to introduce himself or get to know her. This seemed to make perfect sense to Mary, but Jetsam was already planning her escape to avoid an arranged marriage she had not agreed to.

When the healer came by and told Mary that Jetsam was stable enough to traverse the stairs and even stroll a bit outside, Jetsam thought the Marshall would come by to take her on that inaugural walk himself. Perhaps he’d been shy about visiting her in her rooms or thought the amount of dressing required to receive a visitor too much in her weak state. Surely he would take a meal with her in the parlor or walk with Jetsam down the boardwalk to point out the ships of interest.

When she asked these questions of Mary, she was told that the Marshall was clear on the other side of the territory and would not return until the wedding night. Jetsam felt rather put out at this news until she remembered that she did not intend to marry the Marshall and did not want to be romanced besides.
“That’s just not what I came here for,” she thought to herself.

Mary kept Jetsam company as she got stronger. They continued with morning riddles and added games like catching the chickens in the yard to shoo them back in their pens and apple picking with only their aprons for gathering. It was a pleasant time, but every day closer to the wedding Jetsam’s restlessness grew. She needed to retrieve more of herself. She needed to find out why Zeldyn Cay was so important to her. She needed to slip away from the Marshall’s reach before he tried to wed her.

The healer stopped by one afternoon while Mary was at market. He checked Jetsam’s wounds, of which little evidence remained. Jetsam was used to his silence in these visits. other than direct questions about pain and how she was sleeping – if she was dreaming – he typically addressed the rest of his remarks to Mary. On that day, he surprised Jetsam by calling her by name and inviting her to meet him in the morning for a trip into the countryside.

“There is an herbalist there who may have a remedy for your memory loss. We will leave at first light.”

Jetsam could not argue. Finding herself again was one of her main goals. She left a note for Mary to wake her before dawn and laid out clothes for a brief journey.

Mary did not protest her trip with the healer. He was an older gentleman who seemed to be at the cusp of middle-age and frailty. It was midday when they arrived at the herbalist’s cottage. There had been some minor skirmishes between villagers that Jetsam had helped him smooth over along the way. The walk itself might have taken half the time if not for the civil unrest.

The herbalist introduced herself as Dwayna and welcomed them into the tiny thatched cottage like old friends. Dwayna was unimaginably old, with skin like a dried fruit and bent at a permanent right angle from the waist. She drew Jetsam to the small hearth and instructed her to pull down various herbs, liquids, powders, and jars of ingredients from the many shelves and nooks built into the main wall. Jetsam lined the items up along the table as instructed and engaged in pleasant conversation with Dwayna as Jetsam opened the containers with her more nimble hands and pinched ingredients into a pot.

The final ingredient was in a large tin so rusted and dented Jetsam could not find a way to open it. She turned it around in her hands many times, an untimely sense of foreboding crept through her stomach and tingled through her arms. The tin was familiar in some way. It tugged at her brain and charged her lungs with oxygen too heavy to push or pull with a mere breath. “Maybe I don’t want to remember,” she thought. But she knew that was wrong. Jetsam had been lost here long enough without her name and the million other things that belonged only to her – that made her who she was. “Who am I?” soared from her mind on the wings of a flying fish.

Her finger found a familiar dent in the tin, just over the rusted image of Die Lorelei singing from her rock. Without thinking, Jetsam pressed her left thumb into the depression and used her right to pry the lid up. It gave easily. She opened the tin and looked inside at the message that had been left for her. It read:

“Zeldyn Cay Quest is 75% complete. Are you sure you want to exit now? Your progress will be saved from this checkpoint.”

User JJJenson clicked ‘Exit’ and logged out of the game.

The Retelling: A Dialogue Workshop

I’m there

generationKathy

In this post I mention my goal to try some writing exercises from one book of the Write Great Fiction series, Dialogue, by Gloria Kempton. This launched an online conversation between Tami (jlly_coppercorn) and myself about the possibility of creating a dialogue workshop for Brigit’s Flame.

Today, we would like to extend an invitation to all community members (and new readers) to join ensuing discussions and writing exercises. First of all, however, let’s discuss this book.

The author does a thorough study on what we already know: The purposes of dialogue.

  • Characterizes/reveals motive
  • Sets the mood of the story
  • Intensifies story conflict
  • Creates tension and suspense
  • Speeds up scenes
  • Adds bits of setting/background
  • Communicates the theme

Writing exercises are then provided for each of these purposes. This is where we will concentrate our focus for the next two weeks by offering up segments of dialogue to each other for constructive criticism…

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The Retelling

I want to follow 🙂
Dialog is one of my favorite parts of writing.

generationKathy

During a 2014 holiday gathering with in-laws, I had the pleasure of meeting some new people—coworkers and friends of our family members. They are warm, cheerful people who really know how to talk. I enjoy talkers. Not babblers, mind you, but genuine conversationalists who graciously reveal themselves while openly accepting virtual strangers into that moment of their lives.

That’s a rare thing. Think about all the functions you attend, particularly around the holidays, in which you are introduced to dozens (if not more) of people whom you’ve never met. Generally, in the lukewarm atmosphere created by a gathering of unfamiliar personalities, small talk occurs. Hours of it. And that’s generally the best case scenario.

This past holiday season, I am happy to say, I basked in a complete lack of small talk. Didn’t have to make it with anyone.

Typically when we meet someone new, we notice their appearance—their outfit…

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