Adrift: Arden’s chapters: Scene 03. Rizu Mui Business

Swaying on his feet — one hand on the stair railing — Arden took sutsu to regain his balance. He was suffering the usual side effect of spending time with Doerdah — inebriation. After a detached mental scolding and a wistful vow to learn how to tell the man ‘no’ (in a way that Doerdah would actually acknowledge and respect), Arden carefully descended seven flights of stairs. Before the last step he was dizzy again. He leaned on a nearby support wall and let it hold him up until the station stopped spinning.
“Iblis’ barbs,” he whispered to himself. “It was only two drinks.”

When stability returned, Arden gently pushed himself off the wall and turned down the outer avenue of the market. Built into the walls surrounding the maze of stalls and tents were a number of permanent stores that offered a higher class of goods than the transient traders could regularly supply. One such shop was run by an apothecary from Kobai — a fellow Khol’nara from the marshlands of Mwachisawa. Chiritsi, the apothecary, was a former schoolmate and shared Arden’s passion for experimental farming.

Arden entered the shop with a portentous belch that earned him a knowing look from a Darnoskian perusing the tinned herbs. He apologized and she turned her nine eyes back to the orderly shelves.
“What? Now you arrive?” called a voice from above.
“My regrets, Chiritsi.” Arden stifled another belch, looking around, shoulders hunched and cowl pulled low over his face. He dragged himself up the narrow stair to the landing where his friend waited.
“Are you ill?” The healer asked. “You look grey.”
Arden hiccuped back a greasy throat-ful of drink and acid that burned the back of his nostrils. “Drunk,” he barely croaked out, grimacing at the assault on his digestive system.
Chiritsi led him through a narrow doorway off the stairs and quickly handed him an empty bucket.

Arden spent the next twelve don stretching and retching until he feared his toes were poking from the back of his neck. When the spasms subsided, Arden tipped right until his shoulder found the floor, then he rolled onto his back. Chiritsi looked down from where he stood with a scowl of disdain.
“I’ve never known you to get drunk before. Is everything right with your Oni Modab? At home? With your sister?”
“Doerdah,” Arden replied with a rasp.
Chiritsi looked confused sutsu then made the connection. “The tripper from the ice moon of Rak,” he said. “I’ve seen him drink. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him drunk though.”
“Never,” Arden confirmed as he rolled back to his stomach and tried to get his legs under him.
“Don’t get up too quickly,” Chiritsi warned. “I don’t have another bucket.” The Khol’nara stepped around Arden and took the foul bucket. The contents went into a robustly odoriferous recycling tank.
“Stay down. I have a remedy for your stomach.” Chiritsi walked out of site, then returned with a pair of tongs bracketing a writhing creature with mottled teal bands and a lot of pep. “Eat this,” the healer ordered and Arden did.

There was a satisfying crunch — not the crisp of a twiggy bolumbo but the firm snap of the densely fibrous hishdar worm . A familiar fragrance teased his senses as the larval body broke down in his mouth. The flavor was warm and the odor sweet. Once Arden swallowed, his stomach was calm and his head was cleared of the dizzy fog that had separated him from his thoughts.
“That was amazing,” Arden breathed as he stood up on steadier legs. “What did I just eat?”
“I’m thinking of calling it a Vakushtiva,” Chiritsi replied.
“A new discovery?” Arden asked perching on a riser that led to Chiritsi’s work tables.
“An outrider brought it back to me from the Bands. Pecchal — you’ve met her — she’s one of my best sources for new plants and creatures. I’ve been testing the Vakushtiva for almost a rel to make sure it’s safe. I could use your help testing it further. You have a wider array of crops.”
“Nemet’s glow! Yes. That Vakushtiva did wonders on my system; I feel cleansed. Are sobering and settling the only results of eating it?”
Chiritsi waved a Flare orb to life. “There’s much more to it. Just three of these larva (eaten at intervals) can provide enough nourishment for a full cycle — a healthy nourishment that breaks down so slowly we Khol’nara don’t have to use a radiation source to digest out the waste. They grow from egg to edible in fifteen complete cycles. If you allow them to pupate that’s ten cycles and then they spend three as adults. They die fertilizing the eggs and the whole process begins anew the next cycle. The eggs hatch from inside the parent, ingesting the remains through the egg sac —.”
“Stop please,” Arden waved a hand, his eyes and face pulled into a tight grimace. “I may need that bucket again.”
“We see this all the time in cultivation,” Chiritsi protested.
“I don’t have tolerance for it today, though. Is there a plant or crop that they prefer? Or a flower they choose over all others?”
Chiritsi tilted his head, then rolled it back in the affirmative. “A plant as rare as the moth.” The apothecary gestured toward the humming Flare orb, tapping his Flit on the torque on his head.

The orb moved to hover between them, gleaming to light with a scene of heavy jungle. The plants in view had leaves large enough to wrap a standard sized person head to heel with nothing poking out the ends. The outrider’s hand reached out to tap the edge of a giant leaf. It recoiled as though it could not bear the touch. With tentative steps the hand created a path between the shy fronds.

In a small clearing behind the dense growth, the outrider’s gasp was recorded by her Flare unit. Swarms of fist-sized, marine-colored moths could be seen darting about — dipping, soaring, twirling with a partner until their collaboration pulled them to the ground. Some were at rest on vines and trees with only an irregular pump of the wings as proof they lived; others crumpled like verdant failures strewn about the root-bound turf.

As the outrider moved deeper into the clearing, some of the more active Vakushtiva flew at the viewer, soft bodies whumping against the Flare’s transparent shield. Arden cringed when, for sutsu, the illusion of displacement worked to make him feel the gentle assault was coming at his face. The viewing angle turned at his flinch, showing the clearing to the right. In a curve of the jungle border a row of colossal, spiky plants thrust from the roots and vines to support a host of the adult, winged Vakushtiva. Arden leaned closer to the screen to bring the scene closer. On the cone-shaped fruit that peeked out from between razor-sharp leaves he could see the teal larva undulating gently as they macerated the strange pomme.

“She brought you the fruit too?” Arden asked as a formality.
“Indeed. I’ve cultivated three of those hulking things into maturity. The leaves are as sharp as they look.” Chiritsi waggled his hands; they were striped with dried salve.
Arden chirped softly and smiled. “Have you tested its reaction to other fruit?”
Chiritsi rolled his head in another affirmative. “There are two fruit I’ve had minor success feeding them on, but they barely grow to half the size, the nutrients all but disappear, and they won’t reproduce. Based on my research so far, we need that specific fruit in order to grow the energy-packed Vakushtiva.” The apothecary used his foot to nudge a no-pull crate towards Arden. “I’ve included a manual for growing the plants and setting up the ideal Vakushtiva environment. I’ll tap you the Flare vid; it’s fascinating. The small planet they explored in the Bands was covered with near-sentient interactive plants. Bast’s blessing that the fruit’s plant does not seem to have intelligence. Remember that the find is mine, by rights transferred, but I’ll share the fame with you as a research partner when we break the food industry and rebuild it with our new wonder grub.”
Arden croaked loudly, in a teasing gesture. “Keep your fame. I just want to nourish the Reach. Any warnings?”
“Avoid fermented beverages and be careful around those leaves.” Chiritsi held his scratched fingers in front of Arden’s eyes and returned the croak.


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

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Adrift: Arden’s chapters: Scene 02. Rizu Mui Market

Rizu Mui market had accumulated over time like drifts of dry leaves in the harvest season. Situated on the first deck above the docks, the mayhem of the trader’s floor spread from wall to wall then climbed them eight terraces. Arden looked down on the whirlwind of trade from the cafe mezzanine seven flights up. The stalls, in their motley confusion of colors, were laid out in concentric circles with paths spiraling through that could end abruptly like an elaborate maze. The traders on the floor used this quirk of the layout to entice shoppers to them with whimsical patterns, signs, and warnings drawn or painted on the metal floor. “Wrong way!”; “Stop! You almost missed us.”; and “Welcome back.” were some of the most popular call outs. Curling ribbons of paint directed people to certain kiosks, as well as arrows, pointing extremities, and drawn creatures in slow migration.

This market day seemed unusually frantic. There had been an influx of new bodies in early hours; five large companies had docked offloading entertainment starved crews. Going to market was a welcome excursion when you lived in a shipboard box. Arden guessed it was also pay day for many. It would explain the general sense of glee and mania.

Arden turned from the railing to see a woman had taken his seat at the cafe and, it seemed, eaten his Gloss pastry. Even sitting down she was tall – with a long torso, slender neck, and covered in fine feathers from crest to claw to wingtip. Arden did a quick scan to see if he had mistaken his table for another. He stepped closer to the woman (a Selexais if ever he’d seen one).
“Excuse me. You just ate my tart.” Direct and straight to the key concern.
The bawdy minx licked her fingers before answering. “You let it sit here so long I thought you didn’t want it. I haven’t had a decent sweet in ages. That tart was actually too sweet if you want honesty. You were right to not eat it. Much too sweet.”
Arden chuffed. “I was savoring my cup of bah while it was first hot. Iblis grunts! Do you intend to buy a replacement tart?” Not quite as direct, Arden was feeling uncertain on how to press her to repay him. The tart was not pricey; it was more the principal of the thing. Who steals a tart?
“Are you the tripper Arden Nahi’koa of Koa Fali Stead?”
Arden looked at her a moment agape. The question had sounded so official, so ominous, he had to take a mental inventory of outstanding debts and possible infractions. She had mentioned his home on Kobai — was it something to do with his father? Would they send a giant tart thief to notify him of a death in the family?
“Who is asking?” He replied. It came out gruff, not really his intention but she had unsettled him.
“Silhapedax. People not of Selex origins shorten it to Sil – you can do that. Too long for most.
“I’m sure right now you’re thinking that you know my name. I won’t leave you to stress over it. Why waste time? Reylyn. She would have talked a great deal about me. We lived together on Maphun…during school…we were roommates almost the whole way through. Good friends. Like family. Dweki is your word for it. We were dweki.”
Arden recalled his sister’s stories about a roommate who could never stay out of trouble. And who talked incessantly.
“Silhapedax.” He drew the name out as though he were searching his memory. Mostly he just wanted her to stop talking. Iblis take the tart.
“Yes. My sister has told me of you. Was this a social pastry theft or did you have some business?”
“I need your help. When I told Reylyn that I would be at Rizu Mui she told me that I should look you up on the people finder. She told me you would be here at the same time my ship would arrive for the recreation leave. Reylyn said that if I asked you for help you would absolutely say yes because Reylyn and I are like dweki. She said you’re a good man.”
Arden smiled on the inside. That last sounded like his sister.
“What help?” Arden asked simply, seating himself at the small table across from Sil.
“I need you to take me back to Selex. It’s a family emergency. Urgent family business.”
“I’m not going to Selex. That’s sixty-eight days’ journey in the wrong direction.” Arden felt his vocal sac bulge slightly in agitation. Friend of Reylyn’s or not this woman’s manners were grating.
“This is important,” Sil insisted, “it’s crucial to someone’s life.”
“My commitments are important and crucial to my life. In my business, reputation is everything. There is a wedding on Asogra Xi in thirty-five days that I have deliveries for. That’s thirty days in the opposite direction.” Arden gestured with his head in the vague direction of the Reach.
Sil sat up straight and preened her crest feathers. “That’s easy enough. Just let the wedding people know now you can’t make it. Thirty-five days is plenty of time to find a new source for whatever frippery you were hauling. Maybe they have already changed their mind. Save you all that tripping.”
“Why me? There has to be at least one vessel docked that is already scheduled to hit Selex. Book passage with them.” Arden croaked. He would Flit Reylyn as soon as he was done with his errands.
“Arden,” she whined. “I don’t have the credits for that. Reylyn said you would help me.”
“My sister may always have the light from my center, but she does not make my schedule or run my business. I regret that she gave you false hope, but I am not changing my schedule. I will not be going to Selex for another year at least. I have too much business in the Reach.” Arden stood. “I have an appointment to keep.”
Sil looked at him like he’d just stolen her tart. Then she crumpled into a mound of feathers. “What am I going to do,” she whined at such a volume Arden croaked uncomfortably.
“Sil, please.” People at the next table halted their conversation to look at Sil and then Arden. “Sil, you are drawing attention. If you don’t stop moaning I will walk away from this table and leave you to deal with this on your own.” I should regardless, this is not my problem, Arden thought. He took a step towards the stairs.
Sil cleared her throat and squawked, “Stay. I will try to hold my emotions better.”
Arden was undecided. What good would staying do. He wouldn’t change his course —. Then he considered Reylyn, she such a person, better than him. His sister acquired friends with more ease than picking up sticker pods in summer fields. She had a radiant nature and always spared a sutsu to listen to friend or stranger. Arden admired his sister for it, though he usually found it foolish to invest so much time conversation. He let out a few slight chirps from his vocal sac as Arden denied his instincts and reseated himself across from the Selexais girl.
Sil’s story began in school, her family had not been pleased with the choice of Maphun, the university on Nemet. Her father felt that diplomacy for the people of Selex should be learned on Selex. Despite exemplary scores and honors bestowed, the family saw Sil’s education as a waste. After Maphun, Sil had accepted a contract to work with a small group of trade negotiators as their Selexais labor representative. Again, her father disapproved. He told her that the group she had agreed to work with were thugs of the worst sort. Sil went on to take the job. As it happened, her father had assessed the group correctly. Sil quickly discovered that they were being paid to create dissension, not improve the lives of the common worker. Their insidious machinations had caused riots, bombings, death. Sil was sick at her center for being party to it all.
On a day of a particularly nasty demonstration, a hooded Sil noticed a woman in the crowd who resembled one of her sisters. Sil slipped away from her cohorts to speak with the woman, perhaps help her out of the plaza to safe place. Sil had not had contact with any of her family in more than a year. Before she could weave deep enough into the crowd, a man with a club rushed up on the woman from behind and caved in her head with one swing. Sil had seen this as it unfolded – the man’s face before, his shoulders pulling back for maximum striking power, the way the club vaporised the side of her face on contact. It horrified Sil, and not just because she had hoped the woman was one of her sisters. The Selexais are hated by many in the habitable universe, but this was the first time Sil had seen the hatred first hand and played out for its own sake.
The man who killed the Selexais woman in the crowd had simply blended back into the fray. He did not check if his cruel work had finished her. The violence was his goal and he’d likely moved on to find another easy target for his rage. Sil slipped carefully to the fallen woman’s side to check for any sign of life. The damage to her head was such that Sil did not want to find her alive. To reassure herself that the victim was not family, Sil checked her pockets for an ID. In addition to a work pass identification (not family) the woman had all of her travel documents on her. In one small case she carried her documented life. A documented life.
Sil had six more years on her contract with the thugs. Just days before she’d been brooding on how she would rather die than complete another assignment. Without thinking much on it, she slipped her own work pass into the woman’s pocket and passed the clutch of travel documents and key cards into her own robe. On the ground beside the body was a Flit unit that seemed to match the broken band on the dead woman’s head. The unit itself was undamaged. She pocketed it and left her own in its place. As Sil stood she stepped on the Flit to give the scene authenticity.
For the next three years she had lived as Hexaksaloon, a low level engineer on an Efani ore barge.
“Did you know anything about engine maintenance and repair when you assumed her life?” Arden interrupted.
“The diagnostic machines do all the real work. I push buttons and make reports when asked. It is an easy job. I was so fortunate to stumble into it and on an Efani ship. They have no complaints about the Selexais and they can’t tell us apart. All the same to them.”
“One point I’m unclear on – if your family thinks you are dead why are you going home?”
In short, Sil had been following her family’s lives – as Hexaksaloon – on the social sharing branch of the Flit network. In this way she learned of a death in the family that resulted in an orphaned brood of five. Each of her sisters and the sister of the deceased had committed to raising one of the brood each. Once that was settled the family started combing through their more distant relatives to find a mother for the fifth. Homesick and miserable from being on the outside of the nest watching their lives happen, Sil had called up her mother’s ID on the Flit and initiated a conversation.
“I thought they would be crying and cawing for joy when they learned I wasn’t dead. As it happens, the group I’d been working with never notified my them of my death. The family thought I was still stubbornly refusing to talk to them because of Father’s protests about my life choices. So I’m going home to be a mother. I’ll have family again and a new role to play. Starting over with a chick in my arms. I hope it’s a girl. I would understand a girl better.” Sil opened her mouth slightly and nodded dreamily, raking a clawed hand through her long crest feathers.
Arden wagged his head slowly from side to side and murmured a long, thoughtful croak. “That story was worth the time it took to hear it. Though I do disagree with certain of your choices.” And doubt responsibility for another life is a good idea, he thought. “Maybe there is another way I can help you.” He pulled out his Flit and extended the interface for hand use. It only took a few taps to find that the next trip to Selex left that day and was still offering traveler fares. The rate was 680 credits for a berth and another 680 for food. Twenty credits per day of travel seemed more than fair, but 1,360 credits was more than he could reasonably spare.
“You have no money at all?” Arden asked.
“That’s a rude question.” Sil responded airily.
Arden chuffed, felling the irritation gather at his center. “I am looking for a transport to Selex. I am asking about your funds to see if you can contribute to the journey.”
“I don’t have anything. I spent what I had on buying out the last few months of my contract with the Efani. Used it all.”
“What about the end journey. There will be fees to reenter Selex, transport to the drop zone off the station, transport to your nest village. I’d calculate that as 100 credits for the officials, about 40 for the drop…I can’t even calculate the last because I don’t know where you live in relation to the drop. Will your family be there to pick you up? Can they pay for some of this travel cost?”
“My father would despise me if I asked him for credits, even to come home. Wrong way to start my return to the family.”
“Doesn’t he despise you already?” Arden asked in an undertone. He felt immediate shame at the cruelty of it.
Sil didn’t register insult. “Now that I have admitted he was right – that I shouldn’t have taken the contract – he has forgiven me. I am welcomed home.”
“So you need 1,500 credits plus the cost of ground transport.” Arden poked at his Flit screen thoughtfully. Kah Orekwa had paid for his journey already. His account had increased by 800 credits during Sil’s story. There had been some credits in the account already, and a fair amount in his emergency fund. He had supplies to buy, but he wouldn’t need even the full 800 for that —.
“Last time I paid for a trip home the fare was 78 credits. That was almost five years ago though.”
Arden made three short chirps as he realized what could be done. He tapped the outgoing message feature on his Flit and chose Reylyn.

“Mwaf, time this hissss?”
Arden saw a familiar hand on his screen searching for something.
“Reylyn, it’s Arden. Don’t disconnect.”
“Mwar fuh Arden. Middle of sleeping. Laaaate.” She whined.
“Try to focus Reylyn.” The view went sideways, righted itself, then turned sideways again and leveled. Reylyn was in view but her eyes weren’t open. “I regret the hour dweki, but I need you to pay attention.”
“What?” Reylyn asked without opening her eyes.
“I’m at Rizu Mui. Your friend Silhapedax found me.”
“It’s Sil,” the Selexais girl corrected. “Hi Reylyn. You can just call me Sil,” she repeated to Arden.
Reylyn opened one eye. “O. I forgot to mention that I’d talked to her and suggested she look you up. Hi Sil.” Reylyn croaked.
“Sil needs to get to Selex and I can’t get her there myself. I have to deliver my L’Tiru crop to Asogra Xi in time for the vintner to make the wine for the wedding. That’s in thirty-five days just in case you have another school friend you promised a trip to.”
“Only friends to or from the Reach. Understood. Back to sleep now.” Reylyn’s head began to slide out of view.
“Not done yet. Focus.” Arden spoke a little louder. Reylyn’s head popped back into view.
“Don’t like you right now.” Reylyn murmured in a low croak.
“We are of one mind sister. I need you to Flit me credits. Eight hundred credits would be fair, but you can send more if you like. Sil needs about 1,600 to get home.”
Reylyn’s eyes popped open as she chirruped involuntarily. “That’s a lot of credits.”
“Passage is 1,360 including food. It’s a sixty-eight day trek.” Arden explained.
Reylyn bounced her head lightly against the wall as she calculated the additional costs and weighed it all against her own finances. “I’ll send you 1,100. If you can give her the rest —? You will always have the light from my center dweki. Tell Sil my contribution to her getting home is now the motherhood celebration gift. I can’t afford anything else for a while.”
“Done and done. My light to yours Reylyn. Flit me to message when you are rested.”
Reylyn’s image broke in flecks of color as she disconnected.

Arden tapped another name in his people list. In moments a large, hairy face filled his screen.
“Arden!” The man hailed. “I haven’t talked to you in an age. How is your life?”
“Most excellent, Doerdah. Well met. How is your life?” Arden responded.
“I can’t complain,” the man replied with a toothy grin, “every time I do my mate bites me in the leg.” Doerdah guffawed loudly at his own joke. Arden heard the tell-tale laugh echo faintly up over the edge of the mezzanine. He stood and crossed the narrow aisle to look over the railing.
“Doerdah, are you in the market on Rizu Mui?”
“Not yet, I’m about two flights of stairs away.”
“I’m in the cafe. Could I ask you to come up?”
“Is that the one that sells your worm tarts?”
“Yes. And they are larva not worms.”
“Still gross.” Doerdah laughed. “I’m on my way. O, and there you are.” The man waved with gusto.
Everything Doerdah did was done with gusto. He was two heads taller than Arden, covered in a thick, tight indigo fur. His people came from an ice moon so the fur was a must. The first time Arden had met him, he was terrified of the hulking man with his full maw of pointy teeth and huge furry hands with thick, curved claws. Then Doerdah had started talking and had Arden laughing so hard he couldn’t stop croaking for the next two anecdotes. They only saw each other by chance in Waystations, but Arden always looked forward to their meetings.
He hurried back to the table where he found Sil licking her fingers again. Arden gave her a suspicious eye. “What were you eating?”
In a conspiratorial tone she said, “That man over there just got up and walked away from his food. He never even touched it. Food should not be wasted.”
Arden looked at the man who seemed to be engrossed in his Flit, hopefully unaware his food was gone. “But he’s sitting there now?” Arden pointed out.
“I know,” Sil whispered, “he came back.”
Arden looked at her in disbelief and then closed his eyes. This was not his problem.
“My friend Doerdah will be here in sutsu. Don’t be alarmed by his appearance, he is kind and funny. Please be more polite to him than you have ever been to anyone ever. I am going to ask him for a favor on your behalf.”
“O. I will do my best.” She preened and fluffed her wings out, letting them resettle slowly across her back.
Doerdah called Arden’s name from the top of the stairs and walked to him with one arm in a wide gesture of welcome. The other hand was leading a folded no-pull pallet. Arden met the man, accepting his brute embrace before they greeted Kobailin style with a tight bow.
“Does this caf sell any fermented beverages? I’m thirsty for something with a kick to it.” The big man growled amicably.
“Selexais spiced ale?” Arden suggested.
“For a start…!” Doerdah bellowed jovially. “Add to it two shots of star flare elixir to remind me of home.”
Arden offered Doerdah the cafe chair he’d been using. The big man lifted it as though weighing the chair in his hand. He shook his head and turned to his telescoping no-pull cart. In sutsu he had it unfolded and reconfigured into a sturdy seat, suitable to Doerdah’s bulk, that floated a handspan off the deck.
Once he was situated, Doerdah nodded a greeting to Sil and looked at Arden expectantly.
“Uuuh. This is Sil,” Arden jabbered, “a friend of my sister. Sil is from Selex and eager to return there.”
Doerdah nodded thoughtfully, eyeing Arden with mild curiosity. To Sil he said, “Greetings. Thanks for all the ale.”
She twittered a laugh and smiled at him with mouth open and half-lidded eyes.
Doerdah swung his attention back to Arden. “Those drinks aren’t going to walk themselves over here. Why so awkward, man?”
Arden didn’t want to leave Sil alone with his friend until the favor was asked. He also didn’t trust her to Flit for the drinks with his unit.
“Ah!” Arden remembered something in his pack. He fished through and found a credit stick. Following some swift calculations he tapped a number of credits onto the stick and handed it to Sil. “Can you get us the drinks – just an ale for me and a Gloss tart? There’s enough here for you to drink with us and grab a small meal.”
Sil looked at the stick like it was offensive. As she was opening her mouth to protest Arden pulled her hand to him and pressed the stick into her palm.
“There’s something I’d like to discuss with Doerdah. Please.”
Sil shuffled her wings in irritation but she took the credit stick and walked to the food booth.

“She’s a looker…,” Doerdah commented coyly.
“Don’t. She really is a friend of Reylyn’s. Sil is going through a transition and needs help. Reylyn told her to seek me out so that I could help. The problem is, I can’t do what she needs.”
“So you thought of me and that old Kitchtirazach charm. It’s okay friend, the first step to overcoming something like this is to admit you have a problem.”
Arden dipped his head and tilted it from shoulder to shoulder. “Doerdah, I am fond of your humor but in this case you are on the wrong path.”
“So you didn’t try to…?” The big man laughed at Arden’s frustrated chirrups. “Okay. Apologies. It’s a good thing you don’t need me to take care of that for you. The mate is allergic to feathers. What help?”
“Sil needs passage to Selex. Reylyn assumed I would take her, but that journey is out of my way for many trips to come. My sister and I are pooling credits to send her there, with hope on your vessel.”
Doerdah shrugged. “I’ve got room. I’ll give her a discount on the berth – food’s food, I can’t cut the price on that – but whether the cabin is full or empty it’s going with me. Let’s call it fuel cost. Not all of us have a vessel that finds her own fuel,” Doerdah finished with a wink. He pulled out an aging Flit tablet. “Are you paying the fare?”
“Yes.”
“I’ll send you a one-time discount,” the man murmured as he prodded the screen with one dull claw.” Within sutsu he had clicked off his tablet and tucked it into a pocket.
Arden stretched his Flit to a wider screen and accepted the message. Doerdah had cut the berth rate to five credits per day. Arden booked the room and put Sil on the meal plan.
“Gratitude, friend. Look out for her on the journey. She does not live a charmed life and she doesn’t seem to have much sense.”
Doerdah huffed a breath. “That’s common among the Selexais. They are raised with the sense that the world belongs to them and that people of other homes hate them for their privilege. They don’t entertain the idea it is for their arrogance.” Doerdah put a rough hand on Arden’s shoulder. “I can out arrogant them by a star year. So we get along just fine. Are you lending her the credits?”
Arden clicked abruptly in his throat. “Khol’nara do not lend money. It’s an offensive practice. We give without expecting the gift to return.”
“On Skaul we have a proverb about scratching each other’s backs,” Doerdah looked pointedly and the slick cobalt skin of Arden’s back. “Maybe it’s a clawed and furred thing.”
“We sing to enliven each other’s center,” Arden chirped. “Does your back need a scratch from me for the kindness you shared?”
“I was asked to deliver a time-sensitive shipment to Sheoul Kress Station. You are usually heading into the Reach when we cross paths…. If you deliver it for me, I’ll keep the upfront fees and you can have the completion fee.”
“This is an acceptable exchange. Sheoul Kress is on the way to Brakkana. I picked up a passenger and cargo for Brakkana today.”
“The cargo may be missing a few authorizations…,” Doerdah rumbled low. Sil was approaching with servitor unit carrying the food and drinks. “If you dock on eight to eko’e’kial to spin, my client will receive the shipment at the doc and pay you there. It’ll be his problem to get it through dock security. Just have a plausible reason to be at the station that doesn’t have to do with the delivery.”
Arden lifted his shoulders mimicking a gesture he’d seen Doerdah make before. “On Sheoul Kress they love my fresh spinulaccha sprouts. Their Chef Ko’oy makes a popular dish with them and I have a standing request to drop in whenever a crop is harvested. I have a thriving crop now that will be ready in forty days or so.”
“Space farmer. Who ever would have thought we’d have space farmers?” Doerdah grumbled as he tipped the first elixir back into his maw.
“Thank you, Sil. Good news. You will be traveling with Doerdah to Selex. He’s a competent enough pilot, but his mate is an excellent cook. If you hold out your Flit I’ll tap you the fare sheet.”
Sil shuffled around her six plates of expensive sweet treats and held her wrist unit across the table. Arden waved his in the vicinity until he felt the low force roll of a completed transaction. “Where’s my Gloss tart?” he asked, putting his Flit away.
Sil waved a hand at him, then dropped the credit stick in his hand. “The stick you gave me didn’t have enough credits on it for everything so I had to adjust the order. No tart credits.”
Doerdah chuckled and tipped the second shot of elixir in his direction. “To the stars,” he pledged and threw the liquor into his throat.

 


 
 


 

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Adrift: Arden’s chapters: Scene 01. Rizu Mui Baths

Mirrors bounce and twirl from the ends of hundreds of branches; nine hundred ninety-nine mirrors of different shape and size. It’s the holy day, Kao Wol. The home trees glint. The family is radiant. Bast’s light as she nears the horizon is a blinding yellow, even diffused by stacked orchards of malanga and cyree. Behind closed eyes her splendor leaves a black spot on the translucent flesh of eyelids.

The air is thick with the smell of resin and blossoms, soil and marsh, rain and fire. Stew bubbling over a flame pit. Family gathers in the space between firelight and Bast’s last rays sparkling between 999 shards of silvered glass. Our own galaxy of tranquil light and colloquy. A hot pot and chilled nectar keep the conversation flowing until Nemet’s glow relights the mirrors – his cool white touch greedily covers Bast’s still warm kiss. Nemet’s radiance ignites anew the intimate galaxy of friends and family.

A reverent hush as Maiah stands, leading a small clutch of cousins to a grassy stage behind the fire. With a bellow she breaks the lustrous peace to reshape her own. Voices join the buzz and hum of the insects. They all follow Maiah’s song.

The faces of family float by on the surface of memory, then sink back into her murky depths. Arden holds on to the memory of his sister’s face, then his father’s in turn, and then Maiah’s — though her music is more tangible in memory than the simple lines of her face. She is his third mother by succession, but first in his heart. Arden longed to hear her sing, speak, laugh… Maiah radiated tranquility. Ill for home, Arden meditated on his mother’s calm, Reylyn’s passion, and his father’s strength.

Steam filled the air around Arden with a heady balm of dew that licked his face and slid down his neck to land in the pool below. He stretched a kink from one shoulder, then shifted so the water covered more of his aching muscles. A warning rumbled, then a pleasant rain began to plop all around him. Arden hummed a traditional song to himself as he tried to find his way back to that Kao Wol night before Ishra changed his course and drew a young Yl’nura’s life away from his family and home.

Soft footsteps roused Arden from a languid reverie. He croaked inwardly at the intrusion. The baths of Rizu Mui Station maintained the freshest waters in all galenga’he. Simply inhaling from the doorway was enough to transport Arden home to Kobai on the trails of memory. This would be his last visit for an age and he was feeling greedy for the tranquility. Arden directed his attention to the large portals ringing the ceiling. They offered a vista of stars and other bodies viewable from the station painting a sky over the baths that was both true and incongruous. Centered and magnified to fill half the screen was a star from the system adjacent to Bast’s spiral; the blessing to this viewing angle was that it brought his home star into visibility — even if she was just a bright point in a field of black. The overall atmosphere in the baths was ideal for contemplation and necessary spiritual realignment. He did not want to break his rest and leave the placid pool…the footsteps were almost upon him. Disappointed, Arden mentally prepared to leave. He preferred to be alone with his thoughts for now, but social rules would press him to engage with the stranger.

The adjacent pool sloshed softly with the sound of a bather stepping into the water. Arden submerged himself to the eyes, stealing a few more sutsu of serenity. He fully submerged and spent some time listening to the light splishing of wavelets born of his motion. When he felt the need for dry breath, Arden slowly allowed his head to breach the water to his nose.

“I say, would you be the tripper of that magnificent Oni Modab in the Waystop?” The stranger spoke loudly, as though his first attempt had gone unanswered.
“I am Arden,” replied the Kobailin, raising himself a fraction to lift his lips above water, “and I am the tripper of an Oni Modab. I find her to be magnificent, but if there are more of the Modabi attending Rizu Mui you may find another to challenge her splendor.”
The man in the other pool chuckled. “Not likely. I’ve been enamored of the Modabi since I was a child, f there were a collection in the docks I would not be here. The one I saw is marked ‘Oni’tsuki’ in the logs at the Waystop. She glows with a lavender radiance tinged in cobalt and rose.”
Arden did not claim her; he took delight in hearing how others described his Tsuki.
“Five stalks peeled away from a central trunk? Tentacles and tendrils flow from the barrel ends?”
“Tendrils?” Arden croaked softly in the back of his throat – a tease to underline his tone. “She must have found a tasty food source if you saw her extending those.”
The man nodded. “The Waytenders were reflecting photons her way. She spun and danced to catch them. It seemed as though she was having fun.”
“Oni’tsuki does love her dance,” Arden capitulated.
“Hah! So you admit she is yours. I saw on the schedule that you are traveling to the Reach when you leave here,” the man stated.
“Yes…” Arden replied.
“Perhaps I should start over. My name is Kah Oreckwa. I need passage to the Reach, Brakkana in particular, and I have never in my life traveled with a Modabi but have always dreamed of doing so. Do you still have an open berth I might charter for the trip to the Reach?”
“I do,” Arden replied. “Though I warn you, Oni’tsuki is glorious on the outside, but the interior vessel she carries is merely utilitarian. It is clean and in as good shape as the day she broke free of Mwezi, but our life is focused on transportation and cultivation. There is no call for luxury.”
The man Kah Oreckwa grinned happily. “You won’t scare me off for lack of luxury. The next thirty days will be most memorable. I will require one sleeping berth and I have a fair amount of cargo to bring along.”
“What is your cargo?” Arden slowly rose from the pool, moving a small stone that freed the heated sluice of a waterfall. He allowed the clean water to flow over him, delighting in the sensation. Arden used a handful of damp moss to scrub the sittol down his sides and around his neck. He inhaled deeply then exhaled, sputtering small droplets from the ultra-fine gills. Arden completed his soak with a guttural murmur of thanks to Nemet and Ru’ool, then stepped out of the pool onto the warm moss of the path.

Kah Oreckwa had not responded to his question promptly. Arden turned to the man and tilted his head to the right in expectation. Wraps of soft dry moss that smelled of harvest season were stacked behind the waterfall outcropping of each pool. Arden thoroughly wrapped himself in the moss blanket and squatted a polite distance from Kah Oreckwa.
“I’m delivering seven surgical beds, two therapy beds, and a moderate assortment of diagnostic and treatment equipment as well as medicines and some grow pods for healing herbs and plants.”
“Why do you take it there personally?” Arden asked. He stood, returning the moss blanket to a protrusion in the rock and withdrawing his outwear from the shelf.
“It’s an opportunity to spend time with one of my downline on Brakkana – she is a physician as well as a researcher. They have so little medical technology in the settlements of the Reach and official support from the Twelve Moons Alliance is too slow in coming, people are dying waiting for treatment. The locals have even resorted to cutting people open in order to help them. I can’t imagine! Flibiyan and her mates are building a small clinic in their village to help alleviate some of the more dire statistics.”
“A noble undertaking.” Arden lifted his chin and flexed his primary vocal sac to a moderate bulge, then opened his mouth to release a quick succession of notes. He gestured under the aural breath to wave it in Kah Oreckwa’s direction. “May Bast’s light illuminate her endeavors.”
“With gratitude, Arden. I hope your blessing finds her out there in the dark.”
“We can take it to her, as it happens,” Arden said agreeably as he fastened the first band of his outwear to the thickest part of his calf and began wrapping it, hand over hand around his leg. The gaudi silk cloth clung to itself by wispy gossamer loops woven into the edges of the wide band. Above his knees, Arden wove the criss-crossing bands loosely for ease of movement. Allowing the loops to find each other and mesh together. He secured the end of the first band one third of the way up his torso – just below his sittol. He slipped a loose, mesh tunic over his head, then began wrapping a wider band of outwear up from his other leg. This one he brought around his hips, folding the silk over itself to secure it, tucking in the mesh tunic, and draping the excess cloth loosely over both shoulders. Below the recess of his vocal sac, Arden secured a carved wooden kheru in the image of a Bolombo, taking care that the double wings pointed out and the thin head pointed up. To wear such a charm oriented to the ground was bad luck.
He looked up at Kah Oreckwa, the man was floating slightly in the pool with his head back and chest bobbing up from the murky waters. Arden studied the man’s pale features. Age was evident in the folds and creases around a face as wan as deep-sea dweller. Most of his head had quitted itself of the bristly hair his kind was plagued with, but for some reason Kah Oreckwa held onto a thick brush of yellowed whiskers between his sniffer and his mouth. The weasel tail was not improving the lines of his face. He had random spots in shades of brown; Arden had encountered enough men in his life to know the spots were not a part of the natural coloring. Pity that, the spots gave his bland features a little character.

Kah Oreckwa blinked gummy eyes the color of beach pebbles at Arden. “Did you say something?” The man asked.
“No.” Then Arden asked in turn, “You are of the Laupmada?
Kah Oreckwa bobbed his head in affirmation.
“I am grateful for your peace. On Kobai we are connoisseurs of quiet contemplation.”
The man did something with his face that made the weasel under his nose curve upwards. “Kobai was my home for a time. My first two downlines were born there, in the city of Spring Lacryn. The customs of your people have merit, I respect them even though they are not my own. Impressions there are better made with a still tongue and receptive posture. You have my apology for being so eager to book passage with you that I disturbed your mediation in this peaceful place.”
Arden bobbed his own head, mimicking the Laupmada affirmative, then twisted his head to the left.
“Your apology is received and welcome, Kah Orekwa. I have an appointment to keep, is this your Flit unit?” Arden pointed to a slim curving gadget left beside Kah Oreckwa’s folded outwear. It was a courtesy to ask. Arden knew the device and the owner was obvious; they were the only two people in the baths.
“Yes,” replied Kah Oreckwa without looking. “I may have left it on, I was tracking you through the Rizu Mui’s people finder.”
Arden chuffed a laugh from a quarter-full vocal sac. “I’ll tap it to share the ticket and must-reads for the journey as well as the cargo rates, packaging security…. Did you need a container with pull force?”
“I had it all secured for no-pull just in case,” the man replied.
Arden shifted absently as he tapped some screens on his Flit. “Have the berth payment made before you arrive to board, and make sure the cargo is ready for loading by the time specified. Will you bring your own food or pay for the meal service? There is no chef or fresh cook, only a machine; though I do have some recently harvested raw food in storage.”
Kah Oreckwa considered sutsu then replied, “I’ll pick up some staples in the market and take the food service for the full trip.”
Arden tapped his Flit a few more times then passed it over the other man’s unit until he felt the rolling rub of forces that indicated acceptance of the exchange.
Arden tucked his Flit into its headpiece, an open circlet that rimmed the back of his head keeping the Flit handy and safer from nimble-fingered thieves. Then he pulled the draped fabric over his head forming a dramatic cowl.
“Bast’s blessings until tomorrow, Kah Oreckwa. I look forward to our journey together.”


Author’s note.

As always, this work and all of the writing contained herein is protected by Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No derivatives international license.

I have been hesitant to share this latest installment of my novel Adrift because I am still shaping the character of Arden so I am writing with a focus to get to know him while trying to be mindful of moving the story forward. I am also experimenting with peppering Arden’s side of the book with words from his own world, while being cautious of confusing the reader with gibberish.

I appreciate likes if you like it, but as this story is still developing I also need the kind of feedback that will help make it a better story. Tell me if it’s confusing, stiff, lack-luster – what raises your interest, what kicks you out of the flow of the story. Feel free to ask questions. This work has been on my mind for many years, I may forget to tell the readers something I’ve known for so long I am now taking it for granted.

Also, I’m terrible with punctuation so advice on that score is welcome. Just understand it going in and don’t give up on me for bad comma placement and the like.

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

Adrift: Lady Seran’s Chapters: Chapter 02. aside – What’s in her fridge?

This is not part of the novel. It is one of the many exercises my writer friends challenge me with in order to help me stay on track. Saran is a very difficult character to write. I can picture her mannerisms and I know where her motivations come from, but the fact remains that I do not like her as a person. She is necessary, so I must persevere.

Yesterday my friend Kathy told me about a story she once wrote that was inspired while washing dishes after cleaning out her kitchen cupboards. It was the menial task and the earthy ingredients of a can of Irish Stew that got her writing. It set me to wondering what my characters have in their cupboards. Here’s a little foodie background on Saran inspired by Kathy mentioning her Irish Stew Girl.

 

What’s in her fridge?

Though she has given herself the title of Lady Saran the woman behind
the robes came from meager beginnings. As an orphan of the state, she
spent the first ten years of her life eating nothing but protein meal in
a variety of flavors and consistencies. Days would start with scrambled
egg style protein, a vitamin supplement bar of “froot”, and an
electrolyte water dosed with caffeine and a low glycemic carbohydrate.
Mid-morning and mid-afternoon the kids were given a flavorful squeeze
packet that both refreshed thirst and provided energy. For dinner, the
protein more resembled jerky. It was accompanied by warm crispy fingers
of simulated starch which provided the child with growth and development
boosters based on their physical needs. At the end of the day, the
orphans drank a warm yogurt lightly sweetened with a “froot” cube
containing a mild sedative and analgesic for a restful sleep. The
flavors would change from day to day, but the food itself was nothing
more than an homogenous delivery system for nutrients and calories.

In addition to their studies, all children seven and older had a set of
chores to complete around the orphanage each week. Saran’s job from seven
to nine was opening the food cases delivered each week and restocking
the shelves. At age nine she started skimming certain food items from
the shipments to hoard them in her room. Just before her greed and
rule-breaking were noticed, Saran realized that she didn’t enjoy any of
the food enough for the trouble she could get in and the extra calories
only made her feel sluggish. Unfortunately, she was caught putting the
food back in storage and was relocated to a branch of the orphanage for
troublemakers. The food there was no less nutritious, but no effort was
made to add flavor or to maintain a tolerable consistency.

In adult years, particularly as her following grew, Saran sought out
food made from natural ingredients and found favorites in oatmeal,
creamy soups, root vegetables, mushrooms, and persimmons. To demonstrate
her wealth, the aging Lady Saran had a public shopping list featuring
roe, truffles, quail eggs, and cobayo along with featured foods by some
of her many sponsors. These delicacies were reserved for guests; most
nights Lady Saran wrapped herself around a warm mug of vegetable stew
and toast points.

 

 


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

 

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.}

 


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

 

Adrift: Lady Saran’s Chapters: Chapter 02. Scene 02. Myths By Moonlight

Brigit’s Flame Entry – Week Two October – The Mysterious

“Myths By Moonlight”
Word Count:405
Genre: Science Fiction in the larger work, poetry for the scene with an occult slant.
This scene is one from my character Lady Saran in the novel Adrift. It follows her disappointing meeting with General Greaves and is more of a duty to her on this occasion than the spiritual ceremony she revels in every few years. This is the ritual performed during a full lunar eclipse by the Fellowship of Lunarian Evanescence.

[author’s note: this is a poor excuse for a chapter. I have a real piece of story mapped out to go here, but I need to smooth it out.]


[Lady Saran Stellaluneia gestures broadly to the camera]

Good eve to you, my beings of light. Tonight the world will celebrate Redemption Night as our goddess recedes into the Earth’s shadow. For it is on such a night She compels us to atone for past wrongs, and reconcile with those who have brought us pain or misfortune. It is a night to be freed of ill and remorse – to be freed of all that tarnishes our inner glow.

Pray with me to our goddess for the strength to speak with candor as we confess.
Call upon La Luna to open our hearts wide that we might forgive.
Appeal with me to Our Lady of Light for the gifts of sense to accept the blame that is ours and the grace to not allay guilt by foisting it on others.

As you prepare your floats and lanterns to ascend into Her embrace, lend your voices in supplication to she who lights our path.

 

[The ceremonial orb is lit and veiled.]

In shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon our Moon’s meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

[light four white candles for peace]

Slowly, silently, now our Moon
Arcs the night in silver blaze.
Lifting eyes,
Gilding dreams.

[light four silver candles for hope]

Reflecting pale desire;
Illuminating bitter joy and sweet pain.
Slipping in silence,
From Sol’s paternal gaze.

[light four salmon candles for life]

Wan for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Worn thin to the width of a quill,
Giving light, dying.

[light two rose and two scarlet candles for death]

Before slumber
Before rebirth
Collected woes reflect,
The heart, the will,
That raw place
Still tender to the touch.

[light four salmon candles for healing]

See Her blood
blanched of light,
red as that within us,
Drain away.

[light four silver candles for atonement]

The Moon,
Elegant in veil and lace,
Emerges to trace
Eloquent paths once more.

[light four white candles for renewal]

As Her gifts descend,
Our hearts are made
clean again by Her radiance.

 

[Lady Saran faces the camera]

My wish for you on this sacred day is that peace and light shine on you and through you to light the darkness of our world.

[Lady Saran unveils the orb, cradles it in her palms, and offers the gently glowing sphere to the camera.]
[Glare screen to white]


 

Author’s note- The poem in the ritual is a partial cento including lines from the following works:
1. “At Lunar Eclipse” by Thomas Hardy
2. “Silver” by Walter de la Mare
3. Influenced by “The Half Moon Shows a Face of Plaintive Sweetness” by Christina Rossetti
4. “To The Moon” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
5. “Moon’s Ending” by Sara Teasdale

The interwoven lines were mine.

 


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Adrift: Lady Seran’s Chapters: Chapter 02. Scene 01. A Doomed Moon

This piece of story is the first in three. The submission at Brigit’s Flame was limited to 2,500 words this week and I found it nearly impossible to relate this chapter within the word count.
[edit: this is a second draft – the word count has gone from 1,730 to 2,610 – 1/31/16][edit: I am changing the spelling of the character’s name. It’s not Saran like plastic wrap but Seran like the gas.]

“A Doomed Moon” is another installment in my novel Adrift. This was written fresh for the Brigit’s Flame October prompt Darkness. Stay tuned for more.
Word count 2,610
Genre: Science Fiction.

“Darkness is not just a thing of the sky, but a thing of the heart. Within the dark heart dwells the ruination of man.”

Lady Saran Stellaluneia recalled the line as she studied the distant surface of Phobos. The markings and severe craters of what passed for a moon locally seemed more like unkempt smudges and signs of abuse than the lacy mara that gave character to la Luna of home. She turned away from the window, still hugging her shoulders against the chill of the conference room. Though the wake-up call had only been a few hours ago, the day felt long and Saran’s nerves stretched to their limit.
She crossed the floor, contemplated sitting in one of the chairs that surrounded the table, then crossed to the wall nearest a door. When Aryal came into the room Saran wanted to be free to move and embrace her.
A small butterfly in Saran’s stomach fluttered nervously. She had not seen Aryal in thirty-five years. Thirty-five years. Saran shook her head and the butterfly found a friend.

When her daughter was just six-years-old the Corp had removed the child from Saran’s custody. By the time Aryal was seven, the Board had decided Saran’s daughter would never return home. The corp packed Aryal away inside some distant protective program, to raised as a ward instead of a child. The Board’s decision left Saran with an empty hole in her arms. She had longed to fill it with a child again, but fate had other plans…

Saran hugged herself and shuffled the worst of her thoughts to the back of her head. The important part of the day would be the reunion. Secondary to that, would be the mission – revealing to the world an event or discovery that would change everything.

Greaves had told her almost nothing of this wonder that would transform the world. It was likely some bigger, better engine or a method for creating water out of air. The thing itself would be hyped ad nauseum to increase profits. Maybe, just maybe, it could be a real game changer. Saran smiled wryly to herself — Aryal was involved so it should be wonderful. After all, it was part of the prophecy her church was built on – that the blessed second daughter of the Moon would be the catalyst for great change in the world. Admittedly, Saran and her team of writers had created the prophecy on a whim…and it was her declaration of said omen, in the early days of The Fellowship of Lunarian Evanescence, that set a disturbed man to hunting Saran’s daughter and nearly killing her ex-husband Rafferty.

Saran twitched a guilty shoulder at this thought and absently smoothed the robes over her stomach. There’s no accounting for murderous zealots. It wasn’t her fault that the man had a broken mind, but she had certainly paid the price for it. A steep price indeed.

The priestess shook her head and felt her jaw clench. Damned Greaves had stood against Saran before the Board.
Greaves! Coming to her now with the promise of reuniting mother and daughter as though he were not the instrument that tore them apart.
“Tool,” Saran growled low and flexed her jaw. In those bright times that turned so grave, Greaves was the man in charge of Saran’s household security. And when the madman started his campaign of trouble that boosted Saran’s ratings, it was Greaves who had encouraged Saran to play up the death threats because they stimulated devotion within the infant fellowship.

“Stimulated devotion.” Those were Greaves words before the shooting, but after – in front of the Board – he got stuck on the sound bytes “addicted to adulation” and “irresponsible parenting”. His union rep deflected each statement Saran made regarding Greaves culpability with a short clip of her demanding – out of context – that Greaves “follow my plan and stop whining about the rules.” They turned it around so it appeared Saran had endangered her child despite his warnings for Aryal’s safety.

Saran flicked open her fisted hands to return circulation and watched the small arcs fade from where her nails had indented her palms. One thing that Lady Saran had learned in the past thirty-five years was control. She would not let Greaves taint her reunion with Aryal. His time would come, but first her daughter must return to her arms and the world must receive its promised boon. Saran returned the window, barely noticing the glow of Phobos standing out against the night as her thoughts turned inward on the dark corners of her past.


 

A slight change in the air prompted Saran to shift her gaze from the view of Martian night to the reflection of the room behind her. Greaves stood framed in the doorway, the notched muzzle of a rifle visible over his shoulder. Saran shook her head slightly and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. A formal guard was posted at the door armed with rifles. It was over-the-top to bring that kind pointless firepower into the close quarters of the hallway. Any bullets fired would be doubly dangerous considering the lethal atmosphere one unlucky bullet could introduce to the building. Pistols of inertial scatter shot or tranq darts would make more sense.

Saran slipped into a quick daydream in which she sauntered slowly up to Greaves – smiling broad, arms thrown wide, his guard with their backs to the room – when Greaves came in close for the offered hug she would slip a sharp blade into his crisp uniform…feel it meet the resistance of tender flesh. Would it feel like a pop as the blade won out and slipped between his ribs? If it was sharp enough, maybe thrust into his back, he might not feel it. Greaves would figure out he was dead when he got dizzy and the floor came up to meet his head.

Saran turned from the window, still smiling at the thought of his warm blood slick on her fingers. She reenacted the offer of a hug from her musings. Would he let her get that close?

A look of surprise flickered across his face, but Greaves opened up for the embrace and pulled her in much closer than what was appropriate. Saran felt his hand slide from her shoulder to mid back. She pulled away to avoid misread body language – like invitations or reproach.
“I could kill him,” she thought. “He believes I’m weak or incapable. The man has no consideration for what I could do to him.”
Under any other circumstance, being underestimated would have infuriated Saran but this situation with Greaves…his arrogance was a gift.
Thirty-five years of hate can motivate even the kindest person to extreme methods of vengeance. Saran was not a kind person.

“I’m so glad you’ve warmed up to this,” Greaves commented, kissing her on each cheek. “Are you excited about meeting Aryal or nervous?” Greaves motioned for Saran to take a seat, his hand pressing gently at the small of her back.
“I will say I’m nervous.” Saran stiffly acquiesced to being led to a chair. “But I’m feeling so many things at once, no other emotion is taking shape long enough for identification.”
Greaves nodded and folded into the chair beside her. He turned his body towards Saran — leaning forward, knees wide in the classic everyman pose. Greaves took her hand, resting his own palm up on Saran’s thigh. The intimacy sent an instant flare of nausea to Saran’s senses. Saliva welled in her mouth as she fought the urge to retch.

“Sari, we need to talk about Aryal and how to behave when you meet her.”

“Please call me Saran, or address me as Lady Saran. That other name belonged to a girl I barely remember.”

“Saran. Of course. We are both older, better tempered…” He stroked circles into her hand with his thumb and smiled in a way that had once dazzled the impressionable Sari. Then he sighed heavily. “Aryal is also nervous about meeting you. I’m sure there are many emotions working their way through her brain right now, but the most immediate is a concern that your greeting – in front of all her colleagues – will cross the line of professionalism that she wishes to maintain.”

Saran imagined slicing into his thigh with a whisker-sharp boning knife and smiled, nodding with an understanding that seemed appropriate. She honestly couldn’t decide if the blade should be sharp or dull — the one that would hurt more.

“Your daughter has become a celebrated scientist in her own right. Aryal is one of the most highly respected Xenolinguists in her field. So you can imagine how it would be for her, seeing you again at forty-one, in front of her colleagues and peers. There is a valid concern that you might gush — comment on how much she’s grown, how beautiful she is…. You see where I’m going with this?”

“Aryal wants our meeting to be sanitized and emotionless?”

“Just professional. Because her colleagues will be there. It is a business meeting and a very serious subject.”

Saran pictured a moment of frenzy in which she stabbed Greaves repeatedly with knives in both hands. “Is this too much gushing?” that other self screamed at him.

Instead, the composed woman in the room told Greaves, “This is exactly why I wanted to meet with Aryal when we arrived last night. A private reunion where neither of us would have to worry about the embarrassment of tears or overlong hugs.”

Greaves waffled his head back and forth, then added another hand to the pile forming in her lap. “That was an unfortunate bit of timing. Aryal’s husband Jain is a test pilot. He returned last night from a six-month run to a nearby star system testing a new long-range propulsion drive. The two had been looking forward to a quiet evening behind closed doors when I sprung our arrival on Aryal. She said she needed processing time to mentally prepare for seeing you again, and I suspect that Jain was a bit greedy about sharing her attention for the night – even with you. The two are still very much in love.”

“A heart full of love and ten credits will buy you a weak cup of coffee,” Saran stated bitterly, almost to herself. “I’m her mother. Why does this have to be awkward? She’s not meeting me for the first time…like a stranger. The girl came from my womb.”

“That’s part of the problem Saran. She is a woman, not the six-year-old girl you once knew.”
Saran waved her free hand. “I know that. I know. And I understand about the professionalism. I won’t embarrass her.”

Greaves nodded with a smile. “Good. I will reassure Aryal that the meeting will be a formal and respectful one. I’m glad to put that bit of unpleasantness behind us.”

“Is Aryal on her way now? I’d like to have some refreshments brought to the room. Tea perhaps? It will give me something to do with my hands.”

He patted her thigh in a slimy gesture of reassurance. “Aryal and her team are still hard at work on the course-altering event. They will be locked away for the next few days finalizing…everything.”

Greaves leaned in closer and tucked one hand into hers, the other resting over her wrist. “Saran,” he started in an almost breathy tone, “I want you to have dinner with me tonight. We’ll be in a holding pattern for a few days, but the wait could be a blessing; it could give us time to get reacquainted. I think you’d agree – there are so many things we should talk about.”

Saran twisted her hand a bit to reclaim it. “I don’t want to have dinner or any other meal with you. I didn’t come here for you. Besides, Redemption Night is in a few days and I usually fast. I will return to my rooms and spend the next few days in meditation.”

Greaves regripped her hand sternly. “See…I knew you were harboring ill-will. There is a wealth of anger between us and I would like to make a fresh start. Lighten up, Sari. Push all of that he-said-she-said nonsense out of your head.” Greaves stroked her thigh with two fingers. “Just sweep it all out of the way. We really meant something to each other once.” He whispered.

Saran pulled back. The chair arm caught on a table leg so the resulting exit was limited to five inches, but it was enough to put some distance between Greaves’ unwelcome caress and an old priestess’ thigh. Greaves gripped the chair arm and yanked to pull her back to him.

Saran pushed back in the chair again and half-stood. “Greaves, much like Aryal is not the tearful child I had to give up, I am not that vulnerable girl you toyed with so many years ago –”

“I still see that girl in you, Sari. Together we can be an unstoppable team. I know you want that as much as I do.”

“You can’t believe that Greaves. If so, then you are delusional –”

Greaves ran a hand down her upper arm. “Come to my suite this evening, Priestess, and let me properly atone for past sins.”

Lady Saran finally dropped the mask and let her revulsion show. “I long for the reunion with my daughter – for that I tolerate playing civil with you – but it is as far as I am willing to go.”

Greaves gripped her shoulder painfully. “Aryal will not available for that reunion any time soon. You will have dinner with me tonight or you will not be allowed out of your rooms, except for meetings, for the entire length of your stay. If you do not learn to do more than tolerate me, I will make sure the security team at Mars’ Base treats you as a potential spy – every communique reviewed in and out, no allowance to move about freely even for interviews. You will have an escort parked in your sitting room who takes note of your every move.”

“I can accept that level of scrutiny. It’s far better than the alternative of being groped by you.” Saran awkwardly pushed passed the knee that Greaves had been using to pen her in and walked to the closed door.

“Saran, we are here on more important business than your personal reunion. I did not want to tell you this…Aryal has no interest in seeing you again. They practically had to sedate her when she got my message that I was bringing you to Mars. I’ve been encouraging her to set aside that dark history with you and accept a more personal meeting, but it is not imperative to the business at hand that you be reunited at all. I could send you back to Earth right now with standard copy scheduled to follow. Your whole announcement can be derived from second hand AP lines and Mars backdrops superimposed on green screens. Don’t force my hand on this.” Greaves stood behind Saran, kneading her stony shoulder. “I need you to relax and go with the flow, babe. We can have a nice reunion of our own…or you can go home with your hands full of wasted time.”

Saran had not forgotten how to play Greaves’ game but this time, the victor would get revenge. She smiled thinly while agreeing to dinner. Saran’s smile warmed to something more genuine as she pictured putting a pillow over Greaves’ face and pushing a knife through his heart.


 

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

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.

 


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