Sunday, February 5, 2017

20 Soon

The feeding time came.  The Harvesters came in, their crops bulging, or not, each according to the success of it and its kin’s foraging.  Each went directly to its own Factor, and each Factor moved nary a tentacle to receive them until they were nearly touching.  And, as is the way of Factors, moved only then as if uninterested but granting the trembling Harvester a favor.  But make no mistake, each Factor there sized up the crops of one’s rivals.  Which was successful?  Which was not?  Were any floundering?  Could power moves be made?  Which Factor could be a useful ally?  Which a threat?  Which could be overpowered and its stock subsumed?  The Factor-with-the-Plan had long ago trained its stock on penalty of death to always, ALWAYS send a full Harvester to it in the Factorium even if it meant the rest need starve.  This deliberate masquerade of strength or weakness was necessary and yet in the end, useless.  All Factors did it.  So the relative strength of a Factor’s Stock was still known.  A Factor which was fed from a hungry Harvester was a Factor with nothing left to hide behind; it was a Factor marked.

These moons no Harvester came in flush.  Prey animals rarely ventured this far into the Sea anymore.  Even the stinging meat animals were rarely seen since the last hive of them was overpowered in the most recent raid.  The Stock had to range far and wide and use far too much of it’s own crop to return.  Much of the casting and dancing around the Factorium of late dealt with the need for a new raid and where it should be focused.  The mood was ripe.  The Collective Factors of Factors would decide eventually.  But an ambitious Factor, a daring Factor, a Factor with a Plan could find co-conspirators in the tense tangle of tentacles. 

It was therefore with barely restrained eagerness the Factor-with-the-Plan perceived the particular Harvester which brought its evening feeding.  One which it had not perceived in much time.  A weary and travelworn Harvester.  Still, it could not appear eager.  So it left the miserable creature to tremble a while.  Then it slithered out a thick grasping limb and drew it close.  A feeding tentacle pierced its crop and slowly it began to drink.  The Factor was nearly trembling itself.  It took particular care not to damage the Harvester overly much.  It restrained itself.  It drank with care, holding the vessel as something precious.  Not for the life sustaining ichor within its very body but the knowledge it now held in something no tentacle could reach.  How to extract this without being noticed by the other Factors?

“Where?” it cast.
“Far-far.” it cast back.
“Success?”  The Harvester raised one arm and let it fall as if involuntarily.  There were many bodily responses to a Factor’s feeding, few of them premeditated.
“Success?”  One asked again.  One must be sure.  Slowly, the same arm raised and was allowed to just drop as if the Harvester swooned.  One nearly broke the Harvester in one’s joy but it cast fear to One and One relaxed it’s grip and ended the feeding, setting it back on its own feet.  “Prepare kin,” it cast.  Tell the others to get ready.
“When?” the Far-far Foraging Scout Harvester asked.  When would the Plan be implemented?  How much time did one have to prepare?  The Factor scanned the Factorium.  One had spent the interminable time of waiting observing One’s fellow Factors.  One had formed a list of potentials.  One now narrowed it further.  Potentials could be neither too strong nor too weak.  Potentials must be desperate and ambitious enough to undertake a risky venture but not so weak as to unable to be helpful.  But again, for One’s purposes, Potentials must not be strong enough to be challengers.  The Plan required control.  One would need be careful in all choices.  Even in giving One’s stock information too specific. 
“Soon,” it cast.  “Go.”  “Prepare.”

Saturday, December 31, 2016

19: Tales and Mysteries

Morning in the market and the blind man upon the mat with his staff upon his knees sensed the crowd was ripe.  “Tales!  Tales and mysteries!  Mysteries and wonders!  Wonders and tragedies!  Tragedies and folly!  Folly to bring your heart to tears and tear great rents in your faith!  Tragedies to keep you holy!  Tales of the terrors that come when one leans even one step to the left or to the right of righteousness!  Do not be afraid!  Come to me children and learn!  Educate yourselves!  Seek ye and find wisdom at the feet of Ch’Byartha!”

“Wisdom?  At’chor feet?  Hah!  Fungus more like as not, Son of Failure!”

“Fungus, aye, well born finder of flora!  A horticultural wealth have I as anyone with eyes can see.  Just as anyone with wisdom can see that a mocker’s eyes peer no deeper than skin!  Even to what lay upon the skin!  Failing even to penetrate the most diaphanous of armors!  Breathe easy fair maidens!  Were thy so distracted as to venture forth this glaring desert day in nothing more than thy translucent night shifts, no risk would thy feminine delights have of being lecherously oogled by this near sighted owl!” he heard suppressed laughter of a feminine variety. 

“Nor from a blind beggar, I reckon!”

He leapt to his feet.  “Wounds!  Insults!  False Witness!  Come near, Slanderer, and receive thy lumps from my staff or art thou a knave despising justice as well as a scoundrel farmer of falsehood?”

“Are you saying you’re not blind?”

“Blind I be!  Aye, and proud of it for in blindness I see farther than your myopic marbles have peered in seven lifetimes of sightless sight!  Blindness has opened my eyes!  In the Great Sea Fever took my life and I have been reborn!  Fever-blindness has fathered me!  Wisdom has mothered me!  In the darkness of her womb my eyes have seen the Light!”

“You’re mad.”

“Ho!  Again!  Insults!  Lies!  Fabrications!  Twice now I need demand righteous retribution!”  Ch’Byartha swung the staff a few times over the tittering children he could easily hear all around him.  This was a good crowd, well mixed, families, travelers and merchants.  Mo was playing his part well, they should earn a pretty penny.  “Sightless be my eyes now but the blindness methinks is yours!  Neither mad am I nor a beggar!  But a merchant!  Scion of an aristocratic tree!  Born a merchant prince of a merchant baron, patriarch of an ancient noble trading family!  A failure and a cause of eternal shame to them I have become, tis true and a madness may yet the future hold, Yah willing, but to this very day, never have my paws procured a penny without some goods or service rendered! 

A fair trade I offer.  Nay!  A bargain!  For a purveyor of Wisdom am I now!  A trader of Truth!  A seller of Insight!  What price wilt thou put upon Wisdom, Seeker?  What price the priceless?  What cost the incalculable?  What value the invaluable?”

“What is he prattling on about?”

“Ah, he’s an entertainer, can’t you see?  Street performer.  Give ‘im a coin or two and he spins a yarn.  Alright Merchant son of whatever, don’t rupture an organ, you haven’t much left to lose by the look of it.  Here you go, regale us!  What wisdom does a shoeless vagrant of a frontier port have?  By the smell of it, all we will learn is the best place to buy cheap bourbon!”

Ch’Byartha took the coins proffered by the audience and hefted them to gauge their worth.  Satisfied they would keep him in whiskey for the rest of the week even after giving Mo his cut, he rapped his staff for silence, cleared his throat and began, “What wisdom have I?  A yarn ye purchased and a yarn ye shall have!  And though thou malign my person and my honor, only the very best will I bring out of my storehouse for thee!  For I shall tell thee of not one but the tragic fates of two sons of that great shepherd of the people!  Steward of the vital emerald jewel of the continent!  Captain of the courageous!  Priest and Prophet of Yah and His Viceroy over the Great Western Pastureland!  Chofa the Benevolent!”

“Viceroy?  Chofa?  Bah!” a voice complained, “Give me back my coins, imposter!  I will not pay for wisdom which has gone sour upon the shelf!”

Ch’Byartha stopped.  Took two steps toward the voice and reached out to find the owner’s hand.  Grasping it firmly he pressed money into it and said, “Here they are and consider them payment or refund and call me a beggar if you like for it seems instead it is you who has a tale I beg you to tell!”

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

18: an Effective Clutch

CRISIS! FEAR! PARALYSIS!  The worst of all possible outcomes! 

The Factor sent three.  Follow the meat animals.  See where the animals den.  Find the animals’ hive.  Report.  The Factor sent three, an effective clutch, successful in many sendings.  The Clutch rode upon the meat animal’s windboat.  Underneath.  Out of sight.  Crawling out in darkness to feed on the animals.  Lightly.  Sparingly.  Not to drain but to quench the Need.  To silence.  To survive.  To continue the sending. 

Fever took the animals one by one.  Feeding became easier.  Less eyes to notice the Clutch.  Less attentive.  More sickened.  Less drove the boat.  Slower it went.  Could a windboat die?  Was it an animal too?  Did it feed off the meat animals?  The Clutch discussed this.  The Clutch wondered what to do if the windboat stopped when the last of the animals ceased to be vital.  The mission would fail.  The Clutch would fail.  The Factor would …

One must not picture what the Factor would do.  To die in one’s mind before dying in one’s body.  One would screamcast.  One would become ineffective.  The Factor sent three.  Two now held down one as it screamcast its fear.  It wished to leap upon the burning windboat.  It wished to risk exposure to the meat animals upon the skyboat.  It wished to gather precious bloated corpses, full of ichor, full of vitality for drinking.  It wished to fill its crop before the flames turned all to ash and useless vapor.  It must not.  The animals upon the skyboat would have hornets.  Buzzing, cracking, crackling weapons which though small, could sting.  Some stings just made holes.  Some turned harvesters to ash and vapor.  Others struck like the lightning of sandstorms.  The hornets were a plague the meat animals alone possessed.  Skyboats were ghastly effective at using these weapons.  One must never let one’s self be seen.  Two sat upon one.  The windboat burned.  The skyboat grew smaller and smaller toward where the sun rose. 

Just before it disappeared completely, One’s clutchmate inquired if One could subdue the third alone.  One chopped.  The clutchmate pulled two pieces of debris from the burning wreckage and then carefully set one in the sand.  Then it crawled as far from the burning windboat as it dared and planted the second stick.  It buried itself into the sand and took many sightings over it’s stick.  It moved it slightly, took more sightings and then watched without moving until the skyboat was beyond seeing.

The danger of being observed passed and One let up the panicked third kin.  It leapt upon the burning windboat, not much more than a skeleton, black and crumbling.  The kin dragged two partially burned corpses out, all three of them still on fire.  The two fell upon the precious corpses, rolling them in the sand and putting out the flames.  Then the two attended to the one.  It was damaged but serviceable.  All three harvested the corpses, draining them.  There was much less than one would have hoped.  There was no way to know how much, the Need subsided but a harvester had no sense of one’s own crop.  It could be full or empty.  One could only guess from other data.  The drinking had not been long.  Movement was not heavy or sluggish.  One guessed the crops of the Clutch were closer to empty than full. 

“PUZZLEMENT”  One cast to it’s mates.  It danced the familiar dance of the collective, ‘Harvester, where hast thou found food?’  The kin knew what was meant.  What must the Clutch do?
The effective Clutch sat on its haunches and waited.
The windboat burned out.
One used resin to repair damage to the burned kin.
One slept.
The sun set.  The wind cooled.
The stars came out from hiding.  The undamaged kin took new sightings along it’s planted sticks at the lights.  One saw the kin’s plan now.  Guidance by star was well known among them.  The sticks had allowed one to keep track of the skyboat’s course.
“FOLLOW.” it cast and the effective Clutch set out.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

17: the Pale Green Pennant

Thom made up his mind at last but it didn’t mean he had to tell the whole crew.  He climbed up the mast, through the well and onto the deck and that alone caught the first mate’s interest.  
“Mr. Doggel, is there a problem?”
“No, er, aye, or rather, was wondering the mate’s opinion on a matter.”
“And I’m wondering why you thought it important enough to abandon your post.  Yet here we are.”
“Aye sir, when ye has a moment.  Be needing yer expertise in the tees.”  Thom slid back to his perch as lookout.  Mr. Kirakiray did not come down straight away, though it was doubtful he had anything real to attend on decks.  The heavy freighter practically sailed itself.  Maintain altitude and there was nothing out here to hit or see for days.  
Or so Thom had thought.
At last the first mate lowered himself down to Thom’s perch beneath the great airship and between breaths and oaths asked what was of such fiery import.  “That,” Thom pointed, “four points offa north there, just skirtin’ the horizon.”  Lt. Kirakiray trained his glass in the direction and took a moment to focus.  Thom knew from the low curse exactly when he recognized it for what it was.  There was no missing that long pale green pennant.  The Lieutenant studied it a bit longer then lowered the glass as though it had gained the weight of the knowledge they now shared in pounds.  “You gunna tell ‘im?”  
“He’ll want to know.”
“But if he didn’t know, then he wouldn’t know, y’know?”  The first mate just looked at him.  He knew.  “We could just keep on sailin’.  Maybe even make port in a week.  Hale and hearty as you ever are right here’n now.  Jes’ sayin’.”  The first mate still didn’t say anything, his heavy brows in close council with each other and Thom allowed himself to hope.  
“He’ll want to know,” he repeated.
Thom let go the breath he had been holding.  “Aye sir, reckon he will,” and under his breath, “Reckon ‘e won’t wanna lead the boarding party though.”

He, being the captain, did not want to lead the boarding party.  Technically, with his suckered feet dropping onto the plague ship’s deck first, Thom led the boarding party.  Though Kirakiray was the officer in charge.  In full chemsuits, he and the other two took a might bit longer to descend the rope ladder.  Thom secured the dangling end of the boarding ladder, poked through the whole catamaran and secreted a few baubles and doohickeys that might fetch a penny in port before they plopped onto the deck.
“Yer a fool, Thom Doggel,” said Bodhi.  “Scamperin’ aboot with no coverin’.”
Thom shrugged.  “Those suits are for nasties and acids in the hold.  No proof or provin’ against fever.  Though the respirator mighta helped with the smell.  Some of these poor bastards ain’t been dead a week.”
“You’ve been through the whole boat, they’re all dead then?” Kirakiray asked.
“Aye sir, all dead.”  A ‘dead’ body lashed to the mast above their heads moaned.  Thom rolled his eyes.  It just couldn’t keep quiet a couple of moments longer, could it?  “All save one.  Appears one is clingin’ to a wee bit o’ life yet.”
“Well, Thom, seein’ as yer fond of climbing and are unencumbered, you can have the pleasure of retrieving the not-quite-dead.”  They made a pile in a lowered cargo net of anything useful, gathered the ships logs and markers while Thom laced a harness to the dying panthera hanging from the ship’s yard like a crucified criminal.  
“Nng, leave me, ‘m cursed!” it hissed through cracked lips.
 “No argument from me, m’raka.  Reckon you’ll get your chance to kill our ship same as yours afore you kick.  Up to me, i’d cut yer throat and burn yer filthy kindlin’ around you.”  He drew his hooked blade and one of the panthera’s eyes bulged at him, yellow and wet like a hard boiled egg.  “Lucky fer you, t’aint up to me.”  He slashed the lashings cutting the wretch free of the doomed boat to swing upwards into the clear sky and waiting airship.  “And may God have mercy on’er souls.”

Friday, November 25, 2016

16 Flush

All had gone so very well.  Success would breed more success.  Greater success.  The ground beneath could be solid and stable or it could be the most capricious shifting sand it wanted, the Factor hovered over all.  The Factor had returned victorious.  The Factor had set in motion a plan.  This first victory was mere proof of the plan’s efficacy.  Greater victory was inevitable.  The Factor would be a hero of the collective. 

It allowed itself to fantasize deeper as it drove the stock before it to the hive.  Cowed.  Humiliated.  Defeated.  Harvesters.  It would be a manager of lowly harvesters no more when this plan was complete.  It would not even be a Factor of Factors.  If all went well, and why should it not?  The Harvesters it had dispatched would find the source of these prey animals.  They would report.  It would not sit and worry in another’s Collective any longer.  It would lead and conquer.  It would start its own Collective!  Its own Hive!  It would not be Factor, but Primate!  No more fear.  No more anxiety.  It would be above.  It would be the One-All-Feared.

The tip of the Spire of the Hive became visible on the Horizon as the sky was just beginning to lose the deep purple of night.  It more than passingly resembled a harvester’s needle tipped feeding tooth.  As if the hive had pierced the heavens and were drinking the ichor of god.  

Where had that thought come from?  When had the Factor ever had time for thought, much less poetry and metaphor?  Never.  Never had it been so flush.  So full.  So … foolish!

So vulnerable!  The Plan was good.  The Plan was victorious.  But the Plan was larval.  It’s shell soft.  Much could go wrong.  The full Factor was the one with most to lose.  Other Factors would see.  Other’s would grow suspicious.  Other's would covet its success.  Other’s would take what it had birthed.  All was delicate and tenuous.  All evidence must be obscured.  It landed and vomited its fullness upon the sand and buried it.  A terrible waste, a cardinal sin but then so was the traitorous plan.  It has no intention of sharing its success, its victory with the Collective.  So all evidence, no matter how hungry it would be, must be eradicated.  Then it remembered the weakly struggling prey creature in its tentacles.  It would arouse suspicion for the Factor to bring live prey into the Hive.  Especially if it was seen entering the Hive with all of its stock full but unencumbered.  Queries would be made.  Queries it wanted to avoid.

It cast to its trembling stock and tossed the animal to them.  “Dispose,” it ordered.  “Stay.  Wait.  Come Tonight.”  There.  The evidence was covered.  The spoor obscured.  The Plan was safe.  It could accomplish it, if it was cunning.  So much could go wrong.  It must be careful.  It must consider.  It must not be a fool.  It was too close to ultimate victory.  The Plan was tenuous, slender, easily broken by even one event the Factor failed to anticipate. It flew the rest of the way to the Hive feeling relieved but anxious, the shuttered, unblinking eyes of the Harvesters watching it all the way.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Question for y'all.

So, what tends to hold up some of these are the illustrations.  i can sit and write a piece in a couple of hours, but illustrations, both the concept and the execution can take days the way i work.  And maybe that's silly.  You, loyal reader, should have a say in this.  The next entry is sitting i a queue waiting for its illo.  Do you care?  Would you rather just have the words, damn the picture?  Or would you rather wait?  How important, i guess i'm asking, is the corresponding doodles?  It's not like they're masterpieces or anything.  And it could be days yet till i get a chance to work on it.  Let me know if you care in the comments section.