Monday, May 30, 2016

15 Provender

The one known as Ch’loi noticed the men when she entered the Last Caravanserai alone and on foot.  They were dressed as merchants but their bodies were not soft like merchants.  They were hard.  They had merchandise all around them, livestock, goods, provisions, baubles, slaves, many, many slaves but they did not show much interest in them.  They appeared bored.  They eyed one’s self aggressively but surreptitiously and again, not like merchants, not with hopeful greed, assessing one for possible financial gain but with wariness, as if assessing one for threat.  Ignoring these, she chose the bivouac of a soft, nervous panthera and sat down on the rug before him.



“Peace and good fortune upon your womb and upon your purse O highly favored lady that you should venture into the humble tent and favor the simple hospitality of Mo’she Din Nera!  Please may I offer you refreshment after your dusty travels and will you suffer to regale the peasant ears of a lowly dog of a servant about your blessed journey and demean yourself to speak of your lofty aspirations and though one so blessed by the gods with such stunning beauty, gracious charm and the obvious glow of the gods’ own wisdom in her jeweled eyes has no need of such a menial worm as I, if it please you to but whisper of your wants perhaps it has also pleased the gods to allow Mo’she Din Nera, son of a motherless goat that he is, to be so also blessed as to have the treasures and provender my pearl of the desert desires.”  Such was the speech of the merchant so laced with flatteries and false modesty that the one known as Ch’loi had not chance to speak before some of the wolves in merchant clothing found pretense to come stand within hearing of their conversation.

“One desires to purchase ten camels and an electric mule.”

“Should those camels have fever too?”  One of the false merchants asked.

Y'all deserve a much better illustration than this,
but by now you must know how that goes. :(
i am working on one though.
It would not do to provoke these men, the one known as Ch’loi guessed so one ignored the question but found it telling just the same.  Mr. Din Nera was somewhat put off by the interruption however and took a second to find his footing.  He no longer seemed as anxious to make a sale now that one had piqued the interest of the interlopers.  He made some disingenuous remarks about the poor nature of his wares and how one would be disappointed in them and should really try some of the other merchants.  The one known as Ch’loi was unsure of how to proceed until the speaker for the false merchants said, “It’s okay Mo’she, sell the lady some camels.  Come on, guys, I think we’re making him nervous.”  They moved away but Mo’she Din Nera never recovered his patter.  He half heartedly and quickly moved to a price for the whole, not even bargaining over each animal.  He took one to the pens and one chose the animals one wanted, having mercy on him, only choosing two of his best as a mating pair, considering one’s self blessed that the female was a milking cow but with the other eight taking obviously deficient animals knowing why one needed them.  All of this took place under the watchful gaze of the imposters. 

will this do?
The electric mule was a concern.  It was stored in a locked shed in a different part of the ancient structure and when Mr. Din Nera took one to see it, they were met by two of the imposters leaving the shed area.  Feeling a little better after one’s generousness in the choosing of the livestock, the merchant had started to banter somewhat again, praising one’s judgment and lamenting having to let the electric mule go at such a rock bottom price.  He didn’t quite mention his children needing food and shoes but he was warming up to it, one suspected.  The sight of the imposters around his shed silenced him again.  He took an atypical amount of time to work the lock and keyed the remote.  The robot grunted and rose to its feet and the merchant breathed a sigh of obvious relief. 

The one known as Ch’loi inspected it, spending most of one’s time checking the strength of the cargo tie downs.  The purchase was completed, the coins changed hands and the one known as Ch’loi took leave of the walls of the Last Caravanserai.  A group of the imposters was lounging near the gate and as one and her camels and the electric mule passed by one heard him say, “Be seeing you.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

14: Consequences

The Catamaran came over the dune well after first light, not that there was much, the sky was a burnt umber of blowing sand.  Alone, Kurga stood to meet it.  Skidding sideways, it slowed but did not stop.  A rope ladder whipped against the side and Kurga wondered briefly if he should miss it, would the Captain swing around again.  He doubted it but then he was in a black mood and everything today was viewed through a thick and distorted lens.  

He did not miss.  He climbed aboard and settled to the deck as if the rifle over his shoulder weighed the world.  He leaned back against the gunwale and became aware of its presence, struggled with it mightily and heaved it away from him.  Unencumbered, he laid his head against the warm, rough wood and closed his eyes.  

Captain Rayjay came and stood over him, “The Viceroy’s pet?”

“Stayed behind.  Her choice,” Kurga told him.  

“And Amis?”

Kurga shook his head.  “Also her choice.”  Captain Rayjay grunted as if he had expected as much and went back to the wheel.  He barked orders and more sail was lowered and the Catamaran rose up on the leeward hull and began to hiss as it picked up speed.  It happened that it pushed Kurga deeper into his recline and so he felt no need to get up or get out of the way.  He lay there like a sack of potatoes from the hold, uncaring whether or not anyone even tripped over him.  The ship’s physician came to check on him but otherwise they left him as he lay.  He slept, woke, noticed the haze of the sky was lighter, orange-er.  He rolled onto his side and lay his head against some hawser and slept some more.  

This time he awoke in his hammock below decks.  It was dark but then, below decks was always dark.  Still, he was sure it was night.  He wondered if he had come down here on his own or if they had carried him?  He decided it didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered.  Amis was gone.  Ch’Voga was gone.  Ch’loi had turned out to be…what?  A traitor?  True to herself?  He did not know.  He did not want to think about it.  What was to become of him now?  His benefactors were gone.  This should have worried him.  A few months before it would have terrified him.  Now he was surprised to find he really didn’t care that much.  Two times out into this waste had changed him.  Burned away his ideas of who and what he was.  Blowing sand had scraped and eroded him down to bare, dry bones.  It had scraped his future down to bare, dry bones.  He climbed up on deck and surveyed a gray, featureless landscape both inside and out. 

Captain Rayjay came and stood at his shoulder.  “Are you well, Kurga?”  He tried to remember but he thought this was the first time the Sailor-soldier had ever called him by his name.  It was a rare show of sympathy.  For what?  What had he lost?  A friend?  A job?  A purpose?  

An identity.

“As well as can be expected Captain, thank you.”  Rayjay nodded and looked to move away.  “Captain, would you do me a favor?”  Captain Rayjay raised one eyebrow.  “From now on, would you be so kind as to refer to me only as, ‘Ch’Byartha’?”  

The eyebrow was joined by the other.  “As you wish.”  He turned and moved back to his station.  Ch’Byartha turned back to the night and the Sea of Sand.  Ch’Byartha.  He said it a few more times in his head to plant it there.  He said it a few more times to drive the stake home.  He was Ch’Byartha.  


Son of Failure.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

13: Choices

Kurga had to catch himself.  Nothing louder than a murmur had ever escaped Ch’loi’s lips.  Her scream sent a shock through his spine.  Amisbhake’s eyes over his weapon were wide as well, his ears flat back.  What could so terrify someone as unflappable as Ch’loi?  

He heard it before he saw it, a thumping, thundering, chopping of air.  A thrumming that grew louder and louder and as it increased, his urge to flee grew with it.  His whole body pulsed with it.  It drove him to his knees.  It hurt to look at.  He wanted to cover his ears.  He got a glimpse of something like a trailing tangle of vines or hair or ropes in the sky, a ghastly kraken of myth before the blowing sand forced his eyes shut.  The thing slammed into the ground and Amis’ Levin-bolt cracked.

“Forget stun!” Kurga yelled at him, “Give it a kill shot!”

“That was the kill shot!” Amis bellowed back.  Kurga saw the monster stagger but keep coming.  Amis fired again, the monster dodged the bolt of lightning and whip like appendages snapped the weapon in half, wrenching Amis forward at the same time.  He rolled in the sand, coming up with his silver sword and Kurga turned to see where Ch’loi was.  Fighting the panic, fighting to stand his ground, fighting nausea.  Everything was moving too fast.  He couldn’t keep up.  What was that overwhelming thrumming?  It was like being inside a huge machine.  Where had she gone?  

He spotted her dragging the unconscious monotooth as fast as she could.  She was running away while Amis fought for her!  “Soulless wretch!” he tried to yell.  Her cowardice finally overcame his fear.  He worked the action on his rifle and turned back to the battle.  He managed to get one shot off into the dark writhing mass of whips and tendrils that he could see in the moonless night then it was boiling past him and to his horror he saw it was dragging Amis in much the same way as Ch’loi dragged her kin but faster, much faster.  And with a blast of wind and the same chopping noise it lifted off the ground and overtook her in a powerful leap.  

He ran.  He knew he wouldn’t get there in time but he ran.  For the first time in his life, Kurga ran toward danger.  He held no illusions of his ability to save anyone.  He just ran fully expecting to be the last corpse to fall.


When he was close enough to see but not so close that the thrumming overpressure caused his eyes to tremble in his skull he stumbled to a stop, his lungs burning, his body heaving, yet he brought the rifle up and put one bulging eye to its sights.  There was the monster, Amis in one mass of tentacles, the monotooth Ch’loi had been dragging in another.  It wasn’t speaking in any way that Kurga could hear but the gesture was obvious.  Ch’loi, who was obviously hurt and on her knees before it was being offered a choice.  Which one did she want, her Lord Counselor, protector and mentor or the blood sucking zombie?  In horror Kurga watched, aghast as her hand rose and pointed to the monotooth.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

12: Fear

She read to them from the Fire-maker’s book as they drank but her heart wasn’t in it.  “And do not let the foreigner who joins himself to Yahweh say, “Surely Yahweh will separate me from his people.”
    And do not let the eunuch say, “Look! I am a dry tree!”
For thus says Yahweh, “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    and choose that in which I delight,
    and who keep hold of my covenant.
And I will give them a monument and a name in my house and within my walls,
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give him an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.” 

She did not know why she read this passage to them.  Usually she chose something about water or deserts.  Things the Monotooth understood.  Thirst they knew.  One night she thought she had made some headway when she read about ‘rain’ to them and one asked her what it was.  She had told the youngling, it was usually the younglings that still had some natural curiosity left, about water she had seen falling from the sky in the Western Pasturelands.  How it caused plants to grow.  How it gathered in rivers and pools.  How green everything was.  The child had asked what “green” was but an elder ‘tooth had gathered it up and whisked it off when they were full.  Nine nights it had been the same.  They came, they ate, they left.  And only one or two innocent questions to show the words had touched them at all.  Tonight appeared to be no different.  In fact, they seemed uneasy again, like they had been the first night, wary, afraid, expecting a trap.  Positively in a hurry to be gone.  And there were no youngling about this night. 

“You are few in number tonight.”  They went on slurping through their tooths.  “Where is the kin who came with you before?”  Sucking noises.  The corpses were nearly empty husks.  She repeated the question.  They ignored her.  She repeated it again.  One broke from their rank, not done but done and fled over the dunes and into the night.  The others became more agitated. Another broke and ran.  Then another.  She caught the last straggler by the arm.  It lashed at her and she took the blow on the side of the head but did not release it. 

“Where are they?  Where are your kin?”

*afraid*, it cast at her and clawed at her hand. 

“Why?  Why afraid?”

*!!FEAR!!*, it threw her back, it cast so hard Ch’loi nearly wretched but she held on, there was a snapping noise, a tingling in the air and on her skin and the sinew beneath her hand went slack.  When she opened her eyes the Monotooth she had held was limp in her grip, alive but stunned and

No!  Nonononono!  She knew now.  She had seen in the cast, she had seen everything.  As violently as the Monotooth had cast at her, she now opened her mouth and shrieked at Amisbhake and Kurga, “RUN!!!”
Lord Counselor Amisbhake and the merchant were coming toward her. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

11: What the lizard saw

Kurga landed in a heap, getting the wind knocked out of him and sucking in a mouthful of sand in trying to retrieve it.  Large paws pulled him upright and brushed him off, putting the rifle back into his hands.  “You look more or less intact,” Amis kept his voice down.

“I could have handled jumping myself,” Kurga sputtered.

“I’ve no doubt.  And I’m sorry we missed the peculiar joys of trying to find each other in the dark, maybeit another time.  Can you walk?”

“My head is pounding.”



“Will it affect your feet?”

“I don’t think so.” 

Amis hoisted him up one handed and practically carried him along till he found his stride.  They ascended the nearest dune, the wind energetically trying to undress him, then down the other side into some relief.  Across the trough, plunging up to their knees with almost every step in the shifting sand.  And up again.  Wind.  Trough.  Slough.  Climb.  ‘Captain Rayjay couldn’t have dropped us closer?’ Kurga groused in his own head.  Wind.  Trough.  Slough.  Climb.  Amisbhake roughly forced him to the ground at the next crest.  The indignity of the treatment was overcome by his relief to finally stop running.  Several weeks on a boat had done nothing for his conditioning.  Amisbhake pulled something from his bag and released what appeared to be a salamander.  It scurried over the top of the crest and was gone.  Amis then lit up a flat sort of lamp.
“What is that?  Klust!  It can see in the dark?  You’re looking through the lizard’s eyes?”

“In a manner of speaking.  It’s a legionary spytool.  The “lizard” is artificial and yes, it can see in the dark.”

“There!” Kurga pointed at the screen.  “That’s Ch’loi, gods, she reads that book whatever she’s doing, doesn’t she?  But what is that next to her?”

“That,” Amis whispered, “I’m afraid, is what she came here for.”

“What she… but what is it?”

“Her own kind.”

Sunday, February 21, 2016

10: The Factor

Consciousness.  Crisis.  Awareness.  Anxiety.  Existence.  Fear. 

They were all one and the same.  It did not think about such things.  It hardly thought at all.  There was no time.  There was no margin.  All was anxiety.  All was stress.  If one felt the ground beneath to be secure, if one’s stock were producing then the need to keep producing, keep on top, keep up was a crushing weight from above.  If one’s share from collective was favorable then one felt held out over a pit.  One could fail.  One could fall.  One’s stock could be increased or decreased, stock could be injured, fail or cease to produce.  Nothing done before mattered.  There would be no credit.  All was now.  And now was a fine time to fail.  Fear could also come from the side.  Rival factors might take one’s stock.  Take one’s share.  Take one’s very being.  Nothing was secure.  All was negotiable.  All was capricious.  All one had to count on was one.  And one was never sure if one was enough.  There were a million ways to fail and one had to anticipate them all.  If one had nothing else to do, one could be very busy trying to anticipate the next crisis.

It had not anticipated this crisis. 

It had not even been sure there was a crisis.  The stock were still harvesting.  The share was delivered on time.  And that was the first worrying sign.  The harvesters were becoming regular, as if not having to search far for food.  As if something or someone was feeding them.  It sensed a rival.  There as a stench on the returning stock, almost familiar.  Yet there was something of the foreign about it too.  And foreign was crisis.  Another collective?  It should alert it’s own factor.  But only when it was sure.  A false report was worse than no report.  It would get surety.  It had waited by the aperture for its stock to return.  It chose one, not at random, a poor performer typically, it had quickly risen to equal the factor’s best harvesters.  Another ill omen.  It looked positively sleek, its crop full.  The factor had pounced on it, encircling it, squeezing it till its eye shutters bulged.  It had cast anger at the rest, paralyzing them and forcing them back against the wall of the tunnel. 

“Where?”  It was a typical cast, a typical question of the hive, where O harvester, did one find this food?  At times a celebration, a reason for the collective to rejoice, to do a joy dance.  Here, in this tunnel nearly hot with rage and quivering with fear, the victim bursting and cracking in the Factor’s crushing grip, it was an accusation.  One, amazingly, frighteningly, not answered at first.  How far had they been turned?  Were they already in the employ of the foreign factor?  Were they spies? 

Traitors?  The stakes must be raised.  The fear must be real.  It raised a feeding tentacle, let it hover in the face of the victim for all to see and poked it through the eye socket of the chosen sacrifice.  Gore and bile burst around it as the pressure was somewhat relieved.  It drank.  It took its time.  First the victim’s own innards, then down into the cavity, into its crop.  The others watched and shrank back even more.  “Where?”  this time it did not bellow.  This time it purred. 

Then they told.  They told everything.  And the Factor had made its plan. 


Sunday, February 14, 2016

9 Over the Side

The crewmen were masked and nervous and it wasn’t only because Ch’loi stood on the rail over them, balancing herself with a ratline.  Nine days of their macabre task had not been enough to inure them to the risks.  “I do not care for our odds of making it back to port without contracting the fever ourselves.  This is a cursed voyage if ever there was one.”  Captain Rayjay summed up what they were thinking.  “Stand by there!”  The crewmen grabbed their first wrapped bundle of the night at the corners with thick gloves.  “Heave ho!”  The first plague cadaver went over the stern, followed by Ch’loi leaping to the sand below, closely followed by the other three sheet-wrapped corpses as fast as they could grab them and heave them.  When the last one was safely in their wake, they stripped off the gloves and tossed them too.  Captain Rayjay removed his mask and spat.  “Good riddance.”  Kurga thought it prudent not to ask which the good captain was more pleased to be rid of, though he did wonder.  “Are you still set upon your fool’s errand?” the Captain asked Amisbhake. 

“I am,” the Lord Counselor said. 

They skimmed the dune crest, gathering speed from the higher winds and then when the Captain felt something only he could sense, he heeled the catamaran over and down the back side and into the trough.  The boat careened and plunged with familiar if sickening speed and Kurga waited for his stomach to find its customary place again.  The other nine nights they had put as much distance as they could, upon her orders, from Ch’loi and her silent cast aways until the second watch when they would tack back and pick her up, alone, well after dawn. 

Tonight however, the Captain navigated the boat through a maneuver designed to bring them as near to the drop point as he felt he could without being seen.  This took some time with the contrary winds and his efforts to keep the mast’s tip from breaking the horizon.  He drove on in a glowering silence but the time came and he announced it, “Make ready.”

“I’d like to join you if i may,” Kurga heard himself say.

“Really?”  Amisbhake said.

“Yes.”

“I’m .. mildly shocked.”

“As am I,” Kurga said, “I wasn’t sure myself until just this moment, though I’d been considering it all day.”

“I suspect it’s going to be rather dangerous?”

Kurga smacked his lips and found them dry, “yes.”

“Alright then,” the Lord Counselor assented, somewhat to Kurga’s chagrin.

Captain Rayjay shook his head.  “Get the fool a weapon,” he ordered his first mate.  The mate brought a heavy rifle to the merchant. 

“You’ve used one of these before?”




“Something similar.”  The mate pointed out the safety, the ejector and which end the bolts came out.  Handed him an extra clip and patted him on the shoulder.    Kurga was less than reassured but he had no time to reconsider for the Captain gave the word and Amisbhake grabbed and handful of Kurga mounted the rail and leapt.