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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sorry for the delay...

Stand by y'all, i was writing this morning... hopefully good stuff to come.

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.