Sunday, August 20, 2017

30: a Sensible Search

Fear.  One was a fool.  How could one harvester search such a hive in just a few nights.  If all the Effective Clutch was with One, it together would not be able to search this sprawling, multi-level hive in a moon cycle!  The scents and signatures all blended together and disappeared into the desert, blown away by the wind.  The Collective Hive was laid out in such a way as to aid a Harvester’s senses, the wind trapped, manipulated.  One could follow one’s sense of smell to the hatchery or to the Factors’ feeding chamber or to and entrance.  The scents weren’t jumbled, overlapped, confused as they were here.  One needed a plan.  One needed one’s clutchmates.  One needed information one did not have.  Knowledge of the meat animals’ hive and its workings.  One had no time.  One had no aid.  One was one.  One was inadequate.

The Kinslayer had avoided the hornet’s hive-camp.  One feared.  The Purpose required one alive, one must be successful.  Detection or injury by the hornets would doom the mission.  Harvesters stalked and drank hornet animals when necessary.  If the Need had been greater, more pressing, if prey wasn’t in such abundance, one would have overcome one’s fear.  

Interesting, the Kinslayer thought, One thought a lot now, which had been last night’s interesting thought, One was more vulnerable to fear and self-preservation when one’s crop was full.  One was in danger of indulging One’s fears.  One’s safety was not more important than the Purpose.  One could suppress fear when One was in the thrall of the Need.  The Kinslayer felt it had been remiss.  One would search the hornet animal’s camp!

Tomorrow.  Tonight the hornet camp was alert and a wailing fear sound emanated from it.  Hornets and their machines were swarming out into the meat animal city.  Perhaps there would be time to search it the next day.  No, but soon, the search would have to be stepped up, the Swarm could not be far off now.  One would have to search during the day as well.  The Kinslayer added fear of searching during the day to its growing list of dreads.  

Feed.  Drink.  Hunt, stalk, subdue.  Feeding soothed the Need.  It hushed the fear.  The Kinslayer crept from shadow to shadow, staying up out of eyesight.  The meat animals custom of building their chambers up and separate like small, stunted hive spires made staying above their sight line much easier.  Eaves and roofs hid the Kinslayer from view.  Meat animals seldom looked up, if one moved slowly; One had observed meat animal’s vision to be drawn to movement.  The Kinslayer decided to search the part of the meat hive as far from the hornet camp as possible.  One was only being sensible.  

One picked up a scent of a youngling and followed it to an open window.  It slept.  One could see its cool heat signature and hear its quiet breathing.  It mewled once when the tooth pierced skin but after was silent.  No alarm was cast.  The meat animals nearby were unaware.  The Kinslayer went to leave but a familiar scent caught its attention.  

It was not the One-who-traded-corpses but it was associated with it.  It was fresh!  It had been here this day.  Its scent was everywhere.  It slept here!  It was very possible it would return here tonight!  The Kinslayer thought hard.  It considered possibilities.  It found a hiding perch and settled in to wait.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

29: No way to do business

They stood directly in the road, the woman with her bundle and the child, and Bha’ar was not cruel enough to run them down, though she thought it the wiser course of action.  She pulled up on the reins and the mule and the wagon ground to a halt.  It became silent in the road.  Quiet enough to hear the alarm klaxon of the soldier camp and the buzz of its drones.

They came to the side of the wagon.  She looked down at them.  She saw the broken manacles and chains.  She saw the bloody lump of rags the woman carried was a horribly mangled person..or used to be.  She let out her breath in disgust and pulled a lever hid under her seat.  “Get in.”

“One requires a physician,” said the woman.

“Shut up, give me your headscarf and get in,” she ordered.  The woman hesitated but obeyed.  They finally climbed under the wagon where the trapdoor gave them entrance to a lined smugglers’ hold.  When they were inside, she closed the door and gave the reins a snap.  The mule motored to life again and the wagon crunched and bucked down the gravel road away from the soldier camp and into the outer rim of the Citadel’s town.  “Not a word,” Bha’ar told the jackal-buzzard beside her on the seat.  The bird just eyed her suspiciously and said nothing.  When it lifted off into the falling gloom of evening she knew there must be soldiers on the road ahead. 

One of their walking tanks, a machine similar to her mule yet three times the size, straddled the road around the next bend.  It’s cannon snout stayed aimed at her during her entire approach.  Men on the ground stopped her and ran sensors and sniffers over the wagon.  One of them showed particular interest to the underside.

“Open it,” the officer in charge ordered.  Bha’ar got down off the wagon and began her sales pitch, as she opened side doors on the wagon and all of the hard to get goods and baubles for significant others and verboten contraband soldiers lusted after on long deployments far from home popped and dangled and slid out.  The soldiers tried to stay professional but a certain level of distraction had been achieved.  When the one with the alerted sniffer focused on the floor of the wagon, Bha’ar opened a secret compartment and slipped the woman’s headscarf from her sleeve in among the jewelry, liquor and smut inside.  The soldier found the headscarf and showed it to the officer.  “Where’d you get this?”

“A woman and a child stopped me on the road.  She traded this for food.  It’s good quality silk, hard to find here in Aedlin.  You like it?  You have a wife?  Girlfriend?  She would like it, yes?”

“Where are they now?”

“Who?  You’re wife and girlfriend?  How would I know?”

“The woman and the child!”

“Oh!”  She smacked her head and then looked back the way she came.  “They were on foot, heading downhill.  Probably in the cemetery by now,” she pointed to the stones and mausoleums still just barely visible in the fading light far, far from where she planned to go this night.

The officer spoke into his headset, telling his superiors what Bha’ar had said.  “Alright, get this thing out of here.”

“The scarf,” Bha’ar stood her ground.

“I’m keeping it.”

“That’s fine.  You pay for it, you keep it.”

“Get moving.”

“I will, when you give me something for the scarf.” 

The officer looked at one of his soldiers, “Mak, give her something for the scarf.”  Without a word, Mak took the butt of his rifle and drove it into Bha’ar’s belly, knocking her down and punching the wind out of her.  “There.  We’re square,” the officer said.  “Now get your worthless pile off of my road before I give you something for all of it.”  Bha’ar picked herself up, not having to feign pathetic weakness and closed the wagon back up.  It took a couple of attempts to get back up into the seat.  No one helped her.  They just stared until she righted herself and took the reins.

“No way to do business,” she muttered as a parting shot and got the mule and wagon moving again.  When the soldiers were out of sight, the bird returned and landed beside her.  “Thanks for the help, partner.”  The jackal-buzzard nudged the arm she held tightly to her stomach with its head.  “Hurts.  But I’ll live.  Thanks for asking.”  They passed no more checkpoints on their way to the wharves.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

28: Vault 6

Subject of Inquiry #1:

    Believes herself to be cooperative yet appears to have inability to understand line of questioning.
    It is not my belief that Subj #1 is impaired mentally.  Emotionally is a possibility. 
    Subj #1 displays tendencies consistent in language barrier yet appears to have perfect fluency.
    We know who Subj #1 is.  We know where she comes from.  We know where she’s been.  We
    even know what she’s been doing: Searching for a lost relative. 

    Among the Monotooths!!

    Why?  Was this relative abducted?  This line of questioning produces no leads.  Subj #1 doesn’t
    seem to know.  Or understand.  Subject #1 had given up search when we picked her up. 
    Mental state is broken, defeated, has given up.  Not assets for inquisition. 
    Transferred primary focus to…

Subject of Inquiry #2:
    Found within our own compound.  Trying to reach out to Subj #1. 
    Former companion.  Shipmate and only other known survivor of [omitted], lost with all hands     at Sea last year to apparent Fever outbreak.  Petty criminal and beggar now.
    Knows much more than he’s telling.  Has no language barrier or emotional damage. 
    So far, very resistant to succeeding stages of inquiry.
    Possible true believer symptoms.  High level of emotional attachment to Subj #1. 
    Perhaps if Subj #2 believed Subj #1 were threatened. 
    Do not believe Subj# 1 to be emotionally attached in same way to #2.

Major Nakba stood up and stretched.  Enough paperwork.  It was time to get personally involved again.  This was taking too much time.  Someone had deliberately poked the Monotooth nest.  He needed to know why.

“Dustin,” he called to his aide as he passed the lieutenant’s desk, “Have Subject One brought over from the box to Vault 6.  It’s time to try something different here.”  He himself went directly to Vault 6.  It was a pod meant to be used as an ammo dump, designed to contain explosions if the worst happened and keep out the unauthorized so it made a very convenient prison cell when empty.  Noises on the inside, stayed inside.  People put inside, stayed inside.  He rounded the corner of a barracks container and saw Vault 6.

The guard wasn’t at the door.  The door was open!  He ran the rest of the way but as soon as he saw it, he skidded to a stop.  The door wasn’t open.  It was ripped off its track.

The vault had been forced!  The vault had been forced?  What could do that?  One of the heavy recovery vehicles? 

A person appeared at the doorway.  A very small person carrying a bloody bundle of person nearly half again her size.  She saw him.

“Major.  One requests medical treatment for One’s Guide.”

How the hell??  Never mind!  Focus!  Promise her anything.  Keep her talking until the cavalry showed up.  Dustin will be sounding the alarm as soon as he gets to the box and sees she’s escaped.  “Of course.  Whatever you need.”

“One thanks the Major.”  She turned to go, a child came out of the vault behind her and they both started walking toward the gate.

“Whoa, whoa, where are you going?”

“One is going to seek medical attention for One’s Guide.”

“The Medipod is this way.”

“One does not trust medical attention administered by those who caused the damage.”

“We’ll take good care of him.  I promise.”

“One believes the Major is insincere but thanks the Major for the offer.  One will seek immediate attention in Aedlin.”  She turned to go again.

He moved to cut her off.  “I can’t let you leave.  You know that.”

She stopped walking and looked him in the eye.  “One regrets the Major’s decision and apologizes.”

The last thing Major Nakba thought he heard was the child’s muffled laughter.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

27: kindness and the lack thereof

The child trudged right past the guards.  They didn’t bother to search her anymore.  Down the stone steps into the cool darkness she carried the tureen.  The guard at the bottom of the steps noticed the change, alone with the prisoner he had more time on his hands and stopped her long enough to look in the pot before letting her pass.  She set the pot on the table before the woman in chains and fished out a spoon from her clothes.  The woman’s eyes got wide.  She moved forward quickly rattling the chains in the echoing tomb and opened the lid to see the broth inside.

“Soup.”  The child jumped.  The woman hardly ever talked.  Or moved for that matter.  The girl had just gotten the idea from watching her that she didn’t much care for the nuts and burnt crunchies Ch’Byartha usually gave her.  So she’d brought some old broth with mushy veggies in it.


“The child does not have a straw, would it?” the woman asked.  Her voice was whispery, hoarse.

“No,” she answered, “Dinna know y’d want’n.  Could bringya one next time ifya wanna?”

“The child is kind.”  The girl shrugged and turned to go as the woman picked up the spoon.  This place gave her creepies.  Whether the tomb or the woman or both, she didn’t care.  “Will One’s Guide bring the food again?”

“Who?  Ya’mean the old blind guy?”

“One does.  The Blind One once served as a guide for One.”

“Izzat why’re gonna kill’im?  Izzat why’re torturing ‘im?  ‘Cuzza you??”  The woman recoiled.  Sat back and looked even smaller than usual.  She probably didn’t weigh any more than the girl herself.

“The Guide is a prisoner?”

“Yeah!  Dey took’im!  Dey beatin’ hell offa’im!  Izzit cuzza you?”

The woman stared at the floor while she thought.  “One fears it is.”

“Canyoo do sumpin?”  The child’s eyes felt hot.  “You gotta do sumpin!  Izyerfault!”  The woman looked at her with those eyes.  The creepies got worse but she was mad and sick at the same time!  She felt awful.  Had felt awful since they had taken Ch’Byartha away.  She would sneak close enough some nights to hear his screams.  Here them crack things.  She didn’t know what to do.  But if this woman knew something that would get him let go…  “Please!  You gotta do sumpin!  Dey killin’im.  ‘E was gunna take me wiff’im.”  She started to cry the first real tears she had cried in years, since learning to cry the fake ones which caused strangers to give her bread. 

The woman turned to the guard.  “Is it true what the Child says.  Is the Guide being tortured for information?”

The big guy smirked.  “Guess you should’a told the Major what he wanted to know.”

“One told the Major everything.  The Major was not satisfied.  Will the Guard now take One to the Major so One might free One’s Guide?”

“Aaaah, no.  No, you can just sit here till the Major wants to see you.”

“It is unknown when the Major will come again.  One’s Guide is suffering now.”

“Yeah, not my problem.”

The woman put the cover back on the tureen and placed it carefully next to her chair.  “Is this viewpoint likely to be shared by the Guard’s companions outside?”

“Yeah, nobody letting you out of here.”

“One regrets the Guard’s lack of compassion and One apologizes.”

“For w-“  It was dark.  The child’s vision was blurred with tears.  Most of what happened next she could not see well but not for either of those reasons.  It was over far too quickly.

“Will the Child show One to the Injured Guide?”

“Wha?” she rubbed her eyes.  All three guards were laying in a heap on the floor.  The woman was standing before her holding one of the legs of the table and offering her hand.  The chains dangled broken from her bloody wrists and ankles. 

“Please, take One to the Guide.”  As they left, the woman retrieved the tureen.

26: the Kinslayer

Long before the Kinslayer arrived where the slain kin had danced the hive of the meat animals lay, the heady, damp spoor of them caused the Need to whip up like a brewing storm.  So many manys of scents!  More than the stinger’s camp.  More than the hive in the trading post.  The senses of the Kinslayer were nearly overwhelmed.  One had to stop and pant and concentrate upon the Purpose or it would slip away.  Be buried like one grain of sand in a shifting dune.  Sift.  Sift the scents.  Find the Necessary one.

In the cooling night, the heat bloom of the hive of the meat animals became visible like moonrise as it crawled on.  Staying low as the winds threatened to whip it away.  Testing continually for the spoor which mattered.  The Necessary one. 

The drone of a stinger’s machine bird caused one to bury deep and hold still until it passed, even stopping One’s internal organs.  There were dangerous animals in this hive.  Those-which-hunted-harvesters.  One must truly focus.  Choke down the Need.  Quiet One’s internal turmoil of Need and Purpose for the most base purpose and need: survival.  All went bl-

-ack and then all came back slowly, quietly, carefully as One’s processes came back to life.  Senses stretching to detect threat.  If there were the metal birds, there would be the undrinkable lizards, the metal ears, the long eyes, all the tricks of the Hunters-of-Harvesters including the Hunters themselves in their metal animals, armored, stinging, dangerous.  Shepherding their flocks of Harvester-hunting-machines.  One crawled low and slowly through the troughs between dunes.  One went wide around when One encountered a machine or an animal-within-a-machine.  One was careful.  More careful than one could ever remember being.  The Purpose had given the Kinslayer…a thought it had no cast, dance or sign for.  Purpose.  Mission.  Primary Order.  Need.  All these and none of these and more than these.

Just before sunrise, the hive of the meat animals became visible.  A dying oasis.  Muddy standing water and drying trees surrounded by the stone nests of the meat animals and a camp of the Stinging-hunters just outside.  The Kinslayer ached to begin the search.  To move into the hive and find the scent of the Necessary one.  It rivaled the Need.  It rivaled the Fear of having rebelled against the Collective.  It rivaled the Fear of the Factor.  One was Enemy-of-kin.  One was Kinslayer and Harvester-no-longer and all because of the Purpose.  The Need-to-find-the-Necessary-One. 

One needed to be patient.  The Effective Clutch, broken now, would inform the Factor of the existence of the hive of the meat animals sometime in the next cycle.  The Swarm would then assemble for an all out assault.  It would take time.  The Kinslayer had maybe two or three cycles to search before the Swarm came.  All depended upon the Kinslayer. 

The sun broke the edge of the desert.  The heat came like an angry Factor.  The light meant no cover and dryness for One’s crop.  One must conserve.  One must be patient.  One buried One’s self and calmed One’s processes.  All went bl-

Monday, July 24, 2017

25 No one of consequence

The new prisoner was trundled in and his manacles were locked to a heavy, weighted iron chair.  Then the guards left.  The Major affected not to notice for at least ten minutes.  Then he hit record on his pad, set it upon his desk and rocked back in his chair.  “Who are you?” Major Nakba asked the blind man.

“I am Ch’Byartha, Major.  I work in the mess tent.”

“Yes, I know.  You showed up on our doorstep about two weeks ago looking for work.  Before that you were a scullion in the House Al-Ghafil near the citadel.  Before that you were a vagrant beggar, suspected pickpocket and confidence man, and a street performer on the wharves.  You bought passage here on a skiff owned by the Lightfoot Street Mercantile Collaborative in East Avalon, where you were also a vagrant beggar, suspected pickpocket and confidence man, and a street performer on the docks.  It is who you were before you washed up among the flotsam and jetsam that collects in such places I am most curious about.”

“No one of consequence, I can assure you.”

“And the prisoner we have in the Mausoleum.  Is she no one of consequence?”

“To some I suppose.”

“To you?”

“Hardly even that.”  The cook’s voice was even and smooth, he didn’t miss a beat.  If he was lying, he was skilled.  Exactly as one might suspect an actor or confidence man might be.

“She seems to think you are someone.  What was it she was apologizing for when you brought her meal yesterday?”

“Damned if I know,” he shrugged.  “Sounded as if she was dealing with some guilt issues.  A heavy conscience is difficult to bear.  Perhaps she sees what she wants to see, someone to confess to and unload her burden.”

“A very pat and probable theory.”

“A simple one, major.  The simplest answer has the best chance of being the correct one, I find.” 

“Do you?”  The Major sat silent for a bit to see what the blind man would do.  Silences, long, awkward and the more uncomfortable the better, were some of his favorite interrogation tools.  The human imagination, especially a guilty one, was his greatest ally.  They could concoct greater horrors than he could if he just gave them time.  Anticipated pain hurt more than the real thing.  And apparently, guilty consciences felt a need to unload their burdens.  This one however sat and smiled like a saint with a golden ticket to Elysium and the utmost confidence in the train schedule. 

Which meant he was guilty as sin.  Even the innocent sweated in interrogation.  Take the right tone with a dog and it still tucked its tail and bowed its head as if it has peed on the rug.  This one was wagging his like he was deaf as well as blind.
“I’ve heard,” said the Major, breaking the silence first, as abruptly as he could to see if the man would jump.  He did not.  “that those who survive Fever, sometimes go blind as a result.”

“I’ve heard that too.”

“Did you?”

“Go blind?”

“Contract Fever,” the Major answered.

“Not that I recall.”

“Have you sailed the Sea before, Mr. Ch’Byartha?”

“A time or two.”

“Have you ever been to the Last Caravanserai?”

“I don’t know, what does it sound like?”

“Do you know any royalty?”

“I know some who act like they are.”

“Did you sail on the catamaran sloop Advisor with the Viceroy’s daughter in the spring of last year?”

“If she’s pregnant, then the answer is, ‘no.’”

“Are you the Merchant Prince Kurga Din Allorowro Vela D’Pomani D’Moro?”

“Lord, I hope not!  I should never learn to write down a name that long.”

“A pity, his family is looking for him.”

“If I see him, I’ll be sure to tell him.”

“You are a witty fellow.”  The Major stood up, walked around the desk and sat on the arm of the interrogation chair.  His bulk loomed over the prisoner.  His face now only inches away.  “A sense of humor can be of great use during torture.  At least in the early stages.  You will tell me what I want to know.  Eventually.  We can force you to admit the truth.  Lies can be peeled off as easily as skin.”  He ran one finger along the manacled arm.  “Boiled away.  Cut from a guilty conscience slice by slice.”

“Oh I don’t doubt that.  What I do doubt is your great concern over the identity of a vagrant beggar, suspected pickpocket and confidence man, and street performer who now moonlights as a scullion.”

“I tire of your games Mr. Din Allorowro.”

“Then perhaps you should ask me something you actually wish to know.”

“Who is she?”

“Oh dear.”  The blind man looked genuinely disappointed.  “Yesterday I would have told you that with relish.”

“And today?”

“I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a bad time.”

“I will have the answer.  How devoted to her are you, merchant?”

At last, the blind man betrayed a hint of fear.  The patient hunter was the most successful.  “I would guess we are both about to find out.”
[author's note: (which i cannot write without feeling pretentious and over-inflated)
[Note from me: i feel the most satisfaction and joy from writing conversations.  i like telling the story through conversations.  i think i'm just naturally inclined toward being a playwright.  Which is weird, cuz i don't go to plays at all.  Though i like movies.
That's it.  Nothing earth shattering.  Back to your lives, citizens.]

Friday, July 14, 2017

24: Blind guides

“Where ya think you’re going?”  The guard sounded big but not particularly bright.

“Meal time for the prisoner,” Ch’Byartha said. 

“Where’s the runt they usually send?”  Meaning Ch’Byartha’s child friend who got a job in the mess tent with him.

“Sick day, apparently after children, the disabled are the most menial members of the community.  I suppose if the blind guy were sick too, the elderly gentleman cleaning the officers’s toilets would be next in line.” 

“Check him.”  Another guard patted Ch’Byartha down, presumably looking for weapons or tools the prisoner could use to escape, they needn’t have bothered.  They poked around in the bowl of dry, crunchy bits he had personally chosen for her, knowing her fondness for soft foods.  “One coming down,” he called down the mausoleum steps.  Ch’Byartha felt the air cool as he descended.  Reaching the bottom, he stopped to listen and get his bearings.  A chain clinked and rattled.

“It is…most pleasant for One to see One’s Guide again,” a hauntingly familiar voice echoed.

“Eh miss?  Must have me confused with someone else.  I’m Ch’Byartha, at’cher service.”

“One could smell the scent of the Guide on the child.  One was surprised.  Possibly happy.”

“Well now, that’s a fine thing in unhappy circumstances, it tis.  And I’m glad I can cheer ya up even by being mistaken for someone else.  Reckon there’s not much more’n i could do for ya but to bring yer grub and letcha dream o’ some other fella.  Where ya want it?” 

“Put it on the table,” said the guard behind him.

“And where would that be?”

“Two steps forward, Guide,” the guard said.  Oh, Ch’Byartha thought, that isn't good.  He should have let his little ragamuffin keep bringing the dish.  Damn his pride!  He just had to know for himself!  He craved to hear her with his own ears and know she was suffering for what she had turned out to be.  His revenge demanded she see his blindness.  Let her see it!  Let her know where her madness had led!  What it had done to those who followed her.  Those who…  Cruel joke it would be if it only made him a person of interest to the Legion!  ‘A fool and his folly,’ Ch’Voga scolded in his head.  Did everyone’s conscience take on the voice of someone they knew? 

“Ha!  A fine guide you would make, peepers!”  Ch’Byartha let out the breath he had been holding.  Thank Yah!  The guard laughed and obviously thought it ridiculous that he could be anyone’s guide. 

“Yes,” he said, “the blind leading the blind.  They shall both fall into a pit I believe.  Well, there ya are lady, don’t choke.”  He turned to go, retracing his steps. 

“One is … sorry.”  He stopped.  He didn’t want to stop.  He needed to get out of here now.  He knew he did.  His rage needed to not hear this.  But he stopped.  “One does not have words.  Pain.  Compelling pain to rival the Need.”  Her voice, was it breaking?  Had he ever heard her string this many sentences together?  “One failed.  One failed all.  One needed purpose.  One sought to fill this new Need.  One sought to recover .. one’s close kin.  There is a word, one cannot think of it now.  One made sacrifices one should not have made.  One made all-who-followed-and-trusted-one sacrifice everything.  If one could have saved one’s kins perhaps… perhaps it… may have been less hurtful.  One suspects not.  One would rather the Guide had eyes or the Lord Counselor had life.  One is filled now, one’s crop is full of gall.”