Thursday, September 28, 2017

33: Sisters

Overwhelmed.  Too much was happening too fast.  The one known as Ch’loi did not know how to react.  One’s primary purpose had been to preserve the life of one’s guide.  One had taken the secondary purpose of preserving the life of the child.  These mysterious benefactors had provided security and aid to one, the guide and the child.  One owed them a debt of thanks.  One added them to one’s circle of preservation and purpose.

“The circle must go,” Ch’loi told the man and the woman.

“What?”  Only the man could answer and but weakly.  The woman was distraught over it’s infant’s husk.

“Bring one’s kin, there is much danger here.  Hurry.”

“What are you talking about?” the man asked.

“Those which drank the infant are… imminent.”  The man made no move.  One would have to compel the circle to move.  “Hey!  Let go of-“ Ch’loi grabbed the man and the woman together, nearly throwing them out the door, “Child, come!”  The child thankfully, responded.  “Take the man and woman outside, keep in the open, keep in the light.  Wait for One there.”  

“Whutta Ch’Byartha?”

“One will bring the guide when one comes, if one is able.  Go.”  The child took the man and woman by the clothes and pulled them down the stairs.  The one known as Ch’loi shut the door, drew the long knife one had taken from the kitchen on the way upstairs and looked up into the darkness overhead.  “One is aware of the Harvester’s presence.  To remain hidden is irrelevant.”  It unfolded itself from its hiding place, a thin, spidery shadow among shadows and dropped to the floor in a crouch but it did not attack.  It simply waited, anxious and maybe a bit afraid.  “One drank the infant?”  The harvester chopped once in the harvester sign language for yes.  “Is one a scout?”  Again the chop.  “Yet one has the reek of kinslayer.”  There was a slight bowing of the head.  Shame.  “Has one betrayed one’s kin?”  An aggressive slash!  No!  “Has one.. betrayed one’s Factor?”  Chop-yes.  So this harvester had rebelled against the hive order but felt as if it had not betrayed its kin.  Its… sisters.  The word came suddenly to Ch’loi.  It caught her by surprise.  It rushed into her mind like those first words of the Firemaker so long ago!  It caught in Ch’loi’s mind with barbed meaning and sharp memories.  It stuck.  It tore.  It hurt.

“Did you…” she wanted to ask, why?  Why have you become kinslayer-betrayer?  But how to put that into a binary series of questions.  “Are one’s kin with one?”  Slash-no.  “Imminent?”  Yes.  “Is one’s… Factor imminent?”  Chop, chop, chop!  Yes, yes, yes!  Ch’loi felt the cold prickling of an old familiar fear.  “How many?”  The Kinslayer knocked it’s footbone against the floor.  Thud,
 thud.  Seven.  Yahweh have mercy!  Seven Factors imminent!  A swarm!  Given a large enough food source it would become a new hive!  

And it was here in Aedlin.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

32: Breaking loose

Discovery.  The meat animals entered the room where the Kinslayer hid.  A mature and a youngling, the mature went straight to the former youngling, the one the Kinslayer had drank.  

It shrieked.

Its wail tore something loose in the Kinslayer.  Something buried deep.  A memory.  A memory of a night, long ago.  Of a kin, no, not kin, not kin… a … person.  

More meat animals rushed into the room.  It was here!  The One-who-traded-corpses-for-food and another came in.  This was it!  The Kinslayer’s purpose!  One had succeeded in finding the One-who-traded-corpses!  Fear!  Panic!  Need!  One needed to act.  One was afraid.  One was unsure.  The meat animals were alarmed.  Unpredictable.  Likelly to attack as a clutch.  Success required control.  One preferred to wait.  To get the One-who-traded-corpses alone.  One remained in one’s hiding place.  

Then the Kinslayer heard it.  It was too late.

They had come.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

31: Contrebande

Bha’ar brought the wagon into the barn.  She dismounted in a controlled fall, Hova noticed.  She limped out into the lamp lit evening crowd of the dusty dockside street.  Once they would have been porters and mariners and debardeurs and compatables and masters and merchants engaged in the loading and unloading of the boats and skiffs that plied back and forth from the capitol to the rest of the empire.  The beating heart of trade which went on day and night, now beat but listlessly, and that only in the daylight.  Now there were just putains of one variety or another, parasites all feeding off one another.  Some submitting willingly, some not so much.  Hova watched them now, grading them, measuring them, looking for the one which might be showing any interest in the comings and goings of a peddler and her wagon.  

Most nights Bha’ar would start a conversation with some passerby which she would then take to the inn.  It established alibis.  It made her a fixture in the community.  Above suspicion.  This night with everyone in nervous spirits over the activity at the Post de légion, the conversation started itself when someone commented on her limp.  Hova watched her pantomime the incident from his balcony across the street, making a great show of it, drawing a bit of a crowd.  Someone suggested she needed a drink to calm her nerves and nearly every layabout and gossip followed them up to the inn.  Well done.  Less eyes around the barn.  Less ears to overhear.  Hova sipped his expresso and watched them all go up the hill and out of sight.  

He went inside, downstairs he found Laperte in the kitchen and dropped off his cup.  “We will be having guests tonight.”

“How many?”

“Three long term, but I assume there will be a soirée,” he opened the door to the basement.

“Three?  Man?  Woman?  Both?”

He shrugged, “The bird was not specific.”  Meaning the note brought by Bha’ar’s jackal-buzzard before she arrived.  Laperte made a noise of disgust for him to hear and then quite a few more just for herself, like she always did.  They had been married long enough now that he no longer tried to assuage her irritation.  Better to let it burn itself out.  He descended the steps making no light.  Opened the crate, moved the rugs and opened the secret door which dropped into the tunnel.  Hova walked the length of the tunnel, listened at its ceiling for a long moment to determine if anyone was in the barn.  Hearing nothing, he removed the bars and opened the overhead doors and there was the bottom of Bha’ar’s wagon.  He unlocked the smuggling hatch and backed out of the way.  There was a pause and then a slim, small shadow dropped down into the tunnel.  He could not be sure in the darkness, but still he thought the shadow looked right at him, sizing him up.  That would be paranoid.  No one could see in this darkness without the equipment which the Legion kept for itself.  The shadow reached back up into the wagon and carefully lowered a bag of some sort.  Finally an even smaller shadow dropped lightly down.  Hova waited.  No one else came out.  He maneuvered around them and looked inside the wagon.  It was empty.  He closed the hatch and then the tunnel door, replacing the bars.

At last he uncovered his lantern, just a little, so they could all see each other.  A woman and a child looked back at him.  “I thought,” he said, “there was to be three.”

The woman uncovered what Hova had mistaken as a bag.  Hova cursed as loudly as he dared. The Question, ‘What the hell happened to him?’ nearly popped out of his mouth, but his cardinal rule was: Ask No Questions.  The less he and Laperte knew, the less involved they could get.  The less they involved they were, the safer.  The woman spoke, “One’s guide needs medical attention.”  

“Oui, oui, of course,” always best to promise anything to keep the contrebande calm and quiet.  He covered the lantern again and led them back through the tunnel, up into his basement, replacing the rugs and lid of the crate.  Then up the stairs and into the house’s little kitchen.  “Femme,” they used no names in front of the contrebande, “heat water!”  An extravagant request, water was only used for two things in Aedlin.  Drinking and washing wounds.  He cleared the table, “lay your injured here.”  The woman brought the wounded man over and Hova was startled by how easily she carried him.  There was more here than surfaces would suggest.

Laperte went to work, washing and exposing more and more wounds, muttering with each new discovery, first in the clinical way she learned as a nurse years ago, under the last emperor, then in shock at the extent, finally in anger as it became clear these were not accidental.  When she had set whatever bones she felt confident to set, salved the burns, stitched the deep cuts, peered into every orifice for the hidden damage, bandaged the lot, had them move him to a couch by the fire, and smothered him in blankets she dropped into a chair exhausted.  

“Izzy gunna die?” the child asked.  It was the first time either of them had spoke.

“He needs blood.  He needs scans.  He needs hospital,” Laperte told them.  “Who -“  

Hova cleared his throat and cut her off.  “Perhaps you are hungry?  I know I am.”  Laperte made no move.  Her eyes said much.  “You have worked very hard, dear.  Please sit, I will get it.”  He brought out some left over pork, rice and vegetables with a half loaf of day old bread and a bit of milk. “You have seen food before, non?”  He asked the child when he set a plate in front of her.

“Izdis alla f’r me?”  

“Oui.  Just don’t eat my hand!”  

“Will the child be necessary for your soirée?” Laperte asked him watching the girl eat.


“When she is done eating, I will make her a pallet in the baby’s room.”

“When she is done eating, I believe, will be when we are out of food in the house, unless she eats us!”  He meant it as a joke.  No one laughed.

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.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

23: Share

The effective clutch spread out just below the rise of the dunes.  Not silhouetted against the moonlit sky.  Downwind so as not to give away its presence.  Partially buried the clutch waited. 

A single animal came over the rim of the dune, bones and rags pushing against the relentless wind.  It staggered forward on the downslope.  It was not well.  The clutch let it pass.  It took some time to leave their sight again, the stars seemed to move faster in the sky.  But it was determined, relentless.  It crested the next shifting dune, only the wind keeping it from falling over.  The dune passed over the buried clutch and it emerged again to discuss what to do.

Consensus formed, the effective clutch moved as one.  It quickly overtook the staggering animal, this time surrounding it and then one revealed itself.  Even so, the creature was so far gone it took some time before it registered one’s presence as surprise and cast FEAR at one. 

‘Stockmate,-where-find-thee-food?’ one danced as greeting to the long lost harvester.  In this context, in the limited language options of harvesters, it was a more general question about history than food. 

HUNGRY! the long lost kin cast back.  SHARE!  It wanted to pierce one’s crop and feed first.  The effective clutch did not have much to give having been sent as a foraging party for the collective swarm.  The swarm had been initially very successful.  First overrunning and draining the staggeringly rich meat animal hive in the walled trading post.  So many animals.  So few stings.  The swarm had drained it of all resources in a few days and was on the move again.  Not long after there had been more meat animals in troops and herds and even one boat the harvesters had been able to capture.  It had been a fortuitous beginning to the swarm’s mission.  But since the boat the desert had dried up.  The occasional mindless animal, lizards, birds, rodents but no meat animals, no large prey.  No herds.  The effective clutch was wandering far afield from the chosen path of the swarm, which the effective clutch had first scouted, in search of ichor. 

Instead the clutch had come across this lone harvester, counted as lost when the Factor had given it to the One-who-traded-corpses-for-words.  The Factor had offered it the choice of its own clutchmate or the harvesterkin and the One-who-traded-corpses had taken the clutches’ stockmate and vanished into the desert. 

SHARE, one cast back in agreement and the lost kin was on one.  Falling before one, tooth extended, the piercing, the pain.  One rubbed the head of the kin to reassure it.  A rare gesture to be sure but not unheard of.  If the starving kin noticed it made no sign.  It drank until there was nothing left and then reluctantly released.  One knelt down before it.

SHARE, it cast gently, share story.  Not food. 

The story would take all the kin’s forms of communication, sign and dance and cast in turn to convey.  It was too complex for any one.  The harvester had been the prisoner of the One-who-traded-corpses.  The One-who-traded-corpses had kept it weak and barely fed on camels, an animal the harvesters were very familiar with.  It had cast in the manner of the meat animals much, it had signed and danced too but mostly cast.  Always casting.  Always inquiring.  It had grown more and more desperate, more and more frustrated.  It had made the Lost Harvester very nervous, then anxious, then terrified.  It clearly wanted something but the lost harvester had no idea as to what.  The kin had attempted to escape often, only to be thwarted or recaptured.  It had even tried to drink the One-who-traded-corpses to kill it and be free or die in the attempt.  And still its captor had neither released the kin nor finished it off but let it drink some and then subdued it.  The One-who-traded-corpses had dragged it here, far from hive on a metal camel, to the outskirts of a meat-animal city.  One last exchange of meat animal casting and sign and dance, one last desperate plea the lost harvester did not understand and then it released the lost harvester.  Starving, no possibility of making it to the hive but free, the lost harvester had walked for days.  Now though, it was safe.  It danced a dance of joy to be found.  To be part of the collective again and part of the stock again.  It could show the swarm where the meat animal city was.  There would be ichor enough for months!  One’s mates in the effective clutch came near.  The lost harvester doubled its dancing to see the other two.

And while its back was turned One struck it and killed it and retrieved its ichor.

Friday, July 7, 2017

22: The Union knows

In the middle of the Legion camp, stood a cut stone mausoleum.  Inside, on shelves built into the walls were piles of sand and of rags and bones and flesh becoming sand.  In the center, upon a folding metal chair sat a tiny woman, completely eclipsed in Major Nakba’s shadow.  Major Nakba was asking the little woman, “You understand the predicament you find yourself in, don’t you?”

“One understands one is a prisoner.”

“One understands correctly,” he said, “But do you understand that this is as civilized as the interview process will ever be?”  She said nothing in response so he continued, “From here we move to more primitive forms of coercion.  Then we start doing permanent damage.  I have men under my command who enjoy such work.”

“One is familiar with cruelty.  One had hoped Legionnaires more honorable.”

“With those who live peaceably under its wings, it is very honorable.  With those however who do it and its people harm, you will find it is most unforgiving.”

“One wishes no harm upon the Legion.” 

“Yet you break its laws?  You enter a controlled sector without authorization.  You engage in unsanctioned commerce and slave trading.  You make contact with enemies of the state.  You expose the entire coastal region to dangerous pathogens.  You have done nothing but harm since you left the Westvale, Ch’Loi.  Yes, the Union knows who you are  The Union knows what you’ve done.  And now you are refusing to cooperate with its agents.  What more are you hiding?”

“One wishes no harm upon the Legion.”

“Please forgive my skepticism.”

“One does.”

“Do not mock me, my patience is the only thing between you and your fragile little body being thrown to the wolves.”

“One has broken laws.  One is aware of this and freely admits it.  There are penalties, protocols, forms, this is straight forward.  Yet one is not being prosecuted by a court.  One is being questioned by soldiers.  Threatened with violence.  One perceives one’s motives are in question.  One can only reassure one’s captors that one means no damage to the Legion.”

“You can tell me what you were really doing out here all this time and let me decide if you are a threat to the Union or not.”

She had never really looked up.  She kept her focus on the stones of the floor the entire time.  It made it difficult to know whether she was thinking or resisting.  He gave her time to find out.

At last she said, “One came to retrieve something it had lost.”

Cryptic but a start.  Major Nakba decided to play along.  “And did it?”

“No.  One failed.  One lost much more instead.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

21 Outta Sea

The child ran through bright desert sunlight and dusty streets, dodging traders, wagons, animals of the only busy quarter left in Aedlin.  Past somnolent and distracted guards she scuttled into Merchant Street, a walled community of offices and homes of Aedlin’s privileged barons and the amusements still left to them.  The waif skirted tree lines of imported ornamental plants with leaves browning and curling at the tips.  She ducked into an alley in the shadow of the Palace itself, silent as the Mausoleums being buried in the dunes to the east outside the city wall.  Giving a glance up and down the empty alley, she tossed a rock at some shutters in the wall above.  She waited.  Checked the alley again and threw a second rock.  The shutters opened then and a rope of knotted cloths trailed down to her.  Using it she scaled the wall and entered the window.

It was utterly dark.  “Arya inneer?”

“Where else would I be?”

“Aincha gotta light?”

“It simply does not occur to me to light one.  Yah must have took my sense when He took my sight.”

“Oh, yeah, guessyadon need one, dooya?”

“Not as much as I used to,” Ch’Byartha said as he lit the lamp for the child.  “I find it saves me a small fortune in oil however.  So there’s that.”  He smiled in her general direction and then went back to scrubbing pots with sand and steel wool.  She watched him for a bit as he finished one, set it perfectly onto a teetering tower of pots on his left and took a dirty silver plate from his right and began scrubbing.  She went over to the stack on his left and examined one.  It was spotless. 

“Ifyer blind, owyoo tell winner clean?”

“Easy,” he said and dragged his tongue up the length of the pot he was scrubbing. Tasted it theatrically, “Nope, still dirty.”  He scrubbed vigorously for a second time, licked it again.  “Ah, perfect!”  He set that plate on his clean side and took another plate. 

“Mind me nevva eat here,” she giggled.  He smiled again.

“Are you hungry?”


He produced a fruit from his pocket.  “The choicest morsel of my breakfast today.  Not too many mushy spots on this one.  Didn’t even lick it.”  He tossed it right to her.

 She ate the whole thing, core, seeds and all.

“Fraid that’s all there is till tomorrow.  We’ll have to feast on the only food left to the poor, honest companionship.  So liven an old beggar’s dark hours of dreary labor with tales of the sights and scenes of the world in the Sun.  Let us dine on our gossip.  What did you see today in your travels, young empress of the orphans of Aedlin?”

“Enh, nah much.  Nuffin shiny.  Sum mo soljah.”

“We’ve been getting a lot of Legion guests lately, haven’t we.”

“De camp is swole.  Guard gettin antsy.  Dey tinkin dere moren ‘em dan Guard.”

“Ever talk to any of the Legionnaires?”

“Naw, but I hears’em.  Dey don care bout Aedlin.  Dey don care bout Guard.  Dey all lookin’ East.  Like dey speck sommin commin outta Sea.”

“A Beast perhaps, with seven heads and ten horns.”

“Whereyoo get dat idea?”

“An old friend talked about it once.”

“Whattit mean?”

“It means that some day soon, I think, we’d best take a schooner heading West.”

“Yoo take me wifoo?”

“My conscience would nary let me do otherwise.”

“Wuzza conshuns?”

“Something I only recently developed.  Nuisance thing, you don’t want one, trust me.  What else did you see today?”

“Enh, nuffin.  Coupla boats.  Sum lady wiffa buncha camels.”  Ch’Byartha dropped a dish.  “She hadda soljah mashine, like a donkey, only made a metal.  She walk outta sea.  No ship.  No boat.  Just walk, her anna camel.  Weird huh?”

“Very.  Where is she now?”

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.”