The second novella in the Phoenix Odyssey series (The Phoenix and the Watchers’ Bargain) is currently second in popularity for all Space Opera books on Amazon!
Apparently, it was made free for a day by Amazon back on Wednesday or Thursday. It no longer is, but as you can see $1.33 is not exactly expensive! Thanks to anyone who purchased or downloaded a copy.
EDIT: It is also 13th in the Mythology bestsellers list.
Dean Wesley Smith on Resetting Challenges: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=5956
Sam Lee on Resetting Challenges: http://samleewrites.blogspot.com/2011/12/resetting-my-2011-challenge-and.html
2011 Challenge – Write and publish a short story a week / Write and publish 12 novellas / Write and publish two novels
What do you do when a challenge goes sideways?
Figure out what caused it and why.
One major life altering event part way through the year – the birth of my son, Tommy. I was doing pretty well up until then, but after that happened, my writing dropped off for almost six whole months. Still, I was able to climb back up into the saddle from August and August, September and October were all very productive.
Then towards the end of October I allowed procrastination, the myths DWS warns about and my own hang-ups with the stories I had sent out that died with a whimper to drag down my motivation. November has not been a total bust, but it has been far from great. December has started out pretty much the same.
Figure out if the challenge was too extreme or the type of challenge not in your control.
It was too extreme for me considering that I knew very well what was going to happen when my son was born. Also, I allowed myself to get sidetracked by becoming to hung-up on the sales side of things.
Figure out how much the challenge helped you.
-I wrote and finished more than I have in years
-I learned how to publish online, how to write blurbs and create covers
-I learned I need to stop looking at sales information
-I learned I am much more interested in writing novels than I am in writing short stories
-I learned that I can write and finish stories
-I learned I need to stop worrying about marketing and all that BS because it is just leaching the fun out of writing for me. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it isn’t as though I’m going to end up on the street.
What I *did* get done this year, due to the challenge:
– I wrote and finished 15 short stories and 4 novellas
– I published 9 of those short stories and 3 of the novellas, as well as a short story collection
– I set up a website and blog
– I wrote regularly for 3 months, averaging at least 2k a day for that time
– I learned Heinlein’s Rules and began to apply them
– I made some buddies and other writer contacts
Reset the challenge or create a new one.
End of 2011:
I’ll finish the novel I started by the end of the year
I’ll finish formatting the remaining short stories and one novella that I wrote and have them published by the end of the year so that I can start 2012 with a clean slate
The 12 in 12 Challenge
2012 = 12 novels in 12 months
My main goal is consistency in writing – 3500 words a day, 6 days a week. That figures out at just under 2 hours of writing per day. All of those novels will also be published at the end of the month after I finish them (Book written in January published end of February).
I am also setting myself some craft orientated goals:
1) to improve description
2) to write endings that deliver on story promises from the beginning (stolen from Sam Lee)
3) to work on improving the use of scenes (Jim Butcher’s livejournal advice)
To ramp myself up to this, I am setting myself a goal in December of 2000 words a day, 6 days a week. That should end up at 46k for the month, in theory enough for me to finish my Thieftaker novel.
I’ll be writing more about my12 in12 challenge before the end of the month and I will post a daily wordcount post here on the blog for December.
In the absence of any update from me (yes, I know, I know, I’m sorry) here is the second guest post here at Mirrormask Fiction. This one comes from Sam Lee over at Thinking Out Loud.
Hello, gentle readers of Joel’s blog. I’m Sam, guest blogging from http://samleewrites.blogspot.com, and write in a multitude of genres and in story lengths with the goal of telling a good, enjoyable story. This year I’ve written quite a few short stories, for the first time in years and years, and had a blast. Next year I expect to write both novels and short stories, and have just as much fun. Check out my blog for story-on-sale-updates and general writing and publishing thoughts that I just can’t keep to myself.
I’ve been a touch typist for a very long time, but my first love was writing longhand, and there’s something about the process that makes for a different writing style, and a different thinking style, than what comes out from the keyboard.
Almost all of the stories I’ve written this year I’ve written–as in composed, drafted, finished–on the computer, via typing. Sure, I’ve scribbled some notes in longhand and so forth, but mostly, they are results of time at the keyboard.
Recently, though, I wrote a story with a first draft purely based on paper, in longhand. The way writers two hundred years ago and beyond wrote all the time, I reminded myself as I struggled, at first, to read my own handwriting and find a comfortable hand, and tried to throttle my thoughts both slowly enough to transcribe to paper and yet quickly enough to follow the relentless pace of the pen moving across the blank page.
I know I write differently longhand than on the keyboard; I can almost fool myself that at times, I can type at the speed of the imprints my thoughts leave in my mind before they fade, whereas I almost have to imagine more vividly and in detail, and more heavily, when writing by hand, since my hand will most assuredly not keep up with my racing thoughts. I don’t know how Shakespeare did it, honestly, or Jane Austen, or Dickens, or Tolstoy (okay, he had his poor wife!), or any of the writers who came before us managed to write as much as they did by hand, and often, with quills and ink instead of long-lasting steel nibs and so on. Perhaps it gave them more time to think, and less time “drafting”, and made them more decisive (or at least more decided) in their daily writing, in their writing workday.
For there is something physically satisfying about writing longhand, and a pleasant shift in composition and in thinking that I don’t even realize until I’m well into the day’s work. Too, there’s something satisfying about having irrevocably “done” pages–compared to the ephemeral-seeming nature of pixels on screen–that gives you a sense of accomplishment like no other. I don’t think I could keep it up for everything I write, but I can foresee doing this again, for a change
of pace, perhaps, or to indulge myself. The problem is that I still have to get the words and stories onto a typed page (actually, into a computer file) in order to publish and submit it, and frankly, it seems easier to save myself the time of transcription to just write straight onto the computer, as it were.
If–no, when–I do write another story longhand, however, there’s a pitfall that tripped me up for a while and that I’ll share with you. In typing up that first draft after I finished the longhand-story, I got stuck somewhere after the opening pages and avoided the task for a while. I didn’t realize until a few days later what had stopped me.
Instead of merely transcribing the story on the page, I realized I’d been rewriting it on the fly as I typed, trying to improve the storyline or bring in more details, or some other such thing. I hadn’t prepared any notes on any “fixes”, and in any case, had had no intention of rewriting the dratted thing when I’d finished it, but there I was, getting in my own way, trying to make it perfect, or at least “cleaner”, when I had no idea if what I was doing was having that effect. I caught myself in time: the brain, like a car, does not do well when you press the gas and brake pedals at the same time. You
get nowhere fast and it’s bad for the car, and frustrating for the brain.
I re-learned the hard way that the Heinlein rule that once you have finished a story, leave it the **** alone, refrain from rewriting it (especially on the fly!), and get on with the next. If you think you had any problems in an old story, “fix” it in the new story. Even–or especially–with longhand stories.
So the overall lesson learned on longhand writing is that, after I write it, I still have to make myself apply Heinlein’s Rules to it. Write, finish, don’t rewrite, send it out, keep it up.
I’ll make myself transcribe directly from the paper to the typed page, and then put the story up and leave it alone.
How about you? Do you write longhand, or on the keyboard? If you do both, do you find yourself writing differently? What do you do when you transcribe from paper to pixels?
This is my first guest blog, so be gentle. (grin)
For the first ever guest poster here at Mirrormask Fiction, I would like to introduce Eric Zawadzki, half of the ultimate writing team over at Four Moons Press (the other half being Matt Schick). The two of them have released a fantastic fantasy novel, Kingmaker, which you can find here. Without further ado, here is Eric with a fine post about Concept Albums and the Novel.
I first want to thank James for giving us a spot on his blog, and I want to encourage you to check out his post on our blog.
In my Senior year of high school, I stumbled upon Pink Floyd’s The Wall among my father’s collection of movies. The images, music, and lyrics resonated with me in a way no other musical work ever had. It was my first contact with a concept album, and at the time, the experience was completely mind-blowing.
Here was this album that told the story of a character with all his highs and lows. I had heard story songs before, but they usually had one main melody and told the tale of just one incident. The Wall, though, was epic – fresh melodies shot through with recurring riffs, competing themes, and a conclusion that drew all the pieces of the story together.
It didn’t hurt that at the time, I was yearning for both radical independence and the approval of others. The album’s exploration of alienation was therefore cathartic to my 17-year-old self. I‘m still a sucker for concept albums, such as Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle Earth, which retells stories from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.
I mention all this because I find that the books that stick with me the longest are the ones that feel a bit like a really good concept album. They collection of pieces (scenes or songs) assembled in a way that supports the central concept of the book (or album).
I suspect one of the trickiest problems with creating a concept album is you cannot get away with any filler. With any other kind of album, if I like only eight of the ten songs, I just don’t ever play the two songs I don’t like, and I’m not going to feel cheated. With a concept album, though, especially one where every song transitions seamlessly into the next, I expect (perhaps unfairly) that every track be at least acceptable, and preferably amazing.
I’ve definitely heard supposed concept albums where the songs didn’t fit together very well. Sometimes they simply felt like they were in the wrong order – too many slow songs stuck together, or a dynamic change so dramatic that it was almost alarming. Less often, but certainly more annoying, some had songs that only fit the theme of the concept because the track list said they did. I always wondered, in the latter case, whether they had only come up with six really good songs but needed ten, so they just shoehorned some other material into the same album, or whether they genuinely saw some connection that was completely invisible to me.
By the same token, I’ve definitely seen books that meandered from incident to incident without any real sense of purpose. Even if most of the individual scenes are perfectly fine, it’s hard to stick with the story as a whole, because a good novel is a concept album – it has to be greater than the sum of its parts and cannot have dead weight. Furthermore, the story it tells must make sense.
A concept album that manages to assemble 10-20 individually awesome songs into a logical pattern from which the theme of the album emerges like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It is a wonder to behold and will likely sit on repeat in my iTunes shuffle for weeks. The same goes for a novel that successfully cobbles together character, plot, setting, and style into something that touches deep into the soul even as it entertains. For me, The Hunger Games did that. So did The Sparrow, The Death Gate Cycle, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, The Lord of the Rings, and too many other books to count. All of them have their flaws, but at the time they moved me in ways not all books do.
I’m not 17 anymore. These days, I struggle more with my own mortality than I do with feelings of alienation. But to this day, whenever I hear The Wall – especially “Comfortably Numb” or “Hey You” – I remember what it felt like. The same is true of The Death Gate Cycle, whose optimism spat in the face of the inconsequential power of the individual never entirely left me. I listen to music and read to be entertained, sure, but I also want to feel something powerful and to be inspired.
What novels or songs (concept album or otherwise) have changed your perspective or captured your exact feelings of the moment?
From Terry Brooks website:
Most of you know that Shawn, our faithful Web Druid, has been battling a re-occurrence of cancer that surfaced some months back. Thankfully, he is well on the way to a full recovery thanks to chemotherapy treatments and doctor care. Less happily, the result of all this is a huge medical bill he has no hope of being able to pay back in the time frame the hospital has set.
Because we all love Shawn and value his friendship – no one more than me – we all want to do what we can to see him through this. So I am announcing effective today that I am giving Shawn the use of my short story IMAGINARY FRIENDS for an exclusive download for a period of 90 days. During this time, readers who have never read the story or would like to read it again and obtain an ebook copy in the process can do so. IMAGINARY FRIENDS was a story I wrote 20 years ago for Lester del Rey for inclusion in a coffee table book of stories by Del Rey authors called ONCE UPON A TIME. That book has been out of print for years, and the story has not been used since. The story is about a boy named Jack who discovers that he is dying of cancer. I won’t reveal any more except to tell you that this was the story which served as the jumping off point half-a-dozen years later for RUNNING WITH THE DEMON.
So I am putting it up for sale for 90 days at $2.99 to help Shawn pay off his medical bills. All of the proceeds of sales of the story will go to him for that purpose. Here is a chance for all of us to show Shawn we support him. Goodness knows, he has supported me over the years. I know many of you have become friends with him, and maybe you’ve thought now and then about how you might let him know what that friendship has meant.
Here is a really good opportunity. Order the download, read and enjoy your copy of the story, and know you are helping someone who really needs it. Then drop a note to the website, if you are so moved. I can promise you that by helping Shawn you will be doing me a real favor.
Shawn Speakman is a truly important figure in the fantasy world, both for his work as Terry Brooks’ web guru, but also his website – The Signed Page – “devoted to bringing signed and personalized books to fans who are unable to meet their favorite touring writers”. He is also a writer in his own rights, who made his epic fantasy novel available a few months ago in order to help gain health insurance as a working writer.
This is a great cause, so I hope I can count on anyone who reads this to support it!
At the end of Day 3 I am just under 10k, 8640 to be exact:
2021 on Episode 5 of the Phoenix Odyssey (The Phoenix and the Last Bornsword)
827 on Soulreaper’s Dawn: Apprentice
596 on The Mad Queen
660 on Restoration: Redemption
0 on a short story, The Faerie Lady of Pinedale
Next couple of days I’ll be lucky to get 2k I should imagine, my parents and cousin are coming to stay so I’ll probably be busy with RL stuff. Otherwise, I’ll be hosting Eric Zawadzki and Matthew Schick from Four Moons Press for a guest post tomorrow evening, and they have kindly agreed to host one of mine over on their website:
So be sure to check it out!
Only started nanowrimo 2011 today but managed 4536 words:
2072 on Episode 5 of the Phoenix Odyssey (The Phoenix and the Last Bornsword)
1060 on Soulreaper’s Dawn: Apprentice
575 on The Mad Queen
507 on Restoration: Redemption
322 on a short story, The Faerie Lady of Pinedale
Here I go with another week in review post…
Okay, quite a pitiful week for writing, actually…
Sunday – 0
Monday – 2434
Tuesday – 2324
Wednesday – 2260
Thursday – 1221
Friday – 1246
Saturday – 400
My weekly total is: 9885
Not even 10k, which is pretty low for me. Still, I finished both projects I had planned for this month, which made it a bit less of a big deal.
I have also been spending quite a bit of time making plans for next year, with some pretty important challenges I have set myself. Chief amongst them being my intention to set myself a goal of 4000 words per day all of next year. That will be spread over six different projects. I’ll try and do a full post about this in the next few weeks. I’m also going to attempt a trial run in November during nanowrimo.
Next week, then, I’ll probably give myself tomorrow off and then kick off with the 4k words as of Tuesday 1st November!
One publication this week:
The Phoenix and the Hunters of the Hall
The Phoenix is a cursed ship. Exiled to the fringes of the galaxy, its crew struggle to survive in a galaxy filled with cruel gods and terrifying monsters. When a group of fanatics kidnap the ship’s cyborg chief engineer, the crew of the Phoenix launch a daring rescue to the Darklands Expanse, where the very stars are dark and cold… Episode 1.3 of the Phoenix Odyssey
A couple of other Publishing / Marketing points:
* I submitted one of my short stories to a paying market magazine. From now on, each of my short stories will be submitted to a paying market. I will continue those submissions for a year. At the end of the year, every short that hasn’t been sold will go up for free under Mirrormask Fiction and be collected into an anthology.
* I have made all five short stories included in the Astonishing Fictions anthology free on Smashwords as part of my marketing experiment.
* I should have a few guest posts on this blog in the next few weeks and will be doing a couple of guest posts on others blogs. I’ll announce all of that here as and when.
This week, I finished:
Cruel and Unusual by Patricia Cornwell
(One of the earlier Kay Scarpetta thrillers, this one following a murder investigation that seems to have links to a recently deceased death row prisoner. Patricia does a great job of getting into her Scarpetta character’s head, and it was fun to see the developing relationship between her and her niece.)
First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
(A good addition to the Thursday Next series, though the meta-elements of the story are fast becoming OTT – three different versions of Thursday, two of whom are literary characters based on the character from the books… right. Still, Fforde’s world building continues to be first rate and the story holds together. I’m interested to see what he does with the most recent novel in the series)
Crown of Stars by David Weber
(I started reading Mission of Honor recently only to realise that there seemed to be a lot going on that I wasn’t aware of. A quick check on Fantasy Book Critic’s review and I discovered that to really understand the last novel in the Honor Harrington series, it was a good idea to have read the two “spin-off” series of which Crown of Stars is the first. A great read, bringing us a whole novel of spies, genetic slaves and the theft of a whole planet. I love David Weber, he is my god.)
Not much, behind on Supernatural again. And I am so having Fringe withdrawal symptoms!
My gorgeous boy. Cuter and cuter every day. I can’t wait for my mum and dad to come next weekend so they can see him.
Hugely delayed, here I go with another week in review post… I’ll try and get this week’s review up tomorrow.
Not a bad week with a couple of “writing” days off, although obviously I was still working on rereads, polishing and publishing.
Sunday – 2426
Monday – 3055
Tuesday – 2452
Wednesday – 0
Thursday – 2516
Friday – 2526
Saturday – 0
My weekly total is: 12975
Much of this has been spent on the same two projects as last week – Episode One of my new serial novella series, The Order, and the first book in a science fiction space opera currently referred to as Restoration. I also finally got back to adding some words to an ongoing short story titled The Faerie Lady of Pinedale.
Next week I should finish The Order so I’ll probably concentrate on Restoration and some new short stories, most of which I’m going to put up for free on Smashwords and Amazon.
One publication this week:
The Day We Sold Our Children
In other news, I have made a decision based on a blog post by indie author David Barron – from now on, my short stories will be put up for free as they are published and I will only charge for them in collections. The financial impact is minimal (ah, trust Excel spreadsheets, how I do love you) and I’m hoping that they will act as free advertising instead. I’ll let you know how the experiment goes.
This week, I finished:
Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
(One of my favourite fantasy authors who does a fine job of updating her Terre d’Ange world in this new trilogy following a half d’Angeline, half Alban girl. Magic plays a larger part in this than many of the others and although the main character, Moirin’s, voice is less special than that of Phedre and Imriel, she is still an interesting character and one that you come to care for. I look forward to getting around to the second book sometime in the next few months.)
Shattered Light: Star Trek Myriad Universes 3 by Various Authors
(I love this series of novella collections, each of which shows us the Star Trek universe as it might have been if things had gone slightly differently. This is probably the weakest of the three collections, although the stories are still intriguing. In “The Embrace of Cold Architects”, Will Riker kills Captain Picard when he is captured by the Borg, but it is the early creation of Data’s daughter Lal that sets off the actual diversion. This one ends rather abruptly, leaving you wondering what the whole purpose of the story actually was. “The Tears of Eridanus” posits a Federation without Vulcans, because the Vulcans have been without the teachings of Sarek. I enjoyed seeing this different universe, especially the Andor-centric Interstellar Union, a nice counterpoint to the fact that Star Trek is very human-centric in the show. However, some of the parts with Demora Sulu dragged a little. The final story, “Honor in the Night” was my favourite. When the Trouble with Tribbles goes differently, a minor character – Nilz Baris – becomes a key figure of Federation politics. The differences are relatively minor, but seeing Bajor under the control of the Klingons was fun. I also found the story itself to be a very clever mixture of scenes, following a journalist who is interviewing people to discover the truth about Nilz Baris, interweaved with flashback scenes. I think I might steal the format for a story of my own. All in all, worth reading for the final story alone.)
The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
(An interesting take on the vampire mythos coupled with disaster movies and medical thrillers. The Strain reads like a blockbuster movie augmented bydelToro’s horror sensibility. I will probably read the follow-up, though the Strain didn’t really blow me away.)
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
(Third in the Discworld universe. You can tell that Pratchett was still finding his feet with these stories at this point, as they lack the subtlety and fantastic worldbuilding of the later books. The story holds together, though, and the ending is a riotous explosion of action.)
The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S Redick
(The first book in a high fantasy series, Red Wolf develops an interesting world with some interesting characters, but which didn’t really gel with me. It took me a while to get into it enough to want to finish it, although I have to say that the ending was worth it and left me wanting to read the rest. I just felt that the book dragged quite a bit and it seemed that certain events could have been wrapped up much more quickly. Still, not a bad read.)
Finally caught up with the last two episodes of Supernatural – great to see Sam getting back to the character we all know and love, but unfortunate to have another potential splinter in the relationship between the two brothers. Then again, what is better than a little tension in the family?
My son continues to charm and amaze us. He’s such a happy little lad, constantly smiling and making cute little noises that must mean something to him even though at the moment we can’t decipher them. Still no teeth though…
As part of the Sample Sunday event, here is my short story, U5H3R, totally free!
A man nearing the end of his fifth life is summoned to the edges of the known universe by an old friend who promises to show him the dawn of a new science.
In orbit of a dying star, the two men will struggle to understand the mysteries of life and that some things are better left dead…
A Mirrormask Fiction set in the distant future.
During the dull, dark days of the autumn of my fifth life, as my body began to collapse around me and my next reincarnation fast approached, I transferred my consciousness into a mime for the journey to the star U5H3R.
My reasons for travelling so late in life were twofold. First, I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that my fifth life was ending and that I would soon be diving down into the monotonous dark of the reincarnation process. A century spent away from my life, my friends and my art seemed too much to contemplate and I was looking for something to distract my mind.
Second, I had received a most peculiar communiqué carried between the songs of stars from a man who claimed to have once been my brother-in-law. It took a whole day of trawling through memories of my former lives before I found the remembrances I required.
Remembrances I had purposefully occulted from my third life.
Laura. The moment I downloaded the memories into my current body’s cybernetic cortex, all of the feelings flooded back. She was beautiful, a Terran rose with red hair and dusky skin, freckles that powdered her nose as much as her buxom bosom. We had met on Nova Terra, one of those nostalgic throw backs to early Empire Earth that were so in vogue in the mid-27th century. I spent three months there, travelling the perfectly reconstructed continents, from simulacra to simulacra –ParisandLondonand the Virginia Arcology. Laura and I met on a boat descending an old Earth river named theNile, marvelling at the ancient constructs that had stood the passage of time.
Our love affair was passionate and fiery and tender. We were married within the year, moving in to my full time home on the coast ofGrabledork. For two years, we were blissfully happy.
Until the day she was taken from me. Not for a reincarnation treatment, nor out of any desire on either of our behalves to taste the forbidden fruit of other flesh.
No, Laura was taken from me in the most brutal fashion possible – murdered in such a way as to make her resurrection impossible.
After downloading the memories – and feeling the pain of loss still not dulled by centuries and the passing of two full lives – I almost decided to pack them away again and forget. And yet something in Laura’s brother’s words called to me, an impulse I found I couldn’t ignore.
Arranging to travel to the coordinates Inigo had given me proved to be much more difficult than I had expected. The Third Empire might have collapsed into the Grovelling Regency, and yet I had come to expect a certain level of stability through the rise and fall of the human race’s governing entities. Unfortunately, that stability did not extend out to the Euribian Galaxy where Inigo had made his home.
Using the dart-network to transfer my consciousness as far as I could, I woke in a mime body on the outlier world of Charys. An industrial hole in the galaxy, Charys’ atmosphere was as full of poisons, dust and nuclear off throw as the late 21st century world that had given rise to my people. The human populace was small, overwhelmed by the indigenous population of tiny grey aliens. Still, I saw a large number of fellow mimes, most of them uncustomised ghosts with pale skin and no expression.
Once on Charys, I needed to find passage to the outer edge of the galactic circle. I managed to acquire a small mimetic needle, a flesh-and-steel construct made up of a tapering primary hull that could safely carry my mime, two thruster arrays and a folding engine. Transferring the funds from my bank account, I downloaded my consciousness into the needle and headed out into deep space.
Two days later, I arrived in the U5H3R system. Three planets spinning around a dying coldstar, and an Ooort cloud on the outskirts, the U5H3R system was desolate. There had never been the slightest hint of life on any of those planets, although the one closest to the star would have been a perfect location for nitrogen-based lifeforms to evolve.
Inigo Bornaris Lithews Brown Goliath Greel Tobin Smith, fifth of the name, had erected a scientific research station at the null point between the two outer planets. I picked it up through the needle’s outer scanning system and directed the thruster arrays to push me to the nearest docking port. As soon as the metal bridge had been extruded and connected to my tiny ship, I transferred my consciousness back into the mime and entered the station.
Five tiny animal mimes were waiting for me. A Terran rabbit, a Martian canite, a Groshenboor limolac, and two Terran dogs, the mimes wore grey suits over their fur – or, in the case of the limolac, reflective scales – and bowed as I stepped into the cool recycled air.
“Welcome to the Goliath Greel Tobin Smith Research Station,” the rabbit muttered, peering through thick glasses. “I am B78, the master’s primary welcoming slervant.”
I bowed to the rabbit – although Inigo’s slervant force was certainly original, it was far from being the most eccentric mimecry I had ever seen.
“The master will receive you in his inner sanctum, sir.”
“That will be fine, thank you.”
Hopping until he had turned around completely, B78 led the way down the polished steel corridor, the other slervants following behind me. After a few minutes, the corridors changed from the blank metal of the outer tubes to a more homey enhanced wood panelling. The temperature rose as well, to a balmy 35° according to my mime’s internal systems.
It took us about ten minutes to reach the inner sanctum, a large library study that seemed to be located in the inner core of the station. Inigo was waiting for me.
I had done some searching when I received his invitation and had learned that he had suffered through five reincarnations since we had been related. It was a large number, explained by a number of strange accidents and unusual deaths that had led to his constant recycling. His current form, a trueform not a mimetic one, was that of a petite lanky man in his late twenties, with dark hair that tumbled down over a short forehead and into his bespectacled eyes. There was no physical need for the glasses, of course – the reincarnation process could easily have corrected whatever defects might once have existed in his genetic code – so I assumed he wore them for the effect. He looked the part of the tortured scientist.
He gave me a watery smile as I entered his study and stood to shake my hand.
“Welcome, my dear, dear friend,” he enthused, his hand like a limp fish between my fingers. “”It has been so long.”
“Two lifetimes,” I replied dryly.
He gave a squeaking little laugh that grated on my nerves. “Very droll, very droll. I see that those lifetimes haven’t changed you.”
I almost told him that I couldn’t say likewise since my memories of him were vague at best. We had not spent much time together when I was married to his sister, which made his enthusiasm all the more inexplicable.
“Thank you,” I said at last.
A slightly uneasy feeling crept over me. Inigo fell back, allowing me to walk fully into his study. I looked around – the room looked like a reproduction of an old Earth Baroque-style drawing room. Wood panels, heavy drapes, physical books in every nook and cranny. The style had come in and out of fashion two dozen times in the millennia since, though it was hard to know whether this current reproduction was the result of one of those cycles or simply Inigo’s extravagant tastes.
“How have you been?” Inigo asked as I sat.
“Old,” I replied, hearing a slight catch in my voice as I thought about the reincarnation process awaiting me. “You know how it is.”
“It has been a while.”
I smiled at his weak joke, and then looked around the drawing room.
“Quite a place you have constructed here.”
“Thank you. I wanted it to be a reminder of the family home back on Goliath. This and my bedroom are direct replicas. The rest of the station is much more utilitarian – I need space and equipment for my experiments.”
“You mentioned a break through,” I said, referring to the message he had sent me, “but I wasn’t very clear on what exactly you were researching here. And why you thought it would interest me.”
“Well, my research was only part of my reason for asking you here, David. I also wanted to see you. I have been thinking about family a lot in the past few months, and my dear sister in particular. I wanted to see you because we shared a link for a little while there, not a very strong one but one that existed regardless.”
I nodded, a tad worried by the slightly maddened look in my former brother-in-law’s eyes.
“As to what I’m researching, perhaps you would like to see my laboratories?”
Shrugging, I stood up and followed Inigo out of the study. The slervants had vanished, going about their own little duties, leaving us to our own affairs. We made our way through the perfectly clean corridors, eventually coming to a door. Inigo pressed his hand to the plate, revealing a spotless laboratory on the other side.
Strange machines, humming with nanite activity, filled most of the space. A few tables, almost overwhelmed with glass bottles, gleaming tech and more plexipaper than I could count, completed the lab equipment. A massive reinforced wall window gave us a spectacular view of the icedwarf, a perfectly white ball of fire and ice spinning in the dark.
I have to admit that I was quite overcome by the view. I have seen many things in my years, but the icedwarf of U5H3R is one of the most impressive.
“Quite a sight, isn’t she?”
Speechless, I simply nodded.
“This is where I do most of my work into pneumography.”
“Pneumography? I’m not familiar with that branch of the sciences. The study of… breath?”
Inigo chuckled. “An easy translational mistake. No, Pneuma in the ancient sense of the world. The Biblical sense of the word, you could say.”
My incomprehension must have been evident on my face, because Inigo quickly continued, “In the Bible, in the ancient Greek, Pneuma meant more than just breath. It meant the soul.”
The soul. I was familiar with the concept, one that had taken on a wholly different, non-religious connotation in this age of reincarnation and biomimecry. When anyone’s memories and consciousness could be transmitted across light-decades of space, or reincarnated into a brand new body every few hundred years, the idea of a separate entity did not seem so outlandish anymore. However, the idea of such an entity being able to continue its existence without the aid of modern science… I would have scoffed if Inigo had not seemed so damned intense.
“The study of the soul.”
“A fledgling discipline. I am one of its few practitioners, though there are others of us.”
“And what is pneumography exactly?”
“Why, my dear friend, it is the study of no less than the mystery that is immortality. The discovery of that ineffable jewel that is the true human soul.”
I tried to make sense of what he was saying, though the depths of his words was thrown off slightly by the zeal I heard in his voice. I struggled to come up with a way of asking the question I wanted to ask without insulting my host, but in the end I decided that the direct approach was probably best.
“And why, in this day and age, would you want to study that?”
He seemed taken aback by my question, his eyes bulging slightly, the whites catching the reflected yellow of a nearby tabletop.
He spluttered. “But, how can you ask that? You of all men.”
Me of all- Ah. Suddenly, I understood why he had contacted me, why he had been so intent on my coming to visit him here on this lonely station at the edge of a dying galaxy.
“You,” Inigo went on, “who have loved and lost. We have abandoned so much, my brother, now that we have the Reincarnation Protocol. What of religion? What of God?”
My unease grew. I had heard others expound such thoughts, mad-men who accosted people outside Reincarnation centres, or waved banners in the mimecry stations. I was beginning to think that my former brother-in-law was not totally sane.
“My work will be a balm to the lost souls of the Nine Galaxies, my brother! With my discoveries, we will be able to once again reclaim the title of human. The mortal world that we turned away from so many millennia ago is once more within our grasp.”
“But how?” I wanted to reiterate my question of why, but I got the feeling that Inigo would not appreciate his work being brought into question a second time. Better to keep him talking. At least until I could safely slip away back to my ship.
“Why do you think I created my workshop here, so far away from the centre of proto-human activity?” He swept his arms out wide, as if to embrace the whole star system. “This place. This star, to be specific. It is a gateway, my brother. A gateway to the souls of all those we have lost.”
Some of my scepticism must have shone through. Inigo smiled. “I can see that you are far from convinced. I understand. You would not be the first who has trouble embracing the wonders of pneumography. But I will show you, my brother. I will prove to you that my theories work.”
“I would certainly like to see that.”
“Oh you will, brother. Tonight, after dinner, I will give you a demonstration. One that you will not soon forget.”
Inigo dismissed me soon afterwards, claiming that he needed to get back to work. His claim to be able to prove what he claimed left me feeling uneasy, and any hope I had to be able to slip away back to my ship was dashed by the presence of his slervants, who met me outside the library and led me to a room that Inigo had set aside for me.
I rested all the rest of that day, wondering exactly what Inigo hoped to prove to me. More importantly, I wanted to know why he had called me to view his experiments. As he had said, there were other proponents of his kind of thinking out in the Nine Galaxies – surely one of them would have been more suited to serve as a witness.
As the day ended, two of the slervants came to collect me. Neither of them were the ones I had seen earlier – one was a canine derivative, while the other appeared to be some kind of simian. Both of them bowed their heads, though the simian looked at me strangely.
They led me through the corridors, back towards the library where I had first encountered Inigo earlier on. This time, though, I found myself in a small dining room, a holoprojection creating the impression of a hearth and a fire in the far corner. Inigo waited in front of the fireplace, dressed in a dark blue uniform, that of an admiral in the Third Empire’s naval forces. I held back a sardonic snort at the sight – from everything I had learned about my former brother-in-law, the closest he had come to service in the armed forces was a dinner party he held for the High Admirals of the Krundin Hegemony.
“Brother. Thank you for joining me.”
He seemed to tense slightly at the cool tinge to my words and his smile was forced.
I joined him at the table, taking a seat opposite him. With a whir of gears, an ancient android stepped out of a nearby alcove, carrying a tray piled high with an assortment of amuse-bouches. Setting it down carefully, the gold-plated droid servant stepped back out of the way, awaiting further instructions.
“Quite a model,” I commented, studying the centuries old antique.
“My father’s,” Inigo said, helping himself to some kind of paste on bread. “I inherited him after their retirement. IC has been with me for centuries.”
“I can see that.” The droid seemed to be in perfect shape, obviously tended by someone who knew what they were doing. “Do you service him yourself?”
Inigo laughed. “Of course not. I keep a spare mime around and every two years hire a downloadable serviceman program to do the work. I have no interest in mechanics.”
A shame. We might actually have had something to talk about.
The rest of the meal proceeded in the same manner – the droid walked back and forth from the kitchen area, carrying tray after tray of delectable dishes, many of which obviously made of home grown ingredients. Somewhere aboard this station, Inigo had a well stocked farm-module. I wondered whether his slervants worked it, or whether he had an army of antique droids to do his bidding.
As the meal drew to an end, Inigo began to draw the conversation back to his projects. I was reluctant to step back out onto that thin ice, afraid of where his ideas were leading us. Still, I couldn’t exactly refuse to talk to him so I bore his mad ranting as best I could.
“You see,” he began, a glass of amber fusion cradled in his hands, “we have never in all our long history tried to make sense of what happens to our souls when we retire. Whether that retirement be voluntary – as in the case of my parents – or due to a horrid accident, like poor Laura.” He gave a little shiver. “Laura. I still dream of her, you know. My poor sister.”
The silence cut like knives.
“After she died, I devoted myself to the study of the ancients, to their beliefs. Do you know that every single culture in Old Earth history had the belief in an immortal soul of one form or another? Eternal life, resurrection, reincarnation… All of these terms that we bandy around so easily today, found their origins within those ancient beliefs. But we have not found a way to harness the immortal soul, brother. No. We have simply discovered a way to prolong our existence here, on the mortal coil. What of those who were lost? Those who died in such a way that the Reincarnation process was not able to take effect? What of them?”
I didn’t have an answer for him, and I had the distinct impression that he didn’t want one anyway.
“That is what I wish to achieve. What I have achieved.”
“What you have achieved?”
He nodded his head. “Yes, brother. My theories are much more than that. I have done it. I have found a way through the very fabric of mortality, down into the core of existence. I have pierced the mysteries of God, brother.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Resurrection. True resurrection. The ability to bring back from true-death those who have been lost.”
I shook my head. “That’s not possible.”
“Not possible?” He laughed, a hard dry sound, like sand against stone. “I have done it. I’ve seen her.”
His eyes bored into mine, mad and full of fire. “My sister. I have brought her back.”
I fled. After he made his crazy avowal, I pushed my chair away from the table and fled. I heard his voice calling me back, ordering me to return and bear witness to his genius, but I ignored him. I had to get away from him.
The slervants carolled me, of course, forced me away from my ship and back to the room that Inigo had set aside for me. I could have fought them, but in all honesty I needed time to think before I returned to my ship.
Inigo was mad. That much was obvious. He had spent too long on this tiny station with nothing but antique droids and his own slervant creations to keep him company. He had become so obsessed by his research that he had convinced himself that it had succeeded. That he had succeeded. I knew how impossible that had to be.
The question was what I was going to do about it? I could abandon him here to his delusions, allow him to wallow in this madness he had built up around himself. Or I could try and convince him of the folly of his ways, drag him back from the precipice at the top of which he teetered. Bring him back to reality. To civilisation.
As I lay in the darkness of my room, I tried to decide which would be best. Inigo would fight me, I was sure of that. It would take time to convince him of his own madness. I had time, though not an infinite amount. Five years. Five years before I had to be back at one of the Reincarnation Institues, to have my mind hardwired into a Celestial Machine while I waited for a new clone body to be grown. Five years before my century long sleep.
Could I do it in that time? More importantly, would I be able to survive here, on this station, listening to Inigo’s mad rantings about my former wife? I wasn’t sure. The return of my memories of Laura had shown me how much I had cared for her and the pain I had felt on her passing was much more immediate now that those memories were back in the fore of my brain. Could I really listen to him going on about bringing her back from the dead for five whole years?
By the time sleep claimed me, I had yet to make a decision.
I continued to prevaricate over the next few days. I could not seem to make my mind up. I avoided Inigo as much as I could, seeing him only once or twice, and each time he asked me to accompany him to his laboratory again. He claimed to have something to show me, something that would open my mind to the “possibilities” of pneumography. I refused.
Days passed. My feeling of unease grew, fed by strange occurrences that seemed to follow me around the station. As I explored those nooks and crannies that the slervants would allow me to access, I began to feel what people in older, less scientific times would have called hauntings. Whispers echoing in darkened rooms. Cold shivers running down my spine. Flickers of movement in the corner of my eyes. I put it all down to the impression Inigo had made with his wild stories, but a part of me could not help but wonder. What if he was right?
Eventually, my wanderings led me to a control room. Inigo had pushed it far out of the way, leaving the actual day in-day out handling of the station to the sapient intelligence he had installed in its mainframe. Unfortunately, such a sapient can only go so far in its duties. What I discovered on the screens in that darkened chamber convinced me that I had no more time to lose.
I had to get myself and Inigo off the station. Before it was too late.
I met Inigo in the dining room that evening.
He had taken the time to shower and dress, changing out of his white work clothes into a more comfortable dark grey suit that would not have looked out of place on pre-Awakening Earth. When I walked in, still dressed in the same dusty jumpsuit I had worn in my explorations, he stood over by the main viewer, staring out at the star.
Turning to greet me, he afforded me a bright smile. “Brother. You finally decided to join me.” He took in my dirt ridden clothes and sniffed. “Though you might have made an effort in your dining attire.”
“I’m not here to play games with you, Inigo. I came to tell you that we have to leave.”
His amiable expression faded, replaced by an angry countenance. “I thought we had been over this, brother. I am not leaving. I have no intention of leaving. You can’t make me leave.”
“You don’t understand. If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to die. Both of us are.”
He snorted. “Impossible. Or rather entirely possible, but not for a good long while. That is the whole reason I have launched these studies of-“
“Don’t.” He closed his mouth, surprised by my seething tones. “Just don’t. I don’t want to hear about your experiments. Whatever you think you may have found here, whatever this gateway that you believe you’ve located, one thing is certain. The star we’re orbiting is dying. And in a few days, it is going to take us with it.”
For the first time since I had arrived on the cursed station, Inigo reacted with genuine surprise. His eyes flared, and he took a step back, clutching at his chest.
“That… That is impossible.” His voice came out as a hoarse whisper.
“I’m afraid it isn’t, Inigo. I can show you the proof if you wish, taken directly from your own station’s computers. I am sorry, but it is true. U5H3R is going to die. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
His eyes dropped to the floor, the skin on his face taking on a pale glow. I could see his left hand shaking slightly, and I felt sorry for him. His plans might have been insane, but they were the only things holding him together. I took a step towards him.
“I am sorry, Inigo, truly I am. Perhaps we can find another star, one more suited to-“
“No!” He spat the word at me, his face lifting and his eyes boring into mine. “There is no other star. This is the gateway. She told me it was. She told me.”
I allowed myself to fall back a step. His insanity had obviously taken a stronger hold than I had initially believed. I tried to take a soothing tone of voice. “Inigo, I am sure there will be other opportunities, but this is not worth your life.” Or mine. “Please, if you’ll just come with me, I’m sure we can…”
Inigo moved before I had a chance to finish. With surprising speed, he threw himself at me. I felt his weight hit me and then I was down, the room spinning around me. I lifted my hands to try and force him off, but my former brother-in-law was stronger than I had expected. Perhaps it was the strength of the mad, or perhaps he had enhanced this body in some way, but he was able to subdue me much too easily.
He growled, a guttural sound coming from deep inside his throat, his hands gripping my throat while his legs held my lower body tight. I grabbed at his chin with my own hands, pushing backwards as hard as I could to throw him off of me. Although his head did begin to inch upwards, I could tell that I was going to lose consciousness before I could actually stop him. Black spots had already begun to whirl in the corners of my vision.
“Inigo.” I tried to say his name, but it came out as a choked sob. “Please.”
The last thing I saw before the darkness surrounded me completely and dragged me down into its cold embrace were Inigo’s maddened eyes filling up with tears.
I woke up in my room.
After a moment of confused disorientation, memory flooded back with the force of the tide. Along with the recollections of Inigo’s enraged attack came the pain. I felt at my neck with shaky hands, wincing as my fingertips touched the raw bands where Inigo’s fingers had tried to choke me.
Gingerly, I sat up, finding the living chamber draped in darkness. Inigo must have had some of his slervants carry me back, but at least I was alive and relatively unharmed. For now. If I didn’t manage to get out of this room, though, I knew that I would die – no matter what Inigo did. U5H3R would see to that.
Managing to get to my feet, I made my way over to the door. A futile gesture. The door remained as firmly shut as I had expected, locked from the outside. Inigo had decided that I posed too much of a risk to be allowed free access to his station anymore. That meant I was going to have to try and find some way out of the room to have any chance of escaping with my life. I had still not decided whether I was going to try and take Inigo with me.
I spent the next hour or so moving around the walls of my prison, testing the plates and searching for the wiring I knew must control the inner controls. All to no avail. One thing I had to allow my former brother-in-law – he knew how to build a space station. There was not a single wall plate nor access pad out of place. I was trapped.
Or so it seemed. After checking the room, I collapsed onto the bed, despair seizing me. I had my face buried in the pillow when I heard a scratching sound from just outside my cell door. I looked up just in time to see it swish open, revealing the corridor beyond.
I scrambled to my feet and was about to leave when a wolf appeared in the doorway. I froze, staring at it, feeling my fear rise to my gorge.
“What… What do you want? Did he send you?” Thoughts of Inigo roused my anger and I shouted at the wolf. “Did he? Did your master send you to collect me? To kill me?”
The wolf slervant shook its head slightly from side to side. “Well what then? Come on, tell me!”
The wolf shook its head again. Her silence confounded me and my anger faded. All slervants, no matter what they started their lives as, were given the gift of speech along with the gift of sentience. It was part of the raising process. Why did this wolf seem unable?
Seeing the understanding dawning in my eyes, the wolf barked once. Then it turned and darted away from the door.
“Hey,” I shouted, following it out into the corridor. Instead of finding it empty, as I had expected, the wolf was waiting for me at the corner. It barked again, encouraging me to follow.
So began one of the strangest pursuits in my life. I followed the wolf through the corridors of Inigo’s station, always a few steps behind, responding to its barks of encouragement with a quickening of my step. It led me through the maze until eventually I turned a corner and found it waiting for me in front of a small door.
My ageing body had betrayed me and I was huffing and panting by the time I caught up. The wolf sat on its haunches, looking at me with its tongue lolling out. I got the feeling that it was laughing at me, and for a moment something in the wolf’s expression seemed hauntingly familiar. The feeling vanished as quickly as it had appeared, though, and I pushed it away.
The wolf barked after a moment, and I nodded, pushing myself upright again. I stepped over to the door and to my surprise it swished open, revealing a finely appointed bed chamber. The furnishings were Imperial, all artificial woods and polished metals. I walked into the plush room, looking around in astonishment as the sight sparked memories.
The room was a perfect facsimile of the bed chamber I had once shared with Laura.
Before I could try and make sense of what I was seeing, the wolf pushed past me, padding over to the bed. I noticed the holographic projector a second before the wolf placed one paw on the controls, activating it with a dull hum.
Immediately, two figures appeared on the bed, the holographic projection as solid as if they were real. It took me a moment to identify both naked bodies as myself and Laura.
By Balthazar and his Beard. What the hell was my brother-in-law doing with this?
As I watched us make love passionately on the bed, the wolf padded over to me, nudging my leg with its head. I absently reached down and patted it, my eyes fixed on the astonishing spectacle. Only when the wolf nudged me again did I look down.
It had a small leather bound book gripped between its teeth. The wolf lifted its snout towards me, indicating that I should take possession of the journal. I did so, glancing back at the bed to see Laura arch her back as I entered her from behind, her moans and gasps sending tiny shivers down my spine.
Flicking the book open, my mouth gaped open. The first page I saw had an elaborate drawing of Laura, naked as her holographic projection, every detail perfectly rendered. A man was nestled between her legs, back to whoever studied the picture.
That man was Inigo.
It took me a few minutes of reading the journal to realise that Inigo had been – and remained – totally obsessed with his sister. He had been madly in love with her, and had harboured a wild hatred for me.
He had also murdered her.
When I read his insane confessions, full of justifications, I felt a bitter hatred twist my belly, filling my throat with the sour taste of bile. The memory of losing her was fresh, so recently excavated from my own past, and the desire any man has to bring death and destruction to those who hurt the other half of his soul still filled me. Throwing the book across the room, I stormed out, intent on finding Inigo.
The wolf didn’t follow me, so I made my own way through the corridors of Inigo’s space station. In the time I had spent locked up and then watching the recordings in Inigo’s hologram room, the situation with U5H3R had degraded. Power fluctuations set the lights to flickering and I could hear the strain being placed on the station’s superstructure by the intense gravitic fluctuations. I didn’t have much time.
After half an hour of searching, I found my way back to the laboratory where Inigo had first told me about his work in pneumography. I did not hesitate, pushing my way past the slervants who stood guard outside, determined to confront my former brother-in-law about his confessed crimes.
The moment I stepped through the door, though, I came to a sudden stop. There, laid out on a cold slab like a piece of meat, was my wife’s body.
The word escaped my lips, drawing Inigo’s attention. When he saw me, his face devolved into a primitive snarl.
He spat the words at me, but they only served to inflame my anger even further. I strode towards him, my hands clenching to fists.
“I dare? How could you? She was your sister, you bastard.”
“You’re going to ruin everything,” he cried, stepping away from me, putting the slab and body between us. “I’m almost there, don’t you see. A few more minutes and I can do it. I’ll bring her back. And she’ll be mine. Mine! I loved her her whole life. We were special to each other. Until you came along. I loved her, more than you ever could.”
“You killed her, you fucking son-of-a-bitch.”
I tried to get at him, moving to walk around the slab. He moved with me, dancing away from my outstretched hands. I glanced down at Laura – he had preserved her perfectly and she looked as beautiful as the last time I had seen her. Her dusky skin seemed to glow like gold or copper, as if she were about to incandesce.
“I didn’t mean to.” Inigo’s voice had taken on a plaintive tone, and he looked down at his sister’s corpse. “It was an accident. I tried to tell her, tried to make her see…” He looked up at me, his eyes burning. “But I can make it right. I can make it better. Don’t you see? With pneumography, I can bring her back.”
Everything he had explained, his whole endeavour, came crashing suddenly down. I understood. All of this – pneumography, this station, his obsession with remaining in orbit of this dying world – it all stemmed back to this. He had done all of it to get her back.
Suddenly, all of my anger drained away, replaced by an all encompassing fatigue. I shook my head. “There’s no way, Inigo. It’s too late. You have to let her go.”
“No! Never! You say you love her, but you don’t. If you did, you would be doing what I’m doing. If you loved her, you’d try to save her. You’d help me.”
He gave me such a look of anxious hope that I felt a faint stirring of pity for him. “Inigo, it’s over. The station is going to die. You have to come with me.”
He was acting like a spoiled child. So I did the only thing that I knew would get through to him. Reaching down, I picked Laura’s frigid body up, cradling it in my arms.
“Then I’m taking her with me.”
He stared at me for a moment with wide eyes, unbelieving. His surprise turned to fury, though, and he launched himself across the table at me.
I had been expecting it and was already moving backwards. Spinning on one foot, I gracefully placed Laura’s body on the table to one side, and then spun back in one smooth motion, my fist catching Inigo on the chin, sending him crashing backwards against the table.
I went to continue my attack, but by the time I reached him he had fallen unconscious. I must have hit him harder than I had thought. As I bent down to check his pulse, the station shook beneath my feet, almost sending me tumbling to the floor.
No more time, I thought. I tried to lift Inigo in the same way as I had Laura, but even with my enhanced strength he was too heavy for me. After a couple of attempts, I gave up, grabbed Inigo by the collar and began to drag him out of the laboratory.
The slervants had abandoned their posts. I had heard of such things before – their animal instincts taking over their neural programming in cases of extreme danger. They were probably cowering somewhere, waiting for the end. I had no intention of following their example. I was going to get Inigo off this station, whatever it took.
As I neared my ship, I began to activate the neural pathways within the needle. If I was going to get Inigo off, I would have to abandon my mime here, after using the disposable body to ensconce my former brother-in-law safely in the hold. My mind would only exist within the needle ship until I returned to Charys.
My mind taken up with the challenge of controlling my mime while transferring my consciousness thought by thought back into the needle, I did not see the wolf until we were almost upon it. The lights had almost failed completely, while the station spiralled towards its death by star. My first indication of the wolf’s presence was a low growl from the dimness in front of me.
I blinked, activating the low-illumination settings within my mime’s optical nerves. The wolf stood between me and the entrance to my ship, teeth bared, eyes locked on both of us. I froze.
Another growl rose into an echoing bark, sending shivers down my spine. I could see the spittle dripping from the creature’s fangs, and remembered what I had been thinking just before. Primitive programming.
Slowly, I lowered Inigo down to the floor and raised my hands. I had to find some way of keeping the creature calm, some way of avoiding a confrontation that could easily escalate into violence. If this slervant had completely lost its programming, nothing would stop it from attacking us.
“Slowly,” I whispered, “slowly. I don’t want to hurt you.”
While I was talking, I reached out with my mind to the needle ship. If I could activate the security systems, I might be able to disable the wolf before it could attack us. Might.
Before I could finish the thought, though, the wolf moved. Moved so fast, there was nothing I could do but close my eyes and say a quick prayer to whatever gods might still be out there. Wait for death.
It never came. I heard a scream and opened my eyes. The wolf was gone. I turned. It had leapt past me and grabbed a hold of Inigo by the ankle. The pain of those fangs biting into his flesh, drawing blood down to the bone, had brought him back awake. His eyes were wide, fixed on the wolf.
“No Laura. No.”
The words chilled my blood.
The wolf looked at me, then. And I saw something in those eyes, something I am still unable to accept. I saw a soul staring back.
The contact lasted only a moment. The station shook and the wolf growled, dragging Inigo back into the darkness. I went to go after it – after her – but a growl convinced me to stay where I was. Inigo shrieked and fought, but the wolf was stronger. Both of them vanished into the dark.
I managed to get my mime securely into the needle’s hold and transferred my consciousness, activating the ship’s systems minutes before it would have been too late to escape the star’s grasp.
Once the needle was at a safe distance, I turned her around with a thought and activated the external sensors, piping the images through to my own neural cortex. I had to see. I had to see the station’s last moments. Laura’s last moments.
I watched through the needle’s eyes as the gravitic currents surrounding U5H3R seized the station in its remorseless grip, dragging it in a spiraling dance towards its embrace. There was something beautiful and yet terrible about the sight, something horribly inevitable. If, as Inigo had believed, U5H3R was some kind of gateway to a world of the dead, then it seemed that the dead had decided to reclaim what was there’s. And to bring down the man who had dared to disturb their slumber as well.
Inigo’s station began to collapse as it drew closer to the star’s outer corona. It imploded, drawing down into itself. It would have been reduced to nothing long before the heat of the star burned it. In my mind’s eyes, I saw Inigo and Laura, wolf and man, locked in a feral embrace as the walls closed in around them.
I waited until the star reached up and engulfed the last smoldering remains, before turning the needle away from U5H3R, and towards home.