Monthly Archives: October 2011

Week in Review – 23rd to 29th October 2011

Here I go with another week in review post…

 

Writing

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!

 

Publishing

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

Available from Amazon and Smashwords 

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.

 

Reading

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.)

 

Television

Not much, behind on Supernatural again. And I am so having Fringe withdrawal symptoms!

 

Life

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.

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Week in Review – 17th to 22nd October 2011

Hugely delayed, here I go with another week in review post… I’ll try and get this week’s review up tomorrow.

 

Writing

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.

 

Publishing

One publication this week:

The Day We Sold Our Children

 

Available from Amazon.com and Smashwords.com

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.

 

Reading

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.)

 

Television

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?

 

Life

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…

Sample Sunday – A Free Short Story: U5H3R

As part of the Sample Sunday event, here is my short story, U5H3R, totally free!

U5H3R

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.

Laura.

“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.”

“Inigo.”

He seemed to tense slightly at the cool tinge to my words and his smile was forced.

“Shall we?”

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.”

“Seen who?”

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.

“Laura.”

The word escaped my lips, drawing Inigo’s attention. When he saw me, his face devolved into a primitive snarl.

“You dare.”

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.”

“No!”

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.

###

You can find other great short stories and novellas at our Amazon and Smashwords pages. Enjoy!

New Short Story: The Day We Sold Our Children

The Day We Sold Our Children

A short story from the pen of speculative fiction writer James Monaghan.

They came bearing gifts. Our children were their price.

When the alien Hegemony invades our solar system, they promise to take humanity to the stars. But when they claim a whole generation of children, will mankind decide it is too steep a price to pay?

A Mirrormask Fiction of invasion

 

Available from Amazon.com and Smashwords.com

Week in Review – 9th to 15th October 2011

Since I am horrendously bad at maintaing a regular blog, I have decided for now to set myself a modest goal – one post per week, which I’m going to call A Week in Review. Each post will give me space to talk about what I’ve achieved in my writing, my publishing, my reading and other things going on in my life.

 

Writing

This was a good week :

Sunday – 2000

Monday – 3239

Tuesday – 3430

Wednesday – 2749

Thursday – 3241

Friday – 3583

Saturday – 2172

My weekly total is: 20400!

In terms of project advancement, I’ve gotten through a good chunk of the first Order novella. The Order series is an urban fantasy / horror / modern thriller, which I like to think of as Fringe meets Supernatural meets the Dresden Files. Two characters – an FBI analyst who has designed the first artificial intelligence and a Scottish wizard on the run from his own people – come together to foil a magical serial killer in the first “episode”. I’ll try and post an extract during the next week.

I’ve also been making progress on a science fiction short novel tentatively titled Restoration. Set in the far future, in a galaxy once ruled by a race known as the Hegemony, now freed from Occupation, it is about humanity’s attempts to rebuild a new order in the aftermath of all that destruction. That is also coming along quite well so far and I hope to have the first novel up by the end of the year.

 

Publishing

Speaking of having stuff up…

Since this is my first post, I’ll note down all of the material currently available through my Mirrormask Fiction imprint:

 

The Phoenix Odyssey

The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart

The Phoenix and the Watchers’ Bargain

 

Fantasy Shorts

Poe Tader’s Revenge

The Endless Road

The Dreamreaver’s Last Hunt

 

Science Fiction Shorts

Phatal Attraction

Interfacing

U5H3R

Our Own Personal Gaia

 

All of these are currently available at each of the outlets and you can find the links on the individual pages. This week, I published Our Own Personal Gaia, a scifi tale about what happens when an alien race interferes with mankind’s attempts to terraform the galaxy.

 

Reading

This week, I finished:

Jedi Eclipse : Star Wars New Jedi Order 5 by James Luceno

(A decent follow up to the first of this duology which concerns itself mainly with Han Solo’s continued descent into darkness after the death of Chewie in the first book. I’ve been trying to catch up with these since I only read the first three books first time around)

Star Trek Vanguard: What Judgements Come by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore

(A good continuation of the Vanguard story, which is one of – if not the – strongest ongoing storyline in the larger Star Trek universe at the moment. Compelling characters, an intriguing backstory and some kick ass cameos – which include the ill-fated original USS Defiant – made this a top read)

Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock

(A non-fiction book postulating a possible explanation for the dating problems associated with theGizapyramids, amongst other things. A bit dry at time, but with some intriguing ideas that may actually have fired up my imagination for some possible stories along the line)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. 

(My favourite of the week, a lyrical, magical story set at the turn of the last century, about a circus and the two lovers whose deadly competition entwines itself with every member of the circus crew. A fantastic read, really touching, with just the right amount of description, action and mystery. )

An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham

(Took a bit of getting into as it has been so long since I read Book 2 that I had forgotten the back story of some of the characters. Once I had got myself back up to speed, though, Abraham did his usual job of worldbuilding, character intrigue and increasingly well written action set pieces to keep me reading right through to the end)

 

Television

Spoiler alert for Fringe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three words: Peter. Is. Back! I literally threw my hands in the air when that body plunged into the lake! Yay!

Otherwise, I really need to catch up with the new episodes of Supernatural.

 

Life

 

Back to a relatively normal week this week with my wife watching our baby boy on Monday, a “nounou” – French for nanny – having him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – and me having him on Friday. He’s such a cuty pie, gorgeous baby with a huge smile. He’s soon to get his first teeth in, which my wife spends her time checking to see whether it has come out yet.

Sample Sunday – The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart Chapter 1

Just noticed mention of this over at Kindleboards and thought I’d participate for the first time. So here goes…

Chapter 1

 

ThePhoenixwas a cursed ship.

And yet, Danterian Ko thought as he sat in the engine room with his friend Wicka Bay, it was possible to call it home.

The two friends were ensconsed in a small chamber at the top of the engine room. In front of them, a part of the wall had been replaced by a glastile panel, allowing them to look out at the bleak emptiness of the Darkland Expanse. Sharing a lunch pale that Dan had brought up from his kitchens, they were both staring at the approaching station. A huge metal sphere hanging in space, constructed of a lattice work of interconnected branches, Bastion Shadow was one of a handful of such stations spread across this area of space. So far, thePhoenixhad only visited one of them, but that had been more than enough for the entire crew to gage just how powerful the mysterious Watchers were.

Behind them, the ship’s massive engines groaned and roared, spewing steam and oil into the air. The smell of scorched metal stung Dan’s nostrils, almost completely masking the smell of the stew he had prepared for Wicka to enjoy.

He glanced at her, tearing his eyes away from the ever larger station. Dressed in oil-streaked trousers and shirt, she looked the very picture of an engineer. And yet, to Dan, she was also completely different. It wasn’t just that she was a girl. As far as he was concerned, she was the girl. The dream girl. Her long red hair seemed to spark in the engine room light, let free momentarily from the green beret she usually wore to keep it away from her face. Sensing his gaze, she turned to look at him, her mouth full of stew, the spoon still stuck between her lips.

“Whut?”

Dan shook his head, turning away to stare out at Bastion Shadow again. Now that they were closer, he could just about make out the massive holes in the spherical surface, moon-sized portals into the station’s interior. A handful of other ships, most of them completely foreign to Dan’s eyes, flickered around the holes – other ships coming in to dock or departing on new adventures.

“Nothing,” he replied, tracking one of those ships – a blade of pure silver surmounted by three engine nacelles – as it darted out of the topmost hold, narrowly avoiding a collision with a larger bulk freighter. “How’s the stew?”

“Hm-mm,” Wicka said, chewing and swallowing another mouthful. “As good as always, Dan. Thanks for bringing it down.”

“I know how busy you are whenever we pull in to station. I doubted you’d have the time to come up.”

“You’ve got that right. Things have been even more hectic since… Well, you know.”

He nodded. A week ago, thePhoenixhad been summoned to the Morphac Nebula, fifteen starleagues away. Summoned by a god, no less. The so-called King of Dreams. No one was really sure why, nor what the King and Captain Lee had discussed. Whatever it had been, it had drawn thePhoenixback to Bastion Shadow only three months after their last visit. And the rumours were that this might be it. After ten years. A way home.

“Do you think it’s true, what they’ve been saying? That the captain has found a way to get us home?”

Wicka stopped licking the bottom of the bowl long enough to afford Dan a pitying look. “I wouldn’t believe everything you hear, Pots. You know as well as I do that the gods’ verdict was final. We’ve been banished. Forever.”

Dan found himself nodding. “But that’s just it. The gods passed judgement on us. And they say that the King of Dreams is a powerful god in these parts. If anyone can get us home…”

“Getting home isn’t the problem, Pots.” She twisted her body so that she was looking at him directly. The sounds of the engine room – bangs and creaks and throbbing beats – rose from behind them. “Listen, you were just a kid when we got thrown out here. The rest of us…” She trailed off. “We know.”

He thought that her characterisation of him was a little unfair – there were only a few years between them. And he had been fifteen when they were exiled. Hardly a kid.

She didn’t seem to notice his reaction, though. “The gods made it very clear. Even if we manage to find another god powerful enough to send us home, we wouldn’t be able to stay.”

He nodded. “Because of the Trenchant Wave.” The powerful quantum disturbance field had thrown thePhoenixinto the Darkland Expanse. And every time Captain Lee had tried to lead his people home, it had swept out of whichever dimension it had been born in, sending them further and further into the border regions.

“Not just the Wave. If that was all there was, we could just ditch thePhoenix.” She shook her head again. “No, the real danger is the darkelings. Wherever we stop, they’ll follow us. And they’ll destroy everything in their passage until they get us.”

Dan felt a cold shiver run down his spine. The darkelings. They were like some kind of dark myth or legend rising out of their collective past, a bogey man. He could still remember the first time they had attacked. It had been just before his mother passed – he was sixteen. A group of crewmembers had managed to convince Captain Lee to land on a planet and try and start a new life there. The gods’ furor could only follow them so far and for so long, they had said. Maybe now they could make a home.

By the time the darkelings had finished, the planet had been stripped bare andPhoenixhad almost been destroyed. What had once been a crew of three hundred men and women had been decimated, leaving less than a hundred alive. Ever since, thePhoenixhad never stopped for more than a few days in any place. Any longer and they would bring the darkelings down on them once again.

And yet… Dan could not get the murmurs he had heard out of his head. If there was a way home and Captain Lee had been able to negotiate for their safe passage back to the Expanse…

“Don’t get your hopes up, Pots,” Wicka chided him. “You’ll only end up getting hurt.”

Dan nodded glumly. He supposed she was right. It wasn’t the first time that thePhoenixhad found or been offered a way home. In the ten years they had spent in the Expanse, they had encountered more than their fair share of races, creatures and excelled beings who had the power or the know how to seemingly defeat the Panthion’s decrees. So far, though, none of them had worked.

He supposed that in a few years he would probably be just as cynical about their chances as Wicka. What does that mean, though? he wondered. Did it mean finally accepting that thePhoenix would never get home? That they truly were cursed to spend the rest of their days wandering these sparse territories until the last of them used his or her last breath to pilot the ship into a sun?

“Well,” Wicka said, dragging herself to her feet, “we’re about ready to dock. I’d better get down there.”

He looked up at her, trying not to stare. In his twenty-five years, he had never seen anyone more beautiful thanWickaBay. Not even the silver modules implanted in her forehead, skull and left temple could marr her beauty. Nor the purple shaded optitronic prosthetic eye. No, as far as Dan was concerned, those signs of her calling as a mech-tech priest just added to her allure.

Not that she didn’t intimidate him. After all, as she had said, she was older than him. And she was the Bishop, spiritual leader of the mech-tech priests who ran Phoenix’ engines.

Still, she was his friend.

“Cards later?” he asked.

She nodded. “You’re on. Have a good one, Pots.”

“You too.”

He watched as she wrapped one leg around the pole that descended to the engine room floor, sliding slowly down until her feet hit the decking. She winked at him and then vanished into the chaos of her domain, her voice already raised as she shouted orders at the other mech-tech priests. Dan stared at the place where she had been for a long moment before turning back to the outer view.

The ship was holding station above one of the upper landing bays, due galactic north of Bastion Shadow’s centre. From his vantage point, Dan could see a dozen other ships descending towards holding plots within. In a few minutes, it would be their turn.

Still thinking about what Wicka had said, Dan leaned back against the softly throbbing wall and thought about home.

***

Asher Lee would never get used to seeing a sun inside a world.

Standing beneath the harsh glare, he raised a hand to shield his eyes. The small singularity that provided heat, warmth and energy to Bastion Shadow was stronger than any sun he had ever encountered in his travels. And the desert, spread across the inner plane of the spherical station, didn’t help matters.

Behind him, Esther Gray and Tave Bantu, his two seconds, shuffled in the sand. They had been standing outside the tent for a good few minutes, waiting for the mysterious Watchers to answer their summons. He had rung the bell, just as Fryr had instructed him to, but nothing had happened. He was starting to wonder whether he should try again, and Fryr’s warning be damned.

“Captain?”

He turned. Esther Gray’s auburn hair flashed in the sun, a few blond strands looking like burnished gold amongst the copper. Although her face was starting to line, she had a soft beauty he knew belied the core of hard steel in her heart. Full red lips and eyes a true shade of emerald only served to highlight both her attractiveness and how long it had been since he had taken a woman to his bed.

Don’t think that way, he reminded himself, trying to drag Penni’s face from his memory. It was becoming more and more difficult, despite the captures of her he had in his rooms back onboardPhoenix. It had been so long.

“Captain?” Esther asked again. He shook his head, vanishing the blurred picture of his wife.

“What?”

“Shouldn’t something have happened by now?”

He shrugged. “You know as much as I do. This is the first time I’ve come to negotiate with the Watchers’ direct. We don’t have any experience. None of us do.”

“Except the paradhan.”

Asher glanced at his other second. Tave, as usual, got straight to the point. Fryr had, somehow, met the Watchers before. When that had been, and how it had come about, was as much a mystery as why he wasn’t here to talk to them himself.

Tave hated mysteries. A big man, broad-shouldered and muscular, he was Asher’s oldest friend, after Esther, and master-at-arms of thePhoenix. A panopoly of weapons hung from his waist, and Asher knew that even more of them were hidden within the folds of his long coat.

Asher opened his mouth to answer, but was distracted by the rustling sound of the tent flap being pulled aside. He spun to find a bald man, dressed in sack cloth, peering out at them. Asher felt nauseous at the sight of the man’s two eyes, bulbous and over sized, the pupil a single point of red almost lost amongst the white.

The man picked Asher out and bowed his head.

“My lord. Please. They are expecting you.”

Pulling the flap aside, the bald man motioned for Asher to follow him. Esther and Tave went to follow, but the bald man shook his head.

“Only the one who rang the bell may enter.”

They had been expecting this from Fryr’s descriptions. Still, Asher glanced back to make sure that neither of his seconds would cause any problems. To his surprise, Esther seemed the more reluctant. He met her gaze and shook his head. After a moment, she stepped back, but she didn’t look happy about it.

None of us are happy about this situation. Turning back to the bald man, he followed him into the depths of the tent.

 

Interested in reading more? You can find The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart, Episode 1 of the Phoenix Odyssey, at Amazon and Smashwords