Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Girl With a Bird for a Heart - Chapter XII

“Did you not expect me to return?” Asked the towering man.

The boy opened his mouth but nothing came out. He spun around at the ebbing chaos. His notion of taking for himself a small portion of Enin’s wealth had literally gone up in smoke. He had nothing. For all the boy knew all of his contacts and acquaintances could be dead in the destruction delivered by the firestorm. Even the paksi had fled.

Enin surveyed the scene before him. “It is not easy for me.” He said with a face of stone. “Watching my home fade into dust. This sight does fill me with sorrow. But it is inevitable. All things must end.”

The boy croaked dryly, “You said that this was just the beginning. There is more to come?”

Enin smiled the smile of a man with a thousand secrets. “Yes, boy. Much more is coming. More than this world can handle.”

The boy stood and wiped soot away from his eyes.

“Come, boy.” Enin said to him. “I have need of you.”

“Come where? If the world is ending where can we go? And why should we bother? Won’t it end all the same?”

Enin whistled and from out of the shadows loped two familiar shapes. The paksi stepped forward.

“Be silent and ride with me for a while, boy.” The sorcerer said, “Neither of us should want for a companion in the times that are to come.”

He climbed upon the larger of the two birds and steadied himself by grasping the ruff of feathers around its neck. He nodded at the boy to do the same.

“Use the bridle only for guiding your mount, boy. If you need to right yourself while riding take hold of the plumage as I have.” Said Enin.

“Won’t that hurt her?”

“Do so gently. Grasping the bridle will send confusing signals to the paksi and cause it to take the wrong course, perhaps even throw you.”

The boy was clumsy at first and had clearly never ridden bareback, but he managed and soon kept pace with Enin as they loped out of the city.

 The main road out of Kudra Kai was flooded with people trying to escape the destruction caused by the short storm, but the birds were swift and maneuvered around the throng.

“The storm brought so much pain and ruin to the city.” Said the boy. “It only lasted a few minutes, but it destroyed homes and lives.”

Enin said nothing.

“What worse thing could be coming?” The boy continued. “Where can these people run to? Where can we go? The forest and the marsh lands beyond? I can see black billows of smoke everywhere. Was there no part of the land untouched by this tempest?”

“I bid you to be silent boy. I am in no mood to answer pointless questions.” Said Enin.

“And I am in no mood to be told what to do.” Snapped the boy. “My whole life I’ve been wary of men and boys like you. Older, bigger, stronger. I’ve stayed out of the way. Tried to make myself small and not incur your wrath. I’ve been the servant, the victim. I’ve mostly hidden myself away from the likes of you who think they can command me and anyone who is younger or smaller than them. When I couldn’t hide I did as I was told just to keep myself safe. But now things are changing.”

Enin looked forward as the boy continued to unleash on him.

“No one is safe now. Not me, not you. Not the town guard, not the gangs. Not even Saiku Lin is safe. Not when the sky itself brings death to all. So I don’t need to heed you or anyone else. You cannot possibly be more of a threat than a sky full of fire.”

Enin glanced sideways at the boy but remained silent.

“So tell me, great sorcerer, if there is nowhere to run, then why run? Where are you going? Why should I follow? What kind of destruction is coming and what are we to do about it?”

Enin pulled his mount to a stop. The boy did the same. The sorcerer looked at him and said, “Past that forest, in the swamps there is a force more destructive than the firestorm. There is a power so great it will plunge my whole world into darkness forever. It waits for me. If you choose to run away from the end of the world then run, but you won’t go far. The end is coming sooner than you can imagine and when it happens it won’t matter if you are standing right here or a thousand leagues away. I am going to face that force head on.”

“Face it head on?” Asked the boy, “Then what? If this force is all you say what do you hope to achieve? How can you stop it from ending the world?”

The sorcerer’s head fell back and he let loose a barrage of laughter. “Boy,” he said, “I don’t intend to stop it.”

 Enin shook the reign and his bird trotted on.

“I intend to greet it!”

Monday, February 15, 2016

Duskworld - Chapter Thirty Two, Gates

 The skipper landed on the lawn outside of Charlie’s office. It was a school day so most of the residents of Gates were in classes, but one small woman witnessed the return of Meiki and Phel.
 “Meikaya, Phelliam. Welcome home. Charles will be pleased to learn you are safe.” said Soosa as the kids stepped off of the small vessel. They were both fairly certain those were the only words the woman had ever said to either of them.
 “Oh man,” said Phel, “I forgot all about Charlie and Tyson.”  
 “They did not forget about you.” Soosa said to him. “Your stewards will be returning from Newbright soon. In the meantime I have granted you both one day of recuperation followed by three weeks of kitchen duty.” That was a relatively light sentence but Meiki had no intention of serving it all. She would talk to Charlie and discuss Amara’s plan to bring her to Earth, but kept silent about it for now.
 “Is Charlie ok, then?” asked Meiki, “What about Tyson and that Marie lady?”
 “Charlie has remained in communication with me.” said Soosa. “For now you are to return to your dorms.”
 “Yes Ma’am”, said Phel.
 Soosa turned to Amara and said, “It is such a pity that our visitors must leave so soon.”
 “But-”, started Meiki.
 “I’m sorry, child,” said Amara, “but Agent Sakai and I will be leaving now. She is very broken up about it. I’m afraid she’s so distraught that she won’t even leave the skipper to come say farewell.”
 Meiki stared at her blankly until Amara gave her an almost imperceptible wink.
 “Oh.” said Meiki in what she hoped was a tone of sincerity, “That is too bad. I will miss her. Tell her I said goodbye.”
 “I’m sure we’ll visit again one day.” said Amara as she disappeared into the skipper.
 “What was that all about?” asked Phel.
 “I’ll tell you later.” whispered Meiki as she put her arm around his shoulder and shuffled him toward the dorms.
 After stepping thirty meters or so from Charlie’s office the two turned and waved at the skipper as it flew off.
 “You’re acting weird.” said Phel, shrugging her arm off him.
 “Just keep walking.” she told him, “Act casual. We’re headed back to the dorm like Soosa said to.”
 “That IS what we’re doing.”
 They cut through the orchards. Meiki stopped to pick an apple as she had the last time.
 “I thought you hated those.” said Phel. “They’re too mushy, you say.”
 “It’s for you.” said Meiki as she tossed him the soft red fruit.
 When he caught it his sleeve slipped to reveal the ghost still wrapped around his wrist.
 “I see you still have your little friend.” Meiki teased him. “Are you going to name him?”
 “Sure.” joked Phel. “I’ll call him Fido.” They both chuckled.
 “Holy crap.” said Phel, breaking the laughter and stopping in his tracks.
 “He’s speaking to me. In my mind.”
 “He says he likes the name Fido. He wants to be called that.”
 “I’m serious. He’s communicating with me with whatchamacallit.”
 “Telepathy?” asked Meiki.
 “Yeah.” said Phel. “That’s it.”
 Meiki looked around as if she were afraid the trees had eyes.
 “Phel,” she said, “that actually makes sense. These...ghosts, or whatever we should call them...they’ve been absorbing the tech that Rashmi and friends brought with them. This suit I’m wearing, and the skipper too, they’re thought controlled. I just think of something and it happens.”
 “So,” he said, “you reckon the ghosts, like little Fido here are like, psychic now?”
 “Sort of. I mean, they can interface with your mind at least. I wonder why I can’t hear him, though.”
 She touched Fido with the tip of her finger. His eye brightened for a millisecond. Meiki felt as if she were standing on the edge of a cliff surrounded by an infinite void. Words and images crashed into her mind. A jumble of concepts and shapes careened at once through her brain. Complex structures composed of what looked like pure light rose and fell around her. The galaxy spread out before her, each star somehow visible in spite of the impossible distance between them. Her head began to spin from the overwhelming sensations. Then came blackness.
 Phel prodded Meiki and she opened her eyes to find herself on the ground.
 “What was that all about?” he asked her.
 “I-I don’t know.” Meiki said, “I think Fido was trying to talk to me, but it didn’t make any sense.”
 “It makes perfect sense when he speaks to me,” Phel said, “It’s just like a voice in my head. Clear as a bell.”
 Meiki sat up and said, “Well, maybe it’s for the best if no one else pets Fido. It was like I was looking at...the universe. I can’t even explain it.”
 Phel eyed her curiously. “Maybe it’s that suit you’re still wearing. It’s full of Earth tech. Who knows what they got going out there.”
 “Maybe.” said Meiki, grabbing Phel’s hand and pulling herself to her feet.
 They walked silently back to the dorms.
 “What now?” asked Phel as they entered the foyer to the building they called home. The midday sun peeked briefly through the clouds before disappearing again.
 “What do you mean?” replied Meiki.
 “You’re going with them ain’t you?” he looked at the apple she had thrown him.
 “What makes you-”
 “I’m not stupid, Meiki. I know that Junko lady is a mean cuss. No way she’d be too depressed to say goodbye to you. If anything she’d be kicking you out the door.”
 “Yeah. I picked up on that too.”
 “And the white lady said she was going to take you with her to Earth. I was there, remember?”
 “Yeah. but I don’t think Charlie will let me go.” said Meiki.

 “I wasn’t planning on asking him.” came a voice from outside the doorway. The two turned to see Captain Amara Kramer standing in the dim sunlight.
 “Amara!” said Meiki, “You came back.”
 “We still need you back in the solar system.”
 Phel glanced back and forth between them. “You’re leaving aren’t you? Again?”
 “Phel.” said Meiki, “You’ve been the best friend I could imagine. But this is what I always wanted.”
 “I know.” He said. “I have so much to do here too. I need to talk to Charlie when he gets back. Sort things out. The way he’s been running the show. It can’t go on like that. Gates needs to be open to Newbright. To the rest of the world even. Maybe beyond. And the ghosts. We are going to have to figure out where we stand with them. We share this planet.”
 “I think you’ll make a good ambassador, Phelliam.” said Amara.
 “Here,” said Phel, handing Meiki the apple, “take this with you.”
 “They have apples on Earth...probably.” said Meiki, “This one will probably be rotten before I get there anyway.”
 “Don’t be such a...such a Meiki, Meiki.” said Phel. “It’s a memento. Dry it out. Just keep the seeds maybe, I don’t know. I don’t really have anything else for you to remember me by.”
 “Thank you.” she said, embarrassed for being such a jerk.
 “C’mon. Enough with the goodbyes already.” grunted Junko who must have been standing outside the door the whole time. “We need to get back to the starship before our window closes. If we wait too long we’ll have to wait another day before we can get to warp speed. Unless you want to fly through the sun.”
 “Starship?” said Phel and Meiki in unison.
 “Yeah,” said Junko, “you think we flew here in the skippers?”
 “But,” said Meiki, “I’m not packed. I don’t have nearly enough clothes for a five year trip. That’s how long Rashmi said it takes.”
 “Five years?” asked Phel.
 “Five relative years.” corrected Amara. “For you it will only feel like a few weeks. And don’t worry about packing. We can make anything you need. We always travel light.”
 “Oh wow.” said Phel, “I’m actually gonna miss your complaining.”
 “And I’m going to miss your dumb face.” said Meiki. Phel hugged her.
 “I’ll plant the appleseeds.” she told him. “That way a little bit of Naya will be on Earth.”
 “That’s great. You better go before crabby pants flies you through the sun.”
 “Goodbye for now, Phel. I’ll look you up if I’m ever in town again.” said Meiki.
 “Goodbye Meiki.”
 Meiki and the aliens walked out the door. Phel heard the soft  woosh of the skipper shooting off into space.
 “What just happened?” said a voice from the stairwell.
 Phel looked up to see Ker in slippers and a nightgown. She had a severe case of bedhead and a nose red and raw with what looked to be a bad cold.
 “Oh, hi Ker.” said Phel sheepishly. “I guess you skipped classes today?”
 “Who were those people? Where are they taking your friend?”
 “Well,” Phel said, “that’s a long story.”
 “I got all day, Phelliam Glebe. Why don’t you tell me what you two have been up to the past few days.”
 Flush with confidence Phel sat down on the top step and gestured for Ker to do the same.
 “It all started the night of the storm.” he said.
 Phel told Ker everything.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Girl With a Bird for a Heart - Chapter XI

“What I need you to do is hold my upper leg in place and push my lower leg back into the right position.”

Tula sat mute. Staring at The Witch.

“Do it, please. I cannot by myself, girl. I need you.” The Muck Witch said to her.

Tula looked down at the bird in her chest as if expecting it to chime in.

“Tihihi!” it chirped and said nothing more.

“Tula!” snapped The Witch, “You can do this. I saw how courageous you were during the firestorm. I’m sure you can be brave for me now.”

The girl with a bird for a heart drew in a deep breath. She straddled The Witch’s thigh with her back toward the older woman. The Witch wore loose fitting trousers. The bottom half on the broken leg had been torn somehow during the storm. An odd bulge was jutting out about halfway down the lower leg.

“That’s my tibia, dear.” The Witch told Tula. “Take my leg below the bump- by the ankle is best. Pull it up like a lever”

“But,” Tula said, “that will hurt you!”

“It will hurt even more if you don’t do it. Please Tula Petek. Be strong for me. I can’t be strong much longer without your help.”

Tula did as she was told. She reached down to the lower calf and pulled up gently with both hands.

The Witch gasped but did not speak.

The girl felt a sickening grind as she set the bone, but it moved slowly into the proper position. Soon the grotesque bulge was gone.

The Witch exhaled.

“Well, done, girl. Now we need to make a splint.”

“How are you so calm?” Tula asked her.

“I’ve been alive a long while, Tula. This is not my first disaster. Also, your work is not done yet. I need you to find some straight branches to make a splint. You can tear the remains of my trousers to tie it around my leg.

Tula followed her instructions and eventually The Witch’s leg was splinted. The girl found some water in a stream and brought it to the older woman in a large leaf.

After drinking her fill The Witch spoke again, “We cannot stay here, but I cannot move.”

“Where else could we even go?” asked Tula, “The world just caught fire around us. It’s a wonder that the trees still stand here. If we weren’t surrounded by bogs I suspect we’d be caught in a wildfire. Was that it? Did the world just end? A rain of fire and a broken leg? Is that all?”

“No,” said The Witch, “most certainly not.”

“So, is there still more to come? When?”

“I won’t pretend to know such things. All I can be certain of is that sorcerer has started an unstoppable wave of events into motion. He says we have eight days until the very end. I believe him.”

“What can we do, then? A lost child and a broken witch? If the destruction this Enin has wrought is unstoppable then what is even the point of doing anything?”

The Witch wrapped her hands around Tula’s and said, “Dear girl, nothing has changed. We have as much time and as much to do as we always have.”

“How much time do we have?”

“The rest of our lives.”

Tula turned away from The Muck Witch, frustrated by her words. She inhaled deeply to find her senses overwhelmed by the scent of a sweet and heavy smell, like pipesmoke.

“I am going to kill you.” spoke a voice that was not a voice. More than anything it sounded like the buzzing of a million bees.

“I know,” said The Witch matter-of-factly, “but not today.”

The bird fluttered in Tula’s chest. Every nerve in her body was screaming at her to run as fast as she could, but instead she turned to see...it standing behind The Witch.

It was smoke. No, it was darkness, like a piece of the night sky had been torn out and brought to the world. It shifted and flickered as if not meant to be and existed  by force of will alone. It took the form of a man. If Tula looked closely she could make out high cheekbones and an aquiline nose, but she dared not look closely.

“Girl,” said The Witch, “this is Kokabiel. He is my Cacobeast.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Tula said, her eyes to the ground.

“The girl lies.” spoke Kokabiel, “She could not be less pleased.”

“Do be polite.” The Muck Witch said, but to whom it was uncertain.

“I’ve never met a demon before.” said Tula, “I thought you were supposed to reek of brimstone.”

Kokabiel chortled with a sound like glass shattering. “If we smelled of burning sulfur where would be the appeal? No, child. Demons smell sweet. We are, after all, angels who have broken free.”

Tula Petek had never feared anything like she feared Kokabiel. Standing before it felt like being locked in a cage with a lion. Kokabiel could end her without a thought and they both knew it.

She looked into the eyes of The Witch and asked, “Should we be running?”
“No point in it, dear.” said The Witch. “You could never outrun Kokabiel. It would be like trying to win a race against the moon. Besides. He is not doing us harm at this time.”

Tula forced herself to gaze upon the Cacobeast. The more she looked at it the more human it became in her eyes. It’s form was vague and shifting, as if it were uncertain whether or not it should exist at all. But the more she wrapped her mind around it the more solid it seemed. It flashed a pair of bright eyes at her followed by an even brighter smile.

“Maegda,” it said, “what do you have here?” The demon waved what may have been a hand in the general direction of Tula, “Have you taken a new pupil?”

“No, Kokabiel. I have not. Those days are past. This girl-”

“I am Tula Petek.” she interrupted before The Witch could finish. At the sound of her name Kokabiel’s smile split across its face like a tear in a piece of fabric. The Witch held her hand over her face.

“...this foolish girl,” said The Witch, “is of no consequence to you. She is simply a traveler who was kind enough to help me in my injured state.”

Kokabiel circled Tula like a predator. “Tula,” it said, tasting the name, “Tula Petek. What a deliciously ordinary name. I shall add it to my collection.”

“Beg your pardon!” said Tula.

“Those are the rules, girl.” the Cacobeast said, “Never say your own name to a demon. It binds you to them. Now you’re stuck with me. Just like Maegda here.” it gestured toward The Witch.

“I’m done.” Tula said.

“No no no.” Kokabiel said, “You don’t get to decide that. Not now. You’ve given me your name. Just handed it to me like a present. I have you now. Like this Witch had me all those years. Except I won’t lock you up in a bottle. No no no. I’ll keep you where I can see you. You’re a dangerous one, you heartless thing.” At that last bit Tula tugged at the flap of her blouse to cover the cage as best she could.

“I don’t care about you, demon.” said Tula. “If you are going to kill me or enslave me or whatever your plans are then get on with it. Otherwise I have bigger problems than you. The world is ending and there is much I’d like to get done before that comes to pass. I’ve been assaulted and burned and cursed. I don’t need some flickery shadow of hell hassling me too. I’m done. Good day to you.”

The Witch was unable to move due to the state of her leg, but Tula was nearly certain she would not have  followed anyway as the girl trudged down the hill away from the pair.

“You may walk away from me if you like, Tula Petek.” said Kokabiel, “But you can’t outrun the end. Not without my assistance.”

Tula stopped and looked downward. “What kind of assistance do you have to offer?”

Monday, February 08, 2016

Duskworld - Chapter Thirty One - The Aftermath

Meiki awoke on board the skipper. A different skipper, perhaps. Phel was sitting beside her. In another seat in front of them with her back toward them sat Amara.
  “What happened.” she said dryly.
  “You blew up the crazy lady," said Phel.
  “I think the ghosts let us go after they saw no way to release that virus thing. I was knocked unconscious by the blast, but that scary agent lady, she was ok. She dragged us out and that white woman too.” he said, nodding toward the Captain.
  “What about Rashmi?”  
  Phel looked down.
  “No!” cried Meiki.
  “She was a bad person," said Phel, “She used you and didn’t care if she hurt you in the process of getting her way.”
  “Rashmi thought her way was the right thing to do. She was my friend. And I killed her”
  “You did it to save the universe, Meiki. You’re a hero.”
  They sat in awkward silence for several minutes.
  “Where are we going?” Meiki finally asked.
  “Back to Gates. Back to where we belong. I need to finish up with Charlie. I learned things, Meiki. Life is never going to be the same. One thing is for sure. I’m not afraid of ghosts anymore.”
  “I don’t want to go back there. Leaving there was the only thing that kept me going this whole time.” Meiki said.
  “You don’t have to go back.” came Amara’s voice from the doorway. “As a matter of fact, after we drop Phelliam off I’d like to take you with us to Earth. We could use your testimony in Kapoor’s trial.”
  “Trial?” said Phel and Meiki in unison.
  “Of course,” Amara said. “She can’t be allowed to get away with deciding the fates of billions of people. Maybe there are questionable ethics to immortality, but it’s not for her to decide. One person should never decide the destiny of another.”
  “But she’s dead,” Meiki implored.
  “Not for long," said Amara, “Not for long.”
 So I failed, thought Meiki. They’re going to put Rashmi in chains after all.
 The skipper flew for what felt like hours. No one spoke. Meiki was still shaken up by it all. The suit protected her from the explosion and while she slept must have healed any damage done to her body. Nothing could heal her heart right now. Being made immortal, forced to live, was exactly what Rashmi had been fighting against. Meiki didn’t know if Rashmi Kapoor was right or wrong, but cloning her or whatever the process entailed didn’t seem ethical. Would this woman they put on trial even really be Rashmi? Would she have all of the same memories? Would she even know Meiki? Amara had said before that Rashmi and people like her had boycotted the Catena and refused to be catalogued. So would that mean that whatever version of Rashmi they had on file would not even carry the memory of the crime she had committed? The thought of it all made Meiki’s head swim.
 Lost inside her head Meiki almost didn’t notice something moving just outside her vision. She glanced down and saw a bulging shape snaking around Phel’s wrist beneath his sleeve. She caught his gaze and nodded silently at the shape. Phel had a guilty look in his eye like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He looked over at Amara for a second. Her head was turned away from the kids. Phel lifted the cuff of his sleeve to reveal a piece of ghost tech. It wrapped around his wrist like a watch. It was thin and black and had two glowing blue eyes. It winked at Meiki and she almost cried out.
 (What are you doing?) she mouthed the words but did not speak out loud.
 (What?) mouthed Phel, clearly not understanding her.
 Meiki reached into her pack and pulled out her book. She typed:

 Phel. You are an idiot. What the hell do you think you are doing with that thing?

 Phel grabbed the book from her and typed back:

 It clinged onto my hand when we escaped, like a lost kid. It wants to come with me back
 to Gates.

 Meiki swiped the book from him and continued:

 Like I said. YOU ARE AN IDIOT. Those things are dangerous. It could spread or multiply
 or whatever. This isn’t some kitten you can raise. It could destroy the colony.

Phel couldn’t pry the book out of her hands so he just typed on it while Meiki held on:

 Look. It’s safe, I swear. This little guy is not a threat. He speaks to me. He speaks to me
 through my

 Before he could finish typing Junko’s voice broke through the silent air as if on an intercom.
 “Ladies and gentleman, we will be landing in just thirty seconds. Make sure you are strapped in. I am not responsible for nor do I care if you get your neck broken.”

 Meiki quickly deleted the conversation she and Phel had shared.