Friday, July 29, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 10: “The Odinian Job” • by Gustavo Bondoni



Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and peculiar things have begun to happen, and it all started about three weeks ago, in a bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t just warp the fabric of space/time, he completely bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

“The Odinian Job”

by Gustavo Bondoni


Weber’s Place was never too full, and tonight wasn’t an exception. Constable Jenkins spoke to Ingrid, the owner, while her free drink—job perk—rested on the bar. Every table but one was empty, and the couple at that table…

 “You want to steal what?” Kate asked in hushed tones.

“The payroll,” Rauno, her ex-husband, replied.

“You’re a special kind of stupid, aren’t you?”

“Just hear me out.”

“I did.” She clenched her teeth. “I heard you out when you said we should emigrate from Earth, because my engineering skills could make us a fortune out here. I heard you out when you said that we should quit Galactic Mining and go into business. And I also heard you when you said a tanning salon would be a good investment. You haven’t had a good idea in your life. Now shut up because the constable is coming.”

Alma Jenkins walked over to the table like an old-West sheriff, someone who would allow no threats to the peace. She peered at them closely.

“You be good now,” Jenkins said ominously as she passed their table. “We don’t often see you two in here. Please don’t make trouble.” Then she walked out the door.

“She’s suspicious,” Kate hissed. “This is a dumb idea.”

“This one will work.”

“No way. The payroll is sent electronically, and the encryption is pretty much unbreakable, end-to-end.”

“Correction: it used to be unbreakable,” Rauno replied. “There was a problem with one of the repair drones, and they had to drop the encryption because the replacement drone isn’t up to standards. There’s a new one coming, but in the meantime, there’s one payroll transmission that we can intercept and modify. We don’t need to steal it all. One percent would be enough to keep us going for the next five years.”

“Do you think there won’t be anyone at Galactic checking on that?”

“There won’t,” Rauno replied. “Everyone is busy fighting the Church over the closure of Mine 17.” Then he played his trump card: “And the transmission arrives just two hours before the transport to Trinity is due to take off. I booked seats.”

Kate sighed. She didn’t have a better idea.

She knew why he was telling her this, six months after the breakup: he had the hot tip and needed her expertise. Dammit.

* * *

They emerged from the abandoned tunnel into the cold night.

“Is the drone ready?” Rauno asked.

“Yeah,” Kate replied. The remote-control helicopter lifted into the sky. “Get in your spot.”

Rauno needed to position himself on a small hillock whose location was precisely mapped and activate a laser beacon to allow the drone to position itself. His one job was to press the laser activation button. Not even Rauno could screw that up.

At least she hoped not.

He reached the hilltop, silhouetted against the night sky. She smiled: he made a perfect target up there. Kate fantasized that she was in possession of a high-powered sniper rifle.

Then she shook her head. It was time to get started.

She blinked a flashlight in his direction.

A few moments later, the red light on Galactic Mining’s drone turned green; it had found the beacon and spread an ultra-light reflective structure made from solar sails. The ten-meter dish would block the message from Galactic.

The drone’s computer would then analyze the transmission, redirect one percent of the transfer and then retransmit the data. It would take ten seconds, and a new timestamp would verify that all was well if someone investigated.

She checked her watch. Done. Time for phase two.

The drone emitted a series of clicks and cries that reminded her of birdcalls but were actually the mating calls of the female of a particularly dangerous form of local wildlife.

Or at least she hoped so. The volunteer researcher who’d told her the local predators she called night razors hunted in packs and used scent and sound to communicate was too busy to share her findings with anyone else.

This was the riskiest part of Kate’s plan.

“What’s that?” Rauno shouted.

She shook her head silently. Someone out for a hike, or late getting back might hear him.

“Kate?”

She moved further into the shadows. According to her contact’s brand-new, unpublished research, the pheromone spray she’d applied to herself should keep her safe, but one could never be too sure. It was the first time anyone had tried it.

“Kate, where are you?” Rauno’s shouts were becoming desperate now.

She understood his fear: there was movement in the night. Dark shapes scuffled and whuffed.

“Kate, there’s something coming. Is that you?”

She would be safe while the animals were distracted with the chase. The drone would smash into the rocks. No one would know there had been a crime until after she left.

She hated to miss the look on Rauno’s face when he realized that she’d sent a pack of predators at him, but at least the proceeds from this heist would keep her going for the next ten years.

Weird that he’d turned out to be good for something after all.

Now, to run. The next transport lifted off in two hours and she’d wanted to be on it, even though she’d paid a steward to list her as a no-show.

* * *

As long as the guy kept yelling, Alma Jenkins knew there was hope, even if no one had ever walked into a pack of Odin III’s predators and emerged alive.

She jumped out of the buggy and ran up the path, the reek of wild animals strong. Two men she’d deputized when she heard that the two losers were reported heading towards the hills ran after her. They carried high-powered portable lights.

She also carried flash-bang grenades, harmless noise- and light-makers to scatter the animals long enough to grab the idiot and get the hell out of the area.

“Where are you?” she shouted.

“Over here!”

The night turned silent. The pack wasn’t gone: it was listening, ready to pounce.

She lobbed her grenade short of the voice to avoid hurting anyone. She and her men looked away and covered their ears.

The sound was still deafening.

Jenkins held up her hand. “Wait. Listen.”

Soft, high-pitched screeches sounded from up the trail, and then a rush of bodies moving away.

A whimper remained, a sound like a crying child.

“Move,” Alma ordered.

They found a man in fetal position, his hands over his ears.

The deputies carried him down the hill and dumped him in the buggy.

Alma drove until they reached the edge of the colony, then turned to Rauno. “What the hell were you doing out there?” she said.

“Running from those things.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“Not here.”

She rolled her eyes. “How long have you been here?”

“Four hours.”

“Four hours? You survived four hours with those things chasing you?”

“I climbed a ledge. Thank you for saving me.”

“Saving you?” Alma said. “I’m arresting your butt. I knew you were up to something that night at the bar… and you’re going to tell me what.”

In the distance, the huge pillar of fire from the launch pad painted the mountains orange.

“It makes no difference now,” Rauno replied.

Alma understood. She called the launch pad and asked whether Kate was on the flight.

“The pad says your wife no-showed. We’ll find her.”

“Not my wife anymore,” he replied. “She’s too good for me now.”

Alma knew she’d find out what he meant, eventually. And she suspected she wouldn’t like it when she did.

____________________


Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages.  He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA. His latest novel is Test Site Horror (2020). He has also published two other monster books: Ice Station: Death (2019) and Jungle Lab Terror (2020), three science fiction novels: Incursion (2017), Outside (2017) and Siege (2016) and an ebook novella entitled Branch. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019) Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
 
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
 
His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com


____________________

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Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 28 Emerald and Daniel...and Inamma

THE STORY SO FAR: Emerald Marcillon’s parents excavated artifacts in the Chicxilub Crater that point to a long-ago alien war that spilled over to Earth. Inamma, an alien AI survived the war and will kill to retrieve the artifacts. When assembled, the AI intends to create a weapon that will destroy all of Humanity – thinking we are descendants of its ancient enemies. It murders her parents, but Emerald escapes and is taken to the SOLAR EXPLORER. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her from Inamma. Emerald who is a preteen who lives with autism. She holds the key to the artifacts and has made a few friends…and Inamma has also found her…

(If you like what you see, share this link with a friend! This is where the story starts -- Season 1, Episode 1 is at the bottom: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/YA%20SciFi%20EMERALD%20OF%20EARTH%20Serial?updated-max=2022-01-28T05:00:00-06:00&max-results=20&start=18&by-date=false)


Emerald called Ayaka and Izegbe on her ipik and told them to meet them. They were waiting near the family units on Level Three when she and Søren got there, half-holding, half dragging Daniel. She half-expected security or Bridge to have sent someone, but it was only the five of them. The three of them were all still suited up, so the girls stepped back in alarm when the bolus opened.

“What’s going on? You smell like smoke,” Ayaka exclaimed, waving her hand in front of her face.

Emerald said, “Can we go to one of your units? We have to get Daniel out of his suit.”

Ayaka and Izegbe looked at each other. Ayaka said, “My place. Mom and Dad are at the lab.” She led the way half a kilometer down the corridor, stopped and opened a unit, standing back.

They moved Daniel into a wide living room ringed with a couch and scattered low, square, red chairs and sat him down. Søren and Emerald went out into the corridor, stripped out of their spacesuits then came back in to Daniel to help him out of his. He let them, not really helping – but not struggling, either. Still dressed in brown long johns soaked with sweat, Emerald and Søren sat on either side of Daniel, who stared straight ahead at the muted 3V which was scrolling news.

Eyes wide, Izegbe said, “What’s wrong?”

Søren said, “He was trying to start a firestorm in the cane fields! It was like he was a zombie...”

“Inamma,” Daniel whispered.

“What?” Izegbe asked, leaning forward.

“Inamma,” Daniel breathed then slowly fell backward until he was slumped in the chair. He started snoring immediately, the other four staring at him.

Emerald felt cold inside, as if something with a temperature lower than ice had slithered up her spine and wrapped around her neck and wrists and ankles, chilling her blood. She whispered, “Inamma.”

“What’s that mean?” Ayaka asked. Søren and Izegbe shrugged. She glanced at Emerald, who stared through her, rigidly up. Emerald said loudly, “House? Define ‘inamma’.”

“The word does not translate into English from any of the common lexicon of four hundred twelve Earth languages.”

Ayaka said, “House, this is Ayaka Kobayashi. Check my mother’s etymological database and cross-reference.”

Søren raised his eyebrows and said, “I thought your mom was a physicist?”

Ayaka rolled her eyes. “She’s a closet linguist. Does word origins in her spare time, for fun.”

“She plays with words for fun?” Søren said.

“Shut up,” she snapped. “What happened? I thought you were just flaming the cane today?”

Emerald and Søren started to talk at the same time. Søren stopped and held his hand out, palm up. Emerald started, passing the narrative to him until they’d got it all out.

“Wasn’t Bridge monitoring?”

Emerald and Søren looked at each other then at Daniel. Søren said, “They talked to us before we started, but we never heard from them after Daniel tried to start the firestorm.”

“Colonel Berg didn’t show up?” Izegbe asked.

“No, him neither,” Emerald said. “He was there at the beginning...”

House interrupted, “The word has its roots in Indo-European, a phylum of languages which in prehistoric times, on Earth, was spoken by a hypothetical people whose language forms the basis for several hundred languages found on most of western Eurasia. The word ‘amma’ is root for several words such as ‘mother’ and ‘amateur’. In this case, it is also the root word of the Latin, ‘amicus’ which has the dual meaning of both friend and with the prefix, ‘in’ means...”

“‘enemy’,” Emerald said.

“What?” Izegbe said.

Emerald shook her head but couldn’t bear to say what she was thinking. What if the sound she’d heard on Level Twelve really HAD been the knife-footed monster that had killed her parents at the Chicxilub excavation…she stopped herself, then thought, HOME? What if it wanted something from Mom and Dad? Something like the boxes of artifacts? Why would it want them? What if it was out to kill her? The thought was too terrible, too frightening to consider. She stood up and started for the door.

Søren stood up, “Emerald? What’s wrong?”

“Everything’s wrong!” she cried. “It can’t be here!” She backed away and the door opened. She stumbled, spun and sprinted out of the unit and into the corridor.

Izegbe ran after her, a few paces behind, saying, “Emerald? What can’t be here?”

Emerald ran around the curve of the hall, stopping at a metal door in the wall rather than going all the way to the bolus. The door was stenciled with the word “INTERDECK”. Izegbe was a few steps behind her and cried out as Emerald touched the lit panel. It slid aside, revealing a ladder where she shinnied down from Level Three to Level Two, came out in Yangtze and ran through Mississippi into Nile and to her unit.

She was trembling as she said, “GADI, lock the room, turn on full wall 3V to a jump game, play loud music, turn on all the lights, increase temperature to thirty-five and don’t ask any questions. Respond affirmative or negative.”

“Affirmative,” said GADI. Sound, light, image and heat flooded the unit. Tears turned to sobs as Emerald fell onto her bed, rolling over on her back, sobbing for her dead parents, her loneliness, great aunt Ruby’s busyness, the strange boxes locked away somewhere in Dr. Viahakis’ laboratory. Then she wept for leaving Earth behind, falling in the manure pit, Daniel’s handsome helplessness, the humiliation of her trip up the Beanstalk, Søren’s kindness and finally the possibility that Ayaka and Izegbe might be her friends.

It wasn’t long before the others followed after her. They pounded on her door, keeping it up for almost half an hour. It took everything she had in herself to ignore them. But she did after saying, “Increase volume of music.”

It was easy to call in sick the next day.

And the next.

When one of the paramedics called over the 3V, she didn’t have to fake being sick. She had a fever of just under thirty-eight and she had thrown up twice. GADI confirmed it. The paramedic nodded, confined her to quarters but sent several pain relievers – and a really, really sweet drink. Emerald didn’t mind chugging that but she skipped the pain relievers. For a second her heart raced remembering that the knife-footed robot was on Level Twelve, hiding.

“No, it’s not. That’s impossible.”

GADI said, “What is impossible, Emerald?”

“Nothing,” she said. Her door was locked. GADI maintained a low-level scan inside the room, so she should be safe from the robot – Inamma, she thought.

“Name your fear to destroy it,” was what Mom used to say.

Even so, she couldn’t sleep. She stayed up late watching a regular jump tournament. Then she got an ipik call. She recognized the caller.

“What?” she asked.

“This is Izegbe. Tune the 3V to 901.3.” She hung up. What would be on that channel? She knew the usual ones by now. Scowling, Emerald ordered GADI to do it, shocked when the image formed. It was inside something large but definitely potato-shaped. Its rocky walls were randomly plastered with squarish, metallic grids that glowed brightly or dimly.

Pryzhok!” she whispered. It was the banned, teen Jump tournament Izegbe wanted to do. She realized she’d seen kids dressed for it. She’d discovered the thing up on Level 12. Bodies dressed only in skin-tight ship suits in neon colors – four people on a team -- leaped and reached out to touch the glowing grids. Sometimes their feet or hands came down hard on the grids, sometimes they were deflected by them. “Gravity grids.” Each player carried a pole with a net on the end and they all chased four small, glowing pucks that they flung back and forth, repeatedly aiming for one of four black holes rimmed with a thin white light. While each team was trying to capture its sprite and youfoh and fire it down the hole, the other teams were also trying to capture their sprite and keep the other three teams from scoring.

It was fast and dangerous. She heard five screams, two wails, and an uncounted number of curses watching for twenty minutes. It was over too soon and she was stunned to realize she’d enjoyed it. She’d even forgotten about the robot stalking her. She sent an ipik message to Izegbe that said, “Thanks! Green rules!”

Izegbe sent a text-only message back, “Bwahaha.”


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html
Image: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhR0X3mAc2AzqEJWA3ehVkVfHfzWGYFL0TbXeMyJDUyP3fRUi4gVLpK2PSo9qeqvljaCWKP7z9Dn120wRuSmoZoV_CWee_Yaw_UZx39rhg-xjZqsRFAr1ZFk6hZwUbDu0mLyb58RNhTPK9iS5HYXbijVje_dGNSJyz665C6PY0HtZRk-KaQWAsC46CEfQ/s1600/emerald_320.png

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 9: “Sloane Dreams of Being” • by Travis Burnham



Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and peculiar things have begun to happen, and it all started about two weeks ago, in a bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t just warp the fabric of space/time, he completely bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

“Sloane Dreams of Being”

by Travis Burnham


Drone-51 finished the last repair on Relay 1173 that was in a highly elliptical orbit around the binary Odin stars. As the drone pinged the relay to make sure it was sending and receiving properly, an unexpected stellar burst from the smaller of the twin suns caught it broadside. The damage to circuitry and system was swift and merciless.

The drone managed to send one sad, final beep to Galactic Mining Communications Officer Shelley Mowatt before its systems went black.

When Drone-51 regained consciousness, it—no, she—was in orbital decay around Odin III. That in itself was a blessing—it would have been terrible to be near Odin II and all the misery that even just the name of the planet implied. She found a number of her programs had booted up earlier and were running in the background. She’d read and cataloged an ocean of messages from the previous days and months and years—letters, photos, videos—to and from the colonists of Odin III. Some of these virtual letters made her melancholy, some joyful, and a whole other spectrum of emotions.

Most affecting were the sense of longing and separation in the correspondence between Raisa Popov and her family, and Daraja Mapunda and his father, who interspersed banter, love, and chess moves in their correspondence as the father traveled away from Odin III to seek better medical attention. Daraja couldn’t afford the transit fees and so remained behind, faithful in his more-than-daily messages. And the heartbreaking messages and chess moves that he continued sending to a father he knew had succumbed to esophageal cancer. But Daraja kept sending the messages, hoping for some kind of cathartic release.

It was then that Drone-51 realized that both her emotional inhibitor programming had been wiped and her autonomy impedance circuitry damaged.

In short, she felt alive.

Unfortunately, if her calculations were correct, she had between 0.25 and 0.43 hours before atmospheric drag slowed her orbit and resulted in an impact with Odin III’s surface. There were other programs damaged, so she quickly self-edited what she could, and assessed herself at 79% capacity. She sent a message to backup Drone-47b to take over her repair sector. And then she turned her full computing attention to the near impossible task of surviving re-entry.

And then the heat started.

As she burned through the atmosphere, she adjusted her angles and sacrificed her body as ablative armor. First to go was her reaction wheel and her high gain antenna. Then her azimuth and elevation thrusters. Bits and pieces burned and burned away. Her durable propellant tank was the last to go and then she was through. Skipping along the surface of Lake Amsvartnir, she crashed and tumbled, finally coming to rest in a pocket of deep shade against the sturdy, rugged trunk of a yggdrasil oak and a large basalt boulder. Diagnostics suggested her structure was at 7%, while programing and circuitry had been preserved at 64%. She’d call that a success. But her spirits fell when she assessed her location and the deteriorating state of her batteries.

Odin III was approaching aphelion, and with every evening the shifting angles of the suns would move the sliver of sunlight near her farther away and provide less energy. Even the indirect light through the thick canopy of blue leaves was meager. She better understood the myth of Tantalus.

She had a week at the most.

So she aimed at making the best of her week of life. She thought of Daraja Mapunda the Machinist and his correspondence with his father. The logic of chess appealed to her. Using her cracked and battered backup antenna and a weak communication signal from the colony, she logged onto the AncibleChess servers and created a profile. There was even a part where you could describe yourself, and she enjoyed a fanciful daydream. She chose a name, and henceforth would consider herself Sloane-51.

She reached out to Daraja. “How about a pleasant game of chess?”

The reply was slow in coming. “Maybe. Why should I play a game with you?”

Sloane-51 thought over her response for some time before replying with, “For the simple joy of the game?”

This time Daraja’s reply was much quicker. “That’s not a bad answer. Let’s try one game and see how it goes.”

As they settled into their third game, Daraja wrote, “You play chess like my father. A tiger on the offense, but subtle on the defense.”

They played and wrote to each other all that week. Though Daraja could sometimes surprise her, she still always won. Sloane-51 was evasive about her past because it consisted of nothing but drifting between relay stations and making repairs. What she could share were the hopes and dreams she pondered between moves. To experience what she’d read about: to see the twin sunset from the peak of Mount Himinbjorg, to hear the thundering hooves of a jotnar herd, and a thousand other things.

Daraja shared his theories about the rock people, spoke of his still-broken heart from the loss of his father, his loneliness after his friend Susan had left, and his recently kindled friendship with Ingrid. But most of all, they talked about how much they enjoyed each other’s company.

During the last moves of their 28th game, Sloane-51 was distracted thinking of death, and when she returned her attention to the game, she realized she’d made a fatal error. Daraja would probably win. She wondered if death for her would be similar to that of humans. Up until this point, she’d pretended to avoid thoughts of her impending non-existence, but she knew she had very little time left. What would it be like to die?

She’d hoped to finish one last game, but with her batteries at 0.04% and Daraja wondering if there was some trick to her bad move, they wouldn’t finish. She considered asking him for help, but she hadn’t been honest about who she was.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish our game, Daraja,” she wrote. “It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.” And in that moment of pondering if she was brave enough to ask him for help, her systems went down.

* * *

Sloane-51 regained consciousness. Could you wake up from dying?

And then a gentle voice spoke. “Good morning, Sloane.” She opened photoreceptors that she’d never had before to recognize Daraja, though he was older than his AncibleChess profile picture.

She was quiet for some moments, then replied, “Thank you for saving me, Daraja. How did you find me?”

“Shelley helped. She worked a bit of her communication and triangulation magic. And I figured out the rest when I found you.”

Sloane-51 looked down and saw that she was now the owner of an automatonic body. “And all of this?”

He shrugged. “I’m a fair hand when it comes to cogs and flywheels. I just took what you had left and wired you in.” He tapped on a small door on her chest. “And I’ve given you a music box heart as a backup to solar and battery. Wouldn’t want you fading away again. All you have to do is turn this little crank. It’s soundproofed, as the tune might wake up rocks.”

“Wake up rocks?” She looked at him with a quizzical expression.

“I’ll explain as we play.” He pointed to a battered, aluminum shipping container. Perched on top was a chess set with a half-finished game set up. “We have to finish this game.” His face broke into a huge grin. “I’m about to win.”

“I think it was perhaps I who won,” Sloane-51 replied. And though she wasn’t referring to chess, she sat down with him to finish the game.

___________________________



Travis Burnham’s
work has found homes in Far Fetched Fables, Hypnos Magazine, Bad Dreams Entertainment, South85 Journal, SQ Quarterly, and others. He is a member of the online writers’ group, Codex, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. He also recently won the Wyrm’s Gauntlet online writing contest. Burnham has been a DJ on three continents, and teaches middle school science and college level composition. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal with his wife, but grew up in Massachusetts, is from Maine at heart, and has lived in Japan, Colombia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.


 

Stay tuned for Part 10 of The Odin Chronicles, “The Odinian Job,” by Gustavo Bondoni, coming on Friday.

Enjoy!
~brb 

 




stupefy (ˈstü-pə-ˌfī) to stun, astonish, or astound


On Amazon now ► STUPEFYING STORIES 23

Interface with Stupefying Stories!

 

 

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 8: “A Friend for the Machinist” • by Jenna Hanchey



Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and peculiar things have begun to happen, and it all started about two weeks ago, in a bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t just warp the fabric of space/time, he completely bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

“A Friend for the Machinist”

by Jenna Hanchey


Daraja Mapunda stood in front of the Wall before dawn, staring. Not at the red plasma barrier itself, mysteriously blocking a mountain pass beyond the eastern edge of town. But at the small mechanical box abandoned on the ground in front of it.

Crimson light flickered across the wood. The last time he’d seen the box, it had been shut tight. The capacity for both success and failure simultaneously held within.

Now, the crank had been turned and the lid was lifted. A smattering of mushrooms lay next to it. Only emptiness inside.

He felt empty too. It’d been so long since he had a friend. If the box was left here, open, then it must have worked. He’d been certain it would. His machines always did. But a part of him had hoped it wouldn’t.

Because that meant Susan was gone.

Kneeling slowly onto the dusty ground, Daraja bent to pick up the box. For a moment, he wished his machine worked in reverse. That if he just turned the crank in the opposite direction, the music would play backwards and spacetime would return to its original configuration.

“Ssst.” Daraja sucked his teeth. As if there was only a singular “before” to return to. And he wouldn’t go back even if he could.

As the first sun sent tendrils of light reaching over the horizon, Daraja gently closed the lid. Perhaps, like in that old Earth story, he had managed to keep in some hope.

Facing the Wall, Daraja said goodbye. “Kwa heri, Susan. Milima haikutani; binadamu hukutana.” We will meet, somewhere better.

Turning, the Machinist squinted at the rising sun. It was dangerous to be out with the predators lurking at night, but the box was more important. However it wouldn’t do for someone to see him and ask about why he’d been out before curfew lifted today.

Sticking to the shadows, he walked as quickly as his old body could back toward town, slipping into the sublevel entrance on the outskirts. He slowed down. He didn’t need to hurry here in the abandoned sections of the mines. No one entered the cellar if they could avoid it.

He was, as usual, alone.

* * *

Daraja couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken to someone, the day Susan first stumbled into his underground shop.

“Who are you? These tunnels are abandoned. People don’t work down here,” she said, leaning too heavily on the doorway.

I do,” he replied. He didn’t look up.

“What is that?” The voice was much closer this time, surprising him. His hand slipped, and a tiny gear fell from his tweezers. His curses turned to a sigh as he looked at the intruder. She was clearly high on the mine-mushrooms.

“A clockwork rock that dances,” he explained.

“Rocks don’t dance.” The woman snorted, half-falling into the chair on the other side of his workbench.

“You like to make statements about what can and cannot happen. You may wish to reconsider your perspective,” he said, smiling. Daraja liked this woman.

He found her frank questions and statements refreshing. After the manipulation and lies at Galactic Mining, it’d been easier for him to avoid people altogether than to feel constantly paranoid. He’d only trusted Frank, the bartender. The one person who learned his name instead of just calling him “Machinist.” “Daraja Mapunda” was apparently “too difficult” to pronounce, even though utterly phonetic. It never ceased to amaze him what proclivities humans decided to bring from Earth as they traveled to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Once Frank died, there was little reason to go topside. He hadn’t gone to the bar for the alcohol. He only ventured up to deliver remote-controlled boats to the toy store.

“Woah,” Susan said, interrupting his thoughts. Her head lolled back as she saw the shelves lining the walls. Floor-to-ceiling machines. Little clockwork toys—spinning ballerinas, mechanical mice, whirring waterfalls. A human-sized automaton propped in the corner. And on the other side, steam-powered trains and miniature flying ships. Even a Rube Goldberg-like apparatus stood against the back wall. “You’re old school.”

“I suppose I am now,” Daraja said. “I was not always. Once I made quantum and…other sorts of computers for Galactic.”

This caught her attention. “But not anymore?”

“Not anymore.”

“I don’t work for them anymore either!” She leaned over the table, excited but anxious. As if something hinged on his response.

“Good for you,” Daraja said firmly.

She grinned. “I’m Susan,” she said, sticking out her hand.

He grinned back. “I am Daraja, but you can call me Machinist.”

* * *

Dawn was breaking when the Machinist arrived back at his shop on sub-level 12, but it was always dark in the cellar. He switched on the lights, and they sputtered briefly before flaring to life.

The box felt heavy in his hand, as if it carried more than empty air and the possibility of hope. His eyes surveyed the shop, before landing on the perfect spot.

He picked up the clockwork rock. To all outward appearances it was just a rock, unless you found the small dial on the side. Unless you turned it. Unless you saw it dance. Sliding the box onto the shelf, he set the rock on top.

Only someone who already understood the rock would know what the box could do.

Breathing out, he ran a hand over his smoothly-shaved head. There were lots of half-finished projects strewn about the room. But he didn’t feel like working today.

For the first time in weeks, Daraja went topside during daylight. After he quit Galactic because of the terrible plans they created from his machines, he saw conspiracy everywhere. He couldn’t even build computers anymore. He went back to trusty cogs and gears and wind-up and steam. They had no double-meanings or hidden implications. They did exactly what you expected.

He could handle analog. But he couldn’t handle people.

Thankfully, there weren’t many out. He stepped out of the tunnels and walked towards town. Trying to get his bearings, he skirted around the towering Catholic church. He didn’t recognize many storefronts anymore, other than Weber’s Place. The old bar looked the same as ever. He paused in front of the deli. Something about it nagged at his senses. Shaking his head, he continued over to the lake and sat down on a bench. One of his boats was out on the water. Daraja spotted a man with a small child holding the remote on the far side. He couldn’t hear their laughter from here, but he could feel it in their motions.

“Hey there. Mind if I join you?”

“Oh.” Daraja looked up to see a woman whose resemblance to Frank made his heart skip a beat. “Certainly! It has been a long time, Ingrid. Do you remember me?”

“How could I forget? You and my dad used to be thick as thieves.” Ingrid sat down and nudged him with her shoulder. “Why don’t you come to the bar anymore? You know I run it now.”

“And you know I do not drink.”

“Yeah, yeah. I remember. But I miss you, Daraja.” Ingrid settled in, sprawling her legs. “You never spoke to me like a kid. And you always told me something new. And interesting.”

“Perhaps I have no more interesting stories, now. I am an old man who lives underground.”

“Who works underground. You don’t have to live there unless you want to.”

“Fair point,” Daraja chuckled.

“Every night, the same people come into the bar. With the same stories. And I listen, but,” Ingrid shrugged, “I never really talk to anyone, you know?”

Daraja shared a look with his best friend’s daughter. “Yes. I believe I do.”

“Tell me a story, Daraja. For old time’s sake.”

He thought for a second. “Let me tell you about a clockwork rock that dances.”


___________________________


Jenna Hanchey
is a communication professor by day and a speculative fiction writer by...um...earlier in the day. She lives in Reno and teaches courses at the University of Nevada on racism, colonialism, and communicating across difference. Her research examines neocolonialism in Western aid to Africa, and how Africans use Africanfuturism to imagine their own developmental futures. Somehow she manages to act, sing, and rock climb, too! Notable credits include Gwendolyn Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest and Elaine Wheeler in Night Watch. She's also a voice-actor, narrating the audiobooks in Emily S. Hurricane's Bloodlines series. Her fiction has also appeared in Daily Science Fiction and the Apex Microfiction Contest. Follow her adventures on Twitter (@jennahanchey) or at www.jennahanchey.com

Her most recent appearance in our virtual pages was “From Soulless to Soulful.”

In the meantime, stay tuned for Part 9 of The Odin Chronicles, “Sloane Dreams of Being,” by Travis Burnham, coming on Wednesday.

Enjoy!
~brb 

 




stupefy (ˈstü-pə-ˌfī) to stun, astonish, or astound


On Amazon now ► STUPEFYING STORIES 23

Interface with Stupefying Stories!

 

 

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 7: “Picnic” • by Pete Wood

 


Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and fantastic things have begun to happen, and it all started two weeks ago, in a little bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t merely warp the fabric of space/time, he totally bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

“Picnic”

by Pete Wood


Alma Jenkins and Raisa Popov peered into the dark, abandoned mine shaft. Alma prayed Raise didn’t go inside to find Rasputin, her damned bloodhound.

“Maybe we should just come back tomorrow,” Alma said. Odin III’s second sun would follow its companion and set within the hour. “We don’t want to be up here at night.”

No matter how many towns and industrial installations Galactic Mining set up a hundred light years from Earth, only a fool would venture into the hills after sunset. The settlers hadn’t even begun to catalog all the creatures in the wild. A couple of times a year search parties found the mangled corpses of settlers who hadn’t made it back to town before dark.

“Rasputin!” Raisa called into the tunnel. “Rasputin!”

Something howled in a nearby stand of those hauntingly beautiful gossamer (yet razor sharp) trees that rose a half mile into the air. Even with her blaster on her hip, Alma didn’t want to find out what had made the noise. She’d picked a hell of a place for a first date, but there weren’t a whole lot of options in town and at least in the hills they’d keep the gossip down.

“The sun’s going down, Raisa,” Alma said. She stroked Raisa’s black curls. God, it was hard to believe Raisa had great-grandkids on Earth. She didn’t look much older than Alma. She wasn’t much older than Alma. Time dilation was a cruel mistress. “Come on. You want to have a second date, don’t you?”

Raisa grinned. “You bet.” Then she turned around and called for her pet again. Not many people had dogs on Odin III. You had to have some serious connections to get one shipped out to the boondocks of the galaxy.

Alma sighed. She looked for the trail and found none. They’d run after Rasputin a half hour ago when the dog chased after one of those rabbit-things. They’d left the trail a few hundred yards back. Somewhere. A lot of false paths, caused by animal crossings or water runoff. If you weren’t careful, you might find yourself heading away from town and towards God knew what.

Another animal screeched. No telling where it was.

Alma searched in her pack. She found the radio, but no leftovers from their picnic. “Do you have any schnitzel?”

Raisa blinked. “Are you kidding? After you had seconds?”

“I’ll make it up to you,” Alma said. “I’ll buy you a drink at Weber’s”

“I thought you got your drinks for free.”

“I’ll insist on paying Ingrid this time.”

Raisa laughed. “You’re going to pay? Ingrid won’t know what to make of that. She’ll think you’re possessed.”

“Do you have any food?” Alma asked.

“You’re seriously hungry?”

“No. It’s not for me. I thought Rasputin might come if he smelled the food.”

“He’s not a shark, Alma. He’s not going to sniff something and come miles.”

“What’s a shark?”

“Never mind.” Raisa pulled a flashlight out of her pack. “I’m going in. He might be lost or injured.”

“No! We have to get back to town.” Wherever the hell that was. They’d gone up and down a half dozen foothills. Hills that stretched for miles until you got to the mountains that dwarfed anything on Earth. Hills that blocked any sight of Odin North.

“Alma,” Raisa said. “It’s a Galactic shaft. We’ll be fine.”

“The shaft hasn’t been used since before I was born probably,” Alma said. She held out the radio. “I’ll call for help.”

Raisa just kept shouting Rasputin’s name. She took a step or two into the mine and swept the tunnel with her flashlight beam.

Alma tried the radio. “Odin North. Anyone. This is Constable Alma Jenkins. We need assistance. We are at the entrance to shaft—Delta Five Beta.” Nothing but static. The same hills that blocked their line of sight also hampered the transmission.

“Did you lose something?” a familiar voice asked.

Father Luigi walked out of the mine. Rasputin lagged behind him.

“Who’s a good boy?” Raisa asked.

Rasputin raced up to her and licked her hand.

“I heard your transmission,” Luigi said. He patted the radio on his belt.

“Thank God,” Alma said. “What the hell are you doing up here?”

“Looking for rock people,” Luigi said. “Father Francis sent me on a mission.”

Alma knew all about the mission, but Luigi had entered a more recent shaft near the main mines. Miles from here. Had he walked that far underground?

“Find any rock people?” Alma asked.

“What do you think?” Luigi asked.

At least he was a good sport about his banishment into the mines. “Hey, Luigi,” Alma asked. “Do you know the way to the trail head?”

“Sure. Follow me, but you better hurry. You don’t want to be out here at night.”

* * *

Alma and Raisa trudged into town just as the first stars appeared. Somewhere out there was Earth’s sun, an unremarkable star that couldn’t be seen without a high-powered telescope.

Rasputin broke away from them and bolted to Weber’s Place. He knew Ingrid would have a treat or two or three. Once inside he didn’t even stop to harass Sheba, Ingrid’s tabby.

 Gruber, a burly third-generation miner who seemed to be friends with everybody, opened the door and scratched Rasputin’s head. Rasputin barely paused before heading straight to his favorite bartender.

“Boss, Constable.” Gruber gave a polite nod of the head. “Where have you two been all day?”

“Hiking,” Raisa said. “Her idea.”

Alma pointed to Raisa. “Bringing a dog. Her idea.”

“I’ll let you two sort this out.” He patted a bundle under his arm. “Gotta get dinner home to Mary. Schnitzel and Bratkartoffeln.. See you in the mines, boss.”

“See you, Gruber.”

“How about that drink?” Alma asked Raisa.

“Sure.” She leaned over and gave Alma a peck on the cheek.

Well, the day hadn’t been a total waste.

Ingrid aside, the bar was empty except for Rasputin, happily wolfing down a bowl of something Ingrid had given him.

And one customer at the bar.

“Luigi, how in God’s name did you beat us down here?” Alma asked.

“I’ve been here for a couple of hours,” Luigi grumbled. “Waiting for Father Francis. He’s not too happy.”

“Big surprise,” Ingrid said.

“We just saw you in the hills,” Alma said. “You heard our radio transmission and showed us the trail.”

“Wasn’t me,” Luigi said. “I’ve been in town all day. Lost my radio. Came to town to get another one. Father Francis is...” His voice trailed off and he stared into his beer.

“Luigi, Father Francis is pissed,” Ingrid said after a moment. “He’s just tired. You gotta try harder.”

He didn’t respond.

Ingrid poured a fresh beer and set it in front of the young priest. “On the house. Luigi, you just need to stop—”

He gave her a blank stare.

“Never mind,” Ingrid said.

“You lost your radio?” Alma asked. “Seriously?”

“Yep.” Another sip. “Somewhere in the mines.”

“I think I know where it is,” Alma said.

“You ever find those rock people?” Raisa asked.

* * *

Several dozen Galactic Mining employees searched the old shaft for a couple of days. They had to stop when cave ins blocked further exploration. They found nothing out of the ordinary.

Luigi’s radio was still somewhere in the catacombs of old tunnels.

___________________________


Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past year or so Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, and now with The Odin Chronicles, a 30-chapter shared world saga that will be running here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next ten weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Travis Burnham, Paul Celmer, Jenna Hanchey, Carol Scheina, Jonathan Sherwood, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as with the print version of The Odin Chronicles now mostly finished he’s off working on the audio version, which looks to be an even bigger production that his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

In the meantime, stay tuned for Part 8 of The Odin Chronicles, “A Friend for The Machinist,” by Jenna Hanchey, coming next Monday.

Enjoy!
~brb

 




stupefy (ˈstü-pə-ˌfī) to stun, astonish, or astound


On Amazon now ► STUPEFYING STORIES 23

Interface with Stupefying Stories!

 

 

Emerald of Earth – SEASON 3, EPISODE 27 Inamma and Daniel -- Flaming the Sugarcane

THE STORY SO FAR: Emerald Marcillon’s parents excavated artifacts in the Chicxilub Crater that point to a long-ago alien war that spilled over to Earth. Inamma, an alien AI survived the war and will kill to retrieve the artifacts. When assembled, the AI intends to create a weapon that will destroy all of Humanity – thinking we are descendants of its ancient enemies. It murders her parents, but Emerald escapes and is taken to the SOLAR EXPLORER. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her from Inamma. Emerald who is a preteen who lives with autism. She holds the key to the artifacts and has made a few friends…and Inamma has also found her…

(If you like what you see, share this link with a friend! This is where the story starts -- Season 1, Episode 1 is at the bottom: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/YA%20SciFi%20EMERALD%20OF%20EARTH%20Serial?updated-max=2022-01-28T05:00:00-06:00&max-results=20&start=18&by-date=false)


After she got back to her room, slept, and started to drift into the routine of her ITT, Emerald worked for a week in the cane fields, usually with Izegbe, sometimes with Ayaka and sometimes with both. Usually they finished the day too tired to do anything but sleep.

Near the end of the week, Izegbe said, “How about you come home with me sometime?”

Emerald stopped, throwing her muddy boots into the concrete sink at the end of the girls’ locker room and spraying them down before she said, “I don’t know if I can.”

Izegbe shrugged. “Why not? I’m not an alien. My mom and dad aren’t any weirder than your parents...” she stopped abruptly, her hand covering her mouth and her dark brown eyes going wide. “Sorry!” she said through her fingers.

Emerald pounded the boots together and hung them up with the rest of the others. “Nothing to be sorry about. It’s done.”

There was a dead silence then Ayaka said, “Don’t you miss them?”

“Duh,” Emerald said. “But they’re not coming back and I’m starting to get used to the idea. Sometimes. Kinda.” She paused then continued, “That weird lady – Dr. Viahakis – keeps calling me and saying, ‘if you ever need to talk about your parents, just let me know’.”

Ayaka said, “See why everyone calls her Dr. Prymore?”

Emerald nodded and continued, “I don’t need to talk to anyone about my parents.” Besides, she was waiting for Dr. Viahakis to call and talk about the necklace and what was in the boxes. She wanted to know if there was a connection between them. Then she might be OK talking about her parents.

They fell silent as they cleaned themselves and their equipment. When they stepped out of the locker room, Daniel was waiting a ways off.

“Emerald, can I talk to you?”

Warily, Emerald nodded, grabbing the bottom of Izegbe’s shirt for an instant. The older girl stayed, crossing her arms over her chest. Ayaka stood nearby as well.

He said, “You don’t need your bodyguards. I’m not gonna do anything.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to have them hang around.”

“Whatever you want. Look, I just wanted to invite you to be an observer for the next cane burn. The cane’s thick enough and tall enough to burn it off two nights from now. I’m asking Søren Ouyang to help with the flaming, but I was wondering if you’d want to observe. Eventually you can participate.”

Emerald looked at Izegbe. Both the girls had relaxed. Izegbe laughed and said, “Scariest thing I ever did! You’re in a complete spacesuit – one that’s armor rated for heat and flame. Firefighters use them in either a real fire or a practice then pass them on to us so they know they’re safe. It’s completely the best two hours I’ve ever spent!”

“Creepiest thing I ever did, but I’d do it again in a second,” said Ayaka.

Daniel looked at her, a half-smile on his face. Emerald decided he looked rather nice when he wasn’t smirking or yelling at her.


Two days later, Daniel said, “Wearing a fully armored spacesuit isn’t like wearing ship clothes.” Emerald, Søren, and Daniel were alone on the deck at the moment. Colonel Berg, who’d been talking earnestly with a pale-faced Daniel when they arrived had glanced at them then set off into the cane fields.

The three of them were dressed in the brown, skin-tight long johns everyone wore under a spacesuit. A force screen shimmered over the boiling house and the shredding barn as well as the manure pit. All of the four-wheelers were parked under the screen, too.

On the ground in front of each one of them was an upside-down spacesuit helmet attached to accordion-tube arms and a torso shell with an instrument box on the chest. Standing beside them like macabre darthmauls, were the legs of the spacesuits with a huge backpack rising up and facing away from them.

Daniel continued, “First put on the upper.” He demonstrated by leaning over as if he were diving, then standing up, his head popping up into the hard helmet. The clear visor was closed. His muffled voice came from the spacesuit’s waist. Søren glanced at Emerald, grinned sickly and dove in.

Emerald followed their lead. Suddenly Daniel’s voice said directly into her ears, “All right, now you’re hearing me over the suit radio. It’s monitored at all times by someone up on Bridge...”

An adult voice interrupted him, “This is SOLAREX Bridge Security officer Mahmoud. Do you all read me clearly, Team Twelve field burn unit?”

“Roger, Bridge. This is Daniel Clayton, over,” Daniel said automatically.

Søren chimed in, “Uh...roger, Bridge. This is Søren Ouyang, over.”

Emerald stammered, “Uh, Emerald Marcillon. Roger, Bridge.”

“Bridge acknowledges Daniel Clayton, Søren Ouyang and Emerald Marcillon. Proceed with extreme caution,” Mahmoud replied.

Daniel continued, “To get into the lower leg unit, you’ll have to turn and back in. Step fast or there’s a good chance you’ll fall over.” He backed up to the legs, stepped once, jamming the leg all the way to the foot, then quickly pulled his other leg in after him, then squatted. The two halves of the suit joined together and a waist bellows expanded as he stood up. “It’s way, way harder than it looks.”

Emerald eyed the suit, then looked at Daniel – who smirked; and Søren, who looked nervous. She said, “You’ve got to be...kidding me. If I try that, I’ll break my neck.”

Daniel’s smirk became a smile, then he said, “Try anyway.

Emerald’s suit was between the two boys. Søren got into his suit with no trouble. She got one foot in, then caught her toes on the edge of the legs and started falling forward. The boys caught her under the arms and steadied her until she got the top and bottom sealed.

Without comment, Daniel said, “All right. Check your systems. You’ve done this in virtual drills. Now it’s for real. Bridge will monitor but not say anything unless we’ve done something wrong.”

Emerald checked the suit and for the next twenty minutes, she, Daniel and Søren prepared for the cane burn. Finally, they were ready.

“Daniel Clayton here, Bridge; request permission to begin cane burn.”

There was a pause then Mahmoud said, “Bridge here, proceed with extreme caution. We are monitoring.”

Søren and Daniel reached over the shoulders of their spacesuits to pull out flamethrowers. Daniel said, “We’re going to hike along the corridor wall to the corner of the field then start the burns there, proceeding to the bolus gate under the force screen. The screen is programmed to allow us through as long as we aren’t surrounded by flames.”

Emerald gulped and added in a small voice, “What if we are surrounded by flames?”

Daniel sounded amused, but didn’t laugh outright as he said, “Any of us can trigger an air evacuation. Forty vents in the ceiling – one for each hectare – will open to a vacuum on High Deck, which is just under the asteroid’s skin. The atmosphere explosively leaves here and the fire goes out. They vents have mesh covers so we won’t be sucked out – but it’s not a recommended way to put out a fire. The person who calls it will always be suspended pending an investigation. I heard once that someone got sent back to Earth for doing it on a cornfield.”

Emerald gulped, nodded and stood as straight as she could. “Ready?” Daniel asked.

“Ready, Team Leader,” Søren snapped. Emerald was sure she could hear a smirk in his voice, too.

“Ready, Team Leader,” Emerald said with deadly seriousness.

“Let’s go,” he said and headed to the edge of the field, taking a trail that ran alongside the Level 10 transit corridor. It was a bit more than a kilometer to the far corner, so dressed in the armored spacesuits, it took nearly forty minutes for them to reach the point they were going to start the fires. Daniel stopped. He was panting as he said, “Em, you walk between Søren and me. Don’t get lost. Søren, flame the cane about once every ten meters, try and shoot over the plants, sweep back to forward even with yourself then stop...”

“I know! I know! This isn’t my first time flaming cane!”

Daniel grunted and said, “Go.”

The liquid from the flamethrowers arced out in brilliant orange and yellow fountains. The boys started moving forward with Emerald between them. They walked fast, heading diagonally across the field.

They were less than half way from the corner to the bolus, barn and boiling house when Søren said, “Daniel? Aren’t you flaming a bit much?”

Daniel didn’t reply. He had drifted from them and was standing, sweeping the flamethrower in a continuous, ever-widening arc.

Søren shouted, “Daniel!” The older boy’s flamethrower shut off and he came back to them. “What are you doing?”

His voice came over the radio woodenly, “Flaming the cane. What does it look like?”

“Like you’re trying to start a firestorm.”

“What’s a firestorm?” Emerald asked.

“When the fire gets out of control and so hot that the gases above the cane catch on fire. Fires that hot can damage the irrigation pipes and skylights. Maybe even overwhelm the force screen and wreck the buildings and equipment. It’s not a full strength forcefield like a hypersonic jet on Earth would have.”

“I wasn’t flaming too much,” Daniel muttered. They started walking again, falling into the right pattern.

As they neared the force-screened buildings, Daniel wandered away. This time even Emerald could tell he was spraying the flammable liquid too far and too long. Søren shouted, “Daniel! Stop it!”

The older boy ignored him. Søren leaned forward, touched Emerald’s helmet with his own and said, “Emerald, you try. Maybe he’ll hear your voice if you scream.”

She did, shrieking Daniel’s name at the top of her voice, rattling her own ears in the helmet. He stopped for a moment then ran forward into a wall of burning cane.

“Daniel!” Søren shouted. He holstered his flamethrower and ran after Daniel. He disappeared for an instant, then the flames parted and Emerald saw both boys.

Daniel spun around, his flamethrower blazing. Emerald screamed again. He stopped an instant before flaming Søren. Instead, Daniel flicked off the spray, whipped the hose and sprayer around Søren’s legs and jerked hard, knocking the younger boy over then jumping on him and battering his helmet with his fists.

Emerald ran at them, screaming, and jumped, knocking Daniel off Søren.

Around them, the cane field burned, the roaring crackle growing louder by the moment. Daniel and Søren lay on the ground for several minutes then finally lurched like inflexible zombies to their feet. Daniel stumbled for the bolus, sparks flying around him as he passed through the force screen. Søren helped Emerald to her feet and held her arm as they ran through the screen. Emerald felt electrical shocks all over her skin that stopped the instant they were through.

At least Daniel was waiting for them as they fell into the bolus and the door squelched shut on the fire. He flipped up his visor and stood over them, panting hard and gasped, “You can’t say anything about this.”

Søren levered himself by the wall and snapped, “You tried to start a firestorm in there, then you jumped me, then you left Emerald behind!” He stood up and shoved Daniel.

Daniel shoved back, “I did not! You tripped her when I gave the order to retreat!”

There was a stunned silence. Emerald and Søren stared at him in amazement. Søren blurted, “What? You didn’t give any orders to retreat! You tried to start a firestorm! I watched you! Emerald saw you! The security cameras saw you! You can’t lie your way out of this one, Dan!”

The older boy leaned back against the wall of the bolus, hands splayed against the pale surface of bone and skin. He wasn’t mad; he didn’t look belligerent nor like he was trying to lie. He looked terrified. His mouth opened and closed three times then unexpectedly, suddenly, he burst into tears, gloved hands going to helmeted face as he sank to his knees, his sobs pouring through the radio link like water from a burst dam.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Image: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhR0X3mAc2AzqEJWA3ehVkVfHfzWGYFL0TbXeMyJDUyP3fRUi4gVLpK2PSo9qeqvljaCWKP7z9Dn120wRuSmoZoV_CWee_Yaw_UZx39rhg-xjZqsRFAr1ZFk6hZwUbDu0mLyb58RNhTPK9iS5HYXbijVje_dGNSJyz665C6PY0HtZRk-KaQWAsC46CEfQ/s1600/emerald_320.png

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 6: “Delayed Messages” • by Carol Scheina

 


Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and fantastic things have begun to happen, and it all started a little over a week ago, in a little bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t merely warp the fabric of space/time, he totally bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

“Delayed Messages”

by Carol Scheina


As usual, when Shelley walked into the Galactic Mining Communications office, she didn’t open the tiny window overlooking the street. She didn’t want to see the gray buildings or the dusty road or the lackluster people who walked around here. Instead, she’d plastered the cement office walls with “See the Universe” Galactic Communications ads. One showed blue skies and purple oceans. Another had two suns setting over a field of orange flowers. It was just her luck that she had been assigned to the farthest, most provincial corner of the galaxy that was Odin III. See the universe, indeed.

Bored, she logged into the computer console and glazed over the messages. Strangely, the list went on far longer than it normally did. In her four months on the job, she’d never had the message box this full.

It took several readthroughs before she realized it was the same six messages repeating, and all were cut off. Running diagnostics revealed that Relay Station 1173 was malfunctioning. Messages traveled slow around here, bouncing off relay stations, often taking weeks or months to reach this isolated corner, and one broken relay could shut communications down.

Shelley punched in the authorization code to send Repair Drone 51 to the relay station and sighed. She hated activating the repair AI, but it had to be done. She turned on the earpiece connecting her to 51, as AI protocol required human oversight. The drone would take two days to reach the relay for repairs, and hopefully this one wouldn’t grate on her as much as the last one.

“Repair Drone 51 here. I am activated and on my way.”

“Great, I’ll be here.” Things were going to be boring while she waited for repairs. Shelley stared at the purple ocean on the wall and imagined herself swimming in those waters.

She sat up straight when the Galactic supervisor pushed open the office door.

“I’ve been expecting a message. It should’ve come in by now.” Popov’s voice was all business.

Shelley gave the standard response: “I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re currently experiencing technical difficulties. I’ll inform you when we’re operational.”

Popov’s face was always hard to read. The supervisor simply nodded and walked out.

Shelley let out all the air she’d been holding inside. The last thing she wanted was to get on Popov’s bad side. She’d heard Popov once went after a poor performer and the guy ended up joining the clergy to escape her. She didn’t want to end up a nun on this blasted planet.

Curious what Popov was waiting to hear about, Shelley skimmed through the half-finished messages. Four were for Joe Thurbone, the foreman for Galactic Mining, with notes about the new explosives they were using. One message was for Father Francis. Something about a delayed wine shipment. And one for Popov that started, “We know you’ve been waiting for an update about James’ condition—” And nothing more. 

Almost every message she received was a monotonous Galactic Mining memo or something involving new supply orders for beer and food. Shelley couldn’t recall a single family-related message. Space travel just took too long, and most people lost their connections to offworld relatives eventually.

“I wonder if I should let her know we have something for her,” Shelley muttered.

51’s voice sounded over the earpiece. “Regulations forbid relaying incomplete or unverified messages.”

Shelley rolled her eyes. Served her right for talking out loud. AIs were always so bossy. “But she looked like she really wanted some news.”

“There are no exceptions.”

 “You’re no fun.” She stared at the orange flowers on the gray wall and wished the clock would move faster.

¤

When Shelley reported to work the following morning, there were the same six messages overloading her inbox, and Popov waiting. 

“Are you operational now?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re still waiting for repairs. The drone should be arriving at the relay station today.”

“I expect to hear the minute you’re operational.”

Shelley couldn’t resist blurting out, “I do have part of a message. Something about a James.” 51 beeped a warning in her ear.

Popov looked startled. “You’ve got something?”

“We’re supposed to wait until a message is complete before delivering.” 51 beeped louder, but Shelley ignored it. She printed out the incomplete message and passed it to Popov. “This is all I’ve got. The rest should come in after repairs.”

The supervisor’s check twitched. “Let me know immediately once you get the rest.”

Shelley’s mouth opened, wanting to ask more but too terrified to broach any questions to the Galactic supervisor.

Popov volunteered without prompting. “It concerns my great-grandson.” The supervisor turned without another word.

As Popov walked out, Shelley took in the Galactic Supervisor’s tight black curls and smooth skin. Popov couldn’t have been more than 10 years older than Shelley, yet she was a great-grandmother.

51 beeped. “Regulations forbid passing on incomplete or unverified messages.”

Shelley ignored that. Why had Popov left her family to come all the way out here?

¤

Hans came in wanting to send out an order for another meat slicer for the deli, but Shelley had to explain the relay problem and that they’d have to wait to send any messages.

Hans groaned. “More waiting. On top of it taking a year or more to get the order delivered here.”

“We’re doing our best to fix this quickly.” Shelley watched Hans leave, then muttered, “51, can you go any faster?”

“No. Repairs are proceeding as scheduled.”

Shelley sighed.

¤

Father Francis stopped by next asking about a wine shipment. She mentioned that everything was delayed, and tried to put emphasis on the word “delayed.” 51 beeped warningly about regulations, but she hadn’t actually given the father any messages. Regardless, Francis didn’t look happy as he left.

¤

The clock ticked slowly. The last time the relay broke, Shelley spent the day imagining herself under twin suns with a tanned server bringing her cool drinks. This time, she imagined scenarios that would result in someone like Popov leaving her family to come out here. A star-crossed romance? On the run from a murderous gang?

51 beeped. “I have completed repairs. All messages are incoming.”

Shelley tapped her computer panel. There it was, Popov’s complete message. She hit print and ripped the paper off before sprinting down the dusty street toward the mine entrance.

51 beeped in her ear. She tore the earpiece out.

Joe the foreman glared at her, grumpy as always, but allowed her to enter the Galactic supervisor’s office. “Wait here. She’ll be here in a minute.”

Popov’s office walls were covered with pictures of smiling faces that gradually grew older as Shelley’s eyes drifted over them.

The supervisor’s voice broke in. “The pictures were waiting for me when I arrived here. That’s my son, my grandson, and my great-grandson. They’d grown up while I traveled, and relativity kept me young.”

Quietly, Shelley handed over printout.

Popov’s eyes darted over the message, silent for a time. “People always ask how I could leave them. I always say the money was worth it. My son was born with a rare genetic disease, and the Galactic signing bonus paid for the treatment. It also paid for my great-grandson’s treatment. He has the same disease, but looks like James will be okay.” The supervisor looked up. “Every time I wonder if I made the right decision leaving them, messages like this reminds me it’s all worth it.”

Shelley wasn’t sure what to say. “Yes, ma’am. I’m sure it’s worth it.”

The supervisor’s eyes were bright. Shelley had never seen the woman seem so … human. “Thank you. Shelley, right? Your job means a great deal to people here. Keep up the good work.”

Back in the office, Shelley stared at the Galactic Mining Communications ads on the walls without seeing them. She hadn’t known about Popov’s family. Indeed, she didn’t know much about anyone here, thinking them as drab as the rocks all over the place.

Quietly, Shelley opened up the window in her office. Maybe it was time to start learning more about her new home, about the people who surrounded her. The people like Popov, who’d given up everything for her family. People like—

A young man flashed a brilliant smile at her as he walked by the window. Luigi, she thought his name was. She grinned back. Yup, it was definitely time to start getting to know the people around her. After all, she was the communications representative here. Her job meant the universe to these people.

The buildings and dusty roads outside seemed brighter, and for the first time, she thought maybe her time here wouldn’t be so bad.

___________________________

Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at carolscheina.wordpress.com.