Monday, July 11, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 2: “Amid These Dancing Rocks at Once and Ever” • by Paul Celmer

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 or the Catholic Church, 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 strange, weird, and fantastic things can happen, and it all began just a few days ago in a little bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t merely warp the fabric of space/time, he made it totally bent…

“Amid These Dancing Rocks at Once and Ever”

by Paul Celmer

Susan hesitated outside to stare through the swirling dust at the two-story deli across the street. The deli was not there three days before. But Ray had changed everything.

Susan stepped over some waste gravel into Weber’s, a bar at the edge of the mining colony on Odin III. The town’s only bar.

She slipped off her goggles and unbuckled her jacket. She still wore the jacket with its prominent five-diamond logo of Galactic Mining, even though they had fired her a month ago. A scratchy jazz tune played on the jukebox, then stopped abruptly.

Susan looked around, mumbling to herself. “Music. The transformation of time into space …”

“What?” Ingrid, the owner, said.

“Nothing. Sorry.”

Ingrid was accustomed to serving drinks to mine-mushroom burnouts. “What’ll you have, sweetie?” Ingrid cranked the jukebox a few times and the jazz flowed again.

“Tom Collins.” Susan spotted Arthur at the end and her face lit up. “Thank God you’re here.” She threw her arms around him.

“Hey what the hell?” Arthur pulled back.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look, you can’t just go around hugging people. I’m here just to drink.” He took a sip from a bottle.

“Arthur… Cut it out. You’re acting like you barely know me.”

“I don’t. I mean, I’ve seen you come into the bar enough. But we never exchanged more than a dozen words.”

“We’ve been together for ten years…”

She scanned Arthur’s face, searching for a trace of recognition in his eyes. Susan knew Ray had done something to the flow of time. Split it into at least two timelines. When Ray sent the message back in time to help his best friend Hans land the ship with the experimental drive.

“Ten years ago I met Janice and opened the barbershop. And now I got customers from all over town.”

“You helped me quit the drugs. Don’t you remember us?”

Susan had become attuned to the boundaries of alternate timelines while she was addicted to koblyx, the indigenous drug the Settler’s called mine mushrooms. She hoped Arthur would feel enough bleed through from the years they shared in the old timeline.

“Why don’t you just leave.”

“Listen. Ray didn’t really fix anything. Sure, his deli made it big. But we’re still prisoners of Galactic.”

“Prisoners? We’re settlers. Soon I’ll earn enough for a ticket back to Earth.”

“They won’t let you go. They’re hiding too much.”

“Is this about the plasma wall again? It’s there for our protection.”

“I think there’s a way through,” Susan said. “I think we can see what it’s blocking off.”

“When they first sent us here at least twenty settlers died trying to get through that wall. Chasing rumors of green lands. Mine mushrooms have eaten your brain.” Arthur took another gulp “The wall’s there to protect us.”

“The mushrooms are food for the Rock People.”

“Who?” Arthur said.

“They live under the mines.”

“Another rumor. Or less than a rumor. A legend.”

“I’ve made the company think I’m still using. So they would stop monitoring me. And I finally made it all the way down to the sub-level. The cellar.”

“You give me the creeps. All I know is I got a steady income. I get vids from old Earth to plug into at night. Janice and I have been married for ten years. Get the hell away before I call the constable.”

“The Machinist said…”


“He has a shop down a few levels in the old mine. He used to build quantum computers on old Earth. Says he might find a way to talk to the Rock People.”

“You’re high right now, aren’t you?”

“You know Galactic controls our lives. Cyborgs are designed for being controlled, not humans. We can be free. Together.”

“Galactic has monitors that track all energy weapons and devices,” Arthur half whispered.

“The thing the Machinist is working on will be all analog. No electricity. He says it can help someone cross.”

“Damn druggie.” Arthur stared into the mirror behind the bar.

Susan sat in silence for several minutes. “Goodbye Arthur. I love you. Always and forever.” Susan tightened up her jacket and slipped her goggles back on.

The night was black. The wind had picked up. She walked north towards the edge of town, with waste boulders growing larger and more common with each step.

A figure approached, with a hand on a holstered gun. “Where you think you’re going?” Constable Jenkins said. “Curfew is in half an hour.”

“I’m going to Odin II. Want to go with me?” Susan grinned like a maniac. She held out a fistful of cobalt-blue mine mushroom caps. She could feel their magnetic pull downward against her hand.

“I never mess with that crap. You were a good pilot once.” Jenkins spat. “Go wherever the hell you want. Just don’t touch the Wall. It’ll vaporize you. You remember that much at least, right?”

“Got it.” Susan watched Jenkins plod on back towards the town.

Tears pooled in Susan’s goggles. Arthur had forgotten her. The only person she had ever loved. It felt like her whole life was disappearing. A kind of death. Maybe she should just get back onto the mushrooms and forget everything.

The wind pushed against her, but Susan pushed back. Until she faced it. The plasma wall smoldered with a blood red light and hummed like a nest of hornets. For a second the thought crossed her mind, that she had been set up by the Machinist, that he had been a Galactic plant all the time.

Susan put a little wooden box down on the ground and turned the tiny crank on the side a few times.

The box made sounds. It was an eerie, ghostly chattering that was a cross between a receding ocean wave washing over tumbling stones and the gentle flutter of cave bats. Not music. At least, not for humans.

One of the boulders shifted, almost like it was blown by the wind. Then it sprouted arms and legs. Then it danced. A ballet of ponderous joy, timed perfectly to every gurgle and hiss emanating from the box. Part of the creature’s dance was the sweeping grace of a matador’s cape that pulled a hole in the plasma wall. Bright orange drops of molten rock showered down from the creature’s fingertips.

 Susan walked through, unscathed.

A few days later, when the company finally got around to conducting a search, Jenkins found the spot where Susan Musa had last stood in the colony. The mushroom caps she had thrown away were half-covered by a coat of fine dust, glowing like muted stars.


When not traveling to parallel universes, Paul Celmer is a technical writer in Durham, North Carolina. His recently published flash science fiction includes “Spooky Action At a Distance” in Daily Science Fiction and “The Last Rosy-Fingered Dawn” in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.


Do you miss Firefly? Do you like The Expanse? If so, then The Privateers of Mars is exactly what you need. [...] Structured as three loosely interconnected short stories, it reads like three episodes of a great science fiction show that you wish someone would make.”

—Amazon reader review


Pete Wood said...

And Paul takes some ideas from the first story into uncharted territory!