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


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.



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