Friday, August 12, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 16: “Dreams of Another World” • by Jenna Hanchey


INTRO: 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 have 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 five weeks 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 | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve | Part Thirteen | Part Fourteen | Part Fifteen

16. “Dreams of Another World”

by Jenna Hanchey


One Saturday night in Weber’s Place, two women nursed drinks on opposite sides of the bar, dreaming. Olivia Fontaine swirled a glass of chardonnay with one hand, watching the translucent liquid sparkle in the dim light. She was a newcomer to Odin III. The long journey to the outskirts of the galaxy had not readied her for a positive first impression of the mining colony, and nothing she’d found there so far had changed her mind. She dreamt she were anywhere else.

Sure, her husbands Derrick and Abed had gotten great offers to work at the elementary school here—Galactic was desperate for teachers on its colonies—but what was she supposed to do on this backstar planet? Playwrights should be in centers of culture, where their commentary could make a social impact. Olivia sighed, looking around the bar. If this was the extent of social life in this town, her dreams were done. She knocked back the remaining wine and set the glass on the counter.

“Another?” Ingrid the bartender asked.

“Sure, why not. Not like I’ve got anything else going for me,” Olivia admitted.

“Haven’t seen you around much. New here?”

“Yup. My husbands just started teaching at the elementary.”

“And you?”

Olivia barked a laugh. “I was a playwright. But it doesn’t seem like there’s much use for plays on Odin III.” Ingrid shook her head, moving back down the bar.

On the far side, Constable Alma Jenkins had just finished her second beer. She rarely indulged in flights of fancy; she was a grounded and no-nonsense sort of woman. But after multiple drinks and an emergency that called her girlfriend, Raisa Popov, back into work, she let a little of her frustrated desire slip through.

“I could’ve been an actress, Ingrid. A good one. I can even sing, did you know that?”

Ingrid  raised her eyebrows. “I don’t think I did.” She tossed a bit of cheese onto the floor where Sheba, her cat, gobbled it up.

“No one knows. I haven’t performed since the community theater shut down, oh, when I was in high school.” Alma leaned her head into her hand. “I miss performing. Hell, I just miss theater. Plays create other worlds. And in those other worlds, I could be anything.”

Ingrid looked at her thoughtfully. Swapping out the empty bottle for a full one, she dangled the new beer in front of Alma. “On the house, if you follow me.”

Alma looked at her sardonically. “My drinks are always on the house.”

“I know, but you should follow me anyway. There’s someone you should meet.”

***

A week later, Olivia Fontaine burst into the constabulary office. Rasputin, a large bloodhound, bolted upright from behind the desk. Alma Jenkins stopped recording her report, concerned by the look on Olivia’s face.

“What happened?”

“It’s not working! I can’t do it.” Olivia noticed the dog. “Oh, wow! Is he yours?” She leaned down to pet Rasputin, who reveled in the attention.

“No, he’s my girlfriend’s. I bring him to the office sometimes when Raisa’s working late.” Alma realized the visit wasn’t about a case. “So, you’re having trouble writing the play?”

“I can’t make it work! I don’t know Odin III’s culture, histories, fears, desires.” She snuggled the bloodhound, who leaned into her side. “I keep writing stories about what I knew on Earth, just set here instead. And it doesn’t work! There’s no one coming from Kansas to the big city trying to break into the holovid industry. There’s no fears of government conspiracies or national enemies to tap into.” She gestured at the close walls and lack of staff. “There’s barely a government here.”

Alma smirked, grabbing a leash off her desk. “There may not be much of a government, but there’s plenty of fears and desires. And maybe even a conspiracy or two.” She winked at the bewildered playwright and attached the leash to Rasputin’s collar. “C’mon, I was about to go on my rounds anyway. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll see what stories we can find.”

“Are you sure?”

“Are you kidding? Do you know what it’s like just sitting here twiddling my thumbs and waiting for you to write something for us? I hate being useless. But this I can help with.” Alma held the door open for Olivia.

“Well now you’ve made me more nervous. What if I let you down?” Olivia said, looking at Alma as she walked through.

Alma clapped a hand on her shoulder. “How about this? If you trust me to lead you to some stories, I’ll trust you to do something beautiful with them. Instead of worrying we’ll let each other down, think about it as trusting we’ll hold each other up.”

Olivia pursed her lips, nodding. “Okay. Deal. So where are we headed first?”

Alma appraised her companion’s shoes. “Are those comfy?” When Olivia nodded, she added, “It’s a long trek to Daraja Mapunda’s workshop, but it’ll be worth the effort.”

***

Olivia’s conversation with Daraja was just the beginning. Over the next few weeks, Alma introduced to her an eclectic spectrum of residents on Odin III. Olivia learned why people called Daraja “the Machinist” through stories about his inventions. An older couple spoke lovingly of how their pet cats kept them sane in the stark Odin III landscape. Jonas Gruber told her of his travels, and how he sought meaning in the stars only to find it waited for him back home. Father Luigi recounted his searches in the mines for creatures that may or may not exist. Even Raisa Popov scheduled some time at Alma’s urging, opening up to Olivia about the vagaries of time dilation and the choice to leave her family behind to give them a better life.

A few weeks later, Alma again sat alone at the bar on a Saturday night. This time, her beer remained untouched. She was focused on the holographic text projected from the tablet in front of her. The sound of a chair scraping the ground broke her concentration. Olivia sat down to her right. For a moment, both women looked at each other wide-eyed. Hopeful, but afraid.

“Is it what you—?” Olivia burst out, just as Alma asked, “Is the lead—?”

“You first,” Olivia insisted.

“This play… it’s stunning. And the lead character! Expertly constructed to embody the theme. Is she… meant for me?”

“Of course.” Olivia melted in relief. “Oh, I’m so glad you like it. I was worried it wouldn’t meet your expectations. Especially after all the work you did to set up interviews. What do you think of the title?”

Alma smiled. “Dreams of Another World is lovely. It ties the literal move to another world to the metaphorical creation of new possibilities—it’s beautifully done.”

“There’s only one problem,” Olivia said as Ingrid brought her a glass of chardonnay, “where are we going to stage it? The only place I’ve seen that’s large enough is the Catholic Church, but I don’t get the sense Father Francis would be keen on renting it out.”

Alma sighed. “No, I doubt it. Hmm… there’s the old community theater building, but it’s been shut down for a long time. It’d take substantial maintenance to get running again.”

“Not to mention money that we don’t have.”

“Money that we don’t have yet,” Alma appended.

Ingrid crossed her arms, leaning over the counter. “What about here?”

“You’d let us use the bar?” Alma exclaimed.

“Yes, yes, this could work!” Olivia nodded, grabbing a tablet from her purse. She swept her gaze over the room and started sketching three-dimensional designs.

“Could be good for business,” Ingrid shrugged. After a moment, she admitted, “It’s not often I see people on Odin III getting to make their dreams a reality. If I can be a small part of that, well, why not?” She pulled a liquor bottle and three shot glasses from under the bar. “For a cut of admission, of course. What do you say ladies?”

Alma nudged Olivia, who was clearly already running with the idea, and tilted her head at the three brimming shots. Olivia put down her tablet. Each of them raised a glass.

“To holding each other up,” Alma said.

“To Dreams of Another World,” added Olivia.

“And to what we create in this one,” Ingrid finished.

Three glasses clinked together, transforming the dream of another world into a promise.

___________________________



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 17 of The Odin Chronicles, “A Question of Timelines,” by Travis Burnham, 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 – EPISODE 30: Race To the Hot Pole…

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. Emerald’s parents are dead, and she has escaped Earth to the SOLAR EXPLORER but finds that Inamma has followed her. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her and hides her among the rest of the young people in the crew. Emerald lives with autism and making friends is difficult. She has a few good friends now, and while she holds the key to the artifacts, she has discovered the sport of pryzhok, and the odd hiding places the young players have hidden their clandestine pryzhok sphere. It appears that Inamma is on to them all…

(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)

The next morning, after keying the bolus near her unit with the code GADI gave her, Emerald stepped out onto the Core’s central lift platform. Overhead, the immense ball of nuclear fusion that served as SOLAREX’s sun as well as powering the entire ship, was damped like a coal in a fire and the air around her held the chill of early morning predawn, damp and full of the smell of jungle decay.

She looked up and frowned. She’d been too busy on the day she arrived aboard to see what was above her head. And the sun had been shining then, too. But now she clearly saw that the sky was the other side of the two kilometer long Core. Toward each pole – the ends of the Asteroid 4179 Toutatis that it was banded from ochre to tan to emerald to hunter green at one pole, to a mixture of olive and lime to tan again to blinding white.

Toward the front of SOLAREX, over a kilometer away was, if she was to believe GADI, a small desert. The blistering sands of the Hot Pole gave way to savannah blending into jungle and then to the subtropics where she stood. Palm trees, gingko, saw grasses and hundreds of other plants and trees from Florida, central Mexico, Ethiopia, and Argentina populated the semi-tropical band of the SOLAREX Core. A toucan watched her and a troupe of spider monkeys with equal interest. The jungle segued into deciduous forest fading into conifers and tundra and finally the brilliantly white disk of snow capping the Cold Pole. Across the Core, over a kilometer away, was a blue ribbon of water spiraling from the Hot Pole to the Cold Pole, widening to form a small lake directly overhead.

The sun continued to brighten until she could no longer look directly across the Core.

Look down from the “sky”, she saw that she stood on an immense, raised platform of concrete patterned in squares of tan and ochre. Benches of stone that ranged in color from ebony to pure white, some with backs, some without, ringed the edge of the platform. She stood just outside of one of four cylindrical huts built of golden sandstone blocks. Each hut had a set of four curved sliding doors. The hut Emerald had stepped out of faced a huge pine tree and an immense oak. Between them was a path of some crushed, tan stone and ran between them then branched just beyond. Flower beds of black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, impatiens and pansies angled out, forming a trapezoidal swath of garden.

To her right were formal gardens, white rose bushes in riotous blossom closest to her and hedged in by dark green, immaculately clipped bushes.

To her left was emerald green turf grass, encompassing a children’s playground, the concrete replaced with wood chips and sprouting a huge jungle gym cast out of primary color plastics.

Beyond the playground were dozens of small food carts, most of them sporting flags and signs announcing HOT PRETZELS, POPCORN, CARMELED APPLES, SHISH KEBAB, EMBARE SWEETS, BURGERS, GYROS, BURRITOS and dozens of other foods.

Her stomach rumbled as the doors of the hut on the playground side slid open and deposited three female teens who stumbled blearily into the bright light. They were in the middle of an argument.

“Whose idea was it to get up at six in the morning?” Izegbe muttered as she crossed over to Emerald. She added, “OK, Ms. Autism, this is the point at which you...”

Emerald stepped forward and said, “I just want to thank all of you. I know you’d rather be sleeping...”

Søren interrupted, “You got that right.”

Emerald kept talking, ignoring him, “...but I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to see the rest of the ship, but I’m not sure...”

Izegbe’s, Søren’s, and Ayaka’s heads turned simultaneously at the sound of another set of doors opening, this time from the hut facing the formal gardens. Daniel stepped out, looked at all of them and said, “What were you afraid I was going to do? Ravage her?” He snorted, “I have older fish to fry. I don’t need to troll the nursery to get what I want!” He wore a large backpack. The others carried smaller ones. Even Emerald, realizing that they would be passing through a number of different kinds of weather, had packed a heavy sweater for the polar region and shorts and a sleeveless shirt for the desert.

“Let’s get going,” Daniel said. He started off, suddenly came to a stop, turned like a zombie and said tightly, “I feel the necklace.”

Emerald blurted, “What?” He ignored her, as if he were in a trance – or being controlled by something. Emerald managed to whisper, “What do you feel about the necklace? Where is it?”

Daniel’s eyes grew wide, he thumped his chest. "No more!” He took a deep breath, shuddered and said smoothly, “Follow me and don’t get lost.” The glazed look was gone.

No one in the group moved. When Emerald cleared her throat, Daniel stopped. She said, “Uh...how are we going to get to the desert? Or do we just start walking?”

Daniel lifted his chin, shook his head like he was dazed and said, “We’ll hike straight to the desert from here then spiral around the Core all the way back to the Cold Pole. We can pick up a bolus there and come back here for supper.”

Izegbe, Søren and Ayaka looked at Emerald suddenly. Søren said, “That’s a long trip.”

“Two kay as the crow flies. Spiraling aft from the desert should be about ten to fifteen kay. That’ll be easy for us – we’re in superior shape.” He jerked his chin and headed across the platform at a jog, jumping off the steps, curling his legs up then kicking out as he dropped to the ground.

Søren’s mouth fell open, his eyes bugged out and with a kamikaze yell he sprinted after his Team leader.

Izegbe and Ayaka looked at each other, rolled their eyes and said in unison, “Boys.”

They looked at Emerald. Ayaka said, “I suppose you don’t know anything about boys?”

“I know about boys!” Emerald said. She raced after Daniel and Søren who were still jogging aft, following a faint path into the jungle. Once off the platform, the trees seemed to grow up around them, thick trunks wound with vines and dense undergrowth creeping up to form a dense understory. They started to hear animal cries and the occasional rustle of brush and snapping twigs.

Emerald slowed down. Jungles inspired caution in her. Her parents had always made sure she carried a heavy-duty taser because even though jaguars were extremely rare, they weren’t extinct by any means. Izegbe and Ayaka caught up with her. “What’s wrong?”

Emerald shot a glance overhead and said, “There’re animals in this jungle, you know.”

“Duh,” said Ayaka. “It wouldn’t be a balanced ecology without animals.”

Emerald paused then asked, “If it’s balanced does that mean they left the predators in? I grew up in a jungle on the Yucatan Peninsula. They still have jaguar there. But here…”

Izegbe stopped dead in her tracks.

Ayaka grabbed Emerald’s arm and said, looking up, “Jaguars?”

Izegbe shook her head. “Don’t listen to her! My mom’s best friend is one of the wildlife biologists on SOLAREX. She would have said something about predators if there was anything really dangerous.”

They all heard the deep-throated growl at the same time.

“You sure about that?” asked Emerald.

“I don’t think...” Ayaka began as the underbrush shook and parted. All three girls screamed as Søren and Daniel leaped out growling and snarling – and then fell down laughing.

Emerald scowled then screamed again, pointing to one side of the boys. She cried, “That’s a nest of Mexican scorpions! A nest of Mexican scorpions!” Both boys froze. Emerald screamed again, “You’re in a nest of Mexican scorpions! They’ll kill you!” They leaped to their feet, dancing around, screaming and batting at their clothes – until they noticed that Emerald was howling with laughter. The other girls joined in at the looks on their faces.

Søren stopped dancing first, glared at them and said, “Very funny!” and stomped down the trail.

Daniel finally stopped, glared at Emerald then burst out laughing. “Touché, newbie! Touché!” He ran after Søren, shouting, “Søren! Wait, buddy!”

The girls walked after them, catching up with the boys a little further as they left the palm trees and mangos and entered Napier and pampas grasses. They could at least see each other now, the boys taking a fifty meter lead. The trail led slantwise across the savannah.

“It’s getting hot,” said Ayaka. She pulled a dark blue kerchief from a pouch in her backpack, wiped her forehead, then tied it around her head.

“You don’t think they’d have a pride of lions in here, do you?” asked Izegbe.

“No! That’d be stupid. Besides, SOLAREX isn’t an ark. We’re just exploring the Solar System,” Emerald said.

“Yeah, every square centimeter of it,” said Ayaka. She sighed.

“What?” Emerald asked.

Ayaka opened her mouth to answer, but Izegbe cut her off, saying, “She had to leave her boyfriend back on Earth.”

Ayaka shoved Izegbe but added, “There are no good-looking boys on SOLAREX. Apparently.”

The boys were waiting for them in the shade of an enormous boulder. Beside it, a Whistling Thorn grew, the branches overhead spreading out from a slender trunk. Each thorn had a bulb at the base and ants living in the bulb swarmed up and down the trunk.

Daniel said, “All right. Once we hike out of the savanna, we’ll be in the desert and headed for the Hot Pole. If you want to have your presence there recorded, you have to lay your hand on the palm reader.”

Emerald laughed and said, “A palm reader? Will it tell me my future?”

“Only if it’s interesting,” Søren said, still sulking, adding, “So you don’t have to worry.”

Izegbe said, “Oh, I think Emerald’s going to have an interesting life.”

“Why?” asked Søren. “She’s no better than anyone else.”

Izegbe lifted her chin, “Her great aunt is one of the vice-captains, isn’t she?”

“That doesn’t mean...” Søren began.

Daniel cut the other boy off, pointing into the distance and squinting. “Using mirrors, SOLAREX engineers focused more light on the desert up there – it’s supposed to be able to actually reach over forty degrees C.”

“So?”

“That means it will feel like a real desert. There are even scorpions and mirages.”

“Mirages? That’s stupid,” Søren exclaimed. “A water mirage is just a reflection of the sky by air close to the hot sand that has a different density than then air above it. But there’s no real sky here.”

“How do you explain that, then?”

They turned to look. An image of some sort appeared to be hovering over the ground about a kilometer or so away. “It looks like a blimp,” said Emerald.

“Or a Zeppelin,” said Søren.

“Zeppelin’s are rigid,” said Ayaka.

Daniel said, “We could go see.” Ayaka, Izegbe, Emerald and Søren looked at him. He shrugged. “Maybe it’s real.”

Emerald said, “Or maybe it’s a mass hallucination.”

“Or maybe it’s nothing,” said Søren. “We’re never gonna find out standing around here, talking about it. Let’s go.”

Daniel started off at a slow jog across the savanna that was dotted by baobab trees from the Serengeti, Australian Kimberly savanna bloodwoods, Khimp shrub, and gum from the Thar Desert of India, a few barrel cactuses from the North American Mojave and plants from all of Earth’s hot grasslands. Emerald noticed an acacia – like the one the boy, Zech had blown up ants on. There weren’t any other working Intensive Training Teams she could see. She looked back at Daniel. He said, “This is taking too long. These trails spiral through the biomes from Pole to Pole, but they’re for casual tourists. Come on!” He ran off the trail they’d been following.

The others looked at each other, then set off after him. After jogging the length of two or three football fields, the grasses disappeared, the light intensified and it grew warmer, and the air dryer. They kept running as sand underfoot seemed to wash up around their feet. When Daniel finally stopped, they found themselves at the foot of a brick red and tan sand dune shaped like a tsunami frozen in mid curl towering four meters over them.

Ayaka bet over, panting, then said, “Where’d the blimp go?”

“It’s gotta be behind the dune,” said Izegbe.

“No it’s not,” Emerald said. She wasn’t panting much because she and her mom had run into Telchac Puerto fairly often. “It should be overhead.”

“What’s on the other side of the dune, then?” Daniel said.

“There’s only one way to find out,” said Søren and started off at a jog. He slowed down the moment he reached the end of the dune and shouted, “Guys!”


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, August 10, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 15: “No Place” • by Pete Wood


INTRO: 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 have 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 five weeks 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 | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve | Part Thirteen | Part Fourteen

15. “No Place”

by Pete Wood


Fritz Gruber waited for his brother behind the rocket port’s chain link fence.

Constable Jenkins waved Jonas Gruber past the long line of crewmen from the interstellar freighter, Hermann Hesse. No need to check his credentials. Born and raised on Odin III, Jonas was family.

Jonas didn’t look a year older than when he’d departed fifteen years ago fresh out of high school.

The ship would be here for a week. Time to unload crates and bins of produce and clothes and other supplies. Then reload the ship with ore. All the crew would squeeze in a furlough.

Some crew headed to Weber’s Place, the only bar in town. Some gawked at the mountains or the half-mile-high trees in the foothills. A handful walked to the deli.

Jonas gave Fritz a hug. “God, it’s been too long.”

“Fifteen years,” Fritz said. “I guess I look like Dad.”

Jonas was diplomatic. “Nah. Not until you put on fifty pounds.”

“I’m working on it.”

Jonas gave him a playful punch in the arm.

“I guess you heard about Aunt Greta.”

“Yeah. I’m so sorry.”

“The deli is still here,” Fritz said.

“And Weber’s.”

“Ingrid runs it now. Her dad died a couple of years after you left.” He grabbed Jonas’ satchel.

“So, you married your favorite cheerleader,” Jonas said.

“Mary can’t wait to see you again. She took off early from the clinic. She’s made a pork roast and potatoes and we even managed to rustle up some creamed corn.”

* * *

Kurt, Fritz’s six-year-old son, peeked from behind his mother’s legs.

Jonas reached into his satchel. “I brought you a gift.” He put a half-dozen cans on the kitchen counter.

Mary picked up the cans one by one. “Peaches. Spam. Okra. We can’t take these. They cost too much.”

“Not where I’m from.”

“Thank you so much” She put the cans in the cupboard. “We’ll save these for a special occasion.”

“Did you make my room into an art studio or something?” Jonas asked.

“Nope. Your bed’s still unmade. We even left the dirty laundry,” Fritz said.

“You know, what?” Mary said. “This is a special, occasion.” She removed the peaches from the cupboard.

* * *

The three adults had done a lot of catching up over dinner. Mary ladled the last of the peaches onto Jonas’ plate. She let out a bit of profanity and jumped up. “I forgot the coffee.” She ran into the kitchen.

“Odin III can’t be warm enough for coffee,” Jonas said.

“Galactic Mining’s set up some camps on Odin II,” Fritz said. “Not a place you’d want to live. People rotate in and out. But at the poles they’ve got some crops.”

“Damn.” Jonas winked at Kurt. “Don’t talk like your uncle.”

Kurt spoke for the first time without prodding. “What did you see in outer space, Uncle Jonas?”

“All kinds of things. An ice cave a mile high. A planet where talking—I guess you’d call them cats—live atop mountains. A world with flying horses that some brave fools are trying to corral.”

Kurt’s eyes opened wide. “Flying horses?”

“Sure,” Jonas said. “Friendly. But stubborn. We still haven’t figured out how they do it. The physics isn’t quite right. Kinda like a bumble bee. But we figured out bees, didn’t we?”

Mary put mugs of coffee before the two men and a platter with cream and honey in the center of the table.

“I’ve seen horses,” Kurt said.

Jonas grinned. “But they’re not flying horses, are they?”

Kurt shook his head. “They’re boring.”

Mary ruffled her son’s hair. “No, they’re not.”

Kurt did not look convinced.

“There’s one planet where the same side always faces the sun. One side in darkness. One in light. The creatures on the two sides—”

“Jonas,” Mary interrupted. “I’m sorry. Kurt has to go to bed.” She scowled at Fritz.

Kurt hugged his uncle good night and his mother took him upstairs.

Jonas let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, I’ve seen some pretty amazing things. We’re taking the ore to Methuselah III. I’ve always wanted to see this natural rock bridge three miles up.” He didn’t sound as enthusiastic as he had when talking to Kurt. “They have mountains higher than the Himalayas. And the creatures up there are…” He paused for a few seconds. “Yeah, I get to travel.”

“I’m sure you see some real shitholes too, Jonas.”

“I guess. It’s all worth it.”

Fritz cleared his throat. “Look, Jonas, Mary and I would appreciate it if you didn’t talk about your travels in front of Kurt.”

“Sure. I’m sorry.” Jonas put cream in his coffee.

“We want him to appreciate life here. We don’t want him to leave.”

“I understand.” He paused. “Look, it’s none of my business, but you can’t force him to stay here.”

“You’re right,” Fritz said. “It is none of your business.”

“He’s going to have to make up his own mind someday.”

Fritz glared at his brother. “Yeah, Mary and I have never thought of that.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“No, you have a point, Jonas. Kurt might want to go into space and leave his sister to take care of us by herself.”

“You’re expecting a daughter?”

“Yep.” Fritz took a long sip of coffee.

Jonas smiled. “That’s great.”

“She’ll be in high school the first time you see her.”

“I’m sorry, Fritz. I haven’t abandoned you completely. I send you money. A lot of money.”

“Greta didn’t need money in the end.” He paused for a minute or so. “Damn, Jonas, Grandpa cried sometimes about Earth, because everybody he knew was dead. I worry about you.”

“The dilation was really bad back then,” Jonas said. “It’s better now. It’s the price you pay, I guess.”

“You really think it’s going to be any easier on Kurt if he signs up to crew a freighter and comes back and we’re still alive, but ten years older? Or if he sees his sister’s kids for the first time when they’re going through puberty?” Fritz snapped.

“I don’t know,” Jonas said.

Fritz exhaled. “Is it worth it, Jonas?”

“I try not to think about it.”

“You’re going to have to think about it someday.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

“Eventually Kurt might be older than you.”

“I won’t talk about my travels in front of your son,” Jonas said.

Fritz pushed his chair back and stood up. “Let me set up your bed upstairs in your old room.”

Jonas’ voice broke a little. “I’ve seen other crew members get hit hard with the dilation. Some don’t care. Some just get drunk every night. Nobody talks about it. I didn’t think it would get to me. But you look like Dad.”

“We’re still brothers, Jonas.”

Fritz and Jonas stayed up talking until long past midnight.

* * *

Fritz took a week’s vacation. He and Jonas made the most of their time together. They hiked in the mountains, spent quiet evenings at home, attended mass and took in a bluegrass concert downtown. Jonas reconnected with old friends as best he could.

They didn’t talk about a life exploring on a freighter.

A week later Fritz watched the freighter depart. He never tired of takeoffs and savoring the vapor trails slowly dissipating.

Jonas stared up at the sky. “I don’t get to see a lot of ships blast off.”

“I’m glad you stayed,” Fritz said.

___________________________


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.

Coming Friday: Episode 16 of The Odin Chronicles, “Dreams of Another World,” by Jenna Hanchey.

Enjoy!
~brb

 




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


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Monday, August 8, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 14: “Love and Groceries” • by Carol Scheina


INTRO: 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 have 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 four weeks 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 | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve | Part Thirteen

“Love and Groceries”

by Carol Scheina


As Father Luigi stood in Shelley’s small gray communications office on the drab, rocky planet of Odin III, he couldn’t help but notice how Shelley’s sparkling brown eyes made everything seem brighter.

That’s why it hurt to meet her gaze as he gave her his news. “I won’t be doing missionary work anymore. No more wandering the caves trying to find people to convert. I want to be here, helping people, so I’m reaffirming my vows with the Church.”

“Does that mean we’ll get to see each other more often?”

“Yeah, I’ll be in town, but… Father Francis told me he doesn’t want me seeing you.” Luigi felt the rip in his heart. He knew he could do good things in the Catholic Church, but he also loved being with Shelley. Priests could date and marry nowadays, but only with a dispensation from a senior Church leader.

Shelley looked puzzled. “But we’ve been already hanging out together for a couple of months now. What’s changed?”

“I’d like it to be more than just hanging out with you. Shelley, I think you’re the best woman on Odin III.”

Shelley’s cheeks turned pink. “And I think you’re the one guy here who makes the world so much bigger and better.”

“But Father Francis thinks I shouldn’t have distractions right now. I swear, I’m trying to convince him otherwise.”

“I can be non-distracting.” Shelley smiled hopefully.

Luigi flushed and finally looked into her eyes. He just had to convince Father Francis. “I’ll talk to him again.” Luigi mused over the priest’s schedule. “He’ll probably be in the deli right now. He always does his lunch and shopping at this time. He’ll be back at the church in about an hour.”

“Why wait? Let’s go now!” Shelley was already heading out the door, glancing back at him to follow. 

Luigi squared his shoulders. He could be a priest and date Shelley. He could make Father Francis understand. The young priest followed Shelley out the door.

*   *   *

The deli always struck Luigi’s nose with the sweetness of fresh-baked bread alongside undercurrents of salty meats and cheeses. The scent usually made him hungry, but right now, all his focus was on Father Francis. They found the older priest tapping his foot impatiently in the deli’s bagging area.

Francis frowned upon seeing them. “If you’re here to talk, I don’t have time right now. I’m supposed to meet Popov in a few minutes and the bagging robot isn’t functioning properly.”

Luigi noticed a wisp of smoke coming from the bot, which appeared frozen with a wheel of gouda in one metal hand, a mesh grocery bag in the other. He gave it a little kick, and it shuddered to life.

“Father Francis, I want to prove to you I can date Shelley,” Luigi announced.

“I won’t be distracting,” Shelley added.

Francis’s mouth opened to reply, then stopped.

Luigi turned and saw the bagging bot squeezing the gouda, which oozed between metal fingers like it was dripping from a grilled cheese sandwich. It then grasped a bag of tomatoes, its metal fingers clenching. Red tomato bits exploded into the air like slimy confetti.

The three jumped back. 

Ray, the deli owner, walked up. “Is there a problem?”

The bot reached out and grabbed a foot-long ham-and-sauerkraut sandwich. Squish! It stepped forward with a clunky step.

“Not the sauerkraut sandwich,” Ray moaned, looking at the mess on the floor.

“Should someone turn that off?” Shelley asked.

Luigi reached out and toggled a switch on the bot. It shuddered and smoked and stared at the humans, making Luigi feel they were nothing more than meat the bot wanted to shove into a mesh bag. For the first time, Luigi noticed the bot’s eyes were very red, and its cylindrical body was very large, about twice the width of a human.

Everyone stepped back.

The bot moved to the checkout scanner, its large body filling the aisle. Metal fingers squeezed, sparks flew, and the scanner shattered into wires and metal bits.

“We should get out of here,” Ray said.

“It’s blocking our exit,” Luigi pointed out.

“Can someone help us?” Father Francis called toward the deli door.

“I don’t think anyone can hear us,” Shelley said.

The bot clunked closer, its smoky smell rather reminding Luigi of grilled cheese. Or it could’ve been the cheese and tomato bits on the bot’s body.

Metal arms knocked over a barrel of pickles, sending a wave of brine into their feet.

Ray groaned. “It better not touch the liverwurst. That stuff’s impossible to get out here.”

The red eyes didn’t look at the liverwurst, though; it kept clunking toward the humans.

Luigi gave a quick glance around the deli. In front of them was the destroyed check-out area and the exit. Behind them, the store had one large refrigerated area for cheeses and meats, along with neat rows of shelves displaying various food items. As best he could tell, they were the only customers, which was good. The bad thing was they were being herded into the bread shelf—a dead end.

Luigi looked at Shelley. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with that woman. He looked at Francis, who was wiping tomato seeds off his cheek. The priest was giving him another shot at the clergy. After messing up with so many jobs in the past, he was finally going to make something of himself.

Except it seemed like now, he was going to get squished by a bagging bot. Luigi frowned. No, he wasn’t going to go down like this. The young man grasped a foot-long loaf of five-grain bread from the shelf behind him and hurled it at the bot. “I’m going to distract it. You make for the exit.”

“Luigi, I’m not sure—” Francis started to say, but the young priest didn’t listen.

“Hey, Picklehead! Over here!” Luigi hurled a loaf of genetically modified pumpernickel next. It struck the bot right between the eyes, which seemed to glare back.

Slipping along the shelves, Luigi made it to the condiments section. He hurled two glass containers of Odin Specialty Sandwich Sauce. The red eyes were fully on the young priest. The immense metal body moved forward, and all Luigi’s grasping hands could find on the shelves was extra-spicy mustard in a brown glass bottle. He hurled it as metal fingers reached forward to squish him as easily as a tomato.

This was it. He was going to meet God.

Mustard dripped down the bot’s face as it gave a shudder. Something inside it clunked, and its eyes went dark.

Luigi let out all the air he’d been holding in. “Did I kill it?”

Ray, still in the store, bent over the bot. “Looks like its actuator burned out. It was probably going to fall apart soon, anyway. I’ll need to order a new one.”

Shelley ran up and threw her arms around Luigi. “You saved us!”

Francis stepped forward and patted Luigi’s shoulder. “That was a brave action, my son.”

Luigi faced the older priest. “I can do this. I can be a priest. But I also love Shelley. I can balance it all. Give me a chance to prove myself.” He bit his lip nervously, but stood tall before the older man.

Francis paused, then nodded. “Very well, I’ll let you prove yourself.”

Luigi’s heart did twenty backflips as he looked at Shelley. “I can date you!”

“You can kiss me,” Shelley grinned.

Ray muttered amidst the spilled pickles and pumpernickel. “At least the liverwurst’s safe.”

Luigi didn’t even notice the mess of mustard and gouda as he took in the sight of the woman he loved. The world was as bright and as beautiful as Shelley’s eyes.

Right then and there, he gave her the best kiss of his life.

___________________________

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.


Coming Wednesday: Episode 15 of The Odin Chronicles, “No Place,” by Pete Wood.

Enjoy!
~brb

 




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


On Amazon now ► STUPEFYING STORIES 23

Interface with Stupefying Stories!

 

 

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 13: “Would Scarcely Know That We Were Gone” • by Jonathan Sherwood



INTRO: 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 have 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 four weeks 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 | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve

“Would Scarcely Know That We Were Gone”

by Jonathan Sherwood


On the third day, Arthur ran out of water.

Just as the big sun, Odin, began lightening the dark sky and pushing the stars away, he shook the last drops of water from his canteen into his mouth and tossed it away. It clattered on the rocks and into those weird blue bamboo plants, raising a momentary jangle of wind chimes.

Wonder if these have always been here? he thought. Or are they all fake, too?

The thought stung. He wiped his eye.

The long trek from the little mining town had been tiring, but he hadn’t yet stopped. In the dark, he wasn’t sure this rock on the hill would be a good place to rest, but now that he was close and the night was ebbing, he saw it had a smooth, flat top and a good view. A good place to rest. For a very long time.

He sat on its edge and let his tired feet hang down so he could watch the brightening sky. He would have bet on the planet’s night predators. Not thirst. The last of Odin III’s aurora flickered across the welkin as he bent his head and let himself cry.

Arthur had never been the kind of man to cry, but the fatigue and the resignation seemed to wring it out of him. And the thought of Susan, lost to him, maybe lost to all, wrung him tighter.

She’d approached him in the bar one night. Strung out on mushrooms and babbling about how much she’d missed him. How they were married and in love. But in some other timeline. Not in this one. He’d told her to leave him alone. He barely knew her. He was married to someone else. That she gave him the creeps. And the look in her eyes when he’d said that… He felt that in his soul.

And a few days later, she was missing.

A week later, and Arthur couldn’t get her out of his mind.

Two weeks later, Arthur was eating those mushrooms. And starting to remember.

It came on in waves of confusion. Their sparse wedding, their sparse marriage, the struggles and the little victories that somehow made it so worthwhile. Even though he’d done none of it. But somehow they’d done all of it. And done it together. And now the emptiness in his chest felt like a hole the rest of him would just crumple into.

The last anyone had seen of her, she was walking out of the town one night, into the wilderness. And then nothing more. And she’d done it with his words in her head. You give me the creeps.

The blue bamboo swayed in the breeze, knocking together like little xylophones. He wiped again at his eyes.

The shoe next to him looked exactly like his, right down to the flecks of mud.

The jeans and the jacket also looked like his. And though in the back of his mind he knew he should be terrified, when he saw the person sitting next to him was… him, he felt only a mild surprise.

“Hey,” said the other Arthur. Right down to the tear-smeared dirt on his cheeks.

“Hey,” said Arthur, in rote reply. “You’re… me.”

“Yeah,” the other said, nodding. “It does seem that way.”

“I haven’t had shrooms in days. I’m not trippin’ right now.”

“Me neither,” said the other. “But… I don’t think I’ve been around that long…” His voice drifted off.

“Are you real?”

The other looked at his own lap with a look of confusion, then at Arthur, and then reached out an index finger and poked Arthur in the shoulder. “I guess I’m real,” he said. “Guess you are, too.”

Arthur stared at the other one. Studied his face. “What do you want? Why are you here?”

The other looked toward the sunrise. Shook his head. “I don’t know.” He looked at Arthur. “Why are you here?”

“Because I want to find someone.” He hesitated, but the other waited for him to finish. “Or to die.”

The other blinked several times, apparently in confusion, and then he nodded once. “Susan,” he said. His expression drooped and he looked again at his lap. “Oh, Susan.”

“Is it a timeline thing?” asked Arthur, a twinge of excitement, of hope in his voice. “Are you from the timeline she remembers? From when we were together? Are you and she—?”

“No. No, I don’t think I’m from another timeline or anything. I think I’m just… here.”

“Oh,” said Arthur. They were quiet for a while, both watching the edge of Odin creep above the horizon, heralding the double sunrise. Arthur kept wondering why he didn’t feel much more disturbed, but every time he started thinking about it, he found it hard to concentrate.

“You came out here to find her,” said the other. “But you knew you wouldn’t. You knew you wouldn’t survive long out here. You knew this was a one-way trip.”

Arthur nodded, and reluctantly said, “Yeah.”

“Because you’re lonely,” the other turned to look at him. “You’re so terribly, terribly lonely.”

“She was everything to me. A month ago, I barely knew her. But she came up to me and said we were married, and I called her a drugged-out creep and told her to get lost. And the look on her face when I said that.” He put both hands to his face. “And now I remember her and remember us and we were just so happy. And I barely remember my other life. And that was the last thing I said to her. And now I can’t go back to the way I was without her, and I miss her so—”

“Hey,” said the other, and Arthur felt a hand rubbing his shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I know. It feels, it feels awful. It feels… hollowing.”

Arthur sniffed. “Yeah. Hollowing.”

“Remember when she got the mop stuck in the garbage disposal, and it was spinning and throwing water all over the kitchen? And she was screaming and laughing and we tried to grab the mop and it slapped us square in the face, and our mouth was open and she laughed so hard she fell on the floor and puked? Holy crap she had a good laugh.”

“Yeah,” said Arthur. “I forgot about that, but yeah. That laugh was something else.”

The other put a hand on Arthur’s thigh, palm up. Arthur looked at it, confused, and then laid his own hand in it. It felt warm and rough, but reassuring and honest. Odin lifted nearly half above the horizon.

“Loneliness,” said the other. “I think loneliness is the worst emotion. You can talk to someone about every other emotion. You can feel like you’re not alone in your feelings. But loneliness…” He gave Arthur’s hand a squeeze. Arthur squeezed back. “Do you know what depersonalization disorder is? It’s when you think you’re not yourself. That someone else is you. I think that’s what’s going on here.” The other nodded toward the sunrise. “I think I’ve made you up somehow. I think I’m the real one.”

Arthur followed his gaze. It seemed to make sense. “I think you’re right.”

“You didn’t tell me. About Susan,” said the other. “You never said her name. But I knew. I knew. I guess I read your mind.”

“I didn’t know we could do that.”

“I didn’t either,” said the other, looking at the sky. “Huh. I wonder what else I can do.”

Arthur felt a slight pang in his stomach.

“Don’t worry,” said the other, still holding Arthur’s hand in an embrace both firm and soft. And genuinely affectionate. “I won’t leave you. I’m going to stay with you until the end.”

Arthur smiled, squeezed his friend’s hand, and watched the big sun lift itself over the edge of Odin III. The blue bamboo moved in the morning breeze and rang out a delightful, muted coda.


___________________________


Jonathan Sherwood has written about science and scientists for research universities for more than two decades, and science fiction for even longer. He holds a bachelors in science writing from Cornell University and an MA in English from the University of Rochester. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, and others.

Coming Monday: Episode 14 of The Odin Chronicles, “Love and Groceries,” by Carol Scheina.

Enjoy!
~brb

 




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


On Amazon now ► STUPEFYING STORIES 23

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Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 29 -- To the Danger Poles With Daniel

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. Emerald’s parents are dead, and she has escaped Earth to the SOLAR EXPLORER but finds that Inamma has followed her. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her and hides her among the rest of the young people in the crew. Emerald lives with autism and making friends is difficult. She has a few good friends now, and while she holds the key to the artifacts, she has discovered the sport of pryzhok, and the odd hiding places the young players have hidden their clandestine pryzhok sphere. It appears that Inamma is on to them all…

(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 sat in silence for a while, beaming. Izegbe sent again, “Daniel ipiked me. He says he wants to find this Inamma thing. While he was at Ayaka’s unit, he dreamed about dancing knives.” Emerald felt cold but kept reading, “He says he has to find something. He doesn’t know what.”

She ipiked back, “I know what he’s looking for.”

“What?”

“Inamma.”

“What’s that mean? dbase sez Inamma = enemy. nme v u?”

Emerald smiled. Izegbe only used ipik speak when she was mad or excited. Otherwise, she always used standard Spandaringlish or English. Emerald ipiked back, “Me?” she stared at the bulkhead of SOLAREX then shook her head slowly then continued, “Maybe, but only because I can open the artifacts Mom and Dad sent up. Otherwise I think it wants me dead.”

“Dead!????”

“Yup. It wants everyone dead.”

“What does it have against us?”

Emerald paused. She didn’t know for a fact what Inamma wanted. It was a sense she got from seeing it kill her parents and the way it was stalking her – and the liquid color that had oozed from the boxes. Had that been a dream? A defense? She didn’t know. She wrote, “Not just you and me. All Humans.”

The ipik went dark, signaling that Ayaka had cut the connection. Emerald stared at it for several minutes, then went into her bedroom and changed. With her back against the wall, curled around herself, she stared into the darkness until she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.


A day later, they were back on the plantation. The ground had cooled down enough to not melt the boots. Despite the near-firestorm, no one from Bridge had called any of them up. They spent the first few hours hosing down the buildings and scrubbing the boiling pans free of soot. They looked up every time the bolus opened on the cane field. Colonel Berg popped out of the bolus twice briefly, looked around until he walked past Emerald, then went back under whatever rock he’d crawled out from under.

Emerald ipiked Izegbe, “He knows something.”

She started to ipik back when Daniel glared at both of them and said, “Bridge says that academics are suspended for the next week.”

The rest of Team Twelve – Mikhail, Zadok, Elisavet – cheered. Emerald, Yamata no Orochi – Emerald, Ayaka, Izegbe and Søren passed a look among themselves that damped the other three. Daniel continued, “We’ll be working until we’re dismissed by Bridge.” He paused, took a deep breath and said, “We’ve got work to do. It will be filthy work because of the ashes, soot, and burned plant matter. You three,” he pointed at the rest of the team, “will start gathering cane and hauling it into the shredder.” He nodded at Izegbe, Emerald, Ayaka and Søren. “The five of us will finish cleaning the boiling house, start pressing the cane and haul bagasse to the vacuum dryer. As needed, we’ll bale, haul and stack them alongside the corridor wall. We’ve got our work cut out for us. Let’s do it.”

Emerald was too small to actually haul cane and bagasse. Daniel taught her to drive a small electric forklift. At the end of the week, Daniel called them together again. “We’ve done a good enough job that Bridge says we can take a day tomorrow off. For anyone who wants to, I’ll be hiking through the Core Biomes.”

Emerald leaned to Ayaka and whispered, “What’s that mean?”

Of course, Izegbe, the second head of Yamata no Orochi said, “The Core’s divided into biomes from pole to pole, a little desert at the fore pole and running through savannah, subtropical and tropical to deciduous and coniferous forests, tundra and a cold pole. There are sixteen Core Trails you can walk from one end to the other. Some of them spiral through each Biome. Others follow the river and some just take a straight shot through the Core from Pole to Pole.”

Emeralds eyes grew wide. “There’s snow at the pole?”

Ayaka snorted and said, “At one of them.”

“What’s at the other Pole?”

“A desert,” said Izegbe.

“Does the Cold Pole have enough snow to ski on?”

Ayaka shrugged, “Why would I need to know that?”

“I’ll go with you,” Emerald said, raising her hand.

She wasn’t quite sure what Ayaka meant when she covered her mouth with her hand. It was supposed to have sounded like a cough, but Emerald suspected she was laughing at her. She shot her a looked meant to be daggers, but the older girl only smirked.

Izegbe raised her hand. When Søren turned his back on her, she elbowed him. He raised his hand. An instant later, she hip-checked Ayaka who raised her hand. She smiled at Daniel then said, “We’d all like to go on the hike.”

“Why would you all want to go on a hike with me?”

Izegbe smiled and shot back, “Why would you, a practically eighteen-year-old-boy want to go on a hike with Emerald – she’s not even thirteen yet.”

Daniel glared at her, lips pressed into a thin line. He growled, nodded, spun on his heel and headed for the bolus. Suddenly, he twitched to a stop, shuddering. He turned slowly around and his face was tight, as if he were in pain. He looked as if he forced himself to blurt, “Necklace! Where it is?” He sank to his knees. Ayaka, Søren, Izegbe and Emerald sprinted to him. When they reached him, he was on his hands and knees. He looked up at them and said, “All of you meet me at Core Lift Platform Four at oh-seven-hundred tomorrow morning.” He climbed slowly to his feet, stumbled into the bolus and was gone.

“What happened to him?” Ayaka exclaimed.

Søren said, “What was that?”

Emerald was staring after him. She said, “He was fighting something.”

Izegbe snorted and said, “Yeah, his ego.”

Emerald bit her lower lip, forgetting what she was going to say.

Ayaka blurted, “I was gonna sleep!”

Søren echoed her, “Yeah, me too. I’m beat after this week. And I wanted to spend some time reading. I just found this great series of science fiction books in the library. I downloaded the whole set – I think there’s ten books, most by this guy named Asimov.”

Izegbe said softly, “So, you both wanted to leave Emerald alone with Mr. Fire Starter while he takes her on a tour of all the deepest, darkest forests of SOLAREX – where not even Bridge can see all the time?” She paused then added, “We all figure he’s up to something.”

Both of them continued to glare, then Søren’s eyes widened and he looked down at his feet and muttered, “Uh, I’ll be there.”

Ayaka sighed dramatically, but said, “Fine. I’ll be there, too. I suppose protecting someone from Daniel is part of the sacrifice of friendship.” She glanced at Emerald then shook her finger at Izegbe, “You owe me big time on this one!”

Izegbe sniffed. “Let’s just call it even and get home and get some rest so we can hike a bazillion miles tomorrow.” She headed for the bolus, with Søren and Ayaka beside her. Emerald trailing behind them, smiling. Despite her best efforts – or her worst efforts depending on how you looked at it, she’d somehow managed to make friends here.

She stepped into the bolus behind them. What did Daniel mean when he said, “Necklace. Where it is”? As the door squelched shut, she didn’t hear the clear sound of knives stabbing angrily into the sand at the edge of the partially cleared sugarcane fields.

If she had, she wouldn’t have been smiling.


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

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Status Update: 04 August 2022

 

I’m beginning to develop a serious attitude problem about July. This has now been the fourth July in a row in which we’ve begun the month with everything seemingly in order and proceeding along nicely and by the end of the month found ourselves gaping at the wreckage and wondering where to start cleaning up.

On the positive side, no one ended up in the hospital this time, nor did anyone receive a personal visit from Baron Samedi


On the sub-positive side, SS#24 still is not ready to be released, and I’m now about a month behind on publishing The Pete Wood Challenge stories. We are also a third of the way into publishing The Odin Chronicles, and I still don’t have the episode guide/story index written and posted, much less the introduction for the print version. 

Come to think of it, I owe Guy Stewart a phone call, too, as we need to talk about what we’re doing next with Emerald of Earth. Continue serializing it or just publish the entire book? The latter is what we were originally planning to do at this point, but if it was your book, what would you want us to do with it?

Plus, I notice that this web site has drifted out-of-date again, plus there’s the schedule for SS#25, which is completely derailed and now looking like we should aim for an October 1st release, plus...

One thing at a time. First up, getting caught up on the Pete Wood Challenge. Watch for more flash fiction coming soon.

Regards,
~brb

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 12: “Twelve” • by Roxana Arama


INTRO: 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 have 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 a bit over 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 | Part Ten | Part Eleven

“Twelve”

by Roxana Arama


Jeremy paced outside Galactic’s Odin North Communications Office, thinking yet again that maybe he shouldn’t go inside and hand his keychain flash drive to Shelley, the new office there. He wanted—no, he needed—to talk to his uncle on Odin I, but he also knew he wasn’t supposed to. He’d promised.

He turned away and headed home, but after a few steps, he slowed down, still arguing with himself.

It’d all started with the box of twelve chocolates his uncle Xander had sent for his birthday. Chocolates were hard to find on Odin III, no matter the settlement, so when Jeremy had given two each to his classmates Kassim, Doru, and Isaac, they looked at him like he was now okay. They even asked him to join them after school on an expedition into some old mine tunnels they’d found. A birthday treat, they said. Jeremy wouldn’t wait to be asked twice. He grabbed his backpack and went.

The others had flashlights while Jeremy wore the headlamp his uncle had given him last year for his birthday. He waved at the first Galactic camera he saw up on the wall by the abandoned mine entrance, but Kassim said the motion sensors were fried in that section and the cameras didn’t record. Which was fine with Jeremy, who wasn’t sure his mom and dad would be happy to know he went into the mines. Even though they’d each scored a chocolate from his birthday box.

The walls of those tunnels were white like marble, and the ceilings were low, where Jeremy had to crawl sometimes to get through. It was awesome being there with his new friends, imagining they were all swallowed by a ginormous Odinian beast, squeezing through its guts. It got colder as they pushed in and the air became stale, but Jeremy was too excited to complain.

When the four of them reached a chamber as tall as Hans’s Deli, they sat down in a circle and Isaac took out a red ball he said he’d borrowed from the workshop of Daraja the machinist. He set the ball on the ground and the next moment the space around them brightened up with a 3D map of their galaxy sector, way cooler than the projections they had at school. It showed their solar system forming from a nebula, and infant planets clashing together to become Odin I, II, III, and IV, then the creation of the gas giants, plus a couple of rogue planets shooting out into the void.

It felt real to Jeremy, like it wasn’t a movie. He gasped a few times when they saw spaceships zooming around them, and he could tell they were Galactic’s by the shape and the logos. Then they saw a planet being blown to bits. Isaac said it was called Odrysian. Jeremy had never heard of it.

Then things got weird. Jeremy realized he was watching stuff that hadn’t even happened yet. Like Odin III getting a ring of satellites. And the Little Sun growing into a red dwarf only to be swallowed by the Big Sun, which then burped it all out in an amazing supernova.

Jeremy flinched when a voice behind them said, “What do you think you’re doing? That’s not a toy.” It sounded like Doru, but Doru hadn’t spoken.

The galaxy map vanished, the light in the chamber dimmed, and the red ball flew up through the air. Jeremy turned to see four walking statues. Eyes with no pupils, like the Roman heads in the history textbooks. Really creepy. He tried to breathe but the stale air made him feel worse. The statues were closing in on him and his friends. The spookiest thing was that they looked exactly like the four of them, just marble-white.

Statue-Doru held the red ball in his hand, tossing it in the air, as if playing with it.

“You stole something from us,” statue-Kassim said, “then you snuck into our house. You deserve to be punished.”

Jeremy was used to getting in trouble at school, but now worried they’d turn him into a statue or crush him under a ton of rocks. His hectic thoughts landed on his uncle Xander, who always got out of all sorts of trouble—and he had an idea.

“It’s my birthday,” he said, standing up and trembling. “Would you like some chocolates?”

The statues looked at him with those smooth white eyes, tilted their heads this way and that, and said yes. Jeremy scrambled to dig into his backpack and found the box and gave it to them. Only four chocolates left, and Jeremy wouldn’t be tasting any.

The statues took his chocolates, one each, but didn’t peel off the golden wrappers. They held them in their hands and then the chocolates melted and seeped into the rock of their palms. A faint color appeared on the statues’ white marble. If they had more food, Jeremy wondered, would they look like people, to where no one could tell the difference?

“You can go now,” statue-Jeremy said in a familiar voice, “but don’t you dare come back.”

“And never tell anyone about this,” statue-Kassim said. “You understand?”

Jeremy nodded until his neck hurt.

“Yeah. Sure. Of course,” his friends said. “Won’t tell anyone.”

“You won’t,” statue-Isaac said, and it sounded like a threat. Or a curse.

Since leaving the old mine, Jeremy had had a hard time not talking to anyone about the statues, not even Kassim, Doru, and Isaac. That was why he needed to tell his uncle, his best friend in the whole entire galaxy. Maybe he knew what kind of creature the statues were, and what they were doing on Odin III, and what was that red ball that knew the past and the future. And if his uncle didn’t know, could he find out?

In the daylight, getting in trouble with the statues didn’t seem as real and scary as in the old mine. Jeremy turned around and bolted, not stopping until he reached Shelley’s office. The door hissed open before him.

* * *

Galactic Mining Communication Officer Shelley Mowatt inserted the flash drive into her tablet and read the first line that appeared on her screen. It said, “Dear Uncle Xander,” so she decided not to look at the rest. It would have been wrong to pry. She liked Jeremy, shy and a bit weird as he was. She probably wouldn’t be seeing him for a while, which was too bad.

“Here you go, kid.” She gave him back the keychain with the drive, which he slipped inside his backpack. He’d told her the drive was a birthday gift from his uncle, maybe a couple of years ago.

“Let me know when he writes back,” Jeremy said, and took off, looking tired but smiling.

Shelley watched him from the window until he turned the corner, and only then closed the messaging session with Odin I she’d open just for show.

A dialogue box appeared on the screen: “Are you sure you want to discard the uploaded message?”

Shelley pressed YES. As a communication officer for Galactic Mining, sometimes she knew things people on Odin III didn’t. It’d been five days since word came that the mine Jeremy’s uncle worked at had collapsed. As of this morning, the rescue efforts had been called off.

___________________________



Roxana Arama is a Romanian American author with a master of fine arts in creative writing from Goddard College. She studied computer science in Bucharest, Romania and moved to the United States to work in software development. Her debut thriller Extreme Vetting will be published in 2023 by Ooligan Press (Portland State University). She’s a member of SFWA, the Authors Guild, and Codex Writers’ Group, and her work has been published in several fiction and nonfiction magazines. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family. More at https://roxanaarama.com/ or @RoxanaArama on Twitter.

Be sure to stay tuned for Episode 13 of The Odin Chronicles, “Would Scarcely Know That We Were Gone,” by Jonathan Sherwood, coming next Friday.

Enjoy!
~brb

 




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