The Heplion Contingency – part 3

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Chapter 3: Beneath a Red Sun

 

Jekh struggled against the discomfort, trying in vain to catch some rest. Their bunk wasn’t bad at all – psychically-generated insta-barracks tended to come well-furnished – but the armor chafed against their rocky skin at odd angles. Their chest and hip plates were neatly stacked on the ground, but arms and legs took longer to armor up than the customary three minutes’ readiness, so they stayed covered up, and ached.

God damn that fool to the shadows, they thought. It was Colonel Athadon’s idea, outfitting all the troops in the same standard-issue platemail, all neatly patterned like a proper army. In Jekh’s long experience with deniable-assets mercenary work, Athadon’s company, Evrand’s Chosen, was the only one that didn’t let soldiers pick their own gear, resulting in a haphazard battalion that looked like a band of raiders or pirates. And if that wasn’t enough, whatever ignorant clods that were in charge of inventory thought human-standard armor was just fine for an eblian such as Jekh. Sure, the general size and shape were more or less the same, but when it got to details – slightly different proportions, muscles in all the wrong places, and dear God, why do humans have such skinny arms – wearing that thing was a nightmare. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 2

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Chapter 2: In the Dark

Nimban woke up into total darkness. What was that? – it asked itself. It had been unconscious for a while, no way to know how long. How could something like that happen?

The last image recorded in its memory came to the fore: after its safe’s sudden opening, it had a light shone on it, and behind that, a young human woman. Nimban had barely had time to register this intruder before she activated a psionic plate. A psychic nullifier, to be sure – only that should be capable of disabling its artificial mind.

It extended its senses outward. Sight was useless there, of course, but a psionic brain such as Nimban had other resources to draw upon. Sonar input revealed it was inside a much thinner container than its usual safe, which was hardly surprising; it had obviously been stolen. It didn’t seem to be moving. Its telepathic probe wasn’t registering anyone nearby. It was deciding whether to activate its uplink to the Conglomerate database and consult it about the present situation, when it detected a mind approaching. More

The Heplion Contingency – part 1

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Chapter 1: The Karnati Job

Astal raced through the night, her boots splashing across the puddles on the street. Although the tram accident – its horses crashed through the front doors, courtesy of her friends at Urush – bought her some time, it was barely enough. One could never be too careful around the likes of Karnati Incorporated.

She quickly found the hole in the perimeter she was looking for – some guard who strayed too far from his station to see what that commotion was all about – and considered her possibilities. She could get to work on the wall right away, but there was no knowing how long the guy’s curiosity would last, and he was a bit too close for comfort at any rate. Eh, to hell with it, she decided, unsheathing her knives as she crept up behind him.

Fortunately for her – not so much for the poor bastard – he was distracted enough to let her walk right up to him. He was shifting around, trying to find a better position to peek at the front of the building, so Astal had to wait breathlessly until he settled enough for the path to the area under his chin to be clear. A quick double stab and scissor-cut – to chop his windpipe and any chance of calling for help with it – later, he was just a metal-covered sack of flesh to be dragged behind the garbage at the nearest alley. Goddamn idiots, she thought with a snort, they armor up every part of their bodies except for what really matters. More

Untitled SF/Fantasy Work pt. 2

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The man awoke into an amber haze. He opened his dark eyes slowly, straining to focus them, finding nothing but a blur. He moved a brown-skinned hand jerkily, as if rusted, in front of his face, and found out his eyes worked after all. He struggled to find his bearings, to no avail. There seemed to be nothing but a soft, shimmering glow around him.

Am I dead? The thought suddenly formed inside his head. What happened to me? Where was I before I got here? He had trouble remembering. He closed his eyes, willing the knowledge into his consciousness. There were people moving around him, vague, as if through a mist. They appeared to be doing some procedure to him. Aliens? Was I abducted? The idea popped up unbidden, and he quickly brushed it away, amused. No, his memory seemed to be of something he consented to, though he couldn’t remember exactly what. On the other hand, it seemed to have no connection to his current situation, so he focused on that instead.

He started to move his limbs around. They ached when he did so, a good ache, as if they hadn’t been moved in a long time. He could feel his tendons working under his skin as he flexed his arms and legs. Guess I’m not dead after all, he thought. His arms felt heavy though – he reasoned they were just stiff, but something wasn’t quite right about them. Something that had to do with his face as well, which felt bloated. Pulling his hand up to his cheek, he realized what was wrong – he was hanging face-down.

A jolt of panic sent a surge of energy through his body. He became suddenly aware of restraints on his chest, belly and thighs. He wasn’t certain about before, but now felt like an abduction of some sort. He started struggling against his bonds, which seemed to be some sort of black rope, and soon stopped. Where am I going to fall down to from here? Looking down, he realized the shimmering haze was water. Distorted shapes started to resolve in it – tunnels, spheres set on the wall, which were giving off that amber glow, statues of undecipherable shape, and a large round apparatus of some sort directly under him, inlaid with complex concentric designs.

The man stretched down his arm and managed to touch the water with his fingertips. It was cold. He brought his fingers into his mouth, and tasted salt. They got me to some maritime base, he thought. He looked up and realized he was hanging from some sort of stonework dome. The bricks were some unfamiliar sort of brown stone, and seemed to fuse into one another. He was starting to ponder about how this must be some place off the coast when movement down into the water caught his eye.

“Hey!” – he yelled. Whatever was down there was already gone into one of the tunnels. He managed only to catch a quick glimpse of if – some pale, fluid form, swimming away rapidly. It seemed to be some sort of aquatic animal – some large fish, or maybe a squid. Something with limbs. “Come back here!” – he cried out, only a moment later realizing the futility of talking into water.

Fully alert now, he once again started struggling against the ropes, this time taking care to not fall off from them. He turned himself around, pulling his body up and sitting on the ropes as on a swing. He wasn’t really tied up, he realized, noticing for the first time he was naked. Thinking about who captured him, or why, led the man to wondering who he was. That memory seemed hazy and distant as well. I’m rich, he remembered. That could be it. I’m some sort of big figure. I’m…

He felt a sudden sense of dread. The fact just dawned on him that he had forgotten who he was, where he was, what he did. His name. Amnesia, he thought, but that didn’t seem quite right. After all, he could feel his memories buried just under the surface. He just had to dig a little more. I own a company, he realized, relief gradually seeping into his mind. I meet with people. I close deals. I make things. I… design things. It all seemed to make sense now, like a puzzle whose pieces were just starting to fit together. I’m popular. People talk about me. I see my face on the news. The image came to him – a thin, smiling face, clean-shaven, brown-skinned, with wild and curled black hair. They love and hate me. They argue about me. They call me a genius, or a fraud. They call me many things. They…

They call me Chan.

Untitled SF/Fantasy Work

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A storm was raging under the sea. Clouds of dark sand lashed about under the dusky glow – even near noon, the crew had to bring lanterns to travel this deep – as stinging thermals, reeking faintly of sulphur, raced across the ocean floor. Precious little life ventured into the badlands of Lagash, and what few creatures were left after mining started – mostly slugs and starfish in this barren terrain – slunk into crevices for shelter.

“Move!” – roared a distant voice, muffled by the current. “You’re not paid to dawdle!”

From a fissure in the ground, which had been widened to about three yards across for the ore bowls to move in and out of what was known as Site Eleven, emerged a gaunt figure. Its rubbery, mottled-gray skin was covered by drab peasant’s garbs – a threaded greenish-brown shirt, a pair of loose leather trousers, and a thin kelpen scarf wrapped around the lower half of its face, topped by a pair of large, bloodshot, slitted eyes. No helmet covered this poor miner’s bald and spiny head. He held a short rod topped by a sphere glowing with greenish-amber light in one webbed hand, and removed the scarf with the other, revealing a pair of nostrils and a wide mouth lined with tiny triangular teeth, framed by an angular jaw festooned with thin ropy strands of flesh.

As the foreman, clad in scaled skins and an iron helmet, swam down through the clouds, cutting his way across the streams with his wide and powerful webbed feet, he saw the workman and turned to face him. “What’s wrong with the lot of you?”, he bellowed. “It’s been almost a turn o’ the clock since I’ve seen anything come outta there!”

“It’s something we hit, master,” the crewman shouted. “We’ve been trying to clean it up and… best you see for yourself, sir.”

The crewmaster dove into the aperture. “It ain’t gold that you dug up, is it? You worms think you gonna sneak gold under my chin, you got something else coming!” He weaved through the tunnels, guided more by the faint rumble of discussion coming from below than by the trail marked by the lanterns stuck to the cave wall.

“…should just bury it right back and leave it well alone,” a voice floated up. “You’re a dolt,” said another, “we’ll go home a rich bunch o’ bastards, mark my words!” A third cut in: “Nah, he’s right, smells like trouble to…”

“What are you barnacles blabbing about like a gaggle of old wives?” – the foreman burst into the discussion. The miners were in a chamber along the newest shaft, circled around a nook in a wall, their tools fallen to the ground far below. The lanterns pressed together close to their object of attention looked like a shimmering sun on a rippling surface.

“We was about to call you down here, master, just wanted to make sure–” one of the workers started, before his boss shoved him aside and pushed his way into the circle. “What you got here, worms?” – the foreman asked.

Their response was just to swim away, letting him have a clear view of the niche. The wall had a hole about four feet across, and embedded a foot or so into the rock was a smooth metal surface. It was inlaid with perfectly straight lines, and a foot-wide depressed metal square was set above a series of intricate etched patterns.

“We put that cover right back on, master,” a crewman said almost pleadingly. “It was giving us the willies. I say we leave it well alone and pretend nobody saw nothing.”

“Silence!” The foreman struggled with the square lid. He could feel it coming loose, but it had no handholds. “Gimme something to pry it out!” He swam down to the ground, grumbling, to pick up a wedge as his crew floated about mouthing half-formed excuses.

He finally tore out the thick metal cover. As it clattered down, he knocked into the smooth, hard surface under it. “I’ll be damned,” he said, “a plate under a plate. This some worm’s idea of a joke?”

“Master…” One of the miners spoke in a thin voice. “Look again. Into the plate.”

“What do you mean, into the…” He raised his lantern, and caught a glimpse of it. The light seeped into the hard surface, broken up, as if into a crystal, only clearer… and this material had something set deep into it.

The foreman bolted away reflexively, mouth agape. He looked around at his underlings, who silently nodded. He swam back and pressed both his face and his lantern into the crystal. The shape inside was unmistakable. He had seen it before, in carvings and statues – there was a large one, supposedly life-sized, in the children’s center he was raised in. This one was a thin, slumped figure, much different from the triumphant pose he recalled from memory… but there was no doubt that it was one of them. One of the ancients.

A human.

The First Story

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The First Story

by Fernando Sacchetto – dec. 2009

Once upon a time, there was a peasant boy who loved to play. While he was very poor, such that he often had to go to bed hungry, he was rarely without a smile, for his life was never devoid of wonder and magic. Nobody could tell from looking at him, as he looked in all ways like simply one more peasant boy in a dreary forgotten down, living a dreary and soon-to-be forgotten life. However, when he played – which he did in every waking moment of his life, as much as he could anyway – he lived a thousand different and fantastic lives. This time he was a bold knight, fighting against monsters so strange and fearsome that the wisest sages could scarcely find words to describe them; that time, he was an escaped slave, trudging through dank sewers as he evaded the tricks of his wicked sorcerer master, contriving plans to bring about his downfall and claim his remote frozen kingdom. His little head had more stories in it than the greatest of libraries, each more amazing than the last – and, when he finally tired enough to lay down and sleep, they came to life.

One cool spring night, the boy dreamt of a king. This king and the peasant boy were one and the same, although he could never have suspected that, having been a powerful and respected king all his many years, and a young high-born prince before that, but never a peasant boy. The king in the boy’s dream led a life of glory and greatness, for his kingdom extended in all directions as far as a horse could ride, and was filled with people who had nothing but deep love and respect for their sovereign. He lived in a vast and beautiful castle, where he sat on his high throne, dispensing justice, pronouncing edicts, laying down the law, and deciding on war and peace, all with the most hallowed wisdom. He would also go out hunting gorgeous beasts with his trusted retainers, and hold memorable feasts for a shining court, where the most delectable foods and drinks in the world were served, and the most enchanting music played. Yet, despite all this, deep inside, the king was troubled.

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