Fiction Friday: Some Old Stuff

Well, I don’t really have time to write anything new, but since apparently some of you actually do like this feature after all, and one person expressed liking for that “Choosing Ones” bit… have some very old writing of mine, the beginning of the story that that scene would eventually be part of. I’m going to be posting what there is of that story for the next few weeks, while I work on M.L.Po-Mo vol. 2 and the Madoka book, since I have it and it’s not completely terrible.

Seth crouched in the corner as the soldiers’ weapons pounded at the door. It exploded inward, into the kitchen, chunks of roof falling all around him as the cold night air rushed in, black-clad, masked and goggled soldiers just behind it.

Alarms blared; the Isolde was under attack. The ship was damaged, couldn’t move, and the captain lay spread-eagled on the floor, under a broken strut.

His mother lay under the smashed remnants of the kitchen island.

Any moment now they would fire again. The Isoldewould be destroyed. The soldiers would kill him.

He screamed, and there was a terrible explosion of red light, and a terrible, all-engulfing silence.

Seth’s eyes flicked open and he gasped once, quietly but sharply.

“Morning, boss!” said Izzy merrily.

Seth cursed, not for the first time wondering why he’d designed the Isolde‘s computer with such a bright, perky voice. “Blarg.” He rolled over.

“You had the nightmare again.”

“You know,” Seth said, voice slightly muffled by the covers, “they have this thing called ‘privacy’ now. It means computers notwatching their crews in their sleep just because they can.”

“Aw, you’re not really mad. Those centers of your brain aren’t getting hardly any blood.”

“Don’t watch me in the shower!” Seth warned, rolling out of bed and stomping to the stall–one of the perks of being captain was getting his own. Not that it mattered, since currently he only had two crewmembers to use the two crew showers. On the way to the bathroom, he stubbed his toe on one of the many piles of mechanical junk, broken electronics, and tools covering most of the floor, and swore again, vividly and at length.

“Gasp, my virgin microphones!” He never could tell when Izzy was being sarcastic. “It’s not like I can’t see through your clothes if I want to, anyway. Not that I do–guys made of meat aren’t my thing.”

“You’ve been talking to Vix again,” Seth muttered, turning on the shower. “Now leave me alone for a bit.”

A few minutes later, he stomped out of the bathroom in his boxers, a toothbrush dangling from his mouth. “Hey! Since when do you have an MRI?”

“I don’t,” Izzy giggled. “Just messing with you.”

***

Vix sat back in her chair, feet up on the navigator’s console, watching Imaginary Space drift past.

“Ten minutes to the Bethel Gate,” Wehj reported from behind her. “Everything’s running smooth, for once.”

Vix waved acknowledgment. “Great.”

Wehj looked forward. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Creepy, but beautiful. Red and orange ribbons of light, slowly drifting and curling, all around us, going on and on forever. A whole universe of them, hiding behind our own.”

“Eh,” said Vix. “I always thought it looked like somebody threw up a bunch of blood right after eating cotton candy.”

“Yuck.”

“Hate to interrupt your poetry jam, but the captain’s on his way up,” said Izzy. “And would you quit putting your feet on me?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Vix, sitting up.

“Hey, Izzy, don’t we put our feet on you every time we stand up?” asked Wehj.

“Don’t remind me.”

The doors at the back of the bridge hissed open and Seth walked in, a short, wiry young man in a black bomber jacket, with close-cropped red hair and messy bangs. He flopped into the captain’s chair behind Wehj and raised it to nearly ceiling height. “What’s our status?” he asked.

“Six minutes to Bethel Gate,” Wehj answered. “Toll signal just coming in.”

Seth punched it up on the armrest and authorized payment. He frowned as the money disappeared from his dangerously small account balance.

“So,” Vix drawled, “we gonna get paid on this stop, cap’n?”

“Well, maybe. If I don’t buy any food or fuel.”

“Shit,” said Vix, “we barely have enough fuel to make it to Ur-Chaldis after we’re done here! How’re we supposed to salvage anything if we can’t fly? And I am not eating another one of Wehj’s bean and yeast-culture surprises.”

“Hey!” said Wehj. “It’s not my fault we’re out of everything else!”

“So, we’re agreed,” Seth said. “I’ll give you an IOU.”

“You know what I think?”

“Yes, Vix, we know what you think,” said Seth.

“They’ll pay a lot of good money for medical supplies on Artaxerxes. A lot more than the Federation’s paying us to deliver them.”

“I told you before, Vix,” said Seth. “We’re not pirates. We’re not going to steal.”

“And cheating’s so different? Not two months ago you sold an antique dealer a random piece of scrap metal claiming it was a chunk of the Woglinde! Hell, for that matter, how different’s being a scavenger? Isn’t that stealing from the dead?”

“We collect debris from battlefields and sell it. That’s a lot different from taking medicine from refugees!”

“You’re right. This is safer and more lucrative!” countered Vix.

“Forget it,” said Seth. “We’re delivering these supplies and fulfilling our contract. That’s final!”

“Approaching Gate,” said Wehj quietly.

A point of darkness directly ahead of them suddenly expanded into a spherical window, through which they could see stars and the occasional chunk of rock. Then they were through, and the Gate collapsed, the only sign of it a tiny red point at the center of the slowly rotating Generator station.

“Ah, man!” Wehj groaned. “Bethel’s all the way on the other side of the sun. Just our luck, we hit the system this time of year.”

“Can it!” snapped Seth, kicking Wehj’s headrest from his position above and behind the mechanic–as near as he could tell, the only reason the ship’s designers had put the captain’s chair on a movable arm. “It is lucky. We can do a big curve in, do a sensor sweep of most of the system before we get there. Maybe we’ll find something left over from the war!”

“Yeah, right,” said Vix. “This system’s been picked clean a thousand times. Setting course for Bethel, ETA four hours.”

“Hey, my grandma always told me, where there’s life, there’s hope.” Wehj rubbed the back of his head, though his headrest had absorbed almost all of the captain’s blow.

My grandma always said, where there’s life, there’s shit,” Vix countered. She added thoughtfully, “Then she’d get drunk and start screaming about Realians.”

“All right, that’s enough sharing time for me, kids.” Seth returned his chair to ground level and hopped off. “I’m headed below. Let me know if you find anything interesting.”

Fiction Fridays: Fragmentary Fanfiction

Here’s a fragment from a fanfiction that’s been kicking around in my head since, I dunno, seven or eight years ago? I won’t tell you the context or what it’s a fanfiction of, because whatever.

“So you’re saying this is destiny? That we’re, what, the Chosen Ones or something?”

The pretty young man laughed. Behind him, the vines covering the wall wilted, turned brown, and began to rot away. “Don’t be ridiculous. None of you are special. There are trillions of people in this universe–there is absolutely nothing any of you could do that someone, somewhere, can’t do better.”

“Then why–”

“Because you’re here. They’re not. Each and every one of you made decisions that led to more decisions, little ripples in the fabric of time, spreading out, intersecting, interfering with and influencing one another, coming together until you form the bubbling front of a colossal wave, a wave which is coming ashore here.”

The stones beneath his feet cracked with age, splintering into dust as he spread shining wings. “Chosen Ones were how he operated. Me, I decided to wait for the Choosing Ones.” His wings continued to unfold, bigger than eagles’, than swans’, than airliners’. Where they brushed against the steel catwalk above, rust spread across it, red-brown on beams suddenly sagging with metal fatigue. “Now choose!”

The protons in the air around him decayed, blue sparks of Cerenkov radiation lashing out from where he stood. Space shredded with the shriek of tearing silk, if silk could bleed. Wind, hot and stinking, blew past them as he glowed brighter and brighter. “Show me the light of your wills!” he cried. “Show me the power to make the universe other than what it is!”

Then he attacked.

Skipping ahead…

I am still very much stuck on how to make Felda’s training and family life non-boring. So I’m going to jump ahead a bit. In this scene, Felda has just left home, with no idea when or if she will ever return. She is in breach of contract and on the run from the Guild, who intend to repossess Brom. 


The first new thing Felda learned about being an outlaw was that it was vastly less interesting than the books made it out to be. There was a great deal more walking across stubbly wheat fields and a great deal less cutting through dense bracken in dark forests, for starters. At one point in the afternoon, she saw a man a couple of hundred yards away and froze in panic. He waved, then went back to loading his wagon with bales of hay. Most likely not a steely-eyed, stone-hearted Peacekeeper who would, together with his cruel hawk bondling, pursue her relentlessly across the countryside for years, never listening to or caring about her explanations of innocence and extenuating circumstance, then. 
Come dark, she found herself in a fallow field on some strange farm. “I’d better makes us some shelter,” she told Brom. She closed her eyes, concentrated, felt the threads of Earth beneath her. She  felt Brom’s strength flow into her and down into the soil. She knelt, laid a hand on it, gathering threads together, then slowly stood, pulling them upwards. A mound of soil rose, hollow and open at one end, about eight feet long and tall as Felda. 
“Hold it there, Brom,” she said, and he snorted in response. 
Now came the hard part. She reached into the weave of the soil, and bit by bit, carefully, unravelled the threads and spun them together into thicker, courser cords. After about a half hour of work, she opened her eyes. The mound was now a dome of thin but solid gray stone, big enough for the two of them to shelter in. 
“Thanks, Brom,” she said, and gave him a scratch between the ears. Then, exhausted by walking and magic both, she ducked through the dome’s opening, Brom close beside her. She lay back against him, closed her eyes, and was asleep immediately. 
The next day was rather more interesting. 
It began more or less predictably. Felda woke and stepped out into a bright, clear morning. The sun was warm, but a breeze out of the south held just a hint of autumn chill working its way inexorably north. She stretched, then opened one of the packs she’d loaded on Brom’s back. Breakfast was cold meat pie and water, hardly the big, varied, hearty breakfast her father used to–
No. 
Breakfast was adequate. It was time to start walking. 
Ignoring the hot, dense feeling behind her eyes, Felda laid a hand on the dome. Destruction is always easier than creation; in a matter of minutes, the rock collapsed into soil once more. 
“What do you think, Brom?” Felda asked. “Should I enrich the soil as payment?”
Brom said nothing. 
“Yeah, you’re right. Have to keep moving. Let’s go!”
She walked off, Brom trailing her. The hills ahead looked no closer than yesterday, let alone the mountains that loomed above them, but she could make out trees between her and them, scattered at first and then growing denser the farther away she looked, until they blended bluely up into the hills. 
“Maybe we’ll get those dark forests after all,” she remarked to Brom as they walked. By late afternoon they were on the fringes of a wood that extended out from the hills like a long finger pointing home. 
“No such place,” muttered Felda, and skirted the forest, walking gloomily under the eaves of its branches with her head down. 
“Hello,” said a calm, friendly, heavily accented voice from above her.

Felda leaped straight up, then again sideways as soon as she touched the ground. She spun toward the trees and looked up.

The man sitting in a branch was decidedly unusual. He wore a sleeveless belted tunic, leggings, boots, and a hooded cloak, though the hood was thrown back. This was not particularly unusual; they were quite fine, but very travel-stained and had been frequently patched, but that was not in itself hugely odd. The sword hanging from his belt was a little unusual, quite a bit thinner than most swords Felda had seen, but then she’d not seen particularly many swords and from her reading knew there were quite a few types.

His accent was odd–it was both very heavy and not at all one that Felda had heard before–but that merely meant he was from far away, which fit with his clothes. Same with his red-brown complexion–not something she’d seen before, but it fit with the accent and the clothes–he was simply foreign, not unusual.

No, the unusual part was that he had the head of a cat.

Pulling a thread

Onwards with Felda!

Dinner that night was a quiet affair, at least for Felda. She sat in the eye of a cyclone of noise and activity, picking at her food while her mind flowed down the threads connecting her to Brom. Felda supposed it should have been disorienting, seeing and feeling through two minds at once, but she found it surprisingly easy. So while Lal told off the twins–fifteen and full of what Felda’s mother called “barley” and Felda called “being obnoxious little brothers”–for slipping some of their greens onto her plate, and Felda’s sisters Lem and Hanni (eleven and eight, clever and ever-conspiring) chattered rapidly and loudly to one another, Felda slipped away to relax with Brom, even while her body remained at the table.

She could see the stars through his eyes, tiny points of light and color just starting to come out on the east side of the sky. Below them were the mountains, small and dark purple against the darker-purple sky. Somewhere between here and there, Felda knew, were the Blightlands, where the realms of the Dark One had been before the Great War. She liked that they were there–anywhere associated with that many capital letters had to be an interesting neighbor. But they were too flat and low to be visible over the gently rolling hills of southeastern Toftor, and perhaps that was for the best, given the stories.

When she was younger, Felda had tried to imagine it. From her books she had an idea of what war was like back in the olden-times. She could picture the long lines of sword and archer crashing into each other while bondlings tore through them like puppies scattering beetles. She could envision great spells lashing through the air above the armies, fire and lightning exploding. Where her imagination failed, however, was the end of the war. All twelve dragons on the field at once, eleven against one, all the energies of creation imploding against an entire kingdom. A people, a language, a realm, snuffed out in a moment.

The said the Dark One survived, or came back, and lurked around the edges of the world, scheming still. Felda believed it. Everyone knew you couldn’t kill a dragon for very long. Even eleven other dragons probably couldn’t do it for all the centuries since. She was less sure about the stories of his bargains, that he could appear to humans and offer them contracts, his power for their servitude. That made for too good a story to be real.

She finished her food, then asked to be excused. Her mother grunted a reply, then returned to arguing with the twins, while her father attempted to deal with a sudden barrage of questions about whatever it was the girls had gotten in their heads. 
Felda walked outside into the cloudless, moonless night. The last of the sky was fading into darkness now. She looked up at the stars and felt the earth extending just as far beneath her feet. 
She would, she realized, never be able to explain, to anyone in her family, any of what she experienced that day. 
She looked at herself with Brom’s eyes. She had the same straight, thick dark hair as her mother, the same dark eyes with little flecks of lighter brown as her father. Everyone in the family–practically everyone she knew, except Lal and Laal–had the same red-brown skin and oval faces, and like the rest of her family she was tall and wiry. To look at, she was one of them, sister to her brothers and sisters, daughter to her parents. She could walk down to the village and talk to countless cousins and old friends of her parents and children of those old friends. 
But none of them would ever understand what she felt when she felt down into the earth and looked up into the sky. 
She felt something wet and cool in her palm, and a rush of hot air over her fingers. Brom nuzzled her hand, and without looking she ruffled his fur. 
Well, almost none of them. It was getting late. She went back into the house to go to sleep.

Picking up where we left off…

Yes, after all that I realized that the best thing to do with Felda is pick up where I left off.

By late afternoon, Felda was able to follow the threads through Brom and into the ground. There was a vast and shimmering web of threads of every size extending forever in every direction, and now that she could see it–or feel it, or hear it, the sensation was somewhere in between all three–she couldn’t understand how she had never noticed it before.

Everything was different, new, and yet sensible in ways it had never been before. The soil beneath her feet was a dense mesh of incredibly fine and delicate threads, each thinner than the thinnest sewing thread, intertwined with something she couldn’t see. Whatever it was, the threads supported it, fed it, nourished it–“Oh,” she said.

Elmun grinned. “Yes. Those are roots.”

Felda nodded and felt deeper, following the threads down. She had expected some abrupt end to them, where farm-tilled soil ended and rock began, but there was no such boundary to be found. The threads gradually thickened, her family’s work atop her father’s family’s atop his mother’s family’s atop centuries upon centuries of their ancestors working the land, shimmering living threads of soil that slowly thickened and coarsened until Felda found herself down among the rock, huge inflexible bands that were the stone. And yet, at the same time, they were still the same threads as the soil, just woven in a different pattern.

“You’re beginning to get it, aren’t you?” asked Elmun.

“It’s all one thread, isn’t it?” Felda answered. “Bent back and forth who knows how many times, woven with itself to make a strong rope or a light cloth, but still the same thread.”

Elmun grinned. “Congratulations,” he said. “And welcome.”

Felda’s head was still spinning hours after her training ended–much too soon for her taste, but there were chores to be done. The work of the farm could not stop just because Felda was discovering the true underlying reality of the earth itself, and on a late summer afternoon there was plenty of work for her entire family and more. Felda herself spent most of the afternoon picking squash and peppers with Lal and Laal, a pair of migrant workers who had been spending their summers helping Felda’s family since before her parents married.

It was hard to focus when she could feel the earth thrumming beneath her feet, power and joy just waiting for her to figure out how to tap it. Brom’s eyes sparkled as he followed her through the rows of vegetables, carrying large baskets that Felda and the two old women filled with deep green zucchinis, bright yellow squash, and cheery red sweet peppers. Those last were Felda’s favorite, but too exotic and precious for the family to keep for themselves very often. Still, every time she did get one, she was very glad her father had imported the seeds from far-away Wanneth.

She bent to pull some squash from the vine and paused, reaching down to touch the earth. It was barely noticeable, but she could feel just a hint of thread, finer even than in the soil, too fine almost to see, running up through the plant itself. Or at least, she thought she could–it was so faint she couldn’t be sure she wasn’t imagining it. She needed to ask Elmun–

“Oi, girl, enough lollygagging!” snapped Laal, just a trace of a Keiokarnan accent adding music to the otherwise harsh tones. “You lovesick again? It’s not that skinny Guild boy, is it?”

“Always her and the skinny boys,” commented Lal from the other side of the row. “Give me a man with some meat.”

“Really?” asked Laal. “First I’ve heard of anyone giving you a man at all.”

The old ladies laughed, and Felda shook her head. “No, just woolgathering. Training was… interesting.”

“Bah,” said Lal. “This magic of yours. Had a cousin who went in for magic when I was a little one. Went off to the wars so they’d give him a bondling, and we never saw him again. That’s magic for you.”

“Not that I begrudge the help!” Laal patted Brom, tiny black hand against huge black flank. “Glad we don’t have to carry the baskets back and forth when they fill.”

“I’m not going to be in any war,” Felda assured them. Adventures in the mountains of the south or the vast unexplored oceans of the north, sure. But war? No, I’m glad being a bondling doesn’t mean you have to be a warrior anymore. I don’t want to see any wars. “There’s never been a war here, not for hundreds of years.”

“Ah, the old bat knows that,” said Laal. “It’s why we came here in the first place, get away from all the wars up north.”

“There’ll be a war someday,” said Lal gloomily. “Always is, sooner or later. And then do you think they’ll let the girl with the big strong bull stay at home?”

“Don’t frighten the girl! There’s no reason for a war, there’s no one to fight down here. Blightlands on one side, her own countrymen on the other, and nothing else for a hundred miles.” Laal smiled at Felda. “Just ignore her, child.”

“If it isn’t war, it’ll be something else,” Lal said, applying decades of practice in ignoring her wife. “You’ve got power now, girl. People will be looking to use it for you.”

Felda laughed. “You mean like you two using Brom to carry the baskets?” she teased.

Lal merely harrumphed, and they continued working until the sun sat fat and red on the horizon.

Memory

“Memory. That lying scumbucket.”

The woman had green hair and a large, shapeless brown jacket. She sat on the sidewalk, hugging her knees.

“I’m sorry?” I asked. I don’t know why. I normally push past homeless people, since I don’t carry cash and can’t give them anything. It’s embarrassing to have to say, because I think they’ll think I’m lying.

“Can’t trust a memory. You can only remember what you saw, for starters.” Maybe it was the hair. You don’t often see a homeless person with dyed hair.

“That’s… true, I guess?” I said.

“Even then, can’t trust it. Full of holes, and half of what is there is made up anyway.”

“I don’t have any money to give you,” I said.

She ignored me, staring fixedly at a point two feet to my left and who knows how far in the past. “All made up. But it’s what makes now.” She looked up at me, straight into my eyes. “So now’s made up too, you see?” I have only ever once seen a face like that before, on an eight-year-old at her father’s funeral.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

You’re sorry?” she demanded, and then laughed. “How do you think I feel? They’re my memories!”

I stood there for a while in silence, while she stared. She didn’t say anything more.

And now for something completely different…

No, not Monty Python. Man, that phrase is never going to be useable again, is it?

Anyway, I needed to take a break from Felda. I have to once again go back and rework, or more accurately, insert some things. I need to flesh out her family and the community she knows, to better establish the status quo before I break it.

But I also just wrote a new chapter of my MLP (well, Lunaverse, actually) fanfic, so here’s a link to that instead.