August 2022 Archives

Gifts of The Mother will be the follow-up to The Gates to Faerie.

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

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Zeb's companion was unearthly beautiful.

No, he hadn't already found the woman of his dreams. He'd brought along his mentor, a Star Elven woman named Mistyreali. She had long silver hair down to mid-back, curled just enough to notice, flawless alabaster-colored skin, and a build to inspire anyone who was into the thin athletic type. Or even those who weren't. She was six foot six or six foot eight, lean and hard like a long-distance runner. Even her pointed ears and deep violet elongated eyes added to the appeal. Her tunic and trousers of some light gray colored material hung like it was personally tailored to cling to her form like a wet t-shirt might have, but it didn't seem to have problems with stretching as necessary. For some reason she just didn't appeal to me, a thing I was starting to wonder about, but I could see the effect she'd have on most men. The legendary goddesses Artemis or Aphrodite couldn't have done much better. Heck, Zeb himself kept sneaking glances at her as if she hadn't noticed. I could tell she knew she was attractive, intentionally so, and likely even willing to act on the lust she so clearly inspired, but she acted like it just wasn't important right now.

"Zeb, would you like to introduce us to your companion?"

"Oh, pardon! This here's Mistyreali, one o' m' mentors. She's a Star Elf, if'n yas hadn' already figgered 't out.. Mistyreali, this 's Mark Jackson 'n' 's wife Julie."

I noticed Zeb had carefully pronounced her entire name, so I followed suit, "Pleased to meet you Mistyreali. What brings you here this fine evening?"

"My people have services to sell, and we've been told both of your efforts in ending the abuse of The Mother's ritual and that you have some prowess in the form of sales."

I did not say, "I'm all ears" even though it went through my mind. "I shall endeavor to be worthy of your time and trust. What is the nature of your services?"

"We can control the weather to a large extent. We've discovered that your people's farmers might be willing to pay for such services."

Holy shit if that wasn't a minefield! I looked at Julie. I could see she was just as pole-axed as I felt. "Please, I need to talk with my husband for a moment," she said, gesturing to the furniture, "Make yourselves comfortable. If you think it might help, we have a couple of stools in the kitchen that might be easier or more comfortable for someone of your stature, Mistyreali."

"Such a stool would be welcome."

I fetched one of our tall barstools from out of the kitchen, set it next to the couch, and retreated with my wife to the master bedroom.

"Don't do this," she advised, soon as the door was closed, "Even if you somehow get people to believe it and it works, it's an invitation for everyone else to sue for ruining their weather."

"The reason I love women with brains is they stop you from making stupid mistakes, even if you miss the obvious pit gaping in front of you."

"Good that you figured it out, too. The reason I love men with brains is they don't fight the obvious."
"Allow me to let them down gently?"

"That will allow you to accept them as clients for something else, so it's only good sense." She opened the door, I gestured for her to precede me.

Moving The Pieces is the fourth and final novel of Preparations for War. The Calmenan Advancement Mission has enabled the natives to largely throw off their fractal demon overlords, and live in city-states which ally with each other for common protection. Technology is mostly mid-twentieth century, but time has run out - the fractal demons have mobilized to attack the Empire of Humanity, and the seven Gates mean Calmena is a strategic stop on their route.

*******


The jungle in this part of Karnel Peninsula was two levels of canopy. I found myself in a densely shaded area between tree trunks, but smaller vegetation was more sparse than you'd probably expect. The level of light was about equal to having thick curtains over your windows in the middle of the day. It was light enough to know the sun was out, but less than if you'd turned on an ordinary room light, and it was all filtered through vegetation that was slightly yellower than Earth's. Tree leaves overhead, vines, and bugs. Anything bigger had learned to flee humans and demons or gone extinct. Bushes were rare on the jungle floor; the trees blocked too much of the light. It was almost silent; there were no bird analogs on Calmena.

After shrugging out of my parachute, the first order of business was finding Makis, so I headed northwest. He didn't take long to find, although his parachute had caught a tree branch and he was hanging about ten paces up - high enough that just cutting himself loose would result in major injury if not death. He'd started rocking to swing himself back and forth, trying to bring a tree within his grasp. He'd been lucky his parachute hadn't ripped and that the branch he'd caught on poked out far enough so he hadn't been thrown into the tree trunk on impact.

"Makis!"

"Be down in a minute, boss!"

"Not intact you won't. That trunk is too big to get your arms around and if your parachute rips, you'll fall the whole distance. Wait a minute and let me think about this."

He stopped pumping the swinging motion he'd built up, "Don't take too long, boss. The parachute's going to rip sometime."

He was right. My options were limited: I could climb the tree somehow - or make it appear I had by going up the far side and using matris. He knew I was what Calmenans called agaani - gifted - and the local operants were reasonably proficient with that part of matris, but once again he'd expect it to exhaust me. I could tell him to cut himself loose and 'catch' him enough to break his fall. Or I could do what I did.

It was a dirty trick. I ripped his chute myself using matris, but limited how fast I allowed him to fall by pulling upwards on the cords - exactly as if the parachute itself was only ripping slowly. "Ahhhh!..." his panicked cry rang out through the jungle, while the fabric-ripping noise of the parachute was barely audible under it. But it brought him down at a controllable speed into the trunk of the tree and then scraping against the rough bark the rest of the way down, and it didn't require me to pretend to be exhausted because he had no way of knowing I'd used matris.

He ended up sitting in the mud at the base of the tree, parachute cords taut above him to where the remains of the 'chute were still hanging above. His clothes were ripped, he was scraped and bloody and probably had enough splinters to make a good-sized sapling, but he was essentially intact. "You done thinking about it, boss?"

"Yes," I said, deadpan. "Let's get you cleaned up and get out of here. Not necessarily in that order."

He stood up, wobbly, visibly surprised his legs held his weight. "Guess I got lucky." He wriggled out of the harness.

"That you did. You able to walk? The demons behind us aren't going to waste any time."

"You know how to motivate a man. What about the others?"

"If they can't stay ahead of the demons, the two of us aren't going to make a difference." The reality of the war between human and demon on Calmena was harsh, but irrefutable. There was no sense adding a couple more people to the demons' pantry. "Asina knows where we are. If we can get to the road, she'll have a vehicle for us as soon as it can get here." At that point we might be able to run away if we encountered a cohort of manesi, and it wouldn't be suicidal to go back.

"Boss, how did you get out of the plane?"

Setting The Board is third of the four book series. The Calmenan Advancement Mission has enabled the natives to largely throw off their fractal demon overlords, and live in city-states which ally with each other for common protection. Technology is mostly late nineteenth century, edging into the early twentieth.

*******


We were pleasantly full when we took the Portal to Tabbraz, which was a good thing. Food on Hashiboor Continent wasn't a sure thing yet. We had a few bars of Life in our small packs in case it became an issue on the voyage to Yalskarr. Between the safe house in Tabbraz and our new station, we'd be the same as any other passengers on board whatever ship we chose.

The blue sky seemed a little more purple than Earth, and the sunlight streamed a little more orange. It was about forty degrees Celsius, and saturation level humidity. The waterfront stank of excrement and various chemicals. All in all, mid-afternoon on a nice summer day in Tabbraz. Sailing vessels and steamers crowded the docks - it was part of our mission this time to advance the technology to marine diesels. We found a shipping agent to inquire about vessels heading to Yalskarr; the custom was two coppers to the clerks for leads. Ships for their part would register with all the agents because it brought them both cargo and passengers. Everybody came out ahead.

Our first lead was a three-master that would have been recognizable to those who sailed the clipper ships of the 19th century on Earth. The tall masts would be full of sails under weigh, and the hull was designed to cut through the water, outspeeding any steamer. There was something about a sailing vessel catching the wind that spoke to the poet in all of us. This pseudo-clipper and its kind were doomed, but while they lasted they were among the most beautiful of any oceangoing vessels ever made. "Who do I speak to about passage?" Asina inquired of one of the sailors grooming its sides.

"The Captain," he pointed us to a weather beaten man in late middle age - probably early forties, Earth reckoning. This was a working vessel - the Captain was known to his crew. Beautiful uniforms were for passenger liners and the military. His garb was the adapted cotton we'd had engineered to pass for a native plant on Calmena, new and scarce enough that it was the sign of someone prosperous enough to afford it. Nonetheless, his clothes had seen as much hard use as his body. Officers on a working commercial vessel were not gentleman overseers.

"My husband and I would like passage to Yalskarr, Captain."

"Passenger or working?" he asked.

"No objections to working passage," I replied, "I've several years at Windhome Bay as a builder, and my wife as well." I gestured to her clothes. The three small huts we'd built so long ago were now the greatest shipyards on the planet, and those willing to work were well paid for their exertions. The revolution we were going to unleash at Yalskarr would change shipbuilding, but Windhome Bay would still be one of the biggest builders on the planet.

"You're what - Five eights? Five eights and four?" The captain was expressing skepticism in the form of telling me we weren't old enough. The younger age was about sixteen Earth years.

"We're agaani. I'm sixty-four, eight, and three," Asina replied. The operants of Calmena weren't up the standards of Guardians, but they'd been making progress in learning how to handle not only aging, but the wear and tear of hard environments and brutal work. "But we can pay if you need passage money more than crew." She batted her blue eyes at the Captain. It wouldn't go anywhere, but it was still a useful negotiating trick. She turned heads on Earth, where anyone could look young and attractive.

"Three gold each for passage."

"My husband said we worked at Windhome Bay, not that we owned the Yards. Two for the pair of us."

"Two and four each."

"You going to feed us like the Lords of Yarvahs, and give us a palatial cabin? We were looking for common passage. Two and four for the pair of us, and we eat with the crew."

"Two each. You'll displace cargo I can charge for."

Both of us laughed at that, "Not on any ship I've ever seen. You lash it down, and crew and common passengers find sleeping places around it. Two and four, and we eat with the crew."

"Three for the pair. If you're agaani, you'll eat like four crew each."

It was a fact that operants ate more than natural state humans - energy is never free. "With the slop you feed your crew, we'll get worms. Two and six, if your crew can vouch that the food isn't infested. You'll still profit like a water merchant at the Crossroads."

"Agreed. Two and six. Welcome to the Shimarr. We sail at first light."

It was a lot for what shouldn't be any more than a three day passage, but the fleet sailing vessels like Shimarr would be two days faster than the steamships. At this latitude, the prevailing winds blew out of the southeast. Shimarr should be sailing within a few (Earth) degrees of straight downwind to Yalskarr, and we wouldn't have to worry about food for the voyage. If what he fed the crew was too bad, we could eat Life if we had to. Asina checked in with Tellea, We have passage on a vessel named the Shimarr, out of Yalskarr. She's a fast sailer, should be there in three days. I checked in with Staff Private O'Hare, who Sephia had assigned as our contact, with the same message.

Then, we waited. There wasn't much else we could do. We could have wandered around Tabbraz - as Guardians, we'd have been safe enough from the locals, but trouble might have caused us to miss our ship. At least we didn't have a need to go into the city to buy food for our voyage - we were eating with the crew. We found an area between crates in the hold, spread our sleeping mat, and curled up together, Asina a pleasant warmth on my left side as well as a welcoming presence in my mind.


Copyright 2019 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

 



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