Thursday, February 23, 2017
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Young Master Avnar and other male members of House Avnar with powers gathered around the old table that had been used to plan things for generations.
“Why are we still here?” One of the men asked. Burk Avnar was a barbarian of a man and looked the part with his wild beard and large frame. “The action is on Brevick and we're here in neutral territory where nothing is being done!”
Master Avnar sighed. “I would give anything to be able to knock down a couple of houses near here and get it all over with. But we know doing such a thing would be the end of the great houses and the whole system that's been built up since the colonies landed.”
A dapper, slim figure wearing all black leaned forward and said “The patriarch of the family must stay here, by the law, but the rest of us can be sent to Brevick or any other colony. We have many properties and business dealings on Brevick that need to be protected.”
“We were told that Marlton and the others were invincible, that the other houses had no powerful enough members to stop them.” said one chubby man in a suit, Gan. “We even breathed easier when we learned that the only two Halik loyalists with power were killed. How have we lost Brevick?”
Others assented to the question.
“We haven't lost Brevick, yet. Marlton is still alive and the other houses have not been strong enough to consolidate their base of power. The situation is still in flux.” Young master Terk Avnar told the others, and then he smiled. “As a matter of fact, Gannie, I'm thinking of going myself.”
“But that's not possible. When you accepted the mantle and title of your father you became anchored to this world and even this wretched little village.” The man in the suit responded, still chewing on the food he had eaten.
“That is why I am going to temporarily surrender the title to you.”
There was shock in the room. Every one of the others were surprised. Everyone tried to shout over everyone else.
“The rest of us will go and restore order on Brevick.” Terk Avnar said, “We will leave in two days time, everyone be prepared.”
After they left the conference room Dostin had some questions.
“Do you really trust your uncle Gan that much?” Dostin asked.
“Gan has never been anything but scrupulous when it came to the finances of House Avnar, I think I can trust him long enough to put Brevick to rights.” Terk Avnar told his bodyguard. “Besides the others will be with me, Gan will be nothing again once we return.”
Jon Halik lay on his bed with his back to the door, reading from a book when Seri knocked and pushed the door open.
He responded with a hrmph sound, which sounded like permission to enter to the girl. She approached the bed and addressed her fathers back.
“There is something I need to tell you, father.” She began and then searched for the words, “Grandfather says it would cheer you up to know, but, I don't know.”
The book closed and her father turned to face her.
“My dear Seri, what are you trying to say?” he asked, seeming amused.
“I have a power, father. I apologize for not telling you sooner.” She told him and watched the changes in his face, the surprise, the embarrassment, the pride, the worry all making appearances. Finally, he looked at her again and nodded, “I see. Thank you for telling me, Seri.”
It seemed that he thought this talk was over.
“Aren't you curious as to what kind of power?” She asked, “Or why I've decided to tell you now?”
He sighed, “I'm not someone who thinks so slowly. I can guess that you've inherited one of your grandparents powers and that you think you can do something on Brevick. Which is impossible.”
“Grandfather says he doesn't recollect anyone in the family having the power to freeze.” Seri told him, causing him to rub his chin. “Also, I do think I should go to Brevick.”
“Out of the question, Seri. You are not to even think about trying to get involve in the fighting, you are too young and untrained.” her father said, although she would have bet that being trained would have made no difference in his attitude.
“Good night, father.” She said as she left. Seri had already decided that she would find a way to reach Brevick before she reached her own chamber. The question was how to do that without being caught. Each of the great houses had ships docked at High Port, but there was no Halik working on the orbital station at present.
There was a Benjamin Croce and they were allies, presently. Seri would have to bring a Croce into her trust and persuade them to give her clearance and transport to the High Port without alerting her father or grandfather.
Early the next morning Seri was out and about the township and wasn't surprised to find Mars Croce loading a wagon at the Croce warehouse. She nodded to herself and walked right up to the large young man.
“Hello Mars, it's been a while since we've spoken,” Seri said in as friendly a voice she could muster in the cold.
The young man looked surprised to be addressed. “Oh, hello there Seri Halik, why are you here?”
She smiled, “I have a business proposal for your father, Nehemiah Croce. I need to speak with him about an urgent matter.”
The large man scratched his head and looked around, “My father doesn't really want visitors, Seri, he rarely ever leaves the house without bodyguards these days. What with the troubles on some of the other worlds.”
“I'm sure you know all about that, Mars. You are much more intelligent than your father gives you credit for.” Seri told him, he was starting to blush a bit, “By the way, where are these crates and barrels going?”
“Oh, these are going to High Port and from there to Brevick.”
Not doing a good job of containing herself she burst out, “That's perfect. Mars, maybe you can help me instead of your father.”
He seemed confused, “Me? How could I help you? With what?”
“I'll accompany you to the loading port and I'll tell you my idea on the way.” She said taking a hold of one of his thick arms.
“Go to Brevick?” Mars asked, “Are you insane? This is just cargo, you can't sneak into the cargo hold and survive the trip. The hold is filled with argon for the passage through trans space.”
She hadn't known that.
“Your family owns the lift ship, yes?” She asked, he nodded. “Your family also owns the transport that will go to Brevick, right?”
He wiped his face, “Seri, are you trying to get us both arrested or killed?”
“You are a Croce, those crewmen work for you. You are their master.” She explained, “Certainly they will follow your orders if you tell them to give me passage.”
He closed his eyes, “Then what? You will have no documents on High Point, you won't be welcome there.”
“Your uncle Benjamin works on the station, I'm sure he can figure out something. After all, our families are allies are we not? Our families are taking back Brevick together, correct?” Seri told him, she could tell he was falling for her manipulations, “Who knows, maybe our fathers will decide to arrange a marriage...”
The wallmen at the gate to the liftport paid no attention to Seri, despite it being rare to see anyone traveling with Mars Croce before.
“I expected some questions,” she admitted.
“They are very loyal, my family controls the liftport.” He told her, with a wink, “It drives the House Avnar batty though.”
Her first sight of the liftship came as the wagon turned the corner. It wasn't as large as she had expected, there was no way anyone could stowaway on the thing without being noticed. It looked like a big round snail's shell, but painted white with a hatch and small windows at the front. A hatch opened on the side and robotic arms lifted the crates and barrels to pack inside the hold.
“It's not as I expected, Mars. Don't you think you could figure a way to get me on that transport to Brevick?” She asked, squeezing his arm and laying her head on his broad shoulder.
“I'll be in so much trouble if I do, I'd have to go with you.” Mars told her.
Seri was confused for a moment before her expression brightened, “Does that mean you can do it? Will I have time to get my things?”
He sighed, “You really mean this? There's no time to get things, it's leaving very soon.”
She sighed and nodded, “Then let's go. We will keep Brevick free!”
He shook his head, “I just want to keep my hide intact.”
Monday, February 13, 2017
House of Halik
part 2 and 3
The consensus among the workers of High Port was that this small and beat up ship could never have made the journey from Brevick, that this would be some kind of miracle. Two space suited figures were sent out to retrieve the ship as it drifted by the station. They carried two small devices that would let the station's traffic controller move the ship.
“There is nothing sold at the chandlery that would make this wreck space-worthy.” A dock hand named Smyth said to his teammate Douglas. The ship wasn't much larger than a shuttle but was clearly not built to land on a planet.
“You know, I reckon this thing here was used as a tender, to ferry people from ship to ship or from a ship to a station.” Douglas said as he finally got his hands on the banged up outer hull. If he was right, then that truly made its presence here a mystery.
Smyth had found a porthole and was using the lights on his helmet to try and look inside. “Looks a right mess, I say.”
“Just attach the tuggers.” Douglas told him.
The station had received one short message from the craft and nothing more. As if the pilot had reached his destination and then fell unconscious. Once the tuggers were attached the two space suited figures looked into the cockpit to see a man strapped into the pilots seat.
“It's all yours traffic control, you might want to alert the medical team.” Douglas reported in.
A female voice returned to their ears, “Already done that, I'm taking control of the ship, get clear guys.”
“Okay, Belina. We're clear.” Douglas told her.
Belina was the Acting Harbor Master. This would have been a great achievement at her age had she not been assigned to the duty because she belonged to the House of Avnar. The House boasted many members in powerful positions as well as prestigious ones. The Harbor Master of High Port was just a very useful one.
When the small ragged ship was docked and boarded the Medical Team found that the pilot was still alive but wounded. The damage on the ship, besides the wear and tear of age, looked like it had been hit with energy weapons at long distance. It was a miracle the thing managed to limp into trans-space at all, which it was clearly not built to do.
“It is registered to the Orbital Port of Brevick, as one of their harbor tenders.” Their resident researcher said after examining the plaque in the cockpit wall. “I have no idea why anyone would try and get this thing into trans space.”
“Desperate to escape, I suppose.” said the guard posted at the dock. “We all know there has been a power struggle on Brevick recently. Perhaps it has finally come to violence. Although, you would think we might have heard of something like that.”
After her shift was over Belina found the man in charge of the investigation, Benjamin Croce and invited him to her quarters for a drink. When he arrived she answered the door wearing a thin slip that showed her figure almost as if it were entirely transparent. It was close.
“Hello Benjamin.” She said in a soft voice.
The investigator was a bit thrown off. He had known her for months and this was out of character enough that he wanted to laugh. She was not exactly the type. Then again, there weren't that many women on board the station and one did not jeopardize their chances.
“Hello Belina. You look nice.” He told her. For a short and stout maiden. The way she walked when she fetched him a glass of wine was more buffalo than graceful swan. Obviously, she was not accustomed to trying to sweet talk someone like this.
He sat on the couch, he was surprised when she say next to him and leaned against him. “I've been here for months, Benjamin. Everyone seems to want me, but I've been waiting for you.”
He was thinking of just asking “What do you want?”. Then again, maybe she really did want him in her bed. You roll the dice and take your chances in life.
“Benjamin, have you identified the pilot yet?” she asked as she snuggled close and forced his free arm to wrap around her shoulders. “This is nice.”
Benjamin Croce cleared his throat. “His name is Rodgers Blake. I believe he was acting as a courier for someone. We found nothing on the ship, not even a spare shirt. No doubt he has a message in his head to deliver. He'll recover from his wounds I think.”
He felt her hands snaking past the small of his back and his lap. “Rodgers Blake, if he stole that ship just to deliver a message, he's brave or insane.” She said in a voice that was barely audible. She also thought “That message must be very important too.”
Benjamin Croce was suddenly feeling a bit leery of the woman. His suspicions finally outweighed his hormones and he was looking for a reason to get away. Unfortunately she had gotten her arms around him and had pushed him onto his side, with her on top and giggling. Benjamin couldn't push her off, there must have been something in that wine.
Croce remembered that he had been standoffish with this woman since she arrived because she was with the House of Avnar. The House had used its influence to get her appointed as Acting Harbor Master despite her lack of experience. Now he lay there paralyzed while the giggling witch undressed him.
Master Avnar and Dostin waited in the field for their contact. This was supposed to be a secret meeting but Dostin was sure they'd be better off meeting in a crowded public house. Men meeting in a field were bound to be seen as much more suspicious than men having ale together.
There was a pile of leaves in the corner near the treeline. The bored young Avnar shot a fireball at it from his hands. Dostin frowned. Pointlessly showing off that you had such a power was rude. Suddenly the flames turned blue and froze.
“He's here!” Young Master Avnar said loudly. Dostin looked toward the path to make sure no traveller had heard that.
From out of the woods walked a cloaked figure, a sword at their side.
“Finally, do you know how long I waited?” The young man asked. Dostin shook his head, they had been there less than five minutes.
The figure reached up and pushed the cloak back. It was a girl. A rather young girl. Seri Halik.
“Of course I know exactly how long you have been here.” she answered. “Don't bother pretending to have waited all day.”
That would be exactly like young Master Avnar, too. His reputation for being a rude and arrogant man was getting out.
“You have asked me here because of what is happening on Brevick. Your house is close to losing its power base there.” The girl said, “My house would benefit, why should I help you?”
Dostin smiled, she really got to the bottom of things quickly.
“That is very straightforward. Right, then I'll tell you why.” Master Avnar said, “Because your house will soon die out and you can marry into a powerful house.”
Seri smirked, “You are asking me to betray my father and grandfather and marry you?”
Dostin knew that a child produced between them would likely inherit the power of one of the parents, possibly but rarely both. Such a child could grow up powerful indeed.
“I guess you could marry Dostin, then.” The young man shrugged.
The girl smiled. “If that is supposed to be an insult you should apologize to your man Dostin.”
The young master smirked. “I guess that wasn't an insult then.”
“Besides, my grandfather says things are about to change. You know his power. He's always been correct.” Seri told them, she smiled and started to turn, “I'm going to have to say no to marrying you, Terk, it seems I'll be too busy real soon.”
She walked into the woods and was gone. The frozen blue fire had melted away, leaving the pile of leaves intact but wet.
“That girl used my first name, you heard that, right?” Master Avnar asked, getting angry. “She was rude to someone older than she is. Has she no manners? Next time I find her father passed out on the road, I'm taking a dump. Let's get out of here!”
Dostin followed his master after a quick look back at where Seri Halik had disappeared back into the woods.
“I need to know the contents of the message that has been brought. If the girl is telling the truth, it seems House of Halik is the recipient of that message.” Young Master Avnar said, the gears in his mind were turning. The last thing he wanted to see was a resurgence of the competing house. Besides, even if it was able to regain some wealth, without heirs they were doomed anyway.
Seri discreetly watched them leave. She had been a bit thrilled to show off her power for the first time but leave it to the jaded Terk Avnar to not bat an eye. Of course, he would be accustomed to that sort of thing. He had a large family where many of its members had powers. The House of Avnar was extremely powerful and it wasn't only due to their fortune.
If things turned out bad, maybe she would reconsider his offer of marriage. Terk might surprise her and actually become a mature adult eventually. Stranger things have happened. Including Seri realizing that she had a power, the first female in Halik family history as far as anyone knew. There were two other great houses she could try and marry into if things got too bleak, it's not like there was no choice.
They didn't know. She had kept it a secret from her father and grandfather. Grandfather might not approve for one reason or another and father because he had no power. It had skipped a generation and her father felt like a failure and had become a drunk. Too bad grandfather had not brought more sons into the world to keep the family name from dying out.
Seri put the cloak back over her head as she re-entered the village through the eastern gate, the wallmen hardly even looked at her. At one point she saw a large young man carrying a wine barrel and putting it onto a wagon. He turned to look around and she turned her back to him, pretending to look at the apples the old hag Vamira was selling from a cart.
“It was Mars Croce, his father must have sent him.” She thought to herself. His father was Nehemiah Croce who wielded the power of psionics, who also boasted two powerful sons. The man never boasted about Mars, who had no power, even though he was big, strong and intelligent. Mars, though, would rather read a book than practice fighting.
As Mars trundled away with the hand cart and the barrels and other goods from the merchant, Seri turned to the old hag and asked, “These apples aren't poisoned, right?”
The old hag Vamira fumed. “Of course not, horrible child.”
Seri purchased two apples and headed home, the message from Brevick could be received without any notice and she wanted to be there when it came. Whatever it was had grandfather quite excited, he had a twinkle in his good eye again.
When she reached grandfathers bedchamber he was sitting up and her father, looking sober, was seated in a chair next to the bed. They barely acknowledged her when she entered because they seemed to be deep in thought. Perhaps grandfather was seeing something with his mind again.
“The messenger is still aboard High Port.” Her father said, “But he has recovered enough to wake up and we will soon be able to receive the message.”
When Seri approached her grandfathers bed she passed through something she could not see from the other side, and turned to see the holographic video screen floating in the center of the room. A man with wounds and burns on his face, glossy with medi-gel, appeared there.
“My name is Rodgers Blake. I was a Lieutenant for your cousin, Will Halik, before he died back in the war. I continued to work for the Halik family until the end, even after. We allied with the forces loyal to the Croce family and finally, after all this time, we managed to depose the tyrant Governor of Brevick.” The man told them.
“You have done well.” Grandfather said.
“Thank you. With Marlton out of power, a Republic restored, the old properties revert back to the Halik family. Of course, we have to be able to hold on to this victory. Our grip on Brevick is loose and tenuous, which might still be an overstatement.” Rodgers Blake said, “We've lost the only two people with powers we had through assassinations, now... I don't know what is going to happen.”
“Are the Croce forces led by someone with powers?” Seri's father asked.
“Yes, but if we have nothing to show for this, I think the Croce family will be able to push anything to do with Halik right out of the picture.” The man said, “If we can't even be good junior partners in this effort, we'll likely soon be no partner at all.”
“Sounds hopeful but grim.” Grandfather said, “A strange combination.”
“Or grim but hopeful.” Seri muttered mostly to herself.
“Unless you have army you aren't using that you can send...” Rodgers Blake said, “I'm not sure what the future holds, but at least we had something to call a victory. If that tyrant regains office, probably with the Avnar faction, then I am sure his vengeance will be swift.”
“I am heartened that there were some who stayed loyal even after the House of Halik fell onto hard times. I will do what I can to make some alliance with the Croce family, if that will help. Or find some other route if I am able.” Grandfather said, before coughing several times.
“I am ever your servant, sir. Blake out.” The man said and the connection was cut. The holoscreen faded out like a cloud breaking up in the sky.
“Father.” Seri's father said, “We have nothing. There is nothing we can do to send help to these people on Brevick.”
“We'll do something, Jon.” the patriarch said, clearing his throat, “We cannot abandon Brevick.”
“I don't even know how long we can even feed ourselves.” Her father said as he stood up and left the room.
Seri moved her seat closer to the bed. It was time to tell him the truth. It was time for her grandfather to know.
“Grandfather. What we need is someone who has power, who can rally those who side with us, or sympathize with our side, correct?” She asked.
“Yes, Seri child. We don't really need to send an army to another star system, such an undertaking would be far beyond our ability.” He answered her, “If only your father had been given a power at birth, things would be so much different.”
She leaned over to get close to her grandfather and whispered “I have a power.”
His eyes widened. “Is this true?”
Seri nodded. “I didn't want to tell anyone because it might make father more sad than he already is.”
Her grandfather chuckled. “No. I'm the old fashion one. Your father would be overjoyed, he would feel less like a failure if he knew his own daughter had a power.”
Seri was surprised. Is this true? Had she been thinking wrong on this the whole time?
“Send me, Grandfather. Send me to Brevick.” She told him.
He shook his head and weakly waved a hand. “I cannot do that. You are too young and...” he saw the look on her face, “Yes, and because you are a girl. Girls are precious to the human race, such as it is, it is truly biologically necessary for girls to be protected.”
“There are far more females around than necessary to propagate the human race, Grandfather. The House of Halik needs me to go to Brevick.” She told him, “Oh, and where would I have inherited the freezing power anyway?”
“Freezing?” Her grandfather, his thick eyebrows arching. asked. “Your maternal grandmother, I suppose. She was a cold one.”
“Send me to Brevick.” She said.
“You aren't a soldier, Seri.” Her grandfather said, “Besides, your father would have to approve.”
Seri stood up and crossed her arms. “He'll let me, it is the only way.”
Sunday, February 12, 2017
House of Halik -
A young man and his large, muscular friend exited the Public House laughing at a joke only they had heard. The young man wore a short, trimmed beard but his hair had been allowed to go a bit wild. The larger fellow, his hair was trimmed and his beard was taken care of but longer, denoting his age.
After exiting the establishment they found another man lying on the curb, obviously too intoxicated to even get up and go home.
“Would you lookee here, Dostin. If mine eyes are right, I spy Jon Halik, lying on the ground insensible.” He said, then gave a loud laugh.
“He does resemble Mister Halik, sir.” The large man said. “Perhaps we should help him go home before it gets too late.”
“No.” The young man said, “If'n he wants to sleep out under the stars and get pissed on, then he has that right, Dostin.”
Dostin closed his eyes in resignation as the younger man began unfastening the buttons on the front of his pants. “The House of Halik has fallen on hard times, let us not deprive them of the full experience of this poverty.”
Dostin looked away, disgusted. His hand dropped to the hilt of the sword at his waist as he scanned for any enemy that might attack his master. But it was dark outside and most everyone was already at home sleeping.
“The bum doesn't even react.” The young man, rearing a leg back and delivering a kick to the prone man's stomach, eliciting a groan. “That's better. The Halik lives, Dostin, you are my witness.”
“Master Avnar, let us get back to the House before the brawgs show up.” Dostin said, the pack of wild brawgs would likely attack anyone caught outside.
“Jon Halik will be fine, the brawgs won't attack one of their own kind.” Master Avnar said, laughing at his own wit. The old boast by a younger Jon Halik that he could fight like a brawg was just bragging, besides he lost more fights than he had ever won.
“We shouldn't leave him here.” Dostin said, but the public house was closing.
Master Avnar waved a hand in the air and sighed. “Look, we'll just get the wallman Diggs to fetch him home.”
“Very good, master.” The big man said as they walked toward the middle of the walled village where a tower stood at the intersection of the four great houses. The wallman came out and looked down at them from his perch.
“What are you doing out here? Do not you know what time it be?” The stout older man with a gray-streaked beard to the top of his stomach called to them.
“It is I, Dostin, man of his Master Avnar of House Avnar.” Dostin responded. “Jon Halik lays inebriated in front of the public house near the east wall. You would be a credit to the order of the wall if you would fetch him home.”
As annoyed as wallman Diggs was, it was his job. He had his post at the center of the village specifically to guard and assist the great houses. Halik was no longer quite so great but it had been in recent memory. Diggs climbed down from the tower and proceeded to do as told.
“If the brawgs come over the wall while I am carrying him, I will let them have him and escape.” The old man told himself with a laugh. When he found the drunken Jon Halik, he adjusted the strap on his weapon, slinging it to his back. Then he picked up Halik as if he weighed what a small child would.
“You smell like a latrine.” The wallman told the unconscious form as he carried him. “What is your father going to think about this? You have a child, man. You aren't a young prawn any longer. Pull it together.”
Diggs found the formerly majestic front gate of the House of Halik where only one torch was burning instead of the customary eight of the old days. Once upon a time this House would have fielded its own army of guards, now the gate was unguarded.
Diggs lowered the man to the ground and then pulled the cord that would ring a bell inside. He waited for any kind of sign that they had heard. He was only going to do this one more time, and then get back to his tower. He reached his hand toward the cord for another yank when one side of the great double-door opened.
“What is it?” A feminine voice inquired.
“Jon Halik, he's passed out and all.” Diggs said. The gate opened a bit more and a small girl rushed to the man on the ground. Her hair was in a long tail behind her and she was wearing a thick white bed gown to her ankles. Diggs didn't remember her name.
“Father!” She said, “Spending all day getting drunk again, I see.”
“Shall I ferry him to his bed?” Diggs asked.
“No.” The girl answered, “We'll handle it from here.”
Diggs turned to leave but stopped and looked back. “Just get him inside before any brawgs show up.”
“Yes.” The girl said. Diggs slowly shook his head and walked back to his watch tower. One upon a time Jon Halik looked like a sure thing to become a Baron. Winning that title would have saved his family from their present misfortune. Now they lived in a large house, full of history and grandeur that the people alive there could not live up to.
After returning to his tower he pulled his weapon and checked the settings. Yes, if the brawgs somehow got past the outer wall and showed up he could get some of them. His energy weapon was good for a couple hundred yards, and it had a quarter charge.
Halik, he still had some respect for the name after all.
The girl ran through the dark corridors of House Halik after hearing the voice of her grandfather, and found him sitting up in bed. He was looking far older than his years and his silver beard was unkempt.
“Where is my son?” The old man demanded.
“He is sleeping, he was not feeling well, grandfather.” The girl said, meekly.
“My son needs to be at my side when word from Brevick has been received.” The man said with some finality.
“Yes, grandfather. But there are no ships from Brevick waiting for port.” the girl said.
“There will be. The message will come soon enough.” The Halik patriarch boomed, “I will need my son here with me.”
Seri was a filial granddaughter. It was impossible for her to argue with the men of the house, even her own father. She mentally kicked herself for thinking like that. With everyone else looking down on him and thinking him a failure, she very well should not.
“Yes, grandfather.” She responded. “He shall.”
With that she took her leave. Outside of the door she leaned against a wall and took deep breaths, it had gone better than expected. It was thought that grandfather Halik was senile and that he did not truly understand the present misfortunes of House Halik. That he was still living the glory days of years past.
If grandfather said there would be a message from Brevick, then there would be. Possibly he had the timing misjudged but that message would arrive eventually. He had the sight. His visions had been more precise and timely when he was younger, but always he had the sight.
Seri's father had not inherited the sight. This had been quite shocking to grandfather. As shocking as losing two other sons in their infancy had been. The House Halik was hanging by a thread and there were no sons of Jon Halik to make things right. Her father had tried to produce a son, he had spread his seed to no avail. Seri had quite a few half-sisters out there somewhere.
“What could possibly be so important from Brevick?” She muttered as she navigated the tight, dark labyrinth of the House. Why was grandfather so worked up over it? If he had told them anything more they wouldn't be so anxious about it.
Once upon a time House Halik had owned properties on Brevick, but those had been lost along with everything else. Instead of a great House receiving treasure and goods from other worlds, today they could hardly afford enough torches for the night. Instead of a small army of guards and their own starships, they had fallen to this. Seri kept a blade strapped to her leg in her own house.
Upon entering her suite she locked the door and threw off the bedclothes she wore. It was itchy and stifling hot. Seri would rather it be winter where she could at least be comfortable under a pile of blankets. The House once had a cooling system but hadn't worked since Seri could remember, the house was two centuries old after all.
It was nearly noon before Master Avnar woke up, washed up and gone downstairs for his first meal of the day. Dostin was waiting in the corridor outside the bedroom and followed him as a loyal bodygiard should.
“Good morning Master Avnar.” Dostin said pleasantly.
The young man stopped and looked at his servant with an appalled look on his face. “Can you say that again without the sunny disposition? It was so sweet I won't need honey in my tea.”
Dostin nodded and in a deep growl, as if grief would overtake him he said, “Good morning, Master Avnar.”
“Appropriately funereal.” The younger man said, satisfied, as they started their quest for the dining room once more. “The worst part of it, is that it's not noon yet. I hate mornings.”
“Yes sir.” Dostin said, in a deep gravelly voice to play along.
Finally they found the kitchen empty. The young man crossed his arms. “Who is going to make breakfast since the cook seems to have gone missing?”
“Shall I?” Dostin offered.
Again the young man waved a hand. “No, no. I shall do this myself.”
Dostin feigned shock.
Master Avnar sliced two pieces of bread and laid them on a metal platter. Then he laid three strips of raw bacon nearby, finally he cracked an egg right in the center. He picked up the platter and carried it to the table as Dostin followed, rolling his eyes.
When the metal platter hit the table, the bread was toasted, the egg was fried and the bacon was cooked nicely. Master Avnar liked to show off his power like this, even if Dostin was the only audience.
“I forgot the coffee.” Master Avnar said, and quickly there was water and crushed coffee beans in front of him. Dostin had seen this coming. It was a regular routine for his master after all.
“Have you eaten, Dostin?” Master Avnar asked absently as he spooned some eggs into his mouth.
“Hours ago, sir.”
“Any news? Please tell me that it's no longer morning.”
“A few minutes of morning still remain, sir.” Dostin informed him. “As for news, there was a crippled ship that made port this morning. Seems as if most of its systems were out and there were signs of battle damage.”
“Battle damage?” Mater Avnar asked, perking up. “Where did this ship originate?”
Avnar nodded. “I shall have to inquire of this further.”
Monday, January 23, 2017
Arrival in Baggle
Anpor was a beacon of hope for people around the world, and lately, this was especially true for the residents of Carn Isla. They were coming over by the boatload to Baggle, the biggest city, in Anpor where they would be second-class citizens, toiling away at the most menial of jobs.
But that there were jobs at all made it leaps and bounds better than staying and starving on the ancestral island. Certainly you'd scrimp and save in Anpor, but you had no real chance back home. There was plentiful food in Anpor, expensive, but there was often nothing to buy back in Carn Isla.
Katerin Smalley wrote back to her kin that Anpor was the greatest nation on Earth, even while living in the tenement slums of the poorest district of Baggle. Most others who had come to Anpor before the Carn Islans looked down on them, mistreated them and were continually surprised by how patriotic these newcomers were.
Two weeks in the bowels of the steadily rocking ship, Yeoman, had left Yalan sick to his stomach. He would be vomiting a lot if he had eaten enough to purge. All he had was a ratty old mattress in the crowded storeroom with more stains than he cared to count, interestingly of many different colors.
The sound of the bells from above got everyones attention. The furry wolfish female in the cot next to his growled and snapped at him when he perked up. This Perkin was ancient, she should know by now that Carn Islaners had no interest in her species. They were completely incompatible.
Yalan might be small enough to make a good thief, when healthy, but those crowded into the hold with him were as poor as he was. He had a hidden pocket in his trousers where he had a small, shiny coin of melulin. It would be enough to keep the immigration inspectors from declaring him a vagrant and sending him back across that heaving and hateful ocean.
Baggle was home to many species, they mixed but they never matched. They all lived in the same crowded city and got along, more or less, by ignoring everyone else. The politics of Baggle was controlled by bosses, most of them were of the Prosters or Poshists persuasion. Elections there were often fought with fists and sticks or bricks.
It didn't matter. It was still better than starving to death in Carn Isla. At least in a city like Baggle one had the chance to work and survive. When he was invited by his cousin Dandru Lin, he accepted without having to think about it. He had thought about crossing for years before the invitation and Yalan was as ready as ever.
It tooks months of begging all of his kin and backbreaking work to scrounge up the resources to get a passage scrip on a ship and the coin. He hadn't eaten much on the voyage, finding the tossing and rocking of the vessel made him ill. He drank water and ate enough gruel, in his estimation, to not die.
The bells. The dark hold was lit up as someone opened a hatch, Yalan joined everyone else in getting up and moving toward the exits. A shout went up. The spires and towers of Baggle were seen in the distance, after weeks of merely existing, excitement was bubbling forth. The land of opportunity was within a days reach, and Yalan found himself being shoved aside by all of the larger species crushing to get a glimpse.
Through the hatch and up the stairwells, Yalan found a railing to stand on, keeping stable by wrapping his toes around it. In the distance, just a shadow loomed through some fog. Towers and spires could be made out, larger than any constructed back in his home nation. Yalans' mind hardly conceived how such a thing were possible, such wealth.
They say Baggle never stands still. Commerce moves at a rapid pace and this is where the opportunity was created. For while the currency of Carn Isla was usually hoarded jealously, here it was spent or invested in new things. There was no opportunity for the truly poor back home, some escaped through the work houses, hiring out to serve the wealthy or doing things not talked about in polite company.
Here, though... Yalan grinned at the thought, “here”, he was definitely here. Here the poor had a chance in a bustling crowded city where commerce was king. A poor girl might sell hot corn in the Autumn and sweep the street in winter to make enough coin to live another day, poor boys could sell news sheets and do manual labor.
Dandru Lin had written about her experiences, good and bad. How she finally rented a tenement in the Middle Points District, took in sewing, did laundry, sold corn and many other things. Somehow she had survived and met a fellow Carn Islan emigre named Isra, whom she bonded.
Just before the star dipped below the horizon Yalan was able to see the city of Baggle close up, it was a marvel. It seemed to be larger than all of Carn Isla, and as tall as the clouds. There were many other ships coming and going, churning steam while some used windsails. The city might not physically move but the commerce never stopped, he could feel the vibrancy of the place just from the shipping alone. No sleepy burg was this.
The ship was ported the next morning as soon as the star gave its light. Gangplanks were erected and the passengers were quick to walk down and touch the land of Anpor. They were divided between species and then by male and female to different points of the immigration process. It seemed that Carn Islans made up almost half of this batch.
Yalan found himself lined up with other Carn Islans waiting in a long snaking line into a large, wide brick building. Soon they were prodded and poked through a healths screen. The medic attendant declared him healthy “besides seasickness” and he was graduated to the next table.
The little furry official with round bifocals looked at Yalan and asked, “Have you any family in Anpor? Who is your contact? Guarantor?”
“My cousin, Dandru Lin... “ He answered while digging through his small bag for the official invitation document, “Here it is.”
The official looked closely at the piece of paper and then stamped it. Then he looked at Yalan again, “Are you going to be a burden on society? How will you support yourself?”
“I have worked cutting wood, as a cobbler, I have worked on farms too. I have a strong work ethic and I would..” Yalan paused, maybe he misunderstood, “Are you asking if I'm broke?”
“Yes, sorry about that,” the creature answered with a grin.
Yalan reached into his trousers, which caused some alarm, but he pulled out the coin.
After examining the coin and weighing it to make sure it was real melulin, which weighed more than almost anything else of the same size, he was satisfied.
“That's worth about 12 pops at the present M price, so you aren't indigent according to the law. Fill out this information card and then wait over there until you get your official paper. After that, welcome to Anpor, you are a free citizen.”
“That's it?” Yalan asked.
“The free immigration period ends in a few years, maybe it won't be renewed next time. For now, though, yes that is all.” The official waved him through.
As he waited for his official document he watched the street outside. It was busy, so many people and so many species walking one way or the other, wagons, handcarts and trolleys in the street moving as if they had to get somewhere important.
You could get an idea of the social ladder by seeing how they were dressed. A young Carn Islan boy in rags was selling newsheets and a passing Poshist purchased one. The Poshist was wearing a fine, clean gray suit and read the headlines for a moment before another poor Carn Isla boy offered to black his boots for him. This made Yalan a bit shamed of the patched rags he wore.
His cousin had described all of this to him in her letters, Yalan marveled at her accuracy.
Yalan was free. With his official papers and ID card, he was walking. The sidewalks were wide, the buildings were tall and there were so many storefronts. A hulkish Walan hawking tomatoes from a pushcart said “Good day, sir” as he passed.
Yalan never expected to see so many of different species getting along. The walking and the freedom made him feel better, no more seasickness. Instead his stomach was rumbling and demanding food while his brain was trying to figure out the way to find his cousins home.
Yalan didn't want to spend the coin but after eating so little on the voyage, the hunger was real and insistent. He found a Carn Isla woman selling bread loaves on the street.
“Two pence!” She stated the price.
“I only have this coin, I don't suppose you could...”
She looked disappointed, “Do you really think a poor woman like me is going to be able to change that, sir?”
“I'm sorry. Are you from Shiredun?” He asked.
“Yes, I guess I still have my accent. I'm Arvi-aya from the Aya clan, kind sir.” She informed him.
“Good fortune to find someone who was a neighbor back home in the old country! I am Yalan, of the Iva clan.” Yalan exclaimed, “Miss Arvi, could you tell me where I can make change for this coin? Therefor allowing me to purchase bread loaves from you?”
After being told that a bank was nearby, Yalan returned with a pocket full of smaller denomination coins to purchase bread.
“Do you happen to know the best way to reach the Middle Points neighborhood? I am due at the home of my cousin in the Fourteen Dorchester building,” Yalan said, finishing off the first bread loaf.
The woman shook her head, “You really are fresh off the boat, ain't ya? I live right by there, I know it well.”
Yalan followed her instructions, but wondered if it was correct as the buildings got smaller, more squat and everything became dirtier and more squalid. Then he found a street sign, Dorchester and followed it to building number 14.
It was a four-story building and looked to have several tiny apartments on each floor. Once inside he climbed the steps to the third floor, loosening his collar as the air was warm and unfresh. Finally he found the right door, with the broken 32 and knocked.
Monday, December 26, 2016
Encounter with a Titan
As they climbed down an access ladder, because there were no lifts in evidence, it occurred to Tamita that the darkened corridor also had a higher ceiling than the rest of the ship she had seen. It was like they had simply welded another ship to the front of the Salutem Novis. She meant to bring this up to Jay Johnson but they were both climbing silently.
Finally they reached the next lower deck. Here she was certain the ceiling was higher. Much higher.
“Jay, the ceiling.” she said. He looked up and nodded “Yeah, I noticed that too.”
The main computer spoke to them “I had registered larger spaces through a radar scan but it was not nearly detailed enough to see how large it was exactly.”
They began walking but stopped. There was no corridor here. Instead there was a huge door hatch, and Jay did not see any device that would open it. “I don't know what is going on here, but something is definitely going on.”
Tamita nodded. “I'm not sure I really want to meet what uses this door.”
“Good point.” Jay agreed. “Computer, maybe it would safer to get back to where we belong.”
The main computer answered “I leave this up to you, as the human crew. If you feel it is too dangerous to continue, then by all means return. A hatch that measures 3 meters wide and 8 meters tall is quite a mystery.”
“Everything here looks like part of a different ship.” Jay said “This hatch looks like it might not even be a human one.”
“It's cold here too.” Tamita said “Quite a bit colder, actually.”
Jay nodded, it hadn't registered yet with him but she was right. “What could be the purpose of all this? You don't think it's some kind of protective buffer?”
The main computer “Negative. That possibility is quite remote.”
Tamita was shivering and tapping a foot “I don't want to stay here any more. Can we just leave?”
Jay put an arm around her and started back toward the access ladder. “After we reprogram the Rovers I could come back with a few of them and I can be armed. Then maybe we could find a way to see what is on the other side of that.”
Jay Johnson took off the wrist device and laid it on the floor, facing the hatch. Then he and Tamita climbed back up the ladder past where the ceiling was.
“Why did you do that?” she asked him looking down at him, noticing that he stopped climbing.
“Just a hunch.” he answered “Okay, lets go.”
So they climbed back the way they came and walked back to where they had left Gopher.
“If we go down a couple of decks we should be where that chamber is but on the other side.” he told her as they moved “I have a feeling there is a wall and not a hatch. There are probably not many routes into the dark part of the ship.”
“Okay, so why would they attach another vessel to the front of this one?” Tamita stopped and asked “That doesn't make any sense”.
Jay walked back to her and put an arm around her shoulder, again and walked again. Keep moving, he was trying to say without words. “Maybe the project chiefs didn't know about it. The world was falling into chaos, after all, maybe someone chose that time to make a secret addition.”
“You think there are stowaways?” she asked stopping again.
“Could be!” he said “Just keep walking.”
She looked back into the darker corridor. “There may be other people on this ship with us?”
“Come on” Jay said, this time holding her hand “Gopher is waiting for us.”
The little robot was watching them as they approached. “Gopher, I'm not going down there again without a plasma laser rifle and an army of droids.”
“Droids? Isn't that a fictional designation for robots?” Gopher asked
Tamita said “Don't listen to him. He missed you.”
Gopher moved in front of them and faced him as he walked. “You have formed an emotional attachment to Gopher, shall we hug?” It asked holding its arms wide and stopping. Jay walked right into it “Stop it, this isn't funny.” he said pushing Gophers closing arms away.
Tamita was laughing though.
“Listen, this is serious. I want to find out what is on this ship with us.” he told them “Then I want to know what we can do about it.”
With incomplete information there was no answer to these questions, the computer knew. If indeed there was a presence of other persons or things aboard, then it needed to be assessed whether they might be hostile or non-violent. They seemed to be hiding, this would suggest they did not want to be found and possibly not be offensively hostile. The best course of action in that instance would be to leave them alone.
Something had reprogrammed the rovers and the service modules though and left no real sign of how or why they had done it. That, the computer thought, had been a very hostile act.
“Options, computer, let's hear them.” Jay Johnson said as they entered the room that had become their main room. The two humans sat at the small round table and Gopher hovered nearby.
“If there are indeed others aboard they might possibly be non-violent, preferring to stay hidden. If these persons were responsible for the programming faults of the rovers and service modules, then I would have to classify them as malevolent.” the computer said “The options are, assuming again that they exist and that they are hostile, to completely blockade the few access corridors available. Or, your suggestion, send you in with arms and rovers programmed to defend you. Or I could place you both back into cryogenic suspension to protect you from harm.”
The humans looked a bit stunned by the last suggestion.
“If those things are hostile and responsible for damaging the ship, you can't afford not to have humans around.” Jay Johnson said.
“It would feel kind of strange to wall the area off without knowing for sure what is there.” Tamita said looking at the table top. “Not that I would mind feeling weird.”
Jay nodded “Have you manufactured the new rover computer cores?”
The main computer answered “Yes, Jay. They are available whenever you are prepared to install them.”
“If something in that part of the ship tampered with them before, they could do it again.” Tamita said “Going down there with an army of rovers that might turn against you seems really stupid.”
After some silence, during which the computer noted that Tamita took Jay Johnson's hands into her own as they stared into each others eyes. “I can design and produce what is called an interrupt function, or as you might say, a dead-mans' switch. One that would allow you to shut down the rovers with the touch of a button.”
“I guess I have to do it.” Jay said quietly to Tamita before adding loudly and looking at the terminal on the wall “But I'm going to be armed, okay?”
The switch would be on his belt. He would wear a multi-functional wristband this time as well as carry a plasma pulse laser rifle slung over his shoulder. Before this, though, he would make a space walk outside of the bridge dome and put new cores into 6 of the tiger-like rovers. While there were more rovers locked into a storage shelter, it was decided that these rovers would be the ones to use.
Jay Johnson wasn't exactly sure how they were picked but it happened. Each of them, after being reprogrammed, would have certain attachments to make them into his army. One of them would carry a scanner and jamming system, while another would carry a grenade launcher. Just as a for instance.
“Okay, recruits, fall into line.” he ordered them and they complied. They followed him into the airlock and then out into the corridor. Tamita backed up, she was still afraid of them. Jay smiled and took off his helmet. “I'll get the suit off and then I'll be right back.”
Soon enough they were back into their main room. The computer had something to report to them using the holographic monitor there. The six rovers were waiting patiently outside in the corridor.
“Using the scanning device that Jay Johnson left outside of the hatch in the dark area of the ship I was able to determine that something was moving inside.” the computer said “It is very sketchy but there is most certainly movement.”
An ink blot would have more detail than the images they were being shown.
“I see you do not understand. Let me superimpose the hatch.”
Then the same static-type movement was shown overlaying an image of the enormous hatch, whatever was moving in there was very large.
“That is not a human.” Tamita said “That thing must be at least eighteen feet tall.”
Jay Johnson suddenly felt like his gun was not big enough. “Computer do you have emergency hatch doors if this thing suddenly pulled free from the rest of the ship?”
After a second it answered “Assuming it did so without causing structural damage, yes. I do not understand how the question is germane. Do you have reason to believe that this entity has the ability to separate from the rest of the ship?”
“No.” he admitted “It's just a feeling.”
Then after another moment he asked. “Do you have a way to check how that section is actually physically connected? If you do, check to see if it was added with explosive bolts. If not, I would feel better about all this.”
The computer answered “Yes. I can send nanites into the ship to find out the answer to this query.”
“Nanites?” Tamita asked “You mean you have some of those microscopic robots on board?”
The computer answered “Affirmative. They are invaluable for any number of roles. They repair micro-circuitry, they clean the interior of the ship and other things.”
Jay Johnson stood up and checked the way the gun sling hung from his shoulder “All right. I guess we should get this show on the road.”
“If it gets too dangerous...” Tamita told him “Just get out of there.”
He nodded. “Hopefully it's not hostile. It might not have been it or he or whatever, that sabotage the robots before. We just do not know.”
Tamita walked up to him and kissed him “You better come back.”
“Oh, I will! I'm not that brave.” he told her “The rovers can do the real fighting.”
“Then hurry up.” she told him.
She watched him and the six rovers leave and turn down a corridor. “Okay Gopher, we have some work to do too.”
When Jay and the rovers reached the access ladder he suddenly wondered if these rovers could climb, then he remembered how agile they were. They had no problem climbing the ladder to the deck with the enormous hatch.
“Signals.” he called number six, the one with the scanner and jammer “Can you open that hatch? I mean, I order you to open the hatch.”
The robot pointed itself at the hatch and Jay could hear it send radio frequencies going from low to high and back again. Then hatch clicked.
“Attention!” he said and all the robots were suddenly prepared to do combat. The hatch had unlocked but it did not open automatically “Number One, open the hatch”. The rover put its back legs against the frame of pushed the huge hatch open several feet and then walked back to its position.
Jay Johnson expected something to burst out of the doors but it was quiet. He took a sensor ball from his pocket, another device manufactured by the ship and threw it into the opening in the hatch. He looked at a small screen on his wrist device.
It was dark inside. He saw some shadows, that looked like boxes and crates or furniture. Of course everything he saw was much larger than it should have been. Whatever that huge thing was it was hiding in the shadows. So instead of it being the one to charge Jay, he and the rovers would have to do the charging.
“Okay, go in and spread out, spotlights on.” he told the rovers and they immediately jumped to follow his commands and he followed them in, with his weapon at the ready. He climbed into the hatch and dropped to one knee once he was inside, he scanned back and forth with the gun. The spotlights of the rovers were not as bright or as effective as he had hoped.
“This place really is huge.” he said, knowing the computer had probably already started scanning and mapping it. One of the rovers made a noise and the others all turned in the same direction, so Jay followed them through the gun sight.
Suddenly something in the shadows rose up and up. It was probably even taller than they had first thought, and it was most definitely some type of robot. The lights showed its legs, its torso, some of the long arms and large claw-hands.
Finally the lights of the rovers illuminated the top. Jay fell onto his butt and began backing up toward the hatch door. Up at the place where some sort of robot head should be was the body of a man, it was connected to the huge metal frame through where its arms, legs and the top of his head should be.
Jay felt like he would throw up. His legs wouldn't work right, he was trying to stand up so he could get out of there. He was in the doorway of the hatch when he heard a cackle.
“Run, frightened mouse, run” its metallic voice said “I am the titan who shall inherit the Earth, not you puny pathetic humans!”
“Rovers, attack!” Jay yelled, but he was a bit behind the times. He hadn't seen that this titan had his own robotic army closing in on them. The rovers launched their grenades and fired their guns but the other robots also attacked. A nearby explosion threw Jay completely out of the chamber and past the open hatch.
“Don't think I'm not grateful you've let me out of my prison. I'll reward you with a quick death!” the voice reverberated. Jay told himself this guy or thing had seen way too many bad movies, but seems to have forgotten that the bad guys don't win. Usually.
Another explosion at the hatch as he was climbing the ladder got his attention. The hatch swung open from the blast and pieces of rovers littered the floor between him and the hatch. Finally two rovers backed out of the hatchway firing laser blasts into the chamber. Jay couldn't see much but he returned some fire too.
Jay began to climb frantically. Let the rovers slow them down a bit if they could.
“Computer, if there is a way to separate this part from the rest of the ship, it would be a great idea to do it now.” he said as he reached the top of the ladder and began running up the corridor as fast as he could.
“Not possible.” the computer answered.