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The Ice Queen – Blood and Ice Wolves: Chapter 8

Chapter 8 – Ice Storm

Feyt watched Aterius bandage Muroc’s leg. The three of them were under an impromptu lean-to tent made of a canvas tarp Dokara and Seelus had set up. They had chosen a good spot next to a sheltering wall of ice that blocked most of the cold north wind. With the canvas cover overhead it’s almost homey, Feyt thought. They had not moved far after the accident, so Muroc could be tended to. A sharp edge on the ice had cut him and his leg was badly bruised from being trapped between the large chunks of ice. Feyt could hear the rest of the group outside preparing their own beds. Gairet and Tauras were, as usual, arguing about something.

As Aterius wrapped a final strip of cloth around the wound, he said conversationally, “You know, you are a terrible patient.”

“Maybe,” Muroc grumbled. “But we still cannot stay here another day. The storm’s coming.”

Aterius sighed, “True. Are you sure you can walk?”

“Ha! You’ll have trouble keeping up with me.”

“Rip your stitches and we may not make it across the broken lands. Edon’s not far.” Feyt’s ears perked up. Edon? Aterius went on.

“It’s still going to take an effort to get there tomorrow. You know how slow it is to travel here in the Broken Lands. We do not want any more accidents with the ice either. And that storm is going to be here tomorrow.”

“Yes, I know. I have been across here a dozen times and this is the first big icefall I have fallen victim to. If fortune favors us, we will be fine.”

Wryly Aterius responded, “So now, the great and careful Muroc is an optimist?”

“Oh, leave it go,” he groused. Looking past Aterius, Muroc saw Feyt was still there. “I owe you both. That was a risky thing to come down into the icefall with me. I won’t be forgetting it.”

Feyt was embarrassed at the gratitude, but Aterius admonished Muroc. “You won’t distract me with compliments. Get to sleep. You need as much sleep as you can get tonight. Tomorrow won’t be easy when you stiffen up.” He motioned Feyt out first and followed behind him.

From under the canvas, they heard Muroc say crossly, “I’ll sleep. Like a baby. Don’t start taking a liking to bossing me around, though. Tomorrow, stiff or not, I’ll be pushing you all to move faster.”

A few feet away, a small fire flickered invitingly in the wind next to where their packs lay. Feyt wondered where they found anything to burn here. As he stepped close, he saw a small stack of short broken boards. One of them must have scrounged some of the wood as they passed Anchorfief. That reminds me.

Moving around him to stand close to the fire, Aterius stared into it quietly.

Feyt cleared his throat. “He’s not happy.”

“Ha. Muroc is only happy when he can be cross. Be assured, he is in good shape overall and knowing him, I expect he will be back in his normal form tomorrow, though sore and stiff.”

“Aterius, I… I was wondering if you could tell me about what happed to Anchorfief.”

“Ah. I did say I would, did I not? Hmmm. Let me think. Where to begin? What do you know of history, Feyt?”

“Um, not much. I just hear what the others in Caernall talk about, I suppose.”

“Not much then?” His smile showed amusement. “This area here, the Broken Lands, used to be a part of the Northern Sea many years ago. Anchorfief, those shattered pieces of wood back there, used to be a major city on the coast. It once had the greatest fleet of ships the North has ever seen in its harbor. But that fleet wasn’t Anchorfief’s. It was Edon’s fleet. Anchorfief was the chief mainland port for Edon. Ever hear of Edon?” He paused looking at Feyt.

“I’m not sure. Was that the Kingdom of the North the old women tell stories about?”

“Yes,” he smiled. “But they all aren’t fairytales, Feyt. Edon was the last great kingdom in the North before the Ice. In fact, the coming of the Ice and the fall of Edon happened at the same time. “

“You mean there hasn’t been ice always?” Feyt knew some the old villagers talked about warmer days in the past, but his entire life he had only known the perpetual winter.

“No. Once Edon lay on a beautiful green island. It had one large central peak, which is the mountain you have seen ahead of us. That is where Muroc expects we will find the ice wolves. But on that island, somewhere buried in the ice near the base of the mountain, lies the city of Edonhall, capital of Edon, the Great Northern Kingdom.

“From Edon, the last great king, Graerfin, ruled all the northern lands as far south as Eras Holm, and as far east as the Sorrowful Mountains. The fleets of Edonhall were the mightiest in the western lands.” Aterius bent over and opened his pack. Fishing out a long stemmed pipe, he stood back up and began to poke some smoke-weed into it. He continued.

“Then the Ice appeared suddenly. The histories I was taught say, when the Age of Ice started, the entire mountain and center of the island was frozen in an instant. Edonhall disappeared under it with all her people. The royal family was lost along with the entire populace. The great fleet and Edon’s armies were without a leader.

“With King Graerfin suddenly gone, the Admiral of the Fleet, Asaerdas, assumed the throne and moved his capital to Anchorfief making it the capital of Edon’s empire after that. But the Ice had weakened the empire tremendously. Many of Edon’s allies and vassal states fell away. Either right away, like Ergas Holm, or in the passing years like Myrthrall and Estigas.

Aterius bent to the fire. Plucking up piece of a burning stick, he lit his pipe. Then stood back up. He drew a deep breath in and blew out a large puff of smoke. He smiled and sighed, the he went back to his story, taking smaller puffs from time to time.

“But the Ice kept on growing in sudden bursts and spurts. Winter suddenly took up most of the year. The snow fell and fell. It grew deeper every year. Asaerdas refused to resettle elsewhere and his ships traded far and wide to keep Anchorfief supplied. Asaerdas and his heirs never called themselves kings however. Their family and kin were known as the Admiralty.”

“The Ice never stopped though. Bite by bite, it took centuries for it to eat up an ocean, but eventually it did. Slowly the Ice was strangling Anchorfief. Eventually, a couple of hundred years ago, a sudden fast growth of the Ice cut the sea route off entirely from Anchorfief when the Ice reached Lormager Point to its west. Most of the ships were trading to the south or patrolling the coast to keep away pirates and incursions from the southern kingdoms. The ships of the great fleet that were not trapped with Anchorfief could not return. The fleet and its Admiralty established themselves in a harbor further south called Fredoris, after the sea god’s son. They kept their allegiance to Anchorfief.

“Over the next century, the Ice froze right up to the edge of the shore at Anchorfief. Its populace had shrunk by then, but it still needed the supplies that were carried overland from the ships at Fredoris to survive in the long winters. Then, about sixty years ago, the Ice grew suddenly again. Growing up onto the shore and into the city of Anchorfief. The residents dug and shoveled, and carried the ice away trying to do that as fast as it grew. But it was too much. Gradually the city was emptied as people fled the freezing cold. They were losing heart and could not keep the Ice from gaining ground.

“Muroc’s ancestral family had stayed behind to run Anchorfief after the Admiralty moved to Fredoris.  They either had or took on the family name of Anchorfief back then. Muroc was about ten years old and was there, chopping and shoveling the Ice, when the Ice Wolves came. They came in the spring. The wolves began by sneaking into Anchorfief at night and killing anyone they found outside. That went on for almost a year.

The Anchorfiefs sent hunting party after party out to fight the wolves. Most came back empty handed; some came back with heavy casualties, and some never returned at all. The wolves were too much.

“Then the cursed Ice grew again. It is said that the Ice began to moan like a dying man. The noises continued for seven days and then suddenly, like the icefall we experienced, the Ice began to move. It thrust up out of the sea and toppled onto the buildings of Anchorfief. In a day, it moved to cover the entire city. The survivors salvaged what they could and headed south.

“The ice wolves came in droves. Killing the stragglers and even pulling down groups of armed men. The Anchorfiefs fought their way south for three days before, the wolves suddenly left them alone. The number of their dead was staggering.” Aterius tamped out his pipe. “So, Muroc’s family were the last to leave when the ice wolves came.”

“What happened to the Admiralty in Fredoris?” Feyt asked open mouthed.

“Once Anchorfief was gone, they dispersed. They had nothing left of the Empire of the North. They just sailed away. Many became pirates. Or merchants. There are hundreds of ships along the coast, all the way down to the southern kingdoms, that claim to be descended from the captains of the fleet.

Feyt was impressed. The tales Caernall’s old women told were nothing like this history he had just heard.

Aterius was very solemn. “Ever since then, the Ice has kept growing. Spreading and moving in spurts and sudden expansions. It has filled the Plains of Edon and spread tapering off into the Tundra we passed over to get here.”

“How do you know so much about our northern lands? Gairet said you came from one of the southern kingdoms.”

Aterius laughed. “I was taught a great deal of history before I ran away to become an adventurer. My parents intended I become a learned academic and stay in the Academy of History. I changed my area of studies several times to avoid that academy, and finally ran away, as I told you the other day.”

“Is it really warm where your home is?”

Aterius laughed at his wide-eyed look. “Yes, Feyt. It is warm the whole year round. Hmmm. Speaking of warm, we should get to sleep. Other than our lucky watch-winners, I think we are the only ones still awake.”

The next day Muroc proved he was feeling better. Even with his limp, he drove them forward through the Broken Lands like a taskmaster. I am glad Muroc does not have a whip. I am sure he would be using it on us given half a chance.

Slow as it was through the Broken Lands, the biting wind and occasional sleet inspired them to keep up the pace. The storm Aterius had predicted two days before was about to break. Near noon the party walked single-file out between the last up-thrust spires of ice that marked the end of the Broken Lands. The ice here ended in rocks and snow that began to swiftly rise in elevation as they kept moving. Feyt assumed from Aterius’ story that they were now on the island of Edon.

At the head of the line, Muroc called a halt and waved Gairet and Dokara ahead to scout. They trotted past him and up though the rocks. Most of the group sat or leaned on various boulders.

Sitting there steaming from his exertion, Feyt was thankful for the stop. He had opened his parka miles back and even pulled it back so it hung below his shoulders. It felt good to cool down. He was sweaty and that was bad. He needed to keep his parka as dry as he could. As he sat there wiping his brow, it started to snow. Big soft fluffy flakes that started light, with just a few, then came down thicker and thicker. They swirled in the wind making him feel like the whole world was moving around him.

“Muroc!” Aterius’s snow-muffled voice called from the end of the line. “The storm is going to break on us before much longer. How far to the base of the mountains? Can you tell?”

“Not far,” Muroc called back. “I haven’t been able to see the mountains for a couple of hours now, but we aren’t too far. See? The trail is starting to wind and rise here. It’ll be close, but we’ll make it.”

“Good thing, too.” Tauras piped in. “The temperature is dropping.” With a start, Feyt suddenly could feel it. He had been comfortably cooling down, but now that Tauras had spoken, the chill bit into him. He pulled his parka back up onto his shoulders. His sweat was icy in it already.

“Let’s get moving. It’s only mid-day and this blustering wind will surely get worse,” Muroc ordered.

Only mid-day? The storm makes it so dark it feels like it’s past dusk. I am tired enough to have walked all day, too. Feyt stood and rebuttoned his parka, leaving the top two silver buttons open for now. He shouldered his small pack and with two steps, he realized how much he had stiffened up sitting in the chill. I wonder how the others feel, especially Muroc? He’s older than most of us combined I bet, plus his leg must really hurt from his injuries.

They climbed what Muroc said was a trail. To Feyt it just seemed a wide space between a new type of tree that grew here. Unlike the spruce before, these tree’s leaves were just grey-green needles. Definitely odd, Feyt decided.

By mid-afternoon, the storm became a blizzard. Soon the struggling hunters could barely see each other in the swirling snow. Not more than a half dozen yards away, everything else was whited out. Muroc continued to lead them uphill at a brisk pace, although they stumbled as the snow grew deeper around their feet. To Feyt, it seemed to go on forever and take on a surreal feeling. It’s like I’m lost in the afterlife, nothing but clouds and swirling whiteness.

The walking went on and on, until Feyt ran into the back of Seelus when he stopped suddenly. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Gairet’s back from scouting. He’s talking to Muroc.” Seelus’ head and shoulders had little piles of snow on them that made little peaks. Feyt would have laughed if he were not so tired. I wonder if I look the same?

Muroc finished talking to Gairet, looked back to the line of hikers and yelled, “We’re in the foothills.”

Feyt looked around. I don’t see any difference. He could see the day was finally ending though and it was beginning to get darker. The snow had let up slightly and he could now see maybe fifty yards or so around them. The foothills were eerie in the twilight. There was a small gully to their left and a low hill beyond covered with trees. To Feyt, these trees with the grey needles all looked dead. He shivered. Like skeletons. Probably died from the continuous winters.

Muroc yelled again. “We need to find shelter. Spread out until you can just see the person on each side of you. We are going to swing to the west. Down this gully and over the hill. Try to walk along levelly. With seven of us spread out, we should come across something that will pass for shelter. “

“Shouldn’t we split up? We can cover more area,” Feyt offered.

“No. We could cover more area, but if we split up, none of us will know if the others find a good spot. With this weather, just trying to regroup and search for each other, could be fatal.” Addressing the others, he went on, “All we need is a small cliff or rock pile. If we do not find anything in an hour or so, I will pass word. At that point we’ll pick the first likely thick patch of trees and hope for the best.”

Feyt stumbled and slid down the gully and then clambered up the other side. He kept looking up and down the hill, making sure he could still see the silhouette of Seelus above him or of Tauras below him. The storm began to get worse again. Soon Feyt was only half-sure he could see his friends on either side. He was certain a couple of hours had passed when he heard a faint call from Seelus above.

When he answered, he could just barely hear, “Feyt! Pass the word down. Muroc says Gairet found a cave.”

“Okay!” he yelled back. As an afterthought, he thought to himself, Thank God.

He had to wait a bit for a gust of wind and blowing snow to die down before he could hear Seelus again. “Wait till Aterius and Tauras come to you before you come up to me.”

“Got it.” Then Feyt had to call to Tauras twice before he again barely made out a reply. “Come up!” He yelled twice more before he heard what he hoped was a confirmation. Then he waited for an interminable length of time before he heard another call closer. Answering, he guided them in to him.

As they finally reached him, Aterius was using his javelin as a walking stick and Tauras stumbling behind in the blowing snow. Aterius said, “Whew. It gets pretty steep right down below you, Feyt.” Feyt saw that icicles had formed on each of Tauras’s drooping mustaches.

“Yeah. Lucky for you,” Tauras groused wiping his brow.

Aterius went on. “Blinded by the storm, we must have followed our original ridge well up the mountain. When we swung out and dropped down to spread out, the terrain got very steep. It is hard going back down there.”

“I hope the others are close?” Tauras asked.

“Not really,” Feyt responded. “Seelus is up there far enough away that I only heard him faintly.”

“Figures,” Tauras mourned.

Aterius patted his shoulder, “Well then, let us get going. I for one am ready to make my bed.”

Aterius led the way, Feyt fell in behind him, and Tauras brought up the rear lagging a bit behind. Soon, a few calls to Seelus steered them in to where he stood, shivering, his breath making clouds.

“It gets cold when you have to stand still for long,” his words came out around his chattering teeth.

“Well, then let’s get you moving,” Aterius chuckled. With that, their group continued in a line up the mountain with Seelus now at the head. After a bit, they finally caught sight of Dokara and Muroc standing together further up on a rise. Going uphill in the deepening snow made for a hard climb and it slowed them as they plodded towards their friends.

Suddenly beyond Muroc, Feyt saw Gairet running full speed through the falling snow and bleak dead trees.

“Wolves!” He screamed.

Behind him ran four man-sized ice wolves, closing fast.

The Ice Queen – Blood and Ice Wolves: Chapter 7

Chapter 7 – The Broken Land

Exhausted, no one bothered to make a fire again even though the wind was blustery. As Aterius pulled his sleeping mat out, he said, “Day after tomorrow, the night will have a full moon. We will not get any light though. The signs still all show a big storm is coming. The clouds will block it. They’re already half blocking tonight’s moon, see?”

Muroc looked to the north at the mountains they had seen drawing nearer all day. “It’s still a long ways to the mountains and real shelter. How bad of a storm do you think it will be?”

“Not good. See the rings around the moon? Lots of ice crystals are forming.”

Fuming, Muroc grumbled, “This is a fine fix.”

Kneeling by the packs, Feyt nudged Seelus. “Why is Muroc so worried?”

Seelus grimaced, “Ice storms in the open are extremely dangerous. At home, you just go inside for bad weather. Out here, if you are travelling, you can lose your way and go in circles until you freeze. If we dig in, the storm could get so bad that it buries us too deep to dig out and we freeze anyway.”

Feyt swallowed. It never occurred to me to worry about the weather. I thought the wolves would be our only problem.

“Tomorrow,” Muroc said loudly to all. “We must push even harder than today to reach the mountains before the storm hits. We are going to reach the Broken Land in the morning. We have to cross though that as well. So, go to bed and get your rest. You’ll all need it tomorrow.” He stomped away to his own little ice castle, kicking the snow clear on the ground at the small entrance he had left. He crawled inside, barely fitting and prepared his bed.

Seelus groaned loudly and headed off towards his backpack.  Looking around Feyt saw Aterius nearby. “Hey, Aterius. What’s the Broken Land?”

“You will see when we reach it. The ice there is all broken up, in great jumbles. It will be some tough going for a bit, and it can be dangerous because it shifts and is unstable. Now, we draw for first watch,” Aterius said as he held out his hand with six straws sticking out. Tentatively Feyt picked one. It was long.

“There are only six straws,” Tauras complained as he walked up.

“Muroc took the second watch alone last night. Remember?”

“Yeah. Stop belly aching,” Gairet chided him, pushing him out of the way and drawing his straw. “Auch!” He said tossing the short straw over his shoulder. “Short straw again.”

Tauras smiled. His odds had improved with one less short straw. But when he drew a short straw too, he made such a sad face that it amused Gairet immensely. He teased the old sour puss and laughed until Muroc called out from his igloo for him to be quiet. Aterius and Dokara took second watch.

They threw out their sleeping bundles in each of their ice shelters and crawled into them. The twins were eating cold jerky and hard bread as they worked, but Feyt had already eaten his share as quickly as he had gotten it. As hungry as he was, it was delicious. Soon the only sounds Feyt could hear were the smooth breathing of the sleepers, and the wind. Feyt was tired, but his face still stung where Alterius had sewn him up. As he lay there fingering his cut, testing its soreness, his thoughts kept returning to his mother and sister. Particularly Serente.

I promised to take her to the next Equinox gathering down at the river ford. Now she will never see it. He bit his lip. I should not have gone to Equinox that night. I killed them by not being there just as much as the wolf did. If only I had not gone. Slowly, even his guilt couldn’t keep his tired body awake, and he slept.

Feyt awoke to Muroc standing over the doorway to his igloo. “Time to go, boy.”

He moaned and looked around. It was still dark. Ohhh… Before dawn again. He steeled himself. I am not going to say a word. There is no way he will catch me complaining, he repeated to himself resolutely yet again. He sat up into the chill air as much as he could in the cramped shelter of ice, and started pulling on his parka.

Hearing Feyt’s groaning, Muroc said, “We have a long way to go. It’s better to start early.” He seemed to feel an explanation was needed. He turned away to urge the others out of their sacks.

Even the wind was moaning today.  It was more insistent and little flurries of last night’s snow swirled past, getting into everything. Feyt pulled out a piece of cold jerky as he packed his bedroll and chewed. Like leather, but leather would be more tasty, he supposed making a face. 

“Here.” Surprised at the voice, Feyt looked up and found Gairet standing in front of him with his arm extended. “Here, this is some sweetbread I’ve been saving.”

“Sweetbread!”

“Shhh. I’ve only got a couple of pieces left. Not enough to share. Take it. The sugar will help get you started even if the energy doesn’t last.”

Feyt’s mouth watered, but he said, “If it’s your last piece, I don’t want to take it.”

“Oh, go ahead,” he looked at the others putting their packs in order, making sure he was not seen. “It’s more than I want this morning and the others have all had some before.” He patted his middle. “Besides, I need to keep my boyish figure for the women when we return.” His usual grin popped back on his face. “Eat it. Last chance.”

Feyt grinned back, and quickly took the gift. Thanking Gairet profusely, he took a bite. As he ate it, dried and crusty as it was, he could not remember tasting anything quite so good. Maybe it was because he was miles from home and had not eaten anything sweet for days. Or, maybe because it was a different sweetbread than he had ever tasted before. Whatever it was, it was delicious and he swallowed the few bites down quickly. Gairet is certainly a generous friend.

Muroc tossed Feyt one of the big backpacks that carried the food. “You only need to carry it half the day, then we’ll swap. We’re going to have to move fast if we hope to beat the storm.”

“Yes sir,” Feyt replied and dutifully picked it up. As he hefted it, he could tell it was lighter. We are eating up our food. It will get lighter every day. A thought crept into his mind. I hope we don’t run out. Suddenly he actually wished it weighed a little bit more. We still have to eat on the way home.

Soon the group was jogging along at a healthy clip. Today, only Dokara was scouting ahead. Everyone else was jogging along single file, even faster than the day before. The weather was clearly getting worse. Swirls and eddies of ice crystals were sweeping past. The hint of the coming storm spurred them on. The sky to the northeast was dark and foreboding, looking ominous to Feyt.

“At this pace, do you think we’ll close the gap on the wolves?” Feyt breathlessly asked Seelus.

“I would think so, but these are not ordinary wolves. You can’t bet on it.”

“If we get close, we’ll have a chance to hit them again though, right?”

“For bait, you’re awfully eager,” Seelus laughed between puffs. “If this weather gets as nasty as it looks, we’re going to be looking out for ourselves instead of wolf hunting.”

Feyt frowned. Darn the weather. Is the One God trying to help my wolf escape? It isn’t fair to send this storm against us. How could he do that? I am doing this for my mother, and Serente, surely God understands.

Soon though, Feyt forgot everything except picking up his feet and setting them down. The new powdery snow in places was deep enough to drag at his snowshoes making the going harder. Everyone’s pace had slowed. God, I am tired. But no matter how tired I get, I am determined I will never complain. I will make sure they never regret bringing me along, he vowed and kept pressing on.

Finally Muroc called for one of the rare and brief stops. Everyone took the opportunity to stretch or sit down on their packs. Feyt dropped his and stretched. As he did, he looked around. They had been walking for miles on a flat expanse of ice, but now the land below dropped providing a good view of the terrain. Shading his eyes, he could see ahead of them where a line broke the smooth rolling white tundra. Beyond the line, the terrain changed dramatically. Rough jagged shapes of ice stuck up and tilted at all angles.

“What’s that?” Feyt gazed at the strange shapes

Seeing Feyt’s wondering look, Gairet explained, “That’s the Broken Lands.”

“Why is it like that?”

“There used to be a sea there, but the ice covered it up. People say the sea god, Neptus, was so angry at his domain being covered that he causes the tides to tear and shove the ice trying to get out. He wars with the Ice Demon.”

Aterius wrinkled his dark face and snorted, “A god’s work? Hardly. It is just the tides, but here every day they rise and fall over ten feet. It is that alone that has made these shapes.”

“That’s what I said,” Gairet growled. “The god makes the tides do it.”

“You and your ‘gods’.”

“Heathen.”

Feyt wondered, What would Aterius think of the One God? Gairet obviously follows the Old Gods. All my new friends have such different opinions of things. I cannot imagine how they ever got together.

Aterius looked at where Muroc stood solemnly a little apart. He leaned closed to Feyt and said in a softer voice, “Anchorfief is down there. Where the land meets the sea.”

“Anchorfief?” Feyt had heard of it, but was not sure how much he understood. Just that it had struggled against the Ice before finally succumbing to the relentless winter. He didn’t see anything that looked like a city.

“Anchorfief is Muroc’s home in the City of Anchor.” Aterius nodded at Muroc’s back. “He is not going to be happy travelling here.”

Dokara, who had been scouting ahead, appeared without warning and, without a word, took Feyt’s large pack. He walked over to Gairet and they spoke briefly. Then, Gairet picked up his javelin and slogged off to take the scout position. Dokara looked at Muroc silently, but said nothing else.

After a bit, Muroc turned around and said gruffly, “Let’s go.”

More somber and quiet than was usual, the party soon reached the jumbled ice. As they approached, Feyt saw there were timbers and slats of wood sticking out of parts of the ice. As they began to walk between and over the tilted slabs of ice, there was more broken wood all around. Feyt could see the wood had been cut into boards and beams for some reason.

“Aterius,” Feyt motioned him closer. The somberness of his companions made him uncomfortable speaking loudly. “Where does all this wood come from?”

Aterius looked sadly around and spread his arms out, palms up. “All this, is the remains of the City of Anchor. Anchorfief is here among the ruins as well.”

“This is a City?” Feyt exclaimed softly.

Muroc looked back at them at the sound Feyt’s voice.

Aterius stopped walking and shushed him. “I’ll tell you later. Tonight,” he promised.

“Muroc has ghosts of his own past here,” Dokara murmured as he brushed past. “Tread lightly.”

They continued moving and were soon past any more evidence of wood. As the group progressed, they climbed over more and more crooked slabs of ice that tilted in every direction. It was hard work clambering along and it slowed their pace considerably. Muroc’s grim demeanor cast a cloud over their mood as well, making the work seem all the harder to Feyt.

The jagged ice got worse and worse until the party was jumping between angled slabs and tilted spires. The ice around them creaked and groaned ominously. Aterius reminded them that it rose and fell each day, changing shape with each tide. Gairet claimed the moaning was the sea sprites and nymphs who could not reach the sun. Feyt listened to Aterius argue with him and wondered why the One God was making their journey so tough. Surely, he is a god of justice. That is all I want. Justice.

As the afternoon began to wane, Muroc jumped from one chunk of ice across a deep rift onto a huge tilted slab. As he landed, he swung one of his axes, slamming it into the ice like a pick. But the slab of ice groaned loudly once and began to slowly shift with him on it.

“Stay back,” he yelled before any of the others could follow him.

With a sound that started as a low creaking and rose to a grinding roar, the entire slab slipped sideways and fell into a hole as big as Caernall’s council building. As the slab fell into the hole, tall spires of ice on each side tilted crazily and collapsed as well. Muroc disappeared into the hole with it in a white cloud of ice crystals.

“Muroc!” Seelus shouted after his disappearing figure. His brother, Dokara, held him back or he may have leapt after him. The silence after the crashing ice was like a heavy blanket.

Everyone stood still in shock. Then Aterius rushed to the edge and yelled out. “Muroc?” Looking down, there was only broken boulders of ice and the settling cloud of ice dust. Nothing else moved. “Muroc?” he called again.

From deep down below, Muroc’s voice came back. “Here.”

“Are you okay?”

“I need a hand. My leg is caught, and…I am half buried… There is some ice on me.”

“Get some rope,” Aterius directed. As everyone moved forward, he added, “Stop. Just two of us are going down there. Sometimes the rifts between shards of ice are deep. When the ice collapses like this, it may not be done moving. We will not chance more than two of us getting crushed. Gairet, you’re light.”

“I’m lighter,” Feyt offered.

Aterius stared at him, then nodded. “Okay. I am going down first. You second. You keep the rope around you and do not take it off. Gairet! You and Dokara lower us. If the ice starts moving again, pull him up first. If we are not dead, we can try again. But take no chances,” he emphasized his last point strongly. They nodded.

Gairet thrust his javelin deep into a crack in the ice. Wrapping the rope twice around that, Aterius tied it around his waist and backed over the edge. Gairet and Dokar held the rope, lowering him down. When he reached the bottom, the rope wriggled, then went slack.

Gairet pulled it up and said, “Your turn, Feyt.”

What have I volunteered for? He wondered. They tied the rope around him quickly and he slid over the edge. Feyt listened to the groaning sounds of the ice as they lowered him. The walls of ice rose ominously on all sides and the sounds of moving ice got louder. He swallowed. It is a lot further down that I expected. His stomach knotted and he began to feel claustrophobic.

When his feet touched the bottom, he looked around. No one was there. “Aterius? Muroc?”

“Here, Feyt.” Aterius’ voice came from behind a ragged shard of ice.

Bending down, Feyt peered into a gap between two misshapen boulders of ice. He could see them now. Aterius was scraping loose chunks of ice away from Muroc. Muroc, still mostly buried, was helping to push at the pile of chunks with his arms. Feyt scurried forward under the overhanging ice and began to dig as well. The creaking of the ice was not helping his nervous panic at being down here.

Raking the last of the ice away from Muroc’s leg, they could finally see where he was pinned in a tight crevasse between two very large pieces of ice. There was some blood, but they could not see how bad his leg was.

“Hold still, Muroc. I’m going to have to chop you out.”

“Take your time,” Muroc grimaced. “Just hurry as fast as you can.”

“You must not be too badly hurt. You’re still spouting atrocious jokes.” Aterius spoke lightly but he face was grave as he pulled an axe out of his pack.

“An’ you’re still using your aristocrat’s voice on me. I must be ok.”

“What can I do?” Feyt interjected. He was feeling useless.

“I’ll swing twice, then you scrape and pull away as much ice as you can.”

Two swings. Feyt scooped away at the slivers and pieces. Two more swings. He scraped away more. The next two swings and Feyt managed to pull a couple of head-sized chunks of ice out.

“Can you move your leg yet?” Aterius demanded.

Muroc strained and his leg shifted, but he gasped and let it fall back. “Unnng ..That hurts.”

“We need more room. Again. Ready, Feyt?”

Feyt nodded and Aterius swung again, and then again. This time he had to start further away from Muroc’s leg to keep the blade from sliding along the ice. Around them, the ice suddenly groaned and everything shivered. Shock-still, Feyt stared at Aterius. The sound and the shivering died away.

“You okay?” Someone, Gairet Feyt supposed, called from above.

“Yeah. Almost got him,” Aterius said. But then, a new grinding sound began and the ice they were on shook precariously and slipped lower. There were more shouts from above.

“Pull him. Now!” Aterius shouted. Together they heaved as Muroc yelled in pain, but he was out.

Feyt’s relief was short lived. The grinding noises continued. Everything was shuddering and a dusting of ice crystals began to rain on them from above.

“Get back out the gap first,” Aterius ordered. “You pull and I’ll push him out between the boulders there.” Together they drug, slid and forced the larger man out under the overhanging ice. Above they could just barely see Gairet leaning over holding the rope. Feyt swallowed. They were deeper now than before and the ice around them was trembling.

Together they pulled Muroc to a standing position. “Can you hold him under the arms while they pull you up?”

“I guess I have too. Sure. I can do it.” I hope I can. Muroc is heavy.

“Wrap your arms around him. Ready?” When Feyt nodded Aterius slapped his arm and yelled up at Gairet, “Pull them up. NOW!”

Feyt saw another rope fall on Aterius as he was suddenly jerked skywards. He and Muroc both groaned as the rope cut cruelly into his waist, and his arms felt pulled too hard by Muroc’s weight. The blood was roaring in his ears as the men above heaved, and heaved over and over again, to pull them up. Desperately, Feyt kept hold of Muroc. He slipped, and Feyt had to grab a handful of cloth to keep from losing him.

Then suddenly he was over the lip of the ice above. Mercifully, he could let go of Muroc as Gairet pulled them away from the edge. His arms felt leaden and ached. Dokara held him as Gairet and Muroc fell together onto the ground. The roaring that he had thought was all in his ears kept going. He looked back at the edge where Seelus and Tauras were pulling on their rope as hard as they could. Beyond them, more ice was falling into the hole they had just escaped. A new cloud of white ice dust was swirling all around as a white powdered Aterius popped over the edge and sprawled with Tauras and Seelus.

Bless the One God that was close!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hi Friend,

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. All the preceding chapters are available thru the tab for this story at the top of my page. Check it out and leaveme a short post on what you either liked or didn’t. I am working on chapter 23 right now.

The Ice Queen – Blood and Ice Wolves: Chapter 6

Chapter 6 –The Ice in the North

Despite Muroc’s bottle and some lively banter that went on until late the previous night, they were all up early and ready to continue the chase. Feyt had sewn his parka back together well enough. Aterius even gave him some buttons. Pretty nice buttons as it turned out. Silver! I wonder if they came from his castle. He kept fingering them, feeling self-conscious. They looked out of place on his old coat, but they kept it closed and he needed that.

Today, when Feyt stooped to pick up the large pack again, Seelus took it from him, smiling and said, “My turn, Feyt-bait.” He tossed it onto his shoulders and was off, leaving Feyt impressed at how lightly he handled it. They resumed the chase, starting the day’s march in the same order as yesterday, except Gairet replaced Seelus as a scout. He waved at Feyt as he trotted off ahead of the rest of them.

The pace Muroc set was brisk, and after a mid-morning meeting with both Gairet and Dokara, he picked the pace up faster. Soon Feyt was thankful Seelus had taken the large pack. Even with his light pack, he was breathing heavy as they jogged along. A light dusting of snow from overnight at first hid their prey’s trail. Later however, the new coating of snow began to show every mark the wolves made that day. The tracking became easy.

As the day wore on, the spruce trees grew fewer and further apart, until they left them behind altogether. Only the tough heather and gorse was visible, just barely peeking out from under the snow as far as they could see. Far ahead, the peak of a mountain showed its icy tip. It seemed to float in the sky above the hazy horizon. Here the land was a series of wide flat ridges and narrow gullies, all running parallel and falling gently towards the north. From the tracks, Feyt could see the wolves were running along one ridge heading north, further into the deepening ice and snow. 

Near midday, Dokara appeared over a snowdrift and Muroc called a halt. As he sat, Feyt heard Dokara say, “The pack is still running. I wouldn’t expect normal wolves to keep running so far, or so hard.”

“They’re ice wolves. I’ve never heard them called normal, but I have heard them called unnatural,” Muroc’s voice grumbled. “They know we’re behind them.”

“I don’t see how. They are too far ahead, and neither I, nor Gairet, have cut any single tracks when we cast out to the sides. Nothing to indicate a lone wolf has swung around to spy on their back trail. They aren’t that smart are they?”

“Stories I’ve heard say they are.” Muroc looked about and scratched his beard. “I don’t see we have any choice but to keep up. They’ll slow sometime.”

As Dokara loped back out to continue his scouting duties, Muroc called to the others, “Let’s get going. Those wolves are making themselves hard to catch. We don’t want them too far ahead.” With that, everyone picked up their packs, and the group started off again. Muroc once more set a steady jogging pace with few stops.

Feyt’s excitement with chasing wolves was beginning to wear thin from the exertion. He was bone tired, but determined not to give any cause for the others to complain. I am not going to stop until they do.

Feyt plodded on. By late afternoon, even the heather had thinned and shrunk until it was gone. The land flattened until it was just a wavy white and gray sheet of various shades of snow. It stretched out in all directions except ahead to the north. There in the distance, Feyt could make out icy crags. As the day wore on, they were closer and Feyt could begin to make them out in a little more detail.

At one brief stop, Seelus handed Feyt some small snowshoes to strap on. “You’ll need these as the snow gets deeper. Know how to use them?” he asked.

“Sure,” Feyt responded. “I have a pair for when the winter snows get deep back in Caernall.”

“It’s always winter from here on to the north. There’s no more bushes now to tangle them in either. We’ll make better time.” Feyt saw the others were tying on their own snowshoes as well.

As Feyt tied the leather snowshoe straps tight, he asked Aterius, “This land is strange. Where are we?”

“You don’t know? Ha. Welcome to the ice sheets my young explorer! This stretches to the sea in the west, and in the north. It reaches the as far to the east as the Ice Mountains. That’s as far as I know any man has gone.”

“You mean we’re in the tundra? My father disappeared up here.”

Frowning, Aterius was sympathetic, “I’m sorry to hear that, Feyt. Many men have been lost out here in the ice sheets. Out here, in a storm, there are no landmarks. No way for a man to keep stock of his direction, or how far he has gone. There is precious little out here to forage for. If you run out of food…,” he shrugged. “At least the snow and ice provide water.”

“How far does the tundra go ahead? Will we be in it from now on?”

“It extends to the sea. That’s where you can see the rough crags in the distance. And those mountains ahead? They are islands actually. Beyond them… There are only the myths of ice giants and frozen wastes to the end of the earth.”

Looking around at the stark and flat terrain, Feyt wondered, “How can we hunt the wolves here? They can see us a mile away, I bet.”

Aterius nodded. “True enough. Muroc had hoped to catch them again before now. But they cannot live out here either, so we will follow them to their dens hopefully and kill them there.”

“Dens?”

Aterius pointed at the distant peaks ahead. “Somewhere there I imagine. Do not worry Feyt. We have not lost your wolf yet. If we have our way, you will still get your revenge.”

“I hope so. I can’t let him get away. ”

Aterius grew somber. “Muroc won’t let them get away if he can help it, either. He also seeks revenge. These wolves, or others like them, savaged the survivors of Anchorfief as they fled the ice. You can ask him sometime, he may be willing to talk about it. Speaking of Muroc, it is time to go. He’s moving again.” 

The party kept up their pace across the tundra until well after dark. That night, Muroc showed them how to cut the ice into blocks and build small rounded shelters with them. They had no fire, but chewed on jerky again for the evening meal.

Muroc walked up and said, “I’ve decided a watch is a good idea tonight. Here in the tundra there are Ice bears.” Then he muttered, “And you never know if or when the wolves may turn.” Everyone paused and looked at Muroc after his last comment.

He glared at them defensively. “It’s a fact. They could turn. Better safe than sorry,” he added gruffly frowning.  He thrust out one of his massive fists holding several little sticks. “We draw straws.”

They all began to choose a stick. On the third pick, Gairet drew the short “straw” for the first watch. “Doesn’t count,” he piped up immediately. “It isn’t a straw. You can’t stick me with a stick.” That made Seelus laugh.

Aterius sighed loudly and complained, “That pun is so bad you deserve the watch all night.”

“I’ll stick you with a large branch on your head,” Muroc retorted. The second watch went to Dokara who simply nodded as if he expected it anyway. Most of the group began to retire straight to their beds.

“I’ll stay up with you, Gairet. At least for a while,” Feyt offered.

“What’s the matter, Feyt? You like bad puns or something?” Tauras snickered as he left for his bed.

“You okay, Feyt?” Gairet asked. ”Aren’t you tired?”

“I’m tired, but I can’t sleep. I’ve been thinking of the night my mum and sis died.” My fault the door wasn’t barred. My fault… Bitterly he looked up at the stars. The night was clear and the sky was spectacular. The bright stars cut a swath across the sky.

“Glad to have the company,” Gairet smiled widely. His missing tooth left a dark gap in the white teeth. “How’s your head?”

Wincing, Feyt felt where Aterius had stitched up his forehead. It was tender. “Oh, it’s okay. Not too bad.”

“Next time, don’t lead with your face.” Laughing at his own joke, Gairet became as talkative as usual.

After a series of teasing jibes and some bantering, Feyt asked him, “How did you end up with Muroc? You’re not a Northman.”

“Ah, so you noticed my shaggy brown strands?” His usual grin flashed. “I’m from a little hamlet called Allenspond. It’s in Brandshire.” When Feyt looked blank, he added, “That’s quite a ways east of Caernall, and south. Though not so far south as Aterius’s home.”

“My father was a soldier in the king’s guard. I never knew him well. He was always gone somewhere with the king. I used to dream of all the places my father must have traveled. One day when he was off on another trip far away, I decided I would see even more of the world than he had. So, I up and ran away. I think I was about your age. My mother always told me I was incorrigible, so I guess I showed her she was right.”

“You ran away and left your mum alone?” Feyt was incredulous. “What about your duty to provide for her and keep her safe?”

“Ha. Allenspond wasn’t like Caernall, Feyt. No, not much anyway. The land is domesticated and farms are everywhere. The king keeps a large troop of guards at all his towns and cities, So it’s not like she wasn’t safe. And she was already well provided for. She got a stipend from the king on every full moon for being a soldier’s woman.”

“Farms?” Feyt frowned. “We have farms at Caernall, too.”

“Yeah, but Caernall’s farms are small. Things barely grow because of the cold up here. In Allenspond, everything is green and warm. There is always plenty of food grown there.”

“Green and warm?” Feyt shook his head. “I can’t imagine what that must look like. Don’t you ever miss home and your mum?”

“Naw. Not much.”Gairet shrugged. “See, my mother was really more of a prostitute than a mother. She was technically married to my father, but with him gone all the time, and a town full of other soldiers and guards… Well, let’s just say that she got around.”

“Oh.” Feyt was not sure what to say about that.

Gairet burst out laughing. ”You’re funny, Feyt. For a barbarian Northman, you have led a pretty sheltered life. Once I got away from Allenspond, I never looked back. I joined several different armies of dukes and lords. Even tried my hand as a bandit with a bunch who claimed they were revolutionaries. But they were bandits. Most swung from the trees after a few months and I headed north for ‘health’ reasons.” Gairet grinned and rolled his eyes to accent the word ‘health”.

“Then, I ran into Muroc in a tavern in Freebriar. Seems I had offended one of the Freebriar guards over some wench. He and half dozen of his friends were going to show me what happens to smart-alecks who make bad puns when Muroc helped turn the whole bar into a brawl. He said later he only helped because they made him spill his ale when they hit me.”

“Hah ha,” Gairet’s eye twinkled. “But I saw him break his mug over the head of the biggest one there. That’s how his ale really got spilled. Anyway, I decided I liked his ideas of fair play. I also liked how well he handled himself in a brawl. I’ve been with him ever since.”

“You and Muroc were in Freebriar?”

“Yeah. I was thinking of taking service as a soldier, having sworn off banditry. Ha ha ha. Get it? I would have been a bigger bandit as a Freebriar than I was before. Ha ha ha.”

Feyt grinned. It was hard not to have fun with Gairet.

“Muroc was there as a spy for Caernall. He was gathering information on the rumors of a new allegiance with Ergas Holm. He was the one that warned your village leaders about the threat.”

Feyt was surprised. “I didn’t know Muroc did more than fight with the Council at Caernall.”

“Oh yeah. Muroc is a fighter all right. But he’s a good man. A hard man, but good. Caernall gained a lot when Muroc Anchorfief came to town.”

Gairet looked at Feyt sideways. “Got any girls back home, Feyt?”

“Girls? Uh… no. There’s Selice, but she’s not really my girl.” Feyt tried to describe Selice and how she was to Gairet, so he’d understand. After talking about her a while and tell how great she was at everything she did, he finished up with, “She’s the Village Chief’s daughter, though. I’m just another peasant youth, and a One-Godder besides.”

“Don’t sell yourself short. Sounds to me like she likes you pretty well, tom-boy or not. She sounds like a determined young lady who knows what she wants. If she spends time with you at all, it’s cause she likes you, Feyt. Take my word for it.” Gairet winked. “I am an expert with women.”

They talked then about at least a dozen ladies Gairet had known and been with, until all the names of the gals blurred and blended together in Feyt’s fatigue.

Eventually the conversation and the beautiful stars lulled, Feyt off to sleep. Wrapped in his sleeping pouch he fell asleep sitting up. Gariet kept right on talking after Feyt fell asleep, not noticing he had lost his audience.

The next day, they were on the move again before the sun. The tundra continued relentlessly as they kept the grinding pace Muroc set for them. All day they jogged and walked, then walked and jogged. Slowly the distant mountains got closer. Feyt began to get a feeling for the size of the tundra and how far it stretched.

Finally at the end of the day, Muroc stopped in a deeper than normal swale in the tundra, and again they cut ice blocks and built their little “ice castles” as Gairet laughingly called them.

Feyt looked at the misshapen domes of ice blocks. Hmmmph. Some ice castles.

Crazy

Here is a fun couple of short chapters that I may turn into a longer story or even a novel. This is tech sci fi in a modern setting. High use of slang and first person. It ties to an original story I wrote years ago called Psuedo-Time. Hopefully you enjoy it. Let me know.

Chapter 1 – Eat at Mel’s

“She’s crazy you know?” He was talking about Cherry.

I looked at Mel’s craggy face, now covered in a grin as rough as his brows. “So?”

“So she’ll get you iced.”

I ignored Mel’s hard look and fiddled with his merchandise. I picked up an AK and racked it, watching and feeling the mechanism work. Empty, nothing flew out to clatter on the cold concrete floor of the run down warehouse. Disappointing. The noise sounded loud in the silence and echoed slightly.

“I mean it, Zig. She’s already got you thinkin’ about helpin’, hasn’t she?” Mel’s grin had slipped. His mother-hen face was showing concern.

“So what are you askin’ for this banger?” I feigned some interest.

After an initial flash of pleasure at a sale, Mel snorted and rubbed the scar on the side of his jawline. “You can’t distract me that easy. I’m telling you, man. She’s trouble!” His hand slid up onto his bald head and scratched for a moment. “What do you have for creds anyway?”

“I got 4,300. Bet that’ll buy a couple of these. Couple a dozen.” I had 2,800, ok, a little under that, but real creds would buy a lot right now with the Troubles making business bad.

“You don’t want those if you got real dough.” Mel turned his back to me and did something under his counter. The whole wall slid up taking all the products and shelves with it. Now the wall was covered with bright shiny stainless MK8s.

My mouth must have been hanging open cause Mel’s laugh barked out sharply which returned my attention to him. His grin was back, bigger than ever. He pulled one of the bangers down. “Feel this baby.”

I caught it as he tossed it over the counter. Light. Maybe a third the weight of any gun I’d ever held before. “Caseless,” he went on. “Full auto, burst or single mode. Comes with a full chamber of titanium rounds and old steel hollow points. That under-barrel holds shotgun rounds. The switch on the side selects which you want to use. Full auto or bursts. Single shots if you like.” He pointed to one of the MKs on the shelf, showing me where the setting was.

“Weird. Nothin’ to rack. Is it empty now?”

He leaned forward, elbows on the counter. Caution creeping in at the edges of his face. “Not empty. But it can’t fire unless I give you the key. Long as you got the key for that gun right there, no one else can use it. An’ if they try to mod it, baby blows on ‘em. Real messy. Not pretty.” His toothy smile and the glint in his eyes hinted at just how amusing he found its self-destruct app.

“These are Skad issue only. You got MK8s with keys? Mel! My respect for you has gone up, buddy.” I wanted it. Nothing like this had ever come my way before. May not again depending on how Cherry’s little venture worked out. “So… How much?”

Mel sauntered around his counter to stand by me. “For you, Zig? To keep you breathing, son, I’ll let you have it for 4,000.”

I looked at it as critically as I could, considering the lust I felt for it. “Awww. This thing is probably useless. A show piece. All glitter and no blow.” I set it down on his counter acting as if it were some nasty gunk found in the street. “4,000 for a probable sting? Mel, I love ya man, but you know… I can’t risk that kinda dough on somethin’ with no proof.”

Mel’s large overweight frame bristled. “Your lack of trust cuts me to the bone. Zig, you’re like a little brother to me. And here you are hanging around with Cherry Baby. I worry about you boy.” He sighed loudly. “Tell you what I’m gonna do… I’ll give you a twenty percent discount. You give me 3,200 and you get the key. Try it out and if it ain’t workin’, bring it back.” He spread his arms up towards the wall of weapons. “I got a few to trade till you get a good one if you’re really that scared.”

“Scared?” that pissed me off. “I’m not scared. You ever seen me scared, Mel?” I must have done something, ‘cause Mel backed up a couple of steps and raised his hand defensively.  Sometimes my mods go off and after all these years, I don’t even notice anymore.

“No, Zig. Boy, that’s just a figure of speech.”

Irritated, I said, “2,000. I’ll see if I like it. If I like it, I’ll come back and we’ll talk about some more of them.”

Mel’s grin was back again. “Sure. Sure, Zig. Two is fine. You being my bud, ya know.” I blinked. That was a bit too quick for Mel. I casually looked around. Everything looked normal. Mel chattered on. “Put the two on the counter an I’ll put the key here. You come pick up the key an I go pick up the dough. Kapish?”

“Why the good deal, Mel?” I picked the shiny MK up again. “I know you’re like sweet on me, but… Business is business, you always say.”

“S-sweet on you? Ha-ha.” Mel was sweating. His face was getting shiny. “No. Not like that. It’s just…. I gotta move these, an I like you, so… I figger better you get the deal than some skuzz who’s lookin to wack someone fer fun. Y’know.” He shrugged.

I just stared at him and waited.

“Zig. C’mon.” Mel swallowed hard and shot a furtive glance at the door leading to the alley.

He was either going to run, or he expected someone to come in. I leaned on the counter and purposely looked at the doorway. Then him. I wanted him to know I knew. Even if I didn’t know, especially since I didn’t know. “Gimme the key.”

Mel was shaking now. “Yeah. Sure, Zig. Here…” He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a chrome key-bob looking thing. He slid it along the counter to me.  He hadn’t quibbled about not being offered the dough.  It raised the hair on the back of my neck.

“How many? I asked as I picked up the key.

“It wasn’t me, Zig. You know, I’d a never…” Mel was backin’ away.

“Sure, Mel. How many?” I hooked the key on my belt. With the key next to the gun, this time when I racked it, I could feel the first round move into the chamber.

“Its Skank.” Mel looked like he was going to cry. “He’s in the building an he’ll be here any time. Him an his crew. You know, he was gonna ice me, Zig.”

“Get outa here, Mel. You might get hurt.”

I turned and opened up as three figures rushed through the doorway.

Chapter 2 –

I pulled two more MKs off Mel’s shelves and set them on the counter. I racked one and felt the chamber load. Yeah, like I thought. One key works them all. Best in a battlefield where a man may need anybody’s weapon he can grab. Long as you got the key, that is.

On a sales rack behind the counter I found the standard mil surplus canvas duffle bags. I slid the two MKs I had into and then a couple more off the shelf. I looked down at Mel. Lying there in a pool of his own blood. He wouldn’t need them anymore.  Least it wasn’t me that did him.

Prowling a bit, I found a couple of boxes of the caseless ammo for the MKs. Yeah, I’ll need these. An some of the shotgun shells, too. Tossing them into the bag, I thought, I hope Cherry Baby hasn’t left already. Time to go though. That racket is sure to bring some skads, even here eventually. Here in this part of the City, they only came in groups, and usually with lots of back up.

I hope none of those flash-skads are on the way. I scattered a few more proximity mines around and armed them go all go together as I left. Flash-skads or not, I oughta get one of ‘em if they trigger any one of the detonators.

I went out the door, stepping over the corpses of a half dozen of Shank’s gang. Too bad Shank lit out when it was clear I wasn’t going down. Looking carefully each way first, I slipped out of the rain soaked alley and walked quickly to the street. There I turned towards the nearest entrance to Downtown and walked a bit slower. Few in this crowd had anywhere to go in a hurry. Most were unemployed and killing time between their allotted feed-times. This was the poor part of the City, down here on the ground. There were no vehicles on the streets these days. Not since the collapse. Every one of the poor down here on the ground walked and carried bags like me. My bag of hardware appeared no different than the hundreds of other bags on shoulders of others all around me.

~

I looked up at the skyscrapers on all sides. All of them had reflective surfaces from about five floors on up. Up there the Have’s lived. Middle class in the middle floors, and the Rich above that. Of course, the Real-Rich each owned the top few floors of their own skyscraper. The Poor, we all lived on the ground floors, the first 5 or so, or we lived in DownTown. Social climbers in my caste maybe could make it to the 8th or even 10th floors if they were lucky, worked hard, and held their tongues right. I didn’t plan on having to get lucky, work hard, or do more with my tongue than put in Cherry Baby’s mouth.

Behind me, the detonation of my charges brought me out of my musing. I smiled, seems like I might a got a skad, or maybe two. Hope I nicked a Flash-skad. They were hard to get. Joey said they moved in pseudo-time, whatever that was, and they were hella-fast. Cherry believed him. Me? I don’t care what they move in. An’ I’m fast too when my mods kick in. Still it’d be nice to know if I got one though.

Ahead my entrance to Downtown gaped. The street just went straight down through the opening. The huge gate loomed a good fifty feet high and twice as wide. There were a dozen gates into Downtown. As I neared it, I saw the skads standing on each side watching the milling throngs going in or coming out. This was unusual, they usually left the entrances to Downtown alone. There were three squad vans and at least a dozen officers standing around. Hopefully no flash-skads. It’s possible I may have stirred up a hornet’s nest back there. Maybe it was the MK8s? Possibly. But I didn’t think so. Sumpthin’ else must be brewin’.

Yeah. Sumpthin’ was brewin’ all right.

I wasn’t ready when the portal opened. They aren’t supposed to open in public areas. But this was the start of the Portal Wars. I didn’t know nuthin’ about it back then. One minute I was on the street worried about the skads, and the next, a line of blue neon fire flickered past me, a sound like thunder exploded around me, and I was on Jenson’s Hold thirty-eight point four light years from Earth. And boy was I pissed.

I was so pissed, half my mods were on and ready. But I was out on the Savannah now, south end of the big continent.  And there wasn’t no one in a hundred klicks of me, except the natives. I couldn’t tell if they were going to attack me or worship me.

~

To be continued…

A Review of “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing” ~ by Barnard Cullen

posted on July 28, 2012 by Laura A. Diaz

From the website of “Laura Diaz_ Teach Write” at https://ladiazbooksandbeyond.wordpress.com

Timothy’s a sheep who dreams of being a wolf. He runs away to become one, but the grass is not greener and events turn deadly.

Timothy Sheep is bored with the peaceful Meadows and frustrated with Orthodox-sheep telling him what he can’t do. His parents don’t understand him and he’s picked on by bullies. He dreams of becoming a fearless wolf and teaching everyone a lesson, then he finds a wolf-skin …

Through adventures and misadventures, plus some creative lying and bluffs, Timothy joins the Wolf Pack. He finds ‘clothes do make the sheep’. Dressing and acting like a wolf transforms him into one. After he’s accepted, he discovers other wannabe-wolves have slipped in, too. Soon, Timothy’s enjoying the wild-life, howling and playing with friends late as he wants. He’s living his dreams.

But dreams become nightmares as the wolves’ brutal nature is revealed. With wolves killing wolves, can a ‘SHEEP IN WOLF’S CLOTHING’ survive? Too ashamed of his actions to return home to the Meadows and Flock, can Timothy protect his new girl or any of his wannabe friends? Soon he’s changed irrevocably as he’s forced to fight for his life. Will he live to learn any lessons from his wolf experiences?

Parodying gang involvement and its violence, this story is suitable for Middle-Grade and Christian markets.

“Sheep…” is a Middle-Grade level Christian based fantasy of a talking sheep who wants to be a wolf. It parodies a good kid joining a gang.

Timothy, by looking like a wolf is perceived to be one. (Just as a kid who dresses like a gang member is thought to be one.) Through a series of fibs, tom-foolery, and hilarious accidents, he not only joins the Pack, but convinces many that he is a “wolf’s wolf”. At first it is the answer to Timothy’s dreams, but joining the gang becomes the worst choice of his life.

Reviews:

Marvelous allegory for young people. The story captures the eye and the temptations Timothy deals with can easily draw the young reader along. I’ve read enough to know that this book’s plot, story line and message are all impressive. The conversations are logical and the development of characters is impressive.~Joyce Fox,  Slave To Grace

This is a wonderfully written story. It brings the sheep to live in by adding Human characterization to the sheep and wolves. It is great for young readers and adults. It shows the problems of young and old in relationships. Timothy is dissatisfied with his sheep-world. So he goes off to become a wolf, which seems more free. The story talks about dissatified with our own world and try to change to some other world. We all face that at some time. In the Christian world people can get bored and want to change things. This leads to many problems like Timothy.

It does us all good to read this story and pay attention to the message it holds. It shows how we react to our station in life and want to change it only to end up in trouble. We need to learn the lesson this book provides.

~Don R. Budd, Demon War

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the bests allegorical stories for Children Christian fiction books I have read.  Check it out on:

http://authonomy.com/books/34938/a-sheep-in-wolf-s-clothing/

🙂

And then let me know what you thought!  Happy Reading! 

Available on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com

A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing ~ by Barnard Cullen

I found an old review off a web site for my “Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing” story. The web site was “Laura A. Diaz_Teach, Write” at
https://ladiazbooksandbeyond.wordpress.com

It was was posted on July 28, 2012 by Laura A. Diaz

Note: Ebook available at Smashwords or Amazon. Links follow –

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/579457

Timothy’s a sheep who dreams of being a wolf. He runs away to become one, but the grass is not greener and events turn deadly.

Timothy Sheep is bored with the peaceful Meadows and frustrated with Orthodox-sheep telling him what he can’t do. His parents don’t understand him and he’s picked on by bullies. He dreams of becoming a fearless wolf and teaching everyone a lesson, then he finds a wolf-skin …

Through adventures and misadventures, plus some creative lying and bluffs, Timothy joins the Wolf Pack. He finds ‘clothes do make the sheep’. Dressing and acting like a wolf transforms him into one. After he’s accepted, he discovers other wannabe-wolves have slipped in, too. Soon, Timothy’s enjoying the wild-life, howling and playing with friends late as he wants. He’s living his dreams.

But dreams become nightmares as the wolves’ brutal nature is revealed. With wolves killing wolves, can a ‘SHEEP IN WOLF’S CLOTHING’ survive? Too ashamed of his actions to return home to the Meadows and Flock, can Timothy protect his new girl or any of his wannabe friends? Soon he’s changed irrevocably as he’s forced to fight for his life. Will he live to learn any lessons from his wolf experiences?

Parodying gang involvement and its violence, this story is suitable for Young Adult to Middle-Grade and Christian markets.

“Sheep…” is a Christian based fantasy of a talking sheep who wants to be a wolf. It parodies a good kid joining a gang.

Timothy, by looking like a wolf is perceived to be one. (Like a kid who dresses like a gang member and is thought to be one by his clothes.) Through a series of fibs and accidents, he not only joins the Pack, but convinces many that he is a “wolf’s wolf”. At first it is the answer to TImothy’s dreams, but joining the gang becomes the worst choice of his life.

Reviews:

Marvelous allegory for young people. The story captures the eye and the temptations Timothy deals with can easily draw the young reader along. I’ve read enough to know that this book’s plot, story line and message are all impressive. The conversations are logical and the development of characters is impressive.~Joyce Fox,  Slave To Grace

This is a wonderfully written story. It brings the sheep to live in by adding Human characterization to the sheep and wolves. It is great for young readers and adults. It shows the problems of young and old in relationships. Timothy is dissatisfied with his sheep-world. So he goes off to become a wolf, which seems more free. The story talks about dissatified with our own world and try to change to some other world. We all face that at some time. In the Christian world people can get bored and want to change things. This leads to many problems like Timothy.

It does us all good to read this story and pay attention to the message it holds. It shows how we react to our station in life and want to change it only to end up in trouble. We need to learn the lesson this book provides.

~Don R. Budd, Demon War

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the bests allegorical stories for Children Christian fiction books I have read.  Check it out on:

http://authonomy.com/books/34938/a-sheep-in-wolf-s-clothing/

🙂

And then let me know what you thought!  Happy Reading! 

Flight of the Hive – Chapter 9

Chapter 9 – Stirring the Ants Nest

The French Minister of Intelligence tossed the security file onto his desk. “Sacre bleu. We managed to get the space probe reprogrammed and launched just in time.

Wearing one of his nondescript black suits, the Chief of Espionage was frowning. “I assure you, Sir, it was the Chinese who leaked the information to the opposition party.”

“I do not expect that you are wrong, my friend. Your counter-espionage group eradicated the spy cell?”

      “Yes,” the Chief said, mollified. “A bright lining to the clouds. The Chinese will not make that mistake again in the near future. We are tracing the cell backwards to outside sources. It is possible that we will have actually damaged the Guoanbu’s espionage capability in southern France for some time to come.”

      “Yes. It is unfortunate that it has caused a scandal that will likely cost the President of France his job.” The Minister looked very thoughtful, “We will have to do a good job on that spy network to avoid more serious fallout from this issue.”

      “Another bright lining, Monsieur,” the thin Espionage Chief smiled. To the Minister his smile made him look cadaverous. “This is proof that the Chinese are aware of our alien friends.”

      “Now we must reconsider our situation and decide how to proceed. Has the American’s search found anything else?”

      “The American security is embarrassingly easy to circumvent. Our intelligence service has had a field day. They have upped their estimate of alien craft to two hundred. But, a number that large is ridiculous. We suspect, sir, that the entire episode has either been fabricated. One of our French physicists claims that the data may equally be the discovery of a new asteroid belt or comet cluster in that area. He feels the Americans are showing their ignorance again. Either way, it appears likely the Americans are about to have egg on their faces.

     “So…possibly a mistake. Hmmmm. One that our Miranda probe is about to reveal to the world.” The Minister laughed. He cherished this moment. To embarrass the Americans would surely overshadow his agency’s failure in not preventing the Chinese leak. “So, whether we find aliens first, or just a bunch of undiscovered rocks, we will be successful. Mon Ami, we are on top of this game suddenly.” He twirled his small sharp mustache and grinned.

      “Oui. A cause for celebration, sir.”

      “Yes. Send for the servant to bring us a cognac. There is little chance of competition now. Although our President forbade sharing any of this with the rest of the European Union, we should consider how to craft our own leak to embarrass the Americans in their folly.” He laughed again. After the past few days of stress over the Chinese leak, he was inordinately pleased now. He knew that, but did not care today. Vive la France, he thought.

      “Sir? Can you share with me the Miranda probe’s scheduled arrival time?”

      Ah, he rubbed his hands, another reason to be pleased. “With the new Ariane 6 rocket and a new way to slingshot about the Earth, it will arrive in about a month. But we should be seeing something in just a week or two. They are already playing with the cameras and looking. You know it has the latest in camera technology. It will be able to see as good as the biggest land based telescopes within a week and better every day after. French technology at its best.” Suddenly the Minister looked thoughtful. “How old is our information from the Americans?”

      “Let me assure you that what we have is no more than a week old by the time we get it.”

      “Can we get the info sooner? We are playing a catch up game. The Centre National d’Études Spatiales, has clear instructions to call me, even before our President. And do you know what makes me feel the best?”

      “No, Monsieur What is that?” 

      “That the Americans must already know where our probe is headed, and that we’ll be there well ahead of them.”

#

#

“Mr. President.” The President looked up from the buffet table with a plate of shrimp and scampi. Around him hundreds were in attendance at the New Reformed Republican Party’s annual fund-raiser.

“Hello, Bob. Try the shrimp. It’s good. You know my wife is allergic to it and attending these black-tie dinners is about the only way I can get seafood.” He laughed, “Unless I’m on a tour of cities, I almost never got any back in DC. I think I’m actually starting to like these grueling trips.”

His Chief of Staff put his arm on the president’s shoulder and glanced about the room. “Can I talk with you Mr. President? Now?” Bob’s look conveyed a seriousness that made the President reluctant to set down his plate. With a sigh, and a longing glance, he surrendered to the inevitable and set his plate down.

“I suppose you have already found us a place here where we can have this talk?” 

Bob smiled briefly. “Of course I have. This way, sir.” With that His Chief of Staff threaded briskly through the crowd to a large double door along one side. The movement of the President and his bodyguard of CIA across the room was catching a lot of attention. Some looked nervous or worried. The President forced a large smile on his face and waved slowing his walk to a more discreet pace. He even paused to shake several hands and say some short hellos and thanks to people along his route. No sense causing a panic. Everyone remembered President Clark’s assassination just two terms back and if it looked like he was hurried, people could bolt. The Minority Whip of the House would never forgive him if he crashed the party tonight.

 When he finally reached the double doors, Bob was there waiting for him. Two men in dark suits stationed on each side of the doors opened them for them. “Mr. President. Mr.Farrington,” one of them murmured.

He walked though the doors followed by Bob and his small contingent of guards. The two on each side of the door stayed put, but pulled the doors shut behind them. This was a large library. The Minority Whip had a very large mansion and his library of collected rare books was well known. Two of his guards crossed the room to a side wall where another door was set in the wall between the books.

Bob grabbed his elbow and led him into one corner. The President waived his body guards to stay back. He asked, “What’s so important, Bob?”

Bob smiled and said, “One minute.” He set a device like a computer tablet on the shelf beside them and pushed an ominous red button on its top. “There. That will scramble any audio or video channels in this room, in case the Whip has some security built-in here that we haven’t already found.“

The President folded his arms across his chest and said, “Out with it. What’s the deal?”

“There are even more of them than we suspected, sir.”

At first it didn’t register on him who ‘them’ were. Then it did. “How many?”

“Hundreds.”

The President felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Hundreds? As in, more than 200?”

“A lot more. And we have a report on size. One of the astronomers, Amad Hazzarian at Mount Graham, figured out some complex way of measuring the speed of a ship as it occulted a star. Based on what they tell me is actually rudimentary geometry, some of those ships are ten times the size we originally estimated.”

The President felt his mouth fall open. “Ten times the size of the Pentagon?”

“And all its parking lots.”

“My lord. That’s big.”

               “And,” Bob’s voice dropped in volume. “There are probably a thousand of them, of all different sizes apparently. I’m told that before, and after, one of the big shapes crosses the star, that often a number of smaller objects, moving very fast, cross the same star. Also, some stars lie close together in the sky. Often a big shape seems to have smaller ones swarming around it. They’re no longer certain how many of these there are out there. They’ve lost count.”

“What are those things? What purpose is there in that many ships?”

Bob put his hand on the President’s shoulder. “The Military analysts are talking loud and fast. They say that anything that big was meant to carry something pretty darn big around inside it. Of course that goes without saying, I suppose. But, the only thing the Military staff can conceive of that would be needing that much size and space . . . ” He paused, “. . . is a military force. They think we have an armada out there.”

“Surely that’s not possible?” The disbelief was palpable. “Who would conceive of conquest over such distances? It couldn’t be economically worth it! Who could fight across the distances between stars?” Then, as an afterthought, grasping at straws, “What about the theory that advanced races would outgrow the need for conquest?”

“I don’t know, Mr. President. Someone or something has crossed those distances. I was also told to point out that conquest was the first thing on the conquistadors’ minds when they crossed the ocean to the new world. Of course, the theory I just shared  has been hotly criticized by most of the other non-military analysts.”

“I should think so.” Rubbing his brow, the president looked flustered.

“One of the physicists suggested that we may have just encountered a nomadic race. One that takes their whole civilization with them as they travel between stars. He said that a race like that may not care if they take several hundred years to travel between stars because everyone they need or know is traveling with them.”

The President was quiet. Then, “Pass the word back to the Pentagon, and everyone else, to drop all this bullshit about a possible threat for now. If we get a leak to the press about our “little green men”, and I don’t want it complicated with some panicked bunch of UFO freaks, who think we’re being invaded, and stirring up trouble. You got me?”

“Loud and clear, Mr. President.”

“Let’s talk about this tomorrow on the plane back.”

“Yes sir.”

“You know Bob, I didn’t think I’d ever feel this way, but suddenly I’m not interested in the seafood any longer.”

#

#

Veta grimaced. The canteen was a noisy and the intoxicant she was nursing had a harsh metallic taste. She had been talked into trying it by her grounder buddies. “Nectar of Galeta” is what they had said. Nectar of a subjugate septic system was more like it. She considered having a container of rocket fuel to clear her taste buds. Even that should taste better than this stuff. She should have stuck with the pernt. It tasted better and was carbonated besides.

The canteen wasn’t normally her choice of places to be, especially after her last binge with her grounder friends. But Veta was avoiding her cubicle for a few cycles, hoping Enet would calm down. The canteen was the easiest place to kill some time. But she was having a tough time keeping her friends from getting her intoxicated again. It was crowded in here as well as noisy. Veta ducked as Gredi went by waving her appendages wildly, involved in a pantomime game of some kind. Jardin was yelling guesses that were lost in the crowd’s noise. Why is the canteen is always so full between shifts, Veta wondered sourly?

“Veta.” Turning her head, she saw Daehir, her GM, had appeared. “Why the sad face?

“Enet.” One word says all, Veta thought.  

“Still? Galeta!” Daehir exclaimed. Veta winced at the irreverent use of Galeta’s name. Rough language was natural for Daehir, who thought nothing of it. “For a pleasure-clone, she’s not giving you much pleasure.”

“She’s a Tech,” Veta defended her.

“Ahhh. So? Get a new one. Or get a real pleasure-clone. There is a real vision of beauty I know who could make you forget all about Enet.”

Veta shook her head. “How many pleasure-clones does this make that you know? Three-eights? Or eight times that many? You play around with so many. How can you say you really know any of them?”

Daehir laughed. “And you know Enet? I think not. Pleasure-clones don’t think like us Warriors. Just take your sex-stims and go have fun. How old are you?” She suddenly demanded. “Two-eights? You have a lot to learn about relationships. “

Defensively, Veta replied, “Three eighths and four. Old enough. This is my fourth Flight.”

“And eight Flights will teach you all about pleasure-clones? I think not.” Daehir looked around the crowded canteen. “In your mood, you need to talk not drink. Hungry? Let’s go to the food hall. It’s quieter there. My credit.” Veta nodded appreciatively. Enet had her credit-chit and she wasn’t likely to get it back soon. Getting up, they threaded their way out the door and down the corridor to the food hall. Grabbing a tray, they each selected items that Daehir waived her chit for. Then they found a table in the corner on the far side of the hall where there were few others.

As they sat Daehir, struck up the conversation again. “I’ve been in cold-storage, but you’re off the Bridge. Jump-Controller, weren’t you? What are we doing out here in this spiral arm? We’re a long way from the Hive.”

Veta sighed. “You’re not alone in asking. Yes, I was Jump-Controller for our ship, then for the Flight after the ambush.”

Daehir nodded. “Slept through that one in the tanks. That’s the trouble with cold-storage, you go in, but you don’t ever know if you’re coming out. A lot of Grounders go out that way, without a chance to fire a shot.” Daehir shook her head sadly. “Galeta have mercy, but that’s hardly fair for a Warrior.”

“Yeah,” Veta commiserated. They sat there for a few seconds somber. Loss was always there, Veta reflected. “Ship-Mother said that the Drones would tell us the mission when we got closer, but they were all lost with Bruel. May Galeta give them rest. If they told her or the original Flight commanders, we’ll never know now.”

Veta looked across the food hall, where an attractive clone was sitting with her friends. Maybe Daehir was right. It wouldn’t take a stim to get her interested most of the time, but she really felt like she owed Enet something. Turning back to Daehir, she continued, “All I ever saw were the coordinates. That was our target. When we Emerged, Blessed be the Act of Adulation, the first scans showed the third planet was populated with mid-tech-level subjugants. Faylon decreed that was the target world. She ordered preparation for subjugation. What else would we have been sent for?”

“We’re a long ways from Hive space to be taking a new subjugant world,” Daehir muttered dryly. “Have they thought about how they intend on holding it? ‘The Enemy is everywhere’.”

 “And, ‘Everywhere is the Enemy’, Veta answered maxim with maxim. The old truths admitted the reality, as depressing as that was this far from safe space. “I heard Faylon tell Malen that the Mother must be planning a new Hive.”

Daehir was suitably impressed. “A new Hive! It’s been what? Four-eight’s of cycles since a new Hive was founded? Well, for me four-eights.” She looked at Veta questioningly.

“Eight-eights and half again, Daehir.”

Looking stricken, Daehir whispered, “So long. Who’d have known?” She looked up meeting Veta’s eyes. “I wonder how old I am? I mean, real-time. I’ve spent so long in the tanks.”

Veta touched Daehir’s arm. “All time is real time for Galeta.”

Daehir gave a halfhearted smile at the quote from the Forms. “Sure. It’s just a long time for mere clones. You said earlier this was your fourth flight. It’s my eight-and-seventh.” Daehirr took a long drink from her intoxicant. Maudlin from the drink, Veta decided. Daehir never appeared intoxicated no matter how much she drank.

“That’s a lot of Flights,” was all Veta could think of to say.

Daehir nodded morosely. “Still, a new Hive? So far from the others? Where’s the sense in that? How do you defend it?”

Veta shrugged. Maybe Daehir was right. “I don’t know. Without the Drones and their communicator, we haven’t contacted the Hives to ask. You know the protocol for enemy space.” She knew she didn’t have to say, ‘run silent’. “Maybe The Mother wanted something that this world has. We should find out soon. We’ve never failed a subjugation.”

At which, Daehir nodded and smiled. “Take comfort in small things.”

#

#

There it is, Tommy’s. The narrow old style brick frontage belied the larger inside he knew, but he could see a lot of people were in there. He hadn’t been there in years, and now at happy hour the joint was jumping. He pushed his way in though an ancient brass door. Part of the ambiance, he thought. It was even more crowded inside. The old saloon bar-counter took up one whole wall near the front. It was and

Watching carefully in the dim lighting for Linda, he headed towards the back. There the owner had torn out a portion of the back brick wall and expanded his business into the shop behind. The whole area was full of tables, and full of people with servers passing back and forth. Boy, this could prove a challenge. He scanned the side tables before turning to the back wall.

There she was. Linda waived at him from across the room. Garret took a deep breath to calm down. He felt like he’d run the whole way from the subway and his nerves weren’t helping him. He hurried around the café tables to where she sat. As he approached, he admired her again. She was taking advantage of the spring weather, showing a lot of leg below her skirt and a light lacy white top that drew his eyes there as well. Typical male, he thought disparaging himself. I need to act better than this. Here I am, fired and unemployed, and all I can think about is seeing her. Oggling her, actually.

“Hi,” he managed as he came to her table. Linda flashed him a bright smile that made him forget about his problems briefly. He grinned back, hoping it didn’t make him look like an idiot. “I’m glad I found you in here. This place is packed.”

“Sit down, Garret. Don’t stand there staring at me. I was about to give up on you.”

Oops, he thought. “I’m sorry. You see, I was..”

“Shhhh. Garret!” Linda leaned forward close and kissed him on the lips. Staring into his eyes, she said, “Relax. I would have waited for you all night.” Getting a mischievous look in her eyes, she added, “At least until some stud picked me up.”

He knew she was teasing again, this time, but she was beautiful enough to have had plenty of studs coming around trying to make it with her. Determined to tease back, Garret said, “Your stud is here, madam.” He spoiled it with a blush when she burst out laughing, covering her mouth. She pointed behind him. He blushed worse when he turned and found a waitress standing there looking amused. I guess she heard that last.

“Well, stud. Buy me a drink and loosen me up,” Linda said brazenly. “Gin and Tonic, please.”

The waitress took it down and looked at Garret. “What’ll it be for you, stud?”

“Uh, I’ll have a whiskey sour. Thank you.” He could hear Linda laughing again. Damn. He was messing this up royally. He looked at Linda chagrinned.

“Garret. Please relax. I am a terrible tease, and whether you’ve noticed it or not yet, quite forward.” She paused. “I’m used to men trying to pick me up all the time. I’m not usually interested in them. But you’re different. You’re hard working, sweet, and innocent enough to be an easy mark for my humor,” Linda smiled at that. “And, you’re man enough to punch out Jeremy Rudstein.”

“I guess I am, ” he admitted cautiously.

“Let’s just pretend that I’ve just picked you up, instead of the other way around. That you’re here to take me to dinner and show me a good time. After that, since I picked you up, I’m going to have my way with you before the evening is done. Sound OK?”

“Uh. ” He swallowed, not sure what to say. He was certainly interested in staying with her, and she was so incredibly assertive that he knew couldn’t resist. “OK.”

She reached over and took hold of his tie, pulling his face close to hers. “I like being in control in my relationships. And I’m thinking that you like me being pushy about it. Don’t you…stud.”

Garret was speechless. He’d never thought a beautiful sexy woman would drag him into her bed. The evening was starting to appear to be more of a fantasy come true than he’d ever believed possible. He closed his mouth, realizing it was open still, cleared his throat and managed to say, “I like it very much.”

#

#

Chiang Heung gazed at the approaching Singapore shoreline. The ferry had taken forever to cross the straight in rough weather. Now, he was queasy and more ready to disembark than he had been earlier. The Guoanbu had recalled him to the mainland leaving him with some trepidation about it. His uneasiness was as much from the recall, as in the manner it was signed. His place in the hierarchy was under Chairman Tiew, but the message had Zhou’s name on it. Zhou was the oldest of the triumvirate and, by reputation, the most to be feared.

Once again he considered whether it was wiser to just disappear and take his chances. In his line of work, there weren’t many retirees. Nor many who died a natural death. When he came out of the slums in New Taipei, he hadn’t cared if this work would kill him. It would feed him and take him away from that life. He had never looked back. He never intended to go back.

 Chiang had amassed a small fortune. Discretely. Quietly. And hidden it away where either he would be the one collecting it, or no one. That was his retirement. It was waiting for him. He had no other “attachments”. Xue, the one they thought was his wife, was simply a whore who was more than happy to take his money to say she was his wife. Funny he thought, for a whore to have a given name that meant snow, or purity. She was bearable enough, and even serviced his needs happily, and well, he admitted to himself. If he ran, he would have to leave her, but he had always intended to. And she had always expected him to go away and not return, over and over, every trip away. Each trip he had returned however, and her payments continued. He was not sure that, after all these years, she did not actually consider herself to be his wife.

Singapore and its airport were drawing nearer. He would have to choose his path soon. Up to this point, his path was the same as one obeying orders. From here, that would change. He had came out onto the car deck. Between being queasy and the smell of sick passengers, he would much rather be outside. The wind gusted across his face, chill and wet. The hurricane was still a long ways off, but its weather effects were strong. Hurricanes had grown stronger since he was a child. From global warming he supposed.

His thoughts returned to the Ministry of State Security. The MSS had quietly wrangled within itself behind the scenes for years. Infighting. Betrayal. There was always a struggle going on for position and power. It occurred at every step of the Guoanbu, all the way up. The chairmen themselves engaged in it heavily. Tiew and Woo currently were siding together. Chiang felt that old Zhou was about to be “managed” out of the agency. Talk was everywhere that there would be a move soon. He frowned. That didn’t make Zhou any less dangerous, especially to someone low in the Ministry like himself.

He sighed. He was tired. Always on guard. Always watching over his shoulder. Yes. It was time to retire. Time to disappear as he had planned. Maybe he would even bring his whore, Xue, with him. After all, she had made a good wife. Yes. He shouls plan a new path for them both now.

When the ferry had docked, he made his way to the boarding ramp. As he stepped off the ramp, he heard his name. He turned and there was a man there in a dark suit. “Chiang?” He said again.

 “Yes?”

Behind him a second man stepped up, and put a bullet in his brain.

#

#

The closed conference area had the top ranks of the Flight in it. Faylon looked at them with pride. These clones were her sword. One, by Galeta’s grace, she wielded to the purposes of the Hive. “Before we begin this meeting, I hear we have collected a trinket from our goal. Recon-mother. Can you enlighten us?”

A brown-suited clone stood, Recon-mother Banelet half bowed and began to speak. “First. In our recon of the second gas giant, my daughters have collected a primitive vehicle which appears to have been sent to reconnoiter the outer planets for this species. The technology is, as I said primitive, and the speed slow. It must have been sent at least eight-and seven solar cycles ago. Amazing enough, this primitive technology was still functioning and beaming rudimentary transmission back to it home world.”

“Appreciation Recon-mother Banelet. Galeta blesses those who watch.” Flight-mother Faylon said intoning a minor Form used by scouts.

Banelet bowed to Faylon and then turned back to the small assembly. “Second. Our extended scouts are in orbital positions already.  They have released the geosynchronous orbital recon platforms and have begun locating cities, industrial areas, and most importantly, military installations. They will have a comprehensive list prepared shortly so we can begin battle planning.” Banelet continued with a stream of information until finally she said, “Galeta’s watchers are ever fruitful.” Faylon smiled at the subtle brag. Banelet was certainly proud of Recon’s preparedness and fast deployment. Faylon added khree to her by nodding in agreement. Prestige is always such a fragile thing, she thought.

Faylon surveyed the small group of senior mothers before her.  Malen was there, of course, as were the two Fleet-Battalion-mothers, and the four Grounder-Battalion-mothers. Behind them was the Senior Med-mother and the Psych-mother. Banelet had rejoined them. This small group formed all of this Flight’s Central Command now that the Drones and the Protocol-mother were gone. All the Drones would have crowded the room had they been here. Having only eight-and-two and none of those the overbearing Drones made this much more pleasant she reflected.

Faylon decided she may as well break her most disturbing news to them now. “I have a series of video transmissions, compiled by the early Recon staff. I request the senior mothers review this with me. The need to observe these transmissions will become apparent rapidly. Please hold comments until the end.” Touching her controller, the large vid screen on the wall came to life. The silence in the group deepened as the transmissions played one after the other until they were complete.

When the vid screen ended. The room erupted in confusion.

“Silence!” Faylon glared around the room. The cacophony of noise ceased. “We will maintain khree. Remember, ‘Khree above all’. You have all just now seen the video transmissions from the planet. I want to remind you all that no word of this is to leave this room.” Some murmuring began again.

“It is of paramount importance to this mission and to the Flight that the appearance of these humanoids does not create rumors or flights of fancy among the crew. Science-mother Devery. Come forward.” Faylon paused to give Devery time to reach the front of the room. “Tell us what you can about these creatures.”

Science-mother Devery looked nervously out at the crowd of officers. “We don’t know much. The appearance of these subjugates is disturbing, but should be of no consequence to the flight. Until we land and can collect specimens we would only be guessing. It is possible the drones had some information on this race. Since they are no longer with us, they cannot tell us what they may have known. Our linguists are working on the planet’s languages. There are many on this planet. But luckily, while there are several main languages that are in the transmissions, there is one that seems to be the most common. As usual we may not be able to communicate with these creatures until after subjugation.”

“What is the possibility of a connection with these things?” Came a voice from the back.

Faylon answered for the Science-mother, “Across hundreds of light-years of space there does not seem to be any chance of a connection. How could there be?” Flight-mother Faylon’s logic and confidence seemed proof enough. “We have never failed a mission. This is no time to risk it on unfounded fears. Our warriors will not need more doubts and concerns than necessary on their minds while they subjugate this planet. Therefore no discussion of this is to occur outside of this room and my presence.”

“Why don’t we delay until we can discover more about these creatures?” Came the lone voice again. Faylon looked to see the source and saw Ship-mother Rayhk staring back at her. Rayhk was ever a thorn in her side. She couldn’t seem to just follow an order without questioning it.

“We haven’t that luxury, Ship-mother Rayhk. Let me remind you. We are in Enemy space. It was only a few jumps back that we had contact with the Enemy. Very costly contact. Our mission is to subjugate this world. Once subjugated, we will need to send a messenger back to the Hive so that any wormhole transmissions are not detected. Then the Mother can send us reinforcements to hold this world. May the All-Mother, Galeta, be with us to strengthen our arm in battle.”

            “Blessed be Galeta,” came the response.

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