You never get used to the smell. Not really. I’ve had lifetimes to try, and it still coats the back of my throat like a slick of putrid garbage water: old rot, with the gagging tang of powdered mold. Then comes the sting. Your eyes run, and your nose runs, and you worry that it’s eating away at your skin, if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Under all that floats the dry, musty stink of a snake pit. That’s enough to send some folks running all by itself.
I looked around, and fought the urge to hack and spit on the ground. A body just naturally wants to rid itself of anything that vile. But it wouldn’t do any good, and I had work to do. Still, I wished I had packed my gas mask that morning.
The Nofera had been denning here for a while, that was clear. The stink was stronger than I’d smelled in a long time. The old factory made sense for a safehouse; it was condemned, and set back from the road by a cracked and overgrown parking lot. It hunched up against a tangled woodlot on the other side, perfect for discreet comings and goings at any time of day or night. The owners clearly hadn’t been around to check on the place in years. Or hell, maybe they had, and the Nofera had eaten them. Either way, the place was in bad shape: flakes coming off the concrete walls, rust holes starting in the roof where the paint was worn through. Graffiti all over, though none of it looked recent. Normal people can’t sense them like I can, but the little bit of smell that leaked outside was probably enough to keep away anyone who didn’t have a good reason to be there.
The doors were all locked, but a broken window on the second floor around back was just the right size for a scuttle hole, and the glass was cleaned out of the frame. Nofera don’t like to go in and out on the ground if they can help it.
It only took a minute to draw a focus circle around the lock on one of the back doors with a piece of chalk. A trickle of Water, Air and Fire—the steel provided the Earth—and the whole mechanism powdered away, leaving nothing but a heap of rust flakes on the threshold. Continue reading “Warlock, Chapter 1”
It was beautiful, this empty place. Jondo knew he would be sad when it was destroyed. He wondered if he would be able to remember it after it was gone. For a long stretch he watched in silence, and wherever his gaze lingered, the clouds followed, rolling in from behind him. It always came from behind, the darkness.
He stood in a vast plain. The long yellow grass bowed and bobbed away from him in rolling waves, lashed by a rushing wind. The sky above him was dark, a swirling mass of furious cloud the swollen purple of a three-day bruise. To his left, far in the distance, rose a mountain. When he looked, it loomed closer. Above the mountain the air was clear, and it shone in the sun. Snow trimmed its base, reflecting a rainbow; it lofted into the heights of the sky beyond his vision, fading into the black emptiness, studded with stars as it grew taller and taller, until it became one with the ceiling of the heavens. There was no end to it, and he shook his head and looked down at his feet instead.
His toes rooted into the dark earth, tendrils reaching down into the still beneath as the wind tossed the world above into chaos. He could not feel the wind himself; but no matter which way he turned the grass bent away, as though it tried to run from him. As though it feared him. Continue reading “Somnia: a beginning”
Landing, Party of Two
by Alexander Munro
The first thing I noticed when we landed on EG2 was the gravity. It was brutal, even in a powered hardshell. Three point one g is a hard pull. I felt it yanking on the skin of my cheeks, and my eyelids dragged when I blinked. The suit’s compression layer was doing a good job keeping blood flowing to my brain, but I could feel my heart pumping hard, and I was glad I’d been training in the heavy room on Hebridea for the last five weeks.
Michao looked like a jowly old draftrat. Somehow it made him harder to hate—a little less disgustingly good-looking. He grinned at me, perfect teeth making a strange contrast with his distorted face. “You could be a ‘before’ model for Regenis Skin Lifts, Soliera,” he said.
Sure didn’t take him long to burn up that little bit of goodwill. “You’re not so hologenic yourself at the moment. Should we get moving? We’re on the clock for rendezvous.” His expression soured, and I groaned inwardly. Captain Piet Michao never liked being reminded of anything by an inferior. Kiss the coula above you, kick the one below; might as well be his motto.
“Load up, Soliera. I want all those samplers in order. And double-check the roster before we start trekking. I don’t want to backtrack because you left a spectro behind.” Right. Like I was the one who’d cacked up the equipment list. I think he’d actually convinced himself that I was responsible for forgetting the crystallograph when we left Hebridea. That’s me, Ribekka Soliera: tech sergeant, algorithmic cartographer, convenient blame-weasel. Continue reading “Landing, Party of Two – a short story”