Science Fiction Archives - Lyonesse

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The Intended

“Interrogating is not a simple business anymore.”

Charlie and Mr. Jonah were sitting in a large office that was professionally gray and square, and Charlie admired the room’s balance of furniture and emptiness.  He felt good that everything on the desktop and in the black bookshelf had a specific place and function.

Mr. Jonah moved closer to the great window that stretched from floor to ceiling.  Boston’s compact skyline huddled around them, and in the distance there was some smoke from Charlestown but beyond that were the low humps of green hills.  The glass was lightly tinted blue, and because the window faced north the direct glare of the sun never came into the office.

“Interrogating is not a simple business,” he said again.  “I don’t mean the act itself—I certainly don’t have the authority to tell you about that, since you can do it and I obviously can’t.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be in this kind of position.  I’d be sitting right where you are, if I could do what you can do.”  Charlie smiled politely, fidgeted with the knot of his tie, which he had retied three times an hour ago.

“I mean it’s not a simple business.  The numbers, the schedules, the economics of the thing—none of that is simple.  The most difficult part of working for a company like ContraData if you’ve been developing the skill on your own, out there in the world, is realizing that what you can do is no longer just a part of your own experience.  Realizing that it now affects thousands of agents, managers, accountants, executives all over the world.  Not to mention, of course, the clients involved in the specific cases that you have.  Time and again.”

Through his window, Mr. Jonah watched a world that was not moving.

“Sometimes I envy my agents—I really do.  Sometimes I wish I could feel what you feel when you first realize you’ve actually done it—that hazy moment when it really is 1979 again, or when you hear the first notes from a radio that reminds you that some singer from the nineties is still alive wherever you are.”

He looked Charlie in the eye, and the receding gray of his hair was icy against the blue of the window.

“But sometimes I wouldn’t want to be you for anything in the world, Charlie.”

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Splintered

Katy stumbled across the muddy field, her heart still beating hard in her chest. Adrenaline from the battle still pumped through her veins.  The raid had ended, but it always took hours to bring herself down from the rush of war.

The area between where the rebel coalition called Ahuva had set up fort and the occupied city of Rostislav sat empty of human life.  Other than herself and a handful of retreating soldiers, only the crows occupied the dead zone between the city and the rebel camp.  In the darkening field Katy couldn’t tell what uniforms the stray soldiers wore so she didn’t fire at them, but she did suspiciously watch them until they disappeared. Dusk had fallen, and no one wanted to be out alone in the war-torn mud pit after dark.

Her feet ached from running on the concrete inside the city for hours. Her neck and shoulders ached from tension. Her stomach ached from hunger. Her bones ached with utter exhaustion. Parts of her young body she had never before acknowledged ached. Even her teeth hurt from grinding them in anxiety. Not even her previous life as a farmer punished her body the way her life as a rebel soldier did.

Again and again Commander Hayim sent them in to raid small strongholds of the Teodor Empire’s army in Rostislav, with little rest and little planning.  She didn’t mind the many chances to avenge Victor. But anger roiled in her stomach anyway, because she knew she and her fellows were being used until collapse or death. And then their new commanders would just be replaced them all with someone else who would be driven just as hard. The days of being a family…of being a small band of cheerful rebels throwing off an invading power were gone.

Now she was so tired she could hardly see straight. Her heavy feet caught frequently on pieces of broken tanks and trucks, and occasionally she even stumbled over a body.  Only her anger at Hayim and her hate for the Teodor kept her upright.  One dirty hand absently rubbed at her face, the other hand loosely clutching her gun as she made her way across the field towards the lumpy cot she knew waited for her.

Her mind focused on the glorious idea of a few hours of sleep, she didn’t notice the figure crouched in the mud and destruction in front of her until she saw movement in the corner of her eye. She had almost passed an entire human being without noticing them at all.  Suddenly the adrenaline that had been slowly flushing out of her system rushed back full blast, making her head spin.  Her other hand came around and tightly clutched the gun that had been held limply at her side.  She jumped back slightly, training her gun on the living body, blinking furiously to clear her vision of the dizziness brought by the adrenaline.

She looked closely at the figure in front of her.  A woman dressed in muddy clothes crouched in the increasing darkness. Katy could see the faded mark of a medic emblazoned across the chest of her jacket.  She also wore the white and red scarf denoting her rank as a doctor, but the strips were more a brownish gray now than white.  Dark, curly hair covered her head and hung around her shoulders, obscuring her face for the moment. Katy realized she had to be very short as well; all these things made her nearly invisible until Katy had almost tripped over her. The medic crouched low over a gurgling and squirming Teodorian soldier.

“Hold it!” she shouted, cocking her pistol at the top of the medic’s head.  She had to be a doctor for the Empire, or perhaps the Wojciech. Katy couldn’t let them go.

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95 South

Avery drove down the highway, his arm out the window and bouncing at the mercy of a seventy-five mile an hour wind. He’d survived the onslaught of twelve-hour days and long work-weekends that gathered until April 15th, when they disappeared as darkness does before the dawn. After the deadline, his office turned into a ghost town. Many of the CPAs took vacation, and Avery was no different. Halfway between Richmond and the North Carolina border, all he could think about was the next few days of drinking, eating, and relaxing at his friend Rick’s house. The dashboard clock ticked closer to midnight, and a classic Nineties rock tune strained the speakers.

He ripped his gaze from the hypnotic flash of the white stripes in the center of the road when a single light appeared, as if from a faraway distance, and quickly grew brighter. At first he thought it might be a plane, then a helicopter as it moved closer. And then the light fell from its perch and dropped down into the trees a few miles ahead. The sound of his tires hitting the rumble strips, matching the rushing of his heart, caused him to veer back on the road. Wide-eyed, he looked all around, expecting another car to smash into him, but he was alone.

He turned off the radio and flicked his eyes at the clock again. He decelerated but the ‘happy vacation’ cold six-pack and wine bottle on the passenger seat caught his attention. He hit the gas. Half a mile passed, Avery fidgeting the whole way. He looked at the clock again. “Ah, screw it,” he said.

Avery pulled over at his best guess of where the aircraft fell. He turned his hazards on and pulled out his cell as a truck barreled past. He put the phone down. How come no one else has stopped? he thought to himself. Someone had to have seen it.

He stepped out of his Benz and walked toward the edge of the grass. The full moon lit up a good portion of the periphery of the forest, enough to see thick, hanging branches flush with leaves, but any deeper and all he could see was darkness. No light from a potential fire. Then it dawned on him that he hadn’t heard a sound, either. He imagined the embarrassment of calling nine-one-one and having a cop come out and find nothing. “Been drinking, sir?” Damn it. I must be certain first. I know I saw something.

He returned to his car and pulled out a multi-tool specialty knife and a flashlight from his glove compartment. He had gotten great use out of the knife, one of the best birthday presents he had ever been given. He turned around and aimed for the trees, his car beeping twice as he locked it.

Branches, leaves, and twigs whipped at his lower legs. The crunch beneath his feet reminded him briefly of playing in numerous childhood tree houses. He looked back at his flashing hazards every ten seconds to keep a sense of direction, until the forest swallowed them up. He made a concerted effort not to veer off track, and took mental notes of specific root shapes to use as markers for his return. Just as fear began to spark terrible thoughts of getting lost, a light appeared ahead of him.

There we go! I knew I saw something, he thought.

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St. Sasha’s Locket

“Jewelia, you go in through the back. Krill thinks there may be an escape tunnel, so check that out first. We don’t want her slipping past us. I’ll go in through the front and make my way to the office. If we avoid the Saletins we’ll be out of here in fifteen minutes,” Darrion Artenan said. He looked pointedly at Jewelia. “No killing anyone this time.”

Darrion chambered a round in his weapon and then holstered it. He reminded me of a cowboy from one of the 20th Century American westerns I had seen on my commpad a few years ago. Except, instead of leather, he wore luminescent red Terelian Dragonhide. And, rather than a revolver, the gun he carried was a silver Colt Titanium Lazerline Pistol that gleamed in the light of Belloua 3’s sun.

“I can’t make any promises,” Jewelia said slinging her weapon of choice, a Molovian .223 Hellfire rifle, onto her back. The gun was huge, the end of the mussel hanging a foot from the ground on her six-foot frame. She checked the rest of her arsenal. Two pistols were strapped to the side of her thighs, a small curved dagger hung from her belt and two smaller knives were in each boot. She always came overdressed to every party, but I guess that should be expected of an ex-assassin.

The locket had disappeared three years earlier from the private collection of Sasha’s great-great-great grandniece. To her it was more than just a relic of a Saint, it was an heirloom of her family, of which she was the last survivor. The collection was being turned over to Fr. Konecsni at the Vatican Museum for safe keeping. Fr. K, as everyone called him, had turned to Darrion for help with getting the relic back.

Darrion’s crew was made up of himself and two others: Jewelia, the ex-assassin, and Krill, the cook, the mechanic and everything else. Then there was me, Lillyanne of Troppe Recovery. I have the gift of finding lost and stolen items, mostly lost keys. On occasion, Darrion would let me tag along on a mission to recover the relic I helped locate.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

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Salvation Inc

Father Eduardo Arroyo rose slowly and unsteadily to his feet. The short half hour of kneeling in prayerful adoration before his God severely stiffened the joints of the fifty-seven-year-old cleric. The priest winced at the pains which lanced through his thin legs. Father Arroyo resisted the temptation to lament over how much soft tissue, ligaments and tendons, he had lost to the plague eating away at him from the inside. Instead, the priest recalled Saint Paul’s words to the Colossians and made them his own as he took three faltering steps on numbed feet towards the Eucharist centered in the golden, sunburst-shaped monstrance. “I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I fill up what is lacking in your afflictions, O Christ.”

With his hands placed on the chapel altar, Father Arroyo genuflected carefully. A fiery stab of pain shot through the bending knee.

“For you, my Lord,” the priest prayed, silently offering up his pains, joining them to the tortures suffered by his loving God.

A minute later, when the pangs subsided, Arroyo pulled the lunette out of the back of the monstrance. The small, silver, crescent held the Blessed Host firmly in a groove carved into its concave edge. The priest transferred it to the tabernacle and closed its’ doors. Arroyo then bowed, pushed the horn-rimmed glasses back up the aquiline nose which dominated his broad face and finally limped of the chapel.

The smell of roasting garlic greeted Arroyo in the hall. A heavier scent, oily and meaty, wafted through the air beneath it. His taste buds stirred to life as he made his way slowly down the long hall. With every step down the long corridor the sharp pains receded to a dull throbbing.

All three members of the parish staff were gathered in the kitchen. Johnny Chang, the priest’s deacon was sitting straight and upright at a round table centered in the room. The tall and lean-limbed young man was slicing up a small loaf of bread. Chang was the native New Yorker of the staff, baptized in the very Chinatown church where they all now served. Behind him were two nuns. Sister Josephina was a middle-aged Haitian, her dark and plump features were wrapped in the white habit of the Dominican Order. She was bent over the stove, fluffing up a pot of rice. To her left, Sister Angelica, a milk-pale and freckled young Iowan, habited in Benedictine black, was cutting up a head of lettuce on a counter beneath a bank of cupboards.

“Smells great in here,” Father Arroyo announced as he entered the kitchen.

“That would be the garlic-roasted pigeons, father,” Sister Josephina said as she slipped oven mitts over her hands. “They should be ready.”

“Good, because I’m famished enough to eat a whole flock of pigeons, sister.”

“That would be a kit of pigeons, father, not a flock of pigeons,” Sister Angelica corrected him.

“Are you certain, sister?”

“Fairly so, father.”

The priest shot his deacon a questioning look.

Johnny Chang shook his close-cropped head. “I wouldn’t challenge Our Lady of Trivial Pursuit if I were you, father. That’s never ended well for any of us.”

“No, it hasn’t,” Father Arroyo said, turning back to Sister Angelica. The Benedictine nun was grinning impishly as she divided the shredded romaine into four glass bowls. “Fine, I’m hungry enough to eat a whole kit of pigeons.”

“And I could eat the whole caboodle,” Sister Josephina added as she pulled the sizzling iron pan out of the oven. “But there were only four birds in this squadron. We’ll have to settle for one a piece, I’m afraid.”

“Bless you Sister Josephina,” Arroyo said. “You have saved me yet again from falling into the sin of gluttony.”

“Remember that next time you’re prescribing penance, father,” Sister Josephina said, placing the pan across two of the oven’s burners.

“It’s a deal, sister. Henceforth I shall insist self-flagellation be administered by nothing harsher than a wet noodle.”

“You’re too kind father.”

“Vocational hazard, my child,” Father Arroyo said taking a seat at the table. “So Johnny, how did your shift go?”

“It was quiet, father,” Johnny said, cutting the last slice. “Mr. Simmons and Mr. Highet have started coughing up blood, however. You might want to pay them a visit later tonight.”

Arroyo nodded somberly. “I’ll see them after dinner.”

The plague that was killing them and everyone on Manhattan was popularly referred to as the Mold because of the fibrous lesions it left in the wake of its passage through the body. The Mold spores initially nested themselves in the lungs before spreading throughout its host. While the steady erosion of tendons and ligaments was a constant and painful drain on the quality of life for the infected, it was the loss of the lungs that usually killed them off.

“And Mrs. Greeley, father,” Sister Angelica said while quartering a pair of tomatoes. “You should add her to tomorrow’s morning visits. That poor woman is suffering terribly. But oh my, she is so brave about it. I don’t think she has but a few days left in her.”

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