The Hunt for that Vicious Bastard, Kadiis O’len

My metal companion spoke, breaking hours of silently trudging through this snowy hellscape.

“The birds have gone, Miss,” said Carson-5, its voice box crackling. Icicles shivered with the echo. The machine came to a stop with a hiss of hydraulics. Steam rose from puddles of slush pooled around its oval-shaped feet. Dull and grey, Carson-5 measured ten feet to the top of its cube head, which was little more than a speaker and pair of antennae. Broad shoulders supported long arms that ended in modular stumps equipped via a backpack cargo pod. The torso narrowed sharply before flaring into wide hips and a pair of segmented legs. Carson-5 was a standard scout and exploration unit, built to withstand any environment and keep its human masters alive. It wasn’t one of the kill-and-detain Yeager-7s most bounty hunters pal around with, but I got a great deal during my last trip to Earth—this particular Carson-5 had failed two previous owners.

“What birds?” I asked, looking back at Carson-5 through the fog of my own breath. All I had kept track of for the past five hours was the crunch of my own feet plunging through snow. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. My eyes had been glued to the distant mountain, not growing larger with each stride. Miles ahead, at the base of the mountain, was a ranger’s station. Significantly fewer miles behind, the wreckage of my ship, after an orbital collision with a fugitive’s escape pod. Rock. Hard, burning place.

“This planet is home to over 3,000 species of birds, at least fifteen of which inhabit this area,” the machine explained. “I have observed regular calls from many different birds since we arrived. They have been silent for five minutes.”

I stared at Carson-5. It stared into the foliage. Cold seeped into my thermal underwear.

“This is bullshit,” I said, resuming my hike and half-hoping a frozen branch might fall and put me out of my misery. My ship—home—gone. If Kadiis O’Len’s escape pod went down, too, they might never recover any evidence that could be turned in for a reward. If it didn’t, the trail would be cold long before we got off planet. The whole situation made for a frustrating day. “We need a campsite. The finding of which is your job, by the way. Were you bird-watching when Pete Jansen was swarmed by hyperwasps on Terek Prime?”

“Observance of local wildlife is in direct support of my primary function.”

“So that’s a yes.”

“There was a very colorful specimen of Olisp bat I was trying to show Mr. Jansen.”

We marched for a few more minutes, but the silence started to get to me, too. I heard the wind, the creaking of snow-laden branches, the buzz of Carson-5’s servos, the rustling of the blankets I’d wrapped around myself. I came to a halt and peered about.

“So, what preys on the birds here?” I asked.

“There are no natural predators in this area,” Carson-5 answered. “Not since the extinction of the sabretoothed lynx a century ago. The ranger’s station ahead monitors and controls bird populations without–”

“Fascinating,” I interrupted. I eased a hand beneath my coat to grip the pistol at my belt. “I don’t suppose you’re scanning for any largish heat signatures?”

Carson-5 paused, antennae swiveling. A long whir as the robot leaned close, though its inability to control the volume of its voice made Carson-5’s feigned whisper laughable. “There is a humanoid-sized being at close range.”

“How clo–”

The snow not five feet to my left erupted. My attacker—a six-foot, 200-pound hairball—led with paws and two-inch claws fully extended. I caught a glimpse of the breastplate, emblazoned with the curved daggers of the Silvestris Piracy, over his black-brown fur. Kadiis. Then he was on me, claws sinking into my shoulders.

I collapsed under the big cat, thankful at least that thick layers of coat and blanket mostly protected me from his claws. I sacrificed my left forearm to his canines and struggled to get my pistol free, but it was a useless effort. His teeth pierced my arm, and I grunted to stifle a scream. His back claws scrambled to find purchase on my torso. In moments, my intestines would decorate the snow drifts. Where was that damned robot? Did Kadiis have compatriots keeping it busy?

I gave up on the gun and twisted my arm and hips, kicking out with my knees to hurl the Silvestris free. He twisted in mid-air and landed on all fours, already crouching for another pounce. I didn’t bother trying to get to my feet. I met his golden eyes for an instant, and we both knew one of us wouldn’t be walking away from this. He leapt. I drew and put three shots up the breastplate and into his neck. O’Len fell dead inches from my face.

I lurched to my feet, pistol at the ready for the rest of the cat’s posse. Carson-5 stood where it had, arms just now withdrawing from the cargo pod, equipped with a hammer and three-fingered hand that would have been extraordinarily useful ten seconds ago. Carson-5 raised its shoulders in a simulacrum of a shrug.

“Nice,” I said. “That’s great. Fantastic job, partner!” I pointed to the cat’s corpse with my slightly less bloody arm. “You know who this is? This is Kadiis O’Len!”

“From the most–”

“From the most wanted list,” I parroted its voice, “yes! He almost eviscerated me!”

“I could not decide between hammer and plasma chainsaw.”

I sighed. “There will never be a time when the answer to that question isn’t chainsaw.”

Carson-5’s antennae twitched. “I am detecting the return of local fauna.”

“Maybe you’re not totally useless.” I holstered my weapon. “Pick that up. We’ll need it for the reward.”

Janelle of Titan

It was in her fifteenth year that Janelle slew the great gnasher beasts of Porrow Canyon, but it would be several more years before she learned how to capitalize on her success. In those early days, she did it merely to help people.

The figure she cut now, at 23, would scarcely be recognized by the younger version of herself. Taller, leaner, a slab of muscle, her head shaved and painted after the fashion of Titan natives, she carried her head high and her blast pistol low. The curved sword on her back was mostly for show, as there were few threats she couldn’t handle with either the blaster or her cyber-enhanced muscles, but there was little its blade couldn’t cut at a molecular level.

The goggles were newer and more advanced than any the teenage Janelle could have possessed. Rustic in appearance, the lenses featured an elaborate heads-up display that kept her informed of local atmospheric conditions, zoom and enhance functions, a variety of light-spectrum options, and a recorder that kept careful track of her adventures, which the transmitter behind her ear beamed to her support team. Terraforming the moon had thinned but not eliminated the dense fog that shrouded the lower atmosphere, so a good set of goggles could be life or death on Titan.

A young Janelle would have most envied the outfit. A deceptively thin but dense layer of white wrapped tightly around her body, while a hood snaked up her neck and around the back of her head. The soft, black-webbed lining of the wrap kept her toasty in Titan’s extreme cold, but didn’t restrict her movement like typical environmental gear would. Methane rain rolled off the jacket without soaking it through, and her boots formed a gentle shell around her feet that could stomp through puddles and climb rocky outcroppings with equal ease.

Janelle crouched at the base of a jagged hill, passing a hand through a loose scattering of pebbles and rocks on the ground. The sky was mercifully quiet at the moment, so there was no rain to screw with the tracks.

“They passed through here,” she spoke into the mic sewn into the hood of her jacket. “Half an hour, maybe, based on the heat residue.”

Her producer, Wendy, spoke back, her distant voice cracking on the channel. “Looks about right, J,” she said. “Orbital still has nothing.”

Janelle stood, her gaze sweeping over the hill. “That just means they’re underground,” she said. “Unlucky for them I know these hills better than they do.”

Argh

By the Seven Pillars of Gulu, it’s already fucking June.

Whelp, this past year and a half has been a real shit show, for a variety of reasons, very few of which are about me. I’ve completely stalled out on doing any writing other than the odd bit here and there. I’ve been doing some fun freelance editing, but that’s about it. I went to a writer’s conference not long ago and really enjoyed it, but haven’t even gotten around to looking at the handouts and notes I got. I’m sad about all this!

It’s time for that to change! I’d love to get back to the long-neglected Critique Fantastique, but that’s super labor intensive and I can’t see that happening. Besides, it’s not like there’s some shortage of dudes talking about old comics.

What I’d really like to do is get back to writing regularly, even if it’s just flash fiction I publish here. There’s hardly a point to “selling” flash fiction, so I might as well. The whole point of setting up this site was to do exactly that, so I’d like to return to the original mission statement. I had a lot of fun doing things like my month of Halloween stories, so I want to get back to doing that. If through that process I can shake off my writing funk and maybe find my voice again, then hooray!

So look for this space in the future for half-formed writing exercises and prompts and the like. I may treat this like a webcomic, writing some to give myself a backlog and then doling them out in scheduled posts. Many will be bad! Apologies in advance. I hope a few will be fun. I’ll keep it mixed up with whatever genres and themes strike me at the time, and will probably have some fun with crappy drawings or photo accompaniment.

Please feel free to join me, comment, link to your own, whatever. Or don’t, and let me just howl into the void. I’ll be here either way.

Non Compliant

The worst year, in my memory at least, is wrapping up in the worst way possible. Before I head home to carry out some extremely heavy drinking with a few close friends, I just wanted to address a sentiment I’ve seen going around:

If you think people are protesting and angry because “we lost” and are being petty, you either haven’t been listening for the past year or I don’t know what.

An extreme minority of Americans (60 million is 18% of 325 million), fewer than voted for the last two losers who ran for his party and fewer than his opponent, have managed to get elected a con man whose rhetoric and campaign promises have emboldened the worst elements of the populace. Not half. Not a silent, aggrieved majority. 18%. I’m not attacking these people, or the over 90 million people who sat out this election. This is about him.

The policies that he’s promised are a direct danger to a number of our friends, family, and neighbors who happen to not be straight white men. There are already reports of suicides and hate-based attacks as a direct result of this. Regardless of why people may have voted or not voted, this is the effect. Trump hasn’t even taken office yet, but this is the effect. We can’t even hope that his festering, lie-filled heart gives out on him, because his vice president and the other ghouls he’s surrounding himself with are just as bad if not worse.

We’re protesting because some of us are likely going to lose what little health care we’ve managed to eek out over the past few years. We’re protesting because some of us stand a good chance of having our marriage dissolved. We’re protesting because some of us might have to watch our parents or children deported because they didn’t fill out the right paperwork. We’re protesting because those of us who care about the environment are about to watch even the slim chance we had of averting disaster are completely torched. We’re protesting because our choice of religion might have us put on a list of potential enemies of the state. We’re protesting because those of use who stand a decent chance of being summarily executed in the street by an officer of the state are going to have to watch those officers receive even more money, weapons, and impetus to harass us and imprison us.

I could go on. Maybe we consider these things more important than blocking a road for five minutes. Sorry for the inconvenience. Sorry if it seems like we’re overreacting by taking seriously the things this man has said and done in the past and has strenuously, repeatedly promised to do in the future.

So yeah, people are going to protest and resist, and are going to continue doing so, and ill-informed condescension isn’t going to change that.

I’ll wrap up with this, a picture my daughter made the day before the election, her own vote for president. She thinks it’s weird boys can even be president. Another kid at school suggested to her that her Hispanic teacher might get kicked out of the country. Obviously this utopia of hair bows and puppies for everyone wasn’t going to happen, but at least we wouldn’t have had a rapist for president.

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Interrogation Cupcakes Live

Old pals Every Day Fiction have had a rough go of it this year, with server crashes and a site redesign and new submission system that they’re putting through the paces. They’ve relaunched today, starting with a new story of mine, Interrogation Cupcakes. It’s mostly about the ways we talk to kids in times of distress. I see in the comments some people are already missing the point, and it’s barely noon. Good old internet.

Also, cops are awful. That seems timely for some reason.

Ultimate Dino Fighting

Excited to report that a Kickstarter I’m involved with has fully funded! It’s called Ultimate Dinosaur Fighting, a dinosaur pit-fighting board game that’s quite fun. I’m helping write/edit the rule book and whatnot as well as providing some in-universe fiction for it. I’ve written a short piece for it already and may be writing something a little longer and more complete. I enjoy sports fiction, but have never really written any, so it should be an interesting challenge to stretch myself. And hey, you can never go wrong with dinosaurs.

In other news, I also have a flash fiction piece ready for Every Day fiction for when they get their submission system back in place. At the very least I can help them test out the new system, but if they actually can use the story then you’ll get to read that sometime soon.

Terra Nullius

Wrap your year up in style with my new story, Terra Nullius! Will the people of ∞ null +1 save the unsuspecting citizens of today? Find out inside!

It’s been a crazy couple of months for the folks over at Every Day Fiction, with their server and website crashing. I was invited to write a story for them as they scrambled to put together a month of stories to close out the year.

I’m rather fond of this one, and I think it represents something I’ve been seeking out for a little while now: a voice. I’ve been struggling to come up with a reason to write, since straight white dudes aren’t exactly rare in the marketplace, and I think this story sort of puts me on a path of finding things to say while being fun at the same time. Hope you guys like it.

Aftermath

I’m declaring my Writoween efforts a success, more or less. I got, let’s see…15 out of 31 days, about half. The weekends were pretty much impossible, so I wrote those off after the first, and I spent a week of the month sick with a sinus infection, so it’s more like 15 out of 20, which is pretty dang good. A couple of them were actually mildly entertaining, I think? At any rate, it’s more writing than I’ve done in a while.

I think my favorite is the one about the Goblin bard, just because I want to write more about that little guy, but I don’t think anyone read that one.

I have one story out looking for a home, since I gave up on Zero Gee. I rather like this one and hope you guys get to read it soon. I’m working on a couple of other things that may or may not ever see the light of day.

I also have some ideas for a story for the Star Trek Strange New Worlds contest, but I dunno. The restrictions on what you can submit are pretty tight, and I’m not really comfortable writing other people’s characters. If I introduce new philosophies or radical politics, they’d likely have to be from the villains, and I’m not really satisfied with that.

Abandoned: Things to do in Zero Gee

It appears nobody wants to purchase this story from me, and frankly I’m tired of sending it out. So here it is for you guys to also not want, I guess? For some reason or another I guess it doesn’t quite work. About 1,400 words, too long to shorten to flash. Maybe someone will enjoy it.

(I do quite like that Pallax Seven bit, though, I may use it in another story someday.)

Things To Do in Zero Gee After the End of the World

He was beautiful, crouched on the hood of Trevor’s BMW, boots crunching on shattered fragments of the windshield. In his hand, a light winked on the side of his laser pistol. He reached down to help me climb free of the wreckage of the car. His outfit was very snug and ohmygod his lips.

“It’s getting a little hot out here,” he said, pulling me up and holding me close. My brain refused to come up with the thousand responses I thought of later.

“I’m Bonaventure,” he said with a smirk. His voice was deep and tinged with an exotic, measured accent. Continue reading Abandoned: Things to do in Zero Gee

a writing sketchbook