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First Contact

The floraship passed through the outer reaches of the system unchallenged, its outermost leaves rustling nearly imperceptibly in the solar winds stretching from the local star. Jada pressed her hand against the wall and closed her eyes, smiling as she felt, through the rough wooden bark alloy, the ship’s delight in experiencing this first kiss from a new sun.

The bridge was a bustle of activity as they approached the most distant planet orbiting this star. A dark, frozen ball called Al Thalim J-2, they’d probably encountered a hundred just like it. But Jada always enjoyed these first steps in every new system. So many possibilities, and the ship loved drinking from each star they encountered.

Iro, First of Navigation, stood at the center of the bridge, deeply in his element. His gaze swept in every console even as his head was turned toward the wide window set high in the wall. Al Thalim J-2 drifted in frame, wobbling slightly as the ship made minor course corrections. Text and numbers projected on the window described various properties of the planet’s orbit and ship’s relation thereto, approach vector, and so on. To Jada these things were largely meaningless, as her skills lay in other things. But she always enjoyed watching the crew work.

As the science crew labored at their stations, reports began to coalesce in the air before Iro. His eyes dropped from the window to read them as they appeared, the lines on his wrinkled face deepening as he absorbed their collective knowledge. He nodded, as if seeing something he’d expected, and called to her.

“First of Study,” he said, and Jada cocked her head to indicate that she was listening. “Ready your team. It appears this planet is not so dead as it appears.”

Jada grinned in anticipation, felt the leaves woven through her hair shiver. “I’ll get them together,” she said with a salute. “Have the shuttle prepped.”

The Study team was a small, close-knit group of operatives. Jada was their organizer, and had worked with their biologist, Trint, for over five years. Trint was the oldest member of the crew and had threatened to retire every single one of those years. Possed, geophysicist and meteorologist, was hardly more than a sapling, but had excelled—indeed, broken records—at every test the Exploratory Service sent her way. In fact, it was her multiple specialties that kept their team small, as she could perform the work of several other specialists. Renid, a botanist, and her brother Wixt, a physicist, rounded out the team. Renid and Wixt rarely spoke to anyone other than each other, and even then it was often through unspoken twists of their eyes or subtle movements of their twigs. They were an odd, awkward branch of the crew, but they worked, and Jada wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Study team had its own specialized shuttle, equipped with sensor bundles the standard shuttles weren’t. They’d named her the Sunpod, and the twins had silently decorated the exterior with bright hues and swirling patterns that distinguished her visually from the other shuttles scattered throughout the ship’s crown, docked at various branches closest to where their crews might need them. At her signal, the team met outside the bridge and boarded the nearby pith-lift. As the lift carried them through the hollows of the ship to their destination, Possed studied their target on her handheld.

“Standard ice ball,” she muttered, scrolling through the stats.

“Hope everyone brought a coat,” Trint said. Renid cocked her head at Possed, who shrugged and looked to Jada.

“There’s an energy source,” Jada said. “It’s not large, but there’s something down there.”

Possed’s handheld pinged as it updated from the ship’s main feed, and she nodded. “There it is. It’s well beneath the surface, though.”

“It’ll be up to you guys to figure out a way to get us down there,” Jada said. As the diplomat of the group, most missions she just coordinated (or herded, as she liked to crack) the scientists as they worked. It was rare that her talents had an opportunity to shine, and she was excited. Possed, who’d joined the team only 6 months ago, had never been on a contact mission at all, and even the twins had seen her work her magic only twice.

Possed looked around at the team, her nerves showing in the way her bright white blooms opened and closed repeatedly. “What if they don’t want visitors?”

Jada checked her flechette pistol, snug in its holster in the small of her back, and patted the youngster on one shoulder. “I’m the diplomat,” she said. “It’s up to me to make sure they don’t mind.”

Skull

They descended the stairs and found themselves in the fifth underdungeon of the labyrinth. Argo stopped at the bottom step, kneeling to peer into the vast, dark room beyond. His sword gleamed blue in the light from the mage’s staff.

“What see you, Argo?” whispered Bolivar. The cleric, next in line behind the warrior, gripped his staff in one hand and the faintly glowing scepter of Kolineer, his holy relic, in the other. The rest of the party, the mage and the other warrior bringing up the rear, huddled close behind them.

“Nothing,” Argo answered. “All is dark. Send in…Arik.”

The cleric nodded, his face grim. Arik had died during their trip through the fourth underdungeon. Bolivar had done what he could, but the results were less than satisfactory. Arik now existed primarily as a skull, floating in a hazy cloud of dust formed by his own skeleton.

Bolivar directed the scepter of Kolineer, and the remains of Arik drifted forward through the party and into the room. The skull rotated left and right, searching out the darkness.

“It feels unseemly to keep him like this,” Argo muttered.

“Worry not,” Bolivar said. “His nobility of spirit remains. He is happy to help. And as a bonus, he is virtually indestructible now, as long as his skull remains intact.”

“Maybe we should get him a helmet,” said Argo.

“I liked him better with a body,” spoke the mage. “He was beautiful.”

The cries of stone goblins split the air, and crudely fashioned arrows began whistling through the air, and through Arik’s useless powdered-marrow body. Argo raised his shield, grunting as the arrows clattered against it.

“I, too, miss his body,” Argo growled.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Aidan thought it was a bad idea to even keep a black lagoon on the property. It could have been drained, or just opened up to the ocean and turned into a nice beach and tourist trap years ago. As is, it was useless. But tradition was tradition. What would the Black Lagoon Winery be without a black lagoon? Just an empty logo, that’s what. Was there anything more tragic than a brand with no identity?

He hauled two buckets of fish out to the lagoon every morning. Today, young Leon would be helping him, as it would eventually be up to him to keep the thing in the lagoon sated. He’d slept in once in 1987, and, well, after their daughter came home in utter shock from a brush-in with what she described as a gilled man, the neighbor family had moved out and nobody had ever moved in. Eventually, Aidan had just bought that land cheap as dirt. In the long run he was able to work that land and turn a tidy profit, but still. It was a damned shame how neighborhoods can go into decline sometimes. Continue reading Creature from the Black Lagoon

Amulet

The boy found it, pulling the ancient, rusted chain free of the muck and grim in which it had been entombed for centuries. As he started tugging on the amulet itself, still embedded in the soil, I swatted him away and took the chain from him before he had a chance to foolishly damage the thing.

It was magnificent. Once pried from its resting place and gently washed, it gleamed as though it had just been pulled from the fires of its forge. Made of solid gold, it was diamond in shape, encrusted with rubies and emeralds around the edges. Intricate rune patterns adorned both sides. I muttered a few words of old Altartongue and the runes began to glow. I patted the boy on the shoulder and we began making our way out of the catacombs, back toward the bright streets of Paris.

I picked at the gems. They were a little loose after all this time. “Once we pry this shit out it’ll be useful,” I said.

“Is that the magic that will bring mommy back?” the boy asked.

“Perhaps,” I said. “Or perhaps the magic is inside you already.”

He stopped and stared with wide eyes. “Really?”

“No,” I snapped. “Don’t be an idiot. It’s the amulet.”

Frankenstein

Frank, awoke, groggy and aching in every part of his body. A stink sizzled in the air, like someone had burned a steak but then quickly tossed it outside. Behind that, a coppery smell that quickly overcame his senses, and he nearly gagged. He heard whispers and angry mutters nearby, but couldn’t make out the words. He struggled to remember when he’d gone to sleep last, but his memories were clouded. Had he gotten drunk? This felt like a massive hangover.

He moaned and tried to move, but it seemed he was restrained. With considerable effort, Frank lifted heavy eyelids and blinked against the bright lights that greeted him.

Beyond a skylight, far above him, a storm raged, pelting the windows with rain. Around him sprawled a laboratory, a cacophony of beakers and tubes and flashing lights and weird electrical coils that didn’t seem to be connected to anything. His old friend Victor stood nearby at one of the consoles, muttering to himself. Continue reading Frankenstein

Moon

The cauldron’s contents bubbled and boiled, as they do. Sister Crane double-checked her stone circle, then dropped a couple of cockle shells into the mix to turn the stew clear. The reflected image of the full moon snapped into focus.

“This idea is ridiculous,” Sister Sharpe said. Sharpe lounged on a hammock on the porch, and had contributed nothing to the spell. It was a cool night, and Crane pulled the sleeves of her knitted pullover down. Nearly all the ingredients were in place.

“Just tell me what the app says,” Crane snapped.

Sharpe rolled her eyes and consulted her phone. “You’ve got about a minute before perigee.”

Crane sat, crossing her legs and watching the sky. “This is definitely going to work,” she said. “I can feel it.” She lit the last of her candles and cupped it in the palms of her hands.

“It’s not even going to fit in there.”

“There’s a shrinking element in the mix. Now please be quiet.”

“I’m just saying,” Sharpe sighed. “The last time someone tried to summon the moon it didn’t work out so well for Atlantis. Do you even have a binding token?”

Crane nodded, and reached into the pocket of her sweater to show Sharpe the stone, obtained from a NASA gift shop. Sharpe scoffed and leaned back in her . “That’s probably just an aquarium stone,” she muttered.

“The potluck is in an hour, Sister. If you can think of a better way to make this much queso on short notice you’re welcome to try.”

“We could just go get some Velvee-”

“You shall not utter that name in my presense!” Crane shouted. The rock circle shivered. Crane took a deep breath to center herself and began the incantations. “Now please go chop the tomatoes.”

Eyeball

“Daddy, Bobby at school today said we all eat eight spiders a year while we sleep. Is that true?”

“Hah, no dear. It’s a myth. Think about it a moment. We don’t sleep with our mouths open for one thing, or if we do we’re snoring, and the vibrations from the noise would scare a spider away. And the size? Think about it this way: would you walk up to a sleeping giant and crawl into its mouth?”

“Hmm, no, I guess not.”

The little girl fell silent, contemplating, perhaps, the dietary habits of giants and suicidal tendencies of spiders.

“No, dear,” her father assured her. “It’s not the spiders you have to worry about. It’s the eye parasites.”

eyeball

Zombie

The alley looked clear, but then the boardroom on the 8th floor had seemed clear, too. They were high enough up to have a good view outside now, through the western-facing windows.

zombieSam scratched at her legs, which had gotten a little…unkempt in the past few days. Antonio’s jawline was in a similar state, and the less said about their general odor the better. Somehow, Abigail looked as perfect as ever, even with the sleeves ripped off her dress. Her hair was a bit messy, but that combined with the fireman’s axe on her shoulder just made her more badass. Continue reading Zombie

Haunted House

There was so much to do, but Jack didn’t mind. It was moving day. Their first house! He and Tyler stood in their yard, grid marks fresh in the newly planted grass, and watched as movers unloaded boxes from the truck. Their new neighbor, Jane, stood nearby holding a plate of cookies, tittering neighborhood gossip. He could tell Tyler hated her already, but neither of them were going to let a nagging neighbor ruin the day.

“So what’s with that house down there?” Tyler asked, interrupting Jane’s bless-their-hearts rant about the Indians living behind her.

haunted house Continue reading Haunted House