Musings

[Blog] Nomadic

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There was a time that I wanted to be a truck driver for a living. If I remember correctly, I got the idea shortly after learning about sleeper cabs and finding out that a pair of drivers could switch back and forth on a long haul. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, especially if you got along well with your partner. Actually, my specific thought was that it would be really cool to be a husband/wife team: we could support ourselves while traveling all over the place, and we wouldn’t have to be apart for a long time while we did it. It’s possible that I was a weird kid. It’s also possible that I’d already figured out that it was the closest I’d get to living on my own spaceship.

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Or maybe that’s just what it sounds like in retrospect. At the very least, though, I’d figured out that I enjoy long road trips. I don’t know that it played any real part in it, but it’s interesting to connect that old fantasy to the fact that I eventually got my license to drive small passenger buses: it’s not exactly the same, but it’s not so far off, either, and the idea of working by traveling long distances still appeals to me.

Well. Most of the time. Circumstances have me splitting my time between two different cities, so I’m sleeping on the couches of various friends (you are all incredible, wonderful people and I am forever in your dept) almost as often as I’m sleeping in my own bed, and there’s days that the idea of being so nomadic is a whole lot more appealing than the reality of it. But then, there’s also days when I realize that it’s still pretty cool. The drive between the two is unfailingly gorgeous, taking me past both mountains and the coast, for one thing. For another, it means I’ve got friends and connections in more than one place, and it’s a little easier to remember how big and small the world is all at once.

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Round 1

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So, last week I asked you guys for writing prompts and promised flash fiction in return. You all rocked your side of the bargain; here’s the stories!

 

That can’t possibly be what it looks like…

“Nah, thank you. I’m just glad the old place is going to get some use.” Harold helped us load the last of our gear into the back of his pickup. My own car was good enough for city driving, but the roads up to the old cabin were a bit more rugged. I’d been willing to chance it, but the old man had just shook his head and tossed me the keys to the blue Ford. “You’ll find firewood under the porch, and the well’s out back. Also, don’t mind Ranger. He’s just up there to scare away the poachers, and he’s more bark than bite anyway. He’ll be fine once he recognizes the truck.”

That was all well and good, but it was the moments before he recognized it that were almost enough to make us give up on our weekend getaway. Because what we saw when we rounded the last bend and came up the drive towards the cabin was not the massive dog we assumed we’d find, but a huge, scaly monstrosity that had draped itself over the roof of the house and eyed us menacingly with a look that suggested we’d best apologize for interrupting its nap.

I swallowed once. “That’s funny,” I said. “I didn’t think dragons were real.”

But before we had a chance to ask anything of the mythological guardbeast, he appraised our vehicle, snorted once, and went back to sleep. Which was more than could be said for us.

Don’t worry, I’ve done this 100s of times.

Even the smallest of starships use the most sophisticated technology we’ve managed to develop. It’s all streamlined to the point that pretty much anyone can use it, but the fact that remains is this: most of us really don’t understand the first thing about the mechanisms keeping us alive and in one piece as we travel the vast, empty distances between the stars. So when you’re only halfway to the next star system and there’s a loud and ominous “CLUNK” from the rear of the ship, followed immediately by the distinctive sound of the failsafes kicking in and dropping you back down to sublight speeds, it’s understandable that you might feel a bit… anxious. Especially once you remember just how inefficient your life support systems are without the engine running and feeding them power. And double especially when every light on the HUD starts blinking red.

Now, imagine the scenario outlined above, and then add that you’re flying with a new mechanic. You know, the sort who’s still so young they’re wet behind the ears, giddy at the prospect of outer space, and completely, absolutely, one hundred percent unproven. If you’re starting to feel a little queasy and uncomfortable, congratulations, I did too. And it only got worse when Kosky (my aforementioned so-green-he-might-actually-be-a-tadpole flight mechanic) had the audacity to soothe my fears with the phrase “it’ll be fine”.

“Sure,” I said, “as long as someone answers our distress signal before we freeze or suffocate.”

“No, I can fix this,” he said. And he was already climbing out of his flight harness and slipping back towards the engine compartment.

I’m not a flight mechanic, but I’m good enough to take care of the easy fixes. I’m also good enough to know when it’s not going to be an easy fix. Like when the engine goes clunk and the HUD turns into a light show.

“Kosky…”

He was already in the back and fiddling and hammering at something. If I’d thought he could make the problem worse, I would’ve stopped him.

“Don’t worry! I’ve done this hundreds of times!”

“When!?”

“In the simulators! They ran us through worst case scenarios to see if we could figure them out. I was really good at it.”

And apparently, he was. Because my little simulator-trained tadpole had us back up and running again in about an hour, and we finished our run to the next system in record time.

Siblings, goats, dogs, sheep.

Most kids would have asked for a puppy. And one of mine did after that day in the park when we got to meet a lovely lab named Ravioli and her three young pups. And after making sure that it wouldn’t be an absolutely horrible idea to adopt a dog into the family, we answered an ad at a nearby farm for free puppies and went on a family excursion to bring one home with us.

What we failed to realize was that it wasn’t just baby dogs we’d find, but baby goats and sheep as well. And we also failed to realize that while my daughter was more than happy with a dog, my two sons found the lambs and kids far more interesting. I blame it on the fact that the farmer let them help him bottle feed them.

We didn’t go home with anything more than a puppy that day. We just ended up buying a farm of our own a year later.

A fox!

The first night I saw the fox, I didn’t think anything of it. I lived on the edge of town and take walks most evenings, so she was hardly the first one I’d ever seen, though perhaps her tail was a bit bushier and her coat a deeper shade of russet-red. It wasn’t until I realized that she was looking straight at me with a wily smirk that I began to consider the possibility that she was something more than the run-of-the-mill vulpine.

I saw her every night that week as I went out for my habitual stroll through my neighborhood, and every night she greeted me with the same placid, knowing smile. And before I knew it, I was looking forward to seeing her.

So perhaps you can understand why I decided to follow her down the path through the park instead of sticking to my usual route. And that was when it happened. The small, tame trees turned into centuries old oaks in an instant. The paved road beneath my feet turned became a dirt track. The air smelled thick with magic.

The only thing that remained the same was the fox herself. She sat a few yards away, still smirking, and as I stared at her she winked, then turned and dashed away. I hardly had a choice: I ran after her, following the flick of her tail and the twists of the wooded path until my chest heaved and my heart beat hard in my ears.

Just when I thought I could go no further, she vanished, leaving me well and truly lost and utterly alone. But before I could panic, a soft voice spoke from just behind me. I whirled, and she was there, sitting and waiting for me to notice her.

“You run well, my friend,” she said. “Thank you for playing my game.”

And then she grinned and all the world changed again, and I stood once more in the park at the edge of my neighborhood, quite astonished at what had just happened.

A meteorite has just crashed near a small town. The locals have since noticed strange lights in the forest at night. A couple of kids go out to investigate, against their parents’ commands.

We all assumed that Mom and Dad were just saying what all parents say: don’t take the shortcut through the bull’s pasture, don’t run with scissors, don’t go out in the middle of the night to look for the weird lights where the meteor hit. The bull wasn’t a problem if we put a pile of apples on the other side of the pasture, none of us had killed ourselves running with scissors yet, and we figured that our parents had more against us being out and unsupervised at two in the morning than the fact that we were looking for the meteor.

Of course, that was before me and my brother actually found it.

It wasn’t a meteor. Or I guess, it wasn’t just a random space rock burning up in our atmosphere. It was an alien spaceship that lost control trying to land. Also, it turns out that Mom and Dad are way more exciting than we gave them credit for. And that they got into way more trouble before settling down in this little nowhere town in Idaho than we ever thought possible. We figured that out after they rescued us from a couple of desperate alien criminals with too many eyes and not enough sense.

 

And that’s it for this round! Thanks again to everyone who submitted prompts!

Updates

[Update] April 2018

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It’s April! It’s been April for a while! I’m really not sure how I feel about this.

March was a quiet month– quieter than I wanted it to be, in all honesty, but such is life. And while I don’t have a whole lot of concrete progress to show, I was able to make some decent progress with the restructuring process for The Seven, and given that April is one of the designated Camp NaNoWriMo months, I have high hopes for turning that into something with a visible wordcount.

You guys also gave me some fun prompts both here and on Facebook, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed responding to. Speaking of which, is that something you’d like to happen more often? Let me know!

For now, it’s time for me to grab more coffee and squirrel myself away into a corner for some good, productive writing.

Until next time!
~ Faith

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Best Laid Plans

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Some weeks, things just don’t go the way you want them to. In case the conspicuous lack of new stories hasn’t already given it away, this week was one of those weeks, mostly due to a nasty cold that took up residence in my throat and sinuses and completely sapped my energy. And, if I’m honest, it did a number on my motivation as well, so long story short (ha…) I’m afraid I don’t have any new full-length stories this month, for which I beg your forgiveness.

I also have an offer to make! In lieu of the longer stories that are still on their way, I’d like to write short (100-200 word) stories based off of writing prompts from all of you. What sort of writing prompts you ask? Pretty much anything! One word, a phrase, a scenario– whatever comes to mind. Just post it in the comments below and I’ll get respond with a story! I do reserve the right to refuse a prompt, but I’m not expecting that to be an issue. I can’t wait to hear from you guys!

Musings

[Blog] Freeway Interchanges and Cloudy Mountains

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Different landscapes have always made me want to write different sorts of stories. Show me a sweeping vista, full of dark forests spilling down the sides of jagged mountains and all half hidden beneath the shreds of cloud left behind by last night’s storm, and I’ll tell you that there are dragons there, coiled in lairs just out of sight. Catch me staring out the window while caught in traffic somewhere in LA, and I’ll be imagining what it would be like to wander the interchange on foot after something has rendered all cars immobile*. Let me watch the sun rise above the desert and paint the sagebrush golden and the mountains purple, and I will muse on what it would be like to ride a horse at a gallop there in the cool of morning, and why you might do such a thing.

Some of this, I am sure, can be attributed to growing up on The Lord of the Rings and the Peter Jackson adaptations. Between Tolkien’s descriptions and so many hours of footage filmed in New Zealand, it was bound to happen. But I don’t think it’s the only reason. I suspect most people find inspiration of one sort or another while looking at the world around them. Some of us will be driven to create with our hands or our words. Others will have our souls filled in different ways.

For me, I’m not sure if there’s a setting that doesn’t spark my imagination in this way. Mountains, cities, rolling hills: every place has its own sort of story. All we have to do is find them.

Speaking of stories, I apologize for the terrible lateness of the one that was supposed to go up last week. It’s on its way, but it’s coming slowly, Hopefully, I’ll be able to post it and the next Tanner and Miranda story next week.

 

* Well, more immobile than they already are at 5pm on a workday.

 

Musings

[Blog] It’s Mocking Me

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, that picture is an animated gif. Like this one:

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Back when Facebook flair was still a thing, I had one that looked a lot like this that enjoyed a place of honor on my little virtual bulletin board. It just perfectly sums up what it feels like when the words refuse to come– which is probably why it ended up as a piece of flair in the first place*.

At the time I didn’t have a daily wordcount that I was trying to reach, so the impudent blinking of a few pixels on a blank screen usually had no trouble derailing me. And truth be told, it still succeeds more often than I’d like even now, with the only difference being that I’m a little better at pushing my train of thought back onto the tracks. Or at least better about coming back to it whether I want to or not.

As you may have begun to suspect, today is one of those days when the cursor seems to be winning, sitting intransigent about halfway down the page of my document with half-finished bits of story lying in shambles all around it. The joke’s on it, though, because while it’s busy over there, I’ll stay here and work on something else. I always knew there was a good reason to have a couple projects going at once!

 

 

* Oddly enough, I’ve had a heck of a time finding it since then, and were it not for someone’s old livejournal account (link), I might not have been able to at all.

Musings

[Blog] The Art of Crying at Commercials

Movies never used to make me cry. And if I’m being honest, that was something of a point of pride: other people might cry at movies, but not me. I was too strong for that. And while I don’t think I looked down on people who did, I do remember teasing my mom about it, especially when it was a commercial that would get her all choked up.

Normally, it wasn’t that hard for me to maintain control over my emotions. Sure, when I watched The Lion King and got to That Scene, I’d recognize it as really sad, but I’d never have to fight a lump back down my throat or try to keep my eyes from welling up while my nose started to tingle from the effort. That would happen every now and again, but I’d always assume that it had more to do with me being tired or sick or otherwise compromised. Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever considering it a sign of good writing, or if I did, I just saw it as a bigger challenge– “Even great stories don’t make me cry.”

But then I grew up. (Well. More or less…) I learned. I experienced. I met people who would teach me what Solomon meant when he said there are friends “who stick closer than a brother.” I grew closer to my parents. I traveled and came home again, and I saw how much had changed and what had stayed the same. I won, I lost, I tried again. In short, I lived.

And somewhere along the way, I started crying, too. Not all the time, and I still usually try to hold it back when I’m watching something with other people, but that scene where Simba finds Mufasa, instead of just making me sad, now leaves me with wet eyes and a distinct ache in my throat, because I’ve got a great relationship with my dad, and I can’t imagine the pain of losing him when I was just a kid.

That, I think, is the crux of it. I found it easier to keep from crying when I was younger, not because I was too strong to cry, but because I didn’t have the experience to understand the full meaning and implication of a sad scene. Or the really happy ones that do the same thing. (And no, I don’t now, either, but I’m a lot closer.) Now, I have some idea of the strength that can come from a deep relationship with a friend, and what it’s like when that friend comes through for you, or what it’s like when you have a chance to come through for someone else.

Now, it’s easier to put myself in the shoes of the characters I’m watching and to have some idea of what they’re feeling. Which is really cool, and also helpful for doing the same thing for the people you encounter in your day to day life. It also means that if I still wanted to tease my mom for crying at commercials (I don’t), I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Because now I do it too.

 

Updates

[Update] March 2018

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Hey everyone!

Just checking in with a quick update for March! February saw two new short stories, one a sci-fi one-shot about the trouble that can arise when a small and mischievous girl starts running around a space station (click here to read Aruri), and the other a new Tanner and Miranda adventure, this time telling the story of their first job together on the colony planet Verdant (click here to read The Verdant Wildlife). If you’ve got a moment, give them a read and tell me what you think! I’d love to hear from you.

Now that I’m (finally!) getting back into the swing of regular writing, this month should see another couple of new stories with the first going up next week, so keep an eye out for those. Also! While I have you here, what sort of story are you interested in seeing more of? Fantasy? Science fiction? A more in-depth look at the world from a previous story? Let me know!

Until next time!
~ Faith

Musings

[Blog] Seventy Days

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According to the calendar it’s been ten weeks since I left Armenia, and for the last several days, my thoughts have been wandering back there more and more frequently. I find myself missing Yerevan: the kebab and shawarma  stalls on almost every corner, the families coming out to enjoy all the parks and public places every evening, even the busy chaos that fills the streets. It’s all the surface level things that make up my memories, almost inconsequential in and of themselves, but part of a much greater whole.

In so many ways I’m still just processing, and those simple surface things are the useful handholds I can use to figure out what I found in the land of my heritage. Or rather, if that’s too melodramatic a turn of phrase (which I think it very well might be), they’re concrete examples that I can use to better understand what I found there and how I changed.

It would also be pretty cool if I figured out how to incorporate it into all those stories knocking around in my head. That might not be for a while, though. I can’t remember which of his essays I read it in*, but Ray Bradbury talked about how it took years for themes from his time in Mexico to start appearing in his stories, and he was a great deal more prolific than I am. Right now, I’ve just got ideas that I want to use, but I haven’t figured them out nearly well enough to be able to fit them into a piece of fiction without it sounding forced and cliched. Of course, the flip slide is that trying and failing to write about it the way I want to is the best way to get it figured out, so maybe that’s no excuse after all.

 

 

* If memory serves, it was one of the ones in his collection Zen in the Art of Writing. Even if not, I highly recommend that particular book to anyone interested in writing and Bradbury.

Fiction (Short)

The Verdant Wildlife

WHISKEYHILL

I was still groggy when the shuttle dropped through the atmosphere towards Verdant and touched down in the big landing field outside of Coville. That was normal enough after eight months in coldsleep, but it meant that I didn’t see Tanner until a split second before he wrapped me in a massive bear hug.

“Hey, sis. Took you long enough to get here.”

I tried to punch him without letting go of the hug. “Stuff it.”

He squeezed me one more time and tousled my hair. “How are Mom and Dad?”

“They’re good,” I said. All around us, the hum of other reunions filled the air. “Mom keeps talking about going out to one of the older colonies, but you know how Dad is. I promised we’d send pictures. And that we’d try to stay safe out here.”

“Are they still worried about us?”

I gave him a look. “Of course they are. But it’s not any worse than the last three years. They’ll be alright.”

There was a heavy clank behind us as the shuttle crew disengaged the locks that held my and the other passengers’ luggage secure during the short trip down from the big starliner still hanging somewhere up in orbit. The buzz of greetings broke off for a moment as the small crowd moved closer and waited for their names to be called as their baggage was handed down. Tanner and I hung back, keeping just outside the tightest part of the chaotic press.

“By the way, did you find any work for us?” I asked.

“Nah, I thought I’d leave that to you. Figured I’d done enough on my own for the last five weeks, you know?” He grinned.

I glared at him and gouged his ribs with my elbow. “Jerk. What do we have?”

“Something nice and easy, just for you.” He dodged away as I went to elbow him again. “One of the automated planes they’re using to map the Outlands went down in a canyon and they’re having trouble finding it. I thought you’d appreciate getting to know the area without getting shot at, so I said we’d be happy to hike out and see if we can find the thing.”

I grimaced. “When you say hiking, you mean actual hiking, don’t you?”

“More or less.” He grinned. “Someone might have a couple of horses we can borrow, but the terrain can be rough enough it might not be worth the trouble.”

I was about to mutter that horses were never worth the trouble when the shuttle crew came to my bag.

“Miranda Griff!”

A couple of the closer passengers reached up to grab my big, black duffel and pass it back to me, and then Tanner and I were on our way. We trekked back across the dusty expanse of the landing field, towards the boarding house on the edge of town where Tanner had a room. I handed him my bag and made him carry it before we made it halfway there.

“So, when are we heading out?” I asked.

He slung the strap of my bag over his shoulder. “Well, I was going to let you get a little rest first, but since I’m carrying all your stuff now we might as well go now.”

I punched him in the shoulder. It was a cheap shot, especially since my bag was the only reason he couldn’t avoid it, but I didn’t feel too bad about it.

He giggled. “Man, I missed you.”

In the end, we decided to wait until the next morning to head out. Or rather, Tanner strung me along until finally admitting that he’d planned it that way all along, I punched him again, then enjoyed a long shower and a quick nap while he stepped out to handle a few last minute details. We had a light dinner and turned in early, and I slept until he shook me awake the next morning with the sort of gleeful grin I’d learned to hate when we were kids.

“Rise and shine, Miranda!” The whole mattress shook as he took it by the corners and bounced it up and down. “No freeloading for you. Time to earn your keep.” He shook the mattress again and moved just far enough to the side that my poorly aimed kick met with nothing but air. The room was still fairly dark, lit by nothing more than a dim lamp in the far corner and a few shreds of pale sunlight that came through the thin curtains hanging over the room’s one window.

“What time is it?”

“Time to get up.” He was still grinning. “I thought that was obvious enough.”

I raised a hand and one finger. “Not what I meant.”

“It’s six AM, give or take a couple minutes. I let you sleep in.”

“I’m pretty sure I hate you.”

“I know.”

I sat up, slowly, jamming the heels of my palms against my eyes in a vain attempt to rub the worst of the sleep away. They’d told me that lag from coldsleep would take a while to wear off, but somehow hearing about it from a nurse and actually having to contend with the fact that my body didn’t want to have anything to do with consciousness were two entirely different things.

“Heads up.”

Tanner tossed me a ration bar from across the room. Sluggish as I was, I missed it as it flew past my head and bounced off the wall behind me to land on the floor. It took me a moment to do more than stare at it.

“Oh, you’re going to be fun today,” said Tanner. He was grinning again.

“It’s just the lag. I’ll be fine once I get going.” I leaned back and reached down for the ration bar. “Coffee would help, though. You got any to go with this?” I retrieved the bar and waved it back and forth in the air.

“Nah. They haven’t gotten coffee to grow here yet, and the stuff they import is too expensive.”

I made a face. “Of course it is.”

Despite my protestations, it wasn’t all that bad once I actually got moving. Food helped, as did the fact that Tanner’s preparations meant that all we really had to do was grab our packs and head out to the depot where he’d arranged transportation for us with a rancher heading in the direction we wanted to go. It wasn’t glamorous— we climbed into the back of his jeep and made ourselves as comfortable as we could— but it worked, with the biggest downside being that the day was half gone by the time we reached the mouth of the canyon.

I can’t say that tramping through an alien wilderness looking for wreckage was my idea of the best job ever, but I was more than happy to admit that Tanner could have done a lot worse. The snatches of the planet’s surface that I’d seen during the shuttle’s descent the day before had given me a the impression that this corner of it looked a bit like the old American Southwest, complete with sagebrush and tumbleweed, or whatever they called the equivalent here. So, while it still might have been something of a desert, at least it wasn’t the sandy kind, and once we entered the canyon it wasn’t even all that hot.

And it’s fair to say that I was feeling optimistic. It wasn’t that nothing could go wrong on a job like this, but compared to what we were both used to, it wouldn’t be anything we didn’t know how to handle. Neither of us were going to complain about that.

If anything, it was all almost too easy. Or too simple, at any rate. Doing private security work back in Sol and Centauri, I’d gotten used to getting shot at, or at least used to the idea of getting shot at. I’d also gotten used to things rarely being what they seemed, large numbers of ulterior motives, and even the occasional double-cross. Here, the only thing we needed to worry about was keeping an eye out for bits of broken drone and making sure we didn’t lose our way as we made our way through the canyon. Given that it only branched every now and then, neither of those were going to be particularly difficult.

So, we talked. Even not counting the eight months we’d both lost to coldsleep, it had been a long time since we’d had the chance to just spend hours in each other’s company. I don’t know if Tanner meant to give us the chance to catch up, and knowing him it probably hadn’t crossed his mind except as an afterthought, but he couldn’t have done it better if he’d tried. I told him about everything I could think of from the past three years. Or, if not everything, then everything that hadn’t been important enough to work into the occasional datapackets we’d exchanged but still loomed large in my memory. There were clients with more money than sense, a couple with more sense than money, and too many without much of either. There was the time I got paid to stand at a door and look imposing, which, being five-foot-six and female was a little easier said than done, though I managed well enough. There were a few close friendships, a couple of ill-fated romances, and not nearly enough trips back home to visit our parents. And there was convincing them that going out to this tiny little system on the edge of civilized space was a good idea.

“Did you try to get them to come out here too?” asked Tanner.

“I hinted once or twice. We might be able to convince Mom, but you remember how hard it was for her to get Dad to even go as far as Centauri, and that was just for a visit. He just kept saying we both needed to move back closer to home before they get too old, though sooner would be better.”

Tanner laughed. “He still hasn’t retired, has he?”

“Neither of them have. They’re hoping to within the next couple of years, though, I think. They’re talking about it, at least.”

It was getting to be late afternoon, and the sun had dropped low enough that the canyon walls blocked the best of the light. The sky above our head was still a pale blue, and the shadows weren’t so deep that we couldn’t continue searching, but it wouldn’t be that much longer before we started running into the very real possibility of walking right past what we were looking for. As if that wasn’t enough, both of our stomachs were starting to growl, and we were quickly finding ourselves less interested in looking for debris than a likely spot to make camp for the night.

We found the latter in the form of a shallow cave near a bend in the canyon and a small stream that trickled down from a crack in the walls and into a small, clear pool ringed by a few trees and more greenery than we’d seen all day. Dead branches provided more than enough kindling for a small fire, and all in all, it looked like we were going to be able to sleep in far more comfort than either of us had expected. Well. Comfort being a relative term. The fire would keep us warm, the water meant we weren’t going to have to ration ourselves quite so carefully, and the cave was a nice bonus in case the weather decided to turn funny. Sleeping on the ground and eating ration bars for dinner just came with the territory, and you could even say that it added to the charm of it all. Tanner did say so, which was why I threw the empty wrapper of my ration bar at him.

After that, we talked for a while longer in the dying light of our fire before unrolling our sleeping bags and heading off to bed. Well, I went to bed. Tanner stayed up a little longer to watch the fire as it burned down and to keep watch a little longer. It hardly seemed necessary. We hadn’t seen any wildlife the entire day, and by all reports most of the nastier critters indiginous to the planet lived elsewhere. Still, old habits die hard, and if I hadn’t still been so tired from the interstellar trip, I would have done the same thing. But I was exhausted, and so I was more than happy to let him take that particular bullet while I fell into a deeper sleep than I would have expected to find given the circumstances.

I don’t know how long I’d been asleep when Tanner shook me awake for the second time that day. The fire was out, save for a few red embers, and the better part of the light that allowed us to see anything at all came from the big, pale halfmoon that hung high in the sky and managed to spill its light down into the canyon. It was enough for me to see three or four dark forms moving along the edge of the pool.

“What is it?” I whispered.

“Not sure.”

He had his sidearm drawn, and he handed me mine as soon as I brought myself up to a crouch.

“Human or animal?” I thought it was the latter, but I wasn’t certain. Tanner wasn’t either.

Whatever they were, they moved together, and they were getting closer. They weren’t being overtly threatening, but I wasn’t convinced that that made anything better. At least then we’d know where we stood.

“We’re sure there’s no aliens here, right?”

Even in the darkness, I’m pretty sure I saw Tanner give me a look. “No such thing,” he said. “Not the kind you’re thinking of, anyway.”

A second later, we were both pretty sure they weren’t human. As to what they actually were, we were still at a loss. Tanner crept a little closer to the pool to get a closer look. He didn’t move far and he didn’t move fast, and he was quiet about it, but his foot caught on a rock and sent it tumbling softly across the ground. The nearest and biggest of the creatures looked up with a snort and snapped its head towards us. My stomach lurched up into my throat.

For just a moment I thought that we’d be wildly lucky, and the whole thing would end there. The creature gave a sharp, bleating bark. The other three responded in kind and wheeled, bolting back into the canyon with a thunder and rumble of what sounded like hooves. The first one looked like it was about to follow suit.

And then it changed its mind and charged us.

The thing was fast. Tanner and I barely had time to dive out of the way before it was on top of us, careening through our cave and scattering the remnants of our fire all around. We scrambled away and sprinted for the trees as soon as we could get to our feet.

“Climb! Tanner! Climb!”

“What the hell do you think I’m doing!?”

I made it up into the branches of the nearest tree first, and I braced myself against the trunk as I reached down to give Tanner my hand. The animal turned and charged us again before I could haul him out of the way.

We disagree on what happened next.

If you ask him, Tanner will say I dropped him just as he was getting up onto the branch, and that the animal took a bite out of his leg as he fell. He’ll also say that if it weren’t for his presence of mind and incredible aim, the thing would have mauled him within an inch of his life. What actually happened was more like this: my brother, with all the grace of a drunken, lamed muskox, failed to pull himself up and out of the way and expected me to get his fat ass to safety, and while I was doing my very best to do just that, the creature jumped. Like a jackrabbit. It sank four fangs that had no business in the mouth of any herbivore (as I later found out it was) and pulled, dragging Tanner back down to the ground with it. And then, if it weren’t for my presence of mind and incredible aim, it would have mauled him some more.

Either way, when the dust settled Tanner was on the ground with a bite missing from his leg, and the critter that had done the deed was down next to him with a clean shot through its skull. My clean shot, but I digress. I dropped down from the tree and landed beside him.

“Tann, how bad is it?”

“Bad enough.” He sucked in a sharp breath as I reached for his leg.

“Broken?”

“Don’t think so.”

“That’s something. Can you walk?”

He shifted around until he could test the limb with a little weight, and then when that worked, he pulled himself to his feet. “Yes. Ow. I’ll make it work.”

“Yeah, okay. Sit down.”

I jogged back over to our cave and groped around until I found one of our packs and the flashlight and first aid kit inside. It took a little doing, but we managed to get his wound cleaned and bound up, and then he slept the rest of the night while I kept watch. Once the sun finally rose again, we took the time to take a closer look at the dead animal.

It looked like a sheep. Sort of. It had shaggy fur that seemed a bit like wool, and it had cloven hooves. Its face was long and narrow, but its jaw was heavy and clearly strong, probably so it could make better use of the four massive fangs that protruded from its mouth. We built another fire and cooked a little of its meat for breakfast and found that it wasn’t half bad, though that could have just been the sweet taste of revenge. I’m pretty sure Tanner enjoyed it more than me.

And then we started back toward the mouth of the canyon, limping and slow and trying not to think too hard about the fact that we had just failed our first job together on Verdant because of a bloodthirsty ovine. But that was okay. The story alone made it all worth it.