This one’s from the second story in the collection. Specifically, it’s my first attempt at an opening. It didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to, but it was fun to write and I think it had some amusing parts, so I’m sharing it here! Enjoy!
The four hundred credits Hildy paid into our account for the single day of work were enough to pay our rent and buy food for the next week— and not much else. Certainly not enough to start paying off the debts I’d left behind in Sol, and when we paid Doc Amil for stitching Tanner’s leg back together it was painfully obvious we couldn’t wait long to find our next job. Not long enough to Tanner’s leg to finish healing, despite the limits that put on what sort of work we could take.
For example, hiking all over the rougher parts of the Outlands was out of the question. I called that a silver lining. Tanner grumbled and pointed out that it wasn’t my leg with eighteen stitches in it.
“So, what did you find?” I asked, tossing him a bottle of painkillers and a fresh bandage before retreating back to the bathroom to brush my teeth while he doctored his thigh. We were back in our rooms on the third floor of Teddy’s, the large boardinghouse and hotel on the eastern side of Coville. Tanner and the eponymous Teddy had come to some agreement in the year Tanner had spent here on his own, which I suspected was the only reason we could afford the monthly cost for the place. The rooms were both small and comfortably furnished, and connected by a small shared bathroom, giving it the feel of a full suite.
“Lots of jobs we can’t take until I heal up. Three that would have the Rangers on us before we were halfway through. Eight—” he broke off, pausing while I imagined all his attention went to wrapping the bandage around his leg, “—eight that would pay us pennies and drive us out of our minds with boredom. And two that look promising.”
He knocked on the door as I finished brushing my teeth. I opened the door and stepped back to my room to throw my hair into a lazy braid. “Only two?”
A mouthful of toothpaste muffled Tanner’s voice. “Two’s lucky. It told you most of the work’s in the Outlands.”
I made a face. “You did, didn’t you?”
He grunted and spat. “Commpad’s on my bed. The one I like is on the screen.”
Squeezing past him through the bathroom, I snatched the device from where it lay on the pillow and scanned the message displayed on the screen. “Where’s Oriole?”
“Southwest,” said Tanner, appearing over my shoulder. “Technically in the Outlands, but you can get there by vehicle. Hovermule, in this case.”
“And who is…” my eyes tracked back up to the line containing the sender, “Ava Loesan?”
“No idea. Never met her. Teddy said she came by a few days looking for freelancers, though, and he referred her to us.”
“Nice of him,” I said.
“The rent comes on time when I have more work. And he likes me.”
Tanner aimed a slap for the back of my head, but I ducked out of the way, cackling.
“Keep that up and I’ll have him charge full price for your room. Then where will you be?”
I sighed. “Slumming it in some cheap flophouse. Can’t be worse than when I got to the stations.”
“Oh, but it can. The stations don’t have rats.”
“Shows how much you know. The nastiest rats I’ve ever seen were on the big station around Luna.”
“The only rats you’ve ever seen,” said Tanner.
I continued unperturbed. “This long,” I said, holding out my hands a foot apart for reference.
“With or without the tail?”
“Big, sharp teeth… a taste for human flesh.” I paused, grinning. “So, kinda like your sheep.”
Tanner aimed another strike for the back of my head, but I was already out of reach. He settled for a dirty look instead.
“Then in the interests of staying in lodgings that don’t have a large rodent problem, I’ll tell her we’ll take the job.”
“Sounds good to me. Wait— you said there were two possibilities. What was the other one?”
Tanner shrugged. “Some guard job down at the Landing Fields. Usually means you’re working for some offworld snob who thinks it’s the Wild West out here. They’ll pay alright, just not enough to offset having to talk to them.”
“Oh,” I said. “That kind. The Oriole job it is, then.”
Something a little different– this was my entry for the NYC Midnight 250-word Microfiction contest. I ended up receiving an Honorable Mention in my category (the piece had to be drama, show people eating seafood, and contain the word “rest”), which wasn’t enough to advance me to the next round, but was a solid showing regardless. Here it is in its entirety!
Kathryn’s fork pierced the salmon and clicked against the plate, but she didn’t bring the food to her mouth. It would have no taste, and the fish was too good to waste on an unappreciative palate. The woman sitting opposite her had no such trouble; she was already chewing a piece of shrimp and pasta. But Afton had never been able to resist seafood.
It had been so many years. More than it should have been. Enough that writing the email and sending it to an address she hoped was current was almost too much. Yet she had done it. And a week later she’d gotten the reply: three impersonal lines. But she agreed to meet.
And now they sat together in heavy silence. No words exchanged since the mandatory greetings. Kathryn said more to the waiter than to Afton. Afton barely met her eyes. Instead they hid beneath the quiet restaurant hum.
The quiet, restless voice in the back of her mind whispered that this was a mistake. A sleeping dog she should have let lie. A can of worms she shouldn’t have opened. A burned bridge that wasn’t worth rebuilding. All the excuses that let the years pile up. All the excuses that rang hollow now more than ever.
She forced herself to take the bite. She chewed it. She swallowed it. She took a sip of water, just to buy another moment.
Another deleted scene from the Tanner and Miranda story I’m working on at the moment. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, but it didn’t fit with the pacing for the story.
As much as I wanted to complain about it, it was impossible to deny that the Outlands were beautiful. Harsh and unforgiving if given the chance, but truly stunning. In the simplest terms, the whole area is a tangled network of canyons running between steep red cliffs and narrow mesas. Fortunately for us, most of the canyon floors were flattish and relatively simple to traverse. Unfortunately, there were some that weren’t, and those were the ones that seemed most likely to take us towards the drone’s last coordinates. Of course, if it were that easy, no one would pay us.
It started out well enough. Part of that was the fact that the first stretch was downhill, not so steep that a missed step would send me rolling to my death, though plenty steep enough for me end up windmilling my arms several times, to Tanner’s audible amusement. Something about me spending too much time on space stations with boring, flat floors and no way to practice my dexterity. Lies, all of it, not that the truth did me any good.
I didn’t get into any real trouble until it evened out for a bit and lulled me into false sense of security. One second I was stepping forward, trusting the tread of my boots to keep me from slipping. The next, the rock I’d assumed would hold my weight didn’t, and the whole world spun. I careened past Tanner. Only a miracle kept me from cracking my head open on the way down. And despite what it felt like, the tumbling and spinning didn’t last long either. I skidded to a stop in a sort of awkward crouch and tried to convinced my heart to slow to a couple hundred beats a second.
A scrambling sound from the direction I’d just come suggested that Tanner was following as quickly as he could, probably for better teasing opportunities. And to make sure I was still functional. But mostly for the teasing. That was my fault. If I’d let myself fall flat on my face, I might have gotten some sympathy. Though I suppose I’m grateful my thick duster and boots kept me from anything worse than ugly bruises and wounded pride.
I squinted upward and towards my brother’s voice. I’d meant to glare, but the sun was brighter than I expected. “Don’t say it.”
“You shouldn’t do that. It hurts.”
I growled. “I know.”
“Any real damage?”
I shook my head. “Nothing I can’t walk off. Tell me it’ll even out soon?”
Tanner laughed, and I shot him another scowl.
“This is the easy part.”
At least he had the good grace—or the common sense—to look a little sheepish. And to reach down and offer me a hand up.
“It should get flatter, though. More rocky, but you won’t roll as far if you fall.”
In reality, it wasn’t even that bad, though I didn’t mind being pleasantly surprised on that count. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t difficult, but the flash of adrenaline I’d gotten when the whole world spun out around me was enough to flush most of the remaining lag from my veins.
Not that it was easy, per se. By the time we were another hour into the trek, every bruise from my fall had decided it was too easy for me to ignore the ache and throb, and I felt it with every step. Sure, the damage was minor, especially when compared to what I’d dealt with in the past. It still hurt. And Tanner was setting a brutal pace. If we hadn’t been in relative shade beneath the canyon walls I wouldn’t have made it. Not that I was about to tell him that. I could push through just fine and save myself the trouble of admitting how much I’d been spoiled by my years on the Stations.
Unless he already knew and was waiting to see how long it took me to give in. In which case it was a toss up for which of us would win. Battles of stubbornness in the Griff family never had a foregone conclusion. They were always funny, though.
This time, I got lucky. Tanner got hungry (meaning ravenous) before I gave in and asked him to slow down. Just before. If he’d held out another couple of minutes, I’d have admitted defeat. Instead, I got to use the precious seconds he spent digging a ration bar out of his pack to catch up and tramp along next to him, red-faced and panting and pretending he hadn’t almost gotten me.
He grinned at me through a mouthful of food. “Almost had you. Good thing I didn’t over-commit and pass out. You’d have had to drag me back home.”
I grinned back. “I’d have left you. You jerk.” My breath came out in little wheezes. “We’ll regret this tomorrow.”
“We’ll be fine. You recover fast and I’m used to it.”
“I used to recover fast. Eight years ago. I’m out of practice.” Then again, the slower pace had already worked wonders.
In fact, for the time being, our greatest delay was going to be caused by the fact that we needed to find somewhere to refill our water. We were still in the shade, so it was cooler than it would have been anywhere else, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t hot and dusty. And between that and our impromptu race, we had emptied our canteens steadily through the morning. I might have been worried, but Tanner said he knew a place. A spot, really, since the little spring of cold, sweet water was nothing any human could take credit for.
Technically, it was out of our way. Not by much, only a half hour detour or so, but enough that it was an even more natural point to stop and take a break and eat something more than the trail bar Tanner had. Once we got there, I told Tanner this was enough to make it all worth it. The spring was beautiful. I think I’d know that even if I hadn’t spent so much of the last decade on something as thoroughly artificial as a space station.
This would be something I learned about this planet. It looked like as much of a desert as anything on Earth, like the places they filmed for all those old Westerns, all dry dust and red dirt, harsh and inhospitable. But huge stretches of this planet were like that. And, as near as the scientists could tell, they had been that way for centuries. Or possibly millennia. Maybe it was harsh, but it was not so harsh as you might think by looking at it. Water was never that far away, not if you could reach the underground rivers.
The spring trickled out of the red rock and fed a pool cut into the stone below. I had never seen such clear water. I had never seen much naturally pooled water. But even if I had, this would have surpassed it all. It was almost circular, three or four meters across, and hip deep at the center. And there was green. Plants clung to all the rocks beneath the surface of the water, and things like bushes grew all around it. It was incredible.
And I must have been staring.
“Bet you’re glad I made you hike out here now.”
“Hush.” But I smiled. “Maybe.” It was just a shame I already had some idea of how much I was going to be hurting the next day. And the next three days after that.
As much as we would have liked to, we spent less than an hour there. Just long enough to eat our rations (dehydrated meals are nasty, but they feed you) and rehydrate ourselves. It was peaceful. So peaceful, and in a way that it couldn’t ever been on a space station. It was peaceful even though there was a strange moment when we were both convinced something was watching us. I couldn’t say why. I might have heard something, or it might have just been the prickling feeling on the back of my neck. We looked around. My hand reached for my gun. But we didn’t see anything. And the feeling went away.
“I thought you said there weren’t aliens out here,” I said.
“There aren’t,” said Tanner, but both of us were questioning that a little. Only a little. But enough that neither of us minded getting moving again. And fortunately, the feeling faded quickly. Just not quickly enough for either of us to be anything less than fully alert for at least the next hour.
One of several possible intros for The Shattered and the Infinite, my project from last November. Enjoy!
Complexity Jones must have slept, because the soft green numbers on the bedside clock read 6:12 AM. It had been just after three-thirty the last time she had looked and given up hope of getting any rest, but maybe that had been what did it. Besides, these days two and a half hours was the best she could hope to get. Even so, her body ached. Whether that was because of the physical work she had thrown herself into the day before or just the wages of however many months of lost sleep she couldn’t say. And it didn’t matter. Either way, the result was the same.
On the other side of the bed, Kemp still slept, his breathing slow and even, a comfort in the quiet morning. She’d given up envying him for it. Better that one of them get a little rest than for both of them to exist in this miserable, exhausted haze. And she was used to it. The nightmares had started shortly after the Distortion had first appeared, and she hadn’t slept well since then. Five years, give or take. No wonder the dark circles under her eyes made it look like she’d lost a fist fight. No wonder her body rebelled whenever she had a day off, and she spent twelve hours in dreamless blackout.
But this wasn’t her day off. And there was no reason to try to beg and borrow and steal another useless moment with her eyes shut and her mind spinning and awake when it wouldn’t do her any good. Better to start the process of coaxing her body back to something functional.
She swung her feet to the floor, ignoring the complaints from her back, her neck, her shoulders. They always fussed. The pain always eased with movement. Coffee helped too. It would have helped more if it was the real stuff, but that didn’t exist anymore. Not here.
Her foot brushed against a pile of clothes as she moved through the bedroom. The twinge of guilt and the impulse to clean were quiet these days, a trivial concern at the end of the world. All things considered, it seemed better to use every chance she had to lie in Kemp’s arms and talk about the things they had thought they would have a lifetime explore. Let the apartment be a little messy. It would be the least of her regrets. Nothing compared to what she would feel if the end came and she thought she could have spent more time with anyone she loved.
In the living room, the big picture window looked out over Loborough. It was still dark, still predawn for a few more minutes, but not dark enough that she couldn’t see the scars the Distortion had left on the city. There were so many swaths of barren ground. Voids where there should have been buildings. Empty flats where there should have been parks. A shattering world where it should have been whole.
(If you happened to read last week’s blog, this is one of those deleted scenes I mentioned. For the pace of the story, I spent way too much time here on characters and events that have no real impact on anything else, but I still enjoyed them. I’m cutting the vast majority of this out of the next draft, but I still like what I wrote. So I’m sharing it here.)
We reached the top of the track leading to Rockmouse in another half an hour as flat plains gave way to the first red Outland cliffs. The friendly transport hauler we’d paid to let us tag along dropped us at the edge of the road and continued on his own way, leaving us to go the rest of the way on foot with our gear— camping things, rations, scanners, and our weapons— slung over our shoulders.
Despite the fact that we couldn’t see the tiny mining town from the road, it was a short walk to get there, only five or ten minutes at the most. And while I wasn’t about to admit it to Tanner, I was pleased to find that my legs and feet adjusted to the uneven dirt faster than I’d expected. I could only hope that the hike up into the wilderness would treat me as kindly.
As far as towns went, Rockmouse was less than impressive. It boasted no more than a dozen buildings, the largest of which was the modified warehouse that functioned as a sort of community center. Another appeared to be a supply and equipment store, though I was surprised they saw enough business to be solvent. The rest were various bunkhouses and cabins and other small residences to house the working population.
“Not much to look at, is it?”
Tanner laughed softly. “No. It’s more a base camp than an actual settlement. Still nice enough, though.”
And it was. It was dusty and sparse and not particularly pretty, but I noticed a certain reckless camaraderie in the air here that I recognized and appreciated. If nothing else, it made for interesting stories, and the small knot of scruffy looking townsfolk lounging in front of the community center looked like they already had several each.
“Is that who we’re meeting?”
Tanner squinted and peered down the street before shaking his head. “I don’t think so. She’s probably inside.” He squinted again. “I think I owe that big guy money, though.”
I raised one eyebrow. “You owe money?”
He shrugged. “Ah, not much. Fifty credits or so. I borrowed his hovermule last time I was out here.”
I was about to ask whether he’d asked for permission before he commandeered the vehicle when the large man in question happened to look up the road and notice us. As soon as he recognized my brother, his face split in a grin I could see even across the thirty yards that separated us. Or if I couldn’t, the enthusiastic wave he sent in our direction was enough to fill in the gaps.
“Hey, freelancer! Wondered when you’d be back on this side of the colony! Good to see you!”
Tanner returned the greeting with at least as much animation, and they caught each other in an exuberant handshake as soon as they were within reach.
“Oh, you know, there’s always something bringing me out here. How’s the place?”
“Dusty! But better since you chased those gangboys out. We managed to open up that south branch of the mine again, and we think we hit a new vein. What’s got you out here, though? And,” the big man nodded in my direction, “who’s this?”
“My sister,” said Tanner. “Came out here to watch my back and keep me out of trouble.”
“Miranda Griff,” I said, extending my own hand and just barely stifling my surprise as his massive hand engulfed my own. I’m not a particularly large woman, but I’d always considered myself roughly average when it came to size. Just then, I found myself revising my estimate downwards.
“Good to meet you, Griff. Sam Sawyer. Your brother here’s a good guy. Helped us out a few months back. Glad he’s got someone out here to help him out. Means he might be a little less likely to catch a bullet in the back someday.”
My lips quirked in a lopsided grin. “My thoughts exactly. Though he can’t be that bad, I suppose. He’s been out here by himself for a couple of years and he’s still in one piece.”
Sam leaned back and let loose with a belly laugh that made me think he doubled as Santa at Christmas-time. I couldn’t help it; I grinned too.
“I’m glad you two have hit it off so well.” Tanner’s look of mock chagrin didn’t hold up well against the twinkle in his eye. “But happy as I am to see you, we’re actually looking for Hildy. Has she gotten out here yet?”
Sawyer nodded and jerked his thumb back over his shoulder, towards the community center. Though now that we were closer, I had to admit it looked a lot more like a saloon than anything else.
“In there. She’s probably been here less than half an hour, so you shouldn’t be in too much trouble.” He grinned.
“Technically, we’re still early. Unless you and the boys put her in a bad mood?”
Another of Sawyer’s belly laughs got loose. “We’d never.”
“Sure you wouldn’t. But just in case you’re getting ideas, here’s that fifty I owe you.”
Tanner dug into his pocket and pulled out a pair of coins, which he tossed to Sawyer.
“Oh, hey! I’d forgotten about that. Knew you were good for it, though!”
“Gotta make friends somehow, now, don’t I?”
Sawyer chortled again. “Good to see you, Tanner. And glad to meet you, Miranda.”
Here we are on Day 3! I’m a bit behind but not horribly so, and I can blame [most of] that on the act that my laptop ran into some difficulties. As in, the darn thing wouldn’t boot up. Turns out, the internal hard drive actually needs to be seated and connected for the computer to see it. Who knew?
As for writing, I’m getting into the groove and it’s so nice to be able to start putting the words down for this thing after working on the planning! Here’s an excerpt that I thought came out pretty well.
Faline narrowed her eyes again. The expression was less than playful this time. “Lex. You need rest. We need you.” She nodded toward the massed refugee housing. “I need your help.”
“I’m here, Faline.” She gave a faint shrug. “I’m here.”
Lex spread her arms. “You see me, don’t you?”
“I see something. A husk, maybe. You know this matters, right? Everyone says the world is ending, and maybe it is. But even if it is, even if the Distortion breaks past the pylons tomorrow and swallows us all, this matters.”
“Of course it does. I never said it didn’t.” The words hissed through Complexity’s teeth. “I’m here, Faline. I’m here because these people shouldn’t have to spend their last days in any more agony than the rest of us. But me being and more or less sleep deprived isn’t going to change a thing.”
Faline scowled. “And what if these aren’t their last days? What if we survive this?”
Complexity laughed. It was a dark, angry sound. “We’re not going to survive this. No one wants to say it out loud, not yet. But everyone knows. All we can do is to try to make it as painless as we can before the end finally comes.”
For a moment, Faline didn’t say a thing. She stood there, emotion hanging from her like a cloak, but she didn’t say a word. When she finally did, the words came out quiet, so low that Lex was surprised she heard them.
“We’re still alive. We’re not done yet. You hear me, Jones? We’re not done yet.”
When we discovered Redfall Gap, hope and excitement ran high, and while most paid lip service to caution and cold wisdom, it was hard to lend too much focus to the dangers and unknowns. And when the probes sent back their first readings, confirming that this glittering, undulating anomaly was just as much a passage to another galaxy as we had imagined, wariness seemed like an unnecessary precaution.
We knew better, of course. Every one of us had seen enough things go wrong when they should have gone right that thoroughness and triple checking were worked into our bones. And we also knew that no matter how much care you put into anything, there’s no such thing as a guarantee. Not really.
So when my best friend volunteered to pilot the ship for the first manned expedition, I met the announcement with mingled envy and dread as well as giddy exultation. If I couldn’t go myself, this was at least the next best thing.
And she deserved it. She, who’d been a pilot longer than I’d been a scientist. She, who’d dreamed of taking the best ships to the strangest places since we were both kids. She, who knew the risks and laughed at them while I followed a more careful path.
If anyone had the skills and experience to be prepared for this, it was her. And her handpicked crew of three.
Preparations took a month. More tests. More readings. More specialized equipment for the Distant Horizon, the vessel that would take them through. More training. More time for this mad venture to become normal. More time to deafen us to the nervous mutterings in the backs of all our minds.
Launch Day came. The Horizon detached from its dock on Platform One, our tiny station home. She brought up power and glided towards the Gap and all the unknown beyond it. Away from us.
And then they entered and were gone.
We received one message, reporting safe passage and transmitting their initial scans from the other side. We received a second six hours later, and a third six hours after that.
The next scheduled check-in passed in silence. And the one after that. And every one following.
Our optimism faded like a dream, replaced by sickened knots in the pits of our stomachs. I told myself that she knew what she was doing, that there were a thousand ultimately harmless reasons they might have missed their check-ins. We checked our arrays and our systems. We tested our sensors and our communications rigs.
We geared up another probe and sent it through the Gap, just in case. It went through safe and sound, its connection never faltered. But it found no trace of the Horizon.
Some talked about outfitting a second ship, though we knew it would never happen. You don’t throw good money after bad. You don’t send a second ship when you don’t know what silenced the first. So all we could do was to find some way to make it safe enough to try again.
But that was easier said than done. We’d done everything we could think of before we sent the Horizon through—now we had to find new things, new holes, new possibilities when we had already exhausted every obvious avenue. And we had to do it with grief hanging over us instead of thrilled excitement.
We tried. Hard. But the exploration corps that funded our project lost interest once the Horizon vanished. After three weeks, they informed us apologetically that they were not in a position to continue paying for a dormant expedition. We were welcome to keep the platform and the equipment; it was ours. They just couldn’t justify the cost of additional supplies and living stipends.
After that, everything shut down. The support staff left. The techs left. Physicists, astronomers, engineers—everyone went in a steady stream that turned into a flood, until finally only four of us remained. We crept around the emptied platform like ghosts, stretching our rations, funding ourselves out of our own savings, scraping all we could from what we had and dragging it out until there was nothing left.
Then we gave up too, with nothing gained for all our begged and borrowed time.
We’d boosted all our sensors, all our comms, cobbling them together from bits and pieces we stole from things we counted less important. We accomplished technological feats. Our station’s eyes and ears reached farther then they ever had before with fewer needs. Maybe it wasn’t an elegant system or the most resilient, but the vast distances its signals crossed was something we could be proud of.
For all the good it did. We found nothing. No stray transmissions. No sensor ghosts. No drifting hulls. Nothing that gave us the slightest indication that the Horizon was there at all, or ever had been. If we hadn’t had the logs from those three precious check-ins, we might have convinced ourselves that they’d never happened at all. And I might have found some other way to explain the loss of my best friend.
After that, we abandoned the station too, out of hope and out of ideas, sixteen weeks, four days, and three hours from the time the Horizon went missing. We left a comm buoy behind on the far side of the Gap, programmed to broadcast its message on repeat: Platform One to research vessel Distant Horizon, all attempts to contact you have failed. We have run out of supplies and are forced to abandon station. We haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll be back in one year to come looking for you again. Message recorded 2619.04.13.14.30. End of recording.
And that was that. The best we could do, useless as it was. And no matter how I tried to avoid it, I knew our project had collapsed with a sigh and a whimper. I knew my best friend was gone forever.
We loaded the few supplies we still had on the one remaining jumpship. We checked the sensors one last time, more out of habit than hope. Then, finding nothing, we left.
Afterwards, we didn’t stay in contact. Or I didn’t. The others might have, but I, in my sorrow, kept to myself. I found some job on some station and used it to feed myself and put a bed beneath my bones. I made acquaintances, never friends. I let my pain grow dull. Numb. I forced myself to heal, or maybe just to scar. Either way the bleeding stopped.
And all the while I kept track of the days, the weeks, the months.
The year passed. I shook myself from my fog of unmanaged grief long enough to hire a jumpship and to contact the others. One I couldn’t find. Another couldn’t take the time to make the trip. The third promised to meet me at the same station we had all set out from together so long ago, and we could go the final leg together.
In the end, we reached the silent, abandoned station two days before the time we’d promised. But that was alright. We could wait. And while we waited, we took comfort in each other’s presence. We barely spoke; there was nothing to say. Instead, we spent the time restarting all the platform’s systems. To our mild surprise, only the link to the probe had gone down, battered by some stray asteroid and unnoticed by the cannibalized systems. It took less than a day to complete the handful of repairs.
I was the one to bring them back online. My hand hesitated above the command-board, wavering as buried emotions came hurtling back, ripping through the cloud I’d wrapped myself in. For a moment, my fears spun all around me. I knew better than to hope. This was more for closure than for rescue. More for us than them.
Something like shame washed over me. We’d spent all this time and all these resources on something that couldn’t be. It was idiotic.
But we’d promised.
And so my hand keyed the commands and started all the systems. They came up, one by one, humming, chirping, reaching out to see the universe. And there it was, the probe we’d left behind with our message for the Horizon. Now the message was for us.
Distant Horizon to Platform One: we ran into a little trouble, but we’re alright. Took some damage and had to find a place to land. Found a way to get your message from the ground. Coordinates are 152.777.459 from point of entry. Watch that gravity well a few hours in. That’s what got us. Looking forward to coming home. Message recorded 2619.07.21.19.37. End of recording.
I sat for a second, stunned. My cheeks went numb. My hands tingled. My heart beat faster than it should have, and I couldn’t breathe. But only for a moment. Then I ran for my companion. We had work to do.
SHIP LOG >> 23126.96.36.199.43.15 entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)
We found the derelict exactly where Crand told us to look for it. Always nice when the client is telling the truth. I’m sending Wolfe and Perez in to do the initial sweep, and we’ll go in for the real work tomorrow. It’s a big ship, but we should be able to clear it out of anything worthwhile in two, three days at the most. Add in four days to get back to Epsilon, and that comes out to a week before we pull in the best haul we’ve had in years. Assuming Crand holds up his end of the bargain. But what the hey. I’m feeling optimistic. Might as well enjoy the feeling until someone proves me wrong.
SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.26.06.18.40 entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)
Early start today. Initial sweep found the cargo bays intact, and it looks like the ship itself is in decent shape. No bodies, but it looks like a few of their escape pods were launched. Don’t know who would have picked them up this far out, but that’s not our problem. I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about the gore. Plus, with everything they left behind, this is a really good haul. Even if Crand tries to hold out on us, we’re going home rich from this one. Our biggest problem is going to be how we fit it all in our own hold.
ADDENDUM >> 23188.8.131.52.37.46
Haul is going well. The six of us have been doing this long enough that we’re nothing if not efficient. But we’ve also been doing this long enough that we’ve heard every ghost story out there, and they’re all set on a ship exactly like this one. The crew is hiding it, but I know they’re jumpy. Hopefully the feeling wears off with time. Because it looks like it’s going to take us the full three days.
ADDENDUM >> 23184.108.40.206.22.32
There was… an incident. Wolfe was in the hold prepping the salvage. She was working alone, so we’ve only got her word on what happened. Problem is, she’s saying there was a ghost. Not in so many words. The woman is too steady-minded for that. But she may as well have spelled it straight out for the affect it’s had on the rest of the crew. And on me, though I have to hide it. Because if Wolfe thought she saw a ghost, my first instinct is to believe that she saw a ghost.
What she actually said was that she thinks there’s still some crew onboard, because someone jumped her in the hold. And we can’t really argue with that, because she’s got the bruises to prove it. Apparently it happened when she started prying open one of the secure boxes to see if it was worth our time. She said the temperature dropped by ten degrees and someone came out of nowhere to clock her across the back of the skull. By the time she got back up she was alone, and the box had slammed back shut.
Avery tried to suggest that it was just a malfunction in the ventilation system, but he couldn’t get the words out. Not with Wolfe sitting there with a bleeding head wound. I sent them both back to the Hyena to get her patched up while the rest of us shut things down for the night. I’d been planning on working later, but I didn’t need to get my crew any more spooked than they already were. We’ll get an early start tomorrow to make up for lost time.
SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.27.07.44.11 entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)
Wolfe said she isn’t going back to the ship. She said she’d coordinate things from the Hyena, but she won’t step foot on the derelict again. She never said so, but I could tell the woman was terrified, which worried me more than anything else. With the new day I’d convinced myself that the “ghost” was the product of a dark hold and a quiet, unfamiliar ship. It was harder to stick to that story when I could see the fear in Wolfe’s eyes. I’d never known her to be scared of anything.
I told her she could stay behind.
CREW LOG >> 2348.10.27.08.13.01 entry by WOLFE, REBEKKAH
I didn’t think she was going to let me stay on the Hyena. I know they don’t believe me, and I don’t blame them. But I know we scanned for biological signatures when we arrived and didn’t find any. And I saw the logs from the derelict. The last one was dated more than five years ago. There’s no survivors on that ship, and I don’t like where that leaves us. And if Avery tries to tell me it was the ventilation system going wonky, I’ll show him wonky. Idiot. At least he knows how to patch someone up.
Captain says it’ll take us two more days to finish up here, and she’s usually right about that sort of thing. I wish she wasn’t. It’s going to be a tough two days. I could make it go faster if I joined them over there again, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe tomorrow. If nothing happens today.
ADDENDUM >> 23220.127.116.11.01.18
I hate being this jumpy. I hate being scared. Eight years in the black and nothing’s ever made me wild like this before. It’s been hours since I’ve heard from the rest of them, and my mind is bent on supplying me with mental images of all the worst scenarios. Sudden, catastrophic life support failure. Toxic miasma inside some compartment we hadn’t opened yet. Undetected hull breach. Ghosts.
At least I’m not worried about getting jumped by something here on the Hyena. Small blessings. I’d comm them and check, but I don’t need them thinking I’m more anxious than they already do. It’s only been a couple of hours. They’re not even overdue. It’s just that I’ve run out of ways to organize the hold to make sure we can fit everything.
ADDENDUM >> 2318.104.22.168.14.51
Still nothing from the others. I tried comming them ten minutes ago but the system spat out a connection error, which means that either their comms are off or the signal’s blocked by something. The latter makes sense if they’re somewhere deep in the ship. That’s probably what it is. No need to panic.
ADDENDUM >> 2322.214.171.124.52.14
It’s been six and a half hours since I’ve heard from the others. I’m trying their comms every ten minutes now, and nothing’s going through. I can’t even get a connection. The Captain said she’d check in by 1700 at the latest. That’s eight minutes away. I can hope, but I already know it’s not going to happen. I don’t know why they haven’t checked in. I’m worried.
ADDENDUM >> 23126.96.36.199.31.03
They’re officially half an hour overdue. Something happened. I still can’t get through. I think I need to go looking for them.
ADDENDUM >> 23188.8.131.52.12.30
I can’t do this. I got as far as the airlock and I froze up. Couldn’t get myself to put one foot in front of the other. Because as soon as I tried the wound on the back of my skull screamed and throbbed and my mouth went dry and my hands tingled. No feeling but blind terror. If my legs had worked I would have run, but my knees were so weak I just stumbled away. If they need help it’s going to have to come from someone other than me.
ADDENDUM >> 23184.108.40.206.04.55
They’re still not back. I still haven’t gotten the comms to go through. Right after I froze up I went up to the cockpit and did a scan for bio signs. The good news was that they all showed up, Our scanners aren’t good enough to do any kind of pinpoint work, but at least I know they’re alive. That’s good enough, right?
ADDENDUM >> 23220.127.116.11.13.21
I have to go find them. I have to try. I don’t know if I can, but it’s not going to happen if I stay here sitting on my butt. Time to suck it up.
SHIP LOG >> 2318.104.22.168.00.00 entry by AUTOMATED
SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> SIX BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> LINKED SHIP LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM OPERATIONAL, ALL OTHER SYSTEMS IN FAILURE
SHIP LOG>> 2322.214.171.124.00.00 entry by AUTOMATED
SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> EIGHT BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> LINKED SHIP LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM OPERATIONAL, ALL OTHER SYSTEMS IN FAILURE
SHIP LOG>> 23126.96.36.199.00.00 entry by AUTOMATED
SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> ALL LINKED SHIP SYSTEMS IN FAILURE
SHIP LOG>> 23188.8.131.52.52.13 entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)
Never again. I don’t know how we got out. Wolfe came in after us when we didn’t come back, but she’s not the one who got us out, because she was just as stuck as the rest of us. The doors just opened up again and we ran for it. Don’t know why. Don’t care why. And I don’t care how much Crand is paying, it’s not worth dying on some cursed ghost ship. He’ll have to make do with what we already grabbed. I gave the order to blow the derelict. No one else needs to deal with that thing. Hopefully the client doesn’t mind too. Too bad if he does.
Something a little different this week! My sister and I have still been exchanging writing prompts (albeit at a slower rate than in July), and this is a recent result from a musical prompt.
They had forgotten about the portal. The thin space at the valley, the one that had started all this horror. They’d known it wasn’t sealed. But sealed or not, it hadn’t been the one belching out monsters and bleeding them into the world for the past three weeks, and they had ignored it in favor of greater threats. And so there was no one to blame. Not really. Which didn’t change the fact that there was now something more terrible there than anything else that crept and prowled in from the other doors to Elsewhere.
Siana was only there because that was where they were going to take the wounded. It was supposed to be a safe place at the eye of the storm, an island of peace in the rising chaos. It was supposed to be somewhere they could, if they were very, very lucky, save a handful of lives. Instead, it became a jagged opening into depths of Elsewhere itself, and the thing that stood silhouetted against the weird light of the rift was like every monster that had ever tormented her in her worst nightmares.
It was huge. Ugly. Terrifying, and yet magnificent. It—he—stood fifteen feet tall from the soles of his two massive feet to the plated crown of his head, and thick battle armor covered every inch of him. His eyes, cold blue and baleful, stared down at her. Why he chose to take notice of her she never knew.
She had no choice. It would make no difference, she was certain, save that it let her keep her honor. Her pride. She lifted her gun, only a handgun, and fired.
Hey guys! So, my schedule at work has me working 24 hour shifts on the ambulance. It’s “just” interfacility transports, but I still find it pretty awesome. That being said, the hours do get funky. So maybe we can blame the following on a late night, sleep deprived brainstorm. Because I think that’s actually pretty accurate. I hope you find it as amusing as I do!
Look. Just hear me out. Because if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Werewolves would make fantastic EMTs.
Wait! Stop! Quit backing away slowly and just listen! Ah, shoot– and put down that little silver figurine you keep on your desk! You don’t need it! What are you…? Yip! Quit throwing things! That’s completely uncalled for.
Alright, look. I’ll stay here on this side of the room, you stay there on that side of the room, and we can talk about this like civilized people. At least one of us is? Now that’s just mean. You’ll give me two minutes? Great! That’s all I need.
So! Werewolves as EMTs. First, the obvious. Ambulances run all night long. Werewolves are great at night! We– ah– they do their best work when the moon is up and the sun is not, so no need to worry about them not being awake.
Second, werewolves are strong. Great for lifting gurneys and moving patients. Also great for general emergency situations. Need something moved out of the way so you can get to someone who might be injured? They got you! Can’t find a jack to help change that flat tire? Just have your friendly neighborhood werewolf lift the car for you! Need an imposing presence so that no one gets in your way while you’re patching someone together long enough to get them to the hospital? No one wants to fight a werewolf.
Okay, so that last one may have more to do with teeth and claws than strength, but the point stands.
Third, rumor has it that the weirdest stuff happens when the full moon is out. So why not harness the weirdness (look, even I’ll admit werewolves are a little weird) and have it work in your favor? If your partner’s a werewolf, you’ll get that fuzzy advantage any night, but especially when the moon is full– when you just might happen to need it the most.
Fourth, ‘wolves are naturally familiar with using something like a siren to communicate with their surroundings. Because basically, a siren is just a howl that tells everyone where you are and to get out of the way.
Fifth, werewolves are great team players. Comes with being the sort of creature that thrives in a pack. Plus, all those scary stories you hear about werewolves being “bloodthirsty monsters” are from the ones that aren’t socialized and don’t have a pack. I can already guarantee that any ‘wolf that wants to be an EMT is going to be the type that is well socialized, and they’ll form a pack with their partner anyway. Problem solved!
And– what’s that? My two minutes are up? Okay, cool. That’s all I needed to say. Will you at least think about it? Great!
Wait, who are you calling? The local paranormal detectives? Ah, heck, those guys are mean. Fine! I’m leaving! I’m going! Just think about it?