Knotty Nikki’s Traveling Photography

June 26, 2009

Knotty Nikki’s Traveling Photography.


Chapter Twenty-Four: Bucket

February 27, 2009

“You are a bucket you are human, retarded, nolifes who spend every second of their friends, gabe, made me a riddle. Tricky riddle what tells something it often loses as it passes? Tell me a mars bar.” The bucket droned on.
I leaned back to whisper in Seth’s ear. “What the hell?”
The blue bucket hopped forward a step. “Damnit bucket stop talking about me do you use the term for those who have a dislike of a species of particle electrons, quarks, neutrinos, etc., supersymmetry implies the existence of your daddy?”
“Er.” Leo appeared quite entranced. “I don’t think so. I’m not sure I understand-”
“A pixel can be a judgment on my arse,” the bucket interrupted with grave solemnity.
That was about enough of that. I kicked it, and it clattered backwards and hit the bars of the cage. Slowly, it rotated back upright.
“Poor poor bucket is poor,” it announced piteously, and shuffled off to sulk in the corner.
I turned away from it. Freemas immediately started questioning me about my visit to my mother; his eyes glittered in the half-lit doom strangely. “So it was really your mother, then?”
“Yes,” I irritably snapped, “and she hasn’t changed at all. Still the same cold-hearted bloodsucking bitch she was when she turned me in to the IBI.”
“So…you think she’ll do anything to help us escape, then?” Seth asked hopefully. In the corner, the bucket muttered, unheeded, to itself.
“No. Not a chance.” I slid down the bars. “What is up with the talking bucket, anyways?”
“I dunno.” Leo couldn’t stop looking at it, though. He continued, “They threw it in here after that one took you out. We can’t figure out why it’s here.” His attempts to catch it were unsuccessful; it skittered around on tiny little mechanical legs, squealing and screaming, “Rape, rape, rape, rape,” repeatedly. Seth grinned to himself.
“Stop raping the bucket,” I said halfheartedly. Leo shot me a look and continued running after the thing in circles, dodging us.
“Anyhoo,” I muttered.
Freemas suddenly broke out and exclaimed, “These goddamn bastards! What are they going to do with us? We didn’t want to threaten them, just ask them a few questions!” Strangely incensed, he punched one of the silver cage bars and winced sharply, clutching his fist, when it hit and there was a sharp crack that sounded rather like finger bones breaking.
“Dammit, Freemas,” I said, “look what you’ve done now. And don’t talk about them like that! Do you want to die a painful death?”
There was a moment of shocked silence.
“Bucket be bucket, give me chipotle darling,” the bucket muttered, angry.
And then there was light. The entire room suddenly started glowing like we were flying by a sun, and it began to heat up. The chill receded; it started getting uncomfortably warm. Freemas’s face was pale from pain and fear.
“Dindammit, you fecking fool,” I swore again, but there were uncontrolled tears in my eyes, “you’ve done it. They can hear you, they can always hear you.”
“What’s happening?” asked Seth. He reached over and held my hand, which felt oddly natural. I ignored it anyways. There was no time for this now.
“They heard Freemas,” I whispered. “They heard him and now it’s all going to fail. I’m sorry. I thought we would be able to talk our way out of this. I guess we should have never come here.”
The door to the room that our cage was in silently swung open, and a long file of Fai glided in, soundless in their moccasin-clad feet and long wool robes. Their eyes were empty ice.
They sat at the stone seats ranged around the room; nobody said anything. My heart was beating like a hunted rabbit’s and Freemas was biting his lip so hard it was bleeding, still clutching his broken hand and staring around. It had all gone so suddenly, completely, horribly wrong.
Last to walk in was my mother. She took her seat at the head of the circle and announced in her smooth, custard-rich voice, “You are finished, Freemas Ephineal. Are you prepared to die?”
“Dammit,” I swore under my breath again. I went to stand by Freemas, who was too dazed with pain to really comprehend what was going on.
“He spoke in ignorance, Lady,” I shot at her. “He apologizes and won’t do it again.”
“He won’t do it again,” she mocked. “You’re right, not-daughter of mine, he won’t, because very shortly he will be dead.”
Damn it. My fingernails were biting bloody curves into the palm of my hands. She was a bitch and a Fai, but could she really be this horrible? Yes, I answered myself grimly, remembering growing up in her household, she certainly could.
“I am your daughter,” I announced as evenly as possible, clutching the silver bars to hold myself upright, “and Fai do not forget blood. You would really betray kin and kill my friend for a bit of amusement?” And I knew that yes, she would do this too. She’d betrayed me to the IBI, after all. However, that hadn’t been a life-or-death matter. Maybe, just maybe, she would take this more seriously.
I pressed on, reckless, while Freemas and the others hunched behind me, too shocked or nervous or finally trusting me. At least they didn’t try to speak.
“You once said you would never break my trust again,” I announced in a clear, ringing voice. “You made a blood oath to me while I was in prison.” There were mutterings, and sharp looks from the other Fai seated in the circle. The looks were aimed not at me, but my mother.
“Enough!” she exclaimed, rising from her seat and making a show of how old, how frail, she was. Perhaps to inspire pity, or make the other Fai remember she was an elder, and not to be doubted. “You lie, not-daughter, and I’ve had enough of your human lies.” She turned her attention to the Fai who stood by our cage door, the leader I’d spoken to when they first found us. “Take out the dark-haired man, Freemas.”
He slipped into the cage. As soon as he did, I began pummeling him, kicking him, pulling his hair and screaming. If nothing else, it would distract them, make them attack me instead of Freemas. Perhaps they would be distracted enough for the others to make a getaway.
Instead, the Fai grabbed my arm and twisted it smoothly up behind my back. It hurt like hell and I thought I was about to start screaming, or drooling, from the pain, and it forced me to bend over down on my knees. I realized very quickly how stupid it had been to try and attack him.
Then there was a pause, while I tried not to satisfy them by making a sound.
And then he let go of my arm with a disgusted snarl, and pulled me to my feet. I stood, dazed, blinking the tears from my eyes, attempting to figure out what was going on.
“The human is telling the truth,” he said slowly to the hushed room. Each and every smooth head now turned sleekly to point at my mother.
“Elder Jharra was lying to us,” he continued. “She really did make a blood oath to this half-breed. I read it in the girl’s thoughts when I touched her skin.”
Things looked good for a moment. I could see doubt, suspicion, anger flitting across the sauve, handsome faces on the stone seats. They were angry at my mother. No one broke a blood oath and got away with it.
Then my mother decided to try again. “She knows mind games,” she purred, sickeningly smooth; “I raised her. She knows how to manipulate our minds. She did it with me, the animal.”
“No!” I screamed. “You lie! You lie! You swore to me! I have the scar! You may not, you vain monster, but I still have the scar on my wrist where we crossed blood and you swore, you fecking swore, that you would never betray me again! Look!” And I held up my wrist, where a thin white glimmer of scar tissue threaded through my darker skin.
My guard examined the scar closely.
“Yes,” he said after a long time, heavily, as though the words pained him, “Again, the half breed Mykonos was telling the truth. There’s no way I was fooled on this one. the scar still has the aura of the oath on it, and the scent of Elder Jharra. There is no mistake. The Elder has been lying to us, and has broken her blood oath.” He dropped my arm then, and I was fairly relieved; his skin burned like cold fire and made me shiver.
It happened quickly. The Fai rose and, moving as one body, they enclosed and engulfed my mother in an unstoppable flood of dramatic grey velvet cloaks and silver jewelry. Right before they reached her, she shrieked and flung her wrist out. A silver flashing thing, moving too fast to see properly, glittered out from her throw and before I could even yell, a silver dagger had sprouted out of Freemas’ chest.
He lived for a few more moments; longer, I suspect, than my mother herself. There were no screams from her chair, but she was engulfed and was gone before I could really register everything that was going on. It had happened terrifically fast. I was kneeling next to Freemas, along with Seth and Leo, and somehow there was blood on my hands and Seth was trying to soothe me in the background; there was blood bubbling out of Freemas’ mouth, trickling horribly down his face. The dagger had gone straight into his heart and I suspect that it was poisoned. He was dead within a matter of seconds, but I could only kneel there, stroking his face, closing his eyelids, keening quietly to myself.
Our guard was still in the cell with us, but other than that we were alone. The Fai in the stone chairs had departed with my mother’s body, or what was left of it, and it was a dead kind of quiet.
Seth tried again to pull me to my feet. “Stand up,” he said, “stand up. Freemas is dead. You can’t do anything.”
I got up, wiping my bloodied hands on my pants. The room was spinning slowly and colors seemed muted. Voices sounded muffled and wavered, washing over me and leaving no mark.
“Freemas was the only one left,” I said. “I’ve seen people die before, Seth, people I cared about, people I maybe even loved, but Dindammit, he was the last one left!”
I’d forgotten about the guard. He spoke up now, surprisingly politely. “I have to have the body taken out now. After that I do believe the new leader will be somewhat more sympathetic to your plight.”
“How do you know?” I asked, beyond politeness or caring.
“Because,” he answered patiently, “if my plans come to fruition, I will be the new Elder.”
I didn’t really know what to say to that. I didn’t honestly care. But he kept talking anyways.
“Your mother never swore a blood oath to you,” he said smugly. “I doubt she’d do something like that. No, I set everyone up for it. I implanted false memories into your brain and hypnotized you awhile ago so I could put this on.” He scraped at my wrist, and a thin sheet of latex peeled up, taking my “scar” with it. I gaped.
“No one liked her much,” he said, throwing the scrap of flesh-colored latex to the ground. “Mostly because she’d birthed you. I knew only a little bit of nudging would be enough for them to rise up. Now I must go and see how the revolt is coming along. If anyone comes in here, don’t let them into the cage. Trust me, you’re in here for your own protection now.” He shoved the carved wood handle of a short silver blade into my limp palm and left, whistling as he locked the door behind him and exited. As he went, he turned out the lights and once again we were left in darkness, and shock.
I found Seth and Leo in the dark and we sat together in a tight circle, our backs to Freemas’ cooling body, trying not to break the silence with stone words. In the corner, the bucket muttered to itself. “Kill, kill, kill,” it sighed.

Chapter Twenty-Three: I’m gonna learn how to surf

February 27, 2009

I started to realize I was in over my head and drowning. And it wasn’t just me that was going down. I had killed my friends by making them trust me. I had no control over these wild Fai. We were as good as dead already, and I knew this.
Finally, finally, finally we arrived at some sort of cliff edging the sea. It was dark. The ocean crashed nearby and sprayed us with salt water; it was freezing. I could see lights glowing in the mouth of a small cave at the base of the cliff. The Fai surrounded us, untied us from the horses, set us on our feet. I was as stiff as ice and fell over. We all did. Our hands and feet were numb and swelled, but soon became incredibly painful. They’d taken our weapons and bags from us, and now returned the bags. “You can carry them,” the leader told us, his dark eyes glittering in torchlight. “We do not want to touch your human filth.” They had no problem holding the weapons, though.
We were marched into the tunnels of the cave. Lit, flickering, with primitive torchlight, all hundred Fai crowded around us and shoved us inexorably ever onwards, deeper and deeper into the depths of the rock. Smaller, black tunnels tunnels branched off the main one; a few larger tunnels arched widely, glowing gold with light, but we stayed on the same well-worn path.
There was no opportunity to talk, but Leo looked at me with worried eyes and I knew he didn’t trust me to get us out of this. Well, fine. I didn’t trust myself either. With these powerful, haughty beings around, I wasn’t sure of anything anymore. They did that on purpose, inspired the fear and doubt. My mother was good at it, though she did it without noticing. She tried to be as human as possible, but it’s hard for a seven-foot tall goddess of beauty with shark’s teeth to fit in with humanity.
Now the tunnel was sloping sharply down. At every junction, we lost more Fai until there were only three left–on walked in front, one behind, and the third, the leader who had spoken to me in the field, walked directly next to me with his hand touching my arm. I tried to ignore it. He was probably trying to read my mind, but the one time I tried to shake him off he’d just looked at me and bared his teeth.
Then there was a room, a pitch-black, icy cold, perfectly circular room. We must have been a hundred feet below the surface by now. The first Fai entered with a torch held high. The light revealed that the room’s stone walls, floor, and arched ceiling was as polished as glass. The light reflected off the polished stone and illuminated the chamber brilliantly, in dazzling sparkles and slashes of light. Arranged around the walls were thirteen marble chairs, and in the center was a round cage big enough for a dozen people.
We were pushed into the cage and the door was closed and locked behind us.
“What is going on?” I asked. “I need to speak to your Elders.”
“You are going to, half-breed, so keep your mouth shut.” The leader glared at me. “We will be in to speak with you in time.” He stalked out of the room behind the two guard Fai.
We were alone. I slumped to the floor and massaged my sore wrists. The others sat down around me in a small circle.
“So, what’s your plan next?” Leo’s voice sounded mocking, but I ignored it.
“We’ve got to talk to the Fai Elders. I must convince them that since I’m half Fai, they owe me my life and yours too. We can tell them about the past. They’re all about knowledge. It sounds like they own all of Donegal, so there’s no point in escaping unless we can get back to the Amaya. There are no human villages to hide in.”
“You don’t have a plan, do you?” Leo asked. “You have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re sure we’re going to die.”
I wouldn’t have said it like that, but yes. Leo was right. I felt completely hopeless. The Fai had been more powerful than I expected.
I saw light coming down the hallway. The leader Fai appeared again, alone, with a torch. He unlocked the cage door and beckoned for me to come out.
Seth said, “Don’t go.” I stood up anyways. I didn’t know what he wanted, but I was going to find out.
“Sorry, guys. I have to find out what’s up. Please don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone. I’ll be back soon.” The Fai ignored our conversation; he beckoned again, impatiently, for me to come with him. With one last glance at Seth, I walked out of the cage.
The Fai kept a commanding grip on my forearm as we walked down hall after deserted hall, but there was nowhere for me to run to even if I had the idea to run away.
“What is your name?” I asked.
He snarled at me. “Do not speak unless spoken to, half-breed!” But then he continued, “I am Жarwa. You are Kinsay Mykonos. You were born on this planet, and your mother was a Fai. You have slept for a thousand years, and you come to us looking for answers. For hope. You still think your ship is somewhere out there and you can reach it, is that it? You miss your friend, Hawkeye. You want to sleep with the one named Seth, but are afraid of how the alcoholic one, Freemas, would take it. You were jailed for interplanetary illegal smuggling and given an ultimatum: stasis for one hundred years, or a lifetime of Army service. Ironically, you have now been in stasis for a thousand years and still have a lifetime of Army service left to fulfill. You still hate your family for turning you in. In the Army, you did everything you could to display mediocre service, but you have shown decent leadership skills since waking from stasis. You would never admit it, but you’re not the hardened, street-savvy character you show yourself as. You hated smuggling and are terrified of armed combat. And the question you have to ask yourself is, if you keep doing those things but profess to dislike them, what kind of person does that make you?”
“Stop it! Stop.” I took a deep breath. “You’re right. About all these things. Look, you can’t impress me with this. My mother was a Fai, if you remember. She used to do this to me all the time. ‘Kinsay, you were out with that boy last night.’ ‘Kinsay, why are you smuggling illegal drugs?’ I’m not scared.” I crossed my arms to emphasize the statement.
“You’re not supposed to be.” He appeared amused. “Here we are. You’re to talk to an Elder who had a particular interest in you.” He shoved me into a dark room and shut the door.
I fumbled forward in the darkness, my skin prickling, sure this was a trap. I was waiting for the prick of needle-sharp teeth, the laugh, the knife slicing across my throat–no, that would be too slow and painless for them.
A torch flared. A hooded figure sat on a stone seat in front of me, holding a torch and lighter. I stopped and bowed. The figure’s face was in shadow, but it was hunched, trembling, obviously ancient. I wondered how long they lived. The rest of the room, dimly, seemed to be full of stack and stacks of dusty books.
“Child.” It was a command. A woman’s voice, old and cracked, but still sweet as birdsong in summer and as charming and hypnotic as a snake. “Come closer.”
I stepped forward carefully. Slowly. One step at a time, I reminded my pounding heart.
“What is your name?” A light query, but there was steel in that trembling voice. I would rather fight a pack of young, rabid Fai than this one.
There was a chuckle from under the hood. “You are wise, Kinsay Mykonos, to fear your own mother.”

Chapter 22: Long nights, impossible lies, keep my back to the wall

February 15, 2009

I told the others. Freemas stomped for a bit and cursed. He drew me aside. “Kinsay, when I die, I’m blaming it on you.” I wasn’t in the mood for his jokes. “Let me know how that goes. Now what do you want?” He winked at me. “You know, it never would have worked between us. Sorry, love.” It caught me off guard and I turned an attractive shade of red. “It was me that broke it off with you, in case you don’t remember,” I haughtily replied. He grabbed my elbow when I tripped over a rock. His smile was smug. “I don’t remember it like that. Unable to avoid my charms, you were.” At this I could snort. “Freemas, we’re wasting time. We’ve got to come up with a plan.” “Oh. Right. So we can postpone death as long as possible? Mykonos darling, do you really think you can come up with a plan in that pretty little red head of yours that will keep the Fai from roasting us over an open fire? Just because you’re half Fai yourself doesn’t mean they’ll have any kind of loyalty to you. Actually, last time I checked, they hated half-breeds with a fiery passion.” “I may have sunk myself this time,” I finally admitted. “But don’t tell the others. I do have an idea.” Surprisingly, he didn’t try to make another wisecrack. He gave me a quick one-armed hug and murmured in my ear, “I hope for all of our sakes it’s a good one.” He released me brusquely and we returned to Seth and Leo, who were looking uncomfortable. I ignored Seth’s pointed glance at Freemas. Someday I would explain. If I got the chance. “Alright,” I began. “The Fai…they can read minds, possibly. No one really knows if they can actually read minds, or if they’re simply very intuitive, but whatever the case is, do not think of anything important when they are around. I have a plan, of sorts, but I can’t tell you because they might get it from you.” Seth raised a hand. In his deep voice, he said, “So you have some kind of special protectioin against their mind-reading, being half Fai yourself?” “Er, no,” I had to admit, “but I know how their minds work. Anyways, this plan that I can’t tell you about, just follow my lead, okay? Don’t argue with me. Do whatever I say.” Leo did not look very confident of my abilities, which didn’t surprise me. He pulled out his laser gun. “Why don’t we just shoot them up with these?” he asked. “Or get the Amaya to come pick us up? The Fai must still be fifteen minutes away; plenty of time for the ship to come rescue us.” “Oh no,” I said quickly. “That’s cheating. The Fai hate cheating. I wouldn’t recommend it. They’ll find ways to get around it. You can’t fight the Fai with brute violence or obvious tactics. It doesn’t work on them.” Seth squeezed my arm. “I trust you,” he said. It was a touching moment, really, and belonged in some heroic war movie, without a doubt. Right on cue, a dark mass appeared, looming out of the fog like demons from the depths. Quietly, Leo muttered, “So, we not only have to keep them from killing us, we have to make friends with them, amirite?” “Close enough,” I whispered. “Now leave the talking to me. Do what I do.” They marched silently, wraiths in the mist. Now I could make out a glittering spear point, a silver winged helmet, a flutter of grey cloth. They were proud, the Fai, and stood straight. They were seven feet tall and thin, with haughty emotionless faces. They were only meters away from us now. We stood in a small group, frozen, while they poured around us in a wave, encircling us. We were surrounded. Quanta started to speak through my watch and I quickly shut it off, my heart pounding. They stopped. There must have been a hundred spearpoints leveled at our throats. A wrong move now would be the last move I ever made. And still, they were dead silent. Their armor didn’t clank, their feet made no sound on the grass. They moved like spirits. Their eyes glittered harshly. Behind me, I heard Leo make a small sound, of fear or awe, I wasn’t sure. They were impressive creatures. “Othala, yolowen ёnille.” I tried to keep my voice low and calm. I had a limited vocabulary in the Fai language, just enough to carry on a rudimentary conversation. A male stepped forward, brushing aside the spears like flies. He wore a long black cloak and had white, long hair. When he spoke, I could see his teeth were pointed, and his face was beautiful but harsh. I fell to my knees. I felt stupid with my knees in the mud, but I would feel stupider with my head disattached from my body. “You speak the Old Tongue?” the man asked. He sounded either madly impressed with my skills, or very angry. “No one is permitted to speak that but the Elders.” “I do not know how things have changed, Ёnille,” I responded. “We have slept in stasis for a thousand years and have just woken up. We came to the wise Fai for answers.” His tone, this time, was harsh. He flashed his pointed teeth more than he needed to. “We have not changed, human. This land is our land now, and there are no human laws stopping us. What makes you think we won’t kill you right now, rip out your heart and eat it raw?” And therein lay the flaw in my plan. “Absolutely nothing,” I answered slowly, “but your own curiosity. Are you not curious about us, the travelers from the past who willingly come to you?” He ignored my question. “We will take you back to our home, and the Elders will decide what is to become of you. They enjoy curiosities. And we have not tasted human flesh in a long time.” He leaned in and breathed deeply. His nostrils flared. “You are not human!” You are of the Fai? What is this?” He grabbed my face and wrenched it into better light, and I bit my lip to keep from making a noise. “What are you, woman?” Those shark teeth were far too close to my face, and his eyes were making me dizzy. I shut my own. “My mother was a Fai. It was she who taught me the language.” He spat at my feet. “We hold no love for half-breeds.” He dropped me and turned away. In a strange, harsh language that I’d never heard before, he commanded his troops, “жен ёпах вар л я.” Four Fai in dark clothing dropped their spears on the ground and tied us up. “Don’t resist,” I mouthed to Freemas, Leo, and Seth. They slung us over the backs of several horses and we endured several jolting, silent, uncomfortable hours of travel. None of the Fai spoke, and we were too scared to speak to each other. Once, Leo tried. “Um,” he said, “I really have to pee.” One of the Fai smoothly hit him over the head with the butt of her spear, and he didn’t try to talk again. It was clear we were their prisoners. I mused while we traveled. I doubted that they would actually try to eat us. My big concern was getting information out of them and getting away. I was terrified that they would use us for hunting or for some cruel, sadistic game. It had been common a thousand years ago and burning to death was infinitely preferable to the “games” they thought up. Somehow, I would have to convince them we were important. The misty grey day faded into a misty black night. Still we traveled, and still the Fai trotted, barefoot, next to the horses, tireless.

Chapter 21: I said stay away, I don’t wanna see your face no more

February 14, 2009

“Ten minutes and counting,” droned Quanta. She brightened. “Perhaps I can make you a cup of tea? I’ll have Druid bring it out.”
I sighed and rubbed my forehead. Eire was a gloriously familiar sight as it slowly expanded in our view; drifting white clouds, emerald green land, sparkling turquoise water; I felt more at peace watching it than I had felt for months, ever since waking up one thousand years in the future.
I cleared my throat. Quanta, our shipboard computer that we’d named after Lovejoy’s “sister” was humming cheerily in the background. We couldn’t stop her.
“Quanta, no tea is necessary, but thank you,” I said. “And could you please stop humming? You know what happened last time Leo was disturbed.”
“Right. Sorry.” She whispered, and her vid-screen flickered off.
I ran my hands over the sleek white console. Leo, suddenly fanatical about buying our own spaceship when we got the capital, had purchased the elegant cruiser Amaya in complete opposition to our protests. But he proved himself right in that it would be worth out money in the end. Only two months after leaving Afrikaant, we were orbiting in the upper atmosphere of Eire, in search of information about the fate of the Silver Seven.
We’d had to hire on a small crew to keep the Amaya running; it was too big for the inexperienced four of us to handle. Gi’yan was a wiry mechanic genius with a keen wit. Trillium, our official pilot and electronics know-it-all, had been wary of hiring on with us, these ignorant outsiders with our archaic speech, but in the end had been persuaded by Leo’s insistence and staggering amounts of money.
Both of them found our speech amusing. We told them our story about a week out, but I don’t think they believed us. Gi’yan, in any case, had to suppress a smirk as Freemas explained how we woke up on the Afrikaant praire and met a humanoid robot living in a hand-dug cave underground. It even seemed farfetched to me, thinking about it.
“Where should we land?” Quanta whispered. Leo looked up from his book at her vidscreen and said, “You don’t have to whisper. I’m not going to bite your head off again.”
“Fine.” Now she was pouting. “Where do you want to land?”
“The most rural area possible, please,” I replied. “We’re looking for the Fai and they don’t like human civilization. I hope they haven’t gone extinct in this amount of time. They were always good at fighting us, though.”
“Look, here’s nearly an entire continent that looks largely unpopulated,” Quanta said suddenly. She brought the image up on the mainscreens. Sure enough, a small continent, no more than a large island, really, floated in the midst of the turquoise sea. There were no city scars, no streaks of roads and patches of farms and development.
“That’s the Donegal island,” I said. “In my time it was a very rural country. Their main export was agricultural. I wonder what happened to all the farms? Well, in any case it looks deserted enough. Let’s try it.”
The ship slowly angled down into the planet’s atmosphere. Re-entry was accomplished in under three minutes and soon we were floating about 5,000 feet above the countryside. Even from this distance it looked deserted. Woods and boggy mires, shaggy green hills, and mist covered the desolate landscape.
“It looks like prime Fai territory,” I said. I was feeling like this was a bad idea, now. If they could even tell I was half-Fai, what kind of loyalty would they have towards me? Absolutely none. I’d have to bluff my way through and hope like crazy that they bought it.
Seth and Freemas, alerted by the dim roar that had marked out entry into atmosphere, shot up the stairs from the rec room. Gi’yan came after, his hands greasy.
“You should have warned me,” he said, wiping them off on a shirt Freemas had left lying on the back of a white leather chair. “I was in the cargo bay and it gets awfully warm down there during re-entry.”
“Sorry,” Quanta replied contritely. “Here we are. Touchdown in…5…4…3..2..1..and we are on the surface. Let me check the surroundings for dangerous chemicals or organisms.” She went quiet for a minute, and then brightly said, “No danger has been detected. Ambient temperature is approximately 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s lightly drizzling, and there is a forty-three percent chance of sun later in the day. Don’t forget your backpacks and weapons.”
The four of us slung on the pre-packed bags already sitting by the door, and I nodded at Trillium and Gi’yan. They had been offered the chance to go with us, but had declined. They said they’d take care of the ship while we were gone. If we hadn’t returned in two weeks, they were to take the pod and search the island. If they had reasonable cause to think we were dead, they were to take the ship.
The ramp slid down. Mist swirled in, cold and damp, and I breathed deeply. “The air smells fresh,” I observed. “I doubt this place has any occupants whatsoever. I hope it hasn’t been deserted for a really good reason.”
We stepped out into the wet grass, and the hatch slid up silently behind us.
“Well, my hooligans,” I said, smiling, “we’re back wandering the countryside on foot with no idea where to look first. Who wants to lead the way?”
Seth struck out east, looking at the holographic map of Donegal in front of him and commenting, “That looks a little more hospitable for life. There’s a bay for fishing and several large underground cave networks.”
“Perfect. Looks like prime Fai territory.” We started walking. Within minuted our pant cuffs were soaked. Mist dripped off our hat brims and down our shirt collars. Even though it was sixty-eight degrees, I was already cold.
Quanta’s voice suddenly crackled through my wristwatch telecommunicator. We would keep in contact with the ship through it.
“I don’t mean to scare you,” she said apologetically, “but from the heat signatures I’m detecting, it looks like you’re going to collide with a large group of beings–humanoid shaped–in about half an hour. They’re heading straight toward you.”
“How many?” I asked. Anything under ten we could probably handle. More than that, and things started to get tricky.
“Um,” said Quanta, “over a hundred, actually. They have weapons, too. And I don’t think they’re human. Their body temperatures are too low.”
Excellent. We were about to encounter more than a hundred armed and undoubtedly angry Fai on their own territory. I tightened my gunbelt.

Chapter 20: Thought I forgot, did you?

February 14, 2009

How long? How long has it been? I don’t know anything anymore. The voices are my own, or they’re somebody else’s. They are the voices of my children, my neighbors, my parents, my friends, my enemies and demons. All are the same. People–shapes, figures, meaningless bodies–flicker through my vision. I don’t know what is real and what is fantasy anymore. I don’t know if anyone sees me. They don’t respond, if they do, no matter how loud I scream. Perhaps I am a voice in their imagination. Perhaps I don’t exist.
How do I see the world? What is the world? I’m tired of fighting for some reality I know nothing about. Time is meaningless. There is too much of it. Years, centuries, they slip past like hours and days.
The Fai. What are they? They are the strongest voices, the ones I can hear most clearly. I remember them. Are they me? They might be my parents, or my children, and certainly they are my enemies.
Oh please let me out of this. I can’t fight any longer. The ship is more familiar to me than my own body. I shall sleep here, where the voices can’t get to me.
Can anyone hear me? Is anyone listening?

Chapter 19: You didn’t have to shake it but you did, but you did, but you did

February 14, 2009

Desolation is the name of the game. When you’re alone, really alone, deep in some prehistoric cave where it doesn’t matter that monsters aren’t real because they’re crawling up your legs and into your brain, desolation is what you’ve got. You don’t have nothing; you have the absence of nothing, the something that’s worse than being alone. You have yourself, and you have your demons to contend with. I’d rather be alone any day.
I felt a flash of that as Lovejoy herded us, we shocked and stumbling, into the rear hallway of the underground building. Before closing the steel door on us, he said, “Make yourselves at home. I’ll bring you some food later–I don’t want my friends starving, even though they tried to desert me.” The steel door ticked shut, and we were alone.
Leo looked back at us. “What?” he said. “Because I’m the genius I’m supposed to have all the bright ideas around here?”
“Well, yes, actually,” snapped Freemas. He slid down the carpeted wall. It was difficult to see the expression in his face in the shadows, but I imagine he didn’t look pleased.
“Bugs,” Seth sighed. “Hundreds of ‘em. Let’s get in the bedrooms, quick.” At first I didn’t know what he was talking about; then I saw them, swarms of tiny insects crawling over the floors and walls and heading our way. We beat a quick retreat to an uninfested bedroom and slammed the door. The seal seemed bug-proof enough, but I rolled a rug against the lintel anyways. My hands were shaking in spite of me.
“I’m not going to let this Lovejoy, this robot, to go and keep us locked up,” I said determinedly. Seth was slouched on the bed next to Leo. Freemas leaned against a dirt wall, picking his fingernails. None of them looked up.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked, pacing. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“Did you see the steel doors?” asked Seth. He stood up and grabbed my elbow. “There’s no way to get through that, not unless somebody has a laser gun.”
“We…we could dig out,” I snapped. “The walls are just dirt.”
“We’d never get through before Lovejoy came in to check on us,” Leo pointed out. “Besides, the probability of the tunnel collapsing before we were all out is approximately 82.4 percent.”
“Fine. What are we supposed to do, then?”
“Wait,” said Freemas from his corner. “He’s got to come in sometime to feed us, and then we’ll overpower him. He’s a robot, but he already told us he’s flesh and blood. He can’t be much stronger than we are, and he’s outnumbered four to one.”
“Very true. But what if he doesn’t come back?”
“Oh, he will, if he wants to keep us alive to be his company.” Seth pushed me into a chair. “Calm down. There’s nothing we can do at the moment, so there’s no point in worrying about it.”
We fell into a melancholy silence for a few minutes.
“If…no, when we get out of here, where are we going to go?” asked Leo eventually. He absentmindedly scratched in the dirt wall. A small shower of dust and dirt fell down onto his knee.
I really wasn’t thinking that far ahead, but tried to answer anyways. “I was thinking that we should go to Eire. The Fai we have–had–there would be able to answer questions no one else can. We might be able to find out what happened to the Silver Seven.”
And I was thinking to myself that maybe I could find out what happened to my family. It was strange to think that they had been dead for almost a thousand years.
Leo unfolded himself from the floor and brushed off the dirt. “I though the Fai were just a story?”
“Oh, no,” I said, “they’re all too real. And not much like you read in the stories, either. Beautiful creatures, all of them, but when they smile they have the jagged, pointy teeth of a shark. Even that wouldn’t be so bad, but they’re…alluring. Humans are traditionally their prey, after all. They have the ability to draw you in. It’s the beauty of them, and it’s very creepy. I suppose back on Earth they would have been called elves, or something like it, but they’re not friendly at all. They’re wicked smart, though. They have precognition, or something. Leastways they don’t tell us what it is, but they know things.”
There was silence after my little speech. Freemas watched me, smirking, because he knew already. Seth was the first one to say anything.
“Then…what makes you think they’ll talk to us and just not eat us?”
“Because,” I replied, “I’m part Fai myself.”
More silence. Then Leo asked, quietly, “How much?”
“Half, actually. My mother was a Fai who broke with the tribe.” I didn’t tell them how she’d been kicked out, beaten, and nearly died when her tribe discovered she’d been sleeping with my father and had gotten pregnant. I thought this would unduly worry them.
Leo looked at me with big, childlike eyes. “So, ah, you don’t have any of these seduction powers or human blood-sucking urges, do you? I mean, I’m just wondering.”
“Not so you’d notice,” I replied lightly. “Really, the genetics passed by all that stuff. I think it has something to do with mixing two races. I’m like a mule.” I tried to laugh. “Anyways, we need to come up with a plan to ambush Lovejoy when he shows up.”
They seemed to forget the subject of my heritage, for which I was grateful. We sat in a circle and discussed our plan until I was nodding from exhaustion. I didn’t want to talk any more. We had a decent plan put together, and there was no way Lovejoy would just leave us here to rot. That would be the act of a crazy person. Right? Oh, damn.
It was impossible to tell time in the windowless bedroom-come-prison cell, but I estimated that it was late night of early morning before we heard a scuffling outside the door. We’d been dozing lightly, but Seth and I woke up completely at the sound. I touched his forearm. He gave me a glance and we glided soundlessly to our feet and took out positions by the door.
Everything happened fast. The adrenaline had barely pumped through my system before the door whispered open, Lovejoy stepped in, and Seth leaped on him from behind. There was a muffled “damn!” from Seth and an annoyed “Bloody hell!” from Lovejoy. There was a thump as they hit the ground. Freemas and Leo woke up at the noise and scrambled to their feet, yelling. Seth snarled. The old man was struggling mightily, but was no match for young Seth. I broke out of my frozen position and grabbed the roped we’d tied from the blankets on the bed. I grabbed one flailing limb. Leo crouched down next to me and helped me tie him up while Seth and Freemas immobilized him.
We were done in a short time. There were tears in the old man’s eyes.
“Please don’t leave me,” he panted, trussed like a bird on the floor. “I’m all alone here. Please don’t leave an old man.”
“You shouldn’t have locked us up,” I said. I felt strangely ruthless suddenly. “Where’s your money, Lovejoy? We know you’ve got a lot of it.”
“Not telling, you thieves and betrayers,” he muttered. I kicked him sharply in the ribs, knowing his nano-bots would just repair it. It still made me feel scummy when he flinched and yelled.
“Fine!” He bellowed a bit, but I slapped him in the face and he regained some composure. “It’s all in the kitchen, in the rye flour jar. I thought no one would look in there.”
We left him there, muttering to himself, and went and got the money. It was as described, and there were several fat stacks of 20,000 kroner bills; enough, we estimated, to buy ourselves several decent spaceships. “Keep that thought in mind,” joked Leo weakly, shoving the stack in his baggy pockets, but there was a certain gleam in his eye.
We looted Lovejoy’s house for any other belongings that might have been useful, and I found some clothes that would fit me far better than Seth’s baggy uniform.
We were on our way to the capital.

Chapter 18: Over 3,000 words, so start reading

February 14, 2009

“You’re a robot.” Leo stood up and started prodding at the old man’s arm shamelessly. “You don’t seem like one.”
“That’s because my body is flesh and blood,” irritably replied the old man. “My brain is electronic. And nano-bots keep my body from aging. I’m technically immortal.”
“That’s…very interesting. Excuse me for saying so, but you just seem like a batty old man. And why the English accent?”
“I am about to turn into a caterpillar,” said Lovejoy, standing up, “but please, there are two spare bedrooms in the back. Make yourselves at home. Please use the kitchen. I will answer any questions you may have in two hours and forty-eight minutes.” He proceeded to stand rigid, arms flat at his sides, and say at two-second intervals, “Beep. Caterpillar commencing.”
I looked over at Seth. “I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted, and I could really use a shower.”
He agreed. Leo pointed out, “We have to deal with your drunk, though.”
“He’s not my drunk. And it won’t hurt him to sleep on the couch. He deserves it.”

The bathroom, while odd, was fully functional. I pushed aside dozens of hanging curtains to get to a handmade wooden bathtub. Seth and Leo had kindly given me first use. I turned the tap, and sulfurous-smelling but deliciously hot water sprayed out. I filled the tub, found a bar of some hard, unscented soap, and scrubbed off almost four days of plains dirt and sweat.
Tingling with clean, I found a fluffy purple towel and went to find Seth. “Your turn.” He was in the second spare bedroom, digging through his backpack. He looked up.
“Nice towel,” he commented, and I felt my cheeks get hot.
“I don’t have any clean clothes. I definitely neglected to pack that in my hurry to get out of that bloody pirate ship.”
He pulled something out of his bag and tossed it to me. “I packed two spares. It’ll be a bit big, but probably safer than a towel, what with that wild Leo.” He winked at me and jerked a thumb at the bed, where a snoring Leo sprawled hugely. He was hugging a ragged, one-eared teddy bear.
“Huh,” I said. “Well, I think I’m going to follow his lead, minus the teddy bear. See you in the morning.”
Across the low earthen rug-covered hall was the other spare bedroom. I dropped the towel and slid into the chill bed in the dark. Before the sheets were warm I was asleep.

In the middle of the night something disturbed my sleep. I lay in the darkness, eyes fixed on the ceiling, instantly alert to any small sound. For a moment, there was nothing. Then: a crash, the same sound that had woken me up. My breathing automatically was silent, my hand groping for my knife. I’d picked up a few habits in the old days and in jail that were hard to break.
“Kinsay?” Freemas’ whisper was hoarse. “Kinsay, are you awake?”
“You damn fool,” I whispered back, “of course I’m awake. How could I not be, with you crashing around like a fragging elephant?”
“Sorry. I already woke up Leo and Seth. Well, Seth. He told me you were in here.”
“I am in here. What do you want?”
“A bed, of course. The couch was uncomfortable.”
“Look, after all the problems we went through with you and your drama attack earlier today, I’m not inclined to give you much of anything.”
“Please? I’m cold.”
I sighed, an angry huff, but instantly regretted it. Freemas hadn’t done anything to me on purpose. He was my only friend left alive, my only connection to a life that apparently lay a thousand years in the past.
“Aw, come on then, but keep your hands to yourself.”
“Don’t worry. I think Seth’d kill me, anyways,” he sighed. He slid into bed next to me. I could feel the old mattress bouncing. This was why I hated sleeping with people in the same bed. After what seemed like a century he stopped moving–and started snoring. I spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling, silently cursing myself and my pathetic soft-heartedness.
“What do you mean, Seth would kill you?” I asked his snores conversationally at one point. “Because honestly, I wouldn’t mind that.” The ungrateful bastard didn’t answer.

“I had an absolutely amazing sleep, thank you,” Freemas said brightly to Lovejoy the next morning. From the end of the table, I rested my throbbing head in my hands and tried not to groan.
“Are you all right, Kinsay?” Seth asked. He passed me the toast. “You don’t look like you slept at all.”
“I didn’t. Somebody sent bloody Freemas into my room and I spent the night listening to him snore.”
“I don’t snore,” Seth said, flashing me a grin. “In fact, I breathe music. It’s like a beautiful symphony in my room at night.
“Don’t believe him,” Leo said through a mouthful of toast. “He’s lying.”
“Oh, shut up. You just don’t want to sleep in the same room as Freemas.”
“That’s true, but you still snore.”
“Like you would know. You were passed out over the entire bed with your teddy bear.”
The bickering would have continued, but Lovejoy announced, “Let me show you around the city. You can buy some supplies and start forming a plan to get out of here. Shuttles to the capital are rare, and they often get hijacked. The capital is the only place to find a flight out of the planet, and you may be able to find some information there to get you up-to-date with current events. I’m afraid I don’t keep track of anything.” He grinned sheepishly. He seemed much more sane than last night. I had to remind my self that he was actually a computer. Who knew what he was going to act like? He probably programmed himself to be a crazy old British man for reasons unbeknownst to me. And that was fine. As long as he didn’t try to kill me or my friends, I didn’t really care.

“Town,” as Lovejoy called it, was…different. He led us through a series of tunnels, alleys, and empty buildings on what he called his “secret route.” After a good half hour of this we all emerged, blinking, into the stunning hot sunlight of another Afrikaant noon. We were in a bustling downtown area; tall, white spires rose above us. Around us, storefronts were selling everything from leather shoes to flying machines and toy spaceships. Everything looked familiar, yet oddly skewed. The buildings were almost all made out of the same white, opaque, slippery plastic-type stuff. Lovejoy shrugged when I asked him what it was. Food, being lustily sold in little street carts colorfully emblazoned with corporate logos, looked odd, bright cubes on sticks and cellophane-wrapped lumps that I couldn’t recognize from this distance. The mostly dark-skinned people walked quickly, heads bowed against the possibility of catching anyone else’s eye. Everyone wore rather generic dull clothing and white athletic shoes.
“It’s a struggling government and economy, you have to remember,” Lovejoy said when Leo expressed disappointment at how boring everything looked. “They’re currently under a communist regime that prohibits personal expression. In fact, we should be careful. You especially, love,” he said, turning to me. “Women usually travel only with a group of other women or with their husbands. You stand out.”
He gave each of us a thousand crona, enough, he said, to buy a decent car each. “I don’t need the money. A thousand years is a long time to make…investments.” He seemed subdued today, and scarily sane. I cheered up a little when he said he had to go off and find a place to become a frog for a few hours.
After he was gone, the four of us sat down in a nearly empty park to discuss our plans.
I wanted to get to the capital as soon as possible. “We need to get into space,” I argued. “I have an idea.” I didn’t want to reveal my plan, because it sounded crazy, even in the confines of my own head, but really, why else? I remembered–just a few days ago for me–how my older doppelganger on the SIlver Seven had insisted I get on the pirate ship. Had this been part of a plan to get me transported one thousand years in the future? How could I even exist as an older being on the ship if I left and never returned? The thought made my heart beat faster. If the doppelgangers were right, and time either didn’t exist or existed differently on the ship, there was a chance they were still out there in space somewhere, floating around.
I didn’t express this, in case I turned out to be wrong, but I was dead set on getting out to space any way possible. I had a feeling if we could do that, we could find the Silver Seven. Assuming it was out there.
Freemas protested. “We’re going to get hijacked on the way and we’ll end up as skeletons by the side of a road somewhere.” He crossed his arms. I ignored him. He was usually angry and argumentative the day after getting out of a drinking funk.
“We could split up,” I suggested. “After all, we really have nothing keeping us together. I’m going to get out into space, one way or another. I want to go see my home planet, Eire, if nothing else.”
“I don’t want to split up,” Seth said in his deep voice, looking me candidly in he face. His black eyes were disconcerting. I had to look away. He continued, “You three are the only ones left who come from my time. Despite differences that in any other time would have probably kept us from ever becoming friends, I’ve come to know you in the past week and I just don’t want to be split up so soon. I’m going with Kinsay to get into space again.”
Leo sighed and rubbed his hands on his pants. “I’m going with Kinsay and Seth,” he told Freemas. “I like all of you and I want to have more adventures. It’d be a shame if you didn’t come with us, Freemas, but I haven’t got to live much yet and I’d like to see space. And Eire. And wherever else we may go. Even if we get hijacked on the way to the capital, it would be worth it.” His brown eyes were troubled, but he kept his mouth set in a grim line. I could believe that he would follow the devil to the end of the universe for an “adventure,” he spoke so firmly.
Freemas looked at us all and saw he was outnumbered. “Fine,” he shrugged, affecting nonchalance, “I’ll go with you all to the capital. I’ll be saying ‘I told you so,’ though, when it all goes wrong.”
“I’m glad you’re coming, Freemas.” I tried to smile at him. I was seething angry though, with the immature way he was acting. Later on, when Leo and Seth weren’t around, we were going to have a talk. And he was going to shape up. Time-displacement notwithstanding, he had absolutely no reason to act like a child.

Our next step was to get something to eat, get supplies, and go find Lovejoy. We’d decided to leave tomorrow, when we could get the earliest shuttle out. After enquiring at the shuttle station, the unfriendly desk receptionist had told us that the soonest shuttle was leaving tomorrow at 5 am. Her dialogue was nearly indecipherable, but she probably would have said the same about us. I hoped time still ran on the same schedule, or we would show up early in the morning when the shuttle actually left at some other time that was to them 5 am.
We found a food stall with a short line, since Leo was starving, and looked at the menu board while we waited. There was “Nutri-dense fiber sugar cakes,” “Greasy McVitamin Burger,” “HEALTHY french unfries,” “Nutraceutical Salads,” and fifteen flavors of “Sucro-fizzy” to drink. I wasn’t particularly tempted by any of the odd titles, but the McVitamin Burger seemed to be selling well.
“Excuse me,” I said to the pale, pimpled young man running the cash register, “What is this food actually made of?”
“‘Ere, from donde comes you? Le food iz all corn, ya knows it.” He giggled. “Viv a cave in you have for a big K?”
It took me a minute to decipher what he was saying.
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” I said defensively, but he only looked at me oddly. “An shor, processed is le corn, in, in, plants, like. Plano-factories. One end in, out other like McBurger. You wanna McBurger?”
“Er..sure.” I was defeated by his speech and the facts I was managing to glean from this. “We’ll take four, and, er, four Sucro-fizzies. By plano-factories, do you mean entire planets that have been converted into enormous factories?” I was holding up the line but didn’t particularly care. The man seemed willing enough to answer my questions.
“Sho. Diez cronas. Dah, dah, plano-factory use le planet whole. Utilize core da magma, and so, for efficiency, is la cosa pa hacer. In same solar system…fosho no knowing you have?” I shook my head no. Seth was tapping me on the arm, which I ignored.
“Then, well, in le solar system all same-like, plus-up one planets. Gartlib, yep, en planet each has corn farm, isch others wi factories. For efficientness. Thanks, nice day.” He handed me my change and we left quickly before the angry people behind us got too fiesty.

We took our bag of food back to the park to eat. The “Greasy McVitamin Burger” was scarily identical to the McDonald’s food from a thousand years ago, which was in turn identical to the McDonald’s food invented on Earth before extrastellar travel.
“They made all of this out of corn,” I said musingly, chewing my odd-looking wilted leaf of lettuce. “The drinks aren’t any different, either. It’s just soda, admittedly a lot more sweet and a lot more carbonated, but still.”
The meal wasn’t the best we’d had, but far from the worst. I remembered with particular clarity the steaming, putrid brown slop served one night in the base on 502, the one that sent everyone to the base infirmary puking their bloody guts out. That was a fun one.

We finished our meal in the park and started walking back. Seth caught my eye and motioned me up to walk next to him. Leo and Freemas walked some ways behind, silent, looking around them at the strange city and its quiet inhabitants.
To my surprise, Seth draped a possessive arm over my shoulder.
“Don’t freak out on me, Mykonos,” he murmured near my ear, “I’m just trying to keep suspicion off of you. You’re much less conspicuous, walking with a black man. Of course, it’s not like I don’t enjoy this either. You know, you’re quite and attractive young lady. I like your legs.” He winked.
Sure, I liked Seth. As a friend and a quite funny, intelligent person to be stuck in the future with. Not any other way. So that’s why my heart started beating faster and I could feel my face get hot when he flirted with me.
“Seth, you’re how old?” My voice came out uncomfortably prudish. Shut up now, I told myself firmly, but it was too late.
“Thirty-three,” he replied rakishly. “Quite an achievement, to be in the Intergalactic Committee by thirty-three.”
“I’m only twenty-two,” I told him. “Eleven years. It’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “No.”
I walked along next to him, not finding anything to say for the moment while we each had our separate thoughts and it was a sunny day, there were trees in this park like anything while thirty couples passed us holding hands, sharing shakes and laughing quietly; I could hear Leo and Freemas behind us arguing in a kind of comfortable buzz.
I said, “They must’ve come up with some way to deal with pollution. Look how clean everything looks.”
And he squeezed my shoulders lightly and said, “If you don’t like me, I’ll leave you alone. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.” It was nearing sunset already, and the sun slanted in a long golden light which made everything look a little more solid, erased its flaws and left even the grey sidewalk transformed. I remembered for some reason that this was the best time for outdoor photography. My mind felt scattered, because yes, I did like Seth. I’d been ignoring it firmly because it seemed like a bad idea to get involved with him, and we’d only known each other for barely a week, after all. And I knew Freemas would be mad about it; not that he had any say in the matter, but…in the interests of goodwill with everyone I was keeping my actions neutral.
“It’s fine,” he said, “you’re okay. Don’t worry about it–I understand you don’t want things to get weird in the group.”

The four of us found Lovejoy peering furtively around the corner of an alley, his wrinkled face half-in, half-out of sunlight. It gave him a sinister look. Passing people walked out into the road to avoid him on the sidewalk.
He led us silently back to his hovel, where we descended on the kitchen in a ravenous horde and consumed a monster omelette and sausages.
Over tea in the cluttered living room, we outlined our plan to Lovejoy.
“We’ve got to get out of this planet,” Seth said sadly. “I don’t want to leave, but…I do. And I’m not leaving my friends. We’re going to find out what happened to the Silver Seven.”
“We’re leaving for the capital tomorrow morning,” I added. “Hopefully, from there we’ll be able to find a flight into space. I’d like to start with Eire. If anyone can help us, it’s the Fai.”
Lovejoy listened to all this in silent. He stood up now, and looked at us oddly.
“You have no idea how lonely it gets,” he said. “I’ve lived here for a thousand years with only myself to keep me company, and it’s not easy. Won’t anyone consider staying here?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Leo apologetically. “But if you want, you can come with us.”
“Oh, no, I can’t do that. But if you’re sure you won’t stay here of your own volition, I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep you here by force. I’m sorry.” Before we could react, he pressed a button behind a tapestry on the wall, and steel doors slid into place with an ominous humming sound.
We were trapped in an underground cave with a psychotic robot.

Chapter Seventeen: Blues Music Tastes Good on Toast

January 26, 2009

I have never felt surprise like that before, not even when the IBI–Intergalactic Bureau of Investigations–broke down my parents’ door and it became apparent that my own family had turned me in for $500 and a tax credit.  

I think I managed to stay fairly composed, though.  I only screamed once or twice.  The others had no idea what was going on, of course, but they were rather startled that some old man from eight hundred years in the future should know my name.  We all came to the logical conclusion at the same time.

“It’s not really 3005!” Freemas was the first to yell.  He fell to his knees and started crying, sobbing, “I can go home, I can go home,” over and over.  Seth didn’t look quite as pleased, judging by the way he was muttering, “Oh, feck!”  

“Mr. Lovejoy,” I said, very calmly, “do you know what year it is?”

“Oh, yes,” he said, beaming.  “It’s 3245, of course.”

Freemas went very quiet.  He scratched his head.  He stood up slowly.  “3245.”  His voice was frightening for its flatness.

Lovejoy, all smiles, nodded enthusiastically.  “An’ it’s a funny story too, lovey, of how I got here,” he told me, deciding to ignore Freemas.  

“3245,”  Freemas repeated.  He began wandering away, while Seth and Leo watched. 

“Hold on, Lovejoy.  My friend’s having a breakdown.”  I ran after Freemas and caught him by the arm.  We were all soaked.  My footsteps squelched.  

“Freemas Ephineal, get ahold of yourself.”  He refused to look at me.  “It’s only another two hundred years.  And look, the guy’s crazy.  He was in the pirate cells with me, and he thought he was a butterfly.  Don’t listen to him.  Freemas!”  He’d started collapsing slowly, folding like his muscles could no longer support him.  I tugged at his arm, but it was no use.  He lay in the mud and water in the middle of the road, looking blankly up at the sky.  

“Feck you, you dramatic little pussy,” I snarled.  I kicked him in the ribs.  “Get the feck up or we’re leaving your sodding ass here.”

He didn’t move.  I walked away.  What else could I do?  He would come around, or he wouldn’t.  But I felt dirty about leaving him, anyways, though I didn’t see any other option.  Back in my illegal days, I wouldn’t have thought twice about leaving someone who couldn’t cope behind.  The army had softened me up, apparently.  

Leo and Seth were just watching me and Freemas.  Lovejoy was performing an enthusiastic jig that no one was looking at, though that fact didn’t slow him down at all.  He was oblivious of what was going on.  When I walked back over to the little group, he smiled kindly at me and stopped dancing.  

“I know it’s a bit of a shock, dear, but just wait until you hear my story!  Come on now, and bring your friends with you as long as you’re sure they don’t like fried caterpillar.”  He confided in a stage whisper, “I think I’m due to turn into one in about an hour and I don’t want anyone catching me unawares.”  With an energetic wink that involved both eyes and quite a bit of face-squinching, he waved us forward in the rain.

I looked helplessly back at Freemas, still just laying there in the road.  

“Oh, Dindammit,” I swore, and grabbed Seth and Leo.  “Let’s go get the sodder before someone else finds him.”

We hauled him up bodily off the ground and dragged him down the street behind the peering and anxious Lovejoy, who asked more than once, “He’s not dangerous, is he?”

“Not unless you give him green alien liquor,” I grimly replied.  “Lovejoy, I hope your place is close.”  Freemas was starting to shiver.  

“Oh, it is, it is.  Look, it’s right around this corner–” he darted around the shell of a concrete building, while we scrambled to catch up, “–and through here–” now we were forced to wiggle between a head-high pile of metal tubes and a heap of rubble the size of a building, “–now under here.  Mind your head–” as we crawled under a rusting demolition vehicle, getting sprinkled with wet yellow paint flakes “–now look at my nice tunnel!  It took me ages to build this.  Now just through here, then.  Please take your shoes off at the door.”  Somehow we were in a tunnel, curving away into the blackness, really just big enough for one small man to crawl through.  We had to maneuver Freemas around, pushing and pulling him, and it still took long minutes of swearing until suddenly we popped out into a little chamber made of dirt and supported with some of the metal pipes. Bare light bulbs hung from the pipes and gave the room a flickering look.  There was a normal, human-sized door in front of us.  Lovejoy had disappeared.  

Everyone looked at me.  “I’m clueless,” I admitted.  “Let’s just go with the old man for awhile.  He could be useful.  And you know we don’t have shelter.  If he wacks out, we outnumber him four-er, three to one.”

Everyone kicked out of their soggy shoes, and we cautiously entered Lovejoy’s home.  

“Welcome, welcome!  What do you think?  I’m afraid I don’t have the decorator’s touch, but I do what I can!”  He peered anxiously at us for approval.  

“It’s–” How did I say this?  What was I even looking at?  It was a small room, apparently hewn from the rock and dirt.  Literally hundreds of rugs and carpets of every possible color and pattern were tacked to the walls, ceiling, and thickly covered the floor.  Furniture of every description stuffed the room, all pushed against the walls to leave a small clear space in the middle.  Dozens of glowing lamps topped the many small end tables.  It was all scrupulously clean.  To the left, half of the wall was gone and behind it I could see what vaguely resembled a kitchen.  Directly in front of us, set in a recess in the stone, a faintly fluttering curtain suggested even more rooms.  

“I–I’m amazed,” I said truthfully.  Behind me, I was sure I heard Seth’s snort.  “Would it be alright if we laid my friend Freemas on one of your couches?”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Lovejoy chattered.  “Any one of them except for the blue one, Bob is sitting there.  Let me just get some tea for all of you.  I’ll only be a minute.”  He scurried off to the kitchen.

“Bob?  There is no blue couch.”  Leo sounded like someone had strangled him.  

“It doesn’t matter.  Let’s put Freemas down.”  We dumped him on a couch, being careful to avoid any that could have been interpreted as blue.  He was starting to make noise.  I took this as a good sign.  “Whiskey,” he muttered, with his eyes shut, “whiskey…and green alien liquor.”  

“No, why don’t you have some tea?”  Like his bloody mother, I was acting.  

“NO!  Give me WHISKEY!”  I stared.  He hadn’t moved, and his eyes were still closed.  

“Fine, I’ll get you some bloody whiskey.  But no green alien liquor, and you owe us big time, asshat.”  I found the dregs of a bottle of whiskey in his bag and tipped it down his throat.  He swallowed greedily and burped.  And apparently went back to sleep, because nothing I said could induce him to do anything else.  

Leo folded himself into an overstuffed armchair while trying to inconspicuously wring out his shirt onto the floor.  He never really seemed bothered by much.  I supposed that was the conditioning that he had mentioned.  Seth was wandering around, scrubbing the water out of his close-cropped curly hair and pretending to examine some of the more oddly shaped lamps.  

He came to sit down next to me when I flopped down on another couch near Leo.    I wrung out my socks into a potted plant while we spoke quietly.  

“Do you think this guy, this Lovejoy, is dangerous?” Seth asked.

“I don’t really know.  He has delusions, but he told me that he spent most of his life in the pirate ship’s cells.  So his confusion with reality is understandable, I suppose.”

“What I really want to know,” piped up Leo, “is how the bloody hell he’s still alive if it’s been a thousand years.  Unless he was put in deep-freeze too?”

“I don’t know.”  Seth’s deep voice was reassuring.  “But he said he’ll tell us.  You have to remember that he’s not exactly sane.  We still honestly have no idea what year it is.  I’m of the personal opinion that the ship crashed soon after you two-” he nodded and me and Freemas “-were put in stasis, and ten years later, just like programmed, out you came.  A short in the wiring would easily explain why Leo and I woke up at the same time.  The ship’s level of decay is possible with only ten years of sitting in the plain, I guess.”  His voice faltered a bit at the end, though.  The ship literally looked like it had been sitting there for a thousand years.  Only ten years was hard to believe.

Lovejoy bustled out of the kitchen, a huge grin plastered on his face, wearing a pink polka-dotted apron.  He set down the silver tray with matching teapot and cups on a nearby end table and started shoving teacups in our hands.  

“Hurry, hurry,” he said, “I only have ten minutes before I turn into a caterpillar.  Trust me, you don’t want to see that.”  He chuckled as though he’d just told a dirty joke in front of company.  “In case you were wondering, you can stay with me as long as you want.  I do get so lonely here, sometimes…”

“Yes, well, we appreciate the offer,” I said.  “We’re probably only going to be here for as long as it takes to find a ship out, though.  I’m sure everyone wants to get back and see what happened to their homes.”

“Oh, yes!  That reminds me.  I must tell you the story.”  Sprightly settled down in an armchair across from us, daintily sipping from his own cup of tea.  He wiped his hands carefully on his apron before beginning.  

“The last I saw you, Kinsay dear, those pirates were dragging you off to go see Captain Tripesnout.  I heard later that she’d put you and your friend in stasis.  Well, I was sad to see you go.  About a month later, we got in a battle with some ship that actually attacked us–Captain Tripesnout, bless her little stone heart, was enraged that a ship would have the temerity to attack her, her reputation for fierceness being what it was.  She went a bit–unreasonable, and the ship ended up crashing right where you saw it, in the middle of the Afrikaantian plains.  I heard that it was your ship, the Silver Seven, wot attacked Captain Tripesnout, but I don’t know.  Well, our ship crashed and the survivors got away in the escape pod.  They left me behind, of course, but at least they unlocked my door before they left.  That was very kind of them.  I’m sure it was Captain Tripesnout’s doing.  She always had a soft spot for me, you know.

“Anyways, I left the ship and made my way here.  And here I’ve lived, building my house room by room.  I have to dig it all by hand, you see, and I start over every fifty years or so, because otherwise it gets too big and starts collapsing.  That or I get lost in it.”  He chuckled naughtily again.  

“That–” I paused.  “I mean, how are you still alive, if it’s really been a thousand years?”

“Oh,” he smiled, “I told you Quanta was my twin sister, didn’t I?  We’re both experimental APPs.”

“APPs?” I repeated, stupidly.

“Yes.  Artificial People Personalities.  We’re both…I guess you would understand the term robot, although that’s slightly primitive.  I am mostly flesh and blood, with nano-bots that automatically keep my body from aging and a completely artificial brain.”  He smiled broadly.  “Who wants more tea?”

Chapter Sixteen: There’s a WTF Moment, I Promise

January 13, 2009

We had stale graham cracker crumbs for breakfast. I’d accidently slept on them. Freemas had a vile-smelling orange liquor that he refused to share. I was worried about him; since we’d come out of the deep-freeze, he had been morose, depressed, whiny–not his usual self at all. I hoped he didn’t do anything stupid out here in the plains where a small mistake could cost someone his life.
We set off with the sun, keeping an eye out for water sources–Leo warned that we only had enough for three more days, if we rationed it.
“Freemas, are you doing alright?” I tried to keep my tone light. He was touchy and emotional at the best of times. If he thought I was trying to be condescending, he could fall into a sulk that wouldn’t leave for hours.
To my surprise, he answered seriously. “I hate this entire planet, Mykonos. I thought I’d gotten well away from here. Now, not only am I eight hundred years in the future, but I wake up in the very place I vowed never to come back to. No, I’m not alright. Give me a few days and a hundred bottles of whiskey and I’ll be able to live with it. Now leave me alone, please.”
Someday I’d have to find out what happened to him on Afrikaant that made him hate it so much. It seemed like a beautiful planet to me, what I’d seen of it. Of course, it was getting ungodly hot, even at nine in the morning. I mopped sweat off my face and neck with the sleeve of my shirt and walked up to join Leo and Seth.
“We saw giraffes!” whispered Leo, giddy as a child. “Over there, under the umbrella trees!” He pointed. I could just make out spindly necks rising above the grass, ripping leaves down from the trees.
“Can we eat them?” Seth stared at me, shocked. “I’m just kidding,” I said uncomfortably.
“You’d never catch one, anyways,” he finally said, shrugging.
Through the day we saw more wildlife, most of it from a distance. The exception was a long black snake that slithered through the grass directly in front of my feet and made me shriek involuntarily, more surprised than anything. With every sighting Leo pulled out a little OLED notebook he kept in his back pocket and eagerly scribbled the details.
“Leo, why are you bothering? We’re going to see more zebra herds than you can count by the time we get through this prairie,” I said when we stopped for lunch.
“This is an adventure, Kinsay!” He beamed as he forked up his cold canned baked beans. “It’s probably better than a video game. I’ve got to record it. You don’t understand–geniuses don’t get to see a lot of action. We’re mostly kept in deep-freeze until we’re needed, then safeguarded until the next deep-freeze session. We’re not cheap, so owners are as conservative as possible. A family might pass a genius down through five generations before we’re not good for anything anymore.”
“That sounds horrible,” Seth interjected. “How do you stay sane for all that stasis?”
“We’re conditioned to accept it,” said Leo. His bean-stabbing became less enthusiastic. “It’s not very fun, though. But anyways. Kinsay, where do you come from?”
I started packing up from lunch. “Eire. After the age of fifteen I moved around a lot. I got in some trouble with the law in a few countries on E52. And Eire. And Sylvanikk. And possibly a few others. I was blissfully unaware of the fact that under the Intergalactic laws, all these charges could be brought together under one sentence. So when they finally caught up with me back on Eire, visiting my parents, I got completely screwed. My sentence was to spend fifty years in the Dubai Army. It’s how they get a lot of their recruits, you know. I guess I’ve served my time, now.” I laughed quietly. I wondered if the Dubai military was even still around. That thought gave me a little prickly feeling in the back of my neck.
We set off walking again, with the sun in our faces this time. I pulled the brim of my cap low. I could see the heat shimmer over the flat plain, distorting distant trees. It was startlingly beautiful.
“The whole thing’s like a bloody picture,” I remarked to Seth, who nodded in agreement.
“But the cities–they’re different,” he added. “It may actually be safer out here. Of course, I don’t know what’s changed in eight hundred years. I’d like to think we finally got rid of the corrupt governments, apartheid, and crazy militant groups, but it’s probably too much to hope for.”
By that night we hadn’t found any water, and I saw a little wrinkle of worry between Seth’s brows, but early the next morning we struck gold with a clear, swift-moving stream that cut through the surrounding landscape like a silver thread. It ran almost parallel to our western route, so we all voted to follow it.
“People are more likely to be next to water,” Freemas astutely pointed out through an early-morning vodka haze.
“Very true,” Leo said. He continued waspishly, “From the mouths of drunks.” He did not get along with Freemas well, and this was becoming ever more obvious. At least Freemas ignored everybody equally.
“Alright, kids, let’s go,” I broke in quickly. Freemas was clenching his fists. “Our food is running low. We don’t have time to sit out here and argue.”

One more bloody day out here with these crazy people–a childlike, nerdy genius, an honest politician, and a drunk, depressed megalomaniac–was going to send me over the edge. I prayed for civilization as I stomped along the muddy riverbank. For once, the sun wasn’t baking the back of my neck. It looked a lot like it was going to rain. It looked like this was going to be a mother of a rainstorm, too. Just our luck, considering that none of us had more than one spare pair of clothes and nothing was waterproof, including our backpacks.
“Can you pull an umbrella out of your bum?” I asked Leo. “Because if you can’t, we’re going to get intensely wet.”
“No, sorry,” he replied seriously, “but I’m pretty sure that’s a town up ahead.”
“S’ a mirage,” said Freemas, drunkenly,
“No, it’s a town,” insisted Leo. He stuck his lower lip out, which made me laugh. “You’re just drunk.”
“Mebbe so, but I recognize a mirage when I see one, pretty boy.”
They argued until we were walking on a paved road, when Freemas fell sulkily silent and Leo walked with a smirk on his face.
We started passing dilapidated concrete buildings; walls were charred, some collapsed into rubble, some barely standing, teetering at crazy angles. There was no sign of life.
Freemas sighed. “Looks just like it did eight hundred years ago,” he said. “Walk carefully and keep your eyes open. Gangs could be patrolling.”
“How do you know?”
“I was in one.” He refused to comment further. We walked in silence, hearing gravel crunch under our feet and echo faintly off the barren structures surrounding us. The heavy sky loomed grey overhead, oppressively. The air was hot, with little bursts of baking wind occasionally ripping at my braids. The hair standing up on my arm said either there was a storm coming, or something bad was about to happen. Tension crawled up my spine and a knot lodged in my neck. This desolate place was eerie. Too silent. I felt in my belt for my knife and found it, sturdily reassuring.
We passed the first building that looked like someone may have lived there just as the first raindrops were crashing heavily out of the sky. We walked faster. The town slowly came to life around us, lived-in opaque plastic domes nested between bombed-out concrete structures that looked like government buildings or bunkers. I saw a few wheeled vehicles, moped-type things with three wheels, that were chained to doorways. Never did we see a person, but the skin on my neck prickled with the sensation of unseen eyes, watching.
“There’s no guarantee anyone even speaks a language we recognize,” I murmured quietly. “I know there is–was–the Intergalactic Language and Native Language Protection Guild to preserve the languages we’ve got, but…that was a long time ago, I suppose.”
“We really don’t know that for a fact,” admonished Leo. “The computer could have been malfunctioning.”
“But you saw the state of the ship. Anyways, look at the structures and vehicles around you. They look a little different than when you went into deep-freeze, don’t they?” I rubbed my hands together. “It’s really starting to rain. Let’s look for shelter.”
“Greetings, greetings, my children.” An old, wavering voice struggled through the rain. We huddled closer together and looked for the source. The rain was really pissing down now, bucketloads of it. At least it was warm. I tasted a raindrop. It was salty. It must be a tropical storm, which would mean we were near the coast.
“Who’s there?” I called loudly.
Not a day older than when I’d seen him cursing the pirates in his jail cell, Sprightly Lovejoy stepped out from behind a pile of rubble and gave us a toothless grin. “Welcome to my home, Kinsay Mykonos.”