Friday, June 28, 2013

87 - Nadumon Was Gone

Kyrus pulled his veil tighter to his face and crouched over his bird’s neck as the stinking wind howled across them both.  The city of Nadumon was gone.  Bees struggled against the force of the wind to cling to his back and his sarband, their buzz an undertone of reassurance as he and Werfas both clung to injured children and forced their birds to keep moving. 

“I don’t think we’ll find anyone else,” he said at last and half-fell off his warbird, clinging to the goad to keep it still.

“One more mandery sweep, wingbrother,” Werfas said.  “All right?”

“All right.” Ky closed his eyes.  *Code search: deenay human. Living organism.* He could feel Werfas backing him up, solid as a wall.  Just as cliners could ‘remove’ substance, they could refuse to remove substance. *Searching.* On the edges of the blast zone, where trees had been stripped of their branches and bark and oilbushes still burned, someone could have been caught in the rocks. *Searching.*

He pushed out, against Werfas’s backing, probing thinner and thinner… let himself snap back into himself and let the bees collar his wrists.  It didn’t hurt anymore, it helped.  He could feel their support of his energy and his life, instead of startling when they stung him.  He felt as if he had a moving necklace and bracelets of bees.  “There’s nobody left alive around here as far as I can reach,” he said.

“Let’s get these kids back to the medics, then.”

Kyrus just nodded and clucked to his bird.  It was so tired it just stood, head low and wings half-spread to cool itself off and he had to pull on the breakbeak chain to get it moving.  It was so dark now that they had to move very slowly, with the critically injured tied to the saddle.  The canyon narrows were all high enough for the Nadumon’s moas so they didn’t have to worry about braining anyone on an overhang.

The lightest injuries had been closest to the bugout, and had walked in under their own power, but they got worse up outside of the approach canyon and on the hardpan it was horrific.  Kyrus had directed the bees he had with him, split off from the hive in attendance around his da and had managed to get them to save some of the people he found.  It was a mandery that he’d never have thought he could do, learning to be a warrior, but the first victim he’d found, a mother shielding her baby, unconscious with horrible burns over her back… he’d had to try.  She’d nearly given her life protecting her little girl but Ky had checked on her every time they’d brought someone back.

On either side of the bugout doors someone had piled oilbushes and started fires on either side of the doors.  The firelight shone up the length of the canyon, flickering greenish on the yellow-striped rock. Da and Ilax had mandered a curtain between the half open doors, leaving the bottom open for the people streaming in, and out.

The boys dragged their exhausted birds to where the medics and their helpers could unstrap the last survivors and take them away slung in blankets.  The one little boy Kyrus had found, cried for his mother as they carried him in.  Others came and led their birds away, to check them and feed them and settle them in the corral that someone had come up with in a side canyon.

Kyrus found himself sitting under a camp light that someone had fixed to the rock ceiling, with a round of flatbread in one hand and a cup of nopale soup in the other. It was hot, and filling and he’d learned a long time ago that any food was better than none at all so he consumed it gratefully.

He’d been afraid that the cavern would be full of the cries of the wounded but it seemed that the Nadumon had phenomenal healers and they’d put everyone into a kind of healing sleep.  Owner code stuff.

“It’s the one kind of code the original owners didn’t skimp on,” the Head was saying.  “Some of the things we were originally sent to do out here was to fix bad programming and incompatibilities between programs.  Some were so cheap that they’d just stopped and in a terraforming system that kind of thing can have disastrous consequences… so our ancestors were actually sent out here, to this biosphere, with an injunction to get this part of this continent transforming again.”

“So, somehow, Prime’s records of you were lost?  Is that what our theory is?”  Ilax sat next to her, in full-on ‘soothing politician’ mode.

Head Filchang did the almost spastic shrug that seemed common to the Nadumon.  Kyrus even remembered it in the ambassador in Milar.  “It seems obvious if he tried to erase us.  He didn’t succeed.” To Kyrus’s deep embarrassment she began to cry, tears soaking down into the edge of her borrowed veil.  “We’ve lost nearly a third of our population.  A third!  We were just getting to the point where we needed to expand.  We were going to build the dam for two reasons, one was for water retention of course –“

“—Let me guess,” Da broke in.  He was actually lying on his bedroll with his head on Ilax’s knees, recovering from all the mandery he’d been doing all day, as well as ordering the Asses around.  “Especially since the water stopped falling from the moon.”

“Exactly so,” the Head said.  She’d recovered herself somewhat, taking notes on a paper on her knee.  Someone had gotten her another flat tablet and she was using that to back her page as she wrote. “But we had enough of a fall to begin generating electricity so we could expand the town.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” da said.  “We have the lin so we can consult with my husband’s Unity, but as Radiance I think I have a place that could be modified for your people to settle in Lainz.”

The look on Ilax’s face and Head Filchang’s face was priceless, but Kyrus didn’t see either one, since his eyes were still closed.

Ky got up abruptly from his eavesdropping.  “Wingbrother… you finished?  I can take your cup and we can see if that woman is any better.  Maybe find out her name, if she’s woken up.”

Werfas grinned at him.  “Sounds good… then I want to lie down for several thousand years nap.” With my arms around you, he didn’t say.  He didn’t need to.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

86 - Just Read the Manual

The cabin of the sand-flea was ‘crunched’.  There were four spaces that might serve as ‘bunks’ and Terry loaded the sleeping boys into two of them.  His trunk carefully tucked itself under one of those spaces and a chime signalled the time.  “Page and Pen it’s almost dawn!”

He lay down in the half-reclined chair just behind what looked like crumpled windscreen and set the controller down in the armchair slot obviously meant to hold it.

Like his moon-tech, everything seemed to be clearly labelled and as the controller seated a number of blinking lights came up, all around.  Tiny, bio-lights, but he could see clearly and didn’t need the stump of candle he’d set on the floor.

“Blow up the lab, he said,” Terry muttered.  “Learn how to drive, he said.  It will be fine he said.”

There was a tremendous judder, the whole machine rocked and hit the walls. Terry found himself clutching the armrests, staring up at the ceiling panels. There was another distant boom and the machine rocked again.  The dust kicked up by the first concussion hadn’t had time to settle and danced in the lights.

“Read the manual, he said.”  Terry put both hands over his eyes.  The machine responded to his voice this time and a panel in front of him popped open to reveal a second class access only tech manual, one that Terry had never seen or read before.  He picked it up and the reading light along the top of the book clicked on.  “All right.”  He opened the cover, leaned back.  “Until I need to find the loo – do NOT show me now,” he snapped at the machine.

Rough and Unsteady Ground Traversing, All Terrain Access Vehicle Type VIII, Second Generation, Built RAMTUFF

“No wonder everyone calls you ‘fleas’… even if you do look more flat, like a roach.”

Welcome to the Type VIII, the newest of the Ground Traversing line, designed to be simple and effective to use in emergency situations and disaster relief missions, by civilian forces.  To power up…  Terry leafed forward.  It was already powered up, though on minimal air-flow and minimal power draw, to not call attention to itself. 

Stealth modes. 
I In case of an act of war
II In case of rebellion, act of terror, or insurrection
III In case of indigenous apex predator attack
IV Reconnaissance

            The patented hexagonal skin cells making up the camouflage skin of the Series VIII have a custom designed muscle edge connecting to each node, allowing the surface to fold and wrinkle to fit surrounding wave patterns in water, sand dunes and blowing sand, snow, rocks and even vegetation, especially since our camocolours are keyed to the appropriate chameleonlike match of the vehicle’s surroundings.
            The skin cells, when configured correctly also reflect all currently known sensors, in the visible and invisible spectrum…

Armaments: None in the Series VIII

Driving by voice:

Driving by hand:

Driving by remote:

Follow mode:

Personal care and survival features:

He read them through once, without remembering a single word, and began at the start again, the words beginning to blur.  He yawned once.  Twice.  What was that last paragraph about water finding sensors again? He closed his eyes just for a moment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

85 -What Are You Going to do to The Lab?

Terry couldn’t sleep, after his dream, the woman’s urgent commands echoing in his head, and even though he wasn’t inclined to listen to anything a woman said, his access to the greater galactic information had shown him thousands of women living and working without keepers following along behind them.  He drew on his dressing gown and padded barefoot down the stairs to the library.

He paused at the second landing, realizing that there was someone up at this unprimely hour, as evidenced by the lamplight showing around the edge of the partly open door of the book room, office and study, that his mother had grandly called ‘the library’.

Glad that his feet were bare and that even the fine leather of his slippers would have flapped on the tile, he padded down, careful of the fourth and the seventh step, both of which creaked like the devil, and looked into the light without stepping into the shaft of it himself.

From this angle he could see the corner of their father’s desk, the bright red china carpet his mother had made and the rose chintz arm of the settee.  The cool wind of late summer, full of the threatened bite of the water coming back again before freezing for the winter, blew the door open a bit wider.

Gerald sat at the desk, hands cupped over his bent head, unmoving.  Terry sighed.  “Gerry.”

Startled, he jerked as if someone had shot him.  “Good pages, Terry, don’t scare me like that.”

“Sorry.”  He walked in and sat down in the chair across from his brother.  “Ger…” he ran his hands through his hair, not sure what to say.

“Terry.  Please think of what I’ve been trying to convince you to do.”  Gerald stood up and began pacing as if to draw attention away from the drying spots of his tears on the blotter.  “There’s two boys from somewhere else who I’m being forced to turn into mindless drones, so that Prime can catch his Heir and do the same to him… force him to be an obedient, un-thinking, proper heir.  They didn’t even know why they were caught so quickly… they’re so obviously of different illiterate stock… like the ancient earthan countries where Prime and the other owners recruited their workers.  Terry, I realize I’m asking you to give up your life, your –“

“—I’ll do it,” Terry cut in.

Gerald wheeled around, his arguments freezing on his tongue.  “Oh thank the blessed Page of true knowledge.”

“If the Heir is going to be arriving in two days…”
“Terry… get dressed.  Pack your bag… I can do this now.”

Terence reared back, startled.  “What, right now?”

“Yes, now.” He all but jumped to the desk, yanked out the middle drawer and rummaged in underneath, pulled out a handful of papers before carefully re-setting the drawer security.  “Here… I need to either send these with you or destroy them.  They’re the only copies of the process other than what’s in the lab and that will all disappear tonight.” He began jamming things into a briefcase.  “What are you waiting for, man?  We don’t have all of the night to get everything thoroughly vapourized.”

Terry found himself running quietly upstairs to pull on his favourite hunting clothes and begin flinging his things into a hiking rucksack.  He had no idea how to pack for this.  The woman wore a veil… a filter… he packed his camping breath filters and water filters… grabbed his multi-tool and its charger and a spare power pack.  He stood in the middle of the room looking at his bookshelves and his desk… He seized up his globe light, snapped it shut and jammed it into the bottom corner.

He knew he shouldn’t, but he seized his old toy horse and rider and the mechanical bird… realized the rucksack wouldn’t be enough, pushed the button to turn it into a trunk. It unfolded its legs and rose to waist height for easier packing. His inkwell sealed and his fountain pens all rattled into their slots before he tossed it on top.

He just had no room for his favourite riding boots, but laced on his desert boots, tucking his leather breeches into the cuffs where they sealed around his calves.  He regarded his top hat for a long moment, but set it down with a sigh, then jammed the soft brimmed hunter on his head, his fingers automatically pulling the brim down to a jaunty angle.

“Terence!” His brother hissed up the stairs.

“Coming!” He called quietly, to not set off any of the house alarms. He grabbed up his sword cane and his pistol box and sealed the side flaps of the trunk – that made it look so much like a large black beetle -- with a pat.  It rose up on its jointed legs and followed him out of the room and down the stairs. 


“Boys… Prime wishes you to drink this,” Gerald said.  The one seized the proffered cup and drank the contents down greedily, despite its viscosity.  The boy in the cage stood with his hands clasped behind himself and silently shook his head.  “Young man… you know I can make you,” Gerald said sternly.  Terry had to look away, not able to stand it.  The captives—just boys not hardened spies-- turned his stomach.

The boy took it and reluctantly drank it down.  Gerald turned to his screen and touched an icon blinking in the corner, twice, and both boys sank down as if they were puppets and someone had cut their strings.  “Gerald!”

“They’re just asleep.  Come on.”  They slung the unconscious boys over Terry’s trunk and crowded into the laboratory elevator.

“Tell me what you’re going to do,” Terence said as the door hissed open.

“Not yet. The video is off and the audio is hissing static but--” Gerald all but ran them to a garage door half buried in trashed filing cabinets and anti-static storage boxes.  They slid aside at his touch and he squeezed through the opening and down another four flights of stairs.

“No elevators down here?  Ger… this is starting to look like a very bad idea to me.  Buried a dozen stories below ground does not feel very ‘escape’ like. You're going to get us all killed!”

“Just trust me, little brother.” 

Terry groaned. "I knew it, we're all going to die." The bottom of the stairs was lit with electricity and clean.  Jammed into the space, folded up tight, was a sand-flea, nearly invisible with its camouflage skin wrinkled up so it was hard to see any edges. Terry stopped on the stairs, trying to see the machine hiding in plain sight and his trunk, with two bodies draped over it, continued on down the steps.

“What is this? How am I going to get us all out?”

Gerald keyed the remote and the door in its belly opened silently, speaking of good care and maintenance.  He handed the remote to Terry.  “Get in.  Stay here for the next three days… the authorities are going to be poking around at least that long.  It will give you time to read the manual and learn how to drive.”

The trunk had walked the boys up into the sand-flea, even as Terry gaped at his brother.  “Learn how to drive it? Drive it where? How? This isn’t like putting itching powder on great aunt Mariah’s nasty little fluffy.”

“I’ve got it set up that when Prime’s people leave a tunnel will open up… it will melt open, trust me, it’s First Class technology.”

Terry was climbing into the desert crossing machine, slowly, even as he flung questions at his brother.  “Manual? And what is going to happen to the lab?”  Gerry tossed the brief case to his younger brother, who caught it on his chest with an oof. Gerald had another remote and keyed the door shut, over-riding Terry’s suddenly stark grip on his controller.

“Why, little brother, I’m going to blow it up,” was the last thing he heard as the armoured door sealed itself.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

84 - I'm Glad You're With Me

The vertical waterfall misted this whole end of the canyon and all the tame bird-riders were there, clustered under the Director’s balcony.  He was one of the lesser Hive lords, Naser Sander Raghnall.   

“Zardukar… you already know the disaster.  We need two groups… One smaller group to round up all our runaway birds so we’ll be able to mount all our feather-spitters to follow after the first relief force and the greater number to take assistance to our forces at Nadumon City and to their people.”

“And to find out how badly we got smacked,” Zazu muttered under her breath, but her hand shot into the air as she called ‘Relief group!  I volunteer for the Nadumon expedition!”

Prime didn’t manage to kill our Radiance.  He isn’t injured either or the nodes of connection, the Hive would have all fallen apart and re-formed around Homa, even though she’s a baby.  They’re all right.  They’re all right.  They aren’t fighting a war now.  If I know the father of my boy he’s probably organizing and coordinating rescue operations.

The lin editor came running out of his office waving a barely dry sheet. “They’ve set up a lin at Nadumon… they’re alive… they’ve sent word!”

The crowd roared, some of the more excitable girls standing on their bird’s saddles, ululating at the tops of their lungs.  His Radiance still shone bright!

The editor scrambled up the stairs, still waving his page, still damp in the mist from the waterfall.  “He says… His Radiance says they are still finding people injured and need more zardukar… He says he needs the Hive connections.”

Hive lord Raghnall listened, then turned to the riding zardukar. "Change of orders.  We’ll round up our own birds.  His Radiance commands… Every one of you pack and be back, ready to leave for Nadumon the moment the sun goes down.”

That was only a few hours away.  All of a sudden everyone was scrambling, scattering as Raghnall took the editor’s page and read for himself.  “What would we have done without the lin?  Without being able to read?”  Dag heard someone wonder out loud, even as she pulled Silly’s head around to head to her own apartment to pack.

Yasna was there, already half packed for her… and himself.  “I heard.  I’m mander enough to work code to heal people of minor things.  Call Silly bear double?”

“He will, for a short time… I’m sure we’ll be trading people off, since the war flock broke out and ran.  Yasna… I’m so glad you’ll be with me.”

He grinned at her, laced up his pack and dropped it next to hers.  “I’m here, love.  I’d be a bad monk if I couldn’t help people find their way out of illness.” 

She smiled and went to gather up her small pouch of personal cleansing necessities and tied it to her belt.  “Your mother wouldn’t approve of the trousers on me.”

“My mother isn’t about to ride across country on a warbird to bring aid and assistance to Nadumon, answering His Radiance’s call!”

Dag smiled and picked up her pack, rolled her sleeping quilt under it and slung it onto her back.  Everything he’d packed was light enough to compress down to one small bag.

“Some of us are going to be carrying supplies… unless there’s some of the pack birds that didn’t flee with the bulk of the war flock.”

“Let’s go see what they’ve figured out.”


... Savage Kitsune... if you are still reading I declare you the winner of the last comment contest.  You soldiered on, even through the morass of comment moderation!  email me at to talk about the kind of character you'd like to see in Kyrus!