Saturday, August 30, 2014

65 - I'm In Trouble

Redcap might think this was tolerable level for fragile but Darcy could, just barely cling on.  The rain pounded on his hat and his mask was completely obscured with water running over it, which was strange.  The rains at home were never like this. He could feel the grit suspended in the water where his gloves had gaped open and the skin of his wrists was rubbed raw.

He couldn’t dare let go of the slippery surface, because Redcap had attempted to deploy the saddle straps but the vermin had already eaten all the lubricant and they were jammed, so Darcy was forced to cling on by himself.  His hands cramped on the handles at the front of the saddle and his feet were in the stirrups, but he was far enough off the ground that his clothes were soaked from the other direction, from nervous sweat.   It wasn’t like being in a flight-can being transported from place to place.  This was personal and he didn’t trust Redcap further than he could fall.

He was soaked through and every fold of his clothing and wherever it touched skin was heavy and full of sharp wet grit.  He swallowed and tried not to grimace because that would have ground the mask edge against his cheeks.

“The Lifeweed sensors report that there is an unfortunate amount of water getting in the edges of the covers, rows D, E and V thru Z. If we do not remedy the situation, the seeds will be flooded and useless,” Redcap said.

It would rot rather than sprout. A companion fungus would take over and you’d get Puffrot instead of Lifeweed.

“The covers can’t compensate?” Darcy could have kicked himself then for asking the obvious question.

“The indigenous vermin and the weather have apparently damaged the automatics beyond the ability of the covers to compensate.”

There was an ominous squeak coming from the left front hock of the horse, and an intermittent stumble every dozen steps, which didn’t make Darcy any more comfortable and only clenched his hands tighter on the saddle grips.  Literates do this for fun? That’s just nuts. He lowered his head to try and change the angle of the rain pouring off his hat but the wind kept shifting around and threatening to lift it right off his head, despite the string under his chin.

The row covers on D and E were jammed open just far enough to ruin the first four plants in the two kilometre long rows but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.  Darcy managed to hook the rotten plants out and free the blockage, while Redcap raised its forehoof and blew compressed air through the hock joint, trying to clear it.

V through Z were a disaster, the Lifeweed in all those rows ruined. The row covers had jammed open and then been blown off completely, V blown into and over the next four rows, fouling their function too.  Darcy managed to make a dozen sections retract but the others were so damaged they just flapped in the wind.  Redcap managed to deploy its manipulators and assist Darcy in folding the damaged sections and weighing them down with a rock that he certainly couldn’t have lifted alone.

Then Redcap stood and tried to reel in its waldos.  Nothing.  “Let me help,” Darcy heard himself say before he thought.  What am I doing?  I hate this thing, I want it to break down, just not here.  I need a ride home.

“No. That is not permitted.”  With an awful screeching noise one waldo retracted all the way, but the compartment would not close. The other waldo hung to its knees, quivering and squealing as Redcap struggled to close it.

“These are extraordinary circumstances, aren’t they?” Darcy just wanted the damn thing to stop trying and let them go home where he could eat something, hopefully not full of grit, drink a cup of hot grog when the sun went down and the temperature plummeted. Hopefully also not full of grit.

The waldo lashed out full extension, stopping just short of Darcy’s face and Redcap jerked back a step.  “Tha- thaaaa thaaa- that was not my com com com…That was not under my control ol ol.”

Darcy stood very still, the cover puller in his hands, hooks on both ends carefully still.  The horse threw its head up and then, abruptly, shut down. The head swung down, nose almost brushing the ground.  The rain picked up around then, and the wind.  The temperature was falling as the light failed.  The waldo swung in the wind, clicking against the leg.   
Will Recap manage to reboot?  I’m out here so far I’ll never make it back before full dark. I’ll be in serious trouble. Fak the blank page.  Darcy looked around the wide-open field right on the very edge of the continent.  Below there was a booming noise he’ couldn’t fathom, a hissing, living noise like moisture hitting a hot pan.  The rain sheeted down and his line of sight was as short as his cover puller, fading to grey rain pounding down and occasionally making him stagger.

As another gust of wind made him stagger back, the horse suddenly moved. But it wasn’t a reboot.  The wind had finally caught it hard enough that it leaned over and didn’t stop. Slowly and then with a rush it fell over with a mucky splash and lay, stiff-legged as though long dead and bloated, in the mud.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

64- Remind Her to Eat, Would You?

Darcy was just waking up to the pressure of his bladder, his hammock swaying gently in the breeze from the open tunnel door and snapped awake, clutching the sides so he didn’t spin out onto the floor.  The door was open from the garage and Redcap stood there.

“Wake.  It is time to wake and the rainstorm is dropping to a tolerable level, if you have adequate protection.”  The horse clomped in, down the centre aisle, stopping to stare disapprovingly at the gritty puddles on the floor and the various containers they’d set, trying to stop catch the leaks.  “This damage to your barracks must be repaired.  The raz’r fields need to be checked. The row covers on the lifeweed require maintenance.”

Rest day is over. Darcy thought resentfully.  The wind was still howling outside, but must have dropped below a certain critical level for Redcap to wake up. “Literate Redcap,” he said.  “Many of us do not have appropriate protection for this level of weather.  The filtermasks are too old to protect us. The suits are for use only in the open buildings.”

The horse stopped and swung its head around to face him. “Illiterate Darcy…” Inside it somewhere something clicked and he braced himself for some kind of punishment for speaking up.  “You appear to be correct.  Inventory of this barracks shows inadequate protection.” The head swung back.  “Illiterate Fitzwilliam, you will manufacture new filter masks for this barracks and… it ticked the floor with one front hoof.  “The others as well.  This is unacceptable.  Fragiles are required to be provided with basic protection.  This will be remedied.”

Darcy swallowed.  The machine actually seemed reasonable… much more reasonable than Versace had been, who had something to prove.

“Until protective gear is manufactured… Fitzwilliam you will need four Illiterates and I shall set up the equipment.  Illiterate Darcy, your protective gear is adequate, though old.  You will ride out on me and we shall inspect our precious fields.”

“Ride?  I… I don’”

“Cease your protest.  It is the most efficient way.  It signifies nothing. Be prepared to go out in forty-three minutes.”

“Yes, Literate Redcap.”


Station made the noise that was its equivalent of clearing its throat diffidently. “Galactic Tech Terence,” it said.

“Yes, Station?”  Terry emerged from a learning module that Agador had set up and his head was dancing with graphs and charts and visual programming aids.  It was strange enough that the instructor was not human but looked vaguely like a starfish that blinked in rippling patterns that Agador helpfully translated.

“Intergalactic Stellar Current reports that all shipping in this area is still delayed.  Transit points are unstable all along the routes of the Eastern Arm of Corporate Space.”

“So that means that both the CEO and the regular courier will be delayed.  Prime will be upset.  Both his visitor and the service that he pays for will not be arriving.”  He still had to play the part of a Galactic, though he was buried deep in the training programs as if he were.

“The Board will certainly have some kind of compensation in place for the shifting stellar currents, Tech,” Station hastened to reassure him.  “And the CEO in question would be the very person to speak to about it, when he arrives, after all, since he IS head of Eastern Arm Transport Company.”

“Of course.  Make a note for me, and remind me later.  Where is Alissa?”

“In the garage, Tech.  She is redesigning a stomper.  It appears to be a more efficient design than previous.”

“Excellent.  Remind her to eat and sleep, please.  She shouldn’t fall over again.”

“Yes, Tech.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

63 - Withholding Water Makes Them Meaner

The barns for the old flock were based on the Nadumon quick-huts that were unrolled, pumped full of air and then sprayed with water to harden them in place.  The bio lights crawled all over the ceiling, slowly, well out of reach of the birds, though several younger ones persisted in trying to jump and snatch them off the hardened arch of roof.  The autumn rains were wild this year although there seemed to be more water in them and less grit.

Kyrus stood just inside the door, with a row of closed buckets next to him, bird goad slanted across his forearm as he waited for the street boys to settle themselves.  And Emilian, who looked harder and thinner, even if his clothes were unpatched and new.

“Ye don got yer mountain, fountain with,” he said, looking around.  “Ye should. ‘e’s yer back, flack.”

“I’d like to speak High Lainz, here.” Kyrus answered.  “I don’t need Werfas following me around like a bodyguard.  He has his own things to do.”

“’High Flash? Dark, Kyrus… I don’ know High Flash talk.”

“You just shifted and quit rhyming. That’s a start.”

“So… is the Milar bulk boy yer…”

“None of your business.  M’da is married to the Milar warmaster, the Surdeniliarch.  Even the old Radiance acknowledged that he had no place in people’s bedrooms and said ‘marry who you like, lie with who you like.  That’s the new law.”

“Shit.  That loses me a fakkin lot of insults, Kyrus.”

Kyrus didn’t answer, but turned away, picking up a bucket.  “Grab a feed bucket and a water bucket.  Form a line along the safe wall and see if you can lure any of the old flock to you.  They know what the buckets look like.  They might come.  If they are aggressive, don’t feed them.  Either way fill the water troughs.  Holding back water just makes them mean.” He paused a second.  “Meaner.”

The old flock milled around on the other side of the cage, except for the old bull. He paced up and down the length of the wire, rapping his beak on the bars. Hliviet stopped in front of him, buckets in hand and the bull stopped to stare at him, then hissed in his face, biting the metal grating holding him back.  He raised a foot and dragged sparks from the grating with his claws and hissed again. Hliviet didn’t step back, but unclipped the water bucket and poured it into the trough in front of the big warbird.

He screeched and the rest of the flock came racing from the back of the pen to fling themselves at the grating, feathers flying, bedding getting kicked up, dust in the air, biting and climbing the safe wall, a wave of claws and tearing beaks and fluff.  The grating creaked under their weight and the boys mostly flinched back.  Kyrus, used to this, didn’t move. Emilian and Hliviet also stood their ground.

“We check the safe wall every day when they’re out.  They go out into everything but haboob and first rains.”

“Why ‘r we still tryin’ tah tame them?” Emilian asked, carefully, even as a youngster hammered its beak through the square mesh and then screeched when it found that it couldn’t open it to tear him up.

“Truth is, we’re not.  You need to see what the old warbirds were like, before you get a newflock chick of your own to raise.  You lot are going to be the pilots, if we go to a ground war with Prime. We’ve got a second hatch of the true-tame and this lot… excepting the hens that lay true-tame eggs... Will be let go.”

Hliviet pulled out a long worm from his feed bucket, with his hook and offered it to the old bull, who refused it. “Thisun won’t go iffn ye have any o’ his hens.”

“You’re likely right.”  My ma thinks that if we haul ‘em out into the deep desert by FireDrake, we should be all right.”

“Hope so.” Hliviet dropped the worm into the trough where the old warbird deigned to snatch it up. “Thisun holds grudges.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

62 - Run Kitsune Run!

In code, a tree shivered against the wind and collapsed into the form of a young woman, arms outstretched.  She glanced around quickly and flung her hands toward the sky, fantically throwing flickers of light away and all around her.  As she did, off in the distance a growl rumbled through the sky.

Clouds and thunderheads rippled into existence and the woman ran one hand up her side and a tall tree grew next to her, identical to the tree form she’d worn a moment before.  She crouched down on all fours and the wind blew her hair into her face, and over her face as it lengthened into a muzzle. She shook the red coat of a vixen over herself, and ran from the wild hunt roaring down out of the storm.

The leader of the hunt was dressed in black and wore a helmet that dripped blood off its edges staining and soaking his shoulders.  *Immoderates!* He cried and cracked his whip, leaving bloody furrows on the racketing mob.  His black hounds milled around him and the riders, though chained to their horses, bowed. *We were close! Seek! Seek the false son of Prime and his hag of a daughter!*

As the hunt spread out, flinging queries into the wind they’d brought with them, images flickered past him like pages torn from a book.  He stood under the tree and caught an image out of the air, with a flat crackle of paper in the wind.  *She was here.  Not the false Perrin.  Hunt them down my dears… hunt them down and we will try them and when all proper forms have been recorded for the greater society… we will quietly let them run, give them the illusion of a felons hunt… and tear them apart when we catch them.*

One of the youngest hounds raised his nose and screamed *Here! Here!*  The ground cracked open and the hunt plunged into the earth, following the strand of alien code, riding the wind with the scream of turbines and the howl of the bleeding, limping dogs and horses.

One of the motes of light the woman had flung away, came twinkling back out of the distance and fluttered down to the earth between the roots of the tree… and crawled under into the fox’s earth, where the vixen lay, hidden, still panting. The noise had cut off with a snap as the code closed over the hunt.  It was suddenly very quiet.

*Jes…* the bird made of light hopped up to the vixen’s ear.  *It’s too risky.*

*Dad… I had to warn you.  Glass Mountain has a way to track you.  That Immoderate Captain has a tracker of some kind on you.  They’re so enraged by me that I drew them off for a bit… but if we are going to survive this, we have to try for it now. *

*I know, dear.  My father has gotten very peculiar in his coding… Wild Hunts and Greek Gods and Mythology…*

*Old Earth Russian mythology, Dad.  It’s pretty bloody.*

*I cannot attack the old man instantly.  We have to run until my last program is finished. Anastasia says that we have to stay out of the old man’s hands for another day…”

*Dad… the Immoderates have Gerrald.*

*Damn.  Here they come…  I have to run…*

*Stay safe, Dad!*  The fox burst out of the hide and ran down the valley, along the creek at the bottom, leaped out on the other side and disappeared… a moment later, she reappeared on a tree branch, jumped back into the creek and swam the opposite direction.