Thursday, November 21, 2013

Taliesin - Blind Date

I am a cruel cruel woman, especially when it comes to my characters.

In this scene I send my elven assassin, Taliesin, on a blind date with the female embodiment of every romcom heroine cliche one can think of.

Blind Date

 
With a force reserved for popping off troll heads, the kitchen airlock door slammed shut as a mopey elf dug through the cabinets looking for anything to wash away the past two hours. His fingers lingered upon a canister marked "Orn's Secret Stash! Do Not Open!" Tempting, but the handwriting looked dangerously official and he moved on.
"Nice shirt, kill someone fancy?"
Taliesin flipped around, a blot of uncategorized sauce falling onto his nice shirt staining the azure fabric. He didn't notice the Dwarf squatting at the back table when he entered the kitchen, or --sweet tree of life -- the captain sitting beside him, dropping some dice onto the table with the flick of her wrist. The elf was immersed in such a frazzled state he walked past two breathing organics without noting them. His old instructors would have his head for that. And for missing class for the past seventy four years.
"Meeting go badly?" Variel asked, casting one eye up from her game to the elf.
"What makes you ask?"
Her head tilted towards the door, but she didn't say more, letting her chips fall into a pile. It was Orn who took up the thread, "Thought you were gonna send that thing straight through the ship and onto the docking bay."
"Better than picking it up outside," Variel said.
"Yeah. You'd probably make me do it and I hate wearing those oxygen suits."
"They weren't designed to hold the massive storehouse of all things glucose that is your stomach."
Taliesin sensed a chance for freedom as the captain and her pilot picked up their old bonding rituals, bickering like a pair of old enemies, unaware or uncaring about his plight. "If you will excuse me..." he said to the two butting heads as the door opened and the headwaters of his misery flounced in.
"You are back!" Brena shouted, clapping her adorned hands in joy, smudging up the notes she spent all day on, "How did it go?"
The elf glanced to the two aliens pretending they were absorbed in their game. "Now is not the best time."
"Did you enjoy her? Did she enjoy you? Will there be a second meeting?" Brena talked over him, lifting one of her brows in curiosity along with the edge of her mouth. Taliesin tried to wave for her to lower her voice but he was too late.
"'Second Meeting?' Oh ho," Orn said, turning away from his cards, "Does that mean our little elf boy here was..."
"On a date, yes," Taliesin sputtered, "And it was horrible, terrible, therefor not worth mentioning."
Orn lit up, the entire confusing game Variel probably made up tossed to the side, "Oh, that's where you're wrong. The only dates worth talking about are the terrible ones. Right Cap?"
She tried to bury a grin, not a cruel one, but the elf felt the looming hand of shame about to yank up upon his under things. There was no easy way to escape it short of jumping out a window, which would put him back on the station he just fled.
"Come on, lover boy, give us the details," Orn said, shoving the piles of cards away and patting the chair beside him.
Taliesin ignored it, preferring to keep himself upright and able to move around in the event the lights sputtered, or gravity failed, or a chest bursting alien broke on board and he could secure a quick escape. "I attended a first meeting, it did not end well."
Orn scoffed, but it was Brena who shook her head, "Brother, you can do much better than that."
Had she turned on him as well? Her eyes were linear, with nary a hint of cruelty in the edges; but a dark part of him suspected this entire night was some plan of her to conjure fodder for her stories. "Very well. Where shall I begin?"
"I try the beginning myself, starting at the end and flashing back is just lazy," Orn said, placing his boots up on the table and leaning back.

*  *  *

I was early, an unsurprising fact as I am always early. Puncturing the perimeter for holes, tracing all methods of tracking equipment, noting the armed and not as armed guards is like securing ones laces for assassins. Though we do that as well in case running is involved. It passed the time as I sat upon a plastic bench painted to mimic wood, yanking upon the buttoned shirt my sister insisted "was better than all that black stuff." Perhaps, but it also puckered in an unpleasant way and cut under the arms. The host, a human in a frightfully strange wig as if two small canines became amorous upon the top of his cranium, nodded his head towards me a few times. I knew I reeked of that special mixture of fear and loathing that only a blind first meeting can bring about.
A few couples entered the restaurant, that fish place off the dwarven made indigo lake with the fiberglass trout outside. All were Elven and all eyed up the hosts wig with the same fright I did upon entering. In the candlelight, it mimicked one of the deadly spore clouds on Cangen that could burst into face melting toxins at a moments notice. The human swelled under the elves attention.
As I returned to my meditations, plucking at the pearl buttons running across my chest, the door clanged open somehow knocking over a plant that had been nowhere near it. An elf entered and skittered across the dirt she spilled all over the floor. Her hands pinwheeled in disturbing arcs but she managed to catch herself.
Every cell in my body chimed in with, this is your date, the one Brena insisted was "So nice" and "Really funny" and "You'll love her." You have the fate of one destined for a life chasing after his trousers as the blow away in the breeze, Taliesin. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier the downslide will be.
Sure enough, once the plant killer regained her balance, she cast her eyes about the room scanning the happy couples in the throes of love and walked towards me, the only man who appeared about to gnaw his leg off for freedom. I cringed inwardly as she stood before me and asked, "Taliesin?"
There were no bandits, no pile of gnomes bursting into the restaurant, no tumbling chandelier or plume of smoke from a misplaced explosive, and the wig cloud didn't erupt. Typical, just when you want a bomb there's none to be found. I had no choice but to rise from my position and say, "Yes, I am Taliesin."
"I'm Ahmee," the woman said, pointing towards herself and tilting her head so the matted hair fell into her eyes. She batted at it as if she were a cat but did not put it up.
"Army?"
"No, Ah-mee. You have to stretch the me," the voice was strange, high-pitched the way one would coo at children or small animals. It caused my back teeth to shiver.
Her skin was spotted, not unheard of for Dulcens but not common place either, with puckers of white dotting amongst the tan and brown swirls. A strange mish mash of clothing covered her body, the skirt looking as if it hadn't been pressed in its very long life. The bodice, or top, or whatever had lace torn on the edges, probably from the trip through the restaurant's foliage.

***

"Damn it, get to the good stuff," Orn interrupted.
"What 'good stuff' would that be?"
"What'd she look like out of those clothes?"

***

Moving on past any interruptions, she stared at my body as if she were searching for hidden weapons -- of which I came equipped with three --

***
"You bring weapons on a date?" Orn interrupted again.
"You don't?" Variel asked, playfully poking her pilot in the shoulder.
He rubbed the spot and rolled his eyes, "No, but I don't get into shoot outs when I stroll into the barbers either."
"It was one time! One time! And I had nothing to do with someone filing a complaint about his lost eyebrows."
"Shall I end my tale now while you discuss the trip to the hair salon?" Taliesin asked, hoping they'd let him off the snare.
"Shutting up!" Orn said, zipping his mouth shut with his fingers.
"Wasn't even a very good haircut in the end. It was all lopsided from the stylists hands shaking," Variel muttered, dragging her fingers along the ends of her short hair.

***

The elf reached out and pulled upon my folded arm. Sighing, I let her take it, praying she did not accidentally sever it off at the elbow and we walked towards the human mushroom cloud.
"Do you have a reservation?"
I glanced behind his booth's curtains to the half empty tables and sighed, "Taliesin, Taliesin Kesahtnan."
The human drug his finger through the empty lists and asked, "Of the elven Kesahtnans?"
"No, of the Dwarven Kesahtnans." I patted my head and quipped, "I ate all my vegetables as a child to grow big and strong." Unthankfully, the human ignored my jibe at his small talk and did not throw us from the restaurant in a rage. Instead, he smiled politely and slotted a menu display under his arm. "Right this way."
After seating ourselves, I poked through the menu, trying to find something that hadn't been freeze dried and rehydrated three times over from the planet below. Army picked up her fork and began to play with it. My fingers inched for the bread plate to act as a shield in case something went wrong, but she set it down before stabbing her own eyes and asked, "Could you order for me?"
"Why?"
"I'm not very worldly in matters of fine cuisine," she answered, trying to blink something out of her eye.
"It is a fish shack orbiting above an ocean world. The only thing fine is what the health inspector would slap upon it if a Dwarf cared."
She leaned up to the floating menu pivoting in the middle of the table and pouted, "So many big words to describe the meal. I'm afraid I can't make most of them out. Like this one," she said, pointing a fuchsia claw at the zoomed in text.
"You don't know 'broiled?'"
"I'm a simple girl experiencing the wonders of this rich and famous lifestyle for the first time," she shrugged, trying to blink her eyelash off.
"Fine, yes," I sat back, flicking off the menu and signaling to the waiter. Her words made about as much sense as an Orc operetta but I didn't care. The sooner this meal was over, the sooner I could return to my room and away from this farce. The man assigned to serve to our whims tonight appeared, his head also decked in the mushroom toxin. Perhaps there was a hat sale earlier. "I'll have whatever wasn't deep fried two days ago and the...woman shall have the same."
"Two ice salads," the waiter shouted, pushing a few buttons, scooping up the menu, and scurrying back to the kitchen.
A candle popped up in the middle of the table and lit itself. Army tried to blink out whatever was jammed inside her eyelids while scratching an itch upon her lip with her teeth. The entire top row were already stained from whatever crimson dye she'd added to her lips. I leaned back in my chair, covering my eyes with my hands, and begging the seven seeds to save my soul now lest they be unable to later.
"Taliesin, what is it that you do?"
I dropped my hands and stared at her, "I'm an assassin."
"A what?!" she shrieked as if I'd thrown a glass of water upon her. "Killing is wrong. Terrible. I can't believe you would ever do that!"
"You do not know me?" I asked the air, afraid that in some other time dimension this strange and disturbing woman did know me. If so, I need to put other dimension Taliesin out of his misery.
"Killing should never ever be done. Ever!"
Yards of questions formed in my mind. Surely Brena told her my occupation. It isn't exactly a secret, it says as such in the family name. One of the family names. And working for the assassin's guild is an honored profession, sometimes gifted with too many accolades as many people tripped over themselves to keep the trained killer happy. But all I saw was an opportunity to weasel out of this date quickly.
"If you feel that way, then we should perhaps part ways..."
I began to rise, but her hand snapped on top of mine, and she tried to peer up through her eyelashes at me either in an attempt at being coy or to appear demonic. She failed at the first but achieved the latter so well my legs crumpled on their own. "I like that you kill people. It makes you bad."
"But only a moment ago you said killing is wrong."
"It is. Terrible and bad and no one should ever do it. Unless it's to save their one true love," she sighed heavily and leaned back, releasing my hand which felt sticky from her touch.
"Then why continue to associate with someone whose life's work is ending lives?" I asked, embracing the descent into madness.
She whispered, "Because it makes you a bad boy."
Ancestors, I thought, smacking the back of my head against the chair. Not this dreck again. I am friendly with old ladies, I will chat up inquisitive toddlers who wish to share half eaten snacks, and I have even helped lost animals find their way back home. The only marking upon my body is from a vaccination shot that went awry, and a scar from when my lartimus became inflamed and had to be removed. I am the furthest thing from the bad boy trope one could find before running into sainthood. I also happen to have built a career of assassinating bad people who fell outside the law and that work requires a certain uniform composed of more leather than the average person wears.
I shut my eyes, willing my self out of my body and to any other corner of the universe it could find. But a cold plate of wilted greens jarred me from the emptiness and my eyes opened to find Army gnawing so hard upon her lip a trickle of blood descended down her chin. I banished my eyes away from her face and poked into the limp lettuce, when her high voice called across the way.
"And I bet I can change you."

***
Orn's snort echoed through the kitchen as he jumped up to his feet. "I can change you, my big bad boy," he said in a high pitched voice, walking about on his tip toes as if he were in heels and swinging his arm wide. It was a pantomime of a womanhood that never existed but in the minds of men.
"But if she changes you, then you won't be bad anymore. So she wouldn't want you," Variel said, resting her fist against her face, "It's a dating paradox. Someone alert the Time and Space enforcers!"
Taliesin sighed and rolled his eyes to his sister. She'd been quiet, absorbing his words with the occasional shoulder tap of sympathy but there'd been no story tablet filling with sentences, no requests for a repeat of what he'd said. Maybe she really believed she'd been doing him good.
"Oh, I can't read the menu," Orn's voice pitched so high it was nearly into the range only dogs could hear, "can this big strapping man come save me from all those cruel letters?"
"But no killing them," Variel added, a very undignified smirk across her face.
"Right, because killing is wrong. Only bad boys kill," Orn continued, "Mmmm, bad boys."
"Do you intend to keep up this farce or shall I finish my story?"
"Holy shit, there's more?" Orn said, dropping his voice and arm back into normal range. "I assumed you'd killed her and fed the body through the fryer. Then offed any witnesses and were hiding from the long thorax of the law."
The Dwarf scurried back to his chair, pulling it closer to the elf, "Please, continue. This is getting good. Alloys, I wish I had some popcorn."

***

She insisted upon a stroll through the exotic gardens built on the station. Exotic is code for a handful of trees, some weeds, a few of those pom pom like flowers, and one thorian. Yes, I attempted every excuse imaginable to get out of it. Not even talk of a rampaging case of inner ear fungus could pry her away. I tried to fall a few steps behind her, hoping to find a break or at least a dark corner to blend into, but she kept stumbling into impossibly minute debris and she fell back beside me. Upon her third splat to the ground, as she clung to my arm while rising to her feet she shrugged, "I'm a wee bit clumsy."
I nodded as if she'd informed me she also couldn't breathe in the vacuum of space or hover freely in the air. Clumsy was, by a wide margin, an understatement. Her ability to discover the smallest misalignment in the sidewalk and turn that into near total limb collapse should be weaponized somehow.
"Do you like to read?" she asked suddenly, switching up the conversation of listing every one of her faults building in my mind.
"When I have the pleasure," I admitted. It'd been a busy few months on the killing people front and the light of a book did not blend well into shadows.
She clapped her hands, not once but thrice, as if she were trying to smash a few wayward insects Her eyes grew disturbingly large, even for an elf. I was momentarily afraid they might pop from their sockets and dangle about on the stalks. "Me too! I adore the works of Shalan."
"She is a classic for good reasons," I said, surprised to be sharing an intellectual moment with a woman who couldn't order a salad, "with an untouchable skill to delve into the elven condition and dance it upon a rhythmic scheme that many find impossible to master even into their tenth century."
Her awed eyes didn't waver for a moment, as if every word I spoke tumbled into a shallow pool and evaporated in the sun of ignorance. "You know the best ode of all?"
"I am partial to Malaceth myself. A bit on the ear given my profession, but the endless struggle of ones self upon what the path has set versus what one has inside the heart, what constitutes true evil, can we ever fight that which is predetermined is..." I trailed off as she hummed under her breath, ignoring my words. Sighing, I asked, "What is the best ode of all?"
"Eliose and Alabard," she clutched her gloved hands to her chest and breathed heavily, "It's so romantic."
I should have known. "A young adolescent seduced by her much older instructor who then fakes her own death to try and escape her father's attempts to free her from Alabard's grasp?"
"Star crossed lovers," she sighed again, "meant to be together forever. Meeting across time and space to save themselves for each other."
"You find a woman sent to an asylum for the havoc a half administered dose of poison wrought and a man castrated because of his crimes romantic?" my voice gurgled, as I slowed my steps terrified that her answer would be a giddy "yes," then the knives would come out.
She scrunched up her nose, her eyes slightly crossing -- which might explain her inability to not fall face first into every spec of dust crossing her path, "Is that how it ends? I never read the whole thing."
I wish I could say I screamed loudly at her, administered a long spiel about how the entire crux of a work cannot be altered due to ones ignorance, and how declaring a cautionary tale of keeping your children away from grooming predators something romantic is an abomination unto the good Bard's name. But the scream died in my throat, the threats and gargles morphing to little more than a resound sigh as she scampered off trying to chase after a floating light fixture that failed to adhere to the dead tree's brittle branches.
At least it gave me enough of a chance to mend something of a false smile onto my face to cover up the abject horror I'd scream into my room later; a bad move, as she coyly tried to blink off her eyelashes and waved her fingers at me. "I picked these for you," she said, holding out a pair of stems with white spikes emanating from the top.
"That's logweed," I said, keeping my hands firmly behind my back. Her smile didn't waver as she kept forcing them towards me. "It causes a terrible rash if touched and blindness if ingested." Still she held out the flowers, ignoring my words. "Please put them down," I begged, and she opened her hand, letting the weeds scatter to the ground.
I glanced towards the false sky, shifting from the reds of sunset into a creeping indigo night. The screen projecting the mock clouds of an atmosphere would part soon to reveal the real stars below. That would be the perfect escape excuse, escorting the girl home quickly lest she ram head first into some strangers and cause them serious harm.
As I returned my gaze back to the ground, internally I jumped back. In my revere, the girl snuck up before me until the scent of her salad stung my nose, her eyes wavering from joy and terror at nanosecond intervals. "I have a secret to confess."
Oh joy of joys. Why would I possibly care what was the secret of a person I prayed to every dead available ancestor that I'd never see again? If it were 'I've killed an entire family and you're next' I would not be surprised. If it involved her patting a bunny on the head and then licking it, I also would not be surprised. I looked away, hoping she'd keep the damn thing to herself, but she inched up onto her toes, trying to reach my ear. Her legs wobbled and instinctively I reached out to keep her from causing more damage to the garden.
Warm breath glanced across my face and she whispered, "I'm a virgin."
"You're a what?!" I dropped her arm, staggering back from the woman pinwheeling her hands to get a semblance of balance. "In what twisted universe is that proper first meeting conversation? How would...why would..." words fled from the site of me as second hand embarrassment filled in for them. But the girl felt no shame at all in her highly personal secret that I had in no way any intentions on altering for her.
She blinked those eyelids again and gnawed down upon her lip as if she were starving, before staring up into my terrified eyes and saying, "And I've never, you know, touched myself."

***

Taliesin paused in his story. "Go on, get it out."
A snort like a combustion engine turning over escaped from the captain's mouth. She tried to stuff it back in with her hand but was too late and a few giggles joined.
"Holy...I can't...oh my...breathing, so hard," Orn gasped, as he vibrated heavily upon his chair, trying to cram some words in between his laughter. He clapped a hand over his mouth and his shoulders trembled, trying to get his reaction under control.
Variel looked at him as he dropped his hand and rolled his head. Then he returned the gaze and, after a beat, guffaws returned that could knock down an Ogre. "I've never touched myself," Orn cried in his high pitched voice as very undignified giggles followed, "I need you to know I'm a virgin."
"Oh gods," Variel gasped, fighting to get breath into her body.
Taliesin looked to his sister who'd spent most of his story with her head down muttering "Oh dear" and "oh my" when appropriate. Even she had a hand over her mouth, trying to conceal the grin that eclipsed her fingers reach. "I'm so sorry," she said, a small laugh breaking up her sentence.
"No, you're not," the assassin grumbled, shaking his head.
"I'm sure as shit not," Orn responded, patting down his belly as the sugar boiled in it from all the excitement, "This is a gold mine with a hidden geode vein."
"Please," Variel said, the first to gain back control of her laughter, even as some danced around the edges of her eyes, "that was it, yes? After her confession, you ran for the airlock."
"Um..."
"Oh Taliesin," Brena said, the first true concern for her brother showing.
"I'm afraid it gets worse," he admitted.
"Worse?" Orn gasped, bouncing up in his chair, "How could it possibly get worse?"

***

After her secret sharing that I never needed to know and feared I'd wake in a sweat screaming about for weeks to come, there was only one logical answer; my voice rose about five octaves and chirped, "OhThat'sVeryNiceIDon'tReallyCarePleaseGoAwayNow!"
I backed up beside one of the heat vents, the steam for the hot house rising from the partially rusted grate in a hiss. She followed me, her eyes still blinking away as she shuffled back and forth on two feet like she needed to use the lavatories. You know those moments when you can predict almost every move your opponent is about to make and your brain counters before you're even conscious of it? The perfect chess board?
I knew she was going to stand up on those tottering toes of hers, I knew she was going to lift her hands for my ears, and I knew that still bleeding lower lip was coming for my face. So my brain offered up the only solution it could think of and my legs gave out of their own accord. I dropped straight down onto my back end, forcing her attempt to fondle touch only thin air. Unfortunately, my brain failed to compensate for the inept ability of her spine to keep her vertical.
She teetered around and fell face first into the heating vent. The rusting gate cracked from the weight and tumbled towards the lava hot furnace below. She'd have gone with, but I grabbed onto her shoes, her face smashing into the overheated metal and a sound of cracking bones reverberating through the garden.
"Call the medics!" I shouted to another couple wandering the grounds as I hauled the klutz back out of the heating vent.
I tossed her body to the ground and rolled her to the side to check for signs of life. Mostly her mousy hair bashed into the vent, singed to a crisp, but it protected her face from the brunt of second degree burns. The right arm dangled in a horrendous fashion, shattered at the elbow from the force and seeds know how many other breaks in her lifetime.
A familiar sound of the medic siren pierced the garden's breath, yellow and green lights beamed out into the stars. I turned back to Army and her eyes opened wide, the browns of the iris buried under a rise of allergy red. Probably inflamed from all that blinking earlier. Shock was to be expected, others are not used to such a close brush with death. I murmured something about how "help would arrive soon."
"Oh my inner goddess!" she shouted, her voice cracking from pure cut insanity, "you saved my life!"
"Sort of..."
"Just like Eliose and Alabard!"
"There was very little mention of heat vents in the ancient ode," I muttered, waving the medics near me and gesturing that they help the woman rising off the ground.
"We're meant to be! It is our destiny!" she shouted even as the two dwarves surrounded her, slotting the restraints in place before carting her to the hospital. As they lifted her off the ground upon a gurney she waved her one functioning arm towards me and cried, "I'll always love you, Taliesin!"

***

"What did you do?" Variel asked.
"I ran as quickly as my legs would allow and never turned back," Taliesin said, feeling a blush blossoming upon his cheeks. "Hopefully they keep her under restraint for a few days, for evaluation at least."
 Thoughts of a crazed woman, her forearm dangling like a shredded piece of fabric as she walloped against the airlock door filled the captain with dread. Oddly, she'd always feared it'd be women beating down the door to get at Orn though not for the same reasons. "We're due to be pushing out tomorrow, but I don't see any reason why we can't speed that up a bit. Your wife's onboard isn't she?"
Orn nodded slowly, "And she's gonna love this story, positively cream herself over it."
"Orn..." Variel warned.
"Phrasing, right," he said, rising off his chair and scampering out the door to find his wife. "And Lover Boy, next time take a few smoke grenades on a date. You know, just in case."
Variel shook her head, but didn't say anything else as she headed towards the bridge. Putting in a warning about a crazed elf named Army that could be harassing her crew took a bit of time. As she opened up the bridge door the Dwarf's high voice called out, "Captain, just so you know, I'm a virgin."
"And I've never touched myself!" Variel answered back, chuckling as she shut the door.
Taliesin turned towards his sister who shrugged her shoulders, "She seemed nice when I met her."
"Brena!"
"It's not as if you can easily find another Dulcen out here. We do not do the 'tourist' part well," she knitted her fingers and raised one shoulder, "I tried, right?"
"Yes, you did," Taliesin said, slowly opening up the door to find his room and lay down for a few days. "In the future, could you try a little less harder?"
Brena blew her hair up out of her face. She'd had high hopes that this could at least be the one to break her brother of his human habit. But even she'd have run screaming when the girl asked her to order dinner for her. She was impressed he'd stuck it out as long as he did. Perhaps there was some attraction on his end after all.
A beeping alerted Brena to her hand, and she flipped on her PALM. One new message awaited her. She scrolled through and didn't recognize the address, a strange thing as the Bard was always entering every person she met into her database for networking. Opening it up, Brena groaned.
It simply read "BEST DATE EVER!!! -- Ahmee 'Kesahtnan'" Her brother was never going to forgive her as long as she drew breath.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


     “What do I do now?”
     “Pick a character. Here, I always go Dryad,” the Dwarf poked a few of the buttons on the controller he was supposed to relinquish, “You get a bonus to bullet resistance, though you can’t walk through a fire.”
     “Unlike elves or humans,” Variel quipped as she waved her hands about as if swatting at a fly. The only source of light in the converted gaming cubicle of doom neĆ© nursery room flickered as the screen flipped through race options.
     “That is not a Dryad,” the captain complained to her pilot who insisted on this bonding moment to break in his refurbished projector. A project he attempted himself until his wife, in a moment of pity, finished.
     “Sure it is, see right there in infinitesimal text: ‘Dryad.’ It’s italic and everything,” the Dwarf started out seated in his faux fabric couch, but at Variel’s first moment of confusion leapt to her side.
     “Dryads do not have flesh, and, what are those monstrous growths on its chest? A fungal infestation?”
     “You never seen a set of breasts before?” A lesser man than Orn would have turned bright red as the Captain zoomed in on the very voluptuous figure of the tree people, scrutinizing what she’d previously assumed were mushrooms.
     “They’re trees! They’re not some poor woman smuggling a set of jousting balls in her tattered bra while suffering a terrible case of crotch vine.” Variel pushed a few more buttons and sighed harder, “And why does it keep calling me a she?”
     “All Dryads are female.”
     “That’s a good way to make certain your species won’t last past the first generation unless you work some frog DNA into the pool,” Variel muttered.
     “Look, they’re not real Dryads, or Orcs, or Dwarves, or Dragons. It’s fantasy stuff.”
     “It’s stupid stuff.”
     Orn swiped the info controller from her hands and pushed buttons quickly deciding her class, race and a mood for her character. ‘Outraged’ seemed proper. Wanting to get to the fun part of watching his Knight captain fumble through gameplay, Orn forced the plastic gun into her curled hands.
     Variel lifted the gun, the weight all wrong, but she kept it pointed at the ground. A weapon was a weapon, even if it’s orange plastic and connected to some blathering pixels. Her half naked Dryad appeared in a street setting, her/his nearly naked form eclipsed by a skyscraper shadows. Judging by the bursting mountain ranges in between buildings and crimson skies it was probably a Dwarf world. “What now?”
“Try walking,” Orn motioned with squat legs marching to his own beat.
     The Captain sighed and rolled her eyes, but lifted her heavy legs high and stomped down. In response, her Dryad moved forward and smashed straight into a trash can. A few green and red nondescript boxes scattered across and occasionally into the ground. Her Dryad’s reaction was to draw her weapon, an outlandish gun that would punch a hole through a Dragon’s hull. And she carried it about the streets of Dwarvenville as if it were little more than a bouquet of flowers.
     “Orn…” Variel’s voice warned the Dwarf at her growing impatience. He’d begged her for nearly a week, and despite her assumptions he only wanted to embarrass her, eventually she relented.
     “It’s fine, there are golem’s to clean that up. Keep going forward, towards that bright light,” the Dwarf pointed his gloved finger to their right.
     “Normally you’re told to stay away from the bright light,” Variel joked even as she turned and stomped towards the quest marker direction.
     “Har-de-har-har. Okay, now press X.”
     “What X? The one on the ground?” Variel asked even as she and her Dryad leaned down, slamming a fist to the ground.
     A set of NPCs oozed out of the ground; two Dwarves, an Ogre, led by of all things a Banshee. “We got a job we need doing? Word on the shaft is you’re somewhat competent. You up for it?”
     A series of text options overtook the screen and Variel lifted the gun. She raised an eyebrow at Orn and he nodded, she was getting the hang of it. Shaking that head again, the captain fired at one of the conversation prompts for more information.
     “What is this job exactly?” her Dryad asked in a voice better suited for plundering the mean streets of a night club.
     “You’ll be transporting this block of MGC that conveniently fell off a transport shuttle through Orc territory,” the Banshee said, then added a strangling gurgle as if she were laughing or consuming the souls of the near dead.
     “No thank you,” Variel’s Dryad said and the posse of MGC smugglers vanished into whatever portal of hell unleashed them.
Orn grabbed onto her hand and shrieked, “What in the forge are you doing?”
     “They wanted me to move MGC, illegal MGC, slap-you-on-every-watchlist-in-the-galaxy MGC,” Variel explained calmly.
     “So?”
     “I’m not about to run afoul of any law enforcements,” Variel said as if she were talking to a toddler.
     “Gods, goddesses, those elven seeds, and my ancestors alloys! You…there are no law enforcements.”
     “Oh, did they forget to program them in?”
     “No they didn’t…!” Orn smacked himself in the forehead with his bad hand and gurgled under the black leather glove, “The entire point of the game is you do illegal stuff to build a mob empire and take over the colony.”
     “A Dryad, made out of wood, wants to claim a Dwarven colony, built upon a lava range, for her own?” Variel oozed condescension.
     “Yes! They switch up the setting with each incarnation,” Orn explained as if she’d just defrosted from a millennia nap. “But the race options stay the same. You’re over thinking this. Just, pick up your gun and shoot anyone you see. And accept any quest you get, except for escort missions.”
     Variel fumbled with the gun, it was too small for her hand, but she spotted a man in a crisp white suit marching near her character. Taking a careless aim she popped off at his shoulder. She’d girded herself for the recoil from the gun but it was Orn that launched against her.
     “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”
     “You told me to shoot whatever I see,” Variel explained, watching the barely bleeding man in white teleport to her Dryad, his hands raised as sparks danced between the two. What an overreaction, it was barely a flesh wound.
     “NOT A LEVEL 23 WIZARD!”
     “What’s a wizard?”
     “Like a mage but awesomer,” Orn waved her question away, his fingers covering his eyes. He’d never known anyone to survive this encounter, of course no one was ever stupid enough to try.
     “So I shot some high ranking scientist? Great. The Universal Institute of Learning hires the worst goons.”
     All Orn could do was eep as the Man in White launched into his “you broke the rules” diatribe.
     “Fool! You turn your venom at me?! After all I have done for you? For that you shall PAY!”
     A thick ice shield formed across the disturbingly pore-less face as the wizard raised his hands. The foe cackled, blathering about how he’d obliterate her Dryad into the nether region once he finished this long windup.
     Variel eyed her pilot’s severe overreaction, then swung back to the man in white who was still preparing to attack. “Sod this,” and actually steadying her hand she shot through a narrow crack in the ice shield. Another round burst through the first hole straight into the bewildered wizard’s chest and, just to make certain he wasn’t going to talk about his nethers anymore, she unloaded the digital clip.
     She lifted the gun up and smiled as the body slumped to the ground. Her grin fell as Orn followed the involuntary movements of the White Wizard, his own knees striking metal grating.
     “You…you killed him,” his weak voice was barely audible over the fight music still blaring from the game. Even it seemed uncertain what the hell just happened. “Pop, just like that. Dead.”
     “Isn’t that the point, kill lest ye be killed?” Variel never faced this much scrutiny for her decisions during her years in the military.
     “Ackerman, bleeding Ackerman! Gone, before you even got past the first load screen,” Orn continued to babble to himself.
     “What do I do now?”
     “Don’t you understand? He was supposed to offer you a job, guide you to your empire, then just as you come to claim your throne the amazing twist when you discover he’s been planning to depose you and take all your territory. He’s the last boss, the final linchpin, the entire reason you’re even fighting!” a bit of froth dribbled down the Dwarf’s chin as he flailed about. He’d probably have wrenched a few garments if his wife didn’t have all the tools.
     Variel blinked back to the screen where her Dryad was whittling something out of her own bark, then back to her raving pilot. “So…the game’s over then. That took longer than I anticipated.”
     “Eep.”
     A small knock reverberated around the nursery and an Elf followed behind. Brena smiled apologetically at interrupting something possibly important and said, “I require the Captain’s assistance. The computer is insisting it has control of the galley and refuses to allow anyone entrance.”
     “It didn’t actually take over the ovens did it?” Variel asked, ignoring Orn’s rising risk of hyperventilation.
     “No, WEST only managed one half of the toaster, but it has been insisting we sacrifice bread in its name,” Brena turned from the captain to the Dwarf billowing enough rage even she could feel the flames, “Did I interrupt something important?”
     “She…” Orn pointed at Variel as if he were about to accuse her of witchcraft, “She shot Ackerman dead!”
     “Oh!” Brena clapped her hands once, “Congratulations. I did not discover the need to use our hidden nitro sources until…”
     “No, no, no, she shot him point blank dead, boom, gone before they even met!”
     Elven eyes turned the same utter dread and awe upon Variel who felt she should be apologizing profusely to a pile of bones transforming into a bag of gold that used to be a wizard. “He was going to kill me.”
     “Well,” Brena tried to play the part of peacekeeper, her ringed hand patting Orn on the shoulder, “there are always the side quests you can accomplish. Fetching the fish monger five turbids and running afoul of that hyper-intelligent seal was fun.”
     “What’s the point? There’s no mob to form, no mogul to schmooze, no gang of sirens to seduce into my employ. Without Ackerman there’s no one to pull the strings on anything. I…the game is ruined and my life is a hollow lie.”
     Orn switched on his PALM, the fading screen illuminating the wall beside Variel’s Dryad who seemed to have found an iced dish to share with a small Ogre child. His stubby fingers scrolled through the menus until he connected to the Ether.
     “What are you doing?” Variel asked.
     “Posting about the cheat you found, duh,” Orn answered as he ruined the game for everyone else across the galaxy. Misery loves company.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Preview



“Satellite.”

“No way, look at that gait. He’s never stepped foot off planet in his life,” Orn tossed another piece of fried close-enough-to-shrimp into his mouth. Ferra’d have him sleeping with the genie if she knew. Dwarves were supposed to be loyal, hardworking, and concerto ass flautists. Orn failed at the first two, so doubled down on the last.

“His knickers could be trapped in a gravity pull towards his ass,” his captain said, snagging one of the Dwarf’s bits of fried sea bug. “There’s no way you can tell who’s a virgin from their walk.”

“Oh my cynical, Sir,” he said mocking a small bow as he balled up the last of the sack and tossed it towards a recycle bin. It called out a cheery “Only You Can Prevent Decompression,” as it flared up his trash. They’d moved their little ‘basking in the glow of a job well finished’ party onto the main thoroughfare, watching the early risers pass through shops over-crammed with every tacky piece of paraphernalia the designer could get “Samudra: Gateway to Relaxation” onto. Most were decked in excessive sun bonnets, some with high frills thanks to a passing fashion interest in the headwear of pilgrims making their way through the nebula heavens to find god or something.

Orn hitched up his waning belt, the canvas overlay of his traveling pants slipping loose from their employment famine, and gestured toward a young man, human from the size of his legs and lack of brains. The example tottered about, failing to adjust for the microshift of gravity with each pass of the balancers. “Like watching a baby varg take its first steps, before it bites your face off,” he said to Variel.

She smiled politely, her own calculating eyes picking through the piles of tourists, some dragging still groggy spawn towards the shuttle deck. Another dawn, another day of fun, even if the kids screamed the entire time about not wanting to go, the parents screamed about not wanting to take them, and vendors screamed about giving another 10% of their monthly income to rent a scubaship. Fun. The middle class: backbone of the galaxy; it was a world she’d only ever seen from the outside more alien to her than a ship full of elves, a dwarf, and a mute Djinn.

“He may not be a space virgin,” she said diplomatically to her pilot, “perhaps he suffers from a debilitating inner ear infection, and he cannot stand still for more than a few moments before he takes a rather pathetic tumble.” The dwarf looked up at her deadly serious face, his mouth slightly agape, “You could have just committed seventeen violations of the ethics code of this quadrant.”

“Are you shitting me?” Orn asked, his hand slightly trembling at her stone face. Whenever he saw her this focused something was about to explode, occasionally something rather important.

She glanced down, one eyebrow raising in a decidedly elven maneuver, “What do you think?” And failed to maintain her straight face as a laugh broke free from her lungs.

Orn laughed himself, shaking off the momentary fear that she’d toss his Dwarven ass into some ethic’s jail for breaking part of her ship, “Never shit a shitter.”

“I’ll remember that the next time I meet a toilet,” she shrugged her shoulders and checked her hand, “It’s been nearly four hours, do you think they’ve finished the damn inspection?”

Variel and Orn were allergic to government oversight, one by habit, the other by genetics. Even seeing a badge sent them both into hives, it was one of the few things they could actually share aside from the greasiest food that could bottom out a robot’s gastrointestinal tract.

“I figure your husband’s got him pinned in a corner and refuses to let him come out. We’ll find his body, three months down the line, stinking up the place after he died in the walls.”

“Very funny, you’re a regular Braxl the Red you know that,” Variel responded, hoping the Dwarf wasn’t even a quarter accurate. “The last thing I need to deal with is wiping a ‘Death of Technician’ off my record. I’m only a few more months, half a solar year at the most from finally getting out of this lease.”

“You know,” Orn tapped his greasy chin, “if we took a few jobs from the Quest Log….”

“No,” she interrupted him in what had been an ongoing and never ending argument. Orn was about to make his standard rebuttal when her PALM chirped. WEST’s signature heavy beeping came over the line promptly as he hacked the accept button. “Good, they’re done,” she lit her palm up against the wall as the robot on the other end appeared.

“Owner number 23, I have news,” WEST’s voice was even more obstinate than usual. The technician must have been talking to it.

She bypassed the Owner 23 remark and asked, “Good or bad?”

“Let us settle on chaotic neutral. Your dimwitted friend asked our resident Djinn a question.”
WEST was clearly enjoying the show, hoping to drag this out for his amusement. “And,” Variel prompted, “what was it.”

“If he could have any wishes.”

The Captain didn’t even bother to disconnect her PALM as she raced through the busying corridors, a flustered Dwarf hot on her trail.

By the time she got back to her ship, she batted past a pair of lost virgins hunting for their bus and mistaking the happy jellyfish for the disgruntled cuttlefish. The Airlock door hung wide open, WEST’s doing, as she bolted through, and zipped past the embarkation room towards the sounds of her computer crying out “Warmer. Warmer. Hot!”

She skidded to a very out of breath halt at the sight of her Djinn holding the whimpering technician by his suspenders. They were wadded up inside his raging fists, as smoke poured from the cracks in the Djinn suit, clogging up the technician’s eyes. On the plus side, no one was dead yet.

“Gene,” she started calmly, holding her hand up to show she was unarmed, and accidentally projecting a smarmy WEST onto the standoff. The flicker of the computer pulled at the Djinn’s vision and the heavy head turned towards her, the fire raging so bright his eyes were nearly blue. Oh boy.
“Now, Gene, we don’t want any unnecessary bloodshed,” she said cautiously to her oldest friend. But the Djinn was barely listening, all his rage burning for what amounted to the greatest racial insult anyone could make to his people short of “You look like you could use a glass of water.”

The technician kicked valiantly against thin air, his soles providing little traction to the rising tide of an angry giant. “Help,” he gurgled to anyone within hearing distance, unable to see thanks to the acrid smoke.

“Come on, we’ve been through a lot. Seen things someone like this little flameless candle can only dream of,” Variel soothed.

The giant jerked a moment at her but still he stared the vertebrate child down, willing all his malice into a few flicks of the inner flame. Orn skidded to a halt behind his boss, trying to get in enough oxygen to fuel his very un-dwarflike sprint, as he took in the vision before him. “Right, well, I have some very un-murdering things to be doing on the bridge,” and he backed away as quickly as he came.

“Gene,” Variel laid her hand across the rock suit, despite the high heat scorching it, “put him down.”
Steam hissed through his shoulder cracks, but he lowered his arms until the technician’s boots met deckhead, and then he unclenched the fists. Segundo plummeted, his legs having lost most of the blood after he’d hung suspended in the air for twenty minutes. The computer took its sweet time in calling for help.

“Thh…thank you,” he muttered to the captain, rising unsteadily like that baby varg.

“It’s not me you should be thanking,” she looked at Gene still smoldering, but the blue was fading to a safe red orange, “by his people’s laws he could have ripped out your intestines and smashed your face through a wall for those remarks. It would be in everyone’s best interest if you apologized, now.”

Segundo shook his entire body, but looked from the woman who he thought saved him back to the one that was trying to kill him, “Ss..sorry, Sir.”

“Are you injured?” she asked, eyeing up some scuffed marks on his striped uniform.

“Nnnoo,” any thoughts of faking a minor injury for something major vanished in the face of experience dealing intimately with the criminal scum he was supposed to stop but had never seen before.

The proprietor and only person between Segundo and a crushed everything crossed her arms, as she very slowly asked the still trembling technician, “And you’re not going to make a universal case out of this, are you?”

Before the technician could respond, Variel uncrossed her arms and called out loudly, “ORN!”
By all rights the Dwarf should have been long out of range, but his shaggy head poked around the corner, “Yes, captain?”

She let the barb pass, not in the mood to rise to the Dwarf, “You shall escort our guest through the last of his tour, making certain to answer any and all questions he has, then you shall happily escort him off my damn ship.” Variel rose up on her toes, making her rather average height all the more imposing as she started down the technician. “Do we have a problem with that?”

“No, Sir,” Segundo saluted despite himself, his palm displaying the inventory checklist against Variel’s face. She didn’t blink in the blinding light, only leaned back away from him as Orn scooped in, grabbing the shaking kid’s hand.

“Come on, Squirt,” he said to the human towering a good three feet above him, “Best be getting out of here fast like.” He peered over the checklist on Segundo’s hand, skipping past long swathes of ship he had no interest in.

“Boring, boring, who cares, lost that, sold that, ah! The Bridge, now she’s a thing of beauty. Come with me,” and hauled Segundo away from the gathered masses. As his head knocked into the low hanging ceiling of the hallway, a chirp called out from WEST, “A virus upon you, I had ten gigs on the Djinn.”

Variel glanced over at her mute friend, and said simply, “Try not to kill anyone else for the day.”
Gene shuffled upon his feet, perhaps the only other one aware of the line the pair walked each day, but said nothing. His fingers fell towards his hips, silenced in shame. The captain touched him once on the cracking shoulder, despite the still raging heat, and smiled wanly. There wouldn’t be any shoving someone out the airlock, unless the technician tried to get cute.

Before she could turn to walk away, the airlock door slammed open hard, the operator too impatient and overpowered to wait for the computer to finish its job. A flurry of color burst into the storage room, bereft of anything but a few of the old cruise ships accoutrements Orn convinced her to keep on just in case.

The elf paused, trying to catch her breath as she eyed up the room. Her multi-hued skirts came to a dramatic flair, hovering as if she were caught in a perpetual wind, the pink stars sparkling with each beat of the elf’s heart. This was the most panicked Variel’d ever seen Brena, her stage makeup smeared until the fuchsia patterns mushed to form a half eye mask of a super villain, and the pre-programmed hair color already slipping to a black.

“My Dominant,” the elf called out, the closest the race could come to showing respect to something that didn’t share their particular brand of ears. It wasn’t a good sign.

“Yes?” Variel asked, weary showing in her voice.

“I request the aid of your hands.”

“I’m not a bored fop with more money than brains, you can speak like it’s 500 DC,” Variel shook out her words, more cutting with the local Bard than usual. Usually she’d at least let the wordsmith get a few purple sentences out before stalking back to her preferred century.

Brena’s tiny mouth turned further down, but she buried whatever curses floated through the devious brain, “My brother, he is in danger.”

“Maybe he shouldn’t have become an assassin, then,” Variel waved her hands as if the elf told her Orn got into the stash of licorice again. The captain turned to WEST, punching in a few commands but mostly waiting for the elf to bounce off.

“You do not understand, he could die.”

“Oh no, I got that. Death and dying, they tend to follow assassin’s around. Maybe you should take it up with his guild instead,” to emphasize her “this discussion is over” she began to hum softly under her breath, realizing horrified it was the same damn tune playing across every single elevator on the station.

But Brena reacted with the most force she’d ever seen from a Dulcen, as the elf spat upon the floor, her drawn on eyebrows pulling into a sneer. “That cursed guild, may it burn within the darkness of the forgotten sun for a billion turns. It was them that led him astray.”

Despite every neuron in her brain telling her to keep ignoring the elf and waiting for the latest crisis to pass, Variel turned back to the girl. This was enough of an invitation for the Dulcen to launch into the mantra she’d been preparing probably on the entire shuttle ride over.

“The guild marked the intended as a grade two at most, but the moment the cover of the entertainment began it became evidently clear he was a grade seven!”

“Yeah, my translator doesn’t speak murder,” Variel said, “Could you try explaining that one again.”

If her fury wasn’t burning for a distant bureaucracy of some of the highest security elves in the universe, she’d have turned on the captain. Instead, she flapped her arms in consternation, blowing off the air of calm the years of training forced upon her, “A grade two is ‘no combat skills, nearly null security.’ Supposedly wanted for gambling debts. But Magalar Dacre was clearly a retired member of the crest Knighthood.”

“Dacre?” Variel asked as deadpan as possible, her past flaring up from behind a wall she’d carefully erected. The Djinn behind her hissed as well, sensing the shift in his old friend.

The Captain rounded upon the Bard, grabbing onto the bare skin of her shoulders and pulling the oversized eyes to her own, “How do you know he was a crest Knight?”

“The arrogant cricket had the sword placed above his mantle,” Brena answered, confused by the turn of events. It’d been a long shot in trying to get the captain’s help. She rarely spoke to either of the elves, unless rent was due. But she was still grateful for the change in demeanor, even if it tugged on her fractured brain. She’d forgotten to take her meds again this morning, her brother would be angry with her.

Variel searched through the elf’s eyes, looking for something, an explanation, a revelation that this was all some elven joke and her brother was caught between a set of dumpsters, unable to finish his job or sitting inside a Samudra prison. But even as she dreamed up a magical scenario, she knew the truth, the assassin in her midst was good. Too good for the jobs he did take. That fact always bothered her.

“WEST,” Variel called to her ornery computer, “search through the shuttle schedules. I’ll need to break atmo over…”

“The northern hemisphere, in the Tau cluster of islands,” Brena filled in for the captain.

“Find the earliest flight possible,” she said, clicking off the interface before he could argue. Instead she pushed open her PALM and called for a connection to Ferra.

“Aye, I can explain,” her engineer’s voice was frazzled, obviously not expecting to hear from Variel so quickly.

“Did you get the injector doohickey replaced?”

“Yes and no.”

“Explain,” any joviality long drained from the captain’s demeanor. This was all business.
“Yes, I ordered it, no they haven’t delivered it. It’ll be another 12 hours to whenever some lazy shit gets off its tiny blue legs and sends it,” Ferra’s tone clipped through the storage room, occasionally overridden by the heavy whirr of machinery.

“Are you onboard?”

“Course, I’m back in the engines, seeing to my gardening,” she said as if Variel inquired if the elf ever visited the bathroom.

“Good. Tape up whatever you can on the injector and stick it back in until we get the replacement.”

“Now it’s gonna cost…what? You can’t be serious, this thing’s gonna crack in…”

“Do it,” and Variel cut the line before Ferra could complain, but still got some prime cut cursing before the PALM flashed dark.

She shoved past the deadweight bard, her mind flicking through all the possible security systems a man with a Knight’s pension, or more likely illegal pension, could pull off. Her feet thudded heavily through the storage room forwards to the galley, Brena trailing behind. The elf said nothing but watched her captain trying to scrape together a plan from something she’d found on her shoe.
“WEST,” Variel’s voice cut across the narrow hallway as she stepped through the porthole into the kitchen, “any luck on the schedule.”

“Yes, Owner 23, if you move your oversized flesh tube quickly enough you can take the shuttle at hanger G-75 in fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks,” she admitted, glad to be able to leave one bit of this madness to something else. Fifteen minutes to get there, another hour on the ride down. Brena’d better pray her brother’s a better hider than an assassin.

“Did you call Taliesin, warn him?” Variel asked, surprising Brena. She was somewhat certain the Captain knew neither of their names.

“He slipped into silent mode the moment he breeched the perimeter. There is no way to contact him.”
“This just keeps getting better and better.”

“Dominant,” the elf’s voice asked as her captain stuck her hand inside the dishwasher lock, a loud whirr reading all the data it could off her lifelines. “Captain, it is perhaps the wrong time to inquire this but, why are you extending yourself to assist?”

The dishwasher cracked open, ancient steam escaping as what were clearly not dishes shot out upon the white racks. Variel’s fingers weighed the options before her, pocketing a shield generator and scanning the ammo charges. “Dacre,” she said the name as one would an intestinal parasite, “whoever he is, is clearly hiding more than a Knighthood.”

She extracted a pistol, slipping a few excess batteries into her pockets, and a small submachine gun from the dishwasher armory. It was the only thing on the entire ship that required a DNA and palm print to unlock and she quickly altered it over to hold her few weapons. Variel eyed down the sight, always leaned a bit to the left, but if shouldn’t be a big problem with the mess she was about to jump into.

“What do you mean?” Brena asked, shirking momentarily from the arsenal before her. She’d never seen the options hidden in the dishwasher.

Variel cocked the pistol before slipping it into the hiding briefcase so no detector could find it, and then looked one last time into the elf’s eyes, “Knights don’t retire.”

She dashed out of the galley, calling out to her computer “WEST, get me those damn tickets now,” probably heading to her death for someone she’d traded at most a few words with.