Archive for June, 2013
Susan moved into the room where Simon was waiting. She motioned him forward, led him over to the table where Roger and Jane were waiting for them. Overhead the hanging light illuminated only the people at the table, leaving the rest of the room in darkness. Each looked to the other, trying to get a better handle on who was who and what they could be expected to do.
Roger was slightly paunchy and splotched, and the pastel teal of his shirt did not help his complexion. His mauve tie somehow matched the shirt, which was not common. The jowls were clean shaven however, the face only lightly wrinkled; beady dark brown eyes and clear teeth in a face colored by artificial tan.
Jane was a taller woman, bordering on 6’ 10”, willowy and mostly legs. She accentuated this by often wearing long-train dresses and heels, her long red-ochre hair accenting the lavender silk dress, which in turn was accented by the amethyst jewelry at her ears, wrists and neck. Her milky skin was only lightly made-up, her face also lightly wrinkled, likely kept at bay through expensive cosmetics.
Susan, by contrast, had brighter, aqua hair done up in a pixie-cut. Her piercings ran up the sides of her ear, but were kept to tasteful studs done in traditional styles with a variety of gemstones. Her clothes were simple: jeans and a t-shirt, matching black and pressed, with a fine grain to the jeans. Her eyes were green, her skin a deep caramel color, her face round.
Simon sat between Susan and Roger, looking uncomfortable. He had a squared off face that some women found attractive. His blue eyes, blond hair let him get away with jeans and a t-shirt that had probably been worn several times over. Unlike the others, who smelled alternately of deodorant, perfume, and nothing, Simon carried his pheromone-cloud unacknowledged. Despite the situation, he felt as though he could handle himself, and his projected confidence soothed over what was lacking in his appearances.
Jane started. “I think it should be Simon.” They had devised rules while they were waiting for everyone, and those were now displayed on the white board behind Jane. Now that she had spoken, they would go around the table clockwise, and cast their vote. If no consensus could be reached, they would each be given several minutes to explain their position and stance, and they would go around the table again with a new round of voting. Susan had contributed the most to the rules: despite being strangers, she felt they should at least be organized strangers.
Now it came to Susan’s vote: “I vote for Roger.”
Simon: “Well, I vote for Jane.”
Roger: “I vote Jane as well.”
Jane had the good upbringing to not look… well, anything. They would go around explaining their rationale now. It had to be a unanimous decision; after all, one of them would be killed from it.
Since Jane had spoken last time, it was now Susan’s turn to start the voting. After considering everyone’s opinion, she spoke properly: “I think we should kill Simon.”
Simon: “I still think it should be Jane.”
Roger: “I feel that since no one has said it, it should be Susan.”
Jane: “I’m much more inclined to vote that you should be the one to go Roger.”
Another round of arguments, some of which got quite heated when these virtual strangers didn’t know they were approaching a nerve. Eventually the time was called for another vote. Simon would start. “I will say this as many times as I have to, I vote for Jane.”
Roger: “I think you missed several good points and I’m going to have to vote for you, Simon.”
Jane: “I think you made several Roger, so I will vote for Susan.”
Susan: “My turn to be obstinate. I vote Simon.”
Another round concerned with the logistics of the murder itself. Roger, despite speaking eloquently had encountered some very good points. He spent a long time considering this vote before finally, softly: “Susan.”
Susan: “Pass.” Voting would return to her at the end.
Simon: “Susan.” He said frowning. It all came down to Susan.
The ceramic-composite plate mail rattled from the impact of the landing pod. I could dimly feel the thud of the other pods dropping nearby. There was a whoosh as the pod matched pressures with the outside and sprayed itself with coolant. I waited a second. I liked to wait before I came out of the pod. It gave them a chance to fire.
The sizzling hiss of energy weapons fried off some of the coolant on the outside but otherwise did little damage to the pod. Probably some low-grade tech that they’d scrounged up from merchants. I twitched my arm forward just a tiny bit, and the manual release lever in my hand caused the pod to burst open. I chanted words of battle, and used the environment to shield myself. I was betting they still had chemical or mechanical based weapons if the energy weapons sounded cheap. They cursed as they realized their expensive weaponry would no longer work.
I pulled the war-hammer off my back and whipped around to the front. I read the runes along the haft and lightning arced off the hammer to my nearest opponent. The smell of charred flesh filled the air. Elsewhere around me my fellow Legionaries drew the weapons and threw their spells at our opponents. I felt the bite of a slug thrower as some intrepid recruit tried his sidearm. It hit the magic around me and sizzled. Whatever material he was using for ammunition had turned the projectile incendiary as it hit the magic, leaving the plate mail I was wearing to soak up the rest. I looked at him and pulled a javelin made of stone out of the very ground. The cacophonous harmonies of 250 battlechanters rang out as our magics became non-stop. The recruit managed to evade the javelin toss, even bolstered by the omnipresent chants.
A voice sang out over the chanting, and it was not from our side. Out of the opposition a man rose, taller than our opponents, wearing trader insignia on his jacket. He sang the song of the spellsingers, our peaceful colleagues. I did not know the words, could not tell the spell, but I knew that it caused my comrades to falter. Several of them were so shocked that their spells stopped. The harmony of the Legion was broken.
Still, we had weapons. I smashed into the closest militia member as he was reaching for his gun, they were trying to follow suit from the recruit that I had missed. He ran over to the spellsinger, protecting him. I knew the Legion’s song had to be resumed; the ending magics of the battle were woven into our individual songs. I chanted louder, lightning arcing off my hammer and around my body, and I became as the savage hurricane, spinning and roiling with both energy and crushing blows. I grunted as each of the slugs hit me, biting into my armor. One of them smashed into my face-plate, breaking my nose. I almost lost my chant, but still held strong.
Eventually the Legion-chant was completed, and the plain where we had landed became as glass.
The sun shines over the river. Nathan climbs out and lies down on his towel, his skin is instantly dimpled with goosebumps from the breeze lightly dancing with the water along the more sensitive parts of his body. Brian also comes over, lying down on his towel. Nathan watches him, but he keeps his eyes averted, not looking at Nathan. Nathan sighs, and falls asleep, leaving Brian to work it out on his own.
In his dreams Nathan is walking through a vista filled with hardy, low-growing bushes and grass, sparse trees, and a yellow-green color to the plants contrasted by the dark rocks scattered everywhere. Most of the plants seem to be growing out of the rocks themselves, and there’s very little soil. Nathan is having problems breathing, but he forces himself to stop, stand still and take a few deep breaths of the cold, arid air. The sky above him is a deep, almost black blue color, entirely clear of clouds. He looks around the empty landscape a little more, hoping for some sort of animal or guide. Finding none, he keeps walking.
Progress of any sort in this environment, Nathan finds, is difficult. Every couple of yards he has to stop and regain his breath. Still the landscape is devoid of obvious life. Nathan reaches out, trying to feel the world around him, listening to his proprioception. He knows there must be life here; life has proved itself to be everywhere, regardless of hardship. He senses nothing and sits.
Sitting gives him a chance to look at himself, to see the heavy hiking boots he’s wearing, the high-altitude climbing pants and jacket he’s wearing, his bare hands at work in the world. Nathan thinks that his hands should be covered by thick gloves, and the dream opens up before him like a flower, shedding the barrier of scripted observation. Aware that this is a dream now, Nathan looks around again.
“Honorable guides of the dream-realm, I ask for your presence,” the words are whispered into a drying breeze. The very air here is quiet, hushed, reverential. It demands the same from Nathan, and he obeys out of respect.
Standing up, Nathan sees a llama, or an alpaca, coming up towards him from the northwest. His horizon is close, as the mountain he is on rounds away and down in that direction; other mountains rise up behind the immediate horizon. The South American Camelid approaches him fearlessly and stops a yard away, it lowers its face to eye level. Nathan speaks.
“It seems I am lost in your mountains.”
“Not yet,” the guide responds. The mouth of the “animal” moves in an articulated and human way, its teeth clacking together on the “t” sounds and making them echo. Nathan has had enough training to ignore it, but the mimicry is uncanny. “You will be though.”
Nathan nods. “What brings me here?”
“Events will come to pass, things that happen,” the animal spits, “You will come here for guidance.”
“Why have I come here now?”
“To see and to know. Your work here will be dangerous. It is best you are prepared.”
“Thank you for your warning, auspicious guide.” Nathan nods, and as the animal turns away he wills himself to wake up.
When I return to the window the figure has reversed the binding spell and banished anything it might have summoned. If a deity was involved I’m not certain I would have been able to dismiss it so easily. Dean Matthews is looking up at my window from under a leather hat. He easily slings the muscular shape of my opponent six feet up onto his shoulder. I assume he’s unconscious from the unweaving of his binding. I can hear his voice as though he’s behind me in the room. I fight not to turn around.
“You should be asleep.”
“Sir, it’s a good thing I wasn’t, sir.”
“You’re not one who strikes me as the kind to be nervous.”
“I respectfully disagree sir. I’m not one to let my nerves be obvious.”
“Get some rest. I’ll see to Jonathon’s disqualification.”
I nod down below and turn away from the window. The violent retching has left me tired, and the nakedness means I can just crawl into bed. I’m trying to remember Jonathon, but the most I can pull is that his senior specialty is infantry, focusing on up close debilitation and elimination. That explains why he fumbled on the binding spell: he’d be better skilled in covert approach. Probably also why I didn’t know he was there until he started the incantation. I remember Allison talking about him as my head hits the pillow. Something about dreamy in tight shirts… wanting him to “covertly debilitate” her… they’re specializing together…
I wake up to a stock song on my phone. I left it on the desk last night. My eyes open slowly, I roll over and my phone is vibrating against my desk. There’s a knock on my door.
“Evan? Are you up? It’s almost time.”
I have to work my jaw a couple times and swallow before I can respond audibly. “Yeah, I’m awake.” I throw on a pair of boxers, and open my door. Allison and Chase are at the door. Both of them look down and then up. The good thing about short hair is that it isn’t all over the place.
Allison responds while Chase is just staring at me. “You don’t have time for a shower. Get dressed, eat some trail mix if you need to eat, but skip it if your stomach is upset.” She wrinkles her nose at the smell from last night’s trash-can incident.
“Shit…” I walk over to my closet, “Come in guys.”
“I’ll stay right here thanks.”
Chase walks over and wraps his arms around me as I’m pulling clothes out of the closet to wear. I pause for a second, smiling. “Heartburn?”
“Jonathon tried a binding. I responded. Dean Matthews rebounded my response. And yes, heartburn.”
“No way, really? What time?”
“Early, two a.m. or some such.”
“Is he still competing today?” Allison asks.
“No. Dean Matthews disqualified him last night.”
“But you got away with just vomiting?” There’s a certain solidarity that I have apparently stepped in the middle of. I need something to wake me up, and coffee is out of the question since my stomach is still displeased.
“I was defending my chances for today. If I did get in trouble no body’s mentioned it yet.”
Chase is still nearby. Quiet. He hands me a stick of gum as I pull my shirt over my head.
“It’s caffeinated. Since you can’t use magic.”
The benefits of people who know me as well as they do.