Tag Archives: excerpt

Who is Alex Tang?

At the risk of boring you all silly, I thought I’d post one more, very short post about my mystery character, Alex Tang. It leaves a lot to the imagination, but I’m rather proud of how much I’ve managed to convey with these 400 something words. I hope this answers most of your questions. The video clip below is what I was listening to while I wrote. The track is called ‘Knights of Palmyra’, from Jo Blankenburg’s album Vendetta.

***

“No.”

The holos of the two government representatives glanced at each other before turning back to the slim, Asian man who sat perfectly still on the sofa opposite.

It was the older official who finally spoke.

“We do understand how bitter you must feel about your husband, James. But we’re pretty sure the people who set fire to the safe house were hired by Beaumont-…”

“If you refuse to testify they’ll get away with everything!” the younger official said.

Alex Tang’s face remained inscrutable as he said, “Your people should have thought of that before they left my husband to burn.”

“We’ve apologized for that a hundred times!” the younger official began.

“Steven!”

The older official cast a withering glance at his companion before continuing.

“Our people died in that blaze too, James. Jenny Martin was one of our best operatives, and she left behind a three year old daughter.”

The mention of Jenny Martin made Alex wince. He had liked Jenny. She had been a friend. And when the wall had imploded, shooting that ball of flame towards him, she had shielded him with her own body. Her sacrifice had saved his life…

“With two of his team down, and your husband…trapped under that wall, Phil Denning did the only thing he could…”

Yeah, he ignored Pete, and saved your precious witness

Pete, Alex’s husband of less than a year, had been furthest from the inferno. Trapped, but also protected by the heavy cupboard that had been blown on top of him by the explosion, he should have been the one to survive. Instead, he had died a slow, agonizing death.

Despite being blinded, and burned to a crisp wherever Jenny’s body had not protected his, Alex had remained conscious the entire time… listening to Pete scream.

“Won’t you at least talk to Phil? Hear his side of the story?”

Talk to Phil Denning? The man who had let Pete die?

A mirthless chuckle escaped Alex’s lips as he turned bitter eyes on the two holograms cluttering up his living room.

“I don’t think so.”

“But-…”

“We’ll let you think things over,” the older official said. “If you change your mind, you know how to reach us.”

when hell freezes over

Alex remained seated as the older official winked out.

“You know they’ll have to pull the plug? If you don’t co-operate,” the young official said. When Alex did not answer, he too winked out.

Alone again, Alex Tang turned his head towards the window. The glass was pristine once more, allowing him to see the Forbidden City in all its glory.

When he had first woken up inside Innerscape, he had smashed the window and thrown himself off the ledge. He had woken back in his bed. Unscathed.

But there was always more than one way of skinning a cat.

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Introducing Alex Tang, a new character from Innerscape

I’ve had a great weekend writing, so I thought I’d introduce you to a new character.:)

Tragic house fire kills three

In local news, the bodies of two men, and a woman were recovered from the burnt out shell of a house on the outskirts of Stradwick.

Located in the once green hills of Macedon, Stradwick is a small, domed enclave that was rebuilt after the devastating fires of 2072 razed the original township to the ground.

Thirty years on, Stradwick has become the favoured weekend retreat of wealthy CEO’s and holo stars.

Francis Naismith, one of the ten permanent residents of Stradwick, told me the gutted house was a rental property administered by Greenhills Real Estate.

A spokesperson for Greenhills refused to comment on the identities of the deceased, or even if they had, in fact, been renting the property.

 Police also refused to comment, saying the relatives of the three deceased had not yet been notified.

Neither the police nor the fire services would comment on whether arson was involved. I did, however, manage to discover that the house had a sophisticated fire protection system of its own, above and beyond the protection afforded by the dome.

Why the fire protection system did not work is just one of the many baffling questions surrounding this tragic fire.

This is Jonathon Szabo for Victoria Today, reporting from Stradwick. June 2, 2102.

***

Alex Tang sat in his luxury penthouse, bottle of cognac in hand, as he looked out across the dark water of the moat.

The Forbidden City was a beautiful sight, especially at night when everything was lit up.

Once, he had dreamt of travelling to Beijing and seeing the city of the old emperors for himself. Now he hated it.

Draining the last of the Louis XIII cognac as if it were water, Alex rose from his chair, and threw the bottle at the plate glass window that framed the view of the Forbidden City.

The bottle shattered, and the Forbidden City disappeared behind a web work of crazed glass.

“That’s better.”

They should have let him die.

Barely tipsy, despite the cognac he had drunk, Alex looked neither right nor left as he walked to the bedroom.

A towel covered the large mirror on the wall, opposite the bed, but as the lights came on, he caught a glimpse of a slim, Asian man reflected in the window.

“Curtains close!”

Pulling off his t-shirt and jeans, Alex knelt beside his bed, and clasped his hands in prayer.

“I am James Milgrove,” he whispered into his hands. “I’m 6’2”, and I have blond hair and blue eyes. I was born in Perth twenty-nine years ago. I have an older sister…”

…and I was once married…

They really should have let him die.

***

I have known about this character from the very beginning, but until this weekend he was just a hazy shadow. On Saturday the name, the location, the whole scene just… happened. These are the moments writers live for. They give us the courage to soldier on during the lean times, when every new word feels like giving birth to a 20 pound gorilla. 

Cheers

Meeks


Old friends and new acquaintances on Vokhtah

This excerpt is also about the Forager and takes place a few days later. It is quite a bit longer than the first snippet so remember to make a cuppa first. 🙂

***

The Forager was standing in line with six other foragers, a bag full of fresh herbs in its arms, when the gong for true-dark sounded throughout the eyrie. They had all been held up because of a dispute between one of the foragers and the head Attendant of Stores. The forager only had half a bag to hand in and the Attendant was refusing to pay.

“But only needing one last credit for rock lizard,” the forager cried. “Bringing extra half on the morrow!”

“Pah,” the Attendant said. “And if to’pak catching again?”

“Ki! Promising-…”

“Out of way Scar!” someone else called angrily. “Missing all food soon.”

Other irate voices quickly joined the first, and the Forager gripped its bag tighter, in case a scuffle broke out. It too was just one credit short of a rock lizard, and had no intention of losing its precious herbs in a fight. Peering over the heads of the iVokh in front, it breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the desperate forager finally give up and step out of the line.

As the iVokh limped past, emaciated arms clutched tight around its half empty bag, the Forager could not help noticing the scars tracing an uneven semi-circle around its right wing and leg. Bite marks like that could only have come from a to’pak. Scar was lucky to be alive. The attack must have happened close to the eyrie or it would have bled to death before the healers could reach it.

But why had they left it half crippled? Letting it live without the means to feed itself properly was no boon…

When the line began to move again, the Forager promptly forgot all about the scarred forager, and shuffled along with the rest until it reached the Attendant.

“How knowing so much about herbs?” the Attendant asked.

The iVokh’s tone was more curious than suspicious, yet the Forager still felt its bowels clench in fright. The Attendant was one of the original survivors of the eyrie, and obviously thought it was one of the newcomers from Five Rocks. Unfortunately, the rest of the foragers still waiting in line really had come from Five Rocks. And they thought it was one of the survivors. If it said the wrong thing now it could end up betraying itself to both groups.

“Great parent teaching,” the Forager mumbled, hoping the Attendant would not question it further.

“Ah… fever balm,” the Attendant said as it picked up a twig with pale orange leaves and sniffed. “Parent teaching self. Being apprentice healer before coming to Needlepoint.”

Then parent failing apprenticeship early, the Forager thought as it nodded politely. The obvious pride in the Attendant’s voice stopped it from pointing out that the twig was actually sleep balm, not fever balm. Both were an orange colour, however sleep balm smelled sweet while fever balm had a strong, astringent scent.

“Healers being pleased,” the Attendant continued as it handed the Forager three credits. “Next!”

Clutching its credits, the Forager bowed with exaggerated politeness before hurrying towards the communal feeding area.

By the time it reached the huge cavern next to the animal pens, most of the other iVokh of the eyrie had already fed. And of course, the plumpest rock lizards were gone.

When the bored attendant saw the Forager coming, it reached into the lizard cage and pulled out a scrawny specimen with one hand. Its other hand held a large sack that bulged with credits.

As the Forager handed over its own precious credits it could not avoid a moment of bitterness. If it had only thought to keep a few of the credits it had bartered for the gem shard, it would not now be breaking its back for the privilege of drinking lukewarm blood…

Lizard in hand, it retreated to an empty spot by the wall, and began to feed. It tried to drink slowly, to make the moment last, but all too soon the body in its hand began to shudder.

Pulling away with regret, the Forager licked every last trace of blood from its mouth before going to collect its ration of dried vegetables. It was halfway through the unappetizing granules when it chanced to look up, and recognized Scar standing next to the baskets that held the used bowls.

The iVokh had its back turned to the Forager, and seemed to be transferring bowls from one basket to the other. Every so often it would stop and examine one of the bowls for a moment or two before placing it neatly in the second basket.

Strange, the Forager thought as it started eating again. A moment later its meal was interrupted a second time when an angry shout sounded from the direction of the baskets. It looked up just in time to see an attendant bearing down on Scar, who was backing away with a bowl clutched in its hands. As it retreated it licked frantically at the inside of the bowl.

Realization hit the Forager at the same moment the attendant hit Scar, and pulled the bowl from its hands.

“Cripple!” the attendant hissed in disgust.

“Not being cripple!” Scar hissed back, but it did not try to approach the baskets again. Instead it wandered over to a group of washers who were still eating, and sat down just a short distance from them. If it was hoping they would leave something in their bowls, it must have been disappointed when they got up as a group and moved closer to the attendant.

The scarred forager remained where it was, staring blankly into space, as if it did not care.

Apprentice looking like that

The Forager’s stomach seemed to turn over as it suddenly remembered that night on the Spine, when the Apprentice and the other two had been disowned by the rest of the Traders. Of the three it had managed to save only one.

Was the Apprentice still alive? Had it managed to get back to the Settlement on its own?

Despite knowing it had done all it could for the young Trader, the Forager could not help wishing it could have done more. Perhaps that was why it rose to its feet and crossed the cavern to where Scar still sat, staring at nothing.

Sitting down a short distance from Scar, the Forager made a show of eating as it watched the other iVokh from the corner of its eye.

Scar did not come any closer, but nor did it move away.

The attendants were just starting to clean up when the Forager belched, and put its half-finished bowl on the ground by its side. Then it rose and walked away without a backward glance.


Do you know this iVokh?

I thought some of you might enjoy a small snippet about an old friend. 🙂

* * *

The tall, thin Forager rose up in the air and carefully inspected the clump of boulders before landing, and plucking the fleshy pink shoots that grew in the shade they cast. Boulders and shade often meant to’pak, and it had learned to be extremely cautious when approaching either.

Moving away from the boulders, the Forager popped one of the round, succulent pink leaves in its mouth and chewed. The leaves of the lifeberry were not as effective as the fruit, and the flavour was rather unpleasant, but the moisture and small rush of energy were welcome. Spitting the remains on the ground, it popped another leaf in its mouth before it returned to the heat and back-breaking work of gathering.

When the Forager had first arrived at Needlepoint it had chosen to become a forager because, as a healer, it knew far more about the plants of Vokhtah than most ordinary iVokh. Foraging, however, had turned out to be a gruelling and hungry occupation.

At Needlepoint, every iVokh received one small bowl of ground seeds and tubers every day, no matter what their occupation. Food animals, however, had to be bartered for credits.

As one of the least valued classes in the eyrie, foragers received just one small, leather credit for every bag of seeds or tubers they gathered. By contrast, each rock lizard cost ten credits.

The small upland plateau that surrounded Needlepoint was still almost lush in comparison to the great plains, but even here, most foragers were lucky to gather three bags of food a day. That equated to one rock lizard every four days. They all grazed on whatever was edible as they worked, but a few berries, or the odd piipa fruit could not compensate for the severe lack of blood in their diets, and they all looked half-starved.

Thanks to its knowledge of medicinal herbs, which had a higher value than seeds or tubers, the Forager managed to feed on a rock lizard almost every second day, yet even so it was always hungry, and seemed to spend every waking moment thinking about food. It even dreamt about food. Strangely though, it never seemed to dream about akaht, or tukti. Despite having fed on akaht for most of its life, it could now hardly remember what either akaht or tukti tasted like. It knew akaht were supposed to be slightly salty, but it could not actually remember how the blood tasted on its tongue.

Shaking its head to dispel such futile thoughts, the Forager popped another lifeberry leaf in its mouth as it squinted up at the sky. Still another three hours to go…

…and no rock lizard this night…

The Forager’s sigh was lost in the swish of grass as it bent to its work.


Vokhtah book 2 – decision time

Okay, I need some serious feedback. Book 2 is changing rather radically. From being a story about the Triad’s Acolyte, it has now become a story about the Acolyte and Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1].  Initially, Kaati’s story was going to weave into the story of the Acolyte, but in a subordinate, sub-plot kind of way.  Now,  just as in book 1, Kaati is demanding more space.

I kind of like where Kaati’s story is going but… if I continue I am going to have to change book 3. A lot.  The following excerpt is a whole chapter because I need to know if I should let the story unwind or reel it in by making Kaati’s return to power a more straightforward process.  I really would appreciate knowing what you guys think. Oh and this is only a first draft so be warned.

***

The small group of Watchers were sparring under the watchful eyes of the Old One when the guard stationed out in the main cavern came jetting in on a whisper of air.

“Intruder!” it called softly.

The three groups of Watchers immediately broke apart, each drudge hurrying to a torch and burying it in the sand. In moments the cavern was dark, except for the one torch held by the Old one.

As the six Watchers took up their positions in the deepest shadows, the lookout returned to its position in the outer cavern.

When all was in readiness, the Old One walked to its assigned place in the centre of the cavern, and sat down with its back to the entrance. It was the bait. It would distract the Intruder, allowing the others to seize the element of surprise. If the intruder was a Teller it could not be allowed to send an alarm.

The Old One sincerely hoped the intruder would not be a Teller, but it was also relieved the long wait would soon be over. It had taught the Watchers as much as it could, and had trained them until their responses were automatic, but neither they nor their strategies had ever been tested.

As the wait dragged on, the two Watchers hidden on either side of the entrance gripped their short wooden rods a little tighter as sweat made their palms slippery. The whole group had trained for this eventuality, but as the ultimate success of the strategy depended on them, both were nervous.

When the first soft footstep sounded from outside the cavern, the Old One made the sign for calm as it sat a little straighter. It was time.

* * *

Kaati had almost reached the bottom of the winding ramp leading down to the lowest level of the Quarter when something made all the fine hairs between its cilia stand on end. It could not pinpoint what was wrong, but the very air seemed charged.

It stopped, closed its eyes and reached out with its talent. In the last ti’m’akh it had become very adept at sensing the presence of the Tellers without them being aware of its probing. That skill had saved it a number of times already, but this time it could sense no minds nearby.

becoming as nervous as an ipti

Shrugging off the sense of being watched, Kaati walked around to the western edge of the lake and sent out a soft ping. The huge subterranean lake shelved sharply, and was a dangerous place to bathe, but it knew where all the shallower areas were, and was not afraid of drowning. Nonetheless, as it scrubbed sweat and dust from its body with fine sand from the bottom, it could not shake the feeling it was in danger.

Cutting its ablutions short, Kaati waded out to dry land and stood there, shivering with cold as it scanned the area again. It still could not sense anyone with the talent, but that only confirmed there were no Tellers in the area. Many Traders only had a very rudimentary talent, and drudges could not mindspeak at all, so they might not show up at all.

But why would any iVokh be down here in the middle of the night unless it was trying to hide something?

Kaati had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep its presence in the Quarter a secret. So far it had revealed itself to just two Traders – the Elder of the Plodder Clan, and one Flyer. It would trust its life to both of them, but they had been entrusted with the task of sounding out the other Traders. Had one of the others betrayed it?

pah… if being betrayed then Tellers being here, not an ordinary Trader

But still, if there was someone down here, that person would now know that someone else was sneaking around the Quarter at night. If it started gossiping about what it had seen, the Tellers would soon hear of it too…

As the young Trader gave itself a vigorous shake, it sent a delicate ping towards the southern end of the great underground lake. That whole area was riddled with smaller caves and passages that led nowhere. If someone was watching, that was where they would be.

The echoes did not reveal anyone, but Kaati had not really expected them to; pings could not go around corners so could not penetrate far into confined spaces. An iVokh who did not want to be found would have no trouble finding places to hide.

Moving quietly, but without making any great effort to disguise its footsteps, the young Trader walked quickly towards the ramp leading up to the main level of the Quarter.

* * *

Just before the footsteps reached the entrance, they stopped and a low whistle came from the cavern beyond.

“Intruder gone!” the lookout called softly as it came through the entrance to join the others.

An audible sigh of relief came from one of the hidden Watchers, but most of the others grumbled in disappointment.

The Old One remained impassive, but it too was disappointed, and a little concerned. If there was someone wandering around the Quarter, the group would have to find a safer place in which to train. Unfortunately, few other caverns were large enough, and private enough for the whole group to train together.

Rising to its feet with a sigh, the old drudge clapped its hands for attention.

“This cavern not being safe anymore,” it said. “Will sending word when-…”

“What happening here Old One?”

The whole group froze as the Intruder stepped through the entrance, cowl raised to hide its face.

The young Watcher to the left of the entrance was the first to react. Lunging forward, it swung its rod at the Intruder’s head.

* * *

When Kaati crept back down the ramp, it held its wings off the ground to stop them from rustling, and tested each footfall before setting its foot down. Like a nightwing on the hunt, it did not intend to alert its prey until it was ready to pounce.

The iVokh watching from the caverns was skilled in the ways of stealth as well, but it still made a slight noise as it rose from its hiding place just inside the first small cavern.

That small noise was all the confirmation Kaati needed. Someone had been watching, someone who was not a Teller, yet used Teller skills to good effect. And now that someone was headed deeper into the warren of caves.

Who could it be? And what was in those caves that had to hidden so carefully?

Kaati knew that some mating couples preferred to do their fighting in private, but even so, it could not imagine why they would meet so late, and in such extreme secrecy. As it crept after the other iVokh, it also burned to know how this particular Trader had learned skills reserved for Tellers.

Despite its greater skills, Kaati did not find it easy to track its prey as the other iVokh was still being very cautious. More than once, the young Trader had to stop and listen for some time before it caught another small noise.

The iVokh was some distance in front when it suddenly stopped and whistled – almost as if it were warning someone else of its presence.

The young Trader was still wondering who these iVokh were when it heard a voice it knew, a voice it had thought long dead.

Old One?

One of the first things Kaati had done after returning to the Quarter was to try and find the old Quartermaster’s retainer. It had hoped to enlist the old drudge’s help in setting up meetings with the Traders most likely to be sympathetic to its cause. Unfortunately it had found no trace of the Old One, and had eventually learned that it had gone out into the Wild soon after the Quartermaster’s death.

Hearing that distinctive voice now was a shock. Not only was the Old One alive and well, it also seemed to be the leader of some clandestine group.

Hope and concern combined to create a slight disharmony in Kaati’s voice as it said, “What happening here Old One?”

At the sound of the young Trader’s voice, all the iVokh in the cavern spun around to face the entrance. All that is, except the Old One who stared at Kaati as if it had seen a ghost. The torch in its hand trembled, sending smoky shadows leaping across the walls.

Stepping lightly into the cavern, Kaati allowed its cowl to relax so the old retainer could see its face.

“Na-…?”

The rush of displaced air coming from behind alerted Kaati to the danger, and it reacted without thought. Lunging backwards with its left leg, it brought its left arm up to shield its head. The blow deflected off its forearm, numbing its whole arm, but the young Trader was still moving. As it completed the turn its right fist hammered into its assailant’s chest.

Both iVokh hit the ground, but Kaati was on top. Rolling to its feet, it spun back and threw a savage necklock on its assailant. Using its right knee as a fulcrum it bent the iVokh’s back into a bow.

“Move and breaking neck!” it hissed.

“Stop!” the Old One croaked, finally managing to find its voice. “Na-Quartermaster? Being truly alive?”

“Na-…?”

“Na-Quartermaster?”

“But being dead!”

As the astonished whispers flew from iVokh to iVokh, Kaati nodded its head, but did not release the pressure on its assailant’s neck. It had recognized the other iVokh as drudges almost immediately, but was still reeling from the shock of being attacked by one of them.

Who were these drudges? And why was the Old One apparently leading them?

“Begging,” the Old One said in a stronger voice. “Not killing young Watcher!”

Watcher?

The Quartermaster had never openly admitted the Old One spied for it, but it had once mentioned that it had Watchers amongst the Traders. Could these savage young drudges be the Watchers it had referred to?

“Believing this young Watcher trying to kill self,” Kaati said in a flat voice.

“Forgiveness. Thinking being Teller…”

The Old One’s words made Kaati’s mouth fall open in astonishment. This drudge had knowingly attacked someone it thought might be a Teller?

Looking around at the other drudges lining the walls of the cavern, the young Trader noticed that all of them were brandishing rods, and looked as if they knew how to use them.

“Who training Watchers to fight?”

Something like embarrassment flitted across the Old One’s features, but it kept its voice steady as it said, “Watchers not attacking again. Please releasing, then explaining all.”

Kaati was not at all sure it was prepared to trust the Old One’s word, not any more. However it was in an awkward situation. By revealing its presence, it had already entrusted all these drudges with a secret they should not know. As allies, they could prove useful, but as enemies they could ruin everything it had worked to achieve. It might be able to kill two or three of them, but not all…

“Not making any sudden moves,” the young Trader commanded as it slowly released the Watcher, and stepped back.

“Now walking to Old One.”

Nodding to show it understood, the Watcher rubbed at its neck as it trudged towards the old iVokh, head down in shame.

“Others too,” Kaati demanded.

At a small hand gesture from the Old One, the other Watchers left their positions, and joined the small group in the centre of the cave.

That hand gesture chilled Kaati almost as much as the thought of drudges knowing how to fight. It was part of the sign language all apprentice Tellers were taught, and was a closely guarded secret.

Despite having learned to hate and fear the Tellers, Kaati still found the thought of drudges wielding such power disconcerting. Why would any Teller betray its clan and side with drudges?

“Who training drudges?” the young Trader asked again, its tone uncompromising. “And for what purpose?”

“Who being self,” the Old One said with a touch of pride, “and the why being to avenge murder of Quartermaster!”

“But how…? Ki! Wait! Quartermaster being murdered?”

* * *

The Old One had lived with the knowledge of the Quartermaster’s murder for so long the rage had become a cold, hard thing. But now, seeing the shock and disbelief on the young Trader’s face, it felt the outrage welling up again, fresh and raw. Its hand shook a little as it gestured for everyone to sit down.

Speaking in a monotone to hold its emotions at bay, the Old One told how it had found the cushion that had been used to smother the old Quartermaster, and how it had realized that only Teller assassins could have overpowered the old Plodder.

“Stop!” the young Trader said. “How Old One knowing so much about Tellers?”

“Because training as Teller apprentice once too.”

“Like self…”

“S’so.”

When the young Trader said nothing further, the Old One continued its tale. It touched briefly on how it had found the Watchers, and persuaded them to join its quest to find the murderers.

As the Old One spoke, the seven young Watchers all sat up a little straighter, and nodded solemnly. However, when it began talking about all the Traders involved with the old Quartermaster’s death, every iVokh present fell still.

“Master Teller, Runner Seneschal and all of top ranking Tellers?” the young Trader asked, its face ashen.

“S’so. Together with at least five high ranking Runners, including current Clan Elder.”

“Almost third of all Traders…”

Knowing how devastating this news must be, the Old One said nothing more, allowing the young Trader to absorb the news at its own pace.

* * *

The Old One’s news hit Kaati hard. It had known the old Quartermaster as a gentle giant who had always had the Traders’ best interests at heart. It had had its faults, but it had never allowed those faults to affect the Traders.

More disturbing still was the realization that so many Traders had hated the old Plodder enough to murder it. The only other Quartermaster to ever die at the hands of the Traders was the one who had initiated the Great Unrest.

“Why Old One? Why hating old Quartermaster so much?”

“Pride and ambition for some, fear for others,” the old drudge said.

“Fear? Why fear? Old Quartermaster never doing harm to any Trader!”

“Ki. But perhaps those Traders knowing Old Master would not believe about… life-debt.”

There was no hint of accusation in the old drudge’s voice, but Kaati still felt a rush of guilt. It knew it had done nothing wrong in bartering for the healing of the young Flyer on the Spine. That healing had been a fair trade. Nonetheless it knew it was not completely innocent of all blame. If it had not been so proud, and had trusted the Quartermaster’s judgement more, the old Plodder would have had warning of the brewing crisis, and might have been able to avert it. Instead it had known nothing of what was happening, and had died because of it.

“Healing of Flyer being fair trade Old One. But blaming self for not informing Quartermaster of conflicts in caravan…”

“Hearing some rumours, especially amongst Plodders, but those rumours also saying na-Quartermaster dying on Spine. Killed by to’pak.”

Kaati knew the way rumours could feed upon themselves, growing with each re-telling until they bore no resemblance to the truth. Nonetheless the specific nature of this rumour had it baffled.

“Why saying being killed by to’pak?”

“That being what Messenger saying,” the Old One replied.

“Messenger? Telling exactly what Messenger saying!”

“Only hearing gossip,” the Old One said with an apologetic shrug.

“Just telling!”

As the Old One spoke about the conversation the Messenger had had with one of the Flyers, Kaati’s eyes grew round in astonishment. If that particular rumour was true, the Messenger had deliberately lied to save its life.

However when the Old One spoke about the Messenger fighting and killing the Leader of the Tellers, right in the middle of Needlepoint gather, the young Trader jumped up and began pacing. As it paced, memories of that last night on the Spine came back with chilling clarity.

The Messenger had asked Kaati about its plans, and it had been tempted to ask for help, but then the conversation had abruptly veered away, and the moment had been lost…

because of ‘Guild business’

And then, the next morning, when they reached that small cave, the Messenger must have done something to put it to sleep because when it finally woke up there was all that food in the cave. And those credits.

Had the Messenger planned the whole thing… just to help Kaati survive?

No wonder the Tellers had killed the Messenger. After the Leader’s death they must have tracked it, and ambushed it as it was returning to the cave.

But why would the Messenger go to such lengths to help a Trader? Even if it had hoped to create a life-debt for the future, it would have had no guarantee that Kaati would even survive to pay that debt.

Had the Messenger truly been so calculating? Or had it been motivated by the same loyalty that Traders felt for each other?

some Traders only

That thought brought Kaati to a standstill. Traders had been loyal to each other, for generation upon generation. But not any more. Now something ugly had taken the place of loyalty. Traders might still talk about loyalty but their words were empty. Loyalty, like honour, came from actions, not words.

The first signs of that rift between word and deed had occurred on the Spine, when the Tellers had tried to force the Plodder into leaving the Messenger behind. And the cracks had just widened from then on.

And now the only Traders prepared to act to avenge a foul murder were drudges…

Turning towards the small group of clustered around the Old One, Kaati stared at the old drudge, as if seeing it, truly seeing it for the first time.

“Why doing this Old One?”

* * *

The Old One met the young Trader’s eye for a long moment before it looked away.

When it had first begun hunting for Watchers, it had been motivated by rage and a sickening sense of injustice. It had seen its vengeance as being a last act of service for the Quartermaster. But now, after getting to know all these bright, passionate young drudges, it was starting to see that what they were doing went far deeper than just vengeance.

But would this young Trader understand? It had spent the formative part of its young life wanting and expecting to be part of the elite. On the Spine it had defended the Trader Way, but just now it had made no attempt to hide the contempt it felt for the Watchers. Would it just use them and discard them when they were no longer useful? Could it really be trusted?

“Quartermaster being an honourable Trader,” the Old One said. “Not deserving to be murdered. Once having enough Watchers, intending to kill all those responsible.”

* * *

Kaati could sense the Old One was not being completely truthful, but at least it was not lying about its desire for vengeance. The cold resolve in its voice was genuine. It would kill those responsible for the old Quartermaster’s death, or die trying.

But would it risk its life for the Traders as a whole? Or for a na-Quartermaster newly risen from the grave?

“Forgiveness, Old One,” Kaati began, “but Watchers being no match for Tellers. Even if training for years, rods and physical skill still not being enough against Tellers. Tellers being trained to fight as a group, using mindspeech to co-ordinate attacks…”

An expression of pain crossed the old drudge’s face.

“Knowing,” it said. “But if can catching Tellers one by-…”

“Like catching self?” Kaati asked softly.

At the young Trader’s words, all the Watchers rose to their feet, bristling with anger.

“Taking by surprise!”

“Not happening again!”

Really? Kaati thought as it half inflated its wings.

Distracted by their anger, none of the Watchers noticed what the young Trader was doing until it suddenly leapt towards them like a stone released from a sling.

Kaati flew through the air, its leap powered by the thrust of air from its jets. It barreled into the group at head height and half of them went down immediately. Rolling to its feet behind the remaining Watchers, the young Trader struck left and right with its elbows. Two more Watchers went down as it somersaulted over them.

In moments, just two Watchers remained on their feet, but the young Trader ignored them. Turning towards the Old One it grabbed the old drudge’s arm and twisted it up behind its back… but gently.

“Now imagine,” Kaati said, “what damage could doing if being a fully trained Teller.”

A stunned silence met the young Trader’s words. It had not done any permanent damage, to any of them, but all those now struggling up from the ground were hurting, and would bear ugly bruises for a ti’m’akh.

“Enough, young one,” the Old One said. “Proving point. Releasing.”

As the young Trader released the old drudge’s arm it took two steps back, and stared at the group. Its expression was still wary, but all of the Watchers looked cowed, even those who had not been hit.

When it was sure it had their attention, Kaati began speaking.

“If helping regain power amongst Clans, promising to teach Watchers better techniques.”

The Watchers continued to look surly and defeated, but at least they were still listening.

“But needing still more. Needing one member of each group to have mind-speech. That means needing help of Traders.”

None of the Watchers looked pleased by the thought of being dependent on any Trader, but as Kaati explained how it would co-ordinate these groups into a deadly fighting force capable of taking down even the most highly trained Teller, their expressions changed to looks of grudging respect. Only the Old One continued to look defeated.

Turning to face the old drudge who still sat on the ground, Kaati extended its hand as it said, “Vengeance not being possible, unless working together.”

The Old One ignored the young Trader’s hand as it pushed itself to its feet.

“Together?” it asked. “Drudges and Traders, together?”

Kaati was taken aback by the vehemence of the old drudge’s words.

What had the Old One expected? To be praised for training these young drudges to die? Some of them would still die, that was inevitable, but at least now they would have a chance to actually accomplish something!

Looking around at the circle of drudges, the young Trader noticed that their expressions were all grim again. They had had a moment of hope but now it was gone.

What in Takh’s name did they all want if not vengeance?

perhaps wanting some respect

The voice in Kaati’s head was its own, but the words felt like something the old Quartermaster would have said. It had always been strangely courteous when talking to the Old One…

“Ki,” the young Trader said, loud enough for all the drudges to hear. “Not drudges and Traders. Watchers and Traders. Together.”


From Queen to Kaati

It’s miserable outside so what better way to get the blood pumping than with We Will Rock You, by Queen. 🙂

And now, to prove that I have actually been doing something other than just cruising the youtube channels, here is a short scene featuring Kaati.  There is a very short fight scene at the end, and I’m really proud of it. I checked it out with a real martial arts expert [T.D. McKinnon] and it was given the green light! [I just knew my obsession with Bruce Lee would come in handy one day].

***

Kaati was crouching with its head down a waste pit, pinging to see if the hole led anywhere, when disaster struck.

“Ho! What doing there?”

The young Trader froze, its thoughts racing. As it straightened up, the small personal pouch hanging from its neck swung against its chest.

“Dropping credit,” it said as it turned to face its interrogator.

The drudge’s eyes travelled to the small pouch hanging from Kaati’s neck and stayed there.

“How losing credit when pouch still being tied?”

Kaati’s hand reached defensively for the pouch before it realised how pointless the gesture was. Throwing back its shoulders, it glared at the drudge.

“Calling a liar?”

“Ki,” the drudge replied, its gaze shifting to the ground by the young Trader’s feet. “Calling thief.”

Kaati did not need to follow the direction of the drudge’s gaze to know what lay by its feet. It was the broom, the broom it had stolen from the stores. It had meant to return the broom to its hiding place at true-dark, but had been in a hurry, and had wanted to check one last waste pit before returning to its own hiding place for the night. It had thought it was safe because all the drudges were at their evening meal. All but one, apparently.

“Hearing gossip about someone attacking guard to steal broom,” the drudge went on, “but not believing, until now.”

When Kaati still did not say anything, the drudge rolled its shoulders, and dropped into an aggressive crouch.

“Thinking healers paying well for capture of such a thief.”

Kaati had never been the best fighter amongst the apprentice Tellers, and had never fought a real fight to the death. Nevertheless, it had fought, and won, enough mating battles during the gathers to know the iVokh opposite could never win, not against a Teller.

The eyrie-bound was tall, and well built, but most of its bulk was fat, not muscle. And the way it crouched in one spot spoke of over-confidence. It would charge like a to’pak, relying on bulk and momentum to deliver a knock-out blow.

As the drudge lowered its head and bunched its powerful leg muscles, Kaati subtly shifted its weight to the right foot, and clasped its hands together at chest height, as if hoping to protect its face.

The drudge leapt with a roar of triumph.

Moving with studied grace, Kaati spun on its right leg.

The drudge barreled through the empty space where the young Trader should have been.

As the iVokh passed, Kaati brought its clasped hands down on the back of the drudge’s neck, just below the spot where the neck met the skull.

There was a sharp crack, and the drudge collapsed. It slid across the ground for a wingspan before coming to a halt just fingers from the lip of the pit. It was not dead, but its neck was broken. One terrified eye stared up at Kaati as the young Trader picked up a rock and put it out of its misery.

***

I appreciate this scene is a bit out of context, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Vokhtah book 2 – another short snippet

I’ve had a great day writing, and just finished this little scene. I think you’ll know what it’s about. Enjoy. 🙂

***

The guard at the entrance to the Settlement was just an ordinary iVokh who happened to be quite a bit larger than average. Easy going, and just a little lazy, it usually allowed the hunters and foragers to return to the Settlement without too much scrutiny. If they were carrying food they were allowed in.

On this day however, the guard was feeling as nervous as the refugees who had arrived the day before. It had made the mistake of allowing them in without first advising the healers. That small deviation from protocol had earned it a severe reprimand, and a supervisor for a ti’m’akh.

The Messenger standing beside the guard, and watching its every move was only young, but it took its assignment very seriously, and had made sure the guard checked every iVokh who went in or out.

When an iVokh flew up to the flight ledge, almost an hour earlier than normal, both the guard and the Messenger narrowed their eyes in suspicion. Their suspicions were not eased when the iVokh landed badly, clearly favouring its right leg.

As the iVokh limped towards them, the guard stepped out of the shadows of the entrance and held its hand up.

“Identifying self!”

“Being Hunter,” the iVokh said in a hoarse voice as it untied the flap of its pouch and pulled out a rock lizard.

“Why returning so early?” the Messenger asked, as it too stepped out of the shadows.

The Hunter seemed taken aback when it saw the starrock chain hanging from the Messenger’s neck, but recovered quickly. It fumbled a lopside bow as it said, “Forgiveness Healer, not seeing.”

The Messenger flapped its hand impatiently.

“Being Messenger. Answering question!”

“Of course, Messenger. Begging forgiveness!” the iVokh said. “Being in hurry when retrieving rock lizard, and foot being caught in crevice. Returning early to seek healing…”

“Pah!” the Messenger said, its tone officious. “Healers having more important work than fixing twisted ankles. Soaking foot in cold water and being more careful next time.”

“Hearing and obeying,” the iVokh said, its voice just a tiny bit sulky. “Can passing now?”

The guard glanced at the Messenger for confirmation before waving the Hunter through. It watched the Hunter from the corner of its eye as the young iVokh limped slowly inside.

When the guard faced to the front again, its expression was carefully neutral, but a more experienced Messenger would have noticed that it appeared a lot more relaxed than it had been.

Of course a more experienced Messenger would also have noticed that the injured Hunter was now favouring its left leg.


Vokhtah, book 2 – some plotting

I’m a pantster not a plotter, however there comes a time in any story when I have to take a step back, and really think about the wider ramifications of the story I am trying to tell.  This usually involves thinking about the world as a whole. 

What outside forces are at work? And how will they impinge on the lives of my main characters? In particular, how will history, culture and politics help or hinder their personal stories?

The following excerpt is something I’ve been working on for days.  The scene will impact two of my main  characters. One, the Apprentice/Kaati you already know. The other is a character I introduced in book 1, but only in passing. As such, the information in this scene is vital, so it needs to be clear. But I did not want to write just an info dump. 😦

I’d really appreciate your feedback on whether I got the balance more or less right.

***

The Master of Acolytes was something of an anomaly amongst the higher ranked healers of the Guild because it had a powerful talent, but very little personal ambition. It did not attempt to curry favour with either the Yellows or the Blues, and tended to avoid Guild politics where possible.

Nonetheless, even this mild, self-effacing healer nurtured one, powerful ambition – it longed to be the healer who finally freed the Guild from the Traders forever.

The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, but it did fear another Great Unrest, and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while it was dependant on outsiders for any of its important needs. And Traders held a monopoly on two of the Guild’s most critical needs.

Ever since the time of the Rogue, the Traders had been the Guild’s only link with the outside world. Traders kept the Guild’s maps up-to-date, and the Trader Quartermaster made it possible for the Guild to know where and when its Triads were needed. In return the Guild offered the Traders shelter and food.

This symbiotic relationship had worked well until the Great Unrest had disrupted the Guild’s ability to service the needs of the eyries, and their Vokh. The Guild had acted quickly, yet even so, the Nine had promised to withdraw the Vokh’s protection of the Settlement if such a disturbance ever happened again.

That was when it had become obvious the Guild’s dependence on the Traders was a weakness, a dangerous weakness. Nonetheless, despite over two hundred years of trying, the Guild had not been able to breed even one healer-seneschal. The two talents could not seem to co-exist in the one body. Those Initiates with healing talents strong enough to survive the Quickening could not mind-speak, while those who could always died because they lacked the healing talents that should have kept them alive.

The Master of Acolytes was well aware of this long, long history of failure. It had personally nurtured six young candidates with the ability to mind-speak, and had watched five of them die during the Quickening. Yet despite these failures, it continued to believe the mix of talents was possible. It was convinced the answer lay in finding candidates who had the potential for both talents… before the Quickening.

All five failures had been first rate apprentices who should have made good healers, yet they had still died. And now there was just one hopeful left. It possessed a very strong talent for mind-speaking, however it was the young iVokh’s empathy that made it truly special. Even as a first year apprentice, it had shown a natural ‘knack’ for soothing fractious newborn that was unmatched by any of the other apprentices.

Of course, empathy alone did not guarantee the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Nonetheless, experience had shown that natural empathy was the best indicator of latent talents.

In an effort to release more of this latent potential, the Master had arranged for the sixth candidate to work with a powerful healer in a safe eyrie. Unfortunately Needlepoint had turned out to be anything but safe, and now no-one seemed to know whether the Triad, and its precious Acolyte, were still alive.

The only one who might know was the Yellow Councillor, but it was the least approachable, and most feared healer in the Guild.

The Master had never spoken to the Yellow, nor had it ever wanted to, but after almost two ti’m’akh of fearful waiting it could wait no longer. It had to find out if its life’s work was over.

Taking a deep, tremulous breath, the old healer raised its hand and knocked on the Yellow’s door.


The proof of the pie

I had meant to post this excerpt from book 2 as my 280th post.  I like commemorating milestones, and while this chapter is not all that significant in its own right,  I am pleased with how it turned out as it incorporates all that research I wrote about in iVokh and the Poacher’s Knot.

Sadly Pippi, and fate, had other plans so it has become my 281st post. I hope you enjoy it anyway. I should warn you though, it’s a long one so you might want to grab a cup of tea or coffee before reading. 🙂

The third day of Kohoh dawned warm and clear, without even a hint of rain.

Up on the flight ledge leading to the Settlement, the older hunters waggled their heads in dismay as they prepared to fly down to the plains. The rains had been starting later and later the last five years, and they knew that did not bode well for the coming Pah H’akh. The Bad Times were always bad, but some were worse than others, Takh help them all.

***

Two leagues to the south, the dirty, travel-worn iVokh hiding near the Trader’s entrance to the Settlement silently blessed the lack of rain. Every day of clear skies gave it one more day in which to find shelter. Yet even as it gave thanks, its sense of urgency grew. It knew this period of grace could not last for much longer. It had to get inside an eyrie soon, or it would die and its long, gruelling trek would have been for nothing.

Hitching its stained travel pouch a little higher, Kaati turned its back on the Traders’ Quarter and slipped away with a sigh. It had watched the entrance for two days and two nights, hoping to sneak inside without being seen, but in that whole time, the Tellers on guard had not left their posts for even a moment. There would be no way into the Quarter from here, and that left the Healers’ side of the Settlement as its last hope.

The entrance to the Settlement would be guarded as well, however those guards would not know its face. To them, it would be just another hunter making the most of the fine weather to bring in some extra food.

The real danger would come from the other hunters who would surely know it did not belong. The trick then, would be to get past the guards before the real hunters returned.

The irony of that thought made Kaati shake its head in wry amusement. The word ‘Kaati’ meant little hunter, and signified the kind of Teller it had hoped to become – capable, and deadly if attacked, but more spy than assassin. But then the old Quartermaster had intervened, tearing it away from its old life to become a na-Quartermaster.

Perhaps that was why it had refused to find a more appropriate name for itself. Yet here it was, about to become a hunter of animals so it could fight for a position it had never wanted in the first place.

Once Kaati was far enough from the flight ledge it stopped, and began to inflate its wings. All Traders knew how to hunt, so it was confident it could trap a few rock lizards, however getting inside the Settlement before the day’s work was done would require something more than just a few lizards. It would need a good excuse as well.

Lifting its arms, the young Trader inspected the many bruises and scratches that covered its body. Most were old, but some were fresh, a legacy of the two days it had spent spying on the Traders’ entrance.

Would it look battered enough to convince the guards it had had a bad fall?

Kaati’s cilia twitched in distaste at the ripe smell wafting from its armpits.

not if smelling like this

It had scrubbed itself with dry sand every day to reduce the scent trail it left for predators, but nothing short of a proper bath would make it smell like one of the eyrie-bound.

Turning away from the direction of the Settlement, the young Trader squinted at the bright flashes of light coming from the Blood River.

This late in the season, the river was reduced to a string of brackish waterholes, but it was no less dangerous than when it was in full flood. Starving pakti would lurk in the deeper water, while the reeds choking the banks would be full of sidewinders, all of them lying in wait for any creature desperate enough to sneak down for a drink. Or a wash.

Nonetheless when the young Trader took flight it headed away from the Settlement, towards the river.

Landing a safe distance from the water’s edge, Kaati dropped its pouch to the ground, and pulled out the sling it had bought at the Claw Valley gather. Slings were useless for hunting food animals as they killed far too easily, however they were very good at making even large predators think twice about attacking.

With the sling in one hand, and three sharp pebbles in the other, the young Trader approached the waterhole from the downriver end, every sense on the alert.

Down the middle of the channel, where the flowing water would have been deepest, an open path still led towards open water. It looked safe enough, but the multitude of small footprints baked into the mud showed that many smaller animals used this approach as well. And where food animals gathered, predators were never far away.

Kaati was still some distance from the edge of the water when it saw the first pile of bones. The length of the thigh bone suggested the creature had been a young akaht. The great herds relied on numbers to keep them safe, but the predators always picked off the stragglers. A lone iVokh would be easy prey.

A few steps later, a soft plop made the young Trader look towards the centre of the waterhole. It saw lazy ripples fanning out from two, large beady eyes. Those eyes seemed to dare the  iVokh to come closer.

Locking eyes with the pakti, the young Trader fitted one of the pebbles to the sling and began whirling it round and round.

The sling hummed a song of death as it spun, and when it stopped the pakti was missing an eye.

Kaati kept its eyes on the thrashing pakti as it fit another pebble to the sling. It knew predators were at their most dangerous when they were wounded.

That was something the three smaller pakti discovered to their cost when they attacked their larger companion.

Maddened with pain, the injured pakti tore into its attackers, injuring one, and killing the other before the third managed to dart in on its blind side to deliver a killing blow.

The victorious pakti killed its injured rival before settling down to feed.

The young Trader allowed the new ruler of the waterhole to eat its fill before chasing it away with a few well aimed rocks.

The pakti’s tail lashed angrily as it swam out of reach, but it was too sated to dispute the iVokh’s right to enter the water.

Despite its apparent victory, Kaati knew it would be in danger every moment it spent in the water, and its eyes did not stop scanning from side to side as it waded into the waterhole. It only went knee deep, and scrubbed with desperate speed before wading out again. Near the water’s edge, it stopped just long enough to tear out two handfuls of wilted reeds.

Safe on land once more, the young Trader quickly stowed the sling and the reeds before retreating to the meagre shade of a pipa tree, high on the riverbank.

Once the rains began, and water swelled the river once more, the deep roots of the pipa would siphon life-giving water up to the withered branches. For now though, its branches were as dry and lifeless as everything else on the plain.

Climbing up into a fork of the tree, Kaati pulled out a reed and began tearing it into long strands.

A weaver would have soaked the strands, and pounded them to soften the fibres, but the young Trader had no time for such niceties. Once it had enough strands, it began to form them into lengths of rough string.

The hard fibres grazed Kaati’s hand as it rolled the strands against its thigh, but it persisted until it had enough string for three snares.

Looping one end of the string around the stub of a branch, it tied the loop off with a double knot before folding it in half to make two smaller loops. Once it had threaded the free end of the string through both loops it had a strong slip knot for its noose.

When all three snares were finished, it left the safety of the tree, and carefully arranged the snares on the ground, near where the smaller animals would come to drink. It sprinkled sand and dry leaves over each snare before tying the free ends to low lying branches or rocks.

Both suns were high in the sky before all the traps were set, and Kaati could climb back up into the tree to wait. And wait. Thanks to the scent of blood in the water, it had to wait until almost first-dark before a lizard finally emerged from the rocks, and crept down to the waterhole.

The wary creature skirted the first snare, and would have avoided the second as well, but some small noise made it jump in fright. Unfortunately it jumped the wrong way. As it landed, one of its hind feet skidded on the loose sand, and became tangled in the loop of the snare. As it tried to pull away, the slip knot tightened around its ankle.

The more the terrified lizard struggled, the tighter the noose became, and by the time the young Trader jumped from the tree and hurried around to the other side of the waterhole, the lizard was too exhausted to put up much of a fight. It could only hiss in impotent fury as it was hoisted into the air.

Kaati had hoped to catch more than just the one lizard, but with first-dark approaching it knew it could not delay any longer. It had to get to the Settlement, and talk its way inside before the rest of the hunters finished for the day, and recognized it for a stranger.

Tucking the hapless lizard inside its pouch, the young Trader used the heat rising from the ground to boost itself up into the air. In moments it was flying hard for the Settlement, and the dubious safety it would find there.


Miira-Innerscape

Apologies for being so slack with my posts. 😦 For some reason my brain has been working full speed ahead the last few days and I’ve been averaging over 4,000 words a day on my nanowrimo project. As a result, I haven’t been able to think of a single thing to post about. Consider this latest excerpt from the nano story as proof of my guilty conscience!

* * *

Doctors Charles McGrath and Kenneth Wu stood three feet apart in Innerscape’s reception area, staring out through the front doors as they waited to welcome the company’s newest patient.

Standing a little behind, and to the side of the two doctors, Charge Sister Emily Watson waited as well, her slightly over-weight, motherly figure radiating excitement and impatience in equal measure. Miira Tahn would not be Innerscape’s wealthiest patient, but for the moment at least, she would be their most well known. All the news services were full of her rags to riches story, helped no doubt by her recent generosity in giving the historic Durai property to the National Trust. Having such a prominent public figure choose Innerscape for her last years was sending the company’s shares sky high.

In a week or so the public would lose interest, as they always did, but until then Miira Tahn would be treated as a Very Important Patient indeed. That was why Dr. Wu was included in the reception committee. Kenneth Wu’s family were not Refugees – they had been in Australia for close to two hundred years – but the powers that be hoped his Asian features would make Miira Tahn feel more… at home. It would not look good if Innerscape’s most famous patient changed her mind at the last minute. Not many patients did, but there were always a few who chickened out when they were confronted with the reality of what awaited them in the medical facility.

Above ground, Innerscape maintained a small, but exquisite presence in a large, Federation Edwardian style house. Prospective patients and their families were always charmed by the deep verandahs, high ceilings and old worlde charm of the building. Once past the elegance of the administrative offices however, the high tech sterility of the underground complex could be quite daunting, even to those who had little to lose.

As a general rule, prospective patients were shown holos of only certain parts of the facility, such as the state of the art operating theatres, the staff canteens and recreation areas. This was because the company’s psych profilers had been adamant that seeing holos of the actual containment modules would be too distressing for them. Those patients who expressed an interest were given detailed, and at times excruciatingly scientific information sheets that explained the procedures they would experience… without being too graphic about it.

In practice, few patients ever asked to see holos of the containment areas and those few who did were easily discouraged. Unfortunately, Miira Tahn had been one of the rare exceptions. Not only had she insisted on seeing the holos, she had insisted on physically touring the whole complex and had heard staff referring to the coffin-like containment modules as the ‘Catacombs’. Apparently she had been quite distressed, but had decided to enter Innerscape anyway.

“Do you think she’ll change her mind once she’s inside?” Sister Watson asked nervously.

“It’s up to us to make sure she doesn’t,” Dr McGrath said with a pointed look at Kenneth Wu.

The young doctor standing near Charles McGrath had a reputation for being the company wiz kid, a researcher with a freakish intelligence and a ‘tell it like it is’ manner. His abrasive style had ruffled the feathers of many of the older staffers, including Charles McGrath, and he had been the one who had told Miira Tahn about the Catacombs. Despite this, however, all the patients seemed to like him.

The appearance of two, extremely bright lights in the night sky forestalled any further conversation and the three medical staff came to attention, staring out through the plastiglas front doors as the ambulance bearing Miira Tahn came in to land.


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