We are lifting

I served my regulars

Dean the electrician and Dan the

Man who had the bags of groceries set

Out when I went down to his end

Of the great open space, the lot

Everyone with lights at night

Motors of diesel and gas, high test

No espresso, just plywood countertops

I never got it at all anyway

Coffee is .05 the Baker told me, flipping

The giant horse faced mixing bat.

So here I am.

After work, sunny fresh cups and

steam.

Oh, I didn’t bring a book but I have the

colored glass of which one is decaf red.

I see myself in the line.

It’s not compression, it equalizes.

I’m out there too.

Captured in warm florescent.

Velios


Velios

By Tom Pogson

“cause and effect is as absolute and undeviating

in the hidden realm of thought as in the world” – James Allen


Four


He did not know when it began.  The slightest sound inside the pod could overwhelm those first pops and clicks from his makeshift scanner with its three pin lights.  When the frightened voice first spoke he was elsewhere, more than likely standing in the center beam room.  Sam kept flawless records from the digital readouts below, the thick curved glass separating his face from the hum of the beam.  Its radiance swelled and shone bright, showing the Captain’s age.

Every five hours he would do this.  Sam still used the same tablet that the Kel had left for him a decade ago.  Most pod miners could not even keep the same tablet running, let alone the rest of the work Sam did.  He liked to keep busy.  There was always something to do on the Howe Shelf, far away from the noise and the dust and the bars of the Central Commons.

How Nina could stand that place, Sam never knew.  What kind of life was that for Eliot anyways?

The front room was his workshop, flanked by the mudroom on one side where he kept the tools for the hoverbike and the other the kitchen which was kept spotless.  He did have one comfortable chair in the front room, next to where the scanner was chirping louder as the signal grew stronger.  The chair was for reading.  He had been studying the Kel language ever since his posting.  Few things remained of years in the service.  His uniform he long ago had incinerated.

Satisfied with his readings, he plugged the tablet into the port in the center tube.  The beam itself would carry the signal far up to his exchanger and along the beam in the sky until it reached the Kel Station far in the northern mountains. 

It was as the upload finished that he first heard the sound coming from the front room.  He leaned over to peer towards the room, having to keep the tablet in place until the upload was finished. 

Complete.  Hit Send.  Send.

In seconds he was kneeling down in front of the table, staring at the black metal console with the rounded ends and the green blinking lights.

The squawk of the noise and static grew with lashings of clear sound.  Kel words were coming through the little speaker on the back.  It was broken like a sun scraping through clouds.  Sam placed his finger over the voice button.  With his other hand he gently tried the dial on the side, looking at the tiny digital screen for the strongest signal he could find.

“Pod Miner 78-A listening, anyone out there?”

Silence.  Then more noise but it was completely illusive.  He moved the dial around more, squinting hard at the little screen.

“Come on,” said Sam “Where are you?”

Then dead silence.  Only one light shone; the principal running light of the machine.  This meant that there was no signal.  Sam moved the dial more, half tempted to slap the side of the machine as if something had suddenly gone wrong with it.  He put his hands up in frustration.  He had done little tests on the scanner from the radio on his hoverbike, but other than that, the little machine had never been used.  He connected it exactly the way he was trained in the W.A. Field Operations.  It was flawless then, so what was the problem?

He got his answer.

The sound made him nearly jump out of his skin and reach for his thermal TR-90 in the corner.  It was the sound of a ship, its engines crackling and burning hot, racing just over the beam exchanger above the white cluster of his pod.  Sam burst out into the Velios night to see the dark grey craft roaring towards the southern canyons.  The back of the ship was smouldering great pillows of smoke.  Just then the radio scanner burst to life.  Sam could only watch, following the ship’s path as a voice filled the front room.

“Going down!  Going down!  Please assist!  We are going down into the Southern Canyons of Velios.  Important cargo is ab-“

With the sound of a struggle, the voice cut off sharply.  A moment later the ground shook from the impact.  There was no explosion or fireball.  Sam stayed motionless as the sound returned to the flat quiet as a slight breeze came across the water to where he stood on the edge of the peninsula.  High above, the trail of smoke began to dissipate in the evening sky. 

Coming to his senses, Sam raced inside.  He grabbed the TR-90, his coat, his pack and soon was slicing just over the water’s edge on the curved steel of the hoverbike. 

Sam followed the crest of the great falls, a seemingly endless line of froth from the world below as the sea of the Howe Shelf fell away into its roar.  There were very few other Pod Miners on islands this far to the south, but he could still see the occasional pod as he flew towards the distant rise of hills and then wooded mountains of the west.  No trees grew outside those higher elevations.  On the islands of grasses and other meager growth, the nearest working pods were far away, but he could spot them by the thin white line of the energy they pulled from deep in the heart of Velios up to the hovering exchangers in the sky.

He didn’t wear a full rider’s helmet as he always hated those things.  He wore that sort of stuff in the early part of the wars and could remember the screaming matches with General Casson when he would insist that all of Sam’s men should be wearing them too.  Now he just wore a wireless over one ear.

With his eyes scanning the approaching westlands, he looked for anyone else that was going to swing around the edge of the falls and head south.

“Pod Miner 78-A here, en route to the crash.  Anyone else see that?”

No response.  The signal went back to the music that Sam had loaded into the bike’s computer.  The music was electronic but from decades back.  He was barely listening to it as he interrupted it again.

“Hey, Sam Krellor here.  Seriously, did no-one see that?”

Somebody must have seen the ship go down, but he was a little concerned to find out whom.  It was late on a Friday night and way too many of the other miners were more than likely at the Commons.  It was not the kind of help he would want.  It would take them far longer to get there and they would be more than likely intoxicated. 

“Jesus, aren’t any of you sober?”

Just then, Sam reached the edge where the falls broke into three rivers that split into the southlands and the grassy westlands.  He swung around and began the trek into the heart, the map display lighting up below the white wheel.

At least he would be able to secure the crash site before any of those guys showed up.  Story of his life, he thought, dealing with a bunch of dumb kids.

He knew where that ship had probably landed, occasionally glancing down at the map.  He pressed the spot with his finger quickly.  The spot flashed red and blue symbols appeared over the map, detailing the elevation and deciding the best course.

“On board.  Navigate lock.”

“Lock complete,” came the female voice response from the bike’s computer.

With the route laid out before him, he soon was able to find his way there.  With the spray of the falls at his back, he swung the bike into the narrow slot canyon.  The path was so tight that his knees could easily scrape the layers of earth that blurred passed, the spectrum of packed red soils falling away to a soft dirt plain.  He began slowing as he passed over a hilltop and came down towards the crash site.  There was no question that his work pod was due north of him and high up above the falls.  There was no question as the red dot on his map display suddenly changed to an apple green.  He was there.

The ship was not.


Three



Around his white bike floating just off the surface of the soil, the southlands slept quietly.  Just the slightest breath came from the north, and the slightest low roar of the great falls separating Sam from his home.

From the side of the bike he opened a hatch and pulled out his binoculars, scanning the horizon.  Was it possible that it had crashed further to the south?  The area was flat for miles in every direction with bluffs and hoodoos only breaking up the canyon-lands.  He was certain of it.  The ship should be here.

The bike whirred to silence as he stepped off onto the soil and began just walking around, feeling like a fool.  As if not being on the bike would solve much of anything.

He kneeled down and looked at the soil beneath him.  If something that big happened, there would be a trace of it. 

Reluctantly, he got back on the bike and headed further south, ignoring his certainty about where the Kel ship went down.  Maybe he was wrong.  It was a Kel ship and having travelled on one Sam knew they are incredible machines, so perhaps it made it further than he considered.

But for the miles and miles that he scanned, climbing the bike up to the top of one of the gently sloping bluffs it became clear that there was no ship; just the soft evening wind, the scent of cherry that came from the undergrowth on Velios and the cloudless sky above.

Soon he was back on the whirring white hoverbike, flying past the falls and northeast.  For a while it was just him, a single white dot sailing over the water and the low islands.  Then he saw another pod, miles from his own.  And then another.  He knew he was getting closer as they began to pepper the surrounding landscape, and the voices of drunken Pod Miners occasional shouted out.

Ahead of him were the lights of the Commons, a round city stuffed onto the largest of the islands, its two story buildings clustered together like seagulls on a buoy.  He swung around to the eastern entrance. There were other bikes and the guards in their grey armor suits watching them come and go.  He was always worried that one day the guards would be off duty at the wrong time.  He slowed the bike to a crawl as he approached the mouth of the east gate.

“Hey Captain,” said the taller of the two guards flanking the opening in the wall that ran around the noise and the cooking smells and dull orange light.

“Ryan,” Sam acknowledged as the young Pod Miners were coming out single file.  Their bikes swayed but at least they had the ability to get the guys home, homing on each pod despite the state of the passenger.

“Captain Viking!” came a cheer from a couple bikes back in the line, a phrase that then rippled through the crowd as they were either familiar faces to Sam, or they just did not want to be left out of the fun.

Sam just waved his hand from the two horns of his white steering wheel as he cruised past the ever-increasing line.  He didn’t want to ask these guys about the lights in the sky.  He was absolutely certain on how painfully annoying the responses would be at that time of night.  Very few girls worked as Pod Miners, with the exception of a handful that lived close.

“Well, this is an unexpected delight!” said Nina as she looked up from the autowasher which was always getting jammed with crap from the wide mouthed beer mugs.

“I’ve been here before.”

“Not frequently,” she smiled as she looked into the autowasher, “stupid thing.  Hey, you’re a tough guy…want to help me with this?”

Sam walked behind the counter over to Nina who stepped back, pushing the long blonde hair behind her ear that managed to escape her black hair clip.  Sam looked inside the orange glow of the machines single opening.

“Wow,” he said with his eyebrows raised.

“Oh, don’t give me that,” she laughed “You never think to clean the thing that does the cleaning.”

“Okay,” he said reaching in and then stopping to look at her.

“It’s unplugged.”

“Thank you,” he said, grimacing as he inserted his arm inside the machine and began trying to clear away the hairs and food that circled the gears like lichen “Everyone behave tonight?”

“Thanks to the guards.  People are accusing the food now of being the source of the problem and of course that’s yours truly.  Still waiting for a re-shipment.”

“Like these guys would even want kids.”

“I don’t know, some might.  Give Eliot someone to play with.  He’s the only person under ten in the joint.  Best excuse ever to skip school.”

Just then Sam pulled something out from between two large cogs that shook the whole machine.  He reached down and plugged the autowasher back into the wall and the machine chugged at first until it began humming contentedly.  He held up a small toy man, made of solid plastic that looked as though his spaceship had just taken a tumble.

“I told him not to go near this thing.”

“Go easy on him.  He’s a good kid.”

“I know.  You want a drink?  I am sure the only thing it does is make you drunk.”

Finally Nina Staarsgard had a chance to sit down.  She dropped with a plop into her favorite place next to what the Kel designers though must have constituted a normal fireplace, complete with the metal tools on a rotating rack, and the hearth, only with an oddly oval shaped mouth from which an actual fire relayed heat into the room and smoke up from the pub’s long chimney.  Nina had a pink cocktail in a tall glass and her face was covered in the salt of her own sweat.  She sat next to Sam on the single couch, looking at him with her large blue eyes as he looked into the fire.

“I don’t see you enough, you know.”

“I know.”

“How have you been sleeping?”

He had been sleeping a little better for the last few weeks.  He was almost up to sleeping most nights of the week.  Any sound would do it.  Silence would do it.  Dreams.  Sometimes he would just turn over on his bunk and find himself shaking as the tears rolled over his cheeks.

“You didn’t hear about a Kel ship crash landing did you?”

“A what?”

Sam explained what he knew.  He described the radio.  The great shadow that passed above the pod, the falls and deep into the south.  By her expression, and the fact that he had not met any of the boys on the way to the Commons, he guessed the answer.

“Oh, Sammy,” she said putting her hand on his knee.

“What?”

“I’m worried about you.”

“I didn’t imagine it.”

“I know, but you know what job I did before I became this and you became a miner.  This is a symptom.”

She could feel him tense up on the grey cloth and wicker couch.  She looked at the big man who stared into the flames, unsure what to do beyond just be there.

“I know.  But I saw the craft.  I could describe it right down to its intake converters.  It was there.”

“Until it wasn’t.”



Two


The clock read 3 am as he switched on the front room lights.  The air was still.  He had been through the same steps as before, its rhythm soothing the fading shouts as he would duck his head between the rooms of the pod.  He had the shower to wash away the sweat.  His night robe was clean and soft, hanging in its place on the silver hook behind the door.  The coffee had chugged away almost imperceptibly until he returned to kitchen barefoot under the bright halogen light.  He reheated food in one of those little black bowls.  He put both down next to the radio and turned its volume up just slightly.

He went out into the cool of the Velios night and looked out at the south where the sound of the falls softly rumbled below the canvas of starlight.  The glow from the beam at night brushed the back of his greying brown hair.

Below was the soft green of the growth that seemed like grass but never grew.   Little grew here or ever changed that he had seen.  The breeze from the north hills was almost imperceptible.  He had never been near the hills that climbed to the mountains, for the simple reason that he calculated only so much time between his regular reports.  For a moment he mused that it was too bad his dreams didn’t fall in line with the quiet of the Howe Shelf.  Some of the miners hated things in their new home, longing to be on some other planet where the other survivors must be having a great time.  Sam almost preferred to stay here.  Dani was here.  His work was here.  It was better than his dreams.

For the past few weeks, they began with the same strange story being played out before the usual barrage of gun fire and the scrambling of men.  It was his home town, but desolate.  That at least was like Velios.  It was as if everyone had simply winked out of existence.

He would walk down Main Street, past the white tall trees and red swing sets of the park to the heart of town to find he was completely alone.  He walked into the back of a bakery and up into the law offices that had always looked down from above.  It was all there, every detail.  Eventually he would run into the girl.

He never saw her face completely but she was young and had never seen her before.  She always grabbed his hand to try and pull him away from where he was going.  But where he was going was inevitable.  It was a place where he shouted orders as he ran to the transport, its mouth open like a great bear trap.  Fast forward to the crash.  Then again to things that he could not even describe.  Reports of the bombs falling.  Blood of his troops on his face and his uniform.  Bodies of civilians, or at least parts of them.  He knew they were the lucky ones.  It was all going to end soon.  The reports continued.  He was never as good at science in the academy but only a fool would not realize that there would soon be no place left to hide.  

Then came the Kel.  It wasn’t like any movie.  It was done so fast that everyone in the ship surrounding him seemed to instantly arrive.  Some were military like him.  Some civilian.  No one spoke.  No one moved.  

The ship left orbit, with the remnants of Earth visible below.  There it was, inflamed and sick, its atmosphere soon worse than Venus or Jupiter.

No one moved.

Sam sighed out and turned around to go inside.

“Sam Krellor?”



One


Sam stood in shock.  It was her.  He could absolutely swear it.  It was that same girl from his dream.  She looked like a young girl from earth in her mid teenage years somewhere, but it wasn’t quite right.  Even though the shape was essentially the same, her skin had too much an overall blue tint.  Her eyes were a shade of bright green that he had not seen before the time he would want to forget.


“Hello?” was all he could manage.


“There you are,” she smiled “I have been looking for you since the crash.  We all have.”


His mind raced.  She wasn’t human.  He had never seen a Kel before.  The rescuers of everyone had remained tucked away somewhere on the ship that no one could find them.  Even here on the planet, they supposedly lived in the north mountains, but the kids that went up there never found anyone.  The said it was like a tomb.

“We?”

“I’m a representative.  You may call me Baye.”

“You were on that ship!” he suddenly realized.

“Yes.  And your action did you credit.  It is but another reason we sought you out.  Come.  It is time.”

She took his hand this time and let him inside of the pod, passing the living room towards the beam room where she walked around the humming light to the one place the hatch could open.

“Time?  For what?  I’m sorry, Baye…I don’t follow you,” he stammered with his eyes widening as she opened the glass case that separated the room from the great beam.  He had never opened the case before.  The sound was excruciating.  

Her grip on his hand tightened.  She smiled at him like a mother smiles at her child as her other hand went into the beam.  Sam did not have time to scream.


                                 *   *


Sam awoke in a leather chair.  The similarities to his chair in the pod were so close that he briefly thought it was a dream.  As his eyes opened the reality became apparent.

Before him lay the world.  The rays from the distant sun had begun to creep across the landscape.  Through the round glass windows he saw a beam of white energy that slid from the Howe Shelf now far away, passing high above the Commons to just beneath where he sat.  He was in the Kel sanctuary, a tower high above the rest of the building.  It was near the converter where the ships would refuel.  It was that place the kids had explored.  They found nothing.  That was years ago.  On this day it was he and the one called Baye.  The room was silent.  It seemed peaceful despite the confusion he felt.  He got up and turned around to face her in the round room.

She stood by the center of the room where the wooden floor boards intersected at something that resembled a podium. A single black switch rose from a square flat top.  

He tried to formulate a first question.  He opened his mouth to speak.

“We have been watching you for some time, Captain Krellor,” she said, motioning almost reluctantly then to the black switch “we knew that this task needed the right person from your people.”

“For what?” he asked “Task?”

Her smile had gone.  She paused.  She looked to her left as if she had been instructed to continue.

“The Kel have been given a sacred trust since the founding of the Great Council.  We come to the aid of people that have fallen, we plea for their path to be changed through further research…and then, when that hope is lost…we complete our duty.  It is our sacred trust.”

Sam felt himself go cold.  He had not felt this way since the first moment in the Kel ship.

“What do you mean?”

She seemed to force herself to keep looking at him.  She continued with her softly spoken words.

“It will be instant.  There will be no pain.  No suffering.  All biological life on Velios will simply vanish.”

“But,” Sam said imploring to her “is this happening everywhere else?  Why is this happening at all?  Why am I not trying to break your neck right now?”

She did not back up at the last threat.  Sam did step forward but something about her seemed more dangerous than she looked at first glance.  He turned to find a door.  There was nothing.  The room had become smooth like the inside of an ostrich egg.

“I am but a vessel of the Kel people, so my ‘neck’ as it were is indestructible, as am I.  To your other questions, your species suffered immediate sterilization during your planet’s final hours.  We have been trying to fix this, but we have had no success.  And the stories of your people being on other planets were admittedly a lie.  All of this was, even your work.  The ships that came were our own.  We needed to keep your people calm and busy while we pleaded with the Council.  We endeavoured to give you hope.  That is our charge.  And then…we knew we must find a person who would be appropriate…for the final task.”

“Final task,” he said.

Sam walked around to the front of the podium.   It was a switch, lit blue that was clearly meant to be turned to the right.  How the kids who came up to this room never found this escaped him.  He looked from the switch to the world below.  He thought of Dani and little Eliot.

“But this…” he tried “This can’t be it.”

He turned to his right to face her.  She appeared on his left.

“Is any of this real?”

“It is your choice now, Captain Krellor,” the voice of the girl changing into that of a more masculine voice.  A voice of soft authority “You could delay a little while.  We could continue research, but… we have very few provisions left suitable to sustain the human species.  We have hoped for more promising outcomes, but they never came.  Our records indicate the health of the young boy…he will be first to perish.”

He stood there for a moment.  He placed his hand on the podium.  His knees felt almost weak.

“We are sorry.  So many of your people made such incredible strides to avoid coming to this but…this is not the first time Velios has been used for its final task.  We can only pray it is the last.”

“So that’s it,” Sam said, a tear coming down his cheek “that’s it.”

The rising light of the distant star crept into the room, warming his skin.

“This is the one word we left out of the Kel language you studied.  Velios.”

“Hospice,” said Sam.

He placed his hand on the dial.  Baye lowered her head.  The dial turned.

There was a moment after Sam was gone, that the Kel stayed motionless.  Baye stood with her head lowered, not looking up even as the podium lowered into the floor, disappearing with the softest click.

“New species en route.  I will make preparations.  Yes.”

end.



Writer’s note.


I did not arrive at this plot or my publishing it lightly.


Whether it resonates or if there is a benevolent people like the Kel or a place like Velios I don’t know.


I do know that each and everyone of us, and not just people in power, can make that dial stay to the left or swing to the right.

Our world is our choices.

When we support hate, when we demonize, when we practice any form of discrimination, when we go on the attack instead of trying to learn and empathize we threaten the clockwise motion of the “Velios Dial.”


This story is my ghost of Christmas future for the world.  It is the opposite of Ollie and Emma.  Every cause has an effect.  Some doors you can’t go back through.  


We are one 7.5 billion member family.  Our family comes from many different cultures with different views on the details of life.  No one is the enemy.  No one is wrong.  We can learn from each other.


Our strength is communication.  Our power is community.  Our future can only occur united.


This was but a shadow of things not yet occured.


Tom Pogson

September 2017

Ollie and Emma is now online!!

 

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What makes this webseries different than all the other indie films and romantic comedies?  Is it just because she’s First Nations and he is a white suburban guy like myself? 

Well, there’s that.

But to me as one of the writers on the show, Ollie and Emma is something that needs to happen.  We need to see cultures coming together and making connections.  We need to see First Nations characters played by First Nations actors in day to day life.  And while there is certainly very serious and sobering realities about Native culture that everyone should research, there is also laughter, love and friendship.

My working partnership with Saulteaux comedian Cheri Jacobs is an example of this.  We started work together almost four years ago now on a previous project and the subject of her being of Indigenous heritage never really came up until we started the first initial sketches of Ollie and Emma.  I didn’t inquire before that or think “How do I work with this person?  Do I have to be careful how I talk here?”  It was more like “let’s write something funny!”

Since Ollie and Emma, and with some of the other First Nations projects we started (some more serious in tone, some set in earlier times) I have been asking more, reading more and listening to Elders speak about culture and holy cow…I have been just overwhelmed by the diversity of history, language, complex social structure, traditions and folklore.  It is such a steep learning curve that for anyone to think “I’m going to learn about Native culture”, I like to say it’s a little like saying “I’m going to learn everything there is to know about Europe, Africa or Asia.”  Dude, they’re all huge!  You’re going to need an absurd amount of Red Bull, and even then you won’t get through it in one lifetime! 

So yeah, I’m mostly focused on Coast Salish culture now.  And even then, I have stacks of books to plow through (and being mostly an oral history, books are more of a tip-of-the-iceberg starting place!)…(whew!)

Returning to my point thought, Cheri and I are an example of where we are right now and how we all could one day be, all over the world.  We can all make connections like this.  I grew up on shows like Robotech where the whole world pulled together to make the impossible possible.

But don’t get scared after my little(ish) rant!  Ollie and Emma is fun.  It’s non-political, get’s a bit meta and plays with stereotype.  I am so lucky to have worked with not only such a kickass co-writer/co-producer but also such a hardworking and talented cast and crew and of course our production team of Less Bland Productions and Telus Optik.  I still stand in wonder how they took us on (not that we’re not good, but wow!)

To me, I’m still Jim and Joan Pogson’s kid whose somewhere in the rumpus room, sitting crosslegged somewhere amongst the storage boxes in the old house we had in Langley, BC, reading books and making up random stuff.

Enjoy the show!

Just click the link below!

http://www.ollieandemma.ca

Cheers,

Tom  

 

Ghost City

Ordos

It was the first time I felt I could relax, even for a moment.  I knew that it couldn’t last.  After the three-hour hike down the alien streets where the grass was beginning to push through the cracks, I was back at the building.  The silence permeated every cell of my being but I knew I couldn’t turn the music on.  The fact that I had turned the multi-module in my arm off was the only thing probably keeping me out of harms way.  Still it would have been great to listen to something.  The only solace I had as I came up the leaf strewn parking lot was the sound of birds.  Those crows that always gathered like a gang of spies that had never given up.

The door was left open, which I kind of expected, but at least it wasn’t smashed down in the final riots before we were all shipped east to the fence-line.  It was a little silly being here.  It was hardly like I could take the elevator up, let alone go in, throw my keys down and grab a beer from the fridge.  It would be probably white walls.  Nothing but white walls and dust stains from the scraping of the furniture.

I began my ascent up the stairwell, shafts of light coming in the windows, their frames high above where anyone could reach them.  The walls looked grimier and more battered that I remember.  Minette and I lived on the 5th floor which was I was sort of half thankful for at the moment.  I wasn’t in bad shape but I definitely began to feel it by the third.  I sat on the fading carpet and looked out the window across from the black-railed stairwell.  The orange yolk of the sun was broken by shafts of cloud, the afternoon sky a slight cedar that we always called the Curtain.  The Curtain never lifted where I had spent the last fifteen years since we were gathered.  Out here the effect of the great processors seemed slightly thinned, like when you add more water to a teabag.

I was also looking for movement in the city.  The skyline was grey and quiet like you would expect, but more unkept, with bramble and grasses turning everything into a strange sort of greenhouse solarium with the orange white roof above.  There was so many of us back in the camp that I suspected it would take some time before anyone noticed I was not around, but then all it would take was one idiot to say “Hey, where’s Yun?” and then the reports of a lost worker would set out the whole barrage of Shepherds into their roles as the people’s trackers.  I knew just how invisible I wasn’t, with how my heat register made it’s imprints on everything around me, sticking me out in Westwood like a beacon.  I almost considered staying exactly where I was.  Partly due to the fact that what I was after would have already have been stripped from the room to crush any thoughts of doing exactly this and partially because I didn’t even want to see our home like this.  It was one way to sleep in section twelve.  I mean, I had free Wifix at call and I was really careful about my credit points but that was just the crap they wanted us to see.  If I wasn’t reading what few pdfs were still out of their reach I would think back to when we had our last job, our last day of work, our last meal.  I can even remember my last employer on his knees crying, with his sister Satiyo beside him rubbing his shoulders and cooing to him like a child.  He wasn’t the nicest guy on the planet back then but of the four bosses I had, he was the last and to his credit he had tried to build the company from the ground up.  Now he was just a balding man in a dirty white shirt on the floor, his shoulders shaking with his hand to his face.  I remember I didn’t know what to say.  I just sort of stood there.

Back on my feet I continued up to fifth.

The inside of the room could have been anywhere, in any room all up the coast.  It was better than most I had passed in the halls.  No one had attempted to squat in it before the gatherings.  The walls were still mostly white.  Minette smoked back then, which was the only illegal thing either of us ever did, but we were excruciatingly careful about it.  A friend at the university had given us some Linethen, that blueish grey composite that cleans the air of cigarette smoke almost instantly.  We kept in buried behind the back of the fridge and even now I could see the trails up the wall, fanning out like so many spiders.

Then I heard it, noise from far away like the mewing of a small cat. 

Scrambling onto the counter-top next to the gaping hole where our old stove had been, I opened the cupboard.  The sound outside grew just slightly.  They knew where I was, and they knew that I knew.  I looked for the slight edge upside down in the cupboard, my eyes squinting as bits of old wood unsettled all over my hands and face.  With the other hand I began to punch the top of the stained cupboard wood. 

The sound grew louder, coming from the living room.  In the giant square empty room, the windows remained open with just one frayed curtain remaining, it’s flag swaying just slightly in the wind.  Across the way was the other block of flats, patio rails like bleached bones.

I punched harder and the sound grew.  Finally, the roof of the cupboard cracked and dust and particles spewed out, causing me to look away again.  In the living-room the curtain began to flap more in earnest.  They were very near.  I found what I came for and stashed it into the pocket in my leg where a hole turned the rest of the pants into an accidental deep pocket.  I dropped from the counter just as the sound of the chopper blades became obvious.  The rag by the window flapped violently as the giant glass globe of the Shephard’s vehicle rose with the blades roaring invisibly above their heads.  I walked towards them, looking straight at them in their black silk uniforms and red helmets.  What was there to say or do at the time?  I simply waited with my arms out so they wouldn’t strip the flesh from my bones.

There was noise behind me which I expected.  My leg was kicked out and I fell into darkness.

Mage Part One

Dark-medieval-city

It has been quiet in Dameron since the last attack.  You don’t expect that the thing that would wake you from sleep would be a child’s song.

 

It was part of a dream at first.  I was there again, back on the hilltop surrounded by white flowers and the scent of the Southern Sea.  The Bay of Mount Laer stretched around me then like a warm embrace, keeping it’s kin close in the little seaside village.  I liked to spend most of my time as a child up on those bluffs overlooking the city and the sea.

 

That was one of the images that I always held during the campaign to the dark lands of the East.  Well, that and of course dear Lenette.  I was the shortest one of the six of us that would head off on our own little adventures when the grown ups were busy.  We did use to get into such trouble, primarily being lost or late for dinner.  It was never anything that involved actual danger like the sinewy fingers of the blackness.  Those curling tendrils had not yet reached our little fishing village, like many protected by the rocky shore or the northern plains of Umahh.  Dameron was closer to the plains but also closer to the bridges that would take me back to where we had travelled.  Dameron seemed treacherous at that time.  It was many winter’s snows in the city for me since Clantan the Grand Master lead us east.  We sung the song on the road, our hearts thumping with seemingly unbreakable joy.

My eyes opened to he pale light of the moons flooding the room in gentle blue against the Leyleaf-stained roof.  The song was still in the air, stealing in through the cracks in the cracks of the window.  I got out of bed in my baggy nightclothes and peered down into the street.  The song was fading and it seemed urgent that I find it’s source.

My gaze fell up and down the shadows and snow of the narrow streets.  The snow was still falling but only lightly so I could make out much of the world below from two floors up in my room.  There were tracks of people walking through the snow of course, the wind dusting the falling snow along like leaves catching the waterline in a river but I had no spell to tell me the identity of a singer.  Slowly the sound melted away.  A ghost of the home I could not return to, even as a wandering sight.

Then I heard it.  It was so incredibly soft that you would scarcely believe it happened but it had not been the first time.  Copper tumblers were being brushed aside with a thin needle.  The door creaked to life as though simply pushed by the wind.

A man in rags, his swirl of clothes hiding a flash of steel left the floorboards and swung to the wall, the back of his head hitting the solid boards with a dull thud.  He tried to reach his sword but I drew that away, the useless blade skittering across the floor and under the drawropes of my bed.

“First rule, friend,” I said coming closer “A mage rarely sleeps.”

He strained against my will.  He wasn’t a big fellow as the best thieves typically are not, but he was from the guild and carried with him a relentless wirey strength.  His eyes fell on the other side of the room where I kept my books, stacked neatly or somewhat neatly with bits of paper poking out, the soft chair and candles for reading late and of course, the chest beneath my desk.

“Really, you’d be better off with one of the books,” I continued as he glared at me.

His faced grew red as he breathed hard as though the man had just finished running clear across town.  He was one of the brave and stupid ones.  Perhaps he had just got the wrong room but not with the mark left on my door.  I knew what that was carved for.

“So how about this…we treat it as a learning experience and I don’t tell Namal about your little…shall we call it…lack of communication?” I said looking at the man who only started to resign his attempts to move from his comfy spot a foot and a half above the floorboards.  He took a deep breath.

“Sorry about all this Peter,” he said “Things haven’t been easy since I got back here.”

“Wait,” I said looking at the face now coupled with the man’s accent,”I know you…”

“And I know you are not a man to wake up.”

“Marc of second company,” I suddenly said, the sudden realization falling into place.  He was a thief but he was, well, one of ours.  I let him down.

Marc breathed, his back still on the wall, where he stretched it like his was in one of the city baths.  He leaned back still a little wary of me, standing before him in probably a less impressive sight with my oversized bedclothes.  He walked over to a chair and then turned to face half asleep scratching, me.  He sat down and rubbed his feet.

“Sorry, I couldn’t get my dagger back could I?” he asked “I know I don’t deserve it but…”

“Oh, no that’s fine.  I was awake anyways,” I replied, sitting on my bed and spirited his dagger across to him “Was that you whistling?  You shouldn’t do that…kind of counter-productive.”

“The Fisherman’s Song…I heard that too,” he said “No, not me.  I tried to go home and couldn’t find work and ended up with Namal’s gang.  I just wanted to borrow from you but…”

He looked at me.

“Nah, I didn’t think you’d buy that,” he said getting up to go “Sorry again Peter.  I won’t repeat this”

“Marcellian,” I said pointing to the barrel I kept next to my door “take the pouch, there.  And ask me next time.”

He took the pouch and smiled at me.  He gave a little hand gesture of thanks.

“Ask, got it.”

The door clicked closed.  I locked it with a wave of my hand.