He’s dying, Unkha.
The words fly through my mind; the locusts of angst ravaging the field of my objective. An unending darkness from the cave below leaves no distraction from the thought. He’s dying. I cling onto the rope tied around my waist. The threads lightly unravel. It creaks against the edge of the abyss’ mouth.
My foot slips and a loose stone detaches from the muddy wall. It plods in its descent until there is only the creaking left. Is there ever a bottom? My left-hand feels a handle from the slime of the wall that envelopes me. I squeeze it between my fingers and palm. It compresses. I shriek and retract my hand. A fungus. The words swarm into my mind again. He’s dying.
They appeared on his nails first. Green and black with the stench of rot radiating from them. This world is new and we don’t know what dangers await or lurk in the dark. They seem not to care for light. His arm was engulfed within two days. His neck and chest, by the end of the week. They’re killing him…
The Zobo Tavern.
The tavern is clear of people and the barkeep waits, polishing the shiny auburn counter. The deep mustard lighting highlights the reds of the wood. A sweet scent of fermented fruit fills the air with hints of grape, lime and musk. Everything is prepared for your arrival. On each of the tables in the large, open-plan building, an assortment of foods adorns the centre, covered by intricately decorated glass domes.
Every chair is reserved; your name shines engraved on a cream place-holder card, written in a fantastic calligraphy of dark brown ink. Your seat is decked with a firm sponge upholstery, covered in the soft red cotton unique to Andrometre; one might compare it to Kashmir. Obsidian plates sit atop rectangular reed-woven mats, accompanied by the glowing silver of cutlery. Large crystal chalices stand on the tables, above the plates, on round reed mats of their own. Each chalice bears the sandblasted name of their guests.
The air is cool, just enough for comfort, kept so by the strategically-built vents high up on the walls. The crisp fresh breeze of winter glides in, barely noticeable. It accentuates the fermented scents. Soft music plays in the background; a piano ballad of the moons. The bar is stocked with a great variety, anything you desire can be found against the mirrored wall. The barkeep smiles and nods as he notices your presence then continues buffing the bar’s counter. The old clock on the wall above the bar ticks away, inaudible. It’s time…
(Star Wars FanFic)
Resources were scarce. The Republic, in its dying moments, strained every bit of funding from the scorched earth they would leave in our wake. They thought they could starve us off, cut our supply lines from behind, eliminate the option of tactical retreat. They thought wrong.
Where we lacked in training, armour, and weapons, we made up for in numbers. We are dispensable. We compensated for the 1-in-50 chance of hitting our target, as burdened by our improvised armour, by increasing the size of our platoons. Where ten soldiers were pitted against us, our defence maintained one hundred. With each round of fire, we killed two of them. We are disposable.
At first, our numbers were made of clones, perfect killing machines, loyal to a fault. Their loyalty was the fault. Now we are taken from every planet sustaining life, our blood spread across the galaxy and converging in its centre to bring us back from the grave. Race, sex, age; it did not matter. We do not matter. If it serves the Empire, it will be done. Loyalty? We have no such concept. There is only the Empire. We are insignificant as individuals.
We are Stormtroopers.
(Moby Dick Inspired)
Her sleep was disturbed; her dreams raced with visions of a grail and harpoons thrust in the sky. The power went out sometime during the night. Her digital alarm clock had reset itself. She woke up with five minutes to get prepared for the day. She sat up in bed; her lungs split from the cold air.
It was raining, too, and clap of thunder jolted her from the bed. Kara picked up the clothes strewn across the bedroom floor and slipped them on as she made her way to the living area. She grabbed the umbrella from its hook behind the front door of her apartment and rushed out, down the apartment building’s staircase, and into the street. No sooner after she opened her umbrella, before she could make it flare, a passing taxi-carriage sprayed the muddy water of the street onto her tan raincoat. She stood frozen on the kerb as she tried to process the disaster and how to resolve it.
She looked around at nothing in particular. The life-sized terracotta statues turned dark brown and blended into the gray-brown hue of the city’s buildings and streets. The high-rise towers of apartments did little to shield the freezing wind that bit deep into her bones. She sighed and hoisted her umbrella above her head. It was pointless to do so after letting herself get soaked. She forced one foot in front of the other to prevent them from backing into the apartment’s foyer.
Kara didn’t want to be at home but didn’t want to go to work either. Right there, at that spot, was where she felt she could stay, comfortable in her discomfort. She raised her left arm and looked at the ticking face on her wrist: she was late. The Library was only a block away, fortunately, and she arrived shortly after the doors opened. She shook out her umbrella and coat in the foyer then stepped into the ambience of the paper cavern. She was more at home here than anywhere; it was her sanctuary. The spot on the kerb was dreadful in hindsight.
She made her rounds through the labyrinth of aisles that reached high into the heavens, and spent the day breaking her back, placing returned books in their order; the usual routine of her adult life. She recalled the shards of a dream from the eve before, confusion and distress riddled through her feelings about it. As she turned the corner at the top of the staircase, a strange and alluring aroma hooked her nose. She trailed along its path as it led her to a far corner at the back of the Library. A single, dusty window was the only source of light, and from there, a ray of sunshine invaded the dark. It illuminated the figure of him in front of her.
The shadows danced around his spine. The body cast a dominating presence over the old books in that corner. His highlighted angles presented his strong, square features. There, high up above the ground and seemingly buried in the surrounding books, he stood tall and graceful. Her eyes fixed onto his crooked brow. She walked up to the wall of shelves with her gaze steady upon him. He reached out to her and she stretched her arm to meet him, but he was too high up.
“Just… a little… further…” she huffed a mutter to herself with her teeth clenched and her jaw flexed. It seemed she’d never reach him, although he was within her grasp. She balanced a creaking, old wood chair on two of its ivory-painted legs, and propelled her weight against the hard, warm body that rose into the ovens. She stretched her arm further in hopes of finding a more firm grip. Her fingers brushed up and down his spine, and she navigated them with her eyes closed. The thick atmosphere seduced her away from reality; the dreary colours in the late midday sunlight blurred her vision.
Her hand finally wrapped perfectly along his back, and she gripped firmly with a gentle caress. Kara pulled him closer with all her strength, she eased him to her. He slid nearer, slowly; teasing her. She sighed a breath of extra strength and pulled on him once more. He gave in and slid right into her chest as she wrapped her arms around him. The force of his release sent her falling backwards; time slowed down. Her right arm reached out to the body, hoping to catch herself and stop her fall.
Alas, the very shelf she caught onto came loose on one end, and the chair’s oars cracked beneath her. She fell hard on her bottom, and raised her arms to cover her head as the stream of hard-cover books came down on her. The dust settled and she lowered her arms to look at him in her hand. On his face were large white letters against a navy, textured background that glimmered in the fog light: Reader’s Consume. It wasn’t him! She looked up to the heavens. He was perched atop a fixed shelf, mocking her height in the warm and dusty midday sunlight.
“Moby Dick,” she said to herself with a sigh, “my white whale.” She sat in defeat on the murky carpet, long neglected, and rubbed the right side of her hip to comfort the ache. The scene was eerily similar to her first day of school. She only ever experienced deja-vu twice throughout her life, and both times left her with the feeling of ill unease. It was no different. Her stomach turned when she remembered the embarrassment of her first year of primary school. She was clumsy, all throughout her childhood.
Her mother mentioned something about her bones that were weak, not that it helped as an excuse; ridicule yet followed when she stepped up to the podium to announce herself to the rest of the school. She took a deep breath and rubbed her face in an attempt to wipe away the memory. She propped herself up on her knees and collected the fallen books.
It infuriated her how unkempt the library was, and for it to be one of the great libraries of the world was an utter shame. She was embarrassed to be associated with such chaos and filth. Did her predecessor not know how damaging dust could be for books, particularly ancient ones from the Old World and humanity’s early literature?! Kara swept off the thick, sticky layer of dust and dirt that clad each of the books’ covers and page trims. These were precious commodities; unique items of their culture, their society. They were relics of the foundation of everything they knew and held on to.
With the fallen sacred objects dusted off as much as she could without her cleaning kit, and stacked in a small tower against the surrounding shelves, she climbed up on the step-ladder she retrieved from the next aisle over. The nails that once held the weight of their history, were rusted to the point of a near-brittle state. They were doomed to fail.
She wondered how moisture accumulated there; had some fool opened and left the window, allowing rain to pour in and wash away the rare items? Some Librarians didn’t care for their paths, but that was no excuse to vandalise the property they swore to maintain. Librarians were scarce, and not everybody could do it, but rather a shortage than malevolent neglect! Kara had to leave the corner as it was until the next day when she could bring the proper tools and equipment needed to restore the area to its former glory.
She hated the idea of leaving the corner in that condition. Although no one would probably go there, it still irked her. Its discovery in that state turned Kara’s generally pleasant mood sour. She couldn’t stand the thought of other libraries with areas, or even entire floors abandoned like it. If that was what a great library in the city had, how worse off were the smaller, rural libraries?!
She growled in frustration at the atrocity. She had to do something about it and take matters into her own hands. Of course, she had to wait until her apprenticeship was complete; so for that time, she would do her best for the library. Kara vowed, to herself and to every book printed, she would see them rebound and kept to the proper standard that she, and every librarian before and after her, swore to uphold.
She looked up at the great clock that hung against the face of the gallery’s foundation above: 6:30. The library was silent. She shrugged and figured it was probably some public holiday that she, once again, forgot about. She sat at the computer then remembered what the day was scheduled for. Her shoulders sank and a heavy breath forced itself out of her nose; it was National Children’s Authors’ Day. A children’s book author was set to make an appearance at lunch, complete with music, and many, many loud children. Kara cursed the day musical books were invented.
Lunch was upon her. She huffed as she pushed herself away from the desk. She continued her usual affair of keeping the Library neat, organised, and clean while she waited for the dreaded event to encroach. She decided to tackle Ahab’s corner during the commotion that would flood the once-quiet building. It seemed Kara wasn’t the only one who felt the way she did about the musical books. The library cleared of the few people once the author arrived. One by one, they checked their books and swept out the entrance door.
As the last people left, a troop of children poured into the library. The laughing, fighting, and moaning with their high-pitched voices caused her to jump and cringe. She hustled them to calm and catered to the author, then hurried in retreat to the dusty corner with her cleaning kit in hand. She stood facing the shelves of forgotten books. She had a ladder set up under the window. She rubbed her bottom remembering the last time she was there.
Her hip usually pained, ever since the bone-marrow biopsy in her childhood, but the fall aggravated it. She climbed up the ladder and wiped the window clean: the sunlight pierced through and straight into her eyes. She fumbled, and the ladder wobbled against the shelving. She placed her hand to keep the books that shifted out from falling. Her heart raced up into her throat at the expectation of another fall.
She wouldn’t chance it and climbed down as quickly as possible with the last batch in the hook of her arm. She unpacked the books into neat piles, ascended from largest, on the floor, and wiped down the dusty shelves. She made a mental note to order new shelving; many were bent from the age and weight of the books they supported. She sat on the floor after the shelves were done, and listened as the author spoke and the younglings discussed whatever he said, then wiped down the books with her dust cloths. She brought many with her, in good judgment, she remarked in thought.
Kara picked up the last book of the first pile; the bold letters of Ahab’s story looked up at her. The background noise dimmed out as she opened its front cover. Her head swam. The last she saw were the piles of books as they tipped over. A crack of skull against the carpet-covered wood greeted her into nothingness.
She woke up in a strange place, where the scent of salt hung thick in the air. An ice-cold breeze kissed her cheek. The floor swayed in nauseating rhythm. A winged beast loomed overhead. It glided through the clouds above and bellowed a deep siren. How she longed to see flying whales! A cloud passed through over her as she stood up. She expected to see the deep green sea all around the ship as the flying whale dived gracefully down and under her horizon. She walked to the balcony and peered over. Not a drop of water in sight. Instead, a white ocean of fluff hovered under.
An airship! Of course, she was on an airship; the whales never flew close to the surface. The bass singing of the whale that enchanted her was broken by the static and screech of a speaker turned on in the distance. As the first few notes of the song came through the radio, she transported back. The piles of books and shelves faded slowly into sight. Kara looked around to her right at the library’s dome; the musical book played its melody and the children sang along to the story. She sat up and sighed, then closed the book.
She had to prepare the library for the next day, and clean up the food and child-mess that always proceeded to occur with such events. It was not the most pleasant aspect of her job, but someone had to do it. She wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone else doing it, nor would she risk the books being contaminated with Hell-knows-what.
The children’s’ parents collected them, thankfully, in a smooth and ordered fashion, and left the library empty and still. She loved moments where she was alone with the books. Her domain was free of the contaminant of people and their neglectful habits. She moved to the desk after setting the cleaning kit under it and sat down to look at the calendar again. The primary school year was coming to an end that week. She sighed in hopelessness, then pushed herself to stand up with her hands against the smooth wood.
She picked up the cleaning kit, gathered her coat, and started for home. Yet another day passed, excited only by her own vivid fantasies. Her ability to see whatever she read as though it were real, helped much in the struggle against boredom. She tried to appreciate her life while she was there. She wouldn’t be for much longer. Her Learning was to end after the examinations have passed. If she only knew back then how much her life would change.
Kara paced the aisles of towers in the warm and ambient library she called home. The dusty, forgotten corner came into view. She cast a scornful glare to the corner, the dirty window glowing in the innocence of sunlight.
“Not today, Ahab,” she dismissed in a whisper, then walked past and up to the Religion section on the next level. She shifted the books on the third shelf of the Cult section, returning ‘The Lost Book of Enki’ to its place when something fell to the ground beside her with a loud thud. She startled at the sound, and the tower of books in her right arm threatened an avalanche. She lowered the tower to the ground once they stabled their balance, then looked over to where the sound came from.
A few steps away lay a tome with a thickly textured cover and a belt and buckle sealing in a bridge over the pages inside. A fog of dust hovered over and around from its abruptly ended descent. From where?! She puzzled at the ancient artefact of lost literature. She scanned the shelves above but could not find where it may have fallen from. She studied the tome’s exterior, a deformed image of stretched leather formed into a grotesque face rested on its front. The buckle refused to open. She needed a key. She recognised the book, its cover was in an old book of collected artworks in the Non-Fiction section. With the tome in her arm, she back-tracked her memory and led herself to the collection. She sat on the carpet and pulled out the book. She sifted through its pages.
“Aha!” she exclaimed out loud. On page sixty-six was a photo of the tome she held under the arm. The description identified the ancient book as the third-edition Necronomicon, 1228. Below the photo was another, of a fragment of parchment. It had strange symbols of horizontal word-bars, with letters that hung down. The description below the photo identified the language as Lthuvian. She whipped out her com-device and typed the language into the browser’s search bar. She opened up a site and bookmarked it. She slipped the collection back into its slot and hugged the tome against her side. She sat down in front of her computer on top of the desk that faced the centre of the paper labyrinth and typed in the name of the book. ‘No Reference’ read the bold white letters highlighted by a blue background.
“That’s odd,” she murmured, “someone must’ve forgotten their book here.” She slipped the tome into her backpack and continued with her day. With Lost & Found put away it was safer in her possession. She felt a strong sense of possession toward the haunting book. She paused and turned around. She let out a huff of jest and shook it off. Her imagination had a knack for running off with anything slightly interesting or mysterious. She walked to the tower of returned books across the hall. The eve came and she headed to her apartment a couple of blocks down from the library. Traffic was heavy, as usual at six o’clock. She entered the building’s foyer and headed to the wall of post boxes. She opened number sixty-six and pulled out the mail. She walked up to the first floor, to her apartment. She paused at the door; the black on the beige sign read ‘unit six’.
The coincidence sparked scenarios in her mind. She knew how psychology could trick someone into seeing patterns after reading something metaphysical, but she didn’t expect her mind would be susceptible to the irrationality. She needed something new and stimulating before she turned into the crazy-paranoid she feared of becoming. She looked at the tome; it would serve well to keep her excited. The cause of the lapse of the rationale was the weapon to fight it. She flopped down onto her large, soft couch and kicked off her shoes. She sifted through the scramble of mail in her right hand. Envelope after envelope was tossed to the cushion beside her. She held the last in her hand.
There was no postage stamp or ink from the post office. Handwritten symbols adorned the front. She flipped it over as she took a sip of the wine in the glass on the table to her left. No return address. The blood fled from her cheeks and her feet suddenly went cold: she recognised those symbols! She slid her finger under the loose corner of the seal and ripped the envelope open. Inside was a letter written in the same symbols. She pulled her phone out from her jeans’ back pocket, opened the bookmark from earlier, and began to decipher the letter. ‘The key of six is within your grasp’ it translated.
Puzzled by this obscure message, Kara shifted her leg out from under her to get more comfortable. Her keys fell to the floor and she bent to pick them up. She placed them on top of her backpack. A corner of the tome poked out from the partially open zip. It was glowing, and her post box key was, too.
“The key of six…” she muttered out loud. Kara picked up her keys by the key ring, unzipped her backpack and slid the book out onto her lap. She gripped the end of her post box key and compared it to the keyhole in the buckle. It appeared to be the same size, so she inserted her key and paused as she tried to figure out which way to turn. ‘Righty tighty’ she hummed in remembrance of a childhood trick. She turned it once to the right. The glowing of both the book and her key stopped. A mechanism clogged free and the buckle sprung back, almost smacking her on the cheek, and taking the front cover with it as it hit against the cushion and rebound.
The tome opened its cryptic secrets to her. Her vision went dark, and silence flooded her room. It seemed hours had passed and she was trapped, somewhere. A deep, ancient voice whispered through the dark. Kara’s breathing halted as she listened intently to the whisper. The words swam in repeating chant through her mind and she was soon chanting it in a whisper as well. She understood it, she knew it. She loved it.
“In his house, dead but dreaming, he waits,” she whispered, and the silence returned. Then there was light. She opened her eyes to the darkness of her apartment, the full and crescent moonlight shone through her blinds and onto her face. The stars were out in full glory this eve. “How long has it been?” She pondered aloud and shifted herself upright against the couch. A rattle of metal sounded at her feet. Kara leant over and picked up her keys, recalling somewhat of herself doing a similar action earlier. She crawled to the end of the couch and pulled on her lamp’s lever.
Her backpack remained where she had placed it, but the tome with the face was nowhere to be found. Was it a dream again? After so many, she was not sure what reality was anymore. Dawn broke while she sat there, lost in her thoughts. She hadn’t slept this well in many months. She got up, straightened her blouse and slipped on her shoes. She had might as well go to work early, she didn’t have anything to stay home for in any case. The walk to the library was peaceful; too peaceful. Traffic and the bustle of life usually greeted her the minute she opened her door. Not today. The streets were void of life and carriage.
Ashes of the Fallen
(A deleted scene)
“Gliese?” Auriga whispered. Gliese moaned, it was too early to be awake. “Gliese!”
“Let’s do something today?” Auriga pounced on top of her. Gliese rubbed her eyes with the palm of her hands.
“Let’s go the to marketplace!”
“It’s the Eighth day, the flea-market is open. I want to see if we can find something for the new place.”
“New place?” Gliese peeled open her left eye.
“I found us a house. We can move in together… if you want?” Gliese shot up, which caused Auriga to tumble backwards onto Gliese’s legs.
“Really?” Gliese asked. Auriga nodded. She was conflicted: one the one hand, Auriga; one the other, everything else that was wrong. If the Insurgency came after her, and Auriga got caught in the middle, she wouldn’t forgive herself. Auriga was able to take care of herself; the day at the lake testified that. Gliese’s stomach knotted at the memory. Could she really be with someone who killed? Did it matter, it was a thief after all? She swooped forward and embraced her. “We better get ready, the day won’t wait!” Auriga shrieked and bounced on the bed.
“Hurry up, will ya?!” Auriga said as she jumped off the bed. Gliese hadn’t seen her so excited. The market opened every Eighth day, and Gliese wasn’t sure why she was so anxious to get there.
“Hold on! It’s not like it’s gonna shut down forever.” Gliese paused. “It isn’t, right?”
“Of course not, silly.”
“Then why the rush?”
“It’s my first time.” Auriga shied her face away and rubbed her forearm. Gliese giggled then got up and grabbed her coat. They walked down the busy road, hand in hand, to the marketplace. Auriga swooped up and down the columns of stalls, and browsed through everything. The couple strolled through a second time once Auriga calmed.
“We must get home again,” Gliese said as she looked at the setting sun.
“Just five more minutes, okay?” Auriga tugged on Gliese’s arm and pulled her toward a stall with several types of pottery. Gliese picked up an old, white vase with blue ink drawings and decoration.
“How much for this?“ she asked the stall-keeper in a platonic tone. Her cycles in the cities taught her not to show retailers any excitement; that was when they took advantage and hiked the price up, sometimes two-fold.
“Ten,” The stall-keeper replied. Auriga stared at Gliese as she paid the human.
“What?” Gliese saw Auriga’s expression on the way back.
“You were the one who didn’t see the point in coming here, and now you buy that piece of junk?”
“This, dear, is an authentic vase from humanity’s ancient culture; the Tang Dynasty. It’s priceless!”
“It looks like crap,” Auriga scoffed. “But, it’s your doom…”
Gliese placed the vase on the mantle above the fire-screen and climbed into bed next to Auriga.
“It fits right in with this run-down Old Cottage.” Gliese nudged at her. Auriga laughed at her attempt to convince her of the vase.
“Nice try, but no. It’s not coming with us when we move. You can keep it in the Library,” Auriga said.
On the great oak desk, it went. Gliese stepped back to admire it. Perfect. As she turned to start the day’s chores, a litter of younglings burst into the Library, passing by the desk. Gliese held her breath until the danger subsided, fortune had it and none of them knocked the vase off. Like a new parent, she hurried to coddle it when her foot snagged on the corner of the carpet that had come loose the day before. She fell forward and raised her arms to brace for impact but she had overestimated the distance between her and the desk.
Her hand bumped against the rim of the vase and slid down as she fell further. Her chest hit the ground in a muffled bump and along with her, the vase met the floor. She hesitated to look at the damage done. A loud breath of relief was forced through her nose when she found it had not shattered. The prop that closed the vase, however, came off and lay a couple of feet away. Gliese sat up and picked up the vase to peek inside. Horror filled her mind and she dropped the vase out of fright. Again, it didn’t break and out from it, sprayed the grey cloud of someone’s ashes. Who would do such a thing?! Cremation was a taboo practice, reserved only for criminals far removed from the morality of society. The last remnants of a vile being now lay spread across the carpet of the Library, tainting it with its disgusting identity.
She picked up the vase and search every inch for any indication as to whom the ashes belonged. On the bottom of the vase, scratched into the porcelain, was a name. No last name, date of birth and death; nothing but a single name: Herta. Gliese wondered what she had done that deserved such ill treatment of her body? She scooped up as much of the ash as possible when she recovered from the initial surprise and poured it back into the vase. She got up and placed the vase in the large drawer on the left side of the desk and retrieved a hand-held vacuum.
“Sorry, Herta. You’ll have to make do without whatever these were.” She flipped the switch and sucked up the powder. Auriga should not find out about it; she would never let Gliese forget her prophecy of the vase.
“Hey, you!” said a soft voice. Gliese jumped.
“Yes,” She giggled. “Why so surprised?”
“I… just didn’t expect you, is all.” Gliese wound up the chord and shoved the machine under the desk.
“So where’s your priceless vase then?”
“It had a crack so I sent it to get fixed.” Gliese tried to hide the sweat of her palms.
“That’s a shame. It would look perfect here as is. Then, when you least expect it, shatter all over your keyboard.” She giggled louder. “Come on, then? Show me your Littjamas suggestions!” She tugged on Gliese’s sleeve. It was Littjamas already?!