Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 2

I should be studying. Or sorting through my equipment. Or making something to eat. My stomach kept gurgling, and the sound grew increasingly angry.

My hands both sat limp in my lap instead of hovering over the strap released like they’d been. All plans to heat a protein packet had been forgotten. The skimmer’s transition into in-system flight had been slight, but it been enough to catch my attention.

Then 6888 Ardra consumed it. I was too far to see more than colors and major landmarks. The dual suns brightly lit the northern hemisphere which was tilted more toward the twin stars. The lands there were dark, appearing sere. The southern hemisphere was far greener, interspersed with ribbons and rounds of blue.

Like most of the planets the Institute issued exploration orders, this was a near twin for old Earth. Or the way the planet had been before it had been consumed by humanity before and after the explosion of space exploration. Too many soil-siders refused to leave.

Not that I’d grown up on an ideal world. No colonized planet was perfect. But it’d been pretty good. A blend of society and isolation where I could disappear into the wilds. My parents had chipped me as soon as I could toddle, because apparently I had a habit of disappearing.

They really wouldn’t be surprised by this self-assigned mission. Not that the Institute wouldn’t have approved me. If I was willing to risk checking my com files, I’d bet the approval to take lead on Ardra would be there.

But… not happening. Not until I landed. And put at least two days between me and skimmer. With the difference in rotation on the planet and the ship’s sync to Fleet time, I’d be several shifts away.

No one could get lost like I could.

I smiled, leaning forward and resting my chin on my fist. The ship’s course was going to put me down in the greener zone, thank goodness. I was so ready to move.

“Oof.” I tried to jump up, but my straps held me to my seat. Whoops. I unlatched the buckles, then shuffled through my tiny walkway to the heater. I threw in a protein pack, then waited impatiently. Gazing at my packed kits, I considered what I absolutely needed and what I could afford to leave behind, in case I was tracked.

I’d establish a base camp a few days away, then if there were no signs of pursuit entering atmo, I’d go back for more.

Nodding, I grinned. “Yes, yes, that’ll work.” The heater chimed, and I reached in for the protein, juggling it between my hands until it cooled enough to hold.

Ardra inevitably drew my gaze back to it, the thick clouds on the southern hemisphere contrasting to the thinner ones on the northern, the color contrast, and the size.

Maybe I should do an orbit, check out the dark side before I landed.

The thought of taking the extra time made my muscles twitch. No, no, it’d be fine. I’m sure if there was something to worry about, the scanner would have made some sort of sound or alert or something. Plus… I had no idea how to change the course.

I snorted. Getting off this piece of space junk couldn’t happen too soon. Shouldn’t skimmers be universal so anyone could pilot them?


That question was rocketing through my brain was I was buffeted around in my straps as my skimmer tried to penetrate the thick clouds over my landing coordinates. This was rougher than any landing I’d ever had.

I wanted to close my eyes, but I was desperately trying to get some sort of control over the skimmer. “No, no, no.” My heart raced in my chest, and I was going to have a heart attack before I even hit the surface.

Hit the surface. “Oh, please land without crashing.” Would the extra gravity affect the skimmer’s landing? It certainly seemed to be affecting its flying. I couldn’t throw up in my exosuit, but I wanted to. My stomach churned.

Finally, I braced both hands on the arms of my chair and just stared out the viewer at the roiling clouds, trying to hold on. The exosuit kept the pressure from crushing me, but I could still feel the impact on my ability to move. Going from space to a planet was jarring; this was like being flattened.

“Just hold on, Essell.” The clouds broke apart closer to the ground than I expected, and I gasped. Green, brown, and blue rushed up at me in a blur.

The skimmer jolted sideways, hitting a large tree and bouncing off. Then a hill. It spun sickeningly before coming to a stop at an angle near a river.

For the longest time I just sat. I’d survived. I was on Ardra.

I was wasting time!

Opening that door to expose myself to the world for the first time was momentous. I paused, took a deep breath, then hit the airlock release. A hiss, shudder, and thud rocked the skimmer.

Sunlight, weak as it was, streamed into the skimmer and touched my legs. I watched the readouts in my left eye viewer, but everything came back the same as the analysis.

Lush. Wow, and humid. If I wasn’t in an all-metal exosuit, I’d be sweating. The planet was hot and wet. Wow. Steam was actually rising from the ground.

I stepped out, taking another moment to just absorb what I was doing. Large, feathery fronds were resting around the skimmer, nearly hiding it. The ground sank beneath me, the mud thick.

No sounds filtered in; it was deathly silent around me. I’d probably scared off everything in thirty klick radius.

I reached inside the skimmer. My pack fastened onto my exosuit, slotting into exposed supports after I pressed two buttons on my shoulders. Time to get started. I walked away from the skimmer, the ground sucking at my feet with every step.

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J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

New Story! Wednesday Briefs Ancalagon Ch. 1


Yep, it's a new story... and I'm headed back into sci-fi! Enjoy Ancalagon!

There was nothing on my scanners. The abyss of space surrounded me, speeding by as I raced through the known sectors for the outer edge. My path had been locked in by a navigator before I stole the skimmer, so I had to hope it was going in the right direction.

And that the scanners really were as blank as they appeared. Maybe there was something I needed to push or switch or touch to turn it on.

If my ruse had been discovered and Captain Sonez sent a squad after me, I might never see them coming. I’d tried engaging the computer on the ship, but it was locked to me.

Computers were not my specialty. I was a biologist, or I was supposed to be. Captain Sonez had been determined to downgrade me to ship scut. No way was I going to let the bastard blackball me in the Institute by turning me into a Fleet whore.

I was not that hard up.

All he saw was a slim, quiet young man on his first mission away from everyone and everything he ever knew. I wasn’t that great at socializing with others, and I’d heard sex was great, but the hype hadn’t lived up to the experience. I preferred focusing on my studies at the Institute, working with laser focus. As part of a Fleet crew? I didn’t know what to do to connect with the others.

Or, as Sonez saw me—prey ripe for the picking. I snorted and sat back in the navigator chair on the skimmer. I was quiet because I was watching and planning. I was slim because… well, good genes and growing up on a planet with light gravity.

I pulled out my handheld and checked the files on my destination. I grimaced again. That light gravity adaptation was going to work against me.

 I’d grown up on a small planet, only three quarters gravity norms. Stations and ships weren’t too hard to adjust to after a few days.

Good thing Sonez hadn’t known that I wasn’t just any old Institute member. My parents were on the Board and well-renowned in their fields. They had ensured I’d have everything I’d need to be just as successful in my chosen career, but I wanted to earn a name based on my own merits, so I’d had mine changed once I entered my final studies and chose my biology focus.

“Glad I have an exosuit,” I muttered. Twice gravity norm. The other parameters seemed to be within human tolerance.

Now I just had to hope all my information was accurate. I’d pulled strings, using the web of influence my parents had in the Institute to learn more about where the Rinta would be sent on mission next. A mining station in the south quadrant near Sien-Tsang desperately needed supplies, and Fleet needed their metals.

No way could Captain Sonez refuse the order without Fleet risking offending the galactic rulers on Sien-Tsang. It would come down from the highest levels and should have been received about an hour after I’d left the ship. I’d tricked a soused navigator into programming this skimmer with my destination, then finished pouring a few more extra potent Blackholes down him. The drink was aptly named—that was exactly where his memory would hopefully go. He’d been incoherent when I’d left him half-undressed in his quarters, groping the spare pillow on his bunk while I made my getaway from the Rinta after just a single tour of duty on the ship.

Two more days. I had hoped to use that time to increase the gravity on the skimmer to help adjust my body, but I couldn’t figure it out.  

Well, a crash course for my body was on the horizon. I sighed, letting my head rest against the chair. I’d love to pace, it was how I usually did my thinking, but the skimmer had very little space. My personal bag and science kits took up almost all the floor space. I could lean over two cases and reach the counter to access the food prep from my seat, and it was three steps to the necessary facilities hidden behind a retractable wall.

If nothing else, I could study.

6888 Ardra. Heavy gravity planet. Human-compatible atmosphere. Generally temperate climate, varying landscapes depending on the location. I’d aimed for the southern continent which had milder weather and a good mix of terrain. I’d start inland, if possible.

Signs of life existed within some mountains on the southern continent as well. There wasn’t a developed society existing on the planet, at least not a sentient one that had progressed in any way a probe could discover it. No signs of buildings, towns, cities, technology orbiting the planet, nothing advanced.

My years of schooling at the Institute hadn’t included First Contact. Usually a biologist would be part of a team sent to a planet on a survey. My job was to focus on the planet’s flora and fauna. I wasn’t too worried about the risk of running into aliens if it happened while I was on my own; my mother was one of the galaxy’s most renowned first contact specialists.

I’d grown up hearing all about her experiences over meals when our family was together. If only I’d absorbed more of my father’s technical skills as a programmer. There wasn’t a system on a planet, satellite, station, or ship he couldn’t fix. It was almost like the circuits spoke to him in a secret language.

But plants and animals were my thing. The intricacies of nature intrigued me. There was an elegant simplicity to nature that I loved. I’d been so eager to explore a unique planet.

“Damn Sonez anyway.” He’d tried to keep me on his ship instead of letting me explore the planet with a team after the probe returned.

Well I’d stopped his plotting before he could ruin my life.

And I’d show everyone just what Essell Deray could do.

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J Alan Veerkamp

J Ray Lamb

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 41


The smoke enveloped me. Gray lightened to white then faded to an opaque background. My breath caught in my chest.

“What is this?”

No one had said there would be magic during the release. My heart thundered in my chest and my breath sawed in and out. “No, no, no…”

I’d barely held it together when I changed form. It was only the need to keep the ceremony going, and knowing exactly what to do that kept me focused.

Not on me, but what I had to do for Wenn’s spirit.

“And I thank you for that.”

I spun and gaped. Wenn stood behind me, looking the same as the last time I’d seen him, well, before we’d confronted Balasamar and his warlock. “What’s going on?”

“You know the world is made up of many magics and different Beings.”

“Yes.” I nodded.

“Does it not make sense they are all interconnected?” He spread his small hands. “Otherwise, how could a locus act as a conduit?”

I blinked.

He went on. “You have suffered so much, all in the quest to protect those who looked to you in their need.”

“I failed,” I whispered.

“You never gave up.” Wenn shook his head gently. “That isn’t failing. Sometimes, good wins. Other times, evil prospers. Balance is in all things. For you, that balance was upset. So the magic has brought it back. You have your family, you new magic, and your natural form. As long as you have your horn, you will always be able to become your unicorn self.”

A heavy dread I had pushed back unconsciously slipped away, and I sagged in relief. “But why?” I glanced at the white space around us, the magical nothingness that seemed to be a go between where magic could let anything be possible. “Why give me this? Why let me see you?”

“My family calls for me, but your guilt held me to my mortal form. I gave up my life willingly, knowing what your future holds for you, Chasen. The magic I wielded, that the warlock had…” Wenn paused. “I cannot say more. But know that I am at peace.”

The pain he’d been in, the strain, it was all gone. The unspoken sorrow in his voice when he did speak had turned to join when he spoke of his family calling for him. He truly was happy, even though he had left mortal life behind.

“You are a great Being, pure of soul and destined for a long, happy life. But… balance.” He began to fade, the edges of my vision growing tattered. “Remember that, Chasen. Balance.”


When I came out of my trance, I was still fanning the fire mechanically. The water left between the branches had evaporated, pale steam rising away to dissipate on the breeze, and then the heat rose before the flames danced away to nothingness.

Ash was all that remained.

“Papa?” Colette nudged me. “Are you okay?”

My arms sank to my sides, muscles aching. I sank down to crouch, nodding, but the aching lump in my throat kept me from speaking.

The locus drifted away then, slowly, family groups tightly clumped together until only the elder and Tinn’s family remained.

I watched the coals, unable to leave quite yet. Londe was a silent wall of support behind me, unmoving, his love a pillar in my mind. Colette and Marces waited patiently as they could. I barely blinked, thinking about everything Wenn said.

The guilt had tied him to this form. I had to let it go. Could I? Balance he said. Death was just so… final. And a death to save me.

The fur brushing against my hands startled me, and I fell onto my backside. Tinn’il crept into my arms and chittered, touching my cheek where tears had leaked out. “No cry. Safe. I safe. You safe. We safe together.” He snuggled against my chest, humming and squeaking like he used to.

Huh. A little huff rocked me, and a small smile curved my lips. Balance, Wenn had said. Yes, he’d died for me, but I’d risked my life for this young locus. He was safe, and we were safe.

And so was my family. We were all together.

‘What do you think about staying here for a while?’ I asked Londe. I didn’t know what Wenn’s words had meant for our future, but it was here where my family could recover, where we could spend time with this tiny Being who’d also become a part of us, and I could help those who needed me.

I’d look to our present with my heart and mind at peace, thankful for those who loved me and let me love them in return. The future, whatever it held, would come soon enough.

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J Alan Veerkamp

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 40

All day the clan had worked industriously, but they allowed us to help where we could. First they dug a hole, which confused me. “I thought you were releasing his form.”

“We shall, but we come from the elements. That is where our magic is grounded, by connections. So Wenn will be released using all four elements as well. Earth, Air, Fire, Water.” Tinn stood beside the elder locus who had declared Wenn was at peace as they oversaw the preparations.

The youths dug the shallow pit, while the young brought broken boughs that had littered the ground to line the earth, creating an elaborate pattern that looked like water, especially after the females brought baskets of water and filled the depressions between the limbs on the lower levels. We made it easier on them, letting them drape the poles across our withers.

For me, the weight was negligible but Colette struggled. I walked at her side, encouraging her up the path from the lake. Her head hung lower than I liked.

“Do you need a break?”

She looked up. “No, I can do it,” she said softly but with determination.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.

“Does it bother you?” She looked the other way, studying the right side of the path, not meeting my gaze as she asked her cryptic question.

“What?” I had no idea what she meant.

“Tinn’il greeted Pater and Marces and me. But not you. I… I thought maybe we could stay here. It feels… safe.” She kept pausing between her words, glancing at me and away. She looked around, and up, and around. Such a reserved foal, always so careful in her words. “But you have been sad. And maybe that makes you feel too bad.”

“You want to stay here?” I focused on the important part of what she’d said, pushing aside the thoughts of my feelings, including Tinn’il’s avoidance.

She shrugged, the water sloshing in her baskets. She stilled, walking carefully.

“They do have the mist, but that doesn’t make their land completely safe. Still, much safer than other places,” I agreed. “And it is beautiful here.” That couldn’t be denied. There was plenty of room, especially considering the locus lived underground and not aboveground in the fields and trees that bordered the lake.

“Maybe they could use someone like you to help protect them. And, maybe if we stayed, Tinn’il would get to know you like this too.”

Oh, sly little minx. She was quiet, and thoughtful, but she had quite the plotting mind. Under it all, she craved the feeling of safety. I wanted to give her that. “Your pater and I haven’t decided anything. We will talk with you and Marces before we make any decisions, okay?”

“Okay.” We reached the ceremonial space, and Colette and I both knelt slowly, minimizing any splashing from the half-filled baskets so the females could get the water.

The combination of fire and water confused me until I saw how they continued to build up the branches, creating a plinth over the water that remained only halfway up the limbs. Wenn’s body was born up by many hands and placed on top, with his hands tucked down to touch the water and earth and his face turned upward to the skies. Then wide leaves were passed out to all the members of his people and even to Londe, the foals, and me.

I wanted to ask what now, but I clutched the thick stalk of the leaf in my teeth, so I waited silently.

A spark was brought out by the old locus, who limped heavily without his stick as he held the coal in a bark bowl in one hand and held a leaf in the other. The thin bark was already smoking. I held my breath as he grew closer, afraid the coal would burn through before he made it to the plinth.

But the bark remained intact. With a murmured prayer that was echoed by those around me, he set it down between Wenn’s feet. A soft sigh began to spread through the group, and I lifted my eyes from that bright orange coal, my heart pounding as it grew brighter.

No, not a sigh. They were moving their leaves, fanning the air. Air. The last element, the one that would ignite the blaze and free Wenn from his mortal body once and for all. My eyes stung as I began to wave my leaf, haltingly at first, but then with more vigor when the coal brightened and darkened.

What would happen if it went out? If he couldn’t have this ceremony? Pain and panic sped my movements, but it wasn’t enough. It was like that connection we’d shared was still there, but it couldn’t be, not if he was going to be with his family.

He needed to have that reward for what he’d done for me. The pain spiked, and then the air shimmered around me. My form shifted, melted away, and then I stood on two legs.

I was a human again.

There was no time to panic, or worry about what this meant, or even reassure my mate and foals. I reached down for the leaf I’d dropped, swiping it and then stepping up to breathe directly on the coal, just like I’d done with my forges before Londe had come to find me.

One breath. A curl of orange taking over more of the black.

Two breaths. A blush of red flaring along the side.

Three breaths. The heat began to crackle against my skin, tightening it across my forehead.

I straightened and began waving my leaf, willing the coal to burn through the bark bowl and ignore the wood of Wenn’s plinth and set the pyre alight to free his mortal form.

The bark crumbled in the center, the two halves breaking, and the coal began to eat the brittle, dried wood at a rapid pace. Fire leapt up, streaking away from the spot between Wenn’s feet. Soon it began to obscure his body.

We all kept fanning. The elder locus kept chanting. Time stood still as we sent off this courageous Being who’d given all he had to save me. 

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