Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 27

When Garjah said he planned to stay with me, I hadn’t realized exactly what that meant. I should have. His quarters were bigger than mine but not that much bigger. There was no extra bunk to unlatch from the wall, and he wasn’t about to roll a bed in from the corridor.

No, when Garjah came out of his bathroom facilities in a pair of extremely brief and tight shorts, he helped me in there. They’d changed me while I was out, so I was in a much looser pair of the same shorts and a loose shirt. Exhaustion weighed on me, so I didn’t hide my surprise very well when he settled me onto the bed and then climbed in beside me.

“What are you doing?”

“If you wake and hurt, I will be close to help you. The bed is big enough.”

I’d thought the bed was enormous until he’d climbed into it. Now it was barely big enough. Garjah sprawled on his back, one pair of arms tucked under his head and the others folded across his flat stomach. He’d settled me on my side with my healing arm curled up on the pillow I’d liked so much. I was trying not to look at the hive of activity. It looked like a shimmering glow, but the idea it was tiny bots spinning metal to replace the missing pieces of my body made my stomach heave.

“Can we turn off the lights?” Maybe that would help.

“If you wish.”

Garjah lowered the lights. I couldn’t see more than the vague outline of his features. I blinked and sighed. My arm was numb, but that beat the pain. Garjah’s breathing filled the silence, and the heat radiated off his body.

“One time when I was sick, my nurse sat beside me all night. I think I had a fever because all I remember is her telling me all these stories.” I smiled at the memory. She’d stuck around the longest, and I’d picked up a lot of unconscious speech patterns and habits from her. My parents hadn’t liked that.

“Do you want me to tell you a story?”

“Oh, I wasn’t asking for that.” My face heated. “But, I was wondering…?”


“There’s no kids on the ship. You said everyone has racial memories, but are those just triggered for more specialized skills later in life? Are you raised by your family, like your parents, or do you have communal family clusters based on your future careers?”

“Children are precious. They are protected. Most memories are easily triggered, the ones that allow us to function as we grow. We only leave our groupings to train in our roles with those of the same affiliation once we have gained maturity.” He paused. “Well, close to maturity. And some are more ready than others.”

“You are hard on Seedrah.”

“He comes from an old line, almost as old as mine. We have the honor of serving on this exploratory vessel. We are given missions of the utmost importance. It is our duty, our privilege, to keep all those who serve the Kardoval.”

Another new term. “Okay, who or what is Kardoval?”

“Kardoval is… the all. They can see and understand all affiliations, can guide anyone in need. They have skills to encompass our entire society, so they lead us.”

“So, like our galatic rulers. They are in charge of everyone else. They make the laws, have the final say.”

“The Kardoval do not make laws, but they do have the final say in all things. We consult them or they issue orders for missions, suggest research, entreat with other cultures on our behalf.”

I rubbed an itch on my cheek away against the pillow. “Is there more than one?”

“A male and female.”

“Are they a couple?”

Garjah’s voice was aghast. “As in a sexual pairing?” He sounded as if the very idea was blasphemous.

“Um, yeah? A lot of people in the same careers, or at least similar ones, are together. They have more in common, they can understand each other.”

“No,” Garjah said emphatically. “We do not pair bond with those in our own affiliation.”

Maybe it was my exhaustion. Or just a stupid slip of the tongue. “So you could pair bond with Timok? You spend a lot of time with him.”

“Pair bonding is not approved for security members on the ship. It would be dangerous if I were to feel the need to protect one person above all others.”

“And you’d feel that, if you were bonded?”

“All who bond do. It is… intense. Don’t humans?”

I yawned. “No. I don’t think so. My parents didn’t. It’s about love and caring about a person, but not some sort of special protectiony thing.” I shrugged one shoulder, though he probably couldn’t see it. “Sounds kinda nice though.”

“Timok shared the cultural information on your species. Your bonding is done with documents, ceremonies. We have ceremonies, but pair bonding is biological. Especially once offspring is involved, there is no going back.”

“Mating for life. There are other races who do that. And lots of animals.” My shoulder twitched and I winced. “What happens if one dies?”

“If the offspring has matured, the other will follow.” Garjah’s voice dropped low and quiet. Sad, if I had to give it an emotion. He didn’t show many, so it stood out.

“Did that happen to you?” As soon as the blunt words slipped out, I wanted to snatch them back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” The muscles in my neck crawled, and I twisted my head on the pillow.

“Are you hurting?”

“No…. I don’t know. My muscles keep twitching. It’s like… ants.” I didn’t like it.

Garjah ordered the lights up, and I flinched. He rolled out the bed and smacked a spot on the wall. “Medical to my quarters immediately.”

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J Alan Veerkamp

J Ray Lamb

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 26

I should be protesting. I’d done almost nothing but argue with Garjah since I’d met him. Even our civil exchanges were usually punctuated with quips and sarcasm. He had dry humor and rarely took offense to my snark. But it was taking everything in me not to look down at my missing hand and lose my shit.

Bouncer slunk beside us, his gaze taking in everything and everyone who crossed our path. It wasn’t doing anything to endear him to the crew, but Garjah just snapped at the others and they flattened against the walls of the corridors and out of our way. Timok needed the room anyway; he was dragging a huge cart behind him.

Yet another reason I was trying not to lose it. What was all that stuff? What was Timok planning on doing to me with all those shiny metal things?

I really preferred doing the experiments, not being the one experimented on.

Garjah’s door to his quarters was only a few down from my own. How had I not known that? Had he put me here on purpose so he could keep an eye on me. When his door swished open, I looked around. I guess not even the most catastrophic injury I’d ever experienced could dampen my curiosity for long.

His room was much larger than mine, but he was bigger too. He’d need the space for the bunk alone, which took up twice the space in the corner. It was softer than mine too, covered with colorful pillows and a thick, soft blanket. The bed was a sea of comfort in an otherwise austere space. The walls were neutral colored, the desk was clear of clutter, and the table and chairs were neatly tucked together along the opposite wall.

Garjah snagged the chair from the desk and pulled it screeching across the floor. He settled into it at the head of the bed.

“Could you be more in the way?”


Timok huffed, narrowing his wide eyes at Garjah who just folded his upper arms. He kept one of his lower ones on my shoulder. “You can help him here. You have room to work.”

“You could wait over there.” Timok pointed at the table and chairs.


“I want him to stay.”

That shut down their argument. Garjah tightened his grip on my shoulder briefly, then rubbed gently. I reached up and grabbed one of the long pillows on the side of the bed. My fingers sank into it and the fabric molded to my hand and hugged it. “Ooh. I like this.”

“It’s yours,” Garjah said immediately.

“I don’t want your pillow.” Well, I did. But not for him to give it to me. “Where can I get one?” Maybe I could work for it, or trade something of mine. So far the Four Arms had been pretty dismissive of human goods, but you never knew what might be a treasure to someone else.

“I want you to have it.”

Before I could argue more, Timok surprised me by pressing an injection against my neck.


“Owwww,” I whined. A fiery itch engulfed my arm. I tried to curl it against my chest, but I couldn’t lift it.

I opened my eyes. I was strapped down again. “Garjah!”

A door in the wall slid open, and Garjah rushed in with a tray in two of his hands. “Are you okay?”

My breath came in short pants. “No! Why am I tied down?”

“Timok needed you to keep still while he worked, then you kept trying to dig into the healing tissue.”

I craned my head, but I couldn’t see it. I slumped back. My stomach churned, and the stress made me want to vomit. “It hurts.”

“There’s a spray I can use, if it is unbearable.”

“Can… Can I see it?” The words came though I wasn’t sure I meant them.

“No.” Garjah set the tray on the table.

I lifted my head again. “Why not?” I demanded.

“It would disturb you, Timok said. He made the metals opaque.”

“What did you do?”

“I sat beside you while Timok worked. I only left to get food because Timok said you’d stay in stasis.” Garjah frowned. “You don’t stay in stasis long.” He retracted the straps holding me to his bunk.

“Sorry?” I apologized awkwardly. “But why can’t I see my hand?” I sat up with his help and finally saw for myself. A shimmering swarm of something was moving around my arm from the elbow down and extending in a ball. “What is that?”

“How familiar are you with medical technology?”

“I’ve never seen anything like this.” It would’ve been fascinating if it wasn’t my arm, my hand.

“The liquid metals being infused with your body to create your new skeleton. The movement is the medical bots infusing the cells bonding with the metals to recreate your tissues. It will take time to work.”

“How long? Will it keep hurting?”

“I will take the pain away.” Garjah liberally sprayed my shoulder, and my arm numbed quickly. “Are you hungry? You need to eat a lot.”

Slumping against the pillows, I took the plate Garjah handed me. We started to eat quietly, but I needed a distraction from the craziness happening to my body.

“Why did you bring me here?” I asked.

“You need to stay still, eat a lot, and the lab wouldn’t be comfortable for me to stay with you. I take my debt seriously.”

Somewhere, in the depths on my mind I hadn’t acknowledged, I wanted to be more than a debt. “This wasn’t your fault.”

“I did not take your safety seriously, and you got hurt because of it. I am deeply shamed.” Garjah’s pale green stripes faded until they were nearly white. “If I cannot make this right….”

“Okay, okay, I’ll let you make it right.”

He heaved out a giant breath. “Thank you.”

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 25

“I’m glad humans are predictable,” Timok said.

“That’s enough.” Garjah crouched beside Bouncer’s exercise cage in the hold, one set of hands flat on the floor, the other on the door. We were hiding in one of the tubes they’d set up. It was dark, and small, and I could hide from reality. Bouncer lay across my legs. “Can I come in, Essell?”

I buried my face against Bouncer’s neck. “I want to stay here.” He was purring against me, nuzzling my cheek.

“You can stay there. I just want to come in.”

“Go away.” They all needed to leave me alone. Bouncer tensed and whined.

“Please let me come in,” Garjah said quietly. “We can help you, Essell. I know you’re upset, and scared, and Timok was not sensitive to your situation. I’m sorry I let you get hurt, but I promise we can make it better.”

“Make it better?” I scrambled onto my knees, crawling awkwardly out of the tunnel with one hand on the floor and my arm braced on Bouncer who stayed at my side. Rage and tears thickened my voice unrecognizably. “How can this ever be better? Can you bring back my hand?”

“No. Nothing can bring it back. I have allowed you to be harmed while under my care, and I cannot begin to make amends for my failure if you stay here. Timok can help you, if you let him.”

My breath shuddered in my chest as I took in one deep breath after another. Finally, I nodded once. “You can come in.” I sat on the edge of the tube. My hands were fists… or my hand was. I suppressed the cry of rage, denial, and pain.

“Why can I feel my hand if it’s not there?”

Garjah slowly undid the gate and entered, but Timok stood beside the empty space.

“Nerves conduct signals to your brain, but your brain doesn’t have the input that your hand is missing. The mind is a powerful tool, one that can do many things—even convince you body parts that are gone are still there. But we can use that,” Timok answered.

“How?” I asked bitterly. The calm science of his reply, just one professional to another, galled me when his simple words should have been a comfort in their logic.

Logic didn’t take away the fear and disgust from the one glance I caught of the empty space where my arm just… ended.

Bending down to my level again, Garjah met my gaze. “Timok can help you regenerate. Then you will have your hand back.”

I shook my head. “Humans don’t regrow limbs. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

“Biomechanics, and a stimulus of your immune system with a special infusion of cells will provide the necessary impetus to regrow your hand. It will take time and it will not be comfortable. It will not be exactly the same, but you can recover from this, Essell.”

“I know I have broken your trust, but I beg that you allow me a chance to gain it back. I will never fail you again.”

The pained earnestness in his voice, in his face as he focused on me, and his words connected through the shock smothering me. “Again? What do you mean?”

He placed a hand on my knee, and Bouncer growled. “Hush, beast.” He quelled Bouncer with a look and firm command, and I was surprised it worked when Bouncer stopped growling. He did lean heavier against me. “The only thing you need to worry about right now is coming back to the lab. Can you do that?”

I tried so hard to think it through, but all I could focus on was having two hands again. I’d be normal again. “Yes.”

“Can you walk?”

Heat suffused my face, and I knew it had turned red with my humiliation. “I don’t know. I don’t remember how I got down here, but I guess I walked. Right now my knees feel like they are noodles.” Not the firm, raw kind either. Nope, they were like overcooked, rubbery, sticks to the plate and doesn’t move an inch no matter what you do hot mess types of noodles.

“I will carry you, if you allow it. I remember, you don’t like it.”

“This time it’s okay.” I hadn’t lost it enough to say he could do it anytime. Garjah had always been solicitous, caring about my wellbeing, but since he’d neared Bouncer’s exercise cage he hadn’t taken his focus from me once; either his gaze or his touch was on me always.

Nothing could stop me from hiding my arm. I didn’t want to see it and I didn’t want anyone else to see it either. The way back to the lab, I hid as a huddled mess in Garjah’s arms. He supported me with the lower set and used the upper to rub my shoulder and the back of my neck. His hands were gentle but worked out the knots set in my everything.

“Set him on the table and I will get started,” Timok said.

“No.” Garjah stood beside the doorway.

Timok stopped abruptly and turned. “No? What do you mean no? You brought him here so I can help him, didn’t you?”

“I brought him here so I could escort you to your lab to grab supplies. You will help him in a more comfortable location since this will take time.”

Timok pursed his thin lips. “Comfortable?”

“And private.”

“So his quarters it is.” Timok started to turn away.

No!” The new command was given fast and furious. I startled  and stared up at Garjah’s face. He was scowling. “You are not listening. He will come to my quarters. He will need help. I will help him.”

“Shall I tell Seedrah he’s on duty for the next quarter of rotations?” Timok asked. “That’s how long this will take.”

“Whatever it will take, I will do,” Garjah announced.

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J Alan Veerkamp

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 24

Bouncer was beside me in an instant, his whole body tense. He whined, sniffing the air. Garjah held my wrist with his upper arm and swept me into his lower pair, once again cradling me in his arms against his hard chest. It was hard, but my exosuit protected me. My helmet jarred against his shoulder as he ran, but I couldn’t look away from the writhing shape in my palm.

Not even when I twisted my head, frantically smacking my helmet until it released, and vomited to one side.

The indominable cerops stayed beside us, refusing to leave me though Garjah ran fast and silent through the sand. I didn’t know Four Arms could move that fast. Or maybe the world was spinning around me and I’d lost it.

Something was crawling under my skin, and the color of my hand was changing from pale to dusky gray.

“Is that normal?” Garjah said, panting as he topped a dune.

“N-no,” I stammered. Try as I might, my hand was no longer my own. Something slid across the pads below my fingers and they jerked in response. “I’m gonna be sick again.”

He tilted me but didn’t stop running as the ship came into sight. He must have somehow sent a signal ahead because Timok and another man waited. I was just glad they didn’t think Bouncer had attacked and weren’t shooting at him.

I tried to give Timok a rundown of what happened, but the Four Arms ignored me as Garjah hustled me through the corridors to his lab. Gajah carefully placed me on the table, fumbling to remove my suit.

“He’s going to need to be put out, completely.”

“What? No! Just take them out!”

“I don’t know if it will work. It didn’t before. You’ll have to leave. Something about your presence keeps him from going into full stasis.” Timok was readying a device I didn’t like the look of.

“Seedrah!” Garjah bellowed. The door slid open to reveal his sweating protégé.

“Stop. Just stop.” No one was listening to me. I tried to sit up and swing my legs over the side of the table.

“Hold him,” Timok ordered. “Garjah, go.”

“No! Don’t leave me here, Garjah, you bastard!” Seedrah grabbed my shoulders, pulling me back down on the bed. Timok avoided my flailing arm and injected me. The lab faded away as Garjah’s form disappeared behind the closing door as he abandoned me.


The feeling of my hand clenching into a fist was the first thing I noticed when I woke, along with a burning tingle in the limb. I sighed in relief, staring up at the ceiling of the lab. I was still there. Glancing over, I noticed Timok in a chair. He looked haggard, both sets of his hands clasped together, and he met my gaze soberly.

“Sorry I was panicked when Garjah brought me in earlier. I couldn’t feel my hand or move it, and that freaked me out. Where is Garjah? I need to apologize.”

“Garjah should not have let you touch a plant infested with sindranth.” Timok sighed. “He is very upset.”

“It’s not his fault. How was he supposed to know they’d eat through my suit?”

Timok pursed his lips. “Your suit is inferior. He knew this. Sindranth prefer to live in living tissue but have mouths that can bore through almost anything because sometimes they must use other means in the desert.”

“Accidents happen. I’m okay. You got them out, right? That’s why I can move my hand.”

Timok leaned forward. “Essell, you have not looked at your hand once since you woke.” He shook his head. “I am sorry, but once sindranth invade living tissue, it is impossible to remove them. They shed cells that replicate themselves in ways we have not discovered a way to stop. Each colony continually reproduces until all the living tissue is eaten away inside their home, then they release through holes in the host to be picked up by a new host or blow in their shell form across the sands and rocks until they find something living to latch onto.”


“The only thing I could do to save your life was remove your hand,” he said gently.

My breath came short, and the nausea I’d felt returned. “W-what? No!” I shook my head violently, swallowing repeatedly to keep the bile down. “No. You didn’t. I can feel it. It’s there.”

“Essell, look down.”

I closed my eyes. “No,” I said desperately. “This can’t be happening.”

“We will help you, Essell. You will be okay. You were limited with just two hands, but humans seem to manage. We—”

“I cannot do my work with one hand!” This couldn’t be real. The metal of my exosuit was state of the art. It was tested on innumerable planets. I jumped off the table, still refusing to look down. I was only wearing a pair of brief shorts like I’d seen some Four Arms wear, and my feet were bare. The metal was cold, but not as cold as the chill running down my spine.

Barreling out of the lab, I ran with no plan but my feet took me to the one place I had managed to learn how to find.

Bouncer’s cage.

He stood as I came into the hold, whining when I fumbled the latch with my non-dominant hand. I cursed, my vision wavering, until it finally opened. Then I feel to my knees beside him and cried. My shoulders shook, and I hooked my arm around his neck to hold on to him as he pressed his head against my chest. He rumbled a soothing purr and stood with me against the sorrow and shock consuming me.

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