The Liquor Seeker

The airlock slid open with a hiss and Tenaria fell through the yawning hole it had created. She gasped, the low oxygen levels on her own ship making her mind fuzzy and her chest heave with a lead weight. She’d been floating aimlessly through deep space for what felt like a life time and a half with no direction, limited supplies and lacking common sense.

Once her composure was regained and the room had stopped spinning she propped herself up on her calloused hands and scoured the deck with a wary eye. An ST-Bluebird if she was not mistaken, one of the more battered models. The low hiss of fluid steam and the absence of a rumbling engine indicated that a few upgrades had been made relatively recently; the Bluebird wasn’t known for it’s quite operation.

Staggering to her unsteady feet she crept forward, holding onto the sheet metal that covered the walls and drifted aimlessly down the very long, very copper corridor. The twists and turns it made confused her, most ships this age had a structured lay out, this was like nothing she’d ever seen before. Thoroughly confused and turned around she stopped for a moment to lean against the wall. Taking a deep, calming breath she leant her head backwards and sighed, feeling it bump against something jutting away from the cold surface.

Turning to look at it she raised one eyebrow at the painting of a squirrel in a top hat and monocle gazing down at her with a frown unrivalled by any she’d ever seen. Backing away a little from the obscure sight she tripped over a golf club lying clumsily on the floor behind her. Grabbing the wall, she squinted into the half light the emergency lights gave off and noticed the array of stuff around her.

An old typewriter lay on its left hand side, some keys missing and looking like a sullen old man’s face, grumpy and rejected. A top hat, several taxidermy animals the like of which she’d never seen before, a battered hover board and what looked to be a statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel but without his right arm and a few bullet holes for good measure.

Wondering if she should turn back and take her chances with oxygen starvation her ears began to pick up the sound of soft music echoing down the long corridors. Placing one nervous foot in front of the other she followed the tune, the swell of the classical piece growing louder and louder. She recognised it, she couldn’t place it but she knew it from somewhere.

The dingy lower corridors gave way to bright, elegant rooms filled with brick-a-brack and odds and ends. Stacks of papers slid across the floor in little white and brown mounds, books flung open at obscure pages showed off theoretical physics, mythology, religious practices and music theory. Furniture haphazardly dotted the room and glasses of some odd brown looking fluid seemed to teeter on every edge. Tenaria sniffed one cautiously and recoiled from the sickly sweet smell.

Stepping over the skin of what looked to be a seven foot penguin and climbing over an array of cables she pushed on the wide wooden door before her; giving the golden, worn handle a shove. The swell of music hit her ears with a blasting force and sudden recognition poured in on her. The Star Wars theme screamed into her ear drums, as a live goat pushed its way past her eager to get out of its weird prison. Her mind whirled, unable to process what she was witnessing, but unable to ignore the man in the middle of the room.

“It’s rude not to knock you know!” He shouted over another great swell in the music. His long coat flowed out behind him as he leapt and bound about the space, waving what looked to be a fencing sword before his face. The blade zinged as it whipped through the air, the man’s shined formal shoes squeaked on the wooden floor as he pranced over a pile of books.

“Was that a goat?” Tenaria asked, a little afraid of the answer.

“A Triberian, Fillean Mountain Goat to be precise. My sparring partner, not the best I’ve had but he definitely has more skill than some.” He lunged forward and spiked a stuffed teddy in the gut.

“Haha! Have that Mr Bigglesworth!” Leaving the sword stuck in the bear, wobbling a little at the hilt he swished his coat off and threw it over the arm of one of the dusty old arm chairs. He looked every inch the gentleman in his well fitted suit, the red waist coat seemed to glimmer in the oil lamp light. Reaching a hand forward he gestured for Tenaria to take it; with some reservation she did.

“What may your name be Ma’am?” He enquired kissing her dusty hands and furrowing his brow a little at the taste. “Can’t imagine this is an official visit; you seem to have forgotten your shoes.” Tenaria looked down, a sudden flush of shame filling her as her black toes wriggled and left prints on the equally dirty floor. She opened her mouth to apologise but before she could muster a word, he had pulled her forward and directed her into the chair nearest the hologram fire.

“So, what are you? Criminal, gate crasher, smuggler, intrepid explorer of the stars …. mischief maker?” He cast her a suspicious eye and offered her a glass of that awful brown liquid she’d encountered on her way in from the decanter on the floor.

“A – a wander Sir. I’m lost.” She replied a little unsure of the drink in her hand.

“Ahah! I knew it! Knew it from the moment I saw you in that little box out there in the black!” He tapped his temple with one long finger, knowingly. He sat down heavily next to her and chugged down the last of his drink.

“Is there a story to go with that unhappy fate?” Tenaria gripped her glass and gazed down into its contents.

“No.” She stonewalled, unwilling to share anything of herself with this odd stranger. He gave her another look, one that was tinged with concern and questioning, but quiet acceptance.

“You should drink up.” He flourished, pouring himself another glass and lightening the mood.

“What is it?” Tenaria asked nervously, taking a tiny, cautious sip. Her face crinkled, she’d never tasted something so sweet, and the sensation! Little bubbles foamed across her tongue and tickled the back of her throat with long fingers making her splutter.

“This my dear, is the nectar of the Gods! Something quite wonderful but no longer in abundance, mores the pity. An old Earth drink, I have never learnt of its name but I believe it was quite the rage at one time in history.”

“But it’s so vile!” She exclaimed, forgetting herself for a moment.

“Pah!” He rounded on her, hand on hip, glass in the other. “You’ve had but a taste, what do you know? This is the soul meaning of everything on this ship. I risk life and limb on a regular basis in my quest for more! Do you want to know why?”

“I …”

“When I was but a young snapper of a boy, barely this high.” He gestured to some vague area, sloshing his glass as he did so. “I was digging through the rubble of forgotten dreams in my parent’s cargo bay, smugglers they were and they transported all manner of things across the stars. You know what I found? A small metal object, rounded and bright gleaming red. Not knowing what it was I hit it, I rolled it, I threw it and coming to no sensible conclusion at last I shook it, placing my ear to the can. Alas! The thing exploded right then and there in my hands raining down a glorious fountain of this perfect fluid. From that moment, I craved it, I longed for it and now I dedicate my life to the consumption of its glory.”

Tenaria was sure he was mad; a likable kind of crazy that she wasn’t sure she entirely understood.

“That’s your job?” She just had to clarify. “Searching for more of this stuff?” She rolled the glass in her hands.

“That’s it Miss! … Care to come along for the ride or shall we be sending you on your way once we come to a destination of your liking?”

Tenaria was not a girl with options. She had naught but the clothes on her back and one worn out ship. For all his flouncing something about the man seemed trust worthy and it was doubtful she’d receive another offer of travel anywhere else in this space quadrant.

“I don’t even know your name.” She said, allowing herself a small smile.

“I am the Seeker and this” he gestured his arms wide at the ship that encased them, “is Cacella. Welcome aboard, don’t touch any big bright red buttons, don’t agitate the goat and never touch my liquor without my permission.”

“Got it Captain.”

“Alrighty then! Onwards, to victory!”

Tenaria had never been so delightfully confused in all her life.

There

There’s an old Earth book, I forget what the title was, but it gave me the best advice a lonely little girl could ever have hoped to absorb.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.””

I liked it because it reminded me of my father. Every time my eyes skipped over the bold black lines that formed the words on the dull, yellow page I could hear his voice. Now, it drips with nostalgia; thick globs of memory trickle down through my brain and his face invades my waking vision.

My childhood was such a happy one, it seems like such a shame to spoil it. When I think of how we lived, free and easy, flying above the clouds in our little floating ship; I want it to stop there. Like re-reading a book you have devoured time and time again, knowing something terrible is going to happen to your favourite main character. Wanting to stop before you get to the part where it all goes horribly wrong but unable to put it down, entrapped and enslaved by the horror that binds you to the spot.

I never really understood what happened; I was only ten. We’d been sailing out from Eranta’s space port into deep space. We’d been in a hurry, I don’t really know why, I think Mother was a little ill. For a long time we drifted in space, in quiet blackness that was so different from the love and laughter I had known before. I’d been told to keep to my room and like the good girl that I was I didn’t question it; trusting in my kind Mother and Father to the fullest extent of the word. It was only when a whole day had passed and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of either of them that I ventured out into the darkness.

A blue light above me flashed down the corridor, bathing everything in a sickly glow. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear the grinding, whining of an alarm bell screeching its endless siren.

“Da?” I called out, suddenly a little afraid. “Da?”

No one answered. My Father’s work boots sat outside my bedroom door, I’d been wearing them when the soles broke off mine. I used to sit in the hammock in my bedroom keeping them on with just the ends of my toes as I swung through the air gently, reading some old book or another. They felt comforting and familiar on my feet.

We were listing slightly, a tiny touch of the gravitational field wearing off as I have walked, half bounced down through the ship down into the living quarters.

“Mumma? Are you down here?” I pushed on the door to the living quarters and shuddered at the cold breeze that was rushing across the back of my bare little legs. The fire was smouldering, some embers left but nothing else. They always stoked a fire. It was so unusual for Mother not to have one going that it made my stomach sink right down into my Da’s boots and settle there, like lead.

I crept from room to room, questioning at every door and finding nothing. I finally reached the bridge; I wasn’t allowed in there, too many big enticing buttons for a young girl to push. I didn’t think they’d mind, not this once and it had been such a very long time now. So with shuddering hands I pushed open the door.

The alarm was louder in here, blaring into my ears and the shaky AI voice was screeching a warning through the rusting old speakers Father had never got around to replacing.

“Escape pod ejected, escape pod ejected.”

My eyes grew wide and I turned to look at the escape pod exit, through the square hole of glass I could see the air lock open into outer space on the other side. Straps and insulating flapped free in the still vacuum outside. I could feel the prick of tears as it suddenly dawned on me that my parents had abandoned me, for no good reason at all they’d left me here, ten years old and floating in space.

That was five years ago now. Five years of endless drifting in deep space, not a soul around, no sign of a habitated planet. I asked the AI to send us to the closest planet with registered life; she estimated it would take us twenty years. We ran out of fuel two months ago and even for all my rationing I used the last canteen of water and tin of food yesterday morning. I’d been feeling ok about it actually, knowing it was the end but when AI finally gave up two hours ago I decided to call time on everything. I can’t drift forever, with no food or water, no fuel, no comforting voice and companionship even if it is an artificial lie. I can’t drift with no hope.

I have had advantages, I’ve had caring and loving parents until something drove them away. I can’t help but criticise though, all the pain and the suffering and the abandonment I’ve endured does not bow to the philosophy I once held so dear. It is that quote that reminds me of my Father and how much of a hypocrite he was.

This will be my last entry. I’ll leave it unlocked on the system for you, whoever you may be. Maybe you can find the answers that I never had, maybe there are no answers to be had now. Whatever happens now, at least I will have a legacy. Even if my parents didn’t remember me, maybe you will.

The Silverlight Dome – Chapter 2

“That bitch is around here somewhere. Keep your eyes open, if we don’t have her by sunrise I will personally skin every last one of you sorry motherfuckers.” The big burly ring leader that had held Lilth hostage towered over the small pack of ruffians gathered around him. A little stream of angry spittle swung from his chin to mingle with the blood from his broken nose. They shifted nervously from one foot to the other, every man knew what Bolath was capable of and they didn’t want to push their luck.

Sneaking through the shadows the group of six moved like water, silent and sure footed. Not a sound could be heard as their soft, clothed feet padded across the soft sand street. Like cats they surrounded the first door, jimmied it open with an old, rusting screwdriver and flooded inside. A few seconds sweep of the building gleaned no results. Old, worn out furniture was tipped up, cupboards and closets ransacked; nothing. This process was repeated all the way down the street, the homeless and destitute dragged from their make-shift beds, dazed and confused.

They reached the fourth door. Grappling with the door handle the scrawniest of the group twisted and turned the rusted door knob to no avail. The group behind him began to titter and his cheeks flushed an angry red. Bolath, used one large, furry hand to yank the smaller man out of the way, impatience brewing up inside him, making his agitated. Using a little of his strength he ripped the door from its hole in the wall and threw it some way down the street, no longer concerned with the noise it made.

Forcing his way inside he filled the dark room with his vast body. Stooges poured in around him and searched the place.

“There’s nothing here!” One called from the back room. Bolath’s temple twitched and the men closest to him took a few quick paces backwards. In two strides he was in front of the speaker, grabbing him around the throat and forced him back against the wall.

“Nothing?” He snarled. “Is that what you said?” Before he could go on something fell from above, tapping him lightly on his naked head. A few bits of roof tile rolled down his back and plopped unceremoniously onto the floor. He looked up, still gripping his accomplice in a vice, his face turning a nasty shade of blue-purple; he caught the flash of a heel as it disappeared up into the rafters onto the roof. He dropped the man, now unconscious onto the floor and forced his way outside.

“Lilth!” He bellowed into the night as she leapt from her roof onto the neighbours, crumbling abode. His face become a beautiful shade of purple and blue mottled rage as she turned to blow him a kiss before disappearing off down the street; canvas bag draped over on shoulder.

“Get her back!” Bolath screamed at the men already scrambling after her. Pulling out their light dividers they shone the bright beams across the rooftops, catching a gleam of red hair and shinning brown boots.

Lilth could hardly breathe, the stitch in her side rendering her almost incapacitated. She pranced like a deer over the last few rooftops before she came clattering to the end of her tiled road. Without missing a beat she gripped onto the rusting old drainage pipe that was just clinging to life and swung herself around and down the side of the rickety structure. The pipe crunched and swung, the screws that held it in place flaking away from the old walls. Leaping the last two foot Lilth rolled into the dust, losing her bag in the process.

“There she is!” Someone shouted just behind her, the sound of running feet beginning to gain on her made her heart pound in her chest. Snatching up the bag she cursed as a few precious gems rolled out into the street. She gave them a longing look before pelting off down a side road, leaving little skids from the heels of her boots in the dust; oh how she hated anyone else touching her bounty.

Crashing into the next street she headed for the docks, there was a boat leaving for the Outreaches at sunrise, if she could just make it there before the sun started to peak over the horizon she’d be ok. Picking up the pace she ignored the screaming cramp in her calf muscles and carried on. She could smell the clean atmosphere of the air lock. This was it just a little further.

Something whizzed past her, grazing her arm. Yelping her bag slipped down around her elbow; a sudden pain in her upper arm and a warm, flowing sensation apparent to her. Reaching around she touched the hilt of a knife embedded in her flesh, puckering the once taught skin where it pulled and warped it out of shape. She didn’t have to pull it out, she knew if she took even a second longer they would catch her and she’d be dead meat.

She could see it, the great ship filling the dock like a great, flat dinner plate suspended in space. It was gently spinning, getting ready to depart, she was a fraction of a second too late. She was limping now, unable to keep her pace. Skidding to a halt at the end of the dock she cursed her bad luck, the goons were behind her, blocking her in, forcing her towards the edge. A face she recognised peeked out of the crows nest as it began to float down beneath her.

“Jaspen!” She called out, waving with her good arm. “Jaspen, wait!”

“Can’t now lassie! She’s afloat!” Lilth swore at the little old man staring up at her with confusion abound on his face. There was nothing for it, glancing back one last time she knew she had no other options left to her. Her wide eyes took in the sight of the great disk, rotating, floating down towards the hatch in the great glass dome they called home, its shining silver exterior cold and uninviting. It looked like her death. She took a deep breath, shook herself twice and jumped.

Bolath came to the edge of the causeway and looked down as the ship was swallowed up in the cloud that lingered at the bottom of the great glass bowl and howled with anger. He turned and strode away, rummaging in his pocket for his cigarettes and pocket communicator. Lighting a tar black stick of smoke, he kicked the smallest of his bunch of henchmen off the edge to alleviate his rage. Feeling somewhat calmer he raised the little black box to his face and pushed a series of buttons. An electrical crackle emitted itself from the speaker on the bottom of the box. Giving it a swift whack with his palm the static settled down.

“Sir. My most sincere apologies Sir.” Bolath began.

“Did I not make it clear to you how important it was that you recover that gem, Bolath? Perhaps I was not making myself clear?” A whispering, rasping voice echoed out across the musky dock. It sounded distant, far away and muffled.

“No Sir, I understand. It was, just that …”

“Oh Bolath. I am disappointed.” The voice hissed, a little louder now that it had been before. “I’m afraid that I can’t stand for such a thing. I might have to let you go.”

“Sir, please.” He coughed and pulled on his collar.

“I simply cannot afford anymore blunders at this stage, you understand I’m sure.” Bolath heaved, suddenly unable to take in any air. The blood vessels burst in his eyes, filling them with little strings of red. For the last time he flushed his trademark shade of purple before falling unceremoniously to the floor, to the great delight of his crew. As they shied away into the new morning the radio crackled to itself, keeping the cooling body company in the still of the dawn.

The Silverlight Dome – Chapter 1

Lilth spat a mouthful of blood onto the dingy, dirty floor; a little mushroom cloud of dust floating lazily up around her expelled bodily fluid. Her eyes drifted hazily about the room, a little dazed by the force of the fist that had connected with her jaw. She grinned up at the swaying black figures that surrounded her.

“You’re one stubborn bitch Lilth.” Her tormentor leaned over her, both grubby, bloody hands resting on the arms of the chair she was tied to. She tugged again on the ropes that pulled her wrists tightly together behind her back. “Just tell us where the gem is and we’ll let you go. It’s that simple.”

“Like hell, dickhead. I sweated way too hard for that thing, and I broke at least two nails in the process.” She craned her head to wipe the blood from her chin on her shoulder. “I’m not telling you shit.”

Her captor sighed; his breath reeked of bad scotch and bad decisions. Leaning back a little he cracked his violence weary knuckles. The guys behind him chuckled a little to themselves in the shadows, excited by the promise of another beating.

“Wait, wait.” She sighed, leaning back a little further in her chair, shifting her weight off her dead left leg. The man before her grinned, yellowing teeth protruding from a dark, tanned face that was hard lined and scarred. “I’ll tell you something, but you have to come a little closer. I don’t want everyone knowing what I do with my stash.”

He leaned in a little further, too eager for the information he’d been paid to collect. The promise of a large hoard of treasures an eagerly awaited bonus. The smile that crept across her face matched his own, corrupt grin.

“You should really learn to tie a better knot.” She whipped both hands forward, balled into powerful tiny fists that she slammed into both his ears making his head ring with the force. Her stumbled backwards with a roar, clutching his large, meaty head with both swollen hands. Swinging her body up and away from the chair she perfectly distributed her weight through her hands. In one swift motion she delivered an unrelated kick to her interrigator’s solar plexus, bringing him to his knees.

Three others leapt forward from the shadows, their reactions slowed by her unexpected attack. The distance between them disadvantaged her opponents and she used those few seconds to her advantage; grabbing two implements from the torturer’s table. A scalpel and long metal rod gleamed in her hot hands.

A brief moment of hesitation passed over her; her choice of weapons didn’t exactly fill her with confidence, but taking a deep breath she arched her arms into a wide throw. Connecting hard with one beefy bicep the scalpel found its mark, eliciting a high pitched howl of pain from the man attached to it.

Bringing the other arm around from the left she took a two handed grip on the metal rod and swung it around her head as the second man reached her. The metal hit his skull with a dull, but satisfying crunch. A horror filled his eyes as blood started to pave its slow trail down his forehead and into his eyes; he crumpled to the floor as Lilth leapt over him. Ducking under the flailing tree trunk arms of the man she struck with the scalpel she bolted towards the door to her small cell in a bid for freedom.

Shoving her shoulder hard against the tough wooden door she threw it open. For a second the bright light of the sun blinded her and she staggered out into the world dazed as a newborn. Rubbing her face she kept moving, feeling her way until her eyesight came back to her. She ran.

Throwing a look over her shoulder she took in a fleeting glance at the one roomed shack she’d just escaped from. The field it sat in full of bright blue grass that waved in the fake summer breeze. She wasn’t that far from home. She’d never seen her captor before but it was a safe be to place that someone from the slums had called him in. She’d have to be more careful about bringing her loot home in future.

Skidding out onto the road at the edge of the field she looked left and right wildly. She knew exactly where she was, she could run left, straight home, grab the loot and hop on the next ship across the Skylands. Or she could go right, they wouldn’t be expecting that, into the wilds to hide out for a couple of days until the hubbub died down and she could sneak back into to town to claim what was hers. What if they got there first? What if they knew where she lived and they ransacked the place whilst she was still hiding out of town like a nervous cat? Fuck that, no one stole from Lilth.

She raced down the road, feet thumping, bright red blazen hair flying out behind her in a long plait that reached to her waist. Her heeled boots clicked and clacked on the rough tarmac and the waistcoat she’d left undone flapped about, skittishly in the wind.

It wasn’t long before she reached the outskirts of the shanty town. Broken down, beaten up houses leaned jaggedly from side to side, crashing into each other like drunk men. Holes in the old cement walls leaked bricks and dust like fat silent tears into the street below. The whole place stank of despair and poverty. Lilth hated it.

“Hey Lilth!” She groaned as a group of local street kids popped out from under a pile of bricks they’d been playing in at the edge of the street.

“Hey.” She muttered as she wandered past, trying to make herself look casual. Her green eyes darted around, looking for any hint of a jump, giving away her nervous demeanor.

“What happened to your face?” One of the grubby little girls asked, eyes wide.

“Did you get in a fight?” One of the boys piped up, excitement flashing in his tiny eyes.

“I bet she did! I bet there were at least ten of them, all huge and disgusting!”

“Yeah! With big muscles and bulging eyes!” The chattering group began to swell in volume. Two of the oldest boys began a convincing reenactment of the fight, rolling around on the floor taking pot shots at each other.

Lilth groaned a little to herself. She loved all the local kids despite that annoying, gnawing anger that they always brought out in her. They always appeared at exactly the wrong moment.

“Look guys, I’m kind of busy right now. Why don’t you come back later and I’ll tell you all about it?” The group groaned aloud, little faces of disappointment swam around her knees like irritating puppies. She felt her eye twitch a little. “If I give you a couple of gold rottles will you go find yourselves some cake or something?” She hated parting with money but needs must, and they looked like they could do with a big cream bun each.

The group burst into bunch of clamouring hands and squeals of delight. She couldn’t contain the smile that crept, unchecked across her bloodied face as she quickly dolled out one gold coin to each eager hand and watched them scamper off down the road towards the bake house, pushing and shoving each other in their excitement.

The street grew quiet. The night watch bell rang out from the city centre, loud, ominous and deep. She braced herself for the artificial, shivering wind that she knew was coming. Looking up she took in the sky and watched as the pixels of colour that once made up the false blue and white fluffy clouds fade. A shimmering ripple of black moulded itself across the great glass dome that they lived under and fizzled out all the light the fake sun gave.

A few seconds passed before the street lights, flickered lazily into action . The half light they made casting long fingers of shadow across the street. She kept to the walls, hiding in the sudden darkness and felt her way, one, two, three, four doors down. Feeling for the round door handle she wriggled it, twice to the right and once to the left and gave two good pushes on the left hand corner before it gave way.

Time was running out, they’d be after her by now, using the cover of night to their advantage. She needed to pack up and go as soon as possible, she cast one last nervous look out into the night and slid the door to her house shut behind her.

An Unusual Lady

Lilth’s feet pounded the soggy ground as sparkling green grass slipping around underneath her, making her tumble with every other step. Her breathing came fast and labored; her right leg was starting to scream with the cramping muscles. It seemed as though she’d been running forever.

Somewhere behind her a tree crashed to the ground, groaning its death rattle on the way down. Twigs and rocks alike snapped in the way of the great thundering footsteps that traipsed after her through the dense forest.

Her skinny framed dived over one huge tree trunk, her heeled boots making little grooves in the bark; she cursed her choice of inappropriate footwear. Scuttling under another low hanging branch her waist length, blood red hair caught itself around one of its many fingers. She tugged, pulling on it until her head hurt. The footsteps got closer; she watched as the birds flew in a crazed panic, squawking as the trees around them swayed and bent into unnatural shapes.

With one last wrench she pulled herself free and stumbled into a clearing. Everything shone with life, bright pink and purple blossoms carpeted the floor and huge, expanding trees enveloped the sky above her in brilliant blue leaves. The sun just peaked through the odd gap in the branches, punctuating the half light with streams of glowing strips.

She whirled on her heel, the thundering footsteps made her whole body leap into the air as each giant foot smashed into the poor, forgiving ground. She had no where else to run, it had inevitably caught up with her.

“Fuck.” She muttered under her breath. Throwing off the heavy satchel, she hitched up her under bust corset and popped the buttons on the sleeves of her long white shirt. As she crouched to the floor she screwed her left knee into the ground, feeling the water from the earth creeping up the fabric of her maroon colored, tatty jeans.

She fumbled with her gun, ripping it from the holster and stabbing at the safety switch on the left hand side as the creature came thundering into the clearing. The Bluntersnitch snarled, its dog like face set in a look of pure anger and rage. A couple of sharp twigs stuck out of its bleeding hind quarters; a tree held in its mouth like a stick. Seven feet tall and full to the brim with unrelenting, animalistic hatred.

Lilth aimed for the middle of its three eyes, trying to ignore the spittle dribbling down its dirty white fur. She felt the pistol power up in her hands, the vibrating, whirring sensation familiar and comforting in her palm. She let a shot fly, bolting forwards just as the Bluntersnitch charged forward throwing her aim off balance and catching him just at the tip if his left ear.

The monster screamed and picked up the pace. Reaching her in under three seconds it made a fell swoop at her with its mouth, all yellow teeth and bad breath. She jumped, forcing one small foot into the jaw of its mouth and the other found itself on the animals nose. Before she knew it she was swinging through the air, clinging to a clump of fur to land on the Bluntersnitch’s back.

It roared and bucked, tossing her left and right. The gun flew from her gloved hands as she grappled with the creature. With one smooth motion she brought a devastating punch down onto the back of its head, stunning it just long enough for her to leap up and grab one of the low hanging branches that swayed above her. Using all her upper body strength she pulled herself out of reach, just as the creature turned and snapped its jaws at her dangling legs.

She was fumbling with the knife that she kept down the back of her left boot when a piercing whistle rang out across the forest. Both Lilth and the Bluntersnitch turned to stare in bewilderment at the man who stood in the center of the clearing, looking cocky and self important. Lilth rolled her eyes.

“Nice Bluntersnitch you’ve got there!” He shouted across the yawning expanse of space.

“Yep, it’s under control. One hundred percent. I don’t need any help, thank you very much, have a nice day.” She called back staggering with uncertainty across the outstretched branch.

“Oh yeah, looks like it.” The man mumbled to himself. He kicked Lilth’s gun about in the grass and caught it under his toe, flipping it up into the air with the panache of a man who’d long been practicing the move in front of the bedroom mirror. The Bluntersnitch’s eyes flickered from one human to the next, unsure of where it should strike first.

He took a pot shot, aiming it squarely at the giant dog’s behind and hitting his target. He guffawed as blood and a little flesh spurted out from the new wound enticing a pained howl from its owner. It twirled on its feet, churning up mud and grass as it went and lolloped towards him, a bit slower now then it was before.

Lilth let out an a exasperated sigh and watched as the man dodged his quarry, thick brown hair floating dreamily about in the breeze. He had all the trappings of a man with station, nice fancy clothes, a shiny looking blade at his waist and a cape. Who even had a cape these days?

“Aren’t, you going to ask my name?” The man panted as he artfully jumped over a swiping paw and dived underneath the animal’s belly.

“Nope!” She called out, summersaulting backwards off the branch to land in the grass next to him. “Not interested.” Racing forwards, she landed a swift kick to the Achilles heel and skidded to the side as the monster came crashing down next to her.

“It’s Ezrel.” He paused a moment to let her digest this new information. “You are?”

“I’m busy!” Lilth screamed as she ran up the side of the Bluntersnitch’s squishy exposed stomach and wobbled a little as it huffed and panted in pain underneath her feet. She lost her footing and fell, sliding down the belly of the beast until she landed on its throat. Before the animal even had time to think she whipped out her huge hunting knife and buried it into the creature, feeling it breath its last under her feet.

She hopped down from the still warm body, ignoring Ezrel’s outstretched hand and strode over to her satchel.

“You’re quite an unusual lady aren’t you?” Her unwanted companion asked, craning over her shoulder to see what she was rooting around for in her bag. “How did you get tangled up with our furry friend over there?”

“I stole something from him, not that it’s any of your business. Now if you will excuse me I have things to steal, places to get drunk in and bad life decisions to make.”

“Can’t I at least get you something to drink. You must be thirsty after all that … killing.” Lilth hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and gave him one withering look, eyebrow raised.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Right?” Ezrel grinned at her expectantly.

“Out of my way short stack! I really don’t want to have to break your face.”

“Has anyone ever told you, you have a real anger problem. I could help you work on that you know. I’m a …” He never got to finish his sentence.

Lilth’s fist connected hard and fast with his chin, sending him flying backwards into a bramble bush. She shook off her fist and tugged her hair out from underneath the leather bag strap it had caught under.

These men, where do they even come from. Did she look like a damsel in distress? She looked herself over, the smears of blood and mud didn’t scream save me to her. Shrugging she retrieved her gun from where Ezrel had flung it onto the ground with the force of her punch and slapped his upturned, unconscious ass on the way past.

“See you around, scumbag.”

Bar Brawl

I sit with my head in my hands at the bar. The hard wood under my elbows has made the length of my arms go numb; I can feel my own pulse in my temples, thwump, thwump, thwump. I’m getting a headache.

The place is disgusting, I’ve flicked at least half a dozen dodgy looking crumbs off the wood work in front of me, the glass that held my double, straight whisky is murky around the edges, like a fine mist crept across the cold glass.

My daughter sits on the floor next to my bar stool, playing with something in the dirt and drinking something red from her sippy cup. She’s a little too big for it now at six but it saves time and effort and it’s the only thing that seems to placate her these days. She’s not dealing very well with the changes I’ve been making recently.

Maybe it seems odd to you, bringing a child to a dive like this, and believe me, it’s a dive, but I have all these parenting duty things that I need to do. I also need a drink, a good stiff drink that’ll clear my head. Then I can go home and focus on all the things I need to get done. I can’t seem to think straight these days.

The cheap lino that covers the bar is peeling away, bubbling like some great, ulcerating blister where something wet has got under its skin. My long nails chip away at it, bursting its edges and peeling away the rotting flesh; it’s satisfying, like opening a wound that never healed. Something black and sticky lingers underneath it, it reminds me, prods me into a darker corner of my mind that I’ve been trying very, very hard to avoid. Funny how the most mundane of things do that to you isn’t it?

I’ve been waiting what seems like a life time for this little bit of peace and quiet, so when this large, sweating lump of a man heaves himself down onto the stool next to me the anger begins to spark in the pit of my stomach, like two whet stones clanging together down there in the darkness. I wish you’d just fuck off.

I brace myself for what I know will be a dazzling opening line, a “hey-there-good-looking” dash away from cheesy that I am longing to avoid. He drops a giant, bear like hand onto the bar, demanding the bar tender’s attention. It’s hairy, almost black and his fingers are chipped, chapped and dingy looking. Small black particles of dust cling the under slide of the flaps of skin like little lodgers. It makes my skin crawl.

“I’ll take another beer Dom, and whatever the lady’s havin'” He slurs ever so slightly, the hint of a man used to heavy drinking. The years, tell on his voice and I don’t even have to look at him to know he’s a full blown, alcoholic fuck up.

“I’m not having anything, thanks.” I mutter into my empty glass, rolling the last drop around, wondering what would happen if I smashed it over his obviously meaty head. Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off.

“Double vodka, straight.” The man says and I feel that anger burning up, wracking up the heat. Asshole.

“I said I didn’t want anything.” I said a little louder, sounding tetchy and strained even to my own ears.

“Just trying to help a lady out. You look like you need one. Are you really going to say no?” He waves the fresh glass of clear liquid under my nose. The smell hits me like a freight train running at a hundred miles an hour; something black is floating in it. I can see the sweat from his fingers bunching on the slippery surface.

Finally, I turn to face him. His grin is lopsided, the half slide of a drunk. He stinks of course, his red checkered shirt flecked with paint and dirt; a labouring man. I mop of brown hair fell in a slap dash fashion across his pudding face. The slight flush of red in his checks broken up by flecks of a dark, peppery beard. The round swell of his face was a little too close to mine, too intrusive, his green watery eyes gazing intently at me out of all that pink.

“Look, I don’t want it ok? I’m just trying to have a quiet drink in peace.” I hissed under my breath. This dumb fuck will get himself killed if he doesn’t make himself disappear.

“Hey. What’s your problem, huh? Can’t a man get a little respect these days!” He was shouting now, raising his rolling, slurring voice over the sound of the other drunks stumbling over themselves for their next drink. It fell quiet; the karaoke machine still played It’s a Long Way to Tipperary on an endless, grating loop. It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go! That woman has a voice that makes me want to silence her, permanently.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get out of my face.” I snarled, turning my whole body to face him now. He’s shaking a little, with rage or alcohol I’m not sure but he’s definitely unsteady. He’s about to unleash an ungodly verbal tirade when something tugs on my trouser leg, urgent and demanding.

“Mummy, I’m hungry.” My daughter stares up at me with wide, saucer eyes. Their icy, blue depth looking curiously up at me, my trouser leg still clutched in her vice like grip. Her sippy cup hangs from her; red stains the collar of the white dress that she’s wearing. Her brown hair is matted but it still shines in the half light of the bar. The man looks down at her and wrinkles his nose a little at her dishevelled appearance but dismisses her almost as quickly as he acknowledged her existence.

“Your mum’s busy kid.” He shuffles himself closer and I feel a little of his spit land on my cheek. I want to scrap it off and take half my skin with it but I make myself stare him down, refusing to be the first one to crack.

“Mummy. I’m hungry!” She tries again, yanking my leg off the stool. She’s welling up now, great, fat tears forming in her tiny eyes. I shove the man back as I stand up. Luckily for me he’s too drunk to maintain his balance and he falls backwards just enough for me to slink past, grabbing my girl’s hand and I haul her kicking and screaming out the front door.

“HUNGRY. HUNGRY!” God not now, not now.

We hurry around the corner of the bar, down a side alley. The darkness presses in on us, it’s thick and intense, suffocating. The only light reflecting from my daughter’s bright, angry eyes.

I can hear another, stumbling pair of feet pounding after me and I know it’s him. I quicken my steps but it’s too late. A great barrelling force almost knocks me off my feet as he strides towards me, too drunk to stop properly and grabs my right arm in a tight grip.

“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” he’s practically forcing his mouth into the side of my face, swaying and angry. I’m pulling and tugging, wriggling and squirming to get away. I swear and curse at this huge, unmovable mass; the little girl in my arms doesn’t move. She’s hissing, quietly, but with a force of anger behind it that I’ve come to recognise. Another second passes before the man hears it too.

He pulls away from me, loosening his grip a little. It takes him a second to focus his eyes on her; the small, hissing bundles in my arms, squirming now to get at him like a giant ball of hungry snakes.

“What the fuck?” He mumbles, reaching up to rub his eyes with his free hand. It never reaches its destination.

Before I can stop her, not that I really want to, she’s gone, leaps from my arms and she’s clinging to him. Her head buries itself into his podgy neck, her sharp teeth hitting the mark and red spraying out across the floor and the walls. He wriggles, squeaking like a little pig before he falls to the ground, gripping her around the middle trying to rip her away from him. She’s so strong now.

I watch. I’m used to this kind of thing now, but it still makes me sick. It’s the smell more than anything, the smell and the guilt; maybe a little fear. As I watch the life ebb away from him I wonder, how long will it be before she turns on me, before I become that twitching mass upon the floor, leaking away into the ground.

When he finally gives up the ghost, she stands up, unsteady on her little legs and wipes a big smear of blood clumsily off her vampire lips. I don’t move to pick her up or touch her. It’s like this now, cold and unnerving. She’s smiling, THAT smile. So much for having a good first day in our new town.

“My dress is all red Mummy.” She says cheerily, coming up to take my hand. I can feel the man’s blood squealing under our interlocking fingers. That’s going to need one hell of a dry clean.

The Empire’s Line

The constant clatter of distant gunfire was almost too much to bear. A thick, choking smoke filled the trench and surrounded Edward as he pushed his face into the dirt, hands clamped over his ears to gag the din. He was out of ammunition and allies, the dead all over the ridge of the trenches; laid low in cold and sodden earth. For two months he had lived in the dirt of Trench Twenty-Six and now he cowered there, too afraid to see what was thudding towards him out of the darkness. He wished he had never signed up to the defense movement; he had never expected to die, not really, he had come to kill Cogs not be killed but now there was no way any of them were getting out of here alive. He started as a heavy thud landed next to him, splattering his already plastered uniform with fresh flecks of mud.

“Watcha, taking a little nap are we?” The man was familiar, vast, bulky and tall. His sergeant’s stripes only just visible under the muck. Pulling out a small, copper box he offered Edward a cigarette. Shrugging when he shook his head he lit his own and took a long calming drag.

“Bloody Cogs, they’ve taken half of the East Lands already and their fast marching on the Southern border. I happened to overhear that we’re one of the last fortifications between them and the South Tower.” He snorted a little and coughed on his cigarette. “Some defense this turned out to be.”

Still Edward said nothing, choosing instead to gaze up at the steel grey sky. Skysliders powered through the smog, their engines rattling with the effort of staying above ground. Great wings slicing through the clouds to reveal a hint of sunlight beneath. For a moment Edward felt a stray ray of daylight upon his face before the gap closed and the cold air settled in again, stealing the warmth from his skin.

“Where have you been Bram?” It had been a number of weeks since he had been separated from his superior. The lines between trench Twenty – Six and Twenty – Four had been blurred by the detonation of a planted mine, a showering of mud and sandbags collapsing in the intricate networks.

A sudden abrupt thudding reached both their ears, cutting the conversation short and making both men leap to their feet in shock. The very ground beneath them shook violently making them stagger and slide on the uneven surface, as if the world itself quaked with the force. The sergeant grabbed Edward’s arm as he nearly toppled backward over a dead man’s leg. Still holding tight to him, he popped his head over the edge of the trench and Edward saw the colour drain from the sergeant’s face.

“What, what is it?” Edward wailed, the distortion of fear shaking in his voice. No one hid their terror anymore. War was the great leveller.

His eyes grew wide as Bram slid back on his arse with a heavy sigh. Unable to hold himself back Edward hoisted himself just far enough over the ridge to glimpse a long line of androids marring the horizon. A military bike chugging black smoke came roaring up from the rear and the leader leapt off the back with a flourish. His long trench coat gleamed with a sheen of water from the previous hours of rain. His bronze occulace roved over the battlefield, winking in the little light that was left.

A sharp tug on his boot made him loose his grip, causing him to slide back into the trench. He turned an angry face on the sergeant, who met him with an equally foul gaze.

“Are you trying to get yourself bloody killed? Why not just run out into the Deadlands and get yourself shot now if you’re going to be so damn stupid? You’ll give our position away and I have no intention of dying for your blunder!” Edward scowled and turned his face away, it would do him no good to argue with a superior, he might need his help later on.

The sergeant fumbled with his Lee Enfield rifle, roughly tearing the scope out of its bracket and cautiously leaning up over the trench to use it as a telescope. After a few minutes silence he took his eye from the horizon and sat back down, fixing the scope back into place.

“What I wouldn’t give to see Tetra again.” Edward sighed, casting a shaking look over at his comrade. The whistle of the odd shell dropping a few miles off pierced the void in their conversation.

“On the South Border? I wouldn’t hold out much hope of that my friend.” Bram remarked without looking up from the task in hand.

“My family.” He whispered to himself, he couldn’t even remember their faces; all of them blurring together to create a void peppered by old memories.

“That doesn’t matter.” Bram’s keen hearing just picking out the sadness in Edward’s voice over the screeching of their oncoming death. “What matters right now is that we have about ten thousand cogs on our backs just riding the ridge. I estimate there are about three thousand directly behind with the rest fanning out towards the west. The one in the front, with the coat, that’s General Hicks, so named after the great Doctor. I assume you’ve heard of him.”

Edward grimaced to himself. Everyone had heard of Doctor Hicks, the orchestrator of the two year war that everyone could only just remember. Hidden away in the big house on the Palace Hills he had created the first android, an all functioning killing machine with cognitive thought, reasoning and independently powered. Rouge artificial intelligence had raged through the race making them more than copper and cogs. They were exceptionally hard to kill, their metal skins near impenetrable, and in all of the years they had existed only three had ever been recorded to have been dispatched. The machines had wanted more for themselves, more freedom and power. His father had died in the first war, trying to hold back the steady flow of malicious metal, and now he would die in this one. Revenge had brought him to his knees in this hell and yet he had killed no cogs, sated no grief. His revenge was worthless and unearned. He balled his fists against the tirade of bitter anger and despondence.

“So he’s …”

“That’s right, The First Creation.”

A dull sounding blast fired off somewhere behind them, throwing up large chunks of earth and rock, showering down upon their unprotected heads. A man screamed somewhere in the chaos, and the gunfire increased its muster. A sudden queasy feeling hit Edward in the stomach like a fist and refused to budge, it was all he could do to prevent the nerves from getting on top of him.

“How ready are you to die for the North Lands?” Bram asked, fixing him with a deep stare that sought out the lie in his eyes.

“I’m always ready to do whatever it takes to keep the Lands safe,” he replied with practiced ease.

“Very good.” Bram didn’t question him, if Edward wanted to buy into all that ceremonial bull shit that was his decision. He wasn’t going to die by someone else’s code. He would die on the edge of battle shrouded in glory and honour and live forever, becoming the sung hero of the Floating Earths.

“Right then, let’s get on with it. No time like the present.” Springing up Bram loaded up his rifle and extended a hand down to Edward, who took it albeit shakily.

“I’ve got no more ammunition.” Bram nodded and crammed a small pack of spare bullets into his hand and cocked his own weapon. Quickly stuffing a bullet into the chamber, Edward scrambled to his feet, his heart in his mouth and yet still pounding painfully in his chest. Sneaking a look he could just make out the first cogs pouring over the edge of the hills like hot oil. Without a seconds hesitation Bram vaulted over the top of the trench screaming every curse word that came to mind. His mind hurtling at a thousand miles an hour Edward hauled himself up into the battlefield a great deal more clumsily than the sergeant. The mud and pools of water clung to his feet like angry hands. Stumbling, falling and dragging himself through the chaos Edward let off his first round with his body pressed into the ground.

The chaos raged around him as sparks flew as metal ricocheted off metal. All around him pistons, nuts and bolts littered the floor but there were no bodies of the cogs, just his own friends. The blood pooling, the copper gleaming with the slick red, mingling with the metal in death. He heard the crunching of metal feet over the barren ground before the flat of a foot powered into his back pinning him with super human strength against the sludge. Rasping his breath and blowing up bubbles of water in the mud he waited for the inevitable blow that would end his life. Using every inch of strength he had left he gazed upwards into the barrel of Bram’s gun just in time to watch the bullet plough a hole between his eyes.

Breathing heavily Bram rammed the Webley Revolver back into the leather holster at his waist, his final instructions fulfilled. He’d spent months with the last dogs of humanity on the edge of hell all for a little glory and by God would the rusting, degenerate race of Cogs bring him that and then some. Fate always favoured those who took risks, who were prepared to sink to the lowest. He glanced up from the bleeding body to grimace at the face of the living machine who still stood on top of Edward’s cooling body and wiped the sweat and blood splatter from his face. He cast a gaze over his shoulder at the land behind him; the now still terrain at the rear of the trenches spat black smoke up into the broken horizon. The deep scars of land now his to own, the only survivor of the great wars; Elog would weep for his return.

The feeling of something watching him made him turn on his heel to meet the gaze of The General. Raising a hand in comradeship he narrowed his eyes when his metal counterpart refused to acknowledge him. An age seemed to pass between them of unspoken malice and shaky alliance before The General raised a hand to the clouds and motioned to something hovering over the battlefield. Bram went cold as a deep, long, dark cloud poured over him, from above the gentle grating of the rusting Skyslider was suddenly the only sound in the world. A great chasm in the belly of the ship shuddered open, raining a fine rust down into his eyes. Terror froze him, for all his glory and deception; he had seen this happen before.

A sudden clattering and rasping and a multitude of cables and wires came flying out of the great hole in the gut of the ship and plucked Bram from the ground. Whipping him up into the air and slamming the wound shut. The ship juddered and rolled onwards through the sky, casting its silhouette across the pockmarked land. The General’s eye roved over all his now owned, the last defense in his way cleared, men had proven weak. It was over.

The Shadows

Gray’s shoes resonated along the dark corridor like the rapping of impatient fingers upon a wooden desk. The smart, rapid click of his highly polished shoes gave off the demeanour of a man in a hurry. The dawn was just beginning to think about peaking over the horizon and the sky was tea stained with a smart pink that hinted at the bright day to come. To anyone watching him from the shadows they wouldn’t have seen anything out of the ordinary, simply a man clothed in black trench coat stretching to his highly polished formal shoes.  One lace flapped idly in the breeze that scuttled over the bare floorboards, barely catching the attention of its impatient owner. The shoulder length black hair curled lightly around Gray’s shoulders framing the pale face that was barely visible in the shroud of his upturned collar.

The door to Gray’s bedroom slid open as silently as a breath of wind. Throwing off his trench coat and prying off the tight shoes, he gazed around the room with keen eyes. At first glance there was nothing irregular about the place; from the dark, oak desk littered with papers and financial documents to the strong backed arm chair that stood proud next to the large fireplace on the southern wall. The only startling thing about the place was the lack of light, even at this late hour the vague waxy shine of the moon light should have been creeping through the slits in the curtains that remained hurriedly pulled to did not penetrate the thick darkness. He shifted his presence over to the window and took one last longing look at the rising dawn before dragging the curtains together to completely envelope the room in darkness. He reached up and using the index finger of his right hand gently wiped away the winding tendril of blood seeping from the corner of his mouth before lifting the lid of his coffin, the satin as inviting as the softest pillows. Lowering himself in the vampire closed up the lid and settled down for the day.

The footsteps of someone approaching the heavy door of his bedroom could only have been heard by his keen vampire ears. The sound of padded feet crept their way up the winding staircase of the stately English home. Shifting his position in the chair slightly Gray hurried his face into the deep shadows cast on his left hand side as the door gently swung open a crack on the hinges. The light from an oil lamp spilled into the room, creeping its way around the doorframe and pooled around a delicate pair of bare feet that appeared in the doorway. The petite toes stopped short of the carpet, tentatively bending over the wooden instep that separated Gray’s inner sanctum from the outside world. A small, brunette head peaked around the doorframe, nervousness showing through the haze of fascination in her eyes. Amelia; young, sweet, fresh and pulsing with a life so strong it made his heart pound with longing to drain it from her.

As she stood in the doorway; her hair coiling around her pale pink cheeks and a dusting of the ends falling prettily on her chest; he praised himself for his impeccable choice. A desperate silence fell upon the room as the pair took in each other, unsure of the first move that should be made; Gray, nonchalant in his uncaring fashion and Amelia, mindful of his difficult moods and brooding stupors. The silence dominated and all but swallowed them until one dared to break it.

“You required my company Master Gray?” The vampire sat forwards, his elbows now resting, poised on his knees; his flawless white complexion falling into the light available for his scrutiny. Her sharp intake of breath was the only indication she had seen the vampire light in his steady eyes. He shouldn’t really have asked her here, she was too lovely to be playing his usual games of cat and mouse with, but it was that beauty in the face of his unnatural evil that drew him to her. Still he said nothing as he beckoned her into the room with one long, pale finger that curled enticingly with each new gesture. From the moment her delicate feet touched the carpet she was destined to die.