Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

Bookmark and Share

About IGMS / Staff
Write to Us
Print this Story

Issue 60
Stories
Dry Run
by Kurt Pankau
The Stowaway
by Stephen L. Moss
Mercy at Eltshan-time
by Stewart C Baker
Primum Non Nocere
by Caleb Williams
IGMS Audio
Primum Non Nocere
Read by Stuart Jaffe
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Charity
by Julie E. Czerneda
Bonus Material
To Guard Against the Dark
by Julie E. Czerneda

Excerpt from To Guard Against the Dark
    by Julie E. Czerneda

published by DAW Books 2017

Prelude

Seeking that which stole from AllThereIs, the Great Ones felt neither strain nor effort as they reached along the bridge, crossing Between into NothingReal, the space occupied by beings of flesh.

Until they reached through the portion where Between had begun to rot.

They faltered, impeded. Experienced dislocation. The universes had an order. They were part of that. Disrupting it had consequence--

But their task was unfinished. They reached with FORCE.

Uncounted Great Ones winked from existence, leaving gravity holes to warp AllThereIs, swallowing light.

Others were created, cataclysms of wild, vibrant energy to fill and alter what had been.

The Dance changed. The change took place before the Singers could perceive it. If they could. To them, AllThereIs was the fabric of the universe and eternal.

But the Watchers saw. They learned a new and terrifying truth about the order of universes.

All things begin.

And all have an end.

At the same instant, in the universe where the lifecycle of stars and their planets were predictable and of note mainly to astrogaters:

On Cersi, an Oud had died, having crawled to its final rest. Unlike other Oud, this one had stuffed its ventral pouches with objects that were not Oud, but when iglies swarmed to consume the corpse, as was their role, there was nothing left inside.

On Deneb, a Human inner system, in the fortified hillside estate of the new leader of the Grey Syndicate, a gem-encrusted raygun disappeared from where it had been tossed in a drawer, its new owner frustrated the thing didn't work.

In the well-protected vaults of the First, the aging collective of species who'd begun the search for the Hoveny and remained transfixed by its mysterious sudden collapse, cases filled with artifacts emptied. Those thefts went unreported; the fortunes of the First were scant enough in this era of peace within the Human-inspired Trade Pact.

Little did they realize the theft was happening on every world gifted by the Hoveny Concentrix with its technology, for everything once able to rob AllThereIs of its living energy had been, finally, removed from existence.

A handful of archeological sites emptied; most remained unaffected. Still, panic could have spread, for such happenings had no precedent--

--but they were over as soon as they'd begun. In the aftermath, few wanted to admit what they'd lost, fewer still what they hadn't. Curators on several worlds retired their costly "Hoveny" displays and looked for new jobs.

What had happened? Speculation was rampant, whether secret or in public. The Hoveny built with materials no one in the First or the Trade Pact yet understood, but if they'd a finite lifespan, where were the products of that decay? If, as Turrned missionaries preached, the former Hoveny Concentrix was cursed, why this consequence? And why now?

Unknown to the rest, heedless to the order of universes and consequence, was another opinion entirely.

/~!~/anticipation/~!~/

Trade Pact Space

Chapter 1

Stars.

Fingers interlaced, her hair stroking his cheek, they'd walked the nights of ninety-nine worlds. Floated in space to watch planets spin. Lain naked on mossy ground, lost in one another, under so many stars--

Those had been real. These couldn't be. The ceiling lay beneath a covering of formed concrete, plas, and a significant amount of natural stone, a roof he'd built to keep out more than the night sky. Could be a dune curling overtop as well, it being sandstorm season.

Yet, still, stars twinkled overhead, wheeling in formation as if he watched them through time.

A dream. That was it. He shut his eyes, fingers straying to the cool metal band around his wrist. Touch seemed odd, for a dream.

He opened his eyes. Looked up. Surely only in a dream could a segment of that starry scape flex . . .

Bend . . .

Lean down, closer and closer, those stars about to crush him--

/need/~location?~/urgency/

For the--"No more!" he shouted, furious. "Get out of here!"

A heavy arm--something arm-ish--plopped across his chest and slid away. Jason Morgan squirmed in the opposite direction. "On! On full!"

The portlights obeyed, blazing into every corner of the room.

He was alone.

"I heard you the first time." Huido Maarmatoo'kk emphasized the "first." "A Rugheran was on your ceiling. The starry kind, like the ones you saw on Cersi, not the dark greasy kind here. Your shout woke me from a most pleasant dream, you know." A sigh like rain on plas.

His hands wanted to tremble. Morgan wrapped them around his warm cup, guiding it to his lips with care. The kitchen felt strange. Too bright. He hadn't, he thought abruptly, sat at this table for--he hadn't, since, that was it. Hadn't left his quarters.

Hadn't bothered to move, in case it hurt. Fine plan, that was. All of him hurt.

Most of him stank.

Not that it mattered.

"Yesterday, you saw a Rugheran in the accommodation. You shouted then too. And threw a jar of something at it, making a mess, at which point it disappeared. Can't say I blame it."

Morgan glowered through the steam at his companion. Gleaming black eyeballs, each on their stalk, lined the opening between the gently pulsing disks that served as a head. Unblinking eyeballs. He should know better by now than try to stare down a Carasian. "It's not my imagination. They travel through--" the M'hir, he almost said, and flinched. "They don't use doors. You know that. They're here and they're real."

Unlike what else he saw when alone: the curve of a smile, the luxurious flood of red-gold hair, sombre grey eyes flashing with sudden heat--

Sira.

Always, always, no matter how he tried to stop there, stay, the ending followed. The furious boil of waves on an unreal beach--

Her fingers, letting go--

That hollow, inside, where she'd been.

He'd curl into a ball and shiver until he fell asleep or passed out, always cold. So very cold--

A soft chink as clawtips met under his nose. Morgan refocussed. "What?" He tried not to snap, wearily grateful Huido bore with his tempers and accepted his silence. He wasn't ready to talk.

They hadn't spoken in what might be days, come to think of it.

Something was different. He blinked. His friend's massive carapace was peppered with gleaming metal fragments, between the usual hooks for weaponry, the fragments from a groundcar that had exploded too close. Huido'd removed the largest to keep as souvenirs--but that wasn't it.

The black shell was a maze of fresh scrapes and gouges, some deep. "What happened to--" Morgan's voice broke. Gods. "What did I do?" a whisper.

"You weren't yourself," Huido informed him. The big alien eased back, wiggling the glistening pink stub of what had been his largest claw. "Nor am I. After moult, I will be magnificent once again! We need more beer." In a confiding tone, "Beer speeds things up."

He'd hit bottom, that's when they'd last spoken. When he'd--Morgan's face went stark with grief. "I cursed you. Ordered you to leave."

"Bah. Why would I listen? Your grist wasn't right." The intact claw, capable of severing his torso in half, tugged gently at his hair. "Better. Still stinks."

"I attacked you." Morgan remembered it all now, too well. He'd been wild, raving. Huido had squeezed himself into the door opening to seal him in his quarters. Morgan had struck out with whatever was in the room--until he'd collapsed, sobbing, at Huido's feet.

Eyestalks bent to survey the marks. "You tried," the Carasian corrected smugly, then chuckled. "I'm glad you didn't hurt yourself."

Morgan reached up. After a second, the centremost cluster of eyes parted, and deadly needle-like jaws protruded, tips closing on his hand with tender precision. "Huido--"

The jaws retracted and Morgan found himself reflected in a dozen shiny black eyes. "The past." The lower claw snapped. "The present! Why are the Rugherans here?"

The Human dropped his gaze, staring into the sombay. "They're looking for--" His sigh rippled the liquid. "For her."

"To the Eleventh Sandy Armpit of Urga Large with them!" Huido roared, shaking dishware and hurting Morgan's head. "Tell them I said so!" After a short pause, he went on in his normal voice. "You can talk to them, can't you?"

"I don't want to." It sounded sullen even to him, but Morgan couldn't help that, any more than he couldn't help but hear the Rugherans: their matrix-like speech, emotion blended with single words or the simplest of phrases, flooded his mind despite his tightest shields. Cruel, to come to him here--

--where he came for peace.

It hadn't always been so. The first time Morgan set foot on Ettler's Planet, he'd been dumped there. His own fault, having yet to gain the most rudimentary knowledge of what offended non-Humans. The Trants could have removed his limbs for suggesting--well, being dumped had been the best option, suffice to say, and one reason he'd gone on to learn everything he could about the manners of others.

That sorry day, he'd prided himself on a close escape. Instead, he'd been left in the worse place for a telepath, even one of his latent ability, for this world's Human population contained more than its share of the minimally Talented: those whose thoughts leaked constantly, without self-awareness or restraint. Morgan's natural shields protected his mind from others.

He didn't know how to keep their minds out of his.

Half-maddened by the bedlam, somehow Morgan had taken an aircar and flown out into the desert, unable to stop until he reached quiet.

There--here--he'd stayed to recover. Only Huido had been welcome, the painful maelstrom of Carasian thought patterns at a level easy to avoid.

Later, healed, and having traded with Omacrons, non-Human telepaths, for their mind-shielding technique, Morgan was able to protect himself. In space, in the Fox, he hadn't needed shields at all.

With Sira, he'd wanted none. Her thoughts had been his--her mindvoice the last he'd heard. The last he ever wanted to hear. He'd never open his mind to another's again.

Till the Rugherans, who had no right--

The Human set down his cup. It tipped, spilling dark liquid. Unfair. Huido kept the kitchen spotless. "I'll get that." He rose and was forced to grip the table to steady himself. It took longer than he remembered, walking to the counter, and he had to concentrate: pick up the wipe, return, clean the mess.

Eyestalks twisted, following his slow progress. "You need a moult too."

"Wish I could." Something about moulting--"Order as much beer as you want."

A chuckle. "Fear not, my brother, I've taken care of it--and a case of Brillian brandy, for variety." A less happy, "If not the storms." The Carasian loathed sand, claiming grains worked into the seams of his shell. He cheered. "While we wait, I could take care of your unwanted visitors." With a disturbingly coy tilt of his carapace, Huido indicated the weapons, most illegal even here in the Fringe, housed on the pot rack.

Morgan shook his head. "Let them poke around till they're satisfied." No need to point out the unlikelihood of any weapon affecting beings of the M'hir.

As for the Rugherans' reaction should more than a jar be tossed at them?

He'd prefer not to--

The kitchen tilted. The Human lurched into his chair, sending the rest of his sombay, and cup, to the floor. He cursed under his breath. A newly hatched Skenkran was stronger. "What's wrong with me?" under his breath.

Shiny black eyes converged on him, then aimed idly--and simultaneously--anywhere else: the weapon-pot rack, the ceiling, the floor, the walls.

Done it to himself, that meant.

Morgan let out a slow breath, tasting the stink on it, the truth. He'd ignored his body's needs. Refused food. Drank himself to sleep. Refused to move. He'd a vague memory of feeling the pinch of shots. Stims, likely.

For how long?

Judging by the tremor in his hands, it could have been weeks.

Neglect? Cowardice. He winced. Hadn't he told Sira, Let go and live?

Hadn't she'd asked the same promise of him?

Shouldn't have taught her to be a trader, he told himself, meaning not a word.

Morgan summoned his remaining strength and stood. "Tomorrow," he announced.

One eyestalk swivelled back to him.

"Tonight, then." Three more joined the first. Doubt, that was. "Some supper--just not--make anything," he capitulated. "I'll eat it." No guarantees it would stay down.

The full force of the Carasian's gaze returned. "At the table?"

"Don't rush me." The Human pretended to squint at the lights. "Too bright. And the Rugheran ruined my sleep."

But his lips cracked, stretched by the ghost of a smile. The first--since.


Home | About IGMS
        Copyright © 2021 Hatrack River Enterprises   Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com