Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 22

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

22. Radha Village

Violence hung in the air like a scream still echoing in your ears. Raelin stared across Radha Village’s tiny port at the four Delbhana ships that made this port of call a very bad idea. A necessary one but still a very bad idea indeed. The Golden Wind, resplendent with her pristine white sails and gold trim, was there. So was the Emerald Dawn, the Singing Sands, and the new Delbhana warship the Grand Cutlass.

While Raelin and Captain Vevina waited for Theneva and Bahb to lower the long boat, they’d watched Sinead invite the captains and Delbhana representatives from the other ships onto the Golden Wind. Even half the port away Raelin could see just how stiff and nervous Sinead was.

“We have to go into port?” Raelin murmured to Captain Vevina.

“We need water,” Captain Vevina replied, just as quietly. “We won’t make it to Gulbahar without it.”

Raelin sighed. They probably wouldn’t. After Kyna City they’d encountered Delbhana ships, multiple Delbhana ships in every single port. Worse, the crews all seemed to be spoiling for brawls. Theneva had been the first Tourmaline crew member to have to cover the brawling fines out of her pay. Dallas had been second though she’d bawled the entire time because she claimed, accurately in Raelin’s opinion, that the Delbhana cabin girls had waylaid her coming around a corner. But the Delbhana cabin girls had more bruises than Dallas so she’d gotten the blame when the Harbor Mistress made her judgment.

Cessair had been flatly forbidden to go into port after the second stop in Azar where she’d gotten into three brawls before going a quarter mile.

The only logical thing that Raelin could think was that the Delbhana were actually looking to cause trouble with fights. So far, not a single captain had been involved and no one had dared to raise a fist to Raelin. Her injuries were still vivid, the stitches nearly ready to remove from her cheek, not quite from her shoulder and arm. She’d gotten one raised fist that slowly lowered when Raelin just stared back at the Delbhana sailor with an upraised eyebrow.

Neither Raelin nor Captain Vevina had thought it was wise to get water when they couldn’t be sure of the source.

“One barrel?” Raelin asked. “Or two?”

“Four,” Captain Vevina said. She shook her head when Raelin glowered up at her. “I will not set sail with so little water, Dana. It’s hurricane season. It’s terribly easy to spring a leak and then have nothing at all to drink.”

“I know, I know,” Raelin said. “But this is not going to go well.”

Captain Vevina nodded her agreement but there really wasn’t much of a choice. When it came time to clamber down into the longboat, Raelin was able to do it without too much help. Going over the rail was painful and nearly impossible but she made it down the rope ladder without banging into the side of the Tourmaline or losing her grip. There was plenty of room between the four empty barrels for Raelin to sit, not that she wanted to with the feeling of dozens of Delbhana sailors glaring at her from across the little bay.

Theneva and Luiseach, the first and second mates, were the only crew members allowed to come along. Raelin sat in the middle of the long boat while Theneva and Luiseach rowed. Captain Vevina handled the rudder herself, guiding them straight for Radha Village’s sandy shore. Every stroke of the oars heightened Raelin’s feeling of worry and threat.

Instead of watching the Delbhana fleet, Raelin watched Theneva and Luiseach. They looked just as tense as Raelin felt, lips tight, shoulders hunched more than could be explained by the rowing. Luiseach’s eyes darted towards the Delbhana fleet every few strokes of her oar as if she expected to see another longboat cutting towards them, soldiers filling it with their swords drawn to kill them all.

“Captain,” Raelin said hopefully quietly enough that her voice wouldn’t carry across the water, “I think I feel very tired and sore. I’ll stay with the longboat while you and the crew get the water for us.”

“A good idea,” Captain Vevina said equally quietly. “Theneva stays with you. Luiseach goes with me.”

Both Theneva and Luiseach looked relieved by that arrangement. Theneva’s shoulders relaxed a little bit and Luiseach sighed and nodded gratefully to both Raelin and Captain Vevina. It was leaving two wounded sailors together but Raelin thought it made sense to do things that way. After all, Raelin was the Dana representative and she was badly wounded. And Theneva’s broken cheekbone and black eye made her less capable of defending herself if something went wrong in Radha Village.

Raelin let the others pull the long boat up onto the golden sand and then clambered out while blatantly leaning against Captain Vevina’s arm. Her folio of paperwork was right there, ready, when the Harbor Master, a little old man with worried eyes and snow-white hair that was so long it poked out of his heavy black veil, came hobbling up.

“We do not want trouble,” the Harbor Master declared, voice creaking enough that Raelin frowned at him. “No trouble!”

“We need water,” Raelin said. “The last few ports were… not good places to get water.”

He looked over her shoulder towards the Delbhana fleet before nodding and snorting with disgust. “This I understand. No more of your crew will come on shore.”

“No, we have no plans of that,” Captain Vevina confirmed. “This stop was strictly for water, nothing else. Two of us will remain with the long boat. The other two will get water from the well.”

“Four barrels is six lii,” the Harbor Master said. “High, yes, but Delbhana warship drained much from the well. We must charge more.”

“Six is fair,” Captain Vevina agreed without even bargaining. “We would not wish to cause drought in your village.”

That earned her a nod of approval and a wave of the Harbor Master’s hand that brought several young women, all burly and carrying heavy staffs that looked to be iron-tipped, to unload the barrels and then roll them up to the well. Captain Vevina patted Raelin’s good shoulder before striding off with Luiseach to supervise the filling of the barrels.

“We do have our paperwork,” Raelin said to the Harbor Master. His eyes were locked on the sea, not on her, which meant that at least one longboat had to be headed their way. “I was hoping to get your approval and signatures for Minoo.”

“Minoo,” the Harbor Master grumbled, waving one hand to Raelin. “Inspectors are annoyances. Always coming and asking questions, demanding records. As though they have a right to know the details of our lives.”

“True,” Raelin sighed. She opened her folio and passed it over with the correct page on top. Her little travel pen made the Harbor Master stare and then coo with delight. “From Minoo, of course. They have the best pens anywhere.”

“Very true,” the Harbor Master said as he read, watched the sea, read, frowned at the sea, and then signed very quickly. “You let me buy?”

“No,” Raelin said with enough scorn, snatching it back and then letting Theneva take the folio, that the Harbor Master cackled. “Mine. Not sharing. Buy one from the next inspector to come through. Or…”

Raelin finally gave into the need to look over her shoulder. The Golden Wind’s longboat was almost to shore. Of course Sinead was in the center of it, just as Raelin had been in the center of their longboat. But where Raelin had been surrounded by empty water barrels Sinead was surrounded by soldiers from the warship. Her perfect red coat looked almost shabby next to the soldier’s elaborate uniforms.

Not that the soldiers looked as though they were comfortable in those uniforms. Raelin saw two of the women tug at their collars in that one brief glance. She turned back to the Harbor Master, a mean but appropriate idea occurring to her.

“They have to go through Minoo,” Raelin murmured quickly as she closed her folio and tucked the travel pen away again. “It would be a shame if there was something wrong with their paperwork.”

The Harbor Master’s eyes lit up with delight. “It would be a shame. I would hate for such a thing to happen to anyone. Anyone at all.”

Raelin glanced towards the well at the center of Radha Village. The town was small enough that she could just see Captain Vevina and Luiseach helping fill the barrels as quickly as possible. One of the locals had brought a cart. One filled barrel was already on it though how they’d get the laden cart through the sand Raelin had no idea.

“No fighting,” the Harbor Master repeated, wagging a finger at Raelin and Theneva.

“Definitely not,” Theneva agreed. Her words were still mushy, legacy of the broken cheekbone and swollen face.

“Mine is from coral,” Raelin agreed. “No fighting at all. I want the stitches out, not more in.”

He laughed again but the laugh was brittle, wary. Raelin turned and yes, she was just in time to see Sinead’s longboat cut through the surf and then into the golden sand. She stared at Raelin and then at Theneva, no wince obvious though Raelin thought that Sinead looked sad for a moment.

Then she swung out of the longboat and strode through the few inches of surf towards their side. The Harbor Master growled and waved that same scolding finger at Sinead. She stopped, visibly startled.

“No fighting!” the Harbor Master told her with such a stern tone that Raelin couldn’t help but wince. It was like having Great Uncle Jarmon scold you and that usually meant the worse work at home plus long lectures about disappointing the family and shaming their name.

“Ah, no,” Sinead said. Her eyes flicked towards Raelin for a moment and then back to him. “I had paperwork that needed to be approved.”

He perked up immediately. “You have Minoo travel pen? I buy it from you?”

“No!” Sinead said, laughing even though the Delbhana soldiers behind her growled. “I’m not selling you my travel pen.”

The Harbor Master sighed and shook his head disapprovingly as he clucked his tongue. “No one will sell me pen. Want one. Give paperwork and will review. Are fees to be paid. Must buy water because of warship so are fees to be paid for processing paperwork.”

Sinead opened her mouth to object but the Delbhana warriors all stiffened as if they intended to stab the Harbor Master for his presumption. She snapped her mouth shut, turned and glared at the other women until, one by one, they took their hands off their swords and bowed their heads to her.

Her glare continued until the soldiers backed off to their longboat, all but one especially burly soldier who looked as though she could lift a full water barrel with one hand if the size of her arms and legs was anything to judge by. Sinead glowered at the woman but all she did was raise her chin and then stare at Raelin and Theneva.

“We’re just waiting for the Captain to come back with our water,” Raelin said. “Our paperwork is done.”

“I saw no fees paid,” the soldier said, her voice a growl so low that Raelin wondered for a moment if she actually had a penis instead of clitoris but no, the Delbhana tended to treat people like that with contempt. They didn’t promote them or allow them to serve as soldiers.

“Part of the fee for the water,” Raelin said with a shrug. She deliberately shrugged both shoulders and then winced at the very real pain in her right arm. From experience, she knew that her face had to have gone pale. “Which we paid before you got here.”

“I still saw no fees,” the soldier said.

“Stop it,” Sinead growled.

“Ah, there’s the Captain,” Raelin said as Captain Vevina, Luiseach and their barrels of water came rumbling back from the well, stopping at the edge of the sand.

She raised both eyebrows as the locals loaded the barrels onto very nicely crafted slings perfectly sized for carrying heavy barrels. They had long handles that allowed eight women to share the weight. As they ferried the four barrels to their longboat, Raelin moved out of the way with Theneva.

“Sinead,” Raelin said.

“You will not be so familiar with her, Dana,” the soldier growled.

“Oh, shut up,” Sinead huffed. “What?”

“Good job,” Raelin said and grinned at the utterly perplexed looks on both Sinead and the soldier’s faces. Even the Harbor Master looked confused, not that Raelin could see more than his eyes. “At the Straight. That was expert sailing. You and your crew deserve commendations for that.”

The soldier snorted scornfully enough that Captain Vevina, Theneva and Luiseach all stiffened as well. Raelin glared at her despite the Harbor Master waving his hands as if he wanted to make them get farther apart.

“The Golden Wind went first,” Raelin told the soldier, letting her voice go deep and stern the way Mother did when she was truly annoyed at someone. “They took the Straight without anyone to guide them and without any knowledge of the dangers. And they conquered it. It was some of the best sailing I’ve ever seen and Sinead and her crew deserve every bit of the praise for doing it on their own, with no help or assistance. Dana and Delbhana don’t matter in this. You take the Straight, it’s a different thing. Like sailing round the point to Kohinoor in the spring. So. Sinead, sailor to sailor, that was well done. Very well done. Don’t let anyone steal your pride for the accomplishment.”

Sinead’s cheeks had gone blazingly red as Raelin talked. At the end she laughed, looked towards the mountains in the heart of Azar while shaking her head. Then she looked Raelin in the eyes and grinned as if she was as wild as any Dana.

“Thank you, Raelin,” Sinead said. “Well done to you too, though you should have stayed inside with those wounds.”

“I’m a Dana,” Raelin laughed as she turned and headed back to Captain Vevina’s side. “We’re not known for common sense.”

She let Captain Vevina and Luiseach help her into the longboat as if she was much worse off than she actually was. Then the locals pushed their longboat back into the surf and they were away. Raelin swallowed down her heart and prayed to all the Goddesses and the Ladies too that they wouldn’t have Delbhana ships following them out of this port and onwards to Gulbahar.

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Free Fiction Friday: The Eternal Librarian

Every Friday I post a short story for free. It stays up for one week and then I take it down so that I can post another. Enjoy this one while it lasts!

POD The Eternal Librarian Ebook Cover 04

Description:

When humanity went to the stars they took many things with them. Brencis, the Eternal Librarian, ensured that they took the books. Unfortunately, humanity also took along their greed, their blindness and their short-sighted focus on all the wrong things.

The Eternal Librarian is a touching exploration of human nature, determination and the love of learning that is dedicated to librarians and book lovers everywhere.

The Eternal Librarian

By Meyari McFarland

The air stung Laurens’ nostrils, cold and sharp so that he felt as though the hairs were freezing solid with every breath he took. He’d never breathed air this cold. The ship hadn’t allowed such wide swings of temperature. It wasn’t good for the environmental systems. Laurens wasn’t sure he could get used to it, not when the cold seeped into his clothes, made his skin prickle and tighten, made his fingers ache with the cold.

Despite the cold, though, the planet was beautiful. Laurens had studied the pictures for ages before they arrived at the Eternal Library, poring over the static ones that had been sent ahead. Niels had been absorbed in the immersive holograms sent so that they’d have a feel for what it looked like before they got here.

The holograms hadn’t done the Library justice.

Nothing could. Overhead, the sky was blue and bright, a shade that Laurens had never seen outside of very special dyes. Except no, the blue shaded from deeper indigo up directly overhead down to pale, washed out blue like the color of Niels’ eyes near the horizon.

A horizon, that was strange. Wonderful. Intimidating. Terrifying. So much space, all spread out around them for hundreds of thousands of miles. The Eternal Library sat in the middle of the biggest ocean on Chesna’s southern continent, floating like a man-made continent.

No, a reef. He’d read about reefs, seen pictures of them, too. Huge underwater structures created by tiny creatures that added a little bit every day until they’d created a habitat for hundreds of other species. That was what the Library reminded him of.

“It’s so huge,” Niels whispered as they followed their guide along a long pathway bordered by shrubbery with glossy green leaves as big as Laurens head and delicate pink and gold flowers the size of Laruen’s thumb. “I didn’t expect the library to be so big.”

“I know,” Laurens agreed. “How could this fly?”

They exchanged a long look, Niels’ expression skeptical. Laurens probably looked confused. He normally did. But that was justified. The Eternal Library was supposed to have existed for over twelve thousand years. The Librarian was supposed to be even older. The information they’d been sent as they approached the solar system, colony ship limping and stuttering as it tried to slow down so that it wouldn’t overshoot the system entirely, said that the Librarian had walked on Old Earth.

Born there. Grew up there. Created the first Eternal Library and taken it to the stars. How a single person could possibly live that long, do that much, didn’t make sense. The Librarian would have to be a huge figure, larger than life, as white and fragile as spun zero-g glass.

“There he is,” their guide said, smiling and nodded over his shoulder at them. “Busy as always. He never does seem to slow down.”

There were four people working companionably together to plant what looked like flowers. Little ones, just barely more than shoots coming up out of their tiny pots. Laurens stared at the plants and then frowned because none of the people working at the planting seemed to be what he’d imagined as the Librarian.

One was a woman, slim and obviously young, her dark hair lying in thick curls over her shoulders. Next to her was a burly man a good head taller with arms that were as thick as Laurens’ thighs. That one was odd because his shirt seemed too tight over his chest, as if there was something stuffed inside. Twins boys, neither more than five or six years old, giggled as they patted the earth around the shoot they’d just planted.

“Sir!” their guide called. “Our guests arrived early.”

The man looked up and then smiled so brightly that Laurens felt as though the air warmed up to something approaching normal for their ship. Niels’ breath caught so he seemed to feel it too. As they stared and their guide chuckled under his breath, the man patted the woman’s shoulder and then stood.

Which revealed a woman’s wide hips, narrow waist and thighs that made Laurens stare with awe. Thick and strong, as muscular as the arms; this couldn’t be the librarian. Unless the Librarian wasn’t actually human?

“Welcome,” the Librarian said as he strode over. He was taller, too, a full head taller than either Laurens or Niels, so it felt as though a wall had suddenly stood up and walked over to them. “I’m so glad you’re here. We have so many questions for you!”

“This is the Librarian?” Laurens asked and then winced, clutched his brand new access pad to his chest.

“That’s me, Brencis,” the Librarian laughed. He patted their guide on the shoulder and gestured for Laurens and Niels to follow him. “Every time we make contact with another group of humanity they respond the same way. Let me guess. You were expecting some fragile old man with skin like paper and a long white beard?”

Brencis, the Librarian, led them out of the garden by a different path that included a long flight of stairs made of fine white stone shot through with black veins. The stairs led up into a tall building with fluted columns that rose four times the Librarian’s height over their heads. Its roof was huge, flat and decorated with more intricately carved flutes and curves, flowers and scrolls.

Their footsteps echoed in the huge interior space. Brencis didn’t seem to mind it but Laurens immediately tried to walk more quietly, to set his heels down as gently as possible. Niels stumbled every couple of steps as he tried the same thing. When Brencis looked at Laurens with one bushy eyebrow raised, Laurens winced and mentally reviewed the conversation.

Oh yes. Question.

“Ah, yes,” Laurens admitted and bowed an apology at Brencis. “I do apologize.”

“Oh, no, that’s fine. We tend to steal people’s breath away here, much less their wits when they first arrive,” Brencis replied with a graceful wave of his hand that made his biceps flex dramatically. “Your mental image is better than the ones who assume that I’m some ennui driven wastrel who lives for nothing but stealing people’s books. That’s just annoying, that. I’m surprised that your ship sent people so quickly. There are so many repairs to be done that I wouldn’t have thought you could be spared.”

“We… hoped… to get some education on how to better fix our ship,” Niels said, his face far too grim for the carefully crafted lie they’d been given.

“Hmm, all right,” Brencis said with a nod and a tiny smile that wrinkled the skin around his eyes until it looked like the corrugated insulation inside a cabin’s walls. “Did you want full digital copies of the library or just the sections on ship design, maintenance and repair?”

Laurens stopped in his tracks, staring at Brencis. He couldn’t have just offered to give them the entire Library. Could he? When he turned to Niels, Niels was so pale that he looked like the bare sketch of a man, just a few dashes of watered down paint against a white canvas.

“Excuse me?” Laurens asked. “The full Library.”

“Of course,” Brencis said, grinning at them both. He’d set his fists on his too-wide hips, elbows out, so that he seemed wider than the whole building. “We’ll give it to you of course. There is a price but not one you can’t pay.”

“How much?” Laurens asked.

He’d expected that they would have to spend days working out the full cost. They probably would. This couldn’t be so simple, just walk in and you got everything you ever wanted to know. Every book and record the Eternal Library held passed into your hands for nothing. But whatever the cost was, he and Niels would figure out a way to pay it. It was the only way that they would be allowed to go back to the ship, back to their home.

“We require a copy of all the books on your ship,” Brencis said. His grin widened as Laurens spluttered. “Digital is fine but we can make scans of physical ones if that’s necessary. You’ll receive a full digital copy of everything in the Library in return, plus any books, up to one hundred thousand copies, that you want in physical form. And we can give you lessons on the different languages, too, if you wish, just like we arranged to learn your language. Star charts from the other ships that have come through. It’s a very nice database.”

Laurens opened his mouth, searching for words, only to have a thoroughly undignified squeak come out instead. He took a step back and then his legs went to water. The floor caught him, brutal and cold but somehow the only thing that made sense in the entire universe.

“Our books,” Laurens whispered.

Brencis, the Eternal Librarian, knelt and smiled as he carefully laid thick fingertips against Lauren’s wrist. “Nearly passed out there. Sorry. I thought you’d all been informed of that. We operate on the Library of Alexandria’s rules. All books that come within our reach are added to the library. We do go a step farther and share our knowledge with whoever wants it, but yes. That’s the price. Your books. Technical, entertainment, verbal, written, digital, whatever. It’s the only way to make sure that it survives forever.”

The smile on Brencis’ face faded into a dark, determined look that made Laurens’ stomach clench nauseatingly. He swallowed hard and very cautiously pulled his wrist out from under Brencis’ fingers. This. This was what he’d feared when they’d been told that they had an Immortal leading the Library. Even with as little understanding as Laurens’ had had of the Library’s language, he’d heard the importance attached to the Librarian, Brencis’, immortality.

How could he have lived so long? The longer you lived the less durable your body became. It didn’t make sense that he should be hale and hearty, strong enough to pick both Laurens and Niels up on one arm and carry them about like they were children.

“All you want is our books?” Laurens asked.

He twisted around until he could kneel, too, on both knees instead of one like Brencis. Even half up off his heels, Laurens was short and slim, a child’s build compared to Brencis’ burly frame. But the dark look in Brencis’ eyes faded into something kind, gentle, perhaps even loving.

“Why?” Laurens asked and dared to reach out to take the Librarian’s calloused hand. “Why would our books matter so much to you?”

+++++

Erin stared across the Senate floor. She’d never seen the Librarian attend one of the meetings before despite the fact that he was the de facto ruler of Earth Three. He was taller than she’d expected, dressed in a simple sleeveless tunic over tight leggings that showed off legs corded with muscle. His hair had been cropped so short that the legendary curls were barely visible and his skin, usually depicted as a rich brown looked pale.

Perhaps the lights? She couldn’t tell. Or maybe it was the tension that made the Librarian’s jaw jump and his fingers curl claw-like as people meandered about the senate floor before settling to their assigned seats. It was a major vote. Perhaps he was concerned about it?

Or angry.

His glares were all directed towards the faction that wished to privatize the Eternal Library, ensuring that people couldn’t access it without paying proper fees. It was odd that he’d be upset about that. The sheer amount of money that would be generated for the Library should have pleased him. They’d estimated that even the most nominal of fee would bring in billions of credits from all over the system. And if their plan to charge out of system visitors more for access and adding their knowledge to the Library it would double or triple that amount.

“Be seated!” the ushers shouted, pushing people none too gently towards their seats.

Erin wondered if some of them even knew where their seats were. She’d never seen the entire senate filled before but as silence slowly fell she realized that every single seat other than the Librarian’s was filled.

Nervousness pooled in her stomach like acid eating away at her confidence in the plan they’d brokered. Once silence fell only the Librarian remained, standing in the center of the senate floor with his hands on his wide, powerful hips.

His lips pressed together as he scanned them all, eyes hard and dark. Erin shivered as his eyes landed on her. This was a dangerous man, a man who could steal from the governments of Old Earth and create a space station that was actually the first colony ship ever created. Of all of them, the Librarian seemed to be the only one with the will and power to accomplish whatever he wanted from sheer determination.

“You will do this, won’t you?” the Librarian said, his voice low and harsh but easy to hear even up on the upper tier where Erin sat. “You’ll destroy everything the Library has stood for out of sheer greed.”

“It’s not greed!” Erin gasped and then flinched as every pair of eyes in the senate turned to her, including the Librarian’s. She cleared her throat and stood, hands clenched in front of her chest. “It’s not greed, sir. We want to make the Library stronger, better. That takes money. A nominal fee is the best way to accomplish it. We all agreed on that.”

“So you did,” the Librarian said with a grave nod of his head. His jaw clenched again and his nostrils flared with anger. “You’re all wrong.”

Erin flinched. The other senators around her rumbled, muttered, growled at the Librarian though none of them would say so openly. She bit her lip and squared her shoulders.

“Sir, the universe has changed since the Library settled here,” Erin said. “We have to change with the times. You’ve lived a long time. Surely you understand that.”

The Librarian barked a laugh that was so harsh and sarcastic that Erin flushed and glared back at him. “Child, I’ve been alive for over eight thousand years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s when to cut my losses and run. So be it. You’re all fools and you’ll kill the Library within two hundred years. Mark my words. It’s over and every single person in this room is to blame for it. I’m done.”

He turned and strode towards the door. Erin blinked, trying to find words, some way to stop him from just leaving. This was an historic event. He should be here.

“You’ll… sign the law?” Erin called just as the Librarian put his hand on the ancient door knob.

“No,” the Librarian said. He turned and looked back up at Erin with a little smile on his lips that looked so sad, so lonely, that she shivered. “Because I won’t be here. I’m taking my belongings and leaving the planet, child. Rule yourselves from here on out. I’m done with the lot of you.”

He flung the doors open and strode out of the senate. The instant the doors crashed into the wall and rebounded towards closing the senate chamber erupted in shouts. Erin collapsed back into her chair, shaking as she pulled up her data screen and tracked the Librarian’s progress.

Instead of returning to his home, a beautiful palace that the senate had built for him a few years ago, the Librarian strode out of the senate, down the street and then onto public transportation. She watched, ignoring the fierce debate going on around her, as he went to the Library, took the central data core that they had just upgraded with every single book, music file and game that had ever been submitted to the Library as of last week.

There were copies, multiple ones, but the master was in the Librarian’s hand as he strode right back out of the Library and onto the elevated tram that led to the spaceport. Erin clapped her hands over her mouth and bit her lip when the Librarian climbed into his personal spaceship, the one that he alone paid for and maintained, and took off.

“He’s gone!” Erin screamed.

Silence fell in fits and starts around her. Brice, her sometime-ally, sometime-friend, put a hand on Erin’s shoulder and gently shook her. She looked at him and realized that none of them knew. None of them realized just what had just happened.

“Who’s gone?” Brice asked, his gentle words a shout in the dead silent senate.

“The Librarian,” Erin said as she put the image of the Librarian’s ship climbing into space, escaping their world. “He went to the Library and took the Master Data Core. Then he left. That’s his slip. He’s gone. We so offended him with our proposal that he took the Library and left us behind.”

Erin leaned into Brice’s shaking arms, tears blurring her vision of every other senator checking the records, calling space flight control, babbling their shock and horror. Their leader, the person who had saved their ancestors from persecution on Earth Two, who had saved all the knowledge of Old Earth, was gone.

And it was their fault.

+++++

“I don’t think we’ll get away with this, Bela,” Jarmin whispered. “The rules are too strict.”

“It’s not Bela anymore,” Bela, no Brencis replied. “I’m a man now. Don’t make that mistake when we get to the checkpoint.”

“Right, sorry,” Jarmin sighed. “I wish I had your confidence.”

“More like damn your eyes determination,” Brencis replied with that grin that had convinced Jarmin that creating a secret colony ship was a completely logical thing for them to do.

Jarmin didn’t sigh, didn’t glare, didn’t do anything other than give his friend of the last several hundred years a hard look that barely dented Brencis’ enthusiasm. Strangely, it worked for them as they slowly shuffled towards the checkpoint with its armed guards and automated lasers ready to fry anyone attempting to escape. If they were betrayed, or gave themselves away which was more likely, they’d die before they could so much as turn to run.

So much had changed since Jarmin’s childhood. Earth Two had never been a fruitful world. Their terraforming efforts early on in the colonization had made a big difference, rendering the air breathable and the soil somewhat amenable to growing crops. But it had always been hard. The planet itself struggled against them and everything in the Library had been insufficient to the challenges Earth Two posed.

Perhaps that was why the government had restricted nanite implantation shortly after Jarmon reached adulthood and got his nanites. Then they’d forbidden life extension for anyone who got new nanites. The latest rules said that people with nanites that gave them added longevity were to report to have that function turned off.

They were the last two so-called Immortals on the planet. Everyone else had either capitulated to the government’s demands to die or fled out into space before theirs could be turned off. Jarmin knew of two other colony ships that had fled out into the stars, beyond the reach of the government. He could only hope that Brencis’ niece Chesna had managed to gather enough people for their colony ship to be viable.

It would be a wasted trip if not.

“Reason for departing?” the inspector asked.

“We’re delivering a copy of the Library to the space station at L5,” Brencis said with so much enthusiasm that he caught the attention of every single guard around them. “It’s amazing! I never knew that so much could fit in so little space.”

Brencis gestured at the hover cart Jarmin pushed, eyes wide as he bounced on his toes as if he was eighteen instead of four thousand years old. Jarmin sighed and glared at his back. Really, couldn’t the man attempt to act his age? After all this time you’d think that he would have calmed down a little bit.

“The whole Library?” the guard asked, one hand on his comm.

“Of course not,” Brencis huffed. “Just a tenth of it but that’s still amazing. So much knowledge packed into such a small thing. My parents used to say that they’d grown up when you couldn’t fit a bare fraction of that much into a unit the size of this room!”

He started babbling about his father, apparently a construction worker who built sewer systems, and his mother, a teacher of small children who’d taught him how to read when he was just three years old. The guard’s eyes glazed over. Even the Inspector sighed as he nodded absently at Brencis’ babble while checking the forged manifest that Jarmin offered him.

Jarmin’s stomach clenched but no, the Inspector didn’t actually read it. He just certified them and waved them through, lips going thin as Brencis kept chattering and chattering and chattering until they were through the checkpoint and onwards to the blessedly empty automated shuttle that would take them all the way to freedom.

“It worked,” Jarmin whispered once they were off the ground and he could see the curve of Earth Two through their view screen.

“Of course,” Brencis said, grinning at Jarmin as he patted Jarmin’s thigh. “Never underestimate the power of a good story, my young friend. People see what they expect, not what we are. If you play into it they’ll look right over you and never realize what they allowed to escape.”

“Where did you come up with all that stuff?” Jarmin asked, his hands shaking as he ran them over his face and through his hair, tugging hard enough to pull strands free.

It took a long moment before he realized that Brencis was staring at the view screen, a soft smile curling his full lips. He’d never seen that look, no, he had. When Chesna had brought her latest baby, adopted from a teen mother who couldn’t care for the child despite government resistance to such arrangements, Brencis had taken the child and cradled it with just that look in his eyes.

“What?” Jarmin asked.

“My father actually did put in sewer systems,” Brencis murmured, those sad-happy-grateful eyes turning to Jarmin. “And my mother was a teacher her entire working career. I told them about my family, about home, Earth. Old Earth. That they didn’t listen, didn’t understand, isn’t my fault.”

Jarmin spluttered and then punched Brencis’ broad and getting broader by the day bicep. “I’ve asked you about that for years!”

“Not my fault that you didn’t listen,” Brencis laughed and laughed and laughed as they escaped from sure death with all the accumulated knowledge of the human race riding behind them.

+++++

“The techniques should be highly effective in addressing your problems,” Ernesto said. He tugged at his doctor’s coat, long and white and strange still even though he’d been working at Longevity Inc. as a doctor for almost five years. “We should even be able to give you the majority of your mobility back. You will need to exercise and stretch, of course. There’s only so much the nanites can do if you don’t work with them.”

The treatment room was more like a gracious high end hotel room. They sat in the outer room with its comfortable couches with fine micro suede fabric that Ernesto couldn’t have afforded if he tried. Two oil paintings of gardens hung on the walls and the glass table between the two of them was littered with brochures that the patients usually pored over while asking uncomfortable questions about sexual function improvements.

He braced himself as his newest patient eased herself down onto the sofa and put her hands on her bony knees. But she didn’t reach for a single brochure. And she didn’t look at all uncomfortable to be there, odd given her age. Ernesto would have expected her to find the whole thing strange and vaguely threatening like his other elderly patients.

“That’d be lovely!” Bela Robinson, heiress, philanthropist and financier of the world’s first fully self-sustained space station exclaimed as she brushed back a strand of purple-dyed curly hair that had escaped her messy bun. “These old arms have given me trouble for the last fifty years and my knees have been a bother since I was twenty-five. Too much work, I’m afraid. Can they help with my eyes? Will the nanites be able to make my skin less dry?”

“Oh yes, those are easy,” Ernesto said, grateful that she didn’t want something impossible like a totally different face like his last patient had demanded. “We can effectively roll back the clock until you look as though you’re fifty, forty, maybe as much as twenty-five or so. It all depends on your genetics, really. The more years you’ve been given genetically the better the nanites work.”

Bela laughed, her face transforming into a network of smile wrinkles. She was taller than Ernesto, maybe five ten or eleven despite being stooped with age. At seventy-three she was on the upper edge of the patients they normally saw but her mind seemed clear and she moved well despite her stated problems with her knees.

“I’ve probably got another good thirty years,” Bela said and then honked a laugh as he stared at her. “Oh, your face! That’s priceless. I wish I had my phone out. Whee! But no, really, I probably do. Most of my relatives live into their late eighties. A lot have lived into their nineties. My mother died just last year at ninety-eight and she was only three weeks shy of ninety-nine at the time. I’m only seventy-three. I’ve got a good twenty-five to thirty years of life in me and let me tell you, after fifty-some years with bad knees and wonky arms, I’m ready to make a change.”

Ernesto laughed, breathless from just the sheer force of personality Bela gave off. He mentally readjusted their treatment goals for the day. Obviously he should have read the file more carefully because he’d assumed Bela was there for as many more years as she could get instead of something aimed at disability issues.

“Well, then we can probably give you at least another fifty years,” Ernesto said, “in addition to the years you already have. It shouldn’t be too hard. You are aware, of course, that this is experimental, still. We can’t guarantee anything.”

“Child,” Bela said, reaching over to pat his hands and smile gently at him. “I know that. I helped fund the original research that created your nanites. Hell, I’m still funding it. I just decided that things have progressed to the point that I might as well take advantage of it. I’d like to be a bit more mobile before I move to the space station, you know? That’s still a month off. We can make that date, can’t we?”

“Of… course,” Ernesto said, blinking at her. The switch from calm and cheerful to terrifyingly intense sent a chill up his spine. No wonder she’d done so much with her life. “The implantation takes only a few minutes. We monitor you for four hours to make sure that they settle properly. And then you’re on your way with a new portable treatment pad that lets you ensure that they’re still working. We’ll automatically download the data every time you come in, if you choose to do so. I’m sure that it will be fine.”

“Excellent,” Bela said. She shoved herself back up to her feet and nodded at the other room where the expensive treatment bed and computer equipment waited. “Let’s get to work. I’ve brought my ereader so I’ll be fine while we wait for everything to settle.”

Ernesto nodded and then laughed under his breath as Bela strode straight into the treatment room as if she was excited for a grand new adventure. He followed and then watched as she examined all the equipment, nodded over the programming interface and then cooed at the IV bag full of glimmering nanites. It looked like the finest of glitter suspended in water.

It took three tries to find a vein which Ernesto apologized for profusely. Bela didn’t seem to mind at all. She watched the first few drips into her veins and then had him pass her the ereader. All that energy, that drive, smoothed out into a gentle, loving expression that Ernesto stared at.

“What are you reading?” Ernesto asked an hour later as he monitored the nanites moving through her body.

“Hmm?” Bela asked. She blinked and then laughed. “Oh, nothing important. I started with a novel I had never finished. Not a very good one but at least it had a good ending. Now I’m reading about orbital trajectories. Should finish this one before we’re done. I think I’ll move on to Shakespeare after that.”

“You read a lot, then?” Ernesto asked, smiling back at her bright, enthusiastic joy in her reading material.

“Oh yes,” Bela murmured, that gentle look coming back. “I always have. My whole family has always been readers.”

+++++

“Bela! Dinner!”

Bela frowned at the mud slowly washing away from between the sticks, stones and tumbled-down logs that she’d used to build her dam. It should have worked. Really. Beavers used just this sort of thing to create their dams and they created whole lakes with them. All Bela wanted to create was a little pond on the edge of their huge overgrown yard. She must not have read enough yet about how dams work.

“Bella!”

“Coming!”

She shook her head and stood up, mud swishing between her toes as she scrambled up the bank of their little stream back onto the beaten down path that meandered through the blueberry and elderberry bushes. Father had shown her the tracks, given her an old, old book he had gotten as a boy scout, that said ‘deer’, ‘raccoon’, ‘dog’. She could read them as well as she could any of the books inside. Scattered between the animal tracks were Bela’s footprints, her big brother Oleg’s shoe prints. That one over by the apple tree that never bloomed was Father’s boot print, heavy tread dug in deep from Father’s weight and firm tread.

Then she swept through the blueberries and out into Mother’s precious kitchen garden. Rhubarb guarded the far end where the deer came. Then there was asparagus, artichokes, great huge heads of cabbage both red and white. The strawberries had stopped bearing a while ago but the carrots had great frilly leaves thrusting up into the air next to the corn patch that never produced more than a few ears of undersized corn.

“Bela,” Mother sighed as she ran up. “You’re covered in mud.”

“I was playing,” Bela said with a shrug. She pointed to her shoes on the back porch where they wouldn’t get wet or muddy. “I left my shoes. They’re nice and clean.”

“And your skirt, I see,” Mother said with a fond shake of her head. “Come on. Inside. You’ll need to get cleaned up before you eat. I won’t have that much mud spread all over the house. What were you doing to get so muddy, anyway?”

Bela grabbed her shoes and hated shirt, slipped past mother and then grinned at the way Father laughed and shook his head. Oleg lay on their battered old couch with a book in his hands, two on his stomach and a stack of them on the floor by his side. He snorted and shuddered as if being outside in the sun on a beautiful summer day was a horrible thought.

“I was making a dam,” Bela replied. “There’s a nice spot for one back by the fence. It widens out and if there was a dam there then we could go swimming.

“Good thought but we’ll have to tear it down after dinner,” Father said. “There’s rules about what you can and can’t do with streams like that, sweetie. But we can always get a permit and build one somewhere else on the property.”

“Really?” Bela said as she took the warm, wet rag Mother passed to her and sat on the floor by the door to clean her muddy legs and feet off. She really had gotten covered in the stuff. There was mud on her shoulders and down the backs of her thighs.

“Mm-hmm,” Father said. “I’ve got some books about hydrology around here somewhere. And I know I bought that copy of the latest regulations for the county, too. It’s probably up by my bed. We’ll tear your dam down and the plan out a proper one together, okay?”

“Thank you!” Bela said, beaming at him. “Can I read the books with you?”

“Of course,” Father laughed. “Should let the girl wear Oleg’s old jeans, honey. She’s outside most of the time. No reason for her to run around half naked and catch a cold.”

Mother sighed and shook her head but after dinner she brought down jeans a couple sizes too big for Bela that she pinned to fit and then started carefully taking in. At the same time Father found his hydrology book and the regulations book. Oleg came up with three picture books of home-made pools, showing that he’d been thinking of it, too. Once the pants were tight enough at the waist not to fall right off Bela’s hips she led Father and Oleg back out to her makeshift dam. The mud was gone but Father still nodded and ruffled her hair fondly as if she’d done a great thing by getting that far.

“Got that out of the book on beavers, did you?” Father asked as he and Oleg quickly and easily dismantled her entire afternoon’s work.

“Yes,” Bela said. “But I couldn’t get the mud to stay put so I obviously didn’t learn enough from it. I’m going to have to read it again tonight to see what I missed.”

“You do that,” Father said, his thick black beard bristling at Bela. “Then come ask me and your mother and we’ll see what you learned. Don’t ever stop reading, sweetie. The entire history of the world is in books. Everything you’ll ever want to know, everything you ever could create, someone’s written a book somewhere.”

“But what if they haven’t written a book on it, Father?” Oleg asked. He led the way back through the garden, frowning at the thought of it.

Father laughed and put his hands on their shoulders, leaned down and winked at each of them in turn. Bela shivered, staring into those bright brown eyes.

“Then you’ll write the book,” Father said. “Or someone else will. There’s new books being printed every single day. No one can ever have them all but it’s always fun to try.”

He laughed and led them back into the house for bedtime. Bela laughed with him, looking forward to the beaver book and then the too-difficult for her hydrology book which Father would read with Bela in his lap so that he could point to the pictures and explain what all the big words meant. Then she’d read the pool books and maybe have Mother read her some Shakespeare. That was always fun with the rhymes and the sly jokes that Father snickered over and Mother refused to explain in anything over a whisper.

And maybe before the end of the summer they’d have a pool of their very own to play in. If not, then next year she’d make sure they did get one, even better than what she could make right now. All it would take is a little bit of study and a lot of work. Father always said that you could almost anywhere as long as you were willing to study and work hard. Bela intended to follow that advice for as long as she lived.

+++++

Brencis smiled at the skinny child that the failing colony ship had sent to ‘steal’ their knowledge. So young, no more than sixteen or seventeen, and already so desperate. He didn’t remember being that young. No, he’d been that young but never that desperate. Rather than startle the poor malnourished child, he patted Lauren’s hand and helped him stand up again.

“All the knowledge of the universe is in a book somewhere, child,” Brencis said. He kept Laurens’ hand in his, as small as a twelve year old child’s against Brencis’ broad palm. “I learned that from my parents thousands of years ago and it’s held true ever since. If you have books, knowledge, and you’re willing to work hard then you can do pretty much anything you want to. And well, you’ll have books we don’t, just as we have books you don’t.”

He grinned at the way the two of them stared at him, blank and confused but so very, very hopeful.

“The one truth of my long life is that there’s always another book to read,” Brencis laughed as he led them into the conservatory where the staff worked to repair or replace paper books that were worn out. “And there’s always something new to learn. I’m happy to share that with other people and if it helps your ship survive, helps you create a whole new world where humanity can grow and expand and evolve, well. That’s a good thing by me.”

The End

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I’m in a Storybundle! *excited Kermit flailing*

I’m so excited! I’ve been biting my tongue for nearly a month on this news. Kevin J Anderson put together an awesome Storybundle full of terrific fantasy books and chose one of mine to be in it.

The official verbage is below but it’s simple, guys. You go to the site (which I’ve linked to for you right there) and it gives you info on all the books. You get to choose how much you pay (which can be through Paypal or credit cards, I believe. I always do Paypal) and then if you pay $15 or more, you get to get all the books. Less than that and you get the first 5 books.

Obviously, I hope that you’ll go for $15 or more so that you get my book.

Works out to just about $1 per book and part of what you pay can go to charity so it’s an awesome deal all around.

Anyway, go check out the books! I’ll be babbling about mine and the other books for the next three weeks or so. Storybundle’s an awesome place to get lots of books for cheap so seriously, I’m delighted to be part of this.

*resumes Kermit flailing of joy*


Official Verbage:

The Myths and Legends Fantasy Storybundle

Dragons! Swords! Magic and wizards! I’ve curated a new storybundle that’s packed with all the legendary wonder you’ve come to expect from your favorite fantasy novels. http://storybundle.com/fantasy

These thirteen books cover a range of classic fantasy types, from epic quests, to modern retellings of classic myths, to humorous encounters with Little Folk, to lit-RPG adventures, to sea monsters, ancient curses, and saving the world. These indie-published authors include Cat Rambo, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Jody Lynn Nye, M.L. Buchman, J.T. Evans, Christopher Katava, Stefon Mears, Alex Singer, Meyari McFarland, J.D. Brink, and Linda Nagata, and there’s also the Undercurrents anthology edited by Lisa Mangum, stories of “what lies beneath” (proceeds from this anthology benefit the Don Hodge Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Superstars Writing Seminar).

If you’re not familiar with how Storybundle works, you name your own price and get the whole batch instantly delivered to your e-reader. For as little as $5 you get the base bundle of five novels, or for $15 or more you will receive all 13 books, enough to keep your reading life filled with magic for a long time.

As always with storybundle, a portion of the proceeds goes directly to benefit a charity, in this case the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education. When you pick up a copy of the Myths and Legends storybundle, you’ll receive a lot of great books for around a dollar apiece, you’ll support indie authors, and contribute to a very worthwhile cause. Everybody wins!

But this bundle will be available for only a limited time. After May 30, it goes away.

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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 21

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

21. Kyna City

Azar felt civilized. Raelin looked around the port as she waited for Captain Vevina to emerge from her cabin. Unlike the entirety of their trip north of the equator, Azar had solid buildings that looked much like home with brick facades where the bricks were yellowish instead of red, fabric draping the windows and smoothly cobbled streets that allowed carts to roll without trouble.

The buildings were squat, square things that had inner courtyards with trees and gardens, yes, but they were still brick buildings that reminded Raelin of home. She tried to remember the last time she’d seen a port that felt like home and realized that it was Nasrin, when they’d set off on their voyage north. Nearly a year now.

Even the wharfs felt more civilized, not floating docks or wobbly pilings as they’d found in most of the other ports along the way other than the more organized countries around the equator. Kyna City’s port had the best wharfs that Raelin had seen outside of Aingeal city, long and sturdy with heavy boulders supporting thick pilings that looked as though they could stand up against back to back hurricanes along with storm surges the Morrigan herself would run from. Which made sense as Azar spent the entire summer with hurricanes rolling over their heads.

The clothes were different, of course. Where Aingeal fashion favored knee breeches and embroidered tail coats with high collars that rubbed against your chin, Azar’s fashion had shifted towards softly draped tunics over billowing pants since the last time Raelin visited a two years ago. It looked considerably more comfortable than Raelin’s new shirt and breeches, sewn by Bahb and Dallas after Raelin realized that she’d outgrown her most comfortable pair.

It smelled nothing like home though. Despite the familiar sea salt and port stinks that came from dumping sewage into the sea for the tide to sweep away and then back again, Kyna City smelled of grass. When Raelin closed her eyes, the Tourmaline Seas gently rocking underneath her, she could almost imagine that she was outside of Aingeal City in the park the Delbhana had built back when Raelin was a child. Grass and flowers and the smell of wool from the highland sheep filled her nose.

When she opened her eyes Raelin grinned as dock workers hauled bales of wool to a local ship a quarter the Tourmaline’s size just up the wharf from the Tourmaline. That explained the smell. And there was Captain Vevina, dressed in her full finery, including the formal hat with its swooping brim and extravagant horse feather in all the colors of a rainbow.

“They’re not even here,” Raelin said as Captain Vevina strode over. “I didn’t think that we needed to worry about problems with the Delbhana.”

“You don’t,” Captain Vevina said. “I have a dinner planned with the Harbor Mistress. Don’t wait up. I’ll handle the paperwork in Kyna City.”
Continue reading

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Free Fiction Friday: Into the Wave

Every Friday I post a short story for free. It stays up for one week and then I take it down so that I can post another. Enjoy this one while it lasts!

POD Into the Wave Ebook Cover 03

Description:

Piloting was dangerous, especially when you grieved. Keola knew that better than most. The Wave drive affected electronics, making them unreliable. It also affected human minds, sending them chasing after memories and too distracted to pilot the ship.

It didn’t matter. Keola had a job to do and her grief at the loss of Scarlett would have to wait until she rode the Wave all the way to the end of the line.

Into the Wave is a thoughtful science fiction exploration of surfing, science and the nature of grief when you have nothing to grieve over that is sure to stick with you.

Into the Wave

By Meyari McFarland

The sound never stopped, rushing around Keola as if she was trapped inside of the curl of a wave, surfing endlessly through that shining blue tunnel where the ocean held you in the palm of its hand with destruction only a tiny mistake away. This was so similar. It wasn’t water rushing around her but the death was the same, the sense of being held by something greater, infinite, beyond all comprehension. Keola never felt smaller than when she took the ship into the Wave.

Scarlett loved it. She’d always loved going into the Wave but then she was a dare devil who lived for any adrenaline rush she could get. The last time Keola saw Scarlett it had been on the loading dock, Scarlett waving over her shoulder as she marched up the ramp and disappeared into the squat black block that was her ship.

Her ship.

Keola’s ship was more graceful, longer, leaner. It had gun pods and sensor arrays like the patches on the sides of an orca. Scarlett’s ship had been a squat freighter but she’d been happy enough to be a pilot, to get to fly into space, guiding humanity beyond Earth to other solar systems, that she hadn’t cared.

No day dreams. A light flashed to Keola’s right. She tapped her fingers on the controls, dismissing it and refocusing her attention on the Wave. It wasn’t easy. It never was. Keola’s instructors had told her outright that the Wave dragged at your mind, pulled you away from what you were doing. The slightest slip could mean the destruction of your whole ship.

Yes, there were computers and back up redundancies. Every ship had a backup pilot in a secondary command module, with at least one more waiting during the trip into the Wave. Programs and sensors and specially designed systems to make the trip into the Wave as safe as possible but none of it mattered compared to the simple fact that the Wave messed with electrical systems and only an organic brain could consistently pull itself back onto track when the Wave pulled you towards destruction.

All disappeared ships were recorded as pilot error.
Continue reading

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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 20

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

20. Straight of Bahar

“I can’t believe they’re ahead of us.”

Raelin nodded her agreement to Bahb as she very carefully, very painfully, pulled on her warmest, most protective clothes. A wool-lined Dana cloth jacket with wool-lined pants on top of her most slip-resistant shoes with thick wool socks seemed excessive but they were headed for the Straight of Bahar. Being prepared for being soaked was a very good idea.

“She did say that the Golden Wind was built Dana style,” Raelin said and hissed as the jacket settled onto her injured shoulder. “They should survive the passage.”

“Maybe,” Bahb said, shaking her head. “Still think you should stay inside, Rae. You’re too wobbly for this.”

“I am not staying inside on my first passage through the straight,” Raelin declared. “Yes, it’ll hurt. Yes, I’ll regret this. Yes, it’s stupid. I don’t care. I want to see this and no one is stopping me.”

Bahb raised an eyebrow at Raelin but didn’t protest any further. Captain Vevina had been a lot more stern when she notified Raelin that they were approaching the Straight. Even Dallas had snuck in to carefully hug Raelin while making sad eyes up at her. Not that it mattered. Raelin wasn’t going to miss this.

The conversations hung in Raelin’s mind as a wave smashed into the prow of the Tourmaline Seas an hour later. It hit off-center from the others, as out of place as a fish in one of Cadfael’s lace shops back home. Raelin clung grimly to her lifeline and watched the waves even though there wasn’t a single thing she could do. The Straight of Bahar was one of the worst passages on Muirin, other than sailing further south of Aingeal on a late summer trip through the passage of Tahirih on your way to Kohinoor.

That was worse. Barely. The one time Raelin had done it, early on during her service on the Tourmaline Seas, she’d spent most of the passage throwing up between clinging desperately to the lifeline that secured her to the ship. Water had washed over the deck, sweeping Raelin’s feet out from under her time and again. The only reason she’d gotten up each time was the fear that her life line would snap so that she’d be washed out into the waves to drown.

The same fear kept her upright now. It was easier five years on. Raelin had more mass, more strength, than she’d had as a ten year old. But her hip screamed every time Raelin staggered and her right arm was too weak to offer any support, if Raelin could even get it out of her sling.

At least the water here was blue and green, not the frightening steel grey that had haunted her nightmares for months in Kohinoor. She couldn’t see fish when she dared to glance over the side but that was to be expected. The surface was far too rough for that.

It wouldn’t last. Bahb had reassured Raelin of that when they approached the Straight, eyes on the sling as she frowned. An hour, maybe two if the winds were against them, and they’d be free and clear in the Sea of Mahin, sheltered from everything other than the summer storms that blew through the area every few weeks.

Couldn’t happen soon enough for Raelin.

Another wave crashed over the bow, sweeping in a great blue-green wall towards Raelin. She braced herself and held her breath as the water churned around her. Her lifeline stayed strong, securing her to the rail closest to her cabin, out of the way. But the sting of salt burned in her cheek and shoulder, tainted her tongue when she gasped for air after it passed.

This had to be worse than normal. The rest of the crew was aloft, in the shrouds and rigging struggling with the sails. Around them all, the wind screamed like a herd of horses battling for territory during mating season, strident and unending, so loud that Raelin didn’t think her ears would ever be the same.

The cliff walls of Bahar on the left and the Mahin Peninsula on the right loomed over them. It felt as though the Ladies had gotten mad eons ago and sliced straight through the rock, separating Bahar from the mainland, not that the Mahin Peninsula was really part of the mainland. It was an island in the making, connected to Una only by a long thin stretch of land that the sea ate at summer by summer. Mother had said once that she expected Mahin to become its own island before Raelin’s daughters had grandchildren.

Maybe that would help the waves. Something had to.

Raelin gulped air and braced herself as the Tourmaline Seas lurched to port, driven by a wave nearly as big as the ship was towards the Bahar cliff. The wave caught Raelin in her wounded side, driving her into the rail but not over it. She crouched and cursed mentally at herself for not staying inside her cabin. Stupid girl, so intent on showing that she was a strong, proud woman that she risked her life for nothing!

The wave passed onwards and Raelin shook the water from her face. Blue sky and a bright warm sun shown overhead. It felt so wrong. There should be rain, clouds, lightning cracking all around them when the sea was this rough. Clear blue skies when the sea heaved was unnatural, so wrong, and yet it wasn’t wrong, wasn’t unnatural, not here, not in the Straight of Mahin where the wind and cliffs drove the water higher and higher with every moment.

Captain Vevina bellowed something, Raelin missed what as another wave rushed over her. When she shook the water out of her eyes she glimpsed the Golden Wind ahead of them just as she breasted a wave and plunged down into a trough. Her white sails looked like wings against the sea water and her pale hull shone like gold.

Raelin thought she spotted Sinead at the wheel but that was probably just fancy. The Golden Wind was too far ahead for Raelin to make anything out between the waves that washed over the deck to drag at her.

Overhead, Bahb and the other sailors reefed the sails so that the wind drove them away from the Bahar cliff. As soon as they were out of danger Captain Vevina shouted again and the sails snapped free, billowing with the wind that screamed around them.

A wave loomed in front of them, three times the size of the others. It stood nearly as high as the lowest boom on the mainmast. Raelin knelt and wrapped her good arm around the sturdy rails that she and Annie had crafted all those years ago.

The wave loomed higher and higher, stretching up like a wall of doom. The Tourmaline Seas charged up the wave, prow cutting through its terrifyingly smooth surface. Then the crest went white, foamed and the wave crashed downwards with a roar that Raelin nearly screamed over.

She gulped air and shut her eyes as she braced herself against the rails. When the water hit it was like being tackled by her bigger cousins, two or three at a time. The water sucked at Raelin, trying to tear her away from the rail, trying to break her lifeline. It went on forever, long enough that Raelin’s lungs strained, burned, protested.

Then it drained away and Raelin flung her head back to get air, precious air. She gasped, stared around and then grinned as the Tourmaline Seas slid down the other side of the wave. They moved faster and faster, smacked into the bottom of the trough and then charged up another much smaller wave.

Raelin laughed. They were all smaller, all the waves. Ahead she could see the Golden Wind, intact, skimming across the smoother sea like a gull skimming the surface of the ocean on its way back to shore. Overhead Bahb screamed and laughed. Pretty soon all the sailors were laughing, even little Dallas up on the poop deck with Captain Vevina.

When Raelin stood her hip nearly gave out but she didn’t care. She didn’t. They’d made it through with no losses. Every single one of their sailors was there, perched in the rigging, hanging from the shrouds while screaming their defiance at the Strait of Bahar. Ahead of them the screams of the Golden Wind’s crew echoed, their sailors celebrating even harder than the Tourmaline Sea’s.

No surprise. They’d made it through. Despite never having made the passage, despite having a ship that was brand new and never tested, they’d made it through the Straight in one piece. Raelin didn’t think a single Delbhana ship had ever survived the passage. She knew that several had tried and been torn apart.

“We made it!” Dallas squealed when she arrived by Raelin’s side. She untied the lifeline since Raelin couldn’t with only one good hand.

“We did,” Raelin agreed. “And I am so wet.”

Dallas laughed and tossed her slicked back hair in a fierce nod. Then she ran up the shrouds to make sure that everyone was okay. Raelin watched for a second before going up on the poop deck to stand by Captain Vevina’s side.

“Is it always like that?” Raelin asked.

“No, the rogue wave was a surprise,” Captain Vevina said, humming and smiling at Dallas’s excited chatter and the hoots and cheers from the sailors. “It’s rare to get them in the Straight.”

“The big one?” Raelin asked.

“No, the one that hit us broadside,” Captain Vevina explained with her eyes on the sails, not Raelin. “The big one was called the Throat. It has always been there for as far back as the records go. According to the locals, there are rocks under the water that drive the waves up in that spot so it never goes away. Rather odd to have a wave strike broadside, though. Have to check the weather signs later to see if there’s a storm coming in.”

“With sky like this?” Raelin said, looking up at the perfectly blue arch over their head.

Something about it, the sky, the rogue wave, bothered her but nothing seemed to be wrong around them. The sea was smooth and calm now that they’d passed the Straight. In fact, it was almost glassy the sea was so calm even though the wind filled the sails until they snapped and billowed overhead.

Dallas ran up the ladder to salute Captain Vevina with a huge grin and water dripping off her nose. “Everyone came through just fine, Captain! Cessair reports that nothing was damaged below decks, not even her new cinnamon.”

Raelin grinned as Captain Vevina snorted with amusement. Cessair finally admitted earlier that morning that she’d gotten exactly the lot she wanted, as if everyone on the ship hadn’t already figured that out. She’d also admitted that the ‘prize’ lot that Sinead won at the auction was a spoiled batch that should have started going to mold within days. Unless Cessair’s rival pickled it in liquor but Cessair had been smugly certain that her rival wouldn’t catch it soon enough for that to work.

“Very good,” Captain Vevina said. “Help Dana here change clothes. And no protests out of you, girl. You’re not leaving sea water to fester in those wounds.”

“No, ma’am,” Raelin sighed.

The process of changing clothes was somewhat like peeling a banana, with Raelin as the banana. Dallas did her best not to hurt Raelin but with her cuts it wasn’t possible to come away unscathed. She did a great job of not throwing up as Raelin carefully cleaned and then applied the antibiotic cream on her many wounds though Raelin was pretty sure it was a close thing by the time Raelin was done with her shoulder.

“Will it heal?” Dallas whispered as she bandaged Raelin’s shoulder with ginger finger.

“Of course,” Raelin said. She would have hugged Dallas but it hurt too much to even think of that. “I’ll have some incredible scars and a great story to tell when I’m old. I think movement won’t be an issue, too. Right now it hurts to move my arm but I can.”

“Just don’t want to?” Dallas asked a good bit more cheerfully. She held up a shirt and Raelin shook her head no. There was no need in the Sea of Marin, not with clear skies and a calm sea.

“Not at all,” Raelin agreed. “Let’s go back outside.”

“I’ll take your clothes down to the laundry,” Dallas offered. Her nose wrinkled at how wet they were, not that Dallas’ clothes were any less wet. “And mine, too.”

She scampered away, leaving Raelin to carefully adjust her sling and then head outside on her own. Raelin could hear the crew laughing and talking, their cheering over for now. They’d probably celebrate with a huge dinner tonight. If everyone was lucky, Captain Vevina might even allow a second glass of wine.

Raelin stood, leaving her shoes behind. The Golden Wind wasn’t too far off to port. They’d reefed the sails enough that they were going slower than the Tourmaline Seas. It looked to Raelin as though they might be heading to a port along Bahar’s southern coast instead of sailing onwards to Azar as the Tourmaline Seas did.

Sinead appeared on the deck, her fine red coat with its gold embroidery like a flag signaling victory. She spotted Raelin and waved one hand in what could be either a sardonic salute or a casual victory pump. Raelin laughed and waved back, making her wave a definite victory pump of her fist towards the sky and then pointed straight at Sinead.

The Golden Wind’s crew screamed along with Sinead, all of them doing victory pumps that they’d definitely earned. Going through the Strait of Bahar without any preparation or someone who knew the passage, presumably they didn’t have someone, was a huge accomplishment. Raelin grinned as the Bahb and Theneva responded in kind, cheering for their fellow sailors without any regard for the stupid feud.

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Free Fiction Friday: Late Arrival

Every Friday I post a short story for free. It stays up for one week and then I take it down so that I can post another. Enjoy this one while it lasts!

POD Late Arrival Ebook Cover 02

Description:

When Lusala was small his big sister went into space to explore and find new worlds for humanity. It’s been five years for her, fifty for him. But now, finally, Osumare was home, so very late. With everything that had happened, Lusala worried that her return would be too little to bridge the gulf that had grown between them.

Late Arrival is a science fiction examination of the price of space travel on those left behind that you will remember for years to come.

Late Arrival

By Meyari McFarland

Lusala stood on the dock, staring up into clear blue skies that stretched forever. Blue above, blue below, both filled with dark horrors that made his knees tremble and his hands clench into fists. The chill of the light spring breeze felt too much like the cold of space, of vacuum, of bodies floating slowly turning as blood drifted like cabochon rubies scattered across black velvet.

Copper bloomed on his tongue. No. Not today. Not when Osumare was finally coming home. He wouldn’t let the memories overwhelm him today. He’d never told her how Mother and Father died. No matter what, he never would.

She’d gone so far and done so much. Osumare didn’t deserve the guilt for being gone when it was Lusala’s mistake that led to their deaths, to Ndidi’s injuries, to his own retirement from all space-based work. After overcoming everyone’s perceptions of her as African, as trans, as too-smart, too-determined, too-perfect, too-everything, Osumare could believe that the deaths were nothing more than happenstance. Lusala could give her that easily enough.

He could just hear the whine of a shuttle’s engines decelerating from planetary approach, way off over the water and so high that his eyes couldn’t pick out anything. No graceful swoop of vanes like the sails of an old wooden ship, no flicker of movement. Not a surprise when he’d left his glasses back on the bedside next to Ndidi. Lusala probably wouldn’t see the shuttle until it was at the end of the dock.

What would Osumare say?

His hands curled around the head of his cane. When she left Lusala’s hands had been small and soft, a child’s hands with pale palms and dark backs that looked as smooth as silk. Now his hands were gnarled, scarred from his long career of work in low orbit. His thick black dreads had long since turned into a white coat of fluff over his scalp and his skin hung loose over his bones. He’d lived entire lives while Osumare was gone.
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 19

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

19. Dusty Port

Clodagh’s port was a long stretch of golden sand, one sad little dock set up on pilings that wobbled when you walked on the planks, and a huge stack of long tar-covered pilings that looked as though someone, years ago, had decided to replace the dock. And then failed to gather workers, money and equipment to make it happen. The pilings were gray from dust and sun exposure, the tar long-since melted until the pilings were dry to the touch instead of tacky.

Raelin sat on one piling that lay a good bit away from the others, her good hand wrapped around her bad elbow. Not that the elbow was bad. When Raelin impacted the wall she’d torn up her shoulder and upper arm, not the elbow, but now it ached just like everything else. Her thigh ached. So did her knee from limping. And her back felt like someone was stabbing knives under her shoulder blades. Endlessly favoring her right side had only made the rest of her body ache just as bad.

She should have stayed on the Tourmaline Seas. Even if Captain Vevina was afraid of what the Golden Wind’s crew would do, Raelin should have stayed on board. In her bunk. Or her hammock, not that Raelin could actually clamber into her hammock right now. It was set too high on the walls and she just wasn’t limber enough at the moment to make that little jump and swing that would get her into it.

The Harbor Mistress sat next to her, using one knee to support Raelin’s folio of paperwork for Minoo. Like everyone else in this part of Una, male and female alike, she was dressed in long thin black robes a shade darker than the color of her skin. Everyone here had headdresses or cloaks with hoods that covered their heads, wise with the heat of the sun beating down on them all. Raelin was glad that Theneva had brought her the hat she’d bought in Nunile City. Otherwise she’d be much more miserable than she already was.

“Good,” the Harbor Mistress grunted as she checked Raelin’s paperwork.

At least Raelin assumed that was what she’d said. Clodagh had its own dialect that was dramatically different from the limited Unaian that Raelin had learned on her previous trips to the country. The Harbor Mistress apparently read Aingealese and Minooani perfectly well but she couldn’t speak them any better than Raelin could speak Unaian.

Not that it mattered. She’d taken one look at Raelin’s face and sling, looked out towards the Golden Wind that was slowly gliding into port, sails half reefed, and had gotten to work on the paperwork as if preventing the two crews from interacting was the most important thing she would do in the next year.
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Free Fiction Friday: Eternity in a Touch

Every Friday I post a short story for free. It stays up for one week and then I take it down so that I can post another. Enjoy this one while it lasts!

POD Eternity in a Touch Ebook Cover 02

Description:

Exploration of new worlds delighted Berenike. They’d yet to find one that would make an acceptable colony but she enjoyed the process of discovery. Until they landed on one bleak grey world and discovered something so far beyond her expectations that Berenike feared for her and her team’s survival.

Eternity in a Touch is a SF exploration of time, space and the urge to connect that spans worlds and utterly different species that is sure to entrance you.

Eternity in a Touch

By Meyari McFarland

Berenike shivered, her fingers dragging across delicately carved surface of the obelisk. At least it looked like an obelisk, tall and slender, carved of some impossibly perfect stone that their instruments had not yet been able to identify. It stood at least three times as high as Berenike was tall, twice as tall as Chloris, off muttering curses by the lander.

Delicately grey, the same color as everything else on this long-abandoned planet. Berenike traced one particular swirl of alien writing, following its curve down then up then inwards in a spiral the twisted into a knot of roughness. She could feel ever smaller swirls going in like fractals though her eyes showed her nothing. Other bits of writing, some angular, some scooped out the stone as if tiny melon ballers had worked it over, surrounded the swirl.

When she swept her hand over the surface it felt like the bumps and swirls, dips and gouges, drove her fingers straight back to the central swirl as though it was a black hole sucking Berenike in. She leaned closer, breath briefly fogging the surface of the obelisk, to try to see exactly what shape those innermost swirls too. Could they truly have created a fractal image that swept outwards from here?

She thought so. The entire city swept outwards from the obelisk, wrapping and shifting, walls formed in strange loops covered with ever growing bumps and hollows that became windows and doors that would not open for her crew. Silent, buildings coated with a fine grey dust that perfectly matched the fine grey stone they were constructive of, the city lurked like the frozen swirl of a whirlpool, the image of a black hole’s corona as it collapsed ever inwards.

Berenike frowned, her finger tracing the swirl again. It all came back to here. Everything. She’d reviewed the aerial photos.

“Do we have any analysis of the dust?” Berenike asked.

“Not yet,” Chloris snapped. “We only just landed. Give us a minute.”

“Mm, just wondering if we need breather masks,” Berenike murmured. “Volcanic glass in the lungs is a terrible way to die.”
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Novel Monday: Facing the Storm – Chapter 18

Description:

When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.

What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.

The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.

Facing the Storm

By Meyari McFarland

18. Una Coast

Raelin hobbled out of her cabin, staring at Una’s coast. The sun was hot on her bare shoulders, promising a nasty burn if Raelin didn’t at least drape one of her shirts over her back. She didn’t turn back to do it. A little sun wouldn’t kill her and a few more freckles didn’t mean a thing at this point.

You wouldn’t think that there’d be much difference between Idoya and Una. They were at the exact same latitude, just on either side of the Strait of Azar. But they were actually completely different. Where Idoya was covered in hot humid jungles with steep shores that looked as too steep for the trees that forested them, Azar’s coast was a long flat slope that led up to distant snow-capped mountains, as dry as the ocean was wet.

Cactus spotted the shore, spikey ones that made excellent liquor, as well as fern-trees that stretched up into the sky like little green parasols covered with finely worked lace at the edges. She’d been to Una many times, just not this area of Una. Southern Una, near the border to Grainne, was much wetter, if not lush. At least there were trees and grass instead of scrubby cactus and fern-trees.

No matter how nice Clodagh, their first port of call in Una was, Raelin had no intention of getting off the Tourmaline Seas. She hurt far too much for that. The cuts on her cheek were the worst, mostly because the coral had sliced deeper there than anywhere other than her shoulder. Her face still felt puffy even though the antibiotics that Sinead had paid for, from her own pocket, had taken care of Raelin’s infection there.

The infection in her hip was a little more persistent. Raelin had to clean the wound twice a day and slather on the antibiotic cream. Pills would be better but Captain Vevina and Cessair had rejected the antibiotic pills available to them in Tetxa City. Cessair had muttered things about cutting the stock while Captain Vevina nodded grimly. Not that Raelin had paid much attention. She’d been half out of her mind from the pain and fever at that point.

She was going to have incredible scars. Her shoulder and arm had over two hundred stitches all by themselves. Her hip had another dozen and her cheek two dozen very fine, very carefully placed stitches that Bahb had hoped would keep Raelin from being permanently disfigured.

Not that Raelin really cared about having some scars. Women fought, they got hurt, they got scars. That was just life. Aravel would gasp and fuss. Father would, too, but Raelin was pretty sure that Mother and her aunts would just make sure that Raelin could still chew and haul line and then ask how she could have found better so that she didn’t end up injured next time.

“You should be in bed,” Dallas murmured as Raelin leaned her good hip against the rail near the foremast.
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