Friday, August 31, 2012

"Looking Through Lace" by Ruth Nestvold (Novella)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  As the only woman on the first contact team, xenolinguist Toni Donato expected her assignment on Christmas would be to analyze the secret women's language -- but then the chief linguist begins to sabotage her work. What is behind it? Why do the men and women have separate languages in the first place? What Toni learns turns everything she thought they knew on its head. 


Toni came out of the jump groggy and with a slight headache, wishing the Allied Interstellar Research Association could afford passage on Alcubierre drive ships -- even if they did collapse an unconscionable amount of space in their wake. For a moment, she couldn't remember what the job was this time. She sat up and rubbed her eyes while the voice on the intercom announced that they would be arriving at the Sagittarius Transit Station in approximately one standard hour. 

Sagittarius. Now she remembered. The women's language. Suddenly she felt much more awake. For the first time, she was on her way to join a first contact team and she had work to do. She got up, washed her face in cold water at the basin in her compartment (at least AIRA could afford private compartments), and turned on the console again, calling up the files she had been sent when given her assignment to Christmas.

"List vids," she said. It was time she checked her theoretical knowledge against the real thing again. Just over three weeks she'd had to learn the Mejan language, one week on Admetos after getting her new assignment and two weeks in transit. From the transit station it would be another week before she finally set foot on the planet. Even with the latest memory enhancements, it was a daunting challenge. A month to learn a new language and its intricacies. A month to try to get a feel for a culture where women had their own language which they never spoke with men.

That had been her lucky break. Toni was the only female xenolinguist in this part of the galaxy with more than a year's experience. And suddenly she found herself promoted from grunt, compiling grammars and dictionaries, to first contact team.

She scrolled through the list of vids. This time, she noticed a title which hadn't caught her attention before.

"Play 'Unknown Mejan water ritual.'"

To judge by the AIC date, it had to be a video from one of the early, pre-contact-team probes. Not to mention the quality. The visuals were mostly of the bay of Edaru, and the audio was dominated by the sound of water lapping the shore.

But what she could see and hear was fascinating. A fearful young hominid male, tall and gracile, his head shaved and bowed, was being led out by two guards to the end of a pier. A small crowd followed solemnly. When they arrived at the end, another man stepped forward and, in the only words Toni could make out clearly, announced that Sentalai's shame would be purged. (Assuming, of course, that what had been deciphered of the men's language to this point was correct.) The older man then motioned for the younger man to remove his clothes, fine leather garments such as those worn by the richer of the Edaru clans, and when he was naked, the two guards pushed him into the water.

Three women behind them conferred briefly. Then one of the three stepped forward and flung a length of lace after the young man.

Toni stared as the crowd on the pier walked back to shore. She could see no trace of the man who had been thrown in the water. According to her materials, the Mejan were excellent swimmers, growing up nearly as much in the water as out, and it should have been easy for him to swim back to the pier. But for some reason he hadn't.

It reminded her of nothing so much as an execution.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

"Creators" by Nicole Ciacchella (Novella)

Genre:  Post-apocalyptic science fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  When the imminent collapse of the world’s food system threatens to all but eradicate the human race, it’s up to nineteen-year-old Liang Zhang to determine which of his company’s employees will live and which will die.

Liang and the other Job Creators have only weeks to choose which of their staff and families to move into the domes, the last refuges on the barren planet. Despite their best efforts, the Job Creators are unable to keep their selection project under wraps, spurring violent protests against the privileged few.

Now, Liang must race: against starvation, against insurrection, and against his own conscience. 


“Liang, sit down,” Ali said. His tone was patient but weary, and the fight went out of Liang. As he sat, Liang noticed that Ali’s jaw was clenched, tension evident in every muscle in his face. “There are a few things you haven’t considered.”

“Like what?” Liang asked, rather belligerently.

“Like whether the top one thousand represent the best allocation of our resources.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Ali sank into a chair as well, pinching the bridge of his nose. “There’s a reason why I want a complete list of every employee and their family members. I know for a fact that at least two of Sheila’s top staff have children with special needs and…”

“What the hell are you saying, Ali?” Liang recoiled in revulsion.

“Our resources will be limited,” Ali sighed. “And Contributors’ family members comprise the future staff of Zhang Agritech—or haven’t you thought about that?”

“Of course I have! But…”

“Look, I know you’ve had to shoulder a lot at a young age. And if I were in your shoes, I’d also hate feeling like everyone is treating me like a kid. But you also need to acknowledge that people like me have experience, that we are going to have insight you haven’t yet developed. It’s not a knock on your age or your intelligence. It’s just reality.”

Stunned, Liang sat silently for several minutes, trying to process what Ali had said. “So, what you’re telling me is, not only are we going to determine which of our staff gets to live and which has to die, we’re also going to have some sort of…standard for whether they’re worthy of living in the dome?”

“There’s a difference between being cruel for the sake of being cruel and being cruel for the sake of being practical.”

Liang shivered with disgust. He could no longer stand the sight of Ali’s face, and he dropped his gaze to his hands, which were weaving jerky circles over the surface of the conference table.

“Let me put it to you this way,” Ali said softly. “What if the resources required to keep one special needs child in good health could be spread amongst five other children? Are you going to choose saving that one child over saving the other five?”

As Ali’s words penetrated his unwilling ears, Liang felt a growing sense of detachment from his body. The room, Ali, even his own body couldn’t possibly be reality, because there was simply no way reality could have suddenly become so much worse. Was there?

Buy this story on Amazon.  Check out Nicole's website.

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Horas and Lendin Hunt Some Orcs" by Wilson Harp (Short Story)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Tales of the Silver Sword Inn are a collection of short fantasy stories that all start in the common room of this Inn near the town of Black Oak. In this first story, two young men from Black Oak have discovered a small camp of orcs out in the Shadowmist Wood. Horas and Lendin are eager for adventure and danger and they find both in the dark woods.


The sun stood a single hand past noon when Croft heard the door open. Too early for the dinner crowd and no noise from a merchant’s wagon meant that it was a local or two traveling between the nearby
town of Black Oak and one of the outlying farms or hamlets.

As he stuck his head out of the storage cellar, he saw that it was a couple of very young men from Black Oak talking to Cassie. Horas was a strapping young man whose father was a farrier and Lendin was the son of the cooper from whom he had recently just bought a large supply of barrels.

Croft put the basket of vegetables on the worn, bare wooden floor behind the bar and closed the heavy door to the cellar. He heard the giddy laugh of Cassie as he turned back to the main room. Horas had a steel axe in his hand and was acting out some fighting as Cassie sat on the table listening to him. Lendin sat watching Cassie laugh.

Croft shook his head. He wasn’t much older than they were when he started going out looking for adventure, but surely he didn’t look as stupid as they did. He stopped, turned, and looked at them again. Horas had his axe and was wearing a heavy leather vest. Lendin had his bow and quiver, as normal, but he also wore a long narrow knife at his waist and wore a tight fitting leather jerkin.

This time Croft didn’t stop shaking his head until he made it into the kitchen. Those fool boys were up to something and he was pretty sure they weren’t ready for it.

As he walked back into the common room, he started wiping down tables to prepare for the evening fare.

“And Lendin really saw them?” Cassie asked with her eyes lit up.

“I sure did” Lendin answered. Cassie’s eyes never left Horas.

“Cassie,” Croft said “Magda needs help in the kitchen. Get in there girl.”
Cassie blushed a bit and shot Croft a sharp look as she hurried into the kitchen.

“You boys need something, or were you just coming in to keep Cassie from her work?” Croft asked, already knowing the answer.

“We need to ask you for some advice, Croft. But Cassie isn’t a bad reason to come in, is she?” Horas asked.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

"Klondaeg the Monster Hunter" by Steve Thomas (Novella)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Klondaeg is a simple Dwarf with a simple plan: rid the world of monsters. When he was a boy, his parents were killed by unidentified monsters, and he swore revenge against all of them. Armed with a talking battle axe with two personalities, Klondaeg travels the countryside, slaying everything from tiny werewolves to gold-devouring demons. He negates prophecies, disproves history, and even comes face to face with Acerbus, the god of darkness himself. But will he ever find the thing that killed his parents?


“Graaaa…” said Klondaeg.

The undead magma goat raised its head and looked around with a vacant expression, crumbs of silver ore falling from its maw. The bell around its neck jingled.

“…aaaaaaaah!” said Klondaeg, brandishing the King’s Rest, his two-headed battle-axe, over his head. He leaped over the river of magma, and his mighty iron boot found firm footing on an obsidian island. The goat, once a fiery hell-beast, and now little more than a cud-chewing statue, cocked its head inquisitively at the Dwarven warrior bearing down upon it, and narrowed its eyes. With a bloodthirsty bleat and a swift kick, the basalt beast knocked Klondaeg back across the river. Klondaeg rolled when he fell, and was soon back on his feet.

“Yes, charge him with an axe. I’m sure that never occurred to the miners before they summoned you,” said Sinister.

“Hasn’t failed us yet,” said Dexter. The King’s Rest had a mind for each head, one wise, one brash. Neither was often helpful.

Klondaeg scanned the tunnel. Veins of silver sparkled red, reflecting the flood of lava below. The undead magma goat stood on an island, which was slowly shrinking away as the river of molten rock surged around it. Just before the magma splashed upon the goat’s toes, the creature deftly hopped to a taller, wider island. On the far bank, the stone wall faintly glowed red. “Shut up. New plan,” said Klondaeg.

He strapped the King’s Rest to his back and picked up the nearest mine cart. It was full of silver ore, and Klondaeg’s muscles bulged with the effort.

“Maybe a back brace should be part of this plan,” said Sinister.

Klondaeg grunted, hefted the cart over his right shoulder, spun three times, and released.

The cart arced over the river, raining nuggets of silver into the magma, and crashed into the weak spot on the wall.

The bank burst, exactly like an underground volcano. Klondaeg hopped back to dodge the rush of magma as it swept into the tunnel and buried the monster. The goat bleated one last time as its body melted away, becoming one with the underground river of magma.

He looked back over his shoulder. “That dissolves your goat problems. Next time, try not to dig on a fault line.”

The foreman surveyed the ruin of his silver mine. He tugged on his beard and sighed. He muttered, “Thank you for saving my mine, Klondaeg.”

“I’m a monster hunter. It’s what I do. What I don’t understand is how an undead magma goat showed up here in the first place.”

“Escaped from the zoo?” said Sinister.

“Or maybe this mine is a cursed magma goat graveyard,” said Dexter.

The foreman took a momentary break from calculating his lost earnings to consider the question. “There’s only one thing that could do it. Gnomish alchemy.”

“Gnomes. Hmm.” Klondaeg ran a hand through his beard. “Usually their alchemy is harmless, except to the alchemist.”

“It’s probably a conspiracy,” said Dexter.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Sinister. “Gnomes aren’t that well organized. It’s probably just a rogue alchemist, working alone, who tried to bring a magma goat back to life just to see if he could. Gnome conspiracy! Impossible. The very notion!”

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Friday, August 3, 2012

"Charred Earth: The House" by TJ Hudson (Novelette)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  A person wakes up (yes yes, I know, but we have to start somewhere). They don't know where or who they are, and to top it all off the house they woke up in starts talking to them.

The first book in the Charred Earth series.


The final syringe like piece of metal was removed from the body, and it was left to its own survival, finally independent of technological aid.

The body shivered and his eyes instantly opened wide, taking in the stark white room. After a brief moment he decided to slowly lean up, expecting all manner of aches and disorientation after being out for what must have been an extremely long time. He did not know why he knew this, he just knew. Yet everything was fine, no dizziness, no sluggishness and no pain, he felt great in fact.

He was lying back in a reclining chair, it was white, soft and made out of a fabric, or a plastic? He could not tell. Maybe both. As he leant forward the chair moved with him, reading every move his body made that was in contact with the chair. He worried for a second the chair would not let him stand up, that it would follow him everywhere, wrapping around him like a possessive bean bag. There was no need to worry, this was a docile chair, and as his naked feet touched the warm floor the chair let them take his weight and find his balance then drifted away from his back, taking on the form of a normal, non-jealous chair.

“Where am I?” he asked aloud to no one in particular, it just felt like this was the sort of thing to do in a situation like this.

“You don't remember?” came the reply. The reply had come from all around him, a soft gentle voice, so much so he had trouble determining if it belonged to a male or female. Deciding it was more important to find out where the voice was coming from rather than its gender he fished for a reply.

“Should I?”

“Well, it was hoped,” followed by a frustrated sigh. The source was still non-directional, so too the sigh.

“Okay, where are you? Who are you? What do you want? And if I've forgotten to ask anything else, answer that too,” he asked. Well why not? Nothing about the room was giving anything away. It just contained the chair, a table, a hanging globe as a light source and nothing much else. The walls of the room were white, where they met the floor and the ceiling there was a curve instead of a corner, and traced on the surfaces were various chrome and black lines. He thought these must be some sort of doors or windows.

“Well, you are in the safest place I know, you could say that I am this place and I want to help you. I feel I should add that you are not to worry, this is not a prison and you are not guilty of anything,” the surrounding voice replied.

“Can you let me out of this room then? And do you have any clothes?” He was not naked, but like his surroundings was minimally dressed, white shorts and a white T-shirt. He wasn't cold but still felt exposed. As to the answers, typical he thought, as if anyone gets straight answers in a situation like this. A slight hissing sound alerted him to the creation of a door in the wall, just as he had thought, sliding away between a section of black outlines. The door slid to the side behind the wall with a quiet and calming hum, revealing a smaller room that contained a rack full of clothes. The hissing sound again and another door was moved, revealing an additional room, this time much larger and seeming to be flooded with natural light.

After a quick visit to the wardrobe, white trousers and a white shirt felt the most appropriate choice, he headed for the larger room. In the same style as the previous rooms this one also contained a kitchen, dining area, lounge and a further area with tables and chairs all in a long hall with a gentle curve to the whole layout. As he faced to his left, stretching the entire length was a window, this too curving with the long open plan rooms and had those customary black and chrome lines.

Upon entering, the first thing he did was head for the window and was greeted by forest, endless forest as far as he could see. The room he was in must have been high up; the forest made up the bottom third of his view with a brilliant blue sky taking up the rest. As he walked along the length of the window he felt the strange sensation of the forest moving with him. Eventually he had to ask, “What's going on?”

“Just giving you the best view,” came the voice.

“Well as fantastic as this view is I'd like a little reality please, don't adjust it, just give me what's outside,” and with that he saw the forest again, though this time the trunks of the trees and the forest floor. It didn't darken though, as it dimmed outside the internal lights raised their ambience. “Can I go outside? I mean, is it safe to go outside?” he asked.

“You're very eager aren't you?”

“I don't care how eager I am, can I go out? It's very comfortable in here, but that's just about it, it's just comfortable.”

“I don't know.”

“What? The omniscient voice doesn't know?”

“If you have to put it like that, yes. But I can find out, it'll just take me a little while.”

“I thought I wasn't a prisoner”

“You're not, believe it or not I actually want to protect you, please don't go outside until I know.”

“Well I'm not exactly in a rush to go anywhere, I can wait, though at least tell me what you are, come on.

“I'm.... I'm the house, I live in the core of the house, this house you are in now.”

“And by extension you control all of it, the lights brightened just because of you?”


He decided to end the conversation there, he didn't want to antagonise the house, just in case. This allowed him to have a wander around the large internal space and collect his thoughts. There was no panic, fear or anything like that which he thought he should be feeling. Instead there was just a nagging sense of being puzzled or inconvenienced, or both? He couldn't tell, his feelings didn't feel like, well, feelings. 'I can think, and I'm thinking in the same language I talk in,' he thought. As far as what he could think, that only went back a few minutes, all his memories consisted of what had just happened. What he did note was that he instantly recognised everything he saw, he knew instantly the kitchen when he saw it and the same for the forest.

Walking over to the kitchen he opened a cupboard and pulled out a pan, to test a theory. As soon as he touched the pan and thought about it, he knew what it was for. Even basic recipes that used such a pan started to trickle into his mind. This just increased the mystery, he was still no closer to being scared or nervous, just casually inquisitive with this itch of a puzzle.

Then the idea popped into his head, he would walk to the window and stare intently at his reflection and find out finally who he was.

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