Friday, March 27, 2009

Great Hites # 46

This week hear stories by:
Anima Zabaleta
Ashley Redden
Norval Joe
Scott Roche


Anima Zabaleta

I store my feelings and memories in the clouds. There, my ideas are free to float around in the atmosphere, allowing me to deal with more mundane tasks. Like what to fix for dinner. For most of my life, this system has worked fine. My happy thoughts were cumulus clouds, tall and billowing, filled with light and air, frolicking like sheep in cerulean pastures. Daydreams drifted high in the atmosphere, settling in as cirrus clouds, wispy and far away.

And morning… morning was my favorite time. My thoughts swirled like ground fog, obscuring the hard edges of day, until I slowly got organized over a cup of tea and the early news.

Then things took a turn for the worse. I lost my job, and dark nimbostratus loomed overhead for weeks. I started to drink and distance myself from my family. I drank more, and the summer I spent in Florida was unusually cold and overcast. That was noted in all the papers. It occurred to me that I might be influencing the weather patterns, so I started checking channel 13. They were blaming El Nino, but I knew the truth. Hurricane Katrina? Hmm, I was in New Orleans when I heard my parents died in the car accident.

It’s been hard, trying to shake the depression. I shouldn’t feel so lonely, being orphaned at age 36. I’m afraid of whom else I might hurt, with my dark weather disposition.

I am testing the theory that cloud memory storage works both ways… If I go to a place where there are no clouds, I should be happy, right? And be able to dissipate this ominous thunderhead that has lingered since 2005. So I am headed to the Atacama in Chile, where the annual rainfall averages a millimeter a year. If that doesn’t work, it can still be a win/win situation, I think. If my mood doesn’t lift, I will market my talents as a rainmaker. Got to look for that silver lining somewhere…

Magic and the Sword Do Not Mix
By: Ashley Redden

Gianni stumbled again, but managed to catch a bush before she fell. How many times she had stumbled and fallen, she no longer knew. She stood silent for a moment and closed her eyes. A wave of fatigue mixed with anguish washed over her. Gianni was very tired, but the emotional ache was almost too much to bear. She wasn’t sure which was worse.
After a moments rest, she opened her eyes and stole a glance down the glade, back the way she’d just come. He was still coming. A slight gasp escaped at the thought. She could not see nor hear him, but knew that he was still coming none the less. Nor was it necessary for her to elicit a finding spell. She simply knew. That flight or fight response that was so deeply embedded to be beyond conscious understanding, but there nonetheless, told her every nerve that something harmful was steadily approaching.
After a deep breath, Gianni turned and resumed her retreat up the pass. She had been moving in and out of sparse clearings in various stages of growth for the better part of the morning. There were few mature trees scattered here and there, but saplings and brush were aplenty. Gianni knew that the upper passes of the mountains, really misnamed huge hillocks that bordered her home lands, were prone to huge and destructive lightning storms. The resulting fires were ignited enough to keep the land here burned shaping the local flora.
As she continued her retreat through bramble and bush, she couldn’t help but wonder how things had come to this. Oh, her parents would cluck their tongues and say for the thousandth time that magic and the sword do not mix. But she was determined to prove them wrong. After all, Laven had been so different in the beginning. But things had changed after he and Gianni were officially joined. He had steadily become more and more violent and less interested in her as a person, but more as an object, lately it seemed more often than not, an object of scorn. Gianni had some small talent at magical healing, so she was always able to heal herself and hide the evidence from prying eyes.
The last fight had been the worst yet. Laven had worked himself to such a rage, all the while smashing their house and cursing Gianni that she had retreated to the corner and hid her face in fear. All the while Laven had blamed everything he could think of on magic folk. It seemed to go on and on.
Finally the screaming and destruction stopped and Laven seemed to regain his composure. He had turned on her then and calmly drawn his short sword. She knew that he most preferred this sword for close personal battle. Gianni shuddered. Her husband hissed between clenched teeth, “You and your kind are an evil pox upon the world. The disease must be removed. I shall begin with you”
He had smiled a killer’s smile then and crouching into a loose fighting stance advanced upon his cowering wife. He wore an almost euphoric look upon his face, but determination and death danced in his eyes. Gianni had thrown up her hands and clapping them together speaking by wrote a defensive version of the elder spell. A blinding white light had flowed from her clapped hands and engulfed the advancing Laven. She then fled as his curses followed her out of the house and beyond.
The worst part of the fight was that Gianni was still unsure as to what she had done wrong.
Magic and the sword do not mix.
Gianni remembered those fateful words as she bypassed a particularly thick swath of bramble. After she had introduced Laven to her family, her father had pulled her aside and spoken sternly, “swordsmen don’t have to think. They don’t need a brain to hack each other up, so it’s been my experience that they generally act as if they don’t have one. A lifetime of behavior as such can leave a person mentally deficient.”
He had sighed and looked at her stricken with worry, taken a deep breath and continued, “Mages, on the other hand, have to use their brains at all times. I tell you Gianni this will not work.”
She had snatched her hand away and stormed out of her parent’s home, her father’s words chasing her out the door, “magic and the sword do not mix.” Later, she was mortified that she could act like such a petulant child. Apparently love could do that to a person. Love. Who would invent such a despicable thing?
But she had been in love. She still was. That’s what made the hurt so intense, the wounds go so deep. All hurts sting, but let the one you love inflict the pain and it goes straight to the bone.
Gianni came to an open area and skirting the edge made her way to the small immature wood beyond. Though really not wood at all, but overambitious shrubs, the thicket would be sufficient for the coming conflict.
Scanning the sky, Gianni found the thunderhead almost directly above. She had become aware that she was tracking the cloud without thinking. Apparently her subconscious had gone to a place that she hadn’t allowed her thinking self to go, self preservation catalyzing a subconscious plan for survival. She knew that such clouds could build up and store tremendous electric energy under the right conditions.
Gianni fell to her knees; both hands in front upon the ground palm-up. She sighed. She just wanted to sit here and weep. Though wracked with anguish, she found that she could not cry. Gianni wanted to live.
Again she closed her eyes and wished upon any distant star that things would not be so. But after a moment, she opened them again only to see that nothing had changed.
A rugged sigh filled the thicket as Gianni concentrated and began chanting aeromancy.
As she had been taught from her earliest memory, she compartmentalized the emotions and thoughts foreign to her current task. She focused on the words, thinking of nothing but the chant. Soon, the rhythmic words were her world. Her conscious thought and will became one with the great cloud.
Within the great Gianni/thunderhead, winds began to rush downward from above and upward from below hastening the creation of the desired conditions. The air within also began to cool condensing water vapor to ice. Soon, the great Gianni/thunderhead began to bristle with restless static energy. She carefully caressed the energy, feeling and shaping the charge, harnessing and controlling the maelstrom.
With the thunderhead in check, Gianni allowed her consciousness to settle back into her corporeal body. She sat waiting patiently, eyes fixed on the far side of the small clearing. She did not have long to wait. Emerging from the brush quietly like a wraith, Laven stepped out. He stooped looking left and right casting for her spoor. Laven had always been a superior woodsman.
“Laven,” she called out. His head snapped up and their eyes locked. Both stares carried fierce determination.
“I shall run no more. Come my husband. Here, in this open place, let our haranguing be forever silenced,” spoke Gianni clearly from across the clearing not moving except for a slight quiver of her lower lip.
Laven cast a lecherous grin and answered, “Oh yes wife let us again embrace. I too would wish an end to our troubles.” Laven gazed out at the clearing as if looking upon a field of play.
“Here in this place, let us make things again right.” And saying this he swung his sword in a powerful figure eight before him and laughed aloud.
Gianni belatedly realized that he had probably not resheathed the sword, but had carried it in anticipation all the morning during his dogged pursuit. Unsolicited, a single tear left the corner of her eye and began its lonely journey down her cheek. As with most tears, this one would soon be followed by many.
Laven took a step. Time seemed to slow; Gianni reached out and touched the ambient energy within the ground and plants surrounding the clearing.
Laven took another step, then another his eyes fixed on his target. Gianni began to sort and coalesce the ambient energy with an opposite charge of that surging within the thunderhead.
Laven took another step. He was now in the center of the clearing. Gianni pushed the ambient energy she had been gathering into the advancing man with a desperate cry of force.
Laven paused and cocked his head slightly, a quizzical look upon his face. He stood stock still for just a moment, his long mane of hair rising like a wisp from his shoulders and head. Laven was battered down as a great white bolt of lightning slammed into and through his body.
Gianni screamed, “No, no, no, no, noooooo.” Still on her knees, one hand open and beckoning outstretched as the other sank into the cold dirt. She screamed and screamed as she watched her husband be beaten down by one pulsing lightning strike after the other. The assault went on for what seemed like an eternity.
Eventually the lightning barrage stopped. Amid great shuddering sobs, Gianni wept herself to sleep. The thunderhead, now depleted of magic and energy quietly drifted away.
Later, she awoke and made her way around the clearing to where she first entered. The center of the clearing now had a sizable crater that the lightning had blasted there. Gianni looked one more time upon the killing field where her doomed marriage had ended. No more tears came.
She reached a hand out and said, “goodbye my love.”
A great tired sigh escaped her as she turned and began her journey home. She idly wondered if she would ever love again. Probably she thought mechanically placing one foot in front of the other.
But one thing was for certain she vowed to herself. Forever more would she heed the words of her father.
Magic and the sword do not mix. This was a mistake she would not make again.

The Shaman
By: Norval Joe

The old man was as grey and immobile as the granite on which he sat. His eyes were a shocking blue that matched the sky on clear winter days; clear and piercing like the icy crystal pools in high mountain streams. His skin hung loosely on him, as a robe many sizes too large.
Ancient. The oldest man's grandfather spoke of him as old. So old now, that he could not speak. Too old to raise his own hand to feed himself. Young men and women were sent from the villages to feed and care for him, and to hold his arms for him.
Every day, from spring equinox to that in the autumn, two young men came for the villages to place the staff in his weak and gnarled hands, and raise the old mans hands above his head, and hold them there.
Proud parents raised their boys to be strong and patient and prepared to raise the old mans hands. Boys and young men of all ages could be found as they walked from place to place, with their hands above their heads, holding a staff, increasing in strength and endurance, hoping to one day be selected to raise the old man's hands.
He sat on the granite ridge one thousand feet above the villages of the fertile plain. As he sat, hands folded neatly in his lap, he scanned the summer sky. As always, it remained clear and blue and still.
Young women, pure and chaste, fed him each morning, he didn't require much to sit and watch the sky. They brought him water and washed and trimmed his hair. They brought blankets for him when it was cold, and shaded him from the heat of the summer.
And each day, two young men; young, though physically mature; knelt at each side. Supporting elbow and wrist, they raised the old mans hands and staff over his head.
And held them there. Sometimes, they needed only hold them mans arms for a short period, but more often the task reached an hour or more.
As the arms were raised, the wind would rise in concert. The young men would lean into the wind to maintain their hold on the old man and his staff. With the wind, as it crossed the broad plain below, came clouds, boiling up to block out the sun and cast the earth into darkness; and rain.
The deluge was sudden and complete, creeks and rivers swelling and overflowing their banks. The old man with his attendants holding fast, chilled by the sudden downpour, searched the distant horizon, for the sign. Finding a break in the clouds, the afternoon sun peaked though, and the old man sighed; the cue to his young assistants that the days task was complete and they may relax.
Lowering arms and staff, the young men got to their feet, the clouds thinning suddenly and blowing away, leaving in its wake as sodden stillness, pristine and new. The young women came out to assist the young men. They worked together to dry the old man and help him into a clean robe.

Magic Quadrant Part II
By: Scott Roche

Lisor gripped the arms of the captain’s chair tightly. While not as strong as Vulcans, his people did possess more strength and agility than humans. He was able to keep his seat in spite of the pitching and yawing. His emotions ran high, but he reined them in.

“Status report Mr. Singh.” He had put the ship on red alert as soon as the odd readings were picked up by the sensor package, so their shields were up and all weapons were online. Unfortunately almost as soon as he did so, they temporarily lost helm control.

The helmsman regained her seat quickly and rain one fine boned hand through her blue-black hair. “Control has been restored. All systems are within normal parameters. What was that sir?”

The small readout on the arm of the chair wasn’t as good as the viewfinder at his station, but until he felt sure that there would be no more unusual movement he elected to stay put. He consulted it closely. “That’s not clear yet. Mr. Travis what do you have to tell me?”

Travis checked the navigation console. “Readings are... odd sir.” There was a slight twang in his voice, accentuated by tension. “The star field doesn’t conform to our last known position. Trying to get a fix on where we are.” His fingers flew over the buttons.

There had been no word from the captain since the incident. Lisor triggered a button near his hand. It brought up a status report echoing what Singh had to say. The hull was intact. Medical reported no current injuries, though they were still waiting on certain non-critical areas to report in. All duty stations were manned and functional. Life support was online. Satisfied that nothing was going to blow up in the next minute, he got up and walked over to the science station. “Lieutenant Banks, contact the captain. Pipe all reports to the readout in his quarters.”

The communications officer nodded. “Yes sir.”

Bluish-white light from his viewfinder played over Lisor’s skin. Data streams confirmed that they weren’t in the same sector that they had been in only moments before. There was still no clear information on where they were exactly. He played back the sensor readings from just before the incident. All of the input from hundreds of sensitive instruments flowed into the holographic memory banks at the core of the ship. Far superior to the “cloud storage” used hundreds of years ago, these databanks could take that and feed it back to him massaged to his liking in what might as well have been real time. The computing power at his command dwarfed that of what was available to some star systems. Still nothing in front of him could tell him what happened. There was so much they didn't know.

He banged his fist on the console in frustration. With a huff, he stood and looked over at Banks. “Any word from the captain?”

The big human shook his head, short blond dreadlocks dancing. “No sir. I’ve sent a security team to check on him. Sir?”

Lisor ran his hand over his smooth scalp, relishing the sensation and using that pleasure to calm himself. “Yes lieutenant?”

“I’ve been trying to reach the nearest subspace relay to help Mr. Travis in getting a fix on our location and I’m not getting anything back.” Concern etched his features. “We’re lost, aren’t we sir?”

The science officer couldn’t help but feel the eyes of the entire bridge crew on him. Most of these men and women hadn’t been in service more than a standard year. They were understandably nervous. He stood and exuded warmth and confidence. “I won’t lie to you. We are lost, but I have confidence that we will find out where we are. This is a good crew and we have a great captain. Now let’s get to work making that happen.” His words and the affect that his race had on most sentient species worked together and in moments everyone returned to their work with renewed vigor.


Norvaljoe said...

Great stories this week. I listen to a lot of flash fiction podcasts now, and I think that this one is the one I look forward to the most. No offense Lawrence, 100 word challenge is awsome, but it is nice to hear some of my fellow 'drabblers' fleshing out their stories. I think that I have pointed out before that the 100 word story is an excellent technical challenge.

Speaking of Lawrence, I was hoping to see a story posted by the man from whom we got this weeks prompt. (As I will point out in my intro for this weeks weekly challenge.)

Thanks Jeff for the site, length and weight and given name of the new Hitelet would be interesting.


Scott said...

Great stories! This is a really cool idea and well executed. If anyone wants any audio advice let me know!

Jeffrey Hite said...

Yes, I really liked this week's stories. Thank you so much for your feedback and the hard work that you obviously put into your stories. I will let people know about your offer.

That is very high praise indeed. Thank you very much. I really enjoy doing this, and even thought I don't alway get things out on time I think the deadline kind of helps me to write more often. I hope that it helps others as well. Thank you again.