Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 22

Sard’s Sky by Rita de Heer, mixed media

The Last Straw

When the life-suit gripped him—like it shrink-wrapped him—how he’d always imagined it might feel—Sard closed his eyes ahead of being forcibly cowled with the mask. The suit expanded again and he relaxed into it. Shrinking. Easing. It was like part of a rhythm. Like breathing.

He shoved up the mask. All he could see was darkness. Not the seven wooden drawers of his boyhood above him. All he could feel, above him—with his hands questing—was rock, a handspan above his face.

Searching down by his left side one-handed he found the rounded curve of the ceiling meeting the back of an overhang. With his other hand he found flat pavement. Exploring upward with that hand, he discovered the ceiling at maybe knee-height. From under the stairs in the limestone house back into the stony overhang atop the plateau … he’d had no sense of the transfer being a journey.

He rolled from under the overhang. A long way above stood the half-sickle moon in the cold night. Stars, too. Pin-pricks of light that he knew were even farther away. Unimaginable distances. Why I like to imagine that they are beads on a net surrounding the ball that we live on. A star in every angle is enough for me.

< Sit up and stare at the rock-edge. >

Oh right. It tells me to sit up and stare at the overhang’s edge in the dark? To what end?

The suit gripped him with its shrinking-lengthways trick. < I am merely elongating this entity’s muscle fibres. It’s a possibility I’m proud of discovering. The first new thing I caused to happen since I being released from my bondage. >

Sard breathed to the limits of his lung capacity. A fraction of what he needed. He wheezed. “Enough.” The image of the suit as a bio-construct was enough to give him the heebie-jeebies. Life-suits were lab-grown human skins? Couldn’t be. What about all the tech they also had? They couldn’t be. He’d lived in a large tech-construct all this life. Couldn’t live in bio-construct and a cramped little one at that.

The suit relaxed, but only a little, obviously expecting resistance.

“Okay. Okay. Sit up you said.” The gap between the two opposite overhangs was double his knee-length. Or make that the length of his whole leg. Plenty wide enough for him to scrabble to his elbow, push on that to sitting. Stare-at-the-rock’s-edge meant sit with crossed legs and turn ninety degrees.

Slouching somewhat, his eyes were level with the rock’s edges which were about as thick as his forearm—he pressed his arm along the ledge—a thick dark line separating the very dark below from the dark sky above. “Staring,” he said. Reporting for action. Yes sir. No sir.

< Close eyes. Wait for light. >

“That’s hours yet. What will I be looking for?”

< Less than an hour. Places where humans bumped up against these edges. Or scraped by. >

“And then what?”

< You will suck the human substance from these places so that I can discover their DNA. If they are my people—runaways—we will overtake them. We will force them to return to the cave habitat where I need them for the entertainments. >

Sard pulled off one of the gloves and rubbed a rock edge with his bare fingers. Granular feel. Like sandstone. He could almost see the group escaping, running for their lives, resting here overnight. Maybe while it rained and their usual roads, the chasms, flooded. And in their hurry to get to safety, some of them scraping up against these rocks hard enough to lose skin and blood.

Then he imagined sucking on the ledges. Why not just licking? He slopped his tongue over a dark place for a try out. Mmm. Could almost be smooth, sinewy and leather-tasting. He whipped off the life-suit’s face mask to see what he tongued.

With the help of the faint pre-dawn light, he made out a dark handprint imprinted on the stone right there in front of his eyes. The sight burned into his brain. Dried blood? He gagged. Spat saliva. Coughed.

Every little thing he knew and remembered about Ahni reeled through his mind. How the bio-construct was cut out of her—and her just abandoned—and about Ahni’s people running for their lives into the right direction to meet up with the clay-faced slavers. What if this hand-print was of someone who got away?

He found scuff marks, half footprints, a place where five small toes had pressed into the thin sand. Where the basket sat …. Saw all this before the dream. And damn it, I know it better now. None of them would want to be caught. Not one will want to return to CAVE.

And neither did he—as a matter of hoity-toity fact—want to deliver anyone, least of all the Sea-people into that bondage. Which means I shouldn’t follow them. Or it means that I shouldn’t take the life-suit to them. He livened up. Yes. That.

A dozen ideas, things to do, things to achieve, things to watch out for, barged into his mind. Plans. I bared my hand and my face. I’ve started already. There’s been no squeak from the life-suit since then. Such peace. He chuckled. Tore loose the chest piece and loosened the tie that gathered the suit edges over his ribs. Shoved the suit down over his shoulders one by one and pulled his arms free. The dawn air on his bare skin like he was in a cool bath. He crawled to the place where he’d stashed the pack.

Unpacked it to discover what he had that’d help him in the journey he planned.

————

But here he still stood at the end off the channel in the stone platform, taking time to think through what’d happen when he developed sores on his shoulders. Dressed in just his outer wear—shirt and pants—the pack’s straps cut into his shoulders. Plus the sun was rising almost dead ahead, give or take a few degrees, and while the sky there was a glory of red and pink, he couldn’t see anything else ahead.
I need a sunhat and I need more padding. About turn. Leaving the life-suit behind is a dumb idea. The chest piece will do me for a hat. The suit itself folded and stuffed under the straps. Now … no more hesitations, hold-ups or hang-ups brought on by stupid impulsivity.

He strode into the grasses.

Repeat of the country that he walked yesterday. Stony channels between islands of tussock, gravel and sand. Here and there a twisted wind-worn shrub. The plateau, what he saw of it, could’ve been an unending plain of tussocks. But he knew—first hand experience—that it was riddled with chasms. Probably with caves underneath. What did he know. Better to stay at the edge.

Walking, he kept his attention on the ground he covered. Safer. And it meant the sun didn’t shine straight into his eyes because he could angle the life-suit’s chest plate just-so, giving himself a shaded outlook. Which got easier because the sun rose.

Some people, apparently, believed that the Earth spun like a top and turned east day and night. Making it seem like both the sun and the moon rose in the east and set in the west. He never got much further studying how they got seasons and all that. No seasons in CAVE apart from the ones the games demanded and the techies organised.

Uh oh. Careful now. A damned chasm across his path. Lost in my thoughts. He evaded what might have been a sticky end by turning south. Saw it just in time. How far would he need to go? He now resented any foray into that direction. Sun shining on his left side.

Finally the end of the crack in the plateau. Wouldn’t he like to have a drink of cool mountain water right now? Don’t have any water. Not wearing the suit. Need to make camp while sun still shining for getting water from plants. Good old Greg, teaching me that.

I’m Late …

Watercolor and gouache scene … I call it my event horizon … painted by Rita de Heer

I’m late posting the next installment of Avatar Remaindered due to complications publishing Half Shaman.

Who knew that the very big publisher owns Royal Road? I didn’t, and so blithely posted up my second draft of Half Shaman on RR, thinking to use it as a sort of sandbox for getting critiques.

That didn’t happen and after ten weeks of silence from the most voracious readers in the online reading universe … well, so I was told by various people who have managed to get what they needed … I gave up and started a Blogspot blog. Leaving the ten chapters behind on RR and even forgetting them, I admit.

So last week I tried to publish and was told the big publisher does not accept new iterations of things that are available for free anywhere else, and especially not on its own platforms.

I had to take rearguard actions deleting the ten early chapters on Royal Road, and even deleting the chapters I published on my old blog that were transferred to this blog. And I hope, can’t remember, that there’s nothing sitting in the G+ archives. Having another go of course.

Felix the Fox interviews

Tardi Mack, of Mongrel is in the hot seat being interviewed. Read this introduction:

Dear readers, tonight we have a truck-driver from 22nd century Australia, who in a freak surfing accident got infected with a sentient alien substance. We caught him talking to Trucker & Jockey magazine, describing life post-infection while trying to avoid a rather persistent ex-girlfriend.


Tardi: You’re from the Trucker & Jockey magazine? Well met! I was a trucker once, with TLC, a family company. My dad and brother ran the workshop, and I drove our old Mack and jockeyed our live-mind freighter. Hope you’re recording all this? I also surfed for Virtual Surfing. Check me out on their website, they still have me in the sensor-suit surfing the actual waves and voice-overing the rides. My pay from them allowed me to rent in Watego’s Wall on Byron Cape, still a hot-shot tourist destination. Yes, formerly Byron Bay.

Me in the past? Oh, my name. My parents intended to register me as ‘Trader.’ The old man can’t spell and neither can I. Learning to write my name, I transformed it into ‘Tardi.’ They did an about-face on names when my brother Steve was born five years later. But Steve. Oh man. My brother and my burden. He drowned and I couldn’t save him. And Herm wouldn’t let him go. Don’t ask me more about Steve, mate. I’ll be tearing-up for the rest of the day. The landscape? Look outside. Boat-ways instead of streets. Major roads on stilts. Get up on one of them and in the distance you’ll see Wollumbin, a world-famous volcanic plug. Nearer at hand is the pimple called Chincogan. The Koonyum Ranges hunker at the back of the valley. And there are the trees, more than ever.

My kid-sized surfboard was absolutely my favourite thing when I was a kid. My dad taught me the basics. And there’s my cherished memory, him waist deep in the sea, pushing me off. Fishing me out when I fell. He’d plonk me back up on the board half-drowned, and push me off again. Remembering him then—like that—makes me feel warm in my heart, you know? You’re asking what I do now? Good question that I don’t know the answer to. On we go to one of my latest adventures …

Read the rest of the interview on My Books etc

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 18

Chasm in the Ragged Ranges, Australia, by Richard Woldendorp 1986

Into the Chasms

Sard was half an hour more in the life-suit’s python squeeze—he watched a shadow lengthen—before it released him from its squeeze. He rolled to his feet, slung the pack on his back, and set off into the east. He sneered about the irony of it. Like, how I can get away from an entity I need to wear to survive? The sunset behind him gave him a long bulky shadow, a shadowed path to walk along. Just walking along in my own shadow. Not a squeak out of the damned life-suit.

Walk. Walk. His attention had to be on his feet, no more tripping. Put them out front one by one. Left. Right. Left. He walked until it was too dark to see. No moon tonight? No answer. He stopped, dropped to the ground and lay his head on the flap of his pack. Tired beyond.

Woke once to a great moon staring down, lighting up the scene with its cold silvery light. Moon. Good to know. He turned on his side. Closed his eyes.

He missed the sun’s rise though the sky was still the blue that was kind to his eyes. He frowned. Why did he even need to notice that when he wore the life-suit? Not a squeak out of it all night and he was hungry. What’s going on? Forget the suit, just wear it. Make tracks while the cool lasts, Sard-man. The swamp beckons.

Today, resting during the heat while waiting for plants to bleed out water would be his jig. Tomorrow he’d hit the swamp and there’d be fresh water. It’s a plan. He dug into the pack for the snacks bag. A couple of Greg’s best and half the water.

Walking, he kept the sun to his right. A bulky shadow slogged through the loose sand to his left. He intended looping out far enough that he wouldn’t meet any camels. Then, at half dark, he’d jog for the swamp. Walk. Walk. The land unending. The sky was starting to look too big, too bright. The sun? Well, he didn’t even glance over that way. His shadow was crisper in its outlines. Maybe look for a place to lay up?

Beginnings of what looks like a gully here. Wrong direction in that it’s going northeast but is becoming narrower and deeper and shutting out more glare. Go with it. A narrower sky meant less sun, less light, and not the endless distances to look at. Might even help his life-suit keep him cool. If it’s still available for that.

The silence oppressive. Down in the gully that was more noticeable. There’s no pleasing you, Sard-man, he thought in his mother’s voice. Hmph. Where was she right now? Not back home, he guessed.

“You mean you escaped because I escaped?” he said to break up the silence. “Your work on me was done and all you had to look forward to was the moldeckery? If that’s how things are run, I wish you good health, wealth and wisdom.” Little echoes of his voice sounded like people in the background, just around the corner of an outcropping of rock. Down deeper into the canyon the resonances stayed closer, as if a small crowd of friends surrounded him. Who would he have? “What friends? I walk friendless.” A lower voice resembled the burble of water or the hum of aircon.

Skinks that lay sunning themselves on ledges scuttled away as he approached. But when he stopped for a spell, they’d poke their heads from among ferns and mosses in the crevices where they hid. “That’s right, nothing to fear from me.” His mood lifted. What if he was approaching his destination? He’d been walking long enough. The chasm seemed to swing from side to side and could easily have led him northwest. He imagined it widening into the kind of lush swampy valley he’d travelled in dozens of stories.

The stone walls surrounding him dulled. The gold light-and-shadow play on the chasm floor faded. He tripped over nothing. Where was he? The air overhead grew moist as a thick cloud replaced the strip of blue sky above. Need to find shelter. He glanced along the base of the cliffs. Good hole there. Nice sandy floor.

He hadn’t even bent to crawl into it when the rain began. Long rods of hard, wet, fast-falling water. He huddled against the base of the cliff to wait out the shower.

Water trickled down the cliff. In a minute he was standing under a spate. < Climb. > What’s that? Someone finally awake? Luckily he’d strapped his pack securely this morning. < Climb, oh stupid youth. >

Caught you out at last. Different voice, intonation and different words. There’s two of you, right? But he did start to climb. I’m not hurrying, I don’t want to slip. So he was only halfway up when he heard the roar. Of water. He knew it instantly. Acting on instinct alone, he grabbed any ledge and handhold, shot up the rest of the cliff dragging the so-and-so pack bouncing behind him.

He saved himself. Duh, Sard-man. Not like you didn’t know. Many old-time games featured a rush of water through a narrow chasm originating in a far off rainstorm? At the top there was only rain, hard and fast. Visibility nil. He crawled through it until he reached a slabby height by feel alone, a little island above the swirling flood. < You are dry and moderately warm. > I’m not listening. You’re the wrong program.

While he sat there, the light went from grey afternoon, to dark metal dusk, to black dark night. He worked on tripping the life-suit’s new program. The old program now seemed preferable, it didn’t judge him.

When the moon rose, he shrugged into the pack’s harness and set off wading among the shadowed spinifex tussocks and clumps. Need a safer place. He tried to keep parallel to the misty black crack in the landscape that was the chasm in the far left of his field of vision.

After a time of walking—sloshing ankle-deep now through fast disappearing water—a second crack appeared on the right. Huh? He blinked. The etched meander didn’t disappear. He stopped, compared the two openings. Different, because there were two chasms, one on each side? Or the same chasm, because he hallucinated? He stared eyes wide open. Frowned with eyes peering. No difference. Too hard to see. A good time to lie down and sleep, maybe. Not interested in breaking my neck, falling down a chasm I can’t see properly. Moonlight making a mockery of shadows and distances.

— — — —

Sard stood on a stone slab elevated all of about half a metre above the plain with a hand above his eyes, the life-suit’s management apparently absent, studying the landscape. Never mind the missing guide, he could manage quite well will his Big Eye lenses. At a point near the horizon, two hand spans to the left of the place where the sun rose, the two chasms seemed to join. A mist or a light smoke rose from that spot.

He scrolled though his memories for stories and movies and virtual performances featuring similar effects. All he could come up with was that mist might be the spray of a waterfall. Or plain old water vapour, the land drying under the sun. Smoke could be due to a bush fire.

Or a camp-fire. That meant people. His mood rose. How he missed having other people around. Even meeting up with the traders would suit him. The chance to free Ahni a bonus. He hoped the people, if it was people, stayed long enough for him to catch up. When he stepped off the rock, he felt so superior—deciding all that himself, he didn’t need either of the life-suit’s entities—he could’ve been walking on air.

He arrived at the junction roundabout mid-morning. His suit, whichever of the two entities, refused to allow him to the edge with his pack still on his back. < Our centre of balance is awkwardly placed. >

“Peevish,” Sard said. “I know you now. You are not my favourite program.” But he dropped the pack away from the edge before he went to stand on the lip between the two chasms.

Sheer cliffs on his right and left sides with a deep canyon continuing northwest if he finally had his directions worked out, making a Y formation. A river in full spate in the bottom with nowhere to walk alongside even if he wanted to risk his neck down there. Not the pleasant green valley he’d envisaged. The smoke or mist still far away was the biggest disappointment.

He slumped away from the view. He’d so anticipated people and the end of his solitary exile. The land made him an ant lost from its nest and smaller with every step he took. The sky was worse. Always far away. Always blue and cheerful or with cloud and impersonal storm. Sun moon and stars. Unreachable.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 15

dishwasher-1, acitydiscount.com info Back-of-House-Heroes-All-About-Warewashing.320.1.jpg

The Bionic Implant

Sard woke with a start. The life-suit squeezed him the way he’d once imagined a boa constrictor might take its prey. He gasped. “I’m awake.”

< To interact with the assembled cast, all you need to do is follow my instructions once you enter the CAVE system. >

Ouch. I totally recognise the way I used to act. I bet Youk programmed that in for me to recognise. But good. The suit is allowing me to organise myself from here to wherever I decide to enter the CAVE. No question but that I will retrace the steps of the Seapeople. He bundled up the kite and bunched it into the back pack. He had no room or inclination right now to fold it up properly. Or enough time probably.

He sealed the life-suit’s hood over his face and covered his hands. He dragged his gear outside, and stashed it beside the beginning of the path south that Ahni’s people had taken. He briefly stood on the alive-to-background cloth to think its parameters at it, then draped it over his two packs. Still holding onto an edge, he finessed his instructions, mumbling, “Allow the deep-shadow holding pattern to swing with the varying input of the sun.”

< You + I + a-to-b cover = amalgam >

Sard gritted his teeth. One minute the life-suit acts like it has been reprogrammed, the next that the old programming pushes through. Is that what I’m supposed to think?

Thankfully, no answer. Barring the tracks by the Seapeople, the beach lay empty, once more a picture-perfect idyll lacking only palm trees. A tiny breeze ruffled the surface of the lagoon within the stony elbow of the ridge.

After climbing down, Sard sidled along the feet of the cliffs. The waves were quite far away with a large swath of wet sand between them and the narrow strip of dry sand. Low tide. The main risk were the sensors everywhere. Here’s hoping Youk isn’t at his standalone tracking me.

The main entrance arch had probably been opened specially for the Seapeople since all CAVE’s openings to the outside were temporary. Another smaller arch beside it had already been sealed again though the upper cover was still set on transparent. No one on duty at the console behind it so no one tracking Sard.
He allowed himself a tiny flicker of satisfaction at his management of the journey so far. In under the arch, the cold-air curtain spurted ineffectively. Things were in disarray if energy was being allowed to dissipate like that. This area of CAVE all but open to the weather and the ocean’s eternal audio-patterning. Civilisation has been sloughed off. Never was Sard’s sense of a disaster-unfolding so acute.

He dropped his gaze from the felt strips—wall covering—sloughing from the walls and ceiling. Dug into the sandy cave floor was a shallow pool. Three adults lay fast asleep in the water but with their heads close together on the edge of the pool.

Sard blinked when he saw Zoya, Srese’s care-mother—had to be Zoya—with a baby high on her chest for it to be above the waterline, presumably. The baby suckled on Zoya’s breast. His jaw dropped when next he saw Ghulia—his own care-mother—arm in arm with the merman, their heads pillowed close. He stared a long time trying to make sense of the scene. His mother and Zoya, had he even known them?

In the next room, again entered by a wide open arch and with the same lack of climate control, viewing galleries had been built recently—he’d never seen them—that looked like they’d been abandoned about three minutes ago. All the usual stuff lying about that people brought to events. Picnics. Shawls. Cuddle blankets. What on earth could be more riveting than Zoya’s and Ghulia’s show? If an entertainment was what that little scene was meant to be, he thought glumly.

The exit from this space into CAVE had a self-closing door so was the first obstruction to his progress.

< What is the hold-up? Don’t talk out loud. >

“I don’t have bots.” He mumbled. “How will I pass through?”

< Put your palm on the lock. >

He did and the latch slid back. The door opened to his touch. Useful skill. Not sure if the earlier program could do that. I might’ve warmed to this version if I hadn’t been so sure that Youk wrote it. He could see uninterrupted all the way to the Nest at the centre of the complex. Where was everybody?

Wait. I can hear them. The sound was of a crowd in one place, a composite of talking weeping shouting and braying-with-laughter. He frowned. The latter did not at all sound good. Was the event in the Pit? He listened more carefully—what direction should he take?

All the usual background sounds were as usual. Pumps hummed extracting heat. The energy plant thrummed. All events had their musical accompaniment. This one too. Though that music right now seemed to be building to a crescendo. He recognised the early phrases of Ravel’s Bolero among the more familiar tech tympany. Something definitely about to happen.

He ran through the narrow lanes parallel to Second Circle. Through the Simmonds and Wingham Quarter, useless to try and remember the proper directional words, and crossed into Parks & Gardens. From there he’d see what he could see happening at the dining hall, which was the place where the music seemed to be leading him.

Okay. Yeah. Makes sense. It was after all the place where important events were assimilated never mind that they usually happened elsewhere. Sard sidled into the back entry of the kitchen. No Greg or Relda was the first surprise. Greg had definitely said that Relda would be Greg’s understudy. But okay, good, since he was pretty sure that him being alive-to-background would mean some very strange visual disturbances for anyone seeing him.

I need clothes, he thought at the life-suit. An anonymous face and hands. For a wonder the life-suit didn’t quibble or try for extra information. Not like the original program again. He stepped into the pantry to vaguely hide the process, but to his amazement, the six or so kitchen attendants lining the serving counter were so engrossed that they probably didn’t even know he was in the kitchen with them.

He inspected the black-and-white checked pants and a white tunic resemblances. Yep. Good. Like every other kitchen attendant. He soft-footed toward where he could see for himself what so engrossed them. All the action, and attention of everyone present in the dining hall, was on the fixed holo-wall.

Royland, medical technician and wielding his famously preferred instrument, a plain knife, inscribed a long careful cut on someone. Likely a woman, going by the swag of smoky dark hair pulled forward and to the side. The cut went up the neck to an ear, C-shaped around that then lightly over the woman’s temple.

Laying bare the woman’s face, one of Royland’s assistants swagged the hair to the back of her head.
Ahni! It was Ahni whom they … ?

Royland wore no gown, no protection against the transfer of matter that might cause infection. Sard grew hot and cold in quick succession, if he hadn’t been wearing the life-suit he might’ve been covered in a cold sweat. Do something, he ordered the life-suit.
< Too busy. >

Royland steered the knife-tip along the top of Ahni’s forehead, and then along a pre-shaven track round the top of her head. Not a lot of blood meant that Royland had probably frozen her skin along the intended cut line. Royland lay down the knife.

Sard’s gorge rose as Royland and his assistant eased Ahni’s head skin from her head and just let it hang there, Sard saw with quick little glances between swallowing away the horror. He saw, hardly watching at all, how the assistant eased a metal cap from Ahni’s head while Royland freed wires and other bloody lines all along the cut he’d made which went—Sard now saw—all the way down Ahni’s arm to the palm of her hand.

Royland and his assistant lifted the cap and the attached wires and laid them reverently in the womb tank they had ready, the cam with them all the way. Everyone else present in the dining hall breathed a great sigh of release as the object was gently laved with the life medium.

“They’ll bring it here now,” said one of the kitchen hands. “Always stating the obvious,” said someone else.

The double entry doors slid open as if on cue and a confusing mass of people pushed through. Sard made out Royland and his crew clustered around a womb-tank on its trolley. All of them ensuring as shock-free a journey as possible.

With perglass sides, the womb-tank was like an aquarium. Its passenger, what Sard could see of it, resembled an alien sea-creature trailing wires instead of tentacles.

The group stopped the cart at the in-hall game station. Royland’s techies sprang to link the womb-tank to CAVE’s network. With a measured formality—great smile on his face—Royland flipped the switch.

The expectant silence exploded. Raving, ravening, crying, screaming, banshee wailing filled the dining hall. Some people fled the hall with their hands over their ears while the majority surged forward. People fell over chairs and each other. Royland’s assistants linked arms around the tank trolley.

As Royland dampened down the volume, Sard slipped into the scrum and emerged at Royland’s side. “Is it alive?”

Royland laughed indulgently. “No, no, no. It’s a particularly fine example of a bionic implant. Where have you been these last few days?”

“In solitary, for my para-tech exams,” Sard said. First thing that came into his mind. Who does he think I am?

Royland went into a spiel for the public. “Largely unused for years, we suspect, since the Seapeople’s life-style hardly warranted such a sophisticated machine. A very valuable tool we’ll find it.”
Sard clenched his jaws on anything he might’ve asked in previous times. He already knew who Royland had cut up to get it.

“The implant proved to have been transferred into the girl only recently,” Royland continued. “Very fortunate, as its circuits hadn’t had time to fully integrate. Much less attrition to the machine than we expected.” He bent his head toward the speakers from the womb-tank and fiddled with the volume controls. “Ah. Got it.”

An unbroken stream of memes flowed from the tank. “Intercom … neoprene … epidemiological studies … crepitation … carbon neutral … water governance … ENSO … tropical maritime … plagioclase twinning … companion planting … protein synthesis.”

Sard worked his way to the back of the mesmerised crowd and with his hands over his ears made like he was one of those escaping.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 12

Image from http://www.thetravelmagazine.net/wp-content/uploads/Paragliding-Winter-Interlaken-Mike-Kaufmann-06805.jpg

12: The Kite

It was well into dawn now and still no Greg. Sard waited in the dip as instructed the day before. Waiting impatiently. Was Greg going slow motion because of their conflict earlier? Sard so couldn’t use hold-ups now, what could he do but try to please the man? He scooted here and there, on his knees, to be not seen above the level of the plain, setting up the bag-over-the-bush water getting trick. Using the same round pebble. Different bush. His suit remembered everything perfectly. Good to know.

< You + I are continuous >

Sard wrung his hands in the way he thought resembled Greg’s hands knotting the snare. Worked good. The suit remembered it.

“What have you been up to?” Greg stood on the edge of the dip with the sun behind him. His expression was in the shadow of his own head. Neat trick.

Sard looked up with a winning smile. “Practicing what you taught me?”

Greg stepped down. His eyes were narrowed. “You look smug. Self satisfied. It’s not safe to get too sure of yourself. The landscape, the weather, the people out here … none of them act the way you might expect.”

“Well … it feels good to me that I can at least depend on my suit. Are we going back through the desert door?”

But Greg led the way onto the ridge. “I’ve got something to show you up there.” He stopped at the eastern apex. “No talking from here on. No rolling rocks. Not any noise at all, okay? It’s the minion stronghold we must get near to.”

They clambered around the top of their own Pit, according to Sard’s feel. The superior sense of direction was one of his avatar talents. There began to be a sick-making stink on the breeze from the sea. He concentrated on not retching. Not safe.

Greg indicated that he should sit on the rim around the Pit. Did that mean no one was in there? How did Greg know? Sard mimed vomiting and only barely managed to keep it in.

< Waste not = want not >

Greg mimed pushing their suit-hoods back.

Sard shook his head. No thank you. Not here. The stink was indescribable even through the suit’s mask. He tried not to breathe. He concentrated on hoiking without a sound. His eyes streamed with tears. He crawled back along the trail.

Greg followed him, without any regard for his suit’s colour against the mainly blue-sky background. Sard had no energy to try and work it out. Back at the triangle, he trusted the air enough to finally push the hood back. “What was that?”

“Not the kitchens,” Greg said. He smiled.

“Bastard. Was it the moldeckery?”

“Yes. I figured you should know the smell of death before you leave. Might make you think. Might make you appreciate what people are doing for you. You might even come to believe that you might not have the worst deal.”

“That’s the smell Srese is having to deal with, is that what you’re saying?”

Greg nodded. “The so-called mermen, poor bastards, are sewn into raw human skins and sent out into the open ocean, waves taller than this ridge, to fish and fetch shell food, as near as I can make out.”

Sard’s main but fleeting thought was how well—in the courtship he intended to get going as soon as—he’d compare with men sewn into skins. “And Gammy our digital game master still has expectations?”

“Srese is out of the picture,” Greg said. “The lead merman has taken up with Zoya. She’s better at the signing they do to communicate.”

Greg’s expression was hard to read. “And so you’re relieved on the one hand,” Sard said. “And on the other hand you’re worried sick about what Gammy might do to Srese? I would be.”

Greg said, “That’s about right.”

There, Greg on the way to being mollified. A bit of stroking and a tad of empathy was all it took. “What happened?” Sard said, indicating with his head, “Smells like a lot of customers.”

“Daredevilry at the storm-watch. One of your arch-enemies, Phin, and quite a few others bit the dust in an attempt by our digital taskmaster … Greg grinned wolfishly at the taskmaster jibe before continuing. “…to make it possible for us to feed the incoming women and children.”

“Mmm. So the Pit’s closed?” Sard said sympathetically. All he was going to say as he didn’t want to undo his good works? Getting through the next couple of hours as almost-friends surely preferable?

— — — —

The corridors were quiet. A curfew, perhaps. Sard didn’t ask. Better to just follow Greg and not invite trouble. They met no one in Mab’s shop or in the dome. “Safe to talk?” he said. “No one here, every place we came by, quieter than … well, quiet.”

“Everyone’s busy. Us being up here is all about the kite,” Greg said. “You getting acquainted with it in a lit-up, hidden place where we won’t be disturbed. Especially by remaindered wannabes like Youk. Watch out for him when you are out and about and you’ll probably survive.” He pulled a tight roll from a storage bag and undid various knots in strings. Silk fabric flowed from his hands like a river. “Help me lay it out?”

Plenty to worry about in that little speech. He should stick with the going concern. “I worry about it being a kite,” Sard said, taking the swag of cloth offered to him. “This all seems far too much fabric.”

Greg chuckled. “I told Rider we were calling it the wrong word. It isn’t shaped anything like that kind of kite and when used properly, it’ll help you float over the desert easy peasy.”

Was that the man being sarcastic as well as mysterious? “The beige-coloured side on top?” Sard said walking backward with his arms full. The beige-colour being the same indefinable shade and texture as his life-suit? “I have no idea about the shape but what the heck.”

“Just copy-cat me on this side shaping it, on your side,” Greg said.

Trying to get more info, Sard started listing the kite’s features as he discovered them. “Right. An elliptical mat made of many flat sausages laid side by side.” Waited.

“Sausages will fill with air,” Greg said.

Mmm. “Each of the sausages has three strings hanging from it?” Sard said.

Greg stared at him in waiting mode.

“Strings where they are fastened to the sausages …”

“Cells,” Greg said. “The sausages are cells.”

Fine, cells. “All the strings up to the middle cells are gathered first in triplets, then them in pairs dancing to the left and right and then them …?”

“To a brake each to help you control the rig, and then them to your harness which will be—if you get good—a glorified seat, just right for the lording it over everything kind of guy that you are. When you’re wearing the harness you’ll be hanging under the kite.”

Guess I didn’t do such a good job with the empathy. And it doesn’t sound like the time to pile on more. What then? Ignore? “A brake in each hand?” Sard said.

Greg nodded. He seemed to come to some sort of conclusion and continued with his instructions. “Now we lay it in a sickle moon shape, so the front edge, which is called the leading edge in the video-mentaries, is on top. Ready to take in the wind.”

“Oh. You got all this from a video-mentary,” Sard said. “I think I remember it. Some of the words anyway. We did an entertainment once about the different ways of flying.” Oops. Reminded him who I am.

“Prove it,” Greg said. “That you studied that video and that you recall any damn thing. I think you’re just buttering me up. Have been all along today.”

Oh well, back to the beginning. “The cells together are called a canopy,” Sard said. “But that’s just a word. I could never really understand how one person alone could open the cells enough for the wind to get into them. The openings to the sausages, I mean cells, are small and flat. How are they going to fill?” Like, wasn’t it obvious it just wouldn’t work?

Greg rested in his tai-ji stance. Said nothing, not even with his face.

“What now?” Sard said.

“You don’t need me. You already know it all,” Greg said.

“I think I said, I could never really understand?” Sard said. “I do understand that for me to get out of your face, you need to tell me how to work this thing. I thank you for all the trouble you have gone through for me. I’m keen to leave. As soon as.”

Greg scoffed.

“I’m listening,” Sard said.

Greg stared at the blue sky dome but did continue. “I think you need to be at the centre, facing the wind, already strapped in. Whether you’re lying down, sitting, I don’t know. Probably depending on the strength of the blow.”

“Right.”

“Rider is still working on the harness.”

“If only we had some wind,” Sard said.

“We can fire up the airlock machinery and open the doors into them.”

Which resulted in a couple of flutters at the leading edge and the kite staying stubbornly on the floor.

Sard went to stand in the place where he’d hang between the two ends of the wing. “The air is passing straight over me, look at these thread ends.” He launched a couple of the silk bits that attached themselves to everyone passing through Mab’s workshop.

“Let’s lift up and see what happens,” Greg suggested. “Each at an end. No, forget that, We’re stretching it too tight, the air can’t get between the two layers.”

“I suggest we hang on to just the top layer of the front edge then, loosely. Now we run. One … two … three.” The moving air grabbed the cloth from their hands and deposited it at the other side of the hall.

“Right.” Greg looked nonplussed.

“Obviously not made to work without someone hanging on,” Sard said. “I guess I’ll just run into the wind dragging it.”

“All we need is your feet off the ground.”

“If I can get it to billow, I’ll be happy.” Sard bunched each side’s lines and wound them around his hands.

Three big breaths. Five big steps into the centre of the hall, into the so called wind. He lifted his arms despite the weight and the foregone uselessness.

The wings took in a smidgin of air that danced its way from front to rear, causing a brief ballooning that collapsed as Sard hit the wall.

“So now we know,” Greg said.

But what do we now know? Sard didn’t say. “I’m going to try running directly at an airlock.” He set about arranging the wing on the floor on the opposite side of the hall. Greg encouraged the machinery.

Sard ran. Halfway across, the canopy filled with the rushing air, bloomed and crumpled against the wall above the door. Sard dug himself out from under. “Did you see that!”

Greg pumped his hand, slapped his back. “It’s going to work! When I think we had only the old video-mentaries to go on. No patterns or anything.”

They pulled the fabric straight and rolled up the pleated length as tightly as possible. “Okay, let’s fit you with the pack,” Greg said.

For a joke Sard made his knees buckle at the weight.

“Yeah mate, and there’s still the shoes and the harness. Rider is stitching them like a fury. You need to go down to his workshop, fit the tackle to your size and I’m sure to be wanted in the kitchen.”

Rider’s workshop was next to Mab’s, Sard discovered. They had the use of the kitchenette between them. Rider’s doorway was hung with drying silks inside and out and the worktable was screened from the shop-front too. Prospective customers shouldn’t know of Sard’s presence, Rider signaled.

Sard pulled the suit-hood over his face, fastened it to the suit-neck. Make us alive-to-background, he thought at the suit.

< We are continuous >

After hot-sealing the adjustments, Rider loaded Sard with the harness, the two brakes and his flying boots. With the wing, his clothes, food and water it would be quite a load. But once he and Ahni flew, the luggage would weigh nothing, he had to believe.

Back in under the dome, Sard patiently allowed Rider to explain the webbing though it was pretty self-explanatory. Sard told of his and Greg’s experiments so far. He and Rider attached the brakes to the lines and played with their actions for a while.

At dusk, the dome lit up with a vibrant sunset. Shreds of cloud breathing pink wisped across a red background which over time became sapphire and finally night blue.

Greg brought a feast of take-out boxes filled with special titbits. Ghulia followed him in. “Zoya couldn’t make it and I can’t stay very long, darling. Things are hotting up.” She hugged Sard until they were both breathless.

Choosing delectable tidbits, Rider hovered his chopsticks over the dishes. He said, “Last thing we need to talk about is your reason for being.”

Sard choked. After the coughing and back-slapping—by way of Greg’s heavy hand—Sard said, “What? My reason for being?”

“You’ll need a trade that allows you to travel,” Mab said. “Why else would you be wandering the country side?”

Trying to equate the idea with what he intended to do, Sard said the first, weakest thing that came to mind. “I thought that at first I’d be living in the desert around here?” He twirled his raised hand to show his meaning.

“The clay-faces maraud through all the wild places,” Rider said. “On the ground, you’re no match for them on their camels, hunting people with nets and sizzle-sticks. You’ll have a better chance to live in the villages to the northeast.”

“Not so,” Mad said, contradicting as if she knew. “Those villages are small. Even one extra mouth, however beloved, is a burden if it doesn’t produce food as well as consume it.”

“What you can do well is fireworks,” Greg said, grinning at Sard. “Isn’t a traveling trade what we’re setting him up for?”

A hard-hearted wolf sneer that was, Sard thought. “Fireworks?”

“Last time I watched you do your fountaining. With sparks and flames and criss cross spatters gobs of light; stripes rippling; neon lighting up the dark. Damn, I’m jealous! I’ve had my suit for years. Never thought to ask it for fireworks!”

Sard hardly had time to take in Greg’s reasons for envy before Mab ran with the idea. “So he needs a magician’s cloak,” she said.

Sard back on track. “I was thinking a circle of this cloth would be good to hide under, camouflage in the desert. For the fireworks I’d put it on the ground, see if the light will pool.” Glancing at Greg’s baleful expression, he added. “Once I got good, I mean.”

In his mind he knew he was good already. He was a rider on a steed of light, a seahorse in the sea of the night. A fire fuelled with light. A firefly dancing above its reflection.

“Attaboy, Sard,” Greg said. “Put away those glazed eyes. Presuming people everywhere are the same as the people I dish up for, what you need is patter. To get them in, stand around. Pass the hat afterwards. ”

“You’re fast,” Rider said. “You’ll think up the patter when the occasion demands. Your practice in the meantime must be with rocks and sand.”

Finally all the goodbyes were said and Sard, not being able to flit with the load he had on his back, or fit through any secret tunnels, made like he was in transportation and counted himself lucky he didn’t meet anyone.

He slept at the lens door until dawn. Then there was just enough time to backpack his gear to the head of the ridge before the sun rose from the sea like a proverbial ball of fire. After fixing himself a time-honoured wake-up trick, with a strand of silk fastened across the path from the beach and tied to one of his toes, he napped.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 9

Ghost Footprints, captured down at Brunswick Head’s Main Beach

They were out there again, Sard following where Greg led. The burnt-orange ground was covered with sharp burnt-orange stones. Not pebbles because of never being washed by water. Greg wove a path among the tussocks of gold spinifex.

Sard’s life-suit proved extremely able, because he wasn’t spiked once. Thinking that, he tripped. Damn. Full length into a dip in the land filled with waist-high shrubbery. “You could’ve said.”

“You could’ve looked where we were going,” Greg said.

“I’m looking now, with my eyes just about at ground-level. I was to follow you, you said,” Sard said while he registered the dip’s opportunities. The stony sandy ground was covered with narrow tracks, as of small animals.

Or is it that my life suit is on the job? < You + I are continuous > “You being alive-to-background doesn’t somehow allow me to see you,” Sard said.

“Skin,” Greg said.

An instruction to Greg’s suit apparently because Greg abruptly became visible.

“Good trick, that instant thing,” Sard said. He grasped Greg’s forearm and told him again through both their suits.

“You’re getting it,” Greg said. He appeared mollified.

The Greg + survival entity amalgam’s skin colour on your exterior surface, Sard thought at his suit while he still gripped Greg. Sard’s suit turned red-brown, albeit slowly.

Greg shook off Sard’s hand. “Very funny.”

“Not meant to be. It’s neat. Say I get among the famous delta-born, shouldn’t I be grey?”

Greg looked him up and down. Like Greg measured him, it felt like. Sard escaped Greg’s piercing stare by checking out the vegetation. “This stuff,” he swished the low shrubs. “Is trying to be green. Could bother will be some wildlife around?”

Greg was not distracted. “Tell me Rider didn’t give you a mission that I’m not to know about?”

“He told me some of his adventures to warm me to the idea of my away-time,” Sard said.

Greg sniffed disbelief. “This is where you learn how to get water from a dry landscape. In your pack you should have a large plastic bag.”

Sard rooted through his still largely flat survival pack. “Ah ha. The bag, in a side pocket!” He snapped open the bag.

“It’s flimsy,” Greg said. “Hope you didn’t ruin it.”

This time Sard hear the steel in Greg’s voice. And again, Greg could have warned Sard. But he didn’t and what did he mean by that? That he hates me? He flinched when Greg touched his forearm.

< The Greg + survival entity amalgam’s instructions are to find a round stone to put into the bag to weigh down one corner. >

Oh. I absolutely expected Greg to hit me. Sard searched the ground. “I’m to find a round stone. Here it is.” Sard dug the pebble from the soil. “Interesting how there’s pebbles in the ground and sharp stones on the ground.” He rolled the pebble down the inside incline of the empty bag. “I guess a pebble won’t cut the bag.”

Greg squeezed his arm.

< The Greg + survival entity amalgam’s instructions are to drape this container over a couple of green branches. I cannot perceive green branches. >

Greg nodded at a bush that had branches with plenty of leaves arching down.

The slower-than-a-snail-pace of proceedings was what killed it for Sard. How could he liven things up? You do it, he thought at his suit.

< I am motivating your arm and hand muscles. Please help me to see the target entity by touching the target entity. > Still squatting, Sard shuffled closer and let the branches brush against his amalgam.

His arms and hands, moving seemingly without his input, draped the bag over the branch, leafy twigs inside it. How was that not a good trick?

“Now tie off the neck,” Greg said.

Do as the accompanying amalgam says, Sard thought.

< The Greg + survival entity amalgam has not spoken. >

Sard glanced at Greg. “You’re laughing at me.”

“You’re not wrong. Hope you’ll recall all those moves the day when you are out here and maybe have lost your suit.”

“I thought the idea was never to be out of my suit?” Sard said.

“Tie the knot without the help of your suit.”

Says you. Help me tie a knot in the bag, Sard said at his suit.

His hands pulled the top of the bag flat, the edges against each other with the branches between. His hands twirled the bag’s corners a couple of times and tied the resulting ends into a neat reef knot.

His main problem was his face wanting to twitch and grimace at the feeling of his own muscles working without his input. Thank you. He laughed inwardly. Knots were so not his strong point.

< You + I are continuous. >

“There’s a cord in the pack,” Greg said. “Watch me tying a slip noose.”

Sard crouched beside Greg. He thought of touching him surreptitiously. Probably wouldn’t work. Greg’s suit had to be as good as his own. He aped Greg’s moves empty-handed.

“Your turn,” Greg said.

The you + I continuity had the moves so good that their noose looked even better than Greg’s.

“Watch where I’m setting my snare,” Greg said, still instructing. “It’s probably a rat’s tunnel. Put yours across the back entry.”

Easy peasy. Sard rose and stretched. “Now what?”

“Now we walk. Out to the horizon.”

“You’ve got time for all this?” Sard said, making conversation. The silence of the landscape unnerved him, even while he was inside his suit.

“Relda is understudying me,” Greg said.

“I really really love hearing how life is continuing without a hiccup,” Sard said.

“You asked.”

— — — —

They walked west until the home ridge was a brown line on the horizon, turned and started back.

“See any kite-hawks?” Greg said.

Sard checked the whole bright bronze sky. “No.”

“See any dust puffing horizontally?”

“What if it’s vertical?” Sard said.

“A dust devil, baby-dust storm. Horizontal is dust kicked up by camels.”

“Don’t see any, horizontal or vertical.” Sard yearned for a bit of real stimulation. “Don’t we need to worry about Youk seeing us?”

“You don’t want to hear about home, you just said.”

“I was letting my green-eyed envy off its leash.”

“Envying me?” Greg said, genuinely surprised. “For what?”

Sard scoffed. “You get to stay at home and have adventures outside. You train with Rider with no questions asked. You can take your pick of girls. You’ve got everything.”

“The easy explanation is that I’ve got four or five years on you and so have had more time to do it all.”

Sard snorted.

Greg too. “You and Youk are so similar. In your unhappiness, anyway. He’s busy and in the thick of it. Taking Srese to and fro while I’m the one who loves her. What do you think I’d rather be doing while he’s supposedly guarding her from her fans? The crowds are getting too excited. And while she’s with Ferd in the CAVEs, Youk is running messages. But complaining. He’s bored. It’s like you both want it all without the work.”

Now Sard seriously wanted to disrupt Greg’s composure. “So is it happening, the avatar and merman romance? How does that fit in with your plans?”

Greg frowned. He hesitated a long time. “There’ve been a few problems.”

“I guess even you don’t get it all your own way,” Sard said.

Greg struck Sard a glancing smack over the head. Friendly but not. “The entertainment part of the whole deal, which is to keep the population-at-large happy and engaged, is endangered because the mermen stink of rotten meat. Ferd is reluctant to have the twain meet.”

Sard laughed. “How much of a problem could that be?”

“Srese had to have her bots augmented with a stink-cutting agent.”

“They didn’t think of just switching off her sense of smell for a while? What is the whole deal?”

Greg punched Sard on the arm as he passed. Hard. Not friendly.

< Touch of accompanying insert organism + survival entity discontinuous. Parameters of insert organism ≠ survival entity >

Sard ran to catch up, enjoying Greg’s discomfort very much. “Even my suit knows you’re upset. Something I said?” It wasn’t only that he envied Greg because Greg could stay when Sard had to leave. He discovered that he resented the fact that everything Greg did, he did well. Bloody superman. And he wasn’t even an avatar?

They arrived back at the dip, with Sard not following but forging his own path through the spinifex. The sag of the bag around the branch of the bush showed the presence of water and the snare had sprung.
Sard was hardly hungry and seeing the dead rat, with ants already at it, turned him off completely.

“I hope you remember how your suit set up the snare?” Greg said. “And how your suit arranged the bag around the vegetation?” Greg put his arm over Sard’s shoulders and leaned heavily. “I know you were missing from the equation. You’ve worked out how to let your suit learn things for you.”

“I always delegate when it isn’t rocket science,” Sard said. “Why should I bother to engage when I have the suit to do that for me?”

“Fine,” Greg said. “You can test that out some more tonight. And if need be, you can always fall back on the sustenance we left back there.”

“We’re staying out another night?” Sard said.

“You’re staying out another night. See if you can survive a bit of real stimulation.”

“Such as what? I doubt there’s any real excitement anywhere out here.”

Greg laughed. “I’ll see that you eat those words. For now you can start with mapping Gammy’s eye-cams which will be indicated—if you can work out where to look—when he sends out his ghosts to find the aberrations in his digital landscape. You may not have any bots but you’re fully encased in a digital appliance. That can be your gift to the community that nurtured you.”

“Ghosts?” Sard said. He disbelieved instantly.

“Ghulia didn’t tell you about them?” Greg said. “Wearing the suits we broadcast a lot of digital signal. The whole home ridge bristles with cameras and sensors. When we are within reach of them, we are part of Gammy’s digital landscape. He sends out ghosts, as I said, to find aberrations.”

“Minions, you mean?”

Greg laughed again. “Got you worried finally, have I? Ghosts are more like lightning. They are electrical signals sent out to disrupt a target. Interestingly, we can see their shape only if we’re in a suit. If they touch you, the suit’s energy is instantly bled off.”

“Is this one of your practical jokes?” Sard said. “All the time we’ve been out here there haven’t been any ghosts chasing us?”

“Which would’ve been a good point if I hadn’t been wearing an old suit recognised by Gammy as a maintenance outfit.”

“What do you mean by aberration?” Sard said.

“When you’re not part of the game. When you’re not in the maintenance squad. When you’re a remaindered avatar, hanging around. If you do get bled off and you’re stuck in your suit, you’ll boil when the sun comes up and freeze when it goes down. Say you don’t have a knife at hand?”

Sard mustered his attitude. “Cool. See you tomorrow.”

— — — —

When he got to the place where he decided to take his stand, he was stupidly nervous. Silver moonlight made the desert a pewter platter.

< I will smoothe agitation to enable superior continuity. > The suit increased its warmth.

Sard gambolled self-consciously within the triangular pie-slice-of-sight where he guessed Gammy could see, courtesy of a couple of cams he’d located on the face of the ridge. He tried to imagine how a digital aberration would present itself. A human outline in a field of zeros? A stuttering in a field of silence? How long would he have to keep it up?

Not long at all. At the periphery of his arena moonlight intercepted various new shapes seemingly made of ground-mist and moon-cloud. How many ghosts had Gamester sent?Three. Gammy was trying to triangulate the co-ordinates? Or—Sard thought in what he imagined would be Gammy’s turn of phrase—Gammy tried to fix the aberration’s position accurately in the overlap of his ghosts’ fields of vision.

Sard moved back to the desert oak he’d marked as his base. The ghosts drifted nearer, two staying parallel and the third equidistantly behind. Meaning Sard could only ever see two, however he turned. Fear sweat prickled over him.

< Your wastes are my fuel >

Take heart, Sard thought. Remembering what happened in the habitat in an event of crowd belligerence. The minions always removed the ringleader first. This they did with unintelligent precision—by wading through the crowd—careless of life and limb. Though there were always a lot of candidates for molecular destruction, a smart thinker could usually outwit Gammy’s half-minds and live to see another day. Meaning by that, that the outcome here is also not a given.

Sard stopped at the tree. The life suit matched colours with the bark without being asked.

< Waiting = state of non-change. Not a good strategy in this case >

Sard started to slowly circle the tree trunk, always keeping his back to it to keep watch on all three entities. They floated with him, staying level. The ghost furthest from the caves began to shimmer. Could it be that Gamester tired from the unaccustomed effort of keeping his ‘arm’ outstretched?

Sard stepped side to side, not-waiting, not not-changing but without moving.

The shimmer increased. Finally the other ghosts stepped back into the direction of the ridge. The outer figure collapsed. Ha, one down. His patience had paid off. He almost relaxed, exultantly, like he’d won.

Simultaneously the remaining ghosts leapt into a run towards their fallen comrade on their original converging paths. Picking up their mate and hustling him between them, they ran straight down the middle of the triangle, their shortest route! They skimmed by Sard, so close that the life suit registered their disruptive electricity by pulsing red lightning into its lenses over his eyes.

< Our electrical field ≠ safe >

Sard’s thinking went like lightning as well. Abandoning the outer ghost had allowed Gamester to re assign its energy to the other two, giving them the power to run to the apex point of Gamester’s field of influence and, using the shortest route back, return to Gammy’s energy zone before he lost control of them again.

The result being that Sard now knew the particular extremities of Gamester’s reach here, and by comparison the extremities of reach elsewhere. Also, that the life suit was extremely smart? Thank you.

< We = continuous >

Now what should he do—lay down and sleep? What if a Clay Face comes riding along just then? Too bad nobody ever did a project to find out more about them. Knowing their routes and the times of the year they traveled them would be good.

Only thing to do is to practice for my so-called departure. He walked toward the setting moon and stopped when he reached the dip. He drank the respired water and crawled under the bushes. Slept.

Novel is Selling?

This week I was amazed to find that in spite of very little promotion by me, still not one customer review on Amazon, and almost no attention while I’ve been sick, my novel Mongrel is selling.

While it’s not flying out the door, I’ve been getting enough monthly sales notices from both Amazon and Kobo that I’ve finally added my photo to my Amazon sales page, a link to this blog, and I’m thinking of translating my bio into my mother tongue. Or maybe having it translated. Though not by Google.

Getting a novel to a publishable state takes far more than just writing it. There isn’t just one aspect I could point the finger at and say this is what is selling Doomed? Mongrel. The good feeling is that the amalgamation of processes worked.

I found Kat Betts, a most excellent editor, after two goes with other people. Though she marked-up about 600+/- things to think about and/or change, Mongrel spangles with life.

I spent many many hours studying book covers and at first only learned what worked and what didn’t. I have no regrets that I went professional. The cover Dan van Oss designed exceeded all my expectations. I love it.

An eye-catching title that also might be beloved of one or two or three browsers was one of my responsibilities. It took me as long as I was writing Book 1 to hit on a series name, to decide that a question mark in a title was all right, and finally to jiggle the three book names so they might make the most sense.

The guy who wrote about keywords for Amazon? I followed his every instruction.

In between everything I’m writing again.

A fifty-words-or-less competition

A couple of months ago I stumbled across a CSIROscope competition in honor of World Ocean Day and as I had just been researching ocean clean-ups and the work done on the gyres, I thought: Yeah, I’ll give that a go. The prize would be an analysis by a bunch if scientists of the feasibility of the idea and the illustration once it had been used for social media promotions.

Mmm. An illustration by Campbell Whyte? Could be useful for a story I might write one day. It seemed like a very faint hope/plan/dream/possibility.

I thought up the words, reverse engineered them down to the required number, posted my entry and then forgot about it. The Covid thing makes you forgetful on a lot of fronts. Duly got an email telling me the good news that I was one of four winners. I was amazed.

So, yes, I’ve tried embedding to show-off my prize. I’ve tried merely to link. I’ve tried to post the URL. I’ve tried … to no avail.

I don’t see the problem.

Ah ha … stopped the embedding function. Learn something new everyday. I better hurry up and post. Battery is down to 47% …

https://blog.csiro.au/powering-our-future-oceans-floating-lab/?fbclid=IwAR2XN82ZahsgFK8mVokYBUoi0Tx2IK2DSYOGIukVCV85eVIzwXar5W5HQ_Y

Page 1 …

This is page 1 of Mongrel Part 1 of the Doomed? series. If you like what you read, hasten to your favorite ebook distributor, the 99c sale ends on 14 July.

1: Tardi

Tardi Malko dived down the water column to where the wrecked trawler lay on its side six meters below, the water as cool and smooth as satin bed-sheets. He stopped a meter above the wreck, sculling with his hands. He’d break the perfection of the display if he touched down, but now that he’d seen the silver coral, he definitely wanted to use it in the video clip he intended to submit for the Virtual Surfing job.

He smiled closed-mouthed to not let any water in. Oh yes! This little addition is going to swing the vote my way, he thought. He swam up for a breath, aiming for the dark torpedo shape of his surfboard floating above.

Out of habit, he checked for triangular fins when his head broke through the surface of the water. Not that he expected any of the really wild wildlife that passed through; not the season for it.

In the east it was still too bright to see much, with the rising sun seeming to hang only a couple of hand-widths above the horizon. He turned, scooping at the water with his hands and kicking with his feet. The Byron Shire coast was dark blue and rumpled with hills. The surface of the sea had the bronze tints of a Roman mirror, no wind and still no swell. His surfboard only moved because he’d troubled the water near it.

Deep breath.

He dived, squeezing his eyebrows together to adjust the goggles for magnification. On the way down, he flicked the side of the goggles near his left temple to switch to the cam function. With the goggles videoing, he swept his gaze back and forth over the silvery clumps for a background sequence of the squared pattern. There were ten rows of the clumps on the near-horizontal side of the wreck. To create a pattern like this the coral must have been seeded.


Up for a breath, and down again.

The early sunlight trembled through the turquoise water and reflected off what looked like barbs, the coral’s hair-like structures. The sun’s rays glancing over the hairs must cause the shimmering effect people had told him about. Good score, Tar-boy. All my problems solved.

Art by Dan van Oss of Covermint

MONGREL by Rita de Heer (2019) books2read.com
UBL: https://books2read.com/u/bW9Pgq
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