Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Early Works Part 9 -- The Lady in Grey



A Hooke and Marton Confidential Investigation Story
The Lady in Grey


I still have several first-draft chapters of a hard-boiled, Raymond Chandler inspired mystery story that I and my friend, Dennis started in 1973, which actually makes it six or seven years earlier than the Hybrid-worlder or the Brigand Sea-Prince. No doubt I was working in the drill press department of Allen Bradley at the time, though that fall I would take a job with Bureau of Public Debt in Chicago for a while. It was a long time ago. In any event, we both were fans of Raymond Chandler and this story was an attempt to take Chandler’s sunny southern California motif and mutate it into something, well, Milwaukee-ian mostly just for laughs.    

The Lady in Grey

Chapter 1

It was an October morning, 1947 and I needed a five-letter word for ‘tax’. I lay stretched out on the office’s worn couch working the morning daily’s crossword puzzle. My partner, Chester Hook, sat behind the desk with his hat still on and his feet resting on the desktop reading some gaudy covered pulp magazine. Business as usual.
Every once and a while I would hear the chair squeak as Hooke reached from behind his detective magazine and fumble with a box of Smith Brothers cough drops. He claimed he was addicted to them. He might be. The desk was set diagonally to the corner with the bow windows overlooking the Milwaukee River, on which was painted in gold letters; “notraM bna ekooH, etavirP srotagitsevnI,” which read from the outside, if any customers happened to be floating down the river, “Hooke and Marton, Private Investigators.” To the left of the desk was the hissing radiator and a bare stretch of flaking paint to the other corner, where three filing cabinets stood against the wall. They contained mostly half-finished crossword puzzles ripped out of the morning paper, and Hook’s current collection of second-hand detective magazines. Next to the filing cabinets was a brownish washbowl and a small cupboard on which rested the hotplate and coffee pot. A door opened to a small closet in the other wall by the corner. In the center of the tile floor, roughly in front of the desk stood the straight-backed chair for our clients. I lay on the red and green couch along the wall opposite the filing cabinets, with a battered end table supporting a cracked lamp with a Chinese pagoda painted on it in gold and red. I looked at the Allen Bradley’s calendar with three days crossed off, which was tacked up on the wall over the filing cabinets. We were three days behind, as it was the 6th.
We said nothing for twenty minutes when I thought out loud, “Thirteen down, a five letter word for ‘tax’.”
No answer from the man reading the pulp with a skull singing into a microphone on the cover.
I sat up. Setting the paper down next to me, I announced, “I’ve got the flu. I think I’ll take a couple fo aspirins.”
‘You go a hangover,” Hooke mumbled.
“To hell with the aspirins, I’ll have a cigarette instead.” I fished one out from my shirt pocket and laying back, lit it with a match from the table. I returned to the crossword puzzle. Eighteen across…

Some time later I noticed the rare tap-click of high-heels coming down the hallway. They stopped, as if reading the sign on the door down the hall, and then started our way again. They stopped in front of our door. There was a pause, followed by a light tap on the glass of our door. From my position on the couch I could see beyond the open doorway between the waiting room and our office, a slender shadow on the frosted glass of the outer door.
“The door’s open,” call out Hooke.
After some hesitation, the door opened a little and the slim shadow slipped through the narrow opening into our small waiting room. She was a brunette, twenty-five, maybe thirty-ish, wearing a plain grey suit over a white starched blouse. The jacket had wide lapels and a black buttons down the front. On the right lapel was pinned a piece of silver jewelry. She did not wear much makeup – she didn’t need any. Shyly, she looked through the open doorway at Hooke, who had not stirred. And cast a quick glance in my direction. Puzzled and embarrassed, the lady in grey looked down at the small end table and chair next to the door and bent her head enough o look at the old Saturday Evening Post on the table. Then she shifted her attention to the faded print of a guy and his dog hunting pheasants hanging on the wall separating the waiting room from the office. She carefully avoided looking into the office or at me.
‘Come in, Miss,” Hooke called out, again without looking up from the detective pulp. I watched her make up her mind that this was something she had to do and get over with. So, with a determined look on her pale face, she walked into the inner office. I watched her as she swayed, slightly, in – her large soft eyes gave her face a girlish look and her pale complexion suggested that she had not be out of doors too much. She glanced at me, again, and then at Hooke’s feet on the desk.
‘Mr Hook…?” she half said and half asked in a quiet voice looking in Hooke’s direction.
“Please be seated, Miss,” said Hook, still not looking up form the magazine before him.
The ends of her lips moved a little. Yes, she had guessed right. It pleased her a little.
“I’m Hooke,” he said, closing the magazine and laying it carefully on the desk. Just as carefully, he slid his buster-browns off the desk and with a squeak from the swivel chair, sat upright. Shaking his head, he slowly sighed and said, “I never even suspected him...” He looked up at her, “Sorry, Miss. You came in at the last page. What can we do for you?” He didn’t sound particularly interested in doing anything for her. A real go-getter, Hooke is.
She sat down in the customer’s chair, tentatively, and carefully placed the small square purse on her lap. “I was hoping you could help me,” she said, dividing her attention between a speck of lint on the cuff of her jacket and the tip of Hooke’s nose.
“Thirteen down, five letter word for ‘tax’.” I was back at the crossword puzzle and thinking out loud again. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her turn her head to look at me. Her puzzled look returned. Everyone was silent.
“Ah, Miss, just what sort of help?” asked Hooke after studying our would-be client a bit. He even managed to sound slightly more interested. He helped himself to a cough drop.
“Mr Hook...” she looked at me, shyly.
“Uh, he’s the other name on the door. My partner, Art Marton,” said my partner with a generous sweep of his hand. “Feel free to talk in front of him. He’s harmless when hung over.”
She was liking this whole business even less from the expression on her face. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t had to do this sort of thing before. Hire a detective, I mean. But I need help and I’ve been to three other agencies since yesterday and they all refused to handle this matter.” She was looking at Hooke again.
Hooke muttered a meaningless “Oh,” and taking a deep breath, added “Just what is it you need help with?” he asked, sounding somewhat impatient, but making the effort to lean forward and look more concerned than all of us knew he was.
“I need to find my brother.”



And I’ll just add a little from Chapter 2

“Someone sure wanted him dead,” Detective Barron said.
“Yeah, we got that, else he wouldn’t be dead, right?” broke in Lieutenant Hank Wood. “Okay, what have we got so far?”
“We got one through the door, a spent case in the corridor, and three more after the killer came in through the door. Three more spent cartridges in the room. Guy answered the door with a .45 in his hand, which bounced under the end table after he was shot,” Barron replied mechanically. “No indication of who might have done it. The room was searched, thoroughly, I might add.”
“No indication unless somebody hast told us everything, Said Wood, looking over the three of us; Mary still seated in the chair with Hooke and I standing on either side of her.
“You’ve got all of it, Lieutenant. Everything we had to do with it,” Hooke replied.
“Far be it from us to withhold information from the police. It could be our license,” I said, not trying to sound sarcastic, but it came out that way. Must have been the booze. Or the homey atmosphere.
‘If you did, withhold information, that is, it will be your license, you can count on that,” Wood shot back, pointing a finger at me.
“Why, Lieutenant, I don’t think you care for private detectives,” said Hooke.
‘You got it pal. Okey, Barron, ring up the coroner. It’s about time he got in on the frolics.”
It was clear he didn’t care for private detectives. What’s more, he didn’t trust us. I gathered that he had talked tot he manager. And our popularity rating with the manager wasn’t too good either.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Early Works Part 8 -- The Brigand Sea-Prince


The Brigand Sea-Prince

I can’t say what got into me that I wrote a fantasy novel. I suppose I used to read them back in the day, but I was never a hardcore fan of fantasy, so it is hard for me to understand why I put the effort into a fantasy story rather than a straight science fiction one, since I was writing this at the same time as the Hybrid-worlder. It’s a mystery. But I have the manuscript with my name on it, so when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable must be the truth.

So it would seem that The Brigand Sea-Prince is my 78,000 word fantasy novel from 1979-1980 time period. The story is narrated by an envoy charged with telling some seaborne barbarians that the kingdom he represents will no longer pay tribute to them to avoid having their seaside cities sacked. I don’t remember much more than that – obviously he makes it to the island court of these pirates of Ividish’fa (You really need to remember their name, I only repeat it a dozen times in the first three pages…). The only other thing I remember about the story is that he escapes the dungeons by burying himself in the earth floor of his cell, managing to cover enough of himself to be missed in the dark cell. In the last year or so I had looked over the beginning of this story, wondering if I could recast it as a young adult fantasy – something to work on after I finished The Lost Star’s Sea. But, well, it seemed too bad as it stood, and retyping and revising it into something presentable, if that were possible (iffy) would take the same amount of time of writing something entirely new, so I abandoned that idea. And truth be told, I have no desire to write YA fiction, even though I have.

Once again the story starts very slowly, some things never change. And as I said, I repeat the name of the hero’s captors, a dozen times in the first few pages. That really bugged me on rereading it. Interestingly enough, I also did something I hate doing now – starting the story in the middle of the story, and then having to go back and fill in the first half (or more) of it. It seems that a lot of writers feel that they have to start a story with a Bang!, and then have to retrace their steps to get to the part of the story that actually goes Bang! As I said, I’m not a fan of that, nor of slicing and dicing a story temporally and/or with different narrators or points of view. I view those stories with suspicion. What type of story do you have if you feel that you have to make a jigsaw puzzle of it to make it interesting to the reader? While a bit of backstory may be called for, I prefer a story to be told from the beginning to the end more or less in chronological order, and from one point of view. I always picture the reader, or myself, if I am the reader, traveling alongside the hero(s) of the story, so I don’t want to be too far away from them, lose sight of them, or look down like a god on them. But, that’s just my taste, it’s all good.

Anyway, back to the Brigand Sea-Prince. Well, actually, the less said about it, the better. It is pretty bad, but I guess that not unexpected. You have to start somewhere, and it takes work to get better. I’d like to think my published work is a lot better, in part by the writing I did off and on over so many years that never went anywhere, and perhaps just by getting older and knowing more as well. Enough talk, here is the opening pages of The Brigand Sea-Prince. You’ve been warned.




The Brigand Sea-Prince

Chapter One A Prisoner of the Sea-Barbarians

We stood in silence – waiting – withing the dimly illuminated bowels of what looked to be the lower hold of a vast galleon. It was, however, the Great Hall and Throne Room of the sea-raiders of Ividish’fa.
We – the six pirates of my guard and myself – loitered near the throne of Ividish’fa waiting for arrangements to be made for my stay in Ividish’fa. The had not troubled to do so before my audience with Traven, the Captain-over-all the Men and Ships of Ivisish’fa, because they had confidently expected me to pay with my life for the insults I bore to their proud sea-prince. That I live – now – is at best a fleeting triumph, for certainly I shall die.
As we waited, I gazed about the vast, grim chamber. Its ‘deck’ was of pale, stone-polished wood, its walls were sheathe, ship-like with massive planks, blackened with age and torch-soot. The ceiling, high overhead, was supported on two rows of mast-sized wooden pillars and rounded, spar-like beams. Just beneath the beams of the ceiling ran a single row of portals along both of the curving walls that formed the ‘bow’ and ‘stern’ of the Great Hall. Through them the pale fingers of early morning sunlight stretched, and the sea-breeze whistled gaily to stir the time-faded pennants that hung from the beams. Hard by us, stood the throne of Ividish’fa; the only fixed feature of the otherwise barren hall. The throne was carved out of a single piece of wood in all manner of sea-monsters, with its back carved as a ship’s wheel. Before the throne an ancient looking tiller, worn and battered was set in the deck, no doubt something akin to the scepter or sword of state. And risigh directly behind the throne was the largest tree trunk I have ever seen; fully thirty paces a’round. Rising through the deck, it stood straight up through the ceiling, through the private chambers above and through the roof to carry high the crimson standard of Ividish’fa.
As an emissary of my lord and liege, Mirn, Tysar of the Land and People of Cha Tralae, I had just conveyed his missive to the Captain-over-all. Words that though princely said, could only be considered an isult to the dark, barbaric pride and bloody heritage of the Ividish’fa chieftain. Having done so, my mission was all but over. As I noted; I had only to die.
Yet, I draw some solace for the few glowing embers that still lay scattered in the cold ash of my mission. One such ember is that I stood were no man not born of Ividish’fa or slave of the Ividish’fians for twenty season-cycles has ever stood before. I have traveled far beyond the charts of the Saroun, beyone even the sight of the farthest seeing sorcerer of the Saroun. I have been allowed to reach Ividish’fa’; islands more legend than fact in the Saroun, where it is said that they are either veiled in powerful magic or laying with the shadow land of the Whither-world. I know the truth, but alas, the secret is safe with me.
And I know more about the Ividish’fian pirates and their history than any scholar of the Saroun. This knowledge, too, will never reach the Saroun. I have been shown what lies behind the bloody legends of the sea-barbarianns, and it has tempered my view of them – though it does not blind me to the fact that they will kill me, nor alter the facth that prudent men should strive to keeep a horizon between their galleon and the crimson sails of an Ividish’fian raider, or that the inhabitants of coast-wise town should flee to the hinterland at the approach of an Ividish’fian raiding band.
As an emissary of many season-cycles; I can intrigue until the headsman’s sword divides me; for I have learned just why I was allowed to reach Ividish’fa against all their age-old rules: that I might serve as a cat’s paw to further the subtle intrigues of Ivre, the ex-regent and mentor to young Traven, the pirate’s chieftain. By deftly refusing to play the parts Ivre has cast me – as I was able to do today – I shall them the chill of these days in the shadow of death.
Still, these are at best fleeting triumphs, fleeting warmth, that do not deflect my death even a day. And I had already fallen into brooding upon the cold ashes of my predicament when I heard the peculiar, shuffling walk of old Ivere. The guards stiffened as the grim-faced Master of Ships emerged from behind the great mast and beckoned the captain of the guards to his side.
For me, he spared not a sour glance.
The hissing of their whispered conference sounded loud in the hollow silence of the nearly empty hall. Quickly it was over, and Ivre turn and disappeared into shadows behind the massive bolt. I was once more blindfolded, as I had been when I was brought up to the Great Hall, and led from the hall, out into the windy brightness atop the rock upon which the Great Hall, like a stone ship aground on a reef in the sky, was built.
Once more I was led down the long series of steps that wound up the nearly perpendicular face of the pinnacle of rock. More correctly; I was half-carried down the steps by the guards on either side of me, for they took the steps at a fast march and neither waited for me more told me when to expect a step. May a’time I pitched forward – with the thought that I had actually stepped off the edge of the path – only to be caught, roughly, by my guards.
After what seemed like a descent to the Courts of Death, we reached the small inner courtyard within the gate house and quickly passed through the gatehouse guardroom and into the large piazza beyond. In the early light of this day I had been brought to this piazza from the galleon that had carried me from dear Cha Tralae. It had been cold and empty then, but now I could hear about me the rumble of movement the shouts of greeting, the laughter, and the hum of conversations, all of which ceased as they caught sight of our strange procession. Even through the blackness of the hood that covered my head I could feel their eyes upon me.
After we made the far gates of the piazza, I am unsure of our course, though it seemed that we passed through several other courtyards, a number of gates and doorways, and climbed quite a few steps before reaching my quarters. Here the hood was removed and my conveying guards filed out without a word.
To my wonderment; I found myself standing in a finely furnished sitting room. Why, it was fine enough to be accorded a visiting envoy, and though I was that in name, I had fully expected to wait my execution in the dungeons. Attached to the sitting room I discovered a large sleeping room and lo! My sea chest and all its contents! I could not attribute this unexpected hospitality to anything said or done since my arrival in Ividish’fa. But weary from a long sleepless night and still weak from the ill effects of The Storm, I could only dumbly poke about my quarter a’bit before surrendering to the siren song of the sleeping platform, to which I swiftly retire, abandoning my woes and wonder for sleep.







Saturday, October 14, 2017

Early Works Part 7 -- Odds & Ends of the starship stories

This is a picture of Rhyl on Assim overlooking Port Curou from the top of one of the warehouses.

Over the years I wrote – or mostly began to write – a number of other Rhyl Dunbar stories. I have one completed short story entitled “Death on Glou’ay” that I might post here – a slightly revised edition.

Looking through my papers I have found several more stories, started, mostly not finished. In addition a packet of background information of the universe I created. It outlined how the faster than light ships work, mapped the human corner of the galaxy, and had a time line for Rhyl that I could use to fit stories into their proper place.

As I may, or may not have, mentioned before – looking over these old pieces going back the better part of 40 years, I can’t help but notice that my style of writing hasn’t changed all that much over the years. These days I try to be a bit more focused on dialog rather than description, and hopefully write more fluently, but the tone hasn’t changed all that much. For better or worse.

Here are some samples of these long lost stories:

“Last Call”

‘Sorry to intrude, Rhyl, but you’d better have a look at Anjere S2’ whispered a quiet voice from the implanted speaker in my left ear.
Touching a micro-switch in my wrist chronometer, I activated my larynx microphone and ship-con transmitter. I spoke a’loud to the empty shadows of the ship’s saloon. ‘I’ll be right up.’
‘No need to come to the bridge...’
‘On my way,’ I replied, climbing to my feet. I picked up the steaming mug of tzanifa from the table and wrapped my hands around it to warm my fingers. I felt the cold breath of the black ones. The ship about me was thin and insubstantial. And the wolves of the infinite night were closing in on my soul. They wanted to tear it from me. I welcomed Lene A’Vere’s call.
I went forward past the ship’s office, the in-systems station, chartroom and weapons station. A’Vere, the ship’s external systems mate was a dark silhouette against the glow of the ex-systems displays. She glanced back from the 3-dimensional display she was studying as I approached.
‘Lonesome?’ she inquired. The pale light of the displays illuminated the smooth angles of her subtly feline face and highlighted the golden waves of her hair. Her large eyes searched my face and read my eyes. No reply was necessary.
‘What’s so interesting about S2 that can’t wait a quarter watch for me to see?’ I asked, stepping close to peer into the gravicon display floating above the projection table before her.
The omnisenors gather and interpret a wide band of energy, one facet of which is the gravitational continuum within a half a light-year radius of the ship. This data is displayed as a 3-dimensional cross section that normally sweeps around the axis of the ship’s course. Because gravity is the manifestation of the renaming un-shattered unity of the homogeneous proto-universe, a single “particle” encompassing the entire universe, the gravicon is able to display data in real time – what is occurring “now” up to its half a light -year range.

What A’Vere discovered is a star, with an inhabited system, on the verge of going super-nova. The Cir Ay Cey’s cargo consisted of 30,000 sleeper pods that could be used to evacuate a small fraction of the inhabitants… Reluctantly, they feel obliged to help and barely escape the resulting nova. (I assume, since I didn’t read it to the end – I think I do actually get to the end of this one too.) In any event, I am always surprised about how much stuff I included in the Wil Litang stories that must have been rattling around in my head for decades.

Next up:

“The Near Wreck of the Shadow of Dreams on the Reef of the Crystal Comet” or “An Account of a Crystal Comet” (I like the former title better.)

I sit in a pocket of day, though the night sky lay all around me. I imagine the stars of the Noussier Cluster, a’drift in the night sea, have gathered in a silent throng just beyond the transparent muunciim crystal hull plates of the Shadow of Dream’s crystal prow, to pear in on me. While, at the edge of the bridge’s sunlit deck, the full, bulging shape of the World of Barrage rolls languidly in the midnight sea, vibrant hued and covered with a glistening white froth. I know every curve and contour of its lands and seas, and I can call by name every city of note which sparkle by night like jewels in black sand.
I lounge in sunlight that is warm on my skin and my down-side cap shades my eyes from the glare. About the bridge the taerah-wood deck is as bright white sand and the sunlight gives rare fire to all the brass fittings and trim. Tiny sprites of sunbeams dance over the crystal lenses and dials of the binnacle and other control consoles of the bridge who’s deep hued wood panels have a glow deep within them, as if they seek to store up the warmth that was lost in the tri-watches of the long night of our passage here.

I had a dream of exploring a crystal comet, and this story was an attempt to make a story out of the fragments of that dream.

And then we have:

“A Night of Evar”

I was down to Evar for only an evening, as me orbits were plotted and ready to fly, but my ship, the Shadow of Dream, was still embarking, far overhead, the last of her cargoes for Tarver-Constant and inwards. For a time I walked alone the streets of fabled Evar, “Evar, a’lovely and a’lone in black starry sea, ‘tween forbidden Taezing and the Haunted Shadow,” as described in an old sarfeer’s ballad. For she lies far off the myriad trading routes of man’s fay-sailed ships and is but infrequently when a captain and a shp brave the hazards of the passage, that other-world men do call on Evar. I know of no time when two ships lay in Evar orbit together. So alone they circle Evar, calling for her spice, Ev’sarimm, famous throughout man’s realm, from Rehaar to Eiribu, where it is said a handful will buy for you a moon of your own. But few sarfeers can say, in truth, that they have walked the brick streets of Ceysance Town under Evar’s night sky. Though far more could say, in truth, if the dead could but talk; “We sailed for Evar.” but found the course plotted “carried us to Desryries World,” for it a most dangerous passage. And while I walked the streets of Ceysance, having plotted my orbits that carry us to Traver-Constant, I feared that it was to Desryries World that I sailed to come morning.

That, anyways is the opening of the first version of this story. I have at least three versions of it. One concerns Rhyl going down to Evar to find the ship’s first mate who appears to have jumped ship. What I can remember of Evar is that it a very seductive planet, beautiful, peaceful, with a native species that feeds on electricity – and glows, so that the street lights of the city are animate beings. And I think, as the first opening hinted, Evar is far off the beaten trading routes, and that like Rhyl, the first mate and others have a premonition that the return voyage will not end well…

Next up;

“Passage to Assim”

About me, the dreary gray of a winter’s day on Cartay was fast deepening to black as the night fell in sheets of india ink, as I trudge through the Great Portal of the Exotic Otherworlds into the Small Craft Harbor of the Starport of E’Sarths. Behind me, in the distant darkness the lights of the city of E’Sarths rose through the low lying clouds, giving them a faint, cheerless glow. Closer behind, the more ancient, low built building of the sarfeers district rose like the foothills of a ragged mountains of light to cast its sinfully cheer blaze skyward and chase my shadow before me. A broad mall stretches ahead of me. At its distant end, the bright-lit pile of the Custom House sprawled before the vast field of the Small Craft Harbor while on both sides of the mall, large building stood. To starboard it was the Sarfeers Guild Hall, built in some Inward Stars architectural style, and looking ever so much like a great primordial bird struggling, vainly, to free itself from the many-fingered clutch of a tar-pit. It has been said of this structure, that perhaps its most distinctive character is its ability to resist the forgiving touch of years, to remain as painful to the eye today as it was when first raised, a thousand years ago. Across the mall for this monstrosity is the rambling pile of the Sovereign Space Yacht Club of Cartay, whose many additions blend to give it a quaint, respectable air.


Rhyle makes it to Assim since we have:

“Planets and Passages, A Sarfeer’s Life” perhaps a collection of stories. One of which was to be: “The Riddle of Coursou’s Last Voyage”

I approached Port Cursou low and from the sea. Below me flashed the landing quays that dotted the shallow sea, their spidery array of gantries silhouetted against the sunset mirroring sea. A tracery of transport lines on tall stilts zigzagged over the oily waters linking the quays and factory isles of Assim World’s free-zone archipelago with the mainland. Soon Greater Cursou grew on the horizon, the city’s kilometers high glass towers formed a sweeping crescent shaped escarpment against the ruddy sky. Ad I closed, I could see office lights twinkling to life across their glass facade in the deepening twilight. Port Cursou proper first appeared as a forest of black stumps against the pastel towers of Greater Cursou. These were the high-rise warehouses that held the celestial trade of Port Curou until it was re-exported. The hominoid inhabited Port Cursou, its sarfeers quarters and stevedore tenements huddled at the feet of these towering godowns and around the shore of Celestial Bay. The quays are enclosed within a paroled security energy barrier that isolates it from Assim proper. At least in theory. This area within the barrier is known simply as the Enclave.
I slowed as lighter traffic thicken around the warehouses, jockeying my lighter with its continerhold off of a Q’Intre packet liner into the flow pattern, breaking off as my destination, the warehouses of MyKyntre, Tezhm & Co, Traders appeared ahead. I maneuvered to landing bay 37 and set my cargo container down on the carrier that would deposit on its assigned ledge within the vast structure. Then, as it was my last run of my shift, I set the lighter down in her service bay near the top of the tower and took the personnel elevator to the ground.

Cursou, as I pictured it, became Despar’s Sanjoor, on a reduced scale. Another ghost of stories untold, stories unfinished, brought to light.

And finally we have one fairly recent start to a story set in this universe, though I don’ think ol’Rhyl is the narrator. I started writing this on my iPad with the thought of submitting it to a now defunct website called “Raygun Revival.” I thought I’d written down more of it, but if I did, it is now lost. I wish I could remember just what the story was about – beyond that it was set in a spaceship salvage yard and the girl with the Vez1 disrupter, is like the wrecks she lives among, an unsalvageable ghost. The rest is lost.

“Unsalvageable Ghosts”

I can't say what I heard, but I heard it too late. I spun around sweeping the jumbled nightscape with my augmented eyesight. Augmented, stars of the Inlopar Cluster burned so brightly I could almost hear them hiss, illuminating the weird landscape of By'tilieth Salvage and Sales' back lot in a cold blueish light. Deep in a hollow beneath a pile of twisted metal, the last remains of a dead starship, I saw her and her deadly, if antique, Vexiana Mk1 disrupter aimed unwaveringly at my chest.
Damn. By'tilieth's scrapyard sprawls across a hundred square kilometers of a small moon of Arnilitha. It's gravity is artificial and low so that between it and my augmented strength I could flip over to the far side of the derelict gig I'd been examining in three ticks. The only problem is that anyone halfway competent in arms could snap off six shots even with a Vex1. The first, my personal force-field could absorb. The second, maybe. I'd be blowing in the breeze with the third hit. Judging by how unwaveringly she held the heavy Vex1, she was certainly an augmented sarfeer like myself. She would not miss. Nothing left to do but smile.


Next up, my fantasy novel, the Brigand Sea-Prince. You’ve been warned.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Early Works Part 6 -- A Sarfeer's Tale Part 2

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Early Works Part 5 -- A Sarfeer's Tale Part 1


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This is the comic book version of the Hybrid-worlder. I drew it sometime in the later 1980's. I had penciled in the entire story, but only inked and wrote the first seven pages, that I can reproduce above and below.

The story changes in this version. The "glowing beastie" chances from a hybrid-world creature to the pet of a bookie/crime lord, who has sent the creature to collect credits owed from the female lead, Cesrie Mer, the powersmate off the rival celestial clipper Minery Var. The energy field of the Knyme-sooh prevents the beastie from carrying out its mission, after which Rhyl and Cesrie get to yarning --rivals, but in the same trade. However, after they slip out, the beastie is still about and chases them. Cesrie, having none of this, leads Rhyl to an in with a secret passage to a cave through the moonlet to the its hollow inner dockyard core and the beastie's master's headquarters where she intends to have some words with the bookie -- a childhood friend. There, they have a few words, and she suggest to the bookie that they put Rhyl on ice for a while, forcing the Shadow of Dreams to leave without its master navigator, and bettering the odds of the Minery Var's winning the race to Kantea-on, as a way of paying off her debt. In this version he escapes, I have considered variations where it ends with him being woken up (much later) aboard a tramp trader in the Inlowpar Cluster, and take up his story from there.

These panels were hand drawn and the text typed (lettering comics was another skill, and not something I cared to try) and pasted on to the panels with wax. If you're old enough and were in the printing or graphic arts trade, you might remember how things were done back before computers. A couple of the text boxes have lost their text, but I'm posting these more for the art than the story.


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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Early Works Part 4 The Hybrid-Worlder version 3

Rhyl Dunbar from a few strips I did for a second story. The walking stick would also have been an energy blade.


This is the opening to the third version of the Hybrid-Worlder, though I think by now that the story had changed, eliminating the hybrid-worlder by converting the creature to a pet or bio-bot of a criminal, mirroring the change I made from a story to a comic book. 

It is interesting for me to see how many little items that I included in The Bright Black Sea that have been floating around in my head most of my life. As I mentioned, when I set out to write the Litang stories, I chose to go with rocket ships instead of starships just to go full retro. Other than getting by without "artificial gravity", I didn't make too many changes -- I just moved all the planets I thought I'd need a lot closer...

That said, here's the opening;

Chapter One

The celestial cargo ship, Cir Ay Cey had arrived in Aero Day world orbit a triwatch ago and now lay the prescribed 100 meters astern of the buoy-satellite 7157. Moars Crimptyn, or first officer, was aft in the cargo control tower overseeing the disembarking of our container holds of Aero Day cargoes. Captain/Owner Briter Kedinn was downside on ship’s business. I held down the harbor watch on the ship’s bridge.
It was my job to monitor the ship’s systems, avoid collisions, repel pirates, harbor thieves, and bum-boat merchants. But mostly it was to act in loco parentis for the members of the ship’s company downside, at leas in Aero Day orbit. I had little to do just yet because the crew had not been downside long enough for the calls to start coming in to raise bail, extend credit or pick up the pieces of shipmates. Consequently, I sat slumped in a deck chair, feet propping up the bridge railing, and dreaming in the warm Aero Day sun of my downside leave on Yisvaalr, the moonlet that served as Aero Day’s port. It was going to be a downside leave fit for a hero.
The communicator implant in my right ear sparked to life. ‘Kedinn calling the Cir Ay Cey. I’m on my way up,’ snapped the Skipper’s voice in my ear.
I flipped a though-activated switch opening the ship’s transmitting channel and said a’loud, ‘Cir Ay Cey acknowledging, Captain.’ My voice echoed hollowly in the silence of the otherwise deserted bridge.
I thought-switched to the ship’s array of sensors. Connect by the ship-link – a neuro-cybernetic interface with the ship’s computers and sensors – I was able to monitor all ship systems, ship functions with the speed and directness of thought. I watched the Skipper’s 30 meter gig, identified by its radio beacon, shot up from the Small Craft Port on Yisvaalr and twist its way through the crowded orbital roadstead. As it closed with the Cir Ay Cey I climbed to my feet and leaned against the railing to watch its final approach.
Through the crystal hull plates that enclosed the Cir Ay Cey’s navigational bridge I looked out upon a brilliantly beautiful vista. Less than a hundred kilometers away floated the smuggy grey-brown sphere of Yisvaalr, and beyond, smaller, brighter, floated the world of Aero Day, blue and sparkling white. Overhead hung the golden globe of Aero Day star, driving away the shadows of stars on the bridge, sparkling of the brass fittings and making the pale teawoon wood deck and darker cabinets glow. And against the blackness of space, the silver haze of the Inlopar Star Cluster and the ten thousand stars of the AeroDay Cluster, like scattered jewels, glistened the laser beacons of the cestial shipping in orbit and the shooting stars of the lighters and countless small craft weaving amongst the teeming stellar anchorage.
Suddenly the green and silver gig was alongside, sliding slowly towards the boarding dock that extend from the main airlock. As the gig’s hatch matched the Skipper deftly matched velocities and I directed the jaws of the outer dock to close to secure the gig and seal a free air link with the gig. A minute later the Skipper reached the bridge.
Captain Kedinn was carrying a small aluminum case bearing the black and silver crest of the Aero Day Celestial Survey Society. It contained the computer navigational records of other ADCSS member ships who had recently sailed for the world or worlds we proposed to make our next port of call. The records are used to update and expand our ship’s own charts.
‘Welcome aboard, Captain,’ I remarked respectfully.
Kediin tossed the charts case across to me. ‘Input these plots and begin to update our charts. I want to see the fastest Kantea On orbit you can devise. You have ten triwatches.
I snagged the fly charts case, but stood rooted to the teawoon wood planks of the bridge. ‘Surely the charting can wait until after the refit is completed,’ I protested.
I saw in Kedinn’s eyes something that might have been fear – for an instant – before they became awash with anger.
‘We slip orbit for Kante On in ten triwatches. I will give you the special code to release Captain Knzar-Rode’s Kantea On orbit charts. Everything must be completely updated and courses plotted before we sail,’ snapped Kedinn.

I stood and stared at Captain Kedinn. I had served under Briter Kedinn for almost fifteen ship-years. I knew him and his methods pretty thoroughly. Captain Kedinn is a solid built hominoid specimen. His shoulders are broad and muscular, his midships bulges, his legs are short and solid, his arms almost massive. His untamed hair is black and he sports a full beard that curves forward along the outer edge giving his face the suggestion of a brooding war-ax. From beneath his thick eyebrows, his dark eyes sparkle, under the best conditions, with a fierce sort of bonhomie. But in port, with a planet looming about, the bonhomie is missing, for Kendinn hates planets. He rarely goes downside and is always in a great rush to clear our cargo and put the hated things astern. Ship’s company ascribe this reaction to planetphobia, said to be common amongst those, like Kedinn, who are born and raised of sarfeer parents aboard ships. Kedinn’s explanation is that the ship earns money in passage and costs money in orbit. Likely it is a combination of both. But in any event, Briter Kedinn is a pure sarfeer, born to live in the cold light of stars aboard a tiny world that plies the vast nave of creation. But though I knew the Skipper well, I had not expected this.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Early Works Part 3 The Hybrid-Worlder version 2

The moonlet-port of Yisvaalr had a hollow core lined with the docks and warehouses of the port. Small ships and containers entered this core to load and unload, rather like the river Thames in the old days.

Hybrid-worlder Version 2 (The Forgotten Version)

I’ve only included the opening scene. We open on Yisvaalr this time, in the Knyme-sooh and then work our way back to how Rhyldunbar got there. Looking over the original manuscript I can see lines drawn through paragraphs and pages, so I guess that is how I trimmed 8,000 words off the original version. I don’t think the story changed, however.

These stories are set in a full fledged starship universe where ship cheat relativity and sail hundreds of times the speed of light. Now, I think there are still enough unknown unknowns in both the universe and physics that one can write faster than light drive stories and not call them fantasy. That’s my story, anyways and I’m sticking with it.

However… Rhyledunbar was a helmsmate of a starship. He controlled the fields that drove the starship via thought transmitted by a control link that he wore around his neck. I adopted this same basic approach to my Wil Litang stories as a com link that did much the same thing. When this story was written some 35 years ago, I did could not imagine how powerful computers could be, and how fast they became that powerful. If I wrote this story today, there is no non-fantasy way I could have a human controlling a starship. The computers of 100,000 years in the future would be so far superior to any human reaction, that a human controlling a star ship would be an order of magnitude less likely than the starships themselves. Though, in truth, humans being around 100,000 years from now, is probably an order or two less likely than controlling a starship. It is hard to imagine that our robotic overlords will bother to keep us around that long.

In my Wil Litang stories, I had to usher the robots off stage with an ancient revolt, and have humans limit the power of machines so that I could have human pilots. I also made my human characters familiar, almost completely ignoring 80,000 years of social evolution that one could easily imagine would make humans, if they exist 80,000 years from now, very alien to us. I also had to turn a blind eye to 80,000 years of machines, smarter, more powerful, and more connected than humans. I don’t think you can realistically ignore that. I rather think humans – machine making biological beings of all sorts everywhere – are the penultimate development of the true intelligent beings – machines. A noble role.



Anyway, on to the story fragment:

The Hybrid-Worlder
Being an Account of One Down-side Watch on Yisvaalr

1
Within the Knyme-sooh the air was heavy and aromatic with the flavors of Chantsom Yea. The sapphire light of a simulated Chantsom Yeaian day smiled upon the three tiers that circled the dining hall and it played on the crystal foliage of the transplanted Chantsom Yeaian jungle that rose up through the hollow core of the hall like a frozen fountain.
I, However, sat in aquatic gloom at a booth at the base of the jungle-garden – in the deep shadows under the lowest balcony.
I took a sip of xanifa and savoured its warmth, its richly mellow flavor. At last! (I thought) I was clear of the hectic press of my shipboard duties… Not that it mattered. Less than a tri-watch remained of our stay in Aero Day orbit, and my vision of an extended fue de joie amongst the dens and dives of Yisvaalr’s Starfarers’ Quarter were dead beyond recall.
Damn the Skipper! (I cursed, softly to the shadows). We were 844 tri-watches out of Sanisfa orbit and in need of a long downside break in the tedium of shipboard life. He had indicated that Aero Day was to be this break, but almost before we had settled into our berthing orbit around Aero Day world, he had arrange for us to race the Minery Var out to Kantea-on.
To sail with the Minery Var we had to clear Aero Day in a rush. Down-side watchers were at a premium as all hands labored watch on watch to clear the Shadow of Dreams’ container-holds of her Aero Day cargo, conduct a hasty refit, and scare-up an outbound cargo.
Being the Shadow’s helmsmate, I spent our fortnight in Aero Day orbit closeted in the ship’s chartroom trying to plot a course that would – at least – gibe us a chance of beating the Minery Var to Kantea-on. It was not until late in our second-to-the-last tri-watch in orbit that I was able to put the finishing touches on my orbits, but nevertheless, worn and weary, I stumbled off in search of the Skipper, determined to extract a two-watch leave downside.
I found him in the ship’s office. The interview was far from cordial.
‘No!’ he snapped at my request. ‘We’re too close to sailing to let you loosed down on Yisvaalr.’
‘But Skipper...”
‘I’m sorry – No! I know you, Rhyldunbar. You’d just run a’muck.’
I held my temper. Calmly I pointed out to him that I’d not gotten off-ship – either on business or for pleasure – since our arrival in Aero Day orbit, that I had earned a down-side watch, that – like everyone else – I needed one.
‘Perhaps,’ he allowed with a shrug. ‘But I can’t risk losing you this close to sailing. There’s just too much riding on this race to risk being caught a helmsmate short at sailing. And it’s not all the money we’ve wagered backing our chances – for we can afford to lose the race...’
‘Aye – thanks to you we’ve not had a chance to spend our wages! I’ve been off-ship a total of two watches in the last 844...’
‘Thanks to me, you’re a wealthy sarfeer!’ he retorted with an angry edge to his voice. ‘I intend to make you even more wealthy, which is why I’ve arranged to race the fastest ship in the whole Kantea-on fleet. If we can beat her – and I think we can – we’ll have reestablished the Shadow’s reputation as the fastest celestial clipper ever built for the Kantea-on trade. With this single stroke, she’ll once more command the highest rates, the earliest loadings, and the finest xanifa. In short, my dear Helmmate, we can take our plac in the fore fo the Kantea-on fleet right fromour first venture.
‘But we must win this little race, and we need yo to do it. So I want you here, aboard ship and sober for tomorrow. There’ll be time enough to get down- and off-ship on Kantea-on. But for now… I’m sorry but; no.’
I drew a deep breath.
A lessor sort of sarfeer might have contented himself with a few choice curses under his breath, a sullen glower, and then, with a resigned shrug, stalked off to his cabin for a well earned, and much needed rest. But not I.
With 844 tri-watched of shipboard life, starship moss meals, and the past fortnight of slaving over the glowing charts behind me, I was in a most dangerous mood. Even so, it was only after I had advised the Skipper that I had not gotten around to signing the Articles to Kantea-on yet – that I was free to leave the Shadow right then and there – and that I would, unless I got my down-side watch, that he, at last, relented and allowed me and a score of my shipmates down-side leave on Yisvaalr for a ‘watch and no more’.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Early Works Part 2 The Hybrid-Worlder version 1


The Hybrid-Worlder

The original version is a 29,900 word long novella about a helmsman off an interstellar ship (a starfarer or “sarfeer”) on leave on the small moon/space port of Yisvaalr. He meets up with a sarfeer off a rival ship and they encounter a deadly alien – the hybrid-worlder as they make their way back to port. Don’t remember much more about this version.

As I mentioned in the intro to this series, I just found a second, later version where I trimmed 8,000 words off it, but I’m not sure I ever pitched that story to the magazines, since I only have the originally typed manuscript, not a xeroxed copy, as we called it in those days.

The story is based on the tea clippers of the 1850 & 60’s. Back in those days, level-headed Scottish businessmen – ship owners – built ships to carry the new season’s tea from China to England. A number of them tried to build the fastest sailing ships that could be designed for the trade, fitted them out like yachts, and manned them with the hardest driving captains and crews, no expense spared. They would all gather in several Chinese ports, wait for the tea to arrive, load it as fast as possible, and then race down the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean and up the Atlantic, to London, half a world away. The tea from the first clipper that arrived first usually commanded a premium price, but that hardly justified the expense of these ships. Steamers and the Suez Canal put an end to this romantic era of sailing. In this story xanifa is tea, Kantea-on in China, and Aero Day is London, and the ships in the trade were fierce rivals, driven for all they were worth.

This story starts out in my usual leisurely style. No doubt too leisurely – which I probably realized since the second version starts out a bit different. I was, however, trying to create a mood, something I still strive to do, but perhaps more economically these days. Or not.

Style-wise, I don’t think I’ve changed much over the last 35 years plus, though hopefully I’ve gotten a little more fluid in my writing. One of the limits of my talents is evident in the narrator – who changes name and background, but little else. I can’t, nor do I try all that hard, to create a narrator who is very different from me in outlook, anyway, – just (very) greatly idealized. Rhyl Dunbar, or Rhyldunbar as he’s know in this version, could easily be Wil Litang, (or Sandy Say, Hugh Gallagher).


But enough talk. Here’s the opening scene of the Hybrid-Worlder from 1979.



THE HYBRID-WORLDER
Being an Account of One Downside Watch on Yisvaalr

(1)
At last I was clear of the hectic press of my shipboard duties. Not that it mattered. Barely a tri- watch remained of our stay in Aero Day orbit and dream of a down—side watch fit for a prominent place in memoirs seemed dead beyond recall.
Fifteen tri-watches ago when the Aero Day system—pilot stepped aboard the SHADOW OF DREAMS, saluted the Skipper, and officially welcomed us to Great Aero Day our prospects for an extended feu de joie amongst the dives of Yisvaalr’s Starfarers’ Quarter were, as yet, undimmed. A tri- watch later, they'd been cruelly dashed.
And we had sorely needed a taste of dirt.
In the 844 tri-watches since leaving Sansifa orbit – almost three Aero Dayian years ago – we had sailed over 19, 000 light – years, calling on only five worlds long enough to hand1e our cargoes and, perhaps, fit in a tri-watch downside. We were, thus, weary of the shipboard routine, tired of the long passages betwix distant worlds, and cold in spirit from living too long in the wane light of stars. We needed ground beneath our feet, the warmth of a sun on our face. And the many distractions of a roaring sarfeer’s town.
Aero Day to be all this. Aero to be the long lay-over while SHADOW the received a thorough refit. And we. Her gallant company, with a dangerously large amount of back wages in our inner pockets were prepared to face the task ahead of us unflinchingly, determined to roll back to the ship, when the time came, without a credit to our name.
For me, I couldn't have chosen a finer world than Aero Day for in the days of youth – more ago than I care to number – I'd shipped out of Yisvaalr, the portal moon of Aero Day world, as an apprentice aboard the Kantea-on clipper TARKIA. I knew Yisvaalr from pole to pole, her sarfeers’ quarter alley by alley, and despite long my absence, I was certain to turn up rnany an ol’shipmate of mine from those brave old days. This vision of a down-side leave fit for heroes substained me when all else failed.
But it proved – shortly after reaching Aero Day – to have been a mirage.
We had barely settled into our berthing orbit in the bustling anchorage around Aero Day world, when the Skipper received a signal from a certain Captain Arinroon of the Kantea—on clipper MINERY VAR. It seems that the Skipper and this Captain Arinroon had, in their youths shipped out as apprentices together – and before I had even broken out my down-side kit – they’d arranged for our two ships to leave Aero Day orbit in company and race out to Kantea—on.
To be set to sail with the MINERY VAR, we had to clear Aero Day in a rush. Down—side watches were at a premium, as all hands labored watch on watch to clear the SHADOW’s container-holds of her Aero Day cargo, conduct a hasty refit, and scare up any stray cargo for Kantea-on.
To add to our worries, it soon became evident that there was a lot more riding on this race than we had bargained for. For we had – or more correctly; the Skipper had – challenged the current holder of the 'Gilded Comet', which is to say; we had arranged to race the fastest clipper in the whole of the Kantea-on fleet.
The carriage of dried leaf of the xanifa tree from Kantea-on to Aero Day is one of those rare celestial trades in which merchant ships are actually raced Against each other. Each Kantea-on season the best picking of xanifa is lightered up to the fastest celestial clippers a’waiting in orbit and once loaded, they're driven for all they are worth to Aero Day, where the xanifa—drinking populace impatiently a'waits the new season’s crop. Waiting for them also, is the vast sporting. population of Aero Day who take a great interest (financial and otherwise) in the fortunes of their favorite Kantea-on clipper. Thus. a vast amount of Aero Dayian credits change hands on the day the first xanifa clipper arrives from Kantea-on vith the new crop of xanifa, and again, when the of the new crop arrives and the ship making the fastest passage of the season is awarded the Gilded Comet.
Outbound passages. on the other hand, are taken a bit more easy – though scratch races between two or more ships are not uncommon. Normally, however, they don’t stir the widespread interest the homebound race does unless it happens to be between the current holder of the Gilded Comet and legendary champion. say, for instance, between the MINERY VAR and the SHADOW OF DREAMS.
Aye some 300 Aero Dayian years ago, the SHADOW was, indeed, the premiere celestial clipper in the Kantea—on trade. She carried the Gilded Comet for thirty—nine of her fifty—two passages in the trade. It was only after the death of her famous designer-skipper, Inzar-Rode, that the SHADOW – captained by a less enterprising skipper – slipped back into the ranks and finally drifted from the Kantea—on Orbit altogether.
This pairing of the current and legendary champions quickly attracted a much wider circle of punters than the original wager between the crews of our two ships. It's become the sporting event of the outbound passages – sparking interest not only amongst the other sarfeers of the Kantea-on fleet, but even spreading to the sporting population of Aero Day. I understand that, for an outbound race, unprecedented sum of Aero Dayian currency is riding on the result of our race.
That, added to the fact our reputation, our ability to attract an early xanifa cargo on Kantea-on, and that SHADOW’s legend was on the line, and it is easy to understand why I was held a virtual prisoner in the SHADOW's chartroom commanded to plot the astest orbit to Kantea-on ever.
It took me almost all of our stay in Aero Day orbit to do so.
The stars and stellar debris presented no concern in plotting a course, for they'd hardly changed their relative positions since last entered in the log-memory some 300 years ago. I was quickly able to up-date them by getting hold of a recent Aero Day Survey chart. No, it was not the hazards of this universe that kept me poring over the charts for so much of our brief stay in Aero Day orbit.
It was the charts of the ultra spectra universe that I worried over for almost a fortnight. The energy of the ultraspectra universe, whose spectrum is defined to begin at a point where its energy and matter have absolutely no natural relationship between ‘our’ energy and matter, is much less concentrated than our own energy; being spread, at varying intensities, across the whole expanse that corresponds to our universe (it is said). By using hybrid-energy fields, celestial ships tap this ultraspectra energy to drive them at may times the speed of light. The intensity of the ultraspectra energy determines the speed of any given celestial ship and this intensity can, and does, change quite significantly in far less than 300 years.
The region of the ultraspectra universe corresponding to the 2, 000 light-years betwixt Aero Day and Kantea-on is notorious for its ‘unevenness’ of intensity, its slow fluctuations over the years, and its to make abrupt, unpredictable changes in ‘local’ energy levels of such magnitude and of such swiftness that they have been known to wreck celestial clippers caught unprepared.
The Aero Day Survey also charts the ultraspectra energy contour but given the constant changes, they can never be relied on absolutely. They are of some use, however, in divining just are the highest intensities are likely to be found for any given passage.
The best charts are those of the fastest clippers fact, the best charts make the fastest clippers. They are the ones built up over seasons of tacking back and forth to Kantea-on and Aero Day. They are most likely charts of the ultraspectra contour beyond the star lanes surveyed by tho Survey and they are fiercely secrets.
The MINERY VAR, with her proven charts, had a great advantage over us.
Still, we had Captain Inzar-Rode's old charts, the ones he won thirty—nine 'Comets' with. And though the ultraspectra contour has been 300 years a’changing, a close study of these long secret charts with their proven orbit-tracks was not without interest. These, coupled with own, rather more recent experience in the Kantea-on Orbit aboard the Gilded Comet winning TARKYA, and the fragments of information gathered by my ship mates from sarfeers of other ships who had money riding on us, gave me something to work on. I vas able to plot, what I feel to be, a very promising orbit to Kantea-on. Nothing certain, mind you, for the orbit is based on guesses as to the ultraspectra contour we’11 find, but certain enough to inspire confidence that rnake it an embarrassingly close race for the MINERY VAR.
I finished plotting this hot orbit late in the second-to-the-last tri-watch of our stay in Aero Day orbit. Though worn and weary, I stumbled out of the chartroom in search of the Skipper.
I found him in the ship's office. where he met request for a two—watch down—side leave with a brisk "No."
"We’re too close to sailing to let you loose. Your place is here, aboard ship, not drunk in some dive," was his specious defense of his denial of my request.
Perhaps a lesser sort of sarfeer might have contented himself with a few choice curses, a sullen glower, and then, with a resigned shrug, shuffled off to his cabin for a well earned and much needed two-watch nap. But not I.
With 844 tri-watches of shipboard routine, starship-moss meals, and the last fortnight of slaving over the glowing 3-D charts behind me, I as in a dangerous mood. Even so, it only after I had darkly hinted that if I was not allowed leave off-ship, I – if I were the Skipper – would be rather nervous when walking the dark companionways about ship alone, that he relented allowed me and a score of shipmates down-side to Yisvaalr for a “watch-and-no-more.”
Within a quarter-watch I had gathered the select few and was hurling the Skipper's 30-meter gig through the teeming roadstead and down through the thin shell of Yisvaalr atmosphere with – perhaps – even more than my customary recklessness.


(2)
Within the Knyme-sooh. the air heavy and aromatic with the flavors of Chantson Yea. I sat alone in a booth deep within the indigo shadows of the non—-Chantsom Yeaian level. Overhead. three tiers of balconies circled the dining hall of the Krvme-sooh. From lighting panels set four stories the brilliant sapphire-colored Chantson Yeaian sunlight dimly reached me, filtered through the foliage of the Jungle-garden that rose up through the core of the hall like a frozen fountain. Seated around the glittering boughs of the square or Chnntsom jungle, at low tables along the three levels of were the tough survivors, the courtiers and cavaliers, of the exiled court of the old regime of Chantsom Yea. In the make-believe sunlight of home they dined talked, reminisced arn, I imagine, still plotted their return to Chantsom Yea.
Less than a quarter-watch before, I had thumped down the 30—meter gig on the tarmac of our mooring bay – to the exaggerated sigh of relief from my passengers. Cracking the hatch; I led the shaken of shipmates out of the still glowing gig onto the vast, gently curving expanse Of the Smallcraft Field of the Commercial Port of Aero Day that encompasses the Northern pole of Yisvaalr. Foresaking the moving walkways under the field as being too slow, I struck out at a fast trot for the distant ring of administrative buildings that lay beyond the orderly rows of ships’ boats and launches. I plunged through Customs – deaf to the terse comments of port officials regarding the finer points of handling a gig in a crowded roadstead – and charted a waiting air-cab for the Knyme-sooh.
The Knyme-so lies beyond the usual orbit of grounded sarfeers; almost half the moonlet from the riotous environs of Starfarers' Quarter. I had, however. come to frequent this Chantsom Yea World restaurant, and court-in-exile, in m early yearrs of starfaring the Kantea—on Orbit. Long cherished memories of its rare cuisine, its calm, aquatic gloom, and its almost legendary association with the brave ol 'days of my youth combined to draw me past the roaring Starfeers’ Quarter’s taverns, past its delightfully wicked pleasures, games, and boisterous camaraderie. I had determined to spend 'watch-and-no-more with a Chantsom Yeaian feast and the ghosts of youth.
Though it was midday in our sector of the Smallcraft field, the aurora-tinted night of Yisvaalr was just stealing over the Jaqut Inn Quarter when I alighted from the air-cab in front of the Knyme-sooh.
I stood back and stared. After all the years, after all the passages; it the same old Knyme-sooh. Bounding down the few steps from street level, I pushed through the heavy doors waded into the murky depths of Chantsom Yea-in-exile.
I was greeted by its once-royal proprietor, Cybai Ky, himself – who, like his establishment, seemed unchanged. With surprisingly little prompting. he was able to recall me; one of those serious young apprentices that his old shiprnate, Hook, would sometimes bring in tow. Over a fine and rare feast we talked of old times. until, at last. Other duties claimed Cybai Ky’s attention.
I was alone, now, in the booth at the base of the jungle—garden. Well, not quite alone, for a winged-creature clung to the boughs of the jungle across the narrow aisle. Beguiling me with her many faceted eyes a’sparkling coyly, she, in return for the crumbs of meal, made clear, not unpleasant tones.
I took a sip from a steaming cup of fine. Isle of Adancy xanifa and set it back on the table before me. A brass—bound lantern stood at tho center of the table; its four thick lenses casting dim spears of amber light over the table-top, like a lighthouse on a dark reef in a sea of blue shadows – a reef still strewn with the hulks derelict vessels of the Chantsom feast.
I was at ease. Thoroughly content, filled to the load-line with a meal of ‘ta’zim-acue’ that tasted even better than vintage memories had promised, and topped off with a steaming pot of the finest xanifa. Finally I knew rest, and surruounded by old memories, I drifted into a deep reverie.
Tho place was made for dreaming – the azure light that managed to make its way down through the levels of jeweled foliage could barely tint blue the entwining tendrils of steam that twisted up from cup, and in fact, seemed to embrace, rather than chase away the gloom of my booth. Sitting back, absently watching the weaving threads of steam curl around and upwards into the blackness under the lowest of the Chentsom Yeaian-dining balconies, I became lost in twisting, overgrown lanes of memories. I sat while faces and scenes came back to me – all my old shipmates, the places, the dramas, the tastes, and emotions of those by-gone days of Yisvaalr and Kantea-on. They were distilled, somehow, with the passage of time and the layers of other memories into that smooth, melancholy flavor of romance, the spicy tang of adventure, and the haunting bouquet of remembered youth...


(3)
Out of my dreams – a great noise. a deafening crack which jerked me to consciousness and confusion.
The dishes danced. The lantern flickered. The very fabric of the building seemed to shiver with the concussion.
I spilled half a cup of hot xanifa on my lap and exploded in a chanty of Embarian curses.
Like litter before the landing blast of an Atmospheric-freighter, the scenes and figures of my reverie were scattered by the sudden, explosion-like crack.
As the echoes receded from the Knyme-sooh, they left the jungle garden hall in eerie silence. I held breath and cast a quick look at my jewel-eyed companion in the boughs. Her eyes held glints of shock and fright as she clutched her branch statue like. Apparently she understood the Embarian tongue.
As the silence I began to wonder if I, indeed, had heard the noise at all, or if perhaps, it was an ordinary sound magnified by dozing condition. Still, listening I no longer heard the subdued murmerings of the exiled Chantsom Yeaians seated aroundt he balconies above me. Silent was their chirping laughter, the rustling of their elegant home-world gowns the busy chatter of their dinner utensils. Nor did the strangely sung ballad of the Chatsom Yeaian singer steal out to me from the cabaret beyönd the curtained doorway behind me. And even the vague rumblings of the gaa jinga-gamblers from even deeper within the of backrooms, failed to reach me. through the oppressive silence.
It as if time, itself, was holding its breath. It held potent; like the frightenly expectant silence of your death but a moment old.
And before I could throw down a steadying slug of xanifa – what was left of it – it struck again – pushing against my chest like an invisible hand.
Small debris sprayed across the outer of table larger pieces went skidding and spinning by me down the narrow aisle.
The thunder clap was followed on its heels by a mighty, howling roar – made more frightening by the fact that my translator terminal, sensing it to be the utterance of some being, but finding no recognized word-pattern in the roaring howl; merely re—echoed it as a fierce, wordless challenge in head.
It struck, however. an icy reserve. Consciously, I drew a long breath and carefully put hard on the porcelain xanifa pot to stop its rattling dance to the table's edge. I slid along the bench to the jungle-bordered aisle as an unconscious twist of right my right wrist brought the cool slap of the needle-beam knife to my palm. My thumb found its control key even as I peered around the booth divider and caught sight of what stood looking into the Knyme-sooh through a gaping breach in its front wall where once a muunciin crystal window was.
It was huge.