Friday, March 28, 2014

Land Fall

Morgan woke with a groan. His head was pounding and he was completely disoriented. As he opened his eyes he understood why: he was upside down. The safety straps were doing their job and holding him in place. Looking down he could see that the T-7 landing craft was suspended at least thirty meters above the ground. According to the chronometer on his wrist he had been out for about ten minutes.

Only half an hour ago Morgan had been making a fairly routine landing. A few minutes after entering atmosphere something went wrong. The survey said the planet’s electromagnetic field could fluctuate and that atmospheric disturbances would be common. For that reason his equipment was suppose to be shield it. It seemed that the shielding on his ship had not been quite up to par though. The controls started to malfunction and he lost his guidance system. He tried to find a place to land, but ended up going down in the forest doing his damnedest not to fly straight into one of the gigantic trees.

He was suppose to land at the survey station and start preparation for the colony vestle.  As a terra scout he was charged with preparing the initial site for colonization. A survey ship had already approved the planet, but they only assessed habitability and resources. They left a small scan station that would have some resources for him.

With a careful amount of contorting he was able to free and right himself. Grabbing hold of the safety straps, he blew open the canopy and swung out onto one of the stout branches that was supporting the landing craft. He surveyed the scene and was not pleased. He was high above a forest floor in the strange, giant trees that populated the area. Blue vines with reddish spots hung all about. He could hear the indigenous wildlife, though saw little of it.The crash had startled most of it away apparently. The air was warm and wet, his skin quickly being plastered with a thin sheen of sweat. Scents both sweet and pungent filled his nostrils. What most preoccupied his attention, aside from the far away ground, was his ship.

The ship seemed mostly intact though not operable, but the cargo space had been torn open. He had lost almost all of the gear that he had brought with him. He could see some bits and pieces scattered about, utterly wrecked. The only things left to him were what was upfront in the cockpit with him and anything he could scavenge.

After a couple minutes he had gathered what little had made it with him. His main survival pack had been lost unfortunately. His GPS had survived and was able to relay with the satellites he had dropped before making his landing. His survival knife was strapped to his belt fortunately. There was a single bottle of water and a couple of ration bars that had been upfront with him as well. He also had his personal data pad up front along with a small first aid kit. The only thing left in the cargo space was a fully loaded GR-77 pistol with one spare magazine.

Slowly, but surely, Morgan climbed down the tree. The blue vines made good handholds as he worked his way lower. The giant trees cast a thick shade as he went lower. However, the vines that he used to make his way down had luminescent quality and started to give off a faint blue glow. The forest floor seemed to be set in state of perpetual twilight with only a little sunlight filtering down below. It was a relief to be back on solid ground.

After a few hours Morgan had salvaged as much as he could. It looked like a some of his stuff had not scattered until the impact with the tree that caught his ship. What could be scrounged  included: a hand lantern, a multitool, an ET tool, his personal data pad, a solar charger, twenty meters of high tensile cord plus a coil of wire he pulled out of some machinery, one good tarp and a second with a rip in it, a large piece of foil, some carabiners, and a duffle bag. He also grabbed up some miscellaneous parts that he thought might be useful in trying to build with.

He stretched out some as he marked the landing pod’s location with the GPS. He might be able to repair it with tools from the survey station, provided he could make it that far. With his gear secured and the GPS setting his course, Morgan set out. He reset his chronometer to planetary time. It looked like he still had hours before true nightfall to cover the distance. As he walked he took in the sights. It was hard not to be awed by the alien flora and its strange colors and shapes. He had been to a few worlds, and none had trees as tall as these.

He tried to recall all that he knew about the world as he walked. Taurus II was a level 2 habitable planet. Not quite Earth, but no terraforming required. Right atmosphere and gravity. Abundant water. The magnetic field was obviously a problem, but was not suppose to be damaging to humans. His data pad had a good deal of information on it as well, though not as much as he wished now.

All around him the forest was rife with noise and life. He could hear the trilling and screech of a dozen animals. Insect-like creatures scuttled up the bark of the trees and made little chittering sounds. Occasionally would see colorful creatures flit through the air. They had six wings and serpentine bodies that seemed to undulate through the air. They produced a mournful, but melodic song.

What caught his attention the most, though, was the strange arboreal creatures that swung from branches and vines. They actually looked like a balled-up mass of tangled vines covered in moss to him. They had no eyes, mouth, ears, or other facial characteristics he could distinguish. When they wanted to reach for something a viney appendage would shoot out and grab ahold. They chirped back and forth at each other. A group of three seemed to have taken an interest in him and started following along. They seemed harmless enough, so it was nice to have the company. He figured that if nothing else one of them might provide him with a meal.

The air was warm and humid. Morgan could feel it sapping his strength with each step. Stopping for a rest every few minutes would make for slow travel though. He was beginning to wish that he had something better to wear than his flight suit. The top of the jump suit had been quickly unzipped and now hung from his waist. The light undershirt was soaked through with sweat. The boots were the worst part. While comfortable and broke in, they were not made for long treks over land. No blisters yet, but with his feet growing wet that was not likely to last long.

He had been hiking for two standard hours when it started to rain. He took out the tarp with the rip in the center and pulled it over him to form a poncho. He wrapped some wire around his waist as an impromptu belt to hold it snug against any wind. He drank down all of the water in his bottle then used a leaf as a funnel to start catching more.

The rain continued at a steady pace with no sign of letting up. He continued on with the determination to make it as far as he could. Each day would be harder than the last so he figured it was best to push as much while he was still good and fresh. The sun had sunk sunk below the horizon, but the bioluminescence of the plants provided enough light to navigate by. As his legs started to finally fell heavy and his energy waned, he began to look for a place to make a good camp for the night.

As he looked at the possibility of resting in the hollow of a tree for the night he noticed that the forest had grown quiet. Even his three chittering watchers had become silent. He glanced up to where he had last seen them and found that the space was now vacant. Listening carefully he started to take in his surroundings.

As he turned about he spotted a slim, serpentine creature with red fur half hidden in the underbrush. It was the size of a large dog with six clawed feet and a long maw of needle teeth. It was already crouched, but when Morgan turned the beast burst from the undergrowth, covering the distance in a matter of heartbeats.

Morgan wanted to draw his pistol, but was blocked by his makeshift poncho. The knife was not, however, and he drew it as he leapt to the side. The creature passed through air where he had been with a blood thirsty hiss. It whipped around in the blink of an eye and slashed at him with one of its claws. Morgan rolled away so that only his poncho was raked. He made a flailing slash with the knife that nicked the creature’s paw.

The beast withdrew from the wound enough for Morgan to scramble to his feet. He held the knife forward in one hand as the other fished about for the pistol. Before he could free it, he was forced to leap back as the creature clawed at him. He dodged and jumped as the creature swiped at him. Finally it curled back for a great pounce.

Morgan’s heart pounded like a hammer inside of his chest. His hand raced to free the pistol as the creature uncoiled its muscles to spring at him, a missile of fangs and claws. It shot through the air as he pulled his weapon free and pointed it forward. Just before the creature collided with him a crack echoed through the forest as he pulled the trigger.

Breathing hard, Morgan looked at the fanged maw above his head. It hissed as it thrashed about erratically on top of him.  With great effort he heaved the creature off of his chest. Rising up to his knees he took the knife in both hands and jabbed down into the creature’s chest. The creature gave a final spasm of movement then was still.
A surrealness settled on Morgan as he looked down at the beast. Here he was, wet and muddy, effectively stranded on an alien world. It could just as easily have been him to die today instead of this predator. He laughed out loud as he thought about how that was twice now in one day he had just barely avoided death.

With a deep breath, he forced his mind back into the moment. He drug the animal over to the hollow where he planned to sleep out the night. After an hour of work he had a fire going and had cut some meat off of the carcass to make his dinner. It smelled fairly good. Getting as comfortable as he could, he watched as some grease dripped into the flames and popped.

He checked the GPS to confirm his position and to figure out his rout for the next day. He needed to hurry. Not just did he need to reach the landing zone to increase his survival odds, he still had a job to do. He looked out into the forest with a sigh. “I don’t have a damn clue how I’m going to get things ready now. If I spend a month just sitting around in the trees there will be hell to pay when the ship arrives. I’m probably the first castaway to ever not want his rescue to come sooner than later.”

He put that thought aside as he picked up a skewer of meat. There was no point thinking about how he was going to do site prep until he reached the survey station. He took a bite and found it to have a sweet flavor. All things considered, he was doing fairly well for the moment. Settling in for his meal and rest, he finished planning out the next day’s journey.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Flash: Runemaster

Daniel cast the runes on the ground as he recited the ancient chant. The stones bounced across the soft earth, but all remained within the crude circle he had drawn on the ground. His lips moved out of habit as he silently read them. The name and influences of each was etched deep into his memory. However, he also had to pull deep from his feelings to find their truest and most hidden meanings.

That intuition is how he made sense of them. Anyone could cast the stones, consult a chart, and say they meant this and that. True power required the ability to make sense and connect them. You had to look not just at their literal meanings, but the metaphors and ideas that they represented. Each was the piece of a puzzle with undefined lines. The reader was the one who had to know how to connect the dots.

He scratched his scraggly beard before saying out loud to himself, “Asia it is then.” He scooped up the stones and placed them in a small leather sack. He had travel arrangements to make then.


He walked through the crowded Hanoi street trying not to bump into anyone. Daniel hated crowds, and yet they seemed unavoidable in cities. He had already been through Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. It was all something he could have done without. Each stop had brought him closer to Zugth’lex.

The demon had possessed an incompetent demonologist named Rupert Sandoval. Rupert had been digging into things best left untouched when he made the mistake of putting on an amulet that should have been left buried. So now Daniel was on a quest to find the moron and exorcise the demon. While that might, might, have been enough to motivate him to save the man, it was stopping the demon that was most important to him. It had only taken a little research to realize that Zugth’lex was bad news, and Rupert had ever so kindly supplied the demon with everything he needed for some rather foul rituals.

So Daniel had spent the last three months bouncing around the globe to track the monster down. He had jaunted across Europe, made one stop in northern Africa, and crossed the United States. Now here he was in Vietnam, dodging the crowd as he made his way into a secluded park that happened to be situated on a potent ley line.

He walked slowly through the flowering trees to the heart of the park. He could feel the negative power in the air that had driven away everyone else. He had to admit, it was nice to at least be someplace quiet finally. It only took two minutes to reach the clearing where Zugth’lex was performing his ritual.

The demon had drawn a ritual circle on the ground in blood of unknown origin. In one hand he held a curved knife. At his feet lay a young woman, bound and gagged. As Daniel stepped from around tree, the demon stopped his chant and fixed glowing red eyes on him.

“Curse you. Why must you trouble me so?” Zugth’lex hissed, “Be gone!” He pointed his hand at Daniel and black flames shot through the air.

Daniel was prepared though and held up a rune stone marked for protection. The flames hit the stone and dissipated. He whipped his other hand forward and tossed a handful of runestones towards the demon. He clasped his hands together and began a rapid chant. The runes began to orbit the demon and glow with power.

Zugth’lex tried to run, but the runes created a barrier he could not cross. After a moment he let out a howl of pain. The energy of the stones ripped the demon from his host. Daniel tossed another runestone that he had especially prepared. The demonic energies were drawn into the stone and burning it black before falling to the ground. Rupert’s now free body fell to the ground unconscious.

Daniel gathered his personal runes in their bag. Then he placed the demon stone in a separate bag, this one marked with further runes of binding. He then untied the grateful young woman. Rupert, he left on the ground. He had helped the fool enough, and he figured trying to make his way home from a foreign country unaided would give the man some needed time to reflect on not putting on random amulets.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

To Aaron Allston

I was saddened to learn this morning that author Aaron Allston passed away yesterday. He was to be the guest of honor at Visioncon in Branson, MO. While in the airport he collapsed. The cause of death was heart failure. He was 53.

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Aaron several times at conventions, most notably Origins in Columbus, Oh. He was one of three Star Wars authors that would be sitting at a table over in authors' alley. Him, Michael A. Stackpole, and Timmothy Zahn formed their own kind of trilogy. Aaron was always pleasant to talk with and friendly to his fans. I attended several of his lectures on writing. They were fun and educational. The mark of a man that knows his craft and is enthused about it.

I knew him before the conventions because of his writing though. I loved several of his Star Wars novels. He was one of the writers in the X-Wing series. Starfighters of Adumar was a favorite of mine for both its adventure and comedy. He also did work on some Dungeons and Dragons books. While those were before I got into the game, his influence can still be felt.

I learned a lot from reading his work and attending his seminars. At Origins 2013 I also bought a book a book from him on plotting. It is a good book and has some interesting exercises. I will be trying some of the exercises and posting them here. That is my tribute to his legacy. So look forward to some of those soon.

Aaron Allston will be missed. He has left wonderful works to remember him by though.