Category Archives: OtherSpace: Paladin and Pretender

[OFFICIAL FICTION] Chapter 2: Sam Diego

It was dark in the can. Belly of a whale dark. Sam knew he was sitting next to her, but only because she could hear him breathing. The heavy sighs of an old man on a long trip.

Every now and then the hull of the transport would shudder and he’d brush against her. She felt the weight against her side. A casual embrace. It reminded Sam of sweeter days.

“How long has it been?” He cleared his throat as he asked. She thought he said it more to prove she was still there than to actually answer his question.

“Eighteen…twenty years.”

“Long time. That’s a long time. Did you think about me?”

She turned her head toward him. The shuttle was cramped. There was barely room to move. Squeezed in with the cargo. Lucky to even get off the moon when they did. They didn’t want passengers but Sam could be very persuasive. It was time to go.

She needed to see his face or at least pretend to see it in the darkness. “Yes, Dad. I thought about you every day. Then I didn’t.”

“You know why I left. I didn’t want to go.” He brushed against her. Was he trying to see her face, too?

“You knew what you were doing. Mom and I knew. Didn’t help. It’s not fun bringing your service bot to the father-daughter dance.”

“Samantha…” He croaked. Actually more of a whine. His old man’s throat made it sound deeper than it deserved.

“Let’s just play the quiet game for the rest of the ride. Enjoy the darkness.”

The hull hummed and they shifted in the can. It was slowing. Docking procedures. Conversation was pointless. It wouldn’t change what happened. The loud churning drone of the shuttle connecting with the station would have drowned out their voices any way.

What was he trying to do? They had both grown too old to make this reunion heartfelt. They were sitting together. That’s as close as they were going to get. Warm feelings turn cold over time.

The air hissed as the pneumatics clicked in. She started to see light between the seals under the cargo door. It rolled open and the pilot stuck his head in.

“We’re here.” He uttered, motioning a grimy hand for them to get moving. No, he wasn’t directing. He was holding his hand out like a server waiting for a tip.

Sam tossed the small heavy bag of raw ore into his waiting palm. The fee for the trip. She helped the old man to his feet.

“Let’s go. Get your stuff.”

He shuffled to his feet. Sam grabbed her pack with one hand and kept the other firmly on his arm. The last time she held onto him like this, she’d been was eight years old.

They made their way into the light and chaos of the landing bay. She kept them moving. Too much happening in the crowd. Too much noise. Too easy to get distracted. Things could get lost.

“You found me. That was impressive.” They were so close it was like walking as one. He was talking in her ear.

“Not now, Dad.”

“I’m glad you found me.”

They made it to the lift. Surprisingly, they were its only passengers. She shifted her weight. Readjusted the pack. It had been a long flight. A quiet one. Until now.

There were nights she laid awake as a child, pondering this moment. What would she say? Questions she would ask. Loneliness eating her insides like a cancer. Now, she just wanted him to shut up. Finding him was all she needed. There was nothing more to say.

The lift spit them out and they kept walking. Their boots stomped on the metal floor, clanking and shaking with each step. She was still clutching his arm.

Catching their reflection on the chrome wall next to her, she had to chuckle. Father and daughter, arm in arm. This was the closest they’d get to him walking her down the wedding aisle. She noticed that she walked like him. Weird.

“Do you hate me, Samantha?”

It took her awhile to answer. Not because it was two decades coming. Because she didn’t know what to say.

“Ummm, it’s hard to describe how I feel about you, Dad.”

“Actions speak louder, huh, kiddo?”

She gripped his arm a little tighter and led him through the portal at the end of the corridor. The light in the next room was brighter. She got a good look at his face for the first time in forever. Damn, he got old.

She saw herself in his eyes. No, Dad. I don’t hate you, she thought. You made me.

She stuck her palm on the sensor on the main desk at the end of the room. It lit a bright green as it identified her. A dull tone droned through the room like a tired alarm clock.

A door slid open and presented a short stocky woman in a black Consortium corrections officer uniform. She looked down at her tablet, reading off my ID from the registry.

“Sam Diego. License 557421-X. Who do we have here?”

Sam led her father to the desk. Retrieved the control from her breast pocket and released his wrist binders with a press of a thumb. She handed the docu disk over to the officer.

She plugged it into her tablet and a hologram of the old man hovered over it. His virtual self did a complete 360 as she read off the charges. His holo self was younger. Fitter. It was almost a heroic depiction.

“Arthur Camelot Diego. Theft. Smuggling. Forgery…what is political malfeasance?”

Dad shrugged. “The outer worlds take things way too seriously.”

The officer continued her report. “Not your biggest haul, but not bad. Can’t help but notice…any relation?”

Sam swung her pack onto the desk. It felt good to unload the baggage. “You’ve got the file right there. What does it say?”

The officer looked them over and then tallied up the bounty. She unplugged the docu dusk and handed it over. “It says I should mind my own business. Your fee has already been deposited in your account. Congratulations.”

The door behind her slid open and two stiff guards in helmets, heavy jackets and stun rods emerged. They came around and shackled the old man.

He turned to Sam and smiled. “It’s good seeing you, Samantha. I hope you come visit. You’ll know where to find me.”

“We’ll see….Goodbye, Dad.”

The old man winked and they pulled him behind the desk and out the door. It slid shut with a heavy thud. And it was quiet again.

The officer looked up from her tablet. “Until next time?”

Sam nodded and pulled her pack off the desk. Slung it over her shoulder. The weight was comforting.

In many ways, she’d been looking for that old man since he left a little girl waiting at school two decades ago. He’d turned her into a searcher. Now the search was over.

It was time to get back to work.

[OFFICIAL FICTION] Chapter 1: Simple Britain

Six Months Earlier…

“Here’s the situation.”

His conversations almost always started there. It gave him time to weave the lie in his mind.

He couldn’t exactly remember when the lying started. Or why. Did it matter? It was a formula. It worked. His brothers always bailed him out. Always had. Always would. Every financial shortfall. Every employment fiasco. Every run-in with law enforcement. Nothing stuck. Nothing kept him down, because Anton and Reg cleaned up his messes.

That time he drove mother’s hovercar through the front door of a Manhattan delicatessen while VR hacking with his hands and steering with his feet? Wiped from the police records thanks to Reginald’s close relationship with the New York attorney general.

His smuggling mishap, when he tried to bring a dribgib feather ceremonial headdress back to Earth from Demaria despite a health and safety moratorium? Overlooked because the Consortium customs chief owed his mother a history of favors.

Or what about his numerous “forgotten” tax filings, which led to liens on his house and forced him into a rental situation? Anton covered the debts and the penalties. When he couldn’t entirely scrub Simple’s abysmal credit rating, he could at least co-sign the rental agreement at the arcology.

“What now?” asked Anton Britain, the oldest of the siblings. Simple had him on voice-only for the transcontinental call.

The truth: Simple couldn’t pay his monthly rent in the Seattle arcology because he’d spent the last of his recent earnings on a digital pattern for a rare poseable 18-inch Demarian opera performance statue that he could 3D print. He wanted to add the Greatmane Wildhowler figurine to the showcase shelf on the north wall of his apartment, in what little gap he could find between Yellowruff Stridefinder and Treetop Grassfur.

What he told Anton: “My friend’s in jail. It’s a ridiculous loitering charge. He doesn’t have anybody else who can bail him out.” Make it about someone else, Simple reasoned. Sound like you’re just trying to help and you’re a hero.

“How much does your…friend…need?”

“Seven hundred credits,” Simple said. Then he remembered the late penalty imposed on the rent, amplified by the fact this had happened twice before. “Wait, wait. One thousand credits.”

Silence from Anton for a few moments, then: “What’s your friend’s name?”

Simple frowned and rolled his eyes. Such a blunder. He shouldn’t have misstepped with the amount. It turned into a red flag. Time to shift strategies. Time to sew chaos and confusion, throwing Anton on the defensive.

“I’m not making this up, Anton! It’s life or death!” Simple shouted into the transmitter. “I lent him money. If he doesn’t get out of jail, he can’t pay me back. If he doesn’t pay me back, I’ll be late with my rent again. They’ll kick me out! I’ll be homeless! You don’t want me to be homeless, do you?!”

Again, silence: “Might be a good learning experience for you.”

“I’m your little brother! Help me!”

He waited, wondering if he would ever hear a response again. What if this was the time Anton finally decided enough was enough? What if he didn’t want to help his youngest brother?

“Come to mother’s house tonight,” Anton said at last. “We’ll talk about it.”

“It can’t wait,” Simple assured him. “He won’t survive long in the lockup! He’s got a delicate disposition.”

“Fine,” his brother sighed. “I’ll wire the money. Deal with your friend. Then I’ll send Llewyn with the shuttle to bring you to mother’s. We need to talk.”

His wrist PDA chimed with a holographic notification, signaling the fresh deposit in his checking account: One thousand credits. He switched off the transmitter. No goodbye. No thanks.

He had what he wanted.

Continued in Chapter 2: Sam Diego

[OFFICIAL FICTION] Prologue: Grisvril

This scene kicks off the first collaborative storytelling effort with my favorite writing partner, Jeff Stanford, since…sometime in the late 20th Century. We’ve both been swamped with jobs and family life. Now we’re doing what we can to cater to our creative tendencies while still balancing those other important obligations. With this project, we’re leaping into the OtherSpace universe and sharing a story that’s predominantly about two key characters – a self-centered hacker named Simple Britain (my creation) and a female bounty hunter named Sam Diego (his creation). We’ll take turns pushing the story forward and, no doubt, try to mess with each other as we go.

Thanks for reading!

2650 C.E.

NELSESUIN, NALHOM (Capital of the Parallax)

The ruler of the Parallax, a reptiloid not much more than a meter tall, pressed the talons of her left foot against the pudgy human’s throat as he sprawled on the stone dais of her throne.

He squirmed. He winced. He wet himself.

Pungent. Her forked tongue twitched in distaste at the scent. The stain spread around the crotch of his pale gray jumpsuit until the fabric was saturated, and then came the small puddle. And the tears. The sobs. His hands rose shakily, plaintive. He shouted something desperate and whiny, clenching his eyes shut.

She would gut him if he stained the hem of her ceremonial robes.

Gris of Hatch Vril, Vox of the Parallax and the living vessel of the sun goddess Nalia, opened her fanged snout in unmasked amusement at the human. She didn’t understand his words. The gestures, though, she could not mistake. Weak creature. More pathetic than most of the humans she’d met. Certainly nothing like the warriors who had challenged the glorious Children of Nalia at the Line of Pain just a decade ago and fought the superior forces to a draw.

“He begs for his life,” said High Priestess Kithra of Hatch Kavir. The cleric had spent several years among the humans of the Stellar Consortium as an ambassador. During that time, she had become fluent in their Terran Standard language. The Vox had recalled all Nall diplomats from Consortium worlds and expelled humans from Nalhom and Lebal a few years ago – a move that had done much to increase tensions between the interstellar governments. Humans and the Nall never got along well after first contact and, of course, there’d been the war. But the presence of Parallax emissaries on Earth and human representatives on Nalhom at least gave the illusion of peace. Now nervous silence and uncertainty prevailed.

Kithrakavir stood to Grisvril’s left on the dais, clawed fingers laced together. She peered at the human through beady black eyes that glinted within the shadows of her dark-hooded vestments.

Two black-armored reptiloid warriors flanked the dais, unblinking as they observed the exchange, hands resting on the hilts of their thirsting blades. The males would not act against the prisoner unless the females demanded aid.

The Vox kept her foot on the man’s throat. No sense giving him a false sense of hope. She didn’t kill him just yet, though. He wanted to live – soaked, stinking of ammonia, imprisoned by the foes of his homeworld. It made no sense. Any self-respecting Nall caught in similar circumstances would take her own life or demand execution. Proof once more, it seemed, that humans were lesser creatures of dubious honor. She peered down her blunt snout, tilted her head, and asked: “Why?”

The fat man shook his head. More panicked gibbering. Grisvril turned to regard the priestess.

“If I may?” Kithrakavir said, waving the three digits of her green-fleshed hand at the weeping fat man on the floor. The Vox bobbed assent, but her razor-sharp talons kept a menacing vigil – the central claw bounced a little on his Adam’s apple as he gulped.

The priestess knelt beside the human. In his tongue, she said: “The Vox wants to know why she should not free you from the horrors of this life.”

The man’s eyes bulged. His mouth gaped. He shook his head, hands waving as he muttered something emphatic at Kithrakavir. She tilted her head up toward the waiting Vox. In Naliese, she said: “He seems not to welcome Nalia’s mercy at this time.”

He asked something else, voice trembling. The priestess snapped her fangs at him and raised a clawed finger to her snout, signaling silence.

Grisvril huffed through her nostrils. “Learn what you can, priestess,” the Vox commanded. She gave a cold stare to the trembling human beneath her foot. “If he disappoints, I will end it quickly.”

The cleric bobbed her snout in deference, then returned her attention to the prisoner. “Answer my questions without hesitation and without dissembling or you will die. Is this understood?”

He gave a frantic nod.

“What is your name?”

This much, the Vox could make out. Two words, mostly meaningless: “Simple Britain.”

“Our fleet found you on the wrong side of the Line of Pain aboard a hostile vessel,” the priestess continued. “Why?”

The man who called himself Simple Britain turned somber, his jaw set as he spoke.

Eye membranes flicked across the dark orbs recessed in Kithrakavir’s face as she considered the answer. She hissed another question in the alien tongue.

The human jabbered, looking from the priestess to Grisvril. He gave an urgent series of statements. Finally, he pointed at the Vox, eyes wide.

Another query from Kithrakavir, almost a whisper.

He gave an insistent reply. Not weeping anymore. Almost defiant.

The Nall cleric raised a hand, splaying her three fingers before turning her snout toward the Vox.

“What did he say?” Grisvril asked.

“The human was quite forthcoming,” Kithrakavir told the ruler in Naliese. “He came here to kill you.”

Continued in Chapter 1: Simple Britain