Tag Archives: OtherSpace

[SLACK ROLEPLAYING LOG] Chilling Effect #amwriting #storytelling #otherspace

A Nall shuttle delivers Colclough and the two Demarians to the surface of the planet Odari – homeworld of the merchant-minded Odarites.

The weather is chilly on the landing pad, just below freezing Fahrenheit in what amounts to a balmy summer day in the city of Ikikir.

“I usually pack better than this,” the CIS agent mumbles through shivering lips as he makes his way down the ramp from the shuttle.

The Nall – including the commanding officer – go no further than the airlock hatch when faced with such temperatures. They seem satisfied to let Whiptail, Razorback, and Colclough go on their merry way.

Though fur is an excellent insulator, Demar is a desert world. Still, hailing from high in the mountains, Razorback might have less trouble than most Demarians acclimating to the colder temperatures. He shakes off the urge to shiver, and points to a motel of sorts right off the spaceport. “A good start if we are going to collect our thoughts, and determine our next move, no?” he says.

On the other hand, Whiptail has been a desert dweller his entire life, and although fur does offer protection, he’s in obvious discomfort as he disembarks from the shuttle. “Anythin’ to get outta this here cold.” he says. “I think better when ma teeth ain’t chatterin’.”

“Once we’re checked in, I can reach out to my contact here in the capital,” Colclough replies, hugging himself against the cold. He turns once to glance back at the Nall shuttle as it departs, then resumes his path toward the main building of the spaceport.

“Well enough,” the Cliffwalker growls as he stalks towards customs. “Can you trust this contact of yours? Or are we risking the same fate we experienced on Demaria?”

“With everythang we’ve had to put up with so far, I ain’t discountin’ it.” Whiptail says, following along.

The interior of the spaceport isn’t much warmer than the exterior – the Odarites like their environment pretty cold. The agent’s teeth chatter as he leads the way toward the kiosk, where a representative from the Odarite Merchants Guild awaits.

Before reaching the counter, he tells Razorback: “Our contact on Demaria wasn’t the problem.” He then manages a smile for the Odarite and taps his fingers on the countertop. “Hello.”

“Identification,” click-clacks the Odarite.

Colclough offers an ident card with the name JESSUP, CALLUM P. and an address in the city of San Angeles on Earth. The Odarite scans the card and then inquires: “Purpose of visit?”

Colclough replies: “Business.” He shivers in spite of himself.

“Any goods to declare?” the Odarite demands.

“None at all,” Colclough answers.

“Enjoy your stay,” the Odarite clacks. He then swivels his compound eyes toward the Demarians. “Next?”

Razorback considers this for half a moment before presenting his resident “alien” ID from the Hekayti Empire to the Odarite. In days gone by, the document was dubbed an “Outverser Card” as it was the only official ID that could be obtained by the residents of Comorro. Worth a try.

Whiptail digs into his own pocket and pulls out his Demarian ID card. As he presents it to the Odarite, it’s apparent that the card is for the Demarian guard reserves, showing his full name, WHIPTAIL ROPEDANCER.

The customs agent reviews both cards presented by the Demarians. His dark round head rotates at an angle as he regards the ID presented by Razorback. “A rarity,” he says, “one of the few I’ve seen. Fascinating.” His glittering eyes fix on Razorback. “Anything to declare?”

“Nothing at all,” the Cliffwalker says with a nod, ready to follow Colclough as soon as the Odarite allows.

“Proceed,” the Odarite replies. He then regards Whiptail and asks: “Anything to declare?”

Whiptail shakes his head. “Nothing.”

Once the Demarians are cleared, Colclough leads the way to the neighboring hotel where he books four separate rooms under the name of Yanuth Coral, and then a fifth under the name of Brilliant Sparkman. The concierge scans fingerprints and retinas of the three guests.

“And now I’d like the roof suite,” Colclough says with a smile. “Under the name K’ikikik.”

Once that’s settled, he walks toward the elevator.

Razorback looks over at Colclough and his rather elaborate room rental procedure. “So …” he begins as they enter the lift, “Might I inquire as to where we will actually be staying?”

Whiptail raises a bushy eyebrow at the number of rooms. “That’s kinda what I’d like ta know. Expectin’ company?”

As the lift doors close, Colclough presses his finger on the scanner and the elevator starts climbing toward the roof suite.

“We stand out just a little on this planet,” the CIS agent replies. “The rooms I just secured were, in fact, a pre-determined message for my contact here on Odari.”

The lift stops and the doors open on the rather nicely appointed suite. Colclough steps out of the lift. “If he’s still friendly, we’re in good shape.”

“It may also have garnered the attention of most of the local crime lords,” Razorback says, looking around the new rooms. The soft couch calls to him for a moment, but instead, he moves to investigate each door, his nose and ears keenly attuned to anything out of place. Once satisfied no assassins are present, he comes back to the main room. “I need a bath,” he states.

“I need a friggin’ nap.” Whiptail says, and heads over to lay down on the inviting couch. “These old bones may still have miles left on ’em but I ain’t too good with the long haul these days.” he says, settling in.

The CIS agent walks to one of the picture windows that offers a view of the city in the mouth of a massive cavern at the middle of Queen’s Peak. The room is about 150 feet above ground floor. Nothing but shorter buildings on any side. He glances toward the stalactites about 200 feet above the building. Someone might be perched up there, with abundant effort. He raises an eyebrow and turns to walk back toward the wet bar. “Anyone thirsty?”

“A red for me,” Razorback says, almost absently, “I’ll be back before it’s done breathing.” And he disappears into a bathroom, where water can be heard running moments later.

“At this point I’ll take whatever’s strongest.” Whiptail says with a sigh.
Colclough pours drinks for himself and his companions. He leaves Razorback’s on a table near the bathroom, then delivers a glass to Whiptail. He walks back to the bar to retrieve his drink and takes a sip.

He speaks aloud: “Room, news holovid. Consortium Broadcast. Live feed. Demaria. Real-time.. Mute.”

A holovid array activates, with multiple shafts of light forming the core of the image generator. The broadcast feed shows chaos in the city of Alhira – smoke and fire, people screaming, soldiers in atmosphere suits trying to contain the madness. The banner across the bottom with the CBN logo declares: MASS DEATH INCIDENT BLAMED ON UNKNOWN CONTAGION.

True to his word, Razorback is back within a few minutes, doing his best to dry his mane with a towel not designed for Demarians. There is shedding. The Cliffwalker takes up the glass, sniffing it carefully before taking a sip. His eyes come to rest on the display, causing his brow to furrow deeply, his ears disappearing into his mane. “There will be blood for this,” he growls, “And if a member of your organization is behind it, even a rogue agent, the Consortium will drift perilously close to chaos. Secession will be openly discussed, if not recommended.”

Whiptail narrows his eyes as he watches the footage. “Yer right there, young’un. This ain’t gonna pass.” he says, taking a swig of his drink, swishing it a bit in his mouth before swalling. “Wow..” he whispers with a cough, then shakes his head.

“Suffice it to say, I am incredibly perturbed by the recent turn of events,” the CIS agent says. He paces in front of one of the windows. “In my line of work, a certain amount of treachery and deception is to be expected. But someone wiped out my team on Demaria – along with a substantial chunk of the civilian population in Alhira. They tried to kill me, and you by extension. When we arrived at the Line of Pain, the order to kill us on sight had already arrived. Now we find ourselves alive because of the Nall, but how long we survive is an open question. The answer is largely dependent on whether my friend remains an ally.” He stops, staring down at the sprawling city. “This was not the work of a rogue agent. It was a wide-ranging, coordinated effort, most likely from the highest levels.”

“Then why?” Razorback asks, swirling the wine in his glass, “Why would someone in the highest levels of your government seek to destabilize relations with Demaria?”

Whiptail manages to fight off sleep as the conversation gets interesting. “More’n just Demaria, with stuff like this goin’ on, it’s gonna be chaos everywhere.” he says, taking another sip of his drink. “Fingers are gonna be pointin’, it’s like somebody wants chaos.”

“I hesitate to speculate,” Colclough replies, his brow knitting. “I agree that chaos and dissent are the goal, but I am as yet unclear about the motivations behind it.” His frown deepens. “Running through scenarios in my mind, though, is causing me no shortage of discomfort.”

“You certainly do not exaggerate on that count, Mr. Colclough,” Razorback replies. “Our survival is not my concern for the moment, though,” he adds after another sip, “Our time is come or it is not. But chaos is not something our corner of the universe can survive. There are far older and far darker powers in the galaxy than those which are immediately apparent.”

Whiptail shakes his head. “This is gettin’ past mah thinkin’.” he says, taking another sip of his drink. “I’ve seen low, I’ve seen high in mah years, but this, this here, this takes the cake.”

The room’s door alert chimes. Colclough opens the cabinet doors beneath the wet bar and removes the plasma rifle that waits there. He checks the weapon charge, aims the barrel at the door, and then tells Razorback: “Let’s find out if our visitor is friend or foe.”

Razorback holds up a digit until he can cut the lights in the room. “Go ahead,” he says, backing into a shadowed corner.

Whiptail remains on the couch, but draws his pulse pistol and hides it under a pillow, aimed at the door.

“Open,” Colclough says, and upon his voice command, the door slides open to reveal the silhouette of a round-headed insectoid with glittering compound eyes. None of his multiple claws appear to be gripping weapons – although, of course, they might be used as weapons themselves.

“My larval ascenscion celebration is several cycles hence, friend Colclough,” the Odarite states, clicking mandibles as he tilts his head. “If this is a surprise party, it is premature.” He notes the rifle in the agent’s grasp. “I see you found the party favor. I meant to leave a pointy hat for you too.”

Colclough nods, then looks toward Razorback and says, “Turn the lights back on. Three’s a friend.”

“Oh, I’m not Three,” the Odarite corrects. “I’m Six.”

“Six? What happened to Three?”

Click-clack. “Four happened to Three. And then Five happened to Four.”

“Life is harsh in the OMG,” Colclough notes with a whistle.

“Five’s last words were something to that effect,” Six agrees.

The Cliffwalker slips out into the light from the windows to flip the lights on. “May Seven be long in coming, then?” he asks.

Whiptail re-holsters his pistol, for the moment staying quiet.

“The Queen forbid, I hope not,” Six says. He ventures a step into the room and the door slides closed behind him. “Nevertheless, it may be best if I avoid the windows.” He regards Colclough. “You’re in trouble.”

“It happens sometimes,” the agent replies. He sets the rifle on the bar counter. Then he walks to a chair and sits. “Usually not this bad, though.”

“It is becoming a comfortable state of affairs,” Razorback says blithely, “Do you have any information as to why?”

The Odarite shakes his head. “My usual channels have gone silent on this situation. What I can tell you is that the contagion outbreak seems to be contained to a few city blocks of Alhira. Not enough to wipe out the city, but enough to prompt a crisis, a lockdown, and Vanguard intervention – at least in the short term.”

Whiptail sits up on the couch. “So they ain’t targetin’ anybody specific… they jest want chaos.” he says with a frown.

“That the event and our arrival coincided seems unlikely,” Razorback growls, taking up his glass of wine and pausing in thought. He stares out the window for a moment before continuing, “If I wanted to destabilize relations between Demaria and the rest of the Consortium, creating chaos, like the biological attack, and the underclasser revolt is not enough. I would need the Vanguard to be brought into the conflict. Perhaps to establish order, in a circumstance where order is already tenuous.”

Colclough nods in agreement. “And if the Vanguard is called in to manage a tense and hazardous situation, it creates opportunities for conflict with the Demarian Militia over authority. Putting a further strain on Consortium relations.”

“So tha question is… who’s pullin’ the strings?” Whiptail says. “Call me a cynical ol’ cat, but I wouldn’t put it past some ah them nobles to want to put things back to tha way they used to be.” he says, staring down at the floor for a moment. “Ya gotta admit, since we done gone and joined up with the Consortium, they ain’t all powerful now.”

“Maybe,” Razorback says, “But the Militia is disproportionately made up of Underclassers, likely to support a revolt as they did…” He stops there for a moment before trying again. “Friction between the Militia and the Vanguard is likely to appear to be the Nobles using the Consortium to keep the Underclassers in line.” He growls, rubbing the bridge of his muzzle. “This speculation gets us no where,” he says, “We need real answers, before we die for a truth we never knew.”

“You are unlikely to get those answers here,” Six replies.

Colclough sighs. “And we mustn’t forget the fact that my own agency sought to eliminate me.” He frowns. “The rocket taking down the shuttle could’ve been dismissed as a terrorist incident, but we would be dead right now if not for the timely intervention of the Nall.” His gaze sweeps the room, then settles on the picture windows offering their view of the cavernous city. “We can’t stay here. And I think it’s time we part ways for a little while.” He regards Six with a steady stare. “Can I rely on you to get them new identification and passage to a world of their choosing where they might be safe?”

The Odarite bobs his round head and clacks his mandibles. “I can do that.”
Whiptail nods slowly. “I fig’r that’s gonna have to be how it is..” he says. “If these folks are willin’ to kill everyday folks and then try to kill you, I doubt they’d even bat an eye at wipin’ out an old feller like me.”

“I am not confident that any world in the Orion Arm would be safe for long,” the Cliffwalker says, “Though likely we would need to stay in the Fringe if the Consortium government is compromised.”

“Give it some thought,” Six replies. “When I return, you will have new identities and I will see that you have passage to your chosen destination.”

Whitail nods slowly. “I’ll take jest about anythin’.” the old Demarian says. “My only regret is I may die away from home, but sometimes ya gotta take what comes.”

“If we could be placed on Quaquan, preferably landing somewhere relatively remote,” Razorback says, “We will likely avoid detection for longer than most other places.” He nods to Colclough, “Until you need to make contact.”

Colclough nods to Razorback. Six makes his way toward the door, which slides open on his approach.

The CIS agent stops, turns to Whiptail, and gestures with a thumb toward Razorback. “You’ve done well to fall into this one’s company, I think. I know this is a grim, difficult situation, for all of us.” He looks toward the Cliffwalker and says, “But something tells me the experiences he’s had over the years make him uniquely qualified to handle this sort of crisis.”

The Odarite chimes in: “And listen to me, if you want to live. But the Queen knows: never trust me.” His mandibles clack in amusement before he disappears into the hallway.

Colclough frowns: “I don’t find such comments helpful, honest as they may be.” He tilts his head, then says, “Be safe, until I can reach you on Quaquan.”
Whiptail nods to Colclough. “I’m still breathin’, so that’s somethin’.”

“Unique to be sure,” Razorback says, his fangs bared in a grim smile, “As to qualified, that remains to be seen.” The Cliffwalker sighs, looking around at their lack of belongings. “Off we go, then,” he says.

“Never thought I’d be gettin’ the grand tour of tha universe at my age.” Whiptail says with a grin of his own.

“Count yourself fortunate it is this universe only,” Razorback mutters with only a hint of sarcasm.

Whiptail raises an eyeridge at this. “Other universes?”

“A long story,” the Cliffwalker replies as he gets ready to leave, “For which I hope we shall have plenty of time.”

[SLACK ROLEPLAYING LOG] Diverted #demaria #storytelling #otherspace

Razorback steps out of a hover-vehicle and onto the pavement near the hub of the Demarian government. He looks around, rubbing his tongue against the roof of his mouth in disgust. He steps aside to allow the others to exit the vehicle, his ears cautiously sweeping the city noises for signs of danger.

Moments later, Colclough emerges from the vehicle to stand next to the significantly taller Demarian. He seems relatively untroubled as he taps a glowing blue node under his right ear, activating a shaded holographic lens across the upper half of his face. The display serves a dual purpose: protecting against the glare of Demaria’s twin suns and presenting Colclough with a cascade of vital data.

“Down this street,” the agent says, “and then the third left. We’re looking for Brownfoot’s Saucer in the western market district.”

Whiptail looks around in a bit of awe at the capitol city. “This place shore has grown up a bit.” he says. “Use’ta know it like the back of my paw, probably couldn’t even find the spaceport now.”

The Cliffwalker looks about him with a twinge of memory. “I know the feeling,” he mutters to Whiptail before he sets off down the indicated street. For whatever reason, he might seem to Whiptail to be more on edge than he was out in the wilderness.

That edginess might be justified by the handful of small drones skimming the edge of the market district as the busy afternoon crowds move to and fro. Particularly when cylinders affixed to the bellies of those drones give a soft hiss, releasing their contents in a fine, pine-scented mist that begins a descent toward the unsuspecting citizens below.

Whiptail twitches an ear as he hears the hiss, and looks towards the drones. “What in tarnation? That some new fangled, fancy schmancy city folk deal, sprayin’ air freshener in the market?” he says, looking totally bewildered.

Razorback looks over at Colclough, jerking his muzzle towards the tiny aircraft. “Yours?” he asks tersely, sniffing gently at the air.

“My what?” Colclough’s hearing isn’t quite as highly attuned as the Demarians. He follows Razorback’s snout-pointing. He adjusts the HUD implant via a subvocalized command, zooming in on one of the drones. “No. No ops planned in this area today. Certainly none that involve airborne deployment of…” His voice trails off as something flashes red in his sensor display. “Biological agent. Possibly viral. Unknown origin and lethality.” He activates his commlink: “Colclough to Catnip. Scramble an extraction craft to my location. Fast.” He scans the HUD, checks the wind drift speed. “Wear your hazmats.” He then looks at Razorback and Whiptail, saying, “Bad things afoot. How long can you hold your breath?”

Whiptail widens his eyes. “Ok… so it ain’t air freshener…” he says. “I kin hold mah breath for a while, but I ain’t gonna be able to do it forever.”

“Not much longer than you,” Razorback mutters to Colclough. He glances rapidly around him until he spots an office building with a helipad stories above the street. “There’s your extraction point,” he says, pointing up to it, “And your people must notify the local authorities, start an evacuation immediately.”

Not soon enough, it seems. As Colclough follows his Demarian companions toward the indicated office building, the first victims fall prey to the strange mist. A Demarian female coughs, sneezes, and her bright eyes fill with blood as she becomes enraged. She turns and lunges toward her mate, a male Demarian who *also* has become crazed and bloody-eyed, his jaws frothing. They tear at each other with fangs and claws. Blood splatters sandstone walls.

The violence continues to spread outward, as combatants sneeze and send infected droplets in all directions.

The Consortium Intelligence dropship settles onto the helipad, awaiting the arrival of Colclough, Razorback, and Whiptail.

“Whatever that stuff is, it’s makin’ ’em act like they bin possessed!” Whiptail says, running as fast as he can with what breath he has managed to pull in towards the dropship.

“Lock that door!” Razorback roars to the building receptionist as he races past the desk. A quick glance at the building’s directory points him to the stairs. If the door to the stairwell is locked, he merely tries to blast his weight through it.

Colclough is through the main door as the receptionist and a pair of security guards move to secure it. He turns to watch through the tinted glass wall as homicidal mayhem erupts on the outskirts of the Market District and begins to spread inevitably outward. He sees more drones whirring overhead and decides to stop gawking. He runs after Razorback and Whiptail as they ascend the stairs.

“I hope that there ship is fast, or we’re in fer ah heap o’ trouble!” Whiptail says as he climbs the stairs as fast as possible.

The Cliffwalker keeps glancing back at Colclough to check his progress, perhaps concerned that without him, none of them will leave the rooftop helipad. “One thing at a time, friend,” he calls to Whiptail as he glances at the nearest sign to ascertain what floor he has reached.

About the time they push through the door to the roof, far below the Demarians in particular can hear the shattering of glass and roars of intruders tearing into the lobby of the building.

Colclough’s HUD gets a message that reads: “LOCATION BREACH.” He motions to the waiting craft on the helipad and says, with overstated calm: “We should go.”

“Ya don’t have to tell me twice.” Whiptail says, darting into the dropship as fast as possible. “We better git this thing movin’, or we’re about to have a lot of company and they ain’t gonna be lookin’ to chew the fat with us!”

Razorback slams the door shut behind them once everyone has reached the pad before turning to board the craft himself. “This seems an unlikely coincidence,” he says to Colclough as they climb into the ship.

“The timing does seem rather suspect,” the CIS agent agrees as the dropship lurches from the helipad and arcs away from the building, above the violent chaos in the streets below.

The pilot, a Castori, burbles: “Weapons lock!”

Colclough catches a similar warning in his HUD, turns his attention to a rooftop about a half mile distant. “Evasive!” The Castori tries, and effectively dodges the first rocket-propelled grenade as it roars past the dropship.

But neither the Castori nor Colclough notice a shooter on a different building – a tower not far from the Alhira spaceport, wielding a shoulder-mounted plasma skylancer.

The beam pierces the dropship on a perpendicular, directly into the cockpit, setting the pilot ablaze. Despite his agonized screams, the pilot is still trying to navigate the dropship (poorly) when he slumps over dead from shock. Safety klaxons wail inside the dropship.

The ship starts a gradual descent, passing the outskirts of the city and easing out toward the dunes of the Sandmother.

Whiptail shields his eyes from the blast, but then training from times past kicks in, and he dives for the controls, trying to avoid the burning pilot as much as possible as he tries to wrangle the controls. “It ain’t no bumbler but I’m gonna do what I can to wrangle this thang!”

The Cliffwalker’s ears fold back into his mane as he braces himself in his seat. He marks the land as they pass, trying to keep their position in mind. “You might want to turn off your trackers,” he shouts to Colclough over the wind and fire.

The CIS agent almost doesn’t hear Razorback, so distracted is he by the task of trying frantically – and to no avail – to subvocalize commands across every known agency channel in the hopes of raising assistance. No response is forthcoming, which sparks some alarm in Colclough. When he finally registers what Razorback is saying, his first instinct is to say: “But if we turn off the trackers, no one can find us!” But then that alarm in his head grows a little louder, competing with the one blaring in the cockpit.

He deactivates the trackers in his implants, the green pulsing dot in his HUD goes to a steady, pale blue.

Of course, it all might be moot if the ship crashes and burns in the desert. He gives a nod to Razorback, glances toward Whiptail, genuflects for the first time in about 30 years, and finds a porthole to gaze out of for what might be his final seconds of life.

Whiptail works the control panel frantically, throwing switches as he maintains a grip on the controls. “Damn shot knocked the bumbler shit out of the stabilizers..” he grunts, fighting against the yoke which wants to go in any way other than that which Whiptail is trying to move it. He switches the descent thrusters to manual, and attempts to fire them as needed to maintain course as an augment to the damaged controls.

The Cliffwalker has by now strapped himself in as well as possible, bracing his body against what surfaces he can find. He watches the Sand Mother rushing towards them with a defiant glare. “Take me if you will,” he mutters quietly, “It is long past time.”

Colclough tilts his head as the dropship continues its unsteady descent, then turns his head toward the rear of the passenger cabin. Another quick twitch of his head brings the HUD back up. “Maybe,” he mutters aloud. Subvocally, he transmits: “Activate.”

The vessel’s engines suddenly go silent as the power is rerouted to what appears to be a hexagonal vortex of swirling blue energy.

“Not sure where that goes,” he admits to his fellow passengers, sliding out of his seat and into the aisle. “But it has to be better than what’s waiting in the desert. Or anywhere else on Demaria right now.”

With that, he passes through the portal with a hiss and a pop. The vortex swirls as the shuttle deepens its descent, threatening to spiral out of control.

Whiptail is taken aback at this turn of events, but he knows a useless situation when he sees it. Letting the yoke fall back to neutral, he heads for the vortex. “Without them engines, this thang is gonna fall faster than a freakin’ brick.” he says, looking back to the vortex. “Best take m’ chances in thar..” with that, he dives through the vortex.

The Cliffwalker just stares at the vortex for an excruciatingly long few seconds, almost as if contemplating just going down in the crash. “Sands,” he spits finally, then looks out the porthole at the approaching desert, “Another time, then.” And he jumps through.

[BOOKSTORE WINDOW] Deep Sound #amwriting #storytelling

The result of my second #bookstorewindow fiction writing exercise, inspired by the late Harlan Ellison, based on a writing prompt supplied by Lamia. Wrote it live on our Slack site in about an hour:

The bathysphere Anapos had descended to a depth of six miles into the Nyaban Abyss before the barbed tentacles looped around the cylindrical hull.

“What the hell is that?” James Clay, the pilot, looked over his shoulder at the marine biologist strapped into the seat behind him, hoping for an answer.

Dr. Moira Axlewright crinkled her nose as she adjusted her glasses and peered at the holovid monitor showing what it could (not much) of the beast. “It’s huge, whatever it is. Several hundred meters in length. Cephalopodic, most likely. Can you rotate for a better look?”

Clay’s eyes bugged. “Rotate? I can’t do a damned thing while it’s got us clamped like this!” He jabbed a finger at the monitor showing the craft’s vitals. “That monster’s pulling us deeper. Faster than the Anapos is designed to handle.”

“So ask it to stop,” Axlewright suggested.

The pilot barked a laugh. “You speak sea monster?”

“You keep calling it a monster,” she said. “What if it sees us as the monsters? What do you lose for trying?”

Clay frowned, but shrugged. He didn’t have much to lose except precious time as the bathysphere continued an accelerated plunge into the G’ahnlo ocean depths. The other option that occurred to him was screaming like a little girl, but why give up that last shred of dignity so soon?

“Fine,” he said, tapping out a sequence on the console to open a channel to broadcast a transmission into the surrounding water.

“Be sure to account for hydroacoustic factors,” Axlewright said. “Deep sound frequency.”

The pilot nodded, making the adjustment. Then he spoke into the transmitter: “Uh, hi. This is James Clay aboard the bathysphere Anapos. I’m here with another human. You’re about to kill us. Please don’t.”

A shudder ran through the craft as the creature unleashed a pained shriek. More tentacles lashed around the hull.

“We’re going faster!” Clay shouted, watching the pressure monitor spike.

“Could be something about this area amplifying the sound so that it’s painful for the creature,” Axlewright ventured, shoving the glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “Reduce transmission to 20 hertz.”

“That’s practically a whisper,” he growled. “What’s the point?”

“Just do it, Mr. Clay,” the scientist insisted. “Let me do the talking this time.”

He nodded again when the system was ready for her.

“Hello,” Axlewright said with an awkward smile the beast couldn’t see through the hull. “Sorry about Mr. Clay’s outburst. He’s not one of our brightest, but please don’t implode him.” The pilot shot her an angry look, seemed ready to cuss her out, but was interrupted by a lurching of the Anapos before the vessel slowed its descent. He looked at the monitor. Still in the red, but holding around seven miles deep.

A rumbling voice rattled the hull: “NOT SAFE DOWN HERE.” Lights flickered inside the bathysphere with each word. As if to punctuate the final word, sparks showered from a control board recessed into the ceiling above the pilot’s seat.

“No goddamned kidding,” Clay muttered.

“Can we ascend?” she asked.

He checked the systems diagnostics readout. “Shorted out five of ten batteries. Two of our six ascent jets got mangled by our new friend. But, yeah, we can make it back to the surface.”

“Good,” Axlewright replied. “Let’s head up for repairs.”

“Sure,” Clay said. He watched the sensor display, making certain that the alien cephalopod had fully released the Anapos and moved away. “Just as soon as you apologize for calling me dumb.”

“Oh, please,” the biologist said with a nervous laugh. “It worked.”

“Not nice,” he grumped.

“Maybe the techs can fix your ego while we’re at it,” Axlewright mused.

Finding magic in a bookstore window

The first I heard about Harlan Ellison was from my Dad when he gave me a used copy of Dangerous Visions from Jerry Cooper’s First Amendment bookstore near the drive-in off Highway 50 in Union Park.

I was a teenager at the time and a Star Trek fanatic, but didn’t yet realize that Ellison authored the original script for the best original series episode (fight me) “City on the Edge of Forever.”

What Dad told me about Ellison, the thing that stuck with me – even to this day – was this gimmick of sitting in a bookstore window with a typewriter and just churning out short fiction based on prompts from the crowd outside.

In a 1981 NBC interview, Ellison explained why he liked to write in public: “Well, when I write a story, I get into a story and the world that I’m creating is more real than the world around me. I do it because I think particularly in this country people are so distanced from literature, the way it’s taught in schools, that they think that people who write are magicians on a mountaintop somewhere. And I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much illiteracy in this country. So by doing it in public, I show people it’s a job of work like being a plumber or an electrician.”

Harlan Ellison died on June 27, the day before OtherSpace turned 20. And, really, thinking back, it’s difficult to imagine OtherSpace coming to pass without Ellison’s influence and inspiration. Another of his anthologies, Partners in Wonder, captured collaborations between Ellison and other speculative fiction writers. And what is OtherSpace if not a speculative fiction collaboration, done in real-time, now in a browser-based bookstore window?

Ellison also got his fingerprints all over Babylon 5, the TV series that persuaded me to follow a story arc format as I developed OtherSpace back in 1998.

So here we are, 20 years later, on the shoulders of another fallen giant (who likely would bristle at the idea). We’re trying to keep the OtherSpace story going while opening new windows into some of our other favorite imaginary realms. At the same time, I sometimes feel rudderless with my solo creative efforts. It’s easy to blame it on the demands of work and parenthood, which are legitimate and necessary distractions. But the truth is: Sometimes I just need prompting. It’s how I got started in creative writing in elementary school, after all, asking friends to give me a few words to weave together into a story that (hopefully) made some kind of sense.

Ellison’s passing reminds me that I won’t live forever. Ellison’s life reminds me that I’ve got a decent option for borrowed inspiration.

Now the JointheSaga Slack community includes a channel (#bookstorewindow) where, using prompts provided (I hope!) by readers like you, I’ll generate stories in real-time as my schedule permits. I’m optimistic it’ll be like warming up an engine in a car that’s been kept in the garage all winter, getting ready for spring.