Tag: writing

Ghosts III: last street (ii)

The midnight wind was coming in cold and hard from Zoloty Rog Bay when Yuri stepped out of the Bakunin and made his way down Poslednaya ulitsa, the Last Street. The Street was long and straight, a backbone to the strip of land that jutted out of the heart of the city into the cold waters of the North Pacific. The night did the streetscape few favours. The dim yellow-tinted glare from the few un-vandalised streetlights cast the uniform whitewash as luminous bone. Rows of squarish buildings had become a mouth of ugly, uneven teeth. No other pedestrians walked the streets here. It was not a destination, just a gap between other places. It was Yuri’s home.

Like the buildings surrounding it, the Kolchak was squat, squarish and whitewashed. Yuri never knew how the Armenian found business. There were no travellers here, only empty warehouses and half-constructed shells of buildings. The only clientele the Hotel served were the truly lost, wandering in from the docks. Except now there was a bundle of rags at the entrance. A street child, knees clutched to chest but otherwise ignorant of the chill. (more…)

Ghosts III: last street (i)

“Explain it again,” Yuri said to the foreigner, “but this time, put both hands where I can see them.”
The diplomat complied, extending his gloved hands flat on the table. Like all of his clothes, the gloves were a simulacrum of typical Vladivostokan attire. A local’s trenchcoat would be well-patched, each layer of fabric able to be traced, like an archaeological dig, to a series of conflicts and long winters. The gloves would be thick and woollen, worn down and tobacco-stained at the fingertips. The foreigner’s trench was bespoke and unfrayed, his gloves leather and lined – Yuri thought, from the edge of the seam that he spied – with lambswool.
“Alexei Novotny. The trail is a year old. My government has narrowed his location down to this city, and perhaps two others.” His Russian was oddly crisp.
“I’m not interested.”
“Novotny is not a good man, should that matter to you.”
“I don’t ask questions about my clients. It makes it easier to avoid any moral dilemmas.”
“Then why should it matter whether you take my business or theirs?”
“Because yours, Blackwood, has a stink about it.”
The only thing that prevented Blackwood from glowering, Yuri thought, was his English professionalism. As it was, he merely contemplated Cafe Bakunin’s ceiling for a few long moments before returning his gaze.
“You empathise with those who use your services. That’s it, isn’t it? Because you’re running too.”
“I am paid to get people lost, not find them again.” (more…)

Ghosts II: border crossing

Manchukuo’s cold winter was behind them. The icy rivers had begun to crack in the mid-spring thaw. The snow was out of the trees but the ground remained sodden with its memory. The seasons were changing late here. Flowers had not blossomed, and the wind remained bitter.

They had driven for two nights, through the fractal terrain of this forgotten corner of the Empire. The path was constantly in the shadows of mountains, weaving through gullies, always searching for the peaks above. Any recognisable route had disappeared hours beforehand. There were no roads to speak of now, just fox-tracks and faded oxen-paths where the local farmers once plied their trade. The country was empty, drained by the wars. Fields had been reclaimed by the grasslands. Where villages once stood, trees now grew. They were ash-stained and still young, but it was undoubted: the forests had come to reclaim the land from the humans.

The endless paths coalesced into landmarks, and Yuri recognised the correct track. With the sun setting fast above, he turned the wheel of the car and the vehicle emerged from the blasted heathlands, climbing steadily toward the top of the ridge. Driver and passenger winced in unison as the overladen vehicle teetered for a moment, wheels grinding on the steep surface before friction was found. He had travelled this jarring route countless times before, and grown used to the constant lurching movements of the Lincoln up through these hills. His passenger was not so lucky. From his rear-view mirror, he could see her in the rear seat. Miss Kato was swaddled by her bundled belongings and the driver’s own supplies, reduced to a bobbing pale mask amongst a jumbled wall of canvas and printed kimono fabric. Miss Kato’s eyes skipped and danced along from the track and back along the Dybbuk’s Highway from where they had come, before reversing its movement to settle on the distant mountains to the west. Vast clouds amassed there, dark and fattened with the weight of oncoming storms.

Yuri cleared his throat and watched the client’s eyes snap forward to meet his reflected gaze. He motioned to the car’s starboard, to a shallow indentation in the hillside. A keen observer would notice a darkened circle amongst the rocks and scrub, a series of lazy patchwork arcs that describe where campfires might have previously been constructed. A pile of splintered trees sat nearby, which may have fallen naturally or, to those looking for such a thing, represent firewood stacked on a dusk-coloured tarpaulin.
“This is where we’ll stay the night. You’ll have to move on by yourself come morning.”
Miss Kato nodded, although, he thought, it may have just been one final jolt from the Lincoln as it struggled along a difficult stretch of shale. (more…)

blusterings

“Bluster and Cabbage!,” boomed Imrus, trying the unfamiliar curse words on for size. I laughed out loud. The engineer’s voice filled the cramped cabin, and could add gravitas to even the most ludicrous of kennings. Most of the other crew were quiet though, and Barras just looked angry. “Don’t you dare throw those words around in here!,” he yelled at the engineer, leaning dangerously out of his hammock. “I’ve worked on too many ‘ships where fools like yourself have had to be Censored and surveyed. Save us all the trouble.”

Imrus should have looked chastened, but he wasn’t. He was too big and friendly for that, and even the threat of Censoring was a-nothing. Instead, it encouraged the man further. “Boom and sky! Grumbling Lazarus! Skylamp’s wrack!”

“Don’t you even think of conflating in here, you stupid bloody Unter-man!,” growled Barras. He was Uber-born himself, and even a lifetime on the air-wires was not enough to knock out an Uber’s natural tendency to look down on those born with insufficient verticality.

Lasker, the cabin-boy, chose that moment to come down barrelling down the ladder. “Line’s end coming up. Bare minutes away, now!”

You could almost feel the tension go out of the room in one great wheeze. We’d been chuggering through the skies for weeks now, line’s end always another hop away. I knew my opportunity was limited, and took the whoops and hoorays of the crew-mates as my chance to skeet out of the cabin, down the hallway, past the stairs that went out to the wheeze-engines and up rope-ladders to the helm above. Sure as bones, the Captain was there tending the levers, looking out at the clearing smug that clouded up the windowpanes. The wire was out there, somewhere in the misty nothings.

“Can I help with landfall, Captain?,” I asked, brave-like, like I hadn’t been secretly practicing in my cabin to ask that same question for days now.

The captain pondered my question thoughtfully, giving airs of due consideration as if he hadn’t already made his mind up as to who was fit for the landfall and who not. “Aye, Welyam,” he finally responded, “ye can go. Don’t tarry now, Sisters Candel and Fonten are already getting their equipment ready.”
I gave an aye-aye and raced out, up to the deck, skipping between the thick legs of crewmates. The Sisters were as the Captain Glass said, loading necessaries for the trip into their specially-padded crates, ready for tying onto the guiding line. The Brothers were there too, naturally. The Censors hadn’t told us to expect trouble but Brecken and Milinki always came anyway, there with glaive and fist if the locals were skewiff and the surveying turned claret.

“Captain said I could come,” I panted at them, my words bubbling out from all that run, leg’s a-shaking.

“Glass said that, did he?,” responded Sister Fonten, crooking her brow at me. “Wanted you out from underfoot here on the ‘ship, and down messing up our business instead?”

“It’s not like that, Sister miss,” I exclaimed. She hadn’t forgiven me since the first days of the tour, when I’d scumbled her belongings on a bad winching.

“Leave the boy alone, Fonten,” said Candel. She was always the nicer of the two.

“I’ll treat the boy as I wish, Candel. The Great Plan doesn’t resolve with jumblers like this one. The rituals need rigour, not some great woody-head.”

“Oh hush, dear. If you had your way we’d never have left Central. If I say Welyam can come and witness the vox, then witness he will.”

Fonten supressed an eye-roll but knew she’d lost the argument. Candel was the nicer and softer one, but firmer deep down. Imrus called her a flicky-knife once, able to show steely edge when needed but hiding it away for unsuspecting types.

There was a grumbling and moaning off-deck; the crew were attaching the cabin to the new wire, testing for tautness. The Sisters breezed past. The Brothers picked up the crates. I followed behind, obediently.
With some ricketing and racketing we were launched, off on the wire and out of the blooming shadow of the ‘ship above. The line was quick, and in under a minute the cabin had cleared the smug and was in clear sky. ‘Ships like ours always hung higher than normal over uncharted ground like this. It was out of respect for the process, for the interviewee. We did all we could to not distort the readings. A stray glance up, and theologies were made.

It was good to be in clear sky again, but we were far out from normal paths here. We had veered close to the Bruise, somewhere in the clouds. The air was clear blue in most directions, but out widdershins-way it purpled dark, ugly veins stretched across the vista. I’d never been this close before, not to those skeevy buboes of night that bubbled in slow-motion. I shuddered and averted my eyes down, just as the landing came into sight below. A little scurrying of floaty rock, from this distance. Scabs of trees and foliage only, with a few stray shacks around a clearing. I could see how the Censors would have perceived it; isolation breeds belief, and this was deep into the never-wheres. The architectures were all a little off. Classic enough build, like the stoat trader settlement we’d left last, circling somewhere by Ashen Sound, but tweaky at the edges, like it had been built and re-built by someone who’d forgotten the exact ways. That was a sign of drift, of difference, and that was the sort of thing Censors buzzed at. They’d have spotted those wonky architraves from a distance, logged and measured it all, then tracked it all with vectors and skymarks for later.

“Now then, the most important thing of all is to not pass judgment. You’re here to set up the capture-boxes and record the vox, and that’s the extent of it. Not a glance or murmur from you, young man. A single frown out of place ruins it all. We’re here for consistency and the Plan, not jiggery-poking at strangers.”
I nodded wordlessly at Fonten. I knew what it meant to step out of line.

The cabin hit ground on an outcrop of weasel-rock. A little slippery and treacherous, but the wire took us where it took us. Brother Brecken stepped out first, looping the anchor around a barnacley tree that twisted up close by. It was a nonsense really; the wire was strong and taut, and always would be, but spending enough time on a ‘ship made you want a little extra tying you down to the world. We were all floating, really; floating ships amongst gloamy clouds, stepping down onto driftrock. An extra tie or two would never hurt.

Sister Candel put a hand firmy-gentle on my chest as I stepped out of the cabin. “Whatever you hear today, remember to not remember. Memory like this is for the vox, and the peepers at Central. You’ve got to compartmentalise, or you’ll end up creating your own beliefs out of scrap.”

“I don’t want to be interviewed, ma’am,” I replied. “Not that.”

Fonten cleared her throat behind me. I looked up, and saw a figure shambling toward us out of the trees. It was a he, so that meant we’d probably landed in a patriarchy then. He’d be the head priest, judging by the woad and staff. Assuming that the houses we saw were the only ones on this rock, he was probably the father or grandfather of most of the inhabitants too. Maybe a few generations of family, stranding themselves here after some falling out. A rump of a rump of belief could have easily started here, isolation warping thoughts and creating new motivations.

Candel drew herself up a little and strode toward him, her hand clutched on the ritual tools. Time to begin.

trans

EXCLUSIVE! I LOVE MY NEW BODY, SAYS JAYNNE

Jaynne Fable has it all – a world tour, new album, and super-hot model boyfriend – but her latest news is a shocking development. In this exclusive report, we can tell you that the pop starlet has been under the knife for a partial body transplant – and our reporters were there to witness the amazing transformation.

Friends of the chart-topping superstar couldn’t believe the new look. ‘Jaynney was always cutting edge, but I never thought she’d replace her arms with cybernetic death-limbs,’ said a childhood friend.

The trans was shock for her family too. ‘My mother comes from a traditional background, and I’m the first person she knows who’s uploaded. Even a partial fitout like this is pretty jarring,’ Jaynne told us in our exclusive one-on-one.

Our sources close to Jaynne’s inner circle confirm that mother Cheylene is unimpressed. ‘One thing my pastor taught me, right before he succumbed to the Wasting Disease, was that you never mess with what The Lord gave you. I don’t know what has gotten into that head of hers or why she’s decided to attach it to that biomechanical abomination.’

 Even recent headlines haven’t made the pop starlet doubt her choices. The murder of 63 fans by Tunguskan girl-bot trio Yven Odd – during one of their own concerts – shows the risks of sociopathic body transmorphia.
‘Look, what those gynoids did was wrong, for sure, although the whole thing seems like the media blowing the things out of proportion. People kill people all the time. It’s just that they’re undercity types most of the time, not superstars. Anyway, they’ve had everything replaced over the years and I don’t think I would ever do a full ‘load. I might have had over 70% of my body replaced by nanomachinery and steel in a gruelling series of horrific surgeries, but underneath all that I’m still the girl next door.’

Jaynne Fable’s Singularity world tour continues next week in Quezon City, with dates in Manila, Siam and the Dispersed Chinese Republic to follow.

watch your step

We were all peg men back then. By Sky and Ceiling both, we knew to judge our distances and mind our footing. It was harder in Unter than the cities above, of course, but we were low born and had little in the way of sayings on such matters. Borned low didn’t mean raised stupid though, and we’d adapted fast and early. Anything to avoid the Cracking.

Our tellers would spin us all sorts of tales, of cobblestones and broken brick. We shudder-laughed, made the drake-signs and tried to imagine what living would be like in places such as those, riven by shatters. The tellers would say that Cracking didn’t happen in places like that, but that was like saying the bogwaters weren’t black or the rain not a burning poison. A falseness, clear and simple. We knew from young years not to trust the idle gaps and had been carried upon our family’s backs until we knew to step true. Maybe the Cracking in places like that were hushed up or it happened slow and subtle.

Old Nurser had seen that happen, once. A teenling from Grand Rising had come down on a mine ‘spection, not watched his steppings. The Unter-men had hissed and spat, making the Signs, but no bubbling shadows came. But, Nurser said, by the time the upsider returned up the iron staircases there was a clear split up through his foot and leg; a hairline crack, to be sure, but a split nonetheless. The Granders had bound it tight, but there was no undoing what had been done. Nurser had never seen the teenling again – few Highs slummed it more that once – but his fate was sealed. He might have lasted an hour, day or a year if he was careful, but sooner or later the darknesses would claim him.

On clear nights, youngers like Wrack, Grail and I would lay upon the tin roofs of Unter and stare up to the cities above. If there were no clouds about to blot the lights, we could trace the shapes of Uber, Bordru, Grand Rising and perhaps even Home Above with a bit of squintering. The sky was thick with wires and like, but we could still recognise their glimmers. Seeing the lights made us forget the darknesses for a while. We’d kenned that the Higher cities called it the tenebrus, scribbling death, arrimani, a dozen other. Rare sightings they had, although growing ever-common if the stories were true. Whatever naming they gave it, however much more the Cracking seemed to happen, we were the ones who had to live with it daily. Those bubbling shadows were always hungry for us, always looking to come sniffing their way out of splices they’d scribed into our flesh.