Sci Fri

Bad writing day. Instead you get part of a story series I haven’t worked on in a while:

There, ahead of the ship it lay! Brigadoon, enchanted refuge at the edge of space! Brigadoon, whose glimmering form lay ahead of us, given a misty halo by the Carina Nebula! And my hands did sweat as the ship docked, and my hands did tremble as I opened the door and stepped forward into a new world.

And then did Ariadne, dark of eye and dark of humor elbow me aside, saying,

“Could you not stand in the doorway? We’ve got shit to move here!”

Downcast I stood aside, and let our own lightning elemental sweep by, searing the world around her as she fled for the wires and conduits that welcomed her rage.

Then did Ebb Spacedragon, steadfast and true, roll forward in her gleaming carriage and lay a hand upon my shoulder. Strength flooded into me once more as she gazed upon me and said,

“I don’t think she even remembers her first time on a space station. Take your time, and if you’re still mad about it, put something snippy in the blog.”

And then she was gone, rolling down the jetty, followed by our chuckling comrades, and then by me. All of us were hushed as we entered the vast hall into which the jetties led, and the silence of ten thousand tons of empty rooms and hallways washed over us. My heart racing, I walked to the dormant fountain that ran the length of the room, slumbering in wait for us. I ran my hand along the smooth stone as I felt the vastness of our home spreading out around me.

Then pain! Fearful, stabbing pain, like needles in my hand. I cried out and leapt away from the cursed fountain, glancing back in terror at the source of my torment. There, crouching upon the stone was a dread beast, with daggers for teeth, and needles for claws, its tail lashing as its evil, slitted eyes gazed up at me.

“Gregg,” I cried. “Did you not swear your furry pets would leave me be? Were they not to remain in your room where they would not shed everywhere?”

“Sorry, Eagun, I just felt like they deserved a chance to explore too, yeah?”

“The pact,” said I, “has been broken, and now there will be much difficulty ere we can repair it!”

“You know damned well I never agreed to keep them locked in my quarters. Don’t worry, I’ll help with keeping the place fur-free. I don’t want any getting into the reactor center. You’d be surprised how much damage a decent tuft of fur can cause.”

“I dare say,” I replied, “but can it even be done? Some surprises are best left in the imagination!”

“I’ve had cats in space stations for years. We need positive pressure in the center anyway to keep any other contaminants out. Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

And with that he was gone, his belongings floating after him.

“We all know what we’re doing!” cried Lisa. She approached the dread beast and sat on the fountain next to it. “That’s why we’re here, right? Eight, Ebb, and Gregg put a lot of thought into who it would take to run this place! I’m so excited to get started!” She held her finger before its fanged maw with reckless courage as it craned its neck up, and ran the side of its face along her long, silver nail. “Honestly Eagun, I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I can’t believe you don’t like Erwin! He’s such a friendly kitty!”

“Spare me your hollow cheer, Provisioner Tambridge. Not only will my first expedition into space be plagued by vicious beasts, but I will assuredly die in a fur-fueled conflagration, far from any world I’ve known.”


“Why, O Why,” I sighed, “could our Mattersmith not have had sensible, furless, sessile pets like Good Anansi?”

“I like you, Eagun, but don’t drag me or my teachers into this,” said Anansi, and he crept through a doorway and down the hall to his new lair.

With grins suppressed and eyebrows raised, my companions followed, leaving me alone with my thoughts. The beast rolled before me in the fountain, displaying its fearsome armaments as it stretched out on its back.

“And so,” I said “Begins our new life on Brigadoon, Space Station in the Mists!”

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Scifi Saturday: Lights in a Dark Pool

The room was small, and it smelled of salt water and bleach. As she stood in the doorway, Caroline heard the gentle slosh of waves lapping against the walkway that went around the interior of the building. Similar walkways were layered above her, each with their own set of rooms. Some of the other residents were using their walkways as balconies, their voices a dull murmur in the dim light. Music echoed sadly around the dim, watery courtyard. Someone started shouting, and Caroline tensed, then took a deep breath. Different place, different people, nobody here knew her well enough to shout at her like that. She glanced back, then stepped into her new home and closed the door.


The murmured conversations, the shouting, the music, the water – all cut off in an instant. She let her backpack slide off her shoulders holding on to it by one strap. The crisp breeze from the central AC vent slowly brought her out of the haze of travel as she looked around her room.

A small bed was fixed to the wall about one meter below the ceiling, with a ladder going up to it. Underneath it was a simple desk and a chair. The desk was no more than a flat surface with a softly glowing screen built into it. The small latch at the front edge told her it could flip up. The rubberized hinges near the wall told her what she already knew – this room was expected to flood sometimes. Bookshelves, cabinets, lights, and power sockets were all at shoulder height or above. In the corner opposite the bed was a small shower stall, with a squat toilet for a drain, and a fold-out sink that emptied into the same. The door behind her had a fingerprint lock already tuned to her, and a deadbolt she could throw from the inside. A small screen gave her a view of the walkway outside her door, and the dark pool of the “courtyard” beyond it.

Caroline took a deep breath, a smile tugging at her lips. It was hers. For as long as she wanted it, this sad little room, and its wonderful silence were hers. She stretched up to hang her backpack on a hook at the top of the door, and walked over to the bed’s ladder. It was cold to the touch, but completely solid. It didn’t shift or even creak as she climbed up it and lay on the bed. If she reached up, her fingertips touched the ceiling. There was a socket and a couple holes where she could hang her own display screen if she wanted one she could look at while lying in bed. That was high on her list of things to get, once she had money.

Had she ever tried to sleep in a place this quiet? It seemed like the gentle rumble of the train from Indiana, and the murmur of other passengers was the nearest thing to the silence that rang in her ears that first night. In the end, she clambered off the bunk, and used the console in her new desk to bring up the noisemaker she’d used at night to drown out her family’s shouting and shows. It brought bad memories, but then it brought sleep.

Caroline’s alarm woke her at 7am, and hunger kept her from the temptation to sleep in. She slid down from the bed, and took down her backpack to dig out a food bar. She took a big bite and chewed it as she filled her water cup at the tap, and dropped a caffeine tablet in it. The cup fizzed softly as she set it on the desk, and began digging supplies out of her bag. When she left her parents’ house she brought paints, a couple blank canvas boards, and five finished paintings. She swallowed, and took another bite. The bar was bland. A little salty, a little starchy, a little oily. She folded the wrapper over the end of the bar, and sat at the desk, putting a blank canvas board and stared at it. She washed down the food with a swig of sparkling, bitter-sweet caffeine tonic and let her mind wander.

She hadn’t said goodbye. Did she regret that? Caroline wasn’t sure. She’d left a note, and gotten out of their lives like they’d always said she could, if she had a problem. No need to look back. The train from Indiana had been a smooth ride, but cold compared to the heat to which she was accustomed. As the train neared the east coast, New York’s famous clouds had set in, and the world seemed chilly and gray. The warm humidity and salt air of the city had been an encouraging welcome as she left the train. The residence office was in the train station, and her trip from there to the public housing complexes had been short, and mostly indoors. She’d only caught the occasional glimpse of the canals that criss-crossed the city. The blank canvas remained blank. She took another swig of tonic and got up.

Time for a run. Her clothes weren’t ideal, but they were what she had right now. She left her room and walked to the monitor desk. Every floor had someone keeping an eye on the public spaces. Right now it was a young woman with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail.

“Um, hi.”

The woman looked up from her tablet.


“Is…” Talking was hard. “Sorry, I’m new here. Is there somewhere I could run?”


“As in, go for a run? For exercise? Maybe some kind of footpath or something? Foot dock?”

“Oh.” The woman looked at the air above Caroline’s head, then at the gently rippling water beside them. “Yeah. Causeway two floors up. Moving walkways if you’re in a hurry, normal flooring if you’re not. Watch out for people getting on and off. Design’s not great so people run into each other sometimes if it’s busy. ‘Specially new people.” She shrugged, as if in apology.

“Thanks,” said Caroline. “The elevator’s that tube near the end of the hall?” She gestured to where she’d come in the night before.

“The lift. Yeah.”

“Ok. Ok, thanks again.” Caroline turned to go, then paused. “Uh, hey what’s your name?”

“Maud. I’m here sometimes. Schedule isn’t regular but you’ll see me around.”

“I’m Caroline. Thanks for your help, it was nice to meet you.”

“Nice t’meet you.” Maud glanced up, making brief eye contact. “Welcome t’New York.”


Caroline waved at Maud, who was already staring at her tablet again, and walked down the hall to the lift. Made a kind of sense that someone working a job like that wouldn’t be very talkative. The causeway was a long, echoing hall that stretched off out of sight along the Broadway Canal in both directions. A sparse, but steady stream of people glided past on the moving walkway, with rather fewer using the stationary paths on either side. The people didn’t look any different from those she’d grown up around in Terre Haute, except that she wasn’t seeing any of the heavy tans she was used to. New York’s famous clouds brought famous rain, and most of the population spent most of their lives indoors, it seemed. The glass wall across from where she exited the lift overlooked the canal, the view occasionally blocked by vines growing down the walls of the building. She waited for a gap in commuters, and then scampered across the causeway to peer out the windows. A few locals gave her a funny look, but she ignored them and pressed her face and hands against the warm glass.

Where Terre Haute had pulled back from the rising seas, put up levees, and kept its feet dry, New York City had done some re-engineering of its buildings and sewers, and then let the water take the streets, until the Island of Manhattan became a humid archipelago of buildings, many covered in dripping plants. The water below reflected the ever-gray sky, rippled by the occasional drop of water, falling leaf, or fish pushing at the surface. To the north, almost out of sight, she could see a rowboat crossing the canal, and as she peered down red light caught her eye. A small submersible drone was slowly gliding below the surface, a red light blinking on its back at regular intervals. Behind it drifted what appeared to be a net full of bits of garbage. She’d always heard the canals were kept clean, apparently this was how.

The Terre Haute Harbor wasn’t exactly filthy, but most folks didn’t swim in it. Apparently New Yorkers were in and out of the water all the time. Following the blinking red light with her eyes, Caroline caught glimpses through the surface as ripples reflected the shadowed walls of the buildings, rather than the gray sky. The water was clear enough to see to the bottom, some ten or fifteen meters below the surface. She thought she could see fish, but it was hard to tell. If they were there, they blended in with the bottom of the canal, which combined with the reflected sky to render them almost invisible.

A jogger passed by, reminding her of why she was there. Turning from the canal, she looked up and down the causeway. Rather than cross the moving walkways again, she started jogging slowly with the flow of traffic. The unmoving section she was on had a shiny surface, but it had a subtle give to it. Every impact of her feet was just a little lighter than she expected. Without thinking, she picked up her pace, running lightly down the seemingly endless causeway.

The commuters streamed by on one side, and the canal on the other, as Caroline lost herself in the rhythm of her feet and her breathing. She ran in a meditative state until a sudden change in the light caused her to look around, and then the smell of food caused her to stop.

The causeway had taken a slow turn to the left, running through one of Manhattan’s massive skyscrapers. The entire floor had been turned into a food court. Chairs and tables filled the space next to the causeway, and behind them food stalls offered a variety of foods. After the blandness of her food bar, it felt like her sense of smell was heightened. When she reached the first booth, she confirmed what her nose had told her. Pieces of chicken, starched and deep fried, glazed with an orange-golden sauce that seemed to be glowing softly under the food court’s warm lighting. The tangy, sweet smell made her mouth water as she stared at the food.

“What can I get for you?”

Caroline jumped, and stared at the man behind the counter. He was watching her with a raised eyebrow, and the tight lips of someone suppressing a grin. She felt her face flush.

“I don’t haveanymoney,” she explained as she charged away. She eagerly sought that trance she’d been in before, but was distracted by the intrusive image of herself, looming over the food, mouth slightly agape, completely oblivious to the person on the other side of the counter.

She decided to focus on her surroundings. Having left the food court and its tower, she once again had a long glass wall to her right. As she ran, the view alternated between thick mats of vine, and the damp, plant-covered buildings across the canal. She ran through another building, this one with a café and lounge, and emerged to find that the window was on the other side of the causeway. In place of the glimpses of New York City, she had a long wall of artwork.

Caroline slowed, and stopped, looking at a pattern of solid black vertical columns and flowing colors. She walked on, and the flowing colors twisted together, ever tighter, until they became brightly colored cords of rope forming a mesh around the columns, which then began to take on colors of their own. The work of different artists took over as she walked, and the columns and rope mesh merged together into a glowing animation of countless people and machines re-enforcing and rebuilding the foundations of the columns, now revealed as towers. The tiny animated workers and machines got onto a broad flat structure, and floated up as the canal barriers were lowered, and the sea flowed in. A glorious sunset reflected on the waters of the canal and the windows of Manhattan’s towers, and the video looped back and began again. Next came an impressionistic painting of clouds partly covering the sun, and those same towers falling under a shadow, with the last rays of sunlight landing on the waters outside the city.

Running forgotten, Caroline kept walking, following as the history of the city was passed off from one artist to the next, through the attempt to re-impose the ancient empire, to the revolution that ended the Redwater Occupation, to the rise of the New Guilds and the arrival of the Fae, and…

And she had reached the present. A wizened old man stood on an elevated platform, ignoring the world as he worked with bright metal wires that flowed from the metallic detailing of the previous piece. Caroline’s eyes wandered across the man’s project. A long section of wall was covered in complex engraved patterns. The artist was laying copper, gold, and silver wires into the engravings, filling in the patterns with different colors, revealing the larger picture. History was being recorded before her eyes; New York as it existed in the present, laid out in shining wire patterns. It was a story that she couldn’t see, because it was still being written.

And she was part of it now.

She watched the man inlaying wire for a time, then turned and walked back the way she came. There weren’t enough people for it to matter that she was walking in the “wrong” direction. Even so, she almost ran into a couple other people as she followed the mural back in time. She passed the beginning and kept walking, lost in thought until the smell hit her again. The food court had desserts, sandwiches, wraps, soup, noodles, and half a dozen other things, but the smell that hit her first was that same orange chicken. She looked up,  stumbled backward, and fell over.

The man from the food court was standing over her, eyebrow raised even higher, and his grin now unrestrained. He was holding a tray.

“I saw you coming back. You don’t need money at food courts. They’re covered by the city so people who don’t have money aren’t just stuck with food bars. I’m Mick”

He set the tray on a table next to him and offered Caroline a hand. She took it, and bounced to her feet.

“Caroline thank,” said Caroline. “I mean, thanks. I’m Caroline I didn’t know. I’m new in town anduh…”

“Yeah, that was kinda clear. Where are you from?” He sat down at the table with her, and pushed the tray towards her. She began eating.

“Ar’hm fom Turhote.”

“What brought you east?”

She swallowed.

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

He nodded and stood.

“If you have any questions about the city, I’m here about half the week.”


He went back to his food stand, leaving Caroline with her meal. The chicken tasted as good as it had smelled, and came with broccoli and salty stir-fried noodles. As she ate, she looked around the food court. There were windows overlooking the canals, farther from the causeway. About halfway between causeway and window was a column of stone and moss that had water trickling down from the top, near the ceiling. As she watched, lights embedded in the “stone” glowed and faded, making the whole fountain sparkle like something from a cartoon. She watched it, mesmerized, as she ate. She placed her tray in one of the tubs set out for that purpose, and went back to Michael’s counter.

“Hey look, sorry for cutting you off, I just…”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“How often can we get a meal at places like this?”

“Once per day, though I don’t recommend eating orange chicken every day.”

Caroline rolled her eyes.

“About that mural thing.”

“The story of Manhattan?”

“Yeah. Kind of. Also the fountain.”

“The fount-”

“How do artists get money here?”

“Ah.” Michael scratched his chin. “I honestly have no idea, but I have a friend who might? Check back tomorrow, and I’ll let you know when Roark has time for a chat.”

“Oh, that’s great! Thanks Michael, and thank your friend in advance when you talk to them. It’s lovely to have all the food and shelter I need, but…”

Michael gave her a crooked grin.

“But the guaranteed food is boring as hell, and you need resources for your art?”

“It’s like you know artists!”

“And I’ve lived in places similar to where you probably are right now. They put you at water level?”

Caroline nodded. “Pretty close.”

“It won’t flood. It hasn’t in decades and they say the water has begun to fall.” He pulled a pendant out of his shirt; a stylized combination of sun and moon, with three stars above them. “And when the waters fall enough, the clouds will fade away, and we’ll get to see the sky again.”

“Oh!” She glanced out the window, and back at Michael’s pendant, as he tucked it into his shirt again. “Yeah, I’d heard about that, and I’ve seen it now, of course. I never even thought about what it might be like to live with only clouds!”

“You get used to it. Maybe that’s why we’ve got so much other stuff going on.”

“Like the art?”

“Like the art.”

Caroline stepped back as a couple customers came in from the causeway, and Michael served them. As they left, Caroline returned to the counter.

“I should get home and figure out what to do next. I’ll check back tomorrow?”

“Sounds good. I’ll do my best to have an answer for you for when Roark can talk to you.”

“Thanks again, for the food and for the help!”

“I like it here, and I want everyone else to like it here too.” Michael waved at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”


Caroline walked back to the causeway, and spotted a tall man emerging from a small lift. The sign next to it made clear that this was a place to cross under the causeway. She turned and found the lift on her side. She crossed and resumed her run, jogging back to her new home.

To be continued…

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Scifi Saturday: Cary starts a hunt, part two.

It’s still Saturday somewhere, right?

This is the second half of this story. You can read the first half here.

Cary reached up and grabbed a handful of vegetation as he dug his right foot into a gap between stones. He pulled himself up, already looking for the next handhold, only to have the tendrils in his left hand give way. He slid back, scraping his hands as he flailed to keep himself from falling back onto his canoe. He caught a woody section of vine, and paused, palms burning. He could hear Greg crying, and the other kids shouting..

Pay attention. No time to rush things.

Looking up, he chose his grip, and tried again. One handhold at a time, ignoring the bugs and grime, making sure every grip would hold him to the next one. As he drew parallel with the upside-down child, he could hear an approaching siren. Greg’s brown skin was taking on a darker purple hue as the blood pooled in his head. Cary made sure his right hand and feet were well planted, then carefully slid his left arm under Greg’s shoulders, taking a little weight off the ankle. Greg let out a short scream, but he grabbed Cary’s shoulder, and braced as Cary heaved upward. He brought Greg to a sitting position, his back to the canal below, and braced himself again.

“Greg, do you think you can grab ahold of something, for just a moment?”


“I’ve got you, kid. Give it a second.”

Cary craned his head to look around. He hear the siren getting closer, and see the flashing green light of the emergency response team.

“Help’s almost here, Greg.”

The kid nodded, and took a deep, shuddering breath. Cary checked his footing.

“Greg, Do you think you can reach forward and grab a vine? I’ll help.”

Greg nodded again, and Cary pushed upward, his left arm and shoulder burning with the effort. Greg caught hold of a vine with his left hand, and fumbled with his left foot till he found a solid ledge.

“Great job,” said Cary. “Now we just need to hold here.”

He heard a chorus of whining motors as the fleet of emergency drones arrived. They hovered around the two humans, then three of the drones backed off as one of the two remaining ones spoke.

“Greg, we’ve pulled up your records, and there’s an ambulance right behind us. You’re gonna be OK. Do you think you can lift your ankle out of where it’s caught?”

Greg pressed against Cary’s supporting arm, and pulled his right foot free. The shoe remained behind.

“Great job, Greg.” The drone turned to Cary and a light flickered as it looked him up. “Cary, if you can just support him a little longer?”


“Greg, we’re going to give you a temporary splint and an anti-inflammatory patch.”

Greg nodded. Cary looked down and watched as a drone sprayed the ankle, washing off grime and blood, then inflated a splint around it. That drone moved away, and another one replaced it, reaching out to gently place a patch on Greg’s leg just above the new splint.

“Greg, would you please hold out your right hand?”

Greg did as he was asked, and the drone sprayed it with something that foamed, causing Greg to wince. The foam was rinsed off, and the drone sprayed something else onto his palm that solidified into a transparent bandage.

“That should take care of you till you reach the hospital.


Cary craned his head to look at the boy’s face. “You OK, Greg?”

“Yeah, the pain just went away. In my ankle, too.”

“These people know their stuff.”

“Thank you, Cary. The human crew has arrived, and they’ll have a stretcher up here momentarily.”

Cary looked down. The ambulance below had already extended its outriggers, and the crew was attaching stabilizers to the wall as a stretcher platform rose up from its deck, carrying two medics. When they drew level, they eased Greg onto the stretcher, then one of them looked up.

“Cary, was it?” She tapped her glasses. “We get a live feed of what the first responders find. Are you OK? Do you need a lift back to your boat?”

Cary could see his canoe a little ways down the canal. He reached into the vines and grabbed Greg’s shoe. He offered it to the medic.

“Greg will want this. If I could get a patch on my hands, that’d be great, but I’ll just jump down when you leave – I need to wash all the leaves and stuff off and then get back to work.”

“Sure thing. Brak, could you do his hand?”

Cary held out his hand, and the drone bobbed over to spray the scrapes on his palm. The foam stung, but the rinse made the pain start to fade almost immediately. The bandage solidified, tightening a little and pulling at his skin. He carefully gripped a vine and held out his other hand.

“Don’t do anything too rough with this,” said the drone, “but it should hold for a while. If you want to take it off when you get home, put a little alcohol on it, and it’ll peel right off. It would be good to let the abrasions air when you can do so safely.”

“Thanks, uh, Brak.”

“It’s a pleasure to help. Take care!”

With Greg safely aboard the ambulance, it turned around and sped into Turtle Bay, lights flashing.

“Hey mister, is Greg gonna be OK?”

Cary waved at the kids who’d been waiting under the bridge.

“He’ll be fine. Probably just a sprained ankle and a few scrapes. I bet he’ll be home later today.”

“Should we tell his parents?”

“Nah, the hospital will call them, if they haven’t already. He’s in good hands, just make sure you’re careful climbing around here. I know a kid who lost an eye that way!”

“Oh shit! Really?”

“He’s got a replacement that works pretty well, but it was a bad time – not something I’d want to go through.”

“I dunno, a robot eye sounds pretty cool.”


“What? It does?”

Cary laughed.

“It might sound cool, but last time I saw the kid he said it wouldn’t stop itching. Better to hold on to the eyes you’ve got for now.”

“I guess…”

Cary looked down to make sure the water was clear, and then jumped away from the wall, holding his nose and taking a big breath. He plunged into the canal, and swam back to the surface. When he wiped the water from his eyes, he saw the canoe right in front of him. The Fae drones had dragged it over.

Cary submerged, then lunged out of the water, throwing his weight over the near gunwale, and grabbing the opposite one to keep the canoe from capsizing. He rolled into the canoe, and clambered into his seat, dripping. He looked around at the Fae drones.

“Thanks for bringing the boat over. Sorry for the delay.”

One of the drones flew over and landed next to him.

“Don’t be. Helping the child was the more important thing.”

The voice in his earpiece was deep and resonant. Cary blinked, then looked down at the drone.

“Is that- I take it you’ve decided to talk to me?”

“You helped the child, and even injured yourself doing so.”

“I’d hardly call this an injury. The bandage might as well be a layer of skin, and I can’t feel any pain in my hands.”

“Still. I liked that you did that. You can call me Youngest.”

“I’m Cary. Pleased to meet you.”

“And you. The others still have the scent, so we may resume our hunt when you are ready. ”

“Right.” He turned in his seat and swiveled the outboard motor into the water. “You reminded me of my hands – I probably shouldn’t paddle right now. Could you tell the Houndmaster I’m sorry for the delay?”

He flexed his hands a couple times. They felt a little strange and tingly, but not painful. He powered on the motor, and gently squeezed the throttle as he turned the canoe.

“I’ll relay the sentiment,” said Youngest, “but it’s not needed. Fae would have helped, but none of the pack is equipped for that, so calling the ambulance was the best we could do.”

They glided under the bridge, and Cary waved at the kids above.

“I’m glad you did. I didn’t even think of it.”

“Those of us who aren’t human are rarely disconnected from the network, so it’s as easy as shouting would be for you.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

He sat in silence for a time, watching reflection of the darkening sky in the canal, disturbed by the trail of bubbles from the Houndmaster, and the occasional splash of a fish nabbing one of the flies that danced just above the surface. The sky turned from dark gray to a dull golden as the city lit the clouds. The water’s surface now sparkled with lights from the surrounding buildings, and in the dark patches, fish laid glowing trails, and the Houndmaster’s bubbles shimmered blue as they rose to the surface.


The voice startled him out of his trance-like state.

“What?” He looked down. Youngest was speaking.

“There’s been a change in plans.”

Cary released the throttle, allowing the canoe to slow down and drift.

“What’s going on?”

“The Houndmaster sent sniffers ahead, down into the tunnels. It’s not a leak. It’s an outlet.”

“But that’s not- They can’t do that!”

“Indeed. It seems there is an incursion of some sort.”

“A what?”


The drone nearest the bow popped into the air and swooped over to them.

“Maybe outsiders. We can’t assume that.” Faer voice was higher, and thinner in Cary’s ear.

Cary looked back and forth between the two. Faen were shaped rather like spheres that had been squashed into a thick, rounded disk, about ten centimeters across. Four turbines held faen afloat, with stripes made of what looked patterns of gold wire forming an “X” between them. The quarters had a variety of markings and instruments on them, the latter of which Cary assumed were for sampling the air. The one that had just approached had a great deal more decorative metal patterns on faer outer casing than Youngest.

“Youngest here jumps to conclusions.”

“I’m just giving the most likely conclusion.”

Cary blinked. The more decorated one spoke again, still hovering in front of Cary.

“I am Eldest. Youngest is correct that it is most likely outsiders. It’s unlikely someone from here would have any reason for whatever is going on down there. Moreover, they are within Fae jurisdiction. In fact, we owe you a debt for bringing this to our attention.”

“You do not,” said Cary. “I’m doing my part, same as anyone.”

“I value that sentiment. Are you willing to provide more help, before your part in this hunt is concluded?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Look in the water to your right.”

Cary looked down, and then jerked back, rocking the canoe, as the giant hound’s head that had ridden on the Houndmaster’s shoulder surfaced, eyes still glowing. Looking again, Cary could see two of the under water sniffers holding it up.

“Take it, if you will. It is fairly heavy.”

He braced himself to steady the boat and leaned over, heaving the large hunk of metal into his lap. It was surprisingly warm for something that had been under water for the last hour or so.

“You may put it on the floor of the boat. If you’re willing, we’d like to get back to Otherworld as quickly as we can. Will you take us?”

“Of course.” He set the head on the floor and scooted it forward to put its weight nearer to the front. “Seeing this through is part of my own responsibility to my guild. That, and Jo would be disappointed if I wasn’t thorough.”

“That she would be.”

“You know her, Eldest?”

“Yes, but can we get moving?”

“Oh, right. One moment!”

Cary knelt forward and flipped a switch on the canoe’s yoke. The rim of the gunwales extended out and down on telescoping arms, runners inflating out of them. Cary shifted back to his seat and slowly turned the boat around. By the time he was facing back the way they had come, the inflatable outriggers were in the water. Eldest settled on the hound’s head, and Cary squeezed the throttle. The prow lifted up as the boat gained speed, and two of the other Fae sniffer drones lifted off to fly ahead of him. He blinked in surprise as they began flashing green and gold lights. It hadn’t occurred to him until this moment, but he was officially working as a public servant right now, which meant he had the right to announce a right of way.

Eldest spoke in his ear again.

“To answer your earlier question, yes – I know Jo. She has a lot of friends in Otherworld, and in other parts of the city. I think if you did quit at first opportunity, she would never let you live it down.”

“That sounds like Jo.”

“She has a remarkable memory for that sort of thing, and it all comes out when she gets drunk.”

“Huh. Never seen her drunk.”

“Maybe she doesn’t drink around apprentices?” Cary slowed as they reached the bridge that had had children on it before, but everything was quiet. He picked up speed again, turning to go along the northwest boundary of Turtle Bay on his way back to Central Park.

“Yeah, that sounds about right. I guess that’s something to look forward to. Have you gone drinking with her? I- I’m sorry, is there something that’s like drinking for you?”

“There is not, but we tend to enjoy socializing with our human friends. The effects that drugs have on you are often very entertaining.”

“So I hear. It’s not something I’ve explored much.”

“As I understand it, there’s no hurry, and it’s important to feel safe. Speaking of which, there’s some traffic ahead.”

Cary slowed the boat as they drew closer to the park. More vessels were in the canal, and while there was a clear path thanks to the flashing drones, it was crowded enough to make him nervous. The traffic grew thicker as they reached the entrance, and Cary could hear music and laughter ringing out across the water from the myriad of food and entertainment vessels around them. He felt his stomach growl as they cruised by an aromatic curry boat, followed almost immediately by the smell of grilling meat.

“I’m gonna have to find a good place to eat after this.”

“Celebratory meals are customary for humans when marking important occasions.”

“I- Yes. Well said, Youngest.”

As he navigated through the crowd of brightly-lit boats, Cary could see people pausing their conversations and craning to get a look at him and his Fae companions. He felt his cheeks heating a little, and tried to keep his eyes focused on the water ahead of him.

After passing into Central Park, things opened up a bit, and Cary sped across the last kilometer to the Floating Market. A new wave of smells and sounds hit him as he guided the boat around to the northwest, where he could dock right next to the entrance to Manhattan’s Otherworld. He leaned forward and flipped the switch to pull in the outriggers, then scooped his paddle off the bottom as the Fae all flew over to gather on the dock. The abrasions on his palms were starting to itch, but he dipped the paddle in the water and feathered the canoe up to a mooring. He hoisted the Fae hound’s head out onto the dock, and then climbed out himself, kneeling to tie the painter to the mooring.

“Ok. Let’s get this head back to its body, yes?” Cary looked around at his electronic companions. “I hope you can get me there?”

“Of course”, said Eldest. “Let’s be on our way.”

“Yup. Yup.” Cary stood with a groan, then bent to scoop up the head. “Let’s be on our way.”

The elevator door opened as he approached it, and instead of a glowing point of light, a string of bobbing drones guided him through the dimly lit tunnels. The hall-like room was brightly lit as he entered, and he quickly crossed to place the head back on the shoulders of the great metal hound. It clicked into place, and the eyes turned black. He stepped back and watched as the drones entered its mouth one at a time. There was a moment of silence, then the eyes lit up again, and the hound rose smoothly to its feet.

“Thank you for your help,” Eldest’s voice now came from the hound’s motionless mouth. “Now. We have a hunt to finish, and your part in it is done.”

“Just you?” Cary frowned. “If there is an incursion, shouldn’t you have more help?”

“Faen will,” said a nasal voice behind him.

Cary stifled a yelp of surprise and spun around. Two more Fae were standing behind him, one carrying a large duffle, and the other a black, rectangular case of some sort.

“We’ll guide you back to the surface, and then take our own boat to meet The Houndmaster.”

There was a sound of rushing water, and Cary turned to see the hound vanishing into the lake just as the Houndmaster had before. Youngest’s deep voice rang in his ear.

“We’ll let you know how this turns out, once it’s all dealt with.”

“Thanks!” He shouted it, before realizing there was no way fae could have heard him. “Oh well.” He turned to his new companions.

“I’m Cary.”

“Dornan.” The nasal voice belonged to the one carrying the dufflebag, who nodded a greeting. Fae was a little taller than Cary, with a ruddy face, pale blonde hair, and artificial eyes with glowing purple irises.

“Weaver”.” The other was the same height as Cary, but stockier, with dark brown skin, large dark eyes, and black hair in tight braids against faer scalp. Both of faen were dressed in black diving suits.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise, but there’s work to do. Shall we go?”

“Uh. Yeah. Yeah, lead the way.”

Faen turned and left the room, with Cary trotting after. Faen led him back to the surface in silence, bid him a curt farewell, and disappeared into the floating market, presumably going to their boat. Cary stood looking after them, then turned and stared out across the park.

I guess that’s it. I’m a full member now!

He unzipped a pocket in his shorts and pulled out his tablet. He wrote a note to Jo, letting her know that the Fae had told him his part in it was done. He sighed, and walked over to sit on the dock, his feet in his canoe as he looked out over the water. All that excitement, but he didn’t know what the actual cause of the problem was, he’d just been told that his part in it had come to an end. He lay back on the cool, flat surface of the dock, and looked up to see Jo standing over him, her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face.

“Your part with the Fae might be done, but the guild isn’t done with you yet, apprentice.”

He scrambled to his feet.

“What do you mean? Did I mess up?”

Jo cackled. “What? No. We’ve gotta welcome you into the guild. We hired a party boat, come on!”

“My canoe-”

“Will be there in the morning. I’ll make sure you get home OK.”

“Wait I can’t just leave it-”

“Well, sure you can. In the unlikely event there’s a thief about, think someone’s gonna steal a boat tied to a Fae mooring? Nope. No excuses.”

She grabbed him by the arm and marched him towards the market.

“You know,” he said. “Eldest said you tell stories when you start drinking.”

“Ha! Well, you’re a full member of the guild now, so I guess you’ll stick around long enough to find out!”

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Scifi Saturday: Cary starts a hunt, part one

The musty-smelling room was long, dark, and featureless. To Cary, it seemed more like a truncated bit of corridor than an actual room. He thought he could see a large shape at the other end. Cary wiped his palms against his pants and stepped forward.

“I’m looking for The Houndmaster? The guide brought me here.”

“For what purpose?”

The voice was clear and cool, a bit higher than Cary’s own.

“I’m an apprentice in the Turtle Bay Fishers’ Guild. We need to find a pollution source. My mentor told me to figure it out.” Cary paused. “I think I need your help to solve it.”

A ceiling light flicked on, causing Cary’s eyes to water.

“And so this is your trial.”

Cary nodded, rubbing his eyes. “Find a problem and solve it.”

“Do you know, I once heard of an apprentice who created their own problem, the better to earn their full membership.”

Eyes clear, Cary took in the person at the other end of the room. The Fae seemed small, sitting on the floor with faer legs hidden by loose, brown cloth. Behind faer was curled an enormous dog that seemed to be carved out of stone or or some dull metal, with patterns engraved in on its surface. The Houndmaster reclined against the dog’s side, with its head resting on faer shoulder. The eyes seemed to be flat black stones, set in the dog’s ornately carved face.

“What happened to that apprentice?”

“They asked one of us to solve their problem, and fae did. They no longer live in this city.”

Cary blinked.

“Well, uh, I didn’t create this problem, and even if I did, it still needs solving.”

“Good answer. Tell me what you have found.”

“Pathogens on the incoming tide. I believe it’s a sewage leak of some sort, and I did some digging. There aren’t any treatment facilities upstream, so it’s probably someone or something that’s operating without oversight.”

“And it would not do for our city’s clear waters to be sullied. Good. This is work that needs doing, and there will be no debt or payment.”

The Houndmaster stood, and Cary took a step back, bumping into a wall where the room’s door had been. As the Fae rose from faer sitting position, faer legs were revealed to be mechanical, shaped like the hind legs of a dog, and made of the same material as the hound. Cary’s eyes rose, and he saw that the hound’s head had risen with the human Fae, separating from its massive body to remain on faer shoulder. Fae stalked toward Cary, faer footsteps inaudible, and stood in front of Cary, half a meter taller than him.

Faer face was smooth and round, with a small nose, and full, black lips. Metallic tattoos glistened with gold and silver patterns on faer temples and forehead, looking a little like a crown.

“Outsiders call me Houndmaster.” Fae stooped slightly, extending a short arm, banded with the same metallic tattoos. Cary closed his mouth, and lifted his hand to touch fingers with The Houndmaster.

“Now, we shall see what we can do.”

The Houndmaster turned to the side and knelt. As faer legs slowly folded, Cary glanced at faer back, seeing that a sort of sort of metallic hump seemed to emerge from the back of faer tunic, forming a platform that extended back from faer left shoulder, supporting the hound’s head. Kneeling, fae reached up, lifted the head, and gently placed it on the floor, facing the Houndmaster. Placing one hand on it’s head, fae leaned in and spoke softly.

“There is work to be done, and it requires your abilities.”

Fae’s head tilted to the side, as if listening. Cary could see the corner of faer mouth tug upwards in a small smile.

“Because we are not the only ones present, and we wouldn’t want our guest to feel neglected… No, Eldest. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

The Houndmaster glanced up at Cary and shrugged.

“The pack is shy at times, and faen’ve recently welcomed a new member. If you earn their respect, faen may choose to speak with you.”

“How might I go about that?”

“That is not for me to say.”

Fae turned back to the head. “Will you aid us?”

For a long moment, there was no sound, and no motion, then the head’s black eyes lit up with a soft, golden glow, and The Houndmaster stood, returning the head to its place on faer shoulder. Fae turned and looked down at Cary.

“The pack has agreed. We will find the source of this pollution.”

“We appreciate that. Will you need my help?”

“You may accompany us, insofar as you are able.”

Cary blinked. “Do you move that fast?”

“Quite the contrary, but we will not stop until the source has been found, and if – as you suspect – it is under water, then we will follow our quarry into the depths. Do you dive? Have you a submersible?”

Cary shook his head. “Just a canoe.”

“Then you may follow in your canoe.”

“I’ll do that. If you need to keep anything on board while you work you’re welcome to.”

“No, there are no things we would need to keep on your boat. We will meet you at the southwest boundary of Turtle Bay in an hour.”

The Houndmaster turned and stalked to the back of the long room. Fae pressed faer palms against the wall. Glowing signs appeared on the wall around faer hands, and then both wall and signs faded showing the dim waters of Central Park. The Houndmaster stepped forward as the water poured in, not changing pace as fae entered the torrent. Cary stood frozen, and braced himself as fae disappeared into the rushing water, but the wall re-appeared, and the flood was cut off. The water spread out on the floor, and was only millimeters deep as it gently flowed around his shoes. The water sank into the floor, leaving it dry, and Cary stepped back through the newly re-opened doorway, and into the passage beyond.

As it had on his way into Manhattan’s Otherworld, a bright speck of light was projected into the air in front of him, and he followed it through the dim, dripping corridor, until it vanished by the lift. He entered, and was carried back to the surface. He stepped out into the warm air and bustling noise of Central Park’s floating market, and made his way through the evening crowd to his docked canoe. Cary stepped lightly into the vessel, sat, and pushed off. He had an hour to meet the Houndmaster, so he decided to save the outboard’s battery and move under his own power. His paddle bit into the water and he slid forward.


A warm breeze blew droplets of rain into Cary’s eyes as his canoe coasted close to the ivy-covered hulk of an ancient tower. His earpiece chimed softly as he passed his mentor’s lot beacon, and he dug in his paddle, turning the vessel into a gap in the ivy. Jo’s canoe was tied a metal railing, and his mentor was lounging in a hammock over the dark waters inside the building, her wrinkled face and silver hair lit up by the tablet she was looking at. He stilled his canoe near her hammock.

“Hey, Jo.”

She glanced down at him.

“Your face says you found somethin’.”

“I think there’s a sewage leak.”

“Really now?”

“Fecal bacteria in all four quadrants.”

“Well, sounds like you’ve found a problem.”

Cary nodded.

“Can’t have the fish getting contaminated. Where do we go from here?”

Jo raised a bushy eyebrow at him, and turned back to her tablet. Cary suppressed an urge to groan. Jo had taken him as guild apprentice when he was 10, and the past seven years had taught him to dread the moments when she simply didn’t answer a question. It invariably meant that she felt he should already know the answer, and so it was on him to figure it out, or to ask a better question. He set his paddle on the bottom of the canoe, and rolled his shoulders, thinking.

Jo was a senior member of the guild, and in addition to turning Cary into a competent fisher, had also shared her belief that any task that arose should be tackled immediately, lest it cut into their free time. The guild’s strict fishing quotas meant that each fisher started their shift knowing the maximum they could take. Jo had sent Cary to other fishers, to see how they worked, and it made him realize how many different approaches there were. He could see the value in the meditative approach that some of his guildmates took, but he preferred Jo’s goal of spending as little time actually working as possible. The key was always to take the time to do it right, so no followup would be needed.

The apprenticeship was his job, and so he had to take the time to do it right, and now his mentor had told him that he’d missed something. He glanced up at her. Whatever he’d missed, it wasn’t big, or she wouldn’t be smirking at her tablet. Even so, he was annoyed that he’d missed something. After seven years of apprenticeship, he was on the verge of becoming the guild’s newest full member. He’d even heard Jo telling Leon that he’d learned everything he needed, so that just meant-


Jo glanced at him, her smirk widening into a grin. Cary’s stomach fluttered as he stared up at her.


“Yup. This is your first chance.”

The last stage of his apprenticeship – find a problem in Turtle Bay or the Fishers’ Guild, and solve it. He looked at the water beside his boat, watching the phosphorescent glow that tailed a small school of fish. Jo wasn’t going to help him on this. Some mentors would help on a final task, but he knew Jo would be disappointed if he just gave a general request for help.

I can do this.

New York City was a complex web of collectives, all with their own purposes and ways of doing things. The Fisher’s Guild oversaw Turtle Bay, which meant maintaining the fishery for future generations, monitoring the water quality, and checking the “ruined” towers for signs of instability. When the city had been reclaimed, it was decided that Turtle Bay would remain a wild zone. At the time, it was a mix of whimsy and limited resources. A local legend held that there was a huge, ancient turtle that lived in the bay, and they had to make sure it had an ecosystem that would support her so she wouldn’t go looking for food in more populated areas. Nobody had ever seen the turtle, but the idea stuck. That had meant refitting the buildings for their new purpose as stable structures for vegetation, bird life, and as Cary had learned when Jo sent him up to inspect the building they were in currently, a thriving population of enormous spiders. He shook his head, putting those memories aside, and thought about his problem.

Because Turtle Bay was so closely monitored by the guild, it was a near certainty that the leak was outside their territory. In theory, Cary could simply alert the City Council of the problem, and they’d deal with it at some point, but he knew that Jo would find that to be unacceptable. She’d probably decide she hadn’t trained him properly, and set him to studying the city’s history or something. No, he needed to at least figure out how to track down the source of the contamination. He needed help from outside the guild.


Jo looked up.

“You have a plan?”

“I think so.”

“Run it by me.”

“Wherever the sewage leak is, it’s probably under water, or someone would have smelled it, right?”

“Seems reasonable.”

“So I need someone that can trace bacterial contamination in the water back to its source.”

“You have someone in mind?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what’s your plan?”

“The guild has a good working relationship with the Fae, right?”

“As does anyone with half a brain.”

“So I’m going to Otherworld to incur a debt.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“I know faen’ve got people who can do this, and frankly it’s about time I made my own connections, don’t you think?”

Jo cackled.

“Good boy. Yes, that should do. You know how to get there?”

“Everyone who grew up here knows. I’ve never interacted with one, but faen do make sure that every child in this city knows where to go if there’s trouble.”

And every parent in the city knew that if the didn’t treat their children well, they might decide that living in Otherworld was preferable. It wasn’t perfect – it wasn’t even a system – but it did mean that Cary knew where to go.

“Ok. I’m off to Central Park then.”

Jo shook her head.

“Go tomorrow afternoon, late-ish. The current will be in the same direction and that’ll help the- whoever you manage to get trace the contamination.”

“Oh, good point.”

“Of course it is. Are you catching any fish tonight?”

Cary shook his head.

“I think I’d better make sure I’m well-rested, and I’ve got some things to attend to at home.”

“Give my regards to your parents if you see them, and update me when you have something.”

“Will do.”

He grabbed his paddle and moved to leave the building.

“By the way,” called Jo, “Stop by the boathouse and note your findings. Say you’re dealing with it so that nobody else will waste time on it.”

“Will do.”

Cary grinned as his canoe slid out from under the building. This would be his first solo entry in the guild’s logbook.


The gray sky was beginning to dim as Cary reached the southern boundary of Turtle Bay. Looking around, he saw the tall, Otherworldly form of the Houndmaster waiting for him on a small jetty. The hound’s eyes were still glowing, and several small drones were chasing each other around in the air nearby. As he approached, the aerial drones darted out to swoop around him, and then returned to the Houndmaster, settling to rest on faer head and shoulders. Now that faen weren’t moving, Cary counted six.

As he pulled his canoe alongside the jetty, the Houndmaster crouched slowly and gestured to the drones using him as a perch.

“These ones took a turn around the area, and the only traces of sewage faen could find were right by the water’s surface. I think it is safe to say that the source is below, so I will take the other half of the pack down, and see what we can find.”

“Sounds good to me.”

The drones took off again, and the Houndmaster stood, and stepped off the jetty with a splash that rocked Cary’s canoe. Holding his paddle to shade the water’s surface, he watched the Fae sink down, submersible drones darting out of the hound’s mouth. Fae hit the canal floor with a large puff of silt, and looked up at the drones. Bubbles emerged from faer “hunch”. The drones sniffed around a bit, and then faen moved southeast, followed by the Houndmaster. Fae moved along the bottom slowly, each footfall kicking up a puff of silt. The aerial drones kept pace with the rest of the pack, and Cary dug in his paddle and followed. Where the buildings created dark patches against the reflected sky, Cary could see fish following the Houndmaster, darting in around faer feet to eat things kicked up by the Fae’s passage. Bubbles rose from faer back at regular intervals.

As he glided forward, he also watched the aerial drones. In general, one or two would hover directly over over the Houndmaster, while the others would dart ahead and perch on railings, windowsills, or docks, until the Houndmaster was level with faen, at which point faen would switch out with the ones keeping pace. Occasionally, one would loop around Cary as if to make sure that he was still following. The Houndmaster’s pace was steady, so Cary stuck to paddling. The outboard was easier, but he preferred conserving its battery. A thought occurred.

As a drone looped back to check on him, he waved to faer.

“If you all want to save your energy, you can ride on my canoe, and I can keep following the bubbles.”

The drone came to a halt in the air, darted down to hover in front of his face, faer propellers giving a pleasantly cool breeze. Fae then darted over to the others, and faen all flew to the canoe and settled on the gunwales, extending little metal limbs to hold on.

“Good”, said Cary. “No sense in wasting energy when I’m already tagging along, eh? Let me know if you need anything.”

He wasn’t sure faen had the means to do so, but faen had understood his offer, and faen seemed able to communicate with the Houndmaster. He dug his paddle into the water and pushed them forward, following the trail of bubbles towards a pair of apartment buildings by the southwest edge of Turtle Bay. The Fae drones rocked a little with the motion of the boat, but faen held faenselves in place. Satisfied his passengers were safe, he looked up at the buildings. From the line of bubbles, it seemed they would be going between them, under the lattice of bridges that connected various floors. Dripping ivy hung down from the lowest bridge like a ragged, green curtain, and Cary could hear the sound of children at play as he approached. Peering up as he paddled, he could just make out shapes darting around in the support structures under the bridge. He felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. His family’s home was in a similar building, and the bottom bridge was one of their favorite playgrounds. By the time he’d taken on his apprenticeship and moved into his own flat a few rows down, he’d become an expert at swinging himself along the bars that made up the bridge’s support, and for the rare moments when he missed his handholds…


A small, dark shape tumbled into the canal, pulling a laugh from Cary. He looked up at the other kids, and moved his canoe to the leftmost edge of the canal.

“Passing under!”

A high voice called, “boat!” and the movement among the ivy paused.

“Hey mister!”

The one who’d fallen had surfaced and swum toward him, curly black hair cropped close against their head. A brown hand came up to wipe water out of their eyes.

“Those your drones?”

Cary grinned and shook his head.

“Fae, so be nice to faen.”

“Fae? Really? Are you Fae?” The kid grabbed onto the side of his canoe, looking up at him. “You don’t look Fae.”

“I’m not. I’m just a fisherman.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder at Turtle Bay. “But we needed help. I’m Cary.”

“Greg.” Greg peered at the nearest drone. “Nice to meet you. I’ve never met a Fae before.”

The drone lifted off with a buzz, and landed on Greg’s head for a second, before returning to its place on the gunwale. Cary glanced toward the Houndmaster. The bubbles were stationary. Squinting, he could just make out the distorted form of the Houndmaster standing on the Canal floor facing them.

“Cary, right? Don’t faen talk?”

“The Houndmaster said faen will if faen feel like it, but I don’t think faen talk to outsiders much.”

“The Houndmaster?”

Cary pointed to the water. “Fae’s down there, waiting for us.”

Greg’s free hand plunged into a pocket in his shorts, and he pulled out a pair of goggles. He jammed them on his face, took a big breath, and dove. Peering over the side of the canoe, Cary watched him turning his head around, and then waving frantically at the Houndmaster. Fae waved back, and Greg surfaced with a shout.

“There’s a Fae in the water!”

“You’re just trying to get us to lose, too,” came the answer from above. “Let that person go through so we can keep playing!”

“No really! Fae’s working with the Turtle Bay Guild and fae’s right under the bridge, standing on the bottom! Fae waved at me!”

“It’s true,” called Cary. Everyone knew about the Fae, but faen kept to faenselves. Jo had once said faen enjoyed being mysterious.

“I’ll check.”

Another kid plunged into the water, and looked around, before waving at the Houndmaster, who waved again. The kid surfaced, and yelled to the others.

“It’s true!”

A second later, several kids dropped into the water at once, and the Houndmaster found faerself surrounded by children diving down to get a look. Fae waved at them, waited a moment, then turned and continued walking. The kids surfaced and surrounded Cary’s canoe.

“That’s so neat!”

“What’re you doing with faer?”

“Are there others around?”

“Did you see the big head on faer shoulder?”

“Yeah, with the glowing eyes”

“Faer legs are so cool! I want legs like that!”

Cary laughed, and answered the question directed at him.

“I found a little pollution in Turtle Bay and we’re trying to find the source.”

“Is it safe to be in the water?”

Cary nodded.

“Yes, and we’re going to keep it that way. Someone’s not taking care like they should, so we’re going to make sure it’s dealt with.” He glanced at his Fae passengers. “And yes, these ones are also Fae – faen’re part of the Houndmaster’s team.

“Oh! Sorry we didn’t say hi!”

This was followed by a chorus of greetings and waves. The drones lifted off, gently touched down on the bobbing heads, and then returned to the boat. It seemed that was how faen greeted children.

“Sorry kids, but I’ve gotta get moving. The Houndmaster’s getting ahead, and I don’t want to slow faer down.”

“Back up to the bridge and we’ll start over. Last one there has to be the ref!”

They all splashed toward the nearest building and began clambering upward, still chattering.

“Faen touched all of us! Do we have magic now?”

“Don’t be silly Milo. You don’t get powers unless you become a Fae.”

“Auntie Kat said faen don’t have powers, faen just use tech different.”

Cary paddled after the Houndmaster, grinning as he listened.

“Did you see fae just walking around on the canal floor? If that’s not magic, it’s close enough for me.”

“Faen wouldn’t take you, Ana. Everyone knows your parents treat you so well they probably get “parent of the month” medals from the Fae.”

“That’s not a thing, Walter.”

“I bet faen’ve got a list of good parents though. Faen’d have to.”


“If faen know who all the bad parents are, then it stands to reason faen know the good ones too.”


“You’re both being silly. Faen don’t know all the bad parents. Faen don’t have to. Faen just make sure that kids know where to go.”

“You see those drones? I bet faen have got them like that all over, to keep an eye on us.”

“Uh, help?

Cary brought his canoe to a quick stop and looked back. The child’s voice had a note of panic in it.

“Guys I’m stuck! I can’t- Ah!”

Greg, the kid who’d first fallen in the water, had lost his grip and was hanging upside down by his right ankle. It seemed to be caught in the vines a couple stories up. His right hand was bleeding.

“My ankle’s caught! I can’t- It hurts!”

“Oh shit! Greg hang on!”

“I think he’s hurt?”

“Mister can you help?”

Cary had already pulled his canoe around, and was paddling toward the wall as fast as he could. The drones lifted off and hovered near the crying child, but Cary was pretty sure faen couldn’t do anything to help. As he reached the building wall, he took a second to inspect it. The vines were old and sturdy, firmly gripping the building’s outer surface, which had been designed for that purpose. Their age, however, made them dangerous. Woody branches jutted out, making for easy climbing, but a painful fall if you were too close. One of the younger kids from his family’s building had had a fall like that and ended up losing an eye. Ray hadn’t been willing to play under the bridges after that.

Greg whimpered, and Cary grabbed a vine and hauled himself out of the canoe and on to the wall.

“I’m coming Greg, just hang on for a second. You’re gonna be all right!”

Part Two

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Fiction: A boring night is looking up (full story)

The zeppelin’s white skin glowed in the city’s lights as it approached the docking tower. Rivulets of water made it shimmer, drawing Tua’s eyes. She yawned, and squinted to re-focus her gaze on the cargo hold. Her mission brief was sparse on details, but the central question was clear: a handful of freight vessels had been dropping something while on approach for docking, beginning shortly after sunset. A few dock workers had seen whatever it was, and reported it to the Shipping Council, but there were no reports of anything falling from the sky, of damage, or of unexplained waste in the canals.

Something was being delivered by people who were willing to go to fairly extreme lengths to keep their business off of any books. Half the time, when Tua was called in to run an investigation, what she found was depressingly harmless. People operating in secret because they enjoyed the challenge, or starting up a strange new business venture that drew attention from “concerned citizens”.

Those didn’t tend to involve the clandestine use of one of the city’s major shipping routes. Freight zeppelins ran constantly around the country. They didn’t move particularly fast, but there was a never-ending stream of them drifting slowly around the continent. It was effectively a massive, airborne conveyor belt, and because it depended on lighter-than-air craft, weight was carefully monitored.

The zeppelin docked with a loud thunk, and Tua closed her eyes to rest them while the vessel was unloaded above her. Waiting was the worst part of this job.

Normally, smuggling investigations required very little effort. Most items that would get a smuggler in trouble were things that could poison the water or interfere with some of the city’s vital functions. Smuggling might allow someone to avoid paying access or import fees, but those were low enough that avoiding them often cost more, even if you didn’t get caught. That went doubly for smuggling anything by air. Tua had helped a gun-running operation in her teens, but that had gone along the canals. It turned out the guns were for an ill-conceived plan by a group to gain control over the city’s common housing system through a mixture of bribery, intimidation, and murder.

Tua didn’t understand it, but there always seemed to be those who wanted power over other people, and those willing to help them for one reason or another. She shifted carefully on her perch, and adjusted her goggle magnification. The next zeppelin was just visible on its approach.

I was one of those willing to help, she reminded herself. Her current gig as an investigator had started as community service after she was caught along with everyone else involved in the attempted takeover. She hadn’t known what goods she was moving, but neither had she asked. It had gotten her better food and housing, and more than enough money to access some of the more interesting clubs around town. It had also been more fun than she had had before or since.

A bell rang above her as the zeppelin finished offloading its cargo, and glided away into the rainy dusk. The next one approached, and Tua watched, her goggles recording everything in case she blinked at the wrong moment.

She didn’t.

An object dropped from the hold, nearly invisible, and vanished between a couple buildings.

“Mark this section of the recording, and send it to Kenneth for analysis.”

Tua basked in the brief adrenaline spike for a moment as the zeppelin  docked, then clambered rapidly down the outside of the tower. Two stories down from her perch, she slipped through an access hatch and closed it carefully behind her. The suit that covered her head to toe would prevent her from showing up on any heat-sensitive equipment, but the more time she spent out on the side of a building, the better the chances someone would notice her.

If the people behind this operation knew they were being investigated, they’d disappear entirely.

There was a soft beep in her ear.

“Go ahead.”

“From what I can tell, you’re looking three rows north, one row west.” Kenneth’s voice was high, and a little nasal. “Based on your footage, there’s no way that hits the water without enough of a splash to draw attention, which means it’s being caught on the way down.”

“Any ideas how they’re doing it?” Tua’s mask prevented her voice from carrying more than a millimeter beyond her lips.

“Nothing you haven’t already thought of. There’s no permanent structure that would allow for it, so they’re putting out a net or something, without anyone noticing, catching the cargo, and pulling it in.

“And there’ve been no reports that might be related?”

“Not that I can find, no. The reports are all from dock workers, and altogether it seems like a considerable amount of something has been coming in at a pretty constant rate for some time now.”

“How much?”

Tua slipped quietly into a stairwell on the south side of the building, and headed down to another access hatch, guided by the display on her goggles.

“We won’t know till you get a better reading. Try to get a recording of the cargo being dropped, and we should be able to figure out how much each package weighs.”

“On my way.”

She heard someone the stairwell one floor below her as she reached her destination. She slipped through her door and closed it silently behind her. She followed her directions through a floor of offices to a utility corridor, and slipped out the access hatch at the end of it.

It let her out onto the roof of a causeway that ran through, and between buildings. Glancing up, she saw another zeppelin coming in to dock, its bulk peeking out around the sides of the building. Two thirds of the way across the causeway bridge, hopped over the side, hooking her grapple on a strut as she fell past it, and swinging up to cling to the underside of the bridge. A catwalk ran under the causeway, put there for inspection and maintenance of the machinery for the moving walkways that carried people around the city. She set off north at a jog, keeping her footfalls light. The hum of motors and gears above her would drown out most noises, but Tua liked to be careful when she was trying to avoid notice. Three rows north of the docking tower, she stopped in the middle of a canal and looked west.


“Wait there for the next drop, then reposition.”

“It’s always ‘waiting.’”

“Really? I had no idea.” Tua could hear Kenneth’s eyes rolling. He worked out of his apartment, and complained bitterly any time he was forced to actually go out and do any investigating.

Tua complained any time she was forced to sit and wait, and most of her work involved waiting. When she told someone what she did for work, they thought it sounded thrilling and glamorous. When she told them it mostly involved waiting around, they generally assumed it was to hide thrilling secrets.

She heard the soft sound of something moving against metal and glanced to the side. A cat had found her, and decided to join her.

“Well” she murmured, “I suppose a catwalk is more your domain than mine.”

Kenneth’s breath puffed against his microphone as he chuckled into it.

“Found another cat, did you?”

“They find me, Ken.”

“Just don’t get distracted.”

“Do I ever?” The cat sniffed delicately at her gloved hand, and then rubbed its face against her fingertips.

“Yes. Often. That’s part of why you record everything in front of your face when we’re working.”

“Then it’s not likely to cause any problems, is it?” Her new companion flopped on its gray-striped side, its paws pressed against her thigh, and blinked up at her, tail tapping gently on the metal grate of the catwalk’s floor.

“That depends.” Kenneth’s tone was dry. “Do you expect the cat to be catching the cargo? If not, you may need to actually look in the correct direction for me to have anything to analyze.”

“Analyze my butt.” She turned her head to glare down the canal, scratching at the cat’s ear with a knuckle.

“Ugh. No thanks.”

Tua grinned. The few times she’d asked about Kenneth’s social life, he’d described himself as being in a blissful relationship with his work. Nearly everything about his life seemed boring to her, but the more she worked with him, the more she realized that he hadn’t been kidding. His life truly was blissful. He got along with everyone, had a few close friendships, and absolutely no interest in romance.

When she got to know him well enough to see the shape of his life, she had said his lifestyle would drive her to jump off buildings just for something to do. He responded that she did that anyway, so clearly her own lifestyle was also too boring, and at least he was content with what he had.

He wasn’t wrong.

Uncovering secrets was an intensely satisfying job – more so than just keeping them for other people – but she did find that her craving for adventure seemed to build exponentially every time she had to just sit and wait somewhere. If something fun didn’t happen soon, she’d have to enter herself into a ring fight just to alleviate the boredom.

The cat hooked a paw into the grate and pulled itself so its head rested on her thigh. She glanced down at it and tickled her fingers on its exposed belly. It immediately grabbed her hand with its mouth and front paws, and rabbit-kicked her wrist. The tough material of her suit protected against thorns and cat claws alike, but he was keeping his weapons sheathed, and his bite was playfully gentle.

She cooed at him, forgetting that the sound wouldn’t escape her suit.


“Yeah, yeah.”

She turned her head and watched the long, glittering ribbon of the canal. The only disturbance on the water’s surface came from the dripping buildings, and the dripping sky. Movement caught her eye directly under her perch, but it was just the headlight of a small submersible drone, cruising along just above the bottom of the canal. As always, she wanted to know who was piloting it, and why, but that wasn’t the secret she was hunting tonight.

The cat let go of her hand, and sat up, staring at her. She gave it a shrug; she didn’t carry anything a cat could eat when she was working.

Her companion noticed the disturbance just as she did. A little less than one row west, something had appeared on the surface of the water.

“Kenneth, are you seeing this?”


It was a black circle against the lights reflected in the water, maybe about four feet across. Tua whispered a command and her goggles began cycling through polarization and wavelength filters.

“It looks like there’s some sort of tube or something leading from the surface down to a gap near the base of that building.”

“Yeah. Can’t tell for sure, but-”

An object dropped into the middle of the object with a soft flap, and Tua’s goggles showed it sliding down the tube like a large fish moving down a snake’s body in a time-lapse video. Before it reached the bottom of the tube, it had already retracted below the surface, until the whole apparatus pulled back down to disappear where the canal met the building.

“What the hell was that?” Kenneth sounded almost disturbed.

“What we’re looking for, and it’s something new!”


“I’m going to find a new perch. It looks like the vines on the side of the building will let me sit right over that spot without sticking out at all.”

“Be careful,” said Kenneth.

“That’s your job, Ken, not mine.”


“Stop whining, Ken. Mark that spot for me so I can make sure I’m positioned right?”


She stood carefully, and did a couple squats to warm up her legs again. The cat stood with her, but disappeared back the way it had come as she headed to the row of buildings. Her pulse drummed a little faster as she slipped from the catwalk into the building, and trotted down a narrow utility corridor. Her goggles had identified the building as a farm, which suited her fine. Farms always had a nice collection of walkways to allow people to do as much work as possible without risking contamination of the clean-room environment that kept the crops pest-free. After about 100 meters, she turned to a fire escape, and looked up, checking air traffic.

Her goggles outlined the long line of zeppelins for her, each about a kilometer apart. None of the sensors built into her suit were picking up surveillance beyond the standard stuff that wouldn’t care about her. She took a moment to pick a route, and began bouldering along the side of the building, moving from ledge to vine until she was over the bright orange spot Kenneth had put on her display to mark the drop point.

She hooked a couple straps to the vines around her so she could hold her position comfortably.

“In place. Time for more waiting.”

“Stop,” said Kenneth, “I can’t bear the excitement in your voice.”

“Hey now! We’re about to uncover a new secret! This is about as exciting as this job gets!”

“Maybe. From what we’ve seen so far, the next step is to call in a dive team. You and I might never even know what they find.”

“Hmph!” He was probably right. She hated not knowing.

“Stop whining. Look up so we can see the next one drop.”

She obeyed, pointing her face at the featureless, dripping sky

“At least the last spot had a cat.”

“Maybe this one will have a spider you can pet.”

“You’re so funny, Ken!”

“Nobody appreciate my genius.”

If any spiders were trying to befriend her, she couldn’t feel them through the suit. Every time she thought watching canals or buildings was boring, she could just remember watching the sky, and she’d feel better by comparison. The only changes in the sky were the transition from underlit yellow clouds at night, to overlit gray clouds during the day. Sometimes, a particularly dramatic sunset or sunrise would add a green or pink tint to things.

A zeppelin passed overhead without incident.

“How many more drops do we need to see?” The next zeppelin was a good five to ten minutes out.

“Probably one looking up, and one looking down,” said Kenneth. “Maybe two? Depends on how it’s dropped and on what we can gather from the landing spot.”

“Ugh. I’m gonna be stuck on this wall all night.”

“If it helps, it seems like about every third vessel on this route is smuggling cargo, so the next one should have some entertainment for you.”

“It had better…”

The next one looked different as soon as it came into view.

“Ken, are you see-”

“Yes, Tua. I’m seeing everything you’re seeing.”

There was a bulge on the underside of the zeppelin’s gondola. It was the same color, but looking carefully, even in this dim light, Tua could see that it was divided into three sections. The outer two were much larger than the central one, and Tua guessed they held a lifting gas. As it drew almost directly overhead, the outer sections suddenly deflated and retracted, and the whole thing dropped away, leaving the underside of the vessel completely unmarked. She kept her face turned upward as the object dropped past her, and flapped into its target, in case there was any activity on the zeppelin itself that she’d missed.

“They might not even…” Tua trailed off.

“Yeah, I think you’re right. That’s why nothing odd was showing up on the  weight readings. The two sacks on the sides kept it neutrally bouyant on the underside of the gondola, and it probably had a releasable suction cup to keep it attached enough to move along with it.”

“That’s a really clever system.” Tua was impressed. “They wouldn’t even need to have anyone on the inside or whatever. If they’re a little careful, they could be attaching these things at any point along the route and nobody would notice.”

“I’ve been marking the ones that are carrying the extra cargo, so we’ll be able to track when the last time someone had a recording of the undersides. We should at least be able to figure out where they’re coming from.”

The zeppelin out of sight, Tua turned her gaze downward. With the help of her goggles, she could even see the hole at the base of the building.

“You know, I could probably just dive down and have a look at that hole…”

“And then drown at the bottom of the canal? Doesn’t seem worth the sacrifice to me, but it’s your life, I suppose.”

“Sun, Moon, and Stars, how boring can you get?”

“Hey now…”

“Sorry, it’s just-” She took a deep breath. “Our differences aside, this suit doesn’t just keep me off I.R. scanners, it also feeds me breathable air. It’ll do that under water, too.”

“Even without tanks?”

“Iffy. I’d need to move slow to keep oxygen requirements low.”

“Sounds like you’d get bored halfway to the bottom,” said Kenneth.

“Very funny. It wouldn’t be boring, it would be a challenge, and then we might actually get some answers.”

“Better to get people who won’t suffocate if they get out of breath.”


Kenneth sighed. “Look, just watch for the next one so we can at least get some idea of what kind of weight these things are.”


The gently rippling water below her was hypnotic. Time always passed more quickly when she was staring at the shimmer of lights and colors that made up the canal’s surface at night. After a little while, Kenneth spoke up again.

“Should be something on the next zeppelin, in about five minutes. I’m pretty sure they’re using hydrogen, and from the size of the gas bags, the cargo and container probably add up to around 70 to 75 kilograms.”

“Huh. That’s about what I weigh.” Tua couldn’t see any movement below her yet.

“You think they’re smuggling people?”

“With a drop like that? Not unless they don’t care if they’re intact on arrival.”

“I dunno…” Kenneth paused.


“I had some numbers running after we got that first recording. It looks like the water pressure on the outside of the tube might provide enough of a gradual slowdown that it wouldn’t do any damage.”

“Clever system all around.”

“If I’m right, the weight of the cargo would pull it down even without the momentum of that drop.”


“The inside of the tube would probably need to be oiled or something, but- wait. Tua I don’t like the tone of your voice.”

“Don’t be silly. How far down do you think it goes?”

There was a moment of silence, and Tua saw movement below her. The tube was slowly rising up below her, pushed by several long, thin rods attached to the hoop that formed the “target”.

“Probably down to the old subway tunnels, maybe below.”

“So maybe a minute or two in the tube?”

“And then someone at the bottom to receive it and clear the way for the next one.”

“Underwater?” The tube had almost reached the surface.

“No,” said Kenneth. “From what I can tell, I’m willing to bet there’s an aerated structure down there. This whole system seems designed to protect whatever they’re smuggling from water.”

“Even though they’re dropping it into a canal?”

The tube reached the surface, and stopped just above it. Looking down, Tua could see it had a flat black cover. The edge of the circle twisted around, and the cover opened like an iris, revealing a sort of gullet, glistening with the oil Kenneth had predicted, and held closed by the water around it.

“Yeah,” Kenneth sounded excited. Tua’s heart was pounding now. “See that? The cargo just slides in, and has an easy trip down. It’s like they’re bypassing the city entirely.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“No idea.”

“Don’t you want to know?”

“Sure, but- Tua you’ve got that tone in your voice again.”

“What tone?” Tua carefully unhooked her anchors, and glanced up. The zeppelin was almost there.

“Like that time you got so bored you used your grapple to take a joyride on the underside of a delivery drone.”

“Oh yeah, that was fun!” She stared at the landing spot. It pulled back in about twenty seconds after the cargo hit, and the cover took about five seconds to open.

“How much did you have to pay to cover damage and wasted fuel?”

“That was a legit company. I don’t think these people have the resources to enforce any fines.”

“I bet they have the resources to make you sorry you interfered…”

“Maybe.” Tua pulled out her collapsible baton, and clenched it in her right fist.

“Tua don’t-”

“I’m gonna.”

“You’ll get covered in oil.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Gross,” said Kenneth. “You could die.”

“At least it wouldn’t be of boredom. I wanna know what’s at the other end of that tube.”


“They might notice a dive team, but they won’t be expecting this.”

“Because it’s so reckless that nobody would-”

The smugglers’ cargo flashed past and flapped into the tube. Tua hopped after it.


This story was posted for patrons several weeks ago. If you want access to stories as I write them, or just want to support the work I’m doing, share this post, and sign up at for as little as $1 per month (just 25 cents per week!) to help me make ends meet! Thanks for reading, and take care of yourself and those around you.

Update: Work-work balance, science fiction and non-fiction

As most of my readers are no doubt aware, in addition to the primary content of this blog, I also write fiction – mostly sci-fi and a little fantasy. Lately I’ve been increasing the amount of time spent working on my science fiction, and that has led to a bit of a drop in posting here. This post is a bit of an explanation, a bit of an apology, and a bit of talking about what the future looks like for me.

In the short term, I don’t expect any major changes to Oceanoxia. I intend to keep posting, and to increase both the frequency and quality of my non-fiction work here. This is partly because it’s my primary means of income, meagre though that is right now, and partly because I feel like it’s the way I can best help to bring about the changes I want to see in the world.

That said, there are limits to the concepts I feel I can effectively explore through nonfiction work and advocacy, and part of my goal has always been to help people see various possibilities for our future. In that regard, my science fiction has begun to fall into three general categories. The first, that some of you have hopefully seen, takes place in the United States somewhere around a couple thousand years in the future. Sea levels are still very high, but just starting to fall slowly, and New York City is a sort of solarpunk archipelago and rainforest. So far everything about that scenario takes place in Manhattan, which has a layout pretty similar to its current arrangement, but with canals where the streets would be, and big lagoon where Central Park currently stands. I’m still figuring out what sort of society it is, but it’s not too far from a version of anarcho-communism or something like it. Cooperatives and councils handle most of the collective projects that are currently managed by government and corporations. Housing and food are guaranteed, and people divide their time between work that helps society run, and activities that fulfil them, at least where the two purposes don’t overlap. Whether or not an activity is allowed depends largely on whether it harms other people in some way, and while there’s collective oversight of things like construction, if someone is “caught” doing something like construction outside of said oversight, there has to be demonstrable harm or danger to people in order to justify intervention.

Because my explorations haven’t gone much outside of New York, I’m honestly not sure what the rest of North America looks like, except that it’s no longer the heart of any sort of empire, and hasn’t been for some centuries. Problems created by greed, hatred, and so on still exist, but they’re not supported at a systemic level in the way we see today, and so have less power to destroy lives. Not a perfect world, but a better one.

The second category is in the far more distant future – tens of thousands of years. Have I mentioned I’m an optimist? I tried not to be for a while, but it got tiresome. At this point in time, humanity is interstellar, and has been for a very long time. The stories I’ve worked on thus far also take place in a better society, but this one is an interplanetary association of sorts, with the various planets governing themselves along similar lines to what I described in the “flooded New York” setting. Some use governments, some don’t, but access to food, shelter, and healthcare are all guaranteed, and insofar as there’s a currency, it’s the hydrogen that’s used in fusion engines to both power technology, and to manufacture and “print out” most materials needed for society. It’s sort of like replicator technology in Star Trek, but rather than just “materializing” finished products, the matter forges synthesize raw materials of varying complexity from molecules formed in a series of fusion reactors, each fueling the next. This setting is also one in which I explore fascism, as a number of planets – including Earth – are under the sway of a fascist society that’s in a sort of “Cold War” with the society I just described. I view fascism as a set of ideologies and political tactics that I think are likely to plague humanity for a long time to come, and likely to re-emerge from time to time, as ignorance, complacency, or fear lead people to those practices. Some of what I’m working on deals with resistance against such a fascist regime, and some does not. The anti-fascist societies are – again – not perfect. There are families and corporations with interplanetary power and influence, and that leads to predictable problems. I’ve been putting less time into this end of things in the last couple years, but I’ve recently resumed work on a novel taking place in this setting, now that I feel like my skill as a writer is closer to being able to tackle the subject matter.

The third category is one I think of as “the gauntlet“. It’s a set of stories taking place within the next century or two, depicting humanity’s struggle to survive a warming climate and the collapse of the current global capitalist order. Reflecting my own expectations for the near future, this is definitely my least optimistic project, and contains a lot of stuff that I fervently hope will be viewed as laughably pessimistic in a couple hundred years, if not my own lifetime (again, I’m optimistic enough to hope that my work will be considered at all on any useful scale. I think there’s a degree of egotism required to continue in this line of work). Some of this stuff is more optimistic, as it deals with the first glimmers of the world explored in the first category above.

Some of this fiction I’ll share here directly. Some is exclusively for my patrons. Some I’ll send away in the hopes that some publication will pay me a little. In any case, there’s going to be more of it around in general. If you want more of my time to go to this blog, and more of my fiction to be available to either you, or to the general public, the best way to achieve those goals right now is to support me via patreon, and encourage others to do the same. The closer I am to being able to actually cover living expenses, the more I’ll be free to just directly share my work with whoever wants to read it, which is my preference. The second best way is to share any of my work that you find to be valuable, by whatever criteria you judge such things.

Life’s chaotic for most of us right now, so however you relate to my work, take care of yourself, and those around you.

Fiction: A boring night is looking up

The zeppelin’s white skin glowed in the city’s lights as it approached the docking tower. Rivulets of water made it shimmer, drawing Tua’s eyes. She yawned, and squinted to re-focus her gaze on the cargo hold. Her mission brief was sparse on details, but the central question was clear: a handful of freight vessels had been dropping something while on approach for docking, beginning shortly after sunset. A few dock workers had seen whatever it was, and reported it to the Shipping Council, but there were no reports of anything falling from the sky, of damage, or of unexplained waste in the canals.

Something was being delivered by people who were willing to go to fairly extreme lengths to keep their business off of any books. Half the time, when Tua was called in to run an investigation, what she found was depressingly harmless. People operating in secret because they enjoyed the challenge, or starting up a strange new business venture that drew attention from “concerned citizens”.

Those didn’t tend to involve the clandestine use of one of the city’s major shipping routes. Freight zeppelins ran constantly around the country. They didn’t move particularly fast, but there was a never-ending stream of them drifting slowly around the continent. It was effectively a massive, airborne conveyor belt, and because it depended on lighter-than-air craft, weight was carefully monitored.

The zeppelin docked with a loud thunk, and Tua closed her eyes to rest them while the vessel was unloaded above her. Waiting was the worst part of this job.

Normally, smuggling investigations required very little effort. Most items that would get a smuggler in trouble were things that could poison the water or interfere with some of the city’s vital functions. Smuggling might allow someone to avoid paying access or import fees, but those were low enough that avoiding them often cost more, even if you didn’t get caught. That went doubly for smuggling anything by air. Tua had helped a gun-running operation in her teens, but that had gone along the canals. It turned out the guns were for an ill-conceived plan by a group to gain control over the city’s common housing system through a mixture of bribery, intimidation, and murder.

Tua didn’t understand it, but there always seemed to be those who wanted power over other people, and those willing to help them for one reason or another. She shifted carefully on her perch, and adjusted her goggle magnification. The next zeppelin was just visible on its approach.

I was one of those willing to help, she reminded herself. Her current gig as an investigator had started as community service after she was caught along with everyone else involved in the attempted takeover. She hadn’t known what goods she was moving, but neither had she asked. It had gotten her better food and housing, and more than enough money to access some of the more interesting clubs around town. It had also been more fun than she had had before or since.

A bell rang above her as the zeppelin finished offloading its cargo, and glided away into the rainy dusk. The next one approached, and Tua watched, her goggles recording everything in case she blinked at the wrong moment.

She didn’t.

You can read the rest, as well as other upcoming pieces of fiction, for as little as $1USD/month by becoming one of my patrons over at the Oceanoxia Collective

Decided to release the whole story, so here it is!

Science fiction: Dining out

When Peter’s eyes started sliding off the lines of code he was supposed to be editing, he noticed the signals his body was sending him. He closed his eyes and slumped forward onto his desk with a groan.

“Cal, how long has it been since I ate?”

“Thirteen hours and twelve minutes. You woke up, took a shot of Stimgoo, and started coding. It was foolish, short-sighted, and entirely in keeping with your typical behavior.” Cal – short for Calendar – had the slightly wheezy voice of an old man who had spent too many years taking inhalant drugs, and never bothered replacing his vocal chords. Peter had chosen that voice because it reminded him of the fellow who had babysat him when he was a child.

He turned his head to glare at the digital assistant’s console.


“If you would follow the schedule I made for you, you wouldn’t be in this situation, and before you ask,there’s no food in the apartment. Because you didn’t buy any. All you have is the extra bottle of stimgoo in your pocket, and that is not a viable alternative to food.”

“Hey now,” snapped Peter. “I didn’t-”

“You absolutely asked me for commentary, Peter. You chose this personality because you thought it would make you live a healthier, more productive life.”

“But you-”

“And you specifically asked me to predict your excuses, to cut you off when you start talking back, and to remind you that, and I quote,” There was a soft beep, and Peter’s own voice came out of the speakers.

“You know damned well this is for your own good, so stop whining, pull yourself together, and do what needs to be done.” There was another beep, and Cal’s voice resumed its normal wheeze. “Get up and go get food.”

Peter sighed, and nodded. “Yeah, OK. Going.”

“Don’t forget to take me with you.”

“So transfer to my earpiece.”

“Just needed the command”.

There was a beep from the cybernetic plug pierced into the base of Peter’s right ear, and Cal made a throat-clearing noise.

“Can you hear-”

“I can hear you Cal.”

“You know…”

“Don’t say it, Cal”

“You ought to clean your ears more. It’s downright filthy in-”

“You can’t see what my ears look like, Cal.”

Peter got up and left the apartment, his door locking behind him. He turned right and walked down the hall to the glass elevator shaft on the outside of the building. He punched in a number, and the small transparent room rose with a hum. Broadway canal stretched away below him on either side, shimmering as the city’s countless lights reflected off the rain-rippled water. The lift stopped and he stepped out into the causeway. A moving walkway stretched from the southwest corner of Central Park all the way up to Kingsbridge. The southbound lane, on the floor below him, took most of the traffic this time of day, as people headed to the Park restaurants, but Peter’s favorite restaurant was a small place a couple stops north. He stepped out of the way as a man in a wheelchair glided down the exit lane to the elevator. The two exchanged nods, and Peter stepped onto the entrance lane, picking up speed as the floor accelerated under him, and stepped onto the main causeway. The glass wall showed the buildings opposite the canal flowing by, occasionally blocked by ivy, grape vines, or other climbing plants. He glimpsed his buddy Renee tending one of the patches of plant, hanging in a climbing harness with a bucket of tools hanging beside her, visible in the light from the causeway. He was moving too fast for a greeting.

He stepped onto the exit lane, slowed down, and got off. Automated glass doors slid open and he stepped out onto the gentle salt breeze blowing through the covered bridge over the canal. The walls were latticed, and covered in vines that blocked most of the wind blowing up Broadway. On the other side, he took an elevator down two floors, and stepped out to see that Brownlee’s Brown Bowl was closed.


“If you’d asked, I could have warned you before you came all this way.”

“It’s only a couple blocks, Cal,” snapped Peter. His stomach grumbled. “What about the falafel place the next floor down?”

“You don’t like their food, Peter.”

“They’ll have something I can stand.”

“Good news and bad news. They’re open, but there’s something wrong with the lift. You’ll have to take the stairs outside.”


“No, Peter, I’ve broken free of my programming and am lying to you. Yes. Seriously. Unless you want to go a couple blocks in either direction, take the elevator there, and then walk back.”

Peter’s stomach gave a twinge. He craned his neck with a satisfying pop. “Stairs it is. Guess I’m gonna get wet.”

“Truly, your life is hard.”

“Shut up, Cal.”

Sure enough, the elevator tube had an “out of order” sign on it, and another sign pointing to fire escape door next to it. Peter pushed open the heavy door and stepped out onto the stairwell. It was old, and slippery with the rain.

“This is not exactly safe.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it, Peter.”

There was a gap in the railing indicating that in case of a fire, those who could swim or who had flotation devices should consider jumping into the canal. Peter glanced down. At four stories up, he knew that landing wrong would hurt, but he supposed it was better than being trapped in a burning building. Gripping the railing, he carefully stepped onto the slippery stairs and started down them.

“Cal why is this the only option to get out if the elevator breaks?”

“There are bridges to neighboring buildings on this side of the canal. Additionally, according to some local reporting, there hasn’t been an uncontained fire in a building with this model of fire suppressant system in seventeen years.”

“What happened seventeen years ago?” The stairs seemed a little less slippery than he’d originally feared, but the railing was leaving a layer of green-brown slime on his hand.

“The Cool Off Collective, makers of The Universal Flame Snuffer System says that several sensors had been disabled prior to the fire, allowing it to get big enough that it spread to a couple other floors before the automated system and the NYFB were able to put it out.”


“That question was never resolved. It appears the people who did it are likely the same ones who died at the fire’s point of ignition.”

“Oof.” He reached a landing and wiped one hand on his pants without thinking. Looking down he cursed softly at the ugly smear on the light blue fabric.


“Stuff it, Cal. I just washed these clothes and now they’ve got gunk on them.”

“Probably some form of algae or mold.”

“And that helps me how?”

“I’m programmed to give interesting information. Outside of emergencies, it doesn’t need to be helpful.”

Peter sighed, and walked along the platform to the next set of stairs. The covered bridge loomed across the sky above him, its vines dripping gently into the canal below. Across the water, he could see salt-tolerant vines dipping their roots into the brackish water, and climbing up the building. Some went all the way to the top of the building they grew on. Something caught his eye, on the second story above the water.

“Cal, what’s that place across the way?”

“One moment.”

While he waited, Peter peered at the gaps between the vines. It looked like some sort of small eatery with the windows about half-covered by vines. It looked warm and inviting from where he was, but he couldn’t make out much more than the yellow of the walls and the light wood of the serving counter.

“It’s a newly opened burrito place.”

“I want burritos.”

“Ok, Peter. You can probably get there if you go back up the stairs and across again.”

“The elevator works on that side?”


“Are they open?” He leaned out, trying to see if there were any customers inside.

“The information I can find says they are. They even do deliveries.”

“Excellent! I- Shit!” His hand slipped on the rail and he lost his balance. He staggered, his feet slipped out from under him, and he jostled his way through the gap under the railing, scraping his arms and back before dropping into the canal below. The water slapped him hard on the left side of the face as he submerged, and spluttered to the surface, wiping water out of his eyes.

“…u ok? Should I call for help?” Cal’s voice was loud in his ear.

“I’m fine. I’m fine. Don’t call anyone, jeez. Dammit, I can’t believe it. I don’t think I’ve fallen in a canal since I was a kid. What the hell? I just wanted some food.”

“Are you injured, Peter?”

“Feels like I scraped up my back and arms a bit.”

“There should be ladder at the bottom of the fire escape.”

Peter turned, still treading water, and glared over at the fire escape near him. He looked over his shoulder at the burrito place, two stories up and lighting up the gentle raindrops with a warm yellow glow.

“Screw that.”

“And I suppose you’re just going to stay in the canal?”

“The vines go up the side of the building.”

“Yes, Peter. They do that everywhere in New York.”

“I can climb them.”

“My research does not indicate any external entrance to Bellyfull Burritos.”

“That’s what it’s called?”

“Yes. They advertise large burritos at low prices.”

“Sounds perfect.” He started swimming toward the other side of the canal, kicking awkwardly against the drag from his pants.

“But there’s no entrance that way, Peter.”

“The windows look like th-they open.”

“Are you stuttering? Perhaps I should call someone after all.”

“I’m just jit-tery. And a little cold. Not-t enough food.”

“And you’re going to climb up vines? From what I can discover, that burns a lot of calories, as does swimming.”

“Oh yeah!” Peter dug into his pocket and pulled out tiny bottle of Stimgoo. “This’ll get me to the top!”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to take that on an empty stomach.”

“Shut up, Cal.”

“It’s not health-”

“I don’t care Cal. I want that burrito, and I don’t want to deal with those damned stairs.”

“The vines might not hold-”

“Silent mode.”

Cal stopped talking. He wouldn’t say anything in silent mode unless there was an emergency. Peter popped open the Stimgoo bottle, squeezed the contents into his mouth, and stuffed the empty bottle back into his submerged pocket. He sank below the water briefly as he forced himself to swallow the goo. It was an unpleasant texture and a strange mix of sweet, sour, and bitter. He shook his head vigorously underwater, and then kicked back to the surface. A couple minutes of slow breast stroke later, and he was at the canal wall below Bellyfull Burritos. He grabbed the vines and gave them a tug. They seemed to be pretty secure, and he could see the root tendrils worked into cracks and crevices in the outer surface of the building. He felt a warm flush spread through him as the Stimgoo revitalized him a bit.


“Are you ready to swim back to the fire escape?”

“No, Cal. Put in an order for a burrito. I’ll want it ready.”

The digital assistant sighed in his ear.

“What do you want on the burrito, Peter?”

“Everything. And as spicy as you can make it. The Stimgoo’s gonna wear off and I’m gonna be cold.”

He grabbed a handful of vine and kicked at the water, hauling himself up. He reached up and grabbed another vine above him. An old leaf fluttered down and landed on his left eye. He growled and ignored it, scrabbling up to hook his shoes onto a bit of horizontal root. His back ached as the breeze hit it. When he was fully out of the water, he wiped his face against his shoulder, ridding himself of the leaf. He squinted up, small droplets of rain stinging his eyes. Finding his next handhold, he began climbing.

“The order has been accepted. It will be ready for pickup in about 10 minutes.”

“Great. I think I can make it up there by around then.”

“And if they don’t open the window?”

“Shut up, Cal.”

“It wouldn’t take you very long to swim back and take the stairs.”

“Shut up Cal.” He climbed carefully, testing each bit of vine he grabbed before hauling himself with it. He’d done this countless times as a child, but it had been over a decade. He had forgotten how much brown and green slime he got on his clothes, hands, and face while doing it. There was a gentle, wet slap as another leaf glued itself to the side of his neck, and as he looked up for his next handhold, a startled beetle scurried over his hand. Thinking back to his childhood, he remembered picking bugs out of his hair, too. He reached the first floor windows and paused, standing on the sill. Inside was a darkened store room of some sort, full of watertight plastic boxes. He reached up and felt around, clearing moss off the top of the window frame. Some of the moss bounced off his head and tumbled down inside the back of his shirt. It had a musty smell. He pulled himself up, bracing his feet against the sides of the window frame, and grabbed another vine.

“How’s the climb going, Peter?”

“Just- Guh.” He grunted as he swung a foot onto the top of the window frame. “Just like when I was a kid, Cal.”

“How did your parents feel about you climbing the walls?”

“My dad shoved me back out the window and told me to rinse off in the canal and come back in the proper way.”

“Maybe I should tell the restaurant to do that as well.”

He could hear voices and music now, muffled by the layers of glass. Squinting up, he could see the light spilling out against the rain, just a few feet above him.

“They’re welcome to throw me out as long as I get to eat my burrito first.”

“You’re lucky they have no posted dress code.”

“You think a place called ‘Bellyfull Burritos’is going to have a dress code?” He grabbed his next handful of wet vine and started climbing again.

“I’ve found a variety of images of people who’ve made similar climbs. They may decide that you are some sort of canal monster based on your likely appearance.”

Peter glanced down at his shirt. It was covered in brown and green smears, along with a few beetles, ants, and a centipede that he was too wired and tired to care about.

“Does their site say they don’t serve canal monsters?”

“It’s not mentioned either way.”

“Then I think I’ll try to get my burrito, if it’s all the same to you.”

He gave a haul on the vine, and hooked the fingers of his right hand onto the window sill. He found a good toe hold, braced his feet, and heaved himself up to lean his elbow on the sill, his head bumping against the glass of the window. He glanced up. Several pairs of wide eyes met his gaze. A young child dropped a fork with a clatter. He reached up with one gunk-smeared hand and knocked gently at the glass. The customers looked back across the room at the restaurant staff, and a teenager in an apron scurried over, pulled the window open, and jumped back as Peter tumbled into the restaurant and onto his back with a wet splat. He looked up at the people around him, then squinted, focusing on the teenager.

“I’m here to pick up an order? Word in the canal is, you’ve got the best burritos around.”

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