SEED: What Can I Call You?

He sat staring into the dying fire, his face calm as the light from the flames flickered across his cheeks. He stared at the fire as if it were an old friend, comforting and more welcome than the food. The girl cleared her throat. He looked up at her, shaking off the dazed expression and raising an eyebrow. “What?”

She fidgeted with her food, turning the half-eaten vegetable in her hands. “I still don’t know your name, nor you mine.”

He grunted and tossed the stick from his last roasted vegetable into the fire. The sparks floated up, but the stick didn’t do much in the way of feeding the blaze. “I don’t care much for human names.”

Her brow furrowed as she stared at him. “You speak as if you weren’t human yourself.”

“I’m not.” He held his hand closer to the fire, feeling the heat flow around his skin.

“Then what are you?”

He glanced over at her, gauging whether it was wise to tell her the truth. In the end it really didn’t matter. She was just a silly human girl, and nobody would believe her anyway. “I’m a dragon.”

She smiled and bent her head, taking a bite of food and chewing slowly. She swallowed and looked at him from beneath her eyelashes. He didn’t look very happy with her reaction. He looked angry. She wiped the smile off her face. “So, do you have a name then?”

He stood and scuffed dirt over the fire, smothering the coals and stamping them out. “Forget it.”

She scrambled to her feet as he started to walk away, grabbing up her bundle of roots and berries and carrying the vegetable she hadn’t finished eating yet. “I have to call you something!”

“Fine,” he called over his shoulder, “your people call me Night Shadow. Or, if you prefer, the dwarves refer to me as the Bane of the Eight Tribes. The elves, fluffy dreamers that they are, credit me as the Bringer of Eternal Darkness. I am known by all these names.”

The girl laughed. “You mean to tell me… you think you’re the terrible black dragon of legend? The one from the stories of my childhood?”

He glared back at her, but didn’t say a word.

“You must have a name. Surely there’s something your family once called you? Maybe something your friends know you as?”

He stopped suddenly and she nearly ran into him. When he turned around, the look on his face chilled her. It reminded her of pain, and rage, and horrible guilt. He stared at her for a moment and the look faded into the annoyed expression she was more familiar with. His voice was little more than a whisper. “My name is Rojensyrahae.”

She swallowed and nodded slightly. “Rojensir- Rojensara-“

He sighed and rolled his eyes, turning and starting to walk again.

She hurried to catch up. “Do you mind if I call you Rojen?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Call me whatever you wish, I don’t care.”

She smiled and stepped up so she was walking nearly beside him. “And my name is Coralyn, but everyone calls me Cora.”

“Good for you.” He avoided her gaze, keeping his eyes on the shadowy trees ahead. The woods were quiet except for the occasional birdcall or tattering squirrel. As he walked, he mentally kicked himself for taking the human along. The death of one more of them wouldn’t have bothered him in the slightest. He didn’t know what had possessed him when he agreed to let her come.

SEED: The Open Book

The book rested in my arms, so much dead weight with the smell of old leather and the bite of hard corners against my skin. It was heavier than I thought it should be, even if it did fill my arms. Maybe it was the way they made paper and ink back then. So much heavier. My thumb rubbed along the spine as I held it, feeling the ridges in the leather where the thread bunched underneath.

I knelt on the floor, setting it in front of me with reverent care. Old things were awesome, and old books were double awesome. I ran a hand down the leather cover to feel the rough under my fingertips and it made me sigh a little. The corners were capped with hammered metal protectors, tarnished and lifting away from the surface in places. I reached forward and lifted the cover.

A voice shouted in front of me and drew my attention. Kelvin was sprinting toward me, his face pale and terrified, his hand reaching out.

“No! Don’t open it!”

I frowned and sat back on my heels as he skidded to his knees on the other side of the book. “Why no-“

He rocked forward as he slid to a stop and glanced down with wide eyes. A light pulsed between us and for an instant everything seemed frozen. Kelvin had his arms flung out for balance, staring down at the book. His face was still full of shock and dread. The light enveloped him, shimmering across his pale cheeks.

Then he… faded… into the book. It wasn’t so wet as melting, but was like he turned into dust and fell into the light coming from the book.

Everything was quiet and the light flickered out.

I blinked at the place where he’d been, afraid to drop my eyes to the open pages. Reaching out a shaking hand, I groped for the edge of the book and flipped it shut. I swallowed the lump in my throat.

“That’s… probably not good.”

SEED: Blood of Space

The lights of the space terminal were dimmed to simulate the night cycle. The rows of empty benches and the wall of windows looking into the coldness of space gave the room a deserted atmosphere that Deacon rather enjoyed. He ambled across the room to the section of seats near terminal 72A and stood looking out the windows, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

There were ships docked here and there along the length of the station, but they were all as dark as the terminal he stood in. As he stared into space, he heard the trudging footsteps of a weary traveler. Turning his head slightly, he watched the person coming closer out of the corner of his eye. The last thing he wanted right now was company.

The man stopped beside him and put his hands in his pockets. “Quiet night, isn’t it? Are you waiting for someone?”

Deacon kept his arms crossed over his chest, but turned to face the man, his trenchcoat brushing the tops of his boots. He smiled widely, revealing the long, sharpened fangs that were the mark of his vampiric heritage. “Actually… yes, I was.”

The man paled and stumbled back, crossing himself as he turned to flee. When the man had run out of sight, Deacon chuckled and turned back to the window. A few minutes later, his eyes were drawn to a movement off to the left. A ship was nearing the docks.

He grinned and slipped the edge of his trenchcoat aside, drawing his Colt Glazer and checking the pistol’s energy level. He casually stepped behind a column and waited for the ship to dock. The sound of the inner airlock doors whooshing open broke the silence in the terminal and Deacon tensed, his pistol held ready.

He heard the footsteps of four men in heavy boots and the lighter steps of their prisoner, then the airlock whooshed closed. They were making it too easy for him. He edged around the column as the footsteps neared, waiting until they were in line with him so it would be harder for them all to shoot back. Then he drew in half a breath and spun around the column, his Glazer raised.

He fired on the near man without hesitation, the laser leaving a smoking hole in the policeman’s chest. The others trained their weapons on him, one of them shouting orders and another reaching for a comm unit at his belt.

The young woman who had been surrounded by the policemen raised her manacled hands into the air, spreading them as far apart as she could. Deacon aimed his pistol at the link connecting the manacles. The laser easily cut through the metal, sending sparks showering down onto the girl, who turned her face away.

With the link broken, the girl drew herself up, her orange prison jumpsuit and short black hair whipping around her as if a hurricane blew through the terminal. Her eyes began to glow and she raised her hands again, chanting in a language few people in the galaxy understood.

The policemen started to panic. One of them shot wildly at Deacon with a pulse rifle and one of the shots seared through his trenchcoat into his right shoulder. He glanced down at the wound with a grimace.

Electricity sparked from the girl’s fingertips and the wind around her died off suddenly. She brought her arms down in a graceful arc, her eyes still on fire. With one final word, the flash of lightening lit up the terminal and the three remaining policemen were speared by three separate bolts. They screamed and shuddered, falling to the floor with mingled thuds.

Deacon rolled his right shoulder, easing his muscles as the wound healed. He strode forward and stopped in front of the girl, who looked up at him with a cold expression as the magic faded from her eyes. The corner of his mouth curled up slightly into a humorless smile. “You’re younger than I expected.”

Her eyes bore into him and she let a few moments roll by before she answered. “I assume you are the vampire?”

He pulled his Glazer up and checked the energy charge. “At your service, missy.” Holstering the pistol, he extended his arm to her.

She looked down at it and rolled her eyes. “Just lead the way. I need to get out of these clothes.”

SEED – River Bridge

He slashed over and over with his sword, keeping a tight hold on it in the pouring rain. Strike left, heave the blade over the horse’s head, strike right, heave it back over, strike left. The steel bit through leather armor into flesh and bone underneath, and his muscles ached already as he pulled it free each time, raising it to strike again. He guided his horse with his knees and his free hand, clinging to the saddle as it reared and trampled the enemy in front of it.

The screams of the wounded and dying were accompanied by battle cries from both sides. The sound of steel striking steel rang in his ears, and the storm was a steady lashing all around him, broken by cracks of thunder now and then. He heard his name, the scream rolling over the other sounds.

He looked out over the battle, blinking away the rain streaming onto his face, to take note of the handful of riders that led his troops. It was difficult to distinguish between his foot troops and the enemy in the dark rain. Some of them still carried torches along with their swords, swinging them as clubs so the fire sputtered and bounced crazily in the throng of fighters. As he scanned the battlefield he caught sight of a mass of torches moving toward them from the hills.

A spear thrust toward him from the left and he threw himself back in the saddle so it slid past his chest, bringing his sword up and chopping down at the enemy fighter. The man fell into the mud, trampled by the horse of one of his troop leaders as it waded through the battle and rubbed alongside his own.

“Captain!” The man’s face was bloody on one side and he was holding an arm tight against his ribs. “They have reinforcements!”

“I see them! Call the retreat!”

“But, Captain-”

He wheeled his horse around, blocking a sword stroke from his right and thrusting the blade into the man’s throat. He called back over his shoulder, “Do it! We don’t need to die here!”

The troop leader fumbled with a warhorn at his hip, bringing it up and blowing an ear-splitting, bleating call that rose over the clash of weapons and screams. He blew three long notes, his face red with the effort.

The battle shifted like a tide. It had been crushing inward, seething at the center and spreading into smaller skirmishes on the outskirts. Now the center washed back as the fighters tried to disengage. The enemy followed in a rush, roaring encouragement to each other.

He wheeled his horse toward the surge, screaming at his men as he cut down the enemy fighters trying to attack them from behind. “Get over the bridge! Go!” His horse climbed over the enemy in front of him, slashing with its hooves and stretching its neck forward to bite. He cut between his troops and the enemy, turning himself into a wedge to give them room to retreat.

His troop leaders joined him, riding back and forth in the growing gap between the two forces and holding the enemy back. Mud flew from their hooves and their swords gleamed in the lightning strikes and the scattered torchlight. His smaller force broke and ran for the nearby bridge lit by torches seen through a wall of scrub trees and rain.

The road funneled them through the brush, pushing them together and over the bridge. Beneath it the river rushed past, swollen by the runoff streaming out of the hills. The bridge, an old wooden cart bridge, was slick with rain. It creaked and groaned under the weight of so many men, the boards rattling under their feet. On the opposite side some of the men broke off and began loosening the blocks that wedged the supports in place. They had prepared for this.

He slashed at the fighters that pressed their horses back. A spear got through his defense and stabbed into his left arm, and he chopped down with his sword, cutting the opposing fighter’s arm so deep it hung limp as he fell back screaming. He reached up and yanked the spear out, tossing it aside and blocking a swordstroke from his right side.

The enemy pushed them back into the closer confines of the brush-lined road and he could hear the river like a dull roar behind him. He fought to stay in front, yelling at his riders to get across the bridge. One by one they turned and rode across, their hooves sliding on the wooden slats that were now slick with mud from the passage of the foot troops. The last two riders fought to either side of him, their horses backing to the edge of the bridge.

He shouted, “Go!”

“Captain!”

“GO!!” He kicked his horse forward a few paces, pressing against the men choking the road. His sword rose and fell like an axe, but the blows were force rather than skill because his arm was heavy as lead. He risked a glance back to see the last two riders nearing the far side of the bridge. Putting a boot into the face of one of the enemy that tried to grab his saddle, he wheeled his horse around and kicked it into a canter across the rattling boards.

He crouched low over the saddle, eyes trained on the far side where his men were urging him on. He could feel the horse slipping on the muddy bridge as it ran, its hooves scraping the wood. He grit his teeth and clenched his hand on the hilt of his sword.

When the horse flinched and screamed in pain he tightened his legs and held onto the saddle with his injured arm. The animal pitched forward, hooves sliding out from under it, and its shoulder hit the surface of the bridge before it rolled. He felt the crushing weight of the horse on his leg first, then his breath was driven out as it rolled over him. The left rail of the bridge snapped like kindling and the horse pitched over the side, the stirrup dragging him across the edge. His hands clawed for purchase and he kicked free of the strap as the horse fell, its legs flailing as it screamed and twisted in the air before splashing into the river below.

He dug his nails into the boards, the rough edge of the bridge scraping the leather under his arms as he kicked his feet trying to find something to brace himself against. Rain hit his face like needles and he squinted to see the enemy flowing onto the bridge from one side, and a few of his troops starting back across, yelling his name.

He took a deep breath and let go.

The water hit him like a wall, forcing the air out of his lungs, and the cold made him gasp and choke as he was pulled under. He instinctively struggled against the current, trying to reach the surface. His leather armor, already soaked from the rain, weighed him down. At one point he felt something hard under his knee and twisted to push off against it. He shot to the surface and spluttered, getting one good breath before the water sucked him under again.

The river pushed him and spun him around, pulling him back under no matter how hard he tried to keep his head above the surface. Whenever he touched the bottom he pushed off, grabbing a breath or two before being submerged again. His arms and legs felt like they had stones tied to them.

His chest burned. He could see nothing in the dark water, and the only sound was roaring rapids above the surface or pressing silence underneath. Something hit his arm and he grabbed for it, wrapping numb fingers around rope as it pulled taut against the current. The water beat at him, choking him and pushing him under, and he felt the rope slipping through his hands. He twisted it around his forearm and it tightened painfully, but stopped slipping.

He didn’t have the strength to pull. The river stretched him out like a fish on a line and even when he found the bottom he couldn’t push himself up. He didn’t realize he was in shallow water until rough hands drug him to the surface and up the bank. They dropped him on hard ground and he coughed and vomited water, his arms shaking just holding himself out of the mud.

Torchlight came closer and he stared up through the rain, still gasping for breath. The faces sneering down at him were Noshurian. His numb brain had just enough time to register that he was in enemy hands before pain flared at the back of his skull and everything went black.

SEED – Softwired

The statusbot woke me from a really sweet dream where I was proving to a friend that coffee contained the anti-caloric equivalent of donuts, which is why they’re always taken together. And also why people who drink coffee and eat donuts never get fat off donuts. All while a mariachi band dressed like Kiss Redeux played in the corner.

“You have fourteen emails.”

I grabbed a pillow and pulled it over my head.

“Twenty-three unsolicited product offers.”

I knew it wouldn’t help.

“Four hundred sixty-two interactions on Mutter.”

The voice was broadcast through my implant.

“Two hundred eighty-four interactions on FriendStream.”

So I was the only one that could hear it.

“Five private messages.”

And there was no snooze button.

“And one citizen alert.”

I pulled the pillow off my head. “Repeat that last notification?”

“One citizen alert.”

“What the fuck?”

“You have been fined point two five credits for use of inappropriate slang.”

“Whatever… brainbaby.” I sat up in bed, yawning and scratching the back of my head to unflatten my hair. “What’s the citizen alert?”

“You have been selected as a troll hunter.”

I froze in the act of wiping the crusties out of the corner of my eye. “No. No…” I kicked my blanket away. “I decline!”

“Please remain in your current location for collection for the hunter safety course.”

I rolled off the bed and took two steps toward the closet before the implant sent a tiny jolt into my brain and it was once again lights out. This time I didn’t dream about coffee.