2018-03-16 14:14 fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


They lived under the Node. It wasn't uncomfortable, but it wasn't comfortable either. It was a place with just enough and just not enough to be feasible. Supplies were dropped in every three cycles. There was time to go hungry if you didn't plan everything right. They'd made every mistake once, rarely twice. There was no excuse for making a mistake twice.

Their daughter Sakari was an infant when they arrived. Now she ran through the compound, investigating, deconstructing, imagining. They felt bad about isolating her more than isolating themselves, they'd had time to prepare themselves for changes. She had only ever known this. She had friends in the Well during the connection periods, but it wasn't the same. If they'd been fair, they said, they wouldn't have had a child at all. Not for a life like this. But then, the Node would need someone after they were gone.

In the mornings sunlight outlined the triangular Node set on top of the stone precipice, casting a deep and frozen shadow across their home. They would rise from their sleeping pit and make hot beverage. Then one of them would begin the long climb up to the Node. The ladder, carved directly into the stone, was set at a steep angle rather than being set vertically. This helped, somewhat. There were safety hooks every tenth rung, using them was imperative in the windy season. Without using the hooks falling to your death was statistically probable over time.

Once inside the small room in the Node, large enough for a single person, he or she would check the settings and the connectivity. Was there flow? Good. Was everything pointed where it should be? Good. Adjustments would need to be made. Without these constant minor tweaks, the Node would fail and the Well would break down. From the top of the Node a constant stream of relay between worlds was handed off down the line, where other men and women at other Nodes made their own adjustments.

A long time ago many people left Aok. This was not their world, they said. We must return to our home, they said. They wanted to return to the way things were, or how they believed things were for their distant ancestors, and they believed in the old stories, they thought all these things were true. After they left there was disruption. Things changed — with fewer people there were hard times. There was famine. Those that stayed learned new ways of doing everything, and they learned ways to make and use tools better, and they started to look into the sky — not the way those that left had, but in a way that eased their hunger, that the ocean above them was a place to hunt.

As they went to other worlds, they built up systems of communication that spanned the great distances and the great amount of time. There were corners in these worlds, and on Aok, where if you made signals, if you made noises, they would echo into the other corners of those other worlds, without having to wait the time of an entire life, or hundreds of lives. So Nodes were placed in these corners, and signals were generated across all the worlds, echoing through all the Nodes, so that their people knew what has happened across space.

Then one day they heard something new, something they did not recognize. It was in a language that sounded a little like their own, but it was different enough. However they did recognize the tone — it asked if there was anyone out there, if anyone was listening. They responded, as best and as simply as they could. And that was how they started talking to Ebyx, to the people that left Aok a long time ago.

When Sakari grew old enough she began to help her parents maintain the Node. She would climb the long ladder up to the little room, and as she slowly worked the knobs she would turn the output up, so that the flow of voices would fill the space around her. Her father became ill, and was unable to continue working. Her mother helped her care for him, but her mother was getting older too and the ladder was becoming difficult and dangerous. The weather was worse. Soon she knew she would be the only one left keeping the Node open. She enjoyed it. She could request a replacement, but she didn't think she would. It might be a lonely life, but she thought it had a beauty to it, this place, austere and brutal and windy. Besides, these days, what other choices did she have? The scientists all agreed that Aok would eventually be uninhabitable. She could leave for another world. But there would be no coming back. Even if she could come back, there would be nothing left here for people. Travel between worlds could take a lifetime. She could stay and keep the Node, once the Nodes went out so too would the conversations between stars. At least for a while, until the Well was redone. This, too, would take lifetimes.

She connected one star to another, like threading a needle, plugging distant voices into each another. She might recognize an operator or two, but a lot of the chatter was from Compilers who gathered data about their neighboring worlds. Ebyx was the strangest. It was the newest in the Well, and the hardest to understand. She talked with one operator from Ebyx regularly, an operator named Liv. She was funny without knowing it, she was funny because she was so serious and so earnest. Sakari would ask her all about Ebyx, what was it like there, what was life like. Liv told her about her family's farm and the small towns. It didn't have big cities like other worlds. What were the animals like? Sakari would ask. Aok didn't have many animals left. There were lots of birds, Liv said, and she had pets and the farm had lots of animals. Liv told her about her parents and how they helped her to go to school so she could be an operator. Liv was considered gifted. Being an operator was something special on Ebyx, and Liv was part of the first group. The training had very strict requirements. While on Aok there had been operators for a thousand years, it was considered an antique profession, even quaint.

Sakari assumed everything they said was monitored — it didn't matter to her. This is the way new Nodes are in the Well, they're always shy. And authorities are paranoid. As time went on, they'd get used to the sounds, the dialog would fit them as they fit the dialog, Ebyx would find out who they were or who they were becoming.

Her parents passed away. Her mother died soon after her father. She threw the ashes, mixed together, into the wind. For the next few years she went up and down the ladder, she kept the Node running and she heard the voices across dozens of worlds. But she looked forward to hearing Liv the most. What would it be like to meet? They talked about it as she and Liv became closer. Of course it was impossible to meet — if Sakari left Aok when she arrived on Ebyx Liv would be long dead. But they would talk about it occasionally, what if it were possible.

Sometimes it was lonely for Sakari. The weather grew more violent. Now the trips up the ladder were always dangerous. She had to be careful, if anything happened there was no one to save her. More people left Aok all the time. She imagined them, perhaps a hundred years from now, they would land somewhere, somewhere new to live, maybe not as cold. Liv said Ebyx was warm, that it used to be cold but now there were deserts and jungles and lots of farmland. Sakari wondered if she would be able to live somewhere warm.

A year later the scientists declared an evacuation of Aok. She would have to leave. The Nodes on Aok would be shut down. There was a plan for the Well to compensate, they believed they could keep the gateways open if they juggled things the right way. Sakari wondered how true this was. She was upset, not necessarily because she'd have to leave Aok, but because it meant she would no longer be able to talk to Liv. There would be a final, terrible conversation, knowing that she would be asleep for the rest of Liv's lifetime. Liv got very quiet when Sakari told her this.

"When do you have to leave?" she asked.

"Within the next year, the last ship leaves in a year", Sakari said.

They talked more than they ever had. One day Liv was excited, she told Sakari about work that scientists were doing in the Well.

"They call it a Return, they use a Node to transfer the essence of someone, they transfer their self, their mind, into a simulacrum at the other end. Several people have already done it."

"To Ebyx?" Sakari asked.

"No, not here yet. Our simulacra aren't very advanced yet. Not like other places. And I guess we're considered pretty backwards, I don't know who would want to give up their body to come here. Keep in mind for a long time they had very strict laws here about certain kinds of technology. But all of that is changing."

Sakari didn't know what to do. She didn't know where to go. None of the other worlds interested her much, and Ebyx didn't interest her if Liv wasn't there. There was also — and all travelers knew this — a certain gamble. The world you decided to go to, when you began your journey, may not match the world you arrive at. In that time there could be natural, political, or cultural upheaval. She felt like her future was a dangerous void, a landscape of pure ambiguity. Any decision would help. She avoided talking to Liv for a couple of weeks.

She was preoccupied with the possibilities, or the lack them. She could disobey the order to evacuate, she could stay here, live out the rest of her life in the demise of Aok's biosphere. But the Node wouldn't be connected anymore. She would live in complete silence and likely starve to death. In one way this was the most concrete path, but it was also the most concretely terrifying. If she simply picked a world that seemed nice, she'd arrive in a place she didn't know, and she didn't know what she would do with the rest of her life. The place might have some aspect of its culture she finds repellent. She might be unable to acclimate to certain customs. She would no longer he herself, she would be a new person.

She didn't really need her body anyway. So she would leave, now that her parents were gone, she would Return to Ebyx. She told Liv that she'd decided and Liv was excited. There was work to do, preparations to be made, it would take several months.

On the day of the Return she bid goodbye to the freezing, howling wind, and climbed up the impossibly cold rungs of the ladder to the little room in the Node. She turned on the heater and checked the dials. This is where her body would stay. As the evacuation ended and the power failed, her body, the remains anyway, would be buried in ice. She'd been given detailed instructions about what to do, what to plug in, how to set things up, this would take hours. Then she would talk to a couple of scientists on other worlds, to check that she'd done everything correctly. She wasn't nervous anymore.

It was a deep and dreamless sleep.

When Sakari woke up she tasted metal. She wasn't cold or hot — she felt smooth, she felt symmetrical. Liv stood over her, looking down, her face wrinkling into a smile. "Hello", Liv said.

2018-03-13 20:30 fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


They would have to get a camera crew past the militarized zones around the ruined city. M. thought he knew a way, he thought he could do it. He was in contact with one of the guards on patrol, who desperately needed money. "You don't even have to do anything," he told the guard, "all you have to do is, very briefly, absolutely nothing." The man agreed — for a large sum of money he would look the other way and let the broadcast crew through the checkpoint, knowing he would lose his job, maybe worse. "It will be fine," M. lied to him, "just claim ignorance, they can't do anything about it."

The crew would go in as light as possible — just three of them. M. would do the reporting, Orddot would take care of sound and setup, and Heaika would shoot it all. They'd bring enough film for maybe a full day of footage. That should be enough, he thought.

On the morning they were scheduled to leave, Heaika got cold feet. He said he was ill, but M. knew better. Now M. had to scramble — if he was still going, he needed to find a replacement. Nobody would be as good as Heaika. And M. was angry that someone else would know know about their project, it was important that it remain secret, not just for legal reasons, but if the viewers knew what was coming it would lessen the impact. He wanted it, he expected it, to have enormous impact.

The first cameraman he called didn't answer. This was too bad, M. thought, since he was decent. The second one he tried was out of town on a job and wouldn't be back for a week. There was one more cameraman, obviously not his first choice, named Kallik. He had a reputation — he was difficult. M. called and Kallik picked up.

"Are you doing anything? Are you available for a job?"

"Couldn't get a hold of Viktor, your first choice, hunh?" Awkward laughter from Kallik.

"Look, this could be an really important job. Unusual."


"Maybe. But I can't tell you what it is until you agree to it."

"When do you need me?"

"Today. In a few hours, in fact. For three days — maybe longer."

"It's a secret?"

"Yes. You know my work, I wouldn't mislead you. Yeah, there are good reasons."

"OK… I agree. I'll do it. Not just because I need the money…"

"I have your word?"

"Yes, you have my word… So where are we going?"

"The ruined city." M. said, he heard Kallik whistle on the other end.

"This legal?" Kallik asked.

"Not in the slightest." M. said.

An hour later they met in an old cottage on the edge of the road, one of those abandoned structures built before the road was carved through the hills, when the area had been farmland. It was damp and musty and poorly lit, but it was close to the ruined city. From here they would take terrain vehicles across the flat, open plain until they came to the fencing that surrounded the city. This area was less guarded than the opposite side, but still guarded. "When we get to the checkpoint, our man will let us through. Keep your face masks on, no doubt he'll be questioned after the broadcast. Then we'll head to the coordinates, if we get separated for whatever reason, meet at the coordinates."

They rode out onto the dry ground, scrubland, once fertile farming and before that, probably jungle like everything else. The dust and the sun and the crisp air sharpened their awareness of distance across the field to the tall fencing. M. was nervous because they were out in the open. As they got closer they saw a gap in the fence, but blocked with several metal bars attached to a large weighted lever. There was a small guard station, wooden, roof stained and weedy, just beyond it. This was the farthest point from the center of the city, and the least watched.

A man stepped out from the station, clearly having heard the sound of the approaching engines. They could see him raise his hand up to shade his eyes, the sun was bright now. The guard put his weight onto the lever, raising the metal bars via an antique geared mechanism. Faded tassels attached to the bars, once official and brightly warning, limply waved.

They slowed down through the checkpoint, M. giving the guard a minimal nod of acknowledgment. The guard gave no response whatsoever, other than promptly lifting up the handle connected to the gate, then closing it with a brittle clanking sound immediately after the vehicles were through.

Quickly the road became different. The foliage on the sides were lush, jungle that had been there for a million seasons, and only infrequently beaten back. They reduced speed, eventually crisscrossing the large snarled bundles of vines, fallen trees, and inexplicable rubble. Soon after that, they had to stop entirely. "We won't be able to get the vehicles any farther down the road, from here we're on foot." M. said.

Kallik began filming. M. and Orddot hacked their way through leaves and vines. The road was palpable below them, there was some strange magnetic feeling that they were still on it. It was an irrational but unquestionable sensation that they could not become lost. When the jungle thinned, they saw the city ahead of them, jagged shades of gray against the clear blue sky, like old alien teeth poking up through the planet, the shapes of which were in no way familiar. There was nothing in their world that looked like this, but here it was.

M.'s narration was planned. And he planned for deviations. In fact he hoped for them, for entertaining, insightful, gripping deviations that would make his program the most popular ever produced. Soon, though, he was aware that his tone drifted from the preemptive broadcast victory he had imagined. His tone was becoming muted, his excitement was becoming co-opted.

They entered the city over a long bridge whose integrity was questionable. The places where it hadn't fallen away seemed solid to them, but the amount remaining wasn't encouraging. "Like it was carved from a single piece of something, and much of it has rotted away," M. remarked. It was difficult to talk through this — he believed the bridge was real but in a different way, concrete and physical, yet the underlying concepts of it were foreign to him. The architecture was an unknown language, instead of inspiring drama, it produced a dream-like incoherence. They were on a bridge, it was crumbling — it wasn't disintegrating exactly, but it was dangerous perhaps — and yet it wasn't. M.'s narration started to ramble.

After the bridge Kallik turned off the camera and they planned their next route. They considered the inevitability of needing sleep. Since they didn't understand the layout of the city, and were unable to anticipate anywhere appropriate to rest, they would have to improvise. The priority was to capture evidence or gather footage of "The Dwellers".

There had been rumors of someone, or something, living in the city for generations. Maybe people. Maybe not people. Long ago, when their ancestors returned, they brought with them helpers, intelligent, smaller creatures with several arms, who were said to have lived side by side with them. But there was no actual record of this, it was simply spoken of, a memory of a memory. The stories about it varied widely, as you'd expect from fables, hearsay, and blatant confabulation. Since traveling to the ruined city had been forbidden for as long as anyone knew, the stories became more imaginative over time, piling up and mutating into absurd fantasies. Adults discounted them as ridiculous.

Recently however, there had been an incident that rekindled interest in the city, people began to tell those stories again.

The town nearest the ruined city had filmed fantastic lights, dancing around the shapes of the relics, illuminating the striations of ancient structures, as if it were a pattern, or a reflection, of an enormous broadcast inside the city where no one was supposed to live. The recordings of this event spread quickly through the networks, viewership had never been higher. People were openly reminded of the ruined city, a place that had become blurred by time, almost forgotten — it had become just another feature of the landscape. Now there was an onslaught of programs about the city, and it seemed to dominate every conversation.

The lights returned twice recently, captured in greater detail.

M. had argued with the producers the very next day: they needed to go into the city. Impossible, the producers said, no one goes into the city, everyone knows that you can't go in. More than just law, they reminded him, it simply wasn't done. The stigma of the ruined city stands for the past — for a civilization that was the enemy, that forced their people to flee, the city contained all the things that would remind their viewers of this — and it might still contain things that could cause physical harm. It just wouldn't be done, the producers said. But M. decided to go. He didn't know what he'd be able to film, or how dangerous it may be, or what punishment he'd suffer. He knew that the program he put together would have to be good, it would have to be great, it would be the only forgiveness for his unforgivable social breach.

M. told Orddot and Kallik they'd have to press on, into the darkness if necessary. There was no reason for being in the city unless they were going to take risks. He had bought some illegal stimulants from a drug dealer, and he handed a pill to each. Kallik rolled his eyes. "I guess we're in it now, hunh?"

They had a basic sense of where the lights had originated. They'd studied maps, most of them forbidden as well. Each time it had been in almost the same place. It wasn't quite the center of the city, close however.

They walked in a weighty silence. There were no sounds of birds or other animals normally heard in the jungle. Occasionally they'd hear part of a building crumble, a piece of stone, or whatever it was made of exactly, slide off and crash into the piles of detritus on the ground. M. was amazed anything was left, this had been happening for countless thousands of seasons. More of the buildings appeared intact than he expected. Previously all he'd seen of the interior of the city were badly done drawings. There seemed to be a few different materials used to construct the buildings, those that looked better were made out of some kind of metal that was now stained.

There was an odor of wet decay, inevitably elements of the jungle had crept in, bringing with it rot and haphazard growth. But he didn't understand why the entire city wasn't under a impenetrable blanket of vines and soil, much of it was clear of any vegetation.

"Did your hair just stand on end? By that last building I mean?" Orddot asked.

"Yes. You didn't imagine it. Maybe there's a power source. I don't know how. Maybe this has to do with the lights." M. said.

Soon the sensation returned. They paused this time. Kallik put the camera up and started to film, then stopped, puzzled, put the camera down and examined it — then tried again. "I don't know what's wrong with the camera, it won't engage." They took turns examining it. The camera would begin filming then stop. "Try your still camera," M. said. Kallik was able to trigger the shutter once, then it too wouldn't engage. "Frustrating. We're sunk if we can't get footage. Let's get as close to our destination as we can, we don't have much choice." M. said.

The sensation subsided as they moved along. Shortly afterwards Kallik announced the camera was working again. "Strange. Try filming," M. said. The film camera was also working. They repeated this experiment at the next spot they felt the peculiar sensation. "Same thing, cameras don't work."

The sun inched downwards, Cbyx rose directly opposite, creating that familiar cross-cutting of shadows appropriate to the season, but here, with the often immense buildings, the lines were distraught and long, cutting and overlapping in ways that created vertigo. Each man winced and tried to focus on a small part of the ground in front of themselves. Frequently M. took out his rough, hand drawn map and tried to orient himself — it was becoming more difficult as the buildings became denser and closer together.

"I think we're close," he said.

"What was that?!" shouted Kallik. He was looking up. M. and Orddot then looked up too, but saw nothing.

"I didn't see anything, what did you see?" M. asked.

"I don't… It was… It was a large bird I think."

"You think? Was it a bird?"

"I've never seen a bird that large. Not a bird like that. But it was flapping. At least I think it was flapping, it was odd." Kallik said.

M. and Orddot were silent, they didn't know how to respond. They believed Kallik. "OK, let's shoot some footage, and let's be ready for tonight." M. said. He pulled out his notes and they began filming. M. soon encountered the same problem he'd experienced earlier, while he could describe his surroundings and the camera could capture the images, there was essentially nothing happening — words couldn't convey the peculiarly muted feelings created by the architecture around them. The scale of the buildings were larger than anything M. had ever seen, larger than anything ever built. He struggled with ways to make that scale clear.

"There it is, I saw it," Orddot yelled. Kallik pointed the camera upwards quickly. The camera caught the last moment of something in the sky, something that moved behind the top of a building, something flying. "Were those legs?" M. asked. They waited, the camera still pointed up, in the last of the daylight, but it did not reappear.

"We're basically in the same area where the lights were coming from… what now." Kallik lowered the camera and fiddled with the night settings. M. and Orddot put on their head lamps which were dim red lights that bobbed as they spoke. "We wait, keep alert."

There was a slow increase of wind, that hummed through the corridors created by the buildings, the sound was symmetrical and oddly artificial. Cbyx cast a glow which provided enough light that even without their head lamps they could make out the tops of the buildings and the shapes of each other like black geometries. They waited. M. tried not to glance at his watch, knowing that it would exacerbate the drag of time. Around them the wind continued to increase, slowly, but eventually reaching a point that they, almost simultaneously, became panicked. Now they had to shout to hear each other. "We need to find shelter," yelled Kallik. "No, we need to be out in the open to film." His impulse, like theirs, was to bolt for cover, but he knew if they did, they'd be stuck until morning.

The next few minutes were tense. They were worried about being hit by debris, which rattled around them, or swirled in clouds down the canyons between the buildings. The particles kicked up from the wind blocked out most of the light from Cbyx.

"We can't stay here!" Orddot yelled.

"Just a few more minutes!" M. was unwilling to surrender his chances for footage.

There was a blinding shock of brightness — suddenly one of the buildings near them had become a column of pure light. When their eyes adjusted, they saw a pillar of white light shooting up into the sky. And from the tops of buildings nearby they saw, now clearly, more of the flying things collecting in groups, excitedly swirling in the air around the column. They were shaped similar to men, smaller perhaps, squatter, but their wings were like jungle bats. The flailing of their wings and legs as they went into and out of the light was disturbingly familiar, as if huge, obscene moths gathered in large numbers around a fire. Their frantic movements through the light caused it to pulse and variate in the sky above.

That was all M. could remember. He didn't know how they ended up in the field outside the city, laying in warm sunlight and the smell of fresh grass. His watch was broken, stopped. Immediately he looked around for the cameras. Kallik was rubbing his head, but still appeared to have all of his equipment. Orddot likewise looked confused, sitting up and wincing. "Did you get it?" M. asked Kallik, "did you get it all?" Kallik nodded, "I got it."

When they arrived back at their studio they found police and officials waiting for them. M. was ready for this possibility, his lawyer was prepared to counter their objections with enough jargon and ancient law — enough to buy some time — to get the program on the air. The strategy worked, the police and officials demanded the footage, but the arguments forced the mechanisms of law to slowly churn. While M. and Orddot and Kallik sat in a cell that night, their film was developed. When they were released, and a trial date set, they rushed to the studio to see what they'd captured.

M. wiped a sweaty sheen from his forehead. The footage was unusable. There was sound, his narration was there, then hours of howling wind. But the pictures… Other than motion on the edges of the frame, the film looked as if it had been taken in a mist, a pulsing opaqueness that infrequently revealed the forms of buildings, tantalizingly, but mostly just swirling fields of color. And the still images were exactly the same. There was no argument of it being ruined in development, it had not been. There was something in the city that obfuscated their recordings. M. focused on a single short series of frames, towards the end, where he believed he could see a few of the flying things on the edge, the motion of it he could identify as what he'd seen, what they'd seen, it was unmistakable to him. "That could be anything." One of the other producers said. No one saw anything meaningful. The films were considered a total loss.

M. was suspended. He determined he would write their experiences down, that there was still an audience for it. That they'd sneaked into the city was now widely known and assumed to be true. Although some began to argue that they could've staged the whole thing. How did they get out without passing through any checkpoints? Doubt grew.

A few weeks after the lights began, they stopped. There were no explanations. Travelers noted, however, that roads normally in the vicinity of the city were closed and diverted. Farmers in the area noted that a wall was now being built around the city, a gigantic wall.

2018-02-20 15:28 fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


The world was loud. Two children playing had discovered the stones. We began hanging the stones from the trees and bushes after we realized the stones muted sounds. When we spoke around them we were only as loud as a whisper. What would happen if we put all the stones in a circle around the village, we wondered. But it didn't work like we expected, as long as the stones touched the ground. We found out that if we hung them up — and if we hung up enough of them — the village was completely isolated from outside noise. Over time the buildings and airports and trains and mining and construction got closer and closer to us. It seemed like it happened overnight. Maybe we were asleep all that time, maybe for us it was the same as overnight, I don't know. I remember the day when we noticed the noise — although the noise had been there, in the back, growing, making us anxious — there was a day when a new airship, thundering overhead, no doubt traveling city to city, caused collective ear clamping, the entire village slapping hands onto the sides of heads. I looked out onto the village square and I saw everyone simultaneously scowl then cover their ears and then we looked around at one another and understood we could take no more. But what could we do? We couldn't stop the world. In fact there was every indication our village would become more drawn into this never ending expansion, that we would become as loud as the world, or be rolled over in the process. But the noise — it was driving us all crazy. We didn't know what would happen with the rest of the world, but we thought at least we might get rolled over in peace and quiet. We were enjoying this new found solitude when one day two men from some institute arrived. I don't know how they heard about the stones, the stones themselves would've prevented them from hearing it. They wanted to know how the stones worked. We told them the little we knew. The men seemed wary. Will they take them away? We asked ourselves. The men would stand around a stone, staring down at it, writing things down and saying the word "TEST" over and over again. Then yesterday the men left. We worry more men will return, and we worry that someone will want to mine the stones. But what can we do?

2018-01-11 22:49 fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


They would go to Ckiqs. They would build rockets the way rockets used to be built and they would go to Ckiqs.

They discovered a signal. They noticed it once they'd built wireless, and once they pointed antennae at Ckiqs. This did not happen quickly, it had been several generations since they arrived. As their villages grew, and their farms flourished, and their populations increased, little by little technology from that previous world, abandoned, left to rot and rust, was harvested and recreated. This wasn't easy, there was resistance. One group left the villages and moved south where they met a separate, uncontacted settlement, founded by lost pilgrims. And some of the resistance was violent. A faction had tried to destroy the city and its technology with bombs they'd retrieved from the city itself.

But over time, as crops were harvested and children were born, people grew up learning the newer ways and embraced the newer things their ancestors had been afraid of.

And they expanded them. The villages became towns, one of the towns became a new city. They connected these places with wireless for the harvest machines and the machines that kept the jungle back, and they built themselves trains so that all the towns and the new city could easily ship things and people back and forth. Great trains now roared through the jungle, stacks expelling smoke, twisting along cliffs, overlooking valleys dotted with land reworked into farms.

After they'd created wireless networks they wondered what would happen if they pointed it at Ckiqs. They received a very clear, repeating transmission.

At first they didn't recognize the language. They didn't know it was the language of The Sagas, something the people of the ruined city had spoken. The ruined city was an alien mythology and culture, something their ancestors would've encountered and lived side by side with, but not their own.

Adam's parents spent their lives studying this culture. Even his own name "Adam" had come from it. When he was growing up people constantly mispronounced his name, so now he lived with that mispronunciation because it was easier than correction.

Adam inherited his parents' work. He was an expert of the people of the ruined city, the lost civilization of Ekiqs, or as they said "Ebyx". And yet it was almost a full season before he was brought into the laboratory to hear the transmission. They simply didn't know where to begin.

When he entered the long utilitarian building where the scientists sat on benches, their equipment stacked up around them, multicolored wires snaking around and under nearly everything, they asked him passively if he was willing to listen. Then they flipped a big flat button and a deep rumbling noise came from the speakers they'd placed at the front of the table and haphazardly on the seats. The scientists did not react, having heard the transmission a hundred or a thousand times by now.

From the static, low buildup, there clearly emerged a voice, over-enunciating, saying words that he felt were familiar to him but which he didn't immediately understand. The voice spoke these words exactly the same way, in the same pattern, three times then stopped.

"It'll start again momentarily", one of the scientists said wearily, "the same way, always the same way."

"Where is it coming from?"

"A mountainous region of Ckiqs. Or, at least we think they're mountains." One scientist shot a hard glance at the other, causing the first to wince and shrug.

It took him a moment to transform the actual sounds into words since, except for his parents, he'd never heard anyone speak it. And not this way. The words, he realized, were from The Sagas, stories people of the ruined city believed were sacred.


"I know what this means," Adam said. Excitement swept through the laboratory. "This is a phrase from one of — or the most — sacred book of the ruined city. It's assumed… or tends to mean… that their people came from the stars and will someday return. This is much different than our own traditions. They never believed they were from this planet at all, it was never truly home for them. Whereas we know our people originated here, and that fleeing was necessary. We always knew we would return — they always knew they would leave. This phrase is a reminder that their home isn't Ekiqs, that they're from the stars. Their home is the stars."

He saw confusion on the scientists faces. "But why would that be broadcast from the surface of Ckiqs?" Adam recognized the words, the origin of the phrase, but it didn't actually answer their questions, simply created new ones. He apologized.

"We don't know what's going to happen next", the scientist admitted. "Find out everything you can about that phrase", he said, "spend time in the ruined city if you have to, we will make sure you are given permission."

Access to the ruined city was strictly controlled. The Council said they wanted to protect people by restricting access since it held technology well beyond their understanding. But Adam knew the real reason was that the Council wanted complete control over when and how certain technologies were resurrected. Things hidden in the city could shatter their nascent society.

His parents made frequent visits in their own time, before it was cutoff. Helping his parents, he'd been there twice, when he was a child. The strange and stark deserted buildings, seemingly defying gravity, and the labyrinthine nature of it had excited and frightened him. He'd never been given the broad kind of access they once had, the Council said that his parents had extracted enough material for a lifetime of study — there was no reason to go back, they claimed.

He never challenged that decision. But now he would have to dig deeper. Of course he could consult all of the written records and artifacts collected, and of course he could use his parents' work to help him. But the question became larger than academic work. What was the relationship between The Sagas and Ckiqs and the abandonment of the city?

He was given permission by the Council immediately, along with a stern cautionary lecture. And he wouldn't go alone, he would be accompanied by a marshal named Iissaq. This is for your own safety, he was told. He knew this wasn't completely true, but it was true enough that he conceded.

He worried about Iissaq interfering. He needed to explore, he needed to follow his instincts, he needed to follow some imperceptible stream of connections through the city. He would have to go far into that labyrinth that scared him as a child.

He and Iissaq left in a Skimmer one morning. It landed in the city on the same pad his parents had used many seasons ago, it was the same, nothing had changed. The walkway, which they'd pieced together with whatever they could find, still looked utilitarian and sturdy. As he went down to where they spent so much time gathering and planning, he remembered the sunrise that first morning he was in the city, as it split between the irregular and often towering buildings, he wondered how his ancestors had managed to exist in the same world as this alien place and alien people. "Snowfoot" was the term they had used to refer to his ancestors.

Iissaq wanted specifics about where they were going and what they were doing. Adam didn't know. He made something up. He would have to spend time retracing old ground. Something might present itself, something of the nature of place would have lead him. He would have to rely on serendipity, he would have to hunt and gather ideas. Soon enough he was used to having Iissaq quietly at his side, rarely asking questions. When Iissaq did speak the inquiries were general and not particularly confrontational or pointed. But he knew Iissaq was watching closely — the Council would hear everything Adam did and saw.

He spent two days moving from point to point, places his parents knew, a few he'd seen before, many he hadn't. He consulted their notes as he went. He was walking the steps his parents walked, trying to think the things they thought as if everything were new. He kept the phrase and way that transmitted voice had pronounced it in the back of his mind.

They went to the museum, a city in the city, a place of multiple levels and too large to have been thoroughly explored by anyone, even his parents. In many ways it was unclear where the museum started and ended. His parents suspected it was a group of institutions, for convenience they called it "museum".

Tracing their original routes he noticed something different than their records. Where there was a single path, he saw two, as if an avenue had since been revealed. Considering the amount of debris and partial collapses, it was possible his parents had never seen this fork. He and Iissaq entered a transitional space leading to other adjacent spaces. The architecture became markedly different, from what he knew of the city it looked obviously older. From the markings on several parts of the exposed walls he understood he was in an area designated as "Codex". Here he found a very large cache of "stones" — what his parents called the rectangular, heavy, cold, flat gray tablets they'd discovered in various other locations of the city. It was a mystery what these had been used for, the best guess was that they were used in some kind of social exchange, perhaps like currency.

As they continued the surroundings looked older still, as if the "Codex" was built around something else. Structures inside of structures. Soon they came upon a massive arch that delineated the two architectural styles. And on the arch was the word "Cyclopaedia". He knew this word, he'd seen it a number of times, it was an important part of the city, an important fixture of the culture and authority of the city. If this was the "Cyclopaedia", it was a major find. His excitement rose. He hurried forward, Iissaq indulging him. The corridors were mostly intact but complicated and difficult to navigate. He tried working inwards, trying carefully not to get caught moving in circles, yet he had to backtrack several times. And there were cabinets here, more cabinets than he could count. And there were broad cases, many smashed, holding items he could not identify, things that were ancient, broken, scattered, or obscured. It was a frustrating amount of evidence he could not understand.

He stopped to inspect the cabinets once in a while, and he could see they were engineered to hold something as wide and tall as his hand. Whatever may have been in there was now long gone. Now there was only a fine white dust. It was disappointing. He was tempted to retrace his steps and be more thorough, but he pushed on — feeling that Iissaq, although quiet, was a temporal pressure.

The corridors opened up into a large vaulted area where a surprisingly small building sat in the center, a building that was radically different and older than the surrounding construction. On the side of the structure was a metal sign. He brushed off inches of dust. Written on it was something he knew was a date, a date he believed was early in the city's history. Taking a moment to decipher the rest of the sign, he believed it said the structure was the home of "Quiddity" creator of the Cyclopaedia. Adam tried to open the door but it crumbled in his hands, turning into a pile of desiccated shards. Iissaq grabbed his arm and pulled him back, "this structure is dangerously unstable". Adam didn't doubt it, but he wished he could've gone in, even if it did collapse around him.

He regretted not knowing more, wondering what it must've been like here a long time ago. Then he noticed similar but much larger plaques on the walls, the far walls of the surrounding chamber. They seemed intact but caked with dust. Cleaning off corners of a few, they appeared to be something like gigantic metal broadsheets, a format he knew the city used for periodicals. He read a few lines and his eyes grew wide.

"This is what we've come to see, we'll need to spend time cleaning these off," he told Iissaq. Iissaq reluctantly helped him, poking at the walls tentatively.

The dates were vital. Adam saw a progression, these large metal declarations plotted the rise of the "Cyclopaedia" from its beginning. More importantly the other information on these gigantic broadsheet reproductions — which they'd probably considered extraneous — gave him a sense of the world outside the Cyclopaedia at the time. He read about a revolution. He read about a space program. He read about political assassinations. He read about restrictions on certain kinds of technology, something called "robotics".

A repugnant nationalism dominated the tone towards the end of the visible date range. Evidently, "The North" became independent and they were enemies. But he knew these people of "The North", the enemies, were his ancestors. There was a chilling series of short, seemingly offhand references in the last two sheets about cultural purification and a group that called themselves "Pilots". Without more of these kind of periodicals he was unable to understand exactly who they were. But he'd read enough that he was able to piece together a more complete picture than his parents had done, and using the information they'd already collected he believed he had an idea of what really happened.

He wasn't sure he wanted to tell anyone.

At the end of that day he told Iissaq they wouldn't need to return the next morning. Iissaq raised his eyebrows and took this as confirmation of some reportable conclusion. Adam regretted this, perhaps he could've strung Iissaq along for a few weeks, investigating alternate narratives, seeking details and evidential trails through the physical and historical maze. But he didn't have the energy. He understood the ancient city and its people now, and he was glad his parents weren't alive to read the things he'd read.

2017-12-31 21:29 short-story science-fiction return-to-ebyx fiction


Past mountains, around bogs, across broad plains of dry scrub that could easily cut you, he went. Hanging from his neck was an ancient thing, from their past world, and he didn't know how it worked but it did work. It was a Navigator. When he held it up to the shape of Ckiqs in the sky, then Ckiqs was there, it told him what direction he was going and how far away he was from where they landed several generations ago, the place they started. It told him in a whisper, it was a gentle voice that he could even hear in the areas where great winds roared or even in the middle of a storm. For him the voice was reassuring, and in the times when he felt anxious it calmed him.

He'd traveled across a large amount of the wild places — the places in the far north or the far south, away from the crisscross of train tracks and towns and the overhead buzz of Skimmers. Far above themselves satellites pinged mercilessly back to the towns and cities and trains telling everyone where everyone was. But not like the Navigator, not with poetry.

His walking was like a story. Except for the Navigator he relied on the skills taught to him by his mother and father. Their great-greats brought this knowledge with them from Aok. They didn't land with the others — because of some error they landed far away from the others. It was a long time before they found the villages that sprung up in the meantime. They tried to settle down like the others, they tried for a generation, but there was nothing for them in the villages except noise and interruptions and Councils and arguments.

He was born in the small space under a boulder, sheltered from a rain storm. When he came of age he bid his mother and father goodbye, they walked one way, he another. Later, when he passed through a small remote town, he stopped for a while and he met his wife. She was reluctant to live as a wanderer since she had grown up in the village, but she loved him, and she knew he couldn't stay.

Their first season was easy, the weather was good and there was plenty of food. She became pregnant and they found a nice area by a lake to have the child. They would stay there until the child was strong enough to travel, like his parents had done with him. He built a shelter with trees he cut, he put traps out and he fished, collecting as much food as he could.

When it came time for her to give birth he knew something was wrong. The baby wasn't in the right position, and he tried everything he could, that he'd been taught, but it went badly and he didn't have enough experience to know what to do. For two days his wife struggled, but the baby was stillborn. His wife didn't stop bleeding. He put them together in a pyre somewhere that had a nice view of the mountains, so that they would always see.

He regretted things now, he regretted his nature, he regretted not staying with her in town. But he also knew it would've been impossible.

Then for months he rode the trains that went between the wide areas that used to be jungle. He thought of the trains as great serpents, winding their routes along the ground and under hills, and up and over them too. And the trains slinked across the soil and they sometimes rested in huge yards with one another to keep warm. And he watched these monsters and thought that he should get back to walking the places that were forgotten, away from this, but he found solace in the speed of the trains and in the particular nighttime skies of the spaces between stations.

One day he noticed a young man following him, hanging back, but working his way across the same trains and through the same train yards. Equ hid and waited for him.

"Why are you following me?" He confronted the man.

Startled, the man said "I'm not, I'm not following you… I'm studying you." The young man explained he was an academic, that he was studying wanderers.

"Studying? What for?" Equ asked.

"For when you're gone, when your kind of people are gone, when we don't wander any more, so that we'll have a record, so that we'll understand," the man said.

"If you really want to understand then you'll have to travel with me. I cannot tell you, not with words."

The young man balked at this, he said he couldn't just leave, that he had responsibilities. How can you understand if you can't sacrifice anything, Equ thought. But he didn't ask him this because he thought it would be tiring and futile. Then Equ wondered if he too was unwilling to sacrifice, because all he knew was the Navigator, that if he wanted to understand the young man he too would have to sacrifice something.

"But why do you want to understand? Why does it matter?" Equ asked.

"So that we don't forget, so that we know how people used to live." The young man said.

"I live this way now, I am not yet dead. If you want to understand, walk into the world." And Equ reached around his neck and removed the Navigator. He handed it to the young man and he said "this will tell you the words you want to know."

That night was the quietest night Equ had ever known.

2017-10-24 22:18 fiction short-story science-fiction return-to-ebyx


As cities were built, as rockets were again made and traveled to Ckiqs, the tribes admired by the separatists lived in the remote southern part of the world, living by the old ways and avoiding contact. For them time had stopped. The separatists believed change had come too fast, that reaching into the dead civilization of the ruined city polluted fundamentals of their own society. They reached out to the isolated south, emissaries were cautiously sent. The tribes fueled their ideas, and encouraged them to resist progress. Soon there were voices of dissent quoting the myths and stories of the old ways, insisting the cities and towns, even farming, were wrong.

The response to this movement was "How". How would they go backwards, how would they take away all the things they'd gotten used to using and having. No child now knew how to make a canoe and hunt and live under the stars. Houses sheltered them. In the south, the separatists said, it's colder and the ocean is big and the people there live as the ancestors had. But how would we move everyone, realistically how would we live life as our ancestors had? As the separatists became more adamant and more aggressive, so too the response, and so they became less concerned with moving everyone and more concerned with moving themselves.

Then go, said the Council, thinking some would go and a large number wouldn't. But most did.

Ulla and her brother and their parents went south. The ship that took them dropped them off with the rest of their group on a cold, barren beach where a man named Teeq greeted them. As they wound their way through the wet dense sparse forest to his village, with trees like they'd never seen before, great trees that were straight and reached up into the sky, and the ground around them sparse and rocky and covered in moss. None of these things they'd seen in their own towns or in the jungle around them. And the wind, it didn't seem to ever stop here, they had trouble hearing one another because it was so loud especially down on the beach. One girl, a young girl, began to cry. Her parents told her to stop, but Ulla could see they were almost crying too. Where were their warm homes and their radios and their cabinets full of food? Teeq lead them, walking quickly, but he said nothing, he offered no reassurances.

They could smell the settlement before they saw it. It was the smell of fish and rancid leather and camp smoke and whatever had been cooking in it, something gamy and greasy. Maybe it was something they caught in the forest, maybe it was one of the things that lived in the ocean, one of the things Ulla heard about, the big things with the tusks. Ulla asked her parents where they would sleep. Her parents told her to keep quiet. Teeq did not turn to them or speak to them.

The people of the settlement were thin and moved slowly. Ulla would describe them as another color, although they were the same race as she was and their ancestors were the same ancestors as hers. It was as if they had less blood. And as the day wore on and she tried to ignore the cold she began to feel bloodless too. When night started she knew it would get even colder, she could feel it everywhere in her. Her parents did not look at her. Her brother looked at the ground.

Teeq and the leader of their group, Keltah, say down in front of a fire and spoke for several hours. Teeq was wearing coverings made of skins, maybe the skins of one of those ocean tusk things. Ulla and her brother were wearing the clothes they'd always worn, with extra jackets that were new, that would've been too hot back home. But here they weren't warm enough.

Teeq and Keltah stood. Keltah came back to them as they stood shivering. He tried to twist his face into a smile, she could tell it was forced, like her brother's smile, like the little girl's smile. They would all have to sleep together in the center of the settlement, Keltah said, in the lodge, which was built by banding lots of branches down and covering them with mud. The people in the settlement would help them with food for a week, but it was a hard season so this was already a great sacrifice. After this they would have to find their own way. Teeq would help them, and Keltah had lived with these people for half a season. "This is why we're here, we knew it would be hard," her parents said to her and her brother. But Ulla missed her pet rattiq and missed the hot breeze of the sunset, the jungle beyond town and the noises it made. She heard no animals here, maybe one, a bird or something in the distance making a sound like a throttled terrible scream.

They slept badly, if at all. How is it possible to live like this, she heard one woman mutter, we're piled up together like animals keeping each other warm. In the morning, by the fire, they chewed on strips of dried meat that had a weird aftertaste. Then the men were called out by Teeq, they would go with him to hunt. And the women were grouped together by a woman from the settlement named Jiiru, who took them to gather things from the forest. She told them which mushrooms to pick and they collected moss from the sides of certain trees she said they could use for fire or in stew. When one woman picked the wrong kind of mushroom Jiiru struck her and yelled at her, telling her that these could've killed us.

When the men got back they looked tired and depressed. Teeq appeared angry and took Keltah aside. When Keltah returned he told the men they would have to do better tomorrow. All there was to eat tonight, since they'd caught nothing, was a stew of the mushrooms and moss they'd picked and some roots that the women had dug up.

It was a hard night. Harder than the first. They understood what they really fought for against the Council. Now that they had it, some of them had doubts. Some of them didn't, and they tried to convince the rest with quiet persuasive talk that it was only a matter of time, only a matter of adjustment. Ulla's parents fell somewhere in the middle, they didn't complain but they weren't telling anyone else they it would simply take a little this or that.

The next day began like the last. The men went away. The women went into the forest. This time the women gathered leaves for tea and they picked berries where they could find them and they went to a grove where a hard small fruit hung low on gnarled trees. Ulla bit into one and it was acrid and mealy. Jiiru was meaner that day, she yelled at several of the other women telling them they were fat and lazy.

Later the men returned with bad news. Ulla's brother had been killed in the hunt, they said, he'd become tangled in a rope attached to a spear, and he was pulled into the frigid waters. By the time they were able to get him out he was dead. Teeq told everyone this very solemnly. He stood over the hat and boots of Ulla's brother and told them what happened, as if it had happened a thousand years ago. Her brother's body, Teeq said, had been thrown into the ocean where it would feed what fed them. When Ulla's mother heard this she shrieked and hit Ulla's father who had to hold her down. Tomorrow, Teeq said, they would hunt better but tonight they would not eat. There was a large fire that night and Ulla's parents wept as several of the men from the settlement danced the correct dance to make sure their son's spirit went to the right place. Ulla wasn't sure where that place was, they seemed to know though. The men in masks danced and jumped through the fire and all Ulla could do was miss her brother.

After Ckiqs rose and fell they knew the week was over. Their first week. Keltah that morning brought them together and told them they were leaving the settlement and moving south, to a place that Teeq had shown him, a place that used to be a settlement where the land and those waters were well known, and there were even a few structures left he said. Ulla's parents hadn't said much in the last few days, they looked tired. Ulla was frightened.

They were given several canoes. This was a huge gift that had to be appreciated, Keltah said. Teeq lead them down the coast through choppy waters and they stayed two nights on beaches near trees that looked alive with branches reaching out over them and at night with the flicker of the fire alive and angry. To them, to Teeq's people, everything was alive. So too to Ulla. When you are hungry and you don't know where you'll sleep and bad things happen the world is alive.

The next morning they arrived at the abandoned old settlement. They could see where the fire had been, they could see the outline of the huts in the dirty rubble of the site, where there must've been dancing, appeasing the spirit of the birds or the fish or the things that lived deep in the ocean. There was a single standing structure, the remains of a lodge, but with big bare spots open to the wind. Keltah said they would fix it and that's where they would spend their nights until they could get other things built. They gathered wood and packed mud onto it, and that night they ate some fish they caught with Teeq. They did as much as possible with Teeq's help, since he told them he had to return to his people soon. Also during that week one of the men, Imnek, fell down the side of a hill and broke his lower leg. Teeq helped them set it, but he said that the man would never be the same and they would have to decide if they wanted to carry his weight, feeding him, or if he should be left out to die. Keltah and some other men were angry with Teeq for saying this, so Teeq left quickly and quietly one night, taking one of the canoes.

Ulla worked with several of the women building a second hut. She enjoyed this, and they were proud of it when they were done. But food remained a problem. They were tired, and grew more tired every day. Sometimes their fishing went well, but it was never enough fish for everybody, and they started to fight. At some point Imnek stopped eating.

One night there was a terrible storm. They did not know it was approaching, so they were unprepared. The second hut they built fell apart in the rain, they huddled together in the repaired lodge, but part of that was destroyed too. After the storm passed they'd realized the canoes hadn't been properly put away and were now gone, taken by the wind. Everything else they had collected or built was also gone or destroyed. They were worse off now than when they started, thought Ulla. And it kept getting colder.

Keltah and several of the men and women who had been most vocal before now said they must send help from Teeq's people. They must journey up to the other settlement. However, without canoes this would be difficult. A few people volunteered. Ulla's parents had said nothing, almost nothing, since the death of her brother. She did hear them one night, maybe they were down by the beach, she heard them yelling at one another, awful screaming back and forth.

Keltah and the volunteers left to travel north to Teeq's village. They left with almost nothing because there was nothing to leave with. Keltah tried to appear confident, but Ulla could see through it. Probably everyone could see through it, but Keltah felt like he should try. They didn't know how long it would take to get there, they didn't know how long it would take them to get back. On the third night after they left Imnek developed a fever. It must be because he hasn't been eating and he's been in the damp lodge all the time, Ulla thought. They tried to comfort him but he became worse.

On the fourth day since Keltah left the men got lucky hunting and killed a stag. There were cheers when they returned. But they had trouble gutting and cleaning it, and probably didn't get as much meat from it as they could've, and the skin wouldn't be useful, so a lot of it ended up in the fire. And that night the smell attracted bears who stole the rest.

Ulla's mother would break down at certain points in the day, weeping. At first Ulla tried to console her, but after a while she was too weary to do anything about it. When would Keltah return? She wondered.

Imnek died a few days later. They buried him where they hoped bears wouldn't find him, and they piled as many rocks as they could on top of his grave. The next few nights they avoided sleeping in the lodge, and instead slept out in the open. They wondered if whatever made him sick was there in that place, but they also felt like he was still there, in the lodge, that he hadn't really left, he was in there groaning. They all felt this. They'd started again to build another hut.

Ulla's mother got sick too. Her father tended to her, but her fever got worse. Ulla worked hard to bring back berries and leaves and moss and mushrooms.

But Ulla must've made a mistake. She knew she made a mistake as soon as they finished eating. Her stomach began cramping up and it felt like her body wanted to come out of her skin, that there was a thing called Ulla inside her that was fighting to get out and be free and so she went down to the water and she thought the ocean was Ulla, the real Ulla, and she looked up into perfectly clear sky full of bright stars and she thought they too were Ulla. But if all these things were Ulla, what was she, so small, so temporary? And she ran from the water because it suddenly frightened her, and she was in the trees and there was an owl on a tree, just sitting there and blinking at her and it told her not to be afraid, and it told her it would help her and watch over her.

In the morning everyone felt sick and one of the men was missing. Someone said that last night he decided to go get Keltah and Teeq, he just stood up and said he was going to get them and walked off into the wilderness. When they heard this everybody was quiet, thinking "why didn't someone stop him" but even more "maybe he'll bring back help". The chances he would survive were nothing, Ulla thought, he would die in the woods. She thought of the owl and she thought of the owl on a branch above the dead man, knowing he would die, knowing everything that would happen.

Ulla's mother died soon after, delirious and starved. Ulla's father, having lost both his wife and son wept and then had a moment of seeming clarity, he yelled at the entire settlement and told them the endeavor was a terrible idea and that they would all die here, that everyone would die here.

His outburst was met with a solemn quiet, a silent agreement, then one of the men half-heatedly said "Keltah will return with Teeq" but inside, in the certainty of their instincts, nobody believed him even as the words came out of his mouth.

Some days the fishing was good. Hunting never went well. It continued getting colder as the season wore away. The life had been drained out of Ulla's father. He'd been a vocal separatist, he once worked in the Ministry, and he'd spent years promoting the ideas of retreat, retreat from the advances of technology they'd taken from the ruined city, retreat from the expansion and re-population of Ekiqs, retreat from the rationalization of the world gods.

Ulla was the ocean, and the owl could tell her what would happen.

2017-10-18 13:49 fiction short-story science-fiction return-to-ebyx


When we began building we thought we could build forever. The stones and the trees, they used to go on and on. This island of ours kept us afloat in the middle of what we assumed was an endless ocean, and ours the only island. Since our ancestors, pilgrims, came here hundreds of seasons ago, this was the only place we'd known. And we built because we wanted the towers and we wanted the avenues, we wanted courtyards and we wanted the balustrades and foyers and the anterooms. The thought of living in the jungle was abhorrent to us likewise the thought of small individual domiciles for entire families, that barbarity of living in close quarters.

Soon the building became so large maps were cumbersome to carry. A system of coordinates was created. At every important corner you would find your position. The nature of what rooms held what, or which services were where was another matter. Only locals really understood this. You may understand where you are, but you may not understand what that means.

We continued to build unaware that other pilgrims had landed in other places, that they were not constrained strictly by surrounding water. We must build until there is no room left to build, every inch of the island will be a series of hallways, roads, routes, porches, atriums. Towers will look out onto other towers. As it should be.

The other pilgrims, in their own places, can build anywhere with no boundaries and until they made contact with us we could not have imagined such a luxury. It was exhilarating to consider. Once exposed to this idea, it caught like a fire in the minds of our carpenters, stone masons, architects. Reaching the edges of the land, we then built upwards. The sky is for building.

We used to throw our dead into the center, for a long time, that was the tradition. But as building supplies dwindled, we converted these husks of ourselves into the right materials. We shaped them to make the building better, going upwards. And as the land disappeared, there was nowhere to grow food and build into, so too did our efficiency using the trellises and rooftops and courtyards. Hard though, when you are in areas of the building with little light. Little food grows. When we met the others, the other pilgrims, we wanted to trade for food. But we had nothing to trade. The building is everything. As we dwindle, still, we know the building will be here, it will somehow be built.

2017-09-25 21:14 fiction short-story science-fiction return-to-ebyx


The two left arms were broken. His own ankle was probably broken too. Any movement caused extreme pain.

When the ledge collapsed they went down with it. The TokTok had tried to break his fall by grabbing onto him. But now at the bottom, in the ravine, the stars above shone bright on a deep black sky, the light of Ckiqs was in retreat, and their eyes slowly acclimated.

The situation, he thought, wasn't good. Knowing the TokTok felt what he was thinking he didn't bother saying anything. Maybe there were branches down here he could try making splints with. He groped around the ground near himself. There was nothing but damp mossy rocks. He heard water trickling somewhere nearby and his legs were wet. There must've been a spring or a creek down here. The TokTok was about twenty hands away, leaning up against a large boulder, he could just make this out in the darkness. He wasn't sure how far they'd fallen, he looked up, scanning for where the ledge used to be, but he couldn't find the spot. Although he realized it didn't matter, the rest of the jagged cliff, clustered with roots no doubt, was highlighted against the sky and it looked very far away to him.

He and the TokTok arrived not long before in a Skimmer. This was a type of vehicle the TokTok had resurrected from the ruins of the city. The city's technology and devices seemed to be natural to them. No one knew why this happened, but something about the TokTok changed once they'd arrived on the planet. They left and lived in the ruined city. And for a couple generations they did not contact people. But after many years of silence and isolation, TokTok and people began working together again. While people still lived in villages, they were now exposed to the ancient technology by the TokTok. There had been long and bitter debate between the Elders and Council about whether this should be allowed, and what it meant for people over time. The final decision by the Council was that certain people would be allowed, the rest would not. Qaateq was one of these few, and this TokTok, who called himself TskKTakKT, with the customary combination of "Ts" and "KT" in different patterns that all his people used in their names, were work partners.

They'd left the Skimmer half a cliq from the collapsed ledge. They'd landed here surveying for future farmland. As the villages had grown so too had the number of mouths to feed, the small gardens and things they could harvest from the jungle was no longer enough. This too was why the Council and Elders had accepted the renewed partnership with the TokTok — they could help.

This strange situation couldn't have been anticipated by Qaateq's ancestors, the pilgrims, who expected to find a familiar world and who expected to live lives in the manner they'd always known, in fewer numbers, with different resources, without the need to settle and build up walls against a jungle that constantly tried to kill them. They would build farms and cities to keep themselves alive. They would not be the nomadic hunters their ancestors were, they would have to do things differently.

Qaateq and TskKTakKT wandered from the Skimmer looking at the gentle rise and fall of the land and testing the soil. The jungle was lighter here and clearing it for farming seemed feasible. When they'd moved out of sight of the Skimmer and back into denser jungle, they came upon rocky and divided ground, and a deep ravine cutting into the land. It was here, measuring the depth of the gorge, that the area they were standing on collapsed.

This happened a few hours ago, it was night now. He knew the chances of being found even if they did discover the abandoned Skimmer was remote. The jungle swallowed up things, it was voracious, things would go in and never came back. He thought they were becoming part of by the jungle, a little at a time. TskKTakKT tried to reassure him but he became irritated by TskKTakKT's unrealistic confidence.

— Why are your people so optimistic about everything?

— Are we?

— Yes. What is it that makes you selfless and eager to help people?

— Well, I don't know. I guess I've never thought of it like this. We are the way we are, and most of us tend to feel the same way about things. Since we share thoughts.

— Do you think if people shared thoughts in the same way we'd get along better? I'd always suspected that the secret and critical thoughts of people known to other people would be enough to cause murders.

— I haven't known many of you, and not that long. Not like my Fourths who came here with people. But your minds are always active, always speaking inside. You speak to yourself with a voice, and you speak with voices that you believe others have in conversations that don't exist. Because you can't share thoughts. I wonder if you convince yourselves of things that harm yourselves with these voices.

Qaateq sighed. Probably true, but he regretted asking. This wasn't important, they had a problem. TskKTakKT couldn't climb up because of his broken arms on one side, even if it were possible to climb up the tangled muddy cliff. And Qaateq couldn't stand. The temperature continued to drop and they were wet and cold. Morning, they said to one another, we'll assess the situation in the morning. He tried to sleep but it was impossible. His best option was not to move, any motion was a shock of pain. He tried to think of things that could help, but as the time dragged on his thinking became incoherent and he brooded on unconnected events in his life, one after another. He realized TskKTakKT must be asleep, or have passed out, he'd realized recently that TskKTakKT's conscious presence was oddly stabilizing, that whatever TokTok did to share thoughts impacted people in a way that produced clarity. He wondered how their civilization had changed in their absence.

When morning came he tried to stand. This went badly. TskKTakKT stood and moved to him, but shakily. It was clear he was also in pain. As the sun rose they grew hot and remained wet. Nothing ever dried in the jungle. Then bugs found them, they weren't mobile so every biting swarming thing within range decided they were food or an enemy. As the flies collected on them, TskKTakKT said,

— I think I may have to agree with your earlier sentiment.

— Oh? What's that?

— Our situation doesn't seem very good.

— I wish I'd changed my mind, but I continue to think that.

— We might be here some time.

— Yes we might.

— We might die here.

— Yes, we might.

— But my people have ways to search that maybe yours don't. Using technology. So there is still a chance.

— If we can survive that long. We could drink this water but it alone might kill us, if the bugs and the predators don't. And eventually we'll need food. I've been thinking…

— Yes

— If I can make a splint I could try to hobble up the ravine, it must come out somewhere… somewhere better…

— But if we move then the search for us might fail entirely. Also, the ravine might just be a dead end. Or come out somewhere worse. And the exertion would be tremendous.

— You can move, I can't, you could save yourself by going out that way…

— But then you would be alone and immobile, if a predator does find you, you'd be defenseless. And once we were separated the search might find one of us but not the other.

— Better one than none.

— Better both than one.

— Alright, we'll wait then, we'll wait a while.

And the sun grew stronger, the steamy effluvial drainage from above them seeped into the ravine. They stopped trying to get the bugs off because it was too tiring. They were covered with sweat. They could hear the chatters and snarls of animals in the jungle, they thought it was only a matter of time before some hungry face looked down on them and decided they were ripe. As the day started wore on they were exhausted and thirsty.

— You could kill me and sustain yourself with me.

— What?? A single day stranded and you're ready to die? Ridiculous. What happened to 'better both than one'? This is what I was talking about earlier. Why would you do that? Don't you have any sense of self-preservation?

— Not like your people do. There is a sense of individuality, but it's different. We are combinations of one another, and while that combination may seem temporarily unique, it is still a combination of things that have existed and will continue to exist. I will end one way or another.

— I appreciate that, but let's get through this without resorting to that.

— If you wish.

— Look, you can move around more than I can, if you start collecting those grasses, those tall ones there, see them? I might be able to weave them. I admit I'm not a rope maker, but I know how it works and I had to do it a bit as a child, if you get me enough of them I can make rope. If we do this now, we might be able to finish before dark.

— Rope? Yes I will try.

— We certainly seem to have the time. But rest when you must.

TskKTakKT collected the tall grass fairly quickly, moving upward and downward from their location but never leaving sight. He stopped several times to rest, his movements appeared jerky and pained. He dropped the grass in front of Qaateq and Qaateq started to weave it. When he had several smaller ropes he wanted, he had TskKTakKT stand apart with the ends as he twisted them together into something that would hold his weight. TskKTakKT was much lighter. He had to backtrack several times, it was awkward work because he wasn't practiced and he was tired. The extraneous movement caused him pain so he had to stop and start.

— And once we have the rope? asked TskKTakKT.

— We attach a stick and try to snag it on one of those upper roots. Then I pull myself up. Then I pull you up.

— This will hurt. You might lose consciousness. In which case you might fall and hurt yourself badly.

— Yes, I know.

— I might be able to suppress the pain for you.

— Oh? Your people can do that? Not just read thoughts but change them?

— It's not like that exactly. It's more like trying to put a blanket on a fire. Or playing an instrument softer rather than louder. But it won't remove the pain, just make it quieter.

Qaateq tried to work quickly. He knew that the longer they were down here the less strength he'd have. Once he had something long enough they looked for a stick to tie on the end, something solid. TskKTakKT then tried throwing the rope upwards so the stick might catch on the roots that dotted the edge of the cliff. After several attempts Qaateq moved himself, crying out sharply once, to the area they thought they could scale and was able to lodge the rope attached stick very near the top.

TskKTakKT focused on the mind of Qaateq and tried dampening the idea of pain.

— It's going to be dark soon, we don't have many chances to do this, so we've got to try now.

Qaateq pulled himself up, tentatively at first to see if his weight held. It did. He grunted as he strained, pulling himself up while trying to keep his foot stable, and he continued up hand over hand, sweat dripping down him. When he got to the top of the rope there were enough roots and branches to grab to pull himself up the rest of the way. Pain shot through his leg when he got over the edge and had to turn himself around, and he passed out for a moment. As he came to he could hear TskKTakKT in his head Are you alright? Are you there?

— I'm alright, I'm here. Tie the rope around yourself. You might have been able to suppress my pain, but there's no way to do this without causing you a lot more.

TskKTakKT used the good arms on one side to tie the rope around himself, wincing as he did. Qaateq, flat on the ground, reached over the edge and pulled up TskKTakKT. Getting TskKTakKT over the top meant grabbing him by his good arms, but he still made a loud noise that Qaateq hadn't expected, a noise he assumed was overwhelming pain, and then he felt a wave of nausea, like the hurting of TskKTakKT had just leaked out.

They remained motionless on the ground for some time. Only the biting of ants motivated them to get up and move. They were dehydrated and they felt like they were moving through mud.

— We still have to get to the Skimmer. But there are some good pieces of wood here, I can make a splint and use something as a crutch. And we can use some of this rope as a sling for you. Qaateq said.

— Instead of going back to your village, we can go to the city. We have things to quickly fix bones there. Although… I wonder how much we've lost since we've been in the ruined city.

— What do you mean?

— When we came here with your people we knew what you knew, we had the skills you had. When we travel to city in the vehicle created in the city I can use a device to heal the bones… but I do not have the skill or the knowledge, to create something as simple as rope.

— Yes, this is why the Council only allow a handful of us to work with you. The idea of "Atun" is important to us, which roughly means "always use less than you think you need, always use what's at hand". I think the Council is afraid, or has always been afraid that the technology left here, in the city, will change that. But I'm not such a purist. I will go to the city with you.

Slowly they made their way back to the Skimmer. As the terrain became flatter and the jungle thinned the travel became easier until they saw the curved white Skimmer in the distance.

— I think this area will make very good farmland, TskKTakKT said.

2017-09-18 14:01 short-story fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


One day two things walked into the village. Auka was there when they arrived. Auka heard them approaching, breaking tree branches, with hard crushing footsteps. They seemed unaware of how to walk properly through the jungle, they walked as if it were an open field. But then they weren't people. Nobody knew exactly what they were, they sort of had arms and legs, and they walked upright but they didn't have faces. And their bodies were covered in shells like beetles. When they stopped and stood motionless, after a long time she timidly walked up to one and tapped its chest, and it made a funny sound she'd never heard before, a little like a stone dropping into a pool of water. And when they stopped they were completely still, not like a man or an animal whose breathing would rise and fall, and not like the beetle who's wings might flutter or whose antennae might sway. Then they would suddenly move again, walking to another part of the village. She followed them.

The elders resolved to let the things stay since they did no harm. They were benign, the elders said, and they would no doubt eventually leave on their own. This decision came soon after a group of the village's strongest men tried lifting the things to put them outside the village. They could not lift them. They couldn't even knock them over. They were as heavy as mountains. Perhaps they are sentinels from the mountains, said the elders, and are passing through the jungle to the sea.

But Auka stayed by them. She waited. Like a stray cat in the distance, observing, watching them when they suddenly decided to relocate within the village. Over time she got closer as she felt like she knew them, and she ran her hands over the strangely cold shell. In one place it was warmer, as if there was a heart burning somewhere underneath the carapace.

Her parents became worried about the time she spent with them. She was near them almost always. They forbade her from doing this, but she did it anyway.

She noticed several things while watching them. They would relocate in two cycles, these periods of time happened one after the other, alternating. She also noticed the stripes at the top of them. Maybe where a face should be, the stripes were like the surface of water and she thought there was something behind them. It was made of something different than the body, but almost the same color. At times when she stared into this shiny pool she thought something was staring back, something that only eyes looking into eyes knew, a secret signal deep back in the place that knew what the things were.

One day she was looking at one of the things and its shell particularly closely and she noticed the outline of a square, faintly, the pattern of a box. She could feel the slight difference on its edges in comparison with the perfectly smooth surface. When she poked at this area, pressing into it with some force, it suddenly gave way and made a cracking sound and there was a fast violent grinding noise. She looked up at it, where the face should be, the place where the shiny stripe was, the entire top was gone and now there was the head of an animal. She wasn't sure what animal. It looked a little like a dog, but also a rabbit, and also like a rattiq. She didn't know. And as she looked it turned its animal head and looked down at her with deep brown oval eyes.

As she stood, moving in front of it, it continued to look at her, never taking its eyes off of her.

They stayed this way for a while, each looking. Then she turned to the other thing, surely it too must have something underneath. She examined the same place, on the back of it, and she ran her hand over the shell and she felt the slight difference. She pressed hard and the same thing happened, but this time she made sure to be looking and she saw the shell and that shiny bisection pull away like stiff flower petals. And the petals went somewhere inside, and what was revealed, what looked down at her was also an animal except it was not exactly like the other one. It was similar. But different, a different color, slightly longer features, slightly different nose and mouth. She stood in front of it and it looked at her with gray, moist eyes. Then it turned and stared at the other thing, the companion thing, and when they saw one another the air was like before a thunderstorm.

She wasn't sure, but she thought she heard a noise very low and thumping — but the harder she tried to discern what it was, the less sure she was that it existed. It might match the rhythm of her own heart, she thought.

And they looked at her in a way that little rattiq would look at her, the one who used to live by her window would after she'd gotten in the habit of feeding it.

I don't think I have anything to feed you, she said. They blinked.

She stayed with them like this for a long time until she became tired. But when she turned to go home they followed her. When she stopped they stopped. They blinked. She asked them where they were going. They blinked. She asked them not to follow her, they blinked. Eventually she gave up and went home, they followed her to her room and stood there, staring off into the corner.

When she woke up they were still there and as she got out of bed they looked at her and made little anticipatory shuffling motions. Then she found the severed rattiq tail in the floor. Oh, poor thing, she thought.

She went out before her parents were awake. What should she do? She didn't know if they would keep following her so she walked down to the river and they went with her. As she crouched by the water, looking at the fish, the things crouched too. And she spoke to them softly and they would glance at her then back to the fish, back and forth.

When she got sick of this she went back into the village. The sudden change in the two things, and that they followed her, was greeted with alarm. The elders must be told, people said. But what could the elders do? She wondered. And her parents told her to go to her room and she did but they followed her and they were there in her room with her being sulky.

But soon the elders summoned her and she went to the hall and she stood in front of them and the things stood behind her.

Did you cause the changes in the things? They asked.

I don't know, I guess so. She said.

Do you know how to reverse it? They asked her.

I don't know what would happen, she said.

But the elders told her to try.

Reluctantly, she went to the back of one of them, the first one she'd previously changed, and she ran her hand over the same area, feeling for the square button. When she pressed down on it, she felt her hair stand on end and there was a crackling noise. The head of the thing was now something made of light, a clear blue light, not like the sun, but like the blue sky. It remained still. But the other thing now turned in its direction, so that they were facing one another. She moved to it and did the same. It's head became an orange light, perhaps more like fire. There was a soft roaring noise. The light they gave off made the elders wince, it illuminated the hall.

Then the two things moved. More quickly and without hesitation this time. They appeared to ignore Auka. Where are you going? She asked. But they made no sound, they turned and left the hall. Auka and the elders went out after them. They'd gone to the center of the village, almost the center. And they moved synchronously, bending down towards the ground suddenly they began to dig.

What are they doing? Asked the elders. Auka had no idea what they were doing.

They'd dug a large hole in a short period of time, dirt flying up around them. There was something there in the bottom. They stopped digging and both reached down into the hole, pulling up something that had many edges. The blue thing held onto it while the orange thing filled the hole back in. When it was done it turned to its companion as if communicating something silently and then they both walked towards the jungle.

But where are you going? Auka ran after them. She followed them for a while, but they didn't pause, they didn't stop, making a new path straight through the heaviest jungle. And she yelled for them to stop, but they ignored her. Soon she gave up and watched them clomp away, carrying whatever it was they found, their bright burning heads lighting and making shadows in the trees around them.

2017-09-11 14:01 short-story fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


Qimmiq wrote everything down. At first he wrote on leaves, but as time went on he created rolls of flat thin sheets by pulping, hammering, then drying them. He recorded everything that he saw or heard, and traveled with his inks and rolls all the time. The Tellers of the village barely tolerated this, after all wasn't it their responsibility to keep the stories and tell the things that were — all the things Qimmiq wrote down, all those details, what good was it?

Soon Qimmiq's home was cluttered and filled with scrolls, so much so it became difficult to get in or out. But one night there was a fire. A stray ember from a stove found its way through the window and onto a dry pile of scrolls. They went up instantly, and moments later the entire room was burning.

Qimmiq escaped, but he was never the same. He was taken in by one of the widows of the village, who nursed him back to health.

His scrolls, however, were lost. He didn't create any more, he stopped keeping them. And everyone agreed, he was changed. He had no memories from before the fire. He knew his own name, yet any details of who he was or what he'd done were missing.

At night, when everyone else was asleep, another him, a Second, would get up and wander the village, pausing in places and writing something down with an invisible pen on an invisible scroll. The Second would sometimes stand in the back of a crowd carefully recording events. People of the village got used to seeing the Second and would say, "oh that's just funny old Second Qimmiq".

After Qimmiq recovered he married the widow and they had children. The Second would come and go, and they built a tiny door for it in the back of their home. It did not stand around the house, it did not bother them, it did not eat their food. Sometimes it would disappear for weeks at a time, perhaps traveling the country. And as Qimmiq got older so did Second Qimmiq.

When Qimmiq died, over the next few days people began to find scrolls in their homes. Scrolls that listed the things they had done in their lives, everything good and bad, and everything that they wanted to remember but also all the things they'd wanted to forget. Sometimes Second Qimmiq would be seen by the grave of First Qimmiq, no longer scribbling, just standing and waiting.

2017-09-04 14:01 fiction science-fiction short-story return-to-ebyx


Shila and Nauja intended to go the whole way around, everywhere they could. They believed that staying in one place for any period of time was not the way people were intended to live. After all, it wasn't the way their ancestors had lived — they had been nomads who moved from season to season, resource to resource. Shila and Nauja disdained the immovability of the village. But their arguments made no inroads. For three generations now they had lived there, in the same place. The elders would not hear them. But here was an entire world to cross, to discover, and to support them. Why wouldn't they take advantage of that? They could try to use sea canoes like their forefathers, although only a couple of people still knew how to build them, and they had become just ceremonial really. Also, there were no pack animals here to help them. Everything about the nature of the village kept them in the village.

But Nauja knew where the seeds from the pods were stored. After the last landing the pods died and rotted, but seeds from them were saved and always kept in the hall, locked in a box. They didn't know if these would work, if they would grow at all. And if the seeds did grow what would they become? They'd only heard about stories about what pods looked like, they knew they'd been used to get down here from the sky sea.

One night they quietly entered the hall, it was open to everyone in the village, but they didn't want to draw any attention to themselves. They found the box but they didn't know how to open it. They'd never seen anyone open the box. It was old, something that must've traveled over from Aok. It was made of a material like rock, it didn't feel like anything else. They discussed how to open it in hushed voices. Without a key, or something like a key, they'd have to try to smash it. This would be too loud to do in the hall. So they took the box.

The next morning one of the elders realized the box was gone. He called the others and they sent word around the village. "The box must be returned", they said.

Shila and Nauja had taken the box to a glade in the forest, near a small waterfall, a place that no one else knew about. The jungle was big, and they'd explored it more than the others who chose to stay in the village and in its farms. By nightfall the elders had sent out word again: "The box must be returned, you will not be punished".

They considered trying to smash the box with rocks or an ax. The more they looked at it the less they believed this would work. And while they couldn't lift the lid, they didn't see anything that kept the lid closed. They would return to the glade and stare at the box, trying to understand it. Then they noticed something happened when the morning sunlight rested on it, the seams appeared to swell. Shila took a stick and pried the seam, and it suddenly opened. The inside of the box was covered with something soft and velvety and completely black. There were seeds, a small pile, each seed perfectly round and small enough to fit in the palm of their hands.

They took two seeds out and carefully planted them. They put them in an area open enough for sunlight. They wondered if animals might try to eat them, so they built a small fence around them. And they promised each other they would come back everyday to check. Then they took the box back and replaced it as quietly as they'd removed it.

The elders said nothing more. But there was a moment when Nauja was speaking with her neighbor, that she feared she was suspected. A quality in the neighbor's body language, the movement of the eyes, and strange little pauses — Nauja wondered if everyone knew. She told Shila and they talked about how it would soon be time to leave.

The next day they returned to the glade and saw the ground was swollen. Purple sprouts had poked through. And the day after that the sprouts had become stalks that came up to their knees. They watered modestly, unsure of how to best care for whatever was growing.

On the third day the stalks flowered. Big yellow flowers with sharp petals. The centers looked moist. And the flowers gave off an aroma they'd never encountered before, something like the strong but not unpleasant smell of fur.

Their fence was untouched. Whatever was growing seemed to be uninteresting to the animals in the jungle.

Things were tense back in the village. By taking the box they had crossed a line and people moved strangely, distracted by this new sense of violation. Nothing could be taken for granted anymore. At night Shila and Nauja surreptitiously gathered things they wanted to take on their journey.

The pods emerged from the dirt like the tops of heads, with fine silky white hair. The stalks had fallen away, withered. But when they returned to the site the following day they saw one of the pods had turned black, it appeared deflated and sunken and there was a foul odor. What could've happened? They wondered. This was new to them.

Not knowing what else to do, they dug up the rotten pod and they pulled it out and they burned it. It was heavy. They thought it might've made a little noise, like a prolonged sigh, when they set it on fire. And they hoped no one would see the smoke.

In the next couple of weeks the remaining pod grew up out of the soil, with tendrils spiraling down into the dirt. They didn't know what to do for it anymore, watering it still seemed like a good thing to do. The pod was the shape of a teardrop. When Shila held her hand on it for a few moments she could feel it quiver slightly somewhere inside. The color of the skin shifted from white to a deep green. It was soft. And they couldn't tell if it had a front or a back.

When will we know?

One day they entered the glade and saw the pod was connected to the soil, but it didn't sit on the ground at all. It was hovering. They walked around it slowly looking for anything that might help them. Then it occurred to Shila, Oh! like the box in the morning sun. She looked for a seam. There was something around the lower half of the pod, and she tried to pry at it, like she'd done with the box. There was a sound like husking corn, and the pod opened, exposing a fibrous interior that emitted faint light. When the sun moved away in the sky, the opening closed.

Indirectly they said their good-byes. They collected their things. When the sun reached the pod that morning, they opened it and crawled inside. There were vines across the top, and flowers on the bottom, and they weren't sure what to do. Should we talk to it? Should we dream to it? Should we cut the vines? Should we try to roll it out of the garden? They waited several hours but nothing happened. The air inside was cool and fresh, much cooler than they were used to. They left that day disappointed.

They would eat some kajangka and dream to it. They would dream about the places they would go, and maybe the pod would hear them. They set everything up carefully that night. And they dreamed of huge mountains, and snow, and they dreamed of rocks at the edge of a gray ocean and of huge spiney trees.

In the morning in the glade they cut the tendrils that held the pod to the ground and they got into it again. It was vibrating. The faint light inside the pod appeared to change color, and pool up in one place, to take the shape of the glade outside in a way they recognized but also in a way that was abstract, or in a way that used a sense they didn't realize they had.

Then they were moving. They felt it shift and turn and they could feel the ground below them receding. The patterns of light and vibrations told them that the jungle was below them and they were finally moving.

2017-08-28 14:01 short-story fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


When Sos died he did not stop. To be placed in the trees, one needs to be absolutely still, but Sos still walked and spoke, complaining to everyone that he was dead.

The elders had never seen anything like this and weren't sure what to do. He could not live with them, the dead can't be with the living. When the elders met they decided he must be taken away, to the water.

The ocean was a long way away. They believed that's where the spirits of the dead go and that for some unknown reason the jungle kept his body upright, separated from his spirit. Maybe when he got to the ocean the natural order of things would be restored. At least, one of them said, he would be out of the village.

Two were chosen to take him there, Unnuk and Pukiq. They were promised eternal gratitude and nicer homes in the village. Sos was told he was going away and he had no reaction other than his usual complaints. He complained that morning as he was walked out along the path.

The journey was not easy. Unnuk was bitten by a scorpion and stumbled along feverishly for a day. Pukiq had trouble keeping Sos on the path, he kept wandering off into the green growth. On the fourth day they passed by a colony of monkeys, who taunted them and threw fruit and feces at them from the trees.

And Sos, Sos would not be quiet. How is it, Unnuk said to Pukiq, that the dead can be so noisy? And not just the complaining. He was always tapping, or groaning, or twitching, or going through their bags as if looking for something. When they asked him what he was looking for he would stop and stare at them blankly and then begin some other annoying test of their patience.

After the first week Pukiq suggested to Unnuk that they just leave him in the jungle.

"Abandon him? But he'll never find his way to the ocean. He'll wander the world without a spirit!"

Pukiq shrugged. Unnuk hadn't disagreed however. After a few more days travel, Unnuk himself brought it up again.

"So… we could point him into the heart of the jungle, he's always trying to wander off anyway."

"Then we turn around. The elders don't actually know if he would find his spirit at the ocean anyway. What would we do with him when we get him there?"

"Perhaps this is the real lesson from the elders."

They were in agreement. They watched Sos closely. The next time he walked off into the jungle, distracted about how hard it was to be dead, they grabbed their bags and ran the opposite direction, as fast as they could, back towards the village.

Breathless an hour later they stopped and looked at one another.

"We have done what we have done."

"Let us never speak of this again."

And they walked back in a roundabout way over the next few days, quietly, relieved that they didn't have to hear Sos.

When they returned they were greeted like heroes. Each of them, over the years, grew in rank influence. Each took wives and started large families and they never spoke of Sos because it really never occurred to them to do so.

But once in a while, over those years and decades, there would be a story from travelers about a man wandering the jungle, unhappily, insisting he was dead.

2017-08-21 14:01 short-story fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx


Siqua knew something was wrong. He was the last to leave the whale. This had been prearranged several thousand years ago. When he looked down he didn't see what he expected to see, what they'd expected to see. This was a green world.

When he got in the pod he had his doubts. It was old, weak. It had waited since they'd arrived, it too was the last of its kind to leave. As it detached it groaned, with a sickening tearing sound permeating the cabin. And it veered. He watched with dismay as their trajectory arced far beyond the place they'd planned to set down, where he assumed his people were. It looked like they'd go as far as the poles. All he knew about the poles was that they were volatile. That's why they hadn't settled there after they arrived. At least that's what he read from the notes they'd left behind before descending.

He understood the implications. He knew where he needed to go, and it would be half a world away. The most likely outcome was that he would die far away and alone. This was the kind of thing they'd all prepared for. But this world had already shown them surprises. And his people had been planet-side now for some time. It wasn't hopeless. He also had the advantages of a destination. In the old stories it was said only those without a destination could be lost. He didn't put as much faith in those stories as some of the others did. Many of the stories were merely platitudes that excused deeper thinking. Maybe that's why he'd been assigned as Last. Not because he was contrary but perhaps because he was rigid and skeptical. He got done what needed to be done. The whale was now free. Their journey as they'd known from the beginning, was in only one direction.

As the pod drifted to one side the chirps that were meant as a warning too softly filled the space. The glowing indicators flickered, no longer entirely accurate. The pod was dying. If they landed in one place he knew it would not survive. He made the gesture of a short prayer in part in thanks for the pod giving up its life, but also that it might hold out a little longer.

The bright friction of the atmosphere surrounded them. He could hear the pod gasp for breath. It looked like they would land in the far south, almost at the magnetic pole. As he watched the land creep into view, deceptively farther away than it actually was, he started to count. He estimated their time to impact. The land became more clear. Dry, rocky, undoubtedly colder than the equatorial region. It appeared lifeless, also unlike the equatorial region.

2017-08-14 14:01 fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx short-story


He'd always watched the birds closely. He'd sit quietly, back against a tree, and stare up at them on the branches and in the sky. Just as easily as people could raise their arms, they would raise their wings.

There was a story of Ngoia who had given up his home and wife and tribe to gain the powers of a bird. He'd loved that story as a child, told by one of the elders, and he wondered what that transformation must've felt like.

As the children he'd know grew up and turned to serious things and built families, he still looked to the birds, envying their quick freedoms, their soaring abilities. Maybe there was a way. It was forbidden to go to the old city where the TokTok now lived. But that's where technology was kept, and things from before they came here. Hidden in the city there were ways to fly, he was sure of it.

One night he gathered his things and sneaked out of the village. It was a long journey to the city, how much faster, he thought, it would be to fly. As he wound through the jungle, along paths that were well traveled, soon he walked smaller routes that deviated. Nobody went to the city, it was forbidden.

The TokTok had moved there before he was born. "They used to live with us, after all they came from the other world with us." Something had happened though, something that called the TokTok to the old city, a place left over from the civilization that used to be here back when Ebyx was covered with snow and ice. The city was not forbidden because the TokTok had gone there, it had always been forbidden. The ghosts of those past people, they were still there. And dangerous things, powerful things that could kill or change the world.

But he knew — he had heard — that men used to fly unaided, not in a Pod, across the skies as easily as the birds. He dreamed this, and in the dream his arms and back stretched out into the air. He dreamed it, but he did not tell the elders because he knew they would be afraid of that dream.

He knew he was close to the city because the sounds of the jungle changed. And the shape of the land changed, it became sharp and abrupt. Soon the bones of the ruins were visible, covered in places by green growth, other places breaking through as fossilized shards. He didn't know the city, or how big it was or where he should be going.

He rested below what he thought must've once been a great building. He heard voices in the distance, quiet, calm, but he couldn't make out what they were saying no matter how much he strained. He stood and tried walking towards them, but they seemed to come from no direction.

As night came he settled again in rubble, unsure of what he should do or where he should go next.

The following morning the TokTok were waiting for him as he walked into an open square, the sides bordered by ancient trees. Now he could hear their voices clearly. "Why did you come to the forbidden city?" They asked him.

"To learn to fly," he said.

They seemed to understand what he wanted. "We will show you," they said, and they lead him down into the ground, into a tunnel. He contained his fear because he'd never been inside the world before, and the presence of the TokTok reassured him.

Finally they came into a large cavern where the sun shone through an opening at the end, the result of some collapse a long time ago. The cavern had many platforms and alcoves and ladders. He could see strange shapes in these alcoves in the walls, things he was not familiar with, hard outlines and sometimes things that were shiny.

"There are many ways to fly here," the TokTok said.

"I want to fly like the birds," he said.

They paused then told him "you will be able to fly, however, once the change has been made it cannot be unmade."

"That doesn't matter to me, as long as I can fly."

They acknowledged this and lead him to a small recess. He saw something hanging there, something that looked like a skeleton, something with ribs and translucent feathers and long bones, thin, like fingers.

"When you wear this you will fly. But it will become part of you, you will not be able to take it off."

He wasn't frightened. He took the skeleton off the hook. Several TokTok surrounded him, their many arms lifted his own and taking the skeleton they moved behind him and he heard a loud CLICK. Then all those hands forced him backwards and pushed the skeleton onto him. He felt the ribs of it cover his torso and he felt sharp pain of the back of it in his spine like a burning sudden sharp stinger. The ribs constricted, closing into his chest so hard he thought he would die, the pain so terrible.

"We're sorry." He heard the TokTok say just before he lost consciousness.

When he woke up he felt lighter. He saw a sheen. He stretched his arms, but they weren't there, now he stretched his wings and he felt them all extend out into the air, reaching, and his tail bristle. He stepped on the ground but his next step was a pushing, he pushed the ground away and flew in the air like the birds.

2017-08-07 14:01 fiction return-to-ebyx short-story

Return To Ebyx: Sesi

The perimeters of the village were strung with woven Yawarra hair. At night it shimmered slightly and made a tingling sensation when you got close to it. As the breezes rippled through it, it chimed softly.

Hunters like Unytr hated it, avoiding the sight and sound of it. The weavers specialized in protecting the entire village. The village they built was at first unprotected. Nighttime was dangerous, the jungle surrounded them and it was hungry.

They used to have guards on watches, this didn't work well. A guard may have been on one side of the village, a clever Unytr might sneak in on the reverse. So they devised a system of perpetually circling guards who rotated at a constant rate, the guard in front of them just insight. This was exhausting to maintain. But then Kattituyok thought of the odd fur of the Yawarra trees--how they flowed and sung in the starlight, and how they could use it around the village. Over time they weaved this into longer and longer strands. Sesi became one of the weavers when he was young.

Sesi was first generation. He was born in the village. His parents had come down from the sky sea, the outer ocean. When Sesi wasn't weaving he was hunting with the others. They'd had to relearn, the canoes they brought with them rotted, the long barbed poles they might have caught fish with had been re-purposed. Everything here was different. They were in a jungle now, and they weren't even sure what was poisonous. They discovered the hard way, with loss of life. The knowledge they'd brought with them from Aok about the old times proved useless. It told stories of bear and ice whale and sod homes and Modar. Instead they roasted spiders, had to fight off packs of aggressive, greedy birds they called Gunrakiq, and became sick from the water.

Sesi thought about his parents as he weaved. They spoke more about Aok as they grew older, about their constant discomfort here, about what they'd expected and were disappointed by. Age catches you, he thought, you are overwhelmed by disappointments. He knew it must've been difficult for them, more difficult than for himself, this was all he'd known. He couldn't imagine waking up on some cold barren land, he loved the sounds of a million living things and the warmth and the endless trees around them.

When he sat on a stool, in the line with the other weavers, sometimes he tried to understand his parents' world. Most things he couldn't imagine at all despite being described time after time, it was so different. But then the weavers would hang the line and he recalled fondly that first time they let him strum it, the long tone you could feel in your bones and the haze of light given off by small dissolving sparks.