Coffee Break Read – Augmented World

They were sitting in the park, a child had come running up chasing a creature no one else could see, playing a game in augmented vision. She swiped at something in the air between them.
“Got it!”
Yris watched her run off already obsessed by the next intangible she needed to track down.
“She knows,” Soraya said, as the child danced away over the sunlit grass. “She called me to account for my activities this last cycle.”
The pit of his stomach tightened and he looked at the woman sitting beside him, unsmiling. Her face was haunted by shadows of sadness and fear, beneath the sweep of blue-black hair. He reached out and gripped the two slender hands resting in her lap.
“Then we will have to go. I won’t lose you.”
“But -”
“But nothing. It is time to make a stand. My sister has dictated the course of my life long enough. I will not have her destroy the one thing that makes me truly happy.”
The shadows lifted from her face for a moment, and the smile was as sweet as life itself. “She will not let us go easily.”
“I know. I’ve known her a long time. A very long time, more than four times as long again as you have been alive. So you must trust me when I say I know how to deal with her.”
The blue-black hair swung as Soraya turned her face away, watching the child running after her private ghosts. For a moment, Yris envied that unknown child, her freedom and potential had yet to be curtailed by life.
“I don’t know,” Soraya’s voice came from behind the veil of her hair. “I’m not sure we get to live happily ever after.”
“No ‘ever after’ is happy forever.”

It got dark as he spoke. The air was no longer crisp and fresh, but brackish and still. Shadows flickered from the weak lights.
“But ‘tsa story, Gran’pa. It says so – so they did.”
The small dark eyes looked up at him from a face wearing a defiant expression. “Wha’s a tree?”
Yris shook his head. It would not help the child to know.
“Just something in the story,” he said. Then trying to distract the child: “You read it all yourself, that is very good.”
For a moment, the dark eyes seemed to study him as if doubting his words, then the small face smiled.
“You need to come for sleep time.” The child’s mother stood by the entrance. It was hard to know which of them she was addressing. The child of course, but Yris was tired. Recently, he found his sleep times more often matched the child’s than its parents.
He remained there, sitting with the story open, staring at its cheerful pictures of chubby clouds and a smiling sun painted across a pink-blue sky. Of course, he had many images and even VRruns of the real thing, but somehow these designs captured more of the essence of them. Someone had thought what the essential concept was for ‘cloud’, ‘sky’, ‘sun’, what symbolic place each held in the human psyche, and had created these images to project that sense of ‘sky-ness’ or ‘cloud-ness’.

From ‘Tongueless Caverns’ by E.M. Swift-Hook, one of the stories in the Inklings Press  anthology Tales From The Underground: Twelve tales of hidden legends

The Rabid Readers Review ‘Wings of Earth: 1 – Echoes of Starlight’ by Eric Michael Craig

The Rabid Readers Review Wings of Earth: 1 – Echoes of Starlight by Eric Michael Craig

A Fresh, New, Classic Space Opera Takes Off!

Ethan Walker is the captain of a freighter carrying a bunch of tech to a colony. He has a friendly crew, people like his co-pilot Nuko Takata and the AI, Marti. But not all onboard the Olympus Dawn are as amenable. Ethan has to deal with two very difficult passengers and Leigh Salazar, the Cargo Compliance Controller who is not a member of the crew but there to supervise the cargo for the shipping company and ensure it arrives intact. When they reach Starlight colony and find no one replying to their communication, Ethan goes down to discover why and finds himself at the centre of a major incident.

What I Particularly Enjoyed.
The atmosphere. This book has a really great space opera feel. It’s there with shades of Star Trek and Farscape, but firmly rooted in a harder sci-fi tradition. Shipboard life and relationships are very well described.
The worldbuilding. It is very easy to slip into this world and pick up on the setting. The tech-base is well explained and when it has to pass beyond that we have ‘alien tech’ as the explanation.
The AI. I am not a big fan of AIs as characters as I seldom find them convincingly portrayed, but the author really sold me on Marti. I loved the idea of an AI being paid like any other crew member and using their pay to buy robot bodies of various kinds and upgrades for them.
The writing style. Smooth and flowing. I was never bounced out of immersion by a poorly chosen word or a clumsy construction.

What I Kind of Struggled With.
Leigh Salazar. The sole role of this character seemed to be for setting up conflict. Most of the time I could buy it, but as the story went on she seemed to lose all sense of proportion. 
The job threat. That Ethan could lose his job was, I felt, over repeated and overplayed.  I couldn’t see how it really counted for anything set against the far more crushingly existential issues faced by himself and the crew.

Overall thoughts.
I loved this book, the setting the characters and the sense of something huge coming down the line. It is a five-star classic space opera and those who love all that should pick this up right away.

E.M. Swift-Hook

 

Full disclosure, this book is not at all my usual fare and I approached it with some trepidation. But as it turned out I need not have worried. Although ‘hard’ science fiction is a foreign country to me Eric Michael Craig has an easy writing style, and his avoidance of jargon makes this story accessible and readable even for a Luddite.

We are presented with a cargo freighter on its way to make a routine delivery – that turns out to be far from routine. Where have a hundred thousand people gone? Captain Ethan Walker finds himself in the middle of a perfect sh**storm.

As an exploration of what an ordinary man does in an extraordinary situation the book works well, although, for me, it is less convincing in its handling of relationships.

A resounding four stars and a safe recommendation.

Jane Jago

EM-Drabbles – Twenty

“But this is beautiful!” Love’s goddess was enchanted by the blue and green planet, abundant with life.

The God of Evil smirked. “I know.”

“I don’t see anything evil,” she said, admiring the humans, something he’d invented for this new world. They could love, feel and create, almost like gods themselves.

“No?”

A shriek came of agony and fear. The goddess, horrified, watched one beautiful animal killing another.

“No!”

“Yes!” Evil’s deity gloated. “I designed this world so living things must kill and eat others to live themselves.”

The goddess paled as she realised the true horror he had wrought.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Sunday Serial – Maybe VI

Maybe by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook . Sometimes we walk the edges of realty…

The sounds continued, slither and scrape and tapping claws, as the creature passed the bottom of the old roller coaster. Annis could feel the vibrations through her feet. On the bed, Jessica’s eyes were suddenly wide and her mouth opened into a silent gasp as she felt the presence of the Old One for the first time. Annis put a finger on her own lips and Jessica pressed her  hand over her mouth, as if to stop a cry escaping, as the blood eater slowly passed.
They sat in silence until the sounds had faded back into the quiet of the night and, slowly, sounds of the small creatures could be heard again. One of the cats on the bed, stretched and licked the head of the other who started purring gently. 
Once the Old One was gone she became aware of another entity. Also hunting. 
“Silent,” she hissed. “Vampire. It follow you…”
Jessica’s face was a study in terror, but she held herself together even when a masculine voice filled the air.
“Jessica. Jessica. I know you are here somewhere. Come to me.”
Annis saw the other woman shiver and pushed the cats closer before putting more wood on the fire and throwing a handful of herbs onto the flames. The fire burned blue and Annis smiled thinly. A few moments later the hunting vampire began to cough and sneeze and the sense of its presence receded.
“Not gone. You stay.” 
Hoping that the female would have sense enough to stay put, Annis called the two mongrel cats to her side and slipped silently from the cabin. She made her way along the tops of the piles of twisted metal until she reached a vantage point from which she could watch the drunken lads around their bonfire. They appeared to be drinking themselves into a state of complete oblivion and she wondered where they had got that much booze. She didn’t have to wonder for long, as a tall figure strolled into the firelight.
“Evening lads” he said genially.
The youngsters looked incuriously at their visitor, who rolled a log into the firelight and sat down.
“Any of you boys seen a woman tonight?”
“There was one, but she kicked Robbo in the nuts and run away,” the speaker laughed coarsely. “You lost one?”
“You could say that. Which way’d she go?”
“Out of the park. Maybe. We think she run up the road.”
“Right. Thanks.”
The vampire uncurled himself and ambled off carefully slowly and with seeming unconcern. Once he was out of earshot the loudest and most obnoxious of the drinkers laughed inanely.
“If you can’t keep your woman under control you needn’t expect me to tell you where she’s gone,” he slurred then fell into a drunken stupor.
For whatever reason it had happened, Annis was grateful that the vampire had been misdirected. With any luck he would spend the rest of the night searching the verges of the road for Jessica. As she turned to head back home, she noticed a small pile of stuff in a dark corner. A rucksack and a soft bag. Jessica’s stuff, she would bet. Could she get it?
She sat on her perch for a long time, thinking and watching as all but one of the young males fell asleep. One who was easily incapacitated with a smooth round pebble accurately placed from a slingshot. 
Even then it took her many minutes to creep down the pile of distorted ironwork until she and the cats could sneak from shadow to shadow to a spot from which she could pick up the bags and ghost away with them.
Returning home encumbered by the luggage took her some while, so that when she slipped into the room the atmosphere was one of great strain. Jessica sat up and stared as she dropped the bags on the sleeping platform.
“Drunken males have. We take…”
Annis grinned a feral grin and was surprised to see her enjoyment reflected in Jessica’s eyes.
“Will you tell me who you are, and what is happening?”
“Will try. Eat first.”
Annis put the soup kettle on the hot plate atop the fire, then went to the food store drawer and took out flat breads and a lump of hard cheese. She grated cheese onto a wooden board and bent to retrieve bowls and spoons from another drawer.
Jessica spoke. “I’m a vegetarian.”
Annis looked at her in genuine puzzlement.
“You say?”
“I don’t eat meat.”
“Me not too. Soup potato and onions. Come eat.”

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Part 7 of Maybe will be here next week…

Signpost

A stumpy signpost points the way
Where it has stood throughout the days
The road to reach is broad and fair 
But things get bumpier from there
The signpost arms – all scarred by strife
Read Sorrow, Memory and Life
And as I stand afraid and weak
A voice I love inside me speaks 
“Be brave” it says, “walk straight ahead
Let in the light, you are not dead.”
And as I walk the windy ridge
My mind turns to that final bridge
There kindly fate shows me a gate
Whereat he and the dogs all wait

© jane jago 2020

One of the poems you will find in In Verse, a new collection of poems by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Weekend Wind Down – Silver

…a door appeared in what looked like a blank wall. When she opened it the stench was appalling. She clicked her tongue disapprovingly.
‘Dirty slaves.’
For some reason that remark exacerbated my anger and I head butted her under one of her chins. She went down splat and I called for lights. To my surprise, two of the slatternly drones brought lanterns. I went into a long place, with a lot of figures chained to the walls.
‘Aascko’ I shouted. ‘Can you get Ambriel to open a Portal into our garden. I need my big medicine chest and the trunk of bandages. Plus water lots of hot water, and get our kitchen to prepare the biggest vat of warm sweetened milk they can manage. Also there’s a lot of people chained up. We need to release them.’
‘I’m on it love’ he shouted and as I turned back to the horribly foetid prison I felt the mind of Ambriel and heard his angry voice in my head. ‘Just look at the chains and they will fall off.’
I turned my gaze to the locks on the first prisoner, an emaciated green elf. As I looked, the chains fell from her arms and legs. Aanda appeared at my side with a cup of water which he put to her lips.
‘Gently little sister. Too much at once will make you ill.’
‘I know’ she whispered. ‘But we have had no water since yesterday morning.’ Then she reached for my arm. ‘Help the little one. The rest of us can wait. But she’s really sick.’
‘Where?’
‘In the far back corner.’
Aanma followed me with a light held high and we found a tiny imp with its arms around the neck of a woolly hound pup. Neither looked too good.
‘Aanma. Go through the portal and alert Owl. Owl, plus Cat with a bucket of raw meat scraps.’
He put down the lantern and ran as if his life depended on it. I looked at the chain around the two infants and as it fell apart I dropped to my knees in front of them. I held out my arms and the imp crawled shyly into them. I picked her up as gently as I could, but I couldn’t carry the pup as well. Aascko appeared at my shoulder and picked up the bag of bones and fur that was all the hound consisted of. We carried them out into the clean morning air, just as Owl and Cat hurried out of the Portal. Owl took the babe from my arms and opened her garment. ‘Don’t let her eat too much at once’ I instructed.
‘No. I know. Little by little.’
Cat crouched in front of the puppy and offered it a small bit of meat. It sniffed suspiciously before grabbing the meat and wolfing it.
‘Owl’ I said quietly ‘make sure you shade that little one’s eyes. She has been in the dark for overlong.’

Knowing we could leave Owl and Cat to it, Aascko and I hurried back into the grimness of the prison. It didn’t get any better and by the time I had seen every prisoner released I was on the verge of tears. But I pulled myself together and Aascko and I went through the Portal to our own garden where a pavilion had sprung up as if by magic and our drones were ensuring that every one was drinking warm honey-sweetened milk. My first concern was the imp, who was asleep in Owl’s arms. She looked a little better and I thought a gentle warm bath, with some herbs in the water, might help her breathing. I gave the orders for the water and left Owl to gently bathe the emaciated little body. Cat was nearby with the hound puppy asleep on her feet.
‘The imps want to come help’ she said.
‘Well. Let them. Owlet was very helpful to us when we were dealing with the captives from the cave.’

Then I began the serious work of dressing wounds, wounds caused by manacles and leg irons, wounds caused by whips and scourges. Wounds gone bad because of poor hygiene and lack of food and water. I worked for a very long time, with Aascko and Aaspen at my elbow, but eventually every creature had been seen. None seemed in danger except the imp and her puppy. I straightened my back and smiled wearily.
‘Nearly done. Just want to have another look at the imp and the hound.’
Aascko hugged me warmly. ‘That’s my girl.’
The babe had just awoken and was crying fretfully. I held out my arms and Owl passed her to me.
‘Her skin is very sore’ she whispered.
‘Oh. The poor little love. Aascko can you get the camomile oil please?’
He dashed off and I laid the mite in my lap. Her skin was, indeed, horribly inflamed and itchy.
‘Mostly dehydration’ I said sturdily. ‘I think she’ll pull through.’
Aascko returned and I signalled for him to pour some oil into the palm of my hand. He obliged and I anointed the babe’s skin before beginning to massage her gently.
‘Owl’ I said. ‘How much have you fed her?’
‘Three times. Just a very little at a time.’
‘Good. You can try her with a bit more in an hour. Until then, get a soft old sheet and we’ll wrap her loosely, and put her in Owlet’s nice soft bed. If one of the other imps will get in and cuddle her gently so much the better.’
Owl scooted off and I carried on gently rubbing oil into the baby’s skin. I felt something against my leg and I realised the puppy had crept over.
‘Lift the puppy up Aascko’ I said. ‘I think this babe needs to see that its only friend is OK.’
My Mate obliged and the imp’s eyes fluttered open.
‘Look’ I said. ‘Puppy is fine.’
The imp smiled and relaxed under my hands. Aascko stroked the ugly little pup.
‘It’s a scruffy little mutt and it niffs a bit, but it seems admirably faithful.’
‘Yeah. Can you give it a bath and dry it gently. I think the imp will only really relax with it beside her.’
‘You could be right.’ He scratched the pup’s ears and took it carefully away.
Owl came back with a soft linen sheet, Owlet’s bed, and Puma in tow. I wrapped the skinny little imp and laid her in the soft fluff. Puma climbed in with her and sat stroking her head and singing softly. I patted her crest.
‘Puma is a good imp.’
Going over to where Aascko was gently shampooing the puppy, I sat on the ground with a big soft towel in my lap.
‘It’s a girl hound’ he said, then put the wet mutt on the towel, and handed me another. I gently towelled the pathetically bony pup feeling for any injuries. I was so pleased to find that the creature was whole, if underweight and dehydrated.
‘You’ll do little one’ I said and when she was as dry as I could make her I fed her judiciously and allowed her to relieve herself before wrapping her loosely in another dry towel and putting her carefully in Owl’s bed beside Puma and the poorly imp. Puma put a small hand on her ugly head.
‘Hello Puppy’ she said softly. ‘You can go sleep now. Puma will watch over friend.’
I had to blink away a tear before I could carry on.
Ambriel beckoned me and I went and stood looking up into his face.
‘I have’ he said ‘witnessed the worst and the best today. And that imp singing to the sick one all but brought me to tears.’
‘Me too’ I admitted. ‘Do we know to whom the poorly little one belongs?’
He looked as if he was chewing something bad. ‘Oh yes. We know. Her Mother was a very young female of the People, who was gang raped by who knows who. That vermin Aasken decided the babe was unsaleable because of her light eyes and the Mother was too badly damaged by the rape and the birth to be of any value. So he threw them in the dungeon. The Mother died there. Now nobody wants the little one.’
‘Oh yes they do’ I said sturdily. ‘We want her. She can be part of our family.’
‘She can indeed’ Aascko spoke from just behind me. ‘We will welcome her. And love her. Her and her ugly canine friend.’
Ambriel smiled on us and for a moment I felt as if the sun was shining just for me. I pulled myself together and felt for my Mate’s hand.
‘I guess we now need to start sorting out the rest of the slaves. Not many are fit to go anywhere until they have at least had a good night’s sleep and a couple of nourishing meals. I just don’t know where we can put them.’
Then I had a thought.
‘Or perhaps I do.’ I looked into Aascko’s face. ‘How about next door?’
‘Why not indeed?’ Then he looked up at Ambriel. ‘A gateway in the wall over there would be an enormous help.’
The Angel gestured negligently and the wall grew a set of wide double gates.

I beckoned to Cat, who was hovering.
‘We need a place for the rescued ones to sleep.’
She was quick on the uptake. ‘My old nest is built on the archaic model where all the walls can be rolled away. I’ll get the drones on it. And there are portable cots in store and many blankets and pillows.’
She bustled off and Aascko scratched his crest.
‘She looks so much better’ he said meditatively.
‘She can help somebody. Makes her feel needed. She is always going to be frail, but the more useful she can be to us the happier and stronger she will become.’
‘Very true, little Huntress’ Ambriel was expansive. ‘And now I must leave you. I am summoned to give an account of today’s happenings. It isn’t going to go down too well…’
I looked at him straitly. ‘Do you think you could manage to take off without overturning the cradle?’
‘I could.’
‘Well do so then…’
He actually laughed and patted my crest before lifting off with minimal disturbance. Aascko swatted my backside quite hard.
‘Will you at least warn me before you pick a fight with an Angel.’
‘Wasn’t picking a fight. He knows how I feel about excessive downdraught, but this time I really was thinking about the rescued ones and the babes.’
‘Oh. OK. I think.’
I laughed and went to check on the basket of sleeping imps. Puma was asleep now, but it was noticeable that she had a protective arm around the tiny imp and the other hand on the head of the pup. Tiger and Owlet sat beside the basket.
‘We keeping watch’ Owlet whispered.
‘Good imps.’
He pulled on my hand. ‘Mother. Do that baby one have a Mother or a Father?’
‘She didn’t. But she does now. She is your nest sister now.’
‘Good. Do she have a name?’
‘No love. Why?’
‘Me and Tiger and Puma wants to call her Silver because of her eyes.’
‘Very well, then. We shall.’
He and Tiger turned faces of shining joy towards me and I rubbed their crests. Owl arrived beside me and indicated she would like a private word.
‘What is it?’
‘That imp. Is she blind? I wondered because of how light her eyes are.’
‘No I’ve checked. She can see fine. I can understand your thought, but she isn’t an albino, just pale. By the way, Aascko and I have adopted her. Her name is Silver.’
Owl embraced me.
‘I hoped you would. The imps and I already love her. But why Silver?’
‘The imps named her for her eyes.’
Owl had recourse to her kerchief. ‘Sometimes those little sods amaze me.’
‘Me too. Me and the Angel Ambriel.’

From: Aaspa’s Eyes by Jane Jago

Nemeton

They spoke in whispers, the elders and wise ones of the tribe
To think to find the place where they could the gods cajole or bribe.
Some said it was just fit to build a temple on the briny ocean shore
But others then protested that the heart of the dark forest called them more
Or should they set the sanctuary within the highest of the mountain’s rocky kloofs?
Or mark the moorland with the symbols of their arcane divine truths?
But then the gods themselves did take a hand and from the thunderhead above
They marked a star upon the sacred ground as a sign that this place they would love…

E.M. Swift-Hook

One of the poems you will find in In Verse, a new collection of poems by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Protagonist in the Hotseat of Truth – Jenni The Sprite

Welcome to the Hotseat of Truth, a device in which your protagonist is trapped. The only way to escape is to answer five searching questions completely honestly or the Hotseat will consume them to ashes! Today’s victim is Jenni the sprite – created by Claire Buss in The Rose Thief and The Interspecies Poker Tournament. Jenny is a thief-catcher, second-in-command to the Chief, Ned Spinks and the most powerful magical creature around. She wears a filthy red coat, has pointy ears and straw-coloured hair. Her mum is Momma K, Queen of the Fae but Jenni prefers to live and work in the real world, in Roshaven.

Question 1. When did you first meet Ned?

It were a few years ago and we was down in fing. Wot you ‘ave to understand, right, is there wos a lot of stuffs going down and it weren’t like everyfing wos straight forward or nuffink. But it were good times. I’d tell youse all about it but me aufor won’t let me, she says I gotta wait a bit while she writes it all down and sorts it all out.  I ain’t ‘zactly good at story writing.

 Question 2. How does a sprite wind up in law enforcement?

It were a close fing, could’a gone eiver way if I’m ‘onest. We just didn’t know for sure if ‘e were gonna go for it or not. An’ then o’corse that ‘appened an’ it were a case of now or never sorta fing. You know, like that ‘ole rock and anovver rock? It were like that. Ana ‘o corse that ovver bloke weren’t gonna do anyfing so it were all down to ‘im and to be fair ‘e didn’t ‘ave a scooby so I ‘ung around for a bit. Then a bit more. Plus you know, it ain’t ‘ome. 

Question 3. Who are you most loyal to. Your people or your partner?

It ain’t that simple. 

Question 4. What is your favourite food?

I likes sugared ants an’ grass’opper brittle, slug jam an’ wasp ‘oney. Worm sausages an’ snail burgers but the bestest one of all is Momma K’s beetle cheesecake.

Question 5. When did you last take a bath?

Wot’s a baff?

51LQwvEnwYL

 

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