Survival Test, Snippet 1

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.

SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER ONE

Full Earth and Gibbous Moon shown in the sky

Richard Schneider, President and CEO of FutureTech Industries, pushed himself off the construction hauler. He clipped his brake to the tether that ran from The Rock, the small artificial silicate asteroid that served as an anchor, to the O’Neill Construction Shack. The Shack and the Rock each revolved around the docking fixture at their common center of gravity to provide a modest artificial gravity in the Shack.
The moon hung to one side of the rock appearing to pull slowly away from it as the rock moved through space. The Earth lay sixty degrees away from the moon–four times its size and many times as bright. In the distance, the partially completed space colony, O’Neill sparkled in the sunlight.
Schneider slid down the tether, his brake restraining his speed until he landed next to the airlock. When ships arrived, a pressurized tube provided a shirt-sleeve environment from the docking fixture to the Shack. When no ships waited, as none waited now, entry and exit proceeded as Schneider entered.
Julia Markham, commander of the O’Neill construction project, met Schneider as he finished cycling through the airlock. “Everything go well?”
Schneider nodded. He removed his helmet and took a deep breath of the fresher air in the construction shack. A slight scent of pine tinted the air, not strong enough to be annoying, just enough to kill the sterile scent of recycled air. Schneider welcomed the change after six hours in a pressure suit. The corridor stretched in each direction, narrow as a concession to the need to cram so many people, their offices, and supplies into a limited space. Pastel paints covered the walls in shades of blue and green. Coves along the upper corners of the corridor hid the lights, providing a soft, even lighting as they reflected off the ceiling. The chirping of crickets sounded at the edge of hearing from hidden speakers.
Schneider had told the people designing the construction shack to make it as comfortable as possible for the people working here. They would be facing long hours, far from home, in cramped quarters. Anything they could do to relieve the unpleasantness would help. The shack had to come out in one piece so the capacity of their ships limited its size, but other things could be, and had been, done to improve its comfort.
“I found a few problems that I think we can fix. They’re mostly procedures and equipment that need updating. The few personnel problems I found are small and easy to fix. You’ve got good people.”
Julia smiled. Schneider had hired her not long before beginning his inspection tour of FTI’s off-Earth facilities. When he looked at her resume he had been about to pass her over. She had no technical training at all. He never did no what had moved him to offer her an interview. She stormed into his office like a small hurricane, full of sound and fury signifying . . . everything. On reflection, he decided that he did not need someone with technical training to supervise the construction of the O’Neill colony. He needed someone who could herd cats. Julia Markham seemed that person. So far, she had not disappointed him.
“I always thought so. I’m glad you agree.” She held the upper body of his suit while Schneider stepped out of the legs.
“I figure we’ll have the hull completed in about a year and a half,” she said, “the entire colony in about three. Ahead of schedule.”
Julia’s looked at Schneider with chocolate-brown eyes, wrinkles just starting to crease their corners. No gray yet touched her hair which she wore woven into a tight braid that wound around the back of her head.
“Officially–” Schneider grinned. “–I don’t want to know about that. If I did, then the board would want me to revise the schedule and any problems that cropped up would make us fall behind the new schedule and we’d look bad. Let’s just keep it at five years and if we come in ahead of that, we look good.” With Julia’s assistance, he hung the suit in the locker. She handed him a bottle that contained only water, but it tasted pure and sweet and helped to wash the metallic taste of canned air out of his mouth.
“If you say so, sir.”
“Good.” Schneider stretched kinks out of his muscles. A bad knot ached just above his right kidney. It seemed every time he turned around there were new aches. Still, he thought that he was doing pretty well for a man in his sixties. “John been giving you a hard time?”
John Millhouse served as Schneider’s second on this inspection trip.
“He’s been poring over our computer records. I think he’s examined every bit personally.” She shrugged. “He seemed a little put out that we don’t have any problems in the software. The last I saw of him, he was mumbling something about streamlining.”
“I’ll have to have a talk with him. Programming’s not his field and I know you’ve got eight top-flight programmers here. I hired them myself.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Julia said. The corners of her eyes crinkled. “It might do those eight programmers good to have Mr. Millhouse light a fire under them.”
“If you say so.”
A comppad at Julia’s belt beeped. She unclipped it. “Markham.”
A moment later, she looked up, her lips tight. “Mr. Schneider. It’s communications. They want to know if you can come down there right away. Mr. Cadretti needs to talk to you.”
Schneider scowled. What could Lincoln Cadretti, FTI’s executive VP, want? “Tell them I’ll be right down. Also, have John called. If Lincoln’s problem is as important as it had better be I’ll want him available.”
“Yes, sir.” She tilted her head to one side and waited, looking at him.
Schneider nodded. “You too, Julia, if you want.”
“Yes, sir.” She relayed the orders into the comppad.
#
A few minutes later, Schneider entered the Comm center. This small room housed the computer-controlled communications routing equipment as well as the stations where the communications technician monitored that automatic equipment. This room also housed the two-way video terminal.
Although the original design had called for computers to handle all the record keeping and scheduling for this room, that had not happened. Instead, plastic checklists and schedules clung to Velcro spots on the walls and marked in red and black with the grease pencils clamped in holders alongside the consoles.
“He’s here, sir,” the communications technician said into the microphone.
“Lincoln?” Schneider slid into the seat that the technician vacated. “What’s wrong?”
The nearly three second lag required for Schneider’s message to travel to Earth at the speed of light and Lincoln’s response to return seemed longer to Schneider.
“Mr. Schneider?” Cadretti’s voice came from the speaker at last, as his worried face stared out of the screen. “I’ve just got a call from the New York office. Things just went belly up at the U. N.”
“Talk to me,” Schneider said. “What happened?”
“We did as you said–our lobbyists convinced Congress and the President to support our position, at least at first. The Ambassador to the U. N. tried several compromises. We even offered cut back fares and assistance to less developed nations who want to go into space. The North Africans wouldn’t buy it.”
Schneider drew in a sharp breath. The North African Confederacy had unearthed old provisions of the 1979 Treaty on the Moon and Celestial bodies. They had reiterated the old claim that “common heritage” meant “common property” and the industrial efforts of private companies like FTI were in violation of that treaty. They denanded equal shares of all that production developed in space. Schneider had been watching the news with some alarm. Over that past several years President ibnAllah’s speeches, proposals, and policies slipped further and further from reality. In the last few months his comparisons came close to claims of divinity. Schneider shuddered. How could he, how could anyone, predict what someone like that would do. The last thing they needed was a holy war. That ibnAllah had pulled North Africa into the twenty-first century and tripled their standard of living in some ways only made things worse. It ensured that he had wide popular support for whatever he wanted to do.
“By themselves they wouldn’t be much,” Schneider said.
“No, not by themselves,” Cadretti agreed. “But they’ve got a lot of support from the smaller nations. Even a couple not so small. I think a lot of people are just plain jealous of what we’ve done.” Cadretti paused. “For some reason, the U. S. is dancing on eggshells around the North Africans. I don’t know why. I know this guy’s nuts but….”
“I see. Go on.”
“Finally, some fool diplomat undid all our work. America’s U. N. ambassador made a counter-proposal where private industry would have to share their production equally with non-spacefaring nations, but not government activities like Lunaville.”
“What!” Schneider levered himself half out of his seat. An instant later, he relaxed, collapsing back into it.
“I know,” Cadretti said a long three seconds later. “It didn’t do them any good though. The North African Ambassador laughed at the proposal. I mean he literally laughed. He got up out of his seat and laughed. He demanded that the U. S., and he named the U. S. specifically, give him everything they asked for or face the Wrath of God. He used those very words, I swear. Then he walked out of the hall. He spoke very calmly about it, but he seemed to be very serious.”
“Surely the U. S. isn’t going to give in to them?” Schneider asked.
“I don’t think so,” Cadretti said. “But this afternoon, less than an hour ago, North Africa withdrew all their embassy personnel from the U. S.”
“That sounds ominous,” Schneider said.
“Yes, sir. We think they’re going to make a military strike somewhere. With that big army they’ve been building it seems obvious they intend to use it. I don’t know if they plan to fight a drawn out war, or just do a little raiding. God, sir, the ground station for our SPS prototype is in Chad, right where the North Africans can get at it. If they intend to make us some kind of object lesson, they could kill or imprison our crew there–over two hundred people.”
“Lincoln,” Schneider kept his voice low. “I want all possible pressure put on Washington. Do whatever it takes but make sure that our people are protected.”
“What if Washington won’t cooperate?”
“Then hire mercenaries; I don’t care. I want our people protected. If you can’t protect them, then get them out of there. Whatever you have to do, I’ll approve.”
“Yes, sir,” Cadretti said.
As Schneider shut off the radio, he heard Millhouse’s soft whistle behind him. He looked up. “You heard?”
“Enough,” Millhouse said. “So is FTI going to war?”
“I hope not,” Schneider said. “Lincoln has enough sense to evacuate the plant if it gets bad. We’ve already proved the concept.” He shook his head. “I’d hate to abandon the plant, though. We’ve got a chance to fix the damage of thousands of years of subsistence farming draining the soils in that part of the world and I’d like to be a part of that.”
“I never expected anything like this,” Julia said.
Schneider stood up. “Let’s just hope that cooler heads prevail.”

Advertisements

Creating synthetic languages–my way

I’ve done some work with synthetic languages for use in my fiction.

J. R. R. Tolkien made that popular with his various varieties of Elvish, Dwarvish, Black Speech, and other languages in his Middle Earth stories.  Other writers hint at synthetic languages with select words and phrases, sometimes including a glossary in their stories showing what those words and phrases actually mean.  A few actually build something approximating a complete language, with grammar and vocabulary.

It’s this latter that I’m going to talk about here, using examples from some of my own writing (forthcoming works).

Languages, at least spoken languages, are made up of sounds.  This may seem trivial, but the choice of what sounds are, and are not, used within a language determines to a great extent how the language sounds.  Consider two of the languages constructed by Tolkien.

First Quenya:

“Ai laurie lantar lassi surinen”
Now the Black Speech:
“Ash nazg gimbuktul”
The two languages have a very different sound to them.  Real languages are the same in that way.  German sounds quite different from Latin which sounds quite different from Thai, which sounds quite different from Japanese.
So I start with the sounds and how they are put together.
In the appendixes for The Silmarillion, there’s a table for Elvish script that ties in to how the sounds are produced.  Generally speaking consonant sounds were categorized by where they were produced in the mouth and how open that portion of the mouth is.  Consonants were produced either at the lips, the teeth, the hard palate, or the soft palate.  There were four levels of “openness” and then voiced or unvoiced (using the vocal chords or not).  This led to a total of 32 separate sounds that could be written in Elvish script.
There are other characterizations possible for the sounds the human throat and mouth can produce but I found this one useful and adapted it to my own ends.
Vowels were a separate matter.  May years ago I took choir in high school.  Our instructor spent a great deal of time on vowels because vowels are what you sing.  They’re what you use to produce notes.  He characterized vowels by whether they are produced in the front or back of the mouth and how open that portion is.  This process produced nine basic vowel sounds, plus some “blended” versions (mixing production in front and back of the mouth) which are normally written as “umlauted” vowels. Note that many of what we think of as vowels would be, in this system, diphthongs.  The long-i sound would be “ah” followed rapidly by “ee” and so forth.
Most languages do not use all the sounds that can be produced.  English doesn’t use umlauts nor several of the consonant values except in borrowed words. (But then, English borrows, or outright steals, so many words that’s not so much of a limit.)
So, the first step is to select sounds from the list.  Which ones does your language use, and which ones does it not use.  This choice helps determine the overall sound of your language.
As important as which sounds are included is how frequently the specific sounds are used.  Look at the two Tolkien examples again.  Largely the same sounds and if you looked at larger passages of Quenya you’d see that all the sounds in the passages of Black Speech are present.  What differs is the frequency.  In Quenya, “l”, “r”, “n” and so on feature heavily.  In Black speech, “full stops” (g, t) and fricative/sibilant sounds (sh, z) are prominent.  This gives the two languages a very different sound.  Quenya has a very “flowing” sound.  Black Speech is harsher on the ear.
So pick what sounds are more common.  Rank them.  This will help determine what your language sounds like.
From sounds you have words.  Words are made of syllables.  Syllables are collections of the sounds you’ve selected for that language.  Different languages build their syllables differently.  Japanese is very strict consonant-vowel (or simply vowel) and sometimes with an “n” at the end of the syllable.  Russian, on the other hand, tends to string consonant sounds together in ways that frustrate native English speakers and cause native Japanese speakers to figuratively throw up their hands in despair.
So how does your language build syllables?  As an example for “Old Aeriochi” I decided that syllables would use the following pattern:
[C][C]V[C]
Where “C” is “Consonant”, “V” is “Vowel”, and brackets indicate an optional item.  Using the sounds I’d selected, and all the possible combinations of consonants and vowels in that pattern, I had all the possible syllables in the language.
Problems arise, of course when you try to combine consonants.  Not all combinations work well.  So I needed some rules for combining consonants in order to keep the words pronounceable.  For Old Aerioch the rules were as follows:
  1. When a syllable starts with two consonants, the first consonant must be a full stop (p, b, k, or g in this language).  The second consonant must be an “approximate” (w, r, l, or y).
  2. When a trailing consonant in one syllable is followed by a leading syllable in a second, the second syllable’s leading consonant moves to the mouth position of the first and if it’s a stop it opens to a fricative (p becomes f, and so on).

This gives me the tools now to build words.  As an aid, I did some programming in Excel to create a list of all the possible syllables, assign a numerical value to them based on the frequency I’d assigned for the sounds they contain, and then sort them so I have a large table with the syllables using more frequent sounds at the top and the less frequent at the bottom.  When building common words, I can pick from the top of the list, less common words from farther down.  And so my vocabulary reflects the linguistic sound I determined in setting up the sound system.

It makes more than just words to make a language.  It also takes grammar and syntax.  And this is where a lot of people who create synthetic languages for use in fiction fall down.  Here, having studied formal grammar is quite helpful.  When I was in the Air Force, before being assigned to foreign language school the Air Force put me through an intense, six week, English grammar course.  The purpose of the course was not to ensure we used “good grammar”.  That wasn’t how the course was structured.  It was so that when we encountered “dative case” or “subjunctive mood” or “perfect tense” in the _foreign_ language class, we’d know what it meant.

For Old Aeriochi, I used a fairly common pattern:  inflected language with loose word order. Tense and mood were determined by suffixes on the verb.  Roll that nouns play in a sentence (declension) was determined by suffixes on the noun.  This is a good system to use for synthetic languages because it’s easy to define.  It’s also easy to expand.  For instance English has “Imperative” for verbs.  In Old Aeriochi” there are “strong imperative” and “weak imperative”. (The difference is illustrated in that the weak imperative is used in a spell to help someone sleep despite pain from injuries while the strong imperative is used to send an opponent into slumberland in the middle of a fight and make sure they stay that way despite all that’s going on around them.)

For the Oruk language I used in another forthcoming piece, I used an abbreviated version of the above process.  I didn’t need as much language (Old Aeriochi was written for a series where I anticipate using it quite a bit, the Oruk language was written for a single short although I may re-use it at a different time.) I simply went “by ear” in selecting sounds and creating syllables and words.  For syntax I made it a word order language.  The word order is defined as follows:

[Interrogative particle] Verb [verb modifiers][te direct object[object modifiers]][subject [subject modifiers]]

That’s a very simple pattern but then I don’t need much for this story.  The interrogative particle is a short “word” that indicates that the sentence is a question.  “Te” indicates that the noun that follows is a direct object.  If I need more for future stories (no reason I can’t use the same language elsewhere), I can expand on it.

And that’s the basics.  It’s a pretty involved process, but even simple languages are pretty complex.  To make the language more real you should have multiple types of verbs and nouns that follow related but slightly different rules, and a few irregulars that follow rules all their own.

So, do you need a language for your stories?  Now you have at least a basic primer on one way to create one.

Flyers for my ebooks

Just recently went to a small, local, SF con.  I have some paper books to sell at these things (anthologies that include stories of mine), but I was wondering how to sell ebooks at a venue like a science fiction Convention.  What I came up with was these fliers:

Front side:

 

Back side:

FTI Beginnings (Two novellas):

The Future is Now:  Richard Schneider has a dream, a dream of cheap access to space not just for the few but for the world.  He founds a company to build that dream with a simple philosophy, when problems arise don’t cut corners, find better ways.

Match Point:  Inflicted with a neurological disease that slows his reflexes, Tom Striker’s career as a top-ranked professional tennis player is over.  But when Steve Bradshaw, number one player in the low-G version of tennis played in the space colonies makes snide comments about his play even before the disease Striker decides to try the low-G version of the game, a slower version where his ruined reflexes would be less of a handicap.  Would this new environment give him a second chance at success, and maybe a chance to put Bradshaw in his place?

EMT:

William Schneider continues in his father’s footsteps, but not everyone within that organization shares that philosophy.  Meanwhile, Kristine, an EMT on the moon, learns that not all the problems she faces comes with the territory.  Their different problems lead them on a collision course in an attempt to avoid disaster.

Live to Tell:

Staff Sergeant Mike Yamada is the only person who has ever been recovered from captivity by the Eres, and the only one who truly understands the true horror that captivity entails.  When the hospital ship carrying him is captured by the Eres, can he find some way to rise above his fears and avoid the horror that awaits?

Heinlein’s Juveniles still relevant?

Elsewhere the suggestion was made that Heinlein’s Juveniles were not, in some way, valid, or maybe relevant is a better word, any more because, “children aren’t like that any more.”

I don’t know about that.  My daughter, age 9, loves them.  It started when I read them to her in installments a year or so ago as “bedtime stories”.  She kept saying “More!” and I kept having to insist “No, it’s time for you to go to sleep, sweetie.” This year, she has a school reading assignment where she gets to pick a book, read it (10 pages at a time for the assignment), and write something about what she read.  She picked Have Space Suit Will Travel. (Finished that and went to Piper’s “Little Fuzzy” but that’s another story.  She wants the other Heinlein juveniles but I only have the one in dead tree at the moment.  The rest are in e-format only.)

I don’t think it’s so much “Kids are different today” as it was more OK then to write about exceptional kids, ideals to aspire to rather than the mush of “everyday life.”

And, as it happens, “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” remains my all-time favorite book–not just science fiction, not just juvenile, not even just Heinlein, but book.

To emphasize, even when I was growing up, the kids in Heinlein’s Juveniles (or in the Tom Swift Junior books which were among my first introduction to science fiction) weren’t what I was.  They were what I wanted to be.  And I wanted to be that because they showed me something better, something worthy of being.

Maybe I’d never acquire a space suit of my own, but man if I did, I certainly hoped that I’d be as hot as Kip at getting it working and maybe, just maybe, that would get me into space.

There were no “junior” let alone “senior” prizes for rocketry back then* but even so I tried to be like the kids in Rocket Ship Galileo because, well, they were kids doing things worth doing.

And there was no “Space Patrol” to join, and chances were I’d never be able to make the cut if there were, but oh, how I wished there was so I could at least try.

And so on.  These people did things, made things happen, and sometimes . . . saved the world.

*As it happened, years later there was a prize, something that probably would have been one of the “senior prizes” in the world of Rocket Ship Galileo, the Ansari X Prize.  And, as fate would have it, it would appear that I actually helped make that happen.

And so let us end once again with a musical interlude:

Millenicon Schedule

I’ll be attending Millenicon in Cincinatti this weekend.  My schedule is:

Sat         6 PM        MR 1216        Then All the Scientists Groaned
              7 PM        Hotel Lobby    AUTOGRAPHS
Sun        11 AM      MR 1216         Atomic Force Microscopy
              1 PM        Reagan           READING
 
Come see me there.  I’ll have books (Sword & Sorceress and some of the Heroes in Hell books) for sale and flyers for my e-published stuff.

"The Kinmar", a snippet

I don’t generally snippet works in progress, partly because I don’t want to screw up any rights that a publisher may wish to acquire (say, for instance, if a magazine counts the snippet as a “prior publication” when they want First Rights), but I plan to release this one indie.

The story is set in a world I’ve used before.  I have a novel manuscript, currently sitting at a particular publishing house having been “pulled from slush for a closer look” (and the waiting continues).  “Time for Tears”, in Sword & Sorceress 26 is also set in this world.  It uses one of the characters and references the other.

Enjoy:

The Kinmar

by

David L. Burkhead

Kreg knelt to examine the trail.  Hard to say how many raiders rode ahead of them.  Enough to have slaughtered the people of Three Oaks.

Shadows from the birch trees waving in the slight breeze dappled the ground.  Kreg reached out to touch a hoof print, measuring it with his hand.  Unshod.  That meant either Eastern raiders or a very poor band of bandits.

Tracks overlaid each in the packed dirt.  Kreg’s eyes narrowed as he tried, and failed, to count how many raiders were in the party.  That little girl–Kreg did not know her name–had been taken in the throat with an arrow.  A kindness of a sort putting her beyond pain when the raider swords had hacked her body to pieces.

Kreg  had recognized her tiny, mutilated corpse.  She had given him flowers the last he rode through Three Oaks.  She had given him flowers and he didn’t even know her name.

“Meritha,” Kaila said from her horse.

Kreg looked up at her.

“Her name,” Kaila said. “The girl.”

Despite his fury, the corners of Kreg’s lips twitched.  Kaila was in his head, much like she always rode I’m her heart.  He did not fully understand it.  The Knightbond did not work so for anyone else, but the bond was still new-forged and they were all still learning what it did.

“Bandits,” Kreg said as he stood up. “Some ponies, some larger horses.  Raiders would be more consistent.”

“Your counsel, Your Grace?”

Kreg’s lips twitched again.  Kaila loved to twit him about the new title, granted by king Keven, making Kreg a Duke in his own right instead of merely Kaila’s consort.

“They’re just hours ahead of us.” Kreg swung into his saddle.  He conjured a vision of a map in his head. “we’d lose days riding to…Zhaivan, I think, to raise the army.”

“You and me?”

“You and me.”

“Risky.”

This time the smile escaped from Kreg’s lips. “Fear not for us.”

Kaila’s return smile, as she finished their old challenge, warmed Kreg to the core of his heart. “Fear rather for the evil we face.”

And yet…. Kreg let his gaze drop from Kaila’s eyes to her still-slender waist, then back to her eyes.  There were risks and risks.  But there was also duty, and that little girl … Meritha.  Let there be no more Merithas.  Please let there be no more Merithas.

#

As they trotted down the trail, Kaila watched Kreg from beneath lowered lids.  He nearly glowed black with his pain and anger over the destruction of Three Oaks.

She understood.  When they first met, she didn’t but now?  Now she did, perhaps better than Kreg did himself.

The Gods had brought Kreg to them.  This Kaila believed with every beat of her heart.  Shillond might speak of powerful magics but Kaila knew the truth.

Kaila had grown up facing  raiders and bandits and villages ravaged.  And Kreg, well Kreg had not and there was the end of it.  And while Kaila’s heart ached for the slain no less than did Kreg’s, long experience taught her to temper her fury until she could unleash it at a just target.

Kreg raised a hand.  Kaila reined her horse to a stop.  Kreg’s hand stabbed toward the ground three times, indicating where the trail had split.  Kaila’s eyes widened as she saw the third trail.  Just to the side of the main trail a single track bid fair to leap from the ground at her.  A heel pad, four oval toe marks, no indents from claws dimpling the ground.  Some form of cat, but larger than any cat should be, larger and deeper.  A cat that walked on two legs.  She looked up and met Kreg’s eyes.

“Kinmar,” Kreg said, echoing her own thought.

“I thought they were gone.”

“So did I.  So did everyone.  But…” He waved at the track.

Kaila scowled. The Kinmar, the half-men.  When Schah had invaded with armies that kept growing, seemingly endlessly, she, Kreg, and her father Shillond had discovered that the armies were changelings, animals transformed by magic into human warriors.  In the end, Kreg discovered a way to break the spell but the changeling warriors had not changed completely back into their animal forms.
They had thought in banishing the demon Baaltor once more from the world that the Kinmar likewise vanished.

“Perhaps,” Kaila said, “we should gather the army after all.”

Kreg shook his head. “Still take too long.  This doesn’t change that.  Although perhaps you could….”

“Think not of sending me back,” Kaila said, “not this day nor any other.”

Once again, Kreg’s gaze dropped from Kaila’s face, then returned.

“Would you have our child be born to a coward?  No, Kreg.  We fight together, as we always have since you came to this world.”

Kreg nodded. “Together then.”

“Which trail?”

Kreg pointed to the cat track. “The cat.  That is the greatest danger, I think.”

Kaila looked from one trail to another.  Neither she nor Kreg were a truly skilled tracker although Kreg followed a trail a bit better than did she.  Just this one print, distinct from the churned up dirt from where the other creatures–no longer was she so sure that these were mounted riders–had passed. “A single mistake, Kreg,” she said. “Mayhap they disguise their trail?  Hooved kinmar in the rear to trample the others’ tracks.”

“Could be.  But one cat form, at least, went this way.”

“And mayhap it is a deception,” Kaila said. She waved at the print.  A single print, clear in the dirt when everything but a few hoofprints was too obscured for either of them to read.

Kreg spread his hands, palms up. “We don’t have anything else to go on.”

Kaila thought for a moment then nodded. “You speak sooth.  And it would not be the first time we two had ridden, eyes open, into a trap.”

Kreg turned his horse to continue down the trail.  Kaila followed.  She frowned.  Kreg had always been the clever one.  To ride all-knowing into a trap, trusting to break it when it closed?  No, not without great need.  Three Oaks had struck him more deeply than she had surmised.

Movement in the trees caught her eye.  Her hand fell to her sword and closed about its grip. “Kreg!”

Ahead, Kreg twisted in his saddle.  His hand dropped to his own sword and he started to snatch it from its scabbard.

The kinmar leaped from the concealing foliage above.  Cat form, Kaila saw.  She finished drawing her sword.  The kinmar tackled Kreg and drove him from his horse.  As they hit the ground, the kinmar drew its legs up and raked, its claws scittering across the rings of Kreg’s mail tunic then across, and through, Kreg’s leather boots.  Blood spurted from Kreg’s torn thigh.

“Kreg!”

Kaila dropped her sword.  It had scarcely struck the ground before she had snatched her bow from its saddle-sheath and fitted an arrow to string.

The arrow flew true, striking the kinmar just beneath the left shoulder, but it struck bone rather than penetrating deeply.  The kinmar turned for an instant to look at her as Kaila prepared another arrow.  It snarled, with a face that blended human features and cat.  Kaila lifted the bow and started to draw. The kinmar turned and leaped into the surrounding woods.  Before Kaila finished her draw, it was gone.
Kreg lay very still.

“Kreg,” Kaila moaned as she dropped the bow and leaped from her saddle.  Blood continued to pour from Kreg’s thigh.  Kaila scooped up her sword in passing as she ran to Kreg.

Kreg struggled to rise, his breath coming in short pants.  Kaila knelt by his side.  She shook her head.  The experience of a hundred battlefields seemed to have deserted her.  Blood.  Too much blood.

A wounded knight, Kaila told herself, one of many she had dealt with over the years.  The mental discipline calmed her.  For a moment, she could convince herself that it wasn’t her friend, her lover, her husband that lay bleeding before her, but just another knight that needed treatment.

First the bleeding.  Four parallel gouges in Kreg’s right leg, running from two-thirds of the way up his thigh down to just past the knee.  She placed the heel her hand against his thigh, where the artery crossed the bone and leaned into it.  The flow of blood slowed.  She drew her dagger with her other hand and cut away the remains of Kreg’s boot.

Kreg moaned. “Hurts.”

“Rest, Kreg,.  Rest.” Kaila said.

“Chest,” Kreg said. “Hurts.  Ribs.”

Kaila’s lips pressed into a thin line. As she worked, she cast quick glances at the forest around them.  Quick, but thorough.  The forest remained still.  Kaila berated herself.  If she had been watching the forest instead of brooding over her concern for Kreg she might have spotted the kinmar.

“Don’t,” Kreg said, his arm quivering as he lifted it in the direction of her cheek. “Please.”

The bleeding had slowed to a trickle.  Kaila whistled.  Her horse—Kreg’s had fled with the kinmar’s attack—trotted to her.  After a moment’s hesitation, Kaila released the pressure on Kreg’s leg and stood.  More blood flowed but less, much less, than before.  Moving quickly, she opened the pack strapped behind her saddle and pulled out a spare tunic and undershift.  She again knelt beside Kreg and folded the undershift into a long pad.  She tore the tunic into long strips and used them to bind the pad onto the wound in Kreg’s leg.

Kreg’s eyes were closed, his face slack, his breathing short and ragged.  She closed inside her and reached for the Knightbond.  The power resisted her efforts.  It always did.  She called it anyway, called it and shaped it.  Slowly, the power responded to her will.  A portion of the power she directed to Kreg’s leg.  Shillond, her father, could have stopped the bleeding with a thought.  She could only encourage it to stop on its own.  The flow of blood soaking into the bandage slowed and stopped.
Once the danger of bleeding to death ended, Kaila turned her attention to his chest.  Kreg’s breath continued short.  After casting another glance at the forest she reached out with the Knightbond.  The break, breaks, in Kreg’s ribcage glowed black in her head.  Tentatively, she touched the breaks with the power.  One rib had been driven inward, piercing the lung.  Already that lung was starting to collapse.
She wished Shillond were there instead of on a diplomatic mission in far-off Merona.  She felt his love for her through the Knightbond, love and power.  Keven, in his palace in Norveth.  All of them, all the Knights of Aerioch bent power her way.  The Knightbond joined the Knights of Aerioch, making all their powers one.

“A knight of Aerioch is never alone,” she whispered.  She laid a gentle hand on Kreg’s side, reaching with the power for the broken ribs.  Even with the power, she could do so little.  The rib gradually slid back into place.  Again she nudged the power.  The puncture in the lung contracted.  She could not close it but it would leak no more.  Kreg’s blood ceased leaking into the lung, and into the space between lung and ribs.

Kaila sank back, exhausted and released the power.  She could do no more.  Kreg’s own strength would have to complete the healing she had started.

She struggled to her feet.  She had another task.  The kinmar would be back.

Come to the Dark Side. We have STORIES.

Musing a bit here but back when I got started, late 80’s to early 90’s, the music I listened to was all of a piece (bear with me.  I’m going somewhere here).  Love songs and ballads, lightweight pop music, that sort of stuff.  The fiction I read was mostly, almost entirely, pretty upbeat as well.  As one example, I got so bothered, so freaked by the “danger” to the protagonist in the late Harry Harrison’s “The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge” that I nearly dropped the book.  I got through it and ended up reading it and the rest of the series, but it was a close thing.  I couldn’t really deal with the darker elements of life, not even in fiction and music.

This showed in my own writing.  I never really put my characters in jeopardy (EMT was probably the most “risk” I put my characters through at that time).  And when I tried, I tended to shy away from expressing it vividly.

The result was rather weak writing.  I was able to sell some stuff if I had a clever enough gimmick but that was about it.

More recently, I’ve gained an appreciation for the dark.  John Ringo’s books have introduced me to power and gothic/symphonic metal.  And that was really a catalyst.  The fear, the outright terror for the fate of the characters one is reading, is what makes for powerful fiction.  Back when I was in sunshine land I could not have written “Plague Station” (still looking for a few beta readers if anyone’s interested).  I had the idea for “Oruk Means Hard Work” years ago but I couldn’t have written it because I couldn’t have written the ending, the way it had to end.

There’s a great line from a movie that was otherwise, IMO, pretty lame:  if you want to paint pictures like that, you’ve got to use some dark colors.

Thus ends this musing.

And so let me end with this musical interlude: