Sunday, March 31, 2013

Prompt: Some things have to be said

I was 16 when I signed up to ship offEarth with the InterPlanetary Development Agency. My first station was Io, which was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a real baptism by fire. I worked on three sub-orbital stations there, and after awhile, you don’t even notice the volcanic flares and the lava-covered crawling surface.

Anyway, about five years in, they started sending tourists and various promotional gigs our way. Diego Velazquez was a poet in residence for almost a year. I didn’t understand a word of his poetry, but he was a brilliant game master, and we spent hours huddled over his handmade board and dice in the rec bay. A lot of musicians came out to, and I liked getting to see how they played, even if their music wasn’t my usual fare. I mean, I’m not much into classical, for instance, but watching how they move their fingers on instruments is really fascinating.

So there was this guitarist, Martin Bushell, who played really old school “new age” music. Definitely not my thing, but he was actually really funny and talented. I enjoyed the show a lot. He had a very distinctive style about how he moved on the stage and played his instruments. And not just guitar, he played a little reed flute thing sometimes, and for one song he had his guitar, a mouth harp on a neckbrace, a cymbal dangling around one foot, and he banged a drum with the other foot. The whole audience was on their feet cheering.

Just a few months later, I was scanning the news reports while I was stuck waiting for a system update, and I saw he died in a freak crash landing on Phobos. His photo caught my eye, and I thought that really sucked. When I got transferred to Phobos a couple of years later, I even went out to his memorial site and recorded a holo about how much I liked his gig on Io.

So, you know, time goes by, and I move up through the ranks, and when I’m 28, I score a plush gig on the Moon. I even think about going back to Earth for a vacation, but I can’t make up my mind about looking up any family, so I keep putting it off. I still like seeing music performed live, and this classical group comes in to play for the anniversary celebrations of the first lunar landing. Their concert is almost like a lecture, because they talk a lot about their music before they play it. It’s from the Renaissance, really old, like around the 1500s. Their instruments aren’t that old, but they’re all a little different than modern instruments. Lute instead of guitar, harpsichord instead of a piano, that kind of thing. There’s this woman playing several different flute-type instruments, and the whole show, I keep thinking how much she reminds me of that guitarist. It takes me awhile now to think of his name. Martin Bushell. She moves like him, the way she holds her body and even her instruments, I mean. It’s uncanny, because it’s not like the flute and guitar are at all similar.

There’s a reception afterwards, and I enjoy talking with the musicians, finding out other music they like, where they’ve travelled, that kind of thing. When I finally meet the flutist, I tell her how much I enjoyed her performance, and then I blurt it out. “I don’t know if you’ll even know who I mean, but watching you, I was really reminded of Martin Bushell.”

Before I can continue explaining who he was, she turns white. I mean, ghost white. “He’s my husband,” she whispers.

And I have the most bizarre thought. That can’t be right, he’s dead. Glad I didn’t say that one out loud.

“He was my husband,” she adds. And tears start running down her face.

“I’m so sorry! I – I didn’t know,” I try to apologize. I feel like the biggest loser in the solar system. How could I have said something so bizarre? I can tell she is really shocked. But then she grabs my hands so tight that my bones crunch together.

“No. No. Thank you. That’s the most beautiful compliment anyone has ever given me.” She kisses me on the cheek and then one of her friends has come up and pulls her away. I still feel terrible, and I head over to the bar and nurse a drink, watching her and wishing I could take it back.

After a little while, the lutist comes up next to me to get a refill. He sees me watching her, and I tell him what happened, and how bad I feel. He nods and sips his beer, not saying anything for a few minutes. We both watch her on the other side of the room.

“She really loved him. He used to play with us sometimes. Yeah, I know, you wouldn’t think it, but actually, it really worked well. He was a great guy. We all still miss him, even though life goes on.”

He gives me this really intense look, then shrugs. “Funny that no one ever mentioned that before, but you’re right. They were cut from the same cloth. Musical soulmates, you might say.” He looks across the room again and lifts his glass in a salute. “Some things just need to be said, I guess… I think she’s gonna be okay.”

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Maize, Malachi

Baltimore Consort, La Rocque and Roll – Popular Music of Renaissance France

Time writing:
35 minutes

March word count:

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Prompt: Fantasy Island City

Thanks to Ran D on for the gorgeous visual prompt

“Descent clear in three, two, one. Clear of mercury cloud cover. Ladies and Gentlemen in the starboard quarters, you have the first view of your new home. Port side, we’ll be coming around in our minutes for your first look.”

Pentig—he still thought of himself by his old name, not his new designation as P5932—stared out the tiny window. The world below looked lush and green, not as deadly as he had heard.

“But everything there will try to kill you if you leave the island, including the water and the green stuff,” his companion said. Pentig must have spoken aloud. He turned to look at C3861, stretched on his back with his arms crossed under his head.

“Aren’t you even curious?” Pentig asked.

“Why? Once we’re inside, it’ll be just like any other prison back home.” C3861 said bitterly. He was a clone, respected throughout the art world for his photography until the Human Right-to-Work Unions got the clones outlawed and rounded up under marshal law.

Now clones and criminals alike were stripped of their identities and rights, and shipped offworld to prison colonies like Fantasy Island. Pentig shrugged and looked back out the window. He didn’t know when he might get a chance to see the outside world again, and he wanted to memorize every feature while he could.

The prison city rose on platforms high above the island in the miles-wide river that coursed across the southern continent. The river itself glinted silver in the cloud-filtered sunlight. Pentig shivered at the thought of the acid stripping through skin and bone in minutes if he went in. There was one giant tree on the island, otherwise it was covered in what looked like grass, but he knew it was sharp-bladed silicon. Under the city platforms were arrays of mechanical centers, cisterns for the precious fresh water, turbines for the wind power, and even solar panels, which he could see on top of pretty much every building the stretched into the sky, away from the deadly planet.

He has surprised by how graceful it looked. He had imagined a sprawling, squalid prison hell hole, but the view below looked more like one of the most sought after resorts on Earth.  The city, for all it was a prison, was renowned for its clean tech design and energy efficiency. There were three platforms staggered in height, with towers of all shapes and sizes, looking for all the world like a sophisticated metropolis. As the prison cargo ship curved around the island, preparing to land, Pentig saw a huge black statue with outstretched arms on the crest of the hill opposite the island. It looked human, but it predated the prison colony, and no one knew its origins.

They landed and waited for their cell door to open. C3861 mockingly motioned Pentig to go first. He turned every social nicety into mockery since his imprisonment. As they walked into the receiving terminal, Pentig thought it looked more like an old airport than a prison intake center. He’d seen plenty of those on Earth, and none were designed with domed glass ceilings and carved columns stretching up to support them. All the incoming prisoners wore standard issue fatigues, but Pentig saw the locals were in a variety of colorful tunics and loose pants, even some women in long dresses. He saw flashes of long hair, jewelry, and then he stopped in his tracks and stared. C3861 pushed his back to keep him moving.

There was a child, spinning a long rainbow ribbon on a stick. Pentig remembered his sisters playing with something like that. The little girl looked up and smiled at him as he passed. He looked away, feeling an uncomfortable sense of confusion and even unease. He had become used to the strict, monotonous regimen of prison life. What was this place? It didn’t look like a prison. And the people didn’t look—or act—like prisoners.

TBC (maybe)

Dogs in house:

Time writing:
~30 minutes

March word count:

Prompt: The Temple of the Sapphire God

Perhaps, though not definitely, a return to the Lake of the Sapphire Waters

Thanks to Wanderings in the Fantastic World for another great prompt!

Norel knelt by the edge of the Sapphire Lake, trying yet again to clear the anxiety and fear from his mind. He tugged the bracelet from around his wrist and ran his fingers over the smooth blue stones. As he focused on them, he began the God’s Meditations, closing his fingertips around each stone in turn.

He looked up at the full moon as he chanted silently, asking for her guidance across the lake. He closed his eyes until he had turned the bracelet around one full time. He knew the story of each stone by heart and did not need to see them to know which one he held. They told the stories of his family who had come here before him to make they journey across the Sapphire Lake to the Temple of the Sapphire God.

Norel felt the moon’s light like an embrace. He opened his eyes and saw the stones in his hand glowing under their Goddess’s love. Slipping the bracelet back on his wrist, he stood and stretched his arms high above his head.

“Goddess Moon, please guide me on this night. Please lead me to the Temple of the Sapphire God so I may beg his favor.” He waded into the lake and began to swim. It would be a long night.

The Temple of the Sapphire God lay in the center of the Sapphire Lake, visible from the shores all the way around the crystal blue waters. Yet the current ran strong from the temple to the shore, and few were strong enough to swim so far against such resistance. Norel’s older brother had drowned ten years ago when he braved the journey. Norel’s father had forbidden him to make the attempt, until now. A favor from the Sapphire God was all that could save Norel’s mother from the wasting disease, and his father was too old to make the journey as he had in his youth. Norel begged for months until his father relented, tears in his eyes.

“The God could not be so cruel to take both my sons and my wife too,” he cried as he kept vigil with the Goddess Moon. He fell asleep and woke with a moonstone in his hand. A sign.

So Norel prepared for his journey at the next full moon. Tonight. He swam along the moon’s path toward the temple. He never looked up to gauge his distance. When he tired, he floated on his back for a few precious moments until he felt the moon’s light send a surge of energy through his tired arms and aching legs. Surely the Goddess gave favor. 

Three times he swam until he could not lift his arm for another stroke. Three times he rested, then swam again. Finally, he saw a glint of lighter color beneath him. He focused and saw the pale stones that formed the lakebed, glinting as the moon’s light reached deep into the water below. Another stroke, and another. Suddenly he inhaled a mouthful of water and choked. He thrashed, splashing and coughing, and dropping his head under the wter again and again. Finally he cleared the water from his lungs and lay on his back, gasping for air and crying bitter tears under the moon’s silver light.

“Dear Goddess, please help me. Save me. I must ask the Sapphire God to save my mother’s life,” he pleaded up into the light. When he turned back to swim again, he could clearly see the lakebed below, and he dropped his feet down, touching the bottom. He looked up and saw the Temple of the Sapphire God gleaming in the moon’s light. He took another deep breath.

“Thank you, Goddess!” He walked toward the temple, marveling at his ancestors’ carvings on the white marble. Despite the burning in his lungs, the ache in his arms and legs, Norel didn’t falter as he entered the building.

He was surprised to find the moon waiting there for him, shining through the open dome. Her light embraced the statue in the center, taller than any man. Norel quickly looked down as he approached, lest he give offence. He dropped to his knees, then lay full on the marble floor. He was too exhausted and overcome to say a word, to pray, to plead. He closed his eyes and for the first time, he felt his mind clear of all the fear and worry of the past two years since his mother had first become ill.

Drool slid between the cold marble and his cheek. He woke with a start, horrified that he had fallen asleep at the foot of the God. He scrambled to his knees and bent low, resting his forehead on the cool marble. He wanted to weep, sure that he had forfeited any favor from the God through his disrespect. As he knelt there, he felt his hands gripping tight against his sides. His left hand was empty, but something pressed against the inner flesh of his right hand.

Norel sat up and held his right fist in front of him. He looked up without thinking. The God smiled down on him. He had to concentrate to open his fingers one by one, like a lotus under the morning sun. In his palm lay a single sapphire, a gift of favor from the Sapphire God.

# # #

Dogs in house:

Bach, Brandenberg Concerto No 2

Time writing:
~40 minutes

March word count:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Prompt: Mystery on the Floating Castle

Thanks to My Beautiful World for the visual prompt today!

Cecily leaned against the window’s edge and waved though her arm already ached. Bertrand took up more than his share of the open window, waving on the other side as the castle cruised slowly up the river into Ycenna. Their parents were in the room above them, accepting their welcome from the city and waving their royal benedictions across the water to the throngs of people leaning out every open window, filling the streets and bridges that crossed back and forth above the Foylaugh. Cecily shoved Bertrand out of her way to lean forward for a breath of fresh air and the overwhelming scent of flowers that covered the water. The roar of the crowd was deafening, and as the sun glinted against her golden hair, the cheers surged even louder.

“Let me see, then,” Bertrand demanded and pushed her aside. She heard a few laughs among the cheers, and she refused to act like the Royal Brat. Stepping back, she gave Bertrand room to lean out the window. He was too young to remember the last time they had cruised into Ycenna, after all. Cecily remembered how overwhelming it had seemed to her then, at the tender age of nine, a year older the Bertrand now. She was fourteen now, and when she left Ycenna, she would be a queen.

Suddenly Cecily wanted to retreat from the overwhelming sensory assault of their welcome. She whispered to Bertrand, “Keep waving. They’ll love you! And watch the swinging bridges, they are really something.” With that to occupy her brother’s attention, she crept into the room behind them. The empty room drew her up short. There were always attendants around them. Her brows knit together in consternation, then she realized they were all at the castle’s windows enjoying the welcome as well. She smiled, realizing that for a precious little while, she was on her own. There was only one place to go.

The castle halls were eerily quiet, with everyone crowded at the outer edges of the floating marvel that carried the Royal Family and attending Court in an endless circuit throughout the land of Reytiennes. Cecily paid scant attention to the family portraits that lined the corridors as she made her way to the small spiral staircase in the exact center of the castle. She knew the story of every one, could recite her lineage back six hundred years in a singsong litany that her favorite tutor, Evelynn had taught her during her year aboard the floating Court.

Cecily had figured out the mysterious gap in the royal lineage when she was twelve and obsessed with numbers. When she asked Evelynn about the three year gap between the rule of King Peynard the Fourth and Queen Chretienne the Second, the young woman paled and stammered a transparent falsehood before changing the subject and shooing the young Royals to the courtyard for tea. Cecily had understood there was a secret she was not supposed to know, and from that moment, she had been determined to discover it. From Evelynn’s reaction, she instinctively understood this was not a question she could simply ask anyone, even her parents.

Then they had cruised into Reychelles for a holiday on the ocean shore, but Cecily had been sick and left in bed. Her nurse was sound asleep in the rocking chair by the fireplace when she awoke feeling much recovered and wanting some tea and biscuits. So Cecily had climbed out of bed and wandered to the kitchen on her own for the very first time. The cooks had spoiled her with treats and sent her back to bed, where she had every intention of going until she saw the wall open and a maid appear from a hidden stairwell.

Cecily had been wide-eyed with excitement and wonder. What could be better than a mystery in the dull, dreary, floating castle! She hid in an alcove, crowded behind a statue, until the maid disappeared and the hallway was clear. Cecily crept toward the wall, looking for the way to reveal the hidden stairs. She looked carefully but could find no sign of it. She stamped her foot and hit the wall in frustration, and to her astonishment, a panel slid aside to reveal the stairs.

A closer examination revealed a slight bump in the wall, which she had not even noticed and would have considered nothing more than old workmanship. She touched it again, and the panel began to slide closed. Cecily jumped through, safely hidden on the other side. She looked up the dark curving staircase and began to climb.

Dogs in house:

Delta Rae, Carry the Fire

Time writing:
~35 minutes

March word count: