Alien Curse

aliencurselatestmarchfinal

This is probably NOT the final cover.  But it’s the one I have right now, so I’m using it.  I’m very close to finishing this, and yes, there will be more Dyce and second musketeer vampires shortly after.

Sorry this stuff has been so slow, I’ve been… um…. hassled by other stuff and having to take Benadryl to stop the auto-immune flaring up.  For some reason benadryl turns off fiction writing.

Anyway, I’m on about 3 hours of sleep — no, nothing really bad, we just haven’t set up the air conditioners yet, and last night was very hot, even without stupid Havelock cat on top of me.

So, have a first chapter.  Ignore the typos.  It will be edited.

Alien Curse

  1. A. Hoyt

I

 

The ship rolled and rattled so much coming out of teleport that I just knew we were going to be smeared somewhere between nowhere and reality, leaving our poor souls haunting the realms of shadow.

The glimpse I’d had of the Space Magician, coming in the side of the ship, back as we left Gioll didn’t fill me with confidence either. Sure, he wore the golden necklace with the wing-symbol of his profession. But his white hair was long and unkempt, it had probably been a month since he’d last shaved, and the way he weaved as he approached the ship told me he was probably drunk. I wondered in what alley they’d picked him up and if they were paying him in wine.

If I’d been a free man and this a ship I’d chartered, I’d have turned around and left then.

But I wasn’t paying for the transport, and I did not get the option of not boarding the ship. My escort had nudged me aboard, and onto the lumpy, not-properly-secured seat, and we’d rattled off up to orbit and into the total darkness of Between without my having any say on it.

We emerged from it with a blinding flash of light, a bang, and a sense of being crushed, while the spaceship went tonk, ting, plink all around us. I closed my eyes and prayed to the God I didn’t believe in that I wouldn’t die like this. Not like this.

They’d promised me freedom. To die now would be a bad joke.

It would have been easier if I didn’t know what was happening. But I did. Oh, I did. The idiot pushing this buggy was so senile or wasted that he could no longer hold together the simple spells that protected the ship from heat on reentry, or the spells that kept us from being crushed as the ship fell – more or less like a rock – from orbit to planetside.

I opened my eyes and glimpsed, though the viewport nearest, a green and blue globe towards which we were hurtling at speed. Then the crushing g-force lifted, leaving me at normal g, but the speeding of the ship didn’t slacken off.

Next to me, my escort had pulled out a rosary and was tolling the beads at speed. I could have told him it wouldn’t help and, depending on the amount and type of his faith, it might in fact hurt.  Magic and religion are not inimical, but the interact at strange angles.  Fervent enough faith collapses probabilities into the certainty of faith and pretty much nullifies the HEX matrix, making anything in the magical realm ineffective.

The man was white as a sheet, and his Department of Intergalactic Corrections uniform had sweat stains under his arms. From the smell there was also a stain at his crotch, but I wasn’t going to look. So I didn’t say anything, and instead tried to breathe normally as we hurtled down.  Almost without meaning to, I reached, delicately, carefully, for the spells the space mage was weaving.

At one time this would have been child’s play. In many ways literally child’s play, as I’d been feeling my way through spaceport spells and memorizing their patterns when I was still in crèche.  But five years with a limiter took its toll.  It was like wearing a blindfold for five years, and then learning to see again.  I could intuit the strands of magic in my mind, the weave of the spells, but it was all jumbled, a kaleidoscope of forces and powers, of light and energy, none of it making any sense.

From the view out the window we’d been falling for minutes.  It felt like forever, and the man next to me had started shouting his prayers in what I thought was Latin.  And he had definitely pissed himself.

The surface of the world came closer.  Gravity hit me again, slamming my middle, making it hard to breathe and sending a taste of bile into my mouth.  Heat climbed, suddenly, unbearably. Sweat soaked through my ugly purple coverall, till I was as wet as if I’d taken a dip in the ocean.  Sweat ran into my eyes, past my eyebrows, and salt of sweat stung my lips.

So I’m going to die like this.  What a waste.  What a stupid waste.

Suddenly, inexplicably, in my mage site, the magic I was sensing coalesced into a pattern I recognized, and my magic reached for the truncated part.  Stupid idiot had woven all the spells except the one to stop us burning and crashing.  I took hold of what he’d left unfinished, and wove it out, all the way.  The runes for safe travel, the invocation to Mercury, the image of the man in winged sandals under the ship, slowing the descent, fluttering us gently down.

The artificial gravity mitigation and heat-shielding kicked in at the same time.  The precipitous descent slowed so much it felt like we were stopped, though I could see the world growing closer by degrees.  I leaned back in the seat, and didn’t even mind the lumpy upholstery, as I pulled ragged breath into my lungs.  Smelly and stale as it was, the air felt like the ambrosia of the gods. Next to me, the warden slumped.  I wasn’t sure if he was relieved or had passed out.  I didn’t care.

The world beneath looked green and blue and lovely, much like mother earth.  Then again, from this far up in space so did Gioll.  It was the people who made it hell.

Closer on, I could tell the place was mostly unpopulated.  There was something that looked like a ruined – largish – city and no other sign of human – or any other type – inhabitation.

And then we turned, in a gentle type of pirouette as we came down, and I saw that we were close to another city.  Well, to call it city.  It wasn’t as such, just a kind of sprawling settlement, prefabbed bubble buildings, extruded from some machine, ugly and grey against the brown rock.  And then, closer down, the spaceport: a cluster of flat buildings, and a flat surface like a road, carved from the native rock, in the shape of the rune Raidho that facilitated arrival and safety.

We landed gently in the middle of it.  There were no other ships visible, which argued for either a recent colony or a poor one, one that had practically no trade with anyone else.

Well, that figured.  Why else would Earth send someone like me to resolve their problems?

“Up, Arcana,” the guard said.  And I realized I’d been so busy unwinding the remains of the spells from around the ship that I had been staring, straight ahead, with a completely blank expression.

I honestly didn’t know what my features look like, anymore.  Mirrors didn’t feature large in Gioll, both for their magical properties and because when you’re in hell with a limiter spell, unable to use your power, for all magical intents made blind, deaf, mute, and subjected to the power of people who might as well be demons, what does your appearance matter?

But from the reactions I’ve got from people, including this sorry crew transporting me, I didn’t think I was the pretty-faced young man who had been given life in Gioll for piracy.

My blank look must have read threatening, because the guard who had grabbed for my arm, had his hand in his pocket, probably ready to draw his gun.  Frankly unprofessional behavior.  Oh, not in Gioll, but for someone they allowed to interact with free citizens.  Then again, maybe the he was still rattled by our landing.  Not unlikely. I was still rattled by our landing.  I’d thought we’d end up dead.

In fact, the reason I’d been winding out the spells is that the ship was crusted with them, thick with the kind of sludge that careless or incompetent magicians leave behind.  Our space mage might be a loon, or simply drunk, but the fact was that the remains of old magic would have made it hard for even a young, competent magician to try to land smoothly.  And I’m a sap.  I had seen death really close at that landing, and I didn’t want the next guard, or for that matter the next transported prisoner, or whoever this ship served to die.

I stood up when the guard pulled me. No resistance.  You learn that “go limp and allow yourself to be maneuvered” dance really well, after the first ten times you get a baton across your face because some incompetent, excitable guard decided that you’re fighting him, just because you tried to stay on your feet and control your own walk.

It must have worked.  His hand came out of his pocket, and he marched me to the door of the ship, and then ahead of him, with little pushes, to the bottom of the arrival stairs that had been wheeled up to the dented, dinged shell.

Arrival stairs was dignifying them with a name they didn’t deserve.  They were made of wood, just planks of wood on a frame, all of it loose and creaking.  There was no spaceport personnel at the bottom, though there must be some around, otherwise, how did they get the stairs against the ship?

The guard looked disoriented at the lack of a reception committee too.  He looked around, like he expected someone official to appear.  When no one did, he marched me towards the biggest building, a grey blister against the horizon.

I wanted to tell him that the biggest building in a spaceport was almost always a warehouse.  It was one of those things I remembered from raids.  But of course, I was not supposed to talk.  I was not supposed to say anything.  Yes, it was unlikely he would just shoot me out of hand.  After all he’d been tasked with delivering me here safe if not sound.  But he was scared and – without daring to poke into his mind – I got the strong sense that he was not used to this kind of mission, to actually taking one of the hardened criminals from Gioll and escorting them somewhere, alone, being fully responsible for them.

Behind us, I was aware of the derelict space mage coming out of the ship and stumbling in some random direction.

I didn’t turn.  I looked towards the big warehouse as he pulled me towards it.  He was taller than I by a head, and larger by double.   He also obscured my sight from the left, since he was holding my left arm.

Which is why I heard her before I saw her, a slap of soles against rock, at a run.

My guard turned, and I did, and the woman who’d been running towards us stopped taken by a sudden attack of dignity.  She stood for a moment, then walked towards us in a slow graceful walk.  At least I think it was graceful.  I hadn’t seen a woman in ten years.  I suspect a female hippo would have looked graceful.

Not that she was a female hippo.  Anything but.  Oh, she was taller than I, but probably by no more than an inch or so, and I was not a short man.

The rest of her was proportional to her height.  Curvy, with curves that would be too large on someone of less heroic proportions.  Long legs.  Long, dark red hair, left free down her back.

She wore a straight, ankle-length skirt and a blouse of squarish lines, neither of which did anything to disguise her feminine lines.  Nor did her boots disguise the fact that her walk was, yes, graceful.

As for her face, as she approached, she was obviously struggling to discipline it into severe lines.  It didn’t work

To be honest, she wasn’t pretty.  No one would call her that.  She was rather handsome, with a straight nose, generous mouth, wide green eyes, and a ridiculous splash of freckles across the bridge of her nose to her cheeks, which made her look much younger than form or feature betrayed.

She extended her hand – first to me, then realizing her mistake – to my guard, as she approached.  “Clarity Cyan,” she said.  “Governor of Bliss.”

The guard mumbled something.  I didn’t think he liked giving his name to her any better than he liked giving it to me.  He didn’t shake her hand.  Instead, he shoved me forward, causing me to stumble and just stop myself short of colliding with her.  “This here is Arthur Arcana,” he said.  “He’s been delivered.”

And then he turned, leaving me standing there, my hands in manacles, and Clarity Cyan looking at me like she didn’t quite believe someone had left this refuse littering her lovely brand-clean airport.

She cleared her throat.  “Art Arcana?” she asked, in the tone of someone who remembered the name from somewhere, long ago.  Maybe she did, but I doubted it.  She was too young to have known of daddy’s career.  Much too young to know of granddaddy’s.  And in this far end of the universe our family wouldn’t have made much of a splash.

I cleared my throat, and looked up, very conscious of my convict’s outfit, of not having been allowed to take a bath before leaving Gioll, and all that before the sweating-out I’d got in the transport ship.  My hair was probably too long, too, and if I weren’t in handcuffs, I’d feel my beard, which I bet was also really grown out.  I’d been in the middle of the month between hair removal allowed to the prisoners.

“Art Arcana was my father,” I said.  “My name is Arthur James Arcana.  Call me Jim.”

“Really? Your father was Art Arcana?” she asked

I shrugged.  “My grandfather too.  Stupid family joke.”  I wondered what she had heard and about whom.  If she’d heard of grandad, maybe in school, she’d think we were a family of legendary scholar wizards, responsible for making Hollywood the glittering center of magical shows it was.  If she’d heard of dad… well, that would depend on what she’d heard.  Dad before he’d been caught, or after.

From the look in her wide-open green eyes, I couldn’t tell whether she was appalled or curious.  And frankly, I didn’t want to know.  She was the governor of a new colony.  This probably meant she was married, in the family way, and trying to stake out a farm somewhere.  In ten years she’d be twice as wide and have a passel of kids.  And none of it mattered to me.  In ten years, I’d either be back in Gioll or free and making my way through the human worlds.  Perhaps I’d have a small business.  Perhaps I could trade in something. Maybe even just magical tinkering.

I realized I must have given the impression of glaring again as she took a step back, and assessed me, looking me up and down.  “This isn’t what I expected,” she said.  “I thought they’d send—”  She took a deep breath and shrugged.  I didn’t know what she was going to say I thought they’d send someone more presentable? Or  I thought they’d send someone older?  Someone cleaner.  Instead, she said, “Well, we’d best get you presentable first.  If I take you out like this, everyone will be staring and no one will trust you.”

“Right,” I said.  Stupid idea, of course, sending a convict out to a small settler community.  But then again, who else were they going to send, if the job was dangerous?  Not like the big money judicial magicians would volunteer.  And military mages?  Forget it. Many colonies would interpret the presence of one of them as an outright act of aggression.

She looked down.  “I don’t suppose you have the keys to your manacles?” she said.

I just looked back at them, and she laughed suddenly, her eyes wrinkling at the corners.  “No,” she said.  “Of course you don’t.  Stupid question.  Well…  Well.  We’ll cut them.  I guess I’ll take you to lodgings first.”

Then she turned around and started walking away.  I almost didn’t follow.  It wasn’t like I was used to this.  Really?  She was not going to drag me?  She was not going to order me?  She was just going to walk away and expect me to follow her?  What did she think I was, or she was?

Through my mind, wildly, ran vivid fantasies of escape, of breaking out, of running for the edge of the spaceport, of making it out to those wide free expenses, breaking my manacles against some rock, and surviving out there, free, without guards, without dangerous obligations, without—

Without magic.  Oh, they hadn’t taken my magic away.  No way to do that, once you had attained the age of reason.  And I’d left the limiter behind in Gioll.

Which meant I had magic, sure.  But if I went out into the wild, and started using it, even if all I used it for was lighting the fire and killing prey, I’d eventually get tagged as a wild, unregistered magician.  Which was either a return trip to Gioll, or death.  Of the two, frankly, I’d rather have death.

No, this was my one chance to legally get out of Gioll, to be a free citizen again, and I was going to take it.

I followed Clarity Cyan.

As I expected, she headed for the smallest of the bubble buildings, and into the door that faced the landing strip.  Inside, the place was cavernous with – of course for a poured building – a rounded ceiling through which the sun shone weakly.  There were what looked like various stands and tables around, the kind that in a normal spaceport were taken up by competing spacelines.  They were empty and showed no signs of use.  I wondered if the spaceport had come out of a kit, and if these accoutrements would eventually be used, but possibly not for centuries.

“We’re a small colony,” Cyan said, as though guessing my thoughts.  “Only twenty thousand people in five settlements.  If we prove the planet, we’ll be able to take in more colonists, more specialists, and become a real, functioning entity.”  She flashed me a smile over her shoulder.  It wasn’t even remotely fair that she had dimples.  “I’ll probably be ninety by then.”

I didn’t say anything.  I had no idea where I’d be at ninety.  Hell, I didn’t know where I’d be next week.  Instead I concentrated on walking without tripping, which believe it or not is harder when wearing manacles.  It’s a balance thing.  You can’t move your hands to compensate for taking long steps.

She opened a big double door, and we walked down a broad, molded staircase that probably aimed for grand proportions, but still looked dingy made in grey toughglass, which hadn’t even been polished after being poured, so that every flow line was there, and now filled with red dust, and scuffed from shoes.

There were only twenty steps, which was a good thing, because it was really hard walking without tripping down the steps with my hands fastened in front of me.

At the end of the staircase, we were at the beginning of a long, very straight street, lined on both sides with bubble buildings whose placement and uniform architecture betrayed their having been built all together, all at the same time about two minutes before the ship of colonists landed.  There were people on the street, though no one nearby.

In fact, they were far enough away that I had trouble telling details of their appearance.  I thought the two people standing five? Six? Ten? house blocks away were probably women, from their posture.  The kids playing around them could be either.  A childish scream of laughter reached me, but attenuated, and I couldn’t hear the adults at all.

The man crossing the street two blocks away was almost for sure a man, very surefooted, not graceful at all, and large.

Other people, further than the women were hard to make out, except for a blur of movement.  No vehicles.  That wasn’t unusual in a new colony. There would be some flyers, and some private brooms, but not a lot.  Most transport between settlements would involve teleportation.

One advantage of having been a pirate – so to put it – was that I knew the structure of isolated colonies really well.

Cyan blew out air through her nose, in a clear sound of impatience that was the reverse of a sigh.  “Well,” she said.  “I thought—”  Then shrugged, rolling her shoulders back, as though girding herself for battle.  “Right.  That won’t work.” She looked over her shoulder, “Come with me.”

Again the prospect of running for the wild frontier presented itself, but I’d been a hunted man before, and had no intention of being one again.  I went with her.  Taking a sharp turn between the spaceport and the nearest bubble-house, she walked resolutely down what appeared to be a cross street, with fewer and newer looking bubble-houses, and finally down a long stretch with no bubble houses at all, except for one far off.

Yep, we walked all the way to that, even though the ground got pretty uneven under my feet and the quicksoles were never meant to last that long.  Up close, it was an ugly, grey bubble building, same as other, ugly, grey bubble buildings.  But there was a trefoil on the door, painted carefully and in green as vivid as her eyes.  And there was a mat in front of the door, also green.

She put her hand on the door, probably allowing the guard-spell to recognize her.  It surprised me, I’ll be honest.  I didn’t know that people in small colonies took the trouble to get their doors warded.  All the stories I’d read and seen said they didn’t.  Something about the frontier, where you trusted all your neighbors, or something.  Okay, I probably wouldn’t, but I also wasn’t the stuff of which your average colonist is made.

The door opened.

Inside—

It should have been your average colony home.  Okay, so, you know, most colony ships don’t have a lot of room for extraneous stuff.  Last I’d checked – granted before being caught – you were allowed twenty kilos plus any important implements of your trade, if you had one.  For most people that meant clothes, maybe a cherished keepsake or two, and whatever weapons you might need moving to an unproven planet.

The financiers who backed the colony would provide stuff, of course.  But not too much.  When they claimed their half share of the fees paid by better-heeled colonists on immigrating to a proven planet, they wouldn’t want to cut into their profit.  They certainly wouldn’t spend the money to make the lives of the people who’d claim the other half-share unnecessarily comfortable.

So there would be the bubble homes, and a lot of standard equipment, all molded of toughglass in grey or black, the cheapest colors.  There were those.  Table and chairs, in molded grey glass.

What I didn’t expect was the vast loom, made of some kind of dark red wood – probably native – nor the fabrics all around.  They shone in tones of green and blue—mostly – and draped over the chairs, hung from the wall, covered the grey toughglass floor, giving this place the feel of being very much a home, and not just a temporary shelter where people would stay while proving the planet.

One corner of the roughly semi circular space was cut off by counters, a cooker, a refrigerator, and other structures on whose purpose I was unclear.  A flat wall that bisected the sphere faced me, with three tall and narrow doors.  She gestured to the far door.  “The guest room is there,” she said.  “And there is a fresher.”  She looked down at my manacles.  “Now, how do I remove those?”

Which is when I did one of the stupidest things I’ve done in a life filled with some truly spectacular mistakes.  I smiled at her and said, “It’s okay.  They’ve removed the limiter.”  And then I looked down at the manacles.  They were metal, which made things kind of harder for most people.  But I wasn’t most people.  I was Arthur James Arcana III.

I took my power in hand.  It had been growing the whole while since they’d pulled the limiter off ten hours ago, and though I knew it wasn’t anywhere near what it had been when I was arrested, much less before, before the big battle in which The Rogue was captured, it was more than enough for the task.

I concentrated on the handcuffs, put all my mind to it, and willed “Vanish.”

There was an explosion, a flash of light, my wrists hurt like hell, and Cyan was thrown back ten feet, to land awkwardly against one of the toughglass chairs and push it back ten feet.

As I stared down in horror at the burnt circles around my wrists, she gathered herself up, came close up to me, and snarled, “What was that?”

I took a deep breath.  “I guess I had too much power,” I said.  There was something like a whine in my voice.  “I didn’t mean to.  I—”

“You,” she said.  “Will not do that again.  Nothing like that.  If this was your smart attempt at escaping—”

The vision of wide-open fields, of just running, presented itself to me, and I drew in a long, aching breath.  “No, I swear.  I just don’t have that much practice.  It’s been ten years.”

She swore under her breath.  Her eyes were guarded in a way they hadn’t been before.  For a moment, I thought she was going to march me back out to the space port and hand me back to the guard, if she could find him.  I’d blown it on arrival.  It was back to Gioll for me.

But then she pinched the bridge of her nose, inclined her head.  I got the impression she was counting to a thousand, or maybe a million.  Or maybe just thinking of whatever the problem was that had brought me here.

For the first time I caught a glimpse of an aura of power around her head, a delicate peach aura, which didn’t seem to correspond to any of the main powers. No big surprise, though.  During the proving stage, most planetary governors are usually witches or wizards.  After all, there usually isn’t a whole lot of money for law enforcement.  The question was, rather, why I hadn’t noticed it before.  Had she been veiling it from me?

She looked up.  “Fine,” she said.  “Fine, fine, fine, fine.  But if you do anything like that again, unless your life is presently and clearly threatened, I’m not even going to bother to send you back.  I’m going to kill you.”

I said “Thank you,” which got me the oddest look.  And I wasn’t even trying to be funny.  No, I am not suicidal.  But Gioll again?  No.  Hell would be better.

Her lips tightened together, making her look severe, and she gave me a small nod, as though acknowledging my point, then indicated the door again, “That is the guest room.  There is a fresher.  Use the fresher.  Make yourself presentable.  There will be clothes on the bed by the time you come out.”

I obeyed.

The fresher was really more a bathroom.  Which was another surprise, as these buildings usually had the smallest of facilities and the most Spartan arrangements possible, particularly in what she referred to as a guest bedroom.

But this bathroom was ten feet by ten feet, with a tub, a magiclean, a sink, and a toilet.

There was also a full-length mirror.

Shaken from my recent magic, the first real spell I’d done in ten years, save for helping land our ship, and that was more dealing with someone else’s spells, I wasn’t ready to ward myself for the mirror.  So, without looking directly at it, I grabbed the bath sheet folded on the edge of the tub, and draped it over the reflective surface, hanging it from the small ledge on top.

Non mages think mages are crazy about mirrors.  That’s not precisely true.  We’re crazy – for the purposes of paranoia being craziness, of course – about all sorts of reflective surfaces.  The science of it is only half understood – or was only half understood when I was free and could buy books on the subject – but reflections are a part of you but not you.  When you cast one you’re creating something of this world, and not of this world.  This means you open the way to all sorts of dangerous….  Things.   People, too, but mostly things.

Yeah, I can make reflective surfaces safe for my use.  I can use them for scrying, too.  Everyone can.  Well, everyone with magic.  I just didn’t want to have to do that while exhausted and out of sorts.

I stripped and used the magiclean first.  You know, it’s a horrible thing when your taking a bath will make the bathtub filthy and you not markedly cleaner.

The magiclean was surprisingly high-end, with selections for shave and haircut.  Since my hair brushed my shoulders, and I could now feel that my beard was three inches deep, at least, I set it to shave me close and to give me a short, even haircut.  And hoped it was better than the one in Gioll.

I also set it to clean me.  Which these things do, of course, but they never make you feel clean, for some reason.

Then I stepped into the pentagram drawn in silver lines embedded on the floor, next to the push button controls.

There are all sorts of magicleans.  Some make some kind of sound while they’re working.  Some give you a gentle light, and some kind of nice-smelling mist.  This one did nothing.  Or at least that’s what I thought, until I reached up, felt my face, and found it perfectly shaven.  Right.

I stepped out of the pentagram, filled the tub, climbed into it and washed.  My hair felt quite short too, as I shampooed it.

Look, she hadn’t said I couldn’t use water.  The fact there was a bathtub, and a large one in here probably meant that water wasn’t all that expensive.  And water, warm water, felt good, even if it stung a little on my wrists.  I should probably do something about those, of course, but you know, I was here on sufferance, and didn’t want to do unauthorized magic.

Climbing out of the tub, letting the water out, I collected myself and said the words, “Me, my center, my self,” grounding the Hyper Entropic Exclusion energy as I visualized a tall, transparent shield in front of me.

You don’t actually need to say anything to effect a safety spell.  Of course you don’t.  It’s all mind work.  Most magic is. You reach through the possibilities with HEX energy and shove reality to the outcome you wish.

Some people think that all outcomes happen somewhere, and that you’re in fact just forcing your consciousness the way you wish.

But, no matter how many scientific arguments of magic as mind-work you read, when you try to practice the art, you learn very quickly that you’re included among the people whose belief you need. And we’re creatures of senses as well as of thought.  Hearing something makes it that much more believable. If you convince your subconscious, you’ll make a stronger working.

I pulled the towel from the mirror and dried myself.

The man looking at me from the mirror was taller than I remembered, thinner than I remembered, but not slim.  There were muscles there, as there should be, considering all the work they’d made me do on Gioll.  They believed on wasting nothing, and mined our magical potential while they made us do hard manual labor in terraforming the cursed place.

My pale blond hair was cut very short.  My nose was… an interesting shape, from one too many batons across the face before I’d learned my lesson and started following passively.  My eyes were the same dark blue they’d been, but now looked wary; the eyes of a man who expected no kindness from strangers.

I gave him a glare, before drying myself vigorously.  I looked around for an instaclean for the towel and, not finding it, draped it over the edge of the tub.

Then I padded out of the bathroom naked, on my bare feet, into a bedroom not much larger than the bathroom, with a bed and a squarish cabinet about my height.  The floor was covered in a green-blue rug that looked like the waves of a stormy sea.

On the bed were clothes.  Normal underwear, male variety.  A pair of blue-green pants, a blue shirt, a long, brown jacket in something that looked like suede.  There were socks and a pair of boots, too.

None of it looked brand spanking new, but they didn’t look worn either, and they were the right size.  Pants and shirt were also of the same unidentifiable material as the hangings and decoration in this house.  They looked rough-spun but felt like silk to the touch.

I slipped them on.

As I was about to leave the room, I heard Cyan’s voice from outside, saying something about mommy looking after someone or other.  Which kind of figures, right?  What did I tell you?  Farmer’s wife, probably already started on her first dozen kids.

But when I came out through the door, she was alone, standing up from the stool at the loom – I guess she was the weaver – and looking me up and down, not in any way even vaguely sexual, or personal, really.  She might have given that look to a chair or a knife.

“Good,” she said.  “You’re presentable.  I presume you haven’t eaten.  Let me take you out to get a feel for the city.”

I nodded.  What else could I do?

As we left the house, we were caught by a wave of sound, and turning I saw a ship climbing up from the space port in a wave of light, a roar of displaced magics.  At the apex of its climb, isolated against the blue sky, it winked out of orbit.  And probably into destination.  Maybe.  Depended on whether the space mage had sobered up.

One thing was sure though.  I was stuck here, and at Cyan’s mercy for the duration, until I either solved the problem they’d summoned me for, or died.

99 responses to “Alien Curse

  1. scott2harrison

    Lovely. More, please more.

  2. Roger Ritter

    I’m hooked – finish it, please.

  3. More please… lots more.

  4. Before I even start reading this, please assure me it has nothing to do with extraterrestrial menstrual cycles.

    I shall tackle this later, much later, this evening.

    • er. I can easily reassure you it doesn’t. Geesh.

    • Having given the matter due consideration, I ain’t gonna read this … at least, not yet.

      Snippets from authors whose every book I buy are problematic for me. Say I read this now — when I get the book, do I read it again or jump straight into Chapter Two? What if I perish before the book comes out, never knowing how the tale is resolved? Fret, fret, fret.

      Much simpler to wait. Please do not make me wait long.

      • What if you read it now, and Sarah decides to re-write it? Or move it? Or (shudder) remove it for a different story?

        Reminds me of the shock I got after seeing Star Wars in the U.K. after I’d watched it in the U.S. and the versions were DIFFERENT!!! A very rude introduction to differing standards of national censors and movie cutting to appeal to different audiences. In my opinion, that sort of thing kind of cheapens the story I think, by treating it more like advertising. On the other hand, it may increase the bottom line of royalties paid to the author, enabling them to continue writing more stories. So I guess that could be a good thing too.

      • The answer is simple. As provided by the King of Hearts, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll:

        The White Rabbit put on his spectacles, “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.

        “Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

  5. Ooooooo! I like it! Definitely worth reading more.

  6. Mike Houst

    Good read, had me looking for the next chapter, so I think it’s a good first chapter. Liked the way you used a perilous situation as your hook in the first few paragraphs, and your resolution felt complete. Couple of spelling misses the grammar checker should have caught, but that’s all.

  7. Clayton W.

    Any idea when? I’m hooked. Take my money!

  8. Either I scored heavily, or Allie didn’t want to be warm last night. Then again we went from 84 down to 38 on the house thermometer yesterday to this am. She might have expected warm and the weather fooled her. So far today the high is 54

    • Damned phone
      ***Snored***
      Too tied from emergency roofing to catch it changing that.

      • ***Tired***
        See what I mean?

        • Mike Houst

          All I got was something about Allie tying you up. 😉

          • Let’s not get started on other uses for roofing cement. 🙂

            And Beautiful but Evil Hostess; when it’s ready, my wallet is too.

          • Been doing OT at work via 10 hour shifts, and needed quick repairs to the porch roof, that migrated to the roof over the main house. Started as “Hmm, soft spot, best get some better wood under there and think about full roof replacement” so Saturday before last I poked at the mess . . . then someone didn’t look at the weather, so when the scab was picked and the cancer was more widespread than thought, I rushed a quick and dirty dry in with a tarp. I looked at the obvious bad spots and thought, ” one sheet at least and possibly 2 sheets of ply and aggregate roofing felt on hand with cement on hand . . . no problem” but to be safe I bought a 3rd sheet. Found 3 roof’s worth of shingles . . . one layer , then they put drip edge over that and two more layers where nailed on, and where the porch rafters are nailed to the roof even more layers there (wood shingles under 60’s aggregate felt, under two tar paper/felt layers, rafter spiked on, 3 more layers of felt only at the hip)
            ended up needing all 3 to cover an 8 foot by 9 foot plus portion removed to get to solid roofing boards and to cover over the hole for a now unused cast iron sewer vent pipe.
            So after 10 hours at work I been working until dark roofing.Then I used all my 15# felt didn’t really have enough aggregate felt and had to get it best dried in for heavy rains today.
            I keep falling to sleep when I sit down. (twice while typing this reply)

            • I can sympathize, though I never had a roof quite so bad. In 2009 I replaced the 10 year old roof on our manufactured house. It had nominal 20 year shingles, but the pitch is marginal for the area (2.5 in 12), so I removed the old shingles and asphalted paper underlayer. Bloody staples went too. I replaced that with 15 pound felt and 30 year laminated shingles. Had to get the bundles up by hand, and did the 6 nail pattern by hand, so it was bog slow, but I got it done, and it’s in good shape.

              Ran into a couple of thunderstorms. The first one caught me by surprise, but I had some drop cloths that backstopped the irrigation dam mateerial I had at the ridge line. There’s a cosmic law that says whenever I do roofing, there’s going to be 95 degree weather. Tried to get as much done in the morning, then did something else, then after dinner. That took too much of the summer.

              I did our outbuildings except for the barn’ 26′ ridge height, 5 in 12 pitch and it needed sheathing (the old roof was screwed onto the roof purlins with no sheathing. Lots-o-leaks). That was expensive to have done, and I don’t regret a penny.

              I keep telling myself I’m done with roofing, and then I look at the leaks in the sunroom. Hmm.

              • my roof, except the porch portion, is at just the wrong angle to easily work on. it is about 45 degrees. With failing shingles, you can’t really stay in place to work on it, and it isn’t steep enough to get a ladder on. And it is a two story house.
                I’d prefer a metal roof, but I am considering options right now, and may well have to have someone else do the job, considering I have 3 roofs worth of shingles to remove and dispose of.
                The joys of buy old and cheap.

                • I hate steep pitched roofs. My grandfather was a carpenter and fell off a roof once. Had to wear a full torso cast, from what he said. The people who’ve been on the barn roof all use fall prevention rigs. The worst pitch I’ve had to deal with is 6 in 12, coming in at 26 degrees. Even the low pumphouse shed was a pain, since there wasn’t much room to work. Should have rented better scaffolding, but I was short of time to get it.

                  I’ve seen roof scaffold supports that fasten to the framing and hold planks. I haven’t used them, but they might be good. Pretty sure Depot carries them.

                  Not sure of costs where you are, but the involved barn job (simple roof, but had to pull the old metal, do full sheathing and install lockseam metal) came out to $12.60 a square foot in 2015. The size of the pieces and the barn setup ruled out any DIY thoughts. Not having to haul the debris to the dump was a plus, too.

                  • There is a helluva deal at the local Menards right now, $1000 a 100 piece bundle, forest green, snap seam (16″ wide) in 12 foot and 11 foot or so (144″ and 130something”) , all 4 bundles for $4000, it is half and half, and half price.
                    Likely for a barn and either wrong size or something.
                    I’m tempted to get it then cut and lap, as I need an odd length like 13.5 ft or so for the main part of the house, and just over 12 feet for the west Kitchen roof, and 12 and 12 feet for the east and porch. and I need 12 foot lengths for the garage roof.
                    I can get even foot lengths 8′-20′ for $1.80 a foot from my home town. They sometimes have had surplus for as low as $0.79 a foot. But not for some time now.
                    They only have green, brown, and white colors.

                    • Our roofer did an exact custom length. I believe they bought coil stock and had the machinery to roll out the pieces. I think they’re the biggest roofer in the county; had to wait until they finished a couple of schools.

                      I don’t like cutting the stuff, but it’s doable.

                      The colors here ran in greens, browns, whitish, and I’ve seen one roof in blue. Local roofs started off reddish, but faded. FWIW, this is at 4300′, so UV is a big issue. Gonna be different for you. Our garage is a forest green, as was the old barn, but $SPOUSE wanted a lighter color to match the sun-faded high ridge. Keeping a low profile in our town is a survival trait; some folks consider those who can pay their own bills to be “rich”. (In that note, we have two Subaru Foresters. Both are white and look the same to a casual observer.)

                      The underlayment they used was a thin foam encased in poly. It would be a bit quieter than felt, though I didn’t do any comparisons.

                    • The Pink Panther (Owens Corning) has a thin underlayment foam that folks up for ease of handling to deaden sound and add a very little r.
                      I have thought of getting blue for my roof, but the lowest cost green, brown, or white would run about $1900- $2100 for sheet, cap, screws and trim etc. Blue would run half again as much. White or Brown likely, with Green an option if the price is right.

                  • just went and checked, and it looks like about 9 in 12 or so . . . 36-37 degrees or so.

                    • Pretty sure fall protection kits are available at the home centers.

                    • I use rope and the mount form a kit and my harness is from me job and no longer needed here. Iirc my harness cost twice what the fall kit does. The one from the fall kit is okay, and slightly more comfortable, but lighter duty, and likely more of a pain if one falls.
                      I also have a hunting one, but it isn’t made to work in.

                • For what it’s worth, firefighters use ladders that will hook over the ridge line. I considered renting a boom lift before we got a new roof on the barn. OTOH, there was pretty good access to 75% of that roof. Not likely for a house.

                  • A Geni with wide tires would get to all of my roof on the house, using the neighboring yard (house is empty) on the west. On the east though, with the porch, that portion really doesn’t need a lift so just the main house roof, it’d be great.

            • Mike Houst

              Home repairs. It’s NEVER as simple as you think. There’s always at least one more thing connected to the job at hand. And you’re always missing that one special tool you need to make another trip to the store to get, half to 3/4ths of the way through.

              • Yeah. I need to clean out the trap on a bathtub. There is an easy-access hatch so you can quickly get to the clean-out et cetera. DadRed took one look at me, my hand-tools, and the 5 gal bucket and said, “Oh no you don’t. I’m calling the plumber. I don’t care if it is designed so you can do it.” He’s having visions of Complicated Events, it seems.

                • One of the benefits of financial security is the ability to say “Hey, we don’t have to do that ourselves. Let’s call a pro.” Doesn’t hurt to know a fair number of trades people who can do X when necessary.

                  Our pumphouse was a mix of pros and me. I did the basic construction and electric, but a contractor did the well and pump, others did the trench and electrical feed, and the plumber did the hookup (300′ of tubing from the pumphouse to the main water line.) I filled the trench. 🙂
                  The state insisted on a professional installer for the propane heater. It used to be owner could do it, but Some Thing Bad Happened some years ago..

                  • You can probably still do the entire job yourself. You just have to get that professional installer to sign off on the propane heater as being properly installed according to all the codes and good engineering practices. Of course since they may want to charge you as much to sign off on it as the would to do it, you’d only have the personal satisfaction of having done it yourself, and not actually any financial savings.

                    • I did a similar heater installation in 2006, and the inspections were similar. I suspect the state was worried about items not checked in the inspection, like leak checking. Since the licensed installer would be responsible for anything going wrong, if you could find someone who’d be willing to do a signoff, it might end up costing a lot more than having them do the work. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t want to risk my license on someone else’s work.

                      I my case, I built the tank cabinet, provided the heater and regulator, and the contractor provided the gas line and plumbing bits. I wasn’t able to lift anything at the time (post surgery), so the topic of rough installing the heater didn’t come up. Total cost for labor and parts was $400, with two hours of that round trip driving time.

                      As far as satisfaction, I’ve got that t-shirt. I’m an adequate carpenter and a pretty good electrician. Plumbing, I’ll do some repairs, but new installations I’ll leave to the pros. I’ve done enough to know I’d rather not.

              • When we moved to Deepest Oregon, #SPOUSE’s criteria included a firm refusal to buy a house that needed major work. After we did a major remodel in the Silly Valley house, eliminating the kitchen plumbing for weeks, I wasn’t willing to do another one either. (The local taqueria counted us as steady customers for months. Close enough to walk to.)

                OTOH, when a dishwasher fitting decided to break (all too common, with lead-free brass fittings) and trashed much of the kitchen, we used to opportunity to add to the insurance payout to get a better set of kitchen cabinets and quartz countertops. FWIW, the replacement fitting (installed by the pro plumber who did the sink installation) broke a year later. Caught it within a few hours, just as the plumber was coming for a water heater replacement (upgrade this time). The sink cabinet now sports a leak alarm. ($15.00 or so at Home Desperate).

                Agreed on the multiple trips to get parts/materials. The SV remodel project usually entailed 5-10 trips to get something each week. Now, Home Depot is a 75 mile round trip, so we try to keep an inventory of stuff, and my tool collection is almost good enough. 🙂

              • broke down and bought the cheapest roofing nailer they had ($80) and by the 3rd nail was “Why the hell didn’t I buy one sooner?” Not really wanting shingles but even just laying felt down this will be far better. and it was so cheap, if it breaks the next time I use it it paid for itself day before yesterday.

                • When I need to re-roof, I’m going for full metal. Leaks less, lasts for darn near forever (or at least longer than I think I’ll be on this rock), and the snow slides right off.

                  • Go lockseam. Most of the installation screws are hidden, and the gasketed screws for high-rib material wear out. (At our elevation, UV resistance would have been nice). Between worn seals and some poor installations, I had to do some interesting maneuvers to keep tools from getting dripped on in winter. Not an issue for a lockseam roof. One roof is 14 years old, the other 3, and both perform quite well.

                    A friend sprays a turtle-was and water solution on his roof to ensure the slideoff. I don’t bother, and it still works well.

                  • Yep. Steel should outlast me, barring some medical miracles that really extend the lifespan. Though I will need some “Yooper Clips” for the east side to keep it from sliding off onto the mailman. Though I might eventually get gutters as well.

                • Years ago, I bought a roofing stapler at a now-defunct big box home store. Used it to reroof a garage in Silly Valley. I checked it out once we were up here, and the o-rings had gone out. Staples are marginal for our location, so I stayed with roofing nails. I probably should have bought a roofing nailer for the house project, but didn’t. I don’t think I have any shingle projects any more. All the roofs have quite a few years left on them, so it’s not a priority.

                  OTOH, I either need a new palm nailer, or I have to find suitable o-rings. Rebuild kits aren’t done for that model any more. Sigh.

            • yeah, in the future i am leaving roof work to someone else.

          • me too. some people’s lives are so interesting….

  9. Nathan Bissonette

    One chapter? That’s it? Oh, you are a wicked woman. Now I know why the drug dealer gives a “free” sample. I want more! More!

  10. Birthday Girl

    Big Grin … I love your first-chapter hooks … can’t wait for the rest!

  11. Christopher M. Chupik

    More, please. 🙂

  12. How soon can I buy it? Hurry up and take my money!

    More seriously, finish on your own schedule and let us know when we can purchase.

  13. I could have sworn I remember Sarah saying something about not liking settings that were a fusion of magic and tech. Or was that someone else in MGC?

    -Albert

    • No, it was me. And then I found this novel started and almost finished written by hand on a notebook.
      See, I have about ten of these. A ancient-world fantasy trilogy (call it mediterranian fantasy) and a mil sf trilogy included. I’m having to fix the world building as I go, because I had serious hipothyroidism and was out of my mind.

  14. Kathleen Sanderson

    I like it! Looking forward to being able to buy it!

  15. Yes. The beautiful but evil soace princess has done me in again.
    I just got the dead tree copy of Uncharted, and about a third into it, and she hands me another (series, I hope?) that I will have to buy.
    Soon, please?
    Thanks, JPDev

  16. Really good read – I’m hooked, too! Just as an aside, I saw a couple of repeated words (before before), and a couple of misspellings (site/sight). The edits will take care of those, though. This is definitely going to be a fun book!

  17. That’s a really fine Chapter One. I look forward to buying the rest of the story!

  18. If these clowns weren’t such hapless bastards they wouldn’t make such a silly assumption.

    The President Is Not Your Daddy
    By Sarah Hoyt
    The President is not your daddy. Do I really have to say this? To supposed adults? To people qualified to vote in a democratic republic? There are two items I came across this week that seem to indicate that indeed I do. No one ever taught these people to reason their way out of a paper bag, or even told them why they should.

    Instead, they were given a set of beliefs that define “good people” and if they stop believing in those things, they are “bad people.”

    I’d say these are not adults in any sense of the word, but that’s not exactly true. Throughout most of the history of our species, adults had a set of beliefs it was best not to question, whether it be “our tribe is better than the next tribe” or “we have to eliminate all the suede-eaters” or even “this is how we tie our glurk and display our brek” because humans are tribal, and displaying your tribal loyalty has been way more important than actually being, you know, rational and asking if things really work that way for… most of history.

    The problem is that we’re not in a society (or societies if you extend this to all of Western civilization) that can survive this kind of quasi-religious denial of logical thought. We’re not in a society (or societies) that can hold on tight to the idea that all cultures are the same, when, say, the Oktoberfest is being cancelled throughout many cities in Germany because migrants can’t get it across their heads that a woman not covered like a sofa is NOT, in fact, asking to be raped. We’re not in a society that can survive voters being misinformed by the high priests of the leftist religion on the nature of good and evil either, or the nature of the presidency. But that is the society we live in and misinformation is rife.

    See, when you remove rationality and true research and information as a way of forming your opinion, and instead you know in your heart of hearts you have to believe a set of precepts to be a “good person,” you are not fit to live in a representative republic, or to have your vote counted.

    But in our society, your vote does count. And chances are you’re not shy about displaying your infantilization on Twitter either. …

    • Now I have an image of Marilyn Monroe in the infamous sequined dress singing to the President.  But this time she is not singing Happy Birthday.  No, she is singing My Heart Belongs to Daddy.  

      Twisted.  So twisted…

      (and the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald … oh my.)  

    • I pointed out elsewhere that we’re looking at the spectacle of the party of the Kennedys up in arms because someone is a libertine.

      The response? “Well at least the Kennedys were charming.”

      As for Hillary being “good”, she’s apparently not able to even treat her staff like human beings and is known to rant and swear at them. There are other female Democrats who might have run. They’re dingbats and socialists but probably count as “good” far more than Hillary does. The only explanation that I can think of for two or more of them not running for president last time (for future exposure if nothing else) is that Hillary had dirt on them, or on those with the money bags.

  19. Jeff Smith

    The first taste is free…. So.. now that we’re all addicted, the release date is when? 😉

  20. Nathan Bissonette

    Million-dollar idea: I’ll pay you $20 now and for the rest of 2018, I get to see what you write every day. Blog posts, Instapundit, chapter re-writes, everything goes into one pay-per-view website that only I have access to. Well, me and a few of your other close personal friends. Okay, anybody with twenty bucks. But the point is – we aren’t waiting for the polished final product and we aren’t searching all over the web, we’re reading the work in progress.

    Maybe there are exclusions – can’t see the stuff you’re writing with Larry Correia because that’s proprietary to somebody else, and maybe not work in progress on novels that you intend to submit for awards because they cannot have been “previously published” in order to qualify – but even gathering all your public writing in one convenient place would be handy.

    I know nothing of publishing so there probably are legal and practical reasons why this won’t work until somebody invents a new workaround to allow it to happen. Why not you?

  21. TG (not from Chaos Manor)

    Was Jim in/on Gioll for 5 years or for 10 years?

  22. Looks to be very good, even though you’re right: there is a metric ton of typographical errors… Am looking forward to buying it when it comes out.

  23. Concur with all those here saying “More please!” I’ll look for it to go on sale!