A Year in Prose

Seven people, each writing once a week for a year.

Posts tagged Ben Azevedo

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Chapter 6 Part 3

The particular species they were after were called Vawerps. They were not one of the semi-sentient natives of Element, but they tended to cause trouble. They usually tunneled into human subterranean structures by accident, but once they had breached a tunnel, they began raiding at every opportunity. Miles suspected the boss had sent him here to deal with a small raiding party in the subway.

The Vawerps were carnivorous quadrapeds that moved in packs. They seemed to become more fierce when the moon was towards full, and they also had a strange habit of mostly consuming blood from their victims. These similarities to mythical creatures from Earth-lore disturbed many. However, scientists were reasonably sure that the Vawerps were not some crossbreed of vampires and werewolves. Reasonably. Miles never quite trusted the reports, so he carried a custom weapon he called a stakesword, the only weapon he knew could kill Vawerps without a doubt. This was the pencil-like device he had handed to Jonesy. One end could emit a short beam of ultraviolet light hot enough to cut metal (and certainly enough to eliminate a Vawerp) and the other…well, the other was a sharpened silver stake. Miles had no evidence to suggest that the silver made a difference, but it sure didn’t hurt.

The staircase leveled out, as Miles suspected, into a terminal. It looked like one of the less used ones in New Chicago. Trash littered the benches and piled in eerie drifts against the columns. Both ends of the terminal faded to darkness. A lone security light fought feebly from the end of the staircase they had just descended.

"I’m cutting on my light," said Miles.

"Already on," whispered Jonesy.

"Stay close. Keep an eye behind us."

"Duh."

Miles slipped the stakesword into a ready position and began walking into the darkness. The eyelight boosted the available visible light, and provided an infrared overlay in the dark. He could see heat signatures ahead. His tracking device blipped softly. Miles glanced at the screen and saw 4 distinct pulses. He made eye contact with Jonesy, or rather, the place where his eyelight said Jonesy was in the dark, and held up four nearly invisible fingers.

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The History of Element - Part 5

The Continents Continued

Continent 3 is the largest landmass on Element. It is the northern Pole continent, and not surprisingly contains a great deal of snow and ice. Oddly enough, the continent is almost perfectly divided into 3 areas. The southernmost edge of the continent is a perfectly habitable strip of forest and taiga. Some of Element’s largest trees grow here, and can reach more than 500 feet. There are several coastal cities on Continent 3, but the population grows sparser inland.

After the forest coast finally gives way to the climate, there is a mountain range. It is one of the stranger features on Element. It is so large as to be seen from space, and it runs in an almost perfect circle around Continent 3. It makes up the second distinct area of the third continent. Some of the braver souls of Element have ventured into these mountains, whether for research or adventure, but very few have survived the journey. Even with modern equipment, the Crown of Element (as the range is known) is nearly insurmountable.

Beyond the Crown, only weather drones and unmanned probes have been. We don’t know a great deal, but the temperatures at the northernmost pole of Element are estimated to reach nearly -200º C. The pole is jokingly referred to as “Absolute Zero”, but it isn’t far from the truth.

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Chapter 6 Part 2

They left the ship in a docking station Jonesy had a membership to. Shielded from the wind, Jonesy and Miles stepped into the dark cavern. They were alone; most people stayed in the safety of their apartments during storms. A long row of exit signs marked the route to the next building.

All of the buildings in New Chicago’s downtown were connected underground by pedestrian walkways. Not many people were downtown in the storm, but the few that were would have been swept away by the winds aboveground. During the clear season, New Chicago had thriving aboveground marketplaces and shops, but currently it was quiet.

Miles pulled a small device from his pack. It beeped once, and flashed several figures across a small screen. He grunted, shouldered the pack, and headed off along the glowing path of exit signs.

“Where’re we going?” Jonesy asked.

“Roughly, 85th and Dawe street.” Miles’ voice echoed in the dark chamber.

“Did he give us any specifics on the mission?”

“No. But we’ll need these.”

Miles slung the pack around his shoulder, still walking, and pulled another device out. It resembled a pencil in length, but it was about three inches thick. One end tapered to a point, and it was a blackish gray color. He handed it to Jonesy.

Jonesy picked it up carefully. He studied both ends and nodded.

“So we’re going to be hunting the-“

“SHUT UP!” Miles clamped a hand over Jonesy’s mouth. “They can probably already hear us!”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “There should be a track we can pick up south of here.”

He pulled a second short staff out of his pack, transferring the tracking device to his left hand. They continued down the path of exit signs. After a few minutes the tracker blipped softly and Miles turned left. Jonesy followed closely behind him, casting wary glances back every few seconds.

The passage narrowed slightly and reached a staircase. Miles stopped at the top and looked down. They had left the exit signs behind, and were losing light. Miles frowned, flipped a few switches on his tracker, and opened his pack again. He produced a tiny case and turned to Jonesy.

“Ever used one of these?” he asked.

“Is that an eyelight?” Jonesy’s frightened eyes momentarily lit up with excitement.

“Yes. You know how to use it?” Miles was all business.

“Yeah. Gonna be dark down there eh?”

“They like the dark.”

Miles put on his eyelight and started down the stairs. The eyelight consisted of a contact lens with a small wire connected to an electrode that attached to Miles’ temple. It provided multi-spectrum imaging for the wearer, controlled by brainwaves picked up by the electrode.

Miles hadn’t lied to Jonesy earlier. The boss hadn’t given him any details. But he knew what they were hunting, and it wasn’t pretty. Humanity wasn’t the only race on Element. The planet had several other sentient or semi-sentient species.

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Chapter 6 - A Seed in the Wind

Chapter 6 - A Seed in the Wind

The storm roared, and the tiny ship bounced wildly through the sky. The wind was deafening, yet through the terrible howling a voice could almost be heard.

“…aaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”

Miles’ scream was certainly audible from inside the ship, the unfortunate place that Jonesy now found himself.

“Miles! Shut the fuck up, man! I’ve gotta focus on this shit if you want to live!”

“You mean I’m not dead yet?! I thought I was already in Hell!”

Jonesy wasn’t going to argue Miles’ point. This was one of the worst storms he had ever flown. Of course, he usually tried to avoid going out in storms.

The ship rocked and vibrated as the Geo Grounder did its best to remind them that the ground was down. Occasionally it would fail, and Jonesy could watch as Miles’ hair pointed up towards the ceiling. Jonesy still loved the feeling of riding the wind currents, but he also knew they could smash into an obstacle at any moment. With no windows or visuals in the thick rain of the storm, death would come without warning.

A green sensor blinked and chimed suddenly.

“What does that mean!” yelled Miles over the alarm.

“Calm down. We just absorbed a lightning strike.” Jonesy was flipping switches wildly.

“Why are you flipping all those?! Did something go wrong?” Miles’ eyes were wide, and his head was swimming as he tried to resist the sudden gravitational changes. 

“Miles, listen to me. Relax. The seat will keep you from any whiplash; the more you resist it, the worse you’ll feel later. The lightning helps us, remember? It’s adding power to the ship, so we can afford to divert more to the Geo Grounder.”

“That means we won’t be upside down right?”

Jonesy nodded as he returned to the switchboard. There were no visual monitors, but Tracy had a digital map display that charted the approximate position of the ship in relation to downtown. They were nearly there.

“Assuming no more major current changes, and no disastrous accidents, we should be there in about ten minutes.” Jonesy announced.

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Chapter 5 Part 2

With a deft flick of his wrist, Vito tossed the bag of coins in the air. At the same time, he flicked the knife on his wrist into his hand and underhanded it at the guard captain. Brakus ducked in time, but the guard behind him wasn’t so lucky. The coins slammed into the second guard, distracting him. Vito whipped around and dove towards the kitchen.

“DAMMIT!” Brakus roared. He raced towards the kitchen after Vito.

The two guards recovered and followed suit. Unfortunately, the guard who had taken the knife underestimated the poison Vito used. He became slightly less recovered.

Vito vaulted a cart and slid past a row of chefs. He nearly lost his footing in a puddle, rolled, and recovered. Finally he found what he was looking for; a small grate in the corner of the kitchen. He kicked aside an empty crate, pulled the grate up, and dove feet first into the black.

Brakus burst into the kitchen and barreled through the cart. He slid around the corner just in time to see Vito’s cloak slip through the black hole in the floor.

Brakus cursed and punched a cabinet hard enough to leave a sizeable dent.

“You and Tiron follow him and…” Brakus turned to finish his statement. The single guard stared back. He sighed. “I guess it’s just you and I then, Veriticus.”

“Sir…should we tend to Tiron?”

“No…Vito’s no fool. Tiron is long gone.” Brakus sighed again, then pulled a battered transmitter out of his cloak.

“Sir, we lost him again. Got another drain to mark on the map.” Brakus waited.

The crackling voice that returned over the transmitter was deep and commanding.

“Mark it Brakus. Then return to the hunt. Remember, I need Vito as a hostage. I don’t care what it takes. Bring him to me.” The transmitter fell silent.

Brakus shook his head.

“That fool’s going to waste the entire security force on this. And for what? A scrawny street punk who runs cash for the gangs?”

Veriticus looked around the devastated kitchen, and noticed the now empty bar. “Maybe there is more to this than we know, sir. I think we should get out of here and find more men.”

“Let’s take care of Tiron,” Brakus replied.

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The History of Element - Part 2

Part of the reason rumors were so abundant was that no one had come back from Element. Even in most modern deep space qualified ships, the travel time to Element was slightly over one year. Dimensional jumping had been refined to a safe point, but the only coordinates near enough to Earth and Element that had been officially cleared for a jump were about 6 months space travel from each planet. Signal transmission was also difficult. Earth received bi-annual updates from the Primacy of Element, a governing body that consisted of representatives from each of Elements 7 continents. Unfortunately these messages were restricted in length and quality. The IECHE had received exactly 48 transmissions from Element to date, and sent 48 confirmations back. They had decided against sending more colonists.

So in 24 years of habitation, no one had come back from Element. They were, of course, busy fighting the planet’s unstable nature, but the Primacy’s updates couldn’t include all of the details. All Earth truly knew was that there were people living on Element, and for the time being, they were stuck there.

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Chapter 5 - Dangerous Situations

Chapter 5 - Dangerous Situations

Vito twirled with the rough hand and slid to the opposite end of his corner bench, his hands raised. He smiled his most winning grin.

“Brakus, so nice to see you,” he drawled, “I really thought we were past all this…” Vito made a pouch of gold materialize and dangled it enticingly at the guards. He stood.

Brakus scowled deeper and advanced towards Vito, moving his hand to his sword. Vito was displeased. This was becoming a dangerous situation.

“You think that little sack can make up for all the times you’ve caused me TROUBLE?!”

Vito shrugged, “I hope so.”

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The History of Element - Part 1

Myths and Rumors

Element wasn’t really a coincidence. The similarities between it and Earth were just too convenient to ignore. The similar ratio of landmass to water, the odd lack of a major range of native bio-forms, and the sudden “discovery” of the planet were all subjects of numerous and wild conspiracy theories. The newscasts on Element contained very little of the truth, and consisted of the simple governmental lie that the International Earth Coalition for Human Expansion had been hunting for a suitable second planet for humanity since the early 2050s and had finally succeeded. Scientists conducted parallel research for controlled dimensional jumping and large capacity spacecraft, so when the discovery was made in 2090, we populated Element within two decades. The first city on Element was founded in 2095, and by 2100 the last colony ship had been grounded. 

On Earth it was much harder to keep the journalists from spreading theories and stories. The wild conspiracies ranged from Element being a planet-sized prison, military base, and nuclear testing site (not likely) to it being a total fabrication of the Coalition for Human Expansion, who in reality had sent several million people on a suicide mission into deep space in an entire fleet of colony ships costing billions of dollars. The most widely believed truth was that Element was some sort of failed experiment, but that people did live there.

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Chapter 4 Part 3

The ship itself was a gleaming shard of metal in the hangar. Odd fins and wings stuck out all across the hull, giving the overall impression of a rather unbalanced puffer fish. There were no visible windows, exhaust, or breaks in the metal exterior, but as Miles approached, a door in the side slid open with a hiss.

Jonesy gave one last sigh and darted into the dark portal. Miles shrugged and followed suit. Inside, Jonesy was strapping himself into a heavily padded seat facing a large bank of displays. He gestured to a second seat.

“How does this thing fly anyway?” Miles asked.

“Well, the basic principle is…it doesn’t.” Miles shrugged.

“That’s reassuring. So how does it work?”

“The fins on the outside are completely mobile. The onboard computer uses them to sort of…steer. I modified them to absorb the electrical currents within the storms, and increase efficiency while reducing danger. The ship senses directional currents in the wind and manipulates the fins to increase the likelihood that we reach our destination.”

“Wait, ‘increase the likelihood?!’”

“Yeah well, nothing is certain in these conditions. A simple jet engine would waste too much fuel fighting the wind currents, so we have to use them. They’re obviously uncontrollable, so we basically float around like a seed on the wind until we get there.”

“A seed. On the wind. A seed…” Miles just stared at Jonesy.

“Well, more like a bouncy ball with a rocket strapped to it, but yeah.” Jonesy smiled at the look on Miles’ face. He continued, “That’s why you’re strapped in so tight, and why the inside of this ship is padded. The Geo Grounding system will keep us from crashing into anything, and will do its best to keep the ship oriented properly. I went ahead and overrode priority to destination though, since you’re in a hurry.”

“So…we may be upside down?” Miles’ face was pale.

“Almost certainly.” Jonesy was nearly giggling with glee.

“I’m moving back to the Plains after this,” groaned Miles, “at least they just ride damn horses there. I’d take a smelly old horse over this any day.”

Jonesy flipped a switch and started the ship.

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Chapter 4 Part 2

Jonesy knew this was the end of the discussion. With a reluctant sigh he punched the button for the lift on the wall. It arrived a few moments later, and the pair began their descent.

Most of the buildings in New Chicago had large underground facilities, as very little could be built at ground level without risk to it being blown down. The parking garage was one such facility. It spanned a rough rectangle beneath the arch, and consisted of ten floors of vehicle storage.Jonesy’s ship, Tracy, was considered an airborne transport, so it was housed on the fifth subfloor.

They stepped out of the lift and began to walk. After a few minutes Jonesy came to a stop.

Miles whistled quietly. The sound reverberated through the massive chamber.

“Damn Jonesy, I though you said she was getting old.”

“Well I’ve been making…upgrades…along the way.” He smirked.

Miles raised an eyebrow and glanced at Jonesy, but decided he didn’t need to know about Tracy’s “upgrades”. They walked to the boarding ramp.

Tracy was an EMG craft, which meant that she operated primarily through electromagnetic power. The “G” stood for “Geo-Grounding”. This allowed the ship to maintain a relative position to the ground no matter how much it was thrown around. Miles suddenly realized Jonesy was talking.

“…which basically means she can take a hit from a lightning bolt, and…”

“Wait, what?” Miles interrupted.

“I was saying I modified the Electromagnetic pulse engine to absorb and convert the electricity from a lightning bolt. Tracy will actually attract bolts from the storm as we fly, and absorb them to power our flight.”

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