Thrums in the Deep, Chapter 2Kuwa returned to the tunnel to find Nukpana started without her. He was just a bobbing, grumbling torchlight ahead of her. She called his name and barely understood his reply in Hopi, “Are you coming or not?” static-filled pause, “Are the rest gone?” “Marcus and Bonita are going back up. Why? You got something in mind?” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “What happened to you today that got you in this mood? We’re in this together now at least for a few hours, like it or not,” she waited as he looked back at her, and knew he wasn’t just pausing because of the radio interference, “Go ahead. Say something sarcastic.” “I’m adding this to my report about you.” “Be my guest. How about you save your air and I’ll have a reason to save your ass later. We got a tunnel to map.” That seemed to work, because Nukpana got to work. The explosion cracked open a new space in the stone, just enough room to stand and make a ten-pace circle. Kuwa kept her mineral test kit and sample collector (which is a scientific term for a bucket) to collect and examine the debris. Magnetite and copper chunks the size of eggs waited at her feet, and they either stuck to the sides of the bucket or cracked off little sparks. Residual electricity from the drones? When she tossed in other, less purified stones they didn’t zap each other, and she was about to dig out her tools when she heard Nukpana digging on his own. He was prying open a crack in the wall. She stood back up, “What are you doing?” “This tunnel goes deeper. I’m going in.” “Not without me, you’re not.” “Then come on!” He widened the opening just enough to scrape his armor through. He looked like a nut going straight into the jaws of the nutcracker, but Kuwa had no chance to talk him out of it. She had to follow him in. It was miner protocol, Martian protocol, and more importantly, she still had two working headlights to his one busted light. A quick flutter of claustrophobia tightened her throat when she squeezed in. She felt the steel plates to her suit press in tighter. The Kevlar chafed against the lead-foil, Mylar fabric, and wool suit towards her skin. She was aware of her own pulse, not just in her ears or throat, but every other artery at every other second. It didn’t help that she could hear Nukpana’s irregular rhythm of breathing over her radio as he forged ahead. He wasn’t enjoying this either, but he’d be damned if he would let her know that. She needed something to break the choking tedium, so if they were going to waste air by hyperventilating, why not have a conversation over it? She said, “I’ve been thinking about the magnetite. Do you know how it forms?” “No. Does it matter?” “It’s either igneous, or it collects as beach sand, or possibly in life.” “Is that so? That’s great. Is this a test?” “Just trying to keep us from going crazy. How much further?” “I think it’s opening up ahead. We can…there!” The light from their lamps reflected and refracted back into the tunnel in a blinding kaleidoscope. For a second Kuwa shielded her eyes and tried to look down, but she had to save her partner’s life. Nukpana went from squeezing through the tiny tunnel to slipping out into empty space. Kuwa lurched forward as best she could to catch him, but he was already out. And he was fine. The “open space” that he fell into was just large enough for him to stand and let Kuwa poke her head and one shoulder in. The wall opposite their tunnel was smooth and almost as translucent as glass. Nukpana pressed his glove hand to it, causing flakes and new cracks to form in the substance. It wasn’t stone, it was… “Ice,” they both said. That was what blinded her a second ago. Their headlights reflected off it and was still shining back into their narrow tunnel. Nukpana narrowed the aperture on his good headlight to focus the beam, or more precisely dim it. Kuwa was still crammed in the tunnel, so she used her one free hand to do the same, but then remember the geology kit in her other hand. She needed samples, which meant she needed help, “Nukpana, break me off a piece or two of that ice.” “There’s something behind it.” “What?” “The ice. It’s not very thick.” “Thick enough to dig up! Do you know how much a water deposit is worth?” “Do I know? I’m a Martian miner! Of course I know! Give me your trowel or something! I’ll get your sample! It took a minute but Kuwa gave Nukpana what looked like a gardener’s trowel, because that’s what it was (the old NASA emblem on the back made it an official scientific instrument). Nukpana started hacking away. He was more interested in what was behind the frosty, mineral laden ice. Kuwa had to collect samples off the floor because Nukpana was too busy to hand her a good piece. It wasn’t perfectly clear ice like she thought, but when she heard Nukpana cheer, “I’m through!” she dropped the samples in her bucket for later. What was behind the thin sheet of ice looked…strange. Thick, knobbed granules in the substrate, bent and warped by geologic time. It was gray and almost dull green. As he stared closer, he almost saw a pattern. Hexagons and rhomboids beneath the frost. Thicker strains of it stretched beyond the hole through the ice, thick enough to feel with his fingers, which he did. When his glove touched the stone he traced the line along until he came to the cracked ice. Dig further, he thought. Crack out another sample. Feel the trace of new stone, new structure… New skin. The material under the ice looked and felt like skin and veins. That was what he felt through his gloves and armor. Warmth. “Hey!” said Kuwa, breaking him out of is revery, “If that stuff’s so interesting why don’t you break me off a sample too?” “Huh? Yeah why…” if he stabbed at the stone would this…lifeform wake up? How big was it? How strong? Would it crush them if he hurt it? “Nukpana? Are you listening…?” “All right fine! Wait a second.” He was glad that she couldn’t see him wince when he dug the trowel into the sediment. He scraped off little flakes of the material, letting them fall into his free hand. Would the creature, the colossal creature, if that’s what he was seeing, even feel such a mark? Or would it be like a mosquito bite, or tiny scratch to something this large? Was this thing, or stuff or whatever, even alive? Seriously? What the hell was he looking at? Even the geology geek behind him was perplexed. She took the handful of flakes, “Wow! Look at this! What is it?” “You mean you don’t know? Is it…?” he choked on the word “alive.” “I’ve heard about this somewhere. I think it’s…oh my God! It’s starting to make sense! The magnetite, the ice, the sediment layers around us, this stuff!” “What? What is it?” Nukpana tried not to yell. “I think these are fossilized bacteria! I think we found evidence for life on Mars!” They made it back without incident. The elevator was waiting with fresh air tanks, courtesy of Marcus and the working cart-droid. Kuwa explained the clues to her investigation as they ascended. Long story short, magnetite and copper both come from igneous rock, magma, but often collect as sand deposits, or sedimentary rock. That takes water, and a lot of it. This area must have been aboveground, and under the water, in the distant forgotten past. The only water left now was that thin curtain of ice, which was going to turn into fat paychecks when the Guild found out. Nukpana just nodded and kept staring at the sample bucket as Kuwa rehashed her second year in college for him. He interrupted, “Yes, but what about the skin?” “What skin?” “The…” he pointed to the bucket of stones, hoping to aim for the special ones with the warmth and structure, “stuff behind the ice! The one you said was a fossil!” “That could be the real mother lode down here!” “You’re telling me.” “Back in the Pre-Cambrian…” “The pre-what?” “The first era of life on Earth. Back then bacteria would collect in thick mats on the ocean floor.” “Thick enough to be seen? Microscopic life can do that?” “Well, thick enough to discolor the rock. When you’re talking about millions of the little guys, then yes, it’s thick enough to be seen. Hell, we’re made of billions of microscopic cells. Can you imagine what they’ll say back on Earth if this is true?” “Yeah, just imagine…” He wanted to tell her that fossils don’t pulse when you touch them. Why didn’t she feel it when she handled it? She was handling it now, and part of him wanted it back. She saw him glare at her, “Is everything all right? Do you want to look at it again?” She offered him the stone. He lunged, “Yes!” And she gave him some cold, inert pebbles that did absolutely nothing. He turned them over in his hand. It still had that layer of skin on top. Still had that green-gray color. It still had those barely macroscopic crystallin structure throughout, but now it was as active and animated as any stone on this dead planet. He knew he felt its warmth before. He knew it was calling to him earlier. He knew he had to go back down. He was a miner. It was his damn job. The elevator slowed down. He almost dropped the rocks when it jolted to a stop. Kuwa, the ignorant little scientist with her ridiculous smile asked for the samples back and he obliged. It was time to check on Bonita and Marcus, and then check in with the Guild. They found the mother lode, so it was time to get rich. Normally Nukpana would be smiling at such a development, but he kept imagining that…colossus or whatever it was, waking up down there in the dark. He chipped off pieces of it, like an idiot. What if that was enough to wake it up? Anger it? After all these eons sleeping on an alien world? He shook his head while Kuwa stepped into the MCU airlock. No. He was sounding like that idiotic joke about space monsters. Ironic that Kuwa was the one that said it before and now he was seriously thinking it through. He heard it a million times from a million dumb greenhorns. And one powerful man back on Earth. He was an old friend from Nukpana’s halcyon days back in Old America. Someone that kept his influence and connections even as the Consensus took over, and interest in this kind of thing. Someone who, if prompted, would love, not laugh, to hear about something “eldritch and weird.” They were practically his favorite words. Soon as he got back to New Sedona, Nukpana would check if he still had the man’s links. Forty-nine million kilometers away, in another desert, stood the Original Sedona in what used to be called Arizona, USA. Now it was Consensus Grid SW1912-34R-Coconino. The numbers meant something to somebody, but most Citizens still called it “our SW Grid.” A porty man struggled to get out a motel bed while the scrawny, barely legal prostitute rolled over to the nightstand. He scratched his graying beard as he searched for cigarettes. At least it was a small room to search. Citizen-level rooms usually were. Discretion was vital for business of this nature. The room didn’t even have a window or fake-view monitor for guests, just a bed, Net-Feed-terminal, toilet, and a holographic sign that blinked, “Your privacy is very important to us. Our surveillance is for your security.” He could still afford to have the wi-fi disconnected in here, at least for an hour to “conduct business.” Only his personal links worked, which was why the prostitute was having trouble accessing the survey on her phone. She swore, “Wait a second,” the man found his phone and plugged it into his left wrist. Augmented reality images circled his left arm and eyeball before he tapped his commands to reconnect the room to the Net-Feed so he could transfer the funds. His one hour of motel privacy was now over, at his request, and unless he wanted to stay another twenty-four period, the two of them were open to the world. At least they could conduct some real business. He twirled his fingers at the hooker, “There. Money’s yours.” “Wait! I need to do my survey!” A wider holographic screen appeared before her thin modified face, “How would you rate your experience with Gaetz & McSally Escort Services? Representative…?” “Don’t call me that! Don’t say who I am! I can’t have anyone know I’m here!” “Sorry, I…but could you…?” He stormed closer to her. It was a tight fit, moving his bulk in that narrow room, but his height did give him an advantage to intimidate the little girl. He could even see the fear through her plastic surgery, and he could see the stats on her hologram. His frown turned into a growl when he saw her personal info. There was a mixed Mars/Venus symbol next to her (their) serial number, “Wait, you’re a trans?” “Yeah! I’m got my re-assignment surgery two weeks ago, but I still need the hormone pills. They do good work, don’t they?” “Two weeks ago? But we…oh shit! After all the times I sent your services to the Party!” his eyes bulged for a second, “This is how you repay me!” “My services?” “From G&M, you whore! Not you personally!” “Hey, I’m here because you earned a preferred customer free ride, so unless you want me to revoke that use the proper terms and pronouns! You gave me a positive rating last time! Now how would you rate tonight’s performance…?” The Representative wasn’t listening. He was looking for his clothes in the dresser, found his cigarettes at least, but more importantly he found his gun. Before the prostitute could ask their next question, the rep pumped two rounds into their terrified face. Then one at the lamp by mistake. The room went dark except for the hooker’s flickering hologram. The Representative slumped his naked butt into the only chair in the room and tapped the implants on the side of his skull. A friendly computer voice chimed in, “Front Desk. How can I help you, Name Withheld?” “Tell my security team outside that I need a clean up and Feed purge of the last two hours,” he took a cigarette and looked for his lighter, “And tell my assistant he’s fired! If that dumbass can’t tell the difference between a girl and a…” “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Name Withheld, but I can access his Feed. Would you like me to do that now?” “Yeah whatever. I’ll hold.” He waited and scratched an itch with the barrel of his automatic. It was cool enough. Now that the drugs and endorphins wore off, he could put his political mind to work. Maybe there was a positive spin to all of this. Before he could think of one the motel’s Net-Feed chimed in a new, but familiar, computer voice, “Hello, Representative Talley. We at Gaetz and McSally Escort Services are disappointed to inform you that the life-signs for your Pleasure Specialist have terminated. If there is a problem with their health, we ask that you inform…” He hung up his implant so hard he almost bruised the side of his head. Maybe there wasn’t a positive spin to this. The call cut out, but the AR was still floating inside his pupil. The seal for the House of Representatives booted up. It served as a reminder to his low status. If he was a real Senator, he wouldn’t have to worry about crossing G&M Escorts or their close ties to the Great American Party. Hell, one Senator used Pleasure Specialists as guinea pigs for his homemade drugs. Talley admired that man, and wanted his job more than anything. Senators kept their jobs for life, no matter what they did, especially to the lower caste Citizens. Meanwhile House Reps had to keep begging for votes. He panicked as he put his clothes on, “After all the business I gave them,” he meant both the GAP and G&M, “This is how they repay me!”As the AR scrolled over his eyeballs, he caught one address out of place, “Mars? Who do I know on Mars?” He opened the message, and made a genuine, nostalgic chuckle at his old friend’s name, “Oh! You know what? Maybe it’s time I took a vacation out of town.”...
The Sun's MateThe Sun’s Mate: A Desert Ghoul Folk-tale as Recorded from Oral Form by T. P. Hade of the Nonhuman Cultural Illumination ProjectIn this lifetime Yaq was born male. His parents defended a territory in the lushest, most desirable oasis. Every night after hunting birds or gathering figs they patrolled. Mother scratched the palm trees. Father scent marked the boundary. Yaq looked up at the sky.Yaq’s fangs came in and Father told him it was time to learn fighting. Yaq wouldn’t wrestle. His eyes never left the sky. Father grew cross with him. “Lazy child!” he said. “You will never find a mate if you can’t defend a territory. A toothless old Ghoul could take it from you.”“I will make the sky my territory,” Yaq said. “The Moon will be my hunting ground. The Sun will be my mate.”Mother nipped his ears. “Foolish child!” she said. “The Moon is the eye of the Shaper, closed in sleep. You would be brushed out like a grain of sand. The Sun is his waking eye, burning chaos in submission to order. Only someone living in chaos would seek to disturb him.”Yaq would not listen. The scents of young females did not excite him. He snuck away from the den at daytime to feel the Sun’s warmth. He looked as close as he dared. He sniffed the daylight air, trying to identify something that was missing in the cool of night. “My love,” he cried, “why do you hide your scent? Why do you bite my eyes every time I try to look at your face? Soon we will greet nose to nose, and you will see I was born to be your mate.”Yaq followed Human trails into the City. As the People of daylight, surely they would have something worthy of offering the Sun as a matehood gift. He hid and watched them give each other strange objects. They traded clothing, clear pots, and flat stones that shone like drops of the Sun’s blood. There was food, and something like food. The food-like scents repulsed him and drew him in.Yaq found many Humans attracted to the scents as well. He realized they came from plants, in the form of seeds, powders, and strips of bark. The concentration oppressed all other smells. It made his head hurt and his nose itch. The crowd begged the dominant Human for tiny portions of the intoxicating scents. When they moved on, this Human held up a bundle of bark and told any that passed of its wonderful nature.“I’m sure you smell lovely,” Yaq whispered to the Sun, “but someone as special as you deserves the most interesting scent in the world to roll in.”Yaq leapt from hiding and snatched the bundle of bark from the Human’s hand. The Human yelled, and a pack came together to give chase.The bark in Yaq’s mouth made his eyes water. He stopped in the garbage dump at the edge of the City to wipe them. A swarm of Flies came and asked what he was doing. “Please help me brothers,” he said. “I am on my matehood journey. I must deliver this gift to the Sun.”The Flies surrounded the Human pack and bit them. The Humans stopped to swat them away. Yaq ran on.The humans let dogs loose. The bark stole all the water from Yaq’s mouth. He stopped at the edge of the oasis and panted with exhaustion. A pack of Hyenas came and asked what he was doing.“Please help me sisters,” he said. “I am on my matehood journey. I must deliver this gift to the Sun.”The Hyenas giggled fiercely and charged the hunting dogs. Yaq ran on.The humans sent out falcons. The birds found Yaq in the open desert and swept over him, tearing his clothing with their talons. Yaq cowered under a thorn bush. A Vulture circling overhead landed on the bush and asked what he was doing.“Please help me brother,” he said. “I am on my matehood journey. I must deliver this gift to the Sun.”The Vulture tilted his head. “Do you really think the Sun would have you?” he said. “From the sky I have seen many young females traveling to your oasis in search of a mate.”“I was born for better things,” Yaq said. “A plain mate and a dull territory are not for me. Please, I beg for your help.”He bowed his head and looked so pitiful that the Vulture finally agreed. Yaq climbed onto his back and they rose toward the Sun. The falcons chased with talons extended, but they did not have the Vulture’s power. Higher and higher they went, until Yaq could see the whole Earth below and the Stars above. The Sun looked down on all, bright and beautiful.At last the Vulture could go no further. Yaq sprang from his back and stretched out his arms to embrace the Sun. His whole body felt like bare feet walking across hot sand. The light hurt his eyes even though he kept them closed tight. The air smelled like burning stones.The bark in Yaq’s mouth caught fire. He spat it out and covered his face with his hands. “Why do you reject me?” he said. “Can you not feel what I have gone through to honor you with this gift?”The Sun made no reply. It could not be what Yaq wanted, only what it was.Yaq fell into the sky, cloths on fire, skin burning, until he met the Sun and there was nothing left of him.Author’s note: The vulture is considered in Ghoul culture to be the wisest and most helpful of the First People who were later made into beasts. Vulture (Grhaal in Ghoulish) is a popular name, indicating a parent who escaped starvation by following the birds to a carcass.
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Tales Of Mysteria: The Sea GoddessThe times were cold and bitter. The world was brittle and dying and the Gods… The Gods were cruel. They regularly attacked, enslaved and plagued the mortals with any type of suffering their saw fit. They could end the world at the drop of a hat though so no mortal dared speak against them. But this was one of the times someone did. Far on the coast of human lands, on the docks of a city called Harowick was a woman and a massive crew of warriors packing several ships full of supplies and materials needed for the trip they were going on. The woman’s name was Saenis and she was in charge of this expedition.
“Come men! We haven’t much time! Mareus is sure to be expecting us and the longer we take, the more time we give her to prepare!” Saenis shouted as everyone doubled their efforts. From the distance running through the crowd of onlookers came a messenger, with a scroll in hand.
“Hermion. I hope that scroll you hold brings good news,” She said pl
Hakunui, the Pliosaur God
There was something peaceful about the Jurassic, Lin thought as she sat on the deck. No one ever believed her and on land, the dinosaurs could be very dangerous, but Lin was sitting on a boat in the middle of the Panthalassic Ocean, the biggest ocean in the history of the Earth. Nothing but water as far as the eye could see with a few clouds in the distance. The smell of the salt air in her nose and a cool breeze in her face. Lin could not be happier. She got up to refresh her drink when it happened. Despite all her years time traveling, Lin had never really felt ‘outside of time.’ Until now.
Lin’s feet were thrust out from under her as the boat itself rose up. It all happened so quick, yet despite that it seemed to take forever. In front of her the deck disintegrated into splinters and was replaced by a massive set of jaws.
The monster that owned them followed, breaching out of the water for almost thirty feet, bl
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