The Void Cavalcade

Earth isn’t gone. But sometimes, we wish it was.

When all this started, we’d just achieved long-range spaceflight with the Cleave drives – my great-grandparents were on one of the first cruisers out to the Alpha Centauri system. Kind of a big deal, getting to escape the solar system like that. We’d managed to colonize a few worlds in our backyard, but ideal they weren’t; if we could get our ships to cut through interstellar space the way they did in our neighbourhood, we might have a better chance at finding a liveable world.

Terraforming? That’s a fool’s errand. Best you can hope for is to change a series of icy moons into windy dustballs that snow like the devil’s dandruff, or make a bunch of dry rocks into slightly moist ones. ‘Course, other folks in the galaxy might have other notions, but they weren’t around then; it was just humans trying to find a new home in the badlands.

Then the Collapse happened. More literal than I think most folks understand. See, some people didn’t think the Cleave drives were all that great outside our solar system – hell, some didn’t like them beyond ferrying to the moon and back! So they started working on wormholes and faster-than-light drives, still science fiction in an age where we’d grown trees on Mars. And, as tends to happen, somebody slipped up.

Whole chunk of old Earth got swallowed up in a subspace wormhole, sent to who-knows-where, and sent the old girl a’spinnin’ in her orbit. Moon base got peppered like a shotgun – not much left of that. Think some of it even got to Venus. So when people say “Earth’s gone”, they’re usually just trying to forget about it. It’s like a burned-down home; better to leave it in the past, they think. But if we don’t remember Why it happened, well. Might just be someone slips up down the line and makes another Briggand’s Fault.

There’s a stretch – here, let me pull up the map – a big stretch of space that’s all kinds of unruly. Briggand’s Fault, the Briar Patch, the Void Trench; thing’s got as many names as there are species out there. And it’s nearly four thousand lightyears long. Nobody quite knew where it had come from, and with the loss of Earth and the state of flux it put the rest of our home system in, nobody was too keen to spend resources to find out. But over time, after the other races started coming up on our radars, after the Caravans became not only viable but essential, folk started poking around.

Turns out, that’s where that chunk of Earth got to. Somehow, the wormhole opened up way across space, but it cut a path like a jagged knife, and now it’s a pain to try and get around. Most Caravans just skirt it – Cleave drives are sturdy nowadays, but there’s no telling what the Fault will do to them. Or you.

Now, I know there’s plenty of info on us on the Lace, plus every other type of folk out there, but there’s one thing most humans hold true: a real FTL drive is proper science fiction. Can’t happen. But every now and then you’ll hear rumours, hearsay about a new device that can hop over the galaxy like an interstellar rabbit.

Eh? Oh, it’s a – look, it’s just a metaphor. Haven’t had rabbits around for a century or more.

All i’m saying is, if we want to keep exploring, and getting further out, we’re gonna need something faster than Cleaving. ‘Cause even with a Caravan as big as this, it’s still gonna take us the better part of a month to get out to your folks. Yeah, I know it’s only ninety-odd lightyears out, but that’s the limit. We go any faster, we’re liable to make a big line of trash and flash-frozen corpses for the next Caravan to run into. Just sit tight.

Safer here than on your own, at least.

Earth is a broken relic of a time before the Caravans; back then, massive cities were the norm, with small towns and villages surrounding them. It’s been almost two centuries now since the Collapse, and it’s difficult to find a world that will support that kind of growth, let alone enough material and time to build it. Even with the new technologies brought in by the other races, there are no more than a few dozen sheltered cities scattered among the stars, with numerous colonies and asteroid bases between.

Supporting (and in some cases replacing) these are the Caravans – large co-ops of ships, lashing their Cleave drives together to allow speedy travel between the stars. They run on various routes, acting as a home for merchants, passengers, explorers and smugglers alike. Small ferry craft buzz between larger ships like bees, and the greatest Caravans have more population than some planetbound cities do, and just as much economy.

Unlike a city of old, however, they are self-governed; no one group or power holds sway over all Caravans (Though there’s plenty of rumours of a shadow government). Anyone could start their own if they wished (and had enough ships to make it viable), but most simply buy into existing fleets, adding their skills and ship(s) to a growing population. The more ships, the less fuel it costs to fly. This is the beauty of the Cleave drive: much like geese flying in formation, the ships reduce “drag” from spacetime itself, allowing a circumventing of physics without serious incident. The Caravans are the lifeblood of this region of the galaxy, and anyone with a dream or a scheme knows how important they can be.

There’s plenty of work for mercenaries, smugglers, engineers, explorers, to say nothing of artists and diplomats. And if you’re looking to find new horizons, there are a few Caravans that take long arcs out into unexplored space, braced for adventure and bountiful new lands. There’s an Eden out there, somewhere. And whoever finds it first might have the best chance at life on solid ground – or become a sure target for every other scavenger out there.

For the rest of us, well. There’s always signing up with the PAD.


This is the story summary i’m providing for a new tabletop game i’ll be streaming come May, using the Stars Without Number system.

It’s set in a small stretch of space where races intermingle while they learn, trade, explore and sabotage, all in the search of a new viable home. There’s plenty in here I haven’t explained, and I don’t plan to elaborate on all of it, but i’m looking forward to fleshing out certain aspects for people to read about.

It’s a trying time, and I hope you’re all safe and well, or on the way to it if you’re not. Much love and respect.

(Instru)Mental

I’ve been feeling instru
Mental
About the way I’m being held
Figurehead, like a grand tree, just
Waiting to be felled

When your time is up, timber,
The funeral march drones
Down into soil to grow the next
Regime upon your bones

You’ve got me feeling funda
Mental
With your book of holy text
Warping tales to fit around you
Like the noose around your necks

When you see the face of those outside
Your tidy little group
Do you see the people, lives and dreams,
Or only heathen soup?

Now I’m feeling senti
Mental
For the things I once held close
Shut up in some chest-of-drawers
Away from those that need them most

They tell me “give that up”;
You’re a child no more
But they hand me things no human wants
And try to sell me war

We treat them like they’re orna
Mental
Put the doll upon the dais
Worship at the feet of your idol
Before you burn and raze

If you’re planning out to conquer
All your neighbours and their fields
Reconsider who you pray to and
The power that it wields

This whole song’s experi
Mental
Digging into words and sounds
Playing up on emphasis and
Making sure the meaning pounds

Sometimes the lyrics flow like wine
But often Bacchus is a hog
And out come words that muck and mire
It’s really quite a slog


Listened to “Departure Songs” by We Lost The Sea while hashing this out. I sometimes write lyrics for songs that don’t exist yet.

Hope your Saturday is going well.

A sinking rowboat

When the ship begins to sink
And hope is tossed asea
Don’t, clinging to your anchor, think:
“Surely this will save me!”

There is an ocean’s worth of difference
In knowing your boat is sinking
And knowing how to stop it
Without even thinking

If you find yourself adrift,
No paddle to your name,
Examine why you’re left becalmed
And do not jump to blame.

If it’s your design to end up here,
Congrats, you’ve done it, led by fear;
Now you’ve an ocean to sit and dwell
On why you chose to never tell
A soul about your personal hell.

If it’s fickle mind, poor chemical synthesis,
You might find the ocean a dense abyss:
More of a mire than a wide expanse
Less of a trial and closer to dance
With a partner who gives no second chance.

“Don’t panic”, they say, all teacups and sunshine,
Medicine bags full of useless tat.
But you’ve sailed these waters line by line;
There is no one fix to solving that.

All told, it is awful, and without cure;
Though there’s nothing wrong with you
You’re not impure
Your brain’s just a mess. Diagnosis: chemical
Full to the brim with habits inimical

But I believe in you, that’s the truth.
You can win against yourself.
Just remember, you’re okay,
And leave your habits on the shelf.


Apparently the first two verses were missing, oops!

Stygian Cells

This is a story I submitted to Glitter + Ashes, “an anthology of queer joy and queer community in the face of disaster”, published by Neon Hemlock Press. It made the shortlist but not the final cut, so now I get to share it with you. I’m honoured to have made the shortlist, and if you enjoy this kind of thing (or the above description whets your appetite for less sad post-apocalyptic stories), please do check out the zine as it’s still available for pre-order! Info here, and pre-orders are here! Support small press!


 

“What do you mean, ‘your bones are no good here’?” Festree said, confused. “These are third-age roach skeletons, they’re worth at least a few old wyrds.” She picked up the bones to emphasize her point, showing their intricate branching structures. It had taken her nearly three days to prepare them, and these were the good ones; the rest had been thrown into a lackluster stew as spice. Her stomach still roiled when she thought of it.

“I’ll tell you what, little witch-” The hag hacked horribly, her misshapen, furred body wracked by the effort, “-you cure me of this wretched cough, and I’ll give you what you want.” She rubbed at her throat for effect.

Festree rolled her eyes, then scooped the bones back into a pouch. “Fine.” She drew herself level with the stooped woman’s eyes. “But if I find out these wyrds are bunk, I’ll hex you with my period cramps for three moons, you old blister.”

Carlisle wrinkled their nose, but said nothing as Festree cleared a spot on the ground.

Read more

The Orchard of my Soul

Aye, the feelings still reside
Within the battered hide of the heart
But what use are they now,
Fruitless trees kept and tended
Only for history and memory
Their branches lie fallow in warmth
And cold alike.
“Could they burst forth with life again,” some ask, hopeful;
Others ask why I keep such empty vessels at all.
In truth, I cannot feed myself on hope
Nor wither myself to dust waiting
For a harvest surely imaginary.
The things are kept as a sign of progress
Of learning from one’s past, good and bad
A reminder and a marker.
New trees may take up their role
In the orchard of my soul,
And tended there in new light
They might produce unknown delight
If only the old do not poison them.
Heavy leaves of the most barren tree
Will still choke the life from those beneath
That ask for only moments of that blazing star
That the old memory drinks deep of. Oblivious.
Its time has passed, and should it come again,
It will come in the rebirth after the blaze,
The sun made manifest in the orchard of my soul.


Growth is hard, but is best noticed when left to itself. Keep yourself well and do likewise for others in the coming years.

Art Is Valuable (but I’m broke)

I want to be the one that buys your art

So I can hear how happy it made you

How you struggled that week between jobs and chores

Or why a trauma gave you inspiration instead of just a scar

But I can’t always be that one.

Someone else will buy it instead,

and I’ll never hear that story.

And there isn’t a word I know

for that kind of happy sadness.

The Internet

When I dip my head into the pools
To see what’s growing
What’s different from their neighbours
I see a cosmos that rivals the stars
So I dive deep
And when I finally pull myself up
I realize I forgot to breathe and

I wonder where the day has gone.


Busy months. Expect more stories and poetry soon!

Story Time

The creature sat idle in its chair by the fireplace, fingers aglow with the last vestiges of its cigar. How long had it been smoking that, I wondered, as I rose to stoke the fire – not for the first time that evening, I realized. The woodpile had been steadily consumed, greedy flames lighting the dim parlour with their grim energy; when had the sun gone down?

“Ah, but it is no matter.” Said the creature, all horn and tooth and skin of scale, shifting forms in the twisting shadows. It took me a moment to understand that it had been speaking aloud to itself, and I had, what, dozed off? In the dim light, its shape was gigantic and diminutive all at once, a thing of true unknowing. Something beyond my ken. It continued, “I’ve another here. Pass me the matches, would you?”

I obliged, only to hand the thin matchbox tin – a family heirloom, I noted by the crest that adorned its top – to a horrific tentacled hand, which itself morphed into the claws of the devil himself. Were it not for fear of insulting my guest, I would have dropped it there and then and run from that room. But propriety kept me still and calm above the panic that roiled in my gut. The creature struck a match, its grotesquely beautiful visage a twisting canvas of horrors from outside this plane, lit only by that single flame. Intermittently, I caught glimpses of it as it puffed happily on that cigar, the smoke a purple-yellow that stunk of the bog, something rotten and festered. It sighed contently, then gestured at me.

Read more

The Distance Between Us

The station wheeled through the void carelessly, metal carapace groaning and creaking against the sheer vacuum that surrounded it. The Jovian moon of Callisto swirled in the darkness below, framed by the gigantic sphere of gas and storms that was Jupiter. The rings glinted in sparkling sunlight, sunlight that had careened through space at such unimaginable speeds just to shine against all these tumbling, hurtling rocks. Even the other moons twinkled in the distance, hot white sparks against the deep black canvas behind.

It all looked so fake.

Niké stared hard out of the viewport, trying to convince their brain that what they saw was reality. Those huge, unimaginably strange bodies outside, so alien compared to the cool Martian sand they grew up on. So cold and barren, devoid of life or shelter. Niké squinted their eyes. Still doesn’t look right, they conceded.

“Niké!” The old caretaker bot shouted down the connector.

“Yeah,” Niké responded distractedly, eyes glued to the surreality of such an immense spectacle. The unfathomable vastness was just wrong-

“Nee-Kay.” Came the synthesized voice again, stressing the syllables. It always got their attention, and not for good reason.

“What, Tink.” Their reply was flat.

Read more

The Four of Us

Even here, in the deepest void of space, there was comfort in moving through nothing.

The ship’s engines rumbled pleasantly; more than that, the feeling of the engines running, matter being converted to plasma to be ejected through narrow cones, the heat and pressure of it all – these were feelings no person could ever truly feel. The sensation of electricity coursing through the hull; automated drones, each one feeling as if a part of her body; the cold, pressure-less void trying to rupture the skin of her hull.

She felt more and more like a vessel, a Ship, than a physical being every day.

Par’terre. Comms.

She answered the signal with a slight nod. “Par’terre responding.”

Her Carrier’s voice replied. “Mines ahead. Recommend we move around – too dense to push through.”

“Negative, Hunlock. Fuel is too slim to allow reroute. Deploy sweeper drones to clear a path.”

Read more