An evening breeze slipped gently through the open door of the Great Tur in Berestye, redolent with the smell of peat and flowering oak trees.
The heavy sheepskin that had covered the doorway during the recent winter was now folded neatly in a corner.
A small fire in the center of the room provided most of the light, although there were also wax candles spaced every few feet along the two long trestle tables.
Dir bent down to speak quietly to his father, the proprietor of the tavern. “Bac’ka,” he said, respectfully. There must have been something urgent in his tone, because Old Askold looked up. “The man in the corner,” Dir said.
The corner in question was far from the fire, and poorly lit. Somebody sat hunched over a wooden mug. Neither of them could make out his face from the other side of the room.
“What of him?”
“His skin is blue,” said Dir. “If I give him more harelka, I worry that he may become ill. If he dies in here, Gleb and I will need to drag him to the river, and the town watch will undoubtedly ask us many questions.”
Traffic on the 395 was light at 6 AM. Phil made the L’Enfant exit, turned right onto E Street SW, and then a block later, rolled past the blue “NASA Employees Only” sign. He waved his ID on its lanyard at the guard, who recognized him and raised the gate just in time.
The plastic coffee mug in the cup holder swayed slightly as he went down the ramp. The lot was almost empty. Phil parked by the elevator.
The Director of NASA and two women Phil didn’t know were already waiting in a glassed-in conference room. “Phil,” the Director said. “I know it’s early. Glad you had time to grab coffee. I’m going to introduce everyone, and then run.” Continue reading
Pozsony County, May 1242:
Snorri braced his arms on the rain-slicked sides of the embrasure and leaned out over the wall. The last of the Mongol rearguard were winding their way out of sight, around the hills of the Malé Karpaty. “I wonder if there’s any value in hitting them from behind?” he asked.
“In the rain?” his younger companion replied, adjusting the cowl of his monkish habit against the incessant drizzle. The two conversed in Latin. Snorri’s native Norsk, and the monk’s Anglisc shared many words, but the pronunciation was rather different. Continue reading
I check my dosimeter again, and earn another dirty look from Abel. Problem is, we’re much too close to the big central chunk of neutronium, the paper-weight that makes everything on this asteroid point down, and not just float around. I don’t like the deep tunnels.
“What?” I say. “You like being irradiated?”
“It’s still green,” says Abel. “Not even a tiny tinge of yellow. It’s perfectly safe.”
“Where is this guy?” I ask. “Let’s just interview him and get out of here, while I can still have kids.” Continue reading
The late winter damp seeped through the sheepskin door of the Great Tur in Berestye. The proprietor, Old Askold, shivered and tossed another log on the fire that was the primary source of light in the tavern.
Although it was still early in the afternoon, the tavern was busy, customers lining both sides of two long trestle tables. In one corner, Askold’s sons played a tune, Gleb plucking his trapezoidal gusli, and Dir gently tapping a domra, while balancing Young Askold, his infant son, on his knee. Dir’s wife, Lybid, served the patrons, pouring from great wooden flasks full of golden mead and fragrant birch-sap harelka. Continue reading
The messenger winced as the heavily-laden jeep navigated its way from the narrow pontoon bridge and onto the steep ramp leading up the muddy bank. “I don’t even see this river on my map,” he said.
“I don’t care what river it is,” said the Major. “It could be the River Styx, for what it’s worth.”
“Let me get this straight,” said the messenger. “You built a bridge across an unknown river, because the company cook said…” Continue reading
The artist leaned heavily on both forearms on the table and glared at Katrin. “You want to destroy my artwork,” she said. “Not just incinerate it, consign it to the waste pile of history. Remove all representations and references to it, then actually erase it from the memory of everyone who even saw it.” She pounded one first on the table. “For what?” she said, emphatically.
Katrin opened her mouth to reply, but the artist continued. “They call in a méllonologist to judge my work,” she said. “Is it subversive? Am I some sort of traitor to society? I thought we had freedom of expression.” Continue reading
Rafe’s empty teacup rose unsteadily from the table, unsupported by any hand, and hurled itself against the refrigerator door with a loud crash. Marie whimpered, but appeared to be too shell-shocked to actually scream.
Rafe looked across the table at their lawyer, who seemed to be taking things in stride. “Can we sue to force the sellers to buy it back?” he said.
“There isn’t a whole lot of case history for that,” said the lawyer. He was less composed than his equanimous exterior might suggest, but was relieved that the problem at hand seemed to restrict itself solely to harming crockery.
“I told you there was something wrong with that castle,” said Marie. “You had to get enamored with that silly title.” The owners of the castle and its estate automatically assumed the archaic, unrecognized, and also utterly unpronounceable, title of Laird of something or other. Continue reading
A crowd had gathered at the entrance to the cavern. Despite the size of the man-made opening, there wasn’t sufficient room for everyone inside, and a sound system and large screens had been set up so that everyone could hear the mayor speak. Many people held umbrellas against a light but persistent drizzle.
“Every twenty-five years,” began the mayor. “Once in a generation, we hold this contest.”
She swept her arm dramatically, indicating the rows of uniform squares embossed in the rock of the cavern entrance. Some of them were already carved with a miscellany of signs. Many remained blank, an obvious invitation for the future. “You can see how the signs nearer the entrance are worn away by the elements, an indication of the extreme age of what we are doing now. This is a tradition that has remained with us for almost as long as our recorded history.” Continue reading
It’s hard to say what the Player and his Men would have thought of the Great Theater on Ephis.
The circular stage rose from inky blackness, as if it were poised within the stony vacuum of space. The vast amphitheater, its stage and vast rings of seating were wrapped within a lucent dome of spinel, perfectly transparent, perfectly invisible.
Passing time and orbital precession would bring the sun back over the horizon at the perfect moment, but for now a orbital mirror cast a tiny, brilliant spot of light on a single actor. Continue reading