Friday, January 17, 2020

Flash Fiction #390 -- The Reading

"And thus, the humans came to our time and place," Abricon said as he folded down the book's screen and looked out into the full auditorium beyond him. He put his hands on the desk, all five of them. "And so we are now united to create our own future."

The humans clapped -- Abricon had not been so sure about how they would receive his history of their world written from a Taureen perspective. His own people had clicked in delight. So few understood the odd little humans, and any insight into their brief lives had to be welcome.

People filled by the desk, mostly a cluster of his own kind, heads bobbing as they clicked and invited him to a gathering after the others cleared away. Most kind, most kind...

Then Lady Abigail Ann Faristall came to speak to him. She was a young female who was not known for her good manners, even among her own.  The very existence of aliens seemed to annoy her.  Both her hair and eye colors had changed again.  He had made the mistake of not recognizing her because of such changes once before.  He did not want to be scolded again, so he had learned the shape of her face -- the only part of her that did not seem to change, though even it was apt to change colors.

Tonight Lady Abigail wore a dress with too much lace and that was years -- possibly centuries -- out of date. She stood only head and shoulders above the desk, a tiny figure in the mass of tall Taureens. Lady Abigail stared up into his face, eyes narrowed -- Abricon had learned to read human faces. Lady Abigail was ... not happy.

"I don't see why all those humans had to die, Mr. Abricon. Battle after battle. I find that beyond bigotry --"

"History, Lady Abigail," he began, waving three of his five hands in a gesture of politeness, even knowing it was useless. He knew that look from more than a few other humans. "I did not create the circumstances --"

"You should have added some of the other alien races. I noticed that your own people were not present at these massacres."

"We were not there, Lady --"

"Well, that was your choice, wasn't it? I will have a word with your superior about this --"

"I have no superior --"

"I will have you removed from your post --"

"I have no post. I am a historian, Lady Abigail. I write the true history of what has happened on the many worlds. I painstakingly research the evidence, and in some cases, I even hire time probes to verify the information. Nothing I wrote is false."

"Then why weren't any of your people in the story?" she demanded.

Abricon stared at her. This was not a difference in the languages since he spoke her own native tongue.  He tried to format an answer -- an answer in any of the fifteen languages he spoke. The words that did come to mind would have been impolite and possibly gotten him banned from any future readings.

But he did, finally, understand one human term he'd never quite grasped until now. Dealing with this one lone human, he could imagine the frustration of others of her kind had been faced with such an incredible blindness to reality.

Yes, he understood now.

And so he leaned forward and pounded his head on the desk.

It helped. Lady Abigail Ann Fairstall left in haste.

He didn't even mind the headache.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Flash Fiction # 389 -- Catchin Bait/3

Tana and Dundas hurried to the areas the others had blocked off.  She could see some kind of metal covering in an area that was otherwise dirt.  An answer, finally --

"You can't do this!  They're just damned Catchin, not human!"

Tana had moved out of instinct: spun and kicked, sending the man with the bleeding nose tumbling backward.  Then she looked at Dundas --

"Uh --"

"You need to watch your step and not trip like that again, Tana."

Some of the Captain's guards snickered.

There had been a keypad lock on the circular opening, but it was now in pieces, and the metal door pulled open.  A musky scent drifted upward -- Catchin.

Tana saw a human guard, already unconscious, at the bottom of the ladder.  Two of Dundas's guards went down and moved him out of the way as they secured the area.

Tana went down before the Captain.  The lower area was small but opened to a massive cave, metal-lined and not well lit.  She could barely hear sounds some distance away.  It was the only direction to go, and they moved out with five guards at the front, weapons drawn.  Dim lights lit the entire area, and shadows moved across the opening.

Humans.  Not on guard, either.  Tana began to think that the only way they had kept this quiet was because they had help above; the others in the market must have known, at least the ones in this area --

She had her laser in hand and would have pushed on ahead, but the Captain caught tight hold of her arm and held her in the corridor while the guards went in.  She held her breath as lasers fired, people yelled, and Catchin growled.  How many humans did they fight?

One of the guards looked back in and nodded.  "Looks clear, Captain, but take care."

Tana and the Captain stepped out into the larger room.  Cages littered the area, but not as many as she feared.  Worse were the skins -- Catchin skins -- hung in driers.  All sizes.  She knew she let out a cry of anguish at the sight and spun on the enemy.  If they had not been behind a line of guards from the Belgium, she would have killed them all.

Lisel.  Where was Lisel?  She pulled out her pocketcomp, but there was too much interference here for the tracker --

Calm.  There was one way to find him.  "Lisel!" she shouted.  "Where the hell are you?"

"Here!" his voice replied.  Steady.

"Notice how she doesn't ask about me," Krisin added as she neared the cage.

Lisel was inside, Krisin chained outside.  Both had taken a beating, but they were alive.  Tana worked at getting her crew free while everyone else took care of the other Catchin.  Her hands trembled.  It took longer than it should have.

"I'm going to kill both of you," she said when they were both standing before her.  "If you ever do that again --"

"We decided before this started that we'd take chances and trust that you would find us," Lisel said.  Krisin winced but nodded agreement.

"Both of you went off without me on purpose."

They nodded.

Captain Dundas had moved up to her side.  "You two are braver than I would ever have imagined," Dundas said.  "But you are also idiots.  Let's go."

They reached the ladder and went up after a set of quiet, somber Catchin.  Lisel had crossed to talk to them by the time Tana climbed out, and Krisin pulled Tana to the side.

"Problem.  There were children, Tana.  The bastards took them away a few hours ago."

"Where --"

"Dundas and her people are already on it."  He didn't let go of her arm.  "We can only make things worse, Tana.  Lisel can help keep them calm.  You and I need to talk about other things.  They've been shipping out Catchin fur -- you know that part.  I got a ship name.  It left last night -- and they're going to have word of this before we can catch them.  They'll run.  We're going to find them, though, aren't we?"


"It means we'll have to head into human-populated areas, you know."

"I want the bastards."

Krisin didn't argue.  Tana wondered how long it would take to find the rest of this group.  She had spent most of her time fighting the Weres, but maybe it was time to fix things in the human realm.  She had not challenged the Weres so long to leave this evil loose in her own people.

The human crowd started to get a bit unsettled, and Tana would have grabbed out her laser and shot a few if they so much as made a single move toward the gathered Catchin.  Their voices started to rise -- but then a soldier came up out of the opening carrying a Catchin child that held tightly to him.

The human voices grew quieter.  Another followed, and another.

"Mama!  Mama!"

A little one broke free from the guard who had carried her and raced toward the gathered Catchin.  One of those pushed her way forward and grabbed up the child.  Lisel got quickly out of the way, especially as other children came out -- a full dozen of them, almost as many as the adults.

Dundas came to stand by Tana and Krisin.  Her guards had spread out all around the area, and more were arriving.  So were some local guards, but they were looking worried.  The Catchin looked calmer than anyone else in the area.

"What is going to happen to Catchin?" Krisin asked.

"Lisel has already offered them refuge on the Belgium -- even the families.  You know that we will be heading inward after the rest of this group, right?"

"Yes, Captain," Tana said.  "I appreciate it on a personal level."


"It means I won't have to steal a fighter and go after them on my own."

Dundas only nodded agreement.

The End (for now)


Friday, January 03, 2020

Flash Fiction # 388 -- Catchin Bait/2

Walking back into the market area with Captain Dundas and her guards did not make Tana feel any better.  She'd lost her two crewmates.  If she lost Dundas as well --

Dundas did have power that Tana did not, however.  The Captain waved her hand, and people moved.  Local guards all but bowed to her.  Border patrol ships like Belgium kept places like this safe and had done so even before the Were arrived to terrorize and destroy human settlements.

Many had been polite to her and Krisin but not to Lisil.  Tana knew that a few Catchin had disappeared on the world -- probably more than had been reported.  Too many fleet ships would just as soon not have any Catchin crew, and losing them was unlikely to be reported.

Dundas seemed the only one who had gone in to find them.

"You like the Catchin," Tana said aloud, surprise in her voice.

Captain Dundas glanced her way with an exasperated sigh.  "Belgium has the largest contingent of Catchin in the fleet, you know."

"I didn't know."

"Sometimes your inability to see things right before your nose makes me wonder how you get your fighter out of the bay."

Tana would have appreciated the jest better if she hadn't lost both Lisil and Krisen.  Dundas did not promise to get the two back, but she looked determined enough to tear this world apart to find them.

They walked around the market, this time gaining more than a few nervous stares.  Fifty armed soldiers and an important fleet captain was bound to draw that kind of attention, no matter what else might be happening.  They traced the path and came back to the point where Lisil had runoff. 

Tana saw no sign of anything that would lead them to Lisil or to Krisin.  No one seemed particularly nervous or looked guilty.  Tana had her pocketcomp out and kept running the scan to find Lisil, but nothing --

"People, we have a problem here," Dundas shouted.  She had learned to make her voice carry, and people turned to look at her, even if they'd been trying to ignore the group.  "You know what the trouble is by now.  I am going to ask you to take down your tents and move your merchandise.  My people will help you.  We know that our Catchin crewman disappeared somewhere in the midst of you.  We hope to find some sign."

Tana heard a growing murmur of displeasure, and the number of people they faced vastly outnumbered them -- but not many would be armed, and fewer still trained.

"If you do not cooperate, we will move your tents and merchandise for you," Dundas added after the noise began to die down.  "I don't think you want that to happen."

Tana had put her hand on her weapon.  She didn't watch the people closest to the edge -- they may have been involved, but they were not the ones who actually took Lisil.  And what about Krisin?  Dundas hadn't mentioned him, but maybe that was on purpose.  Focus on Lisil because Krisin might have disappeared but not been taken.  That suddenly occurred to her, a moment of sanity working into her brain.  Krisin had been ground forces before he went to the fighters.  He might --

Tana leaned closer to Dundas and lowered her voice, turning away from the others.  "You heard from Krisin."

"We had a bit of code that we assume was him," Dundas agreed, bending her head in a quiet conference while her people spread out and prepared to take charge if the locals didn't start moving.  "I was already starting to gather the troops to come out.  Your call helped.  It gave us a better reason to move."

"What was the code?"

"Numerical directions.  Down."

"Down," she repeated and looked at the tents.  "Oh, hell.  I never considered under the tents.  This was a terraformed world, wasn't it?  Had underground equipment and housing for the first generation?"

Dundas nodded.  "I have set people at the one exit we know about, but it's not been opened in close to a century.  We can't tell if there are newer openings drilled into the old system, but this one is on the old maps.  We need to get a visual on it."

Tana nodded.  She felt a little better for having more information.  The two had not just disappeared, and while part of her wanted to be angry that Krisin hadn't sent her a message before he disappeared, she also admitted that he'd been wise to contact the ship and Dundas.

Why all of this?  Why the Catchin? And there had been parts of Catchin leaving the area?  If someone hurt Lisil --

The people had started to move on their own, but only after the soldiers marched in and began dismantling tents and tables.  The locals were at least fast and put up no fight once they started.  Dundas and five guards -- plus Tana -- started moving inward. Tana directed them toward the right --


She threw herself at Dundas, and they both went down, a flash of laser light passing too close overhead.  The guards formed a shell, and Tana scrambled back to her feet and offered a hand to her Captain.

"Sorry --" she started to say.

"Good reflexes," Dundas said and brushed some dirt from her sleeve.  "I can't interest you in a job as my private guard -- no, I didn't think so.  And probably not safe anyway, trapping you in the ship.  I'd rather have you and your team out taking on the Weres.  It looks as though they found something."

Tana spun and looked.  The guards had formed a line that led straight to some spot where they were tearing down a tent with more than a little fervor.  They had two men on their knees and cuffed, one bleeding from the nose, the other looking stunned.

Down.  Tana would have answers soon, and they had better not be bad ones.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Flash Fiction # 387 -- Catchin Bait/1

Note:  I have dropped in on Tana's little scout ship and her crew a few times before.  If you would like to read the sequence here are the previous flash fiction pieces:

Flash Friday # 106 -- The Replacement

Flash Fiction # 141 -- The Outpost

Flash Fiction # 161 -- Illusion

Flash Fiction # 211 -- Teamwork

Flash Fiction # 2999 -- Catchin Can -- 7 Part story starts here:

Tana didn't like being back on a 'civilized' world.  She had taken assignment out on the Belgium, a ship patrolling the edges of Were space, for a reason.  Walking down the streets of Ember made her twitch, especially when she knew they were all three bait.

Actually, Lisil was the bait.  The Catchin stood a head taller than the two humans, his fur gray and black, his head catlike, and his ears back with a sure sign that he was no happier than Tana.

This was day three of walking along the market streets.  They'd done the tour methodically and had lists of needed supplies for the ship they'd gathered in each of the four quarters.  This was sector three -- herbs and even some yeast -- that all sent back to the shuttle.  They also tried another small tavern nestled into the market -- and got kicked out because they had a Catchin with them.

Lisil had better manners and a lot more control than Tana or Krisin.  They'd both ended up in fights while Lisil watched with a shake of his head.

"All for the show, right?" Krisin said as he stepped over a man who didn't look likely to get back up soon.  "And I think the others are starting to get the idea."

"That we are more trouble than they want," Lisil said and sighed.  "I don't think that's really what we want, is it? We need them to take me.  If you two keep knocking them down --"

"Those aren't the people after Catchins," Tana replied with a wave of her hand.  "That group is subtle.  These people are bigoted thugs."

Lisil grunted agreement.

Then he stopped walking.  His head came up, and he sniffed twice before turning abruptly to the left.  Lisil pushed his way through a narrow path between tents set in a haphazard pattern, twisting and turning to the right and left along the maze.

"Lisil!" Krisin shouted in frustration -- they couldn't see him above the tall poles that held up the flapping cloth.  "Lisil, damn it --"

A roar from the right.  It was not a sound either had heard from Lisil before, but neither doubted it was him.  Krisin had drawn his laser pistol -- illegal to carry in the market and liable to get you locked up. Tana drew hers as well.

They could hear a fight not far away, but the sounds were muffled and echoing oddly.  The sounds grew softer.  Tana grew more frantic and pushed ahead of Krisin.  A few merchants yelled and hit at her as she pushed her way past their tables of wares.  They were coming closer to the main street through the sector.  She rushed out into a group of shoppers who cursed her -- and then moved off quickly when Krisin joined her.  His red-faced glare, and the pistol he waved, probably scared them more than her snarl.  She'd hidden the weapon again.

"We missed him somehow," Krisin said. 

She nodded and pulled out her pocketcomp, keying up an exclusive app -- and nothing.  Not a single blip on the screen, even though they'd tested out the tracker only an hour before. 

"Damn," she said and shoved the device back away.

Krisin looked around frantically.  "They could have taken him left or right --"

"You go right.  I'll go left," Tana said.  He looked panicked.  "Go!"

She found nothing, of course.  No sign of Lisil at all, and by the time she had twice circled the area, Tana knew she had lost Krisin as well.

When Captain Dundas had given them his assignment, there had been nothing about others disappearing.  Catchin only, but as she started back toward the port and Belgium's shuttle, she felt as though someone could grab her at any point.

Tana should have felt better at the gate to the port itself.  Guards were in place, but they seemed lax to her.  She was within the fence, though, and that counted for something.  The shuttle still sat two miles away, but now that she was close, she pulled out her communit and keyed into their system.

"Tana --" a familiar voice said.

"I lost them both.  Lisil went first.  We thought we heard him roar.  Krisin and I split up a couple minutes later, and now I can't find him either.  I headed back to port before I called in.  See, I can follow orders.  I want my fighter!"

"So you can go blow the hell out of the market," Captain Dundas said.  "I don't think your missing crew would appreciate it.  The tracker on Lisil didn't work?"

"It had right until he disappeared."

"No sign of it at all -- like it had been cut out and dropped somewhere."

She shuddered a little.  "No.  It just went dead."

"Our people have been monitoring crates going into port -- quietly, but we're certain no Catchin have been shipped that way."

"Not whole ones anyway," she said despite herself.

"We ran DNA -- stay where you are.  I'm on my way."

"Oh, hell, no!" Tana said despite herself.  "I've already lost two people!  You think I should take the Captain of the Belgium out with me to look around?  Are you crazy?"

The connection had gone dead as soon as the Captain announced she was on her way.  Tana wasn't sure she wouldn't have said that anyway.    She had stopped, though, out there in the open without many people around.  Felt safer there, too, though.

While Tana waited, she wrote up everything she could remember from the moment when Lisil -- smelled something in the air.  Nothing that she had noticed -- but then she wasn't a Catchin.  Tana pulled up all the memories of those crucial moments when he took off -- the way he had been going before they lost all sight of him, the sound of the roar -- was that even Lisil?

Tana looked back at the port town.  She had no idea what was going on, but she wanted her people back.