Monday, February 25, 2013

16940--Child of Fire and Blood (Ch. 13)

The trouble starts over on the Theobroma page. I've decided to continue it out here with a few chapters for your perusal. Enjoy a taste of Tarakk prior to indulging in the whole novel. Feedback or questions on the world, its people, their gods or whatever are equally welcome.



The rays of the morning sun were barely able to penetrate the lingering cloud of dark smoke that hung in the air over Azirta’s fire-ravaged Upasha District. Scores of laborer hands worked at a hurried pace to sort through the remains of the area’s buildings. Neighboring one of the crumbled structures was a nondescript warehouse that had been damaged by the fire and was host not to law enforcers or fire inspectors, but instead to a score of workers who had been roused from sleep at an unusual hour to move the thousands of boxes being stored on the premises.

The warehouse was a property held by one of the business enterprises controlled by entrepreneur Amilian Tenking. Though the wealthy Tenking was considered mysterious to most, he was known to wield some local political influence and to have a growing ambition for more. Likewise, he was known to have hedonistic interests in fast cars, fast horses, fast boats and compliant women. Anyone who knew him even slightly beyond his reputed proclivities, knew that he never made a habit of showing himself anywhere other than breakfast until at least another hour past sunrise. The well-dressed businessman’s eyes narrowed, his brow furrowing, as the figure of a large, powerfully built man clad in gray descended from a roof access hatch to alight before him on the warehouse floor. His huge left fist clutched a five-foot-long metal staff that held the shine of polished silver and was inlaid with spirals of black crystal. Though his face was partially concealed by the shadow of his hooded coat, Tenking knew him better than he cared to and steeled himself for their latest encounter.

“I don’t smell anything cooking,” the new arrival said, his loose clothes fluttering around him with a sound reminiscent of wings, “so I can only imagine that whatever your men are clearing out of here is worth large piles of money.”

“Moving my company’s merchandise to a location that’s not on fire is good for business, Sterling,” Tenking said with a tightened jaw. “Terrorist explosions and giant firebirds constitute excessive risk. If you ever give up prowling around rooftops and alleyways and get involved in a legitimate business activity, you might learn this sort of thing.”

“Are you going to give me lessons on running legitimate business activities, Tenking?” Sterling mocked him, the towering man peering past his adversary from beneath his hooded coat with piercing eyes. “When do you host your special seminars in falsifying documents, smuggling, conspiracy and miscellaneous fraud? Better still, let‘s skip to the best places to hide bodies.”

“You’re a funny man,” Tenking said, trying hard to keep from displaying his anger.

“I do two shows a night on the size of your ass alone,” Sterling jibed. “You should catch it sometime. It kills on the east side.”

“You need a hand here, boss?” one of Tenking’s workers asked, cautiously approaching the near-eight-foot-tall intruder from behind.

“The big man just stopped in to bring me a few new gray hairs,” Tenking said, running a hand through his expensively cut blond and gray locks, “like those religious crazies blowing up buildings aren‘t causing enough problems. And I‘m sure not waiting to see what Phoenix cults start showing up after last night.”


“Just keep moving crates, Slaran,” Tenking instructed. “This whole place needs to be empty before they cordon off the area. The next truck is due in ten minutes. You boys need to quit dragging ass and double-time it.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Slaran said, his muscular arms reaching to take a wooden box from the top of a nearby stack.

“Hold on, tiny,” Sterling commanded, touching one end of his staff to the side of the crate. “We should take a look inside. It might help you with organizing.”

Determined to follow the orders of his notorious employer over those of the stranger, Slaran grunted and strained, wrestling with all his might yet failing to budge the crate. For all his effort, the man’s merely mortal muscle was no match for the magic of Sterling’s staff, which Slaran might have been aware of had he noticed the faint glow at its tip.

“I heard you was strong,” Slaran said. “I guess that’s true. I heard you scared some guys into thinking you got wings, claws and fangs, too, though.”

“You have a point to make?” Sterling asked.

“Maybe you’re just big and scary,” Slaran said, “and nobody’s had the balls to try fighting you. Momo!”

“You’re going to hurt yourself, Slaran,” Sterling said, reaching for the crate with his right hand and tearing the top open with ease. “Let’s see if we can’t help lighten your load.”

Momo!” Slaran shouted. “Where is that moron?”

“Smarties?” Sterling asked, his tone obviously indicating his puzzlement at seeing dozens of pocket-sized, individually packaged, personal computers ready for redistribution. “You’re in a panic over these? People can get these anywhere. Hell, they’re practically disposable.”

“I told you, I’m a legitimate businessman,” Tenking said. “I’ve got product to get into the hands of rational, not-crazy people. You can see yourself out, right?”

“So I suppose you have transaction records that show you own all these,” Sterling said.

“Available to show anyone with actual law enforcement authority,” Tenking assured him.

“Momo! Get your fat ass over here!” Slaran shouted across the warehouse.

“And to support your claim of losing them to the fires,” Sterling said.

“Let me explain something to you, hero-man. I enjoy making a profit from disaster as much as the next man,” Tenking admitted. “Truly, probably even more since doing so doesn’t upset any of my moral sensibilities.”

Morals? Who’d you steal those from?”

“I’m a practical man and as such I don’t make a habit of destroying my own property. It‘s bad for my profits.”

“I would think a practical businessman wouldn’t go to such lengths to run afoul of the law as you.”

“If the upstanding law enforcement personnel of this beautiful city and the illustrious elected lawmakers of our great nation haven’t found any reason to take issue with the legitimacy of my business activities, I don’t see how you can claim to have grounds--”

“I’ve had your society of entrepreneurs in my sights for too long for you to fool me with flowery words,” Sterling shared, “and I’ve never heard of a politician who wasn’t lying about being honest.”

“Yeah,” Slaran laughed, “you know what they say about honest politicians.”

“No, Slaran,” Sterling responded, grabbing him by his arm, “what do they say?”

Slaran was momentarily dumbstruck, amazed at both Sterling’s strength and the size of the large man’s hand around his own not inconsiderable upper arm.

“Slaran talks too much,” his boss said grimly, poking his man in the chest, “about things that don’t concern him when he should be working.”

“Yeah, boss,” Slaran agreed with a nervous laugh, “nothing like a good day’s work for your health.”

“Right. Work’s always better for your health than running your mouth,” his employer reminded him. “Now, get back to packing.”

Sterling’s fierce gaze burned at Slaran through narrowed eyes for several seconds before he shoved the frightened minion away. He looked back at Tenking and growled, “This isn’t over,” before bounding skyward in a single powerful leap.

“True enough,” Tenking mumbled, watching Sterling vanish back through the skylight. “It’ll be over when I’ve got your head on a pole, watching me eat your liver.”

A beeping came from Tenking’s coat pocket. He pulled out his own smarty in response and looked at its view screen to see who was calling him before opening the communication channel. When he did answer the call, the image of the man in his screen was completely shrouded in shadow.


“Friend of yours?” a rasping whisper asked.

“No, damned social crusader’s a pain in my ass,” Tenking replied angrily as he started looking around the warehouse nervously, his eyes darting from shadow to shadow. “You’re watching?”

“You should be used to that. It’s a likelihood for anyone who works with us, at any time, anywhere.”

“Well, don’t expect me to get used to it,” Tenking warned. “I value my privacy.”

“And you’re used to being in charge.”

“Yes,” Tenking said. “I worked hard to get where I am.”

“I don’t care,” came the response. “For now, you’re working for me. Now, is he going to be a problem?”

“No, of course not,” Tenking assured his caller. “He’ll try, but he doesn’t know anything. He’s just grabbing at smoke.”

“Good. I have another job for you.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

16933--Child of Fire and Blood (Ch. 12)

The trouble starts over on the Theobroma page. I've decided to continue it out here with a few chapters for your perusal.  Enjoy a taste of Tarakk prior to indulging in the whole novel.  Feedback or questions on the world, its people, their gods or whatever are equally welcome.



Flying low over the largely unspoiled wilds of the lush forests and rolling hills of Bentrci, a pair of large dragons swooped into a low-lying clearing north of the normally peaceful village of Alistin. Riding their momentum, the two literally hit the ground running. Their iridescent scales were shimmering rainbows of color, serpentine bodies undulating as they gamboled south. Maintaining a measure of the buoyancy that allowed their deadly forms to soar among the clouds, the dragons bounced along the landscape with ease, propelled by their great stores of internal energy and claws that barely touched the ground.

Even had they been reduced to the level of awareness of the humans who lived in the area, it would have seemed obvious that Alistin was in crisis as columns of black smoke rose above the sprawling town. Keen dragon senses told them that fires still raged in the light industrial community as surely as they knew the scents of blood and panic in the air. Drawing near the outskirts of the town, still intending to evade detection, dragon flesh quivered and changed. In the span of a few heartbeats, dragon forms had become snaking clouds of indigo smoke, roiling among streets and alleyways.

“Well, child,” Aan-kresk said as the two finally settled on a rooftop, hidden from human eyes by the concealing gift of the dragons’ mime, “would you agree that we have something worth reporting home?”

“I’m confused, ancient,” Kss-kaak responded. “I see a lot of military equipment, calm warriors with strange smiles and there’s no question about the uniforms. Albani warriors have clearly penetrated deep into Bentrci, but this place isn’t ablaze. The ones without uniforms appear to match reports of the natives being largely farmers and crafters. Why keep them alive?”

“Without a military force to offer resistance,” the elder dragon proposed to his young charge, “it’s possible they could’ve surrendered to escape slaughter.”

“Well, no uniforms,” he replied, “and they have both a look and smell that tells me they’re comfortable with dirt and work. They also don’t look as happy as the soldiers. They reek of tension and they walk like they’re being herded. Those are unhappy human faces, right?”

“Yes, also, the black smoke columns can be strong indicators of crisis in human communities,” the elder dragon confirmed, “but it could just be signs of industry since we haven’t seen any open fires. The Albani appear to be building in multiple locations and fortifying along the Larlo River.

“Who invades a place and builds?” Kss-kaak asked. “Where are the flames, the carnage, the destruction…?”

“Perhaps they’re trying something new,” the elder dragon said. “There are signs of conflict, showing that what little presence Zadiasam had in this area was forced to withdraw back across the Larlo into their own country.”

“So they’ll probably be waiting on military reinforcements from…what’s that city due east?”

“Devenara. It’s got a half-million population, industry and surrounding military bases. Our information says they trade with these people, though, for about half their imported food.”

“Which means this should get very interesting for our report,” Kss-kaak said. “Nobody likes having their food supply cut. If they’re smart, they’ll want to respond quickly, before the Albani can finish getting fortified here.”

“Probably,” Aan-kresk said, “though military resistance, will likely cause a much greater escalation in hostilities between the larger nations than this occupation and what little shooting there’s been. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since the human factions of Alban and Zadiasam have resorted to using lethal force?”

“Does that matter? They die a lot. I thought they killed each other off all the time,” Kss-kaak said, puzzled by the proposition that that might be incorrect.

“In their own lands, perhaps,” the elder dragon said. “Internationally, though, they’ve maintained strict practices of not killing for…more than three hundred years. I forget exactly how long, but I remember when the Treaty of Orray was created. The magi had started campaigns to shatter all the deadliest human military forces and ultimately pressured them into acting civilized. They hated it, but all the humans had begun calling them ‘warlords’, so face-to-face they were scared enough that they agreed to anything they were told to do.”

“Well, it looks like the Albani have decided to show that they’d rather stay in the dark than be forced to enlightenment.”

“Enlightenment is an inherently destructive process,” Aan-kresk said. “Not everyone can weather it. These villagers may be unhappy now with whatever the Albani are doing, but maybe they’ll be thankful later.”

They looked over the edge of the roof at the occupied streets below as Kss-kaak casually commented, “I have to admit, they do seem to be running a peaceful occupation.”

“I still want to find out what they’re here for,” the elder dragon said, watching armored skiffs hover above Albani soldiers marching Alistin’s citizens through the town. “Things may seem calm now, but there’s evidence enough that Alban wasn’t invited. Maybe they just want to see what the magi will do. They must have some sort of plan smoldering. This sudden activity so far from Alban and so near to Zadiasam can’t be random.”

“Well, is there a better way to find out more than watching them rebuild the town?” Kss-kaak told him. “Maybe we could start a few creative interrogations about all the military bits and pieces they’re moving around.”

“They’re using more than just tranquilizer guns and shock rods. Look around this anthill. They’re using weaponry Alban didn’t even have a few years ago: battle robots, hover tanks, energy cannons…”

“You’re saying they had some kind of a research breakthrough?” the younger dragon asked.

“If my experience is worth anything, I’d say it’s more likely that someone’s been sharing secrets they should’ve kept,” the elder said. “We’ll quietly pick out a few of these pale pieces of meat, without inciting running or screaming, and see what other information we can gather. We’re here to study, not to fight their army, after all. Remember, we are smoke.”

“What about a snack?” Kss-kaak proposed. “They’re so small I could eat a platoon.”

“We’ll see what opportunities arise. After we do what we do, discreetly, I want to head down river to the neighboring community, Samaris, so we can see what they’re working on near the water and find out how large this occupation is.”

“I don’t know why we’re bothering, really,” Kss-kaak said. “It’s not like the humans on either side of this fight would show any love for us if they knew we were here. History says they’d just as soon cut us up for food and armor. You did want me to pay attention to history, right? That’s why you’re giving me a history lesson?”

“We’re not here to win friends,” Aan-kresk said. “Smoke agents go where the Dragon Council directs.”

“Watching the savage insects strut about, swarming over the landscape,” Kss-kaak said with a snort, “and tear each other apart. Well, at least they bring variety into the day.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

16926--Child of Fire and Blood (Ch. 7)

The trouble starts over on the Theobroma page. I've decided to continue it out here with a few chapters for your perusal.  Enjoy a taste of Tarakk prior to indulging in the whole novel. Feedback or questions on the world, its people, their gods or whatever are equally welcome.



Under the light of Tarakk’s crimson and gold moons, Shakata raced through one of his people’s beautifully intricate cities along an unpredictable path. As he had practiced and played during many daylight hours, the vibrant young man sprinted across open spaces, leapt over gaps in his path and dove from heights his mother would never approve to tumble to safe landings. Unlike his daytime escapades, though, the night saw him darting from shadow to light to shadow again with definite purpose. He raced through the night to evade capture.

Scores of keen eyes worked to keep track of him as he moved through the temperate night air with the fluid grace and agility of a predator on the hunt. His tactical direction changes showed, though, the awareness of one being hunted. He knew the Argus drones were attempting to lock their tracking systems on him to facilitate his containment. The aerodynamic drones, their shape akin to a teardrop flying in an arc, sped through the air raising all the noise of a whisper. Their silvery gray skin did nothing to make them easier to see than to hear, but he did his best to stay aware of as many of the ones nearest him as he could.

What’s he up to? Kieren Sha wondered as she continued to watch him. Wondering and guessing, were all she could do until he deigned to talk again. He was being stubbornly silent, not wanting to give away any clues to his position by having their communications tracked. She thought it might not have bothered her so much if she were able to tear herself away from watching. She was trying to monitor his breathing, muscular activity and other such performance factors with passive scanning equipment, but was having almost as much difficulty getting solid data on him as the drones were.

“Stop going higher,” she whispered futilely. “Why does he keep going higher?”

His lack of concern for his personal safety was so aggravating sometimes that a part of her thought to curse him for worrying her, but she was quick to quiet such thoughts lest something actually come of them. Even if she refused to admit them, she knew her true feelings for him bore no connection to such dark thoughts. That was enough to make her resist dwelling on a momentary aggravation.

Kieren Sha glided about as silently as the Argus drones, though her own levitation was achieved by other means. She was determined to stay close enough to Shakata to help him in the event his confidence got him into more trouble than he could handle. As hard as he was pushing himself to outwit not only the city’s central computer system, but their own people as well, she knew that physical prowess would not be the thing to fail him.

She trusted Shakata, but all he would tell her about his escape plan was that he had figured out how to vanish from Oracle’s sight. She knew she had to see that. Shakata was easily one of the smartest people she knew, so she never sought to dismiss his ideas as crazy. Still, they did seem to involve an inherent pandemonium as often as not. Whatever his latest plan, he was talking about doing something that no one ever had. Oracle saw everything, after all. That was what it had been designed to do.

He kept running. He was still incredibly fast and strong, making leaps that surprised even her and showing no signs of fatigue. Kieren Sha was having to fight harder against the urge to intervene the longer she watched him. Even though she could not actually see him doing it, she knew he was smiling with delight at every increasingly risky stunt, flipping off of rooftops and running up walls.

When is he going to get to the part of the plan with the hiding? she wondered. Where are you going to hide from Oracle?

The answer failed to manifest no matter how many ways she asked herself the question. One thing that was becoming clear to her was that she was getting tired of holding her breath over him.

Magi cities were not just built by molecular machines, they were made of them. Every construct they had around them was a mixture of energized smart dust and energy fields, all part of synergistically integrated quantum computers. Kieren Sha could not figure out where Shakata was planning to hide in a city whose every molecule was essentially part of the network of artificial intelligences that managed the city’s functions.

Kieren Sha spotted a flurry of arms and legs charging through the night below her as a dozen slender figures ran and leapt in Shakata’s direction. Legion units were getting closer. She was sure they would refrain from shooting at him, attempting instead to get close enough to grab him and hold him for whoever was overseeing security.

Does he know Legion’s after him now, too? Sure, he has to know, she assured herself. He must’ve planned for Legion, too…Where did he--? “No! Fire and blood, I only looked away for…How did he get up there?” she asked as she levitated toward the tops of the tallest towers nearby.

Propelling himself through the warm night air, Shakata felt raw power coursing through his sinews. His breaths were controlled, long and deep, aiding his focus in guiding the potent energies that flowed through him. It was not mere muscle that moved him, nor dense bone that served to support the weight of his form any more than thick cartilage alone provided cushioning for his dynamic motions.

Fire, the vital energy of Life blazed within him. Like a wind, it went unseen, but he could feel it moving through his being, defining him. Fire fueled him, drove his surging blood, gave heat to his breath and flooded every cell of his body with vitality. He believed in the power and in himself as he exploded into the open air once more. Seventy-three feet above the ground was fun, but diving out into open air from more than three times as high gave him an unquestionable exhilaration.

His lean body twisted and stretched out in a fearsome predatory dive as his arc carried him away from the tower and he accelerated downward. His keen eyes processed colors for which only he had names as he targeted the polished oblong form that moved smoothly, silently through the unclouded sky below. He could not allow himself to miss, but only the next seconds would bear the proof of the accuracy of his mental calculations. If he had misjudged any factor between his own moving form and his moving target...

The tackle was solid, his broad chest slamming into the cool metal drone as his sinewy arms locked into a firm embrace. The force of his impact wobbled the drone’s flight, making it drop almost twenty feet before stabilizing itself. He laughed in triumph and relief, realizing that the hardest part was done.

With his body pressed against the Argus drone, he resisted gravity’s pull and clung to the drone like he was riding a dolphin. His muscles trembled as he held tightly, squeezing his slippery ride with only his arms, as he began to slide down the drone’s smooth, tapering form. Hovering quietly, he looked below his dangling legs to where Legion constructs walked the grounds around the towers and more Argus drones flew in overlapping patterns, sweeping the area with broad spectrum searchlights.

As his own temporary appropriation changed course and descended, Shakata slid free and, in its wake, fell to the Grand Canal that bisected the city. Gulping a final deep breath as he fell, Shakata tried to enter glowing ionic liquid smoothly, making as little splash as he could manage with his thick build. The electrolyte-laden water moved slowly, the current providing little challenge as he swam immediately to the waiting shadows. Clinging to the canal’s stone wall, Shakata remained still and compelled his thoughts to do the same. After another minute without finding their prey, the drones and Legion units moved off, expanding their search to different areas.

Shakata emerged from the canal, breathing freely again as he pulled himself up to the parallel walkway. The dusky man waiting for him stood just over seven feet tall, towering more than a full foot above the youth. His long black hair shimmered under the light of the moons, topping a form like a chiseled statue, clad in the black second skin of his sentinel armor.

“That’ll be far enough, boy,” the large man said sternly. “You’ve caused far more than enough trouble for tonight.”

“S’tai Andren Datis,” Shakata greeted him with a broad smile. “What a pleasant surprise. You didn’t have to come out so late just to say such sweet things. It could’ve waited till morning, General.”

“I wasn’t going to leave you to run loose to unleash pandemonium on the city after trying to shut down Freespace.”

Pandemonium? That seems a bit harsh,” Shakata protested. “I just made Oracle’s security look bad…and you, by extension, of course.”

“That’s enough,” Datis told him, signaling to a trio of Legion androids to close in from the shadows. “Your ridiculous acrobatics are done for the night.”

“Considering how quickly you found me,” Shakata said, studying the constructs as they moved to encircle him, “the effort wasn’t nearly enough.”

As the first of the androids reached a hand out to him, Shakata grabbed its wrist and used a joint lock and a spin to send the artificial man flying into one of its duplicates. The third android lunged at the young man only to receive a powerful kick that sent it tumbling into the Grand Canal.

Shakata turned to face the remaining Legion units as they began to pick themselves up from the ground. He felt a push at the center of his back that sent him stumbling forward. Shakata tripped over the Legion units, all three of them landing entangled on the grass.

“And I was doing so well,” Shakata said as the androids lifted him to his feet, each holding one of his arms. “Nice move, General.”

“You left yourself off-balance,” Datis told the young magi. “You’re a disappointment. I’d love to hear how you managed to evade Oracle.”

“The game has complicated rules,” Shakata said with a smirk. “Besides, I’d hate to shatter your low opinion of me.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t trip over your own feet while launching yourself off rooftops.”

“That sounds familiar,” he said, looking up at the elder’s grim visage. “Have you been talking with my parents?”

“Not yet, but your stunts tonight will certainly fuel a lively conversation in the near future,” Datis said. “Maybe they’ll be able to impress upon you how single-handedly deciding to shut down Freespace is a gross overestimation of your individual rights.”

“I may have had the thought, S’tai Datis,” Shakata said, “but I made no effort to enact it. I strongly suggested that people spend less time immersed in Freespace. That’s all.”

“You defaced--!”

“How can I deface something that doesn’t even exist?”

“You don’t know everything, child,” the angry s’tai growled down at Shakata. “None of us does.”

“Then you don’t know that I’m wrong,” Shakta countered. “You just don’t like what I did.”

“You’re wrong to disrespect the power of the people to make their own choices,” Datis said. “It’s arrogant.”

“They’re making a bad choice,” Shakata said. “The same one every single day. I reminded them of a better option.”

“And you’re entitled to that opinion, even to express it, but not to force it upon others. Just because you think you’re saving everyone from themselves doesn’t make you right.”

“I see a problem they apparently don’t,” Shakata said. “I’m trying to help. What’s wrong with that?”

“Your methods,” Datis said. “You violated security protocols and put yourself and the patrol drones at risk by running around like a brain damaged monkey!”

“I didn’t take anything from anyone. I did what you said: I expressed my opinion,” the youth insisted. “That was the only way I could do it so they’d pay attention.”

“Don’t act like a child,” Datis said. “You know that’s not the way Freespace was intended to be used.”

“Then it needs a new name,” Shakata said. “With all due respect, S’tai Datis, with their minds entangled in the computer’s realm, it was the only way I could talk to them so they’d hear me. You know normal access isn’t open to me.”

“That doesn’t give you license to make others carry the weight of your burden. When delivering your message of discontent comes at the risk of disrupting the peaceful enjoyment of thousands of others, you lose justification.”

“Then my right of expression doesn’t carry much weight, does it?”

“No more than anyone else’s. Enjoying your rights stops when they interfere with the rights of others, but I don’t need to tell you that. You’re a pathfinder, far beyond the level of an initiate and even further beyond pretending ignorance,” Datis told him. “You penetrated Freespace and Oracle security without authorization. We don’t do that.”

“I didn’t keep anyone from living their pretend lives,” Shakata said, “but our people are capable of so much more. Phoenix long ago tasked the magi with cultivating ourselves to enlightenment, to achieve unity with the Infinite.”

“You’re telling us our purpose, boy?” Datis asked with a derisive laugh. “You presume much. S’tai know Phoenix’s will better than any other.”

“Then tell me, s’tai, if we were intended to isolate ourselves within a cybernetic realm, why maintain the Phoenix Radical at all?” Shakata asked. “What’s the purpose of all our exercises and meditations? What’s the point of Unity?”

“You and your wearisome insolence exhaust my patience,” Datis told him.

“Perhaps I should go then,” Shakata suggested. “If I’m going to be limited to trying to draw their attention from out here in the fresh air, my location won’t matter.”

“Sounds like a great idea,” Andren Datis said, turning his hand over to reveal the shimmering orb resting in his palm.

“An epai?” Shakata asked him. “Going to extremes?”

“Don’t act like you didn’t bring this on yourself, little one.”

“Oh, I see,” Shakata said. “We’re going to pretend as though I’m forcing your hand.”

“You need to be restricted till you can learn to stop squandering your potential,” Datis said. “Though, admittedly, that may be a long wait.”

Luminous images and lines of light appeared above the orb, changing in response to the swift gestures of Datis’ nimble fingers. Behind Shakata, a six-foot circle of light appeared, perpendicular to the ground and circumscribing an intricate geometry of dozens more intersecting lines of light.

“If you felt the same concern for all magi,” Shakata said, “you might have chosen to assist on tonight’s incursion.”

“Which raises an interesting point,” Datis said, his fingers pausing in their manipulations as he locked eyes with the defiant youth. “Where’s your partner?”

“Sorry, who?” he asked.

“Don’t insult my intelligence,” Datis said. “Sensors detected two intruders at the core and you two are never far apart.”

“Must be a computer error,” Shakata said. “I acted alone. See? This is me alone. I know you can count to one.”

“That’ll be enough of you for tonight,” Datis said. “Legion, confine him to an eden till further notice.”

“Acknowledged,” one of the Legion constructs said, the pair walking at the circle with Shakata in tow.

The trio vanished into the portal, the hypercube access following in their wake as it shrunk to a point and blinked out of existence. Andren Datis’ dark eyes searched the area around him as he used his epai to create another portal.

“I know you’re there,” he shouted, still looking about for confirmation he was not alone. “Be wise. Don’t make this worse.”

He felt a familiar warmth rising within his body. A powerful electric tingling spiraled up his spine as a ring of fire ignited on the ground, encircling him. Datis looked to the starry sky as his flesh became luminous and the fire erupted into a consuming vortex. Rocketing upward, the fire and Datis vanished. In his absence, the waiting portal shimmered and closed like the first.

Monday, February 4, 2013

16919--Child of Fire and Blood (Ch. 6)

The trouble starts over on the Theobroma page. I've decided to continue it out here with a few chapters for your perusal.  Enjoy a taste of Tarakk prior to indulging in the whole novel. Feedback or questions on the world, its people, their gods or whatever are equally welcome.



“Welcome back to Aerel Keck Live! Tonight, my guest is a genius of technological innovation and marketing,” the charismatic talk show host addressed his audience, “and one of the wealthiest men in the world.”

Bright studio lights shone down on him from thirty feet overhead. He basked in the familiar heat as he adjusted his tailored suit jacket and played at making tense faces to the audience.

“I may be underdressed for this. Anyway, if you ever use computers or especially one of these handy little Smarties--and who still doesn’t have one, right?”

“I’ve got mine,” a pudgy, odd-looking man laughed from the edge of the set, “though I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet.”

“So, Hedloe, the only thing separating you from an Etinen farmer is the suit,” Keck joked, smiling to the crowd’s laughter.

“That and I was able to get past security,” the self-effacing sidekick quipped.

“Well, our audience probably knows the name of tonight’s guest and that he’s responsible for not only confusing my poor co-host, but putting these clever little conveniences into all our hands. Let’s get him out here to tell us what we can expect in our future. Give a big welcome to Taril Bont!”

Thunderous applause filled Keck’s ears. He never tired of that. His show’s producers certainly scheduled guests to draw viewers, but Aerel Keck knew in his heart that people were watching the show for him. He was the host, after all, and the best entertainment on the screens late at night. It was his name on the show. He would be sure to remind them when contract renewal time came up next month.

The charismatic host smiled at his guest as he welcomed him and the two men dropped into plush chairs, angled so they could converse comfortably and offer the audience a sense of inclusion.

“So, Taril…may I call you ‘Taril’?”

“‘Master Bont’,” he laughed.

“A lot of people, I hear, are saying that you’re very close to becoming the world’s richest man. Any truth to those rumors or did you blow the fortune paying to have all these bodyguards here tonight?”

“There sure are a lot, aren’t there?” Bont replied. “I got a volume discount I couldn’t pass up. What I saved I used to pay for that rumor about my having money.”

“Oh, no,” Keck said over the audience’s laughter. “Hedloe, we’re going to need your collection bowl again.”

“Honestly, Aerel, my accountants keep track of the money,” he continued. “One of them did use the phrase ‘dragon horde’, though, if that’s any help.”

“Well, it sounds like Hedloe can keep his bowl,” Keck said. “Which is good because I think that’s about as much technology as he can handle.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Bont said. “We’ve got a lot of great things coming to the market this year.”

“Now, it seems that some people don’t like that,” Keck said. “Some of your detractors say you’re out to dominate commerce and control the flow of information.”

“Well, I do like selling things,” Bont replied with a chuckle, “but I’m just doing business. If people don’t think I’m offering helpful developments, all they have to do to let me know is stop giving me money.”

“Right,” Keck said. “It’s not like you’re in organized crime or something, leading people into the store at gunpoint.”

“Exactly,” Bont said, “and if anyone else has a better idea for doing what I do, all they have to do is release a better product.”

“Or sell it to you so you can make money off that, too,” Keck laughed.

“That’s right, I like making money,” Bont smiled. “The thing is, though, my company’s prosperity has been good for a lot of people, for the economy and Zadiasam as a whole. This country has flourished through centuries of hard work from its people, through war and adversity, striving to build a united nation of disparate voices and ideas. That work has yielded a land of strength and people with a unique national identity that everyone here should be proud to be a part of,” the tycoon proclaimed, enthusiastically pointing at the audience.

Taril Bont’s words were, as he expected, met with cheers and applause. He paused to rock in his chair and smile humbly before joining in to applaud the crowd. Keck realized he was in the presence of a skilled manipulator, but decided not to challenge him on it and run the risk of having his guest turn on him. He might have done it with someone else, but not with a guest who might be able to have the audience side with him.

Miles from Aerel Keck’s studio, halfway across the capital city, a bored security guard engaged in his usual ritual of sitting at his post and watching the host conduct his latest celebrity interview. While the Onola Port security computer cycled its attention from one camera to the next, the veteran guard sipped from his tea, watching one of the millions of SmartVUR equipped Smarties following the broadcast across the country.

“I’ve been hearing talk in the realm of current events,” Aerel Keck went on, doing his best to keep control of his show, “that our government is close to holding a conference with Alban. They’re supposed to be talking about matters of peace and trade between our nations. What is your position in all of this? Are you concerned about the influx of competing products or are you more excited about the possibility of new market territories? And if that new market does become an open target, how do you forsee the impact of sharing our nation’s technological treasures with a potential rival nation such as Alban?”

“Wow,” Bont responded. “You really took a running start for that one.”

“Sorry,” Keck said amidst the audience laughter, “I missed my stopping point on the prompter. There’s supposed to be an instruction that tells me to take a breath.”

“It’s alright. Actually, I’m quite content to wait and see how the conference works out,” Bont said. “If we’re ready to share, then my company will proceed with that. I’m confident that we’ll be able to empty a warehouse or two once we have people show their snowmen how to use first generation Smarties.”

HA! I see I’m going to have to hire my writers back from you,” Keck said.

“Nothing to worry about, I just contracted them on a joke-by-joke basis,” the guest said.

“I tried something like that with my first wife,” Keck said, “but the second one wouldn’t sign. I hadn’t thought to try it here.”

“Anyway, we have our lives put together pretty well here,” Bont continued on the handheld screen. “Azirta is a shining gem, with a standard of living that is a beacon to the world. This is one of the greatest countries that has ever risen on the face of Tarakk because all of Zadiasam has rallied its strengths to make it that way.”

“Careful,” Keck warned his guest, “or they’ll drag you off to serve in Parliament.”

“We need to be careful,” Bont continued over the laughter, “that we don’t fall to harboring and feeding foreign enemies. Helping allies to make the most of their own nations, means diminishing the risk of allowing them to consume Zadiasam’s hard-won abundance at the expense of her citizens which would only serve to weaken our greatness!”

“Damn right,” the guard mumbled, rising from his cushioned seat to step out of his security station and into the cool night air. “Thunder? Hmmm…no rain…”
He looked to the western sky, inland over Azirta’s famed skyline of a million lights. Unusually, the night framed an odd glow as though another sunset had settled upon the Upasha District.

“What the Hell?” he asked himself, his mind racing as the sound of another rumble reached him. The glow nagged at him, growing brighter as more thunder roared and he heard himself say, “Explosions.”

The security guard found himself staring, mesmerized by the glow that he imagined must be the result of a growing blaze consuming buildings on Azirta‘s west side. For a moment, he wondered about the emergency responders racing to rescue the many lives being endangered both inside and near the structures burning in the night. He wondered just how big a blaze must have started for him to see and hear its effects so far from the Upasha District. With his attention focused across town, the blow to the back of his head caught him completely by surprise.

Azirta’s east side sprawled along the calm waters of the Onola Straits, crossed at the narrowest by a pair of two-mile-long bridges connecting the mainland with the sheltering Sun Island. Thus protected from the open waters beyond the island’s east coast, the heavy shipping traffic in and out of the busy harbor usually only faced dangers from poor navigation. Late at night, when ship traffic was at its lowest, the harbor’s biggest problems normally came only from people working the docks who were too weary to work well.

The footfalls made just more noise than falling rain, coming too quietly and too rapidly to be recognized for what they were. There was a flurry of motion, registered just out of the corners of tired eyes, that preceded the sudden collapse of three security guards at two checkpoints and another on patrol, all overtaken easily. Their limp bodies landed with soft thuds that drew no attention. With law enforcement and military personnel occupied on the far side of the city and dock security neutralized, the cargo ship Horizon presented an easy target. In only a few minutes, the ship’s skeleton crew had been subdued, also. Their attackers moved as an irresistible force, leaving unmoving bodies--injured, unconscious or dead--in the wake of their ruthlessly efficient onslaught.

From the main deck of the silenced vessel, a lone man held a flashlight over the rail and flickered its beam out over the night’s cool water. In less than a minute, whispering through the air, a personnel transport ship approached flying low over the water and rapidly closing on the Horizon like some great black aquatic bird riding invisible currents of air as it searched for food below. The stealthy airship carried itself on fields of electromagnetic energy generated by concealed electromotors, their normal glow and insect-like buzzing undetectable to any casual observer. As the aircraft rose to the level of the cargo ship’s deck, it hovered into position beside the cargo-laden Horizon. With trained military efficiency, a dozen black-clad men in tactical gear burst from the side of the airship to alight gracefully on the Horizon’s deck. Even as the last of the newly arrived men set foot on the docked ship, their aerial transport spun and dove back toward the water’s surface to disappear as it had come.

“Dennon Pory?” one of the new arrivals probed among the men watching them board.

“Here,” acknowledged the flashlight-holding man who had signaled the aircraft.

“The ship is secure?” the leader of the tactical squad asked him.

“Yes,” Pory confirmed. “That’s why I signaled. No problems. My men are offloading our share and releasing the mooring lines. We should be clear in about ten minutes, well before you’re ready to head out to sea.”

“See that you are,” the response came as the tactical team leader signaled his squad to hurry to their designated assignments. “The motors go hot in twelve minutes. Once we move out, we’re not turning back for stragglers.”

The sound of another furious explosion rumbled across the warm night sky like rolling thunder, sending tremors through the city that could even be felt on the heavy ship.

“Frozen Hell! You were supposed to be creating a diversion, Pory, not burning down the city!”

“It’s the Upasha district’s power station…a planned target,” Dennon Pory explained, “though I have no idea why it’s exploding so violently.”

There was a moment’s silence before the tactical team’s leader started laughing.

“Doesn’t matter to me as long as we’re out on schedule. You men have your own fight. Go ahead and burn it all down.”

“Yeah…thanks,” Pory said.

Everyone moving swiftly to their tasks in the night, the heavy cargo ship pushed away from the docks in accordance with the wishes of her new captain. Propelled by tremendous electric motors, the Horizon moved inconspicuously out of the harbor and back into open water.

On the mainland, two trucks laden with shipping crates drove away from the waterfront and deep into Azirta to disappear into the city. More tremors shook the ground as the area surrounding Upasha’s power station continued to burn violently and the sky brightened with another fiery explosion. From the passenger seat, Dennon Pory looked inquisitively at the driver, a man whom he could remember struggling alongside for years.

“Weird to be so bright this late, eh?” he laughed. “Maybe if it’s bright enough and loud enough, these people will finally wake up and hear us.”

“Dawn of a new day, old friend,” Pory said. “It’s a good sign when the same old explosive does three times the damage.”

“The Golden Lord and his goddess bless us,” he told Pory excitedly. “Free Etinen!”

“Yes, that must be it,” Pory confirmed. “With the favor of the ancestors and the empowerment of the gods, a free Etinen must await us indeed.”