Friday, November 29, 2013

Dwarves in Space 2: Manuscript finished

 For the first time since I started the wackiness that is writing a manuscript in a month, I crossed the line of finishing the entire book before November 30th.

To celebrate, here's the opening chapter of my next book. Dwarves in Space 2: I'll think of the colon part later.

 Rubber soles, better equipped for marching across the metal grating favored by your class b star line, splintered as a sharpened branch drove straight through and into flesh. Orn yelped, his grip stumbling as he tried to fight through the forest attacking him. His cargo slipped from his fingers and clattered onto the crunchy ground.

Variel paused, turning to her beleaguered pilot so far out of his element he was into lanthanide territory. "Pick it up."

Orn huffed, stumbling to gather what breath he once held and pouted. The thick lip of the dwarves was a difficult one to cross. "Why should I?"

A blast shattered through a trunk a foot above the wheezing dwarfs head, answering for him. His captain only raised her eyebrow as she fired back into the woodland maze. They hadn't seen their attackers for over half a mile, but they traded the occasional scream and bit of weapons fire to keep the relationship from falling stale. Orn gritted his teeth and lifted a small tree off the ground. As his fingers connected with heavy bark a pair of eyes hovered a few inches before him. The Dwarf shook the sapling and shouted "Don't do that!"

The eyes blinked softly then scattered, appearing a few inches beside Variel. She paid the child no mind, all her focus on the hunting party behind them. "We're close to the compound."

"You said that three clacks ago," Orn whined as the sapling's fingers dug into his hair and knotted around his buttons.

"It's clicks and..." another shot fired across the pair leaving a larger burn across the ancient forest. "They're closing, run!"

"I thought I was running."

"Run faster," Variel chided, and shoving into Orn's shoulder pushed him onward.
Bubble, find that stupid bubble. Orn chanted inside his brain as the small eyes darted before him. It would pause, looking at the passing clouds or the swaying leaves filtering through the high branches as senescence claimed the forest; then, after Orn passed a certain threshold, would appear in front of him again. It would unnerve the dwarf if he had time to think about it.

His captain's voice drifted away from him, she was either planning something clever or fell down into a mud pit again. But Orn had one job and that was getting this sapling kid to that bubble, whatever insane stunt she wanted to pull was all on her. Doubling his grip, he tried to inch up on his screaming toes to see the forest around the trees. Unfortunately all he got was more forest, and a face full of moss.

Sod whoever made all this nature crap, and double that for the woman insisting we assist the people who live in it. Orn was not noble by nature, he reacted rather easily with others but as he looked once more into the knotted eyes of the child he sighed and wiped his gloves across the rare mudless patch on his trousers. "Fine," he agreed with himself and hoisted the clingy sapling up.

Just as he was about to take another step a shriek pierced the whispering woods powerful enough to curdle milk. Boots smashed through the undergrowth, snapping past twigs and low hanging branches until Variel shot past Orn. A dangerous mix of joy and terror painted her face and she didn't slow for the dwarf only chanting "Run run run."
He didn't need to be told twice, and lifting up his heavy legs he followed as fast as possible, "What did you do?"

"Led them on a little trip through the forest that ended below the waterfall."

Orn laughed, "Bet the cat people loved it."

"You could say that," Variel grinned just as a howl, feral and alien to this world, burst through the trees. "And it may have pissed them off more. Ahead of me Orn, I can see the compound!"

"Good for you, all I see is muddy human ass."

The muddy human ass paused, letting the Dwarf catch up and sure enough beyond these trees lay another set of sanctioned trees all closed off by a nearly invisible shield. It flickered like dusty sunbeams, covering an entire forty acres of forest.

Variel turned to the eyes of the child, it could not thank them or even plead for help. Only those flickering eyes betrayed the solid wood of its hide. "We'll get you home. Orn..."
"Going going, got it," and before she had to say another word he pumped those little legs of his shredding what remained of his shoes and face. He had a date with their Orc doctor and the iodine bottle when this was over.

Variel turned towards the howl, a second answered across the woods. The hunters split up, trying to flank their prey. She had two choices, either stand to face them and be obliterated by enough firepower to put down an olhino or retreat. Firing into the stands of trees, she threatened the circling hyenas once and then burst after Orn.

The shimmer glistened before him, only a few dozen more marches of his heavy boots. "Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, I hope this still works." He shut his eyes tight as he dived across the barrier. It lifted every hair on his body and smelled like a bad cup of coffee but allowed him passage. Orn's body sagged from the passage and he began to tumble. In a rare moment of quick thinking, the dwarf rolled to his back keeping the baby sapling from smashing into the ground. The three leaves still clinging to the saplings branches shuddered but stilled.

As he slowly closed his eyes and counted to ten, a familiar string of curses sundered the silent winds. His captain saved those for surprise toll passages and customers paying in buttons. Sitting up with his tree friend, Orn watched as Variel, firing wildly behind her, galloped across the remaining gap. Her shirt ripped as a branch impaled upon the loose fabric but failed to slow her down.

One of their pursuers stepped into their miniature clearing. Its orange fur was stained in muddy water, looking more like a half drowned rat than a mighty Macka Warrior; but still the hefty hunting rifle was poised across its shoulder trying to find the target. Black eyes narrowed, nothing but pupils in the heavy dark of the forest, as it tracked Variel's form as she dived for the bubble. Squeezing off the trigger, the heavy shot tossed the 7 foot tall hunter back as it flew through the forest in the way and struck bubble, bouncing back towards the poacher.

It ducked, only singing its fur as the captain rose from her very dignified "Oh shit!" roll and deliberately wiping her palms off on her unsalvageable pants flipped the Macka off. The roar of rage could be heard nearly three compounds over.

"Very dignified there, Cap'n," Orn mocked as he rose to his own muddy haunches, "Really role modeling for the children."

Variel laughed, enjoying the momentary miss of death, and the sight of her hunter stalking back into the woods, his own prey snatched beyond his grasp. The knotted eyes appeared beside Orn's shoulder, its form almost fully solid in close proximity to the tree. Yet the concern bordering on terror was not replaced within the twiggy depths. As far as the child knew, it was no more safer with them than the Macka.

"We got the kid here, now what?" Orn asked, trying to wave off the feeling he was surrounded by very curious and very xenophobic eyes.

A branch rustled in the dead wind, high off one of the trees spotted in red, before crumbling to the ground. It bounced, or appeared to as it rose high into the air, a hand forming fingers first where it touched and gaining an opaque form as the branch moved to the center of its being. It was like the branch was one of those UV lights, showing a hidden message in the form of a dryad.

The arms stretched out straight across from the shoulders, yet the stick remained perfectly balanced across the thin chest. Chords of bark wound across the thin frame, the alternating shades of dying crimson and shoe stealing brown mimicking the tree from which the branch fell. There was no mouth, no nose, only the eyes that gave away the face; a pair of deep knots from which a piercing yellow light glowed.

It moved slowly, propelled across the ground by an undulation of roots at the end of its feet. There was much speculation about why Dryads evolved legs despite relying upon the propeller motion. The theories ranged from a universal constant to all sentient life from the non-corporeals to space slugs that mages had yet to uncover. Or life's weird, drink your beer. The latter is the far more popular of philosophies.

Variel steadied herself, rising to what of her height she could, but still easily being over shadowed by the seven foot tall Dryad. The knots gazed past her, "You have brought us the child." A voice like creaking wood in a heavy storm rumbled from beneath its roots.
She followed to the sapling still in Orn's hands. "Yes, do you...need us to plant it somewhere?"

"It will be unnecessary," the Dryad said while holding its hand out to the Dwarf.
Orn stared at the partially ethereal vines and shrugging his shoulders, passed the sapling over. The Dryad only touched lightly to the tree, and the child's upper body/head turned to its elder.

For the first time in their long rescue mission, something of a smile crinkled the yellow knots. "Yes, child. You are home."

Then the Dryad turned away from the two interlopers back to its own people, the child trailing behind it. Murmurs, whispers, heavy winds no skin could feel shook the trees as the message relayed across their network.

"Do we follow 'em, or what?" Orn asked, gesturing to the walking tree that was rather quickly moving away from them.

"I suppose so," Variel said, trailing behind as all the bumps, bruises, and scrapes came screaming up at her.

"You 'suppose so'? I thought you were the expert on the Dry dads."

"Dryads," she corrected despite knowing Orn was just screwing with her, "and I never said I was an expert."

"So all that, 'Don't worry Orn, I've worked with 'em before. It'll be an easy mission, just digging up a tree.' Was amateur talk?"

"Well, I did work with one before," Variel said noncommittally. And it boiled down to her telling him where the waste disposal unit was, but at the time he'd seemed perfectly honorable and willing to honor his promises.

"What are they doing sending their children outside their little forest spheres anyway? Got some really good mushrooms out there?"

"His was a birth of accident," despite being yards away, the lead Dryad's voice carried across the ground and amplified below their feet. Orn jumped a foot into the air. "Her young seed caught on the wind and blew beyond our embrace. We could not call to him before the defilers came."

Pronouns were a problem with most translators, but when it came to the few non-gendered races most programmers just threw up their hands and shouted use zimbldede for all we care? Zimbldede took too long to use in conversation, so they settled on a constant pingpoing between him and her to bridge the gap between the binary and unary genders. Tertiary genders were just plum out of schell.

"Thank you for returning our lost one to us," the Dryad said, turning to face the two outsiders. As it lifted its arms towards them, three or four more branches lifted off the ground. Each new Dryad swarmed around the child, picking off some errant moss or tucking her leaves behind his branch. Like a race of heavily involved aunts, they ushered the kid into their gnarled embrace.

"Not to break up this tender moment, but the shuttles will be breaking off soon and I don't see much in the form of a hotel around here..." Variel started, not wanting to spend a night camping in the forest of whispers. Every branch could be another person watching you.

"As agreed," the Dryad motioned to a bin behind him, "10 gallons of pure dihydrogen monoxide."

Variel grinned as she scooped up her jugs, filled with one of the hardest to obtain chemicals: water. Every planet had harsh regulations to keep as much of its wet stuff confined within its own atmosphere. Once it left, it was never coming back. Occasionally an ice planet or comet was mined, but that included fees, taxes, and import dues. What it offered her could fill her ship for three months if they were careful.

The Dryad's oaken fingers grazed across her shoulder and she turned into the knots. It was unnerving, but no worse than facing down a troll who got your PALM address. "For risking so much for us, we offer to you this," and it held a box out.

Variel lifted the wooden lid, trying to not think if it was made of some Dryad's remains, and stared at the blackest earth she'd ever seen. It smelled of promise, of a full belly, of no longer having to eat cricket crunch for a month. "Thank you very much," she said, quickly sealing the box away in her pocket.

"It is a trifle compared to a life," the Dryad said, as if he'd given her little more than a trinket, "If we never meet again, I bid you find all you wish for in this life save one, so you never stop striving."

"Uh, back at ya," Variel fumbled. There was a good reason she was never sent on diplomatic missions in her old days.

As the Dryad ushered its fellows back to their trees, some climbing high into the branches, others sinking into the roots, Orn stepped beside his Captain. "Ten gallons, not bad after all. We could get a hot bath, a heavy load of laundry and have enough left over for soup."

"I am not wasting a drop of this on your leathery hide, it goes into the coolant," Variel scoffed.

"Come on cap!" Orn whined, "Look at me, I'm more swamp monster than Dwarf."

Even as the sun crested across the heavy trees, some of the ancient mud they'd blundered into on their hunt for the sapling dried into a lovely caked on mass across almost the entire bottom half of the Dwarf. He'd need a chisel to get it off, the sanitizing showers weren't going to do it. Variel didn't want to think about how she looked in comparison, she was the one to go careening down that mud slope after all.

"You're right, we deserve a well earned treat," she said, getting a whoop from her Dwarf.
"We get back to the ship set her straight for The Wash 'n' Scrub."

"I ask for caviar and you give me tapioca pudding?"

"Would you prefer we skip it all together and rub the mud off with sandpaper?"

"Wash 'n' Scrub it is! By the by, Cap?"

Variel sighed, the day had ended surprisingly well considering how it all began with shots fired at her and a xenophobic society swearing the dab of red paint across her forehead would keep her body from sizzling to a crisp once she crossed their barrier.

"What is it?"

"How are we going to get the 10 gallons back to the shuttle depot?"


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