Sunday, November 27, 2016

Xenophobia - Chapter 22

    Darrian started to respond, but stopped.
    He looked from face to face, considering what had just been said. He had felt like something was odd about not being able to find any info on the Guillae; but the information had been altered? Even then, he had never thought about looking into the old judge.
    He simply didn't know what to say.
    After a moment of staring blankly at the other ambassadors, Illiquina decided to break the silence.
    "Let me ask, Darrian: what do you know about the old judge?"
    "Well..." he started softly, racking his memory. "I know he's supposed to be many hundreds of rotations old. He was created by the Merrenians at the conception of the Consortium to help deliberate, translate, and navigate the political situations that would arise from multiple species interacting."
    He thought for a moment before adding:
    "If I remember correctly, he was one of a dozen or something like that? There used to be a lot more but now he's the only only left over."
    Illiquina nodded in agreement.
    "Picture perfect to his archive entries."
    "Are you saying that's not the case?"
    "We don't actually know." A'alan't 32 stated.
    "All we know is that the information was removed." Illiquina added before glancing at A'alan't32. "We're hoping that the Bivvie might have record of something additional but..."
    "But it's not likely that the old judge was heavily documented. At his conception, he was little more than a worker drone for the Consortium and likely didn't garner attention." A'alant 32 finished.
    "So, in short, we have no idea what dirty secrets that thing has." Ferris growled in annoyance.
    Darrian considering asking about the Guillae when the question occurred to him that he should have asked right away.
    "How do you know any of this?"
    "Well. I mean it makes sense if you think about." A'alan't 32 said. "Why would the Bivvie care about a random robot drone? Particularly when-"
    "No." Darrian said, cutting her off. "I mean how do you know there was some kind of alteration?"
    Everything they were saying felt right. Felt correct in lieu of this nagging feeling that something was wrong. But he couldn't let himself fall prey to wild speculation.
    The other ambassadors glanced back and forth between each other before Illiquina responded.
    "It's in the code." she said simply with almost a confused tone.
    "Code?" Darrian asked perplexed. "What code?"
    Darrian stared at Illiquina, perplexed. She wore a similar look of confusion, as if she didn't understand the question.
    "She means the code for the archives." Ferris offered.
    "I...don't know what that means." Darrian stuttered.
    "Come here." Illiquina said, motioning him closer to him.
    Darrian stepped closer and only then realized that Illiquina was holding a small, strange-looking datapad in one hand. It was notably slimmer than his own work pad and it seemed to be rimmed with small tabs and nobs along the outside edge that could be manipulated.
    Illiquina tapped the screen and brought up an image that she offered up to him.
    The image didn't make any sense to him. It appeared to be nothing more than a random assortment of letters, numbers, and symbols. Here and there he saw things that might vaguely represent words, but all together it proved little more than gibberish.
    "I don't know what this is, Illiquina." he stated with unabashed honesty.
    "You and me both." Ferris offered.
    "Aren't you Merrenians supposed to be experts in robotics?" Illiquina said with a huff. "How is it you don't know coding?"
    "The smart Merrenians make it easy for us dumb ones." Ferris said with a smile.
    "What he said." Darrian said, pointing at Ferris.
    Illiquina let out a soft growl of annoyance before pointing to the a certainly clump of letters and numbers.
    "Here." she said. "Do you know what that means?"
    Darrian offered a little shrug of confusion.
    "THAT!" she said with a sharp tap. "Is the file having to do with the Guillae."
    Illiquina huffed again but decided to try a change in tactics.
    "When did the old judge say the Consortium encountered the Guillae?" she asked.
    "Couple hundred rotations ago?" he offered while looking to Ferris and A'alan't 32, who both nodded in agreement.
    "Couple hundred." Illiquina confirmed before pointing to another blotch of numbers and letters. "Than why would all of the data have been removed and then edited twenty rotations ago?"
    Darrian stared at the stream of logic on the screen blankly. He tried to make sense of what she'd said. What he was seeing.
    "It says that?" he finally asked.
    "Yea." she said with a nod. "The data for the Guillae was actually very bloated. Huge in size. All of the sudden, about twenty years ago, it was all deleted and reduced to a fraction of a percent of the original information."
    Darrian considered that for a moment, not sure what to say.
    "Something similar happened with the old judge." she continued, moving further down the stream of information and pointing to another batch of code. "Here."
    "It was edited twenty rotations ago?"
    "Not for the judge. His information changed about forty six rotations ago. Just like the Guillae, his file was outright deleted and then edited to a notably smaller portion of info."
    "Maybe it's some kind of coincidence?" Darrian asked. "And maybe some kind of data loss or something forced them to rebuild the archives?"
    "If that were the case," Illiquina said with an annoyed tone in her voice. "Than I wouldn't have record of it in code."
    "Whatever happened or why," she continued. "Someone actively changed the information on the Guillae and the old judge. Removed information. And I wouldn't doubt that they changed it to meet some hidden agenda."
    "But...why?" Darrian asked, his head swimming.
    "That's what I hope we'll find out." Illiquina said softly before glancing at A'alan't 32.


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Hello Lovelies,

Today, we will not be adding anything to the story. As some of you are aware, I'm one of those horrible, dirty Americans with a penchant for consuming all that walks the Earth. As such, I celebrate Thanksgiving. While this year is certainly a sordid and dirty affair for many given the realm of our political situation at present, I am happy to be spending some time with my family over a nice dinner and a quiet evening.

We will return to our regularly scheduled program promptly, but as for now, I want to wish all of my American readers:

Happy Thanksgiving

And for anyone who doesn't celebrate the holiday, I hope you have a wonderful day and a pleasant evening.

- RB

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Xenophobia - Chapter 21

    Darrian stared blearily at the screen of his datapad.
    He felt his vision fade in and out briefly, but he shook it off and continued lethargically flipping through the Consortium archives.
    Ever since the old judge had excused the councilors earlier in the cycle, Darrian had been holed up in his office. He'd considered returning home but something was eating away in him anytime he thought about the humans or the contradictory things that the old judge had said.
    Now, instead of being home, he sat in his darkened office flipping through archives older than his grandparents.
    His first attempts had been to start looking at information on the Guillae. It turned up unfruitful. The Guillae were the first race he'd ever encountered in the Consortium databases that simply didn't have information.
    No tendencies. No home planet. Nothing.
    So he started looking for anything related to the Guillae. Floramorphs. Spores. Plant people. ealliuG. By the time the double suns, Jurra and Nurra, had set on the horizon he was manually browsing through archive tags on a wild hunt to find anything that might lead him to more information.
    He hadn't found it.
    Now, deep into the evening of the cycle, he was still mindlessly scrolling through archive tags several hundred rotations old, but no longer with any vigor.
    That was when a message flashed on the right side of his screen.
    Meet us in the conference room.
    "Us?" he asked out loud.
    The message information was blank. It didn't show any sending or receiving information and Darrian had no clue as to who could be asking for him.
    If not for pure curiosity, he might have stayed in his office.

    When Darrian arrived at the conference room, he found the door shut and the display panel flashing a red "locked" symbol.
    To his surprise, however, the door 'wooshed' open of its own accord after a moment or two of standing in front of it. The 'locked' status on the door panel never changed.
    Inside, the room was dark, but he could make out a faint blue glow on the far end of the room.
    "Hello?" he asked in utter confusion.
    "In here." he heard A'alan't 32 say softly.
    Darrian stepped inside only to have the door close very suddenly behind him. He glanced back in surprise, but turned his attention towards the far end of the darkened conference room.
    There, seated at the table, were A'alan't 32, Ferris, and Illiquina.
    A'alan't 32's blue, nearly holographic body was giving off the glow he had seen.
    "Please. Sit down." Illiquina said softly.
    It was at that moment that it struck him how rarely he heard Illiquina voice any opinion recently and Darrian was shocked for a brief moment to hear her voice. She had almost become a part of the furniture for the last cycles since everything started happening and it was odd to hear her speak.
    Considering this, he settled down next to the rest of them, eyeing her suspiciously.
    "Well this is...odd." Darrian observed.
    "We knew you were in your office." A'alan't 32 offered.
    "And I had a feeling you'd come if we were just cryptic enough." explained Ferris.
    Darrian stared at them for a long moment, trying to decide if he was more annoyed or confused by this strange meeting.
    "Fantastic." he said dryly. "But what's with the cloak and dagger routine?"
    "Well..." began Illiquina.
    "Something's going on." said Ferris with a look of tired annoyance that Darrian felt matched his own.
    "Right." agreed Illiquina.
    A'alan't 32 looked at them both before shaking her head.
    "They mean with the old judge. And the Guillae." She offered. "Something's not quite right."
    "Yea." Darrian agreed slowly. "Something did feel off. But...what are we supposed to do about it?"
    "Lemme ask you this." prefaced A'alan't 32. "What have you been doing all day since you were dismissed?"
    Darrian thought back to his endless scrolling and searching along with his failure to turn up anything of worth.
    "I was looking for answers as to why the old judge seemed to care so much about the Guillae."
    The others all nodded in agreement.
    "Us too." confirmed Ferris.
    "I didn't find anything though." said Darrian with a half hearted shrug.
    "We didn't either." A'alan't 32 said. "But I think I know why."
    "What would you say if I told you that the database for the Guillae and for the old judge had been altered?" asked Illiquina.


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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Xenophobia - Chapter 20

    The room sat in extended silence. A number of the other ambassadors exchanged confused and concerned glances. The old judge seemed oblivious, or at the very least as if he was ignoring the obvious surprise his comment had rendered.
    "I don't understand." Ugul finally said slowly. "Why would we be worried about the Guillae?"
    "Why wouldn't we be?" retorted the old judge as if he were educating a child; just a hint of condescension. "It's good to know and understand any rogue element within the stars."
    "This council is meant to monitor and review information on the humans." Darrian said shortly.
    "You're not wrong." the old judge agreed.
    "Then, to reiterate Ugul's point." said A'alan't 32. "Why would we be concerned about the Guillae?"
    "The Guillae are a rogue element." the old judge responded in that same condescending tone. "We need to understand them in the rare instance that we ever have to encounter them again."
    "But this is about-" started Ugul again before being cut off by the old judge.
    "The humans. I know." the old judge snapped.
    Ugul looked shocked having been cut off by the old judge, as did a few others. He wasn't some child. He was an ambassador of the Jigger species. He wasn't the smartest or most outspoken of the council, but he was hardly out of line to question the old judge on this apparently unspoken motivation.
    "Then why aren't we more concerned about the humans?" demanded Ferris.
    "The humans are dead." the old judge stated with a level of cold detachment Darrian could only imagine was possible for a robot. "We need to use the time we have to learn what we can."
    "They're not dead-!" Ugul started to bellow.
    "They're dead. The Tulgucks have already entered the galaxy. The Gorderians haven't even mobilized yet and there's nothing the humans have in their arsenal that will stop them."
    "There has to be something." muttered Ugul in distress.
    "They DO have nuclear capabilities." offered Ferris.
    "Capabilities pointed at each other and low in yield." he retorted flatly before adding, "It doesn't matter."
    "Then why are we bothering?" demanded Darrian. "Why are we sitting here discussing politics about a species that you've already decided is dead before they even take the hit?"
    "Because, again, we can learn more about the Guillae and how they interact with an oxygen-based, high water life form."
    Darrian could feel the questions swimming, but didn't voice them. Why? Why do we care? Why does it matter? What good does it do?
    "It's clear that we cannot progress any further today." the old judge said with cold sternness. "We can reconvene at a later time. You're all dismissed."
    Darrian looked around the table but none of the judges moved. Even Cagool, who had finally stopped shaking from his exchange with Jin'thun earlier, sat in silence.
    The old judge glowered at them.
    "Ambassadors." he said with a mechanical sigh. "If this really bothers you all so deeply, I'll explain further."
    "Please do." responded A'alan't 32 matching his own low, stern tone.
    "Fine. I'm going to offer a guess: when I first mentioned the Guillae some cycles back, what was the first thing you after the initial meeting? I presume you went and tried to investigate them, did you not?"
    There were a few assorted nods and muttered agreements.
    "And what did you find?"
    There was silence. Darrian knew that he personally hadn't found anything in the Consortium databases, but that A'alan't 32 and the Bivvie databases had been chock full of information on the Guillae. They locked eyes, but it wasn't A'alan't 32 who spoke up.
    "Nothing." offered Cagool.
    "I didn't find anything either." said Ferris.
    "Me either." agreed Ugul.
    "We don't know anything about the Guillae." said the old judge flatly. "In the short time the Consortium and the Guillae interacted, we never had a peaceful interaction short of the strained meetings that led to the Guillae and Consortium agreeing to stay out of each others' way."
    "We need to learn as much as we can so we can add it to the limited cache we know about them. They've always seemed to be an extremely hostile species that is simply bent on taking over any water based planet that they can land a spore on. It's almost as if they're driven by a hunger that we don't rightly understand."
    Darrian looked across the table to A'alan't 32 for confirmation of what she'd told him before and stared in shock. The Bivvie, who's transparent, seemingly holographic body always flickered between so many emotions and ages, seemed almost stable. The differences were minor at best. Almost solid. And all of them showed a glare of anger at the old judge.
    For just a brief moment, A'alan't 32 glanced in Darrian's direction, perhaps sensing that he had been staring at her for too long. Without a word, she simply shaked her head.
    "Now. That is all." the old judge said finally. "Take the rest of the cycle off. I will see you on the next."
    The other ambassadors got up with little murmurs and mutters, but no one said anything against the old judge. Darrian didn't know what to feel. He trusted A'alan't 32's information and the data gathered by the Bivvie, but he couldn't understand what was happening. Did the Consortium really not have access to any of the information on the Guillae, leading them to believe this was some conquering race? Or were they intentionally misleading the species of the Consortium?
    As Darrian sat there trying to understand his own thoughts, he watched A'alan't 32 storm out of the conference room. For the first time ever, her shape appeared to be almost solid.


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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Xenophobia - Chapter 19

    "I just received the subspace message not a few moments after I got off the line with you." Harris explained, looking panicked.
    "Take a breath, Captain." the old judge said with surprising evenness in his voice.
    If anything Harris looked even more scared after that. But, after a few seconds of glancing nervously around the conference room, he very carefully drew in a long breath and seemed to steady himself.
    He finally gave a little nod.
    "Yes, sir."
    "Better." the old judge chided. "Now. They just arrived in the system. Do you have an estimate as to when the Tulgucks will get to Mars?"
    "The calculations are coming through now. It'll be just a moment."
    The old judge waited quietly. On the far end of the table however, Darrian heard someone quickly standing up. It was Jin'thun and there was a fury in his eyes.
    "Jin'thun?" Darrian asked softly.
    The heavy set Gorderian shook his head. It was a simple warning. It said "Don't talk to me right now." Darrian didn't risk trying his anger in that moment of anxiety.
    "Here we are." Harris said aloud, regaining the room's attention.
    "According to this, three ships have arrived off the edge of Pluto and are en route towards Mars as we speak. It seems that they either fired short are didn't want to risk exiting folded space within the gravitational pull of the solar system."
    "Three ships?" asked A'alan't 32. "An advanced force of some kind?"
    "It's possible." agreed the old judge.
    "They might have underestimated what they need to deal with the humans." offered Darrian.
    "Do we really want to bank on that idea?" asked A'alan't 32.
    "How long?" demanded Jin'thun, ignoring the others.
    Harris looked nervously at the old judge and then back towards Jin'thun.
    "Well...they're running on ion thrusters. Slow in the scope of things but they'll reach us soon enough."
    "How. Long." Jin'thun growled.
    "Five cycles? Maybe six if we're lucky?"
    "I need your EXACT coordinates and your estimated coordinates in five cycles."
    "It's hard to calculate." Harris said, sounding more unsure than Darrian had ever heard the analyst. "The planetary cycles are so rapid around this sun-"
    "Can you or can you not give my your coordinates?" snapped Jin'thun.
    Harris looked visibly shaken under the fear of the Tulgucks and Jin'thun's unapologetic abuse. Darrian wondered if he should step in but didn't want to risk getting caught in the crossfire.
    "Captain." interjected the old judge. "I believe what our ambassador has failed to tell you is that that the Gorderains have offered aid in defending the humans from the Tulguck assault."
    Harris's eyes lit up, looking from the old judge back to Jin'thun.
    "Oh...right." Jin'thun said almost bashfully.
    "Now. Do you not have a small troop of analysts in your stead? Can you reliably calculate the geospatial location that Jin'thun needs?"
    "I can. It will just take me a short while." he said thoughtfully before turning back to Jin'thun. "I'll send it to you the moment we're done calculating."
    That was enough for Jin'thun.
    "Send it to my datapad. I need to alert my embassy." he said as he immediately made his way towards the conference room door.
    He stopped before he walked out, turning back towards the hologram.
    "Harris." he continued. "Is there any reason we SHOULDN'T open folded space within the solar system?"
    "Not- Not that I know of."
    "Let's hope not."
    With that, Jin'thun disappeared into the hallway and was gone before anything else could be said.
    Darrian shuddered. If someone had told him a rotation ago that two races in the Consortium might be going to war, he'd have called that person mad. Now, it was quickly becoming a disturbing reality.
    "Captain." the old judge said sternly towards the shaken Harris. "As soon as you're done with the calculations, I expect you to regain the contact with the human lab."
    "But, si-"
    "You will find out what's going on in the United States lab, Captain."
    Nothing more was said. Harris gave a little nod, looking somewhere between scared and annoyed. He terminated the call and the room once again fell silent.
    "Do we really care what's going on in the lab?" Ferris finally asked.
    "I do." said the old judge. "And I need Harris to, as well."
    "Why?" questioned Darrian.
    "He needs to be distracted right now." offered A'alan't 32.
    "He's scared." agreed Ugul.
    The old judge nodded.
    "We have five to six cycles before the Tulgucks arrive. We need to gather all the information we can between now and then. Anything we learn about how the Guillae interact with the humans could prove crucial in the future."
    "What's it matter if the humans are dead?"
    "Because the Guillae won't be."
    The council exchanged confused and worried glances. No one said anything. It was starting to become abundantly clear that the old judge might have ulterior motives. No one knew how to react to it.


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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Answering some Questions - Journal

Hello Lovelies,

Today, I wanted to take a moment to address two questions/comments that were directed my way. Partially because I'm still working on Chapter 19 and partially because I felt it might clear some things up for some of the newer and regular readers.

First, given the recent fiasco with the election distractions and the Chapter 18 rewrite, I've had some express surprise at my writing process. While I can only think of one comment on HERE I actually saw, I received a few others elsewhere with regards to the fact that I tend to write and post without much (if any) editing.

While I actually addressed this sometime back, I'm sure the answer to the why and how has been lost somewhere in my news feed. As it stands, the reason I write and post boils back to a very simply idea: If I hold onto a story with intent to edit each little thing, each little chapter, I'll never post any of them. Think of it like seeing the forest for the trees. The more hung up on the details you are, the less likely you will be to complete the entire story. This is the basis for why I work the way I do. In short: blog receives first drafts in favor of super carefully refined pieces.

Now, please note, this doesn't mean that the story isn't going to see an editor before publishing. In fact, I can assure you that the red-pen of death is going to bleed massive red rivers across my pages and make me question if I should even have license to own a keyboard. HOWEVER! Doing it now doesn't help. In my eyes, I'd rather have a full story with a proper arch, beginning, and ending before I start tearing at the pieces involved. Have to make sure that the overall structure will survive first. In this way, the book versus the initial chapter releases should be decently different both in appearance and design (if not some content as well).


I actually had a very interesting point brought up recently, albeit in a short tempered manner.

"Your story is all up. It's tension and drama and frustration and all it is is a roller coaster that keeps climbing skyward."

To be fair, I actually recognized this as I was writing it. I've learned as well that I'm not too bad at upping and maintaining tension. But, as it were, that's not necessarily the best for any given story. Of course, this depends on the story; but no matter what, simply maintaining an elevated level of tension can leave a reader breathless.

What am I going to do about it?!


Yes. Read.

Maybe even write!

As mentioned before, the story is going to go through editing before it ever sees printed page (blog posts not withholding). I'm going to read the piece as a whole, not be chapters, and really assess the feeling that it gives. I have already intended (before the commentary on my loopless coaster) to progressively add in more quiet bits (like with the meeting between A'alan't 32 and Darrian), however one of the things I've wanted to maintain in Xenophobia is that it always takes place in the meeting room. This means I will often have the option between drama of discovery and politics OR bueracracy, which is too far in the opposite direction. I can, of course, work in one offs (which is my intent), but I need to make it work rather than simply switching between slamming on the breaks and taking off again on the 'coaster'.

That said, when it's finished, it's going to be reviewed. It's going to be figured out. It's going to be fine tuned. In short, it's going to be read.

So, I hope this allays your fears (you know who you are). As I said before, it was something I've already recognized before hand and had begun to work on, however it will be worked on heaviest when the overarching story is complete.

And that is all for today, lovelies. I'm glad you took the time to join me for a little peek by the curtain, as it were. You can expect Chapter 19 by Thursday to visit just what will be happening with the Tulgucks arriving in our solar system. I do hope you'll join me then. Til then, I hope you have a wonderful day!

- RB

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Xenophobia - Chapter 18 (Rewrite!)

    The council sat in eerie silence, watching the image on the hologram. Before them was an operating table with the body of a Guillae sprawled out atop it. Its torso had been opened up and tools were scattered all around it.
    Despite being mid autopsy, no one could be seen attending to the body.
    "What do you think is happening?" asked Ferris quietly.
    Darrian glanced over at him, shook his head, and gave a non-committal shrug before returning his attention to the nearly still image. If it weren't for the blinking lights of a nearby computer console, he'd have thought that the holographic imager had frozen.
    When the Guillae had been taken to the laboratory, the analytics team had acted with surprising fervor. Through some skillful infiltration of the humans' technology, the team had managed to gain control of a camera on one of the personal computers within the lab. All before the first incision had been made.
    It had been very risky, but none of the humans had noticed. They were too preoccupied with the discovery of life outside of their own.
    At first, the lab had been a hive of activity. At least four humans in full protective gear were seen working on the body at any given time. Another dozen could be seen behind the protective interference of a viewfinder that overlooked the operating table. For hours, the council watched and waited.
    The human scientists worked diligently. They slowly began to dissect the long dead Guillae which, to Darrian's surprise, was incredibly well preserved. His guess was that it probably related to the atmosphere of Mars.
    Piece by piece, they would make an incision and investigate what they found. Countless samples were removed. Notes were taken vocally to the computer system as well as by two other humans, one inside and one outside of the lab. They had catalogued at least a hundred or so samples when they found what the council had been waiting for.
    Darrian knew it was a learned behavior, but it didn't make it anymore shocked when he heard the old judge gasp.
    The main scientist slowly and smoothly drew out a long, podlike object from the body of the dead Guillae. It was about a meter long and a half meter wide and reminded him of the samples of "Soy Beans" that the analytics team had sent them from Earth. One of the humans made the same observation but qualified it as being "fuckin' huge". Some of the humans laughed while others chastised him.
    Slowly, carefully, one of the scientists took the pod away somewhere off camera. Darrian could hear a door open and close. A moment later, there was a shout from that same direction and all of the humans looked up. Some of them looked confused, others scared at what they saw. Very quickly, all of them disappeared off screen. All of them running towards where the pod had been taken.
    That had been at least an hour ago.
    The council waited patiently for something to change. They had heard nothing except a clatter of metal about twenty minutes before. Except for that and the blinking lights, the image was seemingly static.
    It would seem that Harris felt the same way.
    As if on cue, the image of the laboratory and the dead Guillae dissolved. It was replaced by Harris' form. To everyone's surprise, he was lounging with the face plate to his robotic exosuit wide open. He looked utterly exhausted.
    "I don't think there's much more to see." he said to the old judge.
    "I agree. Update us when you have more, Captain."
    Harris gave a nod but said nothing else. They could seem him enter a sequence on his control panel before the holographic image disappeared entirely.
    The table sat in silence for another several minutes, digesting what they had seen and what might be happening. No one knew what to say. While they hadn't seen anything "bad" per say, the last images they'd seen of the humans left an uneasy feeling in their guts. Darrian's discussion with A'alan't 32 and the old judge still rang fresh in his mind.
    This could be an exciting learning opportunity. he remembered again for the thousandth time.
    "Well..." said the old judge with a mechanical sigh. "I don't believe there is anything else that we can cover today. If you would, I would like to reconvene-"
    The door of the meeting room slid open as the old judge tried to wrap up the meeting. Many of them didn't bother looking up. They were frankly too tired. It wasn't until the old judge stopped what he was staying and stared at the person who had walked in that Darrian glanced over.
    The heavy set, furry Gorderian made his way towards his spot at the council table. The exhaustion and fear in the room quickly gave way to shock and awe as everyone turned their attention to the long-missing ambassador.
    For a moment, no one said anything. And then, everyone started speaking at once.
    "What did they say?" demanded Ferris.
    "They s-"
    "Where have you been?!" asked Ugul.
    "If you-"
    "What took you so long?" chided A'alan't 32.
    "It was-"
    "Are they going to-" Darrian begin to ask when the old judge bellowed over all of them.
    The table fell silent as Jin'thun, looking quite ruffled and annoyed, straightened himself out. The old judge smiled softly.
    "I see you've returned." the old judge said quietly. "It's good to have you back."
    "Thank y-"
    "Yea. Took you long enough." grumbled Cagool.
    Jin'thun jumped from his place and let out a bellowing, threatening roar right in Cagool's face. The slimy little Yool squeaked and looked as if he was attempting to crawl inside himself to get away from the Gorderian's ferocity. He was still quivering when Jin'thun settled back down.
    "Thank you, judge." he finally said, giving everyone a threatening look as he did; as if daring them to try his patience further.
    "Now," he continued, "I come with the results of your plea to my government."
    "And what have the Gorderians decided, Jin'thun?" asked the old judge.
    Jin'thun threw Cagool one more threatening glance, however the Yool was still shaking from his last misstep.
    "The Gorderians will be sending aid to the humans."
    The room let out a collective sigh and Darrian could even hear Ferris let out a quiet "Yes!" under his breath. Everyone looked relieved.
    "That's wonderful, Jin'thun. Your government has our sincerest gratitude."
    "Yes, of c-"
    A loud beeping filled the room as the old judge's datapad began to flash. A priority one message.
    Quickly, he tapped the message and the holographic imager once more glew with life. Harris could be seen once again but this time he looked a great deal more frazzled then before.
    "Harris?" the old judge asked. "What is it?"
    "The Tulgucks." Harris said with barely contained panic. "The Tulgucks are here! They've entered the solar system!"


Next Chapter (Coming Soon!)
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(Hello Lovelies. I do hope that you enjoyed the re-write of Chapter 18. As I mentioned before, I have no intent of making this a regular habit (with the exception of when I do my official editing for the book release) but I felt Chapter 18 was a special exception. I hope you are all doing well and enjoyed the slight alteration compared to the first time it came out.)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Rail Yard Ghost - Guest Author: Samantha Shattles

(Hello Lovelies: As promised, today you get to check out the tale from our guest author, Samantha Shattles. While I normally like to place my words to you at the end of the story, I feel the need to warn that the story in question is a bit more graphic than my own pieces, and I would say reader discretion is advised as the tell contains scenes of gore and suicide. If you're not comfortable with that, no worries whatsoever. You're welcome to return shortly for more Xenophobia. Otherwise, please enjoy the words of Samantha Shattles.

Please note: she currently doesn't have a site of her own, but maybe we can convince her to do so or to join RB Publishing. Either way. Enjoy.)


***WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT*** Trigger Warning: Suicide/Gore

We hunkered down in the thicket of wild blackberries next to the tracks. Matisse pulled off his boots and massaged his aching feet. Artemisia wrinkled her nose at the smell coming off her brother's socks. Dante opted to keep his boots on. He became more fascinated by the prospect of fresh produce. I, however, had my eyes glued to the tracks, almost shivering with anticipation at the thought of getting on another train.

"We won't be catching out from here," Dante said, popping a fat berry into his mouth. "Nothing but hotshots. Still gotta hike a ways down. It's an okay place to camp for the night though."

I nodded absently. I was still high on the rush, even though we'd been walking for two days. Dante nudged me, offering a few berries. I popped them into my mouth and felt my face shrivel up at the tartness of them. Better than nothing though.

"I need to piss," Artemisia announced, standing again and trudging off a distance.

"Hey, don't sit in it this time," Matisse called after her.


The twins cackled in unison. I gave them a scathing look as I shoved another small handful of berries in my mouth. As a girl, going to the bathroom was difficult enough. Having boys around to remind you of mishaps made it that much worse. Artemisia didn't really need my help though. She had dealt with the two since she was four. They weren't even phased by my look.

Matisse waved it off. "She's not really mad. If she was she'd chuck a handful of hot shit on us both. Besides, what are little brothers for?"

A pain twisted in my chest and I looked away, struggling to swallow the fruit over the lump in my throat. I was not going to cry now. Crying wouldn't change a thing about what had happened. But, damn, I missed my own little brother. His cries rang in my skull and I could still almost feel his little arms around me from his last hug. There was no way of knowing if I made the right decision or if I made his life a living hell and there was nothing I could do even if I knew.

"Little brothers are not for pissing off their older sisters," Artemisia snapped, slapping Matisse upside the back of his head with a loud thwack. He just laughed as he rubbed the sore spot, Artemisia shaking out her sore hand. I managed a smile. It was nice to see Matisse laughing. He was too serious most of the time.

I nearly leapt out of my skin as hands cupped my face. Dante was staring at me with a great deal of concern, his thumbs wiping at my cheeks. I had hoped he wouldn't notice. But he did, like he always seemed to and I knew that he knew why I had fat tears rolling down my cheeks. He pressed his lips to mine, softly and chaste. My stomach fluttered but my heart twisted. I wanted to smile and break down at the same time. It was more emotion than I wanted to deal with. He pressed his forehead to mine, his fingers sliding into my hair.

"It's gonna be okay," he said softly. "It's gonna work out. Alex is never going to forget you or how much you love him. You'll see him again."

His other hand took my wrist and he gently stroked my brother's initials tattooed there. I wanted to believe he was right. It was just hard to see it the way he did. Alex was my life, my reason for living through the horrible things I endured. And now I didn't have him anymore. Dante had a lot of empathy for me because he missed his little sister, Georgia. But he knew he could go home whenever he wanted, while I was exiled, so he did his best to comfort me. All I could do was nod along to his words.

"We should play something. Cheer Fox right up," Artemisia chirped. Matisse was already opening his violin case. I nodded quickly at the suggestion. Nothing boosted my morale as much as watching the three of them play.

In no time the thicket was filled with their music: Matisse and his fiddling, Artemisia with her small banjo, and Dante on his travel guitar. Eventually, I joined in with my harmonica, stopping only to sing along to the songs I knew. Punk rock never sounded so good.

Between songs I heard the familiar high singing of the rails. A train was coming. I crawled out of the bushes to watch it go by. Aside from riding the freighters, nothing was better than feeling the blast of wind as one barreled by. Dante was right behind me. I could already see the bright orange engine down the line a ways. They must have spotted us too because the horn shattered the air, sending shivers up and down my body. I heard Dante chuckle.

That was when I saw her, crouched in the grass across the tracks and up the line from us. I'm not sure she saw us, but she probably knew we were there because of the music. I instantly got a bad feeling in my gut, though I wasn't sure why. The train horn blew again and the woman tensed. Dante's fingers curled around my arm and he tugged gently on me. I pulled away, wanting to see the train. It was almost to us, engines roaring and horn blasting. The woman stood up and Dante tugged on me again.

I made a sound as the woman threw herself in front of the train. She was trying to lay on the rail when it hit her with an audible THUMP. She flew a few yards towards us before hitting the ground, the train overtaking her quickly and running right over her. There was a mist of blood and screeching of emergency brakes being applied. Her torso, or what was left of it landed in front of us, dead eyes staring past me. I couldn’t tell if she had been pretty before now, she was just gore on the ground in front of me, around me. The smell was gagging me already.

"Holy shit," I heard Matisse say. "Holy fucking shit."

"We need to go," I heard Artemisia gag out.

I just stared at the pile of oozing meat at my feet. The train was slowing, the screeching deafening. Artemisia was trying not to vomit. Matisse was shuffling around behind me. Dante was talking. And the eyes rolled around one last time. I've lost my god-damned mind, I thought. My legs turned to jelly and I collapsed, screaming. At least, I think it was me screaming. My throat felt shredded after and I was fairly sure my lungs were inside out by the time I stopped. A few seconds felt like hours. Dante hauled me to my feet and gave me a good shake.

"Stop that! We have to go NOW," he barked. He was scared. He gathered me up against him and pulled me along back into the thicket. Matisse had his boots and pack on, looking ready to bolt. Artemisia had already started down the trail, not waiting for her brothers or me. Dante shoved my pack into my arms and pushed me along as he grabbed his own things. I stumbled over a rock and Matisse caught me before I could eat shit. I heard the train jolt to a halt finally as we followed Artemisia's tracks.

I was on autopilot. I had never seen anything so horrible in my life. Sure, I had cleaned up roadkill and half eaten, maggot infested rodents that my cats or coyotes had killed. But that been a person. I had just watched a person die. I saw a person get obliterated. And Dante had known it was going to happen. He had tried to pull me away from it.

I was numb for the rest of the day and well into the night. None of us felt like playing music when we finally made camp for the night. Artemisia, tough as nails, went a little ways from camp to cry privately. Matisse followed her just to watch her back in case of any big animals that might want to make a meal of her. I stayed with Dante while he made a fire. He was quiet while at his task. I sat cross legged with my pack in my lap, hugging it tightly.
"You knew," I said finally, my throat still hurting a bit.

He nodded.


"Not the first time I've seen it," he sighed.
Not the first time? He had seen something that awful before? And he was okay? I reached out and touched his shoulder. He sighed again.

"It was while we were on the road. Some rest stop in gods only know where. My folks had stopped the bus. Smoke break. Pee break. Some kind of break. Matisse and I were maybe... 8? He was in the bathrooms with Mom and Artemisia. Dad was checking the engine or whatever and I wanted to help. A train was coming and I got excited. Then all the sudden, this guy got out of his car and just ran up to the tracks...."

I stared at him. He said nothing else, just prodded the log in our little camp fire with a big stick. I scooted closer to him until I was right against his side.

"I've seen people fall under trains while catching out," he continued. "Dumb first timers who read an article on it and thought they could do it. I've seen people killed at rail crossings because they were dumb enough to think they could actually beat a fucking train."

I put my head on his shoulder. He put his arm around me and sighed again, rubbing my shoulder gently. "I've seen a lot of shit, Foxy. A lot of shit. I'm sorry you had to see it too."

"Why do people do it like that," I asked, sadly. "It's so fucked up."

"It's fucked up any way you do it," he replied. "There is no clean way to kill yourself. You're always going to fuck up the people around you by doing it. Especially the person who is unfortunate enough to find you after."

I nodded. I had no room to talk. I had scars up and down my arm from trying to find a way out of my misery. No wonder Dante was reluctant to let me come out here with him and Matisse. He'd seen some shit. He was afraid I'd get an idea to do it. Maybe he was scared that seeing it would make me want to do it. I shuddered hard and his arm tightened around me as he prodded the log again.

"Do you think Artemisia is okay," I asked.

"She will be. She's never seen a suicide like that before but she's seen her fair share of shit. She will cry it out and then it'll be like it never happened. That's how she rolls."

"And Matisse?"

He shrugged. "Same as me."


"Okay. I got you to look after. You?"

"I feel fucked up," I said, sullenly. "Like... I don't know how to describe it. It's just..."

I gave up trying to put it into words. His head rested on mine and I knew he didn’t expect me to keep trying to explain it. He already knew because he had been in my shoes before. I sighed and then yawned. I was exhausted but I had no desire to sleep. And definitely none to eat. Sex was also out of the question. I just stared into the fire until my eyes watered, hoping the heat would burn the image of gore out of my skull eventually. Booze sounded like a fantastic idea, but we were at absolute zero there too. There was nothing for it.