Welcome back to Lady Aesculapius! Now that Jason and Lady Aesc have reunited, it's time for the adventures to begin! But first, a vacation.
If you need to catch up, you can find the previous episodes HERE.
If you want to listen to these stories, you can find links to our podcast version HERE, though note that it runs a little bit behind the text versions!
Alright, let's get going! -James
Jason sat on the control tower's balcony, trying his hardest not to look up. Below was the stunning crystal scenery of the Factory, the mountains and ravines that glittered and shone with a blue light from deep underground. Above was nothing. Dark empty space, with no stars and only one shade of black.
The Factory hung silently in space, the only thing in this universe after it had been violently ended.
Nothing was exactly what Jason needed right now. Time to think. No pressure. Nobody to be brave for.
He looked out over the amazing view. He sat forward in his seat.
Something was moving out there.
A dark shape, tiny from where he was sitting, but definitely moving against the pale blue landscape.
The thought briefly occurred to Jason to remove the brass spyglass from the coat of his recently deceased friend. Not that he wanted to do it, but the thought did occur to him, and he was sickened by it. Lady Aesc would've used the spyglass right now.
The dark shape kept moving, coming straight towards him, or at least towards the tower. As it got closer, Jason thought he could make out a pair of arms, but no legs - just a flowing mass. Occasionally it stopped like it was thinking, then kept on going.
Jason was hypnotised by the shape. Then he watched it for so long he overcame the shock and started to get kinda impatient. Then he realised exactly how long it'd take to reach him at its current speed.
A few minutes passed before he could clearly see it was a person. They were wearing a dark flowing robe, and every time they stopped they doubled over to catch their breath.
Jason was leaning his elbow on the crystal railing, holding his head up with his palm. Gee, whoever that is sure wanted to see him. Still going. Look at them go.
Eventually, after far too long, they arrived at the base of the tower. They passed underneath the balcony and Jason waited. He realised then it'd take at least 10 minutes for them to reach the top. With a heave, he pushed himself up and walked from the balcony to the main control room. Might as well get a weapon ready. He whistled a little tune to himself as he charged his Centro standard-issue sidearm and pointed it at the doors, waiting for them to burst open.
He waited. And waited.
He leaned a little on the control panel next to him. His arm was getting sore. Might as well put the gun down.
A few minutes later, the door burst open. "JASON JACKSON!" bellowed the beaming woman.
Jason was sitting cross-legged on the floor and jumped to his feet. "Uh, yeah?"
"It's me! Lady Aesculapius, Firmaments can change bodies and this is my new body and we first met on a Centro shipyard when you were wearing a shirt that said 'ace pilot' and then we met again in a weird temple floating through space and I'm literally the same person so let's not angst over this, it's just a new face, honestly calm the hell down. Do you hear me Jason?! CALM DOWN!"
Lady Aesc was now leaning over Jason, who was bent backwards over one of the terminals, eyes wide. "You're...what?"
"Lady Aesc," she said again, taking time to breathe. "It's me."
Jason stood up straight and examined the woman in front of him. She looked nothing like the body in the corner of the room. He searched her face for any flicker of familiarity, until his gaze rested on a small enamel pin of a hedgehog on her otherwise formal robe. The same animal on the body's scarf. Jason looked up at her. "How can it be you?"
"I told you Firmaments had a little quirk, didn't I?"
He smiled. "Yes you did, Lady Aesc."
"I'm sorry for scaring you. I should've explained myself better."
Jason was too relieved to care. "It's fine."
"No it is not, mister!" Lady Aesc danced over to the controls of her Foce. "I'm going to make it up to you. Also, I've been stuck on my home planet for way too long. We both need a holiday!"
"Holiday? Are you sure, can we not just...relax for a second?"
"This WILL be relaxing, silly! Honestly, I promise, it'll be the most peaceful holiday ever."
Jason was first to emerge from the portal. "Oh. The face changed in the title sequence."
"New Aesc, new adventures," she said, closing the portal behind her and pocketing the now tennis ball-sized Factory of Crystal. "Not right now though. Right now, relaxation. Behold!"
She threw out her arms and welcomed Jason to a bright pink beach with a deep blue cloudless sky.
Jason looked around. "Ooh, everything here looks very...loud."
"This is Pastellion Major. Big shield around the whole planet controlling the atmosphere, gives everything a nice tint. They film loads of music videos here."
Jason was suddenly aware of a clicking noise coming from his left. A small family of bright orange crab people (part-crab, part-people) walked sideways across his field of view on the way to the water. Jason kept his eyes fixed ahead so as not to stare. "Well, okay then."
"They do films here too," said Lady Aesc, already walking towards some white buildings in the distance. "They did the 8742nd remake of The Little Mermaid on this beach. Oh, and last month they were filming The Justice League vs. Starro. Let's get something cool to drink from the stand."
The perfect cool wind swept through the palm trees, perfectly directed by the atmospheric shield for maximum comfort. If Jason and Lady Aesc had been watching the trees more closely, they might have seen another movement; a dark figure watching the two of them and darting out of view.
Drinks in hand, they made their way to the beach and took their places on the deck chairs, which rose from the pink sand to greet them. "So," said Jason, laying back but with his head twisted to face the new Lady Aesc.
"So," she replied.
Jason wasn't sure how to respond. "It's...yeah, fine. Good! Terrific. Well done. Nice face. Different."
The new face smiled. "Good. How long was I away for?"
"I...honestly don't know," said Jason. "Wasn't keeping track of time. No stars or anything in that empty dimension to keep an eye on. A few hours maybe?"
"Damn. Well I'm sorry for scaring you like that."
Jason looked out over the calm blue water. "You don't need to apologise for dying. This is really more your holiday than it is mine. Your death is the one day you get to be selfish. Deaths and birthdays."
Lady Aesc nodded. "Deaths and births. Kinda the same thing to a Firmament."
A deep BOOM echoed from above. The crab people, Lady Aesc, and Jason all looked up.
"Thunder?" asked Jason, hopefully.
"No...the planetary shield is supposed to keep unwanted weather out."
For a single second, Jason thought he was going to pass out. He was witnessing a sight arguably more surreal than a dimension with no stars. The sky cracked open.
Lady Aesc shoved Jason out of the way as a dark hole in the deep blue sky ripped open and from it bellowed a blast of flame that roasted both of their chairs.
They scrambled to their feet and stared at the pillar of flame as the beach around them emptied, everyone running for cover.
Another BOOM. The sky closed and the pillar stopped.
There was stunned silence for a moment before a crab person burst sideways out of one of the white buildings and scrambled towards them. "Don't worry everyone! Don't worry! Small technical fault with the planetary shielding there, all fine now!"
"All fine?!" said an angry crab dad accompanied by his angry crab wife and scared crab children. "Those two over there," he gestured to Lady Aesc and Jason "were almost burned alive! The hole opened right above them!"
"And they will be compensated!" explained the crab, clicking nervously.
Jason approached the scorched circle of sand. "That was SO direct. An exact circle over where we were sitting."
"HELLO THERE," shouted Lady Aesc, pointing into the trees. "We can see you!"
All heads turned to the shadowy figure watching the chaos. As soon as they were noticed they swore, backed away, and disappeared in a green flash.
"Gee," said Lady Aesc. "That sure wasn't suspicious."
"Who was that?" asked Jason.
"Never mind. You know which 'who' I want to know about?" asked the crab dad, raising his voice. "Your manager!" He stabbed a claw at the staff member as his wife patted him on the back as if to say 'I'm sure it sounded better in your head, sweetie'.
"Maybe we should zap out of here too," said Lady Aesc.
"I don't know," said Jason. "Someone needs to make sure nobody gets hurt."
"Our crab friends are on it, and paperwork isn't very relaxing. Shall we?" Lady Aesc lifted the Foce from her pocket and opened a new portal.
Jason shrugged. "Sure."
* * *
“You have to admire the sheer audacity of the construction, whatever your views about the personal life of its subject,” Lady Aesculapius quoted from the 21th Century guide book, they’d picked up from the second-hand stall.
Jason only grunted, he was – unlike her – a bit puffed from the long climb up the shoulder blade of THE SALUTING COLOSSUS. The wind, carefully generated by a flock of weather-drones to ruffle the hair of tourists without stripping them off the gravi-strip that ran up the statue’s flank and spine, wicked away the sweat from his striped early 22nd century sports shirt, leaving it as pristine as nanofiber could be. Just as long as it never encountered sweat with the same potassium/sodium ratio and PH as sea-water, which would make all its nano-hooks unlatch and it fall harmlessly apart.
The view he had to admit was worth it.
The long sweep of the orbital habitat – one of the oldest of the O’Neill Colonies, put up by the US in 1994, twenty years after the concept was first proposed by the physicist and his Princeton University students – ran down from the statue of the President who had kicked off the project, at the North Hub – a wrap-around cylinder of farmland spinning in a vision never achievable on a planet.
The holiday was going well. There were all sorts of things they could get up to on an O’Neill Cylinder. Near the centre rotational gravity was minimal, it was possible to fly with artificial wings, or a stage below with pedal helicopter bicycles. Life-guard balloon drones stopped people falling into the ground above and below them.
It was just about then, metaphysically speaking, that the Time Traveller rang up some reporters about the break in at the Watergate Hotel.
* * *
“So focused on improving the output of Meliflorae’s hives, you’ve missed that your drought prevention team’s decades of work are founded on a maths error so horrible it has to be sabotage. Not that your morphic flare didn’t work, not that it didn’t reverse a genetic polarity of this planet’s ecosystem, but it wasn't the one you wanted.” She gestured her whisk beyond the shadow of the giant petrified flower in which the laboratory was carved, to the basalt-baklava beach, to an ocean of sweet amber waves that slugged under thickly orange clouds. To the tiniest sliver of a hydrological cycle beginning in waxy seafloor hexagons and ending on pieces of toast the galaxy over. “Every honey molecule within a 100 yonks radius is about to parthenogestate a twelfth of a teaspoon of bees.”
Elsewhere, having finally wrangled on the syrup-snorkel, Jason concluded scubasuit designers of this universe were unaware of curly hair. Then he started worrying if local physics permitted sugar to conduct lightning. The weather looked nicely golden moments ago, but now came the deep rumble of stormclouds, almost a low buzz.
“No,” Aesc announced her return in a single breath. Jason nearly asked how her exploration went, but- “No.” An oddly solid pitter-patter; he instinctively looked outside to an oddly darkening sea before he was pulled back. “No.” An uneasiness in the saturated air, the nectar-perfume giving something like butterflies in his stomach… but with smaller, sharper wings. “What’s happen-” “If I was forced to choose a commemorative pun T-shirt for you for the vacation here we’re definitely not going to have, it’d probably be ‘I’m not interested in Hitchcock’s The Birds or The Bees’.”
Chitin coursed through honeyed clouds, rain, and ocean alike like an intricate shatter through glass. But they were already gone.
* * *
Lady Aesculapius stepped through the portal with a grin on her face. She looked back waiting for Jason to follow.
“What do you think?” she asked as soon as he’d stepped through.
Jason looked at the fairly average city street before him. An equal number of people were bustling about as were moseying. What looked to be early model hover cars quietly zoomed along the road.
“We’ve gone back I time and to a different universe,” he observed, noting the masonry in the buildings across the street was tinged a burnt orange colour. Otherwise the cityscape seemed unremarkable.
“Are we here for pastry?” Jason asked. He still never knew what to expect from Lady Aesc’s trips and the Cookie Crumble bakery across the street had a line stretching out the door. Jason wasn’t hungry but if Lady Aesculapius wanted pastry he’d happily indulge too. They’d probably be good pastries if she had brought them here just to try them. Jason re-evaluated his level of hunger warming to the idea of fresh fruity pastry.
The grin dropped from Lady Aesc’s face as she turned to look at the bakery. “No, that place is... not so great. The best bakery is Miss Ruby’s three universes and a few planets to the left and right respectively.”
She twirled her finger in the air and pointed behind him. “You’re facing the wrong way. My fault, I didn’t orient the portal properly.”
Jason turned around.
They stood in front of a park. The lavender grass looked soft and inviting. Huge trees with dark blue trunks and leaves ranging from bright red to deep purple shaded the grass and promised leisurely strolls for any who cared to take them.
“Picnic in the park then?” Jason asked following as Lady Aesc headed for a cobbled path through the park.
“I was off by a little more than I thought,” Lady Aesc confessed. “It’s just through here.”
A short walk later and the park opened up to reveal a huge old building of the same burnt orange masonry he’d seen before. Jason’s eyes skipped over the statues and pillars and went straight to the words ornately carved into the face of the building: The Museum of Unnatural History.
Jason slowly turned to face Lady Aesculapius who was grinning again. He was so curious to find out what sort of unnatural things would be in the museum he picked up the pace and prepared to take the stairs two at a time.
Behind him Lady Aesculapius said, “well darn. He’s found us again. Thought we’d have more time.”
In front of Jason a white portal sprang open and instead of taking a big step up onto the stairs he stumbled ungracefully back into the command centre of the Factory of Crystal.
* * *
“Blue like which sky?” Jason asked. The sky was filled with a fluorescent pink hue, punctuated only by the wispy clouds zipping past overhead. They cast strange rippling shadows on the sand.
“Oh, you know what I mean,” Aesc said, giving him a playful push. “Although I expected it to be a little more busy.”
The beach was empty of vacationers. The only signs of any tourism were a few abandoned umbrellas dotting the shore and a small hut just north of the jungle trail.
“Oh! They’re probably all inside for lunch. I’ve heard the yellow jelly is to die for!”
The only person inside was a man behind the counter, packing up cups into a sandwood box. As he saw them his face stretched into a wide smile: his nose and chin jutted a full half meter out from his face, long lips curling down the entire length. It reminded Jason of a crocodile.
“Welcome and thank you!” the bartender called out. “So sorry for your timing.”
“Do we have bad timing?” Aesc asked.
The man’s smile switched to an “Oh” expression. He sympathetically explained, “One week ago, many billion wild butterflies were unexpectedly imported to the opposite coast.”
Jason’s eyebrows raised. “Butterflies?”
A webbed hand gestured at the display hovering above the bar. “You know what they say about the flapping of their wings…”
Jason could barely make out the shape of the coast on the map. It was covered by fourteen continent-sized typhoons and their accompanying bands of swirling storms.
Aesc squinted at it with a frown. “How long do you expect the weather to last?”
“Should clear up in a few decades.” He shrugged and plopped a few more cups into the bin. “But come again then!”
The two travellers stood on the sand and watched the clouds towering over the horizon. Aesc raised the hood of her robe, hiding her face. “Come on, Jason. We’ll find our vacation elsewhere.”
* * *
“Well, this has been disappointing,” Jason muttered, and Aesc’s flew into motion, picking up objects around the control room, and then stopped.
“I know! You’re a pilot! You could fly the Foce!”
Jason raised his eyebrows, “I mean, I wouldn’t say no…”
“Pilot!” Aesc shouted, “Give Jason piloting rights!”
“As you wish, Aesc,” the ship said, with an audible sigh.
* * *
During the early days of Centro Systems ascendancy, one of their many business ventures was the procurement of luxury pet cats for Earth’s upper classes. But as humanity’s reach expanded beyond its home planet, so too did its demand for cats, and so Centro took this venture to its obvious conclusion: an entire planet devoted solely to the breeding of cats. They chose the planet PSR428-511c, which soon became known colloquially as simply “The Cat Planet.” An ideal vacation spot, thought Jason.
A high-pitched whining sound grew in intensity as the ship approached the planet, and Jason feared that it might be coming from the engines, and that it would wake Lady Aesculapius, who slept peacefully in the cabin. He slowed his descent as the craft slowly broke through the planet’s cloud cover, and he was greeted with the sight of a vast ocean, a roiling, glittering mass of pink and gray, dotted with millions of pinpricks of light, stretching beyond the horizon. For a moment he believed he’d miscalculated and arrived in the wrong place, until a colossal, heaving wave stretched itself toward the belly of the ship, and he could see that the sparkles of the waves were millions of tiny, almond-shaped pinpricks of light, all gazing up at him, with an expression that could only be described as hunger.
* * *
As Lady Aesculapius made her way to the water, she glanced back to Jason as he was getting some sun, “Well, maybe seventh times the charm. I hope we can finally get some beach time, all these rude interruptions have been a drag.”
Jason answered without looking at her, “Don’t jinx it Lady Aesc. As soon as you admit it to the universe, that’s asking for trouble.”
“Don’t be silly Jason, that only happens in stories.” she said as a giant Ghentharian space cruiser came into view. “Goddammit, not again. Jason why did you have to be right about that?”
“What’s coming now?’ Jason asked, lifting up his sunglasses.
“The Queen of Death really is a stickler for no one escaping her tower.” Lady Aesculapius pulled out her crystal ball, “Well, we better get going, can’t have her finding us while we’re on vacation.”
“Don’t you think we ought to stop her?” Jason asked.
“No, as long as we leave, she’ll leave well enough alone. If we leave she won’t have a reason to be here. Now come along Jason.” she said as she pulled up a portal.
* * *
Lady Aesc was still pulling the sardines out of her hair as they landed on the surface of the Factory of Crystal. Jason had one perched in his ear like a stylus, but he’d given up on removing all of them for the moment.
“Okay! Next one will be the charm, I’m sure of it!” She was rushing to the control room, since, you know, they had actually dropped inconveniently a hundred yards away from it. “We’ll go to the Glitter Gardens of the Great Assimilation! Change into clothes you don’t mind being shiny forever though-”
“We really don’t need to go on a vacation.”
She stopped, sliding to a halt and turning as she slid like a badly animated cartoon, “Don’t...need a vacation?”
“No, I mean,” he took a breath, “You died and that was rough, and I was confused but, you’re here now. How about we just watch a good movie. You know, one of the old classics my dad used to show me back in the 2400’s I’m from.”
Aesc nodded, “No, I’m sorry, I got carried away. I think I know what movie you’re thinking of, of course.”
“A Cure For Wellness,” Lady Aesc said.
“Cinderella III: A Twist in Time,” Jason said mostly over what Aesc said.
“Oh,” Aesc said.
“So, not actually thinking of the same thing.”
“Wait--actually, maybe we should go on an adventure? Someone was obviously ruining our vacations, right? Like that doesn’t just happen, there was clearly a shadowy figure we could see several times during all of that.”
“Oh yeah,” Aesc thought aloud, “I do remember seeing one, I just thought my shadow escaped again or something. Well that’s awkward. How dare they ruin our vacation...s.” Aesc resumed jogging back to the control room, and the two slipped in
“How are we going to find them? Are you going to use the Quantum Whisk?”
“Of course! It can find things! Sort of! I think!” Aesc ran over to her own corpse, where she had put the whisk back with repeatedly on their holiday, and pulled the whisk out of a pocket. Jason made a slow high pitched “ehhh” through the whole process, “There I go! Knew I’d have it with me.”
She lowered the Quantum Whisk to her side. A breeze blew her robe gently, and she narrowed her eyes, whipping the whisk up so it was lined up perfectly with her face, the lighting making one half of her face cloaked in shadow. She walked up to the control panel, a guitar riff playing from...somewhere, and awkwardly shoved the whisk at the control panels, trying to find a nook it fit into but just ending up making springy metallic sounds.
“Huh,” Aesc said. “I don’t think is going to work.”
“Are you sure that’s not just a whisk?” Jason said cautiously.
“Nope!” Aesc said cheerily. “But I think I know what we should do next anyway. If someone is destroying our vacations, we just go to the next vacation spot we’d planned to go to, but land in the most obvious place you’d go to sabotage it instead of the fun part!”
Jason nodded his head back and forth, “Yeah, that makes sense.”
Lady Aesc reached for the controls, but then shrugged and said, “Hey Pilot, do the thing and make us go to the place.”
“Righto,” the Pilot said.
“Thanks Phil,” Jason said.
“...Who is Phil?” Aesc asked a bit confused.
* * *
The Time Traveller checked his watch. Hmn, Aesc was late. Or maybe his watch was off. “Why are you using a watch anyways?” his mother always used to say, “You have a phone! That’s where a normal person checks the time!” but he’d kept using the watch. Not that watches were uncommon--but they were technological things that synched with your brain waves and checked your pulse and did palm readings. This was pure clockwork, and possibly up to fifteen minutes off.
He was still sitting waiting at the air system controls waiting to destroy Aesc’s vacation, when a crystal orb shot through the window, bonked him on his helmeted forehead so hard he was thrown out of his chair, and looked up to see Lady Aesculapius and Jason standing in front of him.
Trying to right himself, he began a maniacal laugh, "So you found me after all, Lady Aesc. You may have caught me, but the worst is yet to come!"
Aesc and Jason looked at each other puzzled.
"Worse than...dying forever after all my bodies were destroyed?" Aesc asked.
"Wait worse than what--" Jason sputtered.
Aesc gave a shy smile as the time traveler dusted himself off. He was decked head to toe in black body armor. "Now hold up that can't be right I had very clear instructions about this. I was supposed to ruin your vacations before the assassination. Don't tell me they worked ahead of schedule?"
Aesc crossed her arms, "Are you sure you just didn't get the date wrong?"
"I'm sure! I'm a professional terrorist assassin cult member, I don't take my job lightly."
"Then you wouldn't mind checking?"
He held himself straight, "of course not!" He pulled a tablet from his armor and began scrolling through it, "see it says right here that--oh dear."
"You got the date wrong."
"Saying it helps we can all say it together!"
"I got the date wrong," all three said in unison.
“Oh geez this is...pretty embarrassing…” the time traveller shuffled his feet, “So uh, wow. This is just so unprofessional. Look, when I ruin people’s lives, I hold myself to a high standard--and this not the level of quality Dusk implements!”
Aesc and Jason exchanged a glance, “Oh uh,” Aesc said, “did you miss the memo? Dusk has not only been disbanded, it retroactively never existed.”
A long silence fell between them, and the time traveller took off his helmet to reveal a man with light brown skin, curly hair, a lip ring, and a confused expression, “That would explain why no one has been complimenting my reports…”
“Oh you’re alright, I mean, you’re not alright I’ve had a pretty awful day, but my girlfriend was a Dusk member before it never existed--”
“--Wait, who is it? Maybe we know each other?”
He threw his hands up, “We went through basic murder training together!”
“What a small multiverse!”
“...Oh geez, I just ruined Blanche’s girlfriend's vacations.”
“Yeah, maybe you’ll want to go fix all the trouble you’ve caused. So we’ll let you go under two conditions, one: you fix all of your mess and then check into a facility to get help, since, you know, you were in a space-time cult.”
He held both hands up, “I will! I promise! I’ll pinkie promise.”
Jason held out his Pinkie finger, and Aesc did to, and the time traveller awkwardly linked his pinkies with theirs. After they’d pinkie promised, Aesc continued: “And two...you tell us who hired you.”
“They didn’t give me their name,” he replied. “But they told me they were working for--” “The Utopia Dimension?” Jason asked.
“Jason, let the man finish!”
“No, that’s it. RIght well, time to start by fixing what I did to the machinery here.”
Jason nudged Aesc in the ribs, “Are we really going to just let him go?”
“I’ll be keeping track of him, if he doesn't check into a facility to rehabilitate himself I’ll throw him into a sun or something.”
Jason’s eyes went wide, “Youd...what?”
She laughed, “I’m only kidding, throwing people into suns is far to inconvenient. Honestly, it’s just a hassle. Pilot? Get us out of here.”
The Foce swooped over, and in a flash they seemed to get sucked into the orb, shrinking down as they did so.
Jason and Aesc returned to the control room, and Aesc put her hand on her chin, “Hmn, well now that that’s fixed, we could finally take our vacation.”
Jason shook his head, “I think I’m all holidayed out, honestly. And...what ever is going on with the Utopia dimension it’s really worrying me, Aesc. They killed you. We should search them out.”
Both of their eyes went to her lifeless corpse.
“Oh right,” she said, “maybe I should clean that up.”
NEXT TIME ON LADY AESCULAPIUS...
Episode 5: Life After Death
by Michael Robertson
"P.S. I died lol"
Lady Aesculapius is dead. Long live Lady Aesculapius.
She’s on the trail of her own murderer. And what better place to find a guilty conscience than at a fancy funeral, with wakes and cakes aplenty?
The invitations have been sent, the Sherlock Holmes outfits procured. Time for some sleuthing.
Lady Aesculapius Series 1 is part of 10,000 Dawns, and is a publication of Arcbeatle Press.
Lady Aesculapius was created by James Wylder.
All original elements to this story are the property of the author.
All rights Reserved, Arcbeatle Press 2019.
Our cover art is by Anne-Laure Tuduri.
Any resemblance between persons living or dead, fictional characters, and real or fictional events is either co-incidental or has been done within the bounds of parody and/or satire.
Welcome back! So now that we've seen what happened to Lady Aesc...what happened to Jason? Though if you don't know what we mean: maybe go and check out episode 1: http://www.jameswylder.com/blog/lady-aesculapius-episode-1
Well, we're back, and we're onto a new adventure...so without further adieu, let's get onto a new tale by me, James Wylder.
If you like Lady Aesc, you can support us on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/jameswylder
If you're into podcasts, you can find Lady Aesc stories as podcasts at: http://ladyaesculapius.libsyn.com
Lady Aesc’s magic trick hadn’t happened yet.
If it was going to happen at all.
“No, can’t think like that,” Jason muttered. He wiped tears from his eyes. Lady Aesc was a corpse on the ground, despite what she’d said about magic tricks. He kept expecting for her eyes to open and flash with mischief, for her to grab his hand and pull him through another portal, for them to save more people and solve more problems. But she was...there, on the floor, unreachable, and he...well, he was alone in the Foce.
He didn’t even know how Lady Aesc’s frankly brilliant ship worked. Magic, probably. Which meant he was stuck here doing nothing when there was somebody out there ripping up dimensions and realities. All that training, no outlet for it, and he’d probably starve to death, to boot.
Jason stretched out his hand, touched the decking. He was definitely still in the ship, yes. At his touch, something rippled or stretched or yawned, and he was struck by the image of Lady Aesc’s smiling face, followed by her name.
Seemed like some things didn’t change with death. Even the moon knew that she wasn’t here.
Still, it was enough to shake Jason from his mild stupor. He pulled himself to his feet. “I wonder if I can fly this thing.”
“Nope,” said a voice.
Jason looked around wildly. Who said that? Where was it coming from? It wasn’t Lady Aesc-- “What?”
“You are not an authorized pilot of this moon,” the voice said.
“I’m the computer.”
“The computer on the Foce is sentient?”
“Or just a really good AI. Theories vary.”
“But if I’m not an authorized pilot, why talk to me?”
“To tell you that you’re not an authorized pilot. Obviously.”
“Very helpful.” Jason paced the room, wishing he had something to cover Lady Aesc with. It wasn’t right to just leave her lying on the cold floor, all sprawled out in death.
“There is something I need you to check out, though,” the computer said.
“Oh, you need my help?”
“Yes, you’ve got legs,” the computer snarked. “Some of my sensors and cameras have gone offline, and I have a guess that it’s caused by the dimensional ripples you and Lady Aesc encountered. I can’t move us until I know that it’s safe to do so, and I can’t know that until I get a titan to fix the problem, but I can’t do that until I know what the problem is. So I need you to check.”
Only some of those words made sense and none of it sounded appealing. “What if I don’t want to?”
“Then we’re stuck here and will probably die just like that planet we just watched get ripped apart. Shortly followed by the rest of the universe. This isn’t about you, Jason Jackson.”
“But she’s dead,” Jason said, willing the tears to not start up again.
“Doesn’t seem temporary to me.”
“That’s because you’re human. Look, I need your help.”
“Fine. Where do I need to go?
A door on the far wall slid open. “Head that way, cut through the library, and turn left past the kitchen. If you’re hungry, stop for a snack.”
“I thought this was time-sensitive,” Jason said as he headed through the door.
“I travel in time and space, Jason, I’ve got all the time in the universe,” the computer answered.
Jason had wandered the corridors for what felt like hours but probably wasn’t until he found the library. It was a huge place, shimmering with watery light filtering through the crystal roof. Rainbows darted across the floor like schools of fish, and Jason had a brief feeling of being deep underwater. Even though he knew he wasn’t.
He went to stand near a window. Stretched before him was an entire field of tiny crystal spires that gave off the impression of being like grass. Out in the distance, creatures lumbered.
“Those are the crystal titans.”
Jason jumped, looking behind him and side to side. It didn’t sound like Lady Aesc--
Oh, the computer. Again.
“Crystal titans. Okay. And they do maintenance?”
“Yep. But I can’t tell them to fix things unless I know what it is they need to fix.”
Jason passed a shelf of books labeled ‘Burned Books’, catching a distinct whiff of bonfire as he went by. “What sort of library is this?”
“A crystal one.”
“I got that, computer. Everything here’s made out of crystal. What kind of books are here?”
“Oh, all sorts. All reference. Helpful to Lady Aesc in her adventures, from time to time.”
“Not anymore,” Jason muttered.
“She’ll be back, don’t you worry,” the computer said.
“You keep saying that,” Jason answered, “but I find it hard to believe you. Since you’re a computer and all.”
“Well, not exactly.”
“How can you be not exactly a computer?”
“I’m the Foce’s pilot, and I’m hardwired into the computer. You can call me Phil.”
“The Foce’s name is Phil?”
“No, the Foce’s pilot’s name is Phil. Although on a metaphysical level you could argue that I am the Foce.”
“How long have you been the pilot?”
“For always. It’s complicated.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“Look, Phil, nice to meet you and all, but that doesn’t mean I believe you about Lady Aesc’s magic tricks. I didn’t see anything happen when I was in the control room. And I couldn’t stop her from dying.”
“It happens.” Jason got the distinct impression that if Phil could shrug his shoulders, if he had shoulders, then that was what he was doing.
“Well, obviously it just happened. She died. A hundred percent probability of death for that Lady Aesc. It’ll probably happen again. Lady Aesc is just...like that. Leads a dangerous life, that one. Wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Jason ran a hand over his dark curls. “But she’s not here.”
Phil’s cheeriness was a bit annoying.
“Can you take me home?”
“And why is that?”
“You’re not an authorized user of the Factory,” Phil said. “Regulations. I go where Lady Aesc needs me to be.”
“But Lady Aesc invited me to come with her!”
“That doesn’t mean she gave you piloting rights!”
“But then what can I do? I don’t want to starve.”
“There’s food on the ship, you have a room if you want one, you just have to sit tight and check on that thing for me until Lady Aesc gets back.”
“If she gets back.”
“When she gets back. We’ve been friends for a long long time, Lady Aesc and I, and I have no doubt that she’ll be back.”
“But I saw her, plain as day, dead on the floor. I didn’t even have anything to cover her up with.” Jason refused to start crying again.
“You’re new here, I get it,” Phil said. “Don’t be such a gloomy Gus about it.”
“The name’s Jason. Jason Jackson,” Jason said.
“I know that,” Phil answered. “Don’t be such a joyless Jason about it.”
“But she’s dead.”
“Eh, it’s just temporary. Have you left the library yet?”
Jason glanced over his shoulder at the rows and rows of crystalline shelves, then back at the corridor that loomed in front of him. “Just did.”
“Okay, left. You’ll come across the kitchen, so head through it, and then I’ll give your next set of directions.”
This was turning out to be a not-so-great day.
The kitchen was vast, a crystal-and-chrome compendium of countertops, cabinets, and various appliances. Phil informed him that the kitchen was stocked with whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, and all he had to do was ask.
Sure, this place was impressive, but it was empty. Silent, except for occasional asides from Phil and the soft sounds of machinery. There was nobody else here; Jason was alone.
He didn’t like that.
Jason had jumped at the chance to travel with Lady Aesc because how many times did someone get a second chance at traveling through time and space and various dimensions? How many times did someone get a second chance to jump in with both feet?
And if...if he’d gone with Lady Aesc that first time she’d asked, would she be dead now?
He trailed past a gleaming row of freezers, each neatly labeled with their contents, only some of which he recognized. Skovoxian Whiskey? Why did that need to be frozen?
“Jassson….” a voice hissed.
Not Phil, this time.
“Poor little Jason, all alone…”
“Phil, are you hearing this?”
“I can hear you loud and clear, Jason.”
“No, I mean the hissing. Can you hear the hissing?”
“Don’t go all chamber of secrets on me, Jason. I don’t detect any hissing.”
“Funny, I can hear some.”
“Why do you find that funny?”
Jason sighed. “It’s not funny, Phil. Hissing usually isn’t.”
“If you’re hissing with laughter, it’s because something was funny.”
“The hisses aren’t laughter. Unless they’re laughing at me.”
“Why would someone laugh at you?”
“Human, remember? I can’t do magic tricks, or anything remotely useful.”
“You’re checking on something for me! That’s useful.”
Then something, well, weird happened.
First, Phil said, “What?” and then “Jason, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” Jason said.
“Hold out your hand.”
Jason held out his hand.
A small crystal box materialized on his palm. “Open it,” Phil said. “It’s tech to put on your ear so I can keep communication with you specifically.”
“I’m the only person here,” Jason said as he opened the box and pulled out the tech.
“Well, about that--”
Second, the air wavered, rippled like stones had been dropped in a still pool.
Third, Jason suddenly saw himself. Lots of himself, actually. Vague ghostly men filled the corridor, some walking in step with him, as if they were echoes, others ahead, some behind, others going the opposite direction.
“So this is happening,” Phil whispered into Jason’s ear. “It’s probably due to the dimensional ripples we’re near.”
“I’m a pilot, not a physicist, Jason.”
One of the men closest to Jason smacked something looking like a tricorder from a Star Trek episode. He shifted from indistinct to solid, and he grinned a rather feral grin at Jason. “Made it to your plane, have I?” he asked.
It was almost like looking into a mirror. Almost, because this new Jason was dressed in combat fatigues, definitely seemed like he had more muscles (well, defined muscles, anyway), and had an eyepatch.
“Are you a Jason who doesn’t talk?” Muscles said.
“No,” Jason said. “I’m a Jason who’s a bit bewildered by all this.”
Phil’s whisper: “Yeah, your vitals are VERY interesting. Circulatory systems are quite the traitors, you know.”
So Phil was providing ear snark, cool.
Muscles smirked. “You’ve never talked to yourself before? Wow, we really are different.”
“This...is different,” Jason said. “I assume your name is Jason.”
“Commander Jackson. I’m a--a scientist.” Muscles waved the tricorder-thingy as if to emphasize his point. Jason would have figured he was more a soldier than a scientist, but maybe he needed to check his preconceptions. Muscles could be both. “I’m investigating these ripples. It’s why we’re seeing so many of us.”
“So am I,” Jason said, immediately glad that someone who seemed to know what he was doing was here. “Investigating, I mean. The pilot is having me check on an area that’s dropped off his radar. That’s where I’m headed.”
“Well, then, I should come along and help,” Muscles said.
“I wouldn’t be so quick to trust him, Jason,” a new yet familiar voice said. Up ahead of them, another Jason had solidified. This one seemed--well, Jason had the distinct impression that he’d met this Jason before. Or seen him before. Like, in person. Was he the Jason who’d said yes to Lady Aesc’s first offer? The one he’d seen with Lady Aesc?
“He’s me, yeah? Or should I say, we’re us?”
New Jason smiled, and it looked far more like the grin Jason himself sometimes wore, but it also had something else. Something more like Lady Aesc’s smile. “Each of us are individuals, Jason. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of us. Our circumstances, and then our choices in those circumstances, are what make us ourselves.”
This made a lot of sense, so Jason caught up with Aesc!Jason.
Muscles followed, scowling. “And how do we know that we can trust this fella?”
“Oh, you should definitely not trust me,” Aesc!Jason said. “I’m capable of anything, in a pinch.”
“Oh, and what would you do if you were on the lead ship of the fleet, facing down the Pubbies as they launched an attack against you?”
“I’d get the hell out of there,” Aesc!Jason said, “and get everyone I could off the ship before it blew.”
“Coward,” Muscles said.
Aesc!Jason just smiled. “Any day.”
“Annnnyway,” Jason said. “Headed this way. You’re both free to come along.”
“I already said I’d come,” Muscles said.
“Always up for an adventure,” Aesc!Jason said, though his tone also seemed to imply ‘And I’m gonna keep an eye on Mr. Eyepatch over there’ but that could just be Jason’s imagination.
Listening to Phil’s whispered instructions, Jason led his doppelgangers to an area that needed investigating. “So there’s a lot of fancy machinery in here,” Jason said. “Made of crystal, of course. There’s black goop over the thing that looks like a control panel of some sort.”
“Crystal’s good for timing,” came Phil’s response as Muscles muttered something about ‘audibly describing the scene’. “I think I know what room that is, it’s an auxiliary engine access point. You can head back to the control room, now.”
Jason repeated that for the benefit of everyone in the room.
Aesc!Jason nodded. “Yeah, Phil can get the titans to clean this place up.”
“We’re not going back to the control room,” Muscles said.
“But Phil said--” Jason said.
Commander Jackson swore. “No, we’re not. I’m going to take that--” he pointed a spinning crystal gear that looked vaguely like what Jason imagined the Foce to look like from afar “--and I will get back to my employers with it.”
“What, you’re going to steal from Lady Aesc?” Jason asked, stepping in front of it. “She’s our friend!”
“She’s not my friend,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what you lot get up to, running around the multiverse like a bunch of idiots, but that was never my life.”
“Never gave me the option, did she? Never met me. How could she, when I was stuck on a combat ship on the front lines? While all the cowards on exploratory ships and the civilians got to imagine that we lived in a better universe than we did? It’s all death and darkness, diseases and destruction out there.”
He took a step toward Jason. “Give me that crystal.”
“It’s not true,” Aesc!Jason said, stepping in front of Jason. “There’s beauty, and wonder, and life, and goodness out here, too. You just have to look for it.”
Commander Jackson laughed, a bitter, angry, tired laugh. “You poor deluded fool. Whenever there is a bit of beauty, a bit of peace, it all gets ripped away from you without a second’s notice. Now, get out of my way and let me give me what I want.”
“No,” Aesc!Jason said.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it would be this hard, considering you lot are a bunch of cowards,” Jackson said. He swung out an arm, knocking Aesc!Jason off his feet and toppling him to the floor.
Aesc!Jason groaned and his eyes fluttered shut.
“Serves you right,” Jackson muttered, glancing at Jason. “Are you next?”
“I should have guessed something was off about you when I saw that eyepatch,” Jason said.
“It’s standard issue,” Jackson said, lifting it to reveal a perfectly functional eye. He dropped it again. “It’s to intimidate the enemy.”
“I am not your enemy.”
“Oh, really?” Jackson said. “Explain.”
Jason hadn’t expected him to want an explanation. “You’re me, right? Even if you got thrown into different circumstances, and had to make different choices, you’re still Jason Jackson. And--”
“You just saw me hit a Jason Jackson.”
Good point. “Look, man, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t see you as my enemy, but I also can’t let you take the crystal that’s behind me.”
Jackson sighed. “You want proof that we’re different people? Take a look at these poor saps.” He punched at some of the buttons on his device, and a holograph of two more Jasons was projected into the air above it. “This one, the one on the left, well, in his universe he failed his piloting exam, never left Earth, never joined Centro. Let me tell you, talking with him was an absolute bore. Constantly complained about how unfair life was but also wasn’t doing anything to change his circumstances. Stopped trying. And he’d never even seen battle.”
“Seeing battle isn’t a defining characteristic of a person,” Jason said.
“Says you,” Jackson answered. He waved at the figure on the right. “And this one? This Jason listened to his mommy and daddy and just parked his butt on Earth, just got himself a nice, safe, boring job in some cubicle farm, where he puts in his six to eight hours and clocks out to put himself to sleep every night after watching his favorite show while eating a microwave dinner.”
“Wow, you sure met a lot of Jasons,” Jason said.
“Had to visit a bunch of places in order to find you on her ship without her being here,” Jackson said. “So I think I’m qualified to say that we’re not the same person.”
“And I think--I think you’ve tried to tell me this to convince me that I should just let you take the thing,” Jason said. “You could be lying. And you could have just hit me. So why not just hit me?”
“You want me to hit you?” Jackson flexed one of his well-muscled arms. “I’m pretty strong.”
“Congratulations,” Jason said. “And, no, I don’t want to get hit. Who does?! But I find it really interesting that you didn’t just hit me when I started talking about eyepatches. Now, why is that?”
“Shut up and give me the crystal,” Jackson said, his voice wavering just slightly.
“See, it wasn’t to have a conversation with me,” Jason continued. “But you’ve had plenty of opportunity now to hit me, and you haven’t, so the question is, why haven’t you hit me?”
“Oh, I’ll definitely hit you,” Jackson said.
“Go on and do it, then,” Jason said, sounding braver than he felt. (Phil: “You sound like Lady Aesc right now.”)
Jackson swung his fist. All Jason felt was wind.
“You see,” Jason said, “you tried from the beginning to make me your partner in this, to help me help you. And so I’m guessing that your little device there makes you solid enough to be seen and to be talked with, and to maybe interact with the other Jasons we can see here, but not solid enough to take the crystal, or to hurt me, because this is my plane. I’m the Jason Jackson of this plane. I’m the one who can affect change in the here and now. And if I don’t give it to you, you can’t get it.”
“You figured it out, well done,” Jackson said. “I had hoped that maybe my employers were wrong because there’s nothing more I’d love to do than smack that grin off your face, but I guess they weren’t.”
“Who are your employers?”
“Like I’m gonna tell you that. They’re just gonna have to deal with being disappointed. This time. Until next time,” Jackson said, throwing a sloppy salute, then fiddled with the device and disappeared, taking all the echoes but Aesc!Jason with him.
(Phil: “Glad that that’s over. I’m sending the titans their instructions now to clean the room up.”)
Aesc!Jason had pulled himself into a sitting position and was now rubbing his jaw where Jackson had hit him. He looked up at Jason. “Pretty good job, there,” he said. “I didn’t figure that bit out, that he couldn’t hurt you.”
Jason sat next to him. “Well, I didn’t figure it out until after he hit you, and I’m not sure it entirely makes sense.”
A shrug. “That’s how traveling with Lady Aesc works, really. Weird stuff happens, there’s running and arguing, more weird stuff happens, and then on to the next place.”
Jason shook his head. “That won’t be happening in this plane, I think.”
“Oh, why’s that?”
“Lady Aesc--well...welll--she died. Like an hour or so ago. I saw it happen.”
Aesc!Jason smiled. “She’ll be back.”
“That’s why Phil says, but--”
“You didn’t see her magic trick, and therefore you’re uncertain?”
“Yeah. And maybe if I had taken her up on her offer when she first asked me, like you did, maybe she wouldn’t have died.”
“So, my timeline is a little ahead of yours, Jason, and Lady Aesc died in my timeline, too.”
“Yeah, apparently it happens a lot. And it really threw me for a loop. I was all alone in the Foce, with just Phil snarking about how I was only an authorized novice and how I couldn’t take the Foce anywhere with Lady Aesc’s supervision, and I was so worried that I’d be stuck there forever. Even with the sweetest bedroom and movies and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Oh, and the swimming pool! Crystal-clear waters--”
“As much as I love hearing about the swimming pool,” Jason started.
“Oh, right, Lady Aesc,” came the response. “It took a little bit of time, but then she showed up, whisk and all. Turns out that when they die, her people get new bodies back on their home world. Like a respawn in Minecraft. Except it’s harder for Lady Aesc cause she has to figure out how to get back to where she was, and that can be tricky when you’re a great traveler like she is.”
“So she’s gonna come back?”
“Yep. You can trust her, Jason.”
“And can I trust you?”
Aesc!Jason laughed. “Of course, I’m not wearing an eyepatch.”
“So, is that one of the first rules of traveling a multiverse--if you get to a plane where everyone is wearing inappropriate clothing for what they’re doing, and all the leaders are wearing eyepatches, you find another plane to take your annual vacation in, right?” Jason asked as he stood, helping Aesc!Jason to his feet.
“Sounds about right to me.” He tapped the machine he wore on his wrist. “All right, my Lady Aesc is wanting me to get back to our timeline. She thought you might need my help here, and as it turns out that I was moderately helpful.”
“Extremely helpful,” Jason said. “Thank you.”
“You just sit tight and wait for your Lady Aesc. She’ll be here--she’ll probably look different than she did, but that’s just aesthetics. She’s just as mad as always.”
“That’s a complicated story, but he’s a good person. Gives good advice, most of the time,” Aesc!Jason said.
(Phil: “All of the times. I knew I liked you, Jason Jackson.”)
“And if Muscles shows up again, have Phil let us know.”
“You were calling him Muscles, too?”
“Yeah, until he went all eyepatchy evil on us. Look, Jason, I’m not saying this to brag, but you’ve got a good heart. You look for friends when others expect enemies, and sometimes that’s hard, but it’s worth doing. You’ll make a lot of friends that way.”
“Probably some enemies, too, I’d bet.”
“Well, yeah, but that comes with the territory of the adventures you’ll be having. Best of luck to you and your Lady Aesc.”
“You too,” Jason said.
And then the air rippled, and the Jason who’d taken Lady Aesc’s first offer was gone, leaving Jason all alone.
Well, Phil was still here. And Lady Aesc would be coming back to an intact ship, which he’d helped keep that way. So maybe she’d pull off her magic trick after all.
“Phil, where’s my bedroom?” Jason asked. “Looks like I’ve got some waiting to do.”
NEXT TIME ON LADY AESCULAPIUS...
Episode 4: THE DEADLY HOLIDAY OF DOOM, by Michael Robertson, James Wylder, and guests
"Holiday? Are you sure, can we not just...relax for a second?"
"This WILL be relaxing, silly!”
Everyone loves taking a vacation.
The vistas. The beaches. The transtemporal sight-seeing.
And best of all: the assassination attempts. Everyone loves those.
Lady Aesculapius Series 1 is part of 10,000 Dawns, and is a publication of Arcbeatle Press.
Lady Aesculapius was created by James Wylder.
All original elements to this story are the property of the author.
All rights Reserved, Arcbeatle Press 2019.
Our cover art is by Anne-Laure Tuduri.
Any resemblance between persons living or dead, fictional characters, and real or fictional events is either co-incidental or has been done within the bounds of parody and satire.
You can learn more about 10,000 Dawns at http://www.jameswylder.com/10000-dawns1.html
To think, this all began with a postcard. In 2004, I got a postcard covered with enticing art enclosed in an issue of Scrye Magazine in the mail. It was announcing Decipher, Inc.’s new trading card game, WARS. I spent the whole afternoon looking at the art on that postcard, and daydreaming. I was hooked instantly, and when I got to read the stories Decipher began posting online, I was in love.
There were feuding aliens that came through a “Mumon Rift” into our own world, cyborg pirates on the edge of space, samurai with jetpacks, vehicles like rolling balls, and so many wonders. But what really hooked me were the characters: WARS focused heavily on personal conflict and the reasons why people acted the way they did. There was hearty adventure, and it never lost that heart. There was no evil empire, only people who believed what they thought was just and right...in a way that was incompatible with others.
And all too quickly, that riftage daydream ended. The game was put on hiatus, and the stories stopped. But I never forgot. In college, I gave out WARS decks I bought for pennies on the internet, and started making friends playing the game, going on to run a popular WARS roleplaying game in college where those friends became lifelong ones. We told stories together, and dreamed that we could bring that joy to others.
It was during all of that that Grail Quest Books took up the license to publish WARS stories, and put out six novellas detailing the history of the setting. From my passion for the setting, I got my first job in traditional publishing through Josh and Kasandra Radke: proofreading and giving content advice on a few of the Novellas. But soon, those novellas stopped too, and WARS was once again on hiatus.
But I hadn’t stopped, along with the friends I made in college, I started my own sci-fi series, 10,000 Dawns. I edited anthologies, worked with heroes of mine till they became colleagues, put out novels, wrote plays, and finally began to publish books I didn’t write a word of myself. My small press, Arcbeatle Press, was doing well, and I’d begun to establish myself in the world of writing and publishing.
That was when I got the email: the folks at Grail Quest Books, who’d given me that first job, wanted me and Arcbeatle Press to take over the WARS publishing license.
It had been my dream for 15 years. How could I say no?
I’m so honored, and excited to be carrying the torch of Decipher’s WARS Universe. I can’t tell you much about our plans, we’re working on a lot of things and it’s going to take time to get them ready, but rest assured, me and the team at Arcbeatle Press are passionate about this, and we can’t wait to show you what we’ll be making. Arcbeatle Press will be publishing old and new stories, and bringing the universe of WARS to a brand new audience.
Helping me out is one of the Lead Editors of Arcbeatle Press, Jo Smiley, who was right there with me having late night chats about our dreams with WARS. Jo and I have always had big dreams with telling stories, and with WARS. Jo has written for Arcbeatle Press, Shotgun Angel Games, and Boundless Endeavors, Inc., and we’ll be pouring our shared experience and passion into this. In their own words: "When I was in college, the WARS roleplaying game was one of the things that kept me from totally falling apart, and the friends I made through it are still my friends today. So I'm extremely excited to hear that there is going to be new material published! I can't wait to be a part of it and let it help me explore the universe once again."
So the future is Under Construction (and if you haven’t read our new story, you can find it here: http://www.jameswylder.com/wars.html ), so be patient, and look ahead. We’ll be working hard to make that future a brighter one.
This journey has been a long one, and a tough one, so there’s a lot of people we should thank. So, probably missing many people, I’d like to say thank you to:
Jordan Stout, Miguel Ramirez III, Taylor Elliott, Jo Smiley, Rosalie Derk, Elizabeth Tock, Emmeryn Telemain Reed, David Koon, Patrick Blaker, Rosa New, Nathan Kramer-Herman, Jon Ward, Ashey Nichole Sims-Cleavland, John Cleaveland, Brandi Hornbuckle, Andrea Paul-Bonham, Mary Beringer, Thomas Jones, Ellie Fairfield, Dan Alejos, Kyle Edge, Meghin Clark, Olivia Hinkel, Colby McClung, Joshua Anderson, Phil Walker, Anthony Forthhofer, Spencer Sholty, Walker Roberts, Annie Bladen, Gara Gaines, and all the other folks who brought me so many memories and joys during our time together.
Rebecca Jacob, Gwen Ragno, Simon Bucher-Jones, Eric Asher, Lauren Jankowski, Stuart Douglas, Niki Haringsma, Nate Bumber, Jacob Black, Sam Maleski, Hunter O’Connell, Charles Whitt, Ruth Long, Mark Fearnow, Genevieve Clovis, Evan Forman, Michael Robertson, Tycho McPhee Letts, Kevin Burnard, Rob and Martha Southgate, Chris Mau, Luther Siler, Kathy Barbour, James Bojaciuk, Corey Roth, Damon Null, my parents, sisters, and brother in law, and everyone else who believed in me or Arcbeatle Press and helped us get here.
Josh and Kasandra Radke, Nathan Patrick Butler, Sean E. Williams, Jim Perry, Sabrina Friend, Bryan Thomas-Schmidt, Joshua Anderson, Brian Hickey, Chuck Kallenbach, Mark Tuttle, Michael A. Stackpole, Bryan Borgman, Michael O’Brien, Marianne Plumridge, Warren Holland, Tim Ellington, and all the other folks who worked on WARS who have been kind to me over the years.
Plus, all the many fans of WARS and Arcbeatle Press who have believed in us. You rock.
We’ll get to work then. See you on the other side of the rift,
Publisher at Arcbeatle Press
Welcome back! We sure left off on a cliffhanger huh? Though if you don't know what we mean: maybe go and check out episode 1: http://www.jameswylder.com/blog/lady-aesculapius-episode-1
Well, we're back, and we're onto a new adventure...so without further adieu, let's get onto a new tale by me, James Wylder.
If you like Lady Aesc, you can support us on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/jameswylder
If you're into podcasts, you can find Lady Aesc stories as podcasts at: http://ladyaesculapius.libsyn.com
You never forget the first time you die. It happens very early after you’re born, that is if you’re a Firmament. Lady Aesculapius could still remember being born, falling out of her cloning tube, scratching at the skin over her eyes, mouth, nose, ears…she flailed on the cold floor, till the attendant came over and slit her eyelids and mouth open.
“Welcome to the multiverse,” she’d heard someone say, “now let’s get you toweled off, you have to fill out some forms.”
She was guided to a group of other doughy-eyed people, fresh out of their tanks, clothed only in a towel, eyes bright, taking in everything now that they existed, and smiling at each other.
“Hello!” a man said, “Wow, look at all these new faces!”
He stretched his arms out wide, expecting a laugh, though Lady Aesc just smiled and blinked, having never heard a laugh in her life yet.
The man sighed, “Well, as you all can see, the soul-bonding worked spectacularly. You’re the newest members of the Firmament, each of you with a firm (he chuckled) role to play in keeping the 10,000 Dawns running like clockwork. Now, sorry to say this, but even though we’ve been at this for a while, there are still some problems with the creation process, I’m afraid, and your first bodies, like all of ours, have some issues from the soul-bonding process. Hence the whole...face being covered in skin thing. You all looked faceless, and it creeps me out everytime. But look, I’m mainly here from the council to welcome you and apologize. Because well, we’re going to have to transfer you to new bodies right off. So, you know, sorry.”
They stared up at him, smiling and blinking, as the Enforcers of Knives slipped out from the shadows and slit every single one of their throats. Lady Aesc clutched her throat, gasping, crying, and then she died.
She woke up floating in a tank, now with proper eyelids and lips, and found herself sliding out of the tube, coughing onto the floor.
“There you go. We all have a false start there, miss, but welcome to the world for real now…” the man checked a tablet, “Aesculapius.”
It was with more grace and experience that Lady Aesculapius fell coughing to the floor this time, but she still remembered that first death. Her limbs were covered in the artificial amniotic fluid this new body had grown in, and behind her, dozens of her future bodies hung in their own solution, brainless and immobile. Around her, millions of other bodies were just the same, floating in their own jars.
“Hello, fancy seeing you here,” a voice said, and Lady Aesc looked up, the liquid dripping down from her hair blurring her vision. “You came out of there faster than I thought. Too bad.” Then the cudgel came down on her head, and she died again. And she felt her soul, if you can call it a soul, falling, and flying, and she dropped onto the floor again, sputtering fluid, gasping for air, crawling through shards of glass. Why was her tank broken?
“Get Enforcers in here now!” someone yelled, and a figure bolted, vanishing in a flash. Aesc felt held, someone pulling her up, wiping the solution from her eyes, pulling glass from her hands, and wrapping her in a towel. She was surrounded by robed Firmament, the people of her home planet, and they seemed panicked.
“Do you know who attacked you?” one of them asked her.
“There was a box, I opened the box, and it wasn’t a present, at least not a very good present. Honestly they need to take a class on birthdays if that’s their idea of--”
“When you arrived, someone attacked you and killed you again, correct?”
She nodded, “I don’t know who. I didn’t see them. Just heard them...”
“Damn,” the Firmament rubbed her forehead, “I don’t want you to panic, but they smashed your resurrection tanks. The bodies you’ve had in storage are...”
Aesc turned around. They weren’t kidding. The dozens of tanks, stretching far back into the seemingly endless room were all...smashed. The bodies ready to resurrect her upon dead lying scattered. “By the faceless gods,” she gasped.
“I know this has to be a shock, but...we need to know your name. They destroyed the markers on your tanks.”
“My name is...” There was a roar of wind, and the glass and blood on the ground shifted to form perfectly legible words:
In 2017, Arcbeatle Press put out the first of our beloved licensed crossovers between 10,000 Dawns and the Universes of Doctor Who titled Rachel Survived. Since then, we went on to put out two more stories, and I've always thought it would be fun to collect them all in an easy to find way. And so, quietly, we've been putting this collection together. Featuring beautiful art from Anne-Laure Tudori of Auteur, it has all three of these wonderful little crossovers together in one place. Finally!
This release, however, is coming ahead of schedule. In the future, I'll be putting together a little online book club event to read through these stories, which was the collection's intended purpose, but some recent events have led myself and others at Arcbeatle Press to decide putting this little collection out now is the right choice to save a lot of time, energy, and stress for many people. And you get an easy way to read them all in one place, so it works out well for all!
Look for our little book club event in the future. For now? Just enjoy the good reads!
Join the bohemian adventurer Lady Aesc as she travels through alternate realities with her friend the Jason Jackson, encountering new foes, making new pals, kissing new aliens, and facing a threat like nothing she's ever encountered before...
You can read the stories here, or listen to audio versions from the Southgate Media Group, all for free!
Featuring stories by myself (James Wylder), Michael Robertson, Sam Maleski, Rachel Johnson, Evan Forman, Charles Whitt, Tori Das, and Laine Ferrio, plus original art by Anne-Laure Tuduri.
I've been working hard on this project for months behind the scenes now, and I can't wait to bring it to you. I think you're in for a real treat! -James
For our premiere blog, I'm looking into the 1998 Godzilla movie. If you enjoy it, please support me on Patreon to help keep works like this coming:
By James Wylder
Godzilla is a strange beast, both as a movie and as a creature. A financial success, actually more so than the later American reboot that is now getting a sequel, this movie seemed prime to take over the world before it suddenly didn’t. Its fish-loving monster relegated to the bin of missteps and failures fandoms often throw their unwanted children into. It’s a strange case of a movie doing quite well, and the franchise it was supposed to start simply fizzling out before it began, giving a false memory that the film was always as derided that we now take as gospel. That isn’t to say the movie ever was hailed as brilliant upon its release, but the passage of time hasn’t been kind to it. However, made by some of the world’s least competent conspiracy theorists, the 1998 American Godzilla movie ends up tripping into horrifically accurate future insights about American geopolitical strategies that truly resonate in the post 9/11 world. It’s a movie where it’s oddest decisions make sense when you realize the reason they were put there. It’s an oddity, and it is Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s accidental and unloved masterpiece.
The most important aspect of Godzilla (1998) (hereafter referred to as simply Godzilla, with any other films of the same name referred to with the year of their release) is that it is a movie about conspiracy theories and anti-American violence, full stop. I would write the word “terrorism”, but that’s actually something of a misleading road. While Godzilla is certainly a movie that is dealing with the concept of terrorism on American soil, the road it’s taking to get there is going through the history the movie knows about. Godzilla doesn’t know 9/11 will happen, it doesn’t know we will go to war in Iraq, but it’s a movie by the kind of idiots who believe that Shakespeare wasn’t really Shakespeare (categorically untrue), and therefore it’s by the kind of idiots who are right twice a day like a broken clock because they believe everything. You can see this throughout their films, from the atrocious “Anonymous” to the fantastical and fun “Stargate” (which pulls from the ancient aliens conspiracy theory of human history), and so, should it be so surprising that when given the chance to remake a monster in the image they are most interested in, Devlin and Emmerich create their monster in the shape of conspiracy theories?
It shouldn’t be, but the part that throws any expectations off is which conspiracy theories they choose to look into. Godzilla isn’t reinvented in the shape of a cryptid, or aliens, but with a surprising amount of insight into what Godzilla is about, the team looks to conspiracies about America and France’s colonialism and imperialist intervention into world affairs. Godzilla has a token glance at the creature’s nuclear origin in Godzilla (1954), but the true origin of this Godzilla is not in the atomic bomb, but in American and French foreign policy after World War 2.
It might be hard to believe if the directors had any sense of subtlety, but they do not. Still, I’m a bit more surprised this take on the movie isn’t more common: once you watch it through this lens, it’s nearly impossible to see the intention as anything else.
Godzilla through this angle becomes an amalgam of anti-American violence throughout the last few decades. Godzilla is not the Atomic bomb blasting through a city, leaving survivors with skin stained with radiation scars and horrific burns, but a gigantic threat that is somehow impossible for the world’s most powerful military to catch and defeat.
Throughout the film Godzilla constantly disappears, able to hide in plain sight, even though they are the size of a skyscraper. While this Godzilla does not have the fiery atomic breath (or if it does, it barely uses it) of their Japanese counterpart, it has a different superpower: the ability to fall off the grid of a surveillance network so powerful and complete it was supposed to keep America safe against all outside threats.
The Vietnam parallels are the most blatant: Godzilla was a problem created by the French, which America ends up dealing with consequences of. Indeed, the movie’s biggest flaw is that it burdens France with too much responsibility in the problem, treating America as a doughy-eyed fool who is struggling to deal with being dropped into someone else’s mess . But while this is an a naive take that downplays America’s already massive role in world affairs, it does lead to some of the movie’s most striking critiques. While the French are active in the movie, trying to solve the problems they caused, the American military and politicians are stunningly incompetent, working hard to preserve themselves and their own interests above doing what will actually be the best for the people they are supposed to serve. The military uses brute force against a foe that is agile and hides, and makes a great show visibly to the media, while their foe slips through the cracks over and over again. It’s only when the military decides to listen to the scientists who actually have knowledge of how Godzilla works that they are able to have any success at tracking the creature and following them. The assumption on the part of the military that they can simply understand the creature through their gut feelings rather than through any research is played out throughout the film, from the military’s initial assumption it’s a lost dinosaur (ignoring any responsibility of any government in its creation), and on through to the way that once the military assumes they have killed it, they declare “mission accomplished”, and say they’re done.
That Godzilla isn’t dead, and that it laid a bunch of eggs that will hatch into more Godzillas, is simply ignored because it doesn’t fit the narrative that the American military and politicians in the film want to believe. They want to believe the film is over, but it’s not over. We still have two endings to go.
But before we dive into those endings, let’s note how Godzilla is caught: by feeding them fish. This is an important moment in defining their wants in this film, because the creature is not interested in destroying the city. Indeed, it barely destroys anything. Most of the damage to the city is done by the military in trying to stop the creature, rather than by Godzilla themselves. No, Godzilla in this film is motivated by the desire to survive. It simply wants to have a safe place to live. It wants to have a meal to eat. It wants a place to raise its young. And this terrifies the protagonists of the movie. But yes, the endings.
First, we have the fake-out ending after our heroes get the military to blow up the egg nest in Madison Square Garden, complete with our heroes hugging, swelling music, and a sweeping camera shot. But then Godzilla returns, interrupting the ending and everyone’s assumptions. Killing Godzilla does not kill Godzilla, and has only made them angrier because of the death perpetrated against the baby Godzillas. Of course, they kill Godzilla again, but in the post-credits scene we’re shown that one of the eggs survived, and has hatched into a healthy baby.
Godzilla is not a movie where the heroes triumph, it is a sisyphean movie about meddling in international affairs where the consequences of actions that you may not remember or understand return to crush you. Godzilla is a horribly accurate prophecy, a look into how America and other world powers meddled in other countries’ affairs, screaming at the sky that there would be future consequences. Its loose model was the Vietnam war, but its true mirror ended up being the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There’s a comforting lie that America planned the 9/11 attacks on itself, a lie that makes no sense when you look into basically any facts about the incidents on September 11th, 2001 (that this sentence might get anyone yelling in the comments is sad in itself), a conspiracy theory which luckily post-dated this movie. Instead, we get a movie made by people who believe everything, and with their broken-clock-twice-a-day correctness realized that maybe the way that western powers had been funding groups to take on their enemies so they wouldn’t have to directly fight them wasn’t a great idea. Godzilla here becomes the Taliban being funded by Ronald Reagan to fight the USSR, but not intentionally. It’s a shadowy prediction of a large problem that ended up having dire consequences. The comforting lie of a 9/11 that America planned gives America power—we were in control the whole time. It’s all part of some larger plan. There is order in the universe, and only the greatest country in the world could have done this! U-S-A!
But the awful truth is in powerlessness, it’s in doing things that are short-sighted for a temporary gain with long term side-effects. It’s the knowledge that the things we dreamed would keep us safe hurt us. Godzilla is both flesh and blood and seemingly mystical, but only because we didn’t take the time to understand it or check up on it after the island it lived on was nuked. We cannot find it despite all our military might, or all our technology, and when we finally manage to it has destroyed buildings, and left us naked and exposed.
Godzilla is an accidental masterpiece. It is a warning we didn’t heed, coated in explosions and jokes. In Godzilla, we find a monster, but that monster is no foreign power, no terrorist, no bad guy. Godzilla is the sins of a government coming back from the past, screaming while we stare baffled at where it came from.
When Godzilla dies at the end of the film, our protagonist Nick Tatopoulos watches the light go out of the creature’s eyes. It’s a strangely moving and uncomfortable moment, because as much as we might want Godzilla to be a monster, all it was trying to do was survive.
Maybe we’ll learn that about other people someday.
I’m James Wylder, I’m an author, an editor, and I live with daily chronic pain. Actually, let’s be clearer: I’m in pain every day, and have been for over ten years. Every few years I get a day where I’m not in pain, and it feels like I’ve had weights lifted from every part of my body, like my brain got a CPU boost. But those are rare treasures, and you can never predict them. When I was 18 I went to see a doctor about my pain and discovered that my neck had an issue, “You have the neck of an 80 year old man,” he said.
“Do you like roller coasters?” he asked.
I replied that I hadn’t been on one.
“That’s lucky, you shouldn’t ever go on one, if you do you could die or be paralyzed.”
A time later I ended up at a theme park with friends, and I felt angry. How could my body betray me like this? I did track and field and cross country! I was a young healthy dude! The doctor couldn’t be right, I had my whole life ahead of me. And in my overly cocky stupidity, I went and found the least intense roller coaster I could at the park. It was for little kids and their parents, and there wasn’t much of a line. I got on, and zoomed up and down, got off, stumbled to a park bench, and spent the next few hours lying down in agony. Eventually my friends came by, and I smiled (while in pain), and got on with my day.
In hindsight, this was emblematic of how I’d live every day of the next ten years. Throughout all of college, I smiled through the pain. Most people had no idea that while I did everything, going on walks, going on dates, running roleplaying sessions, eating meals, I was pushing back a dull pain in my head. I opened up about it a few times, but I quickly learned it was a mistake. When people knew how much pain I was in, they offered me fewer opportunities. I was passed over for things that I thought I’d deserved, and told in private that I had to be so grateful I didn’t get to do my dreams, because I was already dealing with so much. The poor cripple!
So I shut up about it.
And I stopped complaining.
I stopped being honest about it.
I was fine. I’m always fine.
After all, like we said in cross country, if it hurts, fake it till you make it.
For a few years I was a teacher at Elkhart Community Schools, a school disctrict that really respected my work, and while not my chosen career, was a rewarding place to work. My time teaching English under Kerry Donoho as the department chair being a real highlight especially. Getting to teach young people, and be there for them at an important time was something I valued getting to do. At least according to many of my students and teachers I subbed for, I was pretty good at it too.
The biggest problem was that I was in pain every day of that job. I’m not saying that I’m above being in agony throughout the day—of course it’s just a fact of my life. I’m not above working a day job if I need to, or think that being a starving artist is romantic—its very much not. But I was simply not able to care for my body on a day to day basis the way I am doing full-time writing. I can do weird hours, or take my pain medication that makes me practically immobile. I can work from home. I can limit situations that put strain on my body in ways that cause me to be in more pain.
See, thing is that I took a lot of sick days as a substitute teacher. This wasn’t a bad thing—you aren’t penalized for it since you’re just getting paid for every day you go in, but I was often laid up at home just trying to manage the pain that was so great I couldn’t move.
But there was always a dream ahead: I worked hard after work and on weekends to build up my writing business. It was the light at the end of the tunnel: a way out of pain.
I wrote books. I self-published them, and took them on tour. I got publishing offers (they all fell through). I wrote more books. I toured. Touring was a wonderful experience, and I really hope to do more of it. But it was also a lot of pain. There are a lot of picture of me smiling and being really friendly at conventions when I feel like my head is exploding, like my neck is going to tear apart. I loved doing conventions, and I hope to go back to more, but I was often limited on funds and slept on people’s floor’s and couches as I traveled, driving straight to a place after teaching, my body never having the chance to recover during the weekend. But the pain was worth it—I built up a career. Built up a following. Wrote more. Traveled more. Got a live show I hosted in Illinois. Times were good.
But something had to give.
Last year, I had several big health crisises. Along with having an unrelated emergency procedure, my chronic pain began to flare up in big ways. I was in high levels of pain so frequent that Soon, it became clear that I’d need to tour a lot less. I cut down on my appearances, put my live show on hiatus, and focused on trying to do well in other ways. It was hard. But it had to be done.
I didn’t want to though. I still don’t want to. I want to travel. I want to be able to live the life I see other people around me living. I don’t want to shovel down pills when people aren’t looking to get through the day. I don’t want to lie in bed all day. I want to run like I used to—be free out there in the wilds and blaze through the paths in the woods. I want to be free. Because my body is a prison, and I don’t know who my jail-keeper is. But even if it’s a prison, I can still write.
So I write. And I live the best life I can. I live for my work, for the people who care about me and for me, and yes I am getting medical care and working to improve my body in the ways it can be improved. It cannot be cured. I cannot rub peppermint oil on my neck and fix it. But I can make it nicer, and I am.
Still, I fear the possibility that this nicer way of living will end for me. Thanks to my health crisises last year, that possibility hovers over me still. I have long since abandoned the hope I won’t be in any pain (and no, I don’t need your home remedies that won’t work. I’ve probably already tried them) but that doesn’t mean I need to like it, or aren’t bothered by the idea that I’ll have to be in more of it. If my body is a prison, then I still don’t want to get locked up in solitary.
But life goes on. I’ll still smile. Still have good times. Still have friends. If you’ve known me since 2008, you’ve known me as I am now. Nothing has changed except a confession: every thing I’ve done, good or bad. Every smile. Every book. Every favor. Every day out. It’s all the same me. I don’t need or want pity. You don’t need to say you’re sorry. I’ve been like this. It’s me. I’m still here. Literally nothing has changed. If I could do it then, I can still do it now. So don’t you dare baby me.
However, it is also time to admit that perhaps I didn’t start this path on an equal footing. When my pain and health last year nearly ruined me, that was something that most people around me simply weren't dealing with. And I need to accept that this is the body I’ll be living in, and stop pretending it will be anything other than that.
I don’t know what the future holds. But I’m James Wylder, I’m an internationally touring author, and I live with chronic pain. How ya doin?
Featuring stories you loved on Tales By The Blue Light, licensed crossovers with characters from the universes of Doctor Who, and so much more, these are some of my best stories. I can't wait for you to read them.
So let's make these books happen! If we meet these goals, we'll make even more books that backers will receive, so please keep pushing this!
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.
Magic The Gathering
The Force Awakens
The Stars Awaken