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.
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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
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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!
We also have a new updated ebook of the "A 10,000 Dawns Christmas" project for all of you to enjoy! So Christmas in...March? I guess? Well, either way, I hope you enjoy it. -Jim
The Gendar Conspiracy
By James Wylder
Vo’lach Prime, a long time ago.
It’s rocketing down through the atmosphere, the resistance making a bright glow against it’s front. It looks like you could make a wish on it, if you were standing down below. Which the Sergeant-Instructor was, though he’d long ago given up on wishes. Ten feet from the ground, the object stops. It cools, the light drizzle hissing off it as it stabilizes, and then there is another wonder. The figure appears tiny, a speck, then grows to the size of a toy, then a full grown woman. She dusts off her dark blue robes, and waves at the Sergeant-Instructor, only her mouth visible from under her beak-pointed hood. He has no time for wonders either.
“Are you the Arbiter of Knives, of the Firmament?” He yells, the wind isn’t particularly conductive to chatter, but his orders were to meet the Emissary of the Firmament on neutral ground, and Vo’lach Prime is about as neutral as it gets today.
“I am, Sergeant-Instructor? Of the--” there’s a gust of wind, and the end of the sentence is cut off, but he knows what she meant. He gestures for her to follow, and they head for the offending site.
The Vo’lach he met with are already there, huddling around the pit. There are two corpses in it. The Vo’lach make room, their six-foot wide frames bustling aside, lightning reflecting off their shiny colorful fur as they shuffle.
“It’s one of yours,” he says evenly.
The Firmament slides down into the pit, and examines the bodies, the orb she rode in on shining a light down onto them, “Well one is, anyway, sort of. They’re a member of the Knights of Sky, who splintered from--”
“They’re from your universes,” he spat back, “you know there’s not supposed to be any interference in our affairs.” He couldn’t believe he was having to lecture this backwater representative. The 10,000 Dawns were the most blighted piece of inter-universal real estate he could imagine. And yet, they kept getting in everyone’s business.
She looked back up at him, then to the Vo’lach, “There were three more of them I see. I’m assuming they took something?”
“Stole,” he corrected.
One of the Vo’lach quivered, “A relic we received from Gendar, supposedly, an ancient urn.”
She frowned, and snapped her fingers. The orb seemed to shrink and absorb the body.
“Well, what do you want me to do?”
“You’re duty-bound to come with me to Gendar, and see if we can find the thieves.”
She sighed, “If that’s my diplomatic duty, then sure. Could you give me a hand--” he walked away towards his ship, and heard the zing as the orb zipped right next to him, and she dropped out again, “I don’t know where Gendar is, I’m not from here you know.”
“Then follow close behind.”
* * *
Gendar was the 17th most interesting archaeological site in it’s home universe. This doesn’t sound too impressive, until you remember that 17th out of a couple trillion is actually a pretty good score. At that point, it’s all the kids who somehow have higher-than-perfect grade point averages competing for who gets to get in the group photo at the end of the year. And sure, Gendar is in the third row off to the left, but it made the picture.
Why Gendar is so interesting, is that there should be no life on Gendar. Completely inhospitable to life, bombarded constantly with radiation from it’s three suns, and coated entirely in sand with no water, Gendar has somehow developed life that is completely native to the planet, while being boringly indistinct from life anywhere else in the universe. Fossil records show that this life developed on Gendar, while every moment of those creature’s existences should have been impossible. That a sapient species who happened to look exactly like ordinary people who happened to have their hair and eyes dyed purple had also developed there, completely independently, was the final straw that drove many an archaeologist into a seething rage. At least fourteen Universities’ archaeology departments had banned discussion on Gendar entirely, and another twenty-eight had declared that they didn’t believe it was real.
This didn’t stop them from vising the planet, however. All across Gendar, roving gangs of archaeologists, anthropologists, and other scientists roamed the deserts, trying to find the secrets to the planet’s existence. There were three main schools of thought: 1. Gendar had a perfectly reasonable explanation for it’s seeming nonsense, and through patience and hard work it can be revealed! 2. Gendar is not real, has never been real, and the real question is how is the illusion of it being real so good, and how can it be uncovered and unmasked. And 3., Aliens.
Drezen Hael was part of the second group, and had been searching the planet for the last three months trying to find proof of it’s non-existence. However, after paying for a few too many over priced bottles of water from the locals to cope with the extreme heat, he was beginning to have suspicions it was real and the whole thing was a tourist trap. He kept these thoughts from the group however, as his funding from the “Gender Is Fake Trust” (nicely acronymed as GIFT) revolved around sticking to the goals of their society, so he rationalized the water as some sort of paid DLC in a massive interactive hologram for the time being. He had just began to work out how the hologram could take the cash he’d brought with him and not just his credit card info, when the man who would kill him approached.
His long blue robes billowed in the wind, it had a beaked hood and the edges were all lined in a fine patterned cloth. One one arm was a messy looking gauntlet, cobbled together to hold crystals in varying sizes over it’s surface. The man didn’t say hello.
“Hello!” Drezen said, “You don’t look like a local, so I’m guessing you’re from another archaeological dig? This site is ours, mind you. We have a permit from the planetary governor--”
Closer, he could see the man was bleeding.
“Do...do you need help? We have a lot of doctors here, but no one who is that kind of doctor, if you catch my drift...” he gave an awkward chuckle. The man stopped, and pulling a hand from where it was supporting the bloody wound on his chest, banged on his gauntlet. “Goddamn thing,” he said. Then looked up at Drezen. His face was bloody too. “You, you’re from this universe right?”
This wasn’t a normal question, even for a space archaeologist. This left Drezen with two possible conclusions to continue from: 1. This man was from another universe. 2. This man was crazy. Upon further thought, he added 3. This man is a bad script in the holographic simulation of Gendar, but he only listed that contractually. “Yes, uh, are you?” the rest of the dig was getting curious, and were beginning to mill slowly towards the visitor.
The man thought for a moment, and then, seemingly coming to resolution, surged forward and grabbed Drezen’s chest with his gauntleted hand. One of the crystals on it glowed, and Drezen frantically tried to pull away from the man’s grip as he felt his life draining from his body. The wound began closing on the man, and started opening up on his own body. The wear and tear of the desert faded from the man, his complexion bolstered, his muscled surged, and Drezen’s corpse dropped to the ground, drained dry as the rest of his team fled. The man looked ahead, and saw his destination. It was easy to see, it was as tall as the sky.
The statue of the goddess.
Where he’d find everything he’d sacrificed for.
With renewed strength, he continued his walk.
* * *
“Well, it’s certainly big,” the Arbiter of Knives said.
“It’s one of the most remarkable feats of engineering in this universe, built using technology that should have been incapable of it’s construction,” Littlejohn replied.
“So, you’re one of those crazy people who think that humans couldn’t have built the pyramids and stuff?” she probed.
“No, they’re just racists. Any idiot who has even a mild sense of people who look different than them having skills can tell the pyramids are obviously built by humans. What I mean is that this statue’s construction doesn’t line up with the archaeological records here at all. Nothing does. There’s not way life developed here, but it did.”
Knives looked at him, her lips pursed and bunching up at the corners.
“So, time travelers?”
“We’d know if it was time travelers?”
She scrunched her eyes up, and held both hand up, “Would you?”
He kept walking.
At this time of day, the statue was filthy with tourists. All mulling about, taking pictures and holograms and molecular scans of themselves and any thing that could or would be interesting. Of course, a lot of them weren’t here for the sights to enjoy them, they were trying to glean secrets to prove whether or not the planet was real or some sort of elaborate hoax.
“And over here,” a tour guide said, “you can see the elaborate relief drawings of the Goddess, the God, and that other one, who--” a tourist lept forward, molecular scanner in hand, held out like a ray-gun, and a flat triangle of light scrolled over the engraving.
“It’s period...” she said dejectedly.
“Yes it is,” the tour guide sighed, “now, if you look at the details--”
Littlejohn didn’t need to flash any information, the staff seemed to know who he was, and he and Knives were directed through the throng by a woman in a grey poncho and goggles, her purple hair in a long braid.
“Sorry for the tourists,” she said as they reached the door, “it’s always like this. At least no one tried to deface anything today.”
Littlejohn gave a faint smile, Knives shrugged.
“We’re here about the urn you gifted to Vo’lach prime.”
The woman blinked, “Oh! Oh yes, I’d nearly forgotten, that was ages ago wasn’t it?” She winked, “But I suppose not a big deal for you.”
It was Littlejohn’s turn to shrug, “Do you know if there was any special significance to the urn?”
The woman gave a stuttering laugh, “Uh, let’s go to my office! That’s a cool place. Do you like offices?”
“No,” Knives said.
“Great! Well, we’re going anyway, uh...”
Once inside, things were a lot nicer. Modern lighting seemed to have been part of the original plan of the building, either that or there had been some odd architectural quirk that had meant all of it could be fitted in without looking out of place. Their guide led them to a cozy office, with wood paneling halfway up the wall, and the upper half and ceiling painted to look like the sky, where she promptly flipped a picture on the desk over as they entered. “Not every day we get visitors from two such noble groups as your own…I know Littlejohn, of course, but I don’t know you I’m afraid?” She pulled up her goggles, revealing her purple eyes, and slid into the desk. Behind her was a portrait of a quartet of musicians playing string instruments. Littlejohn and Knives slid into chairs in front of her.
“I’m the Arbiter of Knives,” she answered.
“I’m Virtuoso, I’m in charge of the Historic Preservation Society.”
“Again? I thought you’d retired?” Littlejohn asked.
She laughed awkwardly, “Whaaaat? Um…” she shuffled some papers on her desk, “Yeah, they brought me back, after the incident where that empire of cyborg thingies tried to conquer us they decided they needed my experience again.”
“...For the Historic Preservation Society,” Knives deadpanned.
“That’s the name of the planetary government here,” Littlejohn clarified.
“So, the urn,” Knives said, impatiently.
“Yeah, uh, so that urn. I gave it to the Vo’lach cause we’re pals!”
“And?” Littlejohn turned his palm up.
“...Uh, turns out it’s actually a secret key to a sealed off area of the temple statue thing!”
Littlejohn stared her down.
“Which I didn’t know.”
Continued eye contact.
“Maybe I knew!”
An eyebrow raised.
“I knew okay! I just wanted it off the planet,” she spun around in her chair, “It’s not as easy running a planet as it looks okay. It was an eyesore, for one, and for two it worried me.”
“So you put the Vo’lach in danger.”
Her smile slowly pulled into an overly wide view of her teeth.
“You’re not going to...investigate me, right?”
Littlejohn pursed his lips.
Virtuoso probably would have said something else unintentionally incriminating, but it was at that point that the man reached the statue of the goddess, and people began dying.
* * *
There was a line. He tried to keep his patience. Certainly, he could wait. He’d waited longer. But the desert had sucked away his patience, and the betrayal he’d suffered had put him on a knife’s edge. They’d gone into this together, and now she and Artillo had thought they could remove the excess members of their conspiracy. And, well, they had, nearly. But he knew where they’d be going next. Gendar was always the next stop. And it was a goddamn tourist trap.
“These shirts are cheaper than the gift shop, get em before it’s too late! Supplies are limited! You want one sir?”
He didn’t. He tried to avoid the man’s gaze. He tried to keep his temper under control. These idiots. These idiots! His hand shook, the gauntlet rattled. He had to keep control. The vendor held the shirt up to him. On the shirt was a close up of the face of the Statue of the Goddess.
He looked at that face.
He knew that face.
And his temper broke.
He didn’t really remember what he did, getting through to the door. Streams of red danced around him as he pulled on life, strung it out and cut life from bodies, carving a path to the door, and then blasting it down with a shot of white light from his gauntlet.
He stepped into the temple, and charged through anyone in his way.
He knew where he was going. And it was probably too late.
* * *
“Ma’am! An attacker has entered the temple!” a guard yelled, throwing the door to the office open. Virtuoso sprung out of her chair, and her guests followed as they ran out, following the guard as he briefed them on the casualties, and Virtuoso yelled orders into a communicator.
“Where are we going?” Littlejohn yelled.
“Where the urn goes!” she replied.
The urn was there when they arrived, placed into an indentation into a relief, which had swung open to reveal a small storage space containing a small pile of papers, and one paper taped to the back of the space that said “Sorry!” with a smiley face drawn under it. Holding one piece of paper was a man in a long cloak, a gauntlet on one hand. He was shaking with anger.
“I know what you’re here for,” he said, “but I have to ask you read this before you do anything.”
Knives gingerly took the paper from his outstretched hand, and she and Littlejohn read:
The Goddess shook her empty glass at one of her thousand servants, and it was promptly refilled, and given a new little umbrella.
“It’s going pretty well, isn’t it?” The God said, lounging back in his designer shorts. She’d finally gotten him to stop wearing a suit while they were sunbathing after a hundred years, but she could tell he was itching to put one back on when they got inside. He’d becoming such a fop since his last body died, and he became a boy again.
“It really is, I think they really have captured your likeness,” Virtuoso replied, and continued sketching the construction.
The statue was the size of a skyscraper, and was being constructed far enough away from the metropolis they’d built here that no one would obscure the view. It was, in fact, the spitting image of The Goddess, who adjusted her sunglasses to gaze at it.
“I was hoping they could get my nose looking a little better, I never really liked this nose,” she slid back in her lounge chair with a sigh, and one of her servants carefully steadied her glass so it wouldn’t drip.
“Well, I’ve about seen enough for today. How about we get a nap in?”
“My goddess,” their High Priest said with a cough, “will you be skipping tonight’s veneration?”
The Goddess let out a long moan, “No, I’ll let everyone adore me.” Being a goddess was such a slog sometimes.
“Thank you, Goddess of Gendar. May you--”
She stopped paying attention and pulled out a notebook, she was here for a reason after all. The whole goddess thing was just her day job.
“See?” he yelled.
Knives and Littlejohn looked up from the paper, met each other’s gaze, and shrugged.
“It’s even in her handwriting! She wrote that! About herself!”
“Um,” Knives said, “who?”
“THE GODDESS OF GENDAR!”
“She enjoys a nice drink with umbrella personally I find that relateable.”
“She’s a CON ARTIST you absolute imbecile. This whole planet is a billion year con-job!”
Virtuoso coughed, “Clearly, you’re uh, losing your mind and--”
“You’re NAMED IN THE DAMN DOCUMENT!” he said, an accusatory finger pointing at Virtuoso.
Virtuoso waved both hands frantically, “No look, look, if hypothetically a friend built a whole planet up somebody had to stay there and run it or the socioeconomic--”
“SHUT UP! She’s already left. Her and Artillo,” he clenched a fist, and started chuckling to himself, “it’s too late then, I suppose.”
“It is,” Knives replied, “you’ve murdered people, let alone your unlawful interference in this universe’s business. You’re coming back with me. In the name of the First and Final Firmament, I demand you turn yourself in.”
He looked at Littlejohn, “I meant it’s too late for something else. Our larger plan. And for that, well, I’m not actually sorry, but you have my sympathy.”
Littlejohn shook his head, “Enough, are you turning yourself in or not?”
“Do you know what happens to us Firmament when we die, Sergeant-Instructor?”
“You live again, like my people.”
“Not quite. If I die here, this far from home, by the time I make it back my soul, if you would call it that, will lose all memories. I’ll be reborn a blank slate. A white c…well, you get the picture.” He didn’t meet anyone’s gaze, “So I guess this is where it ends for me.”
He swung the gauntlet out, and a blast of white light sent his foes scattering, but as Knives lept out of the way, she clung to the wall with her feet, and ran along it like it was the floor. She drew long crystal knife from her sleeve.
A second white blast came, and turned the wall ahead of Knives to rubble, dropping her back to the proper floor.
Littlejohn walked forward, no fear in his eyes, no agility in his step. Slowly and surely. White blasts came at him, but they seemed to be timed wrong, blazing past his cheeks in perfect near misses. The man screamed, and grabbed him, and sucked the life from him, and his eyes surged with red lines.
He fell to the floor, cold and wet. Skin covered his eyes, it had to be cut away so he could see, at least on the first body...but this was so long ago. So very long ago.
“So this is how you were born, out a simple cloning tank? I heard the 10,000 Dawns were backwaters, but I expected something nicer than this?”
“What the hell is inside you?” he coughed.
“You didn’t guess? Time.”
He let go, and stumbled back, still coughing up fluid from the birthing tank, Virtuoso and Littlejohn staring at him. He got his composure back, straightened his back, and a quick slash went along his chest. He looked down at the cut, it wasn’t fatal, up at the Arbiter of Knives, and snatched at the hand holding the knife, and sucked at her life.
And he fell to the floor, bleeding from everywhere.
“You didn’t think about what’s inside me, did you? I’m the Arbiter of Knives. Put it together.”
He didn’t say anything else before he passed on.
Littlejohn checked his pockets, and then looked at the papers, “A lot of historical records…a few notes about some sort of heist but no details...no ideas where they could have gone next from here I’m afraid.”
Virtuoso ran a hand over her hair, “I need to go see to the medical needs of the guests, and then the damage he did to the temple wall...will you excuse me?”
Littlejohn gestured, and she scampered off. “Weird, but she does her job well.
Knives nodded. “She’s absolutely a Firmament, you know. I can get ready to extradite her immediately.”
Littlejohn laughed, loud and hard, “Of course Virtuoso is. She has the worst poker face I’ve ever seen. I don’t really mind her being her, so I’ve let it slide.” He looked at Knives, and nodded, “Looks like we’re all done here.”
Knives looked down at the body, “I’ll bring him back to the Firmament. I’m sorry the trail went cold.”
“These things tend to come back around. I’ll let you know if anything comes from it all.”
Knives didn’t expect there’d be much. How serious could this whole plot be anyway? “I’ll see you around then, Littlejohn.”
“I’ll let you know if I need some cutlery.”
She smirked, and grabbing the body, vanished into a crystal orb. It zoomed through the temple, out the doors and past the medical crews, up into the sky, and ever so briefly became a star.
* * *
The Firmament, later
He fell to the floor, cold and wet. It was dark.
“You’re alright, I just haven’t cut your eyes open yet. Don’t struggle. I’m the Arbiter of Resurrection, and welcome to life. Now come on, we’ve got to get you up there’s paperwork to fill out.”
He wasn’t sure, after all he had only just come into the world, but as he was helped off the ground he couldn’t help but feel like he’d been here before.
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.
Magic The Gathering
The Force Awakens
The Stars Awaken