Fiction


by S. Hutson Blount

We know this much: Death is an evil. We have the Gods’ word on it; they too would die if death were a good thing. – Sappho

Even grayed by the morning haze, Vesuvius still dominated the horizon of Naples’ harbor, dwarfing the merely human activity below. The city still drowsed in the dawn, for the most part, with only the harbor showing signs of industry. A small, mobile forest of masts passed westward as the fishing fleet chased the retreating gloom and schools of anchovy. They’d swarmed around bigger ships riding at anchor, merchantmen of every description awaiting their turn at pierside or on the change of tides to depart. They’d given wide berth to the unfamiliar white-hulled warship that had appeared there.

Corney could appreciate the poetry of the scene even through the billows of coal dust the ship gave off while fueling. Everything would be dirty for a while.

Corney watched a bewildered figure in dress blues searched the dust-blackened deck. The little round officer with the little round face had clambered aboard the wrong ladder, apparently arriving with the morning’s coal. He saluted his way aboard and began asking questions of everyone nearby. Corney eventually took pity on him and spoke up.

“You’re Reed? Welcome aboard Atlanta,” he said. “I’m Horace Corney, Captain Whelan’s second. You’d be our new Olympian Affairs man, then.”
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by Vylar Kaftan

Keloc nuzzled his mate’s throat, licking the sweet oil mixed with her sweat.  Underneath the honey masking-scent, she tasted like fear.  Duv whimpered, her black fur rough beneath his tongue.  She lay across the bedding, on her spine, bent slightly backwards to expose the weak place where her pelvic and ventral bone plates met.  She wore a red-orange cloth tied around her right top-leg–a new decoration she’d made just for tonight with tanyan-root dye.  On the wall above her head she had scratched a spiral–a fertility symbol, for good luck.

Neither of them had done this before.  Keloc was just as frightened as she was, but he hid it.  He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing.  In his mind he saw Duv bleeding to death, clutching her belly as her lifeblood streamed out between her paws.  The image had haunted him all day.  His eyes flew open and he glanced next to the bedding.  The clay medicine pot sat there, in easy reach, next to Duv’s dye-pots and weaving projects.  Keloc ran his tongue against the back of his fangs and looked at Duv.

“Are you ready?” he asked her.

Below him, his mate nuzzled his top-leg and stretched her mouth.  She spoke no words, but he sensed that she was willing.

He exposed his drill from its sheath.  The organ was gray-white bone, extending from his right top-leg about the length of three paws.  Its narrow tip widened gradually to the base against his skin.  The Sacred Spiral’s groove circled its length.  His blood rushed through his body and warmed him.  Blood-chemicals, Griz had told him, although he had forgotten the exact word the older male had used.  Keloc had seen his organ during adolescence, but had never used it to inspire life in a female.  At the sight of it, Duv’s eyelids flared, but she said nothing.
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by Cat Rambo

“Allow me to pay for your drink, Lady Kara,” Leksander Oash drawled. “I know Fale has trouble at time with the bills.” Coins rang on the dust-gritted tavern table as the young nobleman stood with an unpleasant smile, staring at the woman a few tables away.

Behind him, his half-brother Alge guffawed, and one of the courtesans with the men tittered, a sound as brittle and false as the gilt bangles adorning her olive-skinned limbs. Her nails were tinted to match the bracelets and her dark eyes were kohl-shaded to give her the appearance of a midnight rendezvous even now at midday. The other courtesan held her fingers over her mouth, making it unclear whether she was amused, shocked, or sympathetic.

Karaluvian Fale knew she’d think of a thousand witty things to say as soon as Leksander and Alge exited through the hanging bead curtain of the inn’s entrance. She stared at her friend and servant Ionna’s sympathetic but speechless face across the table and finally, desperately, erected the public persona that stood her in good stead on these occasions.

“Dear Lord Oash,” she trilled, half-turning, pitching her voice to an annoyingly high pitch and letting her lavender bangs fall over guileless eyes. It was her “thinking of kittens” expression. “How kind of you! It’s so rare to see an Oash paying a bill. Shall I direct my house to take this as a declaration of interest?”
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by Jeremiah Tolbert

Topeka’s city lights make the low-hanging autumn rain clouds glow phosphorus orange. Against the clouds, I can see bats no wider than my hand. Not birds or moths. Bats. They make hairpin turns no bird could ever manage, snapping up the mosquitoes that have been so thick this summer. It’s a big happy bug hunt all taking place in the quiet dark.

I have never seen the bats before, even though I go for a walk (doctor’s orders on account of my blood pressure) every night along the same trail. It helps me calm down, and to stop thinking about the trouble I’ve gotten myself into.

It’s kind of freaky how something as simple as weather can reveal hidden truth. It’s not the bats themselves that get to me. I like them and their tricks, and without them, we would all be dying of malaria or something. What bothers me is that all this time, the bats have been flying only inches above my hat, and I just never knew. I didn’t know to look up.

It was the same with the mole men. I didn’t know to look down.
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by Yoon Ha Lee

When General Minkhir returned through the Winged City’s gates, her clay servant Chukash saw the emblem of conquest in her hand. This time it was a bronze crescent, drenched in blood as always. Chukash fell in beside her, holding a basin to catch the blood. The trees to either side of them straightened, the gray-brown limbs flushing to a green-tinged hue, but the street was as dry as it had been before the general’s departure weeks earlier. It was an inauspicious sign when the city’s need for water was still dire.

Chukash kept his head lowered all the way to the temple called the White Bowl. He counted the drops of blood, the red splashes before the basin absorbed all traces of death, or life, or anything human. He liked to think that the blood-beat was his pulse, and that it made him more human.

One time he had stumbled, spilling a drop of blood. It had left a mark on the road like a toeprint. Sometimes the toe on his left foot ached. The general had never reprimanded him for it, but he knew. And the city with its thousand eyes knew.
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by Ruth Nestvold

Cold. No date, no location. So cold, cold and hot, my fingers are burning. Where am I?

Devlin woke, jolting and in pain, and slowly opened his eyes. He was being carried on a stretcher through a white world: not the green-tinged paleness of the sleep chamber he had expected to see on waking, but a cold, earthly white with an orange cast, a white of muffled shapes and shadows. The people carrying the stretcher were bundled in heavy coats in shades of green and orange with hoods covering their heads and hems to their ankles. Furs and thick blankets of some soft material had been thrown over him.

He obviously was not on Jordan. Of course, he couldn’t be on Jordan; they had left Jordan, were on their way to Earth. After leaving the Epsilon Eridani system, the first shift crew had taken over and the rest of them had retired to sleep their way through the stars.

Something had gone wrong. Where was his crew? Where was he?

He decided to try his voice. “What happened?”

Two pairs of eyes trained on him, eyes so dark he could see no pupils in them, in faces coffee-colored like his own but hairier. Eyes that looked human but with an indefinable strangeness to them, other, different, in the middle of features that were familiar yet off somehow.

They spoke rumbling words in a language he’d never heard before. Overwhelmed, Dev allowed unconsciousness to take him again.
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