The Human HuntersGlossaryThe Human Hunters by TPArchie
Year: 2372 Mankind
(system to be confirmed)
Flower to Tree (colony destroyed)
Oighunii II (being terraformed)
Oighunii V (outermost gas-giant)
- Phaben Point (sole starpoint)
Aellyn, last surviving colonist from Flower to Tree (presumed dead)
Banuggi, second starwatch officer, Phaben Point (deceased)
Dreksin, star sergeant, Phaben Point (deceased)
Folens 4 (paradise)
Star travel: Slocum physics
- nb Slocum effect damages atmosphere of nearby planets
The Human Hunters1 - Phaben PointThe Human Hunters by TPArchie
"Come in! Come in!" Second starwatch officer, Banuggi, waited tensely by his console, sweating. He'd just disturbed star-sergeant Dreksin. Dreksin was a stickler for formality and procedure, and Banuggi lived in fear of his tongue. There were certain times of the day when the star-sergeant was busy with administrative duties; times when he should only be disturbed in case of dire need. But procedure was procedure. There was still no reply from the starship approaching Phaben Point.
Of course, Phaben Point was also manned by commercial interests but, apart from a couple of newly colonised, outlying systems; Oighunii system was the end of the trade road. Even the 'oid belts were slim pickings so wild-cat prospectors turned their noses up at Oighunii system. That would change once Oighunii II was ready to go, but that was a long time off; the planetary seeding teams on Oighunii II had years of work to get to that point. In practise, EarthGov-u military mo
The Human HuntersPrologue - XenophidThe Human Hunters by TPArchie
Aellyn shrugs aside the bitter wind. Her parents are here. They’ve been here many days, well over a week. Here in Flower to Tree.
Flower to Tree.
Beware its honour guard of wired fencing tangled into thickets of mesh, held tight by the serrated tears to its fabric; a deadly trap of tangled wire. Razor edged. Not to be approached.
Look at the control tower. Gaping sections makes the edifice ragged. Three stories high – topped by a mast that droops at a doleful angle.
The sound echoes dully through fresh ruins. The little still standing hasn’t had time to fall down.
A recent depredation. No new signs. Yet.
In places partly fallen masonry gives the illusion of shelter. A bitter comfort in these left over shreds of a former settlement.
Flower to Tree is become ruin.
Beyond this ruin, fields already show signs of returning to their native biology. Alien biology. No longer kept at bay.
And at the edge
The Final Meeting"Look, I'm here under duress. I didn't want to come."The Final Meeting by TPArchie
"Tough! Now Mr Ridiet, as I was saying, I just want to go through these accounts."
"I'm not intereste-r-r-r-d
"£400 - flowers ..... £750 - night out at Columbus."
"He found America!"
"Columbus POLE-DANCERS..... now let me continue. £3,750 - trip to Caribbean ..... £7,500 - hotel hires ..... £13,750 - a motorbike."
"It's my money. I need a bike if I'm going to ride."
"This is your Tax-Return. These aren't allowable expenses for tax, Mr Ridiet. make your payment to the Inland Revenue or your goods are forfeit ..... including your bike. By Monday."
Back in 2010 change was in the air. It always is. In this case the blogging platform of The Daily Telegraph (of London) was being upgraded. For some years, a commenting system had been in place allowing online readers to discuss topics of the day. The process worked well for much of the time but was, in the normal course of events, prone to abuse, which was naturally moderated. The system was creaky and the revamp was hopefully a step forward. As is the way of things, implementation went poorly - the Interest Groups flagged. The place had a really intuitive title: My Telegraph.
I'd joined My Telegraph back in 2008 as a potential blog place but never tried to use it. My blog was on MySpace - we all know the doom that met MySpace (spawn of the Doom that Came to Sarnath for all you Lovecraft lovers). Inevitably everything on MySpace, including blog functionality, imploded.
The My Telegraph I moved to was in little better shape but it was supported. The interest groups were wreckage though. By Fall / Autumn 2010, My Telegraph had just finished its transition. For its new look were Wordpress blogs, Disqus commenting and a halfway house arrangement for the Interest Groups. The Groups were a mixed bag: History, Football, Expat, Finance and quite a few more. And then there was Creative Writing. Commenting was across everything - articles, group topics and blogs. Yet some savvy commenters had got the hang of this and were conducting ferocious vendettas against each other. But it was mostly a fearsome mess.
Creative Writing caught my eye though. I'd just written a novel but I'd never been in a writing group before, let alone a Creative Writing Group. This one had lots of members but no one was actually running the group or facilitating competitions - it was dying a slow death. To cut a long story short, I kick-started the competition (and ran it a couple of years). It took me a while to get into short story mode but by December 2011 I was producing short fiction with just a hint of the fantastic or a smidgen of speculation.
The following became the title story of my first collection Ice Made and other stories
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No wind today. The sun still peeped above the southern horizon, casting long shadows. Allen stumped back to his cabin, tools carefully collected together, mittens on. Open the door and quickly in. Shut tight. Conserve the heat.
In several days he’d need to head back to civilisation. Mix with people. Find new factors. See if there was any interest in his work.
Allen checked his tools. Not power tools. Not toys for speed junkies. If he wanted quick results, he’d go see the festival in Harbin. Instantaneity was fine for kids. He cultivated patience, carefully chipping away with his fine tools. A vision of perfection in his mind’s eye. How close would his ice sculpture be?
There was more than Harbin; Ekaterinburg and Perm were international snow & ice sculpting championships, closer to home was the Crystal Garden International Ice Carving Competition in Ottawa. And there were others – events he rarely attended. Fashion moves on. He was true to his calling. Eking a precarious existence from small commissions. Sometimes just living off the wild while he practised his craft. Here, by Lac Opiscoteo; twenty miles from Labrador City.
Older now. Much older. Allen felt the ice and cold in his bones. Each summer too brief. Each winter, longer, colder, harsher. Yet he still loved the snow and ice. And the shapes he carved.
Not nonsense, but things and creatures of the cold. Why portray a palm tree or a pineapple. They belonged to another clime. It was limiting, but he’d rather do igloos than pyramids. Cold, snow and frost; not warm, rain and mist. He banished reverie from thought and finished preparing a flask of coffee for the day.
Out he went. Out from the constant warmth of his cabin. Not far distant stood a lean-to – mostly recessed in the ground, where he kept pieces from the thin heat of the winter sun. Compacted snow and ice crunched beneath feet. Sparkled rainbows of white danced, brief scintillations of powdered dry hydration. Flashes of memory, dust of dreams.
“When’s he coming back?”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
“I’m serious. If there’s a ‘we’, I want to know what I’m committing to.”
“I told you. He’s never here, even when he is, he isn’t. We’re not married. That would be a mistake and he knows it.”
“So. Tell me something new.”
“He’s still up there. Expects me to follow.”
“What kind of life is that? You should be with me.”
“Sculpting he calls it. Anyway, I’ve had enough.”
“I sent a letter. He can like it or lump it. We’re through.”
Only last night’s dream. But where had he dredged up it from? Was that how it had happened? Maybe there’d been no-one else. She’d certainly sent a letter. He’d tried to ignore it to dull the loneliness. Abby hadn’t seen purity in his work, only old-fashioned obstinacy.
All many years ago. Now there was just him, alone with his work.
He was probably unsettled. His last visit to town had been a doleful affair. He’d gone to Labrador City early December. The meeting with his factors didn’t go well. They had changed and the agent he was used to dealing with had moved on. The new guy didn’t appreciate his laboriously sculpted pieces. It was made quite plain to Allen that quick results were expected.
Should he just throw aside the skills of a lifetime for crude tack? Three weeks in Labrador City and all for nothing.
A light but freezing wind bit nose, fingers and toes. All carefully wrapped.
Down he went. Down and into the lean-to, where this years art lived, almost ready to breathe and walk. Not quite finished. Nearly.
Snow-fox, crouched, fur blending to ground. Caribou, grazing; fragile crystal-like fronds for antlers. And her…. Arms raised to the sun or stars. Lissom and graceful. Not imploring, but exultant. Robed in delicate filigrees of ice.
Hardly the kind of weather for a lightly robed girl.
Today he would bring her out into the open. Perhaps remove some supporting struts – take pictures. The weather would bring her down in the end but he’d like her to be in the fullest light before he left.
Chip, chip, chip. The sounds of his work echoed through the treeless emptiness. Did a snow-hare avoid that sound? Was there a herd of caribou to hear and steer clear?
Three drinks he allowed from his flask in the day. The balance was thrown away. His body would tell him when to break for dinner. He concentrated on his task, careful. Not too slow, nor fast.
Chip, chip, grind, scrape and wipe. On he laboured.
Two hours after dinner he stopped. Ready to bring her out. The breeze had fallen, slowed to an empty sough. Out was she eased, her legs ended not at her feet but merged into a solid base with runners; so she might move better on the snow.
Out into the little light. A last few finishing touches. Allen checked her for stability. No rocking. Good.
Light gradually faded.
He looked at her, outstretched arms, left leg striding forward, robed to the knees. She was as good as done.
Carrying his tools, he went back to the cabin. A couple more logs on the fire then tools away. A few more days and he’d call it quits for the season. There was still light – time for some pictures. Where was his camera?
A sudden tiredness washed over Allen. Age? Stress? Fatigue? Take it easy. Outdoor gear still on, he sat on the bunk. The cabin was warm.
And thoughts wandered. The young ice-woman had reached a good point. A satisfying conclusion, even without buyers. His work wasn’t for naught for he loved each of his works as only an artist can. He’d put much of himself into the ice maid. But he couldn’t share his dreams, so why go on? With no new factor, how could he continue? His life was all but done – yes there were years in front of him – but his time had passed. What good was a life of mere existence? One where his creations were wanted by none? Sadness touched him and he fought the despair that beckoned. Then in tiredness he slept.
As in a dream the conversation came to keep him company. Abby. Talking to another. A man. Was that Abby’s lover?
“When’s he coming back?”
“I don’t want to talk about that….”
An exchange he saw as if from great distance. Vague, remorseless shapes that seemed to fade in mere moments, along with that repeated conversation. Was he dreaming again? A half remembered dream, of an imagined conversation? But he and Abby were all gone and done, many years ago. Sacrificed to his art. So why this? Why question himself now?
The blackness of dream formed a face to ask, cool and reflective voice. Eyes of white fire. Pale lips. Human, inhumanly beautiful, she. And it seemed he heard a question,
“What would you have changed?”
He knew that the pattern of the past could not change. And there came the question again, put differently,
“You are true to you. But what of the void ahead? What for you? What would you change?”
The face before him was limned in the white fire of ice. Exquisite.
And he knew; for had he not lovingly wrought that face from ice. His thought then touched on those hidden things; the ones men dare not name, but might ardently crave. But all he said was,
“I – I gave much to bring you to beauty.”
What of those words forming themselves, struggling to be uttered? Words he dare not say? ‘I would give more, aye all, that you might live.’ A hidden desire, plain to him though he held back. He would surrender life itself, that his ice maid might live. A thought he dared not speak. Not even in dream.
That loveliness without flaw, rushed to him – till it seemed all his waking dream were filled by perfection. Wild paroxysms of lightning lashed about.
He awoke with a start.
Was that the fire?
Had his statue, carved of ice, fallen?
Oh no! Had the wind got up, blowing her over? Only that would explain the sound. How long had he slept?
Quick, he must dress – he was already dressed.
The door. The door. One, two strides and Allen was to it.
It would be minus goodness knows what outside.
Allen prepared himself, inwardly flinching at the expected damage.
Fingers scrabbled at handle and latch.
My Ice Maid’s gone! Where is she?
But down, huddled against the door, was a shivering form.
What? Who’s this? Where has she come from?
He half dragged, half carried her inside. Strip sopping clothes.
Temperature shock! Quick, towels, blankets!
He wrapped them round the young woman shivering at his feet, all thought of ice sculpting banished.
Next? A coffee? A tea? He slipped a look at her. Pale, fragile, long blonde-white locks hidden under a mountain of blankets and towels. Perhaps yesterday’s broth would be better.
Allen busied himself on his self-appointed task.
The violent shivering passed and she felt herself thaw. She was beginning to feel… human. She looked at her pale, almost translucent skin and wondered how long this form might last.
With keen interest, she watched his hard angular form as he moved; busy, determined, earnest. Something stirred in her. Did he still remember how it all worked? She looked down at the firm globes of her breasts and moved the blankets and towels. Her cleavage was plain but she moved them more, so there would be no doubt. He would steal at glance at her soon.