Thursday, September 17, 2009

Friday Fiction for September 18th, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Joanne over at An Open Book. If you haven’t already visited her blog and found MckLinky, be sure to drop by for some terrific fiction. There’s been some great stuff going on in Friday Fiction.

As promised, here is Part 3 of Hogs of the Heavens. If this is your first visit to the story, you’ll probably want to go back and read
Part 1 and Part 2 first, otherwise, this isn’t going to make much sense. In this part, you’ll find the abbreviation MAGL, for Meters Above Ground Level, and – yes – this week you’ll learn Mocking Sow’s real name.

Hogs of the Heavens
Part 3
By Rick Higginson

“Maybe his Soreness can drown out all dissenting voices, but there’s no way he can drown out the sound of Voidrunner lifting into the sky over his palace. I can take you to the colony vessel in orbit, and we can find out what really happened here.”

She twisted a bit of the rag that served as her clothing between her fingers. “I haven’t been away outside the Palace grounds since the day his Boarness took away my name.”

“The truth will restore your name to you. No one will ever mock you again, because they’ll know you were right all along. You lead me to a clearing, and let me use this Datab, and you’ll never have to wonder again if you’re crazy, and you’ll never have to suffer the laughter of the ignorant.”

She turned her face towards one of the open slits high on the wall. “The truth,” she said, in a low, reverent tone. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“What did you just say?”

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” she repeated. “It was written on an odd surface at the same site where I found that data thing. I remember it, because it fit perfectly what we worked for as scholars.”

“It’s a quote from Earth.”

“You can really do what you are promising? Our stories of humans don’t portray you as very trustworthy.”

“Our stories don’t exactly portray pigs well, either.”

She studied his face, no doubt as unsure about human expressions as he was about porcine mannerisms. “You can talk to this Voidrunner with my data thing?”

He brought it back up in front of him. “Command,” he said, and the Datab face glowed. "RSV Voidrunner access code, Cranberry Kinetic Thirty-Nine Status Green, confirm.”

“Transmitting,” the Datab replied, and then the voice changed. “Awaiting instructions, Cranston.”

“Ascend to four kilometers and localize transmission source, confirm.”

“Confirmed; securing for ascent, and commencing pre-flight diagnostics. Estimated time to target altitude, seven minutes. Localizer carrier characterized and locked; access of Datab confirmed. Datab anomaly; this is not a standard-issue Datab, Cranston. Please confirm Status Green.”

Shalom aleichem. Status Green confirmed.”

Aleichem shalom,” Voidrunner replied. “Proceeding with program, and will await instructions upon localizing transmission.”

“It – talks like a person.”

“It’s an artificial intelligence; a machine created to think and respond independently.”

“If we are from the same place you are, then how did we lose all of this?”

“I don’t know, and the only way to find out is access the records on the colony vessel in orbit. If you want answers, that’s where they’re going to be.”

She took one last look at the room, and then opened the door. “This way,” she said. She hurried back up the corridor until another crossed it, and turned towards the right. They took a left at the next crossing, and followed that corridor until it ended at a large door. She pulled it open to reveal a lush garden.

A pair of soldiers stood outside the door, and both turned to look at them. “Ho, Mocking Sow; is this the new mate we have heard about?” the one to the left of the door asked.

The other made no attempt to hide his squealing laughter. “It smells. Are you taking it to bathe before you make it your boar?”

“It needs exercise,” Mocking Sow replied. “I’m taking it to the playing fields so that it may run.”

The first soldier snorted. “Exercise? I’d say it needs feeding, as emaciated as it looks. Where did his Boarness find such a deprived-looking creature?”

“I heard the wastelands,” the second said. “Fitting; it appears nothing valuable has ever been wasted on it before.” He squealed at his own humor. “Don’t exercise it too much, or it won’t have any energy left to properly perform later.”

She hurried him on, keeping her neck bowed and gesturing that he should do the same.

“I smell?” he whispered when they were a short distance away from the soldiers. “They aren’t exactly the scent of pristine air from the filter system, either.”

“Please don’t be offended, Cranston, but you do have a very distinct odor. It’s very different from the individual scents we have.”

They ducked around various trees, and a branch laden with ripe oranges caught his eye. He reached for one, but she pulled his hand away from it and continued to rush ahead. Another tree held lemons, still small, green, and far from ripening. There seemed to be little logic to the layout of the trees, unlike the linear, organized groves of the colony farms. Different varieties of citrus were randomly mixed, and the trees could as likely be growing where an overripe piece of fruit had been discarded, as where a seeds had been specifically planted.

She pushed through thick branches, oblivious to the thorns that scratched at his exposed skin, and then stopped.

He stepped up beside her. The trees stopped at the edge of a flat field stretching hundreds, perhaps thousands, of meters into the distance. Vibrant vines covered the ground, with different varieties of squash and pumpkins at different stages of growth intermixing just as randomly as the fruit trees.

“Is this area open enough for you?” She asked.

“I’ll smash a few plants, but yeah; this is big enough for a whole fleet of scout vessels.” He removed the Datab from a pocket. “Voidrunner, status.”

“Altitude static at four thousand MAGL. Datab localized and targeted. Command?”

“Urgent extraction, one additional passenger, this locale. Status Amber; possible hostiles.”

“Confirmed. Estimated extraction in two minutes, thirty two seconds.”

“Come on,” he said, taking the lead for the first time. “The farther from the trees we are, and the farther from the palace we are, the better. If any soldiers are liable to hear Voidrunner and come out to stop us, I want to be able to see them well before they reach us.”

The wild vines made hurrying almost impossible. Each step had to be carefully lifted and placed to prevent catching in the chaotic loops and tangles, and before they managed to cover much distance, the sound of Voidrunner’s engines arrived overhead. The sound increased in volume rapidly as the vessel made its urgent descent into the field.

Mocking Sow stopped, staring upwards. “I never imagined - ”

“Welcome to the future, and to your past. Your ancestors had to have arrived on a similar, but larger vessel. Cover your eyes; things are going to get real windy in just a moment.”

Voidrunner pivoted as it descended, turning the hatch that was opening even before it touched down towards them. A bright yellow arc projected on the ground in front of them, defining the safe boundary against the landing zone.

Cranston looked back towards the trees. Several soldiers had emerged from the grove, and stood with jaws agape watching the descending craft. Their weapons hung from their hands, forgotten for at least the moment. Any sound or challenge they might have issued was lost in the rush of the engines. He shifted his glance between them and the projected boundary line.

The noise and turbulence decreased, and when the projected line turned green, he grabbed Mocking Sow and pulled her towards the ramp that extended from the hatch. Just at the threshold of the hatch she stopped, and he turned back to look at her. Her eyes were wide with fear and uncertainty, but behind her several of the soldiers had found their nerve to offer pursuit.

He looked into her eyes. “Give me your hands, and trust me,” he said, taking a firm grip on both of her wrists.

“Cranston, I - ”

“No time,” he said, and braced his heels on the raised lip of the hatch. He threw his weight backwards, pulling her off-balance and down atop him. Before she could react, he rolled her to the side away from the hatch, putting himself atop her. “Secure hatch and ascend,” he yelled.

Voidrunner immediately started climbing in a banking turn, and the hatch sealed into position with a hiss. The acceleration slid them against the bulkhead, and he waited until the turn leveled off into the nose-high climb. “I’m sorry; there were soldiers heading for us, and if they got too close, I’m afraid Voidrunner might have initiated defensive actions. I didn’t want to see them hurt just for doing their duty.” He pushed up onto his hands and knees, and then got his feet back under him. He offered her a hand up.

“I think I should stay down here,” she said. “I feel strange.”

Voidrunner, status?” he asked.

“Currently ascending through three thousand MAGL, heading ninety on polar reference at current speed of two hundred fifty meters per second.

“Stabilize altitude and speed at four thousand MAGL.”

The nose dropped to level flight, and the acceleration eased back. “Stable flight at four thousand, six hundred, seventy two MAGL. Shall I descend to four thousand?”

“Negative,” he said. “Hold this altitude.” He turned his attention back to her. “Come on; where we’re going, you can’t stay on the floor. You need to be strapped into a seat.”

She reluctantly took his hand, and slowly got to her feet. He led her into the cockpit, and settled her into one of the spare seats. As soon as she was settled, the restraints extended and snugged around her. He smiled to reassure her. “Don’t worry; my seat will do the same thing. Where we’re heading, we can’t be loose when Voidrunner is maneuvering.” He handed her a bag. “If you think you’re going to vomit, hold this around your mouth. We don’t want that floating loose around the cabin, either.”

He took his seat at the console, barely noticing as the restraints fastened around him. “Orbital status?”

“Status clear,” Voidrunner replied. “Command?”

“Plot course for the Erikson, ascent optimal.”

“Confirmed. Estimated rendezvous with Erikson in three hours, six minutes. Passenger, please identify.”

Cranston pivoted his seat to face her. “You need to tell Voidrunner your name, so it can allow you passenger interface.”

She looked around, as if to locate the source of the vessel’s voice. “I’m Mock - ”

“No,” Cranston stopped her. “Your name. I don’t want to hear that title for you again. That boar may rule in the palace and on the surface, but up here, he has no authority. Up here, you’re under our rules, and our rules require actual, legal names.”

She held up a bit of the rags she wore. “Could I have real clothing again?”

“I don’t carry much in the way of supplies, but I’ll see what I can do. For now, let’s start with your name.”

“Minerva,” she said. “My name is Minerva. It’s been so long since I was allowed to say it, that I feared I might have forgotten it.”
To be continued.


Unknown said...

I am really enjoying these episodes. I can't wait to find out what happens next!

BethL said...

I was reading as fast as I could, wanting to find out what would happen. You did not disappoint! So glad to know Mocking Sow's real name. The "hog references and peculiarities" add a nice touch of humor to this sci-fi piece!

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

You're right. I read this part of the story, and I just had to go back and read the others to get the whole picture. You do a great job with the Sci-Fi. Many Sci-Fi writers include such complexities that the story and meaning behind it is hard to follow. Yours is just the right balance of intrigue, humor, and message.