• Extra Stories

    Story Treat: Filled Spaces (Empty Vessels)

    The below is a short story treat starring characters from Empty Vessels, as requested by Nicole. Warning: This treat is set very near the end of the story and contains spoilers; if you haven’t read the book first, go ahead and do that–it’ll still be here when you get back! 

     

    Hiraeth lowers himself onto his futon with a soft oof as his entire body aches with the effort. His skin feels, more than ever, like a foreign entity, a bag shaped like a person, now patched up and straining at the edges as movement reminds him of all the places where part pulls on part. He licks his upper lip and tastes copper there, his lip split again. He must have been grimacing.

    His tiny bachelor apartment has never felt so big.

    The fact is, he thinks, as he pulls the blankets up over himself with a shiver, wanting both the warmth and the weight of them on his body, the fact is, he’s never been very good at making room for other people and then just filling that space up by himself again. Marion commented on it, before he sent her back to her own home, a sort of dry, sympathetic, Won’t you be lonely? They might not come back.

    I’m used to being alone, he’d said, with no trace of irony.

    Her new face doesn’t show much expression, but then, her old face never had either. You fall in love too easily, she’d said.

    It ‘s a long-standing point between them that would be contention if either had ever put the sharp edge of their feelings on the matter against each other. They don’t; they keep those blades inside themselves and just understand instead. They both react to their losses in their own way; she closes up, he opens more. He remembers being on the brink of feeling his nature change and refusing, throwing himself into life, music and dancing and love. He doesn’t put reins on his heart at all. It moves where it wants and drags him behind it.

    “It’s a good thing I’ve got good taste,” he mutters to himself, just to hear the humor in his voice and cheer himself up with it. She might say it’s too easy, but at least he knows what he likes. Determination. Hope. The decision to do the right thing, the thing that helps others. People whose natural instinct is to withdraw, who have everything stacked against feeling any good thing but who face their fears and decide to live, like he has.

    He groans, rolling until he’s face down in the pillow. His antlers catch his blankets and wind them around him; he kind of likes the sensation, being wrapped tight like he could hold himself in, and allows it.

    The pillow still smells like Keith, sweaty and awkward and a bit greasy, and he laughs to himself into the pillow as he lets himself huff it. It makes him feel a little less alone. It had been so crowded here recently, Keith and Lucas, then Keith and Marion, then Marion, and now just him again. But nobody goes anywhere without leaving some element of their presence. He’s always held onto that as his only defense against how big and lonely the world is, how quickly people, humans, come and go from it.

    Here, now, he has scent and memory, Keith in his chair, sitting stiffly as he tried to figure out the best way to protect everyone, protect Hiraeth. Keith sitting on his bed, trembling and afraid and determined to move ahead anyway. Keith sobbing here in his arms, pouring out the loss of another and the loss of his own hopes. Keith’s face screwed tight in pleasure as he allowed himself to accept help. Hiraeth had memorized that, etched its lines into himself so that he could draw on it years later as needed.

    Keith’s warm presence at his back. He could call that back now, too, his own terror and exhilaration as they fought, and Keith right behind him, fighting too, keeping them safe as they acted recklessly to save Lucas. To save all of them.

    The parts Lucas had left were stranger. Not even in the normal strange way that ghosts leave traces of their passing, the hollow spaces, strange chills and darknesses as death tries to remember what it’s forgetting. Hiraeth hadn’t known Lucas, not really; he liked what little he had known of him, and liked even better how important he knew Lucas was to Keith. Having already come to love Keith, he knew that Lucas must be something else.

    But he hadn’t known-known that, not until he was unable to move, facing death down himself, and felt Lucas pour himself into this body that Hiraeth had claimed for his own. Under most circumstances, it would have been the worst sort of intrusion. An Other’s vessel reflected their metaphors, reflected what symbols they still laid claim to, was a thing they had remade into themselves. And even as things were, it was strange to share it, a nearly-dysphoric reminder that his body was separate to himself, that his space was just a space to be filled.

    But. But.

    But pouring off Lucas was that same recognition that it was weird, not really great, felt wrong—Hiraeth’s body couldn’t be further from Lucas’s own, and Lucas’s own was long gone and six feet deep. But even so, he was determination, he was passion. Lucas poured himself into Hiraeth to do what Hiraeth couldn’t do any more, to get him up, to make him run, to force him to move and live and carry on in this vessel instead of having to abandon it to the fire. He had felt Lucas’s soul wrap around him like strong arms to pick him up, a promise that he wouldn’t let anything happen to him. Everything in Lucas was striving towards life—not for himself, because he couldn’t, but for others.

    I won’t let you die, Lucas had promised to Hiraeth. Hiraeth lets out a sob into his pillow, surprising himself, as he remembers that feeling. He can’t remember the last time someone promised him that they would take care of him. He can’t remember the last time he knew they meant it, either.

    Get me home, he’d responded, and Lucas had, carrying Hiraeth inside Hiraeth’s own body, feeling Hiraeth’s feelings like they’d been his own, just as Hiraeth had felt Lucas’s feelings: that bone-deep goodness, that care, that hope, that newly-realized love he’d discovered with Keith moments earlier.

    “Maybe I do fall in love too easily,” Hiraeth mumbles into the cushion, but this time he says it, he’s smiling a bit, lips wet and coppery, eyes wet and stinging. He rolls over again, the blankets hurting with how tight he’s cocooned himself, but that’s fine. It sort of feels good too, an embrace.

    They might not come back again. He knows that. Keith hadn’t ever been involved with Others before this, and had gone through loss and pain and nearly death to help them. And Lucas goes where Keith goes.

    If they don’t, he’ll be fine. Hiraeth knows that. The easier you love, the easier you lose, so he’s lost lots of loves before, to death and time and distance and just it not being right between them. Whether or not they come back to see him again, he’ll react the same way: he’ll smile and laugh and live and always move forward and open himself up even more.

    If they don’t, he’ll still have the moments and memories that they left with him, those things filling the spaces their presence left.

    If they don’t, they don’t.

    But he hopes they do.

  • Extra Stories

    Story Treat: Upgrading (The Cybernetic Tea Shop)

    The below is a short story treat starring characters from The Cybernetic Tea Shop, as requested by Doug. If you have a scene you’d like to see with any of my characters, drop me a line over here before the end of December!

     

    “I’m sorry,” Clara says, as gently as she can. “But there’s no such thing as a battery that can last forever.”

    The box is still clutched loosely in Sal’s hands. She’s disappointed; Clara can tell that much from how the lenses of her eyes have widened, so that Clara can only see three or so of the concentric rings, rather than the seven or eight of when Sal is interested and focused. Her face doesn’t show it much, though; she just lowers that wide-lensed gaze to the box she is carrying.

    “He told me that it was a new product,” Sal says. “That it was somewhat experimental. But it should be compatible with the old Sarah units, and charge through the energy created when I move about.”

    It hurts, to try to discourage Sal like this. That Sal wants a guarantee that her battery will last isn’t a bad thing; you’re supposed to live when you’re alive, after all.

    Clara takes the box from Sal and opens it, shaking the battery out into her hand. She examines it carefully, the shape, the manufacturer’s code, the product number. She even hooks it up to her screens to run a full diagnostic on it, just in case.

    “I’m sorry,” she says again, finally. “This battery is pretty uncommon to see, so they probably thought they could pull one over on even the most astute users. It’s a proprietary brand for a specific farming robotics company—it stopped being used about ten years ago. Whoever sold you this must have bought up a stack of these from the company and repackaged them. It’s a scam, sweetheart.”

    Sal nods slowly. She folds her fingers together, filling the space where the battery had been. “That’s all right,” she says. “I can make do.”

    “It’s not really all right,” Clara grumbles. Discontentment churns in her gut “Someone out there tried to take advantage of your fears. That’s not all right.”

    “I’m fine, though,” Sal says gently. She shifts over, unclasping her hands to put one on Clara’s shoulder. “See? I’m a little embarrassed. But that’s all. Except…”

    “Except?”

    Sal glances down again. “I can make do,” she says. “There aren’t many others like me, but those that are… are probably also wearing down. They might not have a mechanic like you in their lives. Someone they trust. To me, it might have been… useful? A relief, but a relief in thinking about the future, not the present. For them, it might be more …pressing.”

    That discontentment wants to erupt into fury. Clara lifts a hand and squeezes Sal’s. “I’ll see what I can do,” she promises.

    And she does. She starts with sending out messages to acquaintances of hers—her area doesn’t lie in ‘investigative programming’, as it were, but she’s worked in lots of places and has lots of contacts. It takes less than a day for the host of the online parts shop that Sal bought the battery from to take the site down, and only a day and a half for the robotics ethics committee to promise to follow up with the site’s owner, whose identity was uncovered by the host—and cross-referenced by a few of Clara’s contacts, so she’s sure that the name they found wasn’t a cover.

    The rest takes longer. Clara has already done all the research on the best parts to swap into a Sarah unit, but Sal wasn’t the only type on the market from Artiface Industries, let alone from other old robotics manufacturers. Clara spends a while working with Sal to uncover a complete a list as she can, and then folds her contacts into that as well, starting up debates on what currently-available options are the best substitutes for parts that stopped being manufactured long ago, what converters might be needed, what additional items could be acquired, and from where. When she has more time she’ll add an algorithm sort through additional suggestions based on what a user is searching for and what they have purchased already. For now, getting a functional base is most important.

    When she gets it online, it’s as complete as she can make it without delaying the release too much, and she knows it will only become more complete as new people find it and weigh in. Her contacts have promised to pass it onto their contacts, shop owners and resellers and unions and professors. They’ll list it where they can. She hopes it will become as widely available as possible, and easier to find than any individual scammer.

    It’ll require a lot of work to keep updated, even with the automatic submission of items from trusted sources.

    But then again, it’s a lot of work for the end users to keep themselves updated, too.

    “I hope you don’t mind that I’m sharing hosting with your shop for now,” Clara says, as she finishes explaining. “It seemed like the fastest way to get the database up. I can see about moving it over later—”

    “No, this is fine,” Sal says. “It seems appropriate. Cybernetics and tea.” She slides a cup of the aforementioned tea into Clara’s hands; Clara accepts it gratefully. Sal’s voice is warm. She seems impressed—no, Clara thinks. Not impressed.

    Inspired.

    Sal keeps her hands apart a little after handing Clara the cup, like she’s holding that hope in them again. She says, “You’ll need to show me how to keep this current.”

    “I don’t mind doing it—”

    “I know,” Sal says. She puts her arms around Clara and sighs, holding her between them too, warm and heavy and comfortable. “I just mean… for the future.”

  • Extra Stories

    Story Treat: Winter’s Light (Empty Vessels)

    The below is a short story treat starring characters from Empty Vessels, as requested by Achichinkla. If you have a scene you’d like to see with any of my characters, drop me a line over here before the end of December!

     

    The horned boy sits on the bone girl’s couch and turns his antler over and over in his hands as the bone girl attempts to stick a bandaid over the lightly bleeding stump.

    “Winter is the worst,” he complains. Neither of them are particularly fussed about this moment; it happens every year at this time. The other antler will soon follow suit; annoyingly, they never seem to go at the exact same time. It doesn’t hurt much, but the change in weight is disorienting, tilting his head against his will.

    The bone girl frowns and sticks a second bandaid on. He can feel the glue catch in his hair, but that’ll come out with time too. “You’re like the sun,” she says.

    He knows her well enough by now that he can almost follow her leap in logic. His eyes track to the yule log burning in her hearth; it was taken from the forest out back, found on her land, as tradition required, and started with the last charcoal from the previous year’s yule log. A celebration of new light being born from the old. Like the sun, his antlers will regrow with the spring. “We’re all like the sun,” he counters. “Yourself as well, m’love.”

    After all, Others like the two of them are just an essence that carries on between bodies. When the bone girl isn’t bone any longer, her life will still bear the same light she has now.

    The bone girl wrinkles her nose. “That too,” she allows, but it’s clear that something that existential wasn’t entirely what she meant. She kisses his forehead, smudging the blood trying to trickle down there, and takes his antler from him. That she carries into her kitchenette, to place with the rest of the bones she collects to eat. He’s glad he can, at least, provide her this; he’s a good source of free bone, though only once a year.

    She comes back out a moment later, bringing out the tea she’s been steeping. He takes his mug with a smile, and doesn’t drink, because he knows how bitter her tea is, but he lets it warm his hands as she settles in beside him, sipping her own tea.

    They watch the yule log burn. He leans his side against hers, letting the unbalanced weight bear his head to her shoulder and, despite the throbbing in his forehead, he is content.