Plugs

Jason Fischer has a story appearing in Jack Dann’s new anthology Dreaming Again.

Luc Reid writes about the psychology of habits at The Willpower Engine. His new eBook is Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories.

Jonathan Wood’s story “Notes on the Dissection of an Imaginary Beetle” from Electric Velocipede 15/16 is available online.

David Kopaska-Merkel’s book of humorous noir fiction based on nursery rhymes, Nursery Rhyme Noir 978-09821068-3-9, is sold at the Genre Mall. Other new books include The zSimian Transcript (Cyberwizard Productions) and Brushfires (Sams Dot Publishing).

Lessons in the Dark

by Rudi Dornemann

Today’s story continues last week’s The Tale of the Astrolabe.


“Why am I learning all this?” asked Saan after his first day on the shore of the subterranean ocean.

The scorpion-man was the one who finally answered. “Study a year and a day, and you’ll know.”

“You’ll tell me?”

He didn’t answer, and if his carapace-skin hadn’t been translucent, Saan wouldn’t have seen his smile.

Beyond the sea-light’s shimmer, everything was unchanging darkness. Saan had no idea when days began or ended. He doubted he’d have much more sense of a year.

First thing after waking, he cleaned and repaired owl towers. Rather than keeping mice out of fields like their counterparts above, these owls kept lungfish from overrunning the delicate gardens of land-coral. Before sleep, Saan polished the astrolabes they hung to scare off the fish the owls didn’t get.

Between, he had lessons.

The troglodyte women taught about the world below. Irzell taught history and her sister Zirell, geography. Some days, he was sure they switched, but the subjects blurred anyway–listing Aldressorian battle-griots led naturally into recounting the shifting borders of their telling-lands down the years of the memory wars.

The baboon doffed his filigree robes for long strips of cloth like mummy wrappings to teach combat, hand and blade. He had to repeat every move a hundred times before Saan could make his far less flexible body imitate the vaguest shadow of the motion.

Saan sat with the scorpion-man for hours, rehearsing protocol, which was even more elusive than the other subjects. If you were given a snail, the proper thing was to praise the sky over the land of the snail-giver’s birth. Unless you were in the south of Uil, where saying anything before eating the snail was a mortal offense. Unless this was during the festival of Noltu, and the snail was spiced. Then you needed to feign sneezing, and remember that loudness counted for sincerity among the Uilish…

Saan had gone from wondering why he was learning these things to wondering if he was learning anything.

Irzell sensed his uncertainty. “There are patterns to everything. All knowledge is written in stars above us.”

“We’re in a cave,” said Saan, but, looking up, he saw faint glints on the far-off cave ceiling.

“The knowledge of a dozen lost libraries is there, encoded.”

“But how do you decode…” he said, and remembered the garden’s astrolabes.

A year and a day didn’t seem quite as long.

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