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).

Susannah Mandel’s short story “The Monkey and the Butterfly” is in Shimmer #11. She also has poems in the current issues of Sybil’s Garage, Goblin Fruit, and Peter Parasol.

Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “The Devonshire Arms” is available online at Clarkesworld.

Kat Beyer’s Cabal story “A Change In Government” has been nominated for a BSFA award for best short fiction.

The Tale of the Astrolabe

by Rudi Dornemann

Beyond the city lay fields of grain watered by irrigation tunnels from under the mountain. Between the fields and the herdsmen’s savannah stood a line of towers, roosts for owls who kept the fields clear of mice. Tower-keepers patrolled with slings, killing any snake that might climb up to raid eggs from the nests.

A boy named Saan was one of the few not born into the role–his mother and grandmother arranged the job, hoping he might be the first male in five generations of their family not to be devoured by lions while tending the herds.

One evening, as he walked the path between towers, he saw an owl disappear down a dry irrigation tunnel, an astrolabe in its talons and he ran after it, thinking that whatever magus had lost the instrument would pay a good reward for its return.

Down he ran and down, not realizing how far he’d gone until the dog-headed guardians challenged him with riddles. Saan had heard enough stories to know that the first answer was always “death;” the second, “fear;” the last, “hope.” As he answered the final riddle, a cart drawn by dozens of fennec foxes drew up. He climbed on, and they rolled away into the darkness.

The cave went on, a moonless, starless midnight desert of salt dunes. The only light was an occasional ruby glow deep under the salt-sand, by which Saan could see his fellow-travelers–a pair of elderly troglodyte women, a baboon in a filigree robe, and a scorpion-man with translucent carapace skin and sting-tipped fingers. They rode for hours, and Saan’s stomach rumbled with hunger even though the baboon had shared some dates and the scorpion-man had passed around a bowl of candied scarabs.

The cave narrowed to a tunnel which brought them to the shore of a silent, faintly luminescent sea, along which stood a line of towers like those he’d left above.

“We have arrived,” said the scorpion-man, and the others nodded.

“Where?” said Saan.

“The place of your training,” said the baboon.

“Of your testing,” said the troglodyte women in unison.

Saan saw that the fennec-drawn cart stood near the passage back to the salt desert.

“Can’t I just go home?” said Saan.

“Anytime,” said the scorpion-man.

Then Saan saw that the entrance to the cave passage was carved like the mouth of an immense lion.

“I guess I’ll stay,” he said.

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2 Responses to “The Tale of the Astrolabe”

  1. Kat Beyer Says:

    April 22nd, 2010 at 6:38 am

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Rudi Says:

    April 22nd, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Thanks, Kat!