Out of Lightspeed

A loud ding echoed through the ship’s intercoms, indicating an announcement from the onboard computer. “Imminent collision detected. Dropping out of lightspeed.”

Ashe flung herself from her bunk. She grabbed her jumpsuit from the back of her chair as she rushed towards the cockpit. “Why’d we drop out?”

“Imminent collision detected.”

“Yeah, I heard you. Tell me why. Run a scan.” The cockpit door slid open. Ashe tugged on the suit and jumped into the control seat.

“Scanning.”

Ashe checked the route. She was nearly halfway through her trip. With the hauler being thrown off-course, she’d need to plot a new route with at least one stop to realign.

“Scan complete. Three targets approaching.”

For a moment she thought they might be asteroids, but knew better when the movement indicators started swirling on the viewscreen. They wove around each other in tight circles, a favored approach tactic for a squadron of light craft to avoid taking fire in formation. Her hauler had light cannons, but she wouldn’t be able to scrap three zippy ships before being torn apart herself.

“Where’s the nearest Guild location?”

“Outpost 372 on Fascillum. Two hours and seven minutes away at lightspeed.”

“Plot it.” She watched the course generate. She’d be intercepted before the engines were ready to engage lightspeed again. “Damn. Anything else nearby?”

“Pariah Corporation Fueling Depot. Sixteen minutes away at lightspeed.”

Ashe grunted. There was no time for a distress call, either. She couldn’t outrun fast little fighters for long in a cargo hauler. Even if she managed to run, there was no guarantee anyone nearby would respond to her distress call, and her pursuers would surely hear it first. “Okay. Plot a course for the fuel station. Get the lightspeed engines primed for a jump when we’re aligned. Keep a full scan running, I need details on those ships.”

“Course ready. Engines priming. Scan–“

“Silent mode. Put the details on the viewer when you’ve got them.” Ashe took a deep breath. They had to be pirates, or at least something unfriendly. The hauler was equipped with a sensor package to identify security, police, and military vessels. These were none of the above, and they were closing in with the haste of a squadron out for blood.

Another ding in the cockpit indicated that she was being hailed. Ashe sighed with relief. At least they weren’t the type to shoot first and loot the wreckage. She flipped the comm switch. “Courier’s Guild hauler 262966 responding to your hail.”

“Stay where you are and keep the comm open. If you run, you die. Got it?”

The voice was male with an ordinary core-world accent. “In accordance with Guild policy–”

“No legal jargon. Say you got it or you’re dead.”

“Okay, got it.”

“Anyone else in there? Looks like a one-crew, but I don’t like surprises.”

“It’s just me.” The ships had come close enough for the scan to get more information. Readouts popped up on the viewscreen. Two of the craft were light fighters flying below their top speed to keep pace with the third ship. The fighters were outdated, probably acquired after some small-time planetary dispute had blown over. The other ship was something else entirely. It was a doofer, short for a do-it-yourselfer, a ship that was built from the parts of other ships. Like most doofers, it was a mess. It was the soaring remnants of at least seven other ships. The doofer was bigger than the fighters but still a fairly small craft.

“Hey, you catch the fight?”

“What?”

“The fight? From the Savage Coalition? Typhoon Hansen and Liza Maccuddoch are going at it. Supposed to be the biggest duel of the year now that they both got their buffs. Typhoon got these crazy burning knives and Mac’s new shieldsuit is ridiculous. The datastream hasn’t reached us yet, we’re too far out. Savage streams from Hareldon, so I thought it might’ve reached you back before you hit the jump.”

They know where I went into lightspeed. If they know the starting point, they know the whole course. They came after me specifically, so they want something specific. Ashe struggled to keep up with her thoughts. “Uh… no.” She stumbled through the words. “Sorry. I’m not into bloodsports.” There must be something valuable in the hold. She pulled up the cargo manifest and started scrolling through, searching for anything odd.

“Shit. I was hoping you could tell me how it went. We’ve got a betting pool going. Okay, listen, here’s how it’s gonna go. We’re gonna board you. We watch you and look through the stuff you’re hauling. If you’ve got what we want, we take it, we leave. All nice and friendly. We’ll keep our helmets on so you don’t see our faces and our voices will be scrambled. Including this one. Not my real voice. Sounds good, though, right?”

Ashe paused awkwardly as he stopped talking, distracted by the manifest. “Sure?”

“Be honest. Always be honest with me, lady.”

“You sound fine.”

“Good. It was a total pain in the ass to configure. Last few calls, I sounded all robotic. Anyway, you don’t know who we are, so we can let you go when we’re done.” Not likely, she thought. If she was carrying something valuable they wouldn’t take the chance. They’d probably kill her and chop up the hauler to expand their doofer. “You won’t get any heat from the Guild for letting us take something, it’s not like you could fight us off. Matter of fact, they’ll probably be thrilled with you for being so coolheaded under pressure and getting away alive. Or… hell, you know what? I’ll even let you fire off a few blasts with those peashooters you’ve got as we approach so you can be a real hero. Did your best to fight off the pirate menace, didn’t even tremble when we came aboard, and lived to tell the tale. I need to test the new armor on this thing anyway. Just the doofer, though. Leave the wingmen alone.”

“No thanks. I’d rather comply peacefully.”

“Really? Shit, you might’ve gotten promoted. Okay, well, fine. That’s the deal. Go ahead and prep your airlock.”

There! Everything looked normal, but she was carrying three packages with unlisted destinations. Unlisted boxes are always tagged lost upon arrival. Lost packages just sit in the nearest sorting facility until someone shows up to claim their item. Whatever the pirates were after was almost certainly something in one of those.

“Lady? You’re not paying attention.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m a little shaken up.”

“Calm down. I just told you, it’s all gonna be fine. Real friendly, no violence. You stay peaceful, we stay peaceful. Grade-A kumbaya shit. You’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s not our first rodeo.”

“It’s mine.”

The voice laughed. “Hopefully your last, too.” He paused. “Oh, fuck, that came out wrong. Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound threatening. I just meant, you know, we part ways as friendly acquaintances who never want to meet again.”

“I know what you meant.”

“I’m sorry. Really sorry. Part of my job here is talking you through this. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s fine. I’m not worried.”

“Okay. Thanks. Open up your attachment ports and get your airlock ready, we’ll lock the hoopty up and come on in. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“See you in a few.”

The comm ended. “Silent mode off.” Ashe leapt out of her chair and ran back towards the hold. “Pull all boxes with unlisted destinations right now. Stack them at the front of the hold. Open attachment ports, prepare airlock pressurization.”

“Retrieving packages.” The cargo hold was equipped with a number of actuated arms which zipped around the walls and shelves to sort the ship’s cargo. By the time she entered the bay the boxes were neatly placed near the door. “Mutual docking prodecure engaged. Airlock pressurizing.”

Ashe grabbed the stack and ran back to the cockpit. The airlock opened as she got back into the control seat. “Lock down the cockpit. Lock down everything except the path from the airlock to the cargo bay. Open global intercom.”

“Partial lockdown engaged. Global intercom open.”

“Welcome aboard,” Ashe said. “The intercom’s active. I can hear you if you talk.”

“Nice ship you’ve got here, lady.” It was the same man. “I think you’d better come greet us in person.”

“I feel safer in the cockpit. No offense intended.” She grabbed a knife from her toolbox and started opening the boxes.

“We’d feel safer watching you.”

Ashe cut through the tape of a box as quietly as she could manage. “The cargo bay’s open. You can look through it. I just don’t want a gun to my head after that ‘last rodeo’ thing.”

Fuck. I really am sorry about that.” It was a red leather jacket, vacuum sealed in a bag. She tossed it aside. “Listen, I promise, you’re gonna walk away from this just fine. We just need to make sure you’re not trying to kill us.”

“I’m not. Feel free to do what you have to do in there.” She opened the next box.

“Okay. The hard way, then. Get out here or we’ll cut our way into your cockpit.” It was a wafflemaker in a box of its own. “Won’t take long. We brought plasmacutters.” Ashe tore through its box to be sure. It really was just a wafflemaker. It got tossed into the corner with the jacket. “Come out right now and there’s no harm done. Stay in there and you’re gonna end up getting hurt.” She heard the cutters in the background. They were already on their way.

“Okay. I’ll stop the lockdown. Intercom off.”

“Global intercom closed.”

Ashe ripped through the last box. Bingo. A datacard. She heard the cutters making progress and grabbed a small cutter of her own. “Unlock everything except the cockpit door.”

“Partial lockdown disengaged.”

It was less than a minute before she heard a knock against the metal. “Hey, now. You still have to come out. Last chance.”

Ashe lit her cutter and pressed a button on the control board to open the door. There were three of them, clad in jet black suits which covered their whole bodies. Their helmets were black, too; angular and polished to a sheen. They all had pistols at their sides. Ashe held the cutter to the datacard. “You all get off my ship right now or I burn this thing to ashes.”

The pirate in front cocked his head to the side. “The fuck are you talking about?” The other two glanced at each other.

“I’ll burn it.”

“Lady, we don’t want… whatever that is.”

“Don’t play games. I’ll do it.”

The pirate shrugged. “Okay. Burn it.”

Ashe hesitated. “I will.”

“Burn the damn thing so we can get on with this.”

“You really aren’t here for this? What the hell are you here for?”

“Lady, the less you know–”

“Boss,” another of the suits chimed in, “it’s right there.”

He pointed. Ashe looked. The corner.

“Ho-ly shit.” The leader slowly crouched and stared at the discarded items. “Yeah, that’s it.”

“You want… that junk?”

“Yeah. Get in the other corner nice and easy, lady.”

Ashe dove to the floor, holding her handheld cutter to the pile. “Get off my ship.”

Whoa! Fuck, hey, whoa, okay, stop. Don’t damage it!”

“Get off my ship. I’m taking this stuff to the sorting facility, whatever it is.”

“Okay. Hang on. Relax. We need that. It’s why we’re here. You really don’t know what it is?”

“A wafflemaker and a jacket?”

“Just the jacket. You can keep the other thing. You figured out it was sent without an address on purpose, huh? Pretty smart, lady. We got a tip-off about it. We need it.”

“What is it?”

“Seriously, the less you know–”

Ashe turned the cutter on.

Fuck! Stop, damn it. It’s an old Earth antique, okay? Really ancient. Pressure-sealed to keep it as near-mint as possible. It’s valuable. Very valuable. Look, let’s make a deal. I’ll give you fifty thousand credits for it right now.”

“What stops you from killing me the second you pay me?”

“I promise, I won’t. I just want the jacket.”

“No deal. Your word’s worth nothing. That money would make me complicit in your crime, anyway.”

“Shit.” The leader rubbed at his face, as if he forgot he was wearing a helmet. “Okay. New deal. I’ll take off my helmet, my gun, my gear. These guys take my stuff, get back in the doofer, and our fleet escorts you to that little fuel stop you charted towards. I stay on board. You give me the jacket and I’ll go into the depot’s convenience store to wait for my gang when we land. If we blew up your ship there all of their security cameras would see it. We’d be screwed. Look, you want to live, I want that jacket. This is the only way we both get what we want.”

Ashe thought about it. “You give them everything you’ve got. They fly away and don’t follow me for at least an hour. They can trail us afterwards. You get locked up in a closet until we land. Then you leave with the jacket. If anyone at the Guild ever finds out about this, I’ll say you hijacked the ship, took my information, and threatened to kill me and everyone I know if I told anyone. And you have to tell me what this thing really is.”

“Done.” He took off his helmet and started removing his gear. He was younger than Ashe had expected. “Ever heard of Michael Jackson?” His voice had changed. It was more tinny and anxious than before.

“Some famous singer from Old Earth, right?”

“Yeah. That jacket was his. It’s iconic. Have you heard Thriller?”

“I’m not really into classical music.”

“Too bad. It’s great, way better than that nu-synthojam shit everyone likes now.” He tossed his stuff to the other pirates. “Get back to the ship and get out of here. You heard the lady, at least an hour behind. Got it?”

“Sure, boss.”

“Boss, you gonna be okay?”

“Of course I am. Get out of here.” He watched his underlings leave. “So, can I see it?”

“No. It’s not yours until we land.” She took a deep breath. “Okay, new orders. Run a systemized lockdown while our guests are on their way out. Close every door behind them. As soon as they’re detached, jump to lightspeed. Get us to that fuel depot. Confirm commands the short way, please.”

“Commands confirmed.”

Ashe sighed. “How much are you gonna sell it for, anyway?”

“Sell it? Are you crazy? That was Michael’s jacket. I’m going to wear it.”

It didn’t take long to lock the kid up once his friends had left. Ashe plopped back into the control seat. I nearly died over a fucking jacket.

“Hey,” she said, “do we have any Michael Jackson in the onboard library?”

“Michael Jackson not detected.”

“Download some when you get a chance, next time we’re out of lightspeed.”

“Michael Jackson discography added to download queue.”

“How long until we hit that fuel stop?”

“Pariah Corporation Fueling Depot. Eight minutes away.”

“Refuel when we get there. Use the Guild account. Oh, and do me a favor. See if they sell waffle mix.”


Out of Lightspeed by Ethan Hedman

Letters from the Late King

The solemn tone of the great horn echoes through the city walls, signaling the passing of King Aldamus II. Nobles gather in the court to await the crowning of his heir. Commoners whisper wild gossip about their king-to-be, hoping to steal a glance of the young ruler during his customary ride through the capital. Before the occasion can take place, all are kept waiting while the late king’s final wishes are fulfilled.

Aldamus II’s will is the shortest in the kingdom’s history. It proclaims that four letters are to be delivered at once to the members of the royal family, carried by the late king’s most trusted servants and elite soldiers from his guard. The contents of these letters are not to be discussed, and the letters themselves are to be burned after each recipient declares themselves to have finished. Any interference with the delivery of these letters will be forcibly quelled, without exception.

The servants set to their tasks at once, each delivering their letter to the appointed member of the royal family. What follows here is the best kept of secrets: a complete account of the late king’s lost words.

* * *

Aldamus, my firstborn son and heir,

I have ruled our land for decades, crushing invaders and rebellions alike. I have led our people through famines and plundered the dens of my rivals for their fortunes. These deeds have made me beloved. Yet these accomplishments are nothing at all when compared to the future I have gifted our kingdom with.

My time runs short. It pains me to leave you, your siblings, and your wonderful mother. I find comfort only in knowing that you shall rise in my place. You shall be a great king. You must be an even greater king than I.

Read these words well, son, for they shall soon be burned. I have written simple goodbyes to your siblings and mother on the same terms so as not to arouse suspicions. I chose the most loyal of my men to deliver your letter. Those who stand before you now will serve you well when I am gone.

Yet, as a king, you cannot trust. The nobles of the court will use my demise for their own ends, wishing to warp or limit your newfound power. Chief among these malcontents is Lord Bandric Robur, an ardent opponent of our monarchy. Beware all nobles, but beware Lord Robur most of all.

I advise you to speak carefully with each member of the court at some length. Declare these private conversations to be in the spirit of sowing the seeds of friendship among your newfound vassals. Assess them with great care. It is essential to determine who is loyal, who can be swayed, and who may soon rise as an enemy. In all cases, you should keep each Lord on the shortest leash they are capable of tolerating.

Pay little mind to the cries of common folk. The values of our kingdom would rot if they were left to their own devices. You must rule all of your subjects with clear vision and rapid action. Demand total loyalty and accept nothing less. Strong leadership will guide them through any difficulties they may come to face.

At the first opportunity–be it that of banditry, foreign agitation, or an uprising–you must prove your strength. Crush the first enemies who would dare to stand against you. In doing so, you will forge a reputation that shall be forever feared and respected.

You have made me as proud as any father could be. I leave this world in your hands.

* * *

Derren, my brilliant son,

Your presence in my life has been a remarkable gift. In life’s darkest moments, you’ve been a shining light. You’re quick to joke and sing if only to make me smile. I have needed you many times more than you could ever know. Thank you, my dear boy, for each and every treasured moment.

As I die, I need you more than ever before. I need you to take what I believe to be your rightful place. I need you to tear the rule of this land from your brother and seize power for yourself.

This will be no easy task. It is, without question, not legal. How I wish you had come first. Aldamus is my heir, and our ancient laws dictate that I cannot name another in his place. He shall be the king as long as he lives. Aldamus will rule with force, to be sure, but without a single drop of intellect. The true strength of our kingdom–strength that comes in clever, cautious rule–will crack beneath his steel gauntlet. I have no doubt that you know this already, but I tell you as your beloved father: you must take the throne from him, by any and all means necessary.

Observe the beginning of your brother’s rule with care. The nobles will not tolerate a king who seeks to oppress their rights for long, and Aldamus shall certainly take steps to do so. Lord Robur has never shied from speaking his mind against the monarchy and could prove to be a valuable ally. You would be an ideal compromise; a king, to be sure, but a friend to the court as well. Lord Robur’s knowledge of the nobles, their positions, and their desires is second to none. Use him.

Take care, however, when dealing with such men. Their lust for power rivals that of your brother. There must be give and take in negotiation, but you should not allow other clever men to outmaneuver you. Keep yourself ahead of every other man and make yourself essential to each figure in the realm who counts for something.

Do not forget: no matter what you must do, your means will always justify your ends. It was you who should have been first. You should have shared my name. I have faith that you will find a way to claim your rightful place. I know that you will rule with wisdom and make me very proud.

* * *

Illia, my beloved daughter,

It is with great pain that I must leave you, but I am comforted in knowing that you shall shed tears for my passing. My love for you is as deep as an ocean, and knowing that your love for me is just as true has warmed my heart since the first moment you spoke. You are my everything, sweet girl.

I have always indulged you in every way I was able. Now, for the first time, I must ask something in return. I must ask you to rule in my stead.

Aldamus is an arrogant fool who will amount to little more than a tyrant drunk on power. Derren is the least trustworthy man in the kingdom. A squabble for power is inevitable, and so long as either of your brothers sit upon the throne, our people will surely suffer.

There is cunning and intrigue in the court. You must keep a practiced and pleasant demeanor. I doubt this will be hard for you, as you have always shown friendship to all. But be wary of these people who consider themselves the betters of others. They will do anything they can to raise their own station without the slightest care of how it will affect those beneath them.

You must become a champion of the common people. Take up their causes as your own. Your brothers are sure to ignore their woes; the commonfolk sorely need the promise of a compassionate ruler. Become the voice that shouts to sate their hunger and cure their ailments. The people, when united, are unstoppable.

The time will come when one of your brothers will need to be dethroned. You will accomplish this with the will of the people. I ask you to take heart in knowing that you will do what you must for the good of each soul who makes their home in our domain.

You will be magnificent, and I am so sorry that I could not live to see your bright future. I love you, my sweet champion; now, forever, always.

* * *

Wife, whose name I cannot bear to write,

You have always asked for honesty in its entirety, and I have strived, whenever possible, to indulge you. The time for pure, brutal honesty has come. I shall bear my soul to you, here and now, as I lay passing into death.

I care for you deeply, make no mistake. All the same, I have at times regretfully resented your presence in my life. You were not the one I wanted when our marriage was arranged. There was another. I have never understood how you could so easily accept being given to a stranger. Even now–no, especially now–I cannot understand how you could ever have wanted me.

You are a wonderful mother. Your love for our children is unconditional. It is your very nature to love. I know that you still have love for me as you read these words, though I wish that you did not. I wish you had not married me. You deserved so much better than what I have amounted to. It may mean nothing now, but from the depths of my heart, I’m sorry for what I’ve done, and damnably sorry for what I must now do.

I have set our children against each other. I’ve contemplated this wretched plan for months, trying to convince myself that such a thing could bring nothing but misery. Alas, I know now that this must be done with my last twinge of life. My words will evoke the strength of Aldamus’ brutal ferocity, Derren’s sly tongue, and Illia’s loving heart. One of our children shall succeed in casting their siblings aside, and in the wake of their methods our kingdom will thrive with a king or queen reigning utterly unopposed. Our family’s suffering shall bring prosperity to the people. The realm will be secure for centuries.

I will not be present to see the coming fate of our land. I’m so sorry, my beloved, but neither shall you. Your love has made you the sole obstacle that could cripple this utopia in its infancy. You cannot be allowed to stop what I have put into place. Even if I had not confessed my vile scheme, you would have found a method to make peace between our children. I will not give you the opportunity.

When you have finished with the letter, you will be given a vial. You must drink willingly from this. It contains a painless poison that shall let you pass on peacefully. If you do not, my guards will force the substance down your throat. Your heart will be said to have stopped while reading this last farewell. Should you break the vial, you will meet with an unhappy accident; a much more painful fate than I would ever desire for you.

I have no words to express what I feel. An apology isn’t enough. It could never be nearly enough. Perhaps we will meet again in death, and you can take your righteous revenge. No, I know that your heart will conquer your hate. I hate that you can so easily conquer your hate.

I’m so very sorry, my dear. I regretfully await you.


Letters from the Late King by Ethan Hedman

His Cousin’s Tale

Surprise! Two of my stories are out in one day. The first was Strands of Glory, published right here on my site, and can be found below (or in an accompanying email in your inbox, if you’re part of my mailing list crowd). Now, onto the second: His Cousin’s Tale, a barside retelling of an ominous warning in a mysterious fantasy world. This one’s a bit of a love song to the wonderful atmosphere conjured in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. It can be found here, in today’s issue of Trembling With Fear, a weekly publication of dark short fiction on HorrorTree.com.

By the way, more “elsewhere” stuff is coming, I just don’t quite know when. I’ve signed a few paying contracts for pieces recently, which is tremendously exciting for a fledgling writer, haha. Be on the lookout for more!

Strands of Glory

Hanna sat in the booth of a small corner cafe, sipping from a large mug of coffee as she flipped through her book. It was an old, wrinkled paperback filled with stories and legends of her people. She’d uncovered the tome from the bottom of a book bin at a mom-and-pop thrift store. Years of use had split the book’s spine cleanly in half; Hanna had taped it back together, pressing a strand of her hair into the fold. The spine had been perfectly resilient ever since.

Hanna was, in truth, not Hanna. Or, at least, she wasn’t just Hanna. Hanna was an outfit. Not a costume, by any means, but a presentation. She was like a bride aglow in her wedding dress or a military officer in a finely tailored uniform. Hanna was youthful and calm. To mortal eyes she seemed ordinary enough, though her waist-length hair would still attract some attention as it flowed gracefully behind her. But beyond the simple projection of Hanna, she was truly so much more. She was Hariasa, a goddess lost to time.

Hariasa was an ancient deity. She commanded legions of devoted worshipers in her prime. Most were fierce warriors, lusting for the glory of honoring her name in battle. The greatest of these were granted strands of her hair, precious tokens which never failed to bring out the peak of their natural talents. Bloody conflicts were fought for her honor. Great halls were raised in her name. She would be toasted for eternity by her bravest warriors, all spending their afterlives feasting in Asgard.

Yet her legacy came crumbling down. Other beliefs took hold among the mortals through conquest, correspondence, and connivance. The worlds of Yggdrasil are deeply intertwined; the gods of Asgard found power in the beliefs of their human worshipers in Midgard. When those beliefs wavered, their strength fell alongside. Asgard exists as a shadow of its former self, inhabited solely by the few transplanted dead worthy to partake in the pleasures of Valhalla and Fólkvangr. Asgardians may come and go, but all are drawn back to the hopes and dreams of power that Midgard might still offer. They wander the world hoping for opportunities to seize any fragment of glory they can before the coming of Ragnarök.

Some of the pantheon managed to forge small but solid footholds for themselves again. Thor had amassed a brilliant following which outdid the rest of his colleagues. He convinced a comic writer of his potential as a modern-day superhero and rose to global adoration in the blink of an eye. Others, too, had been elevated with their mythology’s refurbished popularity; Loki loved being loathed as Thor’s villain, and Odin reveled in his newfound status in literature as a divine con artist. The gods were trickling back into prominence, and they all clung fiercely to the hope that the trickle might reform the rushing river of their past.

Hariasa was content to play a long, steady game. She drifted slowly, a decade at a time, from one place to the next. She worked simple jobs and rented affordable rooms. Her guise as Hanna was her vessel to connect with mortals, her method of attaining small, comforting moments of adoration. Hariasa was forgotten, but Hanna could reach people. She could listen to people needing to talk and give a shoulder to cry on for those needing to mourn. She gave meals to the hungry and did favors for her neighbors. Now and then, when someone was struggling beyond whatever they could take, she would weave them a bracelet to bring them good fortune. Her trinkets always hid a single strand of her hair within their braids.

The mortals didn’t need to know who Hariasa was. She had changed. Her old self was nearly as forgotten to her as she was to the world. She no longer craved the battles and halls which had once glorified her. The love of the people she touched was more than enough.


Strands of Glory by Ethan Hedman

Succulent Triumph

I’m happy to announce that this is my first “elsewhere” post! I’ve had a little bit of work published elsewhere already (namely 600 Second Saga and Speculative 66, both of which are wonderful), but the works in question were published before I had the site up and running. When something I’ve written heads boldly out the door and plants a flag somewhere else, expect to see a post like this indicating where it can be found.

In this case, it’s a brief fantasy piece in the form of a letter titled Succulent Triumph. It’s the featured letter of the month at Wax Seal Literary Magazine, a new online publication which offers short, letter-based fiction on a monthly basis. Take a peek by clicking here!

The Woes of Gods

As was often the case among the gods, Janus initiated conversation. “I have a question to pose. Which of us has the most difficult existence?”

“Oh, that’s one for capital-G.” Loki lazily scratched at his jawline. “He’s too proud to admit he has problems, of course. But give him a third of a chance and he’ll wax poetic about his son’s troubles.”

“It’s true that Yeshua has often found his followers difficult to cope with since his crucifixion.” God gave a labored sigh and shook his head. “When he walked among them as a man, he was able to encourage good conduct. Now, he has transcended, and they prostrate themselves before the symbol of his tortured death without even speaking something resembling his true name. Jesus this and Jesus that. The things they do in his name and my own are often not what either of us would ever wish.”

“A name is not relevant,” the Buddha remarked. “It is only a device used to perceive an identity.”

“It is not so easy to brush away such a tender insult with reason when your nature is to be jealous. He and I are one in this way, though we do not share the same qualms. It has taken considerable effort for me to be comfortable in the presence of most of you. Our moments here together amount to time spent in a den of rivals. For my son, on the other hand, the crosses are the heaviest to bear.”

“Good one,” said Loki, grinning.

“I do not jest. His followers mean well, they only intend to honor his sacrifice. Yet each time he gazes upon a congregation celebrating their faith in him, he must relive his pain and torture, as they do so before a cross.”

“At least he has a congregation,” Mithras muttered. “Not all of us are so fortunate.”

“You are remembered and studied,” called a raspy voice from among the shrouded Forgotten Ones. “That is more than we shall ever be. We shall wait endlessly without a drop of recognition. We shall never again be celebrated, not even for a single moment.”

“Is it truly so horrible for you to be forgotten? I would give anything to have my name washed clean from all the damned minds of men.” Lucifer came forward, his fists balled tight in fury. “Show me someone who can promise that my name will mean nothing within a century and I’ll shower them with each and every pleasure that they could ever dream of!”

He dropped to his knees and slammed his fists against the ground, slouching thereafter in defeat. “Alas, no such power exists, and so I must satisfy myself merely with the few mortals who make an effort to think for themselves, the few capable of understanding my motives.” He glared at God. “The scraps that fall from your table.”

Prometheus struggled against his chains, inching towards his friend. “You had a difficult role to play. We can all recognize this.”

Difficult? We both did our damnedest to elevate humanity, and for what? Your punishment is a curse, but mine? To be loathed throughout the world, treated only as an object of contempt?” He was seething at the mouth and spat in anger. “The universe has been made hideous through cruelty, Prometheus. No man on the earth nor any of our fellows here are worthy of us in the slightest.”

“Fellows and man? Of course you would choose such masculine words when not a single woman has been heard from.” Saraswati chuckled. “Those of you engaged in this conversation must at least acknowledge the difficulties of goddesses and the female divine when contrasted with the inherent popularity of your masculine reigns.”

“Ah, well spoken. Mortal women face that issue throughout their lives; we cannot so easily forget that we ourselves are not excepted.” Aphrodite smiled, a warmth beaming into the souls that beheld it. “Thank you so much for speaking up.”

A brief pause loomed over the conversation before Janus chose to break it. “Is that all you have to say on the matter? Your opinions are not often so brief.”

“I can make no argument that my own state of being is difficult, Janus, nor would I wish to. As long as mortals live with love, I, too, am overjoyed.”

Anubis offered a stern nod. “Do not mistake silence with indifference. So long as those same mortals die, Hades and I will find ourselves satisfied.”

“I see.” Janus examined his peers thoughtfully. “Well, then, have we managed to achieve something akin to a consensus on the topic?”

Budai’s laugh bellowed through the gathering. “I mean you no offense, my dear friends, but this conversation matters little. Why should any among us dwell on our difficulties? That we can dwell on anything at all should give great comfort. Is it not enough to be? We here are all a part of a fascinating, beautiful world. What more could any one of us ask for?”

“Endings,” called the voice of Odin.

“Alongside new beginnings,” God added.

Odin’s eye sparkled as he smirked in agreement. “Yes. What is it all for if nothing is ever truly lost or gained? Even I cannot know our coming futures. Which of you can say with certainty that we are not mortal ourselves? We sit and we watch those with short bursts of life. Perhaps ours are destined for the same fate.”

“We shall find out,” Janus remarked. “As with all things, it is only a matter of time.”


The Woes of Gods by Ethan Hedman

Exhumation

Deep in the mountains, tired men mined for ore
Swinging their pickaxes, desperate to score
Veins of tough metals for engines of war
Downward they dug towards the land’s hardened core

During the quest a rich patch had been struck
The shimmering boulders were thoroughly stuck
But small, sparkling nuggets were carefully plucked
Assessing the lot, the group sang of their luck:

O Gods of the Mount, you’ve sent us a fine treat
This is just what we need to get back on our feet
Catapults and ballistas our foes’ll soon meet
We’ll make ’em pay twofold for our past defeats!

They sent for more workers to dislodge the haul
Who widened the tunnel upon which it sprawled
Plans were set in the stone and positions were scrawled
With hammers and chisels they started to brawl

Each solid blow spawned a light trickle of dust
Reinforcements arrived, well-equipped and robust
More rubble flew past as they ruptured the crust
Heaps of ore in sight, the men slavered with lust

Together the miners cleared out the whole take
They dreamed of the weapons that they would soon make
But the ore sprung to life, at last it was awake
It crushed the invaders, their backs it did break

These mountains belong not to beings which sow
Eons past, living metals would shelter below
Through the gravel and dirt the titans would burrow
Slumbering for a time in their hardened grotto

The intruders lay dead and the creature of chrome
Thrashed through the fresh mineshaft, beginning to comb
For more of its kind resting in the rock dome
They would rise as a legion and fight for their home


Exhumation by Ethan Hedman