Friday, November 1, 2019

From the Dead Letter File

As I am on limited computer time while recovering from a concussion, I'll just give you more story excerpt to read and spare you the commentary.

This is from what had been intended to be a half steampunk, half fantasy that no one wanted.

            Voice. Male. Speaking one of the millions of tongues encoded on the language chip implanted in her brain, which, judging from the excruciating throb at her temples, was about to explode.
            “Madam,” the voice sounded impatient and what? Unsettled? “I must insist you shake off Anubis’s hold and wake. This instant. Can you hear me? Can you tell me your name?”
            What was her name this time? She wouldn’t have been sent in without cover. With a sickening lurch, her mind stumbled into habit and she mentally tripped the program interface that should provide an entire lifetime’s worth of names, dates, and places, memories of people, events and things she’d never actually known.
            Nothing happened. She forced her eyes open but saw only darkness. Fear caught in her throat. Uncertain how to proceed, she gave him the only name rolling around the splitting pain in her head. “Dainan.” It came out a bare thread of sound.
            Smell hit her. Dank, musty soil that hadn’t been sweetened by any touch of sun and which supported no living thing. An acrid, metallic scent bit the back of her throat. She flinched. Did blood always have to smell like that? Whose was it? Above the background odors, a warm hint of pine combined with exotic spice tempted her to turn and burrow into the scent.
            “Dainan?” he repeated, jolting her out of reverie. “Is that your first or last name?”
“Loewe!” another male voice, raspy as a behlour cloud-cat tongue, shouted.
“Never mind,” the man beside her said. “Peter Loewe, at your service. What happened here?”
Too many questions. No answers. “Where?” she whispered.
“Where?” He laughed. It sounded forced. “We are short a meter from where that maniac murdered his last victim. Were you attacked? You don’t seem . . .that is to say, did you witness anything? Or were you, perhaps, a friend of the victim?”
“Attacked?” She nodded. Yes. That felt right, somehow. Attacked. Why?
“I – I apologize,” she murmured, automatically struggling to match his speech patterns, to fit in. “My memory is hazy.”
“Loewe,” rasp-voice growled. “Ma’at’s priestess and the police commissioner may be impressed by your magic tricks, but all I see is someone holding up my investigation. Leave the strumpet. She’ll sleep it off.”
Strumpet? Dainan frowned. What backward culture had Aeone sent her to this time? On what mission? And why did she not have cover memories?
“On the contrary, Inspector Cooper,” Loewe replied, the barest current of anger under his level tone, “I believe you have a witness on your hands.  The lady claims to have been attacked.”
“Attacked? What happened?” the inspector demanded of her.
She turned automatically toward the man addressing her. He reeked of stale smoke and moldering onions. The jagged ache in her head sharpened and she gasped.
“She is still dazed, Inspector, possibly injured, though the only outward sign I see is a scorch mark on her clothing there at the pocket.”
Scorch mark? Dainan frowned and cursed the fact that she still couldn’t coax her eyes to function to spec. Or at all. She shivered as anxiety spiked through her middle. She couldn’t do a proper damage assessment, much less attempt to initiate any kind of field repair. Not here. Not with witnesses.
“Injured,” the inspector huffed. “An addict, like as not. Won’t get a single useful fact out of her. Bundle her off, then. Just be sure to get an address so we can collect a statement later. Least you can do to be useful.”
The inspector stomped away, muttering.
Dainan sucked an angry breath between her teeth.
“That’s all very well,” Loewe said, his voice tight.
“No, it isn’t,” Dainan grumbled. “I do not like bullies.”
“You do not like - ” he broke off, drew a slow, audible breath and said, “I will endeavor to remember that. Allow me to have you escorted home and a doctor called. We may have questions once you are feeling more yourself. Where do you live?”
            Dainan closed her eyes and swallowed a sudden surge of nausea. “The River.”

           “The River.” He swore. “I have been educated in several of the finest universities the Empire of the Pyramids has to offer. I’ll be damned if I go on parroting a streetwalker like a schoolboy.”
“River Walker,” she corrected automatically.
“River – No. I’ll not do it again,” he cleared his throat. “Madam, where is your home?”
            “The River is my home,” she muttered, annoyance at his lack of comprehension speeding her heart rate. What was so difficult about understanding she didn’t belong in his world? Wait. Wasn’t there a rule against divulging her extra-planar origin? Had she just broken in? “My place of . . . birth doesn’t matter.”
            “Madam . . .”
            “My name is Dainan,” she said. Her voice sounded stronger. The hurt in her skull had subsided, but she still couldn’t feel her body. She cracked one eye open again and swore in her own, long dead, language.
            “I beg your pardon?”
            “I can’t see,” she said. “Your hypothesis regarding an attack is accurate. I’ve sustained damage. More to the point, however, I will be pursued.”
            “By whom? And why?” From the sharpening of his tone, she gathered that her companion had settled into his own investigation.
            “I don’t know,” Dainan hedged, confused by the flood of images that spilled through her head, none of which made any sense.
            He swore again.
            Dainan heard the rustle of fabric and the creak of leather as he shifted closer.
He dropped his voice so she had to strain to understand him. “You’re a tech or an inventor. Aren’t you? You said ‘your hypothesis’ and you aren’t touching anything.”

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