A Few Changes

Thanks to everyone who suggested improvements. The Army of the Cross serial now has its own page, with each installment (now officially referred to as a “chapter”) listed with its own link to make navigation easier. Also making navigation easier is a “next” and “previous” link at the bottom of each installment. Can’t believe I didn’t think of that one myself.

Cursed

Author’s Note: First let me say that this short story has absolutely positively no connection whatsoever to the purpose of this blog — that is, the Version Universe. Currently, the “Real World” (patent pending) has put my writing on temporary hiatus, so I thought I’d post an old story from the archives. Inspired by many hours of playing The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, it’s a tale of tragedy and friendship. The next Army of the Cross story, “Cross Examinations” (politics in the age of the apocalypse) will be along as time allows. 

(c) 2016 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author. It has been published previously under the alias “Carthoris”.

“Lindra, Odin’s beard is that really you?” Seated in a shadowy corner of the Whitestone Inn, Lindra was a woman thin to the point of emaciation. Shrinking deeper into the shadows at the other’s voice, she hid her gaze from the newcomer.

“Where have you been all this time?” the other woman pressed. “I was beginning to think you died of the plague or got eaten by a wild animal.”

Lindra cringed at that last, her eyes briefly filled with a mixture of fear and panic. The woman sat down on the side of the table opposite her, brow crinkled in worry. The two had been the closest of friends since they were both small, and this wasn’t like her at all.

“I shouldn’t have come here,” Lindra muttered in a barely-audible voice. “I forgot you lived here. I forget so much lately.”

“You forgot we both grew up here? Lindra, what’s happened to you?” It was at this point that the woman got a good look at her old friend. Her hair was long, dirty and unkempt, while her clothing was little better than old rags: ripped in all the wrong places and stained with mud and … was that … blood? “Lindra, what’s wrong? Please, let me help. There must be something I can do.”

“No, there’s nothing!” Lindra said in a pained whisper. “Leave me alone. I just came here to get warm and buy a hot meal.”

“What … that?” The woman waved a hand at the “meal” the other woman was eating. It was the cheapest the Inn had to offer, and little better than offal. “Lindra, talk to me. Please!”

“No,” Lindra replied. Leaning forward, she resumed shoveling the foul stuff into her mouth.

“Don’t eat that! Here, if you can’t afford anything better let me …” Lindra made as if to object, but hunger overruled her pride. The woman waved the owner over, and ordered a healthy portion of roast lamb for Lindra. The owner frowned, clearly not liking the raggedy figure, but more than happy to accept the offered gold.

“Why are you doing this?” Lindra asked as they waited for the meal.

“You’re my oldest and dearest friend,” the woman responded. “You’re clearly in trouble and need help.”

“You can’t help me,” Lindra replied, her voice hoarse and strained. “No one can. Walk away. Please, just leave and don’t look back. Trust me, I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“Lindra, what’s wrong? What’s happened to you? How did you get like … like this?” The woman waved her hand at Lindra’s hair and attire. But Lindra just shook her head and looked away, hiding once more in the shadows. She stayed that way until the owner returned with a plate of meat and roasted potatoes. Lindra eyed the man warily, like a rabbit watching a preditor pacing just outside his burrow. Once the man was gone, she tore into the feast like someone starving. Which, the woman realized studying the gaunt figure, she likely was. The woman waited, concern warring with patience as Lindra cleaned her plate. When she was finished, she sat up straight — straighter than she had in all the while since her friend joined her. Lindra stared at her friend across the table, and her eyes shone with renewed clarity.

“Legends,” she said without preamble. “Legends and myths.”

“What about them?”

“They’re not all true, you know.”

The woman laughed at that “revelation”.

“I’m serious. It’s not that they’re false, you know. Just incomplete and misleading.”

“Are we talking about anything in particular?”

“Take vampires, for example. Most people think they spend their days sleeping in coffins, and can’t come outside while the sun’s up.”

“Goes without saying, I think. Not that I’ve met any myself, of course.”

“I have,” Lindra said in a flat voice that spoke volumes about that experience. “They sleep in beds, just like everyone else, and can go outside during the day — as long as it’s cloudy or rainy and they’ve recently … fed.”

“That’s …”

“Disgusting? Disturbing?”

“Yes. Both. I don’t understand. What does that have to do with you?”

“Vampires have unique abilities, yes. They also have unique … vulnerabilities, like exposure to sunlight. But, all in all, their life — or, rather their un-life — isn’t so bad. They’re still in control of their lives. As much as people hate and fear them, it’s not so bad being a vampire.”

“And you know that … how? Personal experience?” The woman meant it as a joke, a bit of teasing to bring a smile to her old friend’s lips. But Lindra frowned and grew even more serious instead.

“There are times …” Lindra whispered to herself.

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” the woman replied, still trying to brighten the mood. “It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon, so no vampires anywhere to be seen. I think you can relax!”

“Then there are werewolves,” Lindra continued in the barest of whispers. “People think they can only change during a full moon. Some even think they can change at will. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In some ways, they’re like the opposite of vampires. When the sun sets, the Beast comes out. Always, without fail. All hope of thought or reason is gone. And, being much, much larger in height and bulk than their human form, all clothing and armor bursts at the seams — when it isn’t torn to shreds in a savage effort to be free of the last remnants of humanity.”

“Yes, but … every night? I’ve never heard that before.”

“You wouldn’t,” Lindra replied. It was difficult to tell with her head down and her face in shadow, but it almost looked like her eyes were wet with tears. “In the morning, the Beast returns to human form — lost somewhere in the wilderness, without clothing, armor, or weapons.”

“That’s just awful. How would such a person survive? I mean, if they don’t freeze to death, they might get attacked by animals or brigands.”

“In that case, the Beast has been known to return. For a short while, just long enough to slay the attacker and … and feed. The … human … quickly learns to stay away from inhabited areas, so the Beast won’t kill anybody.”

The woman nodded. “Not to mention that people in these parts would attack a naked man or woman on sight as ‘an abomination’. God, that sounds depressing.”

Lindra nodded. “Imagine never being able to enjoy human company, for fear that the Beast will emerge.”

“But can someone live in the woods like that, never visiting a town or village?”

“No, not always. You get cold, and wet, and hungry — if the Beast doesn’t feed on human meat, the human half suffers, you see. But the worst of it is being so … alone. Sometimes, you just have to be with people, you know what I mean? You pull scraps of bloody cloth from a dead body, or raid a crypt for a length of wrapping — anything, no matter how dirty or foul smelling, because as long as you’re wearing … something … you won’t be attacked on the street.”

“A naked woman would as likely be raped as attacked with a sword or mace, I should think” the woman said thoughtfully.

Lindra actually grinned at that. “The rapist might begin his encounter with a woman, but it would end with the Beast.”

“A fitting end, that,” the woman agreed.

“Indeed,” Lindra replied, her lips twitching in a self-satisfied grin as she spoke.

“But I still don’t understand,” the woman said. “What does all this have to do with you?”

Lindra stared at her old friend in surprise and frustration. “You don’t get it, do you?”

“Lindra, did someone rape you? Is that what this is all about? You’re afraid of being attacked again?”

Lindra blew out a long shaky breath, clearly annoyed at her friend’s obstinence. Then, she frowned, as the annoyance became something darker and more sinister. She began to panic, which made everything worse.

“This was a mistake,” Lindra said, standing. “I must be going. Thank you for the meal. I really do appreciate it.” She almost ran for the door.

“Lindra, wait!” But the woman’s old friend was already through the door and into the street. She ran after her. Once in the street, the woman spotted her friend a short distance away, and ran after her.

Lindra turned, and yelled “Stay away,” when she saw the woman in pursuit. Desperate to escape, Lindra dove down a narrow alley. But it was a dead end. Breathing hard, she stopped and turned to face her old friend.

“Lindra, what’s wrong? Let me help.”

Lindra’s breathing was heavy, and her hands pulled at the rags covering her breasts as if to get more air into her lungs.

“You can’t,” Lindra replied, her voice even harsher than before, pitched low so that it was almost a growl. “Please, for the love of all that’s holy, get away from me. Do it now, I beg you!”

At that moment, a spike of pain drove itself up Lindra’s spine, forcing her to bend her body almost double. She opened her mouth and released a blood curdling scream.

“Lindra!” The woman was at her friend’s side in a heartbeat.

“Leave me,” Lindra pleaded in a voice that was so low-pitched and animal-like that it was hardly human anymore. Lindra fell to the ground on her hands and knees, where she began to change. Her friend, to this point not having any experience with either vampires or werewolves, stood by in shock and disbelief.

Feral eyes looked up at the woman, and a mouth filled with sharp teeth and the odor of a recent lamb dinner yawned wide. There followed a second scream, but this time it wasn’t Lindra.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

The next installment of Cross Paths isn’t finished yet, but it’s coming. We haven’t heard from the Army of the Cross, or seen any of the Monochrome Monks, in quite a while (not since Cross Purposes, as a matter of fact). Part Nine brings them back in all their sadistic “glory”, so give your children a nice big hug and hide them away, somewhere the Monks won’t be able to find them.

Anyway, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss Time. Not as in Time Travel, but in the more mundane area of counting the hours and minutes in a day. It’s often puzzled me that the world (well, everyone but the United States, LOL) measures everything according to the metric system. Everything but time, that is. I mean, really? Twelve inches to each foot is crazy, but twenty-four hours to each day is perfectly fine? Really? Well, as this is my fictional universe, I can do anything I want with it, even make it make sense (well, sort of — there’s the whole time travel thing and all). You know what the difference is between fiction and reality, right? Reality doesn’t have to make any sense. Now, I know I’ve already posted a general description of Analog Time vs. Metric Time, but I thought I’d expand on the description a little.

Overview

“Analog time” refers to the way hours, minutes, and seconds were displayed and recorded prior to midnight on January 1, 2089. Under “analog time”, each day had 24 hours, each hour 60 minutes, and each minute 60 seconds. Under “metric time” (also called “digital time”), each day has 10 hours, each hour 100 minutes, and each minute 100 seconds. The terms “analog time” and “metric time” are actually misnomers, and date back to references in the news media at the time of the changeover.

Standards

Under Metric Time, the time of day is commonly written as part of the date. For example, twenty minutes past noon on April twenty-first two thousand eighty-nine would be written as “April 21.520, 2089”. Other written date notations are available. The punctuation used in these alternate notations to separate year, month and day, varies, depending on the locale. While it is permitted to eliminate separators entirely (in which case, month and day must appear with two digits, as in “20890421.520”), the United States favors the forward slash (e.g. “2089/4/21.520”), the European Union favors the colon (e.g. “2089:4:21.520”), and both the African Republic and Sino-Japanese Confederation have standardized on the minus (e.g. “2089-4-21.520”). Formatting standards require that, if the time is included with the date (it is optional), it is always shown to at least three decimal places.

And finally, cue the obvious reference to the rock band Chicago in the article’s title, and the equally obvious (and eminently appropriate) response: Sorry, Tom, but nobody really cares.

(sigh)

‘Till next time.

Reflections #2

The Army of the Cross is a post-apocalyptic story that takes place in the aftermath of The Light Years War and serves as the connective tissue between that series and two novels in The Ancients series, Ancient Secrets and Ancient Powers. The genesis of the Army comes from current events and a simple idea: what if ISIS wasn’t an army of Muslims fighting half a world away, but of Christians right here in our back yard?  It may be difficult to understand something that’s happening in a culture unfamiliar to us. There are times when the evening news feels like yet another bad television show full of senseless violence. We end up turning away in denial, refusing to believe that any human being is capable of such cruelty.
But what if it was all happening close to home, with a faith most of us grew up with? Here in America at least, our faith is such an integral part of our lives that translating the events in the Middle East to something more familiar drives home the horror and the outrage people in that part of the world must be experiencing right now.
What does all this have to do with the aftermath of an interstellar war? Simply put, The Light Years War isn’t really over. Not yet. The Enemy has destroyed our ships and our armies and our cities, but humanity itself has survived. Eventually, we’ll rebuild those cities and those armies, and the fighting will resume. The Enemy knows that something must be done to prevent that or the War will have been in vain. However, these aliens aren’t interested in genocide. They hold life in too high esteem to simply wipe us off the face of the Earth. But they fear us. They fear our culture and they fear our technology. They intend to reduce us to naked savages, and keep us there to the end of time. Only then will they feel safe. To accomplish their goal, they will use our own blind faith, along with our natural savagery, against us. Whether or not they succeed is in the hands of one old woman who travels the wilderness in search of an answer. But can she, all by herself, stop this Alien-led Army from destroying what’s left of civilization, or is it already too late?
By the way, as was mentioned in Cross Purposes (the first story in the series), the Army’s “Cross” isn’t a crucifix (which has gained special meaning in the last two thousand years) but an “X” shaped torture device used in Medieval times.

The story will continue in Cross Paths, the next episode in The Army of the Cross saga.

(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.

This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.

Reflections #1

The Wolf and the Hare, while freshly updated, was originally written in the days of the Cold War, which is why it reflects such a strong “us-versus-them” point of view. Another aspect of the story is indicated by the title. For anyone unfamiliar with either Latin or Astronomy, the constellation “Lepus” is the rabbit (or hare), while “Lupis” is the wolf. Now, I’ve always been a big fan of the original Twilight Zone, so the TZ-style twist in the story would have fit right in with the original TV series.
The alien enemy is looking to destroy an Earth military outpost. Having gathered intelligence from a recently-captured Earth vessel, they’re struggling to translate and interpret the strange language and references of the humans. Confused by two similar-seeming locations on the captured star map, they pick the wrong target. If they’d gotten it right, the battle would have been a cake walk. As it was, they got a nasty surprise.
The problem with space battles, as has been mentioned elsewhere many times, is that space is absolutely huge. Trying to locate a single planetary needle in an enormous galactic haystack isn’t easy. Now imagine trying to find an enemy fleet — or even a single enemy ship — in all that vastness, and you get some idea how difficult it is to wage an interstellar war. This isn’t Star Trek, friend. It’s not even Babylon 5. It’s all about Intelligence gathering. Before you can attack the enemy, you first need to find him. But even if you do manage to capture a few scraps of data from somewhere, interpretation is your next challenge. They’re called “aliens” for a reason. With little or no knowledge of their culture or their history, how can you hope to understand that scrap of data in the first place?  Logically speaking, peace would be far easier to wage than war. But then again, human beings have never been known for their logic. Which begs the question: why would these aliens be so much like us in that respect?
Ah, therein lies the tale, and a secret that only the mysterious Mrs. Smith knows for sure. Her story continues in the Army of the Cross series, which resumes in a little while.

(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.

This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.

Purchase Links Now Available

As I indicated in my first post, this site’s a work in progress. I’ve added more content to the technical and background pages, and an Amazon link you can use to purchase each book in the Version Sequence (Di-Version, Sub-Version, Re-Version, In-Version, A-Version, and Con-Version). Go to the bottom of the book’s page and you’ll see the link. Please keep in mind this is only for the Kindle edition. Currently, there is no option to purchase a paper copy. Sorry.

 

(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.

Welcome to a whole new universe

Featured

This blog is about more than my six-volume science fiction series (although that’s where it all begins). It’s also about the “Version Universe”: the technology, history, politics and cultures behind that series. I’ll also be posting outlines and previews for stories yet to come (such as The Light Years War) as well as new original tales.

The series, and the world it’s set in, was nearly forty years in the making. There are a lot more stories waiting to be told.

(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.