“All right,” said Malcolm, drawing his knees up to his chest, “who’s first?”

The bottle of brandy set in the midst of them had been pilfered from the dean’s private stash, but since he wasn’t strictly supposed to have it there in the first place, Reginald had argued, there’d be little chance of his making a commotion upon finding it gone. Of course, he’d made this argument only after showing up in the dormitory’s small third-story common room with the purloined spirits, at which point old adages about begging forgiveness and asking permission suddenly seemed quite relevant. He was the most rakish of the lot, and indeed of the whole college; he was here on scholarship, on account of his brilliance at engineering, which covered steep tuition the other young men’s parents coughed up every semester. The other lads never let him forget it, but he in turn never let them forget how his name looked listed above theirs when exam results were posted. He was there because his parents couldn’t afford the train ride home from more than once a year.

Gautam tossed another log on the fire, though it didn’t stop his shivering. “I don’t understand why we are doing this again.” He was there because by the time he’d traveled all the way home to Madras, he would have had only enough time to remark on how he didn’t celebrate Christmas anyway before turning on his heel and starting the journey right back to his volumes of poetry.

“It’s tradition, yeah?” Izzy was another non-celebrant, though Hebraic where Gautam was Hindu. He was also an American, though, and thus had similar reasons for remaining over the winter holidays, his nose in his books of anatomy. “Read about it. Dickens and the Ghosts of Christmas What-Have-You. Not such a thing back home, so far as I can tell, but hey, when in Rome, right?”

Malcolm was a pedant by nature, but nevertheless refrained from pointing out that they weren’t in Rome, but in Sheffield. He himself had no family to return to. “It’s a tradition,” he confirmed, reaching for the brandy and taking a swift swig. It burned inside him, sending warmth spreading out to the farthest reaches of his extremities, even though he knew it made his cheeks flush and all the freckles dotting his fair skin that much more visible. “It’s just what you do on Christmas Eve.”


The Missing Pieces

He raises the missing half-inches: five incomplete fingers, an incomplete greeting.

I stare, wondering if I’ve finally cracked and shattered, if the shards carved him into the freezing air of my doorstep. I have half a mind to reach out, touch him, grab that coat by the lapels and tear him into the house, throw him to the steps like a rag doll and drag him to where he’ll never leave. The other half wants to shut the door.

So I stare.

I cannot remember the last time I saw him. His face is hard like granite, gently treated with a burin pick for his eyes, his lips. His hair is tar, the curls matted with oil and dust from days of neglected wash. His eyes are the color of a sky smeared with mud. A flash of memory: I see his face three years younger, three ashen countries divided by borders of tears. Now he is clear-faced, shadows buried deep in the eyes.


Seismic Gap

Riaag had a complicated relationship with the stupid horse. He hated everything about it, from the way its eyes rolled (which was horrifying) to the way it smelled (which was delicious), but the worst part was how Sarouth kept insisting he learn how to ride the damn thing. Horsemanship was not something in Riaag’s blood: he spent most of his practice sessions clinging helplessly to the saddle, and while the horse had been trained to tolerate the scent of orcs, he could still feel it fighting the urge to throw him every time he urged it around a barrel. It was going to be a long time before either of them was fit to charge into battle, assuming the beast didn’t get tired of having seven feet of fat, angry man sit on its back and just kick him to death one morning.

The worst part was how he couldn’t just sneak it into the kitchen when Sarouth wasn’t looking. For one thing, it was an entirely different breed than the horses they bought for food, and since he’d been present for the haggling he knew just how expensive a trade it’d been; cooking it would be like making a soup with a brick of pure saffron. Most importantly, however, the damned animal had been a present. Sarouth had looked so hopeful when he’d told Riaag about his plans, and as much as Riaag hated the idea of trying to ride, he hated the thought of upsetting Sarouth more. At least seeing Sarouth happy was worth the sore muscles and stiff back.

It had been an ordinary day, for the most part: he’d washed clothes, worked in the forge, and spent time amiably terrorizing some of the stronghold’s children in between teaching them songs. He’d also practiced riding the stupid horse, of course, which was why everything south of his neck ached. Riaag had decided halfway through his hour-long ordeal of getting tangled up in the reins like an asshole that the rest of his afternoon was best spent on personal time, and so the day found him soaking in one of Naar Rhoan’s many bathing lakes, happily holed up in a secluded corner where he didn’t have to talk to anyone.

While he had every intention of not leaving the water until every part of him looked like a prune, Riaag’s ears perked up when he heard the crunch of feet on pebbles behind him. Most people left him alone when he was obviously lost in thought. His visitor had been quiet, ruling out a messenger, and given the sound of rustling fabric that followed the footsteps it could only be one person. At least said person was allowed to bother him during his private time.


Beautiful Things Below the Sea

Though for him there was no escape from the heavy brand of geekery, Brian “Brain” Jackson considered himself, despite his alphabetically organized music and societally abnormal fascination in fish, to be nearer to the “cool” side of the spectrum than not. For one, he wore his sweater-vests ironically. For two, more than once had an undergrad’s fragile freshman eyes gone wide and round and wet as she or he tried to pull him from the path of propriety, to win his love, his lust, his body, and perhaps a good grade in the lectures he TA’ed. Yet it’s pretty common knowledge that a GPA romance only will carry flirtation so far. There’s got to be a chemical component as well — a bodily attraction that outdistances the scholastic for most college-age youth to try and make bodies hit bed, and to sulk when all goes wrong. What this means is that it was not just for the grades semi-subtle seduction was attempted. Brain, despite it all, was a good looking guy.

This is the truth of it. Maybe you’ve heard some folks say that humans begin to resemble what they work with, just like people begin to look like their spouses, their dogs, or their favorite pair of pants. Yet Brain had loved fish since his first county-fair guppy and he looked no more like a fish than the average proctologist resembles an anus. Sure, he had a swimmer’s build, but a human swimmer’s build, with broad shoulders and thin waist. His complexion was just a few shades past creamy coffee, just a bit darker than his great-grandma Jolissa, who had passed for white, become a Harvey girl and moved the family out West. She had been beautiful, and honestly, so was he, though sometimes that’s not considered a compliment for a modern male. Still, while his looks cemented his popularity in the undergraduate sphere, he’d yet to give his heart to anyone.

The problem with people, he often saw, was that they lacked the proper lateral lines, gills, scales and swim bladders that put fascination in fish. The minds of men may be mystifying; the heads of women, closed books; yet fish are the final frontier of mystery. Fish are a glimpse of a different reality.

What secrets might scientists reveal with a closer inspection of fish lives? It was possible Utopia existed, but that humanity was just moving through the wrong element to discover it. Yet here was Man, the great upright ape, wrecking both land and sea — crushing the opportunity to discover truths humankind’s greatest dreamers could not even begin to form. Yet it was not the destiny of mankind to play Azrael to the planet. The fish would not remain passive to the bitter, bitter end. Someday soon, in a last-ditch effort to spread their perfect politics to the land-swimmers, the fish were going to come to shore.


But ever in the moonlight

by Ogiwara Saki (荻原咲) illustrated by beili (mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/264311.html) The moon was bone-cold over the dark, murderous waters the night Simon Carrington died. It had been night when he began to die; it was night when he progressed full forth into the act; and it would be night when it was finished, as he lay […]


Seven Roses

Vega was out with Lyra on the night that he met Altair.

They’d been walking home, together, after a long day at market, and the night had just begun to fall, gray-purple and very soft. It was dark in the forest, and singing with insects.

Vega had probably noticed him first, but it was Lyra that stopped, resting one of her small, rough hands on Vega’s wrist. “Do you suppose he’s okay?” she asked.


She pointed into the shadows, and the figure grew more defined as Vega focused on it.
He was a shape at the base of a tree, dark and huddled into itself, and his brown arms were clenched over his knees. The night gleamed blue on him, and his eyes were hidden.

Vega swallowed at the sight of him. He was tired, feet aching and hands raw and tingling from handling fabric all day. Any other day, any other man, and he would have pulled on, to home and supper and sleep.

But the man under the tree lifted his head, hearing Lyra’s voice, and his eyes gleamed in the dark. They were eyes that pulled.


Yes, And

There was a spark the first time they met. Just an instant explosion of chemistry, bad teens popping off roman candles in the night. It wasn’t exactly an unfamiliar sensation. When you were a performer you got it pretty often if you were lucky. When you did comedy you got lucky a little more often. And when Alan met David for the first time, well, he felt pretty fucking lucky.

Alan was an actor, of the ‘you’re that guy from that thing!’ type. Though with the kind of parts he usually got, he was more of the ‘you’re that guy from that toothpaste commercial!’ type. It paid the bills. It paid some of the bills. His wife paid most of the bills. He’d gotten hooked into an improv group back in college, though, and that was what got his blood pumping. He did it for free in front of crowds of drunk people, but bouncing off other quick wits, giving trust over to someone that they’d keep you going and you’d do the same, all to make those drunk people laugh their asses off, that was the best feeling in the world.

And David, David was a stand-up. Alan had tried that exactly once and never again. Too lonely up there, just you and the stuff you’d probably overthought coming out of your mouth against the crowd. But David had a friend who had a friend who was in the group Alan performed on in a regular basis, and that was how these things came together. Hey, I liked your act and I’ve been wanting to get in to leading to David’s going to perform with us tonight.

Alan was dubious, of course. But that was before he met him. David was the kind of guy who got on stage in a suit and tie, and Alan was also that kind of guy, so that was one point in his favor. And then David turned out to be the kind of guy who could yes, and a man so hard he lost all composure years of practice had brought him and ended up giggling into the stage curtains. That was worth about a million points and the audience losing it nearly as hard. He could stay. He could stay a while.


Satchel gets his stuff back

It was a long, twitchy walk back to Napanee Depot. Satchel’s blade had been strapped to the fork of his bike, and though no one had seen a walker in these parts for three or four years and he’d practically stopped thinking about them at all, now that he was defenseless, every rustle in the brush and moan of the wind through the leafing-out trees sent adrenaline sparking along his nerves. He kept to the cracked yellow lines in the centre of the road. By the time he limped through the depot’s plywood-reinforced glass doors, the sun was a suggestion of orange on the underside of the clouds, blisters had formed and burst on the balls of both feet, and the thinning sock on his right foot had turned the back of his heel to fucking hamburger.

“Satch, honey!” Sharon said as he staggered into the lobby. “What are you doing back?”

“Sinkhole up on forty-one,” Satchel said, scrupulously editing the adjectives out of the diatribe he had been building in his head for twenty-three kilometres. “Just past the bend. Skidded right into it.”

“Are you hurt?” She got out of her chair and came around her desk to him.

“Nothing serious. I managed to climb out.” It hadn’t been quick or easy, and he’d felt gravel skidding away under his soles for a long way back down the road. “Lost my bike, though.”


The Crossroads and the Gate

Venadan had hoped that he could at least pull the stranger’s shoulder back into alignment without waking him up, but no such luck; the stranger woke at the pressure of Venadan’s foot on his chest, so that Venadan’s first word to him was “Motherfucker,” and the stranger’s to him was a miserable yowl. The stranger didn’t pass back out at this either. He bit down on his second scream and sat up halfway, sweating, pulling his arm out of Venadan’s grip and getting his long hair in Venadan’s eyes. Venadan reared back. “You were out when I found you,” he said. “You were attacked. Do you remember?”

“Do I…?” the stranger said, and looked blearily out at the corpses littering the clearing. “Oh. I really don’t know why I thought ‘giant spiders’ was an exaggeration. The villagers were so insistent about it. How much leg do I have left?”

“Right ankle’s broken,” Venadan said. “You’ve got a hole in your neck, too– keep your hand off it!”

The stranger dropped his hand. His eyes were huge, tracking poorly, and he kept taking these deep, shuddering breaths that Venadan could only hope were panic and not a collapsed lung. “Who are you? Not that I want to sound ungrateful,” a pause for breath, “when you’ve been so friendly. Did you leave out my left leg because it isn’t there any more?”

“Your left leg is fine. I was just passing through.” He had enough water to spill some out against his handkerchief, and he pressed it into the stranger’s wound, eliciting another yell. Too much blood. “You’re a wizard, aren’t you? Can you close your own wounds?”


Makes Three

I heard from someone once it was good etiquette to have someone announce your presence before going in to meet with a lady, so that’s why I made sure to bounce one of Aveshi Karaen’s guards off her door real hard before going in to make introductions. Trevor wasn’t so much hung up on etiquette, though, so his guy just got a punch in the nose and went down in a big puddle of swishy purple fabric. Fuckin’ purple on these guys.

I picked up my guy again with one hand and gave him another good bowl right into Aveshi’s door. His helmet made a real nice ‘thok’ sound against it and he groaned. He’d be real purple himself tomorrow. So I was doing him a favor. Trevor got their dumb purple guns off them and I swiped the keycard I’d nabbed earlier through the lock. We were pretty well announced, I figured.

Aveshi was just sitting in her fluffy chair with her hands folded on her lap when we came in. She picked up a long thin pipe off the table next to her and brought it up to her mouth, resting the tip between the split in her lower lip as she took a draw. She leaned her head back and let the smoke curl out of her nostrils. She was supposed to be the real scandalous type with how she wore her veil to show her mouth and nose, but I wasn’t impressed. You see one salaari under their veils and you seen them all, and I’d seen more than one. I’d seen three.