Friday, December 20, 2019

Excerpt: 'The Cecilian Blue-Collar Chronicles' (from 'The Golem Upstairs')

And here's a pretty lengthy excerpt from novella number two in the omnibus. Grandma here is dead, but because of the massive blip that recently happened, supernatural happenings are making themselves felt "upstairs" in Cecilia. In poor Sheridan's case, Grandma Janet's ghost possessed his astro-cab, so he can't get away from her. As before, the book page is over here.


“Are we there yet?”

“Grandma, stop. No, really—stop.” Sheridan glanced at the sensors again. That glowing hot pink dot was not only following him, it was tailgating him. Unfortunately, there were no Cecilian traffic laws against that. There was something to be said about Cecilian optimism when it came to wide fly zones and people’s respect for others’ rights to having their personal space unviolated.

“I can’t help it, sonny. I don’t want this scrappy little piece of flying metal shot down.”

Sheridan forced his attention back to where he was trying to fly Old Myrna—which really wasn’t saying much, seeing as how he was mentally flailing for something halfway logical for his destination.

Like, oh, the Brendisian Embassy.

Sheridan perked up at the desperate thought. Of course! Those Brendisians and all of their scientific know-how and thingamabobs should be more than interested in whatever the hell it was that had taken a massive dump on an obnoxious driver.

“I don’t want this scrappy little piece of flying metal shot down, either,” he said, swallowing to steady his nerves, as he smoothly maneuvered Old Myrna along the fly zone’s periphery and in a southerly direction.

It was a bit of a distance to cover and a serious pain in the ass to boot, but it was preferable to flying to the Cecilian Police Department, which was clear across the colony proper from where Sheridan was and past some pretty crazy rock formations that’d been known to lure unwary ships to their destruction. Something akin to the Bermuda Triangle, only a lot more obvious and easily dismissed as inevitable. It was obvious and inevitable because every doomed astro-car was manned by someone either high or drunk or just plain stupid. At any rate, leading Sheridan’s hot pink pursuer to the CPD meant towing it all the way through the major urban centers, and heaven only knew what that tailgating jerk would do with all those yummy galactic bird poop targets swarming the area. Besides, what on earth would the police be able to do, being Earth descendants, after all? They weren’t any different from their civilian counterparts by way of technological expertise and understanding of anything more advanced than computers and astro-cars.

Sheridan passed a handful of said astro-cars and astro-cabs along the way, and he’d yet to be hailed by someone regarding a bizarre flying object wheelsucking his ship. He would, if he could, give himself a big pat on the back for his quick thinking, drawing that hot pink menace away from the colony proper. That said, he was also quite alone and defenseless if he were to be attacked.

“The only difference between us,” he continued, “is that I’ll be killed, and you won’t.”

“I know. And I don’t want you dead because being stuck with you for an eternity with your life issues still unresolved and gnawing away at your gallbladder is going to be a hellish nightmare I’ll never wake up from.”

Sheridan pursed his lips. “Love you, too, Grandma.”

“It’s called tough love, sonny. Just wait till you have kids and grandkids of your own. You’ll have no choice but cop a serious attitude.”

“Oh, hell, no! I’ve had enough with Rufus and Adley, and I inherited them already grown up—relatively speaking, anyway.” Sheridan swallowed again, glancing first at the sensors and then the map. The Brendisian Embassy glowed a dull yellow, which meant Old Myrna’s mapping system had highlighted it. “Besides, I seriously doubt if Yuli’s ever allowed to do artificial spawning with me, seeing as how he’s not even allowed to go steady with a mortal.”

Grandma Janet snorted. “Thinking that far ahead already, are we?”

Sheridan clamped his mouth shut, heat flaming his cheeks. He had no clue where he and Yuli were going with their rather oddball relationship, yet there he was, zeroing in on the prince when the question of forever-after parenting came up.

“I’ll take that as a yes. So are we there yet?”

“Grandma, stop!”

Gritting his teeth, Sheridan guided his ship past a few jagged cliffs and a deep, narrow gorge. A water-filled crater later, and he was flying Old Myrna toward a tall, pyramid-shaped cluster of what looked like giant quartz crystals that had fused together. The Brendisian Embassy was built on a pretty expansive meadow, and compared to the colonists’ not-quite-architectural-wonders, a good deal of resources had been used for its creation and maintenance.

Even the grass in the meadow was neatly trimmed, the occasional Cecilian-style gorse brush and random tree pruned to perfection. Perhaps the most impressive mark of Brendisian scientific efficiency and discipline was how the whole damned meadow had been turned into what could only be described as the Cecilian counterpart to a Japanese zen garden without the rake marks.

Sheridan winced. “God, let’s hope our wheelsucker doesn’t shit on this place. It’s gorgeous.”

Old Myrna circled the embassy and slowly touched down just a short distance from the front doors. After he killed the engine, Sheridan unbuckled and quickly pulled out his communicator. The Brendisian Embassy—and other friendly alien neighbor embassies, for that matter—was terribly easy to find. Simply type “Bren,” and the first search term to pop up was “Brendisian Embassy, south of unstructured and ill-fitting Earthling colony, planet Cecilia.”

The small communicator screen flashed a bright white, faded, and a Brendisian woman appeared. Six eyes stared unnervingly at Sheridan, and a wide, lipless mouth curled into a pleasant smile. Like all other Brendisians, she didn’t have a nose in addition to missing eyelids.

“Good morning, Cecilian, this is Margot. How may I help you today?” she chirped.

“Yeah. Uh—ma’am? There’s—there’s a glowing hot pink thing attached to my ship’s tail, and it’d just dumped a massive load on someone’s astro-car a few miles back. Would you mind very much sending an army of your best scientists out, so it can be contained, studied, and then destroyed for the good of the galaxy? If it’s not too much trouble, the sooner the better. I’m still on the clock, and I’ve got rent due soon.”

“Good one, honey,” Grandma Janet whispered in the background. “I wouldn’t have been able to come up with that one.”

“It’s called fight or flight,” Sheridan whispered back as he waited for Margot to respond, which she was apparently taking her time on. “Moments of panic sometimes works wonders for my brain.” Too bad half the time, Sheridan would find himself regretting making decisions influenced by pure adrenaline.

Margot just stared at Sheridan, six eyes fixed and probing. Then her jaw moved rhythmically, her mouth puckered, and a grayish bubble appeared, swelled to half the size of her face, and then popped impressively. A couple more jaw movements, and the bubble remnants were back in her mouth.

“Is it showing up in your sensors, Cecilian?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Still there?”

Sheridan glanced at the sensors and saw the hot pink dot, situated a few feet away from Old Myrna’s butt. The damned interloper had even parked his rig neatly behind Sheridan’s. Of course, the odd thing—yet another odd thing in a world of a young life full of nothing but odd things—was that Sheridan didn’t hear a blasted peep coming from it. Old Myrna’s system might be as loud as any geriatric ship could be loud, but nothing from the other ship made itself heard. Even the driver never hailed him with a threat, an offer, or even a measly hello and well-met, stranger.

“It’s still there, yes,” he said, turning his attention back to Margot.

“Huh. Scratch normal atmospheric burps in Cecilia, then. All right, we’ll send a couple of our people out,” she replied. “Mind you, everyone else is rather tied up with very important research that it’s impossible to spare more than two right now. You do understand, of course.”

Sheridan sighed and nodded. “Thank you. That’ll be fine. I’ve got a weapon on me, anyway, and I can back them up if there’s a hint of a threat.”

“Very well. Wait for them, please, and stay inside your ship in the meantime.”

“Thank you.”

Margot nodded, smiled, and stared, and the connection died.

“You’re hoping to ward off threats from an unknown thing with your tiny little Quantum Pistol Mini?” Grandma Janet sputtered.

Sheridan stood up after putting his communicator away and pulling out his weapon. Striding toward the passenger’s side door, which was closest to the embassy entrance, he said, “I’m poor. That’s my excuse. And it’s all your fault for not leaving me a sizable inheritance, Grandma.”

“It’s my turn to ignore you now.”

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