K. Ceres Wright

Story Excerpt: Leaving Seadover

by , on
May 23, 2019

London–Paris Archipelago

December 10, 2065

Rayne Lyncott strolled down the walkway overpass that ran the length of the London–Paris Archipelago, just outside of Seadover. A few joggers shared the overpass, who, upon spying the police badge hanging from her waist, moved to the other side and gave her ample leeway. Rayne was waiting on the forensics team to record a crime scene and render the hologram, but given the circumstances surrounding the deceased, she had expected it to take longer than usual.

A cold breeze swept off the English Channel, blowing her dreadlocks into her eyes and carrying the saltwater mist that tended to settle into everything it touched. The air smelled of brine and weighty anticipation. She tapped her sleeve to turn up the temperature on her long johns and called up the time. It blinked 9:35 in her periphery, overlaying the view of a construction crane in the distance.

Newly formed and renovated towns served as islands between the LPA anchor cities. Five Ashes, south of London, was a hotbed for crypto merchants, both legal and illegal. Sigy-en-Bray, northwest of Paris, served as a virtual playground for the tech-heads and databorgs yearning for erotic historical adventures, such as a romp in the hay with Marie Antoinette, or a private session with the Marquis de Sade. Seadover, however, was a different matter. It was a high-rent district catering to the well-heeled who wanted a waterfront view and freshly cloned seafood. The small town stood on the British side of the bridge between Bexhill-on-Sea in England and Dieppe in France, and served as an experimental high-tech answer to climate change and rising seas——an aquaculture community. Its homes and small business district were built on floating platforms with sheathed pilings that allowed it to glide up and down in response to water levels. On a stormy day, the entire town would bob up and down slightly from the choppy waters. It was said that living there made one acquire Seadover legs. And every time Rayne heard that joke, she groaned in her soul.

Rayne’s holocaster chimed and she tapped her temple to answer. A transparent image of her boss, Detective Superintendent Kay Winslow, appeared before her. Winslow was seated behind her desk in an office littered with boxes of paper files she hadn’t yet digitized, sipping on a mug of something. Rayne guessed it was a hot toddy, compliments of the whiskey bottle she kept in her desk. Her alcoholism was an open secret; silence was rewarded with a Christmas bonus.

“Superintendent,” Rayne said.

“How’s it going so far?”

“I finished the initial walk-through. Detective Sergeant Jones was already here as responding officer. He had called Bexhill and by the time I arrived, he had sent in the drone and was securing the area.” In fact, Jones’ voice had sounded strained on the caster when he called Bexhill, as if he’d been rattled by what he saw, and Rayne had wondered what could cause a regular purveyor of crime scenes to have such a reaction.

“What’s the status?”

“I’m waiting on forensics. Someone cut off the deceased’s leg. A right bloody mess,” Rayne said.

The superintendent frowned, which was a bad sign. It meant extra work. “It’s Seadover, so we need this solved. And quick. Let’s just say if you pull this off, it’ll go a long way toward your promotion to Chief.”

“Of course…Ma’am. Sorry, I have to go. Forensics.”

Rayne swiped left and rang off. Winslow was a third-generation legacy officer. Hence, someone to be obeyed, but also someone who didn’t know hard work from a bite in the ass. Rayne had begun to wonder if it was all worth it.

She paused to lean over the rail and watch the lights of Calais. Undulating peaks of the Strait caught the gleam of the evenly spaced street lights that lined the bridge. Neon-trimmed buildings loomed, stacked like a toddler’s blocks against the cityscape backdrop. She wondered how many people were being murdered there, among the twinkling lights, that night.

The sight stirred memories of the Orisha stories her grandmother used to tell her of Yemoja——the Yoruban goddess of rivers and streams——and how she protected the oceans, lakes, and other bodies of water. Rayne thought Yemoja would be deeply disappointed in humanity’s stewardship of the planet’s waterways and wondered why she hadn’t already withdrawn the seas into the Earth’s crust until the land’s ungrateful inhabitants died of drought. She was already absorbing the extra heat from climate change, sparing the land dwellers from the worst of it. But perhaps she was lurking, just underneath the surface, hatching a plan for retribution.

“Wouldn’t blame you if you did,” Rayne whispered.

Rayne had just wrapped up a murder investigation in Bexhill that involved a crypto billionaire and a disinherited son, who had taken offense to his new stepmother and her lavish lifestyle. The father was discovered dead in a crashed yacht. Turned out being rich was a risk factor for early death.

“Surprise, surprise,” she muttered to herself. Rayne slid a hand inside her leather jacket and pulled out an eCig. Tapped it on the handrail and the orange ring lit up, brightening to max within seconds. Took a pull. The taste and smell of black coffee filled her mouth and nose, ferrying caffeine to her central nervous system. It was a Thursday, and she hadn’t slept since the early hours of Tuesday. She still had to return to the office and finish writing the report. But it would have to wait until she could get some sleep. She was beginning to hear voices and see shadows where there were none.

 “Inspector? Forensics is wrapping up the crime scene. It should be available on your node.”

Rayne turned toward the voice. It belonged to Detective Constable Phillip Davies, a fresh-faced 23 year-old who had just transferred from Horsham. “Thank you, constable,” Rayne said. She tapped the eCig and the orange light dimmed.

“You’re welcome, sir…uh, I mean ma’am.” Davies’ face flushed red.

“Sir, ma’am, I don’t care which one you use. Long as shit gets done. Just pick one and stick with it.”

“Y-yes, sir.” He stood still, eyes cast downward, flicking back and forth, as if looking on the ground for another reply.

“Relax, Davies.” Rayne sighed. “Tell me, why’d you join the force?”

He paused for a long while. Rayne noted his fists balling up at his sides. “I wanted to help people,” he said.

“Help people. Why do you want to help people?”

“Everyone needs help,” he said, his voice low, eyes still trained on the ground. “Sometimes.”

“Did your mother need help?” she said.

He looked up sharply at her, eyes wide, inquiring.

“I’ve been an officer for 10 years, five as a detective. I know the signs, either you or someone close to you,” she said. “Your dad beat your mom?”

Davies looked away, but said nothing.

“Where’s he now?”

“Vet home for the disabled.”

“PTSD?”

“That’s what they said.”

“And your ma?”

“Home. Pissed. As usual.”

Rayne nodded; Davies’ eyes glistened. She began walking toward the apartment block and reached out to squeeze his arm.

Story Excerpt: A Tryst That Cuts Both Ways

by , on
May 23, 2019

by K. Ceres Wright

Kalinda ran her fingers down the frayed cover of the Wayfarer prayer book. The black leather was dry and cracked, curling tan at the edges. The book contained just eight pages, the rest having been lost long ago to the ravages of time, war, and relocation. She could only read a few paragraphs. The Wayfare language hadn’t thrived among the descendants of the One Million after settlement on distant planets, and she had forgotten most of what she had been taught as a child. She opened to the first page and read.

“Father of the heavens, stars, and galaxies, watch over our journey and deliver us to solid ground. Let our daily bread be sufficient, our fuel abundant, and water overflowing. Guide us by Thy hand among the beacons of the eternal night, until Your light leads us to our future.”

Her reading was interrupted by Mobé, her butler, whose voice sounded overhead, through the speakers.

“Oba Jakande, your cousin, Mr. Okeke, is on the line.”

“Thank you, Mobé. Please put him through.”

After a moment, Kalinda said, “Zuberi, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Cut the shit, Kal. I heard you’ve been making a deal with the Kur Dak behind my back. Is that true? I thought we signed a truce.”

“The terms of our agreement are, and I quote, ‘Neither party will engage in business transactions or mergers that infringe upon the core business of the other party.’ But this deal doesn’t have to do with investment banking, stocks, or commodities. It’s for a …different type of product,” Kalinda said.

“Oh, yeah? What is it? Weapons? Winter wheat? Woolly mammoths?”

“How’d you guess?” she said drily.

“I swear, if you’ve violated our agreement, I’ll file suit, and once your new client gets wind of that news, I wonder how long they’ll stick around.”

“Your desperation is showing, cousin. And I must say, it’s quite unbecoming,” Kalinda said.

“Damnit, Kal, is it true or not?”

She paused, considering what to tell him. “Remember, oh, about six months ago, you lent money to the Global Bank of The Tennance and wouldn’t tell me what it was for?”

An audible sigh sounded overhead. “Fine. It was for repairs to the Nyekundu Gate.”

“Ah…don’t tell me…the Perimeter Worlds want to keep it hush-hush that they’re being attacked by the Green Federation.”

“Bad for business,” Zuberi said. “They officially said the gate was down for maintenance. But there are rumors to the contrary, which I’m actively trying to suppress. So…what’s your story?”

“The Kur Dak want to dip their toe into Cassad investments, but are ignorant of the ways of humans. I’m just a teacher of human customs…and investment strategy.”

Zuberi let out a long, low whistle. “Mbutu said they were getting money from somewhere and were looking for somewhere to put it. I was wondering when they’d come sniffing around. I don’t know about you, Kal, but I’m starting to think these events are not unrelated. Kur Dak new-found money, gate sabotage by the Federation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Brythons were behind it.”

“You always suspect the Brythons. Of everything. It’s getting tiresome.”

“There’ve been rumors, Kent and his father, Percival, are up to something more than usual Brython ambition. I think it has to do with what we’re talking about, especially the attacks on the gates.”

Kalinda paused. She didn’t pay much attention to gate shutdowns since she rarely traveled to other planets. Most of them were backwater wilderness on which families had carved out some small oasis of civilization. And the Clusters were noisy with the constant din of construction.

“For once in your life, you may have a valid opinion,” she said.

Story Excerpt: The Baker Troupe

by , on
May 23, 2019

by K. Ceres Wright

Henry angled up the steps, opened the corrugated neon-green metal door, and stepped inside. Music wafted out of the lean-to juke joint, a zydeco-country fusion remix escaping the sweaty desperation of the place. A bank of multicolored lights ran the length of the building, throwing disks of red, purple, and green on the gyrating patrons.

Jose sat in his usual corner, reading his heads-up display and smoking his pipe. Henry thought the scene anachronistic. He pushed past a group of drunken bridesmaidsevidenced by their tiarasand took a seat at the bar. He gave the bartender, Leslie, the sign for his regular drink. She nodded in reply. Being deaf was an advantage for a bartender in this joint, he thought. An upswell of noise filled the space behind him and he twisted in his seat. The woman wearing the BRIDE tiara had climbed onto the stage and began dancing with Kyle, who was playing backup guitar to Rita’s country singing and fiddle playing. Octavius rounded out the trio on the old world accordion. The bride ground her pelvis into Kyle’s backside. Rita scowled and motioned for security. A bot flew down from the ceiling and delivered 25,000 volts to the bride. She yowled in pain, which elicited laughter from the crowd. She tore herself away from Kyle and slunk back to her merry band of maids, who cheered her return with a dousing of bottle-sprayed champagne.

“Where’re they from?” Henry said. He had to shout over the music.

Leslie shrugged. “I heard one of them mention New Rho.”

Figures, Henry thought. There were five domed settlements on Mars, all interconnected by underground tunnels and rail. New Rhode Island was the smallest settlement. New Rhoers always came to Camp X and the larger settlements to party, some of which devolved into fist fights. New Rho contained the elite of the colonists—engineers, physicists, rich investors. Camp X had a hodgepodge of people—actors, musicians, dancers, social workers, reporters. The other three—Chronitis, Seer Park, and Nouveau—were specialty settlements, where the geologists, botanists, archaeologists, metallurgists, and others lived.

Henry was the only magician, at least as far as he knew, which was fine by him The New Rhos were always throwing company parties and inviting him and his troupe to perform.

A man slid into the stool next to Henry and tapped him on the arm. “Hey, man. I thought you’d gone to Seer Camp.”

Henry twisted in his seat as he downed his beer. He slammed the mug on the counter and grinned. “Derrick! Just got back. The hell are you doing here, slumming?”

Derrick bellowed a guffaw. “I’m a rebel, Henry. They only keep me around cuz they don’t feel like finding another theoretical physicist before the contract runs out. I figure I got about 8 months before I’m out on my ass. But lucky for me, I already got the next job lined up. Amethyst Industries needs a team lead for their asteroid mining project.”

“Mining? Since when do you go in for corporate interests?”

“Since they’re willing to pay me enough to retire on. I can whore myself out one last time and then start working on what I want to…teaching needy children about science and tech.”

“You should’ve become a teacher,” said Henry.

“On that salary? You do know I like the finer things in life…food, running water, heat…”

The pair sat silent as three men dressed as an asteroid miner, policeman, and scientist led the bridal party to the back rooms.

“At least somebody’s getting some action.” Derrick jutted his chin at Henry. “What about you? What’re your plans for the future?”

Henry shrugged. “I left Earth for something new and exciting, but compared to most cities, the Mars settlements are small. I’ve gotten bored already. Thinking about going back to Earth. Got a friend in Vegas who can get the troupe a gig.”

“Where you can be one of a hundred acts? I know you, man. You’ll be bored quicker there than here.”

Henry paused to consider the veracity of Derrick’s words. He leaned back on his stool and examined the tattoos on his forearms in contemplative silence. He had received most of them from a Mentawai shaman on Siberut Island. It was just after he’d lost his father and the world was pressing in on him with questions and expectations—Will you finally get a real job? Come work for me as my assistant. Let me invest your money for you. Is that really where you live? He had escaped it all by closing his eyes and pointing to a spot on a map. Actually, his finger landed in the middle of the Indian Ocean, so he chose the nearest land mass.

The kids on the island had loved his magic tricks. One of the older shamans, however, acted as if he thought Henry was there to steal his job. To ease his mind, Henry had taught him a few of his tricks after eliciting a pledge never to reveal them, on pain of death. The shaman, Po’ku, had been cool after that, even giving Henry a replica of the tattoos on his arms. In fact, he told Henry that the tattoos would always connect them, and he could watch over Henry, ready to kick his ass even from miles away. Henry had dismissed the notion, until one night he’d been driving, alone, exhausted, and had nodded off. Po’ku’s voice sounded in his head and he jerked awake in time to avoid crashing into the side of a tungsten refinery. At the time, he’d chalked it up to coincidence, but a few more incidents had convinced him. In fact, he could imagine Po’ku now, bald, dressed in saffron robes as he went about his duties at the temple.

“Hello?” Derrick waved his hand in Henry’s face, snapping his fingers. “Mars to Henry.”

Henry shook himself out of the reverie. “Sorry, just…thinking.”

Derrick guffawed. “Rare activity nowadays. So?”

“So what?” Henry suddenly grew irritable.

“What are your future plans?”

“I don’t know, why? You got any brilliant ideas?”

Derrick shifted on his stool, facing outward, watching Rita and Kyle flirt on the stage as they sang, “One More Night.”

“As a matter of fact, I do. But not here. My place.” Derrick slid off the stool and cogged both their drinks. The settlement’s AI, Cognition, kept track of every purchase, schedule, meeting, and all other occurrences on the planet. It debited and credited the proper accounts, managed itineraries, arranged travel, and made dinner plans. Among other things, Henry had heard that if you knew the correct password, you could access drugs, indulge fetishes, and even order up some harassment of your enemies.

“I don’t feel like riding all the way back to Camp X tonight. Can I charge at your place?”

“Yeah, sure. C’mon.” Derrick headed for the door.

Henry got Leslie’s attention and signed that he was leaving with Derrick. She nodded and slid a quick look toward the stage to indicate she’d tell the troupe.

Henry was the troupe’s de facto leader, meaning he was the most responsible, which wasn’t saying much. He’d spent the past weekend nursing a hangover from the Friday before. And at 33, he was feeling the pressure to settle down and have kids. That crushing fear of conformity led him to Mars, where he fell in with a group of itinerant actors, dancers, and musicians. As a magician, he wasn’t seen as a rival, and they would come to him to confess their sins and receive absolution and whatever advice Henry could dredge up from his 30-plus years of experience.

He climbed into Derrick’s car and they sped off toward Chroniton. It was about a 40-minute drive at 200 m.p.h. They made small talk about VR games and sports until they arrived. The car pulled off the underground highway and snaked past several individual garages before pulling into Derrick’s. The two alighted and rode an elevator straight into Dererick’s apartment. An android greeted them in the large foyer and took their jackets. They headed left, toward the kitchen.

“Drink?” Derrick stood in front of the fridge display.

“Beer.”

“Coming up.”

Henry wandered toward the entertainment room, which housed a holographic staging area, VR display, mini-bar, and a couch/loveseat set. He took up residence on the loveseat. Derrick handed him a beer and sat on the couch.

“So what’s the deal?” Henry took a sip of his beer.

“We’ve found a planet comparable to Earth. All the data we’ve recovered from probes indicate it could be a fuckin’ paradise.”

“Huh, I haven’t heard anything.”

“Beause GSEC didn’t discover it. Avent Technologies did. And they want to send a scout team, under the radar.”

“How the hell do you launch a scout team under the radar?”

Derrick shrugged as if everyone knew. “Disguised as a satellite launch. No optics, just a line in an article.”

“And you think that’ll work?”

“It’s worked before.” Derrick held out a bag of crisps. “Chips?”

“No, thank you. And when before?” Henry threw up his hands. “You know what? Never mind. I don’t wanna know. But why all the hush-hush? What’s the point?”

Derrick chugged his beer and slammed the bottle onto the coffee table. “Another one?”

“No, thanks. Pacing myself. Answer the question.”

Derrick hung his head as if Henry had just scolded him for breaking curfew. “They want it for the rich. To send them off for an exorbitant fee to get away from the poor wretches on Earth. The appeal of toiling underground on Mars is wearing thin.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.” Derrick got up and crossed over to the kitchen. “And I got a feeling something else is going on.”

“Like what?”

“I think they’re doing genetic experiments.”

Henry paused mid-draught, then swallowed. “You’re shitting me.”

Derrick shook his head. “No, unfortunately. Like out of fuckin’ Brave New World, making the brown people class D or whatever the fuck. Sterile, of course, so they can’t reproduce. Just make more by combining chemical X with protein Y and shoving it into an artificial womb.” He sat, staring at the blank holostage.

Henry’s mouth fell open and he sank into the back of the chair, slack-jawed. “Jesus.”

Derrick’s gaze panned to Henry. “That’s why I want you to go. To be my eyes and ears.”