Needed – Beta Readers!

Recently, I’ve been working on a novella titled The Reclaimers. It is a fantasy, sitting at about 26,000 words. I’ve reached the stage where I’d like to recruit a couple of beta readers.

What I’m looking for is a couple of people who’d like to read some or all of the novella, and provide some feedback. It could involve anything from just reading the first couple of chapters and giving me a sense of whether you would read on (and why), through to reading the whole thing and providing some detailed comments.

I’m open to a range of readers. Don’t worry if you’re not a writer and don’t feel like you could provide “expert” advice. While detailed, expert feedback is very valuable, so is getting feedback from a reader who can just say whether something is working for them or not, even if you can’t pinpoint exactly why.

A few broad points about the novella to help you decide whether to volunteer:

  • It is a secondary world fantasy – no Earth historical settings!
  • There is a female protagonist and references to her having a same-sex romance in her past. Not being female and not having had a same-sex romance in my past, I would love to get a perspective on the main character and how authentic she feels from someone with more credibility than me.
  • There is violence. And swearing. It’s not quite grimdark (the violence isn’t graphic enough for that), but it certainly leans in that direction. If that’s not your cup of tea, then hold back!

If you’re interested, please email me directly at: mark (at) markwebb (dot) name or leave a comment below.

Striking Twice (a story)

Time travel stories have always bugged me a bit. Especially the part where essentially the same people wander around changed timelines except with nothing altered except slightly different personalities. I mean come on – wait five seconds to have sex and you’ll end up with a completely different child. If someone did go back in time and start to change things you most likely would end up with completely different people populating the planet. Worrying about this really takes me out of a time travel story. Striking Twice was the result of trying to work through that frustration on the page.


Striking Twice

Roy sat in the delivery room clutching his wife’s hand while the surgeon worked. Breech birth. It was a good sign. The original pregnancy had been breech.

Yes. The right day, and the right time at the culmination of a similar pregnancy. An excellent match as far as his fuzzy and somewhat overloaded memory could tell.

‘Here she comes!’ cried the surgeon with her professional, practiced enthusiasm.

Roy looked up, a wild, desperate hope clutching at his heart. The baby emerged — first the legs, then the stomach and chest, and finally the head. She was beautiful: perfectly formed, and already filling her lungs to scream her displeasure at the world.

Roy slumped, disappointment and despair vying for supremacy. It wasn’t Ella.

He raised leaden fingers to the device on his wrist and tapped a few keys. The room shimmered, then faded away. As his existence unraveled, he wondered how it was that a disembodied consciousness could feel so sick to its stomach.

After a period of time that was both instantaneous and infinite, the world snapped back into focus.

Roy felt the strength and energy of his reduced years flood into him. He was always 18 after the transition — there didn’t seem to be any way to avoid that. Since he had created that first connection it was as if his consciousness had no choice but to follow the same path whenever he activated the device.

That first journey had been unforgettable. He had abandoned his ancient and ravaged body, and regained the glory of youth with a whole life stretched out before him — one where he essentially knew the future. Wealth, power, wine, women and song — Roy had loved every minute of it. This time he had invented the device much earlier, and lived in the sure knowledge that if anything truly bad happened he could go back and start again.

But as Roy’s 20s faded into the distance and he marched confidently into his 30s, he found himself thinking more and more about his daughter Ella. He hadn’t considered her potential lack of existence when he’d jumped. Anxious, Roy had sought out his former, and hopefully future, wife. But his new über-confident personality had cooled her interest. When the original date of Ella’s birth came and went, he decided to try again, and fired up the device.

Since then Roy had lived a hundred partial lifetimes, trying in each one to recreate the circumstances that had brought Ella into his life. He’d soon worked out how to match the broad events, but the critical detail proved tricky.

It all came down to Roy’s sperm. The average man carries billions of the little buggers. Which one makes it over the line to fertilisation depends on fragile, delicately balanced factors — factors that had so far frustrated his efforts at replication.

Roy squinted into the bright sunlight, squared his shoulders, and set out on yet another attempt to make lightning strike twice.

THE END


‘Striking Twice’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 168 (June 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

The Peppa Pig dilemma

Let me ask you two questions:

1. Are you a parent with children that were young in the last decade?

2. Are you a science fiction fan?

If you answered yes to both questions (1), then I guarantee you that there is something that has been gnawing at your subconscious, tearing away at your concept of reality. Have you been cranky with a co-worker lately? Finding some of the habits of your better half or close friends irritating? Catching yourself snarling back at the local cat who everyone says is an institution, providing the neighbourhood with a delightful dash of much needed character, but whom you suspect is actually an entity of pure evil hell bent on world destruction?

If all this sounds familiar then you, like me, have been snared by the Peppa Pig syndrome (2).

If you’ve hung around sci-fi for a while, you’d be familiar with the trope of “uplifting” animals to sapient status (3). Clearly people that write children’s television are, because it seems like every second kids TV show has talking animals in it. Given we don’t have talking animals now, and given these shows don’t feature any people, I can only assume that they are set in some far-future world where the human race has died out.

But here is the first of my gripes – these shows seldom put any effort into basic world building. How did the human race die out? Some kind of catastrophe? External, or generated ourselves? What mechanism was used by animals to gain sentience? Did humanity perform the uplift? The operation of evolution over millions of years? Some freak combination of mutating viruses and the alignment of planets?

And then there is the question of how these animals built the society they are living in. Most of the represented species lack opposable thumbs, making it hard to see how they developed the toolset to create the worlds they live in. Further, their civil structures invariably seem to be modelled on human-equivalent societies, which implies that they’ve got access to records of the human civilisation that came before them. Have they maintained some semblance of our society out of a sense of misguided loyalty to their creators? Or did they find a cache of television programs from our time which they used as a template for creating their own community? Perhaps they turned in desperation to the human example when recovering from some kind of inter-species war that threatened to annihilate them all (4). Even to the extent of primarily speaking English as the linga-fraca of these new worlds (presumably everyone speaks their own language – Lionish, Gazellish etc but learns English from an early age to allow inter-species communication).

And who decided which animals were uplifted? There seem to be some pretty arbitrary decisions made in that arena, with breathtakingly dubious ethics. What makes pigs inherently more sentience-worthy than spiders? What’s with the subjugation of goldfish? These selections, they haunt me. Are the non-uplifted animals some kind of under-class? Was it our decisions about who got uplifted that caused their persecution? And worst of all, was “cuteness” our primary selection criterion? Oh, humanity. We have so much to answer for.

Modern science tells us that intelligence is a thin veil holding back a seething mass of primeval emotions and instincts. These impulses threaten to tear groups of humans apart, even as our higher consciousness attempts to pull us together. And that’s when we have a fundamentally compatible sub-conscious infrastructure. Imagine a world where even the base instincts of the sapient beings were in stark opposition. Predator vs prey, mammal vs reptile, ground vs air. And this points to a darker issue. Did we do more than provide intelligence? Did we alter these creatures more fundamentally, to bring their sub-conscious drives into alignment? Is the crocodile no longer a predator? The possum-rat no longer prey? Has peace been bought at the price of individuality and diversity?

And were those changes also made at a biological level? At times I find myself consumed by concerns of food security in this animal utopia. Some of the uplifted creatures are carnivores, whose systems would not be able to tolerate a plant-based diet. Either there is a very disturbing underbelly of activity, where carnivorous creatures continue to eat their historical prey even when those animals are themselves sapient, or basic biology has been changed to tolerate either non-sapient creatures or non-animal food. Perhaps these societies have invented meat-substitutes, but that would require a level of technology beyond our own.

Can I answer all these questions? Clearly not. But next time you sit down with your little munchkins and you hear the opening strains of their favourite theme songs, try to hold onto your lunch as your stomach heaves in response to your reflections of what we are responsible for.

The behaviour that you watch as quality children’s entertainment is the behaviour you accept. At least have the common decency to be sickened by what you have done.

Footnotes

(1) If you answered yes to question 1, but not question 2, then I suspect you’ve landed on the wrong blog. If you answered yes to question 2 but not question 1, then you’re probably on the right blog but this may not be the article for you. Or who knows, it could be exactly the article for you. I mean, I don’t know you. Categorising what you may or may not like based on two questions is a bit rich. You have every right to be offended. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the post expressing your righteous indignation.

If you answered no to both questions, then get you’re probably my mum (the only older, non-SF person likely to be looking at this blog). Hi Mum!

(2) Or at least some of it. Look, if I had to guess I’d say that if approximately 30% of it or more sounds familiar then you’ve probably been snared.

(3) Like being sapient is all that. When is the last time you saw a budgerigar that was worried about credit card debt? Or a porpoise that had alienated its friendship circles by a misjudged social media post? I could go on, but this article isn’t designed to question the whole “sapient = good” premise of uplift.

But someone should.

(4) In which case more fool them. Have you looked at human society lately? Not example a good model to base yourself on. Still, perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe they take the good bits, and modify the rest.

Publication – Narration Blues

Some excellent news over the summer, when Ion ‘Nuke’ Newcombe, the editor of Antipodean SF, picked up one of my flash fiction pieces, called ‘Narration Blues’.

‘Narration Blues’ will feature in issue 226 of Antipodean SF, due out in May 2017.

This will be the 11th flash fiction piece I’ve published in Antipodean SF, and I remain very grateful that Nuke has been such a big supporter of my work.

Welcome to 2017

Hi all,

After a long hiatus, I’m firing up the blog again. I’ve been thinking about what kind of content might be of interest, and will be making a few changes that I’ll roll out over the next few weeks.

I hope your end of year holiday period was happy, safe, productive and fun.

That’s all for today – more to come soon.

Monthly roundup culture consumed – November 2016

Hope everyone has had a great November, and you’re not freaking out about how close Christmas is all of a sudden.

Books

As foreshadowed last month I finished Revenger by Alistair Reynolds during November. This is an excellent book. Set in the far, far future, the matter in the solar system has been reconfigured to be a lot of small planetoids, using tame black holes and other sciencey things to maintain things like gravity at Earth levels. There have been a series of civilisations that have risen and fallen in this environment, and as a result the planetoids are littered with the junk of many civilisations, some of it much more advanced than the current civilisation. Treasure hunting spaceships travel between worlds, and the whole thing has an 18th century naval adventure feel to it. I won’t give away much of the plot – you should go and read this book.

I started another couple of books – a new anthology edited by Jim Butcher called Shadowed Souls and the second book in Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty series, The Wall of Storms. Not far enough through either to have much to say as yet, although I can say that I really enjoyed Liu’s last book, and this one seems to be continuing on in a very satisfying way.

TV

I’ve been watching The Expanse on Netflix. The special effects on this series are amazing, and while it is a while since I read the book, the plot seems to follow pretty faithfully. Still got a couple of episodes to go, but a great show so far.

A couple of years back I watched the first two episodes of the sci-fi series Orphan Black, and while I enjoyed them I never got around to watching any more of it. I watched the first couple of episodes again in November, and again enjoyed them but I’m not finding myself drawn back to them. I’m going to try to power through at least a few more episodes – I’ve heard so many good reviews of this series and I feel like I’ve missed an essential part of the shared community experience.

The new Australian animated series Pacific Heat has started. At the time of writing, I’ve only watched the first episode. Very much like the American series Archer – same style of animation, very similar premise. I suspect the series will take a few episodes to find its feet – the humour was a bit hit and miss. The voice actors are a lot of the crew from the D-Generation (an Australian phenomenon) so there is a nostalgia angle here as well. If you’ve watched Archer and liked it, give this a go.

Movies

Didn’t go to the movies at all in December, but I did finally get around to watching The Martian. I found it surprisingly enjoyable. In some ways it is very old fashioned sci-fi, where the main enemy is a cold, uncaring universe and the problems can be solved by science and engineering. But Matt Damon played the main character with just enough wry humour to make him sympathetic and as a result the movie kept me very much hooked in.

Other

One of the podcasts I really like, Tea and Jeopardy, is starting its annual “Advent Calendar” style run – with very short episodes being published every day in the lead up to Christmas. An excellent podcast – usual format is a speculative fiction author interview with a small “radio play” around it.

Another favourite podcast, Sheep Might Fly, has just started a new audio story –  “Dance, Princes, Dance” by Australian author Tansy Rayner Roberts.

So, what have you been up to?

Make Mine a Macchiato (a story)

I wanted to try something a little away from science fiction as well as something a little silly. ‘Make Mine a Macchiato’ was the result. It was also the first time I showed a story in progress to a non-writer friend. While I didn’t agree with all the feedback, I did gain an appreciation for the benefit of better understanding what your potential audience might like. In this instance, my friend wasn’t a big fan of the ambiguity at the end of the story. I liked it so in the end I kept it, but it was a good reminder that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.


Make Mine a Macchiato

Jack was used to tickles of insight that warned him when things weren’t quite right. His talents didn’t lie in proper prognostication — even the thought of tracking the probabilities of multiple potential futures gave him a headache. But every now and then he got a nudge, an inkling that things were about to get ugly. Mostly, those flashes were frustrating and vague. Fortunately, the crushing waves of terror helped him pinpoint the problem this time.

A portal hung open in the middle of the footpath, like a malicious shimmering eye. Through it Jack could see the hazy image of a person. Well, perspective was a little tricky. Perhaps larger than a person. In fact, if he wasn’t an avowed atheist Jack could have sworn he was looking at…

“A demon?” Jack muttered.

“Come on, Jack,” the purported demon said. “You don’t believe in all that supernatural bullshit. Psionics are a completely natural phenomenon. Why would this be any different?”

Jack squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose in the universally acknowledged mechanism for dispelling hallucinations.

It didn’t work. Some form of response seemed in order.

“If you are human that’s a bloody good disguise,” Jack managed. “You seem to have more horns than I’m used to seeing on the average pedestrian, and the red marbling throughout your suspiciously stony skin…”

“Yes, well, I’m sure there are plenty of rational explanations,” it interrupted. “Anything from a complicated government conspiracy involving a new form of sensory mind control through to that dodgy kebab you ate last night. Does it really matter?”

Jack supposed not, although interpretations that pointed to mental instability would be of concern. The fact that no passersby were freaking out seemed to lend that branch of thought credence and Jack said as much.

“Look, Jacky boy,” the devil shaped entity said. “I’m really just looking for someone to buy me a macchiato. The cafe across the road is my favourite, and it isn’t every day that a certified level 17 psionic walks by. Do a demon a favour and pick me up one would you?”

Jack remembered enough stories to know that he was in dangerous bargaining territory. But he didn’t believe in demons. So why was he still standing here? He started to back away, slowly.

The as yet unproved daemon raised its hands in placation.

“Jack. Mate. Look at it this way. Right now you’re worried you might be crazy. If you hand over the coffee and it actually disappears you’ll know you’re sane. If it doesn’t, well…early psychiatric intervention can only be a good thing.”

The apparition made a reasonable point. Jack shrugged, crossed the road, and purchased a macchiato for it — and a flat white for himself. He used the cardboard carrying tray to pass the small cup through the portal’s glistening threshold to the eagerly waiting fiend on the other side, then stood back to find out if demons were real.

THE END


‘Make Mine a Macchiato’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 166 (April 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

The Gloriously Cunning Plan (a story)

In my day job I deal with bureaucracy a lot. “The Gloriously Cunning Plan” stemmed from this concern – what would happen if one of those last minute heroic plans I always see on TV came face to face with the kind of red tape I see in real government work?


The Gloriously Cunning Plan

Second Lieutenant Sanders hovered in perfect equilibrium between oblivion and suffering. He longed to let go and allow the breaking waves of pain to drag him back into a sea of blissful unconsciousness. But a nagging sense of some important task left undone wouldn’t let him rest. That, and the bloody distracting siren that someone insisted on blasting into his eardrums.

One eye opened as a lifetime’s experience of eyelid manipulation had led him to believe it would. The other was… sticky. Gummy — clearly refusing to toggle as required. Already feeling put upon, Sanders tried not to take this additional injustice personally.

Activating muscles that protested being press-ganged into service, he raised a hand to paw at his face. He smeared enough blood away to restore minimal function. The harsh artificial light of the shuttle pod’s interior clashed in headache-inducing splendour with the flickering flames of the uncontrolled fires that burned in the console. Meanwhile, the smell of burning plastic assaulted his nose as thoroughly as the light ambushed his eyes.

Time to leave.

Sanders rose, his body reeling like a tired scarecrow left too long to the mercy of crows. He stumbled forward and collapsed his weight onto the door control, executing a clumsy escape from the increasingly smoky confines of the forward cabin.

One glance at the outside of the shuttle confirmed what his injuries had led him to suspect — it hadn’t been an easy flight from the Odyssey.

The Odyssey! The mayday call from the military freighter. The Captain’s decision to respond. The many, many enemy ships that surrounded them. The gloriously cunning plan of the Captain, that relied on…

…that relied on Sanders getting to the bridge of this run down freighter. The blurry clock icon in his peripheral HUD painted the time in crimson neon across his vision. Sanders focused. Three minutes to go. If the missiles weren’t fired at exactly the right time and in exactly the right pattern the plan would fail, ensuring the destruction of the Odyssey and the almost certain capture of the freighter. But Sanders had served two tours with the Captain. He had seen enough rabbits pulled out of enough hats to feed a small army.

External communications were jammed, and internal communications unresponsive. Sanders raced down grey corridors filled with flickering lights, alarms, and barely repressed panic. These freighters didn’t exactly attract the best of the best. No security stopped him as he burst onto the main bridge with barely 20 seconds remaining.

‘Captain, I’m Lieutenant Sanders from the Odyssey‘, he barked. ‘We need a full spread of missiles, attack pattern delta-epilson-five to coordinates 165 by 234. On my mark…’

The frazzled freighter Captain looked up at Sanders, his expression bemused. ‘No can do. All class seven freighters had their missiles confiscated as a part of the last efficiency dividend process’, he said.

Sanders sighed and slumped to the ground as the forward screen flashed. It was awash with light from the exploding Odyssey.

Bloody bureaucracy, Sanders thought, and waited patiently for the oblivion he once again hoped would follow.

THE END


‘The Gloriously Cunning Plan’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 165 (March 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Shipwrecked (a story)

This was the first story I had published in Antipodean SF, in issue 163 (January 2012). I originally wrote Shipwrecked for an 800 word writing competition in mid 2011, but didn’t finish it by the deadline. When I first decided to submit to Antipodean SF, I polished and cut it back to 500 words then sent it in. I still remember the excitement of getting the acceptance from Nuke and the interesting experience of working through editorial notes on my work.

The story itself came from the unoriginal thought that if there are alien civilisations out there, why haven’t they contacted us? Perhaps they’ve been warned away…



Shipwrecked

Danic sat humming mindless, tension-relieving tri-harmonies. Being chosen as Advocate for Intervention was an honour, but as the years rolled on the Breenic seemed further away than ever from deciding how they would interact with humanity. Direct contact had been ruled out almost as soon as they arrived. The most advanced civilisations on the planet still sailed their seas in wooden boats. No, the Breenic had too much experience in inadvertently ruining civilisations to act in haste.

In their long voyage amongst the stars, the Breenic had refined their methods for dealing with primitive natives like humanity. They could leave behind technological marvels that would reveal themselves when the human race sufficiently matured. Alternatively, if humans were deemed too great a threat — well, aggressive races had met a premature end before. But never before had the Breenic been so divided on the fate of a civilisation. For every observed act of tyranny, there was one of benevolence. For every brutal impulse, a creation of stunning beauty. They could foresee the human race adding to galactic art and culture. They could also imagine them unleashing a firestorm of destruction. The Consensus was torn.

Even by their long-lived standards the Breenic had dallied here, and many were eager to begin the journey again. Without Intervention, their best scientists predicted that humanity was centuries away from slipping the bonds of their solar system. Danic felt his opportunity to convince the Consensus evaporating. Influenced perhaps by the antics of the race he had spent the past decade investigating, he decided to risk all in one final, desperate roll of the dice.

He suggested a test.

His fellow Advocates were intrigued. They knew that such a test was the only way Danic could sway the Consensus, but they also knew it would bring quick resolution. And quick resolution was what the Breenic now yearned for.

Once decided, it was the effort of a moment to shipwreck one of those quaint wooden ships. Marooned with little hope of rescue, the behaviour of the stranded humans would decide the watching Breenic.

Danic watched with mounting hope as the valiant commander headed off on a perilous journey to summon help, and revelled in the courage with which the remaining crew faced their fate.

But that hope soon melted like ice exposed to the searing light of an approaching star. Bravery twisted into ruthlessness. Power corrupted, and soon acts of stunningly savage barbarism left the Breenic reeling. Only some small acts of courage and sympathy for the suffering of the abused prevented the Breenic bringing humanity’s creeping evolution to an abrupt stop.

Mourning lost potential, the Sol system was marked on interstellar charts with signs that warned, “here be dragons”. As the fleet moved on and Danic prepared for the big sleep, he looked back at the slowly fading light of Earth — marooned and set adrift from all other intelligent life — and hoped that the fate of that shipwrecked crew did not represent, for humanity, prophecy.

THE END


‘Shipwrecked’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 163 (January 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?

Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Showdown (Part 5 of 5)

Previously, on Showdown

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Showdown (Part 5 of 5)

Misthrado marched towards the house, determined to cut down these upstarts straight away. The kobolds weren’t in good shape. One decisive thrust should wipe them out.

He was half way across the yard when he noticed the old woman stepping off her front porch, a gaudy statue of some sort in hand. A small group of kobolds stood behind her, a fidgeting and scowling honour guard of sorts. Battered kobolds leaned out of every window of the house, watching the scene playing out before them.

‘Misthrado, isn’t it?’ The woman’s voice carried thinly across the yard. ‘What brings you to my home?’

He raised his hand and his army stopped behind him. What a fantastic opportunity. As frail as she was, the old lady was the mistress of this forsaken hellhole and she had addressed him in parley. This provided him with a chance to engage in a bit of awe inspiring speech making to impress the troops. She was human and was not covered by the law of the Fae, so any terms he agreed to would not be binding. He could secure her surrender then butcher the damn kobolds once they stood down and no one would gainsay him. Indeed, his reputation for ruthlessness would only be enhanced.

He drew himself up to his full height and projected his voice in practiced cadences designed to daunt.

‘I am Misthrado, Lord of the Underworld and Destroyer of Nations. My armies will conquer this puny continent and soon I will take my rightful place…’

‘Yes, yes,’ the woman broke in. ‘So, since you’re the leader of this invading army, I understand I can challenge you to a trial by single combat. Is that right?’

No one interrupted him. No one! Off balance, Misthrado looked at her with suspicion. There must be some trick here. In a flash of insight, he thought he saw it.

‘Ah, you’ve found some kind of champion to fight on your behalf, have you old woman? I counsel against it, there is no kobold alive that can match me. And if your warrior were to lose, both you and your whole army would be mine to do with as I pleased.’

The old woman smiled. ‘No champion, Misthrado. Just me. You can use a champion if you like.’ She hefted the golden figurine. ‘If it’s all the same to you I’d like to keep the trophy though.’

Misthrado heard sniggering in the ranks behind him and realised the situation was fast spinning out of his control. Destroying this old woman would be easy. Too easy in some ways, it would reduce his standing with his troops. But still, not accepting the challenge would be even worse.

‘Keep your idol, human,’ he snarled. ‘I’ll even leave behind my sword. Tearing you apart with my bare hands will be the highlight of my day.’

He slammed his sword point-first into the ground, then strode forward into the now empty circle of grass that lay between his army and the house. The old woman tottered forward, her trophy held before her like a talisman.

Misthrado screamed his displeasure at this humiliating scene for all to hear. The faster he removed this impudent woman’s head and put this whole damn day behind him the better. He crouched in preparation for an eviscerating leap.

It was then that the first knife pierced his thick skin. As he twisted towards the source of the pain, kobolds appeared all around him, stabbing, clawing and biting. The kobolds at the window had been a ruse, a small part of her force left to give the impression the house was fully defended. The remainder had snuck out and lay in wait to catch him once he was separated from his troops.

Within seconds his wings had been punctured and he was bleeding all over. He swung his arms, trying to find enough space to fight back but the numbers were overwhelming. His own army stood paralysed, watching as he collapsed under the weight of so many kobolds. No matter how good an individual fighter was, anyone could be taken down if enough enemies were piled on.

‘This is a violation of Fae law,’ he hissed while trying to protect his vital organs.

Even above the noise of battle, the old woman must have heard him.

‘Well, I don’t know anything about that dearie,’ she said. ‘I’m not Fae.’

‘My armies will destroy you,’ he gasped.

‘I don’t think so,’ she replied. ‘They don’t seem like the type to follow orders, and with you brought down I see quite a few of them leaving. I suspect you’re going to have to find yourself another army.’

Misthrado didn’t have to see his horde to know she spoke the truth. Even at the height of his powers, keeping this many Fae under control was difficult. ‘It’s not fair,’ he yelled.

The old woman didn’t seem sympathetic. ‘Yes, well a seven foot half-demon warrior taking on a little old human lady isn’t exactly punching in your weight division is it? Fair is as fair does, if you ask me.’

Misthrado was losing blood quickly and knew that if he didn’t leave now he may never do so. With a roar so loud it shook the house on its foundations, he managed to dislodge enough kobolds to leap into the air. His damaged wings barely held him aloft as he retreated, the remnants of his army streaming away beneath him.

It would be years before he’d recover from this. He shrieked his frustration into the night sky as he flew back towards sanctuary.

***

Dawn’s golden light found Jennifer and Gral sitting on the front porch. Her kobold guests had spent the night cleaning up, and only some trampled grass and a few broken windows showed that anything special had happened at all.

With the excitement passed, Jennifer felt the old lethargy seep back into her bones. She let the sunlight warm her as she sipped a hot cup of tea.

‘Will he be back?’ she asked.

‘Not for a long time, Miss,’ replied Gral. ‘Although you’d better watch yourself. He’ll want his revenge.’

After setting her tea aside, Jennifer closed her eyes to settle in for a short doze. ‘Then it’s lucky for me I run the best kobold backpackers lodge south of the equator.’

THE END


‘Showdown’ was originally published in Electric Spec in Volume 9 Issue 2 (May 2014). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?

Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.