Download this episode (right click and save)

And here’s the RSS feed: http://glittership.podbean.com/feed/

Episode 41 is part of the Spring 2017 issue!

Read ahead by picking up your copy here: http://www.glittership.com/buy/

 

 

A Spell to Signal Home

by A.C. Buchanan

 

 

“Ash.”

The voice is at once close beside me and yet muted, as if the sound is being filtered through a dream or a long stretch of time, a universe drawn out like an endless vibration of music. I can taste the sweetness of blood in my mouth, but no syllables emerge and my body feels heavy and soft.

“Ash.”

Beyond the voice are the sounds of a living planet. It’s hard to pinpoint how the noise of life and the noise of machines differ, when one can so easily mimic the other and both contain so much variety, the boundaries between them blurred, but it’s unmistakable. This is no barren outpost, no hub of spinning metal; this is a result of millions of years of evolution, web-like ecosystems tangling into one another. It will differ from all others and yet on another level it will be the same as all others, interlocking chains of consumption and relation and habitat.

“Ash, we’re going to need to get you out. Can you talk to us?”

 

[Full transcript after the cut]


Hello, welcome to GlitterShip Episode #41. This is your host Keffy and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you. We have a poem and a GlitterShip original for you today. Our poem is “Songs of Love and Defense in the Dawn” by Hester J. Rook.

 

Hester J. Rook is an Australian writer and co-editor of Twisted Moon magazine,
a magazine of speculative erotic poetry (twistedmoonmag.com). She has previous
prose and poetry publications in Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Liminality
Magazine, Strangelet and others. She’s on Twittter @kitemonster and you can
find her other work on her site http://hesterjrook.wordpress.com/.

 


Songs of Love and Defense in the Dawn

by Hester J. Rook

 

 

I am bird song
the whole of me, thrumful
the nattering hiss of the seawind through my whispered bones.

They seek to rewrite me
call me raucous, unwieldy,
liar, schemer, temptress
until I am heavy (but weightless) like a pelican skimming
belly over water.
They speak as though their story
can varnish them with righteousness
despite the hurt they cause;
rewrite our histories.

But I am birdsong
and ironbark;
my words are warnings and heralds of the crisp
lipbitten dawn
bright as the frosted wingtips of the black swans
gliding
through silver.

I am birdsong

and I am louder than the thunderstorm and softer
than the gathering dusk on the hills
fiercer than teeth in a kiss and
unafraid
I gather up my feathers and

I shield.

 


 

Our original short story is “A Spell to Signal Home” by A.C. Buchanan.

A.C. Buchanan lives just north of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. They’re
the author of Liquid City and Bree’s Dinosaur and their short fiction has most
recently been published in Unsung Stories, the Accessing the Future anthology from
FutureFire.net and the Paper Road Press anthology At the Edge Fierce Family.
They also co-chair LexiCon 2017 – The 38th New Zealand National Science
Fiction and Fantasy Convention and edit the speculative fiction
magazine Capricious. You can find them on twitter at @andicbuchanan or at
www.acbuchanan.org.

 


 

A Spell to Signal Home

by A.C. Buchanan

 

 

“Ash.”

The voice is at once close beside me and yet muted, as if the sound is being filtered through a dream or a long stretch of time, a universe drawn out like an endless vibration of music. I can taste the sweetness of blood in my mouth, but no syllables emerge and my body feels heavy and soft.

“Ash.”

Beyond the voice are the sounds of a living planet. It’s hard to pinpoint how the noise of life and the noise of machines differ, when one can so easily mimic the other and both contain so much variety, the boundaries between them blurred, but it’s unmistakable. This is no barren outpost, no hub of spinning metal; this is a result of millions of years of evolution, web-like ecosystems tangling into one another. It will differ from all others and yet on another level it will be the same as all others, interlocking chains of consumption and relation and habitat.

“Ash, we’re going to need to get you out. Can you talk to us?”

I keep thinking that it’s important to answer, but each time the thought begins it’s pushed away into sucked up by the humid air. My mind drifts back, past the negotiations on Feronia station, through the twelve years of my blossoming diplomatic career, to Volturna, the ocean planet where I grew up, and the warm waters we splashed and played and relaxed in, and I think it might be my sister Francie’s voice calling me but I pull myself far enough into consciousness to realize that it’s too high-pitched, too alien…

There are hands on my body, and words: don’t think anything’s broken, still breathing. I realize the air is breathable, which means we’re almost certainly on a terraformed planet, and yet there’s so much life, much more than is usually imported. I feel hands beneath me, my body being lifted, dragged, set down. There’s a bright light—sunlight—through my eyelids.

Fragments of words come to me, words that I memorized long ago. A spell for safety in travel. But it’s in an older English than my native tongue, and so, so far away that I see only occasional words, faded ink on thick paper. I still don’t know what sandalwood is, and I think I need to stay awake, but I’m so tired…

 

 

When she was ten, Francie had edited the family spellbook, inserting “she or” and “her or” and “hers or” in blue ballpoint, her unsteady hand unused to holding a pen. I thought Dad would yell, even though he didn’t yell often, because the book was hundreds of years old and had come from Earth, but instead he turned the large pages one by one and said it was a fair point, and that it was at least a more useful amendment than the “tastes disgusting” comment written in cursive on at least two pages.

Dad didn’t really believe in spells, but the book was important enough to him that when our parents first came to Volturna he’d asked for an exemption on the dimensions (but not total volume, he’d never push it that far) permitted for cultural and religious items, family heirlooms. Mum brought a Bible from the Scottish arm of her family, and the korowai she graduated in, even though she didn’t feel right taking it so far from her whanau, because her grandmother—approaching ninety at that point—insisted, saying she’d have her own children one day and they needed to be connected.

We didn’t quite know what that meant. Earth fascinated us, but in the same ways as tales of every other world fascinated us. Volturna was our home, and we knew its waters in an instinctive way our parents’ Terra-born generation couldn’t quite understand.

And so on the day that Francie narrowly avoided being in trouble for her annotations, much like any other, we stripped off and yanked on our rashguards and shorts, a process we’d perfected through practice to a matter of seconds. Mine were in the wash so I was wearing my slightly-too-small spare set, lilac with a frill around the edge of the shirt. All Francie’s pairs were black.

In a few years I would be required to tell the doctors about how much I hated my body, and I’d rewrite this scene for them then, tell them I cried every time I had to change and was too ashamed to do so even in front of my sister.  The truth was that as long as people got most things about me right I could deal with my body. I’d never love it, but I could not think about it easily enough.

“Go!” Francie yelled, and she yanked open the hatch and we dived out without hesitation, over the narrow platform, into the warm water around us. I ducked to wet my hair and then Francie did the same, hers chopped short and uneven. I envied it for a minute as mine smacked across my face.

“Oy!” Dad’s voice yelled at us from inside. “What have I told you about closing this thing after you?”

We’d heard him alright, but if we were going to close it we’d have to walk onto the platform and down the first two steps before we could reach to close it. Waste of time.

“Sorry, Dad. Could you throw me a hair tie?”

“You kids will be the death of me.”

But sure enough one dropped down into my outstretched hand before the hatch grated shut.

We’d been in our new apartment a little over two years, moving because our parents had decided Francie and I should have our own rooms. It was on the edge of town and taking a few strokes out we could see it spread out before us; the buildings and walkways rising out of the waters that covered the planet. The flag the council had chosen, a blue circle ringed with white light against the black of space, fluttered from the higher structures. We had never seen land, and it was only when we opened the spellbook that we felt we might be missing out.

 

 

When I wake again there are drugs coursing through my veins and dampness seeping through my clothes. I open my eyes and see sunlight mottling through the trees above me. I remember being at a reception to mark the conclusion of negotiations regarding access to the route between Feronia Station and Auuue. The subject had been straightforward in itself, but was critical in its implications, setting the terms for future engagement between the Terran and Auuueen governments.

So, having sealed a new treaty, we were feeling good. I’d had a key role in these negotiations, more than was typical for a third level diplomat, and it was hard not to take that as a sign that promotion was on the horizon. I had a glass in my hand and the sweet after-taste of spiced Auuueen seafood in my mouth, and was surely blessed that I’d not only secured a career that gave me the opportunity to travel the galaxies, meet high ranking people and hopefully effect some change for the better, but also one where the gown I wore—shimmering layers of deep-green over a blue-black underlay—was an utterly appropriate expense claim.

I sit up and dizziness hits, nausea growing in me. I force myself to stay upright, pressing my knuckles firmly against the damp ground. There’s something rustling in the bushes to my right, birds flying overhead.

My memories after the reception are brief and fragmented. I remember a distress call, drawing us out of FTL, being unable to get back to anything beyond light speed.

“Cay?” I say, operating by guess work. My throat is dry.

“I’ll be right with you.” His voice is behind me. I ease myself round, bit by bit, every muscle hurting. He’s tending to the injured leg of the ambassador, who seems, mercifully, to be otherwise unhurt. The only non-human on the shuttle, Cay’s wiry frame belies its near unbreakability.

I shift my weight so I can balance, rub my eyes. “We crashed?”

“Emergency landing. This shuttle is built for capitals and ambassadorial stations, not wilderness, which seems to be all this planet has.” Looking up I can see the blue sky, the gaping wound in the forest canopy we must have hurtled through.

“Is… did everyone?”

“Everyone’s alive, yes. Some injuries, but I think with treatment everyone will be okay. Getting out of here is going to be more of a problem. Don’t try and stand up—I put you on Combamex to speed up your healing time, but it will make you woozy for a while.

Flashes of memory.

“There’s a… this is classified information…” the ambassador had said, as we all stared in panic. She’d paused, briefly, grappling with the weight of disclosure even though all our lives were at stake. “There’s a planet… Silvanus. It’s a wildlife reserve, for species from Terra. Breathable atmosphere. Uninhabited, but it’s our only chance. We can be there in a week, two at the most.”

Against Cay’s advice, I stand. Vertigo hits and I vomit, just a little, cling to a tree and manage to stay upright until it passes. Insects are buzzing all around, and the damaged shuttle is behind me. Just a few meters away the forest opens out into a clearing. The ground is covered with orange flowers, smelling of warmth, rising out of the soil to greet us.

 

 

“Marigold. Hematite. Elder. Rue. Tiger’s eye.” I list the unfamiliar ingredients, trying to picture, smell, taste such far away substances. “Tiger’s eye? Did they really use eyes from tigers?”

“It’s a type of rock.” Francie was thirteen and could make me feel small without even trying. “What are cloves?”

She wasn’t asking me. The device on her wrist responded near instantly. Terran spice, made from aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. Native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia.

Francie threw her arms down in despair. “We’re never going to be able to find any of this stuff.”

Mum had said I had to be patient with Francie when she got upset like this, that she was going through a confusing time, and that I’d understand soon enough.

I understand confusion, I had wanted to say. I want the androgen blockers and I want to wear dresses and I’m not a boy, but I don’t think I’m the girl I’ve always told you I am either. But I didn’t say anything like that. Not to Mum and not to Francie. Not for a long time.

I perched on an inflated cushion and looked at my sister. “You could just tell her you like her?” I suggested.

Francie wailed.

“I don’t think you could understand any less if you tried! I’m out of here!”

We used to dive into the water to escape, but now Francie barricaded herself in her upstairs room. I put away the book, because we had to be very careful with it, grabbed the largest mug I could find and hit the strawberry setting on the milkshake maker, hoping that despite all my own confusion, I at least had a few years before I needed to be worrying about love potions.

 

 

We all gather in the clearing. I allow the Ambassador to lean on my shoulder as she walks. She’s short, as those who grew up constrained by Terran gravity usually are, but she cuts an imposing presence. Perhaps that’s why I find it so hard so use her name. Still, I admire her much more than I fear her. If anyone can get us home, I feel, it’s her, but her face is pale with shock and she says little.

Aside from us, the group comprises two other diplomats, the pilots, a security guard and two guests flown by special arrangement between governments: Cay and an elderly human. Solomon, the pilot, his uniform crumpled and ripped on one sleeve, looks at the Ambassador, seeking her permission to lead this meeting. She accepts, gratefully, and he summarizes our current position. Our FTL drives are near completely destroyed—by what, he can’t tell, but there’s zero prospect of fixing them. Even if we could launch the shuttle, an unlikely prospect in itself, there are no stations or inhabited planets reachable on our support systems. He’s been trying to get a distress signal working, but no luck so far. He’ll keep trying.

The good news, he continues, trying to keep us optimistic, is the breathable air, the hospitable climate, that we have three day’s supply of food and with our databanks intact there is no doubt we can find food on this world.

We spend the day exploring the immediate area, administering medical treatment, working fruitlessly on sending a signal. The nine of us sleep, eventually, bunched together with spare clothes pulled over us like blankets. We try not to think about the future.

 

 

“What’s oregano?” Francie, now fifteen, had digitized the spellbook in response to Mum’s complaints about her getting her oily fingers all over it. Only I knew that at night she’d creep downstairs and pull it from the shelf, holding it in her arms as if it exuded some comfort. I’d mocked her, once, for being so attached to those archaic, impossible beliefs, and she’d cried and I’d never mentioned it again.

“It’s a herb…” said Dad.

“…for pizza,” said Mum, her eyes looking far away.

Dad squinted, looked at the screen. I propped myself up on my hands to see what he was looking at A Spell to Prevent the Conception of Child. This was going to be good.

Francie looked down and her skin, paler than mine, blushed bright red.

“Oh, no no no,” she stumbled, pointing desperately at the lower part of the screen as I enjoyed every second. “This one. A Spell to Aid Understanding of Numbers. I have an exam next week.”

“That’s kind of like cheating though, isn’t it?” I asked our parents. This day was getting even better.

“But of course, Ash, you don’t believe in spells so it can’t make any difference to your sister’s results, can it now?”

My mood deflated rapidly. It was fun while it lasted. Francie couldn’t be pregnant in any case though; she’d gotten her implant about the same time I got mine, though mine was larger—three circles under the skin of my upper arm, one releasing an androgen blocker, one for estrogen and one for progesterone.

“So where do I get oregano from?” Francie insisted impatiently.

“That’s not how spells work,” Dad replied. “There’s nothing special about oregano that helps you with maths. It’s about focusing your mind. You can use something else as long as it fits right for you. Why don’t you go for a swim and see if you feel drawn to something you could use instead?”

“So what now?” Mum said when Francie had left. “She’s going to drag in a load of seaweed because she thinks it bears some resemblance to oregano? Well I hope you’re going to be the one cleaning it up.”

Dad shrugged.

“Yeah, I’ll do that. I’ll do a lot more than a bit of cleaning to get her through the next few weeks. If she’s out there in the water and the fresh air, maybe she’ll relax a bit. Staring at those numbers a thousandth time isn’t going to help her half as much as a break. These spells work sometimes, you know, just not how you’d expect.”

 

 

“Who would do this?” I ask the Ambassador. Cay has cut a tree-branch into a cane of sorts, and we’re walking out through the clearing in search of running water. “I thought the days of war were behind us.”

She sighs. “I was running a list through my head all night. There are a few governments I think would like to kill us, a couple of separatist or nationalist factions that object to their governments’ treaties with us. But they didn’t just want to kill us. If they had they could have blown us up outright. But they drew us out and disabled our drives where they thought—because Silvanus is classified—there were no habitable planets. They didn’t just want us to die, they wanted us to die slowly.”

My chest feels tight at the thought, even though the air is clear and full of oxygen. I hear a long howl in the distance. I hold up my wrist and it senses, reports back: Howler monkey (genus Alouatta monotypic in subfamily Alouattinae).

It takes us more than an hour, with measurements and sheer instinct guiding us, to find water, but suddenly we’re beside a small but fast flowing stream, just narrow enough to jump. We smile at each other, perhaps our first smile on Silvanus. While the air is humid enough for us to condense sufficient drinking water, we still need to wash ourselves and clean our clothes. This find won’t solve all our problems, but it will help, and right now that counts for success.

There’s something moving on the other side of the river. Something large.

I’ve been trained on the use of arms, as everyone entering the diplomatic service is. I’ve never expected to use one outside a carefully controlled range. But before we set off, the guard handed me a stun gun, and now I draw it, awkwardly.

It all happens at once; a snarl, a lunge towards us, huge and fast, across the stream. I fall backwards as I fire, rolling over on the rocks, panicked. It takes some time before I realize I’m safe. The Ambassador helps me to my feet.

“Tigers,” she says, bitterly. “They seem so beautiful, don’t they? And yet…”

I nod, still shaking.

“Same with people. I don’t think whoever did this was after us, our government, our missions. I think they were after me.”

“Who?” I shouldn’t be asking such a question, but at the same time I was almost killed too and might be stranded on this planet with weird animals forever, so I think I deserve some answers.

“Someone I once loved.”

The tiger lies motionless by the river.

“You can’t trust everyone, Ash. Believe what you know.”

 

 

Francie left home to share a tiny apartment in New Venice with a friend, two hours away by boat. I took over her larger bedroom, packed everything she left behind into four small boxes. When I visited her she’d poured me wine and we’d eat fried rice from a little shop beneath her apartment. Afterwards I’d crash on an inflatable mattress in her kitchen and listen to the boats and the spray against the windows and the clinking of bottles.

When I woke one morning she was already studying, even though it was a Saturday. There were no universities on Volturna yet, but she was in an amalgamated program with video-conferenced lectures, a practical engineering placement and three block courses a year from visiting lecturers.

“Coffee?” she asked, considerate of my seventeen-year-old, early morning brain. I signaled yes, trying to unpick the disaster that was my hair. Dad called Volturnan coffee a hideous imitation and refused to touch it, but like most of our friends, Francie and I swilled it near constantly.

“What are you studying?” I asked, looking over at her screen, caffeine in my hands at last.

“Case study from Glar. You know that weird planet where the local life-forms change how everything operates, including all the buildings.”

I did, vaguely. She showed me a picture.

“Well it means that some things aren’t possible, but they can also do things like this…”

“How does that even stay up?” The giant structure seemed to be almost floating in the air, anchored to the ground at just one small corner.

Francie showed me a screen full of equations. I shrank in mock horror.

“Magic,” I said. “I’m just going to believe that it’s magic.”

 

 

I hold my wrist beside plant after plant. About half it recognizes automatically; for others I have to input data: color, size of leaves, flowers. I’m building a list, edibles and poisons.

This one is easy. Origanum vulgare, my device says. Colloquially known as oregano, a common species of Origanum, a genus of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Safe, edible herb for humans, although allergies are recorded.

And I remember something in my personal data files, something I haven’t looked at in a long time. I sit on a fallen tree, bring up the projection of pages many hundreds of years old.

A Spell to Send a Message Home

And on it, Francie’s childish hand over the calligraphy. When a traveller wants to signal home SHE OR he must do the following…

Snippets of Francie’s voice, so young, so far away: you have to call her “she”. She’s my SISTER!

Francie’s edits weren’t just about her, I realize. She was defending me.

When I was eighteen, I downed a half bottle of a terrible orange flavored liquor before I told her that maybe I wasn’t a woman and could she please say they, not she and then I cried on her balcony because I felt like I was backing down and like I’d been lying all my life, and she’d told me to come inside before I vomited on one of her neighbors’ heads as they walked out of their door and then I laughed and then I did vomit, bitter orange disgustingness over the balcony and into the water below. Francie threw me a towel and said that she loved me but not quite enough to clean up after me.

Another memory, two years later: my family seeing me off to my first internship. I would not see Volturna—or any of them—for three years. Francie checking, one last time, that I had a copy of the spellbook in my data files. You need to be connected.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I tried to cast a spell, but Francie once said it was in our blood, so perhaps that doesn’t matter. Here on Silvanus I find more than half of what I need. That which I cannot, which perhaps grows in cooler or warmer climes, I find alternatives for, following my father’s advice and looking up pictures, then letting myself be drawn to a flower or a rock.

I project up the image again, weightless pages before me with the writing of generations. I use my finger as a stylus. SHE OR HE OR THEY OR SIE OR CO OR E OR OR OR OR OR OR OR…

I finish my work. I close the book.

And from the distance, from beyond the black of space and its spinning stations, through traffic routes and past more planets than I could ever remember, from Volturna’s deep waters and floating towns, my sister signals me home.

END

 


 

“Songs of Love and Defense in the Dawn” is copyright Hester J. Rook 2017.

“A Spell to Signal Home” is copyright A.C. Buchanan 2017.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll be back soon with a reprint of “The Passing Bell” by Amy Griswold.