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  1. Did you catch Monday's feature with Jack Scribe's Life's a Grind banner? Why exactly IS there a mask on it? Hmm... answer in the comments if you know! Or share what you thought of the story if you've read it. I picked this section of the story, a few chapters in, because it gives you a good sense of Jeremy's character. He's pretty smart for a teen, certainly responsible, but wowsers... the curveballs life's bringing his way could be interesting. Well, if you're into that sort of thing. 😜 You might think you know from this snip, but oh, there's so much more to the opportunity he's considering.... To read more, click here.
  2. Cia

    Chapter 10

    It was the feet. Those broad soles and flat toes digging into the earth were made to move soundlessly. And the subtle green striping would probably help the creature to blend in amazingly with the foliage around us, if he wanted to. Based on the way he stood, feet spread apart and four arms braced, two on the torso and two outward facing me, he wasn’t hiding at all. The planet did not have any structures or even ruins that indicated an advanced civilization or culture; nothing to show manufacturing or building. No way to cover up making the textile industry responsible the smooth fabric covering the man’s torso and upper legs, hugging closely to thick muscles. Or the manufacturing for the metal wrapped around his arms or the very advanced weapon held in one of his hands pointed at me. Or the ship we were trying unsuccessfully to hide from, for that matter. Escape had failed us as well. No flight. No hiding. Fight? I snorted, then winced when the other two flinched. A stun wand against whatever that was in his hand? Unlikely, even if I was trained to fight, which I wasn’t. A stunner was a basic in self-defense against animals for a scientist for those rare cases in the field when a support team wasn’t around. Well, rare when the idiot didn’t deliberately strand himself on a temperate planet that was supposed to be unoccupied by sentient beings and anything too dangerous. “Hello,” I said. Oldie but goodie, maybe? A greeting, in a positive tone of voice, couldn’t go that bad. Except it scared the crap out of Bouncer who—unsurprisingly—bounced against my body and then fell to the ground in the next instant as a white glow surrounded his form. His limbs splayed out and he was completely still. “No!” I lunged for Bouncer, putting my hands on his sides. “Why did you do that?” I shouted. I scanned him frantically, looking for signs of life. The white light didn’t go away, and I couldn’t see any rise and fall of his big chest. Tears pricked my eyes as anger surged through me. “He was just an innocent animal. He wasn’t trying to hurt you! He jumped, that’s all. I scared him.” It was my fault. All mine. I’d fed him, he’d followed me, and now he was laying lifeless in the dirt. “He was lunging for you.” “No he wasn’t! He was hiding under me because he was scared of you.” I knelt on the ground, one hand on Bouncer’s striped side. “He jumped and probably would have tried to find a better spot if I wasn’t so close to him. He’d been trying to warn me, to lead me away.” “Cerops do not protect those outside of their packs.” “I was a part of his pack! I fed him. He was mine! You had no right!” I lunged to my feet. “Killing animals because they are scared is wrong. That’s just… evil!” I thrust one arm toward him without considering the consequences. Hisses and tapping punctuated the white fog. “The suit is typical of their material; it’s composition was no impediment. Ah, here it is.” Cool air drifted over my face. I twitched and flared my nostrils. The air smelled of metal and salt, dry and cool. My hair flopped over my forehead and into my eyes. “A hairy race. Strange, only two gripping limbs. He was very angry and loud.” There was a pause. “He is a he, right?” “Well, let’s see.” The suit’s helmet had been retracted, and another few taps and the sound of the full release depressing broke the quiet. My body was limp, and I couldn’t move as the metal encasing me slid away. I could think, observe, but only hear and feel. My eyes were closed or blocked somehow by a white light. “Our initial probe that caught his presence identified him as a Human male, yes.” “This is far for their kind.” “They have been coming closer, enough that research has been released to all clearing ships. Didn’t you update?” “No, I was… busy.” “Hmph.” That scoff sounded skeptical and derisive at the same time. What was going on? Where was I? Who was talking about me and why couldn’t I see them? I desperately wanted to move. “Oh, this is interesting. His brain waves are extremely active.” “But he should be in stasis.” “He was, but when you put him down, the increase in activity was immediate.” “So he can hear us? See us?” “I’m not exactly sure. Their medical data is hard to interpret. I don’t have the training for more than the basics.” “He was angry and loud before. If he could yell at us, he probably would.” “Oh, his body is definitely in stasis. His life signs are almost completely at what the update claims as their normal levels are. Even if he can hear us, stasis is keeping him calm. Keeping him calm, did he mean keeping me calm? I wasn’t calm! I wasn’t anywhere close to calm. I was freaked out, scared, and yes, I was still mad. Nothing about what happened was okay. I was not a first contact specialist. These were not primitive beings, and it sounded like they were pretty damn technologically advanced—enough to be spying on Allied space. They were not an Allied race. I would have paid attention if I’d see a description like one of them before. Allied species came in all different shapes and sizes, but the humanoid races were actually few and far between. I’d hoped to make some rare discovery of a new species on Ardra, but this was not what I wanted. And, if my hearing wasn’t fooling me, I’d somehow ended up in their medical lab—so the odds of becoming a rare specimen myself was growing.
  3. Cia

    Meet the Humans

    Please remember to keep all comments regarding any politics directly related to the story character and events. Any references or mentions of current politics, parties, or events outside of the story content may result in moderation.
  4. Happy October! Thanksgiving for our Canadian friends, Halloween for just about everyone, or all sorts of festival fun if you're not a follower of the candy trick-or-treats theme. The year is passing by so fast, and we're almost done with 2020 (whew!). I thought the title of this month's feature was apt for how many of us probably feel about this year.... Enjoy! Length: 97,474 Description: Jeremy and his group of friends are seniors at a Chicago high school. He juggles a part-time job (to help pay expenses at home) with the academic challenges and school activities of his final school year. His life reaches a watershed moment when he is offered a very unique job at the same time questions about sexual orientation are tested and answered. A Reader said (Chapter 1): Wow... what a valuable, but unsteady childhood for Jeremy. I am glad that Winston and Karl had given him the good, bad, and ugly on everything before they passed on. Most children who are exposed to the fact that someone they knew died of AIDS make them subtly reinforce the "deviant" excuse of how people contract the disease. It's pretty sad, but I'm glad Jeremy got to learn everything and had positive role models in lieu of a proper father figure. ~ J.T. If you want to spread the word about Jack Scribe's story, download the graphic below and add it to your signature! Make sure you come back on Wednesday to see the excerpt I chose to share!
  5. Cia

    Chapter 9

    He was trotting along ahead of me, weaving through bushes I had to hack a path through, when his rigid stance caught my eye. “What is it, boy?” I spoke quietly to avoid spooking him or alerting whatever had caused his alarm. A loud blast overhead sent me into a crouch at his side. He was belly down flat to the earth, his ears folded flat and head swinging wildly. What was that? We’d walked most of the day. I’d observed several insects, but for all his ability to walk far quieter than I could, the prey animals must have some other way to sense his presence. They stayed safely hidden, though I did catch motion in the trees above us, I couldn’t quite glimpse the sources of the limbs swaying. The sound that had just rocketed through the area was not made by anything living, however, and it sent a shiver down my spine. Harsh and discordant, the noise stopped almost as quickly as it started. The silence rang out in contrast, nothing moving in its aftermath, not even the wind. It was as if the whole world held its breath. A hard ripple shook the ground under me, and I fell onto my knees. I couldn’t see what had just landed, but I had spent enough time on ships to know the feeling of something docking—or in this case, landing. The biggest difference? The silence, other than the blast of noise. The trees in this jungle were thick, but not that thick. I could see parts of the sky ahead of us and even more above us. Whatever just hit the ground hard enough to knock me out of a crouch was close. I should be able to see it. Hear it. But there was nothing. If my bouncy friend wasn’t so scared, I’d be worried I was imagining things. He could easily turn on me in his fear, so I didn’t touch him, but his sides were shuddering in fast pants and his body trembled. His tension was palpable, and I followed his example to stay frozen in place. Scanning back and forth, just moving my head, I almost missed it. A flash caught just in the edge of my peripheral vision was the first change, then the light of the suns bounced off metal that appeared out of thin air. Where once had been trees, bushes and glimpses of small, open spaces between more of the same, was now a ship. And it was unlike any ship I’d seen before. It was polished black, shining bright in the reflected light, with yellow stripes. The colors were aggressive, the stripes slashed like clawed gouges ripped across the metal. Too close. Whatever was about to come out of that ship, we were too close. Pushing my fingers into the dirt, I slunk backward. Bouncer looked at me with his farthest right eye. He whined, and I winced. “Shh.” I beckoned to him, like I had earlier with the food. Hopefully that would work. I never stopped creeping backward. Did that thing have windows? Scanners? Hopefully, down on the ground, I’d look like another animal. It’d take longer, but I’d stay on my hands and knees until I could hope we were out of scanner range. Bouncer looked at the ship then at me. He shuffled his feet. I curled my fingers at him, risking a whisper. “Come on.” I’d only thought the jungle was silent before; now it was like even the wind didn’t dare caress the leaves or rattle the bushes. We might be the only things moving, but as long as we were moving away, I’d feel better than if we stayed in place. Animals would run away. Their brains wouldn’t tell them to do anything else. Danger, danger, run away! Well my animal brain was fully in charge, and I was more than happy to run away. Ardra was supposed to be unpopulated; no sentient indigenous population, there were no claims on it, no research studies filed—I could state that with certainty, since I’d checked before filing my own slyly through a friend since my communication had been monitored—so no one but me should have landed here. Unless this was a rescue party. I almost snorted at the thought. Sonez would have called it that officially. Unofficially it’d be a retrieval of a pain in his ass and a ship lockdown for disobeying orders. Orders he couldn’t legally give me. I’m sure he’d have found a way around that. So were these soldiers? No, not with a ship like that, not a mission this small. Bounty hunters? I’d pissed Sonez off, but I couldn’t see him spending his own credits to chase me down. Could he have convinced my parents I needed a rescue? Did they send someone after me? That would be even more humiliating. I wouldn’t be taken back to the ship, oh no, I’d be taken straight to my parents to account for my actions. I was not a child. Okay, the irony was not lost on me. I was on my hands and knees, crawling backward away from something big and scary, hoping it wasn’t going to notice me. My lips twitched, and I might have laughed at myself for the crazy thoughts circling my brain like drunk creder twisters, but the actual fear was still too strong. I’d only been here a day and a half. I wasn’t ready to leave. I had copious notes, but I’d seen a fraction of the planet’s natural beauty. I’d already made one animal friend—even if he latched onto me instead of the other way around—but I had hopes to find other animals as willing to let me study them. Bouncer was nearly under me as we crawled backward, and I looked down to place my hands to avoid his claws landing on my suit and making noise. When I looked up, we were no longer alone.
  6. I should have mentioned all those were mistakes I had to unlearn making while writing, and even I sometimes fight author voice, btw... not just what annoys me now, regardless of what @Myr says of how I flay him while editing. 😈 I'm always my most critical editor first.
  7. People are not objects. I am not a 'that'. I always see it and envision a snooty lady making a snarky comment about a person with a lip curl, no matter who is talking or the person being referenced. LOL And yes, I get irked when dialogue is described with vocalizations or actions that cannot possibly be actually done at the same time a person is speaking. I "see" what I am reading, so it jars me out of the visualization. Another pet peeve that does that? Independent body movements like "his arms fell" or "his eyes shot over". Um, no. People move their arms and your gaze goes places while your eyes stay firmly in your head, thank you. Or how about "I thought about" or "I considered" as phrases when writing a story in first person limited? No, I'm sorry, if an author is writing in first person then they are literally sharing the story from that character's point of view and people don't think to themselves "I thought about" or "I considered" in their own head. Using those phrases is author voice, which isn't great author craft. It's better to have the character think about the whatever or consider the two options. "I thought about how hot he looked in those jeans." is a no. "He looked great in those jeans" is a yes. "I considered if I should take a chance or wait for a better opportunity to come my way." is a no but "Should I take a chance or maybe I should wait for something better to come along?" is a yes. This, however, is one of the sneakiest and hardest author voice mistakes to avoid, imo.
  8. Cia

    Chapter 8

    “Bouncy?” I tossed him another tidbit from the bag, flicking it with the fork so he could jump and catch the bite. It’d become a game for him, but I was trying to see how high he could jump. Those powerful hindquarters definitely gave him some spring. “Springy?” He caught the next bite that I really hadn’t expected him to. “Wonderful!” I praised him, clapping. He skittered back, not liking the sound. “Aww,” I said. “Did I scare you?” That brought back another memory. I’d had many different staff to take care of me. My parents liked to hire academics too, and once I’d had a Truquell nurse who’d been an Earth history major. She’d read me children’s fiction that featured animals, since I had such a fascination. A baby pig and a bear, best friends? Illogical. But there was a character… and friendly, striped feline that bounced. A lot. “What was his name?” It’d been a long time ago. I dug around in the bag, scooping up the last of the meaty mush. “Last bite, buddy.” No, that was what the bear called the other one. Little buddy. Or maybe that was the two bears basket story. “It’ll come to me.” I carefully stowed the food garbage. No sense attracting any other animals. I’d already made the mistake of influencing this one. He could help me learn more about the animals of Ardra, but he’d no longer be typical of his species. Adapting to me would change his behavior. Well, his physiology would still be reliable data. I took a quick measurement with my pad of the tree I’d used to record his jumps so I could mark the height later. Now it was time to get moving. Chirps followed me as I moved around my makeshift camp. “Sorry, buddy, but that’s all for now. You’ll have to find something on the go.” Great. Big chest, long legs… bottomless pit. He might be younger than I’d estimated or just half-starved because he was a poor bug hunter. Maybe his mother had kicked him out early or he’d lost his family. No one to teach him. I couldn’t be a… I kept a wary gaze on him as I clicked my pack into place. “Er…” It definitely had an er. Well, a whatever he was. He’d either leave me and go find some of his own kind in the wild, leave and survive, leave and die, or stick around with me and get domesticated—to a degree. Wild animals were always a little wild, and I respected that. Especially since he had the claws and teeth to back up his cranky desires. Without my suit, he could’ve taken chunks out of me and decided I’d be just as good as a meal instead of providing it. An hour into our trek, and I’d learned he was definitely a predator. He made less noise than I did, unless he was trying to get my attention. For all his color, he could lose himself in the underbrush and stalk soundlessly. The first time he popped out and made me shout, I’d startled a whole flock of something that buzzed away to my right just over head high. They were small, furry, with buzzing wings that moved rapidly. The flock moved so tightly packed I couldn’t tell what an individual looked like, and the leap and grab “Jumper?” made lead to a crunch, gulp, and pleased but bloody head wiggle as he looked at me like I could do it again. But he didn’t respond to the name. I sighed. There was so much to see. Ardra had extreme climates, but I knew there would be less to find in the arid cliffs and sands elsewhere, so I wanted to focus my study here for the most part. Would I be able to study anything with a voracious carnivore on my heels? “Well, I didn’t even see the blue buzzers until you scared me, so I guess we’re even.” They’d hidden inside some hanging flowers with deep spathes of vivid orange curled into cones that held blue spadix that were very similar in color and shape. “Hmm, camouflage or were they harvesting?” I made sure my pad was recording as I used the camera attached to my helmet to catch my observations. Anything I’d missed, I could go back and review the footage for. Even better, the camera was top of the line, so it recorded in different wavelengths. The mic I wore also scanned different frequencies. I tried to rely on my senses to guide me, but I didn’t limit myself, not when technology could gift me with so much more information. Sometimes I could sense the life teeming around me as I walked. I caught glimpses, like the legless slitherer, and my new bouncer, and even a screaming pair of green and brown speckled creature that had an ovoid body with a pointed bottom and three legs coming out of different angles to grip the tree branches with long, jointed toes. They talked like an old married couple, one bickering until the other screeched above the first, setting that one back off until it was a cycle of annoyance I’d witnessed twice with growing amusement. Or maybe they were old aunties screaming at each other of the antics of some youth. Antics of youth. That thought sobered me. Sure, I could continue to focus on… “Leaper?” No, not quite right either. I could continue to focus on him, but the truth was everything that had happened since I landed had proved to be more difficult than I expected. Or I wasn’t as up to the challenge. I thinned my lips, clenching my jaw. No. I refused to allow that to creep into my thinking. I’d make discoveries. I’d prove myself. I could do this. Stars only new what I’d do with my new friend when I returned to a ship, but I’d think of something.
  9. Happy Halloween month! This is a month for fun of the paranormal type. Magic. Were-creatures. Myths. Fantasy. Ghosts. Or whatever else tickles your ghoulish fancy. I'm going with a story by ObicanDecko for the CSR feature, Fairyfly. This is an older story, so you might not have read it or you might be due for a reread. Enjoy!! Fairyfly by @ObicanDecko Length: 65,659 Description: Young Esthor is the best sorcerer in all the kingdom and beyond. When King Norius calls upon him to save his eldest daughter, Esthor resorts to drastic measures that will have some people fighting to get his head, and others vying to win his heart. A Reader said: I think you had as much fun writing this as we had rereading it. I hope you think to follow these characters forward to a new series. Best Wishes to you. Don ~Damack1957 Don't forget to come back to share your thoughts on Monday, October 26th! As some extra reading fun this month, share your favorite stories on GA that fit this month's theme in a comment below!
  10. Cia

    Chapter 9

    Please keep all comments related to political events and figures directly related to this story's specific events and characters. All other comments may be subject to moderation per GA site guidelines for political discussion outside of approved areas.
  11. Cia

    Chapter 7

    I kicked my legs and struck something that gave. Freed from the grip pulling me across the ground, I rolled, reaching for the shock wand I dropped when I’d been grabbed and yanked away from the wall. A heavy weight pounced on my back, shoving me into the soil. I inadvertently took in a mouthful, spitting and coughing. “Ugh. Ggg, groff!” The stuff was like fine, powdered dust when dry and a sucking mud that clung when wet. I was in a mix of both from the heat of the fire and the damp of the morning dew. The weight of my suit was a fraction of what it could be, since it was made one of the latest models made from the lightest metals, but it was enough to hamper me when the thing attacking me bounced, pushing me even farther down. My heart pounded as I struggled to get my hands and knees under me and push. If I wasn’t mauled and killed, my vulnerable head crushed like a melon, then the next risk was suffocating. My hands slid, and I fell flat after only gaining the barest of gaps and room to suck in a tiny breath. “Oof!” My heart pounded in my head, throbbing like a drum as my chest began to ache. New strategy. I braced with my left arm and leg and pushed. The weight on my back suddenly disappeared, but I was already committed. I rolled and kept rolling over the warm remains of the fire until I hit the wall. Freed for at least the moment, I slapped the button and triggered my helmet. Sure, I was still covered in dirt, but I it was better than being covered with the slavering jaws of— “Chirp.” I blinked. Chirp. Chirp? I shook my head, blinking rapidly to dislodge the dirt tearing up my eyes. “Saint’s balls, you have to be kidding me.” I dropped my head back against the rock wall. The adolescent red sprinter had followed me. It was sitting, ears forward, tail wrapped around its legs, spikes laying flat on its neck as it stared at me. Expectantly. Standoff. Except he kept chirping. What was up with that bird noise? Bird. Young animal. My brain, which had been running slowly due to the massive adrenaline spike triggering or flight impulses, came back online. “You can’t think I’m your mother. I fed you once!” Of course that reminded me my parents. My father wanted to know why they had to stop working to feed me—a habit I’d gotten used to since an infant— because if I could ask for food, why couldn’t I get it myself? Staff had been hired to teach me after that. Or, as my father crowed to my mother. “Give a boy food, you have to keep feeding him. Hire someone to teach him how to feed himself, and you’re off the hook.” I’d given the beast food, and now he wanted more. Or he’d pounce. “Chirp?” This was paired with an ear swivel and slow blink of those white eyelids over that intent black stare. Definitely a demand. “I don’t see any grubs here, buddy.” Nothing moved around us, to be honest. He was a predator; the teeth and claws paired with the powerful build made that obvious. But his thick skin, plates, and spines? Those were defensive characteristics, meaning one of two things. Either there were bigger predators or his kind hunted big animals that could do some serious damage. Or both. Either could be dangerous for me. I regretted not bringing along more weaponry. The shock wand had already proved useless. Still, I stretched out a hand slowly, watching him watch me, and curled my fingers around the shaft. Lifting it out of the dirt, I pulled it closer, trying not to startle him with any sudden movements. “I’m going to sit up now,” I said. Using my free hand, I leveraged my body back against the wall, tucking my feet in so he couldn’t grab an ankle again. My suit was undamaged, thankfully, at least where I could see. No display readouts showed integrity or structural problems. The adolescent sprinter was still spindly, his chest deep enough with long legs showing he’d probably reached full height unless males were larger than the females in his species, but he wasn’t filled out. Skinny due to lack of food or age? Immediately latching on to me could indicate one or both. I sighed. What was a guy to do? My parents had been self-involved. The staff had been paid to care. I’d taken an interest in biology because I’d been fascinated with animals and learning about their habitats evolved from that. Everywhere we went, I ended up adopting something. I usually couldn’t keep them; animals didn’t belong in the house, my parents insisted. Still, I befriended animals everywhere wildlife of any sort thrived. I hadn’t done it on purpose this time, it was more just trying to stay alive and do a good job to prove myself worthy of my last name. But I’d done it nonetheless. I sighed and reached for my pack. I’d have to spend some time searching out food for him later as well as analyzing what might be edible and palatable to humans—they were not always one and the same—as we continued on. Clearly he was hungry, and I was too. I wasn’t going to eat and not feed him, if he’d even let me without pouncing again. Odds were, if I did what I planned to do, he was just going to stick with me. Well, I’d be the only Ardra expert anyway, so I’d make it part of my research. How to raise up a red-striped…. “What should I call you?” I mused as I rifled through my rations.
  12. Did you read Forces by Invnarcel this month? A little dark, a little twisted, maybe a journey you weren't quite expecting... just right to get us in the mood for Fall! Enjoy my interview with Invnarcel below, then leave your comments on his story or writing! Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate. If you had 30 minutes of free time, what would you do? Meditate and connect with myself. It’s relaxing and great. What brought you to GA? A love of reading and posting gay stories! Is there a literary character (in the whole universe of fiction) that you’ve read who you really identified with? Not really. I feel like a very multi-faceted being. A lot of my own characters represent facets of me or facets I used to have. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Not really. I can be bad at getting inspiration at times, but so can anyone. When I was more amateurish I used to have a problem with excessive adverbs. What’s the first thing you do when you start to write a story? Jot down a ‘plot skeleton’. The meat of the story then gets filled in as I write. Even if the story is very freeform I still write a ‘chapter skeleton’ for the first chapter even if it’s just three or so points. If you had to pick a favorite among the characters in Forces, who would it be and why? I would have to say Stanley Milton. Though the main character has his own interesting psychology and I relate to him way more, Stanley is a character I did the most research for. He is very peculiar and a lot of the story’s focus is on trying to figure out what kind of person he really is. I think he’s fascinating and I hope other people do too. What inspired you to write Forces? Before writing my gay-thriller-romance novellas I read two books because we know that reading other stories helps with our writing. Before starting Forces I read a psychology book and an old French novel about narcissists talking about their romantic exploits. The angle I took with Forces was different to my other novellas so I was looking forward to exploring that. Your stories can have many dark elements that are well-written to leave readers guessing. Did you do research about psychopaths for Stanley’s character or did you wing it? I read a full clinical textbook in preparation for Stanley called ‘The Mask of Sanity’ by Dr Hervey Cleckley. In fact most characters are named after researchers cited in that book, including my main character Phillip Cleckley. Prior to Forces I’d also read other psychology books including memoirs. Research and capturing realism is very important to me. Do you want to share anything about your current work-in-progress or the next story you plan to share on GA? I don’t know much about it yet. I do know that my characters are older now, since writing about high school kids is something I wanted to branch away from being a 25-year-old myself. Phillip and Stanley were 22-years-old and so university/college students in their early twenties will most likely be the focus of my next novella. I will probably go back to exploring supernatural elements, it has always been a guessing game in my past four novellas whether or not the supernatural is involved. I’ve touched on incels in the past, and I’m curious to explore that dark and messy realm of human psychology. For now I haven’t decided on anything. Don't forget to leave your comments on Forces below!
  13. Cia

    Chapter 6

    My scans indicated there was a rocky outcropping nearby, and based on what I’d seen of the wildlife so far, I wanted nothing more than to put some solid stone at my back. Climbing would do me no good, and while the ground level was rarely safe either, I’d have to take my chances there. Setting up a shelter would take too much time, though I’d brought collapsible poles and and flex fabric. I would fear what I couldn’t see. Being inside a shelter wouldn’t make the predators go away, and I’d rather see them coming. I’d make a fire; while extremely humid, this planet still had the proper conditions for thunderstorms. Lightning meant fire. Wild animals would fear it. I’d make a fire. Between that and a rock wall at my back, hopefully I’d be able to get some sleep. Sleeping in a suit was never comfortable, but I wasn’t reckless enough to take it off either. I found a rock wall that had a slight vee to the wall that would block some of the wind. I could tuck my body into the angle and be protected. With a fire in front of me, it was the best I could think of. I kicked some larger debris out of the way, getting an area of bare dirt. Pouring a tiny pool of fuel, I used an igniter and set it ablaze. It would burn for hours but I could help it along if I could find some dry tinder. The last of the dying light gave me just a little time to forage. I came back with a scant armful, but three of the branches were as thick as my forearm. They’d take some time to burn. Finally done, I settled down on the ground and leaned against the rock. The fire burned orange in front of me. My stomach rumbled. Rations were adequate, high in nutrition and filling. I’d grabbed a few of my favorites. I pulled out a sweet carb-protein pack and unfolded it. Popping the ignition tab, I set it near the fire. It’d take a bit to warm and reconstitute. I poked another stick on top of the tripod I’d arranged over the pool of fire fuel. The cliff had trees above it, vines stringing from one to the other. None hung down the rocks to be camouflage for those nasty limbless creatures. Dark shadows bunched across the sky, but I could catch small glimpses of stars between the thick foliage and the approaching clouds. My dinner packet was puffed and steaming. I snatched it up before it could explode while I was stargazing. The last thing I needed to do was waste food. Pressing a button, I released the helmet shield and waited for it to retracted below my neck and chin. Scents hit me first. Warm mud, green growing things, a hint of decay, sun-warmed rock, and the syrup-sweetened hint of steam from my dinner. Fire, smoke, and alien scents I couldn’t name from the plants and flowers and probably animals were all around me. Then the heat. It was like sucking in lungfuls of wet air, like almost perceptible droplets drenched my nasal passages and lined my throat and lungs. Overwhelming at first, it was a stark contrast to the dry, purified air on ships and stations. I leaned against the rock, staring up at the sky and just breathing. So many things had gone wrong today but here I was. I was the first to catalog this planet, the first to explore its wonders. I grinned and sucked up a mouthful of my ration. The gummy paste tasted almost good enough to overcome its texture, but my sudden elation was too overpowering to focus on trifling complaints. Settling down to work, interspersing taking notes with sucking up bites from my dinner packet, I took at least an hour to record my observations from the day. I used the firelight to detail the insect I’d recovered, tilting the jar and examining it from every angle. My dinner packet empty, I folded it and put it in the vacuum pouch to reduce the chance of drawing in any more wildlife. If grubs were a delicacy, the smell of my food would probably be irresistible. Nope, no thank you. I’d made enough stupid mistakes. Sighing, exhaustion began to steal over me. Closing up my pack, I put the last of the sticks I’d gathered over the fuel. It’d probably last for the thickest of the dark hours. Better safe than sorry, I detached my shock wand from my suit and settled it across my thighs. Finding the flattest rock on the wall I could, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. Dawn was not long in coming. With the dual suns, my fuel hadn’t completely burned out before the first rays of the larger star was already breaking the horizon. I blearily opened my eyes, grumbling at the break in the foliage that let the brightness hit me dead on. My wrist unit showed how little time had passed, so I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how shiny my suit was and how the sun, which had cast a glare bright enough to wake me, also reflected on the metal of my suit. My mistake was taken advantage of as soon as the fire burned down low enough that the limbs no longer burned, casting off the scent of deadly smoke. Hunger overcome even the remnants of that warning, and teeth clamped down on a limb and my metal suit chimed as it scraped against the rock as I was dragged sideways and away from the wall. “Wha—” I face planted into the dirt, flailing, as I tried to roll away from the hold on my leg.
  14. Did you catch Monday's feature with the banner for Rec's story, Palouse? Check it out if you want to feature it in your signature. So I live in Washington, so I know how special this region of the state is, how scenic it can be... but just how few opportunities there can also be for anyone who is 'different'. Rec's story has all of that and more. I think you'll enjoy this excerpt as well. Click here to read more
  15. Man, I live in an area like that. Ugh!
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