Saturday Sampler: Interspecies
May 14, 2016
From Woelf Dietrich:
The minute we saw the cover we wanted to show the world. But we could not. It would’ve been too early. Interspecies was not ready yet.
That was then. This month will see the birth of our kosalogy, what we call our shared-universe anthologies. We’ve nurtured our baby through setbacks and carried her over stumbling blocks. We kept her safe and fed her. Stayed up with her at nights when nightmares pummelled her mercilessly. We shaped and polished her, sourced a professional word nurturer to ensure our child would survive once she leaves our hands, and even then, we felt hesitant. Scared. Was she ready?
And now the time has come to release our child, to let her loose into the wild yonder where we can no longer offer protection. We’ve given her a fine cover to hide her nakedness and shield her from the elements…
Finally, we can show you the stunning cover Piofoks painted for us. Take your time and allow the image to filter through your eyeballs straight to your occipital lobe. Now let it lodge itself there permanently.
Fifty years after first contact with the inlari, war ravaged the Earth, leaving New Zealand and Australia the victors and survivors, but at a devastating cost. As human and inlari factions compete against each other in the struggle for power and resources, some seek zealotry and others strive for peace and unity—and with them, hope still lives.
Four stories of transformation, survival, and the eternal search for meaning and purpose in a chaotic and turbulent world. Can inlari and humans alike bridge the gap created by their prejudices? Or will one species forever rule the other?
From Babylon’s Song
96 Years AFC (After First Contact)
They came out of the mist. An inlari raid party—usually five berserkers led by an inlari officer. This morning was no different. Armed with cleavers and snapper guns, the berserkers appeared more like the trolls from old fairy tales, with their hulking bodies and yellowed tusks jutting from oversized jaws, and their small, almost dainty, noses. The much smaller inlari officer, covered from head-to-toe in an iridescent armored suit, offered a bold contrast to the massive contingent following him.
They came to kill and plunder and kidnap.
Dawn was a milky orange smear in the distance, and nine-year-old Samantha Babylon ambled along the steep path leading to a small forest behind her family’s homestead. Their farmhouse had been built against the southern foothills of the Barren Mountain in New South Wales. Two other families called the valley home, but they were lower down and closer to the Bellinger River, about half a day’s hike away. The nearest settlement, Dorrigo, home to a couple of hundred people, lay 22 kilometers to the East.
Samantha’s dad had been a soldier once, in a special unit called the Queensland Devils, until an ionized metal ball from a berserker’s snapper gun tore his leg off. Fitted with a cybernetic limb, he retired, and with his pension, he bought their small farm here on the outskirts of the Dorrigo settlement, far away from Queensland politics, and far away from the alien invaders. After the war, people began to move away from cities, preferring to settle in the Outback and less populated areas of Australia, away from the danger another looming war would pose. Although Australia escaped the utter destruction of the Northern Hemisphere, it still paid a heavy price. Cities were decimated. Many millions of lives were lost. Whole families wiped out. The memory of this devastating chapter was still raw and inflamed in the collective minds of its survivors.
A mantle of fog drifted down the slopes, casting gray swathes across the small farm and neighboring valleys. Samantha loved the quiet calm of early morning. Once the sun’s might grew and the cicadas woke, their incessant natter would shatter the stillness. Her dad once told her these tree crickets sing because they’re lonely, that their peculiar sound was a way of drawing prospective mates, but to Samantha they sounded more like thousands of tiny metal drums, vibrating endlessly, and were just that—noise.
Samantha’s jet-black hair, hastily braided, bounced between her shoulders as her booted feet found purchase on the winding trail that disappeared into a clump of trees.
Today she would show her father how good a hunter she’d become, that she could do more than feed chickens and milk goats. Her chores around their homestead felt mundane. She’d rather go hunting with her father than bake bread with her mom. Besides, her younger sister, Kimberley, could help their mother while Samantha explored the forests and creeks surrounding their little farm, maybe even venturing as far as the Dark Forest to the West—where giant ferns grow taller than a man, and a carpet of moss and lichen make every footfall soft and silent, and the Styx River’s icy water disappears deep into a rocky abyss as if to feed the Earth and mend its sickness. But she knew her dad would have none of that if he caught wind of her plans. The Dark Forest grew too far from their home and posed an unnecessary risk, given that it was not unheard of for an inlari raid party to attack inland. But here, in the shadow of the Barren Mountain, they were still safe and insulated, too deep inland for those aliens to cause any trouble.
Dressed in a loose, taupe-colored fleece jacket and faded jeans and carrying a bow made of ironbark, which she’d been practicing with dutifully with for the last two years, Samantha disappeared into the thicket. She carried a small knife on her hip that her dad had forged from an old leaf spring for her birthday a couple of days before. She wore the knife proudly.
She planned to surprise her family with fresh rabbit meat for breakfast. Of course, her mom would make a fuss and chastise her for venturing out alone, as had happened many times before, for if her mom had her way she’d want the girls with her at the house, nice and safe and supervised.
But this new world demanded survival, which meant learning how to survive, and that was precisely what Samantha was doing. Samantha knew her mom’s overprotectiveness came as a direct result of her losing her own parents and brother to the aliens. Grandparents and an uncle Samantha and her little sister would never meet because of the murderous inlari. Losing them had had a profound impact on her mother. Samantha did not really understand the depth of her mom’s fear, and it felt like a drag when she chided Samantha for slipping out into the surrounding woods, which happened pretty regularly. To Samantha, it felt like her mom wanted to pretend their house was the whole world, a bubble of safety that reality could not penetrate. But then, play-acting was one way of surviving, her dad would say. It created hope, which provides sustenance. Samantha wasn’t sure she understood what he meant by that, but if it made her mom smile, then it couldn’t be such a bad thing.
She arrived at a knoll beyond their little forest, a small clearing which offered an expansive view of the densely treed hills above their property as they melted with the slopes of the Barren Mountain. Copses of red gum and crow ash populated the area, along with pine and red cedar, creating a landscape rich and vibrant with aroma and color and life.
Across the clearing, near a belt of cedars, rabbits skittered into the underbrush, and Samantha traced their frightened hops to the warrens she’d discovered months ago. All she had to do was select a position downwind as close to the burrows as was practical, and then wait. Her patience would pay off if she’d chosen well and remained still and silent. She found a good spot next to a red cedar, near the edge of the forest’s boundary. She notched an arrow, squatted on her heels, and waited.
The sky remained hazy and dark, but the mist had broken in patches. Soon the sun would bear down mercilessly and turn the shaded refuge into a sweltering oven.
She waited, listening. Her ears pricked as the rooster announced the day. She’d left a note on the kitchen table so her absence wouldn’t worry her folks, not that her mother wouldn’t still get annoyed. But Samantha knew that the payoff would far outweigh her anger. Excitement thrummed deep in Samantha’s chest as she imagined their reaction when she brought home fresh meat.
Her father had been teaching them how to survive in the Dividing Range’s wild, hostile environment. To Samantha, the huge mountain looming over them and the Nymboida River rising in the northern foothills made this the best place in the world to live. Not that there was all that much competition out there, now that more than half of the world was a toxic wasteland.
She felt alive here. It was a beautiful and dangerous paradise, where the soft wheet-wheet call of the pardalote still echoed in the valleys, and the magpie warbled and caroled with melodious song in the treetops, and the chuckling of the laughing kookaburra sounded more like an agitated monkey than birdsong. And yet, it was the same place where dingoes hunted at night, and the fat-bodied death adder lay waiting under rotten leaves, and the dagger-clawed cassowary battered through the underbrush with its casqued head as it foraged in leaf litter.
Ahead, she heard a soft scratch. A moment later, a rabbit’s head peered through the opening of the burrow, ears cocked and snout flaring.
Samantha raised her bow and pulled the string taut slowly, sighting the arrow with its bullet-shaped point on the rabbit, waiting for the gray head to emerge just a little more. She felt the wood fibers quiver in her hand as the small bow strained.
She was about to release the arrow when her mother’s distant scream pierced the morning quiet, followed by an explosion that echoed up the mountain slopes and chased birds in a flurry of feathered panic from the treetops.
For a splinter of a second, Samantha did nothing, her weapon still aimed at the space where the rabbit had been. The clashing sounds were surreal and out of place. Another explosion erupted. This time, Samantha turned and ran. Her heart thrashed in her chest as she darted through the trees and underbrush. Branches grabbed at her arms and legs, tearing skin as she rushed down the precarious track, jumping over jutting roots and ducking under low-hanging limbs. Rotten leaves and pine needles muted her footfalls, but her breath wheezed in her chest. Her mind buzzing with panic, she tried to make sense of the screams and cracks below. An icy hand tightened within her abdomen, urging her forward as she sprinted towards home.