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First pages

I

She stood at his bedside, her tiny hand held his frigid one tightly, her tears had stopped at some point during the night. She stood vigil, barely able to see onto her father's bed, the rest of her family had paid their respects during the early afternoon and left her to tend to him.

Their final conversation echoed in her six-year-old mind.

“You will be a good girl for your Uncle won’t you Maureen?”, coughed her father, blood oozing from his mouth with each word.

“Yes papa,” she said, her lips trembled.

“Six months, dear, then you come down to my Garden and visit?”

“Yes, papa.”

He smiled, blood oozed out at the corners of his mouth. The nurse gently wiped it away. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

She stiffened, “A ranger papa, like you.”

He shook his head, “that's a hard life sweety, wouldn’t you like to be a shaper like your mama?”

She shook her head, “Six months, I’ll be in the academy just you wait.”

He smiled, “I didn’t make it in until I was eight.” He looked at the nurse, “In six months she’ll be seven,” he said with a smile.

“I will be like you papa.”

He let out a slow breath, followed by a ragged cough. His eyes grew foggy for a moment then he turned to her, “You will have to work really hard, both for yourself and our family sweety. You are my heir, a Beaufort through and through. Serve the community, and in six months when I can have visitors to my garden, I expect you to be first in line, as a proud member of the academy.”

A hand squeezed her shoulder, “I’ll see to it she has the opportunity to take the entrance exam, Charlie.”

She looked up at her Uncle and nodded to him.

“Thanks, Rick, be good to her,” Charlie turned to the young man standing next to Maureen, “You too Benny.”

“Yes sir,” the young man wearing academy orange and gray fatigues said, “She’s my favorite little cousin.”

Talk turned to family business and she continued to hold her father's hand. Just past midnight he squeezed her hand one last time and closed his eyes. Tears clouded her vision as she silently wept.

Her uncle arrived just past sun up, with two men in orange robes who helped move her father onto a gurney. He turned to her, “Are you ready Maureen?”

She shook her head, “I don’t want to let him go.”

Her uncle knelt down and embraced her, “It’s only for a short time, then we can enter his garden and visit with him anytime we want. Death has no hold here my dear.”

He took her by the hand and they walked the procession behind her father's gurney. When they got to the central garden Maureen bowed respectfully to the keepers and shook hands with each of the cities Elders, each a leader of one of the forty great houses. The line ended at the Beaufort garden, crystallized bodies of her ancestors were placed with reverent care each touching the previous generation, thus the family line remained unbroken.

A man whom Maureen had never spoken too stepped out to meet her Uncle, as Second to her House he was expected to take over as the newest Elder.

The man whispered to her uncle then turned to her and bowed, “My dear child we, the council of Elders, mourn the passing of your Houses Third, Charlie Beaufort. May you find solace in the arms of your family.”

She bowed slightly, “and you in yours.”

He stepped back into the crowd and they were allowed to proceed to her father’s final resting place, her grandfather and her other uncle were already crystallized there.

With great care, the two men lifted her father up and set him kneeling alongside the rest of his family.

Then her uncle prodded her in the ribs, “It is customary to thank those who came to see your father placed in the Eternal Garden.”

She blinked at him, her father always handled family business, she nodded and turned to the gathering.

Benny leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Say what I say…”

She turned fiercely to him, “I know what to do, papa taught me good.”

A chuckle passed through the gathered crowd.

She turned back to “Papa would tell me to be glad you are here. I love papa but I am not glad. I am very sad. I miss Papa, but he would be happy his friends came to see him. Papa liked when friends visited. So that makes me happy, thank you.” She started to turn and caught her uncles expression. His eyebrow raised, she blinked and turned back to the crowd, “Papa would say ‘Find happiness in the arms of your family’.” She offered a little bow to the gathered crowd.

“and you in yours,” the crowd said roughly in unison.

Her uncle smiled at her, “Well done Maureen Beaufort, you may sit with your father or you may visit grandpa if you wish.”

“Would it be okay if I did both, Uncle?”

He nodded, “On this day nobody would find it amiss for you to seek comfort in the arms of our family.”

She nodded and walked out into the Garden, “Keeper?”

A man in an orange robe turned and looked down at her, “Yes child?”

“I am Maureen Beaufort, I wish to visit my grandfather.”

He looked at her uncle then nodded, “You are permitted to ask him for permission to enter, do you know how?”

She shook her head, “no sir.”

He nodded, “this way please.” He took her to where the men were positioning her father, foam pillows were being placed to help comfort his body. He picked up a smaller round pillow off the cart and set it on the ground next to her grandfather’s kneeling form, the green, purple and black crystal had replaced his skin long ago. “Kneel here, child.”

She slumped down onto the pillow, “Like this sir?”

He nodded, “Now place your hand on his shoulder and say ‘I request an audience.’”

She nodded and set her hand on a section of deep purple crystal, “I request an audience, grandfather.” The world spun and a fog obscured the landscape. In the center of the fog sat a sandy-haired man, with a rather plump form, in front of him stood a table with two cups on it.

“Greetings,” the man said smoothly, “I am Albert Beaufort, but I don’t know you, child. You are rather young to enter without an escort, may I ask who you are?”

“I’m your granddaughter.”

“Where are your father and mother dear?”

“Mama and Papa are dead sir.”

He frowned, “Which is a member of my house?”

“Papa was sir.”

“Is my dear, but who is your papa?”

“Captain Charlie Beaufort.”

His face contorted in pain, “How long ago?”

She shook her head, “I don’t understand.”

The man rubbed his sandy beard, “How long ago did they lay him to rest here in the Garden?”

“They are doing it now sir.”

A blast of cool air caused her to turn. A man emerged from the fog, “Greetings Granddaughter.” He wore a Rangers uniform adorned with metals, and had the same sandy hair as her grandfather and father.

Her grandfather jumped to his feet, “Admiral sir, welcome.”

She looked at the new man, “You’re our family patriarch?”

He smiled warmly at her, “Indeed, I am Stanley Beaufort. I can feel your father he is faintly struggling, but he is here.”

Tears streamed from her emerald green eyes, and the two men rushed to embrace her. She cried herself to sleep in the arms of her family. A family she would never lose, of that she was certain.

 

When man had first crash-landed on Erh-Ko, some fifty thousand light years from Earth, they had an innate fear of death. Even a hundred generations and proof that one lived on inside the crystallized remains of their former body hadn’t alleviated that fear. The inhospitable world was home to only six varieties of flora when they landed, each seemed to have a specific role in maintaining life on the otherwise barren world.

It was the Moag, a skeletal thin race of monstrous creatures, that showed humanity that death was not an end on this planetoid. Even if it took a war of desecrating the ‘dead’ to prove it.

II

A young woman with brilliant emerald eyes, wearing iron-studded armor over her orange and gray fatigues stood at the edge of the garden, her eyes on the crystallized form of a man twelve years dead, whom she had come to visit.

“Welcome Captain Beaufort, I am Keeper Samuelson and I will be presiding over your communion. Do you have any questions before we begin?”

She turned to the orange-robed man who approached her, “No Keeper, I have been here before.”

With a nod, he ushered her forward into the garden, “Then you understand that if the person you are here to see feels unwilling to speak to you, you may not be able to enter communion with them?”

“I doubt, that Charles Beaufort will turn me away.”

The man nodded to her and motioned to the kneeling form of Charles’ crystallized body, “When you are ready.”

Maureen placed her hand on Charles' shoulder and closed her eyes, “I request an audience, papa.”

She sneezed as a whiff of smoke pierced through her nose.

“Bless you Mo.”

She slowly opened her eyes, “Hey papa. Long time no see, sorry about that.”

The tanned man's face broke into a grin, “Well dear, it’s not like I’m going anywhere. You do know where to find me right?”

“Yea, but I’m afraid I’m not here just to visit. I got some news.”

“Well from that getup I’m guessing you’ve finally made captain.”

“Yea but guess when?”

He walked around here looking her up and down. “You stopped by for your eighteenth birthday, but it hasn’t been a year yet.”

“Yea, I beat your record by a whole eleven months,” she grinned and held out her hand in a V.

He snorted, “Had to one-up your old man eh?”

A smile broke across her face, “Well you did say you doubted it could be done.”

“I believe I said, ‘I doubt it’s possible, but if anyone can break my record it could only be by another Beaufort.’”

“So are you admitting I’m a better ranger?”

“Hah, that has yet to be seen. Being faster isn’t the same as being better, my dear.” His face appeared almost intoxicatedly gleeful.

“Is that a challenge dear papa?”

“Come now,” Charles said with a wave of his hand and a mischievous grin. “Isn’t it always?”

She smiled and wrapped her arms around him, “I miss you.”

“I’m only a kilometer from the gate side barracks, you can visit anytime you wish. But don’t neglect your duties. Remember it has always been Beaufort’s honor to serve the City of Crystalveil.”

She grinned up at him, “I know, papa.”

A gentle tug on her shoulder, she glanced over her shoulder into the white mists of the Garden, within the mists she could see other members of her family line. All the way back to the great Admiral Stanley Beaufort, first of the Rangers of Crystalveil.

The young sandy blond haired Admiral strode forward through the mist, “Charles” he said in greeting.

Her father nodded to him, “Grandfather.”

Maureen saluted, “Admiral.”

Stan smiled, “I see you’ve entered the service, I’m proud of you, granddaughter. How are you finding it?”

“I enjoy the work, sir.”

He smiled, “At ease, we’re among family here.”

She turned to see other members of her family coming out of the mist, her paternal grandfather, Albert, grabbed her up in a bear hug. The dead emerged from the mists and thumped her on the back, shoulders, and gave fierce hugs. Here she was among family, cousins, uncles, aunts, with only one person notably absent, her mother. She had never joined the Beaufort family so she was entombed with her family, the Owens.

As the congratulations subsided she found herself standing before Stan his face solemn.

She swallows, “Sir?”

His eyebrow arched up, “How many times must I ask you to call me Grandfather?”

She smiled, “I might be persuaded to do so.”

He laughed and looked at her father, “Stubborn as an old ranger I know.” He raised his hands for attention and all eyes fell on him, “I do believe that little Maureen’s accomplishments deserve acknowledgment.”

Cheers greeted his statement, and blood rushed to her face.

“So,” said Stan, “since we are celebrating the youngest captain ever, I think we need some music!”

A second cheer exploded from her kin. Several held out hands and the mist materialized into instruments. She was quickly swept into a dance as the carpeted room flexed and changed into a proper dance hall, a perfect copy of the one in Beaufort House. She was spun through dances and finally found herself facing her father, the music slowed into a waltz. She bowed and he responded. At the end of the dance, she embraced him.

“I’m so proud of you Mo,” he whispered in her ear.

She hugged her father tighter.

His hand tilted her face up, a mask of sadness had descended on his normally happy face. “Your time here is up daughter, you must be going.”

“I know papa, but I don’t want to leave you. It’s already been twelve years, I want to stay with you.”

“I love you too dear, but your place is in the city. Besides I want some Grandchildren before you join me here in the gardens.”

She laughed, “Don’t you think I should get married first?”

He shrugged, “I dunno if you did that you might find you like your husbands family more, and I don’t think I could bear losing you.”

She stood on her tippy toes and kissed his cheek. “No worries, I’ll always be your little girl.”

She hugged her father fiercely, “I came in peace, I leave in peace. May the gardens continue to guide and protect our families as we guard the gardens.”

The white fog lifted and was replaced with the sounds of visitors to the gardens.

“Welcome back Captain Beaufort, I’m sorry to have to wake you but the night is coming.”

The night was when the deathcap spores became most active, “I understand keeper, may you keep this place in peace.” She turned and patted her father's calcified shoulder one last time and turned away from her families garden.

Angry shouts drew her eyes to two figures in keepers orange, they appeared to be arguing over a member of another family. Samuelson stepped in front of her blocking her view, “My apologies, keeper business. I’m sure you understand.”

Clearly, she should not intrude unless it came to blows, she tapped her badge and smiled.

He nodded, “It will not come to that ma’am, I will see to it. Good Evening, Captain.” He bowed deeply and then rushed to the two keepers hushing them with angry hisses.

With a smile, she nodded and raised her voice, “Good evening, Keeper Samuelson.” She was glad not to have to intervene, keepers had a bad habit of closing rank and becoming many pages of extra paperwork, even for the simplest issues.

III

Morning came far too early, Maureen stumbled out of her rack, tripped over a small mountain of various tools and landed in her roommate's dirty laundry. She let out a long sigh and bellowed, “Anna your shit is pushed up against my rack again.”

Her eyes scanned the other nearby bed, its ruffled comforter wasn’t disturbed. Her eyes focused in the gloom, the small flat she shared with her roommate was once again full of crates and piles of salvaged machines, devices, and various scrapped tools. She prodded the nearest pile and a small box of scrap tumbled to the floor where it vomited up its contents.

One of the larger piles shook and rose up to reveal a grimy impish face framed by curly orange-red hair, “Sorry Mo, I’ll get around to it. Double today?”

Maureen rose carefully where she placed her feet as she shook her head, “Nope, just have some paperwork to get done, then I’ll be back.”

“No plans with those hot ranger hunks?”

Maureen suppressed a violent shudder, “No.”

“Aww come on, some of them totally want you.”

“Not a chance, they want entrance into my family. Besides I have other plans for my future.”

“Do I figure into them?”

“Yep, if you don’t clean you shit up I’m putting in a request for a new roommate,” Maureen said and then stuck her tongue out at Anna.

Anna pouted, “Aww don’t be like that Mo, you know you love me.”

Maureen raised an eyebrow, “I do?”

“You know you do, you’d even miss me.”

Maureen took a fresh pair of fatigues from her wardrobe, “Are you sure?”

“Yep, you couldn’t live in a spotless room despite what you say.”

She rubbed her chin, “I think I’d like to try that.”

“Liar, you’d miss me.”

“Clean it up, Anna, I’m tired of tripping over this crap,” Maureen said as she shoved a box out of the way of the bathroom door.

“Hey, careful with that. Even damaged processors have some value.”

“I don’t get how you can see the scraps of iron pine as valuable.”

“Easy, I fix them and then trade them for things I want.”

“Couldn’t you just make them?”

“Well yea, but I’d have to appropriate the necessary materials and,” Anna grinned with a shrug, “It’s tons easier to get permission for small amounts. So instead of letting this all get recycled into slag, I fix it up and recycle it that way. Aren’t I a genius?”

“Eh,” Maureen mumbled as she pulled her shirt on. Then muttered under her breath, “To think you’re older than me.”

“Geeze, you woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Was it too cold?”

She snorted, “Unlike some, I prefer to sleep in my bed, not play.”

“You could come play in mine,” Anna said with a wink.

“But then where would you play?” Maureen countered with a malicious grin.

Anna humphed, “You know you love me.”

“I do?” Maureen kept a pleasant grin on her face.

“Yes you do, otherwise you’d have dumped me outta here two years ago.”

Maureen shrugged as she pulled her boots on, “Could be I enjoy the witty banter, unlike most I’ve met you actually have half a brain.”

Anna jumped to her feet, her pasty white skin streaked with grime and a few bruises, “see told ya you loved me!”

Maureen opened the door, “Bye Anna, get the shit away from my rack, and maybe you should find some clothes.”

“But your rack is so firm and cute, and I know you think I’m sexy.”

“The bed you damn imp, clean up this mess,” she growled as she shut the door. She exited her apartment and went down two flights of stairs to the plaza.

As was often the case this early in the morning the mess hall was all but empty. She took a tray and choose the baked veggies with spicy peppers, an apple, and some bitter tea. She took a chair at one of the four tables on the middle dais reserved for junior officers. She ate without incident or interruption, when she was done she scraped her plate into the compost bins and placed it and her mug into a bus tub.

She then took the long way to Division Ten’s HQ. The smooth low stone walls that ran along the concourse enticed her hand. She walked by here every day, and as every day she resisted the childish desire to run her hands along the wall just to see if it smooth. However, it was the storm-wall that drew her eyes, an impassable barrier surrounding the city that isolating it from the rest of the world. A prison or a safeguard, it didn’t feel right.

Her circle took her around to the rangers barracks and training areas. She watched the recruits training in hand to hand combat for a moment then turned toward the administration building. The quad was empty, and devoid of the sentries that should be on duty. She sighed, Don’t they know that I have to fill out extra paperwork now because of them… Her eyes narrowed, I won’t let them forget it.

She entered the main building and headed for the duty desk, a young private was asleep at the desk. Maureen picked up a heavy volume on ranger etiquette off the nearby shelf and raised it above her head. She brought it down on the desk next to the young woman, who in the process of vaulting up went over her chair and landed sharply on her side.

“Private, do remember that the duty desk isn’t a bed,” Maureen said as the young woman scrambled to her feet.

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am,” the private said as she saluted.

Maureen extended the heavy book to the girl, “The duty report please?”

The woman took the book and grabbed a thin volume off the desk and extended it to Maureen. “Here ma’am, sorry again.”

Maureen began to leaf through the book, “Where are the duty sentries?”

“I don’t know ma’am, I came in at midnight to fill in. The sentries were already gone at that point.”

“I see, Shift change is in an hour think you can stay awake till then Private?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Maureen offered the girl a salute, “As you were.”

The private righted her chair and sat at the desk. Maureen continued to stand there and flipped through the duty log until she found the entry for last night.

 

22:45 - A Keeper Samuelson sent a request for assistance in the garden.

22:50 - Permission was granted by Sergeant Cooper, Duty squad dispatched.

 

Maureen looked at her digital, 06:05. She placed the log next to the private's right arm, “When the duty squad or the Sergeant returns please let me know.”

The girl turned to her, eyes wide, “Yes, ma’am.”

“And when you are relieved step up to my office.”

The private paled, “Yes, ma’am.”

Maureen looked at the private's badge, “good day, Private Walker.”

Maureen headed upstairs to her office, the inbox was overflowing, again. Damn it all, what could possibly have required so many sheets?

She gathered up the sheets and took them over to the sidebar in her office. Some of the other officers used their sidebars to hold trinkets or booze, but she felt it worked best as a place to sort the day's paperwork.

She began sorting through the new paperwork, she placed each type of request in a pile with its peers. In the end, this mornings pile was mostly about time off for the upcoming festival. She sighed and picked up that pile and began to sort it across her desk by company. First Company had, to the last man, requested the day off. With a sigh, she accessed the terminal with the schedule for the last few years. It took her over an hour to sort out who was due time off and who was not. In the end, she would have to assign squads from the duty company to cover the festival grounds but it gave the maximum number of rangers time off during the three-day festival.

She reached for the next pile when someone coughed, she spun around to find a young man wearing Sergeant bars standing in her doorway.

“You asked for me to report in ma’am?”

“Sergeant Cooper?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Were you able to assist the Keeper?”

His face turned bleak, “I’ll have the full report later this afternoon but we had an incident in the garden.”

“Go on,” she said.

“Someone smashed several gardens, the damage was staggering.”

Maureen growled, “Did you get the bastard?”

He looked down at his feet, “Yes, ma’am.”

“What’s wrong, Sergeant?”

He looked from side to side as if trying to find an excuse not to answer.

“Out with it.”

“It’s just he’s a member of my family.”

She nodded, “I see, do you want me to take over?”

He straightened up and shook his head, “Yes ma’am, but I want to be there. I want to look my cousin in the eyes when justice is served.”

She nodded, if for no other reason then be sure he isn’t let go? “When will he be prepped?”

“They took him into the interrogation chambers when we got back, it should take about an hour to prep him.”

She looked at her remaining paperwork, “Why don’t we meet back here in two then. You can write up the preliminary report in the meantime.”

He nodded, “Yes, ma’am.” He saluted her and when she returned it he slipped from her office.

A breaker huh? I don’t envy his cousin. With a long sigh, she turned back to her slowly dwindling stacks. She reached down to her terminal and sent a request for a keeper and a shaper.

IV

Two hours flew by and Maureen was submitting the last of her requisitions reports for review when a knock on her door frame drew her eyes up. A young woman in council greens stood there, an envelope in her hands.

“Yes?” Maureen said.

“Captain Maureen Beaufort, daughter of Charlie Beaufort?”

“Yes,” she said as she rose from her desk.

“A message from the Elders Council,” the woman said as she extended the sealed envelope with an official council seal on it.

Maureen accepted the envelope and the woman bowed to her as she slipped quickly away down the hall.

With a sigh she touched her thumb to the center of the seal, a small electric jolt ran through her finger and the seal dissolved.

She muttered, “shit, now what.” She reluctantly opened the envelope and took out the single sheet inside.

 

Maureen Beaufort,

Congratulations, the council has accepted you as the new House Beaufort Third. Serve your family with dignity, respect, and integrity. May all the blessings of the Garden be bestowed upon you.

 

The signatures at the bottom included her Uncle’s. That fucking weasel, even after I declined he pushed the promotion through the council.

She growled and shoved the message and envelope into the shredder.

Another knock at her door spun her around, the Sergeant was standing there with a handful of sheets. “Sorry ma’am, Bad time?”

“No Sergeant, just a family issue I have to deal with.”

“Pardon?”

“Nothing, let’s go see your cousin.”

The Sergeant looked dubious but backed out of the room.

Maureen led the way down the stairs into the basement holding area, where various offenders were housed. The offender they were to meet would be in one of the last three holding rooms at the back of the maximum security wing.

As they reached the door the sergeant handed her a slip of paper, “His record, and the charges.”

She nodded and glanced at the sheet.

 

3 counts petty assault

2 counts failure to appear

Charged with 13 counts Garden Breaking, including patricide

 

She whistled, “Were they all in his family?”

He shook his head, “No ma’am. Most of them were family but a few were Walkers and one Beaufort.”

She clamped her mouth shut, and took a deep breath, “Well let’s see what he has to say.”

She opened the door and found the young blond man chained to a metal chair in the center of the otherwise empty room. Blood dripped from his mouth with each ragged breath, Did he resist?

She clicked on her wrist com and accessed his information, “Shaper Philip Cooper, a member in fair standing with the Shapers Guild. Multiple infractions of health and safety protocols, suspected of spousal abuse, charged with petty assault, failed to appear for punishment on two occasions, and now you’re breaking gardens. Anything to say for yourself?”

The man spit blood on the floor, “Get bent you bitch.”

“Do you even know the punishment for garden breaking?”

“Exile.”

“A textbook answer, but what does that mean?”

The man’s head jerked up to glare at her, “It means you throw me out and I’m not allowed back to the city.”

She shook her head, “Wrong, care to try again?”

“What is she talking about Cousin?”

The sergeant growled at the man, “You ceased being my cousin when you broke my mothers garden.”

So that was why he wanted to be present, “Do you have any more interesting guesses?”

The man’s eyes grew wider, “What do you want of me?”

“Is there something we should want from you?”

“Look I was told I would be able to lead a carefree easy life if I did this one job.”

“By who?”

“I never saw her face.”

“Then you are nothing to us,” Maureen said with a sigh.

“Wait please I can find out.”

She shook her head, “Whoever she is she would just have you killed and disposed of.” Maureen straightened up, “Is the keeper ready?”

The sergeant nodded, “We need to wear masks for this part, ma’am.”

She nodded and picked up one of the masks the sergeant offered.

“Wait! What are you doing? Why do you need masks?” the man shouted at them while he strained against his restraints.

A keeper entered the room holding a small orb in his hand, he wore a heavy cloak and a mask similar to theirs. “Captain, Sergeant, the concoction is ready. Is this the garden breaker?”

“Yes Keeper, please administer the drug,” she said indicating the man chained to the chair.

He growled through clenched teeth, “I’m not swallowing that shit.”

The keeper walked over, “Are you sure?”

The man began to growl something when the keeper slapped his hands in front of the man’s face, powder filled the air around the man’s head. The man jerked his head back and sucked in a lung full of the powder. He started coughing fiercely, his eyes watered and drool began to pour from his gaping mouth.

The keeper ignored the man and stood silently. Once the dust settled the keeper began to clean up the dust with a small vacuum and brush. The man continued to thrash around, but each coughing fit weakened his next violent outburst.

Once the keeper was satisfied there was no more powder he turned to Maureen, “Captain the Exile is prepared. The infusion of infernos and deathcap will slowly sap his strength, we should prepare his tomb now. I do believe the shaper was in the hallway waiting for us.”

The man gasped, “what… tomb?”

Maureen looked at the ashen face, slipped off her mask and bared her teeth, “We’re not exiling you from the city. We’re exiling you to your own personal hell for all eternity. You will be placed in an iron pine vault and entombed in your families crypt, you will forever be alone.”

She bowed to the keeper, “Thank you for coming.”

He nodded, “I do sometimes wish the punishment could fit the crime. However, this is far crueler.” He looked at the man and with a sad nod turned to the door.

The sergeant opened it and let him out. He returned with an armload of iron pine ingots, a woman with a shapers badge followed him into the room.

The young woman set out the ingots of refined iron pine when she said, “Can we lay him out on the floor now?”

Maureen nodded and raised her voice, “Privates we need you in here.”

The door opened and the two privates leaned in, “Ma’am?”

“It’s time to move him to the floor so the shaper can size the tomb. It’s unlikely he has the strength left to resist but if he does just knock him down.”

The sergeant nodded and drew out his nightstick, “time to atone Philip,” he growled.

The privates got Philip into position without incident. The shaper walked around him several times, her lips making no sound as they worked. With a nod, she pulled a blue and silver gauntlet onto her right hand. She reached down and touched the gauntlet to the first ingot and it melted, flattened and as it expanded into the next bar that one melted too. Slowly the metal expanded and as it twisted and thinned the vault base slowly formed. As the metal expanded outward to the stack of ingots the walls of the coffin slowly grew upward shimmering and flickering as they merged with the base.

When she pulled back the gauntlet the shimmering ceased and the vault became rigid.

The shaper ran her un-gloved hand over the rim of the vault. When she had gone around it twice she grunted and touched a section, with the gauntlet, which shimmered and twisted for a moment before she withdrew the gauntlet once again. She repeated the process several times before she nodded and went to the final pile of iron pine bars.

She slammed her gauntleted palm flat on the bars and they quickly flattened into the vault lid. Slowly the engraving formed a symbol from the ancient world, Maureen had once asked what it meant but the best answer she got was ‘biological hazard’.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

J.C. Webb is a former Electronics Engineer turned full-time Father and part-time garden enthusiast and chef. He lives in his home in the Rockey Mountains. He took up writing as a hobby in 1989 but never wrote novel length books until a brush with a local branch of NaNoWriMo. In 2009 he wrote his first novel, later he went on to win the NaNoWriMo competition several times.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Science fiction can take on so many forms, it's hard to not find something to enjoy. However, it is difficult to write because it is so wide and varied. So I suppose it's a mix of the thrill and challenge.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Editing is always the hardest part for me. It's a mix of being objective and critical of your own work, the end result is very rewarding.
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
Anything by Anne McCaffrey, one of the first Sci-Fi Fantasy Novels I ever read was Dragonsong. So Parallel Earth Resources Negligible (P.E.R.N.) really had an impact on how I perceive characters in novels.

Next in:
Science Fiction
Soul Taker
Tinkering with Time awakens a Nightmare.
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Never send a human to do a robots job.
The Iron Sands
A race against time to save a child from evil