Category Archives: Writing

The Long Lost – a Science Fiction short story combining mystery and hard sf themes

This story was an entry for a contest based on a Second Life sim called The Green Mire. A mysterious set of scenes was placed on a portion of the sim, and a hunt game was based on them, all suggestive of an alien landing. The stated intent of the contest was to write a story that explained the mystery and set the scene for further even more mysterious events to occur in the future. That is why the story takes the form it does, with so many assumptions.

This story did not win the contest, and I knew it wouldn’t, it was too exotic to use as an SL game. But I so enjoyed some of the ways the story was emerging from my creative mind I didn’t care, I was having too much fun writing it.

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The Long Lost

by Susquehannock


4000 light years away from the planet Earth, towards galactic center, an entangled quarks emergency beacon message instantaneously altered the spin of captive quark matter in a Version ship.

“I have a contact. Very old quarks.”, 142,791(Version of The People) announced on open radio wavelengths.

Every Version on the ship turned sensors towards Very Long Range Observations. Unencrypted radio waves were the deepship’s equivalent of emergency klaxxons.

142,791 flashed information links. The Version joined minds and reached consensus.

“Astonishing. It’s definitely the Long Lost. We must go to them, and go now.”, this thought was shared by all, as if each was the only thinker.

Their nanomatter bodies wove together, as they become one being, as well as one mind. They extended into the deepship, and fused with it’s millions of years of memories and ancient and wise superintelligence. All were one.

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The One Version thought a command. “Prepare a hardball with a rescue gate for launch. Target the projected location of that emergency signal.”.

Hardballs were a very old technology, hyperdense exotic matter wrapped around a diamond computing core, built to do one thing. They were sent into raw wormholes to anchor a quantum gate at the other end, and the quantum gates were the basis of Version civilization. The fastest way to get help to the Long Lost would be to fire a hardball, loaded with the specialized nano needed to build a gate. When it was completed, Version could just step through the quantum foam and be There instead of Here.

The One Version loaded messages and instructions into the rescue hardball’s limited capacity, along with updates and as much rescue nanomatter as the hardball could carry, which was not much.

The deepship vibrated as the first of the spacebending computations completed, and the ship and the quantum foam underlying the universe completed their handshake. As information poured back and forth between the foam minds and the matter minds, the impossible become the certain to happen, and a microstar appeared, uncomfortably close, blazing fury as the energy differential dumped into this universe. It was a reverse black hole.

“Hardball launch.”, the one version thought. A pulse of electromagnetic energy threw the hardball at the reverse black hole, and it vanished.

Inside the reverse black hole the radiation and gravity waves were grinding down the protective shell of the hardball. It was already white hot. But traveling at millions of times the speed of light, distorting time and space as it did, the hardball would arrive a very short time after the message was sent.

The deepship couldn’t use a black hole, so it must follow at a much slower rate. The One Version added his final reports to the information streaming thru overspace to all versionkind, then melded itself into the matter of the deepship. The One Version thought to itself, “Accelerate.” The deepship computed, dickering with the foam, an agreement was reached, and a fold of spacetime wrapped around the ship and it too vanished.

—–

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June 7, 2004, Earth, in the Green Mire.
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“No. No, c’mon, you had it long enough, let me have it back, it’s my turn.”, a boy’s voice argued, loud in the night even with insects singing, gator croaks, and a million frogs joined in a frog chorus. The beams of flashlights danced behind the trees.

“Bugger Off!”, said another boyish voice. “I almost got it to work again, you couldn’t get it to do anything. You have to sing to it, see, like that other thing. Listen..”. The boys voice chirped, sounding much like one of the frogs.

The flashlight beams were suddenly outshone. A bright halfsphere of light appeared, revealing clearly, in the same way that lightning at night reveals a scene, the two boys holding an oversized helmet. The shape came alive with video scenes, streams of strange symbols, and what looked like flashing warning arrows.

Half of the shape was suddenly replaced by an odd, huge face. It seemed to radiate sadness. A voice vibrated out of the air, at first too deeply bass to be understood, but then it tuned, and become the soft voice of a grandparent.

“Boys, I’m afraid you are in terrible danger. You must do as I say, or you will will be badly hurt, and might die. Do you understand me?”. The rest of the symbols and imagery on the shape stopped moving. The face looked at them intently, like a very large, but very nice, troll.

“Ahhhhh – yes?”, one of the boys said.

“Now, then. right now, get behind that big tree, where the indicator lights from the helmet are pointing.” Bright green flashing arrows suddenly appeared in the shape of light the helmet projected, and the tree was outlined in bright green. The boys stood frozen. then in bright red a rapidly scrolling set of symbols appeared, outlined in flashing red and orange.

“NOW! Now or you are permanently dead and beyond my help!” This time the voice was like thunder. Another voice spoke in the background. “Use the sonics. Herd them. There is no time, Version will have sent a ball, it will time-brake, then it will emerge out of chaos somewhere near the beacon.”

Both boys screamed as something painful and invisible touched them, like being shoved by a burning wind, stinging their skin in a hundred places. It shoved again. Like rabbits the boys ran instinctively. Only one path did not hurt; straight to the big tree. They tried to keep running but their legs collapsed under them in cramps. Their natural physical intelligence took over from there, to escape the pain, they tried to get as flat as they possibly could in the little dip in the soil they found.

“Good job boys, good job.”, the grandfatherly troll said, his words and tone of voice soothing now. A kind of soft music seemed to be around them, one that made them feel relaxed and a bit sleepy. The music got louder and sweeter, and both boys relaxed completely. They felt very good, and safe, even tho the voice was telling them something about hurt.

Then the second voice spoke, followed by a third.

“Are we really going to do this?”, asked the second voice, the same one that had spoken before in the background.

Then the third voice, a new one. “I have filtered nano from each of us. It is sufficient for this, but it uses up almost everything we were keeping as a reserve. If rescue does not reach us soon, very soon, we will de-cohere. There will be no integral consciousness left, no organized memory, just agony and fear in a frozen shell.”

“We know, 70,821th,”, the first voice said, the voice of the kind grandfatherly troll, “we’re concerned also. Send the nano, then still your mind, and save your energy. We are sorry we had to wake you for this, but we needed your help, you were the best of us at complex nano. Send it, and then make yourself slow.”

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Fine silvery threads began to float up out of the ground around the bodies of the boys. They floated like spiders threads, then began to wrap around them.

The nice troll spoke again, and this time it was speaking in their minds as well as through the helmet’s speakers.

“Boys, we’ve been asleep for a long time. We really didn’t think anyone would be able to turn on that control unit, but when you did, alarms woke us up. It was just junk, we thought, an entry on a list of things we’d lost over the centuries. We didn’t imagine anyone might be able to use it to activate the activate the beacon, but you two did. This is our fault.”

“Mind copies are at 68 percent. 70. Body copies are at 41 percent.”, said the second voice. “You know, it’s a shame we can’t send them to go get it, that controller would come in very handy. Especially if we could find that lost nano pack.”

Curiously, the boys understood what he meant. Somehow the threads – the “nano”, both boys thought in unison – was teaching them as it protected them. They understood now that nano was trillions of tiny robots, each microscopic robot smart on its own, and when linked together the resulting fibers were superintelligent and able to do miraculous things. And that right now the nano, instructed by the second troll, was making backup copies of them, just like they made copies of a file on their computers.

“Mind copy at 99. 100. I am uploading, and instantiating.” Like changing a channel, the boys were somewhere else.

“Hi there. My name is 70,836th, but my friends call me 36.”. They heard in their heads, like a particularly bright thought. The tree and the dirt were gone, they were standing in an odd place, a type of stone garden, next to an oddly shaped house made of very large stone blocks. 36 sat at a stone table. In front of him was a glowing shape of light like the shape that had come from the helmet, but table sized. “37, the boys are here.”

“It will be nice to have some company after all this time.” Another troll came out of the stone house, carrying a kind of stone bucket. The boys stood goggle-eyed as he pulled out old fashioned bottles of orange soda, popped off the caps with the flick of a big thumb, and handed one to each of them.  “You have not lost your touch, 36.”

“Don’t distract me, I’m getting their bioforms. Bring Skip and Tony up to speed. Oh, and if our Version sent a hardball as fast as possible after the beacon signal arrived, and you know they did, it will start to time-brake in local space in about 12 seconds, external time.”

“So there is no rush then, wonderful. You are an artist, my friend, I leave this in your capable hands.” The nicest troll held up a big hand, and wiggled his fingers. They both broke into big trollish grins.

“Tony”, nice troll said, looking directly into Tony’s eyes, “and Skip.”, looking at Skip. “Let me introduce myself. I am “nice troll” to those I have just met, but I hope we will be friends, and my friends call me 37.” The two boys eyes moved just enough to glance at each other. “No, no, you are absolutely right.”, 37 said, waving a hand as if to wave away their worry. “We do look pretty much like the drawings of the mythical trolls in your books. Look at this nose.” He turned his head so they could see his large hooked nose from the side. “That is definitely a troll nose. On my planet these noses are highly functional.” 37 made his nose tip move in a small circle, and the boys realized it was almost a kind of small elephant’s trunk. “Here, it’s a troll nose. But I’m used to it.” 37 grinned another big grin.

Then he sat up, and became somewhat more serious. “Boys, do you know where you are?” He watched them think. Skip and Tony looked at each other again, and as they concentrated their thoughts became clearer, and moved faster. The nano was improving them at an rapidly increasing rate. They felt as if they were able to concentrate days worth of animated conversation into that momentary glance.

“37, we think this is a kind of holodeck, or maybe a very clear dream, or something much like a dream. This is not really real.”, Skip said, waving a hand to indicate the stone garden and table.

“Holodeck? Hmmm. Star Trek, the later episodes, not the originals, right? Lasers and holograms, oh that is simply adorable. No, this is not a holodeck, this is more like a very clear dream, as you said. This is a simulation, a kind of imaginary world, and it is made for us by our nano. This is where we have been living, for 66 million years, waiting for our friends to find us and help us out of a little predicament. Let me show you where we ‘really’ are.” His big hands made air quotes as he said the word “really”.

Something like a tv screen appeared in the air. As soon as the boys looked at it, it expanded, giving them a perfect view. Of the three statues standing on platforms, where they had made the green pillar of light appear, and been given the helmet.

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“That’s us.”, 37 said, and as he spoke, bright outlines moved from statue to statue. “I’m that one, and that’s 36, and that one there is poor 21. We made those foundations and stood on them about 10 million years ago. As the planet changes, ices ages, and seas rising and falling, we send out a very small amount of nano to repair and reposition the platforms and the beacon. And we wait.”

The boys looked at each other again. At almost exactly they same time, they both said, “And now we are in there too. With you. In the statues.” They paused for a moment, and this time in perfect unison, both asked, “Why? Why bring us in here?”

“Oh, you are quick.”, 37 said. “Your kind is going to be something special when you wake up. Yes, that is the important question.”

37 leaned forward again. “As I said, we have been waiting for friends to find us, because we are in a predicament. And it’s big. And I’m afraid that it puts your whole planet in danger, that is, we, us, we’ve put your whole world in terrible danger. A moment, please, gentlemen.” He turned his head to the other troll.  “36? Is it done?”

36 held up a big finger. “3, 2, 1… Got ‘em. Safe as houses, as long as the power holds out. But we don’t have enough power to regenerate them, and, not enough to do much of anything but sit in here. If the ball comes, if it can build a gate, if they find us in time, we’re great. If one thing goes wrong, we’re in a world of hurt.” He sighed, and pulled an orange soda out of the bucket, flicked off the cap, and took a deep swig. “And hardballs are not that bright, you know. Hey, this stuff is good. Really good. How? Oh, of course, our guests have actually tasted it, you got a flavor profile from the nano. What a treat.”

36 leaned toward the boys and happily saluted them with the bottle. “Thanks for the soda, guys!”

37 gave a speculative “Hmm”, and pulled out an orange soda for himself, decapped it, and took a hefty swig. “Whoa.”, he said, staring at the bottle, then he upturned it and downed it all. The boys looked at each other, and then chugged their sodas.

It was damn good orange soda.

37 turned back to the boys. “Where was I? Oh right. The danger.”

“I think I should show you our predicament, rather than telling you. It’s much faster, and you will understand it better when you see what we’ve seen. You’ve taken to the nano adaptations better than we expected, so – may I? This will be something like how I showed you the outside world.”

The boys shrugged in unison, then nodded. They murmured “cool” together as new memories began to appear in their minds. Not just memories, but memories they recognized, and knew, even tho they were not their own.

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37, 36, and 21 had been piloting a scout ship, a sphere of hypercarbon-platinum composite and titanium steel, with space folding drives. Carrying captured war materials back for Version scientists to study. It was the AxOtl equivalent of nano, intelligent and programmed for war, and deadly. It had found a weakness in the containments, and taken over most of the ships systems before they realized they were in danger. The first indication anything was wrong was the ship suddenly falling out of foldspace, deep inside the boy’s home system.

The three Version tried to pilot the ship into the sun. But the AxOtl had too much control, and they wanted a biosphere to hide in. They started a course that would drop the ship into the third planet’s oceans.

The version had little choice. They told their nano to become an escape pod. But, as the pod formed, messages came from an area the AxOtl had sealed off. Version nano still controlled an area of the ship, which included the fusion thrusters. “We’ve converted to warfighting format and assessed the options for defeating the Axotl.”, the nano messaged. “If we try to break this ship out of a landing vector, the AxOtl will just bring it around again in a year. But, if we wait until the right moment, we can accelerate the ship and drive it deep into the planet’s crust, trapping them almost indefinitely. Does this have your approval?”

“Do it. And thank you.”, the three version thought as one. “Oh no, thank YOU. This is going to be so much fun.”, the nano sent back. Battle nano can be a little weird.

The escape pod wrapped itself around the three version, and used plasma rockets to push away from the main ship. It slowed and started a nice gentle fall towards the planet.

Ahead of them a star appeared, ten times brighter than the distant sun. The fusion drives. The sphere of the ship leapt , the star getting visibly dimmer. “There is a message encoded into the fusion drives visible light spectrum.”, the escape pod said to them. “Oh? Link it.”. The encoding was a video signal, it turned out. It showed an engineering chamber, and nano. the nano had formed itself in the shape of a Version, which was micturating on the chamber door, which was beginning to show the greens and yellow of Axotl virus forming at the tight joints. The urine was just for show, a stream made of nano, but the stream killed the green and yellow fuzz like a blowtorch, the nanos waging a microscopic war.

The nano simulation of a Version turned to the camera, still urinating an apparently inexhaustible stream. “Oh, hi guys! Glad we got thru! As you can see, everything is going great here. These old fusions really have some kick, we should do this kind of thing more often. Here, you’ll want this.” He sent a file. When opened it marked a trajectory and estimates of the result. “We are going to make a serious mess of that planet. This is no ordinary nickel-iron asteroid, we are going to punch right thru that soft carbonate and silica. The hole we make is going to instantly collapse under the gravitational pressure, and we are just going to sit out the rest of this one.” More files flooded through the connection, making the video go gray and splotchy and they filled the data pipe. “Encryption keys and some estimates of ways we may be able to talk. I’m thinking low frequency waves, I’ll just bang this ship like a bell and we can chat. Assuming I don’t get turned into an AxOt zombie, right?.”

“Anyway, the axo don’t like it too hot, from what we can tell, watching thru the ships eyes, they are already making an insulated cocoon in the middle of the ship, which means they are doing the same math that we are. It’s going to be them and us, smart plants and smart rocks, duking it out mano a mano just like in the old days before you brainers came along.”

The scene jerked and jilted suddenly. The nano in the escape pod filtered the audio, but something very intense had just happened.

The distant nano suddenly popped back into the screen, holes in it’s simulated face closing. “”Ohhh, man, they are REALLy pissed now. They must have realized we were talking. They packed the chambers around us with liquid oxygen and carbon, made a poor man’s sprengel explosive, and set it off, trying to shut down the fusions. Sucks to be them, because these sweet old girls are blazing.” The nano pretended to sigh, despite not needing to breathe,

A green square started flashing on the nano’s arm. It, he, raised both arms in the ancient victory sign. “That was our calculated point of no return, boss. It’s a done deal now. We are going down. And it is going to take some fancy engineering to get us back up again. This will give me some quality time. I’m thinking, catch up on my meditation.“

The nano disassembled its pretense of being a Version. It became a kind of multishape, thick ropy arms like an octupus radiating in all directions from a toroidal center, whispy tendrils containing sensors and weapons and manipulators filling the space around it in perfect radial symmetry
“They are pulling back to the core, and dragging everything they can possibly use with them. I’ve got to do a little scavaging myself  and dig in also. This part coming up won’t be so much fun. I’m going to use the fusion torches to send you as much unique consciousnesses as will fit. Take care of it.”

“We will”, said the nano of the escape pod. The version nodded.

“And guys. I hate to be a nag. But, don’t leave me in here with that plant forever. Dig us out.” the screen went dead. All in the pod could feel the data start to stream in, the stored experiences of the nano on the ship.

“Wow, that was heavy.”. said the pod nano.

—-

The boys saw a brilliant flash on the surface of a blue planet, then a white shock wave that seemed to eat half the world. “It was the dino killer.”, they said in unison.

“The ship, our battle nano, and the Axotl are still down there.” said 37, showing more pictures. “the bad news is, it started to move about 20 million years ago, it’s coming up, and rising faster. I have not heard from my nano since the movement began. If the Axotl have won,  and are controlling the ship’s movement to the surface, and it chews it’s way up before help arrives, your species will be enslaved, turned into Axo zombies.”.

They were shown what would happen when the hardball arrived. Moving at millions of times light-speed thru the rip between universes that was a black hole, the hardball would radiate blasts of hard gamma rays when it emerged, certain death to every life form within three hundred yards, and sickening and mutating everything for a thousand yards further. The two boys had been well inside the hundred yard range.

“We would have been goners. Killed. No chance, right?”, they asked 37.  He nodded. “100% certainty of death, which is why you are in here now. In here, time moves at the rate we set, so we have time to talk. But out there only a little time has passed. We expect the hardball to break out of the wormhole about a thousand miles up. It will be moving so fast it would be thru the earth in billionths of a second.”

“Two seconds.”, said 36. “It might be late, but my bet is on two seconds.”

More lifelike movies began in the boys minds. Hardballs were dumb and dangerous, but they had enough programming and computational and effector power to do a few things, and they had one major trick, the thing that made them usable in the first place. They watched hardballs do this trick a number of times in their minds.

“Time Braking.”, said 36. “Cool, right? It’s massive cool. The one thing hardballs have way too much of when they emerge is speed. But nothing can move faster than light speed out there in the real. As soon as it breaks thru the rip, it MUST slow down by millions of times, to get to at least a tiny bit below light speed – and really, what use is it to be moving that fast, we want mr. hardball to go from millions of lights to about a hundred thousandth of a light, instantly. Long ago somebody realized the answer was simple. Since faster than light travel is time travel, and there is always an incredible excess of time everywhere, you have the hardball spin into timelike loops the instant it emerges. What happens is, the hardball spends about a million years flying in loops around your solar system, but these loops take in into different timelines.”

“Like Startrek.”, said the boys, grinning.

“Uhh, sure, sure, like that, what you said. So, it will be out there, radiating intense light and heat and radiation, going backwards and forwards in time, and as it loses energy it gets closer and closer to our time, and closer and closer to us in space. To us, it would look like a bright light up in the sky, and then a second later a white hot glowing ball appears out there somehwere, with one hell of a shock wave and killer gammas blasting everything. And then it plops to the ground, because it has used up all that energy by bending time. And in the last few nanoseconds this island is going to take a real kicking.”

37 interrupted. “Skip, Tony, after the hardball arrives, things could get a little complicated. There is a great deal you don’t know yet, and ways you can be very useful…”

Now 36 interrupted. “Gravity wave. It’s all about to go boom. Here, watch. this is not something one usually gets to see.

All four stopped, and nano played movies in their minds. A flash from above too bright to be believed, but mercifully short. The nano played a simulation, the hardball emerging, the atoms in the vacuum torn into blinding light by the tiniest shortest of impacts before it twisted and vanished, into the first of millions of timelike loops.

The simulation kept playing. The nano estimated it’s course, and marked hundreds of thousands of places where the hardball had once emerged, or would emerge, dropping energy as light and when it did. This was all much much too fast to see during the few times it happened to occur again in their 2004 timeline.

“Uh oh”, said 36. “Nano is projecting it’s going to bang around pretty close to us in the final timeloops. 37 you better…”

Then the movies that had been showing a view outside of the statues went white, then black, and there was a sound that wasn’t really a sound, more like an earthquake, the biggest earthquake possible.

——

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Around the island,for many years, there had been reports of blasted heaths, burning lights, roars, horrible moments of pure terror. A police car found in the swamp, the policemen dead inside. Hundreds of gators belly up, giant waves of dead and rotting fish, strange frogs and hints of even stranger things. It attracted tourists and investigators and scientists – and one day a helicopter was smashed out oif the sky like a bug. Less people visited afterwards.

And on June 7, 2014, the whole distant end of the island, out where those old idols were, just blew up – but nothing was found.

—–

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June 7, 2004.

The hardball stopped, and dropped to the ground. “Good job!” it’s simple nano mind said. “Good spot. I build the gate here.”

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MEDICINE, a short story, intended to be science fiction.

MEDICINE   by Susquehannock (  copyright 2013 by r.susquehannock@gmail.com )

The wailing of women was the first human sound that cut through the thick shrouding forest.

A hundred painful steps before, the monkeys and parrots had gone quiet. Now JaguarTookFoot knew what made them pause their endless chatter. The humans were agitated, nothing in this forest was safe.

Especially not JaguarTookFoot.

He began to sing – loud. First a series of low hoots, deep from the chest. Then high calls – KEE KEE KEE. Low hoots again. Deep, like howler monkey who knows how to make himself heard thru muffling trees, but hoots no hunter could mistake for howler.

Then the song for humans. “I am JaguarTookFoot! I am Medicine! I was called here by third son of KnowsTurtles! JaguarTookFoot is here! JaguarTookFoot is my name!”.

He kept singing the song. His foot hurt. The boy had shown up at the village of his hosts at midmorning, it was now nearly the time for the daily rain, only doctors and warriors and crazy women walked thru the jungle in the hottest of the day. He felt bad, thirsty, hot, in pain – but he did not want to die today.

“You slur like a prisoner with a split tonge.”, a harsh male voice called from before him.

JaguarTookFoot sighed a deep sigh of relief. His hands flew up and cupped. “Thank you Forest!”. For the moment, he would live. If the warriors had decided better safe than sorry, the war chief would not have alerted him with an insult.

Leaves rustled behind him. Some young killer was letting him know, “Go ahead, run, stranger, I would be happy to cut that tongue…”.

“I am Medicine”, JaguarTookFoot said to the forest. “I was told I would be paid well to come to this village and heal two warriors, sons of chiefs.”.

“Or, you are a spy.”, said the voice before him.

A bow’s string was tapped somewhere behind. It hummed.

JaguarTookFoot slowly opened his medicine bag, and lifted out his most precious medicine. It glowed softly in the forest light. He held it up by it’s end, high enough for all those watching to see, and turned it to place it in the proper position for use.

The grunt from the war chief was loud. The relief in it was unmistakeable. Suddenly, as if released from bonds, the forest around him rustled with human sounds.

By magic, suddenly the war chief was visible, standing in the path. One hand held a war club back and low, deadly. The other hand raised, fingers flickering in war codes. His lips pursed and frog calls pierced the air. The rustling stopped instantly, then, was replaced by the nearly inaudible sounds of killers moving away.

JaguarTookFoot was in the middle of a war. He very carefully put the medicine tool back in it’s birdskin pouch, lined with feathers to keep it safe.

Then, as it had every day since the beginning of time, the daily rain started – and washed out the sounds, even the wails of the women grieving in the village 300 paces away.

———————————–

An old warrior, his face a mass of scars with only a third finger and thumb remaining on his right hand to hold a toothed club, and a young warrior with a bow, nocked with an arrow tipped with a stingray spine showing the sticky tar of poison, “guided” him to the open clay plaza of the village.

It was a common village of the forest people, a bare clay oval surrounded  on three sides by long houses with open faces, many smoking fires to keep away the flies, the big eyes of children gleaming in the dimness of the reed and stave roofed houses. The hammocks were empty, only old men and many women and children could be seen, tho most were half hidden, under woven mats, behind posts, staring. Counting the children in his mind, and not on his fingers, he realized that this village was if anything even richer than the boy messenger had said.

The two biggest houses at the end of the village were where the women gathered. Most had stopped wailing, now that he was in the village – seeing a stranger, especially someone as strange as JaguarTookFoot, was unusual enough that it warranted a pause of the ceremonial distress. From others invisible behind the crowd, wailing went on – mixed with something worse, some deeper throat-tearing sound of personal agony.

There was a movement in the crowd of women. Older women pushed and scolded and barked.

First, the women seperated into their clans – and opened a space so that JaguarTookFoot could see deeper into the big houses.

Then, the youngest girls of each clan were pushed to the front.

JaguarTookFoot could smell young pussy from where he stood, still 30 paces  away. The girls had been made ready, washed, painted with fertility dreamsigns, wearing each family’s brideprice beads and feathers and valuable medicines and prizes. Some, the very prettiest, flashed golden spaks in the sun, proof of rare gold. Breasts were full, nipples proudly displayed and darkened to simulate prior breatfeeding, and pubic hair carefully tweezed to neat small patches showing off cleft. The tribe had prepared all the unmarried girls who had bled, as if for a chiefs wedding.

JaguarTookFoot’s cock started to swell under his loincloth. Because he had medicine, he rarely had to go a day without a willing woman, but even for a man of power like himself, this was a sight to make his ancestors eager, to make them want to open young legs and tear the spirit veils that kept the ancestors from pouring out those tweezed bare clefts. The girls, lined up on display, staring at him with wide eyes, gleaming out of sockets darkened with charcoal.

A series of particularly loud shrieks broke the moment, and, at that signal, older women shooed the marriagable girls to the back, surrounding them with a wall of experience and tribal authority.

Out of the house shambled an older woman, bright red and black with sticky blood in various stages of drying and clotting, but wearing feathers of extreme value and power, brilliant blue and red and yellow – and now bloodied as well, an amazing waste of wealth.

She stared at JaguarTookFoot, and screamed again – a mother’s wail to drive away spirits and ancestors. She showed him what she held in her hand – the jaw of a fish known for it’s terrible needlelike teeth – then scraped it down the one unbloodied spot left on her body, her left breast, still fat, not the droop of a woman completely incapable of nursing. The blood nearly sprayed from the lines she scored on her tit, drops running down, and falling off her nipple like red milk.

“You are the doctor.”, she said. “The one with the half foot.”. It might have been an accusation.

“Yes, I am. I am JaguarTookFoot.”.

“Let me see.”, she said. She motioned. Suddenly his two “guides” were right beside him, and the old one put the toothed club against his ass. He accepted the guidance and walked up to the old woman. As he got within striking distance the old warrior grabbed his loincloth to stop him, and the young moved to a position where he could put the poisoned arrow efficiently into the doctor with a twitch of his hand, if needed. But, he was very careful not to get in the way of the woman, he did not even look her way.

The woman stepped closer on her own, and looked down at JaguarTookFoot’s famous deformity. He lifted it to show her.

Her eyes gleamed, and she screamed again, louder than ever before, ear shattering at this closeness, but now the scream held another emotion.

Hope.

“Show me the medicine.”, she said, but now with a rushed urgency. She turned to the side, and said something, a name – hard to make out – she was calling somebody. “People say you have it, show it me. I must see it, my sister must see it”.

Out of the other house a group of women came, one nearly carried by the others, also covered in blood, still gripping hard in each hand sharpened clam shells, with strips of skin hanging off her arns and legs.

She was not well. Vomit flecked her chin, her eyes did not track. If the other women had let go, she clearly would have fallen. As she felt the reddening evening sun hit her, she seemed to come back to life a bit. When she did, and saw JaguarTookFoot, she vomited again thinly, and dropped the sharpened shells.

The first woman jumped to her, grabbed a shell, and put it back in her hand. She motioned another woman to help her hold it. “NOT A SPIRIT”, she shouted into her sisters face. “This is a man, the man with the half foot, the man from far away, the man with medicine that can save our sons!”. She grabbed her chin, made her look. “NOT A SPIRIT! SEE! NOT A SPIRIT! It’s the man with the half foot! The Jaguar man!”. She hauled back her hand, made a fist, and punched the weaker woman in the chest. “NOW CRY FOR MY NEPHEW YOU USELESS BITCH!”.

Something in the sick woman’s eyes came back to life, and she shrieked, blowing spit and snot and vomit and blood into her sisters face. The first woman, clearly dominant, nodded and clapped in approval.

“SHOW ME IT!”, she shouted, not even looking at JaguarTookFoot. “SHOW MY SISTER!”. She glared into her sisters eyes like a snake looking at a bird, but motioned like a queen.

The old warrior pushed the teeth on the club into JaguarTookFoots ass cheek.

JaguarTookFoot rushed and fumbled a bit as he opened his medicine bag and took out the birdskin pouch. He steadied himself as he pulled out the powerful tool. He held it out, showing. Even redder sunlight made it shine in a color never seen in the jungle – alien, strange, impossible. Like the gold found in nuggets in the streams, but not like it. Like a bone, maybe, or a feather – but not those things either. Such a thing could not exist.

The sick woman saw it first. She blinked. Then the powerful woman turned and looked. Her eyes bugged out a bit – then she threw her hands up to the sky, cupped her palms, and screamed and screamed and screamed until she fell to her knees, coughing, gagging for breath.

The screams of a mother who knew her child was dead, was already a spirit, but now might, just might, live.

“My son’s son’s third son, what did he tell you?”, she said, talking to the clay, her voice rough with screaming.

“Four wives for each, with as much vine as each wife could carry. I choose the wives”, JaguarTookFoot said quietly.

The old woman nodded. “That is what I said.”.

“Their bride goods too?”.

She nodded.

“It may not work. You may have called me too late. What if they die?”.

She looked up with death in her eyes. He saw her, in his minds eye, peeling the skin from his body, bit by bit, day after day, doing things to him that only a woman would do to a man.

“One wife each, with all the vine they can carry. I told the boy.”.

“Yes. And now I have heard it from you. Tell me your names”.

JaguarTookFoot could smell danger. The woman stunk of fury. The smell of warriors and killers was everywhere. The young girls smelled of excitement and wet pussy. The sick woman smelled of slow death before many more rains. Only honor would keep him alive if he was too late.

“Yours and hers. In front of everyone. Or I will not do medicine, and everyone will know you killed the Jaguar Man for no good reason.”.

This woman had seen many things in her life, and had ruled this part of the forest longer than many. She had not done this by not being able to see the way of things, the best chance the forest offered. A new light was in her eyes, satisfaction. She liked a man who was not a fool.

“I am StickForYams”, she said, loudly, making her name ring off the clay. “My sister is LooksGoodCarrying. I will not kill you, JaguarTookFoot!”. She used his name carefully, correctly, proving she also had power over him. “Now do medicine! You have names, the ancestors know what we do here!”.

JaguarTookFoot raised his hands to the forest, and cupped his palms. It was getting dark.

“I need light, fat light, as many wicks as you have. I need boiled water. And I need ten of your strong warriors. The forest says there is no time left, let me see them.”.

The old woman shouted. Painted men appeared out of nowhere – JaguarTookFoot had smelled them, but still, the sight of the weapons made his knees stiffen.

“Tell the women to go away. One house away at least. All except your clan”. Another shout, and the women scattered.

“Show me your sons, Bring the fat lights. Have your clan hold the wicks high.”.

It was as the boy had said. Two men, young but old enough to have grown sons. Their heads had been bashed with stone warclubs. One was still and unconscious, but breathing, one moaning and with shaking hands and feet, one eye shut, one eye filled with desperate bravery.

JaguarTookFoot was in his element now. War wounds were something he had treated many times. These men might live. The round stone balls on a warclub produced a wound he understood.

“Him first. Hold him down hard. You two – hold his head exactly as I show you. Now, wheres my boiled water!”.

From the medicine bag, soft skins dipped in water wiped away blood, exposing the wound. Freshly knapped obsidian blades cut the skin perfectly, in economic strokes. The broken-headed warrior screamed as his scalp was pulled off. Working thru the blood, with hawk talon picks, JaguarTookFoot pulled out the loose chips of bone. Time for the medicine only he possesed in this forest.

The copper trepanning tool, hardened by hammerstones and given rare and precious sawteeth in a place far away, made a grinding sound as he he worked it’s teeth against the gleaming skullbone, carefully sawing the depressed skull portion away. The wounded man panted.

The other flattened end of the copper tool, that magic thing made of material the forest never saw, fit into the sawn slot and levered away misshaped skullbone. Pink grey fatty stuff was underneath. JaguarTookFoot washed it very carefully. It was bruised, he saw, but should recover. Thank the forest.

He pinned the scalp back in place with a thorn. He would use the ants on it later, this would do for now.

The warriors holding the wounded man down looked like they were seeing ghosts.

“Now him.”, JaguarTookFoot said. He could feel it. He would save both of them.

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