…called Snowfury Studios. Check out the website (you’ll find me under “Our Team”), and then check out the video below, the teaser trailer for the first proposed game (Kickstarter willing), Project Snowstorm: Rise of the Eternals, hopefully the first in a trilogy.
I’m having a lot of fun working on this and have great hopes for it going forward. Keep an eye on it and when the Kickstarter kampaign kicks in, kick in! :)
Tesseracts is the long-running anthology of Canadian speculative fiction published for the past few years by Calgary’s Edge Publications. I’ve never sold a short story to it…until now. (This may have something to do with the fact I’ve never submitted to it before. Funny how that works.)
Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast, edited by Colleen Anderson and Steve Vernon, will include my short story “Path of Souls,” a piece inspired by Globe Theatre‘s “Lanterns on the Lake” event of a few years past.
Below is the official announcement.
We are pleased to announce the official Table of Contents for Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast.
This anthology of speculative Canadian writing will be out this fall from Edge Publications. It was no easy task choosing from the over 450 submissions and we had to turn away many a good tale. In the end, we have a representation of Canada that spans all provinces and territories (with the exception, alas, of Nunavut). The tales themselves reach far into the past and much farther into the future.
TESSERACTS 17: SPECULATING CANADA FROM
COAST TO COAST TO COAST
- Introduction: Colleen Anderson
- Vermilion Wine: Claude Lalumière
- Night Journey: West Coast: Eileen Kernaghan
- The Wall: Rhea Rose
- 2020 Vision: Lisa Smedman
- Why Pete?: Timothy Reynolds
- Bird Bones: Megan Fennell
- Bedtime Story: Rhonda Parrish
- Graveyard Shift: Holly Schofield
- Path of Souls: Edward Willett
- Sin A Squay: David Jón Fuller
- Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost: Mark Leslie
- Anywhere: Alyxandra Harvey
- Secret Recipes: Costi Gurgu
- Star Severer: Ben Godby
- The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife: Dave Beynon
- Graffiti Borealis: Lisa Poh
- My Child Has Winter in His Bones: Dominik Parisien
- Team Leader 2040: Catherine Austen
- Sand Hill: Elise Moser
- The Ripping: Vincent Grant Perkins
- Unwilling to Turn Around: J.J. Steinfield
- Pique Assiette: Catherine MacLeod
- Leaving Cape Roseway: John Bell
- Everybody Wins: Rachel Cooper
- In the Bubble: William Meikle
- Hermione and Me: Dwain Campbell
- Blizzard Warning: Jason Barrett
- M.E.L.: Dianne Homan
- The Calligrapher’s Daughter: Patricia Robertson
- Afterword: Editing Anthologies Made Easy: Steve Vernon
The anthology will appear this fall, but you can already pre-order from Amazon, where you’ll also find this note from editor Colleen Anderson:
What is a tesseract? You can google it and go a little nutso perusing Wikipedia or try to find a simple definition: a four-dimensional equivalent of a cube, or a hypercube, having sixteen corners. But why, back when the Tesseracts anthologies began some twentyplus years ago with Judith Merril editing the first one, did they name it Tesseracts? I think it was a funky new shape discovered in mathematics and the advent of the computer age. A tesseract was more than what it seemed, had more surfaces than you first thought, and had a depth that changed depending on how you looked at it.
Now here we are at Tesseracts 17, where Steve Vernon and I have spent buckets of time in the hypercube trying to pull out all those facets and surfaces, all those edges and corners, for you to look at and perceive. Tesseracts is somewhat like the Tardis—bigger on the inside than on the outside….
We could not gather all the types of stories and poems that fill the voids in our minds, but we tried to give a good representation of what it means to be in Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast. In reading the many submissions we found that there were tales of Wendigo, werewolves, vampires and a host of reanimated dead, though not all of them zombies. There were gentle tales of transformation and other terrors of madness and encountering the demons we know and fear. Character faced the trials of space and the spaces within.
And indeed, from Canada’s inland border with the US, to the warmer Pacific waters, to the chilly depths of the Maritime Atlantic, and the mysterious tundra of the North, these are the reaches of Canada’s geography. But the mindset of Canada’s writers stretches farther. Tesseracts 17 is rich with tales about people: there are housewives and men who find themselves in unusual and terrifying circumstances, children who deal with the transformations of their lives and their worlds, potters, keepers of light, wine reviewers, out-of-work graduates, pilots, apprentice chefs, writers, yak herders, dead actors, game leaders, and those who just have a job to do.
…promoting the re-release of Spirit Singer by Tyche Books. Among many other things.
I’m very sorry to report that my mother, Nina Mae Willett, died yesterday morning in Weyburn at the age of 87 years. Here is the obituary I’ve written for her for the Weyburn Review.
Several years ago my Mom wrote her memoirs (and well-written they are, too, as you’d expect…don’t tell ME there’s no genetic component to writing ability!). Going forward, I’m going to post some excerpts here, and work to get them into shape to put them into book format for the family. Because my mother deserves to be remembered–and because I can help ensure she is.
OBITUARY FOR NINA MAE WILLETT, 1926-2013
Nina Mae Willett (nee Spears) was born May 2, 1926, in Bates County, Missouri, to Roy Edward Spears and Laura Edwin Spears (nee Umstattd). She grew up on an 80-acre farm with four brothers and four sisters, and received her elementary education at the one-room Fairplay School, half a mile south of their house, and her secondary education at Ballard High School in Ballard, Missouri, from which she graduated in 1944.
Because she was valedictorian of her high school class, Nina received a half-tuition scholarship to attend Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, where she studied secretarial skills, including shorthand, typing, accounting and English. She met James Lee Willett at Christmas time in 1944 when they both rode home with a fellow student. (In later years they liked to say they met at 3 a.m. in the back seat of a car.)
Nina and James were married a year later, on Christmas Day, 1945, in Coffeyville, Kansas. They were both 19 years old. Nina worked as a secretary at a law firm while James finished college. In August of 1947 James and Nina moved to Hedley, Texas, a little cotton town of about 600, where James started preaching for the Church of Christ and teaching fifth grade. James and Nina’s first son, Jimmy Lee, was born in Hedley on November 6, 1947.
On March 10, 1950, a second baby, Susan Elizabeth, was born prematurely and died during childbirth. Later that year James and Nina moved to Fullerton, an oilfield town in West Texas, where James preached full time for about 10 months. In January, 1951, another baby, Dennis Edwin, was born prematurely and also died.
The next summer James and Nina moved back to Nina’s hometown of Butler, Missouri, where James taught for seven years at Ballard School, the same school Nina had attended. Nina took and passed the State teachers’ exam, which allowed her to be a substitute teacher in the one-room schools. She also substituted for the high school bookkeeping and typing teacher for almost three months one year. James and Nina’s second son to survive, Dwight Arthur, was born in Ballard on July 20, 1954. After that Nina did very little teaching, not only because of the needs of the new infant, but because she was beginning to suffer from joint pain, eventually diagnosed late in 1955 as rheumatoid arthritis. Partly in the hope that the desert climate would help her symptoms, in the summer of 1958 the family moved to the desert town of Lordsburg, New Mexico, where James taught and preached.
After one year in Lordsburg the family moved from the desert up into the foothills of the Rockies, to a copper mining town called Bayard, where James preached for two years. James and Nina’s third son, Edward Chane, was born in Silver City, New Mexico, on July 20, 1959.
Because Jim was old enough to start high school and James and Nina did not want him to attend the high school in Bayard, James took a job at Lubbock Christian School in Lubbock, Texas, moving there in 1961. Nina went to work at Texas Tech in the English department (after scoring 100 on a spelling test that was part of the job application process, the only person to do so in the memory of the test administrator).
In 1965 James and Nina and their three sons moved to Tulia, Texas, where James taught and Nina worked as a secretary in the Swisher County judge’s office in the courthouse. James also taught a high school Bible class and led singing for the Tulia Church of Christ. At one Wednesday-night service two men gave a presentation about Western Christian College, then located at North Weyburn, for which they were seeking funds. James was interested in returning to a Christian school, so he asked if they needed a music teacher—and they said yes. To James and Nina’s surprise, it turned out the man who had been directing the chorus was Max Mowrer. He and his wife, Mildred, had been good friends of James and Nina’s at Harding.
After much prayer and soul searching, James and Nina decided to move to Western Christian College, without ever having seen it. Their first glimpse of North Weyburn was not encouraging: the old Commonwealth Air Training Command buildings hadn’t been painted for years, there were no trees, and all the roads were gravel. It was almost enough to make them turn around and head back to Texas. But the warm welcome provided by the people more than made up for the unprepossessing surroundings, and Western Christian College became their home for the next 22 years. Early on Nina worked in the business office of the school; later she worked at a variety of secretarial jobs in Weyburn, including for the Public School Board and several years for Social Services.
Throughout this time, and until just a few years ago, Nina wrote hundreds of letters annually, not only to family but to friends, missionaries and others. For many people, her letters were the best means they had of keeping tabs on old acquaintances from Weyburn and elsewhere. Within the family, any time anyone needed to know what had happened to a family member or how to get hold of him or her, the answer was always, “Ask Mom/Grandma/Nina! She’ll know!”
James officially retired from teaching in 1987, although he taught part-time at Western for two more years. He intended to keep doing so until he was 65, but when the decision was made to move the school to Dauphin, he and Nina decided they would remain in Weyburn.
James died in April 2002, and Nina continued to live in their apartment on her own until the summer of 2011, when she moved into Parkway Lodge. After an extended stay in hospital early this year, she moved into Crocus Plains Villa, residing there just a few weeks before passing away peacefully in her sleep on the morning of May 30.
In addition to writing letters, Nina loved reading (prior to her last stint in the hospital she was averaging 12 books a month) and visiting with her family and her many good friends in Weyburn. She was a faithful member of the Church of Christ for more than 70 years, rarely missing a service if she was at all able to attend, a fixture for many years in her familiar place in the second row.
Nina was predeceased by her parents, four brothers (Elwin, Buddy, Buster and Asa), three sisters (Mildred, Lois and Elizabeth), two children in infancy (Susan Elizabeth and Dennis Edwin), and her husband, James. She is survived by one sister, Dora; three sons and their wives, Jim Willett and Cindy Slowinski of Edmonton, Dwight Willett and Laurel Stein of West Vancouver, and Edward Willett and Margaret Anne Hodges of Regina, and one foster son, William Chidowe of Yellowknife.
She is also survived by ten grandchildren and their spouses and six great-grandchildren: Jim’s two daughters and their husbands, Wendi and Kelsey Nordell and Keisha and Ken Patenaude, and Jim’s son Torrey and his wife, Carrie, plus Jim’s stepchildren Kaleigh and John Slowinski; Dwight’s two daughters, Denae and Kamara, Denae’s husband, Colby Elford, and Kamara’s partner, Peter Greenall; Edward’s daughter, Alice; and William’s daughters, Courtney and Keisha, and their mother, Natalie. In addition, Nina is survived by six great-grandchildren: Wendi and Kelsey’s children Sheldon, Ross and Amber; Keisha and Ken’s son, Justin; Torrey and Carrie’s son, Oliver; and Denae and Colby’s son, Emmett.
Nina Mae Willett will be remembered as a loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend, with a beautiful smile, a sharp mind, a strong will, and an unshakeable faith in the goodness and greatness of God. She will be sorely missed by everyone who knew her.
The launch of the new edition of my Saskatchewan Book Award-winning YA fantasy Spirit Singer by Edmonton’s Tyche Books is close upon us, and as proof, I offer this reveal of the cover art! It’s very different from what was on the original…which is good, since this is a new edition from a new publisher.
The artist is Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein.
The Canadian Chamber Choir, with which I sometimes sing and on whose board of directors I served for a few years, is once again seeking applicants for its Conducting Fellow Program. If you’re a budding conductor, this would be invaluable…so read the press release below and consider applying!
For Immediate Release
CANADIAN CHAMBER CHOIR ANNOUNCES FELLOWSHIP FOR CONDUCTORS
“A national treasure” — Montreal Gazette
“Beyond brilliant . . . Don’t miss this choir” — Hamilton Spectator
The acclaimed national ensemble, the Canadian Chamber Choir, is excited to announce a unique opportunity for conductors: the CCC seeks applicants for its Conducting Fellow Program in conjunction with its October 2013 British Columbia tour. This is an outstanding opportunity for conductors to hone their skills, preparing and rehearsing challenging repertoire under the leadership of CCC Artistic Director Dr. Julia Davids and benefitting from immersion in a professional music-making environment.
Says Davids: “…aspiring and working conductors have the chance to experiment in communicating their own musical ideas to an established professional ensemble, with the added benefit of feedback from the singers themselves.”
The CCC functions to build community through choral singing. Singers come together at least twice a year, donating their time to perform and give workshops to develop young singers, conductors and composers. The group has garnered critical rave reviews and won fans with its “extraordinary refinements [of dynamic shading]“, “flawless intonation”, and “polished blend” (Montreal Gazette).
The application deadline is June 1st, 2013. The successful applicant will be notified by July 2nd, 2013. The Conducting Fellow is responsible for travel expenses getting to and from British Columbia as well as a tuition fee of $500. All other tour expenses (travel, room and board) will be assumed by the CCC. The dates for the tour are Oct. 13-20, 2013.
For more information about the fellowship and the CCC, please visit www.canadianchamberchoir.ca.
“My experience with the Canadian Chamber choir has taken my musical passion to a whole new level…That’s what the CCC and Dr. Davids are about: building up choral communities, giving composers a chance to hear their song, and inspiring, motivating and challenging emerging conductors like myself to recognize our full potential.” — Sonja van de Hoef, Canadian Chamber Choir Fellowship Recipient October 2006
Please send the following (either by email/mp3 or post) to the CCC Artistic Director:
Dr. Julia Davids, 5247 Cleveland Street, Skokie, IL, USA 60077 email@example.com
• letter detailing interest
• resumé or CV including 3 references
• list of repertoire conducted in rehearsal and performance
• one recording (DVD preferred) of an ensemble conducted by the applicant
• application processing fee of $25, payable to Canadian Chamber Choir
How late am I? So late that when I drove it, one of the things that impressed me the most was the way it handled the deep, icy ruts that plagued the streets of my neighborhood, thanks to this year’s record snowfall. (Oh, okay, actually deep, icy ruts plague the streets of my neighborhood every winter, but the record snowfall certainly didn’t help.)
Those ruts are now but an unpleasant memory: yesterday it was around 28 Celsius. And though it’s cooler today, it does appear spring really has sprung in Saskatchewan at last.
Fortunately, the ability to handle ruts with aplomb was not the only thing that impressed me about the Explorer.
In fact, there were many things. It was comfortable. It was sharp-looking (see the photos for proof). It had all the bells and whistles I’ve become accustomed to in current-model Fords, including Microsoft Sync (which I’m getting better at talking to without losing my temper all the time, thanks for asking), that rear-view camera I really, really miss on my own car after I’ve driven a Ford equipped with it for a few days, an excellent climate-control system, and a very nice sound system.
But the one thing I really noticed was…this is a sport-utility vehicle that really takes the “sport” seriously. (Hey, maybe that’s why it’s in the name. You think?)
I don’t always get to take these test drives on a highway trip, but I had reason to go to Weyburn while I had the Explorer, and so for once I did get to drive it a couple of hundred kilometers at highway speed. It had oodles of power for passing: I never felt it was sluggish, which is one of the things I generally don’t like about larger vehicles, being (as I’ve said before) much more of a car guy than an SUV or truck guy. (Although one of my cars is a 1977 Cadillac Eldorado that’s not exactly sprightly, but hey.)
That power comes courtesy of…well, let’s let Car and Driver describe it. From the C&D test drive:
In a nutshell, the Explorer Sport is simply an Explorer fitted with the Taurus SHO’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. Here it makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Hit the throttle, and it’s pretty clear this is not your usual seven-seat Ford—it rockets to 80 mph before the acceleration starts to tail off. Zero-to-60 times fall from about eight seconds for the naturally aspirated V-6 Explorer to around six for the Sport.
No wonder it didn’t feel sluggish!
So, if I were in the market for an SUV—which I’m not—but if I were, there’s no question the Ford Explorer Sport would be high on my list. Power, comfort, and rutted-Regina-street aplomb.
What’s not to like?
It’s been a while, but, hey, April was the cruelest month, what with novel rewriting and family duties and let us not forget income tax. Oh, and I was also performing, in Regina Lyric Musical Theatre’s spring show, When You Wish Upon A Star: Music from the Wonderful World of Disney. My solo number was “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me),” but I think the highlight of the evening for everyone was the men’s chorus performing “The Bare Necessities.” It involved tail-waggling. Let’s leave it at that.
But speaking of Regina Lyric Musical Theatre brings me to this bit of news, which I’ve known for a while but was kind of made official in the program for the Disney revue: Lyric’s fall show will be As Time Goes By: A Love Story with Music and Ghosts, which is a play-with-music I wrote and will be directing.
Its inspiration is the wealth of old sheet music found alongside the grand piano in the old house in which I live, which once belonged to my wife’s grandparents, Sam and Nancy Goodfellow, noted patrons of the arts in the city for many years. Nancy was a talented singer in her own right who could quite possibly have had a career on stage. She didn’t follow that route, but she never lost her love for music (she was instrumental in the creation of the Regina Musical Club) and she and Helen Jolly, head nurse at the Regina General Hospital, would buy sheet music and play and sing it at home for enjoyment.
The story I’ll tell around this old sheet music is entirely fictional: but the music is all music found in our house. And the show is already fully cast (barring unforeseen developments between now and the still-distant production dates of November 7-10).
The story goes like this:
John Brenner (played by Reece Wagner), born and raised in Toronto, has had a minor career as a nightclub entertainer as “Johnny B,” but work is drying up and so he’s desperately seeking for a new angle. He’s been momentarily sidetracked by an unexpected development: his Great Aunt Dorothy has recently died and left him her old house in Regina and all its contents. His plan is to auction its contents and sell the place, and he’s come to Regina—the first time he’s ever been here—to make the arrangements.
But when he visits the house, he discovers the grand piano in the living room, and a ton of old sheet music. He’s struck by an idea: he’ll create a new act based on the music he’s found there. “Vintage” is the new wave. Of course he won’t do it straight. He’ll give in an ironic twist. It’ll be great…
Accompanying Johnny on his trip are his manager, Grace Elliott (Jamie Lemmerick), and his piano player, Tim (Ben Redant, who will also be music director). Unlike John, Grace knows Regina well. She was born and raised here, but went off to make her own career. She never had much luck as a singer, but she’s been quite successful as Johnny’s manager and agent. She’s also secretly in love with him, but he’s never twigged. He’s had a series of girlfriends, none of which lasted (sometimes thanks to a little help from Grace).
Grace has her own agenda for the trip to Regina. Her parents are getting old and she’s their only daughter. She’s decided she needs to move back to Regina to be closer to them. She’s planning to quit as Johnny’s manager while they’re there, and has the forlorn hope that maybe the shock of that will make Johnny realize how he really feels about her…
Tim’s agenda is simply to get paid, but while he’s in Regina, he discovers a kindred spirit in Bitsy Kapusianyk (Jessica Scheurer), the real estate agent Johnny has hired to sell the house. She’s an old friend of Grace’s, divorced, and loves the funny novelty songs of mid-century, just like Tim. With Johnny’s career on the rocks, Tim makes plans to move in with Betty and start his own act.
There’s a second story that plays out concurrently, with a slight ghostly twist. Great Aunt Dorothy (Erin Johansen)’s spirit still dwells in the house, and as Johnny, Tim and Grace play through the music in the piano bench, we see her ghostly memories brought to life, so that the audience learns things Johnny doesn’t yet know about why Great Aunt Dorothy never married…and why her house is full of music.
Great Aunt Dorothy grew up in and fell in love with a talented young man named Harold Horning (Garrett Woods). They were supposed to be married and had plans to create a musical act together, but he got an unexpected gig with a big-name band as a vocalist. He went on tour, promising to come back…but he never did. And soon enough, he quit writing. Great Aunt Dorothy never married. She never quit singing, but only for her own pleasure.
Harold Horning, meanwhile, went on to be quite famous during the 1950s and 1960s, but faded as the rock era came on. He never came back to Regina. He married and divorced three times, never had children, and eventually disappeared.
Grace discovers the connection between Great Aunt Dorothy and Harry Horn, and also discovers that Harry died penniless, alone and forgotten in an Ontario nursing home. That, and the revelation that Grace is leaving him…and loves him (and that Tim is also planning to stay in Regina) brings about our denouement: Johnny decides to keep the Regina house and marry Grace. He’s not sure what that means for his singing career, but he’s finally realized some things are more important than his career.
The story ends with a ghostly Harry coming into the living room. He’s finally returned for Dorothy. They’re together again at last…and forever.
Rounding out the cast is Nora Berg, who plays Dorothy’s friend, Helen, and Harold’s nurse.
Much more information to come as the production dates get closer. I’m very excited about this project and can’t wait to see it on stage! Hopefully in the company of numerous audience members.
Every Saturday I’ve been posting a chapter or two of my young adult science fiction novel Star Song…and here, at last, is the thrilling (I hope) conclusion! First visit? The whole thing starts here with Chapter 1 and an explanation.
By Edward Willett
“How?” Tevera cried.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. He’s here.” They had lost, Kriss knew bitterly. Gemfire was heavily armed; the Thaylia, though she carried weapons, could not hope to stand against the golden ship’s firepower. They could do nothing to stop Vorlick from taking the fortress.
But Yverras didn’t seem to realize it. “Rigel,” he called urgently. “Stay near the trail. If any of Vorlick’s men come along, pick them off. Understood?”
Yverras glanced at Dralos. “All right. Dralos, you go back along our trail. Stay under cover, but don’t hesitate; if you see any of Vorlick’s men, shoot. See if you can link up with Rigel—his communicator’s out.”
Kriss suddenly swore. “Rigel! I’ll bet he told Vorlick where we are!”
“No…” Tevera protested.
“How else did he—”
“Never mind that now,” Yverras snapped. “Vorlick’s here. That’s all that matters. If any of us survive this we can worry later about how he found us. Ellavar!”
“I hear you,” the woman responded.
“Stay put and stay covered. If anybody gets past Rigel and Dralos, they’re your responsibility. I’ll stay here by the gate as a last line of defense.”
“What about us?” Tevera demanded. “I can use a beamer!”
“So can I!” Kriss said, although he never had.
“You may have to. But for now, your job is to make sure those recordings get made. That’s what we’re here for, and if we escape they’ll be our proof we were here first.”
A new voice suddenly crackled across the communicators. “Greetings to the Family ship Thaylia! Greetings, Kriss Lemarc!”
Kriss opened his mouth to reply, but Tevera switched off her transceiver and gripped his arm. “No!” she said sharply. “It’s the Captain’s place to answer. Remember, you’re Family again.”
Vorlick called for him again, and this time received a reply—but not from Kriss. “This is Captain Nicora of the Thaylia. I’m surprised you had the courage to face the Family again, Vorlick.”
If the jibe registered, Vorlick’s sardonic voice didn’t reveal it. “Ah, Captain Nicora. It’s been a long time since that night on Farr’s World. Things have changed.”
“I fail to see how. Kriss Lemarc is still Family.”
“But you see, Captain, I don’t need him any more. I have the alien artifact, and from here I can see the site where it was found. You are quite incapable of preventing me from taking it.”
“This site is claimed by the Family. Under Commonwealth Law—”
“This site isn’t claimed by anybody until the proper documentation is in the hands of the nearest Commonwealth court, Captain, and no court is going to be receiving anything from you.”
“The Family will—”
“The Family is not as powerful or omnipresent as you like to pretend—or as certain of my more superstitious employees believe. Its reputation protected you on Farr’s World; it will not protect you from me or those with me now. The Family will never know what happened to you—you will have vanished in space, like so many other ships.” He laughed. “Perhaps they’ll make a song about you.”
“Others already know where we are.”
“I assume by ‘others’ you mean Andru of Farr’s World. He won’t live an hour past the time I return there.”
“No!” Kriss burst out.
Instantly Vorlick’s voice crackled back. “So, young Lemarc, you are listening?” He paused. “And not transmitting from the Thaylia. I do believe you’ve started exploring without me…”
Another voice suddenly drowned him out. “Yverras, this is on the emergency override frequency,” their shipboard monitor said urgently. “Vorlick’s sending an armed party down his ramp—five…no, six men.”
“…trespassing on my newly acquired property,” Vorlick was saying. “I’m afraid I’m out of patience.”
Yverras quickly reset all of their transceivers to transmit on the new frequency. “Get back inside,” he said sharply. “And close the door, if you can.”
“I won’t—” Tevera began.
“You’ll obey orders!” Yverras snapped; then his voice softened. “I’ll hide in the grass just outside. They won’t even know I’m there—until it’s too late. Now move!”
Kriss hesitated a moment longer, then said, “Good luck!”, grabbed Tevera’s hand, and dashed back toward the fortress. They burst through the diamond-shaped door and the sudden impact of the fortress’s mental energies smashed Kriss to his knees—but he still managed to swing around awkwardly and slap a white block like that on the outside. The gate closed.
He staggered to his feet. He had to hold out—he had to keep control! He rubbed his temples with the heels of his hands, hard. The silvery probe zipped by overhead, still busily mapping.
“Let’s go,” Tevera demanded, pulling at his hand.
“Where?” he said. “All we can do now is wait—”
“Maybe, maybe not. But down here we’ll never know what’s happening.” She pointed at the central tower. “If we can get up there, we’ll be able to see the ships, and the clearing. Our communicators might even work.”
“I should have thought of that,” Kriss muttered, then staggered as a sharp, phantom pain stabbed his side.
“Looks to me like you’ve got all you can do to think at all,” Tevera commented. “But then, what else is new?”
He shot her a surprised look, and despite everything had to laugh at her impish grin. “Come on, then,” he said, holding out his hand. “Lead me up the garden path.”
Halfway to the tower he blacked out for a second, and came to to find himself on his hands and knees, shards of shattered black pavement digging painfully into his palms and Tevera tugging at his shoulders. “Kriss? Kriss, are you all right?”
“No,” he said truthfully, “but what difference does it make?”
“I never thought—” Tevera looked up at the tower. “What if that happens while you’re climbing?”
He staggered upright, clinging to her. “We’ll manage,” he said.
For a few moments as they neared the base of the tower the mental pressure seemed to ease slightly, and Kriss was able to concentrate on the task of circling the white stone wall and feeling it carefully. “Here!” he said suddenly, and pushed. A large diamond-shaped section moved inward and slid aside.
Instantly a stronger blast of mental energy blurred his vision, and he had to lean against the tower for support. “Kriss?” Tevera said anxiously.
He pushed himself upright, fighting sudden vertigo. “I’m all right. Let’s go.” He stepped through the tall portal.
He expected darkness inside, but instead found an eerie, greenish light like burning swamp gas. A steep, narrow-stepped stairway made of the same white stone as the outside of the tower climbed up into dimness, spiraling around the tower’s central cylindrical core.
Something else unexpected also happened: the sense of dozens of mental forces pushing and pulling at his brain vanished. Now he felt a single force prying at his mental defenses, a single force as strong as, or stronger than, all the others combined.
Phantom fingers, he thought suddenly. Phantom fingers…just like the touchlyre, but stronger; and now that it was reduced to a single mental tentacle, he had the sense it was searching his mind for something and failing to find it, setting off random sensory impressions as it rummaged around.
Tevera touched his shoulder, and he shook his head sharply, trying to clear it, then smiled at her. “I’ll go first. If I fall—catch me.”
“Sure,” she said staunchly.
Kriss studied the stairs. They were too steep to climb normally, and each step was too narrow to place his whole foot on, even at the outside of the spiral. They’d have to climb the stairway more like a ladder. “Right, then,” he said, took a deep breath and, using both hands and feete, started to climb.
They slowly spiraled up the tower. Kriss concentrated on one step at a time, not thinking about how high they had come or how much farther they might have to go. Between the awkward shape of the steps and the higher gravity, it was hard enough to just keep moving. His shins and forearms felt on fire.
Worse, as he climbed the assault on his senses became stronger. He thought he knew the cause, now, but that didn’t help when his vision suddenly filled with fireworks or his hands and feet went cold and numb.
Abruptly all his senses vanished utterly, and his mind drifted free, frozen with the horrible thought that he could be falling, rolling down the steps, Tevera perhaps tangled with him, and wouldn’t know he’d lost his grip until they both lay crushed at the bottom of the tower.
But that terror passed as swiftly as it had come, and he was still clinging to the stone. He risked a glance behind and saw Tevera peering up, her anxious face drawn and pale in the eerie glow. He wanted to smile at her reassuringly, but couldn’t quite manage it. Instead he peered up into the dim green murk. How much further?
Only a few more light years, he thought grimly, forcing his arms and legs to pull him upward again, but in fact only thirty steps later he emerged through another diamond-shaped opening into a circular room, and crouched trembling on his hands and knees for a moment before turning to help Tevera through.
Her hands shook as she pushed her sweat-slicked hair back from her eyes. “Are we at the top?”
“We can’t be. There are windows…” He looked around, and saw a ladder, its rungs absurdly wide-spaced, climbing to another door in the high ceiling. “Up there,” he said, and led the way.
A single push dislodged the upper door, and brilliant sunlight streamed into the dim room, bringing with it a blast of air as hot and humid as though from a greenhouse, but as deliciously fresh to Kriss as though he were surfacing from a long underwater dive. He gulped two or three lungfuls, then climbed through the opening, Tevera close behind. He almost fell back on top of her as the mental pressure redoubled, but managed to hold on and push back enough to remain in control. Only then did he look around.
They stood in a circular room only ten feet or so in diameter. A thin pole of blue metal rose from the floor through a hole in the transparent roof, supporting the crystal globe that capped the tower. Beside the pole rose a glassy pedestal, a perfect cylinder, except that on top, instead of being flat, its smooth substance was molded into gentle hills and valleys. Kriss ran his fingers over them. “It’s the same,” he breathed. “Exactly the same shape.” He looked at Tevera. “This is where my father found the touchlyre—right here.” He stared around the room, at the eight glassless windows that pierced the thin white walls. A light breeze swept cleanly through the space, and he imagined his father standing exactly where he stood now, only a few years his senior, that same breeze ruffling his hair as it did in the picture the Library had shown him…
“And Vorlick has it now,” Tevera reminded him, almost harshly, snapping him out of his reverie. She went to edge of the room and looked across the bright green forest, holding onto one of the thin pillars between the windows. Kriss reluctantly left the pedestal and joined her, and his eyes were immediately drawn to the two ships glittering on the open landing field.
But Tevera was looking nearer. “There!” she suddenly cried, as bright blue flashes lit a section of the forest near the clearing. “Rigel!”
“No, only Dralos,” Yverras said over their communicators, his voice grim. “No one has seen Rigel.”
Tevera’s hand tightened on the slim pillar. Kriss said nothing.
Another beamer flashed in the jungle, and a horrible scream, cut suddenly short, echoed over the communicators.
“Dralos,” Yverras said. “Ellavar, be ready.”
A new voice crackled in their ears. “Vorlick, this is Rigel. Let me board.”
“I knew it!” Kriss snarled.
Yverras’s only comment was a wordless growl.
The shipboard monitor spoke, his voice icy. “Vorlick is letting Rigel into his ship. And Yverras, we have a new problem. Our sensors indicate Vorlick is training his guns on us. Stay away from the ship. Our screens will hold for a while, but there’s going to be a lot of stray energy—”
Static drowned his voice as Vorlick fired.
Thick red beams leaped across the few hundred feet separating the starships, and instantly the Thaylia’s defensive fields flared into life, radiating the energy away in sheets of blinding, blue-white flame. What vegetation the Thaylia’s landing had left on the field near burned instantly away, and the nearest jungle trees began to shrivel and char. Thick gray smoke billowed up, but couldn’t hide the blinding radiance surrounding the Family ship.
Four of Vorlick’s men, armed with beamer rifles, emerged into the clearing below, then flung themselves into the grass as Ellavar opened fire, her beamer ray an insubstantial blue flicker compared to the awesome firepower of the Gemfire. Tevera drew her own beamer, but then shoved it back in her holster. “Too far,” she said bitterly. “We should have carried rifles like Vorlick’s men.” She raised her eyes to the pyrotechnics surrounding the two ships. “The Thaylia can’t last more than a few minutes. Her power reserves must be plummeting. And once they’re gone…” She turned away and pressed her face hard against Kriss’s chest. “I don’t want to see this.”
Kriss didn’t want to either, but he couldn’t seem to look away. His mind provided the gruesome details still to come. The screens would fail. The red beams would rip into the sleek skin of the Thaylia, which would flare and run molten. The air inside would superheat, bursting out through the sagging metal, and the people…
Once he had tried to protect them from Vorlick because they were Tevera’s family and he loved her. But now, when he was about to lose them forever, the image that leaped to his mind was Nicora, frail and tiny, facing down Vorlick’s henchmen to protect him. In minutes she would die…
…like his parents…like Mella…like everyone he had ever called family…
His arms tightened around Tevera, the last person he had left to love. For the first time he wished he had the touchlyre, not as a musical instrument, not as the key to the power of the fortress, but as a weapon, a weapon he could use to hurl his rage at Vorlick as he had at Salazar. He pictured Vorlick’s face going slack, his eyes dull, as the touchlyre forged Kriss’s fury into a bright, deadly sword of revenge…
Was he imagining it? No! Unmistakably, clear but faint, he could feel the familiar mental touch, so much weaker than the force pressing on him from all sides in the tower, but utterly distinct from it. But how…? It was locked on Vorlick’s ship!
Yet he could feel it, beyond any doubt! He stared across the jungle at the golden vessel pouring destruction into the Thaylia. The tower! Somehow the tower had amplified his link with the touchlyre. It must have sensed the touchlyre’s presence, used its power to reach out for it…
But could he control the touchlyre at such a distance? He strove to pour his hatred and fury into it, to make it strike out at Vorlick, but everything seemed locked in his own head. He could feel the touchlyre’s touch, but couldn’t make use of it.
Of course not, some inner voice said. You’ve raised a shield against the tower. It can’t get in all the way—and you can’t get out at all.
But if he lowered that shield, the sensory chaos would overwhelm him. He’d be helpless, unable to control the touchlyre even if he reached it. “No!” he screamed in the face of the dilemma. Tevera’s head jerked up—and a bright blue beam slashed through the tower, narrowly missing them.
Kriss remembered the battle in the clearing and stared down at it. Ellavar lay still on the small rise; a crumpled figure in the grass bore mute testimony to her marksmanship. But now the remaining three of Vorlick’s men were using that same hill as cover from which to shoot at Yverras—and one of them had seen Kriss and Tevera in the tower.
“Ellavar—” Tevera cried, and though she’d said herself it was too far, she drew her beamer again, took aim and fired.
Her beam dispersed into uselessness in the thick air before it reached the hill.
The return beam did not. Before Kriss could pull Tevera back, push her to safety, or even cry out, blue fire ripped through the chamber and into Tevera’s side, making a horrible sizzling hiss. Without even screaming, she crumpled to the floor and lay still, whisps of smoke rising from her body.
Time stopped. Kriss screamed, or thought he did, but heard nothing; for in the horror of that moment his shield against the fortress crashed down, and simultaneously his will flashed along the link with the touchlyre and the powerful force that had been trying to break into his mind succeeded.
Though it was half a mile away, he sensed the tortured cry of the touchlyre as it reacted to his blazing emotion and struck out at his enemies. Instantly the Gemfire’s weapons fell silent.
But Kriss hardly realized what he had accomplished. A powerful echo of his rage flashed back along the link with the touchlyre, and the fortress seized it.
Everything drained from him: all his rage, his hatred, his fear and his grief flowed into the touchlyre and from it into the fortress, until suddenly he had no more to give. He collapsed limply beside Tevera, his spirit numb, while the echoes of his own emotions howled around him like a hurricane.
Light kindled in the crystal globe high above, barely visible at first, but swelling until it seared his eyes. The pain stirred him to motion, and he crawled to the edge of the room to stare out over the burning jungle at the two silent ships.
Lightning flickered across the scene. He blinked, uncertain where it had come from, then saw it again.
From every tower still standing in the ancient fortress, bolts of energy streamed into the globe above him.
In the clearing Vorlick’s men ran for cover, Yverras’s beamer lashing at their heels. They cast sharp shadows against the tall grass in the light of the crystal globe, which now outshone the sun. The pale sky seemed darkened to twilight in its glare.
Abruptly the streamers of power ended, and for a moment a deadly stillness hung over the jungle. Then a single dart of energy from the globe of crystal shrieked through the smoky air—and with a blast that ripped through the trees like a tornado, Gemfire exploded in a ball of white flame that swept outward and vanished, leaving only empty, blackened pavement.
As the tower shook under the shock wave, Kriss crawled back to Tevera’s side and lay his head on her breast. Then darkness struck him down.
He woke in a soft bed, and for a moment gazed blankly at a white metal ceiling, until memory rushed over him and he shot upright. “Tevera!”
He found himself looking at the Captain, who stood at his feet. Wildly, he stared around the small infirmary of the Thaylia. To his horror, he saw only empty beds.
“I was told you would be waking,” Nicora said, moving to his side, a rare smile crinkling her face.
“Where’s Tevera?” he demanded frantically. “She was shot…she should be here…” He clutched at the Captain. “She’s not…” He choked on the word.
“She’s not,” put in a familiar voice, and Tevera came through the door from the corridor. She looked pale and she walked stiffly, but she was very much alive.
Kriss would have leaped out of bed and run to her, but his muscles were reluctant to obey, and the Captain pushed him firmly back. “You’re to stay put until you’re fully recovered,” she said sternly. Then her expression softened. “At least now we know you will recover.”
Tevera moved to the other side of the bed, and he reached out and gripped her hand tightly. “I thought you were dead,” he whispered.
“You came closer to dying than I did,” she said. “When I came to they said you hadn’t moved since they found us, and no one seemed to know what was wrong…what happened to you?”
Kriss thought back to those final, terrible seconds. “I was trying to contact the touchlyre,” he said slowly. “I could feel it, but I couldn’t reach out to it without opening up to the fortress. But then you were shot, and I lost control…and somehow, through me, the touchlyre and the fortress were connected.
“The touchlyre struck at Vorlick and his crew just like I wanted…and then through me it passed along that same order to the fortress: strike at Vorlick! What I felt inside the wall was the fortress searching for instructions. I couldn’t control it with my mind alone, but with the touchlyre…earth-shattering power, just like my father said. But I was the weak link in the circuit.” He shook his head. “All these years, using it as a musical instrument…that ability was nothing more than a side-effect. It was nothing but a part of an alien weapon…”
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Nicora. “We know nothing about the race that built the touchlyre and the fortress. In human history weapons have often been objects of art as well as killing devices. Why shouldn’t another race see fit to make its weapons objects of music?”
“Well, I certainly liked it a lot better as a musical instrument than as a weapon,” Kriss said. “But it’s gone now, isn’t it? It was on board Vorlick’s ship…”
Tevera released his hand. “That’s what I thought, too. But…”
“You know Rigel went aboard the Gemfire,” Nicora said.
Kriss nodded. “He must have contacted Vorlick some way, led him here.”
“So I supposed…but I was wrong. We all were.” She went to a cabinet by the door and pulled out an object wrapped in scorched, blackened leather.
“The touchlyre!” Kriss gasped.
Nicora brought it back and lay it on the bed beside him. “Rigel convinced Vorlick he knew an important secret about the fortress. In a sense it was true—he knew that the touchlyre was a controlling device for the fortress—he heard you say so. But he had no intention of telling Vorlick that.” She tapped the instrument lightly. “This is what he went on board for. I don’t know how he reached it—no one will ever know. But while Vorlick was concentrating on destroying us, Rigel stole the touchlyre from under his nose. We saw him stagger out of the Gemfire just moments before the weapons stopped firing.”
“That’s when I felt the touchlyre,” Kriss said in sudden realization. “He brought it into the open, and it reached out for me…” He touched the sooty leather. “He tried to apologize to me and I wouldn’t let him,” he said softly. “Is he…”
“He’s dead,” Tevera said in a choked voice. “They say he was dying when he came down the ramp with the instrument. He was just inside the jungle when the Gemfire…” Her voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry.” Kriss pulled her down to him and she sobbed against his chest as if she hadn’t wept for her brother until that moment—and maybe she hadn’t, he thought, if she were also worrying about him. He felt a curious emptiness inside. He had known Rigel only as an enemy—yet in the end that “enemy” had saved his life—all their lives. “Apology accepted, Rigel,” he whispered.
This time, Rigel hadn’t stood by helplessly while ‘worldhuggers’ killed his family. This time, he’d stopped it.
After a moment Tevera pulled back. “All right?” he murmured.
“I’ll manage,” she whispered, wiping her eyes on her sleeve, and gave him a small smile.
Nicora cleared her throat. “There is one other matter we should discuss,” she said. “What are your personal plans, Kriss?”
He stared at her. “What?”
She spread her hands. “You know your true identity. Your enemy is gone. The Commonwealth recognizes you as an Earth citizen. The reasons you gave on Farr’s World for joining the Family no longer exist…and we have wronged you, more than once. You also have Finder’s Rights to this site, and a Commonwealth court in possession of all the facts would undoubtedly grant you a rather enormous compensation from Vorlick’s estate—which means you could have the money to do whatever you want.” She looked him in the eye. “It is your choice, Kriss Lemarc. Do you remain Family?”
Kriss looked down at the blackened leather wrapping of the touchlyre, and slowly unfolded it, revealing wood, silver and copper, all seemingly untouched by the explosion that had scorched the covering. His fingers caressed the touchplate. The strings shivered to life, murmuring a faint chord, and he felt a familiar touch in his mind. Weapon, key, musical instrument or all three, the touchlyre was part of him. He had loved it, and hated it; lost it, and found it again. In a most unexpected fashion, it had brought him everything he had dreamed it might ever since Mella first gave it to him: knowledge of his parents, the freedom of the stars, and…
He looked from it to Tevera, and reached for her hand, and though he spoke to Nicora, it was Tevera’s eyes he held with his own. “Captain, I want the same thing I’ve always wanted—a family.” He squeezed Tevera’s hand. “And I’ve found it.”
The light that came into Tevera’s tear-stained face was like the dawn of a bright new day.
Masks will be followed next year by Shadows, and then by Faces. And after that…well, we’ll see. I’m hoping the series will continue, but that’ll be up to readers like you.
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