8FOLD/ACRA: Orphans of Mars: To Bell The Cat # 6

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Thu Sep 4 16:45:43 PDT 2014

Nisja of Titan lives for the space of three breaths after the rex's
teeth cut her clean in half at the waist. And in those three breaths,
she has time enough, in a fragmented sort of way, to reflect upon both
her life and the circumstances of her death.
   She has been alive for fifty years, as great and holy Saturn turns.
Few Titanians made it to three, but few had access to cryogenic sleep.
Few left Titan, either. Few wanted to. But Nisja wanted the stars, and
she wanted adventure, and most of all she wanted money, and so she was
glad to leave Titan behind for the glories of Deep Space and the
employ of the Pulse.
   She knew, as time pressed on, that everyone who she had known on
Titan had died long ago. That if she was ever to return, that
countless generations would have passed. She was not one for sentiment
or religion, and had no desire to spawn, and so she never felt the
need to return.
   Until she heard the whispers. Until someone recognized her not as
the only Titanian in Deep Space, but hazarded that she might be the
only Titanian in the universe. She returned to the system of the One
Star, and to Titan, and found that the whispers were truth.
   She went back into cyro for another year as Blink made its way to
the dread planet Mars. And when she woke, she found that it, too, was
a dead world. Save for one city, of which she made short and brutal
work. All the other survivors had fled to the stars, to find new
worlds to terrorize. Most of them fled the system, since Mars had
killed every other world, save for the violent Earth, fearsome Venus,
and inscrutable Eris.
   And so to Earth she came, and here she failed and died. She can
feel the Eridian nanites in her body fleeing into the thing that has
ended her. The compressor in her suit is about to explode. Forgive me,
o sleepless sisters. I know I will not join your host, but that I am
destined for the other place...

 _____  ____  ____  _   _    __    _  _  ___
(  _  )(  _ \(  _ \( )_( )  /__\  ( \( )/ __)
 )(_)(  )   / ) __/ ) _ (  /(  )\  )  ( \__ \
(_____)(_)\_)(__)  (_) (_)(__)(__)(_)\_)(___/
 _____  ____       __  __    __    ____  ___
(  _  )(  __)     (  \/  )  /__\  (  _ \/ __)
 )(_)(  ) _)       )    (  /(  )\  )   /\__ \
(_____)(__)       (_/\/\_)(__)(__)(_)\_)(___/
____   __               _
 /    / _)_ // _// _   / )__/  EPISODE SIX
( () / _)(-((  //)(-  (__(//  BY  TOM RUSSELL

Nerrine watches in disbelief as the Titanian's body is broken in the
jaws of the huge creature. She's seen big earthlings before, bigger
than this one, but never one this big that eats meat. It takes her a
moment to see that one of its tiny front claws is missing its talons.
One of the eyes is missing, scabbed over with the unmistakable red
kiss of a beam. This must be the rex, and for a breath, she's
surprisingly glad to see it.
   But only for a breath. One leg is broken for sure, now splinted.
One shoulder might be as well. Battered by the tylosaurus, weak and
alone on a beach with the lightning-fast beast that slew Jarissy and
the twins. Far, far from ideal, and at this moment, she doesn't see
any way to get out of this mess. Going after the rex herself with
Kellin's tracker was already a dodgy proposition when she could count
on both legs and both arms. Now? She doesn't stand a chance.
   And then a wonderful thing happens: the compressor in the
Titanian's suit explodes in the rex's mouth. It throws its massive,
impossible head back, roaring and spitting out fragments of its teeth.
For a breath, Nerrine is glad the Titanian was there.
   But only for a breath. The rex will not suffer its food to explode.
Almost as an act of defiance, he continues to chew on it. Nerrine can
see from the flashes of white that most of his teeth are intact, but
that the left side of his mouth has been replaced by jagged splinters.
With a single-minded determination, he proceeds to finish his meal.
And when the meal is finished, he will surely turn his attention to
   If she's still there. Keeping her eye on the rex, she sits up,
putting all her weight onto her good arm and elbow. Kicking softly in
the sand with her good foot, she begins to push herself away from both
the rex and the tracker Kellin built for it. It will just slow her
down now. Pity she didn't realize that before she went swimming after
   A nagging little voice in her brain tells her that this is
worthless; this is futile. No matter how fast she goes, the rex is
going to go faster. No matter how well she hides, he will smell her.
The mud she used to disguise her scent washed off in the sea. And what
few arrows she has left will be of no use against its hide. If her aim
was true, she might put out its other eye. But as her attempts to fire
upon the Titanian demonstrated, her aim is far from true.
   She's not sure if the voice is real, or just a trick of her brain,
still half-crazed from nearly drowning.
   But then she hears it again, a whisper, just behind her. "Nerrine!"
   Nerrine turns her head slightly. Crouched behind a bush is Fenn.
Oh, what in the name of all the hells is she doing out here? And what
is Ress doing out here with her?
   "Run," says Nerrine.
   "You look awful," says Fenn.
   "Thanks. Now, run."
   "Not without you," says Fenn.
   "No, she's right," says Ress. "She'll just slow us down. Life is the word."
   The little bitch seems a little too happy about that. But that's
Nerrine's fault, at least in part.
   "Where's the tracker?" says Fenn. "We came to fix it. Long story."
   "There," says Nerrine, pointing with her good foot. "Forget about
it. He'll be upon us any second. You have to run."
   Fenn screws up her lips in thought. "Well, you never specified
which direction."
   "Fenn! No!"
   Fenn rushes for the tracker.
   As Nerrine fears, this catches the attention of the old rex. He's
finished the meal he's made of the Titanian, or at the very least has
decided that the luscious Fenn looks scrumptious enough to be his
second course. He swings his gigantic head towards her direction, lets
his tail sway lazily behind him, and then opens his jaws in a
tremendous roar. Nerrine can see that the inside of its mouth is still
bleeding from the explosion. The old rex doesn't seem to care.
   Following the roar, there is another sound, more of a squeal or a
screech than a roar, and it is a sound that Nerrine recognizes
immediately. The pteranodon. Lord of the harem, king of the rookery.
   Nerrine's arrows still imbedded in his wings, he dives down at
Fenn, claws outstretched. With the quick reflexes that she developed
as a dancer of song, Fenn twists in the sand, attempting to shield
herself with the rex tracker. She could not know, of course, that this
is what the thief was after.
   The pteranodon scoops up the tracker in its claws, and carries both
it and Fenn into the air and away from the beach, bearing landwards.
   "Bitches of shit," says Ress, quietly.
   Nerrine stares at her. "What are you waiting for, Ress? Save yourself! Run!"

Ress would rather stay and watch Nerrine get eaten. When taking a
life, whether by hand or by proxy, the pleasure comes from watching
the thing be done. Knowing it had been done, but not getting to
actually see it or carry it out, is far less satisfying. She took far
greater joy in strangling her mothers, and in putting a beam in
Soola's worthless brain. She took surprisingly little joy in Jarissy's
demise, and she strongly suspects that was because she didn't get to
see it happen.
   But, she muses darkly, life is the word. And if she stays to watch
Nerrine get hers, she'll be next on the rex's menu. Maybe, with Fenn
carried off by that thing, and no one to contradict her, she can tell
the others of her brave but failed attempts to save Nerrine. That bit
of mythology should help her once the time comes to transition power
from Kellin's name to her own.
   Yes, everything's coming together, just as she planned. So why is
she still here? Why isn't she running? And why does she keep staring
at the Titanian's atomizer?
   "Here," she says, tossing an automatic beam weapon to Nerrine.
   "What are you doing?"
   "I don't know," says Ress.
   But she does know.
   Nerrine pulls the trigger and holds it. One beam after another
spits out and crashes against the rex's tough hide, as harmless as the
waves against the sand. But it isn't meant to hurt it, or even annoy
it. Nor is it meant to speed Nerrine's demise. It's meant to distract
   To distract it from Ress. And from the atomizer...
   The weapon is DNA-coded. If any hand but the Titanian's touches it,
the pain will be excruciating, as Quasha learned. Quasha is a
mountain, a warrior. Ress is but a slender whisper. There's a reason
why Ress's weapons of choice are manipulation and murder. She would
not last even a single breath fighting anything straight on. After
trying the weapon, Quasha looked as if she would spend the week
recovering. What will it do to Ress?
   She gets her answer. Her skin feels like it's being sliced off in
thin little layers. Her muscles don't ache, but scream. Her blood does
not burn, but rather freezes in her veins. Every inch of her tells her
to drop the atomizer, and the more she holds onto the weapon, the more
her body pays the price.
   The blood pounds in her head, and she feels herself swaying from
one side to the other. Her mouth opens wide, and she screams loud and
long, until her throats are burning and hoarse, and then she keeps on
   The rex takes note of her now, ignoring Nerrine.
   It turns, and Ress does the best she can to aim the atomizer for
its head. The best she can, but not good enough. Not when her body
spasms feverishly, not when her eyes are darting about, everything a
blur. By the time the weapon is charged, and she pulls the trigger,
it's not aimed anywhere near the rex's skull.
   The kickback from the atomizer is tremendous, throwing Ress back
some six meters and into the sea. She lets go of the weapon, and as
she sails backwards, the last thing she sees before the waves swallow
her up is the result of her shoddy aim. The atomizer's beam slices
through the base of the tail, severing it from the body. The tail
itself does not fall into the sand with a thud, but becomes a fine red

Ress wakes on a bed in the infirmary. The first thing she sees is Fenn
on the bed next to hers.
   "You're alive?" says Ress.
   "Hello to you, too," says Fenn. "Yes. I was afraid that thing was
going to drop me from ten meters up, but it really wanted that tracker
and didn't want to risk losing it. So it tried to dash me against some
rocks instead."
   "Well, it did, a little bit," says Fenn weakly. "But I let it have
the tracker and it left me alone. Do you want to see my stitches?" She
starts to pull off her shirt.
   "Any excuse to get naked," says Ress.
   Fenn doesn't deny it. "How about you?"
   "I'll stay clothed, thank you."
   "I mean, how are you feeling?"
   "Not great," says Ress. "Is Kellin... where's my sister?"
   "With Nerrine," says Fenn. "Seems like she got the worst of it."
   "The rex?" says Ress.
   "Oh, apparently it ran off after you atomized its tail," says Fenn.
"That was ridiculously kick-ass, by the way."
   "Thank you," says Ress.
   "I'll go get your sister," says Fenn knowingly. "She'll want to see you."
   "Um, Fenn?"
   "Oh, right," says Fenn, pulling her shit back on.
   Ridiculously kick-ass. Ridiculous was right. Why did she do
something so stupid, and for Nerrine? She hates Nerrine. Hates what
Nerrine did to her. Wants Nerrine dead. And it was going to happen.
Nerrine was going to die there on the beach. All Ress had to do was
run away and let it happen. Let it happen just like she had planned.
   And now this? This had screwed up all her plans, perhaps
irreparably. Why would she sabotage herself like that? For Nerrine?
   Maybe it wasn't for Nerrine, though. Maybe this spontaneous and
stupid act of bravery is what she needs to solidify her standing in
the group. She was going to tell them the story of how she tried and
failed to save Nerrine, but it plays a whole lot better if Nerrine
tells them the story of how Ress tried and succeeded. Maybe she knew
that, deep down, and maybe that's where all that came from.
   Kellin enters the infirmary, flanked by Quasha and Fenn.
   "You're very weak," says Kellin, matter-of-factly. "You're going to
be in bed for the next two weeks, at least."
   "So long as you're there to keep me company," says Ress slyly.
   Kellin clears her throats nervously and, content to keep their
incest a secret, falls back into her role as physician. "Of course,
I'll be monitoring your progress, along with Petara."
   "With Petara," says Ress distastefully.
   "Aye," says Quasha. "Loathe as I am to give the apostate any
credit, she is skilled in the arts of medicine. She and your sister
have sped my own recovery considerably."
   "Unfortunately, you took it a little worse than Quasha did," says Kellin.
   "You should see the rex," says Ress.
   "You did a great deed," says Quasha, putting her huge hand upon
Ress's arm. "To my shame, long have I said words to your detriment.
But you did prove yourself as true a Daughter of Mars as fair and
noble Jarissy. A sister of battle."
   Ress quietly mouths a thank you. She wishes Quasha hadn't mentioned
Jarissy. When Ress thinks of Jarissy, she calls to mind her face, her
laugh, her lucky cudgel. Her murder. Her murderer.
   Ress is crying now. Damn it. It's bad enough she cries in private,
bad enough she can't control it. Bad enough that Petara and that bitch
Nerrine saw her crying. But she doesn't want Fenn and Quasha to see
it. She doesn't want Kellin to see it.
   "She needs rest," says Kellin gently. "Fenn, I think you're well
enough to spend the night in your own room."
   Fenn nods. "Hey, Quasha. Come with me?"
   "Why?" says Quasha, as if Fenn was crazy. Crazier than usual, anyway.
   "I want to show you my stitches," says Fenn wryly.
   Soon Ress and Kellin are alone. This doesn't stop Ress from crying.
In fact, it makes it worse.
   "It's alright," says Kellin.
   "No, it's not."
   "It is." Kellin embraces her tightly. It feels nice. "It will be."
   "I don't know why I'm crying," says Ress. "I've never cried."
   "Oh, Ress," says Kellin. "You don't have to lie to me, sweet. I've
eyes, and ears. I've heard you cry before. I know you. And I love
   But that's just it. Kellin doesn't love Ress. She couldn't. The
real Ress cannot be loved, and she cannot love back. "I don't deserve
to be loved," she hears herself saying. "I don't deserve you."
   "What's all this, then?" says Kellin.
   "You give," sobs Ress. "You work yourself to exhaustion fixing
everything for everybody, repairing everything, and you just keep
doing it, you just keep giving. And all I do is take. I can't..." Shut
up, Ress. Shut up.
   "That's not so," says Kellin.
   "I can't do anything without it, without it being some, some
scheme." Shut up! "I twist people around, and I... I make them do
   "I know," says Kellin.
   "I set them against each other. I... what do you mean, you know?"
   "I mean that I know," says Kellin. "I mean that I'm not an idiot,
I've been with you your whole life, and I know who you are."
   "You don't," says Ress. "If you did, you wouldn't love me. You
wouldn't bare the sight of me. There's... there's something wrong with
me, Kellin. I can't even treat people like people. Only like things to
play with."
   "I know," says Kellin.
   What are you doing, Ress? "You keep saying that, but you really
don't. I treat you like a thing. Even you."
   Kellin at long last relinquishes the embrace. She stares at Ress's
knees. She swallows, then: "I know. I have always known, Ress. And I
have always loved you."
   Ress almost laughs. "Why?"
   "Because you're the only one I don't hate," says Kellin.
"Blood-crazed warriors like Quasha and Jarissy, rushing in to get us
all killed. Petara and her clique are just as bad. Worthless little
snots like Chell and Soola. You were right, by the way."
   "They were expendable. Just another set of mouths to feed and to
put us all in danger with nothing else to offer. Great shot with
   "You know," realizes Ress.
   "That's what I've been telling you," says Kellin. "I know who you
are. I've always known. Now. Let's talk about how we're going to make
you Imperatrix."

Elsewhere in the long brightly-starred night on this ancient Earth,
the old rex is screaming.
   Something is crawling all over his skin. Something is crawling
inside his skin. The something is getting bigger. Swarming. Filling up
the spaces in his hollow bones with little pieces of metal that make
other little pieces of metal, little things that burn and shock and
prick at his insides.
   It hurts the most in the parts he has lost. Where his talons should
be. Where his teeth were. Where his tail was. And his eye.
   The eye that ever burns, burns brighter and hotter now. It does not
burn red but white. It burns white and bleeds white and now it sees
white. It sees.
   The old rex falls to the ground, writhing in agony, kicking his
massive legs and tiny arms. He hears the scraping of his new teeth as
he works his jaw.
   He feels the painless tingle of his new talons as they flex.
   He struggles back to his feet, and as he does, he swings his new
tail. Black and swift, made up not of flesh and muscle but a
thousand-thousand tiny metal bones. He feels the wind whistle between
the metal bones and he feels the old tree crack clean in half. It
sounds like thunder and strikes like lightning.
   And the eye. The eye that ever burns, burns no longer. The scabbing
is peeled away by tiny arms, and an Eridian eye peers relentlessly
into the night.


***Dead-tree announcement***

Readers who also follow me about on the Book of the Faces might recall
that I announced, and posted a cover image for, a dead-tree version of
our favorite Martians, with an anticipated release sometime in early
September. Personal issues have pushed it back, but before the end of
this year you, your friends, family, and enemies can purchase ORPHANS
OF MARS VOL. 1: EARTH COLONY as either a trendy little paperback or
(hopefully) one of those new-fangled e-books. The second volume,
collecting the miniseries that we have just concluded here, should
follow a few months later...

Followed by a third... and a fourth... and so-on...

Those volumes will not, however, be collections of RACC materials, but
will be completely new and slightly longer novellas that continue the
story of Ress, Nerrine, Quasha, and all the rest. The intention is to
see of course if the characters and their world can reach and engage
with a wider audience. So I'm trying to re-imagine it as a series of
cheap, pulpy paperbacks-- the reader pays a few bucks, I make a few
cents in royalties, and maybe I get lucky and it turns out "lesbian
aliens fighting dinosaurs" is something that can develop a fan base
and branch out into other media. Or maybe that's pie-in-the-sky stuff,
but at least it'll be a few extra pennies in my pocket.

It might also help me with creative discipline. I write for fun,
because I enjoy it, and when it's not fun, I don't write-- which,
besides how picky I am and how much rewriting I do, explains why
sometimes years would pass between installments of JOLT CITY. But one
thing I've learned from designing games, especially the games I have
designed on commission, is that it's a whole lot easier for me to
finish something when there's money involved-- even just a few extra
pennies. :-)

As such-- outside of a few Mighty Medley one-shots here-and-there, and
sly references in the Eightfold universe proper-- this is likely to be
the last you'll see of the Daughters of Mars and their ancient Earth
on RACC.

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