8fold/TEB: Science-Blades of Terra Alter, book I
mrfantastic7 at googlemail.com
Sat May 4 11:47:32 PDT 2019
8FOLD Comics Presents:
SCIENCE-BLADES OF TERRA ALTER: BOOK I
by Jeanne Morningstar
Originally published in Mighty Medley #29-36
This series, written in 2016, represents my first substantial foray into
the 8fold universe. (Apart from an one-off short story included at the
end of this collection.) As always, I jumped in with a big idea with
little clear end point which I intended to write on the seat of my
pants. The Medley is done now, but this story will go on. I'm a fan of
Bronze Age comics, with their tendency to have narratives jump back and
forth between different series and incongruous backup features, so from
now on Terra Alter will be an on-again-off-again backup feature in Victory.
The basic premise came from one of the things that interests me the most
about 8fold: taking Silver Age-y conceits and exploring their potential
for emotional depths. It also came from my longstanding, deeply
ambivalent love for planetary romance as a genre, the strange and
mercurial bridge between fantasy and SF, not unlike how I describe
alchemy in this story. I read A Princess of Mars in an used paperback
with a Michael Whelan cover at 15. The haunting vision of Mars, the
mysterious astral travel to another world, the inexplicably immortal
protagonist, the combination of uncanny super-science and good old
fashioned swordfighting stick with me to this day. Even as a teenager,
though, I was skeeved out by the Confederate worship that went into the
premise, and growing older it's only become more clear to me how that,
and a lot of SFF, is based on American racial myths of the frontier.
Burroughs, and other old-fashioned adventure SF works, are the kind of
thing I'm fascinated by and want to critique and take apart, which is an
often productive seed for storytelling. (I drew on a number of old
school SFF influences while writing this: chapter 4 was written on a
Roger Zelazny high, while chapter 7 was a pastiche of Jack Vance.)
Another big influence is Silver Age DC writer Gardner Fox, someone who's
work I've only come to appreciate more over the years. He was a master
of coming up with brilliant tossed-off ideas to fill the deadline of
monthly comics, full of fascinating unexamined implications. It's kind
of mind-boggling to think of how many DC event stories (and now a TV
crossover) have been built around his sublimely half-baked ideas about
the multiverse. An early Fox/Sekowsky Justice League issue about a
magic-based parallel earth (or something) was another source of
inspiration for this story. You can see the points in this story where
I've tried to imitate his fantastically
science-fictional/science-fictionally fantastic conceits, and the kind
of "DC Logic" involving reversals and variations of concepts that he
used so often.
Finally, there's a neat coincidence around the protagonist's name. A
while after I wrote this, Emily Wilson came out with a translation of
the Odyssey, a foundational influence on adventure SFF. She set out to
examine a lot of the default assumptions that previous male translators
had brought to it. And of course, Elaine Williams is another scholar who
has the same initials as her. I didn't intend her name to have any
particular significance--I often wind up naming characters some
variation of Elaine/Elena/Eleanor--but you can see how this connects to
what I'm trying to achieve in this story.
Consider this my contribution toward FCBD this year.
CHAPTER I: AN UNEXPECTED VISIT
Elaine woke and found herself still sleeping alone in bed. She’d been
spending most of her days alone now for quite some time. It wasn’t so
bad before, waiting for her husband to come back, but then they’d had to
move and take a new job in a place where she knew nobody. So here she was.
It had been so simple at first. She and Jason had met through fencing
back when they were both working on their theses, her in medieval
studies and him in archaeology. She'd known they'd have to spend a lot
of time long-distance--his interest in studying the Minoans would take
him away for field work. She'd resigned herself to dealing with that,
since he was worth it--sweet and considerate and funny.
Then there'd been the earthquake in Crete, caused by Megataur's attack,
and she'd thought for the longest time he was dead. At first she'd just
ignored the whole thing because it didn't feel real--people she knew
didn't get involved with superheroes or supervillains. Gradually she'd
gotten used to the truth that he'd never be back, and resolved to move
on and find someone else.
And then, three months after the quake, he did come back. The story he'd
told was strange and unbelievable, but no more so than his being here.
He'd fallen into a gate beneath the earth, built by the Atlanteans, that
led to Terra Alter: a funhouse-mirror version of the world he knew,
where magic reigned and science was a secret underground tradition.
There, he'd become a hero and gotten married. His new wife was Antinea,
Science-Princess of New Atlantis. But while he had his duties as
Champion of Terra Alter, he valued his old world and life too,
especially Elaine. So the Atlan gates would take him between Earth and
Terra Alter every three months. And marriages with more than two people
were common there, so he'd come home to ask Elaine if she wanted to
marry him too. She'd agreed, not without some mixed emotions.
After five years she'd gotten used to the arrangement. She'd always have
to be vague about what her husband was doing when he was away. He'd also
had to give up teaching most of the time, even though he was good at it,
since he could never stay for a full semester. The old dean had known
about that business after assassins from the School of Night on Terra
Alter had gone after the campus, and let him take a research position.
But then the administration had changed and the new dean wasn't going to
accept vague explanations for someone who'd be away for long periods of
time. So they'd have to move to this school, which had a not
insignificant number of superheroes on its faculty.
And then there was the loneliness. And while she didn't want to begrudge
him his other life or his happiness, and she was thankful he'd stayed
with her at all, but... While never jealous, exactly, she was sometimes
angry there was a whole part of his life she'd never understand. She
sighed and headed to the living room to do some crocheting. Like
Penelope, she'd taken up weaving.
There was a knock at the door. Her heart leapt--could it be her husband?
She opened the door and found it wasn't. It was a woman--a foot taller
than her, with lustrous dark hair and warm dark eyes, wearing
magnificent red and white robes and a golden crown. It was *her*.
"You're Elaine, aren't you? He's told me a lot about you." Elaine
nodded, not really sure what to say in this situation, especially since
she was still in her pajamas. "As you have no doubt guessed, I am
Antinea, Science-Princess of New Atlantis. Our spouse is missing, and I
need your help..."
CHAPTER II: TEA FOR A SPACE PRINCESS
So here she was, making tea for a space princess. For her husband's
other wife, someone who she'd heard so much about but had never imagined
meeting. Antinea didn't look like she belonged here--it was like keeping
a sculpture from the Louvre in the living room. Then again, she seemed
uneasy about it too--she was making an effort to stay composed, but her
fingers were tapping on the table. It was reassuring in a way to see
that, for all her overwhelming beauty and elegance, Antinea was just a
person. Elaine felt the tension in her shoulders relax a little bit.
"OK," said Elaine, "what's going on, exactly? Explain it to me like I'm 5."
Antinea nodded. "Jason was on his way home when the gate... blinked out,
somehow. None of our seers or our devices can tell where he is."
"So why do you need me?"
"Because... I don't understand him fully. You know parts of him that I
don't. We'll need your help to build a truer image of him, and that will
help us find him." Elaine sensed an explanation wouldn't be coming for a
There was a lot about the setup she still didn't understand. As far as
anyone knew, Terra Alter wasn't a parallel Earth. It was a world
elsewhere in the galaxy, in a solar system that was almost the mirror
image of Earth's, give or take a few planets. The Venus of that
system--Venus Fortuna, the arcane astronomers called it--was a
beneficent influence, moving in prograde rather than retrograde orbit,
as opposed to the Venus Infortuna that balefully watched over her own
Earth. The whole thing was strange and perplexing.
"Wait. If the gate isn't working, how did you get here?"
"Through a quantum-aetheric projector," said Antinea. "I won't be able
to stay here for much longer." Elaine noticed that for all she seemed to
be really there, slowly drinking the tea, she was starting to flicker
like an image on a screen.
"And how am I getting there?"
"We'll create a body for you there and move your consciousness into it
for a time."
Elaine's heart stopped. The reality of what they were discussing--the
possibility of her going to the other world--hadn't hit her until then.
"What you're describing... that sounds almost like death."
"It is," said Antinea. "That's why I wanted to give you a choice. I know
you're brave, from what Jason told me, and I know how much you love him.
But if it's too much for you, I can find another way."
Elaine turned away from her and looked out into the yard. Spring was at
hand, and the flowering trees were starting to bloom. The new semester
was just starting. She'd have to make arrangements for teaching her
class while she was gone, and she had no idea when she'd be back...
Could she really do it? All the things Jason told her about sounded
fascinating and marvelous, but could she actually live through them?
Sometimes it was hard for her to get up in the morning and teach her
classes. Could she handle facing monsters and enemies that were out to
But Antinea was right--maybe not about her being brave, but about how
much she loved Jason. They made sacrifices for each other because
staying together was worth it. That was how it worked.
"All right." She turned around and looked Antinea in the eye. "I'm in."
CHAPTER III: THE TERROR BY NIGHT
It was an unseasonably cold night, and with students only just filtering
in for the new semester, the town was still empty. No one was walking
down the road in the small neighborhood next to campus where Elaine
Williams lived. But if someone had been, they would have had felt as if
something were there they could almost but not quite see, like the
nagging feeling you get when you remember you need to do something but
not what it is. They would have seen nothing, though. The stray cats
were another matter. They clambered out of the way and arched their
backs as if something was marching past. They turned their heads and
hissed as nothing made its way to Elaine's house.
While Antinea worked on preparing whatever kind of strange space science
she was doing, Elaine went about making the last preparations to leave.
She'd called up the catsitter, telling her she'd be gone for three
months, which is longer than she'd hoped but also too optimistic.
In her hand she held the foil she'd used in fencing club. It had been
stuffed in the back of her closet along with all the other things from
college she didn't think about much anymore. She hadn't had many chances
to practice her craft once she graduated and everyone who'd been in
fencing club drifted away--fencing wasn't something responsible adults
did, it seemed. It was harder in general to make connections and meet
new people as she got older. There was an expectation that after a
certain age you were supposed to know perfectly who and what you were in
life and have it all together, which really wasn't true.
And now of course, she was about to step into a whole other world. Who
knew what kind of expectations she'd have to face there. Antinea was
being as helpful as she could, but at this point Elaine didn't even know
the right questions to ask.
She gripped the sword and sliced through the air. The foil shook in her
hand at first, but soon she'd picked up a bit of the solidness and
fluidity of the old days. Then again, she'd never fought a battle with
real stakes before. From what he husband had told her, duels were a not
uncommon way of resolving conflicts on Terra Alter.
She was distracted from her thoughts by Allecto, their fat middle aged
tabby, rubbing up against her legs. She laid the blade on the table and
picked up Allecto, stroking the cat for one last time, burying her cheek
in soft fur. Allecto purred loudly but was still twitchy and on edge;
she could tell from all the hustle and bustle that something unpleasant
Then Allecto tried to wriggle out of Elaine's arms and let out a hiss,
stretching her claws for a fight. It wasn't because of Antinea--she
seemed to like her, which was good. Allecto was a strong judge of
character--if she liked someone, they were usually good and trustworthy.
And if she was freaking out this badly, there had to be a reason.
Elaine dropped Allecto to the floor. The cat screamed and leaped,
lurching at nothing at all--or was it? There was a flicker in the air, a
muffled cursing sound. She'd seen something like this this before.
Cloaks of Unknowing. These were agents of the School of Night. They'd
attacked her home once, but that time her husband had been around to
face them. Now it was up to her. This was her world now. And she had to
fight for it.
CHAPTER IV: DUEL IN THE DARK
There were two assassins, wraiths of thick smoke in almost-human shape.
They, too, were projecting their minds into an aetheric body, though
theirs was less realized than Antinea's--it was only needed for one
thing. Luckily, Elaine could summon up chunks of information and
exposition at the drop of a hat--she had a better memory for that kind
of thing than events in her own life--and she could remember everything
her husband had said about them, and how he'd defeated them. The
wraith-smoke clustered around a vulnerable core of power. But she didn't
know if she could strike it in time. She felt ice-cold fear for her
life, and the same kind of thick, paralyzing indecision she felt
whenever she was attempting some task that was complicated and
stressful, like making lesson plans or doing her taxes. And this, she
She'd been able to do this once, though. She'd never fought to the
death, but she'd known how to use the sword--it had been a special gift
of hers, even. All the drives and skills and instincts that had made her
a master of the art of the sword were still there, buried in her mind.
She remembered how fencing had been a refuge for her in stressful times,
and then all her frustrations gripped ahold of her--her sense of
helplessness in the face of university administrators who made sweeping
changes without talking to anyone they'd affect, the endless march of
forms and deadlines, the long emptinesses when her husband was away. All
that anger burst through her body into her sword like lightning into a
lightning rod, and she stood up straight and charged with power.
Her mind was racing at breakneck speed, so what had felt like a long
bleak aeon of indecision was only moments. She ducked the wraith's
shadow-tendril, then thrust the sword into where its heart would be. It
struck--the smoke vanished away to reveal the power-core shining with
moon-cold light, which cracked like an eggshell, scattering its pieces
to the floor. Then the other, in short order. It took her a moment to
realize she had won.
As Elaine waited for her heart to stop racing, Antinea charged into the
room. She saw the cracked white shells on the floor and knew what had
happened. She embraced Elaine, who was wobbling on her feet, and held
her up with her strong arms. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't know
they'd come so soon."
Elaine tried to say "It's okay" but it came out as mumbling.
"Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?" said Antinea. Elaine
wasn't really paying attention to the words, but there was something
comforting about her rich, melodic voice and the warmth of her arms.
Shen she remembered what it was like to be in her husband's arms, and
found herself missing him even more. Then she thought about him and her
together, as she did sometimes, with a mix of frustration and longing.
But now she was with Antinea alone--this was something new. She had no
idea how to parse what she was feeling.
"Wanna sit down," she muttered, and Antinea set her down gently on the
couch, then headed off to finish her preparations. Allecto, who'd been
crouching in the corner with her hair standing on end, hesitantly
crawled up to Elaine and they huddled together, feeling their stress
gradually ebb away.
In time Elaine found the strength to stand up. She took care of the last
of her tasks--vacuuming the house one last time, including the shattered
shells of the wraiths. And then it was time to leave.
CHAPTER V: THE TRANSITION OF ELAINE WILLIAMS
Elaine lies down on her bed and closes her eyes as Antinea presses the
snow-white jewel into her forehead, the transmitter that will send her
to the other world. A sense of warmth, of peace, of bone-deep tiredness
washes over her. She is floating up, up, through a calm ocean, free of
cares. She opens her eyes, and sees herself floating slowly up toward
the ceiling. Can it be?--she looks down and sees her own body beneath
her. Instantly she's self-conscious--does she really look like that,
with her frizzy and messy hair? Allecto looks up at where she is in the
air and arches her back, eyes wide in confusion. So cats can see
spirits, or at least, this one can. How many times when it had seemed
like she was freaking out about nothing had there actually a been
presence in the house? Antinea sees her and waves her hand, meeting her
with her lovely smile before she, too, vanishes to dust. Her soul has
returned to her world and now it is time for Elaine to follow her.
She feels a current pulling her into the air--she wants to struggle,
caught in the riptide, but she knows the only thing to do is follow it.
It pulls her up to the ceiling, and she winces, but then finds herself
passing right through it with only a slight shiver. Then she is past the
roof, and rushing right up into the stars. Seeing their light nearer and
clearer than ever before, she bursts out laughing, but in this un-space
her soul is passing through there is no one and nothing to hear her.
Pulled by the soul-current she rises up further, the moon growing
nearer, half in light and half in shadow, its craters coming into
focus--she can even see glimpses of its dark side. Somewhere in the
shadow there is a tower, and she shudders remembering the old and awful
story of that tower and what the Seven Wonders had found there--but then
she is going up and out, past Mars and its ruins, Jupiter and its moons,
then out through the edge of the solar system, to the darkened reaches
of the Kuiper Belt which astronomers have never mapped, and then--
The stars rush toward her at firework speed; her soul is yanked
through interstellar space. She has no stomach but she must barf. There
are flashes of ships moving in and out of hyperspace; lone supergods
traveling alone like her; interstellar lifeforms that float like
jellyfish through the dark. And then--
There is the Kuiper Belt again, and Neptune, and all the worlds that
were--but different. Before her lies the Earth and then beyond that
Venus, bright and shining and beautiful--she does not look forward to
what she will see in its place when she returns. She hurtles down to the
Earth, passing the moon in sunshine and in shadow, toward continents
that are similar but not the same as hers, down past airships flying
through the air surrounded by an aura of blue light, and are those
*dragons*?--and down to an island where lies a bright brass city of Art
Deco metal and stone, and through the buildings, her soul rushes down,
CHAPTER VI: TO WAKE ON TERRA
It was the scent that awakened her, a bright sharp scent like lilacs.
She opened her eyes to a room that held a towering empty space, a sort
of streamlined cathedral. That space was filled up by a massive
intricate machine, all humming tubes and crackling arcs of energy.
"She's alive!" said an exultant voice from beside her. She saw a figure
standing above her, moving the dials and the levers, tall and dignified,
his wide and inquisitive eyes as dark as his skin. He wore green robes
and a golden circlet on his head.
"My name is Taramon," he said, "of the Science Council. I am glad to see
you here. We have not had another visitor from another world in many an
"Uhhhh," said Elaine, who still felt like her thoughts were surrounded
by thick cotton wool. It would be a while before she adjusted to the new
sensations of this world. The quality of the light was different, though
she couldn't say how--she'd never been able to compare such things before.
"Where's Antinea?" was the first thing she'd been able to spit out.
"She is waiting for you," said Taramon. "Come." He gestured toward the
Shaking, Elaine pulled herself off the slab and stood up. She saw just
what she was wearing--a red skintight outfit which sparkled under the
crystalline lamps that hung from the distant ceiling. "Uh," she said.
"Does everyone here dress like this?"
Taramon nodded. "Except for the Council. I'll admit I miss those sorts
of outfits sometimes. The robes get devilish hot in the summer months."
Still wobbly, she followed him out of the room. While he was wearing a
mask of composure, a few little twitches and jerks showed the situation
was as strange to him as it was to her. So there was that, at least.
What she saw on the outside took her breath away. The towers were even
more astonishing up close than they were from a distance. Smooth and
elegant craft sailed through the air like swans--red, white, gold. Swift
monorails sped across the swooping tracks that wove through the city.
"I grew up in this city," said Taramon, "and have spent most of my life
in it, and I will admit, even I find it overwhelming at times."
"I'll bet," whispered Elaine. "So, uh, how to get to the throne room or
whatever?" She didn't know if Antinea had a throne room, but she seemed
Taramon gestured to one of the mini-craft that was docked by the
platform they stood on. Elaine hesitantly stepped into it, making a
point of not looking down. She felt seatbelts clasp into place around her.
Strangely enough, she found that she was missing her cat.
CHAPTER VII: THE GARDEN OF POISON FLOWERS
From the chronicles of Erebus Tamor:
After the death of Emperor Mandragus, his corpse was dug up by his
successor to be tried. In the midst of the trial, however, the eyes of
the corpse opened, and he condemned his successor to death. A cloaked
figure, who came from no one knew whence, carried out the order. And so
began the reign of the Dead King...
Upon the coast of Telmar stood Amarantine, the oldest and greatest of
all the cities of Terra Alter, called the Eternal City. It had survived
chaos and change, war and revolution, for its magic kept it strong and
In the labyrinth of catacombs that lay beneath the Eternal City sat the
chapterhouse of the School of Night. Once it had been an cabal of
revolutionary aristocrats. Over the course of centuries, it became an
order of assassins, controversial among even the other worshippers of
the goddess of death. It was rumored they even used science. But the
Emperors found them an useful tool.
In a bright place within the all-consuming dark of the tombs, magical
light streamed through its stained glass windows, showing the most
famous murders of history. It shone upon a colorful garden, holding all
the poison flowers in the world. Spiders and scorpions crawl among them.
A woman tended to the garden, singing to herself. She was tall and pale
and lovely, with dark hair cascading like a waterfall of kraken ink down
her scarlet dress. She was Azella Alraune, daughter of the Emperor
Mandragus, the Dead King. She had lacked obedience. Like many
problematic daughters, she was sent to a nunnery, in this case the
chapterhouse of the School of Night, to whose craft she was well suited.
Her father had entered the room with his grim lurching gait, his
ever-silent hooded companion behind him. She bowed to him stiffly, an
elaborate gesture of ritual laced with irony.
"This visitor I saw in my dreams is proving difficult to handle," he
said, in his harsh, croaking voice. "You must take care of her yourself."
"I thought you didn't dream anymore, Father." Her voice was a well-tuned
lute whose strings dripped with poison.
"I should not, and yet I do! I don't like them! Dreams are nothing but
riddles deep-fried in folly! Would that I could behead councillors who
speak such double-tongued drivel as the Lords of Dreams!"
"And what did you see in your dreams?" Azella held a red flower in her
hands, caressing its petals with a soft, sure touch.
"I saw a haloed woman sitting upon a war-tiger borne on a dragon's back,
holding two planets in her hand--one our Venus, the other a sort of
sickly monstrous duplicate."
"That is certainly a dream, Father. I dreamed I was late to an
"Kill her!" said Mandragus. His eyes began to twitch. "Do whatever it
An irridescent green fly buzzed through the air. Azella gently plucked a
petal and threw it at the fly, slicing it in half. The two halves fell
to the ground and were devoured by eager spiders.
"Oh I will."
CHAPTER VIII: THE MASQUE OF NEW LIFE
Amazingly, Elaine managed to not throw up as the car sped around the
roadways, twisting and turning, a roller-coaster through this shining
city. Her mind had been blasted nonstop with strange new experiences
since Antinea had turned up on her doorstep, but hopefully she'd at
least be able to hold it together for this meeting.
The car stopped before a great golden archway in a tower. Taramon guided
her unsteady steps through the arch, past the guards with their
burnished armor, and into the throne room.
Blue and gold banners hung beside the throne, with a symbol of an eye
whose iris was a gear and pupil was a labyrinth. Antinea wore blue robes
and a crown with that same eye symbol nested in the horns of a crescent
moon. In her left hand she held a scepter with an orb that crackled with
a blue light. If she had been an overwhelming presence on Earth, she was
even more so here.
When Elaine walked in, Antinea dismissed her advisors with a wave of her
hand. She nodded at Taramon, who bowed goodbye to Elaine and headed off.
"Welcome!" said Antinea. Elaine kneeled before the golden throne, hoping
she wasn't committing a faux pas. "No need for that," said the queen.
"You are the wife of my husband. Stand." Elaine did so, though her knees
It was then that she realized they weren't speaking English anymore.
This was a fluid and foreign tongue that spilled past her lips,
instinctive and yet unfamiliar. "How am I speaking your language?" she said.
"A translation matrix built into your body. I had one too, for your
world. I'm glad I'm not thinking in your language anymore, to be honest.
It gave me a headache."
Elaine laughed. "Speaking as an English teacher, I don't blame you." In
some ways, this language did seem more clear and logical than her own.
"So... right, my mind was uploaded into this body, like a program." The
fact that her body wasn't really her body was another thing she'd have
to get used to.
Antinea nodded. "It took a week for our minds to reach here. Little has
changed, for better or worse."
"OK, I think maybe you could use to explain some things," said Elaine.
"For example, where exactly am I right now?"
"Ah! You are standing in the throne room of New Atlantis--it was founded
long ago by people who escaped Atlantis from your world, just as some of
your world's mages, it is said, came from here. Its people are
scientists and seekers who come from all over this world. It moves about
the world to escape from its enemies. Right now, we are in the Mountains
of the Moon."
She pressed a button on the side of her throne and the image of a map
appeared in the air, complete with dragons on the oceans. The emblem
that stood above the throne, presumably marking their city, was
somewhere in where northern Africa would be in her world. It was part of
a domain covering most of the world, marked by a symbol--a horned circle
upon a cross standing on a wavy line--which she knew as the Monas
Heiroglyphica, created by John Dee, the magus, spy and statesman who had
named the "British Empire."
"That is the Everlasting Empire of Amarantine," said Antinea. "For
thousands of years it has endured, longer than any empire of your world,
not founded on magic, ever could. In its eyes the existence of our city
is illegal. Sometimes they have tolerated us, at other times they have
sought to destroy us. For the last two hundred years, there has been
peace between us, but it has been tenuous and I fear it will lost soon,
especially with the new emperor on the throne. That's one of the reasons
we need to find Jason as soon as we can."
Hearing his name, Elaine felt her heart stop. "Where is he?"
"We do not yet know. Something disrupted the gate as he passed through
it. To tell the truth, we do not fully understand how the portals work.
They are very ancient, and built of alchemy, which is the bridge between
science and magic, using techniques which are now lost. We have taken
many measures to find him but have found nothing definite. All we know
is he is alive, and he is somewhere in this world. But where, I do not
know. It is likely the portal affected him somehow. He may have changed,
in mind and body."
"Okay." Elaine took Antinea's warm, bronze hand in hers and squeezed it.
"Don't worry. I have faith in him. And you." Antinea smiled--she really
meant it, or seemed to. Which meant she had more faith in Elaine than
Elaine herself did.
A serving maid took Elaine by the arm and led her through the
labyrinthine corridors to a bedroom, watched over by guards with spears
entwined with mechanical coils. She lay down alone on the fine, brightly
colored silk sheets, and fell asleep.
A few hours later, the maidservant roused her awake, and bid her to come
to the celebration they were holding in honor of the Queen's return.
Antinea didn't feel like it, but she let herself be dragged out of bed
and led to a ballroom beneath a tall blue and gold dome on which were
painted the stars, constellations different from her world, each of
which seemed to have their own story. She stood in a place of honor
beside the queen and watched a sort of masque, which seemed extremely
convoluted and allegorical. Antinea whispered to her that no one really
understood what it meant, including its writer.
After the masque ended, it was time for the dance to begin. She felt
lost in the sea of bright costumes and elegant dancers. The queen took
her hand again, and she felt something like an electric spark. "I think
you have the first claim on me."
"OK," said Elaine. She let Antinea guide her onto the dance floor. The
crowd parted for them. Amazingly, she didn't trip over her feet. For a
moment, she felt she was in a sort of quiet enclosed space with Antinea,
away from the crowd. She found herself looking deep into the queen's
eyes and feeling a sense of peace.
Then the music--something like a theremin--grew quicker, and Antinea
whirled off into the crowd to dance with other men and women. Elaine
found herself drifting to the edge. She was standing in a crowd of
people she mostly didn't know and didn't know where to start, a familiar
situation for her. A few people were staring at her and that made her
uncomfortable. She wondered how to excuse herself and make her way back
to her bedroom.
Then someone approached her. It was a tall, pale, dark-haired woman in a
scarlet dress. She smiled a knowing and inviting smile. "May I have this
dance?" she said.
THE SCIENCE BLADES OF TERRA ALTER WILL CONTINUE IN VICTORY #3
Originally published in Mighty Medley #21
Juliet Eisner was stuck on a long dead stretch of the Greyhound trip she
was taking to move in with her boyfriend. It was almost midnight, and
there were still many hours left to go. She was crammed into a window
seat and hadn't been able to go to the bathroom in far too long, as she
was too timid to try and wake the snoring man beside her. She envied him
She looked at the dim starlight in the moonless sky outside. It was
strange going on long trips, when you felt neither awake nor asleep,
neither dead nor alive. Everything felt fuzzy, as if she weren't quite
inhabiting her own body. It might have been an interesting experience if
it weren't so awful. All kinds of half-formed thoughts drifted through
her mind--questions about her relationship, the arguments they'd been
having, their future together.
Just when she was about to fall asleep, the bus made a sharp turn and
jolted her awake.
Sitting next to her was no longer the snoring man, but a tall, muscular
red-haired woman who looked like she'd stepped out of the cover of a
sword and sorcery novel, though her leather armor was a little more
There had to be a reasonable explanation for this, thought Juliet.
Probably she'd missed a stop in her sleep, and this woman was going to a
con. She noticed Juliet staring and raised her eyebrows. "What do you
want?" she said.
Juliet flinched, forcing an awkward smile. "I--I'm just curious where
"To the Still Point at the End of Time,” she said, where I will ask a
favor of the one who dwells there." This lady must be very dedicated to
being in character. "And you?" Her smile was friendly now, her blue eyes
bright and inquisitive.
"To Cincinnati. To, uh, visit my boyfriend."
"I see. You're spoken for? Ah well." She laughed--boisterous, but not
unpleasant. Juliet might have been interested, she realized, in another
life. But she knew where she was going... didn't she?
She turned, reluctantly, from the redhead and looked at the other
passengers. There was an old witch crocheting--no one sat beside her.
There was a man dressed like a Victorian poet, who cast no shadow. There
was a gorilla in a spacesuit. There was a dust-covered mummy, wrapped in
crumbling bandages--how long had it been sitting there? Did she want to
And then she looked out the window.
There were stars outside, but no ground beneath.
She wanted to scream, to run away, but there was nothing to run to. The
rational part of her mind, the one that had been arguing all along this
trip was a mistake, told her: this is real. You must have slipped into
another realm, a space between.
The woman beside her had fallen asleep and started snoring. Juliet’s
fear and panic faded into dull frustration and, in time, she went to
She was woken up by the sound of rustling paper. The passenger beside
her was reading a newspaper, the same man she’d been sitting beside for
a day. She felt an intense rush of relief as she realized everything was
as it had been. Then she glanced at the paper he was reading.
The headline read "Julie Ann Justice Controversy--Can She Be Trusted?"
and the photograph showed a brightly smiling, improbably-costumed woman.
The snatches of the story she could read mentioned superheroes, magical
battles, alien invasions. But those things weren't real...
Not, at least, in the world she'd left behind.
Jeanne "The Dark Space Princess Knight" Morningstar
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