Short Story (Part 4): When The Tide Comes In

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Part 4 coming in. Sorry for anyone waiting – doubly so because this is actually going to be the penultimate chapter. And I know that it’s more than a touch unpolished. Ultimately it’s more like getting ideas down for later. This story likely needs development in terms of plot and character, but as some would have it, “no work is without merit.”

So if you haven’t read the previous parts, you can check ’em here:

  1. Short Story (Part 1): When The Tide Comes In
  2. Short Story (Part 2): When The Tide Comes In
  3. Short Story (Part 3): When The Tide Comes In

Not sure what people make of it. Constructive criticism always welcome, or perhaps you’d like to see it in a more developed form? Let me know in the comments.

Cheers.


4

Aphelia looked down at Theran and smiled sadly. Shifting him had been like trying to move a sack of rocks. Now he lay on the grass pale and still, a piece of shrapnel lodged in his temple. There was not a lot of blood beyond what had leaked onto the sheepskin collar of his flying jacket.

She’d lost people before of course, they all had, and she had grieved for them, standing in the biting cold of the airfield as they saluted those killed in action. Last night they had lost at least four more squadron members, yet losing Theran was different. They had been so close, had loved each other certainly even though they had never been lovers. There was a partnership that went deeper than desire, and Aphelia wanted the empty space she now found insider her to be filled with something that reflected that; loss, rage or something, but instead she was suffused with a cool, calm melancholy.

Perhaps it was because she was a long way from safety, and a part of her had sealed it away until she could release it. So instead of digging for grief, she had instead laboured through the quiet of the night to haul the man from the downed biplane – she still had no idea how she had managed to land the thing without flipping it tail-over-engine – and when done she had slumped over him and passed out long enough for the sun’s light to touch her.

With the dawn there was warmth; not enough to remove the biting chill of night that still clung to her bare face, but a brightness that entered her soul as she looked up. Climbing up onto the wing of the downed plane she looked over the distance to the far, snow capped mountains and just for a moment there was nothing in the world but herself and the rising Sun, the pale sky ripening to a deep blue as lone clouds scudded along in the early breeze.

That was when she also been able to fully appreciate the scenery all around her. In the light of day it had taken her breath away despite being far into what must have been enemy territory, but also far beyond the retreating battle lines. This was the Tides land, a land that had been pounded with artillery, bombed and flamed and scoured until the troops and tanks had been pushed back by sheer weight of numbers. But of the scars, there was little beyond the dimples of craters now covered in a new skin of green grass, shoots and foliage. There were trees that had survived, not mere burnt skeletons but which were whole and budding! The land was repopulating with foliage like scar tissue growing over old wounds and bespeaking recovery.

Turning around she looked upon Theran. He lay on the grass as he had before, his still form clearer now that the Sun had risen, and all around him amongst the green she saw little white flowers pushing up and opening.

Aphelias, her namesakes.

The first flowers of Spring.

*  *  *

Despite the flowers, despite the beauty, Aphelia couldn’t stay. A part of longed to just sit down and stay, yet the fighting spirit in her wouldn’t allow it. The enemy would find her in the end and then she would be killed. So instead she would strike out towards the entrenched battalion who couldn’t be more than a dozen miles from her location.

She would take Theran with her, so set about building a sled to carry his body. There was splintered wood from the airframe, and the undercarriage had come away in one piece as the plane hit the dirt. Perhaps she could wheel him away.

As she worked the land was tranquil and quiet, so it was a surprise to her when she was disturbed by the sudden arrival of a trio of strange creatures. They were centaur-like, but their bodies were more bovine than equine, built more for labouring than for speed. Their torsos were covered in a rough, brown hide that bore long, multi-jointed arms in three pairs. Upon seeing her they emitted snorts and whistles of surprise, but they did not attack. In fact, they seemed more annoyed at the presence of the downed aircraft and quickly became engrossed in inspecting the biplane, prodding it and testing it’s resilience as they communicated to each other with shorts grunts.

Perhaps she could slip away…… but she wasn’t finished building the sled.

At that moment the creatures reached a consensus and suddenly attacked the biplane with co-ordinated vigour, pulling it apart with frightening ease. They ripped through the canvas and tore the wood frame to splinters. As they did so Aphelia dragged Theran’s body clear in fear that they might perpetrate some similar atrocity, but the act attracted the attention of one beast which trundled towards her.

Aphelia stood her ground. She would be damned if she would leave Theran’s body to the carrion things of the Tide and immediately drew her knife, fearing to use her pistol because of the noise. As the thing came closer she waved her arms and shouted, trying to shoo it away. It paused, and the three yellow eyes blinked in surprise. It snorted and grunted and reached forward, not for her but for Theran’s body. She slapped its grasping hand away, and the creature emitted a snort that sounded like annoyance. It’s three eyes regarded her, then poked a finger at her, grunting. She backed away, pulling Theran with her.

Still the creature came on, treating her as a hindrance rather than a threat. As it reached out she slashed at its arm with the knife, but the skin was thick enough to absorbed the cut, so instead she drove it full force into the hide bound arm. The creature bellowed and slapped her away. The blow was light, and she was pumping adrenaline as she screamed and charged, swinging and stabbing. This time the blow knocked the wind out of her and she crumpled to the ground, with a sob.

She wanted to shout, wanted to stand, but could only wheeze out the words, “Stop…. Leave him alone….”

The beast had picked Theran up with ease and was inspecting the deadman, almost muttering to itself. Aphelia drew the pistol now, aimed at the creatures lower chest and squeezed off a pair of shots.

The thing squealed, dropping the dead body and backed away, its hands touching the wounds as it stamped its feet. Yet, to her despair, it appeared to be relatively unharmed, and the other two were now coming to the aid of their companion.

It was the shadow that passed over them all that saved her. The three creatures paused, and everyone looked up at the wheeling carrion mount of the Tidecaller. It circled with avian grace and swooped down, landing lightly with a hop. It looked like a giant crow, and as it fluttered its wings and bent its head down, the Tidecaller dismounted, barking an immediate command that made the three beasts back away.

Aphelia watched him approach. He – if such a thing could be called a he – was robed in feathers like a cloak, their colour shifting from black to green to purple. Woven amongst it were thin vines sprouting small shoots and flowers. In a gnarled, feathered hand he bore a wooden staff while his face was as much a crow as the great carrion mount he had arrived on.

“You?” gasped Aphelia, the fuzzy image of the stranger in her dorm rising to her mind. But the creature did not reply, and instead cocked its head to one side. Aphelia braced herself. Was it looking at the stretcher? She sensed that it was, and was surprised when it commanded the attending creatures to bring her – of all things – the parts she might need.

Then the Tidecaller tipped his head and she understood what he was indicating: that she should continue.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked. The figure said nothing.

For a moment they stood regarding each other, Aphelia feeling studied by the dark orbits of the creatures eyes. Nearby the centaur things stood patiently while the carrion mount preened its feathers. The Tidecaller cocked it’s head. Was it amused? It gestured with a hand for her to continue, and in the absence of anything else Aphelia worked to finish lashing the sled together.

The worse thing about it was not a feeling of threat, but rather the sense that she was a child being observed by a teacher, as if this thing were going to grade her efforts. Still, it didn’t take her long to get it sturdy enough to bear Theran’s body, and lashing the harness she’d made from the parachute strapping over her shoulders she looked to the Tidecaller who nodded and gave a whistle.

In response the centaur things returned to breaking down the plane and the Tidecaller beckoned for her to follow, dismissing his mount with a gesture of his staff as he lead the way at a walk. The great carrion mount cawed with blood curdling fervour and took to the air with great beats of its black wings.

Taking a deep breath, Aphelia followed her strange intercessor, all the while wondering why this creature was taking her towards the entrenched soldiers….

It’s enemy.

Her comrades.

All she could think was that there was some sense of honour in the thing, some intellect that guided its actions in an alien manner she couldn’t understand because if the situation had been reversed she was sure that no mercy would have been given.

It didn’t matter. They would still be enemies, and whatever boon this thing perceived she deserved would not stop the war. So she trudged on, straining to haul Theran’s body over the grass as she promised herself that she would still fight to the death for humanities survival.

The march was hard on her neck and shoulders, but finding a rhythm she pushed on through the landscape as the day passed. Several times she heard the approach of creatures, some of them oddities like the centaurs, others equally strange and some mere tidlings, frenetic and giggling. But the Tidecaller waved them away, and the beasts would fall back and continue on their way without another word. Hours later, as the Sun arced overhead, they reached a strip of land bearing the clear ravages of conflict. On one side fertile grass, on the other a barren, bare earthy….

Like a border between two worlds, and perhaps that was why the Tidecaller stopped short of the divide.

Aphelia almost walked straight into the creature. With aching muscles she straightened and looked to where he was staring. Far off she could see the hill, the matchstick fortifications and the little ants toiling to reinforce their position.

The Tidecaller turned to her and tipped its head before walking back in the direction they had come.

“Thanks,” Aphelia muttered, “I guess.”

She watched the figure strolling away, wondering at the land of greenery and sunshine that was its domain. Envy curled inside her, because all she had ahead of her now was a trek across a blasted landscape. As she picked up the sled once more she heard the Tidecaller whistle once again, a high, piercing note.

She spared the thing not another glance, even when she heard the far cry of his carrion mount. Had it been shadowing them the whole way? She shrugged mentally and set her mind to the task at hand. She set to the burden again, noting the worse thing about taking a moments pause was how much heavier it felt when you started up again. Aphelia took a deep breath, and trudged towards the distant hill.

From somewhere behind her she heard the rustle of feathers and the caw of the Tidecaller’s mount as it landed, and all she could say to herself was, pity the bastard couldn’t have given me a lift.

*  *  *

The Sun was well on its way to the horizon as Aphelia pressed on through the pain and cramp in her neck and shoulders. It had produced a tight headache and terrible muscle pains, but she wouldn’t give up on Theran’s body. She would hold on to it until she was ready to let him go, and so she stumbled on into the waning afternoon, through the wasteland of scorched earth. Smoke drifted across her path and on the left she saw the remains of an armoured vehicle, half sunk in the dirt and bearing the marks of the Tide’s burrowing creatures.

Her mind a blank from strain and weariness, the sound of voices approaching was almost startling alien to her ears. Then the realisation: human beings! She stumbled, finally, as much from relief as exhaustion. The entrenched soldiers had sent out a patrol to meet her and they immediately took up the sled between two of them, while the other two draped her arms around their shoulders and bore her weight.

Into the gathering twilight they shuffled back towards the Hill as the Moon peeked over the distant horizon, a giant mottled peach.

Later, under it’s pale glare they would bury Theran in the makeshift graveyard on the hill and Aphelia, too exhausted to weep, would fall into a deep sleep, Theran’s service tags wrapped around her hand.

End of Part 4


If you’ve made it this far you must be digging it, and so all that remains is for you to move straight on into the finale, Part 5: When The Tide Come In

Peace.

DJC

Covidoverload: Thoughts On Coronaconspiracies

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The world is a bizarre place, filled with unknowable oddities and questionable realities, and adding to this is some of the strange posts that pop up from friends on things like Facebook. I’ve seen anti-vax Bill Gates stuff, the 5G effect with a side order of microchipping coming to a brain near you, the establishment’s deliberate over-estimation of deaths from what is ostensibly nothing more than a “mild flu”.

Then there’s the alt-medicine soap boxers who say that we don’t know anything about the virus so “I’ll just jump in here and say that viruses aren’t a thing” while a ton of ill informed invocations of Orwell get dumped into my feed without recourse to how power hierarchies manufacture our consent on a daily basis.

The internet has, as James Bridle says, opened the door on a new dark age of superstitions.

But don’t get me wrong – I completely agree with the idea that we can’t trust those in power, but what worries me is the impervious nature of these theories to anything resembling reasoned argument, and the way in which they invert the reality of a situation.

These ideas are literally turning everything on its head, and I might question as to whose benefit?

For example, the narrative that their grandad pegged it from lung cancer but the bureaucrat wrote Covid19 on the death certificate. Are they really trying to amplify the death toll? Why would they lie? It’s just the flu, after all.

Well, first thing is that the system is most likely underestimating deaths at this point. Cases such as care homes aren’t going into the system, at least not yet. And this isn’t just a flu, it’s way more deadly, and way more contagious, and when introduced to a medical system that is run on a capitalism business model that has stripped everything down to the bare requirements, the system gets overloaded.

(This is the same mentality as the office I worked in. Reduce staff to save money. You run a skeleton crew, but when someone goes sick while someone else is on holiday, the system falls apart).

When the curve rises too quickly, the hospitals can’t cope – then someone has to decide who goes into one of the few ventilators and who doesn’t. That would also be the ventilators that the government asked Dyson (a billionaire Tory donor by the way) to build. Meanwhile it’s clear that the EU reached out many times to the UK over this issue, but our government didn’t even return the call.

Back to the death certificates then – we might ask then where did this death certificate narrative come from? The answer appears to be that it originated from a right wing doctor who’s worried that we’re being terrorised into giving up our freedoms. She’s also an anti-vaxxer and a pro-lifer.

Once these narratives enter social media, they replicate like a virus through people’s feeds and help trigger symptoms of social unrest such as the protests in America where you can play spot the Gadsden flag.

One report claimed that after a week of such protests in Kentucky, the figures of Coronavirus infected rose dramatically. No surprises there then. Perhaps this virus is here to finish off the losers of the civil war? Let’s follow the breadcrumbs some more to the anti-governmental groups like the Oath Keepers who are ready for a show down with the shadow government of satanic paedophiles who are backed by the Democrats and who want to undermine Trump.

These are folk who have pledged whole-heartedly to the QAnon and Pizzagate stories, and when such narratives become deeply rooted you can surely believe that they are willing to manufacture the evidence to support their claims. So when someone asks “what reason do these people have to lie?” I think we can bridge the gap and acknowledge that humans are really good at lying for a variety of reasons, especially to back up their opinions in face of facts they don’t like.

And here’s a big wave to those Google researchers who spend hours searching for the answers that prove that everything they claim is true, and a big hello to all the real paedophiles in positions of authority who had the support of high ranking bureaucrats (ahem, Jimmy Saville).

Anyhew, when it comes to providing evidence that’s cherry picked, David Icke is a real master of it. He can make a narrative and find whatever information backs him up, and it can be as random and wild as you like because the internet is filled with “evidence”. It reminds me of the book Foucault’s Pendulum where the book editors are working on manuscripts from alchemists and occultist and realise that their “sources” are literally each others books. 

(Counter to this farming and framing of whatever suits your purpose, I was taught that a good scientist should always work hard to disprove a theory, and if it holds up to the rigours of testing, then you know you’re on the right track).

So here we have the strange fractal elements of the right wing in the US – the rural right wing who are anti-government and their poster boy Trump, facing off against a satanic illuminati pro-Democrat element of government while within government the two main parties are essentially different sides of the capitalist coin.

It’s so painful to wrap your head around it that it makes your brain hurt sometimes. So what these right wing folk want is the right to be free to go shopping for capitalist goods while fighting the system that is filling their supermarket with cheap goods for consumption. It’s wanting the cake and eating it without getting fat.

Oh, and making sure that the baker isn’t Jewish.

I suppose that I can at least give them credit that they know if you fight the state you’ll end up like Koresh, flushed out with tear gas and flamethrowered by Bradley tanks.

But how about over here in Blighty?

Are we going to have our liberty taken away?

What amuses me most about the posting of a hostile take-over and the end of civil liberties is the irony of sitting on your phone/computer/iPad and doing nothing but recycling social media posts – if you’re sitting at home posting on social media, then you aren’t really fighting the state: the wage slavery, the consumerist mentality, the urbanisation and privatisation of public spaces, the austerity and bare bones services while tax dodgers and billionaires drain us dry like the parasites they are. 

So just try organising an anarchist revolution and you’ll see how quickly the state deploys its violence against you to protect itself.

A good example came from a few years ago when there were several court cases brought by female activists against the government because men that they entered relationships with were actually undercover agents. Some even had children with these men before the agent just disappeared. The core of the cases were that sexual relations had been had under false pretense – basically rape.

That is the reality of (at least sections of) MI5 – they are quite willing to work against the public if that public threatens the gravey train.

On top of secret police we also have other aspects of a police state: we have the deaths of Ian Tomlinson who was standing in the street when a police officer struck him, resulting in his death. That officer was suspended and never given prison time for murder, which is what it basically was.

And what about Jean Charles De Menezes who was executed on a train? Ahem, and I quote:

In July 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service said that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any named individual police officers in a personal capacity, although a criminal prosecution of the Commissioner in his official capacity on behalf of his police force was brought under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, on the failure of the duty of care due to Menezes. The Commissioner was found guilty and his office was fined.

Fined? Just fined. An innocent man was murdered.The mind boggles.

I actually remember this incident quite vividly because I saw one of the very first reports where an eye witness stated that de Menezes was put on the floor and executed by a shot to the head. She never once re-appeared on subsequent reports.

(Side note for conspiracy fans, our current Labour leader Keir Starmer approved a decision not to prosecute any police over the controversial shooting in February 2009).

And what about the Integrity Initiative? A group funded by the Institute for Statecraft and who appeared to be a charity. A little digging turned up there address was an empty office and that they were farming lists of journalists who worked for the billionaire mainstream press. Nothing shady there then. They also appear to have their fingers in the pie when it comes to the very odd case of the Skripal poisoning – an event that has a D notice on it from the government which prohibits journalists from investigating the case and reporting on it.

A D notice is a DSMA-Notice, or a Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice that “requests” something not be divulged in the name of national security. That would be the  same D notice, one might add, that got served to the Guardian after the Snowden incident in 2013 and where they had the hard drives smashed up. Apparently the state has been spying on us, but found that most of us are just sending each other porn. Remember that?

The Integrity Initiative might also have something to do with Philip Cross, a Wikipedia editor that never takes a day off – even for Christmas – and who specialises in editing prominent left wing/socialist pages like Jeremy Corbyn where he removes information, but who is apparently nice enough to make positive edits to friends like journalist Oliver Kamm who worked for The Times. 

It’s unclear whether this is one man, a bot or a profile used by multiple persons, and it’s unlikely you’ll find out because Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia’s owner and overt fan of war criminal Tony Blair – claims that there’s nothing fishy about it even after several people posted him the evidence.

So when people invoke 1984 they usually do so without realising that the dystopia wasn’t a prophecy but simply a reality. They even bought Amazon Echo for their house and let it listen to them, data mining your life. Data is the new crude oil, after all. 

But I digress. The reality is that you’re not supposed to see the reality of a police state, and most of the time we’re too busy posting on social media, watching porn and buying cheap Amazon commodities while the media diverts our attention to the “others”, those pernicious enemies who are a different race, ethnicity, ideology or whatever.

It sows divisions between us and I might make the claim that conspiracy theories are themselves another tool to do so – after all, the jews are importing muslims to destroy white people and western civilisation! 

So yeah, I think we might consider that these sorts of stories are worth quite a bit to institutional power – it turns away public attention to something else, and blames someone else. For example, it’s possible that the 5G conspiracy originated with Trump in opposition to Huawei’s involvement in US infrastructure – essentially another anti-Chinese conspiracy – but I think the strangest element has been how you can just let the bubbling cauldron spill over as the volatile admixture takes on new and strange cocktails cooked up by the internet. 

Let’s look at how you can get Covid19 from 5G emanations.

This notion appears to arise from alternative health that is grounded in books such as Bechamp or Pasteur?” by Ethel Hume (and others) which rejects Pasteur’s findings regarding viruses as something that is transmitted. Instead, according to Bechamp, the body generates illness when it moves out of homeostatic balance due to poor diet, poor health and even those negative waves from 5G. All illness originated from within.

(Side note: Bechamp may actually have been on to something close to the understanding of the microbiome, and also in our evolutionary past virus DNA played an important part in the development of life).

From that starting point there is, of course, a truck load of homegrown variations and explanations and oh my fucking god! It’s so tiring trying to unravel the knots these people will tie you in if you go down that rabbit hole.

It’s clear from history that viruses are a thing, and have been defeated through proven methods. The fact that capitalist interests have distorted aspects of medicine is also not in debate, but the idea that the whole establishment is in league to screw you over is absurd and again turns reality upside down because the experts and institutes are often in conflict with the government – and in academic circles it’s not just medicine that is in friction with government – all of academia is conflicted by the capitalist business model and the pursuit of knowledge.

Again, the real problem is the prevalent socio-economic model that wants medicine subservient to profit and which has caused all sorts of terrible knock on effects. One that I recall clearly is tuberculosis – remember that? It’s still around – and the way in which it spread in prisons in Eastern Europe and Russia. The treatment’s price meant that supplies was sporadic, and so prisoners got only half the doses before being released (many were only held for short periods because they were not guilty of anything than wrong place, wrong time) – the result was that TB had a chance to adapt and then spread to the families when the prisoner returned home.

Thus drug resistant TB came to be a real problem.

So, the question now is whether we should refuse the academic body of knowledge of decades of research in thousands of papers in favour of a few dissident voices? For some reason the thinking is that the few must be telling the truth because they are being side tracked. Or is it that they are actually wrong and they are encouraging dangerous behavior?

Let’s have a little look at my favourite kinds of crazy, and a somewhat ironic criticism that Chinese herbal medicine is somehow backward, superstitious or hokum. That’s right, if you think it’s crazy to gargle with a tiger’s testicle (making sure the tiger isn’t still attached) to cure Covid19 then how about the alternative US remedy? Try putting droplets of bleach up your nose and in your eyes! That’s right, you can buy MMS – miracle mineral solution – and gargle with it according to Jim Humble, a man who by his own account lived with aliens on another planet.

Sounds legit, right? Oh, did I mention I just made the tiger testicle thing up? It might, or might not, be true. I don’t know.

Or how about the story that the French government had to put out a statement saying that cocaine doesn’t cure Covid19.

Really? Sounds like a cure to me…..

Well, I’ve been rambling a while now and what I really just want to say is, I get it. I get the appeal of the narratives. I myself read Icke’s Biggest Secret when I was a fledgling, and I understand the feeling of revelation, the sense of knowing something that makes the world easier to understand.

But my second thought was to go away and check the data. It was this, along with my interest in shamanism, aliens and archaeology that lead me to study anthropology. So in a sense I can say thank you to conspiracy theories for giving me narratives that were different to the mainstream, but even these narratives are not enough because they themselves mystified power while providing an ego boost. Real academic work should demystify reality, not shroud it in ever greater layers smoke and mirrors.

That in itself should tell us something about the reason why governments like conspiracy theories – because they obscure genuine analysis of power structures in favour of shape shifting, interdimensional repitilians wearing humans like space suits…… although I can totally see the appeal that some of our leaders might be inhuman baby eaters.

The reality is that our governments have handle the situation with epic ineptitude and complacency, using the media to divert attention away from the systemic flaws of capitalism and their own social Darwinist, laissez faire attitudes towards a pandemic that the World Health Organisation warned them would be serious.

Oh, and that would be the WHO who is underfunded and who was routinely ignored, not the WHO who are a front for billionaire Bill Gates so he can get you all microchipped and turned into robots. As I said earlier, not sure why these Bond villains would bother enslaving us when were all sitting at home regurgitating endless memes on social media instead of a organising a revolution for fully automated gay space communism.

Finally, and most importantly, this is not a dig at everyone who indulges in these narratives – I have friends who do, and I know that they are well intentioned, caring and concerned. They are looking for answers that clarify the world because it is reassuring to be in the know, and they hold to ideals of liberty, peace and love.

Nor are they wrong that authoritarian power will seek to capitalise on a crisis even as the global system goes into shock (and just look at oil prices!).

So perhaps it’s for the best that people have been kicked out of a rut and many have found a sense of agency within their communities, or have found time to reflect on where we are at this point in history, and still others have had their true worth revealed as they work on the front lines.

Like many who might wait for the aliens to come down, or the revolution to rise up, or cosmogenesis and angels to appear, I hope that out of this mess there is a better future coming closer every day.

Peace.

DJC


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Short Story (Part 3): When The Tide Comes In

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Continuing the story, Aphelia has a conversation with a familiar (and rather odd) barman before taking to the air on her resupply mission. Sorry if it needs a little more work – you’re really my beloved guinea pigs for these drafts.

Be sure to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t:

  1. Short Story (Part 1): When The Tide Comes In
  2. Short Story (Part 2): When The Tide Comes In

And if you want to let me know what you liked, or didn’t, then throw in a comment.

Enjoy!


3

Aphelia lay on her side in her dormitory bed, unable to sleep. Across from her, Merrietta lay on her own bed, limbs draped over it’s edges as she snored. Between them was the bottle of rum, half empty and resting on the bedside cabinet they shared. She hadn’t drunk a lot, just enough to warm her against the oncoming chill of night and put her into a light doze.

Yet the knowledge that the mission bell would ring had kept her awake, the anticipation of its chimes making it near impossible for her brain to shut down. Instead she stared at the label on the rum. It was probably one of the very last bottles left in the whole world, and the thought stirred a shadow of a memory. It flitted through her mind. There had been a bar….. somewhere. It was indistinct. There was a stranger who had served her rum and beer, but didn’t want the money she had tried to pay with.

“It’s not shiny enough,” the bartender had said.

Perhaps it had just been some sort of dream. Aphelia drifted through soft, floating memories of another place…..

She was riding in a car through the afternoon sunshine, all rolling hills and woodland. The coming of Spring was in still in the air even as the Moon swung into view; low in the sky, round and pregnant. Theran was driving, but he looked younger and as strange as he looked, the landscape itself was baffling her because there were no signs of war, no craters or skeletal trees, no blasted scars marring a tortured landscape. It was a world untouched by the hordes of creatures that had swept in relentless waves over the face of the civilised world.

It almost lifted her heart, but where she should have been happy, instead she was resentful about something. Yes, she was annoyed because there were going to some old factory and a party where she was supposed to wear a mask. She wanted to go somewhere else, but Theran had insisted and passed her a likeness of a bird. The memory shifted and she caught an image of herself in a mirror: the head of an owl, big eyes in an oval face. She blinked and looked around. She was standing at a bar lit by strings of little lights hung from the walls, incense coiling in the air and a muffled thud of music from somewhere nearby…..

Someone said a name. “Ellie?”

She blinked. The barman had his head cocked on one side, giving her a strange look. Despite the empty, black eyes and the bleached bone of his skull, she was sure that she knew him. “You?”

“Me?” replied the bartender quizzically. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Who are you?”

The stranger cocked his head. “I seem to remember having this conversation before. You can call me Crow, but I think you already knew that, hmmm?”

Waves of memories suddenly crashed against each other in her mind, a tidal collision that tossed her soul on the crest of the wave. Ellie shuddered and put out a hand to steady herself on the bar. This place was so familiar, how was it that she felt that she had been lost in some other world, lost in some sort of nightmare about a war?

“I was dreaming…..”

“A dream? Indeed,” replied Crow. “Want to tell me about it?”

The initial swell of conflicted memories subsided, like a wave pulling away from the beach to reveal freshly washed stones. Each one was a little piece of a life Ellie knew, but mixed into were other memories that she could simply reach out to and pick up.

Each one was a recollection from those eddying currents of that strange dream world….

“Go on,” Crow insisted. “Tell me what you remember of the other place.”

“It’s not real. Just a dream.”

“I thought it was a war. You’re aircraft was downed, but you survived.”

“Yes…..” Ellie wasn’t sure. She shook her head as if to clear the confusion.

Crow continued, “You remember the details clearly enough, don’t you, Ellie?”

“But this is where I belong,” she retorted. “I know this place.”

“Humour me. Tell me of this other world that you dreamed about. All you need do is reach out to them.”

She knew she shouldn’t, and as much as Crow was insistent, it was her curiosity that won over: her name Aphelia and she had been a teenager when it had all started. The first signs had been worrying news broadcasts that talked about a possible toxic spillage, but it was quickly apparent that there was something else going on. The government had a project that was digging a super deep mine to extract the crystals that lived at great depth in the mantel of the planet, drilling deeper and deeper until something bubbled up out of the ground and attacked the machinery and their operators.

The old footage had become required viewing by the time she joined the military effort, a scene filled with the same scrabbling madness, the flailing limbs and manic faces as the creatures who had engulf the biplane. They surged forth, perhaps from a hollow world as some had it, or perhaps they were aliens or the product of a dozen different, bizarre theories. The scientists had analysed what they could, and determined that the things were biological, but like nothing they’d seen before. Given their number and swarming behaviour, they had been dubbed The Tide and they were numerous beyond imagining.

The bizarre goblin gaggle of limbs and laughter had been joined by great lumbering beasts like golems of living rock that had been like living bulldozers, and a myriad of other bizarre things that digested concrete and steel, things that killed themselves throwing their bodies into the engines of jet planes while the tales of deep sea terrors like the Kraken had come to life as great tentacled beasts dragged shipping to the ocean floor.

And flying above the ever entrenching Front had come the Tidecallers, the only creatures that might have been thought to have some sort of human equivalence to intelligence. They were humanoids, shrouded in armoured plates of dark bone or bark who flew astride great feathered, fire breathing carrion mounts. Despite their best efforts, the military had never caught one of these creatures, nor had they ever attempted to communicate with humanity.

The war raged on, and after the shock of the initial assault waned, humanity had retaliated by bombing huge swathes of the tidlings, striking against the greater beasts with their heaviest weapons and searching for ever more ingenious ways to attack the creatures. Yet there had been no end to them and eventually the system became so strained by internecine warfare that it had recycled every last piece of civilisation in order to survive, turned every citizen to a soldier.

Aphelia had been a trainee pilot when the war started, and that had earned her a place in the auxiliary pilots corps, eventually bringing her into the primary force as crews dwindled. A few short years later she had arrived at Bastion which had now held for three years, its foundations apparent proof against attack from below, and time and again had survived the enemy where it had broken through the Front. Yet the Tide never relented, and the Front was a forever shrinking cordon.

“How long will they hold?” Ellie asked Crow.

Crow shrugged. “Days? Weeks?”

She wanted it to not be true, but she had been part of the fight long enough to know that it was hopeless. The Tide couldn’t be stopped, no matter how many you killed; they just kept coming. They were monsters, devils that had escaped the bowels of Hell itself.

“I prefer the term anti-bodies,” said Crow conversationally as he wiped the bar, then placed a glass and a bottle of rum beside it. “Drink?”

She nodded, silent as she tried to process all the material passing through her mind. “B-but what about this life?”

“This life?” Crow mused as he poured. “And what is this life you talk of? The life of a British urbanite? Did you really live in some small, dirty estate on the edge of the big city? A place riven with division against ephemeral enemies that you are either unaware of or cannot comprehend? A world where you can access information at the press of a button, yet still ignorance persists? It is a world of blurred lines and uncertainty, a world that surely must be some fevered dream compared to the war, where there is no need to sift through the endless flow of information buzzing between fuzzy lines: you fight the Tide, you fight for life. How could that not be real?”

Ellie stared at him, and Crow smiled. Was he right? The memories stood in stark contrast, and she was drawn more easily to those of fighting; they were so much simpler to comprehend, the people so bold and courageous in their struggle. They gave their heart and soul to arrest the onslaught. What was real was the war, the coming mission, the comrades struggling against the Tide.

And so Aphelia grabbed the glass of rum and threw it back.

Crow cleared his throat. “I haven’t been completely honest,” he said. “You see, this isn’t a case of one thing being real, the other not. It is foolishness to simply dismiss one as a dream, the other as real. What exists are mere tangents of your soul.”

“Tangent of my soul?” Aphelia frowned. “What does that even mean?”

Crow sighed and picked up the bottle of rum. “Let us assume that can accept that there are other realities?” Aphelia nodded. “Then why would it be so hard to think that your being, the essence of your soul if you will, exists in tandem with them?”

Aphelia shook her head. “That’s doesn’t make sense. If a person has a soul, then surely they have one only.”

“I never said you didn’t,” said Crow as he poured himself a drink, “But think of it like this. If you stand in a river, are you not both above and below the water.”

“Yes….. I suppose I see what you are saying, but why? Why would you show me this other world.”

“Well,” Crow replied, appearing slightly embarrassed. “There is a little matter of payment.”

“What?”

He leaned over the bar and poked a finger at her. “I want my shiny. You still owe me.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? I have no money here. We are at war.”

“Oh indeed you are. Remember that before you surrender to the inevitable.”

“I’ll never surrender!” Aphelia snapped.

Crow chuckled. “Spoken like a true warrior. Perhaps you’ll win the day after all.” Then he threw back the rum and disappeared. The glass hung suspended for but a second before tumbling to the floor and shattering, making Aphelia start awake. She looked around the dormitory, but it was empty. On the floor lay a shattered glass, and the sound had stirred Merrietta too.

“Wha – ?!” the engineer mumbled, rolling onto her side. Her one open eye focused on Aphelia.

“It’s okay,” Aphelia said to her with a sad smile. “Just an accident. Go back to sleep.”

*   *   *

The night had drawn down as the Moon had risen, full once more and there was not a cloud in sight. The temperature had fallen off and frosted the small windows of the dormitory where Aphelia, shaken by the strange dream, had briefly dozed off only to be awoken by the mission bell. The pale light glowed through the patina of ice and she saw that Merrietta had already upped and gone.

She dressed quickly and went in search of her friend in the hangars. It didn’t take long to find the ever smiling engineer doing pre-flight checks on the instrumentation, fuel and under wing mounts.

“You are awake!” smiled the giantess. Her breath made great plumes in the air. “You come back safe my little flower, dah?”

“Little flower?” Aphelia frowned.

Merrietta shook her head, smiling in bemusement. “Your nickname. It’s what I always call you.”

“Of course,” Aphelia smiled. She wondered why this had slipped her mind; her parents had named her after the first flowers of spring which were blooming on the day of her birth. “Where’s Theran?”

Merrietta shrugged. “He was standing out on the strip earlier, waiting for us. He’s eager always to be up in the air.”

Yes, thought Aphelia, he is. He enjoyed the freedom of the air, being above it all and getting a chance to rain fire down on the enemy. He still hoped, still believed that the Tide could be turned. Aphelia sighed. The fight was keeping the creatures at bay, but how long could they keep it up?

It wasn’t a thought to dwell on, especially now that she could hear the Cleric preaching to the work crews in the adjacent hangar: “….. and there will come a day when the enemy falters, a day when their numbers will thin, and if we have been too easy on ourselves in this purgatory, then what good shall it do us? We strive for our very survival! So rally your spirits! Those that do not fall will know that they have been blessed to carry on the light of the human spirit! Fight on, for who knows what tomorrow will bring!”

As the loading crew began to affix their payload, a familiar voice called out, “Ready for the off?”

Aphelia and Merrietta turned to see Theran strolling up. He was grinning with a maniac gleam in his eye.

“What’s so funny?” Aphelia asked.

“Oh, nothing much. Just that there isn’t a cloud in the sky.”

It was true, and all she could say to herself was “Great!” as she rolled her eyes. There was nothing they could do about it, Aphelia reflected. It was in the lap of whatever benevolent powers were watching over them to give them safe passage. There were soldiers on the ground relying on them, and they had their orders.

“Good to go!” shouted one of the loading crew. Theran gave him the thumbs up.

“Looks like we’re all ready,” he said. He checked his watch. “No point hanging around. Let’s get this over with, then we can get ourselves loaded up with something a little more explosive.”

With a grin, he hugged Merrietta and climbed up into the cock pit, and with one last embrace Aphelia bid the engineer farewell and followed Theran into her seat. Theran gunned the engine and the propeller became a blur. A moment later and it was chocks away.

The plane taxied to the strip and joined the other half dozen biplanes waiting for the off. Theran and Aphelia waved to the other crews as they waited for the signal, Aphelia’s leg twitching with nerves. This was always the worse part, waiting for take off out here on the strip. Once they were in the air they would be above the world and she could busy her mind with the navigation.

She didn’t have to wait long. A flare shot up and the biplanes set off, trundling down the grass runway, bumping along as they gained speed, then with a little wobble Aphelia’s stomach lurched and they were climbing up into the sky to join the Moon.

*    *   *

The drawback of a clear sky was also the only benefit: they could see you, but you could see them. At least that was the theory.

It started as an itching on the back of her neck as she hunched over her map and compass, out of the wind with a small torch focused on the details. They were on course – and there wasn’t a one in her squadron who would have doubted her intuition on that whether she had a map and compass or no – and after an hour and a half’s flight they would make deployment in maybe another half hour. But something was bothering her, and she started to scan the skies for a threat.

Nothing.

She leaned forward and shouted her fears to Theran. He nodded and radioed the others. No one could see anything, but the unease amongst the squadron was growing palpable. You could feel it, that sense that someone was watching you……

Another ten minutes went by.

Aphelia shivered and cursed. To take her mind off it she set about checking for a course correction which she knew she didn’t need to make.

And that was when the roar of flames churned the air in a blazing streak, lighting the night sky around them.

A giant avian shadow sped past and disappeared back into the night as the squadron peeled away from each other in emergency manoeuvres. One of their number was burning, the wood and canvas biplane ablaze. Aphelia craned her head and watched in horror as it spiralled out of control, heading for the earth. The crew had jumped but everything was burning, and they were nothing more than blazing candles hurtling toward the ground, parachutes brief wicks fluttering into petals of embers blown on the breeze.

And somewhere out there the great bird wheeled and made another pass.

Aphelia’s heart pounded, every second an agony of expectation as her eyes scried the darkness for their attacker, and when the night lit up again she flinched, her scream swallowed as Theran jammed the stick over and they rolled away. Her head wheeled and she saw a flash, and as they exited the roll her eyes were drawn to the plane that was descending on them, it’s crew jumping from the burning wreck. This time they were lucky enough to make it out before the flames engulfed the plane, but as the doomed aircraft slashed past on the left the fuel tank ignited.

Their own plane gave a little jolt, and she saw Theran slump forward. The nose dipped and they went into a dive that threw her back even as she reached forward to grab his shoulder. Her hand caught his collar and with all her strength she hauled him back from the controls. He was heavy, but with one hand holding his collar, she used the other to take the spare controls and level the biplane out.

Breathing hard, they were stable and Aphelia spared a quick glance around for pursuing danger.

She couldn’t see anything, but the tension wouldn’t relent and the ache of her muscles was beginning. She didn’t have long before she’d have to let Theran go, and she prayed that he was just unconscious. If he woke up in the next couple of minutes…..

But if he didn’t then she better get prepared. They were flying low now, and she needed to get her orientation. Her thoughts turned to the target. They had been quite close to the drop, and she might still manage it. She closed her eyes and breathed. They were close, very close. She had a release on the payload, and she could still make the drop.

If the worse came to the worse she might be able to ditch nearby and take refuge with them. She flew on, flinching as something lit the night, but it had dropped behind and she was moving away from the horror, skimming the wasteland towards the troops.

A flare went up, and she allowed herself a tight smile. With all her strength she guided the plane towards the entrenched soldiers. They were dug in and barricaded on a hill small hill, and as she skimmed the top of it she could see men waving.

The pain in her arm was almost numb now, but she was going to make the drop. Releasing the payload as she buzzed past, there was a moment of relief and triumph waxing in her heart.

She had done it.

The only question now was whether Theran would wake up? For all she knew he could be dead – pleasepleaseplease don’t be dead – but there was no way to tell without climbing forward, and the failing muscles in her arm told her that in a minute she lose her grip on him.

She banked around, intending to try and land as near the troops as possible. After all, there was a relief mission attempting to break through for them. If she could reach them, she might still make it back to Bastion.

At that moment the engine spluttered and Aphelia’s eyes went to the fuel gauge and saw that it had hit empty – whatever had hit Theran must have hit a fuel line or something.

She fancied that she could hear cruel laughter a moment before the engine died and she was suddenly gliding down through the night and into a no man’s land lit by a bulbous, glowing Moon.

End of Part 3


Find out just what happens as the tide comes in for the penultimate chapter!

Read Part 4: When The Tide Comes In now!

DJC

Short Story (Part 2): When The Tide Comes In

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Last week our intrepid party-goer Ellie met a rather curious bar-tender and found herself in a bit of a pickle as she hit the bathroom floor. The question is, where did she wake up?

(What do you mean you didn’t read last weeks installment? What are you waiting for, it’s right here: When The Tide Comes In Part 1)

And so the story continues……


2

Ellie remembered a bathroom floor.

Had she managed to throw up?

She was groggy, but the cold air blowing in from the car window was bringing her around from some nightmare about an old aeroplane. The car bucked and bounced through a pot hole. Jon must have found her and they were on their way home….

Next to her she heard voices speaking low.

“Jon?” she murmured, still half gone.

Damn, it felt cold. Didn’t he have the heating on?

Her eyes cracked opened in search of the window winder but instead found the cramped interior of a truck. The sound of its heavy engine surfaced through the haze of her thoughts as a sudden wave of cold morning air swirled in under the heavy canvas covering. The chill snapped her fully awake; she was wedged between two soldiers, and her head throbbed with a persistent ache. She reached up and probed the bandage gingerly.

“What the f – ?”

The truck bounced through a deep pot hole, nearly pitching her to floor but for the strong hand that held her steady. She looked into the face of the soldier next to her, weariness and resignation haunting his face. He nodded at her and went back to staring at the floor.

Ellie took a deep breath and closed her eyes against the vertigo rising up through the soles of her feet. There had been a bar…. the pill….. Was she still tripping? Dreaming perhaps? But it was all so real as she looked around at the soldiers, eyes glazed and staring at nothing, rifles held across laps or stood upright between their legs. No one seemed to have the energy to speak beyond a few mutters of gratitude for the pack of cigarettes being passed around like a form of communion, and she wasn’t about to refuse this small salvation from absurdity. The soldier next to her struck a match, lit up and offered her the flame.

She nodded her thanks and a moment later sat back with eyes closed against the weightlessness of her mind. She felt like a dandelion seed desperately clinging to its stalk while the wind howled and raged…..

*   *   *

It was the voice, not the name it called, that roused from the vague respite of slumber.

“Aphelia?”

Ellie stared into Jon’s face, but the schism in her mind was prepared this time. The man standing over her wasn’t the same Jon she knew: he wore a flying jacket similar to hers, his hand gripping the overhead rail as he looked on her with grave expression. Despite the knowing that it wasn’t him she couldn’t hold the name back, “Jon?”

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “It’s me, Theran.”

“S-sorry…. I…..”

“And who’s Jon?” Theran asked with a smile trying to cover his worry.

“No one, I…. I just got confused.”

“Not to worry. We’re nearly back.”

“Good,” Ellie replied, closing her eyes again. She took a deep breath to steady herself, and searched through her mind for the thread of reality that told her this was all a dream, but instead there was only a void, and she was floating between two memories: both were hazy, like dreams, and she didn’t know which one to go to any more. When she tried to retrace her steps, the place she wanted to go to receded further away until the memories she tried to coax from her brain just seemed like faint after images; she’d been at a party, with other people somewhere, and there had been a stranger in dark clothes. He had given her something and she had woken up here….

Or she had been in a plane crash and just dreamed about a party. That was the more probable explanation. As she wrestled with her thoughts the truck started to slow until it halted and soldiers began to stand, shuffling about and jumping out the rear.

“Like the fucking Matrix or something….” she muttered and opened her eyes to find Jon – no, Theran – staring at her with concern.

“What’s the Matrix?”

She frowned. “You know, I can’t remember. It’s a…. book, maybe?”

“The medic said you might have a mild concussion,” he said.

Ellie shook her head. “I don’t think that’s the problem….”

“You’ll be fine,” said Theran with a wide grin. “Which is good, because we’ll have to be back in action for tonight.

“Tonight?”

“Aye, can’t be flying without my navigator.”

“Navigator?”

“I swear, you must have bumped your head harder than I thought,” he chuckled and jumped down from the back of the truck. “Come on, it’s not much of a trek back.”

Ellie got up and followed Theran to the rear of the truck, hopping down onto a hard packed, gravel strewn road. As she stood in the morning light there didn’t seem too much out of the ordinary. The land here was a mossy heathland, purple heather and soft clouds scudding across the chill sky. The confusion she had felt was like a lurking discomfort, but every time she passed through it her mind became clearer: how could she have forgotten that she was Theran’s co-pilot and navigator? They had flown over a hundred night missions in their time together. Last night they had been on the return from bombing the hordes of creatures collectively known as the Tide when an engine failure had forced them down. They had been lucky to ditch on their side of the Front.

“Stand clear!” someone shouted, snapping her out her recollections as the truck ambled off in an arc, heading back the way it had come; it was heading back to retrieve more of the soldiery as they fell back. Ellie watched it dwindle away, passing an approaching truck laden with more retreating troopers, then she turned to follow Theran up the road –

– and gasped.

“What’s the matter?” asked Theran. “You look like you’ve never seen home before.”

They were a good mile off yet still the edifice’s tiered walls rose immense against the sky, bristling with artillery emplacements and gun platforms. The bulk of it was sunk into a rocky cliff face, and access was across a bridged chasm and through a heavily fortified gatehouse. This was the last redoubt of human courage, the hardened spirit of survival made from concrete and steel. It’s walls were thick enough to resist anything that the Tide had thrown at it, and it’s cannon barrages could pound any attack for mile upon mile, thinning their numbers with each step forward.

For a moment she stood amazed, as if she really hadn’t seen it before, but the fortresses name sprang instantly to mind, as if it had been there all along like a book forgotten on a shelf just waiting for her finger to run the length of its spine.

Bastion; last redoubt of a beleaguered humanity.

Aphelia was home.

*   *   *

Via the bridge and through the gatehouse, Aphelia and Theran made their way through the armoured bulk of the fortress for over two miles until they reached the enclosed airfields on the other side. Row upon row of assorted biplane stood waiting, engineers and crews working on those that had made it back and those that were to fly soon. These represented the last of their airborne capabilities, a hodgepodge of retrofitted civilian aircraft, trainers and purpose built scout bombers.

It was a scene so familiar that Aphelia wondered how she could have ever been confused about where she belonged. It was her workaday world, the reality she had lived for years as she and Theran bombed the advancing Tide over and over, sometimes flying three, four, even five sorties in any twenty four hour period until they bought themselves respite for a week, maybe two. Even so, the Front was a constantly shrinking series of trenches as humanity slowly retreated from the apparently unending numbers of the enemy.

The weight of that knowledge settled on her then, the nudging worry that the enemy was getting closer and closer, day by day. Yet somehow this place had become a mental fortress against the creep of an inevitable end. It’s walls were high and thick, impervious like its defenders.

So too did they had food, water and enough raw materials and manufacturing capability to last many more years. The notion that they could hold was reinforced upon them every day by the sermons of the Clerics who rallied spirits with their exhortations to not lose hope, to fight on, for the enemy must have its limits and it was humanity’s task to rain fire on the unholy creatures until those limits were found, until their numbers ran dry. It was a burden that Theran embraced with casual enthusiasm, dragging Aphelia in his wake day in and day out.

And right now he was gearing up to take them straight back out there, despite ditching in the field and with a navigator-cum-co-pilot who might have mild concussion. It had clearly caused some sort of strange bifurcation of her thoughts when she had bumped her head, but she was fine now, wasn’t she? As her comrades in the hangars hailed them with cheers she was certain the fugue in her mind had passed off.

“Aphelia! Aphelia!” roared a woman who looked like she could wrestle a bear. The ground veritably shook as the giant engineer Merrietta came running and scooped her up in her arms. “Dah! When I heard you had were down I feared the worse, but here you are with a head wrapped in bandages.”

“It’s nothing,” said Aphelia.

“Nothing? Pah!” snorted Merrietta and poked a finger at Theran. “I told this buffoon that the kite needed more work. Now he has lost us a plane and nearly lost us you.”

“Hey,” Theran held up his hands, “It wasn’t a complete waste. I managed to radio in the movement through the Gottane Valley.”

Merrietta nodded. “Dah, they are squeezing us tighter and tighter. I hear most of the troopers made it out.”

Theran smiled. “So, one plane for how many soldiers?”

“I’ll let you have this one then,” replied Merrietta and crossed her arms, returning her eyes to Aphelia. “More importantly, if you hadn’t made it back, then you were going to leave me that bottle of rum, dah?”

Aphelia grinned. “No chance of me not coming back while there’s still a drop of that left. I could use a glass right about now.”

“That,” Theran interjected, “Will have to wait until after we make a report to the captain.”

Aphelia groaned as Theran began to drag her away, and all she could do was give Merrietta an apologetic shrug before falling in line with Theran as the engineer waved and went back to her tasks with a rueful smile.

In the middle ground of the hangars stood the aerial command bunker, and together the pair descended through cordons of guards and officials, down corridors lined with bare bulbs hanging from cords. They were directed to a briefing room where Captain Nerrund sat amid a whirl of paperwork; he was the eye of a storm as his three secretaries organised, tidied and redeployed orders and communiques before they were lost to the constant threat of over-spill.

Theran knocked and the whirlwind paused. A moment later they stood before Nerrund who had suddenly become an isle of calm peering over his steepled fingers with faint gratitude.

“Good to have you back. You were instrumental to our successful withdrawal.”

“Thank you sir,” Theran saluted. Aphelia followed suit.

“And,” Nerrund continued, “I can see you’re ready for more.”

“Of course sir.”

“What about you?” Nerrund asked Aphelia. “You have a head wound?”

“Just a bump,” Aphelia replied. “I’m fine.”

Nerrund sighed. “I’ll have to take your word for it because tonight you’ll be flying resupply.”

“Fly by?”

Nerrud nodded and Aphelia groaned. “Fly by” meant skimming the ground and dropping supplies literally on top of the friendlies. While she had never missed a target, it was the most stressful kind of mission because you couldn’t make a mistake.

That, and the fact that there were Tidlings that could jump high enough to reach the plane. She’d seen it happen before: a crew in front were intercepted by dozens of creatures resembling giant, multicoloured frogs. They came arcing through the air like a jet of water, splashing over the plane and causing it to plummet. Theran and Aphelia has pulled up just in time to escape a similar fate.

“Who are they?” Theran asked.

“We have an outpost in the Chencorn Pass that was cut off. They’re still broadcasting, and the main flow of the Tide is heading past them on the east side. We’ll try and give them enough time for us to move the 7th Artillery Battery up from Pallasad and clear a path for them. So once you resupply you’ll be flying straight back out and pounding the Tide to stem the flow on the eastern side.”

“Very good sir. Who’ll be flying cover?”

“Sorry,” Nerrund shook his head. “You’ll be flying without escort.”

“That’s madness,” Theran retorted, then remembered himself, “Sir.”

“It’s unfortunate, but nothing I can do. We’re low on numbers and I need them covering the artillery.”

“But – ”

“Those big guns are sitting ducks, while you have the advantage of speed over the enemy.”

“No good if we fly straight into them. It’s a full moon out there, and they’ll see us coming if they’re looking.”

“Of course,” sighed Nerrund, trying not to bristle. “I don’t like it any better than you do, but we’re stretched and there’s a whole battalion of troops out there. I have to weight the risks – a half dozen resupply planes against the loss of an artillery battery and a battalion of men. I’m sorry, but I can only do what I can do. You’ll have to pray that it clouds over.”

“But sir – ”

“Dismissed!” snapped Nerrund in a voice that brooked no argument. Everyone stiffened. Theran’s jaw bunched and he looked like he was chewing a mouthful of bees as Nerrund added. “You’ve got six hours to rest, so I suggest that you make the most of it.”

“Yes sir.”

The pair saluted and made to leave.

“And Aphelia,” Nerund called after her, “Get that head of yours looked at.”

“Yes sir.” With a casual salute she pulled the door closed behind her and found that Theran had disappeared. She sighed, and went to find Merrietta.

It was time for that glass of rum.

End of Part 2


Check out the next episode as our heroine has an (un)expected visitor and takes to the air in Part 3: When The Tide Comes In

Hope you’re all keeping sage and sane out there.

Peace.

DJC