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The Cleon Memorial Library For discussion of Traveller fiction, both official and fan-written. Fan-written drafts are explicitly welcome.

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  #1  
Old January 29th, 2018, 05:29 AM
Tiikeri Tiikeri is offline
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Default Anna, Snake-Eyes Queen of Deuces & Jokers

Anna stirred in the darkness. She sat up in the mound of furs and cushions and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Bayyim lay next to her, fast asleep. The sweet Tarsus opiate which had permeated her being the night before still lingered in her flesh. She stepped gingerly to a candle on the little shelf with held Bayyim’s household dieties; the pebbled glass of its cup made the light flicker and dance. She took the cup in trembling hands. The warmth radiated through her and awakened the opiate’s soothing bliss. She closed her eyes and savored the feeling. The mild burning sensation of the warm glass in her hands added to the intensity. She held it for as long as she could, then placed the candle back on its shelf.

Anna picked her way over the floor until she found her dress. The silken dress was black, sheer and slit to the hip. Tiny sequins in the silk glittered in the candlelight. She slipped it over her head. Silver chains a thin as the edge of a coin served as the dress’ shoulder straps. Their tiny silver clasps were exquisitely worked, but they were so small Anna could barely feel them with her numbed fingers. Anna grimaced and was glad for the opiate dulling her exasperation as she struggled to fasten the tiny silver clasps behind her neck. The dress fell naturally to fit her lithe curves. Bayyim turned in his sleep. Anna froze. He muttered something and his hand searched the bed for her. His breathing became regular again. Anna quickly gathered up her cloak and shiny black heels. With a eye on Bayyim, she slowly knelt and dipped her fingers into the velvet sack that lay by the hookah. She withdrew a thick pinch of the apricot-scented opiate. The rich heavy scent would have made the uninitiated swoon, but Anna could only shudder with her need for it. She watched Bayyim for another moment, then slipped the pungent wad of shredded leaves behind her lip. She was expensive, she knew, but she was noble-born, and that made her a treasure that a man like Bayyim could never hope to afford. He might laud his good fortune, but it was the circumstances which had brought her to this degradation that deserved his gratitude. Anna draped her cloak over her arm, opened the chamber’s heavy door, and slipped out.
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Old January 29th, 2018, 05:29 AM
Tiikeri Tiikeri is offline
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Anna parted the linen curtains which separated private corridors from the den proper, where a clientele of spacer crews and rich merchants could indulge their pleasures free from the heavy hand and heavier excise taxes of merchant oligarchs. The merchants and politicians were one and the same on Mertractor; a cabal of vicious old women consumed with avarice, jostling and scrabbling for every quarter-credit with one hand while gripping a jeweled stiletto in the other. On the boulevards and in the bazaars, people had a name for one of those stilettos: the Downport Conurb Security Agency. The Aslan who traded in Downport just called them the Dirty Dewclaw.

Business was slow; the midday crowd had already come and gone. Still, a few stalwarts remained. Two moneylenders reclined on silken cushions bemoaning the high cost of bribery in muted tones while a pair of Bayyim’s hostesses kneaded the tension from their shoulders. Excited shouts and and the clatter of dice came from a flight-suited pilot and a motely bunch of spacers gathered around a game of Pilgrim’s Road. The pilot had thrown his lucky number on the dice, and advanced his piece ahead of his opponents on the lacquered bamboo board. With another throw like that, his piece would reach the afterlife first and he would win eternal paradise, along with the collection of Imperial notes and precious-metal coinage piled up on the table. Anna looked him over with quick glance of her kohl-rimmed eyes. His flightsuit bore the insignia of McClellan Factors, and its colorful embroidered patches told Anna he’d been to many worlds. Perhaps he would soon lift again, bound for many other worlds. Perhaps, just perhaps, he might be amenable to taking on a stewardess for a working passage. Anna watched him play; he had an easy grin and an infectious laugh to which his companions readily responded. He must have felt her eyes on him; he looked about and his gaze met hers. They shared a brief moment before a bulky shape interposed itself, reeking of Efate tobacco and musky sweat.

“Going somewhere, girl?”
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Old January 29th, 2018, 05:30 AM
Tiikeri Tiikeri is offline
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Anna’s blood ran cold. The craggy scarred face glaring down at Anna was that of Ashem, a former gladiator on the underground circuit where blood was cheaper than the sawdust used to sop it up. A Sacnoth huscarl’s off-hand dirk had robbed him of his competitive edge, and now he served Bayyim. One night over drinks and a hookah, a young hostess told Anna how Ashem had killed more Vargr in the arena than he had in the war, and, worse yet, how he killed them. Anna would never forget it, and she knew by the way Ashem looked at her that he hadn’t forgotten the thrill of it. She sucked on the wad of opiate and willed herself to keep from trembling.

Ashem took his time looked her over, then grinned at her fear. One of the hostesses taking care of the moneylenders regarded him and Anna warily, but Ashem fixed her with his wolf’s gaze and she quickly lowered her eyes. He returned his attention to Anna.

“You know you’ve got nowhere to go. Why don’t you stay? Talk to the customers. Get them to buy some drinks. Make them comfortable. It’s the least you could do after sucking up a brick of Tarsus leaf.”

Anna tried to stare back at Ashem, but her eyes refused to obey. There was an abyss within him that she couldn’t bear to contemplate, and his eyes held a glimpse of it.

“What I do is no business of yours, dog,” she hissed. She jerked her head up and fixed her eyes on a jagged red scar that ran across his brow. “And I talk to whomever I please.” She tried to step past him, but he shifted his body to block her path.

“So talk,” Ashem growled. His voice held a thick undercurrent of menace. “Go to that spacer pilot. Get him to spend some of that coin. Get him on that hookah you love so much. If he spends enough money, maybe Bayyim won’t drag you out by the hair for looking another man. Again.” Ashem’s lips twisted in a cruel sneer.

Anna raked her nails at Ashem’s face with every intent of tearing bloody furrows from the scar on his brow to his sneering lips, but in the blink of an eye he caught her wrist. Pain shot through Anna’s arm. She gasped and tried jerk away. “I’ll have you staked out!” she snarled. Ashem just sneered all the more, and forced her arm down with the irresistable strength of a python. He yanked her to him. The stench of him was overpowering. Anna fought down the urge to vomit.

“Now go talk.”
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Old January 29th, 2018, 05:30 AM
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Anna tried to twist away from Ashem’s vise-like grasp but she staggered backward when he unexpectedly released her. A cloaked figure emerged from the shadows behind Ashem, dagger gleaming in his fist. Anna blinked in surprise.

Ashem sensed the man behind him. His gladiator’s prowess was not what it once was, but his instincts were still as sharp as the dagger at his belt, a curved sinous blade with a polished bone handle crafted from the femur of an ihatei warrior who fell before Ashem. His eyes slid to the side and he brought his hand to the polished bone handle with a subtle shifting of his body. The cloaked figure’s dagger was already just inches from Ashem’s unprotected back, poised to thrust deep under his ribs.

“She’ll talk to whomever she pleases.”

Ashem smirked. His fingers slid around the handle of his blade. “Rodrigo… is she your woman now, or are you her dog?”

Anna watched the murderous tension rise between the two men. She glanced over her shoulder to the two hostesses, her eyes pleading. The younger of the two started to rise, but her wizened companion put a hand on her shoulder and forced her back down onto the pile of cushions. The older woman watched Anna with a cruel amusement.

Rodrigo leaned close to Ashem, the tip of his blade ready for the gutting stroke at the slightest provocation. The cowl of his cloak concealed his eyes, but his jaw was strong and clean shaven. “It is you who are a dog,” he said. “You killed enough of them in the arena. You still stink of it. Some stains don’t wash off.”

Ashem chuckled. He tightened his grip on his blade. “You impudent whelp. I should skin you now. I’ll make your woman watch. I’ll slit your gullet so she can scream as your tripes fall to the floor.”
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Old January 29th, 2018, 05:31 AM
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“Ashem.” Anna brought her hand to her heart in a vain attempt to keep her voice from quavering. “Of course I will see to the comfort of Bayyim’s guests.” She looked at Rodrigo, silently begging him to let it go. No one spoke. The only sound was the clinking of the senior hostess’ bracelets as she massaged the moneylender’s shoulders and wet her lips in anticipation of the spilling of blood.

Ashem’s sneer returned. “You heard her, whelp.” He looked at Anna. “You’ve always been a smart one. Now get behind the bar and open a bottle for our guests.”

Rodrigo lifted his chin and looked at Anna. She swallowed, then nodded. Time stood still until the whisper of steel on leather heralded the return of Rodrigo’s blade to its sheath. Step by step he backed away from Ashem and back into the shadows, his hand resting on his blade. Ashem dared not relax until he could no longer hear the almost imperceptible sound of Rodrigo’s soft-soled boots on the big game skins covering the marble tiles. Anna breathed a sigh of relief as Rodrigo returned to the shadowed alcove where he had been leaning when Ashem confronted her. Ashem shot a lupine glance at Rodrigo, then turned his glare on the clientele. The moneylenders hurriedly returned to their conversation and pilot and his companions pointedly filled their tankards and loudly shook the dice cup for another roll.

Ashem put his hand on Anna’s hip and shoved her toward the pilot’s table. “Go.”

Anna dropped her cloak and heels behind a pile of cushions, and made her way to the pilot’s table. She made a show of looking over the glasses with a touch of demure flirtation, but the spacers would have none of it; only the pilot met her eyes, but now he was more interested in his game than in doing anything that could get him stabbed by Ashem. Anna retreated behind the bar, but she had barely opened a bottle when Rodrigo seized her wrist. Anna looked up, her eyes questioning, her heart pounding. Rodrigo looked into her eyes for a long moment, then slowly shook his head. He led her out from behind the bar, staring down Ashem with his hand on his dagger. Ashem watched them go with another sneer, more contemptuous than the last. As Rodrigo and Anna disappeared into the shadowed passages that led up to the bazaar, the scarred gladiator locked eyes with the younger hostess and jerked his head at the bar. The moneylender she was attending grumbled, but contented himself with watching her shapely form as she hastened to obey. Ashem watched her as well, brooding and drumming his fingers on the scabbard of his blade.
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Old January 29th, 2018, 05:31 AM
Tiikeri Tiikeri is offline
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Rodrigo led Anna up through the forequarters of the den, which had once been the magnificent lobby of a grand hotel. Once outside, they huddled in the collonaded entryway to keep out of a warm rain borne by the ocean wind.

Anna rested against Rodrigo. She gulped breath after breath, and when her heart stopped pounding, she looked up at him, blinking against the orange light of the sunset. Rodrigo threw back his hood and returned her gaze. His face was young and unlined, but for a scar or two, mementos of his adolescence in the streets and alleys of Mertractor’s sprawling downport. His smooth jaw and high cheekbones bespoke a noble parentage where Anna knew there could be none; whenever she looked at Rodrigo, it occurred to her that an ancient lineage was not the only source from which nobility could spring. He held her in his arms and looked down at her with clear blue eyes possessed of a certain tenderness now that they beheld her in the light of day. He had never looked askance when their eyes had met; Anna’s eyes, mismatched green and blue, never repelled him.

“Oh Rodrigo,” Anna said, “He would have killed you!”

Rodrigo held Anna closer to him. “He would have tried.”

Anna caressed his cheek. “Don’t frighten me so! You know what he is capable of! Let Bayyim handle him, and let me handle Bayyim. Please.” She nestled her head against his shoulder.

Rodrigo stroked Anna’s hair for a few minutes and watched merchants and customers go about their business in the bustling bazaar despite the rain. Her hair covered her shoulders like a fine onyx black wave, and even in the rain he could smell the shanawood incense she loved. He asked her about it when they found themselves in each other’s arms during the wild celebrations after Admiral von Ericson smashed the Outworld fleet at Lanth. She told him that other women always tried to smell like candy, but she wanted to smell like home. Rodrigo took Anna by the shoulders and gently parted their embrace. He brushed the tears from her eyes.

“Anna. Do what you will, but Ashem will not heed Bayyim. Now I tell you this: if he lays a hand on you again, he’ll pay with his life.”

Anna clasped Rodrigo’s face in her hands. “No, Rodrigo! He’ll kill you!”

Rodrigo enfolded Anna’s hand in his, and placed it over his heart. He kissed Anna’s forehead.

“I’ll take that chance.”

Anna buried her face in his chest. When she met his gaze again her face was streaked with tears.

“No, Rodrigo! Not for me!”

She pulled away from him and ran from the shelter of the collonade. At the bottom of the stairs steps she turned, her face twisted in agony. “You don’t know me, Rodrigo! Not for me!”

Rodrigo dashed down the broad steps after her, but she fled from him, her bare feet pattering on the rain-slick concrete.
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Old January 29th, 2018, 05:32 AM
Tiikeri Tiikeri is offline
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The rain had become a downpour and then a drizzle again by the time Anna found her way to the back door of the Two Hammers pub. She ignored the hubub of conversation and the clinking of glasses coming from the pub’s taproom and crept upstairs to the loft. Anna threaded her way between the kegs and crates to a space where her meager belongings rested in a battered duffel by a woven mat. Anna collapsed onto the mat and forced herself to take calming breaths, slow and deep. The rain pattered on the peaked roof. Anna curled up with her head resting on the duffel, and in moments she was fast asleep.

Roiling flames billowed upward through the tangled wall of trees festooned with sickly green vines. Blackened trunks pierced the burning forest canopy, stark against the orange flames. Anna lay half submerged in the wet fetid mud. Fragments of branches and ferns, most still burning, pattered into the mud around her.

The jutting bow of a heavy grav carrier emerged from the oily smoke above the treeline. She could barely make it out through the water droplets and muddy smears covering her faceplate. Its guns were still hot; the humid air shimmered around the emitters. Two troop carriers followed it out of the smoke. The trio of carriers banked lazily over the mud-choked estuary.

Anna’s heart pounded. The gunships!

She heaved herself onto her side and grabbed her radioman where he rested slumped against his rucksack. The exertion left her gasping for breath. Anna scrabbled at the latch on the side of her helmet. It was clogged with sticky mud. She dug madly at the small plastic latch. Finally it gave. She tore open her faceplate and gulped down breath after breath of the stinking humid air. Bile rose in her throat. Anna spasmed and coughed. A gout of yellow bile spurted from her lips.

“Corporal! Call them! The gunships!” Anna shook his equipment harness. “They’re leaving! Call them!”

Anna dragged herself up on the radioman’s rucksack and grabbed his armored shoulder.

“Call them, curse you! We need medevac! Call them, that’s an order!”

Anna grabbed the front of the radioman’s equipment harness and yanked him over to face her.
The corporal’s faceplate was shattered ruin, and behind it lay a mess of dark crimson blood and shocking white bone fragments. Something stirred in the bloody remains; a millipede as long as Anna’s arm uncoiled itself and spilled out between the polycarbonate shards. Anna screamed and smashed her armored gaunlet down on the writhing mass of brownish chitin over and over. She flung the still-writhing insect away from her and staggered to her feet.

The three grav carriers were finishing their banking maneuver in a stately procession and beginning to accelerate out to sea. The two troop carriers had their doors slid back, and Anna could see the armored lift infantrymen keeping an eye on the ground below.

Anna stumbled through the mud after them, screaming and waving frantically. As the last troop carrier finished its bank a lift infantryman pounded the door gunner on the shoulder and pointed at the small figure struggling after them in the muddy estuary. The door gunner smacked the trooper’s arm down and angrily gestured for him to sit down.

Cold horror pierced Anna. She sprinted after the carriers, plunging through mud and algae-covered water, still waving frantically.

“Help me! I’m here! I’m here…” Anna gasped for breath until another coughing fit drove her to her knees. She retched until nothing but acid spilled from her lips. She spat the last of her vomitus out and sat kneeling in the mud. She watched the carriers head out to sea , accelerate and gain altitude. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I know you saw me! I know you saw me, you bastards!”

Over the roaring flames Anna could hear the buzzing of insects. She turned slowly to face the treeline, her knees squishing in the mud. The sound came in waves, rising and falling, from the jungle beyond the scorched treeline. It pulsed louder and louder, welling with malevolent power in that green hell.


Anna startled awake and clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle her scream . She lay on the mat, gulping breath after breath. She rolled over and held herself, pulling the duffel close. Anna clung to it, staring into the darkness of the loft.

“I know you saw me, you bastards. You saw me, and you left.”

Last edited by Tiikeri; February 1st, 2018 at 01:33 AM.. Reason: Minor formatting
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Old February 1st, 2018, 06:57 PM
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The previous post was the end of the piece. Critique at will.
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