Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! Showdown at Polk’s Tavern! Chapter 6

I swore quietly. I was torn between sneaking back down and mingling into the crowd or staying where I was. A bustling crowd would make it easy to move around town in safety and unquestioned but a crowd of men could turn violent and if relations between the elves and men in this town were poor, it might not be wise. On the roof I had a good view and I was in relative safety but I couldn’t really hear what was being said. I dithered between choices as the crows pushed Durston into the centre of town. I knew that he was strong but I was not sure if he had the emotional strength to defend himself properly. The crowd was only getting noisier but there was no signs of violence yet aside from the guns pointed at Durston.

A man led a horse pulling a flat four wheeled cart through the crowd and in front of the drinking house. Shortly after four men were assisted on to the cart so they could stand above the crowd. One man was tall and balding and had a large grey moustache but no beard. He was dressed in black. Two younger men stood either side of him. Neither man wore armour or carried a sword but they stood with an aggressive watchfulness that marked them out as bodyguards for the tall man in black. The fourth man was shorter and of a similar age to the man in black. He wore a waistcoat on which was a silver metal star. All but the man in black wore broad brimmed hats.

The man with the star badge pulled something from his belt, pointed it upwards and then made it emit three loud bangs. BANG BANG BANG. I was so startled that I nearly lost my footing. This must have been a smaller kind of gun that could be more easily carried than a rifle.

The crowd became silent and turned towards the men on the cart. Durston was pushed forward until he stood near the cart.

“Somebody bring Pastor Birchall.” called out the man in black.
A few people darted off from the crowd, presumably to search for this pastor. The chatter of the crowd began to increase again until the man with the star stood at the edge of the crowd and called to quiet.
“Mayor Hardy has some words to say to you all. So you listen to the boss now all of you.” he said with the tone of a man borrowing somebody else authority.
“Thank you Sheriff,” said the man in black who I now knew was Mayor Hardy. “People of Bridge Town. You know me and you know what I’ve done for you all. When I came here eight years ago there was little more than the ramshackle huts of the natives and Polk’s Tavern here was half its size. I’ve given your work and I’ve paid you well.” The crowd murmured assent. I looked around and could see some of the light elves standing off to one side – listening but staying slightly separate from the crowd.
“Now what I expect from you all is hard work and respect for my authority. That is your duty towards me. In return I have a duty towards you. That duty is to keep this town prosperous and to protect you all from the threats all around us. We are surrounded, good people. We are surrounded by ungodly creatures. Elves, dwarfs, savage natives and demonic forces – they all wish us ill. My job is to stand between you and those threats – to keep a steady watch against the evil forces arraigned against us.” One of Mayor Hardy’s bodyguards touched his arm and whispered something to him.

“Good people!” called out Mayor Hardy “here is your pastor! Come on up Pastor Birchall! Come on…help him up somebody.”

Onto the cart clambered ungracefully a thin nervous man of an age I couldn’t determine. He was also dressed largely in black but wore no hat. Mayor Hardy put an arm around his shoulder and pulled him to the front of the cart.

“Not six months ago the pastor came to me – didn’t you Pastor Birchall?” the nervous man nodded but seemed to nervous to speak. “And do you know what he told me? He told me that a threat was on its way – a terrible threat of a kind we had never seen. The Pastor is a man of god and he saw… he saw this in a vision good people! He saw in a vision that some foul demonic power of the ungrateful dwarfs had summoned a new monster to attack our town.” The Mayor paused as the murmuring among the crowd had become louder as the news of this demonic threat sank in.
“BE QUIET!!!” roared the Sheriff and then nodded at the Mayor to continue.
“As I was saying.” The Mayor said more softly. “Pastor Birchall warned me of a supernatural threat to our town, our families, our way of life. A threat that would sneak up on our town while we were all unawares so that those lazy greedy dwarfs could steal our hard earned silver from us. Now do you all think I would let that stand?” The crowd murmured in response. “I said did you ALL think I would let that STAND?” Now the crowd replied with a more hearty “NO!”
“You are right. I did not stand by idly waiting for this ungodly threat to sneak up on us like a snake. You all remember what happened before, when we let our vigilance drop? You remember the names of the children that we lost? Well this time I would NOT let innocents die. I set my men to watch out for strangers and odd happenings and sure enough tonight they found the strangest stranger you could imagine. Look at this thing gentlemen! Have you ever seen such a perfidious creation? Look how the clumsy handed dwarfs have tried to shape something into the god given form of man and yet created this metal insult to everything that is right and true in the human form.’

I became even more worried for Durston as this speech went on as it seemed to be increasing the fear and hatred in the crowd. Yet I could see no way of intervening that could possibly help Durston. I would need some kind of substantial distraction and more luck than I could possibly hope for.

“Bring the creature forward!” called out the Mayor.
The men guarding Durston pushed him closer to the cart.

“Look upon this thing, good people! Do we not see all the trickery and perfidy of the dwarfish race exemplified in this aping of the human form? Know that it is only our god that can truly create life and that to attempt to do so is heresy of the worst order. Is that not true Pastor.” The mayor turned towards the obviously terrified priest, who nodded nervously as if he feared that it was he who was on trial.

“:Excuse me.” Durston’s voice was loud but he spoke in a quite gentle tone. The crowd went silent and all heads turned toward Durston. “:I am sorry to be a bother but I believe you may be labouring under a ~ misapprehension.”

“Well it seems the creature has a voice. No! Do not fear my friends. His words cannot harm the righteous!” The Mayor reassured the crowd, although to my eyes many in the crowd looked more like drunk ruffians than the righteous. “Speak then creature, before we decide on what to do with you.”

“:oh, well um thank you. Good evening, Mr Mayor sir, ladies and gentlemen of Bridge Town, Mr Sheriff and Pastor Birchall and the two nice gentlemen on the cart whose names I didn’t hear. ~ Firstly let me say I very much admire you hats. ~ I think your town is most charming and I hope you do not find it condescending if I say that it is ‘quaint’ ~ and an excellent example of nineteenth century frontier architecture. I’d like to thank you all for inviting me into your town ~ and coming out in such numbers to say, if I may, ‘howdy’. Please let me say a most gracious ‘howdy you all’ back.
Now onto the matters raised by your good mayor. As you can see I am actual made from a range of composite materials and my inner workings are quasi-photonic/electronic and fundamentally digital in nature. ~ I have little experience with the technology of the dwarfs but I assure you I am not of dwarfish manufacture. Rather I simply a being who got lost in what was apparently part of some major temporal clatacysm, sorry I mean to say: ’cataclysm’, that this region underwent at some point that was both recent and some hundred years ago depending on one’s perspective and relative position in the meta-timeline.”

The crowd and the men on the cart looked as flabbergasted as I suppose I did after listening to Durston’s semi-intelligible polite ramblings. However, after that initial pause some man in the crowd shouted out “KILL IT!” and the crowd broke into shouting – some in favour and some against.

The Sheriff stepped forward and once again shot three times into the air with his small gun. BANG BANG BANG. The crowd quieted themselves and the Mayor spoke again.

“I have heard that some Occidental queen had a mechanical man that can play chess. I have also heard of automatons on display in the big east coast cities. Are you saying that you are a mechanical man of that kind?” said the Mayor.

“:Well strictly speaking not the same ~ but I think the comparison is a reasonable one within the parameters of this conversation. What I really need though is to speak with a priest dedicated to Embran or perhaps a blacksmith?” Durston cocked his head slightly as he spoke as if this would make him see less threatening.

The Mayor roared with laughter in response. “You’ll not find a human priest of Embran for the past 500 years. The old ways and the old gods are long gone. See good people!” the Mayor now looked up from Durston and addressed the crowd. “See how even from his own mouth he admits to be a tool of the demonic powers that or pagan ancestors once worshipped as gods. Once the world of men was enthralled to the words of the elves and the dwarfs. We followed their gods and their religions. We tried to speak their languages and use their writing. BUT NO MORE. Good people this is the age of mankind and we do not bow to the threats and pleadings of any elf or any dwarf. It was god who gave us dominion over the whole land and is our duty to exercise our authority over it because when we do so we do the work of god himself.”  The Mayor looked back down at Durston. “Well it seems you are in luck. I want to see how you work, you want to meet a blacksmith and I bet the dwarfs are wetting their britches in desperation to see their saviour come to rescue them. Now there is no blacksmith in town – no need for one is there! We’ve got plenty dwarfish blacksmiths just over the canyon.” The mayor gestured down the road leading the opposite way to which Durston had entered. “Boys!” called out the Mayor “Take this well spoken barrel of heresy to the mines. Tell those lazy bearded bastards to pull it apart screw by screw and then bring the pieces back to me. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! The tavern is open go and enjoy yourselves. Bridge Town is safe!”

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! Showdown at Polk’s Tavern! Chapter 5

Our third day proceeded much as our second had done. I rode for awhile on Durston’s shoulders and we stopped so that I could eat some lunch near a stream. In the afternoon we began to see more signs of life. The grass was greener but shorter and we saw cattle in the distance – not bison but dairy cows grazing. To me that suggested that human settlements must be near but we saw nobody for much of the afternoon.

It was not until evening that we crested a small rise and saw about 3 kilometres away a human town. It did not look, even from that distance, as I expected. The stories I’d read of human towns were either those of nomadic peoples (tents, earthworks and stockades) or the settled warrior clans (stone castles and villages). This town was neither. As we walked closer I could see that it was made up of many large buildings built variously of wood, stone and brick. Most had angled roofs and many had painted facades. Although no one passed on the road we could see riders and carts moving on two other roads that led from the town.

Durston was humming a tune to himself quietly and seemed excited to be approaching this strange town.

“:Look Ms Green-bark!” he said as we came closer. “~North American, 19th century! See – the lighting! Oil lamps I’d guess. They might even have steam engines! ~ Decent optical devices! Precision engineering!”
“Will they be armed?” I asked “Their town does not look as if it is built for defence.”

Durston stopped in his tracks.

“:That is a matter I hadn’t considered. ~ Yes, they may very well be quite heavily armed I am afraid. ~ If their technology is consistent with the other indications of historical period then they will be well armed with guns. ~ A kind of projectile weapon Ms Green-bark, that fires a heavy slug of metal by means of small explosives. ~ Very dangerous and highly effective.” He attempted to describe the workings of a gun and their various types but perhaps realised that I could not truly follow what he was saying.

But amid the usual unintelligibility of his speech, I understood Durston’s warning. Things had changed drastically on the plains. Time had changed and the humans of the plains had changed with it. Even before the war it was the way of men to supplant one another in vast wars for territory and while men had neither the same skills or talents as dwarfs and elves they had a cunning inventiveness that now would have been multiplied by hundreds of years, and those years had simply not passed for my tribe in the woodlands.

We left the road and made use of the cover of rocks and bushes to make our way to a creek in a ditch that ran into a culvert under the road. We followed the creek back to the road so that we could be close to the town without being easily observed. From the ditch we could see the town more closely. Although the light was fading the town itself was brightly lit and we could see that there were watchmen with what Durston called ‘rifles’ standing on the roofs of some of the buildings. Being able to see the town told us little more than we knew already. I slid further down into the ditch and called Durston down to talk to me. I explained that if there where other elves in the town then I could probably move around safely. Elves would always come to the aid of another elf in the event of them being threatened by a human, dwarf or goblin. If the town was just men or men and dwarfs then it might be much less safe for me to show myself. Durston countered that in his world people would think of elves and dwarfs as imaginary and it might be that the people of this strange town might be more like the people from Durston’s world than mine. I thought about that but whichever way I looked at it, my path was clear. I told Durston to hide in the culvert – his appearance was far too strange to explain to anybody. I would sneak into town using all my skills as a scout. If the men with guns couldn’t see me then I had nothing to fear from their weapons. Reluctantly Durston agreed.

“:But if it is safe,” Durston speculated “what then?”
“Well we need to find a priest of Embran the Smith. I shall find what temples their maybe and inquiry if they have a priest of Embran.”
“:I see. In my world ~ a town like this might have only a single priest for a single generic god.”
“In that case we would speak to the town’s blacksmith who will probably be a devotee of Embran and failing that we could speak to the dwarfs on the other side of the bridge.”

The sun had set and full dark was approaching. I moved swiftly and silently and moved with an agility than I can no longer muster. I felt a guilty pleasure at leaving Durston behind. He had been a charming and capable companion but he did not move with elegance or with the whole attention of one’s spirit the way an elf scout must learn to move.

I reached the outskirts of the town and ducked under fences and slipped past half broken down stables until I reached the safe shadow of a building wall. I could hear the breathing of the guard on the roof above me despite the noise of the town. He smelt of sweat and leather and a burnt stench that I couldn’t place, like he had been trying to char mud. I knew that he couldn’t see me and I edged my way from the main street and around the back of the building.

In this way I slipped between shadows until I was deep into the town, having passed unobserved by a few armed men. I moved closer to the noise and the lights and then used a pipe, that must have been used to drain rain from the the roof, to climb up higher.

I reached the roof of the building. It had a steep pitch and was covered in slates but at its front, facing the street, it had a high facade that would have hidden the roof from view. There were no guards on this roof and the other buildings would obstruct the view of the building of any guards on the outskirts of the town. I crept to a small gap in the facade and found that I had a perfect vantage point at which to see the centre of the town.

I had guessed already from the voices and snatches of music that the town was a lively place. The people of the town seemed mainly to be men – by which I mean male humans. I could see some more brightly dressed humans that I guessed were women, as it was customary among the humans that I had read of, for the women to dress differently from the men. I could also see a few elves scattered about. The elves seemed less engaged in the life of the town but it heartened me to see them. As far as I could tell they were light elves from the Yellow Mountains – which put them along way from home. I also saw two dwarfs but both looked to be in a sorry state. Neither wore armour, and it is customary for dwarfs to wear armour at all times outside of their homes both as a mark of status and as an expression of their culture and tribal affiliations. Durston had also mentioned ‘cowboys’ but no chimeric half-bovine creatures could be seen in the street.

I could not hear any conversation properly but merely snatches or words or shouted expressions. Everyone was speaking a kind of mannish but it was a dialect I could grasps quickly using the skills that had been taught to me and the glamours of my sigil shield.

The centre of the town was a cross roads. The major axis of the town led in one direction to the road Durston and I had walked down and in the other direction too what I hoped would be the bridge over the canyon to the dwarf mines. The other axis led to roads out of town – one toward the yellow mountains and the other toward the sea – although both destinations were many days ride from the town.

I watched the people in the town for a few minutes and seeing that nobody was being actively harassed and that town was not hostile to elves, I decided that I would head back to Durston and report what I had seen.

I had just started to climb along the roof slates when I heard the sound of men cheering and horses. A pack of people were coming down the street from the direction of the road I had been walking on. Some younger men ran ahead and rushed into what looked like a drinking house. Shortly after people began spilling out of the same drinking house and onto the street. A crowd quickly formed as the pack of men arrived. There were four men holding rifles surrounded by several more and in the centre of this pack, with rifles trained on him, was Durston.

——— :: ———

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! Showdown at Polk’s Tavern! Chapter 4

Now I am embarrassed to speak of how we progressed the next day. After rising and breakfasting, I made my way down to the river to wash. Returning up the banks of the river I tripped and twisted my ankle. I was not greatly hurt but I had to limp back to the guard house. The prospect of a day’s walking, even on the smooth elf road that led from here to the Great Canyon, filled me with dismay. Durston, however, offered to carry me. Naturally I refused but he was insistent and so I agreed that he could do so just for an hour to give my ankle some time to recover.

Durston picked me up and I clambered so that I was sitting behind his head with my legs over his shoulders and my bottom resting on the saddle bags on his back. I felt like a small child being carried on the shoulders of her mother! Yet with this arrangement Durston could stride quickly along the road and I soon realised that we would make a much faster pace with this arrangement than if I had been walking even before I had hurt my ankle.

We paused for lunch and I conceded thereafter that I would continue to ride on his shoulders.

The day passed without even as we passed along the road. The grass either side was yellow and dry and when the wind blew dust would rise from the ground forcing me to wrap my scarf over my face. Dust and wind made no difference to Durston though and he marched forward without stopping. As the afternoon drew on I even drifted off to sleep on occasion, waking with a start when I realised the circumstance in which I was dozing.

The second night of our journey was spent under the stars. Durston kept watch again as he did not sleep as such. He explained that parts of his mechanical mind did go into a dream like state when he rested – this was necessary for the functioning of his mind – but other parts him remained alert. As it was, the night passed uneventfully.

I walked for part of the next day but eventually consented to be carried by Durston. It was quicker and I could see further ahead sitting on his shoulders. We rested at midday as the day had become quite warm. We sat under a solitary tree not far from the road. Durston was pleased to find a broken saddle, had buried in dust.
“:Well I’m no expert,” he said examining the saddle “but I think this looks Mongolian.”
He described a people from his history that lived on plains such as these and I agreed that they did sound similar to the human tribes that could sometimes be encountered here. He asked me more about them but I found that I did not sufficient details to answer his questions. He did not seem put out but he then spent several minutes examining the trunk of the tree as if it knew the answer to his questions.

We stopped for a second time in the late afternoon near a thin stream. I refilled my water pouches there and checked the muddy banks for signs. I could see that a pack of wolves had visited this spot recently and so advised Durston that we should continue on for a while longer. The water was refreshing but I preferred to sleep well away from where a wolf pack drinks.

As we walked into the evening I saw a lone rider on a low ridge some distance away. My eyes are keen but I could make out no details other than it was a man on a horse. Durston also looked when I directed his attention to the distant rider.
“:Odd.” he said “I think we should keep moving. ~ There are things I can’t make sense of here.”

After another hour of walking, we found a suitable camping spot even as darkness fell. I was tired but Durston had more questions for me.
“:Green-bark, in your woodlands I saw a squirrel. Do you remember?” Durston asked. I told him that I did remember and assured him that such animals are common in the woodlands of my tribe.
“:Now, my access to much information is improving ~ and I believe the squirrel I saw was small and red and in all ways resembled the Northern European Red Squirrel.” Well I wasn’t sure what to say about that as it was exactly the kind of strange, half garbled thing Durston would sometimes say.
“:Yet!” he continued with more emphasis as if he was orating at an Elder’s meeting. “:Yet, on that tree we passed was fur from what I believe to be a North American bison or ‘buffalo’ as it is more commonly called on that continent.” I agreed that these plains were supposed to be home to bison, although I had never seen one.
“:Now the rider we saw this afternoon looked remarkably like a member of the Lakota people of the North American plains. ~BUT, the saddle we found at lunch was Asiatic in origin. Do you see what I am saying?”
I shook my head because what he was saying was mostly gibberish.
“:Well you mentioned that time was running strangely since your war. ~ Now time is not truly distinct physically from space. ~Consequently it is not simply the passage of time that is affected on these plains but geography as well. Your home looked Northern European. ~ These plains have characteristics of both the steppes of central Asia and the prairies of North America. You see? ~ Everything is in flux!” he ended his little speech with a tone of triumph.

I really wasn’t sure how to respond, so I nodded as if I understood. The world is as it is and time flows across it as it does. I think I understand now that Durston was trying to make sense of the same flux at the heart of our world that we have had to contend with ever since the war ended. That struggle against a shifting reality has been the pattern of my life since, for good and for ill. What seemed at the times as a flooded mountain river, rushing out of its bed and carrying everything with it in a mad chaotic swirl, would become more like an ocean full of broad currents and hidden shallows. I did not understand then that these days with a strange mechanical man were simply my tentative foray into wild waters.

——— :: ———

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! Showdown at Polk’s Tavern! Chapter 3

Durston and I left at dawn the next day. I rode a pony and we had a second pony with supplies. Durston would not ride and explained he would have no problems walking quickly enough to keep pace with the ponies.

The trail down from our woodlands ran along the side of an escarpment. Once there had been a broad path that zig-zagged down but during the war my people had demolished part of it so as to make an assault on our woodlands harder. The going was treacherous for parts of the path as the ponies had to navigate across patches of rubble and scree. Luckily Durston had proved to be a good judge of what patches or rock were steady enough for the ponies and which were more treacherous. Naturally I did not attempt to ride the pony on the way down this path.

About two-thirds of the way down I became conscious that we were being watched by an animal. The ponies had not yet noticed but I felt sure that a mountain lion was watching us from the rocks above us. I spoke to Durston and when I pointed to where I thought the lion might be he gave a little delighted laugh as if I had shown him a clever trick.

“:I can see it a little, Green-bark!” he said pointing upwards. I marvelled at his eyesight but he pointed out that seeing is one thing and noticing is altogether another. He then held up his arm and a small blister appeared on top of his wrist.

“:Watch!” he said with a quiet emphasis.

I stared at the rock at which he was pointing. I could just perceive a tiny red dot which then grew slightly in size until I could see it clearly without squinting.

“:Targeting laser!” Durston said conspiratorially.
“Is it a weapon?” I asked. Durston shook his head and explained that it was used to help people aim their weapons and that he could “shift the spectrum into the infra-red” – words I recall because he said them with such pride in his capabilities despite the utter meaningless of his statement.

He shifted his arm ever so slightly and the dot (which must have been close to the size of plate given the distance) danced to one side. He twitched his arm again and the dot danced again. With a pounce the mountain lion appeared from behind the rock seemingly intent on catching Durston’s laser dot. I could not help but laugh as Durston flicked the dot around the hillside and the mountain lion sprung after it. Durston laughed also – a kind of deep chortle which caused his metal body to shake slightly and metres away the laser dot shook in time to his laughter.

Eventually Durston turned off his laser and the confused mountain lion skulked away exhausted from its fruitless chase. To be honest I felt both a little sorry and a little ashamed that we had toyed with the animal in this way but I was glad that I no longer felt its presence behind us as we continued down the face of the escarpment.

We were nearly at the end of the cliff face that joined more gentle slopes near the base of the escarpment when the second pony lost its footing. It made strangled panicked noises as it tried to find purchase on the rock. Durston and I both tried to grab its reins but it threw its head around too violently for us to catch them. Inevitably more rock gave way under its hooves and a section of the path began to crumble under our feet. Durston thrust one hand into a crack in the rock face and then grabbed me with the other as with a roar the rock below slipped downwards. Both ponies now fell among the rubble that was streaming down the last few metres of the cliff. Around us a must of powdered rock rose in a cloud causing me to cough and splutter.

Durston help onto me tightly as the noise, dust and rock settled about us. I opened my eyes and looked down. Both ponies lay still amongst the rubble. Bloody smears were on the rocks around them.

With some difficulty Durston climbed down the remaining distance still holding onto me securely. When we reached the ponies they were both quite dead.

We recovered our supplies and Durston fashioned the saddle bags so that he could wear them. He assured me that he was more than able to carry their weight. I said a short prayer over the bodies of the ponies and blessed the passage of their spirits. In a more sombre mood we walked on.

At the base of slopes below the escarpment was a river that ran parallel to the line of the cliffs. A narrow elf-built bridge spanned the river and beyond that bridge lay the almost featureless grassland plains.We crossed the bridge and on the other side we entered the old guard tower. Our journey so far had taken much of the day. There were still some hours of daylight left but there was little shelter on the plains and I felt it prudent to spend the night at the guard tower.

I made a fire and a small meal. Durston explained that he didn’t need to eat but that he liked to taste small amounts of food ‘for reference’. He declared my cooking ‘nutritious and notable’ in his usual cheery tone. My spirits improved – I had been upset by the death of the ponies and I felt that I had led them into more danger than they deserved. Not only had the path been treacherous but we had been stalked by that mountain lion. Nor had I properly considered the danger from other wild animals. I am an an adequate hunter and I was skilled with a spear and my sigil shield but I do not like to kill an animal simply because I have wandered into its territory. Only a bully would intentionally provoke a fight so that they can kill and claim that they were defending themselves.

Thinking more on this I realised that I had not truly thanked Durston for saving me from the collapse of the path. So I did so and he laughed gently.

“:It is easy for me to be brave when I am in no danger ~ Ms Green-bark.” he flexed his fingers “:I have the grip of an industrial widget factory ~ and the strength of small tractor.”
“Are you a warrior? I only ask because you appear to me like you are in armour”
“:I don’t think so ~ I have this targeting laser though.”
“It didn’t seem to be a terrible weapon Durston. You confused the lion but I doubt a seasoned warrior would be alarmed by a red dot.”
Durston wobbled his head slightly which gave the appearance of a nod.
“:On the right setting I could probably burn a small hole in some dry wood ~ but the laser’s military purpose is to help other machines.” he explained “:My memories are patchy but I believe the idea is that you shine the dot on a target ~ and then another machine flying in the air throws ~ um I suppose a kind of exploding spear? If I say ‘missile’ I think you will think I mean a rock. ~ Anyway, that is the idea.”
“If the lion had attacked us could you have fought it?”
“:oh I think so ~ I’m strong enough and as you say I am effectively in armour. ~ I wouldn’t know how to fight it though. Oh, and I am not allowed to fight bears.”
“Bears? Why not? Are they sacred to your people.”
“:I really don’t know but I have some core programming that would prevent me from fighting a bear.”
“You have a schedule that forbids fighting a bear? I don’t understand.”
“:um more like rules. The people who made me make lots of robots. ~Robots are strong and fast and clever and people would be scared of us if they could not trust us to behave. So they built in three rules that are fundamental to how we act. ~They are at the centre of how I think and how I act.”
“Can you tell me these rules?” I was intrigued by this moral code that was embedded within everything that Durston could do or think.
“:um. It may have got a bit scrambled in translation.”
“Oh do try! It may help us get you home.”
“:OK. These are the three laws of robotics:
A bear has a right to its arms
Stay seated until the seatbelt sign is turned off
Keep in a dry place away from children
~ I think that’s them. I don’t know what number 2 means and number 1 is why I shouldn’t fight a bear.”
“I see” I said. The underlying ethical code that Durston had to live by was esoteric and yet resonant with a spirituality that I could never truly understand.

As night fell we talked beside the fire. I told him more about my life, the war, the death of my mother. Durston was a sympathetic listener I found, as he was inherently patient with people. I explained to him about our destination as I felt that I could place a great deal of trust in this strange being.

“:Dwarfs?” he asked when I mentioned the dwarf settlement in the cliff face on the other side of the Great Canyon. I described to him how the dwarfs were a proud people of our world and famous for their skills in mining, and metal work.
“:Well that is interesting. ~ and you say you are an elf?” I was surprised that he had missed this salient fact but on reflection nobody had mentioned this to him earlier. I explained how our world had many peoples; elves, humans, dwarfs, the antelope amazons, goblins, the spider cats and merpeople.
“:Why this is quite delightful!” He seemed genuinely pleased without I had told him and he quizzed me more about the war and our history until I had to politely decline any more questions due to tiredness.
“:forgive me Ms Green-bark ~ I did not mean to fatigue you further. Can you just explain one more thing to me? ~ You mentioned what you called ‘the Breaking of the Epitome’ and that this affected the passage of time?”
I nodded “Yes. Before the war time flowed in a steady current across the whole world but when the Epitome was defeated time itself was broken. Now it flows differently according to the geography of the place. Where great magic was used it may flow in eddies and whirlpools. I am afraid it is something that Elders could explain better to you than I.”
Durston did that sort of nodding thing he did “:Of course, of course and I am keeping you awake. I am sure I will learn more when we reach this human town.  ~ Good night Ms Green-bark. You can sleep safely as my proximity detectors will gives us ample warning of any intruders.”
“What if the intruder is a bear?” I asked jokingly.
“:Then I shall reason carefully with it.” He answered with a smile in his voice.

——— ::———

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! Showdown at Polk’s Tavern! Chapter 2

The Ledrg Glade was a place of great beauty then as I hope it still is now. It had escaped from the worst ravages of the Darkness war and its trees were both magnificent in size and gentle in demeanour. Foolish young elf that I was, I would probably not have paused to notice its familiar beauty if Durston had not stopped and let out an involuntary gasp as if the Glade was the greatest wonder he had ever seen.

And it was this gasp that may have saved us all from much trouble and distress. My walk towards the Glade with this strange figure had naturally been seen by the lookouts and the guards. We now lived in a more peaceful time but memories of a terrible war had not faded among the adults and the Glade had many former soldiers who had stood back to back and fought off goblin and demonkind and horrors uncounted when I was barely a baby.

I was, as I may have mentioned before, still a foolish youngster and had already forgotten my own fear and alarm when meeting Durston for the first time. His easy manner and whimsical speech had not only disarmed me but had led me to not consider how the people of the Glade would react when this soulless marching statue of metal would arrive unannounced into the Glade.

As Durston paused to gasp, I came to my sense and quickly saw that obscured in tactical positions were many of the most skilled of the elven guard. Elm-sap stood on the inside ledge of the great bough arch his hand working the sigil for a fireball. I too gasped now but in alarm rather than wonder and I waved my arms above my head.
“He means us no harm dear friends!” I called out “He is a gentle being that is lost in the woodlands!”
“:oh dear ~ please, I must apologise for any alarm I have caused ~ this young person has merely tried to help me!” said Durston who had now noticed the many elves around us.

Elm-sap did not dismiss the half formed sigil and instead dropped down from the bough arch with a leap that looked gentle despite the great distance.

“What kind of thing is this? Is it a trick? Where does the voice come from?” Elm-sap eyed Durston with a wary look as if his eyes could penetrate the outer shell of metal.
“Please do not harm him! I found him in the clearing where the blossom falls. He is some kind of thinking machine and he is lost!” I was scared for both Durston and myself for I now thought that I had been very stupid indeed to simply march him back to the Glade without any thought of the consequences.

Petiole-stipule was the youngest of the Elder Council of our glade but nonetheless was old and highly respected. I saw her now approaching across the floor of the Glade, motioning subtly to the lookouts to lower their weapons.

“What is this that you have found, Green-bark? It walks and talks – but what is inside it?” Petiole spoke as she walked towards us. Elm-sap took a pace away from Durston and me but kept the sigil half burning in his left hand.

“Elder Petitole. Please forgive me. In my haste to seek advice I did not consider what alarm I may cause!” I said stumbling over my words, desperate to make amends for my error.

“Green-bark, I did not ask for an apology, I asked you what it is that you have found. Now speak with care: what it is that you have brought here?” Elder Petiole spoke slowly, as if to a confused child and my ears burnt red with shame because she spoke entirely appropriately in the circumstances.

“Elder, this being is called ‘Durston’. He claims to be a mechanical person. He appeared in the grove not far from the broad path by the Brightness Stream. I do not think he means any harm.” I replied, steadying my voice as I spoke.

Elder Petiole turned to Durston and looked him up and down. “He might mean us no harm but that does not mean that the powers that brought him to our woodlands wish us well. There is mischief afoot here.” She looked at Durston, pondering for a moment and then addressed him directly. “Sir, I must ask you to wait here and under guard. I apologise for the discourtesy we are showing you but we have learnt the need for fear over many cycles. I must speak with Green-bark in private for awhile and then consult with my fellow elders. In the meantime is there anything we may do to make you more comfortable?”

“:Oh, please ~ don’t go to any trouble ~ I’m sure I must look terribly strange to you all ~ I’m happy to just wait here for the time being ~ I can catch-up on my reading ~ but if you have, perhaps, a small piece of cake? ~ It is a hobby of mine to catalog the deserts and pastries of the places I visit”

Elder Petiole instructed a guard to fetch some pastry and then motioned me to walk with her to the Elder Hall.

The Elder Hall always seemed lit by sunlight filtered through the foliage of trees. I do not know how this effect was accomplished, as it looked this way even at nighttime. The Elder Hall had a natural quiet to it and was a place of meditation and repose but I felt both tense and alarmed as I walked by the side of Petiole-stipule. We reached the chairs at the end of the hall and she motioned me to sit beside her.

She questioned me slowly about what I had seen in the clearing. In the sand on the floor I sketched what I could recall about the rune I had seen formed by the blossom.

Elder Petiole consider all that I had said and then closed her eyes. I knew she was communing with the spirits of the other elders. Once she opened her eyes again, she spoke to me carefully.
“Green-bark, you are of an age and have the required skills to venture from our woodlands and down to the grassland plain where men have their kingdoms.”

I nodded politely in response.

“The rune you saw might mean many things – a line drawn askew could change the meaning significantly – but I think it was the rune of Embran the Smith. Embran is a god held sacred by the dwarfs but also by many men. That it was his rune you saw before seems apt given that the metal man must have been forged by a smith of some talent. I cannot answer, though, why such a god would send this being to us. Still it must be that this mechanical man should be returned to his makers and that must be either the dwarfs or the men. Now tell me, what do you know of the Great Canyon?”

“Elder, it lies three days ride on the plains below the woodlands. There is a bridge across it and on one side there is a human town and amid the cliffs on the other side is a settlement of dwarfs.” I replied perhaps a little too hastily.

“Very good. The dwarfs mine metal from the cliffs or at least they did. It has been a long time since any of us have made are way down onto the plains and perhaps much has changed. The men of the town trade with the dwarfs, swapping food and cloth for metal and craftsmanship. A journey to the settlements on either side of the bridge should provide many answers. Make ready to depart.”

“I shall at once, Elder.”

I stood and started to walk towards the entrance to the hall.

“Green-bark,” Elder Petiole called after me, “the world changes about us and time flows differently here than on the plains. You may find things much changed from what is written. Be careful and do not place too much trust in the this metal being.”

“I shall be careful.” I answered.

——— :: ———

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! Showdown at Polk’s Tavern! Chapter 1

Chapter 1

I am old now and our worlds have changed. Beside me, my beautiful wife is sleeping and her goblin features are softened by dreams. We love each other as sisters and we love each other as lovers and I cannot imagine how my people could have ever have thought that such love was a unforgivable.

But my story is from before the time that I knew her. Back when I had just passed from childhood and when I first truly ventured into the worlds that were coming into being.

After my mother had died I was raised as if I was the common child of all the people of our Glade. The bloody and horrific War of Darkness had ended twelve cycles before when a mighty alliance of men, dwarfs and elves had defeated the Epitome on the broken hills of Nargrotjh. Since that time our Glade had lived largely in peace, paying no attention to the doings of men or dwarfs.

More as an oversight than by design I was allowed to wander much further in the woodlands than my peers but I was cautious enough to carry with me my spear and a shield of graven sigils. So I was alone and far from any other elf when I came across the clearing.

The ground of the clearing was covered in red-blossoms that had fallen from the surrounding trees and aside from a faint rustle of wind in the branches it was silent. I touched the signs on my sigil shield for I was unnerved by the quiet. A clearing such as this should have been full of bird song and yet I could not hear any kind of animal.

After first looking around me, I stepped softly into the clearing but as I did so the a violent wind swept around me. The blossom was pulled up from the ground and into a gyre that seemed to burn without heat. I raised the shield to my face as I was buffeted by the whirlwind whose roar assaulted my ears and whose pull threatened to lift me from my feet. The howl of the wind rose to a peak and then stopped as suddenly as it had started. As if the silence was a brutal force that knocked me over, I fell to my knees. Before me, floating in the air, the blossom had formed the shape of a rune. I was not skilled in the writing of dwarfs at this time, and the sigil shield was no use for such writing but I was sharp enough of mind, despite the recent violence of the wind, to commit the shape as best I could to my memory.

With a sigh as gentle as a cat’s breath the rune broke apart and the blossom dropped softly back to the floor of the clearing. Yet now the clearing was no longer empty.

Standing in the centre of the clearing is what I took to be a suit of armour, such as the knights of men had worn back in the time of the War of Darkness. I knew it to be empty – I am a sylvan elf and can sense the soul of a being as easily as a man can smell bacon – and yet my hunter’s instincts made me feel wary as if this figure of metal was a forest creature watching my approach and preparing to run if I moved to suddenly.

The metal figure made a ‘click’ sound and to my astonishment the head piece moved as I walked forward. I step to one side and sure enough the head piece moved as if it was actively watching me.

“Greetings!” I called out, feeling foolish and glad that nobody else from the Glade could see me attempt to talk to a misplace statue.


I took a step back and stared at the figure. “Hello to you too also” I replied with a nervous tremor.

“:shield lift please” the voice was clearly coming from the head pice of the thing.

I lifted my shield both as a means of protection and because I was doubly shaken that this thing had spoken in elvish despite clearly being a thing quite alien to my kind.
The figure hummed like a lazy bee for a short while and then spoke again.
“:thank you ~ that was a significant addition to the relevant data”

“I greet you oh creature of metal” I said, attempting my most formal tone “and I welcome you to the forest of the Ledrg Glade of the sylvan elves. I am called Green-bark, may I ask you what is your name and what business brings you to our woodlands?”

“:oh ~ um ~ I am not entirely sure ~ I seem to have had a catastrophic failure of my temporal narrative storage ~ I do apologies for any inconvenience and I hope my normal service can be restored shortly ~ (I really do hope so because I’m finding it  all bloody confusing)” the head piece moved back and forth a couple of times and then, like an over tired toddle, the metal figure sat down on the ground with a thump.

“:frankly ~ I am not sure what kind of day I’m having ~ the system clock is no bloody use whatsoever ~ you are lucky that the linguistic extrapolater is working as well as this”

I was not sure what to say. The words from the figure made no sense and I had to wonder whether it was really speaking at all. Perhaps it contained a talking bird or a sprite or perhaps a tiny hobgoblin? Yet I could sense no soul within the armour. I resolved to speak more carefully and interrogate the voice so as to ascertain what manner of being this was

“Can you tell me your name?”
“Do you know your name?”
“:hmmm ~ still thinking ~ my base identification is ~ is ~ MERSEYSJ5185WA8”
“That is a very strange name. How may I address you?”
“:~ searching ~ you can call me Durston”
“Greetings Durston. Welcome to the woodland of the Ledrg Glade. How may we aid you?”
“:hmmm ~ you know, I really have no idea ~ how can I help you?”

Durston, it seemed, was switching between nonsense and repeating my question back at me. I decided to be less polite and asking more direct questions.

“Dear Durston, what manner of thing are you? I do not think I have met your kind before.”
“:I’m a robot ~ a machine ~ a machine with a thinking machine ~ I’m a thinking machine that can move.”
“I do not know this word ‘robot’”
“:It is from a play ~ by a Pole ~ I think it meant ‘slave’ or ‘servant’”
“You are a servant? We do not have servants in the Glade.”
“:hmmm ~ I don’t think I’m a servant as such ~ I think ~ I think I have been misplaced”
“:moved ~ moved against my will ~ I think ~ from someplace else ~ I think I am an out of place thing ~ does that make sense to you?”

My mind reeled. A machine? Men and dwarfs made machines, complex tools of many moving parts. Sylvan elves eschewed such artifices and even high elves avoided building tools that were overly complex and relied on craft, glamour and sigils to create their objects of power.

“Dear Durston, would you come with me to meet the elders of my Glade?”
“:~ oh sure ~ sounds fun ~ lead the way Ms Green-bark”

I took the broad but winding forest path that followed the stream we called Brightness. The waters of Brightness were fed from a glacial tarn that sat high on the mountain above the place of the Glade. For most of the Glade the stream was both a hallowed thing and a thing of delight because of the clarity and purity of its waters but I had my own reasons for regarding it with sadness and I rarely passed this way. However, I thought that the broad path might be better suited to Durston’s large mechanical feet. He looked all around him as he walked and I feared that he would trip on a tree root while distracted.
“:I do like your forest Ms Green-bark ~ it has a very wholesome look to it”
“Thank you sir” I replied not sure of what to make of this strange creatures pleasantries.
“:look!” he cried out “~ a squirrel!”
“Yes indeed good sir. There are many such animals in the woods.”
“:hello squirrel!” Durston laughed and wave at the squirrel which naturally took fright and scampered away.

I thought it best to call him sir. I had recently learned that men are not solely men and I thought that this strange creature might be a mannish thing. Despite what is often assumed among elves who have not encountered the other peoples of our land, men (or as they are more properly called ‘humans’) have two sexes just as elves and creatures of the forest do. It had been my hope at that time, that the Glade elders would appoint me as a scout and messenger – and in such a role I would possibly encounter both men and dwarfs. So, in anticipation of being appointed to such a role, I had been studiously learning about the other two great peoples of the land. In doing so I had learned that men (humans) are either men or women and that in human society it is best to address each kind in the proper way. If the same is true of dwarfs I do not know and I was much older when I discovered that the same is true of goblins.

Whether Durston was a man or a woman or a dwarfish thing or some kind of demon or sprite, I knew not but he did not object to ‘sir’ and so I thought of him as ‘he’ and still do.

As we came closer to the Glade, Durston spoke less but still looked around himself like a child on its first outing from the Glade. He made a please cooing noise as we passed under the large tree-bough arch that marked the entrance by the broad path into the Glade proper.

——— :: ———

Unfeasible tales of etc etc: Interlude

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!
Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!

Timothy had observed using his keen observational skills and the use of the Felapton Towers Observatory that Camestros had been busy packing for a trip. As a cat with an exceptional conservative nature he found the notion of change unsettling and while Camestros’s absence would mean he could install a small anti-aircraft battery on the roof without objection, Timothy would have stiff preferred that the normal household routine was uninterrupted.

“Where are you going?” Timothy asked with a whine.

“I’m off on a mission to the outer reaches of the psychosphere!” Announced Camestros boldly. “I shall be away for several days and when I return I shall tell you all about it.”

“But who will read me a story while you are gone?” said Timothy pulling the saddest face that he could given the limited capacity for facial expression that a cat has.

“Don’t you worry. I have left the story book with Mr Atomic and it is a nice long one that can be read in installments.”

“It had better have cowboys in it this time.”

“It will.”

Unfeasible Tales of SJFS: Turning Coats

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!
Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!

[“More robots”]

Turning coats

I am powered by anti-matter confessor engines that tap into the power of a semi-naked singularity. I bristle with armaments: 7000 sub-light stealth torpedoes, 5000 tachyon petards, 4 arrays of superconducting rail-gun that can spit out a trans-lumic cloud of smart flechettes, omnidirectional plasma canons, six space-time distortion emplacements and even my coms-laser can be reconfigured into a last-ditch suicide weapon. I can calculate at speeds undreamed of by flesh. I am sleek, fast, powerful – an unremitting (and yet beautiful and witty) machine of death bent on a last heroic mission…

[General Comm][Bill, Captain L5] “LP-Five are you paying attention?”

…um sorry…what?
Continue reading “Unfeasible Tales of SJFS: Turning Coats”

Unfeasible Tales of SJFS: The Snowflake and the Hound – A Christmas Story

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!
Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!

[‘Is the little cat asleep, sir?’ asked Mr Atomic ‘because I’d like a story if I may. I’ve been fighting otters armed with acid-filled water pistols all afternoon.”
Camestros nodded and asked what kind of story he would like. “Oh a Christmas Story. August 25 is Robot Christmas”]

Every once in awhile on a Christmas Eve a blessed miracle occurs and all the animals in the world are granted the power of human speech. However very few people are aware that every so often, when the moon is full and conditions are just right, crystalline structures are also briefly granted the same powers of speech and thought.

And so it was, on a cold and northern hemispheric evening on the twenty-fourth of December that Rufus the cantankerous labrador was staring up at the sky and as each tiny snow flake drifted down on icy air currents he greeted each one by loudly shouting “BUGGER OFF!”

“BUGGER OFF! BUGGER OFF! BUGGER OFF! BUGGER OFF!” shouted the labrador as it began running around the garden more frenetically.

“Hello little dog!” a tiny snowflake, still floating high above Rufus’s garden called down to the dog.
Rufus paused and sat on his haunches and stared up at the snowflake.
“bugger off” he said.
Continue reading “Unfeasible Tales of SJFS: The Snowflake and the Hound – A Christmas Story”

Unfeasible tales SJFS: Vampires, jetpacks, feminists

Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!
Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science!

The World of Pillars.
A tract of space – geometrically flat but which bristled with vast rocky cylinders. Fog below hid any true ground and thick cloud above hid any sight of stars. Day was a brightening of the sky that lasted for six hours. At night darkness was nearly complete.

Clinging to ledges, crevices and cracks were human habitations. Farms and desperate patches of woodland. Below those were the tunnels of the gecko-men – the lizard like creatures who could move with agility over the vertical surfaces of the great pillars.

Above the gecko-men tunnels and the human habitations were the cathedrals. The cathedrals hung out from the pillars on vaulted arches and pierced upwards with spires and stained glass windows. At night the windows glowed red like a wine glass before a candle and in the short hours of daylight the cathedrals stood like crypts.

On the human farms the women worked. What men there were, stood by with vacant eyes caught in confused nightmares. The humans lived but did not prosper.

Continue reading “Unfeasible tales SJFS: Vampires, jetpacks, feminists”