Excerpt: ‘We, the Ravens of Bai Gao Lou’ by Russell Hemmell

 

I’d like to share another excerpt from Insignia: Asian Birds & Beasts. This one is a bird story from returning author, Russell Hemmell.

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WE, THE RAVENS OF BAI GAO LOU

 

I can’t avert my gaze from her, while she stands in front of the iron portal—her neck fierce and erect, her eyes shut not in fear but in refusal. Waiting to enter without reclining her head, knowing too well it’s going to be a one-way movement. But not a sound comes out from that mouth so many have desired to kiss. Pale lips with a suave smile, the queen looks at me, and her irises shine like a thousand moons in a winter night.

They push her forward, and she walks inside. Without a lament.

The Traitor’s Gate closes behind her.

She is lost! my winged siblings scream while circling in the sky. Nobody comes back from the Bai Gao Lou, the Mighty White Tower.

Nor will you, green-eyed queen from a far-away land.

#

I approach again, flitting around the rooftop, peering inside the minuscule windows. They’re made in ways that prevent a comfortable view of the court, those windows, and she needs to stand in an uncomfortable position to reach them. She can’t see me, either.

It’s a cold and nasty place, her secluded house in the Tower. The rags on the floor and tapestry on the walls that should keep it warm have all been taken away. There are organic pigment and insects mixed with blood in the old frescoes, to suggest unspoken horrors and weaken her resolve.

And today, they have put severed heads on the Traitor’s Gate, like pieces of Sunday roast on a spike. Them. Them, she can see.

I fly lower, to glimpse at the queen. Her eyes are transfixed; she looks outside, at a point in the horizon—at those short, happy days of her realm, of unbound extravaganza, unbridled lust, glimmering revelries.

Her heyday lasted just that, a day.

~~~

Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from Scotland, passionate about astrophysics and speculative fiction. Recent publications in Aurealis, The Grievous Angel, Third Flatiron, and others. Find her online at her blog earthianhivemind.net and on Twitter @SPBianchini and @RxHemmell.

~~~

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Excerpt: ‘The Star Ball’ by Amy Fontaine

 

The second story I’d like to share tonight from Insignia: Asian Birds & Beasts is by a new contributor, Amy Fontaine.

Amy’s story is a fun adventure about a Japanese boy who meets a mischievous kitsune (fox-shifter).

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‘The Star Ball’ by Amy Fontaine

Excerpt:

Koki’s mother had been tired when she came home from work earlier tonight. Tired, and distracted. After feeding Koki, she had slouched off to bed and forgotten to lock the inside lock on the back door. Koki noticed. Koki notices things.

Now Koki puts on his slippers, slips on a jacket over his pajamas, and tiptoes out of his room and down the stairs. He opens the back door of his apartment and sneaks off into the night.

The apartment is in a very modest neighborhood in the Northern Higashiyama area of Kyoto, but only a few blocks away is a beautiful park. A cobbled path lined with cherry trees and paper lanterns leads through lush ornamental plants to a red, arched bridge across a stream. The bridge leads to a tea house and a pagoda that stands beside it. During the day, Koki loves to come to this park with his mother, but he has never been here at night.

Koki starts crawling under bushes, turning over rock after rock and catching beetle after beetle. He squeals, a sound that seems more fitting of a five-year-old or a puppy than a ten-year-old. As he crawls under the last bush on the left before the red bridge, Koki’s eyes are suddenly met by a bright, piercing white-gold light. Koki yelps and scrambles backwards out of the bush, hearing a corresponding yelp of surprise and terror as he does so. When his vision clears, he sees a four-tailed golden fox standing before him, growling. Beetle legs hang from her mouth.

“What are you doing here, little runt?” hisses the fox, in a voice that isn’t quite real. “This is my territory, and these are my beetles! You have no right to hunt here, human!”

Koki bows to the fox. “I am sorry, honorable fox.”

The vixen bursts into peals of laughter that sound like tinkling bells.

“Honorable?” the fox scoffs. “You know nothing of kitsune, do you?”

In response, Koki begins to recite the natural history of the red fox. He sounds like an encyclopedia. The fox growls and shakes her head.

“You believe everything they tell you in science books, don’t you? Foolish boy. The things those books have told you to be false are the ones that are most important.”

~~~

Author Photo(2)

Amy Fontaine is a wildlife biologist who writes wild speculative fiction and poetry. Her first novel, Mist, is a young adult fantasy about shapeshifters, elemental magic, and being the change you wish to see in the world. She is currently writing an interactive novel inspired by Japanese kitsune folklore for Choice of Games. You can find her published work at https://amyfontaine.wordpress.com.

~~~

AVAILABLE FROM:

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 ~~~

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Excerpt: ‘Reborn’ by Nidhi Singh

Hi everyone! This weekend I’d like to share a few excerpts from stories in our latest anthology,  Insignia: Asian Birds & Beasts.

‘Reborn’ is Nidhi Singh’s third story with The Insignia Series, and is set in the jungles of India. It might change how you feel about snakes…..

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‘Reborn’ by Nidhi Singh

Excerpt:

A couple of pale flabby tents, damp with the rain, had been pitched in a clearing. A tall bearded man, attired in the dress of a Shikari, a hunter, stood still near the entrance to the campsite. He smoked nonchalantly, with one foot propped on a black boulder. A double-barreled gun of exceptional length, probably an old flintlock, leaned against his other leg.

He pressed some tobacco leaves in Kasyapa’s hand: a customary welcome of the Gond tribals. The Shikari, called Manjhi, was about fifty years of age, tall and sinewy, with a singularly mild face, and a long, scrawny neck, deeply seamed with many scars. His meager form was arrayed in a sort of hunting shirt of greenish brown, belted at the waist with sambar leather. Around his head was a small, tightly twisted turban of the same hue as the rest of his garments. At his belt he carried a long machete, a horn of powder, and a small wallet containing bullets, flint, and steel.

He and his ancestors before him enjoyed a fearsome reputation, of having shot dead man-eaters here, wrestled bison barehanded there, and cut down many an attacking leopards and beasts of prey with their formidable daggers.

“Welcome, to the land of Sher Khan,” he said, pumping Kasyapa’s hand in his giant, calloused grip. “I’ll be your guide.” He smiled, showing a strong row of broad white teeth.

The Shikari led Kasyapa to where some easy chairs and a camp table, covered with tea and toast and fruit, had been laid out. Kasyapa sank into one of the chairs, stretched out his legs, and closed his eyes with a sigh of intense satisfaction. Meanwhile, a flustered campsite host with a clipboard and fluttering papers shepherded the bellowing children into their tents.

“What are you keen on?” the Shikari asked after tea had been served in earthen bowls.

“The usual suspects,” Kasyapa replied. “How are the sightings?”

“Fair. Usually near the watering holes—plenty of cheetal and sambar here for the king of the jungle.”

“How do we go in?”

“By jeeps, obviously. Elephant rides are also available, but not for the kids without supervision. We’ll leave in batches—mornings and afternoons. You and I could ride an elephant, though. An elephant can strike out into the heart of the jungle. He makes his own road.”

“Okay, what else? We’re here for a week thereabouts.”

“There is a tribal arts center. The kids will like the wood and clay playthings. You could take home some trinkets for the missus? The camp guys have organized a boat ride down the Pench river too. You will see alligators—hundreds of them lounging on the white sands on its banks, and beautiful islands. And the camp guys usually throw in a campfire on the last day.”

Kasyapa nodded and looked away into the thickening mists as they began to settle on the treetops. “Don’t you ever go out on foot?” he suddenly asked. “What about these National Geography guys?”

The Shikari slapped his thighs. “I knew you were not the normal babu who looks for comfort or textbook adventures. You look fit enough to me. But the jungle—are you quite up to it?”

“What about the kids?”

“Don’t worry, there is a guide on each vehicle. The staff knows how to handle the rowdiest of them.”

“Just for the record, we’ll accompany them on the safaris and boat rides, and when they’re in the camp, we could strike out.”

“Sure. There is a cost, though. And there are dangers; slippery tracks could land you in bottomless ravines, there are bears, panthers, snakebites, and if you’re lucky, Sher Khan.”

“I am okay with that. Are you?”

The Shikari sniggered. “I fear no tiger now. They fall before me like the mango at which the boy throws his stick.”

~~~

Nidhi Singh’s Author Page

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AVAILABLE FROM:

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 ~~~

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Interested in writing for us?

A new submission call opens Sept 1st. Full details are on our Submissions Page.

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Excerpt: ‘The Drowning Pool’ by Vonnie Winslow Crist

‘The Drowning Pool’ is a lovely mix of science fiction and fantasy, with Indian cultural elements. It a flash piece, so the excerpt is just a small tease….

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‘The Drowning Pool’ by Vonnie Winslow Crist

Excerpt:

The swimming pool on the Chandra Estate in New Thoothukudi was shaped like a coffin. From local historical records, Darshan knew this had not been the case when the pool was first constructed on Mars in the twenty-third century. Then, it had been oval in shape, and the centerpiece of an elaborate garden. But that was prior to Lalita’s drowning.

The facility manager stood on a slope of well-manicured grass and contemplated the pool. Mango and arjuna trees, genetically modified to fit the terra-formed planet’s climate and trimmed to near-perfection, and jasmine, bred to bloom year-round, surrounded the pool’s patio. Wrought metal chairs circling form-stone tables with decorative umbrellas poking out from their centers were positioned around the pool awaiting the wedding reception guests. Bathed in the glow of solar lamps and the scant moonlight of Phobos, the scene beneath the environs-dome was postcard beautiful, except for Lalita’s ghost perched on the edge of the pool.

~~~

Vonnie Winslow Crist’s Author Page

Insignia: Asian Science Fiction Page

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Excerpt: ‘Love & Relativity’ by Stewart C. Baker

Stewart C. Baker is a new contributor to The Insignia Series, and his story, ‘Love & relativity’ is an interesting Indian sci-fi piece that’s sure to linger after reading.

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‘Love & Relativity’ by Stewart C. Baker

Excerpt:

Dearest Adhi,

The psychiatrist assigned by Headquarters suggested I start a diary to help me cope with your ship’s disappearance.  Instead, I’m going to write you a bibliography.

I won’t write every day, and maybe you’ll never read this anyway, but it helps to think that someday I’ll be able to show you what I’ve written here.  To think that somehow, someday, we will bring you home.

Can’t write any more today.

I miss you.  I love you.

Indira

#

Source: ‘Special Relativity, The Universe, and You’ (New Beginnings Press: London, 2028)

Date Read: December 3, 2036

Summary:  Time is not an absolute, but depends on your location in the ‘hypersurface of the present’—a map of all physical space.  The speed of visible light limits observations to events already past, so the past is all there is.

Notes: While reading, I discovered I was pregnant.  It’s strange to think that once she’s born, I’ll only ever be able to see what she was—even if it’s only a few nanoseconds difference.  I wonder, if someone is inside you, can you still connect at the speed of ‘now’?

Ravi from mission control keeps calling, but they are no closer to learning what became of your ship.

Be safe.  I love you.

Indira

~~~

Stewart C. Baker’s Author Page

Insignia: Asian Science Fiction Page

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Excerpt: ‘Kill/Switch’ by L. Chan

 

Stolen memories and black market tech feature in L. Chan’s intriguing story, ‘Kill/Switch’.

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‘Kill/Switch’ by L. Chan

Excerpt:

Harpold opened his eyes and stared at his dead face. Cheeks already chalk white; dry eyes forever staring at the ceiling. A memory interrogation rig was still pressed tight around the head of the corpse. He traced the twist of wires from the rig back to the humming computer between him and the body.

Wu Yen Xing, said the security tag pinned to the breast of Harpold’s smart looking suit. Harpold’s body was dead in a chair. Harpold’s soul however, was alive in another man’s body. The world spun; he bent over double and splattered the floor with hot vomit. His memories, another man’s body. Memory transfer gone wrong? Sour, dusty air filled his lungs and left his nostrils slowly. He ran inventory; a litany of memories spaced to see if the transfer had gone through.

He was Harpold David Chang.

  1. He was ten. He topped his class in mathematics.
  2. His first kiss. She was drunk. He was not.
  3. Graduated a year early, top two percent of his cohort.
  4. Third year in Tarshem Industries, first year in advanced memory tech research.
  5. A missing year, one of five stolen from him when he fled the industry.
  6. Up to his eyeballs in synthetic drugs, working black market memory tech.

As the present day drew nearer, he sampled his memories with increasing frequency. Years. Months. Weeks. Long term was intact. Short term was good up to about a week before. He examined his new security pass. Interrogator, First Class, it said. First Class meant dangerous work, deep diving into the memories of the recently dead, fishing for memories in a sea of decaying neurons. Except somehow Harpold was in Wu’s body and he had nothing to explain why someone wanted his memories bad enough to kill him. That, and two giant holes in his memory.

~~~

L. Chan’s Author Page

Insignia: Asian Science Fiction Page

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Excerpt: ‘The Galaxy’s Cube’ by Jeremy Szal

The third excerpt I’d like to share from our new anthology is by another first-time contributor, Jeremy Szal.

‘The Galazy’s Cube’ is a gritty tale of black market tech dealing set in New Bangkok.

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‘The Galaxy’s Cube’ by Jeremy Szal

Excerpt:

It started to rain as he made his way back home, warm spatters of water drumming on tin roofs and taut tarpaulins. Two moons were visible in the sky, pouring pale light on the road. The third was obscured by thick clouds. Back on Earth, where his grandparents were born, there had been only one moon in the sky. And the days were twenty-four hours long, not thirty-two. He’d been meaning to go there, see the wonders they spoke about. But even getting a permit to travel would require years of saving. And then there was buying the actual ticket. He’d spent all his money on his daughter when she came down with the blister plague, slowly eating away at her body. Every sale he made from selling equipment fought back the disease just a little more. But in the end, it hadn’t been enough. It had crawled into Serah’s brain and killed her.

Some days Jharkrat didn’t know what kept him going.

He arrived at his bottom floor apartment. Blood-red creepers curled around the sagging poles that were weary with the building’s weight. He fished for the rusty key and unlocked the ancient door. He could have gotten a keypad or printscan system, but that would draw attention. Showed he had something to hide. The place was going to get broken in again anyway. No need to encourage the thieving devils. He’d seen what people would do for money. Just last month a man a couple of blocks down from him had traded his newborn son for a dog so he could sell its litter. Jharkrat had to restrain himself from going over and smashing the man’s teeth out.

The flat was a wreck; the floor littered with computer equipment and crushed beer cans, plastic chairs wrapped in thick cables. A moldy fan spun lazily overhead, swirling muggy air around the room. Stock was packed in cardboard boxes threatening to fall apart, stacked to the ceiling. Jharkrat swept away a disassembled motherboard from his desk and brought out the cube. He simply had to know what this was. There was no way the Ministry had licensed it. Which just made it all the more exciting.

~~~

Jeremy Szal’s Author Page

Insignia: Asian Science Fiction Page

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Excerpt: ‘Connecting Through the Cosmos’ by Holly Schofield

 

Another great story in Insignia: Asian Science Fiction is by new contributor, Holly Schofield.

‘Connecting Through the Cosmos’ follows twins Andy and Stephen’s struggle to survive working for an alien race.

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‘Connecting Through the Cosmos’ by Holly Schofield

Excerpt:

Stephen grows aware he is slumped in his console chair and the Crow has withdrawn to its quarters. The screen is dark. He drags off his helmet, letting it fall to the floor beside the Crow’s discarded headset. He grabs the towel he keeps under the chair and mops the conductive gel and the sweat from his head. He pictures Andy doing the same.

The dizziness, nausea, and lingering pain take time to subside. He had just given a part of his life, his mind, and his soul in order to help the Crows’ colonization efforts. He scrubs his face, checks orbits, and realizes that PanEuro-TianGong8 has swung close by. He will head there tonight and spend most of his pay, attempting to forget the sensations he just experienced. He cannot imagine how Andy copes. His little brother lives ‘in the moment’, suffering transfer agony to an even greater degree than Stephen. And Andy’s isolation on Kepler-48b is total—he will have no human contact until the warm-up session with Stephen tomorrow.

After a while, Stephen eats a protein bar then forces himself to stand. When the Crow sleeps is Stephen’s time to do his research. The components of his own helmet utilize well-documented human neurology, but the Crow’s headset is taking him much longer to understand.

The countdown clock reads 17 years, 6 days, and 4 hours.

~~~

Holly Schofield’s Author Page

Insignia: Asian Science Fiction Page

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Excerpt: ‘Stars, Bright as Light’ by Joyce Chng

One of my favorite parts of publishing a new anthology is introducing the authors and their stories here on The Insignia Series blog.

The just-released Insignia: Asian Science Fiction anthology has 8 diverse tales of body-swapping, tech hacking and stealing, inter-dimensional relationships, and, a ghost story!

The first excerpt is from the first story in the anthology: Joyce Chng’s ‘Stars, Bright as Light’.

Joyce Chng has been with The Insignia Series from the beginning, and has contributed a wonderful ‘cyber-punkish’ (her word!) YA story set in futuristic Singapore.

 

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‘Stars, Bright as Light’ by Joyce Chng

Excerpt:

Ma was not at home when I returned from school. She worked part-time at the supermarket as a cashier.

She had left a plate of fried rice on the table. I had a few spoonfuls and some water before I went back to my room. Ma had cleaned up and thrown away the clutter. Thank you, Ma, I thought. She had done so much for me: for example, I needed her to shower me, as I wasn’t as mobile and agile as before. My disease was progressive. It was only about two years ago when the paralysis reached up to my hips and my legs weakened, forcing me to use a motorized wheelchair. I wanted so badly to be independent. Kids my age were hanging out and going to parties, but I couldn’t go out without a parent anymore.

I completed my homework. Writing was beginning to frustrate me. I couldn’t hold the pen for long as my fingers would shake and cramp up.  That was why I loved the simpath game. Ma hesitated at first when I wanted to install the connector ports but acquiesced after the sales representative showed us the benefits of this virtual reality combat game.

As a pilot of a war robot, you battle robots. You need no physical controls, only the power of your thoughts and will. As you progress in the game, you attain different Grades. The highest will be Grade Five. We have uploaded anti-hacking programs and firewalls to protect our players. An in-game death doesn’t mean real-life death. Players will also earn in-game credits that can be translated into real currencies. Rest assured, auntie, she will be fine.

~~~

Joyce Chng’s Author Page

Insignia: Asian Science Fiction Page (Insignia Vol.5.)

~~~

 

Excerpt: ‘White Lady’ by Tina Isaacs

The last story in Insignia: Asian Fantasy Stories is a very interesting tale about a Singaporean mortician.

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‘White Lady’ by Tina Isaacs

Excerpt:

“What made you choose this life? It’s so…” he raised his eyes to the ceiling as he fumbled for a word, which wouldn’t come across as condescending, “…macabre.” Despite efforts, he couldn’t hold back the shudders that racked his spine.

Timothy suspended a pen over his note pad. He glanced at the fine-boned lady as she silently went about her task. She had the weathered face of someone who’d experienced her share of grief, and her skin was as sallow as the body which lay under the white shroud before her—or so he imagined.

She slowly laid out an array of equipment and materials on the three-tiered trolley beside her. On the top tray of the trolley, he eyed a row of brown glass bottles, silver canisters and various steel tools that she’d lined with painstaking care.

“I supposed you could say the profession chose me, rather than the other way around.” Her almond-shaped eyes crinkled at the corners as she paused in her task and looked up at Timothy. “The womenfolk in my family have always been White Ladies, you see. My mother, my grandmother, and her mother before her.”

He smiled and nodded to encourage the undertaker’s narration, his pen rushing furiously in an attempt to get it all, verbatim, despite the digital recorder he’d placed on the gurney in front of her.

“Techniques on how to prepare bodies after death were passed down the generations… Of course, the way we’ve handled things has changed over the years, but the premise is the same,” she said, her smile soft. “You see, many believe the way we prepare the body for the afterlife stems from the manifestation of society’s desire for some kind of continuity after death. It’s like a show of respect to those passing into the next realm, on the belief that we’ll be shown the same respect when we die. And this is especially true for the Chinese.”

~~~

Tina Isaacs’ Author Page

Insignia: Asian Fantasy Stories Page (Insignia Vol.4.)

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 ~~~

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~~~

WRITE FOR US! We currently have 2 open submission calls