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August 7, 2017
6:43 AM

Eric awoke stiff and aching. He'd twisted his back somehow during the night, and couldn't turn his neck all the way to the left, but somehow he hadn't fallen off the branch. The sun shone through the treetops, flickering in his face. He craned his neck to look around and saw that the forest floor was still murky with fog. Eric popped his shoulders and climbed up to the topmost branch he could reach, looking over the fibrous, fungoid canopy. He held a hand over his eyes to shield them from the glare of the Tearil sun.

The planet’s terrain was flat and nondescript. There was a smudge on the horizon to his right, but that was nearly due-east, and couldn’t have been Etris Lunn – it was far too long and wide. Probably the Hizhda mountain-range, he thought. Even at the top of the tree he really couldn’t make out much - he couldn’t see anything that looked vaguely like Etris Lunn, and he didn’t see any buildings or roads. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was heading south and the Vhas Alezhe was due north of him. If the Hizhda range was to the east… It was good to know, but not good enough.

Eric carefully climbed down the tree. The forest floor felt chilly, and the landscape was swathed in a pale rosy glow from the rising sun, softened by the ever-present mists. Eric began to head north, towards the river.

Eric walked uneasily, looking over his shoulders at every small sound. He’d heard enough stories from the researchers who came here on a regular basis to know that the morning quiet was deceptive. The planet’s innocence was sometimes deadly. Eric paced himself by jogging fifty paces, then walking another fifty. Exhaustion could be his downfall, especially if he needed to run from danger.

Midway through the day, Eric was starving, but he hadn’t passed a single stalk of benebit. He settled down on the ground to rest his legs, nestling into a bed of a soft, blue, fern-like plant, and drifted into an exhausted sleep. Moments later, Eric felt something sharp and cold poking roughly into his back. He sat up with a jolt.

Standing in front of him was a Xzeejee. It didn’t look like any of the Xzeejees Eric had known in the BRI – its fur was completely white. One of its arms was missing, and in its place was a mass of stiff tendrils, all covered in a soft blue film. The prosthetic looked stiff, but still organic, as if the Xzeejee had managed to grow one of Tearis’ plants in its old arm-socket. With this appendage, it held a knife to Eric’s throat. The Xzeejee’s long face wrinkled into a snarl, revealing rows of sharp, interlocking teeth.

“You, Bee Are Eye!”

Eric glanced around in a panic. There were three others surrounding him, all pointing weapons at him. Two of them had bows already notched with arrows trained at his head, and the other had a long spear. The weapons were primitive – nothing like what Eric was used to seeing from the Xzeejees of Au’wm. By the looks of it, the one with the tendrils in place of its arm was the leader. It had been through some battles - one scar ran all the way down the right side of its head and over a sunken pit that was once its right eye.

“No no no,” Eric babbled, stuttering. “I’m not with them. Not anymore.”

The Xzeejee made a circular motion with its head and snout, and the stiff bunch of tendrils rotated in the Xzeejee’s shoulder-socket while the film around its prosthetic shimmered in place. The knife trailed from Eric’s neck down to his name-tag.

“You are Bee Are Eye, yes.” The Xzeejee said. It turned to its comrades and barked a command in a language Eric couldn’t recognize. The other Xzeejees all put their weapons to their sides. The two archers un-nocked their arrows, but still held their bows at the ready. The Xzeejee stooped down, holding Eric in place with the hilt of its knife against his sternum, and, doglike, began to sniff his face. This ritual, Eric recognized. Even Lilun still sniffed people when she first met them.

The Xzeejee’s one good, amber-colored eye darted around Eric’s face as if looking for clues. Eric got a good look at its adornments – a thick collar of colorful stones, a cape of feathers that partially covered its shoulders, a rod of wood hanging off its back, and a half dozen leather wristbands on its arm, each studded with scales, claws, and teeth. It wore jewelry, but nothing approximating clothes. Glancing down at its sunken breasts, Eric assumed that it was female.

Standing up, the Xzeejee seemed to search for words. It took a few moments before it finally managed to sputter, as if from a deep memory, “Wearall the adder Bee Are Eye?”

Eric shrugged in confusion. It was a bad move - the leader snarled again and made a motion with her knife at his throat.

“I’m not with them anymore!” he gasped.

She removed the knife from his neck again, took a few paces back, and nodded at him. “Lost,” she said.

“Yeah, lost,” he agreed. He didn’t dare try to stand up. “I’m trying to find Etris Lunn.”

The leader said something to the others, never letting Eric out of her sight. Eric realized he could understand a few of her words – parts of words, at least. The accent was different from what he was accustomed to hearing from Lilun. Eric thanked his lucky stars that his mother had the sense to teach him tidbits of each Xzeejee dialect she had documented.

The leader turned to Eric while the other three began to walk away. “You, vole… vole-oh, show we you Bee Are Eye.”

“No no,” he said, holding out his arms. Not a good move – the Xzeejee pressed her knife against Eric’s neck. Eric slowly lowered his arms. “I don’t want to go back to the BRI,” he said slowly, carefully. “I want to go to Etris Lunn.”

“Not save, so go we Bee Are Eye way. Longer but safer, yes.” She made a few motions with her hand and the end of her mass of tendrils, waving the knife around like a second hand.

Eric shook his head. “I can’t go back to the BRI.”

The leader made a face as if she had tasted something sour and cocked her head. The other Xzeejees gathered back around, waiting. The leader said something to them, and all of them began wiggling their hips and tails, their entire torsos and shoulders undulating as they began a discussion. Eric couldn’t tell if this was good or bad, but the knife was no longer digging into his throat, which was an improvement.

“It’s not safe for me at the BRI,” said Eric, interrupting the Xzeejees. “It’s safer here on Tearis – I just need to get to Etris Lunn!”

The leader growled something that Eric could only assume meant “shut up.” He crossed his arms, sighing as the Xzeejees finished their discussion. The leader turned to Eric, knelt down, steadying herself with the prosthetic, and said, “You not see, not safe to Etris Lunn.” She mouthed a few words, as if she was trying to remember something. “Real real not-safe.”

“I understand it isn’t safe here, but I’ll be killed if I go back to the BRI.”

“Why.” The leader made it a statement, not a question.

If the Xzeejees had offered to lead him back to the BRI, it meant they were at least ambivalent toward the organization. This meant that If Eric tried to explain that he was a wanted man, there was a possibility they would turn on him… but he had to have some kind of an explanation for why he was lost in the Tearil wastes. The more he stalled, the more annoyed the leader looked. She shifted her weight, lifted up the knife while she leaned with her good arm, and insisted, “Why.”

“Benson is… I upset Benson,” Eric said finally.

One of the other Xzeejees said something to the leader, and she turned her head – keeping her nose pointed high – as she barked a few stern words and then turned back toward Eric.

“Say why,” she insisted. “Why Benson upset to you?”

Eric searched for words, uncrossed his aching legs while he thought and stalled, and finally decided he’d landed on an answer that would be honest enough to keep the Xzeejees on his side.

“He was going to hurt a bunch of you.” He gestured towards the Xzeejees circled around him, remembering to keep his palms pointed up and fingers arched inward politely. “Benson was going to hurt Xzeejees and I stopped him. He got upset. Now he wants to kill me – so, I need to get to Etris Lunn to be safe.”

The leader grimaced while she pointed her muzzle downward, all the while following Eric’s face with her good eye. She stood silently for a moment, nodding.

That was when Eric noticed that one of the armbands around the leader’s good arm hand ten claws dangling from it. The claws were long, thin, red… ‘Teur claws.

On a hunch, Eric blurted out, “Benson’s working with the ‘Teur!”

The Xzeejee snapped to attention, golden eye ablaze. “Say again.”

“Benson is working with the ‘Teur, and they’re hurting Xzeejees.”

The Xzeejee grabbed Eric with her hand, pushed up off the ground with her prosthetic, and whirled Eric to his feet in a single motion. She ran across the white ground, dragging Eric along behind her.

“Where are we going?” Eric asked.

“Etris Lunn.”
Next Chapter: The Tchacata Machine - Chapter Nine
August 7, 2017
6:13 AM
Nellie, Aleisha and Maggie stalked through the white jungle, wielding sticks they’d pulled off of trees. There were surprisingly few dead plants just lying around on the ground the way one would expect to find them on earth. Once, Nellie found a stick half-submerged in the ground, with the sticky white surface slowly growing over it.
They were going after the bubble-wrapper Maggie had seen a short distance away. The plan was for Maggie to attack the creature by herself – she would just need the two of them to pry it off of her if it attacked.
As they walked along, Aleisha asked, “So, what was going on back there? How come your boyfriend blew up the factory?”
“He didn’t,” Maggie said, sighing. “It’s a long story.”
“We got time,” said Aleisha.
“A really long story.”
“That ain’t fair,” Aleisha said. “We’re here – we might as well know why.

Previous Chapter: The Tchacata Machine - Chapter Seven
August 7, 2017
Maggie’s eyes snapped open. She thrashed on the ground, trying to figure out where she was. She recognized the teal-blue sky, white-stemmed plants and purple flowers. The memories of the previous night came flooding back to her along with the throbbing pain from her wounds. She pulled back one pant leg and looked at the gash she’d received climbing over the barbed wire. That would have to be treated. The wound next to her ribs wasn’t much better – a little deeper, and the rocks might have gored her.
Both of her parents were dead, now. When her mother had died nine years ago, it had been hard, but her father had been there for her. He always had been. When he wasn’t there for her, Old Benson was, and they were both dead, now, blown up along with Benson’s death ship.
Maggie heard snoring. She looked to her left and saw the two girls sleeping in each other’s arms. God dammit, she thought, what did I do?  
Last nig

The Tchacata Machine is a free, online, sci-fi serial novel I wrote with RRedolfi, titled "The Tchacata Machine." I'm going to try to get all the chapters uploaded here, but do visit the website at for the occasional easter egg and other neat tidbits. It's also @tm-project on Tumblr. Special thanks to Nashoba-Hostina for website suggestions and for helping to get the word out!

The Tchacata Machine tells the story of an unlikely handful of friends caught in the crossfire between a corrupt business empire and a deadly alien civilization. It turns out that the path to other worlds is not through space, but under our very feet. The only goal is to stay alive, but there are fates worse than death. How much can a person go through before they are no longer the person they were when they started? Before they're not even human?

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