Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Bjarki’s Saga

Another Chuck Wendig challenge: tell a story in ten chapters, and no more than 1000 words. This one comes to about 720. I think the brevity of the saga style lends itself rather well to the format.

Bjarki’s Saga


Bjarki was a Jarl amongst the Northmen, a proud and generous giver of gold and silver; many renowned warriors were in his hird, and the greatest skalds wrote poems of his prowess in battle and of the deeds of his ancestors.

One summer, Bjarki wished to go raiding amongst the peoples across the sea, who were known to possess rich treasures. And so he went to his cousin Gunnlaug and entrusted him the care of his lands during his absence. And Bjarki and Gunnlaug broke bread, and swore oaths to seal their loyalty and friendship, and Bjarki was content.

Then Bjarki took his longboats and his huscarls across the sea. But scarcely had the sails disappeared beneath the horizon before Gunnlaug, treacherous and greedy in spirit, broke his oaths and seized his kinsman’s manor and all his lands.

Bjarki went amongst the people across the sea, and he raided and plundered all summer, and when his longship was filled with treasure, he went home. Suspecting nothing of his cousin’s treachery and longing for the comforts of home, he went to his manor. But there had Gunnlaug laid ambushes; the kinslayer’s sin was in his thoughts. Many of Bjarki’s warriors died that day, and his longboats were burned to ashes, and the Jarl himself, ignominiously, was forced to flee.

Enraged, Bjarki went to the King to plead his case and demand justice. But the King was weak and indecisive, and he held his crown at the pleasure of the Jarls, amongst whom Gunnlaug was now the strongest. And so Bjarki’s claim was denied and he was unjustly exiled from the realm.

Three winters and three summers then did Bjarki wander in the Northlands. And he did many great feats of arms and valour in that time; but always the thoughts of the injustice that had been done to him festered in his mind. And he made no friends in that time, although that would have served an exile well; a wrong having once been done against him, he had come to expect nothing better from any man.

At last came Bjarki to the lands of Frostinnheim, where the giants dwelled. And the witch-king of the giants held feasts for him, and spoke to him of dark secrets and made many promises that took root in his soul; and so, thirsting for vengeance and restitution, Bjarki renounced his honour, and he swore oaths and entered pacts with demon princes and devil lords and all manner of creatures that wish evil upon mankind.

Then Bjarki returned from exile, terrible to behold, with an army of trolls and mares and wraiths and many things that walk and fly and slither in the dark; and the royal host took the field against him, but no huscarl or liðsman in the realm could match arms against his foul forces. Struck down was then Gunnlaug the Oathbreaker, and struck down was the King who had denied him justice, and none was there on the blood-soaked field who dared oppose him.

Now Bjarki was crowned King. But evil had poisoned his soul and body; where once he had ruled as a wise and generous Jarl, he now reigned as a cruel and greedy King. And before long, the realm grew restless, and the people named him Ill-Ruler and Svárta-Jarl and rose up in rebellion against his foul laws. And though Bjarki went forth with great strength and cruelty against those who took arms against him, every part of the realm was filled with dissent; each Jarl did as he pleased and paid no heed to the wishes of the crown.

At last King Bjarki Ill-Ruler died, having seen only two score and seven summers in his life. But soon after his death, the Emperor of the South brought an army of many knights and archers to the Northlands, and ravaged as it was by many years of strife and torn by dissent, the realm could not withstand him. Thus was the kingdom of the North brought down and added to the lands of the Empire, and this was the end of the freedom of the Northmen. Let this then be the lesson of the life of Bjarki Jarl: That the King rules well that rules wisely and justly, keeping the peace in the realm and securing justice for his people; but treason, dishonour and injustice will bring even the strongest realm to fall.

(Image: Detail from “Håkon den Gode og bøndene ved blotet på Mære” by Peter Nicolai Arbo, public domain.)


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For this week’s flash fiction challenge by Chuck Wendig (I have decided that ‘Wenflafillenge’ is a silly word. You can have it), the theme was ‘over the top pulp insanity’. At 1150 words, this one is a little longer than it should be, but who’s counting? Not exactly my usual style, but it was good fun to write.

The Freedom Fighters and the Flying Battleship

The skyscraper shook with an explosion, causing showers of glass, steel and concrete fragments to rain down everywhere. Aided by short bursts from the jetpacks in their battlesuits, the three Freedom Fighters – Starburst, Black Ronin, and Mr. Comet – leapt from their flying car through the new hole in the outer wall, straight into the secret laboratory of the evil Dr. Ahrenfeldt. Inside, glowing tubes and wires criss-crossed the room, carrying fluids and energy between the contraptions that filled the room, one more hellish-looking than the next. On a platform in the middle of the room, surrounded by computer monitors and instruments, stood the Doctor himself, along with his personal guard of genetically-modified alligator-men.

“Surrender, Dr. Ahrenfeldt!” Starburst called out, raising her battlesuit-armoured fist at the evil scientist. “Your insidious schemes have come to an end!”

The Doctor spun around, an evil sneer on his face. “You’re too late, Freedom Fighters! I will have this city at my mercy in just a few minutes! Guards, attack them!”

Standing on a levitating platform, the Doctor quickly disappeared through a hatch in the ceiling while the alligator-men covered his retreat, slowly advancing on the Freedom Fighters, snarling and baring their knife-like teeth. However, even though the alligator-men were strong opponents, they were no match for the Freedom Fighters, and a short battle later, they had cleared the room of all enemies.

“Great!” Black Ronin said. “Now let’s get after that…”

Suddenly, another strong tremor ran through the tower, and a dark shadow fell over both the tower they were in and the neighbouring buildings, as if something of immense size was blocking the sun. The Freedom Fighters ran to the hole in the wall and looked out. The five top floors had detached themselves from Dr. Ahrenfeldt’s tower, revealing themselves as a heavily armoured flying battleship, bristling with laser cannons! Within moments, the cannons started opening fire on the city below, causing one skyscraper after another to crumble into rubble.

“What do we do?!” Black Ronin asked. “He could lay waste to half the city before the Air Force would even get here!”

“Then we’ll have to stop him ourselves! Come on!” Starburst thumped her jetpack on again, and the three Freedom Fighters jumped back to their flying car and flew up towards the battleship at top speed.

“There!” Mr. Comet shouted and pointed at an opening in the hull of the flying behemoth. “That looks like a shuttle bay!” Dodging and weaving to evade the laser beams that burst through the air all around them, Black Ronin expertly piloted the car through the small bay opening and brought it down hard on the deck, careening straight into a squad of alligator-men who had been guarding the bay, before coming to a rest against the bulkhead.

“Great landing, eh?” Black Ronin said proudly, admiring the chaos their forced entry had caused.

“Better than usual,” Mr. Comet noted dryly.

“Come on!” Starburst said. “We have to find the command bridge… and quickly!”

Fighting their way through the ranks of alligator-men that filled the corridors of the battleship, the Freedom Fighters soon made it to the bridge and entered, having found the door curiously unguarded. Inside, Dr. Ahrenfeldt was standing in front of a large panorama window from where he could enjoy the destruction being wreaked by his flying dreadnought, looking like an arena owner who was waiting to welcome new gladiators into his ring.

“There you are! I was wondering what was taking you so long – no, no,” he interrupted gleefully as Starburst was about to say something, “this is not the end yet. I have one final surprise for you – an old friend I want you to meet.”

He hit a big red button on his console. A hidden door in the bulkhead slid open, and an unnaturally large and muscular man stepped out. At almost nine feet in height, he towered above the heads of any of the Freedom Fighters, and his bulging muscles spoke of a superhuman strength even beyond that of a battlesuit.

“Golem!” Mr. Comet exclaimed. “The Freedom Fighter you captured last year! What have you done to him?!”

“Just a few modifications,” Dr. Ahrenfeldt gloated. “A little brainwashing, hormonal treatments for greater strength and aggression… you’ll find out.”

Growling, Golem dropped into an attack stance and advanced on them. It seemed like there would be no negotiations with their old comrade. The Freedom Fighters spread out around him, wolf pack-like, waiting for an opportunity to counterattack. Suddenly, Golem jumped forward, grabbed Black Ronin, and threw him bodily into the nearby bulkhead with enough force to bend the metal. Black Ronin slid to the floor, obviously out for the count.

Mr. Comet quickly exploited the opening to charge in and deal a heavy blow to Golem’s head; but the giant simply shrugged off the hit that would have stunned most normal men. A single retaliatory backhanded strike brought Mr. Comet down on the deck and the giant loomed over him, preparing to strike the finishing blow.

Suddenly, a computer monitor crashed into Golem’s head from behind. Furiously, he turned around and saw Starburst who was standing on a console just a few yards in front of Dr. Ahrenfeldt.

“Come here, you big tank of lard!” she taunted him. “Try to take me on if you can!”

Howling with rage, Golem launched himself at her. At the very last moment, Starburst punched the jetpack alive and launched up towards the ceiling in a cloud of smoke, evading Golem by a hair’s breadth. Caught by surprise, Golem tumbled into the Doctor and sent them both crashing through the panorama windows, falling to their deaths far, far below.

Moments later, an explosion rocked the whole battleship, and it started to list to one side and rapidly lose altitude.

“It’s going to crash!” Starburst shouted and started towards the door. “Come on!” Hoisting the still unconscious Black Ronin up on his shoulder, Mr. Comet quickly followed her back into the warren of corridors.

The Freedom Fighters made it out of the doomed battleship in the flying car just moments before the large construct crashed into the ground, destroying another city block in addition to the many buildings it had already blasted to rubble. They set down on the rooftop of a nearby building and stood for a moment in a silent contemplation of the extensive destruction that the insane scientist had caused.

“Well, I guess that was that,” Black Ronin finally said.

“Not yet,” Starburst said. She had taken her helmet off and shaken her long, raven-black tresses free, and was now looking thoughtfully at the crashed dreadnought. “Dr. Ahlenfeldt would never have been able to raise the resources for something on this scale himself. There must be something greater behind this…”


As always: Liked the story? Hated it? Or somewhere in between? Comments are the sweet, sweet manna that nourishes all writers, so tell me about it! And critique and suggestions for improvement are just as welcome as positive comments; I’ll never get better without them.

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This was originally another Wendig flash fiction challenge (a ‘Wenflafillenge’? (<= trademarked)), but fitting it into the allotted 1000 words proved, shall we say ‘infeasible’, so technically, I failed the challenge. But on the other hand, a story came out of it. So I guess everyone wins. (Except in the story, where pretty much everyone loses.)


Operation Platinum Wizard

The control room aboard the US Air Force patrol spacecraft USSC Paul Linebarger was a testament to comfort sacrificed on the altar of functionality. It was not just swelteringly hot – located just above the heat sinks for the Paul Linebarger’s giant spinal laser cannon, the temperature in the control room almost doubled whenever the cannon was armed for firing, as it had been for the last thirty-six hours – but also claustrophobically small and dark, lit up only by the faint red, green and blue lights from the many computer screens, displays and readouts that covered almost every square inch of the metal bulkheads.

To the commanding officer of the Paul Linebarger, Major David Norman, and the other six Air Force officers manning the control stations, however, the heat was quickly becoming a very minor nuisance. Instead, they had their attention entirely focused on the main tactical display where a little red blip labelled ROMEO-1 was slowly moving towards a long, curved green line. If the blip, which represented an approaching space craft they had detected a few hours earlier, did not change its vector, it would cross the line in another five minutes, and the Paul Linebarger was there to make sure that did not happen.

‘There’, specifically, was a holding position near (322619) 2099 KP6, an asteroid that had been discovered a few months earlier, and which was at that moment quite possibly the most important object in the Solar system next to Earth. It contained not just a motherlode of gold, copper, cobalt and platinum, but also several million tonnes of concentrated lithium ore, easily enough to keep fusion reactors and ion drives of at least one great power running for the next couple of millennia.

Thus it was no surprise that the United States had claimed the asteroid almost immediately upon its discovery, and it was equally predictable that the other great powers had complained vigorously, pointing out that the move violated several outer space treaties and principles of international law. However, reasoning that possession was nine-tenths of the law, the White House had not backed down and had instructed the Air Force to establish a presence near the asteroid to enforce the claim. Having moved slowly down through the digestive tract of the military chain of command, that job had eventually ended up in the hands of Major Norman and the crew of the Paul Linebarger in a mission the top brass had creatively labelled ‘Operation Platinum Wizard’.

Their orders had been composed in that particular dialect of military language that somehow managed to be both completely clear and totally ambiguous at the same time:

“Following standard rules of engagement, establish space superiority around asteroid (322619) 2099 KP6 by all necessary means.”

Of course, which means were actually ‘necessary’ was a judgement call that the top brass had kindly left for Major Norman to make, and if the approaching craft continued on its current vector, he might have to make that judgement uncomfortably soon.

Unwilling to postpone the inevitable any longer, the Major turned to his communications officer. “Comms, establish a line to that craft. Let’s see what they want.”

As soon as the comms officer reported an open connection, the Major grabbed his microphone. “Unidentified craft, this is the USSC Paul Linebarger. You are approaching a military exclusion zone established by the United States Air Force. Request you alter your vector by fourteen degrees ecliptic lateral.”

It took a short while for the reply to arrive, only barely understandable above a constant, heavy static. “Paul Li…ger, …is is PRC …sel …inzhou, Senior Li…enant …ngwei commanding. We a… unarmed resear… …ssel, not …litary. We reque… free passage … treaty.”

Major Norman glanced over at the comms officer with annoyance. “Can you clean that up? I need the name of the craft.”

“We’re getting a lot of interference from solar wind,” the comms officer said. “I could try to run it through the analysis software, but that would take at least fifteen minutes.”

Norman shook his head. “Negative. We don’t have time for that. Give me your best guess.”

A breif silence followed while the comms officer listened to the radio message again. “It sounds to me like they’re saying ‘Linzhou’,” he finally said.

Major Norman nodded curtly. “Look it up. And Weapons, get me a firing solution on that tin can.”

Both the temperature and the tension in the command room rose by another couple of degrees while the comms officer silently searched through the registry database.

“Yeah, there she is,” he finally said. “The Linzhou, classified as escort frigate, Liberation Army Space Fleet. Definitely military. Well armed, too. Spinal laser, three missile bays, point defence guns.”

The sensor operator looked uncertain. ”Dimensions of the contact matches well enough, but the energy signature is all wrong. It’s emitting far less waste heat than it should with all those weapons.”

“I need a conclusion, gentlemen,” Major Norman snapped impatiently. On the tactical screen, the red blip representing the Chinese craft moved still closer to the line that marked the exclusion zone where Major Norman would have to use ‘necessary means’. Conveniently, the line also matched the distance at which the two crafts would have a reasonable chance of hitting each other with laser fire. Letting an armed and possibly hostile craft getting that close would put their own craft and everyone inside at risk.

“I guess they could be storing the waste energy in the heat sinks instead of venting it,” the sensors operator finally said. ”Useful if they want to appear unarmed… but they must be boiling in there.”

Major Norman nodded. That sounded entirely like what he would do in that situation. “‘Research vessel’, right,” he muttered under his breath. “And I guess your engines run on rainbows and fairy glitter.”

He opened the line to the Chinese again. “Linzhou, Paul Linebarger. Our registry shows you as a PLA-SF escort frigate, not a research ship. This is your final warning. Change your vector by at least thirty-six degrees ecliptic lateral immediately, or you will be fired upon.”

Paul Line…ger, …zhou. Not unders… Check y… registry. We … …jing daxue. … are con…nuing on vector,” the answer came back after a moment.

Major Norman glanced up on the tactical display again. The Linzhou had crossed into the exclusion zone. If their weapons were armed, and he was convinced they were, they could open fire on the Linebarger at any moment. There seemed to be no alternatives.

“Firing solution acquired!” the weapons officer called out after a few seconds that felt like an eternity.

“Weapons, main cannon, fire, fire!” The stress and tension made Norman shout the order louder than necessary, his voice reverberating against the metal bulkheads.

The complete lack of sensory feedback made firing the main cannon a surreal experience. There was no loud laser-like sound, no bright energy beam – not that the Linebarger had windows, anyway – and no shudder running through the hull of the craft; just a couple of changing numbers on the weapons displays, and a red blip on the tactical screen that suddenly was not there anymore.

“Contact Romeo-1 destroyed,” the sensor operator said matter-of-factly. “Radar shows extensive debris. Radiation from probable reactor breach. Still not seeing much of a heat signature, though.”

“Right, we’ll go over the sensor data again later,” the Major said distractedly. “Pilot, set a course for the debris, and Ops, prepare for rescue operations.” It was highly unlikely that any of the Chinese crew would have survived, but they had to check regardless.


The control room had returned to an uncomfortable silence for half an hour when the comms officer spoke up. “Major?”

Major Norman had worked with the man long enough to recognise his ‘I have bad news’ tone. “Problems?”

“I just checked the registry again. There’s another Chinese craft called the Jinzhou, quite similar to the Linzhou… except it’s, er… it’s a research craft, sir, belongs to the University of Beijing.”

Major Norman fought to keep his voice steady, but a tinge of panic still crept into it. “Are you telling me we may have just destroyed an unarmed civilian Chinese craft?”

“I think so, sir.”

Several excuses immediately flashed through the Major’s thoughts. It had all seemed to fit together at the time. He had been under pressure. There had been so little time. His craft and crew might have been at risk. The solar storm had interfered with communications. His command staff had agreed with him. None of that would carry much weight in the court martial. It was his responsibility, the rules of engagement required him to verify the identity of the target, and he had failed to do that.

“I should… go report in. Weapons, you have the control,” he finally said, then set off from his seat and floated towards the exit hatch, steeling himself for the worst – and possibly last – after-action debriefing he would ever have.


DATE: 2101/09/08-02:11EST



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