Chapter 1

The weather had picked up. Brisk snowflakes blew about the darkening sky, visible through the sheen of glass or possibly transparent aluminum in which she was encased. 

Terna was regaining her facilities, yet there wasn’t much she could focus on. There were figures shuffling to either side of herself and their thick winter clothing reminded her of childhood stories of the umbermen, the creatures born with no skin so they had to fashion it for themselves.

She shivered. Considering the strange prawns she’d seen today, certainly anything was possible. 

As if conjured by the thought, one of the things flew into her vision, hovering over her container in a way that suggested it was examining her awakened form.

She heard words that she didn’t understand, followed by words that she did. 

“Experimental Test Subject 114 – NoMort facility.”

All in her language.

Terna narrowed her eyes. She had a feeling the creature, whatever it was, liked to cause fear and pain, and that the mention in her language was intentional.

Refusing to spend any more time looking at the floating nightmare, Terna looked past it and high above, to the snow-laden clouds that now jockeyed for position in the sky. There was a rumble of thunder, then the flash of lightning. A red-orange hue illuminated one of the clouds and for a second she thought that maybe it would spill fire and that the apocalypse of her people had finally come as foretold.

But quickly the clouds energized then burst as the massive frame of a metallic cruiser sunk through them, a millipede’s legs worth of landing struts descended from its hull. 

She didn’t see such things often, but when she did, she knew it was danger.

Every NoMort did.

Terna looked away, fright gripping her chest. None of this was good. She checked herself, first noting the thin yet warm track jacket and matching pants that had replaced her former wear, before noticing metallic bracelets on her ankles, wrists, and around her neck.

An ad flitted through her mind.

No one is safe when those people are around. Lock them up with new and improved Diama-Steel Shackles! These unbreakable bad boys come complete with automaton-tendrilized body control capability, reducing even the baddest of the baddies to an unwilling puppet. 22,000 morties. 4.5 stars.

The ads came sometimes. Sometimes she was tempted to click them. But her elders were clear. Do not engage with the BuyMort. The BuyMort is an evil god, tricking the lazy and selfish into eternal damnation.

She flicked it away. The BuyMort would not have her soul.

There was the sound of pressure releasing, and the top of her capsule lifted up and shifted to the side. Meaty hands gripped her and lifted her out into the air, setting her down onto her feet. She noticed with a bit of surprise that she had rubber-soled sneakers on now. A prized rarity among the NoMorts.

“Where am I?” Terna asked. “What are you doing?”

Her eyes widened. She recognized the location, all of it, from the rise upon which they stood. The tribe had wintered here before. She could tell because of the tall plateau on the horizon shaped like a cooking pan and ridged along its mostly vertical slopes. 

But it was different now. Formerly a lush coniferous forest grew here, spotted with raised clearings in which to lay back and enjoy the wonders of the open air. Now it was wasteland, a barren field of stumps and hard rock, mostly cleared of its snow. There were metal blocks with doors in them, a sort of lift and drop camp that hinted at a space-faring semi-nomadic existence. 

They were clearly too heavy for tribalists like herself — but everything about it screamed mobile and temporary.

There had been berry bushes here in the summer. Terna grieved to think of the food source her tribe had lost.

A man stepped in front of her questing eyes. He wore a uniform, one that was green in color and held incomprehensible badges and patches.

“From this moment forward you are ETS 114,” he stated, a bored monotone hinting that he’d made this speech many times. “From this point forward you are a guest of Ablivion Affiliated Holdings. You will do as you are told, you will follow all instructions without question, you will not break your principles and reach out to BuyMort.” 

He stared, as if waiting for a reply, despite having asked nothing.

“I understand your words,” Terna replied hesitantly, a small stutter riding her tone.

“Good.” The man, a human she was pretty sure they were called, reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. She was plenty familiar with their smell and glow; her elders occasionally found and used them. He flicked flame onto its tip, and engaged the narcotic.

“Do you smoke?” he asked her. She shook her head without a word. “For the best. Costs a shit ton to get the tar cleaned out when you go cancerous. Most people just die.”

A wave of heated air rushed over them and Terna saw that the cruiser had just touched down at the edge of the metallic camp. It was near to where a small creek of clean water trickled from a hot spring in the earth. She wondered if the craft had befouled the water supply now as well.

Blowing smoke out of his nostrils, the man reached out and took her hand. “I’m Roger. You can call me that anytime those things aren’t around. Don’t be scared, kid. This whole operation, well, it could be a lot worse. I mean it when I say don’t dick around and just do what you are told. If you are a smart shopper and do what the big whitecoats say to do, well, you might just end up in a nice hut somewhere with a wonderful retirement package.”

Terna nodded, trying to envision it and dispel her fear. She saw herself in a hut on the edge of a clean lake, a forest filled with meaty herbivores from which to take meat and feast.

It was a beautiful vision. But her fear remained despite it.

“Hey, I get it. It’s good to fear the unknown. But I got you. Come on, we’ve got some walking to do.”

Roger, Terna, and two burly guards left from the retinue, breaking away to head down toward the ship. There was a well-trod trail here and it made her wonder how many of her kind had been grabbed up and then trundled down this path into the great unknown.

She wondered how many had broken and called upon the devil BuyMort.

It was maybe a test of her faith. The great creator did such things at times, to judge who would be worthy of great things. Terna steeled herself.

The creator would not find her wanting.

A prawn zipped past them from ahead. Then another two. They followed the trail, descending the rise. From here she could see that a couple of the metal rectangular temp-houses had been set here, and that there were hobbs and humans milling about, holding papers, making notes, and moving things out from the cruiser down a ramp that jiggled when they walked it. 

She turned her head and met the eyes of Roger. They were kind. She looked back at the camp, following with no questions. 

They had been about to the first house when a blaster shot rang out, and Roger fell to the ground.

Terna screamed, watching the blood pump out from his shoulder, his face twisted in a snarl of pained rage.

“Get down, girl. Get down and then get out of here!”

She stared at him, confused and torn. He struggled with his pocket, pulling out something that looked like a long metal stick. The end of it glowed, and suddenly her metallic bracelets had fallen from her body, her neck collar hitting the ground at the same time that one of the rectangular houses exploded into flame.

“Go! They’re NoMorts. They’ll help you. I’m a shit person who deserves this, okay? Just go!”

Terna’s eyes welled up with tears for the man, unsure of what he was saying but positive that he’d just saved her life. She looked over at the two guards with them. One was on the ground, a long spike driven into his neck, his body convulsing and his mouth spitting bloody foam.

The other had his back turned to her, firing blazes of red light down range at unseen targets. A scream and a flash of flame suggested that he’d found one of his targets.

She looked at that other guard’s back and made a decision. She liked Roger. But Roger was dying. And these pukes, they were not her friends.

Running over to the dead guard, she grabbed a hold of the metal spike and pulled it out of his neck. Then she ran over to the other guard and stabbed it into the base of his.

He screamed and rolled, and she saw that he was a hobb like her. He was a big man with a bald head and he screamed bloody murder when he hit the ground. With an expression of intense fury, he reared up brandishing his giant fists, his weapon on the ground where he’d lost hold of it.

“You’re going to —” he snarled, cutting out mid sentence when his head exploded off of his body. Terna turned, shocked. The blast had come from behind her.

As the sounds of battle grew greater and more intense around her, she paced back over to Roger. He was dead, a trickle of dried blood lining the corner of his mouth. And in his hand he clutched a large plasti-steel blaster.

“Thank you,” she whispered, kneeling to take the weapon. Then she turned and ran toward where the hobb had been shooting. If Roger was right, these people would take her home.

The Terna NoMort Saga – Table of Contents

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BuyMort – The Terna NoMort Saga

PROLOGUE –

The snarling winds of the Hundran Tundra funneled through the air, spinning up whorls of icy flakes as if the whole world had been created inside a shaken snow globe.

Terna walked slowly through the storm, her thick furry coat and trousers keeping her gray skin warm despite the chill. In one gloved hand she held a knife. It was chipped from flint, and though it was of poor quality, for her purposes, it would do.

She’d once seen a hobb with a vibro-blade. Its edge glowed crimson, burning as it cut.

That hobb had a las-rifle as well, one that throbbed with crystal blue energy in a stripe that ran along its side. 

There were many things that the BuyMort hobbs could have. But she was a NoMort, a member of the tribes that refused ascension. 

She slowed her progress near a tall pillar of rock. She eased her arm up it, slowly, her gloved fingers gently searching for evidence of a burrow.

There. She opened up a pouch on her belt and judged the position of the hole, maneuvering the pouch’s opening beneath it. Moving her other, bladed, hand upward, she slammed it into the hole of the burrow — and into the beast within.

It died without even making a sound.The juicy monrat tumbled and fell, making a perfect landing into her meat pouch. The dead animal squelched a little when it hit the water-resistant lining. A faint aroma of blood reached her nostrils.

Terna smiled. It was the sixth find of the day, and she knew how happy the whole clan would be knowing that they could eat so well this night.

And even better than that, she’d only stumbled upon this place today. Surely it was a ravine full of good pickings. The tribe might even move to be near it.

They might have months of heavy and hearty feasting.

The wind died down, and the pitter patter of smaller feet breaking through the crust of the snow crackled through the air. Terna paused, suddenly very alert. She might be a predator to the monrats. But to some of the things out here, she was prey.

She’d do well to remember that.

She hugged close to the column, ducking and peeking about in an attempt to get a good bead on her surroundings. The air of the tundra was crisp and filled with the scent of fresh cherries, an aroma that both tantalized and caused fear to rise up inside her. Cherries in the tundra? What sort of thing was out there? And why couldn’t she see it yet?

She spotted movement. An hernan ghost fox, its silvery-white fur so snow-like that it was nigh-undetectable. The fox bounded close to a stunted andor tree and bounded up its piny branches, bounding up from limb to limb before triumphantly reaching its top just ten feet up in the air.

Terna covered her mouth, afraid she might laugh. It was such a cute thing to watch. 

At least until the first of three spiny thorns tore through the air to pierce into the noble animal’s furry chest. It was such a quick attack with hardly any sense of motion, and yet there they were, one after the other.

The beast wavered, groggily, before toppling off of the tree, bouncing limb by limb down to the needled-snow mixture of the ground below. Terna gasped, an audible and involuntary cry, and her eyes went wide.

Whatever had just happened, whatever had just killed that thing . . . she’d just made herself a target.

She stumbled away from the stone pillar, casting her eyes this way and that. And finally she saw it. Perfectly albino, with a slightly transparent body-casing, it looked like something she’d never seen before. A giant albino cooked prawn, she might have said.

With wings, and an elongated tail that bristled with spines at the end.

She turned and ran, screaming aloud now that she’d certainly been spotted. It was a trick of the wild. Stay quiet until you were being pursued. Then be as loud as you could because it might draw in something bigger and badder to eat the first thing that was chasing you.

She turned and ran, eyeing the long stretch of ravine for a place in which to hide and stay safe. It was hundreds of yards long and it was almost equally wide. The icy ground beneath the snow would threaten to throw her if she weren’t careful, but it had some traction in the crispy detritus of frozen dead grass and bushes.

And maybe even some bones.

Sprinting through it at breakneck speeds, Terna worked her way through the ravine. Panting hard, she felt before she saw one of the stingers coming at her, and she dropped and rolled under its passing arc. 

She heard it hiss in annoyance. That wasn’t good. It was intelligent.

“Listen!” she yelled, stumbling back to her feet for a good sprint forward. “I am a sentient. Like you! I was just hunting. You don’t need to kill me.”

But no answer came.

Instead, a second set of spines shot out of the creature, and its tail arced toward her. She ducked, rolling down and over a patch of rocks, and landed in a ditch with the prawn-thing following. She scrambled out of the ditch, rushing on again, but then she stopped, gasping, and peered around.

In front of her was a small cave, obscured from the vantage of the creature by a great deal of thorny brush as well as another andor tree. It wasn’t the perfect hiding spot; not with the creature so close-by. 

But she’d have to give it a go. 

If she could just tuck out of sight, she could wait it out here and hide in the darkness. She dropped to her knees before the tree and crawled her way through, scratching up her face and hands on the way.

As she did though, another of the creatures appeared. This time it was larger, with more spines and a longer tail. It moved at her, and Terna turned to run again, but the monster had already struck, knocking her back onto her knees.

Its head swiveled in her direction, and she watched as its long snout drew close. She smelled its foul breath — and the expectation behind it. Slowly, her thinking got muddled and her tongue swelled.

“She’s down. Grab the harnesses,” she heard a voice say. Her vision was too blurry to see who. “No. No. Little bitch is a NoMort. She’s got the app but never uses it. Basically invisible to the system.”

Invisibility, she thought, a little ad box popping up in her mind filled with gibberish and the stalking figure of a cloaked man. Wouldn’t that be nice to have.

Terna passed into unconsciousness. Above her, an intergalactic corvette blasted by, riding on a tail of blue flame.

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