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Excerpts from Monte Cook’s Small Matters

Posted on November 12, 2012 by Flames

From a world magically transformed entirely into glass to a distant future where the Catholic Church of Osirus uses two singularities to manipulate time, the science fiction and fantasy stories of Small Matters take the readers to places unlike any they have visited before.

Brought to you from the mind of master world-builder and storyteller Monte Cook, these seven short stories tell tales of vengeance and honor. Love and murder. Loyalty and greed. As the title suggests, these are personal tales, not of world-saving quests but of people who face tough decisions that affect their own lives. Not all of them choose wisely…

Flames Rising is pleased to present an exclusive pair of excerpts from this collection.

First, the very beginning of a dark fantasy tale called World of Glass

    Ferrad could see the scuttling red beetles, each as big as his fist, moving about in their warren five feet below the surface. Through the glass, he could see a multitude of things.

    The glass beneath him was nothing a craftsman might create in a workroom filled with heat and the smell of labor and iron. Nothing so crude. The glass beneath his metal-soled boots was so clear that he could see through it for an impossible distance until it eventually faded into a milky white haze. His trained eyes picked out specific things amid all that moved within the transparent ground. To one not used to the wastes of Choloria, it would be disorienting. For a few, in the early days of the Long Night, it had even brought madness.

    He lagged behind Nissa, as he usually did. She said that he had lost his drive, but he felt that was untrue. The hunt simply seemed less urgent than it did years before, when they had begun.

    Powdered glass crunched beneath metal boots. Labored breaths wheezed through the filters meant to keep glass dust out of their lungs. Heavy leather wraps protected them from shards blown by the wind that could slice a human to meat in just a few moments in a bad storm. And there were always storms these days.

    Through thick goggles, Ferrad could see the quarry. Nissa saw it, too. He could tell just by looking at her. He saw it in the line of her back, in the stiffness of her shoulders, in the hastening of her steps.

    Crunch, crunch, crunch.

    Their quarry did not understand them. It ran, as if it could get away. But a sorcerer never gets away. Didn’t it understand that? There were no spells that could save it now. There was nowhere for it to go—nowhere to hide in a world made of glass.

    Four days ago, they heard of this new prey while in the city. The city… who were they kidding, really? In the days before the Long Night, it would have barely qualified as a village. It rose from an island of color, an oasis of opacity in a transparent world. As it spread, the Metharisa sorcerers’ magic had begun to fail. It splashed like a dying wave that can’t quite reach farther up the beach and knows it must recede back into the ocean. Each sputter and splash left a spot of unaffected earth where soil, leaf, and water still had meaning.

    The walls around the settlement kept away most of the windborne glass dust. Walls made, of course, of glass.

    “She’s a wizard, out there. Livin’ like they used to,” the old woman had said.

    Ferrad and Nissa had been enjoying their third consecutive day of food they didn’t sip through a straw inserted into their filters, of freedom from covering every inch of their flesh for fear of shards, and of not listening to steel-bottomed boots grinding glass dust beneath their feet when the old woman had come to them in the common house. What was her name? Clara? Clurine? Ferrad couldn’t remember. Nissa probably would.

    “I seen her with my own eyes. Spells a-guardin’ her agin’ the glass. Not a stitch of leathers on her.”

    “Where?” Nissa had asked.

    “To the south, near the Crystal Valleys.”

    “Shit me,” Ferrad had said almost, but not quite, under his breath. Nissa had given him a look that would have left a mark if it could. He hated the names people gave to places in Choloria. The Crystal Valleys, the Shimmering Plains, the Glistening Mountains, the Glass Forest, and a hundred more. Everything is made of glass now, he would often say to Nissa. We get that.

    “And when did you see it?”

    “It?”

    “The sorcerer.”

    “Oh, yes. I seen her just a few weeks ago. Seen her more than once.”

    Nissa had turned to Ferrad. “Probably trying to dig down.”

    “That’s what they’d do out in the valleys,” Ferrad had replied. The Crystal Valleys were, simply put, some of the deepest holes in the region. What were they digging for? Who knew with sorcerers. Probably trying to make things worse, Nissa always said.

    But people in Choloria didn’t want to know what a sorcerer was up to. From them, folks only wanted one thing. They wanted them to die, in blistering, red pain, if possible.

    In Choloria, vengeance was currency. A sorcerer’s heart would earn Ferrad and Nissa both a month’s food and lodging. Its spell-speaking tongue might gain them a kind touch and a soft word from a willing local (and hopefully a bit more than that). And its eyes—its magic-filled, demon-loving eyes—well, they would pay for the weapons and gear the two of them would need to go to find another one.

    So after only three days’ rest, Nissa and Ferrad had set out after this new quarry. And now four days after that, they’d found it.

    Next is a short excerpt from a science fiction story called A Very Small Matter, Really:

      “This is a cashstick keyed for 10 million.” Maria held it for both of them to see.

      The sight of it brought silence. Beads of sweat formed on Jagger’s brow. Varz pulled out her own implant. Maria knew that its removal would cut them off from the data field’s monitoring systems, a sign that even the more temperamental of the two was now interested. The three could talk in private. “Terrence Reynolds told me about your operation. I know that you can undo what has come before. I don’t know what the Church is having you do with this technology, and, frankly, I don’t care. But I have something that I want you to do for me. It’s a very small matter, really.”

      “I see.” Jagger wiped his hand across his forehead. The fact that their secret was out clearly made him anxious.

      “I don’t know if you really do understand,” Varz stated. “We’re altering the space-time arena on the quantum level using transactional quantum physics.”

      Maria said nothing.

      Jagger raised a reassuring hand. “Ms. McNaki, our operation here is quite complex. We’re on the cutting edge of at least three different fields—power generation, standing wave manipulation, and quantum juncture analysis. I don’t know what Mr. Reynolds told you.”

      Maria continued to feign interest in the tech details. She didn’t need to know the “how.” She only needed them to agree to do what she wanted.

      “What we do here is generate two singularities and then force them to collide within a chamber of folded space. This creates an output of energy so great that we still don’t know exactly how to measure it. The burst of energy is powerful enough to create… well, think of it as a bit of slack in the line of time.”

      “Slack?”

      “Yes, like slack in a rope. A flick of the timeline, and the slack whips backward like a wave—a timewave, as we like to call it. With a jerk of the ‘rope,’ we alter the past path of quantum possibilities at some juncture in our timeline. We make it so that at some point in the past, history takes a slightly different course.”

      “What you describe sounds rather crude. I need specific results.”

      “But it’s not crude at all,” Jagger said, “With a complex set of four-dimensional computers, we’re able to predict the exact path of what’s called a quantum wave function. That’s essentially a wave of probability extending forward and backward in time. All we’re doing is spiking the amplitude of that wave and thus creating a desired effect in the past—an artificial causality.”

      Maria mused over the possibilities. These people were—what was the word?—hackers. Time hackers. Artificial causality indeed.

      * * *

      This excerpt was provided by and is being published with express permission from the author Monte Cook.

      Small Matters is available now from DriveThruFiction.com in a variety of eBook formats.

      DriveThruFiction.com

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