2024 is off and running!

My “Write-bernation” is well underway and I’ve been able to produce over 27k words this month. For all you non-author types, that’s like 80 pages? About. Half of a short book. 1/3 of a normal one. It’s good progress. Not as much as I could manage, but writing the books is only a small part of the job.

Right now, markets and live events are where I make my living. With this in mind, I’ve been working on the upcoming year. I’ll be adding stickers, bookmarks, and art prints of covers, and “mystery envelopes” to my lineup of books and story cards (we don’t talk about the mystery envelopes). I’ve got several of them all designed and ready to go. I’m in the “where’s the best place to print these” phase of things. I’ll be breaking my self-imposed exile once on February 17th for the Collector Con in Sackville. I don’t think I’ll have much of it done by then, but perhaps a little.

My writing focus for February is finishing up The Mudfisher’s Catch, my fantasy pocket book. It’s a small novel, about 2x as long as The Stray Halos of Heaven Beyond was. It’s one of the rare times I’m going back and revisiting an older project. The original story always felt incomplete to me. There were things I left out, due to my choice to keep it small, and these omissions have been bugging me for years. So, I chopped out the half I didn’t like and am adding in all the things I’d just left implied. Since the project has so long to percolate in my skull, it’s coming along very quickly. Almost like I’m just writing from memory, rather than creating. Fingers crossed, I’ll have physical books for my first conventions in May.

I’m also happy to announce that Griot Enterprises is working hard on the illustrations for the second book of Mark of the Cloven! I wrote it nearly a decade ago, and a whole series of things put the project on the back burner for the publisher. So many years that I thought it may never happen. I am pleased to be wrong. I’ve seen early inks and designs for the book, and I have to say it looks absolutely fantastic. The hope is an early summer release. I’ll keep you all posted.

Enough update! Let’s get to the good stuff and kick off the first chapter of Patchworld Nova! Just so you’re aware, this is what I call a “working draft”. It’s gone through a couple rounds of editing; content and grammar. But don’t expect this to be the final text that hits print. The book has yet to go through all of its stages and, as such, what you see here is going to differ from the final version. I have swatted most of the typos, and any that remain are simply a mark of my humanity. Also, if you’d prefer to read a .pdf version of this, you can find one, free for download in the Chapter 1 post on my Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/judemire 

As always, I’d like to extend my thanks to all my patrons and readers. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you. I hope you all have a warm winter and enjoy this strange vision of Nova Scotia.

The blue-grey dawn, kissed with a gentle pink, rose balmy and warm. The sunrise over Oak Park Lake looked real. Almost. The light from a simulated sun tinted the tendrils of morning fog with a rosy hue. The red glow of the nearby barrier shield helped reflect into it, deepening the color. There were stars, faintly visible, though the screen above. It was always possible to shift focus and see them, but Troop didn’t. He knew they were there. They were always there, day or night, behind the seamed ceiling of sky.

Troop didn’t need to look at the bars to remember he was in a cage.

He left the cabin, got Scally out of the barn, and saddled her up without so much as a glance at the beautiful sunrise.

The ride to the Clyde River Commonwealth took  four hours on the dregs of the 103. He made the trip once a week, without fail. Halfway there and he’d stop for a visit at the Anderson’s in Barrington Brass. Most times, Murray and Mitch were out on their boat, but Lindsey was always up for feeding him and filling his ears with the local gossip.

Not that he cared much for the news anymore.

“Peterson’s moved down to Chestnut Hill, with the Mitchells’. Don wasn’t able to keep the place up, and the farm’s got plenty of room. They dragged the whole shindig over, what with the sheep and all. Mary’s still gonna make yarn, and Don’ll do what he can, but they’ve got help now, as they’re gettin’ on.”

Troop nodded. It wasn’t an unusual story. People got older. “That’s good. I’m glad they didn’t have to send the sheep off.”

“Mary’ll die before she lets anybody take them sheep,” said Lindsey. “It left their old place open, if your interested. It’s probably not in as good a shape as yours, but it’s big, lotsa rooms, and closer to folks.”

It amused Troop how people were always finding roundabout ways to tell him he should live closer, find a wife, have a family. He’d decided against that dream years ago. But it didn’t stop folks from hinting. Or, sometimes even, putting it blunt.

“Have you heard anything from Callie?” asked Lindsey.

He knew that she knew he hadn’t. Callie’d been living up in the Valley for forever now, working at the tidal generator. For a while, she’d come visiting, but it had been almost a decade since then. After that, letters, but they’d become more and more infrequent. When the Drip had clogged, almost three years ago, they’d stopped altogether.

“Not since the Drip. I imagine it’s put a lot of strain on her job,” he answered.

“It’s amazing how that thing just quit, full stop,” Lindsey said, filling his travel cup with tea. “I feel bad for all those Halifax folks who relied on it. Not lucky like us, having all we need right here.” 

Troop nodded. “It’s rough. Gonna get worse too, even for us. Nothing lasts forever.”

She shrugged off his pessimism. “No problem we can’t fix with a little ingenuity.”

Despite making a living as a repairman, Troop didn’t agree. Her husband and son were out there right now, in a boat that wouldn’t last forever, hauling lobster traps on ropes that had already been mended a dozen times over. There were plenty of things everyone still relied on the old world for. Eventually, they’d run out of replacement rope. When that happened, some poor sod would have to start making it by hand, one tall blade of grass at a time. Troop didn’t see that as an improvement.

Even so, he’d smiled, agreed, and taken the hospitality without challenging her way of thinking. There was no value in arguing it. Time would sort the issue soon enough. As he rode out of the small town, he didn’t fail to notice there were less boats in the harbor than last season.

He sipped his tea as he rode, in no particular rush. When he got to the Naugler Orchard he got off and picked Scally a few apples. They were still sour green and hard, but she didn’t care.

There was a big wagon parked out front of the Riverside Convenience store when he arrived. There were two horses hitched to it and a rusty old vehicle trailer hanging off the back. It was empty, and Troop couldn’t tell if someone had just unloaded a haul or was there to pick one up. He hoped it was the first and whoever it was were headed out. He had business with Dean and hadn’t ridden all this way to make friends.

He had a decent batch of fixin’s to drop off himself. Troop had managed to get two old cell phones working. Not for calling, of course, but he’d loaded maps into them and fixed their cameras. They’d play music, if you had it to install. There was also a hard drive he’d been able to recover and he’d transferred the contents to a portable. It was mostly old pictures. He didn’t know if they’d make whoever got them happy or sad. Probably both.

He was also returning the corpse of a laptop he’d been bested by. Like he’d told Lindsey, some things were beyond salvaging. Lastly, he had a toaster oven he’d re-converted back to having an old electric power cord. He was starting to see a lot more swaps like that, now that the main grid had gone down. Most appliances had been upgraded to receiver plates, years ago, when the energy system changed. But now, with the Drip dead, people were jury-rigging their own electricity, and that meant putting the old cords back. It would keep Troop in business, so long as he could maintain a stock of vintage plugs.

He hitched Scally away from the wagon, took off her saddlebags, and tossed them over his shoulder. He didn’t like the company, but he wasn’t about to wait. He took the steps to the porch and went into the store.

The place had rotating stock. You never knew what Dean would have at any given time. The shelves along the walls were for the dedicated, regular stuff and the middle space was open, available for whatever he happened to have. Right now, it was piled chest high with boxes and a trio of wooden barrels.

A young guy, twenty something with a patchy beard, was reclining on one of the barrels with a bored expression. Dean was back by the counter, talking to an older fellow. He looked like a fatter, hairier, grey version of the first man. Dean heard the front door bell jangle, looked up, and gave Troop head nod and smile.

“Good timin’, Troop. We were just finishin’ up.”

The kid on the barrels didn’t react, but his father or uncle or whatever he was, raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Troop?” he said. “You talking about Troop Daniels?”

Dean realized he’d made a mistake and shot Troop a sympathetic look. The shopkeeper tried to shut it down before there was trouble. “Yeah, sure, but don’t you be making a fuss about it. Man doesn’t need to hear from you, that’s sure.”

The guy raised his hands and tilted his head. “Don’t get your back up. It’s fine. I just didn’t know his mommy let him out of jail is all.”

Dean scowled. “Oh, course you did. Stop being a shit disturber, Craig.”

Troop kept his eyes locked on the man as he walked to the counter. His expression was flat, with a layer of annoyance just beneath that.

The man, Craig, looked Troop up and down with contempt. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, you hiding out here, at the ass end of the province. Your mother know where you are, murderer?”

Dean slapped his hands onto the counter and came around. “Enough, Craig! Get your dumb ass out my store before I get some real wit ya!” He looked to the younger guy. “Petey, c’mon. You two ever wanna sell here again, get your father and go on.”

Craig glared, shook his head, and turned away. “That’s some company you keep, Dean. You should be ashamed.”

The shopkeeper walked the pair to the door, making sure they left. “That was a long time ago, Craig. Just… enough.”

He left with them. Troop stood and waited. It had been a long while since something like that had happened. The benefits of time and distance. Usually they worked. Not always.

Dean came back in, shaking his head. “I’m real sorry about that, Troop. I should have known better.”

Troop shook his head, set the saddlebags onto the counter, and emptied the contents. “It’s no bother, Dean. Only talk. No harm to it.”

“Yeah, but you don’t deserve to be treated like that. I won’t stand for it. Not in my store.”

Troop didn’t respond. There wasn’t anything to say. If Dean wanted to take offence on his account, that was his business.

They went over the new repair orders Dean had taken in. Troop loaded up the new batch of broken tech while Dean settled up for the last. He paid him in cornmeal, potatoes, pickles, two dozen eggs, three dubious mushrooms, and some fresh fish. Troop had been hoping for chicken, but he didn’t complain. Maybe next week.

When he went outside, the wagon was gone.

Troop headed home.

As the horse clopped along, Troop wondered how many times he’d been up and down it. Every week, for a decade, there and back. Plus all the times with his mother. Well over a thousand times, at least. He didn’t need to pay attention. Scally knew the way. She could probably walk it blindfolded. Hell, so could he.

The horse turned off the main route and onto a small walking path. She followed this until it came back to the rubble ruin where the old highway ran into the energy wall. The area was a field now, with a less grassy swath cut through the middle where the road used to be. There were several dead cars rusting among the flowers. The horse got back on the fragments of the 103 and walked toward the red wall of light.

Troop had been born here, on the 103. Right on the asphalt, center line, from what he’d been told.

Terrence “Troop” Daniels had the debatable honor of entering the world on the night Nova Scotia was abducted.

He’d heard one story from his mother, another from his grandfather. He was pretty sure both were lying, here and there. But the part about being born on the pavement, he knew for sure that was true.

The world saw the spaceship coming years before it arrived. It was enormous. A flat disc of a thing, four times wider than the moon. Scientists had detected it on account of gravitational changes in Neptune and the outer planetoids. Something that huge was enough to yank on their orbits. By calculating the shifts, they could tell it was getting closer. The math had it tearing through the solar system like a speedboat, re-arranging everything in it’s wake. Everyone panicked.

The older people, the ones from when the province was still part of Earth, said that those few months were the worst. With the whole population certain they were doomed, people went mad. The economy collapsed, cities erupted into chaos, and things got ugly on a scale that Troop couldn’t comprehend. He barely grasped the idea of the Earth itself. What remained of the province, transported to the alien vessel, was roughly 37 thousand square kilometers. He thought it was pretty big. But, supposedly, the Earth was something like 500 million square km, and Nova Scotia had been just a tiny bit of it.

Troop was pretty sure the original Earth folk were exaggerating.

When they finally figured out that the object was slowing down, and it looked like it would come to a stop somewhere near Saturn, some semblance of order returned. It wasn’t good, but it was better. Lots of people recognized it for what it was; a visit from a vastly superior alien race. The fear of the end of the world shifted (in most cases) to a terrified solidarity.

Humanity waited while the huge disk stabilized a solar orbit. For weeks, it just sat there, doing nothing. No attempts to communicate worked, and it wasn’t sending any signals Earth could recognize. 

When the beacons began to form around Nova Scotia, nobody in the world was more surprised than the Canadians who lived there. Most of the inhabitants were slow to sort out what was going on. It happened after midnight, and it took hours for the alerts to go out.

People woke to see bright pillars of light, extending all the way into space, in every direction. These ethereal towers formed a strange border around the peninsula. They were spaced out every kilometer or so and were different colors.

Back then, they hadn’t known why.

The mad dash to escape the province clogged the highways. The roads weren’t built to accommodate so many frantic, fleeing people. The jam-up was awful. Accidents everywhere.

In his mother’s story, they’d been rushing to the Yarmouth ferry when the towers connected, forming solid walls of colored energy, trapping them inside.

But Grandpa Paul said it was the other way around. He told Troop that they had lived in Yarmouth. That he had a father and a sister who were on the ferry, ready to leave. But his pregnant mother had abandoned them. She’d taken the keys to his truck, wrestled her way into the driver’s seat, and set her sights on getting to the alien lights. Desperate not to loose his daughter, Paul had gone with, to try and talk her out of it.

Whichever story was true, the pair of them were just over the dotted line when the barrier activated.

Maybe it was the energy wave from the shields, or the adrenaline desperation of her drive, but his mother had gone into labor right there, even though she wasn’t due for another month. She never talked about the event realistically. She always said Troop was blessed and special, and the fact he came into the world the same moment Nova Scotia left it was some sort of sign.

Now, forty-five years on, Troop knew it was bullshit. There was nothing special about him. He’d just been born in a bad situation on account of a crazy women who hadn’t had the good sense to run the other way. A woman who cared more about her goals than her family.

Grandpa Paul told him that it didn’t feel like anything when they were transported onto the Dyson Platter. They’d pulled the car over to let his mother out. She’d been on the asphalt, panting with contractions. Paul was captivated by the weird wall of crimson light that had just appeared. It was see-through and there were trees and bushes on the other side, but they were all dark, tinted red by the barrier.

As he was reaching out to touch it, the landscape on the other side vanished, and Paul found himself standing face to face with an alien.

The creature was shorter than him, in body, but had big antlers that wound up making it taller. It was insect smooth, wearing thin layered clothing, and stood upright. The strange thing was perched in a jumble of cracked rocks. Jagged stone sprouted up from the ground behind it. Huge cliffs, topped with stone spikes, like giant icicles angled by the wind, listing into a purple sky. 

Troop knew the spot it had happened well. It was where he was headed now.

Grandpa Paul claimed he passed out and by the time he woke up Troop had been born. Years later, when Troop finally learned to communicate with the neighboring Ancervin aliens, they confirmed this. It’s how Troop knew for a fact that he’d come into the world right there on the highway.

Enler was the alien Grandpa Paul had first seen. He’d been there when Troop’s mother had pushed him out, all on her own. That had been his introduction to humanity.

Since then, Troop and Enler had become pretty good friends.

Scally stopped her slow clopping at the rusted remains of an old Toyota. Troop dismounted, stretched, and went over to the ruby-colored force field. Enler was waiting in the shadow of a tilted stone on the other side, shielded from the wind. It was always gusting on Enler’s side of the fence. Seeing Troop, he rubbed his many-eyed face and came over to greet him.

Enler’s slender fingers traced the outline of a shape, made a scrunched facial expression accompanied by a chirping sound, and then, with his other hand, flicked his nails across his cheek.

Troop repeated the process, but slightly differently. The shape he made with his fingers wasn’t the same. His expression was more of a smile, and he let out a barking laugh. His punctuating flick was across the top of his ear.

It had taken them years to learn how to communicate. The Ancervin, what the Nova Scotians’ called Enler’s species, came from a loud environment with plenty of screeching wind. As a result, their speech was primarily physical. At the most basic level, shapes were made with hands that represented something like nouns. Facial expression added a layer of meaning or modification, like a verb, and then a symbolic ‘sending’ functioned to toss something like punctuation into the mix. Of course, ideas contained more than one shape, expression, and punctuation, so to keep up with a conversation, a person had to remember the sequence of the symbols written in the air. The locations that these invisible markings were drawn out also had meaning and, as the conversation progressed, could be rearranged and slid around as necessary.

The best example Troop had for easily explaining this was to show people how to say “I’m tired, and I want to go home.” First he’d outline a house, home. Then he’d make a sleepy face and, with a flick of his nose, send it toward the spot he’d outlined the house. After that, he’d slide the invisible house symbol in toward his chest. To make it a question, like, “I’m tired. Want to go home?” He’d do a similar thing, but where he drew the house symbol originally, now it was situated in a different spot. He’d use a flick of the chin, not nose. At the end, it would be slid toward the other person, not inward.

It was all very complicated.

“Is your time well, Newborn?” asked Enler.

Troop responded with a flurry of fingers and expressions. “Fair and unchanging. Our season is mild and comfortable. There has not been much to note.”

He could tell from his body language that Enler was concerned about something.

“This means that your suckle remains dry,” said the alien.

Troop nodded and answered. “Yes, the Drip still isn’t working, as has been the case for many seasons. You know this. Why do you ask? Has yours changed?”

The creature’s antlers jiggled in their sockets, an expression that Troop understood meant no. “We remain unburied,” said Enler. “I am surprised to hear your time has been uneventful.”

“Why’s that?” asked Troop.

Enler hesitated, took a few steps back and forth, then answered. “There are those among us who say they taste broken glass in the coming days. Strange times are upon us. I had not thought we were alone is such sensations.”

Troop thought about what he’d said. He wasn’t always sure that he was translating Enler perfectly. Speaking about the future could be a misinterpretation of tense and tasting glass, well, it was possible that Troop could be reading that wrong. But he didn’t think he was.

“Our people worry, since the Drip stopped. They worry our Keepers have forgotten us,” he said.

This time, Enler’s antlers jiggled slightly differently, with a yes. “Ours as well. But this is something different. Shards build on the horizon days. Broken things for tomorrow.” Enler reached out his three fingered hand and touched the force field between them.

“Take care, Newborn. There is less known than not.”

With that, Troop could agree.

They said their goodbyes, and Troop headed home. He didn’t bother to ride Scally the rest of the way. He’d spent enough time in the saddle, and he wanted to stretch his legs for the last bit of the trip. He walked along the barrier, dragging his fingers across the smooth energy shield, feeling the tingle all the way up to his wrist.

When the province had been taken, the shape of the geography the aliens had spirited away wasn’t anything that made sense. Troop had seen old maps and knew it was different now. The ends had been lopped off, and big swooping bites intruded in a bunch of locations. The final result was a strange puzzle piece of a thing, fitted into a spot among the other pieces of stolen worlds.

It had played havoc on the highway system, isolating some communities for years before they cut their way back to the central hub of civilization in the middle of the province. Where Troop lived, near the Hubward border, NuWest of Shag Harbour, was about as far out in the sticks as you could get. Maybe not quite as remote as the people in the Canso Barrens, by the Psuedosupia Zone, but it was nicer.

He’d been to every swooping wall and border twist of their penned-in world a dozen times over. His mother saw to that. His first memories were tent living, as she dragged him all around the province, mapping the shields and cataloguing all the new alien species and environments that surrounded them. Before he could walk, she’d carry him; sling on the front, travel pack on the back. Once he could do more than toddle, he got his own pack. She’d call him her little Trooper, so much, he never had any other name. What he mostly remembered was crying and trying to keep up. Winters spent at Grandpa Paul’s had been a welcome relief.

Mercifully, by the time he was seven, she’d circled the border enough that she didn’t feel the need to travel it constantly. They’d settle into camps, for months at a time, where she’d do in-depth studies of whatever region they were parked near. Troop was included in this as his home-schooling became a combination of being his mother’s sounding board, and her filling him in any knowledge required to understand her research.

There was no doubting her brilliance. Troop wasn’t surprised by her current position as Ministry of Science and Understanding Director, not after all she’d accomplished. It was an impressive list of feats that, unfortunately for him, didn’t include more than the most rudimentary requisites of mothering. She kept him alive, that was true. But Troop was pretty sure it was only so that she could nurture a loyal research assistant, not a son. Once he’d become a teen, he’d started to buck the rules. Right around the same time that she’d married the mayor of Halifax and had a kid with him.

It didn’t get better after that.

At seventeen, Troop had enough of his mother. After a lifetime of being her servant, he packed up his things and struck out.

It had taken three days for the police to drag him home. Two weeks later, he managed to stay away for eleven days and made it as far as Antigonish. The third time, he wasn’t even able to cross the lawn. That was the state of things, for a while. His mother pushing and forcing his participation, as he kept running away.

It was Grandpa Paul who came up with a solution. Troop could leave, but only if he were doing so in pursuit of a goal; some research or scientific endeavor. A project that he’d be required to report back on. Gone, but still a part of his mother’s ‘work’. She hadn’t liked the idea, convinced that Troop would never come up with anything worth studying and, even if he did, he wouldn’t follow through and would wind up being dragged back within a month.

But the compromise suited Troop just fine. He already knew what it was he wanted to do. He always had, ever since he was a boy, living a life alongside the seemingly never-ending forcefields.

Troop wanted to break out of his cage.

More than anything, he saw their home, the whole province, as a prison cell. Most people believed, at the time, that they were in some sort of zoo. Nobody liked it, but there was no going home. Troop didn’t care about getting home. He’d never seen Earth. All he’d wanted was to break through the limitations his captors imposed.

His mother had endorsed the plan, funded him, and sent him on his way. Once he proved devoted to the task, she stopped trying to control him, mostly. After all, he was doing something she wanted. It was adequate to her needs. Her attention shifted. There was a Monolith, in the heart of Halifax, nobody’d ever figured out how to read it. She finally settled down and focused on that.

Troop had good memories of the time he’d spent trying to escape, up to a point. With the resources of the MSU he’d been able to hire a team. It was where he’d met Callie. Together, they’d tried all sorts of things to break out. From simple exercises in force involving catapults and battering rams, to various attempts with lasers, microwaves, and a whole plethora of explosives. None of it worked, but the decade was well spent in Troop’s estimation.

Their efforts didn’t amount to nothing, and they learned a great deal about the barriers. It turned out that they were more there for the environmental regulation of their biomes, and they were only incidentally barriers. Their main function was to create wind and tides and clouds. All of the weather blew in, and out, of the walls. There was an extremely complicated system there for producing, managing, and directing molecules in an astounding manner of ways. Troop and Callie never figured out if it was an act of creation, teleportation, transference, or what. That was never their goal. Breaking through was, and they discovered that beneath the environmental manipulation layers, there was a basic core that formed the barrier.

Troop didn’t like to think about what had happened after that.

He took his hand off of the shield wall and took the trail along the lake that led back to his house. He didn’t bother with holding Scully’s reigns. She followed him just fine.

As he rounded a cluster of shoreline boulders and the house came into view, Troop saw that there was a black SUV parked in front of his cabin. He hadn’t seen a working car in years. Certainly, none so far from Halifax. Keeping them in parts was near impossible, and the fuel was just about the most expensive thing in all of Nova. Only the most powerful had access to a working vehicle. If they’d taken the effort to send one after him, he knew it wasn’t good news.

It wasn’t normal, this conversation with Enler. In particular, his questions about Troop having any problems. Their talks were usually more light-hearted. They’d chat about different aspects of their culture, or share information about the other adjacent species. Food and biology, history and science. Hell, sometimes Troop would just tell him about old movies. But today, Enler’s whole demeanor was different, and it took Troop the walk home to realize that his friend was scared.

He stopped before clearing the tree line and considered turning around. Lindsey had mentioned that the Mitchell’s place was empty now. He could go there for a while, stay off-grid, until he was able to sort out what was going on. It wasn’t a bad idea. He’d almost made up his mind to do it when he heard someone off to the right clear their throat.

Standing in the woods, back off-trail, was a big man in a dark suit. He looked out of place, there in the forest. His arms were folded, and Troop could see that his right hand was inside his jacket. He looked like a mobster, and the implication in his stance was clear. The man didn’t say anything, just pointed toward the house with his chin. Troop knew where he was supposed to go.

There wasn’t any choice anymore, whatever it was, he had to deal with it. As he headed home, he realized that his alien friend wasn’t the only one who was afraid.

“Broken things for tomorrow,” he thought.

Troop took a deep breath and went to meet it.

Chapter 2: The Photo arrives on February 23rd for free release!

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