From the ‘Darkness and Good’ blog comes a collection of fans’ favourite stories, all in one convenient volume. Come read about gods and monsters, unicorns and shapeshifters, magical worlds and galaxies far, far away!
Head to our website, http://darknessandgood.blogspot.com, for free weekly science fiction and fantasy short stories.
PLEASE NOTE: This volume contains stories with both Australian and American English spellings.
EXCERPT FROM ‘THE BOY NAMED ‘NO”:
TWO STRAIGHT LINES OF unwanted waifs stood at military attention by their cots. Matron L. R. Rus’ heels clicked as she marched down the rows, inspecting hospital corners, checking under the beds for debris, ordering hands held out so she could verify they were properly scrubbed.
The last cot stood alone, the blankets folded at the end of the bed where the orderly had placed them the night before. The cots tow-headed owner was missing.
Matron Rus scowled. “Justice Saber Rus, get out here this instant!” Not expecting much, she checked under the bed. Nothing. A twinge of clan pride kept her from screaming. He was a Rus; even if he was unwanted, at least he was intelligent.
She eyed his footlocker then, with practiced ease, overrode his lock code. Shredded uniforms and a shredded gray bag.
Frustration boiling over, she turned to the boy across the aisle. “Where is Justice?”
“He left last night, ma’am.”
She scrolled through her mental list of names, trying to place the dark-haired child. Virtuous Shield Pantros. Age six, large for his age and clan. Probably not a full Pantros. “Why, Mister Shield, did you not inform anyone when Justice left?”
“We were told not to make any noise, ma’am.” His dark brown eyes slid upward, watching her.
“You didn’t consider the consequences of allowing him to wander away?”
“I did, ma’am. But I can’t break the rules, ma’am,” he said with infuriating calm.
Matron Rus smiled. “Rebellion by obedience, how very charming. Unit!” she bellowed. “Move out to the cafeteria. You will be fed when Mister Saber joins you.”
The children marched out.
With a sigh, Matron Rus collected the tattered gray duffel and dropped it in the carbon recycler. It was always the first thing he destroyed when he threw a tantrum.
She opened the hall closet, looking for a replacement.
Terssa Camlin Fisher stepped around the corner. “Unit Five just arrived in the kitchen and the little Rondros Pantros girl told me they were waiting for Justice. Where is he?”
“A very good question, Miss Camlin. He’s run off again.”
Terssa sighed. “The poor dear. He was so upset when the claims list came in yesterday and he wasn’t on it.”
“He’ll never be on the claims list. He’s been here for six years and his name has never been listed.”
“Little Erinna Sandol Rus was listed this year, and she’s nearly nine.”
“Erinna’s mother brought her to the crèche. The enforcers found Justice wrapped in a bag in a trash can.” She slammed the closet door. “Children found in trash cans are not later claimed by their ecstatic family. Now, where are the gray duffels?”
“W-We’re out. I can put in an order for more.”
Matron Rus grumbled and opened the closet again. “No matter. If the boy didn’t shred his things every time he was upset, he wouldn’t need a new bag.” She pulled out a bright navy blue bag meant for the children two years younger than Justice. Each year group had their own color, a simple strategy to help the children find their things. Writing names on the inside was the other half of the strategy, and the major sticking point for the little Rus boy.
“I’m going to wait for Justice. Keep an eye on the other children. They’ll have to sleep in the cafeteria tonight. I don’t want one of his cohorts smuggling him food.”
She returned to the room, lost in thought. If I were a six-year-old boy, where would I hide?
Fan-shaped leaves rapping the windowsill drew her attention. The Aral mountains rose in the distance. Thick copses of pine, snow in high summer, and bitter cold tarns. Yes. That would tempt a boy away as the frost cleared from the grass.
Matron Rus took a seat on the boy’s spotless footlocker and waited.
Early morning light brightened to noon. Noon warmth faded into early evening. Cold wind rushed down from the mountain heights. As the supper bell rang, she saw one shadow moving in the lengthening shadows.
Over the windowsill two white ears appeared. A furry white face with distinctive black stripes followed. Ice-blue eyes glared and whiskers twitched.
Matron Rus stood up and brushed imaginary dust off her skirt. “Well, Mister Saber. Have you finally decided to grace the house with your presence?” She heard his stomach growl.
The little white tiger cub slunk over the windowsill, green burrs clinging to him. Blood matted the fur on his left leg.
“Playing rough were we, Mister Saber?”