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about the author…
I am a novelist, screenwriter, producer, poet, actor, and freethinker who supports both imagination and rationalism. I am an advocate for film and the written word and possibility.
I am a recent (2013) winner in the Writers of the Future contest and have since had work accepted in Escape Pod (“The Nightmare Lights of Mars”), Daily Science Fiction, Apex (winning the 2013 Story of the Year Reader’s Poll), Clarkesworld, COSMOS, Strange Horizons, Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Electric Velocipede.
about the narrator…
Jeff Ronner is a voice actor, audio engineer, and sound designer. His work has appeared in radio and TV spots, non-commercial narrations, and on those annoying in-store supermarket PA systems. Cleverly disguised as a mild-mannered hospital IT manager during the day, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jeff last read for us in EP439: Cradle and Ume
People of the Shell
by Brian Trent
Egypt’s rolling ice-dunes were suddenly peppered by a new ashstorm, as if a bowl of soot had overturned in the heavens. King Cyrus held up his fist and the war drummer ceased his rhythmic pounding, the oarsmen relaxed, and the sandship ground to a halt in the slush. The ash sprinkled Cyrus’ cloak and collected in his beard. He leaned against the deck rails and stared.
“Do you see that?” Cyrus asked his daughter, lowering his facemask around his smile. “Look!”
The girl squinted. “Are those the pyramids, father?”
“As I promised you.”
Three fires danced high in the darkness. In a world of never-ending night, the Egyptians alone had devised a brilliant defiance. The Giza pyramids were like magical lighthouses, capstones removed, their vast bodies filled with pitch, and red fires lit to smolder like desperate offerings to the vanished sun.
Standing on the sandship deck alongside his king, the Magus Jamshid said, “May they welcome us warmly. We are in no condition to fight.”
“I did not need a fight to take Babylon,” Cyrus reminded him.
“That was before the Hammerstrike, my lord.”
But the king waved his hand dismissively. “I will go to them and look in their eyes, and speak to them as friends, and trust that generosity has not perished with the trees.”
The withered magus grunted derisively. He was bearded and ancient, his skin like the patina of old scrolls. Jamshid wore a dark blue turban, facemask, and a scintillating black robe the same color as his pitched eyebrows. His gaze smoked like hot iron.
The royal sandship stood at the head of the royal Persian fleet. It sounded majestic, Cyrus thought, but only four sandships – with a meager two hundred starving Persians – remained. The men resembled skeletons in their rags. Their leather armor was reduced to chewed twines that the men fisted in their hands, to nibble on in want of food. When the last of the leather was eaten, little trace would remain that animals had ever existed on the Earth.
Cyrus turned to their dirtied ranks. “I give you Egypt!” he bellowed. “It is still here, as I promised!”
Hunger, not hope, blazed in their eyes as they beheld the pyramid fires.
Jamshid touched his arm. “Sire! The runner is returning!”
Cyrus followed the magus’ gnarled brown hand. He saw only falling ash and smoky miasma curling from the ice.
A moment later, the scout emerged into the fleet’s amber lamplight. The man saw the royal sandship and dug his spiked boots into the ice to stop hard. The archers relaxed their bows.
“Sandship, my lord!” the young man cried. “Approaching dark and fast from the southeast!”
“Banner?” Cyrus asked.
“I have not set eyes on it. They run dark.”
“They have seen our lamps,” the magus guessed.
Cyrus stooped to his daughter. She was such a tiny thing, like a miniature of his wife, with an oval brown face and her hair pulled back in the royal style. “Go into the cabin, my dear.”
She nodded and bit her lip. “Are you going to kill people, father?”
“I hope not.”
“Are they going to kill us?”
“Not while I live.”