A beautiful spring day ahead
Clear skies above, warm but not hot
We want to be out in it, feeling it
But the danger is still too strong
Watching birds go about their business
And seeds innocently sprouting
There are two things right now we fear
The first is sickness, deadening the lungs
Drowning on land, all alone, intubated
The second is old men, suits with servants
Telling us to die for their money

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Matt held up his phone, the recorder app running. “Explorer’s log, entry 1292. Our mission continues, though resupply remains limited. More and more of the worlds we encounter have hostile environments. I’ve had to increase to a Level II environment suit when I venture out to explore.”

Running his hand through the cupboard, he pulled out a box of expired Pasta-Roni and wrinkled his nose. “Rations are as low as morale.”

Looking over to Kevin, asleep on the couch, Matt continued: “My copilot has dealt with the situation by remaining in his hibernation chamber for increasing periods of time. That won’t do for me.”

He looked at the pile he’d started on the floor, made of of cut-up old raincoats and PPE material from the household stash. “I’m an explorer. I need to explore.”

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“There’s one of these ziggurats every 101.2 kilometers, equidistant around Rethymnon’s equator,” Brogan said. “A simple fractal pattern made up of repeating square tombs. There must be billions of aliens entombed in them for the structures to be so large.”

“And you know this how?” said Neilos. He exhaled heavily, momentarily fogging his suit’s helmet, from the exertion of walking in the thin atmosphere with his heavy load.

“It’s one of the great romantic mysteries of interstellar archaeology,” replied Brogan. “Who were they? What did they look like? Why come here to bury their dead?”

“Open the tomb and see,” Dragovic muttered. “Mysteries solved.”

“That’s not allowed. Grave-robbing and such,” said Brogan. “Once they realized these were tombs, the law said they’d have to leave them alone.”

“And what about us?” Neilos said.

“Neilos, I would break into King Tut’s tomb myself and throw him out of his gold coffin if it meant not dying on this rock,” Brogan replied. “I’m also hoping we’re near one of the things that was surveyed. Might be some equipment we can scavenge, or a castaway hut.”

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“It shouldn’t be that hard,” said Neilos. “Check in the database for ‘planet with incredibly huge ziggurats’ and you’re golden.”

“If we had the complete database up and running, maybe,” Dragovic said. “But with a static backup? It’s a matter of searching broadly and narrowing things down.”

“While we wait here to die of oxygen starvation or, if we’re lucky, actual starvation,” Neilos said. “Wonderful. Take your time.”

Brogan returned from the overlook and handed the binocs back over. “There’s no need to look any further,” she said. “I recognize the structure.”

Neilos slapped his suit’s gloves together. “Oh good, you’ve been here before. Tell us about the garden spots, the best places for a light lunch.”

“Does the name Rethymnon, or Kresijos IV, ring a bell?” Brogan said. “You’d have heard about it if you were up on your archaeological findings.”

“Please, skipper,” said Dragovic. “Just tell us where we’ve crashed.” He looked over his shoulder at the approaching storm. “Preferably before we die.”

Brogan gestured at the distant structure, rising over the windswept valley and extremophile lichens alike. “Those aren’t buildings,” she said. “They’re tombs, the greatest precursor tombs known to exist anywhere, and we’re about to be the first people to see them up close.”

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“If you wish for hot steel to course through your veins, Marjatta, then so be it.” Antero made to raise the Bloodblade, tensing to close the remaining distance separating him from his quarry.

Marjatta abruptly swept aside her cloak, revealing what had lain concealed in its folds: a short gun with a flared muzzle, made from the same dull and rune-encrusted steel. The pan was primed, the flint cocked, and her finger was in the trigger.

“Wha-?”

A deafening blast cut Antero off–literally. He tumbled to the ground as his torso went one way and his legs went the other.

“Only 140 people has to die to forge the Blooderbuss,” Marjatta said, smiling. “We needed way fewer sacrifices than you did, I think. But a gun made from blood steel that shoots bone bullets works just as well, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe even better.”

Antero weakly swung the Bloodblade from the ground, only to have Marjatta stomp on it, pinning the weapon to the blood-soaked earth.

“The Bloodblade means you are too close,” added Marjatta. “Foes can hit back. The Blooderbuss cuts them down where they stand, paces away, and here I am without a scratch.”

A rueful chuckle on his lips, Antero nodded and died smiling.

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Antero strode through the mists of battle, bearing in his arms the Bloodblade. He kept it limber, his fingers tight at the top but loose at the bottom, to enable swift and brutal strikes with the dull red metal, suffused with runes that glowed a bright ochre.

“360 men died to make this blade,” Antero said.

Marjatta did not stir beneath her cloak, even as the furious winds of combat raged about her and Antero approached armed and menacing.

“We drained them of every last drop of their blood, boiled it down, and forged it into steel.”

“Then it’s true what your masters say,” said Marjatta. “A man can be forged into anything with the right tools.”

“Quite so,” said Antero. “But the Blood God is not merciless. He demands sacrifice, but not slaughter. You may submit to him and yet live. Or if you prefer, you may flee.”

“Very kind of you. But I choose the third option.”

“To die?” Antero was a handful of paces away now. “Well, I can oblige you if that’s your wish, but I had rather hoped you might live.”

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Bushmill™ Irish Whiskey

Writing Irish: Selected interviews with writers from the Irish literary supplement by James P. Myers.

It’s been said that great sadness and great libations make great writers, which may explain the many titans of literature that have come from Ireland, both Northern and Republic of.


Chardonnay

A New Ballad: The Bottle of Wine and Butler, author unknown.

Drinking songs have been big for ages, but after the invention of the printing press, songs of all kinds became big business, and were printed and sold in huge numbers. The actual musical notes were published starting in the 1850s, and were the most popular entertainment you could buy until recorded music arrived.


Hummus

Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel by Yael Raviv.

Who owns a food? Who gets to say what is, or is with it? Everything, from humble chickpea spread on up, comes from somewhere and says something in someone’s eyes. But who decides?


Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South edited by E. Patrick Johnson.

Many northerners have never heard of sweet tea, never seen it, but it is there all the same, visible or invisible. The same is true of our people; you may not see them, or hear of them, but they are there, and they are worth celebrating.


Pinto Beans

New Border Voices: an Anthology edited by Brandon D Shuler.

We say that certain foods and tastes are “south of the border,” but the plants themselves know no borders. They grow where they grow, and it’s up to us to make meaning, and meals, from them.

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