The Cosmic Codex
The Cosmic Codex
"In the Country of Free Men"

"In the Country of Free Men"

An excerpt from my novelette in Boundary Shock Quarterly 25
“Amid the forests of the Moon” by Brian S. Pauls, 2023; Digital illustration created using Midjourney

My novelette, An Illicit Mercy, is part of a new promotion in December, Journey Into the New World.
Check out nearly 45 novels, short stories, and excerpts, available for free.

by Brian Scott Pauls, with the help of Claude AI

Science fantasy is a sub-genre of both science fiction and fantasy. It's less restrictive than science fiction but more grounded than fantasy. This provides an ideal canvas for certain types of stories.

I've written my latest novelette as a science fantasy. It's now available in Boundary Shock Quarterly 25.

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“In the Country of Free Men” follows the adventures of Granuaile Moore. The great-granddaughter of Lemuel Gulliver, she sails on her first voyage to the Moon:

In this thrilling tale, Granuaile Moore travels to the mysterious Moon. There, she gets caught up in an adventure beyond her wildest dreams. Her scout flyer suffers attack and destruction. Granuaile finds herself at the mercy of the cruel ruler known as the Drummer. Imprisoned in his decaying palace, she befriends a young servant boy. Desperate, she hatches a daring plan to escape back to Earth. The two race across a bizarre landscape, pursued by soldiers. They must reunite with the island-ship the “Lemuel II”--if it's still there! Granuaile's quest to explore new worlds has led her into grave danger. But with courage and cleverness, she might live to sail the skies once more.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“In the Country of Free Men”

by Brian Scott Pauls

January 5, 1792

Our silver satellite fills the sky! Besides the seas visible to anyone from our world, we can now make out the mountains with our unaided eyes. Using a spyglass, I can discern finer features, such as hills, lakes and rivers.

We're now close enough to the ground to see extensive white forests, so different from the green foliage of our own planet. Through my telescope, I can tell the wooded region ends to the north in a range of highlands. Beyond these, I see hamlets and tilled fields. A city rests on the horizon.

We’ve landed in a vast clearing. Trees with silver trunks and pale leaves surround us. It’s like a fairy kingdom.

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The magnificent crescent Earth, a dozen times larger than the Moon as seen from home, hangs in the blue daytime sky.

One “day” here is a little less than thirty of our days. As we’ve arrived shortly after sunrise, we’re unlikely to experience night before we return to our own world.

Tomorrow I’ll determine how to explore this new land. I'm especially interested in the inhabited territory to the north.

January 6, 1792

Zephyr and I had a difference of opinion this morning.

I told her I planned to take the flyer out myself.

She disagreed, berating me with my duty as captain. She even concocted visions of the catastrophes that might befall me. In her view, a crewman should scout the surrounding country. She wants me to remain on the Lemuel II like a child in need of a nursemaid.

I lost my temper at this impertinence. I began shouting, attracting the attention of nearby crew members.

Mastering myself, I ordered Zephyr to retire with me to the captain’s house. I didn’t want to damage discipline by continuing to dress her down in front of my men.

Once indoors, I pointed out that when Father died, we sailed back to Boston. The Lemuel II could do the same if I fail to return.

The Houyhnhnm then used the memory of Father against me! She declared she owed it to her friend to dissuade me from undertaking such a foolhardy mission.

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I pounded my fist upon my desk and said words I will not record here. In my anger, I accused Zephyr of cowardice and claimed she’d left Father unavenged out of fear for her life. I told her I would pilot the flyer, and that was my last word as her commanding officer. The matter was not open to further debate.

My first mate gazed at me with sadness in her enormous eyes. But according to her Houyhnhnm upbringing, she complied at once, departing my cabin to make the arrangements.

I took a firm tone with her, but my duty as captain comes before friendship.

Stocking the little airship with provisions, I stowed my small-sword behind the single seat. Other than my sword, I bore a flintlock pistol in the sash around my waist and a dagger in my boot.

Departing the Lemuel II, I sailed over the ivory forests of the Moon. Keeping my height low and my speed slow, I took in as much as I could. I didn’t want to miss sights no other human (so I then thought) had seen.

Signs of life were everywhere, color hardly anywhere. Pale birds with vast wingspans soared above and about me. Gray-and-white insects like giant moths landed on the bow of the flyer. Below I saw fleet creatures like deer, but larger, bounding between silver trunks.

As I flew north, the land climbed. I’d come to the highlands dividing the forest from the settled countryside beyond. I increased my speed as I rose, eager to see what manner of people inhabited this world. Within twenty or thirty minutes, I'd reached the summit of the range. Then I descended, following the contour of the hills as they dropped toward cultivated fields.

Vast tracts of farmland spread out on either side and far into the distance. Like the woods, this landscape displayed a pallet of whites, silvers, and grays. I found it hard to distinguish the crops from the gray-white soil. My telescope cleared up the mystery. Something like maize, with milky husks and stalks, predominated in the fields.

The farmhouses and other buildings were constructed of grimy bricks. The majority needed repair. Several had holes in their roofs, and others suffered from collapsing walls.

At first I didn’t see any people. After about twenty minutes, I spied a crew working in a field to the east. I examined them through the spyglass. They looked no different from me, except their skin was pale, like an albino's. Many were afoot, tending the crops with hand-held implements. A few rode beasts resembling the wild “deer” I had seen in the forest.

As I watched, one laborer looked up, then pointed at me and appeared to call out. At once, the others were looking and shouting. Some pointed and a handful shaded their eyes to see.

I didn't want to become a local sensation. Tipping the lodestone, I shot away like a cannonball.

Risking a repeat of this incident seemed unwise. I increased my height above the ground to avoid detection.

I was a little south of a small hamlet. Several natives were out and about in streets lined with grubby white buildings. No one looked or pointed in my direction.

I maneuvering the flyer to hover over the town. Once in place, I alternated between observation and making detailed sketches and notes.


The author is attacked by a hostile airship; it destroys her craft but she disposes of the lodestone. She is captured and abused; her captors search for the lodestone but cannot find it.

Author’s Note: From this point on, I have had to recreate entries from memory. Events and circumstances provided no opportunity for keeping a diary.

My dedication to exploration was my undoing. The people of the village did indeed start shouting and pointing, but not at me.

I swung my spyglass astern. To my amazement, another airship hung beneath the lower limb of the Earth.

Unlike my small flyer, this was a large, awkward contraption. It looked more like a bloated whale than any sort of conveyance. A kind of cabin was slung below the main bulk. I could make out a pair of men with pale white faces behind an immense window set in the cabin's front. One of them had a telescope to his eye, and I saw him speaking to the other man.

Two fireballs appeared on either side of the cabin and streaked toward me. Spinning in my seat, I seized the lodestone control levers. But before I could reposition the stone, an explosion like a cannon shell rocked the flyer.

My vessel lurched, then rolled toward its port side and descended. This may have saved my life, for a brilliant star shot past the starboard bow. It came so close that had I reached out my hand, I could have touched it.

Craning my neck over my left shoulder, I saw a gaping wound in the hull, pointing at an angle toward the ground. Worse yet, the exposed lodestone was straining to get free. It had broken out of its frame. If it pushed through the gash, it would slip free of the flyer altogether.

With a sinking feeling, I looked down. I was dropping faster than I liked. Now the townspeople were looking up at me and pointing.

I moved the control lever that should have rotated the stone back into position for an ascent. Another lurch and a slight increase in my rate of descent caused me to stop immediately. A second glance backward showed the stone now stuck out even further.

As the flyer approached the ground, I leapt from the seat and landed in a roll. Rising, I turned to watch as the craft settled down with a tortured groan.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from “In the Country of Free Men”. You can read the entire story in Boundary Shock Quarterly 25: Gulliver’s Other Travels. It's now available at Amazon and other online booksellers.

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The Cosmic Codex
The Cosmic Codex
Living in a science fiction universe...