Short Stories 366:151 — “The Sacrifice of Pawns,” by Mark Ladouceur

coverI’m not sure how to approach this particular story without semi-spoilers (consider yourself warned), and it’s further complicated by the format of this particular anthology. The Clan Chronicles: Tales from Plexis is a shared-world anthology taking place in Julie Czerneda’s Clan Chronicles universe, and takes side characters from said world, places them into the hands of other authors, and the result is stories that most of the time could easily be read as stand alone tales without worry. Mark Ladouceur’s story is one of the few where the entire tone of the story changes if you go in knowing information from the Trade Pact universe, however, as the fate of the character in question is already set in stone within Czerneda’s A Thousand Words for Stranger.

So. On the one hand, if you go in without foreknowledge, you’ve got a story about Kurr di Sarc, an archeologist tasked with figuring out what happened to a destroyed ship with potential survivors, who is balancing this search with missing his partner (who is expecting). He wants to find out what happened to the ship since she had relatives aboard, but he also really wants to go be with her, but he’s a solver of puzzles and likes mysteries, so off he goes to Plexis to begin his search. What follows is a mystery, with cat-and-mouse elements, as Kurr realizes things aren’t quite what they seem, and there are powerful people he might need to consider responsible—and has an ending that’ll punch all the harder (and definitely is the first story to end in such a way in the anthology), which can be all the more surprising.

On the other hand? If you know what happens to Kurr di Sarc already, then instead the story isn’t one of mystery so much as it’s… well… an inevitable dark tale that fills in some gaps with tragedy and sorrow. Definitely not a pick-me-up story, this one doesn’t offer glimmers of hope internal to its own story, and it’s only knowing the rest of the series as a reader that I could draw that spark of vengeance and justice for myself as a reader. Either way, the story is really well-written and delivers that punch with full effect, but it’s definitely the first in the anthology to go in such a cruel direction.

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