Leah Cutter tells page-turning, wildly creative stories that always leave you guessing in the middle, but completely satisfied by the end.

She writes mystery of all sorts. Her Lake Hope cozy mysteries have been well received by readers, who just want to curl up and have tea with the main character. Her Halley Brown series, revolving around a private investigator who used to be with the Seattle Police Department, leave you guessing at every turn. And her speculative mysteries, such as the Alvin Goodfellow Case Files—a 1930s PI set on the moon—have garnered great reviews.

She's been published in magazines such as Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and in anthologies like Fiction River: Spies. On top of that, Leah is the editor of the new quarterly mystery magazine: Mystery, Crime, and Mayhem.

Read more books by Leah Cutter at www.KnottedRoadPress.com.

Follow her blog at www.LeahCutter.com.

Read more mysteries at www.MCM-Magazine.com

Origins by Leah Cutter

In the end, physics fails humans. Only through the use of magical portals will they escape Earth and travel the immense distances between the stars.

But who discovered the intersection between magic and physics? How and when are the first portals created? What happens when the world finally discovers the existence of magic?

Come explore the very beginnings of the exploration of space in Origins: Huli Intergalactic.




The Beacon

Ao Dan swore at the morning news scroll as it meandered up his screen. What, were those idiots back on Earth trying to destroy all of mankind? Sure, he lived on the Mars colony and might escape the worst of the (latest) wars, but the colony was barely fifty years old. It wasn't self-sufficient, in terms of neither produce nor genetics.

There wasn't anything he could do about it either. Not even if he returned to Earth. Being a warlock, even a mighty one who regularly surfed tremendous chaotic streams of power, didn't mean he had the magic necessary for mundanes to actually be able to see the miracles he performed, or even be affected by it.

The majority of humanity didn't even know that magic existed. Oh, sure, they knew the wizardry of scientists, the tweaks of genetics that bioengineering had led to, particularly over the last one hundred years, but not true enchantment.

Or real monsters.

With a wave of his hand, Ao Dan dismissed the scrolling screen that he had projected above the breakfast bar of his tiny living space. As much as he might petition the gods (and he'd met more than one being of incredible power) it appeared that they couldn't change that one indisputable fact: mundanes couldn't see magic, even when it was performed in front of them. Most magical spells didn't affect them either, regardless if done by a boring, law-abiding wizard or a chaos-surfing warlock.

It seemed that mankind was destined to go to an early grave and never taste true power.

Or never escape beyond the local solar system and reach the stars.

Ao Dan stacked his chopsticks and his breakfast bowl (with the remains of the absolutely delicious garlic chicken soup still clinging to the rim) into the cleaner. He remembered when it would have been a dishwasher he used. However, while humans had discovered there was some water locked beneath the surface of Mars, there wasn't enough of it to waste on trivial things like cleaning dishes. That was much more easily accomplished by sonics.

Ao Dan didn't understand all the science. He'd just marveled at the new inventions as they came along.

Wizards, those people who reveled in merely doing as he or she was told, had a life expectancy around ninety years.

As a warlock, breaking the rules and ignoring the consequences, he could choose to live as long as he wanted.

And he planned on sticking around forever. Or at least until he found his true soulmate, Richard, reborn into another body in a new time and space, as Sun Hou-tse, the Monkey King, had promised him.

Ao Dan had once hired a computer hacker to scan all reported births for specific factors, selecting for parameters that would indicate Richard was reborn. There had been too many variables, though. Too many false positives. No way of knowing for certain if this or that squalling ball of wailing flesh would turn into the man that Richard had been.

How long before Richard was reborn? Had he already lived and died again, never crossing Ao Dan's path? It had been over two hundred years since Ao Dan had last held his love. With his magic, he could still see Richard, recall those past days with an accuracy and veracity that technology had yet to master, even with the best holograms.

Maybe today was the day. But he wasn't about to find Richard if he didn't leave his living quarters.

Like every person on Mars, Ao Dan automatically checked the air quality of the hallway before opening the hatch leading from his tiny rooms to the shared parts of the habitat. While alarms were supposed to sound if there was a breach (loud enough to wake the dead) that didn't mean that anyone actually trusted all the systems. The mantra they all lived by was, "Trust, but verify."

The mechanical dial was all green, and the magical thread that Ao Dan sent out showed that the corridor was normal, so he opened his hatch. He could survive a breach—his magic would protect him from exposure as well as the lack of oxygen. Not that he'd ever tried doing a spacewalk or a surface walk without an EVA suit.

He had tried opening his helmet once while on the surface, when far away from any camera's watchful eye. The surge of magic required to save him had destroyed most of the electronics in his suit. Fortunately, the manufacturer had replaced it immediately, and with a much higher quality one, assuming that the total system failure had been their fault (and that Ao Dan would have sued them and won).

A few colonists walked along the corridor, minding their own business and going to their various tasks. Everyone had on variations of the same outfit—tight jumpsuits that could be worn inside an EVA suit in every color of the rainbow.

You never knew when you'd have to jump into a spare suit due to a breach. The colony had "breach drills" on a regular basis. One of the idiots in charge actually opened an airlock in a random location at least once a year to make sure that people were complying.

At least the colonists had embraced color. The habitat walls and floor were all the same manufactured beige that made Ao Dan want to scratch his eyes out on a regular basis. It warmed his heart that the other colonists had felt the same way and insisted on wearing the brightest clothes they could find.

Ao Dan himself was in a suit with a bright fuchsia top that had wide gold stripes running from under his arms to the start of his thighs. A design of green leaves and vines circled his arms from cuff to shoulder. Though the outfit was a single piece, most people preferred to at least appear to be wearing pants, so the legs of Ao Dan's outfit were a much darker red, with the same pattern of leaves and vines circling his calves.

He kept his hair buzzed short, like most people did, again, necessity driving fashion.

What no one knew was that only half of his hair would ever grow back. He'd given the other half to the Monkey King, a token that bound him to the chaotic god, a cheap enough price for the promise of being reunited with Richard.

Ao Dan nodded at a few of the people he recognized, but he wasn't forced to actually talk to anyone that morning, always a bonus. Or maybe the other colonists had grown tired of the growls and grunts that he gave to even the politest of small talk.

Most of the other colonists were short like Ao Dan, who was barely five eight, his Chinese heritage showing in the fold of his black eyes and his darker skin. Only a few had that willowy height and slight build that indicated they were natives to the planet.

Being a wizard, or even a warlock, didn't mean that Ao Dan automatically had enough money to eat. He had saved and invested judiciously so he could get by for a decade or more without working. However, just practicing magic all day in his private room grew dull after a while.

When Ao Dan had first read about the proposed colony, he'd enrolled in computer and equipment repair classes, seeking to acquire the sorts of skills that a colony would require.

However, his magic didn't work well with computers.

When he'd been a wizard, following the strict rule of law, his power could be tolerated by the delicate electronics.

After becoming a warlock and harnessing the untamed, natural magic, he'd frequently blown out whatever machine he was working on.

It took a while for Ao Dan to find the perfect career that he could tolerate, that would require him to spend most of his time alone, and that the colonists would desperately need. It had required years of study, but he had spent the time to become an ichthyologist who could do double-duty as an aquaponics engineer, and who also had studied just enough botany to be dangerous.

Ao Dan ran the fish farm for the colony with an iron fist. No one was allowed into the aquaponic lab—just think what germs or diseases they might be carrying! It was far too easy for the fish to just die and the colony be out of luck.

Plus, he'd finally figured out how to transport more creatures from Earth through a magical portal if he accidently killed one (or more) of the long troughs of fish and hadn't collected enough eggs to reseed his harvest.

It was only possible to create a portal to a location that the magician had physically been in. The Monkey King had actually helped Ao Dan do this once, transporting him to the middle of one of the Great Lakes so that he could capture the freshwater fish he needed.

The controls outside the door to the lab showed everything was normal on the inside. The hatch to the fish farm ran on a separate power grid, supposed to isolate and protect the lab in case of serious system failure through the rest of the colony.

What good was it if the humans survived by jumping into suits, but their food supply died?

Ao Dan actually didn't need the redundant human systems. He'd set up a magical fallback himself, that he regularly renewed, so that if there was that sort of catastrophic breach the lab itself would be safely transported to a pocket world, the fish and the tanks held in stasis until the emergency was over.

The lab smelled green and wet, a welcome respite from the dry air of the rest of the colony. Ao Dan missed the smells of Earth more than he'd thought he would. Dark green walls suited the lab, better than the plain gray that they'd originally come in. It had been one of the few magical effects that Ao Dan had managed to pull off that the rest of the colonists could actually see.

The control room was located up one level from the long troughs of fish, below. Again, redundant systems, not just to control breaches but disease. Fish died surprisingly easily. Even ones who'd been genetically "hardened." Before Ao Dan could enter the farm itself, he had to go through an extra sonic cleansing cycle in the airlock. It always made his skin itch in the most irritating manner. More than once he'd had to stop himself from just blasting the thing to pieces.

Two huge tanks of fish dominated the control room, plus over a dozen smaller tanks that lined the walls. One of the big tanks was for control groups that Ao Dan used for his experiments. The other was filled with colorful tropical fish. Ao Dan had justified the expense to the colony by claiming that the saltwater fish had interesting characteristics that could be used to genetically engineer the freshwater fish into stronger, healthier farmed breeds.

While Ao Dan hadn't been making up all his claims out of whole cloth, he'd mainly wanted the tank for its beauty.

Ao Dan quickly verified that all was running well in the fish farm, below. His morning screen feed always included a rolling band of text at the bottom indicating all the important stats, like oxygen levels in the water, filtering systems capacity, estimated number of fish, and so on. Alarms would have sounded in his living quarters if something had gone terribly wrong. Still, he always checked first thing.

Today, he'd harvest half of one of the tanks. While the most humane method to kill the fish was to electrify the mesh encasing the bottom of the trough, Ao Dan found it much simpler to run a magical charge through the water, then lift the fish out instead of having to drain the water to reap his kill.

Ao Dan decided he would have one more cup of tea before starting his morning work. The smell of jasmine filled the air as the empty cup in front of him slowly filled. He sat down behind his desk, grimacing at the paperwork that just never ended. However, instead of starting up that mountain, he glanced at the newsfeed from Earth.

And cursed again.

He was going to have to figure out how to get humanity to not blow themselves up before they had achieved something akin to faster than light travel. It was the only way humanity might survive its stupider instincts.

But how?