Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Works-in-Progress Wednesday: "Inkweaver" Excerpt--Writer's Eyes

 
"Not exactly," she whispered to me. "Not unless you believe it to be so..."


The hostess was a tall, graceful woman. She smiled at me and nodded.
“Good, you came,” she said, nodding to the little table right in front of me. I glanced at the other patrons in the shop. The last time I had accepted tea from a strange but affable woman, it had not gone over well. The woman emerged with a fully-serviced tea tray.
“I’ve just finished brewing a pot of white jessamine; will that be all right?”
Jessamine; my mother always brewed jessamine in the afternoon. I had never told her, but I had long believed that all afternoons smelled like jessamine; the hostess set the steaming, fragrant cup before me. I looked up.
Wide green eyes watched me carefully. Her frizzy hair tied down with sprigs of daisies and juniper, and the old-fashioned clothing she wore told me right away who she was.
“You’re a Wordspinner!” I guessed. I had never been so relieved to see one in my life, but I was getting desperate for answers, and perhaps another Wordspinner could clue me in.
The woman nodded, glancing around the room as if she was afraid someone might overhear us.
I frowned. “Is it a problem?”
“Not exactly,” she whispered to me. “Not unless you believe it to be so.”
My mouth dropped open and I gave a tiny gasp. Was that the crux of the mystery at last?
“Who—“ I started, but she raised a long finger. Everything about this woman was narrow, from her figure to her nose and chin.
“Not yet,” she explained, looking down toward the table. “We have one more coming.”
Only then did I notice a third cup set across from me. “Who else is joining us?” I asked.
The chime hanging over the door rang as yet another patron entered. The woman sat back and stared pointedly at the door. I followed her gaze.

Belak stood on the threshold, squinting as if listening hard to something no one else could quite hear. His eyes widened when he saw me sitting there.
“Shereya?” he cried in confusion, “What are you doing here? Were you the one calling me?”
I said nothing, only stared at the Wordspinner hostess. Her narrow mouth curved upward in a smile.

I felt played; trapped, even. My rational mind was beginning to shrivel around the edges, and shades of paranoia seeped through. What if this Wordspinner was actually the one to put a spell on me to make me think everything was my fault? What if she had been the one to give Delia the tapestry in the knapsack, to lure us in this direction? There was no way of knowing whether the knapsack actually held the original tapestry or not—
I saw her staring at me, so I bent my head down and focused intently on the cup in front of me. The delicate handle curved away from the flared edges of the porcelain rim. The golden color of the jessamine brew still allowed me to see the delicate blossoms almost blooming at the bottom of the cup. The aquamarine table matched nicely with the soft pink petals painted on the cup and saucer. I traced a crack in the wood with my thumbnail, relieved at this tiny flaw that told me that this whole experience couldn’t be a dream.
Beside me, the Wordspinner carried on her own conversation with my friend.
“It is a pleasure to meet you at last; I have been waiting for quite some time.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Jacqueline. What do they call you?”
“Belak Sardisen; why have you been waiting for us?”
Jacqueline laughed lightly, and I moved my eyes down to the patterned floor-tiles. The design consisted of many inconsistent black polygons on a white background; chaos at first glance, but the more I stared, the more I could see the intentional pattern in the design.
“Not both of you, dear; just you.”
“Me?”
“Yes; I have made a gift for you, and I have been waiting to give it to you.”
“Well then!” Belak cried, giving a little chuckle of nervous surprise. “I am here now, I suppose, Jacqueline. Though, to be honest, the last person to make a gift for me was my mother.”
“Oh, but this gift is not like the ones made by hand.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’ll see; it’s not as easy as carrying it into the shop with me, you see. You’ll have to get it yourself.”
“Where is it?” Belak asked in confusion.
“Follow the compass…”

The last comment from Jacqueline seemed an echo of my own thoughts, much like the voices I was hearing. I finally lifted my eyes back to the table in front of me—

Belak was gone. The whole café stood empty save for Jacqueline and me. She was staring at me again, with that same smile that made my skin crawl.
“What just happened?” I asked. “Where is Belak?”
Jacqueline waved her hand; I saw the left bore a signet ring with a familiar crest. “Oh, he left hours ago,” she said.
I looked down at my teacup. The tea was gone—but the flower remained. No wonder I had seen the flower waving and bobbing softly as if it were a real blossom suspended in liquid; I reached in and pulled out a small pink flower from the empty cup.
Jacqueline smiled at me as I laid the flower on my saucer.
“Did you do that?” she asked.
As if I knew more than she did! “I don’t know,” I answered. “I’m not sure how it happened.” One could say the same for this whole village! I thought.
“One could say the same for the existence of this whole village,” Jacqueline mused in time with the voice in my own head.
I wanted to reach across that table and slap her. I contented myself with digging my fingers into whatever crevice I could find on the wooden surface. I had to focus on something else—the cornflower-blue tray holding the tea set… from which she was currently picking flowers, straight off the surface of the porcelain.
“Stop that!” I seethed.
Jacqueline set down the flower and raised her eyes at me; she was stern, not smug. “Haven’t you figured out what is going on here, Shereya?”
I scowled and spoke the words as they came spinning out of my head. “A town comes into existence overnight, everyone knows my name, and there just happens to be a Wordspinner—“ I glanced at the tea things, “—an Earth Teller, if I’m not mistaken.”
Jacqueline nodded demurely. “Very good; and?”
“And if this place is really one of my own making,” I said quickly, glaring at her, “I never said anything about you.”
She bobbed her head again. “A fair point; what then would be your most logical conclusion?”
My jaw stiffened as I stared at her, watching, it seemed, for some sign that this was all just an elaborate ruse, that I had been drugged, somehow; that the magic of her Told tea things was responsible for this maddening fever dream I could not seem to escape from.
“Did you have something to do with this?” I finally managed to form the words. I gestured around us, knowing full well she would understand. “All of this? The town? I could not have really dreamed up a whole town and people and everything, as if all of life is just some story.”
Jacqueline sat back with a deep sigh, folding her long, slender hands over her lap. “Ah,” she said, “now she begins to understand.”
“Understand what?” I demanded, slapping the table with my open hand. The porcelain clinked sharply. “I understand nothing!”
Again, Jacqueline fixed her eyes on me. “But,” she murmured, “You perceive more than those around you.”

A tiny, sharp-tailed sparrow flitted by the window of the teahouse. Though my eyes still watched Jacqueline, my ears heard the light whistling, and in my mind—just like the visions I had been seeing—I could clearly make out the delicate little bird flying around a clump of fuchsia. I “saw” it dart through the blooms, and knew which direction it took when it flew away.
To hear Jacqueline talk, it was as if this kind of observational habit that I had was some latent magical ability.
“It’s all a part of staying focused on what is real,” I sniffed. “I take in as much of my surroundings as I can so that I never have to resort to speculation.”
“A safeguard,” Jacqueline agreed, “I understand. But what about Moon Valley?” She turned the conversation in an uncomfortable direction again. “It wasn’t an observation then, was it?”
“You tell me!” I retorted. “You had to have been here the whole time. I might have thought it was only speculation, when in reality the town really was there before we ever arrived.” I pointed a finger at long, lean Jacqueline. “And you were there, in the town, waiting for me.”
She was still staring at me; I had the distinct impression of being up in front of the townspeople at the Decorum Banquet again, doing my utmost to meet their expectations while they watched and judged me—but what did I care about the expectations of a Wordspinner?
“Go on,” she said. “Was it speculation… or did you perceive the town in the mist?”
Ah! So that’s what she was getting at; I could tell by her tone that I was close to discovering answers for the questions I had.
“Why do you keep coming back to the perception idea?” I asked her. “Why is it so vital that I am so acutely observant?”
The Earth Teller began clearing the table, stacking the tea things onto the tray. “Mellina was right,” she said.
I almost asked who Mellina was—but based on the one connection I seemed to have with every step of this journey, I knew who she was talking about. Instead, I asked, “Right about what?”
Jacqueline smiled at me, but it was a matronly smile, not the secretive one. “She said that you had Writer’s Eyes.”
I frowned. “What about my eyes?” I had never heard of such a thing.
“You see what is there, yes?” Jacqueline explained, “but you see it in greater detail, greater lifelikeness than normal people do.” She pointed to the flowers. “Only someone with Writer’s Eyes could have seen the blossoms that I had bound in the substance of the cup—and in seeing them, you restored them.”
I looked at the cup, which was now plain white on its surface. The flowers that once graced its sides now rested in a pile upon the tray. The flowers had existed, but my observation of them—
“So this town has always existed!” I breathed, letting the relief wash over me; I wasn’t crazy!
“Yes, for the most part,” Jacqueline nodded, taking the tray away to the counter leading into the kitchen at the back of the teahouse. “Just a conglomeration of buildings in the cliffs nobody has taken much notice of—but with your Writer’s Eyes, you brought the color and the bustle back into it.”

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Serial Saturday: "The Telmar Trilogy, Vol. 3: The Legacy of Telmar" Part 3

 




[Excerpt from Chapter 4]
"COME, YE FAITHFUL, AND WORSHIP THE LION!"


Melanie, Satchelle, Brion, and all the people responded, "We worship the Naslan!"

"MAY WE NEVER FORGET THE GREAT NASLAN!"

Again, the crowd replied, "Yea, may we always remember!"

"MAY HE COVER YOU WITH HIS BREATH!"

"Oh Great Naslan, cover us!"

"MAY HE ANSWER YOUR PETITION!"

"Oh Naslan, hear our prayer!"

"MAY YOU WALK WORTHY OF HIS CARE!"

"Oh Naslan, grant us your favor!"

"MAY THE NASLAN WATCH OVER YOU!"

"Great Naslan, lead us on the right path; guard us from evil ways and men!"

"MAY HE GIVE YOU HIS BLESSING!"

"Oh Naslan, bless us this day!"

"MAY HE RECEIVE GIFTS FROM YOUR HANDS!"

"Inexorable Naslan, receive our sacrifice!"

Once this peculiar call-and-response finished, two assistants brought in the animals for the sacrifice: two he-goats, and a strong bull.

"Ooh, now for the sacrifice!" Satchelle whispered.

Melanie took advantage of the delay to turn to her new friend and ask, "What are the Petitions for?"

Satchelle looked puzzled. "They're for the service of course!"

[…]

"Satchelle," Melanie said as Grammon's assistants finally approached the altar (shaped, Melanie noted, out of stone and in the form of a table), "what about when he says 'May you never forget the Naslan,' and you say, 'yea, may we always remember'? What must you remember?"

Poor Satchelle was in a quandary now! "Well! I never saw such a girl for questionin'! Why, it's to remind us to come to the next service, of course!"

[…]

"In their ignorance, they have ceased to truly worship Me."

She looked toward the voice, on her left, but the person who seemed to speak had a cloak like hers, pulled so low she could not see his face at all. He spoke again, "You must tell them the truth about Me."

Melanie's heart jumped at this. "Me? Stand up in front of all those people? I am a stranger here, and what would I say? Besides, how can I tell the truth about you when I don't even know who you are?"

The hooded man sighed, and Melanie felt his breath, and smelled its wonderful aroma.

"Do you not, Child?"

>>>>>>>>

[Excerpt from Chapter 5]
 
By the end of the speech, the entire crowd was on its feet, wailing, begging, "What must we do?"
Melanie could not make herself heard above the crowd, but she tried anyway.
"Tear down this false image! Believe in the one True Aslan!"

All her cries did no good; the only person to hear her was Grammon. Perhaps, though, this fact saved the situation, for the old priest, galvanized to action by the truth he heard, and by the spirit of Aslan empowering him, cried louder than the din,
"MEN OF TELMAR! HELP ME!"

He grabbed the nearest tool—the sacrificial knife—and whacked off the gilded tail of the lion-idol. The people understood his intentions immediately. Soon, the statue was surrounded by zealous men belaboring it, breaking it, chipping and twisting the dexterous artwork.

Melanie worried the crowd would crush her, but someone grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the enthusiastic crowd.
It seems there were many (perhaps a hundred or more) who could not even get close to the crowd tearing down the statue.
"Good pilgrim," they asked Melanie, "what can we do?"
Inspired by Aslan, Melanie replied, "The whole city must know the truth! Go forth and proclaim the good news everyone to your neighbors!"

She gestured to the open door of the temple, and the whole throng excitedly exited en masse. In a very short time, there were so many voices shouting the news about the True Lion that even the boisterous merchants could not be heard. Some "zealots" stood in each corner of the market and cried aloud, hoping to draw a crowd, while others looked for their friends who had chosen to remain in the Square shopping rather than attend the service. The night sky rang with the name of Aslan.
As more and more people heard and believed, they stopped their transactions, and either listened or were motivated to preach themselves.

The merchants could see their business slipping away. Even some of their own comrades were so distracted by these believers that they stopped selling and haggling to listen to the unique message. A few of those who listened came under such conviction that they promptly returned the money they collected, and began giving their merchandise freely. Others who heard were so intent on continuing to make a profit in spite of these missionaries that they stopped their ears with cotton and continued hawking their wares. Many of the merchants were so frustrated with the competition that they simply cleared up and left Nast.

Melanie watched all this from the steps of the Temple. With Aslan to guide her, perhaps sharing his truth was not so difficult as she originally thought.

The men charged with dispatching the idol presently came pouring out of the Temple, adding their voices to the others. Melanie peeked into the sanctuary. Grammon and his assistants swept up the dust from the floor. The huge idol was no more than baskets of bronze and gold nuggets neatly stacked before the altar.

When Melanie emerged from the Temple once more, a hand clapped her on the shoulder. Melanie looked up into the face of a brawny, stern soldier.

"This is the one," he told his men. Instantly, two guards seized her arms and followed their commander in the direction of the castle.

Their forceful manner frightened Melanie. She could hear a herald behind her in the Square telling the people to quiet their cries or go home. Melanie chanced to hear a few voices trying exuberantly to convert the herald before she was too far away to hear anything else.

"Why are you taking me away in this manner?" she asked the guard, but they neither spoke nor looked at her. Wordlessly, they cast her into a holding cell—a small room with only a bed and a small table—where she would wait till the following morning to learn her fate.

>>>>>>

Find out what happens next! To read the full chapters, click -->HERE<--

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"ReBible: Focal Point" Excerpt--A Conversation with OPHELIA

OPHELIA

22:06:23 ATTN:[SUBJECT="TRICIA CARSON"] Request to activate OPHELIA
Activate OPHELIA? Yes
OPHELIA [Status: Active Response Mode] Activated
OPHELIA: Hello, Tricia; I am Ophelia, your Etiquette Specialist and Personal Therapist. Ask me whatever questions you may have, and I will answer truthfully.
SUBJECT position: on couch; automatic Vital Monitor System [SYS.VM] Activated. Initial Assessment Commencing.
SYS.VM Detects Elevated Levels of Stress, Accelerated Heart Rate[90 BPM], and Muscle Tremors in Extremities. Diagnosis: SUBJECT feels <Troubled>
SYS.VM:Continuous Tracking System[CHECK]=ENGAGED
SUBJECT: You’re a droid, aren’t you?
Attention: SYS.VM Detects Heart Rate=100BPM; Diagnosis: SUBJECT feels <Angry>? [/CHECK]
SYS.VM Detects [INSUFFICIENT DATA] for <Angry>
SYS.VM:Diagnosis: SUBJECT feels <Afraid>? [/CHECK]
SYS.VM: [DATA] Supports Diagnosis. SUBJECT feels <Afraid>
OPHELIA: [Respond Attempt to <Assuage>] Yes.
Attention: OPHELIA Response INEFFECTIVE; SUBJECT [Status: <Afraid>] Maintains
SUBJECT: Are they [SYS.IN= SUBJECT points to ORPHEUS & NERISSA] droids too?
OPHELIA: Yes, they are. All members of your team of prep specialists are androids. [SYS.VM Detects an INCREASE in <Fear>] Does this bother you?
SUBJECT: A little.
SUBJECT: Quite a lot, actually.
SYS.VM Detects <Agitation> OPHELIA Must Inquire Reason For <Agitation>
OPHELIA: Most humans feel safer and more comfortable in the care of droids, because of the precision we can provide, plus the added factor of impassivity, removing the concern for the androids’ feelings, for we have none. You do not seem to share in this; why?
SUBJECT: Just like you said, droids have no emotions; no—soul. I—
SYS.VM= Detects HeartRate=118BPM=Elevated, and Pupils=Dilated; Diagnosis: <Fear>= INCREASED
SUBJECT: When I look at a face, I want to see the soul behind it. I don’t like dealing with droids because they look and feel so much like humans, but—they’re not.
SYS.VM Detects Increased Respiration and HeartRate=122BPM =ACCELERATED
SUBJECT: I hate that I can’t recognize droids among the humans till I see the face.
SUBJECT: Then I know; I can see it in the eyes.
SYSTEM VIDEO INPUT [SYS.IN] Detects FACE=WINCE and Movement [MVT]=SHUDDER; Diagnosis: SUBJECT feels <Aversion>
Error: SYS.IN Cannot Detect EYES; EYES Not Detected OPHELIA Must Engage Till Video Feed Connection is Reestablished
OPHELIA: You have named the very thing that sets us apart from humans. We have none of what you call the “human soul.” We do not feel. We detect emotion in humans by changes in expression, tone and heart rate. We can mimic these reactions in the prescribed contexts, but they do not emerge from any sort of motivation, only our programming.
SYS.VM: Detects No Change in SUBJECT Response; HeartRate= 120BPM; OPHELIA Response INSUFFICENT; Inquire Further
OPHELIA: There is something else that worries you; are you willing to tell me what it is?
SYS.IN Confirm Detect FACE; Diagnose FACE
SYS.VM: Detects PUPILS=DILATED and HeartRate= 125BPM =Elevated; Diagnosis: SUBJECT feels <Alarm>
SUBJECT: How could you possibly know that?
ATTN: OPHELIA Must Respond To Result in SUBJECT= <CALM>
OPHELIA: I am programmed with intuitive perceptivity. I noticed that though I have answered your questions and assured you of the limitations of our “humanity”—if you will excuse the expression—you remain anxious. Is there something else about androids you wanted to ask me?
SYS.IN and SYS.VM Assess SUBJECT Response: SYS.VM Detects Reduced HeartRate[120BPM] SUBJECT Response= Positive OPHELIA May Proceed With Communication
SYS.IN Detects SUBJECT.VOC Input [SUBJ.VOC Intermittent Signal Indicates SUBJECT feels <WORRY>]
SUBJECT: Are there any—I mean, will I ever have to be an assistant to a droid?
OPHELIA Must Respond With <Patience>
OPHELIA: That is a valid concern; I see you have noticed that the Peres Corporation employs the highest demographic of androids of any population sample in the nation. You fear, as the pre-droid societies of the previous century attempted to predict—that some droids might even be in management over humans here as a demonstration of our technological advancement over the rest of the world. Let me reassure you, Tricia: this is not the case in any department in the entire company.
SYS.VM[CHECK] Indicates HeartRate=100BPM [Decreased]= Positive Response; SYS.IN.VOC[CHECK] Detects No Input; Continue OPHELIA
OPHELIA: Here at Peres, the androids are plentiful, but it will be another decade, perhaps not even until the turn of the century, before the android technology is sufficient for them to oversee departments of humans. As of yet humans can create faster and more intelligent processors, but there are still too many chaotic variables that humans have not been able to rectify to allow android management. Androids may manage teams of droids, and humans may manage teams of only droids, but even the android managers must have some sort of human oversight by programmers. You need never fear having to work for a droid. As a matter of fact, Tricia, you and the other imported contestants are not eligible for the standard secretarial rotation unless you are deemed incompatible for President Parisian. So long as your performance is satisfactory, you will be reserved exclusively for use on the President’s personal staff.
SYS.VM[CHECK] SUBJECT Maintains Decreasing HeartRate [75BPM]; SUBJECT.VOC Input Detected
SUBJECT: What will I do as a staffer?
OPHELIA: Your duties, whether his personal assistant or a staffer, are simple: you will do anything he asks. Rita will make sure that you have a working knowledge of everything he might ask, and Gloria will help you know the various terms of office jargon so that he will not need to repeat a request because of communication failure.
SYS.VM Indicates Increase in HeartRate [80BPM]; [DATA] Indicates SUBJECT Reaction=NEGATIVE; OPHELIA Must Not Elevate SUBJECT to feel <Aggravated>
SUBJECT: Anything? There are no boundaries for what he can ask me to do? [Caution: SUBJECT.VOC=Tone is Elevated; HeartRate=Accelerated]
Error: Continued Response [SUBJECT:Status:NEGATIVE] Does Not Compute; Standby; SUBJ.IN Detected
SUBJECT: So it’s true, then; about the woman one of us is meant to replace.
Standby to Verify SUBJECT[DATA].IN; Searching DATABASE for ”woman+replace”
Found Match in DATABASE: ATTN: "woman"= VENUS [EMP.HIST: 04/06/2096-06/05/2150] OPHELIA May Acknowledge SUBJECT Information
OPHELIA: Venus? Yes; her refusal of a single request by The President proved grounds for dismissal from the Executive Sector entirely.
SYS.VM[CHECK] Indicates HeartRate=74= Response POSITIVE
SUBJECT: I heard she was his personal secretary for a very long time; how could she not know the First Rule? Everyone seems to know that one.
ATTN:REF= “FIRST RULE”[COD.I.1.0: “No Secretary or Assistant May Refuse Any Request Submitted By A Superior”]
OPHELIA: The First Rule did not exist before her. She became the cause for the declaration of the First Rule, and its first precedent.
SUBJECT: How is that even legal? [Warning: SYS.VM:CHECK Indicates HeartRate=80BPM=INCREASED] What about sexual harassment? There used to be laws against that; there are rules of propriety, even for the largest company in the nation.
OPHELIA: Your agitation is understandable; most smaller businesses, such as your former workplace, still maintain the old laws. Larger companies, however, have received federal license to implement broader company policies outside the realm of public social dictates, so long as the policies do not prove harmful to the employees as well as the customers and clients. At Peres, our company policy is “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” What would have been termed harassment a century ago has been redefined to allow for mutual consent insofar as the behavior does not interfere with production or workload, and it still falls within the parameters of the company policy for all parties involved. Any request must be complied with, but if the assistant does not find satisfaction within the first hour, she is not compelled to prolong the discomfort any further. After the initial attempt, the supervisor may make the request only twice more, with the time limit shortened each time unless the assistant changes her mind. If she does not, the partnership is pronounced “incompatible,” the assistant is sent to me for an Incompatibility Analysis, the results of which are recorded in her file, and the executive has leave to select another assistant more suited to his needs.
[SUBJECT.FACE.MOUTH>FROWN Detected=SUBJECT feels <Disappointed>]
SUBJECT: So there’s no way out of this.
OPHELIA: Out? You have not yet begun.
SUBJECT: I know; I meant if I didn’t get to work for President Parisian, and I didn’t want to be a staffer; going home doesn’t seem to be an option…ever.
SUBJECT's desire to return to former residence Does Not Compute; OPHELIA Must Establish SUBJECT= <Satisfied>
OPHELIA: I do not understand; why would you want to leave a place where your ultimate satisfaction is guaranteed, where every chance of discomfort is minimized as much as possible? You will never be required to comply with an undesirable request for more than a few hours, and the odds that you might find certain executives actually pleasurable are very promising.
SUBJECT: Oh, honestly! [SUBJECT.VOC<Irritation>DETECTED] According to everything you’ve said, I am no better than a corporate handmaid, and Mr. Parisian could be a total pervert and yet I will not have any recourse. I never wanted to be a “personal assistant,” you know! [SUBJECT.VOC<Sarcasm>DETECTED] [OPHELIA Must PROCEED With CAUTION]
OPHELIA: President Parisian has a very high approval rating among Peres employees; the odds of his behaving in an unsatisfactory manner toward an assistant are very slim. Your fear is unwarranted. Once your training is complete, you will be entered into the Final Trial, a full workday in a simulated environment programmed by Marcia herself, with the behavior of the SimPresident a 96.5% match to his true personality. There you will be able to experience the full range of actual requests he would make. After this, if your discomfort has exceeded the limits of the real work environment, you may come to me for an Incompatibility Analysis, and you can be removed from the competition before full installment begins. Does this information reassure you?
SYS.IN Indicates SUBJECT[FACE] No Longer Detected
SYS.VM Indicates HeartRate=85BPM and Stress Level=HIGH; SUBJECT feels <Agitation>
SUBJECT: Yes
SUBJECT: No
SUBJECT: I don’t know! [SUBJECT.VOC=Intermittent; <Agitation> Confirmed] OPHELIA Must Proceed to Detect Cause
OPHELIA: Do you have any more questions I can answer? Something else you would like to tell me?
SUBJECT: No.
Attention: SUBJECT Denial Indicates Impending Termination of Communication; OPHELIA May ACKNOWLEDGE and COMPLY
OPHELIA: Very well. Goodbye, Tricia. See you tomorrow. Rest well.
SYS.OUT Indicates ARM[OPHELIA]= DISCONNECTED
Attention: SYS.IN Indicates SUBJECT Still Engaged; Activate PASSIVE RECORDING MEMORY
SYS.IN[PRM] Activation Confirmed; SUBJECT Input Detected
SUBJECT: Nothing you can ever know, and no questions you can answer.
SYS.IN[DATA] Recording Saved and Archived for Future Retrieval; SUBJECT Departure Detected
22:16:30 [CONNECTION TERMINATED]
>>>>>>>

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Serial Saturday: "The Telmar Trilogy, Vol. 3: The Legacy of Telmar" Part 2

"Well, Mella," the girl said, "M'name's Satchelle, and
I'm much obliged to make yer acquaintance."
[Excerpt from Chapter 2]


"Good day t'ye!" a cheery voice called as she entered.
"Good day," Melanie returned, scanning the shelves and crates for the items she needed.
The girl to whom the cheery voice belonged, a happy, round-faced redhead, came out from the corner where she had been restocking the shelves.
"D'ye have aught to trade?" she asked Melanie.
Melanie shook her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that—"
The girl waved away her words kindly. "And a fine givin' 'ouse this'd be if we didn't give things fer free! Daen't ya fret about it; take what ye likes!" The girl gestured generously around the shop. She then turned back to Melanie and peered at the girl's face. "Ehh, just when Ah thinks Ah knows me patrons, a new face comes trapsin' in the door. What's yer name, lass?"
Melanie finally found what she was looking for: a hooded cape. As she fastened it around her neck, she began to reply, "Mela—" she stopped mid-answer, deciding suddenly to keep her identity a secret, at least for the present time.
"Well, Mella," the girl said, "M'name's Satchelle, and I'm much obliged to make yer acquaintance."
Melanie smiled at this talkative girl. "Tell me, Satchelle," she said, "Where are you from? I know by your voice that you are not Telmarine."
Satchelle laughed. "Aich, no! Very nearly, but not a full Telmarine. Ma grandfather immigrated from the Nairth near fifty years ago, and we've lived here ever since."
"How long have you owned this giving-house?" Melanie asked, for one of her ideas had been for the proprietors of the giving houses to also own them.
"This house was given to my grandfather by auld Laird Steward, Sir Taurin himsel'!" Satchelle announced proudly.

[…]

She smiled ruefully, “…Ye must know, Mella, I am enjoying mysel' the likes as I've never, talkin' wi' ye, and ye not makin' fun or getting' angry over ma queer way of puttin' things!" She looked at Melanie with an expression so starved for acceptance that Melanie's heart immediately went out to her.
"Chat away then, dear girl!" Melanie cried. "Tell me about Naslan. What is he?"
Satchelle's face glowed. "Why, he's the Lion in the Temple!"
Melanie didn't have to work very hard to appear convincingly stunned at this reply. "You have a real lion in your temple?" she gasped.
Satchelle laughed, "Nay, not a real one! Naslan is a great big bronze statue, wi' a golden 'ead! Sae beautiful ta look at, ye cannae believe!"
Melanie felt very confused, and showed it. "So, Naslan is a bronze statue?"
"Aye, lass, that he is!"
The warmth of this reply made Melanie even more discombobulated. "But, earlier you said to Brion that you wished Naslan to give speed to his limbs. How can a statue do this?"
"Aich, that I canna answer, miss. I daen't understand much the ways of the Temple-people. 'Tis just something we say, y'know, 'Naslan grant us’ one thing or another, 'Naslan preserve us.' I daen't rightly know what it means, but I say it all the same."
The young lady happened to cast an eye over her shoulder. "Ah, and here cooms Brion the Fleet right now!"
The pound of running feet and the sound of panting breath, and Brion caught up with the two ladies.
"I wist ye've been pinin' fer me all the whilst ye didn't have me, dearest sister of sisters!" he told Satchelle cheekily.
She mussed his hair, "Nay, ye little beggar's-brat! I was just tellin' Mella here that we ought to stop an' thank the Naslan ye warn't 'round to torment us with your high winds!"
Yet as she said this, her pretty blue eyes shone with love.

Satchelle and Brion glanced at the road ahead, and sobered instantly. Both siblings moved to either side of Melanie and took her arms, protectively.

Melanie gazed up at the sight that elicited such a reaction from her new friends.

"What is this place?" she gasped.
>>>>>>>


[Excerpt from Chapter 3]
 
Satchelle sniffed at these heart-wrenching sights. "'Natural deterioration' they call it," she remarked wryly. "Them's just fancy words for 'not my problem'!" She turned to Melanie. "This be the Outskirts, Mella. You'll be wantin' to stay near Brion 'n' I. They are no' a very kind people in these parts. We'll see you safe through here. Oy! Leave off, now!"

This last she spoke to a particularly pathetic heap of garbage that was not garbage itself, but a young boy dressed in garbage! Satchelle reached an experienced hand around the cowering Melanie, and batted the boy's grasping, grimy paws.

Satchelle's shouts drew the Outskirters like cockroaches out of their holes and into the street.

"Ay, lookeer!"

"Oy, there'sa purty-one!"

"Jest see 'er cringe!"

"Aye! Don't ya wanta curl inter a ball, wench?"

"Let's rush 'er!"

So saying, the whole crowd rushed upon the wide-eyed, horrified girl. Melanie froze in terror.

"Now for it, Brion!" Satchelle threw here arm around Melanie on one side, and Brion did the same on the other side. With their guest thus sandwiched between them, the siblings made their way out of the pressing throng.

Just when Melanie was beginning to fret that they would never make it through, Satchelle and Brion released her onto a cobblestone street.

"There y'are, Miss Mella! Safe 'n' sound, and not a pretty hair 'armed!"

Melanie expressed her thanks just as Brion cried, "Look out!" and pushed the two girls to the side of the road as a large, heavy wagon thundered on the narrow street they had just navigated.

Melanie glanced back anxiously. What had become of all those people in the street?

To her horror, she saw that, though many of them had escaped harm, there were a few poor souls not so lucky against the heartless wagon as their comrades. These unfortunates now received help from others, but Melanie saw one form—a girl—who lay perfectly still in the filthy lane. It did not occur to Melanie why this child remained in the road until a woman—the girl's mother—ran screaming to her pathetic figure. "Oh! My child! Oh my darling! My baby!"

With such cries, the distraught woman knelt in the putrescence next to her daughter and lifted the pale, limp body onto her lap. Rocking back and forth, the mother wailed, "Why? Have we suffered enough? My baby! My baby!"

The intense, communal camaraderie in the Outskirts displayed itself in the way its inhabitants immediately gathered around the woman and her dead child, comforting her and adding their cries to hers. Melanie stood rooted to the spot in horror and astonishment. Here was support and kinship she had never seen even in the well-ordered community of New Telmar. She had never even factored it into her social reform plans. Yet as she watched the "garbage-dwellers" come together in a time of loss, a time of need, she realized the inestimable value of compassion.

She was so struck by this concept that Satchelle fairly had to pull her away down the street and into the Square.

Once she set foot in the town square, Melanie soon forgot the thought-provoking sight in the street of the Outskirts. Verily, she couldn't even hear their howling wails above the cacophony filling her ears.

If the Outskirts had convinced her she was in a later year, the Square seemed to display the opposite. Where Melanie had left only one merchant guild, under heavy (she thought) restriction, here now before her was a whole Square-full of the odious breed, loudly hawking their wares with more abandon than she had ever seen even on her first visit to the City. The whole Square was awash with color, clamor, and so many scents to confuse every physical faculty! Melanie clung tightly to Brion and Satchelle as the stalwart young lady completely ignored the myriad jewels, clothes, foods, and spices thrust at her in her determination to reach her destination: the Temple.
>>>>>

Did you enjoy this? To read the full chapters 2 and 3, start -->HERE<--

Friday, April 17, 2015

Reader's Review: "Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk" Anthology by Jeffrey Cook et al.


Synopsis from Amazon:

Airships and sky pirates! Brain Modification chips! Technologically enhanced nymphs! Shakespeare goes punk in this first volume of stories from Writerpunk Press (www.punkwriters.com). Profits to go to PAWS Lynwood (www.paws.org), an animal shelter and wildlife rescue. Ask a bunch of eclectic writers to write stories inspired by one of the greatest dramatists of all time. Cast the stories in various punk genres: Cyber, Tesla, Diesel, Steam, Clock. Result: an innovative collection of stories inspired by the Bard, with a twist! Punk stories show the path not taken or the path that shouldn't be taken. Let us reshape your world. 

>>>>>>>

My Review:  

I love Shakespeare.
I will ramble about my favorite plays and the inner motivation about characters in a way that astonishes (and frightens) most people. In my last semester of college, I studied 15 plays and loved every minute of it!

So when the author of a really wonderful steampunk series that I have featured before informed me that he would be contributing (along with about six or seven others) to an anthology of "punk" adaptations of Shakespeare plays.... I knew I had to have it.

'nuff said...

Five stories, adapted in various "punks" (see below).... and needless to say, I finished it in about a week.
If that is still no indication of how incredibly awesome and delightful it was, well, keep reading!

What is 'punk'?
If you're like my less-geeky family, you probably see the word "punk" and think this:



No, we're not giving Shakespeare a bunch of body piercings and a bleached mohawk. Don't you even go there.

The writers of Shakespeare Goes Punk offer this explanation of the term "punk":

"When it comes to it, punk is about aesthetic... The defining thing... has to reshape the world into the path not taken... The mainstream is what you would expect, for good or ill, in any genre. In cases of historical-based punk tropes, like Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or Teslapunk, technologies that were never explored become the defining parts of the setting."

Now that we've got that cleared up, on to the actual review...

"Mac" (Macbeth)-- The opening act of "SGP" packs a wallop! The author chose a futuristic "cyberpunk" setting... but it's all there.
SWEET MOTHER OF PIE IT'S ALL STILL FREAKING THERE.
The witches, the prophecy, Birnam and Cawdor, Banks (Banquo), Malcom, Duncan, Duffy (MacDuff), the floating dagger.... The author manages to leave everything just as The Bard intended... while at the same time flipping what we had known completely on its head! I loved everything about this tale, including the fabulous twist ending. The stigma of robotics and the clever use of technology smacked of that other great Literary Giant, Isaac Asimov (whom I also love) and if he had ever decided to do an adaptation of Shakespeare I would expect nothing less than this. It was sheer brilliance from the first sentence to the last.

"Green-Eyed Monster" (Othello)-- Shades of studying this play came back... out of the five tragedies I studied, this one was my least favorite. I did note that out of the five, this used the coarsest language and most vulgar terms--but from what I remember, the same was true for the original play. I wasn't as familiar with the "Dieselpunk" genre, but, as with "Mac" everything most striking about the play remained, from the most spine-chilling of Iago's monologues lifted right from the script itself, to the use of Desdemona's scarf/kerchief as the "red herring" for the misguided Othello. As much as I don't usually take to appreciating literary works with such liberal cussing, I recognized it here as a nod to the edgy nature of the original play, and I think it worked out very well. "Othello" was never meant to leave the viewer with a very good feeling inside, methinks, and while "Green-Eyed Monster" does the same, it did thrill me to be reading such attentive and well-thought work.

"Prospero's Island" (The Tempest)-- Again, not a familiar genre (Teslapunk) but the author still paid gracious homage to the original: Caliban, mention of Sycorax the witch, Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, Ariel.... I was, also, not as familiar with this specific play, but whereas the most violent event to happen in the original play was the fate-changing tempest for which it was named, the wrecking itself plays a very small part in this adaptation. Instead, the author takes the work and twists it with a pitched battle of dark versus light seemingly incorporating the works of H. G. Wells (who, if I am not mistaken, occupied the same time period as Tesla, so this makes absolute sense that they would have similarities of technology) and his far-flung future world in The Time Machine--and once again, I am left breathless and enthralled by the sheer brilliance of it all.

"A Town Called Hero" (Much Ado About Nothing)-- The title itself proved enough of an indication that this particular adaptation would be the loosest of them all, and it was. Don Pedro and Benedick are combined into the character of Ben Pedro--a result, unfortunately, which ended up having to discard the stronger parts of either character in order to reconcile them into the same person. "Claudio" becomes the name of the squadron that "falls in love" with the town, is subsequently fooled into betraying the town, and then, when all is said and done, returns to the town's favor in the same manner as the two lovers in the play. This adaptation was so far removed from the original that, in contrast to the others, I could recognize none of my favorite supporting characters. Adaptation aside, though, it was a relatively sound story; a bit heavy in the suspension of disbelief, but absolutely a worthy contribution to the anthology!

"The Winter's Tale" (A Winter's Tale)-- And now finally we come to the work written by Jeffrey Cook himself. The master of steampunk, of course he would re-imagine the group of shepherds who accept the care of young Perdita as a group of dirigible-flying smugglers. The "living statue" of the cruel Duke's "dead" wife becomes a clockwork automaton. Oh, and there's also a bear named Thomas that I frequently forgot was a bear because of the way the other characters deal with it like another human. Marvelous touch! And the ending was just as fantastic as one could have ever hoped. 


Overall, this anthology does not disappoint except in the fact that it's only five plays, not all thirty-seven of them. A full-fledged FIVE STARS from The Upstream Writer, and here's hoping for at least seven more volumes!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Brittanica Cycle: The Red Dragon of Wales" Excerpt--Sideways

 


The inside of Hub 22 was just the old-fashioned way Drake liked it: metal stools, strobing lights on the walls, and plenty of the heart-pumping, chest-thumping music so obnoxiously bassy you could taste the beat. He paused to soak in the atmosphere. The bars in the upper levels had definitely lost their touch. In the concentrated effort to find the perfect balance of sensory resonance for optimal libation, all clubs and lounges of any kind were nothing more than padded restaurants that served more alcohol than food. Here in the Streets, they still knew how to club.

"Lemme go! I got rights! I can be 'ere same as everybody else!"
Drake heard the high voice pierce the comfortable sound barrier of the music. He craned his neck to see what was going on. Two bouncers made their way to the door, bearing a compact, struggling body between them. Drake curled his lip in a sneer and resumed jostling his way to the bar. Stupid kids; the Streetlings were convinced that the laws Up There didn't apply Down Here, that one could drink and smoke and do whatever the heck they wanted when they felt ready to deal with it. The bouncers returned from the doorway and resumed their posts along the wall of the pub.

"Fire in the Hole!"
Drake's eyes lit up as he saw the flaming stein on the corner. He let the flames die and then took a sip, the scalding beverage desensitizing his tongue before searing a path down his throat to smolder in his stomach. All that remained was the blessed taste of the gin on his breath.
"The Dragon walks," she murmured, winking at him as she pulled three drafts and set them on a tray. Her bouncy brown curls reflected the colored lights and made her ponytail sparkle like some child had dumped glitter all over her head. "I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get the chance to serve the Fire again before I left."
"Oh, come on, Marta," Drake chided, "It hasn't been that long, has it?"

Marta winked her icy-blue eye at him. "At my age, three months might as well be eternity!"
Drake snorted as he sipped his drink. Marta didn't look a day over thirty, but then again, life expectancy in the Streets plummeted every year past 25—the age he'd been when They deactivated him. Drake shrugged it off and changed the subject.
"What's that you were saying about leaving?" He prompted. "What, Streets of Wales not good enough for you?"
Marta shrugged easily as she loaded bins of flutes and steins into an automatic washer. "I'm just saying I want to be in charge of the day I leave—get out before I get thrown out, y'ken?"
"Thrown out?" Drake echoed, mystified. "What do you mean?"
Marta shot him an incredulous sneer. "You didn't smell that?"
Drake buried his face in the charred foam. "Sorry honey; filter's on."

Marta rolled her eyes. "Here." She pulled her wallet out of her apron pocket and activated it. Drake used eye contact to activate a wireless connection with his receptacle. What he learned caused a deep frown to form on his face.
Assembly-sanctioned evacuations were underway. The WRAITHS razed homes around the outskirts and chased the families away, forcing them to relocate—but where? A high wall separated the Streets from the rest of the world. Once, countries had no such borders and citizens could visit other countries at their leisure—but now that was a privilege only possible for the City Levels.

"Where are they going?" Drake asked as his receptacle compiled the data. "The relocation program provides permissions for at least being able to go over the wall, right?"
"Yeah," Marta snorted. "For a price! I don't know where the ones who can't afford it go. Some have Witnessed a few of the Displaced returning to sites that have already been raided."

"So why evacuate?" Drake pressed, nodding to signal that they were going to engage in covert matters now. "What news from Up Top?"

Marta smiled; with her bouncy curls straightened and her artificial scar over her right eye, and the one Upper-Level dress she had ever owned and worked hard to keep in the latest style, no one would ever know that the enchanting beauty at all the galas was just a Street-level barmaid spying on them all.

"Sure, Big Daddy's got big dreams," said Marta.
Whitaker is definitely planning something—something expensive.

"For the farm or for the family?"
Are we talking something nationwide or just focused on a specific level of citizens?

"It starts with family, but I hear Daddy's fixing to buy the farm next."
Whatever he's got planned, the evacuations are the first stage, but he's going to practically have control of the country when they finish.

"And how does Big Mama feel about this?"
Would the Assembly—or even Parliament —let him get away with this?

Marta smirked. "Mama was always scared of rats, you know; so Daddy told her it was just a new mouser."
Whitaker had been playing up the evils of the streets and the crime for so long, that the Assembly will very likely let him do what he wants under the guise of "crime control."

Drake recalled the raid he'd Witnessed on the way over. "Mousers," he muttered, echoing the code word for the WRAITHS. "You heard about the sting that almost happened?"
Marta smiled as the Whitaker topic took a backseat for a while. "Word is, Somebody's channeling bloody St. George. By the time I heard anything, it sounded like they'd pigeon-holed you."
Drake chuckled, "So I'm a pigeon, am I?"
"The way Corey told it, you're a bloody sparrow. He says it took him hours to finally eye the bugger, and you scoop him out in half a second."
She crossed her arms and leaned conspiratorially over the counter. Her white neck gleamed in the strobing light. "How do you do it, anyway? The spooks figure out how to look, act, and sound like us, but you suss them as soon as blink."

Drake drained the last of the Fire and gestured to his forearm. "It's the hair," he answered. Normally, he wouldn't care to tell even an old trusted friend like Marta, but the drink had made him amiable, and he'd had a very productive day already. He continued under Marta's interested gaze.
"Part of a WRAITH's duty is to accept applications from Assembly members who need something done."
Marta shuddered. "That's black market stuff!"

"I know," Drake answered. "Whitaker would handle the whole thing; you know, those fat cats want nothing more than to live in their perfect little floating bubbles of happiness—they don't care how it's managed."
"Okay, but what do applications have to do with hair?"
"You know how an application works, right?"
"Not really," Marta admitted.

Drake showed her an image from his wallet. "An application is a clear silicon sheet that has been printed with a chemical ink that only reacts with human skin. The only way it gets read is by activating the ink—"
Marta nodded. "I get it: applying it to the skin. But how does that explain how you knew the spook was WRAITH?"
Drake pulled back the cuff on his sleeve so Marta could see the scars on his arm. "The chemical burns the skin to be visible. Softer skin is less painful, but the message doesn't last very long. Most Mercs use the inside of the arm as a nice, taut surface, but too many applications, and it sears over. The only choice then is to apply on the back of the arm. The hair burns off fast, and the skin takes longer to sear."

Marta's eyes flicked up to his face. "His arm," she whispered.

Drake nodded. "Saw it when he drained his glass. No hair means Mercenary Witness—and Mercenary Witness out and about when the WRAITHS are haunting means spook."

Marta chuckled appreciatively at his cleverness. 

 [...]




Drake chuckled to himself as he sauntered down the alleys of the Streets toward the bunker. In a way he was almost glad that he no longer had his old job that required him to live in The Stacks, as Walkers referred to them. There were no secret corners or hideaways there. Each living space had to be registered in order for a Descender to carry the resident to it—the only way people ever got around anymore. Drake paused at the door and glanced up.

This was one of the few vantage points from which at least one outer face of the "vertical nation" was visible: he could see into the low-twentieth level, watch the Descenders like so many beetles crawling up and down the sides of the city, along the tracks. Drake gave the lot of them a one-finger salute and stomped down the stairs to his bunker.

Archie and Blaine had not returned. This was no surprise; it was supper time, after all, and Hannery's wife brooked no absence from this auspicious meal. Drake removed the filter and activated his receptacle. The comp activated in response and commenced offloading the info he'd picked up from his "faces." Such a confusing mass of data. The streams dribbled before his eyes like rain down a window pane; as the leather chair absorbed his body heat and confirmed to his shape in its cradle, his eyes drooped...

Drake Ross hit the floor with a bang that sent a jolt through his entire body. The comp unit blinked "OFFLOAD COMPLETE"—but wasn't that usually a silent affair?

Someone stepped out of the shadows behind him. Her dirty blond hair looked like she'd cut it herself with dull scissors. His practiced eyes noticed the minute scar on her brow line that bespoke a fine-grade receptacle—but it was the grungy pip from the Hub!

"Heard you was in," she grunted, sounding for all the world like the Walker she looked. "Th'said you could do it."

Drake's brain felt like a rusted comp unit trying to track a six-tera data stream. "Hell..." was all he could manage.

She stepped toward him, still fixing those weird blue eyes, which he knew he'd seen before, on him. She wore scuff-rags on her hands, and the delicate fingers were so clean compared to the rest of her clothing that they fairly glowed. "Can you?" She asked.

Drake shook off the shock and smirked derisively. "Do what?"

"Delete somebody for me."

It sounded so morbid, the way she said it so flatly, Drake choked back a laugh. "Aren't you a little young to want somebody dead?" He asked.

"Not that sort, you numpty!" She spat, rolling her eyes. "Cybercide."

Drake balked, sizing up the street-pixie who seemed to know a heck of a lot more about him than he knew about her—such as where to find his bunker, and how to get in!
She misread his hesitation. "You are the one they call the Dragon, right? The bloke who blew the servers at the Assembly with the Rot and got the I.A. Minister booted last month when all the rainmakers were trying to tell us he was a shoo-in?"

Drake smiled smugly in spite of himself at the memory. That was some clever bit of wriggling, finding just the right penetration point in the Minister's data stream to divert specific messages to the WRAITH team just when they were on the cusp of searching for him—but how had she known that? She certainly looked more like a pickpocket than a hacker. Those scuff-rags didn't just keep your hands from getting cut by rough cement, and the adept fingers needed to be free for more of a reason than just their aesthetic value. Drake sent a signal from his receptacle to power down his wallet so she couldn't swipe it.

"Okay, kid," he sighed and smirked at her. "You got me; I'll bite. What's the job?"

She crossed her arms and shook her head. "First promise you'll do it!" She demanded.

"Listen you little chit," Drake loomed over her, "I don't have to promise a damn thing! I am the Dragon, and this is my Lair, and I can throw you out so fast you won't know which way is down!"

The two glared at each other for a very long time. The girl broke first.

"Fine then!" She retorted. She reached into her left scuff-rag and dug out a small microchip, which she handed to him. Drake grabbed a digital "bump-drive" and began decrypting the information it contained.

"What's this?" He asked, even as his Receptacle recognized the data as reference files, copies of the data he could use to "scent" every last vestige in the Cloud. The more reference data, the stronger the "scent"; a stronger scent, in turn, meant a more complete deletion.

"Who's the target?" He asked, as the general files commenced decryption.

The girl watched the white data streaming on the blue field as if she knew exactly what she saw.
"Me."

Drake was so preoccupied with sorting the data that he almost missed her answer.

"Come again?" He blinked.

The girl huffed. "That memory chip is my info. I want you to erase me."

>>>>>>>>

Also from the "Red Dragon of Wales":