Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Suggestion Box: "One Thousand Words" List #18

Image Credit goes to This Facebook Page

Suggested by: Jeffrey Gartshore

The List:
-Jens Hjordisson
-Mabon (Autumn Equinox Festival
-Southern Norway
-a 100-year-old bottle of lingonberry mead

The Result:

"The Cursed Crown"
("Soul Mates" Part 7)
Well met, Seeker! You have discovered the secret to eternal life.

Touch the crown and escape death, till the Sword of Strength be lifted against you.

On a dimly-lit road just outside Oslo, a young man in a heavy woolen cloak lolled back and forth, teetering in a loose zig-zag path down the wide road. Behind him, the sounds of Mabon celebrations still rang into the night. The party had lasted for nearly a fortnight already, and still the bonfires blazed as people danced, sang, drank, and feasted. Jens pulled the edges of his heavy woolen cloak close against the brisk autumn wind. The cloud of alcohol weighed on his senses like a load of bricks, but it also prevented him from caring very much. He kept walking as long as he remained upright, without paying attention to where the buildings stopped and the woods began.
When he did finally huff enough of the fog out of himself to regain at least some semblance of sanity, Jens looked around. The trees completely surrounded him, as far as his keen grey eyes could see. Nothing but sleepy trunks and bare branches, the year's foliage carpeting the ground. The ever-bearing trees and the thick, rolling clouds obscured any of the sky's guiding lights. Jens had little option but to pick an arbitrary direction and hope it would lead him back into town, or at least the coast.
He stumbled onward, his stomach—cleared of the alcohol—now alerting his body to the number of hours since his last meal of hearty stew and a crusty loaf. He could practically feel the hollow organ folding in on itself within him. His roving gained a purpose, and a desperation. He needed food, or he would very likely expire. Ale was a cruel mistress sometimes: with plenty at hand, it was a comforting friend, an easy and satisfying companion; but once it had left completely, there was nothing but increased suffering to be had.
The toe of Jens' boot caught on a tree root and he tumbled forward, his face striking a wall of stone. He looked up at the thing he fell against: a wide, low rectangle, like a large stone coffin, standing alone, half-buried in the ground. The lid had cracked with age, and Jens could see the wood splinters of an old coffin within it. He frowned. Who would want to be buried in such an obscure grave in such an isolated location? The only inscription on the stone face was a number: 1547. A year, perhaps? But that would be nearly a century ago. What had happened here to prompt all of humanity to leave it behind for one hundred years?
Something glittered in the coffin. Jens reached in with deft fingers and pulled it out.
A weathered velvet bag with a golden cord dangled from his fingers. He quickly upended the contents onto the corner of the stone slab: an ancient-looking crown, a small flask, and a roll of dingy parchment.
Jens uncorked the flask. The heady scent of lingonberries sprang out at him, as if the smell had done nothing but fester inside the bottle, building up to be released. Cautiously, he took a sip. The deep, rich honey flavor of mead caressed his tongue. He could already feel the strength of its one hundred years behind it. He closed the flask and set it aside to attend to the note.
It looked to be one message, first given in a Pictish language, and then in English. Speaking neither language, Jens passed over these two, instead honing in on the message hastily scribbled in his own tongue: "Der kronen er forbannest."

The crown is cursed.

Jens pulled back as he stared at the unassuming circlet. Cursed? How? Why? What manner of curse was it? Who had thought to warn the next person to discover the crown, and how long had it been there?
A low growl interrupted his fleeting thoughts. Jens tensed and turned very slowly. A full-grown wolf stared at him, teeth bared and hackles raised. Jens glimpsed movement in his periphery, and he knew this wolf wasn't alone. He tried stepping slowly away, but it wasn't slow enough, and the insistent growl rose in pitch. Jens wished he had thought to grab something he could have used as a weapon against these hungry beasts, but as matters stood, he had nothing. He gripped the edges of the empty tomb and hoisted himself onto it. Now at least, the width of the stone kept the beasts at bay as four more crept into view, watching him with hungry eyes. The alpha measured a few paces back and forth, and then with a mighty leap, it joined Jens on the tomb. 

There would be no fight today, Jens thought as the efficient predator lunged for his throat; there would only be a feast. The last thing he knew as the pack set upon him was flailing his arms, and the feel of cold metal against his fingertips...

Jens jerked awake. His whole body ached and burned at the same time. He looked down. His clothes had been all but torn off of him. He lay upon the cracked stone lid of a low flat tomb in the middle of a wood—and he held an ancient-looking crown in his hands.

The memories flooded over him, and Jens tossed the vile relic away from him in terror. It bounced and clanked till it rolled to a stop at the feet of a strange woman. Her appearance seemed to shift and fade, first having familiar features and then none at all, resembling a face he had seen before, and yet she was no one he had ever met in his life.

She smiled at him as she lifted the crown in her gloved hands. "It's a bit late to be throwing it away now, isn't it?" She advanced toward him.
Jens put up a hand to stop her. "Don't come any closer!" He grunted.
She laughed and set the crown on the slab beside him. "You might as well keep it, since you can't be any more cursed than you already are."
Jens squinted at her. "Who are you?"
Her eyes danced and glinted. "One who has been searching for a very long time." She tilted her head, letting her hair cascade over her shoulder. "What's your name?"
"Jens," he answered. "Jens Hjordisson." He looked at the crown on the dark stone, realizing for the first time that the dark was blood—lots of it. It wasn't very old, either. His steel-grey eyes snapped to the woman.
"What happened to me?"
She laughed. "Now you're getting it! You remember the wolves, don't you?"
The wolves... Jens knew he would never forget the agony of their teeth sinking into his flesh. How had he survived that?
The woman laid the crown in his lap. "You know what this is, don't you?"
Jens could not stop staring at the fang marks crisscrossing his body. He shook his head, refusing to touch the crown again.
The woman continued. "It's the Diadem of Beatha Sìoraì..."
Bey-ha sheery? "I don't know—"
"It means eternal life." She gently lifted his hands and placed them on the tarnished metal surface. "You saw how it works. From now on, if you die, you just come back. There is only one thing that would kill you now." She smiled at his astonishment. "And I know where it is."
Jens felt his world tilting as he pictured a long future in which dying was not an option. His stomach—long since empty—recoiled anyway, and he doubled over, retching painfully.

"There, there," she patted his shoulder. "It takes some getting used to."
Jens caught his breath and wiped the spittle from his mouth. "Tell me," he begged. "You said you knew the thing that could kill me."
The woman sniffed and held up the message. "Well, according to this, you will escape death till the Sword of Strength be lifted against you."
Jens frowned. "I can survive an attack by a pack of wolves, but any man can kill me with a sword?"
She shook her head. "Not just any sword. The Sword of Strength is one particular sword. And, as I said, I know where it is."
Jens stood up, finally. He placed the crown back in the bag and hung it from his belt. "Tell me, that I might find this powerful weapon and ensure that it is never used against me."
She nodded. "Maintain control of the thing that could take away your immortality, a wise choice. Very well."

She stepped to the side and flung her hands toward the space in front of Jens—and he saw the air ripple before him, like sand hitting the surface of a pond. He tentatively reached forward. His hand neared the rippling air—then his fingers vanished. Jens pulled back, making sure his hand was still intact. He looked up at the woman.
"It's a portal," she explained. "The Sword will be on the other side. You will have to go through it."
Reminding himself that not even magic could kill him now—save the magic of the Sword—Jens obeyed and barreled through the disruption in the very fabric of reality.

The place where he exited was considerably warmer, and greener. Another forest, this one thicker and darker, but no less abandoned. Jens began looking around for any indication as to where he might find the sword...
The air rippled again, and Jens saw a body hurtle out of thin air. A tall woman in iridescent clothing—a Fae; Jens never knew such a thing could exist. However, now that he was immortal, he had a sneaking suspicion that he would probably be seeing a lot of things he never knew about before.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. The Fae stirred, and Jens saw the scabbard hanging from her waist. It bore the same strange runes as the crown. The Sword of Strength! Jens struck the Fae across the back of the head to keep her from getting up, while he went for the buckle.

A piercing shriek rent the air, and sharp claws raked the top of his head. Jens screamed and ducked as a large golden eagle attacked him mercilessly.
"Kharrie!" It screeched. "Kharrie!"
Throwing his cloak up to protect himself, Jens reached down and desperately yanked the belt off the Fae. He had done it! Both the sword and the crown were his! Jens ran away before the Fae could awaken.

Meanwhile, on the forest floor, Relaya opened her eyes. A golden eagle perched on a nearby log, watching her carefully. She slowly eased her body off the ground, noting her empty waist as she did. Whoever knocked her out had taken Nerissa's sword. What should she do now?
The eagle hopped closer, bobbing its head and blinking at her.
"What do I call you?" asked Relaya.
The eagle bobbed its head. "Kharrie! Kharrie!" It keened.
Relaya held out her arm. "Would you like to come with me to find the Lore-Master?"

Kharrie watched the strange creature. She was much taller than Nakoma, but every bit as kind. And Nakoma had been taken by a Lore-Master. With any luck, they could be searching for the same person. The golden eagle perched on Relaya's shoulder, and they began making their way out of the forest.

Previously in This Series:
#15 "Rendezvous"("Soul Mates" Part 6/"Serenity's Light" Part 2)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 4 Part 1

Previously: <Prologue> <Chapter 1> <Chapter 2> <Chapter 3>

Carsius paced the floor of the deserted Marketplace. The scrounging trip had already taken far longer than necessary. They had found mattresses and various pieces of furniture to make the sparse area more livable, but food was a bit more difficult to stockpile. Only Atis, Scander, and Renata had the confidence to gather food from the stalls, while Barmier and Gorrmunsa went along as lookouts.
Carsius picked up a discarded contraption, marveling at how far from the established “normality” the people had come. But there were still a few fingers to pry loose from the planet, in order for them to be truly free of the Elitinati. Carsius let his mind wander, thinking of all the operatives just ripe for training; if this method worked, the Black Hand could essentially rid the universe of the Elitinati influence—or at least dramatically reduce the threat.
A soft beeping interrupted his plotting. Carsius immediately turned to the workroom entrance that served as their front door. A red light blinked above it. That meant someone was within minutes of breaching the perimeter of the factory walls. Carsius moved to the ramshackle "command center" and flicked a switch. The digital monitor before him lit up, and he could see five figures making their way through the factory grounds. That would be the foraging team, but why were they moving so fast? Carsius frowned as three more figures appeared on the monitor, not too far behind the team. Soldiers! Instead of following the highly irregular zig-zag path of their quarry, the soldiers plowed straight ahead, and Carsius saw them stop abruptly. He couldn't make out just what happened on the crudely-constructed monitor, but the three forms did not move at all.

Another alarm sounded, signaling that the outer door had opened. Twenty seconds later, Barmier, Gorrmunsa, Renata, Atis, and finally Scander poured through the doorway.

"Whoo!" Scander whooped, "That was a close one! I nearly thought we'd been caught for sure!" He punched Atis on the shoulder, "Neat traps, brother! Man, that was incredible!"
Atis' eyes danced as he looked toward Carsius. "Did the alert system work all right?"
Carsius pursed his lips and nodded slowly. "It functioned as well as it could, given the circumstances we had to go through to invent it."

Renata finished turning the last of the scrounged supplies over to Deej. She glanced at the monitor, with the immobilized soldiers.
"Those poor men!" she cried. "What happened, did it kill them, Atis?"
He barely looked in her direction as he splashed water from the makeshift sink on his face and toweled off.
"Nah, I think that was just a paralyzing snare. They should be fine in a day or two."
"A day or two!" Carsius roared, "Do you realize what a security risk that is? Three bodies in plain view of the street?"
"Look at the bright side," Atis returned hotly, "If the trap does kill them, I have a programmed incineration protocol running through the wires they're trapped in. The bodies will be ash before long!"
Carsius was so furious that he did not say a word.

Scander greeted Sverana and glanced to where Laurel huddled in a corner, rocking back and forth and staring keenly at the ground.
"Is she okay?" he asked Augustus.
The operative sighed, "It's hard to tell any more. Who knows what kind of demons Laurel has swimming in her head that she cannot be rid of, or else this whole mission would fail."
"Council!" Carsius barked.
Scander glanced at Augustus. "Should we bring her over?"
Augustus shook his head gravely. "Carsius and I decided she was too much of a security risk. All that she can manage to understand at this point is the drive to fight the mother mind. That's all we need her for. The less she knows about our plans, the less the Elitinati can pull from her." He led the young boy toward the others, away from Laurel.

"All right," Carsius cleared his throat, "I think you all know the added challenge we will face in trying to continue this mission."
The others exchanged glances before Atis replied with the obvious answer, “The soldiers.”

Carsius nodded. "The snares and alarms and defense systems constructed by Atis and Barmier keep us safe here, but—" he paused and glanced at the burly warrior.
"But the blasted cadets are on us as soon as we set foot outside!" Barmier finished.

Scander raised his hand, "Sir," he said when acknowledged, "I don't mind being a scrounger. I can move fast and fit into tight places, and Sverana provides diversion when I need it."
"Why can't we just hole up in here till it all blows over?" Augustus suggested.

"Fool!" Gorrmunsa spat, leaping onto his chair in a squatting position. "It is not a matter of waiting for the current storm to subside. This is a war of our own making, and it has only just started!"
Augustus raised his hands and shied away from the Kytarr. "Whoa, okay, fine; don't get your dander up!"

Carsius sighed, "Gorrmunsa speaks true. We started this thing, and we must see it through. Scander," he nodded toward the young man, "I appreciate your dedication to the cause, but unfortunately, we can't send just anybody to do what needs to be done." He glanced toward the huddled, muttering figure, and everyone caught his meaning.

"And how do you expect to get Laurel out there, may I ask?" Atis queried. "The place is crawling with soldiers."
"Where did all the soldiers come from, anyway?" Scander interposed. "It's like they doubled or tripled in number overnight."
Carsius shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps you can spy on the garrison, Scander, and find out why there are suddenly so many. The rest of us must figure out how to get Laurel past them." He turned to Atis, "Were the soldiers wearing wyrts?"
Atis shrugged, "Well, yeah, but this place is invisible to them, isn't it?"

Carsius frowned, "And yet somehow you were not. Perhaps because the soldiers themselves—not the wyrts—saw you and reported the theft. That means that even though at first no one could see us because they did not expect us, now they can—and out of loyalty to the Elitinati, they will report us."
Barmier huffed, "Can't we just glue wyrts to our clothing and act like we are behaving under their influence?"
Augustus chuckled, "Not if what we're doing breaks some kind of law! No Eillumaeian with a wyrt would do that. Besides, that's half our number recognized by the network. No doubt they are watching this area very closely to see who comes out without a wyrt."

An alarm bleeped, and Atis moved to check the monitor.
"Aw, snazzlefritz!" he swore.
"What is it?" Carsius asked.
"Don't look now," the young Lumminean said, "But I think the government has just put a bounty on our heads."
Sure enough, the announcement proclaimed a generous reward for any sighting of any type of subversive activity. A map of the city showed that the notice was going up all over the city.
"Great, now we'll have people turning in their own neighbors for money, to say nothing of how quickly they'll rat on us for what we're doing!" Renata pointed out.

"What can we do, then?" Augustus asked, glancing over at the miserable young Elf, who had left off muttering and was now tracing designs in the dirt. "We can't just send her out alone."
"Which one of us do you want her to suddenly turn and report when she is overcome by the influence of the wyrts?" Augustus retorted.

"The truth will set you free!" cried a voice.

The seven men looked at Renata, who shook her head. They turned to Laurel. She had stood, and was now wobbling over to them with a wild gleam in her eye. "The Truth is my shield and protector. The one who comes from Truth will be my guide."

Atis snorted, "Aren't we all on the side of truth?" he muttered to Carsius.

"Maybe," the commander replied, but she said 'comes from Truth.' It must be the name of another Syndicate like ours." He caught Laurel's roving attention. "Fair maiden," he addressed her, "Who is it that comes from Truth?"
Laurel seemed incapable of looking at them directly. "Ra'dith," she intoned.

The table erupted.
"Absolutely not! Out of the question!"
"She cannot be trusted!"
"But none of us can go with Laurel without being reported, and we can't just send her out on her own. She may lose her sanity entirely."
"Cursed black imp slipped my grasp!"
"But Laurel said she came from Truth!"
"Scander, just because someone names their faction Truth doesn't make someone trustworthy or their cause a noble one."
"EVERYBODY QUIET!" Carsius roared. Once he had their attention, he said, "We will think on that matter a bit more before deciding anything. For now, we still have some planning to do. So, to move on," Carsius continued, "Deej and I have agreed that though the citizens of Eillumaeia are free to reason for themselves, to think for themselves, and to accept each other—but according to the laws of their government (presided over by the Elitinati, of course), they are not free to act upon these beliefs."

"But shouldn't the legal professionals and judicial authorities have the same sentiments of freedom?" Atis objected.

Augustus shook his head, "Not as long as the law stands. These people are hard-wired to uphold the law at any cost, giving no thought to whether or not it is just. All the Elitinati had to do was issue their own set of laws, and presto! Instant subjugation."

"Aw, heck!" Atis replied, "We don't need Laurel to bring down the law. We can just establish a revolt, and do it ourselves!"

Carsius glared at the lackadaisical young man. "That isn't the point, remember? An idea can only be replaced by another idea if these people would be truly free."

"So what combats the law without promoting anarchy?" Gorrmunsa asked curiously.
Carsius smiled. "That is what I want you to think over this evening. We'll break for supper and sleep for now, and reconvene tomorrow morning. Is that clear?"
Everyone nodded.
"All right," Carsius said, "Deej and Renata, you'll be in charge of the food, and the rest help where you can. Meeting adjourned!"

As darkness collected around them, everyone thought furiously at what kind of attitude or thought process would eliminate the need for stringent laws.

Meanwhile, Laurel curled miserably on the fluffy cushion that served her for a bed. Renata had brought her a bowl of soup, but that was her only interaction with them, after trying to beg them to allow Ra'dith to protect her. She had avoided their faces on purpose, knowing that the concentration of serum inside her turned her into a living wyrt. The last thing she wanted was to betray her friends—even if it meant being shunned by them. Laurel closed her eyes and drifted into troubled psychedelic dreams.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Reader's Review: "Out of Darkness Rising" by Gillian Bronte Adams

Synopsis from Amazon:
For the villagers on the accursed Island, life has only one meaning – death. Bound to the Island by the curse, the villagers suffer beneath the iron claw of the serpent, daily breathing the poison of his breath and dying to appease his insatiable appetite.
When Marya’s parents are slain by the serpent for their belief in a legendary king, she becomes an Outcast. Struggling to survive and avoid the vengeance of the Tribunal, Marya is torn between legend and the harsh reality of the Island. Yet when a forgotten promise springs to life, she cannot help wondering if the old stories might in fact be true. And if they are, will the promise prove stronger than the curse?


My Review:

I just love a good allegory! I was intrigued by this one in particular because I'm friends with the publisher, and she was showing previews of the cover... I am a sucker for anything with dragons or mermaids.
A sucker, but not a pushover; I just mean that if you're going to write a story with dragons or mermaids in it, it better be GOOD.
Out of Darkness Rising was definitely GOOD. I love the character development that went into it. Sometimes, an author writing an allegory wants to start with a message; sort of like "telling them X without them knowing it's X"--but at the same time, they use generic comparisons that result in cliche-ridden plots and stereotypical characters.
The story of Out of Darkness was basic and simple, but not cliche. Hence, the characters and the setting became vibrant, not blase. I could see, hear, taste, and feel everything that was going on all the way through. I love the "total immersion" experience when I'm reading!

My only objection (and even then it's not much of one) was that it was "too short"! The development of the setting, the plot, and the story was so awesome, it made me wish it had taken longer, so it didn't feel so rushed! I almost couldn't believe how quickly everything happened; I felt like I had just finished chapter 1 and I was already halfway through the book... and then it was over. Which made me miss it. But it also made me intrigued to read Gillian's other, longer novels, to get more of that great storytelling and vivid fantasy!

I'm giving this story a ****FOUR STAR**** rating, but that's pretty much just because a full five-stars seems too hefty for such a short thing! I really did like it though, so I'm also adding an Upstream Writer Certified HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, and I would encourage any and all to check out books by this author, because if Out of Darkness Rising is any indication, you're in for a good, wholesome adventure!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #17

Suggested by: Ashleigh Meikle

The List:
-the 1700's
-a ship or dockyard
-a net

The Result:

"Stranger Tides"

He saw her the moment he stepped off the train. She sauntered down the street, moved by an invisible current. Her delicate body undulated like a blade of sea grass. Her dark hair cascaded down her back like an inky waterfall.
He saw her, and he wanted her more than anything else in the world. He glanced up at the red-white-and-blue flag of France over the door of the military office. There were certain duties he needed to fulfill first. He glanced back to fill his eyes with the girl.

She had turned to stare at him, herself. Her eyes sparkled, and she gave him a small smile and a tiny wave. He felt the warmth radiate from his racing heart radiate to the furthest reaches of his body. She disappeared around the corner, and he all but floated into the outpost. He was so elated that he almost didn't know how to answer when the gruff clerk demanded, "Name?"
"Uh..." His brain suddenly could think of nothing else but the mysterious beauty. He imagined introducing himself to her.
"Charmont," he spluttered. "Leroy Charmont."
"Papers!" Perhaps the frosty lady was used to dealing with utter ninnies like himself, the ones who had not been this far from home unaccompanied before. He dug the requisite forms out of his small valise and handed them to her. She squinted to see that everything was in order, stamped her approval on it, and rattled out, "Report back here at five hundred hours Monday morning for deployment. Next!"
Leroy couldn't believe his luck. Monday! That gave him three whole days in which to enjoy the company of the charming young woman. He dashed back onto the street and glanced around.
For several agonizing minutes, he could not see her—
And in the next instant, he nearly tripped over her.
"Oh dear!"
"I'm sorry!"

Leroy stumbled backwards and grasped her wrists to keep them both steady. Her skin felt soft and cool at his touch, like holding smooth river stones. She smiled at him again.
"Are you all right?" The words tumbled out of his mouth.
Something in her gaze shifted, and her smile dimmed. Leroy felt a pang in his chest. "Did I hurt you?"
The eyes widened, and she gasped, "No! I am quite all right."
How wonderful her voice sounded, clear with a little hint of a laugh, like a quiet brook.
"What is your name, mademoiselle?"
She smiled and relaxed, even if just for a moment. "I am—" she hesitated, as if she had nearly said one thing but decided on another. "Belle," she said. "They call me Belle; what is your name?"
"Leroy," he answered.
"So, Leroy, what brings you to Moulin Blanc?"
Leroy gestured over his shoulder at the outpost. "I am to be deployed from this harbor."
"Ah," said she. "The war."
The War—not much else needed to be said about that. The world had weathered one before, and countless others before that; surely the world would not be so eager to prolong a second world war.
"Belle..." Leroy looked down at his feet and fidgeted a bit to get the words out. "I was wondering if you—"
Belle had been looking at something behind him, and now she gasped. "I'm sorry; I have to go."
"What? Why?" Leroy spluttered. He turned to see what had scared her so badly, but nothing out of the ordinary caught his eye. He turned back to Belle.
Her lips trembled. "I wish we could have known each other," she said.
"I will come back for you!" Leroy promised.
She shook her head. "No; you must listen to me. What you want can never be. Not with what I am. Goodbye, Leroy. Be safe."
With that, she pulled away and vanished into the crowd.

The rest of the weekend dragged on like an eternity for the young cadet of the French Foreign Legion. He and his unit left France, headed northward, but all the time they were fighting, Leroy never forgot about his brief encounter with the enchanting Belle. Her last words haunted him: "not with what I am." What did it mean? Was she afraid he would reject her for her upbringing? That did not matter to him! Merely thinking of her helped him survive the next two years. While the shells thundered and the screams of dying men filled his days, the sound of her voice and the soft depth of her eyes filled his mind and his dreams.

At last, it was over. Five years after the day it all began, Lieutenant Leroy Charmont stepped off the boat onto the dock of Moulin Blanc, much taller, stronger, and more worn than he had left it. He wandered back toward the military outpost as a man just waking up from a very long dream.

There she was. Standing there, exactly as if she had been waiting for him after all. Leroy dashed forward and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Belle!" He cried.
She twisted away from him, her eyes filling with fear. "Who are you? How do you know me?"
Leroy stepped back. "Belle, it's me, Leroy! Don't you remember?"
She squinted, and recognition flooded her face. "Monsieur Charmont?"
Leroy nodded. "Thinking of you was the only way I managed to survive the war." He gestured to all his shipmates, celebrating and cavorting in the street. "And now that it is over, I was hoping—" he clasped her wrists, held that delicate, smooth hand firmly in his.
Belle shook her head and tried to pull away. "No, you don't understand," she insisted.
"What is there to understand?"
The beautiful dark-haired woman shook her head. Twisting her hands free, she gently pushed his shoulders and darted away from him, across the street. He lost track of her in the sea of moving bodies.
“Belle, wait!” Leroy cried, stumbling after her.
He barely caught sight of her forest-green skirt disappearing into an alleyway. Leroy shouldered people out of the way as he lunged after her.
“Belle, wait—“

He stopped, standing just behind her. Belle stood frozen in place, as a large, burly man in ragged, soiled clothes leered at her from the shadows at the back of the alley.
The man smiled, showing the glint of at least one gold tooth among the rotted, yellowed others.
“Well, what have we here?” he rumbled. “My forefathers have been chasing a legend since the 1700's, and it turns out that all I had to do was wait for her to come to me!”
Leroy instinctively stepped closer against Belle, grabbing for her hand.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
The man’s accent sounded rough, like the Americans Leroy had fought with during the war. “Shouldn’t you be asking her that, boy?”
Belle, meanwhile, cowered against Leroy as the man advanced closer. She looked up to meet his eyes. “Don’t let him take me!” she whispered.
“Who is he, Belle?” Leroy whispered back. “Why has his family been searching for you? What is this man to you?”
The man stopped just out of arm’s reach. He smirked at Leroy. “You mean you don’t know what she is, boy? You really have no idea?”
Belle was trembling all over now; Leroy could feel her terror. “What are you talking about? Why would you terrorize an innocent girl?”
A footstep crunched in the dirt behind him, and Leroy turned to see a second thug closing the gate to the alley behind them. When he faced the first man again, the thug held a stout fishing net.
Belle scrunched even smaller and whimpered, “Don’t let that net anywhere near me!”
“Innocent girl!” scoffed the man with the net. “Is that what you think she is?” He cackled cruelly. “Let me show you the truth, boy!” He nodded to the other thug.
Leroy heard the sound of breaking pottery, and felt Belle going limp in his arms. He looked down at her.
“Belle!” He gasped.
The man laughed again. “There’s your precious, innocent girl, boy!”
Belle’s skirt clung to her legs at first, but in a few moments, Leroy watched the material change form, going from soft and damp to slick and scaly. Her feet vanished, replaced by a wide fin. Small gill slits opened in the skin of her neck.
It took all of his willpower to keep from dropping her to the ground then and there. “What are you?” he gasped.
Webbed hands now clung to his shoulders as the—creature’s—voice came in between quick, desperate gasps. “Please, Leroy! I never want to hurt you. I am a mermaid. My real name is Yssandra. I came ashore two hundred years ago, because I was young and foolish and I sought to find love—“ She turned her head to scowl at the gleeful thug standing before them. “But all I found was hate and greed. I have been trying to hide from this man’s family ever since.”
The man advanced closer. “It’s a long-standing family tradition, chasing after the fish-girl who jilted my great-grandfather.”
The second man took up the other side of the net and advanced toward them.
“So what's it gonna be, Froggy?” The man asked. “Are you going to stick by this fish-girl who is older than you'll ever be, until she snaps and disappears on you forever because she can't stay out of the water for long? Or are you going to let me put her back where she belongs?”
The young mermaid was fast withering in his arms. He would need to make his choice soon, or risk losing her forever. Leroy adjusted his grip on her body, supporting her against him.
He nodded to the man. “You will take her—“
Yssandra gave one last feeble gasp, “Leroy, no!”
Leroy’s hold on her never slackened. “Over my dead body!” he finished.
The man only hesitated a moment before drawing a long, wicked-looking knife. He grinned at the couple.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 3 Part 3

Previously: Chapter 3 <Part 1> <Part 2>

The Marketplace of Eillumaeia was every bit as quiet as the Factory was loud. People milled about with their prescribed shopping lists, heading right to the various merchants at the right times, and getting the right items for the right price so that they left with full carts and empty purses. No one chatted, no one haggled; it was all very formulaic and predictable.

A Kitchen Merchant, one by the name of Wynter, watched as the ladies came by his booth and selected each of them a prescribed number of utensils and appliances. He accepted their money, packaged their selections, and nodded to them. Another dull day at the Mar—

A furious pounding in his head drowned out the absent musings. A headache? Now? His break was not to be for another half-hour! Ten more customers, and then he had fifteen minutes during which to have a headache. It could not come at a worse time!
Wynter tried to stay focused, tried to continue business as usual.

“Excuse me,” a customer stopped in front of him. Wynter looked down at her. She wore a color he’d never seen before, and her red hair stuck out wildly from her head. Decidedly unbecoming; any woman with hair like that would have the good sense to tuck it under a Dellington hat! Her blue eyes stared at him.
“You’ve given me too much change,” she said. “This item is supposed to be the same price as the others.”

Wynter blinked; since when did he give too much change? He looked at the coins in his hand. It felt right; he had certainly judged the worth of the item correctly.
The redhead with the blue eyes and the strange dress persisted, “There must be some mistake.”

With the utterance of that single word, something snapped inside Wynter’s mind. His wyrt, which had been milling placidly about his shoulder, suddenly fused to one spot and began shaking furiously. He had spent far more than the allotted time on one customer; the Market Monitors would surely come for him now.
“There is no mistake,” he told the young woman. “The price on this item has changed. I have changed it. It is now cheaper than the rest. Take it and move along.”
She accepted, but asked him, “Can you do that?”

Wynter shrugged. “It’s a free market; I can do what I please. You know… Tolerance and all that.” Free market? Since when? Wynter didn’t recall hearing that phrase ever, yet it came so easily to his tongue.

All the customers gasped as Wynter took down the price display board and forthwith replaced the numbers, reflecting the prices he instinctively knew would drive up sales and encourage people to buy from him. And buy, they did! Suddenly Wynter had customers flocking to his booth, even customers who had already made their purchases returned for a refund, which Wynter gave freely. He had more business than he knew what to do with, but at the same time, it felt right, and it felt good. Other merchants began to follow suit, and the orderly, subdued Marketplace became the scene of organized chaos as merchants and customers haggled for the first time, and customers demanded refunds, and merchants proclaimed price reductions.

As the sun went down, the Eillumaeians gradually began to depart for their homes in time for Curfew. But everyone still had money in their purses, the merchants had sold much of their merchandise and welcomed the shipment of new and improved items from the Factories (the last shipment they were ever to receive, they were told), and Wynter mused as he returned to his house that his headache was gone—and so was his wyrt.

It took one additional day, but the Resistance (as they called themselves) watched with certain glee as the face of Eillumaeia was changed once again. The smokestacks ceased belching their noxious clouds, and as the merchants sold or gave the last of their merchandise, it became common practice for neighbors to lend things to one another, or if something was needed, someone set about learning to make it themselves, to their own specifications, and lend it freely to others who found need of such a thing. Anything unnecessary to one person was put out on the “street Market” (the curbside) for someone else to pick up who might need it. Innovation and Individuality became first a celebrated thing, then common practice among the citizens of Eillumaeia. No one even bothered with the Factories and Marketplace anymore; in fact, there were a handful of citizens who noticed the profusion of empty buildings and wondered what they were for. Theories abounded, some were entertained, but no one looked twice at a group of mismatched creatures who decided to take up residence in the old Marketplace building. Many shrugged.

“To each their own,” they said.

So long as these people obeyed the laws of the land, where was the harm? The law was there, and it was good. It served a purpose: to compensate for Human Error, to enforce Tolerance, and to control the Innovation so that everyone could coexist in peace and harmony. The populace began to quiet as the wyrts returned to their former hosts. The Law was good. Obedience guaranteed peace. Taxation was necessary to fund security. Security Enforcement necessarily kept trouble and crime at bay. Innovation came with the cost of patents and licenses. Individuality functioned within the government-issued sanctions. And of course the election of said government couldn’t be left to just anybody; that was too great a risk. It was up to the Brethren to select the city leaders. They could still be trusted as leaders of government, if not the sole spiritual or scientific authority. As long as Law stood, so would Eillumaeia.

In the Temple-University of Eillumaeia...

Hammacus concentrated closely, willing his trembling hands to measure out the amounts exactly. The serum must be perfect, and it must be ready now.
His days of Mentorship were over, and he still could not figure out how it happened. One minute, it seemed, he was surveying and directing thousands of minds in how to reason and how to think; the next, he was ladling out droplets of chemicals into beakers, helping prepare the Inoculation Serum. Hammacus glanced over at Amerrit, the one-time Religious Mentor. He had lost his capacity, also. The Overseers assured them that it was merely because the Brethren had accelerated the deadline, but Hammacus knew there were other duties for a Mentor; this was Novice-work, all this measuring and heating and mixing! The Brethren were shaming the displaced Mentors.
Hammacus watched the roiling liquid anxiously. It seemed to be responding correctly within the beaker.

Is it ready?” The Overseer’s thought boomed through his head like a foghorn on his ear. Hammacus winced; the Overseer had no doubt seen him watching, and felt the elation from Hammacus’ own wyrt.
I believe so, Your Excellence,” Hammacus thought in response.
Bring in the test subject,” The Overseer directed the Novice Guard outside the door. The Guard sent in another Novice.
The Novice stood patiently and waited as Hammacus prepared a syringe of the serum.
“Arm,” he instructed the Novice.

The young man did not hesitate to raise his arm. Hammacus gripped the wrist and pressed down on the radial artery till the Novice’s fingertips began to pale. Then he released and slipped the needle into the vein next to it. The Novice grunted, but made no other response. Hammacus emptied the syringe and retracted the needle. He closed his eyes and waited for the serum to take effect.
Abruptly, Hammacus had the peculiar privilege of seeing himself as the Novice saw him. Hammacus opened his eyes. The Novice was now little more than a humanized version of a wyrt; he could be controlled and directed just like a wyrt; the difference being that he still used his own eyes and ears, without the need of a host. Hammacus experimented with the extent of control he had. Deliberately, he sent a thought into the Novice’s mind by his own wyrt.

“All Hail The Brethren,” The Novice intoned—exactly what Hammacus had instructed him to say.
Amerrit stopped what he was doing and came over to watch. Hammacus directed the Novice’s attention to him.

“Master Amerrit!” the Novice suddenly threw himself at the feet of the former Mentor. “The Blessing of the Illuminus be upon you! You have shown me mercy when no other being would so much as look upon me!” The Novice gave a heaving sob as real tears coursed down his wretched face. “How does your Worship, Good Mentor?”
Amerrit frowned at Hammacus, “What is the lad talking about?” He gazed askance at the young man now fawning at his ankles.

Hammacus grinned and shrugged, “I merely told him that he was wretched and that he must show his gratefulness to you. Beyond that, I swear I did not give him the words to say.”

“So we have wyrts that can speak now?” Amerrit asked in surprise. Hammacus turned back to the Novice and directed him toward a group of scientists who were working on duplicating the serum Hammacus had completed. At Hammacus’ unspoken instruction, the Novice reached out and placed a hand on the scientist’s head. Now Hammacus could see through the scientist’s eyes, feel what he felt as he measured out the chemicals in the precise amounts.

“It works!” Hammacus looked at Amerrit with a gleam in his eye. “I’ve done it! It works!”

“Will you stop playing around?” The Overseer sounded less than pleased to be kept waiting. “The Brethren desire that all the Novices should be Inoculated. We must allow the wyrts to leave this Temple University and search out what has become of our population! We are losing ground, and we must find out why! The sooner we can figure out how to stop the ones who are doing this, the sooner we can figure out how to remedy the situation!”

Hammacus nodded, “Yes sir.” He directed the Inoculated Novice to gather all the Novices and bring them to the lab. Mass Inoculations had begun. Soon they would not even need the wyrts anymore. They would all be wyrts, and the Brethren would be the mother-mind.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #16

Suggested by: Kelly Blanchard

The List:
Jason Whitfield
The old Crawford mansion
12:04 pm
A music box
*image prompt provided

The Result:
"Chance Encounters"
Three friends walked a dry, shaded forest path. The grey, somber skies covered the green foliage like a thick wool blanket. One of them, a girl with light brown hair falling easily over her navy cotton infinity scarf, stopped short and pulled the edges of her flyaway sweater closer around her.
"Okay, guys, this is far enough," she said in a shaky voice, her eyes scanning the loose green canopy threatening to enclose them overhead.
The others, two young men, paused and glanced back at her. The redheaded fellow smirked at her. "Whatsa matter, Jess? You scared?"
"I'm not scared, Jimmy!" She snapped, a little too loudly. She pulled back her sleeve to check her watch. "I just—it's getting late, after all, and I don't want to be stuck in the woods after dark."
"Come on, Jess," said the other boy, running his hand through his curly dark hair. "It'll be fine. We'll stay on the path—"
He reached for her hand, but Jess jerked away. "But that's the problem! There's a reason they call this Crawford Road, remember?" She glanced between them.
"So what?" Jimmy shrugged easily, shoving his hands deeper into the pockets of his leather jacket. "It's just an old mansion."
"That's haunted," added the other boy. "They say that the whole family was murdered, and whoever killed them all left the bodies and locked the door, so nobody has ever been in there. Old Man Jones says that he wouldn't be surprised if the whole family were all ghosts, still going through the motions of their final days, doomed to repeat it over and over till someone unlocks the door and releases them..."
"You shut up, Jason Whitfield!" Jess snapped. "I'm just worried about the integrity of the old house. I don't want to be inside if it decides to fall over! If you two have a death wish, that's fine with me," her hands trembled as a gust of wind evoked a gasp. "But I'm going home!" With that, she turned heel and marched away.

Jason and Jim stood there watching her till the grey sweater and slim dark jeans nearly rounded the bend out of sight.
Jason sighed and scuffed the ground with the toe of his shoe. "Girls," he scoffed. He glanced sidelong at his friend, who hadn't stopped staring at the bend in the road so recently occupied by Jess.
"So, Jim," he said, "you coming?"
Jimmy finally tore his gaze away, but as he looked into the deepening shadows of the wood, he grimaced.
Jason let out a heavy sigh. "Not you too!" He groaned. "Jim, this was your daredevil idea!"
"Yeah, but," Jim stammered, the fear showing up in red blotches all over his face and neck, "what if we get there, and we find out it really is haunted?"
A grin split across Jason's face, and his brown eyes twinkled. "Then of course we'll have quite the story to tell!"
Jimmy looked away from the forest, watching the path run in the opposite direction.
Jason shrugged. "Ah, what the heck," he groused. "Get after her, if you don't want to come with me!"
Jimmy flashed him a grateful smile and two thumbs up before scurrying down the path to find Jess. 
Jason stood alone in the path, waiting just on the edge of the unknown. Finally, he steeled his resolve, and marched down the road to the old Crawford mansion. The trees overhead let in just enough light to see by—but the grounds around the mansion were as clear as ever. It stood, grey and mouldering, like an old mountain daring him to climb it. Jason crept up the dusty veranda steps, his shoes crunching on dead leaves, although it was late summer. Ivy clung to almost every available surface. The front door bore a huge, rusty knocker, but the latch had already rusted away, so he carefully pushed the door open and stepped over the threshold.

All around him were the trappings of decayed opulence: rotting picture frames and wainscoting, curtains and rugs practically consumed with mildew, once bright and vibrant decor, discolored by mold. Parts of the floor above and walls lay collapsed on the floor below him. It was as if the family had gone on a trip and all died suddenly, leaving the house to stand unnoticed till it fell. Jason shivered as a gust of wind wafted through a hole in the floor. It really did feel like somebody's cold, bony fingers wrapping around his shoulder. He moved deeper into the house, noting the stronger smell of age and mustiness.
The dim grey light filtering through dirty windows cast strange shadows over everything. A grandfather clock stood next to the staircase. The time read precisely four minutes after twelve, stopped forevermore. The floorboards groaned in protest as Jason ascended to the second floor. Aside from the relentless sensation that there was someone else there with him, he detected none of the signs verifying the spooky rumors of what the haunted mansion should look like. On the whole, it was more like a trip back in time, imagining the Crawford family residing happily in their huge, decadent home. There weren't even any corpses in sight, and no ghosts either. Altogether, a pretty harmless--though somewhat macabre--tour.
"Jim would have loved this,” he murmured to himself.
The upstairs was full of rooms with old, ratty, moth-eaten sofas and beds. Jason entered one of them, just to see what it was like. The curtain over the bed hung in tatters from the rods. The bed spread, in spite of the freckling of mildew covering the stark-white surface, looked soft enough. Jason tentatively reached out and touched the delicate surface. With all the grace of a deflated balloon, the material sank into a deep depression in the shape of his fingers. A chill wind blew past him, and Jason flinched, taking a step back from the bed. The window at the back of the room stood open. Jason could see another room across the way from it, with windows all around, forming a sort of tower. The ivy mostly obscured his view.

“What are you doing?”

Jason jumped two feet in the air and screamed as the voice issued from the doorway. He turned to face the newcomer, a young girl in a simple, pale-blue jersey dress. She stared at him. Her red lips and dark hair contrasted with her porcelain-fair skin.
“I—ah,” Jason stammered numbly. “What are you doing?”
One eyebrow arced upwards. “I live here,” she stated.
Jason gestured to the grand ruins. “In this old dump? Why would anybody want to live here?”
The girl shrugged. “I like it. Nobody bothers me here.” She leveled her gaze back at him. “Until you came along. So what are you doing?”
Jason shrugged and edged past the strange girl. “Dunno… exploring, I guess.”
She trotted after him. “Mind if I join you?”
Jason snorted and rolled his eyes. “I guess.” He sighed and wandered down another hall where one of the rafters had collapsed through the roof and lay crossways in the hall.
“By the way,” the girl continued blithely, “my name is Juniper. What’s yours?”
“Jason,” he answered.
“Pleased to meet you, Jason,” replied Juniper, as if they were two strangers meeting at a park, instead of an old, dilapidated mansion.
He entered another doorway. This room had smaller furniture, and so much old, cobwebby lace that it must have been a girl’s room. There was a small box on the bedside table. Jason scooted over and gently pried back the lid. The mechanism had long since rusted and disintegrated, but there was a name carved into the underside of the lid. Jason tilted the carving toward the window, running his fingers over the delicate, curved trenches of the etching “Crawford, with love 1938” The words before it were more smudged than these. He squinted closely at it, acutely aware of the soft presence behind him, now peering over his shoulder.
“What is it?” Juniper asked.
Jason felt the blood rush out of his face as his heart rate accelerated. “What did you say your name was?” He still did not turn around. He could not tear his eyes away from the name carved into the lid of the music box. Downstairs, the grandfather clock abruptly began ringing the twelfth hour.
“Juniper,” the girl said. “Juniper Crawford. Would you like some tea, Jason? I think we could become great friends.”

Previously in This Series:
#15 "Rendezvous"("Soul Mates" Part 6/"Serenity's Light" Part 2)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 3 Part 2

Previously: Chapter 3 <Part 1>


At the front gate of Factory 2319, Gatesman Karney barely looked up from his clipboard as the grey-suited, grimy-faced workers shuffled past him. It was the same thing every day, the same people, the same pace, the same time. He didn’t even have to watch the clock anymore. When he saw the overstuffed cap of Naggee, who tried so hard to blend in, short of chopping off her marvelous mop of red curly hair, he knew it was time to throw the lever to begin closing the gate. There she was, just behind the group of men dragging along a thin, weak boy between them. Poor lad must have decided to exercise something like “free will” last night. Much good it did him! Karney threw the lever, and the air was filled with the sound of grinding gears.
“Oy! Oy! Oy!” The cry went up from the people just in front of the gate. Karney at last put down his clipboard. Never had anyone had cause to make any noise while the gate shut—and yet there were people who had to scramble to avoid getting crushed! How? Why? Were they slow? Were the gates too fast? Since when? The last man had barely gotten his heels out of the way before the gates slammed shut. Karney sighed with relief and picked up his clipboard again; he was not used to so much excitement. He watched the men with the scrawny boy begin to climb the stairs toward the stacks. Karney shuddered and kept his eyes focused on the ground. He couldn’t abide heights, and those stacks were the highest in the city. Let the other men climb. Karney would stay in his gatehouse, on the ground.

Deep in the belly of Factory 2319, Under-Foreman Galen surveyed the floor below with its assembly line of men and women, all dressed the same, all placing the same parts on the same items as they scooted down the assembly line. Another thousand lawn chairs for the masses; they must be sold today, because the people need them. And not one of them must have a single wingnut out of place. Such models are defective and must be destroyed, and the worker’s motivation uncovered and squelched. Galen understood full well that humans were not perfect machines, they could make mistakes, and a minor slip could be rectified without having to dispose of the worker—but a deliberate change in manufacturing? What was the point in that? Such a thing could only throw the city into a state of panic. Galen sighed and continued scanning the rows as their unison made a simple movement echo loudly through the whole building. Galen wished he could shut out the loud noise; it stuck in his head all day long, pounding through his sleep cycle.
The Under-Foreman—well aware that he in turn was being watched by the Foreman on the level above him—sighed again and tried to concentrate on something else, to shut out the loud booms. He felt the wyrt on his shoulder quivering softly. If only just one person was just the tiniest bit off-beat, the noise would not be quite so loud; where would be the harm in that? Galen closed his eyes and imagined what that would be like—what would one call that?


Galen’s eyes snapped open. What sort of word was that? It sounded incredible. The wyrt next to him began to shake worse, but Galen didn’t notice as thoughts hitherto unexplored began to fall into place. If just one person at a time fell just a fraction of a second off from the others, production would still continue at the same rate, but the incredible noise would not be so loud. It would be spread out, constant, even, instead of harsh and punctuated. A warm feeling licked over the Under-Foreman from his head to his toes; he, Galen, had just innovated! His wyrt frantically tried to crawl toward his neck and to the top of his head, but it remained where it was, shaking furiously. Galen knew it would not be long before the Foreman noticed this. Thank the Fates wyrts could not read minds, only use the senses of their hosts! Galen continued to give the appearance of doing what he was supposed to be doing, all the while his mind continued to spin these new ideas.
For example, what would one call it when one person decided on their own to do something different from others, while benefiting others still? One person, doing their own thing, to make a difference—


Yes! What a perfect word! And still within the bounds for Human Error and Tolerance, the two foundational tenets of the Eillumaeian belief system. For if one allowed for the possibility of Error, the Tolerance of said Error, perhaps something could then be said for Innovation and Individuality; one did not have to do or look the same as another, one was free to have their own feelings, their own thoughts—and the result in Galen’s mind looked pleasing indeed!

Just then, Galen’s radio squawked, and the grating voice of the Foreman interrupted his thoughts.
“Galen! What’s going on down there?”
Galen shook his head. Of course the Foreman was too far up to see the Floor, but that was Galen’s job; the Foreman only had to look after Galen. Yet, why had he asked such a question? What worried the Foreman so? Galen turned his attention back to the floor.

His wish had come true! Instead of the constant thudding, the workers were out of sync with each other, producing a rather pleasing “ratta-tatta-tatta-tatta” buzz over the floor. The Foreman must have detected the change in the noise level, but Galen enjoyed it.
“Situation normal,” he reported to the Foreman. It felt good not to have to yell each syllable between poundings. Galen looked across the way at the row of catwalks, each with an Under-Foreman standing upon it. He wondered if they had come up with the same thoughts of Innovation and Individuality as he had. Suddenly, Under-Foreman 6, three rows from Galen’s position, took it upon himself to walk away from his post. Under-Foreman 5 did the same thing—walking in the opposite direction! Galen felt the urge to cheer welling up inside him—dare he? It was almost too much; he had never been so happy over an idea before. He would burst if he didn’t—hang uniformity! Galen whipped his hat off his head and threw it up in the air.

“Innovation!” he crowed.

Suddenly, all the workers on the floor stopped and turned to him. As their last act in one voice, they all cried, “All hail the individual!” and threw their hats in the air as well!
Galen was amazed by the variation of appearance. Dwarves removed their stilts and became half the height of everyone else. Elves straightened and became taller. There were heads of red hair, golden hair, silver hair, black hair; long hair, short hair, curly hair straight hair. Galen ignored the stream of objections coming from his radio as he cheered along with the workers. They turned back to the assembly lines, but no longer were they doing the same job as the person across from them. Galen watched Individuality in action as different workers began putting components together in different combinations, painting them different colors, inventing entirely new and never-before-seen objects!
A loud hissing erupted from the air ducts all across the factory, but it wasn’t any kind of nasty-smelling gas leak. To Galen and to those who inhaled deeply of the fumes, it was the smell of freedom.
One tall creature—very much an individual, because Galen had never seen its like before, all covered in fur and like a cross between a cat and an Elf—stood on top of a machine and roared, “Let us spread the good news to the other Factories! All hail the individual! Innovation is king!” The creature leapt off his pedestal and led the charge out of the factory doors. Galen climbed down from the catwalk to join them. He waved to Karney the Gatesman as he passed. Karney threw the lever to open the gates, and then snapped the handle, rendering it impossible to ever close the gates again.
“Durned if I ain’t doin’ this no more!” he shouted. “It’s about time I did somethin’ differ’nt!”
Not one of those workers paid the slightest bit of attention to the carpet of wyrts who scampered about their feet, desperate for new hosts and finding none among their number.

High in the stack of the Factory, Laurel’s work was not done, even though everyone else had to get to the factory floor to prevent total mayhem. She was not completely alone, sitting there on a perch just below the rim. A second figure watched over her from the very rim of the stack, one with pale hair and dusky skin—and keen silver eyes that read every twitch of Laurel’s face.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Commander's Courage" Excerpt: "Two Truths And A Lie"

"I was on... the command ship in the midst of an active battlefield!"

As we exited the medical bay, and started down those long silver walkways, I quickly learned that any deviation from Cher’s programmed path resulted in an electric shock at my ankles and the android pausing to slowly turn and remind me, “Please remain on the path. Come along, madam.” She always said it in exactly the same tone of voice, with exactly the same inflection.

When we arrived at last in front of a sliding silver door, I felt my stomach lurch; was she going to stuff me in a tube like the soldiers had?

The door swished open, but the compartment inside looked like a normal elevator, with plenty of room for more than one person. Cher stalked calmly inside and turned to face me.
Come along, madam,” she intoned.

The security-bot nudged me forward. I joined the android in the elevator car, and we ascended several levels. When the doors opened again, we must have been somewhere near the top of the ship, because now there were large windows all around. For the first time, I got a glimpse of exactly where I was. Even Cher was kind enough to stop for a few minutes so I could look around.
My mouth dropped open as I stared for so long, my eyes started to hurt.

“Holy space freighters,” I spluttered under my breath. “I’m a long way from home!”
I stared out the window at the expanse of star-speckled night sky that surrounded the ship. But it wasn't the stars that got my attention. As I watched, large, clumpy grey shapes zipped back and forth across the expanse, releasing colored bolts that flashed among the white stars.
Not only was I on an enormous space cruiser... It was also the command ship in the midst of an active battlefield!
A jolt at my ankle kept me from staring much longer.
"Come along, madam," Cher coaxed.
I could not stop picturing the floating ships. Something about the shapes seemed familiar...

"Oh!" I gasped. "Now I get—" The words died in my mouth as I nearly blew my whole secret right there to Cher. The android stared at me, servos whirring as her eyelids blinked. I faced forward again. "Never mind," I said quickly.
"Come along," Cher repeated.

I was glad she only said one thing, because it was easier to keep my mouth shut, even though my mind spun at a million miles per hour in my head. I knew exactly where I was this time!
Several years ago, I was hunting for a new idea to write about, and somebody recommended a short-lived TV series they could only describe as a "space western." I had no idea what that meant, but I was always interested in sci-fi, and besides, I recognized a couple of actors on it. I watched the show and loved it so much that I had started creating my own version of it (also combining heavily with some other sci-fi movies I watched and books I read) in story form. I had a contingent of diverse characters that I threw onto an enormous spaceship just like this one, setting them to wandering the halls and finding different rooms, figuring out how the alien systems worked, and just talking with one another...
At which point the story fizzled and died because I couldn't think of any idea cool enough to match the things other people had already done.

I was practically floating with excitement as we ascended the ramp toward the flight deck and the command bridge. It was like coming back from a long absence and finding out where the story had gone without me.

Officers in crisp grey uniforms crisscrossed the walkways. The only distinction I could discern was the shape of the large brooch that served as the rank insignia. Different men and women had different shapes formed in platinum on their shoulders, but I did not understand what they meant. As we progressed across the flight deck, I saw a man with three arms controlling some kind of navigation console. At another monitor, a woman spoke an acoustic sort of language into the microphone attached to her headset.
Cher and I ascended one more flight of stairs toward the commander's quarters.
A laser array scanned the two of us from head to toe, and the door dematerialized in front of us.

The Commander stood in front of his desk, waiting for us. His light-brown hair swept off to the side in a stately, curving coif, and his icy-blue eyes seemed to stare right into me. His eyes never left my face as he spoke.

"This is the stowaway apprehended on Level Six?"
"Affirmative," Cher intoned.
"That will be all, Cher."
"Yes, sir."
Cher withdrew, leaving me standing in front of the commander.
"Disengage security bot," he commanded.
The red light on the box extinguished immediately.
"I am Commander Gerald of the Galactic High Council of Phantessa. Who are you, stranger?"

I needed a cover story, and it was too much pressure to come up with something elaborate and foolproof right then and there. I decided that less information was more. A space station like this would get lots of traffic. Perhaps I could pass myself off as a stowaway from another ship.
"I snuck aboard one of the supply ships headed for this station," I said.

Commander Gerald tilted his head. "Was it the medical supply shuttle or the provision ship?"

I didn't get why he was asking. Did it matter which ship I came on? "There were a lot of crates—" I almost stumbled over my words as a fleeting thought passed through my head: did they even use crates?

The commander shrugged his shoulders in recognition. "Ah, so the ship from Neogratia."

I nodded. "Yes, sir." Inwardly, I fervently hoped this Neo-whatever place was inhabited by “normal” people like me. How embarrassed would I be if he knew that he was unwittingly supplying my lie with details?

His expression relaxed, but I couldn't be sure if it was the flicker of a smile I saw. "I pride myself on stringent security. You could not possibly get past all of the customs checkpoints and scanners unless you found some means of sneaking in and out of crates undetected."

I clearly envisioned the scene in my head as I answered, "I hid behind some larger crates till the guard's back was turned, and slipped inside one of them." I couldn't help grinning smugly, as if I actually had done all the things I had claimed. "Maybe your guards aren't as thorough in checking all the cargo as they would like you to believe," I hinted.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I had gone too far. The Commander's face went from skeptical to mildly amused.

"You're lying," he stated.

I felt my pulse climbing and a flush wash over my face. "What makes you say that?"

The smile dipped, replaced by sternness. "Because everything I've just fed you is an outright fabrication." His eyes narrowed ever so slightly.