Friday, April 24, 2015

Flash Fiction # 143: It's all Nuts

       Marisa left the house to buy some butter.
Along the way she met a dragon. Granted, he was a little dragon she wouldn't have noticed if the squirrel hadn't chased him out of the bushes.
"Ow!" The dragon hit the cement. "You obnoxious squirrel! I'll wear your tail as a scarf --"
Marisa grabbed him by the nap of the neck. He gulped, huge eyes gone wide.
"Tell me how you got here, little one," she said. "Your kind aren't supposed to be in this realm."
"Human," he said softly. "You shouldn't be able to see me."
"Not human." She pulled aside hair uncovering one pointed ear.
The baby dragon gave an explosive sound of relief and grabbed hold of her arm. "I was with mama coming to find you. You're Councilor Marisa, aren't you? We so need your help!"
So much for a quiet dinner at home. "Where's your mother?"
"The ogres stopped her before she could change and come over! She told me to find you, but the squirrels kept chasing me away," he admitted. "I failed --"
"You didn't fail. You found me." Dragons had tender egos and she didn't want to set this one on the wrong path, being so young and impressionable. "Let's go see what the ogres are up to."
The small blue dragon guided her to the tear in reality that lead home. Even baby dragons never got lost. She pushed the hole open . . . and stepped into chaos.
Ogres leapt up and down, the ground shaking as they hit. The very large dragon thumped her tail in angry counterpoint, and the ground trembled all the time. Everyone yelled.
Marisa stepped forward with a shout of her own -- not a word, but rather magic that stilled everyone, whether they wanted to or not.
"What is the problem?"
"The ogres are encroaching on our land and they have accused US of stealing from THEM!" Legina Blue Dragon glared at the ogres. Her son rushed over and climbed on his mother's neck, mimicking the glare. He was going to be a terror in a few more centuries.
King Krashash snarled in return. "You stole our trees!"
"The trees grew on our land. We did not bring them. You have no right to intrude!"
"Far from our trees! Tell me how they got there!" He started to leap but stopped at a look from Marisa.
"Let's go see."
They walked to the valley, which was not far away. The dragon grumbled about having to go so slowly and the ogres snarled about having to run. They'd never been happy neighbors. At the high point overlooking the two areas was a stretch of land that belonged to the Royal Realm, designated empty land to keep the two areas apart. To the left she could see the rows of tall walnut trees, a special breed that grew very fast in the magic lands.
Just down the hill to the right was a new row of walnut trees, all of them young. She glanced at the dragon, but she still glared.
"And what would we do with walnuts? We do not eat the foul things. And we certainly don't want trees spreading into our fields so we cannot land!"
She was right. Nonetheless, even as Marisa watched, another tree sprang up and grew a few feet.
"Thieves! Liars!"
"There has to be something --" Marisa began. And then she saw it. "Squirrel!"
Squirrels were an invasive creature to the fae lands. She caught sight of one leaping through the grass that separated ogres from dragons She marched down and cut the animal off and the little guy found himself surrounded by ogres and a dragon. Being a squirrel, that didn't bother him in the least.
"What do you think you're doing?" Marisa demanded.
The squirrel dropped a huge walnut and stood up on his back legs waving the front ones with some agitation. "Bury the seeds! Get ready for the snow! Get out of my way! No time!"
The squirrel grabbed the walnut. She grabbed the squirrel. "We have a problem."
Squirrels had learned to talk as soon as they got hold of magic -- probably by eating magic walnuts. They got smarter, but they were still squirrels. She saw others bounding through the grass. Ogres tried to catch them and she tried not to laugh. It did give her a couple minutes to rethink the situation. And one thing finally occurred to her. The squirrels had been in the fae lands for more than a century. They'd never worried about winter before.
"Why do the squirrels suddenly think they need to worry about snow?" she asked.
Everyone stopped. Even the squirrel in her grip stopped twisting and turning. "Are you all that stupid?" he demanded. "The snow is coming! Get ready!"
There was only one way they could have snow. She turned to Legina Blue Dragon who looked worried. "I'd say you're about to have a visit from your cousins in the north. You might want to prepare."
"Northern dragons?" King Krashash said, appalled. He spun. "Back to the caves! Lay in all the walnuts you can find! Prepare! Prepare!"
"Finally, someone smart," the squirrel said. "Will you put me down? I have walnuts to plant!"
"But they just grow," she said. Another three leapt out of the ground as they watched. "You're not saving them for later."
"Yes, yes. The ogres try to stomp us in their walnut forest, so we're moving to our own place.
"On the dragon lands."
"Not their land. We aren't stupid you, know. We're planting on the edge of the divide, as far from the ogres as we can."
He was right. The ogres had assumed it was dragon land. The dragon had responded to the challenge.
"Yes. Right," Legina said. "Sorry for the bother."
She and her son flew off. The ogres ran in full retreat. She let go of the squirrel. Problem solved.
Maybe she still had time to get to the store.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour 2015/4: Readers' Sites

       I don't hang out in reader communities much these days. I did for a while, trying to be friendly and take part in conversations but I quickly learned one important fact: readers are not like writers. Yes, all writers are readers, but people who are readers only sometimes have a different view of the work. I know it seems strange that I shouldn't have realized this, but I've been writing for such a long time that the two are braided into one for me. I can't always sit back and see a book (mine or someone else's) apart from the act of creating it. I have studied how other authors work. I've seen, sometimes, the trace of a world building hint that might lead back to an original concept. I become as enthralled in a book for it's lovely story as for the work that went into creating it.
And that's where I found that I didn't always connect well with a few readers. Sometimes they get very odd ideas about how books are created. I've seen a couple incidents where they seemed to think book creation was a group project, and as readers they had the right to tell the author what should be in the next book. I found that . . . unpleasant. I also have a problem with the 'authors on parade' concept. I understand the idea of marketing and using electronic media as a way to reach more people, but because both sides are nothing more than words on a screen, things are said that would never happen in a face-to-face encounter. I see problems leap out of nowhere and they aren't easy to fix. Since I'm prone to that kind of misunderstanding, I have just stood back and watched instead.
And there are the problem groups who make decisions that seem to be based almost entirely on 'How annoying can we be?' rather than any logic. I don't understand such groups, and they have, unfortunately, given places like GoodReads a very bad reputation.
I once ran a site that was, really, a good reads site -- I wanted nothing but good reviews posted because I wanted to find the books people loved and to know why they read them. I didn't care what others hated. I wanted to find good books based on what I found interesting in their reviews and a few other people agreed with me. The site was my vision of how to locate those treasures. I didn't want space taken up by the junk as well.
Unfortunately, a group began complaining about how they had the right to post bad reviews, that this was not a helpful site because it didn't give equal opportunity to slam books, etc. I pointed out they could simply go post somewhere else for whatever types of reviews they wanted. It was not enough. THIS site had to be what they wanted.
I shut it down after about a year of constant arguing, and that is where I first began to realize that people on the Internet are not interested in reason or cooperation -- or even, really, talking about books most of the time. If they find something they dislike, they will worry at it and drive people crazy until they get bored or the site disappears.
As I've gotten older, I've lost patience, I think. I know there are good points to such reader sites and that many of the people there enjoy the interaction. I know some writers enjoy sites like WattPad as well, but that's not the direction I want to go. So I'll stick to hanging around with writers. Yeah, like I've had a lot of luck there, too.
You know, maybe it's time for a bit of personality adjustment!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Flash Fiction # 142 -- Hanlet Station

       Everyone aboard the ship knew certain things about Izain. They knew he was a damned good tech and had once saved them from pirates. He was polite but didn't get very chummy with anyone. And they knew Captain didn't entirely trust him.

She didn't get rid of him either.
Izain knew there would be more trouble over his past, though.
Hanlet Station had put out a call for tech help. When Captain Lawrence walked up to the tech station, Izain could see her in the reflection. He gave one quick nod without turning.
"The station problem appears legit," he said.
She sighed. "You could at least wait for me to ask questions." She stood behind him for a long, silent minute. "Well?"
"I'm waiting for questions."
Anasha, in the spot beside him, almost laughed.
"Ana, please take full control of the boards while I deal with Izain," the captain ordered. A moment later she caught Izain's chair and spun him around. "Tell me what I need to know."
"Hanlet station is a transfer point for materials out of the Hanlet system -- iron rich area, but few settlements. The crew numbered about 200, all of them in family groups, so there are likely a number of children. I've looked over everything they sent out and I suspect they have a deep-seed virus, which makes this dangerous for a couple reasons."
"We don't want the virus and we don't want to meet the pirates set it there," Lawrence said with a nod. She winced. "Children?"
"Yes. Oddly, Hanlet Station is not mentioning children in need, though."
"If the pirates have set up the virus, why didn't they use a shark like they tried with us?"
"I suspect they want the station working," he replied and almost glanced over his shoulder at his station. "Hanlet also has a ship repair area, and that might be of interest to them."
"They might have ship trouble. Damned few places for them to get repairs" She stared past him to the screen, blinking twice. Izain knew what she would do. He was already preparing. "We're heading there. I will have comm look for sign of anyone else answering, but there aren't many ships in this sector."
She gave a single nod and left. He turned back to his work. Hanlet Station was only two slides away and no more than three days turnover depending on how long they held off and watched. He had a lot of preparation to do.
"Can you handle the station, please?" he asked with a glance to Ana. She gave a grim nod. "Thank you. I need to prepare some code. I'm cutting my station out of the system."
"I've got it."
Izain burrowed through the snapshot of the Hanlet computer system that came with the request. There were odd hacks here and there, but no more than he'd seen on other backwater stations, left with few tech resources. Too much work. He slept at the board for little snatches. He ate in the nearby cafeteria and used the restrooms there, and thought longingly about his cabin and bed.
If he believed in fate and karma, Izain would have believed this was payment for having lived on the wrong side of the equation for a while. He'd left the pirates years ago. He'd told no one on the ship about his past. Captain Lawrence had guessed the truth and still didn't fully trust him.
He would not let her down.
They reached Hanlet in record time. He'd finished all he could at his station, saved off the files he would need and leaned back, watching the approach. On a whim, he pulled up the comm line and listened to the docking instructions --
And was out of his seat and crossing the long room to the Captain's station so fast that he startled people. With one jab, he shut down her comm link.
"Abort the docking. Quietly and carefully," he said. He caught her arm when she started to speak. "Get ready to make a jump out of the system as quickly as we can."
"You heard someone," she said with understanding.
"Someone you don't want to meet -- not her and not her captain. Scan the station. I'm betting there aren't more than 20 people there."
"They said they had most of the people in the core for safety. We think we read them there. Damn. Alvarius, create a problem."
"What should --"
Izain crossed to the pilot station and keyed in a problem for him; something not unusual. The docking system glitched and the man yelped, glared -- but pulled them back out from the station even while a remembered voice on the station said to abort.
"We'll try another approach," Lawrence said in the comm at her location. "We'd hoped to use your repair station."
Izain worked with the pilot who glanced back at Lawrence and then just did whatever Izain said. They were on a wide curve away from the station when they locked onto a known star and hit the slide drive, leaping out of there.
Izain grabbed the back of the pilot chair, drained. He turned to the captain. "They'll realize we figured it out. I suspect they'll run, thinking we're really an IWC Scout, checking them out. We should drop back into the system but stay in the shadow of one of the worlds. See if they go. I am betting if they do, they're going to leave whatever prisoners they have behind. Maybe damage the station."
Captain Lawrence agreed.
So in the end, they saved the people anyway because he had been right. The crew didn't trust Izain any better, but the Captain knew he had saved them a second time.
How long, he wondered, until the pirates came after him?
Maybe it was time to act first. Time, in fact, to go have a long talk with Captain Lawrence and find out how much she really did trust him.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Flash Fiction # 141 -- The Outpost

       Something was wrong on Tengas Outpost.
If something odd went wrong on the Belgium's route, Tana and her crew investigated. She wanted to believe they got the jobs because they were good at handling them. However, she feared they were sent because someone wanted to get rid of her Catchin crewmate, Lisil, and willingly risked the two humans with him. Lisil was tall and furry and tended to hiss when he got especially upset. He also had nerves of steel and incredible reflexes. They often survived because the Catchin could react faster than a human. Humans, though, had their uses. Catchins didn't fly well together. They had to crew with humans.
The flight proved long and boring until the outpost came into sight. A werecraft had crashed into the far side of the building and the back half of the alien ship had left a line of twisted, burnt metal and other debris spread against the dull yellow landscape.
"Reading heat sources in the outpost," Lis said, ears pricked back. "At least one more than there should be. I'd say they have visitors."
"Are there any humans left? Because if not, we'll pass on a visit."
Lisel ran the scanner, ran it again -- and then sat back in the chair. "I can't tell."
"Well, hell," Krisin said from his spot behind them. "I'll start getting the weapons out."
He knew they were going in. They could go back to Belgium and get a force to help, but if any humans were holding off the enemy, time would not be on their side.
If the weres understood anything about humans and Catchins, they didn't like what they'd learned. Werecraft raided human settlements and outposts near the boundary to their own worlds. Humans, in a rare show of sanity, had not yet crossed over that boundary and attacked the ten thousand or so worlds on the other side of the line, but they did want to keep watch, so outposts and ships stayed in the area.
Earthers had even created specialized warriors in case of war: Catchin. Someone, however, had realized having such warriors in any number would also put the humans in danger from their own creations. Again, some previously unknown sign of sanity intervened and the Catchin were simply turned loose to work with humans.
She was damned glad to have one now.
The werecraft had not damaged the landing pad or airlock. There was no use trying to be subtle about this. Tana brought the scout down with a quick, no-nonsense landing, let the tube connect and kicked the door open. Lis was the first out and she followed. Krisin came last, dragging out a big laser rifle while she and Lis carried pistols. "Careful where you aim that thing," she ordered. "Remember we have a poisonous atmosphere."
Krisin grunted, putting the rifle on his shoulder. Maybe she and Lis ought to walk behind him.
The airlock opened into an area filled with the smell of smoke and burnt plastic. The main control room, into which they walked, showed equipment partly melted. The alien craft had hit the far end of the end of the complex near the power station and the power surge had been destructive. The outpost was on emergency power, the red light annoying.
"Let's make this quick," Lis said. He kept his eyes on the far archway. "How do we search to find out if there are humans left?"
"Hey!" Tana yelled. It wasn't a large outpost. "Any humans here?"
Lis and Krisin both made sounds of disbelief. Tana listened. There was no way the weres couldn't have missed their landing anyway.
The lights blinked several times.
"Is that you?"
It blinked twice.
"The human has to be near the generator. Here." He pointed to a spot on his pocketcomp. The other seven spots were close to the same area. "Be ready."
They started out at a brisk walk. Lisel held the pocketcomp in his left hand, glancing at the screen sometimes. They passed one dead human and another, and then three dead weres, the bodies withered and stinking. The place was too quiet except for an unnatural gurgling noise somewhere ahead. Lis only gave a nod of warning. They'd found the enemy.
Tana had never fought a were except with her ship. She didn't like facing them here, but when the tall, ungainly creatures appeared, Lis fired and took down two and she got one, while Krisin didn't fire off his weapon at all, which was just as well.
"Let's go!" Tana shouted. A face appeared at the door ahead. "Any more humans?"
"No!" The woman darted out of the room. Short dark hair, dark skin and brown eyes that narrowed at the sight of Lis, but she wisely said nothing. They ran back to the airlock which seemed to take far too long to cycle and open. Sounds made it plain others were coming after them.
"I think we're done here, right?" Krisin said as the airlock opened..
"Yes," Tana agreed. Lis jogged ahead to get the scout open.
"Good." Krisin fired back into the building . . . at the ceiling.
The outpost began collapsing before she got the scout up. Their passenger sat crowded onto a little bench to the right. If there had been more than one human to take out, they'd have had a hellish time fitting them into the craft, but she would have done it.
"We have werecraft readings," Lis warned, one claw tapping the screen. "Time to go."
"The Catchin isn't going to fly, is it?" the woman demanded.
The scout wasn't large. Krisin pulled out of the way in haste as Tana reached back and caught the woman by her collar. "Unless you want to walk home, I suggest you be polite. Lis just helped save your life."
"I thought -- I didn't know --"
Tana let go.
They had a quiet, boring trip back to the ship.
Tana began considering going pirate to get away from the fools.

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Flash Fiction # 140 -- The Magic Test

     The yearly spectacle of fools, otherwise known as the trial of the apprentice, was about to begin. Princess Stardell watched the three who stood by the wall waiting to be called forward. They didn't look promising, but this wasn't a surprise. The King had been looking for an apprentice for years now and the only spectacle so far had been how spectacularly bad the applicants had proven to be.
Silence filled the hall as the king gave the signal and the three mages stepped forward. The king gave a nod that showed neither pleasure nor hope. No surprise there, Princess Stardell thought. The High Mage Lien wanted desperately to retire before he was too old to enjoy his last summers at a fishing pond, but she feared it wasn't going to happen. He stood to Stardell's left, looking bleak.
Stardell thought she might slip away early from the show. Unfortunately the Queen, who always seemed to know what her daughter was thinking, gave her that raised eyebrow stare so Stardell stopped inching her way towards the curtain. Mother had a magic all her own and Stardell knew better than to cross it. Huron, the Crown Prince, had volunteered to visit Great Aunt Princess Agatha this month, which only went to prove how excruciatingly boring this could be.
At least this year they were quicker to get to the magic than usual. For once the applicants seemed to have taken the king at his word about wanting this to be over before nightfall.
The first mage was much as she expected, except maybe she had a worse temperament than usual. The woman stomped up to the place of honor and faced the king with a brief, almost impolite bow. She was short, stocky and possibly older than Lien himself.
She also nearly killed them all when she called up her 'tame' firestorm. Lien, who stood next to Stardell, sighed and gave a twitch of his fingers, putting the magic back into the shape of a ball, balanced on the woman's hand.
"Yes! See, Great King, what devastation I could wreak upon your enemies."
"Yes, quite . . . astounding," King Milden said, wiping a bit of ash from his lap. Stardell looked up and saw scorch marks on the ceiling. That was a new one. No one had actually done damage to the palace before.
The woman bowed again and stalked back to her place in line. She looked smug.
"Delusional," Lien sighed. Stardell nodded agreement.
The next person called up a gargoyle, and the creature promptly killed the mage. Lien sent it back home with an apology and some gold.
The last of the group had seemed rather a non-entity to Stardell. Tall, lanky and probably not much out of his teens, he didn't seem like someone the eastern realm would send for the annual competition. He nearly tripped on his robe as he crossed to the place of honor. He did give the king a very nice bow and even repeated it for the queen, which was unexpected. Most people tended to ignore the outsider, the foreign woman who had married the king for dynastic reasons.
Stardell noted how he smiled as he lifted his hands.
He cast magic that spun, swelled and circled into a vision of light. Music came with it; bells and drums and the sounds of birds and rain so that for a few brief moments, Stardell -- and everyone else in the room -- seemed to have been transported to somewhere, well, magical.
All too soon the colors swirled and stars brightened and disappeared as the magic swept back to his hand and disappeared again.
He gave bows again to the king and queen, and then started to turn away.
"That was . . . astonishing," the king said. The boy stopped and looked back, startled. "Whatever made you decide to do something so creative?"
"We aren't at war," he replied, his voice soft. He had a nice border accent. "We haven't been for over a decade. I don't think magic should only be used for destruction. Surely creation is as important." He moved his hand and a butterfly made of light lifted from his palm and fluttered around the room before it spread outward into a starry sky that filled the ceiling. She wasn't the only one who made appreciative sounds.
"And what good is it, eh?" the woman mage demanded. "Can't stop a ravening horde with pretty lights and music!"
The fool lifted her hand and brought up fire again, which got out of control in the next breath, but the boy simply waved a hand and destroyed the fire even faster than Lien could react.
"Well. My," the older mage mumbled.
The king glanced over at Lien.
"Oh yes. Absolutely," Lien said with several nods of his head so that his gray hair all but bounced on his shoulders. "And I want to know how you synchronized the music with the lights, young man. Do you have luggage with you? Come along, come along. Best to get you settled in right away --"
"Pardon?" the boy said, looking from king to Lien and back again.
"It would be polite to say he's been accepted, you know," the queen said with a laugh.
"I didn't -- I never expected --" he said, startled and clearly disbelieving. Stardell found that she rather liked him.
"Welcome to the palace," the king said and stood, going over to take the startled boy's hand. "Thank you for saving me from another year of this madness. Lien would like to speak with you now. I'm sure you'll both have plenty to discuss."
Lien came over and took the boy by the arm, already asking questions faster than the new apprentice could answer. The poor guy looked startled and half lost. Stardell decided she'd just go along with the two and help out. At least he looked like someone interesting to know.
She suspected life was going to get a bit more interesting at the palace.

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