Friday, May 29, 2015

Flash Fiction # 148 -- Izain's Choice, Part 2

       Izain realized, too late, that he had gone insane.
The thought came to him as the Mayfire slipped into the Pencaris System. Everything went without a sign of trouble. Izain sat his usual post and pretended a sense of calm he didn't feel. When he had offered this unique opportunity to the captain, he hadn't fully considered all the things that could go wrong.
He'd had plenty of time to consider those potential problems since then. Until Lawrence had taken up the challenge of this job, Izain simply had not worried. He tried not to now. He had a good plan after all. He knew the people at Pencaris and how to work around them. He had done so often enough growing up.
He'd done so especially well when he left. Unfortunately, he had a powerful uncle who doubtlessly didn't appreciate all the fine details Izain had put into his escape from under his thumb. Izain had always been good at this work, but he and Uncle Lichad had never gotten along very well. Lichad wasn't like Grandfather, who had loved the adventure of being a pirate. Lichad wanted to rip every credit he could get from victims and had recently started selling them to slavers afterwards. Grandfather would have been appalled. After a couple years of the work going darker, Izain found he appreciated the old days. He had no respect for Lichad and no power to stop him, at least not while Lichad kept watch on him. Izain had decided the best way to survive --maybe the only way -- had been to get out. He had taken the quite logical step and left.
He was insane to come back. Granted, he didn't think he was going to survive much longer without doing something drastic anyway. His ability to keep pirates at bay had to be drawing notice. Singleton shipping would soon target the Mayfire and he couldn't be lucky every time they came into contact.
So he came back to Pencaris Station in hopes of doing something . . . something maybe his grandfather would have done.
This entire plan would be handled between he and Lawrence. She trusted the crew, and oddly so did he, but this work didn't need more than the two of them.
They were careful leaving the ship. Lawrence went first and took care of the usual docking business. Izain had instructed her where to wait for him. He left later, out the main airlock and off to the right as though he was checking something on the link between ship and station. Once off in the shadows he worked his way around to the area where crew changed into the heavier clothing worn in the bay. He borrowed a jacket that gave him just enough rank to go almost everywhere without notice and he hoped the missing jacket didn't draw much attention too soon.
He'd changed a bit in the four years since he left Pancaris. People who knew him well would recognize him, but he'd lost his tri-colored and shaggy hair, had the tattoos on his face removed, and even had his twice broken nose fixed. He supposed Lawrence would have been dismayed to see the younger version of himself. She certainly wouldn't have trusted him.
He found Lawrence in the little lobby where other off-ship people lounged, watching vids and discussing their travels with others. He didn't nod her way, but she stood. He could hear her following him out into the hall.
Around a corner and he got the door to a small storage room open without any trouble. The last time he'd been here had been on his way out.
"Everything checks out," he said, not wasting any time. "My fake ID will get me close to the Singleton offices. It will take me no more than fifteen minutes to get through the wall and hack into the power lines, and another half an hour to hack into their main computer. It is not connected to the Pencaris system except by the power lines and it is damned hard to hack a computer that way."
"But you can do it?"
She didn't ask more. "I'll time my visit to the Station Master's office one hour from now. Once you have hacked the computer you'll be able to stop them from doing anything against the station, right?"
"This is an odd time to ask such a question."
"Izain --"
"I am going to glitch all their systems. The info I send to the Station Master will include both their less-than-legal dealings and the plans they have for Pencaris. It would be wise if he could move on those as quickly as possible."
"Why are you doing this?"
He could have told her about his grandfather, but that was both too long a tale and too personal of one. "I have come to realize that I don't like what they're doing. I started working against them already -- you saw that a couple times. Once they realized it had to be one of their own, they were going to start coming after me. I've never been one to sit around and wait for trouble."
Apparently that was a good answer. She gave a nod that seemed to be of approval. "Let me out. You be damn careful. I'll see you back at the Mayfire."
"I hope so," he said, which was the first and only sign of worry he showed. She apparently took that well, too. Maybe it made him a little more human and normal.
He let her out, counted to one hundred, and went out as well, heading to the left and into territory he had known very well all his life. Things didn't change on a station. He passed a couple people he knew, but they didn't take much notice of him. Station crew were ubiquitous here. As long as he acted as though he belonged, he wouldn't draw any attention.
He hoped.

996 words

Friday, May 22, 2015

Flash Fiction # 147 -- Izain's Choice, Part 1

No one on the Mayfire trusted him, including the Captain. Izain knew so. They had every reason not to trust him, even if they didn't fully know the truth.
The distrust did make things difficult sometimes, especially if he needed cooperation for something odd, like telling Captain Lawrence they should take out the pirate stronghold in this sector.
She sat across the table from him and stared, her hands wrapped around a cup of something that might have been coffee before she bathed it in dairy and sweetener. He had a cup of tea and he sipped, breaking the staring match. And he waited.
"Why would we do such a thing?" she finally said.
"Aside from the fact it needs done?"
"That's true of a lot of things, Izain, and most of them far less . . . Troublesome for the future."
"You'll be heroes."
"I've never aspired to being a dead hero."
He grinned this time and she almost smiled, the corners of her lips turning up and her eyes brightening. They got along well, despite the mistrust.
"Just hypothetically speaking, where would we go to take on this stronghold?"
"Pencaris Station."
"Pencaris is a legitimate station! The pirates can't possibly control --" She blinked several times. "Pencaris rents out sections, including bays, to companies. But the companies go through vigorous checks. Are you telling me someone got through? And they're running pirated material through Pencaris?"
Izain nodded.
"You're certain."
"I could give you dates, shipments, tell you what was supposed to be in them and what really was." He looked into her startled face. "You know I was a pirate. There. I've said it. You could turn me in and someone would get the truth out of me. I could tell them about Pencaris Station, too. But if the IWC goes charging in, the pirates will put up the kind of fight that will make people reconsider how badly they want pirates out of their system."
"You know this."
"I sat in on the plans."
"Damn, Izain. How did you ever get mixed up with pirates? You're too smart to --"
"I was born to it," he replied. She stopped, started to say something, and stopped again. "I am -- was -- third generation pirate, Captain Lawrence. My family could have rivaled the Lindy out in the Aquila if they'd wanted to make lengends instead of profit. But things have been changing. Maybe you haven't noticed, but in the last decade there's been worse going on then there used to be. A few groups have been getting meaner, I guess. My family has been holding back, but even they started doing things I didn't much like. So I got out. I should have gone farther."
That was the most he'd ever told anyone about his background and probably the most he'd said to anyone on the ship. Captain Lawrence stared at him, her eyes narrowed. She sipped her drink then put the cup aside.
"What is the name of the company?"
"Singleton Shipping and Consignment."
"The name is familiar. I've spent time on Pencaris." She sat back and she stared at him for a long time before her hand moved as though to whisk away some stray thought. "What would you do in this case, Izain? What would you do to take out these pirates?"
"We can't come at them from the outside. If they think that the station site is going to go down, they'll take out Pencaris with them. That will also warn other ships there is a problem and put them on the alert. This has to be an inside job, taking out the company staff before they can do anything."
"Do we really need to do this?"
"No," he said. He tilted his head slightly. "But I thought it would appeal to you, Captain Lawrence."
"Pencaris is on our usual route. We'll be there in about two hundred days."
"Yes, I know." He sipped his tea again. "I would not be on the ship still by then. I planned to leave a port or two before. Pencaris is not a safe station for me. People know me there."
She leaned forward, the intensity making her eyes bright. "Why have you changed your mind?"
"I haven't. If I don't think you are going to go after Singleton Shipping, I'll leave long before we get there. You can try locking me up if you like. That would make it interesting."
"Don't tempt me, boy. Don't tempt me. You are too much of a smart ass, you know. Why would these people let you sit in on meetings? Why would anyone there trust you?"
"Because my name is Izain Andelis Singleton."
"Singleton." She stood suddenly, as though he had finally given her something important. "I'll think about this."
For the next three ports, Izain considered leaving the ship. They were getting closer to Pencaris and he was not going to let family -- or worse, associates -- get hold of him again. They were moving in on the last station where he would have a chance to break away. He had credits enough to hold him and he'd be able to get a post on an outbound ship soon enough.
Oddly, though, he would miss the Mayfire. The small crew of ten had been just enough that no one was overworked. He'd had trouble with someone early on, but Kanda had been working for pirates (oh, the irony there) and got pulled by station security at the next stop. Maybe he'd get lucky with another ship. Maybe --
He looked up from his spot at the in-ship computer station where he had been transferring control to the station now that they were docked.
"Captain," he said with a bow of his head.
"Come with me. We need to talk."
He handed the work off to Ana who gave them a worried glance. He left with the Captain.
And he knew just from her look that they were going to do something . . . daring.

997 words

(This is the third Izain flash fiction. The first was #132: The Key and the second was #142 Hanlet Station)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Flash Fiction # 146 -- The Power of Words

     The change was bound to draw trouble. Krendel knew what would happen the moment the news hit the Internet, so he wasn't at all surprised when his new lackey . . . assistant appeared at his office door early the next morning.
"They're complaining and vociferously," Trent said as he stepped into the office.
"Of course they are," Mr. Krendel replied from behind the desk. "We expected such adverse consequences, but the masses will thank us once they realize we've saved humanity. Again."
Trent gave a slight nod and looked out past the doorway to the hall beyond. "Here's the test, sir. Amy Sue."
"Excellent, send her in."
Trent briskly stepped away, the very image of an up-and-coming young executive. In a moment Krendel could hear Amy Sue's dissonant laughter and the loud click of her heels on the floor. She appeared at the doorway, dressed in yellows and browns this morning; she gave the impression of a banana that had seen better days. Krendel gave her a nod to come in as he opened the drawer beside him, the pistol within reach. This could be dangerous, but he always insisted on doing the perilous work himself.
"Good day, Amy Sue. Did you use the tickets to the movie I gave you?"
"Oh yeah," she said with several quick nods as her hair fluttered like something alive pinned to her head. "That was like rad, man."
"You enjoyed the show?"
"It was awesomesauce!"
He gritted his teeth and his hand caressed the pistol while thoughts of mayhem spread through his mind. She began talking about the inane entertainment. He had to get her back on track or his ears would start bleeding soon.
"So, you found it amusing?"
"Oh yeah."
Still not there. "You laughed?"
"Oh yeah!" she said and her face brightened. His hand reached for the gun. "I literally died laughing."
And there it was!
His hand took hold of the gun though he didn't lift the weapon yet as he stared intently at her. Amy Sue fell blessedly silent as she apparently realized there was something oddly wrong here. She took a tentative step backwards but Trent blocked the doorway, though he did move slightly to the side and made certain he was not in line of sight.
Mr. Krendel waited.
Amy Sue stood there, petrified by something she didn't understand.
Trent waited.
Nothing happened.
Mr. Krendel reluctantly pulled is hand back from the gun. "Glad you enjoyed the movie. Take a long lunch today. You look like you need it."
"Ah. Yeah. Awesomesauce." She rushed out of the room, Trent barely moving out of the way in time. After a moment they could no longer hear her heels on the hard floor.
"You did it, sir! She said the words and she didn't literally die! She is not a zombie! The world is saved from the next Zombie Apocalypse!"
"But at what price, Trent? At what price? If literally can now mean figuratively, what comes next? Can black be white? Cool and hot have already become synonymous in some usages. Tell me what the difference is between me saying that you're really cool or that you're really hot."
Trent went red. "A world of difference in that case, sir."
"Hmm. Yes. Well, anyway -- monitor the literally tide as it officially sweeps through the world. I'd say we're still in for a hell of a war."
"Figuratively speaking, of course," Trent said.
Mr. Krendel pushed the drawer closed. "Of course, Trent. Of course."

(Merriam-Webster has announced that because of the over-miss-use of literally in the place of figuratively, the words have become synonymous in most common usage and literally can now replace figuratively in those cases. Many people see this as the end of civilization or at the very least, the destruction of the English language. I prefer to view it as a needed battle against the zombies so that people can now figuratively die laughing rather than literally. Or whatever. No matter, they're still here and I suspect some of them are zombies anyway, since if they literally died laughing and they're still here, what other logical explanation can there be? So be alert. The world needs more lerts. And fewer zombies.)

708 Words

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Flash Fiction # 145 -- The House Sprite

        "And you are so lucky!" the former owner of my new home said as she shoved the keys to the door into my hand. "You have a wonderful little sprite with the house. He's just a mischievous little guy! And don't forget to feed the cat!"
Kathrine Kalin turned and fled, throwing herself into her car and driving away so quickly that dust rose in her wake. Had there been a hint of panic in her escape? And maybe a little bit of a snarl in the word 'mischievous?'
I turned and looked back at the house, a lovely two story brick with a big yard, the house of my dreams. Of course there was a sprite. After all, we were the sprite capital of the world and there was hardly a building in the city that didn't have at least one. The apartment building I was moving out of had two elderly grouchy things that moaned and mumbled when they were awake. They slept a lot, though.
The cat came with the house. Apparently it had been living there through the last two owners. I didn't mind. I hadn't had a pet since I moved away from home and he was a big yellow tabby with a loud purr. I thought we'd get along.
The movers would be here in the next hour or so with my belongings. I held the key in hand and went to the door to step inside my new home. The lock jammed, of course. So did the back door. I was still fighting with it when the moving people showed up -- and suddenly the door unlocked and flew open so quickly that I went sprawling inside.
I heard a distant giggle as I got up and brushed off my skirt and gathered my purse.
The movers got everything in without a problem. I didn't own much -- certainly not enough to fill such a lovely, big house. This was going to be a gradual change for me. The first thing I did, though, was to hang charms on all the doors so that they could not be held closed against me. My grandmother had given the box of hand-made charms to me, and I had thought it was sweet at the time. Now I thought she night have realized what trouble I was heading into. I'd have to go by and thank her.
I slept on a mattress on the floor the first few nights. My brother would come by and help set up furniture this weekend, but for now it was just me, Butterball (I'd find a new name for the cat) and my sprite. I was exhausted and pulled the blankets up around me, content --
I fought the sprite for the blankets all night. Every time I'd get to sleep, he'd yank the blankets off. And lights came on. I would have to hang a charm on the bed when we put it together. And on the light switches. I was determined, though, to get the sprite tamed. This was my dream house and he was not going to chase me out of it.
Butterball had his uses. About an hour before dawn, he came in through the kitchen's cat door and wandered into the living room. I heard an ominous low growl that almost got me out of bed, but then the cat settled on the blankets at my feet, and the sprite left me alone for the rest of the night.
I was going to get the cat some tuna. Or steak. Whatever he wanted.
The sprite wasn't very busy during the day, which I knew was bad news. Even sprites need rest, and this meant he was a 'sleep during the day and haunt me at night' sprite. I was going to need sleep before I went back to work in a week. We'd have to come to an understanding and quickly.
Tiger, AKA Butterball, helped. He slept with me at night so I kept the blankets. I'd tagged all the lights in the first floor with charms. I'd have to do something about the kitchen cabinets, though. They not only slammed during the night, the food sometimes ended up splattered here and there. He ignored the bowl of milk and cookies I put out. Finicky little thing.
On the third night I woke up swearing a herd of elephants were charging through the second floor above my head.
"That's it!" I leapt up so fast that Tiger yowled and ran away. I headed up the stairs, stomping louder than the elephants. They stopped charging. The lights stopped flickering. "What the hell do you want?" I shouted.
Odd response. A sigh. And then quiet. I went back downstairs and slept through the rest of the night. The next morning I thought about it, though. What did he want? Not milk and cookies. He wasn't the cat, after all.
Not treated like a pet? He was a part of the house. I gave the milk to the cat and ate the cookies and thought about it. That night I tried something new. I got out the whiskey and poured him a shot. I put out some leftover pizza.
Somewhere around midnight I woke up to find the sprite, a little thing of black and glowing blue, standing by my mattress. He swayed a little and hiccuped. "Ummm . . . No olives next time, kay?" He said in a high pitched, slightly slurred voice.
"Deal, as long as you let me get a good night's sleep."
"Deal," he said. He disappeared.
I can't say a drunken house sprite is such a good idea, but I had the feeling we could make a few more deals.
Tiger purred and went back to sleep.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Flash Fiction # 144 -- Once Upon a Time

     The Fire Hand Tavern had begun getting the kind of reputation that made most people pass it by on a night like this. Travelers on the road outside swung well clear of the door, hearing the yells and shouts from within. This was not an inviting place, except to those who had decided to make it their nightly haunt. They were angry men, homeless many, working day to day in the fields and sleeping in the common room after they'd drank their wages.
Tonight an old man shuffled to the front of the room while the crowd in the tavern made sounds of boredom before he even spoke. Guent looked around with narrowed eyes. This was going to be a tough group. The tavern owner had said so. He had trouble keeping entertainers around for more than a couple days, and The Fire Hand was getting a bad reputation with musicians and storytellers throughout the province. No promise of room and dinner would draw some of them back, and word was spreading. Soon he woudln't be able to get anyone and once that happened, the locals were going to be entertaining themselves, and that wouldn't be good.
"Somebody prod the old guy," a voice called out. "Or light fire to his robes! That'd be entertaining!"
Laughter erupted all through the room. Guent gave a glare back to the people -- mostly half-drunken already, if they ever sobered. They were a surly bunch, but Guent had been warned, so he didn't let it bother him. In fact, in a fit of stubbornness, he simply got slower.
There were more rude comments. Eventually, though, he got to the place of 'honor' in front of the hearth. He cleared his throat -- a bit louder than needed, but a few of the men and even a couple of the women quieted down.
"Show us what ya' got, old man!" someone shouted.
That almost started them up again. Guent looked around with a glare that would have silenced kings if they'd been wise. These were not wise people thought.
"Start your story before the gods get old and die!" someone complained. They were all getting worked up and he had to admit that the owner of the Fire Hand had not exaggerating when he said they would be a problem.
"I have a tale to tell!" he shouted and did win silence for a moment. They were not used to someone louder than they were. "Are you ready to listen then? Good. Once upon a time --"
The yells that went up startled even him. It was some time before they quieted enough that he could even catch what any of them saying.
"We don't want to hear some damned fairy tale!" A man in the front stood and waved his tankard, splashing cheap ale all the way to the fire, where it roared for a moment and died back down. "Do we look like a bunch of prissy princesses to you? Give us a real tale or you'll be sorry for it, old man."
The yells went up again, but there was more anger in them now than rudeness. If he didn't get this in hand, there would be damage to the place, which wouldn't be the first time lately.
He looked over at the Inn keeper. Ellit gave a shrug of resignation. He knew where this was going.
The crowd had gotten to the throwing things stage. Not their tankards yet, but that wouldn't be long now. He batted away a couple pieces of bread, which brought laughter, but they were getting louder again --
The shout shook the walls and brought dust down from the rafters. Everyone in the room went still and silent and the building groaned as though a hard wind had hit it. Guent gave a nod. They were ready for the tale at last.  He lifted his hand and pointed at the crowd.
"Once upon a time there was an innkeeper who had trouble with his patrons. They were so unruly that he finally called upon his older brother, a mage, who came and turned them all into frogs. The End."
"What? What kind of a stor -- Croak. Croak. Croak!"
"Off you go then," Guent said with another wave of his hand. Frantic frogs leapt off benches and scrambled away from his moving arm. "Out the door and take the first right between the buildings. You'll find a nice pond in the field behind. Go on now. Enjoy yourselves."
The frogs scrambled out of the building. Guent followed them to the door and then closed it behind the last one.
"Well," Ellit said looking around. "First quiet I've had in weeks. The spell --"
"It will wear off at first light. They're not going to be quick to come back here."
"Well, I guess you earned your dinner and room for the night," Ellit said with a laugh. "So tell me, how is life at court these days?"
"Not nearly as much fun as turning people into frogs."
They had a nice, quiet evening together, though the frogs in the field not far away sounded a bit rowdy tonight.

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