Thursday, June 14, 2018

Flash Fiction #307: Another Day, Another Drabble

Thomas Day was surprised when the college asked to speak about his past.  

After all, he'd had a mundane life and he hadn't even married until his 40's when he'd chanced to meet a distant cousin of the famous Laura Doller, whose marriage to his own distant cousin had been quite a drama a couple decades before.

That wasn't his life.  He told his tale of life selling shoes, and of a quiet family life.

"But what about the feuds?" someone asked at the end.

"Ah," he said with a quick nod.  "That was another Day and another Doller."

Friday, June 08, 2018

Flash Fiction # 306: Book Goblin

Have you ever gotten a book from the library and enjoyed it enough that sometime later you reread it -- and found the book wasn't quite as you remembered it?  There is a reason, and it isn't your faulty memory.  Nearly every library has a book goblin who loves to work little magics to change stories.  I suspect that they're all frustrated writers.

In general, this wasn't a real problem.  Annoying and sometimes troubling to readers with excellent memories, but not a bad problem.  Most Book Goblins don't have much power, and at most, they might only change a line or two here and there, and only occasionally will they change a plot line so that someone notices.

However, I learned that there is another type of Book Goblin; a dangerous creature, indeed, but luckily very rare.

They only read nonfiction.

So, you ask?  Well, every time a book goblin changes even so much as a word of fiction, they are toying with reality.  With fiction, it doesn't amount to much.  With nonfiction, and especially history, the changes of even a single line can have more consequences than you might think.

The first I realized there was something odd going on was the day I walked to my job at the library and noted there were no cars at all on the roads.  Lots of bikes and people looking befuddled and confused, but they didn't seem to know why.

I had a stone in the pit of my stomach.  I feared I did know why.  I had been reading a book on the history of automobiles and just gotten to the chapter on the effect cars had on the environment, from roads pushing through everywhere to emissions --

The book still sat on the front desk.  I picked it up.  The cover was the same, but the title was not The History of the Automotive Industry.  Now it read How the Bicycle Outmaneuvered the Car.

I sat for a moment in silence.  Bikes were a lot quieter out there, but there would be more significant problems before long.  If cars were gone, were trucks as well?  How could we get supplies into town?  How far had this already spread?  If other Book Goblins thought it a good idea, it might spread across the world in a single day, and then we'd be stuck.  Look what happened with the coffee.

I knew what to do, though I'd never done it before.  I got the small, hand-bound copy of Book Goblins out of my purse where I was careful to keep it with me at all times.  I placed it on the counter and tapped it three times.


The local Book Goblin appeared on the counter, and she looked slightly startled, with her flyaway purple hair, large reddish-brown eyes, and green skin.  She stood only two feet high, and the book in her hand looked too large.  I took it away from her.

"I am Mary," I introduced myself. "And you are?"

"Cranne," she replied and then gave a start. "You tricked me!"

"Yes, I did," I said.  Having summoned the goblin, I had to work quickly to get her name before my power over her waned.  Now that I could name her, I had one link over Cranne that would help in the future. 

She sat down and reached toward the small book I'd used.  I took it up and put the book in my purse, closing it with a zipper.  Nice metal there.  I'd reinforced the inside with tinfoil and a covering of plastic.  Cranne wouldn't get the book back out, and I would not leave the purse in the library.

She sighed and sat down with a thump. I saw the look of annoyance in her eyes, but so far she had been reasonable.  I suspected we could come to an understanding.

"You have to bring the cars back," I said.

"This is better," she replied and sat up straighter.  "That's not the only book I've read, you know.  I did a careful study of this mode of transportation and the environmental impact made within a short one hundred years.  Humans are much better off without them."

"I appreciate that you care," I said and gave a bow of my head.  The book on the creatures had explained that the last thing you wanted to do was get in a shouting match with a goblin of any kind.  "But how are we going to survive?"

"You can still travel around on bikes.  Much better for you, you know --"

"What about supplies?  How are we going to eat?"

That stopped her for a moment.  She frowned.  "Well, you can still grow things and raise food on your own.  I probably need to get right back to work on that, shouldn't I?  I know I read about city gardens."

"Yes," I agreed.  But I had one last more chance to win her over.  "And I suppose it won't be so bad, not getting new books every week.  We're kind of overfull now.  There will be a few local, handwritten works, of course.  That should do."

Cranne stared at me, her eyes blinking more rapidly with every breath.

"No books," she whispered.

"There are plenty here to keep us busy, don't you think?"

She stared at me in shocked dismay.  Then she grabbed How the Bicycle Outmaneuvered the Car and began to frantically go through the pages, her blunt fingers running over phrases here and there, the words changing so quickly that I couldn't read what she'd done.  When she snapped the book closed I felt a jolt.  Outside cars rushed by, everything back to normal.

"I hope you're happy," she sighed.  "The nasty things are back."

"I think we'll both be happier."

She sighed and stood, looking me straight in the face.  "I'm not going to stop trying to make a better world."

I smiled, startling her.  "Little steps, Cranne," I said.  "We'll do it with little steps."

Friday, June 01, 2018

Flash Fiction #305: Catchin Can/7

Tana preferred lifts or ladders, but right now the descending corridor was the fastest way to reach engineering, which sat just above the engines.

Captain Dundas did not say anything.  Tana had wanted to curse, but she held that feeling inside and even let Lisel help her when her leg threatened to give out.

Dundas glanced her way and then slowed.

"No.  We need to go faster," Tana said.

"We need to decide what we're going to do," Dundas corrected. She ran her hands through her hair.  "I never thought we'd have this sort of trouble on the ship."

"Why would humans work with them?" Lisel asked.  He sounded as though this really bothered him.

"Promises of something better," Dundas replied.  "Wealth, power ... it's rarely for the betterment of humanity.  People who go to an enemy rarely have any consideration for others."

They went in silence for a few more yards, already drawing near to their destination.

"No clans," Lisel said suddenly.  "No prides.  Individuals, even when you are named crew."

"Took you a long time to figure that out," Tana said.

"Maybe so.  One more turn and we'll be there.  I need to go first.  They won't know me."

"You are rather famous on this ship, Lisel," Captain Dundas said.

"My name is known, but most people can't tell one Catchin from another, you know.  We'll use that to our advantage.  All I need to do is get in and find our person.  We'll need to improvise from there, depending on where he is."

The Captain nodded agreement.

"Be damned careful, Lisel," Tana added.

Early on in the history of the fleet, those who created the designs had been forced to make one significant concession to those who ran the ships.  Engineering dared not be sealed away in an area where people could not get through a locked door if they needed to.  They'd lost three ships in four years to crew who turned out to be rabid earthers who thought they should not be out in space, let alone out fighting aliens.

Now anyone could walk in, but the controls were under strict code and palm locks.    Only fifteen people on the entire ship had access to any of those stations, and the Captain was the only person who could open up all five.

Or close any one of them that might be a problem.  The ship apparently had trouble, but Tana could tell Krisin still had his hand in it.  She hoped that would have unsettled whomever they were after here.

She hoped Lisel found the person fast.

"I prefer to do battle with a fighter," Tana said with a bit of a growl.

"I prefer to have you and your crew on a fighter and not creating havoc on the ship," Captain Dundas replied.  "But I am glad to have someone here I know I can trust."

Loud voices quickly turned to shouts.  No more time.

The next few minutes were so frantic that Tana couldn't believe that only six minutes had passed since she and the Captain rushed into the chaos Lisel had created.  He did so on purpose, and he did it well -- yowling and knocking people aside as he worked his way toward the station where the last of their were-friends was busy pounding at a keyboard with a look of such frustration that he must not have even noticed the Catchin at first.

He did notice when Lisel leapt over the top of the station and onto him.   Tana rushed around the side to help, but Lisel had the man in hand -- but he didn't look happy.

"Communit," he said, tearing the unobtrusive equipment from around the man's neck.  "He was reporting to someone.  Short range, on this ship.  We're still missing someone."

"Damn," the captain said.  She turned to the others.  "Back to work!  Krisin can't keep everything going from the control deck.  We're transferring all controls to here.  Martin, come to this station and tell me what the hell this fool did."

Martin was the chief engineer, and she knew her stuff.  They had everything sorted out quickly enough, but I was watching the sensor screen where the line of were craft and something much, much, larger edged in along the far quadrant.  I was not the only one watching.

We had no power to move.

Krisin arrived at a run, security guards behind him -- but they were warning others away.  Krisin darted straight to the board the other man had worked at and threw himself underneath, Martin kneeling beside him.  I felt the growing tenseness.

Then we had power.  Captain Dundas directed the flight from there.  Krisin kept working at making certain we had power and Lisel held onto the enemy.  I was feeling pretty useless until I saw a woman lift a laser pistol and aim at the Captain.

I plowed into her.  Yeah, that was better.

We got away.

Several hours later, Krisin, Lisel, and I had breakfast with the Captain in the cafe near the control deck.  They didn't see Catchin up there too often, but they were polite, and a few even smiled.  We had saved the ship, after all.

"We are bound to have more troublemakers on the ship," Dundas said.  "And until I'm sure we've located them all, we're going to keep our own company.  No new crew, no meet up with other ships.

That gave Tana a little shiver, the thought that they were out here on their own.  Ah, but it really wasn't so different.  They'd been out on the edge for a few years already.

"Some people are due to go back home," Krisin said softly.  "They're not going to be happy."

Tana wondered and worried that he was one of them.

"We are here to protect the earth," Dundas replied.  "We'll do what we have to.  We're not going to let anyone connected with the weres infiltrate elsewhere through us.  Eat up, my friends.  We have work to do."

(The End -- for now.  I'm sure Tana, Lisel, and Krisin will be back for more adventures!)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Flash Friday #304: Catchin Can/ Part 6

One crucial factor saved Lisel: security didn't fire lasers except at on low power and point blank at someone.  The fear of doing damage to the control deck was so ingrained into the security four security guards that they didn't even draw their weapons.  They did, however, move very fast.

Lisel moved faster.

Tana didn't think their traitor even realized what was happening before Lisel plowed into her and caught his claws in her tunic, yanking her out of the chair.  Tana grabbed a security guard who rushed at Lisel but was hampered by the fact that she really didn't want to hurt this guy, second that she had an injured leg, and third that the guy honestly thought her group was a serious problem.

Krisin did something unexpected and far more dangerous.  He leapt into the chair abandoned by the traitor.

People yelled everywhere.  Tana went down under the weight of the security guard and felt a laser to her back.  She was not going to survive --

"Be silent and stop!" Captain Dundas shouted.

That got everyone's attention.

"Let them up.  Tana, Krisin -- and yes, even Lisel -- are working at my orders.  Do you have her, Lisel?"

"Yes," he said and hauled the woman up, and Tana could see claw marks on her neck -- not deep, but enough that Lisel had her attention.

"We have a problem, people.  No, don't call in more security," Captain Dundas said as she pulled Tana back to her feet.  Tana wasn't certain she wanted to be there.  "We have four more people on board who are working for the weres.  They have been working in tandem with a pilot we thought dead.  Two of the others are in security, Fairview.  The four of you go into my office and look at the faces and then go find them."

"But -- security here --"

"I have Lisel."

Lisel grinned.  Sometimes Tana forgot how scary his teeth could look.  The security guards still looked worried, but they were not going to argue with the captain.

Tana saw the woman they'd captured give a quick look around the room and  then lift her hand toward her mouth --


Lisel moved faster than her.  He grabbed the hand and pulled it back down, and then accepted a restraint from one of the security guards, quickly securing her hands behind her back.

"Poison under the fingernail, I assume," Tana explained.

"I'll get a medtech up here," Captain Dundas said.  "Quietly."

Tana did not like waiting.  She really didn't.  The captain finally ordered her to go sit down in the office with Krisin, getting them both out of the way.  Lisel kept hold of their traitor, though.  Maybe that was a show for the others.

Tana didn't like sitting in the office, either.  She snarled and cursed, but Krisin ignored her, just as he often did in the fighter.  He stared out at the control deck instead.  The intenseness of his stare finally got her attention.

"What do you see?"

"Main screen scanners, mid-room, up top.  We have incoming. Those aren't all our fighters."

"Hell!" She started to stand, looked at the Captain, and sat again.  "She knows."

"Yeah.  I saw Lisel point it out." Krisin watched for a moment.  "And now the Captain is keeping everyone's attention on her.  She doesn't want panic."

"What is she waiting for -- oh."  Tana spotted the line of fighters much closer to the ship.    "If they realize there is another line coming in, they'll turn back to fight.  The Captain can't stop them."

"She wants them inside.  She wants to move because that many more fighters -- we'll be seeing a were mothership in the next five minutes."

Tana shivered.  A mothership would out bulk the Belgium by at least six to one, and that if it was one of the smaller craft.  No matter what, they had enormous firepower, though nothing to speak of for shields.  Tana always wondered about what sort of enemies they had before the weres found the human races.

"We need a fighter, Krisin."

"No.  We do not."  He leaned over and put a hand on her arm.  "Let everyone get into safety, Tana.  Even us.  We can still outrun them --"

A shout in the control deck drew their attention.  Screens were doing dead.

"Damn.  Security missed one," Tana said with a shake of her head.  Power started cycling down on the lights.  Emergency kicked in and went back off.  "Hell."

Krisin had already rushed out of the room and straight for the controls.  Tana followed.

"What the hell are you doing?" Tana demanded when he threw himself on the floor and began tearing at covers.

"The same thing I do to save our ass when we're out in a fighter," he replied, his voice muffled.  "Improvise."

That gave Tana some hope -- and even stopped the Captain when a couple boards came back online.

"Get the fighters in," Lisel said, leaning down by Krisin.  "Then get everything over to the engine room.  They'll need orders, Captain, and you can't do it over ship-wide communications. That's out.  I think you, me, and Tana need to go down there and make certain they're ready."

"Why me?" Tana asked.

"Because you're scary," the Catchin replied.  "And I don't want you out of my sight."

Well, he had a point on the last part.   Tana had been considering heading for the bay and wondering if she could get any ship out under these circumstances.

"Go," Krisin ordered.  He stuck his head back out.  I'm sure Lisel has figured it out.  Our last traitor has to be somewhere in Engineering.  Be damned careful, but make sure you stop him.   I can't keep doing this."

Krisin threw himself back into the work.  Tana left with Lisel and the Captain.  The lifts were out.  They had a long ways to go down the curving corridor that descended through the ship.

They didn't have much time. The mothership had probably arrived in the system by now.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Flash Fiction #303: Catchin Can/Part 5

"Not bad for a mostly not working ship," Lisel admitted.  "Can we go home now?"

Tana glanced at her boards.  Only one screen gave a slight pulsing red light, as though faintly trying to yell for help.  Okay, she could take a hint.

The rest of the fighters had arrived and took on the other weres.  It hardly seemed worth the effort to take out the one craft that slid their way, trying to escape two different fighters.

She destroyed it anyway and grinned, thinking about the curses from those two other fighters.

"Heading home," she said and heard sighs of relief from Lisel and Krisin.  She almost smiled.

The flight wasn't without a few moments of worry, but they slid into the same bay and prepared to face to the bay master's rage at the marks they'd left behind.

The man scowled, but he didn't berate them.  Not yet, at least.  "Captain wants you up on the control deck right away."

"All of us?" Lisel asked, a slight hiss of surprise in his voice.  Catchins rarely got to the control deck for any reason.

"Yes.  Immediately."

Tana started away, Lisel and Krisin following.  They said nothing, know this could be good or bad.  Under the circumstances, she had no way to tell.

They found an incredible amount of activity everywhere they passed, which was only natural given how close they'd come to disaster.  Tana tried not to snarl, but her leg hurt, and she didn't want to think they were in trouble for ... well, for any number of things they'd done today.  Bringing Alika back -- yeah, that had been stupid.

They were let straight into the control deck and then escorted to the captain's office.  Tana could see glances their way, and probably some longer stares at Lisel.  She didn't look back, but she suspected that he strutted a bit.


Captain Dundas looked up from her desk when they entered and keyed the door closed behind them.

"We have a problem.  So far, I've kept Alika's presence mostly a secret.  A medtech was taking care of her down in a cell.  Then Alika died.  The poison was implanted, and there was no way to have stopped it."

"Damn," Tana said with a shake of her head.  Others could see through the glass wall to where they stood.  She wondered what they thought.

"News about her is bound to get out soon, despite my warnings to everyone who saw her.  Meanwhile, I'm afraid others think that you and your team, being daring and a bit stupid, led the enemy our way.  We think a mothership might be following."

"Hell."  That had not occurred to her.  "Can we move?"

"We had to take out the were fighters first.  Good job there, by the way, but it's lucky you couldn't hear what others were saying."

"I had that feeling."  She looked at Captain Dundas and frowned.  "What about the other one?"

"Everything related to that position has been erased -- constantly erased -- for as far back as I can find.  The person here on the ship had to be prepared for this work.  I can't begin to figure out how to track them down.  The position isn't on a strict rotation, either, since there are other similar boards and people take the one that's open."

"We don't get a lot of new crew," Lisel said.  "And this person had to have come in after Alika disappeared, don't you think?  I suppose they could have had someone in place and waited to grab one of the fighter crew -- but then they'd have to tell the person on this ship that they were ready.  I suspect that someone would have noticed."

Captain Dundas gave a quick nod and began keying up information.  Tana shifted slightly, hoping her leg hadn't started bleeding again --

"Sit down," the captain said without looking up.  "All three of you sit down. Get your ears up, Lisel.  You make security nervous when you look like that."

They dropped into chairs, all three of them worn and worried.  Tana glanced out the window and then gave a wave to those who were staring.

"Stop antagonizing my bridge crew."

"I was friendly."

"Right."  She keyed a few more things and frowned.  "Down to five people who all came at the same time.  That doesn't seem likely, does it?  It would be difficult to slip someone in a group -- oh."

"The entire group," Krisin said softly.  "And we better move fast because I get the feeling they're already going to be moving."

"They're spread out," Captain Dundas said as she leaned back.  "Two are in security.  I don't dare try to call up a force from there to hunt the rest.  None of them are showing on the trackers."

"Do you have pictures of them?" Tana asked. 

"They're IDs when they first boarded.  Nothing lately.  They can't have changed much.  Two in security, but the other three aren't permanently assigned anywhere.  They're listed as comptechs."

Captain Dundas turned the screen.  Tana leaned forward and then sat back.  "We have a problem."

"Yeah," Lisel said.  "And we had better move fast because he's already working at something."

Captain Dundas gave a quick glance past the glass wall.  "Damn."

"Lisel --"

"Yeah.  I can get to her the fastest.  Key the door open.  Order us out, Captain."

Tana wasn't sure the captain was going to take an order, even a wise one, from a catchin. 

But she did.

"We need all the fighters out there we can get," she said as she opened the door and stood, following them out into the open area.  "Otherwise, I'd deal with you right now.  When we clear up this mess --"

Lisel didn't waste time.  He had made a half turn to the Captain and turned that into a leap at someone most of the way across the room.

It was up to Tana, Krisin, and the Captain to keep security from killing Lisel outright.

There were always complications.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Flash Fiction # 302: Catchin Can/ Part 4

The fighter should have waited for bay crew to turn her before Tana headed out.  Instead, she checked on where the Captain had gone, waiting until she was sure the bay's airlock had cycled and trusted that everyone else knew enough to stay clear.

Tana fired side engines and angled them so that she pushed the fighter out without turning.  Fancy maneuvering and probably no one on the ship appreciated the finesse it took.  They popped out of the shield, and she used the ship itself as a base to fire the engines against.

Someone would have something to say about that one. Good thing the communications remained out.

"How do our weapons look?" Tana asked as she turned the fighter toward the distant line of were ships.

"Funny time to ask that one," Krisin replied as he hands moved over the controls. 
Lisel also began shunting power here and there, but the boards weren't all live.  She didn't know what worked and what didn't.

"Well?" she said again.

"We have weapons," Krisin replied with a bit of a shrug.  "I won't guarantee how effective they are because the power isn't stable."

"Should we go back?" Tana asked and even meant those words.  She should have thought this through a little better.

"What? And ruin our reputation?" Lisel asked.  "I say we stay out until at least a few more fighters can come out.  How many weres do you count, Krisin?"

"Fifteen," he said -- a steady answer, despite the insanity.  "They're coming in fast, too.  I hate to mention this, but I wonder if bringing Alika here was always what they wanted so they could trace her to the ship."

"That's a hell of a depressing thought," Tana replied. She shifted her wounded leg and grimaced.  Well, at least this battle was going to be quick, no matter what.

"There will be another three fighters launched in the next five minutes," Krisin said.  Tana wasn't certain what he saw on his screens since she couldn't get anything out of the ship.  "Since we can't communicate with them, I don't think we need to even consider what they'll do.  We might as well act as though we're on our own."

"Nothing new there," Lisel mumbled.  I looked to see his ears up, his eyes large, and that look of excitement that she had come to recognize and even to appreciate.

Krisin didn't look nearly as happy, but that was normal, too.  Tana sometimes thought Krisin must think he was the one in charge and responsible.

Tana brought the fighter around, making an arc toward the distant ships.  Not close enough to be a real danger yet, at least.  That gave her time to think about an approach that might not get them killed right away.

This was no time to be too cautious.  In fact....

When Tana told the others what she planned to do, they both looked shocked.  She took that as a good sign.

The little craft had obvious problems.  Tana suspected the weres could pick those up and understand them after so many years fighting the humans.  She tried changing some of the settings, but only ended up cutting power to just about everything.

"Tana, keep your hands off of everything," Krisin warned.  "You might survive to get back to the ship."

"Just trying to make things interesting," she mumbled, but she did keep her hands off the computer controls.  Krisin knew what needed to be done and Lisel sat close over his controls.  They were ready.  She just had to get them there and not get them killed.

"There are at least four fighters coming up behind us, but they're some ways out," Lisel said.  "We're still on our own."

"We don't want them getting in the way anyway.  Okay. This is it."

They were just within range of a were craft.  The little fighters were half the size of the human ships and with no visible ports.  Though they'd taken in the wreckage of a few of these ships, the engineers could make no real sense of them except for their power sources.  They were not as powerful as human fighters, but they were faster.

They had more powerful weapons, too -- but they were not as accurate as the human's weapons, nor as quick to track.  Tana counted on that fact.

"They're locked on," Lisel warned.

"I hope you're ready."

Tana gauged the weak gravity wells of the area and fired the fighter engine at full force.  They darted mostly forward -- a bit more to the right than she wanted, but still within a degree or two of running straight into the line of four were ships that had been turning on them.

The weres had no time to react.  One did fire a weapon, the blow glancing against the side of the fighter, but doing little more real harm.

Lisel had control of the weapons today.  He chose his shot and fired into the mass of enemy ships.  He hit the first, missed the second -- that won a growl -- and hit the third.  By then the first ship had already come apart.  They'd seen this happen before, but usually, the other ships had a chance to get out of the way.

They did not this time.  Two shots and four craft down.

"We are going to hit some debris," Krisin warned.  "And our shields are iffy at best."

"I was right," Tana said.  "Side shots.  They don't seem to have a lot of protection there."

They were in the midst of dust, metal, the were equivalent of plastics, and then out the other side and coming at the side of three more were craft.

"They always form a line when there are several of them," Lisel said.  "Some sort of instinctive maneuver to protect themselves?  This may be more important than just for our fighter battles."

"Yes," Tana agreed.

And they took out three more craft.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

2YN Class 71 for FB People


Because you cannot insert graphics at various points in a post on FB, I'm going to post class #71 here and put a link to it on FaceBook.  The rest of you need not pay any attention to it.  I hope that this works out for everyone!

Week 71: Second Draft, Part Six
Continuity and Timelines/2

Getting the Time Right

There are several aspects of time, some of which we've covered already (but I will go over again), that can affect the way you tell your story. Having a file which includes the timeline of your story can be an essential tool, especially when you are working with multiple characters in various situations, some of which overlap and much of which happens simultaneously. If like me, you tend to add in more secondary plots in the rewrite, it can also save you from dramatic mistakes.  Before you create a working timeline for your story, you have to take a couple thoughts into consideration.

1. What units of time are you using?

If your story is sf or fantasy with no connection to the world as we know it, then there is no real reason to use things like weeks, months, years. What we consider normal (seven-day week) hasn't been the standard for all places and all times even in our own history.

Many pre-industrial societies used moon-based and harvest-related calendars. The phases of the moon are steady and easy to follow, and agricultural communities have always been attuned to the changes of seasons and especially the best times to plant. The rest of agriculture is mostly self-evident. You can tell when the crop is ripe, for instance, but you will likely still have something like a harvest festival if only to bring people together to help with such work.

'Weeks' may be non-existent or be shorter or longer than seven days. Months may disappear in favor of four seasons. Years may not exist as we know them, though this seems unlikely since seasons indicate a circle of time.

But what about a science fiction story based on a ship? Would they still use the same sort of time keeping? Maybe not, though quite likely (in my opinion) if the society is not far removed from Earth they are still going to use Earth-related times on a ship, mostly because it is convenient and part of the general culture. My own sf universe uses a basic 'Earth Standard' time for ships, and local time on the planets.

Daily time is also affected by the society. Industrial age societies live by the hour, minute and second. Pre-industrial age societies did not. People did not meet at half past ten in the courtyard. They gathered at midmorning, and there was a far more fluid idea of meeting times. Dawn, midday -- or in a society with churches and temples, they might meet at first bell, third bell or something similar. Churches often kept the time with specially measured candles which burnt for one hour. Obviously, they were not the most consistent way of keeping track.

The twelve and twenty-four-hour method of timekeeping (along with sixty minutes and sixty seconds) has evolved from the Sumerians. Since almost everything else in our world is based on a ten number system (much easier to keep track of with the hands), it and the 12-inch foot is something of an anomaly. However, it's a good example of how things can be different, even in our own world.

2. How Much Time Does Your Story Take?

And epic tale might span years, a mystery might take three days. Both might require the same number of words to tell -- though epics are generally known for being very long and mystery novels for being short, quick reads. Both, however, can be faced with the same sort of problem when it comes to dealing with the 'dead' time between scenes.

You cannot tell a tale and spend every single moment with a character. The readers will get bored. Even the most exciting characters have their downtime; no one can be in the midst of an adventure for any sustained amount of time.

The longer the timescale of the novel, the more 'dead time' you'll have to cover. A novel covering years is likely to have entire months brushed aside in a few words. A mystery novel covering days may only have a few sleeping hours to cover where absolutely nothing is going on.  For both tales, a lot of the other time will be summarized as well.

Leaning how to present those dead time passages is often very hard and has something to do with the tone of the novel and your own voice.

For instance, here are four different ways to cover a three day time period while the main character waits for someone to arrive.

The three days passed quickly in a rush of cleaning, day job, and sleepless nights.

From the moment the letter arrived time crawled forward, filled with unnamed dread until I heard the knock on the door.

Three days passed before she arrived at my door.

I read the letter and sat it down on the desk, worried. Three days later, I waited on the steps watching the car drive up the road.

What you don't want to do is drag the three days out if there is nothing worth mentioning going to happen in them. Don't purposely try to fill the days up with non-story line related material. If the story is about how the MC gets the letter and three days later has to deal with something from the letter, then head straight there.

On the other hand, if the MC receives the letter, but you want to bury the importance so that the reader loses track of it, have essential plot complications arise at the same time. Not just any plot problem -- it should, as always, be as closely related to the main trouble of your story as you can manage.

How you write your passing time periods is entirely up to you and has to do, as I said before, with the tone of the novel and your own voice. In some novels, you may want to 'timestamp' your chapters. This can be very helpful if you are writing a 'real world' novel, and especially if you have multiple MCs who have things going on at about the same time. A simple date (and time, if needed) can put the reader in the right time -- and place can also be added.

Chapter One -- Mary's House, Monday Morning

Chapter Two -- The Police Station, Monday Afternoon

You can do this with a calendar system you have made up as well, but make certain the reader has a clear conception of how much time you are actually covering. In some cases, it's wise to put tags in place if it's not obvious.

Chapter One -- Day One: Festival Day, Year of the Starchaser

Chapter Two -- Day Ten: Dark Moon Day, Year of the Starchaser

And so on. When you can, use terms that will at least give your reader a basic idea of time passage. Your 'days' may not be the same length as Earth days, but they serve the same purpose.

Don't get carried away with these designations, though.  Keep them simple enough so the reader can glance at the chapter title and get a precise idea of the time and place.

Building a Timeline

A timeline is an outline where the time of the events takes precedence over the grouping of events. In other words, things which are not related thematically, but do occur in the same time frame, should be grouped together. Such a timeline can be helpful in making certain everyone is in the right place at the right time, and they can also help when working on submission packages.

A simple timeline written out on a word processor might look like this:

Day 1 (Morning):

Dave heads for town.

Mary loses job.

Day 1 (Afternoon):

Dave argues with bank manager over a loan.

Mary draws out last of her savings to leave town.

The more complex the plot, the more entries you will have. You might find you need to break down the morning by the hour ( or even smaller increments) and account for what each of the two characters does as their paths continue to cross, and the reader knows they are on a collision course somewhere. If Mary stops to have coffee at the corner coffee shop can she actually be crossing the street ten blocks away a few minutes later as Dave looks at his watch and nearly runs her down? If not, then one of them will need to adjust their time scale or location.

Keeping track of what's going on at what time during your story can help you find glitches you didn't see before you mapped the timeframe out. This week I'm going to show you some easy timelines and how you can manipulate them to help you with story problems. While I am doing these in Excel, you can do the same sort of thing in a lot of other programs. The important part is to figure out the data you want to have at hand, and the kinds of things you need to check to see that everything is flowing correctly.

For this post, I'm going to pretend I'm writing a story called Hail to the New Queen. It's the story of Princess Olma and her fight to keep the rule of the country after her father is assassinated. This will be a story told in an imaginary country, but without magic. Perhaps a sort of late Middle Ages culture, though a dual religion of a God and Goddess. Time is kept via the ringing of temple bells -- those of the Goddess during the day and of the God at night.

What material might you want to have on the timeline?

1. Time

2. Scene/Chapter

3. Location

4. Event(s)

5. POV

6. Other Characters

The easiest program to use for this is Excel or a comparable program. (I usually do my outlines on Scrivener now, but this worked pretty well and has some advantages for sorting things.)

This timeline looks pretty much like a simple outline, really. But here's where you can start seeing what the story needs. Is this the story of Princess Olma? Odd....

By having the program sort alphabetically based on the POV column, I have a list of all the scenes by POV character. It looks to me as though Clanis is the real person behind this tale. The Princess has only two scenes out of 15 in the opening. She may be the focus of this story, but at this point, she is not the person who is going to tell it.

It's possible you didn't realize this since the Princess is present in a number of other scenes. Maybe you want to see how many times she's really around. (In Excel a Control+z will return the file to the previous line up). Do a find for Princess Olma, and it will take you through five cells -- two POV and three Other Characters. She's still not around nearly as much as Clanis. So perhaps you want to give her a couple more scenes, especially right off the opening because it is important the reader knows the main character as soon as possible, and you don't mislead them into thinking this is a novel about Clanis.


There -- I've inserted two more scenes I can add in during the second draft phase. Now at least she has more scenes than the assassin, and they could be compelling scenes as she watches her father die and then takes over, and later having her first argument with the Lords over who is in charge.

This will make Princess Olma a more powerful character and give her more 'on-screen' time to show her strengths.  These scenes are also directly related to what is going on in the story.  If you are adding scenes in, you want to find ways to connect them as intimately to the earlier material as you can.  Having a scene where Princess Olma has breakfast wouldn't be as powerful unless you have something drastic happen during that time.

I don't like this setup, though, especially the way it drops the 'Day' parts to the bottom when I do a check on the people. So here's a better way. Give each 'day' a color as well as the header for it.


This looks much easier to study. So maybe now I want to know how many scenes have taken place at the palace. I do the same 'sort' as I did for POV.


This shows that 8 of the 15 scenes take place at the various areas of the palace.

When working with something as small as fifteen scenes, this really isn't such a big deal. For a novel with 30 chapters and over 100 scenes, it might be an entirely different matter. You might discover Clanis, who dominated the first half of the timeline, suddenly drops to next to nothing toward the end, when the queen goes into exile and Clanis is no longer with her. This might be something you want to rectify one way or the other, so the readers who have become attached to Clanis don't suddenly feel let down when he disappears. You can cut down the number of scenes in the first half, or you can give him new opportunities in the second half -- he can go with the queen, or he can remain behind and still focus on things going on back at Court where Lord Terit is the ruler.

A timeline allows you to look at the events and see who was where at what time. In a book with multiple POV characters in different areas acting at the same time, you might want to set things up a little differently, as I have for this science fiction novel.

As you can see, some of the events in chapter two take place on Earth and occur at the same time as some of the events in chapter one on Mars. The N/T entries mean there is no text -- this bit of the timeline in this location does to appear in the novel. It doesn't mean things are not happening -- only that they are events which will not be directly covered in the story.

In this one, I have only two POV characters, and I don't have to worry about who is going to get more 'face' time since I would likely do this as an alternating POV story and they would each get the same number of chapters. My main questions would revolve around who is where and when. Even if Collins moved off to the moon, I would likely keep his timeline to the EST reckoning, since he would not quickly change anyway, as anyone who has traveled to a vastly different time zone can tell you. I dropped 'Other Characters' to make the picture manageable, but it might be a good section to have as well. (And no, I didn't bother to set up a real Mars clock for this little bit of an outline.)

If I had a large series, a number of events are going on in different areas so I might be tempted to do this entire process in Microsoft Access instead. Access has far better tools for entering and extracting data, but it's not a quick project, either. However, if you have a large universe filled with stories and people to keep track of, it can be a great way to track everything.

Timelines can catch problems you don't realize you have until you see it laid out and see that you need more time here, less time there, etc. They can also make certain you don't have too much dead time for one character while another is hogging all the glory.


Work out the timeline for your story.  You can do this in any format and program you like.  Write it in whatever way you find useful.  This is an important editing tool.

Example 1:

Resolutions of Trust

Resolutions should take place over a one month period -- although there are some events in the original which would not be practical in such a short time. The reworked version will take care of this better, compressing the events into a quicker timeframe in order to create a faster pace.  Here is a quick break down of events as I see them happening:

Week 1:  Original Disaster and immediate aftermath

Week 2: BriTerra cover-up begins to unravel

Week 3: BriTerra's more drastic steps

Week 4: Emil takes chances to bring down BriTerra

Example 2:

Darkness Falls

In Darkness Falls, I have two characters at odds with each other, even when they are not in the same place at the same time.  I might want to chart out their conflicting actions and know what each is doing at any given time.

De and Jake are plainly on a collision course throughout the book.  De has held back from it, which is not always the right thing to do, as evidenced by the things Jake does as soon as he thinks he can get away with it.

De Captured by Holy One  -- Jake begins secret meetings with friends

De finds sanctuary in alien enclave  -- Jake tells servants they will no longer deal with anyone but an elite

De begins mastering his feelings toward the world -- Jake finds out he can't win the leadership as easily as the thought, even with De gone

Friday, May 04, 2018

Flash Fiction #301: Catchin Can/Part 3

Tana waved the others away, and they backed up in haste, probably thinking they had serious damage to the fighter.  Or perhaps they saw the look on Lisel's face, with his ears back and his teeth showing.  The catchin wasn't in a good mood.

Tana hurried to the communit sat on the wall, too far from the fighter.  Tana hoped Krisin could hold Alika and keep any of the bay workers away.  Lisel paced in a small circle behind her, glaring at anyone who even appeared in the distance.

Tana keyed in a link straight to the command deck.  One of the junior officers answered, her eyes narrowed and a frown on her face.  "Yes?"

"I need Captain Dundas to come down to the bay right now."

"The Captain does not come running for a fighter pilot --"

"Well, at least you know who I am.  So here is what you need to know: if you do not relay my message to the captain, I'll be certain that everything that happens because of this delay will be on your head."

Lisel growled.  Loudly.

The woman sputtered and then moved aside in haste. The captain appeared.  "Do you really need to upset my command crew?" she asked with an exasperated sigh.

"We need you down here, Captain," Tana replied, and she let some of the desperation through.  "Please."

"I'm on my way."

The line went dead.  Tana turned around and hurried back to the fighter, Lisel at her side.  He might have grinned now and then.  It had been a good show.

"Now we can only hope that people think it is a problem about you, Lisel, and not something else.  Or about the weres in general.  I don't want Alika's partner to realize that we have her."

"I suspect they'll think it is a catchin problem," he said.

"Yes.  You did excellent with that show."


The Captain was not long in arriving.  She came alone, which was good.  Tana wanted to trust people on the ship, but Alika's partner had to be someone of some rank or else they couldn't have easily gotten messages back and forth.

Or a fighter who went out and sent messages that were not intercepted by the ship. That idea gnawed at Tana because she hated the idea of mistrusting the rest of the people she flew with out there.  The universe was dangerous enough without trouble among their own kind.

"Captain," Tana said with a proper salute.  Lisel did the same.  "This way, please."

Captain Dundas looked at Lisel.  "This is not a catchin problem."

"No," he said.

For a moment she looked relieved -- and then not.  She walked with Tana to the fighter.  A few faces peeked in along the edge of the bay and disappeared again.

"I have a plan on how to keep what we show you quiet," Lisel said softly as they neared the craft.  "Say we had picked up something dangerous --a message from one of the lost ships -- that seemed to hint at treachery on the Belgium.  We wanted you to see it first."


"It's true, but the message is odd," Tana offered.  They reached the fighter and Krisin keyed the door open.  He'd moved Alika to the edge of the door, and Dundas moved forward, surprised.

"This is the fighter, Alika," Tana said, in case the woman didn't quite recognize her.  "We found her in an asteroid, tricked out with all the best in were technology.  She admitted to picking off fighters.  And she admitted to having someone on the Belgium who has been helping her.  She may have even taken a few prisoners and handed them over to the were."


"Yes, ma'am.  We wouldn't have gotten free if Lisel hadn't brought the ceiling down.  I'm not sure how you did that."

"Shield roof," he mumbled.  "But if you hadn't convinced her that I was still recovering from that last attack on the ship -- which Alika knew about, by the way -- then those bots of hers would have noticed.  I had the impression they were linked to her."

Captain Dundas had put a hand to the fighter's hull and stared at this gift.

"I think we'll find our traitor in the Fighter Staff," Krisin offered.  Alika moved a little -- almost conscious and listening.  "Someone who directs the ships to the areas where they should go.  The person will not be showy, but someone has put fighters in Alika's direction."

"Let me see who sent us," Tana said and climbed up over Alika. She didn't much care that she kicked the woman in the head, either.  Alika's eyes were open, and though she still showed signs of being drugged, she also showed signs of rage.  Not a smart woman, given the situation.

Tana did some quick work, careful to stay off the ship's main computer.  "All I can get is Station 6," she finally said.  "You'll have to take it from there, Captain."

"And what do we do with her?" Captain Dundas asked, a snarl in her voice.

"I am sure there is quite a bit she can tell you about the weres, right?" Lisel said, leaning in closer to the woman.

Alika made a snarling sound, but she looked worried.

Captain Dundas nodded.  "This isn't something we can keep quiet anyway.  Let's see if we can catch a traitor --"

Alarms screamed, starting Tana to reach for the fighter's weapons, even inside the ship.  Krisin shoved the still drugged and bound Alika out of the fighter and Lisel scrambled back in.

"Get to cover!" the catchin shouted at the Captain.  "Out of the bay!  There must be weres coming in!"

"Tracked us?" Tana asked, almost sick with the idea that they'd led them here.

"No. Tracked her," Lisel said as he keyed the door closed.  The Captain grabbed Alika's arm and dragged her away.  "What the hell are we going to do?"


She didn't mention the problems with the fighter.

To be continued....

Friday, April 27, 2018

Flash Fiction #300: Catchin Can/Part 2

Tana felt rock and dust brushing against her and gave a startled cry.  Alika looked up and screamed in fear, throwing herself away from the equipment as a wall of rock came down.

"Back -- back to the fighter," Krisin ordered. He grabbed their lasers and pulled her away.

"The ship is trapped --"

"Have to hope the equipment is damaged --"

"Do more than hope.  Give me my laser, Krisin!"  Then she dropped her voice.  "Did you see Lisel?"

"No."  He stopped and looked back where the rumble of rock had started to lessen.  "Damn."

They went back.  Tana mostly ignored the pain in her leg, grateful that Krisin hadn't insisted she go to the fighter and wait.  He might have been right to do so because she slowed him down.

She could, however, shoot.  When something with odd flashing lights started to crawl out of the rock, she shot it.  More than once.  And the next one as well, while Lisel left her leaning against a boulder half the size of the fighter where she could shoot to her heart's content.  Being in a bad mood and having things to shoot at helped.

Where the hell was Lisel?  Not under the rock.  He wouldn't have -- unless he thought it would save them.  Tana didn't like that thought.  She shot at rocks.

She wasn't certain what Krisin was doing until she saw he had a scanner in hand and ran it over piles of rock.  The way he shook his head made her fear that they would not find --

Rocks fell from the top of the pile.  Tana aimed and fired --

"Will you stop shooting at me!" Lisel shouted.

She grinned with delight and watched as he poked his head out, ears laid back and eyes narrowed.  When he saw she'd lowered her weapon he squirmed out and began pulling something behind him.

"Lisel --" Krisin began.

"Here. Take this."

Alika rolled out and slid down the pile of rock, tied up in cloth and cords, a gag over her mouth.  Her eyes stared at them, wild and angry.  Accusing -- they had, after all, lied to her.

Lisel quickly made his way down as well.  He looked bruised and blood showed in a few spots.  He favored his right hand, and she thought some of the claws had been torn off there.  Krisin had taken up Alika and gave her a vicious shake when she tried to pull away.

"We had better go," Lisel warned with a glance at the rock.  "If I set things up properly, we're going to lose gravity soon.  And air, shields, probably the stability of the rest of the rocks --"

Tana turned, a hand on the rock beside her.  Krisin pushed Alika ahead and Lisel, despite his own limp, got hold of her. They hurried, but even so, the rumbled of disaster started before they reached the fighter.  Alika looked back with open fear and stopped fighting, which allowed Krisin to push ahead and get the fighter open.

Tana still didn't think they'd make it.  The wind had started, a sign of lost atmosphere.  She gasped at the air, an involuntary reaction, like falling into water and wanting one last breath.  Krisin's hand held tighter and he pulled her along -- not that she fought, but the erratic wind and failing gravity made it hard --

Oh, they reached the ship.  Lisel had shoved Alika back behind the seats -- not a comfortable spot.  Good.  Krisin shoved her in and across to the controls.  She hit her leg and nearly blacked out, but the sight of the rock falling and explosions made her grab Lisel in and key the door shut.

Rocks hit the canopy. A small crack -- but they had no choice. She keyed the engines on, powered them up to full, and shot out of the trap as fast as she could.  Behind them, the asteroid exploded, sending more rock after them.  It pinged and banged, and she watched the crack grow a little wider.  So far, it did not give way.

"Part of the controls are out," she said, tapping at the board.  "We're going to be flying without any scanners or communications."

"I have faith you'll find the way home," Lisel said from behind.  He handed up the first aid kit.


A medpad to her leg helped dull the pain and allowed her to concentrate.  The one thing neither of them mentioned was how there was likely weres in the area.  She kept them close to big asteroids when she could, doing the computations in her head, aiming back toward the sector where they'd left the Belgium.  It would not be in exactly the same place, but she hoped it hadn't moved far.

Alika made some sound of protest in the back of the fighter.

"You would be wise to shut up," Lisel said with such a snarl that Tana felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. 

Alika went silent again.  Tana didn't trust her, though. She opened the first aid kit and handed back a hypo.  He gave a quick nod and then rather ruthlessly jabbed it at Alika's arm.  The woman protested for a moment and then went silent.

She was coming back around again by the time Tana finally spotted the Belgium.  Their craft was not responding well by then.  With no communications, all she could do was aim for the bay and hope for the best.  Lisel knocked Alika back out again when she started to kick and snarl.

"Good work," Tana said.  "This is not the time.  We need to get her in and get the Captain.  We don't want a lot of show before word spreads."

"Leave her here," Krisin said with a glance back.  Brave man since they were just going in the bay.  "Call the Captain to us."

"I don't know --"

"She'll come to us," Lisel said.  "Or I'll go get her."
That sounded like trouble ... but they had trouble anyway.

"Let's do it."

To Be Continued....

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Flash Fiction #299: Catchin Can/Part 1

Note:  I have dropped in on Tana's little scout ship and her crew a few times before.  If you would like to read the sequence here are the previous flash fiction pieces:

Flash Friday # 106 -- The Replacement

Flash Fiction # 141 -- The Outpost

Flash Fiction # 161 -- Illusion

Flash Fiction # 211 -- Team work

"That looks like a good hiding place," Tana suggested as she tapped the screen.  "I can't see how far the opening goes, but the asteroid is stable, and I think we can slip just enough of the fighter inside that we can stay out of sight and keep watch."

Lisel leaned forward to look at her screen, his cat-like whiskers brushing against her cheek.


"Sorry, sorry."  He pulled a little to the side, but not very far. Did he do that on purpose?  She'd started to believe that Lisel liked tormenting her.  "Can't get a good read through that rock.  It's pretty dense.  Wish we could see farther in there, but that's the best spot we've seen in days."

Krisin grunted agreement.  Tana turned the craft in that direction, scanned everywhere around them, and then swept over and down toward the opening.

The cave went farther than she expected.

And they were not the first to take refuge here.

"Out!" Lisel shouted and hit the power back to the engines. 

Tana had already started the pivot, but a shield flared up in front of the ship, and Lisel cut power before she even cursed.  They couldn't throw themselves against that wall.  The fighter would tear apart before it went through.

"Not weres," Krisin reported.  "Breathable atmosphere.  Shall we go pay a visit?"

Tana mumbled something impolite and hit the release on the door.  It swung up and out, showing them a bit more of the cavern.  Laser cut, beyond a doubt.  She could see lights in the distance as the three of them climbed down.  The air tasted better than what they got on the ship, and she could feel the slight sweep of a breeze.  That probably meant a relatively small area and not many people.

She had her weapon in hand, ready for trouble.  Tana would rather have faced weres than humans, though.  She had no doubt the weres would be enemies.  Having to decide if she trusted humans always put her in a bad mood.

They had gone several yards when she realized their catchin partner was not behind them.  She started to look back and stopped herself.  She trusted Lisel and having him not go in with the two of them made her feel a bit better.

The equipment looked odd.  A single cot rested against the wall to the right.  Was there only one person here?

"Stop there," a woman said from somewhere behind lines of flashing equipment.  "Drop the weapon, Tana, or I swear I'll shoot you.  And you, Krisin -- the same."

Did she know that woman? Tana couldn't place the voice, but she didn't doubt the order and dropped her pistol.  Krisin did the same only a moment later.  He frowned at Tana.

"Where's the other one?  Your catchin?"

"Didn't come out this time," Krisin said with a bit of a snarl.

"I should believe that?"

"Look around," Tana replied with a slight wave of her hand.  She could see a bit better now and picked out three shapes, all of them with lights behind them.  The woman who spoke was the tallest and easiest to track, even while she paced in the shadows.

The woman finally gave some signal to her two silent helpers.  They rushed out past Tana and Krisin, moving so fast that she barely had a glimpse of them.  Definitely not human.  Metalic, she thought.

Then the woman stepped into the spotlight.  A rather dramatic move and it suited her.  Tana did know her, and it wasn't for any good reason, though she supposed that was to be expected by now.

"Alika," she said with a nod of her head.  "We thought you dead years ago."

"And I'm sure you mourned, too," Alika replied with a snarl. She moved oddly, but then considering her ship had been blown to hell, that wasn't much of a surprise either.

"The captain sent out ships to find your body. They never did."

"No, they didn't.  I had other help."  She stopped as the two shapes rushed back to her.  Bots of some sort.  Interesting.

Other help?

And how did she know about Lisel, their catchin crew?

Krisin had caught on as well.

"We've lost a lot of fighters out this way lately," Krisin said.  His voice stayed calm, but Tana could hear the rage just below the surface.  "That's why we were sent here.  You have a contact on the Belgium.  Does that person know you work with the weres?"

"Oh yes," she said and smiled.  Part of her face didn't work.  "Where is your catchin?"

"Back on the ship --" Tana began.

Alika lifted a pistol and fired.  The light burnt across Tana's leg and she gave a cry more of surprise rather than pain.  Krisin grabbed her before she fell and that kept him from going for his dropped weapon, which was what Alika had expected.  A flash of light scorched the floor where he would have been.

"Didn't -- didn't your person tell you Lisel was injured?  Attacked?  A few days ago.  Didn't want him along if he's not ready."

"And he's not been happy since it happened," Krisin added, the snarl clear in his voice this time.

"Ah.  I had heard."  Alika sat the pistol down again.  "Well, the two of you are quite a catch.  My friends have been happy with all the kills lately, but you two -- you are high up in the line.  You know codes I can't otherwise get.  You can get us aboard the ship."

"It's not going to happen," Tana replied.

"And you think you can hold out against me?"

Tana tried not to look nervous -- or too nervous -- as the bots came out from behind her equipment again.  They moved slowly this time, waist-high pieces of metal an flashing lights in colors that didn't look normal.

She hoped their catchin could do something.

And the ceiling fell.

To Be Continued....