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....

Friday, April 13, 2018

Flash Fiction # 298: Mother Nature's Revenge

(This is little drabble was inspired by a rather funny meme on Facebook -- but then I wondered if we're all laughing too much?  I'm looking at another five to eight inches of snow this weekend....)

"I miss spring," Marc said as they trudged through the snowdrifts.

"You shouldn't have made the joke," Rory countered.

"You're the one who shared it.  Besides, how was I suppose to know she was on the Internet?"

"Are you joking?" Rory said.  "Mother Nature is everywhere!  And saying she is Bi-Polar and off her meds...."

"Well, it was funny," Marc countered.  "It's not my fault she doesn't have a sense of humor."

A cold wind blew down the road followed in quick succession by lightning, hail, a torrential rainstorm, and then a sudden blizzard.

"Marc, just keep quiet, okay?"

Monday, April 09, 2018


During the school year of 1967, my friend Lynda said to me that there was someone I should meet. "She writes, too."

So she took me across the classroom and said, "This is Linda."

We talked. We were both 13. We had all the same interests. We were writing what would later be called fan fiction for all our favorite shows. We exchanged Star Treks and High Chaparrals. We had lunch together every day and several classes together.

I'm not sure how long it was before I realized that our skin color was not the same. It didn't matter, not then, and not later -- not to me and not to her.

By the next semester, I'd moved back to Iowa again. This was part of the constant yo-yo movement my parents did between the two places. This time, though, I was miserable in school. Then my father decided it would be far easier to move back to LA without his wife and two daughters. We had no income. Before I turned 15, relatives had found me a full-time babysitting job that started as soon as I got home from school until 3 AM and all day Saturday. Three children, the youngest 1-month-old when I started. I wrote late at night there, waiting for the mother to get home from her night shift as a nurse. By then I had started writing my own original stories, but there was still a bit of fanfic tossed in.

Linda and I wrote each other. We shared stories still. We wrote stories together, too, sending stuff back and forth. She was a bright spot in a miserable few years.

I was 18 when dad came back and decided we should all go to LA again.

I went to the same school as Linda. A lot of our old friends were there. 1972 and the school had been large enough to get caught up in the race troubles sometimes. During one of these, Linda and I went to the admin. She called her mother -- and her mother told the person in charge to let her daughters leave.

I remember the woman looking from Linda to me and back.

And she let us go. We walked to Linda's house.

After that, I spent a lot of time at Linda's house. My mother and sister had gone back to Iowa, and I did not get along with my father. Linda's mom, Dorothy, treated me like I was her child. Linda's older brother, Lonnie, was a little longer coming around, but he did. In fact, Dorothy later started telling people that she had three children and they just kept getting lighter.

The day after graduation my father kicked me out of the house for not already having a job. This after years of supporting his wife and daughter because he never sent any of the money he was supposed to.

I called Linda.

I moved in with them. I was the only white person in the neighborhood. It didn't matter.

We traveled all over LA, Linda and I. To the beach (Leo Carrillo was a favorite), China Town, here and there. Dorothy talked to my father and later called him a lying bastard. I was not going back. Instead, she got me enrolled in a local tech school for secretary training. Linda did nursing school, but it never suited her.

We wrote. We went places. We did insane (and sometimes stupid) things, but we did it together.

I will not say it was perfect. Linda was the most stubborn person I ever knew. If she decided something, that was it. I remember her getting mad about something and storming off into the house, leaving her mother and me on the doorstep. Her mother turned to me and said, "Yeah, I know. Can't live with her, and can't live without her."

But you could work around those times, and then we'd be off doing something goofy Going to China Town, splitting up, and then meeting at the fountain and pretending we hadn't seen each other for years and we'd always planned to be here. Yeah, silly. Imaginative.

Dorothy paid for both of us to take Kung Fu lessons, and not from just any place. Sil Lum Kung Fu on Van Nyes Blvd had some well-known teachers. (Some of them were later in Big Trouble in Little China, among things.) Linda met Lloyd. Things began to change as she went

And I was not always there in LA. I would get messages -- my mother needed me. If I didn't come back and take care of her, it was my fault if she died. (Yeah, they pulled this a few times, relatives who told me that all the problems at home were my fault for not working hard enough.)

I would stay in Iowa as long as I could stand it and then run back to LA for a while. Then back to Iowa to take care of things. Then to LA. Those were the only times I cared about and remembered -- but yeah, things were changing. Linda had a boyfriend.

I went to Iowa for a longer stretch.

Linda and I stayed in touch. Then we got this insane idea. I had a vacation coming from my job. Let's both get a 15-day Greyhound Bus Pass and traveled.

Yeah, I only thought we were crazy before this. Linda came from LA to Sioux City. We spent a day there and then hit the road heading east. I have a few sharp memories of the trip:

Me pointing out the window and saying, "Look! Cows! Being from LA, I know you never saw such things." Doing that maybe a few too many times.

At one stop, Linda misunderstanding what I said, and when I corrected her as we got on the bus, turning to me and saying "Well, fine. Then the engagement is off!" and handing me one of her rings. That won some amusing reactions. So we repeated it when we loaded onto other buses.

We went to Washington DC, but not anywhere near anything worth seeing. We went to Toronto, which was beautiful, then Quebec, which was foreign, and then back to Toronto where we sat on a bench overlooking the lake and napped in the warm sun. Sleeping at night in a bus between stops was taking a toll. We headed west. Fargo -- the night crew had duct-taped one of their workers to a column. Montana, where one old guy kept asking people if they knew why Butte was named Butte. 'Cause it's on a butte!' he'd says and laugh.

He got off at Butte. We did not.

Montana. Time with some really nice people who took us on a picnic into Glacier National Park.

Pointing out to Linda that we were leaving the town of George in the state of Washington.

Back to LA and a few days there before I went on alone to Sioux City.

Our lives went on. Linda had a daughter. I got married. Linda married and had two boys. We kept in touch, but not as much as before. I took two trips out to LA and visited with her for a while. But our worlds had gone different ways. That was only natural, you know. We couldn't go hiking through LA. I had no reason to run back to LA to escape to my fun life. Email got us in touch again. She talked about her sons, her house, her job. She talked about making quilts. Honestly, I could never imagine her doing anything so normal. Then we both found Facebook and a better way to contact each other. I was devastated when her mother unexpectedly died of a heart attack.

I helped Linda publish a few books through ACOA. Her vampire stories were often just fun.

I had always imagined that as her kids got older, she and I might take one of those nice sedate bus tours to some place and relive our insanity.

I always imagined that we would write more books together.

I never imagined a world without her.

Linda died on March 31, 2018, after a long fight against cancer.

This doesn't do justice to our times together. I just know the world is less for her passing.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Flash Fiction #297: Pets

Professor Truo watched the twelve top students from Starden Station's 312th Unit who had shown an aptitude for learning Ancient Earth systems.  They didn't give him much hope with those blue stripes painted in diagonals across their faces, though this was better than last year's style of dotted faces.  Truo prayed to the gods of fashion that the multiple eyes style never returned.  All those faces filled with blinking eyes had given him nightmares for years.

"Welcome to Late Industrial Age Humanity, Advanced Course." People didn't yell in their enlightened age, and neither did he -- but he could speak loudly when needed.  He had their attention.

Only two eyes each blinked at him.  Cascades of multi-colored hair drifted about their heads so that they'd moved the chairs farther apart.  The students were so apt to change appearance between classes that professors no longer tried to name them or distinguish if they had a gender preference. Professors called them by their chair numbers, and Truo let the scanners tag answers into proper files.

He longed for the old days of electronic education where teacher and student never interacted with each other.  How much he had appreciated those students!

Times had changed. Besides, these twelve were the best of the best. Things could be worse.

"Because you are the highest of the academics in your range, you will attend lectures that will further your understanding of that dark and dramatic time of the Late Industrial Age.  Today, we begin with a look at one aspect of home life that people of our era find incomprehensible.  This is the time of the Fur Children, the Fur Babies ... the golden age of the pets.

"You know that pets came in a wide range from reptiles and snakes to large creatures typically still found in the wilds.  The Fur Children, however, manifested mostly in two compact forms.

"This is an image of a dog and the immature version, called a puppy. This branch of life, which were also called Doggos and Puppers, came in a variety of sizes, colors, and fur types as you see in these holographs.  As you can see in this magnificent set of images, they were often adopted as Fur Children, dressed in human outfits, taken to special parks, and sometimes placed in the same sort of pushed buggies also used for fully human children."

Eyes blinked.  Got wide.  Blinked again.  Truo doubted most of the station's population had ever understood the full range of dog shapes and colors, let alone their place in human society.  They were many generations away from Earth, and even for him, the idea of such creatures, wandering around at according to their whims troubled him. 

"These are cats, and the immature version which is a kitten," he said.  "Cats did not seem to acquire the same range of species names as applied to the Doggos, possibly because they were more independent.  Nonetheless, there are numerous signs that cats too were 'adopted' and dressed as humans and taken out in buggies.

"For many years, archaeologists believed that this aberrant behavior was the result of a drop in the birthrate, and those archaic humans needed the psychological and societal ties of a full family.  They brought such Puppers and Kittens into their homes and pretended to make them human.   This would have been a mass societal lie, accepted by a majority of the population -- but we've seen those illogical concepts before in this time frame.  These people already acclimatized to accept blatant untruths.

"However, in the recent past, a substantial amount of evidence shows that Fur Children were found in homes along with several human children as well as in homes with only a single male or female -- that is, they were present in every type of human home life at the time.  Also, there were a substantial number of households without either human young or Fur Children, and these non-pet homes show no sign of suffering from discrimination.  Also, pets of all sorts were often abandoned and lived wild.

"With these revelations, we are forced to admit that Fur Babies and Fur Children were not required in society.  Yet they grew in number. Yes, Chair Eight?"

"Could it be that these --" Eight waved a hand at the array of antique dressed hologram creatures in the air to the sides of Truo -- "were not alive?"

Looks of appreciation spread to the others.  Eight had just come up in the ranks.

"Excellent question.  In fact, many archaeologists hold to this belief despite obvious signs to the contrary made apparent in the last century of archeology.  There was, for instance, an entire income-base created by the manufacture of special pet foods and they even had their own separate medical system."

"But the cost of medical care in those days...." Chair Two said, eyes staring again at the creatures.

"Exactly, Chair Two.  Like much of the material we have managed to excavate from this age, there seems to be no true logic in these actions.  We live in an age where we understand everything, except the actions of our own ancestors.  It is incomprehensible for us to see how they could adopt these creatures and treat them, despite their limited intelligence, as part of their family unit --"

"But they're cute!"

Truo turned to Chair Three.  He blinked several times. "Cute?"

"Look at those little furry faces and big eyes!  Don't you just want to hug them?  I could never choose between them.  Could you have both?"

"Ummm ... apparently, yes?"

"Wonderful!  I can see them dressed as station crew, prancing down the corridors?"  Others smiled.  "How fun it would be to deal with something that was not always a challenge to your position in life!"

There was no logic to it ... but the Fur Babies finally made sense. 

"I suppose we still have some Pupper and Kitty DNA." Twelve said

Truo suspected they had a class project.  He also thought they were about to change their world.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Flash Fiction #296: Humans First

Perhaps it was a dream, she thought.  Perhaps if she pinched herself, she would wake up.  But she wanted to stay in this dream world where the plagues and wars had ended, and the world knew peace -- even if it came from the aliens.

Too many people disagreed with her. New graffiti was starting to turn up everywhere:  Human World, Human Lives, Human Rules.

"As though we've ever done so well on our own," Lily said with a wave of her hand to the words scrawled across the underpass.

"Careful," Tom whispered, though they were alone in the pod.  "You don't want any of the Humans First followers to hear you."

Lily glanced his way, noting how he held tight to his valise, his fingers white-knuckled and his face pale, as though he feared someone had slipped into the pod with them.  It wasn't the aliens who frightened him.

"We are our own worse enemies," Lily said but no more for his sake.  Instead, she watched the broken world, from the fallen buildings to the muck and mud that had risen up from the old sewers and choked the air.  Oh yes, humans first, because they had always been so good at handling problems.

She had no sympathy for humans in general, though she did appreciate that the aliens had stepped in to help them recover.  She hoped the Humans First group wasn't so widespread that they would drive the help away.  They were a long ways from recovery from the war.

The aliens were their only hope of survival.

That afternoon, everything changed.

Lily had her daily meeting with the three aliens who came to the building where she had been one of the last executives remaining when they arrived, five years ago.  The science of the place had drawn them, one of the few establishments still trying to do the old work.

"The humans couldn't cooperate," Gray 1 said.  His bulbous, single-eyed head gave a nod. They'd picked up human mannerisms, which had made it easier to deal with them.  "So we made a plan, the three of us.  We created something to give the humans a push to work together again."
"Created," she said.  She usually had no trouble understand their statements, despite the distortion of the words.  These three had always spoken like scientists.  She had appreciated it.

There was a moment when the three looked at each other, and the other two nodded.

Gray 1 pulled his head off.  She could see the electrodes that overlapped and created a bit of a glow -- a power grid that would interfere with any scanning.  With a start, she realized that before everything fell apart, she had even worked on the basic design of that device.

The young man behind the mask had been her student before everything went to hell.  Aubrey.  Brilliant, if a bit eccentric. Faked the videos, of course. They'd done one or two prank videos for parties back before ... before they obviously took the prank one step farther.

"What the hell?" she finally said.

The other two were taking off their heads as well.  Karen and Alan.

"We thought about it for a long time," Aubrey explained.  He didn't look as cocky as he had all those years ago.  "We knew it would be easy enough for the three of us just to wander off and to give everyone time to forget the sound of our voices, the cadence of our words.  We'd already started building the shells in the old abandoned C building -- that's where we've been living, mostly."

"Why did you come to me now?" I asked, still too stunned to make any real sense of it.

"The work started out well," Aubrey said. The others just sat back and let him do all the talking.  It was what he'd always been good at.  "Everything we offered as aliens was really what humans should have been doing from the start.  Oh, we came up with a couple new tools, but really they were modifications of human science.  We knew humans wouldn't work with other humans -- everyone blamed a different group for what had happened at the fall, and they were not going to join forces with the enemy.  So we gave them an outside force that hinted at how bad things could go if they did not cooperate with us."

"Yes," Lily said.  Her mind was trying to batter everything around into logical connections.  What they'd done had been brilliant in some ways.  A masterwork of technology, actually. She'd want to know about how they'd created the hologram of the ship, how they'd hooked into enough video connections at the time to make it look real -- how they had built the suits they wore which did not appear to be earth-made at all --

"We still have things to do, Dr. Lily," Aubrey said and sounded surprisingly like the young man who had worked under her.  "But now we're afraid that the Humans First party is going to kill us before we can finish the work.  We need your help.  We need you to make the Humans First group believe that we are the best hope humans have and we don't know how to do it."

She sat there in silence for a moment and then smiled in a way that seemed to make Aubrey nervous.  "We do it by being even crazier."

By the time the last battle between the Grays and another race from the stars had been played out in the area between the earth and the moon, the Grays were already heralded as the saviors of the world.  Lily got to play one of the Grays, plus a cameo role as a growling blob of an enemy commander.  If technology had not already fallen so far, none of it would have worked, of course.  It did, though -- maybe because others wanted answers.

They saved the earth, just not in the way the humans believed.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Flash Fiction #295: Honor Among Thieves/8

"That table was irreplaceable," I shouted.

"Kill him!  Kill them both!" Kimlin ordered.

The orcs moved forward.  They swung table legs which looked like dainty clubs in their hands. The one on the right, opposite Darkin, made a sudden and surprising leap forward.

I shouted as I spun to help Darkin -- and that was when my orc darted forward.  I knocked Darkin down and fell as well --

My orc hit Darkin's orc straight across the face and it fell like a bag of rocks.

"I planned that," I said as I rolled off of Darkin and got back on my feet.

"You are an idiot ... but a lucky one."

We only had one orc left. Then there was Kimlin, though he didn't seem to be rushing into battle to help his orcs.  I didn't want to think about the others with Kimlin, but at least they hadn't made any moves yet.

I could hear loud sounds from the battle between the Demon Lord and Lady Yeti, but a glance showed only a wall of black beyond our room.  I had no idea how she might be doing, but I didn't pretend that rushing to her aid was going to do any help there. 

So back to our orc.  Darkin raised his left hand and gave me an old signal -- one we'd used when we had to deal with a city guard.  It was a simple enough ploy.  A single guard, even with weapons, was no match for the two of us.

Orcs, I hoped, wouldn't be any worse.

I went to the left and started to fall, while Darkin moved to the right.  My fall caught the orc's attention as he sensed weaker prey, and turned my way for just that single breath that Darkin needed to grab the table leg and swing it with all the force he had against the orc's startled face.

The orc tottered.  Darkin hit again and the wooden leg splintered.

The orc fell.

On me.

Kimlin gave a cry of despair as I gave a grunt of pain.  Darkin cursed and grabbed the orc's leg, trying to yank him off of me.  The others moved forward, and Darkin spun on them, but they only mumbled a few things and helped grab the orc.  Cooperation.  There was hope for the Guild.  I could rebuild from this dozen members.

If we survived.  As the others manhandled the orc off of me, I looked at Kimlin.  He'd started by yelling and then began to panic.  Panic was worse.  I saw him reach inside his shirt and pull out something on a chain.  It glowed.

Anything that glowed was a real problem.  Unfortunately, I still had orc on me and couldn't breathe to get enough air to yell, and I couldn't move my arms.

"Ki --" I hissed.  "Ki -- m --"

Darkin realized the problem just as they rolled the orc off of me.  He spun, but Kimlin was ready for my friend to attack.

Kimlin was not ready for me.

I knew I couldn't stand.  I still had trouble breathing as well.  I could, however, roll over and grab Kimlin's leg as he took a step forward.

I hadn't paid attention to what he'd been doing.  I knew there was a glow of power and that the others began scattering.  When I grabbed him, he fell backward, and a bolt of something far more potent than lightning shot straight up through all the floors of the building and made a hole right out into the sky.

We all stared for a moment.  Then Darkin kicked Kimlin so hard that I heard the bones in his hand break and the object went flying.  It landed by me.  I gingerly took it by the chain.  It didn't glow now, but I still didn't like the feel of it.

"What now?" Ram asked with a worried stare at the two unconscious orcs and the whimpering Kimlin.

"Wait -- see what they do --" I said with a wave toward the still black door.  "Make whatever deal we can."

The battle beyond our room had gone oddly quiet.  Then I heard something unexpected.

Laughter, both from Lady Yeti and the Demon Lord.  That worried me.  I let Darkin get me to my feet and hold me there.  I couldn't be sure of broken bones from the orc falling on me, but I hurt everywhere again.

The black parted like a thick cloth, and the two were still where they had been, both looking like adversaries ready for battle -- but the tension of moments before had disappeared.

"Then I go," the Demon Lord said with a bow of his head.  "And I take back some of my own that you have stolen."

"Only borrowed," she said and waved a hand.  A dozen spots of shadows darted over to the Demon Lord.

I stared in disbelief.  Was this done?  A bit of laughter and a handing over of hostages?

"What is going on?" I dared to ask, though Darkin hissed at the words. Silence might have been better.

"We will not fight the war this time," the Demon Lord replied.  "You would want a different answer?"

"Think about it," Lady Yeti warned with a kind of smile that made her look unworldly.  "Think about your myths."

The dozen times darkness and fire had beaten down humanity, and we'd had to climb back out of the abyss again.  Oh yes, I knew the myths.

Or were they history?

"I am grateful that you will not fight," I said with a bow of my head to both of them.

So they left.  We gave Kimlin over to the guard, and none of us went to see him hanged for killing the mayor.  We fixed the Guild House and repaired the table, though it has a crack across the middle, one odd leg, and a new legend attached to it.  We went back to work.

So did Lady Yeti, going back to her little home.

I try not to worry.