Thursday, August 09, 2018

Flash Fiction # 315: Fallen Flowers/1



There were dead flowers on the spiral staircase.  The rose blooms had cascaded downward over the steps and died, the colors fading and some leaves turning to dust.  They couldn't have been there more than two weeks, the last time Catlyn and her brother had been to the mansion, and yet they looked as though they'd been dead a year or more.

"How did the flowers get there?" Catlyn asked, looking at Terrance with a lifted eyebrow.  "You didn't --"

"Not me," Terrance replied with an emphatic shake of his head.  He'd pulled his hair back into a tie hoping to make it look more acceptable.  "I told you that I haven't come back here since the gathering.  Grandmother scares the fu --"

Catlyn had put fingers to his lips.  While Grandmother didn't scare her, there was no reason to straight out annoy the older woman with language she did not approve.  Catlyn couldn't begin to figure out why grandmother had sent for the two of them, though.  That worried her, especially on the eve of what had seemed like two uncommonly long days.

"Well?  Are you coming up?" the familiar voice shouted from somewhere above them.

"Yes, Grandmother," Catlyn replied, her voice steady.  She tapped Terrance on the arm and gave him a nod of encouragement.

Terrance started up ahead of her, carefully avoiding the debris of flowers.  A fallen vase sat at the top of the stairs, dusty along the edges.  Why hadn't anyone picked it up yet?  Grandmother might be eccentric, but she did have maids and other people working in the house.

Grandmother was, as usual, in her sitting room and on the high-backed chair by the window. She wore a long, gray gown, more than a century out of date, but exquisite in a way that made Catlyn wish, for a moment, that women could still dress that way, at least sometimes.  Grandmother's silver hair formed an intricate design above her thin face, and jewels glittered in the tresses, the light from the window catching them as she turned from one side to another, looking at the two.

Catlyn always felt as though they ought to bow to the queen, and that wasn't merely a snarky response to the elaborate scene.  There was something both majestic and powerful that Catlyn felt every time she came near the woman.

"Thank you for your promptness," Grandmother said.

That threw Catlyn, and no doubt Terrance as well.  While Grandmother was never overtly rude, she rarely made anyone feel welcome or even that they had done something well.  Catlyn mistrusted the change.

Terrance was quick to respond, though.  "We are honored that you wanted to see us here.  What can we do for you?"

The woman looked from one to the other, her green eyes narrowed and her thin lips pursed as though she weighed them both.  Then she gave an unexpected, and very un-grandmother-like, shrug.

"Neither of you are much like your mother."

Catlyn weighed the tone and the implications and then gave a slight bow of her head.  "No, we aren't.  Mother is drawn to making money and living in a style that seems more confining the richer she becomes."

"Yes!"  Grandmother sat forward, as though they had made a connection for the first time.

"I've nothing against money," Terrance added.  Oddly, this was a conversation Catlyn had had with her brother before.  "I just don't want to be trapped by it.  Mother doesn't understand, but at the same time she's glad enough that we don't try to interfere with her life any more than father does."

"What is it you want, Grandmother?" Terrance asked.

Grandmother stood.  She was a tall woman and thin.  She did not stoop from age, and her movements were steady as she crossed to the side of the room and stood by a massive globe.  She signaled the two of them over to her.

"I have a problem," she said and gave a sigh that held a hint of disgust.  "One of my own making, I fear.  I got careless.  Look. This is where your father is now.  He's sailing."

"Yes," Terrance said and looked down at the expanse of water where Grandmother pointed.  We both knew father was sailing from Honolulu to Osaka on the latest stretch of his quest to sail all the oceans and seas.  "We can't be certain where --"

Grandmother touched the globe.  It changed.  Three dimensional, Catlyn thought at first.  That was pretty high-tech for a woman who dressed as though she lived in the 1890s.  And really cool -- it had a cloud layer coming in --

She felt chilled.  Terrance took a step back and then forward again, staring down at the globe.

"This happened yesterday, children," Grandmother said.  "I got careless, and something slipped into the house through the back door.  I felt it coming up the stairs, so I grabbed the vase of flowers as a handy weapon.  The water, you see, is special."

She waved a hand toward a vase of roses.  Catlyn began to fear they were the same roses that were dead on the stairs.  She wanted to say something.  So did Terrance, but neither of them spoke.  Grandmother looked from one to the other and gave another nod as though they'd passed a test of some sort.

"While I was throwing the roses at the ghoul, something else came through and straight into my room.  They set a storm in motion," she said.  The globe turned a bare quarter of an inch, and a storm swept in, dark and ominous, reaching for their father.  "By the time I realized the trick, my enemy was gone.  I turned back the time once, twice -- but no matter what I do, I cannot be in two places at once.  I must throw the roses and stop the ghoul. The two of you will stop the other from setting the storm against your father."

We didn't argue.
To be continued...



Friday, August 03, 2018

Flash Fiction #314: Myth of the Rainbow (Drabble)




Tiny pixies once ruled the sky, darting everywhere with flashes of bright color, pleasing all who saw them -- except for the orcs who hated and envied their beauty.  The orcs drove them into caverns and wells, using dark magic to trap them away from the sky.

Ors also hate rain.  When it falls they hide and their spells weaken.  Storms are dangerous for pixies, though, so they can only take advantage of the breach in the last momenst of gentle rain.  Then they swarm up from one spot and down to another to visit others.


And so we have rainbows.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Flash Fiction # 313: Calis Rules



(Previous Story: The Throne of Obsidian)

Calis liked the new throne made of wood and jewels.  Since the death of Argonis a year before, things had quietly slipped back to normal.  People still did not entirely trust the flying fortress that had been a place of evil for a few years, but Calis began to slowly win them back.

"We'll sit down in the capital before noon," Draken said as he came into the throne room.  "Locan says he senses some trouble there.  And I just saw smoke on the horizon."

Calis grabbed his cane and stood to follow Draken out to the balcony.  Smoke meant fire, and that was never a good sign.  At best it was a disaster, but at worst it was a sign of the Fire Mages rising up again.  Argonis had been their leader, but after his death Locan, the king's elderly mage, had learned there were far more of the mages most of them slipping over the borders from the southern lands.

Argonis had won the throne for a while, and now it seemed that every dark mage with longings for power had decided to try his or her hand at taking over the rule.  The fact that they considered Calis crippled did much to encourage them.

Draken stopped by the doors that led outside, signaled Calis back, and opened the right-hand door partway, checking outside.  He took his duties very seriously, this guard who was the true hero of the country, though he denied it.  Without his help, though, they never would have gotten close enough to Argonis to kill him.

"Safe," Draken said.  "But a bit breezy."

Calis braced himself as he stepped out into the cold wind.  He thought he could feel a little snow in the air.  That might help with any fires.

He could see the smoke curling upward along the horizon.  The city was not far away, at least, and the fire did not appear to be large.  An accident of some sort, he hoped.

"It is near the city center," Draken said.  "That could be a problem for us."

"Have Locan meet me in the throne room."

Draken nodded.  He called for a servant and sent her on her way, but he did not leave Calis's side.  He'd always been a good guard.

Locan strode into the throne room a few minutes later.  He looked distracted, and some might think him old and forgetful, but Calis only knew him to be distracted by too many things the mage must keep under watchful eyes.

"How bad is it?" Calis asked.  He'd learned not to waste the man's time.

"Not a natural fire, King Calis," the man said.  He never forewent courtesies, even when they were alone except for Draken.  "I can't say how serious, though.  It has the feel of something that's already gotten out of hand."

"I don't know if I should be pleased or not," Calis said.  "I don't want to see any damage done, but if it's gotten out of hand, that does mean the mages are not as good as they thought they were."
"True enough, sire," Locan replied.  He tilted his head and blinked a couple times.  "This may work for us.  I don't think we'll have much trouble putting this fire out."

It turned out he meant those words seriously.

They hovered over the fire, far lower than Draken obviously liked, but it would help with control of the water.  Locan had placed himself in the lower levels of the fortress and prepared to blow a hole in the bottom of their reservoir.  He said it shouldn't be hard to fix again.  Calis had to hope he was right.

The fire spread upward towards them, and for a moment, Calis could see the enemy in the heart of the flames, untouched by the fire as he sent destruction everywhere.  It reminded Calis far too much of his father's death and the mass of emotions -- mostly hatred and fear -- rushed over him.  Then the view passed and he waited for the next step.

It should have happened by now.  They were going to be too far over --

The fortress shuddered and bounced slightly.  The sound of the falling water was louder than the explosion of rock that had opened up below them.

Steam rose up around them -- uncomfortable and dangerous.  Flames followed, but the steam swirled, became a mass of water, and dropped again.  Draken grabbed hold of Calis who started to slip on the stone platform, and they both retreated back into the fortress.

Calis thought they must have done well because the Pyromancer did not attack them again.  He hoped the man was captured.

Argonis brought them down in the square where the fortress usually settled.  Calis had done a quick job of changing clothing since he knew that he always had to make a good impression.

The people started yelling as soon as he appeared.  For a moment, Calis feared they were angry, but he soon learned from the Mayor that the Pyromancer had been harassing them for days already and this was not the first building to have gone up in flames.

"I hope that we can quickly capture him," Calis said.  "I will not leave you unprotected unless I learn that he's moved on to some other spot."

"Most kind, your highness," the mayor said and gave a better bow than usual.  Calis had the impression he'd finally won the man over, and hopefully the rest of the people as well.

Locan made his way to where the others had gathered.  He looked less grumpy than usual.

"Good news?" Calis asked.  "Have you already caught him?"

"Better than that. The man drowned.  The floor gave way beneath him and the basement filled with water."

"That is excellent news, my friend!  Let us celebrate!"

They had a feast the likes of which they had not shared since the days of the old King.  Calis had the feeling they might finally be accepting him.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Flash Fiction #312: Serena's Baby Buffy/3




The odd women who had been stealing babies were getting away, but they'd only gotten one child this time, and that baby was not what they expected.

Serena, though, had a slight problem.  The women of the village were upset, and they were not listening to her as she tried to get away from them.

"You can't follow them, my dear.  Look, look --"

"So much magic --

"Oh, that poor baby --

"It could have been any of us --"

"Be QUIET!"

They looked at Serena in shock and dismay, but at least she had their attention now.

"I must go after them before they get away," she said and began to strip away all her excess clothing.  "The rest of you will still need to take care, but I don't think they'll be back --"

"But, child -- the magic -- You can't --"

"I can."  She pulled off the shawl from across her shoulders and let her wings flutter out.  The others backed up in shock.  "I have magic, too.  And the baby they took is really my familiar.  I need to get to them before they realize the mistake and I lose my link to Buffy.  Take care."

Serena hurried out of the building and into the darkness of pre-dawn.  She had no trouble following where they women went, at least as long as they didn't go to some other realm.  She hadn't counted on the women slowing her up, and now, in a haze of panic, she took to the sky and flew straight toward the odd stairs. The women were already nearly to the top and one still held Buffy.

The breeze off the ocean was against her, and she feared that if she gave herself away, they would figure out about Buffy and do something to the cat.  The best she could do was to fly higher into the still dark sky, keep a tight hold of the magical link to Buffy, and follow as close as she could.

As she had hoped, the women used so much magic of their own that they didn't yet feel the bit of disguise on Buffy.  Once they started examining her, though --

A surge of magic warned her that something was about to change.  She swept down closer and even dared use her magic to grab a tighter hold of Buffy.

"What was that?" one of the women demanded.  "What --"

But the world changed as the woman spoke and the fog and sea disappeared.  In their place came a swirl of colors and stars.  The beauty of the area took her so much by surprise that she had only started to be scared when they dropped out again.

They were over the ocean, but an island sat below them, a vast castle perched on the rocky rise out of the twisted trees. It had a forlorn look, an empty and lonely place.

Serena thought she might feel sorry for the three women, though she still worried about what they had been doing.  She could see them heading in the doors that swung open and snapped shut behind them.

They had Buffy trapped somewhere inside!  She would be in danger because those women would figure it out soon --

Serena flew frantically back and forth over the building before she realized that many of the gaping windows seemed to be open.  She swept downward and felt no magic, so she landed on the edge of a second story windowsill and then leapt inside.

The room hadn't been used in a while, so she had gotten lucky.  Or maybe it was more than luck because she really couldn't hear anything nearby at all, except for the startled scrabbling of mice running for cover.  That feeling of desolation and loneliness swept through the area. 

She hurried out into the hall, the place full of dust and cobwebs, but she could see a light glowing at the bottom of the stairs, and as she started down the steps, Serena could hear voices, too.

"I tell you, it's a cat!  She wasn't a cat when I picked her up."

"Don't be silly, Jana.  No one would dress a cat in -- oh."

"What a lovely cat she is, too," another said.  Well, Buffy didn't seem to be in too much danger.  "But she does present a problem.  I can feel the magic on her now and --"

"And I am here," Serena said from the steps.  One of the women held Buffy, and the other two petted her.  She could hear Buffy purr.  Some help!  Baby cribs sat everywhere, rocking and with bottles ready for feeding, magically sitting in the air.  "What do you people think you've been doing?"

The three women turned and stared at me.  They looked -- well, embarrassed more than anything --like children caught cheating in a game of hide and seek.  Despite all the magic and power, she'd seen, there was nothing dangerous here.

"We -- we wanted -- the palace needs -- so alone --"

The three talked over each other.  I lifted my hand, and they fell silent.  "You can't steal children.  Someone far more angry than me would have come after you.  We must take the children back."
"We thought they would grow up to like it here," Jana said. "We could give them a good life."
"Maybe we can work something else out."

Within three months everything had changed.  The babies were home.  Six families had moved to the castle, though they came and went to the mainland as often as they liked.  Serena had visited often.  Everyone seemed happy because the Jana, Mara, and Misi were quite nice -- and rich.  The families who went to help at the Island Castle would grow rich and famous.

The ladies were especially happy when Serena and Buffy brought them a basket full of gifts.

Jana opened the top. "Oh!  Fluffies!"

"There are stray kittens everywhere in the villages.  You can have as many as you like," Serena said, though she thought that might not be entirely wise...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Flash Fiction #311: Serena's Baby Buffy/2


Serena didn't have much time to do anything except a quick illusion spell.  By some miracle, the magic worked without any trouble.  Buffy's face now looked like that of a baby, though Serena could see the fur from the shoulder's down, and a tail that twitched.

"Quick, into the clothing," she whispered and shoved Buffy, complaining slightly with a few muttered curses, into the baby clothes and blankets.

Barely in time.  Someone knocked politely on the door.

"Yes?" she asked, sounding timid.  It was an act she had to keep up so that she could sit by herself and act very shy.

"It's Mistress Lali, my dear," the woman who ran the inn said.  "Can we talk to you?"

"Ummm ... yes?"  She tentatively opened the door, Buffy in her arms.

"My dear," the woman said.  She looked worried, as did the two women, both with babies, who had followed behind her.  "I should have told you straight away, but I supposed it would do no harm to wait.  You could not find a safe way to leave the village anyway before the night came."

"Safe?" she said, her voice a little higher.  Buffy, drama queen that she always had been, gave a little whimper of her own.

"Babies are being stolen in the night from villages nearby," one of the other women said.  She had a harsh, bitter voice, and looked too old to be the baby's mother.  Her next words confirmed it.  "My daughter-in-law has four other children, all of them older.  I brought the baby here for safety."

"Safety?"

"You must bring your baby down into the Common Room with the rest of us.  We will do our best to keep all the baby's safe tonight.  Tomorrow you should move on to somewhere away from the shore.  So far, they haven't struck farther inland."

"Who?  Who would do such a thing?  How?" she asked and gathered a few things for Buffy.  Mistress Lali took the pack from her and helped her down the stairs.

Another seven women sat in the Common Room.  The two who had come to her room, along with Serena, made ten.  That was a bumper crop for babies, she thought.  But she carefully took a place in the corner, thanked everyone for their concern and help, and did her best to blend in and draw no notice.

As the sun went down, the others began to fall asleep -- a natural sleep, she noted.  Babies started to fuss, were fed, and mothers slept again.

The hardest part for Serena was to not go to sleep at all.  Buffy even fell asleep midway through the night, still complaining of the clothing.

Twice she got up and paced as though the baby were cranky.  The second time she settled closer to the door.  No one made much show of it.

The night wore on.  Serena finally dared a sip of the tea her mother had made for her with just a touch of magic to keep her awake.  It had to be closer to the dawn, right?  She'd lost all track of time in this endless night, and even Buffy's funny curses on those who designed baby clothing had stopped amusing her. 

Everything had gotten quiet.  Serena shifted, and Buffy murmured something impolite but didn't wake up.

Everything had gone too quiet.

This was it.

Serena shook Buffy slightly.  The cat yawned -- the baby face still in place -- and didn't wake.  Doing her best not to make too much noise or movement, Serena took out her flask and put it to Buffy's lips, making sure she sipped a little.

The cat's eyes flew open, and she hissed.  Serena put a finger to her mouth and almost got bit, but she blinked and gave a little baby nod.

Serena could hear sounds outside -- the steps of the three women who came to take the babies.  She knew they had to do this carefully.  If the women suspected --

No time to think any more about it.  The women came in through the door.  Serena got a glimpse of them through her mostly closed lashes. They were, of course, the same three that had struck her own hometown.  She could not see much of their faces, but their long hair still flowed around them, and their dark robes made them seem more substantial than they were.

Serena had purposely placed herself near the door in hopes that they would find the baby held loosely in her arms as a quick one to grab.  They were still as nervous as they had been the last time she saw the women, which she hoped would help.  They were not any sort of magical being that she recognized, though, and that worried her.

The last of the three looked over and took Buffy from her arms.  Step one complete.

She let the three move on, but Serena knew she had to act soon.  If the strange woman kept hold of Buffy for too long, she might feel the magic there.  Besides, she didn't want them to take any of the other babies.

So, with a bit of a dramatic cry, she stood and wobbled, as though still mostly asleep.

"My baby!"

The others began to wake. The intruders gave cries of dismay and retreated -- and yes, the one still held to Buffy.  They fled in haste while women shouted, babies cried, and men who had been guarding outside came awake.

Serena was the first to follow them out of the building, though she dared not rush too quickly for fear they'd throw Buffy back to her.  Like before, a strange staircase of fog stood at the edge of the village.  The three were already heading up it, and in a moment they and the mist disappeared.

"Oh dear Goddess," Mistress Lali whispered.  "I am so sorry.  If you hadn't been with us --"

"Then this wouldn't have worked," Serena replied, startling the woman.  "It is time to take care of this trouble."

Friday, July 06, 2018

Flash Fiction #310 -- Serena's Baby Buffy


Sometimes having wings was a definite distraction and problem, Serena decided.  Now as one of the worst as she tried to push Buffy into the swaddling clothes.  The cat was not cooperating.

"Buffy, do you like your wings?" she finally asked, her voice uncommonly calm.

Buffy blinked bright blue eyes and looked at her with a slight bit of worry.  "Ummm ... yes?" she offered.

"Then if you want to keep them, stop flapping them about and get into the clothing."

Buffy, the cat, sighed and folded her wings down.  "It's a reaction to feeling as though I'm being trapped," the cat admitted.  "I'm trying very hard not to bite or scratch."

"I appreciate it," Serena replied and finally got the long gown over the cat and her front paws out the arms.

"This is uncomfortable.  No wonder babies always cry."

"I kind of agree, but you need to look the part.  I'd rather do this with illusion, but that's not a good idea.  Whatever those three women were, they would know magic.  And besides, I suspect something would go wrong.  After all, it is my magic."

"We'll do okay," Buffy replied.  "I don't like this much, but I think this it will work.  We know the women are apt to hit the next village.  Let's stop them and see what they've done with the other babies."

Serena didn't really think Buffy cared much about the missing children from the other two villages.  She did like adventure, though, and that worked in this case.  They'd managed to save their own village's children, but the news had spread quickly about other babies gone missing elsewhere.

Serena's mother was at the dock to see them off.  She looked worried.  So did some of the others, but they wished her well.  Serena's mother had wanted to go, too -- but being the village wise woman meant she and her magic might be needed at home.  Strange things were happening in the world; Serena and Buffy were the best two to try to help.

Just the same, Serena thought the people had reason to worry.  She and Buffy had managed some rather spectacular near failures ever since the spell that went wrong and gave them both wings.  Serena wanted to prove herself -- but she did worry about what was going to go wrong this time.

The trip from home to the village of Goodport took all the day.  Buffy was cranky by the time they got to the inn, and Serena not much better -- only to be told there was no room -- but the woman took pity on Serena who was in tears, mostly for fear that Buffy would claw her way out of the clothing.  They had a little closet of a room that had belonged to a servant who now lived at home with her husband. The room was dusty and musty, and the only window was too small for Serena to even stick her head out -- but she was glad for the place and thanked the woman.

"Get me out of these clothes!" Buffy hissed as soon as the door closed and the footsteps moved away.

"Quiet!" Serena ordered, but she did quickly undress the cat, though she feared she would never get her in the outfit again.

Buffy slid out of the gown and plopped down on the bed, grooming, and growling.  "Human babies have to be the most useless creatures on earth," she finally said looking up at Serena.

"I think you're right.  But babies do grow up to be helpful, even to cats."

"Huh." She jumped down and explored the little room.  "No mice.  Well kept place, but I hope we don't have to stay here long."

Serena agreed.  "I don't think I can come up with a good excuse beyond that my aunt didn't arrive, so we're heading back home.'

"A couple days," Buffy said.  She sounded resigned.  "I should go scout now."

Serena didn't like the idea, but she nodded agreement.  Buffy could take a look around and report back to her with anything out of the ordinary, and still be ready for their visitors tonight.

They were going to have a very long night, she feared.  And if they had no trouble tonight, then they would have a lot of long days and nights ahead.

"Don't be gone for long," Serena whispered.  "I'll do a little magic so that it sounds as though I have an upset baby here.  You know how that's apt to go badly, though."

"I'll be back as soon as I can," Buffy promised.

Serena propped the little window open, and Buffy squeezed out onto a corner of the roof.  Then she peered over the edge, waited a moment, and finally spread her wings to glide away.  Serena suddenly wanted to do the same.  Wings were helpful things -- and had proven an excellent way to escape from stress.

Not this time.  Instead, Serena set a little spell of a baby crying.  The spell-child howled at first, but Serena quickly dampened the sound and began to pace, as though walking the child.  The pacing helped.

Buffy came back sooner than she expected. The quick tap on the glass startled her, but she was glad to bring the window up and let her in.

"Good news and bad news," Buffy said as she leapt toward the bed, eying the baby clothes with some disgust.  "The bad news is that they already know about the problem and they're taking precautions.  The good news is that all the women and their babies are gathering downstairs where they will spend the night."

"Well -- ummm -- good?"

"You see the problem, right?" Buffy asked and glared at the clothing again.

"Oh.  The locals will expect us to go down there with the others."

"Which means I have to be a useless little human baby for the night," Buffy added with disgust.

Serena could hear a few women coming up the stairs.  They didn't have much time.

To be continued...

Friday, June 29, 2018

Flash Fiction # 309 -- Buffy Did It



From the day that Buffy the cat accidentally got her wings to the adventures with the flying mice, things had been rather hectic for Serena. So when Serena awoke late in the morning and found the cat wasn't sleeping on the pillow beside her, she began to worry.  Usually, the village's temple bell would have woken her by now.  In Serena's haste to get cleaned up and dressed, a simple spell went awry -- they often did -- but at least this time the entire bedroom looked quite clean.  She'd had worse disasters.

Her mother was making breakfast and yawned a couple times.  The older woman smiled, looked around, and frowned.

"Where is she?"

"I don't know."

"Eat quickly and go find the little troublemaker."

"Yes, mom," she agreed fervently.  Serena ate the delicious food and tried not to worry.  Buffy couldn't have gotten into much trouble, she decided.  After all, no one was pounding at the door.

Stepping outside brought a sigh of dismay.  Selena had been so unsettled by the cat's disappearance that she hadn't so much as glanced out a window.  She walked out into a cold wind and the sight of towering clouds where they grew at the edge of land and sea.

"Buffy!" she shouted hoping the cat would pop up from the brushes or sweep down from the trees.  Selena even waited a moment before she took a deep breath, pulled her cloak around her, and headed down the hill toward the village.

The clouds bothered her.

So did the quiet of the village nestled down the hillside and close to the shore.  With a new wave of worry -- What had Buffy done now! -- she hurried along the path and into the town.

No one around. Nothing moved, not even a stray dog to bark at her or beg for treats.  For a moment, she thought they were all gone, but she soon found dogs, birds, horses, and even people.  They were all asleep.

Sleeping villages were never the sign of anything good.

Serena spun and rushed back toward home, but at the edge of the village she stopped and threw herself to the side of the building. Something was moving -- something substantial that cast wavering shadows and yet did not make the ground shake. And the thing whispered and whispered --

No. They whispered  The odd shadow had sorted itself out into three shadows of women, their long hair floating in the breeze off the shore.  The clouds had stopped growing so high, but they moved even more oddly now, forming a stairstep effect that brought them all the way down to the ground.

Serena dared a look around the side of the building.

"Someone saw us!" one of the women all but shouted.

"Quiet you fool!  Any loud noise could wake them!  Where was the person?"

"This way, I think," one of them whispered.

Serena had to act quickly.  The silence made much movement difficult, but she slid back along the edge of the building, hoping that she sounded no different than the breeze.  Serena found the doorway to the warehouse and there found a few men gathered and asleep.  She settled beside them.  She bowed her head and pretended to sleep.

The three women rushed past.  She dared a slight slitting of her eyes for a brief heartbeat.  Even at that moment, one of the women looked back, but Serena had not moved, she closed her eyes, and took soft even breaths, pretending to sleep.  She'd done so for her mother often enough.

"Nothing here," one of them whispered.  "Let's get the babies and go.  We have many more stops before we have enough to train up for our legions.  Lucky their magic woman lives outside the village."

Then they disappeared around the corner.

Stealing children!  Serena sat up and prepared to run to her mother for help -- but then she realized she might never get that far, or might not get there fast enough.  It was up to her, the person who could never get a spell right!

No, not just her.  A small shaped appeared at the end of the alley, saw her, and leapt into Serena's lap.

"Couldn't wake you," Buffy whispered in her ear. She purred too.  "I don't like these women.  I don't understand what they want."

"To steal the babies!  We have to find a way to stop them.  I can't do it alone, and I can't get to mom fast enough. Can you?"

Buffy looked around.  "No.  I don't think so.  We need the others in town."

"I fear if I went around yelling, they'd just put me back to sleep," Serena said.  "We need a loud noise to wake them."

"Loud noise?" Buffy said.  Her blue eyes widened for a moment.  "I know the answer.  Follow them.  Make sure they don't get away with any babies."

Before Serena could ask, Buffy went bounding off.  Cats were naturally quiet.  Serena was not, but she did her best, following the faint sounds the three strange women made.  What could Buffy possibly have in mind?

She almost came within sight of the women and stopped in haste when she realized she could hear them whispering only a few yards away.  Her heart beat so hard she feared they would even hear it.

"Get the baby. The spell won't last forever!"

"I thought I heard --"

"Just get the child --"

And then they all heard something.

The dozen different bells of the temple, never rung all at once, began to ring, first one, then two, then more --

"No!"

People, dogs, cats, birds -- all began to wake. The women screamed as Serena rushed at them and one carrying a baby threw it to her -- she barely caught the child, but by then the three women had disappeared.


Later, the townspeople gathered to thank Serena, but she couldn't take the credit this time.


"It wasn't me with the bells," Serena admitted.  "Buffy did it."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Flash Fiction # 308 -- The Forest


Guardian stood before Mother Tree, his hand on her warm bark, the feel of life coursing through his body as she fed him strength.  These were trying times for humans and for others like him.  Evil had touched the world again and drove humans to hide in the sacred forest, which was more dangerous for the forest than for the humans.

He hadn't expected the ancient dryad to leave her tree.  She had only done so once in his long life, and to see her slip out into the world now took him by surprise and sent a chill through him.

Guardian bowed to her, aware of the honor she gave him and afraid of why she did so now.

"Strangers in the woods," she said with a whisper of sound like leaves in the wind.

"Yes, my lady," he said and dared to meet her leaf-green eyes.  "I go to see what is happening if I can.  Things have been unsettled in the distant city, I fear.  Something is wrong with the humans."

"Not unusual," she said with a slight sigh.  That was true, and it did not account for why she came out into the world.  Guardian knew it and waited.  "Their gods are uneasy, Guardian.  Darkness is coming to the world, and we must do what we can to move against it.  One group with power goes to the north and east."

"Yes, I have sensed them --"

"Do not bother that group.  They go with a purpose.  They go to try to make things right.  But others wander and are lost -- and afraid.  Remove them where you can.  Back to the trails, back to the south and the villages -- but out of my forest.  Their gods do not watch them so closely, do not show them the right.  Such humans are dangerous to anything wild and free.  They don't understand the harm they can do."

Guardian would much rather have raced after those with the bit of power; they might be interesting.  However, Mother Tree had a good point.  Humans were often destructive even when they knew what they were doing.

Mother Tree gave him one last nod and went back into the wood. The tree seemed to shiver slightly.  She feared far more than she had said.

For the next three days, he carefully (and invisibly) herded small groups of humans off toward safer lands.  He began to understand that they liked being here under cover of the trees where they were less likely to be noticed.  He did not step out and show them that they were not hidden at all from anyone with power.

They turned out to be fascinating people, even these plain humans carrying all they had in the world on their backs or in carts drawn by recalcitrant donkeys who did not like the woods nearly as much as the humans.  Guardian found that he could best help thereby calming those beasts and even making the paths easier for them.

So, day by day, he helped the groups find safety, and he even enjoyed the work.

But he had lost track of one larger group -- and in a moment of dismay, he realized they were true trouble.

He was so far away that even running with speed humans could not attain, it took him all of one night and into the next morning to reach them.  By then, they'd cut down a dozen trees and cleared a wide area.

As he broke into the opening, people gave startled shouts.  He counted seven men, five women, an undetermined number of children -- all of them rushing toward the line of defense they'd made with downed branches and savaged bushes.

"What are you people doing?" he shouted, more frustrated than angry.  "Are you crazy?  Do you have any idea where you are?"

Guardian glanced to his right.  Only a couple trees still stood between him and Mother Tree, her vast bulk all the more obvious.

"Who are you?  What are you?" one of the men demanded.  He had a bow in hand and ready to fire.

"I am Guardian -- that's who I am and what I am," he said.  He waved his hand.  The wooden bow snapped in two.  "And you are on sacred ground, human."

"We claim this place," the man said.  "We'll build our village here, safe from the rest of the world --

Anger had started to take him.  Then he heard a sound from Mother Tree, the trembling of leaves, the movement of limbs.  The others heard as well, and he saw them all cower in fear, knowing this didn't come from any breeze.  Guardian turned, bowing his head as the dryad appeared.

"My profound apologies, Mother Tree," he said and even went to his knees.  "I lost track -- so many humans in the sacred forest, and I did not sense --"

"There was a reason for that, Guardian," she said, he voice sounding like life itself this time.  "They are here for a reason."

"Here?" Guardian said, startled.  "But they endanger you --"

"Not as long as they realize who and what I am," she replied.  "Stand up.  All of you stand up.  Listen to me.  Humans shall build their small settlement here.  It will be a place where all can learn about the sacred duty to protect the forest.  I shall help to keep you safe.  You will help Guardian in his work.  The world changes, my friends.  That does not mean we must give up all the old ways."

So the world changed.  The humans built a dozen huts, a longhouse for meetings and meals.  Others wandered in, and left again, wiser for having learned respect for the forest.  Beyond the safety of the trees, wars came and went, but rarely touched them.

Mother Tree and Guardian watched over them.  The gods even smiled their way sometimes, and in a world gone mad with change, the little village remained and guarded the ancient ways.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The new book is out!


Mark had known his life would change after high school, but he had expected the changes to wait until graduation, at least.

Then he killed the sheriff's son in self-defense. Sheriff Creston wasn't going to believe that his son had turned into a monster with fangs, fur, and claws, so Mark rushed to escape through the gate into Elsewhere and hide for a while. However things turned worse from the moment he reached the gate, and now it seems as though everything in the magical realm is out to get him -- and it has nothing to do with what happened back in the human world.

Originally written as three flash fiction serials on my Joyously Prolific Blog, this new version has been expanded and (I hope) the inconsistencies corrected.

So welcome to the crazy life of Mark Ward, his fae-employed cousin Maggie, and Edmond, the talking cat. They -- and you -- are in for an adventure or two.

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/840466
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DQBSC94

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.

"Appear!"

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 --

"No!"

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.

Good.

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

Hello!

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.


Assignment:

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