Friday, January 31, 2020

Flash Fiction #392-- Lost in Elsewhere, Part 2

Welcome to the new adventures of Mark, Maggie, and Edmond the talking cat.  There are three sets of adventures on the Joyously Prolific Blog.  You can find them by searching for Surviving Elsewhere, Journey to Somewhere Else, and Saving Elsewhere -- or you can find the entire set here: Tales from Elsewhere -- and you can buy the book for $1.99 with this coupon code WN38F (not case-sensitive) which you enter prior to completing their checkout.  (Good until December 31, 2020 -- pass it around to your friends!)

The world swirled with nothing real except for Edmond, who had grabbed hold of my arm with all claws and Maggie, whom I held onto so tightly that my fingers were going numb.

Magic swept everywhere around us with rope-like tendrils of bright colors, the magic so strong that it blocked our everything.  I had a sense of movement, I couldn't say for how far or for how long.

Maggie was trying to say something, but I couldn't understand the words.  I heard the sounds, but they danced around us just like the magic in the wind. Whatever she planned, Maggie was on her own. I wanted to do something as well -- but I had just enough sense to realize that the two of us doing magic in different ways would not help.

Maggie's metal wings unfurled, caught at one strong surge of wind -- and we were moving out of the storm.

I lost hold of both of them, Edmond disappearing ahead of me, and Maggie just behind. 

I came out of the whirlpool as though something had thrown me, and I landed face-down in a layer of white that fluffed up around me.  Pretty.

Right until I realized how cold I was.


I surged to my feet and saw snow everywhere, and more coming down, while a brisk wind stirred up clouds of the stuff so that I couldn't see the landscape.  Fear surged -- until Edmond appeared just ahead of me standing shoulder deep in the stuff.  He looked at me, his eyes huge. 

"Snow," he hissed.

I didn't see Maggie at first, but then she sat up as well, not far to my left.  Some of her metal feathers had gotten bent, and she looked stunned more than startled -- right until she put out her hand as though to make sure the falling snow was real.

"Oh, this can't be good," she said.

Not exactly the words I wanted to hear.

I was about to speak when I felt movement in my jacket pocket, and Five's small black head popped out. 

A snowflake landed on her nose as she looked up at me.  "Six is in soooo much trouble."

"So are we," Maggie mumbled as she stood and brushed snow from her clothing, as though that would work for long.

"Snow," Edmond snarled and flicked snow from his ears.  "I knew there would be snow.  Of course."

I bent and picked him up.  He snuggled half into the jacket, which wasn't made for this weather.  He felt warm.  I'd have to share him with Maggie.

Five had ducked all but her ears and eyes back into the pocket, looking like a gremlin.  I could feel her tail twitch.  She apparently didn't like the snow any better than her father.

"Why didn't you see a vision of this, Edmond?" I asked as I tried to find some landmark.

"I've had nightmares from the moment I first saw the kittens," he admitted.  "Sleeping and waking.  If I came to you with every tale of disaster that I saw unfolding, you'd have locked me up."

"Are we all bad kittens?" Five asked, her voice trembling.

Edmond sighed.  He twisted a bit and looked straight into her face.  "You are the best kittens ever.  But there are six of you, and so much good and cuteness is bound to draw trouble."

"Oh," she said, as if that made sense.

Maybe it did in cat logic.
"I'd just come in from the outside."  Maggie began digging through the pack she had still be carrying.  "I think I have something that will help."

I hoped for something useful because all I had was a light jacket, a candy bar, and a bag of cat treats that I'd brought over from the human world a few days before.

"Any idea where we are?" I asked.

"Still feels like Elsewhere," Maggie said.  She paused and lifted one hand for a moment.  "Yeah, feels like it.  That's good."

"Lord Ice's lands?" I asked.

"Most likely -- ah!  Here we are!"

She pulled out an old compass, one that I had used a long time ago (or so it seemed) to reach Elsewhere when I was running for my life.

"I had this set to lead me home -- back to your father's castle -- when I was out doing work for the Council.  Your father tends to move the building whenever he feels like it.  She snapped the compass open and held it out so that we both could see.  "Ah!  Oh."

The needle pointed one way, spun, pointed another -- and kept doing that while we stared.

"What does that mean?"

"I think we're at a nexus to possibilities," she said and sounded worried again.  "That's not good.  We want to get back to our reality, not someplace with another Maggie and Mark."

"Yeah," I agreed.  I had finally found my place in life, and I didn't want to go somewhere else and never get back.

Though if another Mark didn't get randomly thrown out into the snow...

Oh, but that Mark wouldn't have the kittens, and maybe not Edmond either.  No, that wouldn't be good.  Besides, I had Maggie with me. She'd figure it out.

"What should we do?" I asked.

Maggie looked around before she lifted her hand and tested out the magic of the place.  I knew there was magic; I could feel it in every snowflake.

"I think we should go back the way we came," Maggie said.  "We all dropped here facing that way --" she pointed ahead of us.  "So, we turn around and start walking."

I had hoped for something a little more magical, but I was game to try.  Otherwise, my feet were going to freeze in place.

So, we turned and started walking.  Nothing seemed to change, and when I looked back, even our footsteps had disappeared under the new snow.

Then I heard a piercing yowl, and something huge landed in the snow in front of us.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Flash Fiction # 391 -- Lost in Elsewhere, Part 1

Welcome to the new adventures of Mark, Maggie, and Edmond the talking cat.  There are three sets of adventures on the Joyously Prolific Blog.  You can find them by searching for Surviving Elsewhere, Journey to Somewhere Else, and Saving Elsewhere -- or you can find the entire set here: Tales from Elsewhere -- and you can buy the book for $1.99 with this coupon code WN38F (not case-sensitive) which you enter prior to completing their checkout.  (Good until December 31, 2020 -- pass it around to your friends!)

Are you ready for more Elsewhere adventures?  Cats who can talk and have wings?  What could go wrong?

I should have seen the disaster coming.  What else could you expect with six furry, hyper three-month-old kittens -- especially black kittens who could talk and who had wings?

We'd had some calm days lately, though.  That lured me into staying calm.  Edmond and I had taken the kittens into a magically-made playroom where they could fly, leap, jump, and attack each other -- and wear off their excess kitten energy without getting away from the two of us.  No one wanted that to happen again, and even my father, who housed us in his castle, was happy with anything we did to wear out the little ones each day.

They were growing fast.  Soon we would need better distractions and more teaching.  If you think flying cats sound bad, just consider hordes of flying kittens.  The playtime also gave me a much-needed break from lectures and training of my own, though.  I had to learn magic and the rules now that I lived in Elsewhere.

I'd made the glowing walls soft so flying kittens could hit and bounce off, which was a game they loved.  They had toys and a cat condo to climb.  Their enthusiasm was fun to watch.

After about an hour, tired kittens began to get cranky.  Edmond, their father, tried not to get annoyed at his screaming children.  I was surprised that Edmond hadn't just disappeared on us.  I wasn't sure you could call Edmond responsible, but he stuck this out.

"Number Two, if you don't stop grabbing your sister's tail --" Edmond shouted.

Two kittens parted in midair, one flapping fast to bounce off the wall and the other gliding down to where I sat on the floor.  Five was usually the quietest of the group, but Two had been teasing her for days, and Five now had fur fluffed out in indignation.  She settled in my lap with her ears back.

"He's not nice!"

"Two is just trying to play," I explained.  "But he doesn't know when to stop."

Five huffed a little, but she settled down a moment later.  The kittens would be ready for dinner and sleep soon.

"How is it you know so much about young ones, Mark?" Edmond asked.  He even sounded reasonable -- and very tired.  The kittens hardly let him sleep ten hours a day lately.

"Mostly cousins," I said and let Five settle into the pocket of my jacket -- a favorite place for the little furballs.  I'd soon be covered in them trying to win the coveted pockets. "And my mother's friends had kids sometimes.  It turns out talking, flying kittens are not much different from human toddlers.  Except there are more of them all at once."

Three had lost control and began heading for another head-first landing.  I reached out with a bit of magic and snared him before I set him on the floor.  The kittens had learned that they didn't get to fly much except in this room, and if they didn't obey that rule, they didn't get to come in and play.  I hated doing that to them, though.  There is nothing more pitiful than a kitten crying when the others go off to play.  In fact, Five had stayed behind more than once, so the bad kitten wasn't alone. 

They amazed me some days.

They didn't like to stop when they were here, but One -- the other female -- had taken up her role as the chief herder and began chasing the others down toward the floor.  We had another squabble in the air.  Three and Six were flying circles around One began to lose her temper.  Edmond sighed and stood, stretching before he started to climb the cat condo.  Four got out of his father's way, and Two landed so quickly that he did a flip -- and then laughed, took off, and did it again.

"All of you -- down now!" Edmond ordered from the top of the condo.  "If you don't, I'm going to launch --"

Kittens dropped to the floor with a series of distinct little thumps. 

"Okay," I said and stood, trying not to laugh. 

"I learned something today," Six said, and he sat up straighter.  "Can I say it, please?"

"Yes, of course," I said and smiled.  Six was our scholar.  I was starting to picture him in little wire-rimmed glasses sitting on an open book while he read.

"I read this in a book," he said, which didn't entirely surprise me.  "Something I found the book in the library!" 

He began to speak.

It took me a few seconds to realize he was not speaking English and that the words were magic.

I leapt at him.  Edmond swept down at him.  Six was so startled that he squeaked and took to the air, trailing magic with every move, a whirlpool of power that began sweeping up paper and cat toys.  I shoved kittens into the cat condo --

"Hold on!" I shouted.

And someone opened a magical door into the playroom.


Too late.  I saw Maggie's startled face as she started to take a step inside, but her magic to open the door and the kitten-made magic collided.  The whirlpool grew larger and dangerous.  Six was mewing in panic, flying one way and another, the power reaching up for him. 

Edmond grabbed him and threw him at the condo where he grabbed hold.  Maggie was trying to contain the whirlpool, and I moved to help her --

And Edmond got caught in the powerful magic that began to pull him in. 

"Edmond!" I shouted and leaped forward, reaching for Edmond's legs.

"Mark!"  Maggie cried and grabbed my arm just as I caught hold of Edmond.

I hoped it was enough to pull us back out -- but no.  The whirlpool dragged at Edmond, and I would not let go of him.  I almost tried to shake Maggie off, but that was stupid.  We needed to stick together because we were all going ... elsewhere.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Flash Fiction #390 -- The Reading

"And thus, the humans came to our time and place," Abricon said as he folded down the book's screen and looked out into the full auditorium beyond him. He put his hands on the desk, all five of them. "And so we are now united to create our own future."

The humans clapped -- Abricon had not been so sure about how they would receive his history of their world written from a Taureen perspective. His own people had clicked in delight. So few understood the odd little humans, and any insight into their brief lives had to be welcome.

People filled by the desk, mostly a cluster of his own kind, heads bobbing as they clicked and invited him to a gathering after the others cleared away. Most kind, most kind...

Then Lady Abigail Ann Faristall came to speak to him. She was a young female who was not known for her good manners, even among her own.  The very existence of aliens seemed to annoy her.  Both her hair and eye colors had changed again.  He had made the mistake of not recognizing her because of such changes once before.  He did not want to be scolded again, so he had learned the shape of her face -- the only part of her that did not seem to change, though even it was apt to change colors.

Tonight Lady Abigail wore a dress with too much lace and that was years -- possibly centuries -- out of date. She stood only head and shoulders above the desk, a tiny figure in the mass of tall Taureens. Lady Abigail stared up into his face, eyes narrowed -- Abricon had learned to read human faces. Lady Abigail was ... not happy.

"I don't see why all those humans had to die, Mr. Abricon. Battle after battle. I find that beyond bigotry --"

"History, Lady Abigail," he began, waving three of his five hands in a gesture of politeness, even knowing it was useless. He knew that look from more than a few other humans. "I did not create the circumstances --"

"You should have added some of the other alien races. I noticed that your own people were not present at these massacres."

"We were not there, Lady --"

"Well, that was your choice, wasn't it? I will have a word with your superior about this --"

"I have no superior --"

"I will have you removed from your post --"

"I have no post. I am a historian, Lady Abigail. I write the true history of what has happened on the many worlds. I painstakingly research the evidence, and in some cases, I even hire time probes to verify the information. Nothing I wrote is false."

"Then why weren't any of your people in the story?" she demanded.

Abricon stared at her. This was not a difference in the languages since he spoke her own native tongue.  He tried to format an answer -- an answer in any of the fifteen languages he spoke. The words that did come to mind would have been impolite and possibly gotten him banned from any future readings.

But he did, finally, understand one human term he'd never quite grasped until now. Dealing with this one lone human, he could imagine the frustration of others of her kind had been faced with such an incredible blindness to reality.

Yes, he understood now.

And so he leaned forward and pounded his head on the desk.

It helped. Lady Abigail Ann Fairstall left in haste.

He didn't even mind the headache.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Flash Fiction # 389 -- Catchin Bait/3

Tana and Dundas hurried to the areas the others had blocked off.  She could see some kind of metal covering in an area that was otherwise dirt.  An answer, finally --

"You can't do this!  They're just damned Catchin, not human!"

Tana had moved out of instinct: spun and kicked, sending the man with the bleeding nose tumbling backward.  Then she looked at Dundas --

"Uh --"

"You need to watch your step and not trip like that again, Tana."

Some of the Captain's guards snickered.

There had been a keypad lock on the circular opening, but it was now in pieces, and the metal door pulled open.  A musky scent drifted upward -- Catchin.

Tana saw a human guard, already unconscious, at the bottom of the ladder.  Two of Dundas's guards went down and moved him out of the way as they secured the area.

Tana went down before the Captain.  The lower area was small but opened to a massive cave, metal-lined and not well lit.  She could barely hear sounds some distance away.  It was the only direction to go, and they moved out with five guards at the front, weapons drawn.  Dim lights lit the entire area, and shadows moved across the opening.

Humans.  Not on guard, either.  Tana began to think that the only way they had kept this quiet was because they had help above; the others in the market must have known, at least the ones in this area --

She had her laser in hand and would have pushed on ahead, but the Captain caught tight hold of her arm and held her in the corridor while the guards went in.  She held her breath as lasers fired, people yelled, and Catchin growled.  How many humans did they fight?

One of the guards looked back in and nodded.  "Looks clear, Captain, but take care."

Tana and the Captain stepped out into the larger room.  Cages littered the area, but not as many as she feared.  Worse were the skins -- Catchin skins -- hung in driers.  All sizes.  She knew she let out a cry of anguish at the sight and spun on the enemy.  If they had not been behind a line of guards from the Belgium, she would have killed them all.

Lisel.  Where was Lisel?  She pulled out her pocketcomp, but there was too much interference here for the tracker --

Calm.  There was one way to find him.  "Lisel!" she shouted.  "Where the hell are you?"

"Here!" his voice replied.  Steady.

"Notice how she doesn't ask about me," Krisin added as she neared the cage.

Lisel was inside, Krisin chained outside.  Both had taken a beating, but they were alive.  Tana worked at getting her crew free while everyone else took care of the other Catchin.  Her hands trembled.  It took longer than it should have.

"I'm going to kill both of you," she said when they were both standing before her.  "If you ever do that again --"

"We decided before this started that we'd take chances and trust that you would find us," Lisel said.  Krisin winced but nodded agreement.

"Both of you went off without me on purpose."

They nodded.

Captain Dundas had moved up to her side.  "You two are braver than I would ever have imagined," Dundas said.  "But you are also idiots.  Let's go."

They reached the ladder and went up after a set of quiet, somber Catchin.  Lisel had crossed to talk to them by the time Tana climbed out, and Krisin pulled Tana to the side.

"Problem.  There were children, Tana.  The bastards took them away a few hours ago."

"Where --"

"Dundas and her people are already on it."  He didn't let go of her arm.  "We can only make things worse, Tana.  Lisel can help keep them calm.  You and I need to talk about other things.  They've been shipping out Catchin fur -- you know that part.  I got a ship name.  It left last night -- and they're going to have word of this before we can catch them.  They'll run.  We're going to find them, though, aren't we?"


"It means we'll have to head into human-populated areas, you know."

"I want the bastards."

Krisin didn't argue.  Tana wondered how long it would take to find the rest of this group.  She had spent most of her time fighting the Weres, but maybe it was time to fix things in the human realm.  She had not challenged the Weres so long to leave this evil loose in her own people.

The human crowd started to get a bit unsettled, and Tana would have grabbed out her laser and shot a few if they so much as made a single move toward the gathered Catchin.  Their voices started to rise -- but then a soldier came up out of the opening carrying a Catchin child that held tightly to him.

The human voices grew quieter.  Another followed, and another.

"Mama!  Mama!"

A little one broke free from the guard who had carried her and raced toward the gathered Catchin.  One of those pushed her way forward and grabbed up the child.  Lisel got quickly out of the way, especially as other children came out -- a full dozen of them, almost as many as the adults.

Dundas came to stand by Tana and Krisin.  Her guards had spread out all around the area, and more were arriving.  So were some local guards, but they were looking worried.  The Catchin looked calmer than anyone else in the area.

"What is going to happen to Catchin?" Krisin asked.

"Lisel has already offered them refuge on the Belgium -- even the families.  You know that we will be heading inward after the rest of this group, right?"

"Yes, Captain," Tana said.  "I appreciate it on a personal level."


"It means I won't have to steal a fighter and go after them on my own."

Dundas only nodded agreement.

The End (for now)


Friday, January 03, 2020

Flash Fiction # 388 -- Catchin Bait/2

Walking back into the market area with Captain Dundas and her guards did not make Tana feel any better.  She'd lost her two crewmates.  If she lost Dundas as well --

Dundas did have power that Tana did not, however.  The Captain waved her hand, and people moved.  Local guards all but bowed to her.  Border patrol ships like Belgium kept places like this safe and had done so even before the Were arrived to terrorize and destroy human settlements.

Many had been polite to her and Krisin but not to Lisil.  Tana knew that a few Catchin had disappeared on the world -- probably more than had been reported.  Too many fleet ships would just as soon not have any Catchin crew, and losing them was unlikely to be reported.

Dundas seemed the only one who had gone in to find them.

"You like the Catchin," Tana said aloud, surprise in her voice.

Captain Dundas glanced her way with an exasperated sigh.  "Belgium has the largest contingent of Catchin in the fleet, you know."

"I didn't know."

"Sometimes your inability to see things right before your nose makes me wonder how you get your fighter out of the bay."

Tana would have appreciated the jest better if she hadn't lost both Lisil and Krisen.  Dundas did not promise to get the two back, but she looked determined enough to tear this world apart to find them.

They walked around the market, this time gaining more than a few nervous stares.  Fifty armed soldiers and an important fleet captain was bound to draw that kind of attention, no matter what else might be happening.  They traced the path and came back to the point where Lisil had runoff. 

Tana saw no sign of anything that would lead them to Lisil or to Krisin.  No one seemed particularly nervous or looked guilty.  Tana had her pocketcomp out and kept running the scan to find Lisil, but nothing --

"People, we have a problem here," Dundas shouted.  She had learned to make her voice carry, and people turned to look at her, even if they'd been trying to ignore the group.  "You know what the trouble is by now.  I am going to ask you to take down your tents and move your merchandise.  My people will help you.  We know that our Catchin crewman disappeared somewhere in the midst of you.  We hope to find some sign."

Tana heard a growing murmur of displeasure, and the number of people they faced vastly outnumbered them -- but not many would be armed, and fewer still trained.

"If you do not cooperate, we will move your tents and merchandise for you," Dundas added after the noise began to die down.  "I don't think you want that to happen."

Tana had put her hand on her weapon.  She didn't watch the people closest to the edge -- they may have been involved, but they were not the ones who actually took Lisil.  And what about Krisin?  Dundas hadn't mentioned him, but maybe that was on purpose.  Focus on Lisil because Krisin might have disappeared but not been taken.  That suddenly occurred to her, a moment of sanity working into her brain.  Krisin had been ground forces before he went to the fighters.  He might --

Tana leaned closer to Dundas and lowered her voice, turning away from the others.  "You heard from Krisin."

"We had a bit of code that we assume was him," Dundas agreed, bending her head in a quiet conference while her people spread out and prepared to take charge if the locals didn't start moving.  "I was already starting to gather the troops to come out.  Your call helped.  It gave us a better reason to move."

"What was the code?"

"Numerical directions.  Down."

"Down," she repeated and looked at the tents.  "Oh, hell.  I never considered under the tents.  This was a terraformed world, wasn't it?  Had underground equipment and housing for the first generation?"

Dundas nodded.  "I have set people at the one exit we know about, but it's not been opened in close to a century.  We can't tell if there are newer openings drilled into the old system, but this one is on the old maps.  We need to get a visual on it."

Tana nodded.  She felt a little better for having more information.  The two had not just disappeared, and while part of her wanted to be angry that Krisin hadn't sent her a message before he disappeared, she also admitted that he'd been wise to contact the ship and Dundas.

Why all of this?  Why the Catchin? And there had been parts of Catchin leaving the area?  If someone hurt Lisil --

The people had started to move on their own, but only after the soldiers marched in and began dismantling tents and tables.  The locals were at least fast and put up no fight once they started.  Dundas and five guards -- plus Tana -- started moving inward. Tana directed them toward the right --


She threw herself at Dundas, and they both went down, a flash of laser light passing too close overhead.  The guards formed a shell, and Tana scrambled back to her feet and offered a hand to her Captain.

"Sorry --" she started to say.

"Good reflexes," Dundas said and brushed some dirt from her sleeve.  "I can't interest you in a job as my private guard -- no, I didn't think so.  And probably not safe anyway, trapping you in the ship.  I'd rather have you and your team out taking on the Weres.  It looks as though they found something."

Tana spun and looked.  The guards had formed a line that led straight to some spot where they were tearing down a tent with more than a little fervor.  They had two men on their knees and cuffed, one bleeding from the nose, the other looking stunned.

Down.  Tana would have answers soon, and they had better not be bad ones.