Friday, August 28, 2020

Flash Fiction # 422 -- Cha on Harron

Being the IWC's top eco scientist was not a glamorous job, but Cha did get to see many worlds -- just not at their best most times.

Half of the Harron fields had died before the locals asked for outside help.  Looking at the dead plants depressed Ecotech Cha Hao Chan as he knelt and pulled out his pocketcomp.  Iler, the local who had brought him out to the field, fell silent and looked both worried and distrustful.

The world had lived well enough to transport grain to other settlements for more than a century but now couldn't feed themselves. The colonists had been prosperous, happy, and even helpful to other worlds in trouble.  This blight would affect a half dozen worlds in this sector.

"We had other scientists check things," Iler suddenly said. His voice had softened. "We tried to fix it before we bothered the IWC.  We didn't want to worry other colonies who depend on us, but we're starting to miss shipments.  This will be out in the open soon anyway."

"Ah," Cha said and stood. They'd handled this well enough -- he'd seen the local reports.  "I hope I can find a way to help."

"You are from Earth, aren't you?" Iler asked.

"Yes, I was born and raised there."

"Most Earthers don't like the colonists, from what I've seen," Iler replied.  He looked out over the field with a mournful shake of his head.  "But you work for the Inner Worlds Council?"

"I do." Cha dared a hand on Iler's arm and looked into his face.  "I don't want to give you false hope, but I am the top eco scientist the Inner Worlds Council has on staff.  I can already see odd things, but I don't know how they add up.  I need to look at all the import invoices for the year before you saw this begin.  Also, any strange observations say within a few months of --"

"Meteor shower," Iler said suddenly.  "It was an odd one.  We saw it in the evening, and some pretty good-sized chunks came down -- but we had a storm that night, and by the next day, we didn't find more than a few hand-sized pieces.  We did tests, but nothing odd came up, though."

Cha nodded and frowned.  "Do you still have some of those pieces?"

"Yeah, I've got one at home."

"I wouldn't mind taking a look at it if you don't mind?"

"I'll pick it up on the way back when I drop you off at the hotel."

Cha nodded.  "I don't expect this to be the answer, but I have to start somewhere.  I'll still need all those invoices for materials brought to Harron."

"I can do that," Iler agreed.  He even sounded oddly hopeful now.

Maybe that came from Cha's position with the Inner Worlds Council, or perhaps because Cha already began looking at new avenues others hadn't suggested before now.

He gathered a few samples of wheat and soybean crops, the plants whithered for no reason.  They looked burnt, some with noticeable spots where something had seemed to eat through the leaves.  There were no signs of new pests, local adaptations, or something mutated from either native or imported insects. 

And it wasn't as easy as a meteorite shower, of course.  Cha spent days going over the early reports of crop failure, but it all kept coming back to that meteorite shower, though he could find nothing on the remaining debris --

The rains had come.

It couldn't be that easy.

He looked at the weather reports again.  The storm came up from the south --

Most storms came from the north.

What was to the south?

By the next morning, Cha -- who hadn't slept at all -- had a fair idea of what had happened.  The southern half of the continent with an alkaline desert -- uninhabitable and ignored.  Rain rarely came from that direction precisely because of the desert.

But on that night, meteorites had fallen.  He studied the maps and the weather reports.  A few more massive strikes had been in the south where plumes of dust had risen, swept over the mountains, helped to fuel the storm.  It wasn't much of one, but it brought dangers with it.

The rain drove much of the alkaline dust deep into the porous soil.  The testing had not noticed more than a trace amount in and around the fields.

"So, what can we do?" Iler asked the next day.  He looked as tired as Cha felt.  "We can't get it back out, can we?  The ground is ruined."

"There are ways to nullify the effects," Cha reassured him.  "It may be that it will disappear on its own, but I don't think we want to take that chance.  We need something -- elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate, iron sulfate, or even acidifying nitrogen."

"Do we have such things?" he said, looking around as though he would spot it stacked up along the walls.

"I've already sent out notices that I want them shipped here as fast as they can be found or mined," Cha assured him.  "Along with food supplies to hold you over and grain to start again.  This may not be an easy fix, but I think we have a good step in the right direction."

In fact, it took him over another 300 days standard before Cha Hao Chan became convinced that the next crop would survive.  By then, he had also overhauled their irrigation system, set up a contingency plan for another such event. He also began a long-term project to rehabilitate the alkaline desert so that they would have even more farmland in a few generations.

By the end, they gave him a party.

"I wish you'd stay.  We'd pay whatever you want --" Iler said.

"Sorry, can't do it," he said between sips of excellent local wine.  "There are other places that need help.  But if you need me -- I'll be back."


Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Angst of Hero Naming

 (I haven't shared this for a long time.  I hope you enjoy it!)

The Angst of Hero Naming

The tale of a hero beyond compare,
With flashing eyes and perfect hair.
Flawless words flowed from my head --
Until I reached that first damned said.

Now the true strife begins at last
As floundering in a sea of names, I'm cast.
Rosebud and Cloud are far too cute,
And he's no Bob, beyond dispute
Corwin? Hilton? Lane or Bard?
Naming a kid couldn't be half this hard!
A couple dozen names go by,
(My hero gives me the evil eye)
I search the shelves for baby name books
(Kept hidden to avoid occasional odd looks)
With frantic haste I start paging through,
No, no --Androcles will never do!
No Mac or Mark or Michael here
Such names are too plain, I fear.
Nicholas has a nice sound it's true --
But I've used it in a book or two.
So to stranger, archaic lists I turn
No he's absolutely not a Vern!
Trying to keep plot lines in my head -
Would what's-her-name take a Loki to bed?

Hours of writing time frittered away
That can't be the dawn of a new day!
I sit and curse that first damned said --
Oh the hell with it! I'll call him Fred.


Friday, August 21, 2020

Flash Fiction # 421 -- Dancer Decides


 (This scene takes place not long before the opening of Devlin's Team 1: Dancer)

Dancer had expected the summons.  Governor Spring was predictable and always called for him a few hours before the show -- at least for the last ten or so dances.  She was not a happy woman, and Dancer had no intention of improving her mood.

This wouldn't go on for much longer, though.  There would be only one more bear dance after today, and then ... something would change.  Once he completed his 50th dance, they had to let him go.

No other bear dancer had ever survived as long as he had in the ring.  When he had survived forty dances, Spring and all her Admin followers had started to worry.  Dancer had become far more popular with the crowds than they had anticipated, even when they gave him that coveted name, one meant to draw attention.  If Dancer survived through the fifty dances, he could legally walk away from the Bear Camp -- and he knew far too many secrets about what happened here.

No, Spring did not want him to go.

As Dancer neared the red door to the admin building, trying not to flinch at the color that looked like blood smeared over the wood.  He pushed it open without pause and kept his hand away from the powerblade at his waist, even though this felt far more dangerous than walking into the ring to dance with a bear.

The man who sat behind the desk just inside stood and walked Dancer down the hall as though he would have gotten lost along the way -- or not been polite enough to knock for himself.  Sometimes the pettiness of the admin people almost matched that of the Hunters.

Spring did not offer him a chair, so she was not going to try the friendly approach this time.  Good.  He hated feeling as though he was rude when he turned down her nice, smiling offer to trap him forever in the Bear Camp.

"You have an important dance today," Spring said.

"Not as important as the next one."

"You might not get that chance."

Dancer gave her a bright smile, and that shocked the woman.  "Do you think even the Founders would let you keep me from the fiftieth dance?  I am drawing larger crowds than ever --"

"You aren't the only Bear Dancer," she said with a snarl.  "I could put someone else in there --"

"Who?  Sky?"  he asked.  Even Spring gave a contemptuous snort at that idea.  Sky made no friends and would likely end up a Hunter if he got smart enough to move out of bear dancing before it killed him.  He was not as good as he thought.  "You had a chance with Satin, but he made his own decision to help another."

"Stupid to step between a bear and a dancer," she said with a shake of her head.  "And he's paying for it.  He won't survive much longer with the poison in him."

There.  That was why Dancer would never, never accept anything that Spring and the rest of Admin tried to offer him.  Satin was his friend -- the last one, in fact.  The others had all died, most of them in the ring, some of them in training -- and to Spring, that was just another number on her ledger and a name that came up for the next round of recruits.  There would always be a Satin, Leaf, Rain -- but they would not be the ones who had been Dancer's friends.

Dancer didn't even think she realized what she'd said.  Just names and numbers.

"I have one last offer for you, Dancer," Spring said.  She even smiled. 

She pushed a paper across the table.  They'd learned that Dancer could read somewhat, but refused to believe that he'd taught himself.  Spring still asked for a name, and Dancer had been tempted more than once to say it had been Rock.  He would have liked to see him slither his way out of the accusation -- though no one would really believe Rock would help a bear dancer.

Dancer picked up the paper and scanned it -- he did not read well, but he got a feel for it. This was not something he had expected, and he dropped the paper back down on the desk and shook his head.


Spring's face colored.  "You don't understand.  I am offering you --"

"To be your apprentice and become the Bear Camp Governor after you," Dancer replied.  "No."

The color left her face.  "You cannot mean that.  You would be the most powerful person on Forest -- well, except for the Founders, of course."

"Of course.  I don't want it.  I'd end up like you."

"We have nothing more to say.  You better get ready for your show."

He nodded, went back out of the room and down the hall without an escort, and out the door past the desk.  Dancer took one deep breath but did not slow as he walked away.  He dared not show any sign of concern now  He dared not feel it either.  Spring was right about one thing -- he had to get ready for the bear dance, and he couldn't go into it with his mind half on something else.


No.  He'd made up his mind to survive this afternoon's Bear Dance.  The next one -- the fiftieth -- that might be another story.  There was nothing the Bear Camp could offer him, and he would be the perpetual outsider in town.  He would not join the Hunters and go find more bears to be killed -- along with the dancers -- in the ring.

No future --

But he saw a shuttle coming in from some ship in orbit.  Not a future for him.  However, Dancer felt that slight lift of his heart that he always did when he thought about life outside of Forest.

He went and prepared for the Bear Dance.  It was all he had in life, and he did it well.  Time for the show....


Friday, August 14, 2020

Flash Fiction # 420: Devlin at Work


Some people were just born stupid, and Councilor Trask turned out to be one of the top members of that group. He possessed nothing more than feral cunning and had bought a position high enough in Government to hide his secrets, at least for a while.  The man did not plan his attacks, but only waited where he knew his prey must pass.  On a world with a more significant policing force, he would have been caught sooner.

At least Patera, the head of the small local force, knew enough to quietly call for outside help.

Devlin realized the man's stupidity the moment he gave her a late report to tag and file, and which had to be done before she left the office.  That task made certain Devlin would be delayed and likely alone when she headed home.

Devlin called home to say she would be late, which was a rule these days for everyone in the city. In fact, she and the local police force had set it up when she first arrived before taking this government job.  Trask watched her make the call, and she cast him a quick smile, putting him off balance.  He nodded and headed out of the room.

No more than a minute later, she saw someone accessing her work computer, no doubt making certain Devlin didn't send any other messages out.  Devlin traced the link to Trask's pocketcomp, confirming what she had suspected.

Then Devlin took her time with the filing work, making the fool wait.  The halls were empty when she sealed the door behind her, suspecting this would be the last day.  Good.  Devlin had never liked clerking.

Devlin spotted cleaning bots hard at work but found no people on her way out of the empty building.  Workers from this area were quick to leave at night, and most often in groups.  The little colony town on Tarkin had never suffered a serial killer before. They were careful -- but not careful enough.  Seven women had disappeared.  Four men and two more women more had been found murdered.

Trask stepped out of an alcove right at the far end of the passage leading to the transport station.  The sound of his steps echoed oddly with hers, and she did look up with a start.

"Devlin." Trask smiled behind the beard that the man must have thought made him handsome.  Instead, it made his mouth tiny while a few too many pastries made his eyes piggish behind rolls of fat.  "What a joy to get you alone at last."

He put a hand on her arm, the palm sweaty.  His eyes gleamed in the dull light.

"Take your hand off of me, or I'll break it," Devlin warned.

He didn't.

She did.

Trask leapt backward with a cry of pain that quickly changed to unreasoning rage.  He held his injured hand against his chest, and with the other hand, he pulled a knife from his pocket -- one with a unique serrated edge.  The local police had been looking for that blade for months.

"I was going to keep you with some of the others," he said, as though doing her a favor.  "But now you'll die."

"I don't think so."

She took the knife away.  By then, the local force -- who had rushed to take positions when she had called home -- had heard enough.  They came in through the exit door a few feet away, grabbing Trask and taking him away so quickly that he hardly had time to protest.

Patera, head of the local policing force, took the knife from Devlin, putting it into a sealed case, and that went into her pocket.

"He'll tell us where the others are once the medtechs get the drug in him.  Thank Epona for loaning you to us," Patera said.  She didn't smile, though Devlin saw a look of gratitude on her face.  "We knew the murders and disappearances were linked with the Government since over half of the people dead or missing worked in this building and the rest close by.  We couldn't put in one of our own people without alerting the killer since we suspected his government connections.  I wanted someone who could take care of herself if she did draw his attention, and I figured Inner Worlds Council Security could provide just what I needed.  Nice moves, by the way."

"I did warn him about that hand," Devlin said.  "People should take me seriously."

That did, finally, get a laugh from Patera.  Devlin went to their offices and made out reports -- but at least she didn't have to file them.

By the time Devlin boarded the ship back to Mars and the Inner Worlds Council Headquarters, Patera had found five women still alive, and the colony had declared a holiday.  Patera had asked Devlin to stay and celebrate.

"That's not part of what I do," Devlin said and tried not to show how nervous the idea of being on show made her.  Even now, they met in a quiet room at the port, out of notice.  "I couldn't do my work if I turned up too often in reports."

"I like to think we would have caught him," Patera admitted.  "But --"

"But I was just a short cut.  You placed me in a position to draw the killer out.  I played along with him, just enough to get his attention.  It worked -- and not because of me.  You would have found someone."

"But you broke his hand."  Patera grinned this time.  "Good work, Devlin."

"Thank you."

It was enough.....

Friday, August 07, 2020

Flash Fiction #419/Gender (drabble)

 Four thousand years from now, a humanoid walks along a ridge, studying the ground for sign of past habitation. This One, gender not yet evolved, has a theory that humanity lived in a complex binary gender system for millennia before they evolved into true humans.  Others mock One for believing childish myths.

Impossible, Others say.  The ancestors held adequate intelligence to see multiple choices.  They would not voluntarily limit selves to such simplicity.  Therefore, Others reject all evidence.

And One cannot help but think that perhaps Others should examine their own voluntary limitations, and wonders, human-like, what will evolve next.