Monday, May 31, 2010

Creator's Apprentice

A response to G. David Nordley moderated panel discussion at BayCon discussing how one might write about technological change in relation to the s-curve of technological change.

Malcolm pushed the glass windowpane to catch glints of shadowed stone off the Yosemite Valley. He stood on the clear nano-sill, his body hanging two thousand feet above the ground while he braced an arm inside the wall so that he could tap at the spiderweb built off the corner of his house. The valley's winds tousled the loose wrapped tricivera robe, Malcolm hadn't donned the dual-layered outer robe and felt the chill wind as he prodded the dew-spotted spiderweb with its fingertip-sized denizen snapping a leg. Malcolm watched the stiff limbs riding the web as the spider stood its ground. Smiling, Malcolm slid back into the room closing the window.

Two cube floors down, a young boy carried a tin watering can. He struggled with the large loose arms of his robe that dangled and caught on the rose table. Malcolm padded barefoot down the spiral stairs watching the boy's head as he concentrated on pouring the whey into the fuel cell. "You are no longer my apprentice," said Malcolm. "You are banished from this house."

A puddle of cloudy liquid splashed on the floor. "Creator, I did not see you." The boy knelt on the floor, his head lowered.

Malcolm pulled a saffron towel hanging from his waist and wiped up the spill. "I don't need genuflection. This isn't some monk's abode. Now, go."

"Creator, why are you sending me away."

The boy continued to kneel, Malcolm crouched to lift the boy's face up to look at him. "Do you not know?"

There was a tear in the boy's eye. He shook his head and the straight hair, bowl-cut, swung with his head, a trifle late.

"I have but one rule, yes?" Malcolm's voice lifted.

The boy looked down again. "I'm not to access the net."

"Yes." Malcolm stood away from the boy. Sunlight reflected off the granite from the far side of the Yosemite Canyon.

"How did you know," asked the boy. His voice soft, almost drowned away by the howls of the wind outside.

"The grocery delivery man hummed notes from my formerly unpublished tune --"

"But the world, we, need your art."

Malcolm's eyes hardened, the lines growing stark from their edges. "You said we. Listen to yourself. You cannot learn from me, your groupthink has poisoned you."

"All we need is you," said the boy. He stood up on his tip toes.

"I'm old. This world needs an apprentice, someone to take over my mantle. But, I'm not a teacher."

"You are the creator."

"We were all creators at one time."

"We know," said the boy. "Your tune was so sweet, I had to share." The boy his head still bowed looked up through his bangs.

"Share in its time, but for now you must listen to me. Purge yourself from the net."

"I will," said the boy.

Malcolm's joints ached as he watched the boy's eyes slip past him to look out the clear house at the view. There wasn't much time left and if he died without an apprentice, the world would be a sadder place. "Okay, you can stay this time. But, you must stay off-line."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

H1K3 Epidemic

This flash hasn't been posted here previously, and thought I'd post it to keep my normal schedule while I'm at a writer conference. A response to Nathaniel Lee's "A New Plague" in Mirror Shards.

"Not another one," said Tony under his breath as he watched a young
man without a surgical mask enter his bar. The man's black suit
jacket was obviously tailored at one time but now was wrinkled and
had a veneer of dust and dandruff that colored the suit stormcloud
gray. A former Wall Street banker come for a drink.

The ex-banker sidled up to the bar and crawled onto a stool with his
knees raised in front of his chest and his unpolished dress shoes
resting on the stool. Tony asked through his surgical mask, "What'll
you have?"

"Vodka martini, straight up, with extra eucalyptus."

The order confirmed it, he was probably a carrier but Tony wouldn't
take any chances that this wasn't a health Department mole. "I need
to see a doctor's prescription."

The ex-banker riffled through his jacket and pants pockets until he
unearthed a stained and wrinkled piece of paper in his back pocket
and handed it over to Tony. Another koala flu victim. The ex-banker
said, "The doctor says the eucalyptus will be good for me."

Tony mixed the drink and dropped a toxic eucalyptus twig into the
glass. "You're welcome to drink here at the bar, or climb the ladder
against the wall and sit in the rafters." Above them, a dozen
patrons balanced against the cross-beams and nursed their drinks in

Friday, May 28, 2010

Valhalla Way

A response to this week's story craft challenge, "Keeping Them Reading".

Johan and I exchanged glances as we waited for our American colleague to recompile his application so we could push it to one of our phones to test the integration. Small nickel-sized emergency lights punctuated the darkness in our office as we sat at a desk overlooking a patio. The building was old, my coworkers liked to tell me it was older than my country, and the landlords had converted the top floors to flats. The lights in the apartments flickered with a blue phosphor of televisions, but while we waited they died.

I un-muted the phone. "Hey, I've got to catch the last train back to my hotel."

"Wait, I've almost got it," said my American colleague.

Johan raised an eyebrow.

"I can't almost catch the train." If almost worked the way my American colleague used it, the trains would run 24 hours a day. Or more accurately they'd never arrive.

"I'll stay a little longer," said Johan.

"You sure?"


"Okay, Johan will stay, but I must go. When you get it working, send an IM to Johan." I hung up. "Heydå, don't stay too long," I said to Johan.


I left the tunnelbana at Sergels Torg and rode up the escalator through several hundred feet of solid rock. Half of Stockholm seemed to live underground with the length of the tunnels between the subway and the streets. I still didn't understand how these tunnels worked, and took the quickest route to the surface where I hoped to see a street or landmark I knew.

I emerged on a city block with pale rowhouses, the streets crisscrossed in large blocks. I looked at the street signs on the side of the buildings, recalling none of them.

A warm wind blew with a hint of brackish salt, and I followed it thinking that if I found the island's edge, I'd find a landmark. I couldn't be that far from my hotel.

The street I followed crossed a avenue with tall beech trees growing in the center and green grass dotted with tulips to either side of a pebbled dirt path. I remembered this avenue from my first trip to Sweden, it led to the Nybroplan harbor or ended at Karlaplan park with a fountain shooting water tens of meters into the air. I could walk along the avenue until I determined my directions.

Ahead of me, four shadowed men sat on a bench listening to a radio. I could ask them for directions, but I had a plan and I'd have to ask them in English. I walked past them, feeling their eyes watch me as I passed.

Ahead of me, the avenue dead-ended at the Karlaplan park. The water flew into the air, spotlights playing on the white foam.

I turned around, walking along the buildings. Wondering whether the men watched me when I walked past them. My legs ached. I took a shortcut towards the hotel and walked through blocks of identical looking row houses.

The street opened into the largest road I'd seen in Sweden. I had no idea where I was. The road was named Valhalla Väg, or way. Across the street, I saw signs for a football stadium. The street was wide, at least forty meters across, with cars diagonally parked down the center. Tired, I passed the Stadion subway station with bars blocking the stairwell. I had no idea how long I had been walking.

Without options, I walked, hoping to cross a street I recognized, but all of them were unfamiliar Swedish names, none of them any more memorable than the other. I looked at a bus stop on the other side of the street. I had seen several bus stops, not giving them more than a glance. Perhaps, it would have a map. Eureka. I searched for Karlaplan, finding it and six spoked avenues that converged on the fountain. My shortcut had taken me away from the hotel. I memorized the streets to walk home.

Entering the hotel room at 3 a.m., I plugged my phone into the wall and called my girlfriend. "You won't believe what happened to me."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Corkscrew Chester

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "The Work That Must Be Done" post in Mirror Shards.

"Why ain't you like Mangy Sue?" Chalice stared into Corkscrew Chester's unblinking glass eyes.

Chester balanced along the footboard of Chalice's bed stepping over the matted fur of the cocker spaniel's stuffed ear draped over the footboard where Chalice had thrown Sue earlier. Was Chalice old enough? It wasn't that long ago, the memories lingering.


In the factory that makes teddy bears, Chester rode the conveyor belt past the painters wearing white frocks over yellow and red polkadotted bowties. With a wink, the painter dabbed color on Chester's cheeks. Smiling, Chester twirled to end on his rump as the belt conveyed him through a dark tunnel shaking with ratchets. A yelp echoed down the tunnel. Fear fluffed Chester's fur. Fleeing towards the painters, Chester tripped over Elise's outstretched bearclaw. The belt jounced him so that he lay on his back staring up at Elise's smiling face as they rode into a white-walled room, barely large enough for the wrinkled man who reached down with one hand to pick up Elise and with the other hand bring down the hammer. Elise froze, a smile on her lips.

The man reached down his liver-spotted hands, the impossibly long fingers stretching towards Chester. What did the hammer bring? Chester hopped backwards, his toes slipping over the edge of the belt and he flung his hand out grasping an edge. He felt the man's papery fingers, and he let go falling to bounce off the floor.

Running to the wall, the man pressed a red button that stopped the conveyor belt as a klaxon sounded. Covering his ears, Chester ran for the far tunnel.

"What's the hold up?"

"One of the dang Bears got away from me."

"You know we can't afford to stop the line. They'll catch it in quality control."

The klaxon stopped blaring and Chester dropped his hands from his ears as the conveyor belt started again. He held himself still.


No, she wasn't ready yet. Chester mused.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Claudia's Accident

Late spring in Tennessee meant trees stretching their vulnerable green new growth and soap-making season. Claudia lifted the lid on the double burner to pour the ethanol into the dissolved glycerin and oil mixture, stirring it twice with a wooden spoon before fitting the double boilers concave lid in place, grabbing a handful of ice, and strewing it over the lid to cool the ethanol so the evaporated gas didn't escape. She sat in a patio chair to wait for the next stage. The butcher block table standing on the corner of their patio, looked eccentric, especially with the hand-rigged lampstand and electric cord running back to the house. The light cast shadows across the yard as the day's moist heat coiled like a dog's breath to be blown away by the evening's twitching wind.

The digital thermometer beeped as it reached 165 degrees and Claudia stirred the soap spritzing it with alcohol. She put the lid back with more ice as Rapunzel, their German shepherd, raced through the backyard to chase a possum. Rapunzel squeezed between the butcher block table and the lampstand, jarring the table and knocking the bottle of ethanol over to glug as the clear liquid splashed across the cement. Claudia grabbed for the container. The lampstand swung back and forth and the lamp's hook slipped off the stand and the electric light fell smashing the backyard into darkness as flame erupted from the patio. Claudia reached down to pull the electric cord out of the fire and her hands, still soaked with ethanol, flickered with flames.

She held her hand before her face and watched the flames jump from finger to finger, expecting the skin to pucker and blister and blacken. But there was no pain, just words.

"Who are you?" The words crackled.

She stared at her hands as the patio flames flashed, blades of grass on the edge of the patio turning bright white and and then blackening to smoke. Her hands couldn't be talking.

"Hungry..." the same crackling voice. "More fuel." The white flame on her hands flickered and disappeared. "Dying."

A chorus ululated from the porch. Screams of hunger, fuel, and loss. Claudia was going mad. She knelt down at the edge of the flames to ask, "What can I do?"

A voice carried over the keening, "The theories are right. Hurry, we need more fuel. There is too much cold and water here."

Claudia poured a splash of ethanol on the patio.

"More! More!"

The last drops of ethanol spattered onto the patio catching flame, dancing as the drops bounced and skittered. It wouldn't keep the flames burning long. Claudia ran into the house to grab a candle returning to the patio, dark with the flames extinguished except for the spindly coals of grass at the edge of the patio. She held the wick of the candle to one of the grass coals until the candle sputtered to life.

"Alive!" A cacophony.

"Am I going mad?" asked Claudia.

"No," chattered the candle. "First contact."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Trojan Flower

A response to Michael Maslin's cartoon of a soldier standing outside a town's gate with a large wooden horse and a clipboard saying, "I can't just leave it--somebody has to sign for it," that appeared in the April 26th issue of the New Yorker. And Ganymeder's #FridayFlash Red Riding Hood Revised.

One should never believe they understand war. It is a multifaceted changeling lying in wait. Polyxena wore her filter over her mouth to sift through the debris, combing through the sun scoured bones, poisoned loam, and burnt ash strewn outside the dome's gates. A woman's voice, filled with air, shocked Polyxena into falling to the ground staining her jeans with the filth embedded in the lifeless bio-engineered detritus. The woman said her name was Simone while offering a white throated flower whose petals licked upwards like tongues, their flesh blushing blue. Polyxena weaved the stem through a hole in her shirt as Simone's presence blew away like a cloud of fog torn by wind.

The elders, Cassandra and Laocoön, raised their hands and shouted "No!" with the same empty quality of Simone's voice, something she had never heard before, as the tears came and their bodies washed away in a flood of oily color leaving a stain of poseidon blue and pink on the dead earth. With her path no longer blocked, Polyxena skipped into Troy's Dome.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Disobeying Orders

Part 2 of the Piazzi Mining series: [Piazzi Mining has canceled all mining expeditions after an earthquake rocked Ceres. In a breach of company orders, Shauna plans to lead her team to rescue an abandoned team in a collapsed shaft.] Link to Part 1.

Shauna flicked the switch on the intercom outside the door to her first mate's quarters. "Machupa, come on, your late. We must make our mining run." Shauna punctuated her plea with a punch on the door which slid open revealing Machupa, in what Shauna thought of as her natural shape snake self, wavy dark hair shoulder length with a squat body four inches shorter than Shauna.

"What? I heard they canceled the expedition," said Machupa.

"They did."

"I should be in bed." Machupa floated away from the door.

Shauna placed a hand over the quarter door so it wouldn't slide shut. "They abandoned a team in Ceres core who will die if we don't rescue them."

"A rescue mission?" Machupa approached the doorway her iris changing from the usual dark brown to a cloud pink that peered into Shauna's eyes. "Sanctioned by the Piazzi brass?"

Shauna twirled a stray lock of hair behind her ear and nodded.

Machupa leapt into the hallway floating in the low gravity to wrap an arm around Shauna's shoulders turning her along the plasteel tunnel. "What are we waiting for?"

Their breath heaved by the time they arrived at the central elevator shaft that descended through Ceres' outer dirt-ice shell. Shauna approached the elevator shaft and the door panel blinked red.

"Out of order?" asked Machupa.

"Maybe." Shauna glanced over her shoulder at the plasteel tunnel with its plastic grasps for moving in low-gee. "They have locked it down." A pause. "You can change your shape. Impersonate Chinhao and order central command to let us access the elevator."

Machupa hung from two holds in the ceiling to look down at her captain. "No. I can't do that."

"Can't? You can take any humanoid shape you want."

"Physically, I can," said Machupa, "but it goes against the shape snake norms. As the only shape snake on Ceres, I can't." Machupa's eyes were flat as she turned away from Shauna.

"As your commanding officer, I order you --"

Machupa laughed. "That won't make a difference."

"Why not?" asked Shauna with a trace of miffed annoyance to her voice.

"They say you learn to behave like your superior officer. You're disobeying orders aren't you."


Machupa pushed herself down towards the panel to the left of the elevator shaft and pried off the maintenance shaft cover. "Come. We can get down to the inner sea this way." Machupa swung her legs into the chute and dropped down out of sight before a clang where she must've grabbed one of the handholds.

Shauna stuck her head in the shaft, dim light illuminated a never-ending shaft with bundles of fiber-optic cables and handholds crowding the plates around the edge of the shaft. The air was cold, only residual heat bleeding down from the station would heat the shaft. "But it's at least a click through the dirt-ice shell."

"Good thing we have gravity on our side, for this trip," said Machupa letting go of the handhold to fall down the shaft occasionally grabbing ahold to slow herself and maintain a controlled descent.

Shauna sighed and muttered, "Always the hard way." Before she turned around to climb into the shaft to follow Machupa.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

McAllister Fair

A response to Heather Hansen's "3 Words" in Flashy Fiction.

Holding a strawberry shake, Brad kicked the rock along the shoulder imagining that he discarded the memories of Azelle with each kick, but her bombshell, she already had a date for the prom, played over and over in high rotation like a new hit single. An engine whined and Brad turned curious at who drove a manual transmission anymore these days and why they drove in too low a gear, but the cars halogen lights blinded him as the car raced past blowing a wind of dust, gasoline, and pesticides from the cornfields. Slamming on the brakes, the car stopped. And then crept backwards, the red tail lights illuminating the Porsche's tail. A man wearing an oxford shirt, the neck loose, leaned out the window.

"Hey, where are you headed?"

Brad studied the man's stubble-filled face beneath black curly hair, and paused before answering. "Home, over by the old river road."

Without hesitation, almost before Brad had finished his words, the man said, "I'm going that way. You want a ride?"

"Sure." The Porsche's handle felt smooth and cool in the night air.

The radio played They Might Be Giants on an oldies channel, as the man punched the gas squealing the tires. "Why are you out so late?"

"Working on a deadline for the school newspaper," said Brad. Also trying to work up the nerve to ask Azelle to the prom. But, he didn't need to go to the prom. Especially not to see Azelle hang on someone else's arm.

"You didn't answer my question," said the driver.

"I'm sorry, I missed it." Brad bumped into the air as they sped over a hill.

"Do you want to be a beta tester?"

"Beta tester?"

"Weren't you listening?" asked the driver. "We're turning the old McAllister Farm into a sort of amusement park. We can stop on the way."

Brad didn't recall any construction at the McAllister Farm. The light from the dash cast blocky shadows across the driver's face. "Now? It's late."

"It won't take long, besides you've saved time with this ride."

"Is this just a bribe?"

"Oh no, I couldn't leave you walking. If you don't want to try, say so and I'll drop you off by the old river road. Of course, you did say you worked late on the school newspaper, didn't you?"

"Yeah," said Brad.

"Well..." The driver drawled out the word stretching it as they leaned into a curve. "We aren't going to have many beta testers, you can have an exclusive on the story."

"No one's even heard of this thing."

"Too early," said the driver. "You've got to time the publicity. We're almost at that sweet point where we'll promote everywhere. And you'll have the exclusive report on it. Everyone will want to read that."

"They will?" Brad imagined Azelle's smile as she reviewed the numbers of their sold out issue with his cover story.

"Absolutely. So you will beta test the ride?"

"It's quick?"

"Five minutes."

"Okay," said Brad.

Looking up, the driver spun the wheel off the road sliding the car skipping across a mowed field to stop with the headlights catching green blades of grass. Outside, he coughed on the dust in the air. Ahead of them, rows of corn husks marched along the horizon. "What is this? A corn maze?"

"No," said the man as he popped the trunk of the Porsche. He took out what looked like a Band-Aid, unrolling the paper backing to extend the adhesive towards Brad.

"What is this?" Brad backed away from the man.

"It's a silk circuit," said the man placing it on Brad's wrist. "It'll jack you into the virtual world."

Brad rolled his eyes but ended up squinting as a bright light drowned away the shadowed corn husks and resolved into a steamboat deck, two wheels thwapping from the sides of the boat as black steam rose from the steam stacks. A man in a white jacket with silver buttons looking like he belonged in one of his sister's Jane Austen movies, sat at a table eating lobster. Brad walked along the deck coming to the edge and saw that they approached the river banks a Ferris wheel turning as the sky went from bright day to the dim purple hues of evening. Anticipating, Brad leaned against the rails knowing that sometimes the best story came from a chance encounter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Morning Gates

A response to Mary Catelli's blog post,
Bit Characters and Greek Gods.

Wagons queued to enter the city gates along the sand road with the wind kicking up dusty swirls that beat sand against the farmers covering their mouths with thin white cloths. Rae watched Emman approach the next wagon, a farmer and a woman too young to be his wife with a wagon covered with a canvas tarp. Emman asked the man his purpose, all the while eyeing the daughter and winking when he caught her glance. The daughter looked down but not before a smile, quick as the wind, touched her lips. Rae flipped the tarp, nothing but turnips here. Rae nodded to Emman and he waved the farmer into the city.

"Nice gal," Emman said. "What brings you out here? Don't you usually work the market?"

Rae looked at the dark figure -- you couldn't see the crossbow from this distance -- standing on the top of the cupola on the merchants guild perched several blocks away in the city just barely peeking above the nearer rundown buildings surrounding the gate. The captain never told him whether Emman was involved in the plot. Captains never seemed to think to tell you what you needed to know. "Yeah, I guess you were short out here." Rae tapped Emman on the back and pointed at the next cart. Even with a tarp, the wind flung feathers to fly into the sand studded grasses. No lady riding on this wagon so Emman went to check the hens. The old man driving the horse watched Rae approach with half-lidded eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a ragged man behind him the wind blowing at the straw hat roped on his neck until the wind caught the hat blowing it off his head to fall against his back. It was Corvin. Without much of a glance, Rae pounded the side of the cart and told the chicken farmer to go on through. The farmer's eyes opened wide as he hitched the horses forward.

Rae ran to Corvin's side. "Lord, your disguise wouldn't save a bird from a blind cat. Run ahead, get under the tarp on that chicken farmer's wagon." Continuing past Corvin, Rae tipped over a pig farmer's wagon with piglets that escaped outside causing a ruckus.

"Don't know how a clumsy oaf gets the easy jobs in the market," muttered Emman chasing piglets down the line of carts.

Rae looked back at the assassin, hoping the assassin had missed Corvin sliding under the tarp.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Salvadore's Slow Stream

A response to Deb Markanton's "Saturday Metamorphosis" in Flashy Fiction.

The assistant showed Salvador through the burled walnut door with the ornate paneling on the edges of flower petals carved with dark veins crisscrossing from flower to leaf to flower tying everything into a single combined whole.

"Salvador Romero?" Dr. Lorraine asked.

The psychologist's honeyed dulcet broke Salvador's reverie before he slipped into slow stream to analyze every nook and bole surrounding the door. He looked at her freckled cheeks briefly before looking away trying not to focus on anything while clearing his mind and nodding to answer the psychologist. She waved an arm at the leather reclining seat as the strawberry blonde hairs on the back of her wrists wavered like a field of wheat. Salvador ground his teeth and leaned back in the chair.

"I am pleased to meet you in person," Dr. Lorraine said. "During your phone consultation you told me that you were one of the lucky ones with a superpower."

"Not exactly lucky," Salvador said.

"We'll see about that." Dr. Lorraine sat erect with a moleskin notebook perched upon her knees. "Tell me about your superpower."

"It's useless --"

"Tsk, no editorializing."

Salvador swallowed. It was useless and adopting a positive outlook wouldn't change it. "My power is the ability to enter a split second, to take a brief moment in time and play it out for days as I witness my world altered forever."

"How do you enter this split second?"

"I don't know." Salvador calmed himself by glancing at the leather spines of books in the office's floor to ceiling bookcase with titles such as "Theoretical Systems, Biology of the Supernatural" and "Integrating Superology into Poverty Alleviation and International Development Efforts". "It's more like walking along a tight rope where a misstep or an unexpected breeze can blow me away dropping me into slow stream."

Dr. Lorraine raised an eyebrow. "You can't control it?"


She scribbled in her notebook the sound of the pen nub rubbing against the pages was a third above the drone of the air-exchange pump. "Have you tried to think about it like you described it, balancing on a tight rope. When you first get on that tight rope, anything will knock you off until you develop the skills to balance yourself and fight the winds that blow."


"No, don't worry about it. What do you do when you enter this..." Lorraine glanced at her notes. "Slow stream?"

"That is the problem. It lacks power, I'm..." Salvador struggled to find the word he wanted.


"Yes. When I drop into slow stream, there isn't a thing I can do. It's like the whole world has stopped around me. Everything except my brain and my senses has stopped."

"Can you move?"


"And how long does this last?" Dr. Lorrain asked.

What was this? Twenty questions. "How should I know. Time stops when I enter slow stream."

Dr. Lorraine nodded as she jotted some more notes. "I wouldn't characterize you as impotent --"

"But, I'm locked in time all I can do is think." Salvador swung himself up out of the chair. She was a quack, all books and no learning.

Dr. Lorrain held up a hand. "Stop. You're placing too much value on action and too little on thought. Slow yourself down to fall into slow stream and think about my words."

The world froze with Salvador stuck halfway standing up and he let Dr. Lorraine's words play out in his memory. She couldn't be right. All he could do in slow stream was observe his surroundings and think. He looked at her and counted the strawberry hairs below her suit sleeve, eighty-three of them catching the light, but what was the purpose in that. Anyone could think but what mattered was the actions they took. The actions they took. He played it over and over in his mind, trying to understand what power Dr. Lorraine saw in his thoughts. They didn't affect anything beyond him. His mind wandered to the books on a shelf, he was no longer in a position to easily read their titles. No. He concentrated on thoughts and actions. Actions required thought. That was it. He swam up out of slow stream.

"I've got the time to make my actions count."

"Yes." Dr. Lorrain smiled.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Piazzi Mining

Scene seed from a prior unpublished flash fiction called "Structural Integrity" and another flash fiction called "Shaping the Election". This joins the two worlds, but is not directly related to either.

The door to the mining control room slid open as Shauna approached. Her boots clanked as the magnetic soles activated against the steel floor to keep her from floating away. Chinhao looked up from his display. "Didn't you get the alert?"

"I got the alert," said Shauna. "I want to know why our expedition was canceled?"

Chinhao smiled as he leaned back interlacing his hands behind his head. "Relax the icy queen business. Isn't it obvious you could use some R&R. Think of it as Piazzi Mining's generousity and don't ask too many questions."

"Since when does Piazzi cancel mining operations?" There was too little information in the alert. What was Chinhao hiding?

"Don't worry about it." Chinhao stood up wrapping an arm around Shauna's shoulder and guiding her towards the door. "Piazzi Mining wants to do what is best for its employees. Come with me to the Ceres Cantina and I'll buy you a drink."

Shauna shrugged out of his grasp pushing his shoulder away. "Something is wrong. Don't deny it. Why is the control center empty? What about the other crews."

Chinhao's smile faded. "All canceled."


"I can't tell you."

Shauna turned to face the doorway as it swooshed open and she placed an arm on the side so it wouldn't swoosh shut. "If you don't tell me, I'll take my team down and find out."

"You wouldn't. They'll suspend you, send you back home."

"What is the big deal. What are you worried about?"

"Riots." Chinhao's frivolous mask had fallen away leaving a face flat like a steely robot.

"You can trust me, I won't tell the others." Shauna stepped back towards Chinhao and the doorway swished shut.

The control room hummed while it's yellow and red LED lights reflected off Chinhao's cheeks and thin shut lips. "I will lose my job."

Shauna reached down and squeezed Chinhao's hand. "You -- Piazzi -- need my help. You have to tell me the truth so I can help."

Chinhao smiled, the first real smile he had given Shauna. "You can help by buying me a drink."

Shauna flung his hand away. "Okay, you won't tell me. I'll take my team down and find out what you are hiding."

"Shauna, don't!"

Shauna jumped towards the door it irised open and she caught a handhold in the plasteel hallway.

Chinhao shouted after her, "There was an earthquake. It's trapped the previous team."

Shauna stopped. Ceres wasn't prone to earthquakes, and was supposed to be geologically stable. "What about rescuing them?"

"We can't risk it."

"Must. That's a living team we've stranded down there." Shauna turned to fling herself along the plasteel tubes to find her team.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hot Scotch

A response to The Economist's article on artificial photosynthesis and an article that Annie Q. Syed linked to on twitter regarding a new form of economics that stresses sustainability.

The repo man pounded on Trenton's door so hard it shook dust loose to float in the sunbeams shining through the frosted windows to the side of the door. Trenton sighed, as long as they didn't know he was here they had no right to break and enter. The shaking door caused the towering volcano-like pile of mail standing before the door to shift, a landslide of federal bills for money he didn't have. The mail slit squeaked and Trenton ducked into the bathroom out of sight of the repo man. The house was warm, too warm to draw manga, but he dared not go upstairs to the balcony until after the repo man left. The mail slit squeaked again as the repo man released the spring-loaded door.

Trenton's socks slid on the recycled flooring as he hurried into the kitchen. He opened the freezer, pausing to feel the cold air blow against his cheeks before he grabbed two ice cubes and dropped them into two fingers of Mortlach scotch. Expensive stuff. It was his last bottle and he couldn't afford scotch of any age any longer with all the sustainability credits required to produce the amber liquid. But his manga didn't flow freely, it needed a catalyst, something to get it moving.

The repo man's jag kicked up pebbles to ping against the metal trim on Trenton's house. Trenton couldn't imagine the size house the repo man must have to generate enough electricity to afford the jag. He sipped the scotch knowing that it was going to take more than a couple sips before he could sit down and draw. He padded up the spiral staircase to the upper floor and onto the deck overlooking the Oakland Hills.

He blinked at the sun's harsh light that reflected off the white, pink, and orange pastel walls of his neighbors' houses. His uphill neighbor's house jutted away from the steep cliffs to shadow his house. It wasn't an inherent problem at least not until Ted Jones had finished his extension and Trenton could no longer produce enough electricity from his deck tiled with iridium photosynthesis plates. The late afternoon sun, wasn't enough to fuel Trenton's needs. He heard Ted Jones's gossamer helicopter coming in for a landing on his iridium photosynthesis pad constructed directly above Trenton's head.

This wasn't fair. He sipped the scotch and knew that he wouldn't draw any manga this afternoon.

Looking up at the wooden supports connected in triangular joints that held up the pad, Trenton smiled. Was it worth a 60-year-old bottle of Mortlach speyside single malt scotch? He grimaced at the waste, but it was the only option Trenton saw to earn money again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Max's Burgers

Response to StoryCraft exercise to write in dialogue and the Swedish tjuvlyssnat (thief listener) blog post about teen-aged girls ordering fastfood.

"What is the little runt doing here?"

Becky gulped releasing the Orange Fanta lever, her 24 ounce cup half-full, and turned to face Rachelle. "Go away."

"You ain't powerful without your wand."

"Yeah," said Hannah who along with Rachelle's other sidekick, Erin, blocked Becky's escape.

"You didn't answer my question," said Rachelle.

"I don't see any runts here." Becky chewed her lip.

"Half blind without her wand too." Erin laughed at Rachelle's words. "You know this is our territory, and you come here alone without your wand."


Hannah giggled and Rachelle pushed Becky against the fountain machine. "Cut your laughter. If she's brave, she'll stand still." Rachelle closed her eyes, the eyeballs jerking under the makeup laden skin, as she called a ghost swirling out of the floor.

Becky cringed away from the Hestut ghost. "Rachelle, no."

"Not so tough now," said Erin.

"You girls, stop that," said one of the cashiers as he hurdled the counter.

Grit swirled around the Hestut as it rose from the ground. Becky dove away from it between Rachelle and Erin, dropping her soft drink. "I'm sorry," called Becky lying prone on the floor with orange soda seeping into her blouse, "the incantation wasn't supposed to sprout a mustache on your lips."

"Well, you won't make that mistake twice will you."

The cashier snapped his fingers, "Alio Shram".

The ghost a pale glow careened through the waiting area, his voice barely heard. "No... I'm seeking."

The cashier snapped a second time, "Alio Shrum."

"NOOooo..." The ghost's voice faded as it disappeared.

"I told you girls to stop. Now clean up this mess." He grabbed a handful of napkins and held them in front of Rachelle.

"Don't need that." Rachelle wielded a straw like a wand before tossing it to bounce off of Becky's chest. "Becky will slurp it off the floor."

"All you can do is pick on the defenseless." Becky threw the straw into the Fanta puddle and ran to the doors flinging them open. "Hi, Alonso."


"If you're looking for her, she's in there."



"Oh no. We broke up."

Becky sucked in her breath and smiled at Alonso. "Well, then you don't want to go in there."

"Why not?" His glance dropped to her cleavage.

"It's filled with trash," said Becky as she linked her arm around Alonso's and led him away from Max's burgers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Unreliable Sources

A response to RJ Clarken's "Monday Musings" in Flashy Fiction.

Harold Haslewood huffed, his breath coming in rattling heaves, as he glanced over his shoulder while clutching a folded copy of The Illustrated Police News under his elbow like an uillean bagpipe. A hand-sized man with dragonfly-like wings that caught the moonlight in a pale purple-blue translucence, flitted from oak bough to honeysuckle leaf following Harold. Fleeing underneath the Chapel's arch of the Tottenham Cemetery, he thought maybe the unholy creature -- hopefully a mere figment of his imagination -- might not pass through the white-stoned relic that glowed compared to the surrounding dark forest leaves. But no, he couldn't evade the creature that zipped through the center of the arch. Collapsing onto a bench, he closed his eyes knowing that the fairy now flitted between tombstones landing briefly on the stones, its wings glowing with the only flash of color in the cemetery.

When the fairy creature landed on the bench, Herald squelched the desire to swat at the fairy with his newspaper. Who knew what trouble that might cause. "What do you want?"

With a twitch of its wings the fairy flew to the edge of the back of the bench and balanced as the light wind blew across the cemetery to rustle the poplar leaves. "I have news you can use."

Harold opened the newspaper. "I have all the news I need in this paper. No flickering half-truths from the semi-world. Go away."

"I need you Harold."

How did it know his name?

"I have fascinating information that must not be suppressed. I need your help to solve an injustice. The newspaper you hold doesn't understand the truth, look at it."

Harold had been reading at the pub, he knew the cover illustration with a drawing of Dr. Forbes-Winslow's conjuration. Harold let the folded paper fall open, to display the psychiatrist in a towering turban wielding a wand as he tried to conjure the truth.

"It's all lies, the imbeciles in Scotland Yard won't solve this crime. But you, can be famous, your name living on for hundreds of years as the man who brought the tip that solved the Whitehall murders."

The fairy creature was right about one thing, the constables were imbeciles. They abused their power and accused his son of poaching. "Why should I help them? I don't care about fame."

"You will have the fame, but there is a better reason." The fairy jumped into the air its wings flapping as it hovered before Harold's nose. "One of Scotland Yard's sergeants is guilty of the murders."

"Really?" Harold's nose flared as he leaned forward, the fairy floating backwards to maintain the same distance between the two of them.

"Yes, a Sergeant Thicke who lives in the Whitehall District and has been trying to shirk the blame for the murders on old friends such as the Leather Apron."

It would feel good to smear Scotland Yard's name with the bitter entrails of the blame of this case. His chest contracted, it wasn't going to be that easy. "Why would they listen to me?"

"Because you'll have the facts that will be undeniable, because we've watched the murders and know how Sergeant Thicke has hidden his trail.

Harold rubbed his hands as he thought about the letter he would send to Scotland Yard tomorrow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dragon's Blood Tears

Response to The Economist's article on Socotra, an island off the Yemeni coast.

Elephant roses shaded Sameer's path with their thick thigh-width branches covered in smooth bark that narrowed in fatty folds to the size of pudgy fingers adorned with cherry pink blossoms. He hurried to match his uncle's pace as the consecrated dragon's blood receptacles hanging from ropes on his back jangled with his footsteps. He knew it was pointless to ask his uncle to slow down. They had to get to the dragon's blood tree before the sun set behind the mountains.

His uncle stopped at a rise in the path and stared down at the village's dragon's blood tree. The trunk was scarred where his uncle, the village elder, harvested the trees living magic. Sameer had cut some of those gashes himself. He had the gift. The sun glowing pink on the horizon cast shadows on the twining branches that held up the dragon's blood tree's needled leaves.

"Something is wrong," said Sameer's uncle under his breath before sprinting down the hill towards the tree.

Sameer couldn't see anything wrong with the tree, it looked the same way it had yesterday when he had harvested some of the blood to drink. The weight of his pack slowed him and he heard his uncle's cries. As Sameer neared, he noticed that the needles drooped, bending as the wind whipped through the limestone valley.

As Sameer's shadow crept across the white rock beside his uncle's feet, his uncle faced Sameer, his eyes boring into Sameer the way his uncle looked at Moha, a council member with whom his uncle rarely agreed. "You were out here last night drinking her blood." It was a statement, not a question.

"No." He felt bad about the lie, but it came to his lips without thought. Already, burning his tongue.

"Look at this," his uncle rammed his finger into the thick congealing blood in a gash along the side of the tree. The branches shivered and a brown needle fell to the ground to land in front of Sameer's sandals. His uncle lifted his finger to his nose, sniffed, and smeared the blood on the trunk. "It smells of your spoor."

"But I was thirsty." Thirsty for the power that allowed Sameer to fly over the mountains, releasing his soul to see. Even now, he could hear the winds calling his name and knew that he would be back again. He needed to fly, to feel the dragon's blood sap burn in his veins.

His uncle put his hands on Sameer's shoulder and turned him around pushing him away from the tree. "We will return to the village."

"What about the wells?" Sameer dared not peek at his uncle and when he didn't hear his uncle's voice over the winds, he wondered if his uncle had heard him. The wells were dry, again. They needed the dragon's blood to whet the wells and call up the water from the deep.

"We will ration what we have. Draining more blood from the tree will kill her."

"You won't tell the others, will you?"

"No," said his uncle, "but you must conquer the thirst inside if you before it consumes all of us in a dry burst of flame."

There was no way to quench it. How his uncle managed, Sameer could not understand. Hiking back to the village, Sameer thought of the sap and the hot tinkling way that he felt it in his blood after drinking it and the cool wind on his face.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Soul Vent

A response to Swedish Valborgsmassoafton, a tradition where large fires are lit, and the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland.

Tak held her daughter's hand as they wended along a path through green fat-leafed jungle that descended towards a flat gray expanse of ash scarred with lines of white. Tak studied the unnatural valley empty of life and wondered at the juxtaposition of life and death here where the earth's crevice thinned. It had been four years ago, and she had been so innocent then. Coming out here with a boy, she couldn't even remember his name, who had thought to impress her, perhaps even surprise her, but he had been naïve and never understood the powers he taunted. Her daughter, who had disappeared around a switchback, scrambled back, black dirt skittering under her heels.

"What is taking so long?" asked the daughter.

"Just remembering," said Tak.

"Come, mama. You said you wanted to get down there before it got dark. It's getting late." Yes, Tak did want to get down there before the souls awakened. When Tak began to descend the trail, her daughter ran back towards the switchback grabbing a flower bespeckled bezalia branch and stopped. "We will get to see papa, won't we mama?"

"Yes, dear." Tak had been trying not to think of him, even though she knew she was getting closer to him. What would it be like to see him again? Her life had changed so much when her daughter had arrived. Yet, she'd promised him.


Tak's parents didn't like Dale, whispering behind her back and finding ways to keep her busy and away from Dale. Yet, they can't be everywhere and Tak felt her heart beat, pitter patter, as she held his hand and they ran through the jungle in the middle of the night. A dark moonless night where one couldn't see by the light of the stars, dim weak things hidden behind wispy clouds that stole the stars' light. The path they followed stopped descending and they moved across a flat surface.

"Where are we?" asked Tak.

"It's a surprise, come on," said Dale pulling her forward as she smelled something burnt, and she realized that there was no longer the life of the forest squeezing around them.

Tak's breath rattled in her throat as they ran across the impossibly barren space and Tak wondered what could have killed off this place and why hadn't she heard someone talk about it? It wasn't more than a ninety minute walk from the village.

Dale stopped and Tak opened her mouth to ask a question when the ground exploded in light. Blinded, she closed her eyes and felt warm streams flow over and through her. Her skin flushed with the pressure of the wind and light running over and around and through her until she felt a caress. She opened her eyes, yearning for this presence she felt over her body. As her eyes adjusted, she saw a yellowish pink light washing up from the ground and arching through the heavens in thick streams that flickered before becoming dots that were hundreds of times brighter than the stars. Tak had forgotten about Dale. She didn't know how long she stood there, but she heard a chuckle as she realized the light was alive.


"It is all dead," said Tak's daughter. "Why is papa down here?"

Tak didn't want it to be as much of a surprise as it had been that night. The light hadn't fully fallen yet, he'd be asleep. "See those white marks there," Tak pointed at chalky white lines that crawled across the ashen floor. Her daughter nodded. "That is where the souls -- your papa -- live."

"Why isn't papa with us now?"

"He sleeps." Tak hoped he'd talk to her and not just get to know the daughter that Tak had promised to bring to him on the daughter's fifth birthday. "He will awaken once the light drains away." Tak chewed her lip.