Thursday, October 27, 2011


I will be away for the next couple of weeks while I travel around Australia (Sydney and Tasmania). I may try to write a novelette while I am down there (we'll see how ambitious I am after I've arrived), but I won't have any Friday Flash posted while I am away.

I'll leave you with a picture of my commute to the office when I was in Stockholm a few weeks back.

Have fun!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Skull Queen

Pirates liked the romance of the fog that filled their bone-ship's bridges, but Alicia McCammon hated the high humidity and it's source, the paradoxically warm bridge on her Skull Queen. Her hair wasn't the source of her dislike. She wore it in ginger dreadlocks, twisting snakes roving in a five-foot radius from her captain's chair in the low-gee environment. But, the beads of sweat that ran down her neck, the smell of human bodies cooped in a ship lacking showers, the salt staining the black bone grating that constantly found the most inconvenient body crevices, and all the myriad annoyances drove her crazy on the month-long flights to the Oort cloud. Too bad pirates like Mabotu kept their haunts on the free rein asteroids. Sometimes the boredom of a solar bounty got to Alicia. The long stellar journey making it difficult to remember the excitement of the hunt when the Skull Queen closed on her prey.

Solar wind flicked over the alien skull's surface and the telepathic link between Alicia and the Skull Queen left ghost echoes flickering over her braids. The solo-ship -- a baby's skull, one-of-a-kind as far as Alicia knew -- coughed and sputtered into real-space. Splinters. The Skull Queen floated in the path of Jupiter's orbit, a long way from her quarry.

«Ten gee pressure. Carapace crack. Fizz.»

"Hold it together." Alicia's words to the ship were more a matter of her sailing on a solo-ship and not fretting about anyone overhearing her conversations with the Skull Queen and she found it easier to vocalize the emotions she used to calm the remnants of the alien. Her ship.

The Skull Queen bucked, unseating Alicia from her seat to crash against the bone floors. Blood, warmer than the air, dripped from her chin. The ship continued to shake, tossing Alicia against the edges of the bone cavity like panties in some fangled clothes dryer. It'd been a long time since she'd had clean clothes. Since she'd been on a station, let alone planet-side.

«Breath gone. Suffocate. Cloud of gas. Poison. Burn heart. Hear enemies laugh.»

Fear whispered like a storm. Its arms outstretched, wispy tendrils, parts of it the fog that filled the bridge, some of it her own fragments of dreams, mixing with those of the Skull Queen. She'd brought in pirates, hangdog merchants who had run when their Ponzi schemes unraveled, and black arms traders, but never felt the wash of fear magnified by the ship. Even in its heat, her flesh bubbled with goosebumps. This wasn't human trouble, Alicia knew how to deal with that, but fear of the elements.

She counted her breaths. One. Two. Three. Smooth interstellar space with the pale glimmer of stars lying around them like a blanket that stretches everywhere. Home. In between the stars.

«No. Pain like fire. River of flames. Scalding.»

Joined. Alicia became one with the ship. Her soul subsumed, her body a mere organic presence within its ghost. Her consciousness swirled within a tempest. The ship's memories. A small thought, almost disregarded, wondered at this, something that had never been discussed before by any other captain.

The memories -- splinters how old these things be -- were vast. Like the vision of space itself she saw surrounding them, but this was different, personal. She flailed, seeking herself, trying not to lose herself in the mind of the Skull Queen. The memories of the ship, a glorious body that could fly through space, burned in an atmosphere. Burned, while something outside of it stared in, toyed with it.

Alicia screamed. Living soul stronger than the ghost memories. She pulled its concentration to the present. To the solar wind pouring over the bone ridges. To the intense burn sizzling the bone shell.

She should not burn in space, near absolute zero in a vacuum. But, the Skull Queen felt a burn. That was what woke it's memories.

The ship's senses operated even though it was only a ghost presence. And out there, Alicia found the source. A laser repeater for a light sail. Space debris. Why couldn't anyone disable that source.


The ship, coughing and burning, shook as it tried to evade the laser. Photon reflections pushing them through space even though the Skull Queen wasn't a solar sail.

«Impossible. Burn. Burn. Suffocate.»

"No. Stay with me. You can't suffocate. It's just light. Stay with me. Concentrate." Alicia's thoughts merged with the ship and as if walking she pulled the ship one slow step at a time outside of the quarter-kilometer diameter beam and fell to her chair sweating and exhausted.

She expected the ship's memories to fade, a byproduct of her fear. Hallucinations. But, the thoughts called out to her. Her life forked into two like chromosone pairs. Her short blink of human life and eons worth of alien life. Duties unfinished.

Friday, October 14, 2011


The shrine's nave had survived the fire if by survived one meant that the walls still stood even though soot stained them and blackness gaped where the outbuildings had collapsed and the statue of Jun, fire breather and the shrine's protector, wobbled in the breeze, flames extinguished. Along with the other congregants, Peifeng held a fistful of petals of the lily, petals to signify Jun's tears, and with his other hand he pulled his wife through the crowd. She had wanted to stay home. Or better, had wanted to flee to Three Swans Village where her brother's wife's family lived. Peifeng knew one could not flee these troubles. Once the flames had fired, they would burn in men's hearts. He placed his petals. The white of new beginnings laid over the ashes of what had been, laid over the hate of the foreigners.

Dark-skinned foreigners had climbed the water pipes and gas lines of the houses on the far side of the square to a position where they could leer at the crowds of Jun's congregants. One threw a stone into the crowd. The man who was hit cried out like the stray dogs on the edge of town, hungry and laced with pain.

"We should go." She pulled Peifeng away from the nave. "Crowd ugly."

"Men like them burned Jun's shrine. We must stay and show them we are not scared." Yet, although he thought his words captured the strength he wanted to show, he felt the crowd quivering just like he was inside, like plum leaves in late August, brittle, about to fall.

"The police failed to find evidence of arson."

"Liars. All of them."

"There is nothing left here. We must leave." She pulled her hand from his.

"I will not flee this town." Peifeng would not flee Jun, would face the foreigners if necessary.

"You must think of our child. Our future."

"There is no future in Three Swans Village."

"More future than here." She turned and squeezed through the crowd.

Peifeng spat into the space where she'd been. The crowd around them paid them little notice as he watched her runaway. He loved her, he loved the child, but he loved Jun too. What kind of love asked you to abandon a part of youself? "The flames will chase you even to Three Swans Village!"

The crowd's shouts accompanied a loud screeching that came from beyond his wife, but Peifeng couldn't see the source. He knew something was happening by the way the foreigners stopped their chants from the far side of the square.

An SUV painted the color of scummy water careened through the crowd, plowing through people, its windshield splashed with blood, a lily petal stuck to the gore. Unable to move, Peifeng watched. It collided with his wife. She flew forward from the collision, landing against the ground as the SUV hit her a second time and then careening onwards to crash into the nave's wall.

Peifeng ran to his wife. Her blood coated the side of her head. He collapsed to the brick paving and placed her head on his thighs. Her breath rasped and he leaned forward, but could not make out her words.

"I'm sorry."

Her soul left her eyes to leave her vacant, empty. In the process, heat and something more than heat filled him, his face flushing, scalp sweating, lungs tingling. Jun's power entered him.

Three teenaged boys, their faces dark with foreigner blood, stared out from the SUV. The crowd moved towards the vehicle. The SUV hiccuped, but the wheels spun unable to get traction, the body teetering on the edge of the wall's rubble.

Peifeng coughed into the air, breathing fire. The crowd backed away. He breathed in deep. His lungs cooled for a second before igniting the fresh fuel in the air and he breathed out, over the SUV and it exploded in a fireball, knocking him to the ground, peppering him with debris.

Jun's statue breathed, its fire reigniting.

Scene seed from a news article in 8sidor regarding Christians who protested around their church that had been burned down and a car driven into the crowd fast enough to kill more than a dozen people.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fiction Rave: Michael Swanwick and Sweden

I've been traveling in Sweden for the past three weeks, which is one of the reasons I have posted less frequently. I took my kindle with me as well as a bunch of short fiction. It was a particular treat to read Michael Swanwick's The Dala Horse while I was in Sweden because it's set there, and there are some subtle things in the story that are particularly Swedish and fun to pick out kind of like showing up at a football match and discovering a Where's Waldo hiding in the stands. I.e. you don't have to know anything about Sweden to enjoy the story, but if you're looking you might see a couple things that aren't entirely explained for the reader.

The Dala Horse is a traditional wood-carved horse found in Sweden, but my favorite little tidbit of Swedish-ness was the references to the protagonists grandmother. Swedish has different words for the grandmother on your mother's side as opposed to your grandmother on your fathers side (mormor vs. farmor) and the story uses this when the protagonist is sent to her grandmother's house. The words aren't directly explained, but probably sufficient exposition is given to get across the point or at least make an unaware reader think the two different grandmothers have different pet names. Other tidbits of Swedish culture include a troll as one of the main characters, spruce trees, and snow.

The story is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction story told from the point of view of someone who doesn't really understand a culture so it sometimes comes across more as magic and science fiction. Because she makes her quest to her grandmother's house on foot, through a forest, it has a touch of Little Red Riding Hood feel to it and begins to feel more like fantasy. Yet, the talking knapsack and map both imbued with an AI insures the future here. Much of the conflict involves these AI creatures who become more than just simple helpmates and move into the area of actively manipulating humans.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dremlen Feygl: Drowsing Birds

Sosimo was hungry, he had no dremlen feygl of his own. No one in the Kiryat Lailah slums had them. They couldn't afford the iron bars necessary to cage the birds. Iron to steal the dremlen or dream stuff from its freedom before it rose to feed the gods in the clouds.

Sosimo was hungry, but not nearly as hungry as the girl, child of his loins, who lay upon the bier. Her cheeks were concave, empty things, echoing the absence of her dremlen. His hunger dulled his sorrow as it did her eyes. He held her limp hand as they closed for the last time. The gods sucking dremlen to make up for the greed of those in the rich quarters who refused to pay their burden to the gods. Traitors who wanted to live forever at the cost of Sosimo's daughter, Sosimo's wife. Of everyone who lived in the Kiryat Lailah slums.

Sosimo was hungry, and the undercurrent of pain that swirled through him, almost as strong as the aches in his shoulders bearing the weight of his daughter's bier. His own dremlen leached from his body, from the bodies of all the pallbearers, a thin fog lifting into the sky. They laid his daughter in the water of the night to float in the canal and the other men dispersed while Sosimo watched his daughter float away.

Sosimo was hungry, but that didn't explain why he stopped in the streets outside the mansions that towered over the banks of the water of the night. The hunger had been something he'd known since he was little, but the loss of his daughter changed something inside of him.

He deserved what he saw through the colored glass of the mansion's windows. A dark room lit by the dremlen feygl. A pale glow of the ephemeral birds inside their cages, dremlen captured to steal longevity for those who could afford the iron.

It was the memory of his daughter that led Sosimo to pound his fist against the glass. Slivers of light fell to the floor, tinkling, warning those who lived here of his trespass. He stood on the threshold aware that his fingers, dark mud underneath the fingernails from working the mines, would corrupt everything he touched here. But he doubted that it would matter. He deserved to savor his essence, his life, his dremlen. He slumped forward, listening, but nothing moved from the stairs above.

The pale glow of the dremlen feygl led him forward. A flock of birds fluttered inside four cages, one for the man of the house, one for his wife, and two for his children. The birds inside shuddered, and Sosimo knew their owners would have nightmares this night. But, for them, they dreamed strong; the nightmares would capture them, or let them loose, and he thought about the roiling bodies as they imagined horrible things: a miner watching helplessly as his cave filled with rubble, the powerlessness of those who lived in the slums, losing a dremlen feygl.

The iron of the cage was cold, just like the bits of iron that he found deep in the caves, so cold it could burn a man's fingers. Of course, iron in its raw form felt that way, but the cage was processed, only a hint of the burn it could deliver. These folk didn't deserve what they had here, what they stole from the workers who made it safe for the rich folk to keep in their living room.

The latch squeaked as Sosimo flipped it open. Inside the birds hopped, moving faster, more agitated, and he licked his lips wondering if their fear would be transferred to the dreamers above. They deserved this. His hand moved quickly to grab one of the dremlen feygl. Feathers flew as the thing twitched trying to escape his grasp. He squeezed until the bird stopped fluttering and placed it in his mouth. The bones were weak, easily crushed, and he chewed well so that none of the bones would catch in his throat before swallowing. Already, he felt a flush on his skin. A faint glow as he felt stronger, healthier.

Sosimo unlocked the door and stepped into the night. He marveled at the stars above him, above the clouds where the gods harvested dremlen. They were no different than himself, the gods were thieves. One didn't jail a god, and therefore, maybe this life wasn't as dreadful as he'd thought. He wasn't a thief. Rather, he was a god.

For the first time Sosimo could remember, he laughed, a feeling the roiling through his body, leaving him feeling alive, feeling satisfied, and suffusing the whole world. He would be a god that walked the streets.