Friday, April 27, 2012


Sergeant Hesam took three deep breaths. He had his routines, his rituals, and Cadet Weber had accompanied him on enough missions that he shouldn't worry about the cadet, but he stared into the man's eyes, taking the measure of the man. The two of them were as prepared as their Essie training could achieve.

Releasing the safety on his semiautomatic, he fired a single round into the door mechanism, angled down so no one would be hit inside. In his peripheral vision, faces turned to stare in the direction of the gun's retort. Gunfire wouldn't have garnered attention a few years ago, but the Essies had made progress. Jews and Palestinians living side by side without violence. Except for some outbreaks. Memories resurfacing. That's why he was here. They'd have ten minutes before the Silwan district security forces arrived.

He kicked down the door and entered with Weber covering him. Inside, a phosphor flicker caught his eye, Al-Saquor, the Saudi Arabian national football team. "Rooms clear." No physicals. But, someone was here if the flatscreen had been left on.

A clutter of test tubes stood on the coffee table beside stacks of bio-computing journals. The gear might've one day been a sign of ecoterrorists, but half the houses in the district worked in the bio-computing sector these days, seemed like everyone brought work home.

The ground floor checked out clean.

Weber led the way up the stairs. At the top of the landing, two men huddled against the far wall. He moved to the side, shouting, "UN Peacekeepers. Keep your hands in the air and move back."

Hesam leapt the final two stairs and checked out the side bedrooms, to verify they were empty. Their intelligence had rung true, but he'd learned the hard way not to trust virtual chatter. The good cells found ways to unhook completely from electronic surveillance. The man with his hands in the air would be Jacob Mendelsohn, an American with shoulder-length blond hair like a footballer, uncommonly athletic for a Memories International operative.

The man rolling on the floor in a virtual simulator would be Muhannad, the man who owned this house. His full head helmet and integrated experience blocked all knowledge of his surroundings. His body thrashed in response to his reliving of the day his son died at the hands of an Israeli settler. His leg hit a table, jarring a scalpel balanced across a petri dish, causing it to fall to the floor.

"Disable the sim," said Weber.

Jacob nodded. Sweat dripped from his brow as he crouched over Muhannad. He palmed a cylinder lying on the floor and stood up. "I've depressed the trigger to my suicide belt. You shoot, it'll go off."

Jacob was about Hesam's age, but it seemed Americans took a lot longer to mature. Careful to avoid any sudden movements, Hesam set his rifle on the floor and palmed the EMP pistol in his belt, no larger than a derringer and fully hidden within his fist. "Suicide won't solve anything."

"You took his memories. He deserves to remember. The people deserve to remember. You've made them forget, but maybe this will shock them into remembering what you've taken."

"We only do what's needed," said Hesam.

"Then you'll let me continue in peace. Let him remember."

"That won't bring anything but more pain."

"Every man has a right to their memories. Their pain."

Hesam fired his pistol. The electromagnetic pulse disabled the electronics in Jacob's trigger. Evidently expecting a physical bullet, the man had released the trigger, but not before the EMP waves disabled the trigger.

Covered by Weber, Hesam placed cuffs on Jacob. Something rustled behind him. Too late, he turned. Pain erupted in his calf and he fell to the floor, releasing Jacob.

Weber shot Jacob and the man collapsed.

Yet, Jacob hadn't attacked him. Glancing at his leg, a scalpel had punctured his calf. Hesam cursed. The EMP blast must have disabled the virtual simulator and Muhannad must have attacked in the confusion. Hesam must secure the area. Ignoring his pain, he rolled over and tackled Muhannad, pinning the man to the ground.

Weber aimed at Muhannad. His shot would be true.

"No. Do not fire, cadet."

"He attacked. It's within our rules of engagement."

Hesam released a pull tab of muscle relaxants into Muhannad. Enough to keep the man from moving for twelve hours, but it would leave the mind clear and able to recall everything. Even virtual simulations.

"There has been enough death. We are peacekeepers. Not soldiers."

Hesam slipped a PKMZeta forgetting pill into Muhannad's mouth. The man twitched. His eyes glazed, but not enough to hide what he would see. The man must relive his memories, so the pill could destroy the neural pathways that had been created within the man's mind and so he'd forget his son's death.

The EMP blast had drained the batteries on the virtual simulator. Hesam grabbed a battery pack from his pack and slammed it into the cartridge. He slid the full helmet simulator over Muhannad's head.

He waited for the memories to play out. For the memories to be taken away. He understood Memories International, but didn't peace trump memory? Regardless, he'd have to live with another death on his conscience.

Leaving Muhannad's house, Hesam and Weber donned their blue helmets. They nodded at the wary eyes of the Silwan security forces that swarmed past them and moved into Muhannad's house.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gears and Levers Anthology

I have a short story in the Gears and Levers Anthology edited by Phyllis Irene Radford. I'm looking forward to reading the other stories in the anthology.

My contribution is "A Time of Autumn", a story set in an alternate oriental world with balloons and clockwork ancestors. I wrote this story when the call came out because the call for submissions for the anthology was looking for worldly steampunk (African, Asian, Arctic, Western, etc.) and I enjoy the idea of creating worlds and this seemed like a fun fit.

You can find the anthology on:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Meng Xiang Zu – Dreamtime Tribe

Lightning flickered in the edges of Xiaolou's peripheral vision, remnants of dreamtime. Physical nerves, subverted during the months she'd spent in dreamtime, flared as her brain relinquished the hold of the virtual signals. Pain her top-of-the-line gear–platinum-core neural adapter, bio-salts nutritional system, and muscle maintenance chair–should have eliminated. Her head throbbed. She wanted her money back.

She waited. The lightning cleared, but the room remained dark, no blinking LEDs from her hardware, no sullen light from the eco-bulbs, no photons whatsoever. The darkness was accompanied by a lack of sound as if the virtual gear had burned out her physical senses. But no, that was false. Her hands caressed the faux leather of her chair, the restraining chains falling loose, clacking against the chrome supports. No juice. No electricity.

She sighed.

Muqin, her mother and a member of the moonlight tribe, spared no expense, which explained her gear. But also, explained the lack of energy. Muqin's overspending crimped Xiaolou's style.

She wasn't a helpless invalid in realtime unlike most of her contemporaries. The rubber of the maintenance chair's full-bodysuit snapped as she extricated herself. She felt her way from the parlor where Muqin kept Xiaolou's well-used chair and Muqin's own seldom used chair to the kitchen and public room. She found a candle and matches.

Visual sensory input helped shunt her migraine into a mere annoyance. Their rare-earth teak table drowned beneath a sea of boutique bags, recycled cellophane draped out the tops of each of them like an over-spenders seaweed. She'd never understand why Muqin wasted money on all these goods. Dreamtime provided everything one desired.

It was all good to have fended for oneself in realtime, but Muqin was known for month-long splurges before heading home. Xiaolou could not afford to wait for Muqin to arrive and discover the bounced facilities bill.

No. Xiaolou needed back in dreamtime. She needed to shepherd her realms before the wolves, other participants, detected her absence and acquired her creations, mutating them into their own needs. She'd require months to undo the damage if she didn't get back.

Outside, a full moon filtered through clouds. It didn't have the same effect as it did in virtuality, the moon was small, shriveled, and the light barely enough to provide more than a brighter spot in the clouds. She flicked a wrist at one of the streetlamp kiosks, but the low-power e-ink display blinked that she had no cash. Resigned, she made do with the dim light of the moon and the spill of waste light from people living in outer apartments.

She stopped under the awning of a dreamtime café. Over its white-washed walls, a thick bundle of cables fed up from the ground. The cables were joined by a second pair threaded from the café's roof and satellite feed. Satellites provided a horrible lag when joining national dreamtime networks, but they were the highest bandwidth option for overseas operations. Dreamtime cafés, appealing to the largest clientele possible, usually stocked both types of uplinks.

The door's kiosk blinked red when she tried to enter and refused her credit.

Unlike most of the dream tribe, she knew her history, knew that in the beginning, people had thought all bits should be free. Opensource collectives had provided software for free. Dozens of companies provided free web-based e-mail and storage. But, IP laws changed all of that. Capitalists smelled gold in them thar virtual hills.

She stared at the satellite dish. She sighed. Laggy connections stole the fun from dreamtime. Although she could concoct a raw shunt into her neural cortex from the satellite, without nutritional and muscle maintenance systems she'd really feel the withdrawal next time.

She shrugged and shimmied up the twisted bundle of cables to the roof. She wedged herself into a position where she wouldn't fall and patched herself into dreamtime. A girl had to feed her addiction.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fiction Rave: The Dragons of Trinity County

I don't swoon at dragons. They had their day as the hot creature on the genre shelf. These days vampires, zombies, pirates have all had their time in the sun recently, but some still enjoy their dragons. Reptiles that can be larger than houses, breathe fire, and if you're lucky allow you to fly them. I want more in my fiction than a pretty reptilian face. Peter S. Beagle's Trinity County, CA (subtitled, You'll Want to Come Again, and We'll Be Glad to See You!) delivers. While never explicitly mentioning dragons (they're just the big D), they're an invasive species that has taken over wild California hills in Peter S. Beagle's story.

This classic pairing of the grizzled old timer whose been patrolling the hills for years and the newbie, know it all woman fresh out of the academy combine to have great voices that make it a pleasure to read. Moreover, the background of life in the forgotten hills, replete with marijuana and methamphetamines, provide a gorgeous backdrop.

The story took first place in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Galaxy Medicine Show magazine's 2010 reader awards. The magazine is made to winners of their reader awards available for free, Trinity County, CA is highly recommended.

Friday, April 13, 2012


While Sanchez checked them out of the Hotel la Colombe, Philip waited in Timbuktu's sand-filled streets. The sand got in everything, even the bread, and if the peace of their first few nights in town before the occupation by the Tuareg rebels had held, the sand would've ranked as his number one annoyance with Timbuktu. He looked forward to seeing the dried-mud streets from a plane even if it meant trekking to the airport and breathing wind-whipped grains one last time.

As Sanchez approached, Philip's phone buzzed with a text message from Compagnie Arrienne du Mali. He unlocked his phone, but his fledgling French wasn't sufficient to pick up more then it was about their flight based on the flight numbers. He hoped it was a message reminding them of the flight times, but he didn't see any times. He held his phone out to Sanchez. "CAM airline just sent me a message."

"Flights canceled."

Philip pulled on his shirt's collar to release the sand sticking to his sweaty skin. "When are we rescheduled?"

"Doesn't say."

"Told you we should never have scheduled a flight on Friday the 13th."

"Don't be superstitious." Sanchez rolled his eyes. As head of the antiquities department, he had always taken his role seriously, never espousing anything but pragmatic science. "Wait here. I'll see if I can get rooms for another night."

Sanchez intercepted the desk clerk on his way to the single car parked in the hotel's lot. They stood too far away and besides, Philip wouldn't have understood more than the occasional word, but he did understand the way Sanchez flapped his arms. His lectures were renowned within the department. When he got passionate about a subject, his whole body moved. After a few exchanges, he collapsed into himself, looking defeated. He removed a phone from a pocket and jotted a note on the touchscreen.

The clerk climbed into his car and drove out of the parking lot, raising a cloud of dust that choked Philip as the car passed.

"With all the unrest, and travel advisories keeping tourists away, they're closing the hotel."

They were homeless, maybe for different reasons than the men huddled around heating grates in downtown Philadelphia. But at least the homeless in Philip's hometown wouldn't be buried by sand after a single night. "What will we do?"

"The clerk gave me the name of a local marabout who he said lends his rooms out to travelers in need."

"A phone number?"

"Just an address."

Philip struggled to pull the luggage down the streets to the marabout's house. Rolling luggage wasn't designed for sand, and within two blocks Philip's shirt was soaked with sweat. Ghosts of children distracted him, peeking from behind mud walls. And the moment he looked away from the road, his luggage's wheels caught on a pebble and he had to yank to free the luggage. He felt like an outsider.

The marabout's house was built from mud bricks. Two poles holding the bricks in place extended from the wall with dillapidated flags flapping over the door. Sanchez knocked.

When the door opened, exposing cool shadows, Sanchez entered, motioning Philip to remain on the threshold. Once inside, Sanchez spoke French with a man hidden in the shadows. His words were chopped and harsh and Sanchez's slow and the careful enunciation hinted that the marabout's French was poor.

Sanchez ushered Philip and the luggage into the room. Philip barely had space to pull everything in between the two of them and the marabout who'd opened a wooden chest and was pawing through the drawers.

He turned to them with two cords threaded through small leather pouches so they looked like a necklace. He spoke words, rubbing his fingers over the pouches, not the lilting rhythms of French but one of the half-dozen languages spoken in Timbuktu.

Philip raised an eyebrow and turned to Sanchez. "What's this?"

"Quiet. He was insistent that we follow their customs if we stay. We don't have any choice so we better not offend him."

Philip shrugged, he wasn't the one tied up in believing science was the only answer. He accepted the totem from the marabout and hung it around his neck, tucking it under his sweaty shirt.

They stowed the luggage in an empty room, and used a bowl to freshen up, changing into non-sweaty clothes before the marabout beckoned them to evening prayers. He led them to Sankore Mosque and Philip fretted at the freshening since all it had managed to accomplish was dirtying a second pair of clothes.

By the time they returned to the marabout's house, the light had disappeared and without electronic lights inside, they prepared for the night. Sanchez discarded his totem over the back of his luggage before lying on a mattress pushed against a wall.

"Didn't the marabout tell us to wear the totems at all times?"

"Philip, it's just superstition. Give it up."

At least the hotel had had air-conditioning, the marabout's rooms smelled of stale sweat, which wasn't surprising given the heat. Philip struggled to sleep, but couldn't get comfortable. Especially, when Sanchez began snoring within fifteen minutes.

Philip blinked. A ghost shimmered over Sanchez, the body crouching down to smother the man on the bed. Sanchez began to shake.

When Philip stood, he discovered the room was filled with a dozen ghosts. Their ghost-flesh was icy. Although his body could pass through the ghosts, he found it difficult, flinching from the psychic chills they induced. His hand closed on the totem around his neck. It was warm to his touch. He grabbed it, moving forward, the ghosts avoiding the pouch.

Philip found the totem Sanchez had discarded and draped it over Sanchez's neck. The ghosts faded.

Sanchez started. His hand moving to the totem. "What's this?"

"We may not understand superstitions, but what we don't understand might exist. Sleep now." At least one of them might as well.

Friday, April 6, 2012


"Your Majesty, the pin refuses."

Jeörg's hands trembled on the rim of his war board. Purple markers for his own knights drowned in a sea of red enemies. They had understood his own vulnerabilities and marched to the point where their forces converged like a noose around Jeörg's over-gorged castle, filled with refugees. Piles of ash signified where his knights had lost. With so few men remaining, he could not lead them to a win. He needed the mirror's gamble.

"He must. The life of the one sacrificed for the many."

"Your Majesty, he cannot be forced."

"Do not lecture us." Jeörg swallowed. His captain meant the best and would mourn his own soldiers soon. "You must convince the pin."

Sweat poured down the captain's brow. "He will not listen. Manic. He talks over me. Demands your audience."

Jeörg pounded his war board, lifting ash into the air. "You have not removed his tongue."

The captain's mouth opened and closed before he retreated a step. "No use, your Majesty. A man can make noise without a tongue."

"Find his family, find his loves."

"Majesty, he has none."

The ermine mantle on Jeörg's shoulders grew heavy. The pin must make the choice to sacrifice of his own volition. He must find the core value the pin believed that was worth more than the pin's life. One's family was an easy value, but not the only one.

He pondered possibilities on his route to the Mirror's Gallery. Loyalty to King, loyalty to beauty, desires for wealth. Although, the last would be hard, no time for the pin to savor them before the sacrifice. In the end, it would depend on what Jeörg found inside the man. He had never been enough of a planner, his knights had learned that lesson the hard way.

The Mirror's Gallery was a nightmare. The pin sat propped against a column, his head slumped, his shoulders slumped, his arms leading to pools of blood beside his slit wrists. Each of the mirrors propped on easel's caught a mixture of the pin's blood along with the fragment of the future they caught in their frame.

Without the pin, they could not force the future favorable to his knights surprise tactic. The odds were innumerable, only one of the hundred mirrors depicted success.

Jeörg strode forward, his mantle billowing in his wake, to kick the knife from the pin's grasp. It was a soldier's knife. He turned on his captain. "What have you done?"

The captain gripped his hilt with a mailed fist. "A calculated gamble."

"But, why would he do this?" Weakness washed over Jeörg and he braced himself against the mirror showing the only favorable outcome. The image in it, flickered, welcomed him. "Suicide is sure defeat. No one understands what happens to the pin once they merge with the mirror and secure the future."

"I convinced him it was eternal pain."

"Why?" This was madness. "When the mirrors were constructed, they were keyed to the pin. Only he could secure our future. Why would you deny us?"

"You are wrong." The captain no longer addressed his liege with the proper honorific. "Along with a drop of the pin's blood, a speck of your hair was added to the mirror's tincture. The mirrors are keyed to you as well."

"I see." Jeörg's mouth was dry.

"You must sacrifice for the land, for --"

"Shut up. We understand." Jeörg confronted the mirror. He had been too easy on his knights, hoping to inculcate loyalty through example. Too easy on the Kingdom, allowing every refugee into the castle's walls even though it weakened them. He understood who would be king in his absence. The captain would not have it any easier. This sacrifice, a last noble example, would not be forgotten, would provide his people hope. Or so he prayed as he knelt before the mirror and leaned his body into its surface to pin the future.