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Thursday, July 26, 2012 12 comments

#FridayFlash: Shine Until Tomorrow (conc.)

And we bring this story to a close. In case you’ve missed the earlier pieces, here they are:

“What does that mean?” Mary pushed away to look at Eric.

“You used ‘let it be’ to bring the beast to life, right? And all that other stuff, like getting me out from under that pole. And making the angel.” He took a deep breath. “But not us. I was into you before that.”


“Yeah. I used to watch you in history class. I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough for you, so I never dared to try talking to you. I was gonna take art next semester so we’d have another class together.”

Mary grinned. “I so totally wanna hear about this. But we need to get rid of the angel first.”

“It’s that Beatles song.”

“That what song?”

Eric laughed. “My dad said he used to sing it to make me go to sleep, when I was a baby. Let It Be. I bet it’s in there. ‘There will be an answer’.”

Mary shuddered. “I remember thinking that. A couple times, while I was finishing a sketch. How come I don’t know the song?”

“You probably heard it and forgot. I guess it came out when our grandparents were our age.” Eric shrugged. “Dad and Aunt Circe liked the Beatles, and she has her CDs here. Let’s go look for it.”

They went back inside, and Eric lifted the cushion beneath the CD player. He pulled out stacks of CDs and handed them to Mary, digging deeper until, “Aha! Got it! Here, let’s put the other ones back first.” Mary passed stacks back to Eric, until they were all put away. He replaced the cushion. “Let’s play this.” Eric turned on the CD player and inserted the disc. “Track 6. Let me know if it’s too much, okay?”

Mary nodded, and Eric pressed Play. She laughed at the opening lyrics, but was soon caught up. The refrain brought quiet tears to her eyes, but she let the song go on. Near the end, she gasped. “Eric! Stop!”

“What?” He paused the CD. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Can you back it up a little?”

“Sure.” Eric held the Back button, watching the numbers count back, then pressed Play again.

“That’s it!” Mary was already at the table, sketchpad open, pencil flying across the paper. She looked up and gave Eric a wild grin. “I’m baaaaack! Give me a few minutes, okay?”

“Okay. I need to go get whatever they’re handing out for supper, anyway.” He picked up a cooler. “I’ll be back in a few.”

By the time Eric returned, Mary was pacing outside the camper.

“They made rolls today!” he grinned, holding up a plastic bag. “And they gave Aunt Circe two cans of beer. She’ll like that.”

“Spam and green beans, too?”

Eric laughed. “How did you know? Did you draw it?”

“Nope, just guessed. Come look.” She took his wrist and pulled him inside.

Source: christianimagesource.com
“Cool,” he said, looking at the drawing. It showed the angel, rising to Heaven in a great beam of light, with people watching all around. Above were three words, different than from before: SHINE • UNTIL • TOMORROW.

“Do you think it’ll work?” Eric asked her.

“Only one way to find out,” she grinned, and kissed him with fervor.

They soon felt the gaze of the angel upon them, but there was also a glow, far brighter than the evening light. Mary looked up again. “Shine until tomorrow,” she said. “Then you go home.” She laughed.

“I guess we’ll have to be careful then,” said Eric. “About… you know.”

“Let it be!” said Mary. They laughed together.


Thursday, July 19, 2012 13 comments

#FridayFlash: Shine Until Tomorrow, pt 1

At long last, I pick up the thread I left off back in April. If you haven’t read the earlier parts, you probably should, because this is an epilogue of sorts. It runs two (short) parts, then it’s really The End for this story. I’ve cleaned it up a lot, thinking I might submit it somewhere. Here’s the earlier parts:

School let out, and the students poured through what was once a side entrance of Four Oaks High School. Mary and Eric walked together, hand in hand, an eddy of quiet in the current of chatter. Outside, the parking lot was full of campers and even a few tents. Most of the campers looked battered, bearing scars left by the beast’s five-day rampage across the world. School had been open for only a week, but the kids were getting back into a routine. Meanwhile, the grownups were trying to rebuild.

Mary and Eric made their silent way through the parking lot. Finally, they reached the camper they shared with Eric’s Aunt Circe, the only surviving close relative either of them knew about. She was out, probably helping with the cleanup on the other side of the school. The tornado, then the beast, had not been kind to the building. But fewer than half the students were left, so the part left standing was enough.

Dropping their bookbags under the small table, they plopped down on the narrow sofa. They sighed as one. Mary idly flipped through her sketchbook, then laid it aside. “This sucks,” she grunted.

“It’s not that bad,” said Eric, waving at the camper around them. “Aunt Circe’s cool. Besides, they’re using all the fuel for cleanup and rebuilding, and it’s too far to walk from my old apartment.” He put an arm around her before she could argue. “Besides, as long as I’m with you, I’m cool with wherever we are.”

“Yeah, me too,” she said, and kissed him. For a blissful moment, the only sound was their breathing as their kiss deepened. That now-familiar warmth kindled in Mary’s guts, and spread all over her. His breathing grew deeper with hers, and they held each other tight. She pulled him down—

Source: openclipart.org
They broke off. Mary looked at the ceiling, unconsciously straightening her clothes. “Why won’t you just go away?” she shouted at the angel outside. Its gaze had already turned away, the moment broken, the lust dissipated. She stormed out, slamming the door against the side of the camper. “Leave us alone!” she snarled. “Why do you always have to watch us?”

“It’s not just us,” Eric said softly, stroking the back of her neck. “Word’s getting around. It’s anyone who wants to do something… sinful, I guess. As soon as they start thinking about it, they feel the angel watching. Nobody wants to talk about it, but…” he shrugged.

Mary turned and buried her face in his shoulder. “I can’t live like this!” she wailed. “Why can’t we just, just have things like they were?”

“You mean with guys like that creep coming onto you? Amber Garner making your life miserable? Us not together?” He squeezed her. “I know you think this is your fault—”

“It is my fault. I made the beast.”

“No. It was there already. It just tricked you. Remember?”

She thought back to the day she drew the angel. “You were right. But how did you know?”

Eric paused. “I don’t know know,” he said. “I guess it’s intuition. I don’t have hard data, but—well, you never made things happen with your drawings before, right?”

She shook her head against his soft chest. “I thought it was girls who have intuition.”

“I don’t think it’s gender-specific,” he said.

Mary laughed. Eric was a geek, and he talked like a geek. Her rampaging beast, killing over half the world’s population, couldn’t change that. He liked to figure out how stuff worked, and she just did stuff. He devoured the news, where hearing about the billions of casualties kept Mary awake at night. Left brain and right brain. Oil and vinegar. They completed each other.

“Anyway, I still think you could draw it gone,” Eric told her.

“I’ve tried. I can’t draw anything. Ever since I drew that last one, where the angel killed the beast.” And I made you like me, she thought with a pang of guilt.

“Maybe it’s something different.”


Saturday, July 14, 2012 4 comments

2-4-6-8, Everyone Evacuate!

Yesterday morning, I’d set up the co-worker with my MacBook Pro because his Dozebox wouldn’t open the files he needed to work on. I had two things to do, and one of them I could do on my own Dozebox, so I hooked it up and got at it. Things were going well enough, when…

braap braap braap

The fire alarm went off. They were doing some testing on Thursday, so at first I didn’t think much of it. It goes off once in a while, and usually quits after a few seconds. But, a minute later, it was still going.

“Must be a fire drill,” I said, and meandered out the door without much further thought. We’d finally got some rain here on Planet Georgia, and it was threatening more, so I stayed under the overhang just outside the door. I thought, If they’re timing us to see how quickly we clear the building, we’re failing miserably. While there were a few dozen people in the back parking lot, there were more still toiling away at their desks.

After a few more minutes, the alarm was still going. I meandered over to the other end of the parking lot where the supervisor was standing. “Hear anything?” I asked him.

“Nope.” Others were joking about what it could have been; I assumed something in one of the labs started smoking.

Finally, someone stuck his head out the door. “All clear, you can come back in,” he said. We headed inside and started chatting about one of the projects I’m working on. We hadn’t been in for two minutes when another guy came by. “Everybody out! Again!” he said. Shortly after, I heard a fire truck approaching in full howl.

Something wasn’t right. I went to my desk to get my Kindle and umbrella, then went out the side to where my car was parked. There were a couple more of my co-workers, whom I joined after putting my stuff in the car (Daughter Dearest’s car, since mine’s in the shop for a power steering issue). That’s when word started getting around: a suspicious package was delivered to the Legal department, and it spilled some white powder.

Someone came from around the front, and said the fire truck was putting some people on the roof. “Why don’t they turn off the ventilation?” I asked. Nobody had a good idea why.

One of the upper managers came by. “We’re going to be out for two hours,” he said. “After that, they might let us back in.” It was 11:15—a little early for lunch, but I did have a 1pm conference call scheduled. I decided to hole up at Johnny’s Pizza for a couple hours, because they have wifi and it’s usually quiet. I could catch up on the world, get lunch, then do some writing-related things until it was time for the conference call. But at 12:30, one of my co-workers called and said we were locked out for the afternoon. Adapting was simple: I’d simply drive home and mostly listen on the conference call on the way. But my counterparts in Beaverton figured it was best to just reschedule, so I had a quiet drive with no distractions.

I came home, got on the VPN, and pulled up mail. “The substance was determined harmless,” said the email, “come on back in.” Fat chance. I took care of things at home.

At least I don’t have to worry about my work computers being contaminated. Beyond the one that’s already contaminated with the Microsoft operating system thing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012 18 comments

#FridayFlash: Sheriff Art

Source: openclipart.org
“Evenin’, Art,” the waitress greeted him. “Coke?”

“I’m off-duty, Tina,” said the sheriff. “How ‘bout a Bud? What y’all got on special tonight?”

“Barbecued half-chicken with two sides.” Tina grinned. “Bread and beans for your sides?”

Art returned the grin. “Like always.”

Tina left to put in the order, and Art’s mind began to wander. As Tina returned with a Bud and a cold mug, a newcomer slipped into the seat across from Art. A striking woman, with dark hair and eyes.

“Oh—” Tina started. “Well. Art, you didn’t tell me you’d found—”

Art scowled at the woman sharing his booth, then looked up. “Tina, this is Ann. My sister.”

“Oh,” Tina said again. “I didn’t know you had a sister, either.” She looked Ann over, then smiled. “Yeah. I can see where y’all favor. You like anything?”

Ann returned the smile. “What he’s having. He knows what’s good here.”

Tina laughed. “That’s true! Comin’ right up.”

“‘Art’? And ‘Ann’?” The woman shook her head.

“Close enough.” Tina swung by and dropped off another beer and mug for Ann, as Art poured his own. “What’s going on?” He glared at Ann.

Ann pushed the mug aside and drank from the bottle. “You’re looking good, brother.”

“As do you.” Art glanced around and lowered his voice. “Too good. Who did you kill?”

“Nobody that didn’t have it coming.”

“Not in my county, I hope.” Art put his hands on the table and looked his sister in the eye. “I won’t stand for that. Not even from you.”

Ann laughed. “Over in Colquitt,” she said. “I know better than to poach on your grounds.”

“Who was it?”

“Just a cop who got above himself.”

Art tensed. “Abusing his position?”

“With gusto!” Ann grinned and took a generous swig of beer. “But not anymore.”

“Better be careful. They’ll be looking for a cop killer.”

“Oh, I haven’t gone sloppy. They’ll never find him, or his carriage.”

“Patrol car.” Art smirked; Ann rarely slipped like that. “And let me know if you find a crooked cop here. I’ll deal with it.”

“Nobody’s above the law, even now.”

Art nodded. “That’s right.”

“Half-chickens, beans, bread.” Tina laid platters from front of each. “Enjoy! I’ll bring you both another round. Thirsty day.”

Ann watched Tina go. “Serving-wenches are so chatty nowadays.”

“Waitress. She’s a waitress.” Art sighed. “You’re playing with me. Now tell me, why are you here?”

Ann giggled. “Of course I’m playing with you.” She picked up her chicken with her fingers and tore into it. Barbecue sauce made her mouth look bloody, making Art think about the life she had taken. She swept a hand around the place. “Why are you here, Arthur?”

He glanced around. “I go by Art here. Art Pender. And I’m here because the people appreciate an honest man watching over things.”

“You were once a king, and now you are a sheriff? A shire-reeve? Subject to the approval of the peasants, like a Saxon kinglet?”

Art sighed. “As ‘shire-reeve,’ in this age, I do much the same I did as king. I uphold the law. I do not allow the mighty to exploit the weak. Yes, they are peasants, and ignorant as peasants often are. But they are content with their lot. And to sit, even in fair Avalon, wears at one after so many centuries.”

“You should find a woman. Yon waitress would swoon into your arms, methinks.”

Another long sigh. “I haven’t had such good luck with women. You know that.”

“That was a thousand years ago, and half again! And—” She caught herself.

“You have not yet told me why you have come, Morgana.” He paused. “Is it time? Has Merlin awakened?”

Morgana’s eyes turned milky white. “Merlin yet sleeps, but he has stirred. He has cried out in his dreams. The time draws near. Earth is not the only troubled realm. The King must soon become a King once more.” Her eyes cleared, and she lifted her beer bottle. “It took much time and trouble to find you.” Then she smiled. “The King should take a Queen,” she continued, nodding at Tina. “That one will not betray a good man.” She drained her beer bottle and stood. “What I have come to do, I have done. When I see you next, we will stand together and fight for the Realm. Until then.” She walked into the deepening evening.

Tina came to fetch the plates. “No offense,” she said, “but you sure got some odd ducks in your family.”

Art laughed. “You don’t know the half of it!”

“You ready for dessert? Pound cake’s pretty good tonight.”

“Not tonight.” Art paused for a moment. “You free tomorrow?”

“Uh, yeah. Why?”

“Oh, I thought maybe we could go over to the reservoir park. Have a picnic. I can bring you your supper for a change.”

Tina grinned. “You know what? You got yourself a date. Lemme get your check, and we can thrash out the details.”

Art smiled as she walked away. Morgana did know women.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

Every time I sit down to write a blog post, it seems like I get distracted by shiny writing things. So, let’s start by welcoming the newest visitors to the free-range insane asylum…

  • Alyssa McKendry — she blogs! she writes! she’s 13!
  • Jazon Dion Fletcher — author of Skull Flowers, which sounds whimsically interesting…
  • L. G. Keltner — “aspiring writer and mother.” (Does that mean she aspires to be a mother as well as a writer? Hm. Both of them involve creative endeavor, and the results of both are often referred to as “my baby.”)

Badges are on the desk. Someone forgot to recharge the Tasers, so don’t get too close to the inmates!

I know, White Pickups hasn’t left the garage… yet. The editor got tied up with other stuff about a third of the way through, but most of her comments were recurring things. I went through the rest of the book, tidying up based on what she’d been saying, and I finished that over the weekend. At this point, I really feel like the book is ready to go. I’m going to have her give it one quick pass though, to (ahem) pick up anything I missed. Then I load the Launch Cannon and open the Crown Royal! It’s not definite for July 28, but it’ll be pretty darn close.

I’ve not been idle while waiting for the edits. I finished Accidental Sorcerers a while back, and it’s a 30,000 word novella. I have a beta reader lined up, and she’s about Mik and Sura’s age—so it’ll be good to see what misconceptions about YA I have.

Speaking of YA, I followed a link to a Guardian (UK) article interviewing an author about Why teens in books can’t swear. This led to a brief but fun discussion with G.P. Ching and Sonia G. Medeiros. Age ratings might be a coming thing, to help parents find appropriate reads for their kids. Of course, they had both read Stephen King as teens (I was in college when I first read The Dead Zone). I’m keenly interested in find out what kind of audience White Pickups is going to have1. The language and sex definitely push it into the “17+” camp—but since it revolves around high-schoolers, I expect there will be younger people reading it as well. Cody is a moody teen, who uses strong language. He’s also sleeping with Sondra, and they are both quite happy with that arrangement. I’ve said all along that this could have been YA, if I’d figured out how to clip out the strong language and sex scenes without diluting the story.

Anyway, once I fire the Launch Cannon, there isn’t much call for a break. I still have to finish Pickups and Pestilence, and start Wings: Unfurled (which won’t have a problem being YA). A sequel to Accidental Sorcerers wants to get onto the waiting-to-write-this list, but it hasn’t really told me enough about itself to qualify just yet. I’ve been working on my Termag wiki, and I might make it publicly accessible so I can work on it from not-home. Plugins for the wiki software would let me deploy a Termag-specific blog, and let readers comment on pages even if I have editing locked down. One thing at a time, though…

1Yes, I’m being optimistic and assuming there will be a general audience for my book.

Friday, July 06, 2012 19 comments

#FridayFlash: the Disposition of Planet EJK7734

This is based on a prompt by Eric Krause: “A tiny planet declares independence from the intergalactic empire.” The planet’s name and designation are a nod to the prompter, not an opinion about same. ;-)

BONUS STORY: John Xero is featuring my sci-fi flash, Archived, on his site. You get two from me this week!

On the planet called “Capital” is the Emperor’s Palace. Behind the ornate Throne Room, where the Emperor greets important delegations, is the State Room. From this plain but heavily-shielded room, the Intergalactic Empire is truly run.

The Ministers have gathered, per instructions from His Sublime Majesty, Overlord, Emperor Warren the Seventeenth. Several of them skim their reports on private holoscreens, hoping to catch any final error before the H.S.M.O.E. does. Those Ministers who know and trust their counterparts have swapped reports to get another set of eyes on them.

At last, the Major Domo enters, plays a recorded fanfare, and introduces the Emperor. All rise as the undisputed ruler of most of the Local Group enters the State Room.

“Be seated,” he says, dispensing with further formalities. “I trust that all of you have prepared your reports?” They nod as one. “Good. Then let us attend to the matter of EJK7734.” He looks at the woman to his left. “Minister of Culture, I will ask you to begin.”

The Minister of Culture, Rebekah Fennel by birth, stands. “I am honored, Your Majesty. We all received the Declaration of Independence from EJK7734, known as ‘Krouze’ to its inhabitants, shortly before the broadcast services did. It is the considered opinion of the sociologists that Krouze has been infested with Dystopian-4 politics. My report describes the situation further.” The charts appear on the primary holoscreen.

“Minister, I am unfamiliar with the details of your labels.”

“Your pardon, Majesty. Dystopian-4 is what we call a ‘constructed reality.’ It espouses the belief that government is not only unable to provide solutions to problems, but is always the problem. As can be expected, it is always accompanied by a studied denial of any facts that do not support the constructed reality. Those are two prime indicators. The third, which is also present on EJK7734, is the suppression of opposing views by violence—usually threatened, but occasionally physical. We believe that as many as two-thirds of the populace, perhaps two billion people, remain loyal to the Crown, but feel unable to steer their planet to a more reasonable course of action.”

“Thank you, Minister,” says the Emperor. He looks at a serious man further down the table. “Given the potential number of loyalists, Minister of the Military, what could be done to minimize civilian casualties and suffering?”

“Sir,” says the Minister of the Military, “I would recommend Standard Plan SP-RB-79 in this situation.” He sifts through several reports, quickly adds slides from one and modifies a few others. “Damage to both sides would be minimal.”

“A thing of beauty.” The Emperor next turns to a fussy-looking man. “Minister of Economy. What is your assessment?”

The primary holoscreen fills with a mind-numbing array of numbers. “As you can see here, Your Majesty, EJK7734 is what the Ministry classifies as an MPP, or Minimally Productive Planet. A ‘backwater,’ in terms of several generations past. Yearly contributions to the welfare of EJK7734 exceed received tax revenues by two hundred billion Intergalactic Credits.”

“An interesting datapoint, Your Majesty,” the Minister of Culture interjects. “Dystopian-4 politics almost always manifest on MPPs.”

“Good to know. Minister of the Military, what would it cost us to put down this rebellion, using your recommended plan?”

The Minister purses his lips. “At a minimum, sir, six trillion credits.”

“Strategic value?”

“Next to none, Majesty.”

“Very well. Minister of Transportation, what would it cost the Crown to transport two billion loyalists?”

The Minister of Transportation, a dark and slender woman, hems and haws as she calculates. “Perhaps one point five trillion credits? Depends on where we send them, Your Majesty.”

“Minister of Commerce,” says the Emperor, “does this planet contribute anything significant to the Crown?”

“Their primary exports are cotton and iron, Majesty. Their contribution in both regards is minimal.” His report flows across the primary holoscreen.

“Thank you, Minister.” The Emperor pauses for a few seconds. “So, we are hearing that a drain on the Empire’s treasury wishes to sever its ties with the Empire. It would cost us about four times as much to put down the rebellion as it would to transport loyalists to a friendlier environ. The planet itself provides nothing important, commercially or strategically. Am I correct?”

Seeing the nods of agreement around the table, the Emperor continues. “It is the provisional decision of the Crown, that EJK7734 be allowed to peaceably withdraw from the Empire, contingent on their allowing all loyalists to depart unmolested and with their personal property. We will study the other reports, but we suspect that they will reinforce our initial decision. I am placing Minister of Transportation Elsbeth Rialna in charge of relocating the loyalists, and she will call upon any of you in support of that. Minister of Planetary Resources, I especially expect you to help her find a suitable destination for our subjects. Once that phase is completed, we shall expect the Minister of State to establish diplomatic relations.” The Emperor smiles. “But nothing too elaborate. As with others in this situation, we expect that our wayward planet will beg to rejoin the Empire within a generation.”

His detractors called him Warren the Beancounter, but historians dubbed him Warren the Wise.


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