Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!
Showing posts with label serial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label serial. Show all posts

Monday, May 15, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 11 (CONCLUSION)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“Serves the louts right, tangling with a Matriarchy woman and her Northerner husband.” Reeve Kendri waited for one of her assistants to push the stone box off the trap door, then nudged the bolt away. Her assistants had already seen to the driver, who complained of a terrible headache and claimed to have no recollection of how he had ended up in the yard. “They have some means, if they can afford a juggernaut as a carriage. What were they doing?”

“We unearthed an artifact from Camac That Was while we were plowing,” Liana explained. “I don’t know how word got all the way to Queensport.”

“You should have just given the thing to the sages. It would have saved you a mickle of trouble.”

“We’re going to market tomorrow,” said Liana. “We mean to give it over then.”

“All shall be well, then.” Kendri kicked the trap open. “You are prisoners of the Crown,” she called down, “charged with assault and attempted robbery. One at a time, and leave any weapons on the floor.”

As her four assistants marched the prisoners to their wagon, Kendri followed Liana and Chakan outside. “Your ‘Misiva’ was probably using an assumed name,” she explained. “But one of her friends might turn her in for a lighter sentence. Clever idea, going out to meet them with a paring knife in your slippers. Good thing marking their carriage was unnecessary.”

“Sturdy, strong, and brave,” Chakan boasted, “everything a Matriarchy woman should be, aye?”

“That immigration program… well, I admit I was skeptical at first, but every single newcomer I’ve met has been a credit to the Matriarchy. The Queen is wiser than I gave her credit for. Well, that’s that. I’ll drive their wagon back.” Kendri stopped. “So where is this mechanism?”

“Ha!” Chakan laughed. “I wrapped it in some blankets and took it to the neighbor’s. It’s in their chicken pen.”

“I’ve not seen one so well-preserved,” Sage Datra breathed, looking over the mechanism. “We have examples others have dug up, but none like this. It still works, you say?”

“Yar,” said Liana. “We tried it out. Had an endless river of neighbors coming to consult it as well.”

“‘Tis one reason we’re glad to be shut of it,” Chakan added.

Sage Wesim chuckled, looking up from the book and the transcripts they had made. “It was a parlor toy,” he explained. “Turning the knobs, and the speed at which you crank it, creates a randomness. It’s a sophisticated version of tossing a handful of rounds into the air, and recording the patterns they make when they land. The answers it gives are vague enough that you can apply them to just about any question. These are excellent transcripts, by the way. If your crops ever fail, let us know. We’ll put you to work as scribes.”

“Gods willing, that won’t ever happen,” said Chakan. “So you say that thing really doesn’t tell the future?”

Sage Datra shook her head. “I’m sure some ancients thought it did. But what it does is let you access your inner mind. In a very real way, it tells you what you already know.”

“Well, then…” Liana trailed off. “May your studies be fruitful.”

“Wait a moment.” Sage Wesim wrote on a slip of paper, then gave it to Liana. “The Crown pays a bounty for items of interest, depending on their state of preservation. This one certainly qualifies as exceptional. Take this paper to the office, and the Provost will take care of the rest. I’m recommending she pay you the maximum of five octagons, and it’s worth every round.”

“Tell me true, Chakan,” said Liana as their plodding oxen pulled the cart homeward. “Do you believe that thing we dug up was nothing but a toy?”

“So the sages told us.” Chakan scratched his head. “But would they not tell us that in any case, so we have no regrets about turning it over?”

“Five octagons put paid to any regrets I had, my love. Even if we have to add a new room to the house, we’ll have money left over to carry us through a crop failure.”

“Aye. But let us focus on you having a healthy daughter, first.”

“Send word to the Queen,” Sage Datra told Wesim. “She needs to hear about this, and soonest.”


Monday, May 08, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 10

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Don’t hurt me,” Liana begged. “I’m with child!”

“Indeed. Tell us where the mechanism is, and you’ll live, you and your child.”

“My husband took it to the sages two evenings ago,” Liana replied. “Not long after you left.”

The knife tip poked harder. “You had better be lying. Now tell us the truth!”

“It’s… it’s in the barn. There’s a trap door behind the compost heap. An old wine cellar. We put it down there.”

“Truly? Well then, we’ll leave you here. You’re bound—so to speak—to tell us true.” One of the men slipped around her, pulling her arms behind her back, and bound her wrists with a leather thong. Then he knelt, bound her ankles, and lowered her to the floor. “You can shout and awaken your husband, but he won’t live long afterward.” A glint of moonlight on bronze told her they each held a dagger.

The shadows retreated, and soon Liana got to her feet. She laid the paring knife, concealed in her slipper, on the table before slipping outside. She jogged across the dark yard. The danger is yours now, love, she thought. May the lesser gods watch over you.

The juggernaut had been modified to include a driver’s perch. The driver, not expecting to be called to work at such a late hour, had already worked his way through most of a jug of ale. He managed to reach their destination, but then laid back on top of the carriage to rest. Stupid louts, he grumbled to himself, listening to the noise his passengers were making in the yard, I thought they knew how to stay quiet.

He dozed atop the juggernaut, ignoring the whickering and quiet scuffing of shod hooves on the old highway. A clicking noise, and then a smoldering smell, brought him out of his stupor. He looked over the side to see a figure backing away, and small flames licking the side of the carriage.

“What—hoy!” he rasped, leaping down. He barely felt the shock of landing, drunk as he was, but the vandal rounded the juggernaut and ran through the yard.

Gotta do something, he thought, giving chase. Ahead of him, the vandal leaped and dodged, running like a frightened rabbit before a hound. Then he stopped short and staggered backward a few steps. “What’s this?” he muttered, his hand around the rake handle that had stopped him short.

Liana grabbed up a piece of firewood—one of many stumbling blocks they had laid in the yard—and brought it down on top of the driver’s head. The man gave her a sad look that said, I never asked for such treatment, then his knees buckled and he fell down snoring.

“Gods, how do they stand it?” one of the men complained, lighting a small lamp. “They must let their oxen run loose in the barn.”

“Step carefully, then,” said the other. “That must be the compost heap over there. It don’t smell much better.”

“Ah, here’s the trap door,” one said, holding up the light. “I’ll go down and fetch it, you keep an eye out.”

“Yar.” He watched as his companion descended the rickety ladder, taking the light with him. Darkness filled the barn, except for what poured up from the trap door.

“A wooden box,” the other called up from below. “They must have put it in—”

The man above yelped and jumped at the sudden stabbing pain in his backside. Unfortunately, his jump carried him over the open trap door and he plunged downward, shouting in alarm and pain.

Chakan dropped the pitchfork and reached over for the trapdoor. The first man drew his dagger and leaped for the ladder, but Chakan slammed it shut. He shot the bolt and dragged the heavy stone box on top of it. Down below, the trapped men pounded at the door and shouted empty threats.

“Done and done,” he called.

“Likewise,” Liana replied, holding a lantern at the door.

“Gods, I hated letting you put yourself in danger like that.”

“Eh, it went the way I expected. Except they had a driver. He’s snoozing in the yard, now.” She gave him a lopsided grin. Those two years I spent as a soldier were useful after all.”

They embraced in the midst of the ox dung they had spread to confound the attackers. “And like anything else you set your hand to, you performed admirably,” he said. “But let’s get this cleaned up before Mirthan brings the reeve.”

to be continued…

Monday, May 01, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 9

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“First thing,” said Liana, as darkness crept over the farm, “we should hide the mechanism.”

“Aye. But not in the barn. That’s the first place they’ll look.”

“And the second place would be under the house.” Liana thumped the wooden floor with her toe. “So where would be a good place?”

“Ah, I think I know.” Chakan fetched a blanket and wrapped up the brass mechanism, explaining his idea. “I won’t be long. Take inventory of what we can use as weapons while I’m out.”

When he returned, almost an hour later, Liana had made a long list. “One thing about farm life, love,” she said, “there’s no end of pointy things lying about.”

“Aye. And I know what bothered me about that carriage.”

“It did seem plain for such a wealthy woman.”

“The Valiant Men of the North—that’s what Reachers call their army—have them,” Chakan explained. They call ‘em juggernauts. Ya have a couple of oxen pull it up a hill, then ya unhook the entire hitch. Plenty of hills in the Reach, ya ken.”

“Your accent is getting thick, heart of my heart.”

“Aye, talkin’ about my old home will do that. So, these juggernauts. An enemy starts up the hill, you loose one o’ these things to smash into ‘em. It’ll carry a whole strike—ten soldiers, give or take—and they can steer it from inside. So they plow into the enemy, then jump out and take ‘em hand to hand. That pointed front end is thick enough to deflect a cannonball, unless it’s really close range. That’s the important thing as far as we’re concerned. Against what we have, it’s an impregnable fortress on wheels.”

“If it’s made of wood, perhaps we could set it afire?” Liana mused.

“Oh, aye, but it would take a while to do more than…” Chakan paused, then swept Liana into a twirling embrace. “I must have married the cleverest woman in all of Termag,” he grinned.

“Aye, my heart of hearts, I would agree,” Liana replied in a horrid parody of Chakan’s Northern accent. “But if it takes too long to burn one of those juggernauts down, what does it profit us?”

“Now say this Misiva sends her boys to take the mechanism. We go to the magistrate with a grievance. Misiva claims she was at some function, with a hundred witnesses, at the time. Sow confusion and doubt, and the magistrate is more disposed to the wealthy anyway. But if one of her properties is marred in a specific way…”

Liana stopped Chakan’s speech with a kiss, long and passionate. “I think it was I who married the clever one,” she murmured against his lips.

“Ah. Our girl will tie the other sages in knots, some day.”

“We’re trying to plan, here,” Liana purred. “If you keep talking like that, I’ll end up dragging you to bed instead.”

“I fail to see the problem, beautiful one.”

“Eh, you’re right. We can plan some more afterwards.”

On the night before market day, the juggernaut rolled quietly along the road that ancient maps called Sunset Coast Highway. The horses wore boots, and the wheels were wrapped in soft leather. Neither boots nor wrappings would last long, but stealth was needed only until they reached their destination.

The carriage rolled past one farm, where someone lounged on the porch with one lit candle and a jug of ale for company. They passed Liana’s farm, then turned about and stopped. Two men emerged, their clothing a darkness reflecting the surrounding darkness. Without a word, they hustled directly toward the house—

“Unh! Ah!” one of them shouted.

“Quiet, ya lout!” the other hissed. “What happened?”

“The untidy fools left a rake out here. I’ll have a bruise for sure tomorrow.”

“Nothing for it. Move a little slower, now. If they heard, they heard. Nothing they can do about it.” They continued, spotting and avoiding other hazards. “Eh, I wonder if they expected us.”

“No bloodshed, the mistress said. Unless it’s needed.”

“Yar. Maybe they’ll give us the need.” He rapped on the front door.

Liana opened the door, yawning, candle in hand. “What is it?”

Hands seized her, and she felt a knife point at her throat. The candle fell and snuffed itself before hitting the floor. “Cry out and die,” one of them whispered.


Monday, April 24, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 8

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Chakan led the two men to the barn, leaving Liana with Misiva. He had an uneasy feeling, but thought Liana stronger than this wealthy visitor. As for the men… well, Chakan knew what tools could become weapons and where they were hung.

“The thing was sealed up with pitch on the inside,” he explained as they stepped inside. “We had quite a time of it pulling that lid off. Whoever put it in the ground expected it to survive the ages.”

“Indeed,” one of the men said; later on, Chakan never could remember which one was speaking at any time. “This is the box?”


“I mean no offense, but you speak like a foreigner.”

“Aye, I take none. I was born a Reacher. The Matriarchy offers louts like me a plot of land, if I agree to be a good husband to my wife. Seems like I got the better end of that bargain.”

Both visitors looked amused, although Chakan meant his words as a pointed warning. Reachers were often considered warlike in this part of the wide world. One of the men reached inside the box, and scratched at a light spot on the bottom in one corner. “Wax,” he said. “They lit a candle before putting the lid on.”

“Why would they do that?” Chakan asked.

“It helps to seal the box. Perhaps the ancients had other reasons, things we forgot in The Madness.”

“That contraption showed a date… year 1812 of the Pearl Throne, if I remember right. The eve of The Madness. The rest of it warned of disaster.”

The men looked at each other. “I don’t suppose you remember the exact date?” one asked.

“Nay, but I sketched the thing as it was when we took it outta the ground.” Chakan took a breath. “Tell me true, folk. Can a machine predict the future if it’s calibrated against the stars?”

Again, they looked at each other before speaking, making Chakan wonder if they had some form of silent communication. “That we know not. Such things we leave to the mistress.”

“Ah,” said Misiva, as Chakan entered the kitchen. “I was telling your wife, I have never seen an artifact from the time of Camac That Was so well preserved in my entire career. I am prepared to offer you twenty-five gold octagons for the mechanism and the instructions, and five more for the notes and transcripts you have made.”

Liana and Chakan stared wide-eyed at each other. That kind of money would make them rich, by Chakan’s reckoning—able to live idly for over a year, perhaps two.

“Ah, ah, we’ll have to think that over,” Liana stammered after a long moment.

“Oh, I hope you won’t think it over too long,” said Misiva. “The sages will simply take it off your hands, and call it property of the realm. “You have put much work into puzzling it out, and I would think you should have somewhat to show for it, no?”

“Aye,” Chakan replied. “We’ll give it our most serious consideration.” That was a sarcastic Northerner idiom, but he doubted this wealthy Westerner knew that. Indeed, he would have to explain it to Liana.

“Good. We shall return, day after tomorrow.” Misiva stood, her menfolk bowed, and they departed.

“Chakan,” said Liana, watching the carriage roll back towards Queensport, “I am leaving this decision to you. Had we turned it over to the sages right away, as we should have done, I would not be so tempted by wealth.”

“They were polite and proper,” Chakan mused, “but that says little about their hearts. Say we took their money right away. Who can assure us they would not find a way to take it back?”

“But if they would do such a thing… perhaps they would try to take the mechanism while we consider the situation?”

“I told those men I was a born Reacher. If they took not the hint…”

“So we should take the mechanism to the sages right way,” Liana suggested.

“That they will expect,” Chakan countered. “They’ll have a trap set for us.”

None fight like a Northerner defending his land,” Liana quoted. “So we let them come to us, when we’re ready for them. When do you think they’ll come?”

“A day or two before market day. That gives us a little time to plan our defense.”


Monday, April 17, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 7

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Brinla was indeed loose of tongue, and she was not the only one. The rain came in as Chakan had expected, but it did little to wash away the stream of folk coming to ask questions of the brass mechanism.

Chakan and Liana grew irritable, although they usually remembered to direct their ire toward the constant interruptions—at meal times, work times, gardening times, even lovemaking times—any time of day, and into the evening, someone would come a-knocking. They tried to put up a sign to limit the visits, but most folk simply ignored it.

At least, Chakan thought, they do not come empty-handed. Visitors brought chickens, slabs of salted beef, bacon, bundles of onions, sacks of potatoes or bread, and even a little money. The list of items they needed at market diminished each day, and that brought Chakan a new worry—that they would not need to go, and then they would be stuck with the cursed mechanism forever.

As for Liana, she soon became dismayed at the banality of the questions the folk brought:

Should my son marry this woman or that woman?

If I bet on the dice tomorrow, will I win?

Is my husband seeing a woman in Queensport?

After one of these left the house one day, Liana threw up her hands. “Love, I will never ignore your advice again. First thing in the morning, we’re putting that thing on the wagon and taking it to the sages.”

Chakan took her in his arms. “Soft, soft, my heart. It’s not been all bad. We can wait until market day, it’s almost here. But I tell ya true: I’ll be glad to see that hunk of gearworks gone.”

Liana pulled the bar across the door, then turned and gave Chakan a look she knew made his stomach lurch and his desire rise. “Come to our bed, love. Let us thank the Creator for giving us each other.”

Thankfully, the knocking did not resume for a while. When it began anew, more insistent than usual, they rolled out of bed and threw some clothes on, grumbling about more intrusions.

To their surprise, there were two men and a woman at the door. They were unfamiliar, and their manner of dress suggested they were city dwellers. Out at the road stood a carriage with two donkeys. It seemed plain, but something about it nagged at Chakan.

“Yar?” Liana asked, having no better greeting at the moment.

“Your pardon, notables,” the woman replied as the men gave a half nod-half bow. “We were told you have unearthed an ancient treasure?”

“If you are of the Crown, please present your forms,” said Chakan. One of the lessons he had learned in this new place was emissaries of the Crown always carry their papers. They had shown him copies of papers, so at least he knew what they should look like. He likely would be unable to tell forgery from genuine item, but it made more work for those with bad intent.

“Oh, we are not with the government,” the woman assured him. “I am Misiva sam Tiefi, a private investor in antiquities and the like. Have I indeed been directed to the correct house?”

Chakan held his tongue, but he was sorely tempted to say we left the contraption with the sages this morning. Instead, he hoped his wife would say it, with more conviction than he would be able to muster. His father used to tell him, you make a poor liar, Chakan, but the only shame in that is to try lying anyway.

“Yar, we still have it,” Liana said after a brief pause, dashing Chakan’s hopes. Something about this situation made him nervous.

“Oh, excellent. Could I perhaps see it? I am willing to compensate you for your trouble.” Misiva produced a small bag, and took from it a gold octagon.

Liana and Chakan stared at the coin. While their farm would garner the equivalent of that bag over a year, assuming it was filled with octagons, neither of them had seen that much money all at once. A single octagon would buy enough food for three weeks or more.

“Ah, indeed, we can let you have a look,” Liana stammered, taking the coin. “Do enter, in all peace and harmony.”

“Tea?” Chakan asked as Misiva and her two men—bodyguards?—followed them inside. “We have Queensport Black and Two Rivers Red. I can have the pot warmed in short order.”

“You are indeed hospitable,” Misiva replied, “but we should not be long. This is… it is marvelous! It looks as though it might be functional.”

“It is,” said Liana. “We have used it according to the instructions.”

“Truly?” Misiva looked astonished. “A book survived that long buried in the ground?”

“‘Twas in a stone box,” Chakan blurted. “Sealed up tight for the ages. We had a time of it getting it open without breaking it, let me tell ya.”

“I suppose the box has become paving stones,” one of the men said.

“Nay. We kept it intact. Thought we might come up with a use for it later on.”

“May we see it?” the second man asked Chakan.

“Oh, aye. It’s in the barn. Liana?”

“Yar, let them see it.”


Monday, April 10, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Eh, that kettle heats up fast,” said Chakan. “Should be ready.” He fetched the kettle, scooped a healthy pinch of tea leaves into the cups, then brought it all to the table on a tray. “Our honored guest,” he said, pouring Brinla’s tea.

Brinla nodded, then took another cup and poured for Liana. “My gracious host.”

Finally, Liana poured a cup for Chakan. “The love of my heart, and the father of our child.”

“Love and friendship,” said Brinla, raising her cup. “A toast always worth drinking to.”

After Liana first, and having a farm of their own second, Chakan thought the tea ceremony might be his favorite thing about life in the Matriarchy. Woman or man, everyone poured each other’s tea. Liana had once told him that if he, a common and foreign-born man, were to take tea with the Queen, even she would pour his tea after he poured hers. All serve in the Matriarchy, the consul had told him, back before he left the Reach, and two years of living here had not shown him different.

“So,” said Brinla, “this thing you dug up. It is truly from Camac That Was?”

“So Chakan believes,” Liana replied.

“Aye. See these numbers?” Chakan pointed to the bottom display. “That’s today’s date, according to the old calendar. When we dug it up, it was showing a date from twenty-four hundred years ago. It was in a stone box, coated with pitch and sealed up. I can’t imagine it could have survived so well otherwise.”

“May I ask a question of it?”

“Of course,” Liana chirped, before Chakan could utter a word.

“Love, I should start spreading that fertilizer before it gets too dark,” Chakan said quickly.

“Go and do. I’ll join you soon.”

Brinla waited until Chakan was outside before speaking. “He seemed nervous.”

“Not a word,” Liana replied. “But I think he’s a little superstitious. He thinks the date the mechanism showed, when we dug it up, was the eve of The Madness.”

“That would be enough to frighten anyone,” said Brinla. “Perhaps the owner buried it before fleeing, thinking she could recover it once she returned? In any case, I suppose fertilizing the field is a chore that needs doing.”

“Yar. But your question? I’ll turn the crank. You twist these knobs while you ask it.”

Brinla took her place at the machine, gripping the knobs. “Will our flock prosper this year?” she asked, as Liana turned the crank.

“Zero three eight, nine two four, five four seven,” Liana read the display. “Now we consult the list.”

The wolf prowls without
Vigilance is no error
Beware the weak house.

Liana looked at her neighbor. “What does that tell you?”

“It tells me I need to get my lout of a husband to shore up that gods-forsaken chicken coop,” Brinli replied. “I’ve been after him about that for a while now.” She stood. “You have a good man, Liana. Even if he is a foreigner. May he continue to bless you.”

“And maybe if Brinla treated him like a partner, instead of a servant, he wouldn’t find ways to vex her so often,” Liana concluded. “Truly, do we spread this so thin?”

“Aye,” said Chakan, sprinkling fertilizer on the rows. “Too much, and it’ll kill the seedlings. Indeed, if we don’t get rain in two days, we’ll have to irrigate to help our crop along.”

“The mechanism said we wouldn’t have drought.”

“Aye, but a few days without rain doesn’t make a drought. A few dry days right now can be a bad thing, though.”

“I see.” Liana scattered compost on the adjacent row. “Husband… after we finish this, could you go to Brinla’s and help Mirthan strengthen their chicken pen?”

“I suppose.” Chakan clucked at the ox to move the cart up. “Is this about that… thing we dug up?”

“Yar. Brinla asked if her flock would prosper. It warned of wolves and weak houses.”

“Aye. I’ll bring a jug of ale and we can make the wind after we finish with the pen. You know, Brinla’s got a bit of a loose tongue. We’ll soon have all the folk around here coming to ask questions of the mechanism. When are we taking it to the sages?”

Liana sighed. “We’ll have to go to market in a week. We can take it then. Maybe you’re right, Chakan. Brinla said you’re a good man, and she speaks true. Your instincts are talking, and I need to stop ignoring that. So when we go to market, we’ll be shut of this.”

“That thing does worry at me, love. But we’ll ask the sages to tell us what becomes of it, aye?”


Monday, April 03, 2017 1 comment

The Brass Mechanism, episode 5

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Will our child be healthy?” Liana asked, twisting the knobs atop the mechanism. Chakan turned the crank, wishing they had just given the thing over to the sages. Following the instructions to advance the mechanism’s calendar one day, they started planting corn yesterday afternoon, then spent today finishing the work. Now it was evening once again, and tomorrow would be a day of rest. Not that either one planned to get much rest, but…

Chakan refused to watch the numbers spinning, but heard the click as each one fell into place, sealing the fate of their child for good or ill.

“It’s done,” Liana told him.

“Oh. Ah.” Chakan had been turning the crank without realizing it was spinning freely.

“Three two one, six six three, zero three nine,” Liana read the display. “Let’s look it up.”

“All right.” Chakan tried to keep his voice light as he consulted the book.

Duty rewarded
There is no error in rest
Beware violence.

“What do you make of it?”

Liana looked over the numbers, checking her husband’s work, then sat lost in thought for a long time. “It sounds like I should pay close attention to the Healer,” she said. “And to not pick fights or wrestle lids off stone boxes.” She grinned at Chakan. “Rest when I can. That should not be too hard for a while.”

“Aye. Seed’s in the ground, now. When we see signs of rain, we’ll spread the fertilizer. Other than that? Until the corn’s sprouting, we care for the oxen, forage, and tend the kitchen garden.” Chakan found the latter a wonder—a garden that could be picked year-round. True, the winter offerings were roots and sour greens; but a dollop of fat gave the greens some flavor and local herbalists claimed they were good for the constitution. A brief walk would take them to unclaimed land, where they could forage. Northerners like Chakan found the southern coastal lands almost obscenely abundant with edible plants and small game.

“Then it’s settled,” said Liana, taking his hand. “I should rest. You can see that I sleep all night.”

A few days went by before they saw rain coming, but they were never truly idle. Between foraging, seeing to their garden and animals, and frequent romps in bed, they kept busy.

When Chakan saw the clouds building, he went out to the barn and turned the compost heap before pitching the bottom layers into a field wagon. Compost was something he had learned of in his roustabout days, and had brought the knowledge with him to Queensport. Local farmers, finding their waste could easily become free fertilizer, quickly took up the practice as well.

The heap was odorous, especially in summer, but not so much on cool spring mornings like this one. “Rain will come, tonight or on the morrow,” he told the oxen, munching hay in their stalls. “We’ll spread this mess on the field before it gets here.”

But when he went into the house to get Liana, he found their neighbor Brinla sitting at the table. “Peace and harmony,” he said automatically, putting the heel of his hand to his forehead and giving her a nod.

“All peace unto you, Chakan,” Brinla replied, hand over heart. “I had a surplus of eggs this week, and eggs are good for a woman with child, so I thought I would bring Liana a few and catch up on news.”

“Thank’ee for the eggs, and you’re welcome here as always. Would you like some tea? We have Queensport Black, and I believe Two Rivers Red.”

“Red would be good.”

Chakan looked at his wife, who nodded. “Red it is, then.” He stoked up the fireplace—it was yet cool enough to want at least some heat in the house—and hung the pot over the flames.

“So Liana tells me the two of you dug up this fascinating piece of machinery,” Brinla told Chakan as he returned to the kitchen to check on their tea supply. “And it tells the future?”

“I know not if it truly tells the future,” Chakan replied, satisfied that they had enough red tea. “But it does seem to give useful advice about matters when queried. We should be turning it over to the sages soon. Let them puzzle out the truth of it.”

“How does it work?”

“You turn these knobs while you ask your question,” Liana explained. “Someone turns the crank for you. Then you match the numbers against a list to see the answer.”


Monday, March 27, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Chakan began to object, but stopped. Two years living in the Matriarchy, and he still found himself having to shake old attitudes. But deferring to his wife was a small price to pay for… for everything. Not only for their land, but for Liana. Her letters had raised his hopes, and getting to know her had proven reality greater than his hope. She was headstrong, aye, but better that than a woman who waited to be told what to think. Besides, she listened to his advice about farming, and mostly let him make the decisions for the farm work. If ever a man had found his ideal… “Aye. Fair enough,” he said.

“We’ll have a care,” Liana assured him. “What should we ask about first?”

“Eh. What crops will be worthwhile to plant. ‘Twould save us a mickle of work if we’re gonna face drought or blight this season.”

“So we plant nothing if the mechanism predicts a bad growing season?”

“Ah, nay.” Chakan embraced his wife. “We’ll plant crops that won’t need as much water. They won’t fetch a high price at market, but they’ll beat a failed corn crop.”

“Sensible. But we’ll need to get all these numbers and their phrases written down to make sense of it anyway. Let’s get to work.”

Working by the light of their lamps, they kept on through the night. By the time they looked up, the first light of day was struggling through the windows. Some of the pages in the old book had torn, but they had faithfully transcribed the entire thing.

“Ah,” Chakan grumbled, dropping the quill and shaking his hand. “I’m cramping from elbow to fingertip here.”

“I’d like to see a scribe do better,” Liana soothed, rubbing his arm. “A sweet potato will help with the cramping. We got one left. I’ll cook it up with some sausage for ya, then we’ll get some sleep.”

Afternoon sun streaming into the bedroom window had Chakan sitting up quickly. “Ah, the day’s more’n half-gone,” he muttered, throwing back the covers.

“Soft, soft,” said Liana, putting a hand on his shoulder. “If we don’t get the planting started today, we’ll start tomorrow. One day more or less won’t hurt matters. And we’re going to consult our mechanical Oracle first, remember?”

“Oh, aye.” He yielded to Liana’s gentle pressure, lying down once again.

“How’s your hand?” she asked.

“Better. It might actually grip something.” He reached and gave Liana a gentle squeeze.

“Mmmm. I think my husband is awake.” She reached down. “Indeed he is.”

Some time later, they sat at the table, eating their lunch—strips of marinated meat with a bland local cheese, wrapped with salad greens in flatbread—eyeing the strange mechanism they had wrested from the middle of their field.

“So the book says you grip the knobs atop the thing and twist ‘em, while you ask your question,” said Chakan. “Then you turn the crank clockwise until it no longer resists.”

“And you interpret its answer from the numbers it shows,” Liana added. “Seems simple enough. So you ask the question, I’ll spin the crank, eh?”

Chakan grasped the knobs atop the mechanism. “Should we plant corn this year?” he asked, twisting the knobs as he spoke.

Liana turned the crank, watching the numbers spin across the upper display. One by one, the numbers stopped spinning. Finally, the last number fell into place and the crank spun freely. “It’s done,” she said.

“Aye. Four one one, eight zero nine, two four seven.” Chakan turned to his transcript, and thumbed through the pages.

A plan is well laid
Sun and rain come in their time
Work is rewarded.

“It sounds like we should just plant our corn like we planned.”

“That’s a relief.” Liana grimaced. “Necessity. We can start planting afterwards.”

Chakan watched her rush for the privy, then started for the barn. But before he left the house, he turned around and went back to the brass mechanism. His sketch was in the sheaf of paper that made up his transcription, and he took it out to have a look. “One zero four, zero seven two, two nine eight,” he muttered. He thumbed through the tables, jotting down the meaning on a piece of scrap, then checked it again.

An ill wind blows strong
All empires fall in their time
The hidden prosper.

“Gods. If this thing were buried on the eve of The Madness… gods.” He tucked the scrap into the sheaf, then slipped outside and trotted to the barn. Maybe work would help him forget the dark prophecy.


Monday, March 20, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 3

Part 1 | Part 2

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Liana set their prize on the table, and they stepped back to take a look. It was a strange-looking device, but even folk with a basic education could see it was some kind of machine. All brass gears, spindles, and fittings it was, with a few flecks of the wood that had once covered it still clinging to the supports. It sported a crank on the right side, the wooden handgrip long gone. A row of numbers dominated the front of the device: 104 072 298. Below was a smaller set of numbers: 98 1812. It had a faint odor of oil and decay.

“So what do those mean?” Chakan asked, pointing at the numbers.

“Maybe the answer is in here.” Liana opened the book, watching to see if the pages would crumble at a touch. “Have a care with this, but it might survive our perusals.” She turned up the title page; it felt brittle but did not fall to pieces. “Using the Prediction Calculator,” she read. “What in the Fourth Hell?”

“This hunk of metal tells the future?” Chakan gave the device an incredulous look. “Ha, the Queen would want to get her hands on this, then.”

“This text is hard to make out. They must not have written the same way we do. ‘Accurate predictions… to ensure, against the stars shall you calibrate.’ What?”

“Sounds like Low Speech. Outside of Phylok you get, so the farmers talk.”

Liana took a moment to parse her husband’s explanation. “Ah. So the ancients all talked the same way? I see. This is saying you calibrate this thing against the stars to get accurate predictions.”

“It uses the stars to make predictions? Outlandish. Shipmasters use the stars to tell where they are on the sea, but I’ve never heard of anyone using them to predict the future.”

“Eh. I never heard Low Speech until you used it just now.”

“If the ancients used the stars to predict the future,” Chakan mused, “the sages would find this thing useful indeed.”

“Ah!” Liana cursed as the page tore. “Bring some paper, love. If these gods-forsaken pages come apart on us, we can preserve what they say for the sages.”

“The sages won’t be pleased with our destroying the originals. But if we’re going to puzzle this thing out, it’s the best we can do.” He paused. “Liana… perhaps we should give this over. Let the sages ruin the book. Knowin’ the future could be a fearful business.”

“Could be some profit in it, love. Besides, we found it. We pulled it out of our field. You got the box open. We’ll do the best we can, and that will have to be good enough. Here, write down the numbers it’s showing. Maybe we can puzzle out their meaning later.”

“Aye. Then we’ll sow tomorrow?”

“If the Creator brings us another day of dry weather, indeed. Don’t you have those numbers written down yet?”

“I’m sketching the whole works.” Chakan slid the paper to his wife.

“How do you do that so well, and so quickly?” she asked. In less time than it takes to drink a cup of tea, Chakan had sketched a fair likeness of the mechanism, with Liana looking on. He had drawn a look of wisdom and revealed knowledge on her face.

“A knack. I don’t get to exercise it often.”

“I like this. We should put it in a frame. Then we’ll wait for dark, and calibrate this… this thing. But let’s copy the instructions while we’re waiting.”

“If we don’t destroy the pages along the way.”

“Hoy, I got an idea.” Liana took another sheet of paper and slid it in between the next two pages in the book. “Maybe this will help.” She gently turned the page. “Ha, it worked! Now here’s what it says…”

The night was clear enough to see the stars, and they followed the instructions to calibrate the device. They twisted knobs and pointers on the top of the mechanism as directed, then held their breath as Chakan turned the crank counter-clockwise. One turn, two turns… then the odd clicking noises inside the mechanism ceased and the crank spun freely as the instructions said it would.

They took their prize back inside and looked it over. “Hoy,” said Chakan, “the numbers along the bottom are different, now. Now it’s 84 4269.

“Eh. I think it’s forty-two something by the old Camac calendar,” Liana mused. “And it’s pretty close to the eighty-fourth day of the year. Maybe that’s today’s date.”

“Then this thing has been in the ground a long time, waitin’ for us to dig it up.” Chakan looked at his sketch. Eighteen-twelve. Gods… that mighta been the year of The Madness.”

“Wouldn’t that be something?”

“Liana… let’s give this over to the sages. We’re messin’ with somethin’ that got buried at the worst time ever. Or just before. What was that first set of numbers? One oh-four?” Chakan consulted his transcripts. “First and third groups use the same numbers. An ill wind blows strong. Makes me wonder what the rest of it means.”

“It won’t bring back The Madness, love. That was a good twenty-four centuries ago. We’ve reset it for modern times, and we’ll make some use of it. Then we’ll give it over. Fair enough?”


Monday, March 13, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 2

Part 1

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“It’s as tight as I can make it,” said Chakan, clambering out of the hole.

“Maybe it’ll work this time, then.” Liana tugged the ox’s harness. “Pull, ya great thudding beast!”

Chakan admired his wife as she coaxed the ox to keep pulling. She even knows the right language, he thought. The animal strained against its harness, and… “Hoy, it’s coming up!”

“Keep it coming!” Liana told the ox.

“Stay on that side,” Chakan warned. “If the rope snaps…”

“Yar. Easy… easy… ha!” The block surrendered its grip on the surrounding earth and slid up the slope and into the field. “That’s it! Drag it back to the barn!”

At the barn, they returned the ox to its stall with a bag of feed, then looked over their prize. “Eh,” Liana mused, “it might make four or five pavers. Enough for our needs, anyway.”

“Aye. But… look.” Chakan knelt and ran his finger across one side. “Looks like a line here.” He brushed away dirt. “I think it runs all the way around the thing. Like it’s a lid.”

“Ha! Maybe it is a chest full of octagons, then?”

“Could be.” Chakan tugged at the “lid,” but it did not budge. “Probably sealed. Here’s where the plow hit it.” He rubbed at a scuff mark along one side. “Hate to take a hammer to it, we might could use it for something.”

“Here, let me bring the pry tool.” Liana kissed her husband. “Keep looking it over, love. You might find something.”

“Best bring a knife, too,” Chakan called after her. “I doubt I could slip that pry tool into this tiny crack.”

“Hoy, I got an idea. Wait here.”

A few minutes later, Liana had driven an old knife blade all the way around the thin crack, and pounded others into each corner. “Yar,” she said, sitting on the ground opposite from Chakan. “Now, twist your blades on your side, and I’ll twist mine. If we get it right, we might get this thing to slide up. Ready? Now.”

“Hoy, the blades are loose,” said Chakan, after a minute of twisting and pulling. “Aye, we got it up a little.”

“Yar. I think we can get the pry tools in there now.”

The afternoon rolled by, and still they strived to open their prize. At last, they worked the lid a finger’s width up, and yet it would not lift off.

“Is it my imagination,” Liana mused, “or is the lid pulling itself back down? Have you ever seen such a thing?”

“Enough,” Chakan growled, standing over the block and working his fingers into the gap on either side. “This ends now.”

“Don’t hurt your back,” Liana warned.

“Eh, I’m more worried about my hands here.” Chakan gripped the block with his boots, pushing with his legs and pulling with his hands. “Get loose, ya Goblin-spawn!” He strained, his accent and curses growing thicker. “Ah, that’s it… come off!” At last, the lid gave way with a pop and a tearing noise, neither of which had they expected to hear from a stone box. Chakan dropped the lid in the soft dirt and panted for breath.

“What in the Seventeen Hells is this?” Liana wondered, looking into the box.

“Eh. Shoulda just handed it over and let the sages do the hard work,” Chakan grumbled, thinking about the Rules of Finding, part of the agreement they signed in exchange for the land grant: Stonework, you may do with what you will. Money is yours but for the normal tax. Items of interest should be turned over to the sages, that they may be studied and benefit the entire nation. “That’s an item of interest if I ever saw one.”

“Yar. We’ll turn it over. But the Rules don’t say we have to turn it over right away. Let’s take a look at it ourselves, first. We did the hard work of getting the box out of the ground and getting it open, so we’ve earned that much.” Liana looked at the box. “Clever folk. Whoever boxed this thing up meant it to survive the ages.” She pointed at a layer of black gunk around the top edge, then turned the lid over. “They painted pitch on the inside of the box and lid, see? It sealed the box tight. That’s why it was so hard to open. I wonder how old this thing is.”

“Well, everything in the ground out here has to be from Camac That Was, nay?”

“Yar.” Liana reached into the box and lifted the contents out. Some kind of mechanism, it seemed; the tarnished brass struggled to reflect the light. “Welcome back to the sun. Now what are you?” She looked down. “Chakan, there’s a book in there. Maybe it’ll tell us what this thing is.”

“If we can make heads or tails of it.” Chakan picked up the book, wincing at the twinge in his back. “I just hope this was worth the effort.”


Monday, March 06, 2017 3 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 1

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
The thought crossed Chakan’s mind: Plowing’s a man’s work.

The better part of himself spoke up immediately. You know better, ya lout. Reacher women plow when they have to. Two years you’ve been a Matriarchy man now, you shouldn’t think like that anymore.

He looked across the field, where his wife Liana plowed with the other ox. And she’s plenty able to do it, a third part of him thought, with mixed admiration and desire. Chakan had always found sturdy women more attractive than either the willowy Reacher standard, or the round soft kind favored in Westmarch and the Alliance cities. They would be married a year, come the autumn equinox, and Chakan often thought how lucky he was, to—

The plow lurched, nearly jerking out of Chakan’s hands. His surprised “Hoy!” did not cover the scraping of the plow blade dragging across a rock. “Hold up, ya lump!” he yelled at the ox.

“What happened?” Liana called from her side of the field. They had each taken half to plow, and now they were close together. Closer than Chakan had thought; they were nearly finished.

“We found another paver, like as not.”

“That’s good. We need a few more to finish the walkway.”

“Maybe that’s why the Crown granted us this patch,” said Chakan. “We’ll never find the end of clearing it.”

“Every time I think about it, I marvel at how vast Old Stolevan must have been. You can hear legends of Camac and Stolevan carrying a million folk each until your ears fall off, but to think this was part of the city…” Liana trailed off, looking toward Queensport, visible to the southeast. “Its boundaries stretched clear out to here and beyond. Well, mark the spot and we’ll dig it up after lunch.” She gave him a wicked grin. “But not right after lunch, mind you.”

“How much longer?” Chakan asked, somewhat later, lying in bed with his wife. This was their favorite dessert after any meal.

“Oh, the Healer said not to worry about it right away. I’m not even showing yet.” Liana had kindled two months ago, to their mutual delight. “If all goes well, we might not have to stop.”

“That’s good to know.” He rolled onto his side, draping an arm across his wife.

“Will you love a daughter as much as a son?” she asked.

“Of course. She won’t be the only one we have.”

Liana stroked his hip, then slid her fingers down. “Good. Hoy… I think you’re ready for more.”

It was mid-afternoon before they pushed themselves grumbling out of bed. But Liana was right; they needed a few more pavers. They had dug up many cut stones last fall and laid them between their house and the barn—a tiny barn by the standards Chakan had grown up with, big enough to house their oxen and what little hay they needed for a southern winter. They were plowing two months before farmers would in the Northern Reach, and needed far less hay to keep their livestock fed through the winter. Still, what they called “winter” along the southern coast was wet, and the paving stones helped them stay out of the mud.

They took shovels, a pick, and rope from the barn, then trudged across the field toward the stick that Chakan had used to mark the spot.

“Maybe this one will be a chest full of octagons,” Liana quipped, getting to work.

“Aye. And maybe we’ll get a winter without snow,” Chakan laughed, digging next to her.


“Oh, aye. A Reacher saying. The land up there is still covered with it, and here we are getting ready to plant.”

“No, love.” Liana tossed another shovel of dirt aside. “What is snow?”

“You don’t—of course you don’t know about snow, if ya grew up in Queensport. Well…” Chakan stopped to think. “It’s like rain, but it’s frozen before it falls from the sky. Instead of drops, it comes down in tiny little flakes. Enough to bury the land, sometimes as high as me.”

“Ah, I’ve seen that a time or two. Enough to cover the ground, sometimes, but…” Liana grounded the shovel. “Tell me true, Chakan. Is that a tall tale you tell about it covering the land?”

“Tell ya true, Liana. The ground around the warm springs stays clear, but everywhere else? Snow as far as ya can see.”

“No wonder you moved south,” she grinned.

“Nay, nay. I moved here…” he stopped, realizing she was teasing him. But the warmer climate was the least of his reasons to leave his old home for this strange nation where women ruled. As a younger son, he had little to inherit. In his youth, he learned he was not cut out for the military. The one girl he fancied took up with a boy with better prospects. He hired himself out as a roustabout, a freelance farm hand, and found he liked the work. But that desire for one’s own land, one’s own place, was in the Northerner blood. The Matriarchy’s embassy promised land to those who would emigrate and embrace their customs…

“Hoy, ya lazy lout, stop woolgathering!” Liana laughed. “I think I just hit it.”

“Eh? Sorry.” Chakan put his back into it, and soon they looked at the corner of a stone.

“That might be enough to finish the walkway,” Liana mused. “Depends on how deep it goes.”

“Only one way to find out,” Chakan grinned, and began digging around it.

A few minutes later, they stopped. “Eh,” Liana grumbled. “Looks like a block. ‘Twould make a fine cornerstone for a tavern, but it ain’t much good for us.”

“We could always hire a stonecutter to split it,” Chakan pointed out. “That’s enough stone to finish the walkway, and give us a good start on a walk to the road.”

“If she don’t shatter the thing. No telling how long that block has been buried. Well, fetch an ox, husband. We’ll get this out of the field, then we’ll decide what to do with it.”


Monday, October 05, 2015 2 comments

New Blink adventure!

Blink is starting his latest adventure, My Dad, the Supervillain! at WriteOn. Go to writeon.amazon.com, click the drop-down, and start with Part 3. Or start at the top if you need a refresher. 

Updates go live every Monday until it’s done… then we’ll see about Part 4…

Monday, May 04, 2015 2 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 20 (CONCLUSION)

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19

Mom gave him the news at the beginning of Labor Day weekend, Friday after she got home. “Your father and I have been talking some,” she said. Seeing Stevie’s hopeful look, she quickly added, “We aren’t getting back together or anything. But we’re going to communicate better from now on. We’ve agreed that the support payments he missed will go into bonds for your college. Once we’ve caught up on all the bills, we’re going to put more of that money aside for college.”

“That sounds cool.”

“And he really wants to see you, Stevie. I told him it would be okay if he picked you up tomorrow around eleven. You’re seeing Sarika on Sunday, right?”

Stevie paused. That’s right, three-day weekend. No school Monday. “Yeah. I guess that’ll be okay.”

To Stevie’s amazement, Dad showed up at five minutes to eleven. He had never been on time for a visitation before. He had a new car—a different one, anyway. Nothing fancy, but it looked and felt solid. “The old one finally gave up the ghost,” was all Dad said about it.

They said nothing important on the way. Dad stole nervous glances at Stevie, who curled up and watched the road. Back to the state park for more Frisbee, he guessed. To his surprise, though, Dad stopped at the Dari-Freez. “It’s about lunch time,” Dad explained. “Can’t have a boys’ afternoon out on an empty stomach.”

“Can I get the Choco-Peanut Explosion for dessert?” Stevie asked, thinking about the one he had left on the table a few weeks ago.

“Tell you what. We’ll split one. Sound good?”

“Sure.” Truth be told, after last night’s patrol, Stevie could have downed the entire dish and not worried about the calories. He only spent two hours on patrol each weekend, a compromise after tense emails with both Captain Heroic and Professor Zero once they found out, but he stayed busy for those two hours. Holdups, break-ins, even a stalker this time. After he told them The real supers should be doing this stuff, the banks can afford to hire security, not much more was said.

The Dari-Freez was crowded on a holiday weekend. When they finally got to the register, they ordered burgers and fries, since those were ready to go, and found a table. “Your mom said you got to go to summer camp,” said Dad, as they unwrapped the burgers and squirted ketchup onto the paper. “How was it?”

“A lot of fun,” said Stevie. “I guess Mom told you about Sarika.”

“Uh-huh. She showed me the picture, she’s a cutie. First girlfriend and everything. Quite a trip, then?”


“Well, enjoy it while it lasts. Your mom said that camp did you a world of good. She said you’ve really grown up. You’ll be a Steve soon, maybe a Steven.”

“I guess.” Stevie shrugged.

“Yeah. Well, don’t be in a hurry to grow up, okay?” Stevie looked up at his dad, surprised, as Dad continued, “I know you feel responsible for your mom, but being an adult sucks. All the responsibility, keeping up appearances…” He sighed. “I’ll tell you more, but not here. At the park, where we’ll have a little more quiet.”

After they finished, Dad went back and got a Choco-Peanut Explosion as promised. They dug in, but Dad let Stevie have the lion’s share, assuring Stevie he’d had enough. Stevie had no problem with that, and left the container empty.

At the park, another surprise. Instead of throwing a Frisbee in the open field, Dad had a disc golf set. He let Stevie get used to how the different discs performed, then they got started in earnest.

“Anyway,” said Dad, as they ambled across the field after their tee throws. “I was starting to say at the restaurant, I got my priorities all messed up last year. I didn’t send the support money because I didn’t have it. But I was all wrapped up in keeping up appearances, being an adult, all that crap. If I’d admitted I’d been laid off in the first place, and was really close to getting foreclosed on… well, it wouldn’t have paid your mom’s bills, but there would have been more understanding. Sometimes, you think you’re ready to be responsible… well, you know what I’m saying. You’re a smart kid.”

“I think so.”

“Fortunately, things got better recently. Here’s your disc. Found a new job, one of those foundations bought my mortgage so they could cancel it, catching up on stuff, yadda yadda yadda.” They threw their discs; Stevie’s stopped short of a stream and Dad’s went over it. “Anyway,” Dad continued as they approached the stream, “I really brought you out here to tell you something. But you have to promise to keep it a secret. You can’t tell your mom. Or anyone else, but especially your mom.”

“You got another family.” Stevie’s voice was flat.

“What?” Dad snorted. “No, it’s not that. I don’t even have a girlfriend. I haven’t even dated since your mom and I split up.”


“Really. I wanted to tell you this last year, but I chickened out. But—you keep up with all the hero stuff, right? Yeah. So you know about this Blink kid. He’s your age, and he even sounds like you. I was a little worried that it might be you at first, until your mom told me you were at camp. But I kept thinking to myself, that coulda been you, and I can’t dodge being your dad anymore.”

“Huh.” Now Stevie was interested. His alter ego had brought Dad back into his life?

“So anyway, I called your mom, and we talked, and I fessed up to my own financial issues. That was a little easier to do, now that I could fix things. That’s something you’ll find out about when you get older, you’re more comfortable about talking over a problem when you know how to fix it. Something… something else, and this is just between us. When you get to be eighteen, maybe a little older, you might find you have some—some special abilities.”

Stevie snorted. “What? Like I’m gonna be a superhero or something? Yeah, right.” He allowed himself a little pride on his delivery.

“Not a superhero, not exactly. Like I said, you have to tell no one. Promise?” Stevie nodded, intrigued, and Dad looked around. Nobody in sight. “I’m—I guess I should show you.”

Stevie’s jaw dropped as Dad hurdled the ten-foot stream from a standing start, then picked up his disc and leaped back. “Son… I’m Jaguar.”

Coming soon: My Dad, the Supervillain!

Monday, April 27, 2015 3 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 19

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18

“Whoa,” said Lashaun, as he and Chris stared at the picture Stevie took out of his wallet. Sarika had taken a picture of them, using the woods around Zero Point as a background, and emailed it to him. Mom, of course, had printed one to put in a frame, but printed a smaller one for Stevie’s wallet. “She’s beyond pretty.”

“Nice,” Chris agreed. “Cool that she lives close enough that you can see her. You got to sit with her at the movie yesterday? Do you even remember which one it was?”

Stevie laughed. “Yeah, it was the new Empire of Space flick. She likes them a lot, too.”

“Beauty and brains! You get a chance to play Wizards at all in that summer camp?” Lashaun waved his Wizards of Stolevan deck. They had come out to the park on a fine late-summer Sunday—partly to play Wizards, mostly to get away from the parents for a while.

“Nah. They had most of our days planned out.” Stevie, in truth, had left his deck at home. He so wanted to tell his friends about what really went on… “Guys, can I tell you something? You won’t tell anyone?” He winced, realizing he was about to tell them way too much.

But Chris smirked. “You kissed her, didn’t you?” Lashaun chortled, waiting for the confirmation.

Stevie sighed, partly in relief. “Yeah. During the part where they show everyone’s names afterward. We were waiting to see if there were any outtakes, but there weren’t. Then…” He waved his hands. It was all true. They watched the credits for a minute, then Sarika got his attention. He didn’t mind at all. It was an awesome first kiss. The second one was great, too.

After the whoops, the high-fives, and the laughter, Chris took a seat across from them on the picnic table. “This game ain’t gonna play itself, guys. Let’s get started.”

Stevie was rusty, but it started coming back to him by the time they finished the first round. As he was getting the upper hand in the third round, they gained a spectator: the high school kid who had picked the fight with Stevie back in the spring. His right hand was in a stiff-looking glove. He lit up a cigarette, fanning the smoke toward the card players.

“Not cool,” said Lashaun as Chris abandoned the table in a coughing fit. “He’s allergic.”

“Oh well,” the intruder sneered.

Stevie pointed at the sign on the pillar above them. “The pavilion’s a no-smoking area.”

“What are you gonna do about it?”

“Me? How’s your hand?” Stevie reminded him.

The high schooler flushed and scowled. He tried to clench the gloved hand, but winced. “What’s it to you? I can kick your butt one-handed. Matter of fact, I think I will.”

Stevie glanced over at Chris, who had his cellphone out—getting video, Stevie hoped. An overconfident opponent, whose right hand was probably still not a hundred percent… no need for a superpower this time, fortunately. “Whatever,” said Stevie, standing up. “Let’s get this over with. I guess smoking really does kill your brain.”

Lashaun and Chris gaped. The high school kid suddenly looked a lot less sure of the situation—the weenie wasn’t begging for mercy or running away—but dropped the cigarette and stomped it on the concrete floor.

Stevie walked into the open, about ten feet from the pavilion, and faced the older boy. “Okay, bring it on,” he said, with all the sarcasm a young teen can deliver. “No trees this time. Show us all what a big man you are.”

He expected the high schooler to charge, but instead he came at a brisk walk. Still, he telegraphed his intended left roundhouse long before he swung; Stevie thought he might have been able to block that punch without training.

The fist came around. Move.

“Holy crap!” Chris shouted, as Stevie responded with a flurry of fists, elbows, and knees. He finished with a sweep, leaving the high schooler writhing at Stevie’s feet. The fight lasted three seconds.

“That’s going on Facebook!” Lashaun gasped.

“No,” Stevie countered. “I got a better idea. Tell you what,” he told the high schooler. “You leave us alone from now on, and we won’t put that video all over the Internet. You don’t want all your friends to see how you get owned by an eighth-grader, right? At least you didn’t break anything this time. Except maybe your big fat ego.” He walked back to the pavilion and sat. “Who’s turn was it?”

“Mine,” said Lashaun, sounding awestruck. “That was… that was totally awesome. Sign me up for camp next summer.” Behind Stevie’s back, the high schooler staggered to his feet and moved on.

“Coolest customer ever,” Chris agreed. “I thought you were toast, right up to when you toasted him. You sure you don’t want to put the video online?”

“Yeah. Hang onto it, though. Just in case.”

“Lucky for Frank he passed,” said Lashaun. “He can’t pick on you so much, now that he’s in high school this year. Finally.”

“He was almost okay after that thing with Blink, though,” Chris reminded him. “Speaking of Blink—Stevie, did you catch that interview? That was amazing. I wish I coulda been there.”

“Wiped out a bunch of battle-bots, and got a girlfriend, all in one day,” Lashaun added. “But your girlfriend’s a lot better looking, man. Too bad she goes to some private school on the other side of town.”

“It’s not so bad,” Stevie assured them. “We email all the time. Mom and I are finally gonna get a new computer next weekend, so we’ll be able to do video calls, too.” He yawned.

“Up late?” Chris asked.

“Kind of.” Last night, after Mom went to sleep, Stevie put on his black hoodie and popped outside. Blink spent a couple hours roaming the streets of Skyscraper City—but not the financial district. The supervillains weren’t bothering normal people, and the other heroes could keep them at bay. Blink walked the neighborhoods instead. He found a burglar climbing a ladder to the second story, and pushed the ladder over, dropping the burglar in the bushes. He used his little Super Soaker on a couple in the middle of a domestic, leaving them shocked enough to work things out. He wrote down the address of a meth lab, then called the cops from one of the few pay phones still standing. All in a couple hours, then he went back home and slept.

He thought of Warmonger’s last DM:

@Blinkss14 I won’t badger you anymore. But the offer’s open, whenever you’re ready.

Ready to switch sides, in other words.

Maybe there was a better way. If Warmonger was right, the heroes were defending villains worse than Warmonger’s whole bunch. Busting an occasional purse-snatcher was cool, but that’s not what heroes usually did.

Maybe Blink could change that.

Monday, April 20, 2015 2 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 18

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17

Blink met with Nixi and Sarika in front of the elevators on level F-2 the next morning, as they had for the last month.

“Oh yeah,” said Nixi. “Cap messed up his ankle last night. I guess it’s just us this morning.”

“I don’t want to go alone,” Sarika huffed, taking Blink’s hand.

“We can go together,” Blink suggested. “All three of us. We know the route by now.”

Sarika scowled, looking between Blink and Nixi. Nixi just smirked, while Blink racked his brains.

“Seriously,” he said at last. “We should go together. That way, your mom can’t say we were out there alone. I don’t want to get on her bad side. She saved my life and all, you know.”

“I guess,” Sarika huffed.

“Let’s take this golf cart,” said Nixi. “The keys are in it.” The look she gave Blink said high-maintenance.

“So what have you been doing this summer?” Blink asked Sarika, as Nixi jogged behind them.

“I’ve been working in the Advanced Research department,” she replied. “We’re gonna take the pieces of the battle-bots you guys destroyed and make new ones. Security can use them.”

“There was something left?”

“Well, you and that villain wrecked the bottom halves, and Mama and the other Devis destroyed top halves. There was enough left to make seven whole ones, and a bunch of spare parts. So we’re dropping everything to get that done this week. We’ll need to reprogram them all, too.”

“You should get Nixi to do that.”

“It’s a different set of skills,” Nixi said from behind. “They’re doing embedded software, and I’m doing web development. I could learn what needs to be done, sure, but by the time I could help, it would be time to go back to school. And the intranet wouldn’t get done.” She chuckled. “That’s why Uncle Zero didn’t have them fix the intranet. I already knew what to do.”

“Yeah.” Blink turned back to Sarika. “That’s this week. What have you been doing the rest of the summer?”

“Captain Heroic has been helping with some gadget designs. I’ve been interning, mostly helping him out.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah. Well, Captain Heroic isn’t here to escort me back to that side of the facility, so I guess I can eat breakfast with you.” Sarika gave him a dazzling smile.

“Yeah… uh, that’s great,” he said. “Do you eat meat, though? They serve a lot of bacon and eggs.”

“No, but what about pancakes? I can eat pancakes.”

“Yeah,” Nixi said from behind, between breaths. “We get pancakes.”

“Good,” Sarika replied. “So I’ll eat with you, then I’ll go back to my stuff.”

After breakfast, Captain Heroic and Professor Zero took Blink to a conference room in the public-facing building. “This is a standard debriefing,” Professor Zero told him. “You and Cap both need to describe what happened last night, in your own words. And don’t correct the other one. Each one of you will have a chance to tell your side, okay?”

“Yeah,” said Blink. Captain Heroic nodded; Blink figured he’d been through a thousand of these. The oldest and youngest superheroes described their roles, and both found the other’s stories to have only the smallest discrepancies.

“Okay,” said Professor Zero, “now I need Blink to tell me about his encounter with Warmonger. What was said. Don’t worry about details. I want them all. Start with when you reached the highway.”

“Yeah,” Blink replied, reliving the moment. “There were two eighteen-wheelers parked out at the road—”

“They probably brought the ABAs,” said Zero. “Do you remember any markings?”

“They didn’t have any. I don’t think. So I started walking, and Warmonger stopped and offered me a ride.”

Zero leaned forward, pen poised. “Then what?”

“Well, he said something to get me mad, and he had to stop and pick up the back of his Jeep a few times. Then, he told me—I need to ask you guys something.”

Zero and Captain Heroic looked at each other. “What did he say?” Zero asked, sounding wary.

“Why do you—we—provide free security for the mega-rich people?” Blink asked, trying to keep his outrage in check. “Why is it up to the villains to keep them from eating everyone else?”

“Blink, it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Zero replied. “It’s… well, it’s hard to explain.”

“You’re the genius,” said Blink. “You need to figure out how to explain it. Because I’m not sure I want to be a hero like that. Grimes Financial about threw us out of our house, andand—” he trailed off, sputtering.

“I understand,” said Captain Heroic. “You don’t want to defend them. You won’t have to, though. When you’re active, you can find your own niche. But as a hero, okay? We made a deal.”


“What bothers me,” said Professor Zero,” is that Type I superheroes are genetic. That means you have an ancestor with superpowers, and I don’t mean a distant ancestor. Grandparents at most.”

“Huh.” Blink thought a moment. “My grandparents are pretty normal.”

“That’s the point of a secret identity,” said Captain Heroic. “Can you think of anything about them that seems… oh, I don’t know. A little off?”

“Nuh-uh. Maybe if I knew what to look for. Some of the stuff Mom did to keep our house was pretty amazing, though.”

“Mothers are natural superheroes,” said Professor Zero. “But if you think of anything, use the Secure Message app to contact me.”

Monday, April 13, 2015 3 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 17

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16

“Okay, ten seconds. Rudy, be ready to run some of that aerial footage from earlier.” Montana paused, then held up five fingers, counting down each second. “Thank you, Gunnar. Twenty-two ABAs were deployed against Zero Point this evening. No known group outside the military has that many, and there are strict regulations about private ownership. Fortunately, Skyscraper City’s oldest and youngest superheroes were here to defend Zero Point, with some surprising help. Professor Zero, what can you tell us about the attack tonight?”

Professor Zero clasped his hands on the table and faced the camera. “Not much, Montana. I’ve been in touch with our regular security crew, who faced the threat with bravery and skill, by the way. The identification plates they’ve found so far had serial numbers cut away and removed, so there’s no telling who purchased them. Some of the electronics are intact, so we’ll be analyzing them to see if there’s any custom software that might lead us to a culprit. I have to point out, several of the ABAs were crippled, but still otherwise active. It’s making things hazardous for Security as they attempt to repair some of our breached defenses tonight.”

“Thank you, Professor. Captain Heroic, what can you say about tonight’s work?”

“It was a rough night, Montana. We had a couple of close calls. But Blink should tell you about it. He did most of the work.”

“For those of you watching tonight, this is Blink’s first appearance at a news conference. Skyscraper City’s youngest superhero burst onto the scene a few short months ago, helping to thwart a robbery at Grimes Financial. After rescuing a student from a street gang a week later, he has not been seen since. So Blink, you and Captain Heroic saved the day?”

Blink shook his head. “It wasn’t just us, Montana,” he said, his long practice sessions finally paying off. “Nixi here, and Professor Zero, guided us all evening. We’d have been stumbling in the dark if it wasn’t for them.” Next to him, Nixi snorted and Professor Zero gave him a smile. “And we weren’t alone. Warmonger wanted to prove that machines are no match for soldiers, so he switched sides for the evening. He grabbed a hammer and tuned up on like four or five of those battle-bots.”

“Really? How interesting!” Montana did look interested. “But what was your role?”

“Oh. I’d pop—teleport—behind a bot, plant a limpet mine on it, and pop away before it had a chance to shoot. Captain Heroic helped a lot. But then I got tired, and we ran out of mines, and we still had one of those things after us. Lucky for us, the Devis arrived just when we needed them.”

“So you took an active role in the battle?”

“Well, yeah. I had to. This was kind of an emergency.”

“And from what I’ve heard, you performed admirably.” Montana beamed.

“I’ve had a lot of training this summer, Montana. Captain Heroic has been like my mentor. One of the Masked Warriors, too. And Professor Zero, of course. It’s been like summer school, except a lot more fun. I wasn’t expecting to have to use all my training so soon, but at least I know it was… not all in vain, I guess.”

Captain Heroic laughed. “It’s been a pleasure to train him. And to work with him. We’ve agreed that he’ll be inactive now until he finishes school, but he’ll be a great addition to the team when the time comes.”

“I agree, he did pretty well out there,” said Nixi, surprising them all. “He went out and did the job like he’s been doing it all his life. A real professional. It was good to have him on this mission, and to be a part of it myself. Maybe we’ll partner up again some time in the future.”

“I’m just relieved that we got through the night with no serious injuries,” said Professor Zero. “We’ll find out who launched this attack, and we’ll respond. But tonight, we celebrate our success.”

“And you four—and others—have certainly earned it,” said Montana. “We’ll be looking forward to covering Blink in the future, and we’ll have more on this story on Fourteen at Seven, tomorrow morning. But for now, I’m Montana Rack, Channel Fourteen on the Scene. Rudy?” She waited a moment, then took out her earpiece. “That’s a wrap,” she said. “Great job, guys. Cap, can I talk to you in private for a few?”

“Sure.” Captain Heroic stood, and winced at his ankle. “Gonna need a walker if I keep this up much longer,” he grinned. “I’m supposed to be retired.”

“Are you not going to interview the Devis?” Blink asked.

“They don’t do interviews like this,” Montana explained. “Their usual spokesperson is dealing with the issues in town, but we’ll tackle that in the morning show. I suspect there’s a connection to what happened out here tonight. Go get some rest, Blink. You deserve it.” She helped Captain Heroic limp out of the room.

“If Sarika lets you rest.” Nixi gave him an evil grin. “I figure after what I just said, she won’t let you out of her sight for a while.”

“Good work, Blink,” said Professor Zero. “You handled yourself pretty well. Outside, and just now.”


“Take Montana’s advice. Get some rest. You’ll be back to classes tomorrow.” He gave Blink a lopsided smile. “I might try to arrange for you and Sarika to have some free time together. Supervised, of course. If you’d like.”

“Uh… sure.”

“Don’t forget to write up the evening in your journal. Everything. Nixi told me her part, by the way, so you need not spare that. And we’ll work on your weaknesses for the next couple of weeks as well. Goodnight, Blink.”

Blink shucked the hoodie and tossed it back to Montana’s intern. “Thanks for letting me use it,” he told her.

“No problem. Sounds like you had a long day.” Sam lowered her voice to a whisper. “Maybe by the time you’re on the job, I’ll be the one in front of the camera. Then it’ll be me interviewing you.” She winked and went back to packing up all the gadgets that are part of a remote TV gig.

Blink shrugged and walked out—and as Nixi had warned him, Sarika was right there. “I think she likes you,” she said without preamble. “But I saw you first. Mom said that when we’re back at home, she can pick you up and we can go to the mall. Maybe see a movie or something.” She grinned, a smile that lit up Blink’s world.

Maybe a hero did get the girls after all. He’d have to figure out how to tell his mom about her, and listen to the embarrassing gush, but that would be okay. “That sounds great,” he told Sarika.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...